Dispo launches a test to gauge user interest in selling their photos as NFTs

The photo-sharing app that emulates disposable cameras, Dispo started rolling out a test yesterday that will record user interest in selling photos as NFTs. Some users will now see a sell button on their photos, and when they tap it, they can sign up to be notified when the ability to sell Dispo photos launches.

CEO and co-founder Daniel Liss told TechCrunch that Dispo is still deciding how it will incorporate NFT sales into the app, which is why the platform is piloting a test with its users. Dispo doesn’t know yet what blockchain it would use, if it would partner with an NFT marketplace, or what cut of sales Dispo would take.

“I think it’s safe to say from the test that there will be an experience native to the Dispo app,” Liss said. “There are a number of ways it could look — there could be a native experience within Dispo that then connects through an API to another platform, and in turn, they’re our partner, but to the community, it would look native to the Dispo app.”

Image Credits: Dispo

This marks a new direction for the social media app, which seeks to redefine the photo-sharing experience by only letting users see the photos they took at 9 AM the next morning. From Dispo’s perspective, this gimmick helps users share more authentically, since you take one photo and then you’re done — the app isn’t conducive to taking dozens of selfies and posting the “best” image of yourself. But though it only launched in December 2019, Dispo has already faced both buzzy hype and devastating controversy.

Until about a year ago, the app was called David’s Disposables, named after co-founder and YouTuber David Dobrik. The app was downloaded over a million times in the first week after its release and hit number one on the App Store charts. In March 2021, the app dropped its waitlist and relaunched with social network features, but just weeks later, Insider reported sexual assault allegations against a member of Vlog Squad, Dobrik’s YouTube prank ensemble. In response, Spark Capital severed ties with the company, leading to Dobrik’s departure. Other investors like Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures, who contributed to the company’s $20 million Series A round, announced that they would donate any profits from their investments in Dispo to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault.

Liss told TechCrunch in June, when the company confirmed its Series A, that Dobrik’s role with the company was as a marketing partner — Liss has been CEO since the beginning. In light of the controversy, Liss said the app focused on improving the product itself and took a step back from promotion.

According to data from the app analytics firm SensorTower, Dispo has reached an estimated 4.7 million global installs to date since launch. Though the app saw the most downloads in January 2020, when it was installed over 1 million times, the app’s next best month came in March 2021, when it removed its waitlist — that month, about 616,000 people downloaded Dispo. Between March and the end of August, the app was downloaded around 1.4 million times, which is up 118% year over year compared to the same time frame in 2020 — but it should be expected that this year’s numbers would be higher, since last year, the app’s membership was exclusive.

Image Credits: Dispo

Now, with the announcement that Dispo is pursuing NFTs, Liss hopes that his company won’t just change how people post photos, but what the relationship will be between platforms and the content that users create.

“Why NFTs? The most powerful memories of our lives have value. And they have economic value, because we created them, and the past of social media fails to recognize that,” Liss told TechCrunch. “As a result, the only way that a creator with a big following is compensated is by selling directly to a brand, as opposed to profiting from the content itself.”

Adding NFT sales to the app offers Dispo a way to profit from a cut of user sales, but it stands to question how adding NFT sales could impact the community-focused feel of Dispo.

“I think there is tremendous curiosity and interest,” Liss said. “But these problems and questions are why we need more data.”

#app-store, #apps, #ceo, #co-founder, #computing, #daniel-liss, #david-dobrik, #dispo, #freeware, #instagram, #internet-culture, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #nfts, #operating-systems, #series-a, #social, #social-media, #social-media-app, #software

Fractory raises $9M to rethink the manufacturing supply chain for metalworks

The manufacturing industry took a hard hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are signs of how it is slowly starting to come back into shape — helped in part by new efforts to make factories more responsive to the fluctuations in demand that come with the ups and downs of grappling with the shifting economy, virus outbreaks and more. Today, a businesses that is positioning itself as part of that new guard of flexible custom manufacturing — a startup called Fractory — is announcing a Series A of $9 million (€7.7 million) that underscores the trend.

The funding is being led by OTB Ventures, a leading European investor focussed on early growth, post-product, high-tech start-ups, with existing investors Trind VenturesSuperhero CapitalUnited Angels VCStartup Wise Guys and Verve Ventures also participating.

Founded in Estonia but now based in Manchester, England — historically a strong hub for manufacturing in the country, and close to Fractory’s customers — Fractory has built a platform to make it easier for those that need to get custom metalwork to upload and order it, and for factories to pick up new customers and jobs based on those requests.

Fractory’s Series A will be used to continue expanding its technology, and to bring more partners into its ecosystem.

To date, the company has worked with more than 24,000 customers and hundreds of manufacturers and metal companies, and altogether it has helped crank out more than 2.5 million metal parts.

To be clear, Fractory isn’t a manufacturer itself, nor does it have no plans to get involved in that part of the process. Rather, it is in the business of enterprise software, with a marketplace for those who are able to carry out manufacturing jobs — currently in the area of metalwork — to engage with companies that need metal parts made for them, using intelligent tools to identify what needs to be made and connecting that potential job to the specialist manufacturers that can make it.

The challenge that Fractory is solving is not unlike that faced in a lot of industries that have variable supply and demand, a lot of fragmentation, and generally an inefficient way of sourcing work.

As Martin Vares, Fractory’s founder and MD, described it to me, companies who need metal parts made might have one factory they regularly work with. But if there are any circumstances that might mean that this factory cannot carry out a job, then the customer needs to shop around and find others to do it instead. This can be a time-consuming, and costly process.

“It’s a very fragmented market and there are so many ways to manufacture products, and the connection between those two is complicated,” he said. “In the past, if you wanted to outsource something, it would mean multiple emails to multiple places. But you can’t go to 30 different suppliers like that individually. We make it into a one-stop shop.”

On the other side, factories are always looking for better ways to fill out their roster of work so there is little downtime — factories want to avoid having people paid to work with no work coming in, or machinery that is not being used.

“The average uptime capacity is 50%,” Vares said of the metalwork plants on Fractory’s platform (and in the industry in general). “We have a lot more machines out there than are being used. We really want to solve the issue of leftover capacity and make the market function better and reduce waste. We want to make their factories more efficient and thus sustainable.”

The Fractory approach involves customers — today those customers are typically in construction, or other heavy machinery industries like ship building, aerospace and automotive — uploading CAD files specifying what they need made. These then get sent out to a network of manufacturers to bid for and take on as jobs — a little like a freelance marketplace, but for manufacturing jobs. About 30% of those jobs are then fully automated, while the other 70% might include some involvement from Fractory to help advise customers on their approach, including in the quoting of the work, manufacturing, delivery and more. The plan is to build in more technology to improve the proportion that can be automated, Vares said. That would include further investment in RPA, but also computer vision to better understand what a customer is looking to do, and how best to execute it.

Currently Fractory’s platform can help fill orders for laser cutting and metal folding services, including work like CNC machining, and it’s next looking at industrial additive 3D printing. It will also be looking at other materials like stonework and chip making.

Manufacturing is one of those industries that has in some ways been very slow to modernize, which in a way is not a huge surprise: equipment is heavy and expensive, and generally the maxim of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies in this world. That’s why companies that are building more intelligent software to at least run that legacy equipment more efficiently are finding some footing. Xometry, a bigger company out of the U.S. that also has built a bridge between manufacturers and companies that need things custom made, went public earlier this year and now has a market cap of over $3 billion. Others in the same space include Hubs (which is now part of Protolabs) and Qimtek, among others.

One selling point that Fractory has been pushing is that it generally aims to keep manufacturing local to the customer to reduce the logistics component of the work to reduce carbon emissions, although as the company grows it will be interesting to see how and if it adheres to that commitment.

In the meantime, investors believe that Fractory’s approach and fast growth are strong signs that it’s here to stay and make an impact in the industry.

“Fractory has created an enterprise software platform like no other in the manufacturing setting. Its rapid customer adoption is clear demonstrable feedback of the value that Fractory brings to manufacturing supply chains with technology to automate and digitise an ecosystem poised for innovation,” said Marcin Hejka in a statement. “We have invested in a great product and a talented group of software engineers, committed to developing a product and continuing with their formidable track record of rapid international growth

#3d-printing, #aerospace, #articles, #business, #cad, #economy, #emerging-technologies, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #estonia, #europe, #fractory, #funding, #hardware, #industrial-design, #laser, #manchester, #manufacturing, #maryland, #metal, #outsourcing, #series-a, #startup-company, #startup-wise-guys, #tc, #telecommuting, #united-angels-vc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #xometry

How Google’s self-driving car project accidentally spawned its robotic delivery rival

Nuro doesn’t have a typical Silicon Valley origin story. It didn’t emerge after a long, slow slog from a suburban garage or through a flash of insight in a university laboratory. Nor was it founded at the behest of an eccentric billionaire with money to burn.

Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.

Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.

In the spring of 2016, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu were teammates on Google’s self-driving car effort. Ferguson was directing the project’s computer vision, machine learning and behavior prediction teams, while Zhu (widely JZ) was in charge of the car’s perception technologies and cutting-edge simulators.

“We both were leading pretty large teams and were responsible for a pretty large portion of the Google car’s software system,” Zhu recalls.

As Google prepared to spin out its autonomous car tech into the company that would become Waymo, it first needed to settle a bonus program devised in the earliest days of its so-called Chauffeur project. Under the scheme, early team members could choose staggered payouts over a period of eight years — or leave Google and get a lump sum all at once.

Ferguson and Zhu would not confirm the amount they received, but court filings released as part of Waymo’s trade secrets case against Uber suggest they each received payouts in the neighborhood of $40 million by choosing to leave.

“What we were fortunate enough to receive as part of the self-driving car project enabled us to take riskier opportunities, to go and try to build something that had a significant chance of not working out at all,” Ferguson says.

Within weeks of their departure, the two had incorporated Nuro Inc, a company with the non-ironic mission to “better everyday life through robotics.” Its first product aimed to take a unique approach to self-driving cars: Road vehicles with all of the technical sophistication and software smarts of Google’s robotaxis, but none of the passengers.

