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SpotOn raises $300M at a $3.15B valuation and acquires Appetize

2021, September 14 - 12:30am

Last year at this time, SpotOn was on the brink of announcing a $60 million Series C funding round at a $625 million valuation.

Fast forward to almost exactly one year later, and a lot has changed for the payments and software startup.

Today, SpotOn said it has closed on $300 million in Series E financing that values the company at $3.15 billion — more than 5x of its valuation at the time of its Series C round, and significantly higher than its $1.875 billion valuation in May (yes, just three and a half months ago) when it raised $125 million in a Series D funding event.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led both the Series D and E rounds for the company, which says it has seen 100% growth year over year and a tripling in revenue over the past 18 months. Existing investors DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group, Franklin Templeton and Mubadala Investment Company too doubled down on their investments in SpotOn, joining new backers Wellington Management and Coatue Management. Advisors Douglas Merritt, CEO of Splunk, and Mike Scarpelli, CFO of Snowflake, also made individual investments as angels. With the new capital, SpotOn has raised $628 million since its inception.

The latest investment is being used to finance the acquisition of another company in the space — Appetize, a digital and mobile commerce payments platform for enterprises such as sports and entertainment venues, theme parks and zoos. SpotOn is paying $415 million in cash and stock for the Los Angeles-based company.

4 key areas SaaS startups must address to scale infrastructure for the enterprise

Since its 2017 inception, SpotOn has been focused on providing software and payments technology to SMBs with an emphasis on restaurants and retail businesses. The acquisition of Appetize extends SpotOn’s reach to the enterprise space in a major way. Appetize will go to market as SpotOn and will work to grow its client base, which already includes an impressive list of companies and organizations including Live Nation, LSU, Dodger Stadium and Urban Air. 

In fact, Appetize currently covers 65% of all major league sports stadiums, specializing in contactless payments, mobile ordering and menu management. So for example, when you’re ordering food at a game or concert, Appetize’s technology makes it easier to pay in a variety of contactless ways through point of sale (POS) devices, self-service kiosks, handheld devices, online ordering, mobile web and API integrations.

Image Credits: SpotOn

SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.

The combined company will have 1,600 employees — 1,300 from SpotOn and 300 from Appetize. SpotOn will now have over 500 employees on its product and technology team, according to co-founder and co-CEO Zach Hyman. It will also have clients in the tens of thousands, a number that SpotOn says is growing by “thousands more every month.”

The acquisition is not the first for SpotOn, which also acquired SeatNinja last year and Emagine in 2018.

But in Appetize it saw a company that was complementary both in its go-to-market and tech stacks, and a “natural fit.”

“SMEs are going to benefit from the scalable tech that can grow with them, including things like kiosks and offline modes, and for the enterprise clients of Appetize, they’re going to be able to leverage products like sophisticated loyalty programs and extended marketing capabilities,” Hyman told TechCrunch. 

SpotOn was not necessarily planning to raise another round so soon, Hyman added, but the opportunity came up to acquire Appetize.

“We spent a lot of time together, and it was too compelling to pass up,” he told TechCrunch.

For its part, Appetize — which has raised over $77 million over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase — too saw the combination as a logical one.

“It was important to us to retain a stake in the business. We were not looking to cash out,” said Appetize CEO Max Roper. “We are deeply invested in growing the business together. It’s a big win for our team and our clients over the long term. This is a rocketship that we are excited to be on.” 

No doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the need for more digital offerings from small businesses to enterprises alike.

“There has been a high demand for our services and now as businesses are faced with a Covid resurgence, no one is closing down,” Hyman said. “So they see a responsibility to install the necessary technology to properly run their business.”

SpotOn raises $125M in a16z-led Series D, triples valuation to $1.875B

One of the moves SpotOn has made, for example, is launching a vaccination alert system in its reservation management software platform to make it easier for consumers to confirm they are vaccinated for cities and states that have those requirements.

Clearly, a16z General Partner David George too was bullish on the idea of a combined company.

He told TechCrunch that the two companies fit together “extremely nicely.”

“It felt like a no-brainer for us to want to lead the round, and continue to support them,” George said.

Since first investing in SpotOn in May, the startup’s growth has “exceeded” a16z’s expectations, he added.

“When companies are growing as fast as it is organically, they don’t need to rely on acquisitions to fuel growth,” he said. “But the strategic rationale here is so strong, that the acquisition will only turbocharge what is already high growth.”

While the Series E capital is primarily funding the acquisition, SpotOn continues to double down on its product and technology.

“This is our time to shine and invest in the future with forward thinking technology,” Hyman told TechCrunch. “We’re thinking about things like how are consumers going to be ordering their beer at a Dodgers game in three years? Are they going to be standing in line for 25 minutes or are they going to be interacting and buying merchandise in other unique ways? Those are the things we’re looking to solve for.”

Categories: Business News

Toast looks toward $18B valuation in upcoming IPO

2021, September 13 - 11:47pm

As if the Boston startup market needed additional momentum, it appears restaurant software startup Toast will dramatically bolster its valuation in its upcoming IPO.

For a city perhaps best known internationally for its hard tech and biotech efforts, to see Toast not only rebound from its early-pandemic layoffs to a public debut, but to target a valuation closer to $20 billion than $10 billion, is a coup.

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In a new S-1/A filing this morning, Toast indicated an early IPO range of between $30 and $33 per share, leading to a maximum fundraise of $825 million in its IPO. The company was last valued at $4.9 billion in early 2020, when Toast raised $400 million. The company is set to dramatically supersede that valuation mark thanks to expanding revenues and an especially strong second quarter.

Let’s dig into the company’s new IPO price range, calculate simple and fully diluted results, and see what we can learn from where Toast may price. Recall that the company has a mix of recurring software (SaaS) incomes as well as fintech revenue (payments, mostly). Its revenue mix is interesting, and how Toast prices could help us better understand how to value vertical SaaS startups that are pursuing a payments-and-SaaS business approach.

Into the filing!

Toast’s IPO valuation

Toast is selling 21,739,131 Class A shares in its IPO. They get one vote. Class B shares get 10. If you were considering buying into Toast’s IPO in hopes of having a say in its future, don’t. You won’t. The company’s IPO is really a method by which public-market investors can endorse the company’s current management group — or decline to buy any ownership at all.

Regardless of how we feel about corporate governance structures designed to eliminate the influence of common shareholders, Toast will have 499,332,681 shares outstanding after its IPO, or 502,593,550 if its underwriters choose to purchase their allotted greenshoe option.

At the company’s expected IPO price range of $30 to $33 per share, Toast is worth $14.98 billion at the low end, and $16.48 billion at the top. Inclusive of shares from its underwriters’ option, Toast’s simple IPO valuation range expands from $15.08 billion at the bottom to $16.59 billion at the top.

Categories: Business News

Only one week until TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 opens a world of opportunity

2021, September 13 - 11:07pm

One. More. Week. Just seven days until more than 10,000 people around the world storm the internet to attend TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 on September 21-23. We’re talking three event- and programming-packed days focused on anything — and everything — related to early-stage tech startups.

You’ll hear from iconic founders, unicorn makers, boundary-benders — all of it served up with a gigantic side of DIY tips, actionable advice, encouragement and inspiration. And, because Disrupt is highly interactive, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to engage, ask questions and receive answers.

Admit one: Buy your TC Disrupt 2021 pass — for less than $100 — and go find or create the opportunities that can help you move your business forward.

We’ll hit a few of the highlights, but be sure to check the Disrupt 2021 agenda for all the interviews, panel discussions, breakout sessions and events. Your pass includes video-on-demand, so you can catch any sessions you miss when your schedule allows.

Disrupt always brings world-class speakers to the stage, and this year is no exception. We have more than 80 presentations (and counting) on tap. Talk about something for everyone. Biotech? Covered. Fintech? Also covered. Fundraising? Well, of course. Robots, health tech, space — heck, there’s so much more we can’t cover it here. Head to the agenda and plan your strategy.

Explore hundreds of innovative startups exhibiting in Startup Alley, our expo area. Visit their virtual booths, get a product demo and start a conversation. You can also catch Startup Alley founders pitching to TechCrunch staff. Look for the Startup Pitch Feedback Sessions scheduled over all three days.

Who’s ready for Startup Battlefield? Watch as 20 of the top early-stage founders compete for the coveted championship title and $100,000 in equity-free prize money. Some of today’s top tech companies launched at Startup Battlefield — think Dropbox, Vurb and Tripit. Don’t miss your chance to see the future of tech take the stage.

