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Today — April 22nd 2021Your RSS feeds

Podcast recording platform Riverside.fm raises $9.5M

By Brian Heater

The past year has changed the way we work, on so many levels — a fact from which podcasters certainly weren’t immune. I can say, anecdotally, that as a long-time podcaster, I had thrown in the towel on my long-standing insistence that I do all of my interviews in-person — for what should probably be obvious reasons.

2020 saw many shows shifting to a remote format and experimenting with different remote recording tools, from broad teleconferencing software like Zoom to more bespoke solutions like Zencastr. Tel Aviv-based Riverside.fm (originally from Amsterdam) launched right on time to ride the remote podcasting wave, and today the service is announcing a $9.5 million Series A.

The round is led by Seven Seven Six and features Zeev-ventures.com, Casey Neistat, Marques Brownlee, Guy Raz,  Elad Gil and Alexander Klöpping. The company says it plans to use the money to increase headcount and build out more features for the service.

“As many were forced to adapt to remote work and production teams struggled to deliver the same in person quality, from a distance—Gideon and Nadav saw an opportunity to not only solve a great need for creators, but to build an extraordinary product,” Seven Seven Six founder Alexis Ohanian said in a release. “As a creator myself, I can say from experience that Riverside’s quality is unmatched and the new editing capabilities are peerless.”

Riverside.fm is a remote video and audio platform that records lossless audio and 4K video tracks remotely to each user’s system, saving the end result from the kind of technical hiccups that come with spotty internet connections.

Along with the funding round, the company is also rolling out a number of software updates to its platform. At the top of the list is brand new version of its iPhone app, which instantly records and uploads video, a nice extension as more users are looking to record their end on mobile devices.

On the desktop front, “Magic Editor” streamlines the multi-step process of recording, editing and uploading. There’s also a new “Smart Speakerview” feature that automatically switches between speakers for video editing, while not switching for accidental noises like sneezing and coughing.

It’s a hot space that’s only heating up. Given how quickly the company was able to piece their original offering together, it will be interesting to see what they’re able to do with an additional $9.5 million in their coffers.

 

Applied XL raises $1.5M to build ‘editorial algorithms’ that track real-time data

By Anthony Ha

AppliedXL, a startup creating machine learning tools with what it describes as a journalistic lens, is announcing that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding.

Emerging from the Newlab Venture Studio last year, the company is led by CEO Francesco Marconi (previously R&D chief at The Wall Street Journal) and CTO Erin Riglin (former WSJ automation editor). Marconi told me that AppliedXL started out by working on a number of different data and machine learning projects as it looked for product-market fit — but it’s now ready to focus on its first major industry, life sciences, with a product launching broadly this summer.

He said that AppliedXL’s technology consists of “essentially a swarm of editorial algorithms developed by computational journalists.” These algorithms benefit from “the point of view and expertise of journalists, as well as taking into account things like transparency and bias and other issues that derive from straightforward machine learning development.”

Marconi compared the startup to Bloomberg and Dow Jones, suggesting that just as those companies were able to collect and standardize financial data, AppliedXL will do the same in a variety of other industries.

He suggested that it makes sense to start with life sciences because there’s both a clear need and high demand. Customers might include competitive intelligence teams as pharmaceutical companies and life sciences funds, which might normally try to track this data by searching large databases and receiving “data vomit” in response.

“Our solution for scaling [the ability to spot] newsworthy events is to design the algorithms with the same principles that a journalist would approach a story or an investigation,” Marconi said. “It might be related to the size of the study and the number of patients, it might be related to a drug that is receiving a lot of attention in terms of R&D investment. All of these criteria that science journalist would bring to clinical trials, we’re encoding that into algorithms.”

Eventually, Marconi said the startup could expand into other categories, building industry-“micro models.” Broadly speaking, he suggested that the company’s mission is “measuring the health of people, places and the planet.”

The seed funding was led by Tuesday Capital, with participation from Frog Ventures, Team Europe and Correlation Ventures.

“With industry leading real-time data pipelining, Applied XL is building the tools and platform for the next generation of data-based decision making that business leaders will rely on for decades,” said Tuesday Capital Partner Prashant Fonseka in a statement. “Data is the new oil and the team at Applied XL have figured out how to identify, extract and leverage one of the most valuable commodities in the world.”

 

Kandji nabs $60M Series B as Apple device management platform continues to thrive

By Ron Miller

During the pandemic, having an automated solution for onboarding and updating Apple devices remotely has been essential, and today Kandji, a startup that helps IT do just that, announced a hefty $60 million Series B investment.

Felicis Ventures led the round with participation from SVB Capital, Greycroft, Okta Ventures and The Spruce House Partnership. Today’s round comes just 7 months after a $21 million Series A, bringing the total raised across three rounds to $88.5 million, according to the company.

CEO Adam Pettit says that the company has been growing in leaps in bounds since the funding round last October.

“We’ve seen a lot more traction than even originally anticipated. I think every time we’ve put targets up onto the board of how quickly we would grow, we’ve accelerated past them,” he said. He said that one of the primary reasons for this growth has been the rapid move to work from home during the pandemic.

“We’re working with customers across 40+ industries now, and we’re even seeing international customers come in and purchase so everyone now is just looking to support remote workforces and we provide a really elegant way for them to do that,” he said.

While Pettit didn’t want to discuss exact revenue numbers, he did say that it has tripled since the Series A announcement. That is being fueled in part he says by attracting larger companies, and he says they have been seeing more and more of them become customers this year.

As they’ve grown revenue and added customers, they’ve also brought on new employees, growing from 40 to 100 since October. Pettit says that the startup is committed to building a diverse and inclusive culture at the company and a big part of that is making sure you have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from.

“It comes down to at the onset just making the decision that it’s important to you and it’s important to the company, which we’ve done. Then you take it step by step all the way through, and we start at the back into the funnel where are candidates are coming from.”

That means clearly telling their recruiting partners that they want a diverse candidate pool. One way to do that is being remote and having a broader talent pool to work with. “We realized that in order to hold true to [our commitment], it was going to be really hard to do that just sticking to the core market of San Diego or San Francisco, and so now we’ve expand expanded nationally and this has opened up a lot of [new] pools of top tech talent,” he said.

Pettit is thinking hard right now about how the startup will run its offices whenever they allowed back, especially with some employees living outside major tech hubs. Clearly it will have some remote component, but he says that the tricky part of that will be making sure that the folks who aren’t coming into the office still feel fully engaged and part of the team.

MasterClass co-founder’s Outlier.org raises $30M for affordable, virtual college courses

By Anthony Ha

Outlier.org — a startup offering intro-level college courses online and at a relatively affordable price — is announcing that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding.

The startup was founded by CEO Aaron Rasmussen, previously co-founder at MasterClass (which Axios reports is raising new funding at a $2.5 billion valuation). Like Rasmussen’s old company, Outlier offers beautifully shot online courses; unlike MasterClass, students can actually earn college credit.

When Outlier launched in the fall of 2019, Rasmussen said his goal was to make a college education more affordable and accessible — though he also told me that Outlier is only focused on bringing intro-level classes online, not the entire curriculum.

This idea seems even more appealing during a pandemic, when a completely “normal” college experience isn’t really available to anyone. In fact, Rasmussen said there’s been a surge in interest from universities that want to partner with Outlier, especially since some colleges are struggling to attract students — so with difficult financial choices ahead, they can use Outlier to supplement their offerings.

“We’ve learned that many universities love the idea of high-quality intro classes for students,” he said. “That was a question mark for us, [but] many say, ‘We want to focus on upper level courses, so this a great way to keep people on track.'”

