Driverless car appears to flee the scene after being pulled over by cops

Cruise's driverless Bolt EVs are a common sight in San Francisco.

Enlarge / Cruise’s driverless Bolt EVs are a common sight in San Francisco. (credit: Cruise)

A video showing a driverless car being stopped by the police and then attempting to drive away went viral over the weekend. San Francisco police stopped one of Cruise’s autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs, likely because the car’s headlights were not on despite it being night. In the video, first posted to Instagram on April 2, an officer can be heard saying, “There’s nobody in it.”

But a few seconds later, after the officer walks back to his police car, the autonomous vehicle—perhaps deciding that the traffic stop was over—tries to drive away before pulling over to a stop a few hundred feet away.

Cruise says that the car wasn’t trying to make a run for it. The vehicle first yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to a safe spot for the actual traffic stop, the company says. One of the police officers contacted Cruise to inform it of the situation, and the driverless car did not receive a ticket. Cruise says it has fixed whatever caused the car to drive without its headlights at night.

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#autonomous-vehicle, #cars, #cruise, #police, #san-francisco

Post-pandemic shifts means Patch will take co-working to UK small towns and suburbs

It would be fair to say the pandemic has had enormous effects on the world of work, but it has come at a time when other factors were already ongoing. The decline of main-street shopping due to e-commerce has only been hastened. The shift to remote working has sky-rocketed. And people no longer want to commute 8am-6pm anymore. But we’ve also found that working from home isn’t all its cracked up to be. Plus, they don’t see the point of commuting into a big city, only to have to co-work in something like a WeWork, when they could just as easily have gone to something local. The problem is, there is rarely a local co-working space, especially in the suburbs or smaller towns.

If, instead, you could bring work nearer to home (rather than working from home) then, the theory goes, you’d get a more balanced lifestyle, but also get that separation between work and home so many people, especially families, still desire.

Now, a new UK startup has come top with a ‘decentralized workspace’ idea which it plans to roll out across the UK.

Patch will take empty local high street shops and turn them into “collaborative cultural spaces” with its ‘Work Near Home’ proposition aimed at traditional commuters. There are an estimated 6 million knowledge work commuters in the UK, and Patch will run on monthly subscriptions from these kinds of members.

It’s now raised a $1.1M Seed funding round from a number of leading UK angel investors including Robin Klein (cofounder of LocalGlobe), Matt Clifford (Cofounder of Entrepreneur First), alongside Charlie Songhurst, Simon Murdoch (Episode 1), Wendy Becker (former CEO Jack Wills and NED at Great Portland Estates), Camilla Dolan (founding partner of sustainable investor Eka Ventures), Zoe Jervier (talent Director for US investment firm Sequoia), and Will Neale (founder of Grabyo and early-stage investor).

Patch says its ‘Work Near Home’ idea is geared to the Post-Covid ‘hybrid working’ movement and it plans to create public venues, “with a focus of entrepreneurship, technology, and cultural programming.”

Each Patch location will offer a range of private offices, co-working studios, “accessible low-cost options” and free scholarship places.

Patch’s first site will open in Chelmsford, Essex in early November, and the startup says several more sites are planned for 2022. It says it has received requests from people in Chester, St Albans, Wycombe, Shrewsbury, Yeovil, Bury, and Kingston upon Thames.

Patch’s founder Freddie Fforde said: “Where we work and where we live have traditionally be seen as distinct environments. This has led to the hollowing out of many high streets during the working week, and equally redundant office districts. We think that technology fundamentally changes this, allowing people to work near home and creating a new mixed environment of professional, civic, and cultural exchange.”

Fforde is a former Entrepreneur First founder and employee who has held various roles in early-stage tech companies in London and San Francisco. The head of product will be Paloma Strelitz, formerly cofounder of Assemble, a design studio that won the 2015 Turner Prize.

Commenting, Matt Clifford, Entrepreneur First and Code First Girls, said: “Technology has always changed the way we organize and work together. Patch will unlock opportunities for talented people based on who they are, unconstrained by where they live. We want to be a country where high-skilled jobs are available everywhere and Patch is a key part of that puzzle.”

Targeting towns and smaller cities, in residential areas, not the major city centres, Patch says it will look for under-utilised landmark buildings in the center of towns. In Chelmsford, their first space will be a Victorian brewery, for instance.

Grays Yard

Grays Yard

Chelmsford Councillor Simon Goldman, Deputy Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Small Business and representative for the BID board, said: “The introduction of a new co-working space in Gray’s Yard is a really positive scheme for the city. Providing local options for residents to work from will help them to have less of a commute which will hopefully allow a better work/life balance. Working closer to home brings many benefits for both individuals and their families, but also for the environment and the local economy.”

Patch says it will also operate a model of ‘giving back’, with 20% of peak event space hours donated to local and national providers of community services “that support the common good”. Early national partners include tech skills providers Code First Girls, and with Coder Dojo, a Raspberry Pi Foundation initiative.

#ceo, #cofounder, #commuting, #coworking, #e-commerce, #eka-ventures, #entrepreneur, #europe, #founder, #grabyo, #kingston, #localglobe, #london, #matt-clifford, #partner, #patch, #raspberry-pi-foundation, #robin-klein, #san-francisco, #sequoia, #simon-murdoch, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wework

Kapor Capital, Square co-founder Sam Wen back TomoCredit in its $10M Series A funding round

Building credit history can be difficult if you are a consumer that is having trouble getting access to credit in the first place.

Enter TomoCredit, which has developed a credit card focused on building credit history for first-time borrowers. The San Francisco-based startup is announcing today that it has raised $10 million in a Series A funding round co-led by Kapor Capital and KB Investment Inc. (KBIC), a subsidiary of South Korea’s leading consumer bank. Lewis & Clark Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Knollwood Investment Advisory, WTI, Bronze and Square co-founder Sam Wen also participated in the Series A financing.

The new capital comes just over seven months after TomoCredit raised $7 million in seed funding, and brings its total raised this year to $17 million. The company also announced today it has appointed Ash Gupta, former CRO at American Express, to its board.

TomoCredit co-founder and CEO Kristy Kim came up with the concept for the company after being rejected multiple times for an auto loan while in her early 20s.

Kim, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with her family as a child, was disappointed that her lack of credit history proved to be such an obstacle despite the fact she had a job “and positive cash flow.”

So she teamed up with Dmitry Kashlev, a Russian immigrant, in January of 2019 to create a solution for other foreign-born individuals and young adults facing similar credit challenges. That fall, the startup (short for Tomorrow’s Credit) was accepted into the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

The fintech offers a credit card aimed at helping first-time borrowers build credit history, based on their cash flow, rather than on their FICO or credit report ratings. Its biggest differentiator, believes Kim, is that it has no fees, no APR and no credit pull. Traditional credit products rely heavily on fees and APR, she said, while TomoCredit makes money through merchant fees.

Image Credits: TomoCredit

TomoCredit is powered by Finicity (which was acquired by Mastercard last year), and leverages that company’s data network and open banking technology so that it can “securely” access applicants’ bank accounts to obtain financial data for underwriting purposes.

Once approved, applicants receive the TomoCredit Mastercard. The goal is to bring “millions of individuals that lack a credit score into the financial system, allowing a diverse group of consumers the opportunity to better position themselves as qualified candidates for mortgages, auto loans, or other major life purchases,” the company said.

TomoCredit has already pre-approved more than 300,000 customers and expects to issue a total of 500,000 cards by year’s end, according to Kim.

“We’ve grown 10x this year from the beginning of 2021,” Kim said. “Still, this round came together earlier than expected.”

Something that has been surprising to Kim is the interest from a variety of types of consumers.

“In the beginning, we thought international students and immigrants would be most interested in our product,” she told TechCrunch. “But after launching, we’ve realized that so many people can benefit — from gig economy workers to YouTubers to any young person who hasn’t had a chance to build credit yet. The market is way bigger than we even realized.”

In early 2022, the company plans to roll out the Tomo Black card, a product for some of its existing customers that “are showing good performance.” It’s currently testing it with some of its existing user base.

“This is a premium product that can grow with our customers, who we want to retain over the next 10 to 20 years,” Kim said. “We don’t want our product to be a stop-gap solution.”

