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Today — January 19th 2021Your RSS feeds

Citrix is acquiring Wrike from Vista for $2.25B

By Ron Miller

Citrix announced today that it plans to acquire Wrike, a SaaS project management platform, from Vista Equity Partners for $2.25 billion. Vista bought the company just two years ago.

Citrix, which is best known for its digital workspaces, sees this as a good match, especially at a time where employees have been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. By combining the two companies, it produces a powerful combination, one that didn’t escape Citrix CEO and president David Henshall

“Together, Citrix and Wrike will deliver the solutions needed to power a cloud-delivered digital workspace experience that enables teams to securely access the resources and tools they need to collaborate and get work done in the most efficient and effective way possible across any channel, device or location,” Henshall said in a statement.

Andrew Filev, founder and CEO at Wrike, who has managed the company through these multiple changes and remains at the helm, believes his company has landed in a good spot with the Citrix purchase.

“First, as part of the Citrix family we will be able to scale our product and accelerate our roadmap to deliver capabilities that will help our customers get more from their Wrike investment. We have always listened to our customers and have built our product based on their feedback — now we will be able to do more of that, faster.,” Filev wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal, stating a typical argument from CEOs of acquired companies.

The startup reports $140 million ARR, growing at 30% annually, so that comes out to approximately 16x its present-day revenue, which is the price companies are generally paying for acquisitions these days. However, as Wrike expects to reach $180 million to $190 million in ARR this year, the company’s sale price could look like a bargain in a few years’ time if the projections come to pass.

The price was not revealed in the 2018 sale, but it surely feels like a big win for Vista. Consider that Wrike has previously raised just $26 million.

StackPulse announces $28M investment to help developers manage outages

By Ron Miller

When a system outage happens, chaos can ensue as the team tries to figure out what’s happening and how to fix it. StackPulse, a new startup that wants to help developers manage these crisis situations more efficiently, emerged from stealth today with a $28 million investment.

The round actually breaks down to a previously unannounced $8 million seed investment and a new $20 million Series A. GGV led the A round, while Bessemer Venture Partners led the seed and also participated in the A. Glenn Solomon at GGV and Amit Karp at Bessemer will join the StackPulse board.

Nobody is immune to these outages. We’ve seen incidents from companies as varied as Amazon and Slack in recent months. The biggest companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon employ site reliability engineers and build customized platforms to help remediate these kinds of situations. StackPulse hopes to put this kind of capability within reach of companies, whose only defense is the on-call developers.

Company co-founder and CEO Ofer Smadari says that in the midst of a crisis with signals coming at you from Slack and PagerDuty and other sources, it’s hard to figure out what’s happening. StackPulse is designed to help sort out the details to get you back to equilibrium as quickly as possible.

First off, it helps identify the severity of the incident. Is it a false alarm or something that requires your team’s immediate attention or something that can be put off for a later maintenance cycle. If there is something going wrong that needs to be fixed right now, StackPulse can not only identify the source of the problem, but also help fix it automatically, Smadari explained.

After the incident has been resolved, it can also help with a post mortem to figure out what exactly went wrong by pulling in all of the alert communications and incident data into the platform.

As the company emerges from stealth, it has some early customers and 35 employees based in Portland, Oregon and Tel Aviv. Smadari says that he hopes to have 100 employees by the end of this year. As he builds the organization, he is thinking about how to build a diverse team for a diverse customer base. He believes that people with diverse backgrounds build a better product. He adds that diversity is a top level goal for the company, which already has an HR leader in place to help.

Glenn Solomon from GGV, who will be joining the company board, saw a strong founding team solving a big problem for companies and wanted to invest. “When they described the vision for the product they wanted to build, it made sense to us,” he said.

Customers are impatient with down time and Solomon sees developers on the front line trying to solve these issues. “Performance is more important than ever. When there is downtime, it’s damaging to companies,” he said. He believes StackPulse can help.

ETH spin-off LatticeFlow raises $2.8M to help build trustworthy AI systems

By Frederic Lardinois

LatticeFlow, an AI startup that was spun out of ETH Zurich in 2020, today announced that it has raised a $2.8 million seed funding round led by Swiss deep-tech fund btov and Global Founders Capital, which previously backed the likes of Revolut, Slack and Zalando.

The general idea behind LatticeFlow is to build tools that help AI teams build and deploy AI models that are safe, reliable and trustworthy. The problem today, the team argues, is that models get very good at finding the right statistical patterns to hit a given benchmark. That makes them inflexible, though, since these models were optimized for accuracy in a lab setting, not for robustness in the real world.

“One of the most commonly used paradigms for evaluating machine learning models is just aggregate metrics, like accuracy. And, of course, this is a super coarse representation of how good a model really is,” Pavol Bielik, the company’s CTO explained. “What we want to do is, we provide systematic ways of monitoring models, assessing their reliability across different relevant data slices and then also provide tools for improving these models.”

Image Credits: LatticeFlow

Building these kinds of models that are more flexible yet still provide robust results will take a new arsenal of tools, though, as well as the right team with deep expertise in these areas. Clearly, though, this is a founding team with the right background. In addition to CTO Bielik, the founding team includes Petar Tsankov, the company’s CEO and former senior researcher and lecturer at ETH Zurich, as well as ETH professors Martin Vechev, who leads the Secure, Reliable and Intelligence Systems lab at ETH, and Andreas Krause, who leads ETH’s Learning & Adaptive Systems lab. Tsankov’s last startup, DeepCode, was acquired by cybersecurity firm Snyk in 2020.

It’s also worth noting that Vechev, who previously co-founded ETH spin-off ChainSecurity, and his group at ETH previously developed ERAN, a verifier for large deep learning models with millions of parameters, that last year won the first competition for certifying deep neural networks. While the team was already looking at creating a company before winning this competition, Vechev noted that gave the team the confirmation that it was on the right path.

Image Credits: LatticeFlow

“We want to solve the main AI problem, which is making AI usable. This is the overarching goal,” Vechev told me. “[…] I don’t think you can actually found the company just purely based on the certification work. I think the kinds of skills that people have in the company, my group, Andreas [Krause]’s group, they all complement each other and cover a huge space, which I think is very, very unique. I don’t know of other companies who have covered this range of skills in these pressing points and have done groundbreaking work before.”

LatticeWorks already has a set of pilot customers who are trialing its tools. These include Swiss railways (SBB), which is using it to build a tool for automatic rail inspections, Germany’s Federal Cyber Security Bureau and the U.S. Army. The team is also working with other large enterprises that are using its tools to improve their computer vision models.

“Machine Learning (ML) is one of the core topics at SBB, as we see a huge potential in its application for an improved, intelligent and automated monitoring of our railway infrastructure,” said Dr. Ilir Fetai and Andre Roger, the leads of SBB’s AI team. “The project on robust and reliable AI with LatticeFlow, ETH, and Siemens has a crucial role in enabling us to fully exploit the advantages of using ML.”

For now, LatticeFlow remains in early access. The team plans to use the funding to accelerate its product development and bring on new customers. The team also plans to build out a presence in the U.S. in the near future.

Conversa Health expands its Series B round to $20M

By Frederic Lardinois

Portland, Oregon-based Conversa Health, a virtual care and communication platform that helps health organizations stay in touch with their patients and customers, today announced that it has expanded its Series B funding round from $12 million to $20 million. The round is still co-led by Builders VC and Northwell Health’s venture arm Northwell Ventures. Additional investors include UH Ventures, the venture arm of University Hospitals and VC firms P5 Health Ventures, Epic Ventures, StartUp Health and Nassau Street Ventures, as well Genesis Merchant Capital and J-Ventures, which came in as new investors in this expanded round.

“There’s been a recognition, especially with COVID, that the need for automated and virtual — which are two big trends in healthcare — were on the horizon but now the horizon has been pulled in because of COVID and the healthcare system recognizes that that’s going to be required to be able to allow access for patients and improve both the experience for patients and providers, and get better outcomes and do it at lower cost,” Conversa CEO Murray Brozinsky told me.

