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nCino sharply raises its IPO price range, boosting possible valuation to $2.6B

2020, July 11 - 1:19am

As expected, fintech company nCino has raised its IPO price range. The North Carolina-based banking software firm now expects to sell its shares for between $28 and $29 per share, far more than its initial price range of $22 to $24 per share.

At its $28 to $29 per-share price interval, nCino is worth $2.50 billion to $2.59 billion, sharply more than its preceding $1.96 billion to $2.14 billion range.

Unpacking the nCino and GoHealth IPO filings

The valuation makes more sense for the company, given its growth rate, revenue scale and how the market is currently valuing similar companies. As TechCrunch wrote earlier this week, concerning the SaaS company’s scale and value (emphasis ours):

Annualizing the company’s Q1 (the April 30, 2020 period) revenue results, nCino’s $178.9 million run rate would give it a revenue multiple of 11x to 12x at its expected IPO prices, a somewhat modest result by current standards.

Indeed, as nCino grew about 50% from Q1 2019 to Q1 2020, it feels light. The firm’s GAAP losses are slim compared to revenue as well for a SaaS business, though the company’s operating cash burn did grow from $4.6 million in its fiscal year ending January 31, 2019 to $9 million in its next fiscal year. Its numbers are mostly good, with some less-than-perfect results. Still, given its growth rate, an 11x-12x revenue multiple feels modest; that figure rises, of course, if we use a trailing revenue figure instead of our annualized number.

It would not be a shock, then, if nCino targets a higher price interval for its shares before it formally prices.

With its new IPO price range, nCino’s implied revenue multiple is now 14x to 14.5x, figures that seem far closer to present-day norms.

Now the question for nCino, which is expected to price and trade next week, is whether it can price above its raised range. Given some recent historical precedent, a $1 per-share price beat above its raised interval would not be a shock.

nCino is one of two companies we’re currently tracking on its way to the public markets. The other is GoHealth, which is expected to go public around the same time. Expect next week to be chock-full of IPO news. Heading into earnings season no less!

Categories: Business News

What do investors bidding up tech shares know that the rest of us don’t?

2020, July 10 - 11:31pm

The biggest story to come out of the post-March stock market boom has been explosive growth in the value of technology shares. Software companies in particular have seen their fortunes recover; since March lows, public software companies’ valuations have more than doubled, according to one basket of SaaS and cloud stocks compiled by a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Such gains are good news for startups of all sizes. For later-stage upstarts, software share appreciation helps provide a welcoming public market for exits. And, strong public valuations can help guide private dollars into related startups, keeping the capital flowing.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, and now you can receive it in your inbox. Sign up for The Exchange newsletter, which drops every Friday starting July 24.

For software-focused startup companies, especially those pursuing recurring revenue models like SaaS, it’s a surprisingly good time to be alive.

Indeed, after COVID-19 hit the United States, layoffs and rising software sales churn were key, worrying indicators coming out of startup-land. Since then, the data has turned around.

As TechCrunch reported in June, startup layoffs have declined and software churn has recovered to the point that business and enterprise-focused SaaS companies are on the bounce.

But instead of merely recovering to near pre-COVID levels, software stocks have continued to rise. Indeed, the Bessemer Cloud Index (EMCLOUD), which tracks SaaS firms, has set an array of all-time highs in recent weeks.

There’s some logic to the rally. After speaking to venture capitalists over the past few weeks, notes from EQT VenturesAlastair Mitchell, Sapphire’s Jai Das, and Shomik Ghosh from Boldstart Ventures paint the picture of a possibly accelerating digital transformation for some software companies, nudged forward by COVID-19 and its related impacts.

The result of the trend may be that the total addressable market (TAM) for software itself is larger than previously anticipated. Larger TAM could mean bigger future sales for and more substantial future cash flows for some software companies. This argument helps explain part of the market’s present-day enthusiasm for public tech equities, and especially the shares of software companies.

We won’t be able explain every point that Nasdaq has gained. But the TAM argument is worth understanding if we want to grok a good portion of the optimism that is helping drive tech valuations, both private and public.

Categories: Business News

Five reasons to attend TC Early Stage online

2020, July 10 - 10:36pm

TC Early Stage on July 21 and 22 will virtually bring together 50+ experts across startup core competencies to give you the tools you’ll need to be able to keep building your business and protect your assets. If you’re on the fence about attending, here are just five reasons why you should get your tickets today:

1. Learn how to fundraise effectively

Top venture capitalists from Greylock, General Catalyst, Accel, Plexo Capital and more will share their secrets on how to raise funds for your company. For example, if you need to optimize your pitch deck or decide whether to bootstrap or identify pitfalls to avoid when pitching or even learn how to get your company acquired, this is the place where you will be able to learn it all from seed to IPO.

2. Focus on growing your bottom line

In order to grow, you have to build and engage your audience, but how do you stand out in the crowd? What’s the secret sauce for growth? At TC Early Stage, we’ll have several marketing mavens on tap to provide the tips and tricks you’ll need to develop your brand’s personality and teach you how to get in front of new clients.

3. Operate at maximum efficiency

To make sure the machine is operating at its best, all of the pieces need to work together effectively. As you are hiring employees, developing and securing your company’s tech stack, building out your board or structuring your term sheets, these workshops can help you fine tune all of the functional puzzle pieces of your company that make it run.

4. Expand your network

Not only will you have experts to meet but you’ll also have hundreds of other founders who are at your disposal to share best practices, meet other investors and service providers and expand your social graph. It’s the icing on the cake to augment your entire TC Early Stage experience. Plus you’ll be able to kick-start your networking with other attendees before the show even begins!

5. Space is limited

We’re keeping these sessions as intimate as possible so you have opportunities to engage with speakers and get the most out of each workshop. Some sessions have already reached capacity, so you’ll want to act fast and register now. All of the sessions will be exclusively available for TC Early Stage attendees to view after the event concludes, so if you miss one, you’ll still be able to watch the session on-demand. Get your tickets now and secure your seat at TC Early Stage online.

