It’s holiday season for tech unicorns

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Did you follow all of the unicorn news from the last couple of weeks? No? Here’s a list of headlines to catch you up, because this holiday season is already featuring mega acquisitions, even more IPO filings, and a steady drumbeat of fundraises.

Somehow, after one of the toughest years in recent memory, the tech industry is heading into December with more enthusiasm than ever. (Still remember the WeWork IPO fiasco from last year? No?)

Salesforce buys Slack in a $27.7B megadeal

Everyone has an opinion on the $27.7B Slack acquisition

What to make of Stripe’s possible $100B valuation

How the pandemic drove the IPO wave we see today

A roundup of recent unicorn news

C3.ai’s initial IPO pricing guidance spotlights the public market’s tech appetite (EC)

Working to understand C3.ai’s growth story (EC)

Insurtech’s big year gets bigger as Metromile looks to go public (EC)

Wall Street needs to relax, as startups show remote work is here to stay (EC)

In first IPO price range, Airbnb’s valuation recovers to pre-pandemic levels (EC)

3 new $100M ARR club members and a call for the next generation of growth-stage startups (EC)

Virtual fundraising is here to stay

Connie Loizos sat down with Jason Green of leading enterprise-focused firm Emergence Capital to get his view of SPACs, and how they are likely to be used next year and beyond. But early-stage startups, don’t miss his affirmation of Zoom meetings as part of the fundraising process going forward.

I would say that over the last five years, we’ve made almost a total transition. Now we’re very much a data-driven, thesis-driven outbound firm, where we’re reaching out to entrepreneurs soon after they’ve started their companies or gotten seed financing. The last three investments that we made were all relationships that [date back] a year to 18 months before we started engaging in the actual financing process with them. I think that’s what’s required to build a relationship and the conviction, because financings are happening so fast.

I think we’re going to actually do more investments this year than we maybe have ever done in the history of the firm, which is amazing to me [considering] COVID. I think we’ve really honed our ability to build this pipeline and have conviction, and then in this market environment, Zoom is actually helping expand the landscape that we’re willing to invest in. We’re probably seeing 50% to 100% more companies and trying to whittle them down over time and really focus on the 20 to 25 that we want to dig deep on as a team.

Thousands of startup founders will resume the trek around Silicon Valley VC offices, once the vaccines arrive. But we’ll remember 2020 as the year that venture truly joined the cloud.

Image Credits: Brighteye Ventures

Edtech looks to the future

Every level of education was forced online by the pandemic this year, at least temporarily. While the children might be back in the classroom already, higher education and corporate education are still booming remotely. Natasha Mascarenhas analyzed the latest market changes for Extra Crunch, and put together a panel of industry leaders for a special Thanksgiving edition of Equity. Here’s more about what you’ll find on the show:

For this Equity Dive, we zero onto one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college dropout Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.

Here’s what we got into:

  • How the state of remote school is leading to gap years among students.
  • A framework for how to think of higher education’s main three products (including which is most defensible over time).
  • What learnings we can take from this COVID-19 experiment on remote schooling to apply to the future.
  • Why edtech is flocking to the notion of life-long learning.
  • The reality of who self-paced learning serves — and who it leaves out.

Blank Sale Tag on white background.

How to price your SaaS product for a bottoms-up growth strategy

SaaS is continuing to be reshaped by consumer internet techniques, with top companies of our era competing through word-of-mouth growth versus incumbent sales forces. The revenue model must be precise for this to scale, though. In a guest post for Extra Crunch, Caryn Marooney and David Cahn of Coatue lay out a strategic framework for how to price your bottoms-up SaaS product the right way for the market. Called “MAP,” for Metrics, Activity and People, it helps you sort your product against the actual ways that people are trying to use and pay for it. Here’s how they describe the A:

Activity: How do your customers really use your product and how do they describe themselves? Are they creators? Are they editors? Do different customers use your product differently? Instead of metrics, a key anchor for pricing may be the different roles users have within an organization and what they want and need in your product. If you choose to anchor on activity, you will need to align feature sets and capabilities with usage patterns (e.g., creators get access to deeper tooling than viewers, or admins get high privileges versus line-level users). For example:

  • Figma — Editors versus viewers: Free to view, starts changing after two edits.
  • Monday — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10-$20/month.
  • Smartsheet — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10+/month.

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch membership now available to readers in Israel

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Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling VCs in Israel: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

SEC issues proposed rulemaking to give gig workers equity compensation

The downfall of adtech means the trust economy is here

How Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile worked without becoming the joke

What will tomorrow’s tech look like? Ask someone who can’t see

Extra Crunch

Mental health startups are raising spirits and venture capital

Who’s building the grocery store of the future?

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy: How emerging managers can win

This is a good time to start a proptech company

7 things we just learned about Sequoia’s European expansion plans

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early-stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.

So from Chris and Danny and Natasha and I, here’s the rundown:

That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 

#startups, #startups-weekly, #tc

0

Mike Cagney is testing the boundaries of the banking system for himself — and others

Founder Mike Cagney is always pushing the envelope, and investors love him for it. Not long sexual harassment allegations prompted him to leave SoFi, the personal finance company that he cofounded in 2011, he raised $50 million for new lending startup called Figure that has since raised at least $225 million from investors and was valued a year ago at $1.2 billion.

Now, Cagney is trying to do something unprecedented with Figure, which says it uses a blockchain to more quickly facilitate home equity, mortgage refinance, and student and personal loan approvals. The company has applied for a national bank charter in the U.S., wherein it would not take FDIC-insured deposits but it could take uninsured deposits of over $250,000 from accredited investors.

Why does it matter? The approach, as American Banker explains it, would bring regulatory benefits. As it reported earlier this week, “Because Figure Bank would not hold insured deposits, it would not be subject to the FDIC’s oversight. Similarly, the absence of insured deposits would prevent oversight by the Fed under the Bank Holding Company Act. That law imposes restrictions on non-banking activities and is widely thought to be a deal-breaker for tech companies where banking would be a sidelight.”

Indeed, if approved, Figure could pave the way for a lot of fintech startups — and other retail companies that want to wheel and deal lucrative financial products without the oversight of the Federal Reserve Board or the FDIC — to nab non-traditional bank charters.

As Michelle Alt, whose year-old financial advisory firm helped Figure with its application, tells AB: “This model, if it’s approved, wouldn’t be for everyone. A lot of would-be banks want to be banks specifically to have more resilient funding sources.” But if it’s successful, she adds, “a lot of people will be interested.”

One can only guess at what the ripple effects would be, though the Bank of Amazon wouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the company.

In the meantime, the strategy would seemingly be a high-stakes, high-reward development for a smaller outfit like Figure, which could operate far more freely than banks traditionally but also without a safety net for itself or its customers. The most glaring danger would be a bank run, wherein those accredited individuals who are today willing to lend money to the platform at high interest rates began demanding their money back at the same time. (It happens.)

Either way, Cagney might find a receptive audience right now with Brian Brooks, a longtime Fannie Mae executive who served as Coinbase’s chief legal officer for two years before jumping this spring to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an agency that ensures that national banks and federal savings associations operate in a safe and sound manner.

Brooks was made acting head of the agency in May and green-lit one of the first national charters to go to a fintech, Varo Money, this past summer. In late October, the OCC also granted SoFi preliminary, conditional approval over its own application for a national bank charter.

While Brooks isn’t commenting on speculation around Figure’s application, in July, during a Brookings Institution event, he reportedly commented about trade groups’ concerns over his efforts to grant fintechs and payments companies charters, saying: “I think the misunderstanding that some of these trade groups are operating under is that somehow this is going to trigger a lighter-touch charter with fewer obligations, and it’s going to make the playing field un-level . . . I think it’s just the opposite.”

Christopher Cole, executive vice president at the trade group Independent Community Bankers of America, doesn’t seem persuaded. Earlier this week, he expressed concern about Figure’s bank charter application to AB, saying he suspects that Brooks “wants to approve this quickly before he leaves office.”

Brooks’s days are surely numbered. Last month, he was nominated by President Donald to a full five-year term leading the federal bank regulator and is currently awaiting Senate confirmation. The move — designed to slow down the incoming Biden administration — could be undone by President-elect Joe Biden, who can fire the comptroller of the currency at will and appoint an acting replacement to serve until his nominee is confirmed by the Senate.

Still, Cole’s suggestion is that Brooks still has enough time to figure out a path forward for Figure — and if its novel charter application is approved, and it stands up to legal challenges — a lot of other companies, too.

#banking, #blockchain, #figure-technologies, #mike-cagney, #regulations, #sofi, #startups, #tc

0

Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue

Zephr has raised $8 million in a new funding round led by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (owned by media giant Bertelsmann).

The London-headquarted startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media. CEO James Henderson told me via email that rather than creating “a monolithic product that tries to do a bit of everything,” Zephr is “focused entirely on the experience and journey for the prospect or customer,” driving an average 150% increase in conversion rates and 25% increase in subscription revenue within the first six months.

Henderson added, “By offering the right product, package or message at the right time to the right person, Zephr improves conversion rates, drastically decreases churn and drives new, stable revenue.”

To do this, Zephr largely relies on the publisher’s first-party data about its readers — Henderson said that this data is “by far the most important and powerful type of data that Zephr both uses and generates.” But it also takes advantage of contextual data, such as “time of day, to location, device or consumption patterns.”

He also noted that Zephr is a no-code tool, allowing non-technical members of the marketing, revenue and product teams to use a drag-and-drop editor to create different customer journeys.

Zephr

Image Credits: Zephr

Asked how the pandemic has affected the startup’s business, Henderson said there were both “positive and negative indicators,” with newsrooms seeing record readership but in some cases also freezing spending.

“As firms prepare for a ‘post-pandemic’ world, we are beginning to see our markets seize the opportunity of all these new potential subscribers and invest in subscription models — and in Zephr.” he said. “In publishing and news media, the old model of dominant advertising revenue is on the way out and we are well-placed to capitalize on that interest.”

