Tyltgo’s same-day delivery platform lets small businesses compete with Amazon

Tyltgo wants to make it easier for restaurants and small businesses to compete with same-day delivery services offered by the likes of Amazon and HelloFresh. The Canadian company, which recently raised CAD $2.3 million (USD $1.8 million) in a seed round, is akin to a white label Uber Eats, providing businesses an on-demand delivery platform under their own branding that connects them to gig economy couriers.

“I think about us as a post-purchase experience company,” co-founder and CEO Jaden Pereira told TechCrunch. “The recipient goes directly onto the merchant’s platform and places orders through them, so it feels like they’re interacting with the brand they purchased from throughout the entire experience. Our messages, notifications, tracking pages and delivery are all customized under the merchant’s brand name, but it’s powered by Tyltgo.”

The necessity of having products delivered during the pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders combined with the massive reach of e-commerce giants like Amazon has created a society that expects same-day deliveries. Tyltgo recognized the exclusionary nature of that reality on smaller businesses with less time and fewer resources, and contrived to remedy the situation with some innovative tech and gig economy couriers.

In July 2018, Pereira, 22, co-founded the company with fellow student and developer Aaron Paul while studying at the University of Waterloo. Pereira originally did deliveries himself as a side hustle, while building up a consumer-facing service on Shopify. In October 2019, Pereira and Paul shifted focus to B2B, identifying the real problem as merchants struggling to offer quality same-day delivery at an affordable price.

From December 2019 to December 2020, Tyltgo’s revenue grew 2000%, says Pereira. The company started 2020 with two staff members and ended with nine, including former head of Uber Eats Canada’s marketplace operations, Joe Rhew, and former director of engineering at Goldman Sachs-acquired fintech company Financeit, Adnan Ali.

Aided by funding from VC firm TI Platform Management, Y Combinator and angel investor Charles Songhurst, Tyltgo projects another 1500% revenue growth for 2021. The company’s goal is to expand its team, develop an API and app-based platform, and add 100 more merchants across Ontario.

Pereira said Tyltgo originally focused on florists, and occasionally pharmacies, but demand from the restaurant industry led to the company’s new target — meal kit deliveries.

Meal kit services that provide the culinarily challenged with perfectly portioned ingredients and cooking instructions were already gaining popularity in the before times. When the pandemic hit, services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron saw even more growth. As restaurants struggled to keep their businesses open, many started to get in on the action, delivering restaurant-quality meals with instructions for heating and serving.

The global meal kit delivery services market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2027, with heat-and-eat options taking a large share of that market. Tyltgo is counting on the success of this industry. It has already secured partnerships with restaurants like General Assembly Pizza and Crafty Ramen, as well as with more traditional meal kit delivery services from grocery stores and organic farms.

Pereira said working in the “quasi-perishable space” of flowers and meal kits is both a challenge and a differentiator for the company. Depending on the contents of the delivery, Tyltgo will determine its perishability window and make sure to match that window with a driver. It’s also got an advanced fleet management platform that assigns a number of deliveries to suit the size of a courier’s vehicle.

“In the earlier days, the hardest part was being able to match those perishability windows without causing damage to the products,” said Pereira. “We all know that in logistics, you have to account for traffic, weather conditions, all these other things, but you have an eight hour delivery window to get out 35 deliveries.”

Another challenge is ensuring the top quality service Tyltgo advertises while working in the gig economy. Selecting for reliable couriers has slowed the company down at points, but Tyltgo aims to grow capacity only if it can simultaneously maintain a low error threshold.

“We won’t bring on a merchant if we don’t think we have the capacity to handle their deliveries and meet those expectations,” said Pereira.

Whether or not Tyltgo’s meal kit focus will end up driving scalability in the long run, the platform itself has legs. Pereira’s goal is to see Tyltgo become a part of every post-purchase customer experience for all retail trade categories, and that includes expanding into customer service, branding and transactions on top of delivery.

“The main reason why we’re doing this is because a lot of these smaller, brick-and-mortar retailers don’t have the time and resources to be able to compete with the Amazons of the world,” said Pereira. “We want to be able to put that power in their hands.”

#amazon, #blue-apron, #canada, #companies, #courier, #gig-economy, #hellofresh, #meal-kit, #mobility, #online-food-ordering, #shopify, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #university-of-waterloo, #y-combinator

0

US indicts California man accused of stealing Shopify customer data

A grand jury has indicted a California resident accused of stealing Shopify customer data on over a hundred merchants, TechCrunch has learned.

The indictment charges Tassilo Heinrich with aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by allegedly working with two Shopify customer support agents to steal merchant and customer data from Shopify customers to gain a competitive edge and “take business away from those merchants,” the indictment reads. The indictment also accuses Heinrich, believed to be around 18-years-old at the time of the alleged scheme, of selling the data to other co-conspirators to commit fraud.

A person with direct knowledge of the security breach confirmed Shopify was the unnamed victim company referenced in the indictment.

Last September, Shopify, an online e-commerce platform for small businesses, revealed a data breach in which two “rogue members” of its third-party customer support team of “less than 200 merchants.” Shopify said it fired the two contractors for engaging “in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants.”

Shopify said the contractors stole customer data, including names, postal addresses and order details, like which products and services were purchased. One merchant who received the data breach notice from Shopify said the last four digits of affected customers’ payment cards were also taken, which the indictment confirms.

Another one of the victims was Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics and make-up company, Kylie Cosmetics, the BBC reported.

The indictment accuses Heinrich of paying an employee of a third-party customer support company in the Philippines to access parts of Shopify’s internal network by either taking screenshots or uploading the data to Google Drive in exchange for kickbacks. Heinrich paid the employee in thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, and also fake positive reviews claiming to be from merchants to whom the employee had provided customer service but had not left feedback. The indictment alleges that Heinrich received a year’s worth of some merchants’ data.

Heinrich allegedly spent at least a year siphoning off incrementing amounts of data from Shopify’s internal network, at one point asking if he could “remotely access” the customer support employee’s computer while they were asleep.

Heinrich was arrested by the FBI at Los Angeles International Airport in February,and is currently detained in federal custody pending trial, set to begin on September 7. Heinrich has pleaded not guilty.

A Shopify spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

#california, #companies, #data-breach, #ecommerce, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #kylie-jenner, #philippines, #publishing, #security, #shopify, #spokesperson

0

Pipe, which aims to be the ‘Nasdaq for revenue,’ raises more money at a $2B valuation

Fast-growing fintech Pipe has raised another round of funding at a $2 billion valuation, just weeks after raising $50M in growth funding, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Although the round is still ongoing, Pipe has reportedly raised $150 million in a “massively oversubscribed” round led by Baltimore, Md.-based Greenspring Associates. While the company has signed a term sheet, more money could still come in, according to the source. Both new and existing investors have participated in the fundraise.

The increase in valuation is “a significant step up” from the company’s last raise. Pipe has declined to comment on the deal.

A little over one year ago, Pipe raised a $6 million seed round led by Craft Ventures to help it pursue its mission of giving SaaS companies a funding alternative outside of equity or venture debt.

The buzzy startup’s goal with the money was to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

Just a few weeks ago, Miami-based Pipe announced a new raise — $50 million in “strategic equity funding” from a slew of high-profile investors. Siemens’ Next47 and Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Group co-led the round, which also included participation from Shopify, Slack, HubSpot, Okta, Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya, Marc Benioff, Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Republic, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six and Joe Lonsdale.

At that time, Pipe co-CEO and co-founder Harry Hurst said the company was also broadening the scope of its platform beyond strictly SaaS companies to “any company with a recurring revenue stream.” This could include D2C subscription companies, ISP, streaming services or a telecommunications companies. Even VC fund admin and management are being piped on its platform, for example, according to Hurst.

“When we first went to market, we were very focused on SaaS, our first vertical,” he told TC at the time. “Since then, over 3,000 companies have signed up to use our platform.” Those companies range from early-stage and bootstrapped with $200,000 in revenue, to publicly-traded companies.

Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit. Trading limits currently range from $50,000 for smaller early-stage and bootstrapped companies, to over $100 million for late-stage and publicly traded companies, although there is no cap on how large a trading limit can be.

In the first quarter of 2021, tens of millions of dollars were traded across the Pipe platform. Between its launch in late June 2020 through year’s end, the company also saw “tens of millions” in trades take place via its marketplace. Tradable ARR on the platform is currently in excess of $1 billion.

#alexis-ohanian, #baltimore, #banking, #chamath-palihapitiya, #corporate-finance, #craft-ventures, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenspring-associates, #hubspot, #investment, #isp, #joe-lonsdale, #marc-benioff, #maryland, #miami, #okta, #payment-processing, #pipe, #raptor-group, #recent-funding, #saas, #shopify, #siemens, #social-capital, #startups, #streaming-services, #tc, #telecommunications, #venture-capital

0

Better Health raises $3.5M seed round to reinvent medical supply shopping through e-commerce

The home medical supply market in the U.S. is significant and growing, but the way that Americans go about getting much-needed medical supplies, particularly for those with chronic conditions, relies on outdated and clumsy sales mechanisms that often have very poor customer experiences. New startup Better Health aims to change that, with an e-commerce approach to serving customers in need of medical supplies for chronic conditions, and it has raised $3.5 million in a new seed round to pursue its goals.

Better Health estimates the total value of the home medical supplies market in the U.S., which covers all reimbursable devices and supplies needed for chronic conditions, including things like colostomy bags, catheters, mobility aids, insulin pumps and more, is around $60 billion annually. But the market is obviously a specialized one relative to other specialized goods businesses, in part because it requires working not only with customers who make the final decisions about what supplies to use, but also payers, who typically foot the bill through insurance reimbursements.

The other challenge is that individuals with chronic care needs often require a lot of guidance and support when making the decision about what equipment and supplies to select — and the choices they make can have a significant impact on quality of life. Better Health co-founder and CEO Naama Stauber Breckler explained how she came to identify the problems in the industry, and why she set out to address them.

“The first company I started was right out of school, it’s called CompactCath,” she explained in an interview. “We created a novel intermittent catheter, because we identified that there’s a gap in the existing options for people with chronic bladder issues that need to use a catheter on a day-to-day basis […] In the process of bringing it to market, I was exposed to the medical devices and supplies industry. I was just shocked when I realized how hard it is for people today to get life-saving medical supplies, and basically realized that it’s not just about inventing a better product, there’s kind of a bigger systematic problem that locks consumer choice, and also prevents innovation in the space.”

Stauber Breckler’s founding story isn’t too dissimilar from the founding story of another e-commerce pioneer: Shopify. The now-public heavyweight originally got started when founder Tobi Lütke, himself a software engineer like Stauber Breckler, found that the available options for running his online snowboard store were poorly designed and built. With Better Health, she’s created a marketplace, rather than a platform like Shopify, but the pain points and desire to address the problem at a more fundamental level are the same.

Better Health Head of Product Adam Breckler, left, and CEO Naama Stauber Breckler, right

With CompactCath, she said they ended up having to build their own direct-to-consumer marketing and sales product, and through that process, they ended up talking to thousands of customers with chronic conditions about their experiences, and what they found exposed the extend of the problems in the existing market.

