Longtime VC, and happy Miami resident, David Blumberg has raised a new $225 million fund

Blumberg Capital, founded in 1991 by investor David Blumberg, has just closed its fifth early-stage venture fund with $225 million, a vehicle that Blumberg says was oversubscribed — he planned to raise $200 million — and that has already been used to invest in 16 startups around the world (the firm has small offices in San Francisco, New York, Tel Aviv, and Miami, where Blumberg moved his family last year).

We caught up with him earlier this week to talk shop and he sounded pretty ecstatic about the current market, which has evidently been good for returns, with Blumberg Capital’s biggest hits tied to Nutanix (it claims a 68x return), DoubleVerify (a 98x return at IPO in April, the firm says), Katapult (which went public via SPAC in July), Addepar (currently valued above $2 billion) and Braze (it submitted its S-1 in June).

We also talked a bit about his new life in Florida, which he was quick to note is “not a clone of Silicon Valley.” Not last, he told us why he thinks we’re in a “golden era of applying intelligence to every business,” from mining to the business of athletic performance.

More from our conversation, edited lightly for length and clarity, follows:

TC: What are you funding right now?

DB: Our last 30 to 40 deals have basically been about big data that’s been analyzed by artificial intelligence of some sort, then riding in a better wrapper of software process automation on rails of internet and mobility. Okay, that’s a lot of buzzwords.

TC: Yes.

DB: What I’m saying is that this ability to take raw information data that’s either been sitting around and not analyzed, or from new sources of data like sensors or social media or many other places, then analyze it and take it to the problem of all these businesses that have been there forever, is beginning to make incremental improvements that may sound small [but add up].

TC: What’s a very recent example?

One of our [unannounced] companies applies AI to mining — lithium mining and gold and copper — so miners don’t waste their time before finding the richest vein of deposit. We partner with mining owners and we bring extra data that they don’t have access to — some is proprietary, some is public — and because we’re experts at the AI modeling of it, we can apply it to their geography and geology, and as part of the business model, we take part of the mine in return.

TC: So your fund now owns not just equity but part of a mine?

DB: This is evidently done a lot in what’s called E&P, exploration and production in the oil and gas industry, and we’re just following a time-tested model, where some of the service providers put in value and take out a share. So as we see it, it aligns our interests and the better we do for them, the better they do.

TC: This fund is around the same size of your fourth fund, which closed with $207 million in 2017. How do you think about check sizes in this market?

DB: We write checks of $1 million to $6 million generally. We could go down a little bit for something in a seed where we can’t get more of a slice, but we like to have large ownership up front. We found that to have a fund return at least three x — and our funds seem to be returning much more than that — [we need to be math-minded about things].

We have 36 companies in our portfolio typically, and 20% of them fail, 20% of them are our superstars, and 60% are kind of medium. Of those superstars, six of them have to return $100 million each in a $200 million fund to make it a $600 million return, and to get six companies to [produce a] $100 million [for us] they have to reach a billion dollars in value, where we own 10% at the end.

TC You’re buying 10% and maintaining your pro rata or this is after being diluted over numerous rounds?

DB: It’s more like we want 15% to 20% of a company and it gets [diluted] down to 10%. And it’s been working. Some of our funds are way above that number.

TC: Are all four of your earlier funds in the black?

DB: Yes. I love to say this: We have never, ever lost money for our fund investors.

TC: You were among a handful of VCs who were cited quite a lot last year for hightailing it out of the Bay Area for Miami. One year into the move, how is it going?

DB: It is not a clone of Silicon Valley. They are different and add value each in their own way. But Florida is a great place for our family to be and I find for our business, it’s going to be great as well. I can be on the phone to Israel and New York without any time zone-related problems. Some of our companies are moving here, including one from from Israel recently, one from San Francisco, and one from Texas. A lot of our LPs are moving here or live here already. We can also up and down to South America for distribution deals more easily.

If we need to get to California or New York, airplanes still work, too, so it hasn’t been a negative at all. I’m going to a JPMorgan event tonight for a bunch of tech founders where there should be 150 people.

TC: That sounds great, though did you feel about summer in Miami?

DB: We were in France.

Pictured above, from left to right: Firm founder David Blumberg, managing director Yodfat Harel Buchris, COO Steve Gillan, and managing director Bruce Taragin.

#addepar, #ai, #artificial-intelligence, #blumberg-capital, #david-blumberg, #doubleverify, #israel, #miami, #nutanix, #tc, #venture-capital, #yotpo

Journey Clinical raises $3M to allow psychotherapists to prescribe psychedelics

Psychedelics companies are all the rage right now. Compass Pathways is working with the magic mushroom compound psilocybin to treat depression. It’s has raised $290 million in total. Atai Life Sciences — backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel — brought in $258 million from its IPO. In the tech space, this has not gone unnoticed and the same business models that have been used in other platforms for health and wellness startups are coming to psychedelics.

The latest is Journey Clinical, based out of NYC, which has raised a $3 million seed round led by San Francisco VC firm Fifty Years. Also participating were Neo Kuma Ventures, Palo Santo, PsyMed Ventures, Lionheart Ventures, Christina Sass co-founder of Andela, ​​Edvard Engesæth, MD co-founder of Nurx and, Hans Gangeskar co-founder of Nurx.

Journey joins other startups in the space looking at psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, where ketamine is used to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, and trauma, known as ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP). Miami-based startup NUE Life Health raised a $3.3 million seed round for the same purpose back in June. There is also Field Trip and Mindbloom playing in this space.

These startups are pushing at an open door on depression and anxiety. Pre-COVID-19, the National Center for Health Statistics estimated some 50 million Americans were fighting the afflictions. The pandemic has of course exacerbated this issue, with those figures doubling, by some estimates.

It’s still an early market. Journey says the market landscape for legal psychedelic therapies is very disparate, with over a million licensed mental health professionals lacking the infrastructure to offer these treatments as they lack access to prescribing clinicians. On the flip side, patients struggle to find psychotherapists who can prescribe psychedelics as treatment.

Journey says it has a “decentralized clinic model” that allows psychotherapists to offer legal psychedelic therapy treatments in their practice, starting with ketamine. The way it works is that Journey takes care of the pharmacology side, while psychotherapists that sign up to the platform take care of the psychotherapy of the patient. The treatment plans are then customized to meet the patient’s needs.

Jonathan Sabbagh, co-founder and CEO, was previously diagnosed with PTSD, but after discovering psychedelics, he went back to school to study clinical psychology, and went on to co-found Journey. He said: “We are on the verge of a paradigm shift in the field of mental health. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies are one of the most promising new means of treatment available; they will allow clinicians to tackle the growing global mental health crisis we are facing.”

Speaking to TechCrunch he added: “When we asked what was the main bottleneck for therapists to offer KAP to their patients, the #1 response was access to a prescribing doctor. Our alpha test group confirmed that guaranteeing access to a trained medical team and building a robust care management system would solve an essential bottleneck of mainstream adoption for KAP.”

Journey has two revenue streams. Psychotherapists pay them a $200 monthly membership fee which gives them access to a number of services including and access to the prescriber, an EHR (achieved through a white label), a KAP training (training materials created by a specialized training company), a profile on Journey’s directory, and a community of peers. Patients pay journey for medical services. They pay $250 for the intake consultation and $150 for follow-up consultations.

Ela Madej, Founding Partner at Fifty Years, said: “I dream of a world where those of us affected by trauma, anxiety, or depression don’t have to fall into learned helplessness. We’re lucky that powerful psychedelic treatments for the mind exist, but they need to be delivered responsibly, with proper screening, protocols, and follow-up. We’ve been incredibly impressed by Journey Clinical’s ambitious plan to empower psychotherapists to better treat their existing patients.”

The team also comprises Kyle Lapidus MD, Ph.D., who has over 20 years as a board-certified psychiatrist and has extensive experience working with ketamine; and Brigitte Gordon DNP a professor at Columbia University and also works for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS.)

#alpha, #andela, #atai-life-sciences, #christina-sass, #co-founder, #columbia-university, #compass-pathways, #depression, #drug-discovery, #drugs, #ela-madej, #fifty-years, #medicine, #mental-health, #miami, #multidisciplinary-association-for-psychedelic-studies, #nue-life-health, #nurx, #partner, #paypal, #peter-thiel, #ptsd, #tc

YouTube TV expands its live TV service with more Spanish-language networks

Google’s streaming TV service, YouTube TV, announced today it’s adding more Spanish-language networks to its base membership package and is preparing to launch an add-on package that will include even more Spanish-language content. Starting today, all subscribers will gain access to three new TV networks at no additional cost: Univision, UniMás, and Galavisión. These will join YouTube TV’s existing lineup of over 85 live TV channels, which today include top networks like Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and others, in addition to entertainment networks like those from Discovery and ViacomCBS.

The additions will bring to YouTube TV members a range of new Spanish-language content, including primetime series like “La Desalmada” and “Vencer El Pasado” arriving this fall, reality competition series “Nuestra Belleza Latina” on September 26, plus the 22nd Annual Latin Grammy Awards on November 18. The additions also bring sports programming like the Campeones Cup on September 29, and ongoing match-ups from Liga MX, UEFA Champions League, MLS, and the Mexican National Team, the company says.

Univision also noted that subscribers in top Hispanic markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and others, will be able to access Univision and UniMás’ local news, weather, and other programming. Plus, YouTube TV will carry Univision’s video-on-demand content library at launch, and subscribers will be able to use their YouTube TV credentials to authenticate with the company’s “TV everywhere”-powered Univision app.

The companies did not disclose the financial terms of their new agreement, but the deal hasn’t come with a price increase. YouTube TV, however, has been steadily hiking prices since its debut. It increased the service’s pricing to $64.99 last summer, following the new additions of 14 ViacomCBS networks, for example. But last month, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said there would be no new price increases in the near-term.

While the new channels will reach all subscribers, YouTube TV also announced plans to introduce a new add-on package that will be available for an additional monthly cost. This will include other Spanish-language networks like Sony Cine, CNN Español, Discovery en Español, Estrella TV, Cinelatino, Fox Deportes, and others. YouTube TV is not yet sharing the full lineup nor the price of the add-on just yet, but said it would offer more details in the “coming months.”

