Bitcoin outlawed in China as country bans all cryptocurrency transactions

China has cracked down on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in a bid to limit capital outflows.

Enlarge / China has cracked down on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in a bid to limit capital outflows. (credit: Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock Editorial)

China’s crackdown on cryptocurrencies intensified today, with the country’s central bank announcing that all crypto-related transactions are illegal.

“There are legal risks for individuals and organizations participating in virtual currency and trading activities,” the People’s Bank of China said in a statement jointly issued with nine other government bodies. Even Chinese nationals working overseas weren’t exempt, with the government saying that they, too, would be “investigated according to the law,” according to a report in the Financial Times.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies dropped on the news. Currently, bitcoin was down 4.5 percent at the time of publication, and ethereum was down 7.5 percent.

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#bitcoin, #china, #cryptocurrencies, #economy, #ethereum, #policy, #real-estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mynd raises $57.3M at an $807M valuation to give people a way to invest in rental properties remotely

Mynd, a company that aims to make it easier for people to buy and manage single-family rental properties, announced today it has raised $57.3 million in funding from QED Investors.

The financing values the Oakland, California-based company at $807 million, and brings the company’s total raised to $174.9 million since its 2016 inception. Invesco Real Estate led its previous round, a $40 million raise, and committed $5 billion to purchase and rent 20,000 single-family homes through Mynd over the next three years.

Doug Brien and Colin Weil started Mynd with the goal of making real estate investing more accessible. The pair has built a platform for investors to find, finance, purchase and manage single-family rental properties — 100% remotely.

“We don’t outsource to partners. We do that all in-house,” Brien told TechCrunch. “We remove the geographical barriers to real estate investment, making it possible to invest in 25 cities from anywhere in the country — all from the comfort of home through our desktop interface and/or mobile apps.”

Currently, Mynd manages over 9,000 rental units in 25 markets across the country. The startup plans to expand to 15 additional markets over the next three years including, Indianapolis, Indiana and Memphis, Tennessee.

Mynd’s tech product is complemented by “boots on the ground” people in local markets, improving the speed and clarity of communications that the company can provide to Mynd residents, Brien said. 

“Plus it provides total visibility and transparency for our owners around the health of their investments,” he said “Unlike other companies we have our own purpose-built system called OTTO. It’s almost like a ‘Snowflake meets Zendesk’ — but custom-built for real estate investing and property management.”

Image Credits: Mynd

Last year, Mynd added 1,846 homes to the platform. This year, it’s on track to add roughly 8,500 across both retail and institutional — enough to nearly double the total homes managed by Mynd year over year, according to Brien. Invesco is its largest institutional client. On the retail side of its business, it has roughly 4,000 investors using Mynd.

“We believe that investing in the single-family residential asset class is the best path for building long-term, generational wealth,” he told TechCrunch. “Mynd is committed to democratizing real estate — making it accessible to a whole new crop of investors who were previously too intimidated and/or were constrained by geography.”

The pandemic underscored the urgency of what the company was building, he said, as people sought more space to live and work. Renting also became more common as more people wanted increased flexibility. 

Mynd plans to use its new capital to continue upgrading its digital platform, which it says is powered by “an extensive proprietary data set.” It also plans to enhance its automated workflow engine, underwriting, mobile applications and omnichannel communications. The startup also plans to keep hiring and expanding into new markets.

Presently, Mynd has 568 employees, up from 366 a year ago today.

QED partner Chuckie Reddy said the Mynd team was “one of the best” his firm had seen in the single-family rental market with a “purpose-built” tech stack designed specifically for such properties.

“They have a customized offering that is superior to anything else on the market today,” he said. 

Generally, QED believes the single-family rental asset class is one of the fastest-growing in the country, “because of how big the housing market is, the need and desire for the product and the tremendous amount of capital formation we have seen since the last financial crisis,” according to Reddy.

“There is a shortage of quality, affordable single-family rental housing, and Mynd has technology to manage this asset class,” he said.

#finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #mynd, #qed-investors, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #venture-capital

Concreit closes on $6M to allow more people to invest in the global private real estate market

Concreit, a company that wants to open real estate investing to a broader group of people, announced today that it has closed $6 million in a seed funding round led by Matrix Partners. 

Hyphen Capital also participated in the round, in addition to individual investors such as Betterment founder and CEO Jon Stein; Andy Liu, partner at Unlock Venture Partners; and investor and advisor Ben Elowitz. Concreit raised the capital at a $22.5 million post-money valuation.

The Seattle-based startup also today launched its app, which it claims allows “anyone” to invest in the global private real estate market for as little as $1. 

It’s a lofty claim. But first let’s start with some background.

Concreit is not the first time that co-founders Sean Hsieh and Jordan Levy have worked together. The pair previously founded and bootstrapped VoIP communications platform Flowroute before selling it to West Corp. in 2018. Upon the sale of that company, Hsieh and Levy set out to build a company that, in their words, “could help everyday people become more financially secure.”

Hsieh, a second-generation immigrant, worked in his family’s restaurant where they shared the dream of achieving financial freedom through real estate. Similarly, Levy says he grew up watching his parents build a small construction business from scratch. He was intrigued by the idea of passive income through single-family rental homes but became disillusioned with the overhead, risk and hassle of managing one’s own single-family rental investments. 

So the duo worked together to design a mobile-first offering that could enable small investors to benefit from real estate “without the burden of making repairs at 2 a.m. on a Saturday.” Enter Concreit. 

Today, most investors can open a Concreit account and make their first investment in just minutes on their mobile device, the company claims. The company’s free mobile app allows consumers to invest as little as $1 into a fund managed by a team of investment professionals. Withdrawals can be requested at any time through the app and sent upon approval.

The platform facilitates weekly earned payouts, automated investments and on-demand withdrawals while compounding earned payouts weekly.

After selling Flowroute, Hsieh says he “saw the opportunity to earn a great APR through private real estate investing while gaining less correlation with traditional public stocks or bonds markets,” Hsieh said. “But they were only for the already wealthy or required multiyear commitments of capital. Concreit gives everyone access to a real estate portfolio and the ability to have access to withdrawals when they need them.”

Put simply, the startup wants to make it easy for anyone — not just the wealthy — to invest in real estate.

Concreit, Hsieh said, offers “regular people” the ability to access real estate strategies typically used by large hedge funds and private equity. 

“We’re seeing a surge of retail demand for alternatives and other ways to invest outside of the public markets and the crypto space for those that value diversification,” Hsieh told TechCrunch. Most other competitors are focused on marketing and selling securities, but we knew in order to be an innovator in this space we had to produce a truly unique experience for our investors.”

Concreit’s platform is designed to be a more connected investment experience.

“We knew early on that digital natives deserved a whole new real estate investing experience and that it had to be 100x better than just taking traditional real estate investment opportunities and offering them digitally,” Hsieh said. 

So on the platform side, Concreit has built a cloud-based proprietary securities accounting engine that allows the company to process fractional calculations and pull in a lot of mutual fund practices, applying them toward the “more labor-intensive” private equity markets, with a focus on real estate.

“We’ve taken a lot of the cloud-architectural work that we’ve pioneered in the telecommunications space and applied it towards a back-office accounting solution that gives us a competitive edge around what we offer to our investors,” Hsieh said. “This affords the ability to run accounting at a higher frequency, which is how we are able to run weekly dividends, process fractional redemptions and ultimately a more real-time experience for our users.”

Concreit’s first private REIT fund, focused on passive income, consists of lower-risk fixed-income private market residential and commercial real estate first-lien mortgages. The fund, which the company says has an annualized return of 5.47%, is managed by a team of industry professionals. The startup has added over 18,000 customers to its platform since it was qualified by the SEC (slightly over a year ago), and doubled its user base in the month of August.

“Our current users can invest with any dollar amount, no lock-ups, weekly payouts, and an experience that’s as easy & familiar as a savings account,” Hsieh said.

Matrix’s Dana Stalder, who joined Concreit’s board as part of the financing,  believes Concreit has leveled the playing field for real estate investing by making it more accessible. 

“What Concreit has built is incredibly hard to do from both a technology and regulatory standpoint,” he told TechCrunch. “Alternative asset classes, in particular, have been notoriously closed off to the average consumer, leaving high yield returns exclusively to wealthy investors. “

#apps, #concreit, #dana-stalder, #funding, #fundings-exits, #matrix-partners, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #recent-funding, #seattle, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

SoftBank’s latest proptech bet is leading Pacaso’s $125M Series C

Less than six months after raising $75 million, Pacaso — a real estate platform which aims to help people buy and co-own a second home — announced today that it has raised $125 million at a $1.5 billion valuation.

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the Series C funding round for Pacaso, which essentially went from “launch to unicorn” in five months earlier this year and is pronounced like Picasso. New backers Fifth Wall and Gaingels also participated in the financing, along with existing backers Greycroft, Global Founders Capital, Crosscut and 75 & Sunny Ventures. (Sunny Ventures is Pacaso co-founder Spencer Rascoff’s venture firm). With the latest round, Picasso has now raised a total of $215 million in equity funding since its 2020 inception. It also secured $1 billion in debt financing earlier this year.

The fully distributed startup launched its platform in October of last year and already has an annualized revenue run rate of $330 million, according to CEO and co-founder Austin Allison — a feat which quite frankly seems remarkable. The company currently manages nearly $200 million in real estate on its platform, and in the second quarter, its website and mobile app saw a combined 1.8 million visits, up 196% from the first quarter. It’s currently serving owners “in the hundreds.”

Former Zillow executives Allison and Rascoff came up with the concept of Pacaso after leaving Zillow together about two years ago. (Publicly traded Zillow today has a market cap of $24 billion.) 

With a unique co-ownership model made possible via the creation of a property-specific LLC, the company aims to reduce the cost and hassle of second home ownership. It also gives vacation homeowners an alternative option to renting out their property.

Pacaso distinguishes its model from the age-old concept of timeshares, which sell the right to use a fixed amount of time in a condo or hotel. Pacaso aims to bring together a small group of co-owners to purchase a share of a single-family home and “enjoy ongoing access throughout the year.”

The way it works is that Pacaso purchases a home either outright or shares in a home. The company then partners with local real estate agents to market the properties. It then sells shares in the home — from one-eighth of the home to a greater percentage.

Pacaso holds a brokerage license in about 25 top second home markets such as Napa, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, Malibu and Park City. It recently expanded to its first market outside of the U.S. — Spain. Buyers can view curated listings on the startup’s website, which includes active listings, as well as previews of homes under consideration for purchase based on buyer demand.

In addition to curating the listings, Pacaso also offers integrated financing, “upscale” interior design, professional property management and proprietary scheduling technology.

In January of this year, Pacaso had 30 employees. Today, it has over 120, according to Allison.