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Categories: Business News

Silicon Valley is built on immigrant innovation

2020, July 10 - 10:00pm

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

We wound up having more to talk about than we had time for but we packed as much as we could into 34 minutes. So, climb aboard with Danny, Natasha and myself for another episode of Equity.

Before we get into topics, a reminder that if you are signing up for Extra Crunch and want to save some money, the code “equity” is your friend. Alright, let’s get into it:

Whew! Past all that we had some fun, and, hopefully, were of some use. Hugs and chat Monday!

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

Categories: Business News

COVID-19 pivot: Travel unicorn Klook sees jump in staycations

2020, July 10 - 8:15pm

Spring 2020 was gloomy for Klook. As countries closed their borders and went into complete or partial lockdown, the SoftBank-backed travel platform saw its revenue plummet by as much as 90% through March and April. The World Travel and Tourism Council said in April that the coronavirus could put up to 100 million jobs in the global travel and tourism at risk.

But in the dark times, opportunities were also bubbling up.

Six-year-old Klook enables travelers, primarily from Asia, to discover and book overseas experiences ranging from Napa Valley wine tastings to staying with a farming family in Cambodia — a bit like Airbnb Experiences. It then takes a cut from each transaction that happens between the customer and activity vendor.

Before COVID-19, the startup, which crossed the $1 billion valuation mark back in 2018, was seeing 30 million monthly user sessions a month; by April, the figure shrank to 5 million. The constraints on people’s movement across the world, which is the foundation of its business, forced Klook to quickly rethink product offerings.

“At the end of the day, we are in the business of fun things to do. There are things to do at home, as well as local things to do when people could travel,” co-founder and chief operating officer Eric Gnock Fah told TechCrunch over a phone interview. “Now [the pandemic] is giving us an opportunity to add a new aspect to it.”

Staycation

Cooped up at home, people around the world turned to cooking, handcraft and other domestic projects as an outlet for entertainment and creativity. Klook responded to the demand by offering do-it-yourself kits for making bubble tea, macarons, candles and more — and delivering the material to people’s doorsteps. For people who were still eager to see the world, Klook partnered with landmark sites worldwide on online virtual tours, amassing close to 660,000 views in its first two livestreamed experiences.

Categories: Business News

K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups

2020, July 10 - 1:17am

Earlier this month, Spanish early-stage venture capital firm K Fund officially launched its second fund, which sits at €70 million, up from €50 million the first time around.

Targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. Meanwhile, a portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.

Described as business model- and sector-agnostic, K Fund currently has a mix of B2B and B2C companies in its portfolio across a wide variety of sectors, such as travel, fintech, insurtech and others. They include online travel agency Exoticca, HR software Factorial, insurtech startup Bdeo and Hubtype, a conversational messaging tech provider.

I caught up with K Fund’s Jaime Novoa to delve deeper into the firm’s investment remit, how the Spanish startup and tech ecosystem has developed over the last few years and to learn more about “K Founders,” the VC’s new pre-seed funding program.

TechCrunch: K Fund’s first fund was announced in late 2016 to back startups in Spain with an international outlook at seed and Series A. At €70 million, this second fund is €20 million larger but I gather the remit remains broadly the same. Can you be more specific with regards to cheque size, geography, sector and the types of startups you look for?

Jaime Novoa: We’re both agnostic in terms of business models and industries. Since our focus is, for the most part, Spain, we do not believe that the Spanish market is big enough to build a vertically focused fund, either in terms of business model or sector.

With our first fund we invested in 28 companies, with a slightly larger number of B2B SaaS companies than B2C ones, and across a wide variety of sectors. We do have a bit of exposure to travel and fintech/insurtech, but that’s because we’ve found several interesting companies in those spaces, not because we proactively said, “let’s invest in fintech/travel.”

In terms of check sizes, the core of the fund will be to make the same type of investments as in our first fund: first cheques from €200k to €2m and then sufficient capital for follow-on rounds. We’ll probably do a similar number of deals compared to the previous fund, but we want to have additional capital for follow-on purposes.

Categories: Business News

Creandum backs Amie, a new productivity app from ex-N26 product manager Dennis Müller

2020, July 10 - 1:00am

Amie, a new productivity app from ex-N26 product manager Dennis Müller, has picked up $1.3 million in pre-seed funding to “kickstart” development and hiring.

Backing 23-year-old Müller is Creandum — the European VC best known for being an early investor in Spotify — along with Tiny.VC and a plethora of angels. They include Laura Grimmelmann (Ex-Accel), Nicolas Kopp (CEO, N26 U.S.), Roland Grenke (Dubsmash co-founder) and Zachary Smith (SVP of product at U.S. challenger bank Chime).

Founded early this year and with a planned launch in early 2021, Berlin-based Amie is developing a productivity app that combines a person’s calendar and to-dos in one place. Previously called coco, it promises to work across all devices, with an interface that “works just like you think.”

“Back in the day, you had a calendar on your office wall, and a to-do list on a notepad,” Müller tells me. “You could take your list with you elsewhere, but not your calendar. Those were digitized instead of rethinking the flow. Most productivity apps solve very specific problems, creating a new one, [and] users need too many tools.”

Amie pre-release app screenshot.

Müller says Amie is built on the principle that “to-dos, habits and events all take time, and all belong in the same place.” Many people already schedule to-dos and the startup wants to offer the fastest way to create to-dos, schedule events, check your calendar “and even jump into Zoom calls.”

As a glimpse of what’s to come, Amie promises to let you drag ‘n’ drop to-dos into your day, or turn links and screenshots into to-dos. “With Amie’s Alfred-like app, you can create an event and invite people in a different timezone, all while other apps are still loading,” says the young company.

