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Bloomscape raises $7.5M to sell you plants of all sizes

By Anthony Ha

Direct-to-consumer plant retailer Bloomscape has raised $7.5 million in Series A funding, with several high-profile D2C startup founders signing on as investors.

Founder and CEO Justin Mast told me that his family has five generations of experience as greenhouse owners and operators, and that he first tried to get Bloomscape off the ground more than a decade ago. Since then, Mast has worked at other startups, but he said, “Bloomscape was the one that got away. I would find myself dreaming about it.”

The current version of the startup launched just over a year ago, and has shipped more than 100,000 plants since then. The company is headquartered in Detroit, and ships plants from its greenhouses near Grand Rapids, Mich.

When asked what’s wrong with the existing brick-and-mortar plant-buying process, Mast said convenience is a big factor, particularly once you start talking about plants that are too big to carry in one hand — he said Bloomscape’s packing and shipping methods can accommodate everything from a 10-inch aloe plant to a five-foot bird of paradise.

Bloomscape also helps people care for their plants through its Plant Mom service, allowing customers to ask for advice from an expert. The Plant Mom is, in fact, Mast’s mother Joyce, who has more than 40 years of horticulture experience.

Mast said the service is designed to replicate his own experience texting his Mom for help when his plants weren’t doing well: “We wanted to figure out how to do this in a way that didn’t feel like tech support, that actually felt convenient, warm and helpful.” (Bloomscape has since hired other experts to support her.)

Mast added that he sees the free service as “this tremendous opportunity to create value,” particularly since “people who feel confident that they’re going to be able to keep their plants alive go and buy more plants.”

Ultimately, Mast’s vision is for Bloomscape to be involved in “plant life in every area of the home and garden.”

The new round was led by Revolution Ventures, with participation from Endeavor, as well as Allbirds co-founder Joey Zwillinger, Away co-founder Jen Rubio, Eventbrite co-founder Kevin Hartz, Harry’s co-founder Jeff Raider, Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever and Warby Parker co-founders Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa.

“Plants are a highly fragmented, fast growing industry, but the market has been slow to come online – warehousing and shipping living things is hard,” Revolution Ventures partner Clara Sieg said in a statement. “Drawing on five generations of horticultural experience, Justin and the Bloomscape team combines the ease of e-commerce with care and maintenance resources in a beautifully branded, consumer-centric experience that empowers even the least green thumbed among us to be successful plant parents.”

Revolut launches stock trading in limited release

By Romain Dillet

Fintech startup Revolut is launching its stock trading feature today. It’s a Robinhood-like feature that lets you buy and sell shares without any commission. For now, the feature is limited to some Revolut customers with a Metal card.

While Robinhood has completely changed the stock trading retail market in the U.S., buying shares hasn’t changed much in Europe. Revolut wants to make it easier to invest on the stock market.

After topping up your Revolut account, you can buy and hold shares directly from the Revolut app. For now, the feature is limited to 300 U.S.-listed stocks on NASDAQ and NYSE. The company says that it plans to expand to U.K. and European stocks as well as Exchange Traded Funds.

There’s no minimum limit on transactions, which means that you can buy fractional shares for $1 for instance. You can see real-time prices in the Revolut app.

When it comes to fees, Revolut doesn’t charge any fee indeed, but with some caveats. The feature is currently limited to Revolut Metal customers for now. It currently costs £12.99 per month or €13.99 per month to become a Metal customer.

As long as you make less than 100 trades per month, you don’t pay anything other than your monthly subscription. Any trade above that limit costs £1 per trade and an annual custody fee of 0.01%.

Eventually, Revolut will roll out stock trading to other subscription tiers. Revolut Premium will get 8 commission-free trades per month and basic Revolut users will get 3 commission-free trades per month.

Behind the scene, Revolut has partnered with DriveWealth for this feature. This is a nice addition for existing Revolut users. You don’t have to open a separate account with another company and Metal customers in particular get a lot of free trades.

Revolut opens tech hub in Berlin

By Romain Dillet

Fintech startup Revolut is opening a small tech hub in Berlin. There’s already a ton of fintech talent in the city, as it’s the hometown of N26. The company plans to hire 80 people at first for many different tech jobs, from software engineering to data science, product and growth.