Brozinsky actually believes that within the next decade, 80% of care will be done remotely. This will allow for more personalized and evidence-based care, but it will also require investments in automation.

“Conversa links providers’ EHRs and other patient data to best-of-breed interactive digital care pathways and clinical analytics engine to automate care management 24×7. This improves care plan adherence pre and post visit, reducing costs and generating better outcomes for patients,” said Builders VC partner and Conversa board member Mark Goldstein. “Conversa’s enterprise platform and library of digital pathways are used by providers to care for patients across their populations, as opposed to one-off point solutions. It fills an enormous gap in the market.”

Given the pandemic, it’s maybe no surprise that Conversa’s business also boomed. The number of customers the company its services has grown fourfold while its financial metrics are up 6x because a lot of its larger companies have expanded their use of the platform.

The team decided to expand the existing Series B round to help it capitalize on this momentum and to bring on more engineers in order to scale the platform. Brozinsky believes that the need for a platform like Conversa’s will remain after the pandemic ends. In addition, the company is also already rolling out support for vaccination programs in its service to help educate consumers but also help in monitoring efforts after people get their shots.

“Everything we’re hearing from health systems, they recognize that they need to be prepared for this to happen again, they still need to care for the core demographics that haven’t changed — this aging population — with an acute shortage of healthcare workers,” Brozinsky said. “So the need for the systems and these platforms is going to be more acute and the investment is not so much an additional cost but an enormous return.”

Google backs India’s Dunzo in $40 million funding round

By Manish Singh

Google is writing check to another startup in India. The Android-maker, which last year unveiled a $10 billion fund to invest in the world’s second largest internet market, said on Tuesday that it is participating in a $40 million investment round of hyperlocal delivery startup Dunzo, a Bangalore-based firm that it has also previously backed.

Five-year-old Dunzo said Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada, and Alteria among others participated in its Series E financing round, which brings its to-date raise to $121 million.

Dunzo operates an eponymous hyper-local delivery service in nearly a dozen cities in India including Bangalore, Delhi, Noida, Pune, Gurgaon, Powai, Hyderabad and Chennai. Users get access to a wide-range of items across several categories, from grocery, perishables, pet supplies and medicines to dinner from their neighborhood stores and restaurants.

E-commerce accounts for less than 3% of all retail sales in India, according to industry estimates. Mom and pop stores and other neighborhood outlets that dot tens of thousands of cities, towns, villages and slums across the country drive most of the sales in the nation. The way Dunzo has grown, it poses a challenge to e-commerce firms, as well as local food and grocery delivery startups such as Swiggy, Zomato, BigBasket, and Grofers.

“As merchants go digital, Dunzo is helping small businesses in their digital transformation journey in support of business recovery,” said Caesar Sengupta, VP, Google, in a statement. “Through our India Digitization Fund, we’re committed to partnering with India’s innovative startups to build a truly inclusive digital economy that will benefit everyone.”

Kabeer Biswas, chief executive and co-founder of Dunzo the startup has grown its annual gross merchandise value business to about $100 million. (GMV used to a popular metric that several e-commerce firms relied on to demonstrate their growth, however, it’s one of the meaningless ways to gauge a startup’s growth. Most firms have stopped using GMV. Additionally, when a startup speaks GMV language, traditionally it has meant they are anything but close to profitability, which happens to be true in the case of Dunzo.)

“Dunzo’s mission resonated stronger than ever in 2020. We have been amazed by everything merchants and users have started to depend on the platform for. We truly believe we are writing a playbook for how hyperlocal businesses can be built with sustainable unit economics and capital responsibility. As a team, we are more focused than ever to enable local Merchants to get closer to their Users and build one of the most loved consumer brands in the country,” Biswas said in a statement.

Google, which invested $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms last year, recently backed social news app Dailyhunt and Glance, a part of ad giant InMobi Group that is aggressively expanding ways to populate content on Android users’ lockscreen. Google is also in talks with local social media ShareChat and may alone invest more than $100 million in the Indian startup, TechCrunch reported earlier this months. Talks about Google’s interest in ShareChat has previously also been reported by local media houses Economic Times and ET Now.

Skyqraft raises $2.2M seed for its powerline issue detection system

By Steve O'Hear

Skyqraft, the Swedish startup using AI and drones for electricity powerline inspection, has raised $2.2 million in seed funding, capital it will use to further develop its technology and expand its operations in Europe and in the U.S.

Leading the seed round is Subvenio Invest, with participation from pre-seed backer Antler, Next Human Ventures, and unnamed angel investors.

Founded in March 2019 and launched that September, Skyqraft provides what it calls “smart” infrastructure inspections for powerlines. It uses drones, combined with AI, to gather images and detect risk automatically.

This is in contrast to the status quo, where power-lines are typically inspected by teams of people and helicopters, which is time consuming and potentially dangerous. The idea behind Skyqraft is to enable safer powerline inspections in a more cost-efficient and environmentally sustainable way.

“Power-line inspections most importantly are not environmentally friendly, very costly and unsafe with the use of helicopters and people,” Skyqraft co-founder and CMO Sakina Turabali told TechCrunch when Skyqraft announced its pre-seed funding. “We provide smart infrastructure inspections using unmanned airplanes by gathering images and 360 videos and feeding that data into a machine learning system that automatically detects any risk to the power-lines.”

Skyqraft says the system can process high volumes of image data and is able to detect equipment issues “rapidly and with high accuracy”. By using Skyqraft, the Swedish company claims utility companies can shorten a 25km powerline inspection from two days to “three minutes”.

Image Credits: Skyqraft

That proposition appears to already be resonating with customers, which include the three largest utility companies in Sweden jointly representing 85% of the Swedish market. Additionally, Skyqraft says it is also negotiating a series of larger scale pilots in the U.S. in 2021 with the global utility company Iberdrola.

LeoCare raises $18.1 million for its insurance products designed to fit in a mobile app

By Romain Dillet

French startup LeoCare has raised a €15 million funding round. Felix Capital, Ventech and Daphni are participating in today’s funding round. The company is selling a portfolio of insurance products with a focus on the signup process and user experience. You can control your insurance products from a mobile app.

Chances are you already pay for multiple insurance products. But when is the last time you checked your coverage and adjusted your contract? When people sign up to a new insurance product, they tend to set it and forget it.

That’s why insurance companies don’t invest a ton of money on mobile apps, control panels and user-facing features. LeoCare believes there’s room for a player that does the opposite.

LeoCare can insure your home, your car, your motorbike and your smartphone. You can sign up from the company’s website or install a mobile app. The company has tried to optimize the onboarding process with easy-to-understand questions and an indicator that tells you if you’re going to pay a bit more or a lot more if you choose one option or another.

When you sign up, you get your insurance contract right away. This way, you can send it to a landlord a few minutes later. But LeoCare also helps you manage your contract later down the road. For instance, many LeoCare customers chose to lower their car insurance premiums during lockdown. You can also add another driver for a couple of weeks.

Behind the scenes, LeoCare acts as a managing general agent. The startup partners with several insurance companies and sells its insurance products under its own brand. The company currently charges €1 million in premiums per month and has 20,000 customers.

63% of contracts cover a car, 26% of contracts cover a home, 7% of contracts are for motorcyclists and 4% of contracts focus on smartphones. And LeoCare is growing rapidly with a current month-over-month growth rate of 38%.

Up next, the company wants to launch new features, such as a bot that lets you check the status of your case. LeoCare is also working on a feature that lets you receive a notification when you’re driving and there are usually a lot of road accidents in the area.

Finally, the startup wants to launch a marketplace of professionals. This could be helpful if you’re looking for a plumber for instance. And it could represent a new revenue stream for the startup.