The Startup Battlefield translated easily to the virtual format. You could see the excitement, enthusiasm and possibility of the young founders, and I loved that. You could also ask questions through the chat feature, and you don’t always have time for questions at a live event. — Rachael Wilcox, creative producer, Volvo Cars.

Remember we said you’ll find plenty of actionable advice? Don’t miss the expert VC guidance in these two sessions: Crafting a Pitch Deck that Can’t Be Ignored and Pitch Deck Teardown.

Disrupt is a great sweet spot, and highly valuable, for anyone in the idea stage all the way through to having raised some angel money. Soak up the pitch deck teardowns and the VC presentations. They’re telling you what they’re looking for, what motivates them, what pushes them to contact you for a meeting. And that’s exactly what every startup raising capital needs to know. — Michael McCarthy, CEO, Repositax.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 kicks off in just one week. Buy your pass, plan your schedule and get ready to disrupt your business in the best possible way.

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Categories: Business News

JumpCloud raises $159M on $2.56B valuation for cloud directory tool

2021, September 13 - 11:06pm

JumpCloud, the late-stage startup that is modernizing the notion of corporate directories in a cloud context, announced a $159 million Series F investment on a healthy $2.56 billion valuation today.

Sapphire Ventures led the round with new investors participating, including Owl Rock, Whale Rock Capital, Sands Capital and Endeavor Catalyst, along with existing investors General Atlantic, BlackRock and H.I.G. Growth Partners. The company has now raised almost $356 million with $259 million coming over the most recent two rounds.

JumpCloud CEO Rajat Bhargava says that investor interest in the company is driven by his belief that the directory structure is the center of an IT organization, especially as it relates to identity, and that includes mobile device management, single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, privileged access management and identity governance. He sees all these approaches coming together in the directory structure.

“We believe that those are all part of one core directory platform. So when you think of a directory very holistically and broadly, it is really about securely and frictionlessly connecting users and their identities to whatever they may need to access,” Bhargava told me.

They do this by going after SMBs and mid-market companies with a cloud product that simplifies the management of these complex systems. Jai Das, who is managing director at lead investor at Sapphire Ventures, believes that this part of the market was being mostly left out of directory services because of that complexity before JumpCloud and others attempted to fill the void.

“Large enterprises have put in place various directory and security solutions to solve these problems, but with large investments in tech outlays and IT support teams. SMBs and mid-sized enterprises don’t have the big budgets or large staff to replicate the large enterprise model,” Das said. He adds that developing for this market is a huge challenge because it requires “building a product with all of the features large enterprises require, plus it has to be easy to use, easy to deploy and not [be] terribly expensive.”

While the company is not revealing any revenue metrics, Bhargava did say that they have added 2,000 customers since we last spoke in November, for a total of 5,000, and he said that the company should double head count by the end of the year from the 300 last November.

He also said that he has been making progress at building a diverse company, and one way he does that is just asking every hiring manager if they interviewed historically underrepresented candidates.

“The simple act of just asking that question makes such a massive difference inside of an organization. We’ve encouraged all of our hiring managers to interview diverse candidates but we also, when there’s an offer about to be made or when they’re in the [interview] process, we are asking them did you talk to [diverse] candidates. And then if you didn’t, we’re going to ask you to go search for those folks [before making a hiring decision],” he said.

Bhargava didn’t want to talk about and IPO when we spoke last year, and not much changed this time around. “We’ll see. It’s just not part of what we’re worried about or focused on,” he said.

He did indicate however, that with such a substantial amount of money on the balance sheet, he would consider some strategic acquisitions. “We will focus on M&A and where it makes sense will integrate different components and teams into our business,” he said. With a tight labor market, that could be about adding engineering, as well as adding functionality to the platform, he said.

JumpCloud raises $75M Series E as cloud directory service thrives during pandemic

Categories: Business News

Equity Monday: Market pessimism, new iPhones and IPOs

2021, September 13 - 11:00pm

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here. I also tweet.

Vacation was good, and a big thanks to Mary Ann and Natasha — not to mention Grace and Chris! — for keeping things flowing while I mostly sat around reading books and playing video games. But enough being maudlin! To the news!

  • Investors are kinda thinking that the run-up in stocks needs to take a breather. And that the reset could land between 5% and 10%, with another 10% of respondents expecting a correction of more than 10%. Yowza.
  • China may break up Ant, keeping the pace of its regulatory deluge going as this week starts. And the Chinese government thinks that its country has too many EV companies. If the market or central planning will wind up taking point on solving the “problem” is not clear.
  • The Apple v. Epic decision is still driving conversation. Here’s TechCrunch’s coverage, and here’s the MG piece I mentioned.
  • Toast and Freshworks have new filings up. Which is good news if you want to dig into new S-1/A reports. Forge is going public via a SPAC.
  • And Babyscripts and Commercetools raised rounds, while Jungle Ventures raised a fund.

Got all that? OK, good. Chat you Wednesday!

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

Categories: Business News

Vector.ai’s productivity platform for freight forwarders raises $15M A round led by Bessemer

2021, September 13 - 10:42pm

With supply chains under constant stress because of the pandemic, freight forwarding has become one of the hottest startup sectors in the last two years. Indeed, international freight forwarding is now a $199 billion market. And the evidence is mounting.

In November last year, digital freight forwarder Forto raised another $50 million in a round led by Inven Capital. In April this year, Nuvocargo raised $12 million to digitize the freight logistics industry. In May, Zencargo, with a freight-forwarding platform, raised $42 million. In June, freight forwarder sender raised $80 million at a $1 billion+ valuation. In July Freightify landed $2.5 million to make rate management easier for freight forwarders.

And today, Vector.ai, which says it helps freight forwarders improve productivity via its AI platform, has raised $15 million in a Series A led by U.S. VC Bessemer Venture Partners. It was joined by existing investors Dynamo Ventures and Episode 1. Bessemer’s investment is yet another sign that U.S. VC continues to make incursions into the U.K. and European tech scene.

Startups are transforming global trade in the COVID-19 era

Vector now plans to accelerate its international expansion plans as an automated system for freight forwarders.

The problem it’s tackling is this: Freight forwarders lose time to repetitive administrative tasks as they execute shipments, such as hunting through customer emails etc., rather than concentrating on higher-value activities. Vector.ai says it’s machine learning platform can automate these tasks.

Its customers now include Fracht, EFL, NNR Global Logistics, The Scarbrough Group, Steam Logistics and Navia Freight, as well as other top-10 freight forwarders.

James Coombes, co-founder, and CEO of Vector.ai, commented: “Most employees within freight forwarders spend the majority of their time communicating with the 10-25 different entities that might be associated with a given shipment and coordinating freight movement and documentation. Communication usually runs through email and attachments… The volume of freight continues to rise globally — and with the added burden of Brexit and pandemic disruptions such as the recent port closure in China — freight forwarders are facing staffing shortages, steep wage increases and shipping delays that continue to cost companies money in lost revenue and spoiled goods. They cannot afford to keep wasting time on low-level processing, which is why we created the technology to automate basic tasks.”

Mike Droesch, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, said: “Vector.ai is one of the early leaders in an emerging category of freight forwarding workflow automation and digitization tools. It has built an intuitive and industry-focused product — which is already winning over some of the largest freight forwarders.”

Vector competes with Shipamax out of the U.K. which has raised $9.5 million, RPA Labs out of the U.S., which has raised $1.2 million and slync.io, also in the U.S., which has raised $75.9 million.

Categories: Business News

Rezilion raises $30M to help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

2021, September 13 - 10:00pm

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, an Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round, with JVP and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Walmart and CVS.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

It’s time for security teams to embrace security data lakes

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: Large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: It’s time-consuming, and, as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable,” meaning they may be bad for some, but not for this particular organization and the code it’s using today. That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out 10 patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be nine out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonomy and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: It spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good, it essentially whitelists the code. If not, it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.”

He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that: “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services, and other verticals that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation altogether.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

Categories: Business News

MarginEdge, a restaurant management software company, raises $18M

2021, September 13 - 9:30pm

MarginEdge announced Monday it raised $18 million in Series B funding to give restaurant operators a real-time view into their costs.

Co-founder and CEO Bo Davis founded the company with Roy Phillips and Brian Mills in 2015. Both Davis and Phillips are veterans of the restaurant industry: Davis was previously the founder of conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain Wasabi, while Phillips was an executive at Bloomin Brands.

What they recognized with independent restaurants was that they struggled with workflow like invoices and tracking food costs and were either building internal tools to help them stay on top of things or were still operating with pen and paper or spreadsheets.