More broadly, Amie wants to act as a central workspace, letting you also do things like join video calls, take notes and do email, without the need to open extra browser tabs and therefore avoid “context switching.”

“Amie will target professionals who are currently using Google Calendar, due to our integration,” adds Müller. “The waitlist already counts thousands of users, who are mostly professionals working in the tech industry (e.g., designers, developers, bizdevs, etc.”

Categories: Business News

Amazon’s Alexa heads Toni Reid and Rohit Prasad are coming to Disrupt

2020, July 10 - 12:46am

It’s hard to believe that Alexa was only announced in November 2014. In fewer than six years, the smart assistant has gone from consumer electronics curiosity to a nearly ubiquitous tech phenomenon. Launched alongside the first Echo device, Alexa has helped define a new paradigm of voice computing, alongside Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant.

According to recent numbers, 29% of U.S. internet users also use a smart speaker. With that demographic Amazon has been utterly dominant, with roughly 70% of all U.S. smart speaker owners using an Echo. Alexa’s reach spread far beyond that, of course, to all manner of smart home devices, laptops, cars, phones, wearables and TVs. We’re excited to announce today that the heads of Amazon’s Alexa team will be joining us at Disrupt this September to discuss the smart assistant’s growth and the future of voice computing.

Toni Reid is the vice president of Alexa Experience & Echo Devices at Amazon, a company she’s been with for over a decade. She’s being a driving force in Alexa’s dominance of the category. Rohit Prasad is the vice president and head scientist, Alexa Artificial Intelligence. He’s an expert in natural language understanding, machine learning, dialog science and machine reasoning.

Together the pair have been the driving force in Alexa’s growth and domination of the smart assistant category. Hear how it all got started from Reid and Prasad at Disrupt 2020 on September 14-18. Get a front-row seat with your Digital Pro Pass for just $245 or with a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package.

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Categories: Business News

As pandemic drags on, interest in automation surges

2020, July 10 - 12:30am

Today, the U.S. exceeded three million COVID-19 cases and 132,000 deaths. In several states, new hotspots have rolled back plans to reopen businesses. The novel coronavirus has — and will continue — to profoundly impact the way we live and work.

For the moment, that includes a shift in the employment status of many Americans. More than 50 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March. And while many states have made efforts to reopen businesses and return some sense of normality, these moves have led to a spike in cases and may prolong the pandemic and its ongoing economic impact.

Technology has been a lifeline for many, from food delivery to the 3D printing I highlighted last week, which has worked to address a nation suffering from personal protective equipment shortages. Automation and robotics have also been a constant in conversations around tech’s battle against COVID-19.

Robots don’t get sick, tired or emotionally burnt out, and unlike us, they aren’t walking, talking disease vectors. Automation advocates like to point to the “three Ds” of dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that will eventually be replaced by a robotic workforce, but in the age of COVID-19, nearly any essential job qualifies.

The robotic invasion has already begun in earnest. The service, delivery, health care and sanitation industries in particular have all opened a massive gap over the past several months that automation has been more than happy to roll right through. A recent report from The Brookings Institute notes that automation arrives in the workforce in fits and starts — most notably, during times of economic downturn.

“Robots’ infiltration of the workforce doesn’t occur at a steady, gradual pace. Instead, automation happens in bursts, concentrated especially in bad times such as in the wake of economic shocks, when humans become relatively more expensive as firms’ revenues rapidly decline,” the study found. “At these moments, employers shed less-skilled workers and replace them with technology and higher-skilled workers, which increases labor productivity as a recession tapers off.”

Categories: Business News

Freshworks acquires IT orchestration service Flint

2020, July 10 - 12:00am

Customer engagement company Freshworks today announced that it has acquired Flint, an IT orchestration and cloud management platform based in India. The acquisition will help Freshworks strengthen its Freshservice IT support service by bringing a number of new automation tools to it. Maybe just as importantly, though, it will also bolster Freshworks’ ambitions around cloud management.

Freshworks CPO Prakash Ramamurthy, who joined the company last October, told me that while the company was already looking at expanding its IT services (ITSM) and operations management (ITOM) capabilities before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, having those capabilities has now become even more important, given that a lot of these teams are now working remotely.

“If you take ITSM, we allow for customers to create their own workflow for service catalog items and so on and so forth, but we found that there’s a lot of things which were repetitive tasks,” Ramamurthy said. “For example, I lost my password or new employee onboarding, where you need to auto-provision them in the same set of accounts. Flint had integrated with Freshservice to help automate and orchestrate some of these routine tasks and a lot of customers were using it and there’s a lot of interest in it.”

He noted that while the company was already seeing increased demand for these tools earlier in the year, the pandemic made that need even more obvious. And given that pressing need, Freshworks decided that it would be far easier to acquire an existing company than to build its own solution.

“Even in early January, we felt this was a space where we had to have a time-to-market advantage,” he said. “So acquiring and aggressively integrating it into our product lines seemed to be the most optimal thing to do than take our time to build it — and we are super fortunate that we placed the right bet because of what has happened since then.”

The acquisition helps Freshworks build out some of its existing services, but Ramamurthy also stressed that it will really help the company build out its operations management capabilities to go from alert management to also automatically solving common IT issues. “We feel there’s natural synergy and [Flint’s] orchestration solution and their connectors come in super handy because they have connectors to all the modern SaaS applications and the top five cloud providers and so on.”

But Flint’s technology will also help Freshworks build out its ability to help its users manage workloads across multiple clouds, an area where it is going to compete with a number of startups and incumbents. Since the company decided that it wants to play in this field, an acquisition also made a lot of sense given how long it would take to build out expertise in this area, too.

“Cloud management is a natural progression for our product line,” Ramamurthy noted. “As more and more customers have a multi-cloud strategy, we want to give them a single pane of glass for all the work workloads they’re running. And if they wanted to do cost optimization, if you want to build on top of that, we need the basic plumbing to be able to do discovery, which is kind of foundational for that.”

