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UK-based Heroes raises $200M to buy up more Amazon merchants for its roll-up play

By Ingrid Lunden

Heroes, one of the new wave of startups aiming to build big e-commerce businesses by buying up smaller third-party merchants on Amazon’s Marketplace, has raised another big round of funding to double down on that strategy. The London startup has picked up $200 million, money that it will mainly be using to snap up more merchants. Existing brands in its portfolio cover categories like babies, pets, sports, personal health and home and garden categories — some of them, like PremiumCare dog chews, the Onco baby car mirror, gardening tool brand Davaon and wooden foot massager roller Theraflow, category best-sellers — and the plan is to continue building up all of these verticals.

Crayhill Capital Management, a fund based out of New York, is providing the funding, and Riccardo Bruni — who co-founded the company with twin brother Alessio and third brother Giancarlo — said that the bulk of it will be going toward making acquisitions, and is therefore coming in the form of debt.

Raising debt rather than equity at this point is pretty standard for companies like Heroes. Heroes itself is pretty young: it launched less than a year ago, in November 2020, with $65 million in funding, a round comprised of both equity and debt. Other investors in the startup include 360 Capital, Fuel Ventures and Upper 90.

Heroes is playing in what is rapidly becoming a very crowded field. Not only are there tens of thousands of businesses leveraging Amazon’s extensive fulfillment network to sell goods on the e-commerce giant’s marketplace, but some days it seems we are also rapidly approaching a state of nearly as many startups launching to consolidate these third-party sellers.

Many a roll-up play follows a similar playbook, which goes like this: Amazon provides the marketplace to sell goods to consumers, and the infrastructure to fulfill those orders, by way of Fulfillment By Amazon and its Prime service. Meanwhile, the roll-up business — in this case Heroes — buys up a number of the stronger companies leveraging FBA and the marketplace. Then, by consolidating them into a single tech platform that they have built, Heroes creates better economies of scale around better and more efficient supply chains, sharper machine learning and marketing and data analytics technology, and new growth strategies. 

What is notable about Heroes, though — apart from the fact that it’s the first roll-up player to come out of the U.K., and continues to be one of the bigger players in Europe — is that it doesn’t believe that the technology plays as important a role as having a solid relationship with the companies it’s targeting, key given that now the top marketplace sellers are likely being feted by a number of companies as acquisition targets.

“The tech is very important,” said Alessio in an interview. “It helps us build robust processes that tie all the systems together across multiple brands and marketplaces. But what we have is very different from a SaaS business. We are not building an app, and tech is not the core of what we do. From the acquisitions side, we believe that human interactions ultimately win. We don’t think tech can replace a strong acquisition process.”

Image Credits: Heroes

Heroes’ three founder-brothers (two of them, Riccardo and Alessio, pictured above) have worked across a number of investment, finance and operational roles (the CVs include Merrill Lynch, EQT Ventures, Perella Weinberg Partners, Lazada, Nomura and Liberty Global) and they say there have been strong signs so far of its strategy working: of the brands that it has acquired since launching in November, they claim business (sales) has grown five-fold.

Collectively, the roll-up startups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fuel these efforts. Other recent hopefuls that have announced funding this year include Suma Brands ($150 million); Elevate Brands ($250 million); Perch ($775 million); factory14 ($200 million); Thrasio (currently probably the biggest of them all in terms of reach and money raised and ambitions), HeydayThe Razor GroupBrandedSellerXBerlin Brands Group (X2), Benitago, Latin America’s Valoreo and Rainforest and Una Brands out of Asia. 

The picture that is emerging across many of these operations is that many of these companies, Heroes included, do not try to make their particular approaches particularly more distinctive than those of their competitors, simply because — with nearly 10 million third-party sellers today on Amazon globally — the opportunity is likely big enough for all of them, and more, not least because of current market dynamics.

“It’s no secret that we were inspired by Thrasio and others,” Riccardo said. “Combined with COVID-19, there has been a massive acceleration of e-commerce across the continent.” It was that, plus the realization that the three brothers had the right e-commerce, fundraising and investment skills between them, that made them see what was a ‘perfect storm’ to tackle the opportunity, he continued. “So that is why we jumped into it.”

In the case of Heroes, while the majority of the funding will be used for acquisitions, it’s also planning to double headcount from its current 70 employees before the end of this year with a focus on operational experts to help run their acquired businesses. 

Apple lowers commissions on in-app purchases for news publishers who participate in Apple News

By Sarah Perez

Apple today is launching a new program that will allow subscription news organizations that participate in the Apple News app and meet certain requirements to lower their commission rate to 15% on qualifying in-app purchases taking place inside their apps on the App Store. Typically, Apple’s model for subscription-based apps involves a standard 30% commission during their first year on the App Store, which then drops to 15% in year two. But the new Apple News Partner Program, announced today, will now make 15% the commission rate for participants starting on day one.