In the five years since, Nuro’s home delivery robots have proven themselves smart, safe and nimble, outpacing Google’s vehicles to secure the first commercial deployment permit for autonomous vehicles in California, as well as groundbreaking concessions from the U.S. government.

While robotaxi companies struggle with technical hitches and regulatory red tape, Nuro has already made thousands of robotic pizza and grocery deliveries across the U.S., and Ferguson (as president) and Zhu (as CEO) are now heading a company that as of its last funding round in November 2020 valued it at $5 billion with more than 1,000 employees.

But how did they get there so fast, and where are they headed next?

Turning money into robots

“Neither JZ nor I think of ourselves as classic entrepreneurs or that starting a company is something we had to do in our lives,” Ferguson says. “It was much more the result of soul searching and trying to figure out what is the biggest possible impact that we could have.”

#artificial-intelligence, #automation, #autonomous-vehicles, #dave-ferguson, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #electric-vehicles, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #fidelity-management-research-company, #google, #greylock-capital, #machine-learning, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #series-a, #softbank, #startups, #transportation, #waymo, #woven-planet

Latent AI, which says it can compress common AI models by 10x, lands some key backing

Roughly a year ago, Latent AI, a now three-year-old, Menlo Park, Ca.-based startup, pitched a handful of investors during TechCrunch’s Battlefield competition. It didn’t win that contest, but that hasn’t kept it from winning the interest of investors elsewhere. It just closed on $19 million in Series A funding in a round co-led by Future Ventures and Blackhorn Ventures, with participation from Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, 40 North Ventures, and Autotech Ventures. The company has now raised $22.5 million altogether.

What are these backers funding exactly? The company says that its software tools allow AI models to run anywhere, irrespective of hardware constraints, and that includes on the inexpensive chips that are typically found in edge devices. It also says it can compress common AI models by ten times without a noticeable change in accuracy, partly through an “attention mechanism” that enables it to save power and run only what is needed, and partly because it can self-adjust its workload based on environment and operational context.

That means — according to Latent AI — that its tools can help developers deliver AI models that are optimized for compute; that they can overcome memory and power constraints; and that there’s almost no latency (thus the company name).

Steve Jurvetson, the veteran investor and cofounder of Future Ventures, says to “think of face-detection algorithms running locally within security cameras or appliances, or Siri-like voice interfaces working instantly, even when there’s no network connectivity.”

Certainly, there’s a huge market for the kind of tech that Latent AI is developing. Indeed, though in an interview earlier today, cofounder and CEO Jags Kandasamy declined to delve into specifics, he suggested that the U.S. government is already a customer, thanks in part to strategic investors like Booz Allen. (In a press release last month about Booz Allen’s investment in Latent AI, Steve Escaravage, an SVP at the government services agency, noted that the “ability to collect, analyze and quickly act on data is at the core” of the U.S.’s national defense strategy.)

Another strategic investor, Lockheed Martin, is very focused on finding ways that AI technologies can help the U.S. military improve on situational awareness across land, sea, air, space, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum domains, so it’s easy to appreciate its attraction to the startup.

Kandasamy also talked this afternoon about an unnamed ski manufacturer that it is using Latent AI’s tech in its Google Glass-like augmented reality goggles,  and he suggested that Latent AI sees a world of opportunities in the commercial market, too.

Of course, given that the world is now rife with data-collecting-devices and that there’s an enormous interest in making that data actionable without having to send it back and forth to a distant cloud, there are many other companies and projects with the same objective as Latent AI. Among them are open source tools like TensorFlow, hardware vendors like Xilinx, and rival startups like OctoML and Deeplite.

Kandasamy insists that all fall short in some way. Of TensorFlow, he says that developers have only community support when it comes to production deployment. Of the chipmakers of the world, they’re focused on their own hardware and not vertically integrated. And what of those rivals? They’re either focused on compression or compiling and not both, says Kandasamy.

Either way, Latent AI has the kind of backstory that investors like. After Kandasamy, a serial entrepreneur, sold his last startup to Analog Devices, he headed to SRI International in 2018 as an entrepreneur-in-residence. There, he was quickly wowed by tech being developed by Sek Chai, who was the research institution’s technical director for nearly a decade, and who specialized in low-power high performance computing, computer vision, and machine learning. Indeed, soon after, Kandasamy had Chai had formed Latent AI and begun smoothing out some of the kinks.

Now, with fresh funding and a small but growing customer base that pays Latent AI on a subscription basis to access to its tools (then deploy them on premise), the question is whether the 15-person outfit is coming along far enough, fast enough, to get ahead of its current and future rivals.

Jurvetson plainly thinks it’s well-positioned. He says he has been an advisory board member for SRI International for more than a decade and seen a good many technologies like Siri develop and then spin out of the organization.

“This is the only one I have invested in,” he says.

#autotech-ventures, #blackhorn-ventures, #future-ventures, #latent-ai, #lockheed-martin, #recent-funding, #series-a, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Canopy raises $15M Series A after posting 4.5x customer growth in H1 2021

Canopy Servicing announced this morning it recently closed a $15 million Series A. The startup sells software to fintechs and others, allowing customers to create loan programs and service the resulting products.

The company raised a $3.5 million seed round in 2020. Canaan led its Series A, with participation from Homebrew, Foundation and BoxGroup, among others. Per Canopy, its valuation grew by 5x from its seed round to its Series A.

The company has raised $18.5 million to date.

So far this reads much like any other post announcing a new startup funding round, kicking off with an array of information concerning the round and who chipped into the transaction. Next, we’d probably note the competitors, growth and what investors in the company in question have to say about their recent purchase. This morning, however, I want to riff a bit on the future of fintech and how the financial tech stack of the future may be built.

TechCrunch chatted with Canopy CEO Matt Bivons last week. He has an interesting take on where fintech is headed. Let’s discuss it and work through what Canopy does.

Canopy

As with many startups, Canopy was built to scratch an itch. Bivons had run into issues regarding loan servicing in prior jobs. He went on to found a startup that aimed to build a student credit card. But after working on that project, Bivons and co-founder Will Hanson pivoted the company to a B2B-focused concern building loan servicing technology.

Behind the decision was market research undertaken by the Canopy crew that uncovered that a great number of fintech startups wanted to get into the credit market. That makes sense; credit products can provide far more attractive economics to fintech startups than, say, checking and savings accounts. Knowing that loan servicing was a bear and a half to manage, Canopy decided to focus on it.

Bivons framed Canopy as a modern API for loan servicing that can be used to create and manage loans at any point in their lifecycle. He noted that what the startup is doing is akin to what several successful fintech companies have done, namely taking a piece of the fintech world and making it better for developers.

This is where Bivons’ view of the future of fintech products comes into play. According to the CEO, in the future, companies will not buy a monolithic financial technology stack. Instead, he thinks, they will buy the best API for each slice of the fintech world that they need to implement. This matters because we could argue that Canopy is targeting too small a product space. Not that its market isn’t large — debt and its servicing are massive problem spaces — but seeing a company find a niche to focus on makes more sense when its leaders expect focused fintech products to win out over large bundles of services.

Bivons added that much of the fintech focus of the last five years has been on debit, citing Chime, Step and Greenlight as examples. The next decade, he said, is going to focus on credit products. That would be good news for Canopy.

Canopy co-founders via the company. CTO Will Hanson (left) and CEO Matt Bivons (right).

Critically, and for the finance nerds out there, Bivons told TechCrunch that its loan servicing technology does not require the company to take on any credit risk, and that it has gross margins of around 90%. I never trust a too-round number, but the figure indicates that what Canopy has built could grow into an attractive business.

Today, Canopy is a traditional SaaS, though Bivons said that it wants to move toward usage-based pricing in time. Its service costs around 50 cents per account per month, or around $6 per year in its current form. Today, around 40% of Canopy’s customers are seed and Series A-scale startups, though Bivons noted that it is moving up the customer size chart over time.

The resulting growth is impressive. Canopy’s customer count grew 4.5x from February to May of 2021. Of course, Canopy is a young company, so its overall customer base could not have been massive at the start of the year. Still, that’s the sort of growth that makes investors sit up and pay attention, making the Canopy Series A somewhat unsurprising.

Fintech growth doesn’t seem to be slackening much, meaning that the market for what Canopy is selling should expand. Provided that its view that best-of-breed, more particular fintech products will beat larger stacks in the market, it could have an interesting trajectory ahead of it. And now that it has raised its Series A, we can start to annoy it with more concrete questions about its growth from here on out.

#500-startups, #boxgroup, #canopy, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #series-a, #startups

Queenly’s marketplace for formalwear gets millions in round led by A16z

Queenly, a resale marketplace for formalwear, announced on Friday that it has grown its seed round to $6.3 million in a financing round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Connie Chan. The financing event brings Queenly’s total venture raised to date at $7.1 million.

Queenly sees itself as a “StockX” for formalwear, but has its own hold on the resale market for luxury goods. The startup gets consumers to list their used dresses – whether it be from weddings, proms, or pageants – on the platform to sell at a discounted price to others. Sellers then make about 80% of the listed price when a dress is sold, while buyers get a unique dress that wouldn’t have been worn gain anyways.

In a statement, A16z’s Chan said that she experienced “firsthand how unique but underserved the formalwear market is by technology.” The investor noted how fit is less important because people often rely on alterations, but uniqueness matters. She also credited the experience that the Queenly co-founders Trisha Bantigue and Kathy Zhou both have at pageants, which has made its way into the end-product.

Sure enough, the co-founders have put much of their energy into an algorithm designed to help buyers find the best dress for them, with search capabilities that are meant to be more inclusive of size and skin color than competitors like retail stores and Poshmark.

“These are just some things that we know because we’re women, and we know how to build this product for women,” Zhou said in a previous interview. “As opposed to if this was a male founder, they would not know that that would even be something that women would search for.”

The resale marketplace comes with its own challenges, the biggest of which can often be quality assurance. For dresses priced at $300 or less, Queenly gets proof photos of condition and then allows sellers ship directly to buyers. Dresses above $300 are routed through the company’s own operation, where a qualiy assurance team more closely checks for the condition of the dress.

