Version One launches $70M Fund IV and $30M Opportunities Fund II

Early stage investor Version One, which consists of partners Boris Wertz and Angela Tran, has raised its fourth fund, as well as a second opportunity fund specifically dedicated to making follow-on investments. Fund IV pools $70 million from LPs to invest, and Opportunities Fund II is $30 million, both up from the $45 million Fund III and roughly $20 million original Opportunity Fund.

Version One is unveiling this new pool of capital after a very successful year for the firm, which is based in Vancouver and San Francisco. 2021 saw its first true blockbuster exit, with Coinbase’s IPO. The investor also saw big valuation boosts on paper for a number of its portfolio companies, including Ada (which raises at a $1.2 billion valuation in May); Dapper Labs (valued at $7.5 billion after riding the NFT wave); and Jobber (no valuation disclosed but raised a $60 million round in January).

I spoke to both Wertz and Tran about their run of good fortune, how they think the fund has achieved the wins it recorded thus far, and what Version One has planned for this Fund IV and its investment strategy going forward.

“We have this pretty broad focus of mission-driven founders, and not necessarily just investing in SaaS, or just investing in marketplaces, or crypto,” Wertz said regarding their focus. “We obviously love staying early — pre-seed and seed — we’re really the investors that love investing in people, not necessarily in existing traction and numbers. We love being contrarian, both in terms of the verticals we go in to, and and the entrepreneurs we back; we’re happy to be backing first-time entrepreneurs that nobody else has ever backed.”

In speaking to different startups that Version One has backed over the years, I’ve always been struck by how connected the founders seem to the firm and both Wertz and Tran — even much later in the startups’ maturation. Tran said that one of their advantages is following the journey of their entrepreneurs, across both good times and bad.

“We get to learn,” she said. “It’s so cool to watch these companies scale […] we get to see how these companies grow, because we stick with them. Even the smallest things we’re just constantly thinking about— we’re constantly thinking about Laura [Behrens Wu] at Shippo, we’re constantly thinking about Mike [Murchison] and David [Hariri] at Ada, even though it’s getting harder to really help them move the needle on their business.”

Wertz also discussed the knack Version One seems to have for getting into a hot investment area early, anticipating hype cycles when many other firms are still reticent.

“We we went into crypto early in 2016, when most people didn’t really believe in crypto,” he said. “We started investing pretty aggressively in in climate last year, when nobody was really invested in climate tech. Having a conviction in in a few areas, as well as the type of entrepreneurs that nobody else really has conviction is what really makes these returns possible.”

Since climate tech is a relatively new focus for Version One, I asked Wertz about why they’re betting on it now, and why this is not just another green bubble like the one we saw around the end of the first decade of the 2000s.

“First of all, we deeply care about it,” he said. Secondly, we think there is obviously a new urgency needed for technology to jump into to what is probably one of the biggest problems of humankind. Thirdly, is that the clean tech boom has put a lot of infrastructure into the ground. It really drove down the cost of the infrastructure, and the hardware, of electric cars, of batteries in general, of solar and renewable energies in general. And so now it feels like there’s more opportunity to actually build a more sophisticated application layer on top of it.”

Tran added that Version One also made its existing climate bet at what she sees as a crucial inflection point — effectively at the height of the pandemic, when most were focused on healthcare crises instead of other imminent existential threats.

I also asked her about the new Opportunity Fund, and how that fits in with the early stage focus and their overall functional approach.

“It doesn’t require much change in the way we operate, because we’re not doing any net new investments,” Tran said. “So we recognize we’re not growth investors, or Series A/Series B investors that need to have a different lens in the way that they evaluate companies. For us, we just say we want to double down on these companies. We have such close relationships with them, we know what the opportunities are. It’s almost like we have information arbitrage.”

That works well for all involved, including LPs, because Tran said that it’s appealing to them to be able to invest more in companies doing well without having to build a new direct relationship with target companies, or doing something like creating an SPV designated for the purpose, which is costly and time-consuming.

Looking forward to what’s going to change with this fund and their investment approach, Wertz points to a broadened international focus made possible by the increasingly distributed nature of the tech industry following the pandemic.

“I think that the thing that probably will change the most is just much more international investing in this one, and I think it’s just direct result of the pandemic and Zoom investing, that suddenly the pipeline has opened up,” he said.

“We’ve certainly learned a lot about ourselves over the past year and a half,” Tran added. “I mean, we’ve always been distributed, […] and being remote was one of our advantages. So we certainly benefited and we didn’t have to adjust our working style too much, right. But now everyone’s working like this, […] so it’s going to be fun to see what advantage we come up with next.”

#boris-wertz, #coinbase, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #investment, #laura-behrens-wu, #money, #private-equity, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #tc, #vancouver, #venture-capital, #version-one, #version-one-ventures

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Architect Capital brings alternative capital to the early stage with new $100M fund

Early-stage startups are increasingly looking for alternative ways to access capital, meaning not every company wants to raise money from VCs or take on debt.

In recent years, a flurry of startups have emerged to give companies other options. (Think Pipe, for example.)

And today, San Francisco-based Architect Capital is a new firm that is launching with over $100 million in funds to serve as an “asset-based lender” to “high-growth,” early-stage tech companies. Specifically, the new firm aims to provide non-dilutive or less-dilutive financing options to asset-rich fintech, e-commerce and SaaS companies in the U.S. and Latin America, but with an emphasis on the latter. The region, Architect maintains, does not have a plethora of institutional financing available against assets.

The firm is not out to replace traditional venture capital or venture debt, emphasizes founder and CEO James Sagan, but rather to offer asset-based products that will complement them.

For some context, Sagan is no stranger to the startup world, having co-founded and served as managing partner of Arc Labs, an early-stage credit fund focused on lending to technology-enabled businesses. He’s been investing in Latin America for years, and recognized the need for new forms of financing to fund “novel and underappreciated assets.”

Also, he believes the region is home to “the most prominent fintech ecosystem in the world.”

To Sagan, traditional forms of equity and debt financing in the venture world are vital for things like growing headcount, but he believes they are “not engineered to support the growth of a company’s underlying financial products.”

“VC is highly dilutive and should be used for ROI activities such as hiring engineers and building great teams,” Sagan told TechCrunch. “It’s expensive to use equity to fund assets. Equity should not be put in a loan book. We’ll fund the loan book.”

Image Credits: Architect Capital founder James Sagan / Architect Capital

Architect’s goal is to provide “tailored and less dilutive funding,” especially to companies that produce repeatable revenues, such as SaaS and subscription businesses. 

Sagan said he first discovered the strategy in 2015 when he was working for a multifamily office that was lending against a bunch of traditional assets.

“A colleague and good friend of mine started a business and raised some equity and venture debt, but he couldn’t find the asset-specific financing for the receivables he was generating,” Sagan recalls. “He was lending to small businesses and needed asset-specific financing against those receivables.”

Venture debt doesn’t really work for receivables-based lending because venture debt shops typically are underwriting assets, or rather, underwriting the quality of the investors in the company, Sagan believes.

“So we really tailor our underwriting towards those assets themselves right and those assets range from unsecured consumer receivables to secure small business receivables to real estate,” he told TechCrunch. “Essentially, we’re providing an additional instrument for asset-heavy businesses that will allow them to scale in a way that venture debt will not.”

Architect’s LPs are mostly large institutions, as opposed to traditional high net worth individuals. The firm’s average check size will land at around $10 million to $15 million.

“Our portfolio allocation is more concentrated in general,” Sagan said. “We expect to grow our AUM (assets under management) pretty precipitously.”

Architect Capital has invested in six companies since inception, including PayJoy, a company that delivers consumer financing and smartphone technology to customers in emerging markets; Forum Brands, a U.S.-based e-commerce marketplace aggregator; and ADDI, a fintech that aims to give Colombian consumers access to fair and affordable credit through point-of-sale-financing that recently raised $65 million.

#architect-capital, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #funding, #latin-america, #money, #private-equity, #real-estate, #saas, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-debt

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Synctera raises $33M Series A to pair fintechs with banks

Synctera, which aims to serve as a matchmaker for community banks and fintechs, has raised $33 million in a Series A round of funding led by Fin VC.

The raise comes just under six months after the fintech raised $12.4 million in a seed round of funding.

New investors Mastercard and Gaingels also participated in the latest round, which included follow-on investments from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Diagram Ventures, SciFi Ventures and Scribble Ventures. Several angel investors put money in the Series A including Omri Dahan, Marqeta’s Chief Revenue Officer, Feedzai Chairman and CEO Nuno Sebastiao and Greenlight co-founder and CEO Tim Sheehan. 

Alongside the Series A, Synctera is also announcing its commitment to the new Cap Table Coalition – which includes funding from Gaingels, Neythri Futures Fund, Plexo Capital and over 20 angels – alongside other startups by allocating 10% of all funding rounds to “traditionally marginalized,” or underrepresented, investors via an SPV. (Fellow fintech Finix led the initiative earlier this year before forming this coalition but more on that later).

“This has exposed us to find great folks who we otherwise might not have known,” said Synctera’s co-founder and CEO Peter Hazlehurst. “That’s why we pledge to reserve 10% of this round and all future rounds to diverse investors.”

In a nutshell, San Francisco-based Synctera has developed a platform designed to help facilitate partnership banking. It was founded on the premise that some community banks and credit unions are actually turning down deals with young fintechs because the relationships can be too complicated or time-consuming to manage. Synctera’s goal is to connect community banks and fintechs to streamline the process with its “Banking-as-a-Service” (BaaS) platform.

TechCrunch recently caught up with Hazlehurst, who most recently served as former head of Uber Money and previously also led development of Google Wallet and products related to its payments system.

Put simply, Synctera wants to make it easier for community banks and fintechs to partner with each other. It examines banks’ needs and then sets them up with a fintech that is best suited to meet those needs. It claims to “do the work for both parties,” managing the partnership from its back-end platform, while dealing with issues like regulatory compliance, which can be a deterrent for some companies. The process of managing, reconciling and billing banks can result in “a lot of operational overhead and complexity,” according to the company.

The company says it’s built a “diverse” marketplace of banks and fintech companies so that it can apply a “personalized touch to each match” and make sure that the parties “align on geography, brand ethos, and desired business goals.”

