TrueLayer nabs $130M at a $1B+ valuation as open banking rises as a viable option to card networks

Open banking — a disruptive technology that seeks to bypass the dominance of card networks and other traditional financial rails by letting banks open their systems directly to developers (and new services) by way of APIs — continues to gain ground in the world of financial services. As a mark of that traction, a startup playing a central role in open banking applications is announcing a big round of funding with a milestone valuation.

TrueLayer, which provides technology for developers to enable a range of open-banking-based services has raised $130 million in a funding round that values the London-based startup at over $1 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading the round, and notably, payments juggernaut Stripe is also participating.

Open Banking is a relatively new area in the world of fintech — the UK was an early adopter in 2018, Europe then signed on, and it looks like we are now seeing more movements that the U.S. may soon also join the party — and TrueLayer is considered a pioneer in the space.

The vast majority of transactions in the world today are still made using card rails or more antiquated banking infrastructure, but the opportunity with open banking is to build a completely new infrastructure that works more efficiently, and might come with less (or no) fees for those using it, with the perennial API promise: all by way of few lines of code.

“We had a vision that finance should be opened up, and we are actively woking to remove the frictions that exist between intermediaries,” said CEO Francesco Simoneschi, who co-founded the company with Luca Martinetti (who is now the CTO), in an interview. “We want a financial system that works for everyone, but that hasn’t been the case up to now. The opportunity emerged five years ago, when open banking came into law in the UK and then elsewhere, to go after the most impressive oligopoly: the card networks and everything that revolves around them. Now, we can easily say that open banking is becoming a viable alternative to that.”

It seems that the world of finance and commerce is slowly catching on, and so the funding is coming on the heels of some strong growth for the company.

Services that TrueLayer currently include payments, payouts, user account information and user verification; while end users range from neobanks, crypto startups, and wealth management apps through to e-commerce companies, marketplaces and gaming platforms.

And the startup says it now has “millions” of consumers making open banking transactions enabled by TrueLayer’s technology, and some 10,000 developers are building services based on open banking standards. TrueLayer so far this year has doubled its customer base, picking up some key customers like Cazoo to enable open-banking based payments for cars; and it has processed “billions” of dollars in payments, with payment volume growing 400%, and payment up 800%.

The plan is to use the funding to invest in building out that business further — specifically to extend its payments network to more regions (and more banks getting integrated into that network), as well as to bring on more customers using open banking services for more regular, recurring transactions.

“The shift to alternative payment methods is accelerating with the global growth of online commerce, and we believe TrueLayer will play a central role in making these payment methods more accessible,” said Alex Cook, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Francesco, Luca and the TrueLayer team as they help customers increase conversion and continue to grow the network.”

Notably, Stripe is not a strategic investor in TrueLayer at the moment, just a financial one. That is to say, it has yet to integrate open banking into its own payments infrastructure.

But you can imagine how it would be interested in it as part of the bigger mix of options for its customers, and potentially also to build its own standalone financial rails that well and truly compete with those provided by the card networks (which are such a close part of what Stripe does that its earliest web design was based on the physical card, and even its name is a reference to the stripe on the back of them.

There are other providers of open banking connectivity in the market today — Plaid out of the U.S. is one notable name — but Simoneschi believes that Stripe and TrueLayer on the same page as companies.

“We share a profound belief that progress comes through the eyes of developers so it’s about delivering the tools they need to use,” he he said. “We are in a very complementary space.”

#api, #bank, #banking, #ceo, #cto, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #london, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-banking, #online-commerce, #online-payments, #open-banking, #partner, #payment, #payments-infrastructure, #payments-network, #stripe, #tiger-global-management, #truelayer, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #web-applications

Billogram, provider of a payments platform specifically for recurring billing, raises $45M

Payments made a huge shift to digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic — purchasing moved online for many consumers and businesses; and a large proportion of those continuing to buy and sell in-person went cash-free. Today a startup that has been focusing on one specific aspect of payments — recurring billing — is announcing a round of funding to capitalize on that growth with expansion of its own. Billogram, which has built a platform for third parties to build and handle any kind of recurring payments (not one-off purchases), has closed a round of $45 million.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Partech, and will be used to help the Stockholm-based startup expand from its current base in Sweden to six more markets, Jonas Suijkerbuijk, Billogram’s CEO and founder, said in an interview, to cover more of Germany (where it’s already active now), Norway, Finland, Ireland, France, Spain, and Italy.

The company got its start working with SMBs in 2011 but pivoted some years later to working with larger enterprises, which make up the majority of its business today. Suijkerbuijk said that in 2020, signed deals went up by 300%, and the first half of 2021 grew 50% more on top of that. Its users include utilities like Skanska Energi and broadband company Ownit, and others like remote healthcare company Kry, businesses that take invoice and take monthly payments from their customers.

While there has been a lot of attention around how companies like Apple and Google are handling subscriptions and payments in apps, what Billogram focuses on is a different beast, and much more complex: it’s more integrated into the business providing services, and it may involve different services, and the fees can vary over every billing period. It’s for this reason that, in fact, even big companies in the realm of digital payments, like Stripe, which might even already have products that can help manage subscriptions on their platforms, partner with companies like Billogram to build the experiences to manage their more involved kinds of payment services.

I should point out here that Suijkerbuijk told me that Stripe recently became a partner of Billograms, which is very interesting… but he also added that a number of the big payments companies have talked to Billogram. He also confirmed that currently Stripe is not an investor in the company. “We have a very good relationship,” he said.

It’s not surprising to see Stripe and others wanting to more in the area of more complex, recurring billing services. Researchers estimate that the market size (revenues and services) for subscription and recurring billing will be close to $6 billion this year, with that number ballooning to well over $10 billion by 2025. And indeed, the effort to make a payment or any kind of transaction will continue to be a point of friction in the world of commerce, so any kinds of systems that bring technology to bear to make that easier and something that consumers or businesses will do without thinking about it, will be valuable, and will likely grow in dominance. (It’s why the more basic subscription services, such as Prime membership or a Netflix subscription, or a cloud storage account, are such winners.)

Within that very big pie, Suijkerbuijk noted that rather than the Apples and Googles of the world, the kinds of businesses that Billogram currently competes against are those that are addressing the same thornier end of the payments spectrum that Billogram is. These include a wide swathe of incumbent companies that do a lot of their business in areas like debt collection, and other specialists like Scaleworks-backed Chargify — which itself got a big investment injection earlier this year from Battery Ventures, which put $150 million into both it and another billing provider, SaaSOptics, in April.

The former group of competitors are not currently a threat to Billogram, he added.

“Debt collecting agencies are big on invoicing, but no one — not their customers, nor their customers’ customers — loves them, so they are great competitors to have,” Suijkerbuijk joked.

This also means that Billogram is not likely to move into debt collection itself as it continues to expand. Instead, he said, the focus will be on building out more tools to make the invoicing and payments experience better and less painful to customers. That will likely include more moves into customer service and generally improving the overall billing experience — something we have seen become a bigger area also during the pandemic, as companies realized that they needed to address non-payments in a different way from how their used to, given world events and the impact they were having on individuals.

“We are excited to partner with Jonas and the team at Billogram.” says Omri Benayoun, General Partner at Partech, in a statement. “Having spotted a gap in the market, they have quietly built the most advanced platform for large B2C enterprises looking to integrate billing, payment, and collection in one single solution. In our discussion with leading utilities, telecom, e-health, and all other clients across Europe, we realized how valuable Billogram was for them in order to engage with their end-users through a top-notch billing and payment experience. The outstanding commercial traction demonstrated by Billogram has further cemented our conviction, and we can’t wait to support the team in bringing their solution to many more customers in Europe and beyond!”

#apple, #battery-ventures, #billing, #billogram, #broadband, #business-software, #ceo, #e-health, #economy, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #finland, #france, #funding, #general-partner, #germany, #google, #ireland, #italy, #kry, #merchant-services, #money, #netflix, #norway, #online-payments, #partner, #spain, #stockholm, #stripe, #sweden, #web-applications

Nuula raises $120M to build out a financial services ‘superapp’ aimed at SMBs

A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a superapp to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.

The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.

The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself and but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022; and alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before further countries across Europe.

Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and eCommerce data are all on the roadmap.

“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”

Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell).  Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.

Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.

Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.

“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”

Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.

It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin, and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.

The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.

“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”

“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”

#articles, #atom-bank, #banking, #business, #canada, #ceo, #economy, #edison-partners, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #general-partner, #head, #honeywell, #innovation, #kabbage, #nuula, #paypal, #smb, #sme, #stripe, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Sequoia’s Pat Grady says it isn’t clear startups “should be accelerating” right now — here’s why

Earlier today, we joined friend and former colleague Jon Fortt of CNBC in interviewing partner Pat Grady of Sequoia Capital, and it proved a wide-ranging conversation (we wound up blabbing for an hour, which was not always the plan). You can check out the video below but we thought there were some highlights worth pulling out for some of you, including as it pertains to the current market, which has never felt frothier.

It’s more than anecdotal. According to a recent Wilson Sonsini report that we referenced during this chat, during the first quarter of this year, the median pre-money valuation for Series C and later financings hit a record $675 million — more than double the full year 2020 median of $315 million. Meanwhile, senior liquidation preferences in so-called up rounds dropped from appearing in 35% of related deals in 2017 to 20% in the first quarter — a trend that suggests that investors are removing terms in order to win deals. In some cases, founders are feeling so empowered that they are calling out investor behavior that makes them uncomfortable, which is something you didn’t see until more recently.

But Grady said not all is what it seems to those of us on the sidelines. Indeed, he said that while Sequoia’s advice to founders as recently as March of this year was to hit the gas, things have changed more recently. Specifically, he said, “In the last couple of months, a rollout of the vaccines has kind of kind of tapered, so I would say that fog has descended onto the road [and] it’s not so clear the company should be accelerating anymore.”

We also talked about whether companies can forever stay distributed, Tiger Global, and why one of Sequoia’s biggest portfolio companies, the payments giant Stripe, isn’t a public company yet (though it has reportedly hired a law firm to help with preparations). You can find that in the video if you’re so inclined.

On how COVID has impacted Sequoia’s outlook compared with the financial crisis of 2008, when Sequoia famously published its now-famous “RIP: Good Times” memo:

PG: If you go back to that RIP memo, I’d been at Sequoia for a year or so. It was the first major disruption that I had seen —  it was the first major disruption that a lot of our founders had seen. So the question we were getting was, ‘What does this mean for us?’ It was the same sort of thing that happened in March of 2020 that caused us to put out the ‘Black Swan‘ memo [when] what we said was, ‘Hey, you need to brake when you’re going into the curve, so slow down [and] make sure you kind of have your bearings.’

In March of this year what we said was, ‘Okay, now that we’re coming out of the curve, go and accelerate.’ Unfortunately, in the last couple of months, a rollout of the vaccines has kind of kind of tapered and so I would say that fog has descended onto the road [and] it’s not so clear the company should be accelerating anymore. We’re probably in the midst of more indecision now than we were a few months ago or even a year ago . . .we’re kind of stuck in the middle. And so what we’ve been telling companies today is focus on the basics.

