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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affinity people profile. Image Credits: Affinity

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Peak raises $75M for a platform that helps non-tech companies build AI applications

As artificial intelligence continues to weave its way into more enterprise applications, a startup that has built a platform to help businesses, especially non-tech organizations, build more customized AI decision making tools for themselves has picked up some significant growth funding. Peak AI, a startup out of Manchester, England, that has built a “decision intelligence” platform, has raised $75 million, money that it will be using to continue building out its platform as well as to expand into new markets, and hire some 200 new people in the coming quarters.

The Series C is bringing a very big name investor on board. It is being led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with previous backers Oxx, MMC Ventures, Praetura Ventures, and Arete also participating. That group participated in Peak’s Series B of $21 million, which only closed in February of this year. The company has now raised $118 million; it is not disclosing its valuation.

(This latest funding round was rumored last week, although it was not confirmed at the time and the total amount was not accurate.)

Richard Potter, Peak’s CEO, said the rapid follow-on in funding was based on inbound interest, in part because of how the company has been doing.

Peak’s so-called Decision Intelligence platform is used by retailers, brands, manufacturers and others to help monitor stock levels, build personalized customer experiences, as well as other processes that can stand to have some degree of automation to work more efficiently, but also require sophistication to be able to measure different factors against each other to provide more intelligent insights. Its current customer list includes the likes of Nike, Pepsico, KFC, Molson Coors, Marshalls, Asos, and Speedy, and in the last 12 months revenues have more than doubled.

The opportunity that Peak is addressing goes a little like this: AI has become a cornerstone of many of the most advanced IT applications and business processes of our time, but if you are an organization — and specifically one not built around technology — your access to AI and how you might use it will come by way of applications built by others, not necessarily tailored to you, and the costs of building more tailored solutions can often be prohibitively high. Peak claims that those using its tools have seen revenues on average rise 5%; return on ad spend double; supply chain costs reduce by 5%; and inventory holdings (a big cost for companies) reduce by 12%.

Peak’s platform, I should point out, is not exactly a “no-code” approach to solving that problem — not yet at least: it’s aimed at data scientists and engineers at those organizations so that they can easily identify different processes in their operations where they might benefit from AI tools, and to build those out with relatively little heavy lifting.

There have also been different market factors that have also played a role. Covid-19, for example, and the boost that we have seen both in increasing “digital transformation” in businesses, and making e-commerce processes more efficient to cater to rising consumer demand and more strained supply chains, have all led to businesses being more open to and keen to invest in more tools to improve their automation intelligently.

This, combined with Peak AI’s growing revenues, is part of what interested SoftBank. The investor has been long on AI for a while, but it has been building out a section of its investment portfolio to provide strategic services to the kinds of businesses that it invests in. Those include e-commerce and other consumer-facing businesses, which make up one of the main segments of Peak’s customer base.

“In Peak we have a partner with a shared vision that the future enterprise will run on a centralized AI software platform capable of optimizing entire value chains,” Max Ohrstrand, senior investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers, said in a statement. “To realize this a new breed of platform is needed and we’re hugely impressed with what Richard and the excellent team have built at Peak. We’re delighted to be supporting them on their way to becoming the category-defining, global leader in Decision Intelligence.”

Longer term, it will be interesting to see how and if Peak evolves to be extend its platform to a wider set of users at the organizations that are already its customers.

Potter said he believes that “those with technical predispositions” will be the most likely users of its products in the near and medium term. You might assume that would cut out, for example, marketing managers, although the general trend in a lot of software tools has precisely been to build versions of the same tools used by data scientists for these tell technical people to engage in the process of building what it is that they want to use. “I do think it’s important to democratize the ability to stream data pipelines, and to be able to optimize those to work in applications,” he added.

#ai, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business-process-management, #ceo, #e-commerce, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #kfc, #manchester, #mmc-ventures, #nike, #partner, #peak, #peak-ai, #pepsico, #science-and-technology, #series-b, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #software-platform, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vodafone

Why global investors are flocking to back Latin American startups

The Latin America startup ecosystem is having a great year, with mega-rounds being announced at breakneck speed and new unicorns minted almost monthly. This is mostly due to the clearly maturing startup scene in the region, with proven successes such as Nubank, Cornershop, Gympass and Loggi helping to bolster LatAm’s credibility.

Interestingly, many of the region’s rounds are led by or saw participation from investors based elsewhere. Firms such as SoftBank, Tiger Global Management, Tencent, Accel, Ribbit Capital and QED Investors are pouring money into LatAm. Some are even seeing more opportunity than in the U.S. — Latin America, they believe, has historically been ripe for disruption, especially in the fintech and proptech sectors, due to the significant underbanked and unbanked population in the region and the relatively unstructured real estate industry.

Last month, my colleagues Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm found that structural factors such as strong digital penetration and quick e-commerce growth are among the key reasons Latin America is breaking venture capital records this year. One Mexico-based VC even declared that the story was about “talent, not capital.”

Local VCs are raving about the human capital in the region, but for some global investors, the appeal of Latin America extends beyond the talent to the general populace. Shu Nyatta, a managing partner at SoftBank who co-leads its $5 billion Latin America Fund, pointed out a dynamic that might seem obvious but is rarely articulated: Technology in LatAm is often more about inclusion rather than disruption.

“The vast majority of the population is underserved in almost every category of consumption. Similarly, most businesses are underserved by modern software solutions,” Nyatta explained. “There’s so much to build for so many people and businesses. In San Francisco, the venture ecosystem makes life a little better for individuals and businesses who are already living in the future. In LatAm, tech entrepreneurs are building the future for everyone else.”

Accel Partner Ethan Choi says the region’s consumer markets are growing rapidly thanks to a fast-growing middle class and “technology permeating through every aspect of consumers’ lives.” This has spurred demand for digital offerings, which has led to more startups, and consequently, investor interest.

Brazil and Mexico riding the gravy train

One look at the dollars pouring into LatAm this year is enough to convince anyone of the skyrocketing interest.

Latin America saw a total of $6.2 billion in incoming venture capital in the first half of 2021, more than double the $2.6 billion in the same period last year, and even beating the $4.1 billion invested across all of 2020, according to preliminary data from LAVCA (the Association for Private Capital Investment in Latin America — LAVCA used a different methodology than CB Insights, in case you’re wondering).

#accel, #brazil, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #mexico, #owl-ventures, #qed-investors, #quintoandar, #ribbit-capital, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Colombian on-demand delivery startup Rappi raises ‘over’ $500M at a $5.25B valuation

Rappi, a Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has raised “over” $500 million at a $5.25 billion valuation in a Series G round led by T. Rowe Price, the company announced late Friday.

Baillie Gifford, Third Point, Octahedron, GIC SoftBank, DST Global, Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital and others also participated in the round.

The new financing brings Rappi’s total raised since its 2015 inception to over $2 billion, according to Crunchbase. Today, the country has operations in 9 countries and more than 250 cities across Latin America. Its last raise was a $300 million a Series F funding round in September of 2020.

According to the Latin American Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (LAVCA), Rappi focused on delivering beverages and first, and has since expanded into meals, groceries, tech goods and medicine. The company also offers a cash withdrawal feature, allowing users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents. Today, the company says its app allows consumers to “order nearly any good or service.”

In addition to traditional delivery, it says “users can get products delivered in less than 10 minutes, can access financial services, as well as ‘whims,” and “favors.’ Whims allow users to order anything available in their coverage area. Favors offer an array of custom services, such as running an errand, going to the hardware store or picking out and delivering a gift. The two products allow users to connect directly with a courier. 

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia, and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America, according to LAVCA.

#andreessen-horowitz, #apps, #baillie-gifford, #colombia, #companies, #delivery, #dst-global, #feature, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gic, #latin-america, #online-food-ordering, #rappi, #recent-funding, #reddit, #sequoia-capital, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startup, #startups, #t-rowe-price, #venture-capital, #websites, #y-combinator

Cybereason raises $275M at Series F, adds Steven Mnuchin to board

Cybereason, a US-Israeli late-stage cybersecurity startup that provides extended detection and response (XDR) services, has secured $275 million in Series F funding. 

The investment was led by Liberty Strategic Capital, a venture capital fund recently founded by Steven Mnuchin, who served as U.S. Treasury Secretary under the Trump administration. As part of the deal, Mnuchin will join Cybereason’s board of directors, along with Liberty advisor Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Trump until his retirement in 2019.

Lior Div, CEO and co-founder of Cybereason, tells TechCrunch that the startup’s decision to work with Liberty Strategy Capital came down to the firm’s “massive network” and the “understanding of the financial and government markets that Mnuchin and Gen. Joseph Dunford bring to our team.”

“For example, the executive order on cybersecurity put out by the Biden Administration recommends that endpoint detection and response solutions be deployed on all endpoints,” Dior added. “This accelerates the importance of solutions like ours in the public market, and Liberty Strategic Capital has the relationships to help accelerate our go-to-market strategy in the federal sector.”