So far, Synctera has signed three banks with plans to sign on three more this month. The startup has already paired Coastal Community Bank – a local bank serving the greater Puget Sound community – with One, a new digital banking platform, and Ellevest, a new fintech. 

By using Synctera’s platform, the company claims, banks can more freely allow their fintech counterparts to offer FDIC-insured mobile checking, debit cards, savings accounts or innovations in payments to their prospective customers, the company claims. They can also make more money doing so, Hazlehurst said, by bringing in more revenue beyond interchange fees.

“Like most small businesses, community banks have been hit hard by COVID-19,” he added. “We hope to further diversify community banks’ revenue streams.”

Banks can also more easily manage multiple relationships with various fintechs as the companies agree to adopt Synctera’s tech stack, the company claims.

“We build a single dashboard for a bank, so there’s a consolidated position across all fintechs,” Hazlehurst told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “It’s all about visibility for the bank.”

Currently Synctera has about 50 employees, including about two dozen engineers, most of whom are located in Canada, Hazlehurst said. The company plans to ramp up to 160 employees by year’s end with a focus on engineering, sales, marketing and customer success staff.

Looking ahead, Hazlehurst predicts that the fourth quarter will be “all about support for small business fintechs.”

“We want to create a neobank for gig economy workers, and want to add lending as a service,” he said. “But our next big phase is to onboard a lot of fintechs, and learn from them.”

Logan Allin, managing general partner and founder at Fin VC, believes that Banking-as-a-Service in general will transform legacy national and regional banks, credit unions, fintecs, corporate tech and retailers alike “as these players either seek to vertically integrate financial services or accelerate their digitization process.”

Synctera, he adds, has taken an approach with its tech stack that allows for integration with legacy community banks and their respective cores. This, Allin believes, will help ensure a “cloud native and scalable model” and made it an attractive investment. (Fin VC has also backed the likes of other fintechs such as Pipe and SoFi).

“Synctera’s peers are simply abstracting bank cores and serving as ‘API wrappers’ in a kludgy short-term approach and having come from the legacy bank and modern fintech worlds, we recognized that these players had not built sufficiently strong bridges across the ecosystem,” Allin told TechCrunch.

For his part, Finix Founder Richie Serna is thrilled that other startups are following his lead in the pledge to make their cap tables more diverse.

“After Finix announced our special purpose vehicle for Black and Latinx investors, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he told TechCrunch. “Startups in every sector and at every stage have asked us how to recreate our SPV. In response, we started the Cap Table Coalition to make it as easy as possible for more high-growth startups, like Synctera, to take control over their cap tables,” said Richie Serna, CEO and co-founder of Finix. “We see this as an inflection point that will completely upend how the VC world functions.”

Meanwhile, Synctera is not the only player trying to help banks and fintechs forge partnerships. Last week, TechCrunch reported on Visa said it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect program, which is designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

#api, #articles, #bank, #banking-as-a-service, #canada, #diversity, #economy, #fdic, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finix, #fintech, #founder, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #greenlight, #head, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #marqeta, #mastercard, #peter-hazlehurst, #player, #plexo-capital, #recent-funding, #richie-serna, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

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Goldman Sachs leads $202M investment in project44, doubling its valuation to $1.2B in a matter of months

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted a lot in the world, and supply chains are no exception. 

A number of applications that aim to solve workflow challenges across the supply chain exist. But getting real-time access to information from transportation providers has remained somewhat elusive for shippers and logistics companies alike. 

Enter Project44. The 7-year-old Chicago-based company has built an API-based platform that it  says acts as “the connective tissue” between transportation providers, third-party logistics companies, shippers and the systems. Using predictive analytics, the platform provides crucial real-time information such as estimated time of arrivals (ETAs).

“Supply chains have undergone an incredible amount of change – there has never been a greater need for agility, resiliency, and the ability to rapidly respond to changes across the supply chain,” said Jason Duboe, the company’s Chief Growth Officer.

And now, project44 announced it has raised $202 million in a Series E funding round led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Emergence Capital. Girteka and Lineage Logistics also participated in the financing, which gives project44 a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion. That doubles the company’s valuation at the time of its Insight Partners-led $100 million Series D in December.

The raise is quite possibly the largest investment in the supply chain visibility space to date.

Project44 is one of those refreshingly transparent private companies that gives insight into its financials. This month, the company says it crossed $50 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), which is up 100% year over year. It has more than 600 customers including some of the world’s largest brands such as Amazon, Walmart, Nestle, Starbucks, Unilever, Lenovo and P&G. Customers hail from a variety of industries including CPG, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing, pharma, and chemical.

Over the last year, the pandemic created a number of supply chain disruptions, underscoring the importance of technologies that help provide visibility into supply chain operations. Project44 said it worked hard to help customers to mitigate “relentless volatility, bottlenecks, and logistics breakdowns,” including during the Suez Canal incident where a cargo ship got stuck for days.

Looking ahead, Project44 plans to use its new capital in part to continue its global expansion. Project44 recently announced its expansion into China and has plans to grow in the Asia-Pacific, Australia/New Zealand and Latin American markets, according to Duboe.

We are also going to continue to invest heavily in our carrier products to enable more participation and engagement from the transportation community that desires a stronger digital experience to improve efficiency and experience for their customers,” he told TechCrunch. The company also aims to expand its artificial intelligence (AI) and data science capabilities and broaden sales and marketing reach globally.

Last week, project44 announced its acquisition of ClearMetal, a San Francisco-based supply chain planning software company that focuses on international freight visibility, predictive planning and overall customer experience. WIth the buy, Duboe said  project44 will now have two contracts with Amazon: road and ocean. 

“Project44 will power what they are chasing,” he added.

And in March, the company also acquired Ocean Insights to expand its ocean offerings.

Will Chen, a managing director of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, believes that project44 is unique in its scope of network coverage across geographies and modes of transport.  

“Most competitors predominantly focus on over-the-road visibility and primarily serve one region, whereas project44 is a truly global business that provides end-to-end visibility across their customers’ entire supply chain,” he said.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management, noted project44 CEO and founder Jett McCandless, will help the company grow not only by providing capital but through its network and resources.

#amazon, #api, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asia-pacific, #australia, #business, #chicago, #chief, #china, #clearmetal, #companies, #e-commerce, #emergence-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #insight-partners, #lenovo, #logistics, #manufacturing, #nestle, #new-zealand, #officer, #pg, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #starbucks, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #transportation, #unilever, #venture-capital, #walmart

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SpotOn raises $125M in a16z-led Series D, triples valuation to $1.875B

Certain industries were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, especially in its early days.

Small businesses, including retailers and restaurants, were negatively impacted by lockdowns and the resulting closures. They had to adapt quickly to survive. If they didn’t use much technology before, they were suddenly being forced to, as so many things shifted to digital last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For companies like SpotOn, it was a pivotal moment. 

The startup, which provides software and payments for restaurants and SMBs, had to step up to help the businesses it serves. Not only for their sake, but its own.

“We really took a hard look at what was happening to our clients. And we realized we needed to pivot, just to be able to support them,” co-CEO and co-founder Matt Hyman recalls. “We had to make a decision because our revenues also were taking a big hit, just like our clients were. Rather than lay off staff or require salary deductions, we stayed true to our core values and just kept plugging away.”

All that “plugging away” has paid off. Today, SpotOn announced it has achieved unicorn status with a $125 million Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

Existing backers DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group and Franklin Templeton also participated in the financing, in addition to new investor Mubadala Investment Company. 

Notably, the round triples the company’s valuation to $1.875 billion compared to its $625 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise last September. It also marks San Francisco-based SpotOn’s third funding event since March 2020, and brings the startup’s total funding to $328 million since its 2017 inception.

Its efforts have also led to impressive growth for the company, which has seen its revenue triple since February 2020, according to Hyman.

Put simply, 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 (POS) 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.

When the pandemic hit, SpotOn ramped up and rolled out 400 “new product innovations,” Hyman said. It also did things like waive $1.5 million in fees (it’s a SaaS business, so for several months it waived its monthly fee, for example, for its integrated restaurant management system). It also acquired a company, SeatNinja, so that it could expand its offering.

“Because a lot of these businesses had to go digital literally overnight, we built a free website for them all,” Hyman said. SpotOn also did things like offer commission-free online ordering for restaurants and helped retail merchants update their websites for e-commerce. “Obviously these businesses were resilient,” Hyman said. “But such efforts also created a lot of loyalty.” 

Today, more than 30,000 businesses use SpotOn’s platform, according to Hyman, with nearly 8,000 of those signing on this year. The company expects that number to triple by year’s end.

Currently, its customers are split about 60% retail and 40% restaurants, but the restaurant side of its business is growing rapidly, according to Hyman.

The reason for that, the company believes, is while restaurants initially rushed to add online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup, they soon realized they “wanted a more affordable and more integrated solution.”

Image Credits: SpotOn co-founders Zach Hyman, Doron Friedman and Matt Hyman / SpotOn

What makes SpotOn so appealing to its customers, Hyman said, is the fact that it offers an integrated platform so that businesses that use it can save “thousands of dollars” in payments and software fees to multiple, “à la carte” vendors. But it also can integrate with other platforms if needed.

In addition to growing its customer base and revenue, SpotOn has also boosted its headcount to about 1,250 employees (from 850 in March of 2020). Those employees are spread across its offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Mexico City, Mexico and Krakow, Poland.

SpotOn is not currently profitable, which Hyman says is “by choice.”

“We could be cash flow positive technically whenever we choose to be. Right now we’re just so focused on product innovation and talent to exceed the needs of our clients,” he said. “We chose the capital plan so that we could really just double down on what’s working so well.”

The new capital will go toward further accelerating product development and expanding its market presence.

“We’re doubling down on our single integrated restaurant management system,” Hyman said. 

The raise marks the first time that a16z has put money in the startup, although General Partner David George told TechCrunch he was familiar with co-founders Matt Hyman and Zach Hyman through mutual friends.

George estimates that about 80% of restaurants and SMBs use legacy solutions “that are clunky and outdated, and not very customer friendly.” The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more of these businesses seeking digital options.

“We think we’re in the very early days in the transition [to digital], and the opportunity is massive,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe we’re at the tipping point of a big tech replacement cycle for restaurant and small business software, and at the very early stages of this transition to modern cloud-native solutions.”

