Shkreli’s infamous price-gouging scheme finally shut down in $40M settlement

Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing, smirked his way through a Congressional hearing.

Enlarge / Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing, smirked his way through a Congressional hearing. (credit: CSPAN)

A pharmaceutical company once owned by Martin Shkreli will pay up to $40 million in a settlement that will also finally end his infamous price-gouging scheme involving the antiparasitic drug Daraprim.

The Federal Trade Commission and its state co-plaintiffs—New York, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—filed a settlement order this week that will require Vyera Pharmaceuticals (formerly Turing) and its parent company Phoenixus to make Daraprim available to any generic competitor for the cost of making the drug. The companies are also barred from engaging in any scheme resembling the one surrounding Daraprim for 10 years.

The FTC and states alleged that, in 2015, Shkreli and former Vyera CEO Kevin Mulleady abruptly jacked up the price of Daraprim by more than 4,000 percent—raising the list price from $17.50 to $750 per tablet—after they bought the rights to the drug and created a “web of anticompetitive restrictions to box out the competition.”

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#daraprim, #ftc, #new-york, #pharmaceutical-industry, #policy, #science, #shkreli, #turing-pharmaceuticals, #vyera

#DealMonitor – Pflegeplatzmanager sammelt Millionen ein – Earlybird investiert in Ducktrain – Jumio übernimmt 4stop


Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 7. Dezember werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.

INVESTMENTS

Pflegeplatzmanager 
+++ Die Beteiligungsgesellschaft Deutsche Balaton, Stefan Hoops, Treuenburg Venture Partners sowie weitere Altinvestoren investieren eine niedrige zweistellige Millionensumme in Pflegeplatzmanager. Das Startup mit Sitz in Greiz, das 2018 von Alexander Bauch und Chris Schiller gegründet wurde, setzt auf eine webbasierte Lösung, die pflegebedürftige Patienten nach einem Krankenhausaufenthalt an freie Pflegeheime vermitteln soll. “Der Pflegeplatzmanager wird aktuell mit seiner B2B-Plattform von über 500 Akut- und Rehakliniken in ganz Deutschland genutzt. Dazu zählen unter anderem viele Universitätskliniken und Maximalversorger im gesamten Bundesgebiet”, teilt das Unternehmen mit.

Ducktrain 
+++ Earlybird UNI-X, ein Ableger von Earlybird, der sich an Uni-Ausgründungen richtet, be10x, NRW.Bank sowie die Altinvestoren EIT InnoEnergy und Wi Venture investieren in Ducktrain. Das junge Aachener Unternehmen, das 2018 von Kai D. Kreisköther, Markus Werle und Fabian Kober gegründet wurde, entwickelt automatisierte Lasten-Anhänger für Lieferdienste. Insgesamt konnte das Unternehmen, eine Ausgründung der RWTH Aachen, bereits “mehr als 4 Millionen Euro” Investorengelder einsammeln. Neben den genannten Geldgebern investierten auch Plug and Play Techcenter, 5P Capital sowie der RWTH Aachen-Professor und StreetScooter-Gründer Achim Kampker (seit diesem Jahr Venture Partner bei Earlybird) bereits in Ducktrain.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

4stop 
+++ Das amerikanische Unternehmen Jumio übernimmt 4stop. “The addition of 4Stop’s data sources to the Jumio KYX Platform realizes Jumio’s strategic vision of redefining the end-to-end identity industry”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Das Kölner Unternehmen, das 2016 von Ingo Ernst, Alvaro Kurth, Nolan Bolusan und Daniel Alvarado gegründet wurde entwickelt und vertreibt eine Anti-Fraud-Software. Der französische Kapitalgeber Ventech investierte2019 rund 2,5 Millionen Euro in das Kölner Startup.

Boxplot
+++ Das amerikanische Automatisierungsunternehmen Hyperscience übernimmt Boxplot. Das Startup aus Berlin, das 2020 von Fabian Schmidt-Jakobi gegründet wurde, setzt auf ein Tool zur grafischen Datenmodellierung. “Hyperscience verarbeitet Daten und Boxplot speichert Daten. Beides passt harmonisch zusammen, denn die Art und Weise, wie Daten gespeichert werden, bestimmt, wie sie verarbeitet werden können, und andersherum”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Hyperscience aus New York wurde 2014 gegründet.

Hyperscience kauft Berliner Start-up Boxplot.io

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

Foto (oben): azrael74

#4stop, #aachen, #aktuell, #boxplot, #deutsche-balaton, #ducktrain, #earlybird-uni-x, #eit-innoenergy, #greiz, #hyperscience, #jumio, #koln, #mobility, #new-york, #pflegeplatzmanager, #sellerx, #venture-capital, #wi-venture

1.8% of staff fired from NY’s largest health care provider for vaccine refusal

A city-operated mobile pharmacy advertises the COVID-19 vaccine in a Brooklyn neighborhood on July 30, 2021, in New York City.

Enlarge / A city-operated mobile pharmacy advertises the COVID-19 vaccine in a Brooklyn neighborhood on July 30, 2021, in New York City. (credit: Getty | Spencer Platt)

Northwell Health, the largest health care provider in New York, announced Monday that it fired just a sliver of its staff for failing to comply with the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate—and there will be no interruptions to patient care at the system’s 23 hospitals and over 830 outpatient facilities.

In all, Northwell terminated only 1,400 of its more than 76,000-member workforce—that’s roughly 1.8 percent.

“Northwell Health is proud to announce that our workforce—the largest in New York State—is 100 percent vaccinated,” the company said in a statement. “This allows us to continue to provide exceptional care at all of our facilities without interruption and remain open and fully operational.”

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#covid-19, #new-york, #northwell, #public-health, #science, #vaccination, #vaccine-mandates

NY prepared for tens of thousands of unvaccinated health workers to lose jobs

A sign parodies the

Enlarge / Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against COVID-19 mandates in New York on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

New York state has braced itself for the possibility of losing tens of thousands of unvaccinated health workers who fail to meet the state’s Monday deadline for COVID-19 vaccination.

Last month, New York’s health department announced that all health care workers in the Empire State would be required to receive at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by September 27.

As of last week, 84 percent of New York’s roughly 450,000 hospital workers were fully vaccinated, according to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. That leaves the fate of about 72,000 workers in question as the deadline passes. In addition, only 81 percent of staff in the state’s adult care facilities and 77 percent of all staff at nursing home facilities were fully vaccinated as of last week.

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#covid-19, #infectious-disease, #mandate, #new-york, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

Blackbird.AI grabs $10M to help brands counter disinformation

New York-based Blackbird.AI has closed a $10 million Series A as it prepares to launched the next version of its disinformation intelligence platform this fall.

The Series A is led by Dorilton Ventures, along with new investors including Generation Ventures, Trousdale Ventures, StartFast Ventures and Richard Clarke, former chief counter-terrorism advisor for the National Security Council. Existing investor NetX also participated.

Blackbird says it’ll be used to scale up to meet demand in new and existing markets, including by expanding its team and spending more on product dev.

The 2017-founded startup sells software as a service targeted at brands and enterprises managing risks related to malicious and manipulative information — touting the notion of defending the “authenticity” of corporate marketing.

It’s applying a range of AI technologies to tackle the challenge of filtering and interpreting emergent narratives from across the Internet to identify disinformation risks targeting its customers. (And, for the record, this Blackbird is no relation to an earlier NLP startup, called Blackbird, which was acquired by Etsy back in 2016.)

Blackbird AI is focused on applying automation technologies to detect malicious/manipulative narratives — so the service aims to surface emerging disinformation threats for its clients, rather than delving into the tricky task of attribution. On that front it’s only looking at what it calls “cohorts” (or “tribes”) of online users — who may be manipulating information collectively, for a shared interest or common goal (talking in terms of groups like antivaxxers or “bitcoin bros”). 

Blackbird CEO and co-founder Wasim Khaled says the team has chalked up five years of R&D and “granular model development” to get the product to where it is now. 

“In terms of technology the way we think about the company today is an AI-driven disinformation and narrative intelligence platform,” he tells TechCrunch. “This is essentially the efforts of five years of very in-depth, ears to the ground research and development that has really spanned people everywhere from the comms industry to national security to enterprise and Fortune 500,  psychologists, journalists.

“We’ve just been non-stop talking to the stakeholders, the people in the trenches — to understand where their problem sets really are. And, from a scientific empirical method, how do you break those down into its discrete parts? Automate pieces of it, empower and enable the individuals that are trying to make decisions out of all of the information disorder that we see happening.”

The first version of Blackbird’s SaaS was released in November 2020 but the startup isn’t disclosing customer numbers as yet. v2 of the platform will be launched this November, per Khaled. 

Also today it’s announcing a partnership with PR firm, Weber Shandwick, to provide support to customers on how to respond to specific malicious messaging that could impact their businesses and which its platform has flagged up as an emerging risk.

Disinformation has of course become a much labelled and discussed feature of online life in recent years, although it’s hardly a new (human) phenomenon. (See, for example, the orchestrated airbourne leaflet propaganda drops used during war to spread unease among enemy combatants and populations). However it’s fair to say that the Internet has supercharged the ability of intentionally bad/bogus content to spread and cause reputational and other types of harms.

