OurCrowd, the Israeli crowdfunding venture investment platform, today announced the launch of its Pandemic Innovation Fund, with plans to raise a total of $100 million. The money will be invested in “urgent technological solutions for the medical, business, educational and social needs triggered by global pandemics and other health emergencies.”
The fund will invest in startups that look at developing vaccines and tests, as well as therapeutics, remote monitoring, digital health and personal protection. In addition, it’ll also look at startups that focus on continuity and disruption management that focus on remote working, distance learning, robotic process automation, home exercise and cybersecurity. That gives the fund a pretty broad mandate, but it’ll also allow the partners to spread the investments across a variety of industries.
“The rapid spread of the coronavirus has validated our vision of a connected digital world poised to solve any crisis through global communication and rapid response,” said OurCrowd CEO Jon Medved. “To ensure that we get the world back on track, there is now an urgent need for innovation. Technology can help us overcome many of the problems resulting from the crisis. It’s time for tech to move fast and fix things.”
OurCrowd has already invested in a number of companies that would have been a good fit for the new fund if they came along today, including MigVax, which recently raised $12 million for its coronavirus vaccine efforts, as well as Sight Diagnostics, SaNOtize, TytoCare and others.
The principals for the new fund are healthcare exec Dr. Morris Laster, OurCrowd venture partner and chairman of its medical advisory board Dr. Morry Blumenfeld and OurCrowd venture partner David Sokolic.
“Together we must tackle the current pandemic as well as plan for future ones, because this story is just beginning. Entrepreneurs are uniquely skilled to provide fast and effective solutions to some of our greatest challenges. Our new fund will create the bridge between the innovations we need and the far-sighted investors able to provide the resources required to improve our world,” said Laster.
Pollen, the U.K.-headquartered travel and events marketplace, describes its company culture as built on principles of “freedom” and openness, including a well-publicised pay transparency policy. However, that doesn’t appear to always be the case with regards to the treatment of recently departing employees.
When the word-of-mouth marketing company laid off 69 staff from its various U.S. and Canada entities last month, axed staff were asked to sign a severance agreement that included a clause prohibiting them from disclosing the content of the agreement, including to current and former employees.
In addition, multiple sources tell TechCrunch the severance contracts feature a broader non-disparagement clause. Such clauses are typically used to prohibit current or former employees from talking about a company or its staff and leadership in a way that is harmful to the business or individuals associated with the business.
“It was basically an NDA masked as a severance agreement,” said one former Pollen employee, who asked not to be identified. “They dangled our last pay check in front of us so that we felt pressure to give away our rights, and they paired that with an abrupt cut off from the company. I was told I was laid off and then promptly removed from all correspondence within a 24 hour period”.
Pollen co-founder and CEO Callum Negus-Fancey doesn’t dispute the existence of either clause, but says both are a “standard inclusion” in severance agreements and were drafted by external employment lawyers. “However, we’re going to discuss internally if it’s necessary to continue to include these kinds of clauses given the company’s focus on transparency,” he added. “We strive to adopt best practices throughout Pollen”.
However, according to HR experts TechCrunch has spoken to, including one HR professional with years of experience working for large tech companies in the U.S., such confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses aren’t typically employed in more general redundancy situations. Instead, they are more commonly used where a severance contract is agreed after a dispute between a departing employee and the company, or when a company is concerned there could be adverse publicity.
“For a company that strives itself on transparency, there is actually a deep undertone of political rhetoric about what should or should not be talked about,” a former Pollen employee tells TechCrunch.
Meanwhile, Pollen, or rather JusCollege, one of its many brands and entities, did attract negative media headlines earlier this year as it grappled with the emerging coronavirus situation. Parents of students who canceled a spring break to Mexico in mid-March told NBC News that they weren’t offered refunds despite concerns over the virus and had been reassured that the trip was safe. On the 12th March, two days before departure, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a pandemic. Subsequently, according to the University of Texas, dozens of students that went on the trip tested positive for COVID-19 when they returned to the U.S.
In response, a JusCollege spokesperson told the Independent newspaper: “We take the safety of our customers very seriously and are working with public health authorities to assist where we can. JusCollege always follows U.S. government regulations and guidance from the state department when making travel recommendations, and Mexico was not under a federal travel advisory at the time the trip departed… Our thoughts are with the students who are ill and the healthcare providers and public health officials who are working to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.”
In a call, and followed up over email, Negus-Fancey said that Pollen wasn’t in a position to cancel the spring break trip and offer full refunds at the time because the U.S. government was yet to advise travel restrictions to Mexico. He also explained that the company acts as a “curator and distributor” connecting customers with suppliers, such as hotels, airlines and nightclubs, who set their own refund policies. “The money doesn’t sit with us, it sits with our partners. We take a commission in the middle,” he said.
Adds the Pollen CEO: “All customers who didn’t want to travel were refunded at a minimum whatever was received back from clients (hotels, airlines or other providers) or they were given a 100% credit to a future trip. The team worked tirelessly over weeks to achieve this outcome for customers as it was at the discretion of clients given there were no travel warnings in place at the time about flying to Mexico. We were materially out of pocket as a result of this effort because despite the circumstances, we took a long term view to do right by customers and as a result paid out in many circumstances where clients had not refunded us”.
Separately, following layoffs in North America and 34 furloughs in the U.K., TechCrunch has learned that Pollen has put another 56 members of staff on furlough, as the travel and events sector continues to be hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. They comprise 45 in the U.S., 7 in the U.K., and 4 in Canada.
Confirming the latest round of furloughs, Negus-Fancey says employees are being supported by each country’s various government furlough schemes and that Pollen U.S. furloughed employees were given “over a weeks notice on full pay and we are covering their medical insurance whilst they are on furlough leave”.