George was also effusive in his praise for how SpotOn has executed over the past 14 months.

“There are companies that build great products, and companies that can build great sales teams. And there are companies that offer really great customer service,” he said. “It’s rare that you find two of those and extremely rare to find all three of those as we have in SpotOn.”

#advisors, #andreessen-horowitz, #business-software, #chicago, #cloud, #denver, #detroit, #dragoneer-investment-group, #dst-global, #e-commerce, #finance, #fintech, #franklin-templeton, #fundings-exits, #krakow, #mexico, #mexico-city, #mubadala-investment-company, #olo, #payment-processing, #payments, #point-of-sale, #poland, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #series-c, #spoton, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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How Expensify shed Silicon Valley arrogance to realize its global ambitions

Expensify may be the most ambitious software company ever to mostly abandon the Bay Area as the center of its operations.

Expensify may be the most ambitious software company ever to mostly abandon the Bay Area as the center of its operations.

The startup’s history is tied to places representative of San Francisco: The founding team worked out of Peet’s Coffee on Mission Street for a few months, then crashed at a penthouse lounge near the 4th and King Caltrain station, followed by a tiny office and then a slightly bigger one in the Flatiron building near Market Street.

Thirteen years later, Expensify still has an office a few blocks away on Kearny Street, but it’s no longer a San Francisco company or even a Silicon Valley firm. The company is truly global with employees across the world — and it did that before COVID-19 made remote working cool.

“Things got so much better when we stopped viewing ourselves as a Silicon Valley company. We basically said, no, we’re just a global company,” CEO David Barrett told TechCrunch. That globalism led to it opening a major office in — of all places —a small town in rural Michigan. That Ironwood expansion would eventually lead to a cultural makeover that would see the company broadly abandon its focus on the Bay Area, expanding from a headquarters in Portland to offices around the globe.

It makes sense that a company founded by internet pirates would let its workforce live anywhere they please and however they want to. Yet, how does it manage to make it all work well enough to reach $100 million in annual revenue with just a tad more than 100 employees?

As I described in Part 2 of this EC-1, that staffing efficiency is partly due to its culture and who it hires. It’s also because it has attracted top talent from across the world by giving them benefits like the option to work remotely all year as well as paying SF-level salaries even to those not based in the tech hub. It’s also got annual fully paid month-long “workcations” for every employee, their partner and kids.

Yet the real story is how a company can become untethered from its original geography, willing to adapt to new places and new cultures, and ultimately, give up the past while building the future.

#david-barrett, #ec-1, #enterprise, #expense-management, #expensify, #michigan, #portland, #san-francisco, #tc

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Canvas lands $20M so tech’s biggest companies can find diverse talent

Ben Herman and Adam Gefkovicz launched Jumpstart in 2017 with a clear mission: to make the world more equitable via a more fair and balanced hiring process.

The company released its “Diversity Recruitment Platform” in July of 2018 with the aim of helping people earlier in their careers get a “jumpstart” via technology.

Over the years, the startup’s mission has evolved beyond helping college grads to helping all employees — regardless of career stage — get a fair shot at jobs. And it’s doing that by teaming up with hundreds of companies — such as Airbnb, Bloomberg, Coinbase, Samsung, Lyft, Pinterest, Plaid, Roblox, Audible, Headspace and Stripe — to help them hire a more diverse pool of candidates.

Demand has accelerated exponentially, and the San Francisco-based startup saw its revenue grow “3x” in 2020 compared to 2019, although execs declined to provide hard figures. Considering its broadened focus, Jumpstart has rebranded to Canvas and announced today that it has closed on $20 million in funding. Early Stripe employee and angel investor Lachy Groom and Sequoia Capital co-led the round, which included participation from Four Rivers Capital. The raise brings Canvas’ total raised to $32.5 million.

“We knew we were only scratching the surface of our vision, and knew we had a solution that could reimagine diversity hiring for everyone,” said co-founder and CEO Ben Herman. “You know how everyone has a CRM? We believe every company should have a DRP, which is a diversity recruitment platform. That’s the category we want to create and we want to be the largest in that space.”

No doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder helped, well jumpstart, the company’s efforts. Canvas is able to sell its offering as more companies “are being held accountable for their promises of equity and hiring diverse talent,” Herman said.

“Hiring diverse teams is not only a matter of corporate social responsibility,” he added. “Diversity and inclusion are a competitive advantage and strategic priority for every company in today’s landscape. We believe representation is a huge part of what we stand for. So we want everyone to be able to create their own canvas, and to be able to paint their own picture.”

Canvas describes its SaaS offering as a “fully virtual” recruiting platform that is based on self-reported data. About 87% of candidates on its platform disclose their demographic information (which it says is 7x the industry standard), according to the startup. Canvas also says it gives companies the ability to narrow down the priority groups and talent it wants to focus on by filtering over 75+ self-reported candidate data points.

The startup claims that it’s different from others in the space for that reason, among other features.

“Unlike other solutions that might utilize inferred data that could be inaccurate or illegal, Canvas helps create a more accurate data set to identify diverse candidates, helping to solve the core problem of talent discovery,” Herman said. 

It also — unlike some diversity hiring platforms — does not rely on artificial intelligence, a fact that Herman is actually proud of.

“We don’t believe that AI is the future. It’s not about getting someone’s gender or ethnicity based off of their name, or to inform the hiring decision without candidates knowing,” Herman told TechCrunch. “It’s all about how to empower talent to self-identify…We want to enable the talent to own their data, and truly be able to represent themselves in unique ways. That’s not leveraging AI.”

Canvas also gives companies a way to design, promote and run events, such as webinars, aimed at hiring diverse talent.

The startup also wants to get to a place where companies are working together “to complete the diversity data gap.”

“The problem is about accessibility, and so we want to give equal access to anyone and everyone — from all companies to all candidates,” Herman said. “And so that is really the most important part of what we are creating — the ability for companies to share data.”

So, how does it measure its own success? Canvas claims that 56% of all hires on the Canvas platform are made from underrepresented groups (URGs), and that it helps employers achieve a 30% reduction in time to hire.

Herman is not your typical startup founder, having dropped out of high school and starting his own recruitment agency at the age of 21. His tenacity is one of the things that attracted Sequoia partner and Canvas board member Mike Vernal to back the company.

“When we first met Ben, it was clear that he was…a natural-born talent scout,” Vernal told TechCrunch. “He thought there was a better way for the industry to work — one where companies and recruiters were more collaborative and used technology to build stronger, more diverse teams.”

Since its initial investment in the company, Vernal believes building diverse teams has never been more important.

“Those teams create better products, make stronger business decisions, and it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “We believe companies can do a better job sourcing underrepresented talent using Canvas than on their own.” 

Canvas plans to use its new capital to expand the product into other industries and verticals beyond technology and continue to address the recruiting process for later stages of people’s careers. The company currently has 70 employees and expects to have 100 by the end of 2021.

As mentioned above, hiring diverse talent is becoming a bigger priority for big tech companies (such as HP) and startups alike. Earlier this year, diverse hiring startup SeekOut raised $65 million. The company has built out a database with hundreds of millions of profiles using its AI-powered talent search engine and “deep interactive analytics.”

#artificial-intelligence, #board-member, #canvas, #coinbase, #diversity, #economy, #employment, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #human-resource-management, #jumpstart, #lachy-groom, #lyft, #mike-vernal, #pinterest, #recent-funding, #recruitment, #san-francisco, #search-engine, #sequoia-capital, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #talent, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Affirm spinout Resolve raises $60M for its B2B ‘buy now, pay later’ platform

Buy now, pay later is everywhere these days, mostly focused on the consumer.

Resolve — a San Francisco-based startup in the space specializing in “buy now, pay later” capabilities for B2B transactions — announced today that it has raised $60 million in funding. Initialized Capital led the round — the company’s first funding since its 2019 inception. KSD Capital, Haystack VC, Commerce Ventures, Clocktower Ventures and others also participated.

The funding is a combination of equity and asset funding according to co-founder and CEO Chris Tsai, although he declined to reveal the breakdown.

Since launching as a spinout from Affirm in 2019, Resolve says it has seen “overwhelming” demand for its B2B buy now, pay later (BNPL) billing offering for business purchases. Notably, the two companies refer business to each other. Tsai describes Affirm founder Max Levchin as a “friend” with whom he has been working in a variety of capacities since 2012. (He’s also reportedly an investor in the company.)

Unlike Affirm — which is more focused on the consumer — Resolve is exclusively focused on business-to-business billing by automating the process of billing and purchasing on credit. What it’s doing is basically allowing businesses to defer payments digitally and on better terms than what they’ve seen historically via an automated underwriting process, the company claims. This, it says, can lead to faster invoice payment and thus, improved cash flow. 

The company also claims it can offer extended payment terms with buyers not having to pay any interest or fees if accounts are repaid within the agreed-upon terms. Meanwhile, merchants receive full payment (minus any fees) as soon as an order is placed. 

Resolve offers businesses loan terms ranging from 30 to 90 days and gives them more control of their billing and cash flow, according to Tsai. While he declined to give specifics around any growth metrics, he said the company has seen a “significant and meaningful” uptick in growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic because of so many businesses’ shift to digital e-commerce. For example, one of its customers is a bike merchant that had to expand into online selling in the wake of the pandemic.

“This is not a new transaction type, but being able to do it in this new digital or e-commerce way of buy now, pay later, like Affirm — that’s very new and in fact it’s still very much not the norm yet,” he told TechCrunch. “But we’re finding, especially post-pandemic, incredible demand for switching to more digital e-commerce payment formats.”

Image Credits: Resolve

Among Resolve’s features is a “Smart Credit Engine,” which the company says creates a direct sync with a merchant’s real-time data feed of past payment histories to allow for “immediate” credit line decisioning with no input required from buyers.

Its embedded bill payment portal gives its B2B customers a way to pay vendor bills “while building their business credit history” bureaus, the company says.

“Digital and e-commerce transformation is coming for B2B payments,” Tsai said. “Growing companies must balance heightened demand for deferring payments from their business customers with their own limited capacities to satisfy that demand.”