Image Credits: TomoCredit

The startup plans to use its new capital to do more hiring and enhance features such as weekly autopay and high credit limits in an effort to “boost credit scores faster,” she added. Currently, TomoCredit has about 30 employees, up from 10 at the time of its last raise in February.

“My main focus is recruiting top talent,” Kim said, noting that the company had already hired “some senior people from Wells Fargo.” 

“When we recruit and hire, we care about diversity,” she added. “We’re building products for people who have been traditionally underserved by major banks. I think to align with our mission, we should embody that in building our team. More than 50% of our execs are female. The entire risk team is female. We are diverse in terms of gender, age and ethnicity because we want to truly understand our customers and build a product that is inclusive.”

Brian Dixon, partner at Kapor Capital, points out that there are about 45 million people in the U.S. who should have credit scores, but cannot take out a loan, get a credit card, or apply for a mortgage. And that number is only increasing.

“When we learned that Kristy experienced these issues firsthand when she moved to the United States and thoughtfully figured out a way to circumvent the predatory and broken credit card system, it deepened our conviction in her and the product itself,” he wrote via email.

Dixon believes that TomoCredit’s model of not charging the user makes it a “safe and affordable alternative” to what is in the market.

“Their mission aligns with our thesis of closing gaps of access and opportunity in the credit space at large as well,” he added.

#finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kapor-capital, #payments, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #tomocredit, #venture-capital

Glassdoor acquires Fishbowl, a semi-anonymous social network and job board, to square up to LinkedIn

While LinkedIn doubles down on creators to bring a more human, less manicured element to its networking platform for professionals, a company that has built a reputation for publishing primarily the more messy and human impressions of work life has made an acquisition that might help it compete better with LinkedIn.

Glassdoor, the platform that lets people post anonymous and candid feedback about the organizations they work for, has acquired Fishbowl — an app that gives users an anonymous option also to provide frank employee feedback, as well as join interest-based conversation groups to chat about work, and search for jobs. Glassdoor, which has 55 million users, is already integrating Fishbowl content into its main platform, although Fishbowl, with its 1 million users, will also continue for now to operate as a standalone app, too.

Christian Sutherland-Wong, the CEO of Glassdoor, said that he sees Fishbowl as the logical evolution of how Glassdoor is already being used. Similarly, since people are already seeking out feedback on prospective employers, it makes sense to bring recruitment and reviews closer together.

“We’ve always been about workplace transparency,” he said in an interview. “We expect in the future that jobseekers will use Glassdoor reviews, and also look to existing professionals in their fields to get answers from each other.” Fishbowl has seen a lot of traction during the Covid-19 pandemic, growing its user base threefold in the last year.

The acquisition is technically being made by Recruit Holdings, the Japanese employment listings and tech giant that acquired Glassdoor for $1.2 billion in 2018, and the companies are not disclosing any financial terms. San Francisco-based Fishbowl — founded in 2016 by Matt Sunbulli and Loren Appin — had raised less than $8 million, according to PitchBook data, from a pretty impressive set of investors, including Binary Capital, GGV, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, and Scott Belsky.

Microsoft-owned LinkedIn towers over the likes of Glassdoor in terms of size. It now has more than 774 million users, making it by far the biggest social media platform targeting professionals and their work-related content. But for many, even some of those who use it, the platform leaves something to be desired.

LinkedIn is a reliable go-to for putting out a profile of yourself, for the public, for those in your professional life, or for recruiters, to find. But what LinkedIn largely lacks are normal people talking about work in an honest way. To read about other’s often self-congratulatory professional developments, or to see motivational words on professional development from already hugely successful personalities, or to browse developments relative to your industry that probably have already seen elsewhere is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s anodyne. Sometimes people just want tea to be spilled.

That’s where something like Glassdoor comes into the picture: the format of making comments anonymous on there turns it into something of the anti-LinkedIn. It is caustic, perhaps sometimes bitter, talk about the workplace, balanced out with positive words seem to get periodically suspected of being seeded by the companies themselves. Motivational, inspirational and aspirational are generally not part of the Glassdoor lexicon; honest, illuminating, and sobering perhaps are.

Fishbowl will be used to augment this and give Glassdoor another set of tools now to see how it might build out its platform beyond workplace reviews. The idea is to target people who come to Glassdoor to read about what people think of a company, or to put in their own comments: they can now also jump into conversations with others; and if they are coming to complain about their employer, now they can also look for a new one!

In the meantime, it feels like the swing to more authenticity is also a result of the shift we’ve seen in the world of work.

Covid-19 mandated office closures and social distancing have meant that many professionals have been working at home for the majority of the last year and a half (and many continue to do so). That has changed how we “come to work”, with many of our traditional divides between work and non-work personas and time management blurring. That has had an inevitable impact on how we see ourselves at work, and what we seek to get out of that engagement. And it also has led many people to feel isolated and in need of more ways to connect with colleagues.

Glassdoor’s acquisition, it said, was in part to meet this demand. A Harris Poll commissioned by Glassdoor found that 48% of employees felt isolated from coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic; 42% of employees felt their career stall due to the lack of in-person connection; and 45% of employees expect to work hybrid or full-time remotely going forward — all areas that Glassdoor believes can be addressed with better tools (like Fishbowl) for people to communicate.

Of course, it will remain to be seen whether Glassdoor can convert its visitors to use the new Fishbowl-powered tools, but if there really is a population of users out there looking for a new kind of LinkedIn — there certainly are enough who love to complain about it — then maybe this cold be one version of that.

#binary-capital, #ceo, #enterprise, #fishbowl, #glassdoor, #hiring, #labor, #lerer-hippeau-ventures, #linkedin, #ma, #microsoft, #recruit, #recruit-holdings, #san-francisco, #scott-belsky, #social-networks

Sendoso nabs $100M as its corporate gifting platform passes 20,000 customers

Corporate gift services have come into their own during the Covid-19 pandemic by standing in as a proxy for other kinds of relationship building activities — office meetings, lunches, and hosting at events — that have traditionally been part and parcel of how people do business, but were no longer feasible during lockdowns, social distancing and offices closing their doors.

Now, Sendoso — a popular “end-to-end” gifting platform offering access to 30,000 products including corporate swag, regular physical gifts, gift cards and more; and then providing services like logistics, packing and sending to get those gifts to the recipients — is announcing $100 million of funding to capitalize on this shift, led by a big new investor.

New backer SoftBank, via its Vision Fund 2, is leading this latest Series C round of funding. Oak HC/FT, Struck Capital, Stage 2 Capital, Craft Ventures, Signia Venture Partners and Felicis Ventures — all previous investors — are also participating.

The company has been on a strong growth trajectory for years now, but it specifically saw a surge of activity as the pandemic kicked off. It now has more than 20,000 businesses signed up and using its services, particularly for sales and marketing outreach, but also to help shore up morale among employees.

“Everyone was stuck at home by themselves, saturated with emails,” said Kris Rudeegraap, the CEO of Sendoso, in an interview. “Having a personal connection to sales prospects, employees and others just meant more.” It has now racked up some 3 million gifts sent since launching in 2016.

Sendoso is not disclosing its valuation, but Rudeegraap hinted that it was four times higher than the startup’s Series B valuation from 2020. PitchBook estimates that to be $160 million, which would make the current valuation $640 million. The company has now raised over $150 million.

Rudeegraap said Sendoso will be using the funds in part to invest in a couple of areas. First, to hire more talent: it has 500 employees now and plans to grow that by 30% by the end of this year. And second, international expansion: it is setting up a European HQ in Dublin, Ireland to complement its main office in San Francisco.

Comcast, Kimpton Hotels, Thomson Reuters, Nasdaq and eBay are among its current customers — so this is in part to serve those customers’ global user bases, as well as to sign up new gifters. He estimated that the bigger market for corporate gifting is about $100 billion annually, so there is a lot to play for here.

The company was co-founded by Rudeegraap and Braydan Young (who is its chief alliances officer) on the back of a specific need Rudeegraap identified while working as a sales executive. Gifting is a very standard practice in the world of sales and marketing, but he was finding a lot of traction with potential and current customers by taking a personalized approach to this act.

“I was manually packing boxes, grabbing swag, coming up with handwritten notes,” he recalled. “It was inefficient, but it worked so well. So I dreamed up an idea: why not be able to click a button in Salesforce to do this automatically? Sometimes the best company is one that solves a pain point of your own.”