To that end, Outlier has hired Anjuli Gupta as its head of partnerships. Gupta previously led university partnerships at Coursera, and Rasmussen suggested the company could work with high schools and employers, not just universities.

Of course, the pandemic has created some challenges for Outlier as well. Initially, in order to produce its classes, Rasmussen said the company was shipping its instructors “literally 500 pounds of cinematography equipment.” Now it has developed a production method where a small crew sets everything up, then the instructor teaches on the set alone.

“It’s just you, a motion-controlled dolly and little pieces of tape telling you where to push all the buttons,” he said. “Then [the crew] remotely runs the cameras, you’re hitting record and they can see everything coming in through the feeds, so you’re remotely directed.”

Outlier currently offers six classes, including Calculus I, Microeconomics, Astronomy and Philosophy, with a goal of expanding to 14 by the end of 2022. Rasmussen said the company is now allowing students to join courses in new cohorts every two weeks — so even though the lectures are pre-recorded, you’re still moving through the class with a group of fellow students. And Outlier has built a variety of custom student support tools — for example, the company can identify when a student is “falling behind” and reach out.

The startup has also expanded its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh into a five-year agreement, with students receiving credit from the school and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown providing academic oversight. (Though it seems that some faculty members are unhappy about the arrangement.) They’ve also partnered to offer $3.8 million worth of scholarships to 1,000 frontline workers.

Each Outlier course costs $400, which the company says is approximately one-sixth the cost of a traditional college class. Still, Rasmussen said, “I couldn’t have afforded it when I was growing up,” so he’s trying to find ways to make the program even more affordable — hence the scholarships, as well as monthly payment plans with Klarna (Outlier covers the interest on student payments).

The new funding was led by GV (formerly known Google Ventures), with participation from Unusual Ventures, GSV, Harrison Metal and Gaingels, bringing Outlier’s total funding to $46 million.

“We’re inspired by Outlier.org’s mission to increase educational access and equity, and to reduce student debt,” said GV’s John Lyman in a statement. “We strongly believe in Aaron Rasmussen and the founding team’s vision to provide better access to more affordable education for hundreds of millions of students around the globe.”

Newly-christened Percent wants to make it easier to securitize corporate debt

By Danny Crichton

Debt is the new equity. As founders run around trying to fend off prying VCs from their cap tables, they are increasingly turning to debt products like revenue-based securities in order to get the capital they need today while protecting them from dilution they don’t want tomorrow. It’s a huge business, with leading company Pipe just valued at $2 billion and others like CapChase cashing in on founders’ newly-found love of debt.

All those new securities creates a dilemma for potential investors: how do they evaluate every single new debt product from every single company? It’s a problem they face not just in the startup world, but also private debt in general as companies borrow hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The solution is securitization and syndication, aggregating the small debts from multiple companies and fusing them together into one consistent new security. It’s a major component of capital markets, but one that remains mired in legacy business practices.

Percent is building an end-to-end technology securitization platform for debt originators to connect with a much wider network of investors than traditional institutions to get the best rates at the fastest speeds. When we last checked in a year ago with the company, previously known as Cadence, it had just raised $4 million and had processed $125 million through its platform in its short lifetime.

Well, it has now structured more than $400 million across its platform, an eye-popping performance that has attracted new VC interest, this time from Sep Alavi at White Star Capital and Karen Page at B Capital. The two firms are investing $12.5 million in a Series A into Percent, with previous backers Revel Partners and Recharge Capital participating.

For CFOs, Percent’s pitch is that it can offer a wider spectrum of private debt buyers to originators, therefore lowering the cost of capital. The traditional corporate debt world remains quite clubby, with major institutional holders being connected to originators through investment banks. High fees and a limited investor base can raise expenses significantly. Through its platform, Percent can break that clubbiness and open the debt world to a wider range of buyers.

Furthermore, Percent also acts as the deal origination and transaction platform, allowing companies to easily put together debt offerings, process requests for information, and avoid the sort of “attach Excel financials to email or upload to cloud” workflow that remains a mainstay in these processes.

Percent’s business model is to take a percentage fee on the dollars originated on its platform as well as an additional percentage fee if it is the underwriter itself. In this way, it has essentially a recurring-revenue model — the more debt that is transacted on its platform, the more continuous revenue the company generates over time.

Percent scored one of its biggest wins to date with the securitization of $144 million in debt originated by FAT Brands, the owners of popular restaurant franchises like Fatburger and Johnny Rockets. Percent acted as co-lead bookrunner with lead Jefferies for the debt announced yesterday, and FAT noted that its cost of capital was significantly lower than its previous two securitizations from last year. Given the changing macro environment and the radically shifting fortunes in the foods service business in the wake of COVID-19 though, it is hard to precisely identify what changed the cost of capital and what extent a modern technology stack helped the company’s debt performance. Outside of FAT Brands, Percent has a list of many of its other originators available.

Nelson Chu, the founder and CEO of Percent, noted that he was particularly interested in finding investors with knowledge of capital markets and the enterprise sales cycle. He observed in an interview that as more and more VCs in recent years have tended to come from product and growth roles at startups rather than the traditional path through an investment bank, there are fewer VCs with knowledge or interest in the capital markets space.

Alavi at White Star has invested in a range of financial services and blockchain companies, while Page at B Capital has long been in the enterprise space at Apple and as an early employee at cloud provider Box.

Percent’s team in New York City this week. Image Credits: Percent

Percent, which is headquartered in New York City and was founded in 2018, has expanded its team by double over the past year as it scales up its engineering and sales teams.

Queenly raises $2.3M for its dress marketplace

By Alex Wilhelm

One of our favorite companies from the most recently Y Combinator batch has closed a seed round. This morning Quenly announced that it has closed a $2.262 million round, following its $800,000 pre-seed raise. TechCrunch covered the company in February, noting that the company was building something akin to the StockX for women’s formal wear.

Queenly runs a marketplace that allows individuals and small stores to resell dresses after they’ve been worn, allowing for more women to access the items they want to wear to a prom, quinceanera, or pageant at a lower price point. And as the service could help reduce net clothing waste, it could have a positive environmental impact as well.

The model has continued to find backers. According to co-founder Trisha Bantigue, the biggest check in Queenly’s seed round came from Dragon Capital, an investing group that she said quickly saw her startup’s potential, investing the day after they met. Notably, the seed round, which Bantigue had roughly half-filled even before its Y Combinator cohort’s launch event, did not have a lead investor. Instead, she described her most recent backers as more of a collection of investors that can bring different strategic value-adds to Queenly.

Brightlane Ventures put capital in, for example. Bantigue said that they provide candidate sourcing help. She also cited Amino Capital’s analytics knowledge, which will help her company’s technical co-founder Kathy Zhou. NextView Ventures also invested, an investor that Bantigue said had deep experience in resale marketplaces and commerce. Interlace Ventures and Shakti Capital also took part.

Queenly, long a team of two, intends to expand its staff to six full-time workers with its new funds. That means that Zhou will be supplemented by two more engineers, and Bantigue will be backed up by a head of growth, and a head of opps. Six full-time staff isn’t many, unless you’re starting from a base of two. Then it’s a trebling.

Queenly had set out to raise $1.5 million, but wound up raising $2.1 million, a number that grew to $2.262 million by the time that TechCrunch caught up with the company earlier this week.

Notably, Bantigue turned down a larger, $1.5 million check after closing around $1.1 million of the round. Why not on as much capital as possible? She said that Y Combinator and its managing director Michael Seibel had warned her startup cohort against raising too much money too early. And, she explained, her team is more focused on building long-term more “sustainable” growth than short-term “hypergrowth.” She cited startups that raised lots of capital quickly only to later burn out as a cautionary tale.

