How Pariti is connecting founders with capital, resources and talent in emerging markets

According to Startup Genome, Beijing, London, Silicon Valley, Stockholm, Tel Aviv are some of the world’s best startup ecosystems. The data and research organisation uses factors like performance, capital, market reach, connectedness, talent, and knowledge to produce its rankings.

Startup ecosystems from emerging markets excluding China and India didn’t make the organisations’ top 40 list last year. It is a known fact that these regions lag well behind in all six factors, and decades might pass before they catch up to the standards of the aforementioned ecosystems.

However, a Kenyan B2B management startup founded by Yacob Berhane and Wossen Ayele wants to close the gap on three of the six factors — access to capital, knowledge, and talent.

These issues, specifically that of access to capital, is heightened in Africa. For instance, only 25% of funding goes to early-stage startups in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to more than 50% in Latin America, MENA, and South Asia regions.

“We wanted to build a solution that will help startups be successful that otherwise would not have been able to get the resources they needed,” said CEO Berhane to TechCrunch. “This problem is especially acute in Africa because it’s particularly nascent, but this platform is designed for founders across emerging markets. So basically anywhere that doesn’t have a mature, healthy startup ecosystem.”

So, how is the team at Pariti setting out to solve these problems? Ayele tells me that in one sense, Pariti is like an unbundled accelerator.

In a typical accelerator, founders will need to go through an intense program where they are loaded with information on all the things a startup will likely need to know at some point in their growth. Whereas with Pariti, founders get the needed information or resources that are immediately relevant to helping them get to the next stage of the business.

A three-way marketplace

When a founder joins Pariti, they run their company through an assessment tool. There, they share pitch materials and information about their business. Pariti then assesses each company across more than 70 information points ranging from the team and market to product and economics.

After this is done, Pariti benchmarks each company against its peers. Companies in the same industry, product stage, revenue, fundraising are some of the comparisons made. The founder gets a detailed assessment with feedback on their pitch materials, the underlying metrics that they can use to develop their business and, their ability to raise capital down the line.

“This approach gives us an extremely granular view of their businesses, its strengths, weaknesses and allows us to triage the right resources to the founder based on their particular needs.”

It doesn’t end there. Pariti also connects the founders for one-on-one sessions with members of its global expert community. Their backgrounds, according to Ayele, run the gamut from finance and marketing to product and technology across a range of sectors. Pariti also provides vetted professionals for hire from its community if a founder needs more hands-on support building a product.

Ayele says founders can continue to go through this process multiple times, getting assessed, implementing feedback, and connecting with resources and talent.

On another end, Pariti allows investors to sign up on its platform, thereby collating data on their preferences. So once a startup wants to raise capital, the platform matches them with investors based on their profile and preferences.

“We’ve built an algorithm-based matching platform where we curate relevant deals to VC investors. We also simplify the investor reach-out process for founders, which is a huge pain point — especially in this ecosystem.”

Pariti’s investor platform

In a nutshell, Pariti helps founders connect with affordable talent, access capital and develop their businesses. Professionals can find interesting opportunities to mentor startups and get paid gig opportunities. They also get more exposure to the early stage ecosystem while tracking their progress, verifying their skills and increasing earning potential. Investors can run extremely lean operations with access to proprietary deal flow, automated deal filtering and on-demand experts to support due diligence, research and portfolio support.

According to the COO, the company has seen a tremendous amount of value built through the platform so far. A testament to this is an experience shared by Kiiru Muhoya, founder of Kenyan fintech startup Fingo Africa with TechCrunch, on how the platform helped him raise a $250,000 pre-seed round.

He said that after going through Pariti’s assessment ahead of a planned fundraiser, he realized that the market he was targeting was too small. Also, he needed to learn more about what VCs were looking for to be successful.

Muhoya decided to switch to being at the other end of things. Joining the expert platform on Pariti, he began to review companies and provided feedback to other founders. This led him to take some months off to pivot his business based on Pariti’s first feedback and what he had learned from the expert platform. He took his startup through another assessment on the platform and thus closed the round.

The company has made significant strides since launching in 2019. It has over 500 companies across 42 countries, 100 freelance experts, and 60 investors using its platform. Berhane also adds that five funds currently use Pariti’s operating system for their deal management.

“For us, I think we’re building the rails for how ventures are built and scaled in emerging markets. We have partners in place across emerging markets, including Latin America and India. We also have a strong interest in the United States, where we see a real need for our platform.” Berhane said.

It charges a subscription model for investors, but Berhane wouldn’t disclose the numbers. He says that Pariti will begin to charge a subscription fee for founders as well. Another revenue stream comes when investors or founders pay a certain transaction fee when using Pariti’s freelance experts for projects. The same happens when there’s any fundraise executed from the platform.

Talking about fundraising, the company recently secured an undisclosed pre-seed capital from angels and VCs like 500 Startups, Kepple Africa and Huddle VC.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Pariti as one issue that has stood out in dealing with founders and investors is trust. Berhane says founders have shared some horror stories about engaging with investors, while investors have shared trust concerns about founders reporting false numbers.

Pariti tries to address this by providing NDAs for both parties where the company will not share founders data with investors until they want it to be.  And investors won’t get deals that Pariti hasn’t thoroughly vetted.

Both founders of East African descent — Berhane from Eritrea and Ayele from Ethiopia — crossed paths a couple of times but took different routes to be where they are now.

Wossen Ayele (COO) and Yacob Berhane (CEO)

Ayele started his career at a consulting shop with offices across East Africa before moving back to the U.S. for law school. There, he got his first exposure to the early-stage startup world and worked with an emerging markets-focused VC fund.

“I could see how technology and innovation could play a role in helping communities – whether it’s through financial inclusion, access to essential goods and services, connecting people at the base of the pyramid to markets,” he said.

Upon graduation and completion of his legal training, Ayele headed back to Nairobi to get involved with its growing African startup ecosystem, where he and Berhane founded the company.

The CEO who studied finance and investment banking in the U.S. moved back to Africa to start a pan-African accelerator in Johannesburg, South Africa. While he has worked in managerial positions for companies like the African Leadership University and Ajua, Berhane spent most of his time brokering deals for them which ultimately led him to start Pariti. 

“After helping businesses raise more than $20m and seeing how that money led to job creation and upward mobility for employees, I knew there was a path I could have that would be meaningful within finance. I continued to think about the growing asymmetry of access to capital, talent and knowledge in the startup ecosystem and the lack of infrastructure addressing it. Pariti was how we wanted to solve it.”

#africa, #diversity, #enterprise, #finance, #nairobi, #pariti, #startup-ecosystem, #startups, #talent, #tc

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Indonesian logistics startup SiCepat raises $170 million Series B

SiCepat, an end-to-end logistics startup in Indonesia, announced today it has raised a $170 million Series B funding round. Founded in 2014 to provide last-mile deliveries for small merchants, the company has since expanded to serve large e-commerce platforms, too. Its services now also cover warehousing and fulfillment, middle-mile logistics and online distribution.

Investors in SiCepat’s Series B include Falcon House Partners; Kejora Capital; DEG (the German Development Finance Institution); Telkom Indonesia’s investment arm MDI Ventures; Indies Capital; Temasek Holdings subsidiary Pavilion Capital; Tri Hill; and Daiwa Securities. The company’s last funding announcement was a $50 million Series A in April 2019.

In a press statement, The Kim Hai, founder and chief executive officer of SiCepat’s parent company Onstar Express, said the funding will be used to “further fortify SiCepat’s position as the leading end-to-end logistics service provider in the Indonesian market and potentially to explore expansion to other markets in Southeast Asia.” SiCepat claims to be profitable already and that it was able to fulfill more than 1.4 million packages per day in 2020.

The logistics industry in Indonesia is highly fragmented, which means higher costs for businesses. At the same time, demand for deliveries is increasing thanks to the growth of e-commerce, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SiCepat is one of several Indonesian startups that have raised funding recently to make the supply chain and logistics infrastructure more efficient. For example, earlier this week, supply chain SaaS provider Advotics announced a $2.75 million round. Other notable startups in the space include Kargo, founded by a former Uber Asia executive, and Waresix.

SiCepat focuses in particular on e-commerce and social commerce, or people who sell goods through their social media networks. In statement, Kejora Capital managing partner Sebastian Togelang, said the Indonesian e-commerce market is expected to grow at five-year compounded annual growth rate of 21%, reaching $82 billion by 2025.

“We believe SiCepat is ideally positioned to serve customers from e-commerce giants to uprising social commerce players which contribute an estimated 25% to the total digital commerce economy,” he added.

#asia, #ecommerce, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #last-mile-delivery, #logistics, #sicepat, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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InsurGrid raises pre-seed financing to help modernize legacy insurance agents

Insurance agents spend hours handling paperwork and grabbing client information over the phone. A new seed-stage startup, InsurGrid, has developed a software solution to help ease the process, and make it easier for agents to serve existing clients — and secure new ones.

InsurGrid gives agents a personalized platform to collect information from clients, such as date of birth, driver’s license information and policy declaration. This platform helps agents avoid sitting on long calls or managing back-to-back emails, and instead gives them one spot to understand how all their different clients function. It is starting with property and casualty management.

The startup integrates with 85 insurance carriers, serving as the software layer instead of the provider. Using the InsurGrid platform, insurers can ask clients to upload information and within seconds be registered as a policyholder. This essentially turns into a living Rolodex that insurers can use to access information on the account, and offer quotes on a faster rate.

Image Credits: InsurGrid

There’s a monetary benefit in providing better service. Eden Insurance, a customer of InsurGrid, said that people who submit information through the platform converted at an 82% higher rate than those who don’t. Jeremy Eden, the agency owner of Eden Insurance, said they were able to show consumers that its plan was $300 cheaper than its existing rate.

At the heart of InsurGrid is a bet from the founding team that legacy insurance agents aren’t going anywhere. Co-founder/CEO Chase Beach pointed out that the majority of the $684 billion of annual property and casualty insurance premiums in the United States is distributed by approximately 800,000 agents working in 16,000 brokerages. So far, InsurGrid works with more than 150 of those agencies.

When asked if InsurGrid ever had plans to offer its own insurance, similar to insurtech giants Hippo, Lemonade and Root, Beach said that it is solely working on innovating around the sales process for now. He said that these big companies, which have either recently gone public or are planning to, still rely on agents to be successful.

“Instead of us replacing the insurance agent, what if we gave them that same level of technology of a Hippo or large carrier,” Beach said. “And provide them with the digital experiences so they can compete in 2021.”

As time goes on, he sees insurance agents taking the same role that financial advisors or real estate agents take: “very much involved in the process because they are that expert.”

