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Today — September 19th 2019Your RSS feeds

Lunchclub raises $4M from a16z for its AI warm intro service

By Lucas Matney

There are apps out there that help you find friends, find dates and find your distant family histories, but when it comes to “growing your professional network,” the options are shockingly bad, we’re talking LinkedIn here.

Lunchclub is a startup that’s looking to help users navigate finding new connections inside specific industries. The company has recently closed a $4 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz with other investments coming in from Quora’s co-founder, the Robinhood cofounders, and Flexport’s cofounders.

The app follows in the footsteps of others that aimed to be dating app-like marketplaces for growing out your professional network via 1:1 lunch and coffee meetings. Lunchclub is more focused on setting up a handful of meetings for users that have a specific goal in mind. Lunchclub is aiming to be your warm intro and connect you with other users via email that can assist you in your professional goals.

When you’re on-boarded to the service, you are asked to highlight some “objectives” that you might have and this is where the app really makes its goals clear. Options include, “raise funding,” “find a co-founder or parter,” “explore other companies,” and “brainstorm with peers.” These objectives are pretty explicit and complementary, i.e. for every “raise funding” objective, there’s an “invest” option.

There isn’t a ton being asked for on the part of the user when it comes to building up the data on their profile, Lunchclub is hoping to get most of the data that they need from the rest of the web.

“Our view is that there’s tons of data already out there,” Lunchclub CEO Vlad Novakovski told TechCrunch in an interview. “Anything that comes from the existing social networks, be in things like Twitter, be it things that are more specific to what people might be working on, like Github or Dribble or AngelList — all of those data sources are in the public domain and are fair game.”

Lunchclub’s sell is that they can learn from what matches are successful via user feedback and use that to hone further matches. Novakovski most previously was the CTO of Euclid Analytics which WeWork acquired in 2017. Previous to that, he led the machine learning team at Quora.

The web app, which currently has a lengthy-waitlist, is available for users in seven cities including the SF Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Austin, Seattle and London.

Lunchclub

Co-founders Vlad Novakovski, Scott Wu and Hayley Leibson

On-demand plant food startup Simple Feast raises $33M B round to push its climate credentials

By Mike Butcher

As Greta Thunberg heads back to Europe from the U.S. after radicalizing a generation, entrepreneurs are quickly realizing there is a zeitgeist to be gotten hold of here. With food production a major contributor to climate change, it’s no surprise then that on-demand food startups are appearing to cater to this new audience.

Simple Feast launched its plant-based food product in early 2017 and since then has developed a fast-food range that is catching the climate and taste fashion wave.

The company has now raised a total of $33 million in a Series B round led by U.S.-based venture capital firm 14W, with a number of other existing investors participating, including Europe’s Balderton Capital, which is increasing their investment in the business.

The company was partly self-funded in the beginning, then added Sweet Capital (London/Stockholm) and byFounders (CPH/SF) as the first VCs. Later, Balderton Capital (London) and 14W (NYC) joined in the Series A and B. The total funding to date is now north of $50 million.

The founders are Jakob Jønck and Thomas Ambus; Jønck was co-founder of Endomondo, acquired by MyFitnessPal.

Jønck says: “The future of food does not just belong to plants, but will be both plant-based and unprocessed. This movement is pivotal to save not only our planet, but also human health. With this investment, we can continue our journey and bring our products to more people, in existing as well as new markets, while also strengthening our R&D efforts in new food innovation.”

Simple Feast is ticking the climate agenda boxes, with packaging made solely by FSC-approved cardboard boxes, to the cooling element they use to keep the food fresh (frozen tap water in drinkable cartons) and their use of all-organic produce.

Alex Zubillaga from 14W commented: “Over the past year since first investing in Simple Feast, we have continued to be impressed by the caliber and deep operational experience of the management team that Jakob Jønck has built around him… We believe Simple Feast has the opportunity to become a global, category-defining brand as they expand to the U.S. early next year.”

Typical customers are meat-eating families in their 30s and 40s who are trying to cut down on their meat consumption. They are well-educated, have a middle or high income and demand high quality and transparency in the food they consume. Their main competitors are restaurants, meal-kits and take-away. The idea is not to compromise on taste or quality, nor convenience or packaging.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Element AI raises $151M on a $600-700M valuation to help companies build and run AI solutions

By Ingrid Lunden

While tech giants like Google and Amazon build and invest in a multitude of artificial intelligence applications to grow their businesses, a startup has raised a big round of funding to help those that are not technology businesses by nature also jump into the AI fray.

Element AI, the very well-funded, well-connected Canadian startup that has built an AI systems integrator of sorts to help other companies develop and implement artificial intelligence solutions — an “Accenture” for machine learning, neural network-based solutions, computer vision applications and so on — is today announcing a further 200 million Canadian dollars ($151.3 million) in funding, money that it plans to use to commercialise more of its products, as well as to continue working on R&D, specifically working on new AI solutions.

“Operationalising AI is currently the industry’s toughest challenge, and few companies have been successful at taking proofs-of-concept out of the lab, imbedding them strategically in their operations, and delivering actual business impact,” said Element AI CEO Jean-François (JF) Gagné in a statement. “We are proud to be working with our new partners, who understand this challenge well, and to leverage each other’s expertise in taking AI solutions to market.”

The company did not disclose its valuation in the short statement announcing the funding, nor has it ever talked about it publicly, but PitchBook notes that as of its previous funding round of $102 million back in 2017, it had a post-money valuation of $300 million, a figure a source close to the company confirmed to me. From what I understand, the valuation now is between $600 million and $700 million, a mark of how Element AI has grown, which is especially interesting, considering how quiet is has been.

The funding is being led by Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), along with participation from McKinsey & Company and its advanced analytics company QuantumBlack; and the Québec government. Previous investors DCVC (Data Collective), Hanwha Asset Management, BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada), Real Ventures and others also participated, with the total raised to date now at C$340 million ($257 million). Other strategic investors in the company have included Microsoft, Nvidia and Intel.

Element AI was started under an interesting premise that goes something like this: AI is the next major transformational shift — not just in computing, but in how businesses operate. But not every business is a technology business by DNA, and that creates a digital divide of sorts between the companies that can identify a problem that can be fixed by AI and build/invest in the technology to do that and those that cannot.

Element AI opened for business from the start as a kind of “AI shop” for the latter kinds of enterprises, to help them identify areas where they could build AI solutions to work better, and then build and implement those solutions. Today it offers products in insurance, financial services, manufacturing, logistics and retail — a list that is likely to get longer and deeper with this latest funding.

One catch about Element AI is that the company has not been very forthcoming about its customer list up to now — those that have been named as partners include Bank of Canada and Gore Mutual, but there is a very notable absence of case studies or reference customers on its site.

