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Basecamp sees mass employee exodus after CEO bans political discussions

By Taylor Hatmaker

Following a controversial ban on political discussions earlier this week, Basecamp employees are heading for the exits. The company employs around 60 people, and roughly a third of the company appears to have accepted buyouts to leave, many citing new company policies.

On Monday, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried anounced in a blog post that employees would no longer be allowed to openly share their “societal and political discussions” at work.

“Every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant,” Fried wrote. “You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target.”

Basecamp’s departures are significant. According to Twitter posts, Basecamp’s head of design, head of marketing and head of customer support will all depart. The company’s iOS team also appears to have quit en masse.

The no-politics rule at Basecamp follows a similar stance that Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong staked out late last year. Armstrong also denounced debates around “causes or political candidates” arguing that such discussions distracted from the company’s core work. About 60 members of Coinbase’s 1,200 person staff took buyouts in light of the internal policy change — a ratio that makes the exodus at Basecamp look even more dramatic.

Like Coinbase, Basecamp was immediately criticized for muzzling its employees over important issues, many of which disproportionately impact marginalized employees.

Drawing the line on “political” topics becomes murky very quickly for any non-white or LGBTQ employees, for whom many issues that might be seen as political in nature in some circles — the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance — are inextricably and deeply personal. It’s not a coincidence these grand stands against divisive “politics” at work issue down from white male tech executives.

“If you’re in doubt as to whether your choice of forum or topic for a discussion is appropriate, please ask before posting,” Basecamp CTO David Heinemeier Hansson wrote in his own blog post, echoing Fried.

According to Platformer, Fried’s missive didn’t tell the whole story. Basecamp employees instead said the tension arose from internal conversations about the company itself and its commitment to DEI work, not free-floating arguments about political candidates. Fried’s blog post does mention one particular source of tension in a roundabout way, referencing an employee-led DEI initiative that would be disbanded.

“We make project management, team communication, and email software,” Fried wrote. “We are not a social impact company.”

Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola and Unilever join AB Inbev’s sustainable supply chain accelerator

By Jonathan Shieber

A clutch of the world’s largest consumer products and food companies are joining Budweiser’s parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev in backing an investment program to support early stage companies focused on making supply chains more sustainable.

The Earth Day-timed announcement comes as companies and consumers confront the failure of recycling programs to adequately address the problems associated with plastic waste — and broader issues around the contributions of consumer behavior and industrial production and distribution to the current climate emergency.

The AB InBev program, called the 100+ Accelerator, launched in 2018 with the goal to solve supply chain challenges in water stewardship, the circular economy, sustainable agriculture and climate action, the company said. These are problems that the alcohol manufacturer’s new partners — Colgate-Palmolive; Coca-Cola; and Unilever are also intimately familiar with.

Since the launch of the accelerator and investment program, AB InBev has backed 36 companies in 16 countries, according to a statement. Those startups have gone on to raise more than $200 million in follow on financing.

The accelerator program creates funding for pilot programs and offers opportunities for early stage companies to consult with executive management at the world’s top consumer brands.

Since the program’s launch, AB InBev has worked with startups to pilot returnable packaging programs; implement new cleaning technologies to reduce water and energy use in Colombian brewing operations; provide insurance to small farms in Africa and South America; collect more waste in Brazil; recycle electric vehicle batteries in China; and upcycle grains waste from the brewing process to create new, nutrient rich food sources.

As pressures from outside investors and regulators mount, companies are beginning to shift their attention to focus on ways to make their industrial processes more sustainable.

These kinds of collaborative initiatives among major corporations, which are long overdue, have the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental footprint of business, but it depends on the depth of the commitment and the speed at which these businesses are willing to deploy solutions beyond a few small pilot programs.

Applications for the latest cohort will be due by May 31, 2021.

 

Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

By Kirsten Korosec

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

Casa Blanca raises $2.6M to build the ‘Bumble for real estate’

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Casa Blanca, which aims to develop a “Bumble-like app” for finding a home, has raised $2.6 million in seed funding.