“We focused on building something our friends would like,” Davis told TechCrunch. “We spent three years on the product and worked with 20 restaurants to use the software and focus on getting it right instead of rushing to market.”

Bite Ninja scoops up pre-seed funding to reimagine restaurant working environments

MarginEdge’s tool is a restaurant management app that works with a business’ point of sale to streamline inventory, cost-tracking, ordering and recipes to eliminate the paperwork. It also captures all invoices, receipts or bills and converts them to line-item details within 24 hours. It is designed for independent restaurant owners that have under 50 units, Davis said.

Since launching its app in 2018, the Virginia-based company is seeing its platform used in over 2,500 restaurants. It raised a Series A in 2019, then an A2 in 2020 and with the latest round, led by Schooner, has raised $25 million in total.

IGC Hospitality, which operates restaurant properties, is not only an investor, but is also a customer, said Jeffrey Brosi, founder and managing partner. The company was using some different technology platforms to manage inventory and sales, but was looking for something to manage its whole inventory process.

“Bo came in and did a presentation, and it was amazing,” Brosi added. “The biggest thing for us is [being] user friendly. MarginEdge also has great customer service. We’ve invested in a few companies in the hospitality industry, and know the pain points and what we want to fix. If it makes sense financially, we will invest. This was one pain point that we didn’t have, and Bo filled that void.”

Like all restaurants over the past 18 months, Davis said the global pandemic caused MarginEdge to step back and evaluate. Despite many restaurants going out of business, he credits his business taking off again to restaurants rethinking their processes.

“We were lucky enough to be in a good position with capital that we could keep our team,” he added. “Revenue decreased for the first time, but we grew 45% even with COVID and as of Q1 was seeing 200% annual growth.”

MarginEdge has over 400 employees and its platform processes 45,000 invoices a week. Davis intends to invest the new funding in building out the leadership team, product development, building new features for the back office and on data science, an area he just received an advanced degree in, he said.

The company is using benchmark data around sales, food costs and labor costs and would like to provide more insights to its customers as it relates to inflation, which affects all of those aspects, and as a result, the menu prices.

“A lot of it is using data to understand menu pricing and what other people are doing so you are not pricing yourself out of the market or operating on margins where you can’t survive,” Davis added. “It will be all about predicting rather than reporting. The two things in the kitchen that are hardest are the startup prep list and the inventory late at night, and we make both easier.”

5 takeaways from Toast’s S-1 filing

Categories: Business News

Freshworks aims for nearly $9 billion valuation in US IPO

2021, September 13 - 9:27pm

Freshworks disclosed on Monday that it is aiming for a valuation of up to $9 billion in its U.S. initial public offering, in which it is hoping to raise over $800 million.

The California-based firm, which started its journey in India and rivals Salesforce, said it plans to sell 28.5 million shares at a price range of $28 to $32. If the firm is able to sell its shares at the top range, it will raise $912 million. Freshworks had originally filed paperwork for its IPO in late August, but hadn’t disclosed several figures.

The 11-year-old firm was last valued at $3.5 billion in a financing round in November 2019. The startup considered raising a pre-IPO round earlier this year at a valuation of over $5 billion but decided against it, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Inside Freshworks’ IPO filing

Freshworks, which counts Accel, Sequoia Capital India, Tiger Global and CapitalG among its existing investors, develops and offers a variety of business software tools, from CRM to help-desk software. In recent years, it has built an enterprise SaaS platform to give customers a set of integrated business tools and aggressively pursued broadening its products offering.

The startup, which has applied to list its shares on Nasdaq under the symbol FRSH, serves over 50,000 customers, and its revenue in the first six months of the year grew to $169 million, up from $111 million during the same period last year. At the same time, its net loss dropped to $9.8 million from $57 million a year ago.

“First, based on industry research from International Data Corporation (IDC), we believe we have a large addressable market of approximately $120 billion,” the firm said in an updated S-1 filing on Monday.

“Second, based on our internal data and analysis, we estimate the annual potential market opportunity for our products to be $77 billion. […] We expect our estimated market opportunity will continue to expand as customers onboard more or expand usage of our products, increasing the weighted average ARR per customer for use of our products.”

TechCrunch recently spoke with Freshworks co-founder and chief executive Girish Mathrubootham about the business. Mathrubootham is one of the most respected entrepreneurs in India. Along with three friends, Mathrubootham launched an $85 million venture fund in late July this year to back early-stage SaaS startups in the world’s second-largest internet market.

Categories: Business News

Trade promotion management startup Cresicor raises $5.6M to keep tabs on customer spend

2021, September 13 - 9:00pm

Cresicor, a consumer packaged goods trade management platform startup, raised $5.6 million in seed funding to further develop its tools for more accurate data and analytics.

The company, based remotely, focuses on small to midsize CPG companies, providing them with an automated way to manage their trade promotion, a process co-founder and CEO Alexander Whatley said is done primarily manually using spreadsheets.

Here’s what happens in a trade promotion: When a company wants to run a discount on one of their slower-selling items, the company has to spend money to do this — to have displays set up in a store or have that item on a certain shelf. If it works, more people will buy the item at the lower price point. Essentially, a trade promotion is the process of spending money to get more money in the future, Whatley told TechCrunch.

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Figuring out all of the trade promotions is a complicated process, Whatley explained. Companies receive data feeds on the promotions from several different places, revenue data from retailers, accounting source data to show how many units were shipped and then maybe data directly from retailers. All of that has to be matched against the promotion.

“No API is bringing this data back to brands, so our software helps to automate and track these manual processes so companies can do analytics to see how the promotions are doing,” he added. “It also helps the finance team understand expenses, including which are valid and those that are not.”

What certain companies spend on trade promotions can represent their second-largest cost behind manufacturing, and companies often end up reinvesting between 20% and 30% of their revenue into trade promotions, Whatley said. This is a big market, representing untapped growth, especially with U.S. CPG sales topping $720 billion in 2020.

“You can see how messy the whole industry is, which is why we have a bright future and huge TAM,” he added. “With this new funding, we can target other parts of the P&L like supply chain and salaries. We also provide analytics for their strategy and where they should be spending it — which store, on which supply. By allocating resources the right way, companies typically see a 10% boost in sales as a result.”

Whatley started the company in 2017 with his brother, Daniel, Stuart Kennedy and Nikki McNeil while a Harvard undergrad. Since raising the funding back in February, the company has grown 2.5x in revenue, while employee headcount grew 4x over the past 12 months to 20.

Costanoa Ventures led the investment and was joined by Torch Capital and a group of angel investors including Fivestars CTO Matt Doka and Hu’s Kitchen CEO Mark Ramadan.

John Cowgill, partner at Costanoa, said though Cresicor raised a seed round, the company was already acquiring brands and capital before releasing a product and grew to almost a Series A company without any outside capital, saying it “blew me away.”

Cresicor is the “perfect example” of a company that Costanoa would get excited about — a vertical software company using data or machine learning to augment a pain point, Cowgill added.

“The CPG industry is in the middle of a rapid change where we see all of these emerging, digital native and mission-driven brands rapidly eating share from incumbents,” he added. “For the next generation of brands to compete, they have to win in trade promotion management. Cresicor’s opportunity to go beyond trade is significant. It is just a starting point to build a company that is the core enabler of great brands.”

The new funding will be used mainly to hire more talent in the areas of engineering and customer success so the company can hit its next benchmarks, Alexander Whatley said. He also intends to use the funding to acquire new brands and on software development. Cresicor boasts a list of customers including Perfect Snacks, Oatly and Hint Water.

The retail industry is valued at $5.5 trillion, and one-fifth of it is CPG, Whatley said. As a result, he has his eye on going after other verticals within CPG, like electronics and pet food, and then expanding into other areas.

“We are also going to work with enterprise companies — we see an opportunity to work with companies like P&G and General Mills, and we also want to build an ecosystem around trade promotion and launch into other profit and loss areas,” Whatley said.

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Categories: Business News

Babyscripts secures $12M to roll out its virtual maternity care model

2021, September 13 - 9:00pm

Obstetrics virtual care company Babyscripts raised $12 million in the first round of a Series B investment that will enable the company to accelerate the roll out of its virtual maternity care tool platform to providers.

MemorialCare Innovation Fund led the investment and was joined by Philips and the CU Healthcare Innovation Fund. The new round of funding gives Babyscripts around $26 million raised to date, Babyscripts co-founder and president Juan Pablo Segura told TechCrunch.

