Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”

#airwallex, #articles, #asia, #asia-pacific, #australia, #bank, #banking, #blue-bottle-coffee, #cloud-services, #dst-global, #economy, #embedded-finance, #enterprise, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #goat, #hr, #lone-pine-capital, #melbourne, #north-america, #papaya-global, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures, #sequoia-capital-china, #series-d, #startup-company, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #veem

1 change that can fix the VC funding crisis for women founders

The venture capital industry as we know it is broken. At least for women, that is.

In terms of funding to women founders, 2020 was among the worst years on record. On a global level, only 9% of all funds deployed to technology startups went to founding teams that included at least one woman. Solo woman founders and all-women teams raised just 2% of all VC dollars, Crunchbase data showed.

Shockingly, this number is actually less than it was when we first started counting a decade ago, well before many high-profile diversity initiatives launched with the goal of fixing this very problem.

This funding gap isn’t just a moral crisis — it’s an economic one. The lack of investment into women-founded startups is a missed opportunity worth trillions of dollars. That’s because of overwhelming evidence that startups founded by women outperform startups founded by men: They generate more revenue, earn higher profits and exit faster at higher valuations. And they do all this while raising way less money.

What we’re doing isn’t working. Through research for my next book on women founders and funders, I kept asking myself the same question: When it comes to fixing the funding gap for women founders, what’s the one thing we can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?

I now believe that our best bet for long-term change is to focus our efforts on increasing the number of women investing partners who can write large seed checks. Here’s why.

Women investors are up to 3x more likely to fund women founders

Recently, one of the top VCs in the world told me how challenging it is to diversify his senior team. He expressed it as an accepted fact and a widespread belief. This is a common trope in Silicon Valley: Everyone wants gender diversity, but it’s so hard to find all the senior women!

In the venture capital industry, who you hire at the senior level is who you hang out with. And who you hire at the senior level determines who your fund will back.

Since studies now show that women investors are up to three times more likely to invest in women founders, it is clear that the fastest way to fund more women is to hire more women investing partners with check-writing ability. The effect to venture firms? Returns.

“When U.S. VC firms increased the proportion of female partners, they benefited with 9.7% more profitable exits and a 1.5% spike in overall fund returns annually,” explained Lisa Stone of WestRiver Group.

Data from All Raise and PitchBook reinforce the “correlation between hiring female decision-makers at the investment level and outperformance at the fund level,” adding that “69.2% of U.S. VCs that scored a top-quartile fund between 2009 and 2018 had women in decision-making roles.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that women investors are more likely to invest in women founders. That’s because humans have a propensity toward homophily the tendency for like to attract like and for similarity to breed connection.

Homophily is why a vegan VC is more likely to invest in a vegan food tech, a gamer is more likely to hang out with gaming founders, or a parent is more likely to invest in a parent marketplace. People gravitate toward what they know.

Deena Shakir, who happens to be a woman and a mother, recently led Lux Capital’s investment into women’s health unicorn Maven. Shakir had multiple high-risk pregnancies with multiple complications, emergency C-sections, NICU stays and breastfeeding challenges.

“It is no coincidence that I am joined on Maven’s board of directors by four other mothers … and a brand-new father … whose personal journeys have also informed their professional conviction,” Shakir wrote in a Medium post.

Why seed checks have the greatest impact on the ecosystem

I believe that to fix the funding gap for women founders and jump-start the virtuous cycle of venture capital investing into women, we should focus on getting more seed checks into the hands of women founders. That’s because seed investing is a leading indicator of whether we are headed in the right direction in terms of closing the funding gap for women, according to Jenny Lefcourt, a partner at Freestyle and co-founder of All Raise, the leading nonprofit focused on diversifying the VC industry.

This doesn’t discount the importance of investments made into women founders at later stages. When a women founder lands Series D capital, it boosts this year’s numbers into women founders and likely brings that particular founder closer to a liquidity event that will lead her (and her executives) to invest in more women.

That said, the greatest impact on the future ecosystem will come from widening the top of the funnel and giving more women at the seed stage the shot to one day reach a momentous Series D funding like Maven. After all, who we fund now becomes who we fund later.

Why large seed checks matter most

Finally, the size of the check is also important when thinking about how to have the biggest impact on the ecosystem.

I know first-hand that microchecks are critical to building an inclusive ecosystem. When women invest at the seed level — in any amount — they jumpstart a virtuous cycle of women funding women. That’s why when I stepped in to lend a hand at my portfolio company when the solo woman founder took a parental leave, one of my key projects was to develop Jefa House, a way for Jefa’s own executives to easily invest in other women-founded startups.

That said, large party rounds made up entirely of small angel checks are few and far between. Similar challenges face small checks from emerging fund managers. Although the sheer number of emerging managers has increased 9x in seven years, the reality is that most emerging managers simply don’t have much money.

Are women venture capitalists who run their own microfunds more likely to invest in amazing women founders than Tier 1 funds with few or no women investing partners? Yes. Will it take them a long time to compete with those Tier 1 funds in terms of check size? Yes.

This is why it matters so much when leading funds hire or promote women to the partner level. Not only does it give women founders a better shot at funding from high-signal shops, but the moves that top funds make are key signals to others in the ecosystem: In venture capital, women investors don’t have to sit at the kids’ table.

Why we must hire women investing partners

We all know that great returns in early-stage venture capital come from making big bets on great ideas that others aren’t betting on. That is why VC investing is contrarian by definition. Thanks to our increasingly globalized world and clear data showing the importance of diverse teams to make good decisions to get those returns, no one in 2021 truly believes that single white dudes in Palo Alto have a monopoly on billion-dollar ideas.

However, due to the nature of homophily, venture capital remains a highly homogenous industry, and the social and economic interactions and decisions of human beings remain deeply swayed by these principles. No matter how much work we do, birds of a feather really do flock — and fund — together.

This all leads to one place: The clearest path to funding different kinds of founders with different kinds of ideas is to put different kinds of investors on the investing side of the table. To get more funding to women founders, we need more women who can write checks. That’s why prioritizing the hiring of women investing partners who can write large seed checks is key to fixing the funding crisis for women founders and increasing VC returns worldwide.

#column, #deena-shakir, #funding, #jenny-lefcourt, #maven, #opinion, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital, #women-in-venture-capital

The responsibilities of AI-first investors

Investors in AI-first technology companies serving the defense industry, such as Palantir, Primer and Anduril, are doing well. Anduril, for one, reached a valuation of over $4 billion in less than four years. Many other companies that build general-purpose, AI-first technologies — such as image labeling — receive large (undisclosed) portions of their revenue from the defense industry.

Investors in AI-first technology companies that aren’t even intended to serve the defense industry often find that these firms eventually (and sometimes inadvertently) help other powerful institutions, such as police forces, municipal agencies and media companies, prosecute their duties.

Most do a lot of good work, such as DataRobot helping agencies understand the spread of COVID, HASH running simulations of vaccine distribution or Lilt making school communications available to immigrant parents in a U.S. school district.

The first step in taking responsibility is knowing what on earth is going on. It’s easy for startup investors to shrug off the need to know what’s going on inside AI-based models.

However, there are also some less positive examples — technology made by Israeli cyber-intelligence firm NSO was used to hack 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human-rights activists, business executives and the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a report by The Washington Post and 16 media partners. The report claims the phones were on a list of over 50,000 numbers based in countries that surveil their citizens and are known to have hired the services of the Israeli firm.

Investors in these companies may now be asked challenging questions by other founders, limited partners and governments about whether the technology is too powerful, enables too much or is applied too broadly. These are questions of degree, but are sometimes not even asked upon making an investment.

I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of people with lots of perspectives — CEOs of big companies, founders of (currently!) small companies and politicians — since publishing “The AI-First Company” and investing in such firms for the better part of a decade. I’ve been getting one important question over and over again: How do investors ensure that the startups in which they invest responsibly apply AI?

Let’s be frank: It’s easy for startup investors to hand-wave away such an important question by saying something like, “It’s so hard to tell when we invest.” Startups are nascent forms of something to come. However, AI-first startups are working with something powerful from day one: Tools that allow leverage far beyond our physical, intellectual and temporal reach.

