Fraud prevention platform Sift raises $50M at over $1B valuation, eyes acquisitions

With the increase of digital transacting over the past year, cybercriminals have been having a field day.

In 2020, complaints of suspected internet crime surged by 61%, to 791,790, according to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report. Those crimes — ranging from personal and corporate data breaches to credit card fraud, phishing and identity theft — cost victims more than $4.2 billion.

For companies like Sift — which aims to predict and prevent fraud online even more quickly than cybercriminals adopt new tactics — that increase in crime also led to an increase in business.

Last year, the San Francisco-based company assessed risk on more than $250 billion in transactions, double from what it did in 2019. The company has over several hundred customers, including Twitter, Airbnb, Twilio, DoorDash, Wayfair and McDonald’s, as well a global data network of 70 billion events per month.

To meet the surge in demand, Sift said today it has raised $50 million in a funding round that values the company at over $1 billion. Insight Partners led the financing, which included participation from Union Square Ventures and Stripes.

While the company would not reveal hard revenue figures, President and CEO Marc Olesen said that business has tripled since he joined the company in June 2018. Sift was founded out of Y Combinator in 2011, and has raised a total of $157 million over its lifetime.

The company’s “Digital Trust & Safety” platform aims to help merchants not only fight all types of internet fraud and abuse, but to also “reduce friction” for legitimate customers. There’s a fine line apparently between looking out for a merchant and upsetting a customer who is legitimately trying to conduct a transaction.

Sift uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically surmise whether an attempted transaction or interaction with a business online is authentic or potentially problematic.

Image Credits: Sift

One of the things the company has discovered is that fraudsters are often not working alone.

“Fraud vectors are no longer siloed. They are highly innovative and often working in concert,” Olesen said. “We’ve uncovered a number of fraud rings.”

Olesen shared a couple of examples of how the company thwarted fraud incidents last year. One recently involved money laundering through donation sites where fraudsters tested stolen debit and credit cards through fake donation sites at guest checkout.

“By making small donations to themselves, they laundered that money and at the same tested the validity of the stolen cards so they could use it on another site with significantly higher purchases,” he said. 

In another case, the company uncovered fraudsters using Telegram, a social media site, to make services available, such as food delivery, with stolen credentials.

The data that Sift has accumulated since its inception helps the company “act as the central nervous system for fraud teams.” Sift says that its models become more intelligent with every customer that it integrates.

Insight Partners Managing Director Jeff Lieberman, who is a Sift board member, said his firm initially invested in Sift in 2016 because even at that time, it was clear that online fraud was “rapidly growing.” It was growing not just in dollar amounts, he said, but in the number of methods cybercriminals used to steal from consumers and businesses.

Sift has a novel approach to fighting fraud that combines massive data sets with machine learning, and it has a track record of proving its value for hundreds of online businesses,” he wrote via email.

When Olesen and the Sift team started the recent process of fundraising, Insight actually approached them before they started talking to outside investors “because both the product and business fundamentals are so strong, and the growth opportunity is massive,” Lieberman added.

“With more businesses heavily investing in online channels, nearly every one of them needs a solution that can intelligently weed out fraud while ensuring a seamless experience for the 99% of transactions or actions that are legitimate,” he wrote. 

The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand its product portfolio and to scale its product, engineering and sales teams.

Sift also recently tapped Eu-Gene Sung — who has worked in financial leadership roles at Integral Ad Science, BSE Global and McCann — to serve as its CFO.

As to whether or not that meant an IPO is in Sift’s future, Olesen said that Sung’s experience of taking companies through a growth phase such as what Sift is experiencing would be valuable. The company is also for the first time looking to potentially do some M&A.

“When we think about expanding our portfolio, it’s really a buy/build partner approach,” Olesen said.

#airbnb, #artificial-intelligence, #board-member, #credit-card, #credit-card-fraud, #crime, #crimes, #cybercrime, #doordash, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #food-delivery, #fraud, #funding, #fundings-exits, #identity-theft, #insight-partners, #jeff-lieberman, #machine-learning, #mcdonalds, #online-fraud, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #sift, #startup, #startups, #stripes, #tc, #twilio, #union-square-ventures, #wayfair, #y-combinator


Queenly raises $2.3M for its dress marketplace

One of our favorite companies from the most recently Y Combinator batch has closed a seed round. This morning Quenly announced that it has closed a $2.262 million round, following its $800,000 pre-seed raise. TechCrunch covered the company in February, noting that the company was building something akin to the StockX for women’s formal wear.

Queenly runs a marketplace that allows individuals and small stores to resell dresses after they’ve been worn, allowing for more women to access the items they want to wear to a prom, quinceanera, or pageant at a lower price point. And as the service could help reduce net clothing waste, it could have a positive environmental impact as well.

The model has continued to find backers. According to co-founder Trisha Bantigue, the biggest check in Queenly’s seed round came from Dragon Capital, an investing group that she said quickly saw her startup’s potential, investing the day after they met. Notably, the seed round, which Bantigue had roughly half-filled even before its Y Combinator cohort’s launch event, did not have a lead investor. Instead, she described her most recent backers as more of a collection of investors that can bring different strategic value-adds to Queenly.

Brightlane Ventures put capital in, for example. Bantigue said that they provide candidate sourcing help. She also cited Amino Capital’s analytics knowledge, which will help her company’s technical co-founder Kathy Zhou. NextView Ventures also invested, an investor that Bantigue said had deep experience in resale marketplaces and commerce. Interlace Ventures and Shakti Capital also took part.

Queenly, long a team of two, intends to expand its staff to six full-time workers with its new funds. That means that Zhou will be supplemented by two more engineers, and Bantigue will be backed up by a head of growth, and a head of opps. Six full-time staff isn’t many, unless you’re starting from a base of two. Then it’s a trebling.

Queenly had set out to raise $1.5 million, but wound up raising $2.1 million, a number that grew to $2.262 million by the time that TechCrunch caught up with the company earlier this week.

Notably, Bantigue turned down a larger, $1.5 million check after closing around $1.1 million of the round. Why not on as much capital as possible? She said that Y Combinator and its managing director Michael Seibel had warned her startup cohort against raising too much money too early. And, she explained, her team is more focused on building long-term more “sustainable” growth than short-term “hypergrowth.” She cited startups that raised lots of capital quickly only to later burn out as a cautionary tale.

The new capital was raised using a simple agreement for future equity, or SAFE at a single cap.

Queenly’s model of allowing individuals and partner stores resale dresses provides it with two distinct supply sources. TechCrunch asked which is its key driver of growth. Per Bantigue, the partner selling model is still new, but thus far has yielded a simpler, and lower-friction supply source for her company.

TechCrunch was also curious about how the company handles quality, fraud and returns, especially in light of our recent, and illustrative dive into StockX which has a related set of hurdles to clear.

Bantigue explained that her firm has two main ways that dresses are vetted. For those priced at $300 or less, they ship directly from sellers to buyers, after submitting proof photos of the condition of the dress’s components. Those that cost more than $300 are routed through the company’s own operation, where it can provide stricter quality control.

With more capital than it has ever had, a growing team, and a large market that is largely offline today, the startup should have plenty of room to grow. Let’s see how far it can get with this new investment.


#fundings-exits, #queenly, #startups, #y-combinator


Tyltgo’s same-day delivery platform lets small businesses compete with Amazon

Tyltgo wants to make it easier for restaurants and small businesses to compete with same-day delivery services offered by the likes of Amazon and HelloFresh. The Canadian company, which recently raised CAD $2.3 million (USD $1.8 million) in a seed round, is akin to a white label Uber Eats, providing businesses an on-demand delivery platform under their own branding that connects them to gig economy couriers.

“I think about us as a post-purchase experience company,” co-founder and CEO Jaden Pereira told TechCrunch. “The recipient goes directly onto the merchant’s platform and places orders through them, so it feels like they’re interacting with the brand they purchased from throughout the entire experience. Our messages, notifications, tracking pages and delivery are all customized under the merchant’s brand name, but it’s powered by Tyltgo.”

The necessity of having products delivered during the pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders combined with the massive reach of e-commerce giants like Amazon has created a society that expects same-day deliveries. Tyltgo recognized the exclusionary nature of that reality on smaller businesses with less time and fewer resources, and contrived to remedy the situation with some innovative tech and gig economy couriers.

In July 2018, Pereira, 22, co-founded the company with fellow student and developer Aaron Paul while studying at the University of Waterloo. Pereira originally did deliveries himself as a side hustle, while building up a consumer-facing service on Shopify. In October 2019, Pereira and Paul shifted focus to B2B, identifying the real problem as merchants struggling to offer quality same-day delivery at an affordable price.

From December 2019 to December 2020, Tyltgo’s revenue grew 2000%, says Pereira. The company started 2020 with two staff members and ended with nine, including former head of Uber Eats Canada’s marketplace operations, Joe Rhew, and former director of engineering at Goldman Sachs-acquired fintech company Financeit, Adnan Ali.

Aided by funding from VC firm TI Platform Management, Y Combinator and angel investor Charles Songhurst, Tyltgo projects another 1500% revenue growth for 2021. The company’s goal is to expand its team, develop an API and app-based platform, and add 100 more merchants across Ontario.

Pereira said Tyltgo originally focused on florists, and occasionally pharmacies, but demand from the restaurant industry led to the company’s new target — meal kit deliveries.

Meal kit services that provide the culinarily challenged with perfectly portioned ingredients and cooking instructions were already gaining popularity in the before times. When the pandemic hit, services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron saw even more growth. As restaurants struggled to keep their businesses open, many started to get in on the action, delivering restaurant-quality meals with instructions for heating and serving.

