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Indonesian logistics startup SiCepat raises $170 million Series B

2021, March 5 - 2:28pm

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesian supply chain startup Advotics raises $2.75M led by East Ventures

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

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

Waresix acquires Trukita to connect more of Indonesia’s fragmented logistics chain

Former Uber exec raises $31M for his Jakarta-based logistics startup Kargo, announces relief fund to battle coronavirus

Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 9:22am

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

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

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

Image Credits: InsurGrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 9:00am

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

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

Image Credits: Dija

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

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

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

Cajoo promises grocery deliveries in 15 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delivery company goPuff is in talks to acquire the UK’s Fancy

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

Image Credits: TechCrunch

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

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

Categories: Business News

A new asynchronous video startup, Weet, is helping employees communicate on their own schedule

2021, March 5 - 7:09am

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

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

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

Image Credit: Najette Fellache

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

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

The Slack origin story

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

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

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

Weet already features instant recording, screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, video filters, emoji reactions, commenting options and auto transcription. For a premium paid version in the works, it is also developing features that will make it easier to organize discussions for users. Imagine, for example, a salesperson looking for communications about a potential client and wanting notes from those auto-transcriptions that are presented together in one email to them.

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

Weet is seemingly taking a different approach on the marketing front, too. Fellache says while some rivals enable users to publish one video at a time, Weet is a more conversational tool where teammates and contacts can create sections of the same video for a back-and-forth, sending video feedback, audio feedback, sharing their screen or reacting with emoticons.

Put another way, Weet enables not only the exchange of more critical information but can invite more interaction broadly and, presumably, strengthen team relationships in the process.

“It’s a discussion, not a transaction,” Fellache offers, and that’s important, she suggests. As she has seen firsthand, in a world where teams are increasingly scattered around the globe, open communication is more central than ever to a company’s success — and that of its employees.

Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 6:28am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 5:40am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workvivo, a platform for employee culture, raises a $16M Series A from Tiger Global

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microsoft launches Viva, its new take on the old intranet

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

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

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

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

Categories: Business News

Coursera is planning to file to go public tomorrow

2021, March 5 - 4:51am

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coursera declined to comment.

Update: The previous version of this story stated that Skillshare has gone public. This is incorrect. Skillsoft has gone public. An update to reflect this change has been made.

Categories: Business News

Stream raises $38M as its chat and activity feed APIs power communications for 1B users

2021, March 5 - 4:17am

A lot of our communication these days with each other is digital, and today one of the companies enabling that — with APIs to build chat experiences into apps — is announcing a round of funding on the back of some very strong growth.

Stream, which lets developers build chat and activity streams into apps and other services by way of a few lines of code, has raised $38 million, funding that it will be using to continue building out its existing business as well as to work on new features.

Stream started out with APIs for activity feeds, and then it expanded to chat, which today can be integrated into apps built on a variety of platforms. Currently, its customers integrate third-party chatbots and use Dolby for video and audio within Stream, but over time, these are all areas where Stream itself would like to do more.

“End-to-end encryption, chatbots: We want to take as many components as we can,” said Thierry Schellenbach, the CEO who co-founded the startup with the startup’s CTO Tommaso Barbugli in Amsterdam in 2015 (the startup still has a substantial team in Amsterdam headed by Barbugli, but its headquarters is now in Boulder, Colorado, where Schellenbach eventually moved).

Image Credits: Stream (opens in a new window)

The company already has amassed a list of notable customers, including Ikea-owned TaskRabbit, NBC Sports, Unilever, Delivery Hero, Gojek, eToro and Stanford University, as well as a number of others that it’s not disclosing across healthcare, education, finance, virtual events, dating, gaming and social. Together, the apps Stream powers cover more than 1 billion users.

This Series B round is being led by Felicis Ventures’ Aydin Senkut, with previous backers GGV Capital and 01 Advisors (the fund co-founded by Twitter’s former CEO and COO, Dick Costolo and Adam Bain) also participating.