Studies show the speed of online travel of ‘fake news’ (as this stuff is sometimes also called) is far greater than truthful information. And there the ad-funded business models of mainstream social media platforms are implicated since their commercial content-sorting algorithms are incentivized to amplify stuff that’s more engaging to eyeballs, which isn’t usually the grey and nuanced truth.

Stock and crypto trading is another growing incentive for spreading disinformation — just look at the recent example of Walmart targeted with a fake press release suggesting the retailer was about to accept litecoin.

All of which makes countering disinformation look like a growing business opportunity.

Earlier this summer, for example, another stealthy startup in this area, ActiveFence, uncloaked to announce a $100M funding round. Others in the space include Primer and Yonder (previously New Knowledge), to name a few.

 

While some other earlier players in the space got acquired by some of the tech giants wrestling with how to clean up their own disinformation-ridden platforms — such as UK-based Fabula AI, which was bought by Twitter in 2019.

Another — Bloomsbury AI — was acquired by Facebook. And the tech giant now routinely tries to put its own spin on its disinformation problem by publishing reports that contain a snapshot of what it dubs “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that it’s found happening on its platforms (although Facebook’s selective transparency often raises more questions than it answers.)

The problems created by bogus online narratives ripple far beyond key host and spreader platforms like Facebook — with the potential to impact scores of companies and organizations, as well as democratic processes.

But while disinformation is a problem that can now scale everywhere online and affect almost anything and anyone, Blackbird is concentrating on selling its counter tech to brands and enterprises — targeting entities with the resources to pay to shrink reputational risks posed by targeted disinformation.

Per Khaled, Blackbird’s product — which consists of an enterprise dashboard and an underlying data processing engine — is not just doing data aggregation, either; the startup is in the business of intelligently structuring the threat data its engine gathers, he says, arguing too that it goes further than some rival offerings that are doing NLP (natural language processing) plus maybe some “light sentiment analysis”, as he puts it.

Although NLP is also key area of focus for Blackbird, along with network analysis — and doing things like looking at the structure of botnets.

But the suggestion is Blackbird goes further than the competition by merit of considering a wider range of factors to help identify threats to the “integrity” of corporate messaging. (Or, at least, that’s its marketing pitch.)

Khaled says the platform focuses on five “signals” to help it deconstruct the flow of online chatter related to a particular client and their interests — which he breaks down thusly: Narratives, networks, cohorts, manipulation and deception. And for each area of focus Blackbird is applying a cluster of AI technologies, according to Khaled.

But while the aim is to leverage the power of automation to tackle the scale of the disinformation challenge that businesses now face, Blackbird isn’t able to do this purely with AI alone; expert human analysis remains a component of the service — and Khaled notes that, for example, it can offer customers (human) disinformation analysts to help them drill further into their disinformation threat landscape.

“What really differentiates our platform is we process all five of these signals in tandem and in near real-time to generate what you can think of almost as a composite risk index that our clients can weigh, based on what might be most important to them, to rank the most important action-oriented information for their organization,” he says.

“Really it’s this tandem processing — quantifying the attack on human perception that we see happening; what we think of as a cyber attack on human perception — how do you understand when someone is trying to shift the public’s perception? About a topic, a person, an idea. Or when we look at corporate risk, more and more, we see when is a group or an organization or a set of accounts trying to drive public scrutiny against a company for a particular topic.

“Sometimes those topics are already in the news but the property that we want our customers or anybody to understand is when is something being driven in a manipulative manner? Because that means there’s an incentive, a motive, or an unnatural set of forces… acting upon the narrative being spread far and fast.”

“We’ve been working on this, and only this, and early on decided to do a purpose-built system to look at this problem. And that’s one of the things that really set us apart,” he also suggests, adding: “There are a handful of companies that are in what is shaping up to be a new space — but often some of them were in some other line of work, like marketing or social and they’ve tried to build some models on top of it.

“For bots — and for all of the signals we talked about — I think the biggest challenge for many organizations if they haven’t completely purpose built from scratch like we have… you end up against certain problems down the road that prevent you from being scalable. Speed becomes one of the biggest issues.

“Some of the largest organizations we’ve talked to could in theory product the signals — some of the signals that I talked about before — but the lift might take them ten to 12 days. Which makes it really unsuited for anything but the most forensic reporting, after things have kinda gone south… What you really need it in is two minutes or two seconds. And that’s where — from day one — we’ve been looking to get.”

As well as brands and enterprises with reputational concerns — such as those whose activity intersects with the ESG space; aka ‘environmental, social and governance’ — Khaled claims investors are also interested in using the tool for decision support, adding: “They want to get the full picture and make sure they’re not being manipulated.”

At present, Blackbird’s analysis focuses on emergent disinformation threats — aka “nowcasting” — but the goal is also to push into disinformation threat predictive — to help prepare clients for information-related manipulation problems before they occur. Albeit there’s no timeframe for launching that component yet.

“In terms of counter measurement/mitigation, today we are by and large a detection platform, starting to bridge into predictive detection as well,” says Khaled, adding: “We don’t take the word predictive lightly. We don’t just throw it around so we’re slowly launching the pieces that really are going to be helpful as predictive.

“Our AI engine trying to tell [customers] where things are headed, rather than just telling them the moment it happens… based on — at least from our platform’s perspective — having ingested billions of posts and events and instances to then pattern match to something similar to that that might happen in the future.”

“A lot of people just plot a path based on timestamps — based on how quickly something is picking up. That’s not prediction for Blackbird,” he also argues. “We’ve seen other organizations call that predictive; we’re not going to call that predictive.”

In the nearer term, Blackbird has some “interesting” counter measurement tech to assist teams in its pipeline, coming in Q1 and Q2 of 2022, Khaled adds.

#artificial-intelligence, #blackbird-ai, #deception, #disinformation, #enterprise, #fabula-ai, #fake-news, #national-security-council, #natural-language-processing, #new-york, #pr, #saas, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sustainable e-commerce startup Olive now ships beauty products, in addition to apparel

Earlier this year, a startup called Olive launched its new shopping site and app with the goal of making e-commerce more efficient, convenient, and sustainable by offering a way for consumers to aggregate their orders from across retailers into single shipments that arrive in reusable packaging, not cardboard. If items need to be returned, those same packages are reused. Otherwise, Olive will return to pick them up. Since its February 2021 debut, the company has grown to include over 100 retailers, predominately in the fashion space. Today, it’s expanding again by adding support for another 25 beauty retailers.

Launch partners on the new effort include brands like Supergoop!, Kora Organics, Pai Skincare, Erno Laszlo, Jecca Blac, Sahajan, Clark’s Botanicals, NuFace, Purlisse, Cover FX, LYS Beauty, SiO Beauty, Peace Out Skincare, Koh Gen Do, Julep Beauty, In Common Beauty, Indie Lee, Glow Recipe, Ursa Major, RMS Beauty, Ceremonia, Sweet Chef, Follain, and BalmLabs.

They join Olive’s numerous apparel and accessory retailers like Adidas, Superga, Rag & Bone, Birdies, Vince, Goop, Khaite, and Veronica Beard, among others.

To support the expansion, Olive also developed a new set of reusable packaging that has protective elements for more damageable items. While before, the company had offered a variety of packages like soft-sided garment bags and various sizes of more rigid containers (see below), it’s now introducing its own alternative to the air bubble strips you’ll find in most Amazon boxes these days. Olive’s version is integrated into its reusable packaging and can be easily deflated by the customer when it’s time to return the package at pickup.

Image Credits: Olive, founder Nate Faust

The idea for Olive is a timely one. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, e-commerce adoption has soared. But so has consumers’ guilt. Multiple packages land on doorsteps every week, with cardboard and plastic to recycle — if that’s even available in your area. Delivery trucks — Amazon, UPS, FedEx, and others — are now a daily spectacle on every city street. Meanwhile, market leaders like Amazon and Walmart seem largely interested in increasing the speed of delivery, not necessarily the efficiency and sustainability. (Amazon allows shoppers to pick an Amazon Day delivery, for consolidated shipments, but it’s opt-in.)

Olive founder Nate Faust says he was inspired to build the company after realizing how little interest there was from larger e-commerce players in addressing some of the inconveniences and inefficiencies in the market. Faust had previously served as a vice president at Quidsi (which ran Diapers.com and Soap.com and sold to Amazon), then co-founder and COO at Jet, which was acquired by Walmart for $3.3 billion. Before Olive, he was a senior vice president at Walmart.

After some soul searching, he realized he wanted to build something in the e-commerce space that was focused more on the social and environmental impact, not just on driving growth and consumption.

Image Credits: Olive

“I had an epiphany one evening when taking out the trash and recycling,” Faust explains. “It’s pretty crazy that we’re this far into e-commerce and this is the status quo delivery experience —  all this waste, which is both an environmental issue and a hassle for consumers,” he says. “And the bigger issue than the packaging is actually the fact that the majority of those packages are delivered one at a time, and those last-mile emissions are actually the biggest contributor of carbon emissions in the post-purchase e-commerce supply chain.”

