Why hundreds of thousands of bots descended on one Steam arcade collection

Promotional image for Capcom Arcade Stadium.

Enlarge / 400,000 bots can’t be wrong. (credit: Capcom)

Monday night at 11 pm EST, there were 18 players logged on and playing the Steam version of Capcom Arcade Stadium (according to SteamDB data sourced from the Steam store itself). Ten hours later, on Tuesday morning, the game peaked at over 488,000 concurrent players, putting it behind only perennial favorites Counter-Strike: GO and Dota 2 on Steam’s list of most-played games for the day.

No, the idea of playing classic Capcom arcade games on the PC didn’t get 27,000 times more popular literally overnight. Instead, the sudden “success” seems driven by automated bots taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity to score some “free” money by minting and selling Steam Trading Cards.

Steam Trading Cards explained

Since the launch of Steam Trading Cards in 2013, players have been able to earn, buy, and sell the purely digital collectibles in thousands of games on Valve’s online platform. For most supported games, a player can get half of the available trading cards just by putting in playtime. To get a game’s full card set, a player has to purchase the remainder from the Steam Community Market. There, other players can offer their excess cards for sale, with commodity pricing determined by floating buy and sell offers that fluctuate based on supply and demand.

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#arbitrage, #capcom, #cards, #gaming-culture, #money, #snafu, #steam

Bilt Rewards banks $60M growth on a $350M valuation to advance credit card benefits for renters

Bilt Rewards, a loyalty program for property renters to earn points on rent with no fees and build a path toward homeownership, announced Tuesday a round of $60 million in growth funding that values the company at $350 million.

The investment comes from Wells Fargo and Mastercard and a group of the nation’s largest real estate owners, including The Blackstone Group, AvalonBay Communities, Douglas Elliman, Equity Residential, GID-Windsor Communities, LENx, The Moinian Group, Morgan Properties, Starwood Capital Group and Related.

Bilt launched back in June out of Kairos, the startup studio led by Ankur Jain, focused on enabling over 109 million renters in the U.S. to earn points from paying their rent every month — typically someone’s largest monthly expense. Since then, the program was rolled out across over 2 million rental units, Jain told TechCrunch.

“We are the first and only alliance of the major property owners to create this kind of program and already have 15 of the top 20 owners involved,” he added. “We are also the only co-branded card to offer points on rent.”

Greg Bates, GID president and CEO, said his company has 130 assets spread across the top 20 markets and manages 40,000 apartment units. He learned about Bilt from a colleague who attended a proptech conference where Jain demoed the Bilt card.

For as long as Bates has been in the real estate industry, about 20 years or so, renters have wanted to pay rent with a credit card for convenience and to earn loyalty points. However, that was cost-prohibitive in terms of the surcharges needed to be added to the rental rate — until Bilt, he said. The card “is incredibly easy to use” and integrates into property owners’ online payment systems.

“Bilt has transformed the value proposition for residents that want to use a credit card and for landlords that want to accept them,” Bates added. “There will always be barriers to entry for products like this, but Bilt spent time with Mastercard and Wells Fargo to develop this unique product which will be a competition differentiator for a few years to come.”

In addition to the new funding, Bilt is also announcing new benefits for its loyalty members and upgraded offerings for the Bilt Mastercard, including the ability to earn up to 50,000 points on rent per year and unlimited points using the credit card.

For members, Bilt will pay interest in the form of points for a member’s account each month based on their average daily points balance over the 30-day period, and offer a concierge service for members choosing to redeem their Bilt points toward a home down payment. In addition, members can earn bonus points on top of points used by landlords on new leases and renewals.

Bilt worked with regulators, as well as Fannie Mae and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to gain approval for using rewards points toward a mortgage. Members can also report their rent payments to the credit bureaus at no cost, which can help build credit history for millions of young renters.

Meanwhile, the company’s new “0-1-2-3” point earning structure for Bilt Mastercard holders provides no annual fee, 1x points on rent payments, 2x points on travel, 3x points on dining and 1x points on all other purchases.

This is the company’s first major external financing round and will be used to expand its real estate and loyalty partner network, grow its distribution channels and make its platform credit card more widely available to the public. Jain estimates Bilt is seeing 20% enrollment across residents.

As more renters move to homeownership over time, Bilt has plans to leverage this potential larger business to eventually become a mortgage provider for them.

“Renting is something people do for a while, and the core business has a massive scale opportunity, especially in the demographic under 35 years old, who tend to be up-and-coming professionals,” Jain added. “This is a unique target market, and Bilt will grow with them as they build their path to homeownership.”

 

#ankur-jain, #avalonbay-communities, #bilt, #credit-cards, #enterprise, #funding, #gid-windsor-communities, #greg-bates, #landlord, #loyalty-program, #mastercard, #money, #ownership, #payments, #property-technology, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #the-blackstone-group, #wells-fargo

UK’s MarketFinance secures $383M to fuel its online loans platform for SMBs

Small and medium businesses regularly face cashflow problems. But if that’s an already-inconvenient predicament, it has been exacerbated to the breaking point for too many during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, a UK startup called MarketFinance — which has built a loans platform to help SMBs stay afloat through those leaner times — is announcing a big funding infusion of £280 million ($383 million) as it gears up for a new wave of lending requests.

“It’s a good time to lend, at the start of the economic cycle,” CEO and founder Anil Stocker said in an interview.

The funding is coming mostly in the form of debt — money loaned to MarketFinance to in turn loan out to its customers as an approved partner of the UK government’s Recovery Loan Scheme; and £10 million ($14 million) of it is equity that MarketInvoice will be using to continue enhancing its platform.

Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. and an unnamed “global investment firm” are providing the debt, while the equity portion is being led by Black River Ventures (which has also backed Marqeta, Upgrade, Coursera and Digital Ocean) with participation from existing backer, Barclays Bank PLC. Barclays is a strategic investor: MarketFinance powers the bank’s online SMB loans service. Other investors in the startup include Northzone.

We understand that the company’s valuation is somewhere in the region of under $500 million, but more than $250 million, although officially it is not disclosing any numbers.

Stocker said that MarketFinance has been profitable since 2018, one reason why it’s didn’t give up much equity in this current tranche of funding.

“We are building a sustainable business, and the equity we did raise was to unlock better debt at better prices,” he said. “It can help to post more equity on the balance sheet.” He said the money will be “going into our reserves” and used for new product development, marketing and to continue building out its API connectivity.

That last development is important: it taps into the big wave of “embedded finance” plays we are seeing today, where third parties offer, on their own platforms, loans to customers — with the loan product powered by MarketFinance, similar to what Barclays does currently. The range of companies tapping into this is potentially as vast as the internet itself. The promise of embedded finance is that any online brand that already does business with SMEs could potentially offer those SMEs loans to… do more business together.

MarketFinance began life several years ago as MarketInvoice, with its basic business model focused on providing short-term loans to a given SMB against the value of its unpaid invoices — a practice typically described as invoice finance. The idea at the time was to solve the most immediate cashflow issue faced by SMBs by leveraging the thing (unpaid invoices, which typically would eventually get paid, just not immediately) that caused the cashflow issue in the first place.

A lot of the financing that SMBs get against invoices, though, is mainly in the realm of working capital, helping companies make payroll and pay their own monthly bills. But Stocker said that over time, the startup could see a larger opportunity in providing financing that was of bigger sums and covered more ambitious business expansion goals. That was two years ago, and MarketInvoice rebranded accordingly to MarketFinance. (It still very much offers the invoice-based product.)

The timing turned out to be fortuitous, even if the reason definitely has not been lucky: Covid-19 came along and completely overturned how much of the world works. SMEs have been at the thin edge of that wedge not least because of those cashflow issues and the fact that they simply are less geared to diversification and pivoting due to shifting market forces because of their size.

This presented a big opportunity for MarketInvoice, it turned out.

Stocker said that the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the bulk of loans being taken out to manage business interruptions due to Covid-19. Interruptions could mean business closures, or they could mean simply customers no longer coming as they did before, and so on. “The big theme was frictionless access to funding,” he said, using technology to better and more quickly assess applications digitally with “no meetings with bank managers” and reducing the response time to days from the typical 4-6 weeks that SMBs would have traditionally expected.

If last year was more about “panicking, shoring up or pivoting,” in Stocker’s words, “now what we’re seeing are a bunch of them struggling with supply chain issues, Brexit exacerbations and labor shortages. It’s really hard for them to manage all that.”

He said that the number of loan applications has been through the roof, so no shortage of demand. He estimates that monthly loan requests have been as high as $500 million, a huge sum for one small startup in the UK. It’s selective in what it lends: “We choose to support those we thought will return the money,” he said.

#api, #bank, #barclays, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #coursera, #digital-ocean, #economy, #embedded-finance, #europe, #finance, #funding, #invoice, #loans, #marketfinance, #marketinvoice, #marqeta, #money, #partner, #short-term-loans, #startup-company, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

TrueLayer nabs $130M at a $1B+ valuation as open banking rises as a viable option to card networks

Open banking — a disruptive technology that seeks to bypass the dominance of card networks and other traditional financial rails by letting banks open their systems directly to developers (and new services) by way of APIs — continues to gain ground in the world of financial services. As a mark of that traction, a startup playing a central role in open banking applications is announcing a big round of funding with a milestone valuation.

TrueLayer, which provides technology for developers to enable a range of open-banking-based services has raised $130 million in a funding round that values the London-based startup at over $1 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading the round, and notably, payments juggernaut Stripe is also participating.

Open Banking is a relatively new area in the world of fintech — the UK was an early adopter in 2018, Europe then signed on, and it looks like we are now seeing more movements that the U.S. may soon also join the party — and TrueLayer is considered a pioneer in the space.

The vast majority of transactions in the world today are still made using card rails or more antiquated banking infrastructure, but the opportunity with open banking is to build a completely new infrastructure that works more efficiently, and might come with less (or no) fees for those using it, with the perennial API promise: all by way of few lines of code.

“We had a vision that finance should be opened up, and we are actively woking to remove the frictions that exist between intermediaries,” said CEO Francesco Simoneschi, who co-founded the company with Luca Martinetti (who is now the CTO), in an interview. “We want a financial system that works for everyone, but that hasn’t been the case up to now. The opportunity emerged five years ago, when open banking came into law in the UK and then elsewhere, to go after the most impressive oligopoly: the card networks and everything that revolves around them. Now, we can easily say that open banking is becoming a viable alternative to that.”