Other startups that have popped up in this space include Gabi, Trellis and Canopy Connect. The differentiator, the team sees, is that Beach comes from a 144-year-old insurance legacy, giving him key insights on how to sell to agents in a successful and effective way. It is starting with sales, but expect InsurGrid to expand to other parts of the insurance process as well.

To help them compete with new and old startups, InsurGrid recently raised $1.3 million in pre-seed financing to help it fulfill its goal to be the “underdog for the underdogs,” Beach said. Investors include Engineering Capital, Hustle Fund, Vess Capital, Sahil Lavingia and Trevor Kienzle.

#engineering-capital, #hustle-fund, #insurgrid, #insurtech, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #vess-capital

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Backed by Blossom, Creandum and Index, grocery delivery and dark store startup Dija launches in London

Dija, the London-based grocery delivery startup, is officially launching today and confirming that it raised £20 million in seed funding in December — a round that we first reported was partially closed the previous month.

Backing the company is Blossom Capital, Creandum and Index Ventures, with Dija seemingly able to raise pre-launch. In fact, there are already rumours swirling around London’s venture capital community that the upstart may be out raising again already — a figure up to £100 million was mooted by one source — as the race to become the early European leader in the burgeoning “dark” grocery store space heats up.

Image Credits: Dija

Over the last few months, a host of European startups have launched with the promise of delivering grocery and other convenience store items within 10-15 minutes of ordering. They do this by building out their own hyper-local, delivery-only fulfilment centres — so-called “dark stores” — and recruiting their own delivery personnel. This full-stack or vertical approach and the visibility it provides is then supposed to produce enough supply chain and logistics efficiency to make the unit economics work, although that part is far from proven.

Earlier this week, Berlin-based Flink announced that it had raised $52 million in seed financing in a mixture of equity and debt. The company didn’t break out the equity-debt split, though one source told me the equity component was roughly half and half.

Others in the space include Berlin’s Gorillas, London’s Jiffy and Weezy, and France’s Cajoo, all of which also claim to focus on fresh food and groceries. There’s also the likes of Zapp, which is still in stealth and more focused on a potentially higher-margin convenience store offering similar to U.S. unicorn goPuff. Related: goPuff itself is also looking to expand into Europe and is currently in talks to acquire or invest in the U.K.’s Fancy, which some have dubbed a mini goPuff.

However, let’s get back to Dija. Founded by Alberto Menolascina and Yusuf Saban, who both spent a number of years at Deliveroo in senior positions, the company has opened up shop in central London and promises to let you order groceries and other convenience products within 10 minutes. It has hubs in South Kensington, Fulham and Hackney, and says it plans to open 20 further hubs, covering central London and Zone 2, by the summer. Each hub carries around 2,000 products, claiming to be sold at “recommended retail prices”. A flat delivery fee of £1.99 is charged per order.

“The only competitors that we are focused on are the large supermarket chains who dominate a global $12 trillion industry,” Dija’s Menolascina tells me when I ask about competitors. “What really sets us apart from them, besides our speed and technology, is our team, who all have a background in growing and disrupting this industry, including myself and Yusuf, who built and scaled Deliveroo from the ground up”.

Menolascina was previously director of Corporate Strategy and Development at the takeout delivery behemoth and held several positions before that. He also co-founded Everli (formerly Supermercato24), the Instacart-styled grocery delivery company in Italy, and also worked at Just Eat. Saban is the former chief of staff to CEO at Deliveroo and also worked at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

During Dija’s soft-launch, Menolascina says that typical customers have been doing their weekly food shop using the app, and also fulfilling other needs, such as last-minute emergencies or late night cravings. “The pain points Dija is helping to solve are universal and we built Dija to be accessible to everyone,” he says. “It’s why we offer products at retail prices, available in 10 minutes — combining value and convenience. Already, Dija is becoming a key service for parents who are pressed for time working from home and homeschooling, as one example”.

Despite the millions of dollars being pumped into the space, a number of VCs I’ve spoken to privately are skeptical that fresh groceries with near instant delivery can be made to work. The thinking is that fresh food perishes, margins are lower and basket sizes won’t be large enough to cover the costs of delivery.

“This might be the case for other companies, but almost everyone at Dija comes from this industry and knows exactly what they are doing, from buying and merchandising to data and marketing,” Menolascina says, pushing back. “It’s also worth pointing out that we are a full-stack model, so we’re not sharing our margin with other parties. In terms of the average basket size, it varies depending on the customer’s need. On one hand, we have customers who do their entire grocery shop through Dija, while on the other hand, our customers depend on us for emergency purchases e.g. nappies, batteries etc.”

On pricing, he says that, like any retail business, Dija buys products at wholesale prices and sells them at recommended retail prices. “Going forward, we have a clear roadmap on how we generate additional revenue, including strategic partnerships, supply chain optimisation and technology enhancements,” adds Menolascina.

Dija testing on Deliveroo

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has learned that prior to launching its own app, Dija ran a number of experiments on takeout marketplace Deliveroo, including selling various convenience store items, such as potato chips and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. If you’ve ever ordered toiletry products from “Baby & Me Pharmacy” or purchased chocolate sweets from “Valentine’s Vows,” you have likely and unknowingly shopped at Dija. Those brands, and a number of others, all delivered from the same address in South Kensington.

“Going direct to consumer without properly testing pick & pack is a big risk,” Menolascina told me in a WhatsApp message a few weeks ago, confirming the Deliveroo tests. “We created disposable virtual brands purely to learn what to sell and how to replenish, pick & pack, and deliver”.

#blossom-capital, #dija, #europe, #fundings-exits, #grocery-delivery, #index-ventures, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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Asynchronous video startup Weet just launched to cement bonds, and know-how, within companies

For founder Najette Fellache, coming to the Bay Area a few years ago from Nantes, France was a way to grow a company she’d founded and which was already was beginning to count major U.S. corporations like GE, Tesla, Amazon, and Medtronics as customers.

What that six-year-old outfit, Speach, sells is essentially knowledge sharing between colleagues via videos produced by the employees themselves, often to augment written instructions. The idea is to maximize learning, fast, and investors liked the idea enough to provide Speach with $14 million in funding.

But while the technology has only become more relevant in a world shut down by COVID-19, an internal project within the company began to interest Fellache even more after her children abruptly began attending school remotely from home. As she tells it, her aha moment came in the form of a drawing from her youngest son, who struggled to understand why his mother’s meetings kept taking precedent over him.

Like many parents trying to figure out how to balance work and family over the last year, Fellache wasn’t immediately sure of how to parent around the clock while also leading a company. Unlike a lot of parents, she had access to engineers who could put create a technology that enabled her, along with other members of Speach’s team, to create short videos that could quickly communicate important information and be viewed at the recipient’s convenience — as well as saved for future reference.

In fact, as sometimes happens with internal projects, the technology worked so well for Speach that it has since taken on a life of its own. Indeed, using a bit of that earlier funding from Speach — its backers are Red River West, a Franco-American fund co-managed by Artémis, the investment company of the Pinault family, and the early-stage firm Alven — Fellache and a team of 10 employees this week launched Weet, a new asynchronous video startup.

It’s entering into a crowded field. Fellache is hardly alone in recognizing the power of asynchronous meetings as an attractive alternative to phone calls, real-time meetings, and even email, where tone is lost and content can be misconstrued. Loom, for example, a six-year-old enterprise collaboration video messaging service that enables users to send short clips of themselves, has already raised at least $73 million from investors, including Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins, and Coatue.

Another, newer entrant is SuperNormal, a year-old, Stockholm, Sweden-based work communication platform that employs video and screen recording tools to help teams create and send asynchronous video updates throughout the day and which raised $2 million in seed funding led by EQT Ventures in December.

Still, if you believe that the future of work is remote, it’s clear that the opportunity here is a big one. Further, Weet —  which is accessible for free via a browser extension and whose integrations with both Slack and Microsoft Teams are scheduled to go live next month — is fast becoming a better product than some of what’s available in the market already, argues Fellache.

Weet already features instant recording, screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, video filters, emoji reactions, commenting options, and auto transcription. For a premium paid version in the works, it is also developing features that will not make past exchanges easier to sift through but that can organize discussions for users.

Imagine, for example, a salesperson looking for communications about a potential client and wanting notes from those auto-transcriptions that are presented together in one email to him or her.

As for privacy, Fellache points to the data management expertise that Speach has developed over time working with clients like Airbus and Colgate-Palmolive that are acutely mindful of privacy. Weet — which Fellache says is already being used by units inside of Colgate-Palmolive — employs the same standards and practices.

Weet is seemingly taking a different approach on the marketing front, too. At least, Fellache says not to think of Weets as transactions in which critical information alone is exchanged but as a new way of communicating with far-flung teams (and customers) about all kinds of things, from national holidays, to who is watching which new show and why.

As Fellache stresses, with Weet, because there is nothing to download — there is no software or plugin to install — it’s click and go, for both work and play.

In a world where teams are increasingly scattered around the globe, she knows well, they’ve become two sides of the same coin.

#startups, #tc, #video

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Flourish, a startup that aims to help banks engage and retain customers, raises $1.5M

It’s not uncommon these days to hear of U.S.-based investors backing Latin American startups.

But it’s not every day that we hear of Latin American VCs investing in U.S.-based startups.

Berkeley-based fintech Flourish has raised $1.5 million in a funding round led by Brazilian venture capital firm Canary. Founded by Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, the startup offers an “engagement and financial wellness” solution for banks, fintechs and credit unions with the goal of helping them engage and retain clients.

Also participating in the round were Xochi Ventures, First Check Ventures, Magma Capital and GV Angels as well as strategic angels including Rodrigo Xavier (former Bank of America CEO in Brazil), Beth Stelluto (formerly of Schwab),  Gustavo Lasala (president and CEO of The People Fund) and Brian Requarth (Founder of Viva Real). 

With clients in the U.S., Bolivia and Brazil, Flourish has developed a solution that features three main modules: 

  • A rewards engine designed to incentivize users to save or invest money
  • An intelligent and automated micro-savings feature where users can create personalized rules (such as transferring $15 into a rainy day fund every time their favorite sports team wins)
  • A financial knowledge module, where personal financial transactions and spending patterns are turned into a question and answer game. 

In the U.S., Flourish began by testing end-user mechanics with organizations such as CommonWealth and OpportunityFund. In 2019, it released a B2C version of the Flourish app (called the Flourish Savings App)  as a pilot for its banking platform, which can integrate with banks through a SDK or an API.  It is also now licensing its engagement technology to banks, retailers and fintechs across the Americas. Flourish has piloted or licensed its solution to US-based credit unions, Sicoob (Brazil’s largest credit union) and BancoSol in Bolivia. 

