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Planted raises another $21M to expand its growing plant-based meat empire (and add schnitzel)

By Devin Coldewey

Swiss alternative protein company Planted has raised its second round of the year, a CHF 19 million (about $21 million at present) “pre-B” fundraise that will help it continue its growth and debut new products. A U.S. launch is in the cards eventually, but for now Planted’s exclusively European customers will be able to give its new veggie schnitzel a shot.

Planted appeared in 2019 as a spinoff from Swiss research university ETH Zurich, where the founders developed the original technique of extruding plant proteins and water into fibrous structures similar to real meat’s. Since then the company has diversified its protein sources, adding oat and sunflower to the mix, and developed pulled pork and kebab alternative products as well.

Over time the process has improved as well. “We added fermentation/biotech technologies to enhance taste and texture,” wrote CEO and co-founder Christoph Jenny in an email to TechCrunch. “Meaning 1) we can create structures without form limitation and 2) can add a broader taste profile.”

The latest advance is schnitzel, which is of course a breaded and fried piece of pounded-thin meat style popular around the world, but especially in the company’s core markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Jenny noted that Planted’s schnitzel is produced as one piece, not pressed together from smaller bits. “The taste and texture benefit from fermentation approach, that makes the flavor profile mouth watering and the texture super juicy,” he said, though of course we will have to test it to be sure. Expect schnitzel to debut in Q3.

It’s the first of several planned “whole” or “prime” cuts, larger pieces that can be prepared like any other piece of meat — the team says their products require no special preparation or additives and can be dropped in as 1:1 replacements in most recipes. Right now the big cuts are leaving the lab and entering consumer testing for taste tuning and eventually scaling.

The funding round came from “Vorwerk Ventures, Gullspång Re:food, Movendo Capital, Good Seed Ventures, Joyance, ACE & Company (SFG strategy) and Be8 Ventures,” and was described as a follow-on to March’s CHF 17M series A. No doubt the exploding demand for alternative proteins and growing competition in the space has spurred Planted’s investors to opt for more aggressive growth and development strategies.

The company plans to enter several new markets over Q3 and Q4, but the U.S. is still a question mark due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel. Jenny said they are preparing so that they can make that move whenever it becomes possible, but for now Planted is focused on the European market.

(Update: This article originally misstated the new round as also being CHF 17M — entirely my mistake. This has been corrected.)

Element Ventures pulls in $130M to double-down on the fintech enterprise trend

By Mike Butcher

With the rise of Open Banking, PSD2 Regulation, insurtech and the whole, general fintech boom, tech investors have realized there is an increasing place for dedicated funds which double down on this ongoing movement. When you look at the rise of banking-as-a-service offerings, payments platforms, insurtech, asset management and infrastructure providers, you realize there is a pretty huge revolution going on.

European fintech companies have raised $12.3 billion in 2021 according to Dealroom, but the market is still wide open for a great deal more funding for B2B fintech startups.

So it’s no surprise that B2B fintech-focused Element Ventures has announced a $130 million fund to double down on this new fintech enterprise trend.

Founded by financial services veterans Stephen Gibson and Michael McFadgen, and joined by Spencer Lake (HSBC’s former vice chairman of Global Banking and Markets), Element is backed by finance-oriented LPs and some 30 founders and executives from the sector.

Element says it will focus on what it calls a “high conviction investment strategy,” which will mean investing in only around a handful of companies a year (15 for the fund in total) but, it says, providing a “high level of support” to its portfolio.

So far it has backed B2B fintech firms across the U.K. and Europe, including Hepster (total raised $10 million), the embedded insurance platform out of Germany which I recently reported on; Billhop (total raised $6.7 million), the B2B payment network out of Sweden; Coincover (total raised $11.6 million), a cryptocurrency recovery service out of the U.K.; and Minna (total raised $25 million), the subscription management platform out of Sweden.

Speaking to me over a call, McFadgen, partner at Element Ventures, said: “Stephen and I have been investing in B2B fintech together for quite a long time. In 2018 we had the opportunity to start element and Spencer came on board in 2019. So Element as an independent venture firm is really a continuation of a strategy we’ve been involved in for a long time.”

Gibson added: “We are quite convinced by the European movement and the breakthrough these fintech and insurtech firms in Europe are having. Insurance has been a desert for innovation and that is changing. And you can see that we’re sort of trying to build a network around companies that have those breakthrough moments and provide not just capital but all the other things we think are part of the story. Building the company from A to C and D is the area that we try and roll our sleeves up and help these firms.”

Element says it also will be investing in the U.S. and Asia.

White-label SaaS shipping startup Outvio closes $3M round led by Change Ventures

By Mike Butcher

Outvio, an Estonian startup that provides a white-label SaaS fulfillment solution for medium-sized and large online retailers in Spain and Estonia, has closed a $3 million early-stage financing round led by Change Ventures. Also participating were TMT Investments (London), Fresco Capital (San Francisco), and Lemonade Stand (Tallinn). Several angels also joined the round including James Berdigans (Printify) and Kristjan Vilosius (Katana MRP). This is the startup’s first institutional round of funding, after bootstrapping since 2018.

Online retailers usually have to use a number of different tools or hire expensive developers to create in-house shipping solutions. Outvio offers online stores of any size a post-purchase shipping experience, which seeks to replicate an Amazon-style experience where customers can also return packages. Among others, itcompetes with ShippyPro, which runs out of Italy and has raised $5 million to date.

Juan Borras, co-founder and CEO of Outvio said: “We can give any online store all the tools needed to offer a superior post-sale customer experience. We can integrate at different points in their fulfilment process, and for large merchants, save them hundreds of thousands in development costs alone.”

He added: “What happens after the purchase is more important than most shops realize. More than 88% of consumers say it is very important for them that retailers proactively communicate every fulfilment and delivery stage. Not doing so, especially if there are problems, often results in losing that client. Our mission is to help online stores streamline everything that happens after the sale, fueling repeat business and brand-loyal customers with the help of a fantastic post-purchase experience.”

Rait Ojasaar, Investment Partner at lead investor Change Ventures commented: “While online retailing has a long way to go, the expectations of consumers are increasing when it comes to delivery time and standards. The same can be said about the online shop operators who increasingly look for more advanced solutions with consumer-like user experience. The Outvio team has understood exactly what the gap in the market is and has done a tremendous job of finding product-market fit with their modern fulfilment SaaS platform.”

EU hits Amazon with record-breaking $887M GDPR fine over data misuse

By Carly Page

Luxembourg’s National Commission for Data Protection (CNPD) has hit Amazon with a record-breaking €746 million ($887m) GDPR fine over the way it uses customer data for targeted advertising purposes.

Amazon disclosed the ruling in an SEC filing on Friday in which it slammed the decision as baseless and added that it intended to defend itself “vigorously in this matter.”

“Maintaining the security of our customers’ information and their trust are top priorities,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “There has been no data breach, and no customer data has been exposed to any third party. These facts are undisputed.

“We strongly disagree with the CNPD’s ruling, and we intend to appeal. The decision relating to how we show customers relevant advertising relies on subjective and untested interpretations of European privacy law, and the proposed fine is entirely out of proportion with even that interpretation.”

The penalty is the result of a 2018 complaint by French privacy rights group La Quadrature du Net, a group that claims to represent the interests of thousands of Europeans to ensure their data isn’t used by big tech companies to manipulate their behavior for political or commercial purposes. The complaint, which also targets Apple, Facebook Google and LinkedIn and was filed on behalf of more than 10,000 customers, alleges that Amazon manipulates customers for commercial means by choosing what advertising and information they receive.

La Quadrature du Net welcomed the fine issued by the CNPD, which “comes after three years of silence that made us fear the worst.”

“The model of economic domination based on the exploitation of our privacy and free will is profoundly illegitimate and contrary to all the values that our democratic societies claim to defend,” the group added in a blog post published on Friday.

The CNPD has also ruled that Amazon must commit to changing its business practices. However, the regulator has not publicly committed on its decision, and Amazon didn’t specify what revised business practices it is proposing.

The record penalty, which trumps the €50 million GDPR penalty levied against Google in 2019, comes amid heightened scrutiny of Amazon’s business in Europe. In November last year, the European Commission announced formal antitrust charges against the company, saying the retailer has misused its position to compete against third-party businesses using its platform. At the same time, the Commission a second investigation into its alleged preferential treatment of its own products on its site and those of its partners.

Cheltenham’s GCHQ to get a massive, cyber-oriented tech startup campus right next door

By Mike Butcher

Since the UK’s spying headquarters of GCHQ was established in the city in the 1950’s, Cheltenham has attracted large firms like IBM, Raytheon, Microsoft, BAE Systems to the region. However, startups like Truststamp, Bamboo Technologies, Ripjar, Hub8, CYNAM, have emerged out of the city, which draws on the talent that naturally gravitates to such a place, especially when you have these kinds of organisations floating around.

Now it appears that Cheltenham is getting its act together to more closely target entrepreneurs, investors and startups, especially now that the Covid-pandemic has seen talent thrown to the four winds, looking for better lifestyles and more access to nature. Smartly, it will be leveraging its association with the cyber-security-oriented GCHQ.

In 2019, Cheltenham Borough Council spent £37.5m purchasing 45 hectares of land adjacent to GCHQ. The idea being to capitalize on the burgeoning cybersecurity and technology community.

After a year-long selection process the Council has now selected key partners as ‘preferred bidders’ to deliver it – Factory and HBD (formerly Henry Boot Developments). The ambition is to grow the area to 200 hectares, which would make it one of the biggest tech startup campuses in Europe.

Factory, which developed the very large scale tech campuses in Berlin and Lisbon, will partner with UK developer HBD and the council to create the project currently dubbed ‘Golden Valley’.

The development is projected to add 12,000 new jobs, 2 million square feet of offices, and 3,700 new homes, and will be drawn on the ‘Garden City’ status, building upon the Garden City Movement established in the late 19th Century by Ebenezer Howard.

Jeremy Bamberg, who will be leading the project locally for Factory said: “This is a once in a lifetime project – it’s unprecedented. By embracing tech, nature, and innovation we’re working to transform the area into Europe’s most intelligent Garden District – creating an ideal alternative to chaotic city life.”

The first step of the project will be building, Factory Cheltenham. As with Factory’s projects in Berlin and Lisbon, the architecture and design will led by Julian Breinersdorfer, who recently joined Factory to create an in-house offering for similar buildings and districts.

Tim Atkins from Cheltenham Borough Council said: “We were looking for a partner to help the Council make our ambitious plans a reality. HBD and Factory have shown us how they share these goals and more importantly, how these will be transformed into a living breathing entity right here in Cheltenham that has a positive impact locally, whilst being a key part of the global cyber sector.

Factory Cheltenham (image www.mir.no)

Factory Cheltenham (image www.mir.no)

Colombia’s Merqueo bags $50M to expand its online grocery delivery service across Latin America

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Merqueo, which operates a full-stack, on-demand delivery service in Latin America, has landed $50 million in a Series C round of funding.

IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest co-led the round, which also included participation from MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.

Merqueo CEO and co-founder Miguel McAllister knows a thing or two about the delivery space in Latin America, having also co-founded Domicilios.com, a Latin American food delivery company that was bought by Berlin-based Delivery Hero and later merged with Brazil’s iFood.

McAllister describes Merqueo as a “pure-play online supermarket with a fully integrated grocery delivery service” that sources directly from large brands and local suppliers, bypassing intermediaries and “delivering directly from its dark store network.” (Dark stores are traditional retail stores that have been converted to local fulfillment centers.”

Merqueo offers more than 8,000 products, including fresh foods, packaged goods, home essentials, beverages and frozen products. It currently operates in more than 25 cities in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and has over 600,000 users.

Image Credits: Merqueo

It must be doing something right. The startup is close to $100 million in “run-rate revenue,” according to McAllister, having grown more than 2.5x in 2020. Merqueo also reached positive cash flow in Colombia, its most mature market. Over the last year, large Latin American retail chains and retailers have approached the company about potentially acquiring it, McAllister said.

Part of the company’s success might be attributed to the speed and flexibility it offers. Users can choose how and when to receive their groceries according to their needs, with the startup offering delivery in as little as 10 minutes or three to four hours. Users can also schedule delivery of their groceries in two-hour intervals for the same day or the next day.

Also, owning and controlling the “entire” vertical supply chain gives it the ability to obtain better margins, offer competitive pricing and achieve healthy unit economics, according to McAllister.

Merqueo plans to use its new capital in part to expand geographically. The company is currently in phase one of its expansion to Brazil, entering initially in Sao Paulo later this month. Next year, it expects to launch in other Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and Salvador de Bahia.

The market opportunity in Latin America is massive considering that online grocery sales only represent just 1% of the market –– far lower than in the U.S., EU or China, for example. Other players in the increasingly crowded space include GoPuff in the U.S., Getir out of Turkey and Mexico-based Jüsto, which raised $65 million in a Series A led by General Atlantic earlier this year.

“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online grocery shopping in LatAm,” McAllister told TechCrunch. “The region went from 0.3% share of online groceries to 1%. And after the pandemic, we are seeing a 50% increase in the pace of user adoption.” Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.

Currently, Merqueo has over 1,300 employees in LatAm, up 60% from last year. It plans to continue hiring with the proceeds from the Series C round as well work “to become the largest and most ambitious dark stores network of Latin America.”

Alejandro Rodríguez, managing partner at IDC Ventures, is naturally bullish on Merqueo’s potential.

“From all the opportunities we looked into, Merqueo is undoubtedly the most advanced in the region. … The Merqueo team has proved they know how to scale the business and how to get to profitability,” Rodríguez told TechCrunch.

Online grocery delivery is a business with many technical and operational complexities, he said. In his view, Merqueo’s technology and operational expertise allow it to tackle those issues in a way that has led to “the best customer experience that we have seen in a scalable way.”

“They have the best combination of both great service metrics and healthy unit economics,” Rodríguez added.

Summit invests $215M into Odoo, an open-source business management software developer, at a $2.3B+ valuation

By Ingrid Lunden

Open source has become a major force in the world of IT, and today a startup that has built a profitable operation by developing business management software on the principle is announcing a sizable secondary investment on the back of that growth.

Odoo — a Belgium-based provider of open-source-based business software that ranges from inventory management and ERP to human resources and CRM software, marketing tools and more, some 30,000 in all — has received $215 million from Summit Partners.

This is a secondary investment, meaning Summit is buying shares from existing investors (specifically Sofinnova Partners and XAnge). Odoo is profitable and has been so for years, CEO and founder Fabien Pinckaers explained in an interview earlier, and so it didn’t need to raise more cash by giving away more equity. He added that this investment values the startup at over €2 billion (or over $2.3 billion at current rates), making Odoo the first unicorn out of Wallonia, the region in Belgium where it is based. That in itself is notable; it’s a sign of the evolving decentralization of the tech world beyond Silicon Valley.

This is the second time Summit, which was one of Odoo’s earliest (equity) backers, has snapped up secondary shares. The firm made a similar investment of $90 million in 2019.

With 7 million users on its platform, Odoo is a prime example of the strong payoffs to be had from economies of scale in the most successful open-source projects, but it’s also doing so with a twist.

On the open-source front, Odoo provides a version of its services that is “open source” and free, which Pinckaers said contains about 80% of all of its features. It then offers a paid, proprietary version of the product with the remaining 20% of features (full details on pricing here).

About 90% of Odoo’s customer base takes the free tier, he said, with only 10% taking the paid, proprietary tier. But with 7 million users, that is enough to run the business at a profit big enough that it can continue investing in growth without giving away more equity.

What is also notable is how Odoo pitches itself. While a lot of open source has been seen as the domain of developers and others in the technical community, Odoo designs software on its platform that is actually aimed at others in the workplace, not engineers.

“We are one of the only exceptions of open source built for nontechnical users,” Pinckaers said.

It targets users both directly via its SaaS platform and via an extensive channel partner operation, where channel partners will host the services themselves. Its traction with these partners is strong, he added, because of the free nature of Odoo (which is not only a contrast to the SAPs, Microsofts and Oracles of the world, but at times a much easier sell around which a channel partner can provide other paid services). There are nearly 4,000 partners now, he added, with another 90,000 individual community members contributing software on the Odoo platform.

The company has been growing revenues and customers at a rate of 50% over the last 10 years (and 63% over the past 15 — it’s been around since 2005), and it now has 1,700 employees with plans to add another 1,000 this year. Billings are expected to be €160 million in 2021. Pinckaers said that Odoo’s next steps will be to continue growing the software that it provides to users on its platform. Specifically, it is focusing on e-commerce and website development, he said, two areas that he feels could benefit from more nontechnical, user-friendly open-source tools.

“We are thrilled to support the Odoo team for this next phase of growth,” Han Sikkens, managing director and head of Europe at Summit Partners, said in a statement. “We believe the future is bright, and Odoo clearly has the potential to disrupt the market led by software giants like SAP, MS Dynamics and Oracle.” Sikkens is joining the board with this round.

European Investment Fund puts $30M in Fabric Ventures’ new $130M digital assets fund

By Mike Butcher

Despite their rich engineering talent, Blockchain entrepreneurs in the EU often struggle to find backing due to the dearth of large funds and investment expertise in the space. But a big move takes place at an EU level today, as the European Investment Fund makes a significant investment into a blockchain and digital assets venture fund.

Fabric Ventures, a Luxembourg-based VC billed as backing the “Open Economy” has closed $130 million for its 2021 fund, $30 million of which is coming from the European Investment Fund (EIF). Other backers of the new fund include 33 founders, partners, and executives from Ethereum, (Transfer)Wise, PayPal, Square, Google, PayU, Ledger, Raisin, Ebury, PPRO, NEAR, Felix Capital, LocalGlobe, Earlybird, Accelerator Ventures, Aztec Protocol, Raisin, Aragon, Orchid, MySQL, Verifone, OpenOcean, Claret Capital, and more. 

This makes it the first EIF-backed fund mandated to invest in digital assets and blockchain technology.

EIF Chief Executive Alain Godard said:  “We are very pleased to be partnering with Fabric Ventures to bring to the European market this fund specializing in Blockchain technologies… This partnership seeks to address the need [in Europe] and unlock financing opportunities for entrepreneurs active in the field of blockchain technologies – a field of particular strategic importance for the EU and our competitiveness on the global stage.”

The subtext here is that the EIF wants some exposure to these new, decentralized platforms, potentially as a bulwark against the centralized platforms coming out of the US and China.

And yes, while the price of Bitcoin has yo-yo’d, there is now $100 billion invested in the decentralized finance sector and $1.5 billion market in the NFT market. This technology is going nowhere.

Fabric hasn’t just come from nowhere, either. Various Fabric Ventures team members have been involved in Orchestream, the Honeycomb Project at Sun Microsystems, Tideway, RPX, Automic, Yoyo Wallet, and Orchid.

Richard Muirhead is Managing Partner, and is joined by partners Max Mersch and Anil Hansjee. Hansjee becomes General Partner after leaving PayPal’s Venture Fund, which he led for EMEA. The team has experience in token design, market infrastructure, and community governance.

The same team started the Firestartr fund in 2012, backing Tray.io, Verse, Railsbank, Wagestream, Bitstamp, and others.

Muirhead said: “It is now well acknowledged that there is a need for a web that is user-owned and, consequently, more human-centric. There are astonishing people crafting this digital fabric for the benefit of all. We are excited to support those people with our latest fund.”

On a call with TechCrunch Muirhead added: “The thing to note here is that there’s a recognition at European Commission level, that this area is one of geopolitical significance for the EU bloc. On the one hand, you have the ‘wild west’ approach of North America, and, arguably, on the other is the surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party.”

He said: “The European Commission, I think, believes that there is a third way for the individual, and to use this new wave of technology for the individual. Also for businesses. So we can have networks and marketplaces of individuals sharing their data for their own benefit, and businesses in supply chains sharing data for their own mutual benefits. So that’s the driving view.”

Coralogix logs $55M for its new take on production analytics, now valued at $300-$400M

By Ingrid Lunden

Data may be the new oil, but it’s only valuable if you make good use of it. Today, a startup that has built a new kind of production analytics platform for developers, security engineers and data scientists to track and better understand how data is moving around their networks is announcing a round of funding that underscores the demand for their technology. Coralogix, which provides stateful streaming services to engineering teams, has picked up $55 million in a Series C round of funding.

The round was led by Greenfield Partners, with Red Dot Capital Partners, StageOne Ventures, Eyal Ofer’s – O.G. Tech, Janvest Capital Partners, Maor ventures, and 2B Angels also participating.

This Series C is coming about 10 months after the company’s Series B of $25 million, and from what we understand Coralogix’s valuation is now in the range of $300 million – $400 million, a big jump for the startup, coming on the back of it growing 250% since this time last year, racking up some 2,000 paying customers, some small teams paying as little as $100/year through to large enterprises paying $1.5 million/year.

Previously, Coralogix — founded in Tel Aviv and with a HQ also in San Francisoc — had also raised a round of $10 million.

Coralogix got its start initially as a platform aimed at quality assurance support for R&D and engineering teams. The focus here is on log analytics and metrics for platform engineers, and this still forms a big part of its business today. Added to that, in recent years, Coralogix’s tools are also being applied to cloud security services, contributing to a company’s threat intelligence by providing a way to observe data for any inconsistencies that typically might point to a breach or another incident. (It integrates with Alien Vault and others for this purpose.)

The third area that is just picking up now and will be developed further — one of the uses of this investment, in fact — will be to develop how Coralogix is used for business intelligence. This is a particularly interesting area because it plays into how Coralogix is built, to provide analytics on data before it is indexed.

“It’s about high volume, but low value data,” Ariel Assaraf, Coralogix’s CEO, said in an interview. “Customers don’t want to store the data [or index it] but want to view it live and visualize it. We are starting to see a use case where business information and our analytics come together for sentiment analysis and other areas.”

There are dozens of strong companies providing tools these days to cover log analytics and data observability, underscoring the general growth and importance of DevOps these days. They include companies like DataDog, Sumo Logic, Splunk and more.

However, Assaraf believes that what sets his company apart from them is its approach: essentially it has devised a way of observing and analyzing data streams before they get indexed, giving engineers a more flexibility to query the data in different ways, and essentially glean more insights, faster. The other issue with indexing, he said, is that it impacts latency, which also has a big impact on overall costs for an organization.

For many of Coralogix’s competitors, turning around the nature of the business to focus not first on indexing would be akin to completely rebuilding the business, hard to do at their scale (although in fact this is what Coralogix did, when it pivoted as a small company several years ago, which is when Assaraf took on the role of CEO). One company he believes might be more of a direct rival is Confluent.

“I think we will see Confluent getting into observability very soon because they have the streaming capabilities,” he said, “but not the tools we have.” Another potential competitor looming on the horizon: Salesforce, and its potential move into that area, underscores the shifting sands of what is powering enterprise IT investment decisions today.

Salesforce already has Heroku, Slack and Tableau, three major tools developers use for tracking and working with data, Assaraf pointed out, and there were strong rumors of it trying to buy DataDog, “so we definitely see where they are going. For sure, they understand the way things are changing. All the budgets when Salesforce first started were in marketing and sales. Now you sell to IT. Salesforce understands that shift to developers, and so that is where they are going.”

It makes for a very interesting landscape and future for companies like Coralogix, one that investors believe the startup will continue to shape as it has up to now.

“The  dramatic shift in digital transformation is generating an explosion of data, which until now has forced enterprises to decide between cost and coverage,” said Shay Grinfeld, managing partner at Greenfield Partners. “Coralogix’s real-time streaming analytics  pipeline employs proprietary algorithms to break this tradeoff and generate significant cost savings. Coralogix has built a customer roster that comprises some of the largest and most innovative companies in the world. We’re thrilled to partner with Ariel and the Coralogix team on their journey to reinvent the future of data observability.”

Connected car insurance startup Flock raises $17M Series A led by Chamath Palihapitiya

By Mike Butcher

Cast your mind back to that scene in Minority Report where all those autonomous cars are whizzing through the city. The more practically-minded of you may well have gone: “Yeah, but what about the insurance…?”.

Among the startups building the on-demand, connected insurance world for the vehicles of tomorrow right now are UK-based Zego which has raised $201.7 million. Another is Flock.

Emerging from an academic project to look at drones, Flock shifted into providing drones insurance then commercial vehicle insurance. The twist is that it hooks into the telematics of cars so that the vehicle only triggers insurance cover when it’s actually moving, not when it’s sitting on the lot, incapable of causing any accidents.

Flock has now raised $17 million in a Series A funding led by Social Capital, the investment vehicle run by Chamath Palihapitiya, best known as a SPAC investor and Chairman of Virgin Galactic. Flock’s existing investors Anthemis and Dig Ventures also participated. This round brings Flock’s total funding to $22 million. Justin Saslaw (Social Capital’s Fintech Partner) joins Flock’s Board of Directors as does Ross Mason (Founder of Dig Ventures & MuleSoft).

Ed Leon Klinger, CEO of Flock said: “Transportation is changing faster than ever, but the traditional insurance industry can’t keep up! The proliferation of electric cars, new business models such as ridesharing, and the emergence of autonomous vehicles pose huge challenges that traditional insurers just aren’t equipped for.”

He added: “Modern fleets need an equally modern insurance company that moves as fast as they do. Commercial motor insurance is a $160Bn market, crying out for disruption. The opportunity ahead of us is enormous.”

In a statement Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO of Social Capital said: “Flock is bridging the gap between today’s insurance industry and tomorrow’s transportation realities. By using real-time data to truly understand vehicle risk, Flock is meeting the demands of our rapidly evolving, hyper-connected world. Flock has the potential to help unlock and enable a truly autonomous world, and even save lives. We’re excited to be a part of their journey.”

Speaking to me over a call, Klinger outlined how the company had hit a sweet spot by hooking into Telematics APIs for cars, or by doing special integrations with existing providers and OEMs: “We’ve built our own integrated approach whereby we partner with some and we build bespoke integrations with them. Often they are not as advanced as others. So we’ll either use our integration platform or or we’ll use their approach. We’re highly flexible. The core value proposition at Flock is its flexibility, so we don’t force our own integration approach.”

Personalized menopause platform Vira Health raises £1.5M from LocalGlobe, MMC Ventures

By Mike Butcher

A new trend is emerging in the world of startups and, to many, it couldn’t have come too soon. Why are there so few women in senior roles? Women going through menopause are commonly known to drop out of leadership roles, for instance. In the UK, menopause is responsible for about 14 million lost working days and 1 million premature career exits, according to research. Indeed, we only just reported on the new startup Peppy which is addressing this in employee health.

Now, Vira Health, has raised a £1.5M seed funding from LocalGlobe and MMC Ventures. The round also included angel investors such as Megumi Ikeda (Hearst Ventures), Andrea Zitna of Elvie, Sofia Bendz, Matt Robinson, and Simon Lambert.

Founded in 2020 by Andrea Berchowitz and Rebecca Love, Vira Health is about personalized menopause care. Its first product, Stella, is an app for menopause relief highlighting 12-week menopause treatment plans, content, and virtual events such as yoga classes or a Q&A with a gynecologist.

Andrea Berchowitz, co-founder, Vira Health, said: “Female health issues have historically been under-researched and under-invested, and this remains the case today. There is an opportunity to use technology to redress this balance by improving the collection and use of female data in healthcare. This first round of seed funding is a step towards realizing our vision.”

Remus Brett, Investment Partner, LocalGlobe said: “Menopause represents a major phase of a woman’s life and the current healthcare system struggles to provide the multi-faceted and long-term support that women need.”

Alexia Arts, Investor, MMC Ventures, said: “At MMC Ventures, healthcare is a key area of research and investment. We see a huge potential in capturing and harnessing data insights to reshape the way that healthcare is practiced and delivered. This is particularly relevant in female healthcare where there is a well-documented gender data gap that needs to be addressed.”  

Prior to launching Vira Health, Berchowitz was an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, working in women’s health across the public and private sector, and led Middle East operations for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Kitchenful combines meal planning with a grocery concierge service

By Romain Dillet

Meet Kitchenful, a new German startup backed by Y Combinator that wants to make it easier to cook at home by taking care of menu ideas and grocery shopping. The service is currently available in early access in Germany with a focus on Berlin and Munich.

When you sign up to Kitchenful, you first have to set your preferences and goals. You can choose vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free options, but you can also focus on slow carbs recipes, a diet focused on healthy fats, etc.

After that, you get a meal plan for the coming week. You can review and customize each meal. For instance, if you plan to have guests, you can add a couple of persons to your Tuesday dinner. You can also remove vegetables if you usually buy your vegetables at a farmers market.

Once you’re ready to order, a virtual grocery basket is automatically generated for the user. You can review, add something that isn’t on the list, such as household items, and confirm.

Kitchenful then transfers your list of items to a major supermarket near you. The startup doesn’t fulfill orders directly — they rely on partners for that part of the process. That’s why Kitchenful describes itself as a grocery concierge service.

“Our main revenue stream is a concierge fee which we collect directly from our users for creating personalized weekly menus, handling the basket creation process, providing personalized cooking instructions for the recipes as well as leftover ideas. Additionally, we receive a commission from our supermarket partners per generated order,” Kitchenful co-founder and CEO Christian Schiller told me.

This isn’t Schiller’s first experience in food delivery. He previously spent four years as Vice President of Product at HelloFresh, a popular meal-kit company.

Kitchenful is just getting started. It has raised $1 million from Y Combinator, N26 co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf, Souq co-founder Samih Toukan, HighSnobiety’s David Fischer, DurstExpress MD Maik Ludewig, and Mendeley co-founder Victor Henning.

The company has already established partnerships with REWE in Germany, Walmart and Kroger in the U.S. By partnering with supermarkets, Kitchenful can offer a great variety of products at supermarket prices.

It’s a different take on meal kits with a different approach to logistics, so it’s going to be interesting to see if Kitchenful becomes a popular alternative to both grocery delivery and meal-kit services.

A DNS outage just took down a large chunk of the internet

By Zack Whittaker

A large chunk of the internet dropped offline on Thursday. Some of the most popular sites, apps and services on the internet were down, including UPS and FedEx (which have since come back online), Airbnb, Fidelity, and others are reporting Steam, LastPass, and the PlayStation Network are all experiencing downtime.

Many other websites around the world are also affected, including media outlets in Europe.

What appears to be the cause is an outage at Akamai, an internet security giant that provides networking and content delivery services to companies. At around 11am ET, Akamai reported an issue with its Edge DNS, a service that’s designed to keep websites, apps and services running smoothly and securely.

DNS services are critically important to how the internet works, so when things go wrong or there’s an outage, it can cause a knock-on effect to all of the customer websites and services that rely on it.

Akamai said it was “actively investigating the issue,” but when reached a spokesperson would not say if its outage was the cause of the disruption to other sites and services that are currently offline. Akamai would not say what caused the issue but that it was already in recovery.

“We have implemented a fix for this issue, and based on current observations, the service is resuming normal operations. We will continue to monitor to ensure that the impact has been fully mitigated,” Akamai told TechCrunch.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen an outage this big. Last year Cloudflare, which also provides networking services to companies around the world, had a similar outage following a bug that caused major sites to stop loading, including Shopify, Discord and Politico. In November, Amazon’s cloud service also stumbled, which prevented it updating its own status page during the downtime. Online workspace startup Notion also had a high-profile outage this year, forcing the company to turn to Twitter to ask for help.

UK’s Mindtech raises $3.25M from In-Q-Tel, among others, to train CCTV cameras on synthetic humans

By Mike Butcher

Imagine a world where no one’s privacy is breached, no faces are scanned into a gargantuan database, and no privacy laws are broken. This is a world that is fast approaching. Could companies simply dump the need for real-world CCTV footage, and switch to synthetic humans, acting out potential scenarios a million times over? That’s the tantalizing prospect of a new UK startup that has attracted funding from an influential set of investors.

UK-based Mindtech Global has developed what it describes as an end-to-end synthetic data creation platform. In plain English, its system can imagine visual scenarios such as someone’s behavior inside a store, or crossing the street. This data is then used to train AI-based computer vision systems for customers such as big retailers, warehouse operators, healthcare, transportation systems and robotics. It literally trains a ‘synthetic’ CCTV camera inside a synthetic world.

It’s now closed a $3.25 million early-stage funding round led by UK regional backer NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, with Deeptech Labs and In-Q-Tel.

That last investor is significant. In-Q-Tel invests in startups that support US intelligence capabilities and is based in Arlington, Virginia…

Mindtech’s Chameleon platform is designed to help computers understand and predict human interactions. As we all know, current approaches to training AI vision systems require companies to source data such as CCTV footage. The process is fraught with privacy issues, costly, and time-consuming. Mindtech says Chameleon solves that problem, as its customers quickly “build unlimited scenes and scenarios using photo-realistic smart 3D models”.

An added bonus is that these synthetic humans can be used to train AI vision systems to weed out human failings around diversity and bias.

Mindtech CEO Steve Harris

Mindtech CEO Steve Harris

Steve Harris, CEO, Mindtech said: “Machine learning teams can spend up to 80% of their time sourcing, cleaning, and organizing training data. Our Chameleon platform solves the AI training challenge, freeing the industry to focus on higher-value tasks like AI network innovation. This round will enable us to accelerate our growth, enabling a new generation of AI solutions that better understand the way humans interact with each other and the world around them.”

So what can you do with it? Consider the following: A kid slips from its parent’s hand at the mall. The synthetic CCTV running inside Mindtech’s scenario is trained thousands of times over how to spot it in real-time and alert staff. Another: a delivery robot meets kids playing in a street and works out how to how to avoid them. Finally: a passenger on the platform is behaving erratically too close to the rails – the CCTV is trained to automatically spot them and send help.

Nat Puffer, Managing Director (London), In-Q-Tel commented: “Mindtech impressed us with the maturity of their Chameleon platform and their commercial traction with global customers. We’re excited by the many applications this platform has across diverse markets and its ability to remove a significant roadblock in the development of smarter, more intuitive AI systems.”

Miles Kirby, CEO, Deeptech Labs said: “As a catalyst for deeptech success, our investment, and accelerator program supports ambitious teams with novel solutions and the appetite to build world-changing companies. Mindtech’s highly-experienced team are on a mission to disrupt the way AI systems are trained, and we’re delighted to support their journey.”

There is of course potential for darker applications, such a spotting petty theft inside supermarkets, or perhaps ‘optimising’ hard-pressed warehouse workers in some dystopian fashion. However, in theory, Mindtech’s customers can use this platform to rid themselves of the biases of middle-managers, and better serve customers.

Index Ventures’ trio of new funds leads to $3 billion, and more TikTok

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Index Ventures has closed a trio of new funds: a $900 million early-stage fund, a $2 billion growth-stage fund and a previously announced $200 million seed-stage fund. The close gives Index $3 billion in new capital, its largest tranche yet, to deploy into emerging startups and existing portfolio companies, which include the likes of Plaid, Deliveroo and Revolut, which was just valued at $33 billion.

Index’s new capital comes a little over a year since it closed its last funds, which were a duet of $1.2 billion for growth-stage investments and $800 million for early-stage investments. It also is announced while venture dollars more broadly seem to be growing at an unprecedented rate — In recent weeks, Accel announced that it has closed $3 billion across three funds, too, and Andreessen Horowitz landed a $2.2 billion fund dedicated entirely to crypto startups.

The influx of money means that check sizes and valuations are growing across the entire ecosystem. Index, for example, said that it has grown its Series A check size from $10 million to $15 million, while it increased its growth check from $35 million to $50 million. Its check size in the United States is about 20% higher compared to its check size in Europe, meaning that the former represents between 55% to 60% of the firm’s total investing dollars.

While Index’s check size is growing slightly bigger to keep up with competition, partner Mark Goldberg said that the firm is staying disciplined so it doesn’t fall prey to FOMO rounds or buzzy valuations.

“There have been situations where two years ago, I would have engaged,” in a competition for a late-stage round, he said. “And now I say that we probably are not going to compete … because at the heart of the matter, I think capital is a commodity.” The partner didn’t point to Accel’s $3 billion close, but instead noted how “Tiger Global and other crossover funds” have created a new capital product, which means that Index’s ability to compete must look different than just offering a ton of money.

“If you’re just looking for capital, we’re probably not going to be the best product for you,” Goldberg added.

Index Partner Martin Mignot thinks that a “bifurcation is really happening” in the fundraising market, where some founders are able to raise easily, but many continue to struggle if they’re not “at the right sector in the right place at the right time.” Mignot has been spending time looking at Africa as a potential investment area that continues to be underresourced. He hinted that an official initiative focused on Africa startups may be underway.

The firm said it has “several initiatives in place related to diversity including increasing the number of individuals on our investment from underrepresented groups and diversifying our investment funnel” but said that it does not track diversity statistics at a portfolio company level “yet.” Index said that its investment team is composed of 38% of individuals who identify as female and 14% of individuals who come from underrepresented groups, although its unclear whether they have check-writing power.

Index appears to be going through a period of experimentation when it comes to the services offered to portfolio companies. While the firm declined to give too many specifics on upcoming initiatives around diversity or more generally, it did note its growing TikTok presence as part of its strategy.

The Index Ventures TikTok has over 28,000 followers. Its most viewed video is about Costco’s business model, with 4.8 million views followed by an interview clip from Scale AI founder Alexandr Wang, with 315,000 views.

“It’s not something where I think the next deal comes from the TikTok account, but it’s one of those initiatives where … I think it will pay dividends” in helping Index reach a younger audience that isn’t active on tech Twitter or Clubhouse. Index’s TikTok, led by Rex Woodbury, is reminiscent of how some emerging fund managers are approaching creative deal flow.

The firm is also experimenting with incubating startups in-house, which has historically never been a major focus. A tweet suggests that Index is actively recruiting entrepreneurs to join the incubator, which could be divided thematically. Goldberg declined to give more specifics around how incubation programs are structured and what the terms are, saying that the Index Incubator is not an official product yet.

That said, one can only imagine that a firm freshly capitalized with billions of dollars probably has some money to spare — from incubated projects to those growth-stage companies in need of active investors.

Untitled Ventures joins the scramble for Russian & Eastern European startups with a $118M warchest

By Mike Butcher

Sorry Mr. Putin, but there’s a race on for Russian and Eastern European founders. And right now, those awful capitalists in the corrupt West are starting to out-gun the opposition! But seriously… only the other day a $100 million fund aimed at Russian speaking entrepreneurs appeared, and others are proliferating.

Now, London-based Untitled Ventures plans to join their fray with a €100 million / $118M for its second fund to invest in “ambitious deep tech startups with eastern European founders.”

Untitled says it is aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their business or have already HQ’ed in Western Europe and the USA. That’s alongside all the other existing Western VCs who are – in my experience – always ready and willing to listen to Russian and Eastern European founders, who are often known for their technical prowess.

Untitled is going to be aiming at B2B, AI, agritech, medtech, robotics, and data management startups with proven traction emerging from the Baltics, CEE, and CIS, or those already established in Western Europe

LPs in the fund include Vladimir Vedeenev, a founder of Global Network Management>. Untitled also claims to have Google, Telegram Messenger, Facebook, Twitch, DigitalOcean, IP-Only, CenturyLinks, Vodafone and TelecomItaly as partners.

Oskar Stachowiak, Untitled Ventures Managing Partner, said: “With over 10 unicorns, €1Bn venture funding in 2020 alone, and success stories like Veeam, Semrush, and Wrike, startups emerging from the fast-growing regions are the best choice to focus on early-stage investment for us. Thanks to the strong STEM focus in the education system and about one million high-skilled developers, we have an ample opportunity to find and support the rising stars in the region.”

Konstantin Siniushin, the Untitled Ventures MP said: “We believe in economic efficiency and at the same time we fulfill a social mission of bringing technological projects with a large scientific component from the economically unstable countries of the former USSR, such as, first of all, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but not only in terms of bringing sales to the world market and not only helping them to HQ in Europe so they can get next rounds of investments.”

He added: “We have a great experience accumulated earlier in the first portfolio of the first fund, not just structuring business in such European countries as, for example, Luxembourg, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Latvia, but also physically relocating startup teams so that they are perceived already as fully resident in Europe and globally.”

To be fair, it is still harder than it needs to be to create large startups from Eastern Europe, mainly because there is often very little local capital. However, that is changing, with the launch recently of CEE funds such as Vitosha Venture Partners and Launchub Ventures, and the breakout hit from Romania that was UIPath.

The Untitled Ventures team:
• Konstantin Siniushin, a serial tech entrepreneur
• Oskar Stachowiak, experienced fund manager
• Mary Glazkova, PR & Comms veteran
• Anton Antich, early stage investor and an ex VP of Veeam, a Swiss cloud data management company
acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $5bln
• Yulia Druzhnikova, experienced in taking tech companies international
• Mark Cowley, who has worked on private and listed investments within CEE/Russia for over 20 years

Untitled Ventures portfolio highlights – Fund I
Sizolution: AI-driven size prediction engine, based in Germany
Pure app – spontaneous and impersonal dating app, based in Portugal
Fixar Global –  efficient drones for commercial use-cases, based in Latvia,
E-contenta – based in Poland
SuitApp – AI based mix-and-match suggestions for fashion retail, based in Singapore
• Sarafan.tech, AI-driven recognition, based in the USA
Hello, baby – parental assistant, based in the USA
Voximplant – voice, video and messaging cloud communication platform, based in the USA (exited)

B2B social management platform Oktopost raises $20M growth round with Expedition

By Mike Butcher

With the pandemic forcing people online, social media use exploded, for obvious reasons. And with that, the opportunity to reach audiences and push messaging. More brand-oriented platforms such as Sprinkler, Sprout Social, and Hootsuite have obviously risen in use, but so did traffic to Oktopost, a much more B2B-oriented proposition.

Founded in 2013, Oktopost has only ever registered an $800,000 early stage funding, and has run on revenues and profit ever since. Today that changes with a growth funding round of a $20 million minority investment from London-based growth equity firm Expedition Growth Capital.

Oktopost’s schtick is that it is an enterprise-grade platform for B2B marketers to curate content, organize, and manage campaigns for corporate social media accounts, employee advocacy and social selling. It can also handle social listening and analytics. It also boasts native integrations with Adobe’s Marketo, Salesforce’s Pardot, Hubspot; and CRM systems such as Salesforce, and Microsoft Dynamics. Oktopost’s customer include Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electric, Xerox, SWIFT, ACI Worldwide, ContentSquare, ChargeBee and SUSE.

The above functions have hoved into view with far greater importance as social media users upped their interactions online, and companies needed to, to put it mildly, get their act together asocial media ‘ate the world’ in the last 16 months.

Oktopost says it plans to use the funding to advance its product roadmap, boost customer success, accelerate marketing and sales, and explore strategic acquisitions; and grow its workforce by 50%.
 
Daniel Kushner, co-founder and CEO of Oktopost, said: “Our mission from day one was to establish the first ever B2B social media marketing platform with the ability to measure and quantify the value of social media in terms of lead generation, pipeline influence, customer acquisition, and ultimately ROI… As siloes breakdown between marketing and sales within B2B companies, and as social selling becomes more widespread, we believe Oktopost is uniquely suited to provide the functionality desired.”
 
Oliver Thomas, Managing Partner at Expedition Growth Capital said: “There are a number of social media tools out there catering for B2C companies but we haven’t seen a platform that is specifically tailored to the B2B journey until Oktopost. The ability to manage, track and analyse social activities is increasingly a must-have for B2B sales and marketing organisations. Daniel and Liad have built the best product in the market to serve this need. They have also built a terrific culture and we’re excited to be part of the journey from here.”

Speaking to Kushner I asked him what effect the pandemic had had on the business.

“It’s gone bananas,” he said “Our focus is 100% on B2B organisations. Our platform is divided into corporate social media, so Twitter, LinkedIn company pages, etc. The second is what we call employee advocacy social, where you want your employees to be a part of the corporate brand, with employees sharing on a personal LinkedIn, Twitter accounts, social messages.”

He said that this ecosystem – the platform to support both corporate social and employee advocacy – means they can prove return on investment for customers: “What are they getting from doing all this social? The platform is designed to provide those kind of metrics to show the real business impact of social, the real impact that it has on the business. And not just fluff metrics that you normally get on social.”

WhenThen’s no-code payments platform attracts $6M from European VCs Stride and Cavalry

By Mike Butcher

The payments space – amazingly – remains up for grabs for startups. Yes dear reader, despite the success of Stripe, there seems to be a new payments startup virtually every other day. It’s a mess out there! The accelerated growth of e-commerce due to the pandemic means payments are now a booming space. And here comes another one, with a twist.

WhenThen has built a no-code payment operations platform that, they claim, streamlines the payment processes “of merchants of any kind”.  It says its platform can autonomously orchestrate, monitor, improve and manage all customer payments and payments ops.

The startup’s opportunity has arisen because service providers across different verticals increasingly want to get into open banking and provide their own payment solutions and financial services.

Founded 6 months ago, WhenThen has now raised $6 million, backed by European VCs Stride and Cavalry.

The founders, Kirk Donohoe, Eamon Doyle and Dave Brown  are three former Mastercard Payment veterans.

Based “out of Dublin, CEO Donohoe told me: “We see traditional businesses embracing e-comm, and e-comm merchants now operating multiple business models such as trade supply, marketplace, subscription, and more. There is no platform that makes it easy for such businesses to create and operate multiple payment flows to support multiple business models in one place – that’s where we step in.”

He added: “WhenThen is helping ecommerce digital platforms build advanced payment flows and payment automation, in minutes as opposed to months. When you start to integrate different payment methods, different payment gateways, how you want the payment to move from collection through to payout gets very, very complex. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now, as an entrepreneur building different businesses that had to accept collect and pay payments.”

He said his founding team “had to build very complex payment flows for large merchants, airlines, hotels, issuers, and we just found it was ridiculous that you have to continue to do the same thing over and over again. So we decided to come up with WhenThen as a better way to be able to help you build those flows in minutes.”

Claude Ritter, managing partner at Cavalry said: “Basic payment orchestration platforms have been around for some time, focusing mostly on maximizing payment acceptance by optimizing routing. WhenThen provides the first end-to-end payment flow platform to equip businesses with the opportunity to control every stage of the payment flow from payment intent to payout.”

WhenThen supports a wide range of popular payment providers such as Stripe, Braintree, Adyen, Authorize.net, Checkout.com, etc., and a variety of alternative and locally preferred payment methods such as Klarna Affirm, PayPal, BitPay.

“For brave merchants considering global reach and operating multiple business models concurrently, I believe choosing the right payment ops platform will become as important as choosing the right e-commerce platform. Building your entire ecomm experience tightly coupled to a single payment processor is a hard correction to make down the line – you need a payment flow platform like WhenThen,” added Fred Destin, founder of Stride.VC.

Spendesk raises $118 million for its corporate spend management service

By Romain Dillet

French startup Spendesk has announced earlier today that it has raised a $118 million funding round (€100 million) led by General Atlantic. Overall, the company has raised $189 million (€160 million) since its inception.

Existing investors Index Ventures and Eight Road Ventures participated once again in today’s funding round.

Spendesk, as the name suggests, focuses on all things related to spend management. Originally founded in startup studio eFounders, the startup first offered virtual and physical company cards for employees. While corporate cards are quite popular in the U.S., many small and medium companies in France can’t give a card to every single employee.

That’s why spending your company’s money can be a cumbersome process. You can borrow your boss’s card but they’ll have to trust you with it. You can pay with your own personal card but you want to be reimbursed as quickly as possible.

By combining a SaaS platform with corporate cards, it opens up a ton of possibilities. For instance, you can create an approval workflow for expensive purchases. You can set different budgets for different teams.

Over time, Spendesk has expanded beyond cards to manage expenses and invoice processing. It tries to automate some repetitive accounting tasks as well. Employees are automatically reminded that they have to attach a receipt for each transaction. You can export everything to Xero, Datev, Sage, Cegid or Netsuite.

If that pitch sounds familiar, it’s because there are a handful of European startups that are all doing well in this field. Soldo recently raised $180 million while Pleo snatched $150 million at a $1.7 billion valuation.

And yet, Spendesk doubled its revenue over the past year. Its team grew from 150 to 300 employees and it plans to double its headcount again over the next couple of years.

It means two things — the market opportunity is important and many customers are switching from old school workflows to modern SaaS products. That’s why three startups can grow at the same time.

“Traditionally, finance teams haven’t been equipped with the tools that can support this transformation,” Spendesk co-founder and CEO Rodolphe Ardant said in a statement. “In the past few years we have built the reference spend management solution for finance teams in Europe, which frees businesses and their people from administrative constraints of spending and managing money at work. While our solution is about empowering finance teams, we are actually delivering value to the entire business through the finance team.”

Spendesk currently has 3,000 clients, including Algolia, Soundcloud, Curve, Doctolib, Gousto, Raisin, Sezane and Wefox.

Image Credits: Spendesk

Pink Floyd drummer invests in Disciple Media, a platform aimed at the creator economy

By Mike Butcher

Much has been made of the rise of the “creator economy” in the last year. With the Pandemic biting, millions flooded online, looking for a way to make money or promote themselves. The podcasting world has exploded, and with it platforms like Patreon, Clubhouse, and many others. But the thorny problem remains: Do you really own your audience as a creator, or does the platform own you? Companies like Mighty Networks, Circle and Tribe have tried to address this, giving creators greater control than social networks do over their audiences. Now another joins the fray.

Disciple Media bills itself as a SaaS platform to enable online creators to build community-led businesses. It’s now raised $6 million in funding in what it calls a ‘large Angel round’. It already claims to have garnered 2 million members and 500 communities since launching in 2018. Investors include Nick Mason (drummer in Pink Floyd), Sir Peter Michael (CEO of Cray Computers, founder of classic FM, Quantel and Cosworth Engineering), Rob Pierre (founder and CEO of Jellyfish), and Keith Morris (ex. chairman Sabre Insurance). It’s also announced a new Chairman, Eirik Svendsen, a expert in online marketplaces, SaaS and the publishing and media industry.

On its communities so far it has American country star and American Idol judge Luke Bryan, Gor Tex, and Body by Ciara. The platform is also available on iOS and Android and comes with community management tools, a CRM, and monetization options. The company claims its creators are now “earning millions in revenue each year.”

Benji Vaughan, Founder and CEO said: “The scale and rapid growth of the creator economy is extraordinary, and today that growth is being driven by entrepreneurial creators looking to build independent businesses outside of Youtube and the social networks.”

Vaughan, a Techno DJ and artist-turned-entrepreneur, says he came up with the idea after building similar communities for clients. He says the data created on Disciple communities is owned entirely by the host who built the network, “removing third-party risk and allowing insights to be actioned immediately”.

He told me: “We are moving from a position of effectively having ‘gig economy workers for social networks’ to owners of businesses who use social networks for their needs, not the other way around. Therefore, these people are starting to leave social networks to build their businesses and using social networks as marketing channels, as the rest of the world does. Once that migration happens where they move away from social networks as their prime platform, they need a hub where their data is going to get pulled together, they have an audience, which we see as a community that connects with itself as much as they do with the host.”

He thinks the equivalent of Salesforce or HubSpot in the creative economy is going to be a community platform: “That’s where they’re going to aggregate all the information about their valuable audience or community engagement. So, we are looking to, over time, to build out something very akin to what HubSpot sites they have for tech companies or SaaS businesses: a complete package, a complete platform to manage your engagement with your users, grow your user base and then convert that into revenue.”

Rob Pierre, founder and CEO Jellyfish said: “Creating and engaging with your community digitally has never been more important. Disciple allows you to do both of those things with a fully functional, feature-rich platform which requires very little upfront capital expenditure. It also provides numerous options to monetize your community.”

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