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EverAfter closes $13M to help companies ride off into the sunset with their customers

2021, September 14 - 10:03pm

EverAfter secured $13 million in seed funding to continue developing its no-code customer-facing tool that streamlines onboarding and retention and enables business-to-business clients to embed personalized customer portals within any product.

The Tel Aviv-based company was founded in 2020 by Noa Danon and Tal Shemesh. CEO Danon, who comes from a project management background, said they saw a disconnect between the user and product experience.

The company’s name, EverAfter, comes from the concept that in SaaS companies, someone has to be in charge of the “EverAfter,” with customers, even as the relationship changes, Danon told TechCrunch.

Via its no-code platform, customer success teams are able to build a website in weeks using drop-and-drag widgets like training materials, timelines, task management and meeting summaries, and then configure what each user sees. Then there is a snippet of code that is embedded into the product.

EverAfter also integrates with existing customer relationship management, project management and service ticket tools, while also updating Salesforce and HubSpot directly through an interface.

“It’s like the customer owns a piece of real estate inside the product,” Danon said.

TLV Partners and Vertex Ventures co-led the round and were joined by angel investors Benny Shneider, Zohar Gilon and Amit Gilon.

Yanai Oron, general partner at Vertex Ventures, said he is seeing best-in-breed companies try to solve customer churn or improve the relationship process on their own and failing, which speaks to the complexity of the problem.

Startups in this space are coming online and raising money, but with EverAfter, they are differentiating themselves by not only putting a dashboard on their product, but launching with the capabilities to manage thousands of customers using the product, he added.

“I’ve been tracking the customer success space over the past few years, and it is a growing field with the least sophisticated tools,” Oron said. “During COVID, companies realized it was easier to retain customers rather than get new ones. We are all used to more self-service and wanting to get the answer ourselves, and customers are the same. Companies also started to be more at ease in letting customers develop things on their own and leave R&D departments to do other things.”

Clients include Taboola, AppsFlyer and Verbit, with Verbit reporting its company’s customer success managers save 10 hours a week managing ongoing customer communication by using EverAfter, Danon added. This comes as CallMiner reports that unplanned customer churn costs companies $35.3 billion in the U.S. alone.

EverAfter offers both customer success and partner management software and clients can choose a high-touch service or kits and templates for self-service.

The new funding will enable the company to focus on integration and expansion into additional use cases. Since being founded, EverAfter has grown to 20 employees and 30 customers. The founders also want to utilize the data they are collecting on what works and doesn’t work for each customer.

“There are so many interesting things that happen between companies and customers, from onboarding to business reviews, and we are going to expand on those,” Danon said. “We want to be the first thing companies put inside their product to figure out the relationship between customers and customer success teams and managers.”

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Categories: Business News

Locus Robotics just raised another $50M

2021, September 14 - 10:00pm

Seems Locus Robotics is striking while the iron is hot. Seven months after raising a sizable $150 million Series E, Tiger Global is investing another $50 million in the Massachusetts firm. The last round made Locus a unicorn, and this one brings the company’s total funding to around $300 million.

Locus specializes in warehouse and fulfillment robotics, making a more modular solution that doesn’t require the sort of “ground-up build” of a Berkshire Grey. The company’s approach is closer to that of Fetch, which was acquired by Zebra Technologies back in July. Locus seems prime for an acquisition from a logistics firm or retailer grappling to compete with the monolith of Amazon.

The continued funding rounds, on the other hand, seem to point to a company looking to continue to go it alone.

We’re launching a robotics newsletter! Please sign up to get Actuator in your inbox as soon as the first issue hits! For free!

CEO Rick Faulk confirmed as much with me back in February, stating, “We have no interest in being acquired. We think we can build the most and greatest value by operating independently. There are investors that want to invest in helping everyone that’s not named ‘Amazon’ compete.”

Locus Robotics has raised a $150M Series E

Faulk adds this morning that the new funds are a kind of validation for Locus. Certainly they’re yet another sign in accelerated interest in automation amid the pandemic. “At a time of increasing volumes and ongoing labor shortages, this new round of funding underscores how critical flexible, scalable, intelligent robotics automation has become to the warehouse and the supply chain,” the executive says. “Locus is uniquely positioned to drive digital transformation in this enormous global market.”

Funding will be used to further expand Locus’ global operations.

Categories: Business News

Indonesian fintech Xendit is now a unicorn, with $150M in fresh funding led by Tiger Global

2021, September 14 - 10:00pm

There’s a new entrant in Southeast Asia’s growing list of unicorns. Jakarta-based Xendit, best known for its digital payment infrastructure but also focused on other financial products, announced today it has raised $150 million in Series C funding, bumping its valuation to $1 billion. The round was led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from returning investors Accel, Amasia and Goat Capital, the venture firm co-founded by former Y Combinator partner Justin Kan (in 2015, Xendit became the first Indonesian startup to participate in the accelerator program).

Accel led Xendit’s $64.6 million Series B, announced just six months ago. This new round brings its total funding so far to $238 million. The company was founded in 2015 by chief executive officer Moses Lu and chief operating officer Tessa Wijaya.

At the end of last year, Xendit expanded into the Philippines, and says it is now one of the biggest payment players in the country. In July, it announced a strategic investment in legacy online payments platform Dragonpay.

Indonesian payments infra startup Xendit raises $64.6M in Accel-led Series B

Xendit decided to raise again because to fuel expansion into other countries, Wijaya told TechCrunch. “Our core focus at the moment for this new fundraise is to further regionalize and to expand our product suite in regions where we are at or will expand into.” The company also plans to launch value-added services.

Wijaya said that Xendit has experienced more than 200% year-over-year increase in total payments volume, and now has a total payment volume (TPV) of $9 billion processed per annum.

Before COVID-19, many of Xendit’s customers were in the travel industry, and it was hit hard by the pandemic. But since then, it’s expanded its scope.

“One big segment are SMEs. By August, there were 10,000 SME sign-ups on our platform alone. The other one is expanding out to fintech companies — for example, there’s been a big uptick in Indonesia, especially accounting platforms. We’ve also expanded to traditional enterprises, like telecom companies, who focused on having retail outlets in shopping malls. Suddenly the malls are closed, so we’ve been able to sign some of the bigger retail outlet groups in the market as well.”

The company’s clients range in size from SMEs to some of the region’s largest tech players, including Traveloka, Wise, Wish and Grab. Digital payments in most Southeast Asian markets are extremely fragmented, with consumers using everything from digital wallets, buy now, pay later services and virtual accounts to traditional debit and credit cards.

Xendit’s solutions let businesses accept payments from many of these methods through three integration options. These include live URLs that sellers can message to a customer for payment; web and mobile checkouts that work with e-commerce platform plug-ins; and APIs.

Though it is best known as a payment infrastructure provider, referring to itself as “a Stripe alternative build for Indonesia and Southeast Asia” on its website, Xendit is also working on other services. “In Southeast Asia, you can’t just focus on one thing, you can’t just focus on payments,” said Wijaya. “You want to focus on being this platform for every merchant to get onboard, and to never leave whenever they transact digitally.”

For example, Xendit is experimenting with working capital loans for merchants, and also exploring credit card issuing with partners, since credit card penetration is still very low in Indonesia and the Philippines. “For merchants to come online, they don’t just need payments, they need to be able to do things like subscribe to Shopify or subscribe to Google Suite, to be able to support being digital-first.”

Xendit’s expansion strategy into new markets, like Malaysia and Vietnam, will rely on solving problems that are unique to each market. For example, Wijaya said disbursements, including marketplace refunds, were difficult in Indonesia, so Xendit focused on fixing that. In the Philippines, on the other hand, “the real problem was accepting money,” so Xendit developed direct debit with Grab.

“I think the formula we had in the Philippines, which is hiring a lot of local people who understand the market rather than telling them what to do, has really worked for us, and that is how we’re going to continue our expansion plan,” she said.

Some of Xendit’s competitors in its current markets include Midtrans in Indonesia, which was acquired by Gojek in 2017, and PayMongo in the Philippines, which is backed by Stripe.