There are a few caveats to this condition, and they benefit Apple. To qualify, the news publisher must maintain a presence on Apple News and they have to provide their content in the Apple News Format (ANF). The latter is the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format that’s used to create articles for Apple News which are optimized for Mac, iPhone and other Apple mobile devices. Typically, this involves a bit of setup to translate news articles from a publisher’s website or from their CMS (content management system) to the supported JSON format. For WordPress and other popular CMS’s, there are also plugins available to make this process easier.

Meanwhile, for publishers headquartered outside one of the four existing Apple News markets — the U.S., U.K., Australia or Canada — they can instead satisfy the program’s obligations by providing Apple with an RSS feed.

On the App Store, the partner app qualifying for the 15% commission must be used to deliver “original, professionally authored” news content, and they must offer their auto-renewable subscriptions using Apple’s in-app purchase system.

Image Credits: Apple

While there is some initial work involved in establishing the publisher’s connection to Apple News, it’s worth noting that most major publishers already participate on Apple’s platform. That means they won’t have to do any additional work beyond what they’re already doing in order to transition over to the reduced commission for their apps. However, the program also serves as a way to push news organizations to continue to participate in the Apple News ecosystem, as it will make more financial sense to do so across their broader business.

That will likely be an area of contention for publishers, who would probably prefer that the reduced App Store commission didn’t come with strings attached.

Some publishers already worry that they’re giving up too much control over their business by tying themselves to the Apple News ecosystem. Last year, for example, The New York Times announced it would exit its partnership with Apple News, saying that Apple didn’t allow it to have as direct a relationship with readers as it wanted, and it would rather drive readers to its own app and website.

Apple, however, would argue that it doesn’t stand in the way of publishers’ businesses — it lets them paywall their content and keep 100% of the ad revenue from the ads they sell. (If they can’t sell it all or would prefer Apple to do so on their behalf, they then split the commission with Apple, keeping 70% of revenues instead.) In addition, for the company’s Apple News+ subscription service — where the subscription revenue split is much higher — it could be argued that it’s “found money.” That is, Apple markets the service to customers the publisher hadn’t been able to attract on its own anyway.

The launch of the new Apple News Partner program comes amid regulatory scrutiny over how Apple manages its App Store business and more recently, proposed legislation aiming to address alleged anticompetitive issues both in the U.S. and in major App Store markets, like South Korea.

Sensing this shift in the market, Apple had already been working to provide itself cover from antitrust complaints and lawsuits — like the one underway now with Epic Games — by adjusting its App Store commissions. Last year, it launched the App Store Small Business Program, which also lowered commissions on in-app purchases from 30% to 15% — but only for developers earning up to $1 million in revenues.

This program may have helped smaller publishers, but it was clear some major publishers still weren’t satisfied. After the reduced commissions for small businesses were announced in November, the publisher trade organization Digital Content Next (DCN) — a representative for the AP, The New York Times, NPR, ESPN, Vox, The Washington Post, Meredith, Bloomberg, NBCU, The Financial Times, and others — joined the advocacy group and lobbying organization the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) the very next month.

These publishers, who had previously written to Apple CEO Tim Cook to demand lower commissions — had other complaints about the revenue share beyond just the size of the split. They also didn’t want to be required to use Apple’s services for in-app purchases for their subscriptions, saying this “Apple tax” forces them to raise their prices for consumers.

It remains to be seen how these publishers will now react to the launch of the Apple News Partner program.

While it gives them a way to lower their App Store fees, it doesn’t address their broader complaints against Apple’s platform and its rules. If anything, it ties the lower fees to a program that locks them in further to the Apple ecosystem.

Apple, in a gesture of goodwill, also said today it would recommit support to three leading media non-profits, Common Sense Media, the News Literacy Project, and Osservatorio Permanente Giovani-Editori. These non-profits offer nonpartisan, independent media literacy programs, which Apple views as key to its larger mission to empower people to become smart and active news readers. Apple also said it would later announce further media literacy projects from other organizations. The company would not disclose the size of its commitment from a financial standpoint however, or discuss how much it has sent such organizations in the past.

“Providing Apple News customers with access to trusted information from our publishing partners has been our priority from day one,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Services, in a statement. “For more than a decade, Apple has offered our customers many ways to access and enjoy news content across our products and services. We have hundreds of news apps from dozens of countries around the world available in the App Store, and created Apple News Format to offer publishers a tool to showcase their content and provide a great experience for millions of Apple News users,” he added.

More details about the program and the application form will be available at the News Partner Program website.