The Spanish-language network Pantaya will also be offered in the weeks ahead for an additional $5.99 per month, providing access to Spanish-language movies and exclusive original series, all of which are on-demand.

“We are delighted to partner with YouTube TV to expand Univision’s robust portfolio of networks and stations to include YouTube TV,” said Hamed Nasseri, Univision Vice President, Content Distribution, in a statement. “Amid the popularity of streaming services as well as the growing influence of our Hispanic community, this is an important step to ensure that our audience has access to our leading Spanish-language news, sports, and entertainment wherever they consume content. We are excited for today’s launch and recognize YouTube TV’s continued commitment to serving our growing and influential Hispanic audience.”

YouTube TV is not the first streamer to cater to an audience looking for Spanish-language content. In 2018, Hulu added its own Spanish-language bundle called ‘Español,’ which now gives subscribers live programming from networks including ESPN Deportes, NBC Universo, CNN En Español, History Channel En Español, Discovery en Español, and Discovery Familia. Hulu, however, doesn’t carry Univision but does offer Telemundo. Fubo TV, meanwhile, offers Univision and Telemundo and provides an Español plan with dozens of Spanish-language channels.

If anything, YouTube TV had been behind in terms of catering to Spanish speakers until now, and this offering will make it more competitive with rival services.

 

#champions-league, #chicago, #companies, #dallas, #houston, #hulu, #la, #los-angeles, #mass-media, #media, #miami, #mls, #neal-mohan, #new-york, #partner, #services, #sony, #streaming-services, #telemundo, #television, #univision, #youtube, #youtube-tv

Miami twins raise $18M for Lula, an insurance infrastructure upstart

Lula, a Miami-based insurance infrastructure startup, announced today it has raised $18 million in a Series A round of funding.

Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from SoftBank, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, Shrug Capital, Steve Pagliuca (Bain Capital co-chairman and Boston Celtics owner), Tiny Capital’s Andrew Wilkinson. Existing backers such as Nextview Ventures and Florida Funders also put money in the round, in addition to a number of insurance and logistics groups such as Flexport.

The startup’s self-proclaimed mission is to provide companies of all sizes — from startups to multinational corporations — with insurance infrastructure. Think of it as a “Stripe for insurance,” its founders say.

Founded by 25-year-old twin brothers and Miami natives Michael and Matthew Vega-Sanz, Lula actually emerged from another business the pair had started while in college.

“We couldn’t afford to have a car on campus and wanted pizza one night,” Michael recalls. “So I thought it would be cool if there was an app that let me rent a car from another student, and then I thought ‘Why don’t we build it?’ We then built the ugliest app you’ve ever seen but it allowed us to rent cars from other people on the campus.” It was the first company to allow 18-year-olds to rent cars without restrictions, the brother say.

By September 2018, they formally launched the app beyond the campus of Babson College, which they were attending on scholarships. Within eight days of launching, the brothers say, the app became one of the top apps on Apple’s App Store. The pair dropped out of college, and within 12 months, they had cars available on more than 500 college campuses in the United States.

“As you can imagine we needed to make sure there was insurance coverage on each rental. We pitched it to 47 insurance companies and they all rejected us,” Michael said. “So we developed our own underwriting methodologies or underwriting tools into the operations and had the lowest incident rate in the industry.”

As the company grew, it began partnering with car rental providers (think smaller players, not Enterprise, et al.) to supplement its supply of vehicles. In doing so, the brothers soon realized that the most compelling aspect of their offering was the insurance infrastructure they’d built into it.

“Our rental companies begin to put a significant portion of their business through our platform, and one day one called us and asked if they could start using the software in the insurance infrastructure we’d built out in the rest of our business.”

That was in early 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“At that moment, we began to realize, ‘Hey maybe the big opportunity here is not a car-sharing app for college students, but maybe the big opportunity here is something with insurance,’” Michael said.

A few weeks later, the duo shut down their core business and by April 2020, they pivoted to building out Lula as it exists today.

“In the same way that Stripe has built a payment API that eliminates the need for companies to build their own payment infrastructure, we decided we could build an insurance API that eliminates the need for companies to build their own insurance infrastructure,” Matthew said. “Companies would no longer need to build out internal insurance systems or tools. No longer would they need to deal with insurance brokers to procure them coverage. No longer would they need to deal with insurance teams. We can integrate on to a platform and handle all things insurance for companies and their customers via our API.”

By August of 2020, the company launched an MVP (minimum viable product) and since then has been growing about 30% month over month after reaching profitability in its first four months.

Image Credits: Lula

Today, Lula offers a “fully integrated suite” of technology-enabled tools such as customer vetting, fraud detection, driver history checks, and policy management and claims handling through its insurance partners. It has a waiting list of nearly 2,000 companies and raised its funding to fulfill that demand.

“The main purpose for raising capital was so we can build out the team necessary to fulfill demand and sustain growth moving forward,” Matthew said. “And apart from that, we also just want to further develop the technology — whether it be in the ways that we’re collecting data so we can get more granular and make smarter decisions or just optimizing our vetting system. We’re also just working toward developing a much more robust API.”

Existing clients include ReadyDrive, a car-sharing program for the U.S. military and a “ton of SMBs,” the brothers say. Investor Flexport will be conducting a pilot with the company.

“Every time a trucker picks up a load or delivery, instead of paying monthly policies, they will be able to pay for insurance for the two to three days they are on the road only,” Michael says. “Also, if someone is shipping a container via Flexport, they can add cargo coverage at the point of sale and get an additional layer of protection.”

Ultimately, Lula’s goal is to act as a carrier in some capacity.

Founders Fund’s Delian Asparouhov believes that the way millenials and Gen Zers utilize physical assets is “wildly different” than prior generations.

“We grew up in a shared economy world, where apps like Uber, GetAround, Airbnb have allowed us to episodically utilize assets rather than purchase them outright,” he said.

In his view, though, the insurance industry has not picked up on the massive shift.
“Typical insurance agents both don’t know how to underwrite episodic usage of assets, and they don’t know how to integrate into these typical of digital rental platforms and allow for instantaneous underwriting,” Asparouhov told TechCrunch. “Lulu is combining both of these technologies into an incredibly unique approach that digitizes insurance and gives us flashbacks to how Stripe disrupted the digitization of payments.”

Despite their recent success, the brothers emphasize that the journey to get to this point was not always a glamorous one. Born to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, they grew up on a small south Florida farm.

“We started our company out of our dorm room and initially emailed 532 investors only to get one response,” Michael said. “Founders just see the headlines but I just want to advise them to stay persistent and really keep at it. I’m not afraid to share that the company started off slow.”

#delian-asparouhov, #finance, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #infrastructure, #insurance, #insurtech, #khosla-ventures, #lula, #miami, #michael-vega-sanz, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Kaseya hack floods hundreds of companies with ransomware

On Friday, a flood of ransomware hit hundreds of companies around the world. A grocery store chain, a public broadcaster, schools, and a national railway system were all hit by the file-encrypting malware, causing disruption and forcing hundreds of businesses to close.

The victims had something in common: a key piece of network management and remote control software developed by U.S. technology firm Kaseya. The Miami-headquartered company makes software used to remotely manage a company’s IT networks and devices. That software is sold to managed service providers — effectively outsourced IT departments — which they then use to manage the networks of their customers, often smaller companies.

But hackers associated with the Russia-linked REvil ransomware-as-a-service group are believed to have used a never-before-seen security vulnerability in the software’s update mechanism to push ransomware to Kaseya’s customers, which in turn spread downstream to their customers. Many of the companies who were ultimately victims of the attack may not have known that their networks were monitored by Kaseya’s software.

Kaseya warned customers on Friday to “IMMEDIATELY” shut down their on-premise servers, and its cloud service — though not believed to be affected — was pulled offline as a precaution.

“[Kaseya] showed a genuine commitment to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we were beaten by REvil in the final sprint.” Security researcher Victor Gevers

John Hammond, senior security researcher at Huntress Labs, a threat detection firm that was one of the first to reveal the attack, said about 30 managed service providers were hit allowing the ransomware to spread to “well over” 1,000 businesses.” Security firm ESET said it knows of victims in 17 countries, including the U.K., South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, and Indonesia.

Now it’s becoming clearer just how the hackers pulled off one of the biggest ransomware attacks in recent history.

Dutch researchers said they found several zero-day vulnerabilities Kaseya’s software as part of an investigation into the security of web-based administrator tools. (Zero-days are named as such since it gives companies zero days to fix the problem.) The bugs were reported to Kaseya and were in the process of being fixed when the hackers struck, said Victor Gevers, who heads the group of researchers, in a blog post.

Kaseya’s chief executive Fred Voccola told The Wall Street Journal that its corporate systems were not compromised, lending greater credence to the working theory by security researchers that servers run by Kaseya’s customers were compromised individually using a common vulnerability.

The company said that all servers running the affected software should stay offline until the patch is ready. Voccola told the paper that it expects patches to be released by late Monday.

The attack began late Friday afternoon, just as millions of Americans were logging off into the long July 4 weekend. Adam Meyers, CrowdStrike’s senior vice president of intelligence, said the attack was carefully timed.

“Make no mistake, the timing and target of this attack are no coincidence. It illustrates what we define as a Big Game Hunting attack, launched against a target to maximize impact and profit through a supply chain during a holiday weekend when business defenses are down,” said Meyers.

A notice posted over the weekend on a dark web site known to be run by REvil claimed responsibility for the attack, and that the ransomware group publicly release a decryption tool if it is paid $70 million in bitcoin.

“More than a million systems were infected,” the group claims in the post.