Co-founder and CEO Hannah Bomze got her real estate license at the age of 18 and worked at Compass and  Douglas Elliman Real Estate before launching Casa Blanca last year.

She launched the app last October with the goal of matching home buyers and renters with homes using an in-app matchmaking algorithm combined with “expert agents.” Buyers get up to 1% of home purchases back at closing. Similar to dating apps, Casa Blanca’s app is powered by a simple swipe left or right.

Samuel Ben-Avraham, a partner and early investor of Kith and an early investor in WeWork, led the round for Casa Blanca, bringing its total raise to date to $4.1 million.

The New York-based startup recently launched in the Colorado market and has seen some impressive traction in a short amount of time. 

Since launching the app in October, Casa Blance has “made more than $100M in sales” and is projected to reach $280 million this year between New York and its Denver launch. 

Bomze said the app experience will be customized for each city with the goal of creating a personalized experience for each user. Casa Blanca claims to streamline and sort listings based on user preferences and lifestyle priorities.

Image Credits: Casa Blanca

“People love that there is one place to book, manage feedback, schedule and communicate with a branded agent for one cohesive experience,” Bomze said. “We have a breadth of users from first time buyers to people using our platform for $15 million listings.”

Unlike competitors, Casa Blanca applies to a direct-to-consumer model, she pointed out.

“While our agents are an integral part of the company, they are not responsible for bringing in business and have more organizational support, which allows them to focus on the individual more and creates a better end-to-end experience for the consumer,” Bomze said.

Casa Blanca currently has over 38 agents in NYC and Colorado, compared to about 15 at this time last year.

“We are in a growth phase and finding a unique opportunity in this climate, in particular, because there are many women exploring new, more flexible job opportunities,” Bomze noted. 

The company plans to use its new capital to continue expanding into new markets, nationally and globally; enhancingits technology and scaling.

“As we continue to grow in new markets, the app experience will be curated to each city – for example, in Colorado you can edit your preferences based on access to ski areas – to make sure we’re offering a personalized experience for each user,” Bomze said.

Goldman Sachs leads $23M in funding for Brazilian e-commerce startup Olist

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Olist, a Brazilian e-commerce marketplace integrator, has raised $23 million in a Series D round extension led by new investor Goldman Sachs Asset Management that brings its total Series D financing to $80 million.

Existing backer Redpoint Ventures, which first put money in Olist in 2015, also participated in the latest round. With this latest infusion, Olist has now raised over $126 million since its 2015 inception. This round is reportedly its last before the company plans to go public, according to Bloomberg.

SoftBank led the first tranch of Olist’s Series D in November as well as the company’s $46 million Series C in 2019. Valor Capital, Velt Partners, FJ Labs, Península and angel Kevin Efrusy had previously invested in the first tranche of the Series D.

Olist connects small businesses to larger product marketplaces to help entrepreneurs sell their products to a larger customer base. The company was founded with the mission of helping small merchants gain market share across the country through a SaaS licensing model to small brick and mortar businesses.

As of October 2019, Olist had more than 7,000 customers and used a drop-shipping model to send products directly from stores to clients around the country, allowing them to grow with a capital-light model.

Today, Olist says its platform provides tools that support “all the stages of an e-commerce operation” with the goal of helping merchants see “rapid increases in sales volume.” It currently has about 25,000 merchants on its platform.

The startup is no doubt benefiting from the pandemic-fueled e-commerce boom taking place all over the world as more people have turned to online shopping. Latin America, in general, has been home to increased e-commerce adoption.

Olist says its revenue tripled to a record number in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the previous year, although it did not provide hard figures. It also reportedly doubled revenue in 2020, according to Bloomberg.

Olist Store, the company’s flagship product, gives merchants a way to manage product listings, logistics and store payments. It also offers “a unique sales experience” through channels such as Mercado Livre, B2W and Via Varejo. The product saw a record GMV in the first half of the year, which was up 2.5 times over the same period in the prior year, the company said.

Last year, Olist launched a new product, Olist Shops, giving users the ability to create a virtual showcase “in less than 3 minutes” that also offers payment checkout tools and integration with logistics operators. Shops has interfaces in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, and since its launch, it has attracted more than 200,000 users in 180 countries, according to Olist.