Alongside them, a mix of previous and new individual and smaller investors also participated: Olivier Pomel, CEO of Datadog; Tom Preston-Werner, co-founder of GitHub; Amsterdam-based Knight Capital; Johnny Boufarhat, founder and CEO of Hopin; and Selcuk Atli, co-founder and CEO of social gaming app Bunch (itself having raised a notable round of $20 million led by General Catalyst not long ago).

That list is a notable indicator of what kinds of startups are also quietly working with Stream.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but said chat revenue grew by 500% in 2020.

Indeed, the Series B speaks of a moment of opportunity: It is coming only about six months after the startup raised a Series A of $15 million, and in fact Stream wasn’t looking to raise right now.

“We were not planning to raise funding until later this year but then Aydin reached out to us and made it hard to say no,” Schellenbach said.

“More than anything else, they are building on the platforms in the tech that matters,” Senkut added in an interview, noting that its users were attesting to a strong return on investment. “It’s rare to see a product so critical to customers and scaling well. It’s just uncapped capability… and we want to be a part of the story.”

That moment of opportunity is not one that Stream is pursuing on its own.

Some of the more significant of the many players in the world of API-based communications services like messaging, activity streams — those consolidated updates you get in apps that tell you when people have responded to a post of yours or new content has landed that is relevant to you, or that you have a message, and so on — and chat include SendBird, Agora, PubNub, Twilio and Sinch, all of which have variously raised substantial funding, found a lot of traction with customers, or are positioning themselves as consolidators.

That may speak of competition, but it also points to the vast market there for the tapping.

Indeed, one of the reasons companies like Stream are doing so well right now is because of what they have built and the market demand for it.

Communications services like Stream’s might be best compared to what companies like Adyen (another major tech force out of Amsterdam), Stripe, Rapyd, Mambu and others are doing in the world of fintech.

As with something like payments, the mechanics of building, for example, chat functionality can be complex, usually requiring the knitting together of an array of services and platforms that do not naturally speak to each other.

At the same time, something like an activity feed or a messaging feature is central to how a lot of apps work, even if they are not the core feature of the product itself. One good example of how that works are food ordering and delivery apps: they are not by their nature “chat apps” but they need to have a chat option in them for when you do need to communicate with a driver or a restaurant.

Putting those forces together, it’s pretty logical that we’d see the emergence of a range of tech companies that both have done the hard work of building the mechanics of, say, a chat service, and making that accessible by way of an API to those who want to use it, with APIs being one of the more central and standard building blocks in apps today; and a surge of developers keen to get their hands on those APIs to build that functionality into their apps.

What Stream is working on is not to be confused with the customer-service focused services that companies like Zendesk or Intercom are building when they talk about chat for apps. Those can be specialized features in themselves that link in with CRM systems and customer services teams and other products for marketing analytics and so on. Instead, Stream’s focus are services for consumers to talk to other consumers.

What is a trend worth watching is whether easy-to-integrate services like Stream’s might signal the proliferation of more social apps over time.

Stream, whose APIs help product teams build chat and activity feeds fast, just raised a $15 million Series A round

There is already at least one key customer — which I am now allowed to name — that is a steadily growing, still young social app, which has built the core of its service on Stream’s API.

With just a handful of companies — led by Facebook, but also including ByteDance/TikTok, Tencent, Twitter, Snap, Google (via YouTube) and some others depending on the region — holding an outsized grip on social interactions, easier, platform-agnostic access to core communications tools like chat could potentially help more of these, with different takes on “social” business models, find their way into the world.

“Stream’s technology addresses a common problem in product development by offering an easy-to-integrate and scalable messaging solution,” said Dick Costolo of 01 Advisors, and the former Twitter CEO, in a statement. “Beyond that, their team and clear vision set them apart, and we ardently back their mission.”

Updated to correct that the revenue growth is not related to the valuation figure.

