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Today — January 18th 2021Your RSS feeds

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.

Yesterday — January 17th 2021Your 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.”

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

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.

Harness snags $85M Series C on $1.7B valuation as revenue grows 3x

By Ron Miller

Harness, the startup that wants to create a suite of engineering tools to give every company the kind of technological reach that the biggest companies have, announced an $85 million Series C today on a $1.7 billion valuation.

Today’s round comes after 2019’s $60 million Series B, which had a $500 million valuation, showing a company rapidly increasing in value. For a company that launched just three years ago, this is a fairly remarkable trajectory.

Alkeon Capital led the round with help from new investors Battery Ventures, Citi Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Sorenson Capital and Thomvest Ventures. The startup also revealed a previously unannounced $30 million B-1 round raised after the $60 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $195 million.

Company founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal previously founded AppDynamics, which he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. With his track record, investors came looking for him this round. It didn’t hurt that revenue grew almost 3x last year.

“The business is doing very well, so the investor community has been proactively reaching out and trying to invest in us. We were not actually planning to raise a round until later this year. We had enough capital to get through that, but there were a lot of people wanting to invest,” Bansal told me.

In fact, he said there is so much investor interest that he could have raised twice as much, but didn’t feel a need to take on that much capital at this time. “Overall, the investor community sees the value in developer tools and the DevOps market. There are so many big public companies now in that space that have gone out in the last three to five years and that has definitely created even more validation of this space,” he said.

Bansal says that he started the company with the goal of making every company as good as Google or Facebook when it comes to engineering efficiency. Since most companies lack the engineering resources of these large companies, that’s a tall task, but one he thinks he can solve through software.

The company started by building a continuous delivery module. A cloud cost-efficiency module followed. Last year the company bought open-source continuous integration company Drone.io and they are working on building that into the platform now, with it currently in beta. There are additional modules on the product roadmap coming this year, according to Bansal.

As the company continued to grow revenue and build out the platform in 2020, it also added a slew of new employees, growing from 200 to 300 during the pandemic. Bansal says that he has plans to add another 200 by the end of this year. Harness has a reputation of being a good place to work, recently landing on Glassdoor’s best companies list.

As an experienced entrepreneur, Bansal takes building a diverse company with a welcoming culture very seriously. “Yes, you have to provide equal opportunity and make sure that you are open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, but you have to be more proactive about it in the sense that you have to make sure that your company environment and company culture feels very welcoming to everyone,” he said.

It’s been a difficult time building a company during the pandemic, adding so many new employees, and finding a way to make everyone feel welcome and included. Bansal says he has actually seen productivity increase during the pandemic, but now has to guard against employee burnout.

He says that people didn’t know how to draw boundaries when working at home. One thing he did was introduce a program to give everyone one Friday a month off to recharge. The company also recently announced it would be a “work from anywhere” company post-COVID, but Bansal still plans on having regional offices where people can meet when needed.

Carbyne raises $25M for a next-generation platform to improve emergency 911 responses

By Ingrid Lunden

Emergency services continue to be a major force when it comes to coping with the COVID-19 health pandemic, and today a company that is building technology to help them run better is announcing a round of funding to continue expanding its business.

Carbyne — an Israeli startup that has built a cloud-based platform aimed at emergency services to help them pinpoint more complete information about the people who are calling in, and to provide additional telemedicine services to start responding faster — has picked up $25 million.

The plan will be to take the service — which was already seeing strong growth before the pandemic — to the next level in terms of the technology it is building and the markets and organizations it is serving.

“Carbyne was not founded last year: we were already pushing cloud services and video and location to 911 for quite a while and had served 250 million people before the pandemic,” said Amir Elichai, the CEO, in an interview. “But cloud solutions for emergency services went from nice-to-have to must-have with COVID.”

The company has partnerships with public health providers as well as with groups like CentralSquare and Global Medical Response (GMR), and says that in the U.S. it is on target to cover some 90% of the market.

The Series B1 is being led by Hanaco Ventures and ELSTED Capital Partners, with former CIA Director General David Petraeus, Founders Fund, FinTLV, and other past investors also participating.

The fact that this is a B1 round points to more funding on the way for the company in coming months. In any case, the $25 million is more than the company had planned to raise.

“The plan was to raise $15 million in 2020. After Covid started I decided we didn’t want to let anyone go, but we didn’t know what the situation would be. So we cut salaries instead across the board,” said Elichai. “But then we started to double revenues starting in Q2, and then in Q3 and Q4 grew 160%. It was straightforward to raise this money.”