It seems that the world of finance and commerce is slowly catching on, and so the funding is coming on the heels of some strong growth for the company.

Services that TrueLayer currently include payments, payouts, user account information and user verification; while end users range from neobanks, crypto startups, and wealth management apps through to e-commerce companies, marketplaces and gaming platforms.

And the startup says it now has “millions” of consumers making open banking transactions enabled by TrueLayer’s technology, and some 10,000 developers are building services based on open banking standards. TrueLayer so far this year has doubled its customer base, picking up some key customers like Cazoo to enable open-banking based payments for cars; and it has processed “billions” of dollars in payments, with payment volume growing 400%, and payment up 800%.

The plan is to use the funding to invest in building out that business further — specifically to extend its payments network to more regions (and more banks getting integrated into that network), as well as to bring on more customers using open banking services for more regular, recurring transactions.

“The shift to alternative payment methods is accelerating with the global growth of online commerce, and we believe TrueLayer will play a central role in making these payment methods more accessible,” said Alex Cook, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Francesco, Luca and the TrueLayer team as they help customers increase conversion and continue to grow the network.”

Notably, Stripe is not a strategic investor in TrueLayer at the moment, just a financial one. That is to say, it has yet to integrate open banking into its own payments infrastructure.

But you can imagine how it would be interested in it as part of the bigger mix of options for its customers, and potentially also to build its own standalone financial rails that well and truly compete with those provided by the card networks (which are such a close part of what Stripe does that its earliest web design was based on the physical card, and even its name is a reference to the stripe on the back of them.

There are other providers of open banking connectivity in the market today — Plaid out of the U.S. is one notable name — but Simoneschi believes that Stripe and TrueLayer on the same page as companies.

“We share a profound belief that progress comes through the eyes of developers so it’s about delivering the tools they need to use,” he he said. “We are in a very complementary space.”

#api, #bank, #banking, #ceo, #cto, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #london, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-banking, #online-commerce, #online-payments, #open-banking, #partner, #payment, #payments-infrastructure, #payments-network, #stripe, #tiger-global-management, #truelayer, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #web-applications

Index Ventures launches web-app to help founders calculate employee stock options

The ability to offer stock options is utterly essential to startups. They convince talented people to join when the startup is unlikely to be capable of matching the high salaries that larger, established tech firms can offer.

However, it’s a complex business developing a competitive stock option plan. Luckily, London-based VC Index Ventures today launches both a handy web app to calculate all this, plus new research into how startups are compensating their key hires across Europe and the US.

OptionPlan Seed, is a web-app for seed-stage founders designing ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans). 
The web app is based on Index’s analysis of seed-stage option grants, drawing on data from over 1,000 startups.

The web app covers a variety of roles; 6 different levels of allocation benchmarks; calculates potential financial upside for each team member (including tax); and adjusts according to policy frameworks in the US, Canada, Israel, Australia, and 20 European countries.

It also builds on the OptionPlan for Series A companies that Index launched a few years ago.

As part of its research for the new tool, Index said it found that almost all seed-stage employees receive stock options. However, while this reaches 97% of technical hires at seed-stage startups and 80% of junior non-technical hires for startups in the US, in Europe only 75% of technical hires receive options, dropping to 60% for junior non-technical hires.

That said, Index found stock option grant sizes are increasing, particularly among startups “with a lot of technical DNA, and weighted towards the Bay Area”. In less tech-heavy sectors such as e-commerce or content, grant sizes have not shifted much. Meanwhile, grants are still larger overall as seed valuations have grown in the last few years.

Index found the ESOP size is increasing at seed stage, following a faster rate of hiring, and larger grants per employee. Index recommends an ESOP size at seed stage is set at 12.5% or 15%, rather than the more traditional 10% in order to retain and attract staff.

The research also found seed fundraise sizes and valuations have doubled, while valuations have risen by 2.5x, in Europe and the US. 


Additionally, salaries at seed have “risen dramatically” with average salaries rising in excess of 60%. Senior tech roles at seed-stage startups in the US now earn an average $185,000 salary, a 68% increase over 3 years, and can rise to over $220,000. But in Europe, the biggest salary increases have been for junior roles, both technical and non-technical.



That said, Index found that “Europe’s technical talent continues to have a compensation gap” with seed-stage technical employees in Europe still being paid 40-50% less on average than their US counterparts. Indeed, Index found this gap had actually widened since 2018, “despite a narrowing of the gap for non-technical roles”.


Index also found variations in salaries across Europe are “much wider than the US”, reflecting high-cost hubs like London, versus lower-cost cities like Bucharest or Warsaw.

The war for talent is now global, with the compensation gap for technical hires narrowing to 20-25% compared to the US.


Index’s conclusion is that “ambitious seed founders in Europe should raise the bar in terms of who they hire, particularly in technical roles” as well as aiming for more experienced and higher-caliber candidates, larger fundraises to be competitive on salaries.

#australia, #canada, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #investment, #israel, #london, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #stock, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #warsaw, #web-app

As UK Gov reaches out to tech, investors threaten to ‘pull capital’ over M&A regulator over-reach

UK competition regulators are spooking tech investors in the country with an implied threat to clamp down on startup M&A, according to a new survey of the industry.

As the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer engaged with the tech industry at a ‘Chatham House’ style event today, the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) think-tank released a survey of over 50 key investors which found startup investors are prepared to pull capital over the prospect of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) becoming a “whole-economy regulator by accident”. Investors are concerned after the CMA recommended the DMU be given ‘expanded powers’ regarding its investigations of M&A deals.

Controversy has been stirring up around the DMU, as the prospect of it blocking tech startup acquisitions – especially by US firms, sometimes on the grounds of national security – has gradually risen.

In the Coadec survey, half of investors said they would significantly reduce the amount they invested in UK startups if the ability to exit was restricted, and a further 22.5% said they would stop investing in UK startups completely under a stricter regulatory environment.

Furthermore, 60% of investors surveyed said they felt UK regulators only had a “basic understanding” of the startup market, and 22.2% felt regulators didn’t understand the tech startup market at all.

Coadec said its conservative estimates showed that the UK Government’s DMU proposals could create a £2.2bn drop in venture capital going into the UK, potentially reducing UK economic growth by £770m.

Commenting on the report, Dom Hallas, Executive Director of Coadec, said: “Startups thrive in competitive markets. But nurturing an ecosystem means knowing where to intervene and when not to. The data shows that not only is there a risk that the current proposals could miss some bad behavior in some areas like B2B markets whilst creating unnecessary barriers in others like M&A. Just as crucially, there’s frankly not a lot of faith in the regulators proposing them either.”

The survey results emerged just as Chancellor Rishi Sunak convened the “Treasury Connect” conference in London today which brought together some of the CEOs of the UK’s biggest tech firms and VCs in a ‘listening process’ designed to reach out to the industry.

However, at a press conference after the event, Sunak pushed back on the survey results, citing research by Professor Jason Furman, Chair, of the Digital Competition Expert Panel, which has found that “not a single acquisition” had been blocked by the DMU, and there are “no false positives” in decision making to date. Sunak said the “system looks at this in order to get the balance right.”

In addition, a statement from the Treasury, out today, said more than one-fifth of people in the UK’s biggest cities are now employed in the tech sector, which also saw £11.2 billion invested last year, setting a new investment record, it claimed.

Sunak also said the Future Fund, which backed UK-based tech firms with convertible loans during the pandemic, handed UK taxpayers with stakes in more than 150 high-growth firms.

These include Vaccitech PLC, which co-invented the COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Oxford and is better known as the AstraZeneca vaccine which went to 170 countries worldwide. The Future fund also invested in Century Tech, an EdTEch startup that uses AI to personalize learning for children.

The UK government’s £375 million ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’ initiative continued from July this year, aiming at high-growth, R&D-intensive companies.

Coadec’s survey also found 70% of investors felt UK regulators “only thought about large incumbent firms” when designing competition rules, rather than startups or future innovation.

However, the survey found London was still rated as highly as California as an attractive destination for startups and investors.

#artificial-intelligence, #astrazeneca, #california, #chair, #coalition-for-a-digital-economy, #competition-and-markets-authority, #corporate-finance, #digital-markets-unit, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #jason-furman, #london, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital

Billogram, provider of a payments platform specifically for recurring billing, raises $45M

Payments made a huge shift to digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic — purchasing moved online for many consumers and businesses; and a large proportion of those continuing to buy and sell in-person went cash-free. Today a startup that has been focusing on one specific aspect of payments — recurring billing — is announcing a round of funding to capitalize on that growth with expansion of its own. Billogram, which has built a platform for third parties to build and handle any kind of recurring payments (not one-off purchases), has closed a round of $45 million.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Partech, and will be used to help the Stockholm-based startup expand from its current base in Sweden to six more markets, Jonas Suijkerbuijk, Billogram’s CEO and founder, said in an interview, to cover more of Germany (where it’s already active now), Norway, Finland, Ireland, France, Spain, and Italy.

The company got its start working with SMBs in 2011 but pivoted some years later to working with larger enterprises, which make up the majority of its business today. Suijkerbuijk said that in 2020, signed deals went up by 300%, and the first half of 2021 grew 50% more on top of that. Its users include utilities like Skanska Energi and broadband company Ownit, and others like remote healthcare company Kry, businesses that take invoice and take monthly payments from their customers.

While there has been a lot of attention around how companies like Apple and Google are handling subscriptions and payments in apps, what Billogram focuses on is a different beast, and much more complex: it’s more integrated into the business providing services, and it may involve different services, and the fees can vary over every billing period. It’s for this reason that, in fact, even big companies in the realm of digital payments, like Stripe, which might even already have products that can help manage subscriptions on their platforms, partner with companies like Billogram to build the experiences to manage their more involved kinds of payment services.

I should point out here that Suijkerbuijk told me that Stripe recently became a partner of Billograms, which is very interesting… but he also added that a number of the big payments companies have talked to Billogram. He also confirmed that currently Stripe is not an investor in the company. “We have a very good relationship,” he said.

It’s not surprising to see Stripe and others wanting to more in the area of more complex, recurring billing services. Researchers estimate that the market size (revenues and services) for subscription and recurring billing will be close to $6 billion this year, with that number ballooning to well over $10 billion by 2025. And indeed, the effort to make a payment or any kind of transaction will continue to be a point of friction in the world of commerce, so any kinds of systems that bring technology to bear to make that easier and something that consumers or businesses will do without thinking about it, will be valuable, and will likely grow in dominance. (It’s why the more basic subscription services, such as Prime membership or a Netflix subscription, or a cloud storage account, are such winners.)