The embedded nature of Resolve’s platform gives it an edge, Tsai believes, in that it integrates into a company’s existing financial tech stack. The benefit to the business, he said, is increased growth and sales revenue as well as optimized cash flow “while removing risk for the company.”

Initialized Capital General Partner Alda Leu Dennis said she was familiar with Tsai and co-founder Brian Nguyen since their days at Celery, their prior startup. She views them as experienced and determined.

We also have conviction around the clear market need for digitizing net terms for small businesses that are increasingly moving their ordering online,” she said.

In her view, Resolve’s unique differentiation is that it provides software that solves net terms billing complexity. 

“Businesses desperately need to manage their B2B billing operations, from helping them gauge the strength of their customers to chasing down payments,” she told TechCrunch. “Their [Resolve’s] approach of accelerating payments and collections via software and offering payment terms as an ancillary service is a powerful pairing; it provides an easy yet comprehensive way for merchants to improve their entire system of managing receivables and billing on credit.”

The San Francisco startup is using the money primarily to grow its embedded billing platform.

“We’re doing a lot of work to scale the platform. So we’re investing heavily in products and the customer sides of the business, given all the demand that we’ve seen,” Tsai said. “The operations software that we’ve built is very seamless for our customers, but there’s a lot going on in the background that we have to do to reduce the complexity for our customers.”

#affirm, #alda-leu-dennis, #articles, #clocktower-ventures, #commerce-ventures, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #haystack-vc, #initialized-capital, #marketing, #max-levchin, #online-selling, #online-shopping, #payments, #recent-funding, #resolve, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Flush with $42M, hot AI startup Faculty plans to hoover-up more PhDs… and steer clear of politics

In the wake of the news that UK-based AI startup Faculty has raised $42.5 million in a growth funding round, I teased out more from CEO and co-founder Marc Warner on what his plans are for the company.

Faculty seems to have an uncanny knack of winning UK government contracts, after helping Boris Johnson win his Vote Leave campaign and thus become Prime Minister. It’s even helping sort out the mess that Brexit has subsequently made of the fishing industry, problems with the NHS, and telling global corporates like Red Bull and Virgin Media what to suggest to their customers. Meanwhile, it continues to hoover up Ph.D. graduates at a rate of knots to work on its AI platform.

But, speaking to me over a call, Warner said the company no longer has plans to enter the political sphere again: “Never again. It’s very controversial. I don’t want to make out that I think politics is unethical. Trying to make the world better, in whatever dimension you can, is a good thing … But from our perspective, it was, you know, ‘noisy,’ and our goal as an organization is, despite current appearances to the contrary, is not to spend tonnes of time talking about this stuff. We do believe this is an important technology that should be out there and should be in a broader set of hands than just the tech giants, who are already very good at it.”

On the investment, he said: “Fundamentally, the money is about doubling down on the UK first and then international expansion. Over the last seven years or so we have learned what it takes to do important AI, impactful AI, at scale. And we just don’t think that there’s actually much of it out there. Customers are rightly sometimes a bit skeptical, as there’s been hype around this stuff for years and years. We figured out a bunch of the real-world applications that go into making this work so that it actually delivers the value. And so, ultimately, the money is really just about being able to build out all of the pieces to do that incredibly well for our customers.”

He said Faculty would be staying firmly HQ’d in the UK to take advantage of the UK’s talent pool: “The UK is a wonderful place to do AI. It’s got brilliant universities, a very dynamic startup scene. It’s actually more diverse than San Francisco. There’s government, there’s finance, there are corporates, there’s less competition from the tech giants. There’s a bit more of a heterogeneous ecosystem. There’s no sense in which we’re thinking, ‘Right, that’s it, we’re up and out!’. We love working here, we want to make things better. We’ve put an enormous amount of effort into trying to help organizations like the government and the NHS, but also a bunch of UK corporates in trying to embrace this technology, so that’s still going to be a terrifically important part of our business.”

That said, Faculty plans to expand abroad: “We’re going to start looking further afield as well, and take all of the lessons we’ve learned to the US, and then later Europe.”

But does he think this funding round will help it get ahead of other potential rivals in the space? “We tend not to think too much in terms of rivals,” he says. “The next 20 years are going to be about building intelligence into the software that already exists. If you look at the global market cap of the software businesses out there, that’s enormous. If you start adding intelligence to that, the scale of the market is so large that it’s much more important to us that we can take this incredibly important technology and deploy it safely in ways that actually improve people’s lives. It could be making products cheaper or helping organizations make their services more efficient.”

If that’s the case then does Faculty have any kind of ethics panel overseeing its work? “We have an internal ethics panel. We have a set of principles and if we think a project might violate those principles, it gets referred to that ethics panel. It’s randomly selected from across faculty. So we’re quite careful about the projects that we work on and don’t. But to be honest, the vast majority of stuff that’s going on is very vanilla. They are just clearly ‘good for the world’ projects. The vast majority of our work is doing good work for corporate clients to help them make their businesses that bit more efficient.”

I pressed him to expand on this issue of ethics and the potential for bias. He says Faculty “builds safety in from a start. Oddly enough, the reason I first got interested in AI was reading Nick Bostrom’s work about superintelligence and the importance of AI safety. And so from the very, very first fellowship [Faculty AI researchers are called Fellows] all the way back in 2014, we’ve taught the fellows about AI safety. Over time, as soon as we were able, we started contributing to the research field. So, we’ve published papers in all of the biggest computer science conferences Neurips, ICM, ICLR, on the topic of AI safety. How to make algorithms fair, private, robust and explainable. So these are a set of problems that we care a great deal about. And, I think, are generally ‘underdone’ in the wider ecosystem. Ultimately, there shouldn’t be a separation between performance and safety. There is a bit of a tendency in other companies to say, ‘Well, you can either have performance, or you can have safety.’ But of course, we know that’s not true. The cars today are faster and safer than the Model T Ford. So it’s a sort of a false dichotomy. We’ve invested a bunch of effort in both those capabilities, so we obviously want to be able to create a wonderful performance for the task at hand, but also to ensure that the algorithms are fair, private, robust and explainable wherever required.”

That also means, he says, that AI might not always be the ‘bogeyman’ the phrase implies: “In some cases, it’s probably not a huge deal if you’re deciding whether to put a red jumper or a blue jumper at the top of your website. There are probably not huge ethical implications in that. But in other circumstances, of course, it’s critically important that the algorithms are safe and are known to be safe and are trusted by both the users and anyone else who encounters them. In a medical context, obviously, they need to be trusted by the doctors and the patients need to make sure they actually work. So we’re really at the forefront of deploying that stuff.”

Last year the Guardian reported that Faculty had won seven government contracts in 18 months. To what does he attribute this success? “Well, I mean, we lost an enormous number more! We are a tiny supplier to government. We do our best to do work that is valuable to them. We’ve worked for many many years with people at the home office,” he tells me.

“Without wanting to go into too much detail, that 18 months stretches over multiple Prime Ministers. I was appointed to the AI Council under Theresa May. Any sort of insinuations on this are just obviously nonsense. But, at least historically, most of our work was in the private sector and that continues to be critically important for us as an organization. Over the last year, we’ve tried to step up and do our bit wherever we could for the public sector. It’s facing such a big, difficult situation around COVID, and we’re very proud of the things we’ve managed to accomplish with the NHS and the impact that we had on the decisions that senior people were able to undertake.”

Returning to the issue of politics I asked him if he thought – in the wake of events such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, which were both affected by AI-driven political campaigning – AI is too dangerous to be applied to that arena? He laughed: “It’s a funny old funny question… It’s a really odd way to phrase a question. AI is just a technology. Fundamentally, AI is just maths.”

I asked him if he thought the application of AI in politics had had an outsized or undue influence, on the way that political parties have operated in the last few years: “I’m afraid that is beyond my knowledge,” he says. But does Faculty have regrets about working in the political sphere?

“I think we’re just focused on our work. It’s not that we have strong feelings, either way, it’s just that from our perspective, it’s much, much more interesting to be able to do the things that we care about, which is deploying AI in the real world. It’s a bit of a boring answer! But it is truly how we feel. It’s much more about doing the things we think are important, rather than judging what everyone else is doing.”

Lastly, we touched on the data science capabilities of the UK and what the new fund-raising will allow the company to do.

He said: “We started an education program. We have roughly 10% of the UK’s PhDs in physics, maths, engineering, applying to the program. Roughly 400 or so people have been through that program and we plan to expand that further so that more and more people get the opportunity to start a career in data science. And then inside Faculty specifically, we think we’ll be able to create 400 new jobs in areas like software engineering, data science, product management. These are very exciting new possibilities for people to really become part of the technology revolution. I think there’s going to be a wonderful like new energy in Faculty, and hopefully a positive small part in increasing the UK tech ecosystem.”

Warner comes across as sincere in his thoughts about the future of AI and is clearly enthusiastic about where Faculty can take the whole field next, both philosophically and practically. Will Faculty soon be challenging that other AI leviathan, DeepMind, for access to all those Ph.D.s? There’s no doubt it will.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #boris-johnson, #cybernetics, #energy, #europe, #faculty, #films, #finance, #it, #nhs, #nick-bostrom, #product-management, #san-francisco, #software-engineering, #tc, #the-guardian, #theresa-may, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #virgin-media, #you

0

British AI startup Faculty raises $42.5M growth round led by Apax Digital Fund

British artificial intelligence (AI) company, Faculty has raised £30 million ($42.5M) in growth funding from the Apax Digital Fund (ADF). The startup has now raised a total of £40m ($56.6M) to date.

In April this year, the company announced it had won a contract to work with the UK’s NHS to better predict its future needs. It has also picked up at least seven other UK government contracts. Its customers include the UK’s National Crime Agency, Red Bull, Virgin Media, and Moonpig.

The company says it now expects to create over 400 new jobs across its engineering, product and delivery teams. The investment will also be put toward the rollout of Faculty’s new learning and development programme. Founded in 2014 by Dr Marc Warner, Dr Angie Ma and Andrew Brookes, the company is noted for its fondness for hiring swathes of maths and data science PhDs.

Far from being an aloof R&D AI operation, Faculty pitches more as an “AI as a Service”, applying its platform to real-world data for the purposes of real-world outcomes, such as optimizing a company’s marketing spend or forecasting demand for consumer goods. That said, Faculty became briefly notorious after applying its platform to the cause of Vote Leave during the UK referendum.