#computer-security, #crime, #crimes, #crowdstrike, #cybercrime, #kaseya, #kenya, #miami, #network-management, #new-zealand, #ransomware, #security, #south-africa, #technology, #the-wall-street-journal, #united-kingdom, #united-states

In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The Big Thing

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#analyst, #app-store, #bertrand-serlet, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #bryce-durbin, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #india, #jack-dorsey, #king, #matthew-panzarino, #miami, #nigeria, #president, #prosus, #soulja-boy, #spacex, #spotify, #stack-overflow, #steve-jobs, #supreme-court, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent, #tesla, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #vitalik-buterin, #week-in-review

Extra Crunch roundup: first-check myths, Miami relocation checklist, standout SaaSy startups

This may seem like a great time to launch a SaaS startup, but the landscape is crowded with well-designed applications that promise “blazingly fast and delightfully simple” experiences, according to seed-stage investor John Chen of Fika Ventures.

Most SaaS startups will fail, but not because of a sour marketing campaign or server downtime. The majority of these companies will fall victim to what Chen calls “the myth of frictionless onboarding.”

Despite the hype about ease of use, enterprise companies always ask customers to abandon familiar tools so they can learn something new.

“Just like with a new fitness program, participants feel good after completing the workout, but it takes a lot of activation energy to start and hard work to get there,” Chen notes.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


Instead of putting the onus on customers to roll up their sleeves, he suggests that SaaS startups learn from cryptocurrency culture and find ways to “incentivize users to do the necessary work to have the right experience.”

But how do you encourage users to put in the time and effort required to produce an optimal customer experience?

“In a world where there is a surplus of alternatives for every job to be done, the scarce resource is not content, tooling, or hacks and tricks,” says Chen. “It’s attention.”

We’re off on Monday, May 31 in observance of Memorial Day; I hope you have a relaxing weekend!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Dismantling the myths around raising your first check

Full length side view of young woman carrying large pink block against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

As startups and venture capital grow in tandem, fundraising has gone from a formal affair on Sand Hill Road to a process that can happen anywhere from Twitter to Zoom.

While fundraising may no longer require a trip to California, it might depend on whether you got an invite to a private audio app. And while you may not need to be an insider, second-time founders — largely male and white — still have a competitive advantage.

The growing complexity of fundraising has the opportunity to make tech either inclusive or exclusive.

VC is the flashy gold medal, but the rapid growth of emerging fund managers means that a first check can be piecemealed together from a variety of different sources. The options for financing are seemingly endless: syndicates, public crowdfunding, VC firms, accelerators, debt financing, rolling funds, and, for the profitable few, bootstrapping.

Doximity’s S-1 may explain why healthcare exits are heating up

Telehealth startup Doximity filed to go public earlier today. Notably, the company has not fundraised since 2014, a year in which it attracted just under $82 million at a valuation of $355 million, per PitchBook data.

How has it managed to not raise money for so long? By generating lots of cash and profit over the years. Healthtech communications, it turns out, can be a lucrative endeavor.

What Vimeo’s growth, profits and value tell us about the online video market

Image Credits: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The spin-out of video platform Vimeo from IAC completed this week, and the smaller company is now trading as an independent entity under the ticker ‘VMEO’.

If you missed the news that the internet conglomerate was spinning out the video service, don’t feel bad; it slipped past many radars. But with the company now trading, our access to its historical results, and our minds still enthralled by YouTube’s recent financial performance for Alphabet, it’s worth taking a moment to digest the company’s health.

Flywire’s flotation suggests the IPO slowdown is behind us

The Flywire IPO is neat from a financial perspective and notable in that it’s a Boston exit as opposed to yet another New York or San Francisco-based flotation. It’s nice to see some other cities put points on the board.

But more than that, this IPO is a useful measuring stick for keeping tabs on the IPO market as a whole. This year and the last are shaping up to be key exit periods for startups and unicorns of all shapes and sizes; many a venture capital fund return rests on these public debuts.

Dear Sophie: Any unique immigration strategies for quick hiring?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I do recruitment for tech startups. With a surge of VC investing, many startups are urgently hiring.

Which visas offer the quickest options for international talent? Are there any unique strategies that you would recommend we explore?

— Maverick in Milpitas

7 questions to ask before relocating your startup to Florida

a photo of an art deco style building in Miami with pastel gradient colors

Image Credits: Artur Debat (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cities like Miami, Pittsburgh and Austin have been drawing talent and wealth from Silicon Valley for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend.

In recent months, many investors and entrepreneurs have noisily departed for Miami, citing the region’s favorable business climate and quality of life.

It’s always good to consider one’s options, but before booking a moving van for the Sunshine State — or any emerging tech hub, for that matter — here are some basic questions entrepreneurs should ask themselves.

Vise CEO Samir Vasavada and Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire break down the art of the pitch

Image Credits: Sequoia Capital / Wolfe + Von / TechCrunch

In just a few short years, Vise has gone from launching on the Disrupt Battlefield stage to a unicorn. Co-founders Samir Vasavada and Runik Mehrotra met Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire at an after-party at the event, and Maguire ended up leading a seed and Series A round while Sequoia led the Series B.

Last week, Vise raised its Series C of $65 million and was officially valued at $1 billion post-money.

We spoke to the pair about the early fundraising process for Vise, what Vasavada has learned about delivering a good fundraising pitch, and what stood out about the pitch and the product for Maguire.

Acorns’ SPAC listing depicts a consumer fintech business with a SaaSy revenue mix

Another day, another unicorn public offering.

On Thursday, it was Acorns, a consumer fintech service that blends saving and investing into a freemium product.

Acorns fits inside the larger savings-and-investing boom seen over the last four or five quarters as consumers buffeted by the economic changes brought on by COVID-19 turned to stashing cash and boosting their equities investing cadence.

By now this is old news, but we haven’t had a clear picture of the economics of consumer fintech startups accelerated by the pandemic. Now that Acorns has decided to list via a SPAC — more on that in a moment — we do.

Poor onboarding is the enemy of good hiring

Image of a person talking to two colleagues via videoconferencing.

Image Credits: Olga Strelnikova (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The world of hybrid work is here, and the usual 10-minute intro call, swag bag and first-day team lunch are just not enough to make your new employee feel welcome.

While many companies have found a way to interview and select candidates in a fully remote environment, few have spent time and resources on aligning the “pre-boarding” and onboarding process for the new hybrid world of work. Many employers still rely on old ways of welcoming new hires, despite our totally changed work environment.

It’s important to capitalize on candidates’ enthusiasm and eagerness from the moment the offer is signed instead of when they log in on Day One, because first impressions can make or break a candidate’s chances of staying at a company.

 

#ecommerce, #extra-crunch-roundup, #fika-ventures, #finance, #financial-technology, #flywire, #healthtech, #hiring, #john-chen, #miami, #newsletters, #runik-mehrotra, #saas, #samir-vasavada, #sequoia-capital, #shaun-maguire, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #vimeo

7 questions to ask before relocating your startup to Florida

If it seems like everyone you know is moving to Florida these days, there is evidence to back that up. Recent data from LinkedIn published in Axios put Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro areas among the top 10 U.S. cities seeing in-migration.

When I relocated from Chicago to Tampa in early 2018, I found myself in a city that countered the stereotypes I’d heard about the state. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the advantages that came with building my organization in Florida, and I’m often asked how I made the call.

To help you weigh the benefits of relocating your startup to Florida, here are some FAQs I’ve encountered. And if the Sunshine State isn’t on your startup’s shortlist, don’t hesitate to apply these answers to a different destination.

1. What are your company’s needs?

While you may have personal reasons for wanting to relocate to a new state, it’s a good idea to map out your company’s needs as you think through this decision.

Does a move bring you closer to a great pool of talent? Are you looking for a headquarters near a specific material resource or type of infrastructure? Do you need to be local to a target customer base or community?

For example, Florida is a terrific location for companies that stand to benefit from the presence of retired military talent and the prevalence of military bases, which creates a strong market for certain types of tech innovation, including cybersecurity and aviation.

If you’re a startup leader who is looking to land in a place with a strong, welcoming network, take the time to reach out to local community leaders and other founders like you.

Whatever it is you need to fuel your company’s growth, listing out your company’s requirements will make it easier to compare your needs with what your potential destination has to offer.

2. Which community do you want to be a part of?

If you haven’t found the tech community you’re looking for in your current location, pause to articulate what qualities you’re looking for. With this in mind, you can begin to establish the kinds of local connections you’re hoping to grow before you make any big moves.

I moved to Florida to participate in the diverse tech communities in Tampa and Miami, and I knew I was headed to the right place because I tested the waters before jumping in. As a relative newcomer myself, I’ve found the landscape in Florida to be more open and accessible than in other more established startup hubs, but don’t take my word for it.

If you’re a startup leader who is looking to land in a place with a strong, welcoming network, take the time to reach out to local community leaders and other founders like you. Whether that means sending a tweet to the mayor of Miami or connecting to local startup hubs, these interactions will give you a good sense of the local culture.

Because so many people are migrating down to Florida, we’ve put together a database of recent transplants to make it even easier to connect new residents to the existing tech community.

3. What are the potential benefits of moving your company to Florida?

When I think about what brought me to Florida and why I see other entrepreneurs headed this way, three big things come to mind:

#column, #ec-column, #ec-future-of-work, #florida, #miami, #startup-company, #startups, #tampa, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Pipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upstream, a Miami-based professional networking platform, raises a $2.75M seed round

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you have a LinkedIn profile with your digital resume and hundreds — if not thousands — of professional connections. But how many of those people do you actually know well, and, more importantly, do you ever connect with them and meet others from their networks?

“You don’t go to LinkedIn to meet people. You don’t hang out and spend meaningful time there,” said Alex Taub, co-founder and CEO of Upstream, a new professional networking platform that just closed a $2.75 million seed round, bringing their total raised to $3.25 million. The round was led by Ibex Investors and managing partner Nicole Priel (who joins the board) and includes participation by 8-Bit Capital, Human Ventures, NYVP, Converge Venture Partners and a number of angel investors.

“Your LinkedIn network is not a good representation of who you actually know and how well you know them. We see these places that LinkedIn isn’t particularly focused [on] and believe there are opportunities for multiple big companies to better serve the needs of professionals,” Taub added.

Unlike LinkedIn, Upstream focuses on generating meaningful connections between its members, and one way they go about it is by hosting digital events that start with a speaker, followed by breakout matched sessions that are five minutes each.