The global meal kit delivery services market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2027, with heat-and-eat options taking a large share of that market. Tyltgo is counting on the success of this industry. It has already secured partnerships with restaurants like General Assembly Pizza and Crafty Ramen, as well as with more traditional meal kit delivery services from grocery stores and organic farms.

Pereira said working in the “quasi-perishable space” of flowers and meal kits is both a challenge and a differentiator for the company. Depending on the contents of the delivery, Tyltgo will determine its perishability window and make sure to match that window with a driver. It’s also got an advanced fleet management platform that assigns a number of deliveries to suit the size of a courier’s vehicle.

“In the earlier days, the hardest part was being able to match those perishability windows without causing damage to the products,” said Pereira. “We all know that in logistics, you have to account for traffic, weather conditions, all these other things, but you have an eight hour delivery window to get out 35 deliveries.”

Another challenge is ensuring the top quality service Tyltgo advertises while working in the gig economy. Selecting for reliable couriers has slowed the company down at points, but Tyltgo aims to grow capacity only if it can simultaneously maintain a low error threshold.

“We won’t bring on a merchant if we don’t think we have the capacity to handle their deliveries and meet those expectations,” said Pereira.

Whether or not Tyltgo’s meal kit focus will end up driving scalability in the long run, the platform itself has legs. Pereira’s goal is to see Tyltgo become a part of every post-purchase customer experience for all retail trade categories, and that includes expanding into customer service, branding and transactions on top of delivery.

“The main reason why we’re doing this is because a lot of these smaller, brick-and-mortar retailers don’t have the time and resources to be able to compete with the Amazons of the world,” said Pereira. “We want to be able to put that power in their hands.”

#amazon, #blue-apron, #canada, #companies, #courier, #gig-economy, #hellofresh, #meal-kit, #mobility, #online-food-ordering, #shopify, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #university-of-waterloo, #y-combinator


Popl tops $2.7M in sales for its technology that replaces business cards

If you’re spent any time on TikTok lately, then you’ve probably seen a number of Popl’s ads. The startup has been successfully leveraging social media to get its modern-day business card alternative in front a wider audience. Packaged as either a phone sticker, keychain or wristband, Popl uses NFC technology to make sharing contact information as easy as using Apple Pay. To date, Popl has sold somewhere over 700,000 units and has generated $2.7 million in sales for its digital business card technology.

Popl co-founder and CEO Jason Alvarez-Cohen, a UCLA grad with a background in computer science, first realized the potential for NFC business cards through a different use case — a device he encountered in someone’s home while attending a party. But it sparked the idea to use NFC technology for sharing information person-to-person, which would be faster than alternatives, like AirDrop or manual entry. And so, Popl was born.

Image Credits: Popl

Though startup history is littered with would-be “business card killers” that eventually died, what makes Popl different from early contenders is that it combines both an app with a physical product — the Popl accessory. This accessory can be purchased in a variety of form factors, including the popular Popl phone sticker that you can apply right to the back of your phone case (or even the top of your Popsocket), and customized with a photo of your choosing.

“I knew that, in the past, people would tap phones and share information like that. But I learned quickly that you can’t do this just phone-to-phone with pure software,” says Alvarez-Cohen. “So I was like, what’s the closest way we can get the phone tapping? And that’s how I came up with this back-of-the-phone product.”

Each Popl accessory is actually an NFC tag which enables the handoff of the user’s contact information. When the phones are close, the recipient will get a notification that alerts them to your shared Popl data.

There are, of course, other ways to quickly exchange contact information. You can easily enter in someone’s digits into your phone’s contacts app directly, for example, which may work better for more casual encounters — like meeting someone at a bar. But Popl lets you share a full business cards’ worth of contact data with just a tap, which makes it better for professional encounters, or any other time you want to share more than just your phone number.

While the Popl tags make for a nice gimmick, the Popl mobile app is what makes the overall service useful. And to be clear, the app is only necessary for the Popl’s owner — the recipient doesn’t need the app installed for Popl to work. They will, however, need to have a phone that can read NFC tags, which can leave out some older devices. Or, as a backup, they’ll need ability to scan the QR code the app provides as a workaround.

Image Credits: Popl

In the Popl app, you can customize which data you want to share with others — including your contact info, social profiles, website links, etc. — all via an easy-to-use interface. Like some business card apps in the past, you can flip in between a personal profile and a business profile in Popl in order to share the appropriate information when out networking. To actually make the exchange of contact information with another person, you simply hold up your phone to theirs and they’ll get a notification directing them to your Popl profile webpage. (The phones don’t have to physically touch or bump together, however. It’s more like Apple Pay, where they have to be near each other.)

From the Popl website that’s shared via the notification that pops up, the recipient can tap on the various options to connect with the sender — for example, adding them on a social network like LinkedIn or Instagram, grabbing their phone number to send a quick text, or even downloading a full contact card to their phone’s address book, among other things.

Image Credits: Popl

The app’s more clever feature, however, is something Popl calls “Direct.”

This patented feature won’t send over the Popl website where the recipient then has to choose how they want to connect. Instead, it opens up the destination app directly. For example, if you have LinkedIn Direct on, the recipient will be taken directly to your profile on LinkedIn when they tap the notification. Or if you put your Contact Card on Direct, it will just pop your address book entry onto the screen so the user can choose to save it to their phone.

For paid users, the app also lets you track your history of Popl connections on a map, so you can recall who you met, where and when, along with other analytics.

Image Credits: Popl

Work on Popl, which is co-founded by Alvarez-Cohen’s UCLA roommate, Nick Eischens, now Popl COO, began in late 2019. The startup then launched in February 2020 — just before the coronavirus lockdowns in the U.S. That could have been a disastrous time for a business designed to help people exchange information during in-person meetings when the world was now shifting to Zoom and remote work. But Alvarez-Cohen says they marketed Popl as a “contactless solution.”

“If I have this, and I have to meet someone for my business, I don’t even have to tap it —  you can just hover, and it will still send that information,” Alvarez-Cohen says. “So I’m able to share my business card with you without handing you a business card, which is kind of safe.”

But what really helped to sell Popl were its video demos. One TikTok ad, which I’m sure you’ve seen if you use TikTok at all, features the co-founders’ friend Arev sharing her TikTok profile with a new friend just as she’s leaving the gym.

In the video, the recipient — clearly dumbfounded by the technology after she taps his phone — responds “what? what? Whoa! What? How’d you do that?!”

It’s now been viewed over 80 million times.


HOW DID SHE DO THAT!! @endiccii with her new Popl. #poplchallengue #newtech #technology #foryou #fyp #instant

♬ original sound – popl

Today, Popl’s TikTok videos get high tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and sometimes still millions of views per video. The company also has an active presence on other social media. For instance, Popl posts regularly to Instagram where it has over 100K followers. Today, the startup’s growth now is about 60% driven by Facebook and Instagram marketing and 40% organic, Alvarez-Cohen says.

Now, the company is preparing new products for the post-pandemic era when in-person events return. Though it had before sold Popl’s in bulk for this purpose, it’s now readying an “event bracelet” that just slips on your wrist (and is reusable). The bracelet could be used at any big event — like music festivals or business conferences, where you’re meeting a lot of new people. And because Popl uses NFC, phones have to be close to make the contact info exchange — it won’t just randomly share your info with everyone you pass by them.

Popl is also fleshing out the business networking side of its app with integrations for Salesforce, Oracle and Hubspot, and CSV export, that come with its Popl Pro subscription ($4.99 per month). The in-app subscription is already at $320,000 in annual recurring revenue and growing 10% every week, as of early April.

A Y Combinator Winter 2021 participant, Popl is backed by Twitch co-founder Justin Kan (via Goat Capital), YC, Urban Innovation Fund, Cathexis Ventures, and others angels including CEO Peter Szulczewski and Plangrid co-founder Ralph Gootee.

The app is available on iOS and Android, and the Popl accessories are sold on its website and on

#apps, #business-card, #gadgets, #linkedin, #mobile-applications, #recent-funding, #salesforce, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #startups, #tc, #tiktok, #ucla, #y-combinator


Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

#america, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #brands, #butler, #california, #ceo, #cities, #clara-brenner, #companies, #construct-capital, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #frank-reig, #joby-aviation, #miami, #mit, #new-york-city, #oakland, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #remix, #revel, #san-francisco, #sequoia-capital, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #washington-d-c, #world-economic-forum, #y-combinator, #zipcar


Altman brothers lead B2B payment startup Routable’s $30M Series B

We all know the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption in a number of areas, particularly in the financial services space. Within financial services, there are few spaces hotter than B2B payments.

With a $120 trillion market size, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of fintechs focused on digitizing payments have been attracting investor interest. The latest is Routable, which has nabbed $30 million in a Series B raise that included participation from a slew of high-profile angel investors.

Unlike most raises, Routable didn’t raise the capital from a bunch of VC firms. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator, and Jack Altman, CEO of Lattice, led the round. (The pair are brothers, in case you didn’t know.)

SoftBank-backed unicorn Flexport also participated, along with a number of angel investors, including Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff (who also started TIME Ventures),  DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, early Stripe employee turned angel Lachy Groom and Behance founder Scott Belsky.

The Series B comes just over eight months after Routable came out of stealth with a $12 million Series A.

CEO Omri Mor and CTO Tom Harel founded Routable in 2017 after previously working at marketplaces and recognizing the need for better internal tools for scaling business payments. They went through a Y Combinator batch and embarked on a process of interviewing hundreds of CFOs and finance leaders.

The pair found that the majority of the business payment tools that were out there were built for large companies with a low volume of business payments. 

After running enough customer development we identified a huge scramble to solve high-volume business payments, and that’s what we double down on,” Mor told TechCrunch. 