However, from what we understand, this is more a by-product of the companies (both Element AI and its customers) wishing to keep involvement quiet for competitive and other reasons; and in fact there are apparently a number of large enterprises that are building and deploying long-term products working with the startup. We have also been told big investors in this latest round (specifically McKinsey) are bringing in customers of their own by way of this deal, expanding that list. Total bookings are a “significant double digit million number” at the moment.

“With this transaction, we are investing capital and expertise alongside partners who are ideally suited to transform Element AI into a company with a commercial focus that anticipates and creates AI products to address clients’ needs,” said Charles Émond, EVP and head of Québec Investments and Global Strategic Planning at la Caisse, in a statement. CDPQ launched an AI Fund this year and this is coming out of that fund to help export more of the AI tech and IP that has been incubated and developed in the region. “Through this fund, la Caisse wants to actively contribute to build and strengthen Québec’s global presence in artificial intelligence.”

Management consultancies like McKinsey would be obvious competitors to Element AI, but in fact, they are turning out to be customer pipelines, as traditional system integrators also often lack the deeper expertise needed in newer areas of computing. (And that’s even considering that McKinsey itself has been investing in building its own capabilities, for example through its acquisition of the analytics firm QuantumBlack.

“For McKinsey, this investment is all about helping our clients to further unlock the potential of AI and Machine Learning to improve business performance,” said Patrick Lahaie, senior partner and Montreal managing partner for McKinsey & Company, in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating closely with the talented team at Element AI in Canada and globally in our shared objective to turn cutting-edge thinking and technology into AI assets which will transform a wide range of industries and sectors. This investment fits into McKinsey’s long-term AI strategy, including the 2015 acquisition of QuantumBlack, which has grown substantially since then and will spearhead the collaboration with Element AI on behalf of our Firm.”

Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities

By Kirsten Korosec

Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means toward Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self-driving technology,” Cameron told TechCrunch in a recent interview, explaining that a cost-effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet has 12 vehicles. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost-effective vehicle ever made because the industry still is in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology, then introduced in July 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

Voyage engineers Alan Mond and Trung Dung Vu

TechCrunch previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with TechCrunch, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”

Veo raises $6M Series A to bring its ‘AI camera’ for soccer matches to the US

By Steve O'Hear

Veo, a Copenhagen, Denmark-based startup that offers an “AI camera” to make it easier for amateur soccer clubs to video and stream matches, has raised $6 million in Series A funding.

Backing the round is U.S.-based CourtsideVC, France’s Ventech Capital and Danish firm VC Seed Capital. Veo says the new capital will be used to launch in the U.S.

Founded in 2015 by Henrik Teisbæk, Jesper Taxbøl and Keld Reinicke, Veo has set out to “democratise” the filming of soccers matches and training by negating the need for multiple camera operators and/or a vision mixer.

It does this by employing a 4K lens camera that records the entire pitch (it’s designed to be mounted on a 23 foot tripod for optimal view), coupled with its AI video technology that processes the resulting video. This sees Veo follow the action via virtual panning and zooming, to create a TV-like viewing experience.

Veo Måløv

As we’ve noted before, that does mean a portion of the image will often be cropped out, resulting in a loss of resolution overall. However, the idea is that by starting with 4K the video quality is more than sufficient for playback on smaller screens, such as smartphones and tablets.

“Our immediate goal is to establish a foothold for Veo on the U.S. market, and a lot of the investment will go towards achieving that,” Veo CEO Henrik Teisbæk tells TechCrunch with regards to the new funding round. “In the long term, we want to use our U.S. market presence as a stepping stone towards becoming a central player on the global football market, and to hopefully break into other sports”.

Teisbæk says the U.S. was chosen because one of the “biggest and most exciting” soccer markets, and North American soccer players, coaches, clubs and associations are very data driven and open to new technology. “That represents a huge potential for us,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Veo says that in the last year it has seen 25,000 games recorded by 1,000 clubs in 50 countries. The company now employs 35 people in its Copenhagen HQ, where it develops the Veo software and hardware.

Accel and Sequoia seed Middesk with $4M to background check businesses

By Kate Clark

For those of you that diligently follow the hot startups to graduate from Y Combinator’s accelerator program, you might recall Middesk.

The company was amongst an exclusive subset of startups in YC’s winter 2019 batch to walk into demo day term sheet in hand. Top VCs, like Accel and Sequoia Capital, couldn’t wait until the team’s public pitch was complete to seed the company.

Middesk performs background checks, but not of people; rather, the startup helps companies identify business and regulatory risk in their customer base. Today, it’s announcing its first round of capital, a $4 million financing led by Accel’s Rich Wong, with participation from Sequoia. Founded by two early employees of another YC graduate, Checkr, which automates the pre-employment background check process for companies, Middesk chief executive officer Kyle Mack and chief technology officer Kurt Ruppel wanted to apply their learnings to a business identity product.

“What we’ve built from the ground up is a product to help companies understand who their customers are and what those customers do for their business,” Mack explains.

Selling a product in a traditional and heavily regulated industry, Mack says having top-tier, established venture funds Accel and Sequoia on board has made a big difference for the company. This is particularly interesting, given the round comes at a time in which competition for early-stage deals is greater than ever. More and more billion-dollar funds, Accel and Sequoia included, are moving downstream to purchase stakes in promising companies as early as possible, beating out seed funds by providing better terms and brand recognition.

Accel was also an early investor in Checkr, which most recently raised a $100 million Series C at a $900 million valuation, and was familiar with the Middesk team prior to the company’s formation: “One of the nice things about this job is if you have a chance to do it right, you can build relationships with people and work with them across multiple companies,” Accel’s Wong tells TechCrunch.

San Francisco-based Middesk is working with customers, including Checkr and Plaid, a well-financed leader in fintech, as well as smaller entrants to the B2B market, like the even more recent YC-grad Vouch, which sells business insurance to startups. Mack says they are particularly focused on payments, lending, payroll, expenses and credit businesses, or those with regulatory risk requirements.

“Effectively anyone that’s touching money that’s a B2B business has regulatory requirements to do what we do,” Mack said. “There is a whole new wave of companies applying consumer-style experiences to business products, but the risks they deal with, they aren’t designed to manage those risks at scale.”

With the infusion of capital, Middesk has grown its team from two to seven, creating engineering and operations teams in the process. In the long term, Mack cites Plaid and its proven ability to rapidly become the go-to tool for connecting applications to consumer bank accounts, as inspiration.

“We talk about this idea of becoming a single source for all the external signals you might want to have about a business,” he said. “Plaid has built a single place to get a host of transaction data of people and businesses. We think about Middesk as a single place to find high-quality and trusted information for a single business.”