Within that very big pie, Suijkerbuijk noted that rather than the Apples and Googles of the world, the kinds of businesses that Billogram currently competes against are those that are addressing the same thornier end of the payments spectrum that Billogram is. These include a wide swathe of incumbent companies that do a lot of their business in areas like debt collection, and other specialists like Scaleworks-backed Chargify — which itself got a big investment injection earlier this year from Battery Ventures, which put $150 million into both it and another billing provider, SaaSOptics, in April.

The former group of competitors are not currently a threat to Billogram, he added.

“Debt collecting agencies are big on invoicing, but no one — not their customers, nor their customers’ customers — loves them, so they are great competitors to have,” Suijkerbuijk joked.

This also means that Billogram is not likely to move into debt collection itself as it continues to expand. Instead, he said, the focus will be on building out more tools to make the invoicing and payments experience better and less painful to customers. That will likely include more moves into customer service and generally improving the overall billing experience — something we have seen become a bigger area also during the pandemic, as companies realized that they needed to address non-payments in a different way from how their used to, given world events and the impact they were having on individuals.

“We are excited to partner with Jonas and the team at Billogram.” says Omri Benayoun, General Partner at Partech, in a statement. “Having spotted a gap in the market, they have quietly built the most advanced platform for large B2C enterprises looking to integrate billing, payment, and collection in one single solution. In our discussion with leading utilities, telecom, e-health, and all other clients across Europe, we realized how valuable Billogram was for them in order to engage with their end-users through a top-notch billing and payment experience. The outstanding commercial traction demonstrated by Billogram has further cemented our conviction, and we can’t wait to support the team in bringing their solution to many more customers in Europe and beyond!”

#apple, #battery-ventures, #billing, #billogram, #broadband, #business-software, #ceo, #e-health, #economy, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #finland, #france, #funding, #general-partner, #germany, #google, #ireland, #italy, #kry, #merchant-services, #money, #netflix, #norway, #online-payments, #partner, #spain, #stockholm, #stripe, #sweden, #web-applications

Gaia Capital Partners in Paris rebrands as Revaia, closes first €250M growth fund

Paris-based VC fund Gaia Capital Partners has change its name to Revaia and announced the final closing of its first growth fund, at €250 million. The firm said it exceeded its initial target of €200 million, and the fund will be ‘ESG focused’.

Revaia is also claiming to be Europe’s largest female-founded VC fund, although TechCrunch has not been able to verify that at the time of publication.

As Gaia Capital Partners, Revaia launched its first fund in late 2019, the portfolio for which currently consists of ten investments, including Aircall, recently achieved a unicorn valuation. Other investments include Epsor (Paris: Epsor designs and distributes employee savings and retirement plans), GetAccept (SF: an all-in-one sales enablement solution that assists B2B sales reps in closing remote deals), gohenry (London: a kids money management application), Planity (Paris: an online booking platform for hair and beauty salons), Welcome to the Jungle (Paris: a multichannel media company), and Yubo (Paris: a social platform for Generation Z).

Alice Albizzati, co-founder of Revaia said in a statement: “When we set up the firm, we were determined to create an investment strategy in line with our convictions – a focus on European companies with high ambitions but with no compromise on sustainability – and with the objective of bridging the gap between private and public markets. Our venture has performed beyond our initial expectations.”

The firm now has an office in Paris and Berlin, as well as a presence in New York and Toronto

The fund’s institutional investors include insurance companies such as Generali, Allianz, and Maif, pension funds, other institutional investors such as Bpifrance, as well as over 50 family offices and Angels.

Elina Berrebi, co-founder of Revaia, said: “We are very grateful to our investors and entrepreneurs who trusted us as we accelerated the build-up of our portfolio. This final closing of our first fund is a huge milestone. It is a solid foundation from which we can support future European technology leaders with their ambitions and sustainability plans, as well as expand and internationalize our team while building a strong value creation platform.”

Revaia said the new fund had already begun investing, and “two new investments should be announced soon”.

The firm says it aims to invest in around 15 companies and expand across Europe.

It’s also partnered with listed market sustainable investor Sycomore Asset Management.

#accel, #allianz, #berlin, #bpifrance, #co-founder, #europe, #finance, #gaia-capital-partners, #insurance, #investment, #london, #maif, #money, #new-york, #paris, #tc, #vc

UK’s Marshmallow raises $85M on a $1.25B valuation for its more inclusive, big-data take on car insurance

Marshmallow — a U.K.-based car insurance provider that has made a name for itself in the market by providing a new approach to car insurance aimed at using a wider set of data points and clever algorithms to net a more diverse set of customers and provide more competitive rates — is announcing a milestone today in its life as a startup, as well as in the bigger U.K. tech world.

The London company — co-founded by identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham and David Goaté — has raised $85 million in a new round of funding. The Series B valuation is significant on two counts: it catapults Marshmallow to a “unicorn” valuation above $1 billion — specifically, $1.25 billion; and Marshmallow itself becomes one of a very small group of U.K. startups founded by Black people — Oliver and Alexander — to reach that figure.

(To be clear, Marshmallow describes itself as “the first UK unicorn to be founded by individuals that are Black or have Black heritage”, although I can think of at least one that preceded it: WorldRemit, which last month rebranded to Zepz, is currently valued at $5 billion; co-founder and chairman Ismail Ahmed has been described as the most influential Black Briton.)

Regardless of whether Marshmallow is the first or one of the first, given the dearth of diversity in the UK technology industry, in particular in the upper ranks of it, it’s a notable detail worth pointing out, even as I hope that one day it will be less of a rarity.

Meanwhile, Marshmallow’s novel, big-data approach and successful traction in the market speak for themselves. When we covered the company’s most recent funding round before this — a $30 million raise in November 2020 — the startup was valued at $310 million. Now less than a year later, Marshmallow’s valuation has nearly quadrupled, and it has passed 100,000 policies sold in its home country, growing 100% over the last six months.

The plan now, Oliver told me in an interview, will be to deepen its relationships with customers, in part by providing more engagement to make them better drivers, but also potentially selling more services to them, too.

In this, the startup will be tapping into a new approach that other insurtech startups are taking as they rethink traditional insurance models, much like YuLife is positioning its life insurance products within a bigger wellness and personal improvement business. Currently, the average age of Marshmallow’s customers is 20 to 40, Oliver said — and there are thoughts of potentially new products aimed at even younger users. That means there is long-term value in improving loyalty and keeping those customers for many years to come.

Alongside that, Marshmallow will also use the funding to inch closer to its plan to expand to markets outside of the UK — a strategy that has been in the works for a while. Marshmallow talked up international expansion in its last round but has yet to announce which markets it will seek to tackle first.

Insurance — and in particular insurance startups — are often thought of together with fintech startups, not least because the two industries have a lot in common: they both operate in areas of assessing and mitigating risk and fraud; they are in many cases discretionary investments on the part of the customers; they are both highly regulated and require watertight data protection for their users.

Perhaps because so much of the hard work is the same for both, it’s not uncommon to see services built to serve both sectors (FintechOS and Shift Technology being two examples), for fintech companies to dabble in insurance services, and so on.

But in reality, insurance — and specifically car insurance — has seen a massive impact from Covid-19 unique to that industry. Separate reports from EY and the Association of British Insurers noted that 2020 actually saw a lift for many car insurance companies: lockdowns meant that fewer people were driving, and therefore fewer were getting into accidents and making less claims.

2021, however, has been a different story: new pricing rules being put into place will likely see a number of providers tip into the red for the year. And the Chartered Insurance Institute points out that will also be worth watching to see how the low use of cars in one year will impact use going forward: some car owners, especially in urban areas where keeping a car is expensive, will inevitably start to question whether they need to own and insure a car at all.

All of this, ironically, actually plays into the hand of a company like Marshmallow, which is providing a more flexible approach to customers who might otherwise be rejected by more traditional companies, or might be priced out of offerings from them. Interestingly, while neobanks have definitely spurred more traditional institutions to try to update their products to compete, the same hasn’t really happened in insurance — not yet, at least.

“We started with the idea of the power of data and using a wider range of resources [than incumbents], and using that in our pricing led us to be able to offer better rates to more people,” Oliver said, but that hasn’t led to Marshmallow seeing sharper competition from older incumbents. “They are big companies and stuck in their ways. These companies have been around for decades, some for centuries. Change is not happening quickly.”

That leaves a big opportunity for companies like Marshmallow and other newer players like Lemonade, Hippo and Jerry (not an insurance startup per se but also dabbling in the space), and a big opening for investors to back new ideas in an industry estimated to be worth $5 trillion.

“The traction the team has achieved demonstrates the demand for a new kind of insurance provider, one that focuses more on consumer experience and uses the latest technology and data to give fair prices,” said Eileen Burbidge, a partner at Passion Capital, in a statement. “We’ve been proud to support the team’s ambitions since the start, and now look forward to its next chapter in Europe as it continues its mission to change the industry for the better.”

#articles, #automotive, #car-insurance, #eileen-burbidge, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #hippo, #insurance, #ismail-ahmed, #jerry, #life-insurance, #london, #marshmallow, #money, #oliver, #private-equity, #shift-technology, #startup-company, #tc, #unicorn, #united-kingdom, #worldremit

CoachHub raises $80M in Series “B2” round, as coaching goes digital in the pandemic

The world of professional coaching has grown over the years as coaches realised they could easily counsel people remotely and clients realized digital coaching was far more efficient. But, equally, a problem arose in how to sift the wheat from the chaff. At the same time corporates realised that their own staff could benefit – but faced the same sifting problem. In a classic Internet play, CoachHub came along three years ago and applied AI to a marketplace to do the sifting. All well and good, but with training and personal development going almost completely digital due to the pandemic, the market has exploded.

Berlin-based CoachHub has now raised $80m in a Series “B2” funding, increasing its total Series B capital to $110m. Investors Draper Esprit, RTP Global, HV Capital, Signals Venture Capital, Partech, and Speedinvest all participated bringing the total funds raised to $130m, since 2019.

Last year it raised a $30 million Series B round, also led by Draper Esprit, alongside existing investors HV Capital, Partech, Speedinvest, signals Venture Capital, and RTP Global.

The startup competes with other aggregators such as AceUp out of Boston, which has raised $2.3M.
 
The three year old startup says it has tripled its employees, and added new clients including Fujitsu, Electrolux, Babbel, ViacomCBS and KPMG.
 
