Google today announced it’s partnering with Shopify, giving the e-commerce platform’s more than 1.7 million merchants the ability to reach consumers through Google Search and its other services. The integration will allow merchants to sign up in just a few clicks to have their products appear across Google’s 1 billion “shopping journeys” that take place every day through Search, Maps, Images, Lens and YouTube.
The company didn’t offer extensive details about the integration when it was announced during Google’s I/O Developer event this afternoon. But the news follows a series of updates to Google Shopping resulting from Amazon’s increased investment in its own advertising business, which threatens Google’s core ads business.
Google made its pitch to online advertisers today, describing how its so-called “Shopping Graph” would now begin to pull together information from across websites, price reviews, videos and product data pulled directly from brands and retailers, to help better inform online shoppers about where to find items, how well they were received, which merchant has the best price, and more.
This Shopping Graph can span across Google’s platforms, whether someone is discovering products through Google Search or even watching videos on YouTube, among other things.
Image Credits: Google I/O 2021
For example, when you now view screenshots of products in Google Photos, there will be a suggestion to search the photo using Google Lens, to help you find the item for sale. And Google announced earlier this year it was pilot-testing a new experience on YouTube that allows users to shop products they learn about from their favorite creators — a move to counteract the growing threats from TikTok and Facebook, and their own investments in e-commerce.
But before any of this Shopping Graph functionality can really work, Google needs consumers to find shopping for products via Google actually useful. That’s partly why Google made it free for merchants to sell their products across Google this past year — a change that Google says drove an 80% increase in merchants on Google, with the “vast majority” being small to medium-sized businesses.
That’s where the partnership with Shopify comes in, too. Though this integration doesn’t mean that every Shopify storefront will be included on Google — the merchants have to take an action to make that happen — it would be almost a no-brainer for them not to leverage the new option.
Shopify isn’t playing favorites when it comes to distribution, however. It’s integrated with other large platforms, too, including Facebook and TikTok. And it’s been working with Walmart to expand the retailer’s online marketplace, as well.
Investors seemed happy with the Shopify news this afternoon. Shortly after Google’s announcement, the stock popped 3.52%.
Last month, Jean-Michel Lemieux, the chief technology officer of Shopify, and the company’s chief talent officer, Brittany Forsyth, both announced that they are stepping down from their roles. Chief legal officer Joe Frasca is also set to leave the e-commerce giant, with all three ending their tenures next month. In their next chapters, all seem keen to advise, invest in or even launch startups, joining a growing number of former Shopify executives and employees to do the same.
For an enterprise of Shopify’s size — the 15-year-old, 7,000-person, Ottawa-based outfit boasts a $130 billion market cap — that’s not a surprise. Still, because of the vast wealth that Shopify has helped create, its former employees look to have an impact on the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem like no company before it.
Is there someone that needs a hand, pep talk, career advice? How can I help?
— Jean-Michel Lemieux (@jmwind) May 13, 2021
Take Craig Miller, formerly the chief product officer of Shopify who left the company back in October. He’d already invested in several venture funds that are focused on clean tech and Canada while still working full time; now, he’s investing both his money and time in individual companies that he thinks “have a real shot at making a big social impact.”
Some of these include tools that enable people to run their own businesses, including Housecall Pro, and startups looking to reverse climate change, like the carbon capture startup Planetary Hydrogen.
Miller says his time is more compelling to the founders, which include former Shopify colleagues. “Raising money is important, but there’s already more than enough people willing to invest money in them,” he says, so most of his value comes in talking with teams about how to scale up their startups, given there are “so few people who know how to drive huge growth in a company, have seen a company [grow] from $100 million to $100 billion plus, [and] who know how to think about scaling a product to millions of users.”
There aren’t a lot of people on the planet who’ve lived through that kind of hyper growth, he notes, but that’s especially true in Canada, “where there are basically no role models.”
Miller is a product of his environment, he suggests, offering that Shopify actively educated its employees, albeit informally.
“One of the things that I loved most was how open we were,” Miller says. “All employees knew the roadmap, could look at the code, they could access the data . . . we even shared our board presentation with the entire company. Doing so let people who were interested in how to build an incredible company take notes.”
Seemingly, plenty of people had their pens out. Among those who’ve left Shopify to spin up their own business are Michael Perry, who left Shopify last year to build an app called Maple that helps organize busy families; Helen Tran, who left Shopify in 2017 to start Jupiter, which makes software for beauty and personal care brands; Andrew Peek, who started the investment advisory Delphia; and Effie Anolik, whose startup, Afterword, helps the bereaved plan both virtual and offline memorial services.
Another founder and proud Shopify alum is former director of product marketing Arati Sharma, who calls Shopify a “special place” that taught a lot of people how to scale a business and to do it in a very Shopify-specific way.
Because Shopify is the first company of its size in Canada, it didn’t have a “fixed mindset” about “how companies of our size should be run” and it wasn’t “beholden to playbooks of the past,” she says, leaving much to employees to figure out.
Sharma admits there are practical limits to how much the experience could teach her about starting her own company, Ghlee, a ghee-based skincare brand based in Toronto that she launched in 2019. “Though I’ve had the opportunity to build from scratch inside of Shopify, being in the founder seat is a whole new ballgame,” she says.
Yet as with Miller, Sharma credits Shopify with many lessons, including “how culture and commerce intersect so deeply.”
She also observes that “whether you join [Shopify] as a former founder or you catch the entrepreneurial bug while working there, it’s remarkable how many employees run their own businesses.”
Some are actually running them on the side of continuing to work at Shopify. Atlee Clark, for example, founded a children’s clothing company called Pika Layers, while remaining a full-time director with the company.
Others have launched investment firms since leaving. Among these: a former VP of product, Adam McNamara, today runs Ramen Ventures, an impact angel fund, with another former Shopify colleague, Joshua Tessier.