The new capital was raised using a simple agreement for future equity, or SAFE at a single cap.

Queenly’s model of allowing individuals and partner stores resale dresses provides it with two distinct supply sources. TechCrunch asked which is its key driver of growth. Per Bantigue, the partner selling model is still new, but thus far has yielded a simpler, and lower-friction supply source for her company.

TechCrunch was also curious about how the company handles quality, fraud and returns, especially in light of our recent, and illustrative dive into StockX which has a related set of hurdles to clear.

Bantigue explained that her firm has two main ways that dresses are vetted. For those priced at $300 or less, they ship directly from sellers to buyers, after submitting proof photos of the condition of the dress’s components. Those that cost more than $300 are routed through the company’s own operation, where it can provide stricter quality control.

With more capital than it has ever had, a growing team, and a large market that is largely offline today, the startup should have plenty of room to grow. Let’s see how far it can get with this new investment.

 

Westward plans a $30M debut fund to take Chinese indie games global

By Rita Liao

In Hefei, a Chinese city known for its relics from the Three Kingdoms period and its manufacturing industry today, Maxim Rate was thrilled to find a small studio crafting a Western role-playing game, a genre that attracts lovers of gritty aesthetics and dark storylines.

“The design and computer graphics are really good. You can’t tell they are a Chinese team,” said Rate.

Rate’s mission is to find Chinese studios like the bootstrapped Hefei team and help them woo international players. As Chinese regulators tighten rules on game publishing and make licenses hard to obtain in recent years, small studios find themselves struggling. Since last year, Apple has pulled thousands of unlicensed games from its Chinese App Store at the behest of local authorities. Small-time developers begin to look beyond their home turf.

“The problem is these startups have no experience in overseas expansion,” said Rate.

An avid gamer himself, Rate quit his job at a Chinese cross-border payment firm last year and launched a part-incubator, part-investment vehicle to take Chinese games abroad. The firm, called Westward Gaming Ventures, took inspiration from Zheng He, a Chinese diplomat and explorer who embarked on state-sponsored naval expeditions to the “Western Oceans” during the Ming Dynasty.

Westward plans to raise 200 million yuan ($30 million) for its debut fund, Rate told TechCrunch in an interview. It plans to deploy the capital over the next three years with an intended check size of 2-4 million yuan per studio. It’s currently in talks with 20-30 teams that span a wide range of genres.

The Chinese fund being established is a so-called Qualified Foreign Limited Partners Fund, which, for the first time, will enable foreign investors (USD and EUR) to invest directly in Chinese gaming firms. Only a few institutions own a license for QFLP, and while Westward itself doesn’t hold one, it gains legitimacy for direct foreign investment by partnering with the private equity arm of a major Chinese financial conglomerate, which declined to be named at this stage.

To navigate such regulatory complications, Westward also seeks help from its advisors, including one that oversaw the legal and financial process of one of the largest joint ventures established between Chinese and foreign gaming firms in recent years. The partnership, which can’t be named, was also the first time a foreign entity has become the majority shareholder in a gaming joint venture in China.

China limits foreign investments in areas it considers sensitive, such as value-added services, so many companies resort to setting up elaborate offshore entities to receive overseas funding. The restriction makes it difficult for resource-strapped studios to land foreign investors, who could help them venture into global markets. They are left with the option of getting backed or bought by Chinese giants like Tencent or ByteDance.

Rise of Chinese plays

The idea of Westward is not just to lower the barriers for independent Chinese games to secure foreign capital but also better prepare them for overseas expansion.

“Chinese gaming studios, big or small, used to rely heavily on ads for user acquisition when they went abroad,” said Rate. “Sometimes a game would take off, but the team had no idea why, so they continued to test. Those who failed may just give up.”

But taking a game abroad is not as simple as translating it, hitting the publish button and launching an ad campaign on Facebook.

Westward’s plan is to get involved in a game’s early development phase and help them position: Is it an RPG? Is the targeted user a casual or serious player? What’s the graphic style? In addition, the firm also plans to supply developers with workspace, technical assistance, marketing and localization expertise, connection to publishers, and overseas operation help.

Image Credits: Westward Gaming Ventures

To provide post-investment support, Westward has partnered up with V+ Gaming Society, an incubator for games headquartered Shenzhen, which Westward also calls home.

Chinese tech companies are facing mounting challenges in the West as geopolitical tensions rise. Many now prefer calling themselves “global firms” and even deny their Chinese roots outright.

But for Westward, the games it helps doesn’t need to pretend they are non-Chinese. “Most players don’t consider where a game is from if it is a really good game,” said Rate.

“We actually hope to see elements of Chinese culture in these games that can be understood by overseas players.”

Amy Ho, a partner at Westward along with Rate and Edward He, said one of the few Chinese games that have managed to be both “Chinese” and transcend cultural boundaries is Chinese Parents. The simulation game became a global hit by letting users experience what it is like to raise a child in China.

The benchmark Rate gave was the generation of Japanese games that began exporting 20-30 years ago, which he described as “Japanese” in spirit but “globalized” in graphics and game design.

There have already been globally successful titles from Chinese makers like Tencent and rising studios Lilith and Mihoyo. In the past, many Chinese users on Steam would be asking foreign titles to rush out Chinese versions. Now, it’s not uncommon to see Western users demanding English editions of Chinese games, Rate observed.

Rather than politics, the bigger challenge, especially for small studios, is how to “collect key data for product iteration while complying with local privacy laws,” said Ho.

50-70% of Westward’s capital will come from Chinese institutions. The presence of Chinese investments inevitably leads to questions around censorship. Ho said while Westward provides resources and capital to studios, it will work to ensure their independence from investor influence.

If things go well, Westward could help facilitate cultural exchange between China and the rest of the world. Beijing has been trying to export the country’s soft power, and games may be a suitable conduit, suggested Rate. Amid the ongoing trade war, having foreign fundings in Chinese companies may also do good to China’s “brand”, he said.

Forget the piggy bank, Till Financial’s kids’ spend management app gets Gates’ backing

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Today’s children and teens want more power and control over their spending.

And while there are a number of financial services and apps out there aimed at helping this demographic save and invest money (Greenlight being among the most popular and well-known), one startup is coming at the space from another angle: helping younger people also better manage their spend.

Till Financial describes itself as a collaborative family financial tool that aims to empower kids to become smarter spenders. The New York-based company’s banking platform is designed to encourage “open and honest” discussions between parents and their kids. And it has just raised $5 million to help it advance on that goal.

A slew of investors put money in the round, including Elysian Park Ventures, Melinda Gates’ venture fund Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.

Part of Till’s goal is to help kids “learn by doing” and gain confidence in spending decisions. It arms them with a bank account, digital and physical debit card and goal-based savings. For example, say a teen wants to buy an iPad, they can set up an account that they can save toward that iPad and give family members (such as grandparents, for example) the opportunity to pitch in the same amount, or more. They can also set up recurring payments for things like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions so they can get a taste of what it’s like to pay regular bills.

“Parents and the current banking options miss the point when they just focus on savings. We need to first prepare kids to be Smarter Spenders, supported by savings and investing,” said Taylor Burton, who founded the company with Tom Pincince. “On Till, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.”

To Pincince, the market is clearly underserved.

“The legacy banks really don’t care about this young person and the early digital players are really missing the mark,” he said. 

And despite the plethora of apps targeting the demographic, Pincince believes there’s plenty of room for the right players.