Co-founder and Chief Sales Director Yannis Niebelschütz said in a statement: “This latest round of funding will allow us to meet the ever-growing demand for digital solutions for training and personal development, which has been triggered by the pandemic.”
 
Christoph Hornung, investment director at Draper Esprit said: “It’s no longer just about the pandemic. What we are increasingly seeing with digital-first, highly enriched platforms such as CoachHub are more dynamic and – crucially – more accessible tools to transform companies through training and education.”
 
CoachHub says it uses AI to match individuals with 2,500 business and well-being coaches in 70 countries across six continents. Coaching sessions are available in 60+ languages.

#corporate-finance, #europe, #finance, #money, #tc

Lessons from COVID: Flexible funding is a must for alternative lenders

Rachael runs a bakery in New York. She set up shop in 2010 with her personal savings and contributions from family and friends, and the business has grown. But Rachael now needs additional financing to open another store. So how does she finance her expansion plans?

Because of stringent requirements, extensive application processes and long turnaround times, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) like Rachael’s bakery seldom qualify for traditional bank loans. That’s when alternative lenders — who offer short and easy applications, flexible underwriting and quick turnaround times — come to the rescue.

Alternative lending is any lending that occurs outside of a conventional financial institution. These kinds of lenders offer different types of loans such as lines of credit, microloans and equipment financing, and they use technology to process and underwrite applications quickly. However, given their flexible requirements, they usually charge higher interest rates than traditional lenders.

Securitization is another cost-effective option for raising debt. Lenders can pool the loans they have extended and segregate them into tranches based on credit risk, principal amount and time period.

But how do these lenders raise funds to bridge the financing gap for SMBs?

As with all businesses, these firms have two major sources of capital: equity and debt. Alternative lenders typically raise equity funding from venture capital, private equity firms or IPOs, and their debt capital is typically raised from sources such as traditional asset-based bank lending, corporate debt and securitizations.

According to Naren Nayak, SVP and treasurer of Credibly, equity generally constitutes 5% to 25% of capital for alternative lenders, while debt can be between 75% and 95%. “A third source of capital or funding is also available to alternative lenders — whole loan sales — whereby the loans (or merchant cash advance receivables) are sold to institutions on a forward flow basis. This is a “balance-sheet light” funding solution and an efficient way to transfer credit risk for lenders,” he said.

Let’s take a look at each of these options in detail.

Funding sources for alternative lenders.

Image Credits: FischerJordan

Equity capital

Venture capital or private equity funding is one of the major sources of financing for alternative lenders. The alternative lending industry is said to be a “gold mine” for venture capital investments. While it is difficult for such companies to receive credit from traditional banks because of their stringent requirements in the initial stages, once the founders have shown a commitment by investing their own money, VC and PE firms usually step in.

However, VC and PE firms can be expensive sources of capital — their investment dilutes the ownership and control in the company. Plus, obtaining venture capital is a long, involved and competitive process.

Alternative lenders that have achieved good growth rates and scaled their operations have another option: An IPO lets them quickly raise large amounts of money while providing a lucrative exit for early investors.

#bank, #bluevine, #column, #corporate-finance, #credit, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #finance, #forward, #funding, #kabbage, #lendingclub, #loans, #money, #new-york, #ondeck, #online-lending, #startups, #united-states, #vc, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investments

Why fintechs are buying up legacy financial services companies

Oh, how the tables have turned.

It used to be that if you were a fintech startup or, for lack of a better term, a digitally native financial services business, you might be eyeing an acquisition from an incumbent in the industry.

It used to be that if you were a fintech startup or, for lack of a better term, a digitally native financial services business, you might be eyeing an acquisition from an incumbent in the industry.

But lately, fintech upstarts are the ones doing the acquiring. Over just the last year or so, we’ve seen:

So what’s going on here? Why are fintechs now acquiring legacy financial services businesses, instead of the other way around?

#banking, #ec-fintech, #figure-technologies, #fin-vc, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-startup, #golden-pacific-bancorp, #jiko, #lendingclub, #logan-allin, #ma, #money, #radius-bank, #sofi, #startups, #tc

Venmo to allow credit cardholders to automatically buy cryptocurrency with their cash back

PayPal-owned Venmo is expanding its support for cryptocurrency with today’s launch of a new feature that will allow users to automatically buy cryptocurrency using the cash back they earned from their Venmo credit card purchases. Unlike when buying cryptocurrency directly, these automated purchases will have no transaction fees associated with them — a feature Venmo says is not a promotion, but how the system will work long term. Instead, a cryptocurrency conversion spread is built into each monthly transaction.

Cardholders will be able to purchase Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash through the new “Cash Back to Crypto” option, rolling out now to the Venmo app.

Venmo had first introduced the ability for customers to buy, hold and sell cryptocurrency in April of this year, as part of a larger investment in cryptocurrency led by parent company, PayPal. In partnership with Paxos Trust Company, a regulated provider of cryptocurrency products and services, Venmo’s over 70 million users are now able to access cryptocurrency from within the Venmo app. 

The cash back feature, meanwhile, could help drive sign-ups for the Venmo Credit Card, by interlinking it with the cryptocurrency functionality. Currently, Venmo cardholders can earn monthly cash back across eight different spending categories, with up to 3% back on their top eligible spending category, then 2% and 1% back on the second highest and all other purchases, respectively. The top two categories are adjusted monthly, based on where consumers are spending the most.

To enable Cash Back to Crypto, Venmo customers will navigate to the Venmo Credit Card home screen in the app, select the Rewards tab, then “Get Started.” From here, they’ll agree to the terms, select the crypto of their choice, and confirm their selection. Once enabled, when the cash back funds hit the customer’s Venmo balance, the money is immediately used to make a crypto purchase — no interaction on the user’s part is required.

The feature will not include any transaction fees, as a cryptocurrency conversion spread is built into each monthly transaction. This is similar to how PayPal is handling Checkout with Crypto, which allows online shoppers to make purchases using their cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency is converted to fiat, but there are not transaction fees.

The feature can also be turned on or off at any time, Venmo notes.

The company views Cash Back to Crypto as a way for newcomers to cryptocurrency to enter the market, without having to worry about the process of making crypto purchases. It’s more of a set-it-and-forget-it type of feature. However, unless users make regular and frequent transactions with their Venmo Credit Card, these cash back-enabled crypto purchases will likely be fairly small.

The company has yet to offer details on how many Venmo credit cardholders are active in the market. So far, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman has only said, during Q1 earnings, that the card “is outpacing our expectations for both new accounts and transactions.” This past quarter, the exec noted that the company was also seeing “strong adoption and trading of crypto on Venmo.”

“The introduction of the Cash Back to Crypto feature for the Venmo Credit Card offers customers a new way to start exploring the world of crypto, using their cash back earned each month to automatically and seamlessly purchase one of four cryptocurrencies on Venmo,” noted Darrell Esch, SVP and GM at Venmo, in a statement. “We’re excited to bring this new level of feature interconnectivity on the Venmo platform, linking our Venmo Credit Card and crypto experiences to provide another way for our customers to spend and manage their money with Venmo,” he added.

The new option will begin rolling out starting today to Venmo Credit Cardholders.

#apps, #bitcoin, #credit-card, #crypto, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currency, #finance, #mobile-payments, #money, #paypal, #venmo

Wannabe ‘social bank’ Kroo swerves VCs to raise a $24.5M Series A from HNWs

Launched in February 2018, Kroo, the London-based consumer-facing fintech raised some seed funding last year for its prepaid card service which claims to offer more ‘social features’ in its drive towards offering full-blown banking services. Kroo’s pitch is that it removes friction from financial interactions with friends and family, and throws in some environmental initiatives as well, such as tree planting.

It’s now raised $24.5 million (£17.7 million) in a Series A funding round led by Rudy Karsan, a high-net-worth tech entrepreneur and founder of Karlani Capital. Kroo will use the funding in its drive towards a full banking license in early 2022.

The fund-raising is fairly unusual for a fintech startup that aspires to become a bank, given the lack of an institutional investor. However, this will give it a lot more freedom as it heads towards bank status next year.

Kroo currently offers a prepaid debit card plus an app to track personal and social finances, such as the ability to create payment groups with friends, track spending, and split and pay bills, removing the usual awkwardness around such things.

The company has also pledged to donate a percentage of profits to social causes, and launched a tree-planting referral scheme, so that every time a customer refers a friend, Kroo plants 20 trees.

Kroo CEO Andrea de Gottardo

Kroo CEO Andrea de Gottardo

CEO Andrea de Gottardo (pictured), who joined Kroo as Chief Risk Officer in 2018, said: “We want to build the world’s greatest social bank: a bank dedicated to its customers and to the world we live in. We’re going to do more than just work with Kroo customers to improve their relationship with money and provide them with access to fair loans. We’re going to offer them ways to actively take part in making our world a better place, like carbon offsetting and a tree-planting referral program.”

Karsan said: “The reason I’m excited about Kroo is that it has a concrete opportunity to dramatically change the way people feel about their bank, for good. Kroo has an exceptionally talented management team and a nimble tech stack that will enable the continuous delivery of banking features customers really care about.”

Speaking to me over a call, de Gottardo added: “We have raised, including the series A, over £30 million through high net worth individuals and syndicated investors. So we still haven’t done an institutional round. That was a choice.”

He elaborated: “We’re lucky enough to have Rudy Karsan, a high net worth, and an extremely supportive pool of investors that keep following on in the rounds. It was our intention get up to a Series A without any institutions, and to be free of the pressure from VC. It’s now highly likely we will go institutional for a Series B round.”

#bank, #banking, #ceo, #economy, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-startup, #ing-group, #london, #money, #tc

Element Ventures pulls in $130M to double-down on the FinTech enterprise trend

With the rise of Open Banking, Psd2 Regulation, InsurTech, and the whole, general Fintech boom, tech investors have realized that there is an increasing place for dedicated funds which double down on this ongoing movement. When you look at the rise of banking-as-a-service offerings, payments platforms, insurtech, asset management, and infrastructure providers, you realize that there is a pretty huge revolution going on.

European fintech companies have raised $12.3bn in 2021 according to Dealroom, but the market is still wide-open for a great deal more funding for B2B fintech startups.

So it’s little surprise that B2B fintech-focused Element Ventures, has announced a $130 million fund to double-down on this new FinTech enterprise trend.