Freshworks will integrate Flint’s tools into Freshservice and likely offer it as part of its existing tiered pricing structure, with service orchestration likely being the first new capability it will offer.

Categories: Business News

VCs are cutting checks remotely, but deal volume could be slowing

2020, July 9 - 11:46pm

When COVID-19 began to shutter the United States economy, startups jumped into cost-cutting mode as expectations rose that venture capital was about to get a heck of a lot harder to raise. After all, prior downturns in the broader economy, and tech sector in particular, had taken a bite out of the ability for startups to attract new funds.

PitchBook research shows that, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the amount of money venture capitalists invested fell, with early-stage deal and dollar volume enduring the largest cuts. Late-stage valuations during the same period came under steep pressure. The connection between a slipping economy and a rapidly deteriorating venture capital market, therefore, seems strong.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, and now you can receive it in your inbox. Sign up for The Exchange newsletter, which drops every Friday starting July 24.

The historically grounded feeling from startups in Q2, as the stock market sold off and unemployment rose, was one of concern: VCs were about to cut their deal pace, and the number of dollars that they were willing to put into each deal would likely fall as well. That investors would need to shake up their process and do deals remotely was not confidence inspiring.

We don’t have full Q2 VC numbers yet, so it’s too soon to say that Q2 was worse or better than expectations. But what we can say, thanks to a new survey from OMERS Ventures, is that VCs moved with reasonable speed to get over the technology and cultural hurdle of remote deal-making to keep the checks flowing. Indeed, according to OMERS Ventures’ research, 69% of the VCs it surveyed in June were willing to do fully remote deals; for startups worried that the venture class was simply going to pack up its checkbook and take an extended vacation, it’s good news.

But the news isn’t all rosy — most VC firms from the 150 in North America and Europe that the venture group surveyed have yet to actually execute a remote deal. And, there’s some indication that overall deal volume could be slowing, perhaps due to “dwindling supply of companies formally going to market,” according to OMERS Ventures’ Damien Steel, a managing partner.

This morning let’s examine which VCs have been the most active, and the least, to find out which types of firms are still investing, and where investors are seeing more deal flow, and less.

Remote deals, fewer deals

Most VCs have decided that remote deal-making is, at minimum, something that they need to become accustomed to. Only 4% of surveyed VCs said that they would not do remote deals, full-stop. Another 23% said that they were fine with remote deals, albeit with some ability to meet entrepreneurs in person.

Categories: Business News

Coinbase reported to consider late 2020, early 2021 public debut

2020, July 9 - 11:44pm

Coinbase is the latest mega-startup that may approach the public markets. The digital currency exchange company could follow Palantir, which is also nearing its IPO, after the secretive data-focused unicorn announced that it had filed privately.

Earlier today Reuters reported that Coinbase, a popular American-based cryptocurrency trading platform, could pursue a public debut later this year, or early next year. Plans remain fluid, according to the report, which went on to say that the crypto-focused fintech company “has been in talks to hire investment banks and law firms.”

Coinbase declined to comment, telling TechCrunch in an email that it cannot “comment on rumors or speculation.”

Even more, Reuters reported that Coinbase may pursue a direct listing for its shares, instead of a more traditional initial public offering. A direct listing allows a company to begin to trade publicly without formally pricing its equity through a bloc sale as happens in initial public offerings. Direct listings have become more popular as a concept in recent years as private companies became less dependent on IPOs as a fundraising mechanism, and some of Silicon Valley’s elite became disenchanted with what they consider to be regular underpricing of IPOs, forcing companies going public to leave tens, or hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.

Coinbase is perhaps archetypal for the sort of company that might consider a direct listing. It’s wealthy, having raised north of $500 million during its life as a private company, and highly valued. Coinbase’s most recent private financing of $300 million valued it at $8 billion, according to Crunchbase data. A high valuation and the possibility of ample cash reserves are what previous direct listings Slack and Spotify had as well.

Most companies still tack toward the public markets through IPOs, as we’ve see in recent weeks with the traditional debuts of Accolade, Vroom and others. Yesterday TechCrunch covered initial price ranges for two more IPOs, GoHealth and nCino, each of which have eschewed the direct listing model in favor of raising funds during their exit from the private markets.

Results

How big Coinbase is today is not clear. The company’s financial history is occluded — common with private companies — and a bit uneven. Media reports have pegged its 2017 revenue at around $1 billion, boosted by that year’s crypto-mania. Precisely how Coinbase performed in 2018 is less clear, though other media reports paint the picture of a smaller company.

Regardless of whether Coinbase direct lists or takes on a traditional IPO, we’ll get to see its S-1 filing. That document will provide good insight into the company’s historical financial performance, allowing us to see how Coinbase fared during various crypto-booms and busts.

With public markets at all-time highs and valuations for tech stocks far above historical norms, it’s not surprising that some highly valued unicorns are gearing up for a run on the public markets. Let’s see how many pull it off.

Categories: Business News

Singaporean startup Karana raises $1.7 million for meat substitutes made from jackfruit

2020, July 9 - 10:28pm

Singaporeans have a growing appetite for plant-based meat substitutes. In fact, demand for products from companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Quorn have grown during the pandemic, partly because consumers are making more health-conscious decisions, according to The Straits Time. Now there is a new entrant to the market. Headquartered in Singapore, Karana announced today it has raised $1.7 million in seed funding and plans to launch its first product, a pork substitute made from jackfruit, this year.

Karana’s seed investors include Henry Soesanto, the CEO of Monde Nissin Group, which acquired Quorn Foods in 2015; agtech investment firms Big Idea Ventures and Germi8; and angel investors Kevin Poon and Gerald Li, both Hong Kong entrepreneurs with experience in the food and beverage industry. Karana said the round also included participation from an undisclosed leading Asia-based FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) distributor.