We last checked in on Washington, D.C-based Babyscripts two years ago when Phillips led a $6 million investment into the company. A lot has happened since 2019, Segura said.

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At the time, the company had one product and was working with hospitals and healthcare providers to distribute a medical device and mobile app to expecting mothers for monitoring blood pressure and providing neonatal care information.

Today, the company has multiple kits that can be targeted to patients, including blood pressure monitoring, weight and captured blood sugars. Babyscripts can automate 40% to 50% of prenatal care and alert doctors as health problems occur so that both mother and baby are healthy. At one physician site, use of Babyscripts helped open up close to 1,000 appointments in a year so obstetricians there could focus on higher-risk patients, Segura said.

It also has larger population health focuses — driven mainly by the pandemic — to help higher-risk expecting mothers with remote patient monitoring and virtual care, as well as work to solve health inequity issues.

More than 70% of patients using Babyscripts are on Medicaid, which may be the only safety net provider in the patient’s geography, Segura said. As a result, the company began forming partnerships with public health departments, managed Medicaid plans and providers, like Priva Health, so that Babyscripts could be paid for at the local level.

“Right now, one of the biggest challenges for a pregnant patient on Medicaid and working an hourly job is asking moms to choose between prenatal care and putting food on the table,” he added. “Fifty percent of maternal complications can be avoided, but a lot of these issues come from the fact that the model of delivery care hasn’t changed in 40 years. About 12% to 15% of deaths come from blood pressure complications. If we could monitor via Babyscripts or more coordinated care to get intervention faster, we could eliminate massive swaths of delivery events in maternity and reduce mortality events in this country.”

Amid the pandemic, Babyscripts saw enrollments grow 10x. Segura decided to go after a new round of funding to meet that need and opportunities that could be addressed. Babyscripts’s program is now being used by 75 health systems in 32 states, and the company is monitoring 250,000 women each year.

The company continues to receive inquiries from markets and payers that are looking to do more for pregnant patients, so Segura wants to be able to grow to meet that demand and invest in a go-to-market strategy to get its kits into as many hands as possible.

The new funding will also enable the company to release new features. It recently launched a mental health product and is developing a substance use disorder experience amid others, he said. Babyscripts is also working on a national level with payers and is building an infrastructure around that as well.

The company has 45 employees currently, and Segura expects to double that in the next 12 to 18 months in the areas of product, payer growth, clinical expertise, implementation and customer success. Babyscripts is also working toward being available in all 50 states and bringing in more public health departments and payers as partners to get more health systems working together, he added.

Meanwhile, Caleb Winder, managing director of MemorialCare Innovation Fund, said he was attracted to both Babyscripts’ outcomes data and addressing the high rates of complications in pregnancies. It also not only eliminates waiting for hours at the doctor’s office just to be seen for five minutes, but also closes some gaps in care, he added.

“One of the problems in this space is that providers, as much as they want to help, are stretched thin,” Winder said. “There are also access problems. Something like 50% of counties in this country lack one OB, so in-person care is difficult. Babyscripts can help patients anywhere be monitored and their health managed virtually. It can also alert a clinician when there is a real problem. We saw their data, for example, that showed preeclampsia was diagnosed 13 days faster than the standard of care.”

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Categories: Business News

Pandemic’s shift to remote wellness helps Numan raise $40M Series B led by White Star

2021, September 13 - 8:40pm

Numan, the European subscription service covering erectile dysfunction (ED) and men’s wellness/health needs more generally, has raised $40 million in a Series B funding round led by White Star Capital, with participation from existing investors Novator, Vostok New Global, Anthemis Exponential, Colle Capital and new investor Hanwha Group. The new round will be used to fuel expansion.

Numan’s services cover ED, premature ejaculation, hair loss, gut and lung health, and nutritional deficiencies. But they can also do blood tests for general health needs which don’t require in-person appointments.

Post-pandemic, the digitization of health and wellness continues apace. Had we not had a pandemic, vitamins, and the like, delivered through the letterbox, would almost certainly have continued to grow steadily as a business. But with the pandemic, businesses that can speak to our health needs remotely have exploded.

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Who would have considered taking a blood test remotely a “normal thing” two years ago? Now it’s practically required. Into this space, wellness companies have uncovered an extremely lucrative nexus of trends: an aging male population with a desire to remain sexually active, increasing awareness of their own health, the convenience of subscription, and the imperative of the pandemic to keep things remote has proven to be a powerful combination of forces.

Numan is not alone in this space. Roman and Hims, for example, are two big players in the U.S. The open door Numan is pushing against is more of this wider movement around male health, which men themselves are becoming more open to. As well as growing organically, Numan has also made two strategic acquisitions of companies in the U.K. and Sweden to expand its footprint. It’s likely this new round will lead to similar strategic plays.

With sexual health a tricky subject for men, digital services are stepping in to mitigate any embarrassment around having to sit in front of the family GP. Numan is also regulated by the Care Quality Commission as a registered healthcare provider, giving it a further stamp of approval.

Numan claims men now prefer its model to in-person healthcare meetings. In its own survey of 800 subscribers, 88% said that using the service has improved their confidence, while 68% say that using Numan has also improved their relationships, and over half said the effects of the pandemic had given them a more positive impression of using digital healthcare.

In a statement, Sokratis Papafloratos, CEO and founder of Numan, said: “This funding is a significant milestone on our journey to help millions of men be healthier. White Star Capital is one of the best investors in our space, and I’m delighted to be working together along with a wider team of brilliant investors.”

Speaking to me over a call, Papafloratos added that despite there being a lot of competition in the space “this is not a winner-takes-all-market. We have 25 languages on the team so we understand the market, patients, regulation, we understand it more in-depth than many competitors.”

Eric Martineau-Fortin, founder and managing partner, White Star Capital: “Men’s health has been under-served by traditional services and needs innovative businesses to break down barriers and ensure taboos don’t prevent men from being happy and healthy. Numan’s digital offering helps men take charge of their health discreetly and decisively. We’re incredibly excited by Sokratis and his team, and look forward to working with them as they grow.”

Categories: Business News

Egyptian startup Capiter raises $33M to expand B2B e-commerce platform across MENA

2021, September 13 - 8:08pm

Funding startups that help manufacturers and sellers distribute products and merchants access them on a single platform keeps increasing across Africa.

Today, Cairo-based B2B e-commerce startup Capiter continues that trend by raising a $33 million Series A round.

The investment was co-led by Quona Capital and MSA Capital. Other participating investors include Savola, Shorooq Partners, Foundation Ventures, Accion Venture Lab and Derayah Ventures.

Capiter was launched in July 2020 by Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Nouh. Speaking with TechCrunch, CEO Mahmoud Nouh says Capiter solves problems around reach and insights for suppliers and manufacturers.

Many of the manufacturers in Egypt today do not have the right infrastructure of the supply chain in place to reach merchants. Nouh says that manufacturers can only reach 30% of merchants in the market, but with Capiter, that number goes up between 80% to 100%.

Also, a large portion of the manufacturers’ end trade happens via traditional channels where there is basically no transparency over data or market insights.

Using machine learning, Capiter says it helps these manufacturers gain critical insights into the markets they serve, the products they sell and how they fair with competition.

Then for merchants, Capiter attends to three problems. The first is the inconvenience merchants have to deal with engaging several suppliers to find the right product. The second is transparency, which involves some back and forth between merchants and manufacturers on pricing. The third is that merchants often have little or no access to working capital to get the right product and the right time.

With Capiter, merchants can order products from FMCGs and wholesalers while the company delivers them. Capiter also provides fair pricing and matching techniques that showcases a wide range of inventory for merchants.

Then it affords working capital to them to buy more products even when they are strapped for cash. Capiter partners with local banks in Egypt and the Central Bank to perform this.

Capiter has more than 12 merchant types on its platform, including mom-and-pop stores, hotels, restaurants, cafes, electronic shops, supermarkets, grocery shops and catering companies, each with its own customized solutions.

“We’re able to get the data from the products they buy. So we offer them the best solution on what they should sell, at what time and peak seasons, including when are the offerings happening. All of these are customized solutions that we offer,” said Mahmoud Nouh.

The Capiter app. Image Credits: Capiter

The company’s revenues are derived from little margins on the products bought from manufacturers and sold to merchants. Then on rebates for the suppliers and commission from the working capital provided to merchants. Capiter also makes money from providing market insights and data services to manufacturers and FMCGs.

Typically B2B e-commerce platforms operate either asset-light or inventory-heavy models. Nouh tells me that Capiter chose to use a hybrid model — making deliveries without owning any trucks to ensure scalability and owning inventory, especially for high-turnover products helping the company with high availability and better pricing.

