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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

By Frederic Lardinois

Splunk, the publicly traded data processing and analytics company, today announced that it has acquired SignalFx for a total price of about $1.05 billion. Approximately 60% of this will be in cash and 40% in Splunk common stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2020.

SignalFx, which emerged from stealth in 2015, provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. Upon close, Splunk argues, this acquisition will allow it to become a leader “in observability and APM for organizations at every stage of their cloud journey, from cloud-native apps to homegrown on-premises applications.”

Indeed, the acquisition will likely make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space as it expands its support for cloud-native applications and the modern infrastructures and architectures those rely on.

2019 08 21 1332

Ahead of the acquisition, SignalFx had raised a total of $178.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a recent Series E round. Investors include General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz and CRV. Its customers include the likes of AthenaHealth, Change.org, Kayak, NBCUniversal and Yelp.

“Data fuels the modern business, and the acquisition of SignalFx squarely puts Splunk in position as a leader in monitoring and observability at massive scale,” said Doug Merritt, president and CEO, Splunk, in today’s announcement. “SignalFx will support our continued commitment to giving customers one platform that can monitor the entire enterprise application lifecycle. We are also incredibly impressed by the SignalFx team and leadership, whose expertise and professionalism are a strong addition to the Splunk family.”

YC is doubling down on these investment theses in its most recent batch

By Kate Clark

Nearly 200 startups have just graduated from the prestigious San Francisco startup accelerator Y Combinator . The flock of companies are now free to proceed company-building with a fresh $150,000 check and three-months full of tips and tricks from industry experts.

As usual, we sent several reporters to YC’s latest demo day to take notes on each company and pick our favorites. But there were many updates to the YC structure this time around and new trends we spotted from the ground that we’ve yet to share.

CTO and HR demo days

Twitter picks up team from narrative app Lightwell in its latest effort to improve conversations

By Ingrid Lunden

Twitter’s ongoing, long-term efforts to make conversations easier to follow and engage with on its platform is getting a boost with the company’s latest acquihire. The company has picked up the team behind Lightwell, a startup that had built a set of developer tools to build interactive, narrative apps, for an undisclosed sum. Lightwell’s founder and CEO, Suzanne Xie, is becoming a director of product leading Twitter’s Conversations initiative, with the rest of her small four-person team joining her on the conversations project.

(Sidenote: Sara Haider, who had been leading the charge on rethinking the design of Conversations on Twitter, most recently through the release of twttr, Twitter’s newish prototyping app, announced that she would be moving on to a new project at the company after a short break. I understand twttr will continue to be used to openly test conversation tweaks and other potential changes to how the app works. )

The Lightwell/Twitter news was announced late yesterday both by Lightwell itself and Twitter’s VP of product Keith Coleman. A Twitter spokesperson also confirmed the deal to TechCrunch in a short statement today: “We are excited to welcome Suzanne and her team to Twitter to help drive forward the important work we are doing to serve the public conversation,” he said. Interestingly, Twitter is on a product hiring push it seems. Other recent hires Coleman noted were Other recent product hires include Angela Wise and Tom Hauburger. Coincidentally, both joined from autonomous companies, respectively Waymo and Voyage.

To be clear, this is more acqui-hire than hire: only the Lightwell team (of what looks like three people) is joining Twitter. The Lightwell product will no longer be developed, but it is not going away, either. Xie noted in a separate Medium post that apps that have already been built (or plan to be built) on the platform will continue to work. It will also now be free to use.

Lightwell originally started life in 2012 as Hullabalu, as one of the many companies producing original-content interactive children’s stories for smartphones and tablets. In a sea of children-focused storybook apps, Hullabalu’s stories stood out not just because of the distinctive cast of characters that the startup had created, but for how the narratives were presented: part book, part interactive game, the stories engaged children and moved narratives along by getting the users to touch and drag elements across the screen.

hullabalu lightwell

After some years, Hullabalu saw an opportunity to package its technology and make it available as a platform for all developers, to be used not just by other creators of children’s content, but advertisers and more. It seems the company shifted at that time to make Lightwell its main focus.

The Hullabalu apps remained live on the App Store, even when the company moved on to focus on Lightwell. However, they hadn’t been updated in two years’ time. Xie says they will remain as is.

In its startup life, the company went through YCombinator, TechStars, and picked up some $6.5 million in funding (per Crunchbase), from investors that included Joanne Wilson, SV Angel, Vayner, Spark Labs, Great Oak, Scout Ventures and more.

If turning Hullabalu into Lightwell was a pivot, then the exit to Twitter can be considered yet another interesting shift in how talent and expertise optimized for one end can be repurposed to meet another.

One of Twitter’s biggest challenges over the years has been trying to create a way to make conversations (also narratives of a kind) easy to follow — both for those who are power users, and for those who are not and might otherwise easily be put off from using the product.

The crux of the problem has been that Twitter’s DNA is about real-time rivers of chatter that flow in one single feed, while conversations by their nature linger around a specific topic and become hard to follow when there are too many people talking. Trying to build a way to fit the two concepts together has foxed the company for a long time now.

At its best, bringing in a new team from the outside will potentially give Twitter a fresh perspective on how to approach conversations on the platform, and the fact that Lightwell has been thinking about creative ways to present narratives gives them some cred as a group that might come up completely new concepts for presenting conversations.

At a time when it seems that the conversation around Conversations had somewhat stagnated, it’s good to see a new chapter opening up.

Yesterday — August 20th 2019Your RSS feeds

SpotQA picks up $3.25M seed funding for its automated software testing

By Steve O'Hear

SpotQA, a new automated software testing platform that claims to be significantly faster than either manual testing or existing automated QA solutions, has raised $3.25 million in seed funding.

Leading the round is Crane Venture Partners, the newly-outed London venture capital firm focusing on “intelligent” enterprise startups. Also participating is Forward Ventures, Downing Ventures and Acequia Capital.

Founded in 2016 by CEO Adil Mohammed, who sold his previous company to apparel platform Teespring, SpotQA’s flagship product is dubbed Virtuoso. Described as an “Intelligent Quality Assistance Platform” that uses machine learning and robotic process automation, it claims to speed up the testing of web and mobile apps by up to 25x and make QA accessible across an entire company, not just software or QA engineers.

“Over the years working closely with engineering teams, I learned how the QA and testing process, when done inefficiently, can be a big barrier for company growth and productivity,” Mohammed tells me. “The way testing is done today is not fit for purpose. Even automated testing methods are not keeping pace with agile development practices”.

This results in software testing creating a bottleneck that prevents companies deploying as fast as they’d like to, says the SpotQA CEO, which is pain point for all involved, from developers to testers, all the way through to DevOps and production. “It has a real impact on the company’s bottom line,” adds Mohammed.

The incumbent options are either manual testing or traditional automation. Mohammed says manual testing is slow and makes continuous development difficult as there is a constant “disconnect” between QA and other teams. In turn, traditional automation is not very smart and hasn’t seen much innovation in the last decade. “It’s still very code based, relies on expensive automation engineers and it is difficult to setup and maintain,” he argues.