“The reality is you’re talking about a swath of kids under the age of 18 and over the age of eight that is the single largest unbanked population,” he said. “We’re not fighting to be the top of your son’s wallet. We’re fighting to be the first product into that wallet.”

Indeed, it’s a big market — the average middle-class family in the U.S. spends $284,570 per child by the time they turn 18.

The platform is free to all families and, early on, attracted the attention of Peggy Mangot, operating partner/COO of PayPal Ventures. She invested personally in Till in its pre-seed rounds. Prior to PayPal, Mangot ran development of Greenhouse, Well Fargo’s fee-free mobile banking app that aimed to help younger users build responsible spending habits.

Mangot has three kids and recalls that when they were shopping online, she’d give them her credit card. Or, if they were going to the corner store or meeting with friends, she’d give them cash.

“But that way, the money is meaningless to them. They didn’t really know how to understand what things cost and there was no sense of ownership,” she said. “It was just me handing over cash or a card.”

What attracted her the most about Till, Mangot said, was the team’s approach to treat younger people “with respect and agency.”

She also believes that by helping children and teens understand important financial lessons at a younger age, the world will ultimately be full of more responsible adults.

“By putting these tools in the hands of these young people early, they’ll have years and years of experience before they’re more independent and have to manage their paycheck and bills,” Mangot told TechCrunch. “Once you have mass adoption, it’s going to create a much more financially literate, confident and in control set of young adults than we’ve ever had.”

Besides making money on interchange fees, Till aims to earn revenue by partnering with merchants to offer rewards to users. It also plans to earn referral fees by referring the teens to other financial institutions when they get older and have different needs.

“It’s not our intention to be your son or daughter’s forever bank. It’s our intention to be the first bank,” Pincince said. “So, they hit the age of maturity, we’re actually giving them a high-five off of our platform and introducing them to maybe their first college loan or their first credit card.”

With $30M extension, BigID boosts Series D to $100M at $1.25B valuation

By Ron Miller

When we last heard from BigID at the end of 2020, the company was announcing a $70 million Series D at a $1 billion valuation. Today, it announced a $30 million extension on that deal valuing the company at $1.25 billion just 4 months later.

This chunk of money comes from private equity firm Advent International, and brings the total raised to over $200 million across 4 rounds, according to the company. The late stage startup is attracting all of this capital by building a security and privacy platform. When I spoke to CEO Dimitri Sirota in September 2019 at the time of the $50 million Series C, he described the company’s direction this way:

“We’ve separated the product into some constituent parts. While it’s still sold as a broad-based [privacy and security] solution, it’s much more of a platform now in the sense that there’s a core set of capabilities that we heard over and over that customers want.”

Sirota says he has been putting the money to work, and as the economy improves he is seeing more traction for the product set. “Since December, we’ve added employees as we’ve seen broader economic recovery and increased demand. In tandem, we have been busy building a whole host of new products and offerings that we will announce over the coming weeks that will be transformational for BigID,” he said.

He also said that as with previous rounds, he didn’t go looking for the additional money, but decided to take advantage of the new funds at a higher valuation with a firm that he believes can add value overall. What’s more, the funds should allow the company to expand in ways it might have held off on.

“It was important to us that this wouldn’t be a distraction and that we could balance any funding without the need to over-capitalize, which is becoming a bigger issue in today’s environment. In the end, we took what we thought could bring forward some additional product modules and add a sales team focused on smaller commercial accounts,” Sirota said.

Ashwin Krishnan, a principal on Advent’s technology team in New York says that BigID was clearly aligned with two trends his firm has been following. That includes the explosion of data being collected and the increasing focus on managing and securing that data with the goal of ultimately using it to make better decisions.

“When we met with Dimitri and the BigID team, we immediately knew we had found a company with a powerful platform that solves the most challenging problem at the center of these trends and the data question,”Krishnan said.

Past investors in the company include Boldstart Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Tiger Global. Strategic investors include Comcast Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and SAP.io.

Tiger Global backs Indian crypto startup at over $500M valuation

By Manish Singh

Coinswitch Kuber, a startup that allows young users in India to invest in cryptocurrencies, said on Thursday it has raised $25 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its reach in India, the world’s second largest internet market and also the place where the future of private cryptocurrencies remains uncertain for now.

Tiger Global financed the entire Series B funding round of Coinswitch Kuber and valued the three-year-old Indian startup at over $500 million. The announcement of Series B comes just three months after Coinswitch closed its $15 million Series A round from Ribbit Capital, Sequoia Capital India, and Kunal Shah. The Bangalore-based startup has raised $41.5 million to date.

TechCrunch reported earlier this month that the New York-headquartered technology hedge fund had led or was in advanced stages of talks to lead investments in many Indian startups including Coinswitch.

Coinswitch Kuber is one of the handful of startups operating in the cryptocurrency space today. The crypto exchange allows users to buy slivers of several popular cryptocurrencies. A user on Coinswitch, for instance, can buy small sachets of bitcoin and other currencies for as low as 100 Indian rupees ($1.3)-worth.

The startup said it has amassed over 4.5 million users, more than half of whom are aged 25 or younger. In the past 11 months, Coinswitch Kuber said it processed transactions over $5 billion.

But how the startup, which aims to add 5.5 million by the end of this year, performs in the future is not entire in its hand.

While trading of private cryptocurrency such as bitcoin is currently legal in India, New Delhi is widely expected to introduce a law that bans all private cryptocurrency.

Ashish Singhal, co-founder and chief executive of Coinswitch Kuber, said he is optimistic that India will not ban private cryptocurrencies, but said the startup closed the financing round with Tiger Global before New Delhi’s indication to formulate a law.

“This investment round brings us at par with some of the most sought after cryptocurrency companies in the world and sets us up for the long run,” said Singhal.

In recent months, some crypto startups in India have started to explore a contingency plan in the event the nation does end up banning cryptocurrency trading in the country. Many startups are today building in India, but focusing on serving customers overseas.

“As they build India’s leading cryptocurrency platform, CoinSwitch is well positioned to capture the tremendous growing interest in crypto among retail investors. We are excited to partner with CoinSwitch as they innovate in this emerging asset class,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

SmartNews’ COVID-19 vaccine alert reaches 1M users in Japan a week after launching

By Catherine Shu

Screenshots of SmartNews' Vaccine Alert and Map features for its Japanese app

SmartNews’ Vaccine Alert and Map features for its Japanese app

SmartNews announced today that its tools to help Japanese users find nearby COVID-19 vaccine bookings have reached more than one million users just a week after launching. The news discovery unicorn decided to create Vaccine Alert and Map features for its Japanese app because many people there are frustrated by the speed of vaccine rollouts. In the United States, where vaccinations are going much faster, SmartNews just released a feature that lets people find appointments by zip code today.

The company has more than 20 million monthly active users combined in Japan and the United States.

According to a public opinion poll by Nippon TV, more than 70% of Japanese people are dissatisfied with its slow vaccine rollout. That sentiment was echoed in SmartNews’ own research, which surveyed 900 people aged 65 to 79 at the beginning of April, and found that more than 90% felt there was insufficient information available about when and where they could get vaccinated. Challenges included the lack of a central portal for vaccine booking information, meaning local government offices and healthcare providers were inundated with questions.

A screenshot of SmartNews' vaccine locater feature for the American version of its app

A screenshot of SmartNews’ vaccine finder feature for the American version of its app

To create its Vaccine Alert and Map, SmartNews aggregated information from 1,741 municipalities across Japan. The Vaccine Alert lets users know when they are eligible to get a shot based on their location, age, occupation and health conditions. The Vaccine Map combines data from about 37,000 facilities, so people can see where bookings are available near them or get notified when their healthcare providers begin taking reservations.