And this isn’t just about hiring talent in other cities. Revolut plans to customize its product a bit more for the German market, and more generally Europe.

In many ways, Revolut still feels like a British app. For instance, if you want to change your card PIN code, the company tells you to use an ATM to change it. This is simply not possible in Germany, France and many European markets.

And the team in Berlin will also work on Revolut’s commission-free stock trading feature, a sort of Robinhood competitor for Europe. The company is also working on an app for children, maybe as an alternative to a first bank account.

There are currently 150,000 Revolut users in Germany. The company will have a local marketing and communications team to expand more aggressively in that market.

It’s still hard to create a global fintech app that works all around the world. People manage their money in different ways depending on the country in which they live. And fintech startups are also realizing that, now that they have a solid product offering at home.

TransferWise’s new debit card for the US fires the starting gun on a new war for travelers

By Mike Butcher

International money transfer service TransferWise, has made a significant incursion into the US market today, launching a MasterCard debit card alongside a multicurrency account. Mirroring the card it has already launched in the UK and Europe last year, the card will work in over 40 currencies without balance limits, and conversion fees will be competitive with current exchange rates. A similar card aimed at businesses will follow the consumer launch.

Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told me that the card effectively makes the average person able to act like a millionaire when they are traveling. “Alternative ‘travel’ cards are four times more expensive for every dollar spent and are only available to the top 10% of people who pass credit checks and also pay hundreds of dollars per year,” he said.

He believes this card will democratize the whole market. That means it’s likely that US tourists in Europe or elsewhere will be hugely attracted to this card because they will be charged as if they were a local person, in the local currencies, without all the normal fees.

Transferwise is also pushing an immigration angle to the launch featuring Tan France (pictured), star of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy”.

Key features of the account and debit card include international bank details for the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, meaning account and routing numbers that are unique to the account holder. Additionally, if a holder swipes a card in a currency they don’t have in their account, the card knows to choose the cheapest option from their available balances. The card is also free to get, with now no subscription, no sign-up fees, and no monthly maintenance fee. Holders can also freeze/unfreeze the card from the Transferwise app and receive push notifications every time they spend. It will also sync with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

Hinrikus added: “Our goal is to offer bank details for every country in the world through one account — the world’s first global account — and we’re starting with five of the world’s top currencies. The 40-currency debit card completes the package, so we’re excited to be releasing the card in the US.

Earlier this year TransferWise said it was now valued at $3.5 billion after closing a $292 million secondary funding round. In November it reported an annual post-tax net profit of $8 million for the year ending March 2018. At the time it said it had five million users transacting $5 billion across its platform a month.

While Transferwise competes with the smaller Revolut and WorldRemit, as well as incumbents like Western Union and MoneyGram, with the launch of this new card it will also be breathing down the neck of Paypal.

Its investors include Old Mutual, Institutional Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Lead Edge Capital, Lone Pine Capital, Vitruvian Partners, BlackRock, Valar Ventures, Baillie Gifford, PayPal founder Max Levchin, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, among others.

Revolut launches in Australia as a beta release

By Romain Dillet

Fintech startup Revolut is expanding beyond Europe for the first time. The service is going live for some users in Australia starting today.

Revolut isn’t opening its doors to all customers at once. The company calls this a beta release and plans to gradually on-board new users every day. There are currently 20,000 people on the waitlist in Australia.

You also don’t get the full Revolut experience for now. Cryptocurrency exchange, metal cards and business accounts aren’t available just yet. But you can open an account, get a card, send and receive money — all the basic stuff.

A new country also means a new group of users with a different currency. Families living on different continents could switch to Revolut to send money back and forth between Australia and the U.K., or Australia and Europe.

Sending money from one Revolut account to another is instant and free. Users can then choose to keep money in a foreign currency or convert it to their local currency from the app.

For instance, converting GBP to AUD is free during weekdays and below £5,000 per month (9,150 AUD, 5,600 EUR, 6,340 USD…). It costs 0.5 percent for bigger amounts (unless you’re a Premium or Metal customer), and you need to add 0.5 percent on top of that if you exchange money on the weekend.