“The pandemic has accelerated digitalizing business processes around the world, thus spurring e-commerce growth in a surprising way,” said Tiago Dalvi, Olist’s founder and CEO, in a written statement. 

The company plans to use its new capital to invest in technology and products, pursuing new mergers and acquisitions and boosting its internationalization process. This is on top of two acquisitions Olist made last year — Clickspace and Pax Logistica, which gave Olist entry into the heated logistics space with more than 4,000 registered drivers.

Specifically, CFO Eduardo Ferraz said the company is in preliminary discussions with ERPs, retailers, and companies with complementary solutions to its own.

“That is why we also decided to expand the investment in our Series D and bring Goldman Sachs as another relevant investor to our cap table,” he said.

David Castelblanco, managing director and head of Latin America Corporate and Growth Equity Investing for the Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said his firm was impressed with how Olist empowers SMBs to generate more revenue.

“Tiago and the Olist team are incredibly customer oriented and have created an innovative technological solution for their e-commerce clients,” he added.

Olist is operating in an increasingly crowded space. In March, we covered São Paulo-based Nuvemshop’s $90 million raise that was led by Silicon Valley venture firm Accel. That company has developed an e-commerce platform that aims to allow SMBs and merchants to connect more directly with their consumers. 

Norwegian corporate training startup Attensi raises $26M from NYC’s Lugard Road, DX Ventures

By Mike Butcher

Corporate training startup Attensi — which originally emerged out of Oslo, Norway — has raised $26 million from New York-based Lugard Road Capital, DX Ventures (a VC fund backed by Delivery Hero), and existing shareholder Viking Venture. The new funding will be used to expand in North America and Europe.

Attensi uses a ‘gamified approach to corporate training, putting employees into 3D simulations of their workplace and work processes. Its competitors include companies like GoSkills, Mindflash SAP Litmos Skilljar.

With the pandemic shifting all office work to remote, digital training platforms like this stand to benefit.

This is also yet another recent example of how US VCs are ‘going hunting’ for startups in Europe, putting pressure on local VCs.

Attensi co-founder and co-CEO, Trond Aas said in a statement: “With gamified simulation training, we have combined the best of workplace psychology with our expertise in simulations and gamification to create a new category of training solutions.”

The company claims it’s experienced a 63% CAGR in annual recurring revenue. Its clients include Daimler Mercedes Benz, Circle K, Equinor, BCG, and ASDA.

Doug Friedman, a partner at Lugard Road Capital, said: “We could not be more excited to be investing in the Attensi team as they work to forever change and improve corporate learning and development through their Attensi solutions.”

As working out goes virtual, Moxie raises $6.3M Seed+ round led by Resolute Ventures

By Mike Butcher

With the pandemic sending the planet indoors to workout, the at-home fitness market has boomed. It was only in October last year that three-year-old Future closed $24 million in Series B and Playbook (streaming for personal trainers) raised $9.3 million in a Series A. Into this market launched Moxie, a platform that allowed fitness instructors to broadcast live and recorded classes, access licensed music playlists and deploy a CRM and payment tools. Classes range from $5-$25 and various subscriptions and packages are offered.

Moxie has now raised a $6.3M ‘Seed+’ funding round led by Resolute Ventures with participation from Bessemer Ventures, Greycroft Ventures, Gokul Rajaram, and additional investors. With the $2.1M Seed round from last October, that means Moxie has now raised a total of $8.4M.

With the funding, Moxie now plans to better optimize the user experience with a curated selection of top Moxie classes; new tools that help connect users to instructors; and the ability to preview classes before attending.

The company claims to have experienced “exponential growth” because of its convenience in the pandemic era, with 8,000 classes and 1 million class-minutes completed in March. Moxie’s independent instructors set their own schedules and prices, and get to keep 85% of what they earn on the platform.

The company will also now launch ‘Moxie Benefits’ in partnership with Stride Health, provide instructors with access to health insurance, dental and vision plans, life insurance, and other benefits.