To get a sense of the product, Upstream invited me to be the speaker at last Friday’s “Upstream Social,” where I talked about my work as a journalist and then coincidently got matched with two founders — one in Brazil and the other in Boston. The week before, the guest speaker was U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

To me, the experience felt like LinkedIn meets Clubhouse meets Hoppin.

Upstream, which is pre-revenue and is Miami-based, is a company whose founder was attracted to the Sunshine State from NYC during the pandemic. Taub and his family signed a two-year lease here and plan to reevaluate their residence in the summer of 2022; they are one of the movers who are cautiously optimistic about the tech industry’s recent explosion in the Magic City.

The origin story

Taub and his co-founder, Michael Schonfeld, are both serial entrepreneurs, having built and sold Social Rank for an undisclosed amount before launching Upstream in October 2020. The impetus for the company came as a solution to a struggle Taub faced in his daily life.

“Throughout my life, regardless of the job I’ve been in, I spend my time making introductions, connecting people and helping friends hire rock-star talent. Like many people, I get energy from helping others,” Taub said. “When COVID-19 hit and the job market took a dive last March, the number of requests for help I received increased 100X. I noticed quickly that my speed of responding to emails and brain capacity to connect the dots became the limiting factor in getting people help,” he added.

So it’s no surprise that Upstream started as a product where people could ask for help, and others from the community pitched in. The company now has more than 200 communities (similar to LinkedIn groups), and about 75% of the people who attend an initial Upstream event return for a second one.

“I joke that we are building a product that people need because I need it. We feel that we are the right team to solve this problem because we so desperately want it ourselves,” Taub said.

#alex-taub, #cory-booker, #human-resource-management, #human-ventures, #ibex-investors, #labor, #linkedin, #miami, #michael-schonfeld, #nicole-priel, #recent-funding, #recruitment, #social, #social-networking, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #upstream, #work

Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

#america, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #brands, #butler, #california, #ceo, #cities, #clara-brenner, #companies, #construct-capital, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #frank-reig, #joby-aviation, #miami, #mit, #new-york-city, #oakland, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #remix, #revel, #san-francisco, #sequoia-capital, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #washington-d-c, #world-economic-forum, #y-combinator, #zipcar

Clubhouse will create billions in value and capture none of it

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

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was a busy week on the IPO front, Danny was buried in getting the Tonal EC-1 out, and Natasha took some time off. But the host trio managed to prep and record a show that was honestly a kick to record, and we think, a pleasure to listen to!

So, for your morning walk, here’s what we have for you:

It was a mix of laughs, ‘aha’ moments, and honest conversations about how complex ambition in startups should be. One listener the other day mentioned to us that the pandemic made it harder to carve out time for podcasts, since listening was often reserved for commutes. We get it, and in true scrappy fashion, we’re curious how you’ve adapted to remote work and podcasts. Let us know how you tune into Equity via Twitter and remember that we’re thankful for your ears!

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

#cameo, #clubhouse, #discord, #equity, #equity-podcast, #funding, #fundings-exits, #harlem-capital, #linkedin, #mac-venture-capital, #media, #miami, #microsoft-excel, #pipe, #podcasts, #spotify, #startups, #substack

QuikNode is building a blockchain developer cloud platform to compete with AWS

As hot as the blockchain space appears to be these days, it’s still far from simple to get a decentralized application reliably up-and-running. The NFT boom and rising cryptocurrency prices have brought more attention to applications running on the blockchain, but the dominant cloud service platforms aren’t quite ready to make a full-commit to the needs of these developers.

QuikNode, which recently raised funding from Y Combinator and is in the process of wrapping its seed funding, has been building out a Web3 cloud platform for blockchain developers that can help them create and scale applications. The startup seems to be further along than most of its fellow YC batch mates, founded back in 2017.

At the moment, running a decentralized app can involve a lot of base infrastructure headaches that take developer attention away from their actual products. The initial setup can require days worth of downloads to sync to these networks for the first time while maintenance costs can also be high, the startup says. QuikNode allows app developers to rent access to nodes that let them operate on the blockchain network of their choice, enabling them to sidestep maintaining and monitoring their own node.

Alongside node management and maintenance, QuikNode’s product integrates developer tools and analytics to simplify running a decentralized app. The challenge for QuikNode will likely be maintaining an edge here in the shadow of cloud giants if the decentralized app market grows to a sizable (and consistent) presence on the web. QuikNode is itself a customer of these large cloud companies, opting to focus on software rather than building up physical data centers, nevertheless they’re still directly competing with these big players.

“I think we have about two years on Amazon, we’re on their radar,” CEO Dmitry Shklovsky tells TechCrunch.

For the time being, QuikNode’s small size gives it a distinct pricing advantage compared to nascent programs from other cloud providers. Plans start at just $9 for users launching the most basic applications, with structured plans increasing depending on the amount of “method calls” being performed. Renting a dedicated node is $300 per month. From there, the startup offers several chain-specific add-ons with options like Archive mode that give applications access all historical value states inside smart contracts on the network or Trace mode, which lets developers request nodes to re-execute transactions.

The team currently operates over 1,000 nodes and has around 400 customers. As QuikNode aims to scale their customer base, Shklovsky says that one of the best paths to customer acquisition have been guides educating decentralized app developers on how to connect to the most popular networks. 

Currently, the largely Miami-based team supports networks on six chains including Ethereum, Bitcoin, xDai, Binance Smart Chain, Polygon and Optimism.

#amazon, #articles, #blockchain-network, #blockchains, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #ethereum, #miami, #smart-contract, #tc, #technology, #y-combinator

Pipe, which aims to be the ‘Nasdaq for revenue,’ raises more money at a $2B valuation

Fast-growing fintech Pipe has raised another round of funding at a $2 billion valuation, just weeks after raising $50M in growth funding, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Although the round is still ongoing, Pipe has reportedly raised $150 million in a “massively oversubscribed” round led by Baltimore, Md.-based Greenspring Associates. While the company has signed a term sheet, more money could still come in, according to the source. Both new and existing investors have participated in the fundraise.

The increase in valuation is “a significant step up” from the company’s last raise. Pipe has declined to comment on the deal.

A little over one year ago, Pipe raised a $6 million seed round led by Craft Ventures to help it pursue its mission of giving SaaS companies a funding alternative outside of equity or venture debt.

The buzzy startup’s goal with the money was 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. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

Just a few weeks ago, Miami-based Pipe announced a new raise — $50 million in “strategic equity funding” from a slew of high-profile investors. Siemens’ Next47 and Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Group co-led the round, which also included participation from Shopify, Slack, HubSpot, Okta, Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya, Marc Benioff, Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Republic, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six and Joe Lonsdale.

At that time, Pipe co-CEO and co-founder Harry Hurst said the company was also broadening the scope of its platform beyond strictly SaaS companies to “any company with a recurring revenue stream.” This could include D2C subscription companies, ISP, streaming services or a telecommunications companies. Even VC fund admin and management are being piped on its platform, for example, according to Hurst.

“When we first went to market, we were very focused on SaaS, our first vertical,” he told TC at the time. “Since then, over 3,000 companies have signed up to use our platform.” Those companies range from early-stage and bootstrapped with $200,000 in revenue, to publicly-traded companies.

Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit. Trading limits currently range from $50,000 for smaller early-stage and bootstrapped companies, to over $100 million for late-stage and publicly traded companies, although there is no cap on how large a trading limit can be.

In the first quarter of 2021, tens of millions of dollars were traded across the Pipe platform. Between its launch in late June 2020 through year’s end, the company also saw “tens of millions” in trades take place via its marketplace. Tradable ARR on the platform is currently in excess of $1 billion.

#alexis-ohanian, #baltimore, #banking, #chamath-palihapitiya, #corporate-finance, #craft-ventures, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenspring-associates, #hubspot, #investment, #isp, #joe-lonsdale, #marc-benioff, #maryland, #miami, #okta, #payment-processing, #pipe, #raptor-group, #recent-funding, #saas, #shopify, #siemens, #social-capital, #startups, #streaming-services, #tc, #telecommunications, #venture-capital

Google spinoff Cartken and REEF Technologies launch Miami’s first delivery robots

Self-driving and robotics startup Cartken has partnered with REEF Technologies, a startup that operates parking lots and neighborhood hubs, to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami.

With this announcement, Cartken officially comes out of stealth mode. The company, founded by ex-Google engineers and colleagues behind the unrequited Bookbot, was formed to develop market-ready tech in self-driving, AI-powered robotics and delivery operations in 2019, but the team has kept operations under wraps until now. This is Cartken’s first large deployment of self-driving robots on sidewalks.

After a few test months, the REEF-branded electric-powered robots are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius in downtown Miami. The robots, which are insulated and thus can preserve the heat of a plate of spaghetti or other hot food, are pre-stationed at designated logistics hubs and dispatched with orders for delivery as the food is prepared.

“We want to show how future-forward Miami can be,” Matt Lindenberger, REEF’s chief technology officer, told TechCrunch. “This is a great chance to show off the capabilities of the tech. The combination of us having a big presence in Miami, the fact that there are a lot of challenges around congestion as Covid subsides, still shows a really good environment where we can show how this tech can work.”

Lindenberg said Miami is a great place to start, but it’s just the beginning, with potential for the Cartken robots to be used for REEF’s other last-mile delivery businesses. Currently, only two restaurant delivery robots are operating in Miami, but Lindenberger said the company is planning to expand further into the city and outward into Fort Lauderdale, as well as other large metros the company operates in, such as Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and eventually New York.

Lindenberger is hoping the presence of robots in the streets can act as a “force multiplier” allowing them to scale while maintaining quality of service in a cost-effective way.

“We’re seeing an explosion in deliveries right now in a post-pandemic world and we foresee that to continue, so these types of no-contact, zero-emission automation techniques are really critical,” he said.

Cartken’s robots are powered by a combination of machine learning and rules-based programming to react to every situation that could occur, even if that just means safely stopping and asking for help, Christian Bersch, CEO of Cartken, told TechCrunch. REEF would have supervisors on site to remotely control the robot if needed, a caveat that was included in the 2017 legislation that allowed for the operation of self-driving delivery robots in Florida.

