As live audio becomes more and more popular, co-founders David Sacks (former COO of PayPal and CEO of Yammer) and Axel Ericsson sought to combine social audio and podcasting into one seamless app. The resulting app Callin launches today on iOS with an announcement of $12 million in Series A funding co-led by Sequoia, Goldcrest, and Craft Ventures, where Sacks is a founder and partner.
On live audio platforms like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, once a room ends, the audio is gone. While Callin has similar live audio functionality, it sets itself apart by allowing users to save their live recording and edit it into an episode of a podcast.
“I’d been meaning to do a podcast for years, and I just had never gotten around to it, because it’s too complicated, and the barriers are too high,” said Sacks, who started his “All In” podcast in lockdown. “We have a guy in the studio who spends six hours doing post-production on every episode of the pod, and we all had to get microphones, hardware… It’s complicated to organize.”
For aspiring podcasters creating their first shows, Callin reduces the barrier to entry while allowing users to retain ownership of the content they create on the app. To start recording, users just open a room, which can be private or public — then they can invite guests to talk with them, or record alone. In a live room, Callin also has a more streamlined queue for audience participation to make it easier for hosts to manage crowds.
To edit your podcast after recording, the app generates a transcript — it takes about the same amount of time as your recording to transcribe. Then, you can tap a block of text to cut it from the podcast, including isolated filler words, like um and uh. As of now, you can’t cut individual words or phrases within each block of text identified by the AI, but Sacks says that the app will continue building out its editing system. Callin also automates the process of cutting out “dead air” at the beginning or end of a recording. After finishing edits, the host can upload the recording as an episode of a show that they create on the app. Users can also export their audio to share it on other podcasts hosts, and in the future, Sacks said users will be able to syndicate the content via an RSS feed.
“But consuming that content via a podcast app would be different from experiencing it on Callin, because you have the interactive playback to see the room as it was when the conversation occurred,” said Sacks. “So you can see the avatar of who’s talking and you can click it and follow them or browse their profile to see what else they’re interested in, so it’s a different experience than just a flat audio file.”
Image Credits: Callin, screenshot by TechCrunch
Podcasters cannot yet publish their transcripts — which, like most automated transcripts, aren’t 100% accurate — but that functionality, which Callin is working on, could create some much-needed accessibility that’s still lacking on Clubhouse. Like Clubhouse, Callin doesn’t support live captioning yet (Twitter Spaces does). But Sacks said that once it expands to allow hosts to share transcripts, live captioning would “be on the roadmap.”
“There are apps out there that do rooms, there’s apps that let you edit transcripts, and there’s apps that do social discovery or highlights, but nobody’s really put all these pieces together into one experience,” Sacks said. “So we’re trying to be this complete vertical stack for anyone who wants to create an audio show, and so I think you’ll see us keep iterating on every aspect of that experience. We want there to be nothing you can do in a podcasting studio that you can’t do on our app.”
Still, in its current form as it launches into the App Store, Callin lacks tools to edit the quality of an audio recording, add sound effects or music, and edit content in a more precise way. Plus, a podcast recorded on an iPhone won’t sound as good as a professionally produced show, or even a hobbyist’s podcast recorded on a consumer-grade USB mic. But the success of live audio apps has shown that sometimes listeners aren’t looking for quality post-production and sound design, but rather, they just want to hear people talk about a subject that interests them. So, Callin and its investors are betting on the fact that people would want to listen to pre-recorded Clubhouse rooms if they could.
Sacks has used his app to create shows like “Sacks on SaaS,” a show for software company founders, and an interview show called “Red Pills,” which is titled with a phrase that has a very fraught history on the internet. Other user-made content on the app includes shows about the NFL, startups in Berlin, cooking, and more. In its beta, Sacks says that Callin had “thousands” of users who created over 100 shows.
Per its Community Guidelines, Callin “is a place for people to speak, so whenever speech is limited on our platform, there should be a good reason.” Callin will only limit speech restricted by the host of a room, speech restricted by “underlying technology platforms” like Apple and Google, and “dangerous speech not protected by the First Amendment.”