On the signals that suggest a slight slowdown to Sequoia, when fundraising all around continues at a record clip:

We don’t pay that much attention to the fundraising numbers, but we do pay attention to employees and we do pay attention to customers, and if you look across not just our portfolio but also public companies in the market at large, attrition has spiked dramatically. There are a lot of people who said, ‘Hey, I hunkered down, I worked hard, I put in my time, but now that the world is starting to open up a little bit again, I’m going to take some time off. I’m going to travel on the see family. I’m going to find a new job. I’m going to start a company.’ And so attrition numbers are actually spiking across the board.

If we look at the customer side of things –and this is not a number that you can get out of public companies because of the way they report [but it’s a number] you can see in private companies — a lot of companies added less revenue in the second quarter than they added in the first. So we actually have seen a little bit of a pullback on the customer side of things [and] that hasn’t necessarily shown up in the fundraising numbers.

On whether that pullback is good, bad, or neutral for founders and investors:

The good news is the whole reason startups exist is to solve important problems in the world, and never have we had a broader array of important problems to be solved than we do right now, because both consumer behavior and the way that businesses operate has changed so dramatically in the last 12 or 18 months. So if what I just said sounds like bad news, we actually think that on balance, it’s great news, because we see these jobs opening up in the world that founders are rushing to fill. I think that’s probably why the fundraising numbers are what they are, because everybody sees all those opportunities and they’re eager to jump in.

On what happens when some of these many new opportunities invariably start to converge — given the current pace of startup funding —  and portfolio companies begin to collide, as happened to Sequoia in March of last year:

We have always had a policy that we do not invest in direct competitors. What defines a direct competitor? Two companies who are going after the same customers in the same market at the same moment in time. Now, if we have a company here in the U.S. going out to the US market, and our partners in India or China or Southeast Asia have a company in their market that does something similar for their market, that’s okay, and maybe someday, down the road, they all end up targeting the same sort of customers. But as long as they’re distinct markets at time zero and they don’t look like they’re converging, that’s okay.

When we’ve ended up in companies that had conflicts, either we’ve done the right thing as in the situation you referenced, or when two companies have kind of converged over time, we’ve set up information barriers and done our best to act in good faith.

So conflicts, it is tough.

There are two products in this market. There’s a product that is faster and cheaper money. And then there’s a product that is unfair advantage. The unfair advantage could be nothing more than that Sequoia doesn’t invest in a lot of companies. We don’t invest in a new company every day. We might partner with 15 to 20 new founders in any given year, and there’s some information value in the fact that Sequoia has gotten into business with a company. So if your unfair advantage is nothing more than the fact that Sequoia chose you, so to speak, that’s still a pretty good advantage when it comes to landing customers [and] landing employees. If your product is money, feel free to give it to competitive companies, because they’re going to get money from somewhere anyway.

#late-stage-venture-capital, #noom, #pat-grady, #scouts, #sequoia-capital, #stripe, #tc, #tiger, #venture-capital, #zoom

Balance raises $25M in a Ribbit Capital-led Series A to grow its ‘consumer-like B2B checkout platform’

Balance, a payments platform aimed at B2B merchants and marketplaces, has raised $25 million in a Series A funding round led by Ribbit Capital.

Avid Ventures participated in the financing, in addition to existing backers Lightspeed Ventures, Stripe, Y Combinator Continuity Fund, SciFi VC and UpWest. Other individual investors that put money in the round include early employees and executives from Plaid, Coinbase, Square, Stripe and PayPal, such as Jaqueline Reses, formerly head of Square Capital. The financing comes just over six months after Balance announced a $5.5 million seed round.

The motivation for starting the company was simple, said CEO and co-founder Bar Geron: “We wanted to create an online B2B experience that doesn’t suck.” He and Yoni Shuster, both former PayPal employees, started the company in early 2020.

B2B payments, he said, have historically differed from B2C primarily in that they have not taken place at the moment of purchase (or at the point of sale) but rather within 30 days and with an invoice. This is not an efficient process for merchants or vendors alike, the company maintains.

Meanwhile, most businesses have avoided paying for their supply with credit cards, because cards can quickly max out, Geron said.

“The only element that keeps many merchants offline is payments,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s a process that is stuck in the flow of those marketplaces and keeping them from scaling. We got fascinated with the problem.”

After starting out at Y Combinator, Balance has developed what it describes as a “consumer-like B2B checkout platform for merchants and marketplaces,” or a “self-serve digital checkout experience company for B2B businesses.”

What that means is that Balance has built a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods, including ACH, cards, checks and bank wires, as well as a variety of terms, including payment on delivery, net payment terms and payment by milestone. Behind the scenes, Balance underwrites the terms of those transactions requiring financing by evaluating the risk of the customer, the merchant and the specific payment terms selected. Balance is built on top of Stripe and offers all of Stripe’s credit card payment options, but then extends far beyond them.

Balance, according to Geron, invested “a lot” in APIs for marketplaces.

“We have a very robust API platform so that these businesses can manage the entire payment flow without being exposed to the risk and regulation of payments,” he told TechCrunch. “And this is all happening without them even touching the funds.”

The plus for merchants is the ability to get immediate payout that is always reconciled like credits. Marketplaces are equipped with automated vendor disbursement, a full compliance umbrella and reconciliation management, Balance says.

“We want to make the online payments experience for businesses as seamless as it is for consumer payments, and we want to do it globally,” Geron told TechCrunch.

The startup has already partnered with e-commerce giants such as BigCommerce and Magento and will soon also work with Salesforce, according to Geron. Its customers range from startups to publicly traded marketplaces to e-commerce enterprises across a variety of industries such as steel, freight, hardware, food ordering, medical supply and apparel. They include Bryzos, Choco, Zilingo and Bay Supply, among others.

It’s early days yet, but Balance has seen growth of about 500% to 600% since the time of its last raise in February, Geron said. The company, which has offices in Tel Aviv and New York, has about 30 employees.

Jordan Angelos, a general partner at Ribbit and former head of M&A and investment at Stripe, believes the fact that Balance has built its platform specifically for “rapidly scaling” B2B marketplaces and merchants is reflective of a “well-placed” focus.

“B2B marketplaces, for example, have a very particular set of payments and capital markets-related needs that can be much more holistically and elegantly solved with Balance’s flexible toolkit than alternatives,” he wrote via email. “Payments and checkout are two sides of the same coin, and Balance’s products allow users to address them together to better serve their customers as well as their own margins.”

#api, #avid-ventures, #balance, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lightspeed-ventures, #new-york, #online-payments, #payments, #recent-funding, #ribbit-capital, #startups, #stripe, #tel-aviv, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Ramp and Brex draw diverging market plans with M&A strategies

Earlier today, spend management startup Ramp said it has raised a $300 million Series C that valued it $3.9 billion. It also said it was acquiring Buyer, a “negotiation-as-a-service” platform that it believes will help customers save money on purchases and SaaS products.

The round and deal were announced just a week after competitor Brex shared news of its own acquisition — the $50 million purchase of Israeli fintech startup Weav. That deal was made after Brex’s founders invested in Weav, which offers a “universal API for commerce platforms”.

From a high level, all of the recent deal-making in corporate cards and spend management shows that it’s not enough to just help companies track what employees are expensing these days. As the market matures and feature sets begin to converge, the players are seeking to differentiate themselves from the competition.

But the point of interest here is these deals can tell us where both companies think they can provide and extract the most value from the market.

These differences come atop another layer of divergence between the two companies: While Brex has instituted a paid software tier of its service, Ramp has not.

Earning more by spending less

Let’s start with Ramp. Launched in 2019, the company is a relative newcomer in the spend management category. But by all accounts, it’s producing some impressive growth numbers. As our colleague Mary Ann Azevedo wrote this morning:

Since the beginning of 2021, the company says it has seen its number of cardholders on its platform increase by 5x, with more than 2,000 businesses currently using Ramp as their “primary spend management solution.” The transaction volume on its corporate cards has tripled since April, when its last raise was announced. And, impressively, Ramp has seen its transaction volume increase year over year by 1,000%, according to CEO and co-founder Eric Glyman.

Ramp’s focus has always been on helping its customers save money: It touts a 1.5% cashback reward for all purchases made through its cards, and says its dashboard helps businesses identify duplicitous subscriptions and license redundancies. Ramp also alerts customers when they can save money on annual vs. monthly subscriptions, which it says has led many customers to do away with established T&E platforms like Concur or Expensify.

All told, the company claims that the average customer saves 3.3% per year on expenses after switching to its platform — and all that is before it brings Buyer into the fold.

#airbase, #api, #brex, #concur, #corporate-spend, #e-commerce, #ec-fintech, #ec-news-analysis, #enterprise, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech-startup, #fundings-exits, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #paypal, #ramp, #startups, #stripe, #weav

API platform Postman valued at $5.6 billion in $225 million fundraise

San Francisco-based Postman, which operates a collaborative platform for developers to help them build, design, test and iterate their APIs, said on Wednesday it has raised $225 million in a new financing round that values it at $5.6 billion, up from $2 billion a year ago.

The startup’s new financing round — a Series D — was led by existing investor New York-headquartered Insight Partners. New investors including Coatue, Battery Ventures, and BOND also participated in the new round, which brings total raise across rounds to over $430 million. Existing investors Nexus Venture Partners and CRV also participated in the new round.

APIs provide a way for developers to connect their applications to other internal and external applications. But it’s a space that until the past decade not many firms have attempted to streamline. (Developers relied on — and many continue to do so — open source CLI tools such as curl and HTTPie. That said, Postman now has a number of competitors including Stoplight, and A16z and Tiger Global-backed Kong.)

Abhinav Asthana, a former intern at Yahoo, faced this frustration first hand and built a Chrome extension for himself and friends.

Little did he know just how many developers and firms needed it, too.

The six-year-old startup’s product, which began its journey in India, is today used by over 17 million developers and over 500,000 organizations including Microsoft, Salesforce, Stripe, Shopify, Cisco, and PayPal.

The list is big: Postman co-founder and chief executive Asthana told TechCrunch that 98% of the Fortune 500 companies are customers of Postman.

“We are solving a fundamental problem for the technology landscape. Big companies tend to be slower as they have many other things on their plate,” he told me two years ago.

Postman API Platform’s offerings

“Every company in every industry in the world today uses APIs and needs an API platform. This trend is only growing with the move to cloud and digital experiences,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch Tuesday.

The startup today leads the market and doesn’t compete with many players. Which would explain the investors’ excitement. The startup, which declined to share its revenue, raised the new round at over 100 multiple of its revenue, according to an investor with knowledge of the matter.

Postman’s platform is crucial for developers, but it was only recently that the startup expanded to create a public marketplace for developers and firms to find ready-made APIs to use.

