Chinese sellers on Amazon in hot demand by VCs and e-commerce roll-ups

Chinese merchants selling on Amazon are having a moment. The scruffy exporters are used to roaming about suburban factory areas and dealing with constant cash flow strain, but suddenly they find themselves having coffee with top Chinese venture capital firms and investment representatives from internet giants, who come with big checks to hunt down the next Shein or Anker. While VCs can provide the money for them to scale quickly, many lack the expertise to help on the strategic side.

This is where brand aggregators can put their retail know-how to work. Also called roll-ups, these companies go around acquiring promising e-commmerce brands for operational synergies. After taking off in the United States, Europe, and lately Southeast Asia, it has also quietly landed in China, where traditional white-label manufacturers are trying to move up the value chain and establish their own brand presence.

The latest roll-up to enter China is Berlin Brands Group (BBG), which aims to buy “dozens of” brands in the country over the next few years, its founder and CEO Peter Chaljawski told TechCrunch. This will significantly boost the German company’s existing portfolio of 14 brands.

The move came on the back of BBG’s $240 million funding raised from debt and its announcement to commit $300 million on its balance sheet to buying up companies. The firm opted for debt in part because it has been profitable since its inception. The recent funding won’t be its last round and it may use other financial instruments in the future, said the founder.

Chaljawski doesn’t see VC and corporate investors as direct competitors in the hunt for brands. “There are tens of thousands of sellers in China that generate significant revenue on Amazon. I think the VC money applies to some of them, and the roll-up model applies also to only some of them. But ‘some’ is a very, very big number.”

BBG is no stranger to China. The 15-year-old company has been relying on Chinese manufacturers to make its kitchenware, gardening tools, sports gear and other home appliances, with 90% of its products still made in the country today. For the new brand buy-out initiative, it’s hiring dozens of staff in Shenzhen, which Chalijawski dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Amazon,” referring to the southern city’s key role in global export, manufacturing, and increasingly, design.

Amazon alternative

BBG hopes to offer a new way for Chinese consumer products to scale in Europe and the U.S. beyond being an anonymous brand on Amazon. Sellers may want to break free of the American behemoth to seize more control over consumer data, but building a direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand is no small feat.

Many merchants that are good at operating Amazon third-party businesses lack the infrastructure to go beyond Amazon, like an in-house logistics system, said the founder. In Europe, BBG manages 120,000 square meters of fulfillment centers, allowing it to shed dependence on Amazon.

Chinese brands may also want to find Amazon alternatives in Europe, where the e-commerce landscape is a lot more fragmented than that in the U.S, noted Chaljawski.

“If you look at the U.S., Amazon is dominant. If you look at Europe, Amazon only has 10% of the market share of online retail. So 90% is beyond Amazon. In the Netherlands, you have platforms like Bol. In Poland, you have Allegro, and in France, you have other dominant players.”

To bridge the gap for international brands targeting Europe, BBG operates close to 20 D2C web stores in major European countries, aside from selling on Amazon. Its sales growth in the U.S. has also been in full steam. Currently, over 60% of the firm’s revenues come from non-Amazon channels.

BBG is already in advanced negotiations with “some brands” in China but cannot disclose their names at this stage.

#amazon, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #brand, #china, #consumer-products, #e-commerce, #e-commerce-aggregator, #ecommerce, #europe, #manufacturing, #online-retail, #online-shopping, #retailers, #roll-ups, #shenzhen, #tc


Dutch payments startup Mollie raises another $800M at a $6.5B valuation

A payments startup whose backend was originally built by the founder while still living with his parents and bootstrapping the company is today announcing a massive round of funding that catapults it into being one of the most valuable startups in Europe. Mollie, an Amsterdam-based startup that provides a way for businesses to integrate payments into sites, documents and other services by way of an API, is today announcing that it has raised €665 million ($800 million) in an all-equity round that values the company at €5.4 billion ($6.5 billion).

Blackstone Growth (BXG)Blackstone’s growth equity investing business, led the investment, with participation also from EQT GrowthGeneral AtlanticHMI Capital, Alkeon Capital, and TCV. TCV led Mollie’s breakout Series B in September last year.

Mollie has been on a major growth tear in recent years. The company is currently on track to process some €20 billion (nearly $24 billion) in payments in 2021, up 100% on the year before when it processed around €10 billion. It currently has 120,000 monthly active merchants (versus 100,000 in 2020), and customers include the likes of Deliveroo, Unicef, Acer and Guess. It’s adding between 400 and 500 new customers each day.

To be sure, the pandemic saw a massive shift in commerce with all kinds of transactions — buying goods, paying for services, handling your banking and other finances — all moving into the digital world, and that also played out for Mollie.

But that is also not the full story: growing at the same pace this year as last appears to indicate that even as we start to see more signs of the pandemic moving on (well, at least for some…), the shift to paying and buying online (and using Mollie’s rails to do so) will stay.

“The only thing you can reliably measure in payments is consumer spend. That was at 10% and now it’s at 15-20%,” said Shane Happach, who took over as CEO of Mollie in April of this year from founder Adriaan Mol (who, incidentally, was also the founder of MessageBird; Mol’s knickname is Mollie, hence the name of this company).

In an interview, Happach explained that consumer spend, and the subsequent addressable consumer market, is the metric that best indicates how a company like Mollie will grow. So while Mollie has largely been profitable since being founded back in 2004, the plan now will be to put the gas on growth, building related services around payments to continue expanding its product offering while also continuing to move move into more geographies beyond its core, and biggest, market of Europe, helped in no small part by its new, big investors.

That will bring it into deeper competition with a whole raft of players. That is to say, Mollie is far from the only payments company on the market, nor is it the only one that has seen business boom in recent times. But it is bigger and much more fragmented than you might think. Happach — who spent a decade at WorldPay before joining Mollie — points out that the top ten players in payments have 50% of the market, but the other 50% is held by about 5,000 players.

“You’d be really surprised, companies like Stripe are in the 5,000. They’re not in the top ten,” he said. (JP Morgan, WorldPay, Fiserv (First Data), PayPal are among those that make up the first ten.). That essentially gives the company a lot of opportunity to grow and consolidate, while also underscoring just how big the market is for everyone.

Stripe came up a few times in our conversation, in particular when talking about competitive threats — its basic premise, like Mollie’s, has been the building of a payments platform (complex for any non-payment company to do) that can be integrated by customers anywhere by way of a simple API; when talking about valuations (Stripe is now valued at $95 billion); and when talking about product playbooks.

In all cases, the main takeaway seems to be that Stripe’s success speaks to the market Mollie has ahead of it. “We see a huge opportunity in the super underserved population of SMBs,” Happach said. “Especially if you look at our core markets, where most of our customers come from today, the financial services that they can get access to are very clunky.” The company, he added, will be focusing on a few areas that it believes it can do better than what’s out there now, which also complements its payments business: working capital for small businesses, card issuing and corporate card programs, expense management, and business banking. (All areas, I should note, where Stripe also has launched products.)

It will also be interesting to watch how and if Mollie, as it grows, gets more confident to potentially change its cut. It’s taken PayPal years, but it has recently rebalanced its rates. Happach notes Mollie never has and has no plans to follow it.

One area where Mollie is less likely to invest the new capital is in acquisitions, however.

“I came from a company that had acquired a load of other companies, and I think there’s pluses and minuses,” Happach said. “For Mollie, we are building an organic plan…. [Acquisitions are] always an opportunity, [but] I would say it’s not the thesis of what we have agreed with investors is the most likely things that we’d like to do…. I think, right now, we’re mainly focused on hiring as much great talent as we can, really beefing up our commercial product and engineering teams. There’s still quite a lot to do by just investing in our own business building and training our own people and serving the customers that we’ve already got in the best possible way.”

The company, indeed, hasn’t really grown through a sales force or big marketing investments but largely through word of mouth up to now, one reason Blackstone came knocking.

“One of the things that really impressed us at Blackstone is that of the hundreds that sign up to Mollie on a daily basis, 90-95% of them have almost no interaction with Mollie directly,” said Paul Morrissey, who heads up Blackstone’s investing activities in Europe. “They’re just finding Mollie, loving the product and just getting going and that goes back to kind of the unit economics of the business… It talks to their competitive position in the market.”

That is somewhat due to change with the company embarking on a big hiring push, taking its team of 480 to just under 800 in the next nine months.



Gillmor Gang: Who Knew

The Gillmor Gang recording session is nestled on Friday midday on the East Coast and midmorning out West. Streamed live on Twitter, Facebook Live, and Youtube embed, the show is then edited, sweetened with titles and music, and released on Techcrunch. It’s a kind of hybrid between podcast, Zoom collaboration meeting, and work-from-anywhere encounter group. The Gang grew out of the early days of podcasting, now undergoing rescaffolding from social, drop-in, or just plain fast following from a variety of social networks. The latest entry, Live Audio Rooms from Facebook, is “soft-launching” with verified famous people and creators in good standing up first.

Facebook typically waits just long enough to decide what features to copy, and appears ready to aggregate the strategies of the rest of the market behind a Facebook infrastructure if not firewall. This may incorporate not just social audio features like tipping and raising hands to speak but also live video streaming and perhaps screen-sharing tools like ones announced at Apple’s WWDC for Facetime. Inevitably, the context returns to Clubhouse and its parallel tech media strategy.

Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) debuted their publishing site, and the media tried its best to push back without burning any bridges to the high-flying venture firm. Even more interesting than the website was a Clubhouse Launch Party where we met authors and their editors for about two hours of chat. Marc Andreessen sat in at the beginning, and A16Z partner Margit Wennmachers provided context for the launch. The strategy: project trust and insight from a venture firm and go direct from technologists to the tech and investment audience. It’s an interesting time in the wake of the Trumpian alternative facts blight, where the cable media seems tied in knots by trying to salvage ratings gold with yet another crisis-to-crisis breaking news schtick.

After that gambit begins to tire, the pitch shifts to the undermining of Democracy by the Autocrats, which although real, is not exactly compelling ratings magic. With vaccinations reaching movie popcorn immunity levels, streaming television is shifting from all out binge releases to the much more familiar weekly cliffhanger model. Working from anywhere is being negotiated based on a hybrid of the best of watching your kids grow up while getting back to a collaborative office when you’ve seen enough of them or them of you.

On the Gang this time, Keith Teare suggests Netflix may be in a bit of a tough spot, as the easing pandemic puts pressure on new shows slowed down by production lockouts. It’s true: the quality seems to be slipping almost imperceptibly, but nothing is accelerating to put pressure on the Big 4 or 5 Flixes including Disney, Amazon Prime, and maybe Hulu. DiscoBros (Frank Radice’s catchy rebrand for Discovery/WarnerMedia) can be fun, Apple TV+ should buy in to boost production, and then we need to look to the Creator Economy to hurry up and save us.

Every few days there’s another social audio pivot/acquisition/update, the most interesting besides Facebook’s if you can call it that being Spotify Greenroom with its auto record and captioning features and inevitable integration with its Anchor podcasting tools. Tip jar resistance is almost a thing, in case you’re wondering. The only thing more enervating is speculation on whether Clubhouse is jumping the shark — I don’t think so. If the suggests more copying of The Information’s events model, there’s plenty of runway ahead. And social audio gold is anything about Clubhouse on Clubhouse.