Content moderation has been a challenge on live audio platforms like Clubhouse, which has struggled to refine its content moderation standards after reports of racist and antisemitic speech. Callin’s Community Guidelines indicate that it will host any user-generated content that won’t get the app booted off of Apple and Google stores. Recently, Parler served as a high-profile example of how a social platform’s refusal to moderate content got it removed from app stores, though it has since been reinstated after months of back-and-forth.
With its $12 million Series A round, Callin hopes to support Android and web versions of the app. Eventually, Callin could seek profit through advertisements and show subscriptions, but Sacks says that the company plans to scale first before exploring its monetization options.
“I think this is the best product that I’ve ever worked on,” said Sacks. “I mean, I think it’s better than Yammer. I think it’s better even than PayPal.”
Private equity firm Vista Equity Partners announced today that it is taking a majority stake in Drift, a company which aims to be the Amazon of businesses, with a “growth investment” that propels the venture-backed startup to unicorn status.
Unfortunately, neither party would disclose the amount of the investment, or Drift’s new valuation. But co-founder and CEO David Cancel did say the SaaS company saw 70% growth in its annual recurring revenue (ARR) in 2020 compared to the year prior and is on target for a similar metric this year. It is not yet profitable, as it is focused on growth, he added.
Prior to this financing, Boston-based Drift had raised $107 million in funding from the likes of Sequoia Capital, CRV and General Catalyst since its 2015 inception.
So just what does the company do exactly? The startup says it is out to ”reimagine the B2B buying experience,” according to Cancel. By using its software, Drift’s 50,000 customers are able to bring together sales and marketing teams on one platform to “deliver personalized conversations” that the company says build trust and accelerate revenue.
Its customers include ServiceNow, Okta, Grubhub, Mindbody, Adobe, Ellie May and Snowflake, among others. Today 75% of Drift’s customers are mid-market enterprise, according to Cancel.
Over the past five years, Drift has worked to create and define something it describes as “Conversational Marketing” with the goal of helping marketers “harness the digital experience for lead generation.” Or to put it more simply, Drift subscribers can use chatbots to help turn web visits into sales.
The company says it is out to remove the friction between buyers and sellers so they can not only get more leads, but also close more sales. This led Drift to expand its focus to build a platform that includes conversational sales, which integrates chat, email, video and artificial intelligence to power conversations, not just on a customer’s website, but for the sales team too.
Cancel said that Vista’s strategic growth investment will help the company move even faster, expand globally and launch a new B2B category called “Conversation Commerce,” an interactive approach to conversations that Drift believes has the potential to “transform the entire B2B revenue function.”
Basically, the company is trying to make the B2B buying/selling experience similar to that of a B2C one. At least 80% of B2B buyers are not only looking for, but expect, a buying experience similar to that of a B2C customer, according to Cancel.
So far in 2021, Drift’s customers generated $5 billion in pipeline value by making the customer side of the buying process easier, he said.
For Cancel, a serial entrepreneur who previously founded and sold four other companies, the notion of owning a company with a unicorn valuation was not something he and co-founder and CTO Elias Torres were overly consumed with.
But what did appeal to the pair was the opportunity to add to the too-short list of U.S.-based unicorns with Latin founders and serve as an inspiration for other entrepreneurs of Latin descent. Cancel’s parents emigrated from Puerto Rico and Cuba while Torres emigrated from Nicaragua in his teens.
“I didn’t really care about that [unicorn] status except for one reason and the reason was that we are both Latino and if we hit this milestone, then we would be part of the less than 1% of Latinos that had ever done that,” Cancel told TechCrunch. “And that was important to us because we believe that we have the responsibility to pay it forward and to help people and to inspire other people who are like us and are often marginalized. We want to show that they can do this too.”
Torres agreed, saying that he and Cancel were “proud to be one of the only Latino-founded companies to ever achieve over $1 billion valuation – a rare, Latino-founded unicorn.”