The new funding also includes financing from Silicon Valley Bank UK Branch and brings Zephr’s total funding to $11 million. Previous investors include Knight Capital and Nauta Capital.

According to the company’s funding announcement, this money will go toward further product development (with a focus on increased personalization), as well as expansion across the United States, Europe and Asia.

“The recent weakness in the advertising market increased pressure for media companies to diversify revenue streams and aim to introduce or optimize subscription models,” said BDMI Managing Director Urs Cete in a statement. “We recognise Zephr’s excellent technology that empowers publishers to galvanise the online subscription opportunity and create customer journeys that are truly unique.”

#bdmi, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #zephr

0

Revel pulls electric mopeds after failing to make a dent in Austin’s car culture

Shared electric moped startup Revel said Friday that it will shut down its service in Austin later this month.

The startup’s CEO and co-founder Frank Reig didn’t place the entire blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused ridership to fall across shared micromobility services as well as public transit, for the company’s decision. Instead, Reig cited the combination of Austin’s “deep-rooted” car culture, which has only become further engrained during COVID. The service will shut down in Austin on December 18.

“When Revel came to Austin we knew there would be challenges,” Reig wrote in the statement that was posted on Twitter. “In addition to having a less dense urban core than our other markets, the city’s deep-rooted car culture has proven difficult to penetrate, especially during COVID.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment. TechCrunch will update the article if the company responds.

Revel, founded in March 2018 by Frank Reig and Paul Suhey, started with a pilot program in Brooklyn and later expanded to Queens, the Bronx and sections of Manhattan. It has been on a fast-paced growth track thanks to the $27.6 million in capital raised in October 2019 in a Series A round led by Ibex Investors. The equity round included newcomer Toyota AI Ventures and further investments from Blue Collective, Launch Capital and Maniv Mobility.

Revel expanded to Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C in its first 18 months of operation. In January, the company launched in Oakland and received a permit in July to operate in San Francisco.

Revel has had a challenging year, and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company voluntarily shut down operations in New York on July 28 after several of its users died in crashes. The company restarted its 3,000-strong fleet of mopeds in four boroughs after the city of New York approved its relaunch plan, which included several new features in its app aimed at increasing safety. Revel added training videos, tests and a helmet selfie feature that requires photographic evidence the user is wearing a helmet, as well as a community reporting tool.

#automotive, #electric-mopeds, #micromobility, #revel-transit, #startups, #transportation

0

Revolut lets businesses accept online payments

Fintech startup Revolut is launching its own acquiring solution. With this move, the company is competing directly with Stripe, Adyen, Braintree or Checkout.com. This is an in-house product and not just a fresh coat of paint on an existing solution.

As a reminder, Revolut already offers business accounts. It lets you send and receive international payments, exchange funds in multiple currencies. You can also order debit cards to spend money from your Revolut account directly.

With Revolut’s acquiring solution, the company is going one step further as you can now accept card payments from your customers. Revolut supports 14 currencies and settle payments on your Revolut Business account the next day.

When it comes to fees, you get a small allowance of free card payment processing fees depending on your plan. Above that limit, you pay 1.3% on card transactions from customers based in Europe and the U.K. For other cards, you pay 2.8% on all transactions — there’s no free allowance.

This is slightly cheaper than Stripe, which costs 1.4% + £0.20 for European cards and 2.9% + £0.20 for non-European card. Of course, companies like Stripe have been optimizing their payments infrastructure for many years. Right now, Stripe supports more payment methods, more currencies, advanced fraud prevention features, etc.

After you’ve created your merchant account, Revolut offers plugins for WooCommerce, Prestashop and Magento already. You can also use the Merchant API to add a checkout widget on your custom website.

If you’re a freelancer and you just need to send a couple of invoices per month, you can also generate payment links. The recipient can then pay from a web page hosted by Revolut.

The main advantage of Revolut’s acquiring solution is that it’s integrated with Revolut Business. You can see payments and banking in the same interface, you don’t need to alternate between your Stripe account and your bank account to reconcile transaction data.

It could work particularly well for B2B businesses that don’t handle a ton of transactions and don’t want to set up a separate payments solution. Let’s see what customers think of the API when they start using it.

Online payments are available for business customers in the U.K., Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The rest of the European Economic Area should get the feature soon.

#europe, #finance, #fintech, #revolut, #startups

0

Enter new markets and embrace a distributed workforce to grow during a pandemic

Many companies will not see the uncertainty of a global pandemic as the perfect moment to go international, but for others (particularly in healthcare, online communications, and workplace mobility) the market is stronger than ever and companies are having to respond quickly internationally to both service existing clients and take advantage of the growth in demand.

We and our team at Taylor Wessing advise 50 to 75 venture-backed North American companies each year on setting up in Europe or Asia. We’ve helped companies such as TaskRabbit, Lime, Glossier, InVision and many others translate their domestic success to new jurisdictions and cultures and to thrive as global businesses.

This is a practical guide to international expansion with the challenges of the current time in mind. It’s a quick-read providing some practical tips and sharing best practices from peer companies to help you come out of the pandemic with a strong international presence. A great deal of this advice is evergreen and will serve you well whatever the circumstances may be.

In particular, we’ll cover the rise (and risks) of distributed workforces — a way for CEOs to hire the best talent anywhere in the world. This has taken on new significance with the boom in remote working as one of several options for CEOs looking for strategic growth during and after COVID.

Is this the right time to expand overseas?

Ten years ago, the timing question was much simpler. Founders would first of all focus on developing a product and winning over their domestic market, funded through their Series A and B rounds, and then go on to raise their Series C round, which investors would expect to be used to push into new markets.

Since then, with the age of the smartphone in full swing and international direct ordering ubiquitous, opportunities to sell into new markets appeared far earlier in a company’s growth and there is no longer a canned strategy for timing your international expansion.

The current circumstances have exaggerated this trend. There are many challenges in traditional sectors, but also many new market opportunities quickly appearing in healthcare and other technology sectors with founders wanting to move quickly into new markets.

Although it may be tempting to just get a few sales people on the ground to go for it, we would still recommend laying some groundwork and making some key decisions before diving in. For example: ensuring management can give sufficient time and attention to the new market; tweaking your product to comply with local regulations; reworking your sales approach.

If you are early-stage, tread carefully. Our belief is that the Series B round is still the earliest a founder or board should consider international expansion.

If you are early-stage, tread carefully. Our belief is that the Series B round is still the earliest a founder or board should consider international expansion. The companies we’ve worked with who have moved earlier than the B round will generally end up realizing it’s too early. They’ll end up pressing pause, or making a full strategic exit, tail between legs.

International expansion is a matter of focus, as well as financial resources. Once you’re selling into a new market, everyone in the business needs to be thinking internationally, including the CEO, CFO, general counsel, the board, engineers and staff. It can stretch everyone before there are the necessary resources in place to cope.

Decision made: How do you get going quickly?

Even in the best of times our advice would be to not experiment or push the boundaries when it comes to your international strategy, do that elsewhere in your business. You should follow the path most travelled at this stage. This is especially true in the current climate. If you’re thinking of doing something new, something your peers haven’t done before, we should have a conversation first.

Whichever market you’ve chosen, there are some universal first steps (although they might vary slightly between jurisdictions). For example:

  • If you have a permanent establishment for tax purposes (i.e., the local tax authorities consider you established enough to be paying income tax and corporation tax), work on the basis that you’ll need to incorporate a company or register a local branch.
  • Consider flexible options when it comes to taking on people (more on this below). Remember that in all cases local employment contracts will be needed (subject to the use of PEOs – see below).
  • Perhaps most importantly, local agreements transferring IP ownership will be needed (see next chapter).
  • There will also be some local filings (e.g., tax, corporate, payroll) where you will need a local service provider such as an accountant and payroll provider.

Common international expansion traps … and how to avoid them

#asia, #column, #employment, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-union, #human-resource-management, #labor, #remote-work, #startups, #telecommuting, #venture-capital

0

Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $170 million fund and expands into Asia

OTV (formerly known as Olive Tree Ventures), an Israeli venture capital firm that focuses on digital health tech, announced it has closed a new fund totaling $170 million. The firm also launched a new office in Shanghai, China to spearhead its growth in the Asia Pacific region.

OTV currently has a total of 11 companies in its portfolio. This year, it led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health, and its other investments include genomic machine learning platform Emedgene; microscopy imaging startup Scopio; and at-home cardiac and pulmonary monitor Donisi Health. OTV has begun investing in more B and C rounds, with the goal of helping companies that already have validated products deal with regulations and other issues as they grow.

OTV focuses on digital health products that have the potential to work in different countries, make healthcare more affordable, and fill gaps in overwhelmed healthcare systems.

Jose Antonio Urrutia Rivas will serve as OTV’s Head of Asia Pacific, managing its Shanghai office and helping its portfolio companies expand in China and other Asian countries. This brings OTV’s offices to a total of four, with other locations in New York, Tel Aviv and Montreal. Before joining OTV, Rivas worked at financial firm LarrainVial as its Asian market director.

OTV was founded in 2015 by general partners Mayer Gniwisch, Amir Lahat and Alejandro Weinstein. OTV partner Manor Zemer, who has worked in Asian markets for over 15 years and spent the last five living in Beijing, told TechCrunch that the firm decided it was the right time to expand into Asia because “digital health is already highly well-developed in many Asia-Pacific countries, where digital health products complement in-person healthcare providers, making that region a natural fit for a venture capital firm specializing in the field.”

He added that OTV “wanted to capitalize on how the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the internationalized and interconnected nature of the world’s healthcare infrastructures into the limelight, even though digital health was a growth area long before the pandemic.”

#asia, #china, #digital-health, #fundings-exits, #health-tech, #israel, #otv, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Henry picks up cash to be a Lambda School for Latin America

Latin America’s startup scene has attracted troves of venture investment, lifting highly-valued companies such as Rappi and NuBank into behemoth businesses. Now that the spotlight has arrived, those same startups need more talent than ever before to meet demand.