“This way has enabled us to scale the business in a very fast manner and at the same time, efficiently and reliably. Regarding warehouses and trucks, we don’t own them; we rent them. We deal with third-party logistics for transportation and we manage them.”

Over 50,000 merchants and 1,000 sellers use Capiter. According to CEO Nouh, the company has provided up to 6,000 SKUs. He also adds that the company is targeting an annualized revenue of $1 billion by next year.

“We’re on a very good trajectory for achieving this,” he added. “In terms of team members, we have a team of more than 1,000 people at the moment, including in warehouses, delivery, etc. So we’ve seen good traction across all board,” he answered when asked about Capiter’s traction.

Quona Capital, the co-lead investor in this round, is known to have made some B2B e-commerce bets over the past years, for instance, Kenya’s Sokowatch. The investment in Capiter adds to the firm’s portfolio in that regard and a growing presence in the MENA region being its first check made in Egypt.

In a statement, Quona co-founder and managing partner Monica Brand Engel said, “Capiter’s embedded finance model, combined with its expertise and strong user engagement, can have a dramatic impact on the financial lives of SMEs, helping them optimize their income which helps communities to thrive.”

“SME supply chain inefficiencies are massive throughout the Middle East. We believe the key blocker is the lack of working capital in the system. Capiter has built an asset-light way to aggregate retailers and suppliers and facilitate credit into the system through a comprehensive multi-product offering such as commerce, credit financing, digital payments, bookkeeping and inventory management for SMEs, leveraging on the ecosystem built by the local banks and financial institutions.” adds Ben Harburg, partner at MSA Capital, a global VC that has invested in fintechs like Nubank and Klarna.

According to Ahmed Nouh, the company’s COO, Capiter will expand into new verticals like agriculture and pharmaceutical offerings.

The co-founder brings experience from the shipping and logistics space. Both he and Mahmoud are serial entrepreneurs. The latter’s journey is quite prominent, having worked in the mobility space as the co-founder and COO of Egyptian ride-hailing company SWVL. The company recently announced a potential SPAC deal valuing it at $1.5 billion and is one of the few African startups breeding a tech mafia. Ahmed Sabbah, another co-founder of the company, now runs early-stage fintech startup Telda.

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Capiter has attracted a global team that brings together expertise from companies like Careem and Flipkart needed to achieve the company’s targets, said Mahmoud.

He adds that the team, alongside the provision of financial services via partnerships with banks and its hybrid model, are ways the company stands out in a competitive market with the likes of Fatura, Bosta and MaxAB.

Following this investment, the company plans to expand vertically (in terms of the buyer type) and geographically within the next year.

“We want to serve every single SME in the MENA region and expanding inside Egypt and globally.” He adds that Savola Group, one of its investors and the largest investor for FMCG products in the MENA region, will prove pivotal to this growth. Capiter also plans to diversify its financial services offerings to include payments. 

Categories: Business News

Commercetools raises $140M at a $1.9B valuation as ‘headless’ commerce continues to boom

2021, September 13 - 7:50pm

E-commerce these days is now a major part of every retailer’s strategy, so technology builders and platforms that are helping them compete better on digital screens are seeing a huge boost in business. In the latest turn, Commercetools — a provider of e-commerce APIs that larger retailers can use to build customized payment, check-out, social commerce, marketplace and other services — has closed $140 million in funding, a Series C that CEO Dirk Hoerig has confirmed to me values the company at $1.9 billion. 

The funding is being led by Accel, with previous investors Insight Partners and REWE Group also participating. Munich, Germany-based Commercetools spun out of REWE — a giant German retailer, and also a customer — and announced $145 million in investment led by Insight in October 2019.

This latest round represents a huge hike on its valuation since then, when Commercetools was valued at around $300 million.

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Part of the reason for the big bump, of course, has been the wave of interest in digital transactions from shopping online. E-commerce was already growing at a steady pace before 2020, by some estimates representing more than half of all commerce transactions. The COVID-19 pandemic turbo-charged that proportion, with many retailers switching exclusively to internet sales, and consumers stuck at home happy to shop with a click.

While companies like Shopify have addressed the needs of smaller retailers, providing them with an alternative or complement to listing on third-party marketplaces like Amazon’s, Commercetools has built its business around catering to larger retailers and the many specific, large-scale needs and investment budgets that they may have for building their digital commerce solutions.

It provides some 300 APIs today around some nine “buckets” of services, and a wide network of integration partners, Hoerig said, and powers some $10 billion of sales annually for its customers, which include the likes of Audi, AT&T, Danone, Tiffany & Co., John Lewis and many others.

“Our main focus is the retailer with more than $100 million in gross merchandise value,” Hoerig said. “This is when it becomes interesting.” But he added that the force of market growth is such that Commercetools is also seeing a lot of business from smaller companies that are simply needing more functionality to address their fast growth. “So we also sometimes have customers that start at $5 million in GMV and quickly go to $50 million. With that scale, they also have specific requirements, so the lines get a bit blurry.” (And that also explains why investors are so interested: there is a lot of evidence of the market growing and growing; and by capturing smaller retailers on big trajectories, that represents a lot more scale for Commercetools.)

Hoerig is sometimes credited with being the person who first coined the term “headless commerce”, which basically means APIs that can be used by a company, or its team of strategists, developers and designers, to build their own customized check-out and other purchasing experiences, rather than fitting these into templates provided by the tech company powering the checkout.

But as the API economy has continued to grow, and the world of non-tech companies that use tech continues to mature, that has taken on a mass-market appeal, and so Commercetools is far from being the only one in this area. In addition to Shopify (which has its own version targeting larger businesses, Shopify Plus), others include SprykerSwellFabricChord and Shogun.

Commercetools will be using the funding both to continue organically expanding its business, but also to make some acquisitions to bolt on new customers, and new technology, tapping into some of the scaling and consolidation that is taking place across e-commerce as a whole. What will be interesting to see is where consolidation will happen, and which startups will be raising money to scale on their own: right now there is a lot of enthusiasm around the space because it is so buoyant, and that will spell more money being funneled to more startups.

Case in point: When I first got wind of this funding round, Commercetools told me it was in the middle of a deal to acquire a company. In the end, that company decided to stay independent and take some more investment to try to grow on its own. Hoerig said it’s now pursuing another target.

Indeed, that is also the bigger force that has brought Commercetools to where it is today.

“The chance to invest in a fast-growing, innovative commerce platform was one we could not pass up,” said Ping Li, the partner at Accel who led on this deal, in a statement. “Commercetools provides e-commerce enterprises the technology necessary to capture revenue in the rapidly growing global e-commerce market.”

Categories: Business News

Billogram, provider of a payments platform specifically for recurring billing, raises $45M

2021, September 13 - 6:30pm

Payments made a huge shift to digital platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic — purchasing moved online for many consumers and businesses, and a large proportion of those continuing to buy and sell in-person went cash-free. Today a startup that has been focusing on one specific aspect of payments — recurring billing — is announcing a round of funding to capitalize on that growth with expansion of its own. Billogram, which has built a platform for third parties to build and handle any kind of recurring payments (not one-off purchases), has closed a round of $45 million.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Partech, and will be used to help the Stockholm-based startup expand from its current base in Sweden to six more markets, Jonas Suijkerbuijk, Billogram’s CEO and founder, said in an interview, to cover more of Germany (where it’s already active now), Norway, Finland, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy.

The company got its start working with SMBs in 2011 but pivoted some years later to working with larger enterprises, which make up the majority of its business today. Suijkerbuijk said that in 2020, signed deals went up by 300%, and the first half of 2021 grew 50% more on top of that. Its users include utilities like Skanska Energi and broadband company Ownit, and others like remote healthcare company Kry, businesses that take invoice and take monthly payments from their customers. (There are others that the company is under NDA with that it cannot disclose.)

While there has been a lot of attention around how companies like Apple and Google are handling subscriptions and payments in apps, what Billogram focuses on is a different beast, and much more complex: It’s more integrated into the business providing services, and it may involve different services, and the fees can vary over every billing period. It’s for this reason that, in fact, even big companies in the realm of digital payments, like Stripe, which might even already have products that can help manage subscriptions on their platforms, partner with companies like Billogram to build the experiences to manage their more involved kinds of payment services.

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I should point out here that Suijkerbuijk told me that Stripe recently became a partner of Billograms, which is very interesting… but he also added that a number of the big payments companies have talked to Billogram. He also confirmed that currently Stripe is not an investor in the company. “We have a very good relationship,” he said.

