How to diagnose and treat machine learning models afflicted by COVID-19

COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of millions of people and affected businesses across the world. Its impact has been particularly significant on many machine learning (ML) models that companies use to predict human behavior.

Companies need to take steps to deeply examine ML models and acquire the insights needed to effectively update models and surrounding business rules.

The economic disruption of COVID-19 has been unprecedented in its swiftness, upsetting supply lines, temporarily closing retail stores and changing online customer behaviors. It has also dramatically increased unemployment overnight, increasing financial stress and systemic risks of both individuals and businesses. It is forecasted that global GDP could be affected by up to 0.9%, on a par with the 2008 financial crisis. While the nature of our recovery is unknown, if the 2008 crisis is any indicator, the impact of COVID-19 could be felt for years, through both short-term adjustments and long-term shifts in consumer and business behaviors and attitudes.

This disruption impacts machine learning models because the concepts and relationships the models learned when they were trained may no longer hold. This phenomenon is called “concept drift.” ML models may become unstable and underperform in the face of concept drift. That is precisely what is happening now with COVID-19. The effects of these drifts will be felt for quite some time, and models will need to be adjusted to keep up. The good news is that there have been significant developments in model intelligence technology, and through judicious use, models can nimbly adjust to those drifts.

As the effects of COVID-19 (and economic closure and reopening) play out, there will be distinct stages in the impact on social and economic behaviors. Updates to business rules and models will need to be done in sync with overall behavior shifts in each of these stages. Companies need to adopt an approach of measure-understand-act and to constantly examine, assess and adjust ML models in production or development and surrounding business rules.

Examining how ML models have been impacted means going through an exercise to both measure and understand how the models behaved prior to the coronavirus, how they are behaving now, why they are behaving differently (i.e., what inputs and relationships are the drivers of change), and then to determine if the new behavior is expected and accurate, or is no longer valid. Once this is determined, the next step is naturally to act: “So, what can we do about it?”

#artificial-intelligence, #bank, #banking, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #cryptocurrency, #developer, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #finance, #fintech, #machine-learning, #market-analysis, #ml, #predictive-analytics, #product-development, #product-search, #retail-stores, #search-results, #startups, #tc, #work

Decrypted: The block clock tick-tocks on TikTok

In less than three months and notwithstanding intervention, TikTok will be effectively banned in the U.S. unless an American company steps in to save it, after the Trump administration declared by executive order this week that the Chinese-built video sharing app is a threat to national security.

How much of a threat TikTok poses exactly remains to be seen. U.S. officials are convinced that the app could be compelled by Beijing to vacuum up reams of Westerners’ data for intelligence. Or is the app, beloved by millions of young American voters, simply a pawn in the Trump administration’s long political standoff with China?

Really, the answer is a bit of both — even if on paper TikTok is no worse than the homegrown threat to privacy posed by the Big Tech behemoths: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google . But the foreign threat from Beijing alone was enough that the Trump administration needed to crack down on the app — and the videos frequently critical of the administration’s actions.

For its part, TikTok says it will fight back against the Trump administration’s action.

This week’s Decrypted looks at TikTok amid its looming ban. We’ll look at why the ban is unlikely, even if privacy and security issues persist.


Internet watchdog says a TikTok ban is a ‘seed of genuine security concern wrapped in a thick layer of censorship’

The verdict from the Electronic Frontier Foundation is clear: The U.S. can’t ban TikTok without violating the First Amendment. Banning the app would be a huge abridgment of freedom of speech, whether it’s forbidding the app stores from serving it or blocking it at the network level.

But there are still legitimate security and privacy concerns. The big issue for U.S. authorities is that the app’s parent company, ByteDance, has staff in China and is subject to Beijing’s rules.

#adware, #android, #apps, #bytedance, #china, #democratic-national-committee, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #extra-crunch, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #google, #market-analysis, #motherboard, #national-security-agency, #operating-systems, #privacy, #security, #social, #tc, #tiktok

Despite booming consumer demand, VC interest in e-commerce startups falls in 2020

Walmart reported earnings this morning. Most of the numbers are immaterial to you and I, having little to nothing to do with the world of private capital and startups, but one metric did leap out: In its quarter ending July 31, Walmart’s U.S. “e-commerce sales” grew by 97% compared to the year-ago quarter, with what the company called “strong results across all channels.”

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Walmart’s total revenue grew 5.6%, so you can see the discrepancy between the company’s physical business and its e-commerce efforts, with one managing single-digit gains and the other nearly hitting triple digits. For reference, in its fiscal ending May 1, 2020, Walmart’s e-commerce sales grew by 74%. In the quarter ending January 31, 2020 that figure was a far-slimmer 35%.

The e-commerce acceleration is real, as shown through a host of numbers you can parse, including Walmart’s own. Heck, when The Exchange was digging through recent fintech venture capital results, we noted that rising e-commerce spend was perhaps part of the reason why late-stage fintech shops had such strong results.

So when I was reading Q2 venture capital data on the state of retail tech broadly, and e-commerce tech more specifically, I was expecting a stellar quarter with lots of dollars invested into a great many deals.

And yet, while Q2 2020 was a bit better than Q1 2020 for e-commerce VC results, it wasn’t much of a comeback. And the first half of this year is pretty damn slow overall, when compared to prior results for e-commerce-focused venture capital deals.

What gives? I have an idea or two, but first, let’s parse the data that business market data provider CB Insights compiled, as we extend our apparently never-quite-ending look at the ridiculously interesting first-half of 2020 for startups and VCs.

VCs fall out of love with e-commerce startups?

In 2019, e-commerce saw an average of 314 deals per quarter and just under $5 billion in invested capital, with the four-quarter pace for the year coming in at $4.97 billion per.

#cb-insights, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #market-analysis, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

In conversation with European B2B seed VC La Famiglia

Earlier this month, La Famiglia, a Berlin-based VC firm that invests in seed-stage European B2B tech startups, disclosed that it raised a second fund totaling €50 million, up from its debut fund of €35 million in 2017.

The firm writes first checks of up to €1.5 million in European startups that use technology to address a significant need within an industry. It’s backed 37 startups to date (including Forto, Arculus and Graphy) and seeks to position itself based on its industry network, many of whom are LPs.

La Famiglia’s investors include the Mittal, Pictet, Oetker, Hymer and Swarovski families, industry leaders Voith and Franke, as well as the families behind conglomerates such as Hapag-Lloyd, Solvay, Adidas and Valentino. In addition, the likes of Niklas Zennström (Skype, Atomico), Zoopla’s Alex Chesterman and Personio’s Hanno Renner are also LPs.

Meanwhile, the firm describes itself as “female-led,” with founding partner Dr. Jeannette zu Fürstenberg and partner Judith Dada at the helm.

With the ink only just dry on the new fund, I put questions to the pair to get more detail on La Famiglia’s investment thesis and what it looks for in founders. We also discussed how the firm taps its “old economy” network, the future of industry 4.0 and what La Famiglia is doing — if anything — to ensure it backs diverse founders.

TechCrunch: You describe La Famiglia as B2B-focused, writing first checks of up to €1.5 million in European startups using technology to address a significant need within an industry. In particular, you cite verticals such as logistics and supply chain, the industrial space, and insurance, while also referencing sustainability and the future of work.

Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Jeannette zu Fürstenberg: Our ambition is to capture the fundamental shift in value creation across the largest sectors of our European economy, which are either being disrupted or enabled by digital technologies. We believe that opportunities in fields such as manufacturing or logistics will be shaped by a deep process understanding of these industries, which is the key differentiator in creating successful outcomes and a strength that European entrepreneurs can leverage.