Consumers may not think about all the issues, because many of them are hidden, but they do struggle in other ways beyond dealing with the waste. Returns are still a hassle — so much so, that Amazon now allows customers to go to Kohl’s where it’s partnered on in-store return kiosks that also help the brick-and-mortar retailer increase their own foot traffic.

Plus, consumers who shop from different sites have to set up online accounts over and over, entering in addresses and payment information many times, which is an annoyance. Olive offers the convenience of an Amazon-like one-stop-shop experience on that front.

Meanwhile, Olive addresses the return issue by allowing consumers to simply place their unwanted items back in Olive’s packaging then leave them on their doorstep or with the building’s doorman for return. It works with both the USPS and a network of local carriers to serve the customers in its current footprint, which is about 100 million U.S. consumers on both coasts.

While customers don’t have to deal with packaging, it hasn’t been entirely eliminated from the equation at this point. Olive today partners with retailers who ship packages to its own west coast and east coast warehouses, where they repackage them into the reusable containers to deliver to customers. Right now, that means Olive is responsible for the recycling issues. But it’s working with its brand partners to have them pack orders directly into the reusable packaging from the start — before shipping to Olive’s consolidation warehouses for delivery. Today, it has a few retailers on board with this effort, but it hopes that will eventually expand to include all partners.

The company generates revenue on an affiliate commission model, which works for now. But over time, it may need to evolve that business model over time, as its customer base and partnerships grow. At present, around 10,000 consumers have used Olive, ahead of any large-scale marketing and customer acquisition efforts on the startup’s part.

For now, New York-based Olive is growing its business by way of a fundraise of around $15 million from investors including Invus, Primary Venture Partners, and SignalFire.

#adidas, #amazon, #birdies, #diapers-com, #e-commerce, #east-coast, #ecommerce, #fedex, #goop, #kohls, #marketing, #nate-faust, #new-york, #online-shopping, #primary-venture-partners, #product-management, #quidsi, #retailers, #reuse, #soap-com, #startups, #united-states, #usps, #walmart, #west-coast

In a first, New York passes law banning new fossil fuel vehicle sales after 2034

Widespread EV charging stations will be critical for New York to feasibly phase-out new fossil fuel vehicles by its 2035 deadline.

Enlarge / Widespread EV charging stations will be critical for New York to feasibly phase-out new fossil fuel vehicles by its 2035 deadline. (credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New York will ban the sale of fossil fuel vehicles starting in 2035 and require all new cars to produce zero emissions. The new law, signed by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul last week, will help slash the state’s carbon pollution by 35 percent. It would put New York well on its way to achieving its statewide carbon reduction goals of 85 percent below 1990 levels.

While the sunset date is in line with other plans from the state government, hitting the goal will still require significant planning and coordination. Though EVs aren’t uncommon in New York, the state is effectively starting from zero—around 1 percent of new vehicles sold in the Empire State are fully electric.

The new law doesn’t stop at passenger vehicles. It also requires zero emissions for off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 and for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045. There’s some wiggle room with these mandates should batteries or fuel cells for large trucks or construction equipment lag significantly. The law says zero emissions will only be required “where feasible.”

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#cars, #electric-vehicles, #fossil-fuels, #new-york, #new-york-city, #policy, #zero-emissions-vehicles

GrubMarket gobbles up $120M at a $1B+ pre-money valuation to take on the grocery supply chain

When people talk about “online food delivery” services, chances are that they’ll think of the Uber Eats, Instacarts and Getirs of this world. But today a startup that’s tackling a different aspect of the market — addressing the supply chain that subsequently turns the wheels of the bigger food distribution machine — is announcing a big round of funding as it continues to grow.

GrubMarket, which provides software and services that help link up and manage relationships between food suppliers and their customers — which can include wholesalers and other distributors, markets and supermarkets, delivery startups, restaurants, and consumers — has picked up $120 million in a Series E round of funding.

The funding is coming from a wide mix of investors. Liberty Street Funds, Walleye Capital, Japan Post Capital, Joseph Stone Capital, Pegasus Tech Ventures, Tech Pioneers Fund are among the new backers, who are being joined by existing investors Celtic House Asia Partners, INP Capital, Reimagined Ventures, Moringa Capital Management, and others, along with other unnamed participants

Mike Xu, GrubMarket’s founder and CEO (pictured, above), tells me that the company is currently profitable in a big way. It’s now at a $1 billion annualized run-rate, having grown revenues 300% over last year, with some markets like New York growing even more (it went from less than $10 million ARR to $100 million+).

With operations currently in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, and some 40 warehouses nationwide. GrubMarket had a pre-money valuation of over $1 billion, and now it will be looking to grow even more, both in terms of territory and in terms of tech, moving ahead in a market that is largely absent from competitors.

“We are still the first mover in this space,” Xu said when I asked him in an interview about rivals. “No one else is doing consolidation on the supply chain side as we are. We are trying to consolidate the American food supply chain through software technologies, while also trying to find the best solutions in this space.”

(And for some context, the $1 billion+ valuation is more than double GrubMarket’s valuation in October 2020, when it raised $60 million at a $500 million post-money valuation.)

Longer term, the plan will be to look at an IPO provisionally filing the paperwork by summer 2022, Xu added.

GrubMarket got its start several years ago as one of many companies looking to provide a more efficient farm-to-table service. Tapping into a growing consumer interest in higher quality, and more traceable food, it saw an opportunity to build a platform to link up producers to the consumers, restaurants and grocery stores that were buying their products. (Grocery stores, incidentally, might be independent operations, or something much bigger: one of GrubMarket’s biggest customers is Whole Foods, which uses GrubMarket for produce supply in certain regions of the U.S. It is currently is the company’s biggest customer.)

As we wrote last year, GrubMarket — like many other grocery delivery services — found that the pandemic initially provided a big fillip, and a big rush of demand, from that consumer side of the business, as more people turned to internet-based ordering and delivery services to offset the fact that many stores were closed, or they simply wanted to curtail the amount of shopping they were doing in-person to slow the spread of Covid-19.

But fast forward to today, while the startup still serves consumers, this is currently not the primary part of its business. Instead, it’s B2B2C, serving companies that in turn serve consumers. Xu says that overall, demand from consumers has dropped off considerably compared to a year ago.

“We think that restaurant re-openings have meant more people are dining out again and spending less time at home,” Xu said, ” and also they can go back to physical grocery stores, so they are not as interested as they were before in buying raw ingredients online. I don’t want to offend other food tech companies, but I think many of them will be seeing the same. I think B2C is really going to slow down going forward.”

The opening for GrubMarket has been not just positioning itself as a middleman between producers and buyers, but to do so by way of technology and consolidating what has been a very regionalized and fragmented market up to now.

GrubMarket has snapped up no less than 40 companies in the last three years. While some of these have been to help it expand geographically (it made 10 acquisitions in the Los Angeles area alone), many have also been made to double down on technology.

These have included the likes of Farmigo, once a Disrupt Battlefield contender that pivoted into becoming a software provider to CSAs (an area that GrubMarket sees a lot of opportunity), as well as software to help farms manage their business staffing, insurance and more: Pacific Farm Management is an example of the latter.

GrubMarket’s own in-house software, WholesaleWare, a cloud-based service for farmers and other food producers, saw its sales grow 3,500% over the last year, and it is now managing more than $4 billion in wholesale and retail activity across the U.S. and Canada.

There will be obvious ways to extend what GrubHub does deeper into the needs of its customers on the purchasing end, but this is in many ways also a very crowded market. (And not just crowded, but crowded with big companies. Just today, Toast, the company that builds software for restaurants, filed for a $717 million IPO at potentially a $16.5 billion valuation.) So instead, GrubHub will continue to focus on what has been a more overlooked aspect, that of the suppliers.

“I am focused on the food supply chain,” Xu said. “Operators in the food supply chain business most of the time don’t have any access to software and e-commerce technology. But we are not just a lightweight online ordering system. We do a lot of heavyweight lifting around inventory management, pricing and customer relations, and even HR management for wholesales and distributors.” That will also mean, longer term, that GrubMarket will likely also start to explore connected hardware to help those customers, too: robotics for picking and moving items are on that agenda, Xu said.

“GrubMarket has built a profitable, high-growth business underpinned by its best-in-class technology platform that’s reinventing how businesses access healthy, fresh foods,” said Jack Litowitz, director of strategic investments at Reimagined Ventures, in a statement. “We’re proud to support GrubMarket as it continues to expand into new regions and grow its WholesaleWare 2.0 software platform. At Reimagined Ventures, we always seek to invest in businesses that are disrupting inefficient industries in innovative ways. Mike Xu and the GrubMarket team have built one of these businesses. We’re excited to back their vision and work in making the food supply chain more efficient.”

“GrubMarket is transforming the trillion-dollar food distribution industry with unprecedented speed by implementing advanced digital solutions and operational discipline. The company’s scale, growth, and profitability are extraordinarily impressive. Pegasus is delighted and honored to be part of GrubMarket’s exciting journey ahead,” added Bill Reichert, partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures.