Explorations pages

In contrast, SpotQA claims to have designed Virtuoso so that software quality can be ensured across the entire software development lifecycle, something the company has branded “Quality Assistance”.

“By using machine learning and robotic process automation, Virtuoso is by far the most efficient and effective way to ensure bugs, inconsistencies and errors can be identified and fixed in a fraction of the time taken using manual and traditional automated testing,” says Mohammed.

Meanwhile, the London-based company will use the new injection of capital to scale engineering, sales and marketing, and to expand internationally. Existing Virtuoso customers include Experian, Chemistry, Optionis and DXC Technologies.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Who are the major revenue-based investing VCs?

By Arman Tabatabai
David Teten Contributor
David Teten is a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a Partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.
More posts by this contributor

This guest post was written by David Teten, Venture Partner, HOF Capital. You can follow him at teten.com and @dteten. This is part of an ongoing series on Revenue-Based Investing VC that will hit on:

So you’re interested in raising capital from a Revenue-Based Investor VC. Which VCs are comfortable using this approach?

A new wave of Revenue-Based Investors (“RBI”) are emerging. This structure offers some of the benefits of traditional equity VC, without some of the negatives of equity VC.

I’ve been a traditional equity VC for 8 years, and I’m now researching new business models in venture capital.

(For more background, see the accompanying article “Revenue-based investing: A new option for founders who care about control” published on Extra Crunch.

RBI normally requires founders to pay back their investors with a fixed percentage of revenue until they have finished providing the investor with a fixed return on capital, which they agree upon in advance.

I’ve listed below all of the major RBI venture capitalists I’ve identified. In addition, I’ve noted a few multi-product lending firms, e.g., Kapitus and United Capital Source, which provide RBI as one of many structural options to companies seeking capital.


The guide to major RBI VCs

Alternative Capital: “You qualify if you have $5k+ MRR. We have a special program if you are pre-seed and need product development. Since 2017 we’ve managed $3 million in revenue-based financing, which helps cash-strapped technology companies grow. In 2019 we partnered with several revenue-based lending providers, effectively creating a marketplace.”

Bigfoot Capital: According to Brian Parks, “Bigfoot provides RBI, term loans, and lines of credit to SaaS businesses with $500k+ ARR. Our wheelhouse is bootstrapped (or lightly capitalized) SMB SaaS. We make fast, data-driven credit decisions for these types of businesses and show Founders how the math/ROI works. We’re currently evaluating about 20 companies a month and issuing term sheets to 25% of them; those that fit our investment criteria. We’re also regularly following-on for existing portfolio companies.”

Investment Criteria:

  • B2B SaaS or tech-enabled services with proven, recurring contracts
  • ARR of $500K+
  • At least 12 months of customer history, generally 20+ enterprise customers or 200+ SMB customers
  • Rational burn profile, up to 50% of revenue at close, scaling down
  • Capital need of up to $1.5M over next 12 months

Benefits:

  • Non-dilutive, flexible credit offerings that fit SMB or enterprise SaaS
  • Facility sizes of 2-5x MRR
  • Repaid 12-36 months with ability to prepay at reduced cost
  • For RBI, return caps of 1.2x-1.8x and cash share rates of 3-10%
  • Multiple draws available once history established
  • Ability to scale payments to provide initial cash flow relief
  • No board seats or personal guarantees
  • Success fee on M&A can be traded for lower payments

Corl: “No need to wait 3-9 months for approval. Find out in 10 minutes. Corl can fund up to 10x your monthly revenue to a maximum of $1,000,000. Payments are equal to 2-10% of your monthly revenue, and stop when the business buys out the contract at 1-2x the investment amount.”

  • Investment amount of up to 10x monthly revenue, to a maximum of $1,000,000.
  • Payment is 2-10% of monthly revenue, until a Contract Buyout.
  • The Contract Buyout Rate is 1-2x the Investment Amount, depending on the risk of the business.
  • To be eligible, a business must have at least $10,000 in monthly revenue, at least 30% gross margins, and post-revenue for at least 6 months.

According to Derek Manuge, Corl CEO, “Funds are closed significantly quicker than the industry average at under 24 hours. The majority of businesses that apply for funding with Corl are E-commerce, SaaS, and other digital businesses.”

Manuge continues, “Corl connects to a business’ bank accounts, accounting software, payment processors, and other digital services to collect 10,000+ historical data points that are analyzed in real-time. We collect more data on an individual business than, to our knowledge, any other RBI investor, through our application process, data partners, and various public sources online. We have reviewed the application process of other RBI lenders and have not found one that has more API connections that ours. We have developed a proprietary machine learning algorithm that assesses the risk and return profile of the business and determines whether to invest in the business. Funding decisions can take as little as 10 minutes depending on the amount of data provided by a business.”

In the past 12 months, 500+ companies have applied for funding with Corl. The following information is based on companies funded by us and/or our capital partners:

  • The average most recent monthly revenue is $331,229
  • The average most recent annual revenue is $1,226,589
  • The average most recent annual profit is $237,479
  • The average gross profit margin is 55%.
  • The average monthly operating expenses is $70,335
  • The average cash balance is $191,164
  • The mode purpose for funding is (in order of frequency) Sales, Marketing, Market Expansion, Product Development, and Hiring Employees.
  • 30% have been operated by females, 70% have been operated by males.
  • 40% have been operated by “visible minorities”, 60% have been operated by “non-visible minorities”.

Decathlon Capital: According to John Borchers, Co-founder, Decathlon is the largest revenue-based financing investor in the US. His description: “We announced a new $500 million fund in Q1 of 2019, in our 10th year. Unlike many RBI investors, a full 50% of our investment activity is in non-tech businesses. Like other RBI firms, Decathlon does not require warrants, governance involvement, or the types of financial covenants that are often associated with other venture debt type solutions. Decathlon typically targets monthly payment percentages in the 1% to 4% range, with total targeted multiples of 1.5x to 3.0x.”

Earnest Capital: Earnest is not technically RBI. Tyler Tringas, General Partner, observes, “Almost all of these new [RBI] forms of financing really only work for more mature companies (say $25-50k MRR and up) and there are still very few new options at the stage where we are investing.” From their website: “We invest via a Shared Earnings Agreement, a new investment model developed transparently with the community, and designed to align us with founders who want to run a profitable business and never be forced to raise follow-on financing or sell their business.” Key elements:

  • “We agree on a Return Cap which is a multiple of the initial investment (typically 3-5x)
  • “We don’t have any equity or control over the business…”
  • “As your business grows we calculate what we call “Founder Earnings” and Earnest is paid a percentage. Essentially we get paid when you and your co-founder get paid.”
  • “Founder Earnings = Net Income + any amount of founders’ salaries over a certain threshold. If you want to eat ramen, pay yourselves a small salary, and reinvest every dollar into growth, we don’t get a penny and that’s okay. We get earnings when you do.”
  • “Unlike traditional equity, our share of earnings is not perpetual. Once we hit the Return Cap, payments to Earnest end.”
  • “In most cases, we’ll agree on a long-term residual stake for Earnest if you ever sell the company or raise more financing. We want to be on your team for the long-term, but don’t want to provide any pressure to “exit.”
  • “If you decide you want to raise VC or other forms of financing, or you get an amazing offer to sell the company, that’s totally fine. The SEA includes provisions for our investment to convert to equity alongside the new investors or acquirers.”