SmartDrive snaps up $90M for in-truck video telematics solutions for safety and fuel efficiency

By Ingrid Lunden

Trucks and other large commercial vehicles are the biggest whales on the road today — are they also, by virtue of that size, some of the most dangerous and inefficient if they are driven badly. Today, a startup that has built a platform aimed at improving both of those areas has raised a large round of funding to continue fuelling (so to speak) its own growth: SmartDrive, a San Diego-based provider of video-based telematics and transportation insights, has snapped up a round of $90 million.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but according to PitchBook, it was last valued (in 2017) at $290 million, which would put the valuation now around $380 million. But given that the company has been growing well — it says that in the first half of this year, its contracted units were up 48%, while sales were up by 44% — that figure may well be higher. (We are asking.)

The funding comes at an interesting time for fleet management and the trucking industry. A lot of the big stories about automotive technology at the moment seem to be focused on autonomous vehicles for private usage, but that leaves a large — and largely legacy — market in the form of fleet management and commercial vehicles. That’s not to say it’s been completely ignored, however. Bigger companies like Uber, Telsa and Volvo, and startups like Nikola and more are all building smarter vehicles, and just yesterday Samsara, which makes an industrial IoT platform that works, in part, to provide fleet management to the trucking industry, raised $300 million on a $6.3 billion valuation.

The telematics market was estimated to be worth $25.5 billion in 2018 and is forecast to grow to some $98 billion by 2026.

The round was led by TPG Sixth Street Partners, a division of investment giant TPG (which backs the likes of Spotify and many others), which earlier this year was raising a $2 billion fund for growth-stage investments. Unnamed existing investors also participated. The company prior to this had raised $230 million, with other backers including Founders Fund, NewView Capital, Oak Investment Partners, Michelin and more. (NEA had also been an investor but has more recently sold its stake.)

SmartDrive has been around since 2005 and focuses on a couple of key areas. Tapping data from the many sensors that you have today in commercial vehicles, it builds up a picture of how specific truckers are handling their vehicles, from their control on tricky roads to what gears and speed they are using as they go up inclines, and how long they idle their engines. The resulting data is used both to provide a better picture to fleet managers of that performance, and to highlight specific areas where the trucker can improve his performance, and how.

Analytics and data provided to customers include multi-camera 360-degree views, extended recording and U-turn triggering, along with diagnostics on specific driver performance. The company claims that the information has led to more satisfaction among drivers and customers, with driver retention rates of 70% or higher and improvements to 9 miles per gallon (mpg) on trips, versus industry averages of 20% driver retention and 6 mpg.

“This is an exciting time at SmartDrive and in the transportation sector overall as adoption of video-based telematics continues to accelerate,” stated Steve Mitgang, SmartDrive CEO, in a statement. “Building on our pioneering video-based safety program, our vision of an open platform powering best-of-breed video, compliance and telematics applications is garnering significant traction across a diverse range of fleets given the benefits of choice, flexibility and a lower total cost of ownership. The investment from TPG Sixth Street Partners and our existing investors will fuel continued innovation in areas such as computer vision and AI, while also enhancing sales and marketing initiatives and further international expansion.”

The focus for SmartDrive seems to be on how drivers are doing in specific circumstances: it doesn’t seem to focus on whether there could have been better routes, or if better fleet management could have resulted in improved performance.

“SmartDrive is a market leader in the large and expanding transportation safety and intelligence sector and we are pleased to be investing in a growing company led by such a talented team,” noted Bo Stanley, partner and co-head of the Capital Solutions business at TPG Sixth Street Partners, in a statement. “SmartDrive’s proprietary data analytics platform and strong subscriber base put it in a great position to continue to capitalize on its track record of innovation and the broader secular trend of higher demand for safer and smarter transportation.”

The direct to consumer department store Neighborhood Goods has raised $11 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Neighborhood Goods, the direct to consumer department store hawking brands like Rothy’s, Dollar Shave Club, Buck Mason, Draper James and Stadium Goods, has new cash to expand its storefront for e-commerce juggernauts.

The company has raised $11 million in a new round of financing led by Global Founders Capital, with participation from previous investors Forerunner Ventures, Serena Ventures, NextGen Venture Partners, Allen Exploration, Capital Factory and others.

The Dallas-based startup has raised $25.5 million to date and is expanding into a new location in Austin to complement its stores in Plano, Texas and a location in New York, opening soon, according to the company’s chief executive and co-founder Matt Alexander.

The Neighborhood Goods concept, providing a brick and mortar outlet for online brands, is one that dovetails nicely with backers like Global Founders Capital and Forerunner Ventures, which are both longtime investors in direct to consumer startups.

“As we expand our network of brands, we’re so thrilled to have Neighborhood Goods as a core element of our portfolio for them to test, assess, explore and learn about the impact of physical retail as they grow,” said Global Founders Capital investor Don Stalter.

As the company expands its geographic footprint, it’s also experimenting with different online features, like online browsing of in-store collections and the option for physical, in-store pickup of digital orders. Neighborhood Goods also said it will begin offering an analytics back-end for brand partners to provide data on activations and branded events at the company’s stores.

Nigerian online-only bank startup Kuda raises $1.6M

By Jake Bright

Nigerian fintech startup Kuda — a digital-only retail bank — has raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding.

The Lagos and London-based company recently launched the beta version of its online mobile finance platform. Kuda also received its banking license from the Nigerian Central Bank, giving it a distinction compared to other fintech startups.

“Kuda is the first digital-only bank in Nigeria with a standalone license. We’re not a mobile wallet or simply a mobile app piggybacking on an existing bank,” Kuda bank founder Babs Ogundeyi told TechCrunch.

“We have built our own full-stack banking software from scratch. We can also take deposits and connect directly to the switch,” Ogundeyi added, referring to the Nigeria’s Central Switch — a SWIFT-like system that facilitates bank communication and settlements.

A representative for the Central Bank of Nigeria (speaking on background) confirmed Kuda’s banking license and status, telling TechCrunch, “As far as I’m aware there is no other digital bank [in Nigeria] that has a micro-finance license.”

 

Kuda Transaction Screen Card

Kuda offers checking accounts with no monthly-fees, a free debit card, and plans to offer consumer savings and P2P payments options on its platform in coming months.

“You can open a bank account within five minutes, do all the KYC in the app, and you get issued a new bank account number,” according to Ogundeyi. Kuda bank Founder CEO Babs OgundeyiOgundeyi — a repeat founder who exited classifieds site Motortradertrader.ng and worked in a finance advisory role to the Nigerian government — co-founded Kuda in 2018 with former Stanbic Bank software developer Musty Mustapha.