That’s where one seed-stage Buenos Aires startup wants to help. Henry has created an online computer science school that trains software developers from low-income backgrounds to understand technical skills and get employed. The company was founded by brother-sister duo Luz and Martin Borchardt, as well as Manuel Barna Ferrés, Antonio Tralice and Leonardo Maglia.

The Henry team.

The company claims that there’s an estimated 1 million software engineering job openings in Latin America, but fewer than 100,000 professionals that have training suitable for those roles.

“Higher education is only for 13% of the population in Latin America,” says Martin Borchardt, CEO and co-founder of Henry . “It’s very exclusive, very expensive, and has very low impact skills. So we’re giving these people an opportunity.”

With 90% of graduates coming from no formal higher education background, Henry seeks to help bring more back-end junior developers and full-stack developers into startups. Henry offers a five-month course that goes from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., which focuses on software developer skills. Beyond technical training, Henry gives participants job coaching, resume workshops and up-skilling opportunities post-graduation.

To make the school more affordable, Henry looks to take on the same strategy used by Lambda School, a YC-graduate that has raised over $122 million in known funding: income-share agreements. The set-up would allow for boot camp participants to join the program at zero upfront costs, and then only pay once they get hired at a job.

Lambda School’s ISA terms ask students to pay 17% of their monthly salary for 24 months once they earn $4,167 monthly. The students pay a maximum of $30,000. Henry takes a much smaller slice of the pie, partly because salaries are lower in Latin American than in the United States. Henry asks students to pay 15% of their monthly salary for 24 months once students earn $500 a month.

If a Henry student doesn’t get employed in a job that allows them to make $500 a month within five years after the program completes, they are off the hook for paying back the boot camp.

Henry is also focused on helping more women get into the field of software development. Internally, Henry’s remote team is 20% women, 64% men. The current students reflect the same breakdown.

One issue with coding boot camps is that while it might help a student go from unemployed to employed, the lack of credential and degree might limit career mobility past that first job. For that reason, Henry has created a database of alumni resources, including up-skilling and reskilling opportunities in the latest skill, which will be free of charge for graduates.

Henry needs to execute on job placement to be successful in its field. Currently, more than 80% of students in Henry’s first cohort have found jobs, but it’s too soon in the startups’ trajectory to get a stronger metric on that front. About four Henry graduates have been employed by the startup.

The need for more talent in emerging countries has not gone unnoticed. Microverse, also funded by Y Combinator, is similarly using income-sharing agreements to bring education to the masses in developing countries, including spaces in Latin America. Henry thinks the competitor is approaching the dynamic too broadly.

“They’re focusing on all emerging markets and don’t teach to Spanish speakers,” Borchardt said. Henry, alternatively, focuses on Spanish speakers, over 60% of its market in Latin America.

What if Lambda School, the source of Henry’s inspiration, was to break into Latin America? The founder added that the richly funded company has tried, and failed, to expand into international geographies, including China and Europe, due to fragmentation.

Currently, Henry has graduated 200 students and is working with 600 students across Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. It plans to expand into Mexico and to bring on Portuguese instruction.

Now, VCs are giving Henry some cash to do so. After going through Y Combinator’s Summer batch, Henry announced today that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Accion Venture Lab, Emles Venture Partners and Noveus VC. There were also a number of edtech angel investors from Latin American that participated in the round.

“I love the human interaction within instructors and our staff and students,” Borchardt said. “That is something very powerful of Henry compared to a MOOC. The biggest challenge is how do you scale maintaining those assets that bring you that?”

#accion-venture-lab, #coding-bootcamp, #education, #emles-venture-partners, #fundings-exits, #henry, #isa, #noveus-vc, #recent-funding, #startups

0

Fantasy startup Esports One raises $4M more

Esports One, a startup bringing the fantasy approach to esports, is announcing that it has raised an additional $4 million in funding.

When I first wrote about Esports One in April, co-founder and COO Sharon Winter described it as the first “all-in-one fantasy platform” in the esports world, allowing you to research players, create fantasy teams and watch games, with an initial focus on the North American and European divisions of League of Legends.

According to the Esports One team, creating this platform required building out a set of data and analytics products, as well as using computer vision technology that can track game activity (and update player stats) without relying on a publisher’s API.

The startup says its user base has been growing by more than 25% month-over-month. It may also have benefited from the pause in professional sports earlier this year, while CEO and co-founder Matt Gunnin told me recently that he also sees fantasy as a way to make video games accessible to a broader audience — he recalled one Esports One user who introduce his sister to League of Legends using the fantasy platform.

“I use the example of growing up and sitting there with my dad, watching a baseball game, he’s telling me everything that’s happening,” Gunnin said. “Now it’s the opposite — parents are sitting and watching their kids.”

Many parents, he suggested, are “never going to pick up a mouse and keyboard and play League of Legends,” but they might play the fantasy version: “That’s an entry point … if we can make it easily accessible to individuals both that are hardcore gamers playing video games and watching League of Legends their entire life, as well as someone who has no idea what’s going on.”

The new funding was led led by XSeed Capital, Eniac Ventures, and Chestnut Street Ventures, bringing Esports One to a total of $7.3 million raised. The company also recently signed a partnership deal with lifestyle company ESL Gaming.

Gunin said the money will allow the company to grow its Bytes virtual currency, which players use to enter contests and buy customizations — starting next year, players will be able to spend real money to purchase Bytes. In addition, it’s working on native iOS and Android apps (Esports One is currently accessible via desktop and mobile web).

Gunnin and his team also plan to develop fantasy competitions for Rainbow Six: Siege, Rocket League, Valorant and Fortnite.

“As a fairly new player in the esports world, we’ve seen immense determination and grit from Matt, Sharon, and the whole Esports One team to grow into a household name, ” said XSeed’s Damon Cronkey in a statement. “I’m excited to be partnering with a company that will deliver new perspectives and features to an evolving industry. We’re eager to see how Esports One grows in 2021.”

#esports-one, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #media, #startups, #xseed-capital

0

Stripe announces embedded business banking service Stripe Treasury

Fintech startup Stripe has announced an ambitious new product today called Stripe Treasury. The company is partnering with banks to offer a banking-as-a-service API. In other words, Stripe clients will be able to provide bank accounts to their customers — the service is invite-only for now.

This is part of a bigger trend called embedded finance. Essentially, instead of separating banking services from other services that you use, embedded finance products provide financial services as close as possible to the end customer in the services that they already use.

Other companies have been working on embedded business banking products, such as Wise. Stripe could take advantage of its existing user base to convince them to use Stripe Treasury for new banking products.

For example, Shopify will use Stripe Treasury for Shopify Balance. If a Shopify merchant wants to hold money, pay bills and spend money from their Shopify account, they can open a bank account in Shopify Balance directly. This way, they can skip the traditional bank account. Behind the scenes, Stripe Treasury powers that feature.

And yet, Stripe doesn’t want to become a bank. As usual, the company is focused on infrastructure and payments. It partners with banks, such as Evolve Bank and Goldman Sachs in the U.S. Eventually, Stripe also plans to launch Stripe Treasury in other countries thanks to partnerships with Citibank and Barclays.

Stripe turns everything into API calls. An API is a programming interface that lets you interact with third-party services using simple instructions. For instance, a developer can take advantage of Stripe Treasury to open bank accounts directly from their service by triggering Stripe’s API.

Similarly, you can move money or pay bills using API calls. Combined with Stripe Issuing, you can also issue a virtual or physical card and connect it to a bank account. Slowly, Stripe is building products that cover a bigger chunk of the payment chain.

#finance, #shopify, #shopify-balance, #startups, #stripe, #stripe-treasury

0

Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns

Coronavirus is causing large and small businesses to drastically cut marketing budgets. In Forrester’s self-described “most optimistic scenario,” the analysts project a 28% drop in U.S. marketing spend by the end of 2021. Even Google is cutting its marketing budget in half. As marketers move forward, Forrester predicts marketing automation platforms will grow despite an overall decline in marketing technology investment.

Automation platforms help marketers scale their communications. However, scaling communications is not a substitute for intimacy, which all humans crave. Because of the pandemic, it is harder than ever to get attention, let alone make a connection. More mass email blasts from your marketing automation platform are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave. So how should marketers proceed? Direct mail captures 100% of your audience’s attention. It provides a sensory experience for your prospects and customers, and that helps establish an emotional connection.

Winning marketers are strategically merging automation and digital data with the more intimate channel of direct mail. We call this tactile marketing automation (TMA).

TMA is the integration of direct mail or personalized swag with a marketing automation platform. With TMA, a marketer doesn’t have to think about creating direct mail campaigns outside of digital campaigns. Rather, direct mail experiences are already fully integrated into the pre-built customer journey.

TMA uses intent data to inform content, messaging and the timing of direct mail touchpoints that maximize relevancy and scalability. Multichannel campaigns including direct mail report an ROI 18 percentage points higher than those without direct mail. Plus, 84% of marketers state direct mail improves multichannel campaign performance.

Read on to see how you can merge digital communications and direct mail to deliver remarkable experiences that spark a connection.

Incorporate intent data

Personalization is a key ingredient of a remarkable experience. Many marketers automate processes by introducing marketing software and then call it personalization. But, oftentimes it’s just quicker batching and blasting. Brands can’t just change the first name on a piece of content and call it “personalized.” Real personalization is necessary and vital for real results. Our consumers expect more. The best way to introduce real personalization within a marketing mix is to use intent data and trigger-driven campaigns.

#digital-marketing, #direct-marketing, #ecommerce, #email-marketing, #marketing, #marketing-automation, #online-advertising, #personalization, #startups

0

Find out how startups like Skyroot and Bluefield are building new industries at TC Sessions: Space 2020

At our fast-approaching first TC Sessions: Space event, which is happening December 16-17, we’re going to be highlighting some of the most exciting startups and founders tackling big problems with innovative and groundbreaking solutions.

Some of those companies are focused on building tomorrow’s spacecraft, and others are working on in-space technologies that could become the next big anchor upon which countless other businesses are built.