It’s important to note that while Pacaso one day aspires to offer homes that are affordable to a broader segment of the population, Allison acknowledges that currently, the homes available on its platform are “very much” luxury, or higher price, homes.

As for what markets it plans to enter next, he said that will be based on customer feedback. For now, Allison said, 65% of Pacaso’s customers are first-time second homeowners and 25% of are non-white or identify as LGBTQ.

SoftBank Investing Partner Lydia Jett says she was drawn to Pacaso for both professional and personal reasons.

For one thing, she says that when she was growing up, her family owned one-tenth of a “modest” beach house on the coast of Oregon.

“This asset that should be an investment, and source of joy actually had an incredible amount of friction, pain and unexpected cost,” Jett told TechCrunch. “It was a difficult asset to make liquid.”

The friction and pain she referred to included debates around scheduling, capital investments and tension when one of the co-owners needed liquidity but none of the others wanted to buy them out.

Part of the pain involved many of the the things that Pacaso is trying to solve for, Jett believes. By managing the whole co-ownership process, owners don’t have to deal with the “headaches” of maintenance, furnishings and scheduling respective vacations, among other things.

“We’ve designed  a very innovative scheduling solution we call SmartStay, which empowers a calendar to be shared equitably among the ownership group so that each co-owner has fair and equitable access to the property all times of the year,” Allison told TechCrunch

In other words, Picasso is effectively an intermediary between the co-owners, something Jett makes it a very attractive model.

Also, she said, SoftBank was drawn to the opportunity to “create a whole new category of home ownership.”

“This is something that fundamentally can enrich millions of people’s lives,” she told TechCrunch, “and help them realize that dream of co-ownership.”

#apps, #austin-allison, #funding, #fundings-exits, #pacaso, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #spencer-rascoff, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

Tech can help solve US cities’ affordability crisis

U.S. cities are in the midst of an affordability crisis. Just between May 2020 and May 2021, home prices saw their biggest annual increase in more than two decades and construction material prices increased by 24%. The cost of renting has risen faster than renters’ incomes for 20 years. Construction needs to play a critical role in fixing these pressing issues, but is the industry ready?

Construction is a $10 trillion global industry that employs more than 200 million people worldwide. But despite its size and importance, the industry’s annual labor productivity has only increased by 0.1% per year since 1947.

Since 1947, we’ve witnessed amazing advances in technology and science. Industries like agriculture, manufacturing and retail have achieved quantum leaps in productivity with improved bioengineering increasing yields and the introduction of cutting-edge logistics bringing affordable consumer goods to the mass market. Labor productivity in these industries increased by over 8x between 1947-2010, compared with 1x in construction.

Why, amid all this progress and innovation, do millions of construction workers in the U.S. still have to rely on manual, pen-and-paper processes for critical parts of their work?

We’ve heavily underinvested in the technology that can help save us from the crisis we face. Historically, entrepreneurs, technologists and investors haven’t spent the time to understand the specific needs and workflows of the construction industry.

Today, more than $800 billion a year is spent on commercial construction, but just a tiny fraction of that goes toward construction technology. In recent years, construction ranked lowest of all industries for technology spending as a percentage of revenue — coming in at just 1.5% — far below the all-industry average of 3.3%, let alone industries like banking, which came in at 7.2%.

A massive chunk of that annual spending — more than $250 billion a year — is spent on construction materials. And they’re only getting more expensive. Materials represent roughly a third of a project’s cost, yet most contractors have to rely on manual workarounds created long before the invention of smartphones to order materials.

This results in both workers on the job site and in the office being overburdened and spending far too much valuable time on paperwork, chasing down materials and fixing errors.

Office teams receive hundreds, if not thousands, of materials requests from the field, all in different formats — including requisitions written with a marker on pizza boxes. They have to manually convert handwritten requisitions into purchase orders sent to suppliers via email, spreadsheets and PDFs, retype order information into their accounting systems, and play phone tag with their suppliers and field teams to keep tabs on order statuses.

Unfortunately, all of that chaos often leads to mistakes, missed opportunities to buy at the best price and project delays.

The mayhem continues for accounting teams, who have no easy way to reconcile their invoices or know if they’re paying the right amount, let alone track rebates and payment terms across different vendors.

Meanwhile, foremen — whose time is more valuable than ever in the current labor squeeze — are often spending less than 30% of their time doing what they do best: building. Without an easy way to select the exact materials they need and track them to delivery, cases of the wrong materials showing up at the wrong time are too common, throwing project timelines off track and creating a huge amount of waste.

Technology can make ordering and managing materials much easier, allowing workers on site and in the office to focus on other critical tasks. It can also help contractors catch common errors before they derail a project and help us build in a more environmentally sustainable way.

Buildings are more than bricks and mortar; they’re hospitals, schools, homes and small businesses. The buildings that surround us quite literally shape our lives. Our communities need them — we need places to meet, learn, play and heal. Imagine if the things that we rely on to create vibrant communities were cheaper to fix — or faster to build?

A new generation of workers who grew up with phones in their pockets are now joining the construction industry and expecting change. By fixing the broken supply chain, we can make construction faster, cheaper and more efficient.

We can move forward and solve our most urgent needs as a society — from building affordable housing to fixing our nation’s infrastructure — and make our cities more affordable and accessible to all.

#column, #economy, #manufacturing, #opinion, #real-estate, #sustainability, #tc, #united-states

Better.com acquires UK-based Property Partner ahead of SPAC close

Online mortgage company Better.com has acquired U.K.-based startup Property Partner as it seeks to expand into new markets and offer new product lines. The deal could give Better a way to augment its lending business with the potential to enable fractional ownership of properties in the U.S. and other markets.

Better plans to go public later this year through its planned merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in a deal that values it at $7.7 billion. In the meantime the company has been active in the M&A market, acquiring two U.K.-based companies in the lead up to the deal’s close.

In July, Better announced its acquisition of Trussle, a digital mortgage brokerage in the U.K. that was widely seen as its first step to international expansion. But with the purchase of Property Partner, Better could gain technology capabilities to expand its feature set in the U.S. and other markets.

Launched in 2015, Property Partner enables fractional ownership of “buy to let” properties throughout the country. Through its platform, users could invest in individual properties or in a portfolio of properties and earn a portion of the rental income generated by those assets. It also created a resale market, enabling users to sell off their shares to other users.

The startup claims more than 9,000 investors on its property crowdfunding market and £140 million of assets under management. With the Better acquisition, the company expects to be able to expand both its investor base and properties to invest in.

Property Partner sent a message to users late last week to inform them of upcoming changes as a result of the deal. The startup announced it was temporarily pausing trading on the resale market while promoting some of Better’s plans as a result of the deal.

Under the new ownership, Property Partner said it would be able to reduce fees, grow its investor base, and dramatically expand investment opportunities by adding properties in the U.S. and other international locations to its platform.

For Better, the deal adds a new income stream in the short term while enabling the company to completely reimagine homeownership over a longer time horizon. Over the years Better has sought to augment its core mortgage lending business with additional products and services, including real estate agents, title and homeowners insurance, and the ability to make all-cash offers in certain markets in which it operates.

But in an interview with TechCrunch last month, Better CEO Vishal Garg previewed a vision for how fractional ownership could reduce friction and enable more freedom for the home-owning public:

You have a large population in this country that is composed of retirees and they don’t have a current income, so they cannot actually refinance their mortgage and they’re still paying interest at 6%. They’d like to move to a warmer climate. Well, they can’t, it’s gonna cost them 6% to sell their house, then it’s gonna cost them 6% to buy the other house.

Why can’t they set it up so they sell 1% of their house in Connecticut every year and establish an income stream that qualifies them to go get a cheap mortgage and sell that house in Connecticut over a period of time, to someone who wants to live there and buy a piece of property in Florida.

There are all these frictions and it’s honestly just a simple data-matching problem. There’s no reason you need to own 100% of your home. What if we could give you the ability to sell 10% a year or 3% of your home or 2% of your home to people who want to buy a home in your neighborhood and are not ready yet because they’re renting.

For a more detailed overview of Better’s upcoming SPAC and its product plans once it goes public, check out our feature on ExtraCrunch.

#better-com, #corporate-finance, #finance, #loans, #property-partner, #real-estate, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #tc, #vishal-garg

Anatomy of a SPAC: Inside Better.com’s ambitious plans

When executives at online mortgage company Better.com decided to take their company public earlier this year, they elected not to go the traditional IPO route or direct listing. Instead, Better will hit the public markets by merging with blank-check company Aurora Acquisition Corp in a SPAC deal that values it at $7.7 billion.

While the stock performance of post-merger SPAC companies has been shaky at best this year, the team at Better believed they were getting a preferable deal through their combination with Aurora (and additional investment by SoftBank) than if they decided to pitch bankers and institutional investors through a traditional IPO roadshow.

“When an investment bank signs up to sell your stock to the public, there’s no guarantee of a price or no certainty of execution,” said Better CEO Vishal Garg. “We just were not confident that the investment bankers were going to be able to execute.”

You can hardly blame Better’s leadership for that lack of confidence. In the past year, two other online mortgage lenders — Rocket Companies and loanDepot — were listed through traditional IPOs that priced below range due to lackluster demand from institutional investors.

The same thing happened to real estate brokerage Compass, which lowered its target range on the day of its IPO and has seen its stock price continue to slide since going public.

“A traditional public offering makes sense for a story that your traditional investment banker can understand and categorize,” Garg said. “If you can be easily categorized as an enterprise SaaS company or a payments company, then a public offering makes sense.”

But the team at Better has bigger ambitions than just being seen as a mortgage lender and compared with other financial services companies. With mortgage lending at its core, Better has added a number of additional products and services, including realtors, title insurance and homeowners insurance.

In the second half of this year, Better plans to begin offering home services and improvement loans, and eventually will expand to other finance and insurance products like personal, auto and student loans, as well as life and disability insurance.

“We aren’t so easily categorized,” Garg said.

Making mortgages cheaper, faster and easier

Like many digital disruptors seeking to upend established industries, Better was borne out of one person seeking to solve a problem for himself. Sometime around 2012 Vishal Garg, founding partner of One Zero Capital and founder of the online student lending company MyRichUncle, was hoping to buy his “dream home” but got hung up during the process of securing a mortgage and lost out on the bidding to a buyer who could close the deal faster.

As the apocryphal founding story goes, there were few options available for someone looking to apply for and secure a mortgage online — or even get a mortgage pre-approval letter. So Garg set out to build it.

“The original vision was to make the process of going from being a renter to a homeowner. cheaper, faster and easier,” Garg said. “We built a product that let you get a pre-approval letter online in five minutes, instead of five days or five weeks.”

According to Sarah Pierce, who joined the company as one of its first 30 employees and now runs all sales and operations, Better was able to fulfill the goal of getting approved for a mortgage faster by using its technology to assess borrower risk.