For those of us who still remember tech news, the Apple announcements almost reach orbit with the mixture of M1 magic and iOS/MacOS/WatchOS/TVOS blurring. My favorite list is of features that don’t show up on Intel machines, all the cool ones. For the first time in years, we traded up to M1’s on both our Macbooks including a Pro and Air, and in the process enabled Blur mode on Zoom on both essentially for free. The hardware is starting to feel like a subscription service (HaaS) which as Salesforce’s trajectory suggests is likely a very big deal. (Disclosure: I work for Salesforce.) For creators, moving from hardware like Newtek’s Tricaster and BlackMagic’s ATEM Mini to software-based OBS and then NDI5 over the public network is not prime time, but getting there real soon now. Keith thinks so, Brent Leary says maybe. I say, if Apple bundles Apple TV and Apple TV+ with newsletter plugins from Twitter Revue and Substack subscriptions….

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter


The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 11, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

#brent-leary, #denis-pombriant, #frank-radice, #keith-teare, #michael-markman, #steve-gillmor, #tc, #video


Tesla backs vision-only approach to autonomy using powerful supercomputer

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been teasing a neural network training computer called ‘Dojo’ since at least 2019. Musk says Dojo will be able to process vast amounts of video data to achieve vision-only autonomous driving. While Dojo itself is still in development, Tesla today revealed a new supercomputer that will serve as a development prototype version of what Dojo will ultimately offer. 

At the 2021 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition on Monday, Tesla’s head of AI, Andrej Karpathy, revealed the company’s new supercomputer that allows the automaker to ditch radar and lidar sensors on self-driving cars in favor of high-quality optical cameras. During his workshop on autonomous driving, Karpathy explained that to get a computer to respond to new environment in a way that a human can requires an immense dataset, and a massively powerful supercomputer to train the company’s neural net-based autonomous driving technology using that data set. Hence the development of these predecessors to Dojo.

Tesla’s newest-generation supercomputer has 10 petabytes of “hot tier” NVME storage and runs at 1.6 terrabytes per second, according to Karpathy. With 1.8 EFLOPS, he said it might be the fifth most powerful supercomputer in the world, but he conceded later that his team has not yet run the specific benchmark necessary to enter the TOP500 Supercomputing rankings.

“That said, if you take the total number of FLOPS it would indeed place somewhere around the fifth spot,” Karpathy told TechCrunch. “The fifth spot is currently occupied by NVIDIA with their Selene cluster, which has a very comparable architecture and similar number of GPUs (4480 vs ours 5760, so a bit less).”

Musk has been advocating for a vision-only approach to autonomy for some time, in large part because cameras are faster than radar or lidar. As of May, Tesla Model Y and Model 3 vehicles in North America are being built without radar, relying on cameras and machine learning to support its advanced driver assistance system and autopilot. 

Many autonomous driving companies use lidar and high definition maps, which means they require incredibly detailed maps of the places where they’re operating, including all road lanes and how they connect, traffic lights and more. 

“The approach we take is vision-based, primarily using neural networks that can in principle function anywhere on earth,” said Karpathy in his workshop. 

Replacing a “meat computer,” or rather,  a human, with a silicon computer results in lower latencies (better reaction time), 360 degree situational awareness and a fully attentive driver that never checks their Instagram, said Karpathy.

Karpathy shared some scenarios of how Tesla’s supercomputer employs computer vision to correct bad driver behavior, including an emergency braking scenario in which the computer’s object detection kicks in to save a pedestrian from being hit, and traffic control warning that can identify a yellow light in the distance and send an alert to a driver that hasn’t yet started to slow down.

Tesla vehicles have also already proven a feature called pedal misapplication mitigation, in which the car identifies pedestrians in its path, or even a lack of a driving path, and responds to the driver accidentally stepping on the gas instead of braking, potentially saving pedestrians in front of the vehicle or preventing the driver from accelerating into a river.

Tesla’s supercomputer collects video from eight cameras that surround the vehicle at 36 frames per second, which provides insane amounts of information about the environment surrounding the car, Karpathy explained.

While the vision-only approach is more scalable than collecting, building and maintaining high definition maps everywhere in the world, it’s also much more of a challenge, because the neural networks doing the object detection and handling the driving have to be able to collect and process vast quantities of data at speeds that match the depth and velocity recognition capabilities of a human.

Karpathy says after years of research, he believes it can be done by treating the challenge as a supervised learning problem. Engineers testing the tech found they could drive around sparsely populated areas with zero interventions, said Karpathy, but “definitely struggle a lot more in very adversarial environments like San Francisco.” For the system to truly work well and mitigate the need for things like high-definition maps and additional sensors, it’ll have to get much better at dealing with densely populated areas.

One of the Tesla AI team game changers has been auto-labeling, through which it can automatically label things like roadway hazards and other objects from millions of videos capture by vehicles on Tesla camera. Large AI datasets have often required a lot of manual labelling, which is time-consuming, especially when trying to arrive at the kind of cleanly-labelled data set required to make a supervised learning system on a neural network work well.

With this latest supercomputer, Tesla has accumulated 1 million videos of around 10 seconds each and labeled 6 billion objects with depth, velocity and acceleration. All of this takes up a whopping 1.5 petabytes of storage. That seems like a massive amount, but it’ll take a lot more before the company can achieve the kind of reliability it requires out of an automated driving system that relies on vision systems alone, hence the need to continue developing ever more powerful supercomputers in Tesla’s pursuit of more advanced AI.

#artificial-intelligence, #tc, #tesla-dojo, #tesla-supercomputer, #transportation


Clubhouse is building a DM text chat feature

Some Clubhouse users were treated to a surprise feature in their favorite app, but it wasn’t long for this world. A new UI element called “backchannel” popped up briefly before disappearing late last week, pointing the Clubhouse faithful to a new area of the app and generating plenty of chatter among users ready for more ways to connect.

While the backchannel screen was totally blank without so much as a text entry box, it looks like the company is working on building out the text chat feature that Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison previously discussed in a company town hall.

“…. I think that there are so many people who do DM backchannels all the time, so many people who want to deepen friendships and relationships with people and do all sorts of other stuff — I think this is something that we should have,” Davison said.

The Clubhouse co-founder went on to say that building the feature to suit the app’s use cases won’t be trivial and wouldn’t be happening right away. He also declined to elaborate on if the app would add traditional one-on-one DMs or a more open group text chat feature.

When reached for comment, Clubhouse didn’t dissuade TechCrunch from the assumption that a messaging feature is around the corner, but issued a coy statement.

“As part of our product building process, Clubhouse regularly explores and tests potential features,” a Clubhouse spokesperson told TechCrunch. “These functions sometimes become part of the app, sometimes they don’t.”

Spotify’s new Clubhouse copycat app Greenroom offers its own live text chatroom that users can access by swiping right in the app, giving it a bit of flexibility that Clubhouse has yet to offer. From the looks of the Clubhouse backchannel feature, it also lives in a window accessed through swiping, though that’s obviously subject to change.

#clubhouse, #messages, #mobile-applications, #paul-davison, #social, #social-media, #software, #spotify, #tc


Mobile commerce startup Via rounds up $15 million in Series A funding

Mobile commerce is where it’s at, and rising investment in so-called conversational commerce startups underscores the opportunity.

Via, a two-year-old, Bay Area-based startup, is among those riding the wave, having identified some trends that are becoming clearer by the month. First, more e-commerce sales will be on mobile phones this year than desktops (as much as 70% by some estimates), people tend to read text messages almost immediately, and consumers spend upwards of 30 minutes a day engaging with mobile messaging apps.

Via also insists that unlike an expanding pool of startups that are focused on helping retailers and other broadcast their marketing messages in SMS, there’s room for a player to better address the many other pieces that add up to a happy consumer experience, from delivering coupon codes to starting the returns process.

Indeed, according to cofounder and CEO Tejas Konduru — a Brigham Young grad whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from India and who have themselves have worked at tech startups — one of insights his now 50-person company had early on was that despite that so many of their customers now use the mobile browser to visit and shop from their stores, many retailers use website builders like Shopify or BigCommerce to “cram everything everything into mobile, leaving only enough space for, like, one picture and a Buy button.” Konduru figured there must be a way to take the shopping experience that all these customers have with brands on their website and make them happen in a quick, mobile-native way.

Via’s solution, he says, is to help those businesses interact with customers on the devices and apps they use most often. “When someone uses Shopify of BigCommerce of any of those platforms,” says Konduru, “we also connect it to Via, and it basically takes the entire shopping experience and allows [customers] to quickly swipe right through a menu or like through a catalog on, for example, Facebook Messenger. Via will also create like a native iOS Android app by taking a  website, cloning it into a native iOS Android app, then sell the push notification in-app chat layer. Essentially,” he adds, “anytime someone shops on the phone and they’re not using the browser is what Via is handling.”

The ‘message’ seems to be getting through to the right people. Via, which launched last year, says it now employs 54 people on a full-time basis, has 190 brands as customers, and just secured $15 million in funding in Series A funding led by Footwork, the new venture firm cofounded by former Stitch Fix COO Mike Smith and former Shasta Ventures investor Nikhil Basu Trivedi.

Other participants in the round include Peterson Ventures, where Konduru once interned; famed founder Josh James of Domo, where Konduru also once interned; and a long list of other notable individual investors, including Ryan Smith of Qualtrics and Lattice cofounder and CEO Jack Altman.

As for how the company charges, it doesn’t ask for a monthly or yearly fee, as per traditional SaaS companies but instead charges per interaction, whether that’s an SMS or a voice minute or video or a GIF.

It’s starting to add up, according to Konduru, who says that Via’s average customer is seeing 15 times return on its investment and that from May of 2020 — when the company’s service went live —  through December, the company generated $51 million in sales. Konduru declined to say exactly how much Via saw from those transactions but says the company is on track to reach $10 million in annual recurring revenue this year.

As for how brands get started with Via, it’s pretty simple, by the company’s telling. As long as a company is using a commerce platform — from Shopfiy to WooCommerce to Salesforce– it takes just five minutes or so to produce a mobile app with a menu featuring the types of interactions the brand can enable via Via’s platform, says Konduru.

Konduru, who dabbled in investment banking before deciding to launch Via, says he isn’t surprised by the startup’s fast traction, though he says he has been taken aback by the breadth of conversations the company sees. While he imagined Via would be a strong marketing channel for brands that use the platform to push out notifications about abandoned shopping carts and upcoming deliveries, it’s more of a two-way street than he’d imagined.

“Every month, there are maybe 15,000 people who start the returns process through Via and will get a notification from a channel that Via supports. But suddenly — let’s say the customer gets the wrong T-shirt size — people start communicating with the brand. You see everything from fan appreciation to address changes to messaging about bad discount codes to where’s-my-order type exchanges.  That’s something I didn’t expect,” says Konduru, who says that before raising its Series A round, Via raised $4.2 million in seed funding led by Peterson Ventures.

“I thought that people would just look at the notification and, like, move it into the abyss somewhere. Instead, people start interacting with the brand.”

#conversational-commerce, #mobile-commerce, #peterson-ventures, #recent-funding, #series-a, #shopify, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #via


Facebook’s entry into VR advertising isn’t going too well

Facebook’s efforts to bring advertising to the Oculus virtual reality platform it has spent billions of dollars building out doesn’t seem to be off to a great start.

The company announced last week that they were planning to roll out their first in-game ads inside the title Blaston from the prolific VR game developer Resolution Games, and just days later the game studio has shared that after hearing an earful from users they’ve decided to abandon the ad rollout.