Very notably, Sharma is herself an active angel investor, even co-founding a collective of 10 investors earlier this year called Backbone Angels to “optimize for speed and to move quickly on a couple of deals that are coming our way.”
All the members of Backbone Angels are women. All are former Shopify employees, including outgoing chief talent officer Brittany Forsyth. All are focused on increasing the number of women and non-binary investors on cap tables with the belief that doing so will change how boards will look going forward and how companies are built.
Thanks in part to Shopify — whose share price, and profits, surged throughout the pandemic — there is apparently no shortage of opportunities to fund.
Though Sharma began investing earlier on with her husband, she says that of the more than 30 startups she has funded altogether, nine of those deals came together just this year.
If there has ever been a golden age for fintech, it surely must be now. As of Q1 2021, the number of fintech startups in the U.S. crossed 10,000 for the first time ever — well more than double that if you include EMEA and APAC. There are now three fintech companies worth more than $100 billion (Paypal, Square and Shopify) with another three in the $50 billion-$100 billion club (Stripe, Adyen and Coinbase).
Yet, as fintech companies have begun to go public, there has been a fair amount of uncertainty as to how these companies will be valued on the public markets. This is a result of fintechs being relatively new to the IPO scene compared to their consumer internet or enterprise software counterparts. In addition, fintechs employ a wide variety of business models: Some are transactional, others are recurring or have hybrid business models.
In addition, fintechs now have a multitude of options in terms of how they choose to go public. They can take the traditional IPO route, pursue a direct listing or merge with a SPAC. Given the multitude of variables at play, valuing these companies and then predicting public market performance is anything but straightforward.
It is important to note that fintech is a complex category with many different types of players, and not all fintech is created equal.
For much of the past two decades, fintech as a category has been very quiet on the public markets. But that began to change considerably by the mid-2010s. Fintech had clearly arrived by 2015, with both Square and Shopify going public that year. Last year was a record one with eight fintech IPOs, and there has been no slowdown in 2021 — the first four months have already produced seven IPOs. By our estimates, there are more than 15 additional fintech companies that could IPO this year. The current record will almost certainly be shattered well before the end of the year.
Image Credits: Oak HC/FT
Platforms like Shopify, Stripe and WordPress have done a lot to make essential business-building tools, like running storefronts, accepting payments, and building websites accessible to businesses with even the most modest budgets. But some very key aspects of setting up a company remain expensive, time-consuming affairs that can be cost-prohibitive for small businesses — but that, if ignored, can result in the failure of a business before it even really gets started.
Trademark registration is one such concern, and Toronto-based startup Heirlume just raised $1.7 million CAD (~$1.38 million) to address the problem with a machine-powered trademark registration platform that turns the process into a self-serve affair that won’t break the budget. Its AI-based trademark search will flag if terms might run afoul of existing trademarks in the U.S. and Canada, even when official government trademark search tools, and even top-tier legal firms might not.
Heirlume’s core focus is on levelling the playing field for small business owners, who have typically been significantly out-matched when it comes to any trademark conflicts.
“I’m a senior level IP lawyer focused in trademarks, and had practiced in a traditional model, boutique firm of my own for over a decade serving big clients, and small clients,” explained Heirlume co-founder Julie MacDonnell in an interview. “So providing big multinationals with a lot of brand strategy, and in-house legal, and then mainly serving small business clients when they were dealing with a cease-and-desist, or an infringement issue. It’s really those clients that have my heart: It’s incredibly difficult to have a small business owner literally crying tears on the phone with you, because they just lost their brand or their business overnight. And there was nothing I could do to help because the law just simply wasn’t on their side, because they had neglected to register their trademarks to own them.”
In part, there’s a lack of awareness around what it takes to actually register and own a trademark, MacDonnell says. Many entrepreneurs just starting out seek out a domain name as a first step, for instance, and some will fork over significant sums to register these domains. What they don’t realize, however, is that this is essentially a rental, and if you don’t have the trademark to protect that domain, the actual trademark owner can potentially take it away down the road. But even if business owners do realize that a trademark should be their first stop, the barriers to actually securing one are steep.
“There was an an enormous, insurmountable barrier, when it came to brand protection for those business owners,” she said. “And it just isn’t fair. Every other business service, generally a small business owner can access. Incorporating a company or even insurance, for example, owning and buying insurance for your business is somewhat affordable and accessible. But brand ownership is not.”
Heirlume brings the cost of trademark registration down from many thousands of dollars, to just under $600 for the first, and only $200 for each additional after that. The startup is also offering a very small business-friendly ‘buy now, pay later’ option supported by Clearbanc, which means that even businesses starting on a shoestring can take step of protecting their brand at the outset.
In its early days, Heirlume is also offering its core trademark search feature for free. That provides a trademark search engine that works across both U.S. and Canadian government databases, which can not only tell you if your desired trademark is available or already held, but also reveal whether it’s likely to be able to be successfully obtained, given other conflicts that might arise that are totally ignored by native trademark database search portals.
Heirlume uses machine learning to identify these potential conflicts, which not only helps users searching for their trademarks, but also greatly decreases the workload behind the scenes, helping them lower costs and pass on the benefits of those improved margins to its clients. That’s how it can achieve better results than even hand-tailored applications from traditional firms, while doing so at scale and at reduced costs.
Another advantage of using machine-powered data processing and filing is that on the government trademark office side, the systems are looking for highly organized, curated data sets that are difficult for even trained people to get consistently right. Human error in just data entry can cause massive backlogs, MacDonnell notes, even resulting in entire applications having to be tossed and started over from scratch.
“There are all sorts of datasets for those [trademark requirement] parameters,” she said. “Essentially, we synthesize all of that, and the goal through machine learning is to make sure that applications are utterly compliant with government rules. We actually have a senior level trademark examiner that that came to work for us, very excited that we were solving the problems causing backlogs within the government. She said that if Heirlume can get to a point where the applications submitted are perfect, there will be no backlog with the government.”