Two of the companies joining us at TC Sessions: Space are Skyroot and Bluefield. Skyroot is India’s first private space launch startup, founded in 2018 with the goal of developing a low-cost and reliable launch vehicle to help democratize access of space.

More panels from TC Sessions: Space

Founder, CEO and CTO Pawan Kumar Chandana will join us to talk about building his new business, his prior experience developing rockets for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and how Skyroot’s Vikram-series launch vehicles plan to achieve the company’s ambitious goals.

Bluefield Technologies is focused on an entirely different, but potentially just as impactful opportunity: Observation, monitoring and analysis of methane emissions data on Earth. Their satellite-based methane observation technology offer a new high bar of precision and detail.

Bluefield founder and CEO Yotam Ariel will join us to talk about what becomes possible across a range of industries once you offer them the ability to track up to 90% of the Earth’s methane emissions with pinpoint accuracy, at costs that are up to 100 percent cheaper than existing solutions on up to a daily basis.

We’ll have conversations with Chandana, Ariel and others as part of our ‘Founders in Focus’ series, just one small part of the all-star agenda at TC Sessions: Space. Tickets are still available at the Late Registration price with discounts for students, government/military employees and groups, so grab yours below to attend this fully virtual event.

#aerospace, #events, #outer-space, #space, #startups, #tc, #tc-sessions-space-2020

0

VCs who want better outcomes should use data to reduce founder team risk

VCs expect the companies they invest in to use data to improve their decision-making. So why aren’t they doing that when evaluating startup teams?

Sure, venture capital is a people business, and the power of gut feeling is real. But using an objective, data-backed process to evaluate teams — the same way we do when evaluating financial KPIs, product, timing and market opportunities — will help us make better investment decisions, avoid costly mistakes and discover opportunities we might have otherwise overlooked.

An objective assessment process will also help investors break free from patterns and back someone other than a white male for a change. Is looking at how we have always done things the best way to build for the future?

Sixty percent of startups fail because of problems with the team. Instinct matters, but a team is too big a risk to leave to intuition. I will use myself as an example. I have founded two companies. I know what it takes to build a company and to achieve a successful exit. I like to think I can sense when someone has that special something and when a team has chemistry. But I am human. I am limited by bias and thought patterns; data is not.

You can (and should) take a scientific approach to evaluating a startup team. A “strong” team isn’t a vague concept — extensive research confirms what it takes to execute a vision. Despite what people expect, soft skills can be measured. VCVolt is a computerized selection model that analyzes the performance of companies and founding teams developed by Eva de Mol, Ph.D., my partner at CapitalT.

We use it to inform every investment decision we make and to demystify a common hurdle to entrepreneurial success. (The technology also evaluates the company, market opportunity, timing and other factors, but since most investors aren’t taking a structured, data-backed approach to analyzing teams, let’s focus on that.)

VCVolt allows us to reduce team risk early on in the selection and due diligence process, thereby reducing confirmation bias and fail rates, discovering more winning teams and driving higher returns.

I will keep this story brief for privacy reasons, but you will get the point. While testing the model, we advised another VC firm not to move forward with an investment based on the model’s findings. The firm moved forward anyway because they were in love with the deal, and everything the model predicted transpired. It was a big loss for the investors, and a reminder that hunch and gut feeling can be wrong — or at least blind you to some serious risk factors.

The platform uses a validated model that is based on more than five years of scientific research, data from more than 1,000 companies and input from world-class experts and scientists. Its predictive validity is noted in top-tier scientific journals and other publications, including Harvard Business Review. By asking the right questions — science-based questions validated by more than 80,000 datapoints — the platform analyzes the likelihood that a team will succeed. It considers:

#column, #decision-making, #diversity, #entrepreneurship, #labor, #startup-company, #startups, #venture-capital

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Pave raises millions to bring transparency to startup compensation

Compensation within private venture-backed startups can be a confusing minefield that if unsuccessfully navigated can lead to inconsistent salaries and the kind of ambiguity that breeds an unhappy workforce.

Pave, a San Francisco-based startup that recently graduated from YC Combinator is aiming to end the pay and equity gap with a software tool it developed to make it easier to track, measure, and communicate how and what they pay their employees.

The question is whether Silicon Valley, which has a history of pay inequity and gender disparities, is ready for that kind of transparency?

Investors certainly think so. Andreessen Horowitz has poured millions into Pave’s $16 million Series A round, at a post-money valuation of $75 million, confirming our reports from August. The round also includes the a16z Cultural Leadership Fund, Bessemer Venture Partners, Bezos Expeditions (a personal investment company of Jeff Bezos), Dash Fund, and Y Combinator.

Kristina Shen, a GP at A16z, will be joining the board. Marc Andreessen will take a board observer seat.

A rebrand and re-focus

Pave, known until now as Trove, is trying to build an online market of data and real-time tools that bring more fairness in compensation to the startup world. The tools allow a company to track, measure and ultimately communicate compensation on an employee-by-employee basis. It does so by integrating HR tools such as Workday, Carta and Greenhouse into one unified service that CEO Matt Schulman says it only takes the customer 5 minutes to set up with Pave.

The service can then help companies figure out how to manage their employees’ pay, from promotion cycles and compensation adjustments to how to reward a bonus and how much equity to grant a new employee.

Employees, meanwhile, can see data on their entire compensation package as well as predictive analytics on how they can grow their stake in the company. The tool is called Total Rewards, and its closest competitor, Welcome (which raised $6 million this week) launched a tool with the same name, and same goal.

Pave’s Total Rewards Portal for employees.

Schulman says that all startups struggle with figuring out stock options, equity, benchmarking data and promotion cycles because it’s an offline (and cumbersome) process. Clear communication about these details, though, helps with both hiring and retention.

Pave’s biggest challenge, is convincing its startup customers to share data on their payment structures. While data is anonymized so employees can’t see their colleagues salaries, it does require buy-in from a company to track potential inequity in the first place.

“I imagine there will be some late adopters that are not fully aligned with that vision at first,” Schulman admits. “How can we really change how compensation works as something that has been stagnant for decades upon decades? That’s not an easy challenge.” Right now, Pave is working with companies on a case by case basis to see how much they want to communicate with employees. Long-term, Schulman wants there to be a standard.

Is the industry ready to be benchmarked?

And the founder is optimistic that he can get there. Schulman pointed to Carta, a cap management tool, as an example of widespread adoption.

“There were companies that at first resisted Carta, and they were not comfortable putting all of their records into one centralized database,” he said. “Now, it’s ubiquitous. Every company uses Carta among venture-backed companies.”

But,even Carta has struggled with what it wants other companies to do: pay their employees fairly. Carta is currently facing a lawsuit from its former vice president of marketing, Emily Kramer, for gender discrimination. In the lawsuit, Kramer notes that she was paid $50,000 less relative to her peers, and her equity grant was one-third the amount of shares than her male counterparts. The company also laid off 16% of its employees, citing a lack of new customers.

If Carta, valued at $3 billion, has difficulties, then an early-stage startup such as Pave will also come up against big hurdles around transparency. The startup is hoping that its new industry-wide benchmark project will help kickstart the conversation and nudge companies in the right direction.

Launching today, Pave has teamed up with the portfolio companies of Bessemer Venture Partners, NEA, Redpoint Ventures and YC to gather compensation data. The data, which is opt-in, will allow Pave to release a compensation benchmark survey to show how companies pay their employees. The survey will be public but will aggregate all company responses, so there is no way to see which company is doing better than others.

Other platforms have tried to do measure pay across roles, such as Glassdoor and Angellist. Schulman says that “companies don’t trust that data” because it’s crowdsourced and therefore has a survey bias.

The tool would help companies go from doing a D&I analysis once a year to being able to do it consistently, “so they don’t drift away from a fair and equitable state,” he said.

While Pave tries to convince other startups to share intimate information, as a company it is still figuring out how to do the same. The company declined to share the diversity break-down of its team, which grew from five to 13 employees in just months and has a 30-person target by end of year. Based on LinkedIn, Pave’s team skews white and male.

A push from the rise of remote work might make transparency happen sooner than later. The rise of distributed workforces has forced companies to start asking questions around compensation, Schulman said.

“How do you pay your San Francisco engineer who wants to move to Wyoming?” Schulman said. “That’s the question that’s on everyone’s mind.” The shift is making compensation become a mainstream conversation, the company has found interest in its service from companies including Allbirds, Checkr, Tide, and Allbase. Schulman says early adopters have been bullish about transparency.

Once Pave can figure out how to support venture-backed startups, it’s looking outwards to other geographies and types of businesses.

“There’s 3 billion humans in the world that work in a part of the labor market,” he said. “And right now it’s a black box in how they’re compensated.”

#startups

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Everlywell raises $175 million to expand virtual care options and scale its at-home health testing

Digital health startup Everlywell has raised a $175 million Series D funding round, following relatively fast on the heels of a $25 million Series C round it closed in February of this year. The Series D included a host of new investors, including BlackRock, The Chernin Group (TCG), Foresite Capital, Greenspring Associates, Morningside Ventures and Portfolio, along with existing investors including Highland Capital Partners, which led the Series C round. The startup has now raised over $250 million to date.

Everlywell, which launched to the public at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 as a participant in Startup Battlefield, specializes in home health care, and specifically on home health care tests supported by their digital platform for providing customers with their results and helping them understand the diagnostics, and how to seek the right follow-on care and expert medical advice.

Earlier this year, Everlywell launched an at-home COVID-19 test collection kit – the first of this type of test to receive an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its use that allowed cooperation with multiple lab service providers over time. The COVID-19 test kit joins its many other offerings, which include tests for thyroid hormone levels, food and allergen sensitivity, women’s health and fertility, vitamin D deficiency and more. I spoke to Everlywell CEO and founder Julia Cheek about the raise, and she acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic was definitely behind the decision to raise such a large amount so quickly again after the close of the Series C, since the company saw a sharp increase in demand coming out of the coronavirus crisis – not only for its COVID-19 test kit, but for at-home digital health care options in general.