LeoCare plans to grow its insurance portfolio sevenfold by the end of 2021. The team will also grow from 35 to 80 people.

Prosus Ventures leads $30 million investment in Indian agritech startup DeHaat

By Manish Singh

Once overlooked, agritech startups are beginning to have a moment in India.

On Tuesday, DeHaat, an online platform that offers full-stack agricultural services to farmers, said it has raised $30 million in a new financing round as the Indian firm looks to maintain its accelerated growth despite the pandemic.

Prosus Ventures, formerly known as Naspers Ventures, led Patna and Gurgaon-based startup’s Series C financing round. RTP Global and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, FMO, Omnivore and AgFunder also participated in it, bringing the startup’s to-date raise to over $46 million. (Dexter Capital was the advisor for this funding round.)

One of the biggest challenges farmers in India face is securing agri-input items such as seeds and fertilizers and then finding buyers after producing the yields.

DeHaat, which is Hindi for village, is solving this by bringing brands, institutional financers and buyers to one platform, which is accessible through a helpline and an app in local languages.

Only about a third of the yields Indian farmers produce reaches the big markets, according to industry estimates. It’s traditionally proven immensely difficult for farmers to find buyers for their produce.

Once the season is over, DeHaat helps farmers sell their yields to bulk buyers such as business-to-business marketplace Udaan, Reliance Fresh, and food delivery firm Zomato.

The 10-year-old startup has also developed a database of crop tests and uses artificial intelligence to provide farmers with free-of-cost personalized advisory on what they should sow in a season. DeHaat also helps farmers secure working capital through partnership with hundreds of institutional firms.

We wrote about DeHaat last year, when it had raised a $12 million financing round. The past nine months has been the story of its accelerated growth despite the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted lockdowns across the nation for several months.

The startup, which today has presence in eastern part of India — states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal — serves close to 400,000 farmers, up from about 210,000 in April last year, Shashank Kumar, co-founder and chief executive of the startup, told TechCrunch in an interview.

How the startup is tackling these challenges is equally impressive. It works with nearly 1,400 micro-entrepreneurs, up from about 400 last year, in rural areas who distribute agri-input goods to farmers from their regional hubs and then bring back the output to the same hub. “They are the ones responsible for last-mile delivery and aggregation,” he said.

DeHaat has grown on every front, including the revenue it clocks, which is up 3X to 3.5X, he said.

“At the end of March, our daily volume out was around 200 metric tonne. Now it’s over 600 metric tonne. Everyday we aggregate this much from farmers and supply to FMCG players and modern retails. Similarly on the agri-input side — seed, fertilizers, and pesticide — we are processing close to 10,000 orders everyday, compared to about 2,600 in March of last year,” he said.

“Prosus Ventures invests in industries around the world where innovation can significantly address big societal needs,” said Ashutosh Sharma, Head of India Investments at Prosus Ventures, in a statement.

“DeHaat is catering to a massive market in India with the agriculture sector worth more than $350 billion to the country’s economy and consisting of an estimated 140 million+ farmers. Through its end-to-end agricultural services offerings, DeHaat will have a major societal impact in India, improving the earning potential for Indian farmers and overall yield for the sector while also enabling microentrepreneurs all over the country, including in rural areas where there is often less income opportunity,” he added.

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand to more states in India including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra and eventually serve 10 million farmers.

And another area where it intends to focus is hiring top tech talent. The startup has doubled its workforce since the past year, with many high-profile hires from major firms. The startup, which recently made its second acquisition, is also open to exploring more M&A opportunities, said DeHaat’s Kumar.

Once ignored, scores of agritech startups have cropped up in India in recent years — and many old startups are beginning to receive large-sized checks from investors.

Around two dozen #agritech startups have raised funds this year (till date)

Ergos
Unnati
Bijak
DeHaat
Ninjacart
Gourmet Garden
Farmers Fresh Zone
Krishitantra
Kheyti
BigHaat
VeGrow
Procol
Agro2o
Waycool
Jai Kisan
Intello Labs
Crofarm
Eggoz
Aibono
Arya
Clover
Kisan Network

— Harsh Upadhyay (@upadhyay_harsh1) October 13, 2020

Further reading: Omnivore and Accel recently co-authored a report on India’s agritech landscape.

Salesforce leads $15M investment in Asian HR tech platform Darwinbox

By Manish Singh

Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, has raised $15 million in a new financing round as the Indian startup looks to further expand in the country and Southeast Asian markets.

The new round — a Series C — for the Hyderabad-headquartered startup was led by Salesforce Ventures, the venture arm of the American enterprise giant. This is Salesforce Ventures’ one of rare investments in India. Existing investors including Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India also participated in the round, which brings the five-year old startup’s raise to-date to about $35 million.

Over 500 firms including — Tokopedia, Indorama, JG Summit Group, Zilingo, Zalora, Fave, Adani, Mahindra, Kotak, TVS, National Stock Exchange, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank, Dr.Reddy’s, Nivea, Puma, Swiggy, Bigbasket — use Darwinbox’s HR platform to provide more than a million employees of theirs with a range of features in 60 nations, up from about 200 firms across 50 nations in late 2019, said Chaitanya Peddi, co-founder of Darwinbox, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Peddi said the startup has always looked up to Salesforce for inspiration, and investment from the enterprise giant is “nothing sort of a child receiving validation from their father,” he said.

The fundraise caps the most successful year for the startup that started with uncertainty as the coronavirus spread across Asian nations. The startup initially took a hit as its customers scrambled to navigate through the global pandemic, but the last two quarters have been its best to date, said Peddi.

Overall, the startup’s revenue has ballooned by 300% since September 2019, when it last raised money, he said. “In HR tech and SaaS space, we are now only behind SAP and Oracle in India in terms of revenue,” he said.

Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed India, an early backer of the startup, said that Darwinbox has become the preferred human capital management solution for Asian conglomerates, governments, and high-growth businesses and multi-national corporations operating in Asia as they witness digital transformation.

Image Credits: Darwinbox

Darwinbox’s platform is built to take care of the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle needs of employees. It handles onboarding of new hires, keeps a tab on their performance, monitors attrition rate, and provides an ongoing feedback loop.

It also provides its customers with a social network for their employees to remain connected with one another and an AI assistant to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phones.

Peddi said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to expand to several more countries, especially in more emerging markets in the Middle East Asia and Africa, and broaden its offerings. “We will be leveraging the power of our platform to do a lot more. We are a product-led firm and our focus will remain on innovation in that space,” he said. The startup is also open to exploring opportunities to acquire smaller firms for inorganic growth, he said.

“India is home to one of the world’s youngest population, and by 2050, it is expected to account for over 18% of the global working age population,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson and CEO, Salesforce India, in a statement. “This makes technology platforms like Darwinbox, that focuses on workforces, incredibly important. I’m proud that Salesforce is supporting Darwinbox on their journey as they continue to grow and innovate in this space.”

Alex Kayyal, partner and head of international at Salesforce Ventures, told TechCrunch in an interview that the firm helps its partners in a number of ways, including exposing them to the firm’s customers, executives and their networks, and helping startups scale their business.

“We have one of the most innovative and disruptive customer bases that are looking for cloud solutions and digital transformation. So the opportunity to expose companies like Darwinbox to our customer base is something we get really excited about,” said Kayyal. Salesforce Ventures is exploring more investment opportunities in India, he said.

Yesterday — January 18th 2021Your RSS feeds

Singapore-based Volopay raises $2.1 million seed round to build a “financial control center” for businesses

By Catherine Shu

Volopay, a Singapore-based startup building a “financial control center” for businesses, announced today it has raised $2.1 million in seed funding. The round was led by Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, and included participation from Soma Capital, CP Ventures, Y Combinator, VentureSouq, the founders of Razorpay, Antler and other angel investors.