And this is essentially what Sendoso does. The startup’s platform integrates with a company’s existing marketing, sales and management software — Salesforce, HubSpot, SalesLoft among them — and then lets users use this to organize and order gifts through these channels, for example as part of larger sales, marketing or HR strategies. The gifts are wide-ranging, covering corporate swag, other physical presents, gift cards and more, and there are also integrations you can include to share gifting across teams of salespeople, to analyze the campaigns and more.

The Sendoso platform itself, meanwhile, positions itself as having the “marketplace selection and logistics precision of Amazon.com.” But Sendoso also believes it’s better than someone simply using Amazon.com itself since it ultimately takes a more personalized approach in how it presents the gift.

“There are a lot of things we do uniquely in terms of what we have built throughout our software, gifting options and logistics centre. We really personalize our gifts at scale with handwritten notes, special boxing, and more,” something that Amazon cannot do, he added. “We have built a lot of unique technology and logistics software that would make it hard for Amazon to compete.” He said that one of Sendoso’s integrations is actually with Amazon, so Sendoso users can order through there, but then the gift is first routed to Sendoso to be repackaged in a nicer way before being sent out.

At its heart, the startup has built a way of knitting together disparate work practices — some codified in software, and some based on human interactions and significantly more infused with randomness, emotion and ad hoc approaches — and built it all into a technology platform. The ability to scale what feels like an otherwise bespoke level of service is what has helped Sendoso gain traction not just with users, but investors, too:

“We believe Sendoso offers the most comprehensive end-to-end gifting platform in the market,” said Priya Saiprasad, a partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “Their platform includes a global marketplace of curated vendors, seamless integration with existing tools, global logistics, and deep analytics. As a result, Sendoso serves as the backbone to enterprises’ engagement programs with prospective customers, existing customers, employees and other key stakeholders. We’re excited to lead this Series C round to help Sendoso accelerate its vision.”

#amazon, #amazon-com, #business, #ceo, #comcast, #companies, #craft-ventures, #dublin, #ebay, #economy, #enterprise, #felicis-ventures, #funding, #gift, #gift-card, #giving, #hubspot, #ireland, #marketing, #partner, #salesforce, #salesloft, #san-francisco, #sendoso, #signia-venture-partners, #softbank, #softbank-group, #stage-2-capital, #struck-capital, #vision-fund

SpotOn raises $300M at a $3.15B valuation and acquires Appetize

Last year at this time, SpotOn was on the brink of announcing a $60 million Series C funding round at a $625 million valuation.

Fast forward to almost exactly one year later, and a lot has changed for the payments and software startup.

Today, SpotOn said it has closed on $300 million in Series E financing that values the company at $3.15 billion — more than 5x of its valuation at the time of its Series C round, and significantly higher than its $1.875 billion valuation in May (yes, just three and a half months ago) when it raised $125 million in a Series D funding event.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led both the Series D and E rounds for the company, which says it has seen 100% growth year over year and a tripling in revenue over the past 18 months. Existing investors DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group, Franklin Templeton and Mubadala Investment Company too doubled down on their investments in SpotOn, joining new backers Wellington Management and Coatue Management. Advisors Douglas Merritt, CEO of Splunk, and Mike Scarpelli, CFO of Snowflake, also made individual investments as angels. With the new capital, SpotOn has raised $628 million since its inception.

The latest investment is being used to finance the acquisition of another company in the space — Appetize, a digital and mobile commerce payments platform for enterprises such as sports and entertainment venues, theme parks and zoos. SpotOn is paying $415 million in cash and stock for the Los Angeles-based company.

Since its 2017 inception, SpotOn has been focused on providing software and payments technology to SMBs with an emphasis on restaurants and retail businesses. The acquisition of Appetize extends SpotOn’s reach to the enterprise space in a major way. Appetize will go to market as SpotOn and will work to grow its client base, which already includes an impressive list of companies and organizations including Live Nation, LSU, Dodger Stadium and Urban Air. 

In fact, Appetize currently covers 65% of all major league sports stadiums, specializing in contactless payments, mobile ordering and menu management. So for example, when you’re ordering food at a game or concert, Appetize’s technology makes it easier to pay in a variety of contactless ways through point of sale (POS) devices, self-service kiosks, handheld devices, online ordering, mobile web and API integrations.

Image Credits: SpotOn

SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.

The combined company will have 1,600 employees — 1,300 from SpotOn and 300 from Appetize. SpotOn will now have over 500 employees on its product and technology team, according to co-founder and co-CEO Zach Hyman. It will also have clients in the tens of thousands, a number that SpotOn says is growing by “thousands more every month.”

The acquisition is not the first for SpotOn, which also acquired SeatNinja earlier this year.

But in Appetize it saw a company that was complementary both in its go-to-market and tech stacks, and a “natural fit.”

SMEs are going to benefit from the scalable tech that can go with them, including things like kiosks and offline modes, and for the enterprise clients of Appetize, they’re going to be able to leverage products like sophisticated loyalty programs and extended marketing capabilities,” Hyman told TechCrunch. 

SpotOn was not necessarily planning to raise another round so soon, Hyman added, but the opportunity came up to acquire Appetize.

“We spent a lot of time together, and it was too compelling to pass up,” he told TechCrunch.

For its part, Appetize — which has raised over $77 million over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase — too saw the combination as a logical one.

“It was important to us to retain a stake in the business. We were not looking to cash out,” said Appetize CEO Max Roper. “We are deeply invested in growing the business together. It’s a big win for our team and our clients over the long term. This is a rocketship that we are excited to be on.” 

No doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the need for more digital offerings from small businesses to enterprises alike.

“There has been a high demand for our services and now as businesses are faced with a Covid resurgence, no one is closing down,” Hyman said. “So they see a responsibility to install the necessary technology to properly run their business.”

One of the moves SpotOn has made, for example, is launching a vaccination alert system in its reservation management software platform to make it easier for consumers to confirm they are vaccinated for cities and states that have those requirements.

Clearly, a16z General Partner David George too was bullish on the idea of a combined company.

He told TechCrunch that the two companies fit together “extremely nicely.”

“It felt like a no-brainer for us to want to lead the round, and continue to support them,” George said.

Since first investing in SpotOn in May, the startup’s growth has “exceeded” a16z’s expectations, he added.

“When companies are growing as fast as it is organically, they don’t need to rely on acquisitions to fuel growth,” he said. “But the strategic rationale here is so strong, that the acquisition will only turbocharge what is already high growth.”

While the Series E capital is primarily funding the acquisition, SpotOn continues to double down on its product and technology.

“This is our time to shine and invest in the future with forward thinking technology,” Hyman told TechCrunch. “We’re thinking about things like how are consumers going to be ordering their beer at a Dodgers game in three years? Are they going to be standing in line for 25 minutes or are they going to be interacting and buying merchandise in other unique ways? Those are the things we’re looking to solve for.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #appetize, #david-george, #dragoneer-investment-group, #dst-global, #finance, #fintech, #franklin-templeton, #funding, #fundings-exits, #instagram, #los-angeles, #ma, #mobile-web, #mubadala-investment-company, #online-payments, #payment-processing, #payments, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #splunk, #spoton, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

Startup insurance provider Vouch raises $90M, now valued at $550M

Vouch, a provider of business insurance to startups and high-growth companies, announced today it has raised $90 million in new funding.

The $90 million figure was raised across two rounds: a $60 million Series C co-led by SVB Capital (a subsidiary of Silicon Valley Bank) and Ribbit Capital that values the company at $550 million, and a previously unannounced $30 million Series B1 led by Redpoint Ventures.

With the latest financing, San Francisco-based Vouch has now raised a total of $160 million since its 2018 inception. Other investors include Allegis Group, Sound Ventures and SiriusPoint.

While there are many insurance technology companies out there that serve consumers, there are far fewer that offer it to companies, much less startups. Vouch describes itself as “a new kind of insurance platform” for startups that offers fully digital, “tailored coverage that takes minutes to activate.”

Over the past year, Vouch has seen impressive growth. The company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, but said it saw “7x” increase in its customer base year over year and currently protects over $5.7 billion in risk across thousands of policies. Today, Vouch has more than 1,600 clients, including Pipe, Middesk, Neighbor and Routable. It is also the “preferred” business insurance provider to the customers of Silicon Valley Bank, Brex, Carta and WeWork. Y Combinator too also refers Vouch to its portfolio companies. 