Feenix Venture Partners: Feenix Venture Partners has a unique investment model that couples investment capital with payment processing services. Each of Feenix’s portfolio companies receives an investment in debt or equity and utilizes a subsidiary of Feenix as its credit card payment processor (“Feenix Payment Systems”). The combination of investment capital and credit card processing (CCP) fees creates a “win-win” partnership for investors and portfolio companies. The credit card processing data provides the investor with real-time sales transparency and the CCP fee margin provides the investor high current income, with equity-like upside and significant recovery for downside protection. Additionally, portfolio companies are able to access competitive and often non-dilutive financing by monetizing an unavoidable expense that is being paid to its current processors, thus yielding a mutual benefit for both parties.

Feenix focuses on companies in the consumer space across a number of industry verticals including: multi-unit Food & Beverage operators, hospitality, managed workspace (office or food halls), location-based entertainment venues, and various direct to consumer online companies. Their average check size is between $1-3 million, with multi-year term and competitive interest rates for debt. Additionally, Feenix typically needs fewer financial covenants and can provide quicker turnaround for due diligence with the benefit of transparency they receive by tracking credit card sales activity. 10% of Feenix’s portfolio companies have received VC equity prior to their financing.

Founders First Capital Partners: “Founders First Capital Partners, LLC is building a comprehensive ecosystem to empower underrepresented founders to become leading premium wage job creators within their communities. We provide revenue-based funding and business acceleration support to service-based small businesses located outside of major capital markets such as Silicon Valley and New York City.”

“We focus our support on businesses led by women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, and military veterans, especially teams and businesses located in low to moderate income areas. Our proprietary business accelerator programs, learning platform, and growth methodologies transition these underserved service-based businesses into companies with $5 million to $50 million in recurring revenue. They are tech-enabled companies that provide high-yield investments for fund limited partners (LPs) that perform like bonds but generate returns on par with equity investments. Founders First Capital Partners defines these high performing organizations as Zebra Companies .”

“Each year, Founders First Capital Partners works with hundreds of entrepreneurs. Three tracks of pre-funding accelerator programs determine the appropriate level of funding and advisory support needed for each founder to achieve their desired expansion: 1) Fastpath for larger companies with $2 million to $5 million in annual revenue, 2) Founders Growth Bootcamp program for companies with $250,000 to $2 million in annual revenue, and 3) Elevate My Business Challenge for companies with $50,000 to $250,000 in annual revenue.”

“Founders First Capital Partners (FFCP) runs a 5-step process:

  1. Attend the Appropriate Pre-Funding Accelerator Program. Programs are offered in both online, in-person, and hybrid format with cohorts of leadership teams for an average of 10 companies. Most programs culminate with a Pitch Day and Investor Networking Event where the companies present their newly defined and expanded growth playbook.
  2. Apply for funding. After completion of the relevant pre-funding program, FFCP will review company funding applications and conduct due diligence.
  3. Get Funding. FFCP-approved companies receive revenue-based loans of up to $1 million to support the implementation of a customized 5-year growth playbook for their businesses.
  4. Growth support. FFCP uses its proprietary performance technology platform, structured growth program curriculum, and executive-level coaching operations to assist funded companies with the development, implementation, and iteration of their custom 5-year growth playbook.
  5. Graduate. Companies repay loans with growth revenue generated over a 5-year term, capped at 2x the amount financed. Companies gain predictable revenue streams with significant and measurable increases in revenue and profits to graduate to either traditional debt or equity sources of growth capital.”

According to Kim Folson, Co-Founder, “Founders First Capital Partner (F1stcp) has just secured a $100M credit facility commitment from a major institutional impact investor. This positions F1stcp to be the largest revenue-based investor platform addressing the funding gap for service-based, small businesses led by underserved and underrepresented founders.”

GSD Capital: “ GSD Capital partners with early-stage SaaS founders to fund growth initiatives. We work with founding teams in the Mountain West (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) who have demonstrated an ability to get sh*t done… We empower founders with a 30-day fundraising process instead of multiple months running a gauntlet. ”

“To best explain the process of RBF funding, let’s use an example. Pied Piper Inc needs funding to accelerate customer acquisition for its SaaS solution. GSD Capital loans $250,000 to Pied Piper taking no ownership or control of the business. The funding agreement outlines the details of how the loan will be repaid, and sets a “cap”, or a point at which the loan has been repaid. On a 3-year term, the cap amounts typically range from 0.4-0.6x the loan amount. Each month Pied Piper reviews its cash receipts and sends the agreed upon percentage to GSD. If the company experiences a rough patch, GSD shares in the downside. Monthly payments stop once the cap is reached and the loan is repaid. In a situation where Pied Piper’s revenue growth exceeds expectations, prepayment discounts are built into the structure, lowering the cost of capital.”

“Requirements for funding consideration:

  • Companies with a minimum of $50k in MRR
  • We can fund to 4x MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue)
  • Companies seeking funding of $200k to $1mm
  • Limited amount of existing debt and a clean cap table”

Indie.VC: Part of the investment firm O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. See Indie VC’s Version 3.0 . “On the surface, our v3 terms are a fairly vanilla version of a convertible note with a few key variables to be negotiated between the investor and the founder: investment amount, equity option, and repurchase start date and percentage.”

  • Investment amount “is what it is”.
  • Equity option is, ” a simple fixed percentage which converts into that % of shares at the time of a sale OR into that % shares prior to a qualified financing.”
  • Repurchase start date and percentage is, “We chose 24 months from the time of our investment (but can be whatever date the founders and investors agree upon) and a % of gross revenue shared to repurchase the shares. With each revenue share payment, our equity option decreases and the founder’s equity increases. With v3, a team can repurchase up to 90% of the original equity option back at any point prior to a qualified financing through monthly revenue share payments, a lump or some combination of both until they reach a 3x cap. “

Kapitus: Offers RBI among many other options. “Because this [RBI] is not a loan, there is no APR or compounded interest associated with this product. Instead, borrowers agree to pay a fixed percentage in addition to the amount provided.”

Lighter Capital: “Since 2012, we’ve provided over $100 million in growth capital to over 250 companies.” Revenue-based financing which “helps tech entrepreneurs get to the next level without giving up equity, board seats, or personal guarantees… At Lighter Capital, we don’t take equity or ask you to make personal guarantees. And we don’t take a seat on your board or make you write a big check if you’re having a down month.”