“We obviously have a very successful COVID-19 test,” she said. “But we’ve also seen three-fourths of our test menu just explode at well over 100% year-over-year growth, and several of our tests are at 4x or 5x growth. That is really representative of this shift in consumer health behavior that will continue in a big way in many different verticals that include testing, and making things more convenient, digitally-enabled, and in the home.”

Like other companies built on solving for a shift to more remote and virtual care options, Cheek said that Everlywell had already anticipated this kind of consumer demand – but COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the pace of change, which is why the startup put together this round, at this size, this quickly (she says they started the process of putting together the Series D just in September).

“We’ve been talking about the digital health movement, and the consumer-directed movement probably for a decade now,” she told me. “I do believe that this will be the watershed moment, unfortunately. But hopefully, we will come out on the other side of the pandemic and say, ‘There are some good things that happened broadly for healthcare.’ That is the hope of what we lean into everyday, and  fundamentally, why we went out and raised this amount of capital in this tremendous growth year.”

Image Credits: Everlywell

Everlywell has also expanded availability of its products this year, with distribution in over 10,000 retail locations across Target, Walgreens, CVS and Kroger stores across the U.S. The company also landed a number of new partnerships on the diagnostic lab and insurance payer side, as well as with major employers – a key customer group since employers shoulder the largest share of healthcare spending in the U.S. due to employee benefit plans. Cheek says that despite their commercial and enterprise customer wins, the focus remains squarely on consumer satisfaction, which is what distinguishes their offering.

“Our COVID-19 test is 75% new people buying our product, and it has an NPS [net promoter score] of 75,” she said. “And then it’s the most highly-referred product, and also one of our top tests where people buy other tests. Experience matters here – we know that if someone is a promoter of Everlywell, if they rate us a nine or a 10, on NPS, they are five times more likely to purchase again on the platform.”

That’s not new for Everlywell, according to Cheek – customers have always had a high degree of satisfaction with the company’s products. But what is new is the expanded reach, and the realization among many Americans that virtual care and at-home options are available, and are effective.

“What you have is this lightbulb moment for Americans in a new way that care can be delivered where then they definitely don’t want to go back,” she said. “It’s not just for Everlywell. This is all of these verticals, that have really shifted consumer behavior around healthcare in the home, and I think that will be somewhat permanent. That is the main driver here, and is what we’re seeing, and it’s why Everlywell has resonated so well with so many Americans.”

#articles, #battlefield, #biotech, #blackrock, #ceo, #chernin-group, #cvs, #driver, #everlywell, #food, #foresite-capital, #funding, #greenspring-associates, #health, #healthcare, #highland-capital-partners, #kroger, #morningside-ventures, #national-park-service, #occupational-safety-and-health, #portfolio, #recent-funding, #science, #startups, #target, #tc, #united-states, #walgreens

0

AI construction startup Versatile raises a $20M Series A

San Francisco-based construction startup Versatile is announcing today that it has raised a $20 million Series A. The round was led by Insight Partners and Entree Capital, along with existing investors Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, Root Ventures and Conductive Ventures.

The round follows $8.5 million in funding, including a $5.5 million seed round that arrived in August of last year.

The URBAN-X accelerator alum has developed a piece of hardware designed to be mounted to a crane. From that vantage point, it’s capable of capturing and analyzing data across the construction site.

“You can only improve what you can measure, and at Versatile we are just scratching the surface of what we can do to create value for our users and use data to turn job sites into controlled manufacturing with fast feedback loops,” co-founder and CEO Meirav Oren said in a release tied to the news.

The company says it’s able to use that information to provide a picture of construction progress, with additional information on site materials, while targeting any potential redundancy in the space.

With around $10 trillion currently spent on construction each year, the industry is prime for some big-ticket investments. Particularly those startups that can promise more efficiency in the space.

The company says the round will be spent on accelerating the availability of its technology and developing additional AI components for users.

#artificial-intelligence, #entree-capital, #hardware, #insight-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #versatile

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ultimate.ai scores $20M for a supportive approach to customer service automation

Ultimate.ai, a virtual customer service agent builder, has closed a $20 million Series A round of funding, led by Omers Ventures with participation from Felicis Ventures and existing investors HV Capital, and Maki.vc — bringing its total raised to date to $25M+.

The European startup’s flagship claim for the data-ingesting bot-builder platform is it’s capable of automating up to 80% of customer support interactions.

The focus, as tends to be the case for all these customer service conversational AI plays, is freeing (human) support agents from dealing with dull, repetitive stuff — so they can apply their (less limited) skills to more complex, consultative or emotionally demanding customer queries.

When we last spoke to the Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup, back in 2018 for a $1.3M seed round, it described itself as a “language-agnostic” conversational AI — having started out with the hard (linguistic) challenge of Finnish — claiming that gave it an edge in a competitive space with customers in non-English speaking markets. (Though it did also tackle English too.)

Two years on the startup’s marketing focus is broader; today it talks about its customer service automation platform as an “AI-first” ‘no code’ tool — sating it wants to empower b2c users to get the most out of AI by helping them design virtual agents that can usefully handle complex customer interactions.

ultimate.ai will hand-hold you through the process of building a super savvy customer service robot, is the pitch.

Co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen claims it’s always been “no code and intuitive” — though there’s now a handy reference label to align what it’s doing with a wider b2b trend. (‘No code’ or ‘low code’ referring to a digital tool-building movement that aims to widen access to powerful technologies like AI without the need for the user to possess deep technical know-how in order to make useful use of them.)

 

“Everything we build is to guide users to creating the best virtual agents. The whole user journey — discovery, design, expansion — is all within ultimate.ai,” Kainulainen tells TechCrunch.

“In the past two years, we have been laser focused on building a very deep customer service automation platform — one that goes beyond simple FAQ answers in chat — and enables brands to design complex, personalized workflows that can be deployed across all digital support channels.

“We believe that customer service automation will be its own category in the future and so we are working hard to define what that means today.”

As an example, Kainulainen points to “one click” integration with “any major CRM” (including Salesforce and Zendesk) — which lets customers quickly import existing customer support logs so ultimate.ai’s platform can analyze the data to help them build a useful bot.

“Immediately, you are shown a breakdown of your most common customer service cases and the impact automation can have for your business,” he goes on, saying the platform shows templates and “best practices” to help the customer design their automation workflows — “tailored for your cases and industry”.

Once a virtual agent is live users can run A/B tests via the platform to check and optimize performance — and, here too, the promise is further hand-holding, with Kainulainen saying it will “proactively suggests new cases and data to improve your virtual agent”.

“Where we are very strong is in large-scale customer support organizations, who are looking for a holistic, advanced automation platform that can be managed and implemented by non-technical users,” he says.

“The bigger picture is that each of our competitors views the opportunity more narrowly than ultimate.ai does: Our best competitors are either focused on chatbots only, or otherwise limited to the ecosystem of their mother company. Our vision has always been the big picture: Of automation becoming one of the primary means of providing customer service.”

Having multilingual smarts remains an advantage, with ultimate.ai’s virtual agents able to handle interactions in over 20 languages at this point.

“Our market — the customer service automation market — has a lot of players,” Kainulainen goes on, name-checking the likes of Ada Support and Einstein Bots (Salesforce’s own solution) as key competitors.

“This is because it is new and, until recently, solutions were so early that there were virtually no barriers to entry. But the market has changed a lot in the last four years. There are now only a handful of players globally that are worth paying attention to and we are one of them.”

The 2016-founded startup is hitting the nail on the head for a growing number of customers — with close to 100 signed up to its platform at this point, including the likes of Deezer, Telia, Footasylum, and Finnair. Per Kainulainen, it works best for “b2c brands with large (and often repetitive) customer service volumes”.

“This is where automation can provide a huge impact from day one and really free up people to take on more creative and challenging work. We have a broad customer base of close to 100 great brands… and do particularly well in industries like retail/ecommerce, telecommunications and travel,” he adds.

It’s enjoyed a major growth spurt this year, as businesses of all stripes were forced to ramp up their attention to online customer interactions as the coronavirus pandemic became an engine for digital activity.

Customer retention has also risen in priority for many businesses, as a highly contagious virus and public health safety measures put in place to reduce its spread, flipped markets into recession — which Kainulainen points to as another growth driver.

Overall, he says it’s tripled ARR over the last 12 months (albeit, it was the same growth story last year too). Plus it’s tripled headcount to deal with the COVID-19 effect.

Now ultimate.ai is gearing up for fresh growth — saying it’s expecting major developments next year.

“COVID-19 has… prompted one of the most accelerated periods of change in the customer service industry,” says Kainulainen, predicting 2021 will bring “immense innovation” in the space — and that “booming” automation technologies will take “center stage”.

Of course it’s a convenient narrative for a customer service chatbot maker to tell.

But COVID-19 is clearly accelerating digital transformation of consumer focused businesses — a movement that, logically, pumps demand for smarter tools to handle online customer support. So those positioned to harness new momentum for customer service automation — by being able to offer an accessible, scalable and effective product (as ultimate.ai claims it does) — are sitting pretty in the middle of a pandemic.

“We believe that the best product will win this market,” adds Kainulainen. “We have a big vision for what we want ultimate.ai to be. Market maturity for our technology has accelerated massively in 2020, achieving in one year what could have probably taken five. We will capitalize on that by building more, faster.”

The Series A funding will go on sales and marketing, with a planned market push in North America and a desire to go deeper throughout Europe, as well as being ploughed into further product development.

And while — clearly — not every potential b2c customer will be able to ‘automagic’ away 80% of their customer support pings, Kainulainen argues ultimate.ai can still offer a compelling sales pitch to businesses with more “consultative” customer support needs, where automation will only be able to play a far more limited role.

“There’s often a strong correlation between how consultative a customer service organization needs to be and how highly trained and experienced their team is. In other words, it is often the case that organizations with ‘lower bound’ automation potential also only need 10% automation to still drive a huge ROI,” he suggests.