Queenly graduated from Y Combinator in Winter 2021, in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the lack of in-person events, the co-founders said that they had half a million in sales, thanks to Zoom weddings, Twitch pageants and socially-distant graduations. Queenly also got small fancy dress businesses, looking for a digital solution to get ubuyers, to list their inventory on the site.

The growth helped the startup raise while still in the accelerator, landing $800,000 from investors including Mike Smith, former COO of Stitch Fix, Thuan Pham, former CTO of Uber, and Kelly Thompson, former COO of Samsclub.com and Walmart.com. The company then closed the first bit of its seed round at $2.3 million, bringing on Dragon Capital along with other investors.

Now, three months later, Queenly has extended that seed round by a few million. The company declined to disclose its new valuation or sales volume, but did say that number of dresses on Queenly’s platform have grown from 50,000 in February to 60,000 now, in July. Queenly also landed a partnership, per Forbes, with the Miss USA organization, which will help grow its footprint through contestants uploading their dresses to the platform. Of course, dresses aren’t synonymous with sales – but with millions more, the startup could be equipped to turn that reach into real dollars.

#a16z, #queenly, #series-a, #stockx, #tc

Numerade lands $100M valuation for short-form STEM videos

Edtech entrepreneurs are using their moment in the sun to rethink the structures and impact of nearly every aspect of modern-day learning, from the art of testing to the reality of information retention. Yet, the most popular product up for grabs may just be a seemingly simple one: the almighty tutoring session. and Numerade, an edtech founded in 2018, just had its take on scalable, high-quality tutoring sessions valued at $100 million.

Numerade sells subscriptions to short-form videos that explain how certain equations and experiments work, and then uses an algorithm to make those explainers better suited to a learner’s comprehension style. Per CEO and co-founder Nhon Ma, the startup’s focus on asynchronous, contextualized content will make it easier to scale high-quality tutoring at an affordable price.

“Real teaching involves sight and sound, but also the context of how something is delivered in the vernacular of how a student actually learns,” Ma said. And he wants Numerade to be a platform that goes beyond the robotic Q&A and step-by-step answer platforms such as Wolfram Alpha, and actually integrates science into how solutions are communicated to users.

Today, the company announced that it has raised $26 million at a $100 million valuation in a round including investors such as IDG Capital, General Catalyst, Mucker Capital, Kapor Capital, Interplay Ventures, and strategic investors such as Margo Georgiadis, the former CEO of Ancestry, Khaled Helioui, the former CEO of Bigpoint Games and angel investor in Uber, and Taavet Hinrikus, founder of Wise.

“There are supply and demand mechanics inherent to synchronous tutoring,” Ma said. He explained how the best tutors have limited time, may demand premiums, and overall lead to a constraint on the supply side of marketplaces. Group tutoring has been an option employed by some companies, pairing multiple students to one tutor for efficiency saake, but he thinks that it is “really outdated, and actually decreases the quality of tutoring.”

With Numerade avoiding both live learning and Wolfram-Alpha style explainers that just give the answer to students, the company has turned to a third option: videos. Videos are not new to edtech, but currently majorly reside in massive open online course providers such as Coursera or Udemy, or ‘edutainment’ platforms like MasterClass and Outschool. Numerade thinks that teacher-led or educator-guided videos can be built around a specific problem within Chapter 2 of Fundamentals of Physics.

numerade

Student learning from Numerade videos.

The company has three main products: bootcamp videos for foundational knowledge, step-by-step videos that turn that knowledge into a skill and focus on sequence, and finally, quizzes that assess how much of the aforementioned information was retained.

The true moonshot in the startup, though, is the algorithm that decides which students see which videos. When explaining how the algorithm works, Ma used words like “deep learning” and “computer vision” and “ontology” but mostly the algorithm boils down to this: it wants to bring TikTok-level specificity to educational videos, using users’ historical actions to better push certain content that fits their learning style.

For example, the startup believes that offering step-by-step videos help the brain understand patterns, diversity of problems, and eventually better understand solutions. The algorithm mostly shows up in Numerade quizzes, which will see how a student performs on a topic and then input those results back into the model to assumedly better cater a new series of bootcamps and questions.

“To help a student grow and learn, our model first understands their strengths and weaknesses and then surfaces relevant conceptual, practical, and assessment content to build their subject knowledge. The algorithm can parse structured data from videos and provide different teaching styles to suit the needs of all students,” he said.

As of now, Numerade’s algorithm appears preliminary. Users need to be paid subscribers and have a sufficient usage history in order to start benefiting from more targeted content. Even so, it’s unclear how the algorithm leads to different pedagogical content to students beyond resurfacing concepts that a student erred on in a previous quiz.

Numerade’s moonshot is built on an equally ambitious premise: that students want to learn concepts, not just Google for the fastest answer so they can finish procrastinated homework. Ma explained how engagement time on Numerade videos can be somewhere from double to triple the video’s entire length, which means that students are interacting with the content beyond just skipping over to the answer

Numerade isn’t alone in trying to take on Wolfram Alpha. Over the past year, edtech unicorns like Quizlet and Course Hero have invested heavily in AI-powered chatbots and live calculators, the latter largely through acquisitions of companies such as Numerade. These platforms are rallying around the idea that tech-powered tutoring sessions should prioritize speed and simplicity, instead of relationship-building and time. In other words, maybe students won’t go to a tutor once a week for math, but they will go to a platform that can methodically explain an answer at midnight, hours before their precalculus exam.

Despite its somewhat early-stage algorithm innovation and heavy-weigh competition, Numerade’s fresh venture backing and ability to bring in revenue is promising. While declining to divulge specifics, Ma said that the company is “quickly tracking” to eight figures in ARR, meaning it’s making at least $10 million in annual revenue from its current subscriber base. He sees perspective as Numerade’s biggest competitive advantage.

“A common criticism of commercial STEM education is that it’s too modular – textbooks teach physics as stand-alone,” Ma said. “Our algorithm does not, instead it treats STEM as an interlocking ecosystem; concepts in math, physics, chemistry, and biology are omnidirectionally related.”

#ai, #early-stage, #edtech, #education, #numbers, #numerade, #series-a, #tc, #tiktok

Collectiv raises $16M Series A to connect food producers directly with kitchens

In the modern world, we tend to like to know where our food comes from and this has massively influenced professional kitchens. For decades, food suppliers have sat on one side and distribution channels (restaurants and the like) on the other. But large wholesalers in the middle have traditionally crushed producers on prices and late payments. Professional kitchens can circumvent this by going direct to food producers. But they can’t manage hundreds of direct relationships. It’s just not been possible. Until the Internet.

Collective Food is a new startup that addresses this with a new take on the food supply chain model. It directly sources products from suppliers, unlocking price advantages for both suppliers and buyers, it says. Its competitors include Brakes, Bidfood, and Transgourmet.

It’s now raised £12M / $16M in its Series A funding round led by VNV Global, along with VisVires New Protein (VVNP), Octopus Ventures, Norrsken VC, and existing investors, including Partech, Colle Capital, and Mustard Seed. Frontline Ventures was the earliest investor in 2017.

Launched in 2019, Collectiv so far operates in the UK and France. It operates by sourcing food directly from producers, disintermediating the wholesaler middleman, and delivering straight to professional kitchens. Customers include restaurants, hotels, catering firms, meal-kit companies, and dark kitchens. The company claims that this approach generates 50% less CO2 emissions than traditional supply methods better prices, fresher products, transparency, traceability, and more reliable service.

Customers include Big Mamma Group, The Hush Collection, Dirty Bones, Megan’s, Crussh, Butchies, Cocotte, Tossed, and Fresh Fitness Food. 

Collectiv founder Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi said in a statement: “We’re being pushed by a combination of strong tailwinds: end-consumers demanding a better understanding of provenance; cities implementing air pollution regulations that limit large freight; a post-Covid hospitality industry desperate to improve margins but with limited staff availability to facilitate this in-house. Combined with our innovative model, we’re able to set our sights on not only becoming a European leader in food distribution over the next few years, but even a global one.”

Björn von Sivers, Investment Manager at VNV Global, said: “Collectiv’s innovative managed marketplace connects a fragmented supply of producers with the very fragmented demand of professional kitchens, creating improved transparency amongst other clear network improvements for all stakeholders.”

In his former profession as a Forensic Accountant, Hibbert-Garibaldi came across the business model for Collective after he investigated one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK and their food wholesale leg, mainly for violations of codes of conduct, such as how they were behaving with their suppliers. “I quickly realized that food supply chains were broken, with too much opacity and malpractice, and at the end of the day not benefiting any sides of the marketplace,” he said.

Engrained with a passion for food from his French and Italian origins, he quit his job and spend months in restaurant kitchens to understand the problems they faced: “I wanted to understand why it was so hard for them to source good products, know exactly where their food was coming from, and receive these products reliably and sustainably whenever they needed them. Using this I built my case study to get out to investors and start the business.”

It remains to be seen if Collectiv can scale, or take a chunk out of the vast food supply chain industry, but if it ends up appealing both to suppliers and distributors it will be very interesting to watch.

#bjorn-von-sivers, #brakes, #europe, #food, #france, #frontline-ventures, #investment-manager, #leader, #octopus-ventures, #series-a, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vnv-global

Micromobility operator Veo raises $16M to fund U.S. expansion

Shared micromobility operator Veo has raised $16 million in new funding as the company ramps up its expansion plans in the United States. The Series A funding round, which follows permit awards in Santa Monica, San Diego and New York, will be used to expand Veo’s fleet and focus on developing city and community partnerships.

Veo, which was founded in 2017, has sought venture funding a bit later in the game than other micromobility companies. Veo’s co-founder and CEO Candice Xie has been vocal about creating a sustainable business model that’s profitable on its own before seeking external funding, which the company says it’s done. But as Veo expands its footprint, it needs the additional funds to purchase the vehicles necessary to deploy in new markets, according to the company. 

“We want to make sure we have very high-quality vehicles as well because vehicle depreciation cost is a huge factor in unit economics, and we have a very good control of that,” Edwin Tan, co-founder and president of Veo, told TechCrunch. “By leveraging our design and supply chain, we want to show that we can continue to develop high quality, long-lasting vehicles.”