Routable’s mission is simple: to automate bill payment and invoicing processes (also known as accounts payables and accounts receivables), so that businesses can focus on scaling their core product offerings without worrying about payments.

“A business payment is more like moving a bill through Congress, where a consumer payment is more like a tweet,” Mor said. “We automate every step from purchase order to reconciliation and by extending an API, companies don’t have to build their own inner integration. We handle it, while helping them move their money faster.”

Since its August 2020 raise, Routable has seen its revenue grow by 380%, according to Mor. And last month alone, the company tripled its amount of new customers compared to the month prior. Customers include Snackpass, Ticketmaster and Re-Max, among others.

“We’ve been beating every quarter expectation for the past 18 months,” he told TechCrunch.

The company started out focused on the startup and SMB customer, but based on demand and feedback, is expanding into the enterprise space as well.

It has established integrations with QuickBooks, NetSuite and Xero and is looking to invest moving forward in integrating with Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics Workday and SAP. 

“A lot of our investment moving forward is to be able to bring that same level of automation and ease of use that we do for SMB and mid-market customers to the enterprise world,” Mor told TechCrunch.

Lead investor Sam Altman is in favor of that approach, noting that the recent booms in the gig and creator economies are leading to a big spike in the volume of both payments and payees.

“With the addition of enterprise capabilities, we think this can lead to an enormous business,” he said. 

The round brings Routable’s total raised to $46 million. The company has headquarters in San Francisco and Seattle with primarily a remote team. 

Sam Altman also told me that he was drawn to Routable after having experienced the pain of high-volume business payments himself and working with many startup founders who had experienced the same problem.

He was also impressed with the company’s engineering-forward approach.

“They can offer the best service by being embedded in a company’s flow of funds instead of the usual approach of just being an interface for moving money,” Altman said. 

With regard to the other investors, Mor said the decision to partner with founders of a number of prominent tech companies was intentional so that Routable could benefit from their “deep enterprise and high-growth experience.”

As mentioned above, the B2B payments space is white-hot. Earlier this year, Melio, which provides a platform for SMBs to pay other companies electronically using bank transfers, debit cards or credit — along with the option of cutting paper checks for recipients if that is what the recipients request — closed on $110 million in funding at a $1.3 billion valuation.

#aaron-levie, #airbnb, #altman, #b2b, #behance, #doordash, #finance, #financial-services, #flexport, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gokul-rajaram, #instacart, #jack-altman, #joe-gebbia, #lachy-groom, #lattice, #marc-benioff, #netsuite, #open-ai, #oracle, #payments, #president, #recent-funding, #routable, #salesforce, #sam-altman, #san-francisco, #scott-belsky, #seattle, #startups, #venture-capital, #y-combinator


Scale CEO Alex Wang and Accel’s Dan Levine explain why sometimes unconventional VC deals are best

Few companies have done better than Scale at spotting a need in the AI gold rush early on and filling that gap. The startup rightly identified that one of the tasks most important to building effective AI at scale — the laborious exercise of tagging data sets to make them usable in properly training new AI agents — was one that companies focused on that area of tech would also be most willing to outsource. CEO and co-founder Alex Wang credits their success since founding, which includes raising over $277 million and achieving break-even status in terms of revenue, to early support from investors including Accel’s Dan Levine.

Accel haș participated in four of Scale’s financing rounds, which is all of them unless you include the funding from YC the company secured as part of a cohort in 2016. In fact, Levine wrote one of the company’s very first checks. So on this past week’s episode of Extra Crunch Live, we spoke with Levine and Wang about how that first deal came together, and what their working relationship has been like in the years since.

Scale’s story starts with a pivot, and with a bit of rule-breaking, too — Wang went off the typical YC book by speaking to investors prior to demo day when Levine cold-emailed him after seeing Scale on Product Hunt. The Product Hunt spot wasn’t planned, either — Wang was as surprised to see his company there as anyone else. But Levine saw the kernel of something with huge potential, and despite being a relative unknown in VC at the time, didn’t want to let the opportunity pass him, or Wang, by.

Both Wang and Levine were also able to provide some great feedback on decks submitted to our regular Pitch Deck Teardown segment, despite the fact that Levine actually never saw a pitch deck from Wang before investing (more on that later). If you’d like your pitch deck reviewed by experienced founders and investors on a future episode, you can submit your deck here.

Knowing when to bend the rules

As mentioned, Levine and Accel’s initial investment in Scale came from a cold email sent after the company appeared on Product Hunt. Wang said the team had just put out an early version of Scale, and then noticed that it was up on Product Hunt — it was submitted by someone else. The community response was encouraging, and it also led to Levine reaching out via email.

“One of the side effects of that, one of the outcomes, was that we got this cold email from Dan,” he said. “We really knew nothing about Dan until his cold email. So like many great stories that started with a bold, cold email. And we were pretty stressed about it at the time, because in YC, they tell you pretty definitively, ‘Hey, don’t talk to a VC during the batch,’ and we were squarely in the middle of the batch.”

Wang and the team were so nervous that they even considered “ghosting” Dan despite his obvious interest and the prestige of Accel as an investment firm. In the end, they decided to “go rogue” and respond, which led to a meeting at the Accel offices in Palo Alto.

#accel, #alex-wang, #artificial-intelligence, #dan-levine, #ec-how-to, #extra-crunch-live, #pitching, #product-hunt, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tiger-global, #venture-capital, #y-combinator


YC-backed Abacum nets $7M to empower finance teams with real-time data and collaboration tools

SaaS to support mid-sized companies’ financial planning with real-time data and native collaboration isn’t the sexiest startup pitch under the sun but it’s one that’s swiftly netted Abacum a bunch of notable backers — including Creandum, which is leading a $7M seed round that’s being announced today.

The rosters of existing investors also participating in the round are Y Combinator (Abacum was part of its latest batch), PROFounders, and K-Fund, along with angel investors such as Justin Kan (Atrium and Twitch co-founder and CEO); Maximilian Tayenthal (N26 co-founder and co-CEO & CFO); Thomas Lehrman (GLG co-founder and ex-CEO), Avi Meir (TravelPerk co-founder and CEO); plus Jenny Bloom (Zapier CFO and Mailchimp ex-CFO) and Mike Asher (CFO at Neo4j).

Abacum was founded last year in the middle of the COVID-19 global lockdown, after what it says was around a year of “deep research” to feed its product development. They launched their SaaS in June 2020. And while they’re not disclosing customer numbers at this early stage their first clients include a range of scale-up companies in the US and in Europe, including the likes of Typeform, Cabify, Ebury, Garten, Jeff and Talkable.

The startup’s Spanish co-founders — Julio Martinez, a fintech entrepreneur with an investment banking background, and Jorge Lluch, a European Space Agency engineer turned CFO/COO — spotted an opportunity to build dedicated software for mid-market finance teams to provide real-time access to data via native collaborative that plugs into key software platforms used by other business units, having felt the pain of a lack of access to real-time data and barriers to collaboration in their own professional experience with the finance function.

The idea with Abacum is to replace the need for finance teams to manually update their models. The SaaS automatically does the updates, fed with real-time data through direct integrations with software used by teams dealing with functions like HR, CRM, ERP (and so on) — empowering the finance function to collaborate more easily across the business and bolster its strategic decision-making capabilities.

The startup’s sales pitch to the target mid-sized companies is multi-layered. Abacum says its SaaS both saves finance teams time and enables faster-decision making.

“Prior to using Abacum, finance analysts in our clients were easily spending 50% to 70% of their time in manual tasks like downloading files from different systems, copy&pasting them in massive spreadsheets (that crash frequently), formatting the data by manually adding and removing rows, columns and formats, connecting the data in a model prone to manual error (e.g. vlookups & sumifs),” Martinez tells TechCrunch. “With Abacum, this entire manual part is automatically done and the finance professionals can spend their time analyzing and adding real value to the business.”

“We enable faster decisions that were not possible prior to Abacum. For instance, some of our clients were updating their cohort analysis on a quarterly basis only because the associated manual tasks were too painful. With us, they’re able to update the analysis weekly and take better decisions as a result.”

The SaaS also supports decisions in another way — by applying machine learning to business data to generate estimates on future performance, providing an AI-based reference point based on historical data that finance teams can use to inform their assumptions.

And it aids cross-business collaboration — allowing users to share and gather information “easily through workflows and permissions”. “We see that this results in faster and richer decisions as more stakeholders are brought into the process,” he adds.

Martinez says Abacum chose to focus on mid-market finance teams because they face “more challenges and inefficiencies” vs the smaller (and larger) ends of the market. “In that segment, the finance function is underinvested — they face the acute complexities of scaling companies that become very pressing but at the same time they are still considered a support function, a back-office,” he argues.

“Abacum makes finance a strategic function — we deliver native collaboration to finance teams so that they become the trusted business partner they want to be. We also see that the pandemic has accelerated the need for finance teams to collaborate effectively and work remotely,” he adds.

He also describes the mid market segment as “fairly unpenetrated” — claiming many companies do not yet having a solution in place.

While competitors he points to when asked about other players in the space are long in the tooth in digital terms: Adaptive Insights (2003); Host Analytics (2001); and Anaplan (2008).

Commenting on the seed round in a statement, Peter Specht, principal at Creandum, added: “The financial planning processes in many companies are ripe for disruption and demand more automation. Abacum’s slick solution empowers finance teams to be more collaborative, efficient and better informed with access to real-time data. We were impressed by their user-friendly product, the initial hiring of top talent, and crucially the strong founders and their extensive operational experience — including as CFOs and entrepreneurs who have experienced the problem first-hand. We are delighted to be part of Abacum’s journey to empower global SMEs to bring their financial operations to new levels.”