The funding will be used on hiring, product development, strategic partnerships and Volopay’s international expansion. It plans to launch operations in Australia later this month. The company currently has about 100 clients, including Smart Karma, Dathena, Medline, Sensorflow and Beam.

Launched in 2019 by Rajith Shaiji and Rajesh Raikwar, Volopay took part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program last year. It was created after chief executive officer Shaji, who worked for several fintech companies before launching Volopay, became frustrated by the process of reconciling business expenses, especially with accounting departments located in different countries. Shaiji and Raikwar also saw that many companies, especially startups and SMEs, struggled to track different kinds of spending, including subscriptions and vendor payments.

Most of Volopay’s clients are in the tech sector and have about 15 to 150 employees. Volopay’s platform integrates multicurrency corporate cards (issued by Visa Corporate), domestic and international bank transfers, automated payments and expense and accounting software, allowing companies to save money on foreign exchange fees and reconcile expenses more quickly.

In order to speed up its development, Volopay integrated Airwallex’s APIs. Its corporate cards offer up to 2% cash back on software subscriptions, hosting and international travel, which Volopay says are the three top expense categories for tech companies, and it in November 2020, it launched a credit facility for corporate cards to help give SMEs more liquidity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to traditional credit products, like credit cards and working capital loans, Shaji said Volopay’s credit facility, which is also issued by Visa Corporate, has a more competitive fixed-free pricing structure that depends on the level of credit used. This means companies know how much they owe in advance, which in turn helps them manage their cashflows more easily. The average credit line provided by Volopay is about $30,000.

Since TechCrunch last covered Volopay in July 2020, it has grown 70% month on month in terms of total funds flowing through its platform, Shaji said. It also launched two new features: A bill pay feature that allows clients to transfer money domestically and internationally with low foreign exchange rates and transaction fees, and the credit facility. The bill pay feature now contributes about 40% to Volopay’s total payment volume, while the credit product makes up 30% of its card spending.

Shaji told TechCrunch that Volopay decided to expand into Australia because because not only is it a much larger market than Singapore, but “SMEs in Australia are very comfortable using paid digital software to streamline internal operations and scale their businesses.” He added that there is currently no other provider in Australia that offers both expense management and credit to SMEs like Volopay.

Updated to add Antler as an investor.

Cryptocat author gets insanely fast backing to build P2P tech for social media

By Natasha Lomas

The idea for Capsule started with a tweet about reinventing social media.

A day later cryptography researcher, Nadim Kobeissi — best known for authoring the open source E2E encrypted desktop chat app Cryptocat (now discontinued) — had pulled in a pre-seed investment of $100,000 for his lightweight mesh-networked microservices concept, with support coming from angel investor and former Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan, William J. Pulte and Wamda Capital.

I'm designing a decentralized social media solution where each user hosts their own microservice. These then connect to one another in a mesh, allowing following and sharing posts. It will be lightweight, user friendly and secure.

Are you interested in funding its development?

— Nadim Kobeissi (@kaepora) January 10, 2021

The nascent startup has a post-money valuation on paper of $10M, according to Kobeissi, who is working on the prototype — hoping to launch an MVP of Capsule in March (as a web app), after which he intends to raise a seed round (targeting $1M-$1.5M) to build out a team and start developing mobile apps.

For now there’s nothing to see beyond Capsule’s landing page and a pitch deck (which he shared with TechCrunch for review). But Kobeissi says he was startled by the level of interest in the concept.

“I posted that tweet and the expectation that I had was that basically 60 people max would retweet it and then maybe I’ll set up a Kickstarter,” he tells us. Instead the tweet “just completely exploded” and he found himself raising $100k “in a single day” — with $50k paid in there and then.

“I’m not a startup guy. I’ve been running a business based on consulting and based on academic R&D services,” he continues. “But by the end of the day — last Sunday, eight days ago — I was running a Delaware corporation valued at $10M with $100k in pre-seed funding, which is insane. Completely insane.”

Capsule is just the latest contender for retooling Internet power structures by building infrastructure that radically decentralizes social platforms to make speech more resilient to corporate censorship and control.

The list of decentralized/p2p/federated protocols and standards already out there is very long — even while usage remains low. Extant examples include ActivityPub, Diaspora, Mastodon, p2p Matrix, Scuttlebutt, Solid and Urbit, to name a few.

Interest in the space has been rekindled in recent weeks after mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter took decisions to shut down US president Donald Trump’s access to their megaphones — a demonstration of private power that other political leaders have described as problematic

Kobeissi also takes that view, while adding the caveat that he’s not “personally” concerned about Trump’s deplatforming. But he says he is concerned about giant private corporations having unilateral power to shape Internet speech — whether takedown decisions are being made by Twitter’s trust & safety lead or Amazon Web Services (which recently yanked the plug on right-wing social network Parler for failing to moderate violent views).

He also points to a lawsuit that’s been filed in US court seeking damages and injunctive relief from Apple for allowing Telegram, a messaging platform with 500M+ users, to be made available through its iOS App Store — “despite Apple’s knowledge that Telegram is being used to intimidate, threaten, and coerce members of the public” — raising concerns about “the odds of these efforts catching on”.

“That is kind of terrifying,” he suggests.

Capsule would seek to route around the risk of mass deplatforming via “easy to deploy” p2p microservices — starting with a forthcoming web app.

“When you deploy Capsule right now — I have a prototype that does almost nothing running — it’s basically one binary. And you get that binary and you deploy it and you run it, and that’s it. It sets up a server, it contacts Let’s Encrypt, it gets you a certificate, it uses SQLite for the database, which is a server-less database, all of the assets for the web server are within the binary,” he says, walking through the “really nice technical idea” which snagged $100k in pre-seed backing insanely fast.

“There are no other files — and then once you have it running, in that folder when you set up your capsule server, it’s just the Capsule program and a Capsule database which is a file. And that’s it. And that is so self-contained that it’s embeddable everywhere, that’s migratable — and it’s really quite impossible to get this level of simplicity and elegance so quickly unless you go this route. Then, for the mesh federation thing, we’re just doing HTTPS calls and then having decentralized caching of the databases and so on.”

Among the Twitter back-and-forth about how (or whether) Kobeissi’s concept differs to various other decentralized protocols, someone posted a link to this XKCD cartoon — which lampoons the techie quest to resolve competing standards by proposing a tech that covers all use-cases (yet is of course doomed to increase complexity by +1). So given how many protocols already offer self-hosted/p2p social media services it seems fair to ask what’s different here — and, indeed, why build another open decentralized standard?

Kobeissi argues that existing options for decentralizing social media are either: A) not fully p2p (Mastodon is “self-hosted but not decentralized”, per a competitive analysis on Capsule’s pitch deck, ergo its servers are “vulnerable to Parler-style AWS takedowns”); or B) not focused enough on the specific use-case of social media (some other decentralized protocols like Matrix aim to support many more features/apps than social media and therefore can’t be as lightweight is the argument); or C) simply aren’t easy enough to use to be more than a niche geeky option.

He talks about Capsule having the same level of focus on social media as Signal does on private messaging, for example — albeit intending it to support both short-form ‘tweet’ style public posts and long-form Medium-style postings. But he’s vocal about not wanting any ‘bloat’.

He also invokes Apple’s ‘design for usability’ philosophy. Albeit, it’s a lot easier to say you want to design something that ‘just works’ vs actually pulling off effortless mainstream accessibility. But that’s the bar Kobeissi is setting himself here.

“I always imagine Glenn Greenwald when I think of my user,” he says on the usability point, referring to the outspoken journalist and Intercept co-founder who recently left to launch his own newsletter-based offering on Substack. “He’s the person I see setting this up. Basically the way that this would work is he’d be able to set this up or get someone to set it up really easily — I think Capsule is going to offer automated deployments as also a way to make revenue, by the way, i.e. for a bit extra we deploy the server for you and then you’re self-hosting but we also make a margin off of that — but it’s going to be open source, you can set it up yourself as well and that’s perfectly okay. It’s not going to be hindered at all in that sense.