  • “Up to 1/3 of your annualized revenue run rate”
  • “Up to $3M in growth capital for your tech startup”
  • “Repaid over 3–5 years”
  • “You pay between 2–8% of monthly revenue”
  • “Repayment caps usually range from 1.35x to 2.0x”

Novel Growth Partners: ” We invest using Revenue-Based Investing (RBI), also known as Royalty-Based Investing… We provide up to $1 million in growth capital, and the company pays that capital back as a small percentage (between 4% and 8%) of its monthly revenue up to a predetermined return cap of 1.5-2.2x over up to 5 years. We can usually provide capital in an amount up to 30% of your ARR. Our approach allows us to invest without taking equity, without taking board seats, and without requiring personal guarantees. We also provide tailored, tactical sales and marketing assistance to help the companies in our portfolio accelerate their growth.” Keith Harrington, Co-Founder & Managing Director at Novel Growth Partners, observes that he sees two categories of RBI:

  • Variable repayment debt: money gets paid back month over month, e.g., Novel Growth Partners
  • Share buyback structure, e.g., Indie.vc. Investors using this model typically can ask for a higher multiple because they wait longer for cash to be paid back.

He said, “We chose the structure we did because we think it’s easier to understand, for both LPs and entrepreneurs.”

Podfund: Focused on podcast creators. “We agree to provide funding and services to you in exchange for a percentage of total gross revenue (including ads/sponsorship, listener support, and ancillary revenue such as touring, merchandise, or licensing) per quarter. PodREV terms are 7-15% of revenue for 3-5 years, depending on current traction, revenue, and projected growth. At any time you may also opt to pay down the revenue share obligation in full, as follows:

  • 1.5x the initial funding in year 1
  • 2x the initial funding in year 2
  • 3x the initial funding in year 3
  • 4x the initial funding in year 4 “

RevUp: “Companies receive $100K-250K in non-dilutive cash… [paid back in a] 36-month return period with revenue royalty ranging from 4-8%, no equity .”

Riverside Acceleration Capital: Closed Fund I for $50m in 2016. Fund II has raised over $100m as of mid-2019.

Investment size : $1 – 5+ million, significant capacity for additional investment.
Return method: Small percentage of monthly revenue. Keeps capital lightweight and aligned to companies’ growth.
Capped return: 1.5 – 2x the investment amount. Company maximizes equity upside from growth.
Investment structure: 5-year horizon. Long-term nature maximizes flexibility of capital.”

Jim Toth writes, “One thing that makes us different is that we live inside of an $8Bn private equity firm. This means that we have a tremendous amount of resources that we can leverage for our companies, and our companies see us as being quite strategic. We also have the ability to continue investing behind our companies across all stages of growth.”

ScaleWorks: “We developed Scaleworks venture finance loans to fill a need we saw for our own B2B SaaS companies. No personal guarantees, board seats, or equity sweeteners. No prepayment penalties. Monthly repayments as a percentage of revenue.”

United Capital Source: Provides a wide structure of loans, including but not limited to RBI. The firm has provided more than $875 million in small business loans in its history, and is currently extending about $10m/month in RBI loans. Jared Weitz, Founder & CEO, said, “[Our] typical RBF client is $120K-$20M in annual revenue, with 4-200 employees. We only look at financials for deals over a certain size.

For smaller deals, we’ll look at bank statements and get a pretty good picture of revenues, expenses and cash flow. After all, since this is a revenue-based business loan, we want to make sure revenues and cash flow are consistent enough for repayment without hurting the business’s daily operations. When we do look at financials to approve those larger deals we are generally seeing a 5 to 30% EBITDA margin on these businesses.” United Capital Source was selected in the 2015 & 2017 Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies List.

Note that none of the lawyers quoted or I are rendering legal advice in this article, and you should not rely on our counsel herein for your own decisions. I am not a lawyer. Thanks to the experts quoted for their thoughtful feedback. Thanks to Jonathan Birnbaum for help in researching this topic.

Revenue-based investing: A new option for founders who care about control

By Arman Tabatabai
David Teten Contributor
David Teten is a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a Partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.
More posts by this contributor

Does the traditional VC financing model make sense for all companies? Absolutely not. VC Josh Kopelman makes the analogy of jet fuel vs. motorcycle fuel. VCs sell jet fuel which works well for jets; motorcycles are more common but need a different type of fuel.

A new wave of Revenue-Based Investors are emerging who are using creative investing structures with some of the upside of traditional VC, but some of the downside protection of debt. I’ve been a traditional equity VC for 8 years, and I’m now researching new business models in venture capital.

I believe that Revenue-Based Investing (“RBI”) VCs are on the forefront of what will become a major segment of the venture ecosystem. Though RBI will displace some traditional equity VC, its much bigger impact will be to expand the pool of capital available for early-stage entrepreneurs.

This guest post was written by David Teten, Venture Partner, HOF Capital. You can follow him at teten.com and @dteten. This is part of an ongoing series on Revenue-Based Investing VC that will hit on:

So what is Revenue-Based Investing? 

RBI structures have been used for many years in natural resource exploration, entertainment, real estate, and pharmaceuticals. However, only recently have early-stage companies started to use this model at any scale.

According to Lighter Capital, “the RBI market has grown rapidly, contrasting sharply with a decrease in the number of early-stage angel and VC fundings”. Lighter Capital is a RBI VC which has provided over $100 million in growth capital to over 250 companies since 2012.

Lighter reports that from 2015 to 2018, the number of VC investments under $5m dropped 23% from 6,709 to 5,139. 2018 also had the fewest number of angel-led financing rounds since before 2010. However, many industry experts question the accuracy of early-stage market data, given many startups are no longer filing their Form Ds.

John Borchers, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Decathlon Capital, claims to be the largest revenue-based financing investor in the US. He said, “We estimate that annual RBI market activity has grown 10x in the last decade, from two dozen deals a year in 2010 to upwards of 200 new company fundings completed in 2018.”

Ally raises $8M Series A for its OKR solution

By Frederic Lardinois

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a popular planning method in Silicon Valley. Like most of those methods that make you fill in some form once every quarter, I’m pretty sure employees find them rather annoying and a waste of their time. Ally wants to change that and make the process more useful. The company today announced that it has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Access Partners, with participation from Vulcan Capital, Founders Co-op and Lee Fixel. The company, which launched in 2018, previously raised a $3 million seed round.

Ally founder and CEO Vetri Vellore tells me that he learned his management lessons and the value of OKR at his last startup, Chronus. After years of managing large teams at enterprises like Microsoft, he found himself challenged to manage a small team at a startup. “I went and looked for new models of running a business execution. And OKRs were one of those things I stumbled upon. And it worked phenomenally well for us,” Vellore said. That’s where the idea of Ally was born, which Vellore pursued after selling his last startup.

Most companies that adopt this methodology, though, tend to work with spreadsheets and Google Docs. Over time, that simply doesn’t work, especially as companies get larger. Ally, then, is meant to replace these other tools. The service is currently in use at “hundreds” of companies in more than 70 countries, Vellore tells me.

One of its early adopters was Remitly . “We began by using shared documents to align around OKRs at Remitly. When it came time to roll out OKRs to everyone in the company, Ally was by far the best tool we evaluated. OKRs deployed using Ally have helped our teams align around the right goals and have ultimately driven growth,” said Josh Hug, COO of Remitly.

Desktop Team OKRs Screenshot

Vellore tells me that he has seen teams go from annual or bi-annual OKRs to more frequently updated goals, too, which is something that’s easier to do when you have a more accessible tool for it. Nobody wants to use yet another tool, though, so Ally features deep integrations into Slack, with other integrations in the works (something Ally will use this new funding for).