AI not only gives people the ability to put their hands around heavier objects (robots) or get their heads around more data (analytics), it also gives them the ability to bend their minds around time (predictions). When people can make predictions and learn as they play out, they can learn fast. When people can learn fast, they can act fast.

Like any tool, one can use these tools for good or for bad. You can use a rock to build a house or you can throw it at someone. You can use gunpowder for beautiful fireworks or firing bullets.

Substantially similar, AI-based computer vision models can be used to figure out the moves of a dance group or a terrorist group. AI-powered drones can aim a camera at us while going off ski jumps, but they can also aim a gun at us.

This article covers the basics, metrics and politics of responsibly investing in AI-first companies.

The basics

Investors in and board members of AI-first companies must take at least partial responsibility for the decisions of the companies in which they invest.

Investors influence founders, whether they intend to or not. Founders constantly ask investors about what products to build, which customers to approach and which deals to execute. They do this to learn and improve their chances of winning. They also do this, in part, to keep investors engaged and informed because they may be a valuable source of capital.

#ai, #artificial-general-intelligence, #artificial-intelligence, #column, #cybernetics, #ec-column, #machine-learning, #nso, #palantir, #private-equity, #startup-company, #startups, #venture-capital

Index Ventures launches web-app to help founders calculate employee stock options

The ability to offer stock options is utterly essential to startups. They convince talented people to join when the startup is unlikely to be capable of matching the high salaries that larger, established tech firms can offer.

However, it’s a complex business developing a competitive stock option plan. Luckily, London-based VC Index Ventures today launches both a handy web app to calculate all this, plus new research into how startups are compensating their key hires across Europe and the US.

OptionPlan Seed, is a web-app for seed-stage founders designing ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans). 
The web app is based on Index’s analysis of seed-stage option grants, drawing on data from over 1,000 startups.

The web app covers a variety of roles; 6 different levels of allocation benchmarks; calculates potential financial upside for each team member (including tax); and adjusts according to policy frameworks in the US, Canada, Israel, Australia, and 20 European countries.

It also builds on the OptionPlan for Series A companies that Index launched a few years ago.

As part of its research for the new tool, Index said it found that almost all seed-stage employees receive stock options. However, while this reaches 97% of technical hires at seed-stage startups and 80% of junior non-technical hires for startups in the US, in Europe only 75% of technical hires receive options, dropping to 60% for junior non-technical hires.

That said, Index found stock option grant sizes are increasing, particularly among startups “with a lot of technical DNA, and weighted towards the Bay Area”. In less tech-heavy sectors such as e-commerce or content, grant sizes have not shifted much. Meanwhile, grants are still larger overall as seed valuations have grown in the last few years.

Index found the ESOP size is increasing at seed stage, following a faster rate of hiring, and larger grants per employee. Index recommends an ESOP size at seed stage is set at 12.5% or 15%, rather than the more traditional 10% in order to retain and attract staff.

The research also found seed fundraise sizes and valuations have doubled, while valuations have risen by 2.5x, in Europe and the US. 


Additionally, salaries at seed have “risen dramatically” with average salaries rising in excess of 60%. Senior tech roles at seed-stage startups in the US now earn an average $185,000 salary, a 68% increase over 3 years, and can rise to over $220,000. But in Europe, the biggest salary increases have been for junior roles, both technical and non-technical.



That said, Index found that “Europe’s technical talent continues to have a compensation gap” with seed-stage technical employees in Europe still being paid 40-50% less on average than their US counterparts. Indeed, Index found this gap had actually widened since 2018, “despite a narrowing of the gap for non-technical roles”.


Index also found variations in salaries across Europe are “much wider than the US”, reflecting high-cost hubs like London, versus lower-cost cities like Bucharest or Warsaw.

The war for talent is now global, with the compensation gap for technical hires narrowing to 20-25% compared to the US.


Index’s conclusion is that “ambitious seed founders in Europe should raise the bar in terms of who they hire, particularly in technical roles” as well as aiming for more experienced and higher-caliber candidates, larger fundraises to be competitive on salaries.

#australia, #canada, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #investment, #israel, #london, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #stock, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #warsaw, #web-app

As UK Gov reaches out to tech, investors threaten to ‘pull capital’ over M&A regulator over-reach

UK competition regulators are spooking tech investors in the country with an implied threat to clamp down on startup M&A, according to a new survey of the industry.

As the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer engaged with the tech industry at a ‘Chatham House’ style event today, the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) think-tank released a survey of over 50 key investors which found startup investors are prepared to pull capital over the prospect of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) becoming a “whole-economy regulator by accident”. Investors are concerned after the CMA recommended the DMU be given ‘expanded powers’ regarding its investigations of M&A deals.

Controversy has been stirring up around the DMU, as the prospect of it blocking tech startup acquisitions – especially by US firms, sometimes on the grounds of national security – has gradually risen.

In the Coadec survey, half of investors said they would significantly reduce the amount they invested in UK startups if the ability to exit was restricted, and a further 22.5% said they would stop investing in UK startups completely under a stricter regulatory environment.

Furthermore, 60% of investors surveyed said they felt UK regulators only had a “basic understanding” of the startup market, and 22.2% felt regulators didn’t understand the tech startup market at all.

Coadec said its conservative estimates showed that the UK Government’s DMU proposals could create a £2.2bn drop in venture capital going into the UK, potentially reducing UK economic growth by £770m.

Commenting on the report, Dom Hallas, Executive Director of Coadec, said: “Startups thrive in competitive markets. But nurturing an ecosystem means knowing where to intervene and when not to. The data shows that not only is there a risk that the current proposals could miss some bad behavior in some areas like B2B markets whilst creating unnecessary barriers in others like M&A. Just as crucially, there’s frankly not a lot of faith in the regulators proposing them either.”

The survey results emerged just as Chancellor Rishi Sunak convened the “Treasury Connect” conference in London today which brought together some of the CEOs of the UK’s biggest tech firms and VCs in a ‘listening process’ designed to reach out to the industry.

However, at a press conference after the event, Sunak pushed back on the survey results, citing research by Professor Jason Furman, Chair, of the Digital Competition Expert Panel, which has found that “not a single acquisition” had been blocked by the DMU, and there are “no false positives” in decision making to date. Sunak said the “system looks at this in order to get the balance right.”

In addition, a statement from the Treasury, out today, said more than one-fifth of people in the UK’s biggest cities are now employed in the tech sector, which also saw £11.2 billion invested last year, setting a new investment record, it claimed.

Sunak also said the Future Fund, which backed UK-based tech firms with convertible loans during the pandemic, handed UK taxpayers with stakes in more than 150 high-growth firms.

These include Vaccitech PLC, which co-invented the COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Oxford and is better known as the AstraZeneca vaccine which went to 170 countries worldwide. The Future fund also invested in Century Tech, an EdTEch startup that uses AI to personalize learning for children.

The UK government’s £375 million ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’ initiative continued from July this year, aiming at high-growth, R&D-intensive companies.

Coadec’s survey also found 70% of investors felt UK regulators “only thought about large incumbent firms” when designing competition rules, rather than startups or future innovation.

However, the survey found London was still rated as highly as California as an attractive destination for startups and investors.

#artificial-intelligence, #astrazeneca, #california, #chair, #coalition-for-a-digital-economy, #competition-and-markets-authority, #corporate-finance, #digital-markets-unit, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #jason-furman, #london, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital

Rezilion raises $30M help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, an Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round with JVP and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Walmart and CVS.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: it’s time-consuming, and as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable,” meaning they may be bad for some, but not for this particular organization and the code it’s using today. That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out ten patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be 9 out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonomy and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: it spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good, it essentially whitelists the code. If not, it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.”

He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that: “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services, and other verticals that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation altogether.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

#agile-software-development, #alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #ceo, #cisco, #computer-security, #crowdstrike, #cto, #cyactive, #devops, #ebay, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #funding, #google, #ibm, #jp-morgan-chase, #kindred-capital, #maryland, #microsoft, #paypal, #security, #software, #software-development, #startup-company, #symantec, #technology

Iceland’s Crowberry Capital launches $90M Seed and Early-stage fund aimed at Nordics

Crowberry Capital, operating in Reykjavik and Copenhagen, has launched Crowberry II: a $90 million seed and early-stage fund aimed at startups in the Nordic region. A second close – bringing in an additional $40 million – is planned for July 2022.

