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Robotic landscaping startup Scythe emerges from stealth with $13.8M raise

2021, June 15 - 10:30pm

Founded in 2018, Scythe Robotics is emerging from stealth today by announcing an $13.8 million Series A raise. The round was led by Inspired Capital and features True Ventures, Zigg Capital and Lemnos. It brings the Boulder, Colorado-based landscaping robotics company’s total funding up to $18.6 million, including a $4 million seed, also led by True Ventures.

The startup’s first product is an autonomous mower, offered to customers through a Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) model. The method is becoming increasingly popular in the enterprise and industrial space, essentially offering clients robotics through a rental model that includes regular updates and maintenance. Interestingly, the company’s charging customers based on acres mowed.

The mower features eight HDR cameras and a variety of sensors designed to help avoid people, animals and various obstacles it might encounter on the job. Naturally, all of those sensors also come with a wealth of data collection aimed at — among other things — increasing the robot’s efficiency. Landscaping is a relatively low-hanging fruit for robotics. There’s certainly a lot to be said for automating the process for those with large swaths of land. Toro, notably, recently acquired Left Hand Robotics, and iRobot has announced its own (since delayed) robotic mower.

“To date, commercial landscape contractors haven’t had a technology partner who enables them to keep up with demand and to operate emissions-free. We are that partner,” said co-founder and CEO Jack Morrison in a release. “Our autonomous mower gives them the ability to grow their business, while staying green. It’s designed from the ground up to be an order of magnitude more reliable, more productive, and safer than any existing machine by incorporating state of the art autonomy with a rugged, all-electric design.”

Funding will go toward increasing headcount in its Colorado, Texas and Florida offices, R&D on further products and getting the mower in front of new customers.

Toro acquires robotic tractor/snow blower maker, Left Hand Robotics

Categories: Business News

Messaging social network IRL hits unicorn status with SoftBank-led $170M Series C

2021, June 15 - 10:00pm

Social calendar app IRL has been busy building a messaging-based social network, or what founder and CEO Abraham Shafi calls a “WeChat of the West.” Following its pandemic-fueled growth and further push into the social networking space with group chat and other features, IRL is today announcing a sizable $170 million Series C growth round, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2. The fundraise also mints IRL as a new unicorn with a $1.17 billion valuation.

Besides SoftBank, new investor Dragoneer also participated in the oversubscribed round, alongside returning investors Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund and Floodgate. To date, IRL has raised over $200 million.

The startup began its life as a tool for discovering real-world events — an industry that went to zero almost overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That could have been the end for IRL, but the startup quickly pivoted to prioritize discovery of online events instead. Under COVID lockdowns, users could turn to the app to find things like livestreamed concerts, esports events, Zoom parties and more.

Image Credits: IRL

IRL focused on pulling in popular online events from places like Live Nation, Twitch, YouTube, TikTok and others.

As a result, IRL became more accessible because its audience was no longer limited only to those who had time and money to travel to real-world events.

That focus also helped the app to attract a crowd of younger users who are of the generation that doesn’t use Facebook.

“They essentially use Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok,” explains Shafi. “But there is no groups and events product for that generation,” he points out.

Earlier this year, the company doubled down on its social networking features with the launch of a new site that added things like user profiles, support for group chats, the ability to join group events, personalized recommendations and more. As users could now network with friends across both web and mobile, IRL began to feel more like a social network, not just an event-discovery engine.

Image Credits: IRL

Today, IRL has 20 million users and 12 million who use the app monthly, which are not startling numbers in comparison to major social networks and their billions of users. But the numbers are representative of a steady approach that helped IRL grow 400% over the past 15 months, despite COVID’s impact to real-world events.

But as of recently, things are starting to change. In-person events are starting to return. California, the home state for San Francisco-based IRL, is today re-opening, for example. That opens up IRL to once again focus on connecting people not just online, but also “in real life,” as its name implies.

That could mean helping people better connect around events with not just their own friend group, as is often the case today, but helping them discover new groups in their local area or on campus. The company is even planning to use a portion of its fundraise to help fuel the new events economy by allocating a certain amount of money per city that will go toward helping people put on real-world events. The exact details are still being worked out, Shafi says, but says the idea is that IRL wants to help “bring culture back in cities that are opening up again.”

IRL also plans to expand its international footprint by finding ways to bring in non-U.S. users to its platform — possibly beginning with the events focused on watching the Olympics. (If the Games are not again delayed or canceled due to a COVID surge.)

Shafi says IRL hadn’t been planning to fundraise, but they decided to take the meetings when they were approached.

“The philosophy is not to raise when you have to, but to raise when it makes sense. And we were scaling like crazy to the point where our servers were melting. It made sense to take those discussions very seriously when they came to us,” he says.

The addition of SoftBank and Dragoneer brings some expertise in scaling large social networks to the IRL team. SoftBank’s other notable social networking investment is with TikTok owner’s Bytedance, while Dragoneer has backed Snap. IRL has already has a close relationship with TikTok as it’s worked with the video app to pull in interesting events for discovery. It more recently integrated with TikTok’s new “Login Kit,” too, allowing TikTok users to authenticate with IRL using their TikTok credentials.

Now, IRL plans to add an even deeper TikTok integration — something that caught SoftBank’s attention.

Shafi is cagey on the details, but says more will be announced in the “coming weeks.”

“But what I can say is that we’ve seen a ton of growth of TikTok users linking to IRL group chats and IRL events through their TikTok profiles as a way to communicate and go deeper in relationships,” he says. “If you think about it, right now Instagram has really great messaging…whereas TikTok is still developing that,” he hints.

Image Credits: IRL

Beyond its value to growing social networks for the younger, Facebook-less generation, IRL is thinking about how to build a profitable business without ad revenue. On this front, it sees potential in helping people connect through paid events — although these wouldn’t have to be influencer-driven as on other platforms. In fact, when IRL recently piloted paid group chats, users were willing to pay for access to things like a calc homework help group, for example.

IRL also sees demand for tools that help groups and clubs collect membership dues and other fees, as well as for events that are too small for Ticketmaster or Eventbrite.

“Whether we succeed or fail will be based on our ability to execute on our opportunity,” says Shafi, adding that most social networks today are focused on media more so than helping users make connections. “What we’re building isn’t the media part of social, it’s the real human interaction part of social, because that hasn’t been paid attention to as much.”

“We’re building a messaging social network,” he continues, comparing it to the biggest messaging social network in the world, WeChat. “The big vision that we’re going for is building the WeChat of the West — a messaging super social network. And it starts with people organizing groups and doing things together,” he says.

With the additional funding, IRL will invest in product growth, international expansion and its Creator and Culture Fund, and will grow its now 25-person remotely distributed team to 100 by year-end.

“People are increasingly seeking more in-person social connections and are looking to share meaningful experiences together. As an innovative event-based social network, IRL sits at the intersection of group and event discovery, social calendaring, and group messaging, enabling people to do more together,” added Serena Dayal, director at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement about its investment. “We are excited to partner with Abraham and the IRL team to support their ambition of helping everyone deepen their connections to friends and family.”

Categories: Business News

Carbyne raises $20M more so when death knocks, you don’t answer the door

2021, June 15 - 10:00pm

Chaos and crisis are sisters, and none more so than when you dial for emergency help. A call to 911 in the United States and urgent numbers globally spins off a number of additional calls to emergency response teams, ambulances, hospitals and other actors who need to coordinate action to save your life. Theoretically, everyone should be working off the same data, but also theoretically, I should be able to eat ice cream without getting fat.

Israel-based Carbyne’s software platform coordinates these calls so that critical details — say, location or medical allergies — don’t get lost from the 911 call taker to the paramedic in the field.

Now, it’s taking a second scoop on its capital cone in the form of a $20 million new round, following a $25 million Series B that my colleague Ingrid Lunden reported on in January. The new funding was led by Global Medical Response, one of the world’s largest emergency medical providers who operates fleets of vehicles, trucks, helicopters and planes to get patients to hospital facilities expeditiously. GMR was founded in 2018 from a rollup of emergency services led by private equity giant KKR.