This round, which will be used to fuel “hypergrowth driven by strong market demand,” follows $389 million in prior funding from SoftBank, CRV, Spark Capital, and Lockheed Martin. The company didn’t state at what valuation it raised the funds, but it is estimated to be in the region of $3 billion.

Cybereason’s recent growth, which saw it end 2020 at over $120 million in annual recurring revenue, has been largely driven by its AI-powered platform. Unlike traditional alert-centric models, Cybereason’s Defense Platform is operation-centric, which means it exposes and remediates entire malicious operations. The service details the full attack story from root cause to impacted users and devices, which the company claims significantly reduces the time taken to investigate and recover from an enterprise-wide cyber attack. 

The company, whose competitors include the likes of BlackBerry-owned Cylance and CrowdStrike, also this week expanded its channel presence with the launch of its so-called Defenders League, a global program that enables channel partners to use its technology and services to help their customers prevent and recover from cyberattacks. Cybereason claims its technology has helped protect customers from the likes of the recent SolarWinds supply-chain attack and other high-profile ransomware attacks launched by DarkSide, REvil, and Conti groups. 

Today’s $275 million funding round is likely to be Cybereason’s last before it goes public. Div previously said in August 2019 the company planned to IPO within two years, though he wouldn’t be pressed on whether the company is gearing up to go public when asked by TechCrunch. However, the company did compare its latest investment to SentinelOne‘s November 2020 Series F round, which was secured just months before it filed for a $100 million IPO.

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #companies, #computing, #crowdstrike, #crv, #cybereason, #cylance, #donald-trump, #executive, #funding, #lockheed-martin, #neuberger-berman, #president, #security, #softbank, #softbank-group, #solarwinds, #spark-capital, #steve-mnuchin, #techcrunch, #united-states

Mmhmm raises $100M, which is a fun thing to say to people who don’t follow tech

If you’re a frequent TechCrunch reader, you probably already know about mmhmm, the startup with the name you likely either love or hate. It’s Phil Libin’s second act after Evernote, and it’s a startup born of the pandemic maybe more so than any other, providing improved video chat tools including automatic background removal and advanced presentation features. The company, which is just over a year old, has now raised a total of around $140 million thanks to a fresh injection of $100 million first reported by Bloomberg on Tuesday, which is somewhat astounding if you remember using the first early beta versions like me.

Startups with silly names raising lots of money is hardly an exceptional occurrence in tech, but Libin’s startup earns extra credit for barely having a name at all (it’s really just a sound). The company was built on the idea that current video tools really fail to provide users with access to all the potential that modern technology offers, particularly when it comes to presentations. Mmhmm’s core presenter tools help your meetings look more like professional newscasts than warmed over digital versions of transparency slideshows and whiteboard scrawls, and the company has steadily been adding features and improving its performance through frequent iterations since its founding.

As it stands, mmhmm works in tandem with the existing video services that people use for virtual meetings, including Zoom. But Bloomberg says it’s going to go standalone as well, and introduce a mobile app version. That sounds like a good use of the new funds, which come from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital and more.

Even projecting forward to a post-pandemic world where virtual meetings are less important, they’re probably still a permanent part of the working world. But mmhmm’s feature set also seems to almost define the concept of ‘feature, not product’ that is presented as a cautionary tale to startups crafting wings of wax and soaring as high as they can in terms of raises and valuation.

#evernote, #mmhmm, #phil-libin, #presentation-software, #sequoia-capital, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #video-conferencing, #video-services

Satellite imagery startup Satellogic to go public via SPAC valuing the company at $850M

The space SPAC frenzy might’ve died down, but it isn’t over: Earth observation startup Satellogic is the latest to go public via a merger with CF Acquisition Corp. V, a special purpose acquisition company set up by Cantor Fitzgerald. Satellogic already has 17 satellites in orbit, and aims to scale its constellation to over 300 satellites to provide sub-meter resolution imaging of the Earth updated on a daily frequency.

The SPAC deal values the company at $850 million, and includes a PIPE worth $100 million with funds contributed by SoftBank’s SBLA Advisers Group and Cantor Fitzgerald. It assumes revenue of around $800 million for the combined company by 2025, and Satellogic expects to have a cash balance of around $274 million resulting from the deal at close.

Satellogic has raised a total of just under $124 million since its founding in 2010, from investors including Tencent, Pitanga Fund and others. The company claims its satellites are the only ones that can provide imaging at the resolution it offers with a price tag that remains relatively affordable for commercial clients.

#commercial-spaceflight, #companies, #finance, #imaging, #satellite, #satellogic, #softbank, #softbank-group, #spac, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #tc, #tencent

Gympass, the corporate wellness unicorn, raises a $220M series E

Gympass, the exercise and corporate wellness unicorn that originated in Brazil, today announced a $220 million Series E. The company has seen tremendous growth in the last few months, as more and more people are vaccinated and flocking back to the gym.

Gympass is like ClassPass, but on steroids. However, unlike ClassPass’ BTC model, Gympass partners with employers who then pay a flat fee for the platform (an app) which then allows their employees to choose from several wellbeing plans that give them access to myriad in-person gyms and studios, and a directory of health apps, such as Calm. The offerings are broken up into the following categories: physical health, emotional health, nutrition and sleep.

According to the company, in May, Gympass saw a record 4 million monthly check-ins across its network of more than 50,000 global partners. In fact, for some of the partners, usage hit above pre-COVID levels. 

Between increased anxiety rates and documented weight gain during the pandemic, it’s clear that people are eager to get active again with the hopes of improving their mental health and their waistlines.

GymPass is the brainchild of Cesar Carvalho, a former McKinsey & Company consultant in Brazil who was always on the road and yearned for a corporate wellness product that would comply with his hectic work schedule.

“Some days I worked from home, other days I worked from the office, and then there was the time I was traveling. I could never go to the gym in one place,” Carvalho told TechCrunch. “I realized that my needs were the same as others,” he said.

He decided to pursue his business idea while he was at Harvard Business School.

“I’m one of those crazy entrepreneurs that drops out of their MBA to start a company, but looking back now, it worked out okay,” he said, later telling TechCrunch that Gympass is now in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, the U.S., Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and the U.K. 

Since its launch in São Paulo in 2012, the company achieved product-market fit fairly quickly, and its growth and expansion have been largely organic.

Originally, Gympass was a BTC concept, and one of its first clients was an executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Brazil. He liked the product so much that he eventually said to Carvalho, “Can’t I communicate this to my 5000 employees in all the cities where we have offices in Brazil?” With that question – and offer – Carvalho saw the need to pivot and build a B2B company.

After only three years in Brazil, one of his biggest Brazilian clients asked Carvalho to expand to Mexico, because his company had a large presence there and he wanted to offer Gympass to its employees. And so follows most of the expansion stories.

“We expanded to Spain, because we worked with a Spanish bank in Mexico, and they wanted their employees in Spain to have access to our product,” he said.

This round, which doubles the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion, includes participation from SoftBank, General Atlantic, More Strategic Ventures, Kaszek Ventures and Valor. Carvalho plans to use the money to grow the company in the U.S., expand its offerings, and work on making the tech smarter. 

“We want [the app] to be able to recommend the best partners for your complete well-being journey based on your workout patterns, for example: ‘This is the best meditation app for you to use with your workout profile,’” Carvalho said.

 

#argentina, #brazil, #chile, #classpass, #general-atlantic, #germany, #harvard-business-school, #ireland, #italy, #kaszek-ventures, #mckinsey-company, #mexico, #pricewaterhousecoopers, #softbank, #softbank-group, #spain, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Forto raises $240M in funding round led by Softbank, taking its valuation to $1.2Bn

Freight technology startup, Forto, which we most recently covered when it raised $50 million late last year, is upping the stakes.

It’s now raised $240 million in a round led by Softbank Vision Fund 2 to expand its trade shipments between China and Europe. Forto manages shipping containers from origin to destination. Softbank is also hedging its bets after investing in China’s Full Truck Alliance (YMM.N), which plans a $20 billion IPO.

That means Forto’s valuation close to $1.2 billion, after it’s raised a total of $360 million. Also participating in the round were new investors Citi Ventures and G Squared. Existing investors including Northzone, Cherry Ventures and Unbound also took part, Forto said.

German logistics startups are proliferating. Trucking specialist Sennder, a digital road freight forwarder, raised $160 million in Series D financing earlier this year.

Forto says it has 2,500 clients, including Home 24 and German supermarket chain Edeka, and ships up to 10,000 containers a year by sea, rail and air.

#cherry-ventures, #china, #citi-ventures, #companies, #europe, #northzone, #softbank, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #tc, #telecommunications, #vodafone

Messaging social network IRL hits unicorn status with SoftBank-led $170M Series C

Social calendar app IRL has been busy building a messaging-based social network, or what founder and CEO Abraham Shafi calls a “WeChat of the West.” Following its pandemic-fueled growth and further push into the social networking space with group chat and other features, IRL is today announcing a sizable $170 million Series C growth round, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2. The fundraise also mints IRL as a new unicorn with a $1.17 billion valuation.