#arizona, #california, #canada, #ceo, #connecticut, #digital-solutions, #farmigo, #food, #food-delivery, #food-supply-chain, #funding, #georgia, #grocery-store, #grubhub, #grubmarket, #instacart, #japan-post-capital, #los-angeles, #massachusetts, #michigan, #mike-xu, #missouri, #new-jersey, #new-york, #olo, #online-food-delivery, #online-food-ordering, #oregon, #partner, #pegasus-tech-ventures, #pennsylvania, #reimagined-ventures, #retailers, #software, #software-platform, #supply-chain, #texas, #uber-eats, #united-states, #washington, #whole-foods

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

Meet retail’s new sustainability strategy: Personalization

We have been raised to believe in recycling, but it has mostly been a sham — only 9% of all plastic waste produced in 2018 was recycled. The beauty industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, little of which is recycled. Globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills.

Reducing waste is key to meeting environmental milestones, and some retail firms have narrowed in on a unique approach to minimize what their customers throw away: personalization. Accurate personalization can guide consumers to the right products, reducing waste while increasing conversion and loyalty.

Reducing waste is key to meeting environmental milestones, and some retail firms have narrowed in on a unique approach to minimize what their customers throw away: personalization.

For big brands and retailers, personalization is expected to be the top category for tech investment this year. Moreover, personalization holds high appeal, with 80% of survey respondents indicating they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences and 90% indicating that they find personalization appealing, according to a survey by Epsilon.

Startups that deliver sustainable personalization solutions that also improve business for retailers and brands fall into three categories:

  • AR virtual try-on with shade matching.
  • Advanced virtual fitting rooms with VR/AR for fashion.
  • Smart packaging with IoT and distributed ledger technology.

AR virtual try-on with shade matching

Faces are easy to map, since it’s not difficult to virtually place a lipstick color on a face, but using AR and AI to recommend skin-tone-matching makeup products has been challenging for many AR virtual try-on companies. “I’ve been searching for an intuitive foundation-shade-finder tool since launching Cult Beauty in 2008, and nothing has lived up to the experience of having a professional match you in daylight until I discovered MIME,” says Alexia Inge, founder of Cult Beauty. “There are so many variables like light, skin tones, prevalent undertones, device, screen, OS, formula density, formula oxidation, as well as preferences for coverage levels, finish, brand and skin type,” she says.

MIME founder and CEO Christopher Merkle said, “Virtual try-on has exploded in the past few years, but for color cosmetics, the technology doesn’t help solve the primary customer pain point: shade matching. From day one, I decided to focus our company’s R&D efforts exclusively on color accuracy. I want to make sure that when the consumer receives their foundation or concealer in the mail, it’s the perfect shade once applied to their skin.”

MIME’s Shade Finder AI allows consumers to take a photo of themselves, answer a few questions, then get matched with a makeup color that pairs with their skin tone. MIME helps retailers and brands increase their online and in-store purchase conversion by up to five times. More than 22% of beauty returns are due to poor customer color purchases, but Merkle says MIME can get returns as low as 0.1%.

#amazon, #apple-inc, #arkit, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #body-labs, #column, #cosmetics, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #ecommerce, #marketing, #new-york, #online-shopping, #personalization, #startups, #tc, #true-ventures, #virtual-reality, #walmart

Billionaire Sacklers granted lifetime legal immunity in opioid settlement

Friends and family members of people who have died during the opioid epidemic protest against a bankruptcy deal with Purdue Pharmaceuticals that allows the Sackler family to avoid criminal prosecution and to keep billions of dollars in private wealth, on August 9, 2021, outside the Federal courthouse in White Plains, New York.

Enlarge / Friends and family members of people who have died during the opioid epidemic protest against a bankruptcy deal with Purdue Pharmaceuticals that allows the Sackler family to avoid criminal prosecution and to keep billions of dollars in private wealth, on August 9, 2021, outside the Federal courthouse in White Plains, New York. (credit: Getty | Andrew Lichtenstein)

A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday approved a $4.5 billion opioid settlement that provides sweeping lifetime legal immunity for the billionaire Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma.

“This is a bitter result,” Federal Judge Robert Drain said Wednesday in a lengthy explanation of his approval of the settlement. “I believe that at least some of the Sackler parties also have liability for those [opioid] claims… I would have expected a higher settlement.”

The Sacklers owned and were largely directing Purdue Pharma in the late 1990s when the company allegedly began aggressively and deceptively selling its highly addictive opioid painkiller, OxyContin. Purdue, which has twice pled guilty for wrongdoing in marketing OxyContin, is largely seen as sparking the nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses. The opioid crisis has killed nearly 500,000 people in the US in the past two decades.

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#addiction, #connecticut, #new-york, #opioids, #overdose, #oxycontin, #purdue, #sacklers, #science, #washington

UK-based Heroes raises $200M to buy up more Amazon merchants for its roll-up play

Heroes, one of the new wave of startups aiming to build big e-commerce businesses by buying up smaller third-party merchants on Amazon’s Marketplace, has raised another big round of funding to double down on that strategy. The London startup has picked up $200 million, money that it will mainly be using to snap up more merchants. Existing brands in its portfolio cover categories like baby, pets, sports, personal health and home and garden categories — some of them, like PremiumCare dog chews, the Onco baby car mirror, gardening tool brand Davaon and wooden foot massager roller Theraflow, category best-sellers — and the plan is to continue building up all of these verticals.

Crayhill Capital Management, a fund based out of New York, is providing the funding, and Riccardo Bruni — who co-founded the company with twin brother Alessio and third brother Giancarlo — said that the bulk of it will be going towards making acquisitions, and is therefore coming in the form of debt.

Raising debt rather than equity at this point is pretty standard for companies like Heroes. Heroes itself is pretty young: it launched less than a year ago, in November 2020, with $65 million in funding, a round comprised of both equity and debt. Other investors in the startup include 360 Capital, Fuel Ventures and Upper 90.

Heroes is playing in what is rapidly becoming a very crowded field. Not only are there are tens of thousands of businesses leveraging Amazon’s extensive fulfillment network to sell goods on the e-commerce giant’s Marketplace; but some days it seems we are also rapidly approaching a state of nearly as many startups launching to consolidate these third-party sellers.

Many a roll-up play follows a similar playbook, which goes like this: Amazon provides the Marketplace to sell goods to consumers, and the infrastructure to fulfill those orders, by way of Fulfillment By Amazon and its Prime service. Meanwhile, the roll-up business — in this case Heroes — buys up a number of the stronger companies leveraging FBA and the Marketplace. Then, by consolidating them into a single tech platform that they have built, Heroes creates better economies of scale around better and more efficient supply chains, sharper machine learning and marketing and data analytics technology, and new growth strategies. 

What is notable about Heroes, though — apart from the fact that it’s the first roll-up player to come out of the UK, and continues to be one of the bigger players in Europe — is that it doesn’t believe that the technology plays as important a role as having a solid relationship with the companies it’s targeting, key given that now the top Marketplace sellers are likely being feted by a number of companies as acquisition targets.

“The tech is very important,” said Alessio in an interview. “It helps us build robust processes that tie all the systems together across multiple brands and marketplaces. But what we have is very different from a SaaS business. We are not building an app, and tech is not the core of what we do. From the acquisitions side, we believe that human interactions ultimately win. We don’t think tech can replace a strong acquisition process.”

Image Credits: Heroes

Heroes’ three founder-brothers (two of them, Riccardo and Alessio, pictured above) have worked across a number of investment, finance and operational roles (the CVs include Merrill Lynch, EQT Ventures, Perella Weinberg Partners, Lazada, Nomura and Liberty Global) and they say there have been strong signs so far of its strategy working: of the brands that it has acquired since launching in November, they claim business (sales) has grown five-fold.

Collectively, the roll-up startups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fuel these efforts. Other recent hopefuls that have announced funding this year include Suma Brands ($150 million); Elevate Brands ($250 million); Perch ($775 million); factory14 ($200 million); Thrasio (currently probably the biggest of them all in terms of reach and money raised and ambitions), HeydayThe Razor GroupBrandedSellerXBerlin Brands Group (X2), Benitago, Latin America’s Valoreo and Rainforest and Una Brands out of Asia. 

The picture that is emerging across many of these operations is that many of these companies, Heroes included, do not try to make their particular approaches particularly more distinctive than those of their competitors, simply because — with nearly 10 million third-party sellers today on Amazon globally — the opportunity is likely big enough for all of them, and more, not least because of current market dynamics.

“It’s no secret that we were inspired by Thrasio and others,” Riccardo said. “Combined with Covid-19, there has been a massive acceleration of e-commerce across the continent.” It was that, plus the realization that the three brothers had the right e-commerce, fundraising and investment skills between them, that made them see what was a “perfect storm” to tackle the opportunity, he continued. “So that is why we jumped into it.”

In the case of Heroes, while the majority of the funding will be used for acquisitions, it’s also planning to double headcount from its current 70 employees before the end of this year with a focus on operational experts to help run their acquired businesses. 