The startup makes money through a partnership model that focuses on user activation and engagement. 

Both immigrants, Moura and Eting met while in the MBA program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Moura emigrated to the U.S. from Brazil as a teen while Eting is the daughter of a Filiponio father and mother of Mexican descent.

The pair bonded on their joint mission of building a business that empowered people to create positive money habits and understand their finances.

Currently, the 11- person team works out of the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. It plans to use its new capital to increase its number of customers in LatAm, do more hiring and develop new functionalities for the Flourish platform. 

In particular, it plans to next focus on the Brazilian market, and will scale in a few select countries in the Americas. 

“There are three things that make Latin America, and more specifically Brazil, attractive to us at this moment,” Moura said. “Currently, the B2B financial technology market is still in its nascency. This combined with open banking regulation and the need for more responsible products provides Flourish a unique opportunity in Brazil.”

#bank, #banking, #bolivia, #brazil, #canary, #finance, #financial-services, #flourish, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #uc-berkeley, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Inside Workvivo’s plans to take on Microsoft in the employee experience space

Maintaining company culture when the majority of staff is working remotely is a challenge for every organization — big and small.

This was an issue, even before COVID. But it’s become an even bigger problem with so many employees working from home. Employers have to be careful that workers don’t feel disconnected and isolated from the rest of the company and that morale stays high.

Enter Workvivo, a Cork, Ireland-based employee experience startup that is backed by Zoom founder Eric Yuan and Tiger Global that has steadily grown over 200% over the past year.

The company works with organizations ranging in size from 100 employees to over 100,000 and boasts more than 500,000 users. According to CEO and co-founder John Goulding, it’s had 100% retention since it launched. Customers include Telus International, Kentech, A+E Networks and Seneca Gaming Corp., among others.

Founded by Goulding and Joe Lennon in 2017, Workvivo launched its employee communication platform in mid-2018 with the goal of helping companies create “an engaging virtual workplace” and replace the outdated intranet.

“We’re not about real time, we’re more asynchronous communication,” Goulding explained. “We have a lot of transactional tools, and typically carry the bigger message about what’s going on in a company and what positive things are happening. We’re more focused on human connection.”

Using Workvivo, companies can provide information like CEO updates, recognition for employees via a social style — “more things that shape the culture so workers can get a real sense of what’s happening in an organization.” It launched podcasts in the second quarter and livestreaming in Q4.

In 2019, Workvivo showed its product to Zoom’s Yuan, who ended up becoming one of the company’s first investors. Then in May of 2020, the company raised $16 million in a Series A funding led by Tiger Global, which is best known for large growth-oriented rounds.

Workvivo, which was built out long before the COVID-19 pandemic, found itself in an opportune place last year. And demand for its offering has reflected that. 

“Since COVID hit, growth has accelerated,” Goulding told TechCrunch. “We grew three times in size over where we were before the pandemic started, in terms of revenue, users, customers and employees.”

The SaaS operator’s deals range from $50,000 to close to $1 million a year, he said. Workvivo is Europe-based and operates in 82 countries. But the majority of its customers are located in the U.S. with 80% of its growth coming from the country.

The startup opened an office in San Francisco in early 2020, which it is expanding. Thirty percent of its 65-person team is currently U.S.-based, with some working remotely from other states.

While Workvivo would not reveal hard revenue figures, Goulding only said it’s not seeking additional funding anytime soon considering the company is “in a very strong capital position.”

To tackle the same problem, Microsoft last month launched Viva, its new “employee experience platform,” or, in non-marketing terms, its new take on the intranet sites most large companies tend to offer their employees. With the move, Microsoft is taking on the likes of Facebook’s Workplace platform and Jive in addition to Workvivo.

Despite the increasingly crowded space, Workvivo believes it has an advantage over competitors in that it integrates well with Slack and Zoom.

“We’re sitting alongside Slack and Zoom in the ecosystem,” Goulding said. “There’s Zoom, Slack and us.”

Slack is real-time messaging and what’s happening in the immediate future, and Zoom is real-time video and “about the moment,” he said.

To Goulding, Microsoft’s new offering is unproven yet and a reactionary move.

“It’s obvious there’s a battle to be won for the center of the digital workplace,” he said. “We’re here to capture the heartbeat of an organization, not pulses.”

#eric-yuan, #labor, #personnel, #saas, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #tiger-global-management, #workvivo

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Coursera is planning to file to go public tomorrow

Coursera, an online education platform that has seen its business grow amid the coronavirus pandemic, is planning to file paperwork tomorrow for its initial public offering, sources familiar with the matter say. The company has been talking to underwriters since last year, but tomorrow could mark its first legal step in the process to IPO.

The Mountain View-based business, founded in 2012, was last valued at $2.4 billion in the private markets, during a Series F fundraising event in July 2020. Bloomberg pegs Coursera’s latest valuation at $5 billion.

The latest financing event brought its cash balance to $300 million, right around the money that Chegg had before it went public. Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda did confirm then that the company is eyeing an eventual IPO.

Coursera has had a busy pandemic. Similar to Udemy, another massive open online course provider planning to go public, Coursera added an enterprise arm to its business. It launched Coursera for Campus to help colleges bring on online courses (credit optional) with built-in exams; more than 3,700 schools across the world are using the software. It is unclear how much money this operation has brought in, but we know that Udemy for Business is nearing $200 million in annual recurring revenue. In February, the company announced that it has received B Corp. certification, which means that it hits high standards for social and environmental performance. It also converted to a public benefit corporation.

GSV, a venture capital firm that exclusively backs edtech companies, had its largest position of its first fund in Coursera. GSV announced a $180 million Fund II yesterday. 

It makes sense that edtech companies want to go public while the markets remain hot and remote education continues to be a central way that instruction is delivered. Other companies from the sector that have gone public in recent weeks include Nerdy and Skillshare, two companies that used a SPAC to make their public debuts. Once – and if – Coursera does go public, it will join these newbies as well as the long-time edtech public companies including 2U, Chegg, and K12 Inc, and Zovio Solutions.

Coursera declined to comment.

#coursera, #edtech, #education, #exit, #startups, #tc

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With $19M A round, Halo Dx combines data streams to better diagnose cancers, dementia and more

Healthcare is one of the most complex industries out there, creating frustration on the consumer side but also the opportunity for huge improvements from, in a way, rather simple methods. Halo Diagnostics (or Dx for short) has raised a $19M series A to improve diagnosis of several serious illnesses by crossing the streams from multiple tests and making the improved process easily available to providers. They’ve also taken the unusual step of taking out an eight-figure line of credit to buy outright the medical facilities they’ll need to do it.

As anyone who’s had to deal with major health concerns can attest, the care you get differs widely from one provider to another depending on many factors, not least of which are what your insurance covers and what methods are already in use by the provider.

For men going in to get a prostate cancer screening, for instance, the common bloodwork and rectal exam haven’t changed in years, and really aren’t that great at predicting problems, leading to uncertainty and unnecessary procedures like biopsies.

Of course, if you’re lucky, your provider might offer multiparametric MRIs, which are much better at finding problems —and if you combine that MRI with a urine test that checks for genetic markers, the detection accuracy rises to practically foolproof levels.

But these tests are more expensive, take special facilities and personnel, and may otherwise not fit into the provider’s existing infrastructure. Halo aims to provide that infrastructure by revamping the medical data stream to allow for this kind of multi-factor diagnosis.

“Basically doctors and imaging centers aren’t offering latest level of care. If you’re lucky you might get it, but in community medicine you’re not going to,” said Brian Axe, co-founder and chief product officer at Halo Dx. “As perverse as it sounds, what the healthcare industry needs is financial alignment, not just outcomes. The challenge is the integrated diagnostic solution — how do you get these orders, go to market and talk with primary care providers?”

An added obstacle is that multi-modal testing isn’t really the kind of thing medical imaging or testing providers just decide to get into. An imaging center isn’t going to hear that a urine test improves reliability and think “well let’s buy the building next door and start doing that too!” It’s costly and complex to build out testing facilities, and getting the expertise to run them and combine the results is another hurdle.

So Halo Dx is parachuting in with tens of millions of dollars and purchasing the imaging and testing centers themselves (four so far), taking over their operations and combining them with other tests.

Assuming that much liability as a young company may seem like folly, but it helps that these imaging centers are strong businesses already — not derelict, half-paid-off MRI machines being operated at a loss.

“The imaging orders are coming in already; the centers are profitable. They’re coming on board because they see how technology is coming to disrupt them, and they want to help,” said Axe.

Prostate and breast cancers are the first target, but more and better data produce similarly improved diagnosis and treatment planning for more conditions, potentially (these are still being proven out) Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

With one company running multiple intake, imaging, and testing facilities and integrating the results, it’s much more likely that providers will sign up. And Halo Dx is trying to bring some of the enterprise-grade software expertise to bear on the historically neglected field of medical data storage and communication.

Axe deferred to the company’s chief medical officer, Dr John Feller, on the perils of that aspect of the field.

“Dr Feller describes this so well: ‘I have this state of the art MRI machine that can see inside your body, but because of the fragmented solutions that are out there, from intake to the storage centers, I feel like I’m living with pre-dot-com era tech and it’s crippling,’ ” Axe recalled. “If you want to look at records or recommend additional tests, software vendors don’t talk to each other or integrate. You have three providers that need to talk to each other and there’s a dozen systems between them.”

Axe compared the company’s approach here to One Medical’s — increasing efficiency and using that to make the relationship with the consumer lighter and easier, leading to more interactions.

In some ways it seems like a risky move, taking on nearly a hundred million in obligations and jumping into a hugely complex and highly regulated space. But the team is accomplished, the backers are notable, the potential for growth is there, and the success of the likes of One Medical have likely emboldened all involved.

Zola Global Investors led the round, and a who’s-who in medical and tech participated: Anne Wojcicki, Fred Moll, Stephen Pomeranz, Bob Reed, Robert Ciardi, Jim Pallotta, and believe it or not Ronnie Lott of 49ers fame.

These and others involved make for a strong statement of confidence in both the model and the specific approach Halo Dx is taking to expanding and advancing care. Here’s hoping, however, that you won’t have to make use of their services.

#funding, #fundings-exits, #health, #healthcare, #medical-imaging, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

0

Bain’s Sarah Smith, former head of HR at Quora, will share the recruiting playbook at Early Stage

If you’re a startup that’s worried about building your team today for tomorrow’s successes you’re not going to want to miss our session with Bain Capital Ventures’ Sarah Smith at TechCrunch Early Stage on April 1 & 2.