“After listening to player feedback, we realize that Blaston isn’t the best fit for this type of advertising test,” a tweet from the Blaston account read. “Therefore, we no longer plan to implement the test. We look forward to seeing you in the arena and hope you try the Crackdown Update that went live today!”

This potential ad rollout had been particularly noteworthy because the ads were being tested inside a title from a third-party developer. Facebook has purchased a handful of VR studios in recent months and owns a number of the most popular Quest titles inside its marketplace, so the opportunity to roll out advertising with a third-party partner gave Facebook an chance to frame the advertising rollout as a way for other developers to open up their monetization channels, rather than for Facebook to do so.

The announcement last week still brought out plenty of critics in the VR community who weren’t thrilled about Facebook’s broader struggles with balancing advertising efforts with user privacy, but other users seemed to be more annoyed by the prospect of ads being rolled out inside a paid title they had already purchased. Blaston retails for $9.99 in the Oculus store.

Update: Resolution Games reached out to TechCrunch with a statement, floating the possibility of further ad tests down the road inside one of the developer’s free apps. “To make it clear, we realize that Blaston isn’t the best fit for this type of advertising test. As an alternative, we are looking to see if it is feasible to move this small, temporary test to our free game, Bait! sometime in the future.”

Resolution Games abandoning the test before it even started is an early setback for Facebook’s VR advertising efforts that showcases just how skeptical the Oculus platform’s most vocal users still are of Facebook. In a blog post last week, Facebook sought to address early concerns with what user data would be used to serve up advertising in VR, specifically noting that conversations recorded by the headset’s microphone and images analyzed by the onboard tracking cameras would not be used.

Facebook saw considerable backlash last year from virtual reality fans when they shared that new headset owners would need a Facebook account in order to activate their devices. While criticism poured in following the announcement, the recently released $299 Quest 2 headset has already outsold all of Facebook’s previous VR devices combined, the company has said.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment.


#computing, #facebook, #facebook-horizon, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #oculus-quest, #player, #software, #tc, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices


Daily Crunch: Facebook rolls out podcasts and Live Audio Rooms for US listeners

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for June 21, 2021. The tech industry is skipping any sort of a summer slowdown. Facebook is taking on Clubhouse and Spotify, India is still figuring out how to manage its burgeoning technology industry, and everyone is raising money. Plus, we have notes on a new VC fund that has quite a twist. Let’s get into it! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Facebook wants your voice: Facebook’s live-audio service is out, putting Big Blue in competition with Clubhouse, a buzzy startup, and Spotify. In the wake of Clubhouse’s super-active early 2021, a host of Big Tech companies are looking to capture the magic that the startup managed to bottle. How successful Facebook will be at cutting in on Clubhouse’s game is not clear; so far, Facebook has yet to dominate the dating world, for example, making its entrance into the live-audio space more potential than promise of domination.
  • Consumer fintech is looking good: New numbers from European fintech unicorn Revolut dropped today, with TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet taking a look at the company for our publication. The gist is that Revolut had a deeply unprofitable 2020, but one that showed a real ramp toward smaller losses as it went on. I doodled on the company’s numbers here, if that’s your thing.
  • IPOs keep coming: Sure, we’re still waiting for Robinhood to file to go public, but after WalkMe’s public debut last week, there are new tech companies approaching the public markets. Couchbase filed today, kicking off the process of floating the database software company backed by Accel, Mayfield and Ignition Partners. Expect more filings in the coming weeks.


To keep proper tabs on both sides of the startup fundraising marketplace, we’re stripping VC news into its own section on occasion. Today is one such day. First, however, some startup news:

  • $10M for e-bikes: Ubco, a New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup, announced a $10 million raise today. The company is best known for its Ubco 2X2, an “all-wheel-drive electric motorbike that looks like a dirt bike but rides like a moped” — and looks rather fetching. Urban transit is changing as cities look to limit their car — and carbon — footprints. If trends hold, startups like Ubco could find themselves selling into a market that is moving in their direction.
  • Consumers love debt: TechCrunch covered news today that Kredivo, an Indonesian buy now, pay later (BNPL) startup, added $100 million to its credit facilities. The new capital access doubles the amount of debt that Kredivo can access. The news illustrates both the global consumer appetite for rejiggered debt products that transcend traditional credit cards, as well as the willingness of investors around the world to provide BNPL companies with ever more capital access. More on the subject here.
  • Music licensing remains complicated, lucrative: When Ludacris rapped that up-and-coming artists should “get a entertainment lawyer in the music profession,” he wasn’t kidding. The musical world is complicated. Mechanical licenses, platform cuts — it’s a lot. And where there’s complexity, there’s opportunity. Songtradr just raised $50 million to help license music to “high-profile names for advertising, films, TV, gaming and the like,” TechCrunch wrote in covering its latest round. Songtradr has now raised more than $100 million to fund its efforts.
  • Are shoes still hot? Backers of SoleSavy think so. They just put $12.5 million into the company’s Series A round. Unlike StockX — which is big business these days — SoleSavy isn’t a retail marketplace. Instead, it’s a company looking to build a sneaker head community. A community is like a subreddit, but on a different CMS and hosting provider, in case you’d forgotten.

Venture Capital News

What educational background generates the best entrepreneurs? Every university will tell you that they are the best. Many founders manage without a degree at all. The Academy Investor Network is betting that graduates of American military academies will prove lucrative. The fund just announced a $2.5 million anchor LP for its first fund, adding to capital from Scout Ventures, where co-founder Emily McMahan is a venture partner. She’s partnering with Sherman Williams in targeting a $50 million first raise.

Let’s see how far their thesis carries them. At least they will be able to brag with confidence that when it comes to rucking they will have the highest founder quality in the world.

Seed is not the new Series A

Usually, a teacher who grades students on a curve is boosting the efforts of those who didn’t perform well on the test. In the case of cloud companies, however, it’s the other way around.

As of Q1 2021, startups in this sector have a median Series A around $8 million, reports PitchBook. With $100+ million rounds becoming more common, company valuations are regularly boosted into the billions.

Andy Stinnes, general partner at Cloud Apps Capital Partners, says founders who are between angel and Series A should seek out investors who are satisfied with $200,000 to $500,000 in ARR. Usually a specialist firm, these VCs are open to betting on startups that haven’t yet found product-market fit.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

India’s tech scene deals with more government oversight: The Indian e-commerce industry is huge, with Amazon and Walmart battling with domestic companies — or buying them, in the case of Flipkart and Walmart — for market share in a growing market. All the activity is attracting complaints and possible government intervention. TechCrunch reported today that India “proposed … banning flash sales on e-commerce platforms and preventing their affiliate entities from being listed as sellers as the South Asian market looks to further tighten rules.”

India’s government is also busy battling with Twitter, as we’ve reported at length.

Germany is not enthused with Apple: With a fourth investigation opened, this time involving Apple, Germany’s oversight of competition in the tech world ratcheted up another few degrees today. In the case of Big Phone, the governmental body will “determine whether or not the iPhone maker meets the threshold of Germany’s updated competition law.” If Apple does, it would allow the country’s government to “intervene proactively” regarding the company’s activity.

Apple is also taking fire in its domestic market for what some perceive as heavy-handed tactics regarding its mobile app ecosystem, a market that the Cupertino-based company both moderates and extracts rents from.

Uber buys Cornershop: Today is a notable day for Latin American tech startups as the U.S. ride-hailing giant agreed to buy the 47% of Cornershop that it doesn’t own. The price? 29 million Uber shares. That’s about $1.3 billion worth of Uber equity.

The car service and delivery magnate bought Postmates last year, adding to its ability to deliver more than merely rides. The Cornershop buy fits into the thesis because the smaller company is also in the delivery market.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants to help startups find the right expert for their needs. To do this, we’re building a shortlist of the top growth marketers. We’ve received great recommendations for growth marketers in the startup industry since we launched our survey.

We’re excited to read more responses as they come in! Fill out the survey here.

Our editorial coverage about growth marketing includes articles from the TechCrunch team, guest columns and posts like “5 tips for brands that want to succeed in the new era of influencer marketing” by Eric Dahan on Extra Crunch. If you’re interested in writing a column, learn more here.

#daily-crunch, #newsletters, #tc


Twitch suspends two popular female creators over sexy ASMR streams

Popular Twitch streamers Amouranth and Indiefoxx are the two latest casualties of Twitch’s ongoing battle to enforce its own confusing rules around sexually suggestive content.

Both creators were suspended following ASMR streams that pushed the bounds of Twitch’s community guidelines forbidding content that isn’t quite sexual in nature but is still too risqué for a platform deeply self-conscious about its advertising business. The Amazon-owned company declined to comment on the length of the bans or what provoked them, but pointed TechCrunch toward its rules on sexual content.

It’s possible that both Amouranth (Kaitlyn Siragusa) and Indiefoxx (Jenelle Dagres) will be reinstated Monday, 72 hours after their Friday ban, but both channels remained unavailable at the time of writing. Siragusa confirmed to Polygon that she was suspended after a stream in which she did yoga poses while making ear-licking sounds into a microphone.

The so-called “ASMR-meta” on Twitch, where streamers boost their views by whispering into their microphones or producing licking sounds, sometimes while holding yoga poses, follows the controversy around hot tubs on Twitch that exploded last month. In both instances, some Twitch creators believe that the platform’s rules are selectively enforced.

“With ASMR meta and crazy yoga poses, believe it or not I watched two other girls doing it to the tune of 2-5k views without any bans for months before I folded the activity into ASMR creating the infamous ‘ASMR’ meta,” Siragusa wrote on Twitter. “Those other streamers are still unbanned and continue to do it. My sin was taking inaction as a sign of tacit acceptance, and then blowing the top off the secret and hitting 30k viewers.”

Because both the ASMR meta and the hot tub meta were dominated by female streamers, the whole situation has attracted even more misogyny within the Twitch community, where female streamers are still regularly harassed off the platform.

In a blog addressing the proliferation of women streaming from pools and hot tubs at the time, Twitch wrote that “being found to be sexy by others is not against our rules, and Twitch will not take enforcement action against women, or anyone on our service, for their perceived attractiveness.” The company clarified that while a bathing suit in a bedroom might break the rules, “contextually appropriate” swimwear is allowed.

Twitch also acknowledged the complexity of its own difficult to parse rules:

“Our intention with the Sexually Suggestive policy was to draw a line on content that is overtly or explicitly sexually suggestive, not to ban all content that could be viewed as sexually suggestive – but we acknowledge that our rules are not as clear as they could be.

Prohibiting every form of content that could be interpreted as suggestive would also result in far more restrictions on the video games and premium content that we currently allow, especially considering the ways that female characters are sometimes objectified or presented in a sexualized manner.”

Its solution at the time was to create a “Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches” category where that content could live. Most of Twitch’s categories are dedicated to specific games, with most of the platform’s non-gaming streams listed in the popular catch-all category “Just Chatting.”

ASMR has its own category with 2.4 million followers, encompassing ear-tingling ASMR streams that don’t push the boundaries of Twitch’s rules with the more recent crop of those that do. So far, instead of building out a more thoughtful way to corral sexually suggestive content, the company is opting to punish anybody who it decides crosses the line. But it’s possible that could all change: Last month, Twitch said it was working on new policies to further clarify the rules on sexually suggestive content.