Besides SoftBank, new investor Dragoneer also participated in the oversubscribed round, alongside returning investors Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund and Floodgate. To date, IRL has raised over $200 million.

The startup began its life as a tool for discovering real-world events — an industry that went to zero almost overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That could have been the end for IRL, but the startup quickly pivoted to prioritize discovery of online events instead. Under COVID lockdowns, users could turn to the app to find things like livestreamed concerts, esports events, Zoom parties and more.

Image Credits: IRL

IRL focused on pulling in popular online events from places like Live Nation, Twitch, YouTube, TikTok and others.

As a result, IRL became more accessible because its audience was no longer limited only to those who had time and money to travel to real-world events.

That focus also helped the app to attract a crowd of younger users who are of the generation that doesn’t use Facebook.

“They essentially use Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok,” explains Shafi. “But there is no groups and events product for that generation,” he points out.

Earlier this year, the company doubled down on its social networking features with the launch of a new site that added things like user profiles, support for group chats, the ability to join group events, personalized recommendations and more. As users could now network with friends across both web and mobile, IRL began to feel more like a social network, not just an event-discovery engine.

Image Credits: IRL

Today, IRL has 20 million users and 12 million who use the app monthly, which are not startling numbers in comparison to major social networks and their billions of users. But the numbers are representative of a steady approach that helped IRL grow 400% over the past 15 months, despite COVID’s impact to real-world events.

But as of recently, things are starting to change. In-person events are starting to return. California, the home state for San Francisco-based IRL, is today re-opening, for example. That opens up IRL to once again focus on connecting people not just online, but also “in real life,” as its name implies.

That could mean helping people better connect around events with not just their own friend group, as is often the case today, but helping them discover new groups in their local area or on campus. The company is even planning to use a portion of its fundraise to help fuel the new events economy by allocating a certain amount of money per city that will go toward helping people put on real-world events. The exact details are still being worked out, Shafi says, but says the idea is that IRL wants to help “bring culture back in cities that are opening up again.”

IRL also plans to expand its international footprint by finding ways to bring in non-U.S. users to its platform — possibly beginning with the events focused on watching the Olympics. (If the Games are not again delayed or canceled due to a COVID surge.)

Shafi says IRL hadn’t been planning to fundraise, but they decided to take the meetings when they were approached.

“The philosophy is not to raise when you have to, but to raise when it makes sense. And we were scaling like crazy to the point where our servers were melting. It made sense to take those discussions very seriously when they came to us,” he says.

The addition of SoftBank and Dragoneer brings some expertise in scaling large social networks to the IRL team. SoftBank’s other notable social networking investment is with TikTok owner’s Bytedance, while Dragoneer has backed Snap. IRL has already has a close relationship with TikTok as it’s worked with the video app to pull in interesting events for discovery. It more recently integrated with TikTok’s new “Login Kit,” too, allowing TikTok users to authenticate with IRL using their TikTok credentials.

Now, IRL plans to add an even deeper TikTok integration — something that caught SoftBank’s attention.

Shafi is cagey on the details, but says more will be announced in the “coming weeks.”

“But what I can say is that we’ve seen a ton of growth of TikTok users linking to IRL group chats and IRL events through their TikTok profiles as a way to communicate and go deeper in relationships,” he says. “If you think about it, right now Instagram has really great messaging…whereas TikTok is still developing that,” he hints.

Image Credits: IRL

Beyond its value to growing social networks for the younger, Facebook-less generation, IRL is thinking about how to build a profitable business without ad revenue. On this front, it sees potential in helping people connect through paid events — although these wouldn’t have to be influencer-driven as on other platforms. In fact, when IRL recently piloted paid group chats, users were willing to pay for access to things like a calc homework help group, for example.

IRL also sees demand for tools that help groups and clubs collect membership dues and other fees, as well as for events that are too small for Ticketmaster or Eventbrite.

“Whether we succeed or fail will be based on our ability to execute on our opportunity,” says Shafi, adding that most social networks today are focused on media more so than helping users make connections. “What we’re building isn’t the media part of social, it’s the real human interaction part of social, because that hasn’t been paid attention to as much.”

“We’re building a messaging social network,” he continues, comparing it to the biggest messaging social network in the world, WeChat. “The big vision that we’re going for is building the WeChat of the West — a messaging super social network. And it starts with people organizing groups and doing things together,” he says.

With the additional funding, IRL will invest in product growth, international expansion and its Creator and Culture Fund, and will grow its now 25-person remotely distributed team to 100 by year-end.

“People are increasingly seeking more in-person social connections and are looking to share meaningful experiences together. As an innovative event-based social network, IRL sits at the intersection of group and event discovery, social calendaring, and group messaging, enabling people to do more together,” added Serena Dayal, director at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement about its investment. “We are excited to partner with Abraham and the IRL team to support their ambition of helping everyone deepen their connections to friends and family.”

#abraham-shafi, #apps, #covid, #founders-fund, #funding, #goodwater-capital, #irl, #mobile-applications, #online-events, #recent-funding, #social, #social-calendar, #social-network, #social-networks, #softbank-group, #softbank-investment-advisers, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #startups, #tc, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-states, #wechat

SoftBank, Uber, Tencent set to reap rewards from Didi IPO

After years of speculation, Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-sharing behemoth, finally unveiled its IPO filing in the U.S., giving a glimpse into its money-losing history.

Didi didn’t disclose the size of its raise. Reuters reported the company could raise around $10 billion at a valuation of close to $100 billion.

Cheng Wei, Didi’s 38-year-old founder owns 7% of the company’s shares and controls 15.4% of its voting power before the IPO, according to the prospectus. Major shareholder SoftBank Vision Fund owns 21.5% of the company, followed by Uber with 12.8% and Tencent at 6.8%.

The nine-year-old company, which famously acquired Uber’s China operations in 2016, is more than a ride-hailing platform now. It has a growing line of businesses like bike-sharing, grocery, intra-city freight, financial services for drivers, electric vehicles and Level 4 robotaxis, which it defines as “the pinnacle of our design for future mobility” for its potential to lower costs and improve safety.

Didi set up an autonomous driving subsidiary that banked $500 million from SoftBank in May last year. The unit now operates a team of over 500 members and a fleet of over 100 autonomous vehicles.

For the twelve months ended March, Didi served 493 million annual active users and saw 41 million transactions on a daily basis.

Didi had been operating in the red from 2018 to 2020, when it finished the year with a $1.6 billion net loss, but managed to turn the tide in the first quarter of 2021 by racking up a net profit of $837 million, which it recognized was primarily due to the investment income from the deconsolidation of Chengxin, its cash-burning grocery group buying initiative, and an equity investment disposal.

Revenue from the quarter also more than doubled year-over-year to $6.6 billion. China accounts for over 90% of Didi’s revenues as of late. The company has tried to expand its presence in a dozen overseas countries like Brazil, where it bought local ride-hailing business 99 Taxis.

Of its mobility revenues in China, more than 97% came from ride-hailing between 2018 and 2020. Taxi hailing, chauffeur and carpooling, a lucrative business that was revamped following two deadly accidents, made up a trifling share.

Didi plans to spend 30% of its IPO proceeds on shared mobility, electric vehicles, autonomous driving and other technologies. 30% will go towards its international expansion and another 20% will be used for new product development.

#asia, #automation, #carsharing, #china, #didi, #didi-chuxing, #funding, #robotaxi, #robotics, #softbank, #softbank-group, #transport, #transportation, #uber

SoftBank pours up to $150M into GBM, a Mexico City-based investment platform

Grupo Bursátil Mexicano (GBM) is a 35-year-old investment platform in the Mexican stock market. In its first three decades of life, GBM was focused on providing investment services to high net worth individuals and local and global institutions.

Over the past decade, the Mexico City-based brokerage has ramped up its digital efforts, and, in the past five years, has evolved its business model to offer services to all Mexicans with the same products and services it offers large estates.

Today, GBM is announcing it has received an investment of “up to” $150 million from SoftBank via the Japanese conglomerate’s Latin America Fund at a valuation of “over $1 billion.” The investment is being made through one of GBM’s subsidiaries and is not contingent on anything, according to the company.

Co-CEO Pedro de Garay Montero told TechCrunch that GBM has built an app, GBM+, that organizes and invests clients’ money through three different tools: Wealth Management, Trading and Smart Cash.

Last year was a “historic” one for the company, he said, and GBM went from having 38,000 investment accounts in January 2020 to more than 650,000 by year’s end. In the first quarter of 2021, that number had grown to over 1 million — representing more than 30x growth from the beginning of 2020.

For some context, according to the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV), there were only 298,000 brokerage accounts in Mexico at the end of 2019, and that number climbed to 940,000 by the end of 2020 — with GBM holding a large share of them.