Abacum’s seed financing will be ploughed into product development and growth, per Martinez, who says it’s focused on wooing finance teams in the US and Europe for now.

#abacum, #adaptive-insights, #anaplan, #artificial-intelligence, #avi-meir, #business-models, #cfo, #chief-financial-officer, #creandum, #crm, #europe, #finance, #fundings-exits, #glg, #justin-kan, #machine-learning, #mailchimp, #n26, #neo4j, #profounders, #real-time-data, #saas, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #travelperk, #twitch, #y-combinator, #zapier


CaptivateIQ raises $46M for its no-code sales commissions platform

CaptivateIQ, which has developed a no-code platform to help companies design customized sales commission plans, has raised $46 million in a Series B round led by Accel.

Existing backers Amity, S28 Capital, Sequoia, and Y Combinator also participated in the financing, which brings the San Francisco-based company’s total raised to $63 million since its 2017 inception.

CaptivateIQ must be doing something right. While it is not yet profitable, the startup’s revenue has grown 600% year-over-year. To date, it has processed over $2 billion in commissions on its platform across hundreds of enterprise customers including Affirm, TripActions, Udemy, Intercom, Newfront Insurance and JMAC Lending.

“A big part of our growth is that we can help any company that offers a performance-based compensation plan, so we don’t have any restrictions with the types of businesses we work with,” said co-CEO Mark Schopmeyer. “We typically see conversations start with teams that have a minimum of 25 sales people, though we easily serve enterprises and public companies as well.”

The number of payees — defined as someone receiving a payout in CapitvateIQ’s system — was up four times in December 2020 from the year prior. Plus, the company had “back-to-back record months” from September through the end of the year in 2020, according to Schopmeyer.

He, co-CEO Conway Teng and CTO Hubert Wong founded CaptivateIQ after coming out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2017 cohort. 

Left to right: CaptivateIQ co-founders Hubert Wong, Mark Schopmeyer and Conway Teng

Left to right: CaptivateIQ co-founders Hubert Wong, Mark Schopmeyer and Conway Teng.

The company touts its SaaS platform as a combination of the familiarity of spreadsheets, with the scalability and performance of software, so that users can configure any commission plan “entirely on their own,” according to Teng. 

“Calculating commissions is really complicated and mission critical – think of it like a very complicated form of payroll – each company has a unique commission plan that involves a lot more calculations and data than your typical salary payroll math,” Teng said. “Also, in recent years, companies have access to more data than ever, giving them room to incentive employees on more performance metrics.” 

Today, CaptivateIQ has 90 employees, more than triple what it did one year ago.

In 2020, the startup saw a bump in the number of non-high technology companies buying its software, and as a result, CaptivateIQ is going to increase its efforts into those other verticals, according to Teng. So far, it has found success in particular in financial services, manufacturing, and business services, among other sectors.

The pandemic served as a tailwind to its business. Sales teams generally rely on in-person interactions to stay productive, Schopmeyer points out. Without those activities over the past year, “having the right incentives in place became ever more critical as companies required new ways to motivate teams during the shift to remote work.”

“We saw our product usage skyrocket at the beginning of the pandemic as businesses quickly adjusted incentives, team quotas, SPIFs, and other components of their comp plans to stay competitive,” he said. 

The company plans to use its new capital to improve upon the user experience. Specifically, Teng said, it plans to introduce “more powerful data transformations, a richer set of formulas, and off-the-shelf templates.”

Another goal is to automate and streamline the commissions process from beginning to end, he added. The startup is expanding its data integrations to support “all major data systems” and introducing new dashboarding capabilities. It’s also enhancing existing collaboration workflows around approvals, inquiries and contracts.

Looking ahead, CaptivateIQ is exploring the potential of applying its technology to solve for use cases outside the world of commissions — something that it says its customers are already doing.

“It’s exciting to see what people have been building, and we’re looking forward to enabling new solutions as we continue to release more of our core technology platform,” Teng said.

Accel Partner Ben Fletcher said the pain point of calculating and reporting sales commissions kept coming up among portfolio companies, with CaptivateIQ frequently referenced. Those companies, he said, tried more enterprise-grade solutions — “spending hundreds of thousands on implementation to ultimately find that their products did not work.” They also tried other newer tools that also just didn’t work well.

“As we dug in and talked with more and more customers, it was abundantly clear — CaptivateIQ was the best product in the space,” Fletcher said.

Besides ease of use, the fact that CaptivateIQ is a no-code tool, is a big deal to Accel.

“Similar to UIPath, Webflow, and Ada, CaptivateIQ is able to bring the power of customer development and automation to an easy to use, drag-and-drop product,” Fletcher said. 

#accel, #articles, #commission, #funding, #no-code, #recent-funding, #s28-capital, #saas, #san-francisco, #software, #startups, #venture-capital, #y-combinator


#DealMonitor – #EXKLUSIV Index investiert in Taktile – Balderton investiert in Finoa – Earlybird investiert in Hive – Porsche investiert in Fanzone

Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 5. April werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.


+++ Index Ventures investiert nach unseren Informationen 6 Millionen Euro in Taktile. Das Berliner Startup, das 2020 von Maximilian Eber und Maik Taro Wehmeyer gegründet wurde, positioniert sich als eine Art Low-Code-Plattform für Machine Learning. “Taktile enables enterprises to easily develop business critical Machine Learning applications. We focus on production-readiness, user experience and safety, bridging the gap between cloud infrastructure and business value”, teilt die Jungfirma in eigener Sache mit. Taktile war zuletzt bei Y Combinator an Bord. Details gibt es nur im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

+++ In unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar berichten wir einmal in der Woche über neue Startups. Alle Startups stellen wir in unserem kostenpflichtigen Newsletter kurz und knapp vor und bringen sie so auf den Radar der Startup-Szene. Jetzt unseren Newsletter Startup-Radar abonnieren und 30 Tage kostenlos testen!

+++ Balderton Capital investiert nach unseren Informationen wohl bis zu 12 Millionen Euro in Finoa. Das Blockchain-Startup, das 2018 von Henrik Gebbing und Christopher May gegründet wurde, verwahrt die Kryptoassets von Anlegern. Der Münchner Geldgeber Venture Stars, Signature und Coparion investierten zuvor bereits eine Millionensumme in Finoa, das Branchenkenner als “Coinbase für B2B” umschreiben. Details gibt es nur im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

+++ Earlybird Venture Capital investiert in Hive. Die Berliner wollen Direct-to-Consumer-Marken (D2C) helfen, ihre Produkte schnell und unkompliziert zum Kunden zu bekommen. Das Berliner Unternehmen wurde von Oskar Ziegler, Franz Purucker und Leonard von Kleist gegründet. Picus Capital schob das Startup 2020 gemeinsam mit den Gründer an. Zuletzt investierten unter anderem die Flixbus- und Forto-Gründer in Hive. Details gibt es nur im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

+++ Porsche Ventures investiert in Fanzone. Das Berliner Startup Fanzone setzt auf digitale Sammelkarten. Das Schlagwort lautet dabei Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT). Die Nutzer:innen können ihre Karten sammeln und handeln, sowie an Fantasy Sports Challenges teilnehmen. Hinter der Jungfirma steckt unter anderem Seriengründer Dirk Weyel. Details gibt es nur im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

+++ Speedinvest investiert in Airbank. Das Startup, das 2021 von Christopher Zemina, zuletzt Principal bei Speedinvest, und Patrick de Castro Neuhaus gegründet wurde, dann mal als eine Art CFO-Cockpit bezeichnen. In eigener Sache teilt die Jungfirma mit: “Unify your bank accounts, PayPal, Stripe and Shopify into a single place. Pay bills, set team permissions, get cashflow insights and allocate unused cash with ease”. Details gibt es nur im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

+++ Der junge Geldgeber Visionaries Club investiert in Trana. Das Bielefelder Startup, das von Felix Buschkotte gegründet wurde, bietet eine “Software zum Erstellen von digitalen Trainings für Unternehmenskunden, Partner oder Arbeitnehmer” an. Die Jungfirma schreibt dazu: “Create & publish trainings the easy way – Build powerful online academies for the web as easy as writing a Word-Doc”. Details gibt es nur im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

+++ Global Founders Capital (GFC), der Investmentableger von Rocket Internet, investiert in das Food-Startup Vly – siehe Gründerszene. Das Unternehmen, das von Nicolas Hartmann, Niklas Katter und Moritz Braunwarth gegründet wurde, bietet eine Erbsenproteinmilch an. Derzeit arbeiten 15 Mitarbeiter für die junge Foodfirma. “Unser Umsatz lag 2020 im mittleren Millionenbereich. Dieses Jahr wollen wir zehn neue Produkte auf den Markt bringen, darunter Schokodrinks”, sagte Vly-Macher Hartmann kürzlich im Interview mit Im vergangenen Jahr waren die Vly-Macher in der Vox-Show “Die Höhle der Löwen” zu Gast. Ein Investment gab es damals nicht, den Löwen war die Bewertung zu hoch.

+++ Der englische Geldgeber Force over Mass, Redalpine und Bayern Kapital investieren 4,5 Millionen Euro in das Münchner Startup apaleo. Das Unternehmen, das 2017 von Ulrich Pillau, Martin Reichenbach, Philip von Ditfurth und Stephan Wiesener gegründet wurde, bietet eine cloud-basierte Software rund um das Thema Hotel-Management an. “Für die Entwicklung neuer Apps ist apaleo zum De-facto-Standard in der Branche geworden. Viele innovative Teams starten ihr Entwicklungsprojekt direkt auf der apaleo-Plattform mit der offenen API. Das bedeutet, dass apaleo-Nutzer immer die ersten sind, die Zugang zu bahnbrechenden Hotel-Apps haben”, teilt das Unternehmen mit.