Balance raises $25M in a Ribbit Capital-led Series A to grow its ‘consumer-like B2B checkout platform’

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Balance, a payments platform aimed at B2B merchants and marketplaces, has raised $25 million in a Series A funding round led by Ribbit Capital.

Avid Ventures participated in the financing, in addition to existing backers Lightspeed Ventures, Stripe, Y Combinator Continuity Fund, SciFi VC and UpWest. Other individual investors that put money in the round include early employees and executives from Plaid, Coinbase, Square, Stripe and PayPal, such as Jaqueline Reses, formerly head of Square Capital. The financing comes just over six months after Balance announced a $5.5 million seed round.

The motivation for starting the company was simple, said CEO and co-founder Bar Geron: “We wanted to create an online B2B experience that doesn’t suck.” He and Yoni Shuster, both former PayPal employees, started the company in early 2020.

B2B payments, he said, have historically differed from B2C primarily in that they have not taken place at the moment of purchase (or at the point of sale) but rather within 30 days and with an invoice. This is not an efficient process for merchants or vendors alike, the company maintains.

Meanwhile, most businesses have avoided paying for their supply with credit cards, because cards can quickly max out, Geron said.

“The only element that keeps many merchants offline is payments,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s a process that is stuck in the flow of those marketplaces and keeping them from scaling. We got fascinated with the problem.”

After starting out at Y Combinator, Balance has developed what it describes as a “consumer-like B2B checkout platform for merchants and marketplaces,” or a “self-serve digital checkout experience company for B2B businesses.”

What that means is that Balance has built a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods, including ACH, cards, checks and bank wires, as well as a variety of terms, including payment on delivery, net payment terms and payment by milestone. Behind the scenes, Balance underwrites the terms of those transactions requiring financing by evaluating the risk of the customer, the merchant and the specific payment terms selected. Balance is built on top of Stripe and offers all of Stripe’s credit card payment options, but then extends far beyond them.

Balance, according to Geron, invested “a lot” in APIs for marketplaces.

“We have a very robust API platform so that these businesses can manage the entire payment flow without being exposed to the risk and regulation of payments,” he told TechCrunch. “And this is all happening without them even touching the funds.”

The plus for merchants is the ability to get immediate payout that is always reconciled like credits. Marketplaces are equipped with automated vendor disbursement, a full compliance umbrella and reconciliation management, Balance says.

“We want to make the online payments experience for businesses as seamless as it is for consumer payments, and we want to do it globally,” Geron told TechCrunch.

The startup has already partnered with e-commerce giants such as BigCommerce and Magento and will soon also work with Salesforce, according to Geron. Its customers range from startups to publicly traded marketplaces to e-commerce enterprises across a variety of industries such as steel, freight, hardware, food ordering, medical supply and apparel. They include Bryzos, Choco, Zilingo and Bay Supply, among others.

It’s early days yet, but Balance has seen growth of about 500% to 600% since the time of its last raise in February, Geron said. The company, which has offices in Tel Aviv and New York, has about 30 employees.

Jordan Angelos, a general partner at Ribbit and former head of M&A and investment at Stripe, believes the fact that Balance has built its platform specifically for “rapidly scaling” B2B marketplaces and merchants is reflective of a “well-placed” focus.

“B2B marketplaces, for example, have a very particular set of payments and capital markets-related needs that can be much more holistically and elegantly solved with Balance’s flexible toolkit than alternatives,” he wrote via email. “Payments and checkout are two sides of the same coin, and Balance’s products allow users to address them together to better serve their customers as well as their own margins.”

Accel leads $18M Series A for Knoetic, a startup that wants to make HR professionals’ lives easier with software

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Knoetic, a startup that has built a software analytics platform for chief people officers, emerged from stealth today with $18 million in Series A funding.

For the unacquainted, chief people officers are also known as heads of human resources, or HR.

Accel led the financing, which notably also included participation from over 100 angel investors, including a number of executives, VCs and former and current chief people officers (CPOs) of companies such as Mozilla, Pinterest, Gusto, Box, Twilio, Fitbit, Kickstarter, Looker, Hired and GitHub.

For founder and CEO Joseph Quan, the fact that so many people who worked in the industry put money in the round as angels was huge validation that Knoetic is on the right track.

Founded in March 2020, the New York City-based startup has built a platform that combines a social network and a SaaS analytics tool for chief people officers. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, human resources leaders found themselves in a position they’d never before been — hiring talent remotely and having to work virtually to retain workers that previously came to an office.

Quan himself has worked in a variety of roles in the HR technology space, including at Twine, Knoetic’s predecessor company. 