After helping the campaign win that fight, it’s ironically now been awarded a public contract to help the British government apply machine learning to Britain’s post-Brexit fishing waters, even as the fishing industry comes under considerable strain… because of Brexit.

Speaking to me over a call (a longer interview will be available later) Marc Warner, CEO, and co-founder of Faculty told me the company has no plans to work in the political sphere again: “Never again. It’s very controversial. I don’t want to make out that I think politics is unethical. Trying to make the world better, in whatever dimension you can, is a good thing… But from our perspective, it was, you know, ‘noisy’, and our goal as an organization is, despite current appearances to the contrary, is not to spend tonnes of time talking about this stuff. We do believe this is an important technology that should be out there and should be in a broader set of hands than just the tech giants, who are already very good at it.”

Of the investment, he said: “This is about doubling down on the UK first and then international expansion. We have learned what it takes to do important, impactful AI at scale. And we just don’t think that there’s actually much of it out there. Customers are rightly sometimes a bit skeptical. There’s been hype around this stuff for years and years. We figured out a bunch of real-world applications that actually deliver value. And so, ultimately, the money [we’ve raised] is really just about being able to build out all of the pieces to do that incredibly well for our customers.”

He added that Faculty plans to continue to take advantage of the UK’s talent pool: “The UK is a wonderful place to do AI. It has brilliant universities and a very dynamic startup scene. It’s actually more diverse than San Francisco. There’s government, there’s finance, there’s corporates, there’s less competition from the tech giants, so there’s a bit more of a heterogeneous ecosystem.”

Mark Beith, partner at Apax Digital, who joins Faculty’s board of directors, said: “Faculty is a world-leading AI company with cutting-edge technology, inspiring people and culture, and with phenomenal customer feedback. They enable customers to realize the tremendous value of AI quickly but responsibly, providing robust, fair, and explainable AI, with advanced data privacy. We have seen the power and impact of their solutions first-hand, as a client, and are thrilled to partner with Marc, Angie, Andy, and the team to support their global expansion.”

The Apax Digital Fund joins Faculty’s existing investors, including Guardian Media Group Ventures, LocalGlobe, and Jaan Tallinn, one of Skype’s founding engineers.

The Estonian investor gave Faculty 350 units of Ether in January 2018, worth about $434,000 at the time, and 50 Bitcoins in March 2020, worth about $316,000, according to Faculty’s financial filings at the U.K. business registry Companies House.

#apax-digital-fund, #apax-partners, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #europe, #faculty, #finance, #jaan-tallinn, #localglobe, #machine-learning, #marc, #nhs, #partner, #red-bull, #san-francisco, #science-and-technology, #tc, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #virgin-media

0

Eano’s Stella Wu is not your typical construction tech startup founder

Renovating a home is an exciting, yet often fraught-filled, endeavor.

One startup that aims to help make the process simpler, cheaper and less stressful by helping people manage the home renovation process has raised $6 million to help it grow even faster. Builders VC led the round, which included participation from Celtic, Newfund and Wish co-founder Danny Zhang, who also sits on Eano’s board.

Stella Wu, who formerly worked as a growth product manager at Wish, got firsthand experience of the pain points related to the process when she bought her own house in 2017.

“I realized there were a lot of fragmented issues in the renovation space, especially when it came to the individual workers,” she recalls. “They were not reliable and bad at communication.”

So in 2019 she founded Eano, a San Francisco-based startup that aims to walk a homeowner through a renovation and help connect individual contractors with new clients. Eano also works on projects like building ADUs (accessory dwelling units).

As more people spent time at home last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the startup saw its contract revenue spike by 5x, Wu says. And in the first quarter of this year, business was up 70% year over year.

Image Credits: Eano CEO and founder Stella Wu / Eano

Eano, she said, offers competitive and transparent pricing so that homeowners aren’t surprised as a remodeling project goes on. Its automated process tracks all communications and progress in one place and the company has grown what it describes as a “network of experienced, local professionals” that are fully licensed, vetted and insured that it pairs homeowners with on projects.

“There’s all these individual contractors out there and even though they are very affordable, it’s very hard for them to get to the homeowners, as they don’t have much resources,” Wu, a Chinese immigrant, told TechCrunch. “So they come to us and we basically take care of it all.” For now, Eano is operating in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, with plans to expand to Seattle and Houston this year.

The company plans to take its new capital and “go deep into the product side.”

Once they become a client, homeowners can use Eano to select a certain remodeling package, and then they can check the project progress, communicate with the team and even see the progress through videos.

“We’re also helping contractors make communicating and receiving payment much easier,” Wu said. “We’re also helping these individual contractors increase the brand, and helping them with the administration and customer support side with our software.”

Jim Kim of Builders VC, said he first encountered Wu and Jung while they were at Wish.

“We invest in people, and when you can find extremely talented entrepreneurs who have built successful companies and still have the hunger to win, you jump in with a blank check,” he said. “We love Eano’s mission — combining a similar product sourcing strategy as Wish with technology to bring a better experience to all constituents in the antiquated construction industry.”

Kim is also impressed by the fact that Wu is driven to prove “that you don’t need to be a 55-year-old man wearing steel-toed boots to have a meaningful impact on construction.”

“We love that ethos — it matches with our thinking about backing entrepreneurs who don’t fit into the stereotypical box,” Kim said.

#builders-vc, #construction-tech, #danny-zhang, #eano, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #funding, #fundings-exits, #home-improvement, #houston, #jim-kim, #los-angeles, #newfund, #private-equity, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #renovation, #san-francisco, #seattle, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #wish

0

Ex-Square execs launch Found to help the self-employed, raise $12.75M from Sequoia

If you’ve ever been self-employed you know what a pain it is to keep up with the hassles of running a business. From bookkeeping to invoicing to paying taxes — it’s one big headache.

Freelancers and self-employed people often turn to a number of different solutions to try and address different aspects of running their business. It can be a lot to keep up with.

Enter Found. Previously called Indie, the startup was founded by two former Square execs who got firsthand insight into how SMBs paid their employees.

Lauren Myrick joined Square in 2010 and was the second project manager at the company. She helped launch its first POS (point-of-sale) product and its SaaS products. She eventually became GM of its payroll business unit, and that was her first foray into taxes and understanding their implication. Co-founder Connor Dunn ran engineering for Square Payroll.

After that experience, the pair saw an opportunity to launch a suite of services for self-employed businesses, which have been growing even faster during COVID.

“We started to pay attention to the movement toward self-employment,” Myrick told TechCrunch.

So in 2019, the pair interviewed “lots” of self-employed people to better understand their pain points. What they found is that taxes and expense tracking were considered among the more painful and expensive parts of being self-employed. So they formed Found (formerly called Indie) with the goal of creating a “one-stop shop” for business banking, bookkeeping and taxes for self-employed businesses.

And today, the San Francisco-based startup has raised $12.75 million in a round led by Sequoia that also included participation from some angel investors.

Image Credits: Found co-founders Lauren Myrick and Connor Dunn / Found

Myrick is no stranger to being self-employed herself, having worked as a public accountant after college. Also, her sister is a self-employed yoga instructor.

In Found, Myrick’s two previous professional worlds have come together. 

“With my accounting background and what I learned at Square, I had this big aha moment that we could become a ledger for these businesses, and solve their bookkeeping and tax needs through software,” she said. “So that’s what we’ve built.”

Customers can use the platform to do things like deposit business income, obtain a debit card for business purchases and calculate how much they owe in taxes. The platform also offers a feature that sets aside the money for, and facilitates, the quarterly tax payments, for example. It also offers real-time business and tax reports, so when a business owner swipes their card, expenses are reflected in real time.

Sequoia’s Josephine Chen and Alfred Lin said they were impressed with Myrick from their first call with her.

“Lauren has incredible context and command of the details. She talked about the hoops self-employed people have to jump through to fill out their Schedule Cs; she explained some of the finer points of different tax codes — and we were riveted,” the pair say.

Lin said he was particularly intrigued by the concept of Found because while he was in graduate school he ran a small data analysis business on the side.

“I had to invoice, report on taxes and do my own bookkeeping,” he recalls. “And I kept it together with a spreadsheet. I thought to myself that there should be better tools to do some of this stuff. And that is what Lauren has done with Found.”

#accounting, #alfred-lin, #bookkeeping, #business, #economy, #employment, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #found, #funding, #invoice, #point-of-sale, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #self-employed, #sequoia, #startups, #tax

0

Equity Monday: Elon Musk Elon Musk’s the crypto markets, while Indian startups raise huge rounds

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

There was lots to get through today, so, in order, here’s the rundown:

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

#apollo, #att, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-monday, #houm, #india, #moglix, #pine-labs, #real-estate, #san-francisco, #sequoia, #tc, #twitter, #verizon, #vise, #y-combinator

0

Sanlo raises $3.5M to help apps and games gain access to financial insights and capital

Having a great idea for an app or game is one thing, but scaling it to become a successful business is quite another. A new fintech startup called Sanlo aims to help. The company, which is today announcing an oversubscribed $3.5 million seed round, offers small to medium-sized game and app companies access to tools to manage their finances and capital to fuel their growth.

To be clear, Sanlo is not an investor that’s taking an equity stake in the apps and games it finances. Instead, it’s offering businesses access to technology, tools, and insights that will allow them to achieve smart and scalable growth while remaining financially healthy — even if they’re a smaller company without time to sit down and structure their finances. Then, when Sanlo’s proprietary algorithms determine the business could benefit from the smart deployment of capital, it will assist by offering financing.

The idea for Sanlo hails from co-founders Olya Caliujnaia and William Liu, who both have backgrounds in fintech and gaming.

Caliujnaia began her career in venture capital in one of the first mobile-focused funds, before moving to operator roles in gaming, stock photography, and fintech, at EA, Getty Images, and SigFig, respectively. She later joined early-stage fintech and enterprise fund XYZ.vc as an Entrepreneur in Residence.

Liu, meanwhile, had also worked in gaming at EA, but later switched to fintech, working at startups like Earnest and Branch.

After reconnecting in San Francisco, the co-founders realized they could put their combined experience to work in order to help smaller businesses just starting out recognize when it’s time to scale, what areas of the business to invest in, and how much capital they need to grow.