Since adopting OKRs isn’t always easy for companies that previously used other methodologies (or nothing at all), Ally also offers training and consulting services with online and on-site coaching.

Pricing for Ally starts at $7 per month per user for a basic plan, but the company also offers a flat $29 per month plan for teams with up to 10 users, as well as an enterprise plan, which includes some more advanced features and single sign-on integrations.

Simon Data hauls in $30M Series C to continue building customer data platform

By Ron Miller

As businesses use an increasing variety of marketing software solutions, the goal around collecting all of that data is to improve customer experience. Simon Data announced a $30 million Series C round today to help.

The round was led by Polaris Partners . Previous investors .406 Ventures and F-Prime Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $59 million, according to the company.

Jason Davis, co-founder and CEO, says his company is trying to pull together a lot of complex data from a variety of sources, while driving actions to improve customer experience. “It’s about taking the data, and then building complex triggers that target the right customer at the right time,” Davis told TechCrunch. He added, “This can be in the context of any sort of customer transaction, or any sort of interaction with the business.”

Companies tend to use a variety of marketing tools, and Simon Data takes on the job of understanding the data and activities going on in each one. Then based on certain actions — such as, say, an abandoned shopping cart — it delivers a consistent message to the customer, regardless of the source of the data that triggered the action.

They see this ability to pull together data as a customer data platform (CDP). In fact, part of its job is to aggregate data and use it as the basis of other activities. In this case, it involves activating actions you define based on what you know about the customer at any given moment in the process.

As the company collects this data, it also sees an opportunity to use machine learning to create more automated and complex types of interactions. “There are a tremendous number of super complex problems we have to solve. Those include core platform or infrastructure, and we also have a tremendous opportunity in front of us on the predictive and data science side as well,” Davis said. He said that is one of the areas where they will put today’s money to work.

The company, which launched in 2014, is based in NYC. The company currently has 87 employees in total, and that number is expected to grow with today’s announcement. Customers include Equinox, Venmo and WeWork. The company’s most recent funding round was a $20 million in July 2018.

YC’s Earth AI closes funding for its platform to make mining less wasteful

By Mike Butcher

Discovering and drilling for the important minerals used for industry and the technology sector remains incredibly important as existing mines are becoming depleted. If the mining industry can’t become more efficient at finding these important deposits, then more unnecessary, harmful drilling and exploration takes place. Applying AI to this problem would seem like a no-brainer for the environment.

Andreessen Horowitz knows this, as they invested in KoBold Metals. GoldSpot Discoveries is a competitor.

Joining this field is now Earth AI, a mineral targeting startup which is using AI to predict the location of new ore bodies far more cheaply, faster, and with more precision (it claims) than previous methods.

It’s now closed a funding round of ‘up to’ $2.5 million from Gagarin Capital, A VC firm specializing in AI, and Y Combinator, in the latter’s latest cohort announced this week. Previously, Earth AI had raised $1.7 million in two seed rounds from Australian VCs, AirTree Ventures and Blackbird Ventures and angel investors.

The startup uses machine learning techniques on global data, including remote sensing, radiometry, geophysical and geochemical datasets, to learn the data signatures related to industrial metal deposits (from gold, copper, and lead to rare earth elements), train a neural network, and predict where high-value mineral prospects will be.

In particular, it was used to discover a deposit of Vanadium, which is used to build Vanadium Redox Batteries that are used in large industrial applications. Finding these deposits faster using AI means the planet will thus benefit faster from battery technology.

In 2018, Earth AI field-tested remote unexplored areas and claims to have generated a 50X better success rate than traditional exploration methods, while spending on average $11,000 per prospect discovery. In Australia, for instance, companies often spend several million dollars to arrive at the same result.

Jared Friedman, YCombinator partner comented in a statement: “The possibility of discovering new mineral deposits with AI is a fascinating and thought-provoking idea. Earth AI has the potential not just to become an incredibly profitable company, but to reduce the cost of the metals we need to build our civilization, and that has huge implications for the world.”

“Earth AI is taking a novel approach to a large and important industry — and that approach is already showing tremendous promise”, Mikhail Taver, partner at Gagarin Capital said.

Earth AI was founded by Roman Tesyluk, a geoscientist with eight years of mineral exploration and academic experience. Prior to starting Earth AI, he was a PhD Candidate at The University of Sydney, Australia and obtained a Master’s degree in Geology from Ivan Franko University, Ukraine. “EARTH AI has huge ambitions, and this funding round will supercharge us towards reaching our milestones,” he said.

This latest investment from Gagarin Capital joins a line of other AI-based products and services and investments it’s made into YC companies, such as Wallarm, Gosu.AI and CureSkin. Gagarin’s exits include MSQRD (acquired by Facebook), and AIMatter (acquired by Google).

HPE Growth backs WeTransfer in €35M secondary funding round

By Steve O'Hear

WeTransfer, the Amsterdam-headquartered company that is best know for its file-sharing service, is disclosing a €35 million secondary funding round.

The investment is led by European growth equity firm, HPE Growth, with “significant” participation from existing investor Highland Europe. Being secondary funding — meaning that a number of shareholders have sold all or a portion of their holding — no new money has entered WeTransfer’s balance sheet.

We are also told that Jonne de Leeuw, of HPE, will replace WeTransfer co-founder Nalden on the company’s Supervisory Board. He joins Bas Beerens (founder of WeTransfer), Irena Goldenberg (Highland Europe) and Tony Zappalà (Highland Europe).

The exact financial terms of the secondary funding, including valuation, aren’t being disclosed. However, noteworthy is that WeTransfer says it has been profitable for 6 years.

“The valuation of the company is not public, but what I can tell you is that it’s definitely up significantly since the Series A in 2015,” WeTransfer CEO Gordon Willoughby tells me. “WeTransfer has become a trusted brand in its space with significant scale. Our transfer service has 50 million users a month across 195 countries, sharing over 1.5 billion files each month”.

In addition to the wildly popular WeTransfer file-sharing service, the company operates a number of other apps and services, some it built in-house and others it has acquired. They include content sharing app Collect (claiming 4 million monthly users), sketching tool Paper (which has had 25 million downloads) and collaborative presentation tool Paste (which claims 40,000 active teams).

“We want to help people work more effectively and deliver more impactful results, with tools that collectively remove friction from every stage of the creative process — from sparking ideas, capturing content, developing and aligning, to delivery,” says Willoughby.

“Over the past two years, we’ve been investing heavily in our product development and have grown tremendously following the acquisition of the apps Paper and Paste. This strengthened our product set. Our overarching mission is to become the go-to source for beautiful, intuitive tools that facilitate creativity, rather than distract from it. Of course, our transfer service is still a big piece of that — it’s a brilliantly simple tool that more than 50 million people a month love to use”.

Meanwhile, Willoughby describes WeTransfer’s dual revenue model as “pretty unique”. The company offers a premium subscription service called WeTransfer Plus, and sells advertising in the form of “beautiful” full-screen ads called wallpapers on Wetransfer.com.