Philippines payment processing startup PayMongo lands $12 million Series A led by Stripe

Xendit’s edge is combining a global approach with its intense focus on localization, Wijaya said. “One of our investors sent a survey to some potential customers, big merchants, and they said what they like about Xendit is because we have a full commitment to being on the ground. We’re not like players where expanding into one market means a sales team, and that’s it. When we expand somewhere, we really mean we’re going to expand. We’re going to hire partnership people, a customer success team there. We’re going to hire a whole team on the ground.”

In a press statement, Tiger Global Management partner Alex Cook said, “Xendit’s digital payments infrastructure, built specifically for Southeast Asia, is quickly becoming the standard for financial operations in the region. By providing a reliable and secure payment gateway, Xendit has created an on-ramp to the digital economy for businesses across the region.”

Investors are doubling down on Southeast Asia’s digital economy

Categories: Business News

QED Investors closes on $1.05B across two funds to invest in fintech companies globally

2021, September 14 - 10:00pm

QED Investors announced the closing of two new funds totaling $1.05 billion, capital that it will be using to back early-stage startups, as well as growth rounds for later-stage companies.

Specifically, today QED is announcing a $550 million early-stage fund and a $500 million growth-stage fund, both of which are aimed at backing fintech companies primarily in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Latin America and Southeast Asia. The fund was oversubscribed, according to QED co-founder and managing partner Nigel Morris.

Since its 2007 founding by Morris — who also co-founded Capital One Financial Services in 1994 — and Frank Rotman, QED has backed more than 150 companies, including 20 unicorns. It currently has over $3 billion under management.

While fintech has been an area of investor interest for some time, it’s safe to say the sector has exploded in recent years — largely fueled by consumer demand as more people transact online. That’s especially true as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to (sadly) rage on.

Clearly, Alexandria, Virginia-based QED was investing in fintech before fintech was “cool.” As evidence of that, the firm led Credit Karma’s Series A in 2009; led Remitly’s Series A in 2014 and participated in Nubank’s Series A in 2014.

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The firm has come a long way from when it closed its first fund — $30 million of internal capital — in 2008. Its last fund — totaling $400 million — closed in 2020. Over the years, QED has backed unicorns that went on to exit either via the public markets or by acquisition, including SoFi, Credit Karma, Red Ventures and, more recently, Flywire.

As someone who also years prior had launched Capital One Financial Services, it’s no surprise that when Morris started a venture fund, it was one that focused on funding fintech companies.

“After 14 years… it remains our cornerstone, even though fintech has evolved from the lending and credit businesses of the early years that was a core part of our Capital One DNA,” said Morris, who serves as QED’s managing partner.

Frank Rotman, the firm’s founding partner, describes fintech as QED’s “North Star.”

“There are so many exciting financial technology verticals today that can have a meaningful and lasting impact on consumers across the world, from proptech, sustainability and earned wage access to student loan solutions and financial products that cater to those that have been long ignored by banks and financial institutions,” he said.

In particular, Rotman said the firm is bullish on the future of embedded finance and on backing companies that distribute financial products in a variety of industries such as cross-border trucking logistics (such as Nuvocargo), car sales (Kavak) and shrimp farming (XpertSea).

QED plans to invest in between 40 to 50 companies out of its early-stage fund, with an initial average check size of $5 million to $15 million with similar reserves, according to Morris. The firm expects to make 20-25 investments out of its growth fund, with average check sizes between $10 million and $40 million. It has so far made one investment out of that growth fund, which has not yet been publicly announced.

“Almost every single” LP from QED Fund VI increased their allocation in the firm’s new funds, according to Morris. But the firm also welcomed several new LPs. While Morris declined to be more specific, he said the new LPs included “some really well-known names.”

“There’s no better confirmation than when an LP doubles down in their support of what we’re doing,” Rotman said. 

In terms of strategy, Rotman notes that QED has continued to lead deals that it feels “passionate about being involved in.”

“It’s not a secret that the market’s hot, and opportunities move quickly in this type of environment,” he told TechCrunch. “We see firms meeting with a founder in the morning, and a term sheet issued as soon as the following day. Many VCs can offer capital. Very, very few can augment that with proven, actionable advice and insight that can help them tomorrow.”

Both Morris and Rotman believe the fact that QED’s 17-person investment team being made up of former operators gives it a competitive edge.

“We’re a unique company offering unique insights in an industry in which it’s easy to perform poorly and hard to do well,” Morris said.

“Most fintech companies will fail. That’s just the statistical, pragmatic distribution that occurs,” he added.

Within the fintech industry, there are myriad complicated issues — compliance, operations, tech, talent, credit risk and treasury, Morris continued.

“And they take a long time for people to have enough tree rings to be able to understand them,” he told TechCrunch. “Much of what we do…is help ameliorate and mitigate against those different issues by bringing to bear specific functional talent and the scars on our back of mistakes that we’ve made as operators to make sure that the young entrepreneur doesn’t make those same errors. It’s not enough to simply solve one problem. Founders need to successfully solve five, six, seven problems concurrently because if any one is not solved, the entire business will come crashing to the ground.”

Categories: Business News

SoftBank’s latest proptech bet is leading Pacaso’s $125M Series C

2021, September 14 - 9:30pm

Less than six months after raising $75 million, Pacaso — a real estate platform which aims to help people buy and co-own a second home — announced today that it has raised $125 million at a $1.5 billion valuation.

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the Series C funding round for Pacaso, which essentially went from “launch to unicorn” in five months earlier this year and is pronounced like Picasso. New backers Fifth Wall and Gaingels also participated in the financing, along with existing backers Greycroft, Global Founders Capital, Crosscut and 75 & Sunny Ventures. (Sunny Ventures is Pacaso co-founder Spencer Rascoff’s venture firm). With the latest round, Pacaso has now raised a total of $215 million in equity funding since its 2020 inception. It also secured $1 billion in debt financing earlier this year.

The fully distributed startup launched its platform in October of last year and already has an annualized revenue run rate of $330 million, according to CEO and co-founder Austin Allison — a feat which quite frankly seems remarkable. The company currently manages nearly $200 million in real estate on its platform, and in the second quarter, its website and mobile app saw a combined 1.8 million visits, up 196% from the first quarter. It’s currently serving owners “in the hundreds.”

Former Zillow executives Allison and Rascoff came up with the concept of Pacaso after leaving Zillow together about two years ago. (Publicly traded Zillow today has a market cap of $24 billion.) 

With a unique co-ownership model made possible via the creation of a property-specific LLC, the company aims to reduce the cost and hassle of second home ownership. It also gives vacation homeowners an alternative option to renting out their property.

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Pacaso distinguishes its model from the age-old concept of timeshares, which sell the right to use a fixed amount of time in a condo or hotel. Pacaso aims to bring together a small group of co-owners to purchase a share of a single-family home and “enjoy ongoing access throughout the year.”

The way it works is that Pacaso purchases a home either outright or shares in a home. The company then partners with local real estate agents to market the properties. It then sells shares in the home — from one-eighth of the home to a greater percentage.

Pacaso holds a brokerage license in about 25 top second home markets such as Napa, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, Malibu and Park City. It recently expanded to its first market outside of the U.S. — Spain. Buyers can view curated listings on the startup’s website, which includes active listings, as well as previews of homes under consideration for purchase based on buyer demand.

In addition to curating the listings, Pacaso also offers integrated financing, “upscale” interior design, professional property management and proprietary scheduling technology.

In January of this year, Pacaso had 30 employees. Today, it has more than 120, according to Allison.

It’s important to note that while Pacaso one day aspires to offer homes that are affordable to a broader segment of the population, Allison acknowledges that currently, the homes available on its platform are “very much” luxury, or higher-price, homes.

As for which markets it plans to enter next, he said that will be based on customer feedback. For now, Allison said, 65% of Pacaso’s customers are first-time second homeowners and 30% of are non-white or identify as LGBTQ.