#better-mortgage, #better-com, #ec-fintech, #ec-real-estate-and-proptech, #finance, #housing, #mortgages, #real-estate, #spac, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affinity people profile. Image Credits: Affinity

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

With an Apple Store designer on board, Juno raises $20M to build apartments more sustainably

Juno, a proptech startup which aims to build more sustainable and affordable apartment buildings, has raised $20 million in a Series A funding round.

Comcast Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Real Estate Technology (RET) Ventures co-led the financing, which brings the company’s total raised to $32 million since its 2019 inception. JLL Spark, Vertex Ventures, Anim, K50, Foundamental and Green D Alumni Ventures also participated in the Series A investment.

Juno co-founder and CEO Jonathan Scherr said the San Francisco-based startup plans to build all electric properties by assembling “the first OEM ecosystem for ground-up development.” (For the unacquainted, OEM stands for “original equipment manufacturer.”)

“We’re…treating housing development like product development, a process we call ‘productization,’ ” he told TechCrunch. “By creating buildings that are worthy of being repeated, tools and systems can be created to enable continuous improvement and increase efficiency. If buildings are considered or designed in a one-off context, then the learnings from one project to the next will fail to exist.”

Note that Juno’s productization could be considered similar to the more commonly used term prefabrication in some aspects. While prefab construction company Katerra crashed and burned, a number of other companies in the space continue to raise money and grow, including Abodu and Mighty Buildings, which is also backed by Khosla but is more focused accessory dwelling units and single-family homes. There is also North Carolina-based Prescient, which is also  constructing multifamily housing and hotels through prefabrication.

Image Credits: Rendering of Austin project; Engraff Studio / Juno

Juno’s theory is that via “productization,” it can create the tools, systems and processes that can lead to things like reduced design timelines, increased precision in estimation and scheduling and a “significantly accelerated” construction process. All this, Scherr said, can result in more affordable housing options for people all over the United States. Also, Juno claims that its design process, for example, is 60% faster than in traditional real estate development.

Like other players in the space, Juno of course touts an approach that it says is far more sustainable than traditional construction methods.

“Today, construction refuse is literally 2x that of all municipal refuse combined in the U.S.,” Scherr told TechCrunch. “The Juno system creates efficiency in the design, supply chain, and construction of buildings that reduce waste and energy usage.” Features include low-carbon, all timber construction, more exposed wood (which Juno says is anti-microbial) and entirely gasless buildings, for example.

Thanks to its focus on all-electric buildings in cities that have established roadmaps to clean energy generation, the Juno residential system is trending toward a net zero target for embodied carbon in its multifamily residential units, Scherr said.

Scherr founded Juno with BJ Siegel, who was a designer of the original Apple Store, and Chester Chipperfield, who currently serves as an advisor to the company. Chipperfield previously served as global creative director at Tesla, head of special projects at Apple and head of digital at Burberry. Scherr has worked as a venture investor and advisor to a number of companies.

“As the concept architect for Apple’s retail program going back as far as 1999, BJ [Siegel] had thought about how to create an identity for the built environment that deserved to be repeated,” Scherr said. “By doing so, he and his colleagues at Apple began to think about Apple retail more like Apple’s products: grounded in a decentralized supply chain.”

Image Credits: From left to right: Chester Chipperfield, co-founder and advisor Jonathan Scherr, co-founder and CEO BJ Siegel, co-founder and Head of Design / Juno

Juno was created with a similar model in mind: with the goal of designing “better” housing that could be replicated so that the company is able “to build out a supply chain and lay the groundwork for learning systems in ways that have never been possible before,” said Scherr, whose father was a real estate developer.

Juno is starting out by building what it describes as the first national network of mass timber apartment buildings at scale with all-electric buildings in cities across the United States. And it’s partnering with Swinerton and Ennead Architects to put its model into practice. The startup has also broken ground on its first project — an apartment building in East Austin — and currently has more than 400 units in development. The East Austin building is slated to open in 2022. Juno also has sites planned for Seattle and Denver.

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to continue to build out its product, break ground on its first cohort of projects and engage with more developers.

Juno’s investors are naturally bullish on what the company is doing, and plans to do.

Evan Moore, partner at Khosla Ventures, said he does not generally invest in real estate development companies or builders or architects.

“But when a strong team is working on a dramatically different product in an important industry, I’ll get behind it,” he wrote via email.

Historically, Moore added, apartment development has been a finance-driven industry, rather than product-driven, despite the fact that apartments are consumer products and derive their value from their use. 

“So there’s a tremendous opportunity to design buildings with the customer experience at the forefront,” he said. “What if Apple built apartment buildings? To me, that means working backwards from the experience you want to create, designing the components, supply chain and systems to support it, and working within cost as a constraint. That’s an ambitious idea, and an experiment worth undertaking.”

Sheena Jindal, principal at Comcast Ventures, notes that America’s housing stock is increasingly aged and in short supply — making it more difficult for people to buy houses. Her firm, she said, believes that everyone deserves access to an affordable home.

“When we first met the Juno team, we were struck by their first principles approach to building,” she wrote via email. “Juno fundamentally understood what was broken in multifamily housing production and tackled it head on by focusing earlier in the value chain with its design and OEM sourcing strategy. Juno partners with existing players in the value chain, rather than displacing them.”

#funding, #fundings-exits, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Jetty raises $23M to help give renters more payment flexibility

Jetty, a fintech company which aims to give renters flexibility when paying rent, has raised $23 million in a funding round co-led by Citi and Flourish Ventures.

The financing brings Jetty’s total raised since its 2016 inception to $78 million. Other investors participating in the latest growth round include Credit Ease and K5. Previous backers include Farmers Insurance Group, Khosla and Ribbit Capital, among others.

The 100-person New York City-based startup has come up with a way to help renters make rent on time with an offering that resembles the ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) model that is increasingly used by consumers at the point of sale, online and in person. 

In a nutshell, renters can pay their rent when it’s due and then have up until the 24th of the month to pay the money back to Jetty  — either in a lump sum or via installments. They don’t pay interest charges or late fees, but rather a monthly subscription fee ranging from $15 to $25, depending on the renter’s risk profile. If the renter fails to pay back the money during the agreed upon time, they will not be able to borrow more for the following month.

The monthly fee is “far lower” than any potential late fee if the rent is not paid on time, said co-founder and CEO Mike Rudoy.

“Around 50% of the average renter’s paycheck is going to rent. So this is the largest expense of any renter, on a given month,” he said. “And so you would expect that there would be some type of financial services product that would give them the flexibility that they need to come up with the money on time in such a way that they weren’t penalized.”

The offering is more of a cousin to traditional BNPL, he said, than actual BNPL.

“We will pay the rent on behalf of the renter in full on the first of the month, giving property managers the money they need when they need it,” Rudoy explained. “Renters get 24 days to pay it back on a schedule that suits their needs.”

To launch Jetty Rent, the company partnered with Cortland, a large real estate investment, development and management company, to roll out the offering in beta to residents across a portfolio of properties.

Now, the startup is launching the offering to the public. Jetty Rent is the newest product on the startup’s platform, which also offers “low cost” renters insurance as well as security deposit replacement.

“The mission of the company is to make renting more affordable and flexible,” Rudoy said. “And we are a financial services platform whereby every product that we have launched is meant to both provide value to both property managers as well as renters.”

With the move, Jetty is evolving from being an insurtech to also a lender, said Rudoy. The company is providing the loans through Cross River Bank.

“We are working to bring some additional credit and lending prowess to the business given the fact it has historically been considered an insurtech company,” he told TechCrunch.

The fact that the company offers all three products to property managers gives it a competitive edge, according to Rudoy.

“This makes us different from other financial services companies attacking the same space and problem set,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re the only one that has both a security deposit alternative and flexible rent product under the same roof. It makes the choice to work with us much easier if you’re a property manager, from an integration and onboarding perspective. It means fewer different brands in front of renters as well.”

The renters pay for all the products and the property managers are partners in the distribution of the products.

Currently, the company has agreements with property owners and managers that operate more than 2.2 million rental units across the country. Since starting to build its property partner network in 2017, Jetty has seen 193% average year over growth in contracted units, according to co-founder Alex Vlasto. Besides Cortland, it also works with AMLI Residential, for example.

Emmalyn Shaw, managing partner of Flourish Ventures, notes that over 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

“Stable housing is a critical component in helping them achieve financial security,” she said.

Jetty, Shaw added, is the only company “that extends beyond a single solution to embed a rich and differentiated set of financial offerings” including rental insurance, security deposit alternatives and now rent flexibility. 

“Through its unique consumer insights, differentiated pricing, increased consumer loyalty, Jetty has achieved a significant competitive advantage,” she wrote via email. “Moreover, their consumer reach through top property management entities like Cortland is unparalleled.”

As of late, other startups that have come up with new technology to make the lives of renters easier have also raised money. Sugar, a startup that aims to turn apartment buildings into “interactive communities,” recently closed on $2.5 million in seed funding.  And, RentCheck, a startup that has built out an automated property inspection platform, recently raised $2.6 million in seed money.

#citi, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #jetty, #new-york-city, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

HomeLight closes on $100M Series D at a $1.6B valuation as revenue surges

HomeLight, which operates a real estate technology platform, announced today that it has secured $100 million in a Series D round of funding and $263 million in debt financing.

Return backer Zeev Ventures led the equity round, which also included participation from Group 11, Stereo Capital, Menlo Ventures and Lydia Jett of the SoftBank Vision Fund. The financings bring the San Francisco-based company’s total raised since its 2012 inception to $530 million. The equity financing brings HomeLight’s valuation to $1.6 billion, which is about triple of what it was when it raised its $109 million in debt and equity in a Series C that was announced in November of 2019.

Zeev Ventures led that funding round, as well as its Series A in 2015.

The latest capital comes ahead of projected “3x” year-over-year growth, according to HomeLight founder and CEO Drew Uher, who projects that the company’s annual revenue will triple to over $300 million in 2021. Doing basic math, we can deduce that the company saw around $100 million in revenue in 2020.

Over the years, like many other real estate tech platforms, HomeLight has evolved its model. HomeLight’s initial product focused on using artificial intelligence to match consumers and real estate investors to agents. Since then, the company has expanded to also providing title and escrow services to agents and home sellers and matching sellers with iBuyers. In July 2019, HomeLight acquired Eave as an entry into the (increasingly crowded) mortgage lending space.

“Our goal is to remove as much friction as possible from the process of buying or selling a home,” Uher said.

In January 2020, HomeLight launched its flagship financial products, HomeLight Trade-In and HomeLight Cash Offer. Since then, it has grown those products by over 700%, Uher said, in part fueled by the pandemic.

HomeLight’s Trade-In product gives its clients greater control over the timeline of their move and ability to transact, and Cash Offer gives people a way to make all cash offers on homes, “even if they need a mortgage,” he said. 