Most of GBM’s clients are retail clients, but the company also caters to “most of the largest investment managers worldwide,” as well as global companies such as Netflix, Google and BlackRock. Specifically, it services 40% of the largest public corporations in Mexico and a large base of ultra high net worth individuals.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to invest “heavily” in customer acquisition.

Montero said that half of its team of 450 are tech professionals, and that the company plans to also continue hiring as it focuses on growth in its B2C and B2B offerings and expanding into new verticals.

“We are improving our already robust financial education offering,” he added, “so that Mexicans can take control of their finances. GBM’s mission is to transform Mexico into a country of investors.”

Because Mexico is such a huge market — with a population of over 120 million and a GDP of more than $1 trillion — GBM is laser-focused on growing its presence in the country.

“The financial services industry is dominated by big banks and is inefficient, expensive and provides a poor client experience. This has resulted in less than 1% of individuals having an investment account,” Montero told TechCrunch. “We will be targeting clients through our own platform and internal advisors, as well as growing our base of external advisors to reach as many people as possible with the best investment products and user experience.”

When it comes to institutional clients, he believes there is “enormous potential” in serving both the large corporations and the SMEs “who have received limited services from banks.”

Juan Franck, investment lead for SoftBank Latin America Fund in Mexico, believes the retail investment space in Mexico is at an inflection point.

“The investing culture in Mexico has historically been low compared to the rest of the world, even when specifically compared to other countries in Latin America, like Brazil,” he added. “However, the landscape is quickly changing as, through technology, Mexicans are being provided more education around investing and more investment alternatives.”

In the midst of this shift, SoftBank was impressed by GBM’s “clear vision and playbook,” Franck said.

So, despite being a decades-old company, SoftBank sees big potential in the strength of the digital platform that GBM has built out.

“GBM is the leading broker in Mexico in terms of trading activity and broker accounts,” he said. “The company combines decades of industry know-how with an entrepreneurial drive to revolutionize the wealth management space in the country.”

#apps, #blackrock, #brazil, #broker, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #laser, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #money, #netflix, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #ubs, #venture-capital, #vodafone

SoftBank-backed construction giant Katerra said to be shutting down after raising billions

After burning through more than $2 billion in funding, SoftBank-backed construction startup Katerra has told employees that it will be shutting down operations, according to a report in The Information.

Last year, the company claimed it had more than 8,000 employees globally.

Menlo Park-based Katerra had already been struggling to find a viable business in cheaply building apartments properties for real estate developers when it was pushed to the edge of bankruptcy late last year, with the company blaming its latest struggles on climbing labor and material costs associated with the pandemic. The company was given one last chance after receiving a $200 million bailout from SoftBank, which reportedly bought up a majority stake after already having invested billions in the effort.

Katerra’s fall marks the most high-profile failure for SoftBank since the failed 2019 WeWork IPO. The firm has largely been seeing gains among its Vision Fund portfolio in the past year amid a larger tech stock rally, though some of those gains have receded in recent months.

In an interview with Barron’s last month, CEO Masayoshi Son highlighted Katerra as well as SoftBank’s investment in Greensill as “regrets” of his. Katerra’s other backers included Khosla Ventures, DFJ Growth, Greenoaks Capital and Celesta Capital.

TechCrunch has reached out to Katerra for comment.

 

#ceo, #companies, #dfj-growth, #greenoaks-capital, #katerra, #khosla-ventures, #masayoshi-son, #menlo-park, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #vision-fund, #vodafone, #wework

African fintech OPay is reportedly raising $400M at over $1.5B valuation

Chinese-backed and Africa-focused fintech platform OPay is in talks to raise up to $400 million, The Information reported today. The fundraising will be coming two years after OPay announced two funding rounds in 2019 — $50 million in June and $120 million Series B in November.

The $170 million raised so far comes from mainly Chinese investors who have begun to bet big on Africa over the past few years. Some of them include SoftBank, Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, GSR Ventures, Source Code Capital.

In 2018, Opera, popularly known for its internet search engine and browser, launched the OPay mobile money platform in Lagos. It didn’t take long for the company to expand aggressively within the city using ORide, a now-defunct ride-hailing service, as an entry point to the array of services it wanted to offer. The company has tested several verticals — OBus, a bus-booking platform (also defunct); OExpress, a logistics delivery service; OTrade, a B2B e-commerce platform; OFood, a food delivery service, among others.

While none of these services has significantly scaled, OPay’s fintech and mobile money arm (which is its main play) is thriving. This year, its parent company Opera reported that OPay’s monthly transactions grew 4.5x last year to over $2 billion in December. OPay also claims to process about 80% of bank transfers among mobile money operators in Nigeria and 20% of the country’s non-merchant point of sales transactions.Last year, the company also said it acquired an international money transfer license with a partnership with WorldRemit also in the works.

It’s quite surprising that none of OPay’s plans to expand to South Africa and Kenya (countries it expressed interest in during its Series B) has come to fruition despite its large raises. The company blamed the pandemic for these shortcomings. However, earlier this year, the country set up shop in North Africa by expanding to Egypt. This next raise, likely a Series C, will be instrumental in the company’s quest for expansion, both geographically and product offerings. Per The Information, OPay’s valuation will increase to about $1.5 billion, three times its valuation in 2019.

We reached out to OPay, but they declined to comment on the story.

#africa, #china, #egypt, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #kenya, #lagos, #nigeria, #north-africa, #opay, #opera, #oride, #payments, #sequoia-capital-china, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #worldremit

SoftBank leads $15M round for China’s industrial robot maker Youibot

SoftBank has picked its bet in China’s flourishing industrial robotics space. Youibot, a four-year-old startup that makes autonomous mobile robots for a range of scenarios, said it has notched close to 100 million yuan ($15.47 million) in its latest funding round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, the Seoul-based early-stage arm of the global investment behemoth.

In December, SoftBank Ventures Asia led the financing round for another Chinese robotics startup called KeenOn, which focuses on delivery and service robots.

Youibot’s previous investors BlueRun Ventures and SIG also participated in the round. The startup, based in Shenzhen where it went through SOSV’s HAX hardware accelerator program, secured three financing rounds during 2020 as businesses and investors embrace industrial automation to minimize human contact. Youibot has raised over 200 million yuan to date.

Founded by a group of PhDs from China’s prestigious Xi’an Jiaotong University, Youibot develops solutions for factory automation, logistics management, as well as inspection and maintenance for various industries. For example, its robots can navigate around a yard of buses, inspect every tire of the vehicles and provide a detailed report for maintenance, a feature that helped it rack up Michelin’s contract.

Youibot’s “strongest suits” are in electronics manufacturing and electric power patrol, the company’s spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The startup is also seeing high growth in its semiconductor business, with customers coming from several prominent front-end wafer fabs, which use the firm’s robots for chip packaging, testing, and wafer production. Youibot declined to disclose their names due to confidentiality.

Chinese clients that it named include CRRC Zhuzhou, a state-owned locomotive manufacturer, Huaneng Group, a state-owned electricity generation giant, Huawei, and more. China currently comprises 80% of Youibot’s total revenues while overseas markets are rapidly catching up. The firm’s revenues tripled last year from 2020.

Youibot plans to spend the fresh proceeds on research and development in its mobile robots and propietary software, team building and market expansion.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #bluerun-ventures, #china, #electronics, #hardware, #huawei, #industrial-robot, #robot, #robotics, #semiconductor, #seoul, #shenzhen, #softbank-group, #softbank-ventures-asia, #tc

WorkBoard raises $75M as the OKR-focused startup bets on a growing economy, changes to business culture

This morning WorkBoard, a software startup that sells software designed to help other companies plan, announced that it has raised a $75 million Series D. Softbank Group led the investment, which saw participation from prior investors including Microsoft’s M12 venture capital arm, a16z, GGV and Workday Ventures. Per the company, three new investors also took part: SVB Capital, Capital OneVentures and Intel Capital.

More precisely, a host of strategic and venture investors joined up with SoftBank to greatly expand WorkBoard’s capital base in a single investment. Prior to its new round, WorkBoard had raised $65 million, according to its co-founder and CEO Deidre Paknad. Its new round, then, is larger than all of its prior funding combined.

The new funding values WorkBoard at $800 million on a post-money basis, a huge step up from its Series C post-money valuation of $230 million, per PitchBook data.

WorkBoard, like a number of startups that have raised recently, didn’t need more capital to keep operating. Paknad told TechCrunch in an interview that her OKR-focused business still had $35 million in the bank from its preceding rounds. So, what will WorkBoard do with its now $100 million or $105 million bank account? Invest like heck, it appears.

In a sense that should not surprise — TechCrunch included WorkBoard in a roundup of OKR-centered software startups last week, a piece that included the fact that it had grown by 90% from Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, and that Paknad expected her company to “more than double” this year.