Pacaso raises $75M, goes from launch to unicorn in 5 months

SoftBank Investing Partner Lydia Jett says she was drawn to Pacaso for both professional and personal reasons.

For one thing, she says that when she was growing up, her family owned one-tenth of a “modest” beach house on the coast of Oregon.

“This asset that should be an investment, and source of joy actually had an incredible amount of friction, pain and unexpected cost,” Jett told TechCrunch. “It was a difficult asset to make liquid.”

The friction and pain she referred to included debates around scheduling, capital investments and tension when one of the co-owners needed liquidity but none of the others wanted to buy them out.

Part of the pain involved many of the things that Pacaso is trying to solve for, Jett believes. By managing the whole co-ownership process, owners don’t have to deal with the “headaches” of maintenance, furnishings and scheduling respective vacations, among other things.

“We’ve designed  a very innovative scheduling solution we call SmartStay, which empowers a calendar to be shared equitably among the ownership group so that each co-owner has fair and equitable access to the property all times of the year,” Allison told TechCrunch

In other words, Pacaso is effectively an intermediary between the co-owners, something Jett thinks makes it a very attractive model.

Also, she said, SoftBank was drawn to the opportunity to “create a whole new category of home ownership.”

“This is something that fundamentally can enrich millions of people’s lives,” she told TechCrunch, “and help them realize that dream of co-ownership.”

Last month, TechCrunch also reported on Mexico City-based Kocomo’s $56 million debt and equity raise. The startup has a similar mission and model as Pacaso’s but the biggest difference is that it aims to allow for cross-border co-ownership of luxury vacation properties.

Categories: Business News

Fintech startup SellersFunding raises $166.5M in equity, credit round to support e-commerce sellers

2021, September 14 - 9:30pm

SellersFunding secured $166.5 million in a combination of Series A equity funding and a credit facility to continue developing its technology and payments platforms for e-commerce businesses.

Northzone led the round and was joined by Endeavor Catalyst and Fasanara. SellersFunding CEO Ricardo Pero did not disclose the funding breakdown, but did say the company previously raised two seed rounds for a total of $40 million in equity and more than $100 million in credit facilities, including one that the company was expanding to $200 million.

SellersFunding, with offices in Florida, New York and London, created a digital platform that delivers financial tools and resources to streamline global commerce for thousands of marketplaces, including working capital, cross-border cash management, tax solutions and business valuation.

Pero got the idea for the company after spending 20 years in the financial industry. He left JP Morgan in 2016 with a drive to start his own company. He was consulting for a friend selling on Amazon who asked him to help make sense of Amazon’s fees and to review the next year’s budget because the friend was struggling to keep up with growth.

“I helped him address the fees issue, but when I went to talk to traditional lenders, I found that they have no clue about e-commerce and the needs of SMEs,” he said.

In addition to being a lending source for businesses selling on these marketplaces, SellersFunding leverages sales data provided by the marketplaces and e-commerce platforms to create sales and cash flow estimates based on the credit limits given to clients so that owners can better understand the fees they are paying and make more informed decisions.

He founded the company in 2017, and today has over 30,000 registered users and is approaching $10 billion in sales volume that is feeding data into SellersFunding’s daily models. The company makes money as both a lender and on fees it charges for payments collected by its customers. Merchants can collect money from marketplaces and pay their suppliers in local or foreign currency.

SellersFunding has consistently grown 300% year over year, Pero said. As such, he intends to use the new funding to scale globally, expand the team, create a marketing budget and look for two small acquisitions in the U.S. and Europe.

The company will continue to invest on the payments side and to promote cross-border payments.

“When I look at the payments landscape, companies are competing on pricing and I don’t think we will ever have a focus there, but instead will compete on customer experience,” Pero added. “Our core business will always be lending and our core investments will be payments and technology, but then we will extend to other services that our clients want.”

With an eye on expanding internationally, it fit to bring on Northzone as a partner, he added. The venture firm is based in Europe and was of a similar vision for thinking globally.

Jeppe Zink, general partner at Northzone, said via email that Pero and his team “are the most experienced in this category” and are building a category leader that is “more experienced and understanding of the lending side than its competitors.”

“We have seen this massive rise in e-shopping, most of the new ones coming from marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify, and if you look at the sellers, thousands are small businesses sourcing their goods which means that they are very important customers,” Zink added. “Normal banks like Barclay can’t check credit. SellersFinding is helping small businesses get this credit, and rightly so. In the same way we thought neobanks won with accounts created when it comes to delivering credit and banking products, they are nowhere to be found yet.”

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Categories: Business News

Sendoso nabs $100M as its corporate gifting platform passes 20,000 customers

2021, September 14 - 9:29pm

Corporate gift services have come into their own during the COVID-19 pandemic by standing in as a proxy for other kinds of relationship-building activities — office meetings, lunches and hosting at events — that have traditionally been part and parcel of how people do business, but were no longer feasible during lockdowns, social distancing and offices closing their doors.

Now, Sendoso — a popular “end-to-end” gifting platform offering access to 30,000 products, including corporate swag, regular physical gifts, gift cards and more; and then providing services like logistics, packing and sending to get those gifts to the recipients — is announcing $100 million of funding to capitalize on this shift, led by a big new investor.

New backer SoftBank, via its Vision Fund 2, is leading this latest Series C round of funding. Oak HC/FT, Struck Capital, Stage 2 Capital, Craft Ventures, Signia Venture Partners and Felicis Ventures — all previous investors — are also participating.

The company has been on a strong growth trajectory for years now, but it specifically saw a surge of activity as the pandemic kicked off. It now has more than 20,000 businesses signed up and using its services, particularly for sales and marketing outreach, but also to help shore up morale among employees.

“Everyone was stuck at home by themselves, saturated with emails,” said Kris Rudeegraap, the CEO of Sendoso, in an interview. “Having a personal connection to sales prospects, employees and others just meant more.” It has now racked up some 3 million gifts sent since launching in 2016.

Sendoso is not disclosing its valuation, but Rudeegraap hinted that it was four times higher than the startup’s Series B valuation from 2020. PitchBook estimates that to be $160 million, which would make the current valuation $640 million. The company has now raised more than $150 million.

Rudeegraap said Sendoso will be using the funds in part to invest in a couple of areas. First, to hire more talent: It has 500 employees now and plans to grow that by 30% by the end of this year. And second, international expansion: It is setting up a European HQ in Dublin, Ireland to complement its main office in San Francisco.

Comcast, Kimpton Hotels, Thomson Reuters, Nasdaq and eBay are among its current customers — so this is in part to serve those customers’ global user bases, as well as to sign up new gifters. He estimated that the bigger market for corporate gifting is about $100 billion annually, so there is a lot to play for here.

The company was co-founded by Rudeegraap and Braydan Young (who is its chief alliances officer) on the back of a specific need Rudeegraap identified while working as a sales executive. Gifting is a very standard practice in the world of sales and marketing, but he was finding a lot of traction with potential and current customers by taking a personalized approach to this act.

“I was manually packing boxes, grabbing swag, coming up with handwritten notes,” he recalled. “It was inefficient, but it worked so well. So I dreamed up an idea: why not be able to click a button in Salesforce to do this automatically? Sometimes the best company is one that solves a pain point of your own.”

And this is essentially what Sendoso does. The startup’s platform integrates with a company’s existing marketing, sales and management software — Salesforce, HubSpot, SalesLoft among them — and then lets users use this to organize and order gifts through these channels, for example as part of larger sales, marketing or HR strategies. The gifts are wide-ranging, covering corporate swag, other physical presents, gift cards and more, and there are also integrations you can include to share gifting across teams of salespeople, to analyze the campaigns and more.

The Sendoso platform itself, meanwhile, positions itself as having the “marketplace selection and logistics precision of Amazon.com.” But Sendoso also believes it’s better than someone simply using Amazon.com itself since it ultimately takes a more personalized approach in how it presents the gift.