“We want to see more of us do the same and we will pave the way for other Latino founders and leaders to achieve success,” he added.
By having a majority owner in Vista, which focuses exclusively on backing enterprise software, data and technology-enabled businesses, Cancel believes that Drift can “get more efficient in some areas.” He also thinks that the firm can help it ramp up its acquisitions pace. (So far it has made three.)
The nearly 600-person company still has its sights on going public, according to Cancel, and believes that by working with Vista, it will have a “clearer path” to do so.
“It’s something we think about a lot,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s still in our future.”
Monti Saroya, co-head of the Flagship Fund and senior managing director at Vista, thinks that Drift represents a “compelling” opportunity for Vista.
“Drift is a company that is experiencing hypergrowth at scale, we and we believe the conversational marketing and sales tools it offers will continue to be in high demand as companies race to modernize their B2B commerce strategies,” he told TechCrunch.
Earlier this year, Vista — which has over $77 billion in assets under management — invested $242 million to acquire a minority stake in Vena, a Canadian company focused on the Corporate Performance Management (CPM) software space.
Meanwhile, Vista’s acquisition of Drift is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2021.
As more companies provide more API-first services, Moesif has developed a way for those companies to learn how their customers are utilizing them.
The San Francisco-based startup is adding to its capital raise Monday with the announcement of a $12 million Series A round led by David Sacks and Arra Malekzadeh of Craft Ventures. Existing investor Merus Capital, which led Moesif’s $3.5 million seed round in 2019, also participated in the round, bringing the company’s total raise to $15.5 million, Moesif co-founder and CEO Derric Gilling told TechCrunch.
Gilling and Xing Wang founded Moesif in 2017 and went through the Alchemist Accelerator in 2018.
Companies seeking data around API usage and workflow traditionally had to build that capability in-house on top of a tech like Snowflake, Gilling said. One of the problems with that was if someone wanted a report, the process was ad hoc, meaning they would file a ticket and wait until a team had time to run the report. In addition, companies find it difficult to accurately bill customers on usage or manage when someone exceeds the rate limits.
“We started to see people build on top of our platform and pull data on APIs, and they started asking us how to directly serve customers, like making them aware if they are hitting a rate limit,” Gilling added. “We started to build new functionality and a way to customize the look and feel of the platform.”
Moesif provides self-service analytics that can be accessed daily and features to scale analytics in a more cost-effective manner. Customers use it to monitor features to better understand when there are issues with the API, and there are additional capabilities to understand who is using the API, how often and who may be likely to stop using a product based on how they are using it.
The company is also now seeing its revenue grow over 20% month over month this year and adoption by more diverse use cases and larger companies. At the time of the seed round, the company was just getting started with analytics and user trials, Gilling said. Today, it boasts a customer list that includes UPS, Tomorrow.io, Symbl.ai and Deloitte.
The company has also gone from a team of two to nine employees, and Gilling expects to use the new funding to bolster that roster across engineering, sales, developer relations and customer success.
He is also focusing on being a thought leader in the space and is pushing go-to-market and building out a new set of features to monetize APIs and improve its dashboard to better differentiate Moesif from competitors, which he said focus more on server health versus customer usage.
As part of the investment, Craft Ventures’ Malekzadeh is joining Moesif’s board. She was introduced to Gilling by another portfolio company and felt Moesif fit into Crafts’ thesis on SaaS companies.
Malekzadeh’s particular interest is in developer tools, and while in her previous position working at a startup developing APIs, she felt firsthand the pain point of not being able to know how those APIs were being used, how much customers should be billed and “was always bugging the product and engineering teams for reports.”
Moesif didn’t exist at the time she worked at the startup, and instead, her company had to build it own tools that turned out to be clunky, while at the same time recruiting top engineers that didn’t want to take up their time with building something that wasn’t the company’s core product.