The two convinced investor Haresh Aswani to lead the $1.6 million pre-seed funding, along with Ragnar Meitern and other angel investors. Aswani confirmed his investment to TechCrunch and that he will take a position on Kuda’s board.

Kuda plans to use its seed funds to go from beta to live launch in Nigeria by fourth-quarter 2019. The startup will also build out the tech of its banking platform, including support for its developer team located in Lagos and Cape Town, according to Ogundeyi.

Kuda also intends to expand in the near future. “It’s Nigeria for right now, but the plan is build a Pan-African digital-only bank,” he said.

As of 2014, Nigeria has held the dual distinction as Africa’s largest economy and most populous country (with 190 million people).

To scale there, and add some physical infrastructure to its online model, Kuda has correspondent relationships with three of Nigeria’s largest financial institutions: GTBank, Access Bank and Zenith Bank.

He clarified the banks are partners and not investors. Kuda customers can use these banks’ branches and ATMs to put money into bank accounts or withdraw funds without a fee.

“Even though we don’t own a single branch, we actually have the largest branch network in the country,” Ogundeyi claimed.

Kuda’s plans to generate revenues focus largely around leveraging its bank balances. “We plan to match different liability classes to the different asset classes that we create. That’s how we make money, that’s how we get efficiency in terms of income,” Ogundeyi said.

In Nigeria, Kuda enters a potentially revenue-rich market, but its one that already hosts a crowded fintech field — as the country becomes ground zero for payments startups and tech investment in Africa.

Briter Bridges Lagos Nigeria Fintech MapIn both raw and per capita numbers, Nigeria has been slower to convert to digital payments than leading African countries, such as Kenya, according to joint McKinsey Company and Gates Foundation analysis done several years ago. The same study estimated there could be nearly $1.3 billion in revenue up for grabs if Nigeria could reach the same digital-payments penetration as Kenya.

A number of startups — established and new — are going after that prize in the West African country — several with a strategy to scale in Nigeria first before expanding outward on the continent and globally.

San Francisco-based, no-fee payment venture Chipper Cash entered Nigeria this month.

Series B-stage Nigerian payments company Paga raised $10 million in 2018 to further grow its customer base (that now tallies 13 million) and expand to Asia and Latin America.

Kuda CEO Babs Ogundeyi believes the startup can scale and compete in Nigeria on a number of factors, one being financial safety. He names the company’s official bank status and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation security that brings as something that can attract cash-comfortable bank clients to digital finance.

Ogundeyi also points to offerings and price.”We look to be the next generation bank where you can do everything— savings, payments and transfers — and also the one that’s least expensive,” he said.

 

These brothers just raised $15 million for their startup, Dutchie, a kind of Shopify for cannabis dispensaries

By Connie Loizos

Ross Lipson comes from an entrepreneurial family, so perhaps it’s no wonder that as a college student, he dropped out of school to jump into the online food space, including co-founding, then selling, one of Canada’s first online food ordering service startups.

It’s even less surprising that having gone through that experience, Lipson would use what he learned in the service of another startup: Dutchie, a two-year-old, 36-person, Bend, Ore.-based startup whose software is used by a growing number of cannabis dispensaries that pay the startup a monthly subscription fee to create and maintain their websites, as well as to accept orders and track what needs to be ready for pickup.

The decision is looking like a smart one right now. Dutchie says it’s now being used by 450 dispensaries across 18 states and that it’s seeing $140 million in gross merchandise volume. The company also just locked down $15 million in Series A funding led by Gron Ventures, a new cannabis-focused venture fund with at least $117 million to invest. Other participants in the round include earlier backers Casa Verde Capital, Thirty Five Ventures (founded by NBA star Kevin Durant and sports agent Rich Kleiman), Sinai Ventures and individual investors, including Shutterstock founder and CEO Jon Oringer.

Altogether, Dutchie (named after the song), has now raised $18 million. We talked earlier today with Lipson about the company, its challenges and working with his big brother Zach, himself a serial entrepreneur who co-founded Dutchie and today serves as its chief product officer while Ross serves as CEO.

TC: It’s always interesting when siblings team up. Did you always get along with your brother?

RL: We complement each other strongly. I’m energy, I’m sales and business development. I’m fast-moving by nature and the guy who wants to drive the car as fast as possible. Zach is the one who wants to make sure that we’re doing everything right. He’s the methodical one. We really do understand each other quite well and appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which enables us to meet in the middle on a lot of things.

TC: It’s also interesting that you’ve both been founders beginning around the time you were in college. Were your parents entrepreneurs?

RL: Our father is a founder and has run his own business for the last 35 years. Our parents also always pitched us that anything is possible and encouraged us to go for it. He was the dreamer and our mom was the cheerleader, which is a pretty nice combination.

TC: You started Dutchie a couple of years ago. Is running this startup more or less challenging than your experience in the food delivery business?

RL: It’s our second year in business, and we’ve seen some explosive, unprecedented growth. As for whether it’s harder or easier than food, we’re very product and user-centric, and by that we mean consumers but also dispensaries. We’re focused on the customer all day, every day, with a team that ensures that they have support, that they receive their orders, that the orders are out the door quickly or at least, ready for pickup. We make sure the photos work, that different potencies are marked. Our system is kind of like a Shopify of the cannabis space maybe meets DoorDash.

TC: You don’t deliver, though.

RL: No. We don’t do delivery for legal reasons; the dispensaries [handle this piece].

TC: You’re charging like other software-as-service businesses. Do you also take a cut of each sale?

RL: We don’t charge on transaction volume.

TC: You’re working with 450 dispensaries. Is there any way to know what percentage of the overall market that is, and how much is left for you to chase after?

RL: First, there are more than 30 states where cannabis is either medically legal or that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and we operate in both types of markets. It’s hard to know the actual count [of dispensaries], because they are always being formed, getting acquired or going out of business, but counting registered dispensaries, we work with more than 15% of them right now.

TC: Who are your biggest competitors? Eaze? Leafly? They also help consumers find cannabis and, in Eaze’s case, deliver it, too.

RL: Eaze is more focused on delivery where we’re more focused on pickup. It’s also only available in California and Oregon, whereas we’re in 18 states. They educate the consumer about online ordering, which is great, but they also own the consumer experience, where we’re really powering the dispensary.

Leafly and Weedmaps are really different types of platforms; they’re mostly known for their dispensary and strain reviews, where we’re strictly an online ordering service.

TC: You’ve raised a big Series A for a company in the cannabis space. Do you have concerns about there being later-stage funding available when you need it?