“There are a lot of things we do uniquely in terms of what we have built throughout our software, gifting options and logistics centre. We really personalize our gifts at scale with handwritten notes, special boxing, and more,” something that Amazon cannot do, he added. “We have built a lot of unique technology and logistics software that would make it hard for Amazon to compete.” He said that one of Sendoso’s integrations is actually with Amazon, so Sendoso users can order through there, but then the gift is first routed to Sendoso to be repackaged in a nicer way before being sent out.

At its heart, the startup has built a way of knitting together disparate work practices — some codified in software, and some based on human interactions and significantly more infused with randomness, emotion and ad hoc approaches — and built it all into a technology platform. The ability to scale what feels like an otherwise bespoke level of service is what has helped Sendoso gain traction not just with users, but investors, too.

“We believe Sendoso offers the most comprehensive end-to-end gifting platform in the market,” said Priya Saiprasad, a partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “Their platform includes a global marketplace of curated vendors, seamless integration with existing tools, global logistics, and deep analytics. As a result, Sendoso serves as the backbone to enterprises’ engagement programs with prospective customers, existing customers, employees and other key stakeholders. We’re excited to lead this Series C round to help Sendoso accelerate its vision.”

Categories: Business News

Immi takes in $3.8M to cook up plant-based instant ramen

2021, September 14 - 9:00pm

Immi is putting a healthy spin on instant ramen by going plant-based and offering more bold tastes. The company announced Tuesday that it raised $3.8 million in seed funding.

Co-founders Kevin Lee and Kevin Chanthasiriphan both grew up in food families from Taiwan and Thailand, respectively, and met a decade ago while working at the same tech company. They bonded over getting noodles every day.

Fast-forward to today, and they both saw family members stricken with diabetes and high blood pressure and started thinking about what a better-for-you food and beverage brand would look like.

Taking the love of the Asian food they grew up with, they wanted to develop one of those brands for the U.S.

“We immediately agreed on instant ramen,” Chanthasiriphan told TechCrunch. “My dad still eats instant ramen each night, and it is such a massive market: 4 billion packets are sold per year, but it is also a product that has been dominated by the same three incumbents for years.”

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The global instant noodle space is projected to be a $32 billion industry by 2027, with $7.7 billion of value in the U.S. However, the ramen most people buy in the grocery store includes noodles made of refined carbohydrates that get cooked in oil, while the soup packets are high in sodium and preservatives, he said.

Their take on it is Immi, which is plant-based, low carb and low sodium, high fiber and has 22 grams of protein on average. The product comes in three flavors — Black Garlic “Chicken,” Tom Yum “Shrimp” and Spicy “Beef.”

The pair went into the company full-time in 2019 and have spent the better part of the last few years heads down in R&D, but the finished product didn’t come easy. In fact, when speaking with people in the industry, they were told that creating a healthier version of ramen would be “kind of impossible,” Lee said. They had to start from the ground up and make it themselves, formulating the first recipes in their own kitchens.

Immi’s variety pack includes Black Garlic “Chicken,” Tom Yum “Shrimp” and Spicy “Beef.” Image Credits: Immi

The funding raise comes as Immi releases a reformulation of their product this year aimed at replicating traditional instant ramen in broth taste, mouthfeel, texture and slurpability.

Siddhi Capital led the round and was joined by Palm Tree Crew, Constellation Capital, Animal Capital, Pear Ventures, Collaborative Fund and a group of individuals, including Patrick Schwarzenegger, Kat Cole and Nik Sharma, as well as executives from Thrive Market, Caviar, Daring Foods, Madhappy, Twitch, Kettle & Fire, MUD\WTR, Native, Amity Supply, Visionary Music Group, Italic, Tatcha and Casper.

Melissa Facchina, co-founder and general partner at Siddhi Capital, said her firm invests in food and beverage brands and its investment arm is a mentor to the Immi team.

“We were blown away by them,” she said. “It costs a lot of money to innovate in this industry, and it is exciting for myself and family to have something that we can grab and go. The second version launching looks exactly like the traditional brick pack and now has adult flavors that attach to a different culinary pallet.”

The natural or better-for-you foods industry has changed “dramatically” in the last decade,  Facchina said. Most of it is driven by consumers that want transparency in the supply chain, cleaner ingredients and authentic brands.

Consumer packaged goods brands that are reinventing themselves already have successful product lines, but few brands are taking a look at certain categories she said are ripe for reinvention, like cereal. Her firm is an investor in Magic Spoon, and she sees Immi reinventing ramen and Asian cuisine, saying “the Kevins as a founder group are highly moldable, high-achieving and want to surround themselves with best-in-class people.”

Back to School: Wide World of Ramen

Meanwhile, the new funding will be split between R&D, hiring and marketing, Lee said. The company is taking in customer feedback to enhance the flavors, and would like to optimize its supply chain, hire for key executive roles and put spending toward testing new marketing channels. Immi sells its product via its own online store, but would like to expand into wholesale channels and online grocers.

Immi’s products were launched in January and saw inventory sell out in the first month without any marketing. They have since sold over 10,000 orders across the U.S. and are even looking to go international.

Going forward, the company will be working on two initiatives: The first is to develop an infrastructure to expand its product offerings, like more flavors and noodle types, so it can launch a new flavor every few months. Lee and Chanthasiriphan also aim to develop additional Asian food products that have cleaner ingredients, like snacks and confections, that they loved eating when they were children.

The second is marketing and distribution. The company has amassed a community of 4,000 members that help Immi with rapid taste testing.

“We are figuring out how to bring our products to a more mainstream audience, especially those that may not be following a certain diet, but want to bring in food and beverages that are healthier,” Lee said. “We are also bringing in taste makers of culture, celebrities and TikTok influencers to broaden consumer interest and bring Immi into the mainstream cluster.”

Video: Japan gets a ramen noodle robot

 

Categories: Business News

Truepic, which just raised $26M in a Microsoft-led round, aims to verify the authenticity of photos and videos

2021, September 14 - 9:00pm

Truepic, a digital image verification software provider, has raised $26 million in a Series B funding round led by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund.

Adobe, Sony Innovation Fund by IGV, Hearst Ventures and individuals from Stone Point Capital also participated in the financing, which brings San Diego-based Truepic’s total raised since its 2015 inception to $36 million.

Rather than trying to detect what is fake, Truepic says its patented “secure” camera technology proves what is real. The startup’s technology acquires “provenance” data (such as origin, contents and metadata) about photos and videos and uses cryptography to protect the images from tampering before they reach the intended recipients. 

As such, the company says its software can authenticate where photos were taken and prove that they were not manipulated since there are an increasing number of deceptive photos and personal information that can be purchased on the Dark Web, social media and via software that can change the metadata of an image’s time or location.

“Our approach is unique in that we are verifying the authenticity of content at the point it is captured, which is also referred to as ‘provenance-based media authentication’ versus detecting anomalies or edits post-capture,” Truepic CEO Jeff McGregor told TechCrunch. “We believe that detection of fake images and videos will not be viable or scalable. Provenance-based media authentication is the most promising approach to universal visual trust online.”

Truepic’s camera technology is software-based, and runs on mobile devices. Photos and videos captured through its camera are cryptographically assured to be unedited, original images, according to McGregor, with “trusted” metadata such as time, date and location.  

In particular, Truepic’s technology — for which it has 13 patents — has been popular among an increasing number of financial services companies, McGregor said. Insurance companies, for example, are using it to verify claims remotely. This has been particularly meaningful during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in its early days when in-person interaction was avoided at all costs. But it also has a number of other use cases, he said.

The company must be doing something right. Its technology is used by over 100 enterprises, such as Equifax, EXL Service Inc, Ford Motor Company, Accion Opportunity Fund and Palomar. 

And last year, Truepic says its revenues grew by over 300% thanks to “dramatic client growth” across the insurance, banking, automotive, peer-to-peer commerce, project management and international development industries. McGregor declined to reveal hard revenue figures, though, so it’s hard to know just how significant 300% revenue growth is. He added that the company is intentionally not yet profitable as it is currently focused on speed of distribution for its core technology. 