Also planned is ‘Moxie Teams’, enabling groups of instructors to join together to form small businesses on the platform, not unlike the way some Uber drivers form teams.

Jason Goldberg, CEO and founder said in a statement: “Moxie was born during the pandemic alongside thousands of independent fitness instructors who were forced out of gyms and studios and suddenly had to become entrepreneurs and navigate the new frontier of virtual fitness. Now we are seeing widespread adoption of online fitness into people’s lives, and Moxie’s growth proves that these shifts in consumer behavior have staying power. We know that 89% of Moxie users plan to continue virtual workouts post COVID — they love the convenience.”

Resolute Ventures Partner & Co-Founder Raanan Bar-Cohen said: “Our investment theory has always been to identify entrepreneurial founders solving for today’s problems. With Moxie, we saw an experienced operator in Jason, with a product that solved for the issues that instructors and consumers had experienced in the shift to online fitness, as well as a clear roadmap for continued success.”

So why has Moxie managed to cleave to the new virtual workout culture? Goldburg tells me it’s down to a range of factors.

For starters, it’s a two-sided fitness marketplace that has live interactive group fitness classes, unlike VOD apps, and, crucially, unlike Peloton. Additionally, any instructor can teach on Moxie, rather than wait to be picked as a ‘star’ by Peloton. Since 90% of classes are live group fitness classes, they are effectively replacing yoga studios and HIIT classes, rather than personal training. He says many top instructors are now earning $6-figures on the platform.

Certainly, Moxie has managed to capitalize on the fact that while gyms are closed, it’s easy to do virtual classes. Will they still stick around when the pandemic is over? Presumably many will find it more convenient than schlepping to the gym and less intimidating than joining classes in person. Additionally, users can switch classes as easily as switching TV channels.

As Goldberg told me via email: “Covid forced everyone to try virtual fitness for the first time. Guess what? People found it more convenient and more connected than going to offline gyms. And guess what? Peloton is not for everyone.”

Apple invests $50M into music distributor UnitedMasters alongside A16z and Alphabet

By Matthew Panzarino

Independent music distribution platform and tool factory UnitedMasters has raised a $50M series B round led by Apple. A16z and Alphabet are participating again in this raise. United Masters is also entering a strategic partnership with Apple alongside this investment. 

If you’re unfamiliar with UnitedMasters, it’s a distribution company launched in 2017 by Steve Stoute, a former Interscope and Sony Music executive. The focus of UnitedMasters is to provide artists with a direct pipeline to data around the way that fans are interacting with their content and community, allowing them to connect more directly to offer tickets, merchandise and other commercial efforts. UnitedMasters also generally allows artists to retain control of their own masters.

Neither of these conditions are at all typical in the music industry. In a typical artist deal, recording companies retain all audience and targeting data as well as masters. This limits an artist’s ability to be agile, taking advantage of new technologies to foster a community. 

While Apple does invest in various companies, it typically does so out of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to promote US manufacturing or strategically in partners that make critical components of its hardware like silicon foundries or glass manufacturing. Apple does a lot more purchasing than investing, typically, buying a company every few weeks or so to supplement one product effort or another. UnitedMasters, then, would be a relatively unique partnership, especially in the music space. 

I spoke to UnitedMasters CEO Steve Stoute about the deal and what it means for the businesses 1M current artists and new ones. Stoute credits Apple executive Eddy Cue having a philosophy aligned with the UnitedMasters vision with getting this deal done. 

“We want all artists to have the same opportunity,” says Stoute. “Currently, independent artists have less opportunity for success and we’re trying to remove that stigma.”

This infusion, Stoute says, will be used to hire talent that are mission oriented to take UnitedMasters global. They’re seeking local technical talent and artists talent to build out the platform worldwide. 

“Every artist needs access to a CTO,” Stoute says. “Some of the value of what a manager is today for an artist needs to be transferred to that role.”

UnitedMasters wants to provide that technical edge at scale, allowing artists to build out their fanbase at a community level.