Founded in 2014 and previously called Verve, Pollen operates in the influencer or “word-of-mouth” marketing space. The marketplace lets friends or “members” discover and book travel, events and other experiences — and in turn helps promoters use word-of-mouth recommendations to sell tickets. Pollen’s backers include Northzone, Sienna Capital, Draper Esprit, Backed and Kindred.
With the renewed push for more of the services we use everyday to be accessible online and in a non-physical way, a company out of Switzerland that builds tools for financial services companies to interact better with their customers via the web is today announcing a round of funding to expand its operations.
Appway, which provides software to help banks and others that transact with customers to build banking, mortgage, regulatory compliance and other service management tools, has raised $37 million in equity funding from a single investor, Summit Partners.
Hans Peter Wolf, Appway’s CEO who co-founded the company with Oliver Brupbacher, said in an interview that the money will go towards continued expansion of its business, both by adding more customers and by building more tools for those customers in turn to provide services to their own users. He added that North America has been one of Appway’s fastest-growing markets, and so the plan will be to double down specifically there alongside existing operations in Europe and Asia.
If you’ve not heard of Appway before in the world of tech, that’s not too unusual: the Zurich-based company has been quietly living, bootstrapped and profitable, behind the scenes and under the startup radar since 2003. But in the last 17 years, it’s managed to amass a long list of impressive customers — a list that features 10 out of 25 of the largest wealth managers in the world, including Credit Suisse, HSBC, J.P. Morgan, LGT, LPL Financial and Deutsche Bank; the telecoms giant Orange, KPMG and others.
The services that it provides range from online banking, mortgage software and wealth management, through to account management, onboarding of new services and customers, and a long list of back-office tools to manage customers and data to help the financial services companies comply with regulatory requirements.
Business has been strong, but the reason Appway finally decided to bite the bullet and raise money, Wolf said, was to ride the wave of growth, and bring in new people to the board who could help guide what the next steps might be as its business matures.
He noted that Appway has seen an acceleration of interest in recent months — predating the current health pandemic, he added, but absolutely sped up with urgency because of it — related to “business transformation.”
Yes, that’s a term thrown around a lot in the world of enterprise, but it’s actually an important one that is propelling a lot of business for disruptive startups: huge institutions have been using the same legacy systems for decades, and that creaky infrastructure finally is being replaced with more modern and flexible software, often sold as a service from the cloud, in order to expand what companies can do for their customers.
That’s where the current pandemic has figured in a key way for companies like Appway. A lot of financial services — especially those at the higher end of the market (eg wealth management) — have long existed around the concept of personal relationships and years of face-to-face service, but much of that has had to be reassessed in recent times. Some might have bristled at or resisted the changes (or investments in the changes) in the past, their hand has been forced, so to speak, in current circumstances.
But coupled with the fact that so many people today are more accustomed to carrying out much of their lives online, the changes are turning out to be, in many cases, not as painful as you might think, and in the case of financial services, we’re seeing a big turnaround and embracing of the new platforms. And that means strong business funnels for companies like Appway.
There are a number of companies providing tools to organisations to help build and run services online. Those in the same general area as Appway include Pega, Intalio, Oracle, IBM and more. One key difference is that many of these are general purpose, aiming their low-code approach to a number of verticals, which in one regard makes them potentially much bigger enterprises, but in another means they cannot speak as specifically to the needs of any particular vertical. Appway’s focus on financial services in particular — and of course the fact that financial services happens to be a hugely lucrative industry — is one thing that stood out for Summit when making the investment.
“Unlike general purpose low-code development platforms, Appway seeks to address core pain points in the financial services industry by automating the flow of work to revolutionize the customer experience and drive digital transformation across organizations,” said Dr. Matthias Allgaier, a Managing Director at Summit Partners who will also join the Appway Board of Directors, in a statement. “We believe the company has delivered impressive, consistent capital efficient growth, and we are thrilled to partner with Hans Peter Wolf, his co-founder Oliver Brupbacher and the entire Appway team.”
When you hear about companies like these, successful startups that have been off the grid of tech media because they haven’t been tightly linked to the investment cycle or any obvious consumer news stream, suddenly raising money, you have to wonder how many more there are innovating and doing more good work in the same way.
One reason Wolf said that Appway never raised money before was because when it was founded, it was just how things were.
“In 2003, venture capital and private equity didn’t exist at all in Switzerland, and I don’t think the country’s startups were on any radar of any PE house,” he said with a laugh. “Ironically, the financial crisis was when we had our first successes in the US,” partly because of its regulatory compliance tools, which were suddenly in demand. “Now, I would say it’s a steady pattern, Appway made the decision to raise growth equity during an arguably even bigger crisis.”
Indeed, as we continue to see more activity spread out beyond the most-obvious tech hubs, it may well be that yet more Appways fall under the spotlight.
In business, there’s nothing so valuable as having the right product at the right time. Just ask Zoom, the hot cloud-based video conferencing platform experiencing explosive growth thanks to its sudden relevance in the age of sheltering in place.
Having worked at BlackBerry in its heyday in the early 2000s, I see a lot of parallels to what Zoom is going through right now. As Zooming into a video meeting or a classroom is today, so too was pulling out your BlackBerry to fire off an email or check your stocks circa 2002. Like Zoom, the company then known as Research in Motion had the right product for enterprise users that increasingly wanted to do business on the go.
Of course, BlackBerry’s story didn’t have a happy ending.
From 1999 to 2007, BlackBerry seemed totally unstoppable. But then Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, Google launched Android and all of the chinks in the BlackBerry armor started coming undone, one by one. How can Zoom avoid the same fate?