The funding is coming on the heels of very strong growth for the company, in particular in the last year.

Carbyne’s services now cover about 400 million people, with a new implementation launching every 10 days since March of last year.

Elichai, who co-founded the company with Alex Dizengoff (CTO) and Yony Yatsun (engineering lead), said in an interview that in the last nine months, Carbyne has provided some 155 million location points to emergency medical services teams. Newer products are also growing. The services for EMS teams to provide help remotely have racked up 1.3 million minutes of video in that time, he said.

From what we understand, the funding puts Carbyne’s valuation at “over $100 million.” Although Elichai declined to give a specific figure, for some context, the company was valued at “around” $100 million when it last raised in 2018, a $15 million round that marked the first time that Founders Fund had invested in an Israeli startup.

The growth of the last year, and the ongoing demands on the business, point to that “over” being strong. Indeed, since its last round, the world at large, and the startup itself, have undergone some significant changes.

2018 and whatever dramas we were experiencing back then now feel like a distant, almost halcyon?, past when compared to some of the crises of the moment. One in particular, the coronavirus pandemic, has a direct connection to Carbyne.

Covid-19, the illness the results from the virus, has proven to be a pernicious and dogged ailment, often hitting people with its most dire and serious symptoms — the inability to breathe and organ failure — just when they start to think that they might be recovering. (Of course, that’s not the case for everyone, thankfully, but still it happens much too often to ignore.)

That has put a huge strain on emergency response services, from those that are fielding initial callouts, through to those making first contact with patients, and those at the hospitals bringing in and caring for the most serious cases. In many cases, those working these services have been stretched to overcapacity. The situation in many cities is nothing short of dire.

Carbyne’s technology has come into its own as a way not just to help those people do their jobs better by providing them with more data, but by becoming a means to those services channelling data back to those people calling in.

In the last couple of years, the startup has undergone some significant shifts in how it delivers its services.

When I covered the startup’s last funding round in 2018, for example, it provided some services directly to EMS organizations, but mainly it needed users to install an app, or provide that technology through another app, in order to work.

Now, Elichai says that the company has integrated some location services from companies like Google to remove the need to use an app to connect users to its platform.

Similarly, the startup has taken a strong lead in how it collaborates with municipalities not just to provide services to make their operations more efficient, but to help offset them getting overwhelmed.

A project in that vein was a recent undertaking in New Orleans, which Elichai said played a part in helping the city from really buckling under and managing the Covid-19 outbreak. More on that here:

Longer term, in countries like the US and elsewhere, there is a strong argument to be made for a lot of legacy services in 911-style emergency response finally getting the updates they have needed for years.

Specifically, earlier this month, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill approved in Congress earmarks $12 billion in funding for next-generation 911 deployments.

Carbyne believes that by 2023, it will be serving some 1.5 billion people, and it’s moves like this in the U.S. that point to why that might not be so far-fetched, Covid-19 or not.

“The ability to create transparent emergency communications between citizens, emergency call centers, first responders, and state and local government entities will prove of enormous importance as it is integrated into emergency response systems and will certainly save lives and improve outcomes,” said General Petraeus in a statement. “What Carbyne provides will dramatically enhance communications in the moments that matter most.”

X1 Card raises $12 million for its credit card with limits based on your income

By Romain Dillet

X1 Card is raising a $12 million funding round. The company is building a credit card that sets limits based on your current and future income, not your credit score.

Spark Capital is leading the round with Jared Leto, Aaron Levie, Jeremy Stoppelman, Max Levchin and Ali Rowghani also participating. American Express veteran Ash Gupta is also joining the company as an advisor — he was the chief risk officer of American Express.

The company says that it has attracted nearly 300,000 signups on its waitlist. I covered X1 Card back in September and it attracted a lot of readers, so that number doesn’t surprise me.

The X1 Card is a stainless steel Visa credit card with a different origin story. When you apply for a card, instead of determining your limits based on your credit score, the company wants to see your current and future income.

The startup believes the credit score system is outdated and doesn’t reflect your creditworthiness. That’s why it doesn’t use it to calculate limits. Your credit score still affects your variable APR (from 12.9% to 19.9%), but that’s it.

There are also a lot of software features that work with the credit card. For instance, you can track your subscriptions from the X1 app, you can also generate an auto-expiring virtual card for free trials that require a credit card. You also get notifications for refunds.

