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Kandji nabs $60M Series B as Apple device management platform continues to thrive

By Ron Miller

During the pandemic, having an automated solution for onboarding and updating Apple devices remotely has been essential, and today Kandji, a startup that helps IT do just that, announced a hefty $60 million Series B investment.

Felicis Ventures led the round with participation from SVB Capital, Greycroft, Okta Ventures and The Spruce House Partnership. Today’s round comes just 7 months after a $21 million Series A, bringing the total raised across three rounds to $88.5 million, according to the company.

CEO Adam Pettit says that the company has been growing in leaps in bounds since the funding round last October.

“We’ve seen a lot more traction than even originally anticipated. I think every time we’ve put targets up onto the board of how quickly we would grow, we’ve accelerated past them,” he said. He said that one of the primary reasons for this growth has been the rapid move to work from home during the pandemic.

“We’re working with customers across 40+ industries now, and we’re even seeing international customers come in and purchase so everyone now is just looking to support remote workforces and we provide a really elegant way for them to do that,” he said.

While Pettit didn’t want to discuss exact revenue numbers, he did say that it has tripled since the Series A announcement. That is being fueled in part he says by attracting larger companies, and he says they have been seeing more and more of them become customers this year.

As they’ve grown revenue and added customers, they’ve also brought on new employees, growing from 40 to 100 since October. Pettit says that the startup is committed to building a diverse and inclusive culture at the company and a big part of that is making sure you have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from.

“It comes down to at the onset just making the decision that it’s important to you and it’s important to the company, which we’ve done. Then you take it step by step all the way through, and we start at the back into the funnel where are candidates are coming from.”

That means clearly telling their recruiting partners that they want a diverse candidate pool. One way to do that is being remote and having a broader talent pool to work with. “We realized that in order to hold true to [our commitment], it was going to be really hard to do that just sticking to the core market of San Diego or San Francisco, and so now we’ve expand expanded nationally and this has opened up a lot of [new] pools of top tech talent,” he said.

Pettit is thinking hard right now about how the startup will run its offices whenever they allowed back, especially with some employees living outside major tech hubs. Clearly it will have some remote component, but he says that the tricky part of that will be making sure that the folks who aren’t coming into the office still feel fully engaged and part of the team.

First findings with Apple’s new AirTag location devices

By Matthew Panzarino

I’ve been playing around with Apple’s new AirTag location devices for a few hours now and they seem to work pretty much as advertised. The setup flow is simple and clean, taking clear inspiration from the one Apple developed for AirPods. The precision finding feature enabled by the U1 chip works as a solid example of utility-driven augmented reality, popping up a virtual arrow and other visual identifiers on the screen to make finding a tag quicker.

The basic way that AirTags work, if you’re not familiar, is that they use Bluetooth beaconing technology to announce their presence to any nearby devices running iOS 14.5 and above. These quiet pings are encrypted and invisible (usually) to any passer by, especially if they are with their owners. This means that no one ever knows what device actually ‘located’ your AirTag, not even Apple.

With you, by the way, means in relative proximity to a device signed in to the iCloud account that the AirTags are registered to. Bluetooth range is typically in the ~40 foot range depending on local conditions and signal bounce. 

In my very limited testing so far, AirTag location range fits in with that basic Bluetooth expectation. Which means that it can be foiled by a lot of obstructions or walls or an unflattering signal bounce. It often took 30 seconds or more to get an initial location from an AirTag in another room, for instance. Once the location was received, however, the instructions to locate the device seemed to update quickly and were extremely accurate down to a few inches.

The AirTags run for a year on a standard CR2032 battery that’s user replaceable. They offer some water resistance including submersion for some time. There are a host of accessories that seem nicely designed like leather straps for bags, luggage tags and key rings.

So far so good. More testing to come. 

Some protections

As with anything to do with location, security and privacy are a top of mind situation for AirTags, and Apple has some protections in place.

You cannot share AirTags — they are meant to be owned by one person. The only special privileges offered by people in your iCloud Family Sharing Group is that they can silence the ‘unknown AirTag nearby’ alerts indefinitely. This makes AirTags useful for things like shared sets of keys or maybe even a family pet. This means that AirTags will not show up on your family Find My section like other iOS devices might. There is now a discrete section within the app just for ‘Items’ including those with Find My functionality built in. 

The other privacy features include a ‘warning’ that will trigger after some time that a tag is in your proximity and NOT in the proximity of its owner (aka, traveling with you perhaps in a bag or car). Your choices are then to make the tag play a sound to locate it — look at its information including serial number and to disable it by removing its battery. 

Any AirTag that has been away from its owner for a while — this time is variable and Apple will tweak it over time as it observes how AirTags work — will start playing a sound whenever it is moved. This will alert people to its presence. 

You can, of course, also place an AirTag into Lost Mode, offering a choice to share personal information with anyone who locates it as it plays an alert sound. Anyone with any smart device with NFC, Android included, can tap the device to see a webpage with information that you choose to share. Or just a serial number if you do not choose to do so. 

This scenario addresses what happens if you don’t have an iOS device to alert you to a foreign AirTag in your presence, as it will eventually play a sound even if it is not in lost mode and the owner has no control over that.

It’s clear that Apple has thought through many of the edge cases, but some could still crop up as it rolls out, we’ll have to see.

Apple has some distinct market advantages here:

  • Nearly a billion devices out in the world that can help to locate an AirTag.
  • A built-in U1 wideband chip that communicates with a similar U1 chip in iPhones to enable super precise (down to inches) location.
  • A bunch of privacy features that don’t appear on competing tags.

Important to note that Apple has announced the development of a specification for chipset makers that lets third-party devices with Ultra Wideband radios access the U1 chip onboard iPhones ‘later this Spring’. This should approximate the Precision Finding feature’s utility in accessories that don’t have the advantage of having a U1 built in like the AirTags do. And, of course, Apple has opened up the entire Find My mesh network to third party devices from Belkin, Chipolo and VanMoof that want to offer a similar basic finding function as offered by AirTags. Tile has announced plans to offer a UWB version of its tracker as well, even as it testified in Congress yesterday that Apple’s advantages made its entry into this market unfair. 

It will be interesting to see these play out once AirTags are out getting lost in the wild. I have had them for under 12 hours so I’ve not been able to test edge cases, general utility in public spaces or anything like that. 

The devices go on sale on April 23rd.

Window Snyder’s new startup Thistle Technologies raises $2.5M seed to secure IoT devices

By Zack Whittaker

The Internet of Things has a security problem. The past decade has seen wave after wave of new internet-connected devices, from sensors through to webcams and smart home tech, often manufactured in bulk but with little — if any — consideration to security. Worse, many device manufacturers make no effort to fix security flaws, while others simply leave out the software update mechanisms needed to deliver patches altogether.

That sets up an entire swath of insecure and unpatchable devices to fail, and destined to be thrown out when they break down or are invariably hacked.

Security veteran Window Snyder thinks there is a better way. Her new startup, Thistle Technologies, is backed with $2.5 million in seed funding from True Ventures with the goal of helping IoT manufacturers reliably and securely deliver software updates to their devices.

Snyder founded Thistle last year, and named it after the flowering plant with sharp prickles designed to deter animals from eating them. “It’s a defense mechanism,” Snyder told TechCrunch, a name that’s fitting for a defensive technology company. The startup aims to help device manufacturers without the personnel or resources to integrate update mechanisms into their device’s software in order to receive security updates and better defend against security threats.