Karana’s jackfruit is sourced from Sri Lanka, where jackfruit is already a common meat substitute. What Karana’s processing method does is create a texture that replicates minced and shredded pork more closely, making it easier to use in dishes like dumplings, char siu bao or bahn mi.

Founded in 2018 by Dan Riegler and Blair Crichton, Karana turns organic jackfruit into a pork substitute by using a proprietary mechanical technique that the company says does not use any chemical processing. Its pork substitute will be available in restaurants this year, before arriving in retail stores at the beginning of next year.

Riegler and Crichton told TechCrunch in an email that Karana uses jackfruit because it not only has a “naturally meaty texture,” but is an environmentally friendly crop. It is usually grown intercropped (or with other produce, in the same field), has a high yield and low water usage. But about 60% of jackfruit harvested currently goes to waste, they added. “There is a lot of room for further commercialization, which means additional income streams for farmers.”

Karana’s founders started with pork because it is the most frequently consumed meat in Asia. Its seed funding will be used on research and development to launch new products, and the company is currently talking to strategic partners in other Asian markets. Future Karana products will use other crops grown in Asia to create new meat substitutes.

“Karana is a whole-plant meat company, our focus is on leveraging what nature has given us and enhancing these amazing biodiverse ingredients to create delicious products. In the future, we will launch products using other regional ingredients that will enable us to expand beyond pork,” the founders said. “This is a real differentiator from other companies that are by-and-large relying on commodity crops in processed forms.”

Categories: Business News

LogDNA announces $25M Series C investment and new CEO

2020, July 9 - 10:15pm

LogDNA, a startup that helps DevOps teams dig through their log data to find issues, announced a $25 million Series C investment today along with the promotion of industry vet Tucker Callaway to CEO.

Let’s start with the funding. Emergence Capital led the round with participation from previous investors Initialized Capital and Providence Equity. New investors TI Platform Management, Radianx Capital, Top Tier Capital and Trend Forward Capital also joined the round. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $60 million, according to the company.

Current CEO and co-founder Chris Nguyen says the company provides a centralized way to manage log data for DevOps teams with an eye towards troubleshooting issues and getting applications out faster.

New CEO Callaway, whose background includes executive stints at Chef and Sauce Labs, came on board in January as president and CRO with an eye toward moving him into the top spot when the time was right. Nguyen, who will move to the role of Chief Strategy Officer, says everyone was on board with the move, and he was ready to step back into a more technical role.

“When we closed the latest round of funding and looked at what the journey forward looks like, there was just a lot of trust and confidence from my co-founder, the board of directors, all of the investors on the team that Tucker is the right leader,” Nguyen said.

As Callaway takes over in the midst of the pandemic, the company is in reasonably good shape with 3000 customers using the product and a strategic partnership with IBM to provide logging services for IBM Cloud. Having $25 million in additional capital certainly helps, but he sees a company that’s still growing and intends to keep hiring..

As he brings more people on board to lead the company of approximately 100 employees, he says that diversity and inclusion is something he is passionate about and takes very seriously. For starters, he plans to put the entire company through unconscious bias training. They have also hired someone to review their hiring practices to date and they are bringing in a consultant to help them design more diverse and inclusive hiring practices and hold them accountable to that

The company was a member of the same Y Combinator winter 2015 cohort as GitLab. It actually started out building a marketing technology product, only to realize they had built a powerful logging tool on the back end. That logging tool became the basis for LogDNA .

Categories: Business News

MariaDB raises $25M more to expand its SkySQL cloud database platform

2020, July 9 - 10:06pm

Cloud services continue to be a key component of how organisations remain operational even as so much else — such as physically working in enclosed offices — is forced to change because of the COVID-19 health pandemic. Today, MariaDB Corporation, the company behind MariaDB SkySQL and one of the startups leading the charge on open-source cloud databases, is announcing $25 million in funding to continue its growth.

The money is coming in the form of an extension to the company’s Series C round, and it’s being led by SmartFin Capital, a Belgian VC, with participation from previous investor GP Bullhound.

(Side note: Extensions to existing rounds seem to have become more frequent in recent months. That’s in part because extensions can be faster to close than opening and closing completely new rounds, in part because they are typically smaller amounts and in part because fundraising has become a lot more challenging and harder to do in recent months, with people travelling and meeting in person much less, and sometimes not at all.)

Notably, however, being an extension doesn’t mean the valuation is not changing. This latest infusion brings the total raised by MariaDB Corp. to over $125 million, “doubling our valuation,” CEO Michael Howard noted in a statement.

Howard didn’t reveal the exact figure of that valuation, but for some context, the company — founded in Helsinki, Finland and now co-headquartered in Redwood City, California — was last valued at €300 million ($340 million at today’s rates) in 2017, in a $27 million round led by Alibaba. That would put today’s round at a €600 million valuation ($680 million), a big leap for the startup — and for open source — in the space of three years.

Part of the boost for MariaDB’s business is coming directly as a result of the demands we’re seeing in the enterprise sector today for database-as-a-service tools built on cloud and open-source architecture, Howard noted.

“Expanding MariaDB SkySQL cloud operations is our key focus,” Howard said in a statement. “There is an addressable and immediate market need with a growing number of companies who want to enable faster innovation and agility by adopting cloud technologies and shifting database management to DBaaS solutions.”

MariaDB says that DBS Bank, ServiceNow, Walgreens, Samsung and more than 75% of the Fortune 500 customers run MariaDB in both private and public clouds, speaking to the reach of the platform.

MariaDB Corp. is not disclosing its own growth numbers — we’re asking and will update as and when we learn more — but it’s likely they have been strong, judging by the valuation hike.

“MariaDB continues to exceed our expectations,” said Jürgen Ingels, founding partner, SmartFin Capital, in a statement. “The company’s innovation in cloud database technology will help support the rapid growth in IT modernization that businesses large and small are pursuing to keep up with the world around us. We feel MariaDB is well-positioned to take a large share of the growing cloud database market as companies continue to push forward into the cloud. We are proud to invest more in MariaDB to continue their exceptional growth.”

