The buy now, pay later frenzy isn’t going anywhere as more consumers seek alternatives to credit cards to fund purchases.
And those purchases aren’t exclusive to luxuries such as Pelotons (ahem, Affirm) or jewelry someone might be treating themselves to online. A new fintech company is out to help consumers finance big-ticket items that are considered more “must have” than “nice to have.” And it’s just raised $14 million in Series A funding to help it advance on that goal.
Neal Desai (former CFO of Octane Lending) and James Schuler (who participated in Y Combinator’s accelerator program as a high schooler) founded New York City-based Kafene in July 2019. The pair’s goal is to promote financial inclusion by meeting the needs of what it describes as the “consumers that are left behind by traditional lenders.”
More specifically, Kafene is focused on helping consumers with credit scores below 650 purchase retail items such as furniture, appliances and electronics with its buy now, pay later (BNPL) model. Consider it an “Affirm for the subprime,” says Desai.
Global Founders Capital and Third Prime Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from Valar, Company.co, Hermann Capital, Gaingels, Republic Labs, Uncorrelated Ventures and FJ labs.
“Historically, if you could access credit, you could go to the bank or use a credit card,” Third Prime’s Wes Barton told TechCrunch. “But if you had some unexpected expense, and had to miss a payment with the bank, there would be repercussions and you could fall into a debt trap.”
Kafene’s “flexible ownership” model is designed to not let that happen to a consumer. If for some reason, someone has to forfeit on a payment, Kafene comes to pick up the item and the customer is no longer under obligation to pay for it moving forward.
The way it works is that Kafene buys the product from a merchant on a consumers’ behalf and rents it back to them over 12 months. If they make all payments, they own the item. If they make them earlier, they get a “significant” discount, and if they can’t, Kafene reclaims the item and takes the loan loss.
Image Credits: Kafene
It’s a modern take on Rent-A-Center, which charges more money for inferior products, Desai believes.
“This is also a superior product to credit cards, and the size of that market is massive,” Barton said. “We want to take a huge chunk of credit card business in time, and give consumers the flexibility to quit at any point in time, and fly free, if you will.”
Such flexibility, Kafene claims, helps promote financial inclusion by giving a wider range of consumers options to alternative forms of credit at the point of sale.
It also helps people boost their credit scores, according to Desai, because if they buy out of the loan earlier than the 12-month term, their credit score goes up because Kafene reports them as a positive payer.
“In any situation where they don’t steal the item, their credit score improves,” he said. “Even if they end up returning it because they can’t afford it. In the long run, they can have a better credit score to qualify for a traditional loan product.”
Kafene rolled out a beta of its financing product in December of 2019 and then had to pause in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company essentially “hibernated” from March to June 2020 and re-launched out of beta last July.
By October, Kafene stopped all enrollment with merchants because it had more demand that it could handle — largely fueled by more people being financially strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, the company was handling about $2 million a month in merchandise volume.
With its new capital, Kafene plans to significantly scale its existing lease-to-own financing business nationally, as well as to launch a direct-to-consumer virtual lease card.
Briq, which has developed a fintech platform used by the construction industry, has raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Tiger Global Management.
The financing is among the largest Series B fundraises by a construction software startup, according to the company, and brings Briq’s total raised to $43 million since its January 2018 inception. Existing backers Eniac Ventures and Blackhorn Ventures also participated in the round.
Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy is a former executive at construction tech giant Procore (which recently went public and has a market cap of $10.4 billion) and Canadian software giant CMiC. Wall Street veteran Ron Goldshmidt is co-founder and COO.
Briq describes its offering as a financial planning and workflow automation platform that “drastically reduces” the time to run critical financial processes, while increasing the accuracy of forecasts and financial plans.
Briq has developed a toolbox of proprietary technology that it says allows it to extract and manipulate financial data without the use of APIs. It also has developed construction-specific data models that allows it to build out projections and create models of how much a project might cost, and how much could conceivably be made. Currently, Briq manages or forecasts about $30 billion in construction volume.
Specifically, Briq has two main offerings: Briq’s Corporate Performance Management (CPM) platform, which models financial outcomes at the project and corporate level and BriqCash, a construction-specific banking platform for managing invoices and payments.
Put simply, Briq aims to allow contractors “to go from plan to pay” in one platform with the goal of solving the age-old problem of construction projects (very often) going over budget. Its longer-term, ambitious mission is to “manage 80% of the money workflows in construction within 10 years.”
The company’s strategy, so far, seems to be working.
From January 2020 to today, ARR has climbed by 200%, according to Hamdy. Briq currently has about 100 employees, compared to 35 a year ago.
Briq has 150 customers, and serves general and specialty contractors from $10 million to $1 billion in revenue. They include Cafco Construction Management, WestCor Companies and Choate Construction and Harper Construction. The company is currently focused on contractors in North America but does have long-term plans to address larger international markets, Hamdy told TechCrunch.
Hamdy came up with the idea for Santa Barbara, California-based Briq after realizing the vast amount of inefficiencies on the financial side of the construction industry. His goal was to do for construction financials what Procore did to document management, and PlanGrid to construction drawing. He started Briq with his own cash, amassed through secondary sales as Procore climbed the ranks of startups to become a construction industry unicorn.
Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy. Image Credits: Briq
“I wanted to figure out how to bring the best of fintech into a construction industry that really guesses every month what the financial outcomes are for projects,” Hamdy told me at the time of the company’s last raise – a $10 million Series A led by Blackhorn Ventures announced in May of 2020. “Getting a handle on financial outcomes is really hard. The vast majority of the time, the forecasted cost to completion is plain wrong. By a lot.”
In fact, according to McKinsey, an astounding 80 percent of projects run over budget, resulting in significant waste and profit loss.
So at the end of a project, contractors often find themselves having doled out more money and resources than originally planned. This can lead to negative cash flow and profit loss. Briq’s platform aims to help contractors identify outliers, and which projects are more at risk.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Briq has proven to be “extremely valuable” to contractors, Hamdy said.