“In the case of Capsule, each content creator has their own website — has their own address, like Capsule.Greenwald.com — and then people go there and their first discovers of the mesh is through people that they’re interested in hearing from.”

Individual Capsules would be decentralized from the risk of platform-level censorship since they’d be beyond the reach of takedowns by a single centralizing entity. Although they would still be being hosted on the web — and therefore could be subject to a takedown by their own web host. That means illegal speech on Capsule could still be removed. However there wouldn’t be a universal host that could be hit up with the risk of a whole platform being taken down at a sweep — as Parler just was by AWS.

“For every takedown it is entirely between that Capsule user and their hosting provider,” says Kobeissi. “Capsule users are going to have different hosting providers that they’re able to choose and then every time that there is a takedown it is going to be a decision that is made by a different entity. And with a different — perhaps — judgement, so there isn’t this centralized focus where only Amazon Web Services decides who gets to speak or only Twitter decides.”

And while the business of web hosting at platform giant level involves just a handful of cloud hosting giants able to offer the required scalability, he argues that that censorship-prone market concentration goes away once you’re dealing with scores of descentralized social media instances.   

“We have the big hosting providers — like AWS, Azure, Google Cloud — but aside from that we have a lot of tiny hosting providers or small businesses… Sure if you’re running a big business you do get to focus on these big providers because they allow you to have these insane servers that are very powerful and deployable very easily but if you’re running a Capsule instance, as a matter of fact, the server resource requirements of running a Capsule instance are generally speaking quite small. In most instances tiny.”

Content would also be harder to scrub from Capsule because the mesh infrastructure would mean posts get mirrored across the network by the poster’s own followers (assuming they have any). So, for example, reposts wouldn’t just vanish the moment the original poster’s account was taken down by their hosting provider.

Separate takedown requests would likely be needed to scrub each reposted instance, adding a lot more friction to the business of content moderation vs the unilateral takedowns that platform giants can rain down now. The aim is to “spare the rest of the community from the danger of being silenced”, as Kobeissi puts it.

Trump’s deplatforming does seem to have triggered a major penny dropping moment for some that allowing a handful of corporate giants to own and operate centalized mass communication machines isn’t exactly healthy for democratic societies as this unilateral control of infrastructure gives them the power to limit speech. (As, indeed, their content-sorting algorithms determine reach and set the agenda of much public debate.)

Current social media infrastructure also provides a few mainstream chokepoints for governments to lean on — amplifying the risk of state censorship.

With concerns growing over the implications of platform power on data flows — and judging by how quickly Kobeissi’s tweet turned heads — we could be on the cusp of an investor-funded scramble to retool Internet infrastructure to redefine where power (and data) lies.

It’s certainly interesting to note that Twitter recently reupped its own decentralized social media open standard push, Bluesky, for example. It obviously wouldn’t want to be left behind any such shift.

“It seems to really have blown up,” Kobeissi adds, returning to his week-old Capsule concept. “I thought when I tweeted that I was maybe the only person who cared. I guess I live in France so I’m not really in tune with what’s going on in the US a lot — but a lot of people care.”

“I am not like a cypherpunk-style person these days, I’m not for full anonymity or full unaccountability online by any stretch,” he adds. “And if this is abused then sincerely it might even be the case that we would encourage — have a guidelines page — for hosting providers like on how to deal with instances of someone hosting an abusive Capsule instance. We do want that accountability to exist. We are not like a full on, crazy town ‘free speech’ wild west thing. We just think that that accountability has to be organic and decentralized — just as originally intended with the Internet.”

Personio raises $125M on a $1.7B valuation for an HR platform targeting SMEs

By Ingrid Lunden

With the last year changing how (and where) many of us work, organizations have started to rethink how well they manage their employees, and what tools they use to do that. Today, one of the startups that is building technology to address this challenge is announcing a major round of funding that underscores its traction to date.

Personio — the German startup that targets small and medium-sized businesses (10-2,000 employees) with an all-in-one HR platform covering recruiting and onboarding, payroll, absence tracking and other major HR functions — has picked up $125 million in funding at a $1.7 billion post-money valuation.

The Series D is being co-led by Index Ventures and Meritech, with previous backers Accel, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Northzone, Global Founders Capital and Picus all participating.

The $1.7 billion valuation is a big jump on the company’s $500 million valuation a year ago, and it comes after a year where the startup has doubled its revenues, and was not on the hunt to raise, with much of its previous fundraising still in the bank.

Personio currently counts some 3,000 SMEs in Europe as customers.

In an interview, Hanno Renner, the co-founder and CEO of Personio, said that the startup would be using the funding to continue building out the product — which operates a little like Workday, but built for much smaller organizations — as well as expanding its presence in Europe.

Although SMEs can be a notoriously challenging customer segment, Renner said that a new opportunity has emerged: a new wave of people in the SME sector have started to realise the value of having a modern and integrated HR platform.

“We started Personio in 2016 wanting to become the leading HR platform for mid-market companies, and we knew it could be a great company, but we realize it can be hard to grasp what HR really means,” he said. “But I think what has driven our business in the past year has been the realization that HR is not just an important part, but maybe the most important part, of any business.”

It may take one magic turn to convert users, he said, by providing (as one example) tools to recruit, sign contracts and onboard new employees remotely. Still, he acknowledges that the mid-market — especially those companies not built around technology — has been “lagging for years,” with many still working off Excel spreadsheets, or even more surprisingly, pen and paper. “Supporting them by helping them to digitize in a more efficient way has been driving our business.”

Personio is not the only startup hopeful that the shift in how we work will bring a new appreciation (and appetite) for purchasing HR tools. Others like Hibob have also seen a big boost in their business, and have also been raising money to tap into the opportunity more aggressively.

Hibob is looking to build in more training tools, underscoring the feature race that Personio will also have to run to keep up.

But given the sheer numbers of SMBs in the European market — more than 25 million, and accounting for more than 99% of all enterprises, according to research from the European Union — the fact that many of them have yet to adopt any kind of HR platform at all, there remains a lot of growth for a number of players.

“SMEs are the backbone of the European economy, employing 100 million people across the continent, but it is also a sector that has been neglected by software companies focused predominantly on large enterprises,” Martin Mingot, a partner at Index who sits on Personio’s board, said in a statement. “Personio changes that, having created a set of powerful tools tailored to address the needs of small businesses.”

“We have had the pleasure of working with some of the most successful SaaS companies in the world, and given Personio’s success over the past five years and the immense market potential, we strongly believe in Personio’s ability to build an equally successful and impactful business,” added Alex Clayton, general partner at Meritech Capital, in his own statement. “After many great discussions with Hanno over recent years, we are now excited to be joining the journey.” Clayton is also joining the board with this round.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

No one knows what anything is worth

By Alex Wilhelm

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Click here if you want it in your inbox every Saturday morning.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.


It was yet another week of startups that became unicorns going public, only to see their valuation soar. Already marked up by their IPO pricing, seeing so many unicorns achieve such rich public-market valuations made us wonder who was mispricing whom.

It’s a matter of taste, a semantic argument, a tempest in a teacup. What matters more is that precisely no one knows what anything is worth, and that’s making a lot of people rich and/or mad.

This is not a new theme. I’ve touched on it for years, but what matters for us today is that there appear to be three distinct valuation bands for companies, and the gaps between them do not appear ready to shrink. You could even argue that they have widened.

Band 1 is the private capital cohort. These are the folks who valued Affirm at $19.93 per share in its September 2020 round and Roblox at $4 billion in February of 2020. Now Affirm is worth $116.58 per share, and Roblox is worth $29.5 billion. Whoops?

Band 2 is the long-term public investing cohort. These are folks critical in the IPO pricing context. They are willing to pay more for startups than the private capital crew. Affirm was not worth under $20 per share to this group, instead it was worth $49 per share just a few months later. Whoops?