Improving efficiency within the trademark registration bodies means one less point of friction for small business owners when they set out to establish their company, which means more economic activity and upside overall. MacDonnell ultimately hopes that Heirlume can help reduce friction to the point where trademark ownership is at the forefront of the business process, even before domain registration. Heirlume has a partnership with Google Domains to that end, which will eventually see indication of whether a domain name is likely to be trademarkable included in Google Domain search results.
This initial seed funding includes participation from Backbone Angels, as well as the Future Capital collective, Angels of Many and MaRS IAF, along with angel investors including Daniel Debow, Sid Lee’s Bertrand Cesvet and more. MacDonnell notes that just as their goal was to bring more access and equity to small business owners when it comes to trademark protection, the startup was also very intentional in building its team and its cap table. MacDonnell, along with co-founders CTO Sarah Guest and Dave McDonnell, aim to build the largest tech company with a majority female-identifying technology team. Its investor make-up includes 65% female-identifying or underrepresented investors, and MacDonnell says that was a very intentional choice that extended the time of the raise, and even led to turning down interest from some leading Silicon Valley firms.
“We want underrepresented founders to be to be funded, and the best way to ensure that change is to empower underrepresented investors,” she said. “I think that we all have a responsibility to actually do do something. We’re all using hashtags right now, and hashtags are not enough […] Our CTO is female, and she’s often been the only female person in the room. We’ve committed to ensuring that women in tech are no longer the only person in the room.”
Restoring and preserving the world’s forests has long been considered one of the easiest, lowest cost, and simplest ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It’s by far the most popular method for corporations looking to take an easy first step on the long road to decarbonizing or offsetting their industrial operations. But in recent months the efficacy, validity, and reliability of a number of forest offsets have been called into question thanks to some blockbuster reporting from Bloomberg.
It’s against this uncertain backdrop that investors are coming in to shore up financing for Pachama, a company building a marketplace for forest carbon credits that it says is more transparent and verifiable thanks to its use of satellite imagery and machine learning technologies.
That pitch has brought in $15 million in new financing for the company, which co-founder and chief executive Diego Saez Gil said would be used for product development and the continued expansion of the company’s marketplace.
Launched only one year ago, Pachama has managed to land some impressive customers and backers. No less an authority on things environmental than Jeff Bezos (given how much of a negative impact Amazon operations have on the planet), gave the company a shoutout in his last letter to shareholders as Amazon’s outgoing chief executive. And the largest ecommerce company in Latin America, Mercado Libre, tapped the company to manage an $8 million offset project that’s part of a broader commitment to sustainability by the retailing giant.
Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund is an investor in the latest round, which was led by Bill Gates’ investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Other investors included Lowercarbon Capital (the climate-focused fund from über-successful angel investor, Chris Sacca), former Über executive Ryan Graves’ Saltwater, the MCJ Collective, and new backers like Tim O’Reilly’s OATV, Ram Fhiram, Joe gebbia, Marcos Galperin, NBA All-star Manu Ginobilli, James Beshara, Fabrice Grinda, Sahil Lavignia, and Tomi Pierucci.
That’s not even the full list of the company’s backers. What’s made Pachama so successful, and given the company the ability to attract top talent from companies like Google, Facebook, SapceX, Tesla, OpenAI, Microsoft, Impossible Foods and Orbital Insights, is the combination of its climate mission applied to the well-understood forest offset market, said Saez Gil.
“Restoring nature is one of the most important solutions to climate change. Forests, oceans and other ecosystems not only sequester enormous amounts of CO2from the atmosphere, but they also provide critical habitat for biodiversity and are sources of livelihood for communities worldwide. We are building the technology stack required to be able to drive funding to the restoration and conservation of these ecosystems with integrity, transparency and efficiency” said Diego Saez Gil, Co-founder and CEO at Pachama. “We feel honored and excited to have the support of such an incredible group of investors who believe in our mission and are demonstrating their willingness to support our growth for the long term”.
Customers outside of Latin America are also clamoring for access to Pachama’s offset marketplace. Microsoft, Shopify, and Softbank are also among the company’s paying buyers.
It’s another reason that investors like Y Combinator, Social Capital, Tobi Lutke, Serena Williams, Aglaé Ventures (LVMH’s tech investment arm), Paul Graham, AirAngels, Global Founders, ThirdKind Ventures, Sweet Capital, Xplorer Capital, Scott Belsky, Tim Schumacher, Gustaf Alstromer, Facundo Garreton, and Terrence Rohan, were able to commit to backing the company’s nearly $24 million haul since its 2020 launch.
“Pachama is working on unlocking the full potential of nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere,” said Carmichael Roberts from BEV, in a statement. “Their technology-based approach will have an enormous multiplier effect by using machine learning models for forest analysis to validate, monitor and measure impactful carbon neutrality initiatives. We are impressed by the progress that the team has made in a short period of time and look forward to working with them to scale their unique solution globally.”
Today was yet another day of earnings from tech’s biggest names. To keep you up to speed without burying you in an endless crush of numbers we’ve pulled out the key data from each of the major reports.
In each you will also find a link to their earnings reports. What does all of the data from the week’s earnings downloads mean for startups? We’ll have a full roundup on that front tomorrow morning, so stay tuned.
Here’s what you need to know:
You can catch up on Microsoft and Alphabet earnings, among others, here.
Weav, which is building a universal API for commerce platforms, is emerging from stealth today with $4.3 million in funding from a bevy of investors, and a partnership with Brex.
Founded last year by engineers Ambika Acharya, Avikam Agur and Nadav Lidor after participating in the W20 YC batch, Weav joins the wave of fintech infrastructure companies that aim to give fintechs and financial institutions a boost. Specifically, Weav’s embedded technology is designed to give these organizations access to “real time, user-permissioned” commerce data that they can use to create new financial products for small businesses.