Unfortunately for Twitch — and for the female creators disproportionately affected by its uneven policies — the abundance of ear-licking streams suggests that until then, the company will be making these same determinations over and over as it tries to draw a line within a gray area of its own making.

#amazon, #articles, #asmr, #content-moderation, #tc, #twitch, #twitter, #video-hosting


Sneaker community startup SoleSavy raises $12.5 million Series A to build an end-to-end sneakersphere

Collectibles boomed during the pandemic and while NFT outfits like NBA Top Shot exploded as consumers flirted with newer efforts, the sneaker world grew even more mature with enthusiasts digging deeper into communities dedicated to the hobby/passion/obsession/alternative asset class.

Vancouver’s SoleSavy, a sneaker community dedicated to giving fans a curated place to navigate the world of shoes, with all of its drops, news and rumors, has raised a $12.5 million Series A just months after wrapping a $2 million seed round, showcasing investor enthusiasm behind vertical-specific premium social experiences. The round was led by Bedrock Capital with participation from Dapper Labs’ CEO Roham Gharegozlou, Diplo, Bessemer Ventures and Turner Novak’s Banana Capital, among others.

CEO Dejan Pralica says the company has tripled its user base since its seed raise late last year, while growing its team from 10 to 37 employees in the same period.

Today, SoleSavy’s community is based largely around a network of Slack groups where users can discuss just about everything. Though the platform’s chat communities are organized in Slack now, Pralica sees a future where the company could build its own chat hub for members, something to further tie-in the startup’s app, website and online conversations. The more near-term goal is to grow this community into a hub of trusted buyers and sellers where a peer-to-peer member marketplace can thrive. SoleSavy is at the forefront of a new generation of more social internet marketplaces where vertical-specific communities can gather and grow inside an all-encompassing platform.

“I do envision on end-to-end platform that’s very integrated,” Pralica tells TechCrunch.”I want to make sneakers fun again and enjoyable for the people that are passionate about them.”

Part of that fun has been diminished by free-for-all chat groups that can quickly grow toxic or grow exploitative as moderators look to cash in on their networks, something SoleSavy hopes a more curated approach can bring back.

As my boss (and TC’s resident sneaker head) Matthew said in his write-up of SoleSavy’s seed raise earlier this year:

That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the U.S. and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis… I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.

The company’s sizable Series A raise just months after a seed showcases that plenty of investors are intrigued by the idea of verticalized marketplaces built up around social communities, Pralica sees the funding as a chance to ignore fundraising for a while and focus on “building for the future” while identifying new opportunities in the sneakersphere.

SoleSavy has been pretty focused on North American sneaker heads so far, but Pralica see that hefty Series A check taking the platform into new markets, including Australia and New Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and broader Europe. The company also plans to use the new funding to build out its editorial network with podcasts, editorial features, original video and member events.

#australia, #bedrock-capital, #bessemer-ventures, #canada, #ceo, #consumer-goods, #culture, #dapper-labs, #europe, #footwear, #groupware, #japan, #matthew, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #new-zealand, #peer-to-peer, #shoe, #singapore, #slack, #sneakers, #software, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vancouver


Uber to become the sole owner of grocery delivery startup Cornershop

Uber has reached a deal to become the sole owner of Latin American delivery startup Cornershop, just one year after acquiring a majority stake in the company. The ride-hailing giant said in a regulatory filing Monday that it will purchase the remaining 47% interest in Cornershop in exchange for 29 million shares. The transaction is expected to close in July.

Uber announced in 2019 plans to take a majority ownership in Cornershop. That transaction wasn’t completed until the third quarter of 2020 other than in Mexico, which closed in January 2021. This latest agreement, which was reached June 18 and reported Monday, will make Cornershop a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber. The deal is a logical next-step in the Uber-Cornershop relationship, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The deal suggests Uber’s bullishness in delivery hasn’t waned. With Cornershop as wholly owned subsidiary, Uber can beef up its grocery delivery options, a service made popular during the pandemic. The company started offering grocery delivery in select cities across Latin America, Canada and the U.S. last summer after it acquired Postmates in a deal valued at $2.65 billion. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement that the company’s grocery and new verticals business has exceeded a $3 billion annual bookings run rate for this year.

“That’s why we’re excited to deepen our commitment to the team at Cornershop and to support their vision as they scale globally,” he added. “Together, we will double down on the strategy of bringing same-day grocery delivery to the Uber platform worldwide.”

Cornershop, which is headquartered in Chile, was founded in 2015 by Oskar Hjertonsson, Daniel Undurraga and Juan Pablo Cuevas. The company expanded its operations to eight countries up and down the Americas, including Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, the U.S. and Canada. The company raised $31.7 million over four rounds of funding from investors that include Accel and Jackson Square Ventures.

Uber wasn’t the only grocery service with its eyes on Cornershop; the startup was supposed to be acquired by Walmart in a $225 million deal, but it ultimately fell through after Mexican antitrust regulators blocked the deal from moving forward. It is unclear whether this deal will be subject to the same risks.

Uber faces stiff competition from grocery retailers themselves, many of whom offer delivery through partnering with startups like DoorDash or Favor Fleet.

TechCrunch has reached out to Cornershop for comment. We will update the story if they respond.

The story has been updated to include Uber’s comments.

#apps, #cornershop, #dara-khosrowshahi, #exit, #grocery-delivery, #postmates, #startups, #tc, #uber


Biden’s executive order on cybersecurity should include behavior transparency

The Biden administration this spring announced an executive order designed to strengthen government cybersecurity defenses in the wake of several major recent hacks, including the SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange Server and Pulse Secure incidents, which impacted numerous federal agencies and private companies. The order’s importance was underscored by the DarkSide ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline just a few weeks later.

One key element of the cyber executive order is a “software bill of materials” (SBOM) that vendors would be required to provide as part of the federal procurement process. The SBOM would detail the exact software components utilized in a given product, including any open-source components, making it much easier and faster for federal agencies to determine whether they are subject to a vulnerability uncovered in one of these components.

The SBOM is an important step in shoring up federal cybersecurity, but it’s not enough. Understanding the software components included in various products will help agency security teams react more quickly when vulnerabilities come to light, but in other scenarios, like SolarWinds-style supply-chain attacks that surreptitiously insert software components, its impact is limited.

Establishing standards at the federal level for disclosures about software products will benefit cybersecurity in the private sector, as well as improve the overall security of the software supply chain.

That’s why the Biden administration should extend the cyber executive order to include not only an SBOM, but also “behavior transparency.”

Transparency requirements are not a new concept in technology. Certificate transparency (CT) is a public ledger of all certificates issued by any public certificate authority (CA) that provides a framework for monitoring and auditing CA activity, while Apple’s recently announced App Tracking Transparency allows users to see what activity apps are tracking and opt out. Behavior transparency is a proposed application of this concept to known software behaviors.

The purpose of a behavior transparency framework is to enumerate the expected actions of interest that a given piece of software will take on a device or on the network. This helps security analysts distinguish between expected noise and indications of compromise. This, in turn, can give security teams an advantage in identifying the exploitation of unknown vulnerabilities in any proprietary or open-source software.

The good news is that the enumeration of common software behaviors is already a standard industry practice for external network activity. Most major software vendors, including Meraki, McAfee, Tenable, LogMeIn/GoToMeeting, and my own company, ExtraHop, already publish lists of common product behaviors. Even SolarWinds has documentation describing its network behaviors.

But the Biden administration can help effect critical changes that improve upon this industry practice and improve the overall security posture for public and private organizations alike.

Establish standards for behavior transparency

First, the cyber executive order should form a working group in partnership with representative software and security software vendors, as well as organizations such as MITRE, to create standards for the types of network activity that must be included for full behavior transparency.

At a minimum, this should include things like external network destinations, internal network connection behavior with other software components, and, where applicable, a list of associated network ports and the purposes for which those ports are used. The behavior transparency framework should also include other network behavior, especially (but not limited to) anything that looks like scanning or reconnaissance behavior.

Make behavioral data available to common security tools

Second, the cyber executive order should mandate that known software behaviors be published in a machine-readable format such as JSON or CSV that could be ingested into common security products like security information and event management (SIEM), firewalls, endpoint protection platforms, network detection and response, and change management tools.

This is a crucial distinction from the current model, in which most behaviors are listed on a webpage or in a PDF that isn’t machine-readable. With this change, common security tools could use that machine-readable behavioral data to help build baselines for activity within an organization to more quickly and accurately detect deviations that indicate compromise. Meraki is already doing this by providing its list in CSV format.

Centralize access to behavioral information

Third, the cyber executive order should establish a clearinghouse for behavior transparency data, administered by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency or another appropriate federal agency. The status quo is to hunt around on a vendor’s website, consult their in-product documentation or open a support case to find out about network behavior. If the information provided is incorrect, that’s also a support case.

The current decentralized approach is deeply problematic. Unfettered network access for enterprise software products introduces substantial security risk — Zero Trust frameworks have been established to prevent precisely this — but typical practitioners do not have the time or expertise to individually track down the expected behaviors of each piece of enterprise software they have in the environment. Without centralized access to behavior transparency data, even the best Zero Trust implementations will have major gaps surrounding enterprise software.

A clearinghouse would provide a centralized repository for behavior transparency data, organized by company, product and product version. A forum like GitHub is an ideal mechanism for such a clearinghouse, providing a widely used, centralized repository for this information.

Streamline feedback between users and vendors

Fourth, the clearinghouse should include a mechanism by which product users can easily provide feedback to software vendors. Feedback can be in the form of issues or even pull requests, though the companies should be involved in approving changes. This way, deficiencies in the behaviors can be pointed out in a public forum. Most deficiencies will be for reasons like a product update that wasn’t reflected in the behavior transparency data, though as time goes on, companies will ideally make it a practice to make sure these are kept up to date. But there will also be true positives found.

Protecting the software supply chain with behavior transparency

The SolarWinds software supply chain attack, first disclosed in December 2020, illustrates and underscores the importance of behavior transparency. Prior to December 11, when FireEye first identified the vulnerability in the SolarWinds Orion software, at least two other cybersecurity companies, Palo Alto and Fidelis, identified that their SolarWinds installations communicating with the attacker-controlled “stage 1” avsvmcloud[.]com domain. Palo Alto observed and blocked additional malicious behavior, but at the time neither company determined that the communication with avsvmcloud[.]com itself was suspect. That’s due in large part to the notorious amount of “noise” involved in looking at network data.

But if more organizations had ready access to SolarWinds’ behavior transparency data, as well as a forum in which to compare deviations from the baseline, things might have played out differently.

SolarWinds Orion doesn’t reach out to a lot of external destinations, so when the first stage of the supply chain attack started hitting subdomains off of “[.]com,” an analyst on a threat hunt running a SIEM query, or a machine-learning-based EDR or NDR product armed with that information, might have more quickly determined that something was amiss.

Likewise, a low-friction public feedback mechanism could have tipped off SolarWinds and the industry that what seemed like noise in isolation (“appsync-api, seems legit?”) was actually something far more nefarious.

The cyber executive order, alongside the sanctions on Russia, are strong early indications that the Biden administration intends to take a far more proactive approach to cybersecurity. Critical to the success of these efforts will be the partnership the administration forges with private-sector technology providers. Establishing standards at the federal level for disclosures about software products will benefit cybersecurity in the private sector, as well as improve the overall security of the software supply chain.