“The pandemic only highlighted many of the pain points in the real estate transaction process that we’ve been focused on solving since our founding,” Uher told TechCrunch. “Between the real estate industry’s historic information asymmetry, outdated processes and unreasonable costs — not to mention today’s record-low inventory and all-time high bidding wars — buying or selling a home can be an incredibly difficult process, even without the challenges put in place by a global pandemic.”

Image Credits: HomeLight

Then in August 2020, the company acquired Disclosures.io and launched HomeLight Listing Management, with the goal of making it easier for agents to share property information, monitor buyer interest and manage offers in one place. 

In June of 2021, HomeLight appointed Lyft chairman and former Trulia CFO Sean Aggarwal to its board.

Uher founded HomeLight after he and his wife felt the pain of trying to buy a home in the competitive Bay Area market.

“The process of buying a home in San Francisco was so frustrating it made me want to bang my head against the wall,” Uher told me at the time of HomeLight’s Series C. “I realized there were so many things wrong with the real estate industry. I went through a few real estate agents before finding the right match. So when I did find one, it made me feel empowered to compete and win against the other buyers.”

He started HomeLight with a single product, its agent matching platform, which uses “proprietary machine-learning algorithms” to analyze millions of real estate transactions and agent profiles. It claims to connect a client to a real estate agent on average “every 90 seconds.”

Over the years, Uher said that hundreds of thousands of agents have applied to be a part of the HomeLight agent network and that it has worked with over 1 million homebuyers and sellers in the U.S. Today, the company works closely with the top 28,000 of those agents across the country. HomeLight maintains that it is not trying to replace real estate agents, but instead work more collaboratively with them.

Uher said the company plans to use its new capital in part toward expanding to new markets its Trade-In and Cash Offer operations. HomeLight Trade-In and Cash Offer are currently available in California, Texas and, more recently, in Colorado.

“We plan to expand as quickly as we can across the entire country,” Uher said. “We also plan to hire aggressively in 2021 and beyond.”

HomeLight presently has over 500 employees, up from about 350 at the end of last year. The company has offices in Scottsdale, Arizona, San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Tampa, and plans to open new sites throughout the U.S. in the coming months. 

Oren Zeev, founding partner at Zeev Ventures, said he believes that HomeLIght is better positioned than any other proptech company “to reinvent the transaction experience” for agents and their clients.

“With the onset of iBuyers and other technology introduced in the past decade, many proptech companies are building products to cut agents out of the transaction process entirely,” Zeev wrote via email. “This is where HomeLight uniquely differs — and excels — from its competitors…They’re in the perfect position to revolutionize the industry.”

#exit, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #homelight, #proptech, #real-estate, #real-estate-technology, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #startups, #venture-capital, #zeev-ventures

Pancake aims to make customers flip for its virtual home design platform

Pancake brought in a $350,000 seed round to develop its home design platform that leverages furniture you already have in your home with a designer’s fresh eye on your space.

Maria Jose Castro and Roberto Meza, both from Costa Rica, started the company in 2020, based on their own experience of transitioning to work-from-home and needing to outfit a space. However, design services can be expensive, and therefore not accessible to everyone.

Pancake is reinventing the way you can work with an interior designer and get a rendering of your space to work from. Customers can go on the website and book a session with a designer, providing them with measurements and photos of the room.

The designer then prepares a rendering of the space and a deck to explain the design and how the customer will do it — and if paint or furniture is needed that isn’t already available, Pancake will show the customer where to find it. Future features of the site will include connecting with furniture providers, Jose Castro told TechCrunch.

Meza called the company “furniture-as-a-service,” with the main focus to reuse what already exists in a space to create healthy, sustainable spaces that someone can work in, live in and enjoy all at the same time. While that may seem like a tall order, he said that with everyone suddenly together during the global pandemic, relationships are better when people are in a space they like.

“Wellness in construction is what I do, and we wanted to create that with Pancake,” he added. “Sometimes it is the little things that create a space and makes you feel good, or not feel good.”

Pancake plans to use its funding to further develop its platform and add new features like an ecological footprint calculator so customers can see how sustainable their designs are. The company also prides itself on transparent pricing. An average two-hour session with a designer is $199, and the designer will add to the budget if items like paint and new furniture are needed.

Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid, is the lead investor in the seed round. He said that he doesn’t typically invest at the seed stage, but was impressed with the progress Pancake has made in a short period of time. This includes marketing tests on social media platforms that yielded a respectable return on investment, he added.

Meanwhile, Pancake has facilitated over 100 designer sessions and has begun to see referrals and repeat customers who want to design additional rooms in their house. That has translated into 200% month over month revenue growth, on average, despite having to stop for four months during the pandemic, Meza said. Up next, the company will continue to build out its brand and revenue model as it advances to a Series A round next year.

 

#brand, #christian-rudder, #designer, #ecommerce, #funding, #interior-design, #maria-jose-castro, #okcupid, #paint, #pancake, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #roberto-meza, #social-media-platforms, #startups, #tc

Flat.mx raises $20M from VCs, proptech unicorn founders to fix Mexico’s ‘broken’ real estate market

Flat.mx, which wants to build a real estate “super app” for Latin America, has closed on a $20 million Series A round of funding.

Anthemis and 500 Startups co-led the investment, which included participation from ALLVP and Expa. Previously, Flat.mx had raised a total $10 million in equity and $25 million in debt. Other backers include Opendoor CEO and CEO and co-founder Eric Wu, Flyhomes’ co-founder and CEO Tushar Garg and Divvy Homes’ co-founder Brian Ma.

Founded in July 2019, Mexico City-based Flat.mx started out with a model similar to that of Opendoor, buying properties, renovating them and then reselling them. That September, the proptech startup had raised one of Mexico’s largest pre-seed rounds to take the Opendoor real estate marketplace model across the Rio Grande.

“The real estate market in Mexico is broken,” said co-founder Bernardo Cordero. “One of the biggest problems is that it takes sellers anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to sell. So we launched the most radical solution we could find to this problem: an instant offer. This product allows homeowners to sell in days instead of months, a fast and convenient experience they can’t find anywhere else.”

Building an instant buyer (ibuyer) in Mexico — and Latin America in general — is a complex endeavor. Unlike in the U.S., Mexico doesn’t have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS). As such, pricing data is not readily available. On top of that, agents are not required to be certified so the whole process of buying and selling a home can be informal.

And since mortgage penetration in Mexico is also low, it can be difficult for buyers to have access to reasonable financing options.

“To build an iBuyer, we had to solve the transaction end-to-end,” said co-founder Victor Noguera. “We had to build the MLS, a third-party marketplace, a contractor marketplace, financial products, broker technology, and a home maintenance provider, along with other services. In other words, we have been building the real estate Superapp for Latam.”

Flat.mx says its certified remodeled properties have gone through a 200+ point inspection and “a full legal review.” 

Flat.mx is growing sales by 70% quarter-over-quarter, and has increased its inventory by 10x over the last year, according to its founders. It has also nearly tripled its headcount from 30 at the middle of last year to over 85 today. So far, Flat.mx has conducted thousands of home valuations and over 100 transactions.

Image Credits: Flat.mx

The pandemic only helped boost interest.

“Our low touch digital solution was key for having a strong business during the pandemic. We were able to create quick liquidity for sellers at a time in Mexico where it was complicated to sell,” said Cordero. “Our model allows sellers to sell with one visit instead of having to receive over 40 potential buyers at a time where they wanted to sell but also wanted to avoid contact with many buyers.”

The company plans to use its new capital to continue to develop what it describes as a “one-stop shop where homeowners and buyers will be able to get all the services they need in one place.”

The founders believe that rather than just try to tackle one aspect of the homebuying process, it makes more sense in emerging markets to address them all.

“We believe that each one of our products makes the others stronger and creating this ecosystem of products will continue to give us an important advantage in the market,” said Noguera. The startup plans to also use the capital from the round to expand its presence in Mexico for iBuying, and to invest in data and financial products.

Image Credits: Flat.mx

Naturally, Flat.mx’s investors are bullish.

Archie Cochrane, principal investor at Anthemis Group, said his firm views Flat.mx as an integral part of its embedded finance thesis in the context of the Mexican property sector. 

“The iBuyer model itself is well understood and developed in many parts of the world, but it is also a complex model with many variables that requires a seasoned and astute team to execute the strategy,” Cochrane wrote via email. “When we met Victor and Bernardo, it was clear that their clarity of vision and deep understanding of the broader opportunity set would allow them to succeed over the long term.

Tim Chae, managing partner at 500 Startups, said he envisions that Flat.mx will become “the go-to route” for buyers, sellers, agents and lenders in Mexican real estate. 

“There are nuances and specific problems that are unique to Mexico that Flat.mx has done a great job identifying and solving,” he said. 

ALLVP Partner Fernando Lelo de Larrea said that essentially after years of “unkept promises,” software is finally transforming the real estate industry in Mexico. 

“Most models replicate successful models from the more mature U.S. proptech space,” he said. “Since we started investing in proptech, we’ve never seen such an innovative approach to seizing a trillion dollar opportunity.”

#500-startups, #allvp, #anthemis, #apps, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latam, #mexico, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Kocomo raises millions to give people a way to co-own a luxury vacation home

Who doesn’t want a vacation home?

Right. That’s what I thought.

Kocomo is a Mexico City-based startup that wants to help make that dream a reality. And it’s just closed on a $6 million equity and $50 million debt financing to advance on that goal.

The company aims to allow for cross-border co-ownership of luxury vacation properties that goes beyond the historical use of timeshares. Put simply, the founders of Kocomo — who are a mix of Colombian, British, Mexican, American, Panamanian — want to upend conventional vacation home ownership with a marketplace that gives people a way to purchase, own, and sell fractional interests in luxury homes. Or even more simply, Kocomo’s mission is to make the dream of vacation home ownership “an attainable reality for more people around the world.”

Founded this year, it has been operating in stealth mode since May, recently launching a beta version of its website to engage with a “select” group of clients from its waiting list. 

“We are focused initially on Americans and Canadians wanting to buy a vacation home in Mexico, the Caribbean and Costa Rica and then eventually we will be doing the same in Europe,” said Martin Schrimpff, co-founder and CEO of Kocomo.

AllVP and Vine Ventures co-led the equity portion of the financing, which included participation from Picus Capital, Fontes – QED, FJ Labs, and Clocktower Technology Ventures and JAWS — the family office of SWG Chairman Barry Sternlicht. Architect Capital provided the debt investment.

Interestingly, the founders of four Latin American unicorns also put money in the equity round, including Mate Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch of Loft, Oskar Hjertonsson of Cornershop, Carlos Garcia of Kavak and Sergio Furio of Creditas.

No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic had many people reassessing their views about life and work.