The features were released on April 12, the day vaccinations began for elderly people in Japan, and had more than one million users a week later. This is in part because SmartNews is one of the country’s most popular news aggregator apps and also because the new features were covered by TV Asahi, a major TV station.

A company representative told TechCrunch that many people who signed up for the vaccine features were already SmartNews users, but it has also seen new downloads as people share their vaccination appointments with friends and family.

Bux, a European Robinhood, raises $80M to expand its neo-broker platform

By Ingrid Lunden

A new wave of apps have democratized the concept of investing, bringing the concept of trading stocks and currencies to a wider pool of users who can use these platforms to make incremental, or much larger, bets in the hopes of growing their money at a time when interest rates are low. In the latest development, Bux — a startup form Amsterdam that lets people invest in shares and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) without paying commissions (its pricing is based on flat €1 fees for certain services, no fees for others) — has picked up some investment of its own, a $80 million round that it.

Alongside this, the company is announcing a new CEO. Founder Nick Bortot is stepping away and Yorick Naeff, an early employee of the company who had been the COO, is taking over. Bortot will remain a shareholder and involved with the company, which will be using to expand its geographical footprint and expand its tech platform and services to users, said Naeff in an interview.

“Since we started, Bux has been trying to make investments affordable and intuitive, and that will still be the case,” he said. The average age of a Bux customer is 30, so while affordable and intuitive are definitely priorities to capture younger users, it also means that if Bux can earn their loyalty and show positive returns, they have the potential to keep them for a long time to come.

The funding is coming from an interesting group of investors. Jointly led by Prosus Ventures and Tencent (in which Prosus, the tech division of Naspers, is a major investor), it also included ABN Amro Ventures, Citius, Optiver, and Endeit Capital — all new investors — as well as previous backers HV Capital and Velocity Capital Fintech Ventures.

Naeff said in an interview that Bux isn’t disclosing its valuation with this round. But for some context, he confirmed that the startup has around 500,000 customers across the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, France and Belgium, using not just its main Bux Zero app, but also Bux Crypto and Bux X (a contracts for difference (CFDs) app).

Crypto remains a niche but extremely active part of the wider investment market and Naeff described Bux Crypo — formed out of Bux acquiring Blockport last year — as “very profitable.” The company had only raised about $35 million before this round, and it’s been around since 2014, so while he wouldn’t comment on wider profitability, you can draw some conclusions from that.

For some further valuation context, another big player in trading in Europe, eToro, in March announced it was going public by way of a SPAC valuing it at $10 billion. (Note: eToro is significantly bigger, adding 5 million users last year alone.)

Others in the wider competitive landscape include Robinhood out of the US, which had plans but appeared to have stalled in its entry into Europe; Trade Republic out of Germany, which raised $67 million a year ago from the likes of Accel and Founders Fund; and Revolut, which has been running a trading app for some time.

The opportunity that Bux is targeting is a very simple one: technology, and specifically innovations in banking and apps, have opened the door to making it significantly easier for the average consumer to engage in a new set of financial services.

At the same time, some of the more traditional ways of “growing” one’s capital, by way of buying and selling property or opening savings accounts, are not as strong these days as they were in the past, with the housing market being too expensive to enter for younger people, and interest rates very low, leading those consumers to considering other options open to them. Social media is also playing a major role here, opening up conversations around investing that have been traditionally run between professionals in the industry.

“We’re looking for industries that solve big societal needs and fintech continues to be one of them,” said Sandeep Bakshi, who heads up investments for Prosus in Europe, in an interview. “Interest rates being what they are, there are no opportunities for individuals to save and that represents a massive opportunity, and we’re happy to partner and be a part of the journey.”

Although there is a wave of so-called neo-brokers in the market today, Bux’s unique selling point, Naeff said, is the company’s tech stack.

In comparison to others providing trading apps, he said Bux is the first and only one of them to have built a full-stack system of its own.

“It’s not on top of existing broker, which makes it a nimble and modular,” he said. “This is especially critical because fintech is a game of scale, but every market is completely different when you consider tax, payment systems and the ID documents that one needs in order to fill KYC requirements.”

And that is before you consider that doing business in Europe means doing business in a number of different languages.

“Our system is here to scale across Europe,” he said. “The fact that we are live in five countries, and the only neo-broker doing that, shows that this modular system is working.”

Indeed, the scaling opportunity is one of the reasons why China’s tech giant Tencent, owner of WeChat and a vast gaming empire, has come on board.

“We are excited about backing BUX as they are the leading neo-broker in Europe and have been able to build a platform that is sustainable and scalable. BUX is the only neo-broker in Europe that offers zero commission investing without being dependent on kickbacks or payments for order flow. This ensures that its interests are fully aligned with its customers. We will support BUX in its journey of pursuing consistent growth for the years to come”, said Alex Leung, Assistant GM at Tencent, Strategic Development, in a statement.

Satellite Vu’s $5M seed round will fuel the launch of its thermal imaging satellites

By Devin Coldewey

Earth imaging is an increasingly crowded space, but Satellite Vu is taking a different approach by focusing on infrared and heat emissions, which are crucial for industry and climate change monitoring. Fresh from TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield, the company has raised a £3.6M ($5M) seed round and is on its way to launching its first satellite in 2022.

The nuts and bolts of Satellite Vu’s tech and master plan are described in our original profile of the company, but the gist is this: while companies like Planet have made near-real-time views of the Earth’s surface into a thriving business, other niches are relatively unexplored — like thermal imaging.

The heat coming off a building, geological feature, or even a crowd of people is an enormously interesting data point. It can tell you whether an office building or warehouse is in use or empty, and whether it’s heated or cooled, and how efficient that process is. It can find warmer or cooler areas that suggest underground water, power lines, or other heat-affecting objects. It could even make a fair guess at how many people attended a concert, or perhaps an inauguration. And of course it works at night.

An aerial image side by side with a thermal image of the same area.

You could verify, for instance, which parts of a power plant are active, when.

Pollution and other emissions are also easily spotted and tracked, making infrared observation of the planet an important part of any plan to monitor industry in the context of climate change. That’s what attracted Satellite Vu’s first big piece of cash, a grant from the U.K. government for £1.4M, part of a £500M infrastructure fund.

CEO and founder Anthony Baker said that they began construction of their first satellite with that money, “so we knew we got our sums right,” he said, then began the process of closing additional capital.

Seraphim Capital, a space-focused VC firm whose most relevant venture is probably synthetic aperture satellite startup Iceye, matched the grant funds, and with subsequent grant the total money raised is in excess of the $5M target (the extra is set aside in a convertible note).

“What attracted us to Satellite Vu is several things. We published some research about this last year: there are more than 180 companies with plans to launch smallsat constellations,” said Seraphim managing partner James Bruegger. But very few, they noted, were looking at the infrared or thermal space. “That intrigued us, because we always thought infrared had a lot of potential. And we already knew Anthony and Satellite Vu from having put them through our space accelerator in 2019.”

They’re going to need every penny. Though the satellites themselves are looking to be remarkably cheap, as satellites go — $14-15M all told — and only seven will be needed to provide global coverage, that still adds up to over $100M over the next couple years.

Simulated image of a Satellite Vu imaging satellite.

Image Credits: Satellite Vu

Seraphim isn’t daunted, however: “As a specialist space investor, we understand the value of patience,” said Bruegger. Satellite Vu, he added, is a “poster child” for their approach, which is to shuttle early stage companies through their accelerator and then support them to an exit.