“In an industry where margins are so thin, we have given contractors the ability to truly understand where they stand on cash, profit and labor,” he added.
For all that’s said about fundraising and working alongside investors, rarely do we get to see founders and their investors in candid conversation with one another. Extra Crunch Live is changing that. On the weekly live show, we sit down with founders and the VCs who funded them to talk about how they came together on the deal, what stood out about the other party that led to their commitment and how they operate today. We also (usually) take a walk through their early pitch decks to get a feel for how success starts.
On an upcoming episode of Extra Crunch Live, we’ll sit down with Emergence’s Lotti Siniscalco and Retail Zipline’s Melissa Wong to discuss all that and more. The event goes down on Wednesday, June 23 at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT. You can register to attend right here.
Siniscalco is a principal at Emergence Capital, investing in early-stage enterprise software companies. She currently serves on the board of directors at Whistic and High Alpha. Prior to Emergence, she was an investor in financial services and technology at Advent International, a PE firm, and led diligence for Ribbit Capital (also fintech focused) before that.
In other words, she’s an expert in fintech and can bring a wealth of wisdom to our conversation around fundraising and startup growth.
Melissa Wong, on the other hand, has spent 10 years in retail communications at Old Navy. It was here that she realized a problem that Zipline Retail, a retail communication and store execution platform, could solve and set out on her own venture.
Extra Crunch Live also features the ECL Pitch-off, where startups in the audience can virtually “raise their hand” to pitch their startup live on our stream. Our expert guests will give their feedback on each pitch. If you want to throw your hat in the ring, you have to show up.
Extra Crunch Live is accessible to everyone, but only Extra Crunch members can access the content on demand. We do these every week, so there are scores of episodes across a wide variety of startup sectors in the ECL Library. It’s but one of many reasons to become an Extra Crunch member. Join here.
Venture capitalists continue to fund buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) startups, evidence of ongoing optimism regarding not only e-commerce, but the specific model for financing consumer purchases as well.
Evidence of continued investor confidence in the BNPL space cropped up several times in the second quarter. Divido, a startup that TechCrunch described as a “white-label [BNPL] platform for retail finance that integrates with e-commerce platforms,” raised $30 million. And Zilch raised $80 million for an “over-the-top” BNPL solution.
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Zilch is now worth $800 million.
There are other examples, but those will suffice to get us into the correct mindset for today’s work as we look back at data points regarding the financial performance of more mature BNPL tech companies. So, as in February when we were looking at Q4 2020 numbers, today we’re looking into the more recent performance of Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay.
As startups scale, they focus a bit more on profitability. Super-early-stage startups aren’t often too worried about net margins, for example, as their revenues can be nascent and their costs rising as they staff up for a product launch or another similar event.
But as those same startups mature into unicorn territory, questions about their model’s profitability on a unit basis, operating cash burn and aggregate profitability will start to pop up. The Rule of 40 is a startup rubric for a reason.
And in the cases of Affirm and Afterpay, we’re in fact examining public companies. So we can safely care even more about their profitability than we might if they, like Klarna, were still waiting for an IPO.
For each, then, we’ll consider growth and profitability. Let’s start with Klarna:
Klarna’s latest data, dealing with Q1 2021, breaks down as follows:
MotoRefi has raised another $45 million in a round led by Goldman Sachs just five months after investors poured $10 million into the fintech startup to help turbocharge its auto refinancing business.
The startup developed an auto refinancing platform that handles the entire loan process, including finding the best rates, paying off the old lender and re-titling the vehicle. MotoRefi says using its platform saves consumers an average of $100 a month on their car payments, a goal achieved partly because it works directly with lending institutions. The company’s refinancing tools had seen steady growth until the COVID-19 pandemic popped into in higher gear. CEO Kevin Bennett said MotoRefi is on track to issue $1 billion in loans by the end of the year, a fivefold increase from the same period last year.
Bennett said the short timeline between rounds was driven by investor confidence in its metrics, which have continued on to grow at a fast pace, and the basic economics around the business.
“We candidly weren’t planning on raising yet, but they (Goldman Sachs) were comfortable given the relationship we have built and the track record and success of the business, to preempt the round and move that calendar up,” Bennett said.
MotoRefi’s platform is available in 46 states and Washington DC with plans to be live in all 50 by the end of the year. The startup has ramped up hiring to help support that growth. By the first quarter of 2021, it had more than doubled its headcount to 187 employees from the same period last year. Its workforce has now popped to 250 employees. The company has hired several senior level executives, opened a new headquarters and partnered with SoFi. Goldman Sach’s vp of venture capital and growth equity Jade Mandel has joined MotoRefi’s board.
And Bennett sees plenty of room to grow as consumers seek out ways to rebalance their debts. The auto refinance market in the United States is $40 billion. However, overall auto loan debt is $1.3 trillion. With 40 million auto loans originated every year, MotoRefi is promised a consistent flow of potential new customers.
The fresh injection of capital, which included investor IA Capital as well as returning backers Moderne Ventures, Accomplice, Link Ventures, Motley Fool Ventures and CMFG Ventures, will be used to continue to build out its products and services and hire more people. MotoRefi has raised $60 million since its inception in 2016.
Bennett believes the company is now in self-sustaining position.
“Thankfully, we moved beyond the world where we are raising capital and then raising more capital as we run out of capital,” he said. “I think we have a great sustainable business and so we, in some sense runway is infinite, and we are building a great profitable business. That’s not to say that we won’t ever raise again, but it will be based on strategic considerations, as opposed to out of necessity.”
Penfold, a startup that offers a full-stack pension in a smartphone app, has closed an $8.5 million (£6 million) funding round, $4 million of which was from a crowdfunding campaign. The company is now approved by the FCA to operate a pension itself rather than relying on third parties and is aimed at freelancers who rarely save. The round was led by Bridford Group.
Penfold says it built the back-end infrastructure “from scratch,” CEO Pete Hykin told me. He said legacy providers are built up from “100s of consolidated schemes” and are often still paper-based and require an army of people to administer. Thus a tech-driven approach means fewer overheads and the ability to make an attractive offer to freelancers.