Founded by financial services veterans Steve Gibson and Michael McFadgen, and joined by Spencer Lake (HSBC’s former Vice Chairman of Global Banking and Markets) Element is backed by finance-oriented LPs and some 30 founders and executives from the sector.

Element says it will focus on what it calls a “high conviction investment strategy,” which will mean investing in only around 15 companies a year, but, it says, providing a “high level of support” to its portfolio.

So far it has backed B2B fintech firms across the UK and Europe including Hepster (total raised $10M), the embedded insurance platform out of Germany which I recently reported on; Billhop (total raised $6.7M), the B2B payment network out of Sweden; Coincover (total raised $11.6M), a cryptocurrency recovery service out of the UK; and Minna (total raised $25M), the subscription management platform out of Sweden.

Speaking to me over a call McFadgen, Partner at Element Ventures, said: “Steven and I have been investing in B2B FinTech together for quite a long time. In 2018 we had the opportunity to start element and Spencer came on boar in 2019. So Element as an independent venture firm is really a continuation of a strategy we’ve been involved in for a long time.”

Gibson added: “We are quite convinced by the European movement and the breakthrough these Fintech and insure tech firms in Europe are having. Insurance has been a desert for innovation and that is changing. And you can see that we’re sort of trying to build a network around companies that have those breakthrough moments and provide not just capital but all the other things we think are part of the story. Building the company from A to C and D is the area that we try and roll our sleeves up and help these firms.”

Element says it will also be investing in the US and Asia. 

#asia, #asset-management, #banking, #economy, #element-ventures, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #germany, #hsbc, #money, #partner, #payment-network, #sweden, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vice-chairman

Last day to snag early bird passes to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

Don’t miss your chance to experience TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 — the startup world’s must-attend event of the season — for less than $100. Why not get the best ROI of your time while simultaneously learning about the latest industry trends and mining for opportunities that can take your startup to new levels of success?

Disrupt takes place on September 21-23, but the early-bird deal expires today, July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT). Buy your Disrupt 2021 pass now and save.

Let’s talk about what you’ll experience at Disrupt. Over on the Disrupt Stage you’ll find one-on-one interviews with icons and interactive, expert-led, presentations from across the tech, investing and policy sectors. Folks like Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn and Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam. And that’s just the tip of the tech iceberg. You can check out all the speakers here.

You’ll find plenty of actionable advice and how-to tips and strategies on the Extra Crunch Stage. Take a gander at just two of the topics we have scheduled there and explore the full Disrupt agenda here.

Crafting a Pitch Deck that Can’t Be Ignored: Investors may be chasing after the hottest deals, but for founders selling their startup’s vision, it’s never been more important to communicate it in the clearest way possible. Pitch deck experts Mercedes Bent (partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners), Mar Hershenson (co-founder & managing partner, Pear VC) and Saba Karim (Techstars’ head of accelerator pipeline) dig into what’s essential, what’s unnecessary and what could just make all the difference in your next deck.

How Do You Select the Right Tech Stack: From day zero, startups have to make dozens of trade-offs when it comes to the infinite variety of tech stacks available to today’s engineers. Choose the wrong combination or direction, and a startup could be left with years of refactoring to fix the legacy damage. What are the best practices for assessing potential stacks, and how can you minimize the risk of a painful mistake? Preeti Somal (executive vice president of engineering, HashiCorp) and Jill Wetzler (head of engineering, Pilot) will discuss strategies for improving engineering right from the beginning and at every stage of a startup’s journey.

Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.

One post can’t possibly contain all the events and opportunities of Disrupt. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 offers tons of opportunity. Don’t miss out on the first one — buy your Disrupt pass today, July 30, by 11:59 pm (PT) for less than $100. It’s a sweet deal!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#articles, #brian-armstrong, #brynn-putnam, #ceo, #coinbase, #duolingo, #finance, #hashicorp, #jill-wetzler, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #luis-von-ahn, #mining, #money, #pear-vc, #pete-buttigieg, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021, #techstars, #united-states, #verizon-media

PayPal’s new ‘super app’ is ready to launch, will also include messaging

PayPal’s plan to morph itself into a “super app” have been given a go for launch. According to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, speaking to investors during this week’s second-quarter earnings, the initial version of PayPal’s new consumer digital wallet app is now “code complete” and the company is preparing to slowly ramp up. Over the next several months, PayPal expects to be fully ramped in the U.S., with new payment services, financial services, commerce and shopping tools arriving every quarter.

The company has spoken for some time about its “super app” ambitions — a shift in product direction that would make PayPal a U.S.-based version of something like China’s WeChat or Alipay or India’s Paytm. Similar to these apps, PayPal aims to offer a host of consumer services under one roof, beyond just mobile payments.

In previous quarters, PayPal said these new features may include things like enhanced direct deposit, check cashing, budgeting tools, bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, and buy now/pay later functionality. It also said it would integrate commerce, thanks to the mobile shopping tools acquired by way of its $4 billion Honey acquisition from 2019.

So far, PayPal has continued to run Honey as a standalone application, website and browser extension, but the super app could incorporate more of its deal-finding functions, price tracking features, and other benefits.

On Wednesday’s earnings call, Schulman revealed the super app would include a few other features as well, including high-yield savings, early access to direct deposit funds, and messaging functionality outside of peer-to-peer payments — meaning you could chat with family and friends directly through the app’s user interface.

PayPal hadn’t yet announced its plans to include a messaging component until now, but the feature makes sense in terms of how people often combine chat and peer-to-peer payments today. For example, someone may want to make a personal request for the funds instead of just sending an automated request through an app. Or, after receiving payment, a user may want to respond with a “thank you,” or other acknowledgement. Currently, these conversations take place outside of the payment app itself on platforms like iMessage. Now, that could change.

“We think that’s going to drive a lot of engagement on the platform,” said Schulman. “You don’t have to leave the platform to message back and forth.”

With the increased user engagement, the company expects to see a related bump in average revenue per active account.

Schulman also hinted at “additional crypto capabilities,” which were not detailed. However, PayPal earlier this month increased the crypto purchase limit from $20,000 to $100,000 for eligible PayPal customers in the U.S., with no annual purchase limit. The company also this year made it possible for consumers to check out at millions of online businesses using their cryptocurrencies, by first converting the crypto to cash then settling with the merchant in U.S. dollars.

Though the app’s code is now complete, Schulman said the plan is to continue to iterate on the product experience, noting that the initial version will not be “the be-all and end-all.” Instead, the app will see steady releases and new functionality on a quarterly basis.

However, he did say that early on, the new features would include the high-yield savings, improved bill pay with a better user experience and more billers and aggregators, as well as early access to direct deposit, budgeting tools, and the new two-way messaging feature.

To integrate all the new features into the super app, PayPal will undergo a major overhaul of its user interface.

“Obviously, the [user experience] is being redesigned,” Schulman noted. “We’ve got rewards and shopping. We’ve got a whole giving hub around crowdsourcing, giving to charities. And then, obviously, Buy Now, Pay Later will be fully integrated into it…The last time I counted, it was like 25 new capabilities that we’re going to put into the super app,” he said.

The digital wallet app will also be personalized to the end user, so no two apps are the same. This will be done using both A.I. and machine learning capabilities to  “enhance each customer’s experiences and opportunities,” said Schulman.

PayPal delivered an earnings beat in the second quarter with $6.24 billion in revenue, versus the $6.27 billion Wall St. expected, and earnings per share of $1.15 versus the $1.12 expected. Total payment volume from merchant customers also jumped 40% to $311 billion, while analysts had projected $295.2 billion. But the company’s stock slipped due to a lowered outlook for Q3, impacted by eBay’s transition to its own managed payments service.

In addition, PayPal gained 11.4 million net new active accounts in the quarter, to reach 403 million total active accounts.

#apps, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dan-schulman, #finance, #financial-services, #machine-learning, #mobile, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-payments, #paypal, #peer-to-peer, #united-states

Crypto infra startup Fireblocks raises $310M, triples valuation to $2.2B

Fireblocks, an infrastructure provider for digital assets, has raised $310 million in a Series D round of funding that tripled the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion in just over five months.

Sequoia Capital, Stripes and Spark Capital co-led Fireblocks’ latest round, which also included participation from Coatue, DRW VC  and SCB 10X – the venture arm of Thailand’s oldest bank – and Siam Commercial Bank. The latter is the third global bank to invest in Fireblocks in addition to the Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon and SVB Capital. 

In February, the New York-based startup raised $133 million in a Series C round at a $700 million valuation. The latest financing brings Fireblocks’ total raised since its 2018 inception to $489 million. And as for Fireblocks’ valuation boost, the growth correlates with its increase in customers and ARR this year, according to CEO and co-founder Michael Shaulov. 

Since January, Fireblocks has seen its customer base increase to about 500 compared to 150 in January. Its ARR (annual recurring revenue) is also up – by 350% so far in 2021 compared to 2020. Last year, ARR rose by 450% compared to 2019.

“We expect to end the year up 500%,” Shaulov said. “We’ve already adjusted our revenue predictions for 2021 three times.”

Put simply, Fireblocks aims to offer financial institutions an all-in-one platform to run a digital asset business, providing them with infrastructure to store, transfer and issue digital assets. In particular, Fireblocks provides custody to institutional investors and has secured the transfer of over $1 trillion in digital assets over time. 

Fireblocks launched out of stealth mode in June of 2019 and has since opened offices in the United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, France and the DACH region. Today, it has over 500 financial institutions as customers – a mix of businesses that already support crypto and digital assets and those that are considering entering the space. Customers include global banks, crypto-native exchanges, lending desks, hedge funds, OTC desks as well as companies such as Revolut, BlockFi, Celsius, PrimeTrust, Galaxy Digital, Genesis Trading, crypto.com and eToro among others. 

Of those 500 institutions, Fireblocks is working with 70 banks that are looking to join the cryptocurrency space, and start platforming their infrastructure, according to Shaulov. Siam Commercial bank, for example, is using the company’s infrastructure to transform into a blockchain-based bank.

“Our platform creates highly secure wallets for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, where institutions can store their funds or their customer funds, and also get security insurance,” he said.

Fireblocks’ issuance and tokenization platform allows for the creation of asset-backed tokens.

“We handle all the security or compliance, all the policies and workflows,” Shaulov said. “Basically all the complicated stuff you need to do as a business when you want to start working with this new technology. So it’s a bit like ‘Shopify for crypto.’ ”

Sequoia Partner Ravi Gupta is naturally bullish on the company, describing Fireblocks as “the leading back-end infrastructure for crypto products.”

