Sunday was a big day in fintech: Afterpay has agreed to merge with Square. This agreement sets two of the most admired financial technology companies in recent history on a path to becoming one.
Afterpay and Square have the potential to build one of the world’s most important payments networks. Square has built a very significant merchant payment network, and, via Cash App, a thriving high-growth consumer payment service. However, these two lines of business have historically not been integrated. Together, Square and Afterpay will be able to weave all of these services together into a single integrated experience.
Afterpay and Cash App each have double-digit millions of consumers, and Square’s seller ecosystem and Afterpay’s merchant network both record double-digit billions of payment volume per year. From the offline register and the online checkout flow to sending money in just a few taps, Square and Afterpay will tell a complete story of next-generation economic empowerment.
As Afterpay’s only institutional venture investor, I wanted to share some perspective on how we got here and what this merger means for the future of consumer finance and the payments industry.
Afterpay and Square have the potential to build one of the world’s most important payments networks.
Every five to 10 years, the global payments industry undergoes a critical innovation cycle that determines the winners and losers for the next several decades. The last major transition was the shift to NFC-based mobile payments, which I wrote about in 2015. The major mobile OS vendors (Apple and Google) cemented their position in the global payments stack by deftly bridging the needs of the networks (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) and consumers by way of the mobile devices in their pockets.
Afterpay sparked the latest critical innovation cycle. Conceived in a living room in Sydney by a millennial, Nick Molnar, for millennials, Afterpay had a key insight: Millennials don’t like credit.
Millennials came of age during the global mortgage crisis of 2008. As young adults, they watched their friends and family lose their homes by overextending on mortgage debt, bolstering their already lower trust for banks. They also have record levels of student debt. Therefore, it’s no surprise that millennials (and Gen Z right behind them) strongly prefer debit cards over credit cards.
But it’s one thing to recognize the paradigm shift and quite another to do something about it. Nick Molnar and Anthony Eisen did something, ultimately building one of the fastest-growing payments startups in history on their core product: Buy now, pay later … and never any interest.
Afterpay’s product is simple. If you have $100 in your cart and choose to pay with Afterpay, it will charge your bank card (typically a debit card) $25 every two weeks in four installments. No interest, no revolving debt and no fees with on-time payments. For the millennial consumer, this meant they could get the primary benefit of a credit card (the ability to pay later) with their debit card, without the need to worry about all the bad things that come with credit cards — high interest rates and revolving debt.
All upside, no downside. Who could resist? For the early merchants, virtually all of whom relied on millennials as their key growth segment, they got a fair trade: Pay a small fee above payment processing to Afterpay, get significantly higher average order values and conversions to purchase. It was a win-win proposition and, with lots of execution, a new payment network was born.
Image Credits: Matrix Partners
Afterpay went somewhat unnoticed outside Australia in 2016 and 2017, but once it came to the U.S. in 2018 and built a business there that broke $100 million net revenues in only its second year, it got attention.
Klarna, which had struggled with product-market fit in the U.S., pivoted their business to emulate Afterpay. And Affirm, which had always been about traditional credit — generating a significant portion of their revenue from consumer interest — also noticed and introduced their own BNPL offering. Then came PayPal with “Pay in 4,” and just a few weeks ago, there has been news that Apple is expected to enter the space.
Afterpay created a global phenomenon that has now become a category embraced by mainstream players across the industry — a category that is on track to take a meaningful share of global retail payments over the next 10 years.
Afterpay stands apart. It has always been the BNPL leader by virtually every measure, and it has done it by staying true to their customers’ needs. The company is great at understanding the millennial and Gen Z consumer. It’s evident in the voice, tone and lifestyle brand you experience as an Afterpay user, and in the merchant network it continues to build strategically. It’s also evident in the simple fact that it doesn’t try to cross-sell users revolving debt products.
Most importantly, it’s evident in the usage metrics relative to competition. This is a product that people love, use and have come to rely on, all with better, fairer terms than were ever available to them than with traditional consumer credit.
Image Credits: Afterpay H1 FY21 results presentation
I’ve been building payment companies for over 15 years now, initially in the early days of PayPal and more recently as a venture investor at Matrix Partners. I’ve never seen a combination that has such potential to deliver extraordinary value to consumers and merchants. Even more so than eBay + PayPal.
Beyond the clear product and network complementarity, what’s most exciting to me and my partners is the alignment of values and culture. Square and Afterpay share a vision of a future with more opportunity and fewer economic hurdles for all. As they build toward that future together, I’m confident that this combination is a winner. Square and Afterpay together will become the world’s next generation payment provider.
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.
Kuda Bank, the London-based, Nigerian-operating startup that is taking on incumbents in the country with a mobile-first, personalised and often cheaper set of banking services built on newer, API-based infrastructure, has been on a growth tear in the last several months, and to fuel its expansion, it has now raised another round of funding.
TechCrunch has learned, and confirmed with Kuda, that the startup has closed, via its London entity, a Series B of $55 million — money that it plans to use to double down not just on new services for Nigeria, but to prepare its launch into more countries on the continent, and in the words of co-founder and CEO Babs Ogundeyi, to build a new take on banking services for “ever African on the planet.”
The funding was made at a valuation of $500 million, and it comes on the back of some impressive early growth for the startup.
“We’ve been doing a lot of resource deployment has been in our operational entity, in Nigeria. But now we are doubling down on expansion and the idea is to build a strong team for the expansion plans for Kuda,” Ogundeyi told TechCrunch in an interview. “We still see Nigeria as an important market and don’t want to be distracted so don’t want to disrupt those operations too much. It’s a strong market and competitive. It’s one that we feel we need to have a strong hold on. So this funding is to invest in expansion and have more experience in the company with relation to expansion.”
Kuda now has 1.4 million registered users, which is more than double the number it had in March when it had 650,000 registered users — a figure it revealed when announcing its Series A of $25 million led by Valar Ventures.
We understand that this latest Series B was a relatively quick inside round — that is, it’s coming from existing investors. Co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global, it also includes SBI and a number of previous angels also participating. Kuda was not proactively raising money at the time the Series B was initiated and closed.
“We felt that Babs and Musty” — Musty Mustapha, the co-founder and CTO — “are ambitious on another level. For them, it was always about building a pan-African bank, not just a Nigerian leader,” said Ricardo Schäfer, the partner at Target who led the round for the firm. “The prospect of banking over 1 billion people from day one really stood out for me at the beginning.”
You might notice that it’s only been four months since Kuda last announced a round of funding. Equity rounds raised in quick succession, sometimes just months apart, seems to be the order of the day at the moment, fueled in part by a lot of money being pumped into venture at the moment, but also by the state of the market. When the company in question is showing all the right growth metrics and is working in a particularly buzzy area, many will strike when the iron is hot. (GoPuff, which last week confirmed a $1 billion raise just months after a previous round, is another example of that happening from a different corner of the world.)
Neobanks — fintechs building a new generation disruptive of banking services based around more modern interfaces and infrastructure based around the concept of API-driven embedded finance — have been one of these areas, growing at a rate of nearly 50% annually in terms of revenues and projected to be collectively a $723 billion market by 2028.
Within that, we’re seeing a number of strong players emerging across the globe built on this model — Nubank out of Brazil, Revolut and N26 in Europe, WeBank in China, Varo and Chime in the U.S. among them. In this regard, Africa may be the last great untapped region when it comes to banking, one reason why Kuda is being eyed up and is seeing strong adoption.
The writing has been on the wall for years. A report from McKinsey on banking in Africa in 2018 identified a surge of interest in financial services that were delivered digitally, and that growth would be driven by a rapidly evolving middle class of consumers, while at the same time an ongoing death of accessible financial services for the majority of the population with some 300 million people still unbanked on the continent. It’s these three basic factors on which Kuda has built its own service.
However, Kuda is unique among the neobanks in that it is building its services with its own banking license in hand.
This means that it can be more flexible and fast-moving when it comes to creating new products or tweaking existing ones, and it gives the company another level of credibility in a region where those who were already banking with incumbents might be more wary of new players.
Indeed, Kuda’s initial business model was built around providing banking services to people who still also held accounts with incumbent banks: people would have their salaries paid into their old accounts, and then transferred out to be spent and used in other ways via their Kuda accounts. Ogundeyi said that this is gradually shifting and more people are now bringing both paying-in and paying-out to their Kuda accounts.
Ogundeyi would not say which countries would be Kuda’s next targets. But he did note that its most recently-launched product, Kuda’s first move into credit by way of an overdraft allowance, is a sign of the things to come.
“It’s a unique product, an overdraft that we pre-qualify the most active users for,” he said. In Q2 it qualified over 200,000 users and pushed out $20 million worth of credit. With a 30-day repayment, he said, so far default has been “minimal” because of the company’s approach.
“We use all the data we have for a customer and allocate the overdraft proportion based on the customer’s activities, aiming for it not to be a burden to repay,” he added.
Andrew McCormack, a general partner at Valar Ventures who co-founded the firm with Peter Thiel and James Fitzgerald, said that the still-nascent potential of the market, and how Kuda is approaching that, were behind its decision invest in the startup another time.
“Kuda is our first investment in Africa and our initial confidence in the team has been upheld by its rapid growth in the past four months,” he said. “With a youthful population eager to adopt digital financial services in the region, we believe that Kuda’s transformative effect on banking will scale across Africa and we’re proud to continue supporting them.”
In a blockbuster deal that rocks the fintech world, Square announced today that it is acquiring Australian buy now, pay later giant Afterpay in a $29 billion all-stock deal.
The purchase price is based on the closing price of Square common stock on July 30, which was $247.26. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022, contingent upon certain closing conditions. It values Afterpay at more than 30% premium to its latest closing price of A$96.66.
Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said in a statement that the two fintech behemoths “have a shared purpose.”
“We built our business to make the financial system more fair, accessible, and inclusive, and Afterpay has built a trusted brand aligned with those principles,” he said in the statement. “Together, we can better connect our Cash App and Seller ecosystems to deliver even more compelling products and services for merchants and consumers, putting the power back in their hands.”
The combination of the two companies would create a payments giant unlike any other. Over the past 18 months, the buy now, pay later space has essentially exploded, appealing especially to younger generations drawn to the idea of not using credit cards or paying interest and instead opting for the installment loans, which have become ubiquitous online and in retail stores.
As of June 30, Afterpay served more than 16 million consumers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, including major retailers across industries such as fashion, homewares, beauty and sporting goods, among others.
The addition of Afterpay, the companies’ statement said, will “accelerate Square’s strategic priorities” for its Seller and Cash App ecosystems. Square plans to integrate Afterpay into its existing Seller and Cash App business units, so that even “the smallest of merchants” can offer buy now, pay later at checkout. The integration will also give Afterpay consumers the ability to manage their installment payments directly in Cash App. Cash App customers will be able to find merchants and buy now, pay later (BNPL) offers directly within the app.
Afterpay’s co-founders and co-CEOs Anthony Eisen and Nick Molnar will join Square upon closure of the deal and help lead Afterpay’s respective merchant and consumer businesses. Square said it will appoint one Afterpay director to its board.
Shareholders of Afterpay will get 0.375 shares of Square Class A stock for every share they own. This implies a price of about A$126.21 per share based on Square’s Friday close, according to the companies.
Will there be more consolidation in the space? That remains to be seen, and Twitter is all certainly abuzz about what deals could be next. Here in the U.S., rival Affirm went public earlier this year. On July 30, shares closed at $56.32, significantly lower than its opening price and 52-week-high of $146.90. Meanwhile, European competitor Klarna — which is growing rapidly in the U.S. — in June raised another $639 million at a staggering post-money valuation of $45.6 billion.
No doubt the BNPL fight for the U.S. consumer is only heating up with this deal.
It all seems so simple. Instead of the dreaded back-and-forth on email, what if there was a solution that helped two parties (or multiple parties) schedule a call or a hangout?
Calendly was born out of that question. Today, the company is worth more than $3 billion, according to reports, and has more than 10 million users. The growth of the product is insane, with more than 1,000% growth from last year.
But that kind of success doesn’t come without hard work and dedication.
To hear more about the journey from bootstrapped to billions, Calendly founder and CEO Tope Awotona will join us at Disrupt this September.
Awotona put his entire life savings into Calendly and managed to bootstrap it for years before taking a $350 million funding round led by OpenView and Iconiq.
We’ll chat with Awotona about the early days of Calendly, how he navigated the hyper-growth phase, what made him choose to finally take institutional funding, his thoughts on pricing and packaging, and much more.
Awotona joins an incredible roster of speakers, including Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Mirror’s Brynn Putnam, Chamath Palihapitiya, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and more. Plus, Disrupt features the legendary Startup Battlefield competition, where startups from across the globe compete for $100,000 and eternal glory.
Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.
One post can’t possibly contain all of Disrupt’s events. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
Don’t miss your chance to experience TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 — the startup world’s must-attend event of the season — for less than $100. Why not get the best ROI of your time while simultaneously learning about the latest industry trends and mining for opportunities that can take your startup to new levels of success?
Disrupt takes place on September 21-23, but the early-bird deal expires today, July 30 at 11:59 p.m. (PDT). Buy your Disrupt 2021 pass now and save.
Let’s talk about what you’ll experience at Disrupt. Over on the Disrupt Stage you’ll find one-on-one interviews with icons and interactive, expert-led, presentations from across the tech, investing and policy sectors. Folks like Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn and Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam. And that’s just the tip of the tech iceberg. You can check out all the speakers here.
You’ll find plenty of actionable advice and how-to tips and strategies on the Extra Crunch Stage. Take a gander at just two of the topics we have scheduled there and explore the full Disrupt agenda here.
Crafting a Pitch Deck that Can’t Be Ignored: Investors may be chasing after the hottest deals, but for founders selling their startup’s vision, it’s never been more important to communicate it in the clearest way possible. Pitch deck experts Mercedes Bent (partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners), Mar Hershenson (co-founder and managing partner, Pear VC) and Saba Karim (Techstars’ head of accelerator pipeline) dig into what’s essential, what’s unnecessary and what could just make all the difference in your next deck.
How Do You Select the Right Tech Stack: From day zero, startups have to make dozens of trade-offs when it comes to the infinite variety of tech stacks available to today’s engineers. Choose the wrong combination or direction, and a startup could be left with years of refactoring to fix the legacy damage. What are the best practices for assessing potential stacks, and how can you minimize the risk of a painful mistake? Preeti Somal (executive vice president of engineering, HashiCorp) and Jill Wetzler (head of engineering, Pilot) will discuss strategies for improving engineering right from the beginning and at every stage of a startup’s journey.
Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.
One post can’t possibly contain all the events and opportunities of Disrupt. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
Chilean startup Xepelin, which has created a financial services platform for SMEs in Latin America, has secured $30 million in equity and $200 million in credit facilities.
LatAm venture fund Kaszek Ventures led the equity portion of the financing, which also included participation from partners of DST Global and a slew of other firms and founders/angel investors. LatAm- and U.S.-based asset managers and hedge funds — including Chilean pension funds — provided the credit facilities. In total over its lifetime, Xepelin has raised over $36 million in equity and $250 million in asset-backed facilities.
Also participating in the round were Picus Capital; Kayak Ventures; Cathay Innovation; MSA Capital; Amarena; FJ Labs; Gilgamesh and Kavak founder and CEO Carlos Garcia; Jackie Reses, executive chairman of Square Financial Services; Justo founder and CEO Ricardo Weder; Tiger Global Management Partner John Curtius; GGV’s Hans Tung; and Gerry Giacoman, founder and CEO of Clara, among others.
“We want all SMEs in LatAm to have access to financial services and capital in a fair and efficient way,” the pair said.
Xepelin is built on a SaaS model designed to give SMEs a way to organize their financial information in real time. Embedded in its software is a way for companies to apply for short-term working capital loans “with just three clicks, and receive the capital in a matter of hours,” the company claimed.
It has developed an AI-driven underwriting engine, which the execs said gives it the ability to make real-time loan approval decisions.
“Any company in LatAm can onboard in just a few minutes and immediately access a free software that helps them organize their information in real time, including cash flow, revenue, sales, tax, bureau info — sort of a free CFO SaaS,” de Camino said. “The circle is virtuous: SMEs use Xepelin to improve their financial habits, obtain more efficient financing, pay their obligations, and collaborate effectively with clients and suppliers, generating relevant impacts in their industries.”
The fintech currently has over 4,000 clients in Chile and Mexico, which currently has a growth rate “four times faster” than when Xepelin started in Chile. Over the past 22 months, it has loaned more than $400 million to SMBs in the two countries. It currently has a portfolio of active loans for $120 million and an asset-backed facility for more than $250 million.
Overall, the company has been seeing a growth rate of 30% per month, the founders said. It has 110 employees, up from 20 a year ago.
“When we talk about creating the largest digital bank for SMEs in LatAm, we are not saying that our goal is to create a bank; perhaps we will never ask for the license to have one, and to be honest, everything we do, we do it differently from the banks, something like a non-bank, a concept used today to exemplify focus,” the founders said.
Both de Camino and Kreis said they share a passion for making financial services more accessible to SMEs all across Latin America and have backgrounds rooted deep in different areas of finance.
“Our goal is to scale a platform that can solve the true pains of all SMEs in LatAm, all in one place that also connects them with their entire ecosystem, and above all, democratized in such a way that everyone can access it,” Kreis said, “regardless of whether you are a company that sells billions of dollars or just a thousand dollars, getting the same service and conditions.”
For now, the company is nearly exclusively focused on the B2B space, but in the future, it believes several of its services “will be very useful for all SMEs and companies in LatAm.”
“Xepelin has developed technology and data science engines to deliver financing to SMBs in Latin America in a seamless way,” Nicolas Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner at Kaszek Ventures, said in a statement. “The team has deep experience in the sector and has proven a perfect fit of their user-friendly product with the needs of the market.”
Chile was home to another large funding earlier this week. NotCo, a food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, closed on a $235 million Series D round that gives it a $1.5 billion valuation.
On Tuesday, the Open Cap Table Coalition announced its launch through an inaugural Medium post. The goal of this project is to standardize startup capitalization table data as well as make it far more accessible, transparent and portable.
For those unfamiliar with a cap table, it’s a list of who owns your company’s securities, which includes your company shares, options and more. A clear and simple cap table should quickly indicate who owns what and how much of it they own. For a variety of reasons (sometimes inexperience or bad advice) too many equity holders often find companies’ capitalization information to be opaque and not easily accessible.
This is particularly important for the small percentage of startups that survive in the long term, as growth makes for far more complicated cap tables.
A critical part of good startup hygiene is to always have a clean and updated cap table. Since there is no set format and cap tables are generally not out in the open, they are often siloed rather than collaborative.
Cap tables are near and dear to me as someone who has advised hundreds of startups over the past two decades as the founder of an accelerator, a venture partner and a senior adviser at a government-funded startup launchpad. I have been on the shareholder side of the equation as well and can assure you that pretty much nothing destroys trust between shareholders and startups quicker than poor communication, especially around issues such as the current status of the cap table.
A critical part of good startup hygiene is to always have a clean and updated cap table.
I really like the idea of a cap table being an open corporate record, because the value proposition to the companies is clear. From the time a startup creates a cap table, it’s prone to inaccuracy, friction and mistakes. What this means in practice is that startups may spend money on cap-table-related issues that they should be spending on other things. From a legal process perspective, the law firm that is brought in to help with these issues has to deal with tedious back-end work, so the legal time isn’t high value for either the startup or the law firm.
The value proposition for equity holders is equally clear. All equity holders have a general and legal interest in a company’s capitalization information. They have the right to this information, which they may need for a variety of reasons (including, if things ever get really bad, an aggrieved shareholder action). So making this information clear and easily accessible is a service to equity holders and can also encourage more investment, especially from less experienced investors.
When I imagine what this project could become in the next couple of years, I think back to late 2013, when Y Combinator announced the SAFE (simple agreement for future equity). I think the SAFE is a good analogy here, as no one knew what it was and people wondered if this was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for startups. But the end result was a dramatic improvement in the early-stage capital-raising process.
While the coalition’s founders include Morgan Stanley’s Shareworks, LTSE Software and Carta, it’s also heavy on Big Law, with Cooley, Goodwin Procter, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Orrick, Gunderson Dettmer, Latham & Watkins, and Fenwick & West rounding out the group of 10 founding members.
So what’s the real motivation of seven law firms, which together saw revenue of over $10 billion in 2020 to collaborate on an open cap table product for startups? Deal flow.
Big Law has been trying for a couple of decades to build relationships with startups at the stage where it makes no sense for a startup to be dealing with a massive and expensive law firm. Their efforts to build startup programs have often fallen short and received mixed reviews. They have also been far too heavy on the self-serve and too light on the “we’re going to give you our regular Big Law level of services at a small fraction of the costs just in case you make it big and can one day pay our regular fees.” So these firms are trying to separate themselves from the rest of the Big Law pack by building this entrepreneur-friendly tech.
The coalition has already produced its initial version of the open cap table. The real question is whether this is going to be a big deal, as the SAFE was, or whether it’s going to be a vanity solution in search of a real problem. My best guess is that if this coalition gets all the relationships right, doesn’t get greedy and understands that there is a social good component at play here, this could be, reasonably quickly, as impactful as the SAFE was.
Blockchain infrastructure startups are heating up as industry fervor brings more developers and users to a space that still feels extremely young despite a heavy institutional embrace of the crypto space in 2021.
The latest crypto startup to court the attention of venture capitalists is Tenderly, which builds a developer platform for Ethereum devs to monitor and test the smart contracts that power their decentralized apps. Tenderly CEO Andrej Bencic tells TechCrunch his startup has closed a $15.3 million Series A funding round led by Accel with additional participation from existing investors. The Belgrade startup already raised a $3.3 million seed round earlier this year led by Point Nine Capital.
The startup’s aim to date has been ensuring fledgling blockchain developers aren’t left finding out about contract errors when users discover issues and complain, instead allowing users to discover these bugs proactively. While the company’s Visual Debugger is already used by “tens of thousands” of Ethereum developers, Tenderly hopes to continue building out its toolset to help more developers build on Ethereum networks without dealing with the headaches and irregularities that they’ve had to.
“Tenderly, from its inception, has been a solution to one of our own problems,” Bencic tells TechCrunch. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible to observe and extract information from Ethereum and the adjacent networks.”
Bencic hopes the company’s product can help developers get their products out more quickly without compromising on usability.
To date, the majority of Tenderly’s customers have been relatively small startup efforts aiming to tap into the exciting world of blockchain-based computing with a particular focus on decentralized finance. Tenderly itself is a small company with its team of 14 based in Serbia. Bencic says this funding will help the company expand its global footprint and build out engineering and business hires in other geographies.
Climbing cryptocurrency prices have historically aligned pretty closely with developer uptake in the blockchain world so there is some concern that bitcoin and Ethereum’s downward-trending price corrections will lead to less stability in the pipeline of new developers embracing blockchain. That said, volatility is far from unusual to the crypto world and many developers have learned that riding its ebbs and flows is just part of the experience.
“We built most of Tenderly in the bear market, and one thing we saw is that even though you get these concerning prices, people that are excited about the tech are excited about the tech whether the coins are up or down,” Bencic says.
La Haus, which has developed an online real estate marketplace operating in Mexico and Colombia, has secured $100 million in additional funding, including $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt financing.
The new capital was obtained as an extension to the company’s Series B, the first tranche of which closed in January. With the latest infusion, Medellin, Colombia-based La Haus has now secured $135 million total for the round and over $158 million in funding since its 2017 inception.
San Francisco Bay Area venture firms Acrew Capital and Renegade Partners co-led the round, which also included participation from Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions, Endeavor Catalyst, Moore Strategic Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Rappi’s Simon Borrero, Maluma, and Gabriel Gilinski. Existing backers who put money in this round include Greenspring Associates, Kaszek, NFX, Spencer Rascoff’s 75 & Sunny Ventures, Hadi Partovi and NuBank’s David Velez.
Jerónimo Uribe (CEO), Rodrigo Sánchez-Ríos (president), Tomás Uribe (chief growth officer) and Santiago Garcia (CTO) founded the company after Jerónimo and Tomas met Sánchez-Ríos at Stanford University. Prior to La Haus they started and ran Jaguar Capital, a Colombian real estate development company with over $350 million of completed retail and residential projects.
The company declined to reveal at what valuation the extension was raised, with Sánchez-Ríos saying only that it was “a significant increase” from January.
The Series B extension follows impressive growth for the startup, which saw the number of transactions conducted on its Mexico portal climb by nearly 10x in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the 2020 second quarter. With over 500 homes selling on its platform (via lahaus.com and lahaus.mx) the company is “the market leader in selling new housing in Spanish-speaking Latam by an order of magnitude,” its execs claim. La Haus expects to have facilitated more than $1 billion in annualized gross sales by the end of the year.
The startup was founded with the mission of making it easier for people to buy homes and helping “solve LatAm’s extreme housing inequality.” Its end goal is to accelerate access to new housing by both generating and curating supply and demand and then matching it with its technology, noted Sánchez-Ríos.
“In the last six months, our chief product officer has built a product that allows this to happen 100% digitally,” he said. “Before it would take a lot of time, people involved and visits. We want to provide people looking for a home a similar experience as to people looking for their next flight at delta.com.”
It has done that by embedding its software to developers’ new projects so that it can bring that digital experience to its users.
“They are able to view the projects on our sites, we match them and then they can see in real time which units of a particular tower are available, and then select, sign and pay for everything digitally,” Sánchez-Río said.
Image credit: La Haus
The need for new housing in the region and other emerging markets in general is acute, they believe. And the pace of building new homes is slow because small and mid-sized developers – who are responsible for building the majority of new homes in Latin America – are cash constrained. At the same time, mortgages are mostly not affordable for consumers, with banks extending only a fraction of the credit to individuals compared to the U.S., and often at far worse terms.
What La Haus is planning to do with its new capital – particularly the debt portion – is go beyond selling homes via its marketplace to helping extend financing to both developers and potential buyers.It plans to take the proprietary data it has been able to glean from the thousands of real estate transactions conducted on it platform to extend capital to developers and consumers “more quickly, with much lower risk and at better terms.”
Already, what the startup has accomplished is notable. Being able to purchase a home 100% digitally is not that easy even in the U.S. Pulling that off in Latin America – which has historically trailed behind in digital adoption – is no easy feat. By year’s end, La Haus intends to be in every major metropolitan area in Mexico and Colombia.
Its ultimate goal is to be able to help new, sustainable homes “to be built faster, alleviating the inequality caused by lack of access to inventory.”
To Acrew Capital’s Lauren Kolodny, La Haus is building a solution specific to the issues of Latin America’s housing market, rather than importing business models – such as iBuying – from the U.S.
“For many people in the United States home equity is their largest asset. In Latin America, however, consumers have been challenged with an impenetrable real estate market stacked against consumers,” she wrote via email. “La Haus is removing barriers to home ownership that stifles millions of people from achieving financial security. Specifically, Latin America has no centralized MLS, very costly interest rates, no transactional transparency, and few online informational tools.”
La Haus, Kolodny added, is breaking down these barriers by consolidating listings online, offering pricing transparency and educating consumers about their financing options.
Acrew first invested in the startup in its $10 million Series A and has been impressed with its growth over time.
“They have a unique focus on new housing — a massive industry worldwide, but especially in emerging markets where new housing is so necessary,” Kolodny said. “The management team…knows real estate in Latin America better than anyone we’ve met.”
For its part, the La Haus team is excited to put its new capital to work. As Sánchez-Río put it, “$50 million goes a lot further in Mexico and Colombia than in the U.S.”
“We are going to be very aggressive in Mexico and Colombia, and plan to go from four to at least 12 markets by the end of the year,” Jeronimo told TechCrunch. “We’re also excited to roll out our financing solution to developers and buyers.”
PayPal’s plan to morph itself into a “superapp” has been given a go for launch.
According to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, speaking to investors during this week’s second-quarter earnings call, the initial version of PayPal’s new consumer digital wallet app is now “code complete” and the company is preparing to slowly ramp up. Over the next several months, PayPal expects to be fully ramped up in the U.S., with new payment services, financial services, commerce and shopping tools arriving every quarter.
The company has spoken for some time about its “superapp” ambitions — a shift in product direction that would make PayPal a U.S.-based version of something like China’s WeChat or Alipay or India’s Paytm. Like those apps, PayPal aims to offer a host of consumer services under one roof, beyond just mobile payments.
In previous quarters, PayPal said these new features may include things like enhanced direct deposit, check cashing, budgeting tools, bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, and buy now, pay later functionality. It also said it would integrate commerce, thanks to the mobile shopping tools acquired by way of its $4 billion Honey acquisition in 2019.
So far, PayPal has continued to run Honey as a standalone application, website and browser extension, but the superapp could incorporate more of its deal-finding functions, price-tracking features and other benefits.
On Wednesday’s earnings call, Schulman revealed the superapp would have a few other features as well, including high-yield savings, early access to direct deposit funds and messaging functionality outside of peer-to-peer payments — meaning you could chat with family and friends directly through the app’s user interface.
PayPal hadn’t announced its plans to include a messaging component until now, but the feature makes sense in terms of how people often combine chat and peer-to-peer payments today. For example, someone may want to make a personal request for the funds instead of just sending an automated request through an app. Or, after receiving payment, a user may want to respond with a “thank you,” or other acknowledgment. Currently, these conversations take place outside of the payment app itself on platforms like iMessage. Now, that could change.
“We think that’s going to drive a lot of engagement on the platform,” said Schulman. “You don’t have to leave the platform to message back and forth.”
With the increased user engagement, the company expects to see a bump in average revenue per active account.
Schulman also hinted at “additional crypto capabilities,” which were not detailed. However, PayPal earlier this month increased the crypto purchase limit from $20,000 to $100,000 for eligible PayPal customers in the U.S., with no annual purchase limit. The company also this year made it possible for consumers to check out at millions of online businesses using their cryptocurrencies, by first converting the crypto to cash then settling with the merchant in U.S. dollars.
Though the app’s code is now complete, Schulman said the plan is to continue to iterate on the product experience, noting that the initial version will not be “the be-all and end-all.” Instead, the app will see steady releases and new functionality on a quarterly basis.
However, he did say that early on, the new features would include the high-yield savings, improved bill pay with a better user experience, and more billers and aggregators, as well as early access to direct deposit, budgeting tools and the new two-way messaging feature.
To integrate all the new features into the superapp, PayPal will undergo a major overhaul of its user interface.
“Obviously, the [user experience] is being redesigned,” Schulman noted. “We’ve got rewards and shopping. We’ve got a whole giving hub around crowdsourcing, giving to charities. And then, obviously, buy now, pay later will be fully integrated into it. … The last time I counted, it was like 25 new capabilities that we’re going to put into the superapp.”
The digital wallet app will also be personalized to the end user, so no two apps are the same. This will be done using both artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to “enhance each customer’s experiences and opportunities,” said Schulman.
PayPal delivered an earnings beat in the second quarter with $6.24 billion in revenue, versus the $6.27 billion Wall Street expected, and earnings per share of $1.15, versus the $1.12 expected. Total payment volume from merchant customers also jumped 40% to $311 billion, while analysts had projected $295.2 billion. But the company’s stock slipped due to a lowered outlook for Q3, impacted by eBay’s transition to its own managed payments service.
In addition, PayPal gained 11.4 million net new active accounts in the quarter, to reach 403 million total active accounts.
Cairo and Dubai-based ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, Swvl said Tuesday. The deal will see Swvl valued at roughly $1.5 billion.
Swvl was founded by Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah in 2017. The trio started the company as a bus-hailing service in Egypt and other ride-sharing services in emerging markets with fragmented public transportation.
Its services, mainly bus-hailing, enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route. This is pocket-friendly for residents in these markets compared to single-rider options and helps reduce emissions (Swvl claims it has prevented over 240 million pounds of carbon emission since inception).
After its Egypt launch, Swvl expanded to Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The company also moved its headquarters to Dubai as part of its strategy to become a global company.
Swvl offerings have expanded beyond bus-hailing services. Now, the company offers inter-city rides, car ride-sharing, and corporate services across the 10 cities it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.
Queen’s Gambit, the women-led SPAC in charge of the deal, raised $300 million in January and added $45 million via an underwriters’ overallotment option focusing on startups in clean energy, healthcare and mobility sectors.
The statement also mentions a group of investors — Agility, Luxor Capital and Zain Group — which will contribute $100 million through a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.
Per Crunchbase, Swvl has raised over $170 million. From an African perspective, Swvl features as one of the most venture-backed startups on the continent. The company has been touted to reach unicorn status in the past and will when this SPAC merger is completed.
The company will aptly trade under the ticker SWVL. The listing will make it the first Egyptian startup to go public outside Egypt and the second to go public after Fawry. It will also make the mobility company the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange, beating Jumia’s debut of $1.1 billion on the NYSE. In the Middle East, Swvl joins music-streaming platform Anghami as the second startup to go public via a SPAC merger.
Swvl had annual gross revenue of $26 million in 2020, according to the statement, and the company expects its annual gross revenue to increase to $79 million this year and $1 billion by 2025 after expanding to 20 countries across five continents.
On why Queen’s Gambit picked Swvl for this deal, Victoria Grace, founder and CEO, said in a statement that the company fit the profile of what she was looking for: “a disruptive platform that solves complex challenges and empowers underserved populations.”
“Having established a leadership position in key emerging markets, we believe Swvl is ready to capitalize on a truly global market opportunity,” she added.
In May, TechCrunch wrote that SPACs didn’t target African startups for several reasons, including a lack of global appeal and private capital and market satisfaction. Judging by Grace’s comments, Swvl has that global appeal and is ready to venture into the public market despite being in operation for just four years.
Anomaly detection is one of the more difficult and underserved operational areas in the asset-servicing sector of financial institutions. Broadly speaking, a true anomaly is one that deviates from the norm of the expected or the familiar. Anomalies can be the result of incompetence, maliciousness, system errors, accidents or the product of shifts in the underlying structure of day-to-day processes.
For the financial services industry, detecting anomalies is critical, as they may be indicative of illegal activities such as fraud, identity theft, network intrusion, account takeover or money laundering, which may result in undesired outcomes for both the institution and the individual.
There are different ways to address the challenge of anomaly detection, including supervised and unsupervised learning.
Detecting outlier data, or anomalies according to historic data patterns and trends can enrich a financial institution’s operational team by increasing their understanding and preparedness.
Anomaly detection presents a unique challenge for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the financial services industry has seen an increase in the volume and complexity of data in recent years. In addition, a large emphasis has been placed on the quality of data, turning it into a way to measure the health of an institution.
To make matters more complicated, anomaly detection requires the prediction of something that has not been seen before or prepared for. The increase in data and the fact that it is constantly changing exacerbates the challenge further.
There are different ways to address the challenge of anomaly detection, including supervised and unsupervised learning.
It’s pretty easy for individuals to send money back and forth, and there are lots of cash apps from which to choose. On the commercial side, however, one business trying to send $100,000 the same way is not as easy.
Paystand wants to change that. The Scotts Valley, California-based company is using cloud technology and the Ethereum blockchain as the engine for its Paystand Bank Network that enables business-to-business payments with zero fees.
The company raised $50 million Series C funding led by NewView Capital, with participation from SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund and King River Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to $85 million, Paystand co-founder and CEO Jeremy Almond told TechCrunch.
During the 2008 economic downturn, Almond’s family lost their home. He decided to go back to graduate school and did his thesis on how commercial banking could be better and how digital transformation would be the answer. Gleaning his company vision from the enterprise side, Almond said what Venmo does for consumers, Paystand does for commercial transactions between mid-market and enterprise customers.
“Revenue is the lifeblood of a business, and money has become software, yet everything is in the cloud except for revenue,” he added.
He estimates that almost half of enterprise payments still involve a paper check, while fintech bets heavily on cards that come with 2% to 3% transaction fees, which Almond said is untenable when a business is routinely sending $100,000 invoices. Paystand is charging a flat monthly rate rather than a fee per transaction.
Paystand’s platform. Image Credits: Paystand
On the consumer side, companies like Square and Stripe were among the first wave of companies predominantly focused on accounts payable and then building business process software on top of an existing infrastructure.
Paystand’s view of the world is that the accounts receivables side is harder and why there aren’t many competitors. This is why Paystand is surfing the next wave of fintech, driven by blockchain and decentralized finance, to transform the $125 trillion B2B payment industry by offering an autonomous, cashless and feeless payment network that will be an alternative to cards, Almond said.
Customers using Paystand over a three-year period are able to yield average benefits like 50% savings on the cost of receivables and $850,000 savings on transaction fees. The company is seeing a 200% increase in monthly network payment value and customers grew two-fold in the past year.
The company said it will use the new funding to continue to grow the business by investing in open infrastructure. Specifically, Almond would like to reboot digital finance, starting with B2B payments, and reimagine the entire CFO stack.
“I’ve wanted something like this to exist for 20 years,” Almond said. “Sometimes it is the unsexy areas that can have the biggest impacts.”
As part of the investment, Jazmin Medina, principal at NewView Capital, will join Paystand’s board. She told TechCrunch that while the venture firm is a generalist, it is rooted in fintech and fintech infrastructure.
She also agrees with Almond that the B2B payments space is lagging in terms of innovation and has “strong conviction” in what Almond is doing to help mid-market companies proactively manage their cash needs.
“There is a wide blue ocean of the payment industry, and all of these companies have to be entirely digital to stay competitive,” Medina added. “There is a glaring hole if your revenue is holding you back because you are not digital. That is why the time is now.”
Magic, a San Francisco-based startup that builds “plug and play” passwordless authentication technology, has raised $27 million in Series A funding.
The round, led by Northzone and with participation from Tiger Global, Volt Capital, Digital Currency Group and CoinFund, comes just over a year after Magic launched from stealth, rebranding from its previous name Formatic.
The company, like many others, is on a mission to end traditional password-based authentication. Magic’s flagship SDK, which launched in April 2020, enables developers to implement a variety of passwordless authentication methods with just a few lines of code and integrates with a number of modern frameworks and infrastructures.
Not only does the SDK make it easier for companies and developers to implement passwordless auth methods in their applications, but it could also help to mitigate the expensive fallout that many have to deal with as a result of data breaches.
“This is why the password is so dangerous,” Sean Li, Magic co-founder and CEO tells TechCrunch. “It’s like a Jenga tower right now — a hacker breaching your system can download an entire database of encrypted passwords, and then easily crack them. It’s a huge central point of failure.”
The company recently built out its SDK to add support for WebAuthn, which means it can support hardware-based authentication keys like Yubico, as well as biometric-based Face ID and fingerprint logins on mobile devices.
“It’s less mainstream right now, but we’re making it super simple for developers,” says Li. “This way we can help promote new technologies, and that’s really good for user security and privacy.”
It’s a bet that seems to be working: Magic has recorded a 13% month-over-month increase in developer signups, and the number of identities secured is growing at a rate of 6% weekly, according to Magic. It has also secured a number of big-name customers, from crypto news publisher Decrypt to fundraising platform Fairmint.
Wendy Xiao Schadeck, a partner at Northzone said: “We couldn’t be more excited to support Sean and the Magic team as they redefine authentication for the internet from the bottom up, solving a core pain point for developers, users, and companies.
“It was clear to us that they’re absolutely loved by their customers because the team is so obsessed with serving every single part of the developer journey across several communities. What’s potentially even more exciting is what they will be able to do to empower users and decentralize the identity layer of the web.”
The company now plans to continue to scale its platform and expand its team to meet what Magic describes as “soaring” demand. The startup, which currently has 30 employees that work remotely on a full-time basis, expects to at least double its headcount across all core functions, including product, engineering, design, marketing, finance, people and operations.
It’s also planning to build out the SDK even further; Li says he wants to be able to plug into more kinds of technology, from low-code applications to workflow automations.
“The vision is much bigger than that. We want to be the passport of the internet,” Li adds.
The world of venture capital investing is a relatively small one, and relationship-based to boot. Family offices and accredited investors are eager to get involved in high-quality funds, but face hurdles like access to fund managers.
Enter Allocate. The company, founded by Samir Kaji and Hana Yang in February 2021, is developing an approach to venture capital fund investing that provides a way for investors of any size to participate.
On Thursday, the San Francisco-based company announced it raised $5 million in seed funding from a group of backers including Urban Innovation Fund, Tusk Venture Partners, Basis Set Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, Fika Ventures, Ulu Ventures and Anthemis Group.
The pair met as Kauffman Fellows, both with backgrounds in financial services. By the time they met, Yang was working in the nonprofit world, and said they began talking about the friction between the nonprofit and venture capital worlds. Then Yang joined Kaji at First Republic Bank to work together and continue the conversation.
Kaji, citing a Boston Consulting Group report, estimated there are between 8,000 and 11,000 global family offices and nearly 17 million accredited investors that currently control some $42 trillion in assets.
They saw the issue as it related to supply and demand: On the supply side, there are a finite number of institutional investors, “all with their dance cards full,” Kaji told TechCrunch. Fund managers want to get at that nontraditional endowment money and are looking at family offices, but finding those individuals is a challenge.
Meanwhile, on the demand side, family offices have trouble accessing venture capital firms — they don’t know where to look to find managers, don’t have time to cultivate those relationships or can’t make the traditional $1 million commitments.
As a result, Kaji and Yang decided to start Allocate as a way to usher in the next era of venture capital by creating a way for retail investors of any size or background to invest in funds and for managers to find family offices.
Allocate’s platform curates venture fund products for wealth advisors, family offices and qualified individual investors based on their investment objectives, and any pre- and post-investment transactions and reporting activities are completed on the platform.
The company sets up its own feeder vehicles that aggregate investor capital so that there are lower minimum investments and that capital can easily be managed by fund managers. It then charges a fee, on an annual basis, on investments made.
Currently, investors can choose the funds they want to invest in, but Kaji said Allocate will eventually also offer products that will be like funds of funds, where investments go into a pot that will be invested by a fund manager.
The company is pre-revenue and said it will use the new funding to build out its product and make some key hires over the next year as it gears up for a formal software product launch at the end of the year. It is already attracting a waitlist of several hundred fund managers and investors.
“With the market the way it is, the number of accredited investors is expected to grow by 50% by 2025,” Raji said. “There is a huge opportunity to unlock the market and have people participate.”
Jordan Nof, co-founder and managing partner at Tusk Ventures, agrees. He sees a lot of economic growth taking place outside the public market, and opportunities present themselves for someone to capitalize on.
Due to the access issue between fund managers and potential investors, there are trillions of dollars sitting on the sidelines, he told TechCrunch. With Allocate, Nof saw a way to bridge the two parties with tools for both sides to make sound decisions and further evolve venture capital.
“I have known Samir for quite some time, and he and his team understand this problem set and they have a vision of what the venture capital future looks like,” he added. “This is a cottage industry even though VC is responsible for impacting the largest of technology companies, which have taken VC, yet it is a still super fragmented industry that has no transparency. Allocate is the next transition of a true platform that enables family offices and high-net worth individuals access.”
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)
Fintech startup Upgrade is launching a new credit card today. The Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card is a classic Visa credit card that works across the Visa network. But you get 1.5% in bitcoin rewards when you make payments.
Upgrade isn’t the first company to announce a credit card with bitcoin rewards — but it’s the first one that is generally available. If your application is approved, you can start using the virtual card immediately.
BlockFi announced its own credit card with bitcoin rewards in December 2020. Gemini followed suit quickly after. But those cards are still not generally available. A couple of weeks ago, BlockFi started inviting people on its waitlist. So a general rollout should come sooner rather than later.
As for the Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card, the company offers credit lines from $500 to $25,000 depending on your credit score. It works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. Like other Upgrade credit cards, there are no monthly fees, late fees or returned payment fees.
Image Credits: Upgrade
Essentially, this new card works pretty much like Upgrade’s existing credit card. But instead of getting 1.5% cash back on all purchases, you get 1.5% back in bitcoin — there’s no specific category, no
partner retailer, no point system. It’s a straightforward, uncapped cash back program.
While you get rates that range between 8.99% and 29.99%, Upgrade encourages you to combine monthly charges into installment plans that you can pay back over 24 to 60 months. Once you’ve done that, you pay equal monthly payments at a fixed rate.
"Upgrade Card is already delivering over $3 billion in annualized credit to consumers," co-founder and CEO Renaud Laplanche said in a statement. "Starting today, anyone can apply for an Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card and enjoy the same affordable and responsible credit as with any Upgrade Card, plus the potential upside and fun of owning bitcoin."
The company has partnered with NYDIG for the bitcoin rewards. Right now, you can’t do much with your bitcoins. You can choose to hold them or sell them. There’s no way to transfer your bitcoins to another wallet for instance. If you choose to sell your rewards, there’s a 1.5% transaction fee.
It’s also worth noting that this card isn’t available in all 50 states. Customers in Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia can’t order a Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card at the moment.
Once again, Upgrade is diversifying its portfolio of products as a top-of-the-funnel strategy. By diversifying its credit card offering, it’ll lead to more personal loans down the road.
To be fair, Upgrade encourages you to pay down your debt as you receive your rewards when you make your monthly balance payments. But Upgrade wants to own the customer relationship so that you’ll think about them whenever you need a personal loan.
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.
Not every startup wants to raise venture capital. And then there are those that do want to raise VC money but don’t want to use it for specific things.
In recent years, a number of firms have emerged looking to meet the credit needs of such venture-backed and growth startups: i80 Group is one of those firms.
Former Goldman Sachs investment banker Marc Helwani founded i80 in 2016 after investing in early-stage New York-based fintechs in 2014-2015 via his VC fund, Avenue A Ventures.
“It became very clear to me that fintech was going to explode,” he recalls. “At that time, it was still relatively new. And every time I spoke to a company, they would tell me, ‘We know how to raise VC, but what about the credit?’ I just saw this white space.”
For example, proptechs that buy homes on behalf of buyers don’t want to use venture money. Fintechs that want to make loans to consumers don’t want to use equity to do it. Instead, in those cases, credit might be more desirable.
Enter i80. The firm offers credit exclusively, and over the years has quietly committed more than $1 billion to over 15 companies –including real estate marketplace Properly, finance app MoneyLion and SaaS financing company Capchase — that have all raised a significant amount of venture capital but are looking for credit “to help them scale very efficiently and in a non-dilutive manner so they can retain more ownership of their companies,” Helwani said.
Its $1 billion milestone follows fund commitments nearing $500 million from an unnamed “leading global asset manager” as well as other institutional and retail investors.
Image Credits: Founder and Chief Investment Officer Marc Helwani / i80 Group
I80 — which derives its name from the highway that connects New York and San Francisco — is mainly focused on the fintech and proptech sectors.
“They are the two centers for the venture ecosystem,” Helwani said. “And we’re trying to be a bridge between those two cities.” I80 has offices in both locations and will soon be opening one in Montreal.
The firm works in conjunction with VC firms such as a16z (more formally known as Andreessen Horowitz); Affirm and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s SciFi; Khosla Ventures; Union Square Ventures; and QED.
“In a perfect world, venture capital would be called venture equity,” Helwani said. “VCs’ capital is critical for companies to hire and get office space. But when it comes time to do what the actual business is, such as provide loans or buy homes, capital like ours is very accretive without VCs and management losing ownership in the business. In these cases, using both credit and equity makes a lot of sense.”
Helwani is reluctant to call what i80 offers venture “debt.” He says that has a very specific connotation and is what Silicon Valley Bank and others like it do in providing debt as a percentage of a previous equity round. Instead, according to Helwani, i80’s approach is to minimize fees. The vast majority of its deals are “interest-rate related.”
“With mortgages, for example, we never think about the fees upfront, and focus more on the interest rate,” Helwan said. “We believe the more transparent we are, the more companies will want to work with us.”
I80 conducts quarterly calls with VCs and for now, that’s how it typically sources most of its deal flow. It also gets referrals. Helwani believes that i80 stands out from other firms also offering credit in that it’s “not trying to be credit investors in VC clothing.”
He also thinks that the fact that the i80 team is made of operators, as well as investors, is a contributing factor.
The firm is set to close another half a dozen deals in the next 60 to 90 days, and then plans to set its sights on raising more capital.
“We want to fill this void, and help companies raise money in their subsequent rounds at higher valuations,” Helwani said.