Hykin continued: “I was self-employed for two years so had no pension. I tried five times to set one up with Scottish Widows, Standard Life, AJ Bell, etc. I gave up, as all of them forced you to print something, call them or speak to an IFA. At a previous company, I set up a workplace pension for 70 staff and none of them engaged. Many left money on the table as a result.
“We rebuilt the entire back end of pensions so all processes can happen instantly, quick, flexibly and at a low cost. Then we put an amazing UX on it via a great app and amazing human customer service.” Features include search, track and consolidate old pensions, among others.
Hykin said users download the app, enter bare minimum legal details for KYC, choose one of five investment plans based on age/risk appetite, choose how to fund (recurring direct debit, open banking top up or transfer another pension). Then they receive HMRC 25% top ups until retirement.
A “Find my pension” tool is possibly the most powerful feature of this startup, where you put in the name of your old employer and it tracks down your old pension pot.
Its competitors include traditional providers such as Standard Life, Scottish Widows, Aviva and AJ Bell.
Pensions are definitely heading to apps. PensionBee recently arrived on the London Stock Exchange, for instance. PensionBee also recently announced self-employed offering.
Users will be charged an annual percentage fee on their pension balance (0.75%), but with no other fees. The other founders are Chris Eastwood (co-founder and co-CEO) and Stuart Robinson (co-Founder and CTO).
Another day, another unicorn public offering.
Today it’s Acorns, a consumer fintech service that blends saving and investing into a freemium product. It’s a company that TechCrunch has covered extensively since its birth, including through the pandemic’s impact on its business, both good and bad.
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Acorns fits inside the larger savings-and-investing boom seen over the last four or five quarters as consumers buffeted by the economic changes brought on by COVID-19 turned to stashing cash and boosting their equities investing cadence.
By now this is old news, but we haven’t had a clear picture of the economics of consumer fintech startups accelerated by the pandemic. Now that Acorns has decided to list via a SPAC — more on that in a moment — we do.
So this morning, we’re unpacking the Acorns deal and its investor deck, but we’re also trying to better understand why venture capitalists have poured so very much money into the space and the resulting economic picture that arises from the companies that they have funded. Acorns is our test subject, then.
We’ll start with a quick overview of its SPAC-led deal before getting into its results. Into the breach!
If your eyes are blurring as we review yet another SPAC transaction’s details, I get you. Let’s be brief. Here’s what you need to know:
You know, the thing you plant acorns to grow. Har har.
Here are the financial details of the transaction, via the company’s investor deck:
Image Credits: Acorns investor deck
Certain industries were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, especially in its early days.
Small businesses, including retailers and restaurants, were negatively impacted by lockdowns and the resulting closures. They had to adapt quickly to survive. If they didn’t use much technology before, they were suddenly being forced to, as so many things shifted to digital last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For companies like SpotOn, it was a pivotal moment.
The startup, which provides software and payments for restaurants and SMBs, had to step up to help the businesses it serves. Not only for their sake, but its own.
“We really took a hard look at what was happening to our clients. And we realized we needed to pivot, just to be able to support them,” co-CEO and co-founder Matt Hyman recalls. “We had to make a decision because our revenues also were taking a big hit, just like our clients were. Rather than lay off staff or require salary deductions, we stayed true to our core values and just kept plugging away.”
All that “plugging away” has paid off. Today, SpotOn announced it has achieved unicorn status with a $125 million Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).
Existing backers DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group and Franklin Templeton also participated in the financing, in addition to new investor Mubadala Investment Company.
Notably, the round triples the company’s valuation to $1.875 billion compared to its $625 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise last September. It also marks San Francisco-based SpotOn’s third funding event since March 2020, and brings the startup’s total funding to $328 million since its 2017 inception.
Its efforts have also led to impressive growth for the company, which has seen its revenue triple since February 2020, according to Hyman.
Put simply, SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale (POS) software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in-between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.
When the pandemic hit, SpotOn ramped up and rolled out 400 “new product innovations,” Hyman said. It also did things like waive $1.5 million in fees (it’s a SaaS business, so for several months it waived its monthly fee, for example, for its integrated restaurant management system). It also acquired a company, SeatNinja, so that it could expand its offering.
“Because a lot of these businesses had to go digital literally overnight, we built a free website for them all,” Hyman said. SpotOn also did things like offer commission-free online ordering for restaurants and helped retail merchants update their websites for e-commerce. “Obviously these businesses were resilient,” Hyman said. “But such efforts also created a lot of loyalty.”
Today, more than 30,000 businesses use SpotOn’s platform, according to Hyman, with nearly 8,000 of those signing on this year. The company expects that number to triple by year’s end.
Currently, its customers are split about 60% retail and 40% restaurants, but the restaurant side of its business is growing rapidly, according to Hyman.
The reason for that, the company believes, is while restaurants initially rushed to add online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup, they soon realized they “wanted a more affordable and more integrated solution.”
Image Credits: SpotOn co-founders Zach Hyman, Doron Friedman and Matt Hyman / SpotOn
What makes SpotOn so appealing to its customers, Hyman said, is the fact that it offers an integrated platform so that businesses that use it can save “thousands of dollars” in payments and software fees to multiple, “à la carte” vendors. But it also can integrate with other platforms if needed.
In addition to growing its customer base and revenue, SpotOn has also boosted its headcount to about 1,250 employees (from 850 in March of 2020). Those employees are spread across its offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Mexico City, Mexico and Krakow, Poland.
SpotOn is not currently profitable, which Hyman says is “by choice.”
“We could be cash flow positive technically whenever we choose to be. Right now we’re just so focused on product innovation and talent to exceed the needs of our clients,” he said. “We chose the capital plan so that we could really just double down on what’s working so well.”
The new capital will go toward further accelerating product development and expanding its market presence.
“We’re doubling down on our single integrated restaurant management system,” Hyman said.
The raise marks the first time that a16z has put money in the startup, although General Partner David George told TechCrunch he was familiar with co-founders Matt Hyman and Zach Hyman through mutual friends.