RL: It’s true the most investors still haven’t touched cannabis, though you are seeing bigger deals. Thrive Capital led that [$35 million] round in [the online cannabis inventory and ordering platform] LeafLink [last month]. You saw Tiger Global [lead a $17 million round ] in [the software platform for cannabis dispensaries] Green Bits last summer. It’s a big advantage to the funds that can right now invest because there are these barriers to entry; they’re finding deals that are promising and they can get in early and without competition.

Pictured, left to right, above: Ross and Zach Lipson

JobTeaser scores £45M for its graduate recruitment platform

By Steve O'Hear

JobTeaser, the graduate recruitment and career guidance platform, has raised £45 million in new funding to help it expand its careers service to more students across the U.K. and Europe.

The investment is led by Highland Europe, with continued backing from existing investors Alven, Idinvest Partners, Seventure Partners and Korelya Capital. It brings the total amount raised to £61 million since the company was founded all the way back in 2008.

JobTeaser says the funding will be used to expand JobTeaser’s partner network of schools and universities across the U.K. and Ireland.

That company’s aim is to become the official careers website for its education partners. The promise is that it can connect more students and graduates to the careers they seek and in turn help corporates and organisations plug gaps in the talent and skills they need.

“We believe the transition between University and the professional world is very difficult for young talent,” Adrien Ledoux, co-founder of JobTeaser, tells me. “A lot of young talent feel lost when it comes to choosing their career; in the survey that we conducted with WISE this year, we discovered that 9 out of 10 young people in Europe want better support to define their career choices.”

Ledoux says JobTeaser’s goal is to transform the way students and recent graduates find work by helping them choose a career path that fits with their aspirations and ambitions. “We are convinced that if each young talent puts their energy into the right job, all of society benefits from it,” he says

To achieve this mission, JobTeaser has built a platform that combines bespoke career guidance with internships, job opportunities and ongoing career and interview support.

In order to reach the largest number of students and recent graduates, JobTeaser provides its “Career Centre by JobTeaser” platform free of charge to universities. It then charges businesses a fee to advertise jobs to that captive audience.

“Businesses can access talent at the right place (the university) and at the right time (when they are looking for their first job),” explains Ledoux. “Our platform allows businesses to pay once to multi-post their job ads and employer-branded content in a single click, which then goes out to all of JobTeaser’s partner higher education institutions.”

It’s this business model that allows JobTeaser to reach businesses, universities and prospective young jobseekers across 19 European countries, says the JobTeaser co-founder.

Since its launch, JobTeaser says it has served 2.5 million students and recent graduates. The company works with more than 70,000 businesses, including Amazon, PWC, Deutsche Bank, Blackrock, L’Oréal and LVMH.

Smart grocery cart startup Caper bags $10 million

By Lucas Matney

Caper wants to deliver a major update to the self checkout aisle without keeping its dreaded catchphrases, i.e. “Unknown item in the bagging area,” “Please place the item in the bag.”

The New York startup is tapping some of Silicon Valley’s more recognizable VC firms to fund their dreams for a shopping cart of the future that uses computer vision and other sensors to let shoppers quickly scan items as they drop them into their carts.

The company is announcing that they’ve closed a $10 million Series A led by Lux Capital. The round also saw participation from First Round Capital, Y Combinator, Hardware Club, FundersClub, Sidekick Fund and Red Apple Group.

Caper closed its $2.15 million seed round led by First Round earlier this year. The startup has now raised $13 million to date. The startup’s leadership plans to use the capital to bring their smart grocery carts to more locations.

The startup says its tech could help grocery store chains bring more seamless checkout processes to customers as the groups aim to keep pace with Amazon which has doubled down on physical retail automation with its Amazon Go convenience stores.

While Amazon’s small stores rely on a complex web of cameras and sensors tracking your purchase habits, Caper’s solution is more insular focusing only on what’s happening inside a shopper’s cart.

“Instead of monitoring an entire store, we’re monitoring this very small cart. Our computation is faster, our cameras are a lot closer and we’re able to scale much faster because we don’t need to implement any infrastructure inside the store,” Yang tells TechCrunch.

The company declined to detail exactly how pricey these carts were for a store. When asked whether rollouts would costs “thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Yang told TechCrunch that a full rollout at a grocery store would “probably be within the hundreds of thousands range though it could be less.”

Alternatively, Bloomberg reported that the Seattle’s first Amazon Go store required $1 million worth of hardware.

Caper isn’t expecting physical retailers to go all-in and toss out their old-school grocery carts when they become customers. Part of Caper’s advantage is that it doesn’t alienate customers who don’t want to bring AI into their process, those people can just grab an old cart and check out the regular way if the don’t feel like pushing around a computer.

The credit card reader, barcode scanner and image recognition cameras are just a slice of the sell for investors backing Caper. It’s less about streamlining checkout than it is finding a new way to bring AI-driven online retail conventions into physical stores. Personalized recommendations, shopping lists and recipes could eventually find their way onto the built-in touchscreen, Yang says.

“Our vision is ultimately to build a platform layer on retail that never existed before.”

Snyk grabs $70M more to detect security vulnerabilities in open source code and containers

By Ingrid Lunden

A growing number of IT breaches has led to security becoming a critical and central aspect of how computing systems are run and maintained. Today, a startup that focuses on one specific area — developing security tools aimed at developers and the work they do — has closed a major funding round that underscores the growth of that area.

Snyk — a London and Boston-based company that got its start identifying and developing security solutions for developers working on open source code — is today announcing that it has raised $70 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding its capabilities and overall business. For example, the company has more recently expanded to building security solutions to help developers identify and fix vulnerabilities around containers, an increasingly standard unit of software used to package up and run code across different computing environments.

Open source — Snyk works as an integration into existing developer workflows, compatible with the likes of GitHub, Bitbucket and GitLab, as well as CI/CD pipelines — was an easy target to hit. It’s used in 95% of all enterprises, with up to 77% of open source components liable to have vulnerabilities, by Snyk’s estimates. Containers are a different issue.

“The security concerns around containers are almost more about ownership than technology,” Guy Podjarny, the president who co-founded the company with Assaf Hefetz and Danny Grander, explained in an interview. “They are in a twilight zone between infrastructure and code. They look like virtual machines and suffer many of same concerns such as being unpatched or having permissions that are too permissive.”

While containers are present in fewer than 30% of computing environments today, their growth is on the rise, according to Gartner, which forecasts that by 2022, over 75% of global organizations will run containerized applications. Snyk estimates that a full 44% of Docker image scans (Docker being one of the major container vendors) have known vulnerabilities.

This latest round is being led by Accel with participation from existing investors GV and Boldstart Ventures. These three, along with a fourth investor (Heavybit) also put $22 million into the company as recently as September 2018. That round was made at a valuation of $100 million, and from what we understand from a source close to the startup, it’s now in the “range” of $500 million.