We look for visionary founders who see a new future, where others only see fragments, with grit to push through adversity and a creative force to shape the world into being.

Judith Dada: Picking up a lot of signals from various expert sources in our network informs the opportunity landscape we see and allows us to invest with a strong sense of market timing. Next to verticals like insurance or industrial manufacturing, we also invest into companies tackling more horizontal opportunities, such as sustainability in its vast importance across industries, as well as new ways that our work is being transformed, for workers of all types. We look for opportunities across a spectrum of technological trends, but are particularly focused on the application potential of ML and AI.

#adidas, #artificial-intelligence, #berlin, #coinbase, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #finance, #hanno-renner, #judith-dada, #la-famiglia, #logistics, #machine-learning, #market-analysis, #ml, #niklas-zennstrom, #private-equity, #solvay, #supply-chain, #swarovski, #tc, #valentino

Robinhood raises $200M more at $11.2B valuation as its revenue scales

Robinhood announced this morning that it has raised $200 million more at a new, higher $11.2 billion valuation. The new capital came as a surprise.

Astute observers of all things fintech will recall that Robinhood, a popular stock trading service, has raised capital multiple times this year, including an initial $280 million round at an $8.3 billion valuation, and a later $320 million addition that brought its valuation to $8.6 billion.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Those rounds, coming in May and July, now feel very passé in the sense that they are frightfully cheap compared to the price at which Robinhood just added new funds. D1 Partners — a private capital pool founded in 2018 — led the funding.

The unicorn’s new nine-figure tranche, a Series G, values the firm at $11.2 billion. A $2.6 billion bump in about a month is an impressive result, one that points to an inescapable conclusion: Robinhood is still growing, and fast.

How fast is the question. There are three things to bring up in this regard: Trading growth at Robinhood, the company’s soaring incomes from selling order flow to other financial institutions, and, oddly enough, crypto. Let’s peek at each and come up with a good why as to the new Robinhood valuation.

After all, we’re going to see an IPO from this company before the markets get less interesting, if it’s smart.


Robinhood is currently walking a line between enthusiasm that its trading volume is growing and conservatism, arguing that its userbase is not majority-comprised of day traders. The company is stuck between the need for huge revenue growth and keeping pedestrian users from tanking their net worth with unwise options bets.

It’s worth noting that Robinhood spent a lot of its funding round announcement email to TechCrunch talking about its users safety and education work. It makes sense given that we know that the company is seeing record trades, and record incomes from options themselves. After a Robinhood user killed themself after misunderstanding an options trade on the platform, Robinhood pledged to do better. We’re keeping tabs on how well it manages to meet the mark of its promise.

But back to the revenue game, let’s talk volume. On the trading front Robinhood has lots of darts. And by darts we mean daily average revenue trades. Robinhood had 4.31 million DARTs in June, with the company adding that “DARTs in Q2 more than doubled compared to Q1” in an email.

The huge gain in trading volume does not mean that most Robinhood users are day trading, but it does imply that some are given the huge implied trading volume results that the DARTs figure points to. Robinhood saw around 129,300,000 trades in June, which is 30 days. That’s a lot!

#extra-crunch, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #fundraising, #market-analysis, #robinhood, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

How tech can build more resilient supply chains

Over the past two years, the global supply chain has been hit with two major upheavals: the United States-China trade war and, more cataclysmically, COVID-19.

When Reefknot Investments launched its $50 million fund for logistics and supply chain startups last September, the industry was already dealing with the effects of the tariff war, says managing director Marc Dragon. Then a few months later, the COVID-19 crisis began in China before spreading to the rest of the world, disrupting the supply chain on an unprecedented scale.

Almost all industries have been impacted, from food, consumer goods and medical supplies to hardware.

Reefknot, a joint venture between Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign fund, and global logistics company Kuehne + Nagel, focuses on early-stage tech companies that use AI to solve some of the supply chain’s most pressing issues, including risk forecasting, financing and tracking goods around the world.

In March, around the time the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 crisis a pandemic, Reefknot surveyed nine shippers about the challenges they face. While there are other macroeconomic factors at play, including Brexit and the oil price war, the survey’s main focus was on the combined effect of COVID-19 and the U.S.-China trade war on the supply chain and logistics industry.

According to the study, the main things shippers want is the ability to dynamically manage supply chain risks and operations and optimize cash flow between corporate buyers and their suppliers, who often struggle with working capital.

Many of the current solutions used in the supply chain involve a lot of manual tasks, including spreadsheets to predict demand, phone calls to confirm capacity on planes and ships and checking goods to make sure orders were fulfilled properly.

#artificial-intelligence, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #extra-crunch, #food, #logistics, #market-analysis, #previse, #prowler-io, #reefknot-investments, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #transportation

PopSugar co-founder says pandemic will create ‘a huge windfall’ for digital media

It’s been less than a year since Group Nine Media acquired PopSugar — but it’s been a uniquely challenging time in digital media.

Brian Sugar founded the eponymous women’s lifestyle site with his wife Lisa Sugar . Post-acquisition, he’s become president for the entirety of Group Nine (which also owns Thrillist, NowThis, The Dodo and Seeker) and also joined the company’s board.

That job probably looks very different from what he expected last fall. The company had to lay off 7% of its staff back in April, which Sugar described as “one of the worst days of my career.” At the same time, he remains confident about the online advertising business. In his view, it’s TV advertising that’s taken a “huge punch” in the face and will never recover.

“We like to think of ourselves as one of the fastest, most innovative publishers out there,” Sugar told me. “And now’s the time for us to kind of show that off.”

You can read an edited, updated and condensed transcript of our conversation below, in which I talked to Sugar about how his role has evolved, how he motivates the team during difficult times and what gets lost in the shift to remote work.

TechCrunch: Obviously, it’s been a crazy couple of months since we last talked. What does your job look like now?

Brian Sugar: Well, I feel like a data miner, searching for answers. I feel like a hackathon engineer. And I feel like a therapist. You know, we like to think of ourselves as one of the fastest, most innovative publishers out there. And now’s the time for us to kind of show that off.

[We’ve just been] looking at data on how people are consuming our content across platforms. And on our site, we’ve come up with some really interesting ideas that we’ve implemented. We’ve been having these really cool hackathon Fridays to build stuff quickly, because a lot of people feel like they have a little bit more time on their hands — because you don’t have to travel to meetings, you can get more work done. Some people feel they’re more efficient.

We’re extremely optimistic. All our brands are extremely optimistic, and so is [the whole] company.

You mentioned launching some new products to respond to how audience behavior is changing. Are there any examples?

The first one [is] the PopSugar Fitness thing. We were planning on launching a paid workout subscription service in May, but everybody was working from home [in March], and we decided to pull the launch all the way up to as fast as we can launch it. We launched it that following weekend. Since the launch in late March, over the past few months, we’ve had 200,000 people sign up, and we have 50,000 monthly active users on it.

#advertising-tech, #brian-sugar, #covid-19, #digital-media, #extra-crunch, #group-nine-media, #lisa-sugar, #market-analysis, #media, #online-advertising, #popsugar, #startups, #tc, #thrillist

Thoughts on ‘self-driving money,’ day trading and product development from Wealthfront’s Andy Rachleff

Andy Rachleff founded Wealthfront a decade ago to give investors a better and smarter way to manage their wealth, building on core academic research showing that a carefully balanced portfolio of low-fee ETFs outperformed more aggressive strategies. Since then, the company has taken in billions of dollars of invested capital under management and expanded into new banking services, including high-interest checking accounts.