“Each piece of creative is fully produced in-house by our creative studio with an uncompromising focus on design and user experience,” explains the WeTransfer CEO. “With full-screen advertising, we find that our users don’t feel they’re simply being sold to. This approach to advertising has been incredibly effective, and our ad performance has far outpaced IAB standards. Our advertising inventory is sought out by brands like Apple, Nike, Balenciaga, Adobe, Squarespace, and Saint Laurent”.

Alongside this, WeTransfer says it allocates up to 30% of its advertising inventory and “billions of impressions” to support and spotlight up-and-coming creatives, and causes, such as spearheading campaigns for social issues.

The company has 185 employees in total, with about 150 in Amsterdam and the rest across its U.S. offices in L.A. and New York.

ClearBrain launches analytics tools focused on connecting cause and effect

By Anthony Ha

Businesses need to understand cause and effect: Someone did X and it increased sales, or they did Y and it hurt sales. That’s why many of them turn to analytics — but Bilal Mahmood, co-founder and CEO of ClearBrain, said existing analytics platforms can’t answer that question accurately.

“Every analytics platform today is still based on a fundamental correlation model,” Mahmood said. It’s the classic correlation-versus-causation problem — you can use the data to suggest that an action and a result are related, but you can’t draw a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

That’s the problem that ClearBrain is trying to solve with its new “causal analytics” tool. As the company put it in a blog post, “Our goal was to automate this process [of running statistical studies] and build the first large-scale causal inference engine to allow growth teams to measure the causal effect of every action.”

You can read the post for (many) more details, but the gist is that Mahmood and his team claim they can draw accurate causal relationships where others can’t.

ClearBrain analytics screenshot

The idea is to use this in conjunction with A/B testing — customers look at the data to prioritize what to test next, and to make estimates about the impact of things that can’t be tested. Otherwise, Mahmood said, “If you wanted to measure the actual impact of every variable on your website and your app — the actual impact it has on conversation — it could take you years.”

When I wrote about ClearBrain last year, it was using artificial intelligence to improve ad targeting, but Mahmood said the company built the new analytics technology in response to customer demand: “People didn’t just want to know who was going to convert, they wanted to know why, and what caused them to do so.”

The causal analytics tool is currently available to early access users, with plans for a full launch in October. Mahmood said there will be a number of pricing tiers, but they’ll be structured to make the product free for many startups.

In addition to launching the analytics tool in early access, ClearBrain also announced this week that it’s raised an additional $2 million in funding from Harrison Metal and Menlo Ventures.

New $47M fund, Fil Rouge Capital, is ready to boost Croatia’s growing startup scene

By Mike Butcher

Croatia has not exactly been known for a huge startup scene in the past, and probably the most famous tech company out of there in recent years has been Rimac Automobili, the startup out of Zagreb that created an electric supercar to rival anything Porsche might make. But the technical talent in the country remains high, as is the way with many Eastern European countries, which have a long and deep heritage of engineering and science going back to the bad old Soviet days.

Croatia is about to get a shot in the arm, however, with the arrival of a home-grown dedicated VC fund, Fil Rouge Capital, which plans to invest in young entrepreneurs, startups and scale-up companies, as well as establishing a local entrepreneurial ecosystem in Croatia.

The fund is fully operational as of last month, having received funding commitments of more than €42 million ($46.6 million), demonstrating a strong interest of investors in the growing startup economy there.

Stevica Kuharski, of the firm, says: “Startups need to be given an opportunity, and opportunities are precisely what Fil Rouge Capital brings to Croatia. Startup founders, whose projects are in very early, early and growth stages now have a place to go to for mentoring and financial support.”

He says Fil Rouge will invest in a variety of sectors, including software, fintech, marketplace, manufacturing, hardware, IOT and logistics.

The fund aims to run over the next four and a half years until the end of 2023, and plans to invest in up to 250 companies operating in Croatia through its three investment stages: “The Startup School” for super-early-stage companies; “The Accelerator Program” for companies that are still early but already up and running; and more full-blown institutional funding-ready companies requiring capital up to €1.5 million.

Flower delivery startup UrbanStems raises $12M to fund national expansion

By Anthony Ha

UrbanStems is announcing that it has raised $12 million in Series B funding.

CEO Seth Goldman told me the startup has already been using the money to expand nationally. He explained that UrbanStems now has two delivery models — there are bike couriers who deliver plants and flowers within two hours in New York City and Washington, D.C. (where the company is headquartered), and then there’s a third-party shipping partner that offers next-day delivery to anywhere else in the United States.

The company started out with bike couriers, and Goldman said it’s not abandoning that strategy: “We will find areas where there’s enough demand to warrant jumping in, boots on the ground.”

At the same time, he said next-day shipping has allowed the company to “grow a lot faster in the short term.” (Regardless of method, UrbanStems does not charge an extra delivery fee.)

Recent initiatives include a partnership with Vogue, with bouquets created by Vogue editors. In addition, the company has been expanding beyond flowers (where prices start at $35) and plants ($50) by offering curated gift boxes ($55). It sounds like Goldman has plans to do more in this area, too.

“The gifting market is far bigger than just the flower market,” he said. “We are providing more than a product … Gifting itself is a highly emotional, vulnerable experience. [You want to] make sure it gets there successfully, make sure it gets there on time, make sure they love it, it’s packaged well, every little detail feels personal and special.”

The round was led by SWaN & Legend Venture Partners (who also led the startup’s $6.8 million Series A) and Motley Fool Ventures, with participation from Middleland Capital, NextGen Venture Partners and Sagamore Ventures.

“We are excited to continue to invest in the growth of UrbanStems,” said SWaN & Legend Managing Director David Strasser in a statement. “We continue to be impressed with the team led by Seth Goldman, as he builds on the strong foundation the cofounders laid out in building the pre-eminent gifting platform of the future.”

The funding came after a leadership change at the company, with Goldman (who joined as COO in 2017 after serving as CEO for HelloFresh USA) taking over the chief executive role from co-founder Ajay Kori in May of last year.

When asked about the transition, Goldman noted that Kori remains involved as chairman of the board, and he said, “We partnered a lot on this and kept our team from making it feel like it was a huge deal — which is a weird thing to say, even though it is a huge deal. But I was already managing more than half of the headcount of the entire team across the company … so they knew what they were getting with me as a leader.”

Incorta raises $30M Series C for ETL-free data processing solution

By Ron Miller

Incorta, a startup founded by former Oracle executives who want to change the way we process large amounts data, announced a $30 million Series C today led by Sorenson Capital.

Other investors participating in the round included GV (formerly Google Ventures), Kleiner Perkins, M12 (formerly Microsoft Ventures), Telstra Ventures and Ron Wohl. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $75 million, according to the company.

Incorta CEO and co-founder Osama Elkady says he and his co-founders were compelled to start Inccorta because they saw so many companies spending big bucks for data projects that were doomed to fail. “The reason that drove me and three other guys to leave Oracle and start Incorta is because we found out with all the investment that companies were making around data warehousing and implementing advanced projects, very few of these projects succeeded,” Elkady told TechCrunch.

A typical data project of involves ETL (extract, transform, load). It’s a process that takes data out of one database, changes the data to make it compatible with the target database and adds it to the target database.