“The two founders are highly technical, but they provided great content on their website that helped me learn about them,” Malekzadeh added. “One of the interesting things about them is that even though they are technical, they speak the same language as a business user, which makes them special as a developer-first company. Just the growth in their revenue was super impressive, and their customer references were glowing.”
BoxGroup has quietly, yet diligently, been funding companies at the early stage for over a decade. The 11-year-old firm in fact was the first investor in Plaid, a fintech company that nearly got sold to Visa last year for billions of dollars.
It has seen a number of impressive exits over the years, proving an eye that can detect winners before the winners themselves may even realize it. In fact, it’s that early faith in companies that partner David Tisch believes has been key to BoxGroup’s success.
“If you’re starting a company and you’re going to raise money, that first yes is the hardest. And it’s that’s the one that gives you the confidence, the excitement – to know that there’s somebody out there that’s going to believe in this and give you money for it,” Partner David Tisch told TechCrunch. “We really do try to pride ourselves on being that first yes on a regular basis. So the earlier we meet companies, the better.”
Today, BoxGroup is announcing it has beefed up its war chest so that it can be that “first yes” to more companies with the closure of two new funds totaling $255 million of capital. BoxGroup Five is the firm’s fifth early stage fund, and is aimed at investing in emerging tech companies at the pre-seed and seed stages. BoxGroup Strive is its second opportunity fund that will back companies in their subsequent follow-on rounds. Each fund amounts to $127.5 million.
Over the years, BoxGroup has made over 300 investments including having invested in the earliest rounds of Ro, Plaid, Airtable, Workrise, Scopely, Bowery Farms, Ramp, Titan, Warby Parker, Classpass, Guideline and Glossier. It has had a number of impressive exits in Flatiron Health, PillPack, Matterport, Oscar, Mirror, Bark, Bread and Trello.
Besides being the first firm to write Plaid a check, BoxGroup was also the first investor in PillPack, which ended up selling to Amazon for just under $1 billion in 2018.
BoxGroup Five – the firm’s early-stage fund – will invest in about 40 to 50 new companies a year with investments ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.
“We want to be the second or third biggest check in a round,” Tisch said.
Image Credits: BoxGroup; Adam Rothenberg (left), Nimi Katragadda (bottom), Greg Rosen (top), David Tisch (right)
The opportunity fund occasionally makes later-stage investments in new companies, but mostly just continues to support companies it invested in at an earlier stage. For example, BoxGroup first invested in id.me in 2010.
“The company is sort of an 11-year overnight success that we’ve been backing for over a decade now,” Tisch said. “It’s an example of us just continuing to support companies through their life cycle.”
BoxGroup also pre-seeded digital healthcare startup Ro, but also funded every round it’s raised since, including its most recent $500 million funding at a $5 billion valuation.
Tisch describes the BoxGroup six-person team as “generalists” in terms of the spaces it invests in, with a portfolio consisting of startups in the consumer, enterprise, fintech, healthcare, marketplace, synthetic biology and climate sectors.
Interestingly, BoxGroup’s last fund closures – which totaled $165 million – marked the first time the firm had accepted outside capital in nine years. Prior to that point, it had been funded with only personal capital. Its LPs are a mixed group of endowments, foundations and family offices.
For BoxGroup, building authentic relationships with founders is at the root of what the firm does, says Partner Nimi Katragadda. That includes taking bets on founders, sometimes more than once, even if one of their companies didn’t work out. It means backing just ideas in some cases, and people.
“This cannot be transactional, it has to be personal,” she said. “We want to go on a journey with someone for a decade as they build their business…. We’re comfortable with what early means, including a lot of assumptions, more vision than traction, and raw product.”
Partner Adam Rothenberg agrees, saying: “Our goal is to be the friend in the room. We believe in honesty, tough love, and transparency in building relationships with founders. We focus on the “how” more than the “what” — how a founder thinks, how they will build product, and how they think about attracting talent.”
With offices in San Francisco and New York, the firm will likely be growing in the near future as BoxGroup is looking to add on some “first-line investors,” Tisch said.