In Schrimpff’s case, spending more time with friends and family became a top priority and he accelerated his plans to find a vacation home. But he was disappointed as he explored options.

“Buying an entire vacation home that I was only going to use a few weeks a year, and which I’d have to manage myself, seemed wasteful, stressful and outdated,” he said. “Furthermore, it was impossible to find a beautiful house on the beach in Mexico that fell within my budget.” 

The experience of renting an Airbnb year after year, with what Schrimpff described as having “inconsistent quality and lack of professional management,” did not make sense to him either. 

And so, as he discussed his frustration with his now co-founders, the idea for Kocomo was born.

Image Credits: Left to right: Kocomo co-founders Tom Baldwin, Martin Schrimpff, Graciela Arango (Brian Requarth not pictured) / Kocomo

The startup’s model is similar to that of another early-stage proptech based here in the U.S. called Pacaso.

In Schrimpff’s view the biggest difference between the two models is that Pacaso is focused more on the second home market in places that are one to two hour drive from where the owners are living.

“Kocomo is focused more on the cross-border vacation homes which are more like a two to three hour flight away from where the owners are located,” he said. Also, “the complexities and problems” tackled by Kocomo are larger considering that they involve cross-border transactions, according to Schrimpff.

Another big differentiator from Pacaso is that Kocomo gives owners the option to “rent their weeks,” added Schrimpff. 

In the same way that Netjets uses shared ownership to create an opportunity for people to enjoy the benefits of private air travel, Kocomo aims to apply a co-ownership model to vacation homes, he said.

“Our platform enables multiple people to own and enjoy a luxury vacation home and split all the costs amongst them without the fuss and hassle normally involved,” explained CFO and co-founder Tom Baldwin. “We call this the smarter way to own a home abroad. Buying a whole home for just a few weeks a year feels like more hassle than it’s worth while spending money on a rental is a waste and an expense, not an asset.”

Kocomo, said co-founder and CPO Graciela Arango, manages all of the legal and administrative processes that come with home acquisition and ownership. For example, it purchases the home through an LLC, finds and vet qualified co-owners, allocates time equitably among the co-owners and performs all of the services necessary to manage and maintain the home over time. It even deals with managing utilities, landscaping and preventive maintenance.

Image credit: Kocomo

The company plans to use its equity capital in part toward increasing the number of its 9-person staff, with a particular focus on sales, marketing, and engineering. It also, naturally, plans to invest in the technology that powers its platform. The debt capital will go towards the acquisition of  about 20 luxury vacation properties in “sought after” destinations in Mexico that are close to airports with international flights — such as Los Cabos, Punta Mita and Tulum.

Next, the company plans to expand to other vacation destinations within direct flying distance of the U.S., such as Costa Rica and the Caribbean. Down the line, the company sees “huge potential” in ski locations, Mediterranean beach destinations and cultural centers such as Paris, London, Madrid and Berlin.

Kocomo has also Identified a financial institution partner so that it can provide financing to clients for the purchase of ownership interests in properties on our platform, and is in late-stage discussions to formalize the partnership, according to Baldwin.

“Whereas many startups coming out of stealth mode focus on going from 0 to a high number of sales quickly, our primary focus initially is to go from 0 to 10 Kocomo qualified co-owners,” said Schrimpff. “Even though we are a B2C company, since our ticket size is upwards of $200,000, our sales cycle exhibits a trajectory more akin to that of a B2B startup.”

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Kocomo is seeing that most of its early interest is coming from people in the tech community. Pacaso, too, saw a similar trend.

“This profile fits our model because they often have flexibility in their calendars, or ability to work remotely, and are open to trying new models, especially if they feel like this is a savvier way to become an owner,” said Schrimpff.

AllVP’s Antonia Rojas said that Kocomo is leveraging technology to deliver “an evolved model of real estate ownership which taps into deep-seated changes in the way consumers organize and prioritize work, family, and free time in a post-COVID world.”

The firm was also impressed by the caliber of the team. Schrimpff founded and later sold PayU, a global payments business now owned and controlled by Naspers. Baldwin is a former Goldman Sachs banker who spent the last 8 years as a venture capital and private equity investor in Mexico and Brazil. Arango graduated from Harvard Business School, and previously worked at IDEO in Silicon Valley. Brian Requarth, co-founder & non-executive chairman, previously founded real estate classifieds company Vivareal.

#allvp, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kocomo, #mexico, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #vine-ventures

Air conditioning is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. It’s also killing the 21st

When did indoor air become cold and clean?

Air conditioning is one of those inventions that have become so ubiquitous, that many in the developed world don’t even realize that less than a century ago, it didn’t exist. Indeed, it wasn’t so long ago that the air inside our buildings and the air outside of them were one and the same, with occupants powerless against their environment.

Eric Dean Wilson, in his just published book, “After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort,” dives deep into the history of this field. It took more than just inventing the air conditioner to make people want to buy it. In fact, whole social classes outright rejected the technology for years. It took hustle, marketing skill, and mass societal change to place air conditioning at the center of our built environment.

Wilson covers that history, but he has a more ambitious agenda: to get us to see how our everyday comforts affect other people. Our choice of frigid cooling emits flagrant quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, placing untold stress on our planet and civilization. Our pursuit of comfort ironically begets us more insecurity and ultimately, less comfort.

It’s a provocative book, and TechCrunch hosted Wilson for a discussion earlier this week on a Twitter Space. If you missed it, here are some selected highlights of our conversation.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Danny Crichton: The framing story throughout the book is about your travels with your friend Sam, who works to collect Freon and destroy it. Why did you choose that narrative arc?

Eric Dean Wilson: Sam at the time was working for this green energy company, and they were trying to find a way to take on green projects that would turn a profit. They had found that they could do this by finding used Freon, specifically what’s called CFC-12. It’s not made anymore, thank goodness, but it was responsible in part for partially destroying the ozone layer, and production of it was banned by the 90s.

But use of it, and buying and selling it on the secondary market, is totally legal. This is sort of a loophole in the legality of this refrigerant, because the United States government and the people who signed the Montreal Protocol thought that when they stopped production of it that it would pretty much get rid of Freon by the year 2000. Well, that didn’t happen, which is kind of a mystery.

So Sam was driving around the United States, finding Freon on the internet, and meeting people (often people who are auto hobbyists or mechanics or something like that) who happened to have stockpiled Freon, and he was buying it from them in order to destroy it for carbon credits on California’s cap-and-trade system. And the interesting thing about this is that he was going to basically the 48 contiguous states, and meeting people that were often global warming deniers who were often hostile to the idea of the refrigerant being destroyed at all, so he often didn’t tell them upfront that he was destroying it.

What was really interesting to me is that, aside from a cast of colorful and strange characters, and sometimes violent characters actually as well, was the fact that sometimes after establishing a business relationship first, he was able to have really frank conversations about global warming with people who were otherwise not very open to it.

In a time in which we’re told that Americans are more divided than ever politically, that we’re not speaking to each other across ideological divides, I thought this was a curious story.

Crichton: And when it comes to greenhouse gases, Freon is among the worst, right?

Wilson: I should be really clear that the main global warming gases are carbon dioxide and methane and some other ones as well. But molecule for molecule, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) are thousands of times greater at absorbing and retaining heat, meaning that they’re just thousands of times worse for global warming, molecule for molecule. So even though there’s not that many of them in terms of parts per million in the atmosphere, there’s enough to really make a sizable contribution to global warming.

The irony is that the replacements of CFCs — HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) — for the most part, don’t really do anything to destroy the ozone layer, which is great. But they’re also super global warming gases. So the ozone crisis was solved by replacing CFCs with refrigerant that exacerbated the global warming crisis.

Crichton: Now to get to the heart of the book, you focus on the rise of air conditioning, but you start by giving readers a wide view of what life was like before its invention. Why did you do that?

Wilson: This was a surprise — I did not go into the book thinking that I was going to find this. Before air conditioning really took off in the home, there was a really different sense of what we would call personal comfort, and something that I really argue in the book is that what we’ve come to think of as personal comfort, and specifically, thermal comfort, has changed. What I argue in the book is that it’s really in part a cultural construction.

Now, I want to be really careful that people don’t hear that I’m saying that it’s entirely a construction. Yes, when we get too hot or too cold, then we can die, for sure. But what’s really interesting to me is that there’s a lot of evidence to show that before air conditioning began at the beginning of the twentieth century, people weren’t really hungry for air conditioning.

There was this greater sense that you could deal with the heat. I put that really carefully, because I don’t want to say that they suffered through it. Certainly there were heat waves and summers that got too hot. But there was a real sense that you could manage the heat through analog ways, like sleeping outside, sleeping in parks, or designing buildings that incorporate passive cooling. The thing that really disturbed me was that through the twentieth century, we really kind of forgot all that, because we didn’t need that knowledge anymore because we had air conditioning. So modernist architecture began to kind of ignore the outside conditions, because you could construct whatever conditions you wanted inside.

I think the question that nobody really asked all along is, is this good for everyone? Should we have a homogenized standard of comfort? Nobody really asked that question. And there’s a lot of people that find that the kind of American model of an office or American model of comfort is not comfortable, both in the United States, and in other places.

Crichton: Even beyond a homogenized standard though, you want readers to understand how comfort connects all of us together.

Wilson: I think that one of the pernicious things about the American definition of comfort is that it has been defined as personal comfort. And the reason why I keep using that is because it’s defined as individual comfort. And so what would it mean to think about comfort as being always connected to somebody else, as more ethical that way? Because it’s true.

The truth is that our comfort is related to other people, and vice versa. It’s really asking us to think interdependently, instead of independently, which is how we’re often encouraged to think, and that’s a huge, huge ask. Actually, that’s a huge task and a huge paradigm shift. But I really think if we’re really trying to think ecologically, and not just sustainably, we have to think about how we’re all connected and how these infrastructures, how they influence other people in other parts of the world.

Climate Change Books Summer 2021

Crichton: Air conditioning didn’t take off right away. In fact, its inventors and customers really had to push hard to get people to want to use it.

Wilson: Air conditioning really got its start in the early twentieth century, in order to control the conditions in factories. I was surprised to find out that air conditioning was used in places to make things hotter, or more humid and slightly hotter in a place like a textile factory, where if it’s not humid enough, cotton threads can break.

Outside the factory, movie theaters were really the first time that thermal comfort was used as a commodity. There were all kinds of other commodifications of comfort, but this was really the first time that the public could go someplace to feel cooler. And the funny thing is is that most movie theaters in the 20s and 30s were freezing cold, they were not what I would call comfortable, because the people who were running them didn’t really understand that air conditioning works best when it’s noticed least, which is a hard sell. In the 20s, though, it was a novelty, and the way that you caught people’s attention on a summer day was to crank the AC up, which felt good for like five minutes, and then it was terribly uncomfortable and you had to shiver through an hour and a half of the rest of the movie.