The use cases for Truepic’s technology, according to McGregor, are quite broad given how pervasive untrusted photos and videos are. Its customers include any organization that is ingesting digital photo or video content, and requires a high level of trust in that content. For example, it works with insurance companies, banks, peer to peer commerce, online marketplaces, real estate and franchise organizations, warranty providers and automotive companies, among others. Generally, companies with platforms that rely on visual media — such as home rental, news media, online dating, social media, e-commerce, sharing economy, traditional media — can benefit from Truepic’s technology, according to McGregor.

“We imagine a world where the origin and authenticity of all digital content is verifiable, allowing humans to gain higher trust in what they view online,” he said.

M12 Principal James Wu said that the number of deep-fake videos and synthetic media online is growing at an exponential rate. 

“Used nefariously, manipulated media can result in negative political discourse, reputational consequences, and fraudulent claims,” he wrote via email. “The pervasiveness of synthetic media is a growing business risk for corporations — especially established brands — and solutions like Truepic will become an integral part of an enterprise’s end-to-end fraud management strategy.”

He went on to describe Truepic as a “pioneer” in provenance technology, which M12 believes is the most reliable way to establish the integrity of the data contained in photo and video files. 

“There has been a great deal of investment in synthetic media, but very few are thinking about the other side of the coin — when synthetic media is used nefariously,” he said. “Truepic is at the forefront of providing tools to maintain a shared sense of reality online.”

The company plans to use its new capital in part toward speeding up the release of a new product, Truepic Lens, that will power “trusted” image capture in third-party applications, “regardless of industry or use-case,” McGregor said.

“This will create a single integration point for any customer that requires trusted media to run their service,” he said. 

It also plans to use the new capital to increase distribution for its current flagship product, Truepic Vision, a “turnkey” platform for requesting and “instant” reviewing of trusted photos and videos from anywhere in the world.

The company also, naturally, plans to hire. It currently has 50 employees, up from about 25 a year ago. McGregor expects Truepic’s team will double to 100 over the next 18 months. 

Categories: Business News

Logistics robotics startup Ambi raises $26M

2021, September 14 - 8:00pm

Five months ago, Ambi Robotics emerged from stealth with a $6 million raise. Today the Bay Area-based firm is back with several times that, announcing a $26 million Series A, led by Tiger Global. The new round also features participation from existing investors, including Bow Capital, Vertex Ventures US and The House Fund.

The startup first hit our radar through the involvement of UC Berkeley (and frequent TC Sessions: Robotics guest Ken Goldberg). Ambi operates in the pick and place robotics space — it’s a crowded category, but one with an intense level of interest, as more warehouse and fulfillment centers are accelerating toward automation after the shutdowns of the past year.

Big box robots

Ambi has already enlisted some high-profile partners, including Pitney Bowes. In spite of only coming out of stealth in April, the robotics startup began deploying its first systems — including the AmbiSort and AmbiKit — in October of last year, ahead of the massive holiday rush.

We’re launching a robotics newsletter! Please sign up to get Actuator in your inbox as soon as the first issue hits! For free!

The company’s primary differentiation is in the AI that powers its picking robotics system.

“Ambi Robotics combines cutting-edge AI technology with engaging user interfaces to transform the role of ‘item handlers’ to ‘robot handlers,’ ” CEO Jim Liefer said in a release. “With our Series A funding, we will be able to empower more companies to help their associates work harmoniously alongside robots.”

This latest round will go toward scaling both the systems and the team of humans that build them, and deploying additional units.

Categories: Business News

AgBiome lands $166M for safer crop protection technology

2021, September 14 - 7:00pm

AgBiome, developing products from microbial communities, brought in a $116 million Series D round as the company prepares to pad its pipeline with new products.

The company, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., was co-founded in 2012 by a group including co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward, who have known each other for over 30 years. They created the Genesis discovery platform to capture diverse microbes for agricultural applications, like crop protection, and screen the strains for the best assays that would work for insect, disease and nematode control.

“The microbial world is immense,” said Uknes, who explained that there is estimated to be a trillion microbes, but only 1% have been discovered. The microbes already discovered are used by humans for things like pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture. AgBiome built its database in Genesis to house over 100,000 microbes and every genome in every microbe was sequenced into hundreds of strains.

The company randomly selects strains and looks for the best family of strains with a certain activity, like preventing fungus on strawberries, and creates the product.

AgBiome co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward. Image Credits: AgBiome

Its first fungicide product, Howler, was launched last year and works on more than 300 crop-disease combinations. The company saw 10x sales growth in 2020, Uknes told TechCrunch. As part of farmers’ integrated pest program, they often spray fungicide applications 12 times per year in order to yield fruits and vegetables.

Due to its safer formula, Howler can be used as the last spray in the program, and its differentiator is a shorter re-entry period — farmers can spray in the morning and be able to go back out in the field in the afternoon. It also has a shorter pre-harvest time of four hours after application. Other fungicides on the market today require seven days before re-entry and pre-harvest, Uknes explained.

AgBiome aims to add a second fungicide product, Theia, in early 2022, while a third, Esendo was submitted for Environmental Protection Agency registration. Uknes expects to have 11 products, also expanding into insecticides and herbicides, by 2025.

The oversubscribed Series D round was co-led by Blue Horizon and Novalis LifeSciences and included multiple new and existing investors. The latest investment gives AgBiome over $200 million in total funding to date. The company’s last funding round was a $65 million Series C raised in 2018.

While competitors in synthetic biology often sell their companies to someone who can manufacture their products, Uknes said AgBiome decided to manufacture and commercialize the products itself, something he is proud of his team for being able to do.

“We want to feed the world responsibly, and these products have the ability to substitute for synthetic chemicals and provide growers a way to protect their crops, especially as consumers want natural, sustainable tools,” he added.

The company has grown to over 100 employees and will use the new funding to accelerate production of its two new products, building out its manufacturing capacity in North America and expanding its footprint internationally. Uknes anticipates growing its employee headcount to 300 in the next five years.

Driving new revenue sources through a digital ag revolution

AgBiome anticipates rolling up some smaller companies that have a product in production to expand its pipeline in addition to its organic growth. As a result, Uknes said he was particular about the kind of investment partners that would work best toward that goal.

Przemek Obloj, managing partner at Blue Horizon, was introduced to the company by existing investors. His firm has an impact fund focused on the future of food and began investing in alternative proteins in 2016 before expanding that to delivery systems in agriculture technology, he said.

Obloj said AgBiome is operating in a $60 billion market where the problems include products that put toxic chemicals into the ground that end up in water systems. While the solution would be to not do that, not doing that would mean produce doesn’t grow as well, he added.

The change in technology in agriculture is enabling Uknes and Ward to do something that wasn’t possible 10 years ago because there was not enough compute or storage power to discover and sequence microbes.

“We don’t want to pollute the Earth, but we have to find a way to feed 9 billion people by 2050,” Obloj said. “With AgBiome, there is an alternative way to protect crops than by polluting the Earth or having health risks.”

Farmland could be the next big asset class modernized by marketplace startups

Categories: Business News

SoftBank commits $3B more to investing in Latin American tech companies

2021, September 14 - 6:30pm

SoftBank Group Corp. is doubling down on its commitment to Latin America.

Today, the Japanese investment conglomerate is announcing the launch of the SoftBank Latin America Fund II, its second dedicated private investment fund focused on tech companies located in LatAm. SoftBank is launching the new fund with an initial $3 billion commitment.

“Fund II will explore options to raise additional capital,” SoftBank said in a statement.

The new fund builds upon SoftBank’s $5 billion Latin America Fund, which was first announced in March 2019 and was formerly called the Innovation Fund with an initial $2 billion in committed capital.

According to the firm, that fund has generated a net IRR of 85% — with SoftBank having invested $3.5 billion in 48 companies with a fair value of $6.9 billion as of June 30. SoftBank has invested in 15 unicorns out of that fund, including proptech startup QuintoAndar, Rappi, Mercado Bitcoin, Gympass and MadeiraMadeira. Recently, it co-led a $350 million Series D round in Argentine personal finance management app Ualá.