“We’re building the means so that they don’t have to do it themselves. They want to spend the time building customer-facing features anyway,” said Snyder. Prior to founding Thistle, Snyder worked in senior cybersecurity positions at Apple, Intel, and Microsoft, and also served as chief security officer at Mozilla, Square, and Fastly.

Thistle lands on the security scene at a time when IoT needs it most. Botnet operators are known to scan the internet for devices with weak default passwords and hijack their internet connections to pummel victims with floods of internet traffic, knocking entire websites and networks offline. In 2016, a record-breaking distributed denial-of-service attack launched by the Mirai botnet on internet infrastructure giant Dyn knocked some of the biggest websites — Shopify, SoundCloud, Spotify, Twitter — offline for hours. Mirai had ensnared thousands of IoT devices into its network at the time of the attack.

Other malicious hackers target IoT devices as a way to get a foot into a victim’s network, allowing them to launch attacks or plant malware from the inside.

Since device manufacturers have done little to solve their security problems among themselves, lawmakers are looking at legislating to curb some of the more egregious security mistakes made by default manufacturers, like using default — and often unchangeable — passwords and selling devices with no way to deliver security updates.

California paved the way after passing an IoT security law in 2018, with the U.K. following shortly after in 2019. The U.S. has no federal law governing basic IoT security standards.

Snyder said the push to introduce IoT cybersecurity laws could be “an easy way for folks to get into compliance” without having to hire fleets of security engineers. Having an update mechanism in place also helps to keeps the IoT devices around for longer — potentially for years longer — simply by being able to push fixes and new features.

“To build the infrastructure that’s going to allow you to continue to make those devices resilient and deliver new functionality through software, that’s an incredible opportunity for these device manufacturers. And so I’m building a security infrastructure company to support that security needs,” she said.

With the seed round in the bank, Snyder said the company is focused on hiring device and back-end engineers, product managers, and building new partnerships with device manufacturers.

Phil Black, co-founder of True Ventures — Thistle’s seed round investor — described the company as “an astute and natural next step in security technologies.” He added: “Window has so many of the qualities we look for in founders. She has deep domain expertise, is highly respected within the security community, and she’s driven by a deep passion to evolve her industry.”

Facebook tests topic targeting for in-stream video ads

By Anthony Ha

Facebook is announcing some new capabilities for video advertisers on Facebook and Instagram, as well as new numbers about the potential audience that those ads might reach.

Numbers first: The company says that there are now 2 billion people each month who watch videos that eligible for in-stream ads. It also says that 70 percent of in-stream ads are watched to completion, with its studies showing that by adding a Facebook In-Stream campaign to ad purchases that already include News Feed and Stories, advertisers saw a median 1.5x increase in ad recall.

When discussing the news with Carolyn Everson, the vice president of Facebook’s global business group, I wondered whether traditional advertisers are comfortable with the company’s metrics. (Back in 2016, the company had to admit that due to an error, it had been inflating video view times, and is still facing criticism about how it handled the situation.)

Everson said Facebook is aiming to be “very specific” with its numbers. She also noted that the company only places in-stream ads in videos that are three minutes or longer, with the ad only playing after a viewer has watched at least 45 seconds (or more, depending on the video).

“I do believe that we are going to be very competitive and consistent with the marketplace,” she said. “Everyone measures these things a little bit differently, but these are numbers that people are going to be very excited about.”

Facebook Video Topics

Image Credits: Facebook

On the product side, the company is starting a global test of In-Stream Video Topics, which will allow advertisers to target their ads not just by audience, but also based on the topic of a given video. In a blog post, Facebook says the initial targeting will include “over 20 Video Topics, like Sports, and over 700 hundred sub-topics such as Baseball, Basketball, Golf, or Swimming.”

Everson said the company will use machine learning technology to classify eligible videos, as well as to ensure that they meet Facebook’s brand safety guidelines.

In addition, Facebook is announcing that it will start testing ads in its short-form Instagram Reels format, initially in India, Brazil, Germany and Australia. These ads can be up to 30 seconds long, and users can interact with them in the same ways they interact with organic Reels content (liking, sharing, skipping).

Facebook sticker ads

And Facebook is testing the sticker ads that it announced last month, which will allow brands to create custom stickers, which creators can then include in their Facebook Stories.

Looking at all the announcements together, Everson (who joined Facebook in 2011) said, “Frankly, for the last 10 years, I’ve been so excited for the moment where we are absolutely ready for prime time in our discussions of online video solutions for marketers. With our news that we are announcing today, we have more than arrived.”

Ex.co acquires video adtech company Cedato

By Anthony Ha

Ex.co is announcing its very first acquisition — it’s buying Cedato, a video monetization startup founded in 2015.

Previously known as Playbuzz, Ex.co is short for The Experience Company, and it provides publishers and other customers with an easy way to add interactive and visual elements (such as polls and product recommendations) to their content. The company says its publisher business grew revenue by 300% between 2018 and 2020.

According to co-founder and CEO Tom Pachys, over the past year, he’s become convinced that artificial intelligence is “taking over everything we do.”

“We started searching for companies that did video in a sophisticated way, meaning using [machine learning] as part of their core engines,” Pachys said. “When I say that, I mean things like choosing the right content, choosing the right ad, knowing how to manage an [ad] auction in the right way.”

He said Cedato stood out because it’s able to do all of this without affecting page load time, this will be increasingly important to Google’s Core Web Vitals measurements, and therefore to search rankings.

“It’s always a tradeoff between efficiencies and revenues in general,” Pachys said. “But for [Cedato], in a very surprising way, they can increase speed and increase revenues.”

By adding Cedato’s technology, Ex.co will be able to offer its customers things like predictive recommendations for video content, header bidding for video ads and improved support for connected TVs. Conversely, the company will continue to support existing Cedato customers while also offering them additional products.

“We’re not taking anything away, we’re just adding more solutions,” Pachys said.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the entire Cedato team (based in New York and Israel) will be joining Ex.co.

“Since the company’s inception, Cedato has been laser-focused on creating the most advanced video tools with a simple, customer-first approach,” said Cedato founder and CEO Ron Dick in a statement. “Ex.co has a similar vision, powerful technology, and a large, loyal clientele base. Working together enables us to offer cutting-edge technology to our range of global partners, continuing to lead the way with product innovation that supports the market’s primary needs.”

Pachys added that Ex.co is looking to make another AI-related acquisitions, with the next one likely coming on the commerce side.

Forget the piggy bank, Till Financial’s kids’ spend management app gets Gates’ backing

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Today’s children and teens want more power and control over their spending.

And while there are a number of financial services and apps out there aimed at helping this demographic save and invest money (Greenlight being among the most popular and well-known), one startup is coming at the space from another angle: helping younger people also better manage their spend.

Till Financial describes itself as a collaborative family financial tool that aims to empower kids to become smarter spenders. The New York-based company’s banking platform is designed to encourage “open and honest” discussions between parents and their kids. And it has just raised $5 million to help it advance on that goal.

A slew of investors put money in the round, including Elysian Park Ventures, Melinda Gates’ venture fund Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.

Part of Till’s goal is to help kids “learn by doing” and gain confidence in spending decisions. It arms them with a bank account, digital and physical debit card and goal-based savings. For example, say a teen wants to buy an iPad, they can set up an account that they can save toward that iPad and give family members (such as grandparents, for example) the opportunity to pitch in the same amount, or more. They can also set up recurring payments for things like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions so they can get a taste of what it’s like to pay regular bills.