To Vouch co-founder and CEO Sam Hodges, the ability to attract some of the highest-profile businesses in the startup world speaks to the company’s understanding of the startup ecosystem. 

“It’s our responsibility to meet startup founders where they are, and give startups flexibility as they navigate changing laws, regulations and the virtual and physical locations of their businesses,” he said.

Like many other companies, Vouch had to shift its model during the pandemic to adapt to the different types of emerging risks businesses have faced. For example, last year, Vouch saw a change in where its startup clients’ teams were distributed. Before the pandemic, nearly 30% of the teams were remote. During the pandemic, that figure has shifted to over 53%. As a result, Vouch developed a broader range of insurance coverages to adapt to the “new normal.”

Included in its new line of proprietary products and services aimed at startups are: work from anywhere coverage, broader cyber coverages and embedded insurance. It also expanded its underwriting capabilities to serve early-stage to growth-market startups.

In particular, the work from anywhere coverage is in direct response to the pandemic-related shift in remote work and can insure up to $500,000 per occurrence and can include a specified property owned by a startup regardless of the location of that property.

One major differentiator for Vouch, said Hodges, is that it is now the only business insurance provider that has its own insurance carrier, which means the company backs its own policies.

“This capability means we have a lot of control over how we build and underwrite our policies — which translates into superior coverage and a better experience for our clients,” he said.

 Hodges co-founded Vouch with Travis Hedge three years ago after seeing how challenging it could be for a company to get the business insurance it needs to start and then scale.

The goal is to make it as easy as possible to onboard new customers and personalize the coverage as much as possible based on each company’s needs based on what they do, their customer base, stage of growth and the founder’s threshold for risk.

“A typical client can get a quote and bind their coverage online in under 10 minutes, without any phone calls or paperwork,” he told TechCrunch. “Vouch also has many coverage features that are uniquely geared for startups. For example, our directors and officers coverage includes a cap table coverage feature meant specifically to protect startups.”

Vouch looks at startups that need business insurance on a case by case basis, Hodges added. 

For example, it asks questions like, “Does an e-commerce company handle a very limited amount of client-sensitive information?” If so, it could make sense that it has a lower cyber insurance coverage limit and pay less for its policy. 

Conversely, if a startup is trying to raise money, it might need to invest more in Vouch’s directors and officers insurance to make sure it is covered should disputes arise in the future. 

Looking ahead, Hodges said the new capital would go toward continued investment in technical capabilities, an expansion of its product offerings, more hiring and building embedded insurance for its partners.

With regard to the embedded capabilities, within the next 12 months, all of the company’s partners’ customers will be able to purchase Vouch insurance directly from those partners’ websites. Vouch’s headcount has more than doubled, from 55 employees in September 2020 to 125 full-time employees presently, and Hodges expects that will continue to grow.

Greg Becker, president and CEO of SVB Financial Group, said that Vouch’s mission aligns with SVB’s in that they both aim to “empower the innovation economy.” 

That’s what Vouch is doing today, helping startups and tech innovators mitigate their risks as they grow,” he wrote via email. “We are proud to co-lead Vouch’s latest funding round to give startups access to the insurance they need as they add headcount, increase their customer base, or raise funding rounds of their own.”

#digital-insurance, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance-technology, #insurtech, #recent-funding, #ribbit-capital, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #svb-capital, #venture-capital, #vouch

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

You can’t hack your YC application, but here’s what to avoid

The Y Combinator application season is upon us. I have been through YC a couple of times and have reviewed thousands of applications as a volunteer in later years.

Typically, you hear advice focused on ways to improve your YC application so it gets accepted. Here are some tips on what not to do and why so many YC applications get rejected. I’ve also put down some advice about what else to anticipate and take into consideration as you navigate the application process.

In short, don’t overthink your application, and keep it simple and straightforward.

When should I submit my YC application?

When in doubt, read YC’s instructions and answer the question literally. Avoid verbose marketing lingo and keep answers short and concise.

The best applications are often those made at the last minute, because applicants do not overthink their responses and toil over details they think need to be shoved into a question. While I do not recommend submitting applications at the deadline because the system has had issues receiving submissions, you can capture the essence of last-minute submissions by being clear and concise.

Remember that your application should be good enough to get an interview, not win a prize. Go back to work instead of spending more time perfecting an application.

YC experiments frequently. For this batch and the last, there was an early deadline that would give accepted teams access to YC before the batch officially began. Applying early gives you an opportunity to land an interview in the early round and to update your application to be considered in the standard round.

Is it OK to submit my YC application late?

#accelerator, #column, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #facebook, #funding, #san-francisco, #startup-accelerator, #startups, #venture-capital, #y-combinator, #yc

LOVE unveils a modern video messaging app with a business model that puts users in control

A London-headquartered startup called LOVE, valued at $17 million following its pre-seed funding, aims to redefine how people stay in touch with close family and friends. The company is launching a messaging app that offers a combination of video calling as well as asynchronous video and audio messaging, in an ad-free, privacy-focused experience with a number of bells and whistles, including artistic filters and real-time transcription and translation features.

But LOVE’s bigger differentiator may not be its product alone, but rather the company’s mission.

LOVE aims for its product direction to be guided by its user base in a democratic fashion as opposed to having the decisions made about its future determined by an elite few at the top of some corporate hierarchy. In addition, the company’s longer-term goal is ultimately to hand over ownership of the app and its governance to its users, the company says.

These concepts have emerged as part of bigger trends towards a sort of “web 3.0,” or next phase of internet development, where services are decentralized, user privacy is elevated, data is protected, and transactions take place on digital ledgers, like a blockchain, in a more distributed fashion.

LOVE’s founders are proponents of this new model, including serial entrepreneur Samantha Radocchia, who previously founded three companies and was an early advocate for the blockchain as the co-founder of Chronicled, an enterprise blockchain company focused on the pharmaceutical supply chain.

As someone who’s been interested in emerging technology since her days of writing her anthropology thesis on currency exchanges in “Second Life’s” virtual world, she’s now faculty at Singularity University, where she’s given talks about blockchain, A.I., Internet of Things, Future of Work, and other topics. She’s also authored an introductory guide to the blockchain with her book “Bitcoin Pizza.”

Co-founder Christopher Schlaeffer, meanwhile, held a number of roles at Deutsche Telekom, including Chief Product & Innovation Officer, Corporate Development Officer, and Chief Strategy Officer, where he along with Google execs introduced the first mobile phone to run Android. He was also Chief Digital Officer at the telecommunication services company VEON.

The two crossed paths after Schlaeffer had already begun the work of organizing a team to bring LOVE to the public, which includes co-founders Chief Technologist, Jim Reeves, also previously of VEON, and Chief Designer, Timm Kekeritz, previously an interaction designer at international design firm IDEO in San Francisco, design director at IXDS, and founder of design consultancy Raureif in Berlin, among other roles.

Explained Radocchia, what attracted her to join as CEO was the potential to create a new company that upholds more positive values than what’s often seen today —  in fact, the brand name “LOVE” is a reference to this aim. She was also interested in the potential to think through what she describes as “new business models that are not reliant on advertising or harvesting the data of our users,” she says.

To that end, LOVE plans to monetize without any advertising. While the company isn’t ready to explain its business model in full, it would involve users opting in to services through granular permissions and membership, we’re told.

“We believe our users will much rather be willing to pay for services they consciously use and grant permissions to in a given context than have their data used for an advertising model which is simply not transparent,” says Radocchia.

LOVE expects to share more about the model next year.

As for the LOVE app itself, it’s a fairly polished mobile messenger offering an interesting combination of features. Like any other video chat app, you can you video call with friends and family, either in one-on-one calls or in groups. Currently, LOVE supports up to 5 call participants, but expects to expand that as it scales. The app also supports video and audio messaging for asynchronous conversations. There are already tools that offer this sort of functionality on the market, of course — like WhatsApp, with its support for audio messages, or video messenger Marco Polo. But they don’t offer quite the same expanded feature set.