“The Postman Public API Network connects millions of developers around the world and provides them with a space dedicated to discovering, exploring, and sharing of APIs. This was ultimately driven by our creation of public workspaces, which allows users to connect across different organizations,” Asthana said.

“With the emergence of APIs, we believe that this will usher in the next generation of no-code and ‘citizen developers.’ We encourage a world filled with innovation for everyone with different backgrounds and varying levels of technical experience. More and more, we’re seeing people in sales, marketing, and finance become more comfortable with APIs and become the champions of this technology,” he said.

The startup, which employs over 425 people, plans to deploy the fresh funding to hire more employees across sales, marketing, product, and engineering divisions.

Postman will also “heavily” invest in broadening its product roadmap. “We are expanding the Postman platform across areas that technical users need along with supporting the needs of business users. At a high level, we are investing in supporting workflows for all kinds of APIs — whether they are private APIs, partner APIs, or public APIs,” he said.

Some upcoming items on the roadmap include a new version of the Postman API, support for protocols like gRPC, ProtoBuf, and more extensive capabilities for GraphQL. “We are also focusing heavily on integrations with other vendors in the software development lifecycle like AWS, Git hosting providers like GitHub and GitLab. We are also releasing our Flow Runner tool, a no-code API composition tool to enable anyone to build API driven programs.”

The startup also plans to invest in supporting students through API literacy programs and contribute toward open source projects.

“APIs have quickly become the fundamental building blocks of software used by developers in every industry, in every country across the globe—and Postman has firmly established itself as the preferred platform for developers,” said Insight Partners Managing Director Jeff Horing in a statement.

“Postman has the opportunity to become a key pillar of how enterprises build, deliver products, and seamlessly enable partnerships across the ecosystem. Their continued, rapid expansion and strong management team point to a future for Postman with virtually unlimited possibilities.”

#battery-ventures, #bond, #cisco, #coatue, #crv, #funding, #insight-partners, #kong, #microsoft, #nexus-venture-partners, #paypal, #postman, #saas, #salesforce, #shopify, #stripe

Former Snap employees raise $9M for Trust, emerging from beta to level marketing playing field

Trust wants to give smaller businesses the same advantages that large enterprises have when marketing on digital and social media platforms. It came out of beta with $9 million in seed funding from Lerer Hippeau, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Upfront Ventures and Upper90.

The Los Angeles-based company was started in 2019 by a group of five Snap alums working in various roles within Snap’s revenue product strategy business. They were building tools for businesses to fund success with digital marketing, but kept hearing from customers about the advantage big advertisers had over smaller ones — the ability to receive good payment terms, credit lines, as well as data and advice.

Aiming to flip the script on that, the group created Trust, which is a card and business community to help digital businesses navigate the ever-changing pricing models to market online, receive the same incentives larger advertisers get and make the best decision of where their marketing dollars will reach the furthest.

Trust dashboard

Trust does this in a few ways: Its card, built in partnership with Stripe, enables businesses to increase their buying power by up to 20 times and have 45 days to make payments on their marketing investments, CEO James Borow told TechCrunch. Then as part of its community, companies share knowledge of marketing buys and data insights typically reserved for larger advertisers. Users even receive news via their dashboard around their specific marketing strategy, he added.

“The ad platforms are a wall of gardens, and most people don’t know what is going on inside, so our customers work together to see what is going on,” Borow said.

The growth of e-commerce is pushing more digital marketing investments, providing opportunity for Trust to be a huge business, Borow said. E-commerce sales in the U.S. grew by 39% in the first quarter, while digital advertising spend is forecasted to increase 25% this year to $191 billion. Meanwhile, Google, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter all recently reported rapid growth in their year-over-year advertising revenues, Borow said.

The new funding will go toward increasing the company’s headcount.

“We have active customers on the platform, so we wanted to ramp up hiring as soon as we went into general release,” he added. “We are leaving beta with 25 businesses and a few hundred on our waitlist.”

That list will soon grow. In addition to the funding round, Trust announced a strategic partnership with social shopping e-commerce platform Verishop. The company’s 3,500 merchants will receive priority access to the Trust card and community, Borow said.

Andrea Hippeau, partner at Lerer Hippeau, said she knew Borow from being an investor in his previous advertising company Shift, which was acquired by Brand Networks in 2015.

When Borow contacted Lerer about Trust, Hippeau said this was the kind of offering that would be applicable to the firm’s portfolio, which has many direct-to-consumer brands, and knew marketing was a huge pain point for them.

“Digital marketing is important to all brands, but it is also a black box that you put marketing dollars into, but don’t know what you get,” she said. “We hear this across our portfolio — they spend a lot of money on ad platforms, yet are treated like mom-and-pop companies in terms of credit. When in reality Casper is outspending other companies by five times. Trust understands how important marketing dollars are and gives them terms that are financially better.”

 

#advertising-tech, #andrea-hippeau, #brand-networks, #business, #digital-advertising, #digital-marketing, #enterprise, #facebook, #funding, #google, #james-borow, #lerer-hippeau, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #marketing, #online-advertising, #recent-funding, #small-business, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #trust, #upfront-ventures, #upper90

Paystand banks $50M to make B2B payments cashless and with no fees

It’s pretty easy for individuals to send money back and forth, and there are lots of cash apps from which to choose. On the commercial side, however, one business trying to send $100,000 the same way is not as easy.

Paystand wants to change that. The Scotts Valley, California-based company is using cloud technology and the Ethereum blockchain as the engine for its Paystand Bank Network that enables business-to-business payments with zero fees.

The company raised $50 million Series C funding led by NewView Capital, with participation from SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund and King River Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to $85 million, Paystand co-founder and CEO Jeremy Almond told TechCrunch.

During the 2008 economic downturn, Almond’s family lost their home. He decided to go back to graduate school and did his thesis on how commercial banking could be better and how digital transformation would be the answer. Gleaning his company vision from the enterprise side, Almond said what Venmo does for consumers, Paystand does for commercial transactions between mid-market and enterprise customers.

“Revenue is the lifeblood of a business, and money has become software, yet everything is in the cloud except for revenue,” he added.

He estimates that almost half of enterprise payments still involve a paper check, while fintech bets heavily on cards that come with 2% to 3% transaction fees, which Almond said is untenable when a business is routinely sending $100,000 invoices. Paystand is charging a flat monthly rate rather than a fee per transaction.

Paystand’s platform. Image Credits: Paystand

On the consumer side, companies like Square and Stripe were among the first wave of companies predominantly focused on accounts payable and then building business process software on top of an existing infrastructure.

Paystand’s view of the world is that the accounts receivables side is harder and why there aren’t many competitors. This is why Paystand is surfing the next wave of fintech, driven by blockchain and decentralized finance, to transform the $125 trillion B2B payment industry by offering an autonomous, cashless and feeless payment network that will be an alternative to cards, Almond said.

Customers using Paystand over a three-year period are able to yield average benefits like 50% savings on the cost of receivables and $850,000 savings on transaction fees. The company is seeing a 200% increase in monthly network payment value and customers grew two-fold in the past year.

The company said it will use the new funding to continue to grow the business by investing in open infrastructure. Specifically, Almond would like to reboot digital finance, starting with B2B payments, and reimagine the entire CFO stack.

“I’ve wanted something like this to exist for 20 years,” Almond said. “Sometimes it is the unsexy areas that can have the biggest impacts.”

As part of the investment, Jazmin Medina, principal at NewView Capital, will join Paystand’s board. She told TechCrunch that while the venture firm is a generalist, it is rooted in fintech and fintech infrastructure.

She also agrees with Almond that the B2B payments space is lagging in terms of innovation and has “strong conviction” in what Almond is doing to help mid-market companies proactively manage their cash needs.

“There is a wide blue ocean of the payment industry, and all of these companies have to be entirely digital to stay competitive,” Medina added. “There is a glaring hole if your revenue is holding you back because you are not digital. That is why the time is now.”

 

#blockchain, #enterprise, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #jazmin-medina, #jeremy-almond, #king-river-capital, #mobile-payments, #newview-capital, #payments, #paystand, #recent-funding, #saas, #softbank, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #venmo, #venture-capital

WhenThen’s no-code payments platform attracts $6M from European VCs Stride and Cavalry

The payments space – amazingly – remains up for grabs for startups. Yes dear reader, despite the success of Stripe, there seems to be a new payments startup virtually every other day. It’s a mess out there! The accelerated growth of e-commerce due to the pandemic means payments are now a booming space. And here comes another one, with a twist.

WhenThen has built a no-code payment operations platform that, they claim, streamlines the payment processes “of merchants of any kind”.  It says its platform can autonomously orchestrate, monitor, improve and manage all customer payments and payments ops.

The startup’s opportunity has arisen because service providers across different verticals increasingly want to get into open banking and provide their own payment solutions and financial services.

Founded 6 months ago, WhenThen has now raised $6 million, backed by European VCs Stride and Cavalry.

The founders, Kirk Donohoe, Eamon Doyle and Dave Brown  are three former Mastercard Payment veterans.

Based “out of Dublin, CEO Donohoe told me: “We see traditional businesses embracing e-comm, and e-comm merchants now operating multiple business models such as trade supply, marketplace, subscription, and more. There is no platform that makes it easy for such businesses to create and operate multiple payment flows to support multiple business models in one place – that’s where we step in.”

He added: “WhenThen is helping ecommerce digital platforms build advanced payment flows and payment automation, in minutes as opposed to months. When you start to integrate different payment methods, different payment gateways, how you want the payment to move from collection through to payout gets very, very complex. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now, as an entrepreneur building different businesses that had to accept collect and pay payments.”

He said his founding team “had to build very complex payment flows for large merchants, airlines, hotels, issuers, and we just found it was ridiculous that you have to continue to do the same thing over and over again. So we decided to come up with WhenThen as a better way to be able to help you build those flows in minutes.”

Claude Ritter, managing partner at Cavalry said: “Basic payment orchestration platforms have been around for some time, focusing mostly on maximizing payment acceptance by optimizing routing. WhenThen provides the first end-to-end payment flow platform to equip businesses with the opportunity to control every stage of the payment flow from payment intent to payout.”

WhenThen supports a wide range of popular payment providers such as Stripe, Braintree, Adyen, Authorize.net, Checkout.com, etc., and a variety of alternative and locally preferred payment methods such as Klarna Affirm, PayPal, BitPay.

“For brave merchants considering global reach and operating multiple business models concurrently, I believe choosing the right payment ops platform will become as important as choosing the right e-commerce platform. Building your entire ecomm experience tightly coupled to a single payment processor is a hard correction to make down the line – you need a payment flow platform like WhenThen,” added Fred Destin, founder of Stride.VC.