The current Bain Capital Ventures partner who invests in early to mid-stage companies saw what it was like to grow a startup business firsthand as the vice president of human resources at Quora, a position she held from 2012 to 2016.

While at Quora, Sarah built the HR and operations teams responsible for company culture, compensation, benefits, equity refreshers, performance reviews, HRIS/ATS implementation, people development, policy enforcement and content moderation.

She scaled the company from 40 to 200 employees across all hiring from university to executive search.

After that, she became the vice president of advertising sales and operations, where she led the launch of monetization and onboarding of more than 500 advertisers to the self-service ads platform.

Smith joins an all-star cast of speakers at Early Stage. They range from Zoom CRO Ryan Azus (“How to build a sales team”) to Calendly founder Tope Awotona (“How to bootstrap”) to Kleiner Perkins’ Bucky Moore (“How to prep for Series A fundraising”), are making themselves available to answer your burning questions on just about any topic. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Unlike other TechCrunch events, there is no “main stage” at our TC Early Stage events. Each session is designed to tackle one of the many core competencies any startup needs to be successful. But this isn’t just about listening — every session includes plenty of time built in for audience Q&A. Essentially, it’s all breakout sessions, all day.

What’s more — everyone who buys a ticket to TC Early Stage gets free access to Extra Crunch! Folks who buy a ticket to one of the two events get three months free, and folks who purchase a combination ticket (to both events) get six months free! An Extra Crunch membership includes:

Of course, TC Early Stage dual event ticket holders will get access to both events (April 1-2 and July 8-9) and have access to all the content that comes out of the event on demand. Plus you can take advantage of additional savings with Early Bird pricing for another couple of weeks!

Mercenary CEOs know all too well that this is about the most bang you can get for your buck. Period.

Check out the full list of speakers here and you can get your ticket now!

#bain-capital-ventures, #sarah-smith, #startups, #tc

0

Social commerce startup Elenas raises $6M and plans for international expansion

Colombian startup Elenas says it’s helping tens of thousands of women make money by selling products online. And today, it announced that it has raised $6 million in Series A funding.

That’s on top of the $2 million seed round that Elenas announced last fall. Founder and CEO Zach Oschin said that demand continues to grow, particularly with high unemployment levels (particularly among women), while consumers remain nervous about in-person shopping during the pandemic.

“We’ve been able to provide opportunities for tens of thousands of women to earn extra income,” Oschin said.

He suggested that Elenas is essentially a reinvention of the direct sales/catalog sales model that 11 million women participate in across the Latin America. The idea is that independent seller/entrepreneurs (often but not always women) can browse a catalog of products in categories like beauty, personal care and electronics, from more than 250 distributors and brands, all available at a discounted wholesale price. They decide what they want to sell, how much they want to mark the price up and then promote the products on social channels like WhatsApp and Facebook.

Besides its digital focus, Oschin said said Elenas is better for the resellers because there’s less risk: “We don’t hold inventory for the company, which is very different than traditional direct sales, and our entrepreneurs don’t ever hold inventory.” Nor do those entrepreneurs need to get involved in things ose like payment collection or delivery, because Elenas and its distributor partners handle all of that.

“For us, the goal is to provide this backend operating system that gives women everything they need to run their store,” he added.

Elenas offers an automated on-boarding process for the sellers, but Oschin said that within the app, “we do a lot of work to train our sellers how to sell.”

Elenas CEO Zach Oschin

Elenas CEO Zach Oschin

The company (which participated in our Latin American Startup Battlefield in 2018) says it’s now paid out more than $7 million to its sellers. It doesn’t limit participation by gender, but Oschin estimated that more than 95% of sellers are women, with 80% of them under the age of 30 and about a third of them without any previous direct sales experience.

The new funding comes from Leo Capital, FJ Labs, Alpha4 Ventures and Meesho. Oschin said the company’s investors have a presence across six different continents, reflecting its international vision. Indeed, one of its next steps is expanding across Latin America, starting with Mexico and then Peru.

“Having seen the meteoric growth of social commerce in India and China we are excited to partner with Elenas as they have demonstrated the right product and operating model for the region.”  said Leo Capital co-founder Shwetank Verma in a statement. “The Elenas team has built a solution that’s inclusive, impactful and is well positioned for exponential growth.”

#ecommerce, #elenas, #funding, #fundings-exits, #leo-capital, #startups

0

This pan-African freelance platform is the first Zimbabwean startup backed by Techstars

On the 25th of January, Techstars Seattle announced its 12th class featuring 10 startups from different parts of the world. The accelerator, which has accepted only a handful of African startups, included one from Zimbabwe in this class.

AfriBlocks is a global pan-African marketplace of vetted African freelance professionals. The startup was founded by Tongayi Choto and Roger Roman in July 2020 and has offices in Harare and Los Angeles,.

The company is trying to address the high unemployment rate that plagues many African countries by making it easier for people to find work. Quite a number of international and local freelance websites exist to meet these needs. Still, according to CEO, Choto, most of them offer too many options with no adequate vetting process.

“It can be very hard to find African freelancers. If a customer is lucky enough to get past those hurdles and find a freelancer to work with, they often don’t have the proper collaboration tools to complete the project in a precise and timely manner,” he told TechCrunch.

In a global freelance market worth more than $800 billion, AfriBlocks says it is doing this different by equipping African freelancers with intuitive collaboration tools and a secure payment system that makes it easy to get remote contract projects completed

When a job is posted on its platform, the company claims that they save the customer the trouble of perusing thousands of freelancers profiles and portfolios. Instead, they use automation tools to match three freelancers who fit the user’s qualifications.

Also, AfriBlocks assigns a project manager to the selected freelancer who manages the project through completion. Once the job is complete, AfriBlocks collect a transaction fee, and the payment is released from escrow. This ensures that expectations are clear and deadlines are met for freelancers and customers

In addition, Choto says the company offers community and development resources that help them upskill and remain competitive in the global marketplace. This has been done in partnership with edtech company Coursera and African non-profit Ingressive for Good. It is also in talks with online learning platform, Datacamp, to do the same for data scientists.

Roger Roman (co-founder)

As peculiar to most African startups, funding has been hard to come by for the team. Bootstrapping seemed like the only course of action to take, and it seems to have taken them far. In less than a year, the company has onboarded over 2,000 freelancers and more than 400 buyers. It has also completed up to 250 jobs generating over $60,000 in revenue. This progress has attracted the likes of Techstars and Google to provide them with funding and network.

“We’ve encountered the problems that many Black founders face, such as scarce fundraising sources. However, organizations like Techstars Seattle, Transparent Collective, and Google for Startups have helped us by providing mentorship, networking opportunities, and investor demo days showcases,” Roman said.

AfriBlocks joins African startups like Farmcrowdy, OnePipe, Risevest, Eversend, OjaExpress, who have participated in different Techstars accelerators worldwide.

Before AfriBlocks, Choto, who grew up in Zimbabwe, served as a product manager at BillMari, a pan-African remittance service leveraging bitcoin technology. For Roger, whose upbringing was on the westside of Chicago, he doubles as an active angel investor and a VC scout.

It is predicted that freelancers will account for as much as 80% of the entire workforce worldwide by 2030. Freelance work has become a viable source of employment and has shifted from being a vocation people engage in to supplement their income to being a full-time source of jobs for Africans.

The long term goal for AfriBlocks is to build the tech infrastructure for the future of work in Africa. According to the company, participating in Techstars is the right path to that destination.

“In anticipation of the impending global human talent shortage that could result in 85 million jobs being unfilled and the loss of $85 trillion annually, our long-term goal is to make Africa the global hub for technical and creative freelancers by providing the rails for companies to work in Africa and with remote African talent,” Choto said. 

#africa, #freelancer, #startups, #talent, #tc, #techstars, #zimbabwe

0

Bitfinex launches cryptocurrency payment gateway for merchants

Cryptocurrency exchange company Bitfinex is launching Bitfinex Pay, a cryptocurrency payment gateway. With this new product, online merchants can accept payments in various cryptocurrencies. It should make cross-border transactions easier in particular.

While there are a few crypto payment gateways already, Bitfinex Pay has the advantage of working seamlessly with the company’s exchange. Merchants can create a widget and start accepting payments in Ethereum and bitcoin. Payments are deposited on your exchange wallet.

Bitfinex’s widget works a bit like the “Buy Now with PayPal” button. When you click on the Bitfinex Pay button, you’re redirected to the cryptocurrency company’s website. Once your payment is approved, you’re redirected back to the original merchant website. Payments are capped at the equivalent of $1,000 in cryptocurrencies.

You don’t pay any fee with Bitfinex Pay transactions. Of course, there are some network fees involved with sending crypto tokens. Merchants will also end up paying fees if they want to convert their cryptocurrency holdings on the exchange and transfer fiat money out of their account.

Bitfinex Pay also lets you accept Tether payments. Tether is a stablecoin, which means that one unit of Tether is supposed to be worth one USD — it doesn’t fluctuate over time.

That statement has been challenged as the attorney general in New York has concluded that Tethers weren’t fully backed by USD sitting in bank accounts at all times. At some point, Bitfinex couldn’t access $850 million held in a Panamanian bank.

As a result, Tether and Bitfinex are currently banned in the state of New York. So you’ll have to determine whether you trust Bitfinex enough to use it as part of your checkout process on your website.

#bitfinex, #bitfinex-pay, #blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #startups, #tether

0

Luxury air travel startup Aero raises $20M

Aero, a startup backed by Garrett Camp’s startup studio Expa, has raised $20 million in Series A funding — right as CEO Uma Subramanian said demand for air travel is returning “with a vengeance.”

I last wrote about Aero in 2019, when it announced Subramanian’s appointment as CEO, along with the fact that it had raised a total of $16 million in funding. Subramanian told me that after the announcement, the startup (which had already run test flights between Mykonos and Ibiza) spent the next few months buying and retrofitting planes, with plans for a summer 2020 launch.

Obviously, the pandemic threw a wrench into those plans, but a smaller wrench than you might think. Subramanian said that as borders re-opened and travel resumed in a limited capacity, Aero began to offer flights.

“We had a great summer,” she said. “We sold a lot of seats, and we were gross margin positive in July and August.”

The startup describes its offering as “semi-private” air travel — you fly out of private terminals, on small and spacious planes (Subramanian said the company has taken vehicles with 37 seats and retrofitted them to hold only 16), with a personalized, first-class experience delivered by its concierge team. Aero currently offers a single route between Los Angeles and Aspen, with one-way tickets costing $1,250.

Subramanian was previously CEO of Airbus’ helicopter service Voom, and she said she approached the company “very skeptically,” since the conventional wisdom in the aviation industry is that the business is all about “putting as many people into a finite amount of square footage” as possible. But she claimed that early demand showed her that “the thesis is real.”