Band 3 is the retail cohort, the /r/WallStreetBets, meme-stock, fintech Twitter rabble that are both incredibly fun to watch and also the sort of person you wouldn’t loan $500 to while in Las Vegas. They are willing to pay nearly infinite money for certain stocks — like Tesla — and often far more than the more conservative public money. Demand from the retail squad can greatly amplify the value of a newly listed company by making the supply/demand curve utterly wonky. This is how you get Poshmark more than doubling a strong IPO valuation on its first day.

Most investors do well in today’s world. Though Band 1 likes to blame Band 2 for not being willing to pay Band 3 prices, it always sounds like the private capital folks are merely complaining about sharing some of the winnings with another party.

Regardless, who really knows what anything is worth? I was recently chatting with an early-stage founder who has a history of investing — narrowing it down to 17,823 people, I know — about the price of software companies both private and public and why they may or may not make sense. He said that old valuation models at banks presumed that software companies’ growth would go to zero over time, and that profits would be rare among SaaS concerns. Both concepts were wrong, so prices went up.

But I have yet to have anyone explain to me why companies that would have been valued at 10x next year’s revenues can now get, at median, 18.1x. I have a working theory of what’s going on, but none of it points to sanity, or pricing that is grokkable through a lens that isn’t hype.

(You can hit reply to this email and tell me why I am dumb if you’d like. I will buy the person with the best valuation explanation coffee when the world works again.)

Milestones and megarounds

On the milestone front, it was a huge week for leaving the private markets and joining the Big Kid Club. Namely for Affirm and Poshmark, which priced well and started to trade. And for Bumble, which filed to go public. They are targeting a good IPO window.

But there was lots more going on, including a milestone that caught my eye. M1 Finance, a fintech startup that brings together lots of pieces of the fintech playbook into a single service, reached $3 billion in assets under management (AUM) this week. The company had reached $2 billion in AUM last September, after reaching $1 billion in February of 2020.

Why do we care? The company previously told TechCrunch that it works to generate revenues worth around 1% of AUM. If that percentage has held past its October, 2020 Series C, the company just added around $10 million in ARR in under half a year. That’s a pace of revenue creation that made me sit up and take notice. (Shoutout Josh for never shutting up about the Midwest.)

But I really bring up the M1 Finance milestone for a different reason. Namely that I am consistently surprised at how deep certain markets are. Neobanks that are still growing; the OKR software market’s surprising depth; the ability of M1 to accrete deposits in a market with so many incumbents and well-funded startups.

Perhaps this is why prices make no sense; if you can’t see the edge limits of TAM, can anything be overpriced?

Moving on, some quick notes on things from the week that mattered:

  • GitLab is now worth $6 billion and hit $150 million in annual recurring revenue last year. It grew 75%, we presume year-over-year in its most recent quarter.
  • Fintech upstart LendingPoint raised $125 million at an undisclosed valuation.
  • NYC-based Paige raised $100 million. It uses computers to help make diagnoses.

One more VC Visa-Plaid take

Aziz Gilani, a managing director at Mercury Fund and an advocate of Texas (observe his Twitter handle), wrote in late regarding our query for investor notes on the Visa-Plaid breakup. You can read the rest here.

But who are we to deprive you of useful notes. And Gilani is a nice person. So, here are his $0.02:

My big take-away on the Plaid/Visa deal falling apart is about how fast everything in 2021 is moving. Arguably the biggest advantage of SPACs over direct listings and IPOs is how fast those liquidity events can get done. In a world in which valuation[s] change week to week, the delays created by the DOJ can kill a deal – even if the DOJ would eventually lose in court.

I’m philosophically super negative about the government imposing their will, but I’m also personally excited about the current wave of insurgent startups not getting gobbled up by the FAANGs of the world. For the last several years too many startups fell victim to the “quick exit” mentality personified by Mint selling so fast to Intuit. With fast/cheap capital freely available, today’s crop of startups are going big.

Worth chewing on.

Odds/Ends

What a week. I have only a few things left for you, including some early-stage rounds that I could not get thanks to waves arms around generally but wanted to flag all the same.

  • Goldman Sachs chose Marqeta for Marcus. If you know what those words mean, they matter. If you don’t, congrats on having a life.
  • Nayya raised $11 million for what VentureBeat calls “an insurance benefits management platform,” including money from Felicis.
  • Minna raised €15.5 million for what Tech.eu called a “subscription management app.”
  • Muniq closed a  $8.2M Series A to sell a shake-sort-of-thing that could help with blood sugar control.
  • And from TechCrunch two more highlights, this neat Crossbeam round and more money for Moss.

Hugs,

Alex

Checkout wants to be Rapyd and Fast

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. We’re back on this lovely Saturday with a bonus episode!

Again!

There is enough going on that to avoid failing to bring you stuff that we think matters, we are back yet again for more. This time around we are not talking Roblox, we’re talking about ecommerce, and a number of rounds — big and small — that have been raised in the space. Honest question: do y’all plan to release news on the same week? Are trends a social construct?

From Natasha, Grace, Danny, and your humble servant, here’s your run-down:

  • Webflow raised $140 million in a round that it says it did not need. This is not a new thing. Some startups are doing well, and don’t burn much. So investors offer them more at a nice price. In this case $2.1 billion. (Webflow does no-code
  • Checkout.com raised $450 million. The rich really do get richer. In this case the founders of Checkout.com, whose company is now worth around $15 billion Checkout.com does, you guessed, online checkout work. Which as Danny explains is complicated and critical.
  • We also talked about this Bolt round, for context.
  • And sticking to the ecommerce theme, Rapyd raised $300 million at around a $2.5 billion valuation. There is infinte money available for late-stage fintech.
  • Early stage as well, it turns out, with Tradeswell raising $15.5 million to help businesses improve their net margins.
  • Finally, ending with a chat on infrastructure, Nacelle closed an $18 million Series A. 

And now we’re going back to bed.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

GitLab oversaw a $195 million secondary sale that values the company at $6 billion

By Ron Miller

GitLab has confirmed with TechCrunch that it oversaw a $195 million secondary sale that values the company at $6 billion. CNBC broke the story earlier today.

The company’s impressive valuation comes after its most recent 2019 Series E in which it raised $268 million on a 2.75 billion valuation, an increase of $3.25 billion in under 18 months. Company co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij believes the increase is due to his company’s progress adding functionality to the platform.

“We believe the increase in valuation over the past year reflects the progress of our complete DevOps platform towards realizing a greater share of the growing, multi-billion dollar software development market,” he told TechCrunch.

While the startup has raised over $434 million, this round involved buying employee stock options, a move that allows the company’s workers to cash in some of their equity prior to going public. CNBC reported that the firms buying the stock included Alta Park, HMI Capital, OMERS Growth Equity, TCV and Verition.

The next logical step would appear to be IPO, something the company has never shied away from. In fact, it actually at one point included the proposed date of November 18, 2020 as a target IPO date on the company wiki. While they didn’t quite make that goal, Sijbrandij still sees the company going public at some point. He’s just not being so specific as in the past, suggesting that the company has plenty of runway left from the last funding round and can go public when the timing is right.

“We continue to believe that being a public company is an integral part of realizing our mission. As a public company, GitLab would benefit from enhanced brand awareness, access to capital, shareholder liquidity, autonomy and transparency,” he said.

He added, “That said, we want to maximize the outcome by selecting an opportune time. Our most recent capital raise was in 2019 and contributed to an already healthy balance sheet. A strong balance sheet and business model enables us to select a period that works best for realizing our long-term goals.”

GitLab has not only published IPO goals on its Wiki, but its entire company philosophy, goals and OKRs for everyone to see. Sijbrandij told TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel in September that he believes that transparency helps attract and keep employees. It doesn’t hurt that the company was and remains a fully remote organization, even pre-COVID.