Crichton: I’m jumping ahead, but what does the future look like as global warming persists and our cooling increases in line with that heat?

Wilson: In so many cooling situations, there are major alternatives, like redesigning our buildings so that they require way less energy and way less cooling. There are really amazing architects who are looking to things like termite mounds, because the colonies that they build sort of have brilliantly engineered rooms with different temperatures.

That said, I was surprised how much our opinion on comfort could change by simply understanding that it could change. I think that we have to make the world of tomorrow desirable, and we can take a nod from the commercial advertising industry. We have to sell this future as one that we actually want, not as something that we’re giving up. And I think the narrative is always like, “Oh, we have to stop doing this, we have to lower this, we have to give this up.” And that’s certainly true. But I think if we understand that as not something that we’re giving up, but actually something that we’re gaining, then it makes it a lot easier. For people, it makes it feel a lot more possible.


After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort by Eric Dean Wilson.

Simon & Schuster, 2021, 480 pages

See Also

#air-conditioning, #book-review, #climate-change, #climate-control, #greentech, #real-estate

A16Z leads investment in Firemaps, a marketplace for home hardening against wildfires

Wildfires are burning in countries all around the world. California is dealing with some of the worst wildfires in its history (a superlative that I use essentially every year now) with the Caldor fire and others blazing in the state’s north. Meanwhile, Greece and other Mediterranean nations have been fighting fires for weeks to bring a number of massive blazes under control.

With the climate increasingly warming, millions of home just in the United States alone are sitting in zones at high risk for wildfires. Insurance companies and governments are putting acute pressure on homeowners to invest more in defending their homes in what is typically dubbed “hardening,” or ensuring that if fires do arrive, a home has the best chance to survive and not spread the disaster further.

SF-based Firemaps has a bold vision for rapidly scaling up and solving the problem of home hardening by making a complicated and time-consuming process as simple as possible.

The company, which was founded just a few months ago in March, sends out a crew with a drone to survey a homeowner’s house and property if it is in a high-risk fire zone. Within 20 minutes, the team will have generated a high-resolution 3D model of the property down to the centimeter. From there, hardening options are identified and bids are sent out to trade contractors to perform the work on the company’s marketplace.

Once the drone scans a house, Firemaps can create a full CAD model of the structure and the nearby property. Image Credits: Firemaps.

While early, it’s already gotten traction. In addition to hundreds of homeowners who have signed up on its website and a few dozen that have been scanned, Andrew Chen of A16Z has led a $5.5 million seed round into the business (the Form D places the round sometime around April). Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Addition’s Lee Fixel also participated.

Firemaps is led by Jahan Khanna, who co-founded it along with his brother, who has a long-time background in civil engineering, and Rob Moran. Khanna was co-founder and CTO of early ride-sharing startup Sidecar, where Moran joined as one of the company’s first employees. The trio spent cycles exploring how to work on climate problems, while staying focused on helping people in the here and now. “We have crossed certain thresholds [with the climate] and we need to get this problem under control,” Khanna said. “We are one part of the solution.”

Over the past few years Khanna and his brother explored opening a solar farm or a solar-powered home in California. “What was wild, whenever we talked to someone, is they said you cannot build anything in California since it will burn down,” Khanna said. “What is kind of the endgame of this?” As they explored fire hardening, they realized that millions of homeowners needed faster and cheaper options, and they needed them sooner rather than later.

While there are dozens of options to harden a home to fire, some popular options include constructing an ember-free zone within a few feet of a home, often by placing gravel made of granite on the ground, as well as ensuring that attic vents, gutters, and siding are fireproof and can withstand high temperatures. These options can vary widely in cost, although some local and state governments have created reimbursement programs to allow homeowners to recoup at least some of the expenses of these improvements.

A Firemaps house in 3D model form with typical hardening options and associated prices. Image Credits: Firemaps.

The company’s business model is simple: vetted contractors pay Firemaps to be listed as an option on its platform. Khanna believes that because its drone offers a comprehensive model of a home, contractors will be able to bid for contracts without doing their own site visits. “These contractors are getting these shovel-ready projects, and their acquisition costs are basically zero,” Khanna said.

Long-term, “our operating hypothesis is that building a platform and building these models of homes is inherently valuable,” Khanna said. Right now, the company is launched in California, and the goal for the next year is to “get this model repeatable and scalable and that means doing hundreds of homes per week,” he said.

#a16z, #andrew-chen, #emergency-response, #firemaps, #funding, #fundings-exits, #government, #greentech, #home-hardening, #jahan-khanna, #real-estate, #startups, #tc, #technology-and-disaster-response, #wildfires

Sugar raises $2.5M in seed funding to connect apartment residents

Sugar, a startup that aims to turn apartment buildings into “interactive communities,” has closed on $2.5 million in seed funding. 

A slew of investors participated in the financing, including MetaProp, Agya Ventures, Concrete Rose, Debut Capital, The Community Fund, Consonance Capital, Lightspeed Scout Fund and Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH syndicate. Also participating were angel investors such as SquareFoot CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum, Ben Zises, Diran Otegbade, Oleksiy Ignatyev and Zillow board member Claire Cormier Thielke, also of Sequoia Scout Fund. 

Mali-born Fatima Dicko founded Los Angeles-based Sugar in March 2020. As people began quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dicko saw an opportunity to help make it easier for people living in apartments and residential communities to “engage with one another in a safe and efficient way.” So she partnered with real estate investment groups and property management companies to build an app for residents of apartments and those communities who might be feeling isolated and disconnected from their neighbors.

“Most residential apps are clunky, outdated and a pain to use. Tasks as simple as paying rent, communicating with your property manager or unlocking doors are cumbersome and tedious,” Dicko said.

Image Credits: CEO and founder Fatima Dicko / Sugar

On top of that, feeling isolated and disconnected from neighbors can also contribute to resident turnover, negative online reviews and, ultimately, decreased revenue for building owners. 

So Dicko set about creating an app that not only gives residents a way to interact with other residents, but also do things like unlock doors without keys, submit maintenance requests and pay their rent. The platform has since grown beyond a pandemic-related use case. Today, the startup has clients globally, including residential communities of varying sizes, real estate investment groups, Airbnb rentals, hotels and other types of residential properties.

Sugar’s product has two components. One is a mobile app for residents and the other is a web-based dashboard for building owners and managers. The mobile app is sold directly to building owners and/or managers. Property managers also have access to the management dashboard to monitor resident engagement metrics and track online ratings and reviews of properties within their portfolios.

Prior to closing the seed round, Sugar achieved “consistent” month-over-month growth resulting in six-figure ARR (annual recurring revenue) just four months after launch, according to Dicko. As of now, Sugar has begun rollout to certain properties within the portfolios of early customers, such as Equilibrium Real Estate Investment Group, CGI Investment group and Apartment Management Consultants (AMC). Combined, the firms manage over 655 properties and 150,000 active doors in 22 states.

Sugar has also secured 90-day pilots with major property management companies such as Bozzuto, which manages over 78,000 residences and is seeking to boost resident engagement, Dicko said.

Its ability to integrate keyless entry hardware products into a community engagement dashboard is a point of differentiation for Sugar, according to Dicko. 

“Our consumer app is sticky, which benefits users and owners. Sugar believes that access control is the most important feature in order to increase usage of the platform,” she said. “Because the product can plug into hardware and enable users to unlock doors and share digital keys from inside the app, this will enable increased product adoption leading to more engagement inside the community portal.”

She said another big differentiator is the ability to integrate into a building’s current hardware or software stack. Prior to attending Stanford Business School, Dicko spent several years as a senior product engineer at Procter & Gamble. It was there that she says she got excited about the idea of creating new solutions to solve old problems.

Sugar currently has nine full-time employees compared to two employees last year. It plans to make key hires in both engineering and sales with its new capital.

Kunal Lunawat of Agya Ventures said his firm was impressed with Dicko’s “tenacity, drive and ability to attract and assess good talent.”

“Everyone talks about community in residential buildings but no one is building a product that specifically solves for it,” he said. “The focus on community rests central to Sugar’s ethos, and that is why several of the world’s leading property managers are flocking to their software.” 

#apps, #funding, #fundings-exits, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #sugar, #venture-capital

ICON lands $207M Series B to construct more 3D-printed homes after seeing 400% YoY revenue growth

Creating single-family homes for the homeless using 3D printing robotics. Developing construction systems to create infrastructure and habitats on the moon, and eventually Mars, with NASA. Delivering what is believed to be the largest 3D-printed structure in North America — a barracks for Texas Military Department.

These are just some of the things that Austin, Texas-based construction tech startup ICON has been working on.

And today, the company is adding a massive $207 million Series B raise to its list of accomplishments.

I’ve been covering ICON since its $9 million seed round in October of 2018, so seeing the company reach this milestone less than three years later is kind of cool. 

Norwest Venture Partners led the startup’s Series B round, which also included participation from 8VC, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), BOND, Citi Crosstimbers, Ensemble, Fifth Wall, LENx, Moderne Ventures and Oakhouse Partners. The financing brings ICON’s total equity raised to $266 million. The company declined to reveal its valuation.

ICON was founded in late 2017 and launched during SXSW in March 2018 with the first permitted 3D-printed home in the U.S. That 350-square-foot house took about 48 hours (at 25% speed) to print. ICON purposely chose concrete as a material because, as co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard put it, “It’s one of the most resilient materials on Earth.”

Since then, the startup says it has delivered more than two dozen 3D-printed homes and structures across the U.S. and Mexico. More than half of those homes have been for the homeless or those in chronic poverty. For example, in 2020, ICON delivered 3D-printed homes in Mexico with nonprofit partner New Story. It also completed a series of homes serving the chronically homeless in Austin, Texas, with nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes.

The startup broke into the mainstream housing market in early 2021 with what it said were the first 3D-printed homes for sale in the U.S. for developer 3Strands in Austin, Texas. Two of the four homes are under contract. The remaining two homes will hit the market on August 31. 

And recently, ICON revealed its “next generation” Vulcan construction system and debuted its new Exploration Series of homes. The first home in the series, “House Zero,” was optimized and designed specifically for 3D printing.

For some context, ICON says its proprietary Vulcan technology produces “resilient, energy-efficient” homes faster than conventional construction methods and with less waste and more design freedom. The company’s new Vulcan construction system, according to Ballard, can 3D print homes and structures up to 3,000 square feet, is 1.5x larger and 2x faster than its previous Vulcan 3D printers.

From the company’s early days, Ballard has maintained ICON is motivated by the global housing crisis and lack of solutions to address it. Using 3D printers, robotics and advanced materials, he believes, is one way to tackle the lack of affordable housing, a problem that is only getting worse across the country and in Austin.