As for rewards, you get 2X points on all purchases. If you’re a heavy user and you spend more than $15,000 on your card per year, you’re upgraded to a new tier and earn 3X points. There’s also a viral element as you get a boosted reward level when you refer a friend — you get 4X points for a month. You can then spend your points with retail partners.

The company has promised a lot of features and now has enough cash in its bank account to deliver. Let’s see if the company can live up to the hype once the first customers get their cards. But it’s clear that the credit score system is outdated.

Accel Partners heads down to Georgia to invest in DecisionLink, leading an $18.5 million round

By Jonathan Shieber

DecisionLink, an Atlanta-based company that provides software for cost-benefit analyses of business services from a customer’s perspective, has managed to woo one of Silicon Valley’s top venture firms to invest in its latest $18.5 million round of funding.

Accel Partners has a longstanding reputation as one of the Bay Area’s premier investment firms, and it’s leading DecisionLink’s latest round. Their investment comes on the heels of billion-dollar valuations for Atlanta companies like Calendly, Greenlight Financial Technologies, OneTrust and the $800 million acquisition of Kabbage.

Atlanta startups are on fire 🔥

Calendly – raising at $3B valuation
OneTrust – $2.5B valuation
Greenlight – $1B+ valuation
Kabbage – just sold for $800M.

We have hit an inflection point in Atlanta – the next 10 years are going to be really runs

— Romeen Sheth (@RomeenSheth) November 19, 2020

Other investors in the round included George Kurtz, the president and chief executive of CrowdStrike, and George Roberts, a partner at OpenView Venture Partners and the former executive vice president of North American sales at Oracle.

“Value Management [sic] as a practice is now a C-suite priority and increasingly considered an enterprise-critical function alongside software systems like CRM, marketing automation, and project management,” said Sameer Gandhi, partner, Accel, in a statement. “In 2019, we invested in a SAFE round in DecisionLink because we believed in the market opportunity for scalable [value management]. Now, we have been so impressed by DecisionLink’s execution and its ability to drive this transformation on behalf of customers, that we are excited to lead its Series A round.”

Businesses are constantly looking for ways to benchmark themselves against their competitors or find new ways to better service them. Most of these strategies don’t take off, or are variations on a theme, but value management seems to have legs — especially given the accessibility of all kinds of benchmarking data points that are publicly available.

Accel-backed portfolio companies like CrowdStrike, PagerDuty and DocuSign are using the service and so are companies like ServiceNow, Marketo, NCR and VMware.

These are big names in enterprise software, and the signal that their adoption of DecisionLink’s software provided must have played a role in Accel’s decision to invest.

Germany’s Xentral nabs $20M led by Sequoia to help online-facing SMBs run back offices better

By Ingrid Lunden

Small enterprises remain one of the most underserved segments of the business market, but the growth of cloud-based services — easier to buy, easier to provision — has helped that change in recent years. Today, one of the more promising startups out of Europe building software to help SMEs run online businesses is announcing some funding to better tap into both the opportunity to build these services, and to meet a growing demand from the SME segment.

Xentral, a German startup that develops enterprise resource planning software covering a variety of back-office functions for the average online small business, has picked up a Series A of $20 million.

The company’s platform today covers services like order and warehouse management, packaging, fulfillment, accounting and sales management, and the majority of its 1,000 customers are in Germany — they include the likes of direct-to-consumer brands like YFood, KoRo, the Nu Company and Flyeralarm.

But Benedikt Sauter, the co-founder and CEO of Xentral, said the ambition is to expand into the rest of Europe, and eventually other geographies, and to fold in more services to its ERP platform, such as a more powerful API to allow customers to integrate more services — for example in cases where a business might be selling on their own site, but also Amazon, eBay, social platforms and more — to bring their businesses to a wider market.

Mainly, he said, the startup wants “to build a better ecosystem to help our customers run their own businesses better.”

The funding is being led by Sequoia Capital, with Visionaires Club (a B2B-focused VC out of Berlin) also participating.

The deal is notable for being the prolific, high-profile VC’s first investment in Europe since officially opening for business in the region. (Sequoia has backed a number of startups in Europe before this, including Graphcore, Klarna, Tessian, Unity, UiPath, n8n and Evervault — but all of those deals were done from afar.)

Augsburg-based Xentral has been around as a startup since 2018, and “as a startup” is the operative phrase here.