Why global investors are flocking to back Latin American startups

The firm also says it has participated in “significant value uplift” for portfolio companies, including 4.4x each for Kavak and VTEX; 2.6x for QuintoAndar and 3.5x for Banco Inter (as of June 30).

It has backed companies across the region including in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Ecuador.

Marcelo Claure, Executive VP and COO of SoftBank Group, leads the SoftBank Latin America Funds. Managing Partners Shu Nyatta and Paulo Passoni run the region’s investment team. Operating Partner Alex Szapiro, also head of Brazil for SoftBank, leads the fund’s operations team.

Combined, the investment and operations teams total over 60 people who operate out of Miami, São Paulo and Mexico City.

Fund II intends to back technology-enabled companies across countries and industries at every stage of their development, from seed to public, throughout Latin America, with a focus on e-commerce, digital financial services, healthcare, education, blockchain and enterprise software, among others. 

In a statement, SoftBank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son described Latin America as “one of the most important economic regions in the world.”

“SoftBank will continue to drive technology adoption that will benefit hundreds of millions of people in this part of the world,” he said. “There is so much innovation and disruption taking place in Latin America, and I believe the business opportunities there have never been stronger. Latin America is a critical part of our strategy – this is why we are expanding our presence and doubling down on our commitment with Marcelo at the helm.”

Claure said the success and returns from the SoftBank Latin America Fund “far exceeded” the firm’s expectations. Looking ahead, he expects that 2022 will be the “biggest IPO year” in the region’s history.

Earlier this year, TechCrunch looked at why global investors were flocking to Latin America. At that time, Nyatta told me that technology in LatAm is often more about inclusion rather than disruption.

“The vast majority of the population is underserved in almost every category of consumption. Similarly, most businesses are underserved by modern software solutions,” Nyatta explained. “There’s so much to build for so many people and businesses. In San Francisco, the venture ecosystem makes life a little better for individuals and businesses who are already living in the future. In LatAm, tech entrepreneurs are building the future for everyone else.”

Categories: Business News

PassFort, a RegTech SaaS for KYC and AML, nets $16.2M

2021, September 14 - 5:00pm

London-based PassFort, a SaaS provider that helps business meet compliance requirements such as KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) reporting, has closed a $16.2 million Series A led by US growth equity fund, Level Equity.

The 2015-founded startup‘s existing investors OpenOcean, Episode 1 and Entrepreneur First also participated in the round. The Series A is a mix of equity and debt, with $4.89M worth of venture debt being provided by Shard Credit Partners.

PassFort tells TechCrunch it now has 54 customers in total, saying the majority are in the digital payments space. It’s also selling its SaaS to customers in foreign exchange, banking and (ofc) crypto. It also touts some “major” customer wins preceding this raise — name-checking the likes of Curve and WorldRemit.

The new funding will be put towards stepping up its growth globally — with PassFort noting it’s hired a new C-suite for its growth team to lead the planned global push.

It’s also hiring more staff in business development and marketing, and plans to significantly bump spending across marketing, sales and customer support roles as it gears up to scale up.

“On the product side we are developing the solution to meet the demands of the changing digital economy and the threats it faces,” says CEO and co-founder Donald Gillies. “This means investing heavily into our new compliance policy cloud, system-to-system integrations with market-leading CRM and transaction monitoring systems as well as building a data team capable of deriving valuable real-time insights across our customer network.”

PassFort says its revenues grew ~2.5x over the past 12 months.

Gillies credits COVID-19 with really hitting the digital “accelerator” and driving adoption for compliance tools, as fintechs and regulated businesses look to streamline their approach to customer on-boarding and risk monitoring.

Alongside this accelerated digital transformation, he also points to a rise in cyber crime and increasingly sophisticated financial crime driving demand for compliance tools, and a “huge” rise in the number of regulations announced since COVID-19, noting: “Estimates from those who track regulatory changes stated that by August 2020, more than 1,330 COVID-19 related regulatory announcements had been made globally by regulators.”

As well as serving up an “always-on picture of risk”, as PassFort’s marketing puts it, the platform offers a single place to access and manage customer profiles, while also centralizing records for audit purposes.

PassFort’s SaaS also tracks efficiency — supporting customers to see where holdups in the onboarding process might be, to help with customer experience as well as the wider support it offers to compliance teams.

The startup says its integration model is such that it can “ingest datasets from any provider and interoperate with any system”, so — for example — it has pre-built connectors to more than 25 data providers at this stage.

It also offers a single API to integrate with a customer’s existing back-office system.

Another feature of the SaaS it flags is a focus on “low to no-code” — to increase accessibility and help customers with high complexity in their compliance needs (such as multiple customer types, multiple product lines and multi-jurisdictions. This includes a smart policy builder with a ‘drag and drop’ interface to help customers configure complex workflows.

On the competitive side, PassFort names Dublin-based Fenergo as its closest competitor but says it’s targeting a broader market — likening its own product to ‘Salesforce for compliance teams’ and saying its goal is to get the SaaS into the hands of “every financial crime and compliance team in the world”.

Commenting in a statement, Charles Chen, partner at Level Equity — who’s now joining PassFort’s board of directors — added: “Over the last few years, financial institutions and organisations have experienced exponential growth in business volumes and data, which has only increased the complexity in staying compliant with ever-evolving regulatory laws. In parallel, we’ve experienced an unprecedented rise in sophisticated financial crime activity as channels into financial systems have been digitized.

“This has underscored the importance of compliance matters such as AML/KYC, yet companies often have to weigh the trade-offs between speed, compliance and automation. PassFort has solved this challenge by providing a next-generation RegTech software solution that enables customers to offer a seamless customer onboarding experience, maintain best-in-class monitoring capabilities, and balance automation vs. human touch via its intelligent orchestration engine. We are thrilled to partner with the industry thought leader in this space and look forward to supporting the company’s future growth initiatives.”

Categories: Business News

The Equity crew riffs on the Intuit-Mailchimp news

2021, September 14 - 7:42am

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

We are back! From this morning, I suppose. But the news cycle doesn’t wait for our publishing schedule, so the Equity crew got together to yammer all about the Intuit-Mailchimp acquisition.

A $12 billion deal composed of stock and cash, it’s a big one. And as Mailchimp has both a history of bootsrapping and a founding story in a non-Silicon Valley city we had lots to chat about.

As a general reminder, if you do listen to the show, hit us up on Twitter as we are doing more and more of these Spaces. They are good and relaxed fun, so don’t take them too seriously. We like to have fun.

Alright, Equity is back on Wednesday with our regularly scheduled programming. Chat then!

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

Categories: Business News

3 keys to pricing early-stage SaaS products

2021, September 14 - 3:01am
Yousuf Khan Contributor Share on Twitter Yousuf Khan is a partner at Ridge Ventures. Prior to joining Ridge, he was the first CIO of Automation Anywhere, CIO and vice president of Customer Success at cloud-based AI platform Moveworks, as well as CIO of Pure Storage, Qualys and Hult International Business School. More posts by this contributor

I’ve met hundreds of founders over the years, and most, particularly early-stage founders, share one common go-to-market gripe: Pricing.

For enterprise software, traditional pricing methods like per-seat models are often easier to figure out for products that are hyper-specific, especially those used by people in essentially the same way, such as Zoom or Slack. However, it’s a different ball game for startups that offer services or products that are more complex.

Most startups struggle with a per-seat model because their products, unlike Zoom and Slack, are used in a litany of ways. Salesforce, for example, employs regular seat licenses and admin licenses — customers can opt for lower pricing for solutions that have low-usage parts — while other products are priced based on negotiation as part of annual renewals.

You may have a strong champion in a CIO you’re selling to or a very friendly person handling procurement, but it won’t matter if the pricing can’t be easily explained and understood. Complicated or unclear pricing adds more friction.