It helps that Baker has lined up about as much potential income from interested customers as they’ll need to finance the whole thing, soup to nuts. “Commercial traction has improved since we last spoke,” said Baker, which was just before he presented at TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2020 Startup Battlefield:

The company now has 26 letters of intent and other leads that amount to, in his estimation, about a hundred million dollars worth of business — if he can provide the services they’re asking for, of course. To that end the company has been flying its future orbital cameras on ordinary planes and modifying the output to resemble what they expect from the satellite network.

Companies interested in the latter can buy into the former for now, and the transition to the “real” product should be relatively painless. It also helps create a pipeline on Satellite Vu’s side, so there’s no need for a test satellite and service.

An aerial image side by side with a thermal image of the same area.

Another example of the simulated satellite imagery – same camera as will be in orbit, but degraded to resemble shots from that far up.

“We call it pseudo-satellite data — it’s almost a minimum viable product.We work with the companies about the formats and stuff they need,” Baker said. “The next stage is, we’re planning on taking a whole city, like Glasgow, and mapping the whole city in thermal. We think there will be many parties interested in that.”

With investment, tentative income, and potential customers lining up, Satellite Vu seems poised to make a splash, though its operations and launches are small compared with those of Planet, Starlink, and very soon Amazon’s Kuiper. After the first launch, tentatively scheduled for 2022, Baker said the company would only need two more to put the remaining six satellites in orbit, three at a time on a rideshare launch vehicle.

Before that, though, we can expect further fundraising, perhaps as soon as a few months from now — after all, however thrifty the company is, tens of millions in cash will still be needed to get off the ground.

Dutch startup Go Sharing raises $60M to expand beyond e-mopeds and into new markets

By Ingrid Lunden

On-demand access to electric mopeds — the small, motorised scooters that you sit on, not kick — has been a small but persistent part of the multi-modal transportation mix on offer to people in cities these days. Today, a startup out of The Netherlands is announcing some funding with ambitions to make e-mopeds more mainstream, and to expand into a wider set of vehicle options.

Go Sharing, which has a fleet of around 5,000 e-mopeds across in 30 cities in three countries — The Netherlands, Belgium and Austria — has picked up €50 million (around $60 million). The startup, based near Utrecht, plans to use the funding to expand its footprint for e-mopeds; add electric cars and e-bikes to its app; and continue building out the technology underpinning it all.

Go Sharing believes tech will be the answer to creating a profitable operation, using AI algorithms to optimize locations for e-mopeds, encouraging people to drop off in those locations with incentives like discounts, and keeping that network charged.

Germany, the UK and Turkey are next on Go Sharing’s list of countries, the company said.

The funding is being led by Opportunity Partners — a firm based out of Amsterdam that also backs online supermarket Crisp, with the startup’s founders — CEO Raymon Pouwels, Doeke Boersma, and Donny van den Oever — also participating. A previous round of about $12 million came from Rabo Corporate Investments, the VC arm of the banking giant.

In a world where we now have many choices for getting around cities — taxis, public transport, push and electric bikes, scooters, walking, carpools, car rentals or our own cars — e-mopeds occupy an interesting niche in the mix.

They can be faster than bikes and scooters — 25 km per hour is a typical speed limit in cities, 40 km per hour in less dense areas — more agile than cars, completely quiet compared to their very noisy fuel-based cousins, and of course much more eco-friendly. For those managing fleets, they less likely to break down and need replacing than some of the other alternatives like e-bikes and e-scooters.

But they also represent a higher barrier to entry for picking up customers: riders need a license to operate them as you would other moving vehicles, and in some (but not all) places they need to wear helmets; and the operators of fleets need to sort out how required insurance will work and need special permits as a vehicle provider in most places, and they can also face the same issue as other vehicles like bikes and kick scooters of being a public nuisance when parked.

That mix of challenges — and the fact that fleets can be expensive to operate and might even if all the boxes are ticked still not attract enough users — has meant that the e-moped market has been a patchy one, with some startups shutting down, some cancelling cities after low demand, or retreating over and then returning with better safety measures.

Yet with on-demand transport companies increasingly looking to provide “any” mode in their multi-modal plays to capture more consumers at more times, they remain a class of vehicle that the bigger players and newer entrants will continue to entertain. Lime earlier this year said it was adding e-mopeds to its fleet in certain cities. Uber teamed up with Cityscoot in Paris to integrate the e-moped’s fleet into its app. Cityscoot itself raised some funding last year and is active in several cities across Europe.

And while it can be work to get permits and other regulatory aspects in place to operate services, Pouwels said that Go Sharing was finding that many municipalities actually liked the idea of bringing in more e-mopeds as an eco-friendly alternative to more vehicles — the idea being to provide a transport option to people who are not interested in kick-scooters or bikes and might have driven their own cars, meaning they already have licenses.

The eco-friendly option is also motivating how the company is planning out other parts of its strategy:

“What we have heard from regulators is that they want to motivate people to walk or move in other ways, for example with bicycles,” Pouwels said in an interview. “What we’ve seen with kick scooters is that they ‘deactivate’ people. This is why we see bikes [not adding e-scooters] as the healthy way of moving forward.” The plan with adding electric cars, he said, is to address the needs of people to travel longer distances than shorter inner-city journeys.

Handling supply for its services is coming by way of GreenMo, a sister operation run by Boersma that has been procuring and running a rental service of e-mopeds that are used by drivers for delivery services, with some 10,000 bikes already used this way. GreenMo recently acquired Dutch startup e-bike and a took a majority stake in Belgian company zZoomer, to expand its fleet.

Oath Care just raised $2 million to develop a social, health-focused app that groups expectant and new parents

By Connie Loizos

Being an expectant mom can be frightening, as can mothering an infant or toddler. The answers don’t come automatically, and while there’s no shortage of books and websites (and advice from grandparents) about how to parent at every stage, finding satisfying information often proves a lot harder than imagined.

There are online social groups that deliver some of the social and emotional support that new parents need, no matter where they live. There are many dozens of mom communities on Facebook, for example. However, it’s because there’s room for improvement on this theme — big groups can feel isolating, bad information abounds —that Oath Care, a young, four-person San Francisco-based startup, just raised $2 million in seed funding from XYZ Ventures, General Catalyst, and Eros Resmini, former CMO of Discord and managing partner of the Mini Fund.

What is it building? Founder Camilla Hermann describes it as a subscription-based mobile app that’s focused on improving the lives of new mothers by combining parents who have lots in common with healthcare specialists and moderators who can guide them in group chats, as well as one-on-one video calls.

More specifically, she says, for $20 per month, Oath matches pregnant and postpartum moms in circles of up to 10 based on factors like stage of pregnancy, age of child, location, and career so they can ask questions of each other, with the help of a trained moderator (who is sometimes a mother with older children).

Oath also pushes curriculum that Oath’s team is developing in-house to members based on each group’s specific needs. Not last, every group is given collective access to medical specialists who can answer general questions as part of the members’ subscription and who are also available for consultations when individualized help is needed.

Hermann says the pricing of these 15-minute-long consultations is still being developed, but that the medical experts with whom it’s already working see the app as a form of lead generation.

It’s an interesting concept, one that could be taken in a host of directions, acknowledges Hermann who says she was inspired to cofound the company based on earlier work developing a contact tracing technology created to track outbreaks like Ebola in real time.

As she said yesterday during a Zoom call with TechCrunch and her cofounder, Michelle Stephens, a pediatric clinician and research scientist: “We’ve fundamentally misunderstand something really important about health in the West; we think that [changes] happen to one person at a time or one part of the body at a time, but it always happens in interconnected systems both inside and outside the body, which fundamentally means that it is always happening in community.”