Chatting with Paknad, TechCrunch wanted to know why her firm had picked up more capital — so very much new capital — at a time when it didn’t really need the funds. Per the CEO, the company sees the economy and its market at inflection points that make it the right time to deploy capital aggressively.

The company is already at it, adding 82 people in the first 100 days of the year, and expecting to scale from its current employee base of 250 to 400 this year.

What is this moment on which the company is intent to double-down? The economic inflection point is a rapidly scaling economy, with Paknad noting that the Federal Reserve expects the U.S. economy to grow by 6.5% this year, the fastest pace in decades. That figure could imply a ripe moment for software companies to grow at an outsized pace; warm economic waters are great for already hot companies and sectors.

And the second turning point is that after 2020, a year in which many if not most companies had to plan, re-plan and re-re-plan, the CEO said, many firms want to accelerate their planning cadence. And as OKRs are built around a roughly four-times-yearly pace, they are inherently more rapid-fire than the traditional yearly planning to which many companies still hew. So they could be a great fit.

Lots of growth, then, and lots of demand could make for an attractive growth moment for WorkBoard and its OKR-derived startup brethren.

WorkBoard also wants to grow its international footprint; Paknad noted customers in Asia and Europe and a desire to invest more in those markets. And the company wants to keep putting capital to work into its community efforts, something that we’re hearing from a number of aggressively growing startups in recent quarters.

WorkBoard could have raised more capital than it did, with Paknad telling TechCrunch that investors used a number of techniques to reach her in the last year, including some that pushed the boundaries of the word tenuous. In short, growthy SaaS companies of the sort that WorkBoard is proving to be are staring down a buffet of funding sources in today’s market. We forgot to ask her if SPACs were also reaching out, but we’d be surprised if the answer was no.

TechCrunch was also curious about the services side of the WorkBoard business. The company offers coaching, certification and other human-powered services in addition to software. Paknad said that while that part of her company’s services revenue is only around 10% of its aggregate, it’s key to landing customers who want or need the help. So, if we presume that the company is selling human time at around a breakeven rate, we can infer that whatever hit the company takes to its blended gross margins is worth it in terms of implied, if somewhat opaque from a raw-numbers-perspective, revenue growth.

And the CEO said that the services team has a direct line to her product group. That means that whatever its human interactions derive in terms of hints and notes about what might need changing, or building, can be iterated on rapidly.

WorkBoard has delivered rapid growth for years, as TechCrunch reported earlier this year when we put together a compiled list of historical growth rates of companies in its space. Paknad’s company grew its top line by 350% in 2018, 300% in 2019, around 100% in 2020, and the expectation of another double in 2021. That’s smackingly close to the (in)famous triple-triple-double-double-double model of startup growth that gets companies to $100 million in recurring revenue at a venture-ready pace. At which point an IPO is a foregone conclusion that hinges merely on market timing and the maturity of internal controls.

We’ll hit up all the OKR startups in a few months for their Q2 2021 numbers, so expect to hear more about WorkBoard and Ally.io and Perdoo, and Gtmhub and Koan and WeekDone shortly.

#ally-io, #fundings-exits, #gtmhub, #koan, #perdoo, #recent-funding, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #weekdone, #workboard

Arm launches its latest chip design for HPC, data centers and the edge

Arm today announced the launch of two new platforms, Arm Neoverse V1 and Neoverse N2, as well as a new mesh interconnect for them. As you can tell from the name, V1 is a completely new product and maybe the best example yet of Arm’s ambitions in the data center, high-performance computing and machine learning space. N2 is Arm’s next-generation general compute platform that is meant to span use cases from hyperscale clouds to SmartNICs and running edge workloads. It’s also the first design based on the company’s new Armv9 architecture.

Not too long ago, high-performance computing was dominated by a small number of players, but the Arm ecosystem has scored its fair share of wins here recently, with supercomputers in South Korea, India and France betting on it. The promise of V1 is that it will vastly outperform the older N1 platform, with a 2x gain in floating-point performance, for example, and a 4x gain in machine learning performance.

Image Credits: Arm

“The V1 is about how much performance can we bring — and that was the goal,” Chris Bergey, SVP and GM of Arm’s Infrastructure Line of Business, told me. He also noted that the V1 is Arm’s widest architecture yet. He noted that while V1 wasn’t specifically built for the HPC market, it was definitely a target market. And while the current Neoverse V1 platform isn’t based on the new Armv9 architecture yet, the next generation will be.

N2, on the other hand, is all about getting the most performance per watt, Bergey stressed. “This is really about staying in that same performance-per-watt-type envelope that we have within N1 but bringing more performance,” he said. In Arm’s testing, NGINX saw a 1.3x performance increase versus the previous generation, for example.

Image Credits: Arm

In many ways, today’s release is also a chance for Arm to highlight its recent customer wins. AWS Graviton2 is obviously doing quite well, but Oracle is also betting on Ampere’s Arm-based Altra CPUs for its cloud infrastructure.

“We believe Arm is going to be everywhere — from edge to the cloud. We are seeing N1-based processors deliver consistent performance, scalability and security that customers want from Cloud infrastructure,” said Bev Crair, senior VP, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute. “Partnering with Ampere Computing and leading ISVs, Oracle is making Arm server-side development a first-class, easy and cost-effective solution.”

Meanwhile, Alibaba Cloud and Tencent are both investing in Arm-based hardware for their cloud services as well, while Marvell will use the Neoverse V2 architecture for its OCTEON networking solutions.

#alibaba, #arm, #aws, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #computing, #enterprise, #india, #machine-learning, #nvidia, #oracle, #oracle-cloud, #softbank-group, #south-korea, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent

SoftBank bets big on a ‘digital Ellis Island’

Welcome Tech, which has built a digital platform aimed at immigrants and their families, has raised $35 million in a Series B funding round co-led by TTV Capital, Owl Ventures and SoftBank Group Corp.’s SB Opportunity Fund.

Crosscut Ventures, Mubadala Capital, Next Play Capital and Owl Capital also participated in the financing, which brings the Los Angeles-based company’s total raised to $50 million since its 2010 inception. Welcome Tech, which has an office in San Antonio, Texas, raised an $8 million Series A in March of 2020.

Built by immigrants for immigrants, Welcome Tech aims to do just what its name indicates — help immigrants feel more welcome, have an easier transition and achieve greater success when moving to the United States.

The company’s approach was different in that rather than launch a banking product and then set out to earn the trust of the community it aims to serve, it first worked hard to earn that trust and understand the community’s needs. 

So in its first years of existence, Welcome Tech has focused on building out a platform that provides educational resources, information and services that “they need to thrive in a  new country.” Its efforts are initially primarily focused on the Hispanic community in the U.S.

The goal of its platform, dubbed SABEResPODER (meaning Knowledge is Power in Spanish), is to serve as “a widely recognized and trusted resource” to members of the Hispanic community in the U.S., the company says.

Armed with knowledge and data that it has gathered over the years, Welcome Tech six months ago launched a banking service, including a debit card and bilingual mobile app. And in January, it launched a monthly subscription offering that gives users access to discounted resources such as medical and dental professionals.

Gardiner Garrard, co-founder and partner, TTV Capital, points out that the Hispanic market represents the largest minority cohort in the U.S., with a population of 62.8 million. 

“That said, less than half of Hispanic households are ‘fully banked’, meaning they cannot open an account, which then negatively impacts their ability to secure other products or services,” Garrard said. “To not serve this community is a major failure. Welcome Tech is addressing this issue head on.”

Today, Welcome’s platform is approaching 3 million active users, according to co-founder and CEO Amir Hemmat. Its ultimate goal, he said, is to serve as “digital Ellis Island.” 

“The way we leave immigrants’ success to chance is pretty crazy,” he told TechCrunch. “If you think of countries the way you think of companies and the way they want to attract and retain…here, we almost do the opposite.”

Image Credits: Welcome Tech

In particular, Hemmat and co-founder Raul Lomeli-Azoubel recognized that access to financial services was crucial to immigrants’ success.

“Although we ultimately see ourselves building towards a better future for immigration and a broader platform, the foundation and beachhead for that is definitely in financial services,” Hemmat said.  

Welcome offers a free banking account that is fully bilingual for English and Spanish speaking communities with “key features that are very tailor made for this community.”

A number of new digital banks targeting Latino and immigrant communities in general have emerged in recent years, including TomoCredit and Greenwood. Welcome aims to differentiate itself from competitors in being a more broad-based platform. Its subscription offering — at $10 a month — does things like offer discounts to healthcare professionals and free televisits, for example.

“When we dug in, we realized that immigrants are not being provided data-driven recommendations,” Hemmat said. “It’s very much a word of mouth and trial of error, and in some cases highly predatory, experience. We’re working to aggregate a historically fragmented audience and that gives us massive leverage to source better offerings, pricing and experiences for consumers across multiple categories.”

The company plans to use its new capital to build more partnerships so that it can do the above, as well as spread awareness about its services.