Early pricing discussions should center around the buyer’s perspective and the value the product creates for them. It’s important for founders to think about the output and the outcome, and a number they can reasonably defend to customers moving forward. Of course, self-evaluation is hard, especially when you’re asking someone else to pay you for something you’ve created.

This process will take time, so here are three tips to smoothen the ride.

Pricing is a journey

Pricing is not a fixed exercise. The enterprise software business involves a lot of intangible aspects, and a software product’s perceived value, quality, and user experience can be highly variable.

The pricing journey is long and, despite what some founders might think, jumping head-first into customer acquisition isn’t the first stop. Instead, step one is making sure you have a fully fledged product.

If you’re a late-seed or Series A company, you’re focused on landing those first 10-20 customers and racking up some wins to showcase in your investor and board deck. But when you grow your organization to the point where the CEO isn’t the only person selling, you’ll want to have your go-to-market position figured out.

Many startups fall into the trap of thinking: “We need to figure out what pricing looks like, so let’s ask 50 hypothetical customers how much they would pay for a solution like ours.” I don’t agree with this approach, because the product hasn’t been finalized yet. You haven’t figured out product-market fit or product messaging and you want to spend a lot of time and energy on pricing? Sure, revenue is important, but you should focus on finding the path to accruing revenue versus finding a strict pricing model.

Categories: Business News

Join Team TechCrunch at these speed networking sessions at Disrupt

2021, September 14 - 2:29am

Grab a red Sharpie, circle September 20 on your calendar (ooh, how old-school) and get ready to jumpstart your TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 networking experience. Sure, Disrupt’s “official” run is September 21-23, but why wait to meet other movers and shakers in your specific tech category?

We’re hosting a series of speed networking sessions to get your Disrupt kicked off on Monday, September 20. These events will take place in CrunchMatch, our AI-powered platform that helps you find and connect with attendees on your must-meet list.

Pro Tip 1: If you purchased a pass, you received an email with instructions on how to access CrunchMatch. Yeah, you did.

Pro Tip 2: You still have time to buy your Disrupt 2021 pass for less than $100. Look through the Disrupt agenda and see all the programming, events and opportunity waiting for you.

We love free swag, and we’re pretty sure you do, too. So, we’ll randomly select one participant from each networking session to receive a TC swag bag. W00t!

Here are the meet and greets happening at Disrupt — choose your category and kickstart your connections.

  • Peer-to-Peer: Investors Connect with your community of startup investors to share connections, insights and expertise.
  • Peer-to-Peer: Early-Stage Founders Meet the founders also launching at Disrupt to share insights and grow your support network.
  • The Full Stack: Meet the data analysts, engineers, hackers, data scientists and software developers that power your tech.
  • BIPOC & Women of Disrupt (and their allies): We invite all women and BIPOC (and all allies) attending Disrupt to join us for this roundup to inspire one another and grow your network.
  • B2B 2 Connect: Are you working on products that make it easier for businesses to thrive? Meet and share ideas and others with the SaaS and Enterprise community.
  • DNA/Tech: Meet the scientists who are using technology and engineering to produce advancements in health and biology.
  • Planet/Impact: Passionate about making an impact on our planet? Join this networking session focused on sustainability, green tech and clean tech projects.  
  • Money Matters: Network with the power brokers changing the face of financial services, banking and crypto.
  • Autonobot: Discover the builders automating our lives with robotics and hardware alongside the scientists creating the artificial intelligence that powers it all.
  • The Station: Share insights with people pushing the boundaries of mobility including drone technology, autonomous vehicles and transportation.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place on September 21-23, and these meet-and-greet sessions can help you hit the networking ground running. Make the most out of your TC Disrupt experience!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Categories: Business News

How Colossal sold investors on a quest to resurrect a woolly mammoth

2021, September 14 - 2:23am

There are a growing number of companies interested in CRISPR’s potential to upend medicine. It’s probably safe to say there’s only one company interested in using the gene-editing system to create a living, breathing woolly mammoth. Or, at least, something pretty close to it. 

That’s the primary mission of a new company called Colossal. Co-founded by maverick geneticist George Church and entrepreneur Ben Lamm, the former CEO of Hypergiant, the company aims to bring one of those creatures back to life using CRISPR to edit the genomes of existing Asian elephants. In that sense the creature would be very similar to a woolly mammoth, but would be more like an elephant-mammoth hybrid. 

It’s a project that Church’s lab has been invested in for years. But now, Church and Lamm have managed to sell investors on the idea that bringing back a mammoth is more than a science-fiction project. 

Today Colossal announced its launch and a $15 million seed round led by Thomas Tull, former CEO of Legendary Entertainment (the company responsible for the likes of Dune, Jurassic World and The Dark Knight). The round includes investments from Breyer Capital, Draper Associates, Animal Capital, At One Ventures, Jazz Ventures, Jeff Wilke, Bold Capital, Global Space Ventures, Climate Capital, Winklevoss Capital, Liquid2 Ventures, Capital Factory, Tony Robbins and First Light Capital.

“These two are a powerhouse team who have the ability to completely shift our understanding of modern genetics while developing innovative technologies that not only help bring back lost species, but advance the entire industry,” Robbins tells TechCrunch. “I am proud to be an investor in their journey.”

Lamm comes to Colossal as the founder of Hypergiant, a Texas-based AI company. He has also built and sold three other companies: Conversable (acquired by LivePerson), Chaotic Moon Studios (acquired by Accenture) and Team Chaos (acquired by Zynga). 

And big, provocative, projects are part of what Church is already famous for. 

Church created the first direct genomic sequencing method in the 1980s, and went on to help initiate the Human genome project. Now, he leads synthetic biological efforts at the Wyss Institute, where he has focused on synthesizing entire genes and genomes. 

 While CRISPR gene editing has only just entered human trials, and typically aims to edit a single disease-causing gene, Church’s projects often think far bigger — often along the lines of speeding along evolution. In 2015, Church and colleagues edited 62 genes in pig embryos (a record at the time) in an effort to create organs for human transplants. 

The company spun out of that endeavor, eGenesis, is behind on Church’s initial timeline (he predicted pig organs would be viable transplants by 2019), but the company is performing preclinical experiments on monkeys.

Resurrecting a woolly mammoth has long been in Church’s crosshairs. In 2017, his lab at Harvard University reported that they had managed to add 45 genes to the genome of an Asian elephant in an attempt to recreate the mammoth. Through a sponsored research agreement, this company will fully support the mammoth work at Church’s lab.

The company’s pitch for bringing back the Mammoth, per the press release, is to combat the effects of climate change through ecosystem restoration. Lamm expands on that point: 

“Our goal is not to just bring back the Mammoth, that’s a feat in itself,” he says. “It’s for the successful re-wilding of mammoths. If you take that toolkit, you have all the tools are your disposal to prevent extinction or to bring back critically endangered species.”

About 1 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. Colossal’s mammoth project, should it succeed, would suggest they have developed the capacity to both repopulate recently dead creatures, and even perform what Lamm calls “genetic rescue” to stop them from disappearing in the first place. 

Genetic rescue is the process of increasing genetic diversity in an endangered population — this could be achieved through gene-editing, or in some cases, cloning new individuals to create a wider gene pool (provided the clone and the existing animals have different enough genes). There is already some evidence that this is possible. In February 2021, a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann became the first cloned endangered species native to North America. She was cloned from the DNA housed in frozen tissue samples collected in 1988. 

Mammoth in the middle of mountains. This is a 3D render illustration. Image Credits: Orla / Getty Images

Bringing back extinct species might help combat a consequence of climate change, but it doesn’t solve the root problem. As long as the human-based drivers of climate change remain in-tact, there’s not much hope for a newly reborn creature that was killed by climate change the first time; in fact, fluctuating climates were one reason megafauna died off in the first place.

And, there could be serious ecosystem ramifications from re-wilding long-dead species, like spreading novel disease, displacing existing species and altering the actual landscape (elephants are ecosystem engineers, after all). 