Rachleff and I talked on Extra Crunch Live about where Wealthfront is heading as it speeds toward its second decade, how he sees the competition from other, more active trading platforms like Robinhood and his advice for startup founders looking to build enduring products and companies away from the daily status quo.

Self-driving money

Rachleff began our conversation talking about the future of Wealthfront, which is increasingly moving beyond its wealth management app to new services.

“Our vision is to automate all of your finances — we call this self-driving money,” he said. That platform is expected to role out in September, and include features like easy direct deposit and automated bill pay, with any savings left over automatically moving to the right investment assets that meet a user’s chosen risk tolerance.

#andy-rachleff, #ecl, #entrepreneurship, #events, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-live, #finance, #market-analysis, #robinhood, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #wealthfront

Edtech exits are increasing, but by how much?

Before the coronavirus made edtech more relevant, companies in the sector were historically likely to see slow, low exits. Despite successful IPOs by 2U, Chegg and Instructure in the United States, public markets are not crowded with edtech companies.

Some of the largest exits in the space include LinkedIn’s scoop of Lynda for a $1.5 billion in cash and stock and TPG’s purchase of Ellucian for $3.5 billion.

But both of those deals happened in 2015. Five years later, edtech is cooler and surging — but is it seeing exits? Are Lynda and Ellucian one-off success stories?

2U’s co-founder and CEO, Chip Paucek, said he is optimistic.

“We are a rare edtech IPO,” he told TechCrunch last week. “For a long time in edtech it was either ‘sell to Pearson or not.’”

Despite the sector’s slow past, Paucek said now is a good time to start an edtech company because the sector “is finally starting to hit its stride” with more back-end infrastructure and demand for online education.

This morning, let’s use some data to paint a picture of the landscape of edtech exits and bring some balance to this stodgy stereotype.

Boot the growth

There have been approximately 225 acquisitions in edtech between 2003 and 2018, according to Crunchbase data. RS Components sent me a graph in March to contextualize this timeframe a bit more:

Edtech deals over time. Graph credit: RS Components.

#coronavirus, #covid-10, #edtech, #education, #extra-crunch, #linkedin, #lynda, #market-analysis, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange, #venture-capital

Five success factors for behavioral health startups

Telehealth, or remote, tech-enabled healthcare, has existed for years in primary medical care through companies like Teladoc (NYSE: TDOC)Doctors on Demand and MDLIVE.

In recent years, the application of telehealth had rapidly expanded to address specific chronic and behavioral health issues like mental health, weight loss and nutrition, addiction, diabetes and hypertension, etc. These are real and oftentimes very severe issues faced by people all over the world, yet until now have seen little to no use of technology in providing care.

We believe behavioral health is particularly suited to benefit from the digitization trends COVID-19 has accelerated. Previously, we’ve written about the pandemic’s impact on online learning and education, both for K-12 students and adult learners. But behavioral health is another area impacted by the fundamental change in consumers’ behavior today. Below are four reasons we think the time is now for behavioral health startups — followed by five key factors we think characterize successful companies in this area.

Telehealth can significantly lower the cost of care

Traditional behavioral healthcare is cost-prohibitive for most people. In-person therapy costs $100+ per session in the U.S., and many mental health and substance-use providers don’t accept insurance because they don’t get paid enough by insurers.

By contrast, telehealth reduces overhead costs and scales more effectively. Leveraging technology, providers can treat more patients in less time with almost zero marginal costs. Mobile-based communications enable asynchronous care that further helps providers scale. Access to digital content gives patients on-going support without the need for a human on the other side. This is particularly useful in treating behavioral health issues where ongoing support and motivation may be necessary.

Technology unlocks supply in “shadow markets” of providers

Globally, we face an extreme shortage of behavioral health providers. For example, the United States has fewer than 30,000 licensed psychiatrists (translating to <1 for every 10,000 people). Outside of big cities, the problem gets worse: ~50-60% of nonmetro counties have no psychologists or psychiatrists at all.

Even when providers are available, wait times for appointments are notoriously long. This is a huge issue when behavioral health conditions often require timely intervention.

We are seeing new platforms build large networks of certified coaches, licensed psychologists and psychiatrists, and other providers, aggregating supply in what has historically been a scarce and a highly fragmented provider population.

Behavioral/mental health issues are losing their stigma

We believe the stigma associated with mental illness and other behavioral health conditions is dissipating. More and more public figures are speaking out about their struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction and other behavioral health issues. Our zeitgeist is shifting fast, and there’s an all-time high in people seeking help as the Google Trends data below demonstrates.

google trends search: "therapist near me," 2015- 2010

Image Credits: Google

Note: The anomalous dip in March/April ’20 was driven by mandatory shelter-in-place due to COVID-19.

Policy and regulations are changing quickly

#battery-ventures, #column, #coronavirus, #counseling, #covid-19, #depression, #digital-health, #extra-crunch, #headspace, #health, #health-insurance, #healthcare, #hypertension, #livongo, #market-analysis, #meditation, #online-learning, #smartphone, #startups, #talkspace, #tc, #telehealth, #venture-capital, #vida-health

A stampede of unicorn news

With a hot IPO market and a world accelerating its shift to digital technologies amidst a pandemic, it’s a busy time for late-stage startups. Happily, the current moment is generating a wave of leaks and news. So much so, it’s actually been pretty hard to keep up.

In honor of the somewhat crazy week we’ve had, I’ve compiled the biggest and best bits of unicorn news, with two final items concerning companies that are not quite unicorns. Our goal is to get caught up so we can start next week sufficiently informed.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

As always with this sort of work, we’ll have to handle each entry quickly. But if you want to know what’s up lately with the most valuable private companies, this should provide a working summary.

We’ll start with the Gong round, talk Palantir, peek at Stripe, chat about Airbnb’s results, detail a few other revenue milestones that were new to us, discuss Robinhood trading volume, gander at some Coinbase product news and a few other items, wrapping with a note on recent funding rounds from Parsable and Coda.

The theme, in case you were hoping for a unifying thread, is that the good times that took temporary flight in March and April, are back.

Today, it’s nearly hard to recall the fear that took over startup-land; sure, there are warning signs about cloud growth rates, but for many unicorns, we still live in boom times.

Let’s begin.

A  blessing of unicorns

As promised, we’re starting with the Gong round, which my dear friend Ron Miller covered for TechCrunch. The salestech software company put together a $200 million round at a $2.2 billion valuation after raising several other rounds in recent quarters. As Ron reports, the company’s growth has been torrid, with 1,300 customers and 2.5x revenue growth “this year alone.” But most critically, Gong’s CEO Amit Bendov said that “there’s a lot of liquidity in the market.” Yep.

#airbnb, #cfo, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #databricks, #datarobot, #extra-crunch, #finance, #gong, #market-analysis, #payments, #robinhood, #saas, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #the-exchange, #unicorn

The race to building a fully functional quantum stack

Quantum computers exploit the seemingly bizarre yet proven nature of the universe that until a particle interacts with another, its position, speed, color, spin and other quantum properties coexist simultaneously as a probability distribution over all possibilities in a state known as superposition. Quantum computers use isolated particles as their most basic building blocks, relying on any one of these quantum properties to represent the state of a quantum bit (or “qubit”). So while classical computer bits always exist in a mutually exclusive state of either 0 (low energy) or 1 (high energy), qubits in superposition coexist simultaneously in both states as 0 and 1.