Gosia Karas, vice president and head of growth-stage investments at SoftBank’s Opportunity Fund, told TechCrunch that the fact that the immigrant population in the U.S. is “growing really fast and underserved creates an opportunity for someone to come in and serve them well with a financial services offering.”

In particular, SoftBank was attracted to Welcome Tech’s approach to truly understand, and gather data around, its target market.

“Before even jumping head first into building a fintech company, they did a lot of work prior,” Karas said. “They spent years building an understanding of this audience of the immigrant population, including building trust within that demographic. And at the same time, they have been building targeted content. This serves as a really great backbone to build a company that is very well-suited to serve that audience and to roll out things like the debit card and other financial services offerings.”

#bank, #banking, #crosscut-ventures, #debit-card, #diversity, #economy, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenwood, #los-angeles, #mubadala-capital, #owl-capital, #owl-ventures, #recent-funding, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #ttv-capital, #united-states, #venture-capital, #vodafone, #welcome-tech

Mortgage is suddenly sexy as SoftBank pumps $500M in Better.com at $6B valuation

Digital mortgage lender Better.com has raised a $500 million round from Japanese investment conglomerate SoftBank that values the company at $6 billion.

The financing is notable for a few reasons. For one, that new $6 billion valuation,  is up 50% from the $4 billion it was valued at last November when it raised $200 million in Series D financing. It’s also up tenfold from its $600 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise in August 2019.

Secondly, it’s further proof that mortgage – a traditionally “unsexy” industry that has long been in need of disruption – is officially hot. For all its controversy, when SoftBank invests, people pay attention.

The COVID-19 pandemic and historically-low mortgage rates fueled acceleration in the online lending space in a way that no one could have anticipated. That, combined with the general fervour in venture funding, means it’s not a big surprise that Better.com has raised $700 million in just a matter of months.

The investment brings Better.com’s total funding raised to over $900 million since its 2014 inception. Other backers include Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins, American Express, Activant Capital and Citi, among others.

According to the Wall Street Journal, SoftBank is buying shares from Better’s existing investors, and agreed to give all of its voting rights to CEO and founder Vishal Garg “in a sign of its eagerness” to invest in the company. 

During a one-on-one interview at Lendit Fintech’s USA 2020 virtual event in October, Garg had told me that an IPO was definitely in the works.

“We’ll do it when it’s right,” he said. “One of the core tenets of American capitalism is the ability for your customers to buy your stock.”

At that time, he had also told me that before the pandemic, Better was processing about $1.2 billion a month in loans. But as of October 2020, it was funding over $2.5 billion per month, and had gone from 1,500 staffers to about 4,000 worldwide. 

“When the pandemic started we were doing less than sort of like $50 million a month of revenue,” he said. “We’re two-and-a half times that now.”

#activant-capital, #better-com, #ceo, #citi, #companies, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #kleiner-perkins, #online-lending, #recent-funding, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #the-wall-street-journal, #united-states, #venture-capital, #vishal-garg, #vodafone

Arm announces the next generation of its processor architecture

Arm today announced Armv9, the next generation of its chip architecture. Its predecessor, Armv8 launched a decade ago and while it has seen its fair share of changes and updates, the new architecture brings a number of major updates to the platform that warrant a shift in version numbers. Unsurprisingly, Armv9 builds on V8 and is backward compatible, but it specifically introduces new security, AI, signal processing and performance features.

Over the last five years, more than 100 billion Arm-based chips have shipped. But Arm believes that its partners will ship over 300 billion in the next decade. We will see the first ArmV9-based chips in devices later this year.

Ian Smythe, Arm’s VP of Marketing for its client business, told me that he believes this new architecture will change the way we do computing over the next decade. “We’re going to deliver more performance, we will improve the security capabilities […] and we will enhance the workload capabilities because of the shift that we see in compute that’s taking place,” he said. “The reason that we’ve taken these steps is to look at how we provide the best experience out there for handling the explosion of data and the need to process it and the need to move it and the need to protect it.”

That neatly sums up the core philosophy behind these updates. On the security side, ArmV9 will introduce Arm’s confidential compute architecture and the concept of Realms. These Realms enable developers to write applications where the data is shielded from the operating system and other apps on the device. Using Realms, a business application could shield sensitive data and code from the rest of the device, for example.

Image Credits: Arm

“What we’re doing with the Arm Confidential Compute Architecture is worrying about the fact that all of our computing is running on the computing infrastructure of operating systems and hypervisors,” Richard Grisenthwaite, the chief architect at Arm, told me. “That code is quite complex and therefore could be penetrated if things go wrong. And it’s in an incredibly trusted position, so we’re moving some of the workloads so that [they are] running on a vastly smaller piece of code. Only the Realm manager is the thing that’s actually capable of seeing your data while it’s in action. And that would be on the order of about a 10th of the size of a normal hypervisor and much smaller still than an operating system.”

As Grisenthwaite noted, it took Arm a few years to work out the details of this security architecture and ensure that it is robust enough — and during that time Spectre and Meltdown appeared, too, and set back some of Arm’s initial work because some of the solutions it was working on would’ve been vulnerable to similar attacks.

Image Credits: Arm

Unsurprisingly, another area the team focused on was enhancing the CPU’s AI capabilities. AI workloads are now ubiquitous. Arm had already done introduced its Scalable Vector Extension (SVE) a few years ago, but at the time, this was meant for high-performance computing solutions like the Arm-powered Fugaku supercomputer.

Now, Arm is introducing SVE2 to enable more AI and digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities. Those can be used for image processing workloads, as well as other IoT and smart home solutions, for example. There are, of course, dedicated AI chips on the market now, but Arm believes that the entire computing stack needs to be optimized for these workloads and that there are a lot of use cases where the CPU is the right choice for them, especially for smaller workloads.

“We regard machine learning as appearing in just about everything. It’s going to be done in GPUs, it’s going to be done in dedicated processors, neural processors, and also done in our CPUs. And it’s really important that we make all of these different components better at doing machine learning,” Grisenthwaite said.

As for raw performance, Arm believes its new architecture will allow chip manufacturers to gain more than 30% in compute power over the next two chip generations, both for mobile CPUs but also the kind of infrastructure CPUs that large cloud vendors like AWS now offer their users.

“Arm’s next-generation Armv9 architecture offers a substantial improvement in security and machine learning, the two areas that will be further emphasized in tomorrow’s mobile communications devices,” said Min Goo Kim, the executive vice president of SoC development at Samsung Electronics. “As we work together with Arm, we expect to see the new architecture usher in a wider range of innovations to the next generation of Samsung’s Exynos mobile processors.”

#ai-chips, #artificial-intelligence, #aws, #companies, #computers, #computing, #dsp, #exynos, #image-processing, #machine-learning, #nvidia, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #samsung-electronics, #soc, #softbank-group, #tc

Big banks rush to back Greenwood, Killer Mike’s Atlanta-based digital bank for underrepresented customers

Before even taking its first deposit, Greenwood, the digital banking service targeting Black and Latino individuals and business owners, has raised $40 million — only a few months after its launch.

Coming in to finance the new challenger bank are six of the seven largest U.S. Banks and the payment technology developers Mastercard and Visa.

That’s right, Bank of America, PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Truist, are backing a bank co-founded by a man who declared, “I’m with the revolutionary. I’m with the radical policy,” when stumping for then Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Joining the financial services giants in the round are FIS, a behind-the-scenes financial services tech developer; along with the venture capital firms TTV Capital, SoftBank Group’s SB Opportunity Fund, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Sports investors Quality Control and All-Pro NFL running back Alvin Kamara also came in to finance the latest round.

Atlanta-based Greenwood was launched last October by a group that included former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Bounce TV founder, Ryan Glover.

“The net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family and eight times greater than that of a Latino family. This wealth gap is a curable injustice that requires collaboration,” said \ Glover, Chairman and Co-founder of Greenwood, in a statement. “The backing of six of the top seven banks and the two largest payment technology companies is a testament to the contemporary influence of the Black and Latino community. We now are even better positioned to deliver the world-class services our customers deserve.”

Named after the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., which was known as the Black Wall Street before it was destroyed in a 1921 massacre, the digital bank promises to donate the equivalent of five free meals to an organization addressing food insecurity for every person who signs up to the bank. And every time a customer uses a Greenwood debit card, the bank will make a donation to either the United Negro College FundGoodr (an organization that addresses food insecurity) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition, each month the bank will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that uses the company’s financial services.

“Truist Ventures is helping to inspire and build better lives and communities by leading the Series A funding round for Greenwood’s innovative approach to building greater trust in banking within Black and Latino communities,” said Truist Chief Digital and Client Experience Officer Dontá L. Wilson who oversees Truist Ventures, in a statement. “In addition to the opportunity to work with and learn from this distinguished group of founders, our investment in Greenwood is reflective of our purpose and commitment to advancing economic empowerment of minority and underserved communities.”

So far, 500,000 people have signed up for the wait list to bank with Greenwood.