As someone who was at both BlackBerry and Android during their heydays, my biggest takeaway is that product experience trumps everything else. It’s more important than security (an issue Zoom is getting blasted about right now), what CIOs want, your user install base and the larger brand identity.
When the iPhone was released, many people within BlackBerry rightly pointed out that we had a technical leg up on Apple in many areas important to business and enterprise users (not to mention the physical keyboard for quickly cranking out emails)… but how much did that advantage matter in the end? If there is serious market pull, the rest eventually gets figured out… a lesson I learned from my time at BlackBerry that I was lucky enough to be able to immediately apply when I joined Google to work on Android.
COVID-19 quickly put the stock market in the ICU, with signs of unprecedented volatility and declines. However, the market’s resilience and swift action by the Fed made this downward spiral short-lived. The Russell 2000 Index, a benchmark for small-cap stocks, is one of several indices that highlights this.
Within a one-month period from late February into March, The Russell 2000 Index was down more than 40%, signaling the end of a long bull market and entrance into bear territory. Yet, two months later, at the end of May, the Index is up over 35% from its low. In the private market, the impact of volatility on healthy, pre-COVID-19 software company valuations is much easier to track. As SaaS founders consider their financing options, the picture might be a bit less glum than they might imagine.
Changes to private market valuations often lag behind what transpires in the public markets. Also, fundraising cycles for private companies generally take 2-3 months from start to close. Unlike the 2000 dot-com crash and the 2008 Great Recession, where valuations dropped for extended periods of time, private company valuations, for the most part, have not had time to adjust for the volatility seen in the public markets.
Danggeun Market, the startup behind Karrot, South Korea’s largest neighborhood marketplace and networking app, announced today that that it has raised a $33 million Series C. The round was led by Goodwater Capital and Altos Ventures.
The funding brings Danggeun Market’s total raised so far to $40.5 million. Its list of investors also include Kakao Ventures, Strong Ventures, SoftBank Ventures and Capstone Partners. Danggeun Market, which launched Karrot in the United Kingdom last November, will use part of the funding to expand into more international markets and increase its monetization tools.
One of Karrot’s most unique features is that its peer-to-peer marketplace only shows people listings from sellers located within a 6-kilometer radius (the distance is set slightly wider for more remote areas), and most transactions are completed in person. As a safety measure, all user identities are verified through their mobile numbers and location.
In a call with TechCrunch, Danggeun Market co-founder and co-CEO Gary Kim and vice president Chris Heo said Karrot’s model works because of the high population density in many South Korean cities. As the app launches overseas, the company will focus on other densely populated areas, especially ones that don’t already have a dominant neighborhood marketplace app.
Danggeun Market planned to enter three new countries this year, but slowed down the pace of its expansion because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, it will focus on enhancing its community features in South Korea, with the goal of launching in at least one new country by the end of this year.
Danggeun Market was founded in 2015 by Gary Kim and Paul Kim, both of whom previously worked at KakaoTalk, South Korea’s largest messaging app. Before Danggeun Market launched, the most popular online secondhand marketplace in South Korea was website Joonggonara, but it didn’t have a mobile app.
Being designed for smartphones helps Karrot differentiate from other peer-to-peer marketplaces. For example, its distance limits make listings easier to spot, and also encourages interactions among neighbors. Its approach to neighborhood networking is also the foundation of the company’s monetization model. Instead of charging listing fees, the app is free to use, and the company makes money through hyperlocalized advertising.
Danggeun Market says its monthly active users have grown 130% year-over-year, reaching seven million in April and making Karrot the second-largest shopping app in South Korea after Coupang, the country’s largest e-commerce platform. Users spend an average of 20 minutes per day on the app, and gross merchandise value increased by 250% year-over-year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heo said the number of listings on the app actually grew from 4.4 million in January to 8.4 million in April, as more people spent time at home and found things they wanted to get rid of, and also preferred to remain within their neighborhoods. Danggeun Market’s community features also saw a jump in the number of postings made.
Heo said face-to-face transactions continued, because many South Koreans were already used to wearing masks and other safety measures that were ramped up during the pandemic. The company added a new feature called Karrot Help, with tools to help match people with neighbors who needed help running errands and a mask inventory checker for nearby pharmacies, and implemented tools to automatically control the price of mask listings and prevent profiteering.
HenQ, an Amsterdam-based VC that invests in European B2B software startups typically at seed and Series A, recently disclosed the first close of its fourth fund at €70 million. The final close is expected to top out at between €75-€85 million later this year, and the firm has already begun backing companies out of the new fund.
However, what sets henQ apart from many VC firms isn’t just its pure focus on B2B software but that its team is fully remote. Primarily investing in the Nordics and Benelux, henQ doesn’t have any official offices, with the team working from different temporary locations. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, henQ closed deals remotely.
Successes from its previous funds include Mendix (acquired by Siemens) and SEOshop (acquired by Lightspeed).
I spoke to partners Jan Andriessen, Mick Mackaay and Jelmer de Jong to learn more about henQ, what it’s like to be a fully remote VC and how the firm envisions the post-pandemic era.
TechCrunch: Can you be more specific regarding the size of check you write and the types of companies, geographies, technologies and business models you are focusing on?
Jan Andriessen: Our main focus is seed rounds, in which we often are the lead investor. We also invest in Series A rounds, often as a co-investor. Initial check sizes vary from €500,000 to €3.5 million.
A typical seed investment has a product and perhaps a few pilot customers. The key here is not revenue (which is OK to be zero), but there is proof of the actual need for the product.
Most of our recent deals were in the Nordics and Benelux, the areas where we spent the majority of our time. But we have also invested in the Baltics, Czech Republic and the UK. For henQ 4, we expect this to be the same: the bulk of our investments will be in the Nordics and Benelux, with an occasional deal in broader Europe.