#colonial-pipeline, #column, #computer-security, #cybercrime, #cybersecurity, #event-management, #extrahop, #government, #opinion, #russia, #security, #software-vendors, #solarwinds, #supply-chain-attack, #tc


Buy now, pay later startup Kredivo doubles its debt facility from Victory Park Capital to $200M

Kredivo announced today it has secured another $100 million debt facility from Victory Park Capital (VPC). This doubles the Indonesian digital lending and credit platform’s total warehouse financing facility from VPC to $200 million. The first round was closed in July 2020.

Kredivo is operated by Singapore-based fintech FinAccel. This is the largest loan facility it has raised so far, and is VPC’s biggeast debt commitment to a fintech company outside of the United States and Europe, as well as its only investment in Southeast Asia. Kredivo will use the debt facility to help achieve its goal of serving 10 million customers in Indonesia.

Other notable startups that have received debt financing from VPC include Razor Group, factory 14, Konfio and Elevate.

Kredivo has more than three million customers and offers two main types of lending products: zero interest 30-day ‘buy now, pay later’ financing for e-commerce and offline purchases, and three-, six- and 12-month installment loans with an interest rate of 2.6% a month, or a maximum annual rate of 53.36%. Kredivo chief executive officer Akshay Garg told TechCrunch that its ‘buy now, pay later’ services are typically used for small-value online purchases, while installment loans are used to finance bigger transactions, like laptops, home renovation or medical care.

While ‘buy now, pay later’ services like Klarna, Afterpay or Affirm offer convenience to customers in the United States or Europe, in emerging markets it also serves as a tool to build credit, especially in countries that have low credit card penetration, Garg said.

“Credit is one of the largest and most complex areas of the financial services ecosystem and the fact is that Indonesia is deeply underserved on that equation,” he said. Most banks only provide secured lending, like home or car loans, and unsecured lending is rare. Garg said there are only eight million credit card holders in Indonesia, which has a population of 270.6 million, and that number has not changed in 13 years.

One of the reasons for Indonesia’s very low credit card penetration rate is because banks are reluctant to give unsecured loans, especially to younger customers.

“What we’re solving is less a convenience problem and more an access problem. We’re putting unsecured credit, or the ability to buy on credit, in the hands of urban millennials for the first time, simply because banks are just not providing them access to credit cards,” said Garg.

He added that Kredivo’s effective risk-scoring model allows to charge low interest rates, and its non-performing loan ratio is in the low single-digits, despite the economic impact of COVID-19, which Garg described as a “trial by fire.”

Like credit cards from banks, Kredivo also reports customers’ loan histories to Indonesia’s credit bureaus, so they can build credit scores. “What we’re doing is a building Indonesia’s first real digital credit bureau from the ground up, and I think our risk metrics show that this is not just for the sake of some funky innovation, but something that is delivering real performance,” Garg said.

In a statement, VPC partner Gordon Watson said, “We have been impressed with the resilience and growth of the business and look forward to deepening our partnership with Kredivo. The company presents a unique combination of growth, scale, risk management and financial inclusion in one of the most exciting emerging markets in the world.”

#asia, #bnpl, #buy-now-pay-later, #credit, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #kredivo, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #victory-park-capital


WaitWhat raises $12M to double down on what comes after podcasts

As podcasting continues to gain ground among mainstream consumers as a digital media platform alongside music, video, and the printed word, a startup that made a name for itself through building content for the medium has closed a round of funding to help it explore what comes next.

WaitWhat, co-founded by two of the people who helped conceive of and build the TED digital media empire, has closed a round of $12 million, in a round led by Raga Partners, with Laurene Powell Jobs’ firm Emerson Collective, Lupa Systems, Capital One Ventures, Maywic Select Investments, GingerBread Capital, Burda Principal Investments, Cue Ball Capital, and Reid Hoffman also participating.

WaitWhat says it plans to use the money to continue producing content in formats that have already proven very successful for it so far — to date, it has seen 70 million downloads of its work, which includes the podcasts Masters of Scale from Reid Hoffman, Meditative Story, Spark & Fire, and Should this Exist? — as well as invest in its tech and R&D and efforts to break new ground for new kinds of formats.

The company may be best known for its podcast production, but it describes itself as a “media invention company” and June Cohen, who co-founded the company with Deron Triff, want to double down on the invention part of that description, going past podcasting to explore other ways of interacting with users.

“We’re working on an innovative content format for physical well-being that lives inside of workouts, but will come at the experience through storytelling,” the pair said in an email (which we had to move to after our phone conversation, while they were on the road in a car, broke up. Maybe in-car calls need to be disrupted soon, too). “After physical well-being, we see intergenerational experiences (parent/child) as another interesting white space that plays into habit and human potential, and are in the early stages of developing a television series to explore this arena.”

An existing iteration on the podcast theme — a entrepreneur training course that it has developed in connection with its Masters of Scale podcast, has been downloaded 10,000 times in its first 8 weeks on the market. And Meditative Story, which focuses on mindfulness, is being downloaded 750,000 times each month. In this they have focused on an important aspect of any digital service: “As with the podcast format, it’s all about habit,” they said.

But it is more than that: at a time when podcasting may still be somewhat nascent as a business model, while at the same time at the risk of starting to be too formulaic, the company’s catching attention for exploring ways to address both of those issues.

Its solution, in part, may be based on creative ways of presenting content to users, but also keeping a focus on strong material to use in those channels.

“Our aim is to build the most valuable independent portfolio of premium IP — one that’s designed around essential human needs and built with a contrarian strategy to scale,” the pair said in the email. “We see an outsized opportunity for alternative content that lives at the intersection of daily habit and fulfilling human potential. Our success is linked to how we build content ecosystems where habit and human potential come together.”

There is potentially a lot of money in making compelling podcasting content, of course, but for now a good chunk of that is coming in the form of M&A, specifically from companies like Spotify looking to buy much bigger audiences that it can coalesce around its own advertising and paid subscription efforts, or by buying into new tech for creating and organizing this kind of content.

WaitWhat presents an interesting variation on that theme, by building a startup around the idea of innovating within and beyond the podcast medium, which could catch the eye again of the same players who are watching and snapping up content companies today.

Something interesting in how Cohen and Triff have approached fundraising is that they say that they have done it in part to “secure diversity” at the startup. In part this is about hiring people from a mix of backgrounds but also about how it approaches management and how it endorses those with whom it works.

“We see our fundraising rounds as a tool for securing diversity,” they noted. “We know that’s not a typical viewpoint. But we have found ways to use our fund-raising rounds to leap us forward on diversity — in a few different ways.”

They note that in the seed round, they raised half of the funds from investors who identify as women. “We did this by raising from women first. Most people thought we were crazy. (“Just take the money there you find it!” was the advice we got) But it’s what we believed in, and it’s what we did,” they said.

Then in the Series A (we covered it here), “our lead investors had diverse funds, but they weren’t women-led. So we created a carve-out to create balance. And raised additional funds from women-led funds to balance us out.”

In this latest Series B, “we shifted our focus from total dollars to representation on the Board,” they said. “We actually wrote into our term sheet that WaitWhat will always maintain gender balance on the board. In this round, we shifted to a 5-person board, so what that means is that we won’t have less than 2 people who identify as women — or less than 2 people who identify as men. Our investors haven’t seen a company request this before — but they welcomed it, and shared that they wished more companies would ask.”

Far from annoying the men in the room, it seems to have gotten them even more on board with the idea of purpose existing alongside business interestes.

“Drawing on our background of investing in companies that have demonstrated the ability to build loyalty and community around high-quality content and experiences, we are big believers in WaitWhat’s approach to deliver durable and adaptive content, helping people become the best versions of themselves,” said Atul Joshi, founder and managing partner of Raga Partners, who led the investment for the firm. 



Facebook officially launches Live Audio Rooms and podcasts in the U.S.

In April, Facebook announced a series of planned investments in new audio products, including a Clubhouse live audio competitor as well as new support for podcasts. Today, Facebook is officially rolling these products with the launch of Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. on iOS, starting with public figures and select Facebook Groups, and the debut of an initial set of U.S. podcast partners.

The company tells us Live Audio Rooms will become available to any verified public figure or creator in the U.S. who’s in good standing with Facebook and is using either a profile or the new Facebook Pages experience on iOS. For Facebook Groups, the feature is launching with “dozens of groups,” we’re told.

Both products will become more broadly available in the weeks and months ahead, as more people, podcasts, and Groups are brought on board. Meanwhile, 100% of Facebook users in the U.S. will be able to listen to Live Audio Rooms and podcasts as of this week.

Image Credits: Facebook

Much like Clubhouse or similar audio apps, Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms offer a standard set of features.

The event’s hosts appear in rounded profile icons at the top of the screen, while the listeners appear in the bottom half of the screen, as smaller icons. The active speaker is indicated with a glowing ring. If verified, a check appears next to their name, as well.

There are also options for enabling live captions, a “raise hand” tool to request to speak, and tools to share the room with others on Facebook, through things like News Feed or Group posts.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook does things a little differently than others in some places. For instance, hosts are able to invite people to join them as a speaker in advance of the session, or they can choose listeners during the stream to join them. In each session, there can be up to 50 speakers and there’s no limit on the number of listeners, Facebook says.

During the session, users will be notified when friends or followers join the chat, too.

While listening, users can “Like” or react to the content as it streams using the “Thumbs Up” button at the bottom of the screen which connects you to Facebook’s set of emoji reactions. And with today’s official launch, listeners can also now show support to the public figure of the Live Audio Room by sending “Stars.” These Stars can be purchased during the conversation and used at any time, similar to how they work with other Facebook Live content.

By sending Stars, the listener is bumped up to the “Front Row,” a special section that highlights the people who sent the Stars. This allows the event’s hosts to easily recognize their supporters and even give them a shout out during the event, if they choose.

Image Credits: Facebook

Another new feature allows hosts to select a nonprofit or fundraiser to support during their conversation, and listeners and speakers can directly donate. A progress bar will show how much has been raised during the show.

Image Credits: Facebook

Meanwhile, for Facebook Groups, admins can control whether moderators, group members or other admins can create a Live Audio Room. Both members and visitors can listen to the rooms in public groups, but in private groups, the rooms are limited to Group members.

Facebook users are alerted to all the new Live Audio Rooms via the News Feed and Notifications, and can sign up to be reminded when a room they’re interested in goes Live. Live Audio Rooms will also be discoverable within Facebook Groups, where available.

Image Credits: Facebook

Among the initial set of early adopters for Facebook Live Audio Rooms are Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA; American football quarterback Russell Wilson; organizer, producer and independent journalist Rosa Clemente; streamer and digital entertainer Omareloff; and social entrepreneur Amanda Nguyen. Others planned for the near future include D SmokeKehlaniReggie Watts, and Lisa Morales Duke, to Dr. JessBobby BerkTina Knowles-LawsonJoe Budden (notably Spotify’s first big podcast star who it lost last year), and DeRay Mckesson.

Image Credits: Facebook


Facebook Groups trying the new format include Dance Accepts Everyone, Vegan Soul Food, Meditation Matters, Pow Wow Nation, OctoNation – The Largest Octopus Fan Club!, and Space Hipsters.