Recently, Greg Rosen was named a partner at the firm. Rosen originally joined BoxGroup in 2015, where he spent three years before leaving to join Benchmark. He re-joined BoxGroup in early 2020 and joins the firm’s three other partners: Tisch, Rothenberg and Katragadda.
While the world of venture is crazy hot right now, Tisch said the firm keeps itself grounded with a wisdom that can only be gained with experience and in time.
“There is seemingly infinite capital waiting to be deployed,” he said. “Without calling the cycle, we know that over time markets go up and down…No matter where we are in a given cycle, smart and determined minds will come together to build important technology companies. Our job is to make sure we are meeting those founders and choosing wisely about which ones to partner with for 10+ year journeys.”
La Haus, which has developed an online real estate marketplace operating in Mexico and Colombia, has secured $100 million in additional funding, including $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt financing.
The new capital was obtained as an extension to the company’s Series B, the first tranche of which closed in January. With the latest infusion, Medellin, Colombia-based La Haus has now secured $135 million total for the round and over $158 million in funding since its 2017 inception.
San Francisco Bay Area venture firms Acrew Capital and Renegade Partners co-led the round, which also included participation from Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions, Endeavor Catalyst, Moore Strategic Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Rappi’s Simon Borrero, Maluma, and Gabriel Gilinski. Existing backers who put money in this round include Greenspring Associates, Kaszek, NFX, Spencer Rascoff’s 75 & Sunny Ventures, Hadi Partovi and NuBank’s David Velez.
Jerónimo Uribe (CEO), Rodrigo Sánchez-Ríos (president), Tomás Uribe (chief growth officer) and Santiago Garcia (CTO) founded the company after Jerónimo and Tomas met Sánchez-Ríos at Stanford University. Prior to La Haus they started and ran Jaguar Capital, a Colombian real estate development company with over $350 million of completed retail and residential projects.
The company declined to reveal at what valuation the extension was raised, with Sánchez-Ríos saying only that it was “a significant increase” from January.
The Series B extension follows impressive growth for the startup, which saw the number of transactions conducted on its Mexico portal climb by nearly 10x in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the 2020 second quarter. With over 500 homes selling on its platform (via lahaus.com and lahaus.mx) the company is “the market leader in selling new housing in Spanish-speaking Latam by an order of magnitude,” its execs claim. La Haus expects to have facilitated more than $1 billion in annualized gross sales by the end of the year.
The startup was founded with the mission of making it easier for people to buy homes and helping “solve LatAm’s extreme housing inequality.” Its end goal is to accelerate access to new housing by both generating and curating supply and demand and then matching it with its technology, noted Sánchez-Ríos.
“In the last six months, our chief product officer has built a product that allows this to happen 100% digitally,” he said. “Before it would take a lot of time, people involved and visits. We want to provide people looking for a home a similar experience as to people looking for their next flight at delta.com.”
It has done that by embedding its software to developers’ new projects so that it can bring that digital experience to its users.
“They are able to view the projects on our sites, we match them and then they can see in real time which units of a particular tower are available, and then select, sign and pay for everything digitally,” Sánchez-Río said.
Image credit: La Haus
The need for new housing in the region and other emerging markets in general is acute, they believe. And the pace of building new homes is slow because small and mid-sized developers – who are responsible for building the majority of new homes in Latin America – are cash constrained. At the same time, mortgages are mostly not affordable for consumers, with banks extending only a fraction of the credit to individuals compared to the U.S., and often at far worse terms.
What La Haus is planning to do with its new capital – particularly the debt portion – is go beyond selling homes via its marketplace to helping extend financing to both developers and potential buyers.It plans to take the proprietary data it has been able to glean from the thousands of real estate transactions conducted on it platform to extend capital to developers and consumers “more quickly, with much lower risk and at better terms.”