Image Credits: Sanlo’s Olya Caliujnaia and William Liu

Caliujnaia has seen how the app and gaming market has evolved over the years, and she realized the difficulties new developers now face.

“You have this explosion of the app economy that’s growing insanely,” she says. “That’s the exciting part of it. That creativity. That passion and that desire to build — that’s so admirable.”

Today, companies benefit from having access to better development tools, broader access to talent, consumer demand, and other forces, she notes, compared with those in the past. But on the flip side, it’s become incredibly difficult to scale a consumer app or game.

“I think a lot of that comes down to, one, that there are dynamics around the free-to-play model — how you monetize and therefore, what kind of players and users you bring on board,” Caliujnaia says. “And then the second aspect is that it’s just harder to get noticed. So, ultimately, it comes down to marketing.”

Many of the decisions that a company has to make on this front are predictable, however. That means Sanlo doesn’t have to sit down with businesses and consult with them one-on-one, the way a financial advisor working in wealth management would do with their clients.

Instead, Sanlo asks companies for certain types of data to get started. This includes product data about how well the app or game monetizes and customer acquisition and retention, for example, as well as marketing data and a subset of financial data. Its predictive algorithms then continually monitor the company’s growth trajectory to surface insights to identify where and how the business can grow.

This concept alone could have worked as a services business for mobile studios, but Sanlo takes the next step beyond advice to actually provide companies with access to capital. The amount of financing provided will vary based on the life stage of the company and risk profile, but it’s non-dilutive capital. That is, Sanlo takes no ownership stake in the companies it finances.

Image Credits: Sanlo

Caliujnaia said it made more sense to go this route rather than return to the VC world, because of potential to reach a wider group.

“There’s this long tail of developers and it’s more about enabling them, rather than producing more hits,” she says. “It’s very different mindsets, different markets that we’re going for.”

Sanlo doesn’t have a lot of direct competitors beyond perhaps, Silicon Valley Bank and other financial lenders, as well as mobile gaming publishers. But the publisher model often implies some sort of ownership, which is a significant differentiating factor. In some cases, you may see a larger gaming company extending debt financing to a smaller one. That was the case with Finnish mobile games company Metacore which recently raised another debt round from gaming giant Supercell, for example.

Caliujnaia points out that most smaller companies don’t have that kind of access to financing. Now they could, through Sanlo.

“The idea is to have a healthier layer of companies that are able to survive for the long-term,” she says.

That means more companies that won’t have to stress about their futures, leading to them to aggressively monetize their users, and later, scrambling for an exit when their financial runway comes to an end.

Sanlo is currently pilot testing its system with a small group of mobile game studios who will serve as its initial customer base, but plans to later support consumer apps, which have similar struggles with customer acquisition costs and growth.

The San Francisco-headquartered startup itself was founded in 2020 and began raising money. It has now raised a total of $3.5 million in seed funding co-led by Index Ventures and Initial Capital, with participation from LVP, Portag3 Ventures, and  XYZ Venture Capital. Angel investors include Kristian Segestrale (Super Evil Megacorp CEO), Gokul Rajaram and Charley Ma. 

Initial Capital co-founder and partner Ken Lamb became a board director with the fundraise, while Index partner Mark Goldberg and XYZ managing partner Ross Fubini joined as board observers.

“Sanlo cracked the code to help mobile gaming and app companies reach maturity with a new level of speed, scale, and fiscal wellbeing,” said Goldberg, in a statement. “The company is building a very sophisticated fintech offering that will give those companies superpowers.”

Sanlo plans to use the funds to grow its team and product suite ahead of its public launch later this year.

#apps, #finance, #financial-technology, #financing, #fintech, #funding, #gaming, #mobile, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #startups

0

Brazil’s Divibank raises millions to become the Clearbanc of LatAm

Divibank, a financing platform offering LatAm businesses access to growth capital, has closed on a $3.6 million round of seed funding led by San Francisco-based Better Tomorrow Ventures (BTV).

São Paulo-based Divibank was founded in March 2020, right as the COVID-pandemic was starting. The company has built a data-driven financing platform aimed at giving businesses access to non-dilutive capital to finance their growth via revenue-share financing.

“We are changing the way entrepreneurs scale their online businesses by providing quick and affordable capital to startups and SMEs in Latin America,” said co-founder and CEO Jaime Taboada. In particular, Divibank is targeting e-commerce and SaaS companies although it also counts edtechs, fintechs and marketplaces among its clients.

The company is now also offering marketing analytics software for its clients so they can “get more value out of the capital they receive.”

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including existing backer MAYA Capital and new investors such as Village Global, Clocktower Ventures, Magma Partners, Gilgamesh Ventures, Rally Cap Ventures and Alumni Ventures Group. A group of high-profile angel investors also put money in the round, including Rappi founder and president Sebastian Mejia, Tayo Oviosu (founder/CEO of Paga, who participated via Kairos Angels), Ramp founder and CTO Karim Atiyeh and Bread founders Josh Abramowitz and Daniel Simon.

In just over a year’s time, Divibank has seen some impressive growth (albeit from a small base). In the past six months alone, the company said it has signed on over 50 new clients; seen its total loan issuance volume increase by 7x; revenues climb by 5x; customer base increase by 11x and employee base by 4x. Customers include Dr. Jones, CapaCard and Foodz, among others.

“Traditional banks and financial institutions do not know how to evaluate internet businesses, so they generally do not offer loans to these companies. If they do, it is generally a long and tedious process at a very high cost,” Taboada said. “With our revenue-share offering, the entrepreneur does not have to pledge his home, drown in credit card debts or even give up his equity to invest in marketing and growth.”

For now, Divibank is focused on Brazil, considering the country is huge and has more than 11 million SMEs “with many growth opportunities to explore,” according to Taboada. It’s looking to expand to the rest of LatAm and other emerging markets in the future, but no timeline has yet been set.

As in many other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a tailwind to Divibank’s business, considering it accelerated the digitalization of everything globally.

“We founded Divibank the same week as the lockdown started in Brazil, and we saw many industries that didn’t traditionally advertise online migrate to Google and Facebook Ads rapidly,” Taboada told TechCrunch. “This obviously helped our thesis a lot, as many of our clients had actually recently went from only selling offline to selling mostly online. And there’s no better way to attract new clients online than with digital ads.”

Divibank will use its new capital to accelerate its product roadmap, scale its go-to-market strategy and ramp up hiring. Specifically, it will invest more aggressively in engineering/tech, sales, marketing, credit risk and operations. Today the team consists of eight employees in Brazil, and that number will likely grow to more than 25 or 30 in the coming 12 months, according to Taboada.

The startup is also developing what it describes as “value additive” software, aimed at helping clients better manage their digital ads campaigns and “optimize their investment returns.”

Looking ahead, Divibank is working on a few additional financial products for its clients, targeting the more than $205 billion e-commerce and SaaS markets in Latin America with offerings such as inventory financing and recurring revenue securitizations. Specifically, it plans to continue developing its banking tech platform by “automating the whole credit process,” developing its analytics platform and building its data science/ML capabilities to improve its credit model.

Jake Gibson, general partner at Better Tomorrow Ventures, noted that his firm is also an investor in Clearbanc, which also provided non-dilutive financing for founders. The company’s “20-minute term sheet” product, perhaps its most well-known in tech, allowed e-commerce companies to raise non-dilutive marketing growth capital between $10,000 to $10 million based on its revenue and ad spend.

“We are very bullish on the idea that not every company should be funded with venture dollars, and that lack of funding options can keep too many would-be entrepreneurs out of the market,” he said. “Combine that with the growth of e-commerce in Brazil and LatAm, and expected acceleration fueled by COVID, and the opportunity to build something meaningful seemed obvious.”

Also, since there aren’t a lot of similar offerings in the region, Better Tomorrow views the space that Divibank is addressing as a “massive untapped market.”

Besides Clearbanc, Divibank is also similar to another U.S.-based fintech, Pipe, in that both companies aim to help clients with SaaS, subscription and other recurring revenue models with new types of financings that can help them grow without dilution.

“Like the e-commerce market, we see the SaaS, and the recurring revenues markets in general, growing rapidly,” Taboada said.

#alumni-ventures-group, #angel-investor, #banking, #better-tomorrow-ventures, #brazil, #business, #clearbanc, #clocktower-ventures, #daniel-simon, #divibank, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jake-gibson, #latin-america, #magma-partners, #ml, #paga, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #tayo-oviosu, #tc, #venture-capital, #village-global

0

Turkey’s Ace Games raises $7M to develop casual and ‘hyper casual’ games

Ace Games, a Turkish mobile gaming company founded by a former Peak Games co-founder, has raised a $7 million Seed funding round led by Actera Group. Co-investment has come from San Francisco’s NFX. Former gaming entrepreneurs Kristian Segerstrale, Alexis Bonte, and Kaan Gunay also participated. Firat Ileri is previous investors from the pre-seed round.

The company runs two studios, one focused on casual and one on ‘hyper-casual’ games.

Co-founded by CEO Hakan Bas, the former Co-Founder, and COO at Peak Games, Ace Games has had some success on the US iOS Store with its hyper-casual title, ‘Mix and Drink.’

In a statement, Bas said: “Ace’s main focus is actually the casual ‘hybrid puzzle’ game that we have been working on for a while now. However, our hyper-casual studio assists the main studio in many aspects like training talent, coming up with creative game mechanics and marketing ideas, generating cash, and creating user base.” Ace’s casual title is to be released late-summer this year and the global launch is expected in early 2022.

Peak Games, Gram Games and Rollic Games were all acquired by Zynga, showing that Turkey is capable of producing decent exits for gaming startups.

VCs such as Index, Balderton, Makers and Griffin have all made M&A deals with Dream Games, Bigger Games and Spyke Games.

#ceo, #co-founder, #electronic-arts, #griffin, #hyper, #mobile, #peak-games, #san-francisco, #tc, #turkey, #video-gaming, #zynga

0

How to break into Silicon Valley as an outsider

Domm Holland, co-founder and CEO of e-commerce startup Fast, appears to be living a founder’s dream.

His big idea came from a small moment in his real life. Holland watched as his wife’s grandmother tried to order groceries, but she had forgotten her password and wasn’t able to complete the transaction.