#360-capital, #amazon, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #companies, #crayhill-capital-management, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #eqt-ventures, #europe, #finance, #fuel-ventures, #heroes, #latin-america, #lazada-group, #liberty-global, #london, #machine-learning, #marketplace, #new-york, #player, #prime, #retailers, #startup-company, #united-kingdom

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

Balance raises $25M in a Ribbit Capital-led Series A to grow its ‘consumer-like B2B checkout platform’

Balance, a payments platform aimed at B2B merchants and marketplaces, has raised $25 million in a Series A funding round led by Ribbit Capital.

Avid Ventures participated in the financing, in addition to existing backers Lightspeed Ventures, Stripe, Y Combinator Continuity Fund, SciFi VC and UpWest. Other individual investors that put money in the round include early employees and executives from Plaid, Coinbase, Square, Stripe and PayPal, such as Jaqueline Reses, formerly head of Square Capital. The financing comes just over six months after Balance announced a $5.5 million seed round.

The motivation for starting the company was simple, said CEO and co-founder Bar Geron: “We wanted to create an online B2B experience that doesn’t suck.” He and Yoni Shuster, both former PayPal employees, started the company in early 2020.

B2B payments, he said, have historically differed from B2C primarily in that they have not taken place at the moment of purchase (or at the point of sale) but rather within 30 days and with an invoice. This is not an efficient process for merchants or vendors alike, the company maintains.

Meanwhile, most businesses have avoided paying for their supply with credit cards, because cards can quickly max out, Geron said.

“The only element that keeps many merchants offline is payments,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s a process that is stuck in the flow of those marketplaces and keeping them from scaling. We got fascinated with the problem.”

After starting out at Y Combinator, Balance has developed what it describes as a “consumer-like B2B checkout platform for merchants and marketplaces,” or a “self-serve digital checkout experience company for B2B businesses.”

What that means is that Balance has built a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods, including ACH, cards, checks and bank wires, as well as a variety of terms, including payment on delivery, net payment terms and payment by milestone. Behind the scenes, Balance underwrites the terms of those transactions requiring financing by evaluating the risk of the customer, the merchant and the specific payment terms selected. Balance is built on top of Stripe and offers all of Stripe’s credit card payment options, but then extends far beyond them.

Balance, according to Geron, invested “a lot” in APIs for marketplaces.

“We have a very robust API platform so that these businesses can manage the entire payment flow without being exposed to the risk and regulation of payments,” he told TechCrunch. “And this is all happening without them even touching the funds.”

The plus for merchants is the ability to get immediate payout that is always reconciled like credits. Marketplaces are equipped with automated vendor disbursement, a full compliance umbrella and reconciliation management, Balance says.

“We want to make the online payments experience for businesses as seamless as it is for consumer payments, and we want to do it globally,” Geron told TechCrunch.

The startup has already partnered with e-commerce giants such as BigCommerce and Magento and will soon also work with Salesforce, according to Geron. Its customers range from startups to publicly traded marketplaces to e-commerce enterprises across a variety of industries such as steel, freight, hardware, food ordering, medical supply and apparel. They include Bryzos, Choco, Zilingo and Bay Supply, among others.

It’s early days yet, but Balance has seen growth of about 500% to 600% since the time of its last raise in February, Geron said. The company, which has offices in Tel Aviv and New York, has about 30 employees.

Jordan Angelos, a general partner at Ribbit and former head of M&A and investment at Stripe, believes the fact that Balance has built its platform specifically for “rapidly scaling” B2B marketplaces and merchants is reflective of a “well-placed” focus.

“B2B marketplaces, for example, have a very particular set of payments and capital markets-related needs that can be much more holistically and elegantly solved with Balance’s flexible toolkit than alternatives,” he wrote via email. “Payments and checkout are two sides of the same coin, and Balance’s products allow users to address them together to better serve their customers as well as their own margins.”

#api, #avid-ventures, #balance, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lightspeed-ventures, #new-york, #online-payments, #payments, #recent-funding, #ribbit-capital, #startups, #stripe, #tel-aviv, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

A California judge just struck down Prop 22: Now what?

Every time you turn around, someone new is winning the war in California around organizing workers in the sharing economy.

Labor struck first when California legislators passed Assembly Bill 5, requiring all independent contractors working for gig economy companies to be reclassified as employees. That was expected to set off a chain reaction in state legislatures nationwide, until two things happened.

First, COVID-19 hit and quickly became all-encompassing, making it virtually impossible for lawmakers and regulators to focus on anything but surviving the pandemic. Second, Uber, Lyft, Instacart and others funded and voters approved Prop 22 in California, striking down AB-5 and returning sharing economy workers to independent contractor status.

On the same day that Prop 22 passed, Democrats captured both chambers of Congress in Washington, but their margins were so slim (50-50 in the Senate and a nine-vote majority in the House), that federal legislative action on the issue was near impossible. Across the country, politicians read the tea leaves of Prop 22 and decided to mainly stay away. That kept the issue at bay during the 2021 state legislative sessions.

But the tide started to turn again this summer. First, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the PRO Act in February 2021, stating that workers would be reclassified using an ABC test, in addition to rolling back right-to-work laws in states and establishing monetary penalties for companies and executives who violate workers’ rights.

The bill handily passed the House in March, but has since stalled in the Senate, despite receiving a hearing and energetic support by high-profile senators including Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The Biden administration’s appointees to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board are decidedly in favor of full-time-worker status. And now, a California Superior Court judge has ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional, saying it violates the right of the state legislature to pass future laws around worker safety and status.

The sharing economy companies are expected to appeal, and the case could ultimately wind up before the California Supreme Court.

So now what? The courts will ultimately determine the status of sharing economy workers in California, but since the decision will be about the specific legal parameters of California’s referendum process, it won’t determine the issue elsewhere. And despite noise from Washington, Congress isn’t passing the PRO Act any time soon (Democrats may try to include it in the reconciliation for the $3.5 trillion American Families Plan, but the odds of its survival are low). That means the action returns to the states.

New York is the biggest battleground outside of California. Democrats have amassed a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, and New York lacks a referendum vehicle to overturn state law.

Sharing economy workers are the biggest organizing opportunity for private sector unions in decades, and labor will use all of its influence to pass worker classification reform in 2022.

However, Kathy Hochul, New York’s new governor, is a moderate, and state legislators recently abandoned a half-baked plan brokered by gig companies to safeguard independent contractor status, indicating a resolution on the issue will likely take time.

Illinois is fertile ground for worker reclassification, too, but the state remains a question mark.

There’s also a chance of movement in Massachusetts, where gig companies are making a play to establish a ballot initiative very similar to Prop 22. Legislators in Seattle and Pennsylvania have also signaled an interest in exploring the issue.

And just a few months after most state legislative sessions conclude next summer, we’ll hit the midterm elections, which could produce a Republican wave (especially in the House) that would yet again quash the chances of worker classification legislation passing anywhere.

In other words, this is going to ping back and forth for at least the next few years in the courts, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress and federal agencies. If you’re a sharing economy investor and you want this issue resolved once and for all, that peace of mind isn’t coming. And the market, rather than accepting that this will be an unresolved issue for the next few years, will probably overreact to each individual action, whether it’s a lower court ruling or a piece of legislation making its way through a state.

In reality, the answer is the same as it’s always been: trying to shoehorn sharing economy workers into one of two existing categories — 1099 or W-2 — doesn’t work. We still need to recognize that the inherent nature of work has changed over the last decade, and we need to recognize that both parties — the sharing economy companies and the unions — are only looking out for their own interests and coffers at the expense of what’s best for actual workers.

California is not going to resolve this issue. It’s just swung back and forth from one extreme to another. Congress is not going to resolve this issue because it almost never resolves anything.

So the game comes down to states like Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. It comes down to legislators and leaders trying to craft good public policy at the expense of their donors and supporters and Twitter followers — and then it comes down to their colleagues doing the same.

It means sacrificing politics for policy. That almost never happens. And it probably won’t happen here, either. So if you’re trying to game out where this issue is going, accept the uncertainty and expect that a thoughtful, smart resolution — locally or nationally — is unlikely. It’s a dissatisfying conclusion but, sadly, it epitomizes exactly where our politics stand today.

#bernie-sanders, #biden-administration, #california, #column, #congress, #government, #illinois, #labor, #lyft, #national-labor-relations-board, #new-york, #opinion, #policy, #sharing-economy, #tc, #uber, #washington

Givz raises $3M in seed funding to make donations a marketing tool for businesses

Givz, which has developed an API-powered platform that gives brands a way to convert discounts into donations, has raised $3 million in seed funding.

Eniac and Accomplice co-led the financing for the New York-based startup. Additional investors include Supernode Ventures, Claude Wasserstein of Fine Day, Phoenix Club and Dylan Whitman.

Givz was founded in 2017 to make charitable giving more accessible and convenient for the masses. In March 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company pivoted from B2C to B2B and used the technology rails it had built to create the e-commerce marketing platform that Givz is today.

The company aims to drive “full-price purchasing behavior” by giving consumers the ability to convert the money they would be saving if getting a discount, and donating it to their favorite charities. 