“The technology at the end of the day is very similar to that of a self-driving car,” said Bersch. “The robot is seeing the environment, planning around obstacles like pedestrians or lampposts. If there’s an unknown situation, someone can help the robot out safely because it can stop on a dime. But it’s important to also have that level of autonomy on the robot because it can react in a split second, faster than anybody remotely could, if something happens like someone jumps in front of it.”

REEF marks specific operating areas on the map for the robots and Cartken tweaks the configuration for the city, accounting for specific situations a robot might need to deal with, so that when the robots are given a delivery address, they can make moves and operate like any other delivery driver. Only this driver has an LTE connection and is constantly updating its location so REEF can integrate it into its fleet management capabilities.

Image Credits: REEF/Cartken

Eventually, Lindenberger said, they’re hoping to be able to offer the option for customers to choose robot delivery on the major food delivery platforms REEF works with like Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash or GrubHub. Customers would receive a text when the robot arrives so they could go outside and meet it. However, the tech is not quite there yet.

Currently the robots only make it street-level, and then the food is passed off to a human who delivers it directly to the door, which is a service that most customers prefer. Navigating into an apartment complex and to a customer’s unit is difficult for a robot to manage just yet, and many customers aren’t quite ready to interact directly with a robot. 

“It’s an interim step, but this was a path for us to move forward quickly with the technology without having any other boundaries,” said Lindenberger. “Like with any new tech, you want to take it in steps. So a super important step which we’ve now taken and works very well is the ability to dispatch robots within a certain radius and know that they’re going to arrive there. That in and of itself is a huge step and it allows us to learn what kind of challenges you have in terms of that very last step. Then we can begin to work with Cartken to solve that last piece. It’s a big step just being able to do this automation.”

#artificial-intelligence, #atlanta, #automotive, #cartken, #ceo, #chief-technology-officer, #dallas, #doordash, #driver, #fleet-management, #florida, #food, #google, #grubhub, #los-angeles, #machine-learning, #miami, #new-york, #postmates, #reef-technologies, #robot, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transportation

Jake Paul looks to knock out the venture capital world with Anti Fund

During every economic boom, there are startup investors who appear on the scene from new corners. Some churn out; others earn the respect of the old guard over time.

Jake Paul would be happy to be in the latter camp. Then again, the 24-year-old didn’t become a social media star by being conventional. Little wonder that Paul is now jumping into venture capital with an outfit that’s branded the Anti Fund. Newly formed with serial entrepreneur Geoffrey Woo, the endeavor is traditional in some ways but has a decidedly different point of view, say the two.

Some of the basics: Anti Fund is not a discrete pool of capital but is instead using AngelList’s Rolling Funds platform, which enables investors to raise money through a quarterly subscription from interested backers. Among those who’ve already committed capital are Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz.

Why choose a rolling fund instead of a traditional fund? For one thing, Paul and Woo were drawn to its Rule 506(c) structure, which enables issuers to broadly solicit and generally advertise an offering. Because Anti Fund plans to focus largely on consumer-focused brands and next-generation creator platforms in particular, “we want to be able to promote and advertise our fund,” says Woo, who most recently founded a nutrition-based food and beverage company and earlier in his career sold a company to Groupon.

Paul also wants to ensure his fans can get involved if they want. “I have followers are different reasons, and they want to be involved in what I’m doing. If they’re involved in our fund, then that’s more people rooting for us and our portfolio companies to win. We almost create this army that’s pushing all of these companies forward.”

Anti Fund plans to write checks of between $100,000 and $1 million to one to two startups every quarter. The goal, says Paul, is to be the “biggest rolling fund on AngelList” investing “around $10 million to $20 million a year.”

Anti Fund is just the newest effort to come from the world of social media influencers. As we reported earlier this month, the management company of another YouTube star, MrBeast, has dived into the world of venture capital with a $20 million fund it assembled with commitments from social media creators. Dispo, a photo-sharing app cofounded by YouTube star David Dobrik also attracted widespread attention and funding earlier this year. Not last, a new startup called Creative Juice just raised funding to provide equity-based financing to YouTube creators. MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, is among its investors.

“I think a lot of creators with newfound wealth — a lot of YouTubers or Instagram models — don’t necessarily know what to do with their money,” says Paul, who has already diversified into boxing, making his professional boxing debut last year. “I’m trying to lead the way.”

Neither Paul nor Woo is new to startup investing. Woo has invested in roughly 20 startups on his own, including Paribus, an email widget that saved consumers money and that was acquired by Capital One. Paul, meanwhile, previously cofounded another small venture outfit called TGZ Capital that he says participated in the funding rounds of 15 startups.

One of these is Quip, a seven-year-old oral care company that has raised $62 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Another company backed by Paul is Triller, a social video app that briefly became the most-downloaded free app in the App Store last summer when bigger rival TikTok was facing an uncertain future in the U.S.

Triller has since lost enough of that momentum that talk of going public via a special purpose acquisition vehicle has yet to lead to a tie-up, six months after the company reportedly began exploring the possibility. Still, as a stakeholder, Paul is keeping it in the headlines, including by providing it with exclusive rights to stream a pay-per-view boxing match between himself with former MMA wrestler Ben Asken on April 17.

Interestingly, it’s because Paul moved from L.A. to Miami to train for the fight that he met Woo, a Californian who visited Miami this past January for what was supposed to be a weekend trip and wound up staying. The two say they happened to hit it off at a tech event and, after establishing they had mutual friends, connected over their interest in performance nutrition, with Paul investing in Woo’s newest company, HVMN.

Last month, they decided to partner on Anti Fund, too.

Whether the two succeed as business partners will take time to learn. Certainly, they both have a strong work ethic. Woo has started three companies since graduating from Stanford with a computer science degree. Though Paul makes what what seems an inordinate amount of money for creating YouTube videos, he has created thousands of them in order to amass his more than 20 million followers.

It’s also clear that, as with his social media career, Paul is taking boxing seriously. During his most recent fight, in November, he knocked out former NBA player Nate Robinson in the second round. His first boxing match, against fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib in January of last year, also ended in a knockout just 2 minutes and 18 seconds into the fight.

Many professional athletes see the fights as mere stunts, given Paul’s famous made-for-video antics, from a short-lived marriage, to disregarding the concerns of neighbors in West Hollywood, to being charged by police last June for criminal trespass and unlawful assembly connected with the looting of an Arizona mall.

An obvious risk is that the best deal-makers in the world will see Anti Fund as a stunt, too, or else that something that Paul says or does will ruffle feathers. As industry watchers know, investors’ excitement over Dobrik’s Dispo dissipated quickly after Business Insider first detailed various accusations of misconduct against members of the Dobrik’s online squad, including an accusation of rape against one of Dobrik’s friends that allegedly took place during a video shoot.

Paul, who finished high school online in order to pursue a career as an influencer, is well aware of the Dobrik scandal. It’s because he has grown up in plain view, in fact, that he’s not concerned about something from his past threatening his future.

“It’s definitely [risky to be in my position]. Your life is put on display when you choose to be a celebrity and specifically a vlogger. But because I’ve lived online, everyone’s seen everything already,” he says.

He also thinks that “VCs and people in the business world understand more and more how to work” with influencers and other celebrities who have enormous followings and are bringing them along as their careers evolve. “At the end of the day,” he says of business partners, “if someone is a good person and you have a relationship established with them, that’s what really matters.”

#angellist, #chris-dixon, #groupon, #influencer, #marc-andreessen, #miami, #social, #social-media, #tc, #triller, #venture-capital, #youtube

Happening today: Attend TechCrunch’s free Miami meetup to hear how to raise money from Miami investors

In just a few hours, we’re going to (virtually) meet up in the Magic City, Miami. Since we first let you know about our new Spotlight series, we’ve gotten a ton of registrations and some amazing submissions for our pitch-off.

The small event features three segments: networking, a pitch-off, and a fireside chat with Rebecca Danta, Managing Director of Miami Angels, and Brian Brackeen, General Partner of Lightship Capital. Everyone is welcome to attend today’s event, but it’s specifically programmed to help and highlight those in the Miami region.

Register here. It’s free.

Meet Our TechCrunch City Spotlight: Miami Pitch-Off Companies and Judges

We had to go through some fantastic submissions to get the five that will pitch their companies to our judges today. We think you’ll agree that Miami’s best have come out in full force.

First, let’s meet the companies:

  • Evan Leaphart will be presenting his unique approach to helping kids learn how real-life actions lead to financial consequences with Kiddie Kredit
  • Lacey Kaelani has been a casting pro for years. How are things still done through Craigslist ads and hacked together databases? No idea. Casting Depot aims to solve that problem.
  • Samella Watson, founder of Sebiya, will remind us that when travelling where you stay is more than just a place to sleep.
  • Dan Saltman has seen people from all walks of life try to handle the footprint that social media leaves in their wake. Sometimes, you want to start over. Redact is the tool to do it with.
  • D Marie Thompson has a very personal story when it comes to nursing and she founded MyRa to solve a problem that affected her and her colleagues.

The three judges that have the difficult task of picking a winner and runner-up are:

Each company will get four minutes to present and then the judges will have a few minutes to ask questions. After all of the companies have pitched, the judges will get five minutes to decide who takes the crown of first-ever TechCrunch City Spotlight Pitch-Off champion.


Not in Miami? Don’t worry. TechCrunch is bringing this series of free events to other cities across the United States and abroad. In the coming weeks, we’ll have similar events in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and others as TechCrunch digs deep into growing tech scenes outside of Silicon Valley.

#miami, #tc

Have a startup in Miami? Apply to pitch at TechCrunch’s Miami virtual meetup

TechCrunch is coming to Miami — virtually, at least. On March 11, TechCrunch is hosting a small online event with local venture capitalists, founders, and those curious about the growing ecosystem. There will also be a small pitch-off event where Florida-based startups have three minutes to pitch their companies to Florida-based VCs.

Everyone is welcome to attend the event, but we’re looking for startups based in the Miami region to pitch at this event. TechCrunch has a long history of hosting small pitch-offs and we’re excited to revive this tradition despite the need to do it virtually.