“We started [this level of] transparency to connect with the wider community around GitLab, but it turned out to be super beneficial for attracting great talent as well,” Sijbrandij told Wilhelm in September.

The company, which launched in 2014, offers a DevOps platform to help move applications through the programming lifecycle.

Update: The original headline of this story has been changed from ‘GitLab raises $195M in secondary funding on $6 billion valuation.’

 

Group Nine’s SPAC goes public

By Anthony Ha

Group Nine Media revealed last month that it was forming a SPAC (short for special purpose acquisition corporation) in order to raise money for acquisitions.

The company has now moved forward with those plans, announcing last night that it had priced the SPAC’s IPO at $10 per unit, to raise a total of $200 million. It’s now trading on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol GNACU; as of 2:53 p.m. Eastern shares were up 6.55%. (Eventually, the Class A common stock will be listed as GNAC and warrants will be listed separately as GNACW.) The offering is expected to close on January 20.

The acquisition corporation, like Group Nine itself, is led by CEO Ben Lerer (pictured above). Imagination Capital Partner Richard D. Parsons and Reddit Chief Operating Officer Jen Wong are also on the board of directors.

Group Nine was formed in 2016 with backing from Discovery, merging Thrillist, NowThis, The Dodo and Seeker. It subsequently acquired PopSugar, with co-founder Brian Sugar becoming president of both Group Nine and now Group Nine Acquisition Corp.

SPACs, also known as blank-check corporations, have become an increasingly popular way for companies to raise money from the public markets. In its initial filing, Group Nine said it would use the funding “for the purpose of effecting a merger, capital stock exchange, asset acquisition, stock purchase, reorganization or similar business combination.”

Tiger Global is raising a new $3.75 billion venture fund, one year after closing its last

By Connie Loizos

According to a recent letter sent to its investors, Tiger Global Management, the New York-based investing powerhouse, is raising a new $3.75 billion venture fund called Tiger Private Investment Partners XIV that it expects to close in March.

The fund is Tiger Global’s 13th venture fund, despite its title — the partners might be superstitious — and it comes hot on the heels of the firm’s 12th venture fund, closed exactly a year ago, also with $3.75 billion in capital commitments.

A spokesperson for the firm declined to comment on the letter or Tiger Global’s broader fundraising strategy when reached this morning.

It’s a lot of capital to target, even amid a sea of enormous new venture vehicles. New Enterprise Associates closed its newest fund with $3.6 billion last year. Lightspeed Venture Partners soon after announced $4 billion across three funds. Andreessen Horowitz, the youngest of the three firms, announced in November it had closed a pair of funds totaling $4.5 billion.

At the same time, Tiger Global has seemingly has a strong case to potential limited partners. Last year alone, numerous of its portfolio companies either went public or was acquired.

Yatsen Holding, the nearly five-year-old parent company of China-based cosmetics giant Perfect Diary, went public in November and is now valued at $14 billion. (Tiger Global’s ownership stake didn’t merit a mention on the company’s regulatory filing.)

Tiger Global also quietly invested in the cloud-based data warehousing outfit Snowflake and, while again, it didn’t have a big enough stake to be included in the company’s S-1, even a tiny ownership percentage would be valuable, given that Snowflake is now valued at $85 billion.

And Tiger Global backed Root insurance, a nearly six-year-old, Columbus, Oh.-based insurance company that went public in November and currently boasts a market cap of $5.3 billion. Tiger owned 10.3% sailing into the offering.

As for M&A, Tiger Global saw at least three of its companies swallowed by bigger tech companies during 2020, including Postmates’s all-stock sale to Uber for $2.65 billion; Credit Karma’s $7 billion sale in cash and stock to Intuit; and the sale of Kustomer, which focused on customer service platforms and chatbots, for $1 billion to Facebook.

Tiger Global, whose roots are in hedge fund management, launched its private equity business in 2003, spearheaded by Chase Coleman, who’d previously worked for hedge-fund pioneer Julian Robertson at Tiger Management; and Scott Shleifer, who joined the firm in 2002 after spending three years with the Blackstone Group. Lee Fixel, who would become a key contributor in the business, joined in 2006.

Shleifer focused on China; Fixel focused on India, and the rest of the firm’s support team (it now has 22 investing professionals on staff) helped find deals in Brazil and Russia  before beginning to focus more aggressively on opportunities in the U.S.

Every investing decision was eventually made by each of the three. Fixel left in 2019 to launch his own investment firm, Addition. Now Shleifer and Coleman are the firm’s sole decision-makers.

Whether the firm eventually replaces Fixel is an open question, though it doesn’t appear to be the plan. Tiger Global is known for grooming investors within its operations rather than hiring outsiders, so a new top lieutenant would almost surely come from its current team.

In the meantime, the firm’s private equity arm — which has written everything from Series A checks (Warby Parker) to checks in the multiple hundreds of millions of dollars — is currently managing assets of $30 million, compared with the $49 billion that Tiger is managing more broadly.

A year ago, Tiger Global, which employs 100 people altogether, was reportedly managing $36.2 billion in assets.

According to the outfit’s investor letter, the firm’s gross internal rate of return across its 12 previous funds is 32%, while its net IRR is 24%.

Tiger Global’s investors include a mix of sovereign wealth funds, foundations, endowments, pensions, and its own employees, who are collectively believed to be the firm’s biggest investors at this point.

Some of Tiger Global’s biggest wins to date have include a $200 million bet on the e-commerce giant JD.com that produced a $5 billion for the firm. According to the WSJ, it also cleared more than $1 billion on the Chinese online-services platform Meituan Dianping, which went public in 2018.

Tiger Global also reportedly reaped $3 billion from majority sale of India’s Flipkart to Walmart in 2018,  though the Indian government has more recently been trying to recover $1.9 billion from the firm, claiming it has outstanding tax dues on the sale of its share in the company.

One outcome that might surprise even Tiger Global’s investors ties to the connected fitness company Peloton, 20% of which the firm owned at the time of Peloton’s  2019 IPO (a deal that Fixel reportedly brought to the table, along with Flipkart). Fueled by users trapped at home during the pandemic, Peloton — which was valued by private investors at $4 billion and doubled in value immediately as a publicly traded company — now boasts a market cap of $48.6 billion.

Tiger Global has invested its current fund in roughly 50 companies over the last 12 months.

Among its newest bets is Blend, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based digital lending platform that yesterday announced $300 million in Series G funding, including from Coatue, at a post-money valuation of $3.3 billion.

It also led the newly announced $450 million Series C round for Checkout.com, an eight-year-old, London-based online payments platform that is now valued at $15 billion. And it wrote a follow-on check to Cockroach Labs, the nearly six-year-old, New York-based distributed SQL database that just raised $160 million in Series E funding at a $2 billion valuation, just eight months after raising an $86.6 million Series D round.

Another of its newest, biggest bets centers on the online education platform Zuowebang, in China. Back in June, Tiger Global co-led a $750 million Series E round in the company.

Last month, it was back again, co-leading a $1.6 billion round in the distance-learning company.

Pictured: Scott Shleifer, managing director of Tiger Global Management LLC, right, speaks with an attendee during the UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner in New York, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011. 

Medium acquires social book reading app Glose

By Romain Dillet

Medium is acquiring Paris-based startup Glose for an undisclosed amount. Glose has been building iOS, Android and web apps that let you buy, download and read books on your devices.

The company has turned reading into a multiplayer experience as you can build a bookshelf, share notes with your followers and start conversations in the margins. Sure, there are social platforms that let you talk about books, such as Goodreads. But Glose’s differentiating point is that the social features are intrinsically linked with the reading features — those aren’t two separate platforms. There are also some gamification features that help you stay motivated as you read difficult books — you get streak rewards for instance.