George estimates that about 80% of restaurants and SMBs use legacy solutions “that are clunky and outdated, and not very customer friendly.” The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more of these businesses seeking digital options.
“We think we’re in the very early days in the transition [to digital], and the opportunity is massive,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe we’re at the tipping point of a big tech replacement cycle for restaurant and small business software, and at the very early stages of this transition to modern cloud-native solutions.”
George was also effusive in his praise for how SpotOn has executed over the past 14 months.
“There are companies that build great products, and companies that can build great sales teams. And there are companies that offer really great customer service,” he said. “It’s rare that you find two of those and extremely rare to find all three of those as we have in SpotOn.”
Boston-based payment processor Flywire announced its IPO pricing last night. The company sold 10.44 million shares at $24 per share, the upper limit of its $22 to $24 per share price range. At that share count and price, Flywire’s gross IPO proceeds stood at $250.6 million.
Renaissance Capital pegs the company’s fully diluted valuation at $2.8 billion. Using a simple share count, the company is worth $2.40 billion at its IPO price.
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The Flywire IPO is neat from a financial perspective and notable in that it’s a Boston exit as opposed to yet another New York or San Francisco-based flotation. It’s nice to see some other cities put points on the board.
But more than that, this IPO is a useful measuring stick for keeping tabs on the IPO market as a whole. This year and the last are shaping up to be key exit periods for startups and unicorns of all shapes and sizes; many a venture capital fund return rests on these public debuts.
The relationships between banks and fintechs are multi-faceted.
In some cases, they partner. In many cases, they compete. In other cases, one acquires or invests in the other.
Well, today, an announcement by global payments giant Visa is aimed at helping facilitate banks and fintechs’ ability to work together.
Specifically, Visa said today it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect, a program designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers.
I talked with Terry Angelos, senior vice president and global head of fintech at Visa, to understand just exactly what that means.
“Global fintech investment last year was $105 billion,” Angelos said. “There were about 2,861 deals in venture, PE and M&A. So literally over $100 billion is going into fintech, which is more than the combined tech budgets of every bank in the U.S. As a result, a lot of innovation that is occurring in fintech is funded by venture dollars. We’re trying to bring that innovation to our clients, whether they are banks, processors or other fintechs.”
The program initially launched in Europe in November of 2020, and now is available in the U.S., Asia Pacific, Latin American and CEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa). Visa has worked to identify fintechs that can help banks and financial institutions (that are clients of Visa’s) as well as other fintechs “create digital-first experiences, without the cost and complexity of building the back-end technology in-house.”
Local teams will run programs in the respective regions, and vet and manage partners in the following categories: account opening, data aggregation, analytics and security, customer engagement and new cardholder services and operations and compliance.
So far, Visa has identified about 60 partners that offer a range of technologies — from back-office functions to new front-end services, according to Angelos. Those partners include Alloy, Jumio, Argyle, Fidel, FirstSource, TravelBank, Canopy, Hummingbird and Unit21, among others. Twenty-four are located in the U.S.
“So much of fintech focus and coverage is about disrupting existing banks. Everyone is trying to disrupt everyone, including fintechs like PayPal,” Angelos told TechCrunch. “Venture numbers are certainly very large. What we’re realizing is there is a significant opportunity to pair up a lot of venture-backed companies with our existing clients. It runs a little bit against us versus them approach you typically hear about.”
Visa clients can get in touch with program partners via the Visa Partner website and get benefits such as reduced implementation fees and pricing discounts.
“The Fintech Connect program is about both helping to identify and curate interesting fintech companies and then create a favorable commercial partnership for our clients so they can engage with these Fintech Connect partners,” Angelos said.
So, what does Visa gain from all this?
“Our goal is that all of our clients are in a position to build better digital experiences for their consumers,” he told TechCrunch. “We would love it if every bank had the latest tools in order to onboard clients and build digital experiences.”
One of its partners, for example, is virtual card startup Extend.
“There are fintechs that provide this today such as TripActions, Ramp and Divvy,” Angelos points out. “But what Visa is doing is looking at ‘How can we enable our banking clients to do something similar?’ So we’re bringing innovation into our ecosystem so that anyone can take advantage.”
It can also help companies such as TripActions, Ramp or Divvy with other complementary technologies for security posture, for example.
“The net beneficiary is to hopefully move more spending onto those rails,” Angelos said. “For example, if you look at B2B spend, there’s about $120 trillion of it annually. We believe about $20 trillion of that is card eligible. Today, Visa captures about $1 trillion of that. So, another $19 trillion is available for Visa to capture through our partners if our banks and fintechs can build these kinds of solutions to enable B2B payments.”
To be clear, Visa also invests in startups from time to time. But this initiative is distinct from those efforts, although a couple of its partners have been recipients of funding from Visa.
With more people than ever before going online to pay for things and pay each other, startups that are building the infrastructure that enables these actions continue to get a lot of attention.
In the latest development, Paysend, a fintech that has built a mobile-based payments platform — which currently offers international money transfers, global accounts, and business banking and e-commerce for SMBs — has picked up some money of its own. The London-based startup has closed a round of $125 million, a sizable Series B that the company’s CEO and founder Ronnie Millar said it will be using both to continue expanding its business geographically, to hire more people, and to continue building more fintech products.
The funding is being led by One Peak, with Infravia Growth Capital, Hermes GPE, previous backer Plug and Play and others participating.
Millar said Paysend is not disclosing valuation today but described it as a “substantial kick-up” and “a great step forward in our position ahead towards unicorn status.”
From what I understand though, the company was valued at $160 million in its previous round, and its core metrics have gone up 4.5x. Doing some basic math, that gives the company a valuation of around $720 million, a figure that a source close to the company did not dispute when I brought it up.
Something that likely caught investors’ attention is that Paysend has grown to the size it is today — it currently has 3.7 million consumer customers using its transfer and global account services, and 17,000 small business customers, and is now available in 110 receiving countries — in less than four years and $50 million in funding.
There are a couple of notable things about Paysend and its position in the market today, the first being the competitive landscape.