“There is a set of people who want this,” she said. “Air travel used to be aspirational, something people got dressed up for. We want to bring back the magical part of the travel experience.”

After all, if you’re the kind of “premium traveler” who might already spend “thousands of dollars a night” on a vacation in Amangiri, Utah, it seems a little silly to be “spending hours trying to find the a low-cost flight out of Salt Lake City.”

Aero interior

Image Credits: Aero

Subramanian suggested that while demand for business travel may be slow to return (it sounds like she enjoyed the ability to fundraise without getting on a plane), the demand for leisure travel is already back, and will only grow as the pandemic ends. Plus, the steps that Aero took to create a luxury experience also meant that it’s well-suited for social distancing.

Speaking of fundraising, the Series A was led by Keyframe Capital, with Keyframe’s chief investment officer John Rapaport joining the Aero board. Cyrus Capital Partners and Expa also participated.

The new funding will allow Aero to grow its team and to add more flights, Subramanian said. Next up is a route between Los Angeles and Cabo San Lucas scheduled to launch in April, and she added that the company will be returning to Europe this year.

“It’s a horrendous time to be Lufthansa, but counterintuitively, it’s best time to start something from scratch,” she said — in large part because it’s been incredibly affordable to buy planes and other assets.


Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.

#aero, #air-travel, #funding, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc, #travel

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Hopin confirms $400M raise at $5.65B valuation

This morning Hopin, a virtual events platform and video-focused software service, announced that it has closed a $400 million Series C. The new capital values Hopin at $5.65 billion. Both numbers match prior TechCrunch reporting that the company was targeting a $400 million raise at a valuation of between $5 billion and $6 billion.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and General Catalyst (GC) co-led the round, as TechCrunch reported was likely. Prior investor IVP also took part in the round.

For Hopin, the round is another rapid-fire funding event in a string of such transactions. The company has seen scorching revenue growth in recent quarters, reaching $70 million ARR today, its CEO and founder Johnny Boufarhat told TechCrunch in an interview.

As part of the transaction, recent a16z hire Sriram Krishnan will join Hopin’s board. According to Boufarhat, Hopin had hoped to hire Krishnan before he took his job at the venture firm.

Hopin has scaled rapidly from its now-dated $20 million ARR milestone that it announced in Q4 2020. But not all of that growth has been organic. Hopin recently bought StreamYard, a company that brought $27 million worth of ARR to the combined entity. Hopin spent $250 million on that deal, a transaction that was announced in January of this year.

The company has raised $565 million since February of 2020, it said in an email.

According to Boufarhat, Hopin intends to invest heavily in its product and engineering functions. The CEO stressed during a call that he intends to keep his company’s product spend high as a percentage of revenue; TechCrunch’s read of the sentiment is that Hopin has no intention of letting other companies carve into its core market while it solidifies its virtual event service and adds other capabilities.

The StreamYard deal may provide some guidance as to where Hopin is headed. The acquisition brought to Hopin a company that was already in use by some of its own users, but also added a business line to its collection not wholly component to the event work for which Hopin is best-known. Boufarhat told TechCrunch that his company is open to making more acquisitions.

Perhaps we’ll see Hopin extend its reach to other products that fit into its video-first perspective. It certainly has the capital and equity value to buy a plethora of smaller companies.

At $70 million ARR, Hopin is worth around 81x its current annual recurring revenue. When the company last raised, a $125 million round in November of 2020, the company had $20 million in ARR and a valuation of $2.125 billion valuation. At the time the company was worth a little over 106x its ARR. In light of the company’s recent growth, investors in that round now paid a far-smaller 30.4x ARR multiple, contrasting the company’s new revenue mark and its now-dated valuation.

Provided that Hopin can continue its rapid growth, its current ARR multiple could appear closer to norms in a few quarters.

Closing, Hopin does not appear ready to answer the siren-song of the SPAC. Boufarhat told TechCrunch that he receives regular outreach from SPACs, something we’ve heard from a number of late-stage technology CEOs. Hopin’s founder, however, noted that great companies can go public regardless of the market, and that his company intends on being operationally IPO-ready next year. It appears that a more traditional IPO for Hopin could be in the cards for 2022 or 2023.

#a16z, #fundings-exits, #general-catalyst, #hopin, #recent-funding, #startups, #streamyard, #tc, #virtual-events

0

Countingup closes £9.1M for its business current account with built-in accounting features

Countingup, the U.K. fintech offering a business current account with built-in accounting features, has closed £9.1 million in Series A investment. Leading the round is Framework Venture Partners, with participation from Gresham House Ventures, Sage and existing investors.

It’s noteworthy that Countingup has previously taken investment from ING, and the addition of Sage as a backer is interesting since both could help the startup reach more business customers. It also potentially sets up one future road to exit. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Founded in 2017 by Tim Fouracre, who previously founded cloud accounting software Clear Books, Countingup now boasts over 34,000 business customers. The company’s long-term vision is to be the one “financial hub” for micro businesses in the U.K. and beyond. Its initial “attack vector” was to combine a business bank account with bookkeeping features to help automate the filing of accounts — a major time sink and pain-point for sole traders and small businesses.

Today that includes a business bank account with its own sort code and account number, a Mastercard for making payments and support for faster payments and direct debits. On the accounting software side, Countingup currently supports automated bookkeeping, invoicing, receipts, payment of bills, tax estimates and profit and loss reporting.

In addition, accountants can be given limited access via the web to better support clients banking with Countingup. This includes the option for business owners to share real-time bookkeeping data with their accountant, “eliminating the pains of re-authorisation requests, data lags, duplicates, and inaccuracies,” says the fintech.

To that end, Fouracre tells me the new funding will be used to quickly scale up the team from 30 to 80 people. “This will accelerate our roadmap enabling more swim lanes of product work to be on the go concurrently,” he says.

That roadmap includes tax filing, new financial services (e.g. loans, card payment services) and multi-currency invoicing and payments to support the 33% of SMEs in the U.K. that trade internationally. A web version of the app for small business customers is planned too.

“We will also be building out our sales and marketing teams for more aggressive growth,” adds Fouracre.

Countingup’s business model combines both SaaS and fintech. On the SaaS side, the company earns monthly subscription fees. On the fintech side, it generates revenue from banking activity (e.g. interchange fees) on Mastercard spend. In the future, that will likely include other sources of income via offering credit, payments and FX.

Comments Neal Watkins, EVP, Small Business Segment at Sage: “Investing in high-growth SaaS businesses is core to our strategy to enable small businesses and accountants to survive and thrive. This is an exciting opportunity to be part of the startup journey in a new way as businesses explore the benefits of bringing accounting and financial services together”.

#countingup, #europe, #framework-venture-partners, #fundings-exits, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

0

Payfazz invests $30M in Xfers as the two Southeast Asian fintechs form Fazz Financial Group

Payfazz and Xfers, two startups that want to increase financial inclusion in Southeast Asia, announced today they have joined forces to create a new holding entity called Fazz Financial Group. As part of the deal, Payfazz, an agent-based financial services network in Indonesia, invested $30 million into payments infrastructure provider Xfers.

Based in Singapore, Xfers will serve as the B2B and Southeast Asia arm of Fazz Financial Group, while Payfazz, which already uses Xfers’ payments infrastructure, will continue expanding in Indonesia. The two companies will retain their names while working together under the new holding entity.

Both Payfazz and Xfers are Y Combinator alums, and want to make financial services accessible to more Southeast Asians, even if they don’t have a bank account. Xfers co-founder Tianwei Liu told TechCrunch in an email he and Payfazz co-founder Hendra Kwik began talking about joining forces in early 2020 because of their startups’ shared goals.

“This is also coupled with the fact that last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a significant increase in demand for digital payments and financial services across Indonesian rural areas, creating a huge growth opportunity for us,” Liu added.

Kwik will serve as Fazz Financial Group’s group CEO, while Liu will be the financial entity’s deputy CEO. Both will continue serving as CEOs of their respective companies. Fazz Financial Group also appointed as its chief financial officer Robert Polana, who previously held the same role at booking platform Tiket.com.

In Indonesia, Payfazz has built a network of 250,000 financial agents to reach people in rural areas where many banks don’t operate branches. Customers deposit cash with agents, and that balance can used to pay phone, electricity and other bills.

Payfazz, which announced a $53 million Series B in July from investors including Tiger Global and Y Combinator, also offers loans and payment services for offline retailers. As part of Fazz Financial Group, it will continue to build its agent banking network.

Payfazz uses payment infrastructure developed by Xfers to accept digital payments. Originally launched six years ago with an API for bank transfers, Xfers has since expanded its portfolio of software to include payment acceptance for businesses, tools for disbursing and transferring funds and a cryptocurrency wallet. In 2020, Xfers obtained a Major Payment Institution license for e-money issuance from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Xfers will continue to serve clients in Indonesia and Singapore with its payments infrastructure, which enables them to accept bank transfers, e-wallet funds and payments through convenience stores and agent banking networks (like Payfazz). Xfers says it has access to more than 10 million underbanked consumers in Indonesia through its work with agent banking services, and also plans to expand into Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Fazz Financial Group plans to launch two new products later this year: a zero-integration payment solution for Singapore-based merchants and a single-integration solution that will connect local payment methods across Southeast Asia.

Liu said that, unlike the United States, Southeast Asia “has a fragmented local payments landscape, even within each country,” meaning that consumers often use several payment methods. Creating a single-integration for payment methods in Southeast Asia gives brands a growth channel when entering new countries, allowing them to scale up more quickly, he added.

“The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has also driven a big surge in online sales and transactions across Southeast Asia, so there is a huge need for online payments by businesses and merchants across the region,” Liu said. “The zero-integration and single-integration solution will help businesses and merchants start accepting online payments quickly and easily with a simple integration within minutes, without any need to deal with complex regulation/license handling and technology development.”

#asia, #financial-inclusion, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #payfazz, #payments, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #xfers

0

Revolut lets customers switch to Revolut Bank in 10 additional countries

Fintech startup Revolut has its own banking license in the European Union since late 2018. It lets the company offer some additional financial services without partnering with third-party companies. And the company is going to let customers switch to Revolut Bank in 10 additional countries.

The Bank of Lithuania has granted a specialized license — it isn’t a full-fledged license per se as it focuses on some activities. The company is taking advantage of European passporting rules to operate in other European countries. Right now, Revolut takes advantage of its banking license in two countries — Poland and Lithuania.

In Lithuania for instance, you can apply for a credit card with a credit limit that’s twice the value of your monthly salary (up to €6,000). The company also offers personal loans between €1,000 and €15,000. You can pay back over 1 to 60 months.