“For example, one of our customers is a large national pharmacy group, where customer service agents are qualified pharmacists who provide prescription medical advice. Here, the goal isn’t to achieve a very high automation rate but rather to automate basic, repetitive processes to free up the pharmacists for more challenging tasks that better use their capabilities.

“For this customer, in addition to the automation of simple requests (which alone provides a huge value) our real-time answer recommendations help pharmacists respond faster and easier.”

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Omers Ventures managing partner, Jambu Palaniappan, dubbed the startup’s growth “truly spectacular”, as well as lauding its “world-class team” and founders “with a strong vision and unrivalled knowledge of AI”.

“There are numerous chatbot companies out there but ultimate.ai represents something much bigger because at its core is an automation company with massive potential,” he added. “We look forward to working with Sarah, Reetu, Jaakko, and Markus as they expand internationally and advance their deep product capabilities even further.”

“The customer service industry is undergoing an automation revolution. In ultimate.ai, we saw a vision that’s bold enough to lead the way,” added Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, in another supporting statement. “We believe that, just in the same way that category leaders have defined marketing and sales automation, ultimate.ai will do the same for customer service.”

Jambu Palaniappan, managing partner at Omers Ventures, will join the ultimate.ai board. Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, will join as an investor, alongside former head of Airbnb for Business Mark McCabe, and former EVP global sales of payment giant Adyen, Thijn Lamers.

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #chatbots, #customer-service-automation, #fundings-exits, #omers-ventures, #startups, #tc, #ultimate-ai

0

Web Summit will hold RISE 2022 in Kuala Lumpur, launch a new event in Tokyo

Web Summit announced today that it will revive RISE, one of Asia’s largest tech conferences, in March 2022, moving it to Kuala Lumpur after five years in Hong Kong. It also announced a new event, called Web Summit Tokyo, that will launch in 2022, too.

The flagship Web Summit event is currently taking place as an online conference.

In November 2019, Web Summit announced it was postponing RISE to 2021 amid the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Of course, this year has seen a series of other major event cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Web Summit is planning for the 2022 edition of RISE to be in-person, and has signed a new partnership with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. In a press statement, Web Summit and RISE co-founder and chief executive officer Paddy Cosgrave said, “This is not a goodbye to Hong Kong. We hope to return to the city in the future with a brand new event.”

Web Summit Tokyo, which will take place in September 2022, as part of its global expansion, which will also include an event in Brazil Rio de Janeiro or Porto Alegre are currently being considered as the location.

Web Summit has already announced plans to hold its flagship event as an in-person conference in November 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal.

#asia, #events, #kuala-lumpur, #malaysia, #rise, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #web-summit

0

Bolt unveils its fourth-generation scooter

Bolt is better known for its ride-hailing service. But the company also operates an electric scooter service in 45 cities across Europe. Designed by the company’s in-house hardware team, the new model focuses on safety.

As you can see on the photo, it’s a big scooter that weighs 19kg — that’s more than an average bike. It has a battery with a 40km range and it is primarily made of aluminum.

The company says it should last up to 60 months thanks to a modular design. Bolt can replace parts without having to replace the scooter altogether.

Behind the scenes, you’ll find built-in sensors to detect accidents and unsafe riding. If you fall or if you brake sharply, Bolt can be alerted. The scooter also recognizes unsafe riding patterns. Combined with audio and visual warnings, it should educate riders about what you’re supposed to do and not do.

On the integrated dashboard, you can receive alerts telling you that you’re riding in a pedestrian area, or in a low-speed area. You can also see if you’re allowed to park in this area. Bolt plans to turn on front light blinking when you enter a pedestrian or low-speed area.

Like most modern e-scooter models, Bolt can swap the battery without having to move the entire scooter. It is much more efficient to recharge detachable batteries than scooters themselves.

A few weeks ago, Bolt unveiled plans to double-down on scooters. It plans to operate a scooter service in more than 100 cities in 2021. There could be as many as 130,000 electric scooters and electric bikes in European cities. Let’s see if the company delivers on its ambitious 2021 roadmap.

Image Credits: Bolt

#bolt, #europe, #scooter, #startups, #tc

0

Neuroglee gets $2.3 million to develop digital therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

There are now about 50 million people with dementia globally, a number the World Health Organization expects to triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and caregivers are often overwhelmed, without enough support.

Neuroglee, a Singapore-based health tech startup, wants to help with a digital therapeutic platform created to treat patients in the early stages of the disease. Founded this year to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, Neuroglee announced today it has raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Eisai Co., one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Kuldeep Singh Rajput, the founder and chief executive officer of predictive healthcare startup Biofourmis.

Neuroglee’s prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, called NG-001, is its main product. The company plans to start clinical trials next year. NG-001 is meant to complement medication and other treatments, and once it is prescribed by a clinician, patients can access its cognitive exercises and tasks through a tablet.

The software tracks patients’ progress, such as the speed of their fingers and the time it takes to complete an exercise, and delivers personalized treatment programs. It also has features to address the mental health of patients, including one that shows images that can bring up positive memories, which in turn can help alleviate depression and anxiety when used in tandem with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

For caregivers and clinicians, NG-001 helps them track patient progress and their compliance with other treatments, like medications. This means that healthcare providers can work closely with patients even remotely, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neuroglee founder and CEO Aniket Singh Rajput told TechCrunch that its first target markets for NG-001 are the United States and Singapore, followed by Japan. NG-001 needs to gain regulatory approval in each country, and it will start by seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

Once it launches, clinicians will have two ways to prescribe NG-001, through their healthcare provider platform or an electronic prescription tool. A platform called Neuroglee Connect will give clinicians, caregivers and patients access to support and features for reimbursement and coverage.

#alzheimers, #asia, #digital-therapeutics, #eisai-co, #fundings-exits, #health, #kuldeep-singh-rajput, #neuroglee, #recent-funding, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Sketchy wants to replace boring textbooks with ‘Pixar-like’ videos

Studying for med school is tough. What if it was more Pixar-like?

Sketchy, a visual learning platform, takes complex material that a med student might need to memorize for an exam, and puts the information in an illustrated scene. For example, it uses a countryside kingdom to explain the coronavirus, or a salmon dinner to explain Salmonella. The goal is for a student to be able to mentally go back to the scene while taking an exam, walk through it and retrieve all of the information.

While Sketchy’s strategy might seem odd, it’s actually well-known. The “memory palace” technique matches objects to concepts for easier memorization. So far, Sketchy has more than 30,000 paid subscribers and is on track to hit $7 million in revenue this year.

To charge this growth and break into new content verticals, Sketchy is taking venture capital on for the first time in its seven-year history. Last month, the team announced that it has raised a $30 million Series A led by The Chernin Group (TCG). Today, it tacks on $2 million to that total with financing from co-investor Reach Capital. It’s a big combined investment for a company that has been bootstrapping since birth — and the deal could help us see where online education is heading.

The capital comes as Sketchy itself looks to grow past a content service for med students, and into an education platform tackling information in critical fields, from legal to nursing. With the new money, Sketchy plans to build an in-house animation studio and hire more artists and doctors, some of whom are currently consultants.

The story

A big part of Sketchy’s magic, and effectiveness, comes from the fact that all of its founding team have experience in medicine.

The company began in 2013 when then-med students Saud Siddiqui and Andrew Berg were in desperate need of a better study solution for microbiology. To liven up their studying, Berg and Siddiqui began weaving characters into stories to try to memorize concepts — and after a few good test scores, they started creating stories for their classmates.

“Neither Sid or I were artists, so they were pretty bad,” Berg said. As demand continued, the duo put their scraggly sketches on YouTube. Eventually, Siddiqui and Berg roped in classmate Bryan Lemieux, a good artist, to tell the stories with them. Eventually Bryan brought on his twin brother, Aaron, and the founding team was born.

Fast-forward to today: Siddiqui and Berg have finished their residencies in emergency medicine, while the Lemieux brothers chose to leave medicine. All have moved full-time to the company after trying to balance both jobs. Still, the knowledge from working in the field continues to be useful.

The startup’s name has evolved: born as SketchyMedical, it has since rebranded to just Sketchy. While the team chose the name to nod toward its focus on art, the name also has negative connotations. Expect a rebrand in the future.

Despite this, the company claims that it is used by a third of med students in the United States. The majority of its revenues come from 12-month subscriptions for students looking to prep for med school exams like Step 1, and Step 2.

While B2C is a promising business model for many reasons (it’s always easier to convince a human to pay instead of a entire, red-tape-bound institution), the company has also posted promising B2B growth. So far, 20% of its revenue comes from direct contracts it has with medical schools. The founders said that they will pursue both growth methods for now, but based on the price of med school (and student debt crisis), it would be great to see them grow through school contracts so students don’t have to face the brunt of costs.

Beyond the coronavirus

Reach Capital’s Jennifer Carolan, an investor in Sketchy, said that Sketchy’s product market fit with med students is a “strong signal that their content is worth it.” Even with competitors such as Picorize and Medcomic, she’s confident that Sketchy’s product is defensible and can expand into new verticals. Part of the reason the firm approached Sketchy to invest in them is because of low customer acquisition costs, Carolan notes in a blog post. 

That said, unlike most edtech companies, which have enjoyed surging new user demand thanks to remote learning, Sketchy didn’t have a huge COVID-19 boom.

“We weren’t one of those people that hadn’t found product market fit and then exploded after COVID,” said Berg. “We’ve always been there and been growing.”

So the real trigger for today’s fundraise wasn’t COVID-19 momentum, but instead, a push to capitalize its sustained growth into more digital curriculum verticals.

Long-term, think of Sketchy as joining a chorus of startups, including Top Hat Jr and Newsela, that want to replace textbook publishers. In a remote world, live, moving content is more rapidly losing value, and upstarts are trying to replace them with more effective and engaging content.

“One of the challenges is just to make sure we don’t go too fast,” Siddiqui said. “We want to keep that degree of quality we’ve maintained for so many years, and do it at scale.”