Already, what the startup has accomplished is notable. Being able to purchase a home 100% digitally is not that easy even in the U.S. Pulling that off in Latin America – which has historically trailed behind in digital adoption – is no easy feat. By year’s end, La Haus intends to be in every major metropolitan area in Mexico and Colombia.
Its ultimate goal is to be able to help new, sustainable homes “to be built faster, alleviating the inequality caused by lack of access to inventory.”
To Acrew Capital’s Lauren Kolodny, La Haus is building a solution specific to the issues of Latin America’s housing market, rather than importing business models – such as iBuying – from the U.S.
“For many people in the United States home equity is their largest asset. In Latin America, however, consumers have been challenged with an impenetrable real estate market stacked against consumers,” she wrote via email. “La Haus is removing barriers to home ownership that stifles millions of people from achieving financial security. Specifically, Latin America has no centralized MLS, very costly interest rates, no transactional transparency, and few online informational tools.”
La Haus, Kolodny added, is breaking down these barriers by consolidating listings online, offering pricing transparency and educating consumers about their financing options.
Acrew first invested in the startup in its $10 million Series A and has been impressed with its growth over time.
“They have a unique focus on new housing — a massive industry worldwide, but especially in emerging markets where new housing is so necessary,” Kolodny said. “The management team…knows real estate in Latin America better than anyone we’ve met.”
For its part, the La Haus team is excited to put its new capital to work. As Sánchez-Río put it, “$50 million goes a lot further in Mexico and Colombia than in the U.S.”
“We are going to be very aggressive in Mexico and Colombia, and plan to go from four to at least 12 markets by the end of the year,” Jeronimo told TechCrunch. “We’re also excited to roll out our financing solution to developers and buyers.”
Customer success company Vitally raised $9 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz to continue developing its SaaS platform automating customer experiences.
Co-founder and CEO Jamie Davidson got the idea for Vitally while he was at his previous company, Pathgather. As chief customer officer, he was looking at tools and “was underwhelmed” by the available tools to automate repetitive tasks. So he set out to build one.
The global pandemic thrust customer satisfaction into the limelight as brands realized that the same ways they were engaging with customers had to change now that everyone was making the majority of their purchases online. Previously, a customer service representative may have managed a dozen accounts, but nowadays with product-led growth, they tackle a portfolio of thousands of customers, Davidson told TechCrunch.
New York-based Vitally, founded in 2017, unifies all of that customer data into one place and flows it through an engine to provide engagement insights, like what help customers need, which ones are at risk of churning and which to target for expanded revenue opportunities. Its software also provides automation to balance workflow and steer customer success teams to the tasks with the right customers so that they are engaging at the correct time.
Andreessen approached Davidson for the Series A, and he liked the alignment in customer success vision, he said. Including the new funding, Vitally raised a total of $10.6 million, which includes $1.2 million in September 2019.
From the beginning, Vitally was bringing in strong revenue growth, which enabled the company to focus on building its platform and hold off on fundraising.
“A Series A was certainly on our mind and road map, but we weren’t actively fundraising,” Davidson said. “However, we saw a great fit and great backing to help us grow. Tools have lagged in the customer success area and how to manage that. Andreessen can help us scale and grow with our customers as they manage the thousands of their customers.”
Davidson intends to use the new funding to scale Vitally’s team across the board and build out its marketing efforts to introduce the company to the market. He expects to grow to 30 by the end of the year to support the company’s annual revenue growth — averaging 3x — and customer acquisition. Vitally is already working with big customers like Segment, Productboard and Calendly.
As part of the investment, Andreessen general partner David Ulevitch is joining the Vitally board. He saw an opportunity for the reimagining of how SaaS companies delivered customer success, he told TechCrunch via email.
Similar to Davidson, he thought that customer success teams were now instrumental to growing SaaS businesses, but technology lagged behind market need, especially with so many SaaS companies taking a self-serve or product-led approach that attracted more orders than legacy tools.
Before the firm met Vitally, it was hearing “rave reviews” from its customers, Ulevitch said.