Sauter and his co-founder Claudia Sauter (who is also his co-founder in life: she is his wife) built the early prototype for the service originally for themselves.

The pair were running a business of their own — a hardware company they founded in 2008, selling not nails, hammers and wood, but circuit boards they they designed, along with other hardware to build computers and other connected objects. Around 2013, as the business was starting to pick up steam, they decided that they really needed better tools to manage everything at the backend so that they would have more time to build their actual products.

But Bene Sauter quickly discovered a problem in the process: smaller businesses may have Shopify and its various competitors to help manage e-commerce at the front end, but when it came to the many parts of the process at the backend, there really wasn’t a single, easy solution (remember this was eight years ago, at a time before the Shopifys of the world were yet to expand into these kinds of tools). Being of a DIY and technical persuasion — Sauter had studied hardware engineering at university — he decided that he’d try to build the tools that he wanted to use himself.

The Sauters used those tools for for years, until without much outbound effort, they started to get a some inbound interest from other online businesses to use the software, too. That led to the Sauters balancing both their own hardware business and selling the software on the side, until around 2017/2018 when they decided to wind down the hardware operation and focus on the software full-time. And from then, Xentral was born. It now has, in addition to 1,000 customers, some 65 employees working on developing the platform.

The focus with Xentral is to have a platform that is easy to implement and use, regardless of what kind of SME you might be as long as you are selling online. But even so, Sauter pointed out that the other common thread is that you need at least one person at the business who champions and understands the value of ERP. “It’s really a mindset,” he said.

The challenge with Xentral in that regard will be to see how and if they can bring more businesses to the table and tap into the kinds of tools that it provides, at the same time that a number of other players also eye up the same market. (Others in the same general category of building ERP for small businesses include online payments provider Sage, Netsuite and Acumatica.) ERP overall is forecast to become a $49.5 billion market by 2025.

Sequoia and its new partner in Europe Luciana Lixandru — who is joining Xentral’s board along with Luciana Lixandru and Visionaries’ Robert Lacher — believe however that there remains a golden opportunity to build a new kind of provider from the ground up and out of Europe specifically to target the opportunity in that region.

“I see Xentral becoming the de facto platform for any SMEs to run their businesses online,” she said in an interview. “ERP sounds a bit scary especially because it makes one think of companies like SAP, long implementation cycles, and so on. But here it’s the opposite.” She describes Xentral as “very lean and easy to use because you an start with one module and then add more. For SMEs it has to be super simple. I see this becoming like the Shopify for ERP.”

YC-backed Blabla raises $1.5M to teach English through short videos

By Rita Liao

Short, snappy, entertaining videos have become an increasingly common way for young people to receive information. Why not learn English through TikTok-like videos too? That was what prompted Angelo Huang to launch Blabla.

Originally from Taiwan, Huang relocated to Shanghai in 2019 to start Blabla after working in Silicon Valley for over a decade. A year later, Blabla was chosen as part of Y Combinator’s 2020 summer cohort. The coronavirus had begun to spread in the U.S. at the time, keeping millions at home, and interest in remote learning was reviving.

“It was my eighth time applying to YC,” Huang, who founded two companies before Blabla, told TechCrunch during an interview.

This week, Blabla announced it has raised $1.54 million in a seed round led by Amino Capital, Starling Ventures, Y Combinator, and Wayra X, the innovation arm of the Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica. While Y Combinator wasn’t particularly instrumental in Blabla’s expansion in China — one of the biggest English-learning markets — the famed accelerator was of great help introducing investors to the young company, said the founder.

The Blabla app pays native English speakers by the hour to create short, engaging videos tailored to English-learning students around the world. The content creators are aided by Blabla’s proprietary software that can recognize and tag their scenes, as well as third-party translation tools that can subtitle their videos. The students, in turn, pay a subscription fee to receive personalized video recommendations based on their level of proficiency. They can practice through the app’s built-in speech recognition, among other features like speaking contests and pop quizzes.

The startup is in a highly crowded space. In China, the online English-learning market is occupied by established companies like VIPKID, which is backed by Tencent and Sequoia Capital. Compared to VIPKID’s one-on-one tutoring model, Blabla is more affordable with its starting price of 39 yuan ($6) a month, Huang noted.

“The students [on mainstream English learning apps] might have to spend several thousands of RMB before they can have a meaningful conversation with their teachers. We instead recycle our videos and are able to offer lessons at much cheaper prices.”