“The team has the potential to build a large, enduring business serving crypto-native companies, consumer fintech companies, and traditional financial institutions alike,” he told TechCrunch. “Their growth has been tremendous, and the quality of their product and customer sentiment are remarkable.”

Image Credits: Left to right: Fireblocks co-founders Idan Ofrat, Michael Shaulov and Pavel Berengoltz / Fireblocks

Fireblocks has also started to see businesses outside of what would be identified as fintech or finance show interest in its platform such as e-commerce websites that are looking to create NFTs on the back of their merchandise. 

The Fireblocks platform, Shaulov said, helps spread the expansion of digital asset use cases beyond bitcoin into payments, gaming, NFTs, digital securities and “ultimately allows any business to become a digital asset business.”

What that means is that Fireblocks’ technology can be white labeled for crypto custody offerings, “so that new and established financial institutions can implement direct custody on their own without having to rely on third parties,” the company says.

Shaulov emphasizes Fireblocks’ commitment to staying an independent company after a wave of consolidation in the space. Earlier this year, PayPal announced its plans to acquire Curv, a cryptocurrency startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Then in early May, bitcoin-focused Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd. said it agreed to buy BitGo Inc. for $1.2 billion in cash and stock in the first $1 billion deal in the cryptocurrency industry.

“Consolidation can be painful for clients,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s Important for us that we stay independent and that’s part of the purpose of this round.

The company will also use the funds to increase its engineering and customer success operations, and expand geographically, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.  

“Fireblocks provides the most secure and flexible platform for a wide range of customer needs,” said Sequoia’s Gupta. “It uses world-class multi-party computation technology to secure digital assets in storage and in transit, and has the most flexible platform with controls for product teams to be able to build on and manage Fireblocks effectively.”

#articles, #asia-pacific, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockfi, #celsius, #coatue, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #curv, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #etoro, #finance, #financial-technology, #fireblocks, #france, #funding, #fundings-exits, #galaxy-digital, #israel, #money, #new-york, #paypal, #ravi-gupta, #recent-funding, #revolut, #saas, #sequoia, #sequoia-capital, #shopify, #singapore, #spark-capital, #startups, #stripes, #svb-capital, #tel-aviv, #thailand, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

How to prepare for M&A, your most likely exit avenue

Despite the plentiful headlines about mega billion-dollar M&A transactions, record IPOs and the rapid growth of SPACs, small deals will continue to be the most likely exit for the vast majority of tech startups. In the over 30 years I’ve worked on M&A at White & Case, Barclays and my current firm Ascento Capital, I have seen too many startups that are not prepared for an exit via a merger or sale. This article will provide specific recommendations on how to prepare your startup for M&A.

While it is good to strive for a billion-dollar-plus sale, a successful IPO or a SPAC deal, it is practical to prepare your startup for a smaller transaction.

Global M&A hit record highs in the second quarter with a total deal value of $1.5 trillion, but smaller transactions vastly outnumber mega billion-dollar deals. The U.S. saw a total of 16,672 deals in the year ended June 31, but only 583, or 3% of that number, were valued at more than a billion dollars (FactSet). The IPO market is healthy again, but M&A still represents 88% of exits: So far this year, there were 503 IPOs and 5,203 deals, according to the CB Insights Q2 2021 State of Venture Report. After the SEC announced in early April that it was considering new guidance on SPAC IPOs, the rate of new SPAC issuances fell by around 90%.

While it is good to strive for a billion-dollar-plus sale, a successful IPO or a SPAC deal, it is practical to prepare your startup for a smaller transaction.

Here are a few recommendations that will prepare your startup for an M&A exit:

Track M&A in your subsector

Set up an alert on Google News for M&A activity in your subsector. For example, if your startup is in the IoT subsector, search for “IoT acqui” and this will pick up news stories on acquisitions in the IoT space. Save the search so you can go to Google News on a regular basis. Also track your closest competitors on Google News, particularly to see who is selling their company.

Prepare a list of likely acquirers

Prepare a list of the companies or firms most likely to buy your startup. This list should include domestic and international companies, businesses in non-tech industries, private equity firms and their portfolio companies, as well as VC-backed companies. Track these likely acquirers on Google News as well.

Consider executing a parallel track

Consider approaching the top 10 likely acquirers when you are raising the next round of capital. If your startup gets M&A offers and VC term sheets at the same time, this will provide your board of directors choices on the path ahead. Knowing the M&A activity in your startup’s subsector and the 10 most likely acquirers will impress VCs and increase the chances of being funded.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #exits, #fundings-exits, #ipo, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #money, #private-equity, #spac, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #startups

Untitled Ventures joins the scramble for Russian & Eastern European startups with a $118M warchest

Sorry Mr. Putin, but there’s a race on for Russian and Eastern European founders. And right now, those awful capitalists in the corrupt West are starting to out-gun the opposition! But seriously… only the other day a $100 million fund aimed at Russian speaking entrepreneurs appeared, and others are proliferating.

Now, London-based Untitled Ventures plans to join their fray with a €100 million / $118M for its second fund to invest in “ambitious deep tech startups with eastern European founders.”

Untitled says it is aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their business or have already HQ’ed in Western Europe and the USA. That’s alongside all the other existing Western VCs who are – in my experience – always ready and willing to listen to Russian and Eastern European founders, who are often known for their technical prowess.

Untitled is going to be aiming at B2B, AI, agritech, medtech, robotics, and data management startups with proven traction emerging from the Baltics, CEE, and CIS, or those already established in Western Europe

LPs in the fund include Vladimir Vedeenev, a founder of Global Network Management>. Untitled also claims to have Google, Telegram Messenger, Facebook, Twitch, DigitalOcean, IP-Only, CenturyLinks, Vodafone and TelecomItaly as partners.

Oskar Stachowiak, Untitled Ventures Managing Partner, said: “With over 10 unicorns, €1Bn venture funding in 2020 alone, and success stories like Veeam, Semrush, and Wrike, startups emerging from the fast-growing regions are the best choice to focus on early-stage investment for us. Thanks to the strong STEM focus in the education system and about one million high-skilled developers, we have an ample opportunity to find and support the rising stars in the region.”

Konstantin Siniushin, the Untitled Ventures MP said: “We believe in economic efficiency and at the same time we fulfill a social mission of bringing technological projects with a large scientific component from the economically unstable countries of the former USSR, such as, first of all, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but not only in terms of bringing sales to the world market and not only helping them to HQ in Europe so they can get next rounds of investments.”

He added: “We have a great experience accumulated earlier in the first portfolio of the first fund, not just structuring business in such European countries as, for example, Luxembourg, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Latvia, but also physically relocating startup teams so that they are perceived already as fully resident in Europe and globally.”

To be fair, it is still harder than it needs to be to create large startups from Eastern Europe, mainly because there is often very little local capital. However, that is changing, with the launch recently of CEE funds such as Vitosha Venture Partners and Launchub Ventures, and the breakout hit from Romania that was UIPath.

The Untitled Ventures team:
• Konstantin Siniushin, a serial tech entrepreneur
• Oskar Stachowiak, experienced fund manager
• Mary Glazkova, PR & Comms veteran
• Anton Antich, early stage investor and an ex VP of Veeam, a Swiss cloud data management company
acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $5bln
• Yulia Druzhnikova, experienced in taking tech companies international
• Mark Cowley, who has worked on private and listed investments within CEE/Russia for over 20 years

Untitled Ventures portfolio highlights – Fund I
Sizolution: AI-driven size prediction engine, based in Germany
Pure app – spontaneous and impersonal dating app, based in Portugal
Fixar Global –  efficient drones for commercial use-cases, based in Latvia,
E-contenta – based in Poland
SuitApp – AI based mix-and-match suggestions for fashion retail, based in Singapore
• Sarafan.tech, AI-driven recognition, based in the USA
Hello, baby – parental assistant, based in the USA
Voximplant – voice, video and messaging cloud communication platform, based in the USA (exited)

#artificial-intelligence, #baltics, #belarus, #corporate-finance, #cyprus, #eastern-europe, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #facebook, #finance, #founder, #germany, #google, #insight-venture-partners, #latvia, #launchub-ventures, #london, #luxembourg, #managing-partner, #money, #poland, #portugal, #private-equity, #putin, #republicans, #russia, #singapore, #startup-company, #tc, #ukraine, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #veeam, #venture-capital, #vitosha-venture-partners, #vodafone, #vp, #wrike

WhenThen’s no-code payments platform attracts $6M from European VCs Stride and Cavalry

The payments space – amazingly – remains up for grabs for startups. Yes dear reader, despite the success of Stripe, there seems to be a new payments startup virtually every other day. It’s a mess out there! The accelerated growth of e-commerce due to the pandemic means payments are now a booming space. And here comes another one, with a twist.

WhenThen has built a no-code payment operations platform that, they claim, streamlines the payment processes “of merchants of any kind”.  It says its platform can autonomously orchestrate, monitor, improve and manage all customer payments and payments ops.

The startup’s opportunity has arisen because service providers across different verticals increasingly want to get into open banking and provide their own payment solutions and financial services.

Founded 6 months ago, WhenThen has now raised $6 million, backed by European VCs Stride and Cavalry.

The founders, Kirk Donohoe, Eamon Doyle and Dave Brown  are three former Mastercard Payment veterans.

Based “out of Dublin, CEO Donohoe told me: “We see traditional businesses embracing e-comm, and e-comm merchants now operating multiple business models such as trade supply, marketplace, subscription, and more. There is no platform that makes it easy for such businesses to create and operate multiple payment flows to support multiple business models in one place – that’s where we step in.”

He added: “WhenThen is helping ecommerce digital platforms build advanced payment flows and payment automation, in minutes as opposed to months. When you start to integrate different payment methods, different payment gateways, how you want the payment to move from collection through to payout gets very, very complex. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now, as an entrepreneur building different businesses that had to accept collect and pay payments.”

He said his founding team “had to build very complex payment flows for large merchants, airlines, hotels, issuers, and we just found it was ridiculous that you have to continue to do the same thing over and over again. So we decided to come up with WhenThen as a better way to be able to help you build those flows in minutes.”

Claude Ritter, managing partner at Cavalry said: “Basic payment orchestration platforms have been around for some time, focusing mostly on maximizing payment acceptance by optimizing routing. WhenThen provides the first end-to-end payment flow platform to equip businesses with the opportunity to control every stage of the payment flow from payment intent to payout.”