Apart from the more immediate effects of the health pandemic, MariaDB Corp.’s growth speaks to other trends in enterprise IT that have been in play for years.

Gartner estimates that 75% of all databases will have migrated to cloud architectures by 2022 either with all-in or hybrid deployments, “with only 5% ever considered for repatriation to on-premises.”

While MariaDB remains committed to open source — indeed there is a MariaDB Foundation that includes members like Microsoft, Booking.com, Tencent and Alibaba — MariaDB Corp. has positioned itself as something of a consolidator in terms of building commercial services on top of the open-source relational database. Its acquisitions have included Clustrix and MammothDB to expand its functionality, and this funding will be used to that end as well, particularly around scaling and improving the speed of SkySQL.

“MariaDB has risen to be a household name in the IT industry,” said Per Roman, co-founder and managing partner of GP Bullhound, in a statement. “We have been particularly interested in MariaDB’s focus on bringing its flexibility, security and stability to the cloud. That’s why we’re excited to invest in MariaDB, as we see enormous opportunities for its SkySQL product.”

Categories: Business News

Kernel raises $53 million for its non-invasive ‘Neuroscience as a Service’ technology

2020, July 9 - 9:07pm

LA-based bio science startup Kernel has raised $53 million from investors, including General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, Eldridge, Manta Ray Ventures, Tiny Blue Dot and more. The funding is the first outside money that Kernel has taken in, though it’s a Series C round because founder and CEO Bryan Johnson has provided $54 million in investment for Kernel to date. Johnson also participated in this latest round alongside external investors.

The funding will go toward further scaling “on-demand” access to its non-invasive technology for recording brain activity, which consists of two main approaches. Kernel has distinguished these as two separate products: Flux, which detects magnetic fields created by the collective activity of neutrons in the brain; and Flow, which measures blood through the brain. These are both key signals that researchers and medical practitioners monitor when working with the brain, but typically they require use of invasive, expensive hardware — or even brain surgery.

Kernel’s goal is to make this much more broadly available, offering access via a “Neuroscience as a Service” (NaaS) model that can provide paying clients access to its brain imaging devices even remotely. Earlier this year, Kernel announced that this platform was available generally to commercial customers.

The technology sounds like sci-fi — but it’s really an attempt to take what has been a relatively closed and prohibitively costly, expert and potentially dangerous-to-its-subjects tech, and make it available as an on-demand capability — in much the same way that many human genome companies have emerged to take advantage of the advances in the speed and availability of human genome sequencing to do the same, for the business and research community.

Johnson’s ambitious long-term goal with the company is to ultimately develop a much deeper understanding in the field of neuroscience.

“If we can quantify thoughts and emotions, conscious and subconscious, a new era of understanding, wellness, and human improvement will emerge,” Johnson writes in a press release.

It’s true that the brain’s inner workings are still largely a mystery to most researchers, especially in terms of how they translate to our cognition, feelings and actions. Kernel’s platform could mean significantly more people studying the science behind the operation of the brain, and provide explanations for areas of neuroscience that still aren’t well understood, just by virtue of making it more accessible to more intelligent people from more disciplines and backgrounds.

Categories: Business News

14 VCs discuss COVID-19 and London’s future as a tech hub

2020, July 9 - 8:45pm

The UK has created 63 tech unicorns in the past decade (according to Dealroom), and it almost goes without saying that the vast majority of those companies were based out of London, the country’s largest tech hub.

Famously, London’s DeepMind, an AI startup, was acquired by Google in 2014 for $500 million, but it has resolutely refused to move to Silicon Valley; founder Demis Hassabis says the city’s diversity of talent meant the powerhouse needed to stay put.

London has produced fintech upstarts like Revolut, Monzo and Starling and attracted early Skype team members who went on to create TransferWise. In 2019, London’s startups received $9.7 billion in venture capital funding, more than Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid combined.

Furthermore, last year Pitchbook found that up to $4.4 billion worth of deals had involved at least one U.S.-based investor, with London receiving over $12.5 billion from American investors in the previous five years – almost twice as much as Berlin (on $6.5 billion of investment from U.S. VC firms).

Brexit uncertainty may impact startups’ ability to recruit and sale, and the UK government’s points-based system for immigration is unlikely to satisfy the industry’s voracious appetite for talent. But London is a tech supertanker that other European cities are unlikely to be able to match any time soon, Brexit or no Brexit.

But in the era of COVID-19, will major hubs like London still be able to attract future tech unicorns, and will these be in the same sectors as before? Will geography be replaced by mere time zones?

We surveyed many of London’s top VCs to get their insights. Here’s who we heard from:

  • Ruth Foxe-Blader, partner, Anthemis Capital
  • Yana Abramova, partner, Pretiosum Capital
  • Leila Zegna, co-founding partner, Kindred Capital
  • Rob Moffat, partner, Balderton Capital
  • Nic Brisbourne, managing partner, Forward Partners
  • Sean Seton-Rogers, general partner, PROfounders Capital
  • Simon Murdoch, managing partner, Episode 1 Ventures
  • Nenad Marovac, founder and managing partner, DN Capital
  • Andrei Brasoveanu, partner, Accel Partners
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education
  • Rob Kniaz, founding partner, Hoxton Ventures
  • Harry Briggs, partner, OMERS Ventures
  • Hussein Kanji, partner, Hoxton Ventures
  • Eileen Burbidge, partner, Passion Capital
Ruth Foxe-Blader, Anthemis Capital

How much is local investing even a focus for you now? If you are investing remotely in general now, are you filtering for local founders?

Neither our investment thesis, nor our geographic focus has changed: we are a global investor, focused on the U.S., UK and Europe. We are filtering, even more, for the best founders, as geography feels less important in lockdown.