Currently, UnitedMasters has deals with the NBA, ESPN, TikTok, Twitch and others that allow artists to tap big brand deals that would normally be brokered by a label and manager. It also has a direct distribution app that allows publishing to all of the major streaming services. Most importantly, they can check stream, fan and earnings data at a glance. 

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue in a release statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

“UnitedMasters has completely transformed the way artists create, retain ownership in their work, and connect with their fans,” said Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz in a release. “We are excited to work with Steve and team to build a better, bigger, and far more profitable world for musical artists.” 

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry. Recent developments like NFTs, DAOs and social tokens, as well as an explosion of DTC frameworks have begun to re-write that deal. But the major players have yet to make the truly aggressive strides they need to in order to embrace this ‘artist centric’ new world. 

The mechanics of distribution have been based on a framework defined by DRM and the DMCA for decades. This framework was always marketed as a way to protect value for the artist but was in fact architected to protect value for the distributor. We need a rethinking of the entire distribution layer.

As I mentioned when reporting the UnitedMasters + TikTok deal, it’s going to be instrumental in a more equitable future for artists:

It’s beyond time for the creators of The Culture to benefit from that culture. That’s why I find this UnitedMasters deal so interesting. Offering a direct pipeline to audiences without the attendant vulture-ism of the recording industry apparatus is really well-aligned with a platform like TikTok, which encourages and enables “viral sounds” with collaborative performances. Traditional deal structures are not well-suited to capturing viral hype, which can rise and fall within weeks without additional fuel.

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community. 

A UnitedMasters tie up isn’t a straight line to that goal, but it’s definitely got the ingredients. I’m looking forward to seeing what this produces. 

Image Credits: Steve Stoute

Arm announces the next generation of its processor architecture

By Frederic Lardinois

Arm today announced Armv9, the next generation of its chip architecture. Its predecessor, Armv8 launched a decade ago and while it has seen its fair share of changes and updates, the new architecture brings a number of major updates to the platform that warrant a shift in version numbers. Unsurprisingly, Armv9 builds on V8 and is backward compatible, but it specifically introduces new security, AI, signal processing and performance features.

Over the last five years, more than 100 billion Arm-based chips have shipped. But Arm believes that its partners will ship over 300 billion in the next decade. We will see the first ArmV9-based chips in devices later this year.

Ian Smythe, Arm’s VP of Marketing for its client business, told me that he believes this new architecture will change the way we do computing over the next decade. “We’re going to deliver more performance, we will improve the security capabilities […] and we will enhance the workload capabilities because of the shift that we see in compute that’s taking place,” he said. “The reason that we’ve taken these steps is to look at how we provide the best experience out there for handling the explosion of data and the need to process it and the need to move it and the need to protect it.”

That neatly sums up the core philosophy behind these updates. On the security side, ArmV9 will introduce Arm’s confidential compute architecture and the concept of Realms. These Realms enable developers to write applications where the data is shielded from the operating system and other apps on the device. Using Realms, a business application could shield sensitive data and code from the rest of the device, for example.

Image Credits: Arm

“What we’re doing with the Arm Confidential Compute Architecture is worrying about the fact that all of our computing is running on the computing infrastructure of operating systems and hypervisors,” Richard Grisenthwaite, the chief architect at Arm, told me. “That code is quite complex and therefore could be penetrated if things go wrong. And it’s in an incredibly trusted position, so we’re moving some of the workloads so that [they are] running on a vastly smaller piece of code. Only the Realm manager is the thing that’s actually capable of seeing your data while it’s in action. And that would be on the order of about a 10th of the size of a normal hypervisor and much smaller still than an operating system.”

As Grisenthwaite noted, it took Arm a few years to work out the details of this security architecture and ensure that it is robust enough — and during that time Spectre and Meltdown appeared, too, and set back some of Arm’s initial work because some of the solutions it was working on would’ve been vulnerable to similar attacks.

Image Credits: Arm

Unsurprisingly, another area the team focused on was enhancing the CPU’s AI capabilities. AI workloads are now ubiquitous. Arm had already done introduced its Scalable Vector Extension (SVE) a few years ago, but at the time, this was meant for high-performance computing solutions like the Arm-powered Fugaku supercomputer.