If I try to convert 2,000 GBP in the Revolut app right now, I’d get 3,660.50 AUD. A similar transaction on TransferWise would give me 3,647.27 AUD. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the day of the week, the amount you’re converting, etc.

Revolut currently has a team in Melbourne but doesn’t exclude putting together teams in Sydney and Perth as well. Eventually, the company plans to hire 30 people in Australia.

The startup has previously announced plans to expand to other countries, such as the U.S., Canada, Singapore, Japan and New Zealand.

Revolut adds Apple Pay support in 16 markets

By Natasha Lomas

Fintech startup Revolut has expanded its support for Apple Pay, confirming that from today the payment option is available for users in 16 European markets.

The list of supported markets is: UK, France, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

Press reports last month suggested the UK challenger bank had inked Apple Pay agreements in markets including the UK, France, Germany and Switzerland.

It’s not clear what took Revolut so long to join the Apple Pay party.

Customers in the supported markets can add their Revolut card to Apple Pay via the Revolut app or via Apple’s Wallet app. Those without a plastic card can add a virtual card to Apple Wallet via the Revolut app and are able to start spending immediately, without having to wait for the physical card to arrive in the post.

Commenting in statement, Arthur Johanet, product owner for card payments at Revolut, said: “Revolut’s ultimate goal is to give our customers a useful tool to manage every aspect of their financial lives, and the ability to make payments quickly, conveniently and securely is vital to achieving this. Our customers have been requesting Apple Pay for a long time, so we are delighted to kick off our rollout, starting with our customers in 16 markets. This is a very positive step forward in enabling our customers to use their money in the way that they want to.”

Looking Beyond Meat, the future of food investment looks pretty cheesy

By Jonathan Shieber

As Beyond Meat continues its reign as one of the kings of this year’s IPO mountain and Impossible Foods serves up impossibly good numbers for Burger King, venture capitalists seem ready to feast on new food deals.

And judging by market size and the returns that some companies have already realized by targeting the dairy aisle, the next big wave in food tech might just come with a whiff of Camembert. Meat alternatives and cultured meat may be grabbing headlines, but a wave of early-stage companies are looking at the dairy business for the next big thing.

There’s nothing cheesy about the size of the check that Danone wrote for WhiteWave Foods. That over $10 billion payout for WhiteWave’s dairy alternatives was one of the single biggest acquisitions in the new food space. And consumers spent a whopping $61.9 billion on cheese in 2018 — a number that’s expected to reach $99.4 billion by 2024, according to data just published by the research group, iMarc.

But before determining which venture capitalists are going to be moving the cheese (or cutting it), it’s worth examining what’s driving the latest food tech craze right now.

VC interest remains huge in foodtech as major IPOs outperform

Investors have long been eyeing a slice of the food business for the simple reason that it, along with healthcare, is one of the largest industries in the world. U.S. consumers, businesses and government services will shovel $1.62 trillion down the giant gaping maw of food and beverage businesses — spending more in a year on food and drink than they will on either healthcare or personal insurance, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as CNBC noted).

Revolut launches Group Vaults as an alternative to joint accounts

By Romain Dillet

Fintech startup Revolut is making vaults collaborative. You can now create a vault with someone else and use it like a normal vault.

Originally, vaults were an alternative to savings accounts without any interest rate. You could create vault in any currency (including supported cryptocurrencies) and set some money aside. You can round up your expenses and add change to a vault, program regular transfers to your vault or add money whenever you feel like it.

If vaults are like a Word document, group vaults are like a collaborative document in Google Docs. Multiple persons can now interact with a group vault just like a normal vault.

This will be useful for couples who want a sort of joint account without opening a bank account, parents giving some money to their children, roommates creating a common pot to pay for group expenses, friends going on vacation, etc.

Revolut users have created 1 million normal vaults so far. They currently hold the equivalent of $95 million (£75 million).

In other news, Revolut mentioned a new app for younger customers —Revolut Youth. It's not available yet but the company is working on it.

There are now 4.9 million registered users on Revolut. Every day, 12,000 people sign up. Every month, Revolut processes $5.5 billion in transaction volume.