Categories: Business News

German insurtech platform Hepster raises $10M Series A led by Element Ventures

2021, March 5 - 3:40am

Hepster, an insurtech platform from Germany, has raised $10 million in a Series A funding round led by Element Ventures. Also participating was Seventure Partners, MBMV and GPS Ventures, as well as previous investors. The funds will be used to broaden the Hepster insurance ecosystem and scale up its network, with an emphasis on automation.

The German insurance market is famously slow at adopting new practices, and Hepster is part of a new wave of insurtech startups in the country taking advantage of this. It allows businesses to build insurance policies from scratch, matched specifically to the needs of their individual service or industry. E-commerce players, for instance, can then embed these insurance products into the e-commerce journey.

Its products are therefore better suited to the new sector of, for example, shared e-bike schemes and peer-to-peer rental platforms, which are rarely covered by traditional brokers in Germany. However, it also caters to traditional, established industries as well.

It now has more than 700 partners, including European bike retailers and rental companies Greenstorm Mobility and Baron Mobility, as well as Berlin-based cargo bike provider Citkar and Munich e-bike startup SUSHI.

Christian Range, Hepster co-founder and CEO, said in a statement: “Hepster is now a key player within the European insurance market. Our state-of-the-art technology with our API-driven ecosystem, as well as our highly service-oriented approach, sets us apart.”

In an interview he told me: “Germany is the toughest market with the most regulations, the most laws. We have a saying in Germany, if you can make it in Germany, you can make it everywhere. Also, it’s a big market in terms of selling insurance products because Germans really like insurance in every regard. So there is huge market potential in Germany I think.”

Michael McFadgen, partner at Element Ventures, said: “As new industries and business models emerge, companies need much more flexible insurance propositions than what is currently being offered by traditional brokers. Hepster is the breakout company in the space, and their focus on embedded insurance will pay dividends in years to come.”

 

Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 3:05am

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

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

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

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

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

Combining machine learning tools for medical imaging with genetic sequencing nets Sophia Genetics $110M

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unicorn fever as One Medical’s IPO pops 40% after conservative pricing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R&D Roundup: Ultrasound/AI medical imaging, assistive exoskeletons and neural weather modeling

Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 2:45am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Business News

Fintech startup ClearGlass Analytics closes $3.6M for pension funds transparency platform

2021, March 5 - 2:29am

Fintech startup ClearGlass Analytics has closed a £2.6 million ($3.6 million) funding round for its platform, which aims to create greater transparency on fees in the long-term savings market, such as pensions and the wider asset management market.

The £2.6 million seed round includes European VC Lakestar and Outward VC, the venture arm of Investec, as well as several angels from both the asset management and pension fund worlds. These include Ruston Smith, a pension trustee; Richard Butcher, chair of the PLSA (U.K. pension trade body); Chris Wilcox, former Global Head of JP Morgan Asset Management; and Rob O’Rahilly, Sikander Ilyas and Alex Large, also former JP Morgan employees.

ClearGlass is targeting the £1.5 trillion mature “Defined Benefit” pension schemes market and claims to now work with more than 500 DB pension funds. It will use the funding to expand into the U.K. Defined Contribution pension market, and consolidate its early footprint in Europe and Africa.

How ClearGlass works is that it acts as a data interface between asset managers and their clients. Pension funds then use the platform to see all of their investment costs in one place, thus getting more data than usual from more asset managers and other suppliers. This helps the funds see the “true cost” of what they are paying for the management of their investments. ClearGlass claims to be able to uncover the kinds of costs of asset management that, in some instances, can be more than double those expected.

The startup recently did an analysis of the cost and performance of more than 400 asset managers. It found that while most U.K. asset managers were meeting minimum standards for data delivery, quality and accuracy, 30 (including some powerful players) did not pass their tests.

The company was founded by Dr. Christopher Sier, a World Bank and FCA expert who previously developed the cost transparency standard at the request of the FCA, and co-founders Ritesh Singhania and Kunal Varma.