Image Credits: LOVE

For starters, LOVE limits its video messages to 60 seconds for brevity’s sake. (As anyone who’s used Marco Polo knows, videos can become a bit rambling, which makes it harder to catch up when you’re behind on group chats.) In addition, LOVE allows you to both watch the video content as well as read the real-time transcription of what’s being said — the latter which comes in handy not only for accessibility’s sake, but also for those times you want to hear someone’s messages but aren’t in a private place to listen or don’t have headphones. Conversations can also be translated into 50 different languages.

“A lot of the traditional communication or messenger products are coming from a paradigm that has always been text-based,” explains Radocchia. “We’re approaching it completely differently. So while other platforms have a lot of the features that we do, I think that…the perspective that we’ve approached it has completely flipped it on its head,” she continues. “As opposed to bolting video messages on to a primarily text-based interface, [LOVE is] actually doing it in the opposite way and adding text as a sort of a magically transcribed add-on — and something that you never, hopefully, need to be typing out on your keyboard again,” she adds.

The app’s user interface, meanwhile, has been designed to encourage eye-to-eye contact with the speaker to make conversations feel more natural. It does this by way of design elements where bubbles float around as you’re speaking and the bubble with the current speaker grows to pull your focus away from looking at yourself. The company is also working with the curator of Serpentine Gallery in London, Hans Ulrich-Obrist, to create new filters that aren’t about beautification or gimmicks, but are instead focused on introducing a new form of visual expression that makes people feel more comfortable on camera.

For the time being, this has resulted in a filter that slightly abstracts your appearance, almost in the style of animation or some other form of visual arts.

The app claims to use end-to-end encryption and the automatic deletion of its content after seven days — except for messages you yourself recorded, if you’ve chosen to save them as “memorable moments.”

“One of our commitments is to privacy and the right-to-forget,” says Radocchia. “We don’t want to be or need to be storing any of this information.”

LOVE has been soft-launched on the App Store where it’s been used with a number of testers and is working to organically grow its user base through an onboarding invite mechanism that asks users to invite at least three people to join you. This same onboarding process also carefully explains why LOVE asks for permissions — like using speech recognition to create subtitles, or

LOVE says its at valuation is around $17 million USD following pre-seed investments from a combination of traditional startup investors and strategic angel investors across a variety of industries, including tech, film, media, TV, and financial services. The company will raise a seed round this fall.

The app is currently available on iOS, but an Android version will arrive later in the year. (Note that LOVE does not currently support the iOS 15 beta software, where it has issues with speech transcription and in other areas. That should be resolved next week, following an app update now in the works.)

#a-i, #android, #animation, #app-store, #apps, #berlin, #blockchain, #ceo, #chief-digital-officer, #co-founder, #computing, #curator, #deutsche-telekom, #encryption, #facebook-messenger, #financial-services, #google, #ideo, #instant-messaging, #london, #love, #marco-polo, #messenger, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #serial-entrepreneur, #singularity-university, #social, #social-media, #software, #speaker, #startups, #technology, #whatsapp

ForgeRock files for IPO as identity and access management business grows

ForgeRock filed its form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this morning as the identity management provider takes the next step toward its IPO.

The company did not provide initial pricing for its shares, which will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol FORG. The IPO is being led by Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., with the company being valued as high as $4 billion, according to Bloomberg, which is a significant uplift over the $730 million post-money value that PitchBook had for the company after its last round in 2020.

With the ever-increasing volume of cybersecurity attacks against organizations of all sizes, the need to secure and manage user identities is of growing importance. Based in San Francisco, ForgeRock has raised $233 million in funding across multiple rounds. The company’s last round was a $93.5 million Series E announced in April 2020, which was led by Riverwood Capital alongside Accenture Ventures. At that time, CEO Fran Rosch told TechCrunch that the round would be the last before an IPO, which was also what former CEO Mike Ellis told us after the startup’s $88 million Series D in September 2017.

While the timing of its IPO might have been unclear over the last few years, the company has been on a positive trajectory for growth. In its S-1, ForgeRock reported that as of June 30, its annual recurring revenue (ARR) was $155 million, representing 30% year-over-year growth. 

While revenue is growing, losses are narrowing as the company reported a $20 million net loss down from $36 million a year ago. There certainly is a whole lot of room to grow, as the company estimates that the total global addressable market for identity services to be worth $71 billion. 

Among the many competitors that ForgeRock faces is Okta, which went public in 2017 and has been growing in the years since. In March, Okta acquired cloud identity startup Auth0 for $6.5 billion in a deal that raised a few eyebrows. Another competitor is Ping Identity, which went public in 2019 and is also growing, reporting on August 4 that its ARR hit $279.6 million in its quarter ended June 30, for a 19% year-over-year gain. There have also been a few big exits in the space over the years, including Duo Security, which was acquired by Cisco for $2.35 billion in 2018.

“ForgeRock has a good access management tool and they continue to be a strong player in customer identity and access management (CIAM),” commented Michael Kelley, senior research director at Gartner.

Kelley noted that in 2020, ForgeRock converted most of its core access management services to a SaaS delivery model, which helped the company catch up with the rest of the market that already offered access management as SaaS. Also last year the company expanded into identity governance, introducing a brand new identity, governance and administration (IGA) product.

“I think one of the more interesting products that ForgeRock offers is ForgeRock Trees, which is a no-code/low-code orchestration tool for building complex authentication and authorization journeys for customers, which is particularly helpful in the CIAM market,” Kelly added.

ForgeRock was founded in 2010, but its roots go back even further to an open-source single sign-on project known as OpenSSO that was created by Sun Microsystems in 2005. When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in early 2010, a number of its open-source efforts were left to languish, which is what led a number of former Sun employees to start ForgeRock. 

Over the last decade, ForgeRock has expanded significantly beyond just providing a single sign-on to providing an identity platform that can handle consumer, enterprise and IoT use-cases. The company’s platform today handles identity and access management as well as identity governance.

The ability to scale is a key selling point that ForgeRock makes in the S-1, noting that its platform can handle over 60,000 user-based access transactions per second per customer. 

“As of June 30, 2021, we had four customers with 100 million or more licensed identities, the company stated in the S-1. “Our ability to serve mission-critical needs in complex environments for large customers enables us to grow our base of large customers and expand within each of them. “

 

#access-management, #cloud-applications, #duo-security, #exit, #forgerock, #identity-management, #initial-public-offering, #ipo, #okta, #ping-identity, #san-francisco, #security, #startups

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.”

#apps, #bay-area, #bryan-schreier, #funding, #fundings-exits, #housing, #online-marketplace, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #sequoia, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

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.”

#agora, #construction, #construction-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jerry-yang, #kevin-hartz, #michael-ovitz, #procurement, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #tiger-global, #tiger-global-management, #venture-capital

zeroheight raises $10M round led by Tribe Capital to scale DesignOps for UX teams

High quality UX for websites and apps is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have if a company is to succeed. But scaling the impact of UX teams is not simple, and in recent years teams have turned to what’s know as DesignOps platforms to help them.

Now, a new startup hopes to become a key DesignOps platform for UX teams, and has raised money to help it, in turn, scale-up.

zeroheight has now raised a $10 million Series A funding round led by Tribe Capital, with participation from Adobe, Y Combinator, FundersClub, and Expa, as well as angel investors including Tom Preston-Werner (co-founder of GitHub), Bradley Horrowitz (VP Product at Google), Irene Au (built and ran UX design for Google) and Nick Caldwell (VP Engineering at Twitter).

London-based zeroheight will now expand to the San Francisco/Bay Area, and grow the team across the board. Its focus so far has been on UX documentation but it will now also explore other areas such as closing the gap between design and development.

Co-founder Jerome de Lafargue said: “zeroheight does for UX what DevOps platforms like GitHub do for building and shipping code, providing a central place to document and manage UX components, coupled with design APIs that allow teams to skip the design hand-off stage entirely and speed up the UX delivery process.”

He said the company addresses the scaling problem for UX teams: “Problems have emerged because UX teams have grown dramatically in the past few years, because UX is now so important for most companies to just compete. And so because of this you now need centralization, you need components that are reusable so that teams can be efficient and not lose quality as it keeps shipping.”

zeroheight counts several Fortune 500 companies like Adobe and United Airlines as customers among its 1,300+ customer base.