Insider #99
+++ Schon die neue Insider-Ausgabe mit Sven Schmidt gehört?  In der aktuellen Folge geht es um Taktile, Finoa, Wisemarkt, Hive, Alexander Samwer, den VC-Markt, Iconi, den Spac-Boom, WeFox, Lilium, Airbank, Trana, Fanzone, Roadsurfer, Deliveroo, Gorillas, Flink und den Thrasio-Hype.

Abonnieren: Die Podcasts von könnt ihr bei Amazon Music – Apple Podcasts – Castbox – Deezer – Google Podcasts – iHeartRadio – Overcast – PlayerFM – Podimo – Spotify – SoundCloud oder per RSS-Feed abonnieren.

Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#airbank, #aktuell, #apaleo, #balderton-capital, #bayern-kapital, #berlin, #bielefeld, #blockchain, #earlybird-venture-capital, #fanzone, #finoa, #fintech, #food, #force-over-mass, #global-founders-capital, #hive, #index-ventures, #logistik, #porsche-ventures, #redalpine, #speedinvest, #taktile, #trana, #venture-capital, #visionaries-club, #vly, #y-combinator


QuikNode is building a blockchain developer cloud platform to compete with AWS

As hot as the blockchain space appears to be these days, it’s still far from simple to get a decentralized application reliably up-and-running. The NFT boom and rising cryptocurrency prices have brought more attention to applications running on the blockchain, but the dominant cloud service platforms aren’t quite ready to make a full-commit to the needs of these developers.

QuikNode, which recently raised funding from Y Combinator and is in the process of wrapping its seed funding, has been building out a Web3 cloud platform for blockchain developers that can help them create and scale applications. The startup seems to be further along than most of its fellow YC batch mates, founded back in 2017.

At the moment, running a decentralized app can involve a lot of base infrastructure headaches that take developer attention away from their actual products. The initial setup can require days worth of downloads to sync to these networks for the first time while maintenance costs can also be high, the startup says. QuikNode allows app developers to rent access to nodes that let them operate on the blockchain network of their choice, enabling them to sidestep maintaining and monitoring their own node.

Alongside node management and maintenance, QuikNode’s product integrates developer tools and analytics to simplify running a decentralized app. The challenge for QuikNode will likely be maintaining an edge here in the shadow of cloud giants if the decentralized app market grows to a sizable (and consistent) presence on the web. QuikNode is itself a customer of these large cloud companies, opting to focus on software rather than building up physical data centers, nevertheless they’re still directly competing with these big players.

“I think we have about two years on Amazon, we’re on their radar,” CEO Dmitry Shklovsky tells TechCrunch.

For the time being, QuikNode’s small size gives it a distinct pricing advantage compared to nascent programs from other cloud providers. Plans start at just $9 for users launching the most basic applications, with structured plans increasing depending on the amount of “method calls” being performed. Renting a dedicated node is $300 per month. From there, the startup offers several chain-specific add-ons with options like Archive mode that give applications access all historical value states inside smart contracts on the network or Trace mode, which lets developers request nodes to re-execute transactions.

The team currently operates over 1,000 nodes and has around 400 customers. As QuikNode aims to scale their customer base, Shklovsky says that one of the best paths to customer acquisition have been guides educating decentralized app developers on how to connect to the most popular networks. 

Currently, the largely Miami-based team supports networks on six chains including Ethereum, Bitcoin, xDai, Binance Smart Chain, Polygon and Optimism.

#amazon, #articles, #blockchain-network, #blockchains, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #ethereum, #miami, #smart-contract, #tc, #technology, #y-combinator


PingPong is a video chat app for product teams working across multiple time zones

From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was no secret that video chat was about to become a very hot space.

Over the past several months investors have bankrolled a handful of video startups with specific niches, ranging from always-on office surveillance to platforms that encouraged plenty of mini calls to avoid the need for more lengthy team-wide meetings. As the pandemic wanes and plenty of startups begin to look towards hybrid office models, there are others who have decided to lean into embracing a fully remote workforce, a strategy that may require new tools.

PingPong, a recent launch from Y Combinator’s latest batch, is building an asynchronous video chat app for the workplace. We selected PingPong as one of our favorite startups that debuted last week.

The company’s central sell is that for remote teams, there needs to be a better alternative to Slack or email for catching up with co-workers across time zones. While Zoom calls might be able to convey a company’s culture better than a post in a company-wide Slack channel, for fully remote teams operating on different continents, scheduling a company-wide meeting is often a non-starter.

PingPong is selling its service as an addendum to Slack that helps remote product teams collaborate and convey what they’re working on. Users can capture a short video of themselves and share their screen in lieu of a standup presentation and then they can get caught up on each other’s progress on their own time. PingPong’s hope is that users find more value in brainstorming, conducting design reviews, reporting bugs and more inside while using asynchronous video than they would with text.

“We have a lot to do before we can replace Slack, so right now we kind of emphasize playing nice with Slack,” PingPong CEO Jeff Whitlock tells TechCrunch. “Our longer term vision is that what young people are doing in their consumer lives, they bring into the enterprise when they graduate into the workforce. You and I were using Instant Messenger all the time in the early 2000s and then we got to the workplace, that was the opportunity for Slack… We believe in the next five or so years, something that’s a richer, more asynchronous video-based Slack alternative will have a lot more interest.”

Building a chat app specifically designed for remote product teams operating in multiple time zones is a tight niche for now, but Whitlock believes that this will become a more common problem as companies embrace the benefits of remote teams post-pandemic. PingPong costs $100 per user per year.

#ceo, #enterprise, #groupware, #operating-systems, #pingpong, #slack, #software, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting, #web-conferencing, #y-combinator, #zoom


Tips for founders thinking about doing a remote accelerator

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

For this week’s deep dive, the Equity team got ahold of three founders from the recent Y Combinator batch (more here, and here) to chat through their experiences with a remote accelerator. TechCrunch was curious if the program lived up to founder expectations, how extreme timezone differentials were handled, and how easy it was to build camaraderie during a digital program. Oh, and how their demo day went.

Here’s who is on the show:

The short version is that the founders were generally happy with Y Combinator being remote, and that the setup allowing them to stay in their normal location was plus. We also asked the founders for learnings regarding how to best handle remote accelerators in the future.

More from Equity on Friday, at which point we’ll put Y Combinator aside for a good while.

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

#briohr, #equity, #pangea-app, #queenly, #tc, #y-combinator


Accel-backed mobile money platform NALA to start offering remittance services to East Africa

According to a McKinsey report, the total number of mobile money services worldwide was 282 in 2017, with more than half of those operating in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In 2020, these numbers increased significantly, but the ratio remained similar.  In 96 countries, there are 310 live mobile money services, according to a GSMA report. Out of that number, 171 are from Africa, while 157 are in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Tanzania, mobile money services can be relatively difficult to use due to unstable internet and high service fees. Benjamin Fernandes noticed this as a national television host while building a mobile money service to enable people to pay for TV subscriptions in East Africa back in 2011

Six years later, he would start his own mobile money and wallet aggregator, NALA, to solve these issues. Its first mobile application allowed users to make mobile money payments and utilize mobile banking without an internet connection. The business grew to 250,000 users in over a year after its official launch.

Last year, the WorldBank predicted a sharp decline of international remittances to Africa. But even though Africa is still the most expensive region to send money to with averages of 10.6% in transaction fees, the opposite happened. There was an increase in remittance activity on the continent.

Kenya, for instance, had its highest-ever inbound remittance at $3 billion, while WorldRemit acquired Sendwave in August 2020 for $500 million and Mama Money claimed to have grown 500% within the year.

NALA also noticed an uptick in remittance requests where 1 in 7 users wanted to receive money internationally. This happened despite not being in that business at the time. It’s not hard to see why: Presently, over 70% of money sent to Sub-Saharan Africa is transacted through physical stores. When many over-the-counter services were suspended or limited due to coronavirus restrictions, people were left with expensive, unreliable or hard-to-access alternatives.

Combined with the increasing trend for digital-first financial services and listening to some users’ requests, NALA began testing international money transfers in August 2020 to facilitate payments from the U.K. to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. By building a multi-currency ledger where people can send money from the U.K. to Tanzania and back to the U.K., Fernandes says NALA can build a Wise for Africa.

I believe international payments are only 1% built today. Until you can send money both ways seamlessly, our work isn’t done,” Fernandes told TechCrunch. We believe African markets should be ‘sender’ markets, too; there is a lot of trade happening with other countries, and most of the money is sent via costly bank wires or at physical stores. It doesn’t need to be this way; it’s time for something better.” 

Various platforms are trying to achieve this, but none specifically targets the East African region. That is NALA’s play, according to the CEO. “This is where we see a big advantage for us. We are local, we understand mobile money, we built bill payments on our previous product, and this is an extension of that,” he added.

Benjamin Fernandes (CEO, Nala)

Since graduating as the first East African company from Y Combinator in 2019, NALA has brought other interesting investors on board to support its mission. The most notable is Accel, which has been kept under wraps for some time. The VC firm rarely makes deals on the continent and has only invested in NALA and Egypt’s Instabug. Other backers include NYCA Partners and angel investors like Shamir Karkal (co-founder of Simple), Peeyush Ranjan (former Flipkart CTO and current head of Google Payments), and Thomas Stafford (DST Global)

NALA also enlisted the services of Nicolas Esteves, who was the VP of engineering at Osper and had a stint at Monzo to become the company’s CTO which, according to Fernandes, will considerably improve the company’s chances of achieving its goal. “When we brought someone of his calibre on our team, it just opened up the doors of what we could accomplish because he has built multi-currency ledgers across different large companies.”   