In terms of technology and business trends, one of the things we firmly believe in is the consumerization of enterprise software: successful startups are centered around their customers and focus on the job to be done. More generally, we have always been focused on startups with staying power: companies that have a right to exist over time, not just now, as they deliver a product that touches the core processes of their customers and operate at the heart of their customer’s business.
For example, looking at our portfolio, Zivver delivers secure communication solutions for hospitals and governments. Stravito works deep in the research departments of FMCGs, delivering a knowledge management platform. Mews runs the full operations of hotels with their property management system, and Orderchamp enables retailers to digitize their buying process.
We see the business model of a company as a means, not an end. Most of the startups we invest in charge a SaaS plus implementation fee, and have a more enterprise-sales driven business model. We are not afraid to invest in startups that have a more complex and longer sales cycle, and are not per se looking for SaaS ‘by-the-book.'
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
This week will see two richly-valued SaaS business share their Q1 earnings reports: CrowdStrike and Zoom. Both are 2019 IPOs, but these relatively young public companies have enjoyed a strong run in the public markets this year.
Zoom started off 2020 worth around $69 per share; today it is worth $179.48 ahead of the start of today’s trading. CrowdStrike started the year at a little over $49 per share; today it’s worth $87.81 per share. The business-focused, but consumer-friendly video chat service Zoom and the cybersecurity-focused CrowdStrike are perfect examples of the updraft that SaaS businesses have rode this year.
With both firms reporting earnings at the same time, we’ll get notes on the work-from-home trend, and how it is impacting services that help make remote-work possible; and, CrowdStrike’s earnings will inform us on how the cybersecurity space is performing — are businesses shelling out more than expected to keep their networks and employees safe when so many are out of the office?
If Zoom and CrowdStrike report results that disappoint investors, they could do more than just deflate their own shares. Missed earnings reports from either could puncture SaaS valuations more broadly, perhaps impacting private valuations for companies that are in the market for new capital. Why?
Prominence and timing.
Good morning and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a brief jumpstart for your week.
A big thanks to start to the whole Equity crew for doing a stellar job last week with the show while I was on vacation, especially to Danny for taking on this particular installment of the podcast. Equity Monday is still pretty new, frankly, so him stepping up and into the role was a huge boon. Thanks, Danny.
Right, so, what did we talk about today?
Today, some news of a huge acquisition out of Turkey that represents the first billion-dollar-plus exit for a startup out of the country. Social gaming company Zynga confirmed that it is buying Istanbul-based Peak Games, the company behind popular Candy-Crush-style mobile gaming apps Toon Blast and Toy Blast, for $1.8 billion — $900 million in cash, and $900 million in Zynga shares. Interestingly, this is the second time that Zynga has made a Peak Games acquisition. In 2017, it purchased the company’s mobile card games business for $100 million.
The news caps off a short period of speculation about an upcoming deal, with local tech publications like Webrazzi calling the sale (and correct price) last month. Peak’s investors had included European VCs Earlybird and Hummingbird Ventures — both active backers of startups in emerging markets in the region — and Endeavor Global (the nonprofit that invests via its Endeavor Catalyst fund). Sidar Sahin, the founder and CEO, had been the company’s biggest shareholder.
As with all M&A in the world of gaming, Zynga is getting a couple of big gains out of this sale.
The first is picking up two very popular games that it doesn’t have do develop from scratch (in hopes of investing R&D budget in what it hopes but can’t guarantee will be a hit). Toon Blast and Toy Blast together totalling more than 12 million DAUs. On top of that, those two games are some of the highest-grossing among all in Apple’s App Store, ranking among the top-10 and top-20 games in the past two years.
It’s not just about adding popular games content, but expanding Zynga’s advertising business as well. Significantly, Peak Games’ primary users are outside of Zynga’s home market of the US, representing a real growth opportunity for the company to cross-sell other games. Zynga says that bolting on Peak’s games network to its own will boost its number of mobile daily active users by 60%, which mean a lot of scaling up for its ad network.
Of course, sustaining both of those titles and their respective franchises as hits for the long run is not a given — the world of gaming regularly sees blockbusters fizzle out when the next big thing comes along — although these “forever franchises” with their steady popularity have a strong play to be exactly that. However, the long play is also where the third big asset comes in: talent. Peak has 100 employees working on its current franchises and other games. So while the back ends (and revenues) may be getting combined, Zynga says Peak’s people will stay put and continue to work under the Peak brand on the existing franchises as well as on new projects that are already in development.
Zynga says the deal will close in the third quarter of 2020, and it’s updated its guidance already on the news, sending its stock up more than 5% in pre-market trading. Specifically, Zynga today said it believes the deal will bump up revenues by $40 million for the year, to $1.840 billion.
The deal is notable not just because of what it’s adding to Zynga today, but because it highlights some interesting history between the two companies.
Back in November 2017, Zynga acquired one division of Peak Games, its mobile card games studio, for $100 million in cash.
The deal included games like Spades Plus and Gin Rummy Plus, respectively the largest spade and rummy mobile games in the world at the time; and games that were popular in Peak’s home market, 101 Okey Plus and Okey Plus. And according to analysis from Apptopia, it looks like Zynga was set to recoup the money it paid out by 2019, meaning that business is now profitable.
The remainder of Peak Games is another story. If Zynga tried to buy the whole business two years ago, it might have been that Peak was reluctant to sell its remaining two titles Toon Blast and Toy Blast for anything near $100 million — and with good reason since (as Zynga itself pointed out) they went on to become some of the consistently highest-grossing games in all of the App Store. In the intervening period, Zynga tried to create its own rivals, namely with Wonka’s World of Candy, but it’s never been as big of a hit as the others. Hence, Zynga possibly finally found a price for the whole of Peak Games.