It takes time to do all of that, and Incorta is trying to give access to the data much faster by stripping out this step. Elkady says that this allows customers to make use of the data much more quickly, claiming they are reducing the process from one that took hours to one that takes just seconds. That kind of performance enhancement is garnering attention.

Rob Rueckert, managing director for lead investor Sorenson Capital sees a company that’s innovating in a mature space. “Incorta is poised to upend the data warehousing market with innovative technology that will end 30 years of archaic and slow data warehouse infrastructure,” he said in a statement.

The company says revenue is growing by leaps and bounds, reporting 284% year over year growth (although they did not share specific numbers). Customers include Starbucks, Shutterfly and Broadcom.

The startup, which launched in 2013, currently has 250 employees with developers in Egypt and main operations in San Mateo, California. They recently also added offices in Chicago, Dubai and Bangalore.

Flatfair, the ‘deposit-free’ renting platform, raises $11M led by Index Ventures

By Steve O'Hear

Flatfair, a London-based fintech that lets landlords offer “deposit-free” renting to tenants, has raised $11 million in funding.

The Series A round is led by Index Ventures, with participation from Revolt Ventures, Adevinta, Greg Marsh (founder of Onefinestay), Jeremy Helbsy (former Savills CEO) and Taavet Hinrikus (TransferWise co-founder).

With the new capital, Flatfair says it plans to hire a “significant” number of product engineers, data scientists and business development specialists.

The startup will also invest in building out new features as it looks to expand its platform with “a focus on making renting fairer and more transparent for landlords and tenants.”

“With the average deposit of £1,110 across England and Wales being just shy of the national living wage, tenants struggle to pay expensive deposits when moving into their new home, often paying double deposits in between tenancies,” Flatfair co-founder and CEO Franz Doerr tells me when asked to frame the problem the startup has set out to solve.

“This creates cash flow issues for tenants, in particular for those with families. Some tenants end up financing the deposit through friends and family or even accrue expensive credit card debt. The latter can have a negative impact on the tenant’s credit rating, further restricting important access to credit for things that really matter in a tenant’s life.”

To remedy this, Flatfair’s “insurance-backed” payment technology provides tenants with the option to pay a per-tenancy membership fee instead of a full deposit. They do this by authorising their bank account via debit card with Flatfair, and when it is time to move out, any end-of-tenancy charges are handled via the Flatfair portal, including dispute resolution.

So, for example, rather than having to find a rental deposit equivalent to a month’s rent, which in theory you would get back once you move out sans any end-of-tenancy charges, with Flatfair you pay about a quarter of that as a non-refundable fee.

Of course, there are pros and cons to both, but for tenants that are cashflow restricted, the startup’s model at least offers an alternative financing option.

In addition, tenants registered with Flatfair are given a “trust score” that can go up over time, helping them move tenancy more easily in the future. The company is also trialing the use of Open Banking to help with credit checks by analysing transaction history to verify that you have paid rent regularly and on time in the past.

Landlords are said to like the model. Current Flatfair clients include major property owners and agents, such as Greystar, Places for People and CBRE. “Before Flatfair, deposits were the only form of tenancy security that landlords trusted,” claims Doerr.

In the event of a dispute over end-of-tenancy charges, both landlords and tenants are asked to upload evidence to the Flatfair platform and to try to settle the disagreement amicably. If they can’t, the case is referred by Flatfair to an independent adjudicator via mydeposits, a U.K. government-backed deposit scheme with which the company is partnering.

“In such a case, all the evidence is submitted to mydeposits and they come back with a decision within 24 hours,” explains Doerr. “[If] the adjudicator says that the tenant owes money, we invoice the tenant who then has five days to pay. If the tenant doesn’t pay, we charge their bank account… What’s key here is having the evidence. People are generally happy to pay if the costs are fair and where clear evidence exists, there’s less to argue about.”

More broadly, Doerr says there’s significant scope for digitisation across the buy-to-let sector and that the big vision for Flatfair is to create an “operating system” for rentals.

“The fundamental idea is to streamline processes around the tenancy to create revenue and savings opportunities for landlords and agents, whilst promoting a better customer experience, affordability and fairness for tenants,” he says.

“We’re working on a host of exciting new features that we’ll be able to talk about in the coming months, but we see opportunities to automate more functions within the life cycle of a tenancy and think there are a number of big efficiency savings to be made by unifying old systems, dumping old paper systems and streamlining cumbersome admin. Offering a scoring system for tenants is a great way of encouraging better behaviour and, given housing represents most people’s biggest expense, it’s only right renters should be able to build up their credit score and benefit from paying on time.”

Making sense of the WeWork S-1 (or trying to)

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Today is our promised Equity Shot (a short-form, single-topic episode) on the WeWork S-1. You can read Kate’s notes here, or Alex’s here as a place to start.

Given that we didn’t know when the WeWork S-1 filing was going to make itself known, we put together this episode from TechCrunch’s SF HQ, Alex’s home office and Kate inside a New York Blue Bottle Coffee. We were not about to let the locational issues stop us from having fun!

Where to begin! WeWork is growing like mad, but it’s hard to tell what its gross margins are. This makes its revenue quality hard to parse. (Alex tried to figure that out here, TechCrunch has even more good questions and notes here). What wasn’t hard to figure out was that WeWork — also known as The We Company — is tectonically unprofitable on operating and net bases. And that the company’s operations consume cash, while its investing activities torch the stuff.

WeWork’s eclectic chief executive officer and co-founder Adam Neumann will maintain a majority of voting rights. It’s not uncommon for founder-led companies to adopt this sort of voting structure, and, considering how central Neumann is to WeWork’s identity, we weren’t the least bit surprised by this.

The company’s IPO will make a lot of groups a lot of money. Mainly Benchmark, a respected venture capital fund, JP Morgan, and, of course, SoftBank, which has invested billions in WeWork and now owns more than 100 million shares.

And that’s all for now. Don’t miss our episode with Dan Primack that came out yesterday. A busy week, but a good one. Chat again soon!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Spotify, Downcast and all the casts.

Glow raises $2.3M to help podcasters make money

By Anthony Ha

Glow is a new startup that says it wants to help podcasters build media business.

That’s something co-founder and CEO Amira Valliani said she tried to do herself. After a career that included working in the Obama White House and getting an MBA from Wharton, she launched a podcast covering local elections in Cambridge, Mass., and she said that after the initial six episodes, she struggled to find a sustainable business model.

Valliani (pictured above with her co-founder and chief product officer Brian Elieson) recalled thinking, “Well, I got this one grant and I’d love to do more, but I need to figure out a way to pay for it.” She realized that advertising didn’t make sense, but when a listener expressed interest in paying her directly, none of the existing platforms made it easy.

“I just couldn’t figure it out,” she said. “I felt an acute need, and I thought, ‘Are there other people out there who haven’t been able to figure out how to do it, because the lift is just too high?’ ”

That’s the need Glow tries to address with its first product — allowing podcasters to create paid subscriptions. To do that, podcasters create a subscription page on the Glow site, where they can accept payments and then allow listeners to access paywalled content from the podcast app of their choice.