For now, though, the company will be rolling out a beta product next month for U.K.-based customers sending money to Kenya and Uganda (Tanzania will come later). The company claims that the service will support instant payments to all major mobile money accounts and says it is closing some banking partnerships that will allow it to facilitate money transfers from East Africa to the U.K.

#accel, #africa, #east-africa, #finance, #kenya, #mobile-payments, #monzo, #nala, #payments, #remittance, #tanzania, #tc, #uganda, #y-combinator


Well that was a crazy week

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading.

Well that was a crazy week

I may be getting older, but it does seem that the pace of tech news has gotten stuck in top-gear. It’s bonkers. Think about how small a splash the news that WeWork is going public via a SPAC made. It was small potatoes in the broader rush of happenings that blasted past us over the last seven days.

Y Comabinator’s Demo Day was this week, somehow, even if it feels like a few weeks have gone by since. Still, it’s what I want to riff on with you today. A nice early-stage break, we could say.

During the one-day demo day rush, a few hundred startups showed off what they are doing in single-slide format. TechCrunch covered some favorites, but we had to leave far more startups on the shelf than we got to write about. Let’s add some names to the mix, shall we?

On the fintech front, a few names stood out to me during the hours I was able to tune in. Alinea wants to build a trading app for Gen Z. I dig the idea as Zoomers seem far cooler than any other generation. Why shouldn’t they get a native investing experience aimed at their demographic?

Hapi is a similar idea, but aimed at Latin America. Again, I like it. One trend I’ve enjoyed seeing in recent quarters has been the application of startup models that have worked in the United States taken to new markets, replicated with local tweaks, and offered up to way more people. Investing has long been artificially expensive. Here’s to making it cheaper.

Atrato checks similar boxes, taking the Affirm-style buy now, pay later (BNPL) model to Latin America. I am generally less stoked about consumer credit apps than I am about consumer savings apps, but given the growth that Affirm, Klarna and others have managed, there’s real demand for their products. Let’s see what Atrato can get done.

Turning from Latin America to Southeast Asia, OctiFi is building BNPL products for that market. It’s not the only startup that we saw at demo day taking on that geographic slice — BrioHR is working there as well.

Bueno Finance fits the theme of fintech for markets other than the United States and Europe, building what it calls “Chime for India.” If you think, as I do, that Chime and other neobanks are generally doing an alright job providing lower-cost, higher-quality banking experiences to less-wealthy consumers, this is an obvious winner. Of course most startups fail, but I like where their thinking is focused. (NextPay is working on SMB digital banking for the Philippines; the list goes on.)

Another theme I had my eyes on were startups delivering their software via an API instead of as a managed service. It’s something that we’ve covered on The Exchange for ages. Some demo day names included Dyte (“Stripe for live video”), (an API to help structure data), Dayra (finservices for Egyptians via an API), enode (energy provider-EV API), and so on.

Finally, there were a few startups working on services for IRL SMBs. The Third Place is building subscription services for small businesses, while Per Diem wants to bring quick shipping to companies other than Amazon.

There were a bunch of other neat companies (GimBooks! Recover! Wasp!!), more than I could ever write down for you. Now it’s time to sit back and see which grow the most in the next half year. But I left this particular demo day pretty excited about global startup activity. That’s not a bad way to close a Tuesday.

Late-stage everything

Amidst all the IPO and SPAC news (here and here in case you need to catch up), there were a host of big rounds worth our time. Two came from the insurtech space, with Pie (workers’ comp insurance) and Snapsheet (claims management) raising $118 million and $30 million apiece.

ServiceTitan raised $500 million at a quadrupled valuation of $8.3 billion, Forbes reported. In about two years. That’s a chonky boi valuation differential. I suppose we’ll be covering their IPO next year. And accounting-focused Pilot raised $100 million at a $1.2 billion valuation. The pace of 2021 unicorn creation feels anything but slow.

And I can’t help but note that the UiPath IPO filing is pretty bonkers in terms of illustrating how the company turned terrifying losses into some pretty reasonable economics. It’s looking like it’s working to pull a Snowflake, at least in GAAP terms.

I could add another 17 paragraphs with news just from this month and not even get close to all the eight and nine-figure rounds. It’s bonkers! Surely the Q1 2021 venture capital numbers feel like they should be both hot and spicy. More on that as soon as we get the data.

Various and sundry

I am not here to merely feed you vegetables, however. There’s a budding story that I need to get to in the near future that involves my favorite sport, and my job. More precisely it’s about F1 (the car racing thing) and tech.

Recently Cognizant sponsored the Aston Martin F1 team. Splunk works with McLaren. Microsoft has a deal with Renault’s team, now named after the car company’s Alpine brand. Epson, Bose and Hewlett Packard Enterprise sponsor the Mercedes racing team. Oracle sponsors Red Bull racing. The list goes on!

And this week Zoom announced that it was getting into the F1 game as well. This is all very good fun for myself, and leads me to a hope. Namely that we see some tech companies begin to use F1 teams as a method of intra-industry competition. That would, one, allow me to write about F1 at work — like I am doing right now — and annoy more tech CEOs on earnings calls about why their team isn’t faster. I am sure that by now Splunk CEO Douglas Merritt is tired of my questions about his orange team. But I don’t want to stop.

So if you are a tech CEO, and you do not sponsor an F1 team, I shall from here on presume that your company is too small to matter, or too boring to be fun. And I am only mostly kidding.


#cognizant, #f1, #pie, #tc, #the-exchange, #y-combinator


The disconnect between Y Combinator Demo Day and due diligence

Within 48 hours, the startup world experienced two momentous events: Y Combinator’s largest Demo Day ever, and the early investor exodus of Dispo, a photo-sharing app. Both events, while seemingly unrelated, taught us a lot about the importance, and difficulty, of due diligence in our current world.

For background, early investors in Dispo distanced from the startup after a key investigation unearthed allegations around co-creator and popular YouTuber, David Dobrik. Per venture capitalists I spoke to, the move to “sever all ties” with Dispo was unprecedented.

So what’s the impact here? It’s a rude awakening on the importance of due diligence. On Equity, I argued that the Dispo news should nudge venture capitalists to do a more thorough job with vetting founders in the future. Dobrik’s questionable “pranks” were always a search away.

Even though one person doesn’t represent an entire company (Dispo’s team seems great, for what it’s worth), investors still left because of what their money represented. Fast forward, this event could have a chilling effect on VCs working with celebrities or influencers. The liability just seems too huge to back a startup led by potentially problematic individuals, so either stay away or do your homework.

Well, you’d think. Ironically, 24 hours after Dispo investors backed away from the startup was YC Demo Day, one of the marquee startup events of the year. My colleague joked that founders don’t simply need to figure out how to get into Y Combinator anymore — they need to figure out how to stand out in the batch once they get there. The comment, made in jest, underscored a truth about the current startup funding environment: too noisy to handle.

Noise turned into free-for-all investments. One investor got an email from a batch company saying essentially, “thanks for your interest, if you want to invest here’s a document, no due diligence required.” The startup was valued at $100 million. Another investor I spoke to said that a company asked for an investment without meeting the VC.

While these are only anecdotes, I think these pitches are illustrative of the disconnect between the importance of due diligence and the hype cycle we are in. As Dispo showed us, it’s net positive to vet your future partner, back the right startups and bring on the right money. As YC Demo Day showed us, it’s hard to go slow when you can go fast. If the money is dangling in front of you, how do you say no?

I don’t have a solution to the disconnect, and ultimately the change comes down to the ethos of individual investors and founders. But at minimum, this week of extremes gives a dose of reality to startup mania right now.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll focus on a five-month unicorn, and Plaid’s harmony at Discord’s cost. As always, you can find me on Twitter @nmasc_. 

Image Credits: Getty Images

‘From launch to unicorn in 5 months’

Pacaso, a startup that wants to make it easier for people to have second home ownership, has reached a $1 billion valuation in just five months. The startup essentially wants to reinvent timeshares, with the goal of “bringing together a small group of co-owners to purchase a share of a single-family home” with access throughout the year, Mary Ann Azevedo reports.

You can get Startups Weekly in your inbox every Saturday, so subscribe here to join the cool kids

Here’s what to know: The proptech unicorns are here to stay. My colleague Eric Eldon wrote about real estate trends, from co-living to a suburban-style living boom.

Colorful bar and light trails composed on the collaged circuit boards. It’s images of big data in Cyber City. Image Credits: Hiroshi Watanabe / Getty Images

Exits, and Plaid’s lack thereof

Even an ol’ enterprise giant wants to remind you that community matters. Microsoft is reportedly trying to scoop up Discord, in deal talks that would value the latter at $10 billion. The startup was last valued at $7 billion.

Here’s what to know: The deal price feels slightly cheap, argues the Equity trio. When you consider the fact that Plaid could be valued at almost double or triple for what it was going to be sold to Visa, one has to wonder if Discord has an anti-trust discount limiting its pricing.

discord illustration

Image Credits: Discord

Around TechCrunch

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  • Grab super early-bird passes to TechCrunch Disrupt for less than $100. Equity might do something fun and special, who knows.
  • The TechCrunch List is a directory of the most active and engaged investors in the VC industry today as recommended by founders.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Elon Musk declares you can now buy a Tesla with bitcoin in the US

Slack’s new DM feature Connect is thankfully opt-in

The Frankencloud model is our biggest security risk

As more artists and musicians turn their attention to NFTs, so, likely, do money launderers

Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky is returning to AWS to replace Andy Jassy as CEO

Seen on Extra Crunch

It’s time to abandon business intelligence tools

NFTs could bridge video games and the fashion industry

How VC and private equity funds can launch portfolio-acceleration platforms

Steady’s Adam Roseman and investor Emmalyn Shaw outline what worked (and what was missing) in the Series A deck

#demo-day, #dispo, #startups, #startups-weekly, #tc, #y-combinator


Extra Crunch roundup: Clubhouse UX teardown, YC Demo Day favorites, proptech VC survey, more

Since the pandemic began, I have been pushing the limits of my imagination to try to picture what cities will look and feel like in the coming years.