On paper, Paysend appears to offer many of the same features as a number of other fintechs: money transfer, global payments, and banking and e-commerce services for smaller businesses are all well-trodden areas with companies like Wise (formerly “TransferWise”), PayPal, Revolut, and so many others also providing either all or a range of these services.
To me, the fact that any one company relatively off the tech radar can grow to the size that it has speaks about the opportunity in the market for more than just one or two, or maybe five, dominant players.
Considering just remittances alone, the WorldBank in April said that flows just to low- and middle-income countries stood at $540 million last year, and that was with a dip in volumes due to Covid-19. The cut that companies like Paysend make in providing services to send money is, of course, significantly smaller than that — business models include commission charges, flat fees, or making money off exchange rates; Paysend charges £1 per transfer in the UK. More than that, the overall volumes, and the opportunity to build more services for that audience, are why we’re likely to see a lot of companies with ambitions to serve that market.
Services for small businesses, and tapping into the opportunity to provide more e-commerce tools at a time when more business and sales are being conducted online, is similarly crowded but also massive.
Indeed, Paysend points out that there is still a lot of growing and evolution left to do. Citing McKinsey research, it notes that some 70% of international payments are currently still cash-to-cash, with fees averaging up to 5.2% per transaction, and timing taking up to an hour each for sender and recipient to complete transfers. (Paysend claims it can cut fees by up to 60%.)
This brings us to the second point about Paysend: how it’s built its services. The fintech world today leans heavily on APIs: companies that are knitting together a lot of complexity and packaging it into APIs that are used by others who bypass needing to build those tools themselves, instead integrating them and adding better user experience and responsive personalization around them. notes, is a little different from these, with a vertically integrated approach, having itself built everything that it uses from the ground up.
Millar — a Scottish repeat entrepreneur (his previous company Paywizard, which has rebranded to Singula, is a specialist in pay-TV subscriber management) — notes that Paysend has built both its processing and acquiring facilities. “Because we have built everything in-house it lets us see what the consumer needs and uses, and to deliver that at a lower cost basis,” he said. “It’s much more cost efficient and we pass that savings on to the consumer. We designed our technology to be in complete control of it. It’s the most profitable approach, too, from a business point of view.”
That being said, he confirmed that Paysend itself is not yet profitable, but investors believe it’s making the right moves to get there. And, to be clear, Paysend actually does partner with other companies, including those providing APIs, to improve its services. In April, Plaid and Paysend announced they were working together to power open banking transfers, reducing the time to initiate and receive money.
“We are excited by Paysend’s enormous growth potential in a massive market, benefiting from a rapid acceleration in the adoption of digital payments,” said Humbert de Liedekerke, managing partner at One Peak Partners, in a statement. “In particular, we are seeing strong opportunities as Paysend moves beyond consumers to serve business customers and expands its international footprint to address a growing need for fast, easy and low-cost cross border digital payments. Paysend has built an exceptional payment platform by maintaining an unwavering focus on its customers and constantly innovating. We are excited to back the entire Paysend team in their next phase of explosive growth.”
When disaster strikes, costs pile up quickly. Flood waters can wipe out the foundation of a home or building, just as much as wildfires can burn down the walls or the entire structure. For residents and business owners, rebuilding and rebuilding quickly is crucial: they ultimately need some place to live and offer services, and they often can’t afford to be shut out for extended periods of time.
Of course, the need for speed among consumers hits the brick wall that is the insurance industry and government’s timeline for dispersing post-disaster insurance claims and aid. It’s not uncommon for federal aid to take months or even years to arrive, and insurance companies can often take months as well to process claims, particularly after large disasters like hurricanes where thousands of claims arrive simultaneously.
Dorothy is a startup that is aiming to bridge the gap by offering, well, gap loans to users who already have existing private insurance or federal flood insurance policies. The idea is to extend cash as quickly as possible after qualification, and then Dorothy gets paid back when a claim is later processed. Much like other advance cash startups in other sectors, Dorothy takes a fee based on the size of the loan.
The company’s underwriting model assesses the likelihood that a claim will be approved given the details of a particular disaster and the user’s insurance policy.
Arianna Armelli and Claudio Angrigiani founded the company last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, naming it for the character from the Wizard of Oz who repeatedly said “there’s no place like home.” They met each other in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and explored different ways to solve the challenges of disaster finance.
Armelli, for her part, had experienced these challenges firsthand in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. She was an architect, and her office in Manhattan had to be evacuated. She returned a few days later, but over time, realized that many of her friends still couldn’t return to their homes even weeks after the hurricane had passed. She volunteered with recovery efforts, and I “went house to house in the Rockaways to remove drywall from their basements,” she said.
She continued her career, spending nearly six years as an architect and urban planner, and that training drove some of her early ideas about how to improve post-disaster recovery. “I thought the answer to these problems was designing better infrastructure and long-term sustainable solutions with planning,” she said. “After six years in planning, [I] realized these were 40-year projects.”
After meeting Angrigiani, the two explored ways to make the insurance system better for end users. They began by investigating how better flood data could help insurance companies underwrite better policies and process claims faster. They realized over time though that the insurance industry was quite sclerotic, and that a third-party provider of better flood predictive data wasn’t going to have a large impact on outcomes.
As COVID bared down on the world, they then explored business interruption insurance. Using their technology for disaster prediction, they saw an opportunity to offer “a financial supplementary product for businesses,” essentially a “credit line product that is offered to commercial business owners similar to a credit card,” Armelli said. That idea eventually morphed into the company’s current product offering targeting property owners, both businesses and individuals, with the same sort of gap loan to solve immediate cash-flow problems.
Dorothy participated in the latest cohort of Urban-X and closed a pre-seed round this past February. The company has raised a $250,000 debt facility to further test out its gap loan product, and it has 25 qualified customers in its pipeline. It’s early days, but an interesting new bet on how to make insurance actually useful when people face some of the toughest moments of their lives.
It’s just one of a new crop of startups that are building new offerings in a world increasingly filled with massive disasters.