Its products allow its customers to connect to multiple platforms with a single API that was developed specifically for the commerce platforms that businesses use to sell products and accept payments. Weav operates under the premise that allowing companies to build and embed new financial products creates new opportunities for e-commerce merchants, creators and other entrepreneurs.
Left to right: Co-founders Ambika Acharya, Nadav Lidor and Avikam Agur; Image courtesy of Weav
In a short amount of time, Weav has seen impressive traction. Recently, Brex launched Instant Payouts for Shopify sellers using the Weav API. It supports platform integrations such as Stripe, Square, Shopify and PayPal. (More on that later.) Since its API went live in January, “thousands” of businesses have used new products and services built on Weav’s infrastructure, according to Lidor. Its API call volume is growing 300% month over month, he said.
And, the startup has attracted the attention of a number of big-name investors, including institutions and the founders of prominent fintech companies. Foundation Capital led its $4.3 million seed round, which also included participation from Y Combinator, Abstract Ventures, Box Group, LocalGlobe, Operator Partners, Commerce Ventures and SV Angel.
A slew of founders and executives also put money in the round, including Brex founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi; Ramp founder Karim Atiyeh; Digits founders Jeff Seibert and Wayne Chang; Hatch founder Thomson Nguyen; GoCardless founder Matt Robinson and COO Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas; Vouch founder Sam Hodges; Plaid’s Charley Ma as well as executives from fintechs such as Square, Modern Treasury and Pagaya.
Foundation Capital’s Angus Davis said his firm has been investing in fintech infrastructure for over a decade. And personally, before he became a VC, Davis was the founder and CEO of Upserve, a commerce software company. There, he says, he witnessed firsthand “the value of transactional data to enable new types of lending products.”
Foundation has a thesis around the type of embedded fintech that Weav has developed, according to Davis. And it sees a large market opportunity for a new class of financial applications to come to market built atop Weav’s platform.
“We were excited by Weav’s vision of a universal API for commerce platforms,” Davis wrote via email. “Much like Plaid and Envestnet brought universal APIs to banking for consumers, Weav enables a new class of B2B fintech applications for businesses.”
Weav says that by using its API, companies can prompt their business customers to “securely” connect their accounts with selling platforms, online marketplaces, subscription management systems and payment gateways. Once authenticated, Weav aggregates and standardizes sales, inventory and other account data across platforms and develops insights to power new products across a range of use cases, including lending and underwriting; financial planning and analysis; real-time financial services and business management tools.
For the last few years, there’s been a rise of API companies, as well as openness in the financial system that’s largely been focused on consumers, Lidor points out.
“For example, Plaid brings up very rich data about consumers, but when you think about businesses, oftentimes that data is still locked up in all kinds of systems,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re here to provide some of the building blocks and the access to data from everything that has to do with sales and revenue. And, we’re really excited about powering products that are meant to make the lives of small businesses and e-commerce, sellers and creators much easier and be able to get them access to financial products.”
In the case of Brex, Weav’s API allows the startup to essentially offer instant access to funds that otherwise would take a few days or a few weeks for businesses to access.
“Small businesses need access as quickly as possible to their revenue so that they can fund their operations,” Lidor said.
Brex co-CEO Henrique Dubugras said that Weav’s API gives the company the ability to offer real-time funding to more customers selling on more platforms, which saved the company “thousands of engineering hours” and accelerated its rollout timeline by months.
Clearly, the company liked what it saw, considering that its founders personally invested in Weav. Is Weav building the “Plaid for commerce”? Guess only time will tell.
Mighty Networks, a platform designed to give creators and brands a dedicated place to start and grow communities, has closed on $50 million in a Series B funding round led by Owl Ventures.
Ziff Capital Partners and LionTree Partners also participated in the financing, along with existing backers Intel Capital, Marie Forleo, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Rosensweig, Reid Hoffman, BBG Ventures and Lucas Venture Group. The investment brings Palo Alto-based Mighty Networks’ total raised since its 2017 inception to $67 million.
Mighty Networks founder and CEO Gina Bianchini — who started the company with Tim Herby and Thomas Aaron — is no stranger to building nurturing environments for community building. Previously, she was the CEO and co-founder of Ning, where she led the company’s rapid growth to three million Ning Networks created and about 100 million users around the world in three years.
With Mighty Networks, Bianchini’s goal is to build “a creator middle class” founded on community memberships, events and live online courses.
“Basically we have a platform for people to create communities the way that they would create e-commerce stores,” she told TechCrunch. “So what Shopify has done for e-commerce, we’re doing for digital subscriptions and digital payments where the value is around a community that is mastering something interesting or important together, and not just content alone.”
The company’s flagship Business Plan product is aimed at new creators with the goal of giving them an easy way to get started with digital subscriptions, Bianchini said. Established brands, organizations and successful creators use the company’s Mighty Pro plan to get everything Mighty Networks offers on their own branded iOS, iPad and Android apps.
Mighty Networks — which operates as a SaaS business — has seen impressive growth. In 2020, ARR climbed by “2.5x” while annual customer growth climbed by 200%. Customers are defined as paying creators who host their community, courses and events on their own Mighty Network. The company also saw a 400% annual growth in payments, or rather in subscriptions and payments where a creator or brand will sell a membership or an online course.
The pandemic was actually a boon to the business, as well as the fact that it launched live events last year.
“We were able to help many businesses quickly move online — from yoga studios to leadership speakers and consultants — and now that the world is coming back, they’ll be able to use the features that we’ve built into the platform from day one around finding members, events and groups near them, as well as making everything via not just the web but mobile apps,” Bianchini said.
One of the startup’s goals is to help people understand that they don’t need massive amounts of followers (such as 1 million followers on TikTok) to be successful creators. For example, a creator charging 30 people for a subscription that amounts to around $1,000 a year can still pull in $30,000 a year. So while it’s not huge, it’s certainly still substantial — hence the company’s intent to build a “creator middle class.”