“We kept hearing the same stories again, and again — it’s hard to find the right supplier, often it’s a local store, the process is extremely manual and lengthy and prone to errors, they get the surprise bills they weren’t expecting,” Stauber Breckler said. “But mostly, it’s just that there is this really sharp drop in care, from the time that you have a surgery or you were diagnosed, to when you need to now start using this device, when you’re essentially left at home and are given a general prescription.”

Unlike in the prescription drug market, where your choices essentially amount to whether you pick the brand name or the generic, and the outcome is pretty much the same regardless, in medical supplies which solution you choose can have a dramatically different effect on your experience. Customers might not be aware, for example, that something like CompactCath exists, and would instead chose a different catheter option that limits their mobility because of how frequently it needs changing and how intensive the process is. Physicians and medical professionals also might not be the best to advise them on their choice, because while they’ve obviously seen patients with these conditions, they generally haven’t lived with them themselves.

“We have talked to people who tell us, ‘I’ve had an ostomy for 19 years, and this is the first time I don’t have constant leakages’ or someone who had been using a catheter for three years and hasn’t left her house for more than two hours, because they didn’t feel comfortable with the product that they had to use it in a public restroom,” Stauber Breckler said. “So they told us things like ‘I finally went to visit my parents, they live in a town three hours away.’”

Better Health can provide this kind fo clarity to customers because it employs advisors who can talk patients through the equipment selection process with one-to-one coaching and product use education. The startup also helps with navigating the insurance side, managing paperwork, estimating costs and even arguing the case for a specific piece of equipment in case of difficulty getting the claim approved. The company leverages peers who have first-hand experience with the chronic conditions it serves to help better serve its customers.

Already, Better Health is a Medicare-licensed provider in 48 states, and it has partnerships in place with commercial providers like Humana and Oscar Health. This funding round was led by 8VC, a firm with plenty of expertise in the healthcare industry and an investor in Stauber Breckler’s prior ventures, and includes participation from Caffeinated Capital, Anorak Ventures, and angels Robert Hurley and Scott Flanders of remote health pioneer eHealth.

#8vc, #advisors, #caffeinated-capital, #health, #healthcare-industry, #humana, #medicare, #medicine, #oscar, #oscar-health, #pain, #port, #robert-hurley, #shopify, #software-engineer, #surgery, #tc, #united-states

0

No-code business intelligence service y42 raises $2.9M seed round

Berlin-based y42 (formerly known as Datos Intelligence), a data warehouse-centric business intelligence service that promises to give businesses access to an enterprise-level data stack that’s as simple to use as a spreadsheet, today announced that it has raised a $2.9 million seed funding round led by La Famiglia VC. Additional investors include the co-founders of Foodspring, Personio and Petlab.

The service, which was founded in 2020, integrates with over 100 data sources, covering all the standard B2B SaaS tools from Airtable to Shopify and Zendesk, as well as database services like Google’s BigQuery. Users can then transform and visualize this data, orchestrate their data pipelines and trigger automated workflows based on this data (think sending Slack notifications when revenue drops or emailing customers based on your own custom criteria).

Like similar startups, y42 extends the idea data warehouse, which was traditionally used for analytics, and helps businesses operationalize this data. At the core of the service is a lot of open source and the company, for example, contributes to GitLabs’ Meltano platform for building data pipelines.

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang.

“We’re taking the best of breed open-source software. What we really want to accomplish is to create a tool that is so easy to understand and that enables everyone to work with their data effectively,” Y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang told me. “We’re extremely UX obsessed and I would describe us as no-code/low-code BI tool — but with the power of an enterprise-level data stack and the simplicity of Google Sheets.”

Before y42, Vietnam-born Dang co-founded a major events company that operated in over 10 countries and made millions in revenue (but with very thin margins), all while finishing up his studies with a focus on business analytics. And that in turn led him to also found a second company that focused on B2B data analytics.

Image Credits: y42

Even while building his events company, he noted, he was always very product- and data-driven. “I was implementing data pipelines to collect customer feedback and merge it with operational data — and it was really a big pain at that time,” he said. “I was using tools like Tableau and Alteryx, and it was really hard to glue them together — and they were quite expensive. So out of that frustration, I decided to develop an internal tool that was actually quite usable and in 2016, I decided to turn it into an actual company. ”

He then sold this company to a major publicly listed German company. An NDA prevents him from talking about the details of this transaction, but maybe you can draw some conclusions from the fact that he spent time at Eventim before founding y42.

Given his background, it’s maybe no surprise that y42’s focus is on making life easier for data engineers and, at the same time, putting the power of these platforms in the hands of business analysts. Dang noted that y42 typically provides some consulting work when it onboards new clients, but that’s mostly to give them a head start. Given the no-code/low-code nature of the product, most analysts are able to get started pretty quickly  — and for more complex queries, customers can opt to drop down from the graphical interface to y42’s low-code level and write queries in the service’s SQL dialect.

The service itself runs on Google Cloud and the 25-people team manages about 50,000 jobs per day for its clients. the company’s customers include the likes of LifeMD, Petlab and Everdrop.

Until raising this round, Dang self-funded the company and had also raised some money from angel investors. But La Famiglia felt like the right fit for y42, especially due to its focus on connecting startups with more traditional enterprise companies.

“When we first saw the product demo, it struck us how on top of analytical excellence, a lot of product development has gone into the y42 platform,” said Judith Dada, General Partner at LaFamiglia VC. “More and more work with data today means that data silos within organizations multiply, resulting in chaos or incorrect data. y42 is a powerful single source of truth for data experts and non-data experts alike. As former data scientists and analysts, we wish that we had y42 capabilities back then.”

Dang tells me he could have raised more but decided that he didn’t want to dilute the team’s stake too much at this point. “It’s a small round, but this round forces us to set up the right structure. For the series, A, which we plan to be towards the end of this year, we’re talking about a dimension which is 10x,” he told me.

#alteryx, #analytics, #berlin, #big-data, #business-intelligence, #business-software, #ceo, #cloud, #data, #data-analysis, #data-management, #data-warehouse, #enterprise, #general-partner, #information-technology, #judith-dada, #recent-funding, #shopify, #sql, #startups, #vietnam

0

Inovia Capital raises $450M for second growth-stage investment fund

Montreal-headquartered Inovia Capital has raised $450 million for Growth Fund II, the firm’s second growth-stage investment fund. The close of this funding comes just a little over two years after the announcement of its first in February 2019, a $400 million pool of investment capital that marked Inovia’s first foray beyond the early stage deals it originally focused on.

Inovia now has investments across every stage of a company’s development — including retaining stakes in some of its portfolio companies that have had successful exits to the public markets, like Lightspeed, the point-of-sale and commerce company that went public in a nearly $400 million public offering on both the NYSE and the TSX last year.

As with Growth Fund I, the goal of Growth Fund II is to invest in companies with a focus primarily on Canadian startups, but also looking to targets in the U.S. and EU, where Inovia also maintains offices. The firms’ partners, including Chris Arsenault, Dennis Kavelman, and former Google CFO Patrick Pichette, have focused on building out a team of experienced operators to help their portfolio companies, and invest specifically in areas of particular need for startups outside the Valley, like sourcing high-demand, senior talent with high-profile tech industry experience.

Inovia’s original Growth Fund was based on an assumption that the firm could leverage its relationships and its experience to deliver value to its portfolio companies not just when they’re starting out, but across their growth cycles. Arsenault explained in an interview that Fund I was kind of a proof point that that this assumption was correct, which then paid big dividends when the firm went out to raise Fund II last year.

“We basically built the team around Dennis, Patrick and myself,” he said. “We really followed through on our key assumptions over why it made sense for Inovia to use its platform to actually build a growth stage fund that would benefit not only from insights into the portfolio, but also all of the relationships and the platform that we built over the last decade.”

What needed proving, Arsenault said, was that Inovia could stand toe-to-toe with the growth-focused firms that had acted as follow-on investors for its early stage deals over the years. That was no easy task, when you consider that Inovia provided deal flow to some of the most respected venture firms in technology, including Bessemer, KKR, TA Ventures and Sequoia.

Inovia hired a lot of operators with experience at high-growth companies, and focused on being able to shepherd its investments through challenges like building a real board, and engineering a cap table to properly manage and prepare secondary sales. With a plan to invest in between 10 to 12 companies with the $400 million in Fund I, Inovia began making deals – the first was with Lightspeed, and then they got into Forward (tech-enabled primary health care), Hopper and Snaptravel (two travel industry startups) and more.

Inovia Capital growth partners Chris Arsenault, Dennis Kavelman and Patrick Pichette (left to right)

Most of the companies that Lightspeed picked with Fund I (it did 10 deals in total) ended up having a very strong 2020 – including, surprisingly, all the travel-focused startups. Based on the strength of their performance, Arsenault and his partners decided to accelerate their timetable for raising Fund II, and found LPs more than willing. They ended up capping the fund at $450 million (with a target of between 10 to 12 investments, as with Fund I) given what Arsenault says felt like the right size for managing across the investment and operating team, despite available demand to likely raise quite a bit more.

Arsenault noted that most of the LPs contributing to this fund also had capital in the first, though some new investors have also signed on. And while Inovia’s focus is not strictly Canadian, he added that the firm’s success, along with the makeup of its investment partners and portfolio (two-thirds of the companies it has backed are Canadian) tells a story of a changing investment landscape north of the border.

“The majority of our LPs are Canadian, and I take it to heart that it’s important to create patterns of success, so that people can look towards models and either replicate or adapt to their own situation,” Arsenault said. “I think that we need more success stories that people can look at and say, ‘I can do the same thing, or I can do better.’ And the fact that our LPs came back with us, and when you look at, you know, what Georgian [Partners] is doing, and what Novacap is doing, and what OMERS Growth – this is nothing like the VC ecosystem and industry that I was in 10 years ago, right? We’re definitely on another level now in Canada.”

He added that there are examples at every stage of company-building, citing the new Backbone Angels collective led by a number of post and current Shopify employees including Arati Sharma, Atless Clark, Lynsey Thornton and Alexandra Clark. Arsenault also pointed to Lightspeed’s decision to list first on the TSX before the NYSE as a sign of newfound tech industry maturity in the Canadian context.

Finally, Arsenault credits an unusual ‘X’ factor in how Inovia has been able to put together this second fund and manage deep involvement in its very active portfolio companies over the last year: the mostly remote conditions brought on by the necessities of the pandemic.

“It would have been impossible to do what we did within the portfolio, with the portfolio, fundraising a new fund, generating our best year, in terms of exits last year, we had the New York Stock Exchange IPO for Lightspeed, we had a dozen transactions of acquisitions where our portfolio companies are doing the acquiring,” he said. “I don’t know how we would have done what we’ve done, had we been traveling and had a normal life.”

#accel, #canada, #cfo, #chris-arsenault, #corporate-finance, #european-union, #finance, #fund, #funding, #google, #hopper, #inovia, #inovia-capital, #investment, #lightspeed, #money, #montreal, #patrick-pichette, #shopify, #ta-ventures, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

0

Carbon Engineering inks Shopify as its first partner for carbon removal as a service

Carbon Engineering is moving ahead with its carbon removal service business, allowing customers to buy the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using its direct air capture technology.