Meet Finary, a new French startup that wants to change how you manage your savings, investments, mortgage, real estate assets and cryptocurrencies. The company lets you aggregate all your accounts across various banks and financial institutions so that you can track your wealth comprehensively over time.
After attending Y Combinator, the startup has just closed a $2.7 million (€2.2 million) seed round led by Speedinvest with Kima Ventures and angel investors, such as Raphaël Vullierme also participating.
If you know people who have a ton of money, chances are they tend to be at least 40 or 50 years old — you don’t become rich overnight after all. And they tend to manage their investment portfolio through a wealth management service with tailor-made services.
“There’s very little tech in wealth management. Advisors are also incentivized to sell you some financial products in particular,” co-founder and CEO Mounir Laggoune told me. In that situation, the company in charge of the financial product is generating revenue for the advisor — not the client.
At the same time, a new generation of investors is starting to accumulate a lot of wealth. And yet, they don’t have the right tools to allocate it properly. Younger people want to see information directly. They want a way to track information in real-time, or near real-time. And they want to be able to take some actions based on that data.
Finary wants to build that service based on those principles. It starts with an API-based aggregator. When you create a Finary account, you can connect it with all your other accounts — bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mortgage and real estate, gold, cryptocurrencies, etc.
The startup leverages various open banking APIs to be as exhaustive as possible. For instance, “you can connect a Robinhood account and a Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne account,” Laggoune said. Behind the scenes, Finary uses Plaid and Budget Insight, runs its own bitcoin and Ethereum nodes to track wallet addresses, estimates the value of your home through public data and a proprietary algorithm.
After that, you can see how much money you have, how it is divided between your investment pools, the current value of your gold and cryptocurrency assets and more.
“Our long-term vision is that we want to build a virtual wealth manager for Europe,” Laggoune said.
That’s why Finary recently launched its premium subscription called Finary+. With a premium account, you can see how much you’re paying in fees and track your performance — more features will get added over time.
A few months after launching its platform, Finary already tracks €2 billion in assets across thousands of users. With today’s funding round, the startup will roll out its service to more countries and more financial institutions in France, Europe and the U.S. The company is also working on mobile apps.
This is an interesting take on wealth management as Finary doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Legacy players want you to use a single bank for all your financial needs. But you end up paying a lot of fees and you have to use old and clunky interfaces.
Finary isn’t yet another wealth management service. It’s a holistic service that lets you use multiple banks and services while remaining on top of your assets.
Image Credits: Finary
The IPO market is gearing up for a hot close to the second quarter and a hotter Q3.
That’s The Exchange’s takeaway from recent IPO filings from Monday.com (enterprise planning and communications) and a number of SPAC-led combinations from Bird (scooter sharing), Bright Machines (AI-powered microfactories) and others. Looking ahead, Squarespace (site design and hosting) will direct list this week, while Oatly (pressed grain juice) and Procore (construction tech) will price and complete traditional IPOs in the next few days.
Late last week, Marqeta (card issuing and payments tech) filed as well, and just this morning, Flywire (global payments) set a price range for its own debut. The two fintechs are our targets today, though we’ll take them in sequential posts.
The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.
Public equities have seen some price declines in recent sessions, and there’s been observable multiples-compression afoot among both tech stocks and shares more generally. But many companies are betting that it remains a fertile moment to list. A slow drift downward in the value of technology revenue, in other words, is not stopping what could be an enthusiastic exit market from here to the end of the year.
If you are not familiar with Marqeta, it powers the payment card tech behind products that you use, like Square, a key customer and driver of the unicorn’s growth. Marqeta exhibits a number of fascinating fintech characteristics (majority revenue from interchange, a rabidly competitive market) that make it very interesting to unspool.
Alek Koenig spent four years at Affirm, where he was head of credit.
There he saw firsthand just how powerful the alternative lending model could be. Koenig realized that it wasn’t just consumers who could benefit from the model, but businesses too.
So in November 2019, he founded Settle as a way to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital. (Not every company wants to raise venture money). By June 2020, the startup had launched its platform, which is designed to help these businesses manage their cash flow. Over time, he recruited a previous co-worker, Shane Morian, to serve as Settle’s CTO.
And today, the company is announcing that it has raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins. This follows a previously unannounced $6 million seed raise led by Founders Fund in November 2020. Other investors in the company include SciFi (Affirm founder Max Levchin’s VC firm), Caffeinated Capital, WorkLife Ventures, Background Capital and AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli.
With the pandemic leading to a massive shift toward digital and online shopping, ecommerce and CPG businesses found themselves with the challenge of keeping up with demand while trying to manage their cash flow. The main problem was the lag between accounts receivables and accounts payables.
“These companies suffer from the problem where there are these huge cash flow gaps from buying inventory, waiting to receive it and then turning it into revenue,” Koenig explains. “It takes quite a bit of time for these customers to actually get revenue from all those inventory purchases they need to make. What we do is make it really easy for companies to pay their vendors with extended payment terms.”
Settle does this by automatically syncing to a business’ accounting software and combining that with working capital products it’s developed.
Put simply, Settle will pay a vendor, and then brands can pay Settle back when they turn that COGS (cost of goods sold) into revenue. The startup says it also saves brands money on expensive wire fees.
Image Credits: Settle
“Businesses really value getting cash sooner, so they can use it in their operations,” Koenig said. “We’ve worked to reimagine the CFO suite for brands, starting with integrated financing and bill pay solutions.”
The concept of non-dilutive capital is not a new one with other startups tackling the space in different ways. For example, Pipe aims to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts.
Settle is focused on the e-commerce vertical, and building a unique product for that category, Koenig says, rather than trying to build a product aimed for several different industries.
“We don’t want to be a mediocre product for everybody,” he told TechCrunch. “But rather a phenomenal product for this vertical.”
Since its launch last June, Settle has seen its business jump by 1000% although it’s important to note that’s from a small base. Settle is currently working with over 300 brands including baby stroller retailer Lalo, Spiceology and men’s skincare brand Disco. So far, all of its growth has been organic.