Prior to the funding, Givz had been working with more than 80 enterprise, mid-market and SMB retail and e-commerce clients such as H&M, Tom Brady’s TB12, Seedlip and Terez, and accumulated more than 40,000 individual users. Since the shift last year, the company has helped drive more than $1 million to 1,100 charities, according to CEO and founder Andrew Forman.

It just launched on Shopify, which Forman says will give the startup access to the 1.7 million retailers that use Shopify as their e-commerce platform.

Givz operates under the premise that “donation-driven marketing” consistently outperforms discounts and costs less, “making it an attractive addition” to corporate marketing.

“We are creating a new marketing category and generating the largest sustainable charitable giving platform in the process,” he told TechCrunch. 

An example of a company using Givz can be found in Tervis, which offered customers “For every $50 you spend, you’ll receive $15 to give to the charity of your choice.” 

“They used Givz technology to allow consumers to choose the charity of their choice and make a turnkey disbursement to hundreds of charities,” Forman explained. “They saw a 20% lift in website conversion and a 17% increase in average order value as a result of this offer.”

Image Credits: Givz

Currently, Givz has eight employees with plans to more than double that number over the next year.

The company plans to use the new capital toward that hiring, and to do some marketing of its own.

“We also want to explore the full potential around the consumer behavior data we collect,” Forman said.

In the short term, Givz is focused on “Shopify growth” with direct to consumer brands.

“But we have successful use cases and huge potential with enterprise retailers and financial institutions,” Forman told TechCrunch. “In the future, we have our sights set on restaurants, the gaming industry and global expansion. I believe that using personalized donations to incentivize consumer behavior has endless application across industries, verticals and continents.”

Eniac partner Vic Singh said that there’s been a trend of brands experimenting with different ways to target the socially conscious consumer. 

“We believe Givz’s donation-driven marketing platform offers brands the best way to attract the socially conscious consumer while elevating their brand, moving more inventory and driving increased order value rather than simplistic traditional discounting,” he added.

Accomplice’s TJ Mahony said that both he and Singh believed SMS would emerge as a new marketing category, which led to early investments in Attentive and Postscript, respectively.

“We both saw a similar opportunity with Givz,” he wrote via e-mail. “Discounting is a well worn marketing muscle, but it’s detrimental to the brand, margins and customer expectations. We believe continuous impact marketing becomes the alternative to discounting and marketers will begin to build teams and budget around thoughtful and persistent giving strategies.”

#accomplice, #api, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #eniac-ventures, #funding, #fundings-exits, #givz, #marketing, #new-york, #payments, #recent-funding, #retail, #saas, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #vic-singh

Google says geofence warrants make up one-quarter of all US demands

For the first time, Google has published the number of geofence warrants it’s historically received from U.S. authorities, providing a rare glimpse into how frequently these controversial warrants are issued.

The figures, published Thursday, reveal that Google has received thousands of geofence warrants each quarter since 2018, and at times accounted for about one-quarter of all U.S. warrants that Google receives. The data shows that the vast majority of geofence warrants are obtained by local and state authorities, with federal law enforcement accounting for just 4% of all geofence warrants served on the technology giant.

According to the data, Google received 982 geofence warrants in 2018, 8,396 in 2019, and 11,554 in 2020. But the figures only provide a small glimpse into the volume of warrants received, and did not break down how often it pushes back on overly broad requests. A spokesperson for Google would not comment on the record.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which led efforts by dozens of civil rights groups to lobby for the release of these numbers, commended Google for releasing the numbers.

“Geofence warrants are unconstitutionally broad and invasive, and we look forward to the day they are outlawed completely.” said Cahn.

Geofence warrants are also known as “reverse-location” warrants, since they seek to identify people of interest who were in the near-vicinity at the time a crime was committed. Police do this by asking a court to order Google, which stores vast amounts of location data to drive its advertising business, to turn over details of who was in a geographic area, such as a radius of a few hundred feet at a certain point in time, to help identify potential suspects.

Google has long shied away from providing these figures, in part because geofence warrants are largely thought to be unique to Google. Law enforcement has long known that Google stores vast troves of location data on its users in a database called Sensorvault, first revealed by The New York Times in 2019.

Sensorvault is said to have the detailed location data on “at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide,” collected from users’ phones when they use an Android device with location data switched on, or Google services like Google Maps and Google Photo, and even Google search results. In 2018, the Associated Press reported that Google could still collect users’ locations even when their location history is “paused.”

But critics have argued that geofence warrants are unconstitutional because the authorities compel Google to turn over data on everyone else who was in the same geographic area.

Worse, these warrants have been known to ensnare entirely innocent people.

TechCrunch reported earlier this year that Minneapolis police used a geofence warrant to identify individuals accused of sparking violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year. One person on the ground who was filming and documenting the protests had his location data requested by police for being close to the violence. NBC News reported last year how one Gainesville, Fla. resident whose information was given by Google to police investigating a burglary, but was able to prove his innocence thanks to an app on his phone that tracked his fitness activity.

Although the courts have yet to deliberate widely on the legality of geofence warrants, some states are drafting laws to push back against geofence warrants. New York lawmakers proposed a bill last year that would ban geofence warrants in the state, amid fears that police could use these warrants to target protesters — as what happened in Minneapolis.

Cahn, who helped introduce the New York bill last year, said the newly released data will “help spur lawmakers to outlaw the technology.”

“Let’s be clear, the number of geofence warrants should be zero,” he said.

#android, #articles, #computing, #databases, #florida, #george-floyd, #google, #google-maps, #law-enforcement, #minneapolis, #new-york, #privacy, #security, #spokesperson, #technology, #the-new-york-times, #united-states, #warrant

Octane raises $52M at a $900M+ valuation to help people finance large recreational purchases

Most of the time when people get loans, it’s for big life purchases such as a house or a car.

But not every big purchase is a necessity. Some are more for fun, and the financing options for those types of buys — such as motorcycles and ATVs — are more limited. Today, Octane Lending, a company that embarked seven years ago on remedying that, announced it has raised $52 million in a Series D round of funding that values the company at over $900 million.

The company, which offers “instant” financing for large recreational purchases, boasts impressive financials in a startup world whose inhabitants are mostly unprofitable. For one, Octane is both net income and operating cash flow positive, and expects to originate more than $1 billion in the next 12 months. It has been doubling revenue annually, and CEO and co-founder Jason Guss projects that the company will see “over $100 million in revenue” this year. Its valuation is now “more than double” what it was at the time of its July 2020 $25 million raise, according to Guss.

Progressive Investment Company Inc., a member of the Progressive Insurance group, led its latest financing, which included participation from existing backers Valar Ventures, Upper90, Contour Venture Partners, Citi Ventures, Third Prime and Parkwood, as well as new investors Gaingels and ALIVE. 

With the latest round, New York-based Octane has now raised more than $192 million in total equity funding since its 2014 inception.

Octane launched with the goal of “making lending better in overlooked markets,” according to Guss. Specifically, Octane initially set out to build a lender marketplace to streamline retail financing in the powersports category. Put more simply, it wanted to help people who want to buy things like motorcycles, snowmobiles, jet skis and ATVs get the financing they need to do so.

“We quickly learned that the buying journey in powersports markets was broken beyond just financing,” Guss told TechCrunch. “We elevated our goal to build an end-to-end buying solution including editorial content, consumer pre-qualification tools, instant full-spectrum financing and digital deal closing.”

Image Credits: Octane

Because lending is involved in about 80% of powersports purchases and about 80% of lending happens in the dealership, Octane focused first on building a lending platform for dealerships and consumers. Then in 2016, it launched Roadrunner Financial, a wholly owned-and-operated lender, so that it could offer full spectrum lending, “expand access to credit and speed up transactions through digitization and automation.” Today, the company is partnered with 3,800 dealers.

With an anchor in dealerships, Octane then expanded its scope. Last year, it acquired Cycle World and UTV Driver, along with five other brands from Bonnier with a goal “to inspire and inform powersports enthusiasts across the nation.” Also last year, it launched Octane Pre-qual, which enables consumers to instantly prequalify for financing on OEM and dealership websites with a soft credit pull. With that offering, Octane aims to help direct consumers to a dealership, close their loan and complete their purchase in one place.

“We are growing dramatically because we make transactions faster and simpler to close for consumers and dealerships,” Guss said. “We are the only platform to offer end-to-end purchasing benefits in the markets we play in.”

Looking ahead, Octane plans to use its new capital to expand to adjacent “other passion purchase” markets and continue to launch customer engagement tools as well as buying solutions for consumers shopping for powersports vehicles online. It also wants to continue to add dealership, OEM and brand partners, which today include BRP, Suzuki and Triumph Motorcycles.

“We define a passion purchase as a major discretionary purchase that brings people joy,” Guss said.Most innovation and investment is focused on large, marquee markets such as small business, auto and homes.” As people spent less toward travel and eating out once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the powersports market got a boost, growing double digits last year, noted Guss.

“Our core customer base was not significantly impacted by COVID economically so consumer demand and loan performance remained strong,” he said.

Andrew Quigg, chief strategy officer at Progressive Insurance, believes that technology and consumers’ needs continue to evolve.