Image Credits: Knoetic; Founder and CEO Joseph Quan

“The reason we exist was really born out of the pandemic. We noticed in our ecosystem of chief people officers that their role was thrust into the spotlight and it was a really tough time for them, and also a really lonely time,” Quan told TechCrunch. “Everyone was kind of scrambling for answers and we just realized this was a time to actually put together a network that allows all these people to commiserate and tackle some of their hardest questions, and then from that, form the basis for a broader vision.”

Over 1,000 HR professionals are members of Knoetic’s social community, which the company has embedded directly into its people analytics software. The result, Quan said, is an “Insight Engine” designed to give CPOs both quantitative and qualitative insights with the goal of helping them make “smarter, holistic” decisions about their workforce. The network is a referral-only community aimed at giving HR professionals a forum to discuss best practices and their “most pressing challenges,” such as how to navigate the COVID Delta variant and transition to and from remote work, Quan said.

 Chief people officers can also use Knoetic to do things like build board decks and present data to their CEOs. The company also claims the platform can help CPOs improve employee retention, compensation and hiring. 

Image Credits: Knoetic

In a short amount of time, Knoetic has built an impressive customer and community base, including the likes of Lyft, Squarespace, Amplitude, Discord, Dollar Shave Club and Zapier. 

Vas Natarajan of Accel believes that Knoetic is solving “a deep pain point.”

“We see how overstretched people teams are trying to wrangle information to make organizational decisions,” he wrote via email. “Across our best companies is a strong people function backed by great data to help inform all kinds of decisions around compensation, performance, and diversity and inclusion, among other things. Knoetic is uniformly solving this for everyone.”

The startup will use its new capital toward building out new products and hiring. It currently has about 25 employees, and Quan expects that number to grow to “north of 40” by year’s end.

“We want to build the single greatest network for HR professionals and build a dedicated community team,” he said.

Down the line, Quan also envisions creating an analytics engine that is “prescriptive and predictive” and can do things like tell HR leaders what kind of turnover their companies are seeing, what they can do about it and how to improve retention.

“And then it would be predictive as we gather more big data points as more people use the platform,” he added. “Then we could use that data to proactively predict who’s going to be a fast-rising company or who’s going to trip over the next 12 months. We’re starting to build those kinds of models on the back end.”

Givz raises $3M in seed funding to make donations a marketing tool for businesses

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Givz, which has developed an API-powered platform that gives brands a way to convert discounts into donations, has raised $3 million in seed funding.

Eniac and Accomplice co-led the financing for the New York-based startup. Additional investors include Supernode Ventures, Claude Wasserstein of Fine Day, Phoenix Club and Dylan Whitman.

Givz was founded in 2017 to make charitable giving more accessible and convenient for the masses. In March 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company pivoted from B2C to B2B and used the technology rails it had built to create the e-commerce marketing platform that Givz is today.

The company aims to drive “full-price purchasing behavior” by giving consumers the ability to convert the money they would be saving if getting a discount, and donating it to their favorite charities. 

Prior to the funding, Givz had been working with more than 80 enterprise, mid-market and SMB retail and e-commerce clients such as H&M, Tom Brady’s TB12, Seedlip and Terez, and accumulated more than 40,000 individual users. Since the shift last year, the company has helped drive more than $1 million to 1,100 charities, according to CEO and founder Andrew Forman.

It just launched on Shopify, which Forman says will give the startup access to the 1.7 million retailers that use Shopify as their e-commerce platform.

Givz operates under the premise that “donation-driven marketing” consistently outperforms discounts and costs less, “making it an attractive addition” to corporate marketing.

“We are creating a new marketing category and generating the largest sustainable charitable giving platform in the process,” he told TechCrunch. 

An example of a company using Givz can be found in Tervis, which offered customers “For every $50 you spend, you’ll receive $15 to give to the charity of your choice.” 

“They used Givz technology to allow consumers to choose the charity of their choice and make a turnkey disbursement to hundreds of charities,” Forman explained. “They saw a 20% lift in website conversion and a 17% increase in average order value as a result of this offer.”

Image Credits: Givz

Currently, Givz has eight employees with plans to more than double that number over the next year.

The company plans to use the new capital toward that hiring, and to do some marketing of its own.

“We also want to explore the full potential around the consumer behavior data we collect,” Forman said.

In the short term, Givz is focused on “Shopify growth” with direct to consumer brands.

“But we have successful use cases and huge potential with enterprise retailers and financial institutions,” Forman told TechCrunch. “In the future, we have our sights set on restaurants, the gaming industry and global expansion. I believe that using personalized donations to incentivize consumer behavior has endless application across industries, verticals and continents.”

Eniac partner Vic Singh said that there’s been a trend of brands experimenting with different ways to target the socially conscious consumer. 