Glow started testing the product with the startup-focused podcast Acquired, which is now bringing in $35,000 in subscription fees through Glow. More recently, it’s signed up the Techmeme Ride Home, Twenty Thousand Hertz, The Newsworthy and others.

When asked about the broader landscape of podcast startups (including several that support paid subscriptions), Valliani said there are three main problems that podcasters face: hosting, monetization and distribution.

Hosting, she said, is “largely a solved problem,” so Glow is starting out by trying to “solve for monetization through the direct relationship with listeners.” Eventually, it could move into distribution, though that doesn’t mean launching a Glow podcast app: “For us, we think distribution means helping podcasts grow their audience.”

The startup announced today that it has raised $2.3 million in seed funding. The round was led by Greycroft, with participation from Norwest Venture Partners, PSL Ventures, WndrCo and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, as well as individual investors including Nas and Electronic Arts CTO Ken Moss.

“Our first hire after this funding round will be someone focused on podcast success,” Valliani said. “Of course, we’re going to build the product [but we’re] doubling down on this market; we better make sure that [podcasters] are prepared to launch programs that are as successful as possible.”

Beynd gets $2M seed to improve customer experience with better onboarding

By Ron Miller

Customer experience is a term that gets bandied about quite a bit these days. If you can improve the customer experience, you can win more customers. Beynd, a Utah startup, wants to help by providing a better, more automated onboarding workflow. Today, it announced a $2 million seed round.

The round was led by Peak Ventures with participation from Prelude Ventures. The investors seem to be making a good bet. CEO and founder Peter Ord says the company has had a product for just 10 months, but already boasts 121 paying customers with 6800 users on the platform.

Ord says the company’s genesis began, like so many startup ideas, out of frustration he experienced at his previous job. Getting people started on the company’s software was too hard. He thought there had to be a better way, so he built it, and Beynd (pronounced Beyond) was born.

“They say the best companies start with the founders biggest frustration. One of my biggest frustrations at my previous job was that in my everyday life, I could order a pizza and know exactly when that pizza was ready. But when our customers bought our software, we had no thoughtful or meaningful way to help our customers understand when we were going to deliver that,” Ord told TechCrunch.

The customer starts by creating an onboarding workflow template. Each client has its own unique requirements. The first interactions are by email (or communication channel of choice) giving instructions on how to proceed. If the customer gets stuck, there is a button to email the project manager that there is a problem.

The solution includes tools for projected launch dates, so that customers can understand when a product will be ready (or service completed). It also includes an analytics tool, so that customers can understand which processes are most likely to stall.

The company actually uses its own software to onboard its customers. “We drink our own champagne, We use our own products. And so we’re extremely efficient in the way we onboard our customers because they get an immediate sense of how they use the tool through us using our tool to onboard them,” Ord explained.

The company had bootstrapped the business to this point. He says that his goal is to continue to run it as a real business, but the funding will help him expand his vision and improve the experience. He just doesn’t want to get too caught up in the funding culture. “There’s an interesting culture in the VC space where it’s all about raise as much as you can, as fast as you can, and I actually have kind of the opposite opinion, he said.

For now, he has $2 million to try and scale the business further, and he’ll get more only if he feels he needs it. “Let’s continue to prove out the model with this money, then let’s raise more if we have to,” he said.

Stock trading app Robinhood gets UK broker license

By Steve O'Hear

Robinhood, the Silicon Valley-based stock trading app that was recently valued by investors at $7.6 billion, has received regulatory approval in the U.K., breaking cover on its plans to set up shop in London (as reported exclusively by TechCrunch 7 months ago).

Specifically, Robinhood International Ltd., a Robinhood subsidiary, has been authorised to operate as a broker (with some restrictions) in the U.K. by the Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates U.K. financial services. This gears Robinhood up for a U.K. launch, although the company is staying tightlipped on when exactly that will be.

In addition, Robinhood is disclosing that it has appointed Wander Rutgers as President of Robinhood International. He joins from London fintech Plum, where he headed up the startup’s investing and savings product, and prior to that is said to have led product, compliance and operations teams at TransferWise.

At Robinhood, Rutgers will lead the U.K. business and oversee the company’s new London office, which has already begun staffing up. Sources told me in April that Robinhood was busy hiring for multiple U.K. positions, including recruitment, operations, marketing/PR, customer support, compliance and product.

The company tells me it is also building out a London-based user research team so it can better find product-market fit here. Crudely building a localised version of Robinhood obviously won’t cut it.

Meanwhile, news that Robinhood is ramping its planned U.K. launch is interesting in the context of local fintech startups that have launched their own fee-free trading offerings.

First out of the gate was London-based Freetrade, which chose very early on to build a bona-fide “challenger broker,” including obtaining the required license from the FCA, rather than simply partnering with an established broker. The app lets you invest in stocks and ETFs. Trades are “fee-free” if you are happy for your buy or sell trades to execute at the close of business each day. If you want to execute immediately, the startup charges a low £1 per trade.

And just last week, Revolut finally launched its fee-free stock trading feature, albeit tentatively. For now, the feature is limited to some Revolut customers with a premium Metal card (which itself entails a monthly subscription fee) and covers 300 U.S.-listed stocks. The company says that it plans to expand to U.K. and European stocks as well as Exchange Traded Funds in the future. Noteworthy, my understanding is that Revolut doesn’t have its own broker license but is partnering with US broker DriveWealth for part of its tech and the required regulatory authorisation (it also explains why, for now, Revolut is offering access to U.S. stocks only).

In contrast, Freetrade has long argued that to innovate within trading, you need to build and own the full brokerage stack. It was the first mover in this regard amongst the new crop of “fee-free” trading apps in the U.K., though others, including Netherlands-based Bux and now Robinhood, have since taken the same path. Only time will tell if Revolut will be forced to do the same.

Another tidbit is that Revolut and Robinhood share investors, namely Index and DST. That makes for an interesting subplot as the two unicorns encroach on each other’s lawn. No conflict, no interest.

Salesforce is acquiring ClickSoftware for $1.35B

By Ron Miller

Another day, another Salesforce acquisition. Just days after closing the hefty $15.7 billion Tableau deal, the company opened its wallet again, this time announcing it has bought field service software company ClickSoftware for a tidy $1.35 billion.

This one is could help beef up the company’s field service offering, which falls under the Service Cloud umbrella. In its June earnings report, the company reported that Service Cloud crossed the $1 billion revenue threshold for the first time. This acquisition is designed to keep those numbers growing.

“Our acquisition of ClickSoftware will not only accelerate the growth of Service Cloud, but drive further innovation with Field Service Lightning to better meet the needs of our customers,” Bill Patterson, EVP and GM of Salesforce Service Cloud said in a statement announcing the deal.

ClickSoftware is actually older than Salesforce having been founded in 1997. The company went public in 2000, and remained listed until it went private again in 2015 in a deal with private equity company Francisco Partners, which bought it for $438 million. Francisco did alright for itself, holding onto the company for four years before more than doubling its money.

The deal is expected to close in the Fall and is subject to the normal regulatory approval process.

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