The app has about 11,000 weekly users and 300-400 paid users at the moment, with 80-90% of its total users coming from China; the goal for this year is to reach 300,000 students. The funding will allow Blabla to expand in Southeast Asia and Latin America while Wayra X can potentially help it scale to Telefónica’s 340 million global users. It will be seeking brand deals with influencers on the likes of TikTok and Youtube. The new capital will also enable BlaBla to add new features, such as pairing up language learners based on their interests and profiles.

Blabla doesn’t limit itself to teaching English and has ambitions to bring in teachers of other languages. “We want to be a global online pay-for-knowledge platform,” said Huang.

Grab Financial Group raises $300 million Series A led by Hanhwa Asset Management

By Catherine Shu

Grab Financial Group said today it has raised more than $300 million in Series A funding, led by South Korean firm Hanhwa Asset Management, with participation from K3 Ventures, GGV Capital, Arbor Ventures and Flourish Ventures.

The Financial Times reports that the funding values Grab Financial, a subsidiary of ride-hailing and delivery giant Grab, at $3 billion. Both K3 Ventures and GGV Capital were early investors in Grab, which was founded in 2012.

Back in February 2020, Grab announced it had raised $856 million in funding to grow its payment and financial services. That news came during speculation that Grab and Gojek, one of it top rivals, were finally getting closer to a merger after lengthy discussions.

But the Grab-Gojek talks stalled, and Gojek is now reportedly in talks to merge with Indonesia e-commerce platform Tokopedia instead. According to Bloomberg, the combined company would be worth $18 billion, making it a more formidable rival to Grab.

In its funding announcement, Grab Financial Group said its total revenues grew more than 40% in 2020, compared to 2019. This driven by strong consumer adoption of services like AutoInvest, an investment platform that allows users to invest small amounts of money at a time through the Grab app and insurance products. Grab Financial announced the launch of several financial products for consumers and SMEs in August 2020.

Usagea of digital financial services by consumers and SMEs in Southeast Asia increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report published by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company in November, usage of banking apps and online payments, remittances, insurance products and robo-advisor investment platforms all grew in 2020, and the region’s financial services market may be reach $60 billion in revenue by 2025.

A consortium between Grab-Singtel was also among several firms awarded a full digital-banking license by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in December 2020.

In a press statement, Hanhwa Asset Management chief executive officer Yong Hyun Kim said, “We expect GFG to continue its expontential growth on the back of an innovative business model which supports the changing broader lifestyle of consumers, as well as its highly synergistic relationship with Grab, the largest Southeast Asian unicorn.”

Tokyo-based SODA, which runs Japan’s largest sneaker resell platform, lands $22 million led by SoftBank Ventures Asia

By Catherine Shu

Tokyo-based SODA, which runs sneaker reselling platform SNKRDUNK, has raised a $22 million Series B led by SoftBank Ventures Asia. Investors also included basepartners, Colopl Next, THE GUILD and other strategic partners. Part of the funding will be used to expand into other Asian countries. Most of SNKRDUNK’s transactions are within Japan now, but it plans to become a cross-border marketplace.

Along SODA’s $3 million Series A last year, this brings the startup’s total funding so far to $25 million.

While the COVID-19 pandemic was initially expected to put a damper on the sneaker resell market, C2C marketplaces have actually seen their business increase. For example, StockX, one of the biggest sneaker resell platforms in the world (which hit a valuation of $2.8 billion after its recent Series E), said May and June 2020 were its biggest months for sales ever.

SNKRDUNK’s sales also grew last year, and in December 2020, it recorded a 3,000% year-over-year increase in monthly gross merchandise value. Chief executive officer Yuta Uchiyama told TechCrunch this was because demand for sneakers remained high, while more people also started buying things online.

Launched in 2018, SNKRDUNK now has 2.5 million monthly users, which it says makes it the largest C2C sneaker marketplace in Japan. The Series B will allow it to speed up the pace of its international expansion, add more categories and expand its authentication facilities.

Like StockX and GOAT, SNKRDUNK’s user fees cover authentication holds before sneakers are sent to buyers. The company partners with FAKE BUSTERS, an authentication service based in Japan, to check sneakers before they are sent to buyers.

In addition to its marketplace, SNKRDUNK also runs a sneaker news site and an online community.

SODA plans to work with other companies in SoftBank Venture Asia’s portfolio that develop AI-based tech to help automate its operations, including logistics, payment, customer service and counterfeit inspection.