#adyen, #authorize-net, #bitpay, #ceo, #checkout-com, #dublin, #e-commerce, #entrepreneur, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #fred-destin, #klarna, #managing-partner, #mastercard, #merchant-services, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-payments, #open-banking, #payment-gateway, #payment-processor, #payment-solutions, #paypal, #stripe, #tc

WebOps platform Pantheon raises $100M from SoftBank Vision Fund

WebOps SaaS platform Pantheon, which started out as a Drupal and WordPress hosting service many years ago, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series E round solely funded by the Softbank Vision Fund. With this round, Pantheon has now reached unicorn status, with a valuation of over $1 billion.

Pantheon co-founder and CEO Zack Rosen told me that the company wasn’t under any pressure to raise. “It really just helps us accelerate everything that we’re doing,” he said. “We didn’t need the funding. We had plenty of cash in the bank. We were planning to raise in a year or two years down the road. But we have a lot of conviction in and where this industry is going and our customers’ needs are pretty apparent, so we just used this as an opportunity to pull things in by six months to a year and accelerate all the things that were already on our operational plans for the company.”

Image Credits: Pantheon

As Rosen noted, the role of company websites has changed quite a bit since Pantheon launched almost a dozen years ago. While originally, they were mostly about brand building and having a publishing channel, these days, they are directly tied to revenue. “The majority of buying decisions get made before anyone talks to a customer these days,” Rosen said. “All the research is getting done — hopefully — on your company’s website. Any link in an advertisement or link in an email is going to route that customer back to the website. That’s your most important digital product. And so marketers are really starting to think about it like that.”

So while hosting and publishing may be solved problems, driving revenue through a company’s website — and measuring that — is where Pantheon sees a lot of opportunities going forward. Though at the core of the company’s offering, of course, is still its serverless hosting platform and developers remain its core audience. But it’s the collaboration between the marketing teams and developers that is driving a lot of what the company is now investing in. “In order to deliver a best-in-class digital experience — and be able to iterate it every single day and work with designers and developers and website owners and project managers — you need a system of record for that work. You need a solid workflow for those teams,” Rosen noted.

Companies, he argues, are looking for a solid SaaS platform that provides them with those workflows, in addition to the high-performance hosting, CDNs and everything else that is now table stakes for hosting websites. “[Teams] want to stop thinking about this stuff,” he said. “They just want a partner — like any other SaaS application, whether it’s Stripe, Twilio or Salesforce. They just want it to work and not to worry about it. And then, once you have that taken care of, then you can move up into the things that really drive the outcomes these teams care about.”

As for raising from the SoftBank Vision Fund, which features the likes of ByteDance, Perch, Redis Labs, Slack and Arm among its investments (and, infamously, WeWork), Rosen said that Pantheon had its choice of firms, but at the end of the day, SoftBank’s team turned out to be “huge believers in this category,” he said, and could help Pantheon reach the scale it needs to define the WebOps category.

“Digital transformation has accelerated the movement to the cloud for essential business infrastructure. By automating workflows and do-it-yourself with its SaaS offering, we believe Pantheon’s leading platform is transforming how modern website experiences are created,” said Vikas Parekh, Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “We are excited to partner with Zack and the Pantheon team to support their ambition of helping organizations embrace a new and better way of building websites that deliver results.”

#as-a-service, #bank, #club-penguin, #computing, #drupal, #pantheon, #partner, #redis-labs, #saas, #salesforce, #serverless-computing, #softbank-vision-fund, #software, #software-as-a-service, #stripe, #tc, #technology, #twilio, #wework, #wordpress, #zack

Opioid addiction treatment apps found sharing sensitive data with third parties

Several widely used opioid treatment recovery apps are accessing and sharing sensitive user data with third parties, a new investigation has found.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to reduce transmission in the U.S, telehealth services and apps offering opioid addiction treatment have surged in popularity. This rise of app-based services comes as addiction treatment facilities face budget cuts and closures, which has seen both investor and government interest turn to telehealth as a tool to combat the growing addiction crisis.

While people accessing these services may have a reasonable expectation of privacy of their healthcare data, a new report from ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab, compiled in conjunction with the Opioid Policy Institute and the Defensive Lab Agency, found that some of these apps collect and share sensitive information with third parties, raising questions about their privacy and security practices.

The report studied 10 opioid treatment apps available on Android: Bicycle Health, Boulder Care, Confidant Health. DynamiCare Health, Kaden Health, Loosid, Pear Reset-O, PursueCare, Sober Grid, and Workit Health. These apps have been installed at least 180,000 times, and have received more than $300 million in funding from investment groups and the federal government.

Despite the vast reach and sensitive nature of these services, the research found that the majority of the apps accessed unique identifiers about the user’s device and, in some cases, shared that data with third parties.

Of the 10 apps studied, seven access the Android Advertising ID (AAID), a user-generated identifier that can be linked to other information to provide insights into identifiable individuals. Five of the apps also access the devices’ phone number; three access the device’s unique IMEI and IMSI numbers, which can also be used to uniquely identify a person’s device; and two access a users’ list of installed apps, which the researchers say can be used to build a “fingerprint” of a user to track their activities.

Many of the apps examined are also obtaining location information in some form, which when correlated with these unique identifiers, strengthens the capability for surveilling an individual person, as well as their daily habits, behaviors, and who they interact with. One of the methods the apps are doing this is through Bluetooth; seven of the apps request permission to make Bluetooth connections, which the researchers say is particularly worrying due to the fact this can be used to track users in real-world locations.

“Bluetooth can do what I call proximity tracking, so if you’re in the grocery store, it knows how long you’re in a certain aisle, or how close you are to someone else,” Sean O’Brien, principal researcher at ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab who led the investigation, told TechCrunch. “Bluetooth is an area that I’m pretty concerned about.”

Another major area of concern is the use of tracker SDKs in these apps, which O’Brien previously warned about in a recent investigation that revealed that hundreds of Android apps were sending granular user location data to X-Mode, a data broker known to sell location data to U.S. military contractors, and now banned from both Apple and Google’s app stores. SDKs, or software development kits, are bundles of code that are included with apps to make them work properly, such as collecting location data. Often, SDKs are provided for free in exchange for sending back the data that the apps collect.

“Confidentiality continues to be one of the major concerns that people cite for not entering treatment… existing privacy laws are totally not up to speed.” Jacqueline Seitz, Legal Action Center

While the researchers keen to point out that it does not categorize all usage of trackers as malicious, particularly as many developers may not even be aware of their existence within their apps, they discovered a high prevalence of tracker SDKs in seven out of the 10 apps that revealed potential data-sharing activity. Some SDKs are designed specifically to collect and aggregate user data; this is true even where the SDK’s core functionality is concerned.

But the researchers explain that an app, which provides navigation to a recovery center, for example, may also be tracking a user’s movements throughout the day and sending that data back to the app’s developers and third parties.

In the case of Kaden Health, Stripe — which is used for payment services within the app — can read the list of installed apps on a user’s phone, their location, phone number, and carrier name, as well as their AAID, IP address, IMEI, IMSI, and SIM serial number.

“An entity as large as Stripe having an app share that information directly is pretty alarming. It’s worrisome to me because I know that information could be very useful for law enforcement,” O’Brien tells TechCrunch. “I also worry that people having information about who has been in treatment will eventually make its way into decisions about health insurance and people getting jobs.”

The data-sharing practices of these apps are likely a consequence of these services being developed in an environment of unclear U.S. federal guidance regarding the handling and disclosure of patient information, the researchers say, though O’Brien tells TechCrunch that the actions could be in breach of 42 CFR Part 2, a law that outlines strong controls over disclosure of patient information related to treatment for addiction.

Jacqueline Seitz, a senior staff attorney for health privacy at Legal Action Center, however, said this 40-year-old law hasn’t yet been updated to recognize apps.

“Confidentiality continues to be one of the major concerns that people cite for not entering treatment,” Seitz told TechCrunch. “While 42 CFR Part 2 recognizes the very sensitive nature of substance use disorder treatment, it doesn’t mention apps at all. Existing privacy laws are totally not up to speed.

“It would be great to see some leadership from the tech community to establish some basic standards and recognize that they’re collecting super-sensitive information so that patients aren’t left in the middle of a health crisis trying to navigate privacy policies,” said Seitz.

Another likely reason for these practices is a lack of security and data privacy staff, according to Jonathan Stoltman, director at Opioid Policy Institute, which contributed to the research. “If you look at a hospital’s website, you’ll see a chief information officer, a chief privacy officer, or a chief security officer that’s in charge of physical security and data security,” he tells TechCrunch. “None of these startups have that.”

“There’s no way you’re thinking about privacy if you’re collecting the AAID, and almost all of these apps are doing that from the get-go,” Stoltman added.

Google is aware of ExpressVPN’s findings but has yet to comment. However, the report has been released as the tech giant prepares to start limiting developer access to the Android Advertising ID, mirroring Apple’s recent efforts to enable users to opt out of ad tracking.

While ExpressVPN is keen to make patients aware that these apps may violate expectations of privacy, it also stresses the central role that addiction treatment and recovery apps may play in the lives of those with opioid addiction. It recommends that if you or a family member used one of these services and find the disclosure of this data to be problematic, contact the Office of Civil Rights through Health and Human Services to file a formal complaint.

“The bottom line is this is a general problem with the app economy, and we’re watching telehealth become part of that, so we need to be very careful and cautious,” said O’Brien. “There needs to be disclosure, users need to be aware, and they need to demand better.”

Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit findtreatment.gov.

Read more:

#android, #app-developers, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #bluetooth, #broker, #computing, #director, #federal-government, #google, #google-play, #governor, #health, #health-insurance, #healthcare-data, #imessage, #law-enforcement, #mobile-app, #operating-systems, #privacy, #read, #security, #software, #stripe, #terms-of-service, #united-states

Shopify expands its one-click checkout, Shop Pay, to any merchant on Facebook or Google

E-commerce platform Shopify announced this morning its one-click checkout service known as Shop Pay will become available to any U.S. merchant that sells on Facebook or Google — even if they don’t use Shopify’s software to power their online stores. That makes Shop Pay the first Shopify product offered to non-Shopify merchants, the company notes.

First introduced at its developer conference in 2017, Shop Pay is similar to other instant checkout solutions that offer an easier way to pay online by reducing the number of fields a customer has to fill out during the checkout process. The service remembers and encrypts the customer’s information, so consumers can check out with just a tap when shopping online and, as of recently, even pay for purchase in installments, thanks to a partnership with Affirm.

Shopify in February had expanded Shop Pay to Facebook and Instagram, in partnership with Facebook, but it only worked for existing Shopify merchants selling on those social platforms at the time. In May, Google announced at its I/O developer conference it was partnering with Shopify on an online shopping expansion that would give Shopify’s more than 1.7 million merchants the ability to reach customers through Google Search and other “shopping journeys” that began through other Google properties like Search, Maps, Images, Lens, and YouTube.

The company declined to share how many of its 1.7 million merchants are already available on Facebook or Google today, but said they are two of the most popular channels.

Following today’s announcement, other merchants will also have the option to adopt Shop Pay for their own Facebook or Google stores. While how many will actually do so is yet unknown, Shopify notes that every day 1.8 billion people log onto Facebook and a billion shopping sessions take place across Google.