The company, which has always designed and manufactured its own electric scooters and bikes rather than partnering with a manufacturer, recently rolled out its newest Astro 4, which Tan said can last about three years. Veo’s previous vehicle generation can last two years.

New features on the vehicle can help greatly reduce operational costs and help users get more for their money, said Tan. The Astro 4 is the first shared e-scooter with turn signals, according to Veo. It will also feature a new lighting feature that asks passerby to “Please pick me up” on the bottom of the board if knocked over — an effort to alert people with disabilities to the presence of the scooter while solving the public nuisance problem. A brighter headlight, decklight and taillight have also been added along with and other features like improved suspension and IoT will be helpful in keeping costs down, Tan said.

“We are expanding out R&D budget,” said Tan. “We want to make sure we can create new technology or a new product that can solve for new form factors. We believe this industry is still very early, and think we can create more form factors and really change how people move around with different vehicles. That unmet demand is really important for us.”

Veo averages one new vehicle each year, according to Tan. The company plans to launch a new vehicle in the first quarter of 2022 that will solve for the “winter problem” and overcome the seasonality of rides. The company said it already has a solution for that but isn’t ready to share more details. 

Veo also wants to address the needs of people who don’t feel safe or comfortable riding a stand-up kick scooter or a bike. Veo’s Cosmo model, which is a sit-down scooter design, is an example of the company’s attempt to meet that demand. Veo plans to offer additional models that are accessible to a wider range of people, a move that aligns with requests from cities. 

The funding round was led by Autotech Ventures, with participation from UP Partners, FJ Labs and Interplay Ventures.

#autotech-ventures, #e-bike, #e-scooter, #recent-funding, #scooter-sharing, #series-a, #startups, #transportation, #venture-capital, #veo

Raylo nabs $11.5M to get more mobile users to lease and reuse

UK-based smartphone subscription startup Raylo has tucked $11.5 million in Series A funding into its top pocket, led by Octopus Ventures.

The equity round follows a debt raise last year — and brings Raylo’s total raised since being founded back in 2019 to $40M (in equity and debt). Its roster of investors to date also includes the Macquarie Group, Guy Johnson of Carphone Warehouse and the co-founders of Funding Circle.

The new funding will be used to charge up a subscription smartphone play that nudges consumers never to own their own mobile device — but just pay a monthly fee to lease a new or refurbished SIM-free device instead.

Raylo says it’s seen 10x YoY growth of customers and revenues, and plans to plough the Series A into accelerating its growth in the UK — including by doubling its headcount and further developing its tech. And while it suggests it’s entertaining the idea of a future global rollout it remains firmly UK focused for now.

Consumers opting to get the latest smartphone hardware through Raylo will pay a lower cost than the full RRP for a device since they won’t actually own the hardware at the end of the contract.

Environmental considerations aside, that may be an increasingly important consideration, given the inflating price of premium handsets like the top-of-the-range iPhone which has broken $1,000 for a few years now.

Plus the fact that most consumers simply won’t shell out so much for a handset. Leasing and returning offers an alternative way for people to get to use such expensive high-end devices.

With Raylo, the leased mobile is typically returned after the end of the 12 or 24-month contract — with the returned device refurbished for reuse via a second (or third) leased life with another user.

End of life devices are recycled (by partners), per Raylo. So it’s touting a circular model that promotes sustainability via device usage longevity vs the more typical upgrade scenario, via a carrier, where a consumer may just toss their old unused handset into a drawer, wasting its further potential utility.

Albeit, many people do pass on old devices to other family members or even sell or trade them in. But Raylo claims there are an estimated 125M smartphones in unused ‘hibernation’ across the UK. So, the suggestion is, plenty of smartphone users don’t bother ensure their old handset gets a second life.

Raylo reckons each of its subscription leased device can be used by a total of three customers over 6-7 years – which, if achieved, would mean a lifespan that it says is almost 2x longer than the UK average (of 2.31 years).

To further the longevity goal, all the phones it supplies come with a free case and screen protector.

Users also need to weigh up whether they want to shell out for insurance too, though, since they need to make sure they don’t damage the leased handset or risk having to shell out for expensive repairs or a non-return fee. (Raylo sells its own flavor of device insurance to users as an optional extra which slightly bumps up the monthly cost.)

Raylo competes with carriers’ own device subscription plans, of course. But again the claim is it’s cheaper to lease its way — although that’s as it should be since the consumer doesn’t own the hardware at the end of the contract (so won’t automatically have anything of value they could sell or trade in elsewhere).

If a user doesn’t want (or fails) to return a device at the end of the contract they have to pay a non-return fee — which varies depending on the handset hardware and how long they’ve been paying for it. But the fee can stretch to over £600 at the premium end — after 12 months of use of a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G with 512GB of storage or an iPhone 12 Pro Max, for example.

While consumers that want to continue using the same device rather than upgrading after their contract ends can opt to continue paying their usual monthly fees — with payments continuing up to a maximum of 36 months, after which the non-return fee drops to a token £1.

All Raylo’s leased devices come with a 24 month warranty, under which it says it will freely repair faults not related to user damage or accidents, or else supply a replacement device if the handset can’t be fixed.

Commenting on Raylo’s Series A in a statement, Tosin Agbabiaka, early-stage fintech investor at Octopus Ventures, said: “The subscription economy is rapidly transforming the way we access products and services — yet the smartphone, an individual’s most valuable device, is still locked behind a bundled, ownership-based model. This means most people are trapped in a buy-and-dispose cycle, with a steep financial and environmental costs.

“Raylo solves these problems by offering access to premium consumer devices at lower, subscription-based prices, helping to widen access to the latest technology. By repurposing its devices at the end of their cycle, Raylo is also the sustainable choice in this market and has built a product loved by its customers — the opportunity here is massive, and we believe that [co-founders] Karl [Gilbert], Richard [Fulton], and Jinden [Badesha] have the vision and depth of expertise to transform the way we all access our devices.”

A number of refurbished electronics businesses have been attracting investor attention in Europe in recent years where lawmakers are also considering right to repair legislation.

Recent fundings in the space include a $335M round for French refurbished device marketplace startup Back Market; a $71m round for Berlin-based Grover‘s subscription electronics business; and a $40.6M round for Finland-based Swappie, which refurbishes and sells secondhand iPhones, to name a few.

#224, #b, #berlin, #carphone-warehouse, #computing, #europe, #funding-circle, #gadgets, #hardware, #ios, #iphone, #mobile-device, #mobile-phones, #octopus-ventures, #series-a, #sim-card, #sim-lock, #smartphone, #smartphone-hardware, #smartphones, #technology, #united-kingdom

Like the US, a two-tier venture capital market is emerging in Latin America

Earlier this week, The Exchange wrote about the early-stage venture capital market, with the goal of understanding how some startups are raising more seed capital before they work on their Series A, while other startups are seemingly raising their first lettered round while in the nascent stages of scaling.

The expedition was rooted in commentary from Rudina Seseri of Glasswing Ventures, who said abundant seed capital in the United States allows founders to get a lot done before they raise a Series A, effectively delaying these rounds. But that after those founders did raise that A, their Series B round could rapidly follow thanks to later-stage money showing up in earlier-stage deals in hopes of snagging ownership in hot companies.

The idea? Slow As, fast Bs.

After chatting with Seseri more and a number of other venture capitalists about the concept, a second dynamic emerged. Namely that the “typical” early-stage funding round, as Seseri described it, was “becoming the atypical because of the rise of preemptive rounds [in which] typical expectations on metrics go out the window.”


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Series As, she said, could come mere months after a seed deal, and Series B rounds were seeing expected revenue thresholds tumble in part to “large, multi-asset players that have come down market and are offering a different product than typical VCs — very fast term sheets, no active involvement post-investment, large investments amounts and high valuations.”

Focusing on just the Series A dynamic, the old rule of thumb that a startup would need to reach $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) is now often moot. Some startups are delaying their A rounds until they reach $2 million in ARR thanks to ample seed capital.

While some startups delay their A rounds, others raise the critical investment earlier and earlier, perhaps with even a few hundred thousand in ARR.

What’s different between the two groups? Startups with “elite status” are able to jump ahead to their Series A, while other founders spend more time cobbling together adequate seed capital to get to sufficient scale to attract an A.

The dynamic is not merely a United States phenomenon. The two-tier venture capital market is also showing up in Latin America, a globally important and rapidly expanding startup region. (Brazilian fintech startup Nubank, for example, just closed a $750 million round.)

This morning, we’re diving into the Latin American venture capital market and its early-stage dynamics. We also have notes on the European scene, so expect more on the topic next week. Let’s go!

What’s hot

Mega-rounds are no longer an exception in Latin America; in fact, they have become a trend, with ever-larger rounds being announced over the last few months.

The announcements themselves often emphasize round size: For instance, the recent $100 million Series B round into Colombian proptech startup Habi was touted as “the largest Series B for a startup headquartered in Colombia.” This follows other 2021 records such as “the largest Series A for Mexico ” — $65 million for online grocer Jüsto — and “the largest Series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech” —  $43 million for “Plaid for Latin America” Belvo.

#ec-latin-america-caribbean, #fundings-exits, #series-a, #series-b, #startups, #the-exchange, #venture-capital

Mercuryo raises $7.5M for crypto-focused cross-border payments after crossing $50M in ARR

Mercuryo, a startup that has built a cross-border payments network, has raised $7.5 million in a Series A round of funding.

The London-based company describes itself as “a crypto infrastructure company” that aims to make blockchain useful for businesses via its “digital asset payment gateway.” Specifically, it aggregates various payment solutions and provides fiat and crypto payments and payouts for businesses. 

Put more simply, Mercuryo aims to use cryptocurrencies as a tool for putting in motion next-gen cross-border transfers or as it puts it, “to allow any business to become a fintech company without the need to keep up with its complications.”

“The need for fast and efficient international payments, especially for businesses, is as relevant as ever,” said Petr Kozyakov, Mercuryo’s co-founder and CEO. While there is no shortage of companies enabling cross-border payments, the startup’s emphasis on crypto is a differentiator.