“We are honored to welcome Sidar and team to Zynga. Peak is one of the world’s best puzzle game makers and we could not be more excited to add such creative and passionate talent to our company,” said Frank Gibeau, Chief Executive Officer of Zynga, in a statement. “With the addition of Toon Blast and Toy Blast, we are expanding our live services portfolio to eight forever franchises, meaningfully increasing our global audience base and adding to our exciting new game pipeline. As a combined team, we are well positioned to grow faster together.”
“This is a monumental partnership not only for Zynga and Peak, but for the whole mobile gaming industry,” said Sidar Sahin, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Peak, in a statement. “Both companies share a common vision — to bring people together through games. Peak’s culture is rooted in relentless learning and progress, so as we embark on this new chapter in our journey together with Zynga, we remain as committed as ever to our unique culture. We’re very excited for our combined future and what we will accomplish together.”
Ultimately, this is also a huge deal for Turkey’s tech ecosystem. This has been a steady presence straddling both the European and MENA markets (much as Turkey’s wider economy and political presence does), but so far with little impact in terms of exits and activity that extend outside of the region. This acquisition is a testament to the exciting companies and talent that are being developed in the market, and is of course yet another sign of how big tech companies based out of more established centres like the Bay Area will continue to take bigger leaps to tap talent ever further afield, in their ongoing consolidation and search for both business and audience growth.
One impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that many are starting to see a much faster decentralisation in the world of technology. People are working remotely, and some are even planning to move away from tech hubs; while deals are getting done not in person but over videoconferencing links. This acquisition also demonstrates how that is also playing out in the world of M&A, too.
Bonusly, a platform that involves the entire organization in recognizing employees and rewarding them, closed on a $9 million Series A financing round led by Access Venture Partners. Next Frontier Capital, Operator Partners and existing investor FirstMark Capital also participated in the round.
Bonusly launched in 2013 when co-founder and CEO Raphael Crawford-Marks saw the opportunity to reinvent the way employers and colleagues recognize and reward their employees/coworkers.
“I knew that, in order to be successful, companies would be shifting their approach to employee experience and I thought software could enable that shift,” said Crawford-Marks. “Bonusly was this elegant idea of empowering employees to give each other timely, frequent and meaningful recognition that would not only benefit employees because they would feel recognized but also surface previously hidden information to the entire company about who was working with whom and on what and what strengths they were bringing to the workplace.”
Most employers use year-end bonuses and performance reviews to motivate workers, with some employers providing some physical rewards.
Bonusly thinks recognition should happen year-round. The platform works with the employers on their overall budget for recognition and rewards, and breaks that down into “points” that are allotted to all employees at the organization.
These employees can give out points to other co-workers, whether they’re direct reports or managers or peers, at any time throughout the year. Those points translate to a monetary value that can be redeemed by the employee at any time, whether it’s through PayPal as a cash reward or with one of Bonusly’s vendor partners, including Amazon, Tango Card and Cadooz. Bonusly also partners with nonprofit organizations to let employees redeem their points via charitable donation.
In fact, Crawford-Marks noted that Bonusly users just crossed the $500,000 mark for total donations, and have donated more than $100,000 to the WHO in six weeks.
Bonusly integrates with several collaboration platforms, including Gmail and Slack, to give users the flexibility to give points in whatever venue they choose. Bonusly also has a feed, not unlike social media sites like Twitter, that shows in real time employees who have received recognition.
The company has also built in some technical features to help with usability. For example, Bonusly understands the social organization of a company, surfacing the most relevant folks in the point feed based on who employees have given or received points to/from in the past. In a company with tens of thousands of employees, this keeps Bonusly relevant.
Bonusly has also incorporated tools for employers, including an auto-scale button for employers with workers in multiple jurisdictions or companies. The button allows employers to scale up or down the point allotments in different geographies based on cost of living.
There are also privacy controls on Bonusly that allow high-level employees and leadership to give each other recognition for projects that may not be widely known about at the company yet, like say for an acquisition that was completed.
Bonusly says that peer-to-peer recognition is more powerful than manager-only recognition, saying it’s nearly 36% more likely to have better financial outcomes.
The company also cites research that says that a happy workforce raises business productivity by more than 30%.
“We set a very high bar for how we measure participation and engagement in the platform,” he said. “You’ll see other companies claiming really high participation rates, but typically if you dig into that they’re talking about getting recognition every six months or every year or just logging in, rather than giving recognition every single month, month over month.”
He noted that 75% of employees on average give recognition in the first month of deployment with an organization, and that number gradually increases over time. By the two-year mark, 80% of employees are giving recognition every month.
Bonusly has raised a total of nearly $14 million in funding since inception.
Events in May offered support to the thesis that Africa can incubate tech with global application.
Two startups that developed their business models on the continent — MallforAfrica and Zipline — were tapped by international interests.
Link Commerce offers a white-label solution for doing online-sales in emerging markets.
Retailers can plug into the company’s platform to create a web-based storefront that manages payments and logistics.
Nigerian Chris Folayan founded MallforAfrica in 2011 to bridge a gap in supply and demand for the continent’s consumer markets. While living in the U.S., Folayan noted a common practice among Africans — that of giving lists of goods to family members abroad to buy and bring home.
With MallforAfrica, Folayan aimed to allow people on the continent to purchase goods from global retailers directly online.
The e-commerce site went on to onboard more than 250 global retailers, and now employs 30 people at order processing facilities in Oregon and the U.K.
Folayan has elevated Link Commerce now as the lead company above MallforAfrica.com. He and DHL plan to extend the platform to emerging markets around the world and offer it to companies who want to wrap online stores, payments and logistics solution around their core business.