The launch of the service, and the announcement that Shopify will be the company’s first customer, comes as the company’s most direct competitor, Climeworks, made moves of its own — striking a deal with the Swedish sequestration services company Northern Lights to move forward with its own direct air capture as a service offering.

With the  Shopify agreement, Carbon Engineering has the first paying customer for 10,000 tonnes of permanent carbon removal capacity from a large-scale DAC project. The removal and sequestration will be done by CE’s plant development partner, 1PointFive – the US development company that’s currently engineering CE’s first industrial-scale facility, the company said. That facility is due to be completed in 2024. 

“Early customers for direct air capture (DAC) — especially companies with ambitious climate goals — can have outsized impact today: not only does procuring DAC services enable companies to hit ‘net-zero’ pledges faster, but it helps DAC technology come down the ‘learning curve,’ driving cost reductions and making DAC services more affordable and accessible for a wider customer base in the future,” said Noah Deich, president and founder of the climate focused advocacy group Carbon180. “I’m very excited to see Carbon Engineering announce a way for early corporate leaders — and hopefully a wave of fast followers — to devote more of their climate spend towards DAC.”

Their timeframe puts the Carbon Engineering timetable on roughly even footing with Climeworks for getting to market. Luckily for both firms, given the billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions that need to be captured and sequestered it’s a market that’s definitely big enough for both of them. 

With its commitment, Shopify becomes the largest publicly-announced purchaser of direct air capture-based carbon removal.

“Carbon Engineering’s mission has always been to deliver a highly scalable and affordable solution for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said CE CEO, Steve Oldham, in a statement. “We’re on the brink of large-scale deployment of our technology and the next critical step is accumulating market interest and securing customers. This new service allows us to do that. It also makes it easy for companies and governments to include permanent carbon removal in their net-zero plans. We’re thrilled to expand our relationship with Shopify and welcome them as our first carbon removal customer, and we look forward to supporting others so we can collectively make large-scale carbon removal a reality.”

Carbon removal unit purchases will be fulfilled by distributed air capture facilities deployed by 1PointFive, Carbon Engineering’s development partner, which is backed by deep-pocketed investors including Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental, and Rusheen Capital Management.

Carbon Engineering is also working with Pale Blue Dot Energy out of the UK to bring its direct air capture technology across the Atlantic.

“We welcome this news and applaud Shopify on their climate leadership position,” said 1PointFive Chairman Richard Jackson. “Alongside climate experts like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we recognize that permanent carbon removal is going to be necessary to achieve our vision of a sustainable low-carbon world. 1PointFive looks forward to bringing large-scale carbon removal capability based on CE’s technology to the market, helping customers worldwide to achieve their climate goals.” 

#advocacy, #air-pollution, #articles, #carbon-dioxide, #ce, #ceo, #chairman, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greenhouse-gases, #president, #shopify, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

0

Equity Monday: More money for fintech, Deliveroo’s IPO, and AI startups

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and make sure to check out our Friday show that featured the Square-Tidal deal, some recent IPOs, and some super-neat rounds.

Much like today’s show, if I am being honest. Here’s the rundown:

A packed kickoff to what promises to be a packed week!

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

#ai, #bay-area, #coursera, #deliveroo, #edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #postscript, #praava-health, #shopify, #starling, #startups

0

Investors still love software more than life

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Despite some recent market volatility, the valuations that software companies have generally been able to command in recent quarters have been impressive. On Friday, we took a look into why that was the case, and where the valuations could be a bit more bubbly than others. Per a report written by few Battery Ventures investors, it stands to reason that the middle of the SaaS market could be where valuation inflation is at its peak.

Something to keep in mind if your startup’s growth rate is ticking lower. But today, instead of being an enormous bummer and making you worry, I have come with some historically notable data to show you how good modern software startups and their larger brethren have it today.

In case you are not 100% infatuated with tables, let me save you some time. In the upper right we can see that SaaS companies today that are growing at less than 10% yearly are trading for an average of 6.9x their next 12 months’ revenue.

Back in 2011, SaaS companies that were growing at 40% or more were trading at 6.0x their next 12 month’s revenue. Climate change, but for software valuations.

One more note from my chat with Battery. Its investor Brandon Gleklen riffed with The Exchange on the definition of ARR and its nuances in the modern market. As more SaaS companies swap traditional software-as-a-service pricing for its consumption-based equivalent, he declined to quibble on definitions of ARR, instead arguing that all that matters in software revenues is whether they are being retained and growing over the long term. This brings us to our next topic.

Consumption v. SaaS pricing

I’ve taken a number of earnings calls in the last few weeks with public software companies. One theme that’s come up time and again has been consumption pricing versus more traditional SaaS pricing. There is some data showing that consumption-priced software companies are trading at higher multiples than traditionally priced software companies, thanks to better-than-average retention numbers.

But there is more to the story than just that. Chatting with Fastly CEO Joshua Bixby after his company’s earnings report, we picked up an interesting and important market distinction between where consumption may be more attractive and where it may not be. Per Bixby, Fastly is seeing larger customers prefer consumption-based pricing because they can afford variability and prefer to have their bills tied more closely to revenue. Smaller customers, however, Bixby said, prefer SaaS billing because it has rock-solid predictability.

I brought the argument to Open View Partners Kyle Poyar, a venture denizen who has been writing on this topic for TechCrunch in recent weeks. He noted that in some cases the opposite can be true, that variably priced offerings can appeal to smaller companies because their developers can often test the product without making a large commitment.

So, perhaps we’re seeing the software market favoring SaaS pricing among smaller customers when they are certain of their need, and choosing consumption pricing when they want to experiment first. And larger companies, when their spend is tied to equivalent revenue changes, bias toward consumption pricing as well.

Evolution in SaaS pricing will be slow, and never complete. But folks really are thinking about it. Appian CEO Matt Calkins has a general pricing thesis that price should “hover” under value delivered. Asked about the consumption-versus-SaaS topic, he was a bit coy, but did note that he was not “entirely happy” with how pricing is executed today. He wants pricing that is a “better proxy for customer value,” though he declined to share much more.

If you aren’t thinking about this conversation and you run a startup, what’s up with that? More to come on this topic, including notes from an interview with the CEO of BigCommerce, who is betting on SaaS over the more consumption-driven Shopify.

Next Insurance, and its changing market

Next Insurance bought another company this week. This time it was AP Intego, which will bring integration into various payroll providers for the digital-first SMB insurance provider. Next Insurance should be familiar because TechCrunch has written about its growth a few times. The company doubled its premium run rate to $200 million in 2020, for example.

The AP Intego deal brings $185.1 million of active premium to Next Insurance, which means that the neo-insurance provider has grown sharply thus far in 2021, even without counting its organic expansion. But while the Next Insurance deal and the impending Hippo SPAC are neat notes from a hot private sector, insurtech has shed some of its public-market heat.

Stocks of public neo-insurance companies like Root, Lemonade and MetroMile have lost quite a lot of value in recent weeks. So, the exit landscape for companies like Next and Hippo — yet-private insurtech startups with lots of capital backing their rapid premium growth — is changing for the worse.

Hippo decided it will debut via a SPAC. But I doubt that Next Insurance will pursue a rapid ramp to the public markets until things smooth out. Not that it needs to go public quickly; it raised a quarter billion back in September of last year.

Various and Sundry

What else? Sisense, a $100 million ARR club member, hired a new CFO. So we expect them to go public inside the next four or five quarters.

And the following chart, which is via Deena Shakir of Lux Capital, via Nasdaq, via SPAC Alpha:

Alex

 

#bigcommerce, #fundings-exits, #next-insurance, #saas, #shopify, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

0

Postscript raises $35M to give Shopify stores SMS superpowers

Postscript helps Shopify stores stay in touch with customers via SMS, with a focus on keeping everything opt-in, legally compliant, and spam free. The company raised $4.5M back at the end of 2019; this morning it’s announcing it has raised a $35M Series B.

The company has grown pretty rapidly over the last year. When we last checked in with them in December of 2019, they had 14 employees and around 530 customers; today, they’re at 61 employees with over 3,500 customers.

Their vision for the product has grown a bit over the last year as well. Initially envisioned as more of a one-way broadcasting for Shopify stores to market to existing customers (“Look! We’ve got new shoes in stock!”), they’re now working on expanding into more two-way interactions, enabling customers to do things like re-orders, subscription management, and reviews through SMS.

As before, Postscript is compatible exclusively with Shopify stores. Behind the scenes they’ve been building out an API to allow deeper integrations into other Shopify plugins — but still, they’re all about Shopify merchants for now.

“We’re still focused exclusively there,” Postscript co-founder Alex Beller tells me. “We think it’s kind of our secret sauce, honestly, because we go so deep with the data and the ecosystem. There’s just a lot of tiny accumulating advantages there. It’s also the platform that’s growing the fastest in e-commerce, so it’s been a good place to be.”

While the company’s December 2019 funding was a seed round, co-founder Adam Turner tells me that between the size of the round and the revenue the company is seeing, they’ve skipped the A round and have structured this one as a Series B.

The round was led by Greylock, and backed by YC, 1984vc, Ali Capital, Elephant VC, and Larry Fitzgerald. As part of the deal, Greylock partners Sarah Guo and Mike Duboe will be joining Postscript’s board.

#postscript, #shopify, #tc

0

Maestro nets $15 million for its interactive commerce, community and engagement tools for livestreams

Making money on livestreams has never been easier thanks to a suite of tools from the Los Angeles-based startup Maestro, which just nabbed $15 million in financing to grow its business.

As video commerce becomes the norm and entertainers, brands, businesses, and franchises of all sizes and stripes look to cut out the middle man, the array of services on offer from Maestro may be the scissors these entities need to cut the cord.

The company has already worked with names as diverse as the Golden State Warriors, the Dallas Cowboys, and pop sensation Billy Eilish on embedding its interactive tools into various live events and promotions.

Initially the LA-based company launched to the gaming community with interactive features that folks could use in-stream to create better engagement with fans. But what started in the gaming world quickly spun out as the company slashed prices to $500 per month for its services.

The pandemic also helped as artists who were cut off from their audiences began to explore alternative ways to reach fans — and make money.

We were targeted to a small number of very premier customers. It was around 50 to 60 and we grew to in the hundreds,” said Maestro chief executive, Ari Evans, said. “2020 was a blowout year… People needed an interactive streaming platform that they could spin up quickly that they could launch on their website.”

Celebrities from Katy Perry to Post Malone to Billie Eilish all turned to the service and so did other streaming platforms like the Los Angeles-based virtual concert platform, The Wave.

Now the company has $15 million in new financing to capitalize on its growth from investors including NetEase, Sony Music Entertainment, and Acronym Venture Capital, alongside a host of industry titans including Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Moonwell Capital, founded by former Activision Blizzard executives Michael and Amy Morhaime, the company said in a statement. 

Existing investors like SeventySix Capital, The Strand Partners, Stadia Ventures, Hersh Interactive Group, and Transcend Fund, as well as early Zoom employees Richard Gatchalian and Aaron Lewis, also participated. 