“Parents and the current banking options miss the point when they just focus on savings. We need to first prepare kids to be Smarter Spenders, supported by savings and investing,” said Taylor Burton, who founded the company with Tom Pincince. “On Till, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.”

To Pincince, the market is clearly underserved.

“The legacy banks really don’t care about this young person and the early digital players are really missing the mark,” he said. 

And despite the plethora of apps targeting the demographic, Pincince believes there’s plenty of room for the right players.

“The reality is you’re talking about a swath of kids under the age of 18 and over the age of eight that is the single largest unbanked population,” he said. “We’re not fighting to be the top of your son’s wallet. We’re fighting to be the first product into that wallet.”

Indeed, it’s a big market — the average middle-class family in the U.S. spends $284,570 per child by the time they turn 18.

The platform is free to all families and, early on, attracted the attention of Peggy Mangot, operating partner/COO of PayPal Ventures. She invested personally in Till in its pre-seed rounds. Prior to PayPal, Mangot ran development of Greenhouse, Well Fargo’s fee-free mobile banking app that aimed to help younger users build responsible spending habits.

Mangot has three kids and recalls that when they were shopping online, she’d give them her credit card. Or, if they were going to the corner store or meeting with friends, she’d give them cash.

“But that way, the money is meaningless to them. They didn’t really know how to understand what things cost and there was no sense of ownership,” she said. “It was just me handing over cash or a card.”

What attracted her the most about Till, Mangot said, was the team’s approach to treat younger people “with respect and agency.”

She also believes that by helping children and teens understand important financial lessons at a younger age, the world will ultimately be full of more responsible adults.

“By putting these tools in the hands of these young people early, they’ll have years and years of experience before they’re more independent and have to manage their paycheck and bills,” Mangot told TechCrunch. “Once you have mass adoption, it’s going to create a much more financially literate, confident and in control set of young adults than we’ve ever had.”

Besides making money on interchange fees, Till aims to earn revenue by partnering with merchants to offer rewards to users. It also plans to earn referral fees by referring the teens to other financial institutions when they get older and have different needs.

“It’s not our intention to be your son or daughter’s forever bank. It’s our intention to be the first bank,” Pincince said. “So, they hit the age of maturity, we’re actually giving them a high-five off of our platform and introducing them to maybe their first college loan or their first credit card.”

With $30M extension, BigID boosts Series D to $100M at $1.25B valuation

By Ron Miller

When we last heard from BigID at the end of 2020, the company was announcing a $70 million Series D at a $1 billion valuation. Today, it announced a $30 million extension on that deal valuing the company at $1.25 billion just 4 months later.

This chunk of money comes from private equity firm Advent International, and brings the total raised to over $200 million across 4 rounds, according to the company. The late stage startup is attracting all of this capital by building a security and privacy platform. When I spoke to CEO Dimitri Sirota in September 2019 at the time of the $50 million Series C, he described the company’s direction this way:

“We’ve separated the product into some constituent parts. While it’s still sold as a broad-based [privacy and security] solution, it’s much more of a platform now in the sense that there’s a core set of capabilities that we heard over and over that customers want.”

Sirota says he has been putting the money to work, and as the economy improves he is seeing more traction for the product set. “Since December, we’ve added employees as we’ve seen broader economic recovery and increased demand. In tandem, we have been busy building a whole host of new products and offerings that we will announce over the coming weeks that will be transformational for BigID,” he said.

He also said that as with previous rounds, he didn’t go looking for the additional money, but decided to take advantage of the new funds at a higher valuation with a firm that he believes can add value overall. What’s more, the funds should allow the company to expand in ways it might have held off on.

“It was important to us that this wouldn’t be a distraction and that we could balance any funding without the need to over-capitalize, which is becoming a bigger issue in today’s environment. In the end, we took what we thought could bring forward some additional product modules and add a sales team focused on smaller commercial accounts,” Sirota said.

Ashwin Krishnan, a principal on Advent’s technology team in New York says that BigID was clearly aligned with two trends his firm has been following. That includes the explosion of data being collected and the increasing focus on managing and securing that data with the goal of ultimately using it to make better decisions.

“When we met with Dimitri and the BigID team, we immediately knew we had found a company with a powerful platform that solves the most challenging problem at the center of these trends and the data question,”Krishnan said.

Past investors in the company include Boldstart Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Tiger Global. Strategic investors include Comcast Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and SAP.io.

Founders Factory Africa partners with Small Foundation to invest in 18 agritech startups

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Johannesburg-based investment company Founders Factory Africa (FFA) today announced a partnership with Small Foundation that will see it select 18 agritech startups for an acceleration and incubation program.

Small Foundation is a Dublin-based philanthropic organization that focuses on the rural and agriculture sector in sub-Saharan Africa. With this partnership, Small Foundation is making an undisclosed investment in FFA to build and scale agritech startups on the continent.

“The partnership stands to make a significant impact across the continent by supporting agritech startups who can innovate and improve the delivery of a range of services to smallholder farmers and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the agricultural sector,” an excerpt in a statement read.

According to the South African-based venture development and investment company founded by Roo Rogers and Alina Truhina, early-stage founders will need to apply to join the Founders Factory Africa Venture Scale or Venture Build portfolios. These startups will have access to funding between $100,000 to $250,000 and hands-on technical support.

This is a change from when the company launched in 2018. FFA is an extension of the Founders Factory organisation that has invested in more than 130 companies globally. In 2018, FFA launched its first vertical in fintech when it partnered with the continent’s largest bank, Standard Bank, to invest in fintech startups. Some of the startups include Bwala, LipaLater, MVXchange and OkHi.

The following year, it took on a second investor in South African healthcare company Netcare Group and, via the partnership, invested in health-tech startups like RxAll, Redbird and Wellahealth.

Last year when we reported this partnership, startups in FFA’s Venture Scale accelerator program received a £30,000 cash investment and £220,000 in support services. Those in the Venture Build program received £60,000 cash and £100,000 toward support.   

For this third partnership, Truhina says FFA will be investing a total of $300,000 in cash and hands-on support for companies in its Venture Scale program. However, startups in Venture Build will be receiving up to $250,000 in funding.

The Venture Scale program involves providing support for existing startups operating in seed to pre-Series A stages. On the other hand, the Venture Build program is for founders wanting to launch a startup in Africa, who may or may not have a concept or an idea

Currently, there are 23 companies across FFA’s Scale and Build portfolios. These startups, mainly from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, have collectively raised more than $7 million during and after the program. Truhina says FFA plans to increase this number to nearly 90 startups in total by 2024.

“We will build, scale and invest in 88 startups with current FFA investors (Standard Bank, Netcare and Small Foundation) until 2024. We plan to continue to take on new investors and continue to work on the continent indefinitely,” she said.

Founders Factory Africa

While FFA is dedicating a fund for agritech startups, it has invested in other startups with agritech solutions for instance Nigeria’s Foodlocker. The company forecasts foodstuff demand through machine learning and helps buyers procure goods from smallholder farmers. But despite this proposition, FFA classifies the startup as a fintech investment.

“Foodlocker was a company we selected and invested in under our Fintech portfolio, as the startup has a financial component. With Small Foundation, we are setting up a new dedicated agritech sector,” said Truhina. Small Foundation joins Standard Bank and Netcare in the peculiarity of assistance offered to FFA portfolio startups. From sector expertise and footprint across the continent to access to clients, POCs and pilots, these investors are trying to fill in the gap in sectors ripe for exponential growth.

But though fintech has caught on well with both local and international investors, the same cannot be said for health tech and agritech. According to Briter Bridges, fintech accounted for 31% of the total $1.3 billion raised by African startups. Health-tech startups accounted for 9%, while agritech startups represented just 7%.

Small Foundation wants to improve this number in its own little way, and concurrently has a plan to “end extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.” Conor Brosnan, the CEO and chair of the foundation, holds that tackling the sector’s biggest issues with the FFA will bring the company toward achieving this objective.

“This is a pivotal time to invest in the growing area of agritech in Africa, which has transformative potential for local livelihoods. We are excited to see FFA’s highly skilled teamwork with immensely talented African entrepreneurs to deliver scaled solutions to some of the biggest challenges faced by the sector,” he said.

In three years, Founders Factory Africa has managed to enlist the services and finances of three influential partners. Yet, it has 55 more startups to invest in before 2024, so we should expect an increased investment activity and more partnerships to fund startups in other sectors.

The firm also has fresh capital in the works for its portfolio companies as it advances, though. It’s in the process of raising a $35 million “Africa Seed Fund” which will exist alongside FFA and execute follow-on capital in some portfolio companies.

Satellite Vu’s $5M seed round will fuel the launch of its thermal imaging satellites

By Devin Coldewey

Earth imaging is an increasingly crowded space, but Satellite Vu is taking a different approach by focusing on infrared and heat emissions, which are crucial for industry and climate change monitoring. Fresh from TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield, the company has raised a £3.6M ($5M) seed round and is on its way to launching its first satellite in 2022.

The nuts and bolts of Satellite Vu’s tech and master plan are described in our original profile of the company, but the gist is this: while companies like Planet have made near-real-time views of the Earth’s surface into a thriving business, other niches are relatively unexplored — like thermal imaging.

The heat coming off a building, geological feature, or even a crowd of people is an enormously interesting data point. It can tell you whether an office building or warehouse is in use or empty, and whether it’s heated or cooled, and how efficient that process is. It can find warmer or cooler areas that suggest underground water, power lines, or other heat-affecting objects. It could even make a fair guess at how many people attended a concert, or perhaps an inauguration. And of course it works at night.

An aerial image side by side with a thermal image of the same area.

You could verify, for instance, which parts of a power plant are active, when.

Pollution and other emissions are also easily spotted and tracked, making infrared observation of the planet an important part of any plan to monitor industry in the context of climate change. That’s what attracted Satellite Vu’s first big piece of cash, a grant from the U.K. government for £1.4M, part of a £500M infrastructure fund.

CEO and founder Anthony Baker said that they began construction of their first satellite with that money, “so we knew we got our sums right,” he said, then began the process of closing additional capital.

Seraphim Capital, a space-focused VC firm whose most relevant venture is probably synthetic aperture satellite startup Iceye, matched the grant funds, and with subsequent grant the total money raised is in excess of the $5M target (the extra is set aside in a convertible note).

“What attracted us to Satellite Vu is several things. We published some research about this last year: there are more than 180 companies with plans to launch smallsat constellations,” said Seraphim managing partner James Bruegger. But very few, they noted, were looking at the infrared or thermal space. “That intrigued us, because we always thought infrared had a lot of potential. And we already knew Anthony and Satellite Vu from having put them through our space accelerator in 2019.”

They’re going to need every penny. Though the satellites themselves are looking to be remarkably cheap, as satellites go — $14-15M all told — and only seven will be needed to provide global coverage, that still adds up to over $100M over the next couple years.

Simulated image of a Satellite Vu imaging satellite.

Image Credits: Satellite Vu

Seraphim isn’t daunted, however: “As a specialist space investor, we understand the value of patience,” said Bruegger. Satellite Vu, he added, is a “poster child” for their approach, which is to shuttle early stage companies through their accelerator and then support them to an exit.

It helps that Baker has lined up about as much potential income from interested customers as they’ll need to finance the whole thing, soup to nuts. “Commercial traction has improved since we last spoke,” said Baker, which was just before he presented at TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2020 Startup Battlefield:

The company now has 26 letters of intent and other leads that amount to, in his estimation, about a hundred million dollars worth of business — if he can provide the services they’re asking for, of course. To that end the company has been flying its future orbital cameras on ordinary planes and modifying the output to resemble what they expect from the satellite network.

Companies interested in the latter can buy into the former for now, and the transition to the “real” product should be relatively painless. It also helps create a pipeline on Satellite Vu’s side, so there’s no need for a test satellite and service.

An aerial image side by side with a thermal image of the same area.

Another example of the simulated satellite imagery – same camera as will be in orbit, but degraded to resemble shots from that far up.

“We call it pseudo-satellite data — it’s almost a minimum viable product.We work with the companies about the formats and stuff they need,” Baker said. “The next stage is, we’re planning on taking a whole city, like Glasgow, and mapping the whole city in thermal. We think there will be many parties interested in that.”

With investment, tentative income, and potential customers lining up, Satellite Vu seems poised to make a splash, though its operations and launches are small compared with those of Planet, Starlink, and very soon Amazon’s Kuiper. After the first launch, tentatively scheduled for 2022, Baker said the company would only need two more to put the remaining six satellites in orbit, three at a time on a rideshare launch vehicle.

Before that, though, we can expect further fundraising, perhaps as soon as a few months from now — after all, however thrifty the company is, tens of millions in cash will still be needed to get off the ground.

9 investors, execs and founders discuss Zagreb’s startup potential

By Mike Butcher

Startups may not spring to mind when speaking about the beautiful country of Croatia. Indeed, the country is most popular as a tourist destination, and given that tourism accounted for about 20% of its GDP in 2018, to an extent, its pre-pandemic focus was mostly on growing its share of the international tourism market.

But Croatia’s entrepreneurs haven’t been quiet: Startups like Infobip and Rimac are significant local hero businesses now, and the region can boast of high-quality talent in the tech, automotive, manufacturing, and agtech spaces. With only two venture capital firms operating in the capital of Zagreb, the startup scene is still young, but the country’s relatively recent EU membership has given it access to a growing set of direct investment instruments.

The current tax framework on capital gains tax (zero if you hold the shares for more than two years) and a new ‘digital nomad’ visa are helping to attract investors and talent to the city, which is also close to some of the best beaches in the world.

Access to fresh, outside capital is always a catalyst for growth, so to get an inside look at Zagreb’s fast-growing startup ecosystem, we spoke with nine local founders, investors and C-level executives.

According to the respondents, Zagreb’s strongest tech areas include HR solutions, automotive, fintech, mobile gaming, IoT, insurtech, and AI. The city’s angel investor scene isn’t very strong yet, but that could be attributed to the ecosystem’s youth.


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The city has an excellent work-life balance, and most of the talent wants to stay there. “Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easier to land remote jobs and stay in Zagreb, which will positively impact our ecosystem,” one of the investors said.

However, with competition heating up, startups looking for larger, serious investment will probably have to look beyond the country’s borders while trying to retain their engineering talent. Luckily, an increasing number of international investors are looking at Zagreb for their deal flow pipeline.

Some top Croatian startups include: Agrivi, Amodo, Ascalia, Bellabeat, Cognism, Degordian, Dok-Ing, Infobip, Mindsmiths, OptimoRoute, Oradian, Photomath, Repsly, ReversingLabs, ScoreAlarm, Sportening and AdScanner.

We surveyed:


Lucija Ilicic, CEO, PlatePay

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Photomath, Sportening, and Mindsmiths.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
Mostly revenue-oriented.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
People would choose to live and move here during the pandemic. Some of them did, especially having in mind that Croatia now has the digital nomad visa.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Investors: Fil Rouge Capital, Feelsgood, Zicer, Bird Incubator; Founders: Ivan Klarić, Damir Sabol, Mislav Malenica, Mate Riimac

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
The Croatian startup ecosystem really grew during last year and has huge potential. I see it as a perfect place for digital nomads, home of a few new unicorns and a European center for AI solutions development.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Sportening, Mindsmiths, and of course, PlatePay.

 

Julien Coustaury, partner, Fil Rouge Capital

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Strong in fintech, automotive, insurtech, and AI. We are excited that the whole ecosystem is growing strong with flagships such as Rimac, Optimoroute, Oradian, Infobeep, Agrivi, Tvbeat, Orqa, and Bellabeat, and our relevant funding partners with us and a new PE fund that have just been creating. There is money, talent and we have unicorns in Croatia. Very few weaknesses in Croatia at the moment, especially with the current tax framework on capital gains (zero if you hold the shares for more than two years) and the digital nomad visa. A giant leap for the region!

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Oradian, Lebesgue, Optimoroute, Gideon Brothers, Worcon, TVbeat, Orqa, Ascalia, Epoets Society, Hoss, Jade, Miret, My Valet, Sendbee, She’s Well, Spotsie, Taia, TDA, and Twire.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The ecosystem still a bit small to talk about the vertical focus. [We have] two active funds: SC ventures and Fil Rouge Capital. FRC runs an accelerator program along the YC model. The angel scene is a bit disappointing at the moment with not a lot of investments. Funderbeam [is] pretty active here. The quality and quantity is amazing at the moment in Croatia, probably a factor of the ecosystem being rather young.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
The current fiscal climate makes it very attractive for people to relocate/stay in Zagreb, no doubt. One million people here; proximity to one of the best seas in the world — all the ingredients are here to make it the beacon of the up and coming startup world!

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
FRC is definitely the main player in Zagreb; SC ventures, Funderbeam, Novak Law for lawyers, Algebra University, ZICER, Hub 385, Step RI.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
No doubt a key hub in Europe on par with Vienna.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Oradian, Lebesgue, Optimoroute, Gideon Brothers, Worcon, TVbeat, Orqa, Ascalia, Epoets Society, Hoss, Jade, Miret, My Balet, Sendbee, She’s well, Spotsie, Taia, TDA, and Twire.

 

Josip Orsolic, CEO, Lilcodelab

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
IT, automotive, manufacturing, farming (different SaaS and IoT solutions).

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Rimac Automobili, Microblink, Five, Nanobit, Agrivi.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
It’s a small circle of people and not a lot of diversity, although it is getting better. Many new young successful investors emerged in the last few years.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
They will stay, maybe go to the suburbs, but just looking at the rental prices for flats/apartments I don’t see any shift in people moving outside of the city.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Mate Rimac, Damir Sabol, Alan Sumina, Tomislav Car, Luka Abrus.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
I believe the tech scene is going to grow more and more. Many companies from other countries are opening up engineering hubs in Zagreb. There is a lot of talent, people are drawn to tech jobs; it is heavily covered by the media. Each success is celebrated and covered by the media, so there is a feeling that tech companies are being pushed, even though there are other successful companies from other industries.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Agrivi, Parklio, Seek and Hit, Electrocoin, TestDome, Include.

Vedran Tolic, founder & CBO, Q agency

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Strongest: Online betting, HR solutions, fintech, mobile gaming, IoT.
Weakest: Gaming for serious platforms; AI solutions are still in their infancy.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
PhotoMath, Agrivi, SofaScore, TalentLyft, Jenz, and Bellabeat.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The scene is getting stronger, but for any serious investment, startups have to look beyond our borders.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
Zagreb has an excellent work-life balance, and most of the talent want to stay here. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easier to land remote jobs and stay in Zagreb, which will positively impact our ecosystem.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Founders: We have many charismatic founders who are raising awareness around startups and entrepreneurship in general. They are reaching large audiences and getting attention from government, the education system and the public.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
Shifting from mostly agency work for foreign companies to a more product-oriented scene — especially in AI and ML. Products will revolve around customer and employee engagement, automation and prediction of processes which are today done by a large workforce.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Photomath, Agrivi, Bellabeat, Jenz

 

Bozidar Pavlovic, managing director, airt

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
AI, SaaS, electric cars manufacturing, and software development in general.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Rimac Automobili, Nanobit, Infinum, Five, Agrivi, Aircash, Identyum, Airt, Mindsmiths, Electrocoin, Agency 04, Oradian, Microblink, Photomath, Agency Q, Revuto, Optimoroute, Amodo, Lemax, Ampnet, RobotiqAI, and Velebit AI.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The scene is growing recently — Zagreb is capital of Croatia, thus attracting capital and people. A recent near-unicorn (Rimac, with heavy investment from Hyundai and Porsche) helped raise visibility for this vibrant ecosystem.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
Even before the pandemic, Zagreb was very attractive for tech experts worldwide due to its appealing price of accommodation, security, comfort of living and relatively high salaries. I am expecting to see the masses return after vaccination.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Davor Runje, Nikola Pavesic, Drazen Orescanin, Frane Sesnic, Tin Tezak, Ante Magzan, and Luka Sucic.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
I see it blooming, mostly due to upcoming adoption of EUR as a local currency.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Amodo, Agrivi, Photomath, Identyum.

 

Matej Zelic, COO, Spotsie

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Oil and energy, Industry 4.0. Most excited to be a part of digital transformation in the old-fashioned industries.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Rimac, Agrivi, Oradian, Miret, SofaScore.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The startup ecosystem in Croatia is still in early stages of development. The investment scene (except a few business angels) started a  few years ago backed by EU with just two VCs (FRC and SVC) without a strategic plan and focus.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
People will stay here.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Fil Rouge Capital, South Central Ventures. Mate Rimac, Damir Sabol, Frane Sesnic

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
Because of micro-location, the digital nomad program, and IT talent pool, Zagreb is on the way to becoming the No. 1 tech location in CEE and Europe.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Gideon Brothers, Spotsie.

 

Miroslav Kovac, CEO, Coffee Cloud

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
IoT, software analytics, big data, coffee industry.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Agrivi, Repsly.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
Very poor startup ecosystem.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
Most of the last year was in partial lockdown.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)
Sasa Cvetojecic, Hrvoje Prpic, Fil Rouge Capital, Bird Incubator.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
At the same place.

 

Vedran Blagus, investment manager, South Central Ventures

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Industry is very agnostic. Most of them work in B2B or the enterprise space. They lack B2C knowledge, growth/expansion plan and investor relations.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
AdScanner, Agrivi, ReversingLabs, TalentLyft, Sportening, Codemap, Gideon Brothers.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
Two VCs operating – Fil Rouge Capital (Pre-Seed, Seed, Series A – industry agnostic; B2C and B2B) and South Central Ventures (Seed, Series A, B2B). In the past six to twelve months, C-level executives from corporates started investing in startups in early stages (up to EUR 200k), but keep their investments below the radar.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
I believe that it will stay the same as it is. Development/operations in Zagreb, expansion to other European cities by opening offices there.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Founders – Matija Zulj, Marin Curkovic, Mate Rimac, Marin Saric, Alan Sumina, Matija Kopic.
Investors – Luka Sucic, Stevica Kuharski, Vedran Blagus.
Lawyers – Marijana Sarolic Robic.
Media – Ivan Brezak Brkan, Bernard Ivezic.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
Founders who exited companies they’ve been building for the past 10 years will found new companies and/or invest in early stage startups. More international investors looking at Zagreb for pipeline/investments.

 

Daniel Stefanic, investor

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Infobip, Rimac seem to be hottest ones in Croatia.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
There’s some incredibly smart people involved in STEM in Croatia – world class. They just need better pathways to commercialisation and access to capital.

Oath Care just raised $2 million to develop a social, health-focused app that groups expectant and new parents

By Connie Loizos

Being an expectant mom can be frightening, as can mothering an infant or toddler. The answers don’t come automatically, and while there’s no shortage of books and websites (and advice from grandparents) about how to parent at every stage, finding satisfying information often proves a lot harder than imagined.

There are online social groups that deliver some of the social and emotional support that new parents need, no matter where they live. There are many dozens of mom communities on Facebook, for example. However, it’s because there’s room for improvement on this theme — big groups can feel isolating, bad information abounds —that Oath Care, a young, four-person San Francisco-based startup, just raised $2 million in seed funding from XYZ Ventures, General Catalyst, and Eros Resmini, former CMO of Discord and managing partner of the Mini Fund.

What is it building? Founder Camilla Hermann describes it as a subscription-based mobile app that’s focused on improving the lives of new mothers by combining parents who have lots in common with healthcare specialists and moderators who can guide them in group chats, as well as one-on-one video calls.

More specifically, she says, for $20 per month, Oath matches pregnant and postpartum moms in circles of up to 10 based on factors like stage of pregnancy, age of child, location, and career so they can ask questions of each other, with the help of a trained moderator (who is sometimes a mother with older children).

Oath also pushes curriculum that Oath’s team is developing in-house to members based on each group’s specific needs. Not last, every group is given collective access to medical specialists who can answer general questions as part of the members’ subscription and who are also available for consultations when individualized help is needed.

Hermann says the pricing of these 15-minute-long consultations is still being developed, but that the medical experts with whom it’s already working see the app as a form of lead generation.

It’s an interesting concept, one that could be taken in a host of directions, acknowledges Hermann who says she was inspired to cofound the company based on earlier work developing a contact tracing technology created to track outbreaks like Ebola in real time.

As she said yesterday during a Zoom call with TechCrunch and her cofounder, Michelle Stephens, a pediatric clinician and research scientist: “We’ve fundamentally misunderstand something really important about health in the West; we think that [changes] happen to one person at a time or one part of the body at a time, but it always happens in interconnected systems both inside and outside the body, which fundamentally means that it is always happening in community.”

For her part, Stephens — who was introduced to Hermann at a dinner years ago — says her motivation in cofounding Oath was born out of research into childhood stress, and that by “better equipping parents to be those positive consistent caregivers in their child’s life,” Oath aims to help enable stronger, more intimate child-parent bonds.

It might sound grand for a mobile app, but it also sounds like a smart starting point. Though the idea is to match mothers in similar situations at the outset to help bolster theirs and their children’s health, it’s easy to imagine the platform evolving in a way that brings together parents in numerous groups based on interests, from preschool applications to autism to same-sex parenting. It’s easy to see the platform helping to sell products that parents need. It’s easy to imagine the company amassing a lot of valuable information.

Indeed, says Hermann, the longer-term vision for Oath is to create rich datasets that it hopes can be used to improve health outcomes, including by identifying health issues earlier. Relatedly, it also hopes to build relationships with health systems and payers in order to increase access to its products.

For now, Oath is mostly just trying to keep up with demand. Hermann says the “small and scrappy” company found its first 50 users through Facebook ads, and that this base quickly tripled organically before Oath was forced to create a growing waitlist for what has been a closed beta until now. (Oath is “anticipating a full launch in late summer,” says Stephens.)

That’s not to say the company isn’t thinking at all about next steps.

While right now it is “laser focused on building out the most exceptional experience for this specific cohort of users in this specific period of time of their lives,” says Hermann, once it builds out many more communities of small trusted groups with “high engagement and high trust,” there is “a lot you can layer on top of that. It’s virtually limitless.”

Ornikar raises $120M as its driving school marketplace goes up a gear with car insurance

By Ingrid Lunden

A French startup that set out to bring a new approach to driver education and road safety, and then used that foothold to expand into the related area of car insurance, is today announcing a big round of funding to continue building its service across Europe.

Ornikar, which prepares people for driving tests by providing online drivers education courses, lets those users organize in-person lessons with driving instructors, provides a booking system for taking their written and practical examinations, and finally provides them with competitive rates for getting car insurance as new drivers, has raised €100 million ($120 million).

The company intends to use the funding to expand its business. Drivers education services are live today in France and Spain, while insurance is offered today only in France: the plan will be to expand both of those to more markets.

The Series C is being led by KKR, with previous investors Idinvest, BPI, Elaia, Brighteye, and H14 also participating. Benjamin Gaignault, Ornikar’s CEO who co-founded the company with Flavien LeRendu (who also jointly holds the title of CEO), said the startup is not disclosing its valuation, but we understand from a source that it is around $750 million. The company has raised $175 million to date.

Ornikar has been around since 2013 and was founded, in Gaignault’s words, “to disrupt driving education.”

Coming into the market at a time when most of the process of organizing, learning and booking your driving education was not only very fragmented but completely offline, Ornikar’s internet-based offering represented a step change in how French people learned to drive: the process not only became easier, but on average about 40% cheaper to arrange.

Ornikar’s driving education business today includes not just online course materials and booking services, but a network of instructors across 1,000 towns and cities in France, and a business that launched last year in Spain, under the Onroad brand. Some 1.5 million people have taken Ornikar’s driving education courses to date, with another 2 million using its driving school, with growth accelerating: 420,000 new customers signed up with Ornikar in the last year alone.

Last year was a tricky one for companies in the business of transportation. People were generally staying put and not traveling anywhere, but when they were getting around, they wanted plenty of their own space to do so.

Translating that to markets like France and Spain where many towns will have solid public transportation and taxi services, people might have opted to use these less, looking instead to private vehicles in their place. And translating that to Ornikar, Gaignault said that people being at home more, and looking to use the time productively with a view to driving more in the future, the startup saw business growing by 30% each month last year.

Interestingly, it was in the middle of the pandemic that Ornikar launched its car insurance product, which came out of the same impetus as the driver education services: it was built to fill a hole in the market rethought with Ornikar’s users in mind.

Car insurance in France — a €17 billion ($20 billion) market annually — is dominated by big players, and when it comes to first-time drivers and looking for competitive rates, “the bigger companies are not comfortable with user experience,” said Gaignault. “It’s pretty poor and not aligned with expectations of the customers.”

The car insurance product — sold as Ornikar Assurance — is now on track to hit some 20,000 users by August (when it will have been in the market for a year).

While it accounts today for a small fraction of Ornikar’s revenues compared to its driver education platform, that take up — not just from alums of Ornikar’s drivers ed, but from those who had never used an Ornikar service before — is a good sign that it’s on to something big, Gaignault said.

“In October we noticed that 80% of our new insurance customers were not coming from Ornikar but from social media, Google ads and other outside sources,” he said. “That’s why we decided to create a new business unit and explore a business as an insuretech.”

But, he added, that will not be at the expense of the driving education: the two go hand in hand for a common goal of improving how people drive and improving road safety. Indeed, Gaignault said he envisions a time when one will feed into the other: not only will the driving school serve as a way of bringing in new insurance customers, but insurance rates can be impacted by how many driving courses a person takes to keep their knowledge of the driving code and best practices fresh.

“Ornikar has done a tremendous job creating a great experience for students and driving instructors through engaging online education courses and a well-designed marketplace,” said Patrick Devine, director at KKR and member of the Next Generation Technology Growth investment team. “We are thrilled to invest behind Benjamin, Flavien, and their talented team as they expand internationally and accelerate their insurance offering following the successful launches of Onroad in Spain and Ornikar Assurance.”

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

By Alex Wilhelm

After an upward revision, UiPath priced its IPO last night at $56 per share, a few dollars above its raised target range. The above-range price meant that the unicorn put more capital into its books through its public offering.

For a company in a market as competitive as robotic process automation (RPA), the funds are welcome. In fact, RPA has been top of mind for startups and established companies alike over the last year or so. In that time frame, enterprise stalwarts like SAP, Microsoft, IBM and ServiceNow have been buying smaller RPA startups and building their own, all in an effort to muscle into an increasingly lucrative market.

In June 2019, Gartner reported that RPA was the fastest-growing area in enterprise software, and while the growth has slowed down since, the sector is still attracting attention. UIPath, which Gartner found was the market leader, has been riding that wave, and today’s capital influx should help the company maintain its market position.

It’s worth noting that when the company had its last private funding round in February, it brought home $750 million at an impressive valuation of $35 billion. But as TechCrunch noted over the course of its pivot to the public markets, that round valued the company above its final IPO price. As a result, this week’s $56-per-share public offer wound up being something of a modest down-round IPO to UiPath’s final private valuation.

Then, a broader set of public traders got hold of its stock and bid its shares higher. The former unicorn’s shares closed their first day’s trading at precisely $69, above the per-share price at which the company closed its final private round.

So despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares sold at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed today worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully-diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

While it’s hard to know what the company might do with the proceeds, chances are it will continue to try to expand its platform beyond pure RPA, which could become market-limited over time as companies look at other, more modern approaches to automation. By adding additional automation capabilities — organically or via acquisitions — the company can begin covering broader parts of its market.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta today, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings, and the IPO market’s current temperature. The final question was on our minds, as some companies have pulled their public listings in the wake of a market described as “challenging”.

Why did UiPath not direct list after its huge February raise?

Apple and Google pressed in antitrust hearing on whether app stores share data with product development teams

By Sarah Perez

In today’s antitrust hearing in the U.S. Senate, Apple and Google representatives were questioned on whether they have a “strict firewall” or other internal policies in place that prevent them from leveraging the data from third-party businesses operating on their app stores to inform the development of their own competitive products. Apple, in particular, was called out for the practice of copying other apps by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who said the practice had become so common that it earned a nickname with Apple’s developer community: “sherlocking.”

Sherlock, which has its own Wikipedia entry under software, comes from Apple’s search tool in the early 2000s called Sherlock. A third-party developer, Karelia Software, created an alternative tool called Watson. Following the success of Karelia’s product, Apple added Watson’s same functionality into its own search tool, and Watson was effectively put out of business. The nickname “Sherlock” later became shorthand for any time Apple copies an idea from a third-party developer that threatens to or even destroys their business.

Over the years, developers claimed Apple has “sherlocked” a number of apps, including Konfabulator (desktop widgets), iPodderX (podcast manager), Sandvox (app for building websites) and Growl (a notification system for Mac OS X) and, in more recent years, F.lux (blue light reduction tool for screens) Duet and Luna (apps that makes iPad a secondary display), as well as various screen-time-management tools. Now Tile claims Apple has also unfairly entered its market with AirTag.

During his questioning, Blumenthal asked Apple and Google’s representatives at the hearing — Kyle Andeer, Apple’s chief compliance officer and Wilson White, Google’s senior director of Public Policy & Government Relations, respectively — if they employed any sort of “firewall” in between their app stores and their business strategy.

Andeer somewhat dodged the question, saying, “Senator, if I understand the question correctly, we have separate teams that manage the App Store and that are engaged in product development strategy here at Apple.”

Blumenthal then clarified what he meant by “firewall.” He explained that it doesn’t mean whether or not there are separate teams in place, but whether there’s an internal prohibition on sharing data between the App Store and the people who run Apple’s other businesses.

Andeer then answered, “Senator, we have controls in place.”

He went on to note that over the past 12 years, Apple has only introduced “a handful of applications and services,” and in every instance, there are “dozens of alternatives” on the App Store. And, sometimes, the alternatives are more popular than Apple’s own product, he noted.

“We don’t copy. We don’t kill. What we do is offer up a new choice and a new innovation,” Andeer stated.

His argument may hold true when there are strong rivalries, like Spotify versus Apple Music, or Netflix versus Apple TV+, or Kindle versus Apple Books. But it’s harder to stretch it to areas where Apple makes smaller enhancements — like when Apple introduced Sidecar, a feature that allowed users to make their iPad a secondary display. Sidecar ended the need for a third-party app, after apps like Duet and Luna first proved the market.

Another example was when Apple built screen-time controls into its iOS software, but didn’t provide the makers of third-party screen-time apps with an API so consumers could use their preferred apps to configure Apple’s Screen Time settings via the third-party’s specialized interface or take advantage of other unique features.

Blumenthal said he interpreted Andeer’s response as to whether Apple has a “data firewall” as a “no.”

Posed the same question, Google’s representative, White, said his understanding was that Google had “data access controls in place that govern how data from our third-party services are used.”

Blumenthal pressed him to clarify if this was a “firewall,” meaning, he clarified again, “do you have a prohibition against access?”

“We have a prohibition against using our third-party services to compete directly with our first-party services,” White said, adding that Google has “internal policies that govern that.”

The senator said he would follow up on this matter with written questions, as his time expired.

New privacy bill would end law enforcement practice of buying data from brokers

By Taylor Hatmaker

A new bill known as the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act would seal up a loophole that intelligence and law enforcement agencies use to obtain troves of sensitive and identifying information to which they wouldn’t otherwise have legal access.

The new legislation, proposed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY), would require government agencies to obtain a court order to access data from brokers. Court orders are already required when the government seeks analogous data from mobile providers and tech platforms.

“There’s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider,” Wyden said. Wyden describes the loophole as a way that police and other agencies buy data to “end-run the Fourth Amendment.”

Paul criticized the government for using the current data broker loophole to circumvent Americans’ constitutional rights. “The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure ensures that the liberty of every American cannot be violated on the whims, or financial transactions, of every government officer,” Paul said.

Critically, the bill would also ban law enforcement agencies from buying data on Americans when it was obtained through hacking, violations of terms of service or “from a user’s account or device.”

That bit highlights the questionable practices of Clearview AI, a deeply controversial tech company that sells access to a facial recognition search engine. Clearview’s platform collects pictures of faces scraped from across the web, including social media sites, and sells access to that data to police departments around the country and federal agencies like ICE.

In scraping their sites for data to sell, Clearview has run afoul of just about every major social media platform’s terms of service. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google have all denounced Clearview for using data culled from their services and some have even sent cease-and-desists ordering the data broker to stop.

The bill would also expand privacy laws to apply to infrastructure companies that own cell towers and data cables, seal up workarounds that allow intelligence agencies to obtain metadata from Americans’ international communications without review by a FISA court and ensure that agencies seek probable cause orders to obtain location and web browsing data.

The bill, embedded below, isn’t just some nascent proposal. It’s already attracted bipartisan support from a number of key co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side and Republicans Mike Lee and Steve Daines. A House version of the legislation was also introduced Wednesday.

 

Palestinian Hackers Tricked Victims to Install iOS Spyware

By Lily Hay Newman
The groups used social engineering techniques on Facebook to direct targets to a wide range of malware, including custom tools.

Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles

By Rebecca Bellan

The days of the shared, dockless micromobility model are numbered. That’s essentially the conclusion reached by Puneeth Meruva, an associate at Trucks Venture Capital who recently authored a detailed research brief on micromobility. Meruva is of the opinion that the standard for permit-capped, dockless scooter-sharing is not sustainable — the overhead is too costly, the returns too low — and that the industry could splinter.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology.

“Because shared services have started a cultural transition, people are more open to buying their own e-bike or e-scooter,” Meruva told TechCrunch. “Fundamentally because of how much city regulation is involved in each of these trips, it could reasonably become a transportation utility that is very useful for the end consumer, but it just hasn’t proven itself to be a profitable line of business.”

As dockless e-scooters, e-bikes and e-mopeds expand their footprint while consolidating under a few umbrella corporations, companies might develop or acquire the technology to streamline and reduce operational costs enough to achieve unit economics. One overlooked but massive factor in the micromobility space is the software that powers the vehicles — who owns it, if it’s made in-house and how well it integrates with the rest of the tech stack.

It’s the software that can determine if a company breaks out of the rideshare model into the sales or subscription model, or becomes subsidized by or absorbed into public transit, Meruva predicts.

Vehicle operating systems haven’t been top of mind for most companies in the short history of micromobility. The initial goal was making sure the hardware didn’t break down or burst into flames. When e-scooters came on the scene, they caused a ruckus. Riders without helmets zipped through city streets and many vehicles ended up in ditches or blocking sidewalk accessibility.

City officials were angry, to say the least, and branded dockless modes of transport a public nuisance. However, micromobility companies had to answer to their overeager investors — the ones who missed out on the Uber and Lyft craze and threw millions at electric mobility, hoping for swift returns. What was a Bird or a Lime to do? The only thing to do: Get back on that electric two-wheeler and start schmoozing cities.

How the fight for cities indirectly improved vehicle software

Shared, dockless operators are currently in a war of attrition, fighting to get the last remaining city permits. But as the industry seeks a business to government (B2G) model that morphs into what companies think cities want, some are inadvertently producing vehicles that will evolve beyond functional toys and into more viable transportation alternatives.

The second wave of micromobility was marked by newer companies like Superpedestrian and Voi Technology. They learned from past industry mistakes and developed business strategies that include building onboard operating systems in-house. The goal? More control over rider behavior and better compliance with city regulations.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology. Lime, Bird, Superpedestrian, Spin and Voi all design their own vehicles and write their own fleet management software or other operational tools. Lime writes its own firmware, which sits directly on top of the vehicle hardware primitives and helps control things like motor controllers, batteries and connected lights and locks.

Per Diem raises $2.3M to help local businesses build subscription programs

By Anthony Ha

It might be time for neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops to start thinking about a subscription business — at least according to a new Y Combinator-backed startup called Per Diem. The company is announcing today that it has raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Two Sigma Ventures.

As co-founder CEO Tomer Molovinsky put it, Per Diem helps local businesses “build their own Amazon Prime.” He said that he and his co-founder/CTO Doron Segal started working on this during the pandemic, as local businesses became more willing to consider new models to increase loyalty and regular purchases.

Not that this is an entirely new concept. In fact, Molovinsky said a number of the startup’s early customers already offered subscriptions of their own, like Norman’s Farm Market with its CSA subscription for produce, or IVX Coffee with a program initially focused on filling up reusable mugs with coffee.

But apparently these programs were usually managed through spreadsheets or an “old-school Rolodex,” making them increasingly difficult to manage as they grew. So Per Diem has built software to handle things like ordering, pickups/deliveries and payments.

Per Diem

Image Credits: Per Diem

“Today we offer support for both local delivery and shipping, and then we plan to build that out [with] different types of integrations, delivery partners and shipping partners,” Molovinsky said. “But we’re building on that core fundamental, which is that this is a brick-and-mortar business. That’s the ultimate differentiator.”

In other words, Per Diem emphasizes creating a strong in-store experience for subscribers, since that’s where they build a real relationship with the business.

“I don’t want to build a future where … I’m getting all my food from warehouses in another state,” Segal added. “I want to be able to say, ‘Oh, I get my food from John, I get my coffee from Linda.'”

Per Diem says that after Norman’s Farm Market used the software to offer vegetable box subscription on its website, it sold over 500 subscriptions in the first month alone. And IVX is now able to offer a full menu of espresso, match and coffee (drip and bean) subscriptions, with the average subscriber visiting the store five days a week.

Per Diem founders Doron Segal and Tomer Molovinsky

Per Diem founders Doron Segal and Tomer Molovinsky. Image Credits: Per Diem

The startup is currently focused on New York, but it’s already working with businesses in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. as well, and Molovinsky said there are no real geographic limitations.

Ultimately, he said he’s hoping to create “more value” for businesses, which could eventually mean cross-promoting different subscriptions or creating a neighborhood-wide subscription.

“We want to stay focused on what are the things we can unlock for [our customers],” he said. “They’re struggling with email marketing, so we added tools like that into our system. Over time, we can build up our system to continue to strengthen the relationship between the customer and the business.”

Dear Sophie: How can I get my startup off the ground and visit the US?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I’m a female entrepreneur who created my first startup a few months ago.

Once my startup gets off the ground — and as COVID-19 gets under control — I’d like to visit the United States to test the market and meet with investors. Which visas would allow me to do that?

—Noteworthy in Nairobi

Dear Noteworthy,

Congratulations on founding your startup! There are many ways to engage with the U.S. startup ecosystem, and you can start now, even before you physically come to the United States.

I recommend doing some research into the programs and resources offered to entrepreneurs like you through the U.S. Embassy and Consulates near you in your home country. I recently interviewed Lilly Wahl-Tuco, a foreign service officer who has worked for the U.S. Department of State for 15 years, on my podcast.

Wahl-Tuco discussed some of the State Department resources — including programs, competitions and grants — made available by U.S. embassies and consulates for entrepreneurs living in the area.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Serving as the first Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, Wahl-Tuco was tasked with energizing the entrepreneurs of Bosnia. After she traveled around the country, visiting every incubator and meeting several entrepreneurs, Wahl-Tuco said she was surprised that most of the people she talked with didn’t know about the resources that the U.S. government offers through its embassies.

She recommends that entrepreneurs reach out, network and do online research to figure out what’s offered in their country or even if other foreign embassies offer resources and programs aimed at entrepreneurs.

Wahl-Tuco also suggested that entrepreneurs reach out to their local U.S. Embassy. For example, you can contact the U.S. Embassy in Kenya to find out if you can discuss your startup and business plan with an ESTH officer (if there is one) or someone else there. Connecting with embassy staff can open up many opportunities.

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