It’s not surprising to see Stripe and others wanting to move in the area of more complex, recurring billing services. Researchers estimate that the market size (revenues and services) for subscription and recurring billing will be close to $6 billion this year, with that number ballooning to well over $10 billion by 2025. And indeed, the effort to make a payment or any kind of transaction will continue to be a point of friction in the world of commerce, so any kinds of systems that bring technology to bear to make that easier and something that consumers or businesses will do without thinking about it, will be valuable, and will likely grow in dominance. (It’s why the more basic subscription services, such as a Prime membership, a Netflix subscription or a cloud storage account, are such winners.)

Within that very big pie, Suijkerbuijk noted that rather than the Apples and Googles of the world, the kinds of businesses that Billogram currently competes against are those that are addressing the same thornier end of the payments spectrum that Billogram is addressing. These include a wide swathe of incumbent companies that do a lot of their business in areas like debt collection, and other specialists like Scaleworks-backed Chargify — which itself got a big investment injection earlier this year from Battery Ventures, which put $150 million into both it and another billing provider, SaaSOptics, in April.

The former group of competitors are not currently a threat to Billogram, he added.

“Debt collecting agencies are big on invoicing, but no one — not their customers, nor their customers’ customers — loves them, so they are great competitors to have,” Suijkerbuijk joked.

This also means that Billogram is not likely to move into debt collection itself as it continues to expand. Instead, he said, the focus will be on building out more tools to make the invoicing and payments experience better and less painful to customers. That will likely include more moves into customer service and generally improving the overall billing experience — something we have seen become a bigger area also during the pandemic, as companies realized that they needed to address non-payments in a different way from how their used to, given world events and the impact they were having on individuals.

“We are excited to partner with Jonas and the team at Billogram,” says Omri Benayoun, general partner at Partech, in a statement. “Having spotted a gap in the market, they have quietly built the most advanced platform for large B2C enterprises looking to integrate billing, payment, and collection in one single solution. In our discussion with leading utilities, telecom, e-health, and all other clients across Europe, we realized how valuable Billogram was for them in order to engage with their end-users through a top-notch billing and payment experience. The outstanding commercial traction demonstrated by Billogram has further cemented our conviction, and we can’t wait to support the team in bringing their solution to many more customers in Europe and beyond!”

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Categories: Business News

Indonesia-based Rey Assurance launches its holistic approach to insurance with $1M in funding

2021, September 13 - 1:00pm

Rey Assurance co-founders Bobby Siagian and Evan Tanotogono

Health insurance is the kind of thing people usually only think about only when they need it. Otherwise, their policies are just paperwork in their files or cards in their wallet. Indonesian insurtech Rey Assurance is taking a new approach. Once someone becomes a member, they also get access to a platform of health services, including AI-based self-assessment tools, 24/7 telemedicine consultations for no added fee and pharmacy deliveries. The startup is launching out of stealth today, having already raised $1 million in pre-seed funding from the Trans-Pacific Technology Fund (TPTF). 

Rey was founded this year by Evan Tanotogono, former head of digital channel at Sequis, one of Indonesia largest insurers, and Bobby Siagian, who held lead engineering roles at companies including Tokopedia and Sea Group. They are joined by insurance industry veteran David Nugrho as their chief business officer. 

They created Rey to address the low penetration of life and health insurance in Indonesia. “When you look at the root causes and pain points, you are looking at problems that are systemic here,” Tanotogono said. These include low awareness, expensive distribution channels like agents and telemarketing, high premiums and complicated policies.

“People feel like the product is really complex, the process is difficult and they don’t get the best value for the money. It’s been that way for many, many years,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe that we cannot just go into the market and digitize part of the value chain.”

Plans start from about $4 USD per month and are available for individual or groups, like families, and small businesses. Rey’s wellness ecosystem was created to give customers more value for their money, and help differentiate it from other companies in Indonesia’s growing insurtech industry. Some other startups that have recently raised funding include Lifepal, PasarPolis and Qoala.

“Right now, if you look at insurance in Indonesia, if the premium is high, maybe 80% or 90% of that is used for the distribution channel. Now if we optimize something for digital distribution, then we can reduce the price and use the rest for the wellness features,” Tanotogono added. 

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TPTF managing partner Glenn Kline told TechCrunch that Rey’s founding team was “really the driver” for its investment. “We felt these people really know where the pain points are and they understand clearly how not to try to change the legacy system, but create a whole new platform from the very beginning, where the core value proposition is an integrated solution that is simple and hassle-free.” 

Instead of doing the underwriting themselves, Rey works with insurance partners to design proprietary policies. The goal is to have an onboarding process that is completely online and only takes about five minutes, and a mostly cashless claim and reimbursement system through Rey’s payment cards. If its payment card can’t be used at healthcare provider, claims can be submitted by uploading receipt photos to the app. 

Tanotogono said this is much faster than traditional insurance providers, which can take up to 14 working days to reimburse a claim, and made possible with Rey’s proprietary claim adjudication technology. 

Rey’s wellness ecosystem currently covers primary care services, including chats and video calls with medical providers. In the future, it plans to add specialists to the platforms.

Customers can also link their health wearables for incentives. For example, if they hit certain step or activity goals, they get rewards like discounts or shopping vouchers. Rey’s long-term plan is to link wearables more deeply to its insurance policies, using data to personalize policies and premiums.

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Categories: Business News

With sales momentum, Bookshop.org looks to future in its fight with Amazon

2021, September 13 - 12:17am

If Gutenberg were alive today, he’d be a very busy angel investor.

With book sales booming during the COVID-19 lockdowns last year, the humble written word has suddenly drawn the limelight from VCs and founders. We’ve seen a whole cavalcade of new products and fundings, including algorithmic recommendation engine BingeBooks, book club startups like Literati and the aptly named BookClub, as well as streaming service Litnerd. There have also been exits and potential exits for Glose, LitCharts and Epic.

But the one company that has captured the imagination of a lot of readers has been Bookshop.org, which has become the go-to platform for independent local bookstores to build an online storefront and compete with Amazon’s juggernaut. The company, which debuted just as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading in January 2020, rapidly garnered headlines and profiles of its founder Andy Hunter, an industrious publisher with a deep love for the reading ecosystem.

After a year and a half, how is it all holding up? The good news for the company is that even as customers are returning to retail including bookstores, Bookshop hasn’t seen a downturn. Hunter said that August sales this year were 10% higher than July’s, and that the company is on track to do about as many sales in 2021 as in 2020. He contextualized those figures by pointing out that in May, bookstore sales increased 130% year over year. “That means our sales are additive,” he said.

Bookshop now hosts 1,100 stores on its platform, and it has more than 30,000 affiliates who curate book recommendations. Those lists have become central to Bookshop’s offering. “You get all these recommendation lists from not just bookstores, but also literary magazines, literary organizations, book lovers, and librarians,” Hunter said.

Bookshop, which is a public-benefit corporation, earns money as all ecommerce businesses do, by moving inventory. But what differentiates it is that it’s fairly liberal in paying money to affiliates and to bookstores who join its Platform Seller program. Affiliates are paid 10% for a sale, while bookstores themselves take 30% of the cover price of sales they generate through the platform. In addition, 10% of affiliate and direct sales on Bookshop are placed in a profit-sharing pool which is then shared with member bookstores. According to its website, Bookshop has disbursed $15.8 million to bookstores since launch.

The company has had a lot of developments in its first year and a half of business, but what happens next? For Hunter, the key is to build a product that continues to engage both customers and bookstores in as simple a manner as possible. “Keep the Occam’s razor,” he says of his product philosophy. For every feature, “it’s going to add to the experience and not confuse a customer.”

That’s easier said than done, of course. “For me, the challenge now is to create a platform that is extremely compelling to customers, that does everything that booksellers want us to do, and to create the best online book buying and book selling experience,” Hunter said. What that often means in practice is keeping the product feeling “human” (like shopping in a bookstore) while also helping booksellers maximize their advantages online.

Bookshop.org CEO and founder Andy Hunter. Image Credits: Idris Solomon.

For instance, Hunter said the company has been working hard with bookstores to optimize their recommendation lists for search engine discovery. SEO isn’t exactly a skill you learn in the traditional retail industry, but it’s crucial online to stay competitive. “We now have stores that rank number one in Google for book recommendations from their book lists,” he said. “Whereas two years ago, all those links would have been Amazon links.” He noted that the company is also layering in best practices around email marketing, customer communications, and optimizing conversion rates onto its platform.