Pace launches out of private beta with a plan to scale virtual group therapy

By Natasha Mascarenhas

One in five people have a mental health illness. Pace, a new startup founded by Pinterest and Affirm executives, wants to pay attention to the other four in that statistic.

“Nobody is perfectly mentally healthy all the time,” said Jack Chou, Pace co-founder. “It’s a non-existent idea, everyone is sort of swimming in between being clinically mentally unhealthy and perfectly mentally happy.”

While diagnosable mental health conditions might get an individual medication or therapy, those that live in a grey space might still need resources to stay afloat. After Chou experienced the detrimental effects of burnout while working for Pinterest and Affirm, and co-founder Cat Lee, formerly of Pinterest and Maveron, experienced a personal travesty, the former colleagues realized there needed to be a way to help people who didn’t fit squarely into one bucket.

So Pace, which launched out of private beta today, wants to address this fallacy by creating small-group training classes for people interested in taking care of their emotional and mental health. It is launching with $1.9 million in seed funding. Investors include Nellie and Max Levchin, Jeff Weiner, Emilie Choi, Ben Silbermann, Box Group, and SV Angel.

The core of the product is a 90-minute live video group session once a week, delivered through Pace’s platform. The video component integrates with Twilio and Agora (and interestingly, not Zoom, because its SDK lacks personalization options). Users can attend the sessions on Web, iOS or Android.

Image Credits: Pace

Pace forms cohorts of eight to 10 people around shared interest or identities, such as a founder group or parent group. Then, Pace interviews a new user for 15 to 30 minutes to learn about what they hope to get out of the experience.

Once a group is formed, they meet weekly with a facilitator at the helm. While it’s not trying to be a therapy replacement, the startup is looking for facilitators who are licensed in mental health practice. To help them do this, Pace secured two founding members who are psychologists: Dr. Kerry Makin-Byrd and Dr. Vivian Oberling.

When users sign on, they are prompted to pick three words that describe themselves from dozens of options. Those words show up under their video as they talk, and help skip some small talk in the beginning of the sessions.

The group talks about a variety of topics, from how to manage stress to how to adapt to a remote world. There is no formal curriculum, but each class has a takeaway for participants to leave with.

Pace doesn’t follow any specific curriculum during the meetings, but instead uses the time for people to talk through their feelings. Facilitators are licensed mental health clinicians, with the majority of the leaders being part-time or freelancers. It plans to introduce asynchronous ways for group members to chat and stay in touch beyond the weekly class, as well as spend time building out a product that feels beyond a Zoom call.

Mental health software startups are on a tear right now. Last month, Lyra Health raised $175 million at a $2.25 billion valuation to connect employees to therapists and mental health services. Another telehealth provider, Talkspace, announced today that it was going public through a SPAC. There’s also Calm, last valued at $2 billion, and Headspace, its biggest competitor in the mindfulness app space.

Pace’s focus is more similar to the latter than the former: It’s avoiding the telehealth label and positioning itself more as supplementary to formal health services.

“Our hope is that as [therapists] have individual patients who they’d like to incorporate some group work, or need a next thing, that we’re here for that too,” says Chou.

One of Pace’s closest competitors is Coa, which launched with $3 million in seed funding in October 2020. The startup is similarly using small-group fitness culture and applying it to mental health. It mixes lecture-style teaching with breakout sessions to breed conversation.

Pace wouldn’t expand on how it differentiates from Coa beyond alluding to upcoming product features and community investments. Coa charges $25 for drop-in classes (sticking to that fitness class theme) while Pace charges $45 per week for the same group to meet for months at a time. While Coa has licensed therapists, Pace has licensed mental health clinicians.

Coa co-founders Alexa Meyer and Dr. Emily Anhalt say their service is unique from Pace in a curriculum perspective.

“Although all of Coa’s classes are facilitated by licensed therapists, Coa’s classes are different from group therapy,” Meyer said. Coa uses Anhalt’s research around mental happiness to create programming. Both companies are still pre-launch, but Coa says it has 6,000 people on its waitlist.

For both startups, the hurdles ahead are common for any startup: customer acquisition, effectiveness in tracking outcomes and scaling an innately emotional and personalized experience. As Homebrew’s Hunter Walk pointed out in a recent blog post, vulnerable populations being exposed to venture-level risk is a difficult phenomenon. Startups fail often, and in this case, that could mean leaving without once-critical support people who are depending on group therapy.