Not in Miami? No worries. We’re spinning up similar events in other regions too. Spoiler: Detroit/Ann Arbor and Pittsburgh are next.

Qualifications

  • Early stage startup (Series A or earlier)
  • Startups based in the Miami region will be given priority
  • Pitch decks are highly recommended
  • Apply for the pitch-off here

The event is online and free, but space is limited. Register early. We hope you can make it.

#city-spotlight, #miami, #tc

Attend TechCrunch’s free virtual Miami meetup on March 11

Silicon Valley is novel, but not unique. Throughout the United States and abroad, there are communities of technology entrepreneurs leveraging local assets to build great companies. TechCrunch has long told these stories, and throughout the first half of 2021, our editorial staff is dedicated to shining a spotlight on exciting startups and notable investors in key cities and regions.

We’re looking at you Miami, Detroit, Austin, Pittsburgh and perhaps wherever you’re reading this from. TechCrunch wants to tell your story.

Join us on our first (virtual) field trip to Miami. Even though we can’t be there physically right now, it’ll sure feel like we are. All lights will be shining on the Magic City. The area is quickly transforming thanks to active investors, interesting companies, a Twitter-proficient Mayor and beautifully scenic living.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in Miami in general, seeking out a new, up-and-coming city to live in, looking for cool companies and talented founders to invest in, then you’ll want to register and drop March 11 on your calendar. This is a virtual event, but space is still limited so register early.

Here’s just some of what you can expect:

  • Networking – It’s what you can always count on us for. Companies are started and deals get done at TechCrunch events (yes, even the virtual ones!)
  • Pitch-off – We’re going to tap into the local tech scene in Miami and bring on some VCs to take a look at a  your pitches. They’ll give you feedback live from the stage. Sign up to pitch by filling out this form.
  • Panels – Meet the movers and shakers up close and personal. Hear about their journey, ask them questions, and find out what’s special to them about Miami.

All along the way we’ll be asking for your feedback by way of polls, Q&A’s and surveys. We want to hear from everyone who lives in the birthplace of sunscreen and we’re looking to you for suggestions on folks who should be getting all of the attention we can throw at them on March 11. Drop suggestions in the comments below.

It’s going to be one to remember and it’s the perfect setup for when we can safely crash the city in person again!

Join us on our first (virtual) field trip to Miami.

#miami, #tc

6 Miami-based investors share their views on the region’s startup scene

Miami is quickly becoming a symbol for the tech exodus from Silicon Valley. The area is home to a number of investors, successful tech founders and an eager local government.

For this survey, TechCrunch spoke to a number of investors about the area’s potential, opportunities and key players. This is the second survey TechCrunch published on the area and the first can be found here.

In this survey, these investors agree on several aspects of Miami. They see a huge opportunity for the region to become a major startup hub by utilizing its diverse workforce and wonderful quality of life. As they say below, the future of work is uncertain and Miami is becoming more attractive as workforces disconnect from office buildings.

We spoke to the following investors:


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Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder and managing partner, Clerisy

Where do you see Miami’s startup scene five years from now?

Miami’s startup scene has been growing and evolving over the past 5+ years thanks to local organizations supporting entrepreneurship including, but not limited to Endeavor Miami, The Knight Foundation, The Lab, Rokk3r Labs, eMerge Americas, Miami Angels and Wyncode. Many of Miami’s entrepreneurs, investors and startups have historically had ties to Latin America. I think going forward, the Miami tech scene will certainly continue to be a conduit to Latin America as it has been in the past. However, I predict more non-Latin American founders, investors, engineers and operators from cities like New York, LA and San Francisco, will also choose to build their businesses in Miami due to higher quality of life and more attractive tax rates. This dynamic will bring more relevant talent and a larger, more robust tech ecosystem to South Florida.

Remote work is pushing and pulling the global workforce. This means that offices will disappear from Miami, even with more companies moving in, but also more locals who work remotely for companies elsewhere. How do you see these factors impacting the city’s tech evolution?

I think we will see more diverse talent flow through Miami as a result of remote work becoming the norm. If employees technically headquartered in other cities are able to work remotely from anywhere, why not try out working from home while based in sunny Miami where one can be outdoors every day of the year? I recently joined a WhatsApp chat called “Nomads in Miami” that includes a variety of intellectually curious people from all walks of life (from creatives, to entrepreneurs, to traditional professionals) who are either temporarily in Miami this winter or have made a permanent move to South Florida. This chat is reflective of new groups of people coming to experience The Magic City. Anecdotally, I’ve found that many of these people who are “testing Miami out,” had never spent significant time in Miami before. I also recently joined another WhatsApp chat #miamitechlife that includes a local community of founders, investors, executives and local leaders to meet, collaborate and network while engaging in fun activities around Miami. There is an excitement and energy in Miami right now, and I believe it’s here to stay!

What industry sectors do you focus on within Miami (and beyond)? What is happening in Miami now that you’re most excited to fund?

I recently launched a growth equity fund called Clerisy with my amazing business partner Lisa Myers who was most recently a partner at L Catterton, a leader in consumer private equity. We are excited to invest in fast-growing consumer and techsumer companies doing over $10 million in revenue, are quickly scaling and need growth capital. We will fund businesses that meet our criteria in categories we like such as health and wellness, consumerization of healthcare, food and beverage, beauty, and other consumer and techsumer areas. I would be thrilled to find an investment based in Miami, however Clerisy is not focused on a specific geography. We will invest in businesses located in cities or countries where we have previous business experience and ample, relevant networks.

What are some of the local challenges you’ve encountered or seen founders struggle with? More generally, how should people looking to hire in, invest in, or relocate to Miami think about doing business in the city?

The Miami tech ecosystem is smaller than in the Bay Area or New York and arguably less intense, with fewer exits so far of which to speak. Although tightly knit, it is indeed welcoming to newcomers. I think this local hospitality is because Miami has had a bit of a transient nature among some of its inhabitants due to many Latin Americans coming and going every year, depending on the political or economic situations in their respective home countries. I think it will be easier than ever to convince new hires to relocate to Miami. The more success and exits Miami’s existing startups have, the easier it will be to attract more investment at the local level and more future talent.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystem roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc.

On a local level, Miami needs a range of people to support its startup ecosystem: founders, high-quality talent ranging from engineers to marketers to creatives, angel investors, venture capital and private equity funds, lawyers, and then ideally a loyal and engaged consumer base that proudly supports its local companies.

David Goldberg, general partner, Alpaca

Where do you see Miami’s startup scene five years from now?

Miami has everything in place to accelerate its rise to be cemented as a significant tech/startup ecosystem. It now has capital (investors), founders, talent and infrastructure, each growing by the day given the attractiveness to the area. In five years, I am confident Miami will only trail SF, NYC, LA and Boston in terms of size/deals.

Remote work is pushing and pulling the global workforce. This means that offices will disappear from Miami, even with more companies moving in, but also more locals who work remotely for companies elsewhere. How do you see these factors impacting the city’s tech evolution?

It’s a double-edged sword. In a positive sense, you’ll get founders moving here, building out remote/distributed/hybrid teams. You’ll also have individual employees living here, but working remotely for companies based in other areas. What will be harder to get is the giant company all built from scratch with everyone local. These successes (e.g., Uber in SF) create thousands of future founders, operators and investors that pay it forward in their ecosystem. Without that, it will be tough to truly crack the top tier.

What industry sectors do you focus on within Miami (and beyond)? What is happening in Miami now that you’re most excited to fund?

As a firm, we focus broadly on consumer, marketplaces, e-commerce infrastructure, real estate technology and fintech. Given the influx of talent, I’m not sure if Miami needs to be pigeonholed to a few sectors. Traditionally, it’s been known for travel/hospitality, healthcare tech and real estate tech, but I’m already seeing emerging trends around blockchain/crypto, fintech, remote work and even some traditional enterprise SaaS. Miami is also an incredible bridge to Latam and South America and I can see a slew of companies taking advantage of that.

What are some of the local challenges you’ve encountered or seen founders struggle with? More generally, how should people looking to hire in, invest in or relocate to Miami think about doing business in the city?

The physical dispersion can make it more difficult. Just in Miami, there are minihubs in Brickell, Wynwood/Midtown, The Grove, Coral Gables, etc. Then you have completely separate networks up north in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, etc.

Additionally, Miami needs a bigger focus and contribution from its universities. Silicon Valley, LA, Boston and New York each have top-tier institutions that churn out tech talent. That’s still missing here.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystem roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.

Honestly, I am uncovering more each day. And everyone likes to talk about the “big names” that have recently moved here, like Keith Rabois, Anthony Pompliano, Harry Hurst, Jon Oringer, etc. But I also have deference to the folks that have been here, working tirelessly for years, creating the foundation. Some that come to mind: Melissa Medina, Matt Haggman, Nico Berardi, Shervin Pishevar, Raul Moas, Nancy Dahlberg, Rebecca Danta, Moishe Mana, Laura Maydon, Brian Brackeen, Tony Jimenez, Brian Breslin, Juan Pablo Cappello, Mellissa Krinzman, Mark Kingdon, and now, of course, Mayor Francis Suarez.

Mark Volcheck, founding partner, Las Olas Venture Capital

Where do you see Miami’s startup scene five years from now?

We think that things are still very early, but are bullish on the future of Florida tech. One of the key things to work on over the next five years is the continued community building — right now, there are a lot of disparate groups and not much communication between them. Over time, that cohesiveness could really drive south Florida forward as a tech ecosystem.

Remote work is pushing and pulling the global workforce. This means that offices will disappear from Miami, even with more companies moving in, but also more locals who work remotely for companies elsewhere. How do you see these factors impacting the city’s tech evolution?

We do think there will be a future for offices and in-person collaboration. Across our entire portfolio nearly all companies have some plan to retain in-person talent. The biggest benefit is that remote work has enabled people in Big Tech to work outside of Silicon Valley, and it appears Miami and South Florida, more broadly, are enjoying the benefits of that decentralization. The distribution of talent will benefit founders here locally as the old VC expectations of tech talent to be hyperconcentrated in Silicon Valley is no longer as true, and people here locally will have access to better resources.