Sier, founder and CEO, said: “Finding your costs are so much larger is shocking, but also something to be celebrated. These incremental costs were always there, they just weren’t exposed, and now you can identify those and bring about change. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

In an interview with TechCrunch, Ritesh Singhania, COO, said getting the data about pension funds is normally “super challenging and complicated. And second of all, even when you got the data, you couldn’t make head nor tail of it because you can’t compare it across funds. What we have done is that we have been the line of communication between the manager and the pension fund. So we have built a piece of technology that helps with the communication between the asset managers, and the pension funds to be able to collect that data, check that data. And finally, give them something that doesn’t require them to spend 20 hours to understand it.”

ClearGlass was incubated by the Founders Factory accelerator.

Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 2:15am

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

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

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

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

Singapore-based Raena gets $9M Series A for its pivot to skincare and beauty-focused social commerce

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

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

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

Elenas CEO Zach Oschin

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

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

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

Coupang files for mega US IPO

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

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Categories: Business News

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

2021, March 5 - 2:05am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Roman (co-founder). Image Cedits: AfriBlocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Business News

Bitfinex launches cryptocurrency payment gateway for merchants

2021, March 5 - 1:48am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Business News

Luxury air travel startup Aero raises $20M

2021, March 5 - 12:45am

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

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

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

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

Backed by Expa, Aero is a premium air travel startup with $16M in funding

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Aero

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

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

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

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

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing

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

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Categories: Business News

Unraveling ThredUp’s IPO filing: Slow growth, but a shifting business model

2021, March 5 - 12:42am

Another day, another venture-backed IPO filing. Today it’s ThredUp, a used-goods marketplace that is approaching the public markets in the wake of Poshmark’s own strong debut.

Both companies have a related market focus, albeit different approaches to selling used goods. Poshmark allows users to sell clothing items through its app. ThredUp, in contrast, acquires goods from users and sells them itself.

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But while Poshmark had profits to brag about in its own IPO filing, ThredUp does not and is also growing more slowly, expanding revenues just 13.6% in 2020. Reading its S-1 filing, it’s clear ThredUp did not have the best 2020, thanks in part to COVID-19.

This morning, let’s get into the numbers posted by the company backed by Trinity Ventures, Redpoint, Highland Capital Partners and Goldman Sachs to decide if it’s just merely to catch Poshmark’s wave, or if its business is a fine machine in its own right.

ThredUp’s model

To understand ThredUp’s business, we have to get into the mechanics of how it sells things. The company has two methods: direct sales and consignment. In the former, ThredUp buys goods and sells them. It then “recognize[s] revenue on a gross basis” and generates gross profit after deducting “inventory cost, inbound shipping and inventory write-downs, as well as outbound shipping, outbound labor and packaging costs.”

That is the model that ThredUp is leaving behind. After shifting to “primarily consignment sales” in 2019, the company’s business has skewed sharply in that direction. Consignment works by having consumers send ThredUp their goods, which it holds, and perhaps sells, remitting to the user a portion of the sale price. The method reduces write-downs and boosts gross margins.

Consignment sales at ThredUp “recognize revenue net of seller payouts,” deducting “outbound shipping, outbound labor and packaging costs” to reach gross profit results.

The revenue-mix focus change can be seen in how ThredUp generated gross profit in 2018, 2019 and 2020. In those years, consignment gross profit came to 38%, 67% and 81% of total gross profit. ThredUp’s business today is effectively a large, digital consignment effort.

What impact has that shift had on the company’s financial health? Let’s find out.

ThredUp’s growth

ThredUp posted $129.6 million in 2018 revenue, a figure that grew to $163.8 million in 2019 and $186 million in 2020. The company’s growth slowed from 26.4% in 2019 to 13.6% in 2020, a sharp deceleration. But at the same time, the portion of ThredUp revenues that came from consignment sales grew to 74% from 60%. Did that change have a material impact on the company’s gross margins, thus rendering its slow growth more palatable?

Not really. The company’s gross margins came to 68.7% in 2019 and 68.9% in 2020. That’s about as flat as Texas. And notably the number stayed flat despite the company noting that consignment revenues had stronger gross margins in 2019 and 2020 (77% and 75%, respectively) than its other model (57% and 51%, respectively).