“Right now the focus is on Africa…but we’re taking this global,” Folayan said.
Another startup developed in Africa, Zipline, was tapped by U.S. healthcare provider Novant for drone delivery of critical medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.
The two announced a partnership whereby Zipline’s drones will make 32-mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s North Carolina emergency drone fulfillment center and the nonprofit’s medical center in Huntersville — where front-line healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.
Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The activity has gained approval by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.
The story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: The capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.
Image Credits: Novant Health
Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.
The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life-saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.
The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19-related medication and lab samples.
The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo, respectively — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.
African startups have another $100 million in VC to pitch for after Novastar Ventures’ latest raise.
The Nairobi and Lagos-based investment group announced it has closed $108 million in new commitments to launch its Africa Fund II, which brings Novastar’s total capital to $200 million.
With the additional resources, the firm plans to make 12 to 14 investments across the continent, according to Managing Director Steve Beck .
On-demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.
Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.
The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.
The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.
Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.
Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.
Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.
Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from mini-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.
In more downbeat news in May, Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela had layoffs and salary reductions as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, CEO Jeremy Johnson confirmed to TechCrunch.
Backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the startup’s client-base is comprised of more than 200 global companies that pay for the African developers Andela selects to work on projects.
There’s been a drop in the demand for Andela’s services, according to Johnson.
More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch
African tech around the ‘net
Beam, a Singapore-headquartered micromobility firm that offers shared e-scooters, has raised $26 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in Korea, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Taiwan.
Sequoia India and Hana Ventures led the two-and-a-half-year-old startup’s Series A financing round, while several more investors from Asia Pacific region including RTP Global, AppWorks, Right Click, Cherubic and RedBadge Pacific participated, Beam said. The startup has raised $32.4 million to date, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Beam, like Bounce and Yulu in India, offers electric scooters in the aforementioned five markets. Electric and gasoline scooters have become popular in several Asian nations and elsewhere as people look for alternative transportation mediums to move around faster and at less cost.
While these vehicles make inroads into various markets, it’s also not uncommon to find these scooters abandoned carelessly in the streets. Beam said unlike other startups, it incentivizes its riders through in-app offers to park the scooters at predetermined spots.
“I’m really excited about our new technology and its ability to reduce the problems associated with randomly scattered scooters around a city. This helps us to further improve our industry-leading vehicle retention rates, reduce operational costs, and most importantly, benefits communities by keeping city streets neater,” said Beam co-founder and chief executive Alan Jiang.
Beam, which did not disclose how many customers it has amassed, will use the fresh capital to grow its operational and engineering focus and grow deeper in its existing markets, it said. It will also “accelerate” the launch of its third-generation e-scooter, the Beam Saturn, which features swappable batteries, improved build, to more markets, it said.
Abheek Anand, managing director at Sequoia Capital India, said Beam’s collaboration with regulators, technology, and insights into the transportation landscape stand to give it an edge in the Asia Pacific region.
The startup’s fundraising comes at a time when many young firms, especially those operating in transportation category, in Asia are struggling to raise capital. Beam said it had implemented stringent cleaning and operations practices to limit the possibility of virus transmission to allay riders’ concern.
As tech companies like Twitter and Facebook gear up for longer-term remote work solutions, the future of work is becoming one of the more exciting opportunities in venture capital, Charles River Ventures general partner Saar Gur told TechCrunch.
And as loneliness mounts with shelter-in-place orders implemented in various forms across the world, investors are looking for products and services that foster true connection among a distributed workforce, as well as a distributed society.
But the future of work doesn’t just entail spinning up home offices. It also involves gig workers, freelancers, hiring tools, tools for workplace organizing and automation. The last couple of years have particularly brought tech organizing to the forefront. Whether it was the Google walkout in 2018 or gig workers’ ongoing actions against companies like Uber, Lyft and Instacart for better pay and protections, there are many opportunities to help workers better organize and achieve their goals.
Below, we’ve gathered insights from:
What are you most excited about in the future of work?
Future of work is one of the most exciting opportunities in venture.
Pre-COVID, few tech companies were fully remote. While it seems obvious in retrospect, the building blocks for fully remote technology companies now exist (e.g. high-speed internet, SaaS and the cloud, reliable video streaming, real-time documents, etc.). And while SIP may be temporary, we feel the TAM of fully remote companies will grow significantly and produce a number of exciting investment opportunities.
I don’t think we have fully grokked what it means to run a company digitally. Today, most processes like interviewing, meetings and performance/activity tracking still live in the world of atoms versus bits. As an example, imagine every meeting is recorded, transcribed and searchable — how would that transform how we work?
There is an opportunity to re-imagine how we work. And we are excited about products that solve meaningful problems in the areas of productivity, brainstorming, communication tools, workflows and more. We also see a lot of potential in infrastructure required to facilitate remote and global teams.
We are also excited by companies that are enabling new types of work. Companies like Etsy (founded 2005), Shopify (2004), TaskTabbit (2008), Uber (2009), DoorDash (2013) and Patreon (2013) have helped create a new workforce of entrepreneurs. But many of these companies are over a decade old and we fully expect a new wave of companies that give more power to the individual.
Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.
Most tech companies base compensation on an employee’s local cost of living, in addition to their skills and responsibilities. The pandemic-era push to remote work seems to be reinforcing that — if you only skim the headlines. For example, Facebook said last week that it would be readjusting salaries for employees who have relocated away from the Bay Area.
But Connie Loizos caught up with a few well-placed people who see something else happening. First, here’s Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic (WordPress), which has been almost entirely remote for its long and successful history.
“Long term, I think market forces and the mobility of talent will force employers to stop discriminating on the basis of geography for geographically agnostic roles,” he told Connie for TechCrunch.