Things get interesting at a larger scale, as QC systems are capable of isolating a group of entangled particles, which all share a single state of superposition. While a single qubit coexists in two states, a set of eight entangled qubits (or “8Q”), for example, simultaneously occupies all 28 (or 256) possible states, effectively processing all these states in parallel. It would take 57Q (representing 257 parallel states) for a QC to outperform even the world’s strongest classical supercomputer. A 64Q computer would surpass it by 100x (clearly achieving quantum advantage) and a 128Q computer would surpass it a quintillion times.

In the race to develop these computers, nature has inserted two major speed bumps. First, isolated quantum particles are highly unstable, and so quantum circuits must execute within extremely short periods of coherence. Second, measuring the output energy level of subatomic qubits requires extreme levels of accuracy that tiny deviations commonly thwart. Informed by university research, leading QC companies like IBM, Google, Honeywell and Rigetti develop quantum engineering and error-correction methods to overcome these challenges as they scale the number of qubits they can process.

Following the challenge to create working hardware, software must be developed to harvest the benefits of parallelism even though we cannot see what is happening inside a quantum circuit without losing superposition. When we measure the output value of a quantum circuit’s entangled qubits, the superposition collapses into just one of the many possible outcomes. Sometimes, though, the output yields clues that qubits weirdly interfered with themselves (that is, with their probabilistic counterparts) inside the circuit.

QC scientists at UC Berkeley, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, UT Sydney and elsewhere are now developing a fundamentally new class of algorithms that detect the absence or presence of interference patterns in QC output to cleverly glean information about what happened inside.

The QC stack

A fully functional QC must, therefore, incorporate several layers of a novel technology stack, incorporating both hardware and software components. At the top of the stack sits the application software for solving problems in chemistry, logistics, etc. The application typically makes API calls to a software layer beneath it (loosely referred to as a “compiler”) that translates function calls into circuits to implement them. Beneath the compiler sits a classical computer that feeds circuit changes and inputs to the Quantum Processing Unit (QPU) beneath it. The QPU typically has an error-correction layer, an analog processing unit to transmit analog inputs to the quantum circuit and measure its analog outputs, and the quantum processor itself, which houses the isolated, entangled particles.

#api, #column, #developer, #emerging-technologies, #extra-crunch, #finance, #ionq, #market-analysis, #mit, #quantum-computing, #quantum-mechanics, #quantum-supremacy, #qubit, #rigetti, #rigetti-computing, #science, #software-vendors, #startups, #tc

Duck Creek seeks $3B valuation for its software IPO

American software company Duck Creek has upped the stakes in its impending IPO, raising its price target from a range of $19 to $21 per share to $23 to $25 per share.

The bump comes as software and cloud stocks have fallen more than 10% from recent highs, putting them in technical correction territory.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

The good news for the Boston-based startup focused on the insurance market, however, is that recent technology IPOs have seen strong performance at similar stock market levels. So, the recent market chop for its future cohort of public software companies may not prove too deleterious to its public offering hopes.

This morning let’s calculate an updated valuation range for Duck Creek, re-run our math on its implied revenue multiples and compare those figures to today’s public market averages.

Duck Creek’s products target the property and casualty insurance provider space, serving companies that sell coverage for automobile, rental and homeowners insurance.

When tinkering with Duck Creek’s first IPO price range ($2.44 billion to $2.70 billion), the company appeared to be reasonably priced. Let’s see what happens when it raises its share-price targets.

A new valuation

As before, Duck Creek is selling 15 million shares, a figure that rises to 17.25 million if its underwriters exercise their option to purchase more stock at the IPO price. So, at its new $23 to $25 per-share IPO price range, the company could raise between $396.75 million and $431.25 million.

For a company that had revenue of $153.35 million in the three quarters ending May 31, 2020, it’s a large sum.

Discounting the shares up for purchase by its underwriters, Duck Creek is worth between $2.95 billion and $3.21 billion. Including the extra equity, the figures rise to $3.00 billion and $3.26 billion.

#bigcommerce, #boston, #duck-creek, #extra-crunch, #finance, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #ipo, #market-analysis, #ncino, #saas, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

No pen required: The digital future of real estate closings

On a Wednesday at 4 p.m. in June 2017, I was in a small, packed office in midtown Manhattan.

The overcrowded conference room, with at least five more people than any fire marshal would recommend, was stacked comically high with paperwork and an eclectic collection of cheap pens. As I neared the end of the third hour and the ink of my seventh pen, I realized the mortgage closing process may be somewhat antiquated.

After closing on my first home, it was inconceivable to me that every other expense in my life has gone digital, but the most significant purchase I’ve ever made required hundreds of signatures and several handwritten checks delivered in person. By comparison, I have been able to repay my student loans, comparable in magnitude to a down payment, exclusively through online portals.

How COVID-19 is accelerating digital advancements

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed nearly every facet of our lives. One potential silver lining for the real estate world may be a forced reckoning with the mortgage closing process. Technological advances like e-closings are accelerating this arduous process into the digital age. The U.S. Census Bureau released figures in July citing the rise in homeownership across the country as the pandemic fuels the demand for single-family properties outside of urban areas. This is confirmed by the significant spike in mortgage applications seen in the second quarter of 2020.

The first signs of digitization of the mortgage origination process were seen in mid-2010 when lenders began adopting digital disclosures. Despite the availability of technology, the market has been slower to fully embrace digital closings that enable the full loan package to be electronically reviewed, recorded, signed and notarized. A true e-closing includes a digital promissory note (“eNote”), a virtual closing appointment and the electronic transfer and recording of documents by the county, all of which can be remotely coordinated and executed by the parties involved. The market started to pick up pace in recent years, and we’ve seen the number of e-mortgages increase by more than 450% from 2018 to 2019.

#ceo, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #extra-crunch, #finance, #market-analysis, #morty, #online-notarization, #patrick-burns, #property-tech, #proptech, #real-estate, #spruce, #startups, #tc

Building a fintech giant is very expensive

Venture capitalists and other investors have poured capital into fintech startups around the world in recent years, including a record number of rounds worth $100 million or more in the second quarter of 2020. In Q2 2020 venture-backed fintech startups raised 28 nine-figure rounds, underscoring the scale of the bet investors are making on fintech’s long-term success.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Inside that fintech wave are various hubs of activity, including payments tech, investing and banking. That last category has helped give rise to so-called neobanks, startup banking entities that offer mobile-first, consumer-friendly banking tools and services. Given the old-fashioned nature of banking in many countries (and how far out of reach banking remains for many) neobanks have seen strong uptake by users in recent years.

And the startup cohort has raised oceans of capital to help fuel its growth. In America, Chime was most recently valued at $5.8 billion after raising hundreds of millions in late 2019. More recently, neobank Revolut added $80 million to its Q1 2020 round worth $500 million. Revolut is also worth north of $5 billion. Monzo is well-funded (albeit at a recent valuation reduction), Latin America-focused NuBank is worth $10 billion, according to Crunchbase, Starling recently raised another £40 million, while Germany’s N26 is worth over $3 billion after its most recent nine-figure round.

From the fundraising perspective, then, neobanks are killing the game. And thanks to recent tailwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic which have bolstered interest in savings-related products, many of the same entities could be enjoying a strong year thus far. But recent self-reporting of some neobank’s 2019-era results details ample red ink — perhaps more than we might have anticipated.