#education, #reach-capital, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #the-chernin-group

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From surviving to thriving as a hardware startup

When a friend forwarded this tweet from Paul Graham, it hit close to home:

Startups are subject to something like infant mortality: before they’re established, one thing going wrong can kill the company. Hardware companies seem to be subject to infant mortality their whole lives.
I think the reason is that the evolution of the product is so discontinuous. The company has to keep shipping, and customers to keep buying, new products. Which in practice is like relaunching the company each time.
I don’t know if there is an answer to this, but if there were a way for hardware companies to evolve more the way software companies do, they’d be a lot more resilient.

Looking back on our startup journey at Minut, I remember several moments when we could have died. However, surviving several near misses we learned to tackle these challenges and have become more resilient over time. While there will never be one fully exhaustive answer, here are some of the lessons we learned over the years:

Subscription revenue is the only revenue that counts

While you can sell hardware with a margin and make important early revenue, it’s not a sustainable business model for a company that requires both software and hardware. You can’t cover an indefinite commitment with a finite amount of money.

Many hardware companies don’t consider subscriptions early enough. While it can be hard to command a subscription from the start (if you can, you might have waited too long to launch), it needs to be in the plan from the beginning. Look for markets where paying subscriptions is the norm rather than markets that operate on a one-time sale model.

Set high margins and earn them over time

It’s tempting to set low prices for hardware to attract customers, but in the beginning you should do the opposite. Margins allow for mistakes to be rectified. A missed deadline might mean you have to opt for freight by air rather than boat. You might have to scrap components or buy them expensively in a supply crunch. Surprises are seldom positive, and you don’t want to use your venture capital to pay for them.

Healthy margins can also be used to cover marketing costs while you learn what kind of messaging works and what channels you can sell through. If that wasn’t enough reason, starting with relatively high prices will help you avoid another common mistake, selling too much at launch.

This might seem counterintuitive — why wouldn’t you want great success out of the gate? The reason is that you will inevitably make mistakes with your early launches, and the bigger the launch, the bigger the blow. There are plenty of companies who achieved amazing crowdfunding success and then failed to deliver even the first units. Startups tend to chase growth at all costs, but for hardware startups in the first few years there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

#column, #entrepreneurship, #hardware, #hardware-startup, #startups

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YC-backed Heru raises $1.7M to build software services for Latin American gig workers

Given the attention that TechCrunch pays to Y Combinator’s Demo Days, we also try to keep tabs on the same startups as they scale and raise more capital. Yesterday we covered YC Winter 2020 participant BuildBuddy, for example. Today we’re taking a look at Heru, a startup based in Mexico City that is announcing a $1.7 million raise after taking part in YC’s Summer 2019 session.

The pre-seed round was led by Mountain Nazca, and participated in by Magma Partners, Xtraordinary Venture Partners, Flourish Ventures, YC itself and a handful of angels. The investment was raised in two pieces: a $500,000 check in February and the other $1.2 million closing a few weeks ago.

Heru wants to provide software-based services for gig workers in Mexico, and eventually other countries. Its founders, Mateo Jaramillo and Stiven Rodríguez Sánchez, are both ex-Uber employees, which is how they wound up in Mexico from their native Colombia.

But Heru didn’t have a straightforward path to existence. The founding duo told TechCrunch their original idea, something similar to OYO, was what they went through Y Combinator and initially raised money for. But after finding OYO already in their target market, the company took three months to rethink and, keeping investors on board, pivoted to Heru.

Heru is a package of software products aimed at delivery drivers and the like, helping provide insurance, credit and tax preparation support. The tax element is key, as the company’s founders explained to TechCrunch that Mexico now expects independent workers to file taxes on a monthly basis. Folks need help with that, so Heru built them a tool to do so.

There’s competition to that element of its product, Heru said, noting that there are accountants in the market that will do the work for $25 to $30. Heru’s tax service, in contrast, costs a smaller $5 each month (100 pesos). Insurance is another $5 each month for accident-related coverage. The startup worked with an insurance provider to build what it describes as a “tailor-made” policy for gig workers who need low-cost coverage.

The founding duo, via the company.

Heru is not only targeting Uber drivers and their like, however. The company noted that it also wants to support freelancers more broadly, a population that is much larger than the three million gig workers it counts in the Mexican market.

The company’s app has been soft-launched in the market for a few weeks, with the startup now making more noise about its existence. According to its founders, around 1,200 users were accepted during its test period. Another 20,000 are in line.

Among its early user base, customers are buying on average 1.2 Heru products, a number that I’ll track as the startup scales.

Heru’s app is neat, its market large and the need it is serving material. But in the background of the software story is a brick-and-mortar tale. The startup, in addition to building its app, put together a number of so-called “Heru Casas,” places where gig workers can recharge their phones and use a bathroom. You need the app to enter a Heru Casa, helping the startup find early users.

Currently all Heru Casas are located in Mexico City. The startup is not sure about expanding that part of its efforts to more cities where its app may attract users. Why? It’s hard to scale physical build-outs, it told TechCrunch. Software is much better for quick expansion, and as that’s the name of the startup game, holding off on more physical locations could make good sense until the company can raise more capital.

Heru has big plans to double-down its product work, and eventually add more countries to its roster. The Latin American market is a ripe place for startups to shake things up. Let’s see how quickly Heru can make its mark.

#gig-workers, #heru, #mexico, #mountain-nazca, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

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Aerospace’s Steve Isakowitz to speak at TC Sessions: Space 2020

A mere two weeks remain until we kick off TC Sessions: Space (December 16 & 17), our first conference focused on the technology designed to push galactic boundaries and the people making it happen. Building successful space programs, whether private, public or hybrid combination, requires a well-trained workforce — today and for generations to come. That’s why we can’t wait for Building the Workforce of the Future, a breakout panel discussion featuring Steve Isakowitz.

Isakowitz is the president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, a national nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center. It addresses complex problems across the space enterprise focused on agility, innovation and objective technical leadership.

In his 30+ year career, Isakowitz has held prominent roles across the government, private, space and technology sectors, including at NASA, U.S. Department of Energy and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Prior to joining Aerospace, he was president of Virgin Galactic, where his responsibilities included the development of privately funded launch systems, advanced technologies and other new space applications.

Building the Workforce of the Future focuses on what’s required to advance the United States’ leading role in space, namely developing a workforce that’s up to the challenge. Panelists also include Dava Newman, MIT’s Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics, and Yannis C. Yortsos, Dean, USC Viterbi School of Engineering; Zohrab Kaprielian Chair in Engineering, University of Southern California.

More sessions from TC Sessions: Space

The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities to imagine new models for how and where to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. This session will explore how universities and industry can work together to integrate professional experience into the curriculum and how universities and industry can work together to build robust talent pipelines that create digitally fluent, agile workers for the future.

The panelists will weigh in on strategies to build diverse workforces — with different perspectives and experiences that drive innovation — as well as new approaches that promote continuous learning for workers throughout their careers.

The space industry requires a deep bench and a long pipeline of engineers and scientists. Tune in to Building the Workforce of the Future for the latest thinking on this vital topic. It’s one session you don’t want to miss.

Late registration tickets are still available as are discounts for groupsstudentsactive military/government employees and for early-stage space startup founders who want to give their startup extra visibility.

Is your company interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Space 2020? Click here to talk with us about available opportunities.

#startups, #tc-sessions-space-2020

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Wellory raises $4.5M for its ‘anti-diet’ nutrition app

Wellory, a startup that bills itself as taking an “anti-diet approach” to nutrition and wellness, is announcing that it has raised $4.2 million in funding.

The round was led by Story Ventures, with participation from Harlem Capital, Tinder co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, Ground Up Ventures, NBA Player Wayne Ellington, Hannah Bronfman and others.

Wellory founder and CEO Emily Hochman (who was previously the head of customer success at WayUp) told me that she struggled with dieting in college, to the point where she was risking chronic illness and infertility. As a result, she became determined to gain a better understanding of nutrition and her own health, eventually studying and becoming a certified health coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Hochman said that through Wellory, she wants to offer that same understanding to others, which she said has created a “managed marketplace” matching users with a licensed nutritionist, registered dietitian or certified health coach. Those coaches create a personalized plan for losing weight or achieving other health goals, then continue to provide feedback as users share photos of each meal and additional health data.

For example, she said that a customer who had just given birth and was interested in postpartum weight loss would get matched with a coach who specializes in that area.

“The thing that is so important is that we build personalized plans,” she added. “We don’t have anything that says, ‘At Wellory, we do these 10 things and that’s a standard diet.’ We’re actually going to help you learn how to make smart and healthy decisions.”

Wellory CEO Emily Hochman

Wellory CEO Emily Hochman

Wellory officially launched in September, but Hochman said some beta testers have been using the service for nine, 10 or 11 months. She said early customers include people who are interested in weight loss, those who need nutrition advice due to chronic illness and “optimizers” who simply want to make sure they’re eating as healthily as possible.

She also noted that although customers usually sign up with a specific goal in mind, “once they hit their goal, because the power of a strong relationship, they say, ‘I don’t want to go back to where I was, let’s keep building, let’s make sure I can sustain this.’”

The app is available on iOS and Android and currently costs $59.99 per month. Hochman plans to introduce additional pricing tiers. and she said the funding will allow Wellory to expand the technology and marketing teams, and to explore new partnerships.

“As a data technology investor, we get approached by different types of wearable or diagnostic companies nearly every week,” said Jake Yormak of Story Ventures in a statement. “We love the category but what we saw in Wellory was a way to put a human coach at the center of understanding this health data. With nutrition as the wedge, Wellory has built a trusted relationship with people who affirmatively want to better understand and improve their wellbeing.”

#apps, #food, #funding, #fundings-exits, #health, #mobile, #startups, #story-ventures, #wellory

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Space Perspective raises $7M for its plan to ferry tourists to the edge of space

Space tourism startup Space Perspective has raised a new $7 million in seed funding, from investors including Prime Movers Lab and Base Ventures . The company, founded by Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, who previously founded stratospheric balloon company World View, is focused on developing Spaceship Neptune, a pressurized passenger capsule that is meant to be carried by an ultra-high altitude balloon to the very edge of space to provide passengers with an unparalleled view.