The EIF (European Investment Fund) is the lead LP on the fund, after putting in €20 million from the EU’s “InnovFin Equity” program. This is InnovFin Equity’s first VC fund in Iceland.

Other investors include Icelandic Pension funds, several family offices, and angels including David Helgason, founder of Unity Technologies.

Crowberry II, which claims to be the largest VC fund operating out of Iceland, is headed up by three women founders, Hekla Arnardottir, Helga Valfells, and Jenny Ruth Hrafnsdottir.

The Crowberry I fund (a $40m fund launched in 2017), invested in startups in the areas of Gaming, SaaS, Healthtech, and Fintech.

Hekla Arnardottir said: “An incorrect assumption is that because we are women, we are only interested in supporting female founders. As our investment record shows, we support companies because they are game changers, irrespective of the gender of their senior team members. However, we also benefit, as an all-female team, from a circumspection which means that we can see potential in businesses and sectors which are typically overlooked by others in our space.”

She added: “Inclusivity is good for business, and through being open and approachable, your deal-flow multiplies in parallel to your talent pool, and businesses are built with a broader potential user base. It’s crazy that in 2020, female-led startups received just 2.3% of VC Funding, yet Crowberry considers this to be an opportunity: where the Nordics lead in gender equality on a societal level, we want to show that the region can also show the way in terms of inventive venture support.”

Crowberry’s previous fund (Crowberry I) featured 15 companies, of which 33% had female CEOs.

#articles, #copenhagen, #crowberry-capital, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #european-union, #flo, #founder, #healthtech, #iceland, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #unity-technologies

Two UK tech figures plan to row the Atlantic for charity supporting minority entrepreneurs

Two UK tech figures are to row across the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for a charity that funds social entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds.

Guy Rigby, founder and now Chair of the Entrepreneurial Services Group at Smith & Williamson, and entrepreneur, investor David Murray will raise money for UnLtd which has supported over 15,000 social entrepreneurs in the UK.

The pair have so far secured around £350,000 for UnLtd, with support from the UK’s Tech Nation, Founders Forum, and London Tech Week. You can donate to their fund-raising efforts on the ‘The Entrepreneur Ship’ here., will also be part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Other tech orgs are invited to sponsor their efforts.

UnLtd has previously backed startup firms including Patchwork Hub which built an accessible employment platform run by disabled people, as well as EduKit, which developed an app to help school staff understand and address the mental health needs of their students.

Over the last year, UnLtd supported 662 social entrepreneurs, 42% of whom identified as being from a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic background and/or having a disability.

Rigby and Murray will row the 3,000 miles in December 2021 from the Canaries to Antigua, which they hope to reach in February 2022, rowing individually, 2 hours on, 2 hours off, around the clock for the duration of the crossing.

#articles, #business, #economy, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #social-entrepreneurship, #startup-company, #tc, #united-kingdom

UK’s Marshmallow raises $85M on a $1.25B valuation for its more inclusive, big-data take on car insurance

Marshmallow — a U.K.-based car insurance provider that has made a name for itself in the market by providing a new approach to car insurance aimed at using a wider set of data points and clever algorithms to net a more diverse set of customers and provide more competitive rates — is announcing a milestone today in its life as a startup, as well as in the bigger U.K. tech world.

The London company — co-founded by identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham and David Goaté — has raised $85 million in a new round of funding. The Series B valuation is significant on two counts: it catapults Marshmallow to a “unicorn” valuation above $1 billion — specifically, $1.25 billion; and Marshmallow itself becomes one of a very small group of U.K. startups founded by Black people — Oliver and Alexander — to reach that figure.

(To be clear, Marshmallow describes itself as “the first UK unicorn to be founded by individuals that are Black or have Black heritage”, although I can think of at least one that preceded it: WorldRemit, which last month rebranded to Zepz, is currently valued at $5 billion; co-founder and chairman Ismail Ahmed has been described as the most influential Black Briton.)

Regardless of whether Marshmallow is the first or one of the first, given the dearth of diversity in the UK technology industry, in particular in the upper ranks of it, it’s a notable detail worth pointing out, even as I hope that one day it will be less of a rarity.

Meanwhile, Marshmallow’s novel, big-data approach and successful traction in the market speak for themselves. When we covered the company’s most recent funding round before this — a $30 million raise in November 2020 — the startup was valued at $310 million. Now less than a year later, Marshmallow’s valuation has nearly quadrupled, and it has passed 100,000 policies sold in its home country, growing 100% over the last six months.

The plan now, Oliver told me in an interview, will be to deepen its relationships with customers, in part by providing more engagement to make them better drivers, but also potentially selling more services to them, too.

In this, the startup will be tapping into a new approach that other insurtech startups are taking as they rethink traditional insurance models, much like YuLife is positioning its life insurance products within a bigger wellness and personal improvement business. Currently, the average age of Marshmallow’s customers is 20 to 40, Oliver said — and there are thoughts of potentially new products aimed at even younger users. That means there is long-term value in improving loyalty and keeping those customers for many years to come.

Alongside that, Marshmallow will also use the funding to inch closer to its plan to expand to markets outside of the UK — a strategy that has been in the works for a while. Marshmallow talked up international expansion in its last round but has yet to announce which markets it will seek to tackle first.

Insurance — and in particular insurance startups — are often thought of together with fintech startups, not least because the two industries have a lot in common: they both operate in areas of assessing and mitigating risk and fraud; they are in many cases discretionary investments on the part of the customers; they are both highly regulated and require watertight data protection for their users.

Perhaps because so much of the hard work is the same for both, it’s not uncommon to see services built to serve both sectors (FintechOS and Shift Technology being two examples), for fintech companies to dabble in insurance services, and so on.

But in reality, insurance — and specifically car insurance — has seen a massive impact from Covid-19 unique to that industry. Separate reports from EY and the Association of British Insurers noted that 2020 actually saw a lift for many car insurance companies: lockdowns meant that fewer people were driving, and therefore fewer were getting into accidents and making less claims.

2021, however, has been a different story: new pricing rules being put into place will likely see a number of providers tip into the red for the year. And the Chartered Insurance Institute points out that will also be worth watching to see how the low use of cars in one year will impact use going forward: some car owners, especially in urban areas where keeping a car is expensive, will inevitably start to question whether they need to own and insure a car at all.

All of this, ironically, actually plays into the hand of a company like Marshmallow, which is providing a more flexible approach to customers who might otherwise be rejected by more traditional companies, or might be priced out of offerings from them. Interestingly, while neobanks have definitely spurred more traditional institutions to try to update their products to compete, the same hasn’t really happened in insurance — not yet, at least.

“We started with the idea of the power of data and using a wider range of resources [than incumbents], and using that in our pricing led us to be able to offer better rates to more people,” Oliver said, but that hasn’t led to Marshmallow seeing sharper competition from older incumbents. “They are big companies and stuck in their ways. These companies have been around for decades, some for centuries. Change is not happening quickly.”

That leaves a big opportunity for companies like Marshmallow and other newer players like Lemonade, Hippo and Jerry (not an insurance startup per se but also dabbling in the space), and a big opening for investors to back new ideas in an industry estimated to be worth $5 trillion.

“The traction the team has achieved demonstrates the demand for a new kind of insurance provider, one that focuses more on consumer experience and uses the latest technology and data to give fair prices,” said Eileen Burbidge, a partner at Passion Capital, in a statement. “We’ve been proud to support the team’s ambitions since the start, and now look forward to its next chapter in Europe as it continues its mission to change the industry for the better.”

#articles, #automotive, #car-insurance, #eileen-burbidge, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #hippo, #insurance, #ismail-ahmed, #jerry, #life-insurance, #london, #marshmallow, #money, #oliver, #private-equity, #shift-technology, #startup-company, #tc, #unicorn, #united-kingdom, #worldremit

Women’s health tech brand, Elvie, tops up Series C to $97M

Elvie, the women’s health tech pioneer behind a connected breast pump and smart pelvic floor exerciser, has topped up a Series C which it announced earlier this summer (July) — adding a further £12.7m to bring the total raised to £70 million ($97m).