#andrew-young, #atlanta, #bank, #bank-of-america, #banking, #bernie-sanders, #challenger-bank, #companies, #finance, #financial-services, #fis, #greenwood, #jpmorgan-chase, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mastercard, #mayor, #national-football-league, #nfl, #oklahoma, #softbank-group, #tc, #tulsa, #united-states, #venture-capital-firms, #visa, #wells-fargo

SoftBank-backed Indian insurance platform Policybazaar raises $75 million

Policybazaar has raised $75 million as the Indian online insurance platform looks to expand its presence in UAE and Middle East.

Sarbvir Singh, chief executive of PolicyBazaar, told TechCrunch that the startup had raised $75 million, but didn’t elaborate. Falcon Edge Capital led the new tranche of investment in the Indian startup, which has raised about $630 million to date, according to research firm Tracxn.

The 12-year-old startup, which counts SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund and Tiger Global among its investors, is among a handful of startups that is attempting to upend India’s insurance market, which is largely commanded by state and bank-backed insurers.

Policybazaar serves as an aggregator that allows users to compare and buy policies — across categories including life, health, travel, auto, and property — from dozens of insurers on its website without having to go through conventional agents.

A screengrab of Policybazaar website

In India only a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance and some analysts say that digital firms could prove crucial in bringing these services to the masses. According to rating agency ICRA, insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017.

An average Indian makes about $2,100 in a year, according to World Bank. ICRA estimated that of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product, they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017.

In a recent report, analysts at Bernstein estimated that Policybazaar commands 90% of share in the online insurance distribution market. The platform also sells loans, credit cards, and mutual funds. The startup says it sells over a million policies a month.

“India has an under-penetrated insurance market. Within the under-penetrated landscape, digital distribution through web-aggregators like Policybazaar forms <1% of the industry. This offers a large headroom for growth,” Bernstein analysts wrote to clients.

The startup, which is working on an initial public offering slated for next year, said it will use the fresh investment to expand its presence across the UAE and Middle East regions.

“PolicyBazaar has shown stellar innovation, execution, and relentlessness in establishing itself as the market leader in online insurance aggregation in India. We believe the playbook it has established over the last 10 years in being the most efficient sales channel for insurance manufacturers, can act as a catalyst to gain market leadership in the GCC,” said Navroz Udwadia, co-founder of Falcon Edge Capital, in a statement.

#apps, #asia, #funding, #india, #paytm, #policybazaar, #softbank, #softbank-group

WeWork unbundles its products in an attempt to make itself over, but will the strategy work?

For years, there was a debate as to whether WeWork was a tech company or more of a real estate play. At first, most people viewed WeWork as a real estate startup disguised as a tech startup.

And as it kept scooping up more and more property, the lines continued to blur. Then we all watched as the company’s valuation plummeted and its IPO plans went up in smoke. Today, WeWork is rumored to be going public via a SPAC at a $10 valuation, down significantly from the $47 billion it was valued at after raising $1 billion in its SoftBank-led Series H round in January 2019. 

Co-founder and then-CEO Adam Neumann notoriously stepped down later that year amid allegations of a toxic combination of arrogance and poor management. WeWork has since been very publicly trying to redeem itself and turn around investor — and public — perception.

Chairman Marcelo Claure kicked off a strategic, five-year turnaround plan in earnest in February 2020. That same month, the beleaguered company named a real estate — not tech — exec as its new CEO, a move that set tongues wagging.

WeWork then also set a target of becoming free cash flow positive by a year to 2022 as part of its plan, which was aimed at both boosting valuation and winning back investor trust. 

It likely saw the demise of competitor Knotel, which ended up filing for bankruptcy and selling assets to an investor, and realized it needed to learn from some of that company’s mistakes.

The question now is: Has WeWork legitimately turned a corner? 

Since the implementation of its turnaround plan, the company says it has exited out of over 100 pre-open or underperforming locations. (It still has over 800 locations globally, according to its website.) WeWork has also narrowed its net loss to $517 million in Q3 2020 from $1.2 billion in the third quarter of 2019. 

Meanwhile, revenue has taken a hit, presumably due to the impact of the coronavirus. Revenue slumped to $811 million the 2020 third quarter, compared with $934 million in Q3 2019.

The pandemic presented WeWork with challenges, but also — some might say — opportunity.

With so many people being forced to work from home and avoiding others during the work day, the office space in general struggled. WeWork either had to adapt, or potentially deal with a bigger blow to its valuation and bottom line.

WeWork’s dilemma is similar to  those of real estate companies around the world. With so many companies shifting to remote work not just temporarily, but also permanently, landlords everywhere have had to adjust. 

For example, as McKinsey recently pointed out, all landlords have been forced to be more flexible and restructure tenant leases. So in effect, anyone operating commercial real estate space has had to become more flexible, just as WeWork has.

For its part, WeWork has taken a few steps to adapt. For one, it realized its membership-only plan was not going to work anymore, and a dip in membership was evidence of that. So, it worked to open its buildings to more people through new On Demand and All Access options. The goal was to give people who were weary of working out of their own homes a place to go, say one day a week, to work. WeWork also saw an opportunity to work with companies to offer up its office space as a perk via an All Access offering, as well as with universities that wanted to give their students an alternative place to study. 

For example, Georgetown did a pretty unique partnership with WeWork to have one of its locations serve as “their replacement library and common space.” And, companies like Brandwatch have recently shifted from leveraging WeWork’s traditional spaces to instead offer employees access to WeWork locations around the globe via All Access passes. 

WeWork has also launched new product features. At the beginning of the year, the company launched the ability to book space on the weekend and outside of business hours. 

The unbundling of space

I talked with Prabhdeep Singh, WeWork’s global head of marketplace, who is overseeing the new products and also spearheading WeWork’s shift online, to learn more about the company’s new strategy.

“What we’ve essentially done is unbundle our space,” he said. “It used to be that the only way to enjoy our spaces was via a bundled subscription product and monthly memberships. But we realized with COVID, the world was shifting, and to open up our platform to a broader group of people and make it as flexible as humanly possible. So they can now book a room for a half hour or get a day pass, for example. The use cases are so wide.”

Since On Demand launched as a pilot in New York City in August 2020, demand has steadily been climbing, according to Singh. So far, reservations are up by 65% — and revenue up by 70% — over the 2020 fourth quarter. But of course, it’s still early and they were starting from a small base. Nearly two-thirds of On Demand reservations are made by repeat customers, he added.

“Over the last year and a half, we’ve been really figuring out what things we want to focus on what things we don’t,” Singh said. “As a flexible space provider, we are looking at where the world is going. And while we’re a small part of the whole commercial office space industry, we are working to use technology to enable a flexible workspace experience via a great app and the digitization of our spaces.”

For now, things seem to be looking up some. In February, WeWork says it had nearly twice as many active users compared to January. Also, people apparently like having the option to come in at off hours. Weekend bookings now account for an estimated 14.5% of total bookings.

Nearly double as many existing members purchased All Access passes in February 2020 compared to January to complement their existing private office space during COVID, the company said. 

In the beginning of the COVID-19, WeWork saw a higher departure of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) than of its enterprise members, partially due to the nature of their businesses and the need to more immediately manage cash flow, the company said. But in the third quarter of 2020, SMB desk sales were up 50% over the second quarter.

Interestingly, throughout the pandemic, WeWork has seen its enterprise segment grow at nearly double the rate of its SMBs, now making up over half of the company’s total membership base.

While it’s slowing down investing in new real estate assets in certain markets, it is still working to “right-size” its portfolio via exits.

And, when it comes to its finances, as of March 2, WeWork said its bonds were trading at the highest point since the summer of 2019, when the company failed to go public. That’s way up from a 52-week low of about 28%.

“At ~92% for a ~10% yield, the creditor sentiment is clearly positive and a testament to the overall market’s belief that WeWork’s flexible workspace product has a viable future in the future of real estate,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Just last March, WeWork’s bonds were trading at 43 cents on the dollar and S&P Global had lowered WeWork’s credit rating further into junk territory and put the company on watch for further downgrades, reported Forbes.

Still, the company is not done adapting. Singh told TechCrunch that to make WeWork’s value proposition even stronger, it’s working to offer a “business in a box.” Late last year, WeWork partnered with a number of companies to offer SMBs and startups, for example, services such as payroll, healthcare and business insurance.

A lot of people that come to WeWork are growing businesses,” Singh said. “So while we’ve stuck with our core business services, we’re working to offer more, as in a real suite of HR services that might be complex and expensive for a small business to manage on their own.”

It’s also working to be able to offer its On Demand product globally so that people can opt to work out of a WeWork space from any of its locations around the world.

“Right now, we are in the largest work from home experiment,” Singh said. “I think we’re about to shift to the largest return to work experiment ever. We are just going to be very well positioned.”