For her part, Stephens — who was introduced to Hermann at a dinner years ago — says her motivation in cofounding Oath was born out of research into childhood stress, and that by “better equipping parents to be those positive consistent caregivers in their child’s life,” Oath aims to help enable stronger, more intimate child-parent bonds.

It might sound grand for a mobile app, but it also sounds like a smart starting point. Though the idea is to match mothers in similar situations at the outset to help bolster theirs and their children’s health, it’s easy to imagine the platform evolving in a way that brings together parents in numerous groups based on interests, from preschool applications to autism to same-sex parenting. It’s easy to see the platform helping to sell products that parents need. It’s easy to imagine the company amassing a lot of valuable information.

Indeed, says Hermann, the longer-term vision for Oath is to create rich datasets that it hopes can be used to improve health outcomes, including by identifying health issues earlier. Relatedly, it also hopes to build relationships with health systems and payers in order to increase access to its products.

For now, Oath is mostly just trying to keep up with demand. Hermann says the “small and scrappy” company found its first 50 users through Facebook ads, and that this base quickly tripled organically before Oath was forced to create a growing waitlist for what has been a closed beta until now. (Oath is “anticipating a full launch in late summer,” says Stephens.)

That’s not to say the company isn’t thinking at all about next steps.

While right now it is “laser focused on building out the most exceptional experience for this specific cohort of users in this specific period of time of their lives,” says Hermann, once it builds out many more communities of small trusted groups with “high engagement and high trust,” there is “a lot you can layer on top of that. It’s virtually limitless.”

Ornikar raises $120M as its driving school marketplace goes up a gear with car insurance

By Ingrid Lunden

A French startup that set out to bring a new approach to driver education and road safety, and then used that foothold to expand into the related area of car insurance, is today announcing a big round of funding to continue building its service across Europe.

Ornikar, which prepares people for driving tests by providing online drivers education courses, lets those users organize in-person lessons with driving instructors, provides a booking system for taking their written and practical examinations, and finally provides them with competitive rates for getting car insurance as new drivers, has raised €100 million ($120 million).

The company intends to use the funding to expand its business. Drivers education services are live today in France and Spain, while insurance is offered today only in France: the plan will be to expand both of those to more markets.

The Series C is being led by KKR, with previous investors Idinvest, BPI, Elaia, Brighteye, and H14 also participating. Benjamin Gaignault, Ornikar’s CEO who co-founded the company with Flavien LeRendu (who also jointly holds the title of CEO), said the startup is not disclosing its valuation, but we understand from a source that it is around $750 million. The company has raised $175 million to date.

Ornikar has been around since 2013 and was founded, in Gaignault’s words, “to disrupt driving education.”

Coming into the market at a time when most of the process of organizing, learning and booking your driving education was not only very fragmented but completely offline, Ornikar’s internet-based offering represented a step change in how French people learned to drive: the process not only became easier, but on average about 40% cheaper to arrange.

Ornikar’s driving education business today includes not just online course materials and booking services, but a network of instructors across 1,000 towns and cities in France, and a business that launched last year in Spain, under the Onroad brand. Some 1.5 million people have taken Ornikar’s driving education courses to date, with another 2 million using its driving school, with growth accelerating: 420,000 new customers signed up with Ornikar in the last year alone.

Last year was a tricky one for companies in the business of transportation. People were generally staying put and not traveling anywhere, but when they were getting around, they wanted plenty of their own space to do so.

Translating that to markets like France and Spain where many towns will have solid public transportation and taxi services, people might have opted to use these less, looking instead to private vehicles in their place. And translating that to Ornikar, Gaignault said that people being at home more, and looking to use the time productively with a view to driving more in the future, the startup saw business growing by 30% each month last year.

Interestingly, it was in the middle of the pandemic that Ornikar launched its car insurance product, which came out of the same impetus as the driver education services: it was built to fill a hole in the market rethought with Ornikar’s users in mind.

Car insurance in France — a €17 billion ($20 billion) market annually — is dominated by big players, and when it comes to first-time drivers and looking for competitive rates, “the bigger companies are not comfortable with user experience,” said Gaignault. “It’s pretty poor and not aligned with expectations of the customers.”

The car insurance product — sold as Ornikar Assurance — is now on track to hit some 20,000 users by August (when it will have been in the market for a year).

While it accounts today for a small fraction of Ornikar’s revenues compared to its driver education platform, that take up — not just from alums of Ornikar’s drivers ed, but from those who had never used an Ornikar service before — is a good sign that it’s on to something big, Gaignault said.

“In October we noticed that 80% of our new insurance customers were not coming from Ornikar but from social media, Google ads and other outside sources,” he said. “That’s why we decided to create a new business unit and explore a business as an insuretech.”

But, he added, that will not be at the expense of the driving education: the two go hand in hand for a common goal of improving how people drive and improving road safety. Indeed, Gaignault said he envisions a time when one will feed into the other: not only will the driving school serve as a way of bringing in new insurance customers, but insurance rates can be impacted by how many driving courses a person takes to keep their knowledge of the driving code and best practices fresh.

“Ornikar has done a tremendous job creating a great experience for students and driving instructors through engaging online education courses and a well-designed marketplace,” said Patrick Devine, director at KKR and member of the Next Generation Technology Growth investment team. “We are thrilled to invest behind Benjamin, Flavien, and their talented team as they expand internationally and accelerate their insurance offering following the successful launches of Onroad in Spain and Ornikar Assurance.”

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

By Alex Wilhelm

After an upward revision, UiPath priced its IPO last night at $56 per share, a few dollars above its raised target range. The above-range price meant that the unicorn put more capital into its books through its public offering.

For a company in a market as competitive as robotic process automation (RPA), the funds are welcome. In fact, RPA has been top of mind for startups and established companies alike over the last year or so. In that time frame, enterprise stalwarts like SAP, Microsoft, IBM and ServiceNow have been buying smaller RPA startups and building their own, all in an effort to muscle into an increasingly lucrative market.

In June 2019, Gartner reported that RPA was the fastest-growing area in enterprise software, and while the growth has slowed down since, the sector is still attracting attention. UIPath, which Gartner found was the market leader, has been riding that wave, and today’s capital influx should help the company maintain its market position.

It’s worth noting that when the company had its last private funding round in February, it brought home $750 million at an impressive valuation of $35 billion. But as TechCrunch noted over the course of its pivot to the public markets, that round valued the company above its final IPO price. As a result, this week’s $56-per-share public offer wound up being something of a modest down-round IPO to UiPath’s final private valuation.

Then, a broader set of public traders got hold of its stock and bid its shares higher. The former unicorn’s shares closed their first day’s trading at precisely $69, above the per-share price at which the company closed its final private round.

So despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares sold at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed today worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully-diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

While it’s hard to know what the company might do with the proceeds, chances are it will continue to try to expand its platform beyond pure RPA, which could become market-limited over time as companies look at other, more modern approaches to automation. By adding additional automation capabilities — organically or via acquisitions — the company can begin covering broader parts of its market.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta today, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings, and the IPO market’s current temperature. The final question was on our minds, as some companies have pulled their public listings in the wake of a market described as “challenging”.

Why did UiPath not direct list after its huge February raise?

Per Diem raises $2.3M to help local businesses build subscription programs

By Anthony Ha

It might be time for neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops to start thinking about a subscription business — at least according to a new Y Combinator-backed startup called Per Diem. The company is announcing today that it has raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Two Sigma Ventures.