WhenThen supports a wide range of popular payment providers such as Stripe, Braintree, Adyen, Authorize.net, Checkout.com, etc., and a variety of alternative and locally preferred payment methods such as Klarna Affirm, PayPal, BitPay.

“For brave merchants considering global reach and operating multiple business models concurrently, I believe choosing the right payment ops platform will become as important as choosing the right e-commerce platform. Building your entire ecomm experience tightly coupled to a single payment processor is a hard correction to make down the line – you need a payment flow platform like WhenThen,” added Fred Destin, founder of Stride.VC.

#adyen, #authorize-net, #bitpay, #ceo, #checkout-com, #dublin, #e-commerce, #entrepreneur, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #fred-destin, #klarna, #managing-partner, #mastercard, #merchant-services, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-payments, #open-banking, #payment-gateway, #payment-processor, #payment-solutions, #paypal, #stripe, #tc

Alternative investing hub Vincent closes $6 million raise

While markets grapple with the concept that the pandemic might not be entirely in the rear view mirror, investors are continuing to seek out investment opportunities outside public markets as they seek to diversify.

Vincent, an alternative asset aggregation hub, is hoping to capture some of that investor attention, allowing users to scour multiple types of assets across vertical-specific platforms and build up a diverse portfolio. Vincent CEO Slava Rubin says that more than 100 thousand people have used the platform since its launch in November, and that they now have 75 partner platforms integrated with the site.

Rubin, who previously co-founded the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, tells TechCrunch that Vincent has just closed a $6 million Series A led by LAUNCH with additional investment from 8VC and Digital Currency Group, among others.

Vincent is looking to approach both accredited and unaccredited investors and the platform is currently a pretty even split between the two, Rubin tells us. The platform’s partner offerings span several alternative asset classes including venture capital, real estate, debt, crypto, art and collectibles. Vincent makes money by facilitating discovery on its partner platforms and earning fees.

We covered the company’s launch back in December when the alternative asset market was taking off but would proceed to get hotter by the week. At the moment, venture capital and real estate deals make up more than half of the capital flowing through the platform while crypto investments have seemed to slide in popularity amid the broader market sell-off there. Unaccredited investors gaining access to VC deals via equity crowdfunding has been a big onramp for the platform, especially amid loosening restrictions which have made that fundraising method more popular among some founders.

Today, there are more $3.5 billion worth of searchable deals on the Vincent platform spread across supported platforms like WeFunder, Groundfloor, Republic, SharesPost, Rally Rd. and Otis.

“The ecosystem of potential investors is bigger than it’s ever been,” Rubin tells us.

#ceo, #crowdfunding, #digital-currency-group, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #equity-crowdfunding, #finance, #indiegogo, #money, #real-estate, #slava-rubin, #startups, #venture-capital, #wefunder

Capchase raises $280M to scale its financing platform for subscription businesses

Almost overnight, platforms that offer non-dilutive capital for recurring revenue businesses have become white-hot. It was only in March that Pipe — which aims to be the “Nasdaq for revenue” — raised $150 million, but two months later had raised $250 million at a $2 billion valuation.

This fever is now reaching Europe, where today Capchase raises an additional $280 million in new debt and equity funding, led by i80 Group, following a $125 million round in June. But unlike Pipe, Capchase is playing both in the US and in Europe, where it has made €100m available to more than 50 companies in its first month of operation on the continent.

Right now it’s live in the UK and Spain but expects to expand across Europe this year.

The Spanish-American company is also now launching ‘Capchase Expense Financing’ to enable companies to manage their largest expenses – such as legal bills, cloud hosting services, payroll and bonus payments, and recruitment fees –  without depleting their cash reserves, in either 3, 6, 9, or 12-month increments.

Miguel Fernandez, co-founder, and CEO of Capchase said: “Our new expense financing solution is a first in the industry, and we believe it will be a game-changer. Since we launched just over a year ago, we’ve seen first-hand the challenges that companies face when securing the financing they need to grow their business. Managing large expenses and having to make difficult decisions over how they spend their cash is one of the most consistent and trying issues that our clients face. There’s also a great opportunity to reduce costs by making use of the upfront discounts that vendors provide. Now Capchase users can pay upfront with Capchase, get a discount, and pay Capchase monthly over the following months.”

At interview Fernandez told me their main competitor is venture debt: “That is the one that we constantly keep winning against.”

He said: “We’re not limited to just monthly or quarterly subscriptions, we can work with any revenue. We apply intelligence to it and work with customers. It’s not just the ability to pull forward revenues to find the growth, but also what is the implied schedule in order to achieve a business goal.”

#corporate-finance, #economy, #europe, #finance, #money, #spain, #tc, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

Hyper is a new fund that offers $300k checks and promise of a media slingshot for founders 

Hyper is a $60M early-stage fund co-founded by Josh Buckley, Product Hunt’s CEO along with writer, founder and designer Dustin Curtis. Two ex-Sequoia operators are part of the team at launch as well. Malika Cantor as Partner and GM and Ashton Brown as Head of Program. The fund launches today and is self-described as ‘inspired by the Product Hunt community’. 

The team will be writing $300k checks for 5% of very early companies in any arena that seems promising to the partnership in a fixed deal structure that mirrors Y-Combinator. 

The fund will exist as a ‘sister company’ to Product Hunt (though it’s going to technically own it). Product Hunt, however, is the first of what the team says will be many companies it will own, create and operate in order to provide ‘direct value’ to its portfolio companies. 

I had a chat with Buckley, Curtis and Cantor about the new fund and company and the way that they hoped to differentiate Hyper in a world of aggressively service-oriented venture firms. 

The short version is: distribution. It’s hard to argue with the overall assumption that the Hyper team is working under — capital is majorly commoditized. Frankly, sometimes that’s all you want from an investor whose value add is more of a thorn in your side than anything. But, especially at the early stage there are a few funds and firms that offer a strong value outside of writing checks in the form of, say, hiring, sales introductions or board members that have relevant operational experience. 

Where Hyper differs, says Buckley, is that they see distribution as the biggest value add for a nascent startup at the stages where the firm hopes to invest. Product Hunt is one opportunity that he points to as an example. It’s an established launch pad to an audience of extreme early adopters that can provide a seed of a real user base — Hyper itself is launching via a post on the platform. 

I’ll let the Hyper team’s words spell out what they say is its thesis:

Hyper believes that every company (B2B or B2C) needs access to distribution channels to find customers, users, and talented employees to join their teams. Hyper works with early-stage companies at three key junctures in a startup’s journey:

  • Initial customer acquisition and validation (often at the pre-Seed stage)
  • First product/company launch and hiring (often at the Seed stage)
  • Scaling customer acquisition and fundraising (before the Series A)

Founders who go through the program will remain a part of the tight-knit Hyper founder community long past their Series A.

Over the past few months, Buckley says that Product Hunt has grown headcount by around 50% in part to boost its ability to act as an enhanced distribution channel. 

A short list of some of the people involved as advisors, mentors or investors themselves includes Alexis & Serena Williams, Alfred Lin of Sequoia, Garry Tan of Initialized, Harry Stebbings, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Naval Ravikant, Owen van Natta, Ryan Hoover, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Sriram Krishnan of a16z. 

It’s a pretty eclectic group, but if you squint you can see the shape of the ambitions that Hyper has reflected in the parties involved. A mix of media, venture and product figures is probably the right way to go if you want to back yourself into a media empire funded by venture capital returns. 

They’ll be building additional media products as well, especially ones that focus on areas of hyper growth and high interest in order to both generate deal flow and to feature companies in the portfolio. Interestingly, unlike many marketing-operations-disguised-as-journalistic-enterprises, Curtis says that they want these to be real, functioning media companies and that startups funded by Hyper will be presented on those sites and platforms in clearly defined sections that make it clear that they are part of the program. 

As an example, the team is careful to state that Product Hunt will remain a ‘neutral platform’ for launching products and that Hyper companies will get clearly marked slots on the site. 

Surrounding those placements will be content that is produced by editorial media arms independent of the fund (though, in the end, funded by the profits of the fund). They’re not quite up to giving specifics about how they’re going to power these media properties initially but the funds management fees as well as most of its profits from carry will go towards cultivating the distro side. The other part of the ‘most’ will, one assumes, go to the individual investors. Curtis says that there could be other ways to obtain capital to speed up this process that is allowed by the unique structure of Hyper like debt or equity financing. 

Hyper itself is trying to establish two lines of business. A portfolio of wholly owned companies like Product Hunt (which still counts AngelList as a majority investor and Ravikant on its board) and other new media brands. And the other component which includes the portfolio of Hyper funds (plural theirs) and a founder program that includes mentorship, twice-a-year-events, and other future efforts — eventually. 

The mentorship component that Hyper hopes to add for founders in the fund is an 8-week founder program that includes individuals from “partners” like Andreeessen Horowitz, AngelList, Sequoia Capital, the Twenty Minute VC Podcast and Product Hunt helping founders to solve ‘key challenges’. Some of the participants are investors in Hyper, though none of the funds participated themselves The group includes some close to home figures as well, in Product Hunt GM Ashley Higgins and founder Ryan Hoover.

The program will also offer office hours with experts, an exclusive Product Hunt launch event and a Public Hyper Demo Day and Investor Demo Day to participate in within a year of being in the program.

The Hyper concept sounds fresh in combination, if not in components. An enormous amount of ink has been spilled, for instance, on the spinning up of the VC media apparatus as a bullhorn for a tech-optimism POV. But most of that content is understood to be talking the firm’s book and not intended to be seen as journalism. Though the media publications that Hyper is planning on forming have yet to be realized, there is enough of a differentiating spark here that could make it a unique play that attempts to straddle the worlds of editorial and venture. 

I have thoughts about the way that venture and media interact, as you might imagine given what I do and waves hands at the masthead where we are having this little chat. Combining a media and investing apparatus is not a new concept — as TechCrunch readers will know. But it’s not without its complexities. Enthusiast media that works does so for a couple of major reasons, in my opinion:

  • Genuine obsession with the subject matter. The writers, editors and even business people involved must have a crazy thirst to understand and contextualize the subjects that they write about. There can be no in-between here, as they are speaking every day to an audience that is just as obsessed with it as they are and can detect any level of commitment to it that is less than 100%. 
  • A patina of either trust or candor built over time. You can go into it with some bona-fides that you buy with a big name hire or series of them, and the reputations that they’ve built elsewhere. But if you’re full of shit, you’re going to lose — no matter how well positioned and funded you are. You may ‘win’ long term by turning what you’re doing into something else, a broad interest publication in niche clothing, for instance. But you won’t win at the enthusiast level.
  • An intense, punishing commitment to momentum. The further you delve into any niche, the more knowledgeable your audience will be. This means that you must produce uniquely insightful, crisp, well-researched content every day and you must do it with a level of granularity that surpasses anyone else in your niche. Your audience lives and breathes this stuff so if you’re telling them things they’ve already read on 3 message boards, in private texts or in their work slack then you’ve lost. You’ve got to get subcutaneous and not just superficially so. 