The company appears to be trying to become a more sophisticated real estate company that may not be as flashy as the one of the Adam Neumann era, but more stable and more in demand. But is it trying to do too much, too fast?

It will be interesting to see how it all goes.

 

#adam-neumann, #business, #business-services, #georgetown, #marcelo-claure, #new-york-city, #prabhdeep-singh, #real-estate, #softbank-group, #spokesperson, #wework

SoftBank-backed Volpe Capital raises $80M to invest in LatAm

In recent years, the tech and venture scene in Latin America has been growing at an accelerated pace. More global investors are backing startups in the region and certain sectors in particular, such as fintech, are exploding.

Global investors are not only pouring money into companies. They’re also investing in funds.

Today, Volpe Capital  announced the $80 million first close of its fund targeting high growth technology investments in Latin America. Notably, Japanese investment conglomerate SoftBank, BTG and Banco Inter affiliates are anchor investors in the new fund, which is targeting aggregate commitments of $100 million with a hard cap of $150 million. Volpe also received a “large anchor investment” from its management team.

Andre Maciel, Gregory Reider and Milena Oliveira are the fund’s founding partners, and are based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Notably, Maciel is the former managing partner at SoftBank’s $5 billion Latin America-focused innovation fund. He launched Volpe in 2019 primarily with SoftBank’s backing. Reider formerly invested at Warburg Pincus.

Maciel said the fund’s raise was “significantly oversubscribed with firm commitments” and believed to be “among the best capital raises for a first-time fund in its asset class in Latin America.”

Volpe Capital plans to invest in about 15 companies over a two and half year time span, according to Maciel, who expects its average check size to be around $5 billion.

So far, it’s backed Uol Edtech, a subsidiary of Grupo Uol that aims to redefine the digital learning experience in Brazil. 

“We are in no rush,” Maciel told TechCrunch. “We are happy with our first deal and will take capital preservation in consideration. We believe markets are hot now and plan on taking advantage of the cycle by being patient.”

The fund’s strategy is to go after the companies that are not actively raising capital.

We want to invest in companies that are not necessarily raising capital when we approach them,” Maciel said.

The fund views itself as agnostic regarding stage and primary versus secondary.

It is seeking to back early-stage companies with less than $50 million in valuation as well as some later stage, high growth companies. The fund’s first investment — Uol Edtech — falls in the latter category with EBITDA margins above 30%, according to Maciel.

Volpe plans to avoid capital intensive industries, even if related to tech.

“Those are more suitable to investors with deeper pockets than Volpe,” Maciel said. 

Instead it’s eyeing edtech, healthtech, software and fintech investments (that are not credit-related).

“We like sectors that are prone for disruption in Latin America and that require local customization,” Maciel said. “Given the stage of the vc/growth industry in Latin America, we believe it is better to be a generalist.”

SoftBank International CEO Marcelo Claure describes Maciel as one of his “amazing founding partners for SoftBank in Latin America.”

“We are very happy to be one of Volpe’s anchor investors and look forward to continuing our relationship with them,” he added in a written statement.

Another anchor investor has a SoftBank tie. João Vitor Menin, CEO of Inter, a publicly traded fintech platform in Brazil with a market cap of over  $7 billion, points out that Maciel led an investment in Inter’s platform through SoftBank. He also “made valuable contributions” as a board member, according to Menin.

#board-member, #brazil, #business, #ceo, #companies, #finance, #funding, #latin-america, #managing-partner, #marcelo-claure, #sao-paulo, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Compass files S-1, reveals $3.7B in revenue on net loss of $270M

Compass, the real-estate brokerage startup backed by roughly $1.6 billion in venture funding, filed its S-1 Monday.

The move comes just under one year after the New York-based company laid off 15% of its staff as a result of the shifting economic fortunes created by the global response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to the IPO, SoftBank’s Vision Fund holds slightly more than a one-third stake in the company. Other investors include the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity, Wellington Management, and the Qatar Investment Authority, according to Crunchbase.

The company’s last fundraise was in July 2019, when Compass — a company that has built a three-sided marketplace for the real estate industry, along with a wide set of algorithms to help make it work — raised a $370 million round of funding. That financing valued Compass at $6.4 billion.

One of the greatest things about companies going public is that we get insight into their financials. Compass is not profitable but it did see a massive surge in revenue over the past few years.

The company’s revenues have increased from $186.8 million in 2016 to a whopping $3.7 billion last year, with much of the top-line revenue growth coming in the last two years, according to its S-1. Given the startup’s agency model, most of that revenue is paid out directly to the firm’s agents, who netted about $3 billion in commissions in 2020. Compass posted a net loss of $270 million in 2020, a net loss roughly in line with what it has experienced in the past two years.

Total transactions on the platform grew from about 27,000 in 2018 to 145,000 in 2020, while total transaction volume (the value of the properties the company brokers) went up by about five-fold, from $34 billion to $152 billion last year. Since commissions on real estate are determined as fixed percentage of the value of the property, more transaction volume directly translates into more revenue for Compass. The company has been able to sustain that growth while limiting the number of agents it has added. From 2019 to 2020, the company only had 28% growth in its total number of agents, reaching just shy of 9,000 last year.

Compass had its share of trouble before the pandemic. In September 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company had lost a number of senior level individuals over the previous eighteen months including its chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and chief technology officer.

#canadian-pension-plan-investment-board, #compass, #exit, #new-york, #qatar-investment-authority, #real-estate, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc

Madrona promotes Anu Sharma and Daniel Li as Partners

Fresh off the announcement of more than $500 million in new capital across two new funds, Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group has announced that they’re adding Anu Sharma and Daniel Li to the team’s list of Partners.

The firm, which in recent years has paid particularly close attention to enterprise software bets, invests heavily in the early-stage Pacific Northwest startup scene.

Both Li and Sharma are stepping into the Partner role after some time at the firm. Li has been with Madrona for five years while Sharma joined the team in 2020. Prior to joining Madrona, Sharma led product management teams at Amazon Web Services, worked as a software developer at Oracle and had a stint in VC as an associate at SoftBank China & India. Li previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group.

I got the chance to catch up with Li who notes that the promotion won’t necessarily mean a big shift in his day-to-day responsibilities — “At Madrona, you’re not promoted until you’re working in the next role anyway,” he says — but that he appreciates “how much trust the firm places in junior investors.”

Asked about leveling up his venture career during a time when public and private markets seem particularly flush with cash, Li acknowledges some looming challenges.

“On one hand, it’s just been an amazing five years to join venture capital because things have just been up and to the right with lots of things that work; it’s just a super exciting time,” Li says. “On the other hand, from a macro perspective, you know that there’s more capital flowing into VC as an asset class than ever before. And just from that pure macro perspective, you know that that means returns are going to be lower in the next 10 years as valuations are higher.”

Nevertheless, Li is plenty bullish on internet companies claiming larger swaths of the global GDP and hopes to invest specifically in “low code platforms, next-gen productivity, and online communities,” Madrona notes in their announcement, while Sharma plans to continue looking at to “distributed systems, data infrastructure, machine learning, and security.”

TechCrunch recently talked to Li and his Madrona colleague Hope Cochran about some of the top trends in social gaming and how investors were approaching new opportunities across the gaming industry.

#amazon-web-services, #finance, #hope-cochran, #india, #internet, #investment, #machine-learning, #madrona-venture-group, #online-communities, #oracle, #seattle, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #venture-capital, #web-services

MadeiraMadeira, Brazil’s answer to Wayfair and Ikea, is now worth over $1 billion

MadeiraMadeira, the Brazilian answer to Wayfair or Ikea, is now worth $1 billion after raising $190 million in late stage financing from investors led by SoftBank’s Latin American investment fund and the Brazilian public and private investment firm, Dynamo.

An online marketplace specializing in home products, MadeiraMadeira offers roughly 300,000 products so customers can build furnish, renovate and decorate their homes.

Founded in 2009 by Daniel Scandian, Marcelo Scandian and Robson Privado, the company has seen huge tailwinds come from the shift to online shopping in Brazil as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

With stores closed, online shopping in Brazil surged. As Daniel Scandian noted, before the pandemic ecommerce penetration in Brazil was at roughly 7%, that number ballooned to 17% at the height of the pandemic in Brazil and has now stabilized at around 10%.

Combining third party sales with private labeled goods and its own shipping and logistics facilities has meant that MadeiraMadeira can take the best practices from several online retailers and home furnishing stores, Scandian said.

There are more than 10,000 sellers on the MadeiraMadeira platform and roughly 2.5 million stock keeping units. In recent years the company has added showrooms to its mix of retail facilities, where customers can check out merchandise, but complete their orders online.

“That’s the way we can tackle the offline market with a digital mindset,” Scandian said. 

Money from the most recent financing will be used to invest in expanding its logistics capabilities with the addition of new warehouse facilities to expand on its existing ten locations. The company also intends to add same day delivery and the expansion of its private label services.

The new capital, likely the last round before a potential public offering, included previous investors like Flybridge