Octane’s point-of-sale loan origination platform provides benefits to consumers and dealerships in a specialty segment of the lending market,” he said. “We like to partner with innovative, forward-thinking companies and believe that our investment in Octane aligns very well with this strategy.” 

Octane describes itself as a remote-first workplace that has offices in New York and Dallas. It has grown its team by 50% in the last year, from 213 to 336 employees.

#citi-ventures, #contour-venture-partners, #dallas, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lending, #loans, #new-york, #octane, #progressive-investment-company-inc, #recent-funding, #startups, #suzuki, #valar-ventures, #venture-capital

Amazon expands same-day Prime delivery to 6 more U.S. cities

Amazon announced this morning it’s expanding its faster, same-day delivery service to half a dozen more U.S. cities. The service, which the retailer has been working to make same-day delivery even faster over the past year, now offers consumers in a number of markets the ability to shop up to 3 million items on Amazon.com, then receive their orders in only a few hours.

To do so, Amazon invested in what it called “mini-fulfillment centers” closer to where customers lived in select U.S. markets, initially in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, and Dallas. Those customers could then shop across a dozen merchandise categories, including Baby, Beauty & Health, Kitchen & Dining, Electronics, Pet Supplies, and more. As the pandemic continued to impact Amazon’s business, in November 2020, Amazon expanded its faster same-day service to more cities, to include Nashville and Washington, D.C.

With today’s expansion, Amazon is rolling out same-day delivery to Prime members in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte, and Houston, bringing the total markets served to 12. In these markets, shoppers will be able to place orders online throughout the day then have items on their doorstep in as fast as 5 hours, Amazon says. Customers can also place orders by midnight to have their orders arrive the following morning.

The service continues to be free with no additional charges on orders over $35 that qualify for same-day delivery. Orders under $35 have a $2.99 fee for Prime customers, and a $12.99 fee for non-members. Prime membership, meanwhile, is $12.99 per month or $119 per year.

The time frame commitments for same-day delivery are the same as those Amazon promised last year when it first announced its plans to speed up Prime delivery. Orders placed between midnight and 8 AM will arrive today by 1 PM. Orders placed between 8 AM and 1 PM arrive by 6 PM; those placed between 1 PM and 5 PM will arrive by 10 PM; and those placed between 5 PM and midnight will arrive overnight by 8 AM. That means customers can place orders fairly late and receive their items before they head out of the house the next day.

Faster same-day delivery has been one of the most significant services Amazon has used to challenge rivals like Walmart and Target, who both benefit from having a large brick-and-mortar footprint that allows them to more quickly serve their customers through same-day order pickup, curbside pickup, and same-day delivery services. While Walmart partners with third-parties on its same-day service, Express delivery, largely focused on grocery, Target acquired delivery service Shipt in 2017 to bring its fast delivery services in-house.

In response to the growing competition, Amazon has been recently acquiring smaller warehouse space inside major urban metros, including in these six new markets where it’s now announcing same-day delivery, as well as larger markets, like New York, and even suburban neighborhoods. It also acquired Whole Foods for $137.7 billion in 2017, not only to more fully participate in the online grocery business, but also in part because of its large retail footprint.

As Amazon has sped up the pace of what’s available under “Prime” delivery, it has wound down its older “Prime Now” business, which was retired Aug. 30 and will be fully shut down by year-end. The separate app had allowed customers to shop items that were available in one or two hours for an additional fee.

The news follows Amazon’s earning miss last week, when the retailer fell short of Wall St.’s estimates for revenue, and gave a weaker than-expected outlook for the quarter ahead, which Amazon attributed to difficult comparisons with a time frame that included Covid lockdowns during height of the pandemic in 2020. The company reported $113.08 billion in revenue and earnings of $15.12, versus expectations of $115.2 billion and $12.30.

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #amazon-com, #baltimore, #charlotte, #chicago, #dallas, #delivery-services, #detroit, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #houston, #nashville, #new-york, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #orlando, #philadelphia, #phoenix, #prime, #prime-now, #retailers, #shipt, #tampa, #target, #united-states, #walmart, #washington-d-c, #whole-foods

Amazon will pay you $10 in credit for your palm print biometrics

How much is your palm print worth? If you ask Amazon, it’s about $10 in promotional credit if you enroll your palm prints in its checkout-free stores and link it to your Amazon account.

Last year, Amazon introduced its new biometric palm print scanners, Amazon One, so customers can pay for goods in some stores by waving their palm prints over one of these scanners. By February, the company expanded its palm scanners to other Amazon grocery, book and 4-star stores across Seattle.

Amazon has since expanded its biometric scanning technology to its stores across the U.S., including New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Texas.

The retail and cloud giant says its palm scanning hardware “captures the minute characteristics of your palm — both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns — to create your palm signature,” which is then stored in the cloud and used to confirm your identity when you’re in one of its stores.

Amazon’s latest promotion: $10 promotional credit in exchange for your palm print. (Image: Amazon)

What’s Amazon doing with this data exactly? Your palm print on its own might not do much — though Amazon says it uses an unspecified “subset” of anonymous palm data to improve the technology. But by linking it to your Amazon account, Amazon can use the data it collects, like shopping history, to target ads, offers, and recommendations to you over time.

Amazon also says it stores palm data indefinitely, unless you choose to delete the data once there are no outstanding transactions left, or if you don’t use the feature for two years.

While the idea of contactlessly scanning your palm print to pay for goods during a pandemic might seem like a novel idea, it’s one to be met with caution and skepticism given Amazon’s past efforts in developing biometric technology. Amazon’s controversial facial recognition technology, which it historically sold to police and law enforcement, was the subject of lawsuits that allege the company violated state laws that bar the use of personal biometric data without permission.

“The dystopian future of science fiction is now. It’s horrifying that Amazon is asking people to sell their bodies, but it’s even worse that people are doing it for such a low price,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, in an email to TechCrunch.

“Biometric data is one of the only ways that companies and governments can track us permanently. You can change your name, you can change your Social Security number, but you can’t change your palm print. The more we normalize these tactics, the harder they will be coming to escape. If we don’t try to line in the sand here, I am very fearful what our future will look like,” said Cahn.

When reached, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

#amazon, #amazon-music, #biometrics, #computing, #law-enforcement, #maryland, #new-jersey, #new-york, #palm, #privacy, #retail, #seattle, #security, #technology, #texas, #united-states

BoxGroup closes on $255M across two funds to back startups at their earliest stages

BoxGroup has quietly, yet diligently, been funding companies at the early stage for over a decade. The 11-year-old firm in fact was the first investor in Plaid, a fintech company that nearly got sold to Visa last year for billions of dollars.

It has seen a number of impressive exits over the years, proving an eye that can detect winners before the winners themselves may even realize it. In fact, it’s that early faith in companies that partner David Tisch believes has been key to BoxGroup’s success.

“If you’re starting a company and you’re going to raise money, that first yes is the hardest. And it’s that’s the one that gives you the confidence, the excitement – to know that there’s somebody out there that’s going to believe in this and give you money for it,” Partner David Tisch told TechCrunch. “We really do try to pride ourselves on being that first yes on a regular basis. So the earlier we meet companies, the better.”

Today, BoxGroup is announcing it has beefed up its war chest so that it can be that “first yes” to more companies with the closure of two new funds totaling $255 million of capital. BoxGroup Five is the firm’s fifth early stage fund, and is aimed at investing in emerging tech companies at the pre-seed and seed stages. BoxGroup Strive is its second opportunity fund that will back companies in their subsequent follow-on rounds. Each fund amounts to $127.5 million. 

Over the years, BoxGroup has made over 300 investments including having invested in the earliest rounds of Ro, Plaid, Airtable, Workrise, Scopely, Bowery Farms, Ramp, Titan, Warby Parker, Classpass, Guideline and Glossier. It has had a number of impressive exits in Flatiron Health, PillPack, Matterport, Oscar, Mirror, Bark, Bread and Trello. 

Besides being the first firm to write Plaid a check, BoxGroup was also the first investor in PillPack, which ended up selling to Amazon for just under $1 billion in 2018.

BoxGroup Five – the firm’s early-stage fund – will invest in about 40 to 50 new companies a year with investments ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.

“We want to be the second or third biggest check in a round,” Tisch said.

Image Credits: BoxGroup; Adam Rothenberg (left), Nimi Katragadda (bottom), Greg Rosen (top), David Tisch (right)

The opportunity fund occasionally makes later-stage investments in new companies, but mostly just continues to support companies it invested in at an earlier stage. For example, BoxGroup first invested in id.me in 2010.

“The company is sort of an 11-year overnight success that we’ve been backing for over a decade now,” Tisch said. “It’s an example of us just continuing to support companies through their life cycle.”

BoxGroup also pre-seeded digital healthcare startup Ro, but also funded every round it’s raised since, including its most recent $500 million funding at a $5 billion valuation

Tisch describes the BoxGroup six-person team as “generalists” in terms of the spaces it invests in, with a portfolio consisting of startups in the consumer, enterprise, fintech, healthcare, marketplace, synthetic biology and climate sectors.