“We believe Givz’s donation-driven marketing platform offers brands the best way to attract the socially conscious consumer while elevating their brand, moving more inventory and driving increased order value rather than simplistic traditional discounting,” he added.

Accomplice’s TJ Mahony said that both he and Singh believed SMS would emerge as a new marketing category, which led to early investments in Attentive and Postscript, respectively.

“We both saw a similar opportunity with Givz,” he wrote via e-mail. “Discounting is a well worn marketing muscle, but it’s detrimental to the brand, margins and customer expectations. We believe continuous impact marketing becomes the alternative to discounting and marketers will begin to build teams and budget around thoughtful and persistent giving strategies.”

Google says geofence warrants make up one-quarter of all US demands

By Zack Whittaker

For the first time, Google has published the number of geofence warrants it’s historically received from U.S. authorities, providing a rare glimpse into how frequently these controversial warrants are issued.

The figures, published Thursday, reveal that Google has received thousands of geofence warrants each quarter since 2018, and at times accounted for about one-quarter of all U.S. warrants that Google receives. The data shows that the vast majority of geofence warrants are obtained by local and state authorities, with federal law enforcement accounting for just 4% of all geofence warrants served on the technology giant.

According to the data, Google received 982 geofence warrants in 2018, 8,396 in 2019, and 11,554 in 2020. But the figures only provide a small glimpse into the volume of warrants received, and did not break down how often it pushes back on overly broad requests. A spokesperson for Google would not comment on the record.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which led efforts by dozens of civil rights groups to lobby for the release of these numbers, commended Google for releasing the numbers.

“Geofence warrants are unconstitutionally broad and invasive, and we look forward to the day they are outlawed completely.” said Cahn.

Geofence warrants are also known as “reverse-location” warrants, since they seek to identify people of interest who were in the near-vicinity at the time a crime was committed. Police do this by asking a court to order Google, which stores vast amounts of location data to drive its advertising business, to turn over details of who was in a geographic area, such as a radius of a few hundred feet at a certain point in time, to help identify potential suspects.

Google has long shied away from providing these figures, in part because geofence warrants are largely thought to be unique to Google. Law enforcement has long known that Google stores vast troves of location data on its users in a database called Sensorvault, first revealed by The New York Times in 2019.

Sensorvault is said to have the detailed location data on “at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide,” collected from users’ phones when they use an Android device with location data switched on, or Google services like Google Maps and Google Photo, and even Google search results. In 2018, the Associated Press reported that Google could still collect users’ locations even when their location history is “paused.”

But critics have argued that geofence warrants are unconstitutional because the authorities compel Google to turn over data on everyone else who was in the same geographic area.

Worse, these warrants have been known to ensnare entirely innocent people.

TechCrunch reported earlier this year that Minneapolis police used a geofence warrant to identify individuals accused of sparking violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year. One person on the ground who was filming and documenting the protests had his location data requested by police for being close to the violence. NBC News reported last year how one Gainesville, Fla. resident whose information was given by Google to police investigating a burglary, but was able to prove his innocence thanks to an app on his phone that tracked his fitness activity.

Although the courts have yet to deliberate widely on the legality of geofence warrants, some states are drafting laws to push back against geofence warrants. New York lawmakers proposed a bill last year that would ban geofence warrants in the state, amid fears that police could use these warrants to target protesters — as what happened in Minneapolis.

Cahn, who helped introduce the New York bill last year, said the newly released data will “help spur lawmakers to outlaw the technology.”

“Let’s be clear, the number of geofence warrants should be zero,” he said.

Facebook releases a glimpse of its most popular posts, but we don’t learn much

By Taylor Hatmaker

Facebook is out with a new report collecting the most popular posts on the platform, responding to critics who believe the company is deliberately opaque about its top-performing content.

Facebook’s new “widely viewed content reports” will come out quarterly, reflecting most viewed top News Feed posts in the U.S. every three months — not exactly the kind of real-time data monitoring that might prove useful for observing emerging trends.

With the new data set, Facebook hopes to push back against criticism that its algorithms operate within a black box. But like its often misleading blogged rebuttals and the other sets of cherry-picked data it shares, the company’s latest gesture at transparency is better than nothing, but not particularly useful.

So what do we learn? According to the new data set, 87% of posts that people viewed in the U.S. during Q2 of this year didn’t include an outside link. That’s notable but not very telling since Facebook still has an incredibly massive swath of people sharing and seeing links on a daily basis.

YouTube is predictably the top domain by Facebook’s chosen metric of “content viewers,” which it defines as any account that saw a piece of content on the News Feed, though we don’t get anything in the way of potentially helpful granular data there. Amazon, Gofundme, TikTok and others also in the top 10, no surprises there either.