Bookshop.org offers tens of thousands of lists, which provide a more “human” approach to finding books than algorithmic recommendations.

For customers, a huge emphasis for Bookshop going forward is eschewing the algorithmic recommendation model popular among top Silicon Valley companies in lieu of a far more human-curated experience. With tens of thousands of affiliates, “it does feel like a buzzing hive of … institutions and retailers who make up the diverse ecosystem around books,” Hunter said. “They all have their own personalities [and we want to] let those personalities show through.”

There’s a lot to do, but that doesn’t mean dark clouds aren’t menacing on the horizon.

Amazon, of course, is the biggest challenge for the company. Hunter noted that the company’s Kindle devices are extremely popular, and that gives the ecommerce giant an even stronger lock-in that it can’t attain with physical sales. “Because of DRM and publisher agreements, it’s really hard to sell an ebook and allow someone to read it on Kindle,” he said, likening the nexus to Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer on Windows. “There is going to have to be a court case.” It’s true that people love their Kindles, but even “if you love Amazon… then you have to acknowledge that it is not healthy.”

I asked about whether he was worried about the number of startups getting funded in the books space, and whether that funding could potentially crowd out Bookshop. “The book club startups — they are going to succeed by putting books — and conversations about books — in front of the largest audience,” Hunter believes. “So that is going to make everyone succeed.” He is concerned though with the focus on “disruption” and says that “I do hope they succeed in a way that partners with independent bookstores and members of the community that exist.”

Ultimately, Hunter’s strategic concern isn’t directed to competitors or even the question of whether the book is dead (it’s not), but a more specific challenge: that today’s publishing ecosystem ensures that only the top handful of books succeed. Often dubbed “the midlist

problem,” Hunter is worried about the increasingly blockbuster nature of books these days. “One book will suck up most of the oxygen and most of the conversation or the top 20 books [while] great innovative works from young authors or diverse voices don’t get the attention they deserve,” he said. Bookshop is hoping that human curation through its lists can help to sustain a more vibrant book ecosystem than recommendation algorithms, which constantly push readers to the biggest winners.

As Bookshop heads into its third year of operations, Hunter just wants to keep the focus on humans and bringing the rich experience of browsing in a store to the online world. Ultimately, it’s about intentionality. “I really want people to understand that we are creating the future we live in with all of these small decisions about where we shop and how we shop and we should remain very conscious about how we deliberate about those,” he said. “I want Bookshop to be fun to shop at and not just a place to do your civil duty.”

Now that summer is forever, here are 6 books on climate change to sharpen your intuitions and models

Categories: Business News

What minority founders must consider before entering the venture-backed startup ecosystem

2021, September 12 - 10:38pm
Sesie Bonsi Contributor Share on Twitter Sesie Bonsi is the founder and CEO of Bleu, a financial technology platform focused on enabling touchless payment experiences.

Funding for Black entrepreneurs in the U.S. hit nearly $1.8 billion in the first half of 2021 — a fourfold increase from the previous year. But most venture-backed startups are “still overwhelmingly white, male, Ivy-League-educated and based in Silicon Valley,” according to a study conducted by RateMyInvestor and Diversity VC.

With venture investors committing to funding Black and minority founders, alongside the growing availability of government-backed proposals, such as New Jersey allocating $10 million to a seed fund for Black and Latinx startups, can we expect to see fundamental change? Or will we have to repeat the same conversations about representation failings within VC funds?

Crunchbase examined the access to capital in the venture-backed startup ecosystem and proved that many industry leaders still worry that nothing will drastically shift. As a Black fintech founder, I believe that venture investors are making safe bets and investing in late-stage founders instead of early or even pre-seed stages.

But what about those minority founders who don’t have family, friends or connections to lean on for the first $250,000? Venture funding does remain elusive, but here are some tricks for startup founders to hack the system.

Realize you are up against an outdated system

Getting your foot in the door with new venture capitalist partners is challenging, and it is often easy for minority founders to be naive at first. I thought that reading TechCrunch and analyzing other VC deals I saw in the news would help me land multiple responses and speak the language of those who managed to score million-dollar deals for their startups. However, I didn’t receive a single response while other founders received VC investment for basic ideas.

This is something I had to learn the hard way: What you hear in the media or read on a company blog post often simplifies the process, and sometimes fails to cover the trajectory that minority founders, in particular, must follow to secure funding.

I experienced hundreds of rejections before raising $2 million to start a mobile payment platform, Bleu, using beacon technology to drive simple and secure payments. It is a huge mountain to climb and a full-time job to continuously pitch your vision and yourself to reach the first meeting with a VC fund — and that’s still miles away from a funding discussion.

These discussions then bring further biases to the surface. If you sat in the conference rooms or on those Zoom calls and heard the types of deals proposed to minority founders, you’d see how offensive they can be. Often, these founders are offered all the money they have requested — but don’t be fooled. It is usually not given all at once due to what I consider to be a lack of trust. Essentially, interval funding equates to being babysat.

Therefore, as a minority founder, you have to realize that it will be a long ride, and you will face rejections because you are at a disadvantage before even opening your mouth to pitch your idea. It is all possible, but patience is key.

Think of the worst-case scenario

Once I figured out how complicated the funding process was, my coping mechanism was to figure out how to capitalize on the business ideas I already had in place in case I never received any VC funding.

Think: How could you make money without an institutional investor, friends, family or internal networks? You’ll be surprised by your entrepreneurial thirst for success when you’ve experienced 100 rejections. This is why minority businesses caught in these testing situations can quickly gain the upper hand, whether through ancillary and side businesses or crowdfunding over GoFundMe and Kickstarter.

Although generally considered non-essential, ancillary companies do provide a regular flow of income and services to assist your core business idea. Most importantly, a recurring revenue stream outside your core business demonstrates to investors that you can create valuable products and acquire loyal customers.

Make sure to find a niche market and carry out surveys with potential clients to find out what specific needs they have. Then, build a product with their feedback in mind and launch it to beta clients. When you publicly release the product, find resellers to keep internal headcount low and generate recurring revenue.

Don’t take ancillaries lightly, though; they are not just a side business. There can be payment issues if you get hooked on them for revenue, distractions from clients or partners wanting custom requests, and supply chain problems.

In my case, I built a point-of-sale (POS) software platform to sell to merchants, which gave me a different revenue stream that could integrate with Bleu’s payment technology. These ancillary businesses can help fund your core business until you manage to plan how to launch fully or source further funding.

In 2019, The New York Times published an article headlined “More Start-Ups Have an Unfamiliar Message for Venture Capitalists: Get Lost.” It highlights how more and more entrepreneurs shunned by the VC funding route are turning to alternatives and forming counter-movements. There are always alternatives to look at if the fundraising process is proving to be too arduous.

Make serious headway with accelerators

Accelerators allow ventures to define their products or services, quickly build networks and, most importantly, sit at tables they wouldn’t be able to on their own. Applying to accelerators as a minority founder was the real turning point for me because I met a crucial investor who allowed us to build credibility and open up to new networks, investors and clients.

I would suggest looking out for accelerators explicitly searching for minority founders by using platforms such as F6S. They match you with accelerators and early growth programs committed to innovation in various global industries, like financial technology. That’s how I found the VC FinTech Accelerator in 2016, where one-third of founders were from minority backgrounds.

Then, Bleu earned a spot in the 2020 class of the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator dedicated to supporting innovative startups in fintech and health tech industries. These types of accelerators offer startups workshops, technical and business mentorship, and access to a network of partners, customers and stakeholders.

You can impress accelerators by creating a pitch deck and a company video less than two minutes long that shows your founder and the product, and engaging with the fintech community to spread the news.

The other alternative to accelerators is government funds, but they have had little success investing in startups for myriad reasons. It tends to be a more hands-off approach as government funds are not under significant pressure from limited partners (LPs, either institutional or individual investors) to perform.

What you need as a minority founder is an investor who is an active partner but, with government-backed funds, there is less demand to return the capital. We have to ask ourselves whether governments are really searching for the best minority-owned startups to help them get sufficient returns.

Tap into foreign markets

There are many unconscious social stigmas, stereotypes and unseen biases that exist in the U.S. And you’ll find those cultural dynamics are radically different in other countries that don’t have the same history of discrimination, especially when looking at a team or assessing founders.

I also noticed that, as well as reduced bias, investors out of Southeast Asia, Nordic countries and Australia seemed far more likely to take risks on new contactless payment technology as cash use decreased across their regions. Take Klarna and Afterpay as examples of fintech success stories.