This new round was in the form of a convertible note that will convert into Carbyne’s next fundraise according to CEO and co-founder Amir Elichai. Also joining the round was Hanaco VC, Intercap VC, Elsted Capital and others. Elichai said that the round took about three weeks to fundraise and close, and was held to $20 million given the company’s earlier funding this year, which at the time we reported was “over $100 million” in valuation.

Carbyne and GMR have been partners since late 2020, and their ties are deepening. GMR COO Edward Van Horne will join Carbyne’s board of directors.

In addition to offering more advanced location services for emergency callers, Carbyne’s technology allows for callers to activate a video channel, giving emergency response personnel more live information about what’s happening. That’s critical in GMR’s business, where first responders need the most up-to-date information to increase their effectiveness.

“The ability to get smarter information, and to increase situational awareness to each case whatever it is, will give emergency medical services the ability to better triage and to make faster and smarter responses to events that occur within their jurisdiction,” Elichai explained. “So basically the entire ecosystem is becoming much more reliable and efficient, thanks to the Carbyne ecosystem that we’re putting together with GMR.”

My colleague wrote a great deep dive into the company in January, so read that for some background on the company’s founding and product and how it weathered the pandemic. A few more updates though in the past few months bear mentioning.

Carbyne raises $25M for a next-generation platform to improve emergency 911 responses

Elichai said that the company has doubled the recurring revenues of its business since the beginning of 2021, although wouldn’t provide those ever elusive absolute figures. The company has also expanded its employee base by 30% over the same period. Among the success stories is New Orleans, which is moving its emergency centers to Carbyne, as well as centers in Texas, Georgia and Florida. Elichai said that much of this transition was prompted by additional federal investment in 911 infrastructure appropriated in recent COVID-19 stimulus bills.

The company’s CTO and co-founder, Alex Dizengof, will move from Israel to the United States to start an R&D center.

Last week, the company announced a new “Ultra Emergency Network” that it is building with Israel Aerospace Industries that will allow phones to communicate emergency location information in post-disaster scenarios where commercial mobile services degrade or disappear entirely.

The company’s newest investment is in line with growing interest from venture capitalists in the disaster space, with more data, investments in communications infrastructure, and more dollars flowing into the space than ever before.

The human-focused startups of the hellfire

Categories: Business News

Klaxoon introduces whiteboard-focused conference room for hybrid work

2021, June 15 - 9:12pm

French startup Klaxoon is announcing a product update for its whiteboard collaboration platform as well as a new hardware product. With Hybridity, the company is going to sell ready-to-use conference rooms that optimize hybrid meetings between people currently in the office and people on the go.

Let’s start with the software update. Last year, the company unveiled Board, a visual interface that lets you work together during a video call. It lets you share ideas and collaborate using a whiteboard interface. You can create sticky notes, add text, insert images, move things around and start a video call from there.

Other people on the calls are represented through tiny thumbnails so that you can remain focused on the digital whiteboard. You can also connect Board with your existing video-conferencing tool.

This week, the company is updating Board and renaming it to Board Hybrid. “It’s the new version of Board that isn’t only designed for remote work, but also for hybrid work,” founder and CEO Matthieu Beucher said in a press conference.

Board Hybrid users can now add any type of file to their whiteboard. This way, they don’t have to upload files to a shared drive, create a link and paste the link in the whiteboard. Users can preview PowerPoint presentations, Word files, spreadsheets and more directly from Klaxoon’s interface.

There are some new drawing tools including some new connectors. For instance, you can create mindmaps from there. You can now also share your screen from Klaxoon’s own video-conferencing solution.

Image Credits: Klaxoon

The new product is something quite different — it’s a meeting room called Hybridity. It looks like a hexagon-shaped space capsule. There’s no window and it feels like a black box from the outside.

Inside, you’ll find three seats, three screens, three cameras and three Klaxoon Box devices. “Everyone can see everyone perfectly well and everybody can immerse themselves in content,” Beucher said.

If you’ve joined a hybrid meeting from your home, you’re well aware of the issues involved with that setup. Part of the team is sitting in the same room. They look like tiny action figures and you can’t figure out who’s talking.

With this setup, Klaxoon hopes it’ll be easier to run meetings with people in the office and people at home. A Klaxoon Hybridity conference room requires 5 square meters. You can put it down in a corner and move it to another location a couple of years later. It’s not secured in the ground.

Pre-orders will start this week. The company expects to sell Hybridity with a subscription model with prices starting at €2,000 per month. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Klaxoon has found a new revenue stream of it it’s just a fun experiment. But it could replace those tiny phone booths in your office.

Image Credits: Klaxoon

Categories: Business News

Golden Gate Ventures forecasts a record number of exits in Southeast Asia

2021, June 15 - 4:49pm

Despite the pandemic’s economic impact, Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem has proven to be very resilient. In fact, a new report from investment firm Golden Gate Ventures predicts a record number of exits will happen in the region over the next couple of years, thanks to factors like a maturing ecosystem, more secondary buyers and the emergence of SPACs.

The firm’s comprehensive “Southeast Asia Exit Landscape Report 2.0,” is a followup to a previous report published in 2019.

Here are some highlights from the latest report, along with additional insight from Golden Gate Ventures partner Michael Lints, its lead author. For both reports, Golden Gate Ventures partnered with business school INSEAD to survey general and limited partners in the region. It also draws on Golden Gate Ventures’ proprietary database, which dates back to 2012 and tracks information like the time between funding rounds and fundraising success rates, as well as public databases, reports and expert commentary from the New York Stock Exchange.

The overall exit landscape

Despite the pandemic’s economic impact, tech proved to be resilient globally (for example, there were a number of initial public offers in the United States at record prices). While Southeast Asia’s tech ecosystem is relatively younger, Lints told TechCrunch its resiliency was driven by companies founded years ago that suddenly saw an increase in demand for their services because of the pandemic.

“We’ve built infrastructure over the past eight to nine years, when it comes to e-commerce, logistics, some on the healthcare side as well, and when the pandemic happened, people were suddenly stuck at home,” Lints said. He added “If you look at the pickup for most of the e-commerce companies, they at least doubled their revenue. For last-mile logistics companies, they’ve increased their revenue. There was a lot of pickup on the digital healthcare side as well.”

While tech fared well compare to many other industries, one downside was that the COVID-19 pandemic caused overall global venture capital investment to decline. Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem was not immune, and had less exits, but it still did relatively well, with $8.2 billion invested in 2020, according to a report by Cento Ventures and Tech In Asia.

Grab to go public in the US following $40 billion SPAC deal

It’s important to note that more than half of that funding was raised in very large rounds by unicorns like Grab, Go-jek and Traveloka, but Cento Ventures found there was also an increase in investments between $50 million to $100 million for other startups. These are usually Series B and C rounds, which Golden Gate Ventures says creates a strong pipeline for potential exits over the next three to four years.

“If you go back even just two years, the amount of B rounds that are happening now, I’ve never seen that number before. It’s a definite increase,” said Lints.

Investments are also continuing to flow into Southeast Asia. According to the report, there was $6 billion of funding in just the first quarter of 2021 (based on data from DealStreet Asia, PWC and Genesis Ventures), making it the strongest start to a year in the region’s history.

This bodes well for the possibility of mergers and acquisitions in 2021. The report found that there were less exits in 2019 and 2020 than in 2018, but not just because of the pandemic—many startups wanted to remain venture-backed for longer. Golden Gate Ventures expects M&A activity will pick up again. In 2021, it forecasts acquisition deals worth more than $30 million, large mergers and an increase in SPACs.

What’s in the pipeline

Golden Gate Ventures predicts that a total of 468 startup exits will happen between 2020 and 2022, compared to the 412 forecast in the previous edition of its report. This is due to more late-stage private equity investors, including secondary buyers, SPACs and a welcoming public market.