Mullenweg went on to detail how the process was still complicated, and that his company did not yet have a universal approach. But ultimately, he thinks that for “moral and competitive reasons, companies will move toward globally fair compensation over time with roles that can be done from anywhere.”
Connie also talked to Jon Holman, a tech recruiter who is living and breathing the new world, in a separate article for Extra Crunch. The market forces will ultimately favor talent, he concurs, and companies that want talent will pay according to what they can afford. “If a good AI or machine learning engineer is working elsewhere and demand for those skills still exceeds supply,” Holman explained, “and his or her company pays less than for the same job in Palo Alto, then that person is just going to jump to another company in his or her own geography.”
Our weekly staff survey for Extra Crunch is about retail — will it exist? how? A few of our staffers who cover related topics weighed in:
Natasha Mascarenhas says retailers will need to find new ways to sell aspirational products — and what was once cringe-worthy might now be considered innovative.
Devin Coldewey sees businesses adopting a slew of creative digital services to prepare for the future and empower them without Amazon’s platform.
Greg Kumparak thinks the delivery and curbside pickup trends will move from pandemic-essentials to everyday occurrences. He thinks that retailers will need to find new ways to appeal to consumers in a “shopping-by-proxy” world.
Lucas Matney views a revitalized interest in technology around the checkout process, as retailers look for ways to make the purchasing experience more seamless (and less high-touch).
We also ran two investor surveys this week, with Matt Burns producing one on manufacturing and Megan Rose Dickey and Kirsten Korosec following up on their autonomous vehicles series.
Maybe you could use some more money, distribution and partnerships these days? Those are the eternal lures of corporate venture funding sources, but each strategic VC has a different mandate. Some are there to help the parent company, some are just there to make money… and some may be on thin ice themselves given the way that they get money to invest.
If you’re taking a fresh look at getting strategic funding now, check out this set of overview articles from Bill Growney, a partner at top tech law firm Goodwin, and Scott Orn of Kruze Consulting. The first, for TechCrunch, goes over how corporate funds are typically structured (and motivated). The second, for Extra Crunch, covers questions for startup founders to anticipate and other recommendations for dealing with this type of VC.
It is high times for meditation and “mindfulness” apps, as people look for ways to adjust to pandemic life. Sarah Perez, our resident app expert, took a look at a new app store analysis on TechCrunch, shredded some of the top-ranked companies for opportunistic marketing, and came away with a positive feeling about the global market leader.
Calm, meanwhile, took a different approach. It launched a page of free resources, but instead focused on partnerships to expand free access to more users, while also growing its business. Earlier this month, nonprofit health system Kaiser Permanente announced it was making the Calm app’s Premium subscription free for its members, for example — the first health system to do so.
The company’s decision to not pursue as many free giveaways meant it may have missed the easy boost from press coverage. However, it may be a better long-term strategy as it sets up Calm for distribution partnerships that could continue beyond the immediate COVID-19 crisis.
Mindfulness pays. On that note, subscribers can read her excellent This Week In Apps report every Saturday over on Extra Crunch.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week’s show took a break from regularly scheduled programming. Our co-host Alex Wilhelm, who usually leads us through the show, was on some much-deserved vacation, so Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas took the reigns and invited Floodgate Capital’s Iris Choi to join in on the fun. It’s Choi’s fourth time being on the podcast, which officially makes her our most tenured guest yet (in case the accomplished investor needs another bullet point on her bio page).
This week’s docket features scrappiness, a seed round and a Startup Battlefield alumnus.
Here’s what we chewed through:
And that was the show! Thanks to our producer Chris Gates for helping us put this together, thanks to you all for listening in on this quirky episode and thanks to Iris Choi for always bringing a fresh, candid perspective. Talk next week.
Intuitively, stores that sell online should be making a killing during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, everyone is stuck at home — and understandably more willing to shop online instead of at a traditional retailer to avoid putting themselves and others at medical risk. But the truth is, most smaller online stores have seen better days.
The primary challenge is that smaller shops often don’t have the logistics networks that companies like Amazon do. Consequently, they’re seeing substantially delayed delivery timelines, especially if they ship internationally. Customers obviously aren’t thrilled about that reality. And in many cases, they’re requesting refunds at a staggering rate.
I saw this play out firsthand in April. At that point, my stores were down 20% or in some cases even 30% in revenue. Needless to say, my team was freaking out. But there’s one thing we did that helped us increase our revenue over 200% since the pandemic, decrease refund requests and even strengthen our existing customer relationships.
We implemented a 24-hour live chat in all of our stores. Here’s why it worked for us and why every digital brand should be doing it too.
When I started my first online store in 2006, challenges that bogged my team down often meant that my team’s first priority became resolving those challenges so that we could serve our customers faster. But admittedly, when these challenges came up, it became more difficult to balance communicating with our customers and resolving the issues that prevented us from fulfilling their orders quickly.
Challenger bank Bunq is adding a new feature that lets you donate to charities directly from the app. In addition to that, Bunq is also in the process of redesigning its app. The company is launching a public beta test to get feedback from its users.
Bunq has chosen a different approach, as you can create your own donation campaigns in the app. As long your local charity has an IBAN number, you can add it to Bunq’s donation feature. You can even add a local business in case you want to help them stay in business.
You can then invite other people to donate to your charities. You can also track the total amount of your donations, as well as the total donations from the entire Bunq user base.
The company has also been working on the third major version of the app. In order to test it before the public release, Bunq is launching a public beta program. The first build will roll out in the coming weeks.
In order to simplify navigation, Bunq has tried to remove clutter by focusing on one main button on each page. The app will be divided in four main tabs.
The first tab, called “Me,” will feature all your personal information — personal bank accounts, savings goals, etc. On the second tab, called “Us,” you can see information about Bunq, such as total investments and total donations. The third tab features your profile information.