Things get weirder when Facebook starts breaking down its most viewed links. The top five links include a website for alumni of the Green Bay Packers football team, a random online CBD marketplace and reppnforchrist.com, an apparently prominent portal for Christianity-themed graphic T-shirts. The subscription page for the Epoch Times, a site well known for spreading pro-Trump conspiracies and other disinformation, comes in at No 10, though it was beaten by a Tumblr link to two cats walking with their tails intertwined.

Image Credits: Facebook

Yahoo and ABC News are the only prominent national media outlets that make the top 20 when the data is sliced and diced in this particular way. Facebook also breaks down which posts the most people viewed during the period with a list of mostly benign if odd memes, including one that reads “If your VAGINA [cat emoji] or PENIS [eggplant emoji] was named after the last TV show/Move u watched what would it be.”

If you’re wondering why Facebook chose to collect and present this set of data in this specific way, it’s because the company is desperately trying to prove a point: That its platform isn’t overrun by the political conspiracies and controversial right-wing personalities that make headlines.

The dataset is Facebook’s latest argument in its long feud with New York Times reporter Kevin Roose, who created a Twitter account that surfaces Facebook’s most engaging posts on a daily basis, as measured through the Facebook-owned social monitoring tool CrowdTangle.

The top-performing link posts by U.S. Facebook pages in the last 24 hours are from:

1. Dan Rather
2. Ben Shapiro
3. Love Meow
4. Ben Shapiro
5. Dinesh D'Souza
6. Ben Shapiro
7. Ben Shapiro
8. Sean Hannity
9. Fox News
10. Steven Crowder

— Facebook's Top 10 (@FacebooksTop10) August 10, 2021

By the metric of engagement, Facebook’s list of top-performing posts in the U.S. are regularly dominated by far-right personalities and sites like Newsmax, which pushes election conspiracies that Facebook would prefer to distance itself from.

The company argues that Facebook posts with the most interactions don’t accurately represent the top content on the platform. Facebook insists that reach data, which measures how many people see a given post, is a superior metric, but there’s no reason that engagement data isn’t just as relevant if not more so.

“The content that’s seen by the most people isn’t necessarily the content that also gets the most engagement,” Facebook wrote, in a dig clearly aimed at Roose.

The platform wants to de-emphasize political content across the board, which isn’t surprising given its track record of amplifying Russian disinformation, violent far-right militias and the Stop the Steal movement, which culminated in deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol in January.

As The New York Times previously reported, Facebook actually scrapped plans to make its reach data widely available through a public dashboard over fears that even that version of its top-performing posts wouldn’t reflect well on the company.

Instead, the company opted to offer a taste of that data in a confusingly condensed quarterly report. The result shows plenty of inexplicable junk content (no really, what’s with the Packers site?), but less in the way of politics. Facebook’s cursory gesture of transparency notwithstanding, it’s worth remembering that nothing is stopping the company from letting people see a deeper, broader leaderboard of its most popular content. This isn’t that.

New York City’s enterprise tech startups could be heading for a superheated exit wave

By Anna Heim

We lied when we said that The Exchange was done covering 2021 venture capital performance. Yesterday, we dug into preliminary Q3 data for the Chinese startup market. This morning, we’re looking back at just what startups in New York City managed in the first half of the year.

Some startups, at least. We paged through a report from New York City-based Work-Bench, a venture capital group focused on enterprise technology. The firm ran the numbers on Q1 and Q2 venture performance in their target market. What emerged from the data is a startup market busy accelerating its ability to raise capital, mint unicorns and, increasingly, generate outsized exits.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Gone are the days when the New York startup ecosystem, perennially in Silicon Valley’s shadow, was more hype than substance. (In recent news, Work-Bench recently raised a new $100 million fund.)

There’s a lot to chat through, so we got Work-Bench partner Jonathan Lehr — one half of a founding pair that includes Jessica Lin — to answer our questions. Let’s explore just how large the New York City venture capital market has grown, where the funds are flowing in enterprise-startup terms, and discuss the pace at which the city is minting new unicorns — can it find enough exits for so many $1 billion startups?

That final question is one that we have about essentially every startup hub in the world. Perhaps New York City will provide a blueprint for how to think about an ever-larger unicorn stable that seems to have a wider entrance than exit.

A venture bonanza

At a state level, New York had a huge start to 2021. As with many startup ecosystems, there was far more venture capital activity in the state during the first half of 2021 than in the same period of 2020.

CB Insights data paints a clear picture: In the first half of 2020, New York-based startups raised $7.6 billion across 667 rounds. In the first half of 2021, however, those numbers swelled to $22.4 billion from 847 deals.