The company also touted Shop Pay’s advantages, including its 70% faster checkout than a typical checkout offers, with a 1.72x higher conversion rate — meaning fewer abandoned charts.

For consumers, the advantage of using Shop Pay over a traditional checkout, beyond the speed, is its integration with Shopify’s mobile app, Shop, which organizes and tracks your online orders across merchants, including Amazon,  so you can see when orders are arriving or quickly ask questions and manage returns.

To date, the Shop app has tracked over 430 million orders, the company says.

Over time, the Shop app can also customize a feed including users’ favorite stores to point to other recommendations, including those from local merchants. Shopify confirmed that the Shop app will be able to track the Shop Pay-enabled orders from the non-Shopify merchants.

“Since launching, Shop Pay has set the standard for checkout experiences, facilitating more than $24 billion in orders,” noted Shopify VP, Carl Rivera, who heads Product for Shop. “According to studies, cart abandonment averages 70%, with nearly 20% occurring because of a complicated checkout process. Shop Pay makes that process fast and simple, and the expansion to all merchants selling on Facebook and Google is a mission-critical step in bringing a best-in-class checkout to every consumer, every merchant, every platform, and every device,” he added.

The expansion could be a notable challenge to other payment mechanisms, including PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, and those offered by the platforms themselves, thanks to Shopify’s growing traction with merchants — one analysis gives its platform a 23% market share in the U.S — combined with the popularity of the Shop app, now the No. 3 Shopping app on the App Store.

The news follows yesterday’s confirmation that Shopify has taken a significant stake in payments giant Stripe, the backbone of the Shop Pay service, as well as Shopify’s partner on merchant services, including bank accounts and debit cards.

Shopify says the Shop Pay service will be enabled for all U.S. merchants selling on Facebook in the “coming months,” and will roll out to all merchants on Google by late 2021.

 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #facebook, #google, #merchant-services, #mobile-payments, #online-shopping, #online-stores, #partner, #shop, #shopify, #shopping, #stripe, #tc, #united-states

Privacy.com rebrands to Lithic, raises $43M for virtual payment cards

When Privacy.com was founded in 2014, the company’s focus was to let anyone generate virtual and disposable payment card numbers for free.

The goal was to allow those users to keep users’ actual credit card numbers safe while allowing the option to cut off companies from their bank accounts. In an age of near-constant data breaches and credit card skimmers targeting unsuspecting websites, Privacy.com has made it harder for hackers to get anyone’s real credit card details.

The concept has appealed to many. At the time of its $10.2 million Series A last July, Privacy.com said it had issued 5 million virtual card numbers. Today, that number has more than doubled, to over 10 million, according to CEO and co-founder Bo Jiang.

“We set out to create the safest and fastest way to pay online. Our mobile app and web browser extension lets you generate a virtual card for every purchase you want to make online,” Jiang explained. “That can be especially convenient for things like managing subscriptions or making sure your kid doesn’t spend $1,000 on Fortnite skins.”

Over the years, the New York-based company realized the value in the technology it had developed to issue the virtual and disposable payment cards. So after beta testing for a year, Privacy.com launched its new Card Issuing API in 2020 to give corporate customers the ability to create payment cards for their customers, optimize back-office operations or simplify disbursements.

The early growth of the new card issuing platform, dubbed Lithic, has prompted the startup to shift its business strategy — and rebrand.

In the process of building out its consumer product, Privacy.com ended up building a lot of infrastructure around programmatically creating cards.

“If you think about the anatomy of credit/debit card transactions there’s a number of modern processors such as Stripe, Adyen, Braintree and Checkout,” Jiang told TechCrunch. “On the flip side, we’re focused on card creation and issuing, and the APIs for actually creating cards. That side has lagged the card acquiring side by five to seven years…We’ve built a lot to support card creation for ourselves, and realized tons of other developers need this to create cards.”

As part of its new strategy, Privacy.com announced today that it has changed its name to Lithic and raised $43 million in Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners to double down on its card issuing platform and new B2B focus. Index Ventures, Tusk Venture Partners, Rainfall Ventures, Teamworthy Ventures and Walkabout Ventures also participated in the financing, which brings Lithic’s total raised to date to $61 million.

Image Credits: Lithic CEO and co-founder Bo Jiang / Lithic

Privacy.com, the company’s consumer product, will continue to operate as a separate brand powered by the Lithic card issuing platform.

Put simply, Lithic was designed to make it simple for developers to programmatically create virtual and physical payment cards. Jiang is encouraged by the platform’s early success, noting that enterprise issuing volumes tripled in the last four months. It competes with the likes of larger fintech players such as Marqeta and Galileo, although Jiang notes that Lithic’s target customer is more of an early-stage startup than a large, established company.

“Marqeta, for example, goes after enterprise and is less focused on developers and making their infrastructure accessible. And, Galileo too,” he told TechCrunch. “When you compare us to them, because we’re a younger company, we have the benefit of building a much more modern infrastructure. That allows us to bring costs down but also to be more nimble to the needs of startups.”

The benefits touted by Lithic’s “self-serve” platform include being able to “instantly” issue a card and “accessible building blocks,” or what the company describes as focused functionality so developers can include only the features they want.

Another benefit? An opportunity for a new revenue stream. Developers earn back a percentage of interchange revenue generated by the merchant, according to Lithic. “What we’ve noticed is a lot of folks have really big ambitions to build more of a stack in-house. We offer a path for folks by bringing more of a payments piece of the world that they can build for scale,” he said. “As a result of all these things, we end up not competing head to head with Marqeta, for example, on a ton of deals.”

The company charges a fee per card for Lithic API customers (it’s free for Privacy.com). And it makes money on interchange fees with both offerings.

For Charles Birnbaum, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, the shift from B2C to B2B is a smart strategy. He believes Lithic is building a critical piece of the embedded fintech and payments infrastructure stack.

“We have been big fans of the Privacy.com team and product since the beginning, but once we started to see such strong organic growth across the fintech landscape for their new card processing developer platform the past year, we just had to find a way to partner with the team for this next phase of growth,” he said.

Index Ventures partner Mark Goldberg notes that as every business becomes a fintech, there’s been an “explosion” in demand for online payments and card issuance.

“Lithic has stood out to us as being the developer-friendly solution here — it’s fast, powerful and insanely easy to get up-and-running,” he said. “We’ve heard from customers that Lithic can power a launch in the same amount of time it takes an incumbent issuer to return a phone call.”

Lithic plans to use its new capital to expand the tools and tech it offers to developers to issue and manage virtual cards as well as enhance its Privacy.com offering.

#adyen, #api, #bessemer-venture-partners, #charles-birnbaum, #credit-card, #debit-card, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #index-ventures, #mark-goldberg, #marqeta, #money, #new-york, #online-payments, #payment-card, #payments, #payments-infrastructure, #privacy-com, #recent-funding, #smart-card, #startup, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #teamworthy-ventures, #tusk-venture-partners

Stripe acquires Bouncer, will integrate its card authentication into the Radar fraud detection tool

On the heels of a $600 million fundraise earlier this year, payments giant Stripe has been on an acquisition march to continue building out its business. In the latest development, the company has acquired Bouncer, a startup based in Oakland that has built a platform to automatically run card authentications and detect fraud in card-based online transactions. Its technology is tailored for mobile transactions and includes a flow to help users authenticate themselves if they are mistakenly flagged, to come back into an app legitimately (hence the name).

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but Stripe is acquiring both Bouncer’s technology and the team, which will be integrated into Stripe Radar. Started in 2018, Radar is Stripe’s AI-based anti-fraud technology toolset, and most of the tech — which is focused around preventing fraudulent transactions on the Stripe platform — has been built in-house up to now. Stripe says that Radar already prevents “hundreds of millions of dollars of fraud for businesses” each year.

“Bouncer is a great tool for modern internet businesses. It allows them to quickly identify stolen cards, while also ensuring legitimate customers can transact without being blocked,” said Simon Arscott, business lead for Stripe Radar, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to welcome the Bouncer team, and their years of experience building payment authentication software for businesses, to Stripe and to enable their technology for Radar users. With the addition of advanced card scanning capabilities, Stripe Radar will be able block more fraud and further increase revenue for millions of businesses around the world who rely on Stripe.”

The deal comes a couple of weeks after Stripe announced the acquisition of TaxJar to bring cloud-based sales tax calculating tools into its payments platform.

Like Stripe itself, Bouncer was incubated at Y Combinator, in its case as part of its Summer 2019 cohort. In addition to YC, it had raised funding from Commerce Ventures and the Pioneer Fund, but had never disclosed how much it had raised in total.

Not to be confused with the Polish marketing technology startup Bouncer, which provides bulk email verification, Oakland Bouncer was co-founded by Will Megson (CEO) and Sam King (chief scientist), who between them have an interesting pedigree when it comes to identity verification, from academia to working at fast-scaling companies in categories that have been some of the biggest adopters of verification technology.

Both previously worked for years at on-demand transportation service Lyft in fraud, identity and payment management. Before that, Megson was at Groupon; and King, in addition to holding a position as an associate professor of computer science at UC Davis, worked at Twitter on account security, founding the fake accounts team.

Groupon is among the customers that Bouncer currently works with, alongside OfferUp, ibotta and Dealerware. Bouncer will keep its current service and customers up post-deal.

Radar is currently sold in a number of tiers ranging from free to 6p per screened transaction, depending on how it is being used (there is a more basic machine learning tier, and an enhanced tier for fraud teams, and the price varies also depending on whether customers are using Stripe’s standard pricing fees or something else). Stripe also offers a chargeback protection service priced at 0.4% per transaction, as well as analytics tools for Radar customers to get an overview of what is going on.

Stripe says that Radar has blocked more than $1 billion in fraudulent transactions since it was launched.

Bouncer is also currently priced at different tiers, ranging from free to $.15/scan for its basic solution, or a custom price for its more tailored services.

Integrating Bouncer’s card scanning and risk technology into the Radar stack will both sweeten the deal for people to buy those services from Stripe, but also make the tools more effective.

As Stripe describes it, when Radar flags a transaction, Bouncer’s card screening and verification technology will kick in as a “dynamic intervention” to confirm whether or not a customer had a legitimate card at the time of the transaction. This is done to help reduce false positives, which are more frequent in high risk transactions (such as those for big-ticket items, or if a person has been making several transactions in quick succession, or other payment activity that just comes up as unusual in systems).

We’ve been in a wave of new authentication technology that includes things like biometrics and other innovations, but Bouncer takes an approach that is less high-tech at the point of ingestion — needing only a phone’s camera and the card that the customer is using. When a transaction is flagged up and sent to Bouncer for verification, Bouncer works by requesting a picture of the payment card (which can be based on any payment card type and can be a low-light picture).

It then runs that through its PCI- and GDPR-compliant system to see if it’s stolen or real. If it’s real, the transaction continues; stolen and the transaction is cancelled. The whole process can take less than a second (not including the time it takes you to take a picture, of course).