Mighty Networks has more than 10,000 paying creators, brands and coaches today. Users include established creators and brands such as YouTube star Adriene Mishler, Xprize and Singularity University founder Peter Diamandis, author Luvvie Ajayi Jones, comedian Amanda Seales, Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso and brands such as the TED conference and wellness scheduling platform MINDBODY.
“Content alone will kill the creator economy,” Bianchini said. “We can’t build a thriving creator movement on an exhausting, unfair dynamic where content creators rent audiences from big tech platforms, are required to produce a never-ending stream of content and get paid pennies for it, if they get paid at all. Creators need to own their own community on the internet, where members meet each other and get results and transformation.”
Owl Ventures Managing Director Amit Patel said his firm was impressed by Mighty Networks before it even met the company.
“No company in this space has more loyal, passionate believers, and when we saw firsthand that creators could successfully build paid communities and online courses on a Mighty Network with as few as 30 members, we wanted to be a part of unlocking this creator middle class for a million more creators,” Patel said in a written statement.
The company plans to use its new capital on product development across media types, payment options and expansion into new markets.
Earlier this month, Pico, a New York startup that helps online creators and media companies make money and manage their customer data, announced that it had launched an upgraded platform and raised $6.5 million in new funding. Essentially, the company is building what it considers to be an operating system for the creator market.
The Internet of Things has a security problem. The past decade has seen wave after wave of new internet-connected devices, from sensors through to webcams and smart home tech, often manufactured in bulk but with little — if any — consideration to security. Worse, many device manufacturers make no effort to fix security flaws, while others simply leave out the software update mechanisms needed to deliver patches altogether.
That sets up an entire swath of insecure and unpatchable devices to fail, and destined to be thrown out when they break down or are invariably hacked.
Security veteran Window Snyder thinks there is a better way. Her new startup, Thistle Technologies, is backed with $2.5 million in seed funding from True Ventures with the goal of helping IoT manufacturers reliably and securely deliver software updates to their devices.
Snyder founded Thistle last year, and named it after the flowering plant with sharp prickles designed to deter animals from eating them. “It’s a defense mechanism,” Snyder told TechCrunch, a name that’s fitting for a defensive technology company. The startup aims to help device manufacturers without the personnel or resources to integrate update mechanisms into their device’s software in order to receive security updates and better defend against security threats.
“We’re building the means so that they don’t have to do it themselves. They want to spend the time building customer-facing features anyway,” said Snyder. Prior to founding Thistle, Snyder worked in senior cybersecurity positions at Apple, Intel, and Microsoft, and also served as chief security officer at Mozilla, Square, and Fastly.
Thistle lands on the security scene at a time when IoT needs it most. Botnet operators are known to scan the internet for devices with weak default passwords and hijack their internet connections to pummel victims with floods of internet traffic, knocking entire websites and networks offline. In 2016, a record-breaking distributed denial-of-service attack launched by the Mirai botnet on internet infrastructure giant Dyn knocked some of the biggest websites — Shopify, SoundCloud, Spotify, Twitter — offline for hours. Mirai had ensnared thousands of IoT devices into its network at the time of the attack.
Other malicious hackers target IoT devices as a way to get a foot into a victim’s network, allowing them to launch attacks or plant malware from the inside.
Since device manufacturers have done little to solve their security problems among themselves, lawmakers are looking at legislating to curb some of the more egregious security mistakes made by default manufacturers, like using default — and often unchangeable — passwords and selling devices with no way to deliver security updates.
Snyder said the push to introduce IoT cybersecurity laws could be “an easy way for folks to get into compliance” without having to hire fleets of security engineers. Having an update mechanism in place also helps to keeps the IoT devices around for longer — potentially for years longer — simply by being able to push fixes and new features.
“To build the infrastructure that’s going to allow you to continue to make those devices resilient and deliver new functionality through software, that’s an incredible opportunity for these device manufacturers. And so I’m building a security infrastructure company to support that security needs,” she said.
With the seed round in the bank, Snyder said the company is focused on hiring device and back-end engineers, product managers, and building new partnerships with device manufacturers.
Phil Black, co-founder of True Ventures — Thistle’s seed round investor — described the company as “an astute and natural next step in security technologies.” He added: “Window has so many of the qualities we look for in founders. She has deep domain expertise, is highly respected within the security community, and she’s driven by a deep passion to evolve her industry.”
Earlier this week, ExxonMobil, a company among the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions and a longtime leader in the corporate fight against climate change regulations, called for a massive $100 billion project (backed in part by the government) to sequester hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide in geologic formations off the Gulf of Mexico.
The gall of Exxon’s flag-planting request is matched only by the grit from startup companies that are already working on carbon capture and storage or carbon utilization projects and announced significant milestones along their own path to commercialization even as Exxon was asking for handouts.
These are companies like Charm Industrial, which just completed the first pilot test of its technology through a contract with Stripe. That pilot project saw the company remove 416 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere. That’s a small fraction of the hundred million tons Exxon thinks could be captured in its hypothetical sequestration project located off the Gulf Coast, but the difference between Exxon’s proposal and Charm’s sequestration project is that Charm has actually managed to already sequester the carbon.
The company’s technology, verified by outside observers like Shopify, Microsoft, CarbonPlan, CarbonDirect and others, converts biomass into an oil-like substance and then injects that goop underground — permanently sequestering the carbon dioxide, the company said.
Eventually, Charm would use its bio-based oil equivalent to produce “green hydrogen” and replace pumped or fracked hydrocarbons in industries that may still require combustible fuel for their operations.