#co-founder, #europe, #fundersclub, #github, #google, #london, #san-francisco, #tc, #tom-preston-werner, #touchwiz, #united-airlines, #y-combinator

Early Affirm employees raise $70M for SentiLink, an identity verification startup

SentiLink, an identity verification technology startup, has raised $70 million in a Series B funding round led by Craft Ventures.

Felicis Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and NYCA also participated in the financing, which brings the company’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception. The company declined to reveal at what valuation the money was raised, saying only it was “at a very high multiple” of its 2019 $15 million Series A led by a16z.

Naftali Harris and Max Blumenfeld founded SentiLink in mid-2017 after their experience working as data scientists at Affirm, where they built out the company’s risk function. At one point during their tenure at the installment loan provider, they came across a “peculiar” fraud case, where 12 identities applied for loans using the same name and date of birth but 12 different Social Security numbers. 

The pair was surprised to discover that all 12 of the identities had real credit reports with 750+ credit scores despite not being real people. It was then they realized how big a problem identity verification was and how poorly it was done, and founded SentiLink with Affirm CEO and founder Max Levchin’s blessing and investment.

San Francisco-based SentiLink aims to help banks, lenders and financial institutions detect fraud at the point of application through a real-time API. Specifically, those APIs detect fake and stolen identities for new account applications. For example, before a bank issues a new credit card, it will send the application information to SentiLink. SentiLink’s models and technology assess the credit card application for various fraud risks, including identity theft and synthetic fraud. If SentiLink detects the application as high risk, the bank will ask for more information or reject the application. 

SentiLink works with more than 100 financial institutions, including three of the top 10 banks in the U.S. It has verified several hundred million applications to date, and saw its revenue grow by “5x” over the last year, according to Harris.

Craft Ventures co-founder and general partner David Sacks said SentiLink’s growth trajectory is “one of the fastest” he’s ever seen.

“Their traction with companies from new startups to major U.S. banks is impressive,” he added. “All of this stems from the team’s deep understanding of fraud and identity. I learned about fraud attacks I didn’t even think were possible from talking with Naftali and Max.”

Harris said the company was a few months away from profitability before its Series B but decided the opportunity was “too big to grow slowly.” So it opted to put off profitability so it could expand more “aggressively.” 

With the slew of companies in the space out there, it can be hard to differentiate what makes one unique compared to others.

To Harris, the biggest differentiation in SentiLink’s approach is how much it emphasizes “deep understanding of fraud and identity in our models.”

“We have a team of fraud investigators that manually review applications every day looking for fraud, and we use their insights and discoveries in our fraud models and technology,” he told TechCrunch. “This deep understanding is so important to us that every Friday the entire company spends an hour reviewing fraud cases.”

SentiLink, Harris added, focuses on “deeply” understanding fraud and identity, and then using technology to productionalize these insights.  Those discoveries include the deterioration of phone/name match data and uncovering “same name” fraud. 

“This deep understanding is so important that SentiLink employs a team of risk analysts whose full time job is to investigate new kinds of fraud and discover what the fraudsters are doing,” the company says. 

SentiLink, like so many other startups, saw an increase in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The various government assistance programs were rife with fraud. This had a cascading effect throughout financial services, where fraudsters that had successfully stolen government money attempted to launder it into the financial system,” Harris said. “As a result we’ve been very busy, particularly with checking and savings accounts that until now have had relatively little fraud.”

The startup plans to use its new capital to build out its product suite and do some hiring. Today it has 25 employees, with five accepted offers, and expects to end the year with a headcount of 45-50.

“Identity verification has so many aspects to it and approaches, and so we plan to significantly expand our product suite beyond the scoring API that we’ve started with,” Harris told TechCrunch. “Part of this will include continuing to invest heavily in our product team, part of this will involve partnering with other companies, and it may also include acquisitions.” 

At the end of September, for example, the company plans to launch a KYC (“Know Your Customer”) solution.   

Mike Marg, a principal at Craft, said Harris and Blumenfeld’s experience at Affirm “was a clear sign they were experts on this subject.”

“We love it when founders have an earned secret or insight around a massive problem that outsiders don’t understand, and SentiLink is a perfect example of this,” he said. “Their fast growth only validated that the problem they were solving for customers was urgent and painful.”

Other companies in the identity verification space that have recently raised money include Persona and Socure.

 

#andreessen-horowitz, #api, #craft-ventures, #david-sacks, #felicis-ventures, #finance, #fraud, #funding, #fundings-exits, #identity-theft, #identity-verification, #max-levchin, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #sentilink, #startups, #venture-capital

Human Interest raises $200M at a $1B valuation, plans for an IPO

Less than six months after raising $55 million in a Series C round of funding, SMB 401(k) provider Human Interest today announced it has raised $200 million in a round that propels it to unicorn status.

The Rise Fund, TPG’s global impact investing platform, led the round and was joined by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The financing included participation from new investor Crosslink Capital and existing backers NewView Capital, Glynn Capital, U.S. Venture Partners, Wing Venture Capital, Uncork Capital, Slow Capital, Susa Ventures and others. 

Over the past year, the San Francisco-based company has raised $305 million. With the latest financing, it has now raised a total of $336.7 million since its 2015 inception.

The company admittedly has an IPO in its sights, as evidenced by the appointment of former Yodlee CFO Mike Armsby to the role of CFO at Human Interest.

Human Interest’s digital retirement benefits platform allows users “to launch a retirement plan in minutes and put it on autopilot,” according to the company.  It also touts that it has eliminated all 401(k) transaction fees.

Demand for 401(k)s by SMBs appears to be at an all-time high, with Human Interest reporting that its sales tripled over the last year. The company has also more than doubled its headcount over the last 12 months to 350 employees.

The startup said it is seeing strong adoption in verticals that have not previously had retirement benefits, including construction, retail, manufacturing, restaurants, nonprofits, and hospitality. For example, over the past three quarters, Human Interest has seen 4.5x customer growth in the restaurant sector. Since the start of the pandemic, Human Interest has experienced 2x higher enrollment growth among hourly workers than salaried workers, and hourly worker assets have tripled.

“Promoting financial health is a core investment pillar for The Rise Fund. Human Interest delivers one of the most compelling solutions to the persistent problem that roughly half of Americans will not have enough savings when they reach retirement age,” said Maya Chorengel, co-managing partner at The Rise Fund, in a written statement. “Despite recent legislation, primarily at the state level, legacy programs have not, to date, produced the same participant outcomes as Human Interest.”

The company said it will be using its new capital to expand its network of integrations and partnerships with financial advisors, benefits brokers and payroll companies. It also expects to, naturally, do some hiring –– another 200 employees by year’s end, primarily in its product, engineering, and revenue teams.

The 401(k) for SMB space is heating up as of late. In June, competitor Guideline also raised $200 million in a round led by General Atlantic. 

#crosslink-capital, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #glynn-capital, #human-interest, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #startups, #susa-ventures, #uncork-capital, #venture-capital, #wing-venture-capital

Substack doubles down on uncensored ‘free speech’ with acquisition of Letter

Substack announced last week that it acquired Letter, a platform that encourages written dialogue and debate. The financials of the deal weren’t disclosed, but this acquisition follows Substack’s recent $65 million raise.

Newsletters are all the rage — Facebook launched its exclusive, celeb-studded Bulletin platform last month, and Twitter acquired the newsletter startup Revue earlier this year. Letter doesn’t publish email newsletters like Substack, but rather, it allows writers to engage in epistolary exchanges about fraught topics like Brexit, dating and the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. The idea behind Letter makes sense. Complicated conversations require nuance, yet these online debates too often happen on platforms like Twitter, where short-form tweets make it harder to have nuanced conversations.

“We could see that Letter, like Substack, was working in opposition to the ad-driven attention economy, attempting to change the rules of engagement for online discourse,” Substack wrote in its acquisition announcement.

But this acquisition may be cause for concern among those already troubled by the controversy Substack faced earlier this year, when news came out that the platform offered some writers up to six-figure advances as part of its Substack Pro program. The problem wasn’t that Substack was incentivizing writers to join the platform, but rather, who Substack had hand-picked to pay an advance. Plus, Substack says that it’s up to the writer to disclose whether or not they’re part of Substack Pro, which creates a lack of editorial transparency.