For Bouncer, the idea is that Stripe’s machine learning engine will in turn help Bouncer become more effective.

“I’m excited that we’ll be able to scale our advanced card-verification technology across the Stripe network to help businesses grow their revenue while further reducing fraud behind the scenes,” said Will Megson, CEO of Bouncer, in a statement. “The same signals that Radar learns from will make Bouncer more effective, and Bouncer will, in turn, make Radar more effective. We couldn’t be more excited to join the Radar team.”

Stripe has made a number of acquisitions over the years to bring in key pieces of technology, and in one case — when it acquired PayStack in Lagos (another YC alum) — to help Stripe enter and serve merchants in Africa and more emerging markets overall.

At least two of these have been made in aid of bringing on technologists and technology to build out its compliance and authentication tools. In 2016 Stripe quietly acquired Teapot, a Silicon Valley startup that had been working on APIs for identity verification, trust, credit and other tools needed in financial transactions. Its co-founders spent some years at the company before moving on to other things.

In 2019, Stripe acquired a startup out of Ireland called Touchtech to bring in technology to prepare for Strong Customer Authentication regulations in Europe.

The need for better, more sophisticated tools to ensure online transactions are legit is not going anywhere fast. Malicious hacking — and the consequences that has for obtaining personal data that can be used in consumer fraud — continues to be a persistent threat. And in the meantime, e-commerce continues to become an ever-more mainstream activity, widening the pool of consumers and the chances of things going wrong.

#bouncer, #ecommerce, #fraud, #fundings-exits, #ma, #payments, #security, #self-driving-cars, #stripe

Treasury Prime raises $20M to scale its banking-as-a-service biz

This morning Treasury Prime, a banking-as-a-service startup that delivers its product via APIs, announced that it has closed a $20 million Series B. The capital comes around a year since the startup announced its Series A, and around 1.5 years since it raised its preceding round.

For Treasury Prime, the new capital was an internal affair, with prior investors stepping up to lead its new round of funding. Deciens Capital and QED Investors co-led the round, with Susa Ventures and SaaStr Fund also putting cash into the transaction.

As is increasingly common among insider-led fundraises in recent years, the startup in question was not in dire need of new funding before the new investment came together. In fact, Treasury Prime CEO Chris Dean told TechCrunch that his firm is “super capital efficient” in an interview, adding that it had not tucked into its Series A capital until January of this year.

So, why raise more funds now? To invest aggressively in its business. That plan is cliche for a startup raising new funding, but in the case of Treasury Prime the move isn’t in anticipation of future demand. Dean told TechCrunch that his startups had run into a bottleneck in which it could only take on so much new customer volume. That’s no good for a startup in a competitive sector, so picking up its spend in early 2021 and raising new capital in mid-2021 makes sense as it could help it hire, and absorb more demand, more quickly.

And for Treasury Prime’s preceding backers, the chance to put more capital into a startup that was dealing with more demand than capacity likely wasn’t too hard a choice.  Dean added that to make sure the round’s price was market-reasonable, he pitched around 10 venture capital firms, got three term sheets, and then went with his preceding investor group; if any VC reading this is irked by the move, this is the founder equivalent of private-market investors asking founders to come back to them after they find a lead.

But with the banking-as-a-service market growing, thanks to entrants like Stripe showing up in recent quarters, how does Treasury Prime expect to stay towards the front of its fintech niche? Per Dean, by bringing together banks that want fintech deal volume, and fintechs who need both technology and eventual banking partners. By courting both sides of its market, Treasury Prime hopes to be well-situated for long-term growth.

And its CEO is bullish on the scale of his market.

If you imagine the banking-as-a-service market as merely neobanks, he explained, it’s not that big. But his startup expects the number of companies that want to offer their customers the sort banking capabilities that Treasury Prime and some competitors can offer will be broad. How broad? The best way I can summarize the company’s argument is that, a bit like how vertical SaaS has proven that building software for particular industries can be big business, Treasury Prime expects that banking tools will also be built for similar business categories. Vertical banking, perhaps, integrated into other services.

And it wants to be there, offering the back-end tech, and access to banks that the companies building those services will need.

Fintech is a big and expensive market, and Treasury Prime isn’t busy raising nine-figure rounds — yet, at least. According to PitchBook data, Treasury Prime was valued at just over $40 million at the time of its Series A; the company’s new valuation was presumably higher, though how much is not yet clear.

Let’s see how far it can get with $20 million more as it sheds some of its frugal DNA and looks to burn a little faster.

#api, #early-stage, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #treasury-prime

Payments, lending and neobanks rule fintechs in emerging markets, report says

Tech investments in emerging markets have been in full swing over the past couple of years and their ecosystems have thrived as a result. Some of these markets like Africa, Latin America, and India, have comprehensive reports by publications and firms on trends and investments in their individual regions. But there’s hardly a report to compare and contrast trends and investments between these regions and rightfully so. Such a task is Herculean.

Well, a report released today by data research organization Briter Bridges and global inclusive tech accelerator Catalyst Fund is punching above its weight to offer a holistic representation to the darling sector of these three markets: fintech.

The report “State of Fintech in Emerging Markets Report” has three objectives — to evaluate the investment, product, and inclusivity trends across emerging markets.

The team surveyed over 177 startups and 33 investors across Africa, Latin America, and India. Though this sample size used is minuscule, the key findings are quite impressive.

Let’s dive in.

Fintechs have raised $23B across the regions since 2017

There’s no stopping emerging markets’ favorite. The sector has continued to receive the largest share of investments year-on-year for the past five years.

More than 300 million unbanked African adults account for 17% of the world’s unbanked population. So it’s not difficult to see why in 2019, the continent witnessed five mega deals in Branch, Tala, World Remit, Interswitch, and OPay that amounted to a total of over $775 million. While this dropped last year to $362 million, companies like Flutterwave, TymeBank, Kuda have raised sizeable rounds during this period.

fintech funding five years emerging markets

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Latin America is home to a growing base of digital users, enabling regulation and reforms, and vibrant small businesses. And just like Africa, the percentage of unbanked people is high, 70%. Fintechs in the region have taken the opportunity to cater to their needs and have been compensated with mega-rounds, including NuBank, Neon, Konfio, and Clip. Collectively, fintech startups have raised $10 billion in the past five years.

In 2019 alone, Indian fintech startups raised a record of $4.8 billion, per the report. Then last year, the sector brought in $3 billion. Over the past five years, they have totaled $11.6 billion with notable names like CRED, Razorpay, Groww, BharatPe, among others.

Africa’s average seed rounds stand at $1M, India and Latin America average $3M

Per the report, early-stage deals have been increasing over the past five years totaling over $1.6 billion. Their average size, especially for seed rounds, has grown from $750,000 in 2017 to $1 million in 2020. For  Latin America, the average seed deal in the last five years was around $5.7 million while India did approximately $4.6 million. The report says the data for the latter was skewed because of CRED’s $30 million seed round.

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Latin America is IPO-hungry, India breeds unicorns while Africa is just getting started with M&A

Last year, Stripe’s acquisition of Paystack was the highlight of Africa’s M&As because of its size and the homegrown status of the Nigerian fintech startup. Other larger rounds include the $500 million acquisition of Wave by WorldRemit (which happens to be the largest from the continent) and the DPO Group buyout by Network International for $288 million.

Unlike the African fintech market that has noticed mega acquisition deals and many undisclosed seven-figure deals, the Latin American fintech market is a sucker for IPOs. Per the report, fintechs in the region have several $100 million rounds (Nubank, PagSeguro,  Creditas, BancoInter and Neon) but have sparse M&A activity. Some of the startups to have gone public recently include Arco Educacao, Stone Pagamentos, Mosaico, and Pagseguro

On the other, India has more than 25 billion-dollar companies and keeps adding yearly. Just last month, the country recorded more than eight. These unicorns include established companies like PayTm and new ones like CRED.

Payments, credit, and neobanks lead fintech activity

The report shows that payments companies are the crème de la crème for fintech investment across the three regions. Within that subset, B2B payments reign supreme. The next two funded fintech categories are credit and digital banking.

In Africa, payments startups have seen more investments than credit and neobanks. Flutterwave, Chipper Cash, Wave, Paystack, DPO come to mind.

most funded fintech categories emerging market

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Latin America most funded fintechs are neobanks. And it is the only region with all three product categories closely funded at $2-3 billion. Some of these companies include NuBank, Creditas, and dLocal.

India’s top-funded fintech startups are in payments. But it has notable representation in credit and neobanks, some of which have raised nine-figure rounds like Niyo, Lendingkart, and InCred.

Investors are enthused about the future of insurance, payments, and digital banks

From the handful of investors surveyed in the report on their view on future trends in fintech products 5 years from now, most of them chose insurance, payments, and digital banking models.

Investment platforms and embedded models are also areas of interest. They were less keen on agriculture and remittances while wealth tech platforms and neobanks were also lower in priority. How is it that digital banking and neo-banking are at two ends of the spectrum of investor choice? I can’t say for sure.

investors appetite in the coming years emerging markets

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Parts of the report talk about underserved consumers in these regions and how fintech startups are serving them. It also discusses whether these fintech startups promote financial inclusion and what features and products would get them to that point.

In all of this, the glaring fact, which is no news, is that Africa is lagging years behind Latin America and India. Talking with Briter Bridges director Dario Giuliani, he pointed out that he’d lean on five years. He added that what makes India a better market at this stage is because it is a country rather than a continent.

“It is easier to manage one country than 54 countries in Africa and 20 in Latin America,” he said to TechCrunch. “In Africa, we use the label ‘Africa,’ but we’re very much talking about 4-6 countries. Latin America is basically Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia who are seeing massive companies rise. India is one.”

One key detail the report mentions is that most fintechs across emerging markets are crossing over to different sectors like crop insurance, credit lines for distributors and vendors, KYC, e-commerce payment gateways, medical finance, and insurance. Guiliani says he expects this to continue.

#africa, #banking, #brazil, #briter-bridges, #catalyst-fund, #chipper-cash, #digital-banking, #dlocal, #finance, #financial-inclusion, #financial-technology, #fintech, #flutterwave, #india, #latin-america, #ma, #nubank, #online-lending, #payments, #paystack, #paytm, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #tymebank, #wave, #worldremit

Paystack expands to South Africa seven months after Stripe acquisition

Nigerian fintech startup Paystack has been relatively quiet since it was bought by fintech giant Stripe last October. The deal, worth more than $200 million, caused shockwaves to the African tech ecosystem and offered some form of validation to work done by founders, startups and investors alike.

Today, the payments company, which powers businesses with its payment API and is actively present in Nigeria and Ghana, is announcing its official launch in South Africa.

In 2018 when we reported Paystack’s $8 million Series A (which Stripe also led), it was powering 15% of all online payments in Nigeria. The company had more than 10,000 businesses on its platform and expansion to other African countries was one way it planned to use the money. Ghana was its next stop.