“I just remember thinking it was preposterous,” Holland said. “It defied belief that some arbitrary string of text was a blocker to commerce.”

So he built a prototype of a passwordless authentication system where users would fill out their information once and would never need to do so again. Within 24 hours, tens of thousands of people had used it.

Nothing beats building human networks. That’s the way that you’re going to get this done in terms of fundraising.

Shoppers weren’t the only ones on board with this idea. In less than two years, Holland has raised $124 million in three rounds of fundraising, bringing on partners like Index Ventures and Stripe.

Although the success of Fast’s one-click checkout product has been speedy, it hasn’t been effortless.

For one thing, Holland is Australian, which means he started out as a Silicon Valley outsider. When he arrived in the U.S. in the summer of 2019, he had exactly one Bay Area contact in his phone. He built his network from the ground up, a strategic process he credits to one thing: hard work.

On an episode of the “How I Raised It” podcast, Holland talks about how he built his network, why it’s important — not just for fundraising but for building the entire business — and how to avoid the mistakes he sees new founders make.

Reach out with relevance

Holland’s primary strategy in building networks sounds like an obvious one — reach out to relevant people.

“When I first got to the States, I wanted to build networks,” Holland said, “but I didn’t really know anyone here in the Bay Area. So I spent a lot of time reaching out to relevant people — people working in payments, people working in technology, people working in identity authentication — just really relevant people in the space working in Big Tech who were building large-scale networks.”

One of the people Holland connected with was Allison Barr Allen, then the head of global product operations at Uber. Barr Allen managed her own angel investment fund, but Holland wasn’t actually looking for money when he reached out to her. He was much more interested in her perspective as the leader of an enormous financial services operation.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #ec-how-to, #networking, #san-francisco, #silicon-valley, #startups, #united-states

0

Persona lands $50M for identity verification after seeing 10x YoY revenue growth

The identity verification space has been heating up for a while and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated demand with more people transacting online.

Persona, a startup focused on creating a personalized identity verification experience “for any use case,” aims to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded space. And investors are banking on the San Francisco-based company’s ability to help businesses customize the identity verification process — and beyond — via its no-code platform in the form of a $50 million Series B funding round. 

Index Ventures led the financing, which also included participation from existing backer Coatue Management. In late January 2020, Persona raised $17.5 million in a Series A round. The company declined to reveal at which valuation this latest round was raised.

Businesses and organizations can access Persona’s platform by way of an API, which lets them use a variety of documents, from government-issued IDs through to biometrics, to verify that customers are who they say they are. The company wants to make it easier for organizations to implement more watertight methods based on third-party documentation, real-time evaluation such as live selfie checks and AI to verify users.

Persona’s platform also collects passive signals such as a user’s device, location, and behavioral signals to provide a more holistic view of a user’s risk profile. It offers a low code and no code option depending on the needs of the customer.

The company’s momentum is reflected in its growth numbers. The startup’s revenue has surged by “more than 10 times” while its customer base has climbed by five times over the past year, according to co-founder and CEO Rick Song. Meanwhile, its headcount has more than tripled to just over 50 people.

When we look back at the space five to 10 years ago, AI was the next differentiation and every identity verification company is doing AI and machine learning,” Song told TechCrunch. “We believe the next big differentiator is more about tailoring and personalizing the experience for individuals.”

As such, Song believes that growth can be directly tied to Persona’s ability to help companies with “unique” use cases with a SaaS platform that requires little to no code and not as much heavy lifting from their engineering teams. Its end goal, ultimately, is to help businesses deter fraud, stay compliant and build trust and safety while making it easier for them to customize the verification process to their needs. Customers span a variety of industries, and include Square, Robinhood, Sonder, Brex, Udemy, Gusto, BlockFi and AngelList, among others.

“The strategy your business needs for identity verification and management is going to be completely different if you’re a travel company verifying guests versus a delivery service onboarding new couriers versus a crypto company granting access to user funds,” Song added. “Even businesses within the same industry should tailor the identity verification experience to each customer if they want to stand out.”

Image Credits: Persona

For Song, another thing that helps Persona stand out is its ability to help customers beyond the sign-on and verification process. 

“We’ve built an identity infrastructure because we don’t just help businesses at a single point in time, but rather throughout the entire lifecycle of a relationship,” he told TechCrunch.

In fact, much of the company’s growth last year came in the form of existing customers finding new use cases within the platform in addition to new customers signing on, Song said.

“We’ve been watching existing customers discover more ways to use Persona. For example, we were working with some of our customer base on a single use case and now we might be working with them on 10 different problems — anywhere from account opening to a bad actor investigation to account recovery and anything in between,” he added. “So that has probably been the biggest driver of our growth.”

Index Ventures Partner Mark Goldberg, who is taking a seat on Persona’s board as part of the financing, said he was impressed by the number of companies in Index’s own portfolio that raved about Persona.

“We’ve had our antennas up for a long time in this space,” he told TechCrunch. “We started to see really rapid adoption of Persona within the Index portfolio and there was the sense of a very powerful and very user friendly tool, which hadn’t really existed in the category before.”

Its personalization capabilities and building block-based approach too, Goldberg said, makes it appealing to a broader pool of users.

“The reality is there’s so many ways to verify a user is who they say they are or not on the internet, and if you give people the flexibility to design the right path to get to a yes or no, you can just get to a much better outcome,” he said. “That was one of the things we heard — that the use cases were not like off the rack, and I think that has really resonated in a time where people want and expect the ability to customize.”

Persona plans to use its new capital to grow its team another twofold by year’s end to support its growth and continue scaling the business.

In recent months, other companies in the space that have raised big rounds include Socure and Sift.

#angellist, #artificial-intelligence, #coatue, #driver, #funding, #fundings-exits, #identity-verification, #index-ventures, #machine-learning, #mark-goldberg, #persona, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #tc, #travel, #venture-capital, #verification

0

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’

Blockchain developer platform Alchemy announced today it has raised $80 million in a Series B round of funding led by Coatue and Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. The company previously raised a total of $15.5 million, so the latest financing brings its total raised to $95.5 million since it launched in 2017.

The latest round caught our attention for a few reasons.

First, the company, which describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry, went from public launch to a $505 million valuation in a matter of just eight months. During that time, Alchemy says it powered over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users all over the world. Second, the startup says it also already powering the majority of the NFT industry.

And finally, its investors in the round include a high-profile mix of institutions and individuals such as DFJ Growth, K5 Global, the Chainsmokers, actor Jared Leto and the Glazer family (owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United). They joined existing backers including Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Pantera Capital, Coinbase, SignalFire, Samsung, Stanford University, Google chairman and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, Charles Schwab, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.

Sources with inside knowledge of Alchemy’s operations tell TechCrunch that the company has already grown its business more than eightfold since it signed the Series B term sheet. They also said Alchemy had over $300 million of investor demand wanting to enter the round and is being inbounded to do another financing at “many times” the current valuation.

TechCrunch talked with Alchemy co-founders Nikil Viswanathan (CEO) and Joe Lau (CTO) about the raise and their passion for the startup’s mission was clear. As is its explosive growth.

“We realized that in order for space to thrive and build to its full potential, we needed to build a developer platform layer for blockchain,” Viswanathan told TechCrunch.

Alchemy’s goal is to be the starting place for developers considering to build a product on top of a blockchain or mainstream blockchain applications. Its developer platform aims to remove the complexity and costs of building infrastructure while improving applications through “necessary” developer tools.

The startup powers a range of transactions across nearly every blockchain vertical, including financial institutions, exchanges, billion-dollar decentralized finance projects and multinational organizations such as UNICEF. It has also quickly become the technology behind every major NFT platform, including Makersplace, OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare and CryptoPunks.  

“Every time you open DoorDash, you’re using Amazon’s infrastructure,” Lau said. “Every time you interact with an NFT, you’re using Alchemy. It’s being powered by Alchemy underneath the hood.”

While the pair would not provide hard revenue figures, the company – which operates as a SaaS business – says it increased its revenue by 600% in 2020.

For inside players, Alchemy’s efforts are paving the way for the whole industry. 

“The cryptoeconomy is innovating faster than any technological movement that came before it, and Alchemy has been a key driver of that,” said Coinbase President and COO Emilie Choi. “Alchemy enables developers to build the rich ecosystem of applications necessary for mainstream blockchain adoption.”

Pantera Capital’s Paul Veradittakit describes Alchemy as “the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the blockchain industry” that is “enabling the vision of a decentralized web.”

“While in Web 2.0, Microsoft, Apple and AWS are three of the most valuable companies in the world because they are the developer platform powering the computer and internet industries, Alchemy is primed to do the same for the blockchain,” he said.

The company believes the comparison to AWS is fair, noting that: “Just as AWS provides the platform that powers Uber, Netflix and much of the technology industry, Alchemy powers infrastructure for many large players in the blockchain industry.”

Alchemy plans to use its new capital to expand its developer platform to new blockchains, fuel global expansion and to open new offices in the U.S. and globally. The startup is based in San Francisco and is planning to open an office in New York.  

“We are going to use the funds to support new chains with our developer platform,” Viswanathan said. “We also expect to 5x the team this year.”

But to be clear, Alchemy prides itself on being lean and mean.

“We just went from 14 to 22 employees,” Lau said. “We have intentionally wanted to keep the team as small as possible.”

The blockchain space has been the subject of increased investor interest as of late.

In March, BlockFi, which describes itself a financial services company for crypto market investors, announced it had closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that valued it at $3 billion. Also last month, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, revealed the close of $100 million in Series D financing, which doubled its valuation to over $2 billion.

#alchemy, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #apple, #articles, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #ceo, #chairman, #charles-schwab, #co-founder, #coinbase, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #dfj-growth, #doordash, #driver, #emilie-choi, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #jared-leto, #jerry-yang, #linkedin, #manchester-united, #microsoft, #netflix, #new-york, #nikil-viswanathan, #pantera-capital, #president, #recent-funding, #reid-hoffman, #saas, #samsung, #san-francisco, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #uber, #united-states, #venture-capital, #yahoo

0

Internal rates of return in emerging US tech hubs are starting to overtake Silicon Valley

Tech innovation is becoming more widely distributed across the United States.