“Our team has a clear plan on making crypto universally available by enabling cheap and straightforward transactions,” Kozyakov said. “Cryptocurrency assets can then be used to process global money transfers, mass payouts and facilitate acquiring services, among other things.” 

Mercuryo began onboarding customers at the beginning of 2019, and has seen impressive growth since with annual recurring revenue (ARR) in April surpassing over $50 million. Its customer base is approaching 1 million, and the company has partnerships with a number of large crypto players including Binance, Bitfinex, Trezor, Trust Wallet, Bithumb and Bybit. In 2020, the company said its turnover spiked by 50 times while run-rate turnover crossed $2.5 billion in April 2021.

To build on that momentum, Mercuryo has begun expanding to new markets, including the United States, where it launched its crypto payments offering for B2B customers in all states earlier this year. It also plans to “gradually” expand to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

Target Global led Mercuryo’s Series A, which also included participation from a group of angel investors and brings the startup’s total raised since its 2018 inception to over $10 million.

Image Credits: Left to right: Alexander Vasiliev, Greg Waisman, Petr Kozyakov / MercuryO

The company plans to use its new capital to launch a cryptocurrency debit card (spending globally directly from the crypto balance in the wallet) and continuing to expand to new markets, such as Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

Mercuryo’s various products include a multicurrency wallet with a built-in crypto exchange and digital asset purchasing functionality, a widget and high-volume cryptocurrency acquiring and OTC services.

Kozyakov says the company doesn’t charge for currency conversion and has no other “hidden fees.”

“We enable instant and easy cross-border transactions for our partners and their customers,” he said. “Also, the money transfer services lack intermediaries and require no additional steps to finalize transactions. Instead, the process narrows down to only two operations: a fiat-to-crypto exchange when sending a transfer and a crypto-to-fiat conversion when receiving funds.”

Mercuryo also offers crypto SaaS products, giving customers a way to buy crypto via their fiat accounts while delegating digital asset management to the company. 

“Whether it be virtual accounts or third-party customer wallets, the company handles most cryptocurrency-related processes for banks, so they can focus more on their core operations,” Kozyakov said.

Mike Lobanov, Target Global’s co-founder, said that as an experiment, his firm tested numerous solutions to buy Bitcoin.

“Doing our diligence, we measured ‘time to crypto’ – how long it takes from going to the App Store and downloading the app until the digital assets arrive in the wallet,” he said.

Mercuryo came first with 6 minutes, including everything from KYC and funding to getting the cryptocurrency, according to Lobanov.

“The second-best result was 20 minutes, while some apps took forever to process our transaction,” he added. “This company is a game-changer in the field, and we are delighted to have been their supporters since the early days.”

Looking ahead, the startup plans to release a product that will give businesses a way to send instant mass payments to multiple customers and gig workers simultaneously, no matter where the receiver is located.

#africa, #app-store, #articles, #asia-pacific, #bitcoin, #bitfinex, #blockchain, #co-founder, #cross-border-payments, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-asset-management, #digital-currencies, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #london, #money, #payments, #recent-funding, #saas, #series-a, #south-america, #southeast-asia, #startups, #target-global, #united-states, #venture-capital

Tonkean raises $50M Series B to accelerate is no-code business automation service

Business operation automation startup Tonkean announced this morning that it closed a $50 million Series B round of capital. Accel led the round, which came just over a year after the startup raised a $24 million Series A. Lightspeed Ventures, which led the company’s preceding venture capital round, also participated in its new funding event.

Sagi Eliyahu, Tonkean’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch in an interview that his company’s valuation rose by around 4x in its latest funding round.

The startup was able to secure more capital at a higher price thanks in part to quick growth in 2020, which Eliyahu said was concentrated in the second half of 2020.

Tonkean is an interesting mix of business process automation, no-code and humans. In short, the startup allows a company’s ops groups — sales ops, marketing ops, etc. — to set up automated business logic across applications that can include human-in-the-loop elements. And Tonkean built its system to be IT-friendly, allowing it to support enterprise-scale customers.

The automation space has been broadly hot in recent quarters. Robotic process automation (RPA) is great for mechanizing repetitive tasks that waste human time. The method of using computers to do stuff that humans previously had to do by clicking far too much has proven to be big business.

 

Tonkean allows for something a bit different. An example may help: During our interview, Eliyahu mused about what might happen if a salesperson for a Tonkean client wanted to send a lead into a nurture campaign. Tonkean would let the sales ops team set up logic so that when the frontline salesperson selects the lead for a nurture effort inside their CRM, the lead would then automatically be added to a specific Marketo campaign. Furthermore, the click-to-nurture system would alert a human on the sales team, perhaps asking for approval of the decision.

Tonkean software employs no-code tools to let ops groups use off-the-shelf command modules to build business logic — or craft their own as needed. The use of the company’s software could allow for more empowered teams at companies that are less reliant on engineering groups for help in accelerating and automating their work.

That thematically fits inside the general narrative we’ve seen from no-code startups in general: They want to allow non-technical folks to have more control of their work through less reliance on technical teams at their place of employment.

Tonkean employs around 60 people today, up from around 15 folks at the time of its Series A. It plans to hire rapidly now that it has more capital. Eliyahu claims most of its Series A is still in the bank. So why did it raise?

Because Eliyahu considers his startup’s market to be so large that he wants to pull the company’s future closer to today; the new capital will give Tonkean the space it needs to hire more rapidly and build more quickly than it might have if it continued to operate from a smaller capital case.

Fifty million dollars is a lot of money. Let’s see how far it gets Tonkean. The next time we talk to the company, we’ll demand some harder growth metrics so we can see if the additional capital was the accelerant that the company hopes it will be.

#accel, #business, #business-process-automation, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #series-a, #startup-company, #tc, #tonkean, #venture-capital

Mitiga raises $25M Series A to help organizations respond to cyberattacks

Israeli cloud security startup Mitiga has raised $25 million in a Series A round of funding as it moves to “completely change” the traditional incident response market.

Mitiga, unlike other companies in the cybersecurity space, isn’t looking to prevent cyberattacks, which the startup claims are inevitable no matter how much protection is in place. Rather, it’s looking to help organizations manage their incident response, particularly as they transition to hybrid and multi-cloud environments. 

The early-stage startup, which raised $7 million in seed funding in July last year, says its incident readiness and response tech stack accelerates post-incident bounce back from days down to hours. Its subscription-based offering automatically detects when a network is breached and quickly investigates, collects case data, and translates it into remediation steps for all relevant divisions within an organization so they can quickly and efficiently respond. Mitiga also documents each event, allowing organizations to fix the cause in order to prevent future attacks.

Mitiga’s Series A was led by ClearSky Security, Atlantic Bridge, and DNX, and the startup tells TechCrunch that it will use the funds to “continue to disrupt how incident readiness and response is delivered,” as well as “significantly” increasing its cybersecurity, engineering, sales, and marketing staff.

The company added that the funding comes amid a “changing mindset” for enterprise organizations when it comes to incident readiness and response. The pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption, and it’s predicted that spending on cloud services will surpass $332 billion this year alone. This acceleration, naturally, has provided a lucrative target for hackers, with cyberattacks on cloud services increasing 630% in the first four months of 2020, according to McAfee. 

“The cloud represents new challenges for incident readiness and response and we’re bringing the industry’s first incident response solution in the cloud, for the cloud,” said Tal Mozes, co-founder and CEO of Mitiga. 

“This funding will allow us to further our engagements with heads of enterprise security who are looking to recover from an incident in real-time, attract even more of the most innovative cybersecurity minds in the industry, and expand our partner network. I couldn’t be more excited about what Mitiga is going to do for cloud-first organizations who understand the importance of cybersecurity readiness and response.”

Mitiga was founded in 2019 by Mozes, Ariel Parnes and Ofer Maor, and the team of 42 currently works in Tel Aviv with offices in London and New York. It has customers in multiple sectors, including financial service institutions, banks, e-commerce, law enforcement and government agencies, and Mitiga also provides emergency response to active network security incidents such as ransomware and data breaches for non-subscription customers.

Recent funding:

#artificial-intelligence, #atlantic-bridge, #claroty, #cloud-services, #computer-security, #cyberattack, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #data-security, #e-commerce, #funding, #law-enforcement, #london, #malware, #new-york, #security, #series-a, #techcrunch, #tel-aviv

Mobile commerce startup Via rounds up $15 million in Series A funding

Mobile commerce is where it’s at, and rising investment in so-called conversational commerce startups underscores the opportunity.

Via, a two-year-old, Bay Area-based startup, is among those riding the wave, having identified some trends that are becoming clearer by the month. First, more e-commerce sales will be on mobile phones this year than desktops (as much as 70% by some estimates), people tend to read text messages almost immediately, and consumers spend upwards of 30 minutes a day engaging with mobile messaging apps.

Via also insists that unlike an expanding pool of startups that are focused on helping retailers and other broadcast their marketing messages in SMS, there’s room for a player to better address the many other pieces that add up to a happy consumer experience, from delivering coupon codes to starting the returns process.

Indeed, according to cofounder and CEO Tejas Konduru — a Brigham Young grad whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from India and who have themselves have worked at tech startups — one of insights his now 50-person company had early on was that despite that so many of their customers now use the mobile browser to visit and shop from their stores, many retailers use website builders like Shopify or BigCommerce to “cram everything everything into mobile, leaving only enough space for, like, one picture and a Buy button.” Konduru figured there must be a way to take the shopping experience that all these customers have with brands on their website and make them happen in a quick, mobile-native way.

Via’s solution, he says, is to help those businesses interact with customers on the devices and apps they use most often. “When someone uses Shopify of BigCommerce of any of those platforms,” says Konduru, “we also connect it to Via, and it basically takes the entire shopping experience and allows [customers] to quickly swipe right through a menu or like through a catalog on, for example, Facebook Messenger. Via will also create like a native iOS Android app by taking a  website, cloning it into a native iOS Android app, then sell the push notification in-app chat layer. Essentially,” he adds, “anytime someone shops on the phone and they’re not using the browser is what Via is handling.”