Now, Arm is introducing SVE2 to enable more AI and digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities. Those can be used for image processing workloads, as well as other IoT and smart home solutions, for example. There are, of course, dedicated AI chips on the market now, but Arm believes that the entire computing stack needs to be optimized for these workloads and that there are a lot of use cases where the CPU is the right choice for them, especially for smaller workloads.

“We regard machine learning as appearing in just about everything. It’s going to be done in GPUs, it’s going to be done in dedicated processors, neural processors, and also done in our CPUs. And it’s really important that we make all of these different components better at doing machine learning,” Grisenthwaite said.

As for raw performance, Arm believes its new architecture will allow chip manufacturers to gain more than 30% in compute power over the next two chip generations, both for mobile CPUs but also the kind of infrastructure CPUs that large cloud vendors like AWS now offer their users.

“Arm’s next-generation Armv9 architecture offers a substantial improvement in security and machine learning, the two areas that will be further emphasized in tomorrow’s mobile communications devices,” said Min Goo Kim, the executive vice president of SoC development at Samsung Electronics. “As we work together with Arm, we expect to see the new architecture usher in a wider range of innovations to the next generation of Samsung’s Exynos mobile processors.”

Big banks rush to back Greenwood, Killer Mike’s Atlanta-based digital bank for underrepresented customers

By Jonathan Shieber

Before even taking its first deposit, Greenwood, the digital banking service targeting Black and Latino individuals and business owners, has raised $40 million — only a few months after its launch.

Coming in to finance the new challenger bank are six of the seven largest U.S. Banks and the payment technology developers Mastercard and Visa.

That’s right, Bank of America, PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Truist, are backing a bank co-founded by a man who declared, “I’m with the revolutionary. I’m with the radical policy,” when stumping for then Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Joining the financial services giants in the round are FIS, a behind-the-scenes financial services tech developer; along with the venture capital firms TTV Capital, SoftBank Group’s SB Opportunity Fund, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Sports investors Quality Control and All-Pro NFL running back Alvin Kamara also came in to finance the latest round.

Atlanta-based Greenwood was launched last October by a group that included former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Bounce TV founder, Ryan Glover.

“The net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family and eight times greater than that of a Latino family. This wealth gap is a curable injustice that requires collaboration,” said \ Glover, Chairman and Co-founder of Greenwood, in a statement. “The backing of six of the top seven banks and the two largest payment technology companies is a testament to the contemporary influence of the Black and Latino community. We now are even better positioned to deliver the world-class services our customers deserve.”

Named after the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., which was known as the Black Wall Street before it was destroyed in a 1921 massacre, the digital bank promises to donate the equivalent of five free meals to an organization addressing food insecurity for every person who signs up to the bank. And every time a customer uses a Greenwood debit card, the bank will make a donation to either the United Negro College FundGoodr (an organization that addresses food insecurity) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition, each month the bank will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that uses the company’s financial services.

“Truist Ventures is helping to inspire and build better lives and communities by leading the Series A funding round for Greenwood’s innovative approach to building greater trust in banking within Black and Latino communities,” said Truist Chief Digital and Client Experience Officer Dontá L. Wilson who oversees Truist Ventures, in a statement. “In addition to the opportunity to work with and learn from this distinguished group of founders, our investment in Greenwood is reflective of our purpose and commitment to advancing economic empowerment of minority and underserved communities.”

So far, 500,000 people have signed up for the wait list to bank with Greenwood.

TechCrunch, still not dead

By Matthew Panzarino

You may have seen an article over at Axios today about the rebrand of many of the Verizon Media products under a new Yahoo+ banner. I would like to congratulate all of the teams that have worked hard to build a cohesive brand identity and a new plan for a bunch of great properties with fine individuals at the helm.

Unfortunately, some of the wording in the article, and a subsequent Techmeme headline on the old twitter dot com have led some people to believe that TechCrunch would now be YahooCrunch or some such situation. That is not correct. TechCrunch is a brand that, against all odds, has stood the test of time in a radically changing and challenging landscape. That’s thanks to the bold idea of its founder as well as the tireless efforts of every member of the TC staff past and present who are all immensely talented, generous multi-hyphenates that I have taken insane satisfaction from working with every day.