Among the five startups launched in 2020 that raised the most financing, four were based outside the Bay Area. Prominent VCs like Keith Rabois of Founders Fund, David Blumberg of Blumberg Capital, and Joe Lonsdale of 8VC have moved out of the Bay Area to new emerging tech hubs, which AngelList defines as Austin, Texas; Seattle; Denver; Portland, Oregon; Brooklyn, New York; Nashville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh; and Miami.

The number of syndicated deals on AngelList in emerging markets has increased 144% over the last five years.

The number of startups in these emerging markets is growing fast, according to AngelList data, and increasingly getting a bigger piece of the VC pie.

AngelList compared the performance of startups based in emerging tech hubs to startups in Silicon Valley by internal rate of return (IRR), which measures the rate of growth these investments have generated. AngelList defines “Silicon Valley” as San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Oakland, San Mateo, Berkeley, Redwood City, Menlo Park, San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Burlingame and San Carlos.

According to AngelList’s data, startups in emerging tech hubs have an aggregate IRR of 19.4% per year on syndicated deals on AngelList. Syndicated deals on AngelList in Silicon Valley have an aggregate IRR of 17.5% per year.

Total value to paid-in (TVPI), which is the return multiple net of fees, is also slightly higher for AngelList deals in emerging tech hubs (1.67x) than Silicon Valley (1.60x). This means for every $1 invested into startups based in emerging tech hubs, the investor’s portfolio is now valued at $1.67, compared to $1.60 for Silicon Valley startups.

This data is based on a sample of nearly 2,500 syndicated deals on AngelList dating back to 2013, with returns current as of January 1, 2021.

Investors we spoke with offered a variety of reasons for the rise of these emerging tech hubs, including cheaper taxes outside the Bay Area, lower cost of living and a wider distribution of talent brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

#angel-investor, #angellist, #column, #ec-column, #entrepreneurship, #founders-fund, #private-equity, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

0

Hear about building AVs under Amazon from Zoox CTO Jessie Levinson at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Last year, autonomous driving startup Zoox was acquired by Amazon in a deal worth $1.3 billion. Since then, Zoox has continued to pursue its existing strategy of developing and deploying autonomous passenger vehicles, revealing the design of its long-anticipated robotaxi late in December. From concept to reveal, Zoox spent six years developing its built-for-purpose passenger AV, and the plan is to launch them initially with commercial deployments in Las Vegas and San Francisco following testing. At TC Sessions: Mobility this year on June 9, we’ll have the chance to speak to Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson about the company’s progress towards those goals, and what it’s like for Zoox nearly a year on as an Amazon company.

[Did you know? Early Bird Ticket Sales End Next Week! Save $100 before prices go up]

In an interview with TechCrunch from last year, Levinson told us that life under Amazon at the AV company has been essentially business as usual since the acquisition — with greatly expanded access to resources, of course, and potentially with even more autonomy than before, he said, since they’re not beholden to a host of outside investors as they pursue their goals.

Of course, the natural assumption when considering Amazon and its interest in autonomous vehicles is package delivery — which is why it’s so interesting that Zoox is, and has always, prioritized movement of people, not parcels, in its AV development roadmap. Zoox’s debut vehicle has been designed entirely with passenger transportation in mind, though the company’s CEO Aicha Evans has acknowledged in the past that it could definitely work on package delivery in partnership with its new corporate owner in the future.

We’ll hear from Levinson if there are any updates to Zoox’s plan or focus, and what Amazon’s ambitions are for autonomous vehicles in the long term. We’ll also talk about the AV industry overall, and the major shifts its undergone in the years that Zoox has been operating, and what that means for growing and attracting talent. Levinson knows the industry and the state of the art in AV technology better than most, so be sure to grab tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 ASAP and check out our chat on June 9.

Book your early-bird pass today and save $100 before prices increase next week and join today’s leading mobility-startup event.

#aicha-evans, #amazon, #automation, #av, #ceo, #jesse-levinson, #las-vegas, #robotaxi, #robotics, #san-francisco, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #zoox

0

Gardening startups like Neverland want to make every day Earth Day for the home gardener

Vera Kutsenko and Hayley Leibson have incredible tech pedigrees, but their latest venture involves as much digging in dirt as it does digging through lines of code.

The two women have founded Neverland, a startup for the home gardener that aims to be a marketplace connecting mom and pop gardening shops with the explosion of amateur horticulturalists that have sprung up since the pandemic began and everyone needed someone (or something) to talk to.

Gardening businesses were among the big winners during the pandemic, with sales at home and lawncare and gardening businesses shooting up 9% in 2020, according to data from the 200 year-old flower retailer, Breck’s.

It’s that surge in business, and the two co-founders own passion for home plants, that led to the launch of Neverland, the two founders said.

For both, it’s a change of pace. Kutsenko studied computer science at Cornell, worked at Facebook on the Internet.org initiative and led teams working on the mobile app at Uber. Meanwhile, Leibson founded LunchClub and served as that company’s chief operating officer.

Kutsenko and Leibson first connected through a women’s tech networking group in San Francisco and bonded over a shared love of plants. Leibson has roughly 24 plants in her apartment while Kutsenko had a plant nursery that she tended to herself.

“We really view the opportunity for Neverland to be the sustainability focused marketplace,” said Leibson. “The power of what we’re doing is we’re able to create a really consistent support network for the consumer.”

It’s a huge market. Kutsenko said that globally plant and gardening spending is roughly $52 billion and $28 billion of that market is indoor and outdoor gardening.

Using customer data, Neverland prompts users on how to optimize their gardens and horticulture activities based on their geography and what plants customers would want to grow. The company also looks to connect would-be green thumbed growers with companies in their region.

“The educational piece we’re pulling from is the USDA agricultural APIs,” said Kutsenko. “We take and translate the super science-y terms into language that [customers] would understand. We’re pulling this from existing government resources and aggregating it and making it accessible to folks.”

It was both the CVs of the founders and the overall size of the market that convinced investors to throw their financial weight behind the company — and it’s an impressive roster of consumer-focused and sustainability minded investors including: Obvious Ventures, Maveron, Kimbal Musk, and Y Combinator, which had Neverland in its most recent cohort. In all, Neverland managed to bring in $3 million for its marketplace and gardening community. 

And since everything starts with community, the company has managed to amass a healthy following on Instagram even before its scheduled launch this summer. Already 140,000 people follow Neverland’s posts. And the company has signed on 50 sellers in the Bay Area and beyond.

 

#chief-operating-officer, #cornell, #facebook, #gardening, #internet-org, #lunchclub, #maveron, #neverland, #obvious-ventures, #san-francisco, #tc, #uber, #usda, #y-combinator

0

Fraud prevention platform Sift raises $50M at over $1B valuation, eyes acquisitions

With the increase of digital transacting over the past year, cybercriminals have been having a field day.

In 2020, complaints of suspected internet crime surged by 61%, to 791,790, according to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report. Those crimes — ranging from personal and corporate data breaches to credit card fraud, phishing and identity theft — cost victims more than $4.2 billion.

For companies like Sift — which aims to predict and prevent fraud online even more quickly than cybercriminals adopt new tactics — that increase in crime also led to an increase in business.

Last year, the San Francisco-based company assessed risk on more than $250 billion in transactions, double from what it did in 2019. The company has over several hundred customers, including Twitter, Airbnb, Twilio, DoorDash, Wayfair and McDonald’s, as well a global data network of 70 billion events per month.

To meet the surge in demand, Sift said today it has raised $50 million in a funding round that values the company at over $1 billion. Insight Partners led the financing, which included participation from Union Square Ventures and Stripes.

While the company would not reveal hard revenue figures, President and CEO Marc Olesen said that business has tripled since he joined the company in June 2018. Sift was founded out of Y Combinator in 2011, and has raised a total of $157 million over its lifetime.

The company’s “Digital Trust & Safety” platform aims to help merchants not only fight all types of internet fraud and abuse, but to also “reduce friction” for legitimate customers. There’s a fine line apparently between looking out for a merchant and upsetting a customer who is legitimately trying to conduct a transaction.

Sift uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically surmise whether an attempted transaction or interaction with a business online is authentic or potentially problematic.

Image Credits: Sift

One of the things the company has discovered is that fraudsters are often not working alone.

“Fraud vectors are no longer siloed. They are highly innovative and often working in concert,” Olesen said. “We’ve uncovered a number of fraud rings.”

Olesen shared a couple of examples of how the company thwarted fraud incidents last year. One recently involved money laundering through donation sites where fraudsters tested stolen debit and credit cards through fake donation sites at guest checkout.

“By making small donations to themselves, they laundered that money and at the same tested the validity of the stolen cards so they could use it on another site with significantly higher purchases,” he said. 

In another case, the company uncovered fraudsters using Telegram, a social media site, to make services available, such as food delivery, with stolen credentials.

The data that Sift has accumulated since its inception helps the company “act as the central nervous system for fraud teams.” Sift says that its models become more intelligent with every customer that it integrates.

Insight Partners Managing Director Jeff Lieberman, who is a Sift board member, said his firm initially invested in Sift in 2016 because even at that time, it was clear that online fraud was “rapidly growing.” It was growing not just in dollar amounts, he said, but in the number of methods cybercriminals used to steal from consumers and businesses.

Sift has a novel approach to fighting fraud that combines massive data sets with machine learning, and it has a track record of proving its value for hundreds of online businesses,” he wrote via email.

When Olesen and the Sift team started the recent process of fundraising, Insight actually approached them before they started talking to outside investors “because both the product and business fundamentals are so strong, and the growth opportunity is massive,” Lieberman added.

“With more businesses heavily investing in online channels, nearly every one of them needs a solution that can intelligently weed out fraud while ensuring a seamless experience for the 99% of transactions or actions that are legitimate,” he wrote. 

The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand its product portfolio and to scale its product, engineering and sales teams.

Sift also recently tapped Eu-Gene Sung — who has worked in financial leadership roles at Integral Ad Science, BSE Global and McCann — to serve as its CFO.

As to whether or not that meant an IPO is in Sift’s future, Olesen said that Sung’s experience of taking companies through a growth phase such as what Sift is experiencing would be valuable. The company is also for the first time looking to potentially do some M&A.

“When we think about expanding our portfolio, it’s really a buy/build partner approach,” Olesen said.

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