Since the launch of monetization tools in May of last year, Evans estimated that the platform has paid out at least $5 million to entertainers who used the service.

“We are pleased to be supporting the continued development of Maestro as part of our ongoing investment in new technologies that provide artists with cutting-edge tools and solutions for growing their careers. Maestro gives artists greater flexibility and control to build the most engaging and customized events for their fans, allowing creators at any stage of their career to put together a world class live stream event,” said Dennis Kooker, President, Global Digital Business and U.S. Sales, Sony Music Entertainment, in a statement. 

“Maestro is at the forefront of redefining the relationship of content owners and creators with their viewers. Instead of relying on incumbent distribution platforms, customers control the audience relationship directly and maximize engagement and monetization in a way that fits with their brand objectives. We are very excited by Maestro’s potential to be a fundamental driver in the growth of the creator economy,” said Joshua Siegel, General Partner, Acronym Venture Capital.  

“Maestro… started off with the content and now we’re adding membership and community management and ticketing and all that stuff,” said Evans. 

The next step, and a big part of what Evans and his team of 55 employees will work on building will be a developer ecosystem, so software designers can start building out new tools to sell through the Maestro platform.

“The third piece is a developer ecosystem,” Evans said. “We’re really copying Shopify, Squarespace for video or Shopify for video. It’s kind of strange that this has taken so long to develop.

The one thing that Maestro won’t do is discovery or search services, Evans said. “We’re helping creators make money and build a business on top of video. That’s something creators need to be aware of if they’re going to  build that direct to consumer channel,” he said. “If you do do that and you’re successful you’re in control over your audience.”

#activision-blizzard, #billie-eilish, #co-founder, #companies, #electronic-arts, #general-partner, #golden-state-warriors, #katy-perry, #kevin-lin, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #maestro, #michael, #musicians, #netease, #shopify, #sony, #sony-music-entertainment, #tc, #technology, #twitch, #united-states, #unity-technologies, #website

0

Bessemer Venture Partners closes on $3.3 billion across two funds

Another major VC firm has closed two major rounds, underscoring the long-term confidence investors continue to have for backing privately-held companies in the tech sector.

Early-stage VC firm Bessemer Venture Partners announced Thursday the close of two new funds totaling $3.3 billion that it will be using both to back early-stage startups as well as growth rounds for more mature companies.

The Redwood City-based firm closed BVP XI with $2.475 billion and BVP Century II with $825 million in total commitments.

With BVP XI, it plans to focus on early-stage companies spanning across enterprise, consumer, healthcare, and frontier technologies. 

Its Century II fund is aimed at backing growth-stage companies that Bessemer believes “will define the next century,” and will include both follow-on rounds for existing portfolio companies or investments in new ones.

BVP XI marks Bessemer’s largest fund in its 110-year history. In October 2018, the firm brought in $1.85 billion for its tenth flagship VC fund. This latest fund is its fifth consecutive billion-dollar fund, based on PitchBook data. 

Despite being founded more than 100 years ago, Bessemer didn’t actually enter the venture business until 1965. It’s known for its investments in LinkedIn, Blue Apron and many others, with a current portfolio that includes PagerDuty, Shippo, Electric and DocuSign. Exits include Twitch and Shopify, among many others.

With more money than ever before available for backing startups, the challenge now for VCs is to see how and if they can find (and invest in) whatever will define the next generation of tech. 

“As venture capitalists, we pay too much attention to pattern recognition and matching when in reality, the biggest opportunities exist where those patterns break,” the firm wrote in a blog post today. “Our job is to make perceptive bets on the future, especially those that others will dismiss and ridicule. We are fundamental optimists and strong believers in the power of innovation; our life’s work is putting our reputation, time, and money to help entrepreneurs realize a different future. They’re the ones pioneering something entirely new and obscure – a technology, a business model, a category.

In addition to announcing the new funds, Bessemer also revealed today that it’s brought on five new partners including Jeff Blackburn, who joins after a 22-year career at Amazon, alongside the promotion of existing investors Mary D’Onofrio, Mike Droesch, Tess Hatch, and Andrew Hedin.

Most recently at Amazon, Blackburn served as senior vice president of worldwide business development where he oversaw dozens of Amazon’s minority investments and more than 100 acquisitions across all business lines – including retail, Kindle, Echo, Alexa, FireTV, advertising, music, streaming audio & video, and Amazon Web Services.  

“Having been part of Amazon for more than two decades, I’m excited to begin a new chapter helping customer-focused founders build breakthrough companies,” said Blackburn in a written statement.  “I’ve known the Bessemer team for many years and have long admired their strategic vision and success backing early-stage ventures.” 

With the latest changes, Bessemer now has 21 partners and over 45 investors, advisors, and platform “team members” located in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston, London, Tel Aviv, Bangalore, and Beijing. 

“At Bessemer, there’s no corner office or consensus; every partner has the choice, independently, to pen a check. This kind of accountability and autonomy means a founder is teaming up with a partner and board director who thoroughly understands your business and can respond quickly and decisively,” the firm’s blog post read.

Bessemer’s task is all the more difficult because there is more competition than ever before to get into the best deals.

TCV closed on a record $4 billion fund to invest in e-commerce, fintech, edtech, travel and more in late January.

Last November, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z)  closed a pair of funds totaling $4.5 billion. The firm raised $1.3 billion for an early-stage fund focused on consumer, enterprise and fintech; and closed a $3.2 billion growth-stage fund for later-stage investments.

And, last April, Insight, the firm that has backed the likes of Twitter and Shopify and invests across a range of consumer and enterprise startups, announced it had closed a fund of $9.5 billion, money it said it would be using to support startups and “scale-ups” (larger and older startups that are still private) in the coming months.

Although BVP is one of the older firms in the valley, there have been a new wave of investors, some like SoftBank with very deep pockets, and others will less money but a lot of credibility, so it will be interesting to see how these next two funds play out for the firm.

#bessemer, #bessemer-venture-partners, #bvp, #healthcare, #linkedin, #mary-donofrio, #mike-droesch, #money, #pagerduty, #redwood-city, #shopify, #tess-hatch, #venture-capital

0

Marc Benioff and this panel of judges will decide who gets one seat on the first all-civilian spaceflight

SpaceX’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission, which will carry four passengers to orbit using a Crew Dragon capsule later this year if all goes to plan, will include one passenger selected by a panel of judges weighing the submissions of entrepreneurs. The panel will include Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Fast Company Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Mehta, YouTuber Mark Rober and Bar Rescue TV host Jon Taffer. It may seem like an eclectic bunch, but there is some reason to the madness.

This seat is one of four on the ride – the first belongs to contest and mission sponsor Jared Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments and a billionaire who has opted to spend a not insignificant chunk of money funding the flight. The second, Isaacman revealed earlier this week, will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux.

That leaves two more seats, and they’re being decided by two separate contests. One is open to anyone who is a U.S. citizen and who makes a donation to St. Jude via the ongoing charitable contribution drive. The other will be decided by this panel of judges, and will be chosen from a pool of applicants who have build stores on Shift4’s Shift4Shop e-commerce platform.

That’s right: This absurdly expensive and pioneering mission to space is also a growth marketing campaign for Isaacman’s Shopify competitor. But to be fair, the store of the winning entrant doesn’t have to be news – existing customers can also apply and are eligible.

The stated criteria for deciding the winner is “a business owner or entrepreneur the exhibits ingenuity, innovation and determination” so in other words it could be just about anybody. I’m extremely curious to see what Benioff, Mehta, Rober (also a former NASA JPL engineer in addition to a YouTuber) and Taffer come up with between them as a winner.

The Inspiration4 mission is currently set to fly in the fourth quarter of 2021, and mission specifics including total duration and target orbit are yet to be determined.

#aerospace, #benioff, #ceo, #e-commerce, #editor-in-chief, #entrepreneur, #founder, #salesforce, #shopify, #space, #spacex, #tc, #television-in-the-united-states, #united-states

0

BigCommerce customers can now sell on Walmart’s online marketplace

BigCommerce has partnered with Walmart to allow its customers to sell on the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer’s ecommerce marketplace, it announced this morning. Shares of Austin-based BigCommerce rose sharply in pre-market trading after the news, gaining around 10% before the bell.

Walmart, best-known for in-person shopping, has proven an ecommerce success story in recent years. For example, in its most recent quarter while Walmart as a whole grew 7.3%, its ecommerce sales advanced 69%.

BigCommerce has also reported strong growth in recent quarters, supported in part by partnerships similar to the one that it announced today. The ecommerce SaaS provider rolled out an integration with Wish last year, for example.

In a call concerning its earnings, which were announced before the Walmart news was announced, BigCommerce CEO Brent Bellm told TechCrunch that his company had been impressed with customer uptake of the Wish integration. Regarding the Walmart partnership, in a second interview Bellm told TechCrunch that it was overdue on the BigCommerce side; given the historical success of the Wish deal, it will be curious to dig into how many of the ecommerce platform’s customers opt to sell on Walmart, and how quickly they do so.

TechCrunch also spoke with Walmart exec Jeff Clementz about the arrangement. He stressed Walmart’s online customer monthly-actives — 120 million, per his company — and the breadth of their demand; BigCommerce customers selling on Walmart could expand its product diversity, helping the traditionally physical retailer possible continue its rapid growth.

The two companies are incentivizing adoption of the deal amongst BigCommerce customers by waiving certain fees for a month for retailers that sign up to sell on Walmart; Clementz described it as the first time that his company had offered a “new-seller discount.”

TechCrunch has had its eye on BigCommerce for some quarters now, thanks in part to its 2020 IPO. But the company is also interesting as its regular earnings results provide a lens into the world of ecommerce growth amongst independent digital retailers. Shopify, a chief BigCommerce rival, provides a similar view into the ecommerce world.

Shopify previously integrated with Walmart in the middle of 2020.

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see if the Walmart partnership helps BigCommerce continue its improving revenue growth. The company is in a marketshare race with Shopify. But while BigCommerce’s rival has posted impressive growth from its integrated solutions, like its payments service, the Austin-based company stresses what it calls a more open model. Shopify charges many customers a percentage of their transaction volume for using a third-party payment solution over its own, for example, which Bellm described as a “tax” during an interview.

“Merchant Solutions” revenue at Shopify, which it generates “principally” from “payment processing fees from Shopify Payments,” grew 116% in 2020 to a little over $2 billion.

So with BigCommerce collecting a partnership with Walmart to match Shopify’s own, we’re seeing not merely two ecommerce platforms go toe-to-toe on providing their customers with as much market access as they can, but two different business philosophies compete. Akin to Microsoft Teams and Slack, it’s a competition to spectate.

#bigcommerce, #ecommerce, #mobile, #shopify, #tc

0

Maple launches with $3.5 million in funding to become the SaaS backoffice for the family

Much of our daily lives have been transformed in one way or another by technology – and often through intentional efforts to innovate thanks to the advent of new technology. Now more than ever, we rely on shared collaboration platforms and digital workspaces in our professional lives, and yet most of the changes wrought by tech on our home and family lives seem like the accidental effects of broader trends, rather than intentional shifts. Maple, a new startup launching today, aims to change that.