Enterprise venture funding saw similar gains. Per the Work-Bench report, enterprise startups in New York City raised $6.7 billion in the first and second quarters of this year, up 146% from the first half of 2020, when $2.7 billion was raised. Even more notable, Work-Bench reports that venture funding of enterprise startups in its city was up 12x in H1 2021 compared to a full-year 2014 tally.

In a nutshell, the figures detail the rise of New York’s key startup market in the last decade.

Amazon will pay you $10 in credit for your palm print biometrics

By Zack Whittaker

How much is your palm print worth? If you ask Amazon, it’s about $10 in promotional credit if you enroll your palm prints in its checkout-free stores and link it to your Amazon account.

Last year, Amazon introduced its new biometric palm print scanners, Amazon One, so customers can pay for goods in some stores by waving their palm prints over one of these scanners. By February, the company expanded its palm scanners to other Amazon grocery, book and 4-star stores across Seattle.

Amazon has since expanded its biometric scanning technology to its stores across the U.S., including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Texas.

The retail and cloud giant says its palm scanning hardware “captures the minute characteristics of your palm — both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns — to create your palm signature,” which is then stored in the cloud and used to confirm your identity when you’re in one of its stores.

Amazon’s latest promotion: $10 promotional credit in exchange for your palm print. (Image: Amazon)

What’s Amazon doing with this data exactly? Your palm print on its own might not do much — though Amazon says it uses an unspecified “subset” of anonymous palm data to improve the technology. But by linking it to your Amazon account, Amazon can use the data it collects, like shopping history, to target ads, offers and recommendations to you over time.

Amazon also says it stores palm data indefinitely, unless you choose to delete the data once there are no outstanding transactions left, or if you don’t use the feature for two years.

While the idea of contactlessly scanning your palm print to pay for goods during a pandemic might seem like a novel idea, it’s one to be met with caution and skepticism given Amazon’s past efforts in developing biometric technology. Amazon’s controversial facial recognition technology, which it historically sold to police and law enforcement, was the subject of lawsuits that allege the company violated state laws that bar the use of personal biometric data without permission.

“The dystopian future of science fiction is now. It’s horrifying that Amazon is asking people to sell their bodies, but it’s even worse that people are doing it for such a low price,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, in an email to TechCrunch.

“Biometric data is one of the only ways that companies and governments can track us permanently. You can change your name, you can change your Social Security number, but you can’t change your palm print. The more we normalize these tactics, the harder they will be to escape. If we don’t [draw a] line in the sand here, I am very fearful what our future will look like,” said Cahn.

When reached, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

 

BoxGroup closes on $255M across two funds to back startups at their earliest stages

By Mary Ann Azevedo

BoxGroup has quietly, yet diligently, been funding companies at the early stage for over a decade. The 11-year-old firm in fact was the first investor in Plaid, a fintech company that nearly got sold to Visa last year for billions of dollars.

It has seen a number of impressive exits over the years, proving an eye that can detect winners before the winners themselves may even realize it. In fact, it’s that early faith in companies that partner David Tisch believes has been key to BoxGroup’s success.

“If you’re starting a company and you’re going to raise money, that first yes is the hardest. And it’s that’s the one that gives you the confidence, the excitement – to know that there’s somebody out there that’s going to believe in this and give you money for it,” Partner David Tisch told TechCrunch. “We really do try to pride ourselves on being that first yes on a regular basis. So the earlier we meet companies, the better.”

Today, BoxGroup is announcing it has beefed up its war chest so that it can be that “first yes” to more companies with the closure of two new funds totaling $255 million of capital. BoxGroup Five is the firm’s fifth early stage fund, and is aimed at investing in emerging tech companies at the pre-seed and seed stages. BoxGroup Strive is its second opportunity fund that will back companies in their subsequent follow-on rounds. Each fund amounts to $127.5 million. 

Over the years, BoxGroup has made over 300 investments including having invested in the earliest rounds of Ro, Plaid, Airtable, Workrise, Scopely, Bowery Farms, Ramp, Titan, Warby Parker, Classpass, Guideline and Glossier. It has had a number of impressive exits in Flatiron Health, PillPack, Matterport, Oscar, Mirror, Bark, Bread and Trello. 

Besides being the first firm to write Plaid a check, BoxGroup was also the first investor in PillPack, which ended up selling to Amazon for just under $1 billion in 2018.

BoxGroup Five – the firm’s early-stage fund – will invest in about 40 to 50 new companies a year with investments ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.

“We want to be the second or third biggest check in a round,” Tisch said.

Image Credits: BoxGroup; Adam Rothenberg (left), Nimi Katragadda (bottom), Greg Rosen (top), David Tisch (right)

The opportunity fund occasionally makes later-stage investments in new companies, but mostly just continues to support companies it invested in at an earlier stage. For example, BoxGroup first invested in id.me in 2010.