Now, customers in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will be able to become Revolut Bank customers. It’s not a transparent process as you need to get through a few steps to carry your account over.

But once this process is done, your deposits are protected under the deposit guarantee scheme. If Revolut Bank shutters at some point down the road, customers can claim up to €100,000 thanks to the scheme — both euros and foreign currencies are protected.

You can expect new credit products in the 10 new markets. Overall, Revolut has attracted 15 million customers. The company recently announced that it was also applying for a banking license in the U.K., its home country and its biggest market.

#challenger-bank, #europe, #finance, #fintech, #neobank, #policy, #revolut, #startups

0

Dear Sophie: Can you demystify the H-1B process and E-3 premium processing?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

Our startup is planning on registering an international student employee in this year’s H-1B lottery. This will be our first H-1B.

Can you help demystify the H-1B process and provide any tips? We also want to hire an Australian and transfer their E-3. How quickly can this be done?

— Plucky in Pleasanton

Dear Plucky:

Thanks for your timely questions! There’s some great news for Australian citizens currently in the U.S. and looking for job transfers, amendments and extensions. Premium processing is now available for the E-3 working visa category! This means that transfers, changes of status, and extensions of status for Australians in the U.S. seeking an E-3 can now obtain adjudications from USCIS in as little as 15 days, making it much easier to hire an Australian who is currently in the U.S. for a new role. Go for it!

On the topic of H-1Bs, the registration period for this year’s H-1B lottery will open at 9 a.m. PST on March 9 and will close at 9 a.m. on March 25. Startups need to make sure they’re registering anybody they want to sponsor during this window. Take a listen to my recent podcast on H-1B Lottery Planning, Part 1 and Part 2, for a general explanation of how this year’s process will work and how best to prepare.

Planning is key for implementing a successful immigration strategy. As always, I suggest you consult with an experienced immigration attorney ASAP to help get organized for registering your H-1B candidate for the March lottery and doing as much prep work as possible so that you can put together a strong H-1B petition in the event your candidate is selected in the lottery.

An attorney will also be up to date on all the recent changes to immigration policy, such as USCIS rescinding a Trump-era policy that went into effect in 2017 that effectively made computer programming positions ineligible for an H-1B visa. You will also want to discuss backup options for the international student employee if they are not selected in this year’s lottery.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Registration and lottery process

Recently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it will delay until next year the plan to shift from a random H-1B lottery to a wage-based one that would have selected registrants who would be paid the highest wage for their position and location. In January, the previous administration had finalized the rule implementing the wage-based lottery. The latest announcement ended weeks of speculation whether USCIS under the Biden administration would retain a wage-based H-1B allocation process, which falls in line with President Biden’s presidential campaign platform.

The random H-1B lottery in March means that H-1B candidates with the same education level who will be paid more will have no greater advantage than those being paid less. However, next year that may not be the case.

Regardless of whether there’s a random or wage-based lottery, individuals with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. university will continue to have the best chance of being selected in the H-1B lottery. The annual cap on H-1Bs remains at 85,000 and of those, 20,000 H-1Bs are reserved for individuals with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university. USCIS randomly selects enough registered candidates from the entire pool of registrants to reach the 65,000 regular H-1B cap first. Then it randomly selects another 20,000 registered candidates holding a U.S. master’s degree or higher, in what is called the advanced-degree cap exemption. Therefore, individuals with a U.S. advanced degree have two chances to be selected. To be eligible, your international student employee must have earned their advanced degree from an eligible and accredited U.S. institution by the time the H-1B petition is filed.

After the online registration period closes on March 25, USCIS will conduct a random computerized selection of registrations and will notify those selected by March 31. A completed H-1B petition must be filed within 90 days of being notified that the H-1B candidate was selected in the lottery, which means the filing deadline will be June 30.

In order to register your candidate for the H-1B lottery, your company will need to set up an online USCIS account if it does not already have one. This can be done at any time between now and the end of the registration period. Your attorney can help you with this and the online registration process.

For the online registration process, your company will have to provide the following information:

  • Full legal name of the candidate.
  • Gender.
  • Date of birth.
  • Country of birth.
  • Country of citizenship.
  • Passport number.
  • If the candidate is eligible for inclusion in the U.S. advanced-degree cap.

In addition, your company will have to pay the $10 registration fee, which can be submitted by entering a credit card, debit card, checking or savings account directly into the H-1B registration portal.

Tips for preparing

Generally, your startup and your H-1B candidate should start assembling documents you will need to submit. Your startup will need to get its tax identification number verified by the U.S. Department of Labor to prove that your startup is capable of sponsoring an individual for an H-1B. This needs to be done before your company can submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA), which is also sent to the Labor Department. An approved LCA must be submitted with your H-1B petition to USCIS. In addition to your startup’s tax ID, it will need the following:

  • If your startup formed recently, articles of incorporation, pitch deck, business plan, term sheet, cap tables.
  • Documentation showing your company can pay the prevailing wage for the H-1B candidate’s position and location: bank statements, tax returns, other financial documents.
  • Documents to prove your company is operating within the normal course of business, including marketing materials, company reports, screenshots of the company website.
  • Job offer letter to the H-1B candidate, including job title, detailed duties, benefits, salary and start date.
  • Minimum requirements for the position.

Your H-1B candidate will need:

  • An up-to-date resume.
  • Originals of diplomas, certificates, and transcripts (also scanned copies).
  • Past immigration documents, such as Form I-20 (certificate of eligibility for F-1 student status) or Form DS-2019 (certificate of eligibility for J-1 status.
  • Translations of any documents not in English along with a certified translation document.

For tips for filing the H-1B petition, listen to my podcast episodes on “Your Startup’s First H-1B” and “What Makes a Strong H-1B Petition.” Your attorney will be able to make the case that your H-1B candidate and the position your startup is offering meet the requirements of the H-1B specialty occupation visa.

As of now, premium processing for H-1B petitions remains available. Currently, USCIS is severely backlogged in all case types, so I often suggest using it, depending on the H-1B candidate’s start date and current geographic location. With premium processing, which is an optional service for a $2,500 fee, USCIS guarantees it will make a decision on a case within 15 days. If USCIS approves your H-1B petition, the earliest the international student employee can begin working under the H-1B visa is Oct. 1, 2022, which is the first day of the federal government’s new fiscal year.

Fingers crossed for you in this year’s H-1B lottery

All the best,

Sophie


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!


TC Early Stage: The premier how-to event for startup entrepreneurs and investors

From April 1-2, some of the most successful founders and VCs will explain how they build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios.

At TC Early Stage, we’ll cover topics like recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session includes ample time for audience questions and discussion.

Use discount code ECNEWSLETTER to take 20% off the cost of your TC Early Stage ticket!

#column, #diversity, #e-3, #ec-column, #green-card, #h-1b, #immigration-law, #labor, #lawyers, #policy, #sophie-alcorn, #startups, #verified-experts

0

Bottomless closes $4.5M Series A to scale its subscription coffee business

As a devoted coffee drinker I was enthused by the idea of Bottomless. The Y Combinator-backed startup sends its users coffee as they run low so that they never run out of the Magic Juice of Life. What could be better?

Because life is somewhat funny, after signing up for its service the company reached out to share that it had raised a Series A. So I got on the phone with Liana Herrera, the company’s co-founder, to chat about the startup, which is part coffee-sourcing engine, part subscription/e-commerce play and part hardware effort.

So before we talk about its Series A, let’s work better to understand what Bottomless is building, and how it works.

What’s Bottomless?

Born from its founders’ issues ordering the right amount of Soylent when they actually needed it, and wondering why there wasn’t a better way to subscribe to goods consumed on a regular basis, Herrera uncovered the idea for Bottomless.

Today the product works by letting users pick the type of coffee they are interested in, be it caffeine level, price and the like. The company then provides customers with a small digital scale that they connect to their home internet. And then as users consume coffee that Bottomless sends them, placing the bag on the hardware in between uses, the scale notes how much is left and orders more before they run out.

A Bottomless scale, via the company as my kitchen lighting is bad.

You can set the sensitivity of the scale, asking it to either be ambitious in keeping you from running out of beans or ground coffee, or more relaxed. As I write to you today, I think that my third bag of decaf has arrived. It’s a neat system.

And from a business perspective, the Bottomless model has plusses. I honestly do not recall the price range of coffee that I picked, and do not know how much I am actually paying Bottomless at the moment. But I do know that having different types of coffee arrive at the house as I run low is pretty damn cool.

To make that happen, however, is not easy. The startup’s business is a little complex. Before and even after Bottomless went through Y Combinator back in 2019, the company hand-built its coffee-weighing scales. Herrera told TechCrunch that the old Silicon Valley saw that hardware is hard is in fact an understatement. After all the soldering she described during an interview, I believe her.

Still, after finishing the accelerator program the company managed to grow in 2019 by what Herrera said was around 10x. That customer expansion allowed the company to order bulk hardware from China in early 2020. After its first production run finished — a few thousand units — COVID-19 shut down that country’s supply chain. Happily for the startup, by the time COVID-19 had taken over America, the Chinese economy opened up and production could begin again.

Per the company, Bottomless scaled another 5-7x in 2020. An October 2020 CNN piece notes that the company had around 750 customers in late 2019, and some 6,000 by the time of publication. Herrera wants to massively expand that number, telling TechCrunch that she’d like to grow by 10x again this year, and that 5x expansion was the lower-end of her expectations.

Powering that growth are a host of coffee companies that Bottomless works with. Those companies handle roasting the beans and sending them to different Bottomless customers. So that no one reaches a zero-coffee state. And dies. Or whatever happens when one actually runs out of coffee.

The startup told TechCrunch that there are some 500 roasters on their wait list, implying that it will have the capacity to take on more customers this year.

Despite all the growth, the company still has some edges to refine. Setting up Wi-Fi on my scale wasn’t super-simple, for example. Herrera did note that her firm has a new scale coming out in the next three months. That could lower the difficulty barrier for new customers. Still, with 6,000 customers last October ordering three to four bags of coffee monthly, per Herrera’s estimate, the company had reached a comfortable seven-figure GMV run-rate before 2021 began.

For coffee roasters who may have seen their customer base slow during the pandemic, and consumers increasingly willing to dive into e-commerce, the company’s model could have long-term legs. Which brings us to the investors making that bet.

The round

Bottomless raised a $4.5 million Series A in January of 2021. It’s a smaller A than we tend to see in recent years, but Herrera said that her company has always been scrappy, which we take to mean that it has a history of being frugal. Patrick OShaughnessy led the round.

TechCrunch asked if the $4.5 million was a lot of money for the startup, as we didn’t have a clear picture at the time of its fundraising history. Herrera said that Bottomless has gotten to where it is today on just $2 million. So, the Series A is more than double all the money that the company as raised to date. It’s a lot of money, in other words.

Besides the new scale design, when asked about what the company intends to do with its funds, Herrera detailed the type of person she’s looking to hire — namely intellectually flexible folks who are informal, scrappy and very hack-y. More staff, in other words.

Let’s see how far Bottomless can get with its new check. Apparently I will be helping its KPIs for the foreseeable future as a customer.

#bottomless, #coffee, #fundings-exits, #recent-funding, #startups, #subscription-services, #tc, #y-combinator

0

11 words and phrases to cut from your VC pitch deck

You have just 170 seconds. Weeks or even months of working on your pitch deck could come down to the 170 seconds (on average) that investors spend looking at it.

“Investors see a lot of pitches,” VC and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman noted. “In a single year, the classic general partner in a venture firm is exposed to around 5,000 pitches … and ends up doing between zero and two deals.”

With all that pressure to make an impact quickly, founders spend an incredible amount of time on the design of their slides. Less consideration, however, is usually spent on the words on the slide. That’s a mistake, especially when you only have 170 seconds.

When not used intentionally, the words in your deck can be distracting or downright off-putting. We used what we know about language and healthy communication from the millions of documents we’ve processed at Writer to come up with 11 words and phrases to remove from your VC pitch deck:

Negative associations

1. “runway”

Pitching VCs is a balancing act: You want to position your idea in the best light, but also show that you’ve thought things through. However, volunteering certain types of information can have the opposite effect. Don’t write: I’m seeking $X in funding to provide Y months of runway. You certainly need to show how you’re going to use the funding you’re asking for, but you don’t want to frame things in terms of runway in a pitch deck. The word is associated with a looming cash-out date, which can put an investor in a negative state of mind.

This HappySignal slide is a solid example of keeping your messaging positive and using uplifting language.

2. “exit strategy”

Don’t write: Our exit strategy is… Yes, thinking through your business means knowing how you’ll handle worst-case and best-case scenarios. But putting exit strategy in your deck can only get investors thinking about the inherent risks. You want them focused on the opportunity. You need to know what to say when the topic comes up — just don’t volunteer the information on a slide.

Clichés

3. “just X percent”

A pitch deck is a tool to show VCs why your idea merits investment. Using clichés can work against that goal. Don’t write: If we could capture X percent of the market… It’s not only a cliché, it’s wishful thinking — not a plan. Keep the text on your slides grounded in relevant facts and figures. Other clichés to cut include: the Amazon of X, imagine a future, and moving Y to blockchain.

Absolutes

#column, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #entrepreneurship, #startup-pitch, #startups, #venture-capital

0

After 200% ARR growth in 2020, CourseKey raises $9M to digitize trade schools

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced educational institutions to go virtual, many were scrambling to develop online or blended curriculums.

That struggle was particularly challenging for trade schools, many of which were not designed to teach online and were mostly paper-driven. 

CourseKey, a San Diego-based trade school management SaaS startup, was in a unique position. Demand surged and its ARR grew by 200% in 2020. And now, the company has raised $9 million in a Series B led by SignalFire and with participation from existing backer Builders VC to help it continue its momentum. 

Founded in 2015 by Luke Sophinos and Fadee Kannah, CourseKey’s B2B platform is designed to work with organizations that teach some of our most essential workers — from automotive mechanics to electricians to plumbers to nurses, phlebotomists and dental assistants.

CourseKey founders Luke Sophinos (left) and Faddee Kannah (right)

CourseKey founders Luke Sophinos (left) and Fadee Kannah (right)

The goal is to help those organizations boost revenue by improving student retention and graduation rates, helping them maintain regulatory compliance and generally streamline processes. 

“Things really took off last year when the coronavirus hit,” Sophinos said. “So many schools had to adopt a digital arsenal. We saw a massive acceleration trend that was already going to happen. Every industry had been eaten. We just found a space that wasn’t yet.”

CourseKey currently works with over 200 career colleges, including the Paul Mitchell School and the Institute for Business & Technology, among others. Over 100,000 students use its software.

For Sophinos and Kannah, founding CourseKey was more than just a business opportunity. Kannah, who had fled Iraq as a refugee, saw family members going through trade schools that were lacking technology infrastructure and modern software tools. He architected the CourseKey platform. 

Sophinos, frustrated by his own college experience, applied for The Thiel Fellowship – a program that supports students in company building instead of university attending. However, he recognized that not everyone who doesn’t want to go to traditional college has that option.

“While looking at alternatives, our early team began recognizing a market that we felt no one was paying attention to. It was occupied by our friends and by our family members,” Sophinos said. “It was a space that, for some odd reason, was largely being left out of the education conversation.”

In 2017, CourseKey partnered with a large vocational education provider to build and launch what Sophinos describes as “the world’s first trade school management system.”

“We focused on automating daily classroom procedures like attendance and grading, enhancing the student experience through communication tools, helping to identify at-risk students, and simplifying compliance,” he said. “We also visualized data for retention purposes.”

CourseKey also does things like track skill attainment, run evaluations and exams and integrate third-party tools.

Image Credits: CourseKey

The startup’s goal with its new capital is to scale the platform to serve “every trade school in the country” with the mission of changing the narrative that four-year college is the “only option.” It also plans to add new features and capabilities, largely based on customer requests. CourseKey also plans to nearly double its current headcount of just over 50 employees to nearly 100 over the next two years.

“This is a massive market and massive business opportunity,” Sophinos said.

CourseKey has an impressive list of supporters beyond SignalFire and Builders. Steve Altman, former vice chairman and president of Qualcomm, led its $3.5 million seed round which also included participation from Larry Rosenberger, former FICO CEO. Dennis Yang, former CEO of edtech giant Udemy, and Altman now serve on its board.

SignalFire Managing Director Wayne Hu, who also took a seat on the startup’s board with the new round, said his firm recognized that vocational schools and their administrators, instructors, and students “suffer from a lack of purpose-built software.”

“Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems are optimized for traditional K-12 schools and university workflow, but vocational schools are stuck relying on pen and paper or trying to shoe-horn in solutions that aren’t built for them,” Hu wrote in a blog post.

CourseKey, in SignalFire’s view, is reimagining a new education operating system built specifically for experiential, hands-on learning models, which continues to evolve with hybrid/distance learning.  

Hu also pointed out that since many of the jobs that vocational schools are preparing people for “have life or death consequences,” they are highly regulated.

“Not only does CourseKey improve trade school business KPIs, it serves as insurance against this existential risk,” he added.

#ceo, #dennis-yang, #distance-learning, #education, #funding, #fundings-exits, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-diego, #signalfire, #startups

0

Clari revenue forecasting platform snags $150M investment and triples valuation to $1.6B

Clari, the revenue operations platform that helps companies predict revenue outcomes, announced $150 million Series E today on a $1.6 billion valuation, a number that more than triples its 2019 Series D valuation of $500 million.

Silver Lake led the latest investment with participation from B Capital Group and existing investors Sequoia Capital, Bain Capital Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Madrona Ventures, Thomvest and Tenaya Capital. The company reports it has now raised a total of $285 million.

While COVID made 2020 trying for everyone, a company with a product that allows executive teams to understand and predict revenue at a granular level was obviously going to be in demand, and Clari saw a lot of interest over the last year.

“It was a surreal year for us, given the momentum we had and all of the tough news we saw going on around us. For us, the usage metrics were just off the charts, as people need visibility and predictability and control over their revenue forecasts,” company co-founder and CEO Andy Byrne told me.

While Byrne didn’t want to discuss revenue specifics, he did point out that he beat the revenue plan he submitted to his board by 110%. He said the performance has led to a lot of inbound investor interest in the company.

“That’s why we’ve had such great investor interest is that [VCs] were hearing in the investment community about how transformative Clarity has been […] just giving companies what we call revenue confidence, being able to go and understand where you’re going to be and to accurately predict the impact the pandemic is going to have on your trajectory, good or bad,” Byrne explained.

To this point, the company has been working with sales and marketing teams, but Byrne says that the company is expanding the scope of the product to bring that same predictability to other parts of an organization.

Clari has mostly focused on technology companies with customers like HPE, Workday and Adobe, but it has plans to expand beyond that vertical. In fact, one of the ways Byrne plans to put today’s investment to work is to push into other verticals, which could also benefit from this kind of revenue visibility.

The company is up 300 employees with plans to double that number by the end of 2020. Byrne says he is building a positive work culture and points to recently being recognized as one of the best places to work by Inc., Bay Area News Group, #GirlsClub and Built In. He says they have made progress when it comes to diversity hirings across a number dimensions, but admits there is still work to be done.

“We actually specifically [established] a commission around diversity and inclusion that has board level [backing] that we’re running to continue to do better work there. Having said that, we still recognize that we’re not too dissimilar to a lot of companies where we feel like there’s so much more that we need to do,” he said.

At this point in the company’s evolution with plenty of money in the bank and a healthy valuation, Byrne did not shy away from the IPO question, although as you would imagine, he wasn’t ready to discuss specifics.

“I would say the answer is unequivocally yes, and we’re building toward this. […] We don’t have a timeframe upon which we know where we’re going to go public, but the next goal is to get to the IPO starting line,” he said.

#clari, #enterprise, #funding, #recent-funding, #silver-lake, #startups, #tc

0

TC Sessions: Justice 2021 kicks off today — join the conversation

Today’s the day we roll up our collective sleeves, engage in vital conversations about diversity, inclusion and equity in tech — and continue the important work of building a better industry for everyone.

TC Sessions: Justice 2021 features an impressive agenda packed with interactive presentations, breakout sessions and panel discussions with some of the tech world’s brightest innovators, leaders and worker-activists. These folks are in the trenches, changing the world and creating exciting business opportunities. That’s a win-win.

Last-minute decision maker? No problem. Join the conversation here.

You’ll also have time to network and connect with attendees around the world, enjoy startup presentations and even meet some of the early-stage companies in our TC Include founder cohort.

We’re got an incredibly deep bench of talented experts and visionaries ready to take the virtual stage. Here are just a few of the panels and people you simply don’t want to miss.

Finding the Next Unicorn: Arlan Hamilton, the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, has raised more than $12 million to back 150 companies led by underrepresented founders. In this session, Hamilton will discuss how she vets the biggest opportunities in investment, and how to disrupt in a positive way.

Identifying and Dismantling Tech’s Deep Systems of Bias: Nearly every popular technology or service has within it systems of bias or exclusion, ignored by the privileged but obvious to the groups affected. How should these systems be exposed and documented, and how can we set about eliminating them and preventing more from appearing in the future? AI for the People’s Mutale Nkonde, disability rights lawyer Haben Girma, and author of Algorithms of Oppression Safiya Umoja Noble discuss a more inclusive future.

Founders in Focus: We sit down with the founders poised to be the next big disruptors in this industry. Here we chat with Tracy Chou of Block Party, which works to protect people from abuse and harassment online.

The Role of Online Hate and Where Social Media Goes From Here: Toxic culture, deadly conspiracies and organized hate have exploded online in recent years. We’ll discuss how much responsibility social networks have in the rise of these phenomena and how to build healthy online communities that make society better, not worse. Naj Austin (Somewhere Good & Ethel\’s Club), Jesse Lehrich (Accountable Tech) and Rashad Robinson (Color of Change)

Meeting of the Minds: Diversity and inclusion as an idea has been on the agenda of tech companies for years now. But the industry still lacks true inclusion, despite best efforts put forth by heads of diversity, equity and inclusion at these companies. We’ll seek to better understand what’s standing in the way of progress and what it’s going to take to achieve real change. Sandra Altine (Facebook), Wade Davis (Netflix) and Bo Young Lee (Uber)

TC Sessions: Justice 2021 kicks off today. Join your colleagues, learn, connect, and discover new ways and opportunities to build stronger startups and a more just tech industry for all people.

#startups, #tc-sessions-justice-2021

0

$100 million for mealworms

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numberhttps://twitter.com/cgates123s behind the headlines.

This is our Wednesday show, where we niche down and focus on a single topic, or theme. This week we’re talking agtech, a surprisingly cool bit of the technology startup world. But Chris and Danny and Natasha and Alex were not alone in their quest to take a look into agtech, we brought alone TechCrunch climate editor Jon Shieber for the ride.

With his help we got through a number of pretty damn interesting things, including:

And that’s that! We’re back on Friday with our long-form, newsy episode. Thanks to everyone checking out our newest show. Oh, and don’t forget about TechCrunch Early Stage and TechCrunch Justice. They are going to rock.

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

#agtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #future-acres, #jon-shieber, #seso-labor, #startups

0

Yugabyte announces $48M Series C as cloud native database makes enterprise push

As demand for cloud native applications is growing, Yugabyte, makers of the cloud native, open source YugabyteDB database are seeing a corresponding rise in demand for their products, especially with large enterprise customers. Today, the company announced a $48 million Series C financing round to help build on that momentum.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Wipro Ventures and 8VC. Today’s round comes on the heels of the startup’s $30 million Series B last June, and brings the total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

Kannan Muthukkaruppan, Yugabyte co-founder and president, says the startup saw a marked increase in interest in both the open source and commercial offerings in 2020 as the pandemic pushed many companies to the cloud faster than they might have gone otherwise, something many startup founders have pointed out to me.

“The distributed SQL space is definitely heating up, and if anything over the last six months almost in every vector in terms of enterprise customers — from Fortune 500 companies across financial, retail, ISP or telcos — are putting Yugabyte in production to be the system of record database to meet some of their business critical services needs,” Muthukkaruppan told me.

In addition, he’s seeing a similar rise in the level of interest from the open source version of the product.”Similarly, the groundswell on the community and the open source adoption has been phenomenal. Our Slack [open source] user community quadrupled in 2020,” he said.

That kind of momentum led to the increased investor interest, says co-founder and CTO Karthik Ranganathan. “Some of the primary reasons to go and even ask for funding was that we realized we could accelerate some of this stuff, and we couldn’t do that with the original $30 million we had raised,” he said. The original thinking was to do a secondary raise in the $15-20 million, but multiple investors expressed interest in participating, and it ended up being a $48 million round when all was said and done.

Former Pivotal president Bill Cook came on board as CEO at the same time they were announcing their last funding round in June and brought some enterprise chops to the table. It was his job to figure out how to expand the market opportunity with larger high-value enterprise clients. “And so the last six or seven months has been about that, dealing with enterprise clients on one hand and then this emerging developer led cloud offering as well,” Cook said.

The company has a three tier offering that includes the open source YugabyteDB. Then there is a fully managed cloud version called Yugabyte Cloud, and finally there is a self-managed cloud version of the database called Yugabyte Platform. The latter is especially attractive to large enterprise customers, who want to be in the cloud, but still want to maintain control of their data and infrastructure, and so choose to manage the cloud installation themselves.

The company started last year with 50 employees, doubled that to this point, and now expects to reach 200 by the end of this year. As they add employees, the leadership team is cognizant of the importance of building a diverse and inclusive workforce, while recognizing the challenges in doing so.

“It’s work in progress as always. We’ve added diversity candidates right along the whole spectrum as we’ve grown but from my perspective it’s never sufficient, and we just need to keep pushing on it hard, and I think as a leadership team we recognize that,” Cook said.

The three leaders of the company have been working together remotely now since the announcement in June, and had only met briefly in person prior to the pandemic shutting down offices, but they say that it has gone smoothly. And while they would obviously like to meet in person again when the time is right, the momentum the company is experiencing shows that things are moving in the right direction, regardless of where they are getting their work done.

#cloud, #databases, #enterprise, #funding, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #open-source, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #yugabyte

0

Deliverr scores $170M to bring fast delivery to every e-commerce vendor

At a time when e-commerce is exploding due in large part to the pandemic, a business that helps any online merchant ship goods to a consumer in one or two days is going to be in demand. Deliverr is a startup that fits that bill, and today the company announced a $170 million financing round.

The round breaks down to $135 million Series D financing led by Coatue. The remaining $35 million comes in the form of a convertible note led by Brookfield Technology Partners. Existing investors Activant Capital, 8VC and GLP participated in both parts of the investment. In less than four years, the company has raced from from rounds A to D, raising $240 million along the way.

Deliverr co-founder and CEO Michael Krakaris says it has been a rapid rise, but that his business requires a lot of capital. “It has been this really kind of crazy journey, and we’ve been growing very fast, but also this space is very capital intensive, and it’s a winner-take-all market where you gain efficiency at scale. You know scale is what makes your model highly defensible in this space,” Krakaris told me.

The way Deliverr works is it uses software to determine how to get goods to warehouses in parts of the country where they are needed. It then uses these warehouses’ fulfillment departments to help pick and pack the order. The software then finds the fastest and cheapest delivery method and it gets shipped to customers with a two-day delivery guarantee. They are also ramping a next-day delivery product to expand the business.

Deliverr doesn’t actually own any warehouses. It rents out space, and part of the challenge of building this business is establishing relationships with those warehouses and working out a business arrangement, one that is still evolving as the company grows. “A year ago, I would have said we typically wanted to be 5-10% of a warehouse’s business. There are cases now where we are 100% of these warehouses’ businesses. We’ve grown to that level,” he explained.

Krakaris says that the pandemic raised major challenges for the company. Just setting up a relationship with new warehouses could require driving long distances because getting on a plane would mean quarantining when they landed. In some instances there were shortages of items. In others, COVID would shut down all of the warehouses in a given region, forcing the executive team to make a set of business adjustments on the fly, but this constant crisis mentality also helped them learn how to shift resources quickly, a lesson that is highly useful in this business.

The company started 2020 with 50 people and have added 100 employees since. They plan to double that this year, although that is variable depending on how the year goes. He say that another challenge is that he has done this hiring during COVID, and has never met a majority of his workers.

“You know, I’ve never met more than half the company in person, but I’m try to be as open as I can and learn about everyone, and we hold events to try and get to know everybody, but obviously it’s not like being together in person,” he said.

#coatue, #deliverr, #ecommerce, #funding, #recent-funding, #shipping-and-logistics, #startups, #tc, #warehouses

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Scarf helps open-source developers track how their projects are being used

Almost by default, open-source developers get very little insight into who uses their projects. In part, that’s the beauty of open source, but for developers who want to monetize their projects, it’s also a bit of a curse because they get very little data back from these projects. While you usually know who bought your proprietary software — and those tools often send back some telemetry, too — that’s not something that holds true for open-source code. Scarf is trying to change that.

In its earliest incarnation, Scarf founder Avi Press tried to go the telemetry route for getting this kind of data. He had written a few successful developer tools and as they got more popular, he realized that he was spending an increasingly large amount of time supporting his users.

Scarf founder Avi Press

Scarf co-founder and CEO Avi Press (Image Credits: Scarf)

“This project was now really sapping my time and energy, but also clearly providing value to big companies,” he said. “And that’s really what got me thinking that there’s probably an opportunity to maybe provide support or build features just for these companies, or do something to try to make some money from that, or really just better support those commercial users.” But he also quickly realized that he had virtually no data about how the project was being used beyond what people told him directly and download stats from GitHub and other places. So as he tried to monetize the project, he had very little data to inform his decisions and he had no way of knowing which companies to target directly that were already quietly using his code.

“If you were working at any old company — pushing code out to an app or a website — if you pushed out code without any observability, that would be reckless. You would you get fired over something like that. Or maybe not, but it’s a really poor decision to make. And this is the norm for every domain of software — except open source.”

Image Credits: Scarf

That led to the first version of Scarf: a package manager that would provide usage analytics and make it easy to sell different versions of a project. But that wasn’t quite something the community was ready to accept — and a lot of people questioned the open-source nature of the project.

“What really came out of those conversations, even chatting with people who were really, really against this kind of approach — everyone agrees that the package registries already have all of this data. So NPM and Docker and all these companies that have this data — there are many, many requests of developers for this data,” Press said, and noted that there is obviously a lot of value in this data.

So the new Scarf now takes a more sophisticated approach. While it still offers an NPM library that does phone home and pixel tracking for documentation, its focus is now on registries. What the company is essentially launching this week is a kind of middle layer between the code and the registry that allows developers to, for example, point users of their containers to the Scarf registry first and then Scarf sits in front of the Docker Hub or the GitHub Container Registry.

“You tell us, where are your containers located? And then your users pull the image through Scarf and Scarf just redirects the traffic to wherever it needs to go. But then all the traffic that flows through Scarf, we can expose that to the maintainers. What company did that pull come from? Was it on a laptop or on CI? What cloud provider was it on? What container runtime was it using? What version of the software did they pull down? And all of these things that are actually pretty trivial to answer from this traffic — and the registries could have been doing this whole time but unfortunately have not done so.”

To fund its efforts, Scarf recently raised a $2 million seed funding round led by Wave Capital, with participation from 468 Capital and a number of angel investors.

#computing, #developer, #docker, #energy, #free-software, #github, #go, #npm, #open-source-software, #programming-languages, #recent-funding, #scarf, #software, #startups, #wave-capital

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