And when you add in a layer of complexity that is proudly announcing your vested interests in the success of particular companies, it just ups the level of difficulty massively. I don’t think that it’s at all impossible to run a fund that feeds a media arm, but it’s definitely a ‘doing a really hard thing while also on fire’ kind of operation.

Which doesn’t mean that Hyper can’t pull it off. Product Hunt is the model for what they’re trying to do, creating close-to-the-ground media that attracts as many operators and investors as it does early adopters. Duplicating that in a variety of publications and events, however, is not easy at all. 

I will say that a bet on distribution as value add is still one of the better stabs that I’ve seen lately. The capital is, as Buckley told me, readily and generically available. And having your calling card be “we can help the first 10, 20 or 30 thousand people know that you even exist” isn’t a bad situation at all. It works.

This is, after all, what we do at TechCrunch, we just don’t take a cut. 

The announcement today is the Hyper the fund, and the fact that they’re opening applications to a small cohort of 25 companies. The applications are planned to open for roughly 4 weeks every quarter and the deadline for this tranche is August 10th, 2021 at midnight PT. The second cohort will open in November 2021. 

The fund is taking applicants worldwide though notes that some countries present legal complexities for investment. 

#advisors, #alfred-lin, #angellist, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #dustin-curtis, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #garry-tan, #harry-stebbings, #head, #horowitz, #hyper, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #josh-buckley, #media, #money, #naval-ravikant, #owen-van-natta, #product-hunt, #ryan-hoover, #sequoia-capital, #sriram-krishnan, #tc, #venture-capital

Digital lending platform Blend valued at over $4B in its public debut

Mortgages may not be considered sexy, but they are a big business.

And if you’ve refinanced or purchased a home digitally lately, you may or may not have noticed the company powering the software behind it — but there’s a good chance that company is Blend.

Founded in 2012, the startup has steadily grown to be a leader in the mortgage tech industry. Blend’s white label technology powers mortgage applications on the site of banks including Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank, for example, with the goal of making the process faster, simpler and more transparent. 

The San Francisco-based startup’s SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform currently processes over $5 billion in mortgages and consumer loans per day, up from nearly $3 billion last July.

And today, Blend made its debut as a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, trading under the symbol “BLND.” As of early afternoon, Eastern Time, the stock was trading up over 13% at $20.36.

On Thursday night, the company had said it would offer 20 million shares at a price of $18 per share, indicating the company was targeting a valuation of $3.6 billion.

That compares to a $3.3 billion valuation at the time of its last raise in January — a $300 million Series G funding round that included participation from Coatue and Tiger Global Management. Also, let’s not forget that Blend only became a unicorn last August when it raised a $75 million Series F. Over its lifetime, Blend had raised $665 million before Friday’s public market debut.

In filing its S-1 on June 21, Blend revealed that its revenue had climbed to $96 million in 2020 from $50.7 million in 2019. Meanwhile, its net loss narrowed from $81.5 million in 2019 to $74.6 million in 2020.

In 2020, the San Francisco-based startup significantly expanded its digital consumer lending platform. With that expansion, Blend began offering its lender customers new configuration capabilities so that they could launch any consumer banking product “in days rather than months.”

Looking ahead, the company had said it expects its revenue growth rate “to decline in future periods.” It also doesn’t envision achieving profitability anytime soon as it continues to focus on growth. Blend also revealed that in 2020, its top five customers accounted for 34% of its revenue.

Today, TechCrunch spoke with co-founder and CEO Nima Ghamsari about the company’s decision to go with a traditional IPO versus the ubiquitous SPAC or even a direct listing.

For one, Blend said he wanted to show its customers that it is an “around for a long time company” by making sure there’s enough on its balance sheet to continue to grow.

“We had to talk and convince some of the biggest investors in the world to invest in us, and that speaks to how long we’ll be around to serve these customers,” he said. “So it was a combination of our capital need and wanting to cement ourselves as a really credible software provider to one of the most regulated industries.”

Ghamsari emphasized that Blend is a software company that powers the mortgage process, and is not the one offering the mortgages. As such, it works with the flock of fintechs that are working to provide mortgages.

“A lot of them are using Blend under the hood, as the infrastructure layer,” he said.

Overall, Ghamsari believes this is just the beginning for Blend.

“One of the things about financial services is that it’s still mostly powered by paper. And so a lot of Blend’s growth is just going deeper into this process that we got started in years ago,” he said. As mentioned above, the company started out with its mortgage product but just keeps adding to it. Today, it also powers other loans such as auto, personal and home equity.

“A lot of our growth is actually powered by our other lines of business,” Ghamsari told TechCrunch. “There’s a lot to build because the larger digitization trends are just getting started in financial services. It’s relatively large industry that has lots of change.”

In May, digital mortgage lender Better.com announced it would combine with a SPAC, taking itself public in the second half of 2021.

 

#better-com, #blend, #coatue, #companies, #credible, #exit, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #ipo, #leader, #loans, #money, #new-york-stock-exchange, #saas, #san-francisco, #software, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #startups, #tiger-global-management

Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson will be a Startup Battlefield Judge at Disrupt 2021

Dayna Grayson has been in venture capital for more than a decade and was one of the first VCs to build a portfolio around the transformation of industrial sectors of our economy.

At NEA, where she was a partner for eight years, she led investments in and sat on the boards of companies including Desktop Metal, Onshape, Framebridge, Tulip, Formlabs and Guideline. She left NEA to start her own fund, Construct Capital, that focuses exclusively on early-stage startups, with a portfolio that includes Copia, ChargeLab, Tradeswell and Hadrian.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we’re absolutely thrilled to have Grayson join us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 in September.

Grayson has more than proven that she has a keen eye for transformational technology. Desktop Metal went public in 2020 — she still sits on the board as chair of the compensation committee. Onshape, another NEA-era investment, was acquired by PTC in 2019 for a whopping $525 million. Framebridge was also acquired by Graham Holdings in 2020.

Grayson saw an opportunity to develop a venture brand more hyperfocused on the types of deals she was doing at NEA, which centered around manufacturing and digitizing industrial verticals. That’s where Construct Capital came in. It’s a $140 million fund helmed by Grayson and former Uber exec Rachel Holt.

At Disrupt, Grayson will serve as a Startup Battlefield judge. The Battlefield is one of the world’s most prestigious and exciting startup competitions. Twenty+ early-stage startups hop on our stage and present their wares to a panel of expert VC judges, who then grill the founders on everything about the business, from the revenue model to the go-to-market strategy to the team to the technology itself.

The winner walks away with $100,000 in prize money and the glory of being a Battlefield winner. Households names in tech have gotten their start in the Battlefield, from Dropbox to Mint.

Grayson joins plenty of other seasoned investors on the Battlefield stage, including Camille Samuels, Deena Shakir, Terri Burns, Shauntel Garvey and Alexa Von Tobel.

Disrupt 2021 goes down from September 21 to 23 and is virtual. Snag a ticket here starting under $100 for a limited time!

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American Express taps startup BodesWell for expansion into financial planning

American Express is branching out into financial planning, with a little help from a seven-person startup called BodesWell.

This week, the credit card giant launched a pilot of its first self-service digital financial planning tool, dubbed “My Financial Plan (MFP).” The six-month pilot kicked off on July 11 with about 25,000 select Amex cardmembers.

American Express quietly invested in BodesWell in late 2020 via its venture arm, Amex Ventures. Since then, the financial services behemoth teamed up with the tiny startup to develop the financial planning tool for its users. The new product is designed to give users a complete picture of their financial health and help them make and achieve major life goals, such as buying a house or retirement.

TechCrunch talked with Amex Ventures’ Julia Huang, who led the investment and strategy around the new product, and BodesWell co-founder and CEO Matthew Bellows to learn more details.

The pair actually met while serving on a panel together in 2019. 

“I was drawn to the fact that it was not a round-up savings tool, but rather a holistic tool to understand your full financial picture that could be used to plan for the financial impact of your life decisions,” Huang told TechCrunch.

Before deciding to invest in BodesWell, Huang says Amex Ventures — which over time has backed more than 70 startups — had “evaluated the space quite extensively.”

Huang introduced Bellows and his staff to Amex’s Digital Lab team and they embarked on jointly developing a specialized offering for Amex customers. (While Bellow is based in Boston, he says the startup is “globally distributed.”)

“Our goal is to democratize financial planning with our cardmembers by providing detailed insights and forecasts to help them with their holistic planning,” she told TechCrunch.

Image Credits: Amex Ventures

Bellows started BodesWell in early 2019 with the goal of empowering clients and customers to build their own financial plan.

“So much of financial planning software is aimed at financial advisors, and requires them to run it,” he said. “So, most people can’t get the benefits of financial planning…Our hope is to expand benefits to a lot more people.”

BodesWell will guide users in setting up a financial plan and will work even better if they sync with their other financial information via Plaid so it can “update in real time,” Huang said.

The tool “takes into account income, assets, expenses and liabilities — what cash flow looks like holistically so that users can drag & drop to plan life events,” Bellow said. 

An estimated 85 million American households don’t have a financial, planner for a variety of reasons — including mistrust of a planner’s intentions or just feeling overwhelmed by the process.

The product is free during the pilot phase and American Express hasn’t yet determined if it will charge for it afterwards.

“We’re gauging first for engagement and the power of the product for our customers,” Huang told TechCrunch. “We want to make sure the product resonates and that we iterate on the product to make sure it’s good for the broader population. Our primary goal is that our customers use it and find it valuable.”

Amex Ventures has formed “some level of partnership” with more than two-thirds of its portfolio companies, she added.

“We try to engage with our portfolio in that way, to provide value with our startup ecosystem,” Huang said.

For its part, BodesWell had previously raised about $1.5 million from investors such as Cleo Capital, Ex Ventures, Riot.vc, GritCapital and Argon Capital and angels like HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan and Kintent CEO Sravish Sridhar.

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