The roadmap to startup consolidation in Southeast Asia is becoming clearer

Lints said secondary buyers will include a mix of family offices, conglomerates and venture funds that want a higher allocation in a company or to pre-empt a forthcoming round.

“What I think is interesting is some of the later-stage funds, so private equity funds, and not only ones that are in Southeast Asia, but even foreign ones, are now looking to get a position in companies that they assume will be able to raise a Series D or Series E over the next few years. That’s something I haven’t seen before, it’s relatively new in the market,” he added.

Golden Gate Ventures expects M&A activity to continue being the main way Southeast Asian startups exit, potentially accounting for up to 80% of deals, followed by secondary sales (15%) and IPOs (5%).

In fact, there was a record number of M&A deals in 2020, despite the pandemic. Golden Gate Ventures estimates that 45 deals happened, especially in e-commerce, fintech, media, adtech and social networking, as larger companies acquired startups to grow their tech stacks.

More companies going public will create a cascading effect through Southeast Asia’s ecosystem. The report forecasts that companies like Gojek and Trax, who have already made several high-profile acquisitions, will continue buying startups if they list publicly and have more liquidity.

Series B and C deals

While there will be more exits, there are also more opportunities for companies to raise larger later-stage rounds to stay private, if they want to—a sign of Southeast Asia’s maturing ecosystem, said Lints.

As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, the number of pre-seed and seed deals fell. On the other hand, the report found that it became quicker for startups to raise Series B or C rounds, or less than 21 months on average.

“If you look at typical exits between 2015 to 2017, you could argue that some of those exits might have been too early because the company was still in a growth trajectory, but there was hardly any follow-on funding for them to expand to a new country, for instance, or build out a new product,” said Lints. “So their only revenue to raise money was to be acquired by a larger company so they could keep building the product.”

“I think now you’re able to raise that Series C round, which allows you to expand the company and stay private, as opposed to having to drive towards an exit,” he added. “I think that shows the maturity of the ecosystem now and, again, it’s a huge advantage because founders have these amazing things they want to build, and now actually have the capital to do so and to really try to compete, and that has definitely been a big change.”

Another good thing is that the increase in later-stage funding does not appear to be creating a pre-seed and seed funding gap. This is partly because early employees from mature companies that have raised massive rounds often branch out and become founders themselves. As they launch startups, they have the benefit of being familiar with how fundraising works and a network. For example, a significant number of alumni from Grab, Gojek and Lazada have gone on to found companies.

“They seem to be raising a lot faster, and I think the second thing that’s happening across the board is we’re seeing more scouts putting really early checks into companies,” said Lints. “My assumption is if you look at the Series A pipeline, which is still pretty long, that has to come from a large number of pre-seed and seed deals.”

Singapore is poised to become Asia’s Silicon Valley

Funds want to cash out

Another factor that may drive an increase in exits—especially M&A deals—are funds that have reached the point where they want to cash out. Golden Gate Ventures’ 2019 report forecast that the first batch of institutional venture funds launched in 2010 to 2012 will start reaching the end of their lifecycle in 2020. This means the general partners of these funds are exploring exit opportunities for their portfolios, leading to an increase in secondary and M&A deals.

This in turn will increase the number of secondary markets, which have typically been low in Southeast Asia. The original investors won’t necessarily push for portfolio companies to sell themselves, but instead look at secondary buyers who might be keen on mergers and M&A deals.

“The thing we’ve seen over the last 18 months is there’s been a larger pickup in the secondary markets, where later-stage investors, in some cases family-owned businesses or family offices, are looking to get access to deals that were started eight, nine or 10 years ago. You’ll see the cap tables of these companies change, and that does mean the founders will have different shareholders,” said Lints.

“These are typically for companies that are performing well, where you can foresee that they will be able to fundraise within the next 12 months. For the ones that are in a more difficult position, I think it’s going to be tricky,” he added. “When you have a portfolio of companies as a fund, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can sell all 20 of them, so I think for some founders, the impact will be that they will need to make a decision to continue the business and buy back the shares their investors are holding, or are they going to liquidate the business or look for a trade sale.”

SPAC opportunities

The biggest SPAC news in Southeast Asia was Grab’s announcement it will go public in the United States following a $40 billion SPAC deal. Lints expects more Southeast Asian companies to take the SPAC route when going public. Not only does the process give them more flexibility, but for startups that want to list in the U.S., working with a SPAC can help them.

“My guess is with New York allowing direct listings, I think more and more people will shy away from the traditional IPO route and look at what is the fastest and most flexible way to list on a stock exchange. For Southeast Asia, listing has never been easy, so I think SPACs will definitely open the floodgates,” said Lints.

Barriers not only include regulatory filings, pre-IPO roadshows and high costs, but also “concern whether the international retail investor or public markets actually understand these companies in Southeast Asia,” he added. “If you have a very strong sponsor team that is running the SPAC, they can be super helpful in positioning the company, doing the marketing and getting interest from the market as well.”

Both the Singapore Exchange and Indonesian Stock Exchange are preparing to allow SPACs in an effort to attract more tech listings.

Lints said this will allow companies to consider a dual listing in Southeast Asia and the U.S. for larger returns. “A dual listing would be an amazing option and I think through the avenue of SPACs, that makes a lot of sense.”

Monk’s Hill Ventures and Glints on how Southeast Asian startups can cope with the region’s talent crunch

Categories: Business News

Upflow raises $15 million to manage your outstanding invoices

2021, June 15 - 1:00pm

French startup Upflow has raised a $15 million Series A round. The company wants to help you chase late payments. It optimizes how you collect payments from your customers in order to improve your cash-cycle.

Investors in today’s funding round include 9yards Capital, existing investor eFounders, as well as N26 co-founder Maximilian Tayenthal, Uber SVP of Delivery Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, auxmoney co-founder and CEO Raffael Johnen.

People who run a business often tell you that getting paid is a consuming task. When you create an invoice, chances are your customer will wait a few weeks before paying you. Most companies end up with a backlog of outstanding invoices sitting in an Excel spreadsheet.

They keep an eye on their bank account to manually reconcile those payments. And, of course, they often have to send an email or call a customer to tell them that now is the time.

Upflow acts as the central repository to see all your invoices, track payments, communicate with your team and send reminders. But Upflow doesn’t want to replace your existing tools. Instead, the company has built integrations with popular business tools that you’re already using.

For instance, you can connect your Upflow account with QuickBooks, Xero, Netsuite, Chargebee and Stripe Billing. You can charge your clients from your existing invoicing platform. Upflow imports your invoices, clients and payments. When Upflow notices a late payment, you receive a notification and can start sending automated or personalized emails.

The startup also thinks current B2B payment methods are outdated. In the U.S., too many companies still rely on paper checks. In France, copying IBAN information from an email to your bank account can be cumbersome.

When you send an invoice using Upflow, customers get a link with several payment methods. You can connect your Upflow account with Stripe Payments to enable card payments for instance. And the startup is slowly building a network of companies that have used Upflow at some point. 1.5 million companies have interacted with the product — it represents over $1 billion in payments.

“We are on a mission to revolutionize the way that companies get paid. At Upflow, we provide a solution that adds connectivity and clarity to a company's payment and invoicing stack. Where systems were previously closed and disconnected, Upflow's platform enables smooth and clear processes,” co-founder and CEO Alexandre Louisy said in a statement.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand to the U.S. Upflow already has a few customers there, such as Lattice, Front and Adikteev, but it’s just a start. The startup will open an office in New York.

Categories: Business News

Automotive marketplace Carro hits unicorn status with $360M Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2

2021, June 15 - 9:00am

Carro, one of the largest automotive marketplaces in Southeast Asia, announced it has hit unicorn valuation after raising a $360 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Other participants include insurance giant MSIG and Indonesian-based funds like EV Growth. About 90% of vehicles sold through Carro are secondhand, and it offers services that cover the entire lifecycle of a car, from maintenance to when it is broken down and recycled for parts.

Founded in 2015, Carro started as an online marketplace for cars, before expanding into more verticals. Co-founder and chief executive officer Aaron Tan told TechCrunch that, roughly speaking, the company’s operations are divided into three sections: wholesale, retail and fintech. Its wholesale business works with car dealers who want to purchase inventory, while its retail side sells to consumers. Its fintech operation offers products for both, including B2C car loans, auto insurance and B2B working capital loans.

Carro’s last funding announcement was in August 2019, when it said it had extended its Series B to $90 million. The company’s latest funding will be used to fund acquisitions, expand its financial services portfolio and develop its AI capabilities, which Carro uses to showcase cars online, develop pricing models and determine how much to charge insurance policyholders.

It also plans to expand retail services in its main markets: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Carro currently employs about 1,000 people across the four countries and claims its revenue grew more than 2.5x during the financial year ending March 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped Carro’s business because people wanted their own vehicles to avoid public transportation and became more receptive to shopping for cars online. Those factors also helped competitors like OLX Autos and Carsome fare well during the pandemic.

Used car marketplace Carsome gets $30 million Series D for its Southeast Asia growth plans

The adoption of electric vehicles across Southeast Asia has resulted in a new tailwind for Carro, because people who buy an EV usually want to sell off their combustion engine vehicles. Carro is currently talking to some of the largest electric vehicle companies in the world that want to launch in Southeast Asia.

“For every car someone typically buys in Southeast Asia, there’s always a trade-in. Where do cars go, right? We are a marketplace, but on a very high level, what we’re doing is reusing and recycling. That’s a big part in the environmental sustainability of the business, and something that sets us apart of other players in the region,” Tan said.

Cars typically stay in Carro’s inventory for less than 60 days. Its platform uses computer vision and sound technology to replicate the experience of inspecting a vehicle in-person. When someone clicks on a Carro listing, an AI bot automatically engages with them, providing more details about the cost of the car and answering questions. They also see a 360-degree view of the vehicle, its interior and can virtually start the engine to see how it sounds. Listings also provide information about defects and inspection reports.

Since many customers still want to get an in-person look before finalizing a purchase, Carro recently launched a beta product called Showroom Anywhere. Currently available in Singapore, it allows people to unlock Carro cars parked throughout the city, using QR codes, so they can inspect it at any time of the day, without a salesperson around. The company plans to add test driving to Showroom Anywhere.

“As a tech company, our job is to make sure we automate everything we can,” said Tan. “That’s the goal of the company and you can only assume that our cost structure and our revenue structure will get better along the years. We expect greater margin improvement and a lot more in cost reduction.”

Pricing is fixed, so shoppers don’t have to engage in haggling. Carro determines prices by using machine-learning models that look at details about a vehicle, including its make, model and mileage, and data from Carro’s transactions as well as market information (for example, how much of a particular vehicle is currently available for sale). Carro’s prices are typically in the middle of the market’s range.

Cars come with a three or seven-day moneyback guarantee and 30-day warranty. Once a customer decides to buy a car, they can opt to apply for loans and insurance through Carro’s fintech platform. Tan said Carro’s loan book is about five years old, almost as old as the startup itself, and is currently about $200 million.

Carro’s insurance is priced based on the policyholders driving behavior as tracked by sensors placed in their cars. This allows Carro to build a profile of how someone drives and the likelihood that they have an accident or other incident. For example, someone will get better pricing if they typically stick to speed limits.

“It sounds a bit futuristic,” said Tan. “But it’s something that’s been done in the United States for many years, like GEICO and a whole bunch of other insurers,” including Root Insurance, which recently went public.

Tan said MSIG’s investment in Carro is a “statement that we are really trying to triple down in insurance, because an insurer has so much linkage with what we do. The reason that MSIG is a good partner is that, like ourselves, they believe a lot in data and the difference in what we call ‘new age’ insurance, or data-driven insurance.”

Carro is also expanding its after-sale services, including Carro Care, in all four of its markets. Its after-sale services reach to the very end of a vehicle’s lifecycle and its customers include workshops around the world. For example, if a Toyota Corolla breaks down in Singapore, but its engine is still usable, it might be extracted and shipped to a repair shop in Nairobi, and the rest of its parts recycled.

“One thing I always ask in management meetings, is tell me where do cars go to die in Indonesia? Where do cars go to die in Thailand? There has to be a way, so if there is no way, we’re going to find a way,” said Tan.

In a statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers managing partner Greg Moon said, “Powered by AI, Carro’s technology platform provides consumers with full-stack services and transparency throughout the car ownership process. We are delighted to partner with Aaron and the Carro team to support their ambition to expand into new markets and use AI-powered technology to make the car buying process smarter, simpler and safer.”

The roadmap to startup consolidation in Southeast Asia is becoming clearer

Categories: Business News

Fraud protection startup nSure AI raises $6.8M in seed funding

2021, June 15 - 2:13am

Fraud protection startup nSure AI has raised $6.8 million in seed funding, led by DisruptiveAI, Phoenix Insurance, AXA-backed venture builder Kamet, Moneta Seeds and private investors.

The round will help the company bolster the predictive AI and machine learning algorithms that power nSure AI’s “first of its kind” fraud protection platform. Prior to this round, the company received $550,000 in pre-seed funding from Kamet in March 2019.

The Tel Aviv-headquartered startup, which currently has 16 employees, provides fraud detection for high-risk digital goods, such as electronic gift cards, airline tickets, software and games. While most fraud detection tools analyze each online transaction in an attempt to decide which purchases to approve and decline, nSure AI’s risk engine leverages deep learning techniques to accurately identify fraudulent transactions.

NSure AI, which is backed by insurance company AXA, said it has a 98% approval rating on average for purchases, compared to an industry average of 80%, allowing retailers to recapture nearly $100 billion a year in revenue lost by declining legitimate customers. The company is so confident in its technology that it will accept liability for any fraudulent transaction allowed by the platform.

Founders Alex Zeltcer and Ziv Isaiah started the company after experiencing the unique challenges faced by retailers of digital assets. The first week of their online gift card business found that 40% of sales were fraudulent, resulting in chargebacks. The founders began to develop their own platform for supporting the sale of high-risk digital goods after no other fraud detection service met their needs.

Zeltcer, co-founder and chief executive, said the investment “enables us to register thousands of new merchants, who can feel confident selling higher-risk digital goods, without accepting fraud as a part of business.”

NSure AI, which currently monitors and manages millions of transactions every month, has approved close to $1 billion in volume since going live in 2019.

RSA spins off fraud and risk intelligence unit as Outseer

12 top cybersecurity VCs discuss investing, valuations and no-go zones

 

Categories: Business News

How one founder is bringing the global corporate security industry out of the dark ages

2021, June 15 - 1:31am

When Cory Siskind finished school, she was dropped into a high-stakes job helping large multinational corporations manage their operational security in Mexico City, with almost no relevant lived experience. Eventually, she realized that this was more or less par for the course in the corporate security field, which lagged behind other mission-critical enterprise services, like information security.

The industry still relied on recent grads doing manual work like combing through blogs and local news reports, and on security industry veterans with contacts on the ground to build a sort of “whisper network” of ground truth. Those things are obviously still valuable, but advancements in technology mean that there are many, many more sources of information that can provide valuable insight into the security situation in any particular country, region or even neighborhood, and machine learning has progressed to the point where it can do a lot of the legwork involved in helping analysts parse the data.

Cory tells us all about how she came to the conclusion that Base Operations needed to be built to bring modern tech to bear on the capabilities gap she saw in how companies manage their global security footprint, and how she set out getting the skills needed to build her startup as a sole founder. We talk about the challenges of fundraising in an area where most traditional VCs likely feel out of their depth, and building a sales operation that can handle big clients even very early on in her startup’s life.

We loved our time chatting with Cory, and we hope you love yours listening to the episode. And of course, we’d love if you can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Please leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us direct feedback either on Twitter or via email at found@techcrunch.com. And please join us again next week for our next featured founder.

Categories: Business News

Yana’s mental health tool for Spanish speakers nears 5 million users

2021, June 15 - 12:28am

Andrea Campos has struggled with depression since she was eight years old. Over the years, she’s tried all sorts of therapies — from behavioral to pharmacotherapy.

In 2017, when Campos was in her early 20s, she learned to program and created a system to help manage her mental health. It started as a personal project, but as she talked to more people, Campos realized that many others might benefit from the system as well.

So she built an application to provide access to mental health tools for Spanish-speaking people and began testing it with a small group. At first, Campos herself was her own chatbot, texting with users who were tired of dealing with depression.

“During the month, I was pretending I was an app, and would send these people a list of activities they had to complete during the day, such as writing in a gratitude journal, and then asking them how those activities made them feel,” Campos recalls.

Her thinking was that sometimes with depression and anxiety comes “a lot of avoidance,” where people resist potential treatment out of fear.

The results from her small experiment were encouraging. So, Campos set out to conduct a bigger sample of experiments, and raised about $10,000 via a crowdfunding campaign. With that money, she hired a developer to build a chatbot for her app, which was mostly being used via Facebook Messenger.

Then an earthquake hit Mexico City and that developer lost everything — including his home and computer — and had to relocate.

“I was left with nothing,” Campos says. But that developer introduced her to another, who disappeared with his payment, and again, left Campos, “with nothing.”

“I realized at the beginning of 2019, I was going to have to do this by myself,” Campos said. So she used a site that she described as a “Wix for chatbots,” and created one herself.

After experimenting with the app with a sample of 700 people, Campos was even more encouraged and raised an angel round of funding for Yana, the startup behind her app. (Yana is an acronym for “You Are Not Alone.”) By early 2020, with just three months of runway left, she pivoted to create an app with chatbot integration that wasn’t just limited to use via Facebook Messenger.

Campos ended up launching the app more broadly during the same week that her city in Mexico went into quarantine.

Image Credits: Yana

At first, she said, she saw “normal, steady growth.” But then on October 10, 2020, Apple’s App Store highlighted Yana for International Mental Health Day, and the response was overwhelming.

“It was also my birthday so I was at a spa in a nearby town, relaxing, when I started hearing my cell phone go crazy,” Campos recalls. “Everything went nuts. I had to go back to Mexico City because our servers were exploding since they were not used to having that kind of volume.”

As a result of that exposure, Yana went from having around 80,000 users to reaching 1 million users two weeks later. Soon after that, Google highlighted the app as one of best for personal growth in 2020, and that too led to another spike in users. Today, Yana is about to hit the 5 million-user mark and is also announcing it has raised $1.5 million in funding led by Mexico’s ALLVP, which has also invested in the likes of Cornershop, Flink and Nuvocargo.

Funding for mental health-focused startups rises in 2020

When the pandemic hit last year, six of Yana’s nine-person team decided to quarantine together in a “startup house” in Cancun to focus on building the company. Earlier this year, the company had raised $315,000 from investors such as 500 Startups, Magma and Hustle Fund. The company had pitched ALLVP, which was intrigued but wanted to wait until it could write a bigger check. 

That time is now, and Yana is now among the top three downloaded apps in Mexico and 12 countries, including Spain, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela.

With its new capital, Yana is planning to “move away from the depression/anxiety narrative,” according to Campos.

“We want to compete in the wellness space,” she told TechCrunch. “A lot of people were looking for us to deal with crises such as a breakup or a loss but then they didn’t always see a necessity to keep using Yana for longer than the crisis lasted.”

Some of those people would download the app again months later when hit with another crisis.

“We don’t want to be that app anymore,” Campos said. “We want to focus on whole wellness and mental health and transmit something that needs to be built every single day, just like we do with exercise.”

Moving forward, Yana aims to help people with their mental health not just during a crisis but with activities they can do on a daily basis, including a gratitude journal, a mood tracker and meditation — “things that prevent depression and anxiety,” Campos said.

“We want to be a vitamin for our soul, and keeping people mentally healthy on an ongoing basis,” she said. “We also want to include a community inside our application.”

ALLVP’s Federico Antoni is enthusiastic about the startup’s potential. He first met Campos when she was participating in an accelerator program in 2017, and then again recently.

The firm led Yana’s latest round because it “wanted to be on her team.”

“She [Campos] has turned into an amazing leader, and we realized her potential and strength,” he said. “Plus, Yana is an amazing product. When you download it, it’s almost like you can see a soul in there.”

Mental health startups are raising spirits and venture capital

Categories: Business News

The Nubank EC-1

2021, June 15 - 12:02am

Brazil is a country riven with economic contradictions. It has one of the largest and most profitable banking industries in Latin America, and is among the world’s most developed financial markets. Financial transactions that would take days to process in the United States through ACH happen instantaneously in Brazil. This sophistication, however, masks a backward state of affairs plagued by appalling customer service, exorbitant fees and lack of banking access for many.

The country’s financial system is volatile and often leaves its citizens with few or no alternatives. According to an HBS case study, “in December 2018 the interest rate in Brazil for corporate loans was 52.3%, for consumer loans it was 120.0% and for credit card indebtedness it was 272.42%.” Those rates are many multiples higher compared to figures in neighboring countries.

Brazil’s banking system is a massive market, and one ill-served by incumbents. If someone could thread the needle of product development, strategy and political horse trading required to build a bank in a country where it is nearly impossible for foreigners to own or invest in a bank, it would be one of the great startup and economic success stories of this century.

Nubank is on its way to realizing that objective. Its story is one of unmitigated success, even by the standards of our EC-1 series on high-flying companies and their hard-learned lessons. Just last week, this Brazilian credit card and banking fintech raised a $750 million round led by Berkshire Hathaway at a $30 billion valuation, becoming one of the most valuable startups in the world. It has 40 million users across Brazil, as well as Mexico and Colombia.

Yet, it’s a startup with a CEO and co-founder who isn’t Brazilian, didn’t speak the local language of Portuguese, hadn’t started a company before, and didn’t really know a lot about banking to begin with. This is a story of how raw execution, a “faster, faster” mentality and a fanaticism for making customer experience as enjoyable as a trip to Disney World can completely change the history of an industry — and country — forever.

Our lead writer for this EC-1 is Marcella McCarthy. McCarthy, who spent significant time in Brazil growing up and is trilingual in English, Spanish and Portuguese, has been covering the LatAm and Miami ecosystems for TechCrunch with an eye to the disruption underway in these interconnected regions. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

Nubank had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. McCarthy has no financial ties to Nubank or other conflicts of interest to disclose.

The Nubank EC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 9,200 words and a reading time of 37 minutes. Here’s what’s in the bank:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

Categories: Business News

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

2021, June 15 - 12:01am

For most startups, the hardest early challenge is identifying a market and a product to serve it. That wasn’t the case for Nubank CEO David Velez, who understood the massive potential for success if he could break into Latin America’s most valuable economy with even a moderately modern banking offering.

Instead, the challenge was how to rebuild the concept of a bank in a country where banking is widely hated, all while the incumbents heavily entrenched with the state worked to block every move.

Nubank knew its market and geography, and through tenacious fundraising, inventive marketing and product development, and a series of contrarian hires, Velez and his team stripped bare the morass of Brazilian banking to build one of the world’s great fintech companies.

The challenge was how to rebuild the concept of a bank in a country where banking is widely hated, all while the incumbents heavily entrenched with the state worked to block every move.

In the first part of this EC-1, I’ll look at how Velez brought his skills and experience to bear on this market, how Nubank was founded in 2013, and how the team brought a Californian rather than Brazilian vibe to their first office on — no joke — California Street, in a neighborhood called Brooklin in the city of São Paulo.

The makings of an entrepreneur

The idea of being his own boss was ingrained in Velez from his earliest days in Colombia, where he grew up in an entrepreneurial family, with a father who owned a button factory. “I heard from my dad over and over again that you need to start your own company,” Velez said.

But years would pass and Velez still had no idea what he wanted to do. To “kill time,” and also to surround himself with entrepreneurial energy, Velez attended Stanford University — partially financed by the sale of some livestock — and then worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley before switching to venture capital at General Atlantic and Sequoia.

Categories: Business News

One woman’s drive to make a neobank as magical as Disney

2021, June 15 - 12:01am

As we mentioned in part 1 of this EC-1, David Velez had two key co-founding roles he needed to fill to get started building Nubank. For one, he needed a CTO to lead the engineering side of the business, as Velez didn’t have an engineering background.

Edward Wible, an American computer science graduate who spent most of his career in private equity, would take that responsibility. He didn’t bring years of coding experience, but he had qualities that Velez considered more important: A strong belief in the potential of the product and an equally intense commitment to working on it.

Given the occasionally hostile reaction of most incumbent banks to their customers in Brazil, Nubank’s starkly contrasting openness and transparency has garnered a huge following.

That left an even more important role to fill — one that was much harder to define. This other co-founder would need to blend knowledge of the Brazilian market and local savvy with expertise in banking, all while embodying a Silicon Valley ethos of focusing on customers. This person would also have to work in São Paulo for minimal wages out of a small office with just one bathroom, all in the belief that their equity (both stock and sweat) would one day be worth it.

Velez would eventually stumble upon Cristina Junqueira, who was qualified to do all this, and much, much more.

“Once someone said I was the glue of the operation, and that someone else was the brains. And I said, ‘No, I’m the glue and the brains, and I bet my brain is even better than his,”’ Junqueira said.

Junqueira didn’t just lead Nubank’s drive into the Brazilian market, she also upended age-old notions of what it means to be a 21st-century bank. Her inspiration was nothing short of Disney, and her mission was to create a bank as popular as the magical kingdom itself.

A bank. As popular as Disney. Sounds like a fairy tale, frankly.

Raised to be a doer

Unlike her co-founders Velez and Wible, Junqueira grew up in Nubank’s home market of Brazil. The eldest of four sisters, she remembers her parents — both dentists — always assiduously working to maintain their practice.

Their work ethic trickled down, but so did responsibility. As the oldest at home, she was forced to grow up quickly and take on responsibilities from an early age. “I remember being 11 years old and doing grocery shopping for the month,” she said. “I did everything very young.”

Categories: Business News

How Nubank’s CX strategy made it one of the most loved digital banks

2021, June 15 - 12:00am

As we saw in parts 1 and 2 of this EC-1, by mid-2013, Nubank CEO David Velez had most of what he needed to get started. He’d brought on two co-founders, assembled ambitious engineering and operations teams, raised $2 million in seed funding from Sequoia and Kaszek, rented a tiny office in São Paulo, and was armed with a mission to deliver the kind of banking services that customers in a market as large and lucrative as Brazil’s should expect.

Despite being named Nubank, however, the startup couldn’t actually be a bank: Brazil’s laws made it illegal at the time for a foreigner-run company to operate a bank. That restriction required the team to develop an inventive product strategy to find a foothold in the market while they waited for a license directly from the country’s president.

Nubank was so adamant about differentiating itself from other banks that it chose Barney purple for its brand color and first credit card.

Nubank therefore pursued a credit card as its first offering, but it had to race against a clock counting quickly down to zero. At the time, Brazil didn’t have ownership restrictions on this product segment like it did with banking, but new rules were coming into force in just a few months in May 2014 that would block a company like Nubank from launching.

The company needed to execute rapidly over the next eight months if it wanted to be grandfathered into the existing regulations. The speed of operations was frantic to say the least, and the company would go on to work even faster, ultimately propelling itself into the stratosphere of fintech startups.

Full faith in credit

It’s easy to assume that the name Nubank refers to “new bank,” but that’s not really what the founders were going for. The word “nu” in Portuguese means “naked,” and Velez and his team wanted the name to reflect their vision: To build a 21st-Century bank without any of the shackles imposed by the traditional banks in Brazil.

The team wanted to offer services to as many people as possible, as there is a huge wealth gap in Brazil, where the minimum wage is around $200 a month.

Launching with just a credit card was both a strategic and practical business decision. Credit cards were widely used in the country, and everyone understood how they worked. Additionally, you could only use credit cards to shop online in Brazil, because debit cards weren’t accepted.

Categories: Business News

Which Nubank will own the financial revolution?

2021, June 15 - 12:00am

Nubank’s first office, on California Street in the Brooklin neighborhood of São Paulo, makes for a great beginning to the company’s story. It wasn’t a Silicon Valley garage, but this tiny, one-bathroom rented house, where 30 people worked insane hours to push out the company’s debut credit card, lends just as well to an image of entrepreneurial spirit and drive.

As Nubank continues to make international waves, more and more VC investors are taking a look at the Brazilian ecosystem and could potentially fund other upstarts in the years to come.

But as Nubank’s story continued, the team eventually had to move out of that early office, and the next several offices, too. Eventually Nubank had to relocate to an eight-story building in São Paulo, which houses a large part of the company’s now 3,000-person team.

The startup reached decacorn status in far less than a decade, and it is growing faster than ever. When I interviewed CEO David Velez back in January to discuss Nubank’s $400 million Series G, he said, “We’ve gone from 12 million customers in 2019 to 34 million solely based on word of mouth.” By September last year, the company was onboarding 41,000 new customers per day.

In the five months since our interview, Nubank has managed to rope in a whopping 6 million customers to reach 40 million. It’s now valued at $30 billion.

Nubank’s present day headquarters in São Paulo, Brazil. Image Credits: NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP / Getty Images

Getting there hasn’t been easy. The company’s three co-founders, Velez, Edward Wible and Cristina Junqueira, had to make key strategic decisions about how to scale themselves to retain the company’s lead in the neobanking market. That lead is getting tougher to sustain every day. Nubank’s proliferating offerings and broader geographical remit has painted a massive target on its back, and a wide number of competitors have cropped up to run on the paths it pioneered.

Like most Disney films, a fairy-tale ending seems in order, but it’ll take a few more rotations of the film wheel to get to the ending.

Early mistakes and ingredients for success

For the co-founding trio, it became increasingly clear that Nubank’s growing scale demanded critical strategic decisions on how to bring order to the company.

By 2018, the company had thousands of employees, millions of customers, and they still didn’t have a head of HR. Growth until then had been somewhat unstructured. According to Junqueira, waiting so long to hire a head of HR was one of their early mistakes, because it stunted their ability to grow. “[Good] people continue to be our biggest bottleneck,” she says.

Categories: Business News

The Pill Club takes on primary care with $41.9M in fresh funding

2021, June 14 - 11:00pm

In January, former Uber executive Liz Meyerdirk announced that she took over as chief executive of The Pill Club. The company, which offers an online birth control prescription and delivery service to hundreds of thousands of women, had hit record revenues, crossing $100 million in annual run rate for the first time in its four-year history.

She found the bridge between ride-sharing to healthcare to be smoother than some might expect, saying that she focused on how to apply technology “to logistics for an everyday use case, [to know] how that simplifies your everyday life.”

Now, six months into her new job, Meyerdirk announced that her company has raised more capital to capitalize on the momentum in women’s health right now. The Pill Club announced today that it has raised a $41.9 million Series B extension round led by Base 10. Existing investors, including ACME, Base10, GV, Shasta Ventures and VMG, participated in the round, as well as new investors, including Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi and Honey’s George Ruan and iGlobe.

The extension round comes over two years after the company announced its initial Series B investment, a $51 million financing led by VMG Partners. After reportedly being valued at $250 million, the company declined to provide its latest valuation, other than saying that the extension was an up-round.

When a customer joins The Pill Club, they are given a medical questionnaire and a digital form to input personal information. The company gives them a sense of how much the service will cost, and if the price works, it connects them to a nurse either live or via text.

“In a happy case, you can see a nurse immediately,” she said. “Obviously if it’s midnight, we haven’t figured that out yet.” The nurse walks though different options, since, Meyerdirk added, “contraception is not one size fits all.”

Once a customer makes a decision, The Pill Club can then prescribe birth control through their own pharmacy, which will be delivered to their door within two or three days.

The Pill Club launched in 2016 with an at-home delivery service of birth control. Between 2016 and January 2021, it launched in 43 states plus the District of Columbia. It has added five states in the past six months, and plans to get to 50 states by the end of 2021.

The company makes money from medical visits, insurance reimbursement for prescription drugs and cash patients who aren’t covered by insurance.

The chief executive views a big part of its value proposition as embedding with existing insurance plans of its customers, including Medi-CAL and Family PACT. In the last three months, 16% of The Pill Clubs’ new patients were on Medicaid.

“You’ve got companies like Oscar [Health] that are reimagining health insurance, and you’ve got Ro, Hims and Hers, who are [taking] cash as a primary…way to serve…patients,” she said. “That’s fantastic for those who can afford it, but for us, because so much of our value system is around access to equity, we believe everyone should have the right to get access to birth control.”

The company believes that it has to work within the system of insurance to have true innovation.

“Telemedicine that ignores the reality of insurance is always going to have a limited piece of the pie,” a spokesperson from the company said said. “Cash-only systems simply aren’t a product built for a scale. A truly innovative healthcare platform exists within the realities of the system.”

Hormonal health is a massive opportunity: Where are the unicorns?

By women, for women

Long-term, The Pill Club wants to replace the old model of going to a primary care provider for annual visits with ongoing care for women.

“I’m generally healthy [but] I actually do have questions on mammograms…colonoscopies, or anything,” Meyerdirk said. “And being able to have a person other than my mom” to talk to that doesn’t require a trip to the doctor or urgent care is the gap that The Pill Club wants to fill.

“We think it’s too good to be true, when we actually get what we deserve,” Meyerdirk said when describing women’s health. Part of her goal going forward is to think bigger, beyond contraception, and figure out how The Pill Club could bring a digital refresh to other areas of women’s health.

In March, the company launched a dermatology pilot, and also expanded its 2020 period care pilot. A portion of the new capital is earmarked toward launching new services for its members.

8 VCs agree: Behavioral support and remote visits make digital health a strong bet for 2021

The Pill Club also shared the diversity metrics of its 350-person staff as part of its announcement.

The Pill Club has 72% of employees identifying as women, and 28% of employees identifying as male. The executive leadership similarly sees predominantly women, with the ratio being 62.5% women and 37.5% male. As for racial diversity, the overall company identifies as 33% white, 19% Asian, 16% Hispanic or Latino and 14% Black or African American; 13% of employees declined to identify.

“We’re by women for women,” Meyerdirk said. “It’s very, very different when you’re by men, for women.” Her appointment came as The Pill Club’s founder and former chief executive officer Nick Chang stepped down from day to day operations. He didn’t take a board seat, but does still have shares in the company.

Liz Meyerdirk, chief executive of The Pill Club. Image Credits: The Pill Club

The wave of prescription, for-delivery medication is only getting bigger, with The Pill Club joined by startups such as Nurx and SimpleHealth, and bigger corporations such as Walmart and Amazon.

“The idea of creating more choice and flexibility across healthcare is long overdue,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have great options when they consider who can best address their daily needs.”

Editor’s note: A prior version of this story noted that The Pill Club does birth control for pick up. This is incorrect. It delivers birth control through its own pharmacies. A correction has been made to reflect this change.  

 

Categories: Business News

Enterprise AI platform Dataiku launches managed service for smaller companies

2021, June 14 - 10:23pm

Dataiku is going downstream with a new product today called Dataiku Online. As the name suggests, Dataiku Online is a fully managed version of Dataiku. It lets you take advantage of the data science platform without going through a complicated setup process that involves a system administrator and your own infrastructure.

If you’re not familiar with Dataiku, the platform lets you turn raw data into advanced analytics, run some data visualization tasks, create data-backed dashboards and train machine learning models. In particular, Dataiku can be used by data scientists, but also business analysts and less technical people.

The company has been mostly focused on big enterprise clients. Right now, Dataiku has more than 400 customers, such as Unilever, Schlumberger, GE, BNP Paribas, Cisco, Merck and NXP Semiconductors.

There are two ways to use Dataiku. You can install the software solution on your own, on-premise servers. You can also run it on a cloud instance. With Dataiku Online, the startup offers a third option and takes care of setup and infrastructure for you.

“Customers using Dataiku Online get all the same features that our on-premises and cloud instances provide, so everything from data preparation and visualization to advanced data analytics and machine learning capabilities,” co-founder and CEO Florian Douetteau said. “We’re really focused on getting startups and SMBs on the platform — there’s a perception that small or early-stage companies don’t have the resources or technical expertise to get value from AI projects, but that’s simply not true. Even small teams that lack data scientists or specialty ML engineers can use our platform to do a lot of the technical heavy lifting, so they can focus on actually operationalizing AI in their business.”

Customers using Dataiku Online can take advantage of Dataiku’s pre-built connectors. For instance, you can connect your Dataiku instance with a cloud data warehouse, such as Snowflake Data Cloud, Amazon Redshift and Google BigQuery. You can also connect to a SQL database (MySQL, PostgreSQL…), or you can just run it on CSV files stored on Amazon S3.

Data is the world’s most valuable (and vulnerable) resource

And if you’re just getting started and you have to work on data ingestion, Dataiku works well with popular data ingestion services. “A typical stack for our Dataiku Online Customers involves leveraging data ingestion tools like FiveTran, Stitch or Alooma, that sync to a cloud data warehouse like Google BigQuery, Amazon Redshift or Snowflake. Dataiku fits nicely within their modern data stacks,” Douetteau said.

Dataiku Online is a nice offering to get started with Dataiku. High-growth startups might start with Dataiku Online as they tend to be short on staff and want to be up and running as quickly as possible. But as you become bigger, you could imagine switching to a cloud or on-premise installation of Dataiku. Employees can keep using the same platform as the company scales.

Categories: Business News

Anrok raises $4.3M to solve sales tax for SaaS companies

2021, June 14 - 10:00pm

It’s easier than ever to build a product and sell it around the United States, or the world. But if you want to do so without incurring the wrath of any particular state, or nation-state, you’d best have your tax matters in order. This is why Stripe’s news last week that it has built tax-focused tooling to help its customers manage their state bills mattered.

But for SaaS companies, things can be more complicated from a tax perspective. That’s what Anrok, a startup working to build sales tax software for SaaS firms, told TechCrunch.

The company’s CEO, Michelle Valentine, said that modern software companies need specialized help. And her startup is announcing a $4.3 million fundraise today to back its efforts. The capital event was led by Sequoia and Index, the latter firm a place where Valentine used to work.

Anrok delivers its service via an API, and charges based on the total dollar value of sales that it helps a customer manage. Its percentage-fee falls with volume, and you can’t pay more than 0.19% of managed revenue, so it’s pretty cheap regardless, given how strong software gross margins tend to be.

The Anrok founding team: Michelle Valentine, and Kannan Goundan. Via the company.

Valentine said that there are three things that make SaaS tax issues more complex than other products. The first deals with addresses. Software companies have to pay sales tax where customers are located, and often only have partial information. Anrok will help with that problem. The CEO also said that variable SaaS billing makes charging the right amount of tax an interesting issue, and that states have tax laws specifically aimed at the software market that must be navigated.

So, a more mass-market solution might not be the best fit for SaaS companies looking to avoid both trouble with states and the work of handling tax matters themselves.

It’s not hard to see why Anrok was able to raise capital. The company is early-stage with its first customers onboarded, so it’s not posting the sort of revenue growth that investors covet at the later stages. What then were its more fetching attributes? From our perspective, on-demand pricing and a simply gigantic market.

Sure, Anrok is serving SaaS businesses, but it’s doing so using what could be described as a post-SaaS business model; on-demand, or usage-based pricing is an increasingly popular way to charge for software products today, putting Anrok closer to the cutting edge in business-model terms. And the company’s market is essentially every software business out there. That’s a lot of TAM to carve into, something that investors love to see.

Payments giant Stripe launches Stripe Tax to integrate sales tax calculations for 30+ countries

 

Categories: Business News

Could Claap, an asynchronous video meetings platform, end the tyranny of Zoom calls?

2021, June 14 - 9:39pm

Because of the pandemic, we’re all a lot more familiar with remote working than we used to be, whether we like it or not. But the remote tools of the pre-pandemic era — Slack, Trello, Zoom, Asana, etc., etc., etc. — are, if we admit it to ourselves, barely scratching the surface of what we really need to be productive. Luckily a new era of remote-working tools is fast emerging. As I recently tweeted, we need to think far more in asynchronous terms if remote working is to be productive (and healthy!), long term.

Older tools can offer asynchronous collaboration, but a new wave of tools is coming. Loom, for instance, is one-way video for “show and tell”. It’s raised $203.6 million — however, it has a drawback: it doesn’t have many collaboration features.

Now a new European startup hopes to address this.

Claap, an asynchronous meeting platform with video and collaboration, thinks it might have part of the solution, and a private beta launch is planned for this month.

It’s now raised $3 million in pre-seed funding from LocalGlobe, Headline, E.Ventures, Kima Ventures, and angels including Front co-founder Mathilde Collin, Oyster co-founder Tony Jamous, Nest and GoCardless founder Matt Robinson and Automattic’s head of product Aadil Mamujee. It also includes a group of 30 angels such as Ian Hogarth (Songkick), Olivier Godement (Stripe), Roxanne Varza (Station F), Chris Herd (FirstBase), Xavier Niel (Kima) and Shane Mac (investor in Remote).

We all now know that what were previously small catch-ups are now 30-minute Zoom calls, which are pointless. “Asynchronous meetings” could be the way forward. In fact, I actually want to try out Claap myself. Zoom ‘meetings’ need to be killed. Now.

Claap says its product allows employees to record a short video update on a topic, allow others to comment on the relevant part, and set a due date for team members to respond. Colleagues then view the video and respond in their own time. Claap bills itself as the remote working equivalent of the “quick hallway catch-up”. It integrates with other workplace tools such as Trello or Jira so that when a decision is made on a project, it’s recorded for everyone on the team to see and refer back to. A subscription model is planned which will have a sliding scale depending on team size.

Because it doesn’t require real-time interaction, you don’t need to find a time that suits everyone for a meeting, so in fact the “meeting” sort of disappears. Instead, the platform creates a space for feedback and iterations.

Founders Robin Bonduelle and Pierre Touzeau looked at solutions already adopted by companies such as Automattic, and GitLab. Touzeau was previously at 360Learning, which employed a strict limiting policy for meetings. Bonduelle has 10 years of product management experience, working at various startups and scaleups including Ogury where he was VP of Product, and Rocket Internet. He developed asynchronous communication habits while managing 50 people across four countries and time zones. Touzeau has worked for businesses including L’Oréal and 360Learning, where he was most recently VP of Marketing.

However, asynchronous communication is not always perfect. As we know, emails and Slack messages can go unread. Video MIGHT be the solution.

Robin Bonduelle, co-founder and CEO at Claap, said: “After a year of working remotely, people are realizing the benefits of not working in an office but at the same time grappling with one of its worst consequences: back-to-back video meetings. A query that in the office would take five minutes to solve now takes at least 30, leaving everyone more exhausted in the process. Claap is designed to solve this issue, allowing colleagues the tools to keep them engaged and connected but without taking up all their time. It’s a new meeting format that allows people to make quick decisions.”

Touzeau said: “Meetings are a necessary part of working, but it doesn’t need to be your entire day. Asynchronous meetings are the key to freeing up our calendars but making sure work still gets done and deadlines are met. We’re excited by the potential Claap has to empower people to work from anywhere.”

George Henry, general partner at LocalGlobe, said: “We were impressed with Robin and Pierre’s vision and the potential for Claap to allow employees to connect on a project when they need to and facilitate the ability to work from anywhere.”

Jonathan Userovici, partner at Headline, said: “Zoom may have been the go-to enterprise app over the past 12 months but for the thousands of businesses that are now going to be remote-first, video conferencing alone won’t be enough to keep teams connected and get work done. Claap is the challenger tool to end video-calling fatigue.”

How to do remote work right, from the teams that know it best

Categories: Business News

Motorway’s auction platform for second-hand cars raises $67.7M Series B led by Index Ventures

2021, June 14 - 2:00pm

Motorway is a U.K. startup that allows professional car dealers to bid in an auction for privately owned cars for sale. The startup has had rapid success by removing a lot of friction in the process. It’s now raised £48 million / $67.7 million in a Series B round led by Index Ventures, along with new investors BMW i Ventures and Unbound. Existing investors Latitude and Marchmont Ventures also participated. The funding will be used to extend its platform and grow the current 160-strong team.

The startup claims it allows consumers to sell their car for up to £1,000 more than they could via other means, by uploading its details via a smartphone app that also uses computer vision to assess the state of the car. Over 3,000 professional car dealers then bid for the vehicle in a daily online auction. The highest offer wins the car, which is then collected for free by the winning dealer inside 24 hours.

Motorway says it has sold 65,000 cars since its launch in 2017 and seen sales hit £50 million in May 2021 alone, £2.5 million of transactions a day, and more than 4,000 completed car sales a month. With only 5% of all vehicles in the U.K. sold online right now, there is plenty of headroom for this market to grow.

Tom Leathes, CEO of Motorway, said: “For half a century, inefficient offline processes have led to bad deals and a bad experience for both car sellers and car dealers. Motorway has fundamentally changed a broken experience where everyone ends up dissatisfied — and we’ve transformed it with a superior online experience where everybody wins. Cutting out the middlemen leaves both the consumer and car dealer with a better deal, all from home and without the stress. Our incredible growth so far is testament to our focus on delivering more value through technology — and this investment will provide us with the fuel to take Motorway to the next level.”

Danny Rimer, partner at Index Ventures, said: “We’re always looking to invest in companies that are truly disrupting an industry and meeting a real customer need. We have found that in Motorway. The team has built an incredibly powerful platform, underpinned by great technology and a deep understanding of the challenges both consumers and car dealers face. Motorway has quickly become the first port of call for tens of thousands of people selling their car.”

Motorway has raised £14 million in venture funding since it was founded by Tom Leathes, Harry Jones and Alex Buttle in 2017.

Speaking to me over interview Leathes added: “COVID has been a real accelerator of something that was already happening. The car industry is moving online and that’s partly about people buying their next car online, but it’s also about dealers changing their behavior, how they do business, where they buy their cars. It forced that change which they resisted for a long time, and now they’re embracing it, so it’s a fundamental shift in the industry. And this is why we see such a massive opportunity to provide the rails to help both sides of the marketplace to move online.”

Rimer added: “It’s rare that you have founders who have worked together across multiple successful and less successful startups who have that scar tissue and success, and are now going for a much bigger opportunity. The business model is really an important one for us because instead of owning inventory and then having to get rid of your inventory, sort of like the difference between Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. Motorway’s marketplace is just like Farfetch — they don’t have any inventory, which means that just by merely making that platform happen for buyers and sellers, they win. So there’s a lot less risk associated with what the money is going to be used for when building the business.”

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Categories: Business News

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