“Last year when the pandemic hit, offline retail shut down and ecommerce got a big boost. But that meant that a lot of these companies were running out of orders and were out of stock on many items, so they were just kind of leaving money on the table,” Koenig said. “Once they started using us, they were able to buy more inventory, so we actually help them make more profit, and not just create more sales.”
His reasoning for that last statement is that by giving these businesses the ability to purchase items in bulk, they could get cheaper price per unit costs as well as cheaper shipping costs.
The company is planning to use its new capital in part to grow its team of 20, as well as raise more debt so that it can continue lending money to businesses.
Kleiner Perkins’ Monica Desai Weiss said her firm believes that Koenig and CTO Morian’s expertise in underwriting, capital markets and e-commerce give the pair “a rare skill set that’s unique to their market.”
She’s also drawn to the company’s embedded approach.
“Whereas most lending businesses are fairly transactional and opportunistic, Settle becomes deeply embedded in the way their merchants forecast and grow,” she told TechCrunch. “That approach has demonstrated inherent virality and their timing is perfect — the past year has changed consumer behaviors permanently and also produced massive opportunities for global entrepreneurship via ecommerce. In that way, we see the umbrella of e-commerce expanding massively in the coming years, and we believe Settle will be key to enabling that shift.”
The world of digital payments is very fragmented, with different types of online bank accounts, digital wallets and money transfer services used in different countries. Singapore-based Thunes, a fintech focused on making cross-border money transfers easier, announced today it has raised a $60 million growth round led by Insight Partners. One of the world’s largest venture capital firms, Insight is known for working closely with growth-stage companies, helping them expand through its ScaleUp program.
The round included participation from existing shareholders. Thunes’ last funding announcement was in September 2020 a $60 million Series B led by Helios Investment Partners. Other investors include GGV Capital and Checkout.com.
Founded in 2016, Thunes’ customers include Grab, PayPal, MPesa, the Commercial Bank of Dubai, Western Union, Remitly and Singaporean insurance firm NTUC Income. Its technology serves a similar purpose for online payments platforms as the SWIFT system does for commercial banks, acting as a hub to transfer money online to recipients in different countries, even if they use a different financial institution, digital wallet or mobile money account. For example, Western Union uses Thunes so it can move money into digital wallets and bank accounts. Thunes monetizes per transaction through a fixed fee and a small currency exchange fee. It is regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom.
Chief executive officer Peter De Caluwe told TechCrunch that Thunes looks for active investos who can help it work with banks and regulators in new markets and connect it with potential clients. For example, Helios focuses on African companies and Thunes used part of its funding from the firm to build teams in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Likewise, GGV Capital, which led its Series A, helped Thunes’ operations in China.
When Insight approached Thunes, it was not planning to raise more funding.
“The important note here is that we were actually not planning to do another round and Insight was pretty persistent in knocking on our door,” De Caluwe said. “Since we last spoke in September, we more than doubled our workforce, our revenues, everything just became bigger and more scaled. So at the end, we decided getting extra funding from a very solid investor makes sense if they can help us.”
Insight’s portfolio also includes Twitter and Shopify and its ScaleUp program focuses on supporting software companies with high growth potential. For example, it recently became the first outside investor in Octopus Deploy, which had been bootstrapped for almost a decade, to help grow its enterprise market over the next five to 10 years.
De Caluwe said Insight’s resources, including its talent network, will help Thunes expand in North and South America, build its engineering and product teams and decide what new services to offer customers. Thunes has doubled its team from about 70 people to 160 over the past half year, including engineers in the United Kingdom, Singapore and China, and business development teams in Latin America and Africa.
“Geographically, this is an important step for us that ticks a big box,” De Caluwe said. For example, Insight can help Thunes onboard larger U.S. retailers and fintech companies, especially ones that want to collect payments from emerging countries.
“Our ambition now is if we have a large U.S.-based retailer, service or game company who uses us to pay somebody in emerging markets, like suppliers or partners, to let our API also collect from someone. So if are you are a U.S.-based player, you can also collect payments and that is something we have been working very aggressively on,” he added.
In a press statement, Deven Parekh, managing director at Insight Partners, said, “Taking an innovative approach to solving the problems of an extremely fragmented and complex payments ecosystem, Thunes has created a unique platform that provides accessible, fast and reliable payment solutions. We see the company as poised for massive growth as it expands its infrastructure. We are looking forward to helping them scale up.”
Amount, a company that provides technology to banks and financial institutions, has raised $99 million in a Series D funding round at a valuation of just over $1 billion.
WestCap, a growth equity firm founded by ex-Airbnb and Blackstone CFO Laurence Tosi, led the round. Hanaco Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Invus Opportunities and Barclays Principal Investments also participated.
Notably, the investment comes just over five months after Amount raised $86 million in a Series C round led by Goldman Sachs Growth at a valuation of $686 million. (The original raise was $81 million, but Barclays Principal Investments invested $5 million as part of a second close of the Series C round). And that round came just three months after the Chicago-based startup quietly raised $58 million in a Series B round in March. The latest funding brings Amount’s total capital raised to $243 million since it spun off from Avant — an online lender that has raised over $600 million in equity — in January of 2020.
So, what kind of technology does Amount provide?
In simple terms, Amount’s mission is to help financial institutions “go digital in months — not years” and thus, better compete with fintech rivals. The company formed just before the pandemic hit. But as we have all seen, demand for the type of technology Amount has developed has only increased exponentially this year and last.
CEO Adam Hughes says Amount was spun out of Avant to provide enterprise software built specifically for the banking industry. It partners with banks and financial institutions to “rapidly digitize their financial infrastructure and compete in the retail lending and buy now, pay later sectors,” Hughes told TechCrunch.
Specifically, the 400-person company has built what it describes as “battle-tested” retail banking and point-of-sale technology that it claims accelerates digital transformation for financial institutions. The goal is to give those institutions a way to offer “a secure and seamless digital customer and merchant experience” that leverages Amount’s verification and analytics capabilities.