Founded by former Shopify product director and Kit (which was acquired by Shopify in 2016) co-founder Michael Perry, Maple is billed as “the family tech platform,” and hopes to ease the burden of parenting, freeing up parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and kids to spend more quality time together. The startup, which is launching its app on iPhone and Android for all and onboarding new users from its waitlist over the next few weeks, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding – an impressive round for a company just about seven months into its existence. The round was led by Inspired Capital, and includes participation by Box Group, but is also supported by a number of angels who were Perry’s former colleagues at Shopify, including Shopify President Harley Finkelstein.

Perry and his co-founder Mike Taylor, who also co-founded Kit, decided to leave Shopify in order to pursue Perry’s vision of a platform that can help parents better manage their family lives – a platform made up of a social layer, a task-focused list of shared responsibilities, and a bourgeoning service marketplace that looks and feels a lot like the ecosystem Shopify has built for empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs. That’s by design, Perry says.

“I think you’re gonna see a lot of Shopify inspiration in this product – we think we’re the back office of every family,” Perry told me in an interview. “And we think we’re building the app ecosystem of apps, services, all kinds of things that are going to live on this platform that’s going to revolutionize parenting.”

In its current early incarnation, Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done. Maple has signed on three initial partners to assist with accomplishing some of these tasks, including Evelyn Rusli’s Yumi food and nutrition brand for infants; Lalo, a DTC baby and toddler furniture and gear brand; and Haus, which will be providing date night packages for parents to enjoy for some getaway time.

Maple co-founder Micheal Perry with his son.

The platform will offer users the ability to tap others for help with tasks – these could be other family members added to the household, or the partners mentioned above (the plan is to bring on more, but to gate admittance initially while developing API endpoints that any company can potentially tap into). When interacting with family members, Maple also encourages smalls social interactions, like thanking someone for their help on a particular task or just showing general appreciation. Perry says this is a key ingredient he prioritized in product design.

“We have this cool thing that every day at eight o’clock, we give you an end of the day recap with your family,” Perry said. “So you click on it, and it will show me that, for example, Alex [Perry’s wife] completed three responsibilities for our family today, and how many I did for my family today, and how much help I received from other people today. And directly in app, you can send these cool little ‘Thank you ‘messages and say, you know, I love you, I appreciate you – we’re a great team. And Alex will get those messages. We believe in a world where this can be incredibly dynamic, in many different ways kto kind of bring some love and appreciation and make parenting feel more rewarding and easier.”

Perry is quick to note that what Maple offers today is only the beginning, and it’s clear he has bold ambitions for the platform. He talked about building “the family graph,” or a trove of data that can be used to not only build intelligent recommendations and develop ever more advanced machine learning to optimize family management, but also to provide partners with the tools they need to build products to best serve families. I asked Perry what that means for privacy, given that people are likely to be far more reluctant to share info around their families than they are about their work lives. He said the they team plans to go slow in terms of what it exposes to partners, when, and how, and that they’ll have user privacy in mind at each step – since, after all, Perry himself is a father and a husband and is wary of any incursions on his own private life.

For now, partners like Yumi only receive what users share with them through their own account creation and login mechanism, and they only pass back a basic attribution token – essentially letting Maple know the task was completed so it can mark it off in a user’s list.

Image Credits: Maple

Maple’s partners today are representative of the kind of businesses that might make use of the platform in future, but Perry has a much broader vision. He hopes that Maple can ultimately help parents handle their responsibilities across a wide range of needs and income levels. Right now, Perry points out, a lot of what’s available to parents in terms of support is only available to higher income brackets – ie., nannies and dedicated caregivers. Perry says that his experience growing up relatively poor with a single mother supporting the entire family led him to want to provide something better.

“You have 125 million households in America, you have 3 million children being born every year, you have 30% of the households in America being single parent-run households,” Perry said. “It’s hard. Some people are working one two jobs, most couples are working couples. Every industry that’s changed has been about making things more accessible. In the case of Shopify, at one point building, an online store required hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of skilled people. Now you can start a store for $20 in five minutes – 20 years ago, that was unfathomable.”

For Perry, Maple represents a path to that kind of shift in the economics of parenting and a network of family services, including goods, care, leisure and more. The startup has plans to eventually enlist other parents to provide services, which Perry says will unlock part-time income generation for full-time parents, allowing parents to help each other at the same time.

I asked him if he thought people would be reluctant to treat their family lives with the same kind of optimization approach favored by enterprise and commercial platform tools, but he suggested that in fact, not taking advantage of those same technologies in our personal lives is a missed opportunity.

“We believe that, uniquely, we’re living through a generation where we can start creating more time for people,” Perry said. “I think what makes Maple so unique is that no company has approached this by asking ‘How do we create more time for you so that you can spend more time with your kids?’ in the consolidated way that we have.”

Disclosure: I worked at Shopify from 2018 to 2019 while Perry was employed there, but we did not work together directly.

#america, #android, #api, #business, #co-founder, #companies, #evelyn-rusli, #family, #food, #inspired-capital, #iphone, #machine-learning, #platform, #president, #publishing, #recent-funding, #shopify, #social, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #yumi

0

Brex applies for bank charter, taps former Silicon Valley Bank exec as CEO of Brex Bank

Brex is the latest fintech to apply for a bank charter.

The fast-growing company, which sells a credit card tailored for startups with Emigrant Bank currently acting as the issuer, announced Friday that it has submitted an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (UDFI) to establish Brex Bank.

The industrial bank will be located in Draper, Utah, and be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brex.

The company has tapped former Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) exec Bruce Wallace to serve as the subsidiary’s CEO. He served in several roles at SVB, including COO, Chief Digital Officer and head of global services. It also has named Jean Perschon, the former CFO for UBS Bank USA, to be the Brex Bank CFO.

Last May, Brex announced that it had raised $150 million in a Series C extension from a group of existing investors, including DST Global and Lone Pine Capital.

With that raise, Brex, which was co-founded by Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi, had amassed $465 million in venture capital funding to-date.

The company said in a statement today that “Brex Bank will expand upon its existing suite of financial products and business software, offering credit solutions and FDIC insured deposit products to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).”

Offering credit products to small businesses has become a popular product offering and source of revenue for tech companies serving entrepreneurs, including Shopify and Square in the commerce arena. Likewise, offering business-focused bank accounts, like Shopify Balance, which is currently in development with a plan to launch sometime this year in the U.S.

These financial products can provide additional opportunities for revenue on interest and cost of borrowing for these companies, who might have better insight into the risk profiles of the types of businesses they serve than traditional lenders and FIs.

“Brex and Brex Bank will work in tandem to help SMBs grow to realize their full potential,” said Wallace.

Brex is based in San Francisco and counts Kleiner Perkins Growth, YC Continuity Fund, Greenoaks Capital, Ribbit Capital, IVP, and DST Global as well as Peter Thiel and Affirm CEO Max Levchin among its investors. It currently has over 400 employees, and though it had significant layoffs mid-year in 2020, it cited restructuring rather than financial difficulty as the cause of that downsize.

Other fintechs that have made moves toward bank charters include Varo Bank, which this week raised another $63 million and SoFi, which last October was granted preliminary approval for a national bank charter.

#bank, #brex, #business-software, #california, #ceo, #cfo, #credit-card, #draper, #dst-global, #finance, #greenoaks-capital, #henrique-dubugras, #ivp, #kleiner-perkins, #lone-pine-capital, #max-levchin, #peter-thiel, #ribbit-capital, #san-francisco, #shopify, #silicon-valley-bank, #sofi, #tc, #utah, #varo-bank

0

Pipe17 closes $8M to connect a range of e-commerce tools without any code required

This morning Pipe17, a software startup focused on the e-commerce market, announced that it has closed $8 million in funding.

Pipe17’s service helps smaller e-commerce merchants connect their digital tools, without the need to code. With the startup’s service, e-commerce operations that may lack an in-house IT function can quickly connect their selling platform to shipping, or point-of-sale data to their ERP.

The venture arm of a large logistics investor GLP, GLP Capital Partners led the round.

Pipe17 co-founders Mo Afshar and Dave Shaffer told TechCrunch in an interview that the idea for their startup came from examining the e-commerce market, noting the energy to be found concerning selling platforms, and the comparative dearth of software to help get e-commerce tools to work together; Shopify and BigCommerce and Shippo are just fine, but if you can’t code you might wind up schlepping data from one platform to the next to keep your e-commerce operation humming.

So they built Pipe17 to fill in the gap.

According to Afshar, Pipe17 wants to simplify operations for e-commerce merchants through the lens of connection; the pair of co-founders believe that easy cross-compatibility is the key missing ingredient in the modern-day e-commerce software stack, likening the current e-commerce maket to the IT and datacenter worlds before the advent of Splunk and Datadog.

The prevailing view in the e-commerce industry, the co-founders explained, is that to fix a problem e-commerce players should purchase another application. Pipe17 thinks that most ecommerce companies probably have enough tooling, and that they instead need to get their existing tooling to communicate.

What’s neat about the startup is that it’s building something that we might call no-code-no-code, or no-code to a higher degree. Instead of offering a interface for non-developers to visually map out connections between different software services, it has pre-built what might need to be mapped. Just pick the two e-commerce services you want to link, and Pipe17 will connect them for you in an intelligent manner. For folks who find any sort of coding hard (which probably describes a lot of indie online store operators), the method could be an attractive pitch.

The startup’s customer target are sellers doing single-digit millions to nine-figures in year sales.

Why did Pipe17 raise capital now? The co-founders said that there are only so many chances to simplify a large market, akin to what Plaid and Twilio did for their own niches, so taking on funds now made sense. In Afshar’s view, e-commerce operations is going to be simply massive. Given the growth in digital selling that we saw last year, it’s a perspective that is hard to dispute.

The niche that Pipe17 wants to fill has more than one player. While the startups themselves might quibble about just how much competitive space they share, Y Combinator-backed Alloy recently raised $4 million to build a no-code e-commerce automation service. Which is related to what Pipe17 does. It will be interesting to see if they wind up in competition, and, if so, who comes out on top.

#alloy, #automation, #bigcommerce, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fundings-exits, #shopify, #startups, #tc

0

Shopify expands its payment option, Shop Pay, to its merchants on Facebook and Instagram

Shopify announced this morning it’s partnered with Facebook to expand its payment option, Shop Pay, to all Shopify merchants selling across both Facebook and Instagram. This is the first time Shop Pay will be made available outside of Shopify’s own platform, and represents a significant expansion for the e-commerce platform’s payments technology.

The company tells TechCrunch Shop Pay will first become available to all Shopify merchants using checkout on Instagram in the U.S., and will then be rolled out to Facebook in the weeks that follow.

Prior to this launch, Facebook’s platform has been one of Shopify’s most popular sales and marketing channels for merchants, Shopify says. At the beginning of the pandemic last year (March through April 2020), marketing on Facebook and Instagram via Shopify’s channel integration saw 36% growth in monthly active users, and that trend continues to rise.

Today, Shop Pay’s payment option is used by a number of top direct-to-consumer and newer brands, including Allbirds, Kith, Beyond Yoga, Kylie Cosmetics, Jonathan Adler, Loeffler Randall, Blueland and others. Over 40 million buyers now regularly use Shop Pay at these merchants and others on Shopify’s platform to complete their purchases.