Of course, startups don’t raise money for fun; they raise it to invest it in their operations and drive scale. So, we knew that these mega-fundraisers were losing money on purpose. All the same, let’s peek at the economics of several neobanks, as their now dated and thus not at all current results can provide useful context on two points: Why investors are excited to put their capital to work in neobanks, and why neobanks always seem to have another check to announce.

Monzo, Starling and Revolut

To prevent my receiving unhappy emails from irked fans of these companies, please bear in mind that we’re looking several quarters back when observing the following results.

It would be lovely to have more recent data, but with European neobanks reporting their — roughly — 2019 results in recent weeks, this is what we have. We are going to parse the numbers, but we will not conflate past performance with current results. We do not know much about 2020 neobank financial performance.

Anyhoo, to the numbers. You can read the full documents from Monzo here, Starling here (or here, if that link is struggling) and Revolut here.

Let’s start with Monzo, which has a clear set of figures for us to peek at:

#challenger-bank, #europe, #extra-crunch, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #market-analysis, #monzo, #n26, #neobank, #starling, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

Unpacking Duck Creek Technologies’ IPO and hoped-for $2.7B valuation

Tech stocks retain their highs as the second quarter’s earnings season begins to fade into the rearview mirror, and there are still a number of companies looking to go public while the times are good. It looks like a smart move, as public investors are hungry for growth-oriented shares — which is just what tech and venture-backed companies have in spades.

The companies currently looking to go public are diverse. China-based real-estate giant KE Holdings — a hybrid listings company and digital transaction portal for housing — is looking to raise as much as $2.3 billion in a U.S. listing. Xpeng, another China-based company that builds electric vehicles, is looking to list in the U.S as well. Xpeng has the distinction of being gross-margin negative in every key time period detailed in its S-1 filing.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

And then there’s Duck Creek Technologies, a domestic tech company looking to go public on the back of growing SaaS revenues. This morning let’s quickly spin through Duck Creek’s history, peek at its financial results, calculate its expected valuation and see how its pricing fits compared to current norms.

Duck Creek is a Boston-based software company that serves the property and casualty (P&C) insurance market. Its customers include names like AIG, Geico and Progressive, along with smaller players that aren’t as well known to the American mass market.

The KE IPO will be a big affair because the company is huge and profitable with $3.86 billion in H1 2020 revenue leading to $227.5 million in net income. The Xpeng IPO will be interesting because Tesla’s strong share price has given float to a great many EV boats. But Duck Creek is a company slowly letting go of perpetual license software sales and scaling its SaaS incomes while still generating nearly half its revenues from services. It’s a company we can understand, in other words.

So let’s get under the skin of the Boston-based company that also claims low-code functionality. This will be fun.

Duck Creek by the numbers

#apax-partners, #duck-creek, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #insight-partners, #low-code, #market-analysis, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #startups, #tc, #temasek, #the-exchange, #xpeng

IoT and data science will boost foodtech in the post-pandemic era

Even as e-grocery usage has skyrocketed in our coronavirus-catalyzed world, brick-and-mortar grocery stores have soldiered on. While strict in-store safety guidelines may gradually ease up, the shopping experience will still be low-touch and socially distanced for the foreseeable future.

This begs the question: With even greater challenges than pre-pandemic, how can grocers ensure their stores continue to operate profitably?

Just as micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs), dark stores and other fulfillment solutions have been helping e-grocers optimize profitability, a variety of old and new technologies can help brick-and-mortar stores remain relevant and continue churning out cash.

Today, we present three “must-dos” for post-pandemic retail grocers: rely on the data, rely on the biology and rely on the hardware.

Rely on the data

Image Credits: Pixabay/Pexels (opens in a new window)

The hallmark of shopping in a store is the consistent availability and wide selection of fresh items — often more so than online. But as the number of in-store customers continues to fluctuate, planning inventory and minimizing waste has become ever more so a challenge for grocery store managers. Grocers on average throw out more than 12% of their on-shelf produce, which eats into already razor-thin margins.

While e-grocers are automating and optimizing their fulfillment operations, brick-and-mortar grocers can automate and optimize their inventory planning mechanisms. To do this, they must leverage their existing troves of customer, business and external data to glean valuable insights for store managers.

Eden Technologies of Walmart is a pioneering example. Spun out of a company hackathon project, the internal tool has been deployed at over 43 distribution centers nationwide and promises to save Walmart over $2 billion in the coming years. For instance, if a batch of produce intended for a store hundreds of miles away is deemed soon-to-ripen, the tool can help divert it to the nearest store instead, using FDA standards and over 1 million images to drive its analysis.

Similarly, ventures such as Afresh Technologies and Shelf Engine have built platforms to leverage years of historical customer and sales data, as well as seasonality and other external factors, to help store managers determine how much to order and when. The results have been nothing but positive — Shelf Engine customers have increased gross margins by over 25% and Afresh customers have reduced food waste by up to 45%.

#amazon-go, #biotech, #business-intelligence, #column, #data-science, #dos, #e-grocery, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #food, #food-waste, #foodtech, #hazel-technologies, #internet-of-things, #iot, #market-analysis, #natural-language-processing, #science, #signia-venture-partners, #startups, #supermarkets, #tc, #venture-capital

Conversational analytics are about to change customer experiences forever

Companies have long relied on web analytics data like click rates, page views and session lengths to gain customer behavior insights.This method looks at how customers react to what is presented to them, reactions driven by design and copy. But traditional web analytics fail to capture customers’ desires accurately. While marketers are pushing into predictive analytics, what about the way companies foster broader customer experience (CX)?

Leaders are increasingly adopting conversational analytics, a new paradigm for CX data. No longer will the emphasis be on how users react to what is presented to them, but rather what “intent” they convey through natural language. Companies able to capture intent data through conversational interfaces can be proactive in customer interactions, deliver hyper-personalized experiences, and position themselves more optimally in the marketplace.

Direct customer experiences based on customer disposition

Conversational AI, which powers these interfaces and automation systems and feeds data into conversational analytics engines, is a market predicted to grow from $4.2 billion in 2019 to $15.7 billion in 2024. As companies “conversationalize” their brands and open up new interfaces to customers, AI can inform CX decisions not only in how customer journeys are architected–such as curated buying experiences and paths to purchase–but also how to evolve overall product and service offerings. This insights edge could become a game-changer and competitive advantage for early adopters.

Today, there is wide variation in the degree of sophistication between conversational solutions from elementary, single-task chatbots to secure, user-centric, scalable AI. To unlock meaningful conversational analytics, companies need to ensure that they have deployed a few critical ingredients beyond the basics of parsing customer intent with natural language understanding (NLU).

While intent data is valuable, companies will up-level their engagements by collecting sentiment and tone data, including via emoji analysis. Such data can enable automation to adapt to a customer’s disposition, so if anger is detected regarding a bill that is overdue, a fast path to resolution can be provided. If a customer expresses joy after a product purchase, AI can respond with an upsell offer and collect more acute and actionable feedback for future customer journeys.

Tap into a multitude of conversational data points

#artificial-intelligence, #automation, #cloud, #column, #customer-experience, #cx, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #growth-marketing, #machine-learning, #market-analysis, #natural-language-understanding, #saas, #sales, #startups, #tc, #user-experience

A look inside Gmail’s product development process

Google has long been known as the leader in email, but it hasn’t always been that way.