Since we’ve been around a while we have had the pleasure of being called dead a bunch of times by critics, owners, cynics and fans. But I just checked, and we’re still here.

See you tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. I leave you with our motto of the day:

D2C furniture startup Tylko closes $26M Series C growth round led by Pitango and Evli

By Mike Butcher

Polish startup Tylko, a modular furniture company that employs Augmented Reality as part of its sales cycle, has closed a €22 million ($26m) investment Series C funding round, led by Israel-based Pitango Growth and Finnish Evli Growth Partners, following previous investors TDJ Pitango and Experior Venture Fund. Additionally, Brian Walker, former CEO of Hermann Miller, and Mark Williamson, COO of US-based MasterClass, join as new investors. Tylko has now raised a total of €33 million since its inception in 2015.

It now plans to more than double its team of 140, as well as launch in new markets, and expand its portfolio, which right now is limited to shelving only.

Tylko is not dissimilar from made.com which, to some extent, pioneered the direct-to-consumer furniture market. Like Made, the idea behind Tylko is also direct-to-consumer, ‘design-on-demand’. The company says it has taken advantage of the period when people have been stuck at home during the pandemic, ordering online, to hit a 132% increase in sales in 2020 in comparison to previous years.

Jacek Majewski, co-founder, Co-CEO Tylko, commented in a statement: “Tylko’s vision has always been about putting the user experience first, in order to create a product that is perfectly designed, high-quality and sustainable. We believe that driving sustainability into this huge industry can only be done by creating highly desirable products that will win over customers by their features rather than certificates.”

Tylko says its furniture of based on ‘parametric design’, with each item being quite individual. Tylko’s platform then automates the manufacturing process for its production partners.

Mikko Kuitunen, Growth Partner at Evli Growth Partners, added: “We are impressed by Tylko’s exceptional growth and ability to scale the company as a market leader, offering new, customized solutions within the furniture market. Tylko’s strong impact-driven vision and made-to-order business model drives the market’s transition towards more sustainable solutions.”

Rami Kalish, General Managing Partner & Co-Founder at Pitango Venture Capital commented: “Tylko has a huge vision to disrupt the furniture industry.”

Insuretech startup Counterpart raises $10M in funding round led by Valor Equity Partners

By Mike Butcher

Insuretech startup Counterpart, has raised $10 million in funding led by Valor Equity Partners. Also participating was Susa Ventures and Felicis Ventures. Counterpart works in the ‘management liability’ insurance market. Counterpart will also partner with Markel Specialty, a specialty insurance division of Markel Corporation, to offer its management liability insurance products.

Insuretech startups like Oscar, Lemonade, and Root have made incursions into personal insurance. What has been less prevalent, says Counterpart, is startups tackling the $300bn corporate insurance market.

Counterpart is competing with Next Insurance which has raised $631M, and which also provides small business liability insurance, as well as the big insurance carriers, from AIG to Berkshire Hathaway.

Counterpart is used by some wholesale brokers in the United States to allow small to medium businesses get insurance coverage, because it digitizes much of the process, from application submission, coverage selection, binding, claims management, and loss prevention. Counterpart says this market has become less attractive to insurance carriers because of the increasing claims costs and severity, and their lack of digitization of the process.

Tanner Hackett, founder, and CEO, said in a statement: “The $1.2tn insurance industry is going through a digital revolution.. We saw an outsized opportunity with management liability, a critical insurance line in which we have unique expertise.”
 
Valor Equity Partners partner and Counterpart board member Jon Shulkin said: “Counterpart’s platform goes beyond the scope of a traditional insurer, layering in insights, tools, and services to help business stakeholders navigate this extremely challenging operating environment.”

Valor was an early backer of Tesla, SpaceX, Addepar, and GoPuff. Susa has previously backed Robinhood, PolicyGenius, and Newfront Insurance. Felicis has funded Hippo, Plaid, and Credit Karma.