Image Credits: Shopify

Through the course of 2020, Shop Pay helped buyers complete 137 million orders. And by the end of the year, Shop Pay had facilitated nearly $20 billion in cumulative GMV since its launch in 2017. Through its carbon offsetting feature, this also represented 75,000 tons of carbon emissions.

In addition to the carbon offsets, Shopify claims Shop Pay on its own platform is 70% faster with a conversion rate that’s 1.72x higher than a typical checkout. It also includes order tracking and management, which, to date, have tracked over 430 million orders across over 450 million miles.

Once available on Instagram, consumers will be able to find tagged products from Shopify merchants in the app, then add them to their in-app cart. At checkout, they can then select Shop Pay as their preferred payment option from among credit card, debit card, and PayPal. The consumer will receive a confirmation code to their phone, then enter the code to complete the order without leaving Instagram. A similar experience will be available on Facebook.

These orders can also be tracked via Shopify’s Shop app, the same as those processed on Shopify itself.

Image Credits: Shopify

“People are embracing social platforms not only for connection, but for commerce,” said Carl Rivera, General Manager of Shop, in a statement. “Making Shop Pay available outside of Shopify for the first time means even more shoppers can use the fastest and best checkout on the Internet. And there’s more to come; we’ll continue to work with Facebook to bring a number of Shopify services and products to these platforms to make social selling so much better.”

This is not the first third-party payment option integrated into Facebook’s shopping platforms, as PayPal is also accepted. But it is a notable addition, given how heavily Facebook has pushed its own “shops” platform, which encourages merchants to sell and transact within its own apps — an even more critical source of revenue now that Apple’s privacy changes will impact Facebook’s ads business to the tune of billions of dollars. But likely, working with a third-party like Shopify is allowing the company to spin up a new revenue stream.

Shopify, however, declined to discuss its financial arrangement with Facebook.

Shopify isn’t limiting itself to Facebook in an effort to expand its e-commerce business. Last fall, it also partnered with TikTok on social commerce, allowing merchants to publish their marketing ads directly to the video platform.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #fintech, #instagram, #merchants, #payments, #shopify, #shopping, #shops, #tc

0

Mind the gap: E-commerce marketers should revise their TAM and SAM estimates

2021 is going to be another glorious year for e-commerce.

It is that time of the year when most of us are looking back at the “total addressable market” estimates to plan for specific campaigns. Unlike us, if you had your 2021 kick off in Q3, bless your soul. You are an enlightened being.

For the rest of you, for whom e-commerce is a strategic market, I have a question — have you built your total addressable market (TAM) and serviceable addressable market (SAM) estimates for 2021 considering how things evolved in 2020?

It’s important to understand the underlying business model dynamics of companies and visualize TAM from those perspectives.

For most of us, research is a mind-numbing, repetitive exercise of clicking through links on Google until they all turn purple — at which point we start seeking the simplest possible explanation. For e-commerce, addressable market estimates come in the form of headlines from platforms like Shopify. The company quotes a merchant count number in its earnings calls and that becomes the basis for guesstimating the current TAM of e-commerce companies.

The other, rather simplistic approach is to look at the user-base count from several databases that publish tech platform-level user stats.

In reality, the simplest answer is not the right answer.

Mind the gap

Let’s take e-commerce shopping cart installations. Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, BigCommerce and others publish installation numbers that run into millions.

Here is the dichotomy that should frame your TAM discussions.

E-commerce is long-tail heavy. Yes, there are millions of merchants, but e-commerce revenue is a fat-tail phenomenon — meaning, a disproportionate amount of e-commerce revenue comes from a few tens of thousands of companies.

PipeCandy publishes bottom-up TAM estimates with detailed data cuts by technology, logistics and payment system adoptions by firms across revenue tiers across all major markets. One of the common misconceptions we see in how firms misinterpret TAM estimates is that they equate revenue to spend potential.

#amazon, #column, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #retail, #shopify, #total-addressable-market, #web-applications

0

Storetasker revamps its Shopify developer marketplace

Storetasker is an online marketplace focused on connecting Shopify merchants with developers and other experts who can help grow their business.

The product is now owned by the startup previously known as Lorem. Co-founder and COO Charlie Fogarty explained that while Lorem originally had a broader mission of connecting small businesses and developers, “We realized that Shopify and e-commerce was by far our best customer segment … so we basically acquired our main competitor, Storetasker, and merged the two business” under the Storetasker name.

The acquisition (which included the Storetasker product and expert network, but not the team) actually took place last year, and Fogarty said, “We’ve spent the last 10 months basically rebuilding the product from the ground up. We’ve taken years of learning and combined it into a rebrand, a new product and a new end-to-end customer experience.”

The core proposition is still the same, however. A Shopify merchant should be able to visit Storetasker, describe their project in simple terms and then within a few hours, Storetasker will match them up with one of the experts in the network, who they can work with directly.

Storetasker has already been used by more than 30,000 brands on Shopify, including Boll & Branch, Chubbies, Aisle, Alpha Industries, Truff Hot Sauce and Branch Furniture. Fogarty said the average project size is just $300 and usually involves adding custom designs and unique features to a Shopify store.

Storetasker screenshot

Image Credits: Storetasker

You could use a general marketplace like Upwork or Fiverr to find a freelance developer, but where Storetasker has conducted more than 5,000 interviews to vet its talent and picks the right expert for each customer, Fogarty said that on other platforms, “You have to sift through unvetted talent … The hiring burden is placed on the brand.”

Plus, he noted that brands can use Storetasker for more than development help — they also use it to find experts on conversion and “all the different aspects of e-commerce.”

In addition to the new product, Storetasker is also announcing that it raised $3.2 million in Series A funding last year from Flybridge, Founder Collective, and FJ Labs.

Looking ahead, Fogarty said he sees plenty of room to grow while remaining focused on the Shopify ecosystem. After all, there are more than 1 million stores on the platform, with $200 billion in total sales to date.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fj-labs, #lorem, #shopify, #startups, #tc

0

BlackCart raises $8.8M Series A for its try-before-you-buy platform for online merchants

A startup called BlackCart is tackling one of the key challenges with online shopping: an inability to try on or test out the merchandise before making a purchase. That company, which has now closed on $8.8 million in Series A funding, has built a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with e-commerce storefronts, allowing customers to ship items to their home for free and only pay if they choose to keep the item after a “try on” period has lapsed.

The new round of financing was led by Origin Ventures and Hyde Park Ventures Partners, and saw participation from Struck Capital, Citi Ventures, 500 Startups, and several other angel investors including Christian Sullivan of Republic Labs, Dean Bakes of M3 Ventures, Greg Rudin of Menlo Ventures, Jordan Nathan of Caraway Cookware, and First National Bank CFO Nick Pirollo, among others.

Image Credits: BlackCart

BlackCart founder Donny Ouyang had previously founded online tutoring marketplace Rayku before joining a seed stage VC fund, Caravan Ventures. But he was inspired to return to entrepreneurship, he says, after experiencing a personal problem with trying to order shoes online.

Realizing the opportunity for a “try before you buy” type of service, Ouyang first built BlackCart in 2017 as a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform that worked by way of a Chrome extension with some 50 different online merchants, largely in apparel.

This MVP of sorts proved there was consumer demand for something like this in online shopping shopping.

Ouyang credits the earlier version of BlackCart with helping the team to understand what sort of products work best for this service.

“I think, in general, for try-before-you-buy, anything that’s moderate to higher price points, lower frequency of purchase, where the customer makes a considered purchase decision — those perform really well,” he says.

Two years later, Ouyang took BlackCart to 500 Startups in San Francisco, where he then pivoted the business to a B2B offering it is today.

Image Credits: BlackCart

The startup now provides a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with online storefronts, including those from Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, SalesForce Commerce Cloud, WordPress, and even custom storefronts. The system is designed to be turnkey for online retailers and takes around 48 hours to set up on Shopify around a week on Magento, for example.

BlackCart has also developed its own proprietary technology around fraud detection, payments, returns, and the overall user experience, which includes a button for retailers’ websites.

Because the online shoppers aren’t paying upfront for the merchandise they’re being shipped, BlackCart has to rely on an expanded array of behavioral signals and data in order to make a determination about whether the customer represents a fraud risk. As one example, if the customer had read a lot of helpdesk articles about fraud before placing their order, that could be flagged as a negative signal.

BlackCart also verifies the user’s phone number at checkout and matches it to telco and government data sets to see if their historical addresses match their shipping and billing addresses.

Image Credits: BlackCart

After the customer receives the item, they are able to keep it for a period of time (as designated by the retailer) before being charged. BlackCart covers any fraud as part of its value proposition to retailers.

BlackCart makes money by way of a rev share model, where it charges retailers a percentage of the sales where the customers have kept the products. This amount can vary based on a number of factors, like the fraud multiplier, average order value, the type of product and others. At the low end, it’s around 4% and around 10% on the high-end, Ouyang says.

The company has also expanded beyond home try-on to include try-before-you-buy for electronics, jewelry, home goods, and more. It can even ship out makeup samples for home try-on, as another option.

Once integrated on a website, BlackCart claims its merchants typically see conversion increases of 24%, average order values climb by 51%, and bottom-line sales growth of 27%.

To date, the platform been adopted by over 50 medium-to-large retailers as well as e-commerce startups, like luxury sneaker brand Koio, clothing startup Dia&Co, online mattress startup Helix Sleep, cookware startup Caraway, among others. It’s also under NDA now with a top 50 retailer it can’t yet name publicly, and has contracts signed with 13 others who are waiting to be onboarded.

Soon, BlackCart aims to offer a self-serve onboarding process, Ouyang notes.

“This would be later, end of Q2 or early Q3,” he says. “But I think for us, it will still be probably 80% self-serve, and then larger enterprises will want to be handheld.”

With the additional funding, BlackCart aims to shift to paying the merchant immediately for the items at checkout, then reconciling afterwards in order to be more efficient. This has been one of merchants’ biggest feature requests, as well.

Image Credits: BlackCart; team photo

The funding will also allow BlackCart to expand its remotely distributed 10-person team to around 50 by year-end, including engineers, product specialists, customer support staff, and sales.

More broadly, it aims to quickly capitalize on the growth in the e-commerce market, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[We want to] take advantage of the favorable macroeconomic situation to scale as quickly as possible,” Ouyang explains. “We’re hoping to get to around $250 million in transactions through our platform by the end of 2021. And this would be driven by both engineering and sales hires, and just pushing it up,” he says.

Longer-term, Ouyang envisions adding more consumer-facing features to BlackCart’s platform, like on-demand returns where a courier comes to the house to pick up your return, for example.

“Our firm is excited to partner with BlackCart as it makes try-before-you-buy the standard in online shopping,” said Prashant Shukla of Origin Ventures, who now sits on BlackCart’s board, as result of the new financing. “Its underwriting technology provides merchants with peace of mind, and its best-in-class consumer experience delivers significant sales and conversion lifts. Digital Native generations expect to be able to shop online exactly as they would in a retail store, and BlackCart is the only company providing this experience,” he adds.