“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and affirmed the fact that Vitally simply had the best product on the market since it actually mapped to how businesses operated and interacted with customers, particularly businesses with a long-tail of paying customers,” he added. “The first dollar into a SaaS company is great, but it’s the renewal and expansion dollars that really set the winners apart from everyone else. Vitally is in the best position to help companies get that renewal, help their customers expand accounts and ultimately win the space.”
What with the planet collapsing and democracy under constant attack from all quarters – you know, just the usual – one or two members of the global population have, idly or not, wondered if the private sector might want to step up? I mean, as well as shooting billionaires into space. At the same time, even! Luckily, many businesses want to do better. But there are one or two hurdles. Incorporating “purpose” into their digital offering, such as donating to a non-profit at the end of a moving documentary, is harder than it looks. Businesses don’t have the capacity to build in donation software; they can’t continually verify and audit good causes; and processing donations is fraught with legal complications, compliance, and regulatory risk. What is to be done?
Pennies is one organization that bills itself as the digital equivalent of the traditional charity collection box. However, perhaps what we need is… drum roll… an API?
Step forward Percent. Founded in 2017, Percent provides an API allowing firms to customers to donate to good causes, matching a donation made when making a payment, or rounding up a financial transaction, for instance.
It’s now closed a $5M venture round led by Morpheus Ventures, allowing it to expand in the US, as well as its existing presence in the UK and Australia. The UK’s Nationwide Building Society – also an early investor and customer of the product – is a co-investor in the round.
The company says its API-first platform takes care of auditing and compliance processes to prevent fraud and money-laundering whilst also parsing tax-efficient disbursements of funds into 200 countries worldwide. It says 7 million non-profit causes have been added to the platform and it’s vetted the potential recipients of donations.
Henry Ludlam, Founder, and CEO of Percent, said: “Percent was founded to become the global API-first infrastructure behind all giving. This will be the foundation for a better, fairer future of capitalism in which every financial transaction has social and environmental good built into it.”
In an interview I asked him if the pandemic had accelerated the opportunity: “Because of COVID, suddenly now we have brands that are really desperate to build purpose into their business in a way that they just weren’t doing 18 months ago. It’s really been an amazing shift. We’ve just seen a huge shift in what consumers expect from businesses. Consumers expect businesses to build purpose into what they do now.”
He said that the product could be even built into – surprise! – streaming services: “Say you’ve seen a documentary. And at the end of the documentary, you feel particularly moved, like you watched a David Attenborough or something like that. You could then actually be able to quickly and easily build donations into the end of it. So using our API, it would pull up a list of nonprofits, so right there and then the customer could make a donation. We’re also working with a crypto platform where you can round down your transactions and donate to any nonprofit as well. There’s loads of really cool stuff we are working on which is coming out soon.”
Kristian Blaszczynski, Managing Partner of Morpheus Ventures, said: “With the events of the last several years, it has become more apparent that aligning brands with purpose is driving consumer behavior and spend. However, today, the process of donating to non-profits is incredibly archaic, manual, and inefficient… Percent’s API-first platform abstracts away all of these complexities and automates the processes, allowing businesses to align closer to their stakeholders and focus on their core business.”
Percent could well be pushing at an open door. Kantar Research says that only 22% of people could name a brand they thought was doing a good job addressing issues such as climate change, plastic waste, and water pollution. On the flip side, 95% of businesses think that “purpose” is at the heart of what they do. The disparity could not be more stark.
Is Percent the stripe for donations? We’re about to find out.
It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.
Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.
It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”
Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.
In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.
Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though they intend to donate profits from the app, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remain listed as investors, but Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.
Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.
Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.
Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.
“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”
But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.
According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.
You’d expect an expense management company to have a large sales department and advertise through all kinds of channels to maximize customer acquisition. But like we’ve seen over and over through the course of this EC-1, Expensify just doesn’t do what you think it should.
Keeping in mind this company’s propensity to just stick to its guts, it’s not much of a surprise that it got to more than $100M in annual recurring revenue and millions of users with a staff of 130, some contractors, and an almost non-existent sales team.