If tackling biodiversity is part of Colossal’s core pitch, why go directly for the mammoth when there are species that might be saved right now? Lamm notes that the company may also try to edit the genomes of Asian elephants to make them more resilient; however, the mammoth project remains the company’s “north star.”

The argument, from Lamm’s perspective, is that the mammoth project is a moonshot. Even if the company shoots for the moon and lands among the stars, they will have to develop proprietary technology for de-extinction that might then be licensed or sold to potential buyers. 

“It’s very similar to the Apollo program — which was a literal moonshot. A bunch of technologies were created along the way. Things like GPS, the fundamentals of the internet and semiconductors. All those were highly monetizable,” he says.  

In short, the mammoth project is more like an incubator for developing a host of intellectual property. That might include projects like artificial wombs or other applications of CRISPR, Lamm notes. These products will still face massive scientific hurdles — existing artificial womb projects aren’t even near entering human trials — but those hurdles might be slightly more achievable than living, breathing beings. 

Not that Colossal doesn’t have plenty of interim plans while that research is being done. The company is also out to create an especially memorable brand along the way. Lamm says you could think of the brand as “Harvard meets MTV.” 

Though there’s no company that Lamm says is a direct comparison to Colossal, he mentioned several large space brands and agencies, like Blue Origin, SpaceX and notably NASA in our conversation — “I think that NASA is the best brand the United States ever made,” he notes. 

“If you look at SpaceX and Blue Origin and Virgin, my 91-year-old grandmother knew these guys went to space. ULA and other people have been launching rockets and putting satellites up there for decades — nobody cared. These companies did a great job of bringing the public in,” he says. 

It’s all a bit reminiscent of Elon Musk’s plan for sending humans to Mars, although Starship (the vehicle that’s supposed to get us there) hasn’t moved beyond prototype test flights. 

The big ideas, says Lamm, draw in the public. The intellectual property developed along the way can pacify investors in the meantime. The perspective is inescapably sci-fi, but perhaps it’s supposed to be that way. 

And that’s not to say that the company isn’t absolutely dead-set on bringing a mammoth to life. This capital, says Lamm, should be sufficient to help develop a viable mammoth embryo. They’re aiming to have the first set of calves born in the next four to six years. 

Categories: Business News

GM invests in radar software startup Oculii as demand for automated driving features rise

2021, September 14 - 1:21am

Oculii, a software startup that aims to improve the spatial resolution of radar sensors by up to 100-fold, has scored a new investment from General Motors. The new funding, which the two companies say is in the millions, comes just months after Oculii closed a $55 million Series B.

Oculii and GM have already been working together “for some time now,” CEO Steven Hong told TechCrunch in a recent interview. While he declined to specify exactly how GM plans to use Oculii’s software, it could be used to bolster the capabilities of the automaker’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system known as Super Cruise. Hong added that the company is also working with a few other OEMs, including one on the cap table.

“When a company like GM says, this is great technology and this is something that we potentially want to use down the line, it makes the entire supply chain take notice and effectively work more closely with you to adopt the solution, the technology, into what they’re selling to the OEMs,” he said.

The startup has no intention of building hardware. Instead, Oculii wants to license software to radar companies. The startup claims it can take low-cost, commercially available radar sensors – sensors that weren’t designed for autonomous driving, but rather for limited scenarios like emergency breaking or parking assist – and use its AI software to enable more autonomous maneuvering, Hong said.

“We really believe that the way to deliver something that’s scalable is through software, because software fundamentally improves with data,” he said. “Software fundamentally improves with better hardware in each generation that’s released. Software fundamentally over time gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, much faster than hardware, for example.”

The news is certainly bullish for radar, a sensor that is generally used for assistive capabilities because of its imaging limitations. But if Oculii can actually improve the performance of radar, which tend to be much cheaper than lidar, it could mean massive cost savings for automakers.

Tesla, the largest electric vehicle maker by sales volume in the world, recently nixed radar sensors from its advanced driver assistance system, in favor of a “pure vision” approach that uses cameras and a supercomputer-powered neural network. Hong said that the radar Tesla eliminated was very low resolution, and “wasn’t really adding anything to their existing pipeline.”

But he doesn’t think the company would always necessarily count out radar, should the technology improve. “Fundamentally, each of these sensors improves [the] safety case and gets you closer and closer to 99.99999% reliability. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing, is getting as many nines of reliability as you can.”

Categories: Business News

BitSight raises $250M from Moody’s and acquires cyber risk startup VisibleRisk

2021, September 14 - 1:10am

BitSight, a startup that assesses the likelihood that an organization will be breached, has received a $250 million investment from credit rating giant Moody’s, and acquired Israeli cyber risk assessment startup VisibleRisk for an undisclosed sum.

Boston-based BitSight says the investment from Moody’s, which has long warned that cyber risk can impact credit ratings, will enable it to create a cybersecurity risk platform, while the credit ratings giant said it plans to make use of BitSight’s cyber risk data and research across its integrated risk assessment product offerings.

The investment values BitSight at $2.4 billion and makes Moody’s the largest shareholder in the company.

To guard against data loss and misuse, the cybersecurity conversation must evolve

“Creating transparency and enabling trust is at the core of Moody’s mission,” Moody’s president and CEO Rob Fauber said in a statement. “BitSight is the leader in the cybersecurity ratings space, and together we will help market participants across disciplines better understand, measure, and manage their cyber risks and translate that to the risk of cyber loss.”

Meanwhile, BitSight’s purchase of VisibleRisk, a cyber risk ratings joint venture created by Moody’s and Team8, brings in-depth cyber risk assessment capabilities to BitSight’s platform, enabling the startup to better analyze and calculate an organization’s financial exposure to cyber risk. VisibleRisk, which has raised $25 million to date, says its so-called “cyber ratings” are based on cyber risk quantification, which allows companies to benchmark their cyber risk against those of their peers, and to better understand and manage the impact of cyber threats to their businesses.

Following the acquisition, BitSight will also create a risk solutions division focused on delivering a suite of critical solutions and analytics serving stakeholders, including chief risk officers, C-suite executives and boards of directors. This division will be led by VisibleRisk co-founder and CEO Derek Vadala, who previously headed up Moody’s cyber risk group.

Steve Harvey, president and CEO of BitSight, said the company’s partnership with Moody’s and its acquisition of VisibleRisk will expand its reach to “help customers manage cyber risk in an increasingly digital world.”

BitSight was founded in 2011 and has raised a total of $155 million in outside funding, most recently closing a $60 million Series D round led by Warburg Pincus. The startup has just shy of 500 employees and more than 2,300 global customers, including government agencies, insurers and asset managers. 

BitSight, a provider of security ratings, raises $60M at a valuation of around $600M

Categories: Business News

What to make of Freshworks’ first IPO price range

2021, September 14 - 12:37am

Two major private tech companies announced IPO price ranges this morning, with Toast targeting a market value of nearly $18 billion at the top end of its range and Freshworks looking to price its equity between $28 and $32 per share. TechCrunch calculates that the company would be worth around $8.9 billion at $32 per share, not employing a fully diluted share count.

Inclusive of shares represented by fully vested options and the like, Freshworks’ valuation could reach $9.6 billion, Renaissance Capital reports.

Unlike Toast, with a revenue mix including four distinct products, Freshworks is a more straightforward software company. That means we can do much more interesting work to understand its valuation. So, this morning, let’s unpack how Freshworks is considering valuing itself in its IPO at its present range, look at some market comps and come to a conclusion regarding whether we expect the unicorn to raise its valuation before it floats.

Lies, damned lies and revenue multiples

As a refresher, in the first half of 2021 (Q1 and Q2), Freshworks posted revenues of $168.9 million. That annualizes to $337.9 million, thanks to numerical rounding.

At a valuation of $9.6 billion — recall that simple IPO valuations for the company and lower share-price points from its IPO range generate lower valuations and therefore more conservative multiples than what we’ll be discussing here — Freshworks would be worth 28.4x its current revenue run rate, set during H1 2021.

Categories: Business News

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