“Accel has a long history in the security market and we believe Snyk is bringing a truly unique, developer-first approach to security in the enterprise,” said Matt Weigand of Accel said in a statement. “The strength of Snyk’s customer base, rapidly growing free user community, leadership team and innovative product development prove the company is ready for this next exciting phase of growth and execution.”

Indeed, the company has hit some big milestones in the last year that could explain that hike. It now has some 300,000 developers using it around the globe, with its customer base growing some 200 percent this year and including the likes of Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and ASOS (sidenote: you know that if developers at developer-centric places themselves working at the vanguard of computing, like Google and Microsoft, are using your product, that is a good sign). Notably, that has largely come by word of mouth — inbound interest.

The company in July of this year took on a new CEO, Peter McKay, who replaced Podjarny. McKay was the company’s first investor and has a track record in helping to grow large enterprise security businesses, a sign of the trajectory that Snyk is hoping to follow.

“Today, every business, from manufacturing to retail and finance, is becoming a software business,” said McKay. “There is an immediate and fast growing need for software security solutions that scale at the same pace as software development. This investment helps us continue to bring Snyk’s product-led and developer-focused solutions to more companies across the globe, helping them stay secure as they embrace digital innovation – without slowing down.”

 

Q-CTRL raises $15M for software that reduces error and noise in quantum computing hardware

By Ingrid Lunden

As hardware makers continue to work on ways of making wide-scale quantum computing a reality, a startup out of Australia that is building software to help reduce noise and errors on quantum computing machines has raised a round of funding to fuel its U.S. expansion.

Q-CTRL is designing firmware for computers and other machines (such as quantum sensors) that perform quantum calculations, fimware to identify the potential for errors to make the machines more resistant and able to stay working for longer (the Q in its name is a reference to qubits, the basic building block of quantum computing).

The startup is today announcing that it has raised $15 million, money that it plans to use to double its team (currently numbering 25) and set up shop on the West Coast, specifically Los Angeles.

This Series A is coming from a list of backers that speaks to the startup’s success to date in courting quantum hardware companies as customers. Led by Square Peg Capital — a prolific Australian VC that has backed homegrown startups like Bugcrowd and Canva, but also those further afield such as Stripe — it also includes new investor Sierra Ventures as well as Sequoia Capital, Main Sequence Ventures, and Horizons Ventures.

Q-CTRL’s customers are some of the bigger names in quantum computing and IT such as Rigetti, Bleximo and Accenture, among others. IBM — which earlier this year unveiled its first commercial quantum computer — singled it out last year for its work in advancing quantum technology.

The problem that Q-CTRL is aiming to address is basic but arguably critical to solving if quantum computing ever hopes to make the leap out of the lab and into wider use in the real world.

Quantum computers and other machines like quantum sensors, which are built on quantum physics architecture, are able to perform computations that go well beyond what can be done by normal computers today, with the applications for such technology including cryptography, biosciences, advanced geological exploration and much more. But quantum computing machines are known to be unstable, in part because of the fragility of the quantum state, which introduces a lot of noise and subsequent errors, which results in crashes.

As Frederic pointed out recently, scientists are confident that this is ultimately a solvable issue. Q-CTRL is one of the hopefuls working on that, by providing a set of tools that runs on quantum machines, visualises noise and decoherence, and then deploys controls to “defeat” those errors.

Q-CTRL currently has four products it offers to the market, Black Opal, Boulder Opal, Open Controls and Devkit — aimed respectively at students/those exploring quantum computing, hardware makers, the research community, and end users/algorithm developers.

Q-CTRL was founded in 2017 by Michael Biercuk, a Professor of Quantum Physics & Quantum Technology at the University of Sydney and a Chief Investigator in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, who studied in the U.S., with a PhD in physics from Harvard.

“Being at the vanguard of the birth of a new industry is extraordinary,” he said in a statement. “We’re also thrilled to be assembling one of the most impressive investor syndicates in quantum technology. Finding investors who understand and embrace both the promise and the challenge of building quantum computers is almost magical.”

Why choose Los Angeles for building out a U.S. presence, you might ask? Southern California, it turns out, has shaped up to be a key area for quantum research and development, with several of the universities in the region building out labs dedicated to the area, and companies like Lockheed Martin and Google also contributing to the ecosystem. This means a strong pipeline of talent and conversation in what is still a nascent area.

Given that it is still early days for quantum computing technology, that gives a lot of potential options to a company like Q-CTRL longer-term: the company might continue to build a business as it does today, selling its technology to a plethora of hardware makers and researchers in the field; or it might get snapped up by a specific hardware company to integrate Q-CTRL’s solutions more closely onto its machines (and keep them away from competitors).

Or, it could make like a quantum particle and follow both of those paths at the same time.

“Q-CTRL impressed us with their strategy; by providing infrastructure software to improve quantum computers for R&D teams and end-users, they’re able to be a central player in bringing this technology to reality,” said Tushar Roy, a partner at Square Peg. “Their technology also has applications beyond quantum computing, including in quantum-based sensing, which is a rapidly-growing market. In Q-CTRL we found a rare combination of world-leading technical expertise with an understanding of customers, products and what it takes to build an impactful business.”

Workout app Fitplan adds Alex Rodriguez as a trainer… and an investor

By Jonathan Shieber

Former New York Yankees all-star Alex Rodriguez is racking up quite an impressive batting average in his new career as an investor and has added Fitplan to his roster of portfolio companies.

The Los Angeles-based workout app launched by Landon Hamilton and Cam Speck has closed on $4.5 million led by A-Rod and Corazon Capital, and has added new celebrity athlete trainers — including Rodriguez — to cover the needs of would-be sports stars and interested amateurs alike.

“One of the things we’re doing as a company is moving into sports-specific training,” says Speck. It’s an initiative that Rodriguez helped to lead as the company recruited a number of marquee players, including Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey; the controversial swimming superstar Ryan Lochte; fitness model Hattie Boydl; celebrity trainer Corey Calliet; legal scholar and trainer Danni Bell; and fitness model Sommer Ray. 

“The thing that differentiates us [from other fitness apps] is the talent,” says Speck. “We have diverse training plans that fulfill and serve people who are just getting to the gym to people who are college students playing football helping them get to the next level.”

Much of the cash coming from Rodriguez will help recruit new trainers.

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Fitplan co-founders Cam Speck and Landon Hamilton (Image courtesy of Fitplan)

The Fitplan workout app costs $15.99 per month, or $83.99 per year, and includes step-by-step exercise demonstrations and training programs tailored to different sports. “Within those training programs we have everything laid out for a member. We’re defining what a workout plan is from the data we have on over 5 million workouts completed.”