What industry sectors do you focus on within Miami (and beyond)? What is happening in Miami now that you’re most excited to fund?

Our fund targets two primary themes: B2B vertical SaaS and SaaS-enabled businesses/marketplaces, and broadly what we call knowledge worker tools — DevOps, cybersecurity and other typically product-led horizontal applications. Within vertical SaaS, logistics and supply chain tech has really taken off within the last few years, with even more tailwinds due to COVID’s impact on consumer demand and delivery expectations. As logistics is a huge industry for Miami and Florida, we think startups here have a very exciting opportunity in that space. We have now funded several companies in Florida across various aspects of logistics, from final mile delivery to long-haul trucking route optimization.

What are some of the local challenges you’ve encountered or seen founders struggle with? More generally, how should people looking to hire in, invest in or relocate to Miami think about doing business in the city?

Access to capital has been a significant problem for Florida-based founders since before we started our first fund back in 2016. There are relatively few funds actively investing in tech companies here at the seed and Series A stage, and essentially none post-Series A. Companies have historically had difficulty getting attention from Silicon Valley-based VCs due to the preconceptions of Florida as a bad place to start a company. Even as recently as last year the standard line from some Bay Area investors was, “Move out of Florida if you are serious about raising money.” That said, some of these preconceptions have been deserved, as historically South Florida as a business community has been prone to falling for flash over substance and that has occasionally been true for investors and startups as well. With the buzz around Miami and Florida as a place of interest for VCs and tech, we hope that attitudes around funding Florida companies have changed, as it is clear that good businesses can be built anywhere.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystem roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc.

We’d like to mention all of our Florida-based companies who have been heads down building great businesses here locally — ReloQuest, CarePredict, OneRail, SmartHop and Plum. They are all hiring and growing like crazy, and several have received follow-on funding from top VCs. Check them out!

Maya Baratz Jordan, CEO and founding partner, Founders Factory New York

Where do you see Miami’s startup scene five years from now?

Cities with a diverse set of well-represented industries are often fertile grounds for building interesting companies. New York is a great example. Tech ecosystems thrive in an environment where you can unearth and solve a myriad of different problems versus just the problems of a single sector. The most interesting and lucrative companies tend to focus on blindspots in big markets. The blindspots are often discovered when they emerge out of silo and there’s a creative flow between industries. This is why I believe the diversity of industries and talent is ultimately a strength for Miami.

Remote work is pushing and pulling the global workforce. This means that offices will disappear from Miami, even with more companies moving in, but also more locals who work remotely for companies elsewhere. How do you see these factors impacting the city’s tech evolution?

One of the reasons it seems a lot of people are moving to Miami now is the fact that their job may not be tethered to a geographic location and they can work where they enjoy living. Given this unique strength to encompass work/life balance, Miami can experiment with hybrid models of working environments. Perhaps the dichotomy of working in an office versus working at home is dated. Offices were created for a time when technology used to be limited and the fastest way to communicate was in person. In-person interaction is important, but perhaps there are ways we can maintain [in-person interaction] that are not necessarily tethered to an office and that incorporate more ways to integrate with one’s life.

What industry sectors do you focus on within Miami (and beyond)? What is happening in Miami now that you’re most excited to fund?

Consumer healthcare is an area I’ve been actively investing in, and it seems like there’s been a lot of activity in Miami in that vertical, ranging from medical robotics to remote monitoring for chronic illnesses. I’m also interested in the future of work and the creator economy, and I believe the diverse set of industries in Miami will breed interesting companies that address the need for people to lucratively pursue their passions.

What are some of the local challenges you’ve encountered or seen founders struggle with? More generally, how should people looking to hire in, invest in, or relocate to Miami think about doing business in the city?

People in Miami joke that they run on “Miami time,” which is something between island time and how New Yorkers think of time.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystem roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc.

Miami is a city built by immigrants, and that strength is what will allow Miami to thrive as a tech ecosystem; immigrants start businesses at higher rates than those who are native born. It seems like female founders in particular have been quietly building interesting and successful businesses here.

Sanket S. Parekh, managing partner, Secocha Ventures

Where do you see Miami’s startup scene five years from now? The city has attracted a wide range of people over the years, including more tech and finance companies very recently. How will it add up to something more than the sum of the parts?

If you think of Miami as a product and evaluate its adoption curve, it seems like we have reached the chasm. I.e., those of us who have been here pre-COVID are like those you’d characterize as innovators and the during-COVID crowd as the early adopters. Miami is at the point where we now need to prove we can continue on the curve from early adopters to early majority.

Five years from now we’ll hopefully be focused on headlines showcasing startups that are growing and hiring here, and not just about which investor has relocated here (which is also good, don’t get me wrong, but not the end-all).

We can also wish that Miami’s best traits — its international perspective, its racial, socioeconomic and cultural diversity — will infuse something unique and truly distinctive into the founders and investors building their businesses here.

Remote work is pushing and pulling the global workforce. This means that offices will disappear from Miami, even with more companies moving in, but also more locals who work remotely for companies elsewhere. How do you see these factors impacting the city’s tech evolution?

I don’t see a future where humans stop interacting with each other IRL. While how we “work” will look very different, offices “disappearing” is a bit of a stretch. It’s more likely that we will see an evolution of what an office looks like and how it functions as a “hub.”

Miami is full of disjointed “neighborhood clusters.” Up until now, this has been a negative, but given the changes we are going to see in how we work, I believe this is no longer as critical. In fact, it can be seen as an advantage where someone could live/work on the beach, and go to events/meetings at their “hub,” which may be elsewhere, when needed versus being so focused on living close to your workplace since you need to commute every day.

What industry sectors do you focus on within Miami (and beyond)? What is happening in Miami now that you’re most excited to fund?

While we’ve been based in Miami for the last seven years, we invest globally. In fact, COVID has made it even more acceptable to not be geographically constrained. This is the precise reason you are seeing investors move here.

We invest in fintech, healthcare tech, consumer tech and consumer products.

One of our most exciting portfolio companies is based in Broward: CarePredict. With the changes that COVID has brought about, they are uniquely placed to take advantage and provide the right dose of technology that eldercare requires.

Within our local ecosystem, Chewy and MagicLeap have been large employers. I’m most excited to see what their employees branch out and create in the coming years.

We are also excited to see a growing number of exceptionally talented founders moving to Miami to start their companies. These talents may have selected San Francisco or NYC previously, which is a great opportunity for us to meet exceptional teams at the infancy of an idea.

What are some of the local challenges you’ve encountered or seen founders struggle with? More generally, how should people looking to hire in, invest in or relocate to Miami think about doing business in the city?

Angel rounds are challenging here as compared to other more mature markets where founders or folks from the startup ecosystem play a larger role in angel rounds. Most local angels are used to investing in real estate, and approach early-stage deals differently than those who may be more accustomed to the asset class.

Hiring top-quality talent was also traditionally more challenging here than in tier-one entrepreneurial cities. With the significant influx of remote workers in the past year and the change in perceptions about Miami, we are hopeful that local companies will be able to overcome this challenge.

Miami is a collection of neighborhood clusters, as I mentioned earlier. If someone is looking to relocate here, they should spend some time getting to know what works for them before they commit to a neighborhood.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystem roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc.

  • Venture Bites is a local grassroots organization made up of people passionate about the startup ecosystem. They organize educational sessions with key players from across the country and are also organizing a pitch competition with prominent public and private partnerships already in place.
  • Refresh Miami has been a vocal supporter and “info hub” for the community.
  • Miami Angels has been working tirelessly to get more angel investors into the startup ecosystem. There are a lot of high net worth individuals here, but it’s been historically challenging to get their attention away from real estate investing to startup investing. Hopefully, with Miami crossing the chasm it’ll bring more folks into the mix.
  • Animo Ventures and Las Olas Venture Capital are two other VC firms located in South Florida from pre-COVID days. Hopefully we’ll hear of many more setting up shop here in the coming months.
  • The Knight Foundation has been one of the most consistent supporters of the ecosystem and its impact cannot be understated.
  • 500 Startups is one of the very first Silicon Valley firms to have recognized the potential of Miami, setting up an office here a few years ago. Ana and her colleagues have been instrumental in stimulating and engaging the local ecosystem.

Laura González-Estéfani, founder, TheVentureCity

Where do you see Miami’s startup scene five years from now?

If the leaps we have made in the last five years are any indication of the next five, we believe Miami will be the next big tech hub in the southern United States. We have all the right pieces to make that true: engineer/developer schools and academies, startup programs and accelerators for seed, a thriving tech community, exits from founders reinvesting in the next generation of founders, influx of new capital, quality of life that tech company founders and employees are starting to prioritize, engaged local government as we have recently seen, as well as an incredibly diverse pool of talent.

Remote work is pushing and pulling the global workforce. This means that offices will disappear from Miami, even with more companies moving in, but also more locals who work remotely for companies elsewhere. How do you see these factors impacting the city’s tech evolution?

We believe talent has no zip code and smart cities are those that attract and retain the best talent — it’s no longer just about connectivity or infrastructures exclusively. In the past, people had to relocate to work at their dream job sacrificing too much personally. 2020 has just confirmed that you don’t need to sacrifice the way you want to live your life because of a dream job. The complaint we used to hear from talent was that there were not enough mid- to senior-level roles in Miami in tech — remote work has significantly strengthened Miami. Miami is a dream destination for a lot of people in different stages of life, so we see Miami also becoming a great remote work hub for those that can be 100% remote, even if they only spend part of the year here and then migrate to other climates. The workforce has more choices now than ever before and we think people will start to really put quality of life over job location. It is a true game changer.

What industry sectors do you focus on within Miami (and beyond)? What is happening in Miami now that you’re most excited to fund?