1/ Today we're announcing we've delivered @stripe's 416 ton CO₂e carbon removal purchase ahead of schedule, just 12 months after inventing our new carbon removal pathway. The carbon is now in permanent geological storage. https://t.co/ZIy2plK6n9
— Charm Industrial (@CharmIndustrial) April 20, 2021
While Charm is converting biomass into an oil-equivalent and pumping it back underground, other companies like CarbonCure, Blue Planet, Solidia, Forterra, CarbiCrete and Brimstone Energy are capturing carbon dioxide and fixing it in building materials.
“The easy way to think about CarbonCure we have a mission to reduce 500 million tons per year by 2030. On the innovation side of things we really pioneered this area of science using CO2 in a value-added, hyper low-cost way in the value chain,” said CarbonCure founder and chief executive Rob Niven. “We look at CO2 as a value added input into making concrete production. It has to raise profits.”
Niven stresses that CarbonCure, which recently won one half of the $20 million carbon capture XPrize alongside CarbonBuilt, is not a hypothetical solution for carbon dioxide removal. The company already has 330 plants operating around the world capturing carbon dioxide emissions and sequestering them in building materials.
Applications for carbon utilization are important to reduce the emissions footprints of industry, but for nations to achieve their climate objectives, the world needs to move to dramatically reduce its reliance on emissions spewing energy sources and simultaneously permanently draw down massive amounts of greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere.
It’s why the ExxonMobil call for a massive project to explore the permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide isn’t wrong, necessarily, just questionable coming from the source.
The U.S. Department of Energy does think that the Gulf Coast has geological formations that can store 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (which the company says is more than 130 years of the country’s total industrial and power generation emissions). But in ExxonMobil’s calculation that’s a reason to continue with business-as-usual (actually with more government subsidies for its business).
Here’s how the company’s top executives explained it in the pages of The Wall Street Journal:
The Houston CCS Innovation Zone concept would require the “whole of government” approach to the climate challenge that President Biden has championed. Based on our experience with projects of this scale, we estimate the approach could generate tens of thousands of new jobs needed to make and install the equipment to capture the CO2 and transport it via a pipeline for storage. Such a project would also protect thousands of existing jobs in industries seeking to reduce emissions. In short, large-scale CCS would reduce emissions while protecting the economy.
These oil industry executives are playing into a false narrative that the switch to renewable energy and a greener economy will cost the U.S. jobs. It’s a fact that oil industry jobs will be erased, but those jobs will be replaced by other opportunities, according to research published in Scientific American.
“With the more aggressive $60 carbon tax, U.S. employment would still exceed the reference-case forecast, but the increase would be less than that of the $25 tax,” write authors Marilyn Brown and Majid Ahmadi. “The higher tax causes much larger supply-side job losses, but they are still smaller than the gains in energy-efficiency jobs motivated by higher energy prices. Overall, 35 million job years would be created between 2020 and 2050, with net job increases in almost all regions.”
ExxonMobil and the other oil majors definitely have a role to play in the new energy economy that’s being built worldwide, but the leading American oil companies are not going to be able to rest on their laurels or continue operating with a business-as-usual mindset. These companies run the risk of going the way of big coal — slowly sliding into obsolescence and potentially taking thousands of jobs and local economies down with them.
To avoid that, carbon sequestration is a part of the solution, but it’s one of many arrows in the quiver that oil companies need to deploy if they’re going to continue operating and adding value to shareholders. In other words, it’s not the last 130 years of emissions that ExxonMobil should be focused on, it’s the next 130 years that aim to be increasingly zero-emission.
Although the round is still ongoing, Pipe has reportedly raised $150 million in a “massively oversubscribed” round led by Baltimore, Md.-based Greenspring Associates. While the company has signed a term sheet, more money could still come in, according to the source. Both new and existing investors have participated in the fundraise.
The increase in valuation is “a significant step up” from the company’s last raise. Pipe has declined to comment on the deal.
A little over one year ago, Pipe raised a $6 million seed round led by Craft Ventures to help it pursue its mission of giving SaaS companies a funding alternative outside of equity or venture debt.
The buzzy startup’s goal with the money was to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)
Just a few weeks ago, Miami-based Pipe announced a new raise — $50 million in “strategic equity funding” from a slew of high-profile investors. Siemens’ Next47 and Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Group co-led the round, which also included participation from Shopify, Slack, HubSpot, Okta, Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya, Marc Benioff, Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Republic, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six and Joe Lonsdale.
At that time, Pipe co-CEO and co-founder Harry Hurst said the company was also broadening the scope of its platform beyond strictly SaaS companies to “any company with a recurring revenue stream.” This could include D2C subscription companies, ISP, streaming services or a telecommunications companies. Even VC fund admin and management are being piped on its platform, for example, according to Hurst.
“When we first went to market, we were very focused on SaaS, our first vertical,” he told TC at the time. “Since then, over 3,000 companies have signed up to use our platform.” Those companies range from early-stage and bootstrapped with $200,000 in revenue, to publicly-traded companies.
Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit. Trading limits currently range from $50,000 for smaller early-stage and bootstrapped companies, to over $100 million for late-stage and publicly traded companies, although there is no cap on how large a trading limit can be.
In the first quarter of 2021, tens of millions of dollars were traded across the Pipe platform. Between its launch in late June 2020 through year’s end, the company also saw “tens of millions” in trades take place via its marketplace. Tradable ARR on the platform is currently in excess of $1 billion.
The home medical supply market in the U.S. is significant and growing, but the way that Americans go about getting much-needed medical supplies, particularly for those with chronic conditions, relies on outdated and clumsy sales mechanisms that often have very poor customer experiences. New startup Better Health aims to change that, with an e-commerce approach to serving customers in need of medical supplies for chronic conditions, and it has raised $3.5 million in a new seed round to pursue its goals.