ICON’s list of future plans include the delivery of social, disaster relief and more mainstream housing, Ballard said, in addition to developing construction systems to create infrastructure and habitats on the moon, and eventually Mars, with NASA.

ICON also has two ongoing projects with NASA. Recently, Mars Dune Alpha was just announced by NASA, ICON and BIG – and ICON so far has finished printing the wall system and is onto the roof now. Also, NASA is recruiting for crewed missions to begin nextfFall to live in the first simulated Martian habitat 3D printed by ICON.

Project Olympus represents ICON’s effort to develop a space-based construction system for future exploration of the Moon and “to imagine humanity’s home on another world.”
“Our goal is to have ICON tech on the Moon in the next decade,” Ballard said.

When asked, Ballard said the most significant thing that has happened since the company’s $35 million Series A last August has been the “the radical increase in demand for 3D-printed homes and structures.”

“That single metric represents a lot for us,” Ballard told TechCrunch. “People have to want these houses.”

To tackle the housing shortage, the world needs to increase supply, decrease cost, increase speed, increase resiliency, increase sustainability… all without compromising quality and beauty, he added.

“Perhaps there are a few approaches that can do some of those things, but only construction scale 3D printing holds the potential to do all of those things,” he said.

ICON has seen impressive financial growth, with 400% revenue growth nearly every year since inception, according to Ballard. It’s also tripled its team in the past, year and now has more than 100 employees. It expects to double in size within the next year.

Image Credits: Co-founders with next-gen Vulcan Construction System / ICON

The series B funds will go toward more construction of 3D-printed homes, “rapid scaling and R&D,” further space-based tech advancements and creating “a lasting societal impact on housing issues,” Ballard said.

“We have already stood up early-stage manufacturing and are in the process of upgrading and accelerating those efforts in order to meet demand for more 3D-printed houses even as we close the round,” Ballard said. “In the next five years, we believe we will be delivering thousands of homes per year and on our way to tens of thousands of homes per year.”

Norwest Venture Partners Managing Partner Jeff Crowe, who is joining ICON’s board as part of the financing, said his firm believes that ICON’s 3D printing construction technology will “massively impact the housing shortage in the U.S. and around the globe.”

It is “enormously difficult” to bring together the advanced robotics, materials science and software to develop a robust 3D printing construction technology in the first place, Crowe said.  

“It is still harder to develop the technology in a way that can produce hundreds and thousands of beautiful, affordable, comfortable, energy efficient homes in varying geographies with reliability and predictability — not just one or two demonstration units in a controlled setting,” he wrote via e-mail. “ICON has done all that, and…has all the elements to be a breakout, generational success.”

#3d-printing, #austin, #construction-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #icon, #jeff-crowe, #norwest-venture-partners, #oakhouse-partners, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Plentific cements $100M to expand its property management SaaS

London based Plentific, which operates a marketplace SaaS platform targeting the property management space, has closed a $100 million Series C. The funding round is led by new investors Highland Europe and Brookfield Technology Partners — the VC arm of the eponymous real estate giant — along with Mubadala Investment Company and RXR Digital Ventures, as well as existing investors A/O PropTech and Target Global.

The 2013-founded startup provides a cloud platform for landlords, property and facilities managers, and service providers — taking aim at legacy software with a joined up digital marketplace for locating tradespeople, managing repairs, keeping tenants informed and generating analytics to support data-driven property service delivery. 

Live in the UK, Germany and the US, it says the new financing will go on significantly growing its presence in the US as well as further global expansion. Its total equity raised to date with this latest round is $140M.

Plentific says it intends to spend on accelerating its engineering and product development to further fire up digitalisation across the property and facilities management space — with a plan to integrate Internet of Things (IoT) into its platform and also build out asset management solutions.

It’s also eying baking in machine learning and AI to help commercial and residential landlords increase returns and “make smarter decisions”, per its pitch.

Series C funds will also go on beefing up its offer for service provider — such as by increasing its CRM (Customer Relationship Management) functionality so it can better position itself to pull in contractors of all sizes.

The home improvement trend that boomed during the pandemic lockdown certainly seems to have been very positive for Plentific’s business: Per its website, 350,000+ properties are now managed by the platform across its three (current) markets.

The startup also told TechCrunch it has 100+ “large clients”, at this stage, and more than 16,000 contractors on its marketplace. While the number of properties Plentific has under management has grown 17-fold in the last three years, per a spokeswoman.

Plentific targets its property management tools broadly, at a range of customers and sectors, from private landlords and those running short term lets; to those responsible for managing social housing or student accommodation; and to property managers in sectors like education, hospitality, sport/fitness and social care. (So — unlike startups like Mashroom, which are trying to disrupt the traditional managed service letting agency model — it doesn’t play in the lettings side of the market and would instead be hoping to win such agencies as customers for its tools.)

Commenting on the Series C in a statement, Cem Savas, CEO and co-founder of Plentific, said: “We had a phenomenal year of growth, more than doubling headcount to almost 200 employees, opening an office in the United States and cementing our position in the UK and German markets. Our next step is to rapidly expand in the US, as well as look to begin operating in new geographies. We have only just scratched the surface of a $2.5 trillion potential market opportunity. We will now be rapidly expanding both our global footprint and the solutions we offer to become the de facto digital partner for landlords and service providers across the world.”

In another supporting statement, Josh Raffaelli, managing partner at Brookfield, added: “We are thrilled to partner with Plentific as it seeks to fully digitize the repairs and maintenance process. As one of the world’s largest real estate owner, operator and investor we have first-hand knowledge of how lowering operating costs can help drive efficiencies. We look forward to leveraging that knowledge and experience to help fuel Plentific’s growth and expand its global footprint.”

Another growing area of focus Plentific flags is supporting customers to expand their Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) credentials — saying it will expand capabilities in this “critical area”. Here it works with clients through its PropertyLab accelerator program which it says aims to develop solutions to strengthen ESG initiatives and make reporting more robust through enhanced analytics, in addition to trying to tackle the carbon footprint of properties.

 

#brookfield-technology-partners, #europe, #fundings-exits, #highland-europe, #plentific, #property-management, #proptech, #real-estate, #saas

São Paulo’s QuintoAndar real estate platform raises $120M, now valued at $5.1B

Less than three months after announcing a $300 million Series E, Brazilian proptech QuintoAndar has raised an additional $120 million.

New investors Greenoaks Capital and China’s Tencent co-led the round, which included participation from some existing backers as well. São Paulo-based QuintoAndar is now valued at $5.1 billion, up from $4 billion at the time of its last raise in late May. With the extension, the startup has now raised more than $700 million since its 2013 inception. Ribbit Capital led the first tranche of its Series E.

QuintoAndar describes itself as an “end-to-end solution for long-term rentals” that, among other things, connects potential tenants to landlords and vice versa. Last year, it also expanded into connecting home buyers to sellers. Its long-term plan is to ​​evolve into a one-stop real estate shop that also offers mortgage, title insurance and escrow services.

To that end, earlier this month, the startup acquired Atta Franchising, a 7-year-old São Paulo-based independent real estate mortgage broker. Specifically, acquiring Atta is designed speed up its ability to offer mortgage services to its users. QuintoAndar also plans to explore the possibility of offering a product to perform standalone transactions outside of its marketplace in partnership with other brokers, according to CEO and co-founder Gabriel Braga.

This year, QuintoAndar expanded operations into 14 new cities in Brazil. Eventually, QuintoAndar plans to enter the Mexican market as its first expansion outside of its home country but it has not yet set a date for that step. Today, the company has more than 120,000 rentals under management and about 10,000 new rentals per month. Its rental platform is live in 40 cities across Brazil, while its home-buying marketplace is live in four (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre) and seeing more than 10,000 sales in annualized terms.

QuintoAndar, he said, is open to acquiring more companies that it believes can either help it accelerate in a particular way or add something it had not yet thought about.

“We’re receptive to the idea but our core strategy is to focus on organic growth and our own innovation and accelerate that,” Braga said.

Why raise more money so soon?

The Series E was oversubscribed with investors who got in and “some who could not join,” according to Braga.

Greenoaks and Tencent, he said, couldn’t participate because of “timing issues.”

“We kept talking and they came back to us after the round, and wanted to be involved so we found a way to have them on board,” Braga said. “We did not need the money. But we have been constantly overachieving on the forecast that we shared with our investors. And that’s part of the reason why we had this extension.”

Greenoaks’ long-term time horizon was appealing because the firm’s investment was designed to be “perpetual capital with no predefined timeframe,” Braga said.

“We’re doing our best to build an enduring company that will be around for many, many years, so it’s good to have investors who share that vision and are technically aligned,” he added.

Greenoaks Partner Neil Shah said his firm believes that what QuintoAndar is building will “fundamentally reshape real estate transactions, enhancing transparency, expanding options for Brazilians seeking housing, dramatically simplifying the experience for landlords and driving increased investment into real estate across the country.” He also believes there is big potential for the company to take its offering to other parts of Latin America.

“We look forward to being partners for decades to come,” he added. 

Tencent’s experience in China is something QuintoAndar also finds valuable.

“We believe we can learn a lot from them and other Chinese companies doing interesting stuff there,” Braga said.

QuintoAndar isn’t the only Brazilian prop tech firm raising big money: In March, São Paulo digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. Then, about one month later, it revealed a $100 million extension that valued the company at $2.9 billion.

 

#brazil, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gabriel-braga, #greenoaks-capital, #latin-america, #neil-shah, #proptech, #quintoandar, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #tencent, #venture-capital

Sequoia leads $13M investment in Aalto, an online marketplace that lets homeowners sell directly to buyers

If you’ve ever sold a house, you know what a pain it is to go through the process of listing, showing and negotiating the sale of your home.

It’s so much of a pain that many people put it off as long as possible because they don’t want to deal with it. The result is fewer homes on the market, which exacerbates existing housing shortages in already tight markets such as the San Francisco Bay Area.

In an attempt to help address the problem, one startup called Aalto has built out a new kind of homeowner marketplace. It’s a pricate one that doesn’t rely on the MLS, and gives sellers more control of how and when their homes are listed, shown and sold. Today Aalto is emerging from stealth and announcing that it has raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by Sequoia Capital. 

Background Capital, Defy Partners, Maple VC and Greg Waldorf — the first investor at Trulia — also participated in the financing, which brings Aalto’s total raised to $17.3 million since its 2018 inception.

Aalto’s online marketplace, which launched in April of this year, directly connects homeowners to buyers. The company claims that a potential seller can list their home on its platform in five minutes, rather than a typical process that is closer to five weeks. Since launching in the Bay Area, Aalto has built up a network of more than 30,000 buyers and more than two dozen homes have been sold via the marketplace. Currently, about 85 homes are listed for sale on its platform, with an average of one new home being added per day. 