In 1997, AOL was the world’s largest email provider with around ten million subscribers, but other providers were making headway. Hotmail, now part of Microsoft Outlook, launched in 1996, Yahoo Mail launched in 1997 and Gmail followed in 2004, becoming the most popular email provider in the world, with more than 1.5 billion active users as of October 2019.

Despite Google’s stronghold on the email market, other competitors have emerged over the years. Most recently, we’ve seen paid email products like Superhuman and Hey emerge. In light of new competitors to the space, as well as Google’s latest version of Gmail that more deeply integrates with Meet, Chat and Rooms, we asked Gmail Design Lead Jeroen Jillissen about what makes good email, how he and the team think about product design and more.

Here’s a lightly edited Q&A we had with Jillissen over Gmail.

Google has been at email since at least 2004. What does good email look like these days?

Generally speaking, a good email experience is not that different today than it was in 2004. It should be straightforward to use and should support the basic tasks like reading, writing, replying to and triaging emails. That said, nowadays there is a lot more email, in terms of volume, than there was in 2004, so we find that Gmail has many more opportunities to assist users in ways it didn’t before. For example, tabbed inboxes, which sorts your email into helpful categories like Primary, Social, Promotions, etc. in a simple, organized way so you can focus on what’s important to you. Also, we’ve introduced assistive features like Smart Compose and Smart Reply and nudges, plus robust security and spam protection to keep users safe. And lastly, we’ve made deeper integrations a priority: both across G Suite apps like Calendar, Keep, Tasks and most recently Chat and Meet, as well as with third-party services via the G Suite Marketplace.

How has Google’s hypothesis about email evolved over the years?

We see email as a very strong communication channel and the primary means of digital communication for many of our users and customers for many years to come. Most people still start their workday in email, which is still used for important use cases, such as more formal or external communications (i.e., with clients/customers), for record-keeping or easy access/reference, and for communications that need a little more thoughtfulness or consideration.

#developer, #diversity, #extra-crunch, #gmail, #google, #market-analysis, #product-design, #tc, #usability, #ux

As the world stays home, edtech’s Q2 venture totals rose sharply

My friend and colleague Natasha Mascarenhas has been reporting on the edtech beat quite a lot in 2020. So far reading her coverage, I’ve discovered that not only is edtech less dull than I anticipated, it’s actually somewhat interesting on a regular basis.

This week, for example, India’s Byju bought WhiteHat Jr., another Indian edtech company, for $300 million. So what, you’re thinking, that’s just another startup deal? Yes, but it was an all-cash transaction, and White Hat Jr. was only 18 months old.

That’s enough to tell you that edtech is hot at the moment. Which makes sense: much of the world is sheltering at home with school and offices shuttered.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


The COVID-19 era has provided an enormous boon to many software startups, though some more than others. Luckily for its boosters, edtech, after being neglected by VCs due to an expectation of small exits and long sales cycles thanks to red tape, is one of the sectors enjoying renewed interest from private investors and customers alike.

According to a Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) markets-focused report, edtech venture funding reached a local-maxima in Q2 2020, jumping more than 60% from the first quarter of this year to the second. On a year-over-year basis, Q2’s VC edtech results were even more impressive.

But, there’s some nuance to the data that should temper declamations that private edtech funding is forever changed.

This morning let’s peel apart the SVB data and parse through edtech funding rounds themselves from the second quarter to see what we can learn. COVID-19 is remaking the global economy as we speak, so it’s up to us to understand its evolving form.

An edtech boom?

From the top-line numbers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that edtech’s Q2 venture capital results were across-the-board impressive.

Before we dig into the results themselves, here’s the chart you need:

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #edtech, #education, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #market-analysis, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

Can learning pods scale, or are they widening edtech’s digital divide?

Lucia, a six-year old, hides from Zoom calls and has rejected every edtech tool from Seesaw to Khan Academy. She will spend all of first grade in quarantine.

Her mother, Claire Díaz-Ortiz, says her daughter fits squarely into the “distance learning death zone.” The idea is that younger children are too young to do distance learning solo, even with tools meant to make it easier. Here’s one kindergartner’s remote fall class schedule:

“And unfortunately for my daughter, I’m a VC, not a Zoom mom,” Díaz-Ortiz said.

The impact of the distance learning death zone, as Díaz-Ortiz calls it, is one of the reasons why many wealthy families with young children are considering a new solution: learning pods.

Learning pods are small clusters of children within the same age range who are paired with a private instructor. Depending on a parent’s preferences, learning pods could be an in-home or virtual experience and be either a full-time school replacement or supplemental learning.

In recent weeks, the concept has taken off all across the country, from suburbs to cities. There’s a Facebook group for Boulder, Colorado school districts; organizers launched Pandemic Pod San Diego to “connect families looking for in-home, teacher-led learning groups.” Some households are offering teachers a retainer. Among working mom groupchats, pods are taking off as a sanity lifesaver, especially as childcare responsibilities fall disproportionately on women.

Startups are pivoting to keep up with the demand for private teachers. But because of high costs, only affluent families are able to form or join learning pods, which may limit the model’s ability to reach scale while extending the existing digital divide.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #cowboy-vc, #edtech, #education, #extra-crunch, #jomayra-herrera, #market-analysis, #owl-ventures, #prisma, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #zoom

Robinhood’s Q2 soars

Robinhood’s huge, two-part Series F round came partially in Q2 and partially in Q3. The app-based trading platform announced the first $280 million  in early May, valuing the company at around $8.3 billion, up from a prior price tag of around $7.6 billion.

Then in July, Robinhood tacked on $320 million more at the same price, raising its valuation to around $8.6 billion.

While it has long been known that savings and investing apps and services are seeing a boom in 2020, precisely what caused investors to pour $600 million more into this already-wealthy company was less immediately evident. Recent data released by Robinhood concerning one of its revenue sources may help explain the rapid-fire capital events.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Filings from Robinhood covering the April through June period, Q2 2020, indicate that the company’s revenue from payment for order flow, a method by which a broker is paid to route customer orders through a particular group, or party rose during the period. As TechCrunch has covered, Robinhood generates a sizable portion of its revenue from such activities.

The company is hardly alone in doing so. As a new report from The Block, shared with The Exchange ahead of publication notes, Robinhood’s Q2 payment for order flow haul was impressive, but not singularly so; trading houses like E*Trade and Charles Schwab also grew their incomes from order flow routing in the period.

But Robinhood’s gains come in the wake of the firm’s promise to shake up its options trading setup after a customer took their own life. As we’ve written, there is a tension between Robinhood’s desire to limit who can access options trading, its need to grow and the incomes options-related order flow can drive for the budding fintech giant.

This morning, however, we are focusing on revenue growth over other issues (more to come on those later). Let’s dig into Robinhood’s Q2 order flow revenue numbers and see what we can learn about its run rate and current valuation.

A big Q2

According to The Block’s own calculations, Robinhood saw saw its total payment for order flow revenue roughly double, rising from $90.9 million in Q1 2020 to $183.3 million in Q2 2020, a 102% increase.

#apps, #extra-crunch, #finance, #market-analysis, #robinhood, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

Eight trends accelerating the age of commercial-ready quantum computing

Every major technology breakthrough of our era has gone through a similar cycle in pursuit of turning fiction to reality.

It starts in the stages of scientific discovery, a pursuit of principle against a theory, a recursive process of hypothesis-experiment. Success of the proof of principle stage graduates to becoming a tractable engineering problem, where the path to getting to a systemized, reproducible, predictable system is generally known and de-risked. Lastly, once successfully engineered to the performance requirements, focus shifts to repeatable manufacturing and scale, simplifying designs for production.