Categories: Business News

Snapcommerce raises $85M to make over your mobile shopping experience

2021, March 4 - 11:30pm

People are not only shopping digitally more than ever, they’re also shopping using their mobile phones more than ever.

And for mobile-first companies like Snapcommerce, this is good news.

Snapcommerce, formerly known as SnapTravel, has raised $85 million in what the company is describing as a “Pre-IPO” growth round to help further its mission of “changing the way people shop on their phones.”

The Toronto, Ontario-based startup has built out an AI-driven, vertical-agnostic platform that uses messaging in an effort to personalize the mobile shopping experience and “deliver the best promotional prices.” While it was initially focused on the travel industry, the company is now branching out into other consumer verticals — hence its name change.

Inovia Capital and Lion Capital co-led the new growth round, which included participation from Acrew DCF, Thayer Ventures and Full In Partners, as well as existing backers Telstra Ventures and Bee Partners. The financing brings Snapcommerce’s total raised since its 2016 inception to over $100 million. Its last raise — a $7.2 million round from Telstra and NBA star Steph Curry — took place in 2019.

The startup was founded by tech entrepreneurs Hussein Fazal, whose prior company AdParlor grew to $100+ million in revenue, then sold to AdKnowledge back in 2011; and Henry Shi, who previously built uMentioned and worked at Google, where he helped launch YouTube Music Insights, according to previous TechCrunch reporting.

Snapcommerce co-founders Henry Shi and Hussein Fazal. Image courtesy of Snapcommerce

Snapcommerce launched its first, travel-focused product in 2017. It works by using chatbots to interact with customers via messaging apps such as SMS, Facebook and WhatsApp. But the company also has human agents ready to help if people need more assistance, in the past essentially serving as on-demand travel agents.

Its service is not just for hotels and flights, but also to help people book restaurants and activities too.

“Our focus has been on building that personal relationship,” Fazal said. “Many people end up coming back to us when they travel again.” In fact, over 40% of its sales in 2020 came from repeat customers.

Over the years, the company claims to have helped more than 10 million users globally save over $75 million. It expects to cross over $1 billion in total mobile sales this year.

And now it’s ready to branch out into helping consumers save money on goods.

“When shopping, it’s hard to find the right product and even if you do, it’s hard to find a good deal,” he said. “On a desktop, there’s ways around it. But on mobile, it’s virtually impossible.”

The company turned the corner to profitability three months into the pandemic in 2020, seeing a 60% spike in sales in the second half of the year compared to H2 2019, according to CEO Fazal.

It then decided to re-invest its profits to continue growing the business.

“The profitability during the pandemic gave us confidence that we could turn to profitability whenever we needed to and gave us control of our own destiny, which enabled this fundraise,” Fazal told TechCrunch. “The third quarter of 2020 ended up being our greatest quarter ever.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, naturally, only accelerated its growth as more consumers turned to mobile.

“We believe the next wave of power purchasers will be via mobile,” Fazal said. “Some of the new generation don’t even have desktops or laptops, and they spend all their time on their mobile phone and messaging. So we’re able to be at the forefront.” 

Snapcommerce has an IPO in its sights, although no specific timeline. The company did not reveal its current valuation or hard revenue figures. The company makes money by either marking up prices provided by a merchant or charging the merchant a commission.

Chris Arsenault, partner at Inovia and Snapcommerce lead investor, said his firm “tripled up” on its investment in the startup after witnessing its success in the travel space.

“Other companies out there only care about the transaction, and force consumers to look through several services to see if they got the best price, all the while telling them ‘there’s only two seats left,’ ” he told TechCrunch. “We believe that consumers aren’t going to accept that type of pressure-selling in the future. And Snapcommerce’s ability to build trust with its customers and service providers has attracted us to them as they are defining what the future of commerce is going to be like.”