Ironically, Aalto founder and CEO Nick Narodny is the son and brother of real estate agents. He concedes that the startup’s platform could be seen as a threat to the industry, but notes the trade-off is that more homes end up on the market, which helps minimize the region’s affordability crisis, and sellers see higher returns.

Currently, 5-10% of total available inventory listed in competitive markets like Dublin, Fremont, Mill Valley and Milpitas are listed on the Aalto platform. And, Narodny said, the company is on its way to bring more homes to market, sooner.

“Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest events people will ever experience, but it’s also a tedious, outdated process,” he said. 

Image Credits: Nick Narodny / Aalto

Aalto aims to double the number of homes on the market in the Bay Area by streamlining the way homeowners can list, without the third-parties or contracts required elsewhere. This dramatically lowers the bar to sell, according to Narodny, bringing homes to market an average of four and a half months earlier than traditional real estate processes.

The platform offers a preview listing feature that allows sellers to list with no commitment. They can also build a waitlist of qualified buyers for their home while they consider a sale. 

“We pull the tax record and info to make it super easy and ask the seller to fill out a Q&A,” Narodny said. After filling out that info, sellers can then see interested buyers and those that are prequalified or that can make all cash offers.

The process is also less intrusive, Narodny said, by giving the seller more of a say in who sees their home and when. For example, sellers can also line up virtual or in-person showings on their own schedule. And they can sell the homes on their timelines — whether it be in a few weeks, or few months.

For example, a San Francisco-based hand surgeon recently listed his home on the Aalto platform with the desire of moving at the end of October. More than two dozen people were interested and he allowed a few people to tour the home. He was able to sell the house based on a timeline that was more beneficial for him.

“People can sell totally on their terms and are much more connected in the process,” Narodny said. Busy professionals such as the surgeon with director and above titles and growing families so far are among the most common sellers on the platform.

Image Credits: Aalto

Also, there is an economic benefit. By removing a middleman, or agent, from the process, sellers can make an average of $44,000 more on their home sale, according to Narodny. The startup charges a 1% fee, compared to the 2-2.5% commission that an agent charges. But if a seller requires help “with the hard stuff,” Aalto has “expert, licensed” people available.

Sellers can also craft descriptions of their homes in a way that comes across as more personal than if an agent does it, according to Narodny.

“We have them tell their own story of their home,” he said.

It also gives them more privacy. For example, an MLS will show when a home was listed and any price reductions. A home listed on Aalto won’t include any of that information. Also similar to Airbnb, the seller’s exact address is not shared, just a radius. 

The benefit for buyers — besides having more options — is the ability to set up instant alerts, join waitlists and schedule showings in one easy-to-use platform. They can also “anonymously prequalify and share that with a seller,” Narodny said.

Bryan Schreier, partner at Sequoia Capital, believes that real estate is “one of the last giant industries with a 1900s experience.”

“It’s a painful process where the seller has limited visibility and the buyer is holding their breath after every bid,” he said. “Aalto is the first company to reinvent how homes are bought and sold by putting the consumer first. It goes far beyond a listing site and reinvents every aspect of the experience to be customer oriented rather than realtor oriented.”

Looking ahead, the company plans to expand beyond the Bay Area to other major metropolitan real estate markets in California and across the country. It also plans to use its new capital to continue improving its technology.

Meanwhile, Narodny insists that while the platform may be seen as a threat by some agents, it’s not a malicious thing.

“My family and I are very close. It’s something that I talk about with them quite a bit,” he told TechCrunch. “I believe Aalto truly is additive. We still work with them every day and will continue to…It’s not like agents are totally being replaced.”

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Construction tech startup Agora raises $33M in Tiger Global-led round amid 760% YoY ARR growth

Agora, a startup that has built a materials management platform for contractors, has raised $33 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management.

8VC, Tishman Speyer, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, Michael Ovitz, DST, LeFrak and Kevin Hartz also participated in the financing, which brings the startup’s total raised since its 2018 inception to about $45 million.

Construction tech is one of those sectors that has not historically been considered “sexy” in a startup world that often favors glitzier technology. But construction fuels the commercial and real estate industries, which in turn impacts all of us in one way or another.

Meanwhile, the $10 trillion construction industry has long been plagued with productivity challenges. In fact, according to McKinsey, labor productivity growth in the industry has been stagnant since 1947.

Image Credits: Agora

Maria Rioumine and Ryan Gibson founded Agora with the mission of making it easier for commercial trade contractors to order and track materials, automate manual data entry and give everyone involved in the procurement process a single platform by which they can communicate with each other.

The end goal is to help projects move along faster, and contractors to avoid unnecessary delays by reducing building costs. The bigger picture impact, Agora hopes, is that its SaaS platform can help make the “built environment faster and more efficient to build,” and thus help make cities “more affordable and accessible to all.” 

San Francisco-based Agora is tackling the problem in a very specific, niche way that is proving to be popular both with contractors and investors alike. Rather than attempting to be a blanket solution for all trades, Agora is focusing on specific trade verticals, one by one. For example, it started out with electrical and is now moving into mechanical.

“Last year, there was more than $101 billion worth of electrical work done. Our customers work on all types of products,” Rioumine told TechCrunch. “For example, we have customers that do power stations, some that build hospitals and others that build school classrooms and university campuses, and still others that build churches and casinos. The work that these contractors do is so essential.”

Agora’s annual recurring revenue has grown 760% year over year while its customer base is up 6x during the same time frame, according to the company. It has also tripled its headcount to 45 people and today is processing $140 million in annualized materials volume for its customers.

The startup wasn’t actively raising for the Series B — instead, investors were proactively offering term sheets, Rioumine said.

“A few investors that knew us well approached us about preempting the round,” she told TechCrunch. “Twelve days after the first conversation, we had multiple term sheets.”

Tiger Global Partner John Curtius said he was drawn to Agora’s “unique” trade-specific approach.

In his view, the startup is “defining the future of procurement in construction.”

“Agora is solving a huge and critical problem,” Curtius wrote via email. “Billions of dollars a year are wasted because of inefficient procurement processes and breakages in the supply chain.”

The platform specifically does things like give contractors the ability to: customize templates, create pre-approved materials lists and easily reorder frequently needed items, order from a catalogue that offers more than 400,000 SKUs and eliminate manual data entry, which reduces errors and automates basic processes.

By bringing both field and office teams onto one digital platform, Agora claims it saves office teams 75% of the time they spend processing purchase orders, and field teams 38% of the time their foremen spend on materials management. In total, the company said its technology can provide up to $300,000 of potential annual savings for its average customer.

The company plans to use its new capital to hire across a number of teams, as well as continue to expand beyond 30 states and into other trade verticals.

“There has been this really heavy underinvestment in tech in construction for a long time,” Rioumine said. On average, the technology spend as a proportion of revenue in construction is about 1.5%, “which is actually the lowest of the industries out there where the median is 3.3%,” she added.

“So when we think about just how large this industry is and how little productivity improvements there have been recently, I think now we have this amazing opportunity to really invest in technology and bring it on to the job sites and into trade contractors’ hands.”

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Link-in-bio monetization platform Snipfeed raises a $5.5M seed round

The link-in-bio business is heating up as more mobile website builders compete for a coveted slice of real estate on a creator’s TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter. Linktree leads the space, securing a recent $45 million Series B raise to build out e-commerce features, but Beacons boasts competitive creator monetization tools with just a $6 million seed round in May. Now, Snipfeed enters the ring with its own $5.5 million seed round, including investments from CRV, Abstract Ventures, Crossbeam (Ali Hamed), id8, Michael Ovitz (founder of CAA), Michael Bosstick, Diaspora Ventures, and others.

Linktree has been around since 2016 and has more funding than its up-and-coming competitors. But for creators seeking to monetize their following, these newer platforms may be more attractive to some creators, since they already have built-in tools to help them monetize their followings. Linktree currently supports tipping on the platform for users subscribed to its $6 Linktree Pro platform, but Snipfeed offers a wider range of monetization options; some creators are making over $20,000 per month on the platform, according to CEO and co-founder Rédouane Ramdani.

Snipfeed started as a content discovery platform with 44,000 weekly active users — but when Snipfeed added a creator monetization tool to its platform, it became its most popular feature. So, in February 2020, with little to no funding left, the company completely pivoted to its current link-in-bio business. Since then, Snipfeed has amassed 50,000 registered users, with the user base growing 500% in the last six months (Linktree, for comparison, has over 12 million users).

Based in Paris and Los Angeles, Snipfeed’s 15-person staff is particularly interested in the “long tail” of creators, which it says encompasses over 46 million people.

“Content creator doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be the next Addison Rae or a TikTok star,” explained Ramdani. “It means that you might be a doctor or lawyer, and on top of that, you’re going to have a TikTok where you explain how to file your taxes and that kind of stuff. They have this expertise, and they’re wondering, ‘How can I turn that into a side-hustle?’”

Image Credits: Snipfeed

In addition to a standard tipping tool, Snipfeed allows users to sell digital goods, like on-demand video, ebooks, access to livestreams, and one-on-one consultations. But Snipfeed’s biggest differentiator is its Cameo-like system for selling personalized content. For example, TikToker maylikethemonthh uses Snipfeed to sell asynchronous, video-recorded tarot readings. While asking a single, personalized astrology question costs $5, a more in-depth reading can cost up to $20 or $40.

Snipfeed is free to set up, but if you make sales, the company takes 15% — this percentage is inclusive of any transaction fees. Through Snipfeed’s referral program, creators can make 5% of sales from anyone they onboard to the platform (this comes out of Snipfeed’s commission).

“We decided to go with this model because we really want to have a relationship where we help the creators really make money. We only make money if they make money,” Ramdani said.

If a creator or celebrity were to sell personalized videos on Cameo, they’d lose 25% to the platform. Meanwhile, Beacons takes 9% of sales from its free version, and 5% from its $10 per month version, which offers more customization, integrations, analytics.

Image Credits: Snipfeed

Still, depending on the type of creator, the features that each link-in-bio startup offers might matter more than the cost. Beacons allows users to share a shopping-enabled TikTok feed, which could be huge a money-maker for creators that often share product recommendations with affiliate links, which give them a commission from sales. Ramdani said that astrologers have been particularly successful on Snipfeed, since fans can book a variety of asynchronous services at a wide range of prices. But these features could benefit any creator who can profit from answering followers’ specific questions — a chef could offer recipe ideas based on what’s in a fan’s fridge, or a life coach could make a personalized video if a follower requests advice.

With its $5.5 million in seed funding, Snipfeed plans to build out its e-commerce tools so that creators can sell physical products on their link-in-bio (Beacons and Linktree are also working on this with their recent funding rounds — but Beacons’ and Snipfeed’s seed rounds are small compared to Linktree’s Series B). The company also wants to develop educational content to show its users how to best monetize their platform — if Snipfeed can help its creators make money, then it’ll make more money too.

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