Since theorized by Richard Feynman and Yuri Manin, quantum computing has been thought to be in a perpetual state of scientific discovery. Occasionally reaching proof of principle on a particular architecture or approach, but never able to overcome the engineering challenges to move forward.

That’s until now. In the last 12 months, we have seen several meaningful breakthroughs from academia, venture-backed companies, and industry that looks to have broken through the remaining challenges along the scientific discovery curve. Moving quantum computing from science fiction that has always been “five to seven years away,” to a tractable engineering problem, ready to solve meaningful problems in the real world.

Companies such as Atom Computing* leveraging neutral atoms for wireless qubit control, Honeywell’s trapped ions approach, and Google’s superconducting metals, have demonstrated first-ever results, setting the stage for the first commercial generation of working quantum computers.

While early and noisy, these systems, even at just 40-80 error-corrected qubit range, may be able to deliver capabilities that surpass those of classical computers. Accelerating our ability to perform better in areas such as thermodynamic predictions, chemical reactions, resource optimizations and financial predictions.

As a number of key technology and ecosystem breakthroughs begin to converge, the next 12-18 months will be nothing short of a watershed moment for quantum computing.

Here are eight emerging trends and predictions that will accelerate quantum computing readiness for the commercial market in 2021 and beyond:

1. Dark horses of QC emerge: 2020 will be the year of dark horses in the QC race. These new entrants will demonstrate dominant architectures with 100-200 individually controlled and maintained qubits, at 99.9% fidelities, with millisecond to seconds coherence times that represent 2x -3x improved qubit power, fidelity and coherence times. These dark horses, many venture-backed, will finally prove that resources and capital are not sole catalysts for a technological breakthrough in quantum computing.

#ciso, #column, #cryptography, #developer, #extra-crunch, #market-analysis, #moores-law, #quantum-computing, #science, #startups, #tc

Go public now while software valuations make no sense

Software valuations are bonkers, which means it’s a great time to go public. Asana,, Wrike and every other gosh darn software company that is putting it off, pay attention. Heck, even service-y Palantir could excel in this market.

Let me explain.

Over the past few weeks, TechCrunch has tracked the filing, first pricing, rejiggered pricing range, and, today, the first day of trading for BigCommerce, a Texas-based e-commerce company. You can think of it as a comp with Shopify to a degree.

In the wake of the Canadian phenom’s blockbuster earnings report, BigCommerce boosted its IPO range. Yesterday the company did itself one better, pricing $1 per share above that raised range, selling 9,019,565 shares at $24 per share, of which 6,850,000 came from BigCommerce itself.

Before some additions, there are now 65,843,546 shares of BigCommerce in the world, giving the company an IPO valuation of around $1.58 billion.

Given that the company’s Q2 expected revenue range is “between $35.5 million and $35.8 million,” the company sported a run-rate multiple of 11.1x to 11x, depending on where its final revenue tally comes in. That felt somewhat reasonable, if perhaps a smidgen light.

Then the company opened at $68 per share today, currently trading for $82 per share. Hello, 1999 and other insane times. BigCommerce is now worth, using some rough math, around $5.4 billion, giving it a run-rate multiple of around 38x, using the midpoint of its Q2 revenue range.

#bigcommerce, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #ipo, #market-analysis, #ncino, #shopify, #startups, #tc, #web-applications

As e-commerce accelerates, fintech startups raised record $100M rounds in Q2

Reading headlines here and there, one might assume that venture capital interest in fintech startups is setting records every quarter.

After all: didn’t Robinhood raise $280 million and $320 million more this year? Stripe raised $600 million just a few minutes ago, and wasn’t it Monzo that raised £60 million a few weeks back? Oh, and Hippo raised $150 million the other day.

And what about that huge Plaid exit earlier in the year and Chime’s jillion dollars that came right before 2019 ended?

That’s how it has felt to me, at least. And with good reason: new data from CB Insights indicates that fintech startups raised a record number of so-called “mega-rounds,” financings worth $100 million and more, in the second quarter of 2020.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

So the vibe in fintech that huge rounds have been landing quite often is correct. But underneath the big deals, there was early-stage weakness in the market that makes for a surprising contrast.

The same CB Insights report details a key “tailwind” factor for many fintech startups, namely that e-commerce is booming in the COVID-19 era, rising from about 16% of total U.S. commerce to around 27% through Q2 of this year.

So, let’s start by taking a quick look at Square’s earnings that leaked yesterday, and some notes from Shopify’s recent results to decipher just how fast the economy is heading online before examining what happened in Q2 VC for fintech startups as a cohort.

We’ll keep this as numbers-light as we can, and fun as we can — I promise. Let’s go!

Digital commerce is growing like a weed

You might think that Square, a company most famous for its IRL payment terminals and ability to turn any person into a micro-company would suffer while COVID-19 slowed in-person business. But, despite slowing gross payment volume (GPV), as expected, Square’s revenue exploded in Q2, growing from $1.17 billion in Q2 2019 to $1.92 billion in the most recent period.

#cb-insights, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #finance, #fintech, #market-analysis, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange, #venture-capital

Software stocks set new records despite earnings, pandemic

You might have missed it, but amidst the current political-M&A-pandemic-election-disinformation news cycle we find ourselves in this week, SaaS and cloud companies reached new public market records.

Yesterday, the Bessemer-Nasdaq cloud index closed at 2,035.54, a new record finish for the basket of software companies. And, today, the index broached the 2,040 mark before ceding some ground.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

What matters for our purposes is that with a good chunk of the Q2 earnings cycle behind us, software companies are not only holding onto their gains from earlier in the year, they are managing to add to them, albeit modestly. Of course, valuation expansion during earnings season could still lead to gently falling multiples; as companies grow, if their shares gain value at a slower pace, their price/sales ratio can lose ground.

Regardless, for our purposes it’s notable that recent public market gains are not dissipating. Tech valuation boosts have helped major American indices regain ground lost early in the year, and Q2 earnings were a possible threat to prior progress. So far earnings-related dents are thin on the ground.

So, what’s going on? Why are SaaS and cloud stocks doing so well? Leaning on notes from two VCs — Jamin Ball from Redpoint and Mary D’Onofrio from Bessemer — we can unspool recent valuation highs.

#bessemer, #cloud, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #jason-lemkin, #market-analysis, #redpoint, #saas, #saastr, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

Decrypted: How a teenager hacked Twitter, Garmin’s ransomware aftermath

A 17-year-old Florida teenager is accused of perpetrating one of the year’s biggest and most high-profile hacks: Twitter.

A federal 30-count indictment filed in Tampa said Graham Ivan Clark used a phone spearphishing attack to pivot through multiple layers of Twitter’s security and bypassed its two-factor authentication to gain access to an internal “admin” tool that let the hacker take over any account. With two accomplices named in a separate federal indictment, Clark — who went by the online handle “Kirk” — allegedly used the tool to hijack the accounts of dozens of celebrities and public figures, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and former president Barack Obama, to post a cryptocurrency scam netting over $100,000 in bitcoin in just a few hours.

It was, by all accounts, a sophisticated attack that required technical skills and an ability to trick and deceive to pull off the scam. Some security professionals were impressed, comparing the attack to one that had the finesse and professionalism of a well-resourced nation-state attacker.

But a profile in The New York Times describes Clark was an “adept scammer with an explosive temper.”