Since expanding to Ghana, Paystack has grown and claims to power 50% of all online payments in Nigeria with around 60,000 customers, including small businesses, larger corporates, fintechs, educational institutions and online betting companies. Some of its customers include MTN, SPAR and UPS, and they use the company’s software to collect payments globally.

The South African launch was preceded by a six-month pilot, which means the project kickstarted a month after Stripe acquired it. Stripe is gearing toward a hotly anticipated IPO and has been aggressively expanding to other markets. Before acquiring Paystack, the company added 17 countries to its platform in 18 months, but none from Africa. Paystack was its meal ticket to the African online commerce market, and CEO Patrick Collison didn’t mince words when talking about the acquisition in October.

“There is an enormous opportunity. In absolute numbers, Africa may be smaller right now than other regions, but online commerce will grow about 30% every year. And even with wider global declines, online shoppers are growing twice as fast. Stripe thinks on a longer time horizon than others because we are an infrastructure company. We are thinking of what the world will look like in 2040-2050,” he said. 

Although Stripe said the $600 million it raised in Series H this March would be used mainly for European expansion, its foray deeper into Africa has kicked off. And while Paystack claims to have had a clear expansion roadmap prior to the acquisition, its relationship with Stripe is accelerating the realization of that pan-African expansion goal.

Now, Africa accounts for three of the 42 countries where Stripe currently has customers today.

“South Africa is one of the continent’s most important markets, and our launch here is a significant milestone in our mission to accelerate commerce across Africa,” said Paystack CEO Shola Akinlade of the expansion. “We’re excited to continue building the financial infrastructure that empowers ambitious businesses in Africa, helps them scale and connects them to global markets.”

The six-month pilot saw Paystack work with different businesses and grow a local team to handle on-the-ground operations. However, unlike Nigeria and Ghana, where Paystack has managed to be a top player, what are the company’s prospects in the South African market where it will face stiff competition from the likes of Yoco and DPO?

“The opportunity for innovation in the South African payment space is far from saturated. Today, for instance, digital payments make up less than half of all transactions in the country,” Abdulrahman Jogbojogbo, product marketer at Paystack said. “So, the presence of competition is not only welcome; it’s encouraged. The more innovative plays there are, the faster it’ll be to realize our goal of having an integrated African market.”

Khadijah Abu, head of product expansion, added that “for many businesses in South Africa, we know that accepting payments online can be cumbersome. Our pilot in South Africa was hyper-focused on removing barriers to entry, eliminating tedious paperwork, providing world-class API documentation to developers, and making it a lot simpler for businesses to accept payments online.”

Many people compare Paystack to Africa’s newest fintech unicorn Flutterwave. Founded a year apart, both companies help businesses accept payments from thousands of businesses. When the latter raised its recent juggernaut $170 million round, it claimed to have 290,000 businesses on its platform. While Flutterwave has been high-flying with its pan-African expansion (it has a presence in 20 African countries), Paystack has adopted a rather scrupulous approach. The company said the reason behind this lies with the peculiarities each African country presents and because each country has different regulations, launching at scale takes time. 

“Our goal isn’t to have a presence in lots of countries, with little regard for service quality. We care deeply that we deliver a stellar end-to-end payment experience in the countries we operate in,” Jogbojogbo continued. “And this takes some time, careful planning and lots of behind-the-scenes, foundational work.”

But being backed by Stripe and armed with millions of dollars, Paystack might need to switch things up eventually. Even as it operates independently, its pan-African vision is equally important to Stripe, and speed will be crucial, even the five-year-old company acknowledges this and said, “its pace of expansion will quicken as it expands into more African countries.”

#africa, #financial-technology, #flutterwave, #ghana, #nigeria, #online-commerce, #online-payments, #payments, #paystack, #south-africa, #stripe, #tc

Amid the IPO gold rush, how should we value fintech startups?

If there has ever been a golden age for fintech, it surely must be now. As of Q1 2021, the number of fintech startups in the U.S. crossed 10,000 for the first time ever — well more than double that if you include EMEA and APAC. There are now three fintech companies worth more than $100 billion (Paypal, Square and Shopify) with another three in the $50 billion-$100 billion club (Stripe, Adyen and Coinbase).

Yet, as fintech companies have begun to go public, there has been a fair amount of uncertainty as to how these companies will be valued on the public markets. This is a result of fintechs being relatively new to the IPO scene compared to their consumer internet or enterprise software counterparts. In addition, fintechs employ a wide variety of business models: Some are transactional, others are recurring or have hybrid business models.

In addition, fintechs now have a multitude of options in terms of how they choose to go public. They can take the traditional IPO route, pursue a direct listing or merge with a SPAC. Given the multitude of variables at play, valuing these companies and then predicting public market performance is anything but straightforward.

It is important to note that fintech is a complex category with many different types of players, and not all fintech is created equal.

The fintech gold rush has arrived

For much of the past two decades, fintech as a category has been very quiet on the public markets. But that began to change considerably by the mid-2010s. Fintech had clearly arrived by 2015, with both Square and Shopify going public that year. Last year was a record one with eight fintech IPOs, and there has been no slowdown in 2021 — the first four months have already produced seven IPOs. By our estimates, there are more than 15 additional fintech companies that could IPO this year. The current record will almost certainly be shattered well before the end of the year.

Fintech IPOs from 2000 to 2021

Image Credits: Oak HC/FT

#coinbase, #column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #enterprise-software, #finance, #klarna, #lendingclub, #ondeck, #payoneer, #paypal, #shopify, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #stripe

Stripe acquires TaxJar to add cloud-based, automated sales tax tools into its payments platform

Stripe, the privately-held payments company now valued at $95 billion, has made an acquisition to expand the range of tools (and services) that it provides to online businesses. It has acquired TaxJar, a popular provider of a cloud-based suite of tax services, which can be used to automatically calculate, report and file sales taxes.

One key point about TaxJar is that it works across a number of geographies and the many different sales tax regimes that each uses — a complex area for a lot of companies that do business online.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed but for some context the company was valued at $179 million post-money when it last raised money, in January 2019, according to PitchBook data.

Stripe has confirmed that all 200 employees of Woburn, MA-based TaxJar are joining the company.

Stripe will be integrating TaxJar technology into its revenue platform — where it will sit alongside Stripe Billing (its subscription tools) and Radar (its fraud prevention technology), and potentially build new services using AI and other technology to automate more functions — but businesses can continue to use TaxJar directly, too.

Launched in 2013, TaxJar today has around 23,000 customers. Stripe didn’t comment on how much of an overlap the two companies have in terms of users, but both have over the years gained a lot of traction with startups and other online businesses, which is likely one reason why TaxJar caught Stripe’s attention.

“There’s a reason TaxJar has been a top choice for businesses: their software tools make it incredibly easy to handle sales tax,” said Dhivya Suryadevara, Stripe’s CFO, in a statement. “With TaxJar, we will help millions of internet businesses running on Stripe with their sales tax and make it easier for them to sell internationally. And as a CFO, I’m delighted to welcome so many new colleagues who care deeply about tax calculation and reporting!”

When TaxJar last raised money — a $60 million round led by Rincon Venture Partners and Daher Capital in January 2019 — it said it had 15,000 customers, so that base has been growing (specifically, 53% in two years).

Stripe has actually made some moves in the area of tax before, buying Payable back in 2017 to help with 1099 reporting for customers who pay contractors and partnering with Intuit to help on-demand workers manage their finances. The TaxJar acquisition, however, is filling a noticeable gap in its native product set, as well as a pain point for its customers, specifically in the area of sales tax.

Stripe says that adding in sales tax collection and remittance — a complex system that covers as much as 11,000 tax jurisdictions in the U.S. alone — was one of the most-requested features among users, a fact that users themselves have lamented openly:

Ironically, if you link through on the above Tweet, you’ll see in one thread, TaxJar comes up in the conversation.

Indeed, TaxJar was already “fully integrated” with Stripe as a partner, meaning businesses could use TaxJar to calculate and manage sales taxes on transactions powered by Stripe. But using the two together required logging into TaxJar, creating a separate account, and then getting a unique URL to paste into your Stripe Orders settings to run the services together: not the picture of simplicity that Stripe generally presents to users.

Some of that will now become smoother for Stripe customers as part of its bigger push for more automated tools to cover the more repetitive aspects of the online sales transactions process. (Other automated areas include algorithms around payment rejection, billing methods, and so on.)

“Like everyone at Stripe, we think every day about how we can help startups and multinational companies alike remove barriers to growing their business,” said Mark Faggiano, CEO and founder of TaxJar, in a statement. “And what that means is making the complicated work of sales tax compliance as straightforward as possible. We know that to grow the GDP of the internet, compliance is critical. We couldn’t be more excited to join Stripe and help power millions of businesses around the world.”

Stripe noted that the sorts of services that TaxJar covers includes providing accurate, localized sales tax rates at checkout, submitting tax returns to local jurisdictions and remitting the sales tax collected, producing itemized, local jurisdiction reports to show sales and sales tax collected, and suggesting the right product tax code based on a company’s products.

That TaxJar is coming into the deal with its own customer base and revenue model is important for another reason: it’s a sign of more diversification for Stripe — key as the $95 billion company continues to grow and inch potentially towards a public listing, now being considered for late 2021 or early 2022, according to rumors. Other signs of that diversification strategy include Stripe’s acquisition of Paystack last year out of Nigeria to help it break into payments in Africa, a deal it made for over $200 million.

(TaxJar’s SaaS pricing starts at $19/month and goes up from there, including an enterprise tier that will be handy for Stripe’s platform product.)

Stripe made $1.6 billion in revenue in 2020, but as this profile in WSJ shows, it was also buffeted pretty significantly by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some sectors where Stripe has played strong, like travel, saw a big drop in transactions, while others, like e-commerce, saw a much bigger surge.

One takeaway from that might be: regardless of what our “new normal” will look like, it seems that e-commerce in one form or another will continue to grow, so offering a wider range of services, like automatic sales tax calculations and reporting, around its core business of payments will help Stripe grow revenues per user to offset the ups and downs of specific business lines when and if they arise again.

The area of tax-tech sits somewhere between e-commerce and fintech and has found its own steam in recent years, following both the growing size of the e-commerce market, and the evolution in fintech, where startups are building the complex processes that are not the core competency of their target customers and putting them into products that are easy to use and integrate. Others in the same space as TaxJar include Avalara, Vertx and Sovos among a wider field of startups.

#ecommerce, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #sales-tax, #stripe, #tax, #taxes, #taxjar, #tc

Weav raises $4.3M to knit together a universal API for commerce platforms

Weav, which is building a universal API for commerce platforms, is emerging from stealth today with $4.3 million in funding from a bevy of investors, and a partnership with Brex.

Founded last year by engineers Ambika Acharya, Avikam Agur and Nadav Lidor after participating in the W20 YC batch, Weav joins the wave of fintech infrastructure companies that aim to give fintechs and financial institutions a boost. Specifically, Weav’s embedded technology is designed to give these organizations access to “real time, user-permissioned” commerce data that they can use to create new financial products for small businesses.  