Interestingly, BoxGroup’s last fund closures – which totaled $165 million – marked the first time the firm had accepted outside capital in nine years. Prior to that point, it had been funded with only personal capital. Its LPs are a mixed group of endowments, foundations and family offices.

For BoxGroup, building authentic relationships with founders is at the root of what the firm does, says Partner Nimi Katragadda. That includes taking bets on founders, sometimes more than once, even if one of their companies didn’t work out. It means backing just ideas in some cases, and people.

“This cannot be transactional, it has to be personal,” she said. “We want to go on a journey with someone for a decade as they build their business…. We’re comfortable with what early means, including a lot of assumptions, more vision than traction, and raw product.”

Partner Adam Rothenberg agrees, saying: “Our goal is to be the friend in the room. We believe in honesty, tough love, and transparency in building relationships with founders. We focus on the “how” more than the “what” — how a founder thinks, how they will build product, and how they think about attracting talent.”

With offices in San Francisco and New York, the firm will likely be growing in the near future as BoxGroup is looking to add on some “first-line investors,” Tisch said.

Recently, Greg Rosen was named a partner at the firm. Rosen originally joined BoxGroup in 2015, where he spent three years before leaving to join Benchmark. He re-joined BoxGroup in early 2020 and joins the firm’s three other partners: Tisch, Rothenberg and Katragadda. 

While the world of venture is crazy hot right now, Tisch said the firm keeps itself grounded with a wisdom that can only be gained with experience and in time.

“There is seemingly infinite capital waiting to be deployed,” he said. “Without calling the cycle, we know that over time markets go up and down…No matter where we are in a given cycle, smart and determined minds will come together to build important technology companies. Our job is to make sure we are meeting those founders and choosing wisely about which ones to partner with for 10+ year journeys.”

#amazon, #boxgroup, #classpass, #david-tisch, #flatiron-health, #funding, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #matterport, #new-york, #oscar, #pillpack, #plaid, #san-francisco, #scopely, #startups, #tc, #titan, #trello, #vc-firm, #venture-capital, #warby-parker

GGV Capital gave this real estate startup founder a term sheet 48 hours after meeting

Realm, which aims to help homeowners maximize the value of their property with its data platform, has raised $12 million in Series A funding led by GGV Capital.

Existing backers Primary Venture Partners, Lerer Hippeau and Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures also participated in the round, bringing the New York-based startup’s total raised to $15 million.

Liz Young founded Realm, launching the platform earlier this year with the goal of providing “a one-stop-shop for accessible, actionable home advice.”

So far, Realm says it has helped over 20,000 homeowners “uncover” an average of $175,000 in property value. Its user base is growing 20% month over month.

What makes the company different from other valuation offerings out there, according to Young, is that rather than telling owners what their homes are worth today, Realm can tell them what their home could be worth after renovations in months and years to come.

“There are a ton of tools and services that make it easier to buy or sell your home, but once you move, it’s a total black box,” she said. “You’re left trying to cobble together advice from fragmented, often biased resources to navigate big, expensive decisions. There’s nowhere else consumers spend so much money, with such little actionable information.”

For example, using data extracted from a variety of sources such as tax assessors and its own users, Realm can do things like tell a homeowner in real time how their property value will change if they do things like make over a bathroom or add a new deck. Its algorithms can assess a property and offer advice on what projects are most likely to add value.

“The public data that we acquire, the data we ingest from users, and the data that we build ourselves has allowed us to build the most robust and unique actionable real estate data set in the U.S.,” Young told TechCrunch.

Realm’s database is free and according to Young, offers insights on over 70 million single family detached homes across the U.S.

Part of that is determined by zoning data, which tells people where they can and cannot build on a property.

“It’s really important because square feet is one of the biggest drivers of home value,” Young said. “So if you’re trying to understand how much a home’s worth or could be worth, you really have to understand the local zoning rules.”

Image Credits: Realm

Realm’s marketplace offering, where an adviser connects owners to contractors, architects and lenders that can carry out the company’s recommendations, is currently only live in California, but will be expanding to new markets over the next 12 months.

“People can digitally consume our free insights but a lot want help interpreting them,” Young said.

The company plans to use its new capital to “improve the quality and sophistication of the platform’s data insights” and toward hiring across its data science, engineering, marketing and operations teams. It will also continue to develop its proprietary data sets and models, which offer homeowners across the country personalized analysis of over 70 million homes.
A lot of Realm’s business is driven by its relationships with agents and word of mouth via its existing user base.

Jeff Richards, GGV managing partner and new Realm board member, said that when his firm backs at the Series A level, its bet is “100% on the founder.”

“I met Liz when she was raising her seed round in July 2020 and was blown away,” he told TechCrunch. “She’s smart, ambitious and has a deep background in the space she’s going after. Although it was early, I could tell she was thinking big.”

Founder and CEO Liz Young. Image Credits: Realm

He points out that GGV Capital, with $2.5 billion in assets under management, is a long-time investor in other proptechs including Opendoor, Divvy Homes, Belong and Airbnb.

“Zillow made it easy for people to find a home to buy. Opendoor made it easy to buy and sell a home,” Richards told TechCrunch. “Airbnb made it easy to rent a home for a short-term vacation. Belong is making it easy to rent a home for the long term.”

Realm, according to Richards, was right in GGV’s “sweet spot.”

“No one has zeroed in on helping the individual homeowner manage their home, and that’s the opportunity area Liz is going after,” he said. “We kept in touch after the seed round, she pinged me to talk about her A, we met up and I gave her a term sheet 48 hours later.”

In general, Richards believes that residential real estate is one of the biggest spend categories in the U.S. and yet is still virtually untouched by technology.

Home sales are over $1.6 trillion annually, home improvement is one of the biggest categories in the U.S. at over $500 billion annually, and the average home renovation project in the U.S. is around $15,000, with many spending over $50,000.

“I’ve owned a home for 17 years and almost everything I do with respect to the home is the same as it was over a decade ago. The only thing that has really changed is I can manage my thermostat and cameras with my phone,” Richards said. “Literally everything else is the same — the way I do renovations, the way I find contractors to do repairs, the way I pay my mortgage, etc. — exactly the same. That’s ridiculous! Liz sees a huge opportunity here, and so do we. The market is enormous. So there will be many, many winners.”

#funding, #fundings-exits, #ggv-capital, #jeff-richards, #managing-partner, #new-york, #primary-venture-partners, #proptech, #real-estate, #realm, #recent-funding, #residential-real-estate, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Calgary’s parking authority exposed driver’s personal data and tickets

If you parked your car in one of the thousands of parking spots across Calgary, there’s a good chance you paid the Calgary Parking Authority for the privilege. But soon you might be hearing from the authority after a recent security lapse exposed the personal information of vehicle owners.

The parking authority oversees about 14% of the paid parking spots in the Calgary region, and lets drivers pay to park their cars by a parking kiosk, online, or through the phone app by entering their vehicle’s license plate and their payment details.

But a logging server used to monitor the authority’s parking system for bugs and errors was left on the internet without a password. The server contained computer-readable technical logs, but also real-world events like payments and parking tickets that contained a driver’s personal information.

A review of the logs by TechCrunch found contact information, like driver’s full names, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses and postal addresses, as well as details of parking tickets and parking offenses — which included license plates and vehicle descriptions — and in some cases the location data of where the alleged parking offense took place. The logs also contained some partial card payment numbers and expiry dates.

None of the data was encrypted.

Because the server’s data was entangled with logs and other computer-readable data, it’s not known exactly how many people had their information exposed by the security lapse. (In 2019, the Calgary Parking Authority issued more than 450,000 parking tickets, up by 69% in five years.)

Security researcher Anurag Sen found the exposed server and asked TechCrunch for help in reporting it to its owner. The server was secured on Tuesday, a day after TechCrunch contacted the authority.

A spokesperson for the authority confirmed that the server was exposed since May 13, though data seen by TechCrunch shows records dating back to at least the start of the year. The authority also told TechCrunch that the exposure was due to human error and that it was investigating its logs to determine if anyone else had access to the server.

“We at the CPA take this very seriously,” said Moe Houssaini, the acting general manager for the Calgary Parking Authority, told TechCrunch in a statement. “Any public access has been disabled and we are actively investigating to determine what exact data was impacted and what unauthorized access may have occurred. We apologize to our customers and will be reaching out to all individuals who may have been impacted. Protecting the security of our systems and privacy of our customers is a top priority of the CPA. It was an isolated error, and the database has now been secured. We are reviewing our procedures to ensure that this does not happen again,” said Houssaini.

The Calgary Parking Authority recently made headlines after it canceled more than a thousand parking tickets for drivers who were attending a COVID-19 vaccination center in the city.

Earlier this year, New York-based cashless parking startup ParkMobile reported a data breach that saw personal account information and license plates on some 21 million customers taken by hackers. The company blamed the breach on a vulnerability in an unspecified piece of third-party software.

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#automotive, #calgary, #computer-security, #data-breach, #driver, #geico, #new-york, #parking, #parkmobile, #privacy, #securedrop, #security, #spokesperson, #transport

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.”

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