Image Credits: Facebook

Alongside the launch of Live Audio Rooms, Facebook is also beginning to roll out its planned podcast support with a few select creators. These include Joe Budden of The Joe Budden Podcast; “Jess Hilarious” of Carefully Reckless from The Black Effect Podcast Network and iHeartRadio; Keltie Knight, Becca Tobin, and Jac Vanek of The LadyGang; and Nicaila Matthews Okome of Side Hustle Pro. Facebook will open up to other podcasters this summer.

Image Credits: Facebook

To be clear, this new podcasts service is different from the recently launched music and podcasts player in partnership with Spotify, which lets users share content from Spotify to the social network. The new feature instead involves podcasts that are streamed via public RSS feeds directly on Facebook, not delivered by Spotify. However, the miniplayer for podcasts on Facebook will look like the miniplayer for the Spotify listening integration (also known as Project Boombox), and they will behave similarly. But they are not the same.

The new podcast listening experience lets users listen to podcasts as they browse Facebook, either in a miniplayer or fullscreen player with playback options, and even if the phone’s display is turned off. This makes Facebook, in a way, a native podcast streaming app because it allows people to listen to audio without needing another service — like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, for example.

Facebook had earlier said there are over 170 Facebook users who are connected to a Page for a podcast, demonstrating user interest in podcasts on its social network.

Image Credits: Facebook

With the launch of the Facebook Podcast service, the company is asking podcast creators to give it permission to cache their content on Facebook’s servers, which we’re told is being done to ensure the content doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards. However, because the podcasts are still being streamed via RSS feeds, they will be represented in the metrics provided by a podcaster’s hosting provider.

Last week, Facebook emailed podcast page owners details on how to set up their show on Facebook, noting they can link their podcast’s RSS feed to automatically generate News Feed posts for their episodes. These are also featured on a “podcasts” tab on their Page. According to Facebook’s Podcast Terms of Service, creators are granting Facebook the right to create “derivative works,” which likely refers to an upcoming clips feature.

Facebook says later this summer, it will add the ability to create and share short clips from a podcast, along with other features, like captions. Longer-term, it will create social experiences around podcasts, as well. It’s also working with creators to develop and launch its new product, Soundbites, which are short-form, creative audio clips. This will launch later in 2021.

Image Credits: Facebook

Other audio products in the works include a central listening destination and background audio listening for videos.

Facebook says this new destination will be a place where all the different audio formats across Facebook are available, not just podcasts, and will help users find to new things and people to listen to. More details on this project will become available later this summer.

Prior to today, Facebook quietly tested Live Audio Rooms in Taiwan and internally with Facebook employees Those tests will continue. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted the first trial of the new service in the U.S., where he was joined by other Facebook execs and a few Facebook Gaming creators.

Zuckerberg has been bullish on the potential for audio across the social networking platform. He even appeared on Clubhouse a couple of times to discuss the topic ahead of announcing what is, essentially, Facebook’s own Clubhouse competitor.

“I think the areas where I’m most excited about it on Facebook are basically in the large number of communities and groups that exist,” Zuckerberg had told Platformer, at the time of the original announcement. “I think that you already have these communities that are organized around interests, and allowing people to come together and have rooms where they can talk is — I think it’d be a very useful thing,” he added.

Facebook expects to expand its audio products globally in the months ahead.

#apps, #artist, #audio, #audio-rooms, #audio-streaming, #clubhouse, #creators, #facebook, #fundraiser, #live-audio, #mark-zuckerberg, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #podcast, #podcasting, #social, #social-entrepreneur, #social-media, #social-network, #spotify, #stars, #tc, #united-states


Vietnamese financial services app MFast gets $1.5M pre-Series A led by Do Ventures

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast, a mobile app that lets Vietnamese users in remote areas access financial services, announced it has raised a $1.5 million pre-Series A today. The round was led by Do Ventures, with participation from JAFCO Asia. 

Launched in 2019 by fintech company Digipay, MFast says it has been used by 600,000 people to date. It partners with financial institutions who provide services like loans and insurance, and says it has been used to distribute more than 50 billion VND (about $2.2 million USD) worth of products so far.

The majority, or about 75% to 80% of MFast’s users are in remote provinces or rural areas, which the company says often limits their access to banking and credit-related services. 

The funding will be used to expand MFast to more cities and provinces in Vietnam, develop its technology and partner with more institutions. MFast also plans to enter other markets in the future. 

MFast’s consumer credit partners include Mirae Asset, CIMB, Mcredit and Easy Credit, and its insurance partners include PVI, PTI and BSH. It claims to have a network of more than 350,000 advisors, who offers their services through the app, and that its data analysis tools are able to reduce bad debt and fraud rates. 

#apps, #digipay, #do-ventures, #financial-services, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #jafco-asia, #mfast, #startups, #tc, #vietnam


GrowSari, a B2B platform for small stores in the Philippines, adds investors like Temasek’s Pavilion Capital and Tencent

Sari-sari stores are neighborhood stores in the Philippines that usually sell daily necessities and sometimes serve as community hubs, too. Today GrowSari, a startup that is digitizing sari-sari stores with features like pricing tools, inventory management and working capital loans, announced it has raised a Series B from several notable investors that brings its total funding to $30 million.

The company’s Series B is at a rolling close, so it has not announced a final amount. The $30 million total it has raised include its seed funding and Series A, which according to a July 2020 profile in Esquire Philippines was $14 million. Participants in its Series B included Temasek Holdings’ private equity unit Pavilion Capital, Tencent, International Finance Corporation (IFC), ICCP SBI Venture Partners and Saison Capital, and returning investors Robinsons Retail Holdings (which is part of the Gokongwei Group), JG Digital Equity Ventures and Wavemaker Partners.

GrowSari was founded in 2016, and says its B2B platform is currently used by more than 50,000 stores in over 100 municipalities on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most populated island. Its ultimate goal is to serve one million sari-sari stores.

According to GrowSari, there are more than 1.1 million sari-sari stores in the Philippines, and they account for 60% of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sold in the country, making them a valuable distribution channel for wholesalers. In addition to its supplier marketplace, GrowSari says it is able to give sari-sari store operators better pricing for products from about a thousand FMCG brands, including Unilever, P&G and Nestle, which it claims can help stores double their earnings. Other services in the app include online telecom and utility bill payments, remittance and microfinancing for working capital loans.

GrowSari’s founding tDeam includes Reymund Rollan, Shiv Choudhury, Siddhartha Kongara and Andrzej Ogonowski, who first launched the platform as a backend system for sari-sari stores to manage their logistics and inventory.

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari's app

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari’s app

Since most sari-sari stores are run individually, their margins are smaller than large retailers that can negotiate deals with FMCG wholesalers. GrowSari’s supplier marketplace addresses this issue by giving sari-sari stores access the Distributor List Prices seen by large stores and wholesalers. GrowSari’s marketplace does not require a minimum order, and it allows sari-sari stores on the platform to pay with cash on delivery, GrowCoins (or cash credits that can be topped up through GrowSari’s shippers, online transfers, banks or over-the-counter at convenience stores) or E-Lista, GrowSari’s seven-day loan product.

GrowSari’s new capital will be used to expand its userbase to 300,000 new stores in the Philippines, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, increase the size of its supplier marketplace and launch more financial products for sari-sari stores. The startup is part of a new crop of B2B platforms in Asia focused on serving micro to small-enterprises, including BukuWarung and BukuKas in Indonesia and Khatabook in India.

#asia, #b2b, #fmcg, #fundings-exits, #growsari, #msmes, #pavilion-capital, #philippines, #sari-sari, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #tencent


Crypto finance startup Amber Group raises $100M at $1B valuation

More mainstream venture capital firms are jumping on the crypto bandwagon as investors increasingly consider bitcoin an investable asset, despite the recent massive price drops of a few major cryptocurrencies. Amber Group, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency trading startup, said on Monday it has raised $100 million in a Series B funding round at a pre-money valuation of $1 billion.

The latest valuation is ten times that of the company’s Series A closed in 2019, a $28 million round that counted Coinbase Ventures as one of its investors. Also notably, Amber’s Series B financing was bankrolled by a list of high-profile financial and VC firms, including China Renaissance, which led the round, and Tiger Brokers, Tiger Global Management, Arena Holdings, Tru Arrow Partners, Sky9 Capital, DCM Ventures, and Gobi Partners.

Its past investors Pantera Capital, Coinbase Ventures, and also participated in the round.

In May, Babel Finance, another crypto asset manager based out of Hong Kong, secured $40 million in funding from a number of big-name institutional investors, including Amber’s investor Tiger Global.

Founded by a group of former investment bankers in their twenties, Amber initially set out to apply machine learning algorithms to quantitative trading but pivoted in 2017 to crypto when the team saw spikes in virtual currency’s trading volumes. The startup now serves both institutional and individual investors, offering them algorithmic trading, electronic market-making, high-frequency trading, OTC trading, borrowing and lending, derivatives, among other products.

The firm launched its mobile app in the third quarter of 2020, widening its scope from institutional clients to retail consumers. It said the trading app has so far accumulated over 100,000 registered users.

Amber has been profitable since its inception, according to its co-founder and CEO Michael Wu, with annualized revenues of $500 million based on figures from January to April 2021.

The startup has seen “record months over the past quarter across both client flow and on-exchange market-making volumes,” said Wu, and it now accounts for “2-3% of total trading volumes in major spot and derivative markets.” Its cumulative trading volumes have doubled from $250 billion since the beginning of the year to over $500 billion. Altogether, it manages around $1.5 billion in trading capital that varies based on BTC and ETH prices.

Amber has over 330 employees worldwide across Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, and Vancouver. The proceeds from its Series B will go towards global expansion.

#arena-holdings, #asia, #blockchain-com, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrency, #dcm-ventures, #funding, #gobi-partners, #pantera-capital, #series-b, #tc, #tiger-global-management


Dollars, deals and the importance of nondilutive capital

Today, on Juneteenth, we recognize the efforts this nation still needs to put toward addressing structural racism and disparities, including in the world of tech.

This week, HBCUvc, a nonprofit that aims to diversify the world of venture capital, launched a million-dollar fund. Founder Hadiyah Mujhid told me that the capital would provide nondilutive financing to overlooked founders, which they define as Black, Indigenous and LatinX entrepreneurs, replacing the traditional angel round. But she also admitted that supporting founders wasn’t the only primary goal. Instead, she explained to me the importance of what she defines as “teaching capital.”

Similar to how teaching hospitals give aspiring doctors a way to practice and learn their craft before formally entering the field, the fund wants to do that for their some 230 aspiring investors that they already work with, many stemming from historically Black colleges and universities. Notably, nondilutive capital provides entrepreneurs with funding sans equity and a learning experience with lower stakes.

There are a lot of organizations right now that are starting funds [with] the primary goal of supporting founders. And that’s a goal of ours, but we’re hoping to have a ripple effect of training and really providing on-ramps for the next best-in-class investors … and in order to do that, they have to have a training vehicle.

While I’m not always a fan of rebranded names for capital, “teaching capital” is certainly a compelling framing. Track record is everything in this industry, and underrepresented folks often don’t have the benefit or privilege of access on their side — from a dollar or deals perspective. Scout programs have long existed to fill this gap, but I think that there is still a lacking of intentionality around who feels empowered to write an investment memo, ask questions and be new. This week, BLCK VC launched its scout program and Google for Startups launched a nondilutive financing instrument for Black founders, underscoring a growing focus in seeding diverse entrepreneurs.