Its products allow its customers to connect to multiple platforms with a single API that was developed specifically for the commerce platforms that businesses use to sell products and accept payments. Weav operates under the premise that allowing companies to build and embed new financial products creates new opportunities for e-commerce merchants, creators and other entrepreneurs. 

Left to right: Co-founders Ambika Acharya, Nadav Lidor and Avikam Agur; Image courtesy of Weav

In a short amount of time, Weav has seen impressive traction. Recently, Brex launched Instant Payouts for Shopify sellers using the Weav API. It supports platform integrations such as Stripe, Square, Shopify and PayPal. (More on that later.) Since its API went live in January, “thousands” of businesses have used new products and services built on Weav’s infrastructure, according to Lidor. Its API call volume is growing 300% month over month, he said.

And, the startup has attracted the attention of a number of big-name investors, including institutions and the founders of prominent fintech companies. Foundation Capital led its $4.3 million seed round, which also included participation from Y Combinator, Abstract Ventures, Box Group, LocalGlobe, Operator Partners, Commerce Ventures and SV Angel. 

A slew of founders and executives also put money in the round, including Brex founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi; Ramp founder Karim Atiyeh; Digits founders Jeff Seibert and Wayne Chang; Hatch founder Thomson Nguyen; GoCardless founder Matt Robinson and COO Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas; Vouch founder Sam Hodges; Plaid’s Charley Ma as well as executives from fintechs such as Square, Modern Treasury and Pagaya.

Foundation Capital’s Angus Davis said his firm has been investing in fintech infrastructure for over a decade. And personally, before he became a VC, Davis was the founder and CEO of Upserve, a commerce software company. There, he says, he witnessed firsthand “the value of transactional data to enable new types of lending products.”

Foundation has a thesis around the type of embedded fintech that Weav has developed, according to Davis. And it sees a large market opportunity for a new class of financial applications to come to market built atop Weav’s platform.

“We were excited by Weav’s vision of a universal API for commerce platforms,” Davis wrote via email. “Much like Plaid and Envestnet brought universal APIs to banking for consumers, Weav enables a new class of B2B fintech applications for businesses.”

How it works

Weav says that by using its API, companies can prompt their business customers to “securely” connect their accounts with selling platforms, online marketplaces, subscription management systems and payment gateways. Once authenticated, Weav aggregates and standardizes sales, inventory and other account data across platforms and develops insights to power new products across a range of use cases, including lending and underwriting; financial planning and analysis; real-time financial services and business management tools.

For the last few years, there’s been a rise of API companies, as well as openness in the financial system that’s largely been focused on consumers, Lidor points out.

“For example, Plaid brings up very rich data about consumers, but when you think about businesses, oftentimes that data is still locked up in all kinds of systems,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re here to provide some of the building blocks and the access to data from everything that has to do with sales and revenue. And, we’re really excited about powering products that are meant to make the lives of small businesses and e-commerce, sellers and creators much easier and be able to get them access to financial products.”

In the case of Brex, Weav’s API allows the startup to essentially offer instant access to funds that otherwise would take a few days or a few weeks for businesses to access.

“Small businesses need access as quickly as possible to their revenue so that they can fund their operations,” Lidor said.

Brex co-CEO Henrique Dubugras said that Weav’s API gives the company the ability to offer real-time funding to more customers selling on more platforms, which saved the company “thousands of engineering hours” and accelerated its rollout timeline by months.

Clearly, the company liked what it saw, considering that its founders personally invested in Weav. Is Weav building the “Plaid for commerce”? Guess only time will tell.

#abstract-ventures, #angus-davis, #api, #banking, #box-group, #brex, #carlos-gonzalez-cadenas, #commerce-ventures, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-infrastructure, #foundation-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hatch, #matt-robinson, #money, #online-marketplaces, #operator-partners, #paypal, #plaid, #real-time, #recent-funding, #shopify, #startup, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #thomson, #upserve, #venture-capital, #weav, #y-combinator

4 ways martech will shift in 2021

The tidal wave of growth is upon us — an unprecedented economic boom that will manifest later this year, bringing significant investments, acquisitions, and customer growth. But most tech companies and startups are not adequately prepared to capitalize on the opportunity that lies ahead.

Here’s how marketing in tech will shift — and what you need to know to reach more customers and accelerate growth in 2021.

First and foremost, differentiation is going to be imperative. It’s already hard enough to stand out and get noticed, and it’s about to get much more difficult as new companies emerge and investments and budgets balloon in the latter half of the year. Virtually all major companies are increasing budgets to pre-pandemic levels, but will delay those investments until the second half of the year. This will result in an increased intensity of competition that will drown out any undifferentiated players.

The second half of 2021 will bring incredible growth, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.

Additionally, tech companies need to be mindful not to ignore the most important part of the ecosystem: people. Technology will only take you so far, and it’s not going to be enough to survive the competition. Marketing is about people, including your customers, team, partners, investors, and the broader community.

Understanding who your people are and how you can use their help to build a strong foundation and drive exponential growth is essential.

Tactically, the most successful tech companies will embrace video and experimentation in their marketing — two components that will catapult them ahead of the competition.

Ignoring these predictions, backed by empirical evidence, will be detrimental and devastating. Fasten your seatbelts: 2021 is going to be a turbo-charged year of growth opportunities for marketing in tech.

Differentiation is crucial

The explosion of tech companies and startups seeking to be the next big thing isn’t over yet. However, many of them are indistinguishable from each other and lack a compelling value proposition. Just one look at the websites of new and existing tech companies will reveal a proliferation of buzzwords and conceptual illustrations, leaving them all looking and sounding alike.

The tech companies that succeed are those that embrace one of the fundamentals of effective marketing — positioning.

In the ’80s, Al Ries and Jack Trout published Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind and coined the term, which documented the best-known approach to standing out in a noisy marketplace. As the market heats up, companies will realize the need to sharpen their positioning and dial in their focus to break through the noise.

To get attention and build traction, companies need to establish a position they can own. The “mashup method: (Netflix but for coding lessons) is not real positioning; it’s simply a lazy gimmick.

It is imperative to identify who your ideal customer is and not just who could use your product. Focusing on a segment of the market rather than the whole is, perhaps counterintuitively, the most effective approach to capturing the larger market.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-news-analysis, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #marketing, #product-marketing, #stripe

India’s Razorpay raises funds at $3 billion valuation ahead of Southeast Asia launch

Six-year-old Bangalore-based fintech Razorpay topped a $1 billion valuation late last year, becoming the first Y Combinator-backed Indian startup to reach the much sought after unicorn status. In less than six months since, the Indian startup has tripled its valuation and is preparing to launch in the Southeast Asian markets.

Razorpay said on Monday it has raised $160 million in its Series E financing round that valued the startup at $3 billion, up from “a little over” $1 billion valuation in the $100 million Series D in October last year.

The new round has been co-led by existing investors Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund — GIC — and Sequoia Capital India. Some other existing investors including Ribbit Capital also participated in the new round, which takes Razorpay’s to-date raise to $366.5 million.

Razorpay accepts, processes and disburses money online for small businesses and enterprises — essentially everything Stripe does in the U.S. and several other developed markets. But the Indian startup’s offering goes much further: In recent years, Razorpay has launched a neobanking platform to issue corporate credit cards (and more at the bottom of the article), and it also offers businesses working capital.

With the global giant Stripe still nowhere in the Indian picture, Razorpay has grown to become the market leader. And now, the startup plans to replicate its success from the home country in Southeast Asian markets, Harshil Mathur, co-founder and chief executive of Razorpay told TechCrunch in an interview.

“We are one of the largest payments providers in the Indian ecosystem. We want to take the learnings we have in India to the Southeast Asian market. Before the end of the financial year, we want to launch in one or two Southeast Asian markets,” said Mathur, adding that the new round gives it the valuation to more confidently explore some M&A opportunities to accelerate growth.

More than 5 million businesses in India rely on Razorpay’s technology to process payments. Some of these clients include Facebook, telecom operator Airtel, ride-hailing firm Ola, food-delivery startup Swiggy, and fintech CRED.

Mathur and Shashank Kumar — pictured above — met at IIT Roorkee college. The duo realized early on that small businesses faced immense difficulties in accepting money digitally and the existing payments processing firms weren’t designed to tackle the needs of small businesses and startups.

Solving this issue became Razorypay’s goal, and in the early days about 11 individuals shared a single apartment as the co-founders scrambled to convince bankers to work with them. The conversations were slow and remained in a deadlock for so long that the co-founders felt helpless explaining the same challenge to investors numerous times, they recalled in an interview two years ago.

The stories one hears about Razorpay today have changed dramatically. In a Clubhouse room, known for sharp criticism of products, dozens of developers and startup founders recently recalled their early interactions with Razorpay, and how the startup’s officials helped their businesses start with — or move to — the Razorpay’s system within hours of being first reached out.

Deepak Abbot, co-founder of Indiagold, recently recalled an incident where the startup had missed an alert, that coupled with a snafu at the bank resulted in the startup running out of funds to pay customers.

Last year, Mathur said Razorpay’s core business — processing payments — is fast-growing and the startup would focus more on building the two new offerings.

Offering an update, Mathur said Razorpay X now serves about 15,000 businesses, up from fewer than 5,000 in October last year. Razorpay Capital is now annually bandying out about $80 million to clients, up from less than $40 million a year ago. The duration of the loan Razorpay gives ranges from three to six months, and the ticket size of these loans is typically between 0.8 million to 1 million Indian rupees ($10,730 to $13,400).

Mathur said the startup will focus on further growing this business in the next three years and then explore taking the startup public. “If it was just the payments processing business, we could go public right now. But our ambitions are beyond that so that we become the full ecosystem for businesses. And on those sides (neobanking and lending), we are early,” he said.

The startup’s marquee offering has grown 40-50% each month in the past six months. It now plans to process over $50 billion in total payment volume by the end of 2021.

The startup also plans to hire a number of people. It currently has over 600 positions, several in Southeast Asian markets.

Monday’s announcement comes at a time when a slice of Indian startups are raising large amounts of capital at a much frequent pace and increased valuations as investors double down on the world’s second largest internet market.

Indian startups social commerce Meesho, fintech firm CRED, e-pharmacy firm PharmEasy, millennials-focused Groww, business messaging platform Gupshup and social network ShareChat attained the unicorn status earlier this month. TechCrunch reported last week that SoftBank is in talks to invest in Zeta and Swiggy.

*Razorpay offers a number of value-added services such as automating vendor payments, real-time reconciliation and analytics, managing subscriptions, GST invoicing, designing and creating websites. The startup has also developed an app-based substitute for payments terminals (also known as POS) as well as pay-by-link for enabling offline commerce.

#airtel, #asia, #cred, #facebook, #finance, #funding, #india, #razorpay, #stripe, #swiggy