From that, what do you expect to happen to the startup climate in London longer term, with the shift to more remote work (post COVID-19), possibly from more remote areas. Will London stay a tech hub or will the ecosystem become more dispersed across the country?

As a global financial hub with substantial infrastructure (including capital) designed to support emerging technology, London will remain a critical node in the fintech ecosystem.

Long-term, do you expect to be more or less locally focused, especially in light of COVID-19 or in other ways?

We’re anticipating a pretty substantial change to working norms, at least over the near term (6-12 months). The long-term impact is likely to level the playing field for great founders operating outside of established tech hubs. Remote assessment of companies, while challenging, has the potential to create more equitable investment practices.

From that, what do you expect to happen to the startup climate in London longer term, with the shift to more remote work (post COVID-19), possibly from more remote areas. Will London stay a tech hub or will the ecosystem become more dispersed across the country?

As a global financial hub with substantial infrastructure (including capital) designed to support emerging technology, London will remain a critical node in the fintech ecosystem.

Will there be tech hubs post-COVID-19? What is a tech hub now, by your definition?

To the extent that culture, regulation and capital play a large role in favoring certain types of economic activity, I expect existing tech hubs to remain important bastions of innovation. That said, I think we will see the rise of complementary tech hubs, as well as teams “in the middle of nowhere” emboldened to start great companies.

Are there particular industry sectors that you expect to do uniquely well or poorly, locally?

Given the proximity to the City and the heritage in financial technology innovation, the London tech ecosystem will continue to produce great fintech and insurtech companies.

Categories: Business News

LocalGlobe and TransferWise’s Taavet Hinrikus back ‘frictionless finance’ startup Radix

2020, July 9 - 5:00pm

Radix, a U.K. startup that’s building a decentralised finance protocol on which new financial apps can connect and be built on top of, has raised $4.1 million in new funding.

Backing the company, which counts the Ethereum network and a number of other “DeFi” projects as competitors, is London-based seed-stage VC LocalGlobe and TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus.

Radix DLT Ltd. — separate from the non-profit Radix Foundation — had previously raised $1.9 million in equity funding in the form of a SAFE note and will be issued 2.4 billion tokens by the Radix Foundation (see below).

In its own words, Radix DLT is building a decentralised finance protocol that aims to provide “frictionless access, liquidity and programmability of any asset in the world”. The Radix team also claims it has overcome the scalability issue that typically plagues decentralised finance and blockchain-based ledgers.

In a public test of the Radix network last year, it claims to have achieved over 1 million transactions per second, a throughput over 5x higher than the NASDAQ at its peak.

It also positions itself as different from other distributed ledgers and decentralised protocols. Radix is “not trying to be a general purpose platform,” says CEO Piers Ridyard. “Decentralised finance, and by extension, the financial industry is a highly specialised sector that requires a highly specialised set of tools and incentives. Unlike the general purpose protocols that came before it, such as Ethereum, Radix is building a layer 1 protocol specifically for decentralised finance”.

Benefiting from over 7 years of R&D carried out by founder Dan Hughes, a self taught coder from the North of England, Ridyard says that Radix’s sole focus on DeFi from the get-go means Radix is lowering the barriers to adoption via integrations with payment rails and consumer applications, and increasing on-ledger liquidity by making it as easy as possible for developers to build new DeFi apps. The latter consists of the Radix Engine, a developer interface that claims to enable quick public ledger deployments using a “secure-by-design” environment.

But what’s the problem DeFi potentially solves?

At the highest level, proponents of so-called DeFi point to the fact that every system in finance is essentially built on its own, proprietary, non-compatible technology stack that still has far too many human processes behind it. For example, the London Stock Exchange, the U.S. NASDAQ, the Shanghai Stock Exchange are all built as “islands”. To trade across them requires centralised technology, protocol and legal integrations with each.

“That is because finance, lending, borrowing, swapping, and issuance are all done in these little islands of technology that require legal contracts and excel spreadsheets sent over email as the connective tissue,” says Ridyard. “APIs are improving this process, but there is no such thing as a standard API; Plaid became a $5.3 billion company for essentially this reason”.

By being decentralised and interoperable from day one, it’s this ability to trade across ledgers and asset classes programatically that DeFi systems such as Radix want to provide.

“This is the core and key difference for assets and services that are built on public ledgers,” explains Ridyard. “As soon as they are built on Radix, they become interoperable. I can seamlessly and programmatically move my assets from the services of one application, built by one company and team, to that of another, built by a different company and team, but issued and launched on the same decentralised public ledger. The public ledger acts as an interoperable platform for many startups to experiment and build better versions of existing products (such as stock exchanges) or entirely new products (such as continuous function market makers) that are just not possible with the current systems”.

Worth noting, Ridyard says that from a consumer point of view, the products and services aren’t likely to change much in their appearance — they’ll still be accessed via mobile apps and will probably be offered via regulated companies as they are today. Instead, he says the consumer-facing upsides will be speed, higher rates on deposits and the seamless ability to swap between asset types without needing to go into cash as the interim asset.

Adds the Radix CEO: “I should also stress that decentralised finance is not about moving existing banks onto public ledgers. It is about unbundling of banking services (borrowing, lending, investment) into applications that can all interoperate on a single public network. Banks are like newspapers coming into the internet age, some will make the transition, but not all”.

Cue statement from LocalGlobe’s Saul Klein (for posterity, if nothing else): “I see the same revolutionary potential in the Radix team as I did with the Skype and Netscape teams at the birth of the internet. We’re excited to join them at the start of a new decentralised network revolution”.

*Radix has two main legal entities: Radix DLT Ltd and the Radix Foundation. Since inception, both have received funding in different forms. The Radix Foundation is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, registered in the U.K., and was created to promote the long term interests of the Radix Public Network as well as help manage the Radix community and ecosystem. Between 2013 and 2017, people from the Radix Community contributed 3,000 BTC in exchange for 3 billion RADIX tokens issued by the Radix Foundation. These tokens arguably have value as they’re needed to pay the transaction fees to use the Radix protocol.