#bigcommerce, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #magento, #online-shopping, #shopify, #shopping, #startups

0

Crossbeam raises $25M to back startups built on ‘platform economies’

While many venture capitalists might hope to fund the next Amazon or Shopify, Crossbeam is a new firm focused on backing the startups built on top of these platforms. And it recently closed its $25 million first fund.

We’ve written about well-funded startups like SellerX, Perch and Heroes that acquire and grow Amazon businesses, and Crossbeam General Partner Ali Hamed similarly pointed to Amazon to illustrate the scale of the opportunity. Noting that third-party sales on Amazon reached $200 billion in 2019, Hamed said, “There’s going to be 100 winners in this space.”

He added that the firm isn’t just focused on Amazon — he also cited Thumbtack, Spotify and Shopify as “platform economies” where Crossbeam could invest, and he elaborated on this point in a Medium post published last fall:

Rather than own FB shares, we’d rather own Instagram accounts. Rather than owning Amazon stock, we’d rather own a bunch of third-party selling merchants. And rather than owning Google stock, we’d rather own YouTube libraries.

Why? Because all the tailwinds that make those stocks interesting to own are, in part, shared by the commercial actors on their platforms. And yet capital markets largely haven’t flowed into those spaces yet. Many traditional funds are not set up to finance these platform constituents. On top of that, many of the economic ecosystems on these platforms are newly mature, and so there are not pre-existing models to figure out how to value each asset.

Hamed and General Partner Savneet Singh are also partners at CoVenture, a firm that originally took equity in exchange for technical services, but is now more focused on providing debt to startups. He described Crossbeam as a joint venture between CoVenture, Moelis Asset Management and Fenway Summer, with CoVenture offering additional debt funding to Crossbeam’s equity investments when it makes sense.

When asked about the risk to startups of trying to build businesses on a single platform, Hamed said that in some cases, it may make sense to build an audience on one platform and then expand and diversify — but it will depend on the platform. The key question, he argued, is, “Does the platform make money for you, on your behalf?”

“If you expand into other platforms, some ‘help you earn money’ and some don’t,” Hamed added via email. “YouTube does, because it seeks ad revenue on your behalf, and splits the ad revenue with you. On Instagram, they don’t (Insta doesn’t share ad rev with creators except in very rare cases) … so the ‘awesomeness’ of each platform very much depends on that.”

Even before closing its first fund, Crossbeam has made six investments including digital media company Wave.tv, litigation financing company Litty, on-demand poof-of-service startup Proof and Acquco, which acquires third-party Amazon sellers.

#ali-hamed, #amazon, #coventure, #crossbeam, #heroes, #shopify, #spotify, #tc, #venture-capital, #wave

0

Nuclear fusion tech developer General Fusion now has Shopify and Amazon founders backing it

In a brief announcement today, the Canadian nuclear fusion technology developer General Fusion announced that the investment firm created by Shopify founder Tobias Lütke has joined the company’s cap table.

The size of the investment made by Lütke’s Thistledown Capital was not disclosed, but with the addition, General Fusion has the founders of the two biggest ecommerce companies in the Western world on its cap table.

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, first invested in the company nearly a decade ago and General Fusion has been steadily raising cash since that time. In 2019, the company hauled in $100 million. That capital commitment is part of a haul totaling at least, $192 million, according to Crunchbase although the real figure is likely higher.

Indeed, General Fusion kept adding cash throughout 2020 as it looked to develop its demonstration fusion reactor.

General Fusion’s process is based on technology called Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF), first proposed by the US Naval Research Lab and developed in the 1970s.

The process involves creating a magnetically confined moderately warm plasma of around 100 eV (roughly 50 times the photon energy of visible light) in a flux conserver (a shell that preserves the magnetic field). By rapidly compressing the flux conserver and the magnetic field inside of it surrounding the plasma, the plasma is superheated to a temperature that can initiate a fast fusion burn, and create a fusion reaction, according to a 2017 description of the technology from General Fusion’s chief science officer and founder, Michael Laberge.

The company uses a roughly 3 meter sphere filled with molten lead-lithium that’s pumped to form a cavity. A pulse of magnetically confined plasma fuel is then injected into the cavity, then, around the spehere, pistons create pressure wave into the middle of the sphere, compressing the plasma to fusion conditions.

Neutrons escaping from the fusion reaction are captured in the liquid metal, and the heat from that metal generates electricity via a steam turbine. A heat exchanger steam turbine produces the power and the steam is recycled to run the pistons.

In recent years, both General Fusion and its main North American competitor Commonwealth Fusion Systems have made strides in getting their small-scale nuclear fusion technology ready for commercialization.

In the past, the wry joke about fusion technologies was that they were always ten years away, but now companies are looking at a four-year horizon to bring fusion to initial markets, if not the masses.

For its part, Commonwealth Fusion Systems is in the process of building a10-ton magnet that has the magnetic force equivalent to 20 MRI machines. “After we get the magnet to work, we’ll be building a machine that will generate more power than it takes to run. We see that as the Kitty Hawk moment [for fusion],” said Bob Mumgaard, the chief executive of Commonwealth Fusion in an interview last year.

Other startup companies are also racing to bring technologies to market and hit the 2025 timeline like the United Kingdom’s Tokamak Energy.

Like General Fusion, Commonwealth also has deep-pocketed backers including the Bill Gates-backed sustainable technology focused investor, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. In all, those investors have committed over $200 million to the company, which formally launched in 2018.

As these companies begin readying their technologies for market, governments are laying the groundwork to make it easier for them to commercialize.

At the end of last year, the Trump administration signed the COVID relief and omnibus appropriations bill that included an amendment to support the development of fusion energy in the US.

The new amendment directed the Department of Energy to carry out a fusion energy sciences research and development program; authorized DoE programs in inertial fusion energy and alternative concepts to find new ways forward for fusion power; reauthorized the INFUSE program to create public-private partnerships between national labs and fusion developers; and created a milestone-based development program to support companies not just through R&D, but into the construction of full-scale systems.

It’s this milestone program that was a cornerstone of the policy work that the Fusion Industry Association wanted to see in the US, according to a December statement from the organization.

By unlocking $325 million in financing over a five year period, the US government will actually double its research with matching contributions from the fusion industry. These demonstration facilities could go a long way toward accelerating the deployment of fusion technologies.

Founded in 2019, Thistledown Capital was formed to invest in tech that can decarbonize industry. The firm, based in Ottawa, has already backed CarbonCure, a technology that captures carbon dioxide from the air.

General Fusion has a strong record of attracting funding support from some of the world’s most influential technology leaders,” said Greg Twinney, CFO, General Fusion, in a statement. “Fusion is planet-saving technology, and we are proud to support the mission of Thistledown Capital in its pursuit for a greener tomorrow.”

#amazon, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #department-of-energy, #fusion-power, #jeff-bezos, #nuclear-fusion, #plasma-physics, #shopify, #tc

0

E-commerce infrastructure startup Nacelle closes $18M Series A

Consumer online shopping habits have led to a windfall of revenues for these web storefronts, but COVID-era trends have also breathed new life into the market for developer tools that help e-commerce sites operate more smoothly for shoppers.

LA-based Nacelle is one of many e-commerce infrastructure startups to earn attention from investors amid COVID.

The web services company helps streamline the backends of e-commerce websites with a so-called “headless” platform that shifts how the front end of websites interact with content in the back end. The startup claims its tech can boost performance, promote better scalability, cut down on hosting costs and offer developers a more streamlined experience.

Nacelle has closed an $18 million Series A led by Inovia with participation from Accomplice, Index Ventures, High Alpha, Silas Capital and Lerer Hippeau. The company just closed a $4.8 million seed round in mid-2020, the speedy pace of their Series A’s close seems to speak to the investor enthusiasm that has deepened around companies operating in the e-commerce world.

“It’s not secret that commerce has done well during COVID,” CEO Brian Anderson tells TechCrunch. “Not only did we get this subtle structural change with COVID that I believe is long-lasting, but merchants have been focusing more on performance.”

One of the startup’s central points of focus has been ensuring that they can bring customers onboard its platform without causing undue headaches. It can be “very painful to migrate data” with other services, Anderson says. The company’s service is “anti-rip-and-replace,” meaning potential customers can integrate “without having to be rebuild their stores.”

The firm’s customer base is largely made up of small- to medium-sized e-commerce sites. Nacelle works closely with agencies for customer referrals, also tapping on Anderson’s past contacts from his days running a Shopify Plus agency.

This past August, data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index suggested that pandemic trends had accelerated the consumer shift from primarily visiting to physical stores to shopping on e-commerce storefronts by roughly five years.

#alpha, #ceo, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #lerer-hippeau, #marketing, #nacelle, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopify, #shopify-plus, #web-services

0

Stripe reportedly joins the tech platforms booting President Trump from their services

It might be easier at this point to ask which tech platforms President Donald Trump can still use.

Payment-processing company Stripe is the latest tech company to kick Donald Trump off of its platform, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

That means the president’s campaign website and online fundraising arms will no longer have access to the payment processor’s services, cutting off the Trump campaign from receiving donations.

Sources told the Journal that the reason for the company’s decision was the violation of company policies against encouraging violence.

The move comes as the president has remained largely silent through the official channels at his disposal in the wake of last week’s riot at the Capitol building.

While Trump has been silent, technology companies have been busy repudiating the president’s support by cutting off access to a range of services.

The deplatforming of the president has effectively removed Trump from all social media outlets including Snap, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Spotify and TikTok.

The technology companies that power most financial transactions online have also blocked the president. Shopify and PayPal were the first to take action against the extremists among President Trump supporters who participated in the riot.

As we wrote earlier this week, PayPal has been deactivating the accounts of some groups of Trump supporters who were using the money-transfer fintech to coordinate payments to underwrite the rioters’ actions on Capitol Hill.

The company has actually been actively taking steps against far-right activists for a while. After the Charlottesville protests and subsequent rioting in 2017, the company banned a spate of far-right organizations. These bans have so far not extended directly to the president himself from what TechCrunch can glean.

On Thursday, Shopify announced that it was removing the storefronts for both the Trump campaign and Trump’s personal brand. That’s an evolution on policy for the company, which years ago said that it would not moderate its platform, but in recent years has removed some controversial stores, such as some right-wing shops in 2018.

Now, Stripe has joined the actions against the president, cutting off a lucrative source of income for his political operations.

As the Journal reported, the Trump campaign launched a fundraising blitz to raise money for the slew of lawsuits that the president brought against states around the country. The lawsuits were almost all defeated, but the effort did bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for the Republican party.

 

#capitol-riot, #donald-trump, #facebook, #paypal, #shopify, #stripe, #tc, #technology

0

The deplatforming of a president

After years of placid admonishments, the tech world came out in force against President Trump this past week following the violent assault of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. From Twitter to PayPal, more than a dozen companies have placed unprecedented restrictions or outright banned the current occupant of the White House from using their services, and in some cases, some of his associates and supporters as well.

The news was voluminous and continuous for the past few days, so here’s a recap of who took action when, and what might happen next.