If you’re wondering how its possible to grow to such a level without an established sales team, the short answer is: Word of mouth. To an extent, Expensify can do this due to the space it’s in, as expense reporting is such a thankless, almost mind numbingly boring task that anyone who found a good solution is bound to recommend it to their colleagues and friends.
But it’s more interesting how Expensify grows bottom-up within SMBs, its core customer base. By providing an easy and meaningful experience via the product itself, the company has come to a point where it only takes one or two users who love the service to turn their company into customers.
This approach flips the traditional sales model on its head and is now known as product-led growth, but Expensify did it long before it was an accepted business model. Though that was harder than it sounds, it also put the company in a uniquely privileged position, which it is fully intent on leveraging.
There are many ways to get such a business model started, but as usual, Expensify threw caution and all advice out the window and banked on turning its users into evangelizers for its product.
In 2013, Colombian businessman David Velez decided to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. He didn’t speak Portuguese, nor was he an engineer or a banker, but he did have the conviction that the system was broken and that he could fix it. And as a former Sequoia VC, he also had access to capital.
His gut instinct and market analysis were right. Today, Nubank announced a $750 million extension to its Series G (which rang in at $400 million this past January), bringing the round to a total of $1.15 billion and their valuation to $30 billion — $5 billion more than when we covered them in January.
The extension funding was led by Berkshire Hathaway, which put in $500 million, and a number of other investors.
Velez and his team decided now was a good time to raise again, because, “We saw a great opportunity in terms of growth rate and we’re very tiny when compared to the incumbents,” he told TechCrunch.”
Nubank is the biggest digital bank in the world by number of customers: 40 million. The company started as a tech company in Brazil that offered only a fee-free credit card with a line of credit of R$50 (about USD$10).
It now offers a variety of financial products, including a digital bank account, a debit card, insurance, P2P payment via Pix (the Brazilian equivalent of Zelle), loans, rewards, life insurance and an account and credit card for small business owners.
Nubank serves unbanked or underserviced citizens in Brazil — about 30% of the population — and this approach can be extremely profitable because there are many more clients available.
The banking system in Brazil is one of the few bureaucracies in the country that is actually quite skillful, but the customer service remains unbearable, and banks charge exorbitant fees for any little transaction.
Traditionally, the banking industry has been dominated by five major traditional banks: Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Santander and Caixa Economica Federal.
While Brazil remains Nubank’s primary market, the company also offers services in Colombia and Mexico (services launched in Mexico in 2018). The company still only offers the credit card in both countries.
“The momentum we’re seeing in Mexico is terrific. Our Mexican credit card net promoter score (NPS) is 93, which is the highest we’ve had in Nubank history. In Brazil the highest we’ve had was 88,” Velez said.
The company has been on a hiring spree in the last few months, and brought on two heavyweight executives. Matt Swann replaced Ed Wible (the original CTO and co-founder). Wible continues to be an important player in the company, but more in a software developer capacity. Swann previously served as CTO at Bookings.com and StubHub, and as CIO of the Global Consumer Bank at Citi, so he brings years of experience of scaling tech businesses, which is what Nubank is focused on now, though Velez wouldn’t confirm which countries are next.
The other major hire, Arturo Nunez, fills the new role of chief marketing officer. Nunez was head of marketing for Apple Latin America, amongst other roles with Nike and the NBA.
It may sound a little odd for a tech company not to have had a head of marketing, but Nubank takes pride in having a $0 cost of acquisition (CAC). Instead of spending money on marketing, they spend it on customer service and then rely on word of mouth to get the word out.
Since we last spoke with Velez in January regarding the $400 million Series G, the company went from having 34 million customers to now having 40 million in a span of roughly 6 months. The funds will be used to grow the business, including hiring more people.
“We’ve seen the entire market go digital, especially people who never thought they would,” Velez said. “There is really now an avalanche of all backgrounds [of people] who are getting into digital banking.”