Going forward, the real winner in the mental health fitness space will come down to a thoughtful curriculum and a user experience that brings out vulnerability in people even over a virtual setting. Regardless, innovation pouring into the sector couldn’t come at a better time.

Venture capitalists react to Visa-Plaid deal meltdown

By Alex Wilhelm

Congratulations, you’re no longer selling your company for billions of dollars!

As strange as it sounds, that’s the leading perspective from venture capitalists concerning Plaid, now that its much-touted sale to Visa has fallen apart.

The $5.3 billion deal would have seen banking API startup Plaid join consumer payments and credit giant Visa. But the American government took a dim view of the deal, and according to Axios reporting, Plaid felt like it could be worth more money in time.

The TechCrunch team has collected views from venture capitalists, analysts and Anshu Sharma, CEO of another API-powered startup and a former VC to get a better view on the perspectives in the market concerning the blockbuster breakup.

From the venture capital side of things, most takes we received were bullish regarding Plaid’s chances now that it’s no longer being taken over by Visa. Amy Cheetham, for example, of Costanoa Ventures, said that the result is “good for the company, ultimately.” She added that Plaid may now see better “talent acquisition,” faster product decisions and a better eventual valuation.

“There is so much left for them to build in fintech infrastructure,” Cheetham said in an email, adding that she sees “Stripe-like scale potential” in Plaid. Stripe is reportedly raising capital at a valuation that could reach $100 billion.

Cheetham is not alone in her bullish perspective. Nico Berandi of Animo Ventures wrote to TechCrunch to say that he “still wishes” that his firm had been “around back then to have invested” in Plaid, adding a smiley face at the end of his missive.

Affirm doubles after starting to trade despite strong IPO pricing

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Today shares of Affirm, a buy-now-pay-later unicorn, started trading above $90 per share, far above its $49 per-share IPO price, a figure that was already miles above the company’s early expectations.

The pop comes after Affirm raised its pricing range earlier this week, to $41 to $44 per share, up from an initial range of $33 to $38 per share. To see the company double from its raised price implies strong demand for its shares, a thin float, or both.

Affirm’s explosive debut comes on the heels of similarly strong results from DoorDash, C3.ai and Airbnb. Those companies’ debuts were so strong that Roblox delayed its IPO, later swapping a traditional IPO for a direct listing to get around the pricing issue.

Today’s IPO shows that the same dynamics that were at play in those IPOs have persisted into 2021. More public debuts are expected in Q1, including Coinbase, another well-known unicorn. Other names like Robinhood, Bumble and others are in the wings.

Affirm’s first-day performance will certainly raise eyebrows from regular critics of the traditional IPO process. But the company did raise more money than it perhaps anticipated, and is having a raucous first-day’s trading, so it’s hard to fret too much for the company. If its share price is still as high in a month as it is today, perhaps it was as underpriced as some will claim.

Fintech

Affirm’s pricing brings a green splash to a busy week for fintech giants. Yesterday, Visa’s $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid failed to go through due to regulatory concerns. While the fallen deal could have a chilling effect on fintech startups, Plaid told TechCrunch that it saw 60% customer growth in 2020, bringing it to more than 4,000 clients. Plaid’s next step, per many in the VC and tech community, will be even bigger than its once-planned $5.3 billion dollar exit.

Some tweets here to give you a sense of the momentum around fintech right now:

Imo, give a few years, they'll acquire Visa.

— Shani Majer (@ClicWill2) January 12, 2021

January of 2021 feels not very much different from January of 2020 for fintech

Funding rounds announced by Blend, Mx (Utah!), Modern Treasury, Relay Payments (Atlanta!), Rapyd Payments, Checkout, Curve, Rho, Reggora etc

Plaid news! Affirm IPO! Walmart-Ribbit!

— Sar Haribhakti (@sarthakgh) January 13, 2021

Crazy week in fintech, but it’s only Wednesday….
💔@Plaid / @Visa Breakup
🛒@Walmart getting into fintech
🛍@Affirm pricing at ~$15B
🌪@blendlabsinc raising $300m @ $3.3B
Ⓜ@mX raising $300m
🏃‍♂️@RapydPayments raising $300m @ $2.5B
🚛Relay Payments raising $43mm

— ashleypaston (@ashleypaston) January 13, 2021

Affirm’s pop and Plaid’s forward-looking attitude show that the exit market for fintech feels both optimistic and energetic.

❌