As Substack grew, writers left jobs at Buzzfeed and the New York Times, lured by pay raises and cautious optimism. But as more writers came forward as part of the Substack Pro program, Substack was criticized for subsidizing anti-trans rhetoric, since some of these writers used their newsletters to share such views. Substack admits it’s not entirely apolitical, but the choices of which writers to subsidize, and its decision to use only lightweight moderation tactics, are a strong political choice in an era of the internet when content moderation has a tangible effect on global politics. Some writers even chose to leave the platform.

Annalee Newitz, a non-binary writer who since left the platform, wrote on Substack, “Their leadership are deciding what kinds of writing and writers are worthy of financial compensation. […] Substack is taking an editorial stance, paying writers who fit that stance, and refusing to be transparent about who those people are.”

So, when Substack described its new acquisition Letter as a platform that encourages people to “argue in good faith instead of dropping bombs for retweets,” it made the acquisition worthy of a deeper examination. Statements like this sound agreeable, yet this kind of language often appears in arguments that deem social justice a threat to free speech. But free speech shouldn’t mean endorsing hate speech.

Substack wants to position itself as a neutral platform, and for many writers, it’s a valuable way to make money, especially in an unstable journalism industry. But given that some users have already become skeptical of who Substack chooses to financially incentivize, it’s worth examining the implications of buying Letter, a platform that includes writers associated with the so-called intellectual dark web in its group of twenty “featured writers.” On Letter, some of these writers question the validity of childhood transgender identity and refer to the statement “trans women are women” as propaganda, for example. Substack has already lost the trust of some trans and gender non-conforming writers, and the content on its newly acquired Letter won’t help rebuild that trust.

In addition, Letter co-founder Clyde Rathbone wrote in support of a controversial letter published in Harper’s Magazine, which called for the “concerted repudiation of cancel culture.” But critics of the letter point out that free speech isn’t really at stake here.

The open letter had been signed by over 150 prominent writers — like Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky (a Letter author), and Malcolm Gladwell (a Bulletin author). It argued: “We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.” These “professional consequences” echoed the predicament that J.K. Rowling — who also signed the letter — had put herself in. After denying that trans women are women, her reputation suffered. Some might call that “cancel culture,” but others might call it the refusal to continue to platform people who perpetuate harmful beliefs.

“The panic over ‘cancel culture’ is, at its core, a reactionary backlash,” wrote journalist Michael Hobbes. “Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis.”

Substack says it plans to use the acquisition of Letter to help writers collaborate, and that it won’t integrate Letter into its platform. Rather, the Letter team will relocate from Australia to San Francisco to “bring their expertise to help build more of the infrastructure and support.”

TechCrunch asked Substack if the anti-trans content on Letter is cause for concern within the company, given the recent backlash against the platform.

“We think that open debate and disagreement are absolutely part of having free press, and that includes views that you or I may not like,” a representative from Substack said. “Anyone could browse Substack and find things they agree with and things they don’t agree with. Substack has no ad-driven feeds pushing content based on virality and outrage, and there is a direct relationship between writers and readers who can opt out of that anytime. So the bar for us to intervene in that relationship and tell writers what they should be saying is really high, and the fact that Letter allowed writers to openly debate and discuss is consistent with that philosophy.”
We don’t know yet how or if Letter will change Substack — but given the existing discourse around the kind of content Substack pays for, Substack isn’t demonstrating “good faith” with this acquisition.

#apps, #australia, #bulletin, #buzzfeed, #co-founder, #facebook, #j-k-rowling, #journalist, #letter, #malcolm-gladwell, #operating-systems, #presidential-election, #revue, #san-francisco, #social-media, #software, #substack, #the-new-york-times, #twitter, #united-states, #world-wide-web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White-label SaaS shipping startup Outvio closes $3M round led by Change Ventures

Outvio, an Estonian startup that provides a white-label SaaS fulfillment solution for medium-sized and large online retailers in Spain and Estonia, has closed a $3 million early-stage financing round led by Change Ventures. Also participating were TMT Investments (London), Fresco Capital (San Francisco), and Lemonade Stand (Tallinn). Several angels also joined the round including James Berdigans (Printify) and Kristjan Vilosius (Katana MRP). This is the startup’s first institutional round of funding, after bootstrapping since 2018.

Online retailers usually have to use a number of different tools or hire expensive developers to create in-house shipping solutions. Outvio offers online stores of any size a post-purchase shipping experience, which seeks to replicate an Amazon-style experience where customers can also return packages. Among others, itcompetes with ShippyPro, which runs out of Italy and has raised $5 million to date.

Juan Borras, co-founder and CEO of Outvio said: “We can give any online store all the tools needed to offer a superior post-sale customer experience. We can integrate at different points in their fulfilment process, and for large merchants, save them hundreds of thousands in development costs alone.”

He added: “What happens after the purchase is more important than most shops realize. More than 88% of consumers say it is very important for them that retailers proactively communicate every fulfilment and delivery stage. Not doing so, especially if there are problems, often results in losing that client. Our mission is to help online stores streamline everything that happens after the sale, fueling repeat business and brand-loyal customers with the help of a fantastic post-purchase experience.”

Rait Ojasaar, Investment Partner at lead investor Change Ventures commented: “While online retailing has a long way to go, the expectations of consumers are increasing when it comes to delivery time and standards. The same can be said about the online shop operators who increasingly look for more advanced solutions with consumer-like user experience. The Outvio team has understood exactly what the gap in the market is and has done a tremendous job of finding product-market fit with their modern fulfilment SaaS platform.”

#amazon, #customer-experience, #e-commerce, #estonia, #europe, #italy, #london, #marketing, #merchandising, #online-shopping, #online-stores, #partner, #retail, #saas, #san-francisco, #spain, #tc, #tmt-investments

Twitter shuttering NY, SF offices in response to new CDC guidelines

Just two weeks after reopening its New York and San Francisco offices, social media giant Twitter said Wednesday that it will be closing those offices “immediately.”

The decision came “after careful consideration of the CDC’s updated guidelines, and in light of current conditions,” a spokesperson said.

“Twitter has made the decision to close our opened offices in New York and San Francisco as well as pause future office reopenings, effective immediately. We’re continuing to closely monitor local conditions and make necessary changes that prioritize the health and safety of our Tweeps,” the spokesperson added.

The company initially just reopened those offices on July 12. It declined to reveal headcount per office.

The CDC this week recommended that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high Covid transmission rates amid concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant.

Earlier today, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater reported that Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work on-site. It was part of a larger letter sent to Google/Alphabet staff that also noted the company will be extending its work-from-home policy through October 18, as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to sweep through the global population.

In a message to TechCrunch, Facebook’s VP of People, Lori Goler, confirmed a similar policy for the social media behemoth.

Amazon also responded to TechCrunch’s inquiry on the matter, noting, “We strongly encourage Amazon employees and contractors to be vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 vaccines are available to them.”

#ceo, #covid-19, #google, #san-francisco, #social, #software, #tc, #twitter

Magic lands $27M Series A for its ‘plug and play’ passwordless tech

Magic, a San Francisco-based startup that builds “plug and play” passwordless authentication technology, has raised $27 million in Series A funding.

The round, led by Northzone and with participation from Tiger Global, Volt Capital, Digital Currency Group and CoinFund, comes just over a year after Magic launched from stealth, rebranding from its previous name Formatic. 

The company, like many others, is on a mission to end traditional password-based authentication. Magic’s flagship SDK, which launched in April 2020, enables developers to implement a variety of passwordless authentication methods with just a few lines of code and integrates with a number of modern frameworks and infrastructures.

Not only does the SDK make it easier for companies and developers to implement passwordless auth methods in their applications, but it could also help to mitigate the expensive fallout that many have to deal with as a result of data breaches.

“This is why the password is so dangerous,” Sean Li, Magic co-founder and CEO tells TechCrunch. “It’s like a Jenga tower right now — a hacker breaching your system can download an entire database of encrypted passwords, and then easily crack them. It’s a huge central point of failure.”

The company recently built out its SDK to add support for WebAuthn, which means it can support hardware-based authentication keys like Yubico, as well as biometric-based Face ID and fingerprint logins on mobile devices. 

“It’s less mainstream right now, but we’re making it super simple for developers,” says Li. “This way we can help promote new technologies, and that’s really good for user security and privacy.” 