In many ways, Glose’s one-tap highlighting and commenting features are reminiscent of Medium’s features on this front. Sure, you can highlight text in any reading app on your phone or tablet. But you can’t do much with it.

More recently, Glose has launched a separate service called Glose Education. As the name suggests, that version is tailored for universities and high schools. Teachers can hand out assignments and you can read a book as a group.

Over 1 million people have used Glose and 25 universities have signed up to Glose Education, including Stanford and Columbia University.

But Glose isn’t just a software play. The company has also put together a comprehensive book store. The company has partnered with 20,000 publishers so that you can buy ebooks directly from the app.

And if you are studying Virginia Wolf this semester, Glose also provides hundreds of thousands of public domain books for free. Glose also supports audio books.

This is by far the most interesting part as Medium now plans to expand beyond articles and blogs. While Glose is sticking around for now, Medium also plans to integrate ebooks and audio books to its service.

It’s a smart move as many prolific bloggers are also book writers. Right now, they write a blog post on Medium and link to a third-party site if you want to buy their books. Having the ability to host everything written by an author is a better experience for both content creators and readers.

“We’re impressed not only by Glose's reading products and technology, but also by their experience in partnering with book authors and publishers," Medium CEO Ev Williams said in a statement. “Books are a means of exploring an idea, a way to go deeper. The vast majority of the world’s ideas are stored in books and journals, yet are hardly searchable nor shareable. With Glose, we want to improve that experience within Medium’s large network of engaged readers and writers. We look forward to working with the Glose team on partnering with publishers to help authors reach more readers."

The Glose team will remain in Paris, which means that Medium is opening its first office outside of the U.S. Glose will continue to honor its partnerships with authors, publishers, schools and institutions.

Mosaic raises $18.5M Series A from GC to rebuild the CFO software stack

By Danny Crichton

CFOs are the supposed omniscient owners of a company. While the CEO sets strategy, messages and builds culture, the CFO needs to know everything that it is going on in an organization. Where is revenue coming from, and when will it arrive? How much will new headcount cost, and when do those expenses need to be paid? How can cash flows be managed, and what debt products might help smooth out any discontinuities?

As companies have migrated to the cloud, these questions have gotten harder to answer as other departments started avoiding the ERP as a centralized system-of-record. Worse, CFOs are expected to be more strategic than ever about finance, but can struggle to deliver important forecasts and projections given the lack of availability of key data. CMOs have gotten a whole new software stack to run marketing in the past decade, so why not CFOs?

For three Palantir alums, the hope is that CFOs will turn to their new startup called Mosaic. Mosaic is a “strategic finance platform” that is designed to ingest data from all sorts of systems in the alphabet soup of enterprise IT — ERPs, HRISs, CRMs, etc. — and then provide CFOs and their teams with strategic planning tools to be able to predict and forecast with better accuracy and with speed.

The company was founded in April 2019 by Bijan Moallemi, Brian Campbell and Joe Garafalo, who worked together at Palantir in the company’s finance team for more than 15 years collectively. While there, they saw the company grow from a small organization with a bit more than one hundred people to an organization with thousands of employees, more than one hundred customers as we saw last year with Palantir’s IPO and incoming revenue from more than a dozen countries.

Mosaic founders Bijan Moallemi, Brian Campbell and Joseph Garafalo. Photo via Mosaic.

Strategically handling finance was critical for Palantir’s success, but the existing tools in its stack couldn’t keep up with the company’s needs. So Palantir ended up building its own. We were “not just cranking away in Excel, which is really the default tool in the toolkit for CFOs, but actually building a technical team that was writing code, [and] building tools to really give speed, access, trust and visibility across the organization,” Moallemi, who is CEO of Mosaic, described.

Most organizations can’t spare their technical talent to the CFO’s office, and so as the three co-founders left Palantir to other pastures as heads of finance — Moallemi to edtech startup Piazza, Campbell to litigation management startup Everlaw and Garafalo to blockchain startup Axoni — they continued to percolate on how finance could be improved. They came together to do for all companies what they saw at Palantir: build a great software foundation for the CFO’s office. “Probably the biggest advancements to the office of the CFO over the last 10 years has been moving from kind of desktop-based Excel to cloud-based Google Sheets,” Moallemi said.

So what is Mosaic trying to do to rebuild the CFO software stack? It wants to build a platform that is a gateway to connecting the entire company to discuss finance in a more collaborative fashion. So while Mosaic focuses on reporting and planning, the mainstays of the finance office, it wants to open those dashboards and forecasts wider into the company so more people can have insight into what’s going on and also give feedback to the CFO.

Screenshot of Mosaic’s planning function. Photo via Mosaic.

There are a handful of companies like publicly-traded Anaplan that have entered this space in the last decade. Moallemi says incumbents have a couple of key challenges that Mosaic hopes to overcome. First is onboarding, which can take months for some of these companies as consultants integrate the software into a company’s workflow. Second is that these tools often require dedicated, full-time staff to stay operational. Third is that these tools are basically non-visible to anyone outside the CFO office. Mosaic wants to be ready to integrate immediately, widely distributed within orgs, and require minimal upkeep to be useful.

“Everyone wants to be strategic, but it’s so tough to do because 80% of your time is pulling data from these disparate systems, cleaning it, mapping it, updating your Excel files, and maybe 20% of [your time] is actually taking a step back and understanding what the data is telling you,” Moallemi said.

That’s perhaps why it’s target customers are Series B and C-funded companies, who no doubt have much of their data already located in easily-accessible databases. The company started with smaller companies and Moallemi said “We’ve been slowly inching our way up there over the last 12 months or so working with larger, more complex customers.” The company has grown to 30 employees and has revenues in the seven figures (without a sales org according to Moallemi), although the startup didn’t want to be more specific than that.

With all that growth and excitement, the company is attracting investor attention. Today, the company announced that it raised $18.5 million of Series A financing led by Trevor Oelschig of General Catalyst, who has led other enterprise SaaS deals into startups like Fivetran, Contentful, and Loom. That round closed at the end of last year.

Mosaic previously raised a $2.5 million seed investment led by Ross Fubini of XYZ Ventures in mid-2019, who was formerly an investor at Village Global. Fubini said by email that he was intrigued by the company because the founders had a “shared pain” at Palantir over the state of software for CFOs, and “they had all experienced this deep frustration with the tools they needed to do their jobs.”

Other investors in the Series A included Felicis Ventures, plus XYZ and Village Global.

Along with the financing, the company also announced the creation of an advisory board that includes the current or former CFOs from nine tech companies, including Palantir, Dropbox, and Shopify.

Many functions of business have had a complete transformation in software. Now, Mosaic hopes, it’s the CFO’s time.

Plaid CEO touts new ‘clarity’ after failed Visa acquisition

By Alex Wilhelm

Yesterday, we spoke with Plaid CEO and co-founder Zach Perret after news broke that Visa no longer plans to buy his company for $5.3 billion.

The deal was heralded in early 2020 as a sign of the growing importance of fintech startups. Then it failed to close, eventually running into a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice. A few months later, the acquisition was dropped.

Sentiment in the market changed since the transaction was announced. As TechCrunch reported yesterday, there’s a good deal of optimism to be found amongst investors and others that Plaid will eventually be worth more than the price at which the Visa deal valued it.

What follows is a summary of our conversation with Perret, digging into a number of topics we felt most were pressing in the wake of Plaid’s unshackling.

Now what?

First and upfront: it does not appear that Plaid is racing to the public markets via a blank-check company, or SPAC, a question several readers asked on Twitter. Our impression from our chat regarding near-term liquidity via the public markets is that those with their hopes up have them up a few years too early.

TechCrunch asked Perret how it feels to be free from his erstwhile corporate boss.

He said that the last few years have been a “rollercoaster,” adding that when they made the choice to sell, it made sense at the time from mission, and delivery perspectives — Visa wanted to accomplish similar things and could give his company access to a wide network of potential customers.

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