First, I engaged in market research and pored over annual reports to decide whether I should look abroad for funding, instead of applying to funds closer to home. I looked at Nielsen reports, payment publications, PaymentSource and numerous government documents or white papers to figure out the cash usage globally.

My investigations revealed that fintech in Australia was far ahead of the curve, with four-fifths of the population using contactless payments. The financial services sector is also the largest contributor to the national economy, contributing around $140 billion to GDP a year. Therefore, I spoke to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the U.S., and they recommended some regulatory payment groups.

I immediately flew to Australia to meet with the banking community, and I was able to find an Australian investor by word of mouth who was surrounded by the demand for mobile payment solutions.

In contrast, an investor in the U.S. still using cash and card had no interest in what I had to say. This highlights the importance of market research and seeking out investors rather than waiting for them to come to you. There is no science to it; leverage your network and reach out to people over LinkedIn, too.

The need to diversify the VC industry internally

VC funding needs to become more inclusive for women and minority groups by tackling the pipeline problem and addressing the level of diversity within VC funds. All of the networks that VCs reach out to first tend to come from university programs at Stanford, MIT and Harvard. These more privileged and wealthy students are able to easily leverage the traditional and outdated networks built to benefit them.

The number of venture dollars flowing to Black and Latinx founders is dismally low partly due to this knowledge gap; many female and minority founders don’t even know that VC funding is an option for them. Therefore, if you do receive seed funding, spread the news about it within your networks to help others.

Inclusion starts at the educational level but, when the percentage of Black and minority students at these elite colleges are still low, you can see why minority representation is needed in the VC ranks. Even if representation rises by a percent, that would be a significant change.

There are increasing numbers of VC funds announcing initiatives and interest in investing in minority businesses, and I would recommend looking at these in-depth. But what about the demographics of the VC firms? How many ethnicities are present in the executive ranks?

To change the venture-backed startup ecosystem, we need to start at the top and diversify those signing the checks. Looking toward the future, it is Black-led funds, like Sequoia, or others that focus on diversity, like Women’s Venture Fund, BackStage Capital and Elevate Capital Inclusive Fund, that are lighting the way to solutions that will reflect the diversity of the U.S.

It’s up to the investor community at large to be intentional about building relationships with, and ultimately providing funding to, more women and minority-led startups.

Despite the barriers and hurdles minority founders face when searching for VC funding, more and more avenues for acquiring funding are appearing as the disparities are brought to the media’s attention.

As the outdated system adjusts, the key is to continue preparing yourself for rejections and searching for appropriate accelerators to build vital networks. Then, if you aren’t having any luck, consider what you could do with your business idea without the VC funding or turn to foreign markets, which may have a different setup and varied opportunities.

Categories: Business News

Is it so bad to take money from Chinese venture funds?

2021, September 11 - 6:14am
Denis Kalinin Contributor Share on Twitter Denis Kalinin works at venture fund Runa Capital as Asia Business development manager, devoted to connecting the Western and Asian VC worlds and bringing long-term value to both.

China is becoming a superpower in the tech industry. According to Straits Times, China is the only place in the world where it takes less than six years for a startup to become a unicorn — it takes seven years in the U.S., eight years in the U.K. and 11 years in Germany. Despite geopolitical tensions and recent amendments in CFIUS, it is hard to ignore China.

When I joined Runa Capital almost a year ago, my task was to help our portfolio companies enter the Chinese market, find the right partners and raise funding from Chinese investors. And almost on every call with our startups, colleagues from Runa or other global VCs, I heard: Is it a good idea to raise from a Chinese VC? Is it OK to co-invest with Chinese investors? I was surprised to learn that there is little research answering such questions, as there is a lack of adequate information in English about Chinese investments.

Access to the Chinese market seems to be an obvious reason to invite Chinese funds aboard, but only about 20% of Western startups with Chinese capital have operations in China.

So as a Mandarin-speaking specialist, I decided to fill this gap by conducting a study based on Chinese VC database ITjuzi (the Chinese version of Crunchbase) with the help of our powerful data science resources developed by Danil Okhlopkov.

Below, I will try to answer the following questions using statistics and a case-based approach:

  • How much do Chinese funds invest abroad?
  • What is the current trend?
  • Can Chinese investors bring any value to Western startups?
  • Who are the most active Chinese investors abroad?
  • In which areas can Chinese funds bring the most value?
  • What value can Chinese investors bring?
  • When is it better to invite a Chinese investor?
Chinese investors are interested in Western startups

After studying data from ITjuzi, we estimated that Chinese funds invested around $250 billion in 2020 (three times higher than the figure reported in Crunchbase). This figure puts Chinese VC investments only 30% lower than investments by U.S. funds, but three times that of U.K. funds and 12.5 times more than German funds.

Fig. 1 — Comparison of investment from different countries in 2020, $bn. Source: Crunchbase, ITjuzi. Image Credits: Denis Kalinin

However, only 15% of investments in 2020 and 17% of investments in the first half of 2021 were in companies outside China, significantly lower than in 2019. This appears to be because during COVID, China’s economy recovered much faster than other countries’, so many Chinese investors preferred to redirect their capital flows to the domestic market.

On the other hand, there is great potential for overseas investments to rebound as soon as the borders reopen and the global economy starts to recover.

Fig. 2 — Dynamics of Chinese investments. $bn. Source: Crunchbase, ITjuzi. Image Credits: Denis Kalinin

We can also see that Chinese investors are eyeing European startups favorably, which is related to U.S.-China geopolitical tensions as well as the fact that the European VC market is becoming mature.

Categories: Business News

Is India’s BNPL 2.0 set to disrupt B2B?

2021, September 11 - 4:50am
Anubhav Jain Contributor Share on Twitter Anubhav Jain is co-founder and CEO of Rupifi, India’s first embedded lending fintech. He has more than a decade of experience in credit risk, analytics, customer management and portfolio development.

Both as a term and as a financial product, “buy now, pay later” has become mainstream in the past few years. BNPL has evolved to assume various forms today, from small-ticket offerings by fintechs on consumer checkout platforms and marketplaces, to closed-loop products offered on marketplaces such as Amazon Pay Later (which they are now extending for outside use as well). You can also see some variants offered by companies that want to expand the scope of consumption and consumer credit.

Globally, BNPL has seen the most growth in the consumer segment and has driven retail consumption and lending over the past few years. Consumer BNPL offerings are a good alternative to credit cards, especially for people who do not have a credit history and can’t get credit from banks. That said, a specific vertical of BNPL products is gaining traction — one targeted toward small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This new vertical is known as “SME BNPL.”

BNPL can be particularly useful when flow-based underwriting or transaction-based underwriting is used to offer credit to small businesses.

B2B commerce in India is moving online

E-commerce has seen tremendous growth in India over the past decade. Skyrocketing smartphone and internet penetration led to rapid growth in e-commerce across large cities and smaller towns alike. Consumer credit has also taken off in parallel as credit cards and digital lending spurred credit-based consumption across offline and online stores.

However, the large B2B supply chain enabling the burgeoning retail market was plagued by bottlenecks and inefficiencies because it involved a plethora of intermediaries and streamlining became a big problem. A number of tech players responded by organizing the previously disorganized B2B commerce market at various touch points, inserting convenience, pricing and easier product access through tech-enabled logistics and a modern supply chain.

Image Credits: Redseer

India’s B2B e-commerce space has developed rapidly since 2020. Small businesses have moved from using paper to smartphone apps for running a significant part of their day-to-day business, leading to widespread disruption in how businesses transact today. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced small businesses, which were earlier using physical means to procure goods and services, to try new and online models to conduct their affairs.

Image Credits: Redseer

Moreover, the Indian government’s widespread promotion of an instant payments system in the form of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has changed how people send money to each other or pay merchants for their goods and services. The next step for solving the digital B2B puzzle is to embed credit inside every transaction and invoice.

Image Credits: Redseer

If we compare online B2B transactions to the offline world, there is only one missing link: The terms offered to small businesses by their supplier/distributor or vendor. Businesses, unlike consumers, must buy goods and services to eventually trade them, or add value and sell to consumers or others down the value chain. This process is not immediate and has a certain time cycle attached.

The longer sales cycle means many small businesses require credit payment terms when buying inventory. As B2B commerce scales and grows through digital means, a BNPL product that caters to the needs of SMEs can support their growth and alleviate the burden on their cash flows.

How does consumer BNPL differ from SME BNPL?

An SME BNPL product is a purchase financing product for small businesses transacting with suppliers, distributors, aggregator platforms or B2B marketplaces.

Categories: Business News

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