If your town looks like San Francisco, where I live, it’s a pressing question: Our once-bustling financial district is a ghost town, but even in outer neighborhoods, the number of vacant storefronts is unsettling. People are starting to emerge after sheltering in place for a year, but we are a long way from fully restoring our shared spaces.

What’s going to happen to those semi-vacant office towers, some of which are still under construction? There’s been renewed talk of converting some skyscrapers into residential housing, but there are real economic/logistic hurdles to clear before that can be broadly applied. Scores of restaurants have closed in recent months; who will take over those spaces? I spend a lot of time walking around, and it’s been a long time since I’ve noticed a “Grand Opening” sign.

Seeking answers, Managing Editor Eric Eldon interviewed 10 VCs who are active in proptech and found that most were generally “optimistic.”

Several expressed genuine uncertainty about the future of offices, but most were bullish about prospects for remote work, the rebirth of physical retail and the emergence of “third spaces” that will fill the gap between work and home.

In a companion article on TechCrunch, Eric explores these broader shifts, concluding, “you can start to see a world emerging that sounds a lot more like the fantasies of a New Urbanist than the world before the pandemic.”

Here’s who he interviewed:

  • Clelia Warburg Peters, venture partner, Bain Capital Ventures
  • Christopher Yip, partner and managing director, RET Ventures
  • Zach Aarons, co-founder and general partner, MetaProp
  • Casey Berman, general partner, Camber Creek
  • Vik Chawla, partner, Fifth Wall
  • Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner, Wilshire Lane Partners
  • Robin Godenrath and Julian Roeoes, partners, Picus Capital
  • Stonly Baptiste, founding partner, and Shaun Abrahamson, managing partner, Urban Us
  • Andrew Ackerman, managing director, Dreamit

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week. Have a great weekend!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.

It’s time to abandon business intelligence tools

Image Credits: Jon Feingersh Photography Inc / Getty Images

Ideally, BI transforms raw data into actionable information, but according to Charles Caldwell, VP of product management at Logi Analytics, “a gap exists between the functionalities provided by current BI and data discovery tools and what users want and need.”

Few BI tools actually integrate with existing workflows and most offer clunky user experiences, “leaving many individuals feeling like they need an advanced computer science degree to actually be able to pull insights out.”

Instead of requiring workers to abandon workflow applications to access data, embedded analytics are more efficient and easier to use, says Caldwell.

In short, “it’s time to abandon BI — at least as we currently know it.”

Pre-seed round funding is under scrutiny: Is VC pandemic posturing here to stay?

Image Credits: nadia_bormotova / Getty Images

Amid the pandemic, investors became laser-focused on sections of the pitch deck that address monetization and business viability — signs that founders need to come to the table with better-defined businesses in order to succeed.

Investors’ heightened expectations for monetization potential and a company’s positioning within its competitive landscape are unlikely to lessen in the years to come, even in a post-COVID economy.

Clubhouse UX teardown: A closer look at homepage curation, follow hooks and other features

In this photo illustration, the Clubhouse app seen displayed

Image Credits: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Clubhouse’s hockey-stick growth is something most startups would kill for.

However, it also means that UX problems can only be addressed while in “full flight” — and that changes to the user experience will be felt at scale rather under the cover of a small, loyal and (usually) forgiving user base.

Our favorite companies from Y Combinator’s W21 Demo Day

We’re not investors, so we’re not pretending to sort the unicorns from the goats.

But TechCrunch reporters spend a lot of time talking with startups, hearing pitches and telling their stories; if you’re curious about which companies stood out from Y Combinator’s W21 Demo Day, read on.

A look at 4 IPO updates and 2 late-stage funding rounds

There’s a lot going on: The venture capital market is redlining its engines while public markets remain sympathetic to growing, unprofitable companies.

Let’s round up IPO news from DigitalOcean, Kaltura, Robinhood and Zymergen, and big rounds for Lattice and goPuff.

Dear Sophie: When can I finally come to Silicon Valley?

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

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I’m a startup founder looking to expand in the U.S. I was originally looking at opening an office in Silicon Valley to be close to software engineers and investors, but then … COVID-19 🙂

A lot has changed over the last year — can I still come?

— Hopeful in Hungary

Staying ahead of the curve on Google’s Core Web Vitals

Image Credits: Aleksei Naumov / Getty Images

Aside from improved SEO, small business websites optimizing for Google’s new Core Web Vitals will reap the rewards of an improved user experience for their site visitors.

While many are looking at the Core Web Vitals as a big hoop to jump through to please the search powers that be, others are seeing — and seizing — the opportunities that come along with this change.

Steady’s Adam Roseman and investor Emmalyn Shaw outline what worked (and what was missing) in the Series A deck

Image Credits: Steady

When it comes to Steady — the platform that helps hourly workers manage and maximize their income and access deals on things like benefits and financial services — the strengths of the business are clear.

But it took time for founder and CEO Adam Roseman to clearly define and communicate each of them in his quest for fundraising.


Discord’s reported $10B exit; Compass and Intermedia Cloud Communications set IPO price ranges

Alex Wilhelm dug into Discord’s possible $10 billion exit to Microsoft and explored IPO price ranges for real estate tech company Compass and Intermedia Cloud Communications, a unified-communications-as-a-service company.

“It’s a lot,” he noted, “but if we don’t get through it all now, we’ll fall behind and feel silly later.”

Will fading YOLO sentiment impact Robinhood, Coinbase and other trading platforms?

The consumer trading frenzy could be slowing.

What would happen to Robinhood and its cohorts if the apparent cooling in consumer trading demand continues?

How VC and private equity funds can launch portfolio-acceleration platforms

Rocket taking off

Image Credits: Miguel Navarro (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

Almost every private equity and venture capital investor now advertises that they have a platform to support their portfolio companies, “however, most of us don’t have the budget of an Andreessen Horowitz to support almost every major need” for each startup they’ve bet on, says Versatile VC founder David Teten.

If you’re prioritizing a platform buildout for your firm, consider using the framework he’s outlined.

Automakers, suppliers and startups see growing market for in-vehicle AR/VR applications


Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Despite all of the pomp and promises about the potential for AR and VR, there isn’t a clear understanding of market demand for bringing the technology to cars, trucks and passenger vans.

Estimates of the global market range from $14 billion by 2027 to as much as $673 billion by 2025, showing just how nascent the market currently is and how much opportunity is present.

Amid pandemic, Middle East adtech startups play essential role in business growth

yellow fish chalkboard

Image Credits: phototechno / Getty Images

The Middle East is a promising region with growing digital advertising solutions despite locals’ attachment to traditional means of advertising.

In recent years, there has been a shift to the active use of social media and online shopping, meaning the Middle East embodies great potential for adtech startups.

Social+ payments: Why fintechs need social features

Image Credits: Getty Images

Social+ products are seeing mass adoption because they marry community with functionality.

This applies even to fintech companies as taboos around money fall away.

The lightning-fast Series A that was 3 years in the making

Image Credits: Mironov Konstantin / Getty Images

It took Christine Tao, founder of Sounding Board, just over three years to recognize the value of executive coaching and get her company to a Series A.

Here’s how she did it.

NFTs could bridge video games and the fashion industry

Music companies, celebrities and fashion brands are some of the latest entities to dip a toe into the burgeoning NFT market.

In part two of a three-part series, we take a look at why NFTs are “the next chapter of digital art history.”

Where is the e-commerce app ecosystem headed in 2021?

woman in cafe with tablet and holding credit card because you know she's about to buy something

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

The pandemic-induced growth of e-commerce is, by now, well documented.

What is happening in the app ecosystem that supports e-commerce? Is it growing, or are we more likely to see consolidations and IPOs?

Let’s explore.

ironSource is going public via a SPAC and its numbers are pretty good

You’ll want to pay attention to this one: Israel’s ironSource, an app-monetization startup, is going public via a SPAC.

It’s the second SPAC-led debut from an Israeli company in recent weeks worth more than $10 billion, and ironSource is actually a pretty darn interesting company from a financial perspective.

Coursera set to roughly double its private valuation in impending IPO

Money floating in space

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

The market views Coursera’s edtech business warmly ahead of its impending public offering.

Coursera is being valued as a software company, likely a breathe-easy moment for still-private edtech companies, since the debut could be an industry bellwether.

#ar, #extra-crunch-roundup, #mobility, #property-tech, #proptech, #real-estate, #smart-cities, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital, #vr, #y-combinator


Y Combinator-backed Vue Storefront aims to be the ‘glue’ for e-commerce

“Headless commerce” is a phrase that gets thrown around lot (I’ve typed it several times today already), but Vue Storefront CEO Patrick Friday has an especially vivid way of using the concept to illustrate his startup’s place in the broader ecosystem.

“Vue Storefront is the bodiless front-end,” Friday said. “We are the walking head.”

In other words, while most headless commerce companies are focused on creating back-end infrastructure, Vue powers the front-end, namely the progressive web applications that consumers actually interact with. The company describes itself as “the lightning-fast frontend platform for headless commerce.”