HBCUvc’s fund was announced nearly one year after it almost shut down due to a lack of capital. Mujhid explained how the unjust killing of George Floyd led to the biggest one-day donation in her nonprofit’s lifetime, which “changed the trajectory of programming.” She also said that a lot of interest was a knee-jerk reaction, urging people to view this work as a long-term commitment.

Down the creative capital rabbit hole we go:

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into Waymo’s latest raise, the Nubank EC-1 and a Pittsburgh event that I can’t wait to nerd out about.

Waymo gets way more

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, raised $2.5 billion in its second-ever institutional round. Investors include Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, AutoNation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Temasek and, of course, Tiger Global.

Here’s what to know: Waymo is going external after some internal shuffling. The funding comes only months after CEO John Krafcik stepped down from his title after spending five years in that position. Last month, Waymo lost its CFO and head of partnerships.

For more, here are my favorite recaps of TC Sessions: Mobility:

The Nubank EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Another week, another EC-1! Marcella McCarthy wrote about Nubank, a Brazillian credit card and banking fintech company that just last week raised at a $30 billion valuation. It’s one of the most valuable startups in the world, with over 40 million users.

Here’s what to know: As McCarthy puts it in the piece, Nubank started by trying to solve a massive challenge: “How to rebuild the concept of a bank in a country where banking is widely hated, all while the incumbents heavily entrenched with the state worked to block every move.” Maybe, the story goes on to tell, it would start with California Street.

Check out each installment of the series below:

Around TC

In May, thousands of you read my Duolingo EC-1, a deep dive into Pittsburgh’s favorite edtech unicorn. Now, we’re taking you to Pittsburgh to hear from Karin Tsai, the head of engineering there, as well as Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian, Mayor Bill Peduto and a smattering of local startups.

Our TC City Spotlight: Pittsburgh event will be held on June 29, so make sure to register here (for free) to listen to these conversations, enjoy the pitch-off and network with local talent.

Also, a friendly reminder that we’re making a list of the best growth marketers for startups. You can help us by nominating your favorites into this survey.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Thanks for reading, as always. Take care everyone!


#newsletters, #startups-weekly, #tc


Investors say Eindhoven poised to become Netherlands’ No. 2 tech hub

Eindhoven might not immediately spring to mind as a high-tech hub, but the Netherlands city is keen to position itself as a center for deep tech in Europe.

The Technical University of Eindhoven, High Tech Campus Eindhoven, and locally based corporates like ASML and Philips have been eyeing initiatives across Europe and applying what they’ve learned to the region’s strategy. Philips launched in Eindhoven in 1891 and played no small part in the municipality’s ambitions to become a tech hub.

Eindhoven produces a high number of patents per year considering its small population and has been home to an inordinate number of hardware startups. The local High Tech Campus has a high hardware focus, for instance.

Our survey respondents consider the city strong in areas like photonics, robotics, medical devices, materials science, deep tech, automotive tech, sustainability tech, medtech, Big Data, hardware and precision engineering. They are looking for more mature startups and scaleups focused on AI and hard tech.

Eindhoven is considered weaker in fintech and consumer products, and it exists in a small region with limited global visibility.

Over the next five years, one respondent said, “Eindhoven will have evolved to the Netherlands’ second-largest tech ecosystem, behind Amsterdam. On a European scale, Eindhoven will have entered the top 10.”

To learn more about Eindhoven, we queried the following investors:

Robert AL, Systema Circularis

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

High-tech systems, photonics, robotics, medical devices.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, Bio-TRIP, EFFECT photonics, Nemo Healthcare, Sorama.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Fully dedicated.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Steef Blok, Harm de Vries, Piet van der Wielen, Andy Lurling, Mark Cox.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

More mature, more focused on inclusive development, less quality coming from university spinoffs.

Nathan van den Dool, CEO, Space4Good

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

High-tech systems and materials, the real high-tech and deep tech stuff that either leads to scientific breakthroughs or turns scientific breakthroughs into companies. Lithography makes a major contribution to that, as well as medical devices and production technologies.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Nearfield Instruments, Optiflux, Dynaxion, AlphaBeats, Incooling.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

They focus mainly on high-tech machine building and software development, AI.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Largely unaffected.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

More integrated between AI and hard tech and production.

Pepijn Herman, venture builder, Brabantse Ontwikkelings Maat schappij

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The pros are high-tech systems, collaboration culture and excellent startup ecosystem; The cons are that it’s a small region with limited visibility globally.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

LionVolt, DENS, Lightyear, Morphotonics.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

They focus mainly on high-tech machine building and software development, AI.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Others will move in! Housing is extremely expensive but the demand for a skilled workforce is extremely high. If people move to surrounding areas, within 30 km, housing prices skyrocket all over.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?\

BOM (that’s us!), Braventure, Brainport Development, TNO.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Leading worldwide in several technology areas, mainly, high-precision, roll-to-roll processing atomic layer deposition, material handling, industry 4.0, silicon processing equipment.

Betsy Lindsey, CFO, Aircision

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in deep tech, automotive tech, sustainability tech, medtech, Big Data, hardware and precision engineering. Most excited by sustainability tech and deep tech. The region is weak in fintech.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, Incooling.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Conservative, non-risk-taking — there are so many subsidies they don’t need to take risks, so once the tech risk is gone, they are good, but they are not global enough; hardware.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Hardware is hands-on — people are still moving in! We have a housing “crisis!”

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Innovation Industries.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

More mature startups and scaleups on the scene!

Andy Lurling, founding partner, LUMO Labs

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in sustainable cities, health and well-being, and education.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

FruitPunch AI, AlphaBeats, Vaulut, Lightyear, Serendipity.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Mainly hardware; LUMO Labs has an early-stage software focus.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?


Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Nard Sintenie, Frank Claassen, Hans Bloemen.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Competing on a global scale.

Han Dirkx, CEO and co-founder, AlphaBeats

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in deep tech and health. I’m excited about opportunities for cooperation between different companies. It’s weak in seed investment.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, AlphaBeats, Carbyon, FruitPunch, Serendipity.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Tech investors are mainly government-regulated constitutions or angels. Focus on scaleup.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

They will stay; working from home has some benefits but meeting people in an inspiring environment gives the best synergy.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

LUMO Labs, HighTechXL, Andy Lurling, Sven Bakkes, John Bell, Guus Frericks, Bert-Jan Woertman.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Leading in the world.

Jonas Onland, managing partner, Serendipity

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in building sustainable and resilient cities and a platform between cities/society and tech market.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Digital Toolbox (a Serendipity spinoff), Amber (mobility), Active Esports Arena and other portfolio companies of LUMO Labs.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Through LUMO Labs, there is a focus on societal investments; the rest is investment in high tech due to the big industries (VDLK, ASML, NXP, Phillips).

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Work at home or mix in the office and at home.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

A combination of accelerators (LUMO Labs, HighTechXL, Braventure) and Brainport (ecosystem management) supported by the Eindhoven University of Technology and big corporates.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Leading in the world on societal/systemic change — moving from high-tech toward impact (more software and digitization).

Daan A.J. Kersten, CEO, PhotonFirst

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

It’s strong in high-tech equipment, hardware, photonics, additive manufacturing, lighting, electronics, semiconductor technology and health tech, and weak in consumer products and apps.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, ELEO Technologies, EFFECT Photonics, SMART Photonics, PhotonFirst, Amber.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

There is a relatively low number of investors in early stage.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

They will stay. Eindhoven is a hot spot with many cultures, international tech community and great infrastructure, while it feels like a village.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Nard Sintenie, startup founders, HighTechXL.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Worldwide dominance in high-tech hardware scaleups.

Daniel den Boer, CEO and co-founder, Vaulut

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The Eindhoven ecosystem is really strong in the sectors of mobility, smart city and energy. I’m most excited about smart city. This is our focus sector and it is the embodiment of ecosystem collaboration with impact solutions.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Vaulut, Roseman Labs, FruitPunch AI, Amber, Sendcloud, Lightyear.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

The investment scene is getting better. They are increasingly realizing that deep tech takes time and needs to be nurtured, but the potential impact is massive and can have a dramatic effect on the entire ecosystem. There are still relatively few early-stage impact drive investors. LUMO Labs is leading the pack on that front.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

I think more people will stay as the need to move to Amsterdam as the tech hub of the Netherlands diminishes, giving Eindhoven a boost to strengthen its own ecosystem, which will in turn make even more people stay and attract people to move in the city. As a result, COVID-19 will have a positive effect on Eindhoven’s tech ecosystem, I believe.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

LUMO Labs, the Eindhoven University of Technology, High Tech Campus, Amber, Brainport Eindhoven.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

In five years, I believe Eindhoven will have evolved to Netherlands’ second-largest tech ecosystem, behind Amsterdam. On a European scale, Eindhoven will have entered the top 10.

#aircision, #alphabeats, #andy-lurling, #brabantse-ontwikkelings-maat-schappij, #daan-a-j-kersten, #daniel-den-boer, #ec-investor-survey, #europe, #han-dirkx, #investor-survey, #jonas-onland, #lumo-labs, #nathan-van-den-dool, #netherlands, #pepijn-herman, #photonfirst, #robert-al, #serendipity, #space4good, #startups, #systema-circularis, #tc, #vaulut, #venture-capital


Daily Crunch: Spotify and Ford make acquisitions

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Welcome back to the Daily Crunch for Friday, June 18. Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the week without Alexander, who will return bright-eyed on Monday.

TechCrunch has the day off for Juneteenth, so this will be a tad pared down. And by “a tad pared down” I mean a lot pared down.

To start off, how about you have a listen to the latest episode of our award-winning podcast, Equity. Natasha and Danny managed to fill the half hour even sans Alex, so check it out.

TechCrunch Top 3

Speaking of podcasts, Spotify announced it acquired Podz, a podcast discovery app. With more and more podcasts popping up in various categories, it’s getting harder and harder to settle on ones you love, let alone find them. Spotify is hoping this will help shore up its platform by providing short clips that apparently give you enough information to subscribe, or not, and keep using the platform for your podcast listening purposes.

Spotify logo illustration

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Ford is enjoying its EV moment. The company just announced its E-Transit cargo van and F-150 Lightning Pro. The automaker has added to its EV stable with the acquisition of Electriphi, a battery management and fleet monitoring software startup.

And speaking of fleets! Gopuff, an on-demand goods, food and alcohol delivery service, acquired rideOS, a fleet-management platform. The $115 million acquisition should help the company with its plans to expand into New York.

Startups and VC

Indian fintech startup BharatPe is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $250 million in a new financing round led by Tiger Global. The Series E round gives the firm a pre-money valuation of $2.5 billion. The round hasn’t closed, so terms may change, sources cautioned.

More fleet action is afoot! KeepTruckin, a hardware and software developer that helps trucking fleets manage vehicle, cargo and driver safety, raised $190 million in a Series E round. The company, now valued at over $2 billion, hopes to invest the dough into its AI-powered products (GPS tracking, ELD compliance and dispatch and workflow) and improve its smart dashcam, which it claims instantly detects unsafe driving behaviors like cell phone distraction and close following and alerts drivers in real time.

Mediflash is a new French startup that wants to improve temp staffing in healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes, clinics and mental health facilities. The company acts as a marketplace that connects health facilities with caregivers who, it says, can expect more revenue — up to 20% — while facilities end up paying less.

Big Tech Inc.