The ‘message’ seems to be getting through to the right people. Via, which launched last year, says it now employs 54 people on a full-time basis, has 190 brands as customers, and just secured $15 million in funding in Series A funding led by Footwork, the new venture firm cofounded by former Stitch Fix COO Mike Smith and former Shasta Ventures investor Nikhil Basu Trivedi.

Other participants in the round include Peterson Ventures, where Konduru once interned; famed founder Josh James of Domo, where Konduru also once interned; and a long list of other notable individual investors, including Ryan Smith of Qualtrics and Lattice cofounder and CEO Jack Altman.

As for how the company charges, it doesn’t ask for a monthly or yearly fee, as per traditional SaaS companies but instead charges per interaction, whether that’s an SMS or a voice minute or video or a GIF.

It’s starting to add up, according to Konduru, who says that Via’s average customer is seeing 15 times return on its investment and that from May of 2020 — when the company’s service went live —  through December, the company generated $51 million in sales. Konduru declined to say exactly how much Via saw from those transactions but says the company is on track to reach $10 million in annual recurring revenue this year.

As for how brands get started with Via, it’s pretty simple, by the company’s telling. As long as a company is using a commerce platform — from Shopfiy to WooCommerce to Salesforce– it takes just five minutes or so to produce a mobile app with a menu featuring the types of interactions the brand can enable via Via’s platform, says Konduru.

Konduru, who dabbled in investment banking before deciding to launch Via, says he isn’t surprised by the startup’s fast traction, though he says he has been taken aback by the breadth of conversations the company sees. While he imagined Via would be a strong marketing channel for brands that use the platform to push out notifications about abandoned shopping carts and upcoming deliveries, it’s more of a two-way street than he’d imagined.

“Every month, there are maybe 15,000 people who start the returns process through Via and will get a notification from a channel that Via supports. But suddenly — let’s say the customer gets the wrong T-shirt size — people start communicating with the brand. You see everything from fan appreciation to address changes to messaging about bad discount codes to where’s-my-order type exchanges.  That’s something I didn’t expect,” says Konduru, who says that before raising its Series A round, Via raised $4.2 million in seed funding led by Peterson Ventures.

“I thought that people would just look at the notification and, like, move it into the abyss somewhere. Instead, people start interacting with the brand.”

#conversational-commerce, #mobile-commerce, #peterson-ventures, #recent-funding, #series-a, #shopify, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #via

So you want to raise a Series A

During a seed funding round, a founder needs to convince a venture capital investor on a vision. But during a Series A fundraise, napkin-stage ideas don’t make the cut — a founder needs product progress, numbers, and revenue (or at least a plan to eventually generate some).

In many ways, the stakes are higher for a Series A — and Bucky Moore, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, joined TechCrunch Early Stage last week to give founders tactical advice on the process of raising one.

Moore spoke about storytelling over semantics, pricing, and where his firm sees itself “raising the bar” for startups.

Here are a few key points; a full video and a transcript of the entire conversation are linked at the bottom.


Explain to investors why you are raising now

More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.

The way I think about “why now” is [that] it is an opportunity for you as a founder to convey a unique insight and understanding of your market opportunity, the history of the space that you’re in, why companies have succeeded or failed in that space, historically speaking, and what are the known challenges from a go-to-market perspective; what headwinds will you be up against at a macro level. These are all things that I think people like me get really excited about when hearing unique insight from founders, because it suggests that they’ve really studied their market opportunity, and they understand it. (Timestamp: 2:19)

#bucky-moore, #early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #fundraising, #kleiner-perkins, #series-a, #startups, #venture-capital

Nuvocargo raises $12M to digitize the freight logistics industry

Despite hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods flowing across the U.S.-Mexican border each year, the freight industry has remained analog — each side of the border offering up its own maze of bureaucracy.

Nuvocargo, a digital logistics platform for cross-border trade, is trying to modernize the process. The company offers an all-in-one service that rolls freight forwarding, customs brokerage, cargo insurance and even trade financing into one UI-friendly software and app. Housing all of these services under one app makes it easier for companies to track their supply chain and gives customs and logistics teams access to more centralized information, according to Nuvocargo CEO Deepak Chhugani.

“And you just have one single audit trail in case something goes wrong,” Chhugani told TechCrunch, adding that the process helps reduce or eliminate the extra costs that come with a high administrative overhead. It also lets customers take a high-level look at their operations from within a single interface, he said.

Chhugani likened the experience to something like UberEats, which offers customers the ability to easily track food orders from restaurant to home.

“Just imagine, because you are dealing with so many different parties, you lose visibility on what’s going on. If you want a snapshot of – what did I spend end-to-end? – you actually have to go through all these email chains or faxes or texts with different providers,” Chhugani explained. “Some of them might be in another country. So [Nuvocargo] just creates more visibility throughout the process, from where the goods literally are to visibility around your finances.”

But Nuvocargo is thinking beyond the actual movement of goods. The company is also starting to offer customs brokerage, comprehensive cross-border cargo insurance, and factoring, or short-term account receivable finance. The last of these solves an especially difficult pain point for trucking companies, who sometimes must wait up to net-90 days to be paid.

The approach has caught investors’ eyes: nearly one year after announcing it had raised a $5.3 million seed round, the company has closed on a $12 million Series A funding led by QED Investors and with injections from David Velez, Michael Ronen, Raymond Tonsing, FJ Labs and Clocktower. Investors NFX and ALLVP, which participated in the previous round, also participated.

The “holy grail” of their new offerings, as Chhugani called it, is trade financing. Because Nuvocargo will already have a relationship with companies, including an understanding of credit and fraud risk, its hope is that it can offer financial products at a competitive rate.

This is what attracted QED Investors, a firm that typically focuses on financial technology rather than logistics and trucking.

“After speaking with [Deepak] and seeing the connection points and parallels between what we were looking at in e-commerce and the challenges of actually getting goods across border, the fintech spark went off in my own head,” Lauren Connolley Morton, a Partner at QED, said in an interview with TechCrunch. “The opportunities for factoring, for lending, for insuring goods are all very much right up our alley.”

Although Chhugani declined to disclose Nuvocargo’s valuation after this most recent round of funding, it’s clear there is plenty of room to grow into the logistics industry’s huge and seemingly disaggregated value chain.

#logistics, #nuvocargo, #qed-investors, #series-a, #transportation

OctoML raises $28M Series B for its machine learning acceleration platform

OctoML, a Seattle-based startup that offers a machine learning acceleration platform build on top of the open-source Apache TVM compiler framework project, today announced that it has raised a $28 million Series B funding round led by Addition Captial. Previous investors Madrona Venture Group and Amplify Partners also participated in this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $47 million. The company last raised in April 2020, when it announced its $15 million Series A round led by Amplify

The promise of OctoML is that developers can bring their models to its platform and the service will automatically optimize that model’s performance for any given cloud or edge device. The founding team created the TVM project, which

As Brazil-born OctoML co-founder and CEO Luis Ceze told me, since raising its Series A round, the company started onboarding some early adopters to its ‘Octomizer’ SaaS platform.

Image Credits: OctoML

“It’s still in early access, but we are we have close to 1,000 early access sign-ups on the waitlist,” Ceze said. “That was a pretty strong signal for us to end up taking this [funding]. The Series B was pre-emptive. We were planning on starting to raise money right about now. We had barely started spending our Series A money — we still had a lot of that left. But since we saw this growth and we had more paying customers than we anticipated, there were a lot of signals like, ‘hey, now we can accelerate the go-to-market machinery, build a customer success team and continue expanding the engineering team to build new features.”

Ceze tells me that the team also saw strong growth signals in the overall community around the TVM project (with about 1,000 people attending its virtual conference last year). As for its customer base (and companies on its waitlist), Ceze says it represents a wide range of verticals that range from defense contractors to financial services and life science companies, automotive firms and startups in a variety of fields.

Recently, OctoML also launched support for the Apple M1 chip — and saw very good performance from that.

The company has also formed partnerships with industry heavyweights like Microsoft (which is also a customer), Qualcomm, AMD and Sony to build out the open-source components and optimize its service for an even wider range of models (and larger ones, too).

On the engineering side, Ceze tells me that the team is looking at not just optimizing and tuning models but also the training process. Training ML models can quickly become costly and any service that can speed up that process leads to direct savings for its users — which in turn makes OctoML an easier sell. The plan here, Ceze tells me, is to offer an end-to-end solution where people can optimize their ML training and the resulting models and then push their models out to their preferred platform. Right now, its users still have to take the artifact that the Octomizer creates and deploy that themselves, but deployment support is on OctoML’s roadmap.

“When we first met Luis and the OctoML team, we knew they were poised to transform the way ML teams deploy their machine learning models,” said Lee Fixel, founder of Addition. “They have the vision, the talent and the technology to drive ML transformation across every major enterprise. They launched Octomizer six months ago and it’s already becoming the go-to solution developers and data scientists use to maximize ML model performance. We look forward to supporting the company’s continued growth.”

#amd, #amplify, #amplify-partners, #artificial-intelligence, #brazil, #developer, #enterprise, #lee-fixel, #machine-learning, #madrona-venture-group, #microsoft, #ml, #octoml, #qualcomm, #recent-funding, #seattle, #series-a, #sony, #startups, #venture-capital

Wingcopter raises $22 million to expand to the U.S. and launch a next-generation drone

German drone technology startup Wingcopter has raised a $22 million Series A – its first significant venture capital raise after mostly bootstrapping. The company, which focuses on drone delivery, has come a long way since its founding in 2017, having developed, built and flown its Wingcopter 178 heavy-lift cargo delivery drone using its proprietary and patented tilt-rotor propellant mechanism, which combines all the benefits of vertical take-off and landing with the advantages of fixed-wing aircraft for longer distance horizontal flight.

This new Series A round was led by Silicon Valley VC Xplorer Capital, as well as German growth fund Futury Regio Growth. Wingcopter CEO and founder Tom Plümmer explained to the in an interview that the addition of an SV-based investor is particularly important to the startup, since it’s in the process of preparing its entry into the U.S., with plans for an American facility, both for flight testing to satisfy FAA requirements for operational certification, as well as eventually for U.S.-based drone production.

Wingcopter has already been operating commercially in a few different markets globally, including in Vanuatu in partnership with Unicef for vaccine delivery to remote areas, in Tanzania for two-way medical supply delivery working with Tanzania, and in Ireland where it completed the world’s first delivery of insulin by drone beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS, the industry’s technical term for when a drone flies beyond the visual range of a human operator who has the ability to take control in case of emergencies).

Wingcopter CEO and co-founder Tom Plümmer

While Wingcopter has so far pursued a business as an OEM manufacturer of drones, and has had paying customers eager to purchase its hardware effectively since day one (Plümmer told me that they had at least one customer wiring them money before they even had a bank account set up for the business), but it’s also now getting into the business of offering drone delivery-as-a-service. After doing the hard work of building its technology from the ground up, and seeking out the necessary regulatory approvals to operate in multiple markets around the world, Plümmer says that he and his co-founders realized that operating a service business not only meant a new source of revenue, but also better-served the needs of many of its potential customers.

“We learned during this process, through applying for permission, receiving these permissions and working now in five continents in multiple countries, flying BVLOS, that actually operating drones is something we are now very good at,” he said. This was actually becoming a really good source of income, and ended up actually making up more than half of our revenue at some point. Also looking at scalability of the business model of being an OEM, it’s kind of […] linear.”

Linear growth with solid revenue and steady demand was fine for Wingcopter as a bootstrapped startup founded by university students supported by a small initial investment from family and friends. But Plümmer says the company say so much potential in the technology it had developed, and the emerging drone delivery market, that the exponential growth curve of its drone delivery-as-a-service model helped make traditional VC backing make sense. In the early days, Plümmer says Wingcopter had been approached by VCs, but at the time it didn’t make sense for what they were trying to do; that’s changed.

“We were really lucky to bootstrap over the last four years,” Plümmer said. “Basically, just by selling drones and creating revenue, we could employ our first 30 employees. But at some point, you realize you want to really plan with that revenue, so you want to have monthly revenues, which generally repeat like a software business – like software as a service.”

Wingcopter 178 cargo drone performing a delivery for Merck.

Wingcopter has also established a useful hedge regarding its service business, not only by being its own hardware supplier, but also by having worked closely with many global flight regulators on their regulatory process through the early days of commercial drone flights. They’re working with the FAA on its certification process now, for instance, with Plümmer saying that they participate in weekly calls with the regulator on its upcoming certification process for BVLOS drone operators. Understanding the regulatory environment, and even helping architect it, is a major selling point for partners who don’t want to have to build out that kind of expertise and regulatory team in-house.

Meanwhile, the company will continue to act as an OEM as well, selling not only its Wingcopter 178 heavy-lift model, which can fly up to 75 miles, at speeds of up to 100 mph, and that can carry payloads up to around 13 lbs. Because of its unique tilt-rotor mechanism, it’s not only more efficient in flight, but it can also fly in much windier conditions – and take-off and land in harsher conditions than most drones, too.

Plümmer tells me that Wingcopter doesn’t intend to rest on its laurels in the hardware department, either; it’s going to be introducing a new model of drone soon, with different capabilities that expand the company’s addressable market, both as an OEM and in its drones-as-a-service business.

With its U.S. expansion, Wingcopter will still look to focus specifically on the delivery market, but Plümmer points out that there’s no reason its unique technology couldn’t also work well to serve markets including observation and inspection, or to address needs in the communication space as well. The one market that Wingcopter doesn’t intend to pursue, however, is military and defense. While these are popular customers in the aerospace and drone industries, Plümmer says that Wingcopter has a mission “to create sustainable and efficient drone solutions for improving and saving lives,” and says the startup looks at every potential customer and ensures that it aligns with its vision – which defense customers do not.

While the company has just announced the close of its Series A round, Plümmer says they’re already in talks with some potential investors to join a Series B. It’s also going to be looking for U.S. based talent in embedded systems software and flight operations testing, to help with the testing process required its certification by the FAA.

Plümmer sees a long tail of value to be built from Wingcopter’s patented tilt-rotor design, with potential applications in a range of industries, and he says that Wingcopter won’t be looking around for any potential via M&A until it has fully realized that value. Meanwhile, the company is also starting to sow the seeds of its own potential future customers, with training programs in drone flights and operations it’s putting on in partnership with UNICEF’s African Drone and Data Academy. Wingcopter clearly envisions a bright future for drone delivery, and its work in focusing its efforts on building differentiating hardware, plus the role it’s playing in setting the regulatory agenda globally, could help position it at the center of that future.

#aerospace, #ceo, #darmstadt, #delivery-drone, #emerging-technologies, #federal-aviation-administration, #ireland, #recent-funding, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #series-a, #software, #startups, #tanzania, #tc, #technology, #unicef, #united-states, #unmanned-aerial-vehicles, #wing, #wingcopter

African edtech startup uLesson lands a $7.5 million Series A

ULesson, an edtech startup based in Nigeria that sells digital curriculum to students through SD cards, has raised $7.5 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Owl Ventures, which closed over half a billion in new fund money just months ago. Other participants include LocalGlobe and existing investors, including TLcom Capital and Founder Collective.

The financing comes a little over a year since uLesson closed its $3.1 million seed round in November 2019. The startup’s biggest difference between now and then isn’t simply the millions it has in the bank, it’s the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its entire value proposition.

ULesson launched into the market just weeks before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. The startup, which uses SD cards as a low-bandwidth way to deliver content, saw a wave of smart devices enter homes across Africa as students adapted to remote education.

“The ground became wet in a way we didn’t see before,” founder and CEO Sim Shagaya said. “It opens up the world for us to do all kinds of really amazing things we’ve wanted to do in the world of edtech that you can’t do in a strictly offline sense,” the founder added.

Similar to many edtech startups, uLesson has benefited from the overnight adoption of remote education. Its positioning as a supplementary education tool helped it surface 70% month over month growth, said Shagaya. The founder says that the digital infrastructure gains will allow them to “go online entirely by Q2 this year.”

It costs an annual fee of $50, and the app has been downloaded more than 1 million times.

With fresh demand, Shagaya sees uLesson evolving into a live, online platform instead of an offline, asynchronous content play. The startup is already experimenting with live tutoring: it tested a feature that allowed students to ask questions while going through pre-recorded material. The startup got more than 3,000 questions each day, with demand so high they had to pause the test feature.

“We want you to be able to push a button and get immediate support from a college student sitting somewhere in the continent who is basically a master in what you’re studying,” he said. The trend of content-focused startups adding on a live tutoring layer continues when you look at Chegg, Quizlet, Brainly and others.

The broader landscape

E-learning startups have been booming in the wake of the coronavirus. It’s led to an influx of tutoring marketplaces and content that promises to serve students. One of the most valuable startups in edtech is Byju’s, which offers online learning services and prepares students for tests.

But Shagaya doesn’t think any competitors, even Byju’s, have cracked the nut on how to do so in a digital way for African markets. There are placement agencies in South Africa and Kenya and offline tutoring marketplaces that send people to student homes, but no clear leader from a digital curriculum perspective.

“Everybody sees that Africa is a big opportunity,” Shagaya said. “But everybody also sees that you need a local team to execute on this.”

Shagaya thinks the opportunity in African edtech is huge because of two reasons: a young population, and a deep penetration of private school-going students. Combined, those facts could create troves of students who have the cash and are willing to pay for supplementary education.

The biggest hurdle ahead for uLesson, and any edtech startup that benefitted from pandemic gains, is distribution and outcomes. ULesson didn’t share any data on effectiveness and outcomes, but says it’s in the process of conducting a study with the University of Georgia to track mastery.

“Content efforts and products [will] live or die at the altar of distribution,” Shagaya said. The founder noted that in India, for example, pre-recorded videos do well due to social nuances and culture. ULesson is trying to find the perfect sauce for videos in markets around Africa and embed that into the product.

#africa, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #digital-learning, #early-stage, #education, #marketplace, #owl-ventures, #recent-funding, #remote-education, #series-a, #sim-shagaya, #startups, #ulesson

Robot lawyer startup DoNotPay now lets you file FOIA requests

DoNotPay, the consumer advice company that started out helping people easily challenge parking tickets, has come a long way since it launched. It’s expanded to help consumers cancel memberships, claim compensation for missed flights, and even sue companies for small claims. In the early days of the pandemic, the startup helped its users file for unemployment, where many state benefit sites crashed.

Now the so-called “robot lawyer” has a new trick. The startup now lets you request information from U.S. federal and state government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act.

FOIA allows anyone to request information from the government, with some exceptions. But ask anyone with experience in filing FOIAs (hello!) and they can tell you that requesting data requires skill and practice to avoid having the request thrown out for being too broad, or not being specific enough. And when you do eventually get something back, it might not be what you expect.

That’s where DoNotPay wants to help. The new feature guides you through how to file a request for information, as well as wrangle the fee waivers and option to expedite processing — which is up to you to convince the government department why you should get the information for free and faster than regular FOIA requests. (In reality, the FOIA system is massively under-resourced, and responses can take months or years to get back.) After asking you a series of questions and what you want to request, DoNotPay generates a formal FOIA request letter using your answers and files it to the government agency on your behalf.

A screenshot of Do Not Pay's website.

Do Not Pay’s website. (Screenshot: TechCrunch)

DoNotPay’s founder and chief executive Joshua Browder said he’s hoping the new feature can help consumers “beat bureaucracy.”

“Hundreds of users have requested a FOIA product, because the government makes it deliberately difficult and bureaucratic to exercise these rights,” Browder told TechCrunch.

Browder said that DoNotPay “would not exist” without FOIA laws. “When we got started appealing parking tickets, we used previous requests to see the top reasons why parking tickets were dismissed,” he said. Browder said he’s hoping the feature will help consumers uncover more injustices — just like with parking tickets — to feed his product with more features. “The overall strategy is to use any interesting FOIA data to build great new DoNotPay products,” he said.

DoNotPay raised $12 million in its Series A earlier this year, led by investment firm Coatue Management, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, and and Felicis Ventures. The startup has just three employees, including Browder, and is valued at about $80 million, the company confirmed.

The FOIA filing feature is free for academics and journalists, and is included as part of the company’s subscription service of $3 per month for everyone else.