Image Credits: Amount
HSBC, TD Bank, Regions, Banco Popular and Avant (of course) are among the 10 banks that use Amount’s technology in an effort to simplify their transition to digital financial services. Recently, Barclays US Consumer Bank became one of the first major banks to offer installment point-of-sale options, giving merchants the ability to “white label” POS payments under their own brand (using Amount’s technology).
“The pandemic dramatically accelerated banks’ interest in further digitizing the retail lending experience and offering additional buy now, pay later financing options with the rise of e-commerce,” Hughes, former president and COO at Avant, told TechCrunch. “Banks are facing significant disruption risk from fintech competitors, so an Amount partnership can deliver a world-class digital experience with significant go-to-market advantages.”
Also, he points out, consumers’ digital expectations have changed as a result of the forced digital adoption during the pandemic, with bank branches and stores closing and more banking done and more goods and services being purchased online.
Amount delivers retail banking experiences via a variety of channels and a point-of-sale financing product suite, as well as features such as fraud prevention, verification, decisioning engines and account management.
Overall, Amount clients include financial institutions collectively managing nearly $2 trillion in U.S. assets and servicing more than 50 million U.S. customers, according to the company.
Hughes declined to provide any details regarding the company’s financials, saying only that Amount “performed well” as a standalone company in 2020 and that the company is expecting “significant” year-over-year revenue growth in 2021.
Amount plans to use its new capital to further accelerate R&D by investing in its technology and products. It also will be eyeing some acquisitions.
“We see a lot of interesting technology we could layer onto our platform to unlock new asset classes, and acquisition opportunities that would allow us to bring additional features to our platform,” Hughes told TechCrunch.
Avant itself made its first acquisition earlier this year when it picked up Zero Financial, news that TechCrunch covered here.
Kevin Marcus, partner at WestCap, said his firm invested in Amount based on the belief that banks and other financial institutions have “a point-in-time opportunity to democratize access to traditional financial products by accelerating modernization efforts.”
“Amount is the market leader in powering that change,” he said. “Through its best-in-class products, Amount enables financial institutions to enhance and elevate the banking experience for their end customers and maintain a key competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
The fully vaxxed and officially fully immune took over the podcast this week, with Natasha and Danny co-hosting the show while the inimitable Alex is out from Shot No. 2. Grace and Chris, as always, were behind the scenes making sure we sound pretty and don’t fall down too many punny board game rabbit holes after vacation.
Here’s the rundown of what we got into:
And that’s where we break! Follow the podcast on Twitter, be kind to your humans, and be the kindest to yourself. Back sooner than you can raise a $25 million pre-seed round for an audio app for Dogecoin lovers.
Flywire is a global payments company that attracted more than $300 million as a startup, according to Crunchbase, most recently raising a $60 million Series F last month. We don’t have its most recent valuation, but PitchBook data indicates that the company’s February 2020, $120 million round valued Flywire at $1 billion on a post-money basis.
So what we’re looking at here is a fintech unicorn IPO. A great way to kick off the week, to be honest, though I’d thought that Robinhood would be the next such debut.
Fintech venture capital activity has been hot lately, which makes the Flywire IPO interesting. Its success or failure could dictate the pace of fintech exits and fintech startup valuations in general, so we have to care about it.
Regardless, we’re doing our regular work this morning. First, what does Flywire do and with whom does it compete? Then, a closer look at its financial results as we hope to get our hands around its revenue quality, aggregate economics and growth prospects.
After that, we’ll discuss valuations and which venture capital groups are set to do well in its flotation. The company had a number of backers, but Spark Capital, Temasek, F-Prime Capital, and Bain Capital Ventures made the major shareholder list, along with Goldman Sachs. So, a number of firms and funds are hoping for a big Flywire exit. Let’s dig in.
Flywire is a global payments company. Or, as it states in its S-1 filing, it’s “a leading global payments enablement and software company.” And it thinks that its market, and by extension itself, has lots of room to grow. While “substantial strides [have been] made in payments technology in the retail and e-commerce industries,” the company wrote, “massive sectors of our global economy—including education, healthcare, travel, and business-to-business, or B2B, payments—are still in the early stages of digital transformation.”
That’s the same logic behind Stripe’s epic valuation and the rising value of payments-focused companies like Finix.
Canadian fintech giant Wealthsimple has raised a new round of $750 million CAD (~$610 million) at a post-money valuation of $5 billion CAD (~$4 billion). The round was led by Meritech and Greylock, and includes funding from Inovia, Sagard, Redpoint, TSV, as well as individual investors including Drake, Ryan Reynolds and Michael J. Fox (basically, all the most famous Canadians).
Wealthsimple’s big new raise more than doubles its valuation from its last round, a $114 million CAD (roughly $93 million) funding announced last October, which carried a post-money valuation of $1.5 billion CAD ($~1.22 billion USD). The Toronto-based company has been a leader in the realm of democratizing financial products for consumers, including stock trading, crypto asset sales, and peer-to-peer money transfers.
The company says that it experienced significant growth during the pandemic, which is likely one big reason why its valuation rose so much between its most recent raise and this one. Its commission-free retail investment platform has grown “rapidly” over the course of the past 14 months, the company says, and the crypto trading platform which it launched last August has also seen strong uptake given the recent surge in consumer interest in cryptocurrency assets.
Late last year, Wealthsimple soft-launched its P2P money transfer app, Wealthsimple Cash, and in March it made it available to all Canadians. The app is very similar in terms of features to Venmo or Square’s Cash app, but neither of those offerings have been available to Canadians thus far. Wealthsimple’s app, which is free to use and distinct from its stock trading and crypto platforms, has thus tapped significant pent-up demand in the market and seen rapid uptake rthus far.
With this funding, Wealthsimple plans to “expand its market position, build out its product suite, and grow its team.” The company also offers automated savings and investing products (the robo-advisor tools it was originally founded around), as well as tax filing tools, and it has demonstrated a clear appetite and ability to expand its offerings to encompass even more of its customers financials lives when committed with fresh resources to do so.
The company says it has over 1.5 million users, with over $10 billion in assets under management as of the last publicly available numbers.