An average Fitplan member is doing 2.7 workouts per week and the average workout time is 58 minutes per workout. Most of the company’s users are in the 18 to 35-year-old range and skews about 70% women, but Hamilton says they’re hoping the focused training regimens will help balance some of the gender disparity among the user base.

For the founders of Fitplan, bringing Rodriguez on board will allow them to move deeper into the tailored fitness vertical. The two men actually reached out to Rodriguez about the investment because they noticed him following fitness influencers specifically.

A bit of research into the portfolio of investments Rodriguez had amassed revealed that he hadn’t made a specific bet on a fitness app yet, so Hamilton reached out to a mutual friend and asked for a meeting.

The founders then spent the next two months in intermittent meetings with Rodriguez while the former Yankee dug into their app.

“He came into the platform and became a user himself,” says Speck.

Since its launch in 2016, Fitplan hadn’t taken any outside investment, relying on the money that Hamilton and Speck had accrued as nightlife entrepreneurs in Canada.

“You’re looking at an explosive media company, when you collectively have over a billion followers on social media,” between all of the trainers on the app, Rodriguez says.

“We are invested heavily in health and wellness brick and mortar companies,” he says. “It just drills in perfectly to our portfolio.”

Root Insurance valuation hits $3.65 billion in latest round led by DST Global and Coatue

By Kirsten Korosec

Root Insurance,  lang="EN">an Ohio-based car insurance startup that uses smartphone technology to understand individual driver behavior, said Monday it has raised $350 million on a $3.65 billion valuation in a Series E funding round. 

The amount of the round was reported last month by Axios, citing anonymous sources. This official announcement fills in the remaining details, including that DST Global and Coatue Management led the funding round. Existing investors Drive Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Ribbit Capital, Scale Venture Partners and Tiger Global Management all participated in this round, along with several new investors, according to the company.

The car insurance company, founded in 2015, has now raised $523 million with an additional $100 million in debt financing. The funding will be used to scale up in the 29 U.S. states where it currently operates and expand into new markets. The additional capital will also be used to develop new product lines, Root said.

The company said last year it planned to be in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. by the end of 2019. 

“Root is transforming auto insurance, the largest property and casualty insurance market in the U.S., by leveraging technology and data to offer consumers lower prices, transparency, and fairness,” Tom Stafford, managing partner of DST Global, said in a statement.

Root provides car insurance to drivers. The company has differentiated itself by using individual driver behavior along with other factors to determine the premium customers pay.

Drivers download the Rootmobile app and take a test drive that typically lasts two or three weeks. Root provides a quote that rewards good driving behavior and allows customers to switch their insurance policy. Customers can purchase and manage their policy through the app.

Root has said its approach allows good drivers to save more than 50% on their policies compared to traditional insurance carriers. The company uses AI algorithms to adjust risk and sometimes provide discounts. For example, a vehicle with an advanced driver assistance system that it deems improves safety might receive further discounts.

The company’s business model has attracted customers. Root wrote more than $187 million in insurance premiums in the first six months of 2019, 824% growth over the same period in 2018.

Adarga closes £5M Series A funding for its Palantir-like AI platform

By Mike Butcher

AI startup Adarga has closed a £5 million Series A fundraising by Allectus Capital. But this news rather cloaks the fact that it has been building up a head of steam since its founding in 2016, building up what they say is a £30 million-plus sales pipeline through strategic collaborations with a number of global industrial partners and gradually building its management team.

The proceeds will be used to continue the expansion of Adarga’s data science and software engineering teams and to roll out internationally.

Adarga, which comes from the word for an old Moorish shield, is a London and Bristol-based startup. It uses AI to change the way financial institutions, intelligence agencies and defence companies tackle problems, helping crunch vast amounts of data to identify possible threats even before they occur. The startup’s proposition sounds similar to that of Palantir, which is known for working with the U.S. military.

What Adarga does is allow organizations to transform normally data-intensive, human knowledge processes by analyzing vast volumes of data more quickly and accurately. Adarga clients can build up a “Knowledge Graph” about subjects and targets.

The U.K. government is a client as well as the finance sector, where it’s used for financial analysis and by insurance companies. Founded in 2016, it now has 26 employees — including data scientists from some of the U.K.’s top universities.

The company has received support from Benevolent AI, one of the key players in the U.K. AI tech scene. Benevolent AI, which is worth $2 billion after a $115 million funding round, is a minority shareholder in Adarga. It has not provided financial backing, but rather support in kind and technical help.

Rob Bassett Cross, CEO of Adarga, commented: “With the completion of this round, Adarga is focused on consolidating its competitive position in the U.K. defence and security sector. We are positioning ourselves as the software platform of choice for organisations who cannot deal effectively with the scale and complexity of their enterprise data and are actively seeking an alternative to knowledge intensive human processes. Built by experienced sector specialists, the Company has rapidly progressed a real solution to address the challenges of an ever-growing volume of unstructured data.”

Bassett Cross is an interesting guy, to say the least. You won’t find much about him on LinkedIn, but in previous interviews, he has revealed that he is a former army officer and special operations expert who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was awarded the military cross.

The company recently held a new annual event, the Adarga AI Symposium, at the The Royal Institution, London, which featured futurist Mark Stevenson, Ranju Das of Amazon Web Services and General Stanley A. McChrystal.

Matthew Gould, head of Emerging Technology at Allectus Capital, said: “Adarga has developed a world-class analytics platform to support real-time critical decisioning by public sector and defence stakeholders. What Rob and the team have built in a short time is a hugely exciting example of the founder-led, disruptive businesses that we like to partner with – especially in an ever-increasing global threat landscape.”

Allectus Capital is based in Sydney, Australia and invests across Asia-Pacific, the U.K. and the U.S. It has previously invested in Cluey Learning (Series A, AUS$20 million), Everproof, Switch Automation and Automio.

Employee survey startup Culture Amp closes $82M round led by Sequoia China

By Lucas Matney

Each unhappy startup may be unhappy in its own way, but there’s still wisdom in understanding what drives employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction across companies.

Culture Amp is just one of the companies aiming to help employees anonymously express how they feel about their place of work, but the Melbourne company is using the anonymized employee survey data from thousands of customers to help them learn from each other and chart which initiatives made a dent.

The eight-year-old startup has picked up a new bout of funding to help it extend its base of customers further.

Culture Amp just closed a sizable $82 million funding round led by Sequoia Capital China with participation from Sapphire Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Index Ventures, Blackbird Ventures, Hostplus, Skip Capital, Grok Ventures, Global Founders Capital and TDM Growth Partners.