Friday said that he and CTO Filip Rakowski created the Vue Storefront technology as an open source project while working at e-commerce agency Divante, before eventually spinning it out into a separate startup last year. The company was also part of the most recent class at accelerator Y Combinator, and it recently raised $1.5 million in seed funding led by SMOK Ventures and Movens VC.

“We had to set up a new entity in the middle of COVID, we had to raise in middle of COVID and we had to convince the agency get rid of the product in the middle of COVID,” Friday said. He even recalled signing papers with an investor one morning in early December and doing an interview with Y Combinator that evening.

Vue Storefront screenshot

Image Credits: Vue Storefront

As they’ve built a business around the core open source technology, Friday and his team have realized that Vue has more to offer than just building web apps, because it connects e-commerce platforms like Magento and Shopify with headless content management systems like Contentstack and Contentful, payments systems like PayPal and Stripe and other third-party services.

In fact, Friday said customers have been telling them, “You are like the glue. Headless was so complex to me, and then I got this Vue Storefront thing to come in on top everything else and be the glue connecting things.”

The platform has been used to create more than 300 stores worldwide. Friday said adoption has accelerated as the pandemic and resulting growth in e-commerce have driven businesses to realize they’re using “this legacy platform, using outdated frameworks and technologies from a good four or five years ago.”

Rakowski added, “We also see that many customers actually come to us deciding that Vue Storefront can be the first step of migration to another platform. WE can quickly migrate the front-end and write back-end agnostic code.”

Because it had just raised funding, the Vue Storefront team did not participant in the recent YC Demo Day, and will be presenting at the next Demo Day instead. In the meantime, it will be holding its own virtual Vue Storefront Summit on April 20.

#ecommerce, #headless-commerce, #startups, #vue-storefront, #y-combinator


You can only invest if you promise not to read the fine print, ok?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. News was right back up to a dull roar this week, so we did our best to trim and hone and just bring you the most important things.

Here’s the rundown:

Let’s all get some rest!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#bevy, #demo-day, #discord, #dispo, #dobrik, #equity, #equity-podcast, #finrise, #fundings-exits, #microsoft, #plaid, #ro, #robinhood, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator


YC-backed Homebase is an alternative to traditional mortgages for home buyers in Vietnam

Homebase co-founders Phillip An and Junyuan Tan

Homebase co-founders Phillip An and Junyuan Tan

The home ownership rate in Vietnam is about 90%, but many millennials are struggling to join that number. Rising property prices in cities, coupled with a lack of financing options, mean more people have to delay buying their first homes unless they have family support.

Part of Y Combinator’s latest batch, Homebase was founded in 2019 to give prospective buyers in Vietnam an alternative to traditional financing. Homebase acts as a co-investor, buying a share of property with customers, who then have the option of purchasing equity from Homebase until they take full ownership, or selling the property for their portion of the proceeds. In the meantime, buyers pay rent to Homebase that corresponds to the company’s stake, and have full usage rights to the home, so they can live in or rent it.

Co-founders Junyuan Tan and Phillip An originally started Homebase in Singapore, but decided to focus on Vietnam because Tan had lived there while working on his previous startups, RePrice Technologies and Atlantis Lab. Tan wanted to buy a home, but found bank mortgages charged high interest rates even on short-term loans.

“If you look at the whole of Southeast Asia, compared to Europe or the U.S., there are really no other solutions, like government schemes or rent-to-own financing solutions,” Homebase chief operating officer Phillip An told TechCrunch.

Its model is similar to Divvy Homes and ZeroDown in the United States and, in fact, leaders from both startups have invested in Homebase (Divvy Homes co-founder Brian Ma and ZeroDown’s former COO Troy Steckenrider). Homebase’s other backers include VinaCapital Ventures, Class 5 Global, Pegasus Technology Ventures, 1982 Ventures, Antler and Darius Cheung, the founder and CEO of

Most of Homebase’s transactions are currently in Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon, and it plans to expand into Hanoi and Danang by the end of this year. Ultimately, Homebase’s goal is to enter other Southeast Asian markets where home owners also face a dearth of financing options, like Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In Vietnam, about 70% of adults are “unbanked,” meaning they don’t have a bank account, which makes it difficult to apply for mortgages. An said some of Homebase’s customers use the service because they are unbanked. Other customers have financial accounts, but see Homebase as a faster, more flexible option to bank loans.

Its contracts range from one to 10 years, and at the end, customers have the option of buying all the equity in the property or selling it with Homebase to get back their investment. The amount of equity customers buy at the start also varies. For example, home buyers who are using Homebase as an alternative to mortgages typically take an initial 20% to 30% stake in the property, while real estate investors often start with a 50% stake.

Homebase finances its stake in properties in part by working with third-party financial institutions, including private high-net worth individuals and family offices who see it as an opportunity to diversify their holdings into a new asset class. An said the company is also talking to different types of funds, including equity, hedge, real estate debt and emerging market debt, from Europe, the United States and Singapore.

To screen applicants, Homebase has an internal checklist and onboarding process, and it also works with real estate agents, developers and other partners in Vietnam.

For those third parties, Homebase serves as a value-add tool that helps them close more deals by providing a way for customers to get financing. Homebase also performs due diligence on potential properties, including examining documentation and permits, and has built an asset valuation model based on existing property data, transaction data and information from developers.

An said this valuation service, which Homebase is expanding, is a key part of the business because it provides assurance to buyers that the company’s incentives are aligned with theirs.

“We stand to risk our investment, too,” he said. “Many customers are also first-time buyers and they want more help to find a good property.”

#asia, #fundings-exits, #homebase, #real-estate, #rent-to-own, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam, #y-combinator


Y Combinator’s biotech startups incubate a new generation of therapies and tools

Medical and biotech had a strong showing at Y Combinator’s latest demo day, with nearly a dozen companies in the space catching my eye. The things a startup can accomplish in this space are astonishing these days, so don’t be surprised if a few of these companies are headline news in the next year.

Startups take on big pharma

Atom Bioworks has one of the shortest timelines and highest potential impacts; as I wrote in our second set of favorites from demo day, the company seems to be fairly close to one of the holy grails of biochemistry, a programmable DNA machine. These tools can essentially “code” a molecule so that it reliably sticks to a specific substance or cell type, which allows a variety of follow-up actions to be taken.

For instance, a DNA machine could lock onto COVID-19 viruses and then release a chemical signal indicating infection before killing the virus. The same principle applies to a cancer cell. Or a bacterium. You get the picture.

Atom’s founders have published the details of their techniques in Nature Chemistry, and says it’s working on a COVID-19 test as well as therapies for the virus and other conditions. It expects sales in the 9-figure range.

Another company along these lines is LiliumX. This company is going after “biospecific antibodies,” which are kind of like prefab DNA machines. Our own antibodies learn to target various pathogens, waste, and other items the body doesn’t want, and customized, injected antibodies can do the same for cancer cells.

LiliumX is taking the algorithmic approach to generating potential antibody stuctures that could be effective, as many AI-informed biotech companies have before it. But the company is also using a robotic testing setup to thin the herd and get in vitro results for its more promising candidates. Going beyond lead generation is a difficult step but one that makes the company that much more valuable.

Entelexo is one step further down the line, having committed to developing a promising class of therapeutics called exosomes that could help treat autoimmune diseases. These tiny vesicles (think packages for inter-cell commerce) can carry all kinds of materials, including customized mRNA that can modify another cell’s behavior.

Modifying cell behavior systematically could help mitigate conditions like multiple sclerosis, though the company did not elaborate on the exact mechanism — probably not something that can be explained in under a minute. They’re already into animal testing, which is surprising for a startup.

One step further, at least mechanically, is Nuntius Therapeutics, which is working on ways to deliver cell-specific (i.e. to skeletal muscle, kidney cells, etc) DNA, RNA, and CRISPR-based therapies. This is an issue for cutting-edge treatments: while they can be sure of taking the correct action once in contact with the target cell type, they can’t be sure that the therapeutic agent will ever reach those cells. Like ambulance drivers without an address, they can’t do their jobs if they can’t get there.

Nuntius claims to have created a reliable way to deliver genetic therapy payloads to a variety of target cells, beyond what major pharma companies like Moderna have accomplished. The company also develops and licenses its own drugs, so it’s practically a one-stop shop for genetic therapies if its techniques pan out for human use.

Beyond providing therapeutics, there is the evolving field of artificial organs. These are still highly experimental, partly due to the risk of rejection even when using biocompatible materials. Trestle Biotherapeutics is taking on a specific problem — kidney failure — with implantable lab-grown kidney tissue that can help get these patients off dialysis.

While the plan is to eventually create full kidney replacements, the truth is that for people with this condition, every week and month counts. Not only does it improve their chances of finding a donor or moving up the list, but regular dialysis is a horrible process by all accounts. Anything that reduces the need to rely on it would be welcomed by millions.

This Yale-Harvard tie-up comes from a team with quite a bit of experience in stem cell science and tissue engineering, including 3D printing human tissues — which no doubt is part of the approach.

Beyond therapy

Moving beyond actual techniques for fighting various conditions, the YC batch had quite a few dedicated to improving the process of researching and understanding those conditions and techniques.

Many industries rely on cloud-based document platforms like Google Docs for sharing and collaboration, but while copywriters and sales folks probably find the standard office suite sufficient, that’s not necessarily the case for scientists whose disciplines demand special documentation and formatting.

Curvenote is a shared document platform built with these folks in mind; it integrates with Jupyter, SaturnCloud, and Sagemaker, supports lots of import and export options, integrates visualization plug-ins like Plotly, and versions through Git. Now you just have to convince the head of your department it’s worth paying for.