Better Health estimates the total value of the home medical supplies market in the U.S., which covers all reimbursable devices and supplies needed for chronic conditions, including things like colostomy bags, catheters, mobility aids, insulin pumps and more, is around $60 billion annually. But the market is obviously a specialized one relative to other specialized goods businesses, in part because it requires working not only with customers who make the final decisions about what supplies to use, but also payers, who typically foot the bill through insurance reimbursements.
The other challenge is that individuals with chronic care needs often require a lot of guidance and support when making the decision about what equipment and supplies to select — and the choices they make can have a significant impact on quality of life. Better Health co-founder and CEO Naama Stauber Breckler explained how she came to identify the problems in the industry, and why she set out to address them.
“The first company I started was right out of school, it’s called CompactCath,” she explained in an interview. “We created a novel intermittent catheter, because we identified that there’s a gap in the existing options for people with chronic bladder issues that need to use a catheter on a day-to-day basis […] In the process of bringing it to market, I was exposed to the medical devices and supplies industry. I was just shocked when I realized how hard it is for people today to get life-saving medical supplies, and basically realized that it’s not just about inventing a better product, there’s kind of a bigger systematic problem that locks consumer choice, and also prevents innovation in the space.”
Stauber Breckler’s founding story isn’t too dissimilar from the founding story of another e-commerce pioneer: Shopify. The now-public heavyweight originally got started when founder Tobi Lütke, himself a software engineer like Stauber Breckler, found that the available options for running his online snowboard store were poorly designed and built. With Better Health, she’s created a marketplace, rather than a platform like Shopify, but the pain points and desire to address the problem at a more fundamental level are the same.
With CompactCath, she said they ended up having to build their own direct-to-consumer marketing and sales product, and through that process, they ended up talking to thousands of customers with chronic conditions about their experiences, and what they found exposed the extend of the problems in the existing market.
“We kept hearing the same stories again, and again — it’s hard to find the right supplier, often it’s a local store, the process is extremely manual and lengthy and prone to errors, they get the surprise bills they weren’t expecting,” Stauber Breckler said. “But mostly, it’s just that there is this really sharp drop in care, from the time that you have a surgery or you were diagnosed, to when you need to now start using this device, when you’re essentially left at home and are given a general prescription.”
Unlike in the prescription drug market, where your choices essentially amount to whether you pick the brand name or the generic, and the outcome is pretty much the same regardless, in medical supplies which solution you choose can have a dramatically different effect on your experience. Customers might not be aware, for example, that something like CompactCath exists, and would instead chose a different catheter option that limits their mobility because of how frequently it needs changing and how intensive the process is. Physicians and medical professionals also might not be the best to advise them on their choice, because while they’ve obviously seen patients with these conditions, they generally haven’t lived with them themselves.
“We have talked to people who tell us, ‘I’ve had an ostomy for 19 years, and this is the first time I don’t have constant leakages’ or someone who had been using a catheter for three years and hasn’t left her house for more than two hours, because they didn’t feel comfortable with the product that they had to use it in a public restroom,” Stauber Breckler said. “So they told us things like ‘I finally went to visit my parents, they live in a town three hours away.'”
Better Health can provide this kind fo clarity to customers because it employs advisors who can talk patients through the equipment selection process with one-to-one coaching and product use education. The startup also helps with navigating the insurance side, managing paperwork, estimating costs and even arguing the case for a specific piece of equipment in case of difficulty getting the claim approved. The company leverages peers who have first-hand experience with the chronic conditions it serves to help better serve its customers.
Already, Better Health is a Medicare-licensed provider in 48 states, and it has partnerships in place with commercial providers like Humana and Oscar Health. This funding round was led by 8VC, a firm with plenty of expertise in the healthcare industry and an investor in Stauber Breckler’s prior ventures, and includes participation from Caffeinated Capital, Anorak Ventures, and angels Robert Hurley and Scott Flanders of remote health pioneer eHealth.
Berlin-based y42 (formerly known as Datos Intelligence), a data warehouse-centric business intelligence service that promises to give businesses access to an enterprise-level data stack that’s as simple to use as a spreadsheet, today announced that it has raised a $2.9 million seed funding round led by La Famiglia VC. Additional investors include the co-founders of Foodspring, Personio and Petlab.
The service, which was founded in 2020, integrates with over 100 data sources, covering all the standard B2B SaaS tools from Airtable to Shopify and Zendesk, as well as database services like Google’s BigQuery. Users can then transform and visualize this data, orchestrate their data pipelines and trigger automated workflows based on this data (think sending Slack notifications when revenue drops or emailing customers based on your own custom criteria).
Like similar startups, y42 extends the idea data warehouse, which was traditionally used for analytics, and helps businesses operationalize this data. At the core of the service is a lot of open source and the company, for example, contributes to GitLabs’ Meltano platform for building data pipelines.
“We’re taking the best of breed open-source software. What we really want to accomplish is to create a tool that is so easy to understand and that enables everyone to work with their data effectively,” Y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang told me. “We’re extremely UX obsessed and I would describe us as no-code/low-code BI tool — but with the power of an enterprise-level data stack and the simplicity of Google Sheets.”
Before y42, Vietnam-born Dang co-founded a major events company that operated in over 10 countries and made millions in revenue (but with very thin margins), all while finishing up his studies with a focus on business analytics. And that in turn led him to also found a second company that focused on B2B data analytics.
Even while building his events company, he noted, he was always very product- and data-driven. “I was implementing data pipelines to collect customer feedback and merge it with operational data — and it was really a big pain at that time,” he said. “I was using tools like Tableau and Alteryx, and it was really hard to glue them together — and they were quite expensive. So out of that frustration, I decided to develop an internal tool that was actually quite usable and in 2016, I decided to turn it into an actual company. ”
He then sold this company to a major publicly listed German company. An NDA prevents him from talking about the details of this transaction, but maybe you can draw some conclusions from the fact that he spent time at Eventim before founding y42.