Spaceship Neptune is designed to carry up to eight passengers per trip, on a six-hour journey that will include two hours spent at the upper edge of Earth’s atmosphere and a water landing in the Atlantic Ocean. The first test flight is currently targeted for the end of the first quarter of 2021, according to Space Perspective, and it will involve flying an uncrewed Neptune capsule prototype, which also won’t have the pressurized cabin of the final version.

From there, the plan is to test and develop systems necessary for Neptune to take up its first human passengers, with the goal of doing that by sometime around 2024, with ticket pre-sales launching from 2021 for interested, deep-pocketed parties.

Poynter and MacCallum’s prior venture World View originally included human stratospheric space tourism trips as part of its business model, but the company has since pivoted to focus on scientific and commercial communication and observation payloads exclusively under its current leadership. World View appointed Ryan Hartman as CEO in 2018, replacing Poynter in the top spot.

#aerospace, #base-ventures, #ceo, #outer-space, #prime-movers-lab, #recent-funding, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #startups, #tc, #world-view, #world-view-enterprises

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Welcome raises $6M to help your company hire and keep employees

Welcome, the HR software that helps organizations make and close offers to new candidates, announced the close of a $6 million seed round today, led by FirstMark Capital. Participating investors include Ludlow Ventures, Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg, and Keenan Rice and Ben Porterfield (which were existing investors), as well as a wide array of angels.

TechCrunch last covered Welcome in August, when it announced a $1.4 million funding round. That the startup was able to raise more as quickly as it has is testament to how hot the early-stage venture capital market is today, and likely an endorsement of Welcome’s economic profile and recent growth.

Past the new capital, Welcome is also launching a new product today called Total Rewards, which helps not just new candidates but also existing employees get a complete, easy-to-understand picture of their compensation, across salary, benefits, equity, etc.

But let’s back up.

Welcome was founded in 2019 by Nick Gavronsky and Rick Pereira, with a mission to help organizations close offers on candidates by providing a much clearer picture of compensation, particularly around equity. Cofounder and CEO Nick Gavronsky explained that many candidates don’t truly understand the value of the equity they’re offered, or how it works.

“A lot of recruiting teams aren’t well-equipped to use it as a selling tool and explain it effectively and showcase the value to candidates to help them think about their ownership at the company,” he added.

Image Credits: Welcome

Welcome allows companies to organize their compensation offers based on level and position, and deliver that information digitally to candidates in a way that makes sense.

The startup integrates with a variety of other software providers including Slack, Lever, Greenhouse, ADP and Justworks to name a few, simplifying onboarding for Welcome clients and bringing a broad array of information into one place.

Offers sent through Welcome show a description of the role, equity details, total compensation and even include a welcome note and video. This is in stark contrast to the black and white legal PDF often sent to candidates.

The next phase for the company comes in the form of the launch of Total Rewards, which is meant to help retain existing employees, helping them understand their compensation value and their potential at the company.

“Painting a better picture becomes a pre-retention tool,” said Gavronsky. “An employee will sometimes leave thousands of dollars on the table because they don’t understand what they’re walking away from. A lot of times companies will wait until that person is going to resign. Let me now bring up all the things that are great about our company and talk through your stock options. But the decision’s already made. So we wanted something that we can kind of put in with performance reviews.”

Welcome also has plans to offer a third product pillar in the form of real-time accurate industry-wide compensation data, helping companies understand where they fit into the larger ecosystem with regards to compensation.

Thus far, Welcome has 40 companies on the platform, including Uncork and Betterment, with hundreds on the waitlist according to the cofounders. The company plans to use the funding to build out the team and the product.

#enterprise, #firstmark-capital, #startups, #tc, #welcome

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Jitsu nabs $2M Seed to build open source data integration platform

Jitsu, a graduate of the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort, is developing an open source data integration platform that helps developers send data to a data warehouse. Today, the startup announced a $2 million seed investment.

Costanoa Ventures led the round with participation from YCombintaor, The House Fund and SignalFire.

In addition to the open source version of the software, the company has developed a hosted version that companies can pay to use, which shares the same name as the company. Peter Wysinski, Jitsu’s co-founder and CEO, says a good way to think about his company is an open source Segment, the customer data integration company that was recently sold to Twilio for $3.2 billion.

But he says, it goes beyond what Segment by allowing you to move all kinds of data whether customer data, connected device data or other types. “If you look at the space in general, companies want more granularity. So let’s say for example, a couple years ago you wanted to sync just your transactions from QuickBooks to your data warehouse, now you want to capture every single sale at the point of sale. What Jitsu lets you do is capture essentially all of those events, all of those streams, and send them to your data warehouse,” Wysinski explained.

Among the data warehouses it currently supports include Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostGres and Snowflake.

The founders built the open source project called EventNative to help solve problems they themselves were having moving data around at their previous jobs. After putting the open source version on GitHub a few months ago, they quickly attained 1000 stars, proving that they had delivered something that solved a common problem for data teams. They then built the hosted version, Jitsu, which went live a couple of weeks ago.

For now, the company is just the two co-founders, Wysinski and CTO Vladimir Klimontovich, but they intend to do some preliminary hiring over the next year to grow the company, most likely adding engineers. As they begin to build out the startup, Wysinski says that being open source will help drive diversity and inclusion in their hiring.

“The goal is essentially to go after that open source community and hire people from anywhere because engineers aren’t just […] one color or one race, they’re everywhere, and being open source, and especially being in a remote world, makes it so so much simpler [to build a diverse workforce], and a lot of companies I feel are going down that road,” he said.

He says along that line, the plan is to be a fully remote company, even after the pandemic ends, as they hire from anywhere. The goal is to have quarterly offsite meetings to check in with employees, but do the majority of the work remotely.

#cloud, #data-integration, #data-warehouses, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #open-source, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

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Shop-Ware raises cash as cars make a comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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Genesis Therapeutics raises $52M A round for its AI-focused drug discovery mission

Sifting through the trillions of molecules out there that might have powerful medicinal effects is a daunting task, but the solution biotech has found is to work smarter, not harder. Genesis Therapeutics has a new simulation approach and cross-disciplinary team that has clearly made an impression: the company just raised a $52 million A round.

Genesis competed in the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt last year, impressing judges with its potential, and obviously others saw it as well — in particular Rock Springs Capital, which led the round.

Over the last few years many companies have been formed in the drug discovery space, powered by increased computing and simulation power that lets them determine the potential of molecules in treating certain diseases. At least that’s the theory. The reality is a bit messier, and while these companies can narrow the search, they can’t just say “here, a cure for Parkinson’s.”

Founder Evan Feinberg got into the field when an illness he inherited made traditional lab work, as an intern at a big pharma company, difficult for him. The computational side of the field, however, was more accessible and ended up absorbing him entirely.

He had dabbled in the area before and arrived at what he feels is a breakthrough in how molecules are represented digitally. Machine learning has, of course, accelerated work in many fields, biochemistry among them, but he felt that the potential of the technology had not been tapped.

“I think initially the attempts were to kind of cut and paste deep learning techniques, and represent molecules a lot like images, and classify them — like you’d say, this is a cat picture or this is not a cat picture,” he explained in an interview. “We represent the molecules more naturally: as graphs. A set of nodes or vertices, those are atoms, and things that connect them, those are bonds. But we’re representing them not just as bond or no bond, but with multiple contact types between atoms, spatial distances, more complex features.”

The resulting representation is richer and more complex, a more complete picture of a molecule than you’d get from its chemical formula or a stick diagram showing the different structures and bonds. Because in the world of biochemistry, nothing is as simple as a diagram. Every molecule exists as a complicated, shifting 3D shape or conformation where important aspects like the distance between two carbon formations or bonding sites is subject to many factors. Genesis attempts to model as many of those factors as it can.

“Step one is the representation,” he said, “but the logical next step is, how does one leverage that representation to learn a function that takes an input and outputs a number, like binding affinity or solubility, or a vector that predicts multiple properties at once?”

That’s the work they’ve focused on as a company — not just creating a better model molecule, but being able to put a theoretical molecule into simulation and say, it will do this, it won’t do this, it has this quality but not that one.

Some of this work may be done in partnerships, such as the one Genesis has struck up with Genentech, but the teams could very well find drug candidates independent of those, and for that reason the company is also establishing an internal development process.

The $52M infusion ought to do a lot to push that forward, Feinberg wrote in an email:

“These funds allow us to execute on a number of critical objectives, most importantly further pioneering AI technologies for drug development and advancing our therapeutics pipeline. We will be hiring more top notch AI researchers, software engineers, medicinal chemists and biotech talent, as well as building our own research labs.”

Other companies are doing simulations as well and barking up the same tree, but Feinberg says Genesis has at least two legs up on them, despite the competition raising hundreds of millions and existing for years.

“We’re the only company in the space that’s working at the intersection of modern deep neural network approaches and biophysical simulation — conformational change of ligands and proteins,” he said. “And we’re bringing this super technical platform to experts who have taken FDA-approved drugs to market. We’ve seen tremendous value creation just from that — the chemists inform the AI too.”

The recent breakthrough of AlphaFold, which is performing the complex task of simulation protein folding far faster than any previous system, is as exciting to Feinberg as to everyone else in the field.

“As scientists, we are incredibly excited by recent progress in protein structure prediction. It is an important basic science advance that will ultimately have important downstream benefits to the development of novel therapeutics,” he wrote. “Since our Dynamic PotentialNet technology is unique in how it leverages 3D structural information of proteins, computational protein folding — similar to recent progress in cryo-EM — is a nice complementary tailwind for the Genesis AI Platform. We applaud all efforts to make protein structure more accessible such that therapeutics can be more easily developed for patients of all conditions.”

Also participating in the funding round were T. Rowe Price Associates, Andreessen Horowitz (who led the seed round), Menlo Ventures, and Radical Ventures.

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