The London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research organized a couple of panel discussions to examine the need for markets-focused competition watchdogs and consumer-centric privacy regulators to think outside their respective “legal silos” and find creative ways to work together to tackle the challenge of Big Tech market power. Read analysis by Natasha Lomas about the conversations, which brought together key regulatory leaders from Europe and the U.S. She says the discussions provided a glimpse into what the future shape of digital markets oversight might look like at a time when fresh blood has just been injected to chair the FTC.

The U.K.’s chief data protection regulator has warned over reckless and inappropriate use of live facial recognition in public places. The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, noted that a number of investigations already undertaken by her office into planned applications of the tech have found problems in all cases.

Revisiting EC-1s

Since it’s an off day for us here, now’s a perfect time for you to catch up on the EC-1s we have published so far this year. Grab a few buckets of popcorn and your beverage of choice and settle into some weekend reading.


Tonal is a unique entrant in the upscale fitness market, using a proprietary blend of hardware, software and content to bring comprehensive strength training to the home in as small and efficient of a package as possible. (Written by JP Mangalindan)


StockX sits at the nexus of two radical transitions that isn’t just redefining markets, but our culture as well. StockX’s online-only marketplace is used for buying and selling sneakers, streetwear, electronics, collectibles, handbags and watches that are primarily sneaker and streetwear culture-adjacent. Now valued at $2.8 billion, StockX has facilitated over 10 million transactions. (Written by Rae Witte)


Klaviyo helps marketers personalize and automate their email messaging to customers. It may not be a household name to consumers (at least, not yet), but in many ways, this startup has become the standard by which email marketers are judged today, triangulating against veterans Mailchimp and Constant Contact and riding the e-commerce wave to new heights. (Written by Chris Morrison)


Duolingo is a language-learning app that is used by 500 million people across the world to learn Spanish, English, French and more, all while generating bookings of $190 million in 2020. It’s a smashing success, but a success that was hard earned after a years-long effort of product and revenue experimentation to find its current niche in the edtech space. (Written by Natasha Mascarenhas)


If expense management is about avoiding corporate plunder, then letting the pirates and hackers run the ship is probably the best approach. And now, Expensify is plundering the corporate spend world one travel ticket and business meal at a time just as the world is rebuilding in the wake of COVID-19. (Written by Anna Heim)


Brazil’s banking system is a massive market, and one ill-served by incumbents. If someone could thread the needle of product development, strategy and political horse trading required to build a bank in a country where it is nearly impossible for foreigners to own or invest in a bank, it would be one of the great startup and economic success stories of this century. Nubank is on its way to realizing that objective. (Written by Marcella McCarthy)

#daily-crunch, #newsletters, #tc


Extra Crunch roundup: influencer marketing 101, spotting future unicorns, Apple AirTags teardown

With the right message, even a small startup can connect with established and emerging stars on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube who will promote your products and services — as long as your marketing team understands the influencer marketplace.

Creators have a wide variety of brands and revenue channels to choose from, but marketers who understand how to court these influencers can make inroads no matter the size of their budget. Although brand partnerships are still the top source of revenue for creators, many are starting to diversify.

If you’re in charge of marketing at an early-stage startup, this post explains how to connect with an influencer who authentically resonates with your brand and covers the basics of setting up a revenue-share structure that works for everyone.

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Our upcoming TC Early Stage event is devoted to marketing and fundraising, so expect to see more articles than usual about growth marketing in the near future.

We also ran a post this week with tips for making the first marketing hire, and Managing Editor Eric Eldon spoke to growth leader Susan Su to get her thoughts about building remote marketing teams.

We’re off today to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday in the United States. I hope you have a safe and relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

As the economy reopens, startups are uniquely positioned to recruit talent

Little Fish in Form of Big Fish meeting a fish.

Image Credits: ballyscanlon (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The pandemic forced a reckoning about the way we work — and whether we want to keep working in the same way, with the same people, for the same company — and many are looking for something different on the other side.

Art Zeile, the CEO of DHI Group, notes this means it’s a great time for startups to recruit talent.

“While all startups are certainly not focused on being disruptive, they often rely on cutting-edge technology and processes to give their customers something truly new,” Zeile writes. “Many are trying to change the pattern in their particular industry. So, by definition, they generally have a really interesting mission or purpose that may be more appealing to tech professionals.”

Here are four considerations for high-growth company founders building their post-pandemic team.

Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson-Roberson on finding the middle path to robotic delivery

Matthew Johnson-roberson

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“Refraction AI calls itself the Goldilocks of robotic delivery,” Rebecca Bellan writes. “The Ann Arbor-based company … was founded by two University of Michigan professors who think delivery via full-size autonomous vehicles (AV) is not nearly as close as many promise, and sidewalk delivery comes with too many hassles and not enough payoff.

“Their ‘just right’ solution? Find a middle path, or rather, a bike path.”

Rebecca sat down with the company’s CEO to discuss his motivation to make “something that is useful to the general public.”

How to identify unicorn founders when they’re still early-stage

Image Credits: RichVintage (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

What are investors looking for?

Founders often tie themselves in knots as they try to project qualities they hope investors are seeking. In reality, few entrepreneurs have the acting skills required to convince someone that they’re patient, dedicated or hard working.

Johan Brenner, general partner at Creandum, was an early backer of Klarna, Spotify and several other European startups. Over the last two decades, he’s identified five key traits shared by people who create billion-dollar companies.

“A true unicorn founder doesn’t need to have all of those capabilities on day one,” Brenner, writes “but they should already be thinking big while executing small and demonstrating that they understand how to scale a company.”

Founders Ben Schippers and Evette Ellis are riding the EV sales wave

disrupt mobility roundup

Image Credits: TechCrunch

EV sales are driving demand for services and startups that fulfill the new needs of drivers, charging station operators and others.
Evette Ellis and Ben Schippers took to the main stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to share how their companies capitalized on the new opportunities presented by the electric transportation revolution.

Scale AI CEO Alex Wang weighs in on software bugs and what will make AV tech good enough

Image Credits: Alexandr Wang

Scale co-founder and CEO Alex Wang joined us at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss his company’s role in the autonomous driving industry and how it’s changed in the five years since its founding.

Scale helps large and small AV players establish reliable “ground truth” through data annotation and management, and along the way, the standards for what that means have shifted as the industry matures.

Even if two algorithms in autonomous driving might be created more or less equal, their real-world performance could vary dramatically based on what they’re consuming in terms of input data. That’s where Scale’s value prop to the industry starts, and Wang explains why.

Edtech investors are flocking to SaaS guidance counselors

Image Credits: Getty Images / Vertigo3d

The prevailing post-pandemic edtech narrative, which predicted higher ed would be DOA as soon as everyone got their vaccine and took off for a gap year, might not be quite true.

Natasha Mascarenhas explores a new crop of edtech SaaS startups that function like guidance counselors, helping students with everything from study-abroad opportunities to swiping right on a captivating college (really!).

“Startups that help students navigate institutional bureaucracy so they can get more value out of their educational experience may become a growing focus for investors as consumer demand for virtual personalized learning increases,” she writes.

Dear Sophie: Is it possible to expand our startup in the US?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My co-founders and I launched a software startup in Iran a few years ago, and I’m happy to say it’s now thriving. We’d like to expand our company in California.

Now that President Joe Biden has eliminated the Muslim ban, is it possible to do that? Is the pandemic still standing in the way? Do you have any suggestions?

— Talented in Tehran

Companies should utilize real-time compensation data to ensure equal pay

Two women observing data to represent collecting data to ensure pay equity.

Image Credits: Rudzhan Nagiev (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Chris Jackson, the vice president of client development at CompTrak, writes in a guest column that having a conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and “agreeing on the need for equality doesn’t mean it will be achieved on an organizational scale.”

He lays out a data-driven proposal that brings in everyone from directors to HR to the talent acquisition team to get companies closer to actual equity — not just talking about it.

Investors Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt on SPACs, micromobility and how COVID-19 shaped VC

tc sessions mobility speaker_investorpanel-1

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Few people are more closely tapped into the innovations in the transportation space than investors.

They’re paying close attention to what startups and tech companies are doing to develop and commercialize autonomous vehicle technology, electrification, micromobility, robotics and so much more.

For TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, we talked to three VCs about everything from the pandemic to the most overlooked opportunities within the transportation space.

Experts from Ford, Toyota and Hyundai outline why automakers are pouring money into robotics

disrupt mobility roundup

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Automakers’ interest in robotics is not a new phenomenon, of course: Robots and automation have long played a role in manufacturing and are both clearly central to their push into AVs.

But recently, many companies are going even deeper into the field, with plans to be involved in the wide spectrum of categories that robotics touch.

At TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, we spoke to a trio of experts at three major automakers about their companies’ unique approaches to robotics.

Apple AirTags UX teardown: The trade-off between privacy and user experience

Image Credits: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Apple’s location devices — called AirTags — have been out for more than a month now. The initial impressions were good, but as we concluded back in April: “It will be interesting to see these play out once AirTags are out getting lost in the wild.”

That’s exactly what our resident UX analyst, Peter Ramsey, has been doing for the last month — intentionally losing AirTags to test their user experience at the limits.

This Extra Crunch exclusive helps bridge the gap between Apple’s mistakes and how you can make meaningful changes to your product’s UX.


How to launch a successful RPA initiative

3D illustration of robot humanoid reading book in concept of future artificial intelligence and 4th fourth industrial revolution . (3D illustration of robot humanoid reading book in concept of future artificial intelligence and 4th fourth industrial r

Image Credits: NanoStockk (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Robotic process automation (RPA) is no longer in the early-adopter phase.

Though it requires buy-in from across the organization, contributor Kevin Buckley writes, it’s time to gather everyone around and get to work.

“Automating just basic workflow processes has resulted in such tremendous efficiency improvements and cost savings that businesses are adapting automation at scale and across the enterprise,” he writes.

Long story short: “Adapting business automation for the enterprise should be approached as a business solution that happens to require some technical support.”

Mobility startups can be equitable, accessible and profitable

tc sessions

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Mobility should be a right, but too often it’s a privilege. Can startups provide the technology and the systems necessary to help correct this injustice?

At  our TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, we sat down with Revel CEO and co-founder Frank Reig, Remix CEO and co-founder Tiffany Chu, and community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler to discuss how mobility companies should think about equity, why incorporating it from the get-go will save money in the long run, and how they can partner with cities to expand accessible and sustainable mobility.

CEO Shishir Mehrotra and investor S. Somasegar reveal what sings in Coda’s pitch doc

Image Credits: Carlin Ma / Madrona Venture Group/Brian Smale

Coda CEO Shishir Mehrotra and Madrona partner S. Somasegar joined Extra Crunch Live to go through Coda’s pitch doc (not deck. Doc) and stuck around for the ECL Pitch-off, where founders in the audience come “onstage” to pitch their products to our guests.

Extra Crunch Live takes place every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EDT/noon PDT. Anyone can hang out during the episode (which includes networking with other attendees), but access to past episodes is reserved exclusively for Extra Crunch members. Join here.

#artificial-intelligence, #coda, #diversity, #ec-techcrunch-tc-mobility, #education, #entrepreneurship, #eric-eldon, #extra-crunch-roundup, #jackson, #juneteenth, #klarna, #private-equity, #rachel-holt, #rpa, #scale-ai, #shishir-mehrotra, #startups, #susan-su, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital