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Nigerian investment platform Chaka secures $1.5M pre-seed after bagging country’s first SEC license

By Tage Kene-Okafor

When Robinhood raised its $3 million seed round in 2013, it was a couple of months old with huge ambitions of democratizing securities access to the underserved and unserved. Robinhood has since taken the world by storm and grown to serve more than 30 million users with its zero-commission trading

In the past, we’ve seen such growth trickle down to other regions across the world, inspiring similar businesses. Robinhood is no exception. Several platforms have sprung forth to bring stock trading opportunities in their respective markets. In Nigeria, at least four platforms offer both local and foreign stocks to individuals. Chaka is one such platform. Today, it is announcing the close of its $1.5 million pre-seed round to power digital investments for individuals and businesses.

The pre-seed round was led by Breyer Capital, while 4DX Ventures, Golden Palm Investments, Future Africa, Seedstars, and Musha Ventures participated. It’s the second joint deal for 4DX Ventures and Breyer Capital in the space of two weeks, the first in Egyptian social e-commerce platform Taager.

It is a well-known fact that even before Robinhood, the average American actively participated in stock trading. According to a survey by Gallup, about 60% of Americans owned some form of stock in 2000; that number was down to 55% in 2020. This was partly due to the global financial crisis that occurred in 2008.

The crash also affected the Nigerian capital market and because Nigerians lost a lot of money during that period, stock trading is mostly frowned upon by most of the public. Yet for the average Nigerian interested, participating in trading local stocks is hard; and practically impossible for foreign ones.

Tosin Osibodu, while in the U.S., recognised this problem and came back to Nigeria to start Chaka officially launching the company in 2019. According to Osibodu, Chaka wanted to create opportunities for Nigerians to invest in foreign assets and at the same time allow foreigners to invest in Nigerian assets.

“If there’s more demand in the market, over time, we expect there’ll be more supply. If you fast forward over a long period of time, we expect that our local capital markets will continue to grow,” he said to TechCrunch in an interview. “We will provide borderless digital access to multiple solutions, and so it’s not just about Nigerians investing in the market, it’s about making the markets accessible for people locally and globally.”

For the most part, Chaka has executed on one front. The platform Nigerians access to more than 10,000 stocks and ETFs trading on local and foreign capital markets. The CEO maintains that the platform has levelled entry barriers for borderless investments in Nigeria by providing customers with compliant access to the capital market.

“The thing about markets is that they have demand and supply with barriers to entry. We’re committed to lowering those barriers in local markets and by lowering barriers to investing for retail, more people will come to the market. In fact, more people came into the Nigerian stock market through us last year than any other broker. It’s like a demand-supply flywheel,” the CEO added.

Chaka’s local assets are registered with the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) Central Securities Clearing System (CSCS) and regulated by the Securities Exchange Commission of Nigeria (SEC). Dollar assets, on the other hand, are regulated by the US FINRA and the US SEC.

In April this year, digital investment platforms were caught in crosshairs with Nigeria’s SEC. The regulator declared their activities illegal and warned capital market operators working with them to renege on providing brokerage services for foreign securities. Unlike Robinhood which offers online brokerages, Nigerian investment platforms do not. Chaka, for instance, partners with Citi Investment Capital in Nigeria and DriveWealth LLC in the U.S. to issue stocks and securities.

According to Nigeria’s SEC, the bottom line was to bring the activities of these platforms under its purview as part of its efforts to safeguard the investing public. Although Osibodu claims Chaka had always engaged the SEC since the company was formed in 2019, it did not seem that way last December when the regulator singled out the two-year-old company for “selling and advertising stocks.”

The event set the precedence for the regulator’s all-out attack on other digital investment platforms, giving Chaka enough time to engage and conclude talks in about half a year. And last month, Chaka acquired the first fintech license issued by the SEC, making it the only investment platform operating as a digital sub-broker.

“When we launched, we kept SEC in the loop. But now, over the last six months, we’ve engaged with them, showed them our business models, the benefits, the markets. Now we’re proud to have SEC’s first fintech license. We believe that the most important thing is that the market has clarity and understands the regulations required to be registered. And we’re thrilled to have broken new ground and cleared up what it takes to be able to offer services in the market,” he said.

With the new license, the company can swiftly focus on what lies ahead. Osibodu says the license expands the scope of what Chaka can achieve. He asserts that Chaka can power multiple brokers and provide access to different digital investment offerings in addition to being a digital sub-broker.

Chaka

Image Credits: Chaka

Asides from Chaka’s traditional stock trading app for retail investors, it also offers Chaka SDK which allows asset managers and financial institutions to offer digital investments and Chaka for Business for direct business onboarding and trading tools for institutional investors.

Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital, commenting on the investment said,  “We are proud to combine efforts with a company that is levelling the investment playing field for Nigerians [and Africans at large]. We’re confident in the value Chaka provides through its digital tools, and we look forward to playing our part in supporting Chaka’s team on their mission to drive borderless investments in Africa.” 

Osibodu says the company will use its pre-seed investment to expand footprints to Ghana and other West African markets. Improving its technology and services and securing partnerships with major financial institutions, including apex ones, is also a priority.

“As we advance, I think something that we’re just very focused on is how do we continually reduce access barriers, and we are proud of the initiatives that we’ve brought and are to come. Watch this space for more partnerships, even with apex institutions in our markets as well.”

India’s GlobalBees raises $150 million to build Thrasio-like house of brands

By Manish Singh

The universe of Indian firms attempting to replicate Thrasio’s success in the world’s second largest internet market just got bigger. Three-month-old GlobalBees said on Monday it has raised $150 million in a Series A financing round led by FirstCry.

Lightspeed Venture Partners also invested in the new financing round, which is $75 million in equity and $75 million in debt. Even with a $75 million equity raise, Monday’s announcement makes GlobalBees’ round the largest Series A funding in India.

Founded by Nitin Agarwal, formerly of Edelweiss Financial, and Supam Maheshwari, a founder of FirstCry, GlobalBees acquires and partners with digitally native brands across categories such as beauty, personal care, home and kitchen, food and nutrition, and sports and lifestyle with a revenue rate of $1 million to $20 million.

New Delhi-based startup then helps these firms scale and sell to marketplaces (such as Amazon and Flipkart) and through other channels in India and outside the South Asian market, Agarwal told TechCrunch in an interview. He said GlobalBees has already acquired or partnered with over a dozen brands and they are selling both in India and outside of the country.

“At FirstCry, we created a lot of brands and realized that most of these brands reach a scale after which it becomes too difficult to scale them,” he said. “Supam and I have been talking about this for several years, trying to find ways to disrupt this market. We think there’s an opportunity to create a new house of brands that is digital native.”

Agarwal said GlobalBees will attempt to build a distribution and enterprise ecosystem in the online space similar to how traditional firms have established those connections in the offline world. (Not all brands GlobalBees engages with will get acquired on day one, Agarwal said. Typically, some brands get acquired in a span of three years or so, he said.)

“The time it takes for D2C brands to go from 0 – 100Cr (about $13 million) in revenue has more than halved over the past few years,” said Harsha Kumar, Partner at Lightspeed Venture, in a statement.

“We believe that this creates a unique opportunity to create a brand house much faster as well. With their past entrepreneurial stints together and their experience in building one of the largest ecommerce platforms in India, the duo of Supam and Nitin is the perfect team to go after this idea. Lightspeed is thrilled to be part of this journey!” said Kumar, who is joining the board of GlobalBees.

Scores of startups in India today are trying to replicate what is popularly known as the Thrasio-model. Mensa Brands, a similar venture by former fashion e-commerce Myntra chief executive, recently raised $50 million in equity and debt. 10club, another similar startup, recently raised $40 million — though much of it is in debt. TechCrunch reported last month that UpScale, another prominent player in this space, is in advanced talks with Germany’s Razor Group to raise capital.

Like Thrasio, several of these firms are trying to acquire brands that sell midrange to high-end products in categories where competition is limited. In fact, some of the categories that are common among these brands are so underappreciated that even Amazon and other e-commerce firms have not explored them through their private label ecosystems.

GlobalBees’ Agarwal agreed with this assessment, though he added that not all brands are operating in niche categories.

New York-headquartered Thrasio, which has raised over $1.3 billion in equity and debt since December last year, had acquired or otherwise consolidated about 6,000 third-party sellers on Amazon as of earlier this year.

“India is at the cusp of a D2C revolution with an estimated market size of $200 billion in the next 5 years. Indian brands have shown great promise in the recent years, and we believe that GlobalBees is building great assets to accelerate the growth of digitally native brands in the country,” said Vikas Agnihotri, Operating Partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement.

Agnihotri, alongside Atul Gupta of Premji Invest, Sudhir Sethi of Chiratae Ventures and Kshitij Sheth of Chrys Capital are also joining GlobalBees’ board.

Carlyle to acquire live broadcasting and streaming tech outfit LiveU for over $400M, say sources

By Ingrid Lunden

Streaming is the name of the content game these days, and now one of the companies that builds tech to do this from anywhere in the world is getting acquired. LiveU — whose satellite/cellular hardware and software for capturing and delivering live streaming and broadcasting video is used by over 3,000 large media organizations — is going to be acquired by private equity firm Carlyle, multiple sources tell TechCrunch, for a value of over $400 million.

LiveU is based in Israel, and the deal was reported to be in the works by local press. Our sources say that the acquisition is in the final stages of closing and could be announced as soon as today or tomorrow. A LiveU spokesperson declined to comment on the story, and a Carlyle spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

What is notable is that this is the second time that LiveU has changed hands in the space of two years: the company was previously acquired by Francisco Partners, another PE firm, for at $200 million.

The quick jump in valuation, more than doubling in 25 months, is due in part to the huge surge of interest we’ve seen for video content.

It was not that long ago that you only watched live video on television, using a limited set of broadcast channels. Now, we have live, or near-live, or on-demand moving pictures coming at us from everywhere. On-demand and live streamed video can be found on apps (both those dedicated to broadcasting, and those that offer it alongside other content like YouTube, Facebook, and more) and websites; and not just TVs but phones, tablets and computers. It has become the primary medium for informing and entertaining people today and accounts for more than 80% of all IP traffic.

So it makes sense that a company building technology to make the process of capturing and delivering that video easier, cheaper and at a better level of quality would catch attention. (LiveU has been used for a lot of high-profile coverage, from tennis championships through to the Derek Chauvin trial.)

The other reason for the hike, it seems, is that LiveU itself has grown in size through an acquisition of its own. Earlier this year it snapped up its channel partner in the UK market, Garland Partners, for an undisclosed sum, to get closer to its customers in the region. One of our sources noted that this consolidation helped set the course both for LiveU to get acquired itself, and for its valuation.

It’s not clear whether there were other bidders interested in the company at the same time as Carlyle but the PE firm has been a pretty active buyer and growth-stage investor in the last year, which has been a heady one for funding in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shifts in consumer and business behavior.

Other acquisitions in Europe (specifically the UK) have included 1e, a hybrid working startup based out of the UK, in deal that valued 1e at $270 million; and gaming company Jagex for around $530 million. Investments meanwhile have included a $200 million stake in South Korean mobility-as-a-service startup Kakao Mobility. LiveU would appear to be its first deal in Israel.

Israel has been a big benefactor of that activity. Avihai Michaeli, a Tel Aviv-based senior investment banker and startup advisor. estimates that startups in the country collectively raised $11 billion in the first six months of 2021, and that has already grown to $12 billion as of today. PE firms are a regular shopper when it comes to Israeli exits, he said, “to improve them from within, and then sell them for an even higher value.” Other examples have included Francisco Partners acquiring MyHeritage in February for around $600 million.

We’ll update this story as we learn more.

How one founder pivoted a startup designed for in-person interaction in light of the pandemic

By Darrell Etherington

When Ashley Sumner designed and launched Quilt, it was meant to be a response to digital social networking, preferring creating authentic in-person interactions between people who didn’t necessarily know each other before. The app would match members for in-person conversations and informal meetups in their own homes — but when COVID-19 arrived, the fundamentals of the model obviously changed.

After first trying out Zoom-powered virtual video meetups as one alternative, Quilt instead settled on creating an audio platform that provided real-time conversation centered around wellness. It might sound like it has a lot in common with the rash of other audio networking startups out there, but unlike the buzzier Clubhouse or its many competitors, Quilt has carefully crafted a very different kind of community thanks to patience and building with intention.

Ashley talks to us this week on Found about making that big change, while also keeping intact the core mission that Quilt has been focused on from the beginning. She also tells us all about her own approach to being a founder and a leader, which is both unique and refreshing.

We loved our time chatting with Ashley, 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.

Rise Gardens grows with $9M Series A to help anyone be an indoor farmer

By Christine Hall

As more consumers embrace plant-based diets and sustainable food practices, Rise Gardens is giving anyone the ability to have a green thumb from the comfort of their own home.

The Chicago-based indoor, smart hydroponic company raised $9 million in an oversubscribed Series A round, led by TELUS Ventures, with existing investors True Ventures and Amazon Alexa Fund and new investor Listen Ventures joining in. The company has a total of $13 million in venture-backed investments since Rise was founded in 2017, founder and CEO Hank Adams told TechCrunch.

Though he began in 2017, Adams, who has a background in sports technology, said he spent a few years working on prototypes before launching the first products in 2019. Rise’s IoT-connected systems are designed to grow vegetables, herbs and microgreens year-round.

Customers can choose between three system levels and get started with their first garden for about $300.

There is a “kind of joyousness” in being able to grow something, but people are looking for assistance because they don’t want to get into a hobby that will become demanding or stressful, Adams said. As a result, Rise’s accompanying mobile app monitors water levels and plant progress, then alert users when it’s time to water, fertilize or care for their plants.

“People are paying attention to food, and they care about what they eat,” he added. “Then the global pandemic played a part in this, with people leaning into growing their own food.”

In fact, customers leaned into growing food so much that Rise Gardens saw its sales eclipse seven figures in 2020, and gardens sold out three times during the year. Customers purchased close to 100,000 plants and have harvested 50,000.

The company estimates it helped keep more than 2,000 pounds of food from being wasted and saved 250,000 gallons of water since launching in 2019.

The concept of an indoor farm is not new. Incumbents include AeroGarden, AeroGrow, which was acquired by Scotts-Miracle Gro last November, and Click & Grow. Rise is among a new crop of startups that have raised funds that include Gardyn.

However, Rise Gardens is differentiating itself from those competitors by making its gardens from powder-coated metals and glass and are designed to be a focal point in the room. It is also offering ways for people to experiment with their gardens.

“We wanted something that would be flexible because once you have mastered a hobby, you will get bored,” he added. “You can start at one level and they swap out tray lids to grow more densely. We have a microgreens kit you can add, or add plant supports for tomatoes and peppers. You can also build a trellis to vine snap peas.”

Adams will focus the Series A dollars into product development, inventory, manufacturing, expansion into new markets and building up the team, especially in the areas of customer service and marketing. Rise has about 25 employees and plans to bring on another eight this year.

In addition, Rise Gardens’ products will soon be available on Amazon — its first channel outside of its website. The company is also expanding into schools in what Adams calls “version 2.0” of the school garden.

When Rich Osborn, president and managing partner of TELUS Ventures, evaluated the indoor garden space, he told TechCrunch that Adams and his team rose to the top of the list because of their background, data experience and syndication with Amazon.

Not only was consumer demand there for these kinds of products, but the sustainability and social impact created from these kinds of investments couldn’t be overemphasized, he said.

Nishan Majarian, co-founder and CEO of TELUS Agriculture, said he sees a future where there is a spectrum of food growth, and crop management will be at the plant level.

“Ever since Climate Corp. was acquired by Monsanto, there has been a massive influx into agriculture to get to the next billion-dollar exit,” Majarian added. “Agrifood is the last segmented supply chain. Every crop is different, every market is different. That makes it local, complex and fertile soil — pun intended — for startups who get capital to solve those issues and scale.”

 

Go1 raises $200M at a $1B+ valuation to boost its curated enterprise learning platform

By Ingrid Lunden

Online learning continues to see a huge boost of attention and use in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and today a startup building tools specifically for enterprises to deliver on their internal education remits is announcing a big round of funding that points to the startup’s own growth and ambitions.

Go1, which provides curated online learning materials and tools to businesses, with “playlists” that tap content from multiple publishers and silos, has closed a round of $200 million, a Series D that the Australian company’s CEO and co-founder confirmed values the startup at over $1 billion.

Barnes added that the funding will be used to expand further in existing markets — based out of Brisbane, Australia, Go1 has offices in London, the U.S., Singapore and Malaysia, so it wants to go deeper into Europe more broadly and into more of Asia Pacific, he said. Go1 will also continue expanding its suite of services in the wider areas of learning and development training, he added.

Today, it already offers a host of analytics and AI tech to chart how well that content is used and to further personalize materials, so the idea will be to expand on that more.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, AirTree Ventures and Salesforce Ventures co-led this Series D, with Blue Cloud Ventures, Larsen Ventures, Madrona Venture Group, Microsoft’s M12, SEEK, TEN13, and Tiger Global also participating. (To be clear it appears that there were reports about this Series D closing but no details on the value, the investors, nor confirmation from the company.)

The funding represents a major capital infusion for the startup: prior to this it had only raised about $80 million over the last six years, with the last round, a more modest Series C of $40 million, closed 14 months ago.

But it also comes on the heels of impressive growth. Incubated at Y Combinator and based out of Brisbane, Australia, the company currently works with some 3.5 million users and over 1,600 enterprises globally, with companies like Microsoft, TikTok, the University of Oxford, Suzuki, Asahi and Thrifty, as well as many smaller businesses, among its customers. On average, an individual, when actively engaging on Go1, spends between two and six hours per month using the platform, and Barnes told me that its user base has grown by more than 300 percent in the last year.

But in a tech world now full of options for online learning content — both for K-12 as well as business users — what is perhaps more interesting is the startup’s approach.

Currently, Go1 has some 150,000 pieces of content available in its library, but it has not created any of that itself. The material comes from some 1,000 publishers and creators, a figure that is growing weekly, said Barnes, and includes not just your standard names in online education like Pearson, EdX, Coursera and Skillsoft, but also Blinkist and the Harvard Business Review.

The point of Go1 is to make it easier for businesses to access and use all these materials without having to negotiate separate deals with the various rights holders, or for users to have to negotiate multiple apps or sites to use it.

Somewhat akin to a streaming service like Spotify, Go1 acts not just as a distributor/aggregator to access that content, but as a channel for those providers, who receive royalties based on how much their content is consumed. (And individual rights holders can also negotiate how some or all of their content is accessed, in the event that they have paywalls that they do not want to break down in specific areas.)

The Spotify analogy goes beyond the company’s business model: Barnes pointed out that it too calls its curated bundles — which it creates itself, or lets customers create themselves — “playlists.”

“We started the business six years ago because no one else was doing this, yet there was such a desire to bring together that diversity of content and make it easily available,” he said.

The challenge for employers is not just navigating the user experience of juggling multiple sites (which Go1 solves with these curated playlists), but also building learning that is still cohesive and easy to manage, regardless of which department or employee is doing the training.

“How do I create something for the broad diversity of skills for our workforce?” is how Barnes described it to me. This is what the company addresses with the platform, he added, not only making it easier to create training for different people, but to help them find, and to suggest, relevant content that will interest those users by offering as big a selection as possible. “We help people find the needle in the haystack,” he said.

Where the analogy stops, it seems, is in how Go1 interfaces with the rest of the corporate learning market.

I asked Barnes if he saw companies like Success Factors as competitors, but in reality, Go1’s ethos is to integrate into whatever education or training platform a company might already use, be it SAP, Workday, Salesforce or Microsoft-based platforms, or something else altogether.

Borrowing another media comparison, Barnes notes that he sees Go1 as occupying the “Netflix” button on a remote: regardless of the manufacturer or pay-TV provider, you still have a way to get your Netflix fix; and so, too, is the hope for Go1 in corporate learning and development training.

This also means that while platforms are not rivals, others also aggregating content might well be: that likely makes for an interesting relationship with Microsoft, given that it owns LinkedIn, which has LinkedIn Learning, which also aggregates content from across a wide range of publishers.

It seems that while Microsoft has slowly created more integrations with LinkedIn over the years since it’s acquired it, this is one area where it’s also been okay with working with one of its competitors.

“Our team worked closely with Go1 on a Microsoft Teams integration to enable more enterprises to maintain corporate training remotely,” said Jeff Teper, Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint, said in a statement. “As many companies navigate in-person work scenarios, a plan for hybrid engagement is critical. Employees and students can access one of the world’s largest libraries of online learning resources with Go1 in Microsoft Teams. Companies can also onboard new talent and ensure essential trainings are provided regardless of employee location.”

One way that Go1 is looking to grow is in how it is used by the individuals that learn or train on its platform.

Another reason Barnes and his co-founders — Vu Tran (head of growth), Chris Eigeland (CRO), and Chris Hood (CTO) — started Go1, he said, was because of a pain point one of them directly encountered. Tran was doing his training to become a doctor at the time, and he found it very frustrating that he had re-do hand washing training each time he started a new rotation.

“There was no way to re-share that he’d already done that,” Barnes said. Go1 is trying to double down on that, increasing the ability for its users to “own” those credentials and certifications and re-use them in subsequent places, even when they change jobs. (Again… not unlike exporting a Spotify playlist, which you can also do.)

It seems that I am not the only one who sees a lot of Spotify resonance in Go1.

“When people think about music, they often think of Spotify and access to unlimited music for one subscription. We believe Go1 is the emerging category leader in providing a similar experience for corporate learning. Powered by AI and machine learning, Go1’s platform provides an intuitive experience, and creates an opportunity for individuals to expand their professional development goals and explore the resources to help achieve them,” said Nagraj Kashyap, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement.

US blames China for Exchange server hacks and ransomware attacks

By Zack Whittaker

The Biden administration has formally accused China of the mass-hacking of Microsoft Exchange servers earlier this year, which prompted the FBI to intervene as concerns rose that the hacks could lead to widespread destruction.

The mass-hacking campaign targeted Microsoft Exchange email servers with four previously undiscovered vulnerabilities that allowed the hackers — which Microsoft already attributed to a China-backed group of hackers called Hafnium — to steal email mailboxes and address books from tens of thousands of organizations around the United States.

Microsoft released patches to fix the vulnerabilities, but the patches did not remove any backdoor code left behind by the hackers that might be used again for easy access to a hacked server. That prompted the FBI to secure a first-of-its-kind court order to effectively hack into the remaining hundreds of U.S.-based Exchange servers to remove the backdoor code. Computer incident response teams in countries around the world responded similarly by trying to notify organizations in their countries that were also affected by the attack.

In a statement out Monday, the Biden administration said the attack, launched by hackers backed by China’s Ministry of State Security, resulted in “significant remediation costs for its mostly private sector victims.”

“We have raised our concerns about both this incident and the [People’s Republic of China’s] broader malicious cyber activity with senior PRC Government officials, making clear that the PRC’s actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” the statement read.

The National Security Agency also released details of the attacks to help network defenders identify potential routes of compromise. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied claims of state-backed or sponsored hacking.

The Biden administration also blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for contracting with criminal hackers to conduct unsanctioned operations, like ransomware attacks, “for their own personal profit.” The government said it was aware that China-backed hackers have demanded millions of dollars in ransom demands against hacked companies. Last year, the Justice Department charged two Chinese spies for their role in a global hacking campaign that saw prosecutors accuse the hackers of operating for personal gain.

Although the U.S. has publicly engaged the Kremlin to try to stop giving ransomware gangs safe harbor from operating from within Russia’s borders, the U.S. has not previously accused Beijing of launching or being involved with ransomware attacks.

“The PRC’s unwillingness to address criminal activity by contract hackers harms governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators through billions of dollars in lost intellectual property, proprietary information, ransom payments, and mitigation efforts,” said Monday’s statement.

The statement also said that the China-backed hackers engaged in extortion and cryptojacking, a way of forcing a computer to run code that uses its computing resources to mine cryptocurrency, for financial gain.

The Justice Department also announced fresh charges against four China-backed hackers working for the Ministry of State Security, which U.S. prosecutors said were engaged in efforts to steal intellectual property and infectious disease research into Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and MERS against victims based in the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom by using a front company to hide their operations.

“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft,” said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.

Kdan Mobile gets $16M Series B for its cloud-based content and productivity tools

By Catherine Shu

Kdan Mobile founder and CEO Kenny Su

Kdan Mobile founder and CEO Kenny Su

Kdan Mobile, a company that provides a wide range of cloud-based software, including AI-based tech for organizing documents, has raised a $16 million Series B. The round was led by South Korea-based Dattoz Partners, which will also take a seat on Kdan Mobile, and included participation from WI Harper Group, Taiwania Capital and Golden Asia Fund Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.

Launched in 2009, Kdan Mobile has focused on developing content creation and productivity software for mobile devices from the start, founder and chief executive officer Kenny Su told TechCrunch. “We’ve observed more and more industries embracing remote or hybrid work for years now, even before 2020,” he said. “We always sensed that trend would continue.”

Kdan Mobile has now raised $21 million in total. Since announcing its Series A in April 2018, Kdan Mobile has grown from 70 employees to 200 in Taiwan, China, Japan and the United States. It also passed 200 million downloads and now has more than 100 million members on its platform. More than half of Kdan Mobile’s users are in the U.S. and Europe, 30% from Asia and 15% from Africa and Australia.

Part of the funding will be used to develop Kdan Mobile’s enterprise products, including Document AI, its data processing and filtering technology, and SaaS products like e-signature service DottedSign, PDF software Document 365 and Creativity 365 for multimedia content creation, including animations and video editing.

After focusing primarily on individual users, Kdan Mobile decided to start working with more enterprise clients in 2018 and its software is now used by more than 40,000 businesses and educational organizations. Su said the company’s focus on enterprise was validated with the 2019 launch of DottedSign, which now has more than 300,000 users. During the past year and a half, the number of signatures processed by DottedSign increase by 30 times as companies switched to remote work because of the pandemic. Kdan Mobile also began offering a set of APIs and SDKs so internal developers at large enterprises can integrate and customize its technology.

“We use a lot of what’s called B2C2B approach, or business to consumer to business, meaning that we still try to connect with users at the individual level, but do so in a way that we hope they’ll adopt our solutions at the company level,” said Su.

Document AI was launched in 2021 after Kdan Mobile found that many of its users wanted to reduce the amount of time they spend managing documents. Its features include optical character recognition, smart tagging and search, and protection for sensitive data. Some examples of how Document AI can be used include automating data-entry tasks and creating summaries of research documents.

When asked how its products differentiate from those offered by Google, Microsoft and Adobe, Su said one way is that Kdan Mobile has always created products for mobile first, before designing the user experience for other devices, with the idea of serving professionals who are on the move a lot.

On the other hand, Kdan Mobile doesn’t necessarily see itself as a competitor with those companies. Instead, its solutions are complementary. For example, it creates files that are compatible with Adobe products and is integrated with Google Workspace, Zapier and, in the near future, Microsoft Teams.

“In that regard, it’s about helping users where they are, rather than trying to sway them away from existing products or services,” Su said.

In statement, Dattoz Partner CEO Yeon Su Kim said, “We see tremendous growth in the market for software and solutions that empower the post-pandemic hybrid workforce. Kdan’s powerful product suite and the leadership team’s ability to executive have led to its strong momentum in several key markets, including the U.S. and Asia markets.”

 

Equity Monday: Zoom buys Five9 as Robinhood sets IPO price range

By Alex Wilhelm

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 and myself here.

It was a big damn morning, so we had to cut some stuff. Here’s what we got into:

  • Stocks and cryptos are off this morning, as inflation and COVID-19 concerns rise.
  • Zoom is buying Five9. The deal is not super expensive, nor is it cheap. But given the huge percentage of Zoom’s market cap that it represents, it’s a serious wager from the video conferencing startup.
  • Carlyle is buying LiveU for around $400 million. TechCrunch broke this news. The deal shows that private equity is interested in startups that aren’t unicorns.
  • Robinhood dropped a new SEC filing this morning! That means we have a price range and valuation target to play with. More from TechCrunch on the matter shortly.
  • From India: A huge round for Lenskart, and a big Series A for GlobalBees.
  • And we covered this round from Nigeria. A smaller transaction, but one that could prove to be quite neat, we reckon.

Ok! Chat 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!

JLL, Khosla lead Jones’ $12.5M Series A for real estate vendor compliance

By Christine Hall

Commercial real estate tenants and property managers have to abide by strict liability rules that any vendor entering the property must have insurance certificates and meet other requirements. The approval process for this currently can take days and is still largely done on paper.

Enter Jones. The New York-based commercial real estate startup is curating a marketplace of pre-approved vendors for tenants and property managers to find and hire the people they need in a compliant way.

To continue advancing its network, the company announced Monday it raised $12.5 million in Series A funding led by JLL Spark and Khosla Ventures that also included strategic investors Camber Creek, Rudin Management, DivcoWest and Sage Realty. This new investment brings Jones’ total raised to $20 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Jones, founded in 2017, also manages certifications and approvals, moving the whole process online. Its technology can process an insurance certificate in less than an hour and reduce the overall vendor approval time to 2.5 days — from 12 days — with 99.9% accuracy, co-founder and CEO Omri Stern told TechCrunch.

The accuracy portion is key. With much of the work being done by hand, current accuracy is at about 30%, he added. In addition, the certifications are lengthy, and it is typically up to property managers to parse through the insurance documents to identify what is missing rather than spending time with tenants.

“In the consumer world, a homeowner expects to go on a marketplace and find a service and hire them,” Stern said. “Office managers and tenants can’t get their preferred vendors through the approval process, so we want to provide a similar digital experience that they can consume and use in real estate.”

He says Jones’ differentiator from competitors is that all of the stakeholders are in place: a group of high-profile real estate customers, including Lincoln Property Co., Prologis, DivcoWest, Rudin Management, Sage Realty and JLL.

Yishai Lerner, co-CEO of JLL Spark, agrees, telling TechCrunch that commercial real estate is one of the largest and last asset classes that is undergoing a technology transformation, similar to what fintech was 20 years ago.

He estimates the U.S. market to be $16 trillion, of which technology could unlock a lot of the value. That opportunity was one of the drivers for JLL to create JLL Spark, where Jones is one of the first investments.

Though Lerner spent time with property management teams on the ground, he became up close and personal with the problem when his wife, while moving offices, found out her vendors were not allowed in the building because they didn’t have the right insurance.

“We learned that property managers spend half of their time just working to verify the compliance of vendors coming into their building,” Lerner said. “We wondered why there wasn’t technology for this. Jones was doing construction at the time, and we brought them into commercial real estate because they had an example of how technology could solve the problem.”

Meanwhile, the Series A comes at a time when Stern is seeing Jones’s SaaS tool take off in the past 10 months. He would not get specific with growth metrics, but did say that what is driving growth is “competing against the status quo” as companies are searching for and adapting workflow solutions.

The company intends to use the new funds on product development in both quicker and easier approvals and bringing on new vendors. Jones already works with tens of thousands of vendors. It will also focus on integration, offering an API that could be used in other industry verticals where compliance is necessary.

Stern would also like to continue building the team. Having brought in real estate experts, he is now also looking for people with backgrounds in fintech, cybersecurity and insurtech to bring in additional perspectives.

“We are building an incredible company with the opportunity to be the next big digital marketplace,” he added.

 

Recapped lands $6 million for collaborative sales software that gets the customer in the mix

By Jordan Crook

Recapped, a startup building collaborative sales software, announced the close of a $6.3 million seed round today. The deal was led by Charles River Ventures. Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, CoFound, AirAngels, Prime Set, Twenty5Twenty, Peter Kazanjy, Alan Chunk and other angels also participated in the round.

Recapped was founded by Mark Fershteyn and Ujwal Battar. Fershteyn spent his career in sales, first as an account executive at Citrix and then as vice president of sales at App Academy. He felt firsthand the difficulty of collaboration in the sales space, not only with members of the sales team and other departments within an organization, but also with the buy side of a transaction. That cross-team, cross-company clunkiness leads to challenges around transparency and business planning.

Recapped aims to solve the issue. Its software allows users within an organization to collaborate around a deal. For example, the customer experience (CX) and post-sales team can keep abreast of a deal as it’s coming together, as can the CEO or CFO. That may help those teams and individuals better project future workloads, for example.

But perhaps most uniquely, buyers are given an almost identical UX as the sales team, allowing both parties to have a collaborative check-list of action items, deliverables, and data to work off of to make sure they cross the finish line.

Salespeople can create a super customizable and interactive landing page with Recapped that they can send to a potential client. That page may include customer testimonials, product videos, and other information to help the client get acquainted with the product. It also includes a check list for the sales process, from delivering a proof of concept to running a pilot to getting sign off from the necessary parties and more.

Though sales side teams must have a seat to use the software, the buyer side simply receives a link and starts working.

Image Credits: Recapped

Recapped is meant to replace what’s known in the industry as a Mutual Action Plan or a Success Plan, typically built and managed with a blend of spreadsheets and email.

Moreover, leadership, finance, and other departments within the selling company can look at the array of deals in progress to get a clearer picture of what will close and when, allowing for easier forecasts for investors and preparation among teams like CX and post-sale.

Recapped launched into beta in 2019, and publicly in the summer of 2020. Since then, it’s doubled revenue every quarter and expanded from two employees to eleven. Nearly half of those employees are either women or underrepresented minorities.

According to Fershteyn, Recapped is helping its customers close deals 18 percent faster, close 23 percent more total deals, and streamline customer onboarding times by up to 28 percent.

“What keeps me up at night is ensuring that the product is as easy to use as possible while still being incredibly customizable for our customers because everyone has a different sales process and onboarding process and each customer prefers something different,” Fershteyn said. “Making it incredibly easy to use while we scale and taking that into the next year and a half as we deploy this $6 million is the biggest challenge.”

Breakr raises $4.2M to connect influencers with emerging musicians

By Brian Heater

Music app Breakr this week announced a $4.2 million seed round, led by Slow Ventures. The latest raise follows $700,000 in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz’s TxO fund – a round the people behind the service considered a sort of proof of concept as they worked to get the idea off the ground.

It’s clear why Breakr’s offering is an appealing one for investors. The product serves as a way to connect up and coming musicians with social media influencers. Musicians get exposure and the influencers get paid to effectively host an office hours listening session. Breakr, meanwhile, gets a 10% cut from the revenue.

Image Credits: Breakr

It’s a unique approach in an overcrowded music marketplace, where discovering music and being discovered have both proven difficult codes to crack. Though it’s less about tweaking the algorithm for music listeners than it is getting undiscovered music in front of the right set of ears. Speaking with two of the startup’s six founders, we reminisced about the days rappers stood outside of record stores, attempting to sell mixtape CD-Rs for $5 a pop — things have come a long way since then, but no one has fully solved the problem of music discovery.

“Breakr is a needed tool to efficiently connect artists, influencers and brands,” I know from first hand experience that this process manually is too time consuming to not only find an array of diverse influencers but activate them as well,” AMP Technologies’ Marc Byers said in a release. “They’ve created what I call a mall of influential marketers, where all you have to do is shop what talent fits the taste of your campaign needs.”

And while the medium has changed to social media, the hustle and feelings of futility haven’t. Not everyone gets their  Mobb Deep story with Q-Tip stopping and listening to a few bars after coming out of the Def Jam offices. Obviously we need a lot more Q-Tips in the world, just as a general rule. With human cloning technology still lacking, however, Breakr is hoping to offer some approximation of the experience, with added financial incentive.

“If you’re a world-renowned DJ or A&R at a major label, these artists are already in your emails, and DMS, trying to get your attention,” says CEO Tony Brown, who previously worked for financial giant, Goldman Sachs. “We give them a unique URL, they send that unique URL and say, ‘hey, stay out of my DMS, meet me here. Here’s the cost. And let’s talk about it.’”

Shoutout to @TobeNwigwe @tumabasa @paulwallbaby @ProducedbyNell for hosting an amazing listening session for our Breakr Artists 🔥pic.twitter.com/BKYzbQ8YxX

— Music Breakr (@MusicBreakr) July 2, 2021

Influencers charge artists on a sliding scale – likely commanding more based on their following. Breakr says around 12,000 users have signed up for influencer accounts, which the company is currently in the process of vetting. Between 3,000-4,000 accounts have been approved.

“We’ve worked with companies as big as Warner and Sony, as small as the SoundCloud rapper, and everybody in between,” adds Inventor and Head of Product Ameer Brown, who was formerly with Adobe.

Rapper, influencer and long-time friend Tobe Nwigwe is also on the long list of co-founders and has been active in helping spread the brand through social media, including hosting his own listening sessions.

“As soon as I saw the vision for what the Breakr team was building, essentially the tech-middle-man between influencers and artists, I immediately knew Breakr would be the future,” says Nwigwe. “Having cultural icons like Erykah Badu and Dave Chapelle rock with my music, and organically amplify me on their platforms, was major for me. Now, with Breakr, we make this happen authentically for artists and influencers of all levels.”

On the subject of cultural icons, Nas is also among the notable investors. “We loved the company before we knew the connection but that coincidence really made doing this deal even more special,” the rapper said in a comment provided to TechCrunch.

Robinhood targets IPO valuation up to $35B amid warning that crypto incomes are slipping

By Alex Wilhelm

Robinhood released an S-1/A filing detailing its first IPO price range this morning. The company first filed to go public in early July after raising billions earlier in the year.

The well-known U.S. consumer fintech giant intends to sell shares in its public market debut at a price between $38 and $42 per share. Robinhood is selling 52,375,000 in its IPO, worth $2.0 billion to $2.2 billion. Another 2,625,000 are being offered by existing shareholders, while its underwriting banks have the option to purchase a further 5,500,000 shares in the transaction.

All told, Robinhood could see shares trade hands worth just over $2.5 billion in its IPO at the top end of its initial price range.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


We want to know Robinhood’s simple and diluted IPO valuation ranges, and we want to dig into the company’s newly released preliminary Q2 2021 results. Then we’ll do some fun math to better understand just how rich, or not, Robinhood’s current price range seems to be. From there, we’ll discuss whether we expect to see Robinhood raise its price range before it debuts.

Sound good? Let’s get into it.

What’s Robinhood worth?

We’ll start by calculating a few valuation marks for Robinhood to help put its $38 to $42 per-share IPO price range into context.

First, Robinhood’s post-IPO simple share count is expected to be 835,675,280, not including shares reserved for possible underwriter purchase. That share count values Robinhood at $31.8 billion at $38 per share and $35.1 billion at $42 per share. Those figures rise by $209 million and $231 million, respectively, if we count the 5.5 million shares that its banks may purchase as part of the IPO.

But what folks will want to chat on Twitter about the company’s fully diluted valuation. At the midpoint of its price range, Robinhood is worth more than $38 billion when shares tied up in vested RSUs and options are counted. That figure lands around $40 billion at the top end of Robinhood’s price range.

Robinhood would therefore be worth $35 billion, calculated using a simple share count, or as much as $40 billion if more equity is counted. Both numbers are fucking huge and indicate that Robinhood’s ascent in the last 18 months from breakout unicorn to category-defining upstart is about to be embraced by the public market, provided that it prices at least in range.

How do those prices feel, given our read of today’s market dynamics?

How is Robinhood doing?

AngelList Venture’s Avlok Kohli on rolling funds and the busy state of VC

By Greg Kumparak

Few companies have deeper insights into the day-by-day state of venture capital than AngelList. According to the company’s data, over 51% of the “top tier U.S. VC deals” involve their platform and tools, giving them a remarkably expansive view of everything going on.

AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage to discuss topics ranging from the state of the market to his thoughts on why there’s suddenly so much money flooding into VC (sending valuations to the sky), and where AngelList could go from here. We started with a presentation wrapping together everything Kohli is seeing in the industry right now, followed up by a largely audience-driven Q&A.

I’ve embedded the full interview at the bottom of this post, but here are some highlights:

AngelList’s growing focus on founders

Kohli says he never expected to end up in the venture industry, but the potential for AngelList to grow into something entirely new drew him in:

“I definitely did not think of venture as the industry I would be in. What actually attracted me to it wasn’t necessarily venture, it was actually the makings of a financial platform and being able to build tools and products that eventually extend to founders. When I stepped in, a lot of our tools were built for GPs and LPs — really the funder side — and how you’d reduce the friction and get more people coming into venture. Really leaning into the solo capitalist movement, and having more LPs coming in.

Then there’s also this opportunity to start building founder products, which obviously is near and dear to my heart. I do think there are a lot of things we can do to improve not just the fundraising experience, but also the downstream products that they can use. All the way from banking, to spend management, to cap tables, the whole nine yards. I think there’s so much we can do there.” (Timestamp: 10:11)

When I later asked him to elaborate on what those founder-focused products might look like, Kohli expanded:

Dover raises $20M to bring the concept of ‘orchestration’ to recruitment

By Ingrid Lunden

Despite being one of the earliest adopters of using the world wide web to disrupt how its business is done and connect with more potential customers, the recruitment industry ironically remains one of the more fragmented and behind the times when it comes to using new, cloud based services to work more efficiently. A new startup is hoping to change that, and it’s picked up some funding on strong, early signs of traction.

Dover, which has built what CEO and co-founder Max Kolysh describes as a “recruitment orchestration platform” — aimed at recruiters, it helps them juggle and aggregate multiple candidate pools to source suitable job candidates automatically, and then manage the process of outreach (including using tools to automatically re-write job descriptions, as well as to write recruitment and rejection letters) — has raised $20 million from an impressive list of investors.

Tiger Global led the Series A round, with Founders Fund, Abstract Ventures, and Y Combinator also investing. Dover was part of YC’s Summer 2019 class (which debuted in August 2020), and Founders Fund led its seed round. Since leaving the incubator, it’s picked up more than 100 customers, mostly from the world of tech, including ClearCo, Lattice, Samsara and others, even larger companies that you might have assumed would have their own in-house orchestration and automation platforms in place already.

“Orchestration” in the world of business IT is commonly used for software built for the fields of sales and marketing: in both of these, there is a lot of fragmentation and work involved in sourcing good leads to become potential customers, and so tech companies have built platforms both to source interesting contacts and handle some of the initial steps needed to reach out to them, and get them engaged.

That, it turns out, is a very apt way to think of the recruitment industry, too, not least because it also, to a degree, involves a company “selling” itself to candidates to get them interested.

“I would say recruiting is sales and marketing,” Kolysh said. “We’re comparable to sales ops, but sales is 5-10 years ahead in terms of technology.”

Recruiters and hiring managers, especially those working in industries where talent is at a premium and therefore proactively hiring good people can be a challenge, are faced with a lot of busy work to find interesting candidates and engage them to consider open jobs, and subsequently handling the bigger process of screening, reaching out to them, and potentially rejecting some while making offers to others.

This is mainly because the process of doing all of these is typically very fragmented: not only are there different tools built to handle these different processes, but there is an almost endless list of sources today where people go to look for work, or get their names out there.

Dover’s approach is based on embracing that fragmentation and making it easier to handle. Using AI, it taps platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed and Triplebyte — a likely list, given its initial focus on tech — to source candidates that it believes are good fits for a particular opening at a company.

Dover does this with a mix of AI and understanding what a recruiter is looking for, plus any extra parameters if they have been set by the recruiter to carry this out (for example, diversity screening, if the employer would like to have a candidate pool that is in line with a company’s inclusion targets).

Dover also uses data science and AI to help calibrate a recruiter’s communications with would-be candidates, from the opening job description through to job offer or rejection letters. (Why dwell on rejection letters? Because these candidates are already in short list, and so even if they didn’t get one particular job, they are likely good prospects for future roles.)

“No human wants to write 100 cold emails per week but on the other hand, there are many people to hit up and connect with,” Kolysh said of the challenges that recruiters face. “When a company is seeing a lot of growth, it needs to scale fast. You just can’t do that without technology anymore.” Kolysh — who co-founded the company with Anvisha Pai (CTO) and George Carollo (COO) — said all three founders experienced that first-hand working at previous startups and trying to recruit while also building the other aspects of the business. (They are pictured above, along with founding engineer John Holliman.)

Given how much orchestration has caught on in the world of sales, there is a strong opportunity here for Dover to bring a similar approach to recruitment, based on what seems to be a very close understanding of the flawed recruitment process as it exists today. Whether that brings more competitors to the space — or more tools from some of the bigger players in, say, candidate sourcing — will be one factor to watch, as will how and if Dover manages to make the leap to other industries beyond tech.

But for now, its usefulness for a particular segment of the market is also what caught the eye of Tiger Global.

John Luttig, the partner who led the round for Tiger Global, noted in an interview that most recruiting tools in the market today might best be described as point solutions, addressing scheduling, or interviews, for example.

“It’s the full stack here that is appealing,” he told me. “And it’s automated, which is particularly valuable for early and mid-stage tech companies, to keep candidates from falling through the cracks. It also saves time from having to build up big recruiting departments. And because Dover owns all that work, those working in recruitment can instead focus on culture building, or assessing the candidates.”

The Station: Aurora SPACs, a spin on the VanMoof X3 and a chat with Outdoorsy founders

By Kirsten Korosec

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Before we jump into the deals, policy moves and micromobbin’ news, I wanted to share the latest founders interview, a new series we launched this spring over at Extra Crunch.

Here’s the opener to the interview:

Jen Young and Jeff Cavins were sitting in a beige conference room at a downtown Vancouver hotel, wasting away under fluorescent lights, an endless PowerPoint and a pair of sad Styrofoam cups of coffee between them. Young was there on a marketing contract. Cavins was a board member. They shared one of those looks that only couples can understand. It said: There’s got to be something better than this.

The “something better than this” ended up becoming Outdoorsy, peer-to-peer RV and camper rental startup.

The interview with Cavins and Young covers why they started Outdoorsy, how they have evolved and improved their business model and what is coming next. Our series has a tiny twist: We will check in with these founders a year from the date that the interview was published.

Enjoy!

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

You know how those memes keep going around about why it makes total sense the Roaring 20s happened after the Spanish Flu a century ago? They bring up an important point. A very drunken, boisterous summer is already underway in places that are opening up (sorry, Melbourne), and these shenanigans are flying parallel to the rise of electric micromobility vehicles. The end result? People will — and already are — trying to ride these things drunk.

Bird announced this week it is launching Safe Start, a new in-app checkpoint designed to discourage people, but ultimately not stop them, from riding under the influence. It kicks off between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., when trouble is usually afoot, asking riders attempting to unlock a Bird if they can safely handle the vehicle by correctly entering a keyword into the app. The hope is that within the time it takes a would-be rider to stop swaying, close one eye, squint with the other and punch in those letters, they’ll have realized that they’re in no position to operate machinery and call a cab or hail a ride via an app instead.

Lime has had a similar feature for the past couple of years, also activating after 10 p.m. in most markets. It asks riders to type in “Y-E-S” in response to the question, “Do you affirm you are not drunk and fit to ride?” I think it should be a simple, “Are you drunk?” but I have a thing against negative sentence structures.

A spokesperson from Lime told me the company is working on a more robust cognitive test as well as something else he can’t share yet, but if I were a betting woman, I’d say it has something to do with sensing whether someone is driving in a straight line or wobbling, an idea the company talked to The Verge about two years ago.

Spin also has a similar feature it’s working on that hasn’t yet been launched. However, it’s a bit more involved than what Bird and Lime have launched.

Spin will soon feature a quiz that will test reaction times of the rider. The logic follows that people with higher blood alcohol content have slower reaction times. A Spin spokesperson told me the company would work with the city to determine which hours are of most concern and only implement the test during those hours. Slowpokes will have to source another means of transport home, probably with a stop off at the pizza place.

Other cool stuff you can do with an e-scooter

Fenix, the shared e-scooter operator out of Abu Dhabi, is launching a 10-minute fresh grocery delivery service on Reem Island, some boujie, high-tech, super dense mixed-use development off the city’s coast. The company figures it’s already paying for the vehicles themselves, the space to charge batteries and the employees to swap batteries and service the scooters, why not put those to use with another business line?

It might be a logistical stroke of genius, especially if the software managing the fleets, deliveries and rides are integrated well. The company will have an undisclosed number of “dark stores” or private convenience stores (which will also house the batteries for charging) around the island so that those fresh avocados or packs of diapers are never too far from a millionaire’s penthouse. Fenix’s full-time employees will be stationed within the dark stores, accepting orders and putting together the delivery in two minutes before relaying it to a, no doubt, anxious co-worker who will have eight minutes to drop off the goods.

I have my doubts about that 10-minute success rate, many of which reside in my concern for the workers, but we’ll see how it goes, I guess. It’s a cool business model.

What else is new?

Irish micromobility company Zipp Mobility is making its first expansion off the island, launching its e-scooter operations in Katowice, Poland. It’s a small city in the southern part of the country, but Zipp appears to be putting a stake hold in the region, with plans to launch in the surrounding cities of Sosnowiec and Dabrowa Gornicza by the end of August.

Meanwhile, Veo is on its own expansion plans. The company raised $16 million in a Series A, which it’ll use to fund the expansion of its fleet to new cities like Santa Monica, San Diego and New York, while also focusing on developing new form factors for untapped use cases.

Speaking of New York, Revel has announced a partnership with GridRewards, an app that develops “virtual power plant” software. Essentially, Revel wants to save money while also not messing up NYC’s power grid, so it’s going to try its best to only charge its e-moped fleet when peak demand is low, and less expensive.

Revel is also doing a thing with FlixBus, an intercity bus operator. If you book with one, you get discounts with the others. FlixBus passengers travelling between DC and New York City will be eligible for a $5 one-time credit when booking electric mopeds in Revel’s app.

Finally, Santa Cruz-based electric bike startup Blix has some new updates to their rides that provide better performance, increased power and range, better brakes, fatter tires and a range of new colors.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The big AV and deal news of the week is Aurora Innovation’s move to become a publicly traded company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson.

The announcement confirmed my reporting in June that the companies were close to finalizing a deal.

Once the transaction closes, the combined company will be listed on Nasdaq with the ticker symbol AUR and have an implied valuation of $13 billion. Aurora was last valued at $10 billion following its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving unit.

Through the deal, Aurora is capturing $1 billion from private investors, including Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., PRIMECAP Management Company, Reinvent Capital, XN, Fidelity Management and Research LLC, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital, as well as strategic investments from Uber, PACCAR and Volvo Group.

One other note; Aurora also laid out some financial and deployment projections. Aurora plans to begin to generate revenue from trucks without vehicle operators in late 2023 and from cars without vehicle operators in late 2024, according to regulatory filings. Aurora expects to own and operate the trucks Aurora deploys through 2024, and cars that Aurora deploys through 2025 and will transition to a “Driver as a Service” (I guess, DaaS is going to be a thing?) business model.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Bookaway, the travel tech startup, raised $46 million in funding from investors Aleph, Corner Ventures and Entrée Capital.

Carmera, an HD mapping startup based in New York, has been acquired by Woven Planet Holdings. The announcement comes less than two months since Woven Planet Holdings — an entity created by Toyota to invest in, develop and eventually bring future of transportation technologies like automated driving to market — acquired Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit known as Level 5 for $550 million. The financial terms were not disclosed.

Under terms of the deal, Carmera will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Woven Planet. Carmera will essentially become the U.S. outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is headquartered in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report to Mandali Khalesi, who heads up AMP.

The startup’s 50-person team will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise, according to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner.

Colis Privé, the French parcel delivery company, has postponed its initial public offering initially planned for early July, citing unfavorable market conditions, Reuters reported.

Delhivery gained FedEx Express, a subsidiary of delivery services giant FedEx, as a backer via $100 million investment. The investment comes less than two months after the Indian startup, which is valued at $3 billion, secured $277 million ahead of an initial public offering in the coming quarters.

Heart Aerospace, the Swedish electric aviation startup, raised a $35 million Series A funding round. Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, United Airlines’s venture arm and its regional airline partner Mesa Air Group led the round. Seed investors EQT Ventures and Lowercarbon Capital also participated. The company also received an order from United and Mesa for 200 of its inaugural ES-19 electric aircraft.

LG Chem earmarked $5.2 billion over the next four years to build out its battery materials business. The investment comes as automakers and state regulators set targets to transition away from internal combustion engine vehicles, in a shift that will likely be the most transformative to the mobility industry since the invention of the car.

Lineage Logistics, a temperature-controlled industrial REIT and logistics provider, has agreed to a strategic alliance with venture capital firm 8VC to invest in and “revolutionize” the transportation and logistics technology sector. The two companies have already co-invested in several  companies over 8VC’s past three funds, including Project44, Trackonomy and Baton.

Netradyne, a startup that uses cameras and edge computing to improve commercial driver safety, raised $150 million in Series C funding led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Existing investors Point72 Ventures and M12 also participated in the round, bringing Netradyne’s total funding to more than $197 million.

Shopmonkey, a startup that offers a cloud-based shop management software designed for the auto repair industry, raised $75 million in a Series C round led by previous investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Index Ventures, as well as additional participation from returning investors Headline and I2BF, and new investor ICONIQ Growth. The funding comes less than a year after announcing a $25 million Series B.

NoTraffic, an Israeli-based startup that has built an AI-based traffic management platform, raised $17.5 million in a Series A that it will use to support its “rapid scale” of deployments. The company says it will be expanding into dozens of U.S. cities during the second half of this year, and hopes to move into European and Asian markets, as well.

The $17.5 million Series A was led by Nielsen Ventures, a fund founded by former Uber and Dropbox executive and Balderton Capital GP Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen and VEKTOR Partners. Leading early-stage venture capital investment firm Grove Ventures, insurance leader Menora Mivtachim Group and Meitav Dash, as well as existing investors like lool ventures, Next Gear Ventures and North First Ventures also participated. Lior Handelsman, one of the founders of Solar Edge, an energy manager system, will join the company’s board.

Bike review: VanMoof X3

Taylor Hatmaker spent quite a bit of time with the VanMoof X3 and published her review this week. As she writes, “some of the best consumer tech from the last decade, I didn’t know I needed an e-bike until I was on one, breezing down the bike lane contemplating my newfound freedom.”

Hatmaker provides a deep dive into the tech, appearance, value, rideability and other features in the bike. Check it out.

(We hope and plan to be doing more bike reviews in the future; stay tuned!)

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to Policy Corner! It’s finally here: The European Commission released its ambitious plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and as everyone expected, a proposed ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine cars by 2035 is included.

I mentioned in last week’s Policy Corner that I was curious if it would include any mandates for EV chargers or other infrastructure to support transportation electrification, and I was pleased to see that it does. While not quite a mandate, the proposal says it wants EU countries to install public charging stations every 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) on major roads by 2025, and every 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) for hydrogen refueling stations. The ultimate goal is to build 3.5 million new EV charging stations by 2030 and 16.3 million by 2050. Measures like these will hopefully help dissipate range anxiety, a common reason people cite for not choosing an EV today.

But hold onto your hats: The proposal still needs to be approved by all 27-member states before it can take effect. And France — where automaking is a cornerstone of the economy, thanks to OEMs like Stellantis and Renault — is reportedly pushing back against the terms. It could mean a longer battle over the specific deadlines and emissions reductions targets.

It’s an interesting question, whether a technology ban is the best path forward to achieve some end goal (in this case, lowering carbon emissions). That seems like the stick. I’ll be looking out for the honey — how legislators are going to sweeten the deal for consumers and automakers alike, so there can be as few jobs lost as possible and as many new EVs purchased.

For what it’s worth, I read an interesting post from Christian Brand, associate professor in the Transport Studies Unit at Oxford University, who argues that the focus on EVs is slowly down the path to zero emissions. He points out that as many as 50% of car trips are less than five kms (3.11 miles), so he suggests cities should invest in making areas more micromobility friendly to encourage more people to take up these forms of transport. Food for thought.

Speaking of carbon emissions, there’s a new partnership between eVTOL developer Joby Aviation, aircraft carrier JetBlue Airways and Signature Flight Support to help develop a new system for carbon credits in the aviation industry. Right now, there’s no current pathway for companies like JetBlue to purchase carbon credits from green aviation companies, probably because they’re just so new.

The three companies will “define the framework for the creation, validation and eventual use of these new credits on aviation carbon markets, including identifying a third party to oversee and validate transactions,” a news release said. The companies anticipate releasing more details later this year.

This could be a very profitable development for Joby. Tesla, for example, made $518 million in revenue from the first quarter of 2021 alone from selling regulatory credits to other automakers.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Let’s get right to it. Here’s what else happened this week.

Autonomous vehicles

Audi, BMW, Denso and chipmaker NXP have partnered on an international working group aimed at defining a safe automated driving system architecture for self-driving vehicles. The inaugural group, which was actually created last month but that I’m just sharing with you now, is being spearheaded by The Autonomous. Companies from the industry are invited to learn more about this cross-industry collaboration at The Autonomous Main Event on September 29, 2021.

Volkswagen laid out a plan to ramp up its software, mobility as a service and battery tech to stay competitive in the coming decades. CEO Herbert Diess said the strategy will cover everything from manufacturing to revenue streams.

Electric vehicles

Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal said it will double the number of its electric vehicle fast charging stations in the United States and Canada by the end of 2025. The commitment, if successful, means 1,800 fast charging stations — or 10,000 individual chargers — will be installed and operational by that time.

GM and its new EV business unit BrightDrop are launching a fleet-charging service as the automaker aims to ramp up its bet on connected and electric commercial vehicles. The service, branded Ultium Charge 360 fleet charging service offers many of the tools that a commercial delivery, sales or motor pool business might need. It also includes an effort to add home charging for drivers.

Rivian pushed back deliveries of its long-awaited R1T electric pickup truck and R1S SUV several more months due to delays in production caused by “cascading impacts of the pandemic,” particularly the ongoing global shortage of semiconductor chips, according to a letter sent to customers from CEO RJ Scaringe. The R1T deliveries will begin in September with the R1S to follow “shortly,” Scaringe wrote in the message.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration issued an alert recommending owners of Chevrolet Bolt Model Year 2017-2019 park their vehicles away from homes due to the risk of fire. Those are the same vehicles that were recalled in November 2020, due to the possibility of fire from the battery pack underneath the backseat’s cushion. The recall affected 50,932 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt vehicles.

Evtols

Mark Moore, who was most recently director of engineering at Uber Elevate until its acquisition by Joby Aviation, launched his own company called Whisper Aero. The startup is aiming to design an electric thruster it says will blend noise emitted from delivery drones and eVTOLs alike into background levels, making them nearly imperceptible to the human ear.

In-car tech

Tesla launched a monthly subscription for its Full Self-Driving subscription package for $199 per month or a cheaper $99 for those who already purchased the since discontinued Enhanced Autopilot package, according to its website.

LeagueApps raises $15M to be the ‘operating system’ for youth sports organizations

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Youth sports are an integral part of our communities, bringing families together and helping kids all over gain confidence and skills.

Most of us don’t think about all the work that goes into setting up, growing and maintaining these leagues. It’s a lot. Today, LeagueApps, which aims to be the operating system for youth sports organizations, announced it has raised $15 million in a Series B round of funding.

Existing investor Contour Venture Partners led the financing, which brings the company’s total funding since its 2010 inception to $35 million. Major League Baseball and Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers, also participated in the round. 

A slew of new and existing backers also put money in the round including Olympic Gold Medalists Julie Foudy and Swin Cash; NFL veteran Derrick Dockery; Peter J. Holt, chairman of Spurs Sports & Entertainment; Laura Dixon, founder & president of PRO Sports Assembly and investment management firm Hamilton Lane. 

The New York-based company is working to help youth sports organizations, well, be better organized. It has developed registration and management software so that leaders of these sports organizations can better manage the process of running the leagues, communicate more effectively and collect payment more efficiently.

“We’ve built all the tools they need to power their programs,” said Brian Litvack, LeagueApps CEO & co-founder. Those tools include giving these leaders the means to do things like build a website, accept registrations, send messages to coaches and parents and help them share information with governing bodies or associations.

“Local sports organizers have an important role in the community to make sure that sports happens,” Litvack said.

Image Credits: LeagueApps

Rather than charging for its software, it charges a small fee upfront and then takes a percentage of any transactions that are conducted via its platform. So if its users don’t get paid, it doesn’t get paid.

That means the company, like many others, took a bit of a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. But it’s since rebounded, and then some.

In the spring of 2021, the platform crossed the $2 billion in transactions processed mark, doubling the $1 billion mark it reached in the summer of 2019. From 2016 to 2019, LeagueApps saw 275% revenue growth. Today, over 3,000 sports organizations use LeagueApps as their operating system. 

The company projects that it will process more than 4 million sports registrations in 2021.

In addition to its flagship software, the company’s NextUp platform is designed to provide organizers with opportunities for leadership development and networking. It also runs FundPlay, a philanthropic program focused on sports-based youth development programs in underserved communities.

As a parent with children playing sports, Contour Ventures’ Matt Gorin said he was drawn to invest in LeagueApps. In his view, the company is tackling a “large yet fragmented” market.

I have seen firsthand just how important youth sports experiences, and the organizations that provide them, are to kids, families, and communities,” he said.LeagueApps is unique in so many ways, particularly regarding its unparalleled approach and commitment to combining technology, community, customer service and impact for the maturing youth sports market.”

LeagueApps plans to use its new capital mainly to invest in product and engineering so that it can “provide more solutions” to youth sports organizations.

Colombian on-demand delivery startup Rappi raises ‘over’ $500M at a $5.25B valuation

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Rappi, a Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has raised “over” $500 million at a $5.25 billion valuation in a Series G round led by T. Rowe Price, the company announced late Friday.

Baillie Gifford, Third Point, Octahedron, GIC SoftBank, DST Global, Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital and others also participated in the round.

The new financing brings Rappi’s total raised since its 2015 inception to over $2 billion, according to Crunchbase. Today, the country has operations in 9 countries and more than 250 cities across Latin America. Its last raise was a $300 million a Series F funding round in September of 2020.

According to the Latin American Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (LAVCA), Rappi focused on delivering beverages and first, and has since expanded into meals, groceries, tech goods and medicine. The company also offers a cash withdrawal feature, allowing users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents. Today, the company says its app allows consumers to “order nearly any good or service.”

In addition to traditional delivery, it says “users can get products delivered in less than 10 minutes, can access financial services, as well as ‘whims,” and “favors.’ Whims allow users to order anything available in their coverage area. Favors offer an array of custom services, such as running an errand, going to the hardware store or picking out and delivering a gift. The two products allow users to connect directly with a courier. 

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia, and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America, according to LAVCA.

Meet the startups competing in the Extreme Tech Challenge Global Finals on July 22

By Alexandra Ames

There’s not much that thrills us more than a startup competition — and we mean deep down in our bones thrilled. That’s why we’re beyond excited to host the Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC) Global Finals on July 22 starting at 9:00 am (PT). This event is virtual and free to attend — but you need to register for your free ticket.

We’re serious when we describe this particular startup competition as extraordinary. Why? This pitch throw-down is all about startups determined to power a more equitable, inclusive and healthy world, and we need more of that visionary thinking put into action.

The competition just to reach the finals was fierce. More than 3,700 startups — from 92 countries — applied across XTC’s competition tracks: Agtech, Food & Water, Cleantech & Energy, Edtech, Enabling Tech, Fintech, Healthtech and Mobility & Smart Cities. Learn more about XTC here.

You know they’ll bring the heat and present a finely tuned pitch. And they’ll need it to impress this panel of judges — all of whom focus on sustainable impact.

So, without further ado, meet seven of the world’s best purpose-driven startups as they vie to be crowned the Extreme Tech Challenge 2021 global winner.

AgTech & FoodTech: Wasteless, a patented fully automated AI solution that applies optimal markdowns in real-time — based on products’ expiration dates and other factors — to reduce food waste and increase profitability.

CleanTech & Energy: Mining and Process Solutions, a non-toxic, natural alternative to cyanide and acid for the extraction of metals in mining operations.

EdTech: Testmaster, a mobile app that helps secondary students in West African countries successfully pass their matriculation exams. “The best private tutor in one’s pocket” delivers short, intuitive and accessible exercises and tutorial videos.

Enabling Tech: Dot Inc., the maker of the first tactile monitor that enables STEM education, visual works and games for the 285 million visually impaired people worldwide. Dot Inc. is expanding its technologies to help all disabled people to access public information in smart cities through barrier-free kiosks and IoT infrastructures.

FinTech: Hillridge Technology has developed weather-based parametric insurance for farmers to help protect crop yields and livestock.

HealthTech: Genetika+ combines genetics, patient history and unique brain biomarkers to help people suffering from depression, thereby helping to save patients’ lives, physicians’ time and healthcare payers’ costs.

Mobility & Smart Cities: Fotokite helps public safety teams save lives with elevated and actionable intelligence at the push of a button. Fully autonomous and field proven, Fotokite solutions are used daily by firefighters and first responders to assess, visualize and document their incidents within seconds of arriving on scene.

The Extreme Tech Challenge Global Finals take place on July 22. Join us and thousands of people around the world for this free, virtual pitch competition. Register here for your free ticket.

The Zoom-Five9 deal is a big bet for the video conferencing company

By Alex Wilhelm

Zoom, a well-known video conferencing company, will buy Five9, a company that sells software allowing users to reach customers across platforms and record notes on their interactions. As TechCrunch noted this morning, the deal is merely “Zoom’s latest attempt to expand its offerings,” having “added several office collaboration products, a cloud phone system, and an all-in-one home communications appliance” to its larger software stack in recent quarters. Both companies are publicly traded.

But the Five9 deal is in a different league than its previous purchases. Indeed, the $14.7 billion transaction represents a material percentage of Zoom’s own value. That tells us that the company is not simply making a purchase in Five9, but is instead making a large bet that the combination of its business and that of the smaller company will prove rather accretive.

Zoom is worth $101.8 billion as of the time of writing, with the company’s shares slipping just over 4% today; the stock market is largely off this morning, making Zoom’s share price movements less indicative of investor reaction to the deal that we might think. Still, it doesn’t appear that the street is excessively thrilled by news of Zoom’s purchase.

That perspective may be reasonable, given that the Five9 transaction is worth nearly 15% of Zoom’s total market cap; the company is betting a little less than a sixth of its value on a single wager.

Not that Five9 doesn’t bring a lot to the table. In its most recent quarter, Five9 posted $138 million in total revenue, growth of 45% on a year-over-year basis.

Still, as Zoom reported in an investor deck concerning the transaction, the smaller company’s growth rate pales compared to its own:

Image Credits: Zoom investor deck

This is where the deal gets interesting. Note that Five9’s revenue growth rate is a fraction of Zoom’s. The larger company, then, is buying a piece of revenue that is growing slower than its core business. That’s a bit of a flip from many transactions that we see, in which the smaller company being acquired is growing faster than the acquiring entity’s own operations.

Why would Zoom buy slower growth for so very much money? One thing to consider is that Five9’s most recent quarterly growth rate is quicker than the growth rate that it posted over the last 12 months. That implies that Five9 has room to accelerate growth compared to its historical pace, bringing its total pace of top-line expansion closer to what Zoom itself manages.

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