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #coatue-management, #donotpay, #felicis-ventures, #freedom-of-information-act, #joshua-browder, #security, #series-a, #startups, #united-states

Shop-Ware raises cash as cars make a comeback

Shop-Ware has been waiting for a year like 2020 since 2015.

The startup, which sells software to neighborhood automotive shops to digitize their operations, had struggled to capture capital from venture firms. Until recently, its sole major investor was aftermarket automotive giant Bosch.

For companies like Shop-Ware, the disruptive wake of COVID-19 has cleared a path to capital as mainstream investors have sought out startups with services and products needed in the pandemic era. Investors finally get Shop-Ware founder Carolyn Coquillette’s vision and business. Their endorsement: $15 million in funding through a Series A round led by Insight Partners.

“It’s a different level of validation in terms of this industry going through a transition and catching the eye of traditional investors,” Coquillette said.

Coquillette says Shop-Ware will use he funds to fuel growth across its operations, sales and marketing teams.

The fresh capital comes as Shop-Ware has tripled its customer base while also lowering churn, Coquillette said, although she would not disclose total revenue numbers or whether the company is profitable.

The idea of Shop-Ware began when Coquillette started her own San Francisco-based auto shop, Luscious Garage, in 2007. The goal from the get-go was to offer customers a peek into what happens in an auto shop. It meant more communications from the repair-person to the car-owner, and a software platform was the best way to do it. Eventually, the push for modernized software became less of an in-house project and more of a standalone company. By 2015, she had a product and an incorporated company.

Shop-Ware helps auto-repair shops streamline operations both inside and out of the shop. Auto-repair shops are able to use Shop-Ware to track employee hours, inventory ordering and management and integrate with third-party tools such as Quickbooks. Shop-Ware also helps the neighborhood auto-repair worker communicate and charge customers through text or a web-based interface.

The intricacies of car ownership are something that Coquillette thinks that the average consumer doesn’t understand, so she built an entire business around adding more transparency to the clunky process.

“There is no way that a normal person is going to appreciate what it takes to fix their car,” Coquillette said. “The car is built to distract you and hide its complication for you by design so that you agree to buy it.” In other words, she says, you’re buying a “magic carpet.”

It’s an easy pitch for the most part, the founder says.

“Everybody who owns the car has gone to a repair shop and had an unsavory experience,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious to be like ‘oh yeah, you can make that experience less unsavory.’”

The real roadblock for the startup is convincing a business to adopt technology to change a process that isn’t technically broken. COVID-19 has been the impetus for auto shops — some of which have been steadfast in their pen-and-paper approach —to turn to a digital platform to communicate and operate.

The sector of digitizing auto-repair processes has grown considerably since Shop-Ware first launched five years ago.

Concierge startups such as CarDash and Wrench have popped up over the past several years to give customers an easier way to request maintenance checks. The services consolidate auto repair shops under one, approachable umbrella, which Coquillette thinks is the wrong approach.

“I’m a real big believer that you need to enable those independent providers,” she said. “You have to basically let those special snowflakes be their own snowflakes.”

A closer competitor to Shop-Ware is Shopmonkey, which raised a $25 million Bessemer-led Series B in August. It is welcome competition, Coquillette remarks, because it has put an investment spotlight on the category.

“There’s been a wakeup call around autonomy and how we related to our cars,” she said.

Now it’s up to Shop-Ware to take that wakeup call and turn it into cash.

 

 

#automotive, #bessemer, #carolyn-coquillette, #fundings-exits, #series-a, #shop-ware, #startups

JupiterOne raises $19M Series A to automate cyber asset management

Asset management might not be the most exciting talking topic, but it’s often an overlooked area of cyber-defenses. By knowing exactly what assets your company has makes it easier to know where the security weak spots are.

That’s the problem JupiterOne is trying to fix.

“We built JupiterOne because we saw a gap in how organizations manage the security and compliance of their cyber assets day to day,” said Erkang Zheng, the company’s founder and chief executive.

The Morrisville, N.C.-based startup, which spun out from healthcare cloud firm LifeOmic in 2018, helps companies see all of their digital and cloud assets by integrating with dozens of services and tools, including Amazon Web Services, Cloudflare, and GitLab, and centralizing the results into a single monitoring tool.

JupiterOne says it makes it easier for companies to spot security issues and maintain compliance, with an aim of helping companies prevent security lapses and data breaches by catching issues early on.

The company already has Reddit, Databricks and Auth0 as customers, and just secured $19 million in its Series A, led by Bain Capital Ventures and with participation from Rain Capital and its parent company LifeOmic.

As part of the deal, Bain partner Enrique Salem will join JupiterOne’s board. “We see a large multibillion dollar market opportunity for this technology across mid-market and enterprise customers,” he said. Asset management is slated to be a $8.5 billion market by 2024.

Zheng told TechCrunch the company plans to use the funds to accelerate its engineering efforts and its go-to-market strategy, with new product features to come.

#bain-capital-ventures, #computer-security, #computing, #enrique-salem, #free-software, #internet-security, #north-carolina, #security, #series-a, #software, #version-control, #web-services

Decrypted: How a teenager hacked Twitter, Garmin’s ransomware aftermath

A 17-year-old Florida teenager is accused of perpetrating one of the year’s biggest and most high-profile hacks: Twitter.

A federal 30-count indictment filed in Tampa said Graham Ivan Clark used a phone spearphishing attack to pivot through multiple layers of Twitter’s security and bypassed its two-factor authentication to gain access to an internal “admin” tool that let the hacker take over any account. With two accomplices named in a separate federal indictment, Clark — who went by the online handle “Kirk” — allegedly used the tool to hijack the accounts of dozens of celebrities and public figures, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and former president Barack Obama, to post a cryptocurrency scam netting over $100,000 in bitcoin in just a few hours.

It was, by all accounts, a sophisticated attack that required technical skills and an ability to trick and deceive to pull off the scam. Some security professionals were impressed, comparing the attack to one that had the finesse and professionalism of a well-resourced nation-state attacker.

But a profile in The New York Times describes Clark was an “adept scammer with an explosive temper.”

In the teenager’s defense, the attack could have been much worse. Instead of pushing a scam that promised to “double your money,” Clark and his compatriots could have wreaked havoc. In 2013, hackers hijacked the Associated Press’ Twitter account and tweeted a fake bomb attack on the White House, sending the markets plummeting — only to quickly recover after the all-clear was given.

But with control of some of the world’s most popular Twitter accounts, Clark was for a few hours in July one of the most powerful people in the world. If found guilty, the teenager could spend his better years behind bars.

Here’s more from the past week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Garmin hobbles back after ransomware attack, but questions remain

#accel, #amazon-web-services, #cloud-computing, #computer-security, #crime, #cybercrime, #data-breach, #decrypted, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #garmin, #google-cloud, #growth-marketing, #law-enforcement, #market-analysis, #phishing, #privacy, #ransomware, #security, #security-breaches, #series-a, #social, #startups, #tc, #twitter, #u-s-treasury, #venture-capital

How to time your Series A fundraise

When founders start fundraising is as important as how they make their pitch to investors.

Timing matters and it’s more complicated than founders might realize, but it’s not just about picking the right month or time of day. Finding the right time to fundraise requires a micro- and macro-level strategy, according to Jake Saper of Emergence Capital, who joined TechCrunch’s virtual Early Stage event last week.

“There are really two angles to think about,” Saper said. The first is the macro perspective that takes into account the general flow of deals in the industry. Then there’s the micro timing that is specific — and different — for every startup, he added.

While Saper was particularly focused on giving advice to startup founders who have already raised a seed round and are preparing to raise a Series A, he said that most of his guidance can be applied to companies at a variety of funding stages. Let’s get started with the basics.

Peak pitch deck

The reality is that founders fundraise in all times of the year. However, there are certain times of the year when investors are more actively reviewing pitch decks.

January and February, followed by September, are the most active months for investors, based on data from DocSend that measured visits per pitch deck sent out by entrepreneurs each month.

Emergence Capital pitch deck data Early Stage

Image Credits: Jake Saper/Emergence Capital

This fits with Emergence’s anecdotal evidence. The firm sees founders who spend a lot of December preparing for a big launch or fundraise in January and February, Saper said. By the time founders begin sending decks out in January, VCs are back from holiday vacations or other tech-related events, like CES. The same rhythm begins in summer with founders using these months to prep for fundraising in the fall.

While this is a common time to pitch VCs, keep in mind that you’re also fighting for their attention, Saper said.

#covid-19, #emergence-capital, #funding, #fundraising, #jake-saper, #series-a, #tc, #techcrunch-early-stage, #venture-capital

Decrypted: Police hack criminal phone network; Randori raises $20M Series A

Last week was, for most Americans, a four-day work week. But a lot still happened in the security world.

The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agencies warned of two critical vulnerabilities — one in Palo Alto’s networking tech and the other in F5’s gear — that foreign, nation state-backed hackers will “likely” exploit these flaws to get access to networks, steal data or spread malware. Plus, the FCC formally declared Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as threats to national security.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

How police hacked a massive criminal phone network

Last week’s takedown of EncroChat was, according to police, the “biggest and most significant” law enforcement operation against organized criminals in the history of the U.K. EncroChat sold encrypted phones with custom software akin to how BlackBerry phones used to work; you needed one to talk to other device owners.

But the phone network was used almost exclusively by criminals, allowing their illicit activities to be kept secret and go unimpeded: drug deals, violent attacks, corruption — even murders.

That is, until French police hacked into the network, broke the encryption and uncovered millions of messages, according to Vice, which covered the takedown of the network. The circumstances of the case are unique; police have not taken down a network like this before.

But technical details of the case remain under wraps, likely until criminal trials begin, at which point attorneys for the alleged criminals are likely to rest much of their defense on the means — and legality — in which the hack was carried out.

#advisors, #ceo, #chief-information-security-officer, #china, #computing, #cryptography, #data-breach, #data-protection, #decrypted, #encryption, #extra-crunch, #federal-communications-commission, #huawei, #hunt, #information-technology, #internet-security, #market-analysis, #palo-alto, #security, #series-a, #social, #startups, #u-s-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-conferencing