It’s a bet that seems to be working: Magic has recorded a 13% month-over-month increase in developer signups, and the number of identities secured is growing at a rate of 6% weekly, according to Magic. It’s also secured a number of big-name customers, from crypto news publisher Decrypt to fundraising platform Fairmint.

Wendy Xiao Schadeck, a partner at Northzone said: “We couldn’t be more excited to support Sean and the Magic team as they redefine authentication for the internet from the bottom up, solving a core pain point for developers, users, and companies. 

“It was clear to us that they’re absolutely loved by their customers because the team is so obsessed with serving every single part of the developer journey across several communities. What’s potentially even more exciting is what they will be able to do to empower users and decentralize the identity layer of the web.”

The company now plans to continue to scale its platform and expand its team to meet what Magic describes as “soaring” demand. The startup, which currently has 30 employees that work remotely on a full-time basis, expects to at least double its headcount across all core functions, including product, engineering, design, marketing, finance, people, and operations.

It’s also planning to hope to build out the SDK even further; Li says he wants to be able to plug into more kinds of technology, from low-code applications to workflow automations. 

“The vision is much bigger than that. We want to be the passport of the internet,” Li adds. 

#access-control, #coinfund, #computer-security, #cryptography, #decrypt, #developer, #digital-currency-group, #finance, #funding, #mobile-devices, #northzone, #password, #plug-and-play, #san-francisco, #security, #tiger-global, #volt-capital, #yubico, #yubikey

i80 Group has quietly committed $1B in credit to the fintech and proptech worlds

Not every startup wants to raise venture capital. And then there are those that do want to raise VC money but don’t want to use it for specific things.

In recent years, a number of firms have emerged looking to meet the credit needs of such venture-backed and growth startups: i80 Group is one of those firms.

Former Goldman Sachs investment banker Marc Helwani founded i80 in 2016 after investing in early-stage New York-based fintechs in 2014-2015 via his VC fund, Avenue A Ventures.

“It became very clear to me that fintech was going to explode,” he recalls. “At that time, it was still relatively new. And every time I spoke to a company, they would tell me, ‘We know how to raise VC, but what about the credit?’ I just saw this white space.”

For example, proptechs that buy homes on behalf of buyers don’t want to use venture money. Fintechs that want to make loans to consumers don’t want to use equity to do it. Instead, in those cases, credit might be more desirable.

Enter i80. The firm offers credit exclusively, and over the years has quietly committed more than $1 billion to over 15 companies –including real estate marketplace Properly, finance app MoneyLion and SaaS financing company Capchase — that have all raised a significant amount of venture capital but are looking for credit “to help them scale very efficiently and in a non-dilutive manner so they can retain more ownership of their companies,” Helwani said. 

Its $1 billion milestone follows fund commitments nearing $500 million from an unnamed “leading global asset manager” as well as other institutional and retail investors.

Image Credits: Founder and Chief Investment Officer Marc Helwani / i80 Group

I80 — which derives its name from the highway that connects New York and San Francisco — is mainly focused on the fintech and proptech sectors. 

“They are the two centers for the venture ecosystem,” Helwani said. “And we’re trying to be a bridge between those two cities.” I80 has offices in both locations and will soon be opening one in Montreal.

The firm works in conjunction with VC firms such as a16z (more formally known as Andreessen Horowitz); Affirm and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s SciFi; Khosla Ventures; Union Square Ventures; and QED.

“In a perfect world, venture capital would be called venture equity,” Helwani said. “VCs’ capital is critical for companies to hire and get office space. But when it comes time to do what the actual business is, such as provide loans or buy homes, capital like ours is very accretive without VCs and management losing ownership in the business. In these cases, using both credit and equity makes a lot of sense.”

Helwani is reluctant to call what i80 offers venture “debt.” He says that has a very specific connotation and is what Silicon Valley Bank and others like it do in providing debt as a percentage of a previous equity round. Instead, according to Helwani, i80’s approach is to minimize fees. The vast majority of its deals are “interest-rate related.”

“With mortgages, for example, we never think about the fees upfront, and focus more on the interest rate,” Helwan said. “We believe the more transparent we are, the more companies will want to work with us.”

I80 conducts quarterly calls with VCs and for now, that’s how it typically sources most of its deal flow. It also gets referrals. Helwani believes that i80 stands out from other firms also offering credit in that it’s “not trying to be credit investors in VC clothing.”

He also thinks that the fact that the i80 team is made of operators, as well as investors, is a contributing factor.

The firm is set to close another half a dozen deals in the next 60 to 90 days, and then plans to set its sights on raising more capital.

“We want to fill this void, and help companies raise money in their subsequent rounds at higher valuations,” Helwani said.

#andreesen-horowitz, #capchase, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #goldman-sachs, #i80-group, #khosla-ventures, #max-levchin, #montreal, #new-york, #qed, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #startups, #union-square-ventures, #venture-capital

Sundae closes on $80M for residential real estate marketplace

Sundae, a residential real estate marketplace that pairs sellers of dated or damaged property with potential buyers, has raised $80 million in a Series C funding round co-led by Fifth Wall and General Global Capital.

QED Investors, Wellington Management, Susa Ventures, Founders Fund, First American Financial, Prudence Holdings, Crossover VC, Intersect Capital, Gaingels and Oberndorf Ventures also participated in the financing. The round marks San Francisco-based Sundae’s third financing in a 13-month time frame, bringing its total raised since its August 2018 inception to $135 million. 

The San Francisco-based company declined to reveal at what valuation its Series C was raised. It also declined to provide hard revenue figures, saying only that it saw a 600% year-over-year increase in revenue from June 2020 to June 2021.

The startup aims to help people who need to sell dated or “damaged” properties for a variety of reasons — such as job loss, illness or divorce. In some cases, according to CEO and co-founder Josh Stech, such vulnerable sellers get taken advantage of by “predatory fix and flippers” seeking to capitalize on their misfortune. 

Since sellers in these situations don’t typically have the funds to fix up their properties before selling, Sundae lists the property for them on its platform – serving as an intermediary between sellers and investors. There, it is visible to about 2,600 qualified off-market buyers.

The company essentially aims to aggregate demand from “fix and flippers,” who use the marketplace to bid against each other for distressed properties. If the seller accepts and an inspection is completed, the company offers a $10,000 cash advance before closing to help homeowners with moving costs or other expenses.

Our goal is to displace wholesalers who exploit desperate or uninformed sellers and lock them into a contract which they turn around and assign to a property investor at a steep profit,” Stech said. “The tens of thousands of dollars in lost equity that goes to a wholesaler could mean the difference between paying off debts, or having enough money to retire.”

Sundae claims that on average, sellers receive 10 offers within three days on its marketplace.

Since its launch in January 2019, the startup has slowly been expanding its marketplace geographically. It went from operating in four markets in California at the end of last year to now operating in 14 markets across Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Utah.

Sundae makes money by charging buyers in its investor marketplace a fee when it “assigns” them a property. 

In the first quarter of this year, the startup launched a dedicated online marketplace for investors, where they can view properties and submit offers. Once an investor signs up to join the marketplace, they can access the full inventory of properties, including information such as photos, floor plan, 3D walkthrough and a third-party inspection report. 

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to expand to new markets, invest in its platform and “build brand awareness.” It also, of course, plans to boost its current headcount of 180 mostly remote employees.

Vik Chawla, a partner at Fifth Wall, believes Sundae is serving a segment of the residential real estate market that has historically been overlooked. 

“Their marketplace model simultaneously solves a crucial pain point for sellers by disrupting the wholesale industry, while delivering a platform that property investors can count on for reliable investment opportunities,” he said.

The company last raised $36 million in a Series B funding round in December 2020.

Interestingly, a slew of angel investors — including a number of athletes and celebrities — also put money in the company’s latest round, including: actor Will Smith, DJ Kygo, three-time NFL Super Bowl champion Richard Seymour of 93 Ventures, NFL All-Pro DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks, Matt Chapman of the Oakland A’s, Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers, Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets, Solomon Hill of the Atlanta Hawks, Kelly Olynyk of the Houston Rockets, NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas, three-time NBA Champion & Gold Medalist Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, Hassan Whiteside of the Sacramento Kings, Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors and 2020 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and Juventus midfielder, Weston McKennie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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