Finally, the fourth tab is a dedicated camera button. It lets you scan invoices and receipts, which could be particularly useful for business customers. I’m not sure a lot of people use that feature, but things could still change before the final release.
Due to COVID-19, business continuity has been put to the test for many companies in the manufacturing, agriculture, transport, hospitality, energy and retail sectors. Cost reduction is the primary focus of companies in these sectors due to massive losses in revenue caused by this pandemic. The other side of the crisis is, however, significantly different.
Companies in industries such as medical, government and financial services, as well as cloud-native tech startups that are providing essential services, have experienced a considerable increase in their operational demands — leading to rising operational costs. Irrespective of the industry your company belongs to, and whether your company is experiencing reduced or increased operations, cost optimization is a reality for all companies to ensure a sustained existence.
One of the most reliable measures for cost optimization at this stage is to leverage elastic services designed to grow or shrink according to demand, such as cloud and managed services. A modern product with a cloud-native architecture can auto-scale cloud consumption to mitigate lost operational demand. What may not have been obvious to startup leaders is a strategy often employed by incumbent, mature enterprises — achieving cost optimization by leveraging managed services providers (MSPs). MSPs enable organizations to repurpose full-time staff members from impacted operations to more strategic product lines or initiatives.
When Cisco bought AppDynamics in 2017 for $3.7 billion just before the IPO, the company sent a clear signal it wanted to move beyond its pure network hardware roots into the software monitoring side of the equation. Yesterday afternoon the company announced it intends to buy another monitoring company, this time snagging internet monitoring solution ThousandEyes.
Cisco would not comment on the price when asked by TechCrunch, but published reports from CNBC and others pegged the deal at around $1 billion. If that’s accurate, it means the company has paid around $4.7 billion for a pair of monitoring solutions companies.
Cisco’s Todd Nightingale, writing in a blog post announcing the deal said that the kind of data that ThousandEyes provides around internet user experience is more important than ever as internet connections have come under tremendous pressure with huge numbers of employees working from home.
ThousandEyes keeps watch on those connections and should fit in well with other Cisco monitoring technologies. “With thousands of agents deployed throughout the internet, ThousandEyes’ platform has an unprecedented understanding of the internet and grows more intelligent with every deployment, Nightingale wrote.
He added, “Cisco will incorporate ThousandEyes’ capabilities in our AppDynamics application intelligence portfolio to enhance visibility across the enterprise, internet and the cloud.”
As for ThousandEyes, co-founder and CEO Mohit Lad told a typical acquisition story. It was about growing faster inside the big corporation than it could on its own. “We decided to become part of Cisco because we saw the potential to do much more, much faster, and truly create a legacy for ThousandEyes,” Lad wrote.
It’s interesting to note that yesterday’s move, and the company’s larger acquisition strategy over the last decade is part of a broader move to software and services as a complement to its core networking hardware business.
Just yesterday, Synergy Research released its network switch and router revenue report and it wasn’t great. As companies have hunkered down during the pandemic, they have been buying much less network hardware, dropping the Q1 numbers to seven year low. That translated into a $1 billion less in overall revenue in this category, according to Synergy.
While Cisco owns the vast majority of the market, it obviously wants to keep moving into software services as a hedge against this shifting market. This deal simply builds on that approach.
ThousandEyes was founded in 2010 and raised over $110 million on a post valuation of $670 million as of February 2019, according to Pitchbook Data.
Belvo, a Latin American fintech startup which launched just 12 months ago, has already snagged funding from two of the biggest names in North and South American venture capital.
The company is aiming to expand the reach of its service that connects mobile applications in Mexico and Colombia to a customer’s banking information and now has some deep-pocketed investors to support its efforts.
If the business model sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Belvo is borrowing a page from the Plaid playbook. It’s a strategy that ultimately netted the U.S. startup and its investors $5.3 billion when it was acquired by Visa in January of this year.
Belvo and its backers, who funneled $10 million into the year-old company, want to replicate Plaid’s success and open up an entire new range of financial services companies in Latin America.
The round was co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek. With the new arsenal of capital complimented by the Founders Fund’s network and Kaszek’s deep knowledge of the Latin American market, Belvo hopes to triple its current team of 25 that is spread across operations in Mexico City and Barcelona.
Since its initial establishment in May 2019, the company has raised a total of $13 million from Y Combinator (W20) along with some of the biggest players in Latin America’s startup scene. Those investors include David Velez, the co-founder of Brazil’s multi-billion dollar lending startup, Nubank; MAYA Capital and Venture Friends.
The company’s co-founders, Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are no stranger to startups themselves. Viguera served as COO at European payments app Verse, and is a former general manager of one of the big European neo-banks, Revolut. Tintoré is a former NASA aerospace engineer, and while working for his Stanford MBA, founded Capella Space, an information collection startup that went on to raise over $50 million.
The company said it aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.
Belvo has built a developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.
Viguera says the capital will be used to open a new office in Sao Paulo, and invest in new product and business development hires. Notably, Belvo is only one year old, having launched in January 2020 and operative in Mexico and Colombia.
Co-founders Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are a former Revolut GM and former NASA aerospace engineer.
Belvo’s latest funding also marks another instance of a U.S.-Latin America investment teamup for a Latin American company.
Nuvocargo, a logistics startup that wants to bolster the Mexico – U.S. trade lane with its freight transportation technology, also recently raised a round co-led by Mexico’s ALLVP and Silicon Valley-based NFX. American investors may be starting to take note of the co-investment opportunity of putting capital into startups serving the Latin American market in partnership with successful new wave domestic funds like Mexico’s ALLVP and Argentina’s Kaszek.