Categories: Business News

Yamo scores €10.1M Series A to offer healthier food choices for young children

2020, July 9 - 4:30pm

Yamo, a self-described “foodtech” startup that produces and sells healthier food for babies and young children, has raised €10.1 million in Series A funding.

Backing comes from European food and agriculture tech investor Five Seasons Ventures, Swiss Entrepreneurs Fund, Ringier Digital Ventures, Müller Ventures, btov Partners, Polytech Ventures, BackBone Ventures, Investiere Venture Capital, and Fundament. It brings total funding to €12 million.

Founded in 2016 by CEO Tobias Gunzenhauser, COO José Amado-Blanco, and CMO Luca Michas, yamo is on a mission to give parents healthier and easy food choices for their young children. Its products are available online via direct-to-consumer subscription model, and through grocery stores. The latter includes Coop in Switzerland, and trials in select Edeka and Rewe stores in Germany. With the new funding, yamo is expanding to France and will launch new food products for children.

“In October 2015 Luca and I were co-workers in the same company, and we decided to eat vegan for a month,” says Gunzenhauser, when asked about the startup’s inception. “After starting our vegan challenge we had to scan food labels for hidden animal products. That was when we realised how many products in the supermarket contain unnecessary sugar and unhealthy ingredients. Out of curiosity, we checked the baby food aisle, naively assuming they would be the cleanest and healthiest food products available. We were quite wrong”.

Gunzenhauser and Michas observed that baby food products typically contained added sugar and salt, artificial vitamins, and a “scarily long shelf life, [which] seemed rather odd”.

“Everyone was talking about fresh, healthy, sustainable food for grown-ups, but the world was still feeding the youngest members of our families products that were older than the babies who ate them. Something was very wrong and we didn’t understand it.”

That was when Amado-Blanco, an old friend of Gunzenhauser’s and a food scientist, explained that those products are heat-sterilised, a process that also affects the product’s vitamin content, colour, and taste. The trio decided there had to be a better way and yamo was born.

“We talked to many young parents about how they perceived the current supermarket offering, how they feed their kids and what is necessary for them. We saw a clear gap in the market and set ourselves the goal of creating the freshest, tastiest baby purees the world had ever seen,” explains Gunzenhauser.

Image Credits: yamo

Instead of traditional heat-sterilisation, yamo uses high-pressure pasteurisation (HPP), which kills bacteria in minutes and retains the food’s natural nutrients, taste, colour and smell. yamo’s products last between eight to twelve weeks refrigerated. It also recently launched what it claims is the first non-dairy yoghurt in Europe for kids, using oat-milk.

Gunzenhauser cites yamo’s main competitor as homemade baby food, since the vast majority of baby food is still produced at home by parents. “This might be a result of distrust from parents in today’s offering they would find in retail. Our challenge is to show parents how yamo can support them raising their children healthily without any compromises,” he says.

Of course, the young company is also up against baby food incumbents and the yamo CEO concedes that the big challenge is that its products are refrigerated. “Normal baby food isn’t,” he says. “That is why we had to convince retailers to change the way they sell baby food. Coop changed its shelves for us, integrating a fridge in the regular baby food aisle”.

There are other startups entering the space, too. For example, in the U.K., there’s Little Tummy, and Mia & Ben, and in the U.S. there’s Yumi, among others.

Categories: Business News

Nuggs rebrands as Simulate with new cash, a new CTO and an expanded line of faux-meat foods

2020, July 9 - 4:05pm

Nuggs, the alternative-meat company founded by serial entrepreneur Ben Pasternak (who previously co-founded the social media app Monkey), has raised $4.1 million and gotten itself a new name and a new CTO as it looks to move beyond chicken nuggets.

Now called Simulate, Pasternak’s startup is readying the launch of new products including spicy nuggets, a “chicken burger product” and, eventually, a hot dog, which required a branding change to befit its newly broadened ambitions in the ultra-competitive industry out to reform consumers’ carnivorous impulses.

Since Pasternak first began pitching his direct to consumer chicken nugget replacements a bit over a year ago, the company has sold 1 million pounds of nuggets. Over the next week, Simulate’s frozen nuggets will make their debut in around 30 Gelson’s supermarkets in California. The company has plans to release its chicken patty within the next few months and a hot dog replacement, DOGGS, in the fourth quarter.

Pasternak began to rebrand earlier this summer when his company launched the second iteration of its nuggets in June.

In addition to his new brand, and new investors including Lerer Hippeau, AgFunder, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, former Whole Foods chief executive Walter Robb and model Jasmine Tookes, Pasternak also has a new chief technology officer.

Bringing on Thierry Saint-Denis, the former senior director of research and innovation at Danone, as CTO is a coup for the company. As a business, Nuggs seemed to be more of a marketing play backed by a savvy founder and a frozen food giant that wanted to make a play for the burgeoning market for meat substitutes and replacements. Now, with Saint-Denis, the company brings on a developer of food products that have reached nearly $1 billion in sales who holds more than 14 patents related to functional ingredients, probiotics and enzymes.

With the new executive in place, new and previous investors like McCain Foods, Rainfall Ventures, Maven Ventures, NOMO Ventures, MTV founder Bob Pittman and Casper founder Neil Parikh are now backing a company with a bit more technical heft behind it.

Not that Nuggs wasn’t improving its product line over the past year. Pasternak touts the company’s iterative approach to product development, embodied in its different “release notes” as the company toyed with different formulations.

That software-driven approach may also yield other sales options, like a subscription service, Pasternak said. “We have seen this core community of people obsessively purchasing the new versions. We are looking at launching some kind of beta testing subscription thing shortly.”

Categories: Business News

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