As co-founder CEO Tomer Molovinsky put it, Per Diem helps local businesses “build their own Amazon Prime.” He said that he and his co-founder/CTO Doron Segal started working on this during the pandemic, as local businesses became more willing to consider new models to increase loyalty and regular purchases.

Not that this is an entirely new concept. In fact, Molovinsky said a number of the startup’s early customers already offered subscriptions of their own, like Norman’s Farm Market with its CSA subscription for produce, or IVX Coffee with a program initially focused on filling up reusable mugs with coffee.

But apparently these programs were usually managed through spreadsheets or an “old-school Rolodex,” making them increasingly difficult to manage as they grew. So Per Diem has built software to handle things like ordering, pickups/deliveries and payments.

Per Diem

Image Credits: Per Diem

“Today we offer support for both local delivery and shipping, and then we plan to build that out [with] different types of integrations, delivery partners and shipping partners,” Molovinsky said. “But we’re building on that core fundamental, which is that this is a brick-and-mortar business. That’s the ultimate differentiator.”

In other words, Per Diem emphasizes creating a strong in-store experience for subscribers, since that’s where they build a real relationship with the business.

“I don’t want to build a future where … I’m getting all my food from warehouses in another state,” Segal added. “I want to be able to say, ‘Oh, I get my food from John, I get my coffee from Linda.'”

Per Diem says that after Norman’s Farm Market used the software to offer vegetable box subscription on its website, it sold over 500 subscriptions in the first month alone. And IVX is now able to offer a full menu of espresso, match and coffee (drip and bean) subscriptions, with the average subscriber visiting the store five days a week.

Per Diem founders Doron Segal and Tomer Molovinsky

Per Diem founders Doron Segal and Tomer Molovinsky. Image Credits: Per Diem

The startup is currently focused on New York, but it’s already working with businesses in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. as well, and Molovinsky said there are no real geographic limitations.

Ultimately, he said he’s hoping to create “more value” for businesses, which could eventually mean cross-promoting different subscriptions or creating a neighborhood-wide subscription.

“We want to stay focused on what are the things we can unlock for [our customers],” he said. “They’re struggling with email marketing, so we added tools like that into our system. Over time, we can build up our system to continue to strengthen the relationship between the customer and the business.”

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Squarespace files for a direct listing on the NYSE

By Alex Wilhelm

Today Squarespace, a well-known software-and-hosting provider for SMB websites, released its S-1 filing. The company is pursuing a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange, or NYSE. It will trade under the ticker symbol “SQSP.”

The company’s financial results paint the picture of a rapidly growing company that has a history of profitability. Squarespace also has listed financial results that are inclusive of some share conversions, among other matters. Its pro forma results presume that “all shares of our convertible preferred stock had automatically converted” into different types of common stock. The pro forma results are also inclusive of a private placement, and its recent acquisition of Tock.

It will take some time to unspool that particular knot. For now we’ll stick to Squarespace’s historical results through 2020 without those accoutrements; if you intend to buy shares in the company, you’ll want to understand the more complicated math. For now let’s focus on Squarespace’s own metrics.

In 2019, Squarespace generated revenues of $484.8 million, leading to gross profit of $402.8 million, operating income of $61.3 million and net income of $58.2 million. In 2020 those numbers changed to revenues of $621.1 million, gross profit of $522.8 million, operating income of $40.2 million and net income of $30.6 million.

Squarespace’s revenue grew just over 28% in 2020, compared to 2019.

For reference, its pro forma results for 2020 include a modest revenue gain to $644.2 million, gross profit of $530.5 million, an operating loss of $246.4 million and a net loss of $267.7 million.

Squarespace has a history of cash generation, including operating cash flow of $102.3 million in 2019 and $150.0 million in 2020. The company’s cash flow data explains why Squarespace is not pursuing a traditional IPO. As Squarespace can self-fund, it does not need to sell shares in its public debut.

Turning to Squarespace-specific metrics, the company’s “unique subscriptions” rose from 2.984 million in 2019 to 3.656 million in 2020. Its annual recurring revenue (ARR) rose from $549.2 million to $705.5 million in 2020.

Squarespace’s ARR grew around 28.5% in 2020, a faster pace of expansion than its GAAP revenues.

Per the company’s IPO filing, the company “completed its estimate of the fair value of its Class A common stock for financial reporting purposes as a weighted-average $63.70 per share for shares granted prior to March 11, 2021.” That should help form a reference price measuring stick for now.

Finally, who owns the company? Major shareholders include the company’s founder and CEO Anthony Casalena, who owns just around 76% of the company’s Class B shares, or 49,086,410 total units. Accel has 15,514,196 Class A shares. General Atlantic has 22,361,073 Class A shares and 4,958,345 Class B shares, while Index Ventures has 19,460,619 of the Class A equity.

The majority of voting power rests with the company’s CEO, with 68.2% control. Public market investors will have to vet how much they like having zero say in the company’s future direction.

Regardless, this is going to be a fascinating debut. More shortly.

BrandProject expands beyond the studio model with a new $43M fund

By Anthony Ha

BrandProject —a firm that’s backed successful direct-to-consumer commerce startups like Freshly (acquired by Nestlé), Persona (also acquired by Nestlé) and Chef’s Plate (acquired by Hello Fresh) — is announcing that it has raised $43 million for what it says is its first traditional venture fund.

Founded Andrew Black, who previously co-founded Virgin Mobile Canada and served as president of LEGO Americas, BrandProject previously invested from a $12 million fund tied BrandProject Studio, where the money is just a small part of what’s being offered — apparently six of the firm’s eight team members are entirely focused on supporting startups, often serving as de facto CTOs, CFOs and CMOs.

With the new BrandProject Capital fund, the firm will be able to make larger investments in (somewhat) more mature companies. Black estimated that the new fund will be writing checks of between $1 million and $3 million; the goal is for half of the deals to be new investments, while the other half consists of follow-on investments in startups from BrandProject Studio.

“We’re going to be supporting the same type of businesses out of Studio or Capital, but with Studio, nothing’s too early for us — we’re all about team, team, team,” said Partner Hayden Williams. “But if it’s a Capital deal, we’re going to look for some evidence that something working, even if it’s a small scale.”

The focus will continue to be direct-to-consumer brands, and although the pandemic has led to tremendous e-commerce growth, Black said it hasn’t changed the BrandProject strategy.

BrandProject Team

Image Credits: BrandProject

“We haven’t adjusted our investment focus at all because of COVID,” he said. “We’ve always invested behind categories, brands and segments that we just think the world needs.”

One of the limited partners who invested in the new fund is probably BrandProject’s biggest success story — Freshly co-founder and CEO Michael Wystrach, who sold his healthy meal startup to Nestlé for $1.5 billion. Wystrach recalled reading about BrandProject in TechCrunch and, after looking the firm up, sending unsolicited meals to Partner Jay Bhatti in New York.

At that point, Freshly had only raised friends-and-family funding, and Wystrach admitted, “We would have taken a check from anyone.” But he said he was lucky that Bhatti liked the food and the firm decided to invest, with Black becoming an interim co-CEO, Bhatti serving as interim CTO and Partner Andrew Bridge serving as an interim CMO.

“What I loved about BrandProject is that they never came in and told us what kind of business we’re building,” he continued. “It was never a case where they said, ‘You need to do this.’ It was our business, and they were team members in helping us build the business.”

To illustrate the idea behind the new fund, Wystrach compared the investment ecosystem to the U.S. schools: “Where Andrew and the team come in, they’re K through 8 or maybe K through 6, they’re very hands on … With the new fund, maybe they’re moving to middle school.”

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