The company’s Series E doubles the company’s total funding raised to date, which now sits at $158 million. Culture Amp closed its last major round of funding — a $40 million Series D — in July of last year.

The company’s subscription survey software gives customers all of the templates, questions and analytics that they need to track employee sentiment and visualize the data that they get back. The software can be used for things like quarterly engagement surveys, but it can also power performance reviews, goal-setting and self-reflections.

Employee surveys are certainly nothing revolutionary, but Culture Amp is trying to improve the process by helping its customers start to bring anonymous feedback to the team level so that employees can give more direct feedback to their managers.

CEO Didier Elzinga tells me the company now has 2,500 customers with a collective 3 million Culture Amp employee surveys under their belts. Elzinga tells TechCrunch that harnessing the collective intelligence of its network to predict things like employee turnover is perhaps one of its strongest value propositions.

“Once you understand the experience that people are having, once you know where you should focus, how do we actually help you act on it?” he tells TechCrunch. “A large part is bringing to bear the collective intelligence of the thousands of companies we already have so that you can learn from people that have suffered from the same sorts of problems.”

The 400-person company’s customers include McDonald’s, Salesforce, Slack and Airbnb.

OpenGov raises $51M to boost its cloud-based IT services for government and civic organizations

By Ingrid Lunden

OpenGov, the firm co-founded by Panaltir’s Joe Lonsdale that helps government and other civic organizations organise, analyse and present financial and other data using cloud-based architecture, has raised another big round of funding to continue expanding its business. The startup has picked up an additional $51 million in a Series D round led by Weatherford Capital and 8VC (Lonsdale’s investment firm), with participation from existing investor Andreessen Horowitz.

The funding brings the total raised by the company to $140 million, with previous investors in the firm including JC2 Ventures, Emerson Collective, Founders Fund and a number of others. The company is not disclosing its valuation — although we are asking — but for some context, PitchBook noted it was around $190 million in its last disclosed round — although that was in 2017 and has likely increased in the interim, not least because of the startup’s links in high places, and its growth.

On the first of these, the company says that its board of directors includes, in addition to Lonsdale (who is now the chairman of the company); Katherine August-deWilde, Co-Founder and Vice-Chair of First Republic Bank; John Chambers, Founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures and Former Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems; Marc Andreessen, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz; and Zac Bookman, Co-Founder and CEO of OpenGov .

And in terms of its growth, OpenGov says today it counts more than 2,000 governments as customers, with recent additions to the list including the State of West Virginia, the State of Oklahoma, the Idaho State Controller’s Office, the City of Minneapolis MN, and Suffolk County NY. For comparison, when we wrote in 2017 about the boost the company had seen since Trump’s election (which has apparently seen a push for more transparency and security of data), the company noted 1,400 government customers.

Government data is generally associated with legacy systems and cripplingly slow bureaucratic processes, and that has spelled opportunity to some startups, who are leveraging the growth of cloud services to present solutions tailored to the needs of civic organizations and the people who work in them, from city planners to finance specialists. In the case of OpenGov, it packages its services in a platform it calls the OpenGov Cloud.

“OpenGov’s mission to power more effective and accountable government is driving innovation and transformation for the public sector at high speed,” said OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman in a statement. “This new investment validates OpenGov’s position as the leader in enterprise cloud solutions for government, and it fuels our ability to build, sell, and deploy new mission-critical technology that is the safe and trusted choice for government executives.”

City Manager Dashboard Screen

It’s also, it seems, a trusted choice for government executives who have left public service and moved into investing, leveraging some of the links they still have into those who manage procurement for public services. Weatherford Capital, one of the lead investors, is led in part by managing partner Will Weatherford, who is the former Speaker of the House for the State of Florida.

“OpenGov’s innovative technology, accomplished personnel, market leadership, and mission-first approach precisely address the growing challenges inherent in public administration,” he said in a statement. “We are thrilled at the opportunity to partner with OpenGov to accelerate its growth and continue modernizing how this important sector operates.”

It will be interesting to see how and if the company uses the funding to consolidate in its particular area of enterprise technology. There are other firms like LiveStories that have also been building services to help better present civic data to the public that you could see as complementary to what OpenGov is doing. OpenGov has made acquisitions in the past, such as Ontodia to bring more open-source data and technology into its platform.

Bear Robotics is raising big bucks for robots that deliver food to restaurant patrons

By Connie Loizos

Some days, it feels like there’s almost no end to the number of jobs that might be replaced altogether or in some part by smart machines, from radiologists to truck drivers to, gulp, journalists. You might be tempted to sob about it to your friendly restaurant server, but wait! It’s a robot, too!

So it may be if the 25-person, Redwood City, Calif.,-based startup Bear Robotics has its way. The two-year-old company makes “robots that help,” and specifically, it makes robots that help deliver food to restaurant customers.

It’s a market that’s seemingly poised for disruption. As Bear says in its own literature about the company, it was founded to address the “increased pressure faced by the food service industry around wages, labor supply, and cost efficiencies.”

CEO John Ha, a former Intel research scientist turned longtime technical lead at Google who also opened, then closed, his own restaurant, witnessed the struggle firsthand. As the child (and grandchild) of restaurateurs, this editor can also attest that owning and operating restaurants is a tricky proposition, given the expenses and — even more plaguing oftentimes — the turnover that goes with it.

Investors are apparently on board with the idea with robot servers. According to a new SEC filing, Bear has so far locked down at least $10.2 million from a dozen investors on its way to closing a $35.8 million round. That’s not a huge sum for many startups today, but it’s notable for a food service robot startup, one whose first model, “Penny,” spins around R2-D2-like, gliding between the kitchen and dining tables with customers’ food as it is prepared.

At least, this is what will theoretically happen once Bear begins lining up restaurants that will pay the company via a monthly subscription that includes the robot, setup and mapping of the restaurant (so Penny doesn’t collide with things), along with technical support.

In the meantime, Bear’s backers, which the startup has yet to reveal, may be taking a cue in part from Alibaba, which last year opened a highly automated restaurant in Shanghai where small robots slide down tracks to deliver patrons’ meals.

They may also be looking at the bigger picture, wherein everything inside restaurants is getting automated — from robotic chefs that fry up ingredients to table-mounted self-pay tablets — with servers one of the last pieces of the puzzle to be addressed.

That doesn’t mean Bear or other like-minded startups will take off any time soon in restaurants that aren’t offering a futuristic experience. One of the reasons that people have always headed to restaurants is for good-old human interaction. In fact, with take-out ordering on the rise, people — waiters, bartenders, restaurant owners who flit around the dining room to say hello — may prove one of the only reasons that customers show up at all.

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