Given his background, it’s maybe no surprise that y42’s focus is on making life easier for data engineers and, at the same time, putting the power of these platforms in the hands of business analysts. Dang noted that y42 typically provides some consulting work when it onboards new clients, but that’s mostly to give them a head start. Given the no-code/low-code nature of the product, most analysts are able to get started pretty quickly — and for more complex queries, customers can opt to drop down from the graphical interface to y42’s low-code level and write queries in the service’s SQL dialect.
Until raising this round, Dang self-funded the company and had also raised some money from angel investors. But La Famiglia felt like the right fit for y42, especially due to its focus on connecting startups with more traditional enterprise companies.
“When we first saw the product demo, it struck us how on top of analytical excellence, a lot of product development has gone into the y42 platform,” said Judith Dada, General Partner at LaFamiglia VC. “More and more work with data today means that data silos within organizations multiply, resulting in chaos or incorrect data. y42 is a powerful single source of truth for data experts and non-data experts alike. As former data scientists and analysts, we wish that we had y42 capabilities back then.”
Dang tells me he could have raised more but decided that he didn’t want to dilute the team’s stake too much at this point. “It’s a small round, but this round forces us to set up the right structure. For the series, A, which we plan to be towards the end of this year, we’re talking about a dimension which is 10x,” he told me.
Montreal-headquartered Inovia Capital has raised $450 million for Growth Fund II, the firm’s second growth-stage investment fund. The close of this funding comes just a little over two years after the announcement of its first in February 2019, a $400 million pool of investment capital that marked Inovia’s first foray beyond the early stage deals it originally focused on.
Inovia now has investments across every stage of a company’s development — including retaining stakes in some of its portfolio companies that have had successful exits to the public markets, like Lightspeed, the point-of-sale and commerce company that went public in a nearly $400 million public offering on both the NYSE and the TSX last year.
As with Growth Fund I, the goal of Growth Fund II is to invest in companies with a focus primarily on Canadian startups, but also looking to targets in the U.S. and EU, where Inovia also maintains offices. The firms’ partners, including Chris Arsenault, Dennis Kavelman, and former Google CFO Patrick Pichette, have focused on building out a team of experienced operators to help their portfolio companies, and invest specifically in areas of particular need for startups outside the Valley, like sourcing high-demand, senior talent with high-profile tech industry experience.
Inovia’s original Growth Fund was based on an assumption that the firm could leverage its relationships and its experience to deliver value to its portfolio companies not just when they’re starting out, but across their growth cycles. Arsenault explained in an interview that Fund I was kind of a proof point that that this assumption was correct, which then paid big dividends when the firm went out to raise Fund II last year.
“We basically built the team around Dennis, Patrick and myself,” he said. “We really followed through on our key assumptions over why it made sense for Inovia to use its platform to actually build a growth stage fund that would benefit not only from insights into the portfolio, but also all of the relationships and the platform that we built over the last decade.”
What needed proving, Arsenault said, was that Inovia could stand toe-to-toe with the growth-focused firms that had acted as follow-on investors for its early stage deals over the years. That was no easy task, when you consider that Inovia provided deal flow to some of the most respected venture firms in technology, including Bessemer, KKR, TA Ventures and Sequoia.
Inovia hired a lot of operators with experience at high-growth companies, and focused on being able to shepherd its investments through challenges like building a real board, and engineering a cap table to properly manage and prepare secondary sales. With a plan to invest in between 10 to 12 companies with the $400 million in Fund I, Inovia began making deals – the first was with Lightspeed, and then they got into Forward (tech-enabled primary health care), Hopper and Snaptravel (two travel industry startups) and more.
Inovia Capital growth partners Chris Arsenault, Dennis Kavelman and Patrick Pichette (left to right)
Most of the companies that Lightspeed picked with Fund I (it did 10 deals in total) ended up having a very strong 2020 – including, surprisingly, all the travel-focused startups. Based on the strength of their performance, Arsenault and his partners decided to accelerate their timetable for raising Fund II, and found LPs more than willing. They ended up capping the fund at $450 million (with a target of between 10 to 12 investments, as with Fund I) given what Arsenault says felt like the right size for managing across the investment and operating team, despite available demand to likely raise quite a bit more.
Arsenault noted that most of the LPs contributing to this fund also had capital in the first, though some new investors have also signed on. And while Inovia’s focus is not strictly Canadian, he added that the firm’s success, along with the makeup of its investment partners and portfolio (two-thirds of the companies it has backed are Canadian) tells a story of a changing investment landscape north of the border.
“The majority of our LPs are Canadian, and I take it to heart that it’s important to create patterns of success, so that people can look towards models and either replicate or adapt to their own situation,” Arsenault said. “I think that we need more success stories that people can look at and say, ‘I can do the same thing, or I can do better.’ And the fact that our LPs came back with us, and when you look at, you know, what Georgian [Partners] is doing, and what Novacap is doing, and what OMERS Growth – this is nothing like the VC ecosystem and industry that I was in 10 years ago, right? We’re definitely on another level now in Canada.”
He added that there are examples at every stage of company-building, citing the new Backbone Angels collective led by a number of post and current Shopify employees including Arati Sharma, Atless Clark, Lynsey Thornton and Alexandra Clark. Arsenault also pointed to Lightspeed’s decision to list first on the TSX before the NYSE as a sign of newfound tech industry maturity in the Canadian context.
Finally, Arsenault credits an unusual ‘X’ factor in how Inovia has been able to put together this second fund and manage deep involvement in its very active portfolio companies over the last year: the mostly remote conditions brought on by the necessities of the pandemic.
“It would have been impossible to do what we did within the portfolio, with the portfolio, fundraising a new fund, generating our best year, in terms of exits last year, we had the New York Stock Exchange IPO for Lightspeed, we had a dozen transactions of acquisitions where our portfolio companies are doing the acquiring,” he said. “I don’t know how we would have done what we’ve done, had we been traveling and had a normal life.”