Twitter: a permanent ban and a real-time attempt to shut down all possible account alternatives

Twitter has played a paramount role over the debate about how to moderate President Trump’s communications, given the president’s penchant for the platform and the nearly 90 million followers on his @realDonaldTrump account. In the past, Twitter has repeatedly warned the president, added labels related to electron integrity and misinformation, and outright blocked the occasional tweet.

This week, however, Twitter’s patience seemed to have been exhausted. Shortly after the riots at the Capitol on Wednesday, Twitter put in place a large banner warning its users about the president’s related tweet on the matter, blocking retweets of that specific message. A few hours later, the company instituted a 12-hour ban on the president’s personal account.

At first, it looked like the situation would return to normal, with Twitter offering Thursday morning that it would reinstate the president’s account after he removed tweets the company considered against its policies around inciting violence. The president posted a tweet later on Thursday with a video attachment that seemed to be relatively calmer than his recent fiery rhetoric, a video in which he also accepted the country’s election results for the first time.

Enormous pressure externally on its own platform as well as internal demands from employees kept the policy rapidly changing though. Late Friday night, the company announced that it decided to permanently ban the president from its platform, shutting down @realDonaldTrump. The company then played a game of whack-a-mole as it blocked the president’s access to affiliated Twitter handles like @TeamTrump (his official campaign account) as well as the official presidential account @POTUS and deleted individual tweets from the president. The company’s policies state that a blocked user may not attempt to use a different account to evade its ban.

Twitter has also taken other actions against some of the president’s affiliates and broader audience, blocking Michael Flynn, a bunch of other Trump supporters, and a variety of QAnon figures.

With a new president on the horizon, the official @POTUS account will be handed to the new Biden administration, although Twitter has reportedly been intending to reset the account’s followers to zero, unlike its transition of the account in 2016 from Obama to Trump.

As for Trump himself, a permanent ban from his most prominent platform begs the question: where will he take his braggadocio and invective next? So far, we haven’t seen the president move his activities to any social network alternatives, but after the past few years (and on Twitter, the last decade), it seems hard to believe the president will merely return to his golf course and quietly ride out to the horizon.

Snap: a quick lock after dampening the president’s audience for months

Snap locked the president’s account late Wednesday following the events on Capitol Hill, and seemed to be one of the most poised tech companies to rapidly react to the events taking place in DC. Snap’s lock prevents the president from posting new snaps to his followers on the platform, which currently number approximately two million. As far as TechCrunch knows, that lock remains in place, although the president’s official profile is still available to users.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the concomitant Black Lives Matter protests, the company had announced back in June that it would remove the president’s account from its curated “Discover” tab, limiting its distribution and discoverability.

The president has never really effectively used the Snap platform, and with an indefinite ban in place, it looks unlikely he will find a home there in the future.

Facebook / Instagram: A short-to-medium ban with open questions on how long “indefinite” means

Facebook, like Twitter, is one of the president’s most popular destinations for his supporters, and the platform is also a locus for many of the political right’s most popular personalities. It’s moderation actions have been heavily scrutinized by the press over the past few years, but the company has mostly avoided taking direct action against the president — until this week.

On Wednesday as rioters walked out of the halls of Congress, Facebook pulled down a video from President Trump that it considered was promoting violence. Later Wednesday evening, that policy eventually extended into a 24-hour ban of the president’s account, which currently has 33 million likes, or followers. The company argued that the president had violated its policies multiple times, automatically triggering the one-day suspension. At the same time, Facebook (and Instagram) took action to block a popular trending hashtag related to the Capitol riots.

On Thursday morning, Mark Zuckerberg, in a personal post on his own platform, announced an “indefinite” suspension for the president, with a minimum duration of two weeks. That timing would neatly extend the suspension through the inauguration of president-elect Biden, who is to assume the presidency at noon on January 20th.

What will happen after the inauguration? Right now, we don’t know. The president’s account is suspended but not deactivated, which means that the president cannot post new material to his page, but that the page remains visible to Facebook users. The company could remove the suspension once the transition of power is complete, or it may continue the ban longer-term. Given the president’s prominence on the platform and the heavy popularity of the social network among his supporters, Facebook is in a much more intense bind between banning content it deems offensive, and retaining users important to its bottom line.

Shopify / PayPal: Ecommerce platforms won’t sell Trump official merchandise for the time being

It’s not just social networks that are blocking the president’s audience — ecommerce giants are also getting into moderating their platforms against the president. On Thursday, Shopify announced that it was removing the storefronts for both the Trump campaign and Trump’s personal brand.

That’s an evolution on policy for the company, which years ago said that it would not moderate its platform, but in recent years has removed some controversial stores, such as some right-wing shops in 2018.

PayPal meanwhile has been deactivating the accounts of some groups of Trump supporters this week, who were using the money-transfer fintech to coordinate payments to underwrite the rioters’ actions on Capitol Hill. PayPal has been increasingly banning some political accounts, banning a far-right activist in 2019 and also banning a spate of far-right organizations in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville in 2017. These bans have so far not extended directly to the president himself from what TechCrunch can glean.

Given the president’s well-known personal brand and penchant for product tie-ins before becoming president, it’s a major open question about how these two platforms and others in ecommerce will respond to Trump once he leaves office in two weeks. Will the president go back to shilling steaks, water and cologne? And will he need an ecommerce venue to sell his wares online? Much will depend on Trump’s next goals and whether he stays focused on politics, or heads back to his more commercial pursuits.

Google removes Parler from the Google Play Store, while Apple mulls a removal as well

For supporters of Trump and others concerned about the moderation actions of Facebook and other platforms, Parler has taken the lead as an alternative social network for this audience. Right now, the app is number one in the App Store in the United States, ahead of encrypted and secure messaging app Signal, which is at number four and got a massive endorsement from Elon Musk this week.

Parler’s opportunism for growth around the riots on Capitol Hill though has run into a very real barrier: the two tech companies which run the two stores for mobile applications in the United States.

Google announced Friday evening that it would be removing the Parler app from its store, citing the social network’s lack of moderation and content filtering capabilities. The app’s page remains down as this article was going to press. That ban means that new users won’t be able to install the app from the Play Store, however, existing users who already have Parler installed will be able to continue using it.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed reports that Apple has reportedly sent a 24-hour takedown notice to Parler’s developers, saying that it would mirror Google’s actions if the app didn’t immediately filter content that endangers safety. As of now, Parler remains available in the App Store, but if the timing is to be believed, the app could be taken down later this Saturday.

Given the complexities of content moderation, including the need to hire content moderators en masse, it seems highly unlikely that Parler could respond to these requests in any short period of time. What happens to the app and the president’s supporters long-term next is, right now, anyone’s guess.

Discord / Twitch / YouTube / Reddit / TikTok: All the socials don’t want to be social anymore with President Trump

Finally, let’s head over to the rest of the social networking world, where Trump is just as unpopular as he is at Facebook and Twitter HQ these days. Companies widely blocked the president from accessing their sites, and they also took action against affiliated groups.

Google-owned YouTube announced Thursday that it would start handing out “strikes” against channels — including President Trump’s — that post election misinformation. In the past, videos with election misinformation would have a warning label attached, but the channel itself didn’t face any consequences. In December, the company changed that policy to include the outright removal of videos purveying election misinformation.

This week’s latest policy change is an escalation from the company’s previous approach, and would result in lengthier and lengthier temporary suspensions for each additional strike that a channel receives. Those strikes could eventual result in a permanent ban for a YouTube channel if they happen within a set period of time. That’s precisely what happened with Steve Bannon’s channel, which was permanently banned Friday late afternoon for repeated violations of YouTube’s policies. Meanwhile, President Trump’s official channel has less than 3 million followers, and is currently still available for viewing on the platform.

Outside YouTube, Twitch followed a similar policy to Facebook, announcing Thursday morning that it would ban the president “indefinitely” and at least through the inauguration on January 20th. The president has a limited audience of just about 151,000 followers on the popular streaming platform, making it among the least important of the president’s social media accounts.

In terms of the president’s supporters, their groups are also being removed from popular tech platforms. On Friday, Reddit announced that it would ban the subreddit r/DonaldTrump, which had become one of a number of unofficial communities on the platform where the president’s most ardent supporters hung out. The social network had previously removed the controversial subreddit r/The_Donald back in June. Discord on Friday shut down a server related to that banned subreddit, citing the server’s “overt connection to an online forum used to incite violence.”

Lastly, TikTok announced on Thursday that it was limiting the spread of some information related to the Capitol riots, including redirecting hashtags and removing violent content as well as the president’s own video message to supporters. The president does not have a TikTok account, and therefore, most of the company’s actions are focused on his supporters and broader content surrounding the situation on Capitol Hill this week.

#apple, #discord, #facebook, #google, #government, #instagram, #media, #parler, #paypal, #policy, #shopify, #social, #tc, #twitch, #twitter

0

Michelle Obama calls on Silicon Valley to permanently ban Trump and prevent platform abuse by future leaders

In a new statement issued by former First Lady Michelle Obama, she calls on Silicon Valley specifically to address its role in the violent insurrection attempt by pro-Trump rioters at the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday. Obama’s statement also calls out the obviously biased treatment that the primarily white pro-Trump fanatics faced by law enforcement relative to that received by mostly peaceful BLM supporters during their lawful demonstrations (as opposed to Wednesday’s criminal activity), but it includes a specific redress for the tech industry’s leaders and platform operators.

“Now is the time for companies to stop enabling this monstrous behavior – and go even further than they have already by permanently banning this man from their platforms and putting in place policies to prevent their technology from being used by the nation’s leaders to fuel insurrection,” Obama wrote in her statement, which she shared on Twitter and on Facebook.

The call for action goes beyond what most social platforms have done already: Facebook has banned Trump, but though it describes the term of the suspension as “indefinite,” it left open the possibility for a restoration of his accounts in as little as two weeks’ time once Joe Biden has officially assumed the presidency. Twitter, meanwhile, initially removed three tweets it found offended its rules by inciting violence, and then locked Trump’s account pending his deletion of the same. Earlier on Thursday, Twitter confirmed that Trump had removed these, and that his account would subsequently be restored twelve hours after their deletion. Twitch has also disabled Trump’s channel at least until the end of his term, while Shopify has removed Trump’s official merchandise stores from its platform.

No social platform thus far has permanently banned Trump, so far as TechCrunch is aware, which is what Obama is calling for in her statement. And while both Twitter and Facebook have discussed how Trump’s recent behavior have violated their policies regarding use of their platform, neither have yet provided any detailed information regarding how they’ll address any potential similar behavior from other world leaders going forward. In other words, we don’t yet know what would be different (if anything) should another Trump-styled megalomaniac take office and use available social channels in a similar manner.

Obama is hardly the only political figure to call for action from social media platforms around “sustained misuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence,” as Senator Mark Warner put it in a statement on Wednesday. Likely once the dust clears from this week’s events, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al. will face renewed scrutiny from lawmakers and public interest groups around any corrective action they’re taking.

#articles, #capitol-riot, #deception, #donald-trump, #joe-biden, #law-enforcement, #mark-warner, #michelle-obama, #qanon, #shopify, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #tc, #trump, #twitch, #twitter

0