In the teenager’s defense, the attack could have been much worse. Instead of pushing a scam that promised to “double your money,” Clark and his compatriots could have wreaked havoc. In 2013, hackers hijacked the Associated Press’ Twitter account and tweeted a fake bomb attack on the White House, sending the markets plummeting — only to quickly recover after the all-clear was given.

But with control of some of the world’s most popular Twitter accounts, Clark was for a few hours in July one of the most powerful people in the world. If found guilty, the teenager could spend his better years behind bars.

Here’s more from the past week.


Garmin hobbles back after ransomware attack, but questions remain

#accel, #amazon-web-services, #cloud-computing, #computer-security, #crime, #cybercrime, #data-breach, #decrypted, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #garmin, #google-cloud, #growth-marketing, #law-enforcement, #market-analysis, #phishing, #privacy, #ransomware, #security, #security-breaches, #series-a, #social, #startups, #tc, #twitter, #u-s-treasury, #venture-capital

SaaS securitization will disrupt VC’s biggest returns this coming decade

SaaS investing has been on fire the past decade and the returns have been gushing in, with IPOs like Datadog, direct listings like Slack and acquisitions like Qualtrics (which is now being spun back out) creating billions of wealth and VC returns. Dozens more SaaS startups are on deck to head toward their exits in the same way, and many VC funds — particularly those with deep portfolios in the SaaS space — are going to perform well.

Yet, the gargantuan returns we are seeing today for SaaS portfolios are unlikely to repeat themselves.

The big threat in the short term is simply price: SaaS investing has gotten a lot more expensive. It may be hard to remember, but just a decade ago the business model of “Software as a Service” was revolutionary. Much in the way that it took years for cloud infrastructure to take hold in corporate IT departments, the idea that one didn’t license software but paid by user or by usage over time was almost heretical.

For VCs willing to make the leap into the space, prices were (relatively) cheap. Investor attention a decade ago was intensely centered on consumer web and mobile, driven by Facebook’s blockbuster IPO in May 2012 and Twitter’s IPO the following year. While every investor was chasing deals like Snap(chat), the smaller population of investors targeting enterprise SaaS (or even more exotic spaces like, gulp, fintech) got great deals on what would later become the decade’s biggest unicorns.

#alex-danco, #datadog, #extra-crunch, #fundraising, #market-analysis, #qualtrics, #saas, #shopify, #slack, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Is the 2020 SPAC boom an echo of the 2017 ICO craze?

I wanted to write an essay about Microsoft and TikTok today, because I was effectively a full-time reporter covering the software giant when it hired Satya Nadella in 2014. But, everyone else has already done that and, frankly, there’s a more pressing financial topic for us to parse.

Let’s take a minute to take stock of SPAC (special purpose acquisition companies) which have risen sharply to fresh prominence in recent months. Also known as blank-check companies, SPACS are firms that are sent public with a bunch of cash and the reputation of their backers. Then, they combine with a private company, effectively allowing yet-private firms to go public with far less hassle than with a traditional IPO.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

And less scrutiny, which is why historically SPACs haven’t been the path forward for companies of the highest-quality; a look at the historical data doesn’t paint a great picture of post-IPO performance.

But that historical stigma isn’t stopping a flow of SPACs taking private companies public this year. A host of SPACs have already happened, something we should have remarked on more in Q1 and Q2.

Still, better late than never. This morning, let’s peek at two new pieces of SPAC news: electric truck company Lordstown Motors merging with a SPAC to go public, and fintech company Paya going public via FinTech III, another SPAC.

We’ll see that in hot sectors there’s ample capital hunting for deals of any stripe. How the boom in alt-liquidity will fare long-term isn’t clear, but what is plain today is that where caution is lacking, yield-hunting is more than willing to step in.

Electric vehicles as SPAC nirvana

The boom in the value of Tesla shares has lifted all electric vehicle (EV) boats. The value of historically-struggling public EV companies like NIO have come back, and private companies in the space have been hot for SPACs as a way to go public in a hurry and cash in on investor interest.

#automotive, #extra-crunch, #finance, #fundings-exits, #market-analysis, #nikola, #nio, #payments, #porch-com, #spac, #startups, #tc, #tesla, #the-exchange

Even as cloud infrastructure growth slows, revenue rises over $30B for quarter

The cloud market is coming into its own during the pandemic as the novel coronavirus forced many companies to accelerate plans to move to the cloud, even while the market was beginning to mature on its own.

This week, the big three cloud infrastructure vendors — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reported their earnings, and while the numbers showed that growth was beginning to slow down, revenue continued to increase at an impressive rate, surpassing $30 billion for a quarter for the first time, according to Synergy Research Group numbers.

#amazon, #aws, #azure, #canalys, #cloud, #cloud-market-share, #earnings, #enterprise, #extra-crunch, #google, #google-cloud-platform, #market-analysis, #microsoft, #synergy-research, #tc

How one moonshot VC approaches investing in the COVID-19 era 

Take one glance at Playground Global’s portfolio and a theme emerges: The firm’s investments are forward-looking, longer-term plays, a strategy that runs counter to the fast-return ethos that permeates certain Silicon Valley sectors.

The Palo Alto-based VC firm is banking on the future with investments in capital-intensive and technically complex pursuits, including robotics, autonomous driving, metallic 3D printing and infrastructure. It’s an investment strategy that isn’t for the faint of heart.

So, how does a firm that embraces futurism handle the present-day disruption of COVID-19? It looks ahead, of course.

When co-founder and CTO Peter Barrett joined TechCrunch this week for an Extra Crunch Live panel, the pandemic dominated the conversation. The executive noted that a new and common thread has emerged throughout the many discussions among Playground executives and the startups in which it has invested.

Priorities are shifting toward finding ways to be of service.

Everything feels different these days. Recent months have caused many in Silicon Valley to reconsider their investment priorities, roll up their figurative sleeves and begin the process of helping the world survive and, eventually, recover from the seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic. Like many others, Playground finds itself at a crossroads — determining how it can be of service, while examining the ways in which a crisis like this can be addressed.

“One thing that underscores this pandemic is a realization that we need to be doing other things if we want to avoid being stuck inside for six months to a year,” Barrett said. “The biggest trend is a recognition that we need to make the investments that give us agency over our biology, and to build the tooling and infrastructure, so the parade of maladies which is behind COVID won’t have the same consequences that COVID-19 has.”

The pandemic has also driven people to reflect on what they want to do with their lives, Barrett said, suggesting that this phenomenon could influence which startups emerge from this period as well as what venture capitalists choose to invest in.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, I think a dating app looks less appealing than contributing in some way,” Barrett said, adding that entrepreneurs are looking at areas that “put us in a position where we really don’t have to be stuck inside because of a certain kilobase virus.”

Playground has a number of startups that are in position to offer some support, though, as is the nature of the firm’s tendency toward long runways. Most, however, appear better positioned to consider how we can prepare ourselves for the inevitability of some future pandemic, rather than the one we’re currently battling. Click through to read the highlights and watch a video with our entire conversation.

Nearer term plays

Playground’s portfolio is a mix of companies that are building things on a longer timescale that have the capital and patience to weather this pandemic, Barrett said.

However, in the near term, there are categories of companies that have an opportunity to be of service and grow their business.

#albums, #amazon, #canvas-technology, #consumer-products, #ecl, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #events, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-live, #fedex, #manufacturing, #market-analysis, #peter-barrett, #playground-global, #private-equity, #quantum-computing, #tc, #ups, #venture-capital