The 2013-founded, UK-based startup previously raised a $42M Series B in 2019, and a $6M Series A in 2017 — when femtech startups were a lot rarer than they are now. Products designed for (and often by) women have gained a lot of momentum over this period as female-led startups have blazed a trail and shown there’s a sizeable market for femtech — leading investors to slow clock on to the opportunity too.

Analysts now project the femtech industry will become a $50 billion market by 2025.

Elvie says the Series C extension includes funds sponsored by the co-founders of Blume Equity – a PE firm that focuses on the food and health sectors – plus further capital from existing investors IPGL, Hiro Capital and Westerly Winds.

In July, when it announced the earlier ($80M) tranche of the raise, Elvie said the Series C was led by BGF and BlackRock alongside existing investors including Octopus Ventures.

The Series C will be used to drive for more growth through geographical expansion (including entering new markets) and diversifying its product portfolio to target other “key stages” in women’s lives, it said.

That means it’ll be splashing out on R&D to support product development — connected hardware that blends physical gadgetry with software still looks to be a strong focus — and also on strengthening its ops and infrastructure to prep for further scale.

Elvie sells four products at this stage: Its connected kegel trainer, and a wearable breast pump (plus two non-electric pumps).

Where the company goes next in terms of product will be an interesting one to watch.

Commenting in a statement, Tania Boler, CEO and founder, said: “Elvie is ready for the next phase of our growth. We have already revolutionized the categories we operate in, but we know that there is vast untapped potential to create better technology products and services for women in new areas.”

She added that Elvie’s goal is to create “the go-to destination for women’s health at all life stages” — selling “sophisticated, accurate and personalised solutions” to its target female consumer.

#blackrock, #elvie, #europe, #femtech, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #health, #medical-technology, #octopus-ventures, #startup-company, #tania-boler, #united-kingdom, #wearables, #womens-health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobius Labs nabs $6M to help more sectors tap into computer vision

Berlin-based Mobius Labs has closed a €5.2 million (~$6.1M) funding round off the back of increased demand for its computer vision training platform. The Series A investment is led by Ventech VC, along with Atlantic Labs, APEX Ventures, Space Capital, Lunar Ventures plus some additional angel investors.

The startup offers an SDK that lets the user create custom computer vision models fed with a little of their own training data — as an alternative to off-the-shelf tools which may not have the required specificity for a particular use-case.

It also flags a ‘no code’ focus, saying its tech has been designed with a non-technical user in mind.

As it’s an SDK, Mobius Labs’ platform can also be deployed on premise and/or on device — rather than the customer needing to connect to a cloud service to tap into the AI tool’s utility.

“Our custom training user interface is very simple to work with, and requires no prior technical knowledge on any level,” claims Appu Shaji, CEO and chief scientist. 

“Over the years, a trend we have observed is that often the people who get the maximum value from AI are non technical personas like a content manager in a press and creative agency, or an application manager in the space sector. Our no-code AI allows anyone to build their own applications, thus enabling these users to get close to their vision without having to wait for AI experts or developer teams to help them.”

Mobius Labs — which was founded back in 2018 — now has 30 customers using its tools for a range of use cases.

Uses include categorisation, recommendation, prediction, reducing operational expense, and/or “generally connecting users and audiences to visual content that is most relevant to their needs”. (Press and broadcasting and the stock photography sector have unsurprisingly been big focuses to date.)

But it reckons there’s wider utility for its tech and is gearing up for growth.

It caters to businesses of various sizes, from startups to SMEs, but says it mainly targets global enterprises with major content challenges — hence its historical focus on the media sector and video use cases.

Now, though, it’s also targeting geospatial and earth observation applications as it seeks to expand its customer base.

The 30-strong startup has more than doubled in size over the last 18 months. With the new funding it’s planning to double its headcount again over the next 12 months as it looks to expand its geographical footprint — focusing on Europe and the US.

Year-on-year growth has also been 2x but it believes it can dial that up by tapping into other sectors.

“We are working with industries that are rich in visual data,” says Shaji. “The geospatial sector is something that we are focussing on currently as we have a strong belief that vast amounts of visual data is being produced by them. However, these huge archives of raw pixel data are useless on their own.

“For instance, if we want to track how river fronts are expanding, we have to look at data collected by satellites, sort and tag them in order to analyse them. Currently this is being done manually. The technology we are creating comes in a lightweight SDK, and can be deployed directly into these satellites so that the raw data can be detected and then analysed by machine learning algorithms. We are currently working with satellite companies in this sector.”

On the competitive front, Shaji names Clarifai and Google Cloud Vision as the main rivals it has in its sights.  

“We realise these are the big players but at the same time believe that we have something unique to offer, which these players cannot: Unlike their solutions, our platform users can be outside the field of computer vision. By democratising the training of machine learning models beyond simply the technical crowd, we are making computer vision accessible and understandable by anyone, regardless of their job titles,” he argues.

“Another core value that differentiates us is the way we treat client data. Our solutions are delivered in the form of a Software Development Kit (SDK), which runs on-premise, completely locally on clients’ systems. No data is ever sent back to us. Our role is to empower people to build applications, and make them their own.”

Computer vision startups have been a hot acquisition target in recent years and some earlier startups offering ‘computer vision as a service’ got acquired by IT services firms to beef up their existing offerings, while tech giants like Amazon and (the aforementioned) Google offer their own computer vision services too.

But Shaji suggests the tech is now at a different stage of development — and primed for “mass adoption”. 

“We’re talking about providing solutions that empower clients to build their own applications,” he says, summing up the competitive play. “And that [do that] with complete data privacy, where our solutions run on-premise, and we don’t see our clients data. Coupled with that is the ease of use that our technology offers: It is a lightweight solution that can be deployed on many ‘edge’ devices like smartphones, laptops, and even on satellites.”  

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Stephan Wirries, partner at Ventech VC, added: “Appu and the team at Mobius Labs have developed an unparalleled offering in the computer vision space. Superhuman Vision is impressively innovative with its high degree of accuracy despite very limited required training to recognise new objects at excellent computational efficiency. We believe industries will be transformed through AI, and Mobius Labs is the European Deep Tech innovator teaching machines to see.”

#apex-ventures, #artificial-intelligence, #atlantic-labs, #berlin, #clarifai, #cloud-computing, #computer-vision, #europe, #fundings-exits, #google, #machine-learning, #mobius-labs, #recent-funding, #satellite, #space-capital, #startup-company, #startups, #tc

Founders Factory and G-Force launch Seed program for climate-focused startups

UK tech accelerator Founders Factory is joining forces with a European counterpart to launch the Founders Factory Sustainability Seed program. Launched in partnership with G-Force (the G is for Green) based out of Bratislava, Slovakia, the program will look to invest in and accelerate climate-tech startups.

The program will invest in entrepreneurs with startups that can reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, speed up the transition to a circular economy, create sustainable housing and manufacturing solutions, as well as address climate-friendly mobility, food/feed production, and capturing/storing CO2 and methane.

The Program, run with G-Force largely out of Bratislava, Slovakia, will be operated in a “hybrid” manner: mixing remote and in-person support. The idea is that any eco-tech venture in any location in the world can apply and join the program.

Founders Factory’s partner in the Sustainability Seed program, G-Force, is being backed financially by a syndicate of Central and Eastern European investors including Boris Zelený (figure behind AVG, which sold to AVAST for $1.4bn), Marian Gazdik (Startup Grind), and early-stage investors Peter Külloi and Miklós Kóbor.

Startups selected program for the will get a Seed investment of up to €150,000, six months of startup support using Founders Factory’s team, as well as introductions to potential customers, partners, corporates, and investors.

Henry Lane Fox, Chief Executive Officer at Founders Factory, said: “By nurturing the disruption entrepreneurs are so good at creating we can design a better, more sustainable future for all. In partnership with G-Force, Founders Factory Sustainability Seed Program will be a leading pre/seed program committed to building and supporting the ventures that will have a positive impact on the world.”

Marian Gazdik, co-founding partner of G-Force, said: “Our ambition is to make G-Force, in partnership with the Founders Factory Sustainability Seed Program, into a world-class sustainability innovation hub, based in the heart of Europe.”

Expanding on the idea, Lane-Fox told me: “In this particular case, rather than being aligned to one individual corporate partner, which has been our model to date, we’re able to bring together a group of angel investors and make this more of a pure financial investor play. We think that actually suits this specific sector better. We will also be providing a bit more capital to those companies early on to make sure they can benefit from the program to the maximum degree.”

Gazdik added that by being based in the EU rather than the UK, the program will also be able to take advantage of some EU grant programs.

#business-incubators, #chief-executive-officer, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-union, #founders-factory, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #partner, #private-equity, #slovakia, #startup-company, #tc, #united-kingdom

Sphere raises $2M to help employees lobby for Green 401(k) plans

In the United States, a 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored defined-contribution pension account. However, with legacy institutional investing, most of these have at least some level of fossil fuel involvement and let’s face it, very few of us really know. Now a startup plans to change that.

California-based startup Sphere wants to get employees to ask their employers for investment options that are not invested in fossil fuels. To do that it’s offering financial products that make it easier – it says – for employers to offer fossil-free investment options in their 401(k) plans. This could be quite a big movement. Sphere says there are over $35 trillion in assets in retirement savings in the US as of Q1 2021.

It’s now raised a $2M funding round led by climatetech-focused VC Pale Blue Dot led the investment round. Also participating were climate-focused investors including Sundeep Ahuja of Climate Capital. Sphere is also a registered ‘Public Benefit Corporation’ allowing it to campaign in public about climate change.

Alex Wright-Gladstein, CEO and founder of Sphere said: “We are proud to be partnering with Pale Blue Dot on our mission to reverse climate change by making our money talk. Heidi, Hampus, and Joel have the experience and drive to help us make big changes on the short 7 year time scale that we have to limit warming to 1.5°C.” Wright-Gladstein has also teamed up with sustainable investing veteran Jason Britton of Reflection Asset Management and BITA custom indexes.

Wright-Gladstein said she learned the difficulty of offering fossil-free options in 401(k) plans when running her previous startup, Ayar Labs. She tried to offer a fossil-free option for employees, but found out it took would take three years to get a single fossil-free option in the plan.

Heidi Lindvall, General Partner at Pale Blue Dot said: “We are big believers in Sphere’s unique approach of raising awareness through a social movement while offering a range of low-cost products that address the structural issues in fossil-free 401(k) investing.”

#articles, #ayar-labs, #california, #ceo, #climate-change, #corporate-social-responsibility, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #general-partner, #heidi-lindvall, #pale-blue-dot, #private-equity, #sphere, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states

UK-based Heroes raises $200M to buy up more Amazon merchants for its roll-up play

Heroes, one of the new wave of startups aiming to build big e-commerce businesses by buying up smaller third-party merchants on Amazon’s Marketplace, has raised another big round of funding to double down on that strategy. The London startup has picked up $200 million, money that it will mainly be using to snap up more merchants. Existing brands in its portfolio cover categories like baby, pets, sports, personal health and home and garden categories — some of them, like PremiumCare dog chews, the Onco baby car mirror, gardening tool brand Davaon and wooden foot massager roller Theraflow, category best-sellers — and the plan is to continue building up all of these verticals.

Crayhill Capital Management, a fund based out of New York, is providing the funding, and Riccardo Bruni — who co-founded the company with twin brother Alessio and third brother Giancarlo — said that the bulk of it will be going towards making acquisitions, and is therefore coming in the form of debt.

Raising debt rather than equity at this point is pretty standard for companies like Heroes. Heroes itself is pretty young: it launched less than a year ago, in November 2020, with $65 million in funding, a round comprised of both equity and debt. Other investors in the startup include 360 Capital, Fuel Ventures and Upper 90.

Heroes is playing in what is rapidly becoming a very crowded field. Not only are there are tens of thousands of businesses leveraging Amazon’s extensive fulfillment network to sell goods on the e-commerce giant’s Marketplace; but some days it seems we are also rapidly approaching a state of nearly as many startups launching to consolidate these third-party sellers.

Many a roll-up play follows a similar playbook, which goes like this: Amazon provides the Marketplace to sell goods to consumers, and the infrastructure to fulfill those orders, by way of Fulfillment By Amazon and its Prime service. Meanwhile, the roll-up business — in this case Heroes — buys up a number of the stronger companies leveraging FBA and the Marketplace. Then, by consolidating them into a single tech platform that they have built, Heroes creates better economies of scale around better and more efficient supply chains, sharper machine learning and marketing and data analytics technology, and new growth strategies. 

What is notable about Heroes, though — apart from the fact that it’s the first roll-up player to come out of the UK, and continues to be one of the bigger players in Europe — is that it doesn’t believe that the technology plays as important a role as having a solid relationship with the companies it’s targeting, key given that now the top Marketplace sellers are likely being feted by a number of companies as acquisition targets.

“The tech is very important,” said Alessio in an interview. “It helps us build robust processes that tie all the systems together across multiple brands and marketplaces. But what we have is very different from a SaaS business. We are not building an app, and tech is not the core of what we do. From the acquisitions side, we believe that human interactions ultimately win. We don’t think tech can replace a strong acquisition process.”

Image Credits: Heroes

Heroes’ three founder-brothers (two of them, Riccardo and Alessio, pictured above) have worked across a number of investment, finance and operational roles (the CVs include Merrill Lynch, EQT Ventures, Perella Weinberg Partners, Lazada, Nomura and Liberty Global) and they say there have been strong signs so far of its strategy working: of the brands that it has acquired since launching in November, they claim business (sales) has grown five-fold.

Collectively, the roll-up startups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fuel these efforts. Other recent hopefuls that have announced funding this year include Suma Brands ($150 million); Elevate Brands ($250 million); Perch ($775 million); factory14 ($200 million); Thrasio (currently probably the biggest of them all in terms of reach and money raised and ambitions), HeydayThe Razor GroupBrandedSellerXBerlin Brands Group (X2), Benitago, Latin America’s Valoreo and Rainforest and Una Brands out of Asia. 

The picture that is emerging across many of these operations is that many of these companies, Heroes included, do not try to make their particular approaches particularly more distinctive than those of their competitors, simply because — with nearly 10 million third-party sellers today on Amazon globally — the opportunity is likely big enough for all of them, and more, not least because of current market dynamics.

“It’s no secret that we were inspired by Thrasio and others,” Riccardo said. “Combined with Covid-19, there has been a massive acceleration of e-commerce across the continent.” It was that, plus the realization that the three brothers had the right e-commerce, fundraising and investment skills between them, that made them see what was a “perfect storm” to tackle the opportunity, he continued. “So that is why we jumped into it.”

In the case of Heroes, while the majority of the funding will be used for acquisitions, it’s also planning to double headcount from its current 70 employees before the end of this year with a focus on operational experts to help run their acquired businesses. 

#360-capital, #amazon, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #companies, #crayhill-capital-management, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #eqt-ventures, #europe, #finance, #fuel-ventures, #heroes, #latin-america, #lazada-group, #liberty-global, #london, #machine-learning, #marketplace, #new-york, #player, #prime, #retailers, #startup-company, #united-kingdom

Founders Fund backs Royal, a music marketplace planning to sell song rights as NFTs

Founders Fund and Paradigm are leading an investment in a platform that’s aiming to wed music rights with NFTs, allowing user to buy shares of songs through the company’s marketplace, earning royalties as the music they’ve invested in gains popularity.

The venture, called Royal, is led by Justin Blau, an EDM artist who performs under the name 3LAU, and JD Ross, a co-founder of home-buying startup Opendoor. Blau has been one of the more active and visible figures in the NFT community, launching a number of upstart efforts aimed at exploring how musicians can monetize their work through crypto markets. Blau says that as Covid cut off his ability to tour, he dug into NFTs full-time, aiming to find a way to flip the power dynamics on “platforms that were extracting all the value from creators.

Back in March, weeks before many would first hear about NFTs following the $69 million Beeple sale at Christies, Blau set his own record, selling a batch of custom songs and custom artwork for a collective $11.7 million worth of cryptocurrency.

Royal’s investment announcement comes just as a broader bull run for the NFT market seems to reach a fever pitch with investors dumping hundreds of million of dollars worth of cryptocurrencies into community NFT projects like CryptoPunks and Bored Apes. While visual artists interested in putting their digital works on the blockchain have seen a number of platforms spring up and mature in recent months to simplify the process of monetizing their art, there have been fewer efforts focused on musicians.

Paradigm and Founders Fund are leading a $16 million seed round in Royal, with participation from Atomic — where Ross was recently a General Partner. Ross’s fellow Opendoor co-founder Keith Rabois led the deal for Founders Fund.

The company isn’t sharing an awful lot about their launch or product plans, including when the platform will actually begin selling fractionalized assets, but it seems pretty clear the company will be heavily leveraging Blau’s music and position inside the music industry to bring early fans/investors to the platform. Users can sign-up for early access on the site currently.

As NFT startups chase more complex ownership splits that aim to help creators share their success with fans, there’s plenty of speculation taking off around how regulators will eventually treat them. While the ICO boom of 2017 led to plenty of founders receiving SEC letters alleging securities fraud, entrepreneurs in this wave seem to be working a little harder to avoid that outcome. Blau says that the startup’s team is working closely with legal counsel to ensure the startup is staying fully compliant.

The company’s bigger challenge may be ensuring that democratizing access to buying up music rights actually benefits the fans of those artists or creates new fans for them, given the wide landscape of crypto speculators looking to diversify. That said, Blau notes there’s plenty of room for improvement among the current ownership spread of music royalties, largely spread among labels, private equity groups and hedge funds.

“A true fan might want to own something way earlier than a speculator would even get wind of it,”Blau says. “Democratizing access to asset classes is a huge part of crypto’s future.”

#blockchain, #business, #co-founder, #companies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptopunks, #founders-fund, #keith-rabois, #musicians, #opendoor, #paradigm, #startup-company, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

‘No code’ process automation platform, Leapwork, fires up with $62M Series B

Copenhagen-based process automation platform Leapwork has snagged Denmark’s largest ever Series B funding round, announcing a $62 million raise co-led by KKR and Salesforce Ventures, with existing investors DN Capital and Headline also participating.

Also today it’s disclosing that its post-money valuation now stands at $312M. 

The ‘no code’ 2015-founded startup last raised back in 2019, when it snagged a $10M Series A. The business was bootstrapped through earlier years — with the founders putting in their own money, garnered from prior successful exits. Their follow on bet on ‘no code’ already looks to have paid off in spades: Since launching the platform in 2017, Leapwork has seen its customer base more than double year on year and it now has a roster of 300+ customers around the world paying it to speed up their routine business processes.

Software testing is a particular focus for the tools, which Leapwork pitches at enterprises’ quality assurance and test teams.

It claims that by using its ‘no code’ tech — a label for the trend which refers to software that’s designed to be accessible to non-technical staff, greatly increasing its utility and applicability — businesses can achieve a 10x faster time to market, 97% productivity gains, and a 90% reduction in application errors. So the wider pitch is that it can support enterprises to achieve faster digital transformations with only their existing mix of in-house skills. 

Customers include the likes of PayPal, Mercedes-Benz and BNP Paribas.

Leapwork’s own business, meanwhile, has grown to a team of 170 people — working across nine offices throughout Europe, North America and Asia.

The Series B funding will be used to accelerate its global expansion, with the startup telling us it plans to expand the size of its local teams in key markets and open a series of tech hubs to support further product development.

Expanding in North America is a big priority now, with Leapwork noting it recently opened a New York office — where it plans to “significantly” increase headcount.

“In terms of our global presence, we want to ensure we are as close to our customers as possible, by continuing to build up local teams and expertise across each of our key markets, especially Europe and North America,” CEO and co-founder Christian Brink Frederiksen tells TechCrunch. “For example, we will build up more expertise and plan to really scale up the size of the team based out of our New York office over the next 12 months.

“Equally we have opened new offices across Europe, so we want to ensure our teams have the scope to work closely with customers. We also plan to invest heavily in the product and the technology that underpins it. For example, we’ll be doubling the size of our tech hubs in Copenhagen and India over the next 12 months.”

Product development set to be accelerated with the chunky Series B will focus on enhancements and functionality aimed at “breaking down the language barrier between humans and computers”, as Brink Frederiksen puts it

“Europe and the US are our two main markets. Half of our customers are US companies,” he also tells us, adding: “We are extremely popular among enterprise customers, especially those with complex compliance set-ups — 40% of our customers come from enterprises banking, insurance and financial services.

“Having said that, because our solution is no-code, it is heavily used across industries, including healthcare and life sciences, logistics and transportation, retail, manufacturing and more.”

Asked about competitors — given that the no code space has become a seething hotbed of activity over a number of years — Leapwork’s initial response is coy, trying the line that its business is a ‘truly special snowflake’. (“We truly believe we are the only solution that allows non-technical everyday business users to automate repetitive computer processes, without needing to understand how to code. Our no-code, visual language is what really sets us apart,” is how Brink Frederiksen actually phrases that.)

But on being pressed Leapwork names a raft of what it calls “legacy players” — such as Tricentis, Smartbear, Ranorex, MicroFocus, Eggplant Software, Mabl and Selenium — as (also) having “great products”, while continuing to claim they “speak to a different audience than we do”.

Certainly Leapwork’s Series B raise speaks loudly of how much value investors are seeing here.

Commenting in a statement, Patrick Devine, director at KKR, said: “Test automation has historically been very challenging at scale, and it has become a growing pain point as the pace of software development continues to accelerate. Leapwork’s primary mission since its founding has been to solve this problem, and it has impressively done so with its powerful no-code automation platform.”

“The team at Leapwork has done a fantastic job building a best-in-class corporate culture which has allowed them to continuously innovate, execute and push the boundaries of their automation platform,” added Stephen Shanley, managing director at KKR, in another statement.

In a third supporting statement, Nowi Kallen, principal at Salesforce Ventures, added: “Leapwork has tapped into a significant market opportunity with its no-code test automation software. With Christian and Claus [Rosenkrantz Topholt] at the helm and increased acceleration to digital adoption, we look forward to seeing Leapwork grow in the coming years and a successful partnership.”

The proof of the no code ‘pudding’ is in adoption and usage — getting non-developers to take to and stick with a new way of interfacing with and manipulating information. And so far, for Leapwork, the signs are looking good.

#bnp-paribas, #copenhagen, #denmark, #dn-capital, #enterprise, #europe, #fundings-exits, #leapwork, #no-code, #north-america, #process-automation, #salesforce-ventures, #software-testing, #startup-company, #tricentis

Announcing the agenda for TechCrunch Sessions: SaaS

TechCrunch Sessions is back!

On October 27, we’re taking on the ferociously competitive field of software as a service (SaaS), and we’re thrilled to announce our packed agenda, overflowing with some of the biggest names and most exciting startups in the industry. And you’re in luck, because $75 early-bird tickets are still on sale — make sure you book yours so you can enjoy all the agenda has to offer and save $100 bucks before prices go up!

Throughout the day, you can expect to hear from industry experts, and take part in discussions about the potential of new advances in data, open source, how to deal with the onslaught of security threats, investing in early-stage startups and plenty more.

We’ll be joined by some of the biggest names and the smartest and most prescient people in the industry, including Javier Soltero at Google, Kathy Baxter at Salesforce, Jared Spataro at Microsoft, Jay Kreps at Confluent, Sarah Guo at Greylock and Daniel Dines at UiPath.

You’ll be able to find and engage with people from all around the world through world-class networking on our virtual platform — all for $75 and under for a limited time with even deeper discounts for nonprofits and government agencies, students and up-and-coming founders!

Our agenda showcases some of the powerhouses in the space, but also plenty of smaller teams that are building and debunking fundamental technologies in the industry. We still have a few tricks up our sleeves and will be adding some new names to the agenda over the next month, so keep your eyes open.

In the meantime, check out these agenda highlights:

Survival of the Fittest: Investing in Today’s SaaS Market
with Casey Aylward (Costanoa Ventures), Kobie Fuller (Upfront) and Sarah Guo (Greylock)

  • The venture capital world is faster, and more competitive than ever. For investors hoping to get into the hottest SaaS deal, things are even crazier. With more non-traditional money pouring into the sector, remote dealmaking now the norm, and an increasingly global market for software startups, venture capitalists are being forced to shake up their own operations, and expectations. TechCrunch sits down with three leading investors to discuss how they are fighting for allocation in hot deals, what they’ve changed in their own processes, and what today’s best founders are demanding.

Data, Data Everywhere
with Ali Ghodsi (Databricks)

  • As companies struggle to manage and share increasingly large amounts of data, it’s no wonder that Databricks, whose primary product is a data lake, was valued at a whopping $28 billion for its most recent funding round. We’re going to talk to CEO Ali Ghodsi about why his startup is so hot and what comes next.

SaaS Security, Today and Tomorrow
with Edna Conway (Microsoft), Olivia Rose (Amplitude)

  • Enterprises face a constant stream of threats, from nation states to cybercriminals and corporate insiders. After a year where billions worked from home and the cloud reigned supreme, startups and corporations alike can’t afford to stay off the security pulse. Find out what SaaS startups need to know about security now, and in the future.

Automation’s Moment Is Now
with Daniel Dines (UiPath), Laela Sturdy (CapitalG), and Dave Wright (ServiceNow)

  • One thing we learned during the pandemic is the importance of automation, and that’s only likely to be more pronounced as we move forward. We’ll be talking to UiPath CEO Daniel Dines, Laela Sturdy, an investor at CapitalG and Dave Wright from ServiceNow about why this is automation’s moment.

Was the Pandemic Cloud Productivity’s Spark
with Javier Soltero (Google)

  • One big aspect of SaaS is productivity apps like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive. We’ll talk with executive Javier Soltero about the role Google Workspace plays in the Google cloud strategy.

The Future is Wide Open
with Abby Kearns (Puppet), Aghi Marietti (Kong), and Jason Warner (Redpoint)

  • Many startups today have an open source component, and it’s no wonder. It builds an audience and helps drive sales. We’ll talk with Abby Kearns from Puppet, Augusto “Aghi” Marietti from Kong and Jason Warner an investor at Redpoint about why open source is such a popular way to build a business.

How Microsoft Shifted from on Prem to the Cloud
with Jared Spataro (Microsoft)

  • Jared Spataro has been with Microsoft for over 15 years and he was a part of the shift from strictly on prem software to one that is dominated by the cloud. Today he runs one of the most successful SaaS products out there, and we’ll talk to him about how Microsoft made that shift and what it’s meant to the company.

How Startups are Turning Data into Software Gold
with Jenn Knight (Agentsync), Barr Moses (Monte Carlo), and Dan Wright (DataRobot)

  • The era of big data is behind us. Today’s leading SaaS startups are working with data, instead of merely fighting to help customers collect information. We’ve collected three leaders from three data-focused startups that are forging new markets to get their insight on how today’s SaaS companies are leveraging data to build new companies, attack new problems, and, of course, scale like mad.

What Happens After Your Startup is Acquired
with Jyoti Bansal (Harness), Nick Mehta (GainSight)

  • We’ll speak to three founders about the emotional upheaval of being acquired and what happens after the check clears and the sale closes. Our panel includes Jyoti Bansal who founded AppDynamics, Jewel Burkes Solomon, who founded Partpic and Nick Mehta from GainSight.

How Confluent Rode the Open Source Wave to IPO
with Jay Kreps (Confluent)

  • Confluent, the streaming platform built on top of Apache Kafka, was born out of a project at LinkedIn and rode that from startup to IPO. We’ll speak to co-founder and CEO Jay Kreps to learn about what that journey was like.

We’ll have more sessions and names shortly, so stay tuned. But get excited in the meantime, we certainly are.

Pro tip: Keep your finger on the pulse of TC Sessions: SaaS. Get updates when we announce new speakers, add events and offer ticket discounts.

Why should you carve a day out of your hectic schedule to attend TC Sessions: SaaS? This may be the first year we’ve focused on SaaS, but this ain’t our first rodeo. Here’s what other attendees have to say about their TC Sessions experience.

“TC Sessions: Mobility offers several big benefits. First, networking opportunities that result in concrete partnerships. Second, the chance to learn the latest trends and how mhttps://techcrunch.com/2021/06/24/databricks-co-founder-and-ceo-ali-ghodsi-is-coming-to-tc-sessions-saas/obility will evolve. Third, the opportunity for unknown startups to connect with other mobility companies and build brand awareness.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

“People want to be around what’s interesting and learn what trends and issues they need to pay attention to. Even large companies like GM and Ford were there, because they’re starting to see the trend move toward mobility. They want to learn from the experts, and TC Sessions: Mobility has all the experts.” — Melika Jahangiri, vice president at Wunder Mobility.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Grab your team, join your community and create opportunity. Don’t wait — jump on the early bird ticket sale right now.

#abby-kearns, #ali-ghodsi, #appdynamics, #artificial-intelligence, #capitalg, #casey-aylward, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #companies, #computing, #costanoa-ventures, #daniel-dines, #databricks, #datarobot, #dave-wright, #firewall, #fundings-exits, #google, #greylock, #jared-spataro, #javier-soltero, #jay-kreps, #jenn-knight, #jyoti-bansal, #kathy-baxter, #kobie-fuller, #laela-sturdy, #microsoft, #nick-mehta, #salesforce, #sarah-guo, #servicenow, #software, #software-as-a-service, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #uipath

What is happening to risk-taking in venture capital?

Sam Lessin’s post in The Information, “The End of Venture Capital as We Know It,” prompted heated debate in Silicon Valley. He argued that the arrival of new players with large amounts of capital is changing the landscape of late-stage investing for venture capitalists and forcing VCs to “enter the bigger pond as a fairly small fish, or go find another small pond.”

But there’s another important trend developing in venture capital that has even more significant consequences than whether VCs are being forced to fight with bigger, deeper pockets for late-stage investment opportunities. And that is the move away from what has always defined venture capital: taking risks on the earliest-stage companies.

The VC industry at large, instead of taking risks at inception and in the early stages, is investing in later-stage companies where the concept is proven and companies have momentum.

The data indicates investing in early-stage companies is decreasing rapidly. According to data from PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association, as a percentage of total U.S. venture capital dollars invested, angel/seed stage has reduced from 10.6% to 4.9% over the last three years, early-stage has reduced from 36.5% to 26.1% during the same time period, while late-stage has drastically increased from 52.9% to 69%, coming (as Lessin pointed out) from new players such as hedge funds and mutual funds.

This is happening at a time when there has been a record rate of new business creation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, seasonally adjusted monthly business applications have been around 500,000 per month from the second half of 2020 to June 2021, compared with 300,000 per month in the year preceding the pandemic.

This data should be a red flag. Venture capital is about investing in risk to help the most innovative, transformative ideas get from concept to a flourishing enterprise. But the VC industry at large, instead of taking risks at inception and in the early stages, is investing in later-stage companies where the concept is proven and companies have momentum.

Here, the skill is more about finance to determine how much to invest and at what valuation to hit a certain return threshold rather than having the ability to spot a promising founder with a breakthrough idea. There’s an important role for late-stage investing, but if that’s where too much of the industry’s focus is applied, we’ll stifle innovation and limit the pipeline of companies to invest in Series B and beyond in the future.

The irony is that there’s never been a better time to be an inception investor given lower capital needs of getting from idea to Series A milestones. Startup costs have been driven down with access to cloud, social, mobile and open-source technologies, allowing entrepreneurs to test ideas and build momentum with small pools of capital.

This has spawned a golden age of innovation and many new trends are emerging, creating a large pool of companies that need money and support to take an idea and turn it into a flourishing business.

It’s also ironic that when we are judged for our prowess as VC investors, the only question that has ever mattered is who was the earliest investor, who had the genius to recognize a brilliant idea. It is not who led the last round(s) before an IPO.

This is not some esoteric argument about venture capital; there will be real consequences for our ability to innovate and invest in areas such as the renaissance of silicon, biology as technology, human-centered AI, unleashing the power of data, climate-friendly investing, saving lives, re-humanization of social media, blockchain and quantum computing.

The VC industry cannot forget its roots. In its early days, it served as the catalyst for the success of iconic companies such as Genentech, Apple, Microsoft, Netscape, Google, Salesforce, Amazon and Facebook. Without these companies, we would not have a biotech industry, the internet, the cloud, social media and mobile computing, all of which have dramatically changed how we live, play and work.

We can’t know the future, but with AI, machine learning and a new generation of semiconductors and materials, we certainly know profound change lies ahead. But it won’t happen if venture capital doesn’t play a major role at a company’s inception. We have to step up and do more to change the discouraging statistics above.

And it’s not just about individual firm glory: If we want the U.S. to maintain its leadership as the innovation engine of the world, the venture industry has to do more to support bold ideas at the earliest stages to give them a shot at succeeding. Maybe it’s time, as Lessin suggested, for VCs to “go find another small pond” or rather swim deeper in the one some of us are already in: the one that is full of inception-stage companies looking for investors who will partner with them throughout their journey.

#column, #funding, #national-venture-capital-association, #opinion, #pitchbook-data, #private-equity, #sam-lessin, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Reserve your demo table at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 today

One of the most important goals for any early-stage startup venture is gaining exposure for your company and product. As much as we love the mantra, “if you build it, they will come,” it’s gonna take more than that to make your Field of Dreams come true.

Are you a founder of an early-stage SaaS startup? Then grab this opportunity to showcase your innovative tech and talent to the major movers, shakers, investors and makers around the world at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 on October 27. Talk about a targeted audience.

Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and spend a full day exhibiting to your exact target audience. Whether you’re searching for media coverage, investors, customers, engineers or collaborators, hang your virtual shingle to promote your brand and make the connections that can move you closer to achieving your business goals.

Your SaaS Startup Exhibitor Package costs $299 and includes a virtual booth, complete with lead-gen capabilities, four full-access event passes, breakout sessions, CrunchMatch — our AI-powered networking platform — and videos-on-demand. That last one comes in handy if you miss any of the live-stream presentations.

Sweet bonus: The four passes that come with your Exhibitor Package include a free, one-month subscription to Extra Crunch, our members-only program featuring exclusive daily articles for founders and startup teams.

You’ll receive access to the event attendee list — including media outlets —about a week before TC Sessions: SaaS begins. Fire up CrunchMatch, send out meeting invitations and get those RSVPs lined up in advance. Schedule 1:1 product demos, pitch investors, interview prospective employees or come up with your own creative ways to promote your startup.

Exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS might help you connect with someone like Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars. Wilcox makes it her practice to attend as many TechCrunch events in a year as she can. In 2020 alone, she attended TC Sessions: Mobility, TC Sessions: Robotics/AI and Disrupt.

“I’m never disappointed when I attend TechCrunch events. Whether from the smallest startup all the way up to a Google, I always find someone or something surprising that makes me say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about that.’”

Our event agenda isn’t quite ready for prime time, but here are just a few of the SaaS leaders who will grace our interactive stage to share insights, actionable advice and answers to your most pressing questions.

We’re talking folks like Kathy Baxter, principal architect for the ethical AI practice at Salesforce, Monte Carlo co-founder and CEO, Barr Moses and Javier Soltero, Google’s VP and GM in charge of Workspace.

Do you know — or are you — someone who wants to share their SaaS expertise? TechCrunch editorial is accepting speaker/ demo recommendations. Submit your application here.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and promote your Field of Dreams to the people who can help make them come true.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#artificial-intelligence, #business-models, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crunchmatch, #google, #javier-soltero, #kathy-baxter, #saas, #salesforce, #software, #software-as-a-service, #speaker, #startup-company, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #volvo-cars, #vp

Trading platform Bitpanda raises $263M at a $4.1BN valuation

It’s not even half a year since crypto exchange Bitpanda announced a $170M Series B — when, back in March, Austria’s first unicorn was being valued at $1.2 billion. Today it’s topping that: Announcing a $263M Series C, led by Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, with the fintech startup now valued at a whopping $4.1BN — more than 3x its earlier valuation as crypto trading continues cooking on gas.

The round was signed earlier this month, just four months after the business gained unicorn status. Other participating investors include Alan Howard and REDO Ventures, with existing investors LeadBlock Partners and Jump Capital also joining the Series C.

There are a number of exchanges and trading platforms targeted at retail investors, of course, including some big US-based players. But Bitpanda has been making its mark by being Europe-focused, with offices and physical tech hubs located in eight cities across the region, including Vienna, Barcelona, Berlin, Krakow, London, Madrid, Milan, and Paris.

The platform has a further twist in that it lets its ~3 million users easily invest (commission-free) in precious metals (like gold) or in any established stock they fancy — in addition to encouraging individuals to hop aboard the crypto rollercoaster, which was its first focus. (The minimum investment amount set by the platform is €1.)

Despite diversification beyond crypto, a spokeswoman confirmed to us that crypto trading remains “the preferred choice” for Bitpanda’s current users, noting the Stocks trading product is still in beta. “With Bitpanda Stocks, we introduced a new way of investing in stocks and ETFs; it enables investing 24/7, any time, day or night. This is still in a beta phase, we’re adding constantly new assets. That said, stock trading is slowly picking up and increasing its share in overall trading,” she added.

More recently (in June) Bitpanda expanded into the b2b market — with a white label platform offering that lets other fintechs and banks offer trading to their own clients.

This combination of products and regional focus has helped the platform pile on new users in short order: Bitpanda says it’s “on track” to achieve 6x customer growth year over year, with revenues projected to increase sevenfold in 2021 vs the previous year.

The Series C funding will be used for international expansion and growth, per a press release, as well as going on further beefing up headcount (500+ strong at this stage), as well as on gearing up for further scaling of the business.

Tech and product are also set to get juiced with Series C funds.

Commenting in a statement, Eric Demuth, co-founder and CEO, said: “We started Bitpanda in 2014 with a clear vision: To bring investing closer to everyone, everywhere. We wouldn’t be here today without the efforts of our talented team members who are constantly ‘rolling up their sleeves’ to make things happen. We’re grateful to share our journey with these incredible people — and that’s why a key area of focus for us is to keep strengthening our team by bringing onboard world-class talent.We’re also grateful for the vote of confidence received from our investors, old and new, in this investment round. We look forward to working together as we shape the future of finance and grow Bitpanda into the #1 investment platform in Europe
and beyond”.

Bitpanda’s spokeswoman also told us that international expansion and growth are “key priorities”, adding: “We’ll keep building the team, opening new offices, and launching new products as we design for scale and optimise for growth. This also means strengthening Bitpanda’s position in existing markets — such as in the DACH region, Spain, France, Italy, and Poland, and also enter new markets, such as the UK or the markets in Central and Eastern Europe.”

In another supporting statement, Andrew McCormack, founding partner of Valar Ventures, said: “We believed in Bitpanda’s potential from the beginning and we are impressed by the results that Eric, Paul, Christian and the Bitpanda team have achieved. With more than 1.2 million users acquired in the first half of 2021, impressive net revenue growth and world-class executive hires, Bitpanda stands as the living proof that hypergrowth can be achieved in a sustainable way. We’re excited to further work together to bring the world of investing at the fingertips of everyone, anywhere.”

#austria, #bitpanda, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #europe, #finance, #fintech-startup, #fundings-exits, #jump-capital, #peter-thiel, #retail-investors, #startup-company, #tc, #valar-ventures

Early-stage benchmarks for young cybersecurity companies

We’re quick to celebrate the extraordinary victories of Israel’s multiplying cybersecurity unicorns, but every success story must start somewhere. The early days of any young startup decide how successful it can be, which is why we’ve developed a focused, value-add program to support cybersecurity founders during this most critical stage and maximize their potential in building market-leading companies.

However, the early stages of cybersecurity company-building are often shrouded in mystery, only coming into the light for fundraising and feature announcements. This leaves many entrepreneurs we speak with asking what exactly cybersecurity companies are achieving behind the curtain to earn these huge victories.

Though every company’s journey is unique, we can tease out trends and patterns to establish performance benchmarks for the cybersecurity ecosystem as a whole. To most entrepreneurs, however, the sensitive data required to understand the early success of a company is often unavailable or obscured. Moreover, the industry has yet to formally define proxies for growth and momentum beyond fundraising — leaving cybersecurity founders aiming for landmarks without guideposts.

When it comes to contracts, timing can provide important insight into the quality and performance of the sales pipeline. On average, successful companies will have closed their first paying customers in the U.S. within 12 months of their seed round.

Entrepreneurs require guideposts to aspire to when building large companies, and critical customer and revenue expectations can be best established by looking at what already successful cybersecurity companies have accompli