ElevateBio raises $525M to advance its cell and gene therapy technologies

By Darrell Etherington

ElevateBio, one of the leading biotech companies focused on gene-based therapies has raised a massive $525 million Series C round of financing, more than doubling the company’s $193 million Series B funding which closed last year. This new funding comes from existing investor Matrix Capital Management, and also adds new investors SoftBank and Fidelity Management & Research Company, and will be used to help the company expand its R&D and manufacturing capabilities, as well as continue to spin out new companies and partnerships based on its research.

Cambridge, Mass-based ElevateBio was founded to bridge the world of academic research and development of cell and gene therapies with that of commercialization and production-scale manufacturing. The startup identified a need for more efficient means of brining to market the ample, promising science that was being done in developing therapeutics that leverage cellular and genetic editing, particularly in treatment of severe and chronic illness. Its business model focuses on both developing and commercializing its own therapies, and also working through long-term partnerships with academic research institutions and other therapeutics biotech companies to bring their own technologies to market.

To this end, ElevateBio is in the business of frequent spin-out company creation, with the new entities each focused on a specific therapeutic. The company has announced three such companies to date, including AlloVir (in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine), HighPassBio (a venture with gene-editing company Fred Hutchinson) and Life Edit Therapeutics (in partnership with AgBiome). There are additional spin-outs in the works, too, according to ElevateBio, but they are not being disclosed publicly yet.

As you might expect, ElevateBio seems to have benefited from the increased appetite for biotech investment stemming from the global pandemic and its impacts. ElevateBio’s AlloVir spin-out is actually working on a T cell therapy candidate for addressing COVID-19, which is potentially effective in eliminating cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in a patient to slow the spread of the disease and reduce its severity.

Citadel ID raises $3.5M for API-delivered income and employment verification

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning Citadel ID announced a combined $3.5 million raise for its income and employment verification service. The startup provides an API to customer companies, allowing them to rapidly verify details of consumer employment.

The capital came from a blend of venture firms and angels. On the firm side, Abstract and Soma VC were in there, along with ChapterOne. Brianne Kimmel put capital in as well, according to the startup. And denizens with work histories at companies like Zynga (Mark Pincus), Stripe (Lachy Groom), Carta (Henry Ward), and others also put cash into the fundraise.

Citadel was founded back in June of 2020, before raising capital, snagging its first customer, and shipping its product all inside of the same year.

The idea for Citadel ID came when co-founder Kirill Klokov worked at Carta, the cap-table-as-a-service startup that recently built an exchange for the trading of private stock. Klokov discovered while working on the tech side of the company how hard it was to verify certain data, like employment and income and identity.

As Carta deals with money, stock, and the collection and distribution of both, you can imagine why having having a quick way to verify who worked where, and since when, mattered to the company. But Klokov came to realize that there wasn’t a good solution in the market for what Carta needed, sans building integrations to a host of payroll managers by hand and dealing with lots of data with varying taxonomies. That or using an in-the-market product, like Equifax’s The Work Number, which the founder described as expensive and offering relatively low coverage.

To fill the market void Klokov helped found Citadel ID, quickly building integrations into payrolls managers where there were hooks for code, and working around older login systems when needed. Citadel ID’s service allows regular folks to provide access to their employment data to others, allowing for the verification of their income (a rental group, perhaps), or employment (Carta, perhaps) quickly.

Per the startup the market demand for such verifications is in the hundreds of millions every year in the United States. So, Citadel should have plenty of market space to grow into. Citadel ID has around 20 customers today, it told TechCrunch, and charges on a per verification basis.

Finally, while Citadel also offers data via its website and not merely through its API, the startup still fits inside the growing number of startups we’ve seen in recent quarters foregoing traditional SaaS, and instead offering their products via a developer hook (sometimes referred to as a ‘headless’ approach). API-delivered startups are not new, after all Twilio went public years ago. But their model of product delivery feels like its gaining momentum over managed software offerings.

Let’s see how quickly Citadel ID can scale before it raises its Series A.

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