We have been based in Miami for the past four years and we invest from Miami to where the best founders are. Sometimes [they are] in Miami and sometimes in other states or countries. “We are from Miami to the world.” We are now witnessing a huge internal movement from other states to Miami, but many of us moved from our countries to Miami because of the immense opportunities Miami offers. We invest in software companies disrupting traditional industries, Health tech, fintech, mobility, cybersecurity and jobs. We have also invested in marketplace business models in products disrupting travel, pets, solutions for SMBs. We love giving a first ticket from $100,000 to seed stage companies jointly with a product-led growth program or a pre-Series A to a ticket of an average of $3 million through our Fund II. We love diverse companies, international mindset and execution over anything else.

Miami has always been an extraordinary hub for fintech, we are closely following interesting companies in this space and obviously health tech. We have to say that we have seen very disruptive companies in proptech and also very interesting marketplaces of all kinds B2C and B2B.

What are some of the local challenges you’ve encountered or seen founders struggle with? More generally, how should people looking to hire in, invest in or relocate to Miami think about doing business in the city?

Our biggest challenge has always been fighting the biases of people around Miami. You have to experience Miami to understand the opportunities it brings. It’s a very welcoming city where so many people will help you land. The next biggest challenge is that the amount of capital that Miami moves versus how much is invested in tech is ridiculous, really a pity. For this reason we need a fund of funds that supports the local funds so that they can develop the ecosystem on this front. And I am not talking about leftovers of capital that need to meet a quota or small initiatives. I mean people investing with true conviction in the asset. That is what gets the flywheel running, capital to fund managers that chose the right entrepreneurs from Miami or outside [and] that create jobs, etc. Let’s not forget that capital attracts founders and founders develop a huge industry that creates thousands of jobs. It is not only about investing in Miami, it’s also about investing from here to the world.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc?

Sure, Juha and Johanna Mikola from Wyncode [since submitting these answers, the company was acquired by Brain Station], Andrew Parker from Papa, Claudia Duran from Endeavor, Victor Servin — CTO of TheVentureCity, David Smith — chief data scientist from TheVentureCity, David Marcus — chief product officer at TheVentureCity. Jimena Zubiria — VP of People at TheVentureCity, Anabel Perez-Novo — CEO of NovoPayment, Adolfo Babatz — CEO of Clip, Rodrigo Teijeiro — CEO of RecargaPay, Jackie Baumgarten — CEO of Boatsetter, Justin Meyers — CEO of Explorest and Vivek Jayaram (lawyer).

#alexandra-wilkis-wilson, #alpaca, #clerisy, #david-goldberg, #ec-investor-survey, #founders-factory-new-york, #laura-gonzalez-estefani, #maya-baratz-jordan, #miami, #sanket-s-parekh, #secocha-ventures, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Miami edtech startup Nearpod acquired by Renaissance

Nearpod, the Miami-based edtech company, is being acquired by Renaissance Holding Corp., a group that develops education technology. While Nearpod isn’t announcing the news until later this month, the information leaked to Yahoo! Finance yesterday, and a source inside the company confirmed the sale with TechCrunch this morning. The acquisition price, and further details, have yet to be disclosed.

Nearpod offers an edtech platform that K-12 teachers use in the classroom to create interactive slides filled with videos, quizzes, questions and other activities. Students can use any device to participate in the lessons in real-time; there is also a student-paced learning mode. In response to the pandemic, Nearpod now also offers remote learning, too.

It’s been a busy year for Nearpod. The company, which was founded in 2012 by three Argentinian entrepreneurs, is now led by Pep Carrera who was brought on in early 2020 just as the pandemic gained traction. The company has raised more than $30 million in venture capital according to Crunchbase, and we last profiled the startup in 2017 when it raised its Series B.

In a previous interview, Carrera told me “My first day on the job, I’m driving to the office [near Dania Beach] and talking to the management team on the phone, and we decided that we needed to close the office due to the pandemic. This was in March.” Nearpod currently employees about 250 employees, most of which are at their Dania Beach HQ.

While the pandemic has posed many questions around remote work, under the leadership of Carrera, Nearpod has seen explosive growth in 2020. While Nearpod was primarily designed to be used in the classroom, the team was able to turn it into a remote-learning platform, too, making it a forerunner in K-12 distance education.

Nearpod is used in all 50 states, and in more than 1,800 school districts. In 2020 alone, the company grew by about 50% with more than 1 million teachers using the product, and 2-3 million students online per day. In a December 2020 interview, Carrera told me that all the money being generated right now is being put back into the company to propel its growth, which has been organic. Nearpod spends very little ad dollars on marketing. The real marketing, he said, is by word of mouth.

A teacher uses Nearpod to deliver digital curriculum to students’ mobile devices, during class. Photo via Nearpod.

Prior to joining Nearpod, Carrera was president of ProQuest Books, where he led a team focused on providing innovative software that made the acquisition, management, and delivery of books to academic learners, researchers, and librarians efficient and impactful. And even prior to ProQuest, as president and COO, Carrera grew VitalSource Technologies, the digital learning division of Ingram Conte Group, serving more than 20 million learners per year globally, by 10x over his six years there.

M&A activity in edtech has accelerated as VCs have splurged funding into the space. As my colleague Natasha Mascarenhas wrote recently, edtech M&A is leading to mass consolidation in the space. Nearpod joins a number of other edtech companies like Symbolab and Woot Math that have exited in recent months.

#edtech, #education, #ma, #miami, #nearpod

SmartHop raises a $12M Series A to ease trucking logistics

If you are a founder and launched a startup last February of 2020 just before the pandemic hit, then you may have felt like you were living the ultimate business nightmare. But if your company serves to stabilize the supply-chain business, then, in fact, you may have hit the ground running at just the right time. So is the story of Miami-based startup SmartHop, an AI-powered app that helps interstate truckers make their routes more efficient and lucrative, while removing a lot of the administrative hassle for drivers.

SmartHop announced today that it raised $12 million in a Series A round, bringing the company’s total funding to date to $16.5 million. The round was led by Union Square Ventures, whose past investments include Stripe, Twitter, Coinbase, Etsy, MeetUp, SkillShare and Duolingo, among others.

SmartHop takes a complex problem with lots of moving parts and offers a simple solution. To understand the gap in the market, you need to understand the hurdles that interstate truck drivers face. And since Garcia is a former truck driver himself (he was a pet food delivery driver while in college in his native Venezuela and scaled his business to a 500-person trucking company), he has a good grasp on the pain points and intricacies of the industry.

“I lived with my parents in Caracas and I asked my parents to empty their garage and that was my first distribution center,” said Guillermo Garcia, CEO and co-founder of SmartHop, of his experience starting his first trucking company. “The trucking market moves like the stock market,” he added, explaining that it’s ever-changing and therefore impossible to predict.

According to a 2019 study by The American Trucking Associations, the trucking industry is a $791.7 billion industry, representing 80.4% of the nation’s freight bill. Additionally, 91% of trucking companies are small businesses, meaning they have six trucks or fewer. Many are owner-operators. Traditionally, to get loads, truckers had to scour apps or websites of about 15,000 different brokers. It was a total uncoordinated, inefficient, free-for-all approach that left drivers unable to predict their monthly revenues, among many other things.

This is how SmartHop helps those drivers. Let’s say Bob lives in Atlanta and he has a single truck; he’s an owner-operator. He has a load that’s going to take him all the way to Seattle, and it’s going to take him several days to get there. Financially, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Bob to start the trip without knowing what else he can pick up along the way, or if Seattle should really be his turnaround point. Maybe there’s not a lot of freight leaving Seattle these days, but there’s a lot going out of Chicago. There’s no way for Bob to know these things.

Before SmartHop, Bob had to pick up the phone, call brokers and make deals. Most of this work was done while on the road and Bob had no foresight into his next couple of weeks of work – or life, for that matter.

With SmartHop, Bob can enter details about his truck’s capacity, cities he doesn’t like driving through and other details, and SmartHop will recommend loads to him that optimize his profits and travel time. Think of it like when you’re driving and using Waze and it asks if you want to drive to Starbucks because it’s a couple of minutes out of the way. All you have to do is accept, and Waze does the rest. SmartHop operates similarly.

SmartHop technology giving a driver three load booking options, which the platform’s tech will negotiate and book (image: SmartHop).

“Some truckers don’t like to drive through New York City because there are a lot of tolls, bridges and traffic,” said Garcia, “So it doesn’t matter the value of the load, he’s just not going to pick it up,” he added.

But if you really want to go full autopilot, SmartHop can take over and autonomously book the loads for you – all you have to do is drive and take care of the truck, Garcia said.

The more a trucker uses SmartHop, the more the company learns the driver’s preferences and makes better suggestions or bookings.

SmartHop charges a transaction fee of 3% of the gross sale. “Our incentives are very aligned, so when they make money, we make money, and when they are taking days off, we don’t charge anything,” said Garcia.

“[Union Square Ventures] is focused on businesses that utilize technology to build networks and broaden access,” said Rebecca Kaden, managing partner at Union Square Ventures. “We were particularly excited to meet Guillermo and the SmartHop team, because that’s exactly what they are doing — software empowers the owner-operator trucking company to optimize their business and compete with players far bigger in number.”

Ryder, the Miami-based logistics company, also participated in the round through its new venture arm, RyderVenture. SmartHop is its first investment. Equal Ventures and Greycroft, from SmartHop’s seed round, also invested.

“A lot of startups have a lot of good technology and no one to test it on,” said Karen Jones, Ryder executive VP, CMO and head of new product innovation. “And the software doesn’t go very far if there is no one in the real world to try it.” Prior to the RyderVenture investment, Ryder partnered with SmartHop to test the product on its own trucks, of which they have 275,000.

The company, which was part of the 2019 New York City Techstars cohort, currently has 50 full-time employees and 100 trucks using the product. Each truck, on average, grosses between $10K – $15K per month.

The latest funding round will go toward product development as well as embedded financial products. Unlike big companies, smaller trucking companies don’t have the leverage to negotiate better rates on fuel or insurance, but with SmartHop’s volume of drivers, it can change that. Additionally, they’ll be offering to factor invoices, so drivers can sell a 45-day invoice and get paid within just 24 hours by SmartHop. “Because we have so much data, we become the ultimate underwriter so I’m able to underwrite in advance, and much smarter,” said Garcia.

#miami, #smarthop, #startups, #transportation