Ultimately, the company plans to use its fresh capital to continue to scale with the goal of streamlining the entire mobile search, purchase and fulfillment process and make finding “the right item at the right price as easy as sending a message to a trusted friend.”

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

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Categories: Business News

Papaya Global raises $100M more at a $1B+ valuation for tools to hire, pay and manage distributed workforces

2021, March 4 - 11:22pm

Remote working — hiring people further afield and letting people work outside of a central physical office — is looking like it will be here to stay, and today one of the startups building tools for that environment is announcing a big fundraise in response to the opportunity.

Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that provides cloud-based payroll and hiring, onboarding and compliance services across 140 countries for organizations that employ full-time, part-time and contract workers outside of their home country, has picked up $100 million in funding and has confirmed that its valuation is now over $1 billion.

The company targets organizations that not only have global workforces, but are expanding their employee bases quickly. They include fast-growing startups like OneTrust, nCino and Hopin (which today announced a monster $400 million round), as well as major corporates like Toyota, Microsoft, Wix and General Dynamics.

Papaya is not disclosing revenue numbers but said that sales have grown 300% year-over-year for each of the last three years.

Hopin confirms $400M raise at $5.65B valuation

Led by Greenoaks Capital Partners, this Series C also includes significant participation from IVP Ventures and Alkeon Capital. Previous backers Insight Venture Partners, Scale Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Dynamic Loop, New Era and Workday Ventures, Access Ventures and Group 11 also chipped in. The new investment brings Papaya’s total funding to $190 million.

Papaya has been on a fundraising tear in the last 18 months. Today’s news comes less than six months after it raised a $40 million Series B. And that round came less than a year after a $45 million Series A.

Why so much, so quickly? Partly because of the demands on the business, but possibly also to capitalize on an opportunity at a time when so many others are also going after it as well.

The opportunity is that companies and other organizations are finding themselves needing tools to address the current state of play: Workforce growth today doesn’t look like it did in 2019, and so incumbent solutions like ADP, or cobbled together solutions covering multiple geographies, either don’t cut it, or are too costly to maintain.

Papaya Global, in contrast, says it has built an AI-based platform that automates a lot of work and removes much of the manual activity that comes out of trying to right-size a lot of legacy payroll products to work in new paradigms.

“The major impact of COVID-19 for us has been changing attitudes,” CEO Eynat Guez, who co-founded the company with Ruben Drong and Ofer Herman, told me in an interview last September. “People usually think that payroll works by itself, but it’s one of the more complex parts of the organization, covering major areas like labor, accounting, tax. Eight months ago, a lot of clients thought, it just happens. But now they realize they didn’t have control of the data, some don’t even have a handle on who is being paid.”

One challenge, however, is that many others are also chasing these customers in hopes of becoming the ADP of distributed and global work.

Papaya Global raises $40M for a payroll and HR platform aimed at global workforces

Last month, a startup called Oyster, also aimed at distributed workforces, raised $20 million. Others in the same area that have raised lots of capital include Turing,  DeelRemoteHibob, Personio, Factorial, Lattice, Turing and Rippling.

And as we have pointed out before, these are just some of the HR startups that have raised money in the last year. There are many, many more.

Investors here are hoping that as we see some consolidation emerge out of this mix, there will be a few leaders and that Papaya will be one of them.

“Papaya Global has built a best in class solution to onboard new employees, automate payroll, and manage a global workforce through a single pane of glass. Both growing and established companies have dramatically changed their working practices in recent years, and Papaya has seen impressive growth as a result. We’re excited to continue supporting them as they seek to simplify an increasingly complex challenge for some of the world’s biggest companies,” said Patrick Backhouse, partner at Greenoaks Capital, in a statement.

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

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Categories: Business News

Hopin confirms $400M raise at $5.65B valuation

2021, March 4 - 9:30pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VCs are chasing Hopin upwards of $5-6B valuation

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

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

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

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

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

Hopin buys livestreaming startup StreamYard for $250M as it looks to expand its product lineup

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

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