“The company is sort of an 11-year overnight success that we’ve been backing for over a decade now,” Tisch said. “It’s an example of us just continuing to support companies through their life cycle.”

BoxGroup also pre-seeded digital healthcare startup Ro, but also funded every round it’s raised since, including its most recent $500 million funding at a $5 billion valuation

Tisch describes the BoxGroup six-person team as “generalists” in terms of the spaces it invests in, with a portfolio consisting of startups in the consumer, enterprise, fintech, healthcare, marketplace, synthetic biology and climate sectors.

Interestingly, BoxGroup’s last fund closures – which totaled $165 million – marked the first time the firm had accepted outside capital in nine years. Prior to that point, it had been funded with only personal capital. Its LPs are a mixed group of endowments, foundations and family offices.

For BoxGroup, building authentic relationships with founders is at the root of what the firm does, says Partner Nimi Katragadda. That includes taking bets on founders, sometimes more than once, even if one of their companies didn’t work out. It means backing just ideas in some cases, and people.

“This cannot be transactional, it has to be personal,” she said. “We want to go on a journey with someone for a decade as they build their business…. We’re comfortable with what early means, including a lot of assumptions, more vision than traction, and raw product.”

Partner Adam Rothenberg agrees, saying: “Our goal is to be the friend in the room. We believe in honesty, tough love, and transparency in building relationships with founders. We focus on the “how” more than the “what” — how a founder thinks, how they will build product, and how they think about attracting talent.”

With offices in San Francisco and New York, the firm will likely be growing in the near future as BoxGroup is looking to add on some “first-line investors,” Tisch said.

Recently, Greg Rosen was named a partner at the firm. Rosen originally joined BoxGroup in 2015, where he spent three years before leaving to join Benchmark. He re-joined BoxGroup in early 2020 and joins the firm’s three other partners: Tisch, Rothenberg and Katragadda. 

While the world of venture is crazy hot right now, Tisch said the firm keeps itself grounded with a wisdom that can only be gained with experience and in time.

“There is seemingly infinite capital waiting to be deployed,” he said. “Without calling the cycle, we know that over time markets go up and down…No matter where we are in a given cycle, smart and determined minds will come together to build important technology companies. Our job is to make sure we are meeting those founders and choosing wisely about which ones to partner with for 10+ year journeys.”

GGV Capital gave this real estate startup founder a term sheet 48 hours after meeting

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Realm, which aims to help homeowners maximize the value of their property with its data platform, has raised $12 million in Series A funding led by GGV Capital.

Existing backers Primary Venture Partners, Lerer Hippeau and Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures also participated in the round, bringing the New York-based startup’s total raised to $15 million.

Liz Young founded Realm, launching the platform earlier this year with the goal of providing “a one-stop-shop for accessible, actionable home advice.”

So far, Realm says it has helped over 20,000 homeowners “uncover” an average of $175,000 in property value. Its user base is growing 20% month over month.

What makes the company different from other valuation offerings out there, according to Young, is that rather than telling owners what their homes are worth today, Realm can tell them what their home could be worth after renovations in months and years to come.

“There are a ton of tools and services that make it easier to buy or sell your home, but once you move, it’s a total black box,” she said. “You’re left trying to cobble together advice from fragmented, often biased resources to navigate big, expensive decisions. There’s nowhere else consumers spend so much money, with such little actionable information.”

For example, using data extracted from a variety of sources such as tax assessors and its own users, Realm can do things like tell a homeowner in real time how their property value will change if they do things like make over a bathroom or add a new deck. Its algorithms can assess a property and offer advice on what projects are most likely to add value.

“The public data that we acquire, the data we ingest from users, and the data that we build ourselves has allowed us to build the most robust and unique actionable real estate data set in the U.S.,” Young told TechCrunch.

Realm’s database is free and according to Young, offers insights on over 70 million single family detached homes across the U.S.

Part of that is determined by zoning data, which tells people where they can and cannot build on a property.

“It’s really important because square feet is one of the biggest drivers of home value,” Young said. “So if you’re trying to understand how much a home’s worth or could be worth, you really have to understand the local zoning rules.”

Image Credits: Realm

Realm’s marketplace offering, where an adviser connects owners to contractors, architects and lenders that can carry out the company’s recommendations, is currently only live in California, but will be expanding to new markets over the next 12 months.

“People can digitally consume our free insights but a lot want help interpreting them,” Young said.

The company plans to use its new capital to “improve the quality and sophistication of the platform’s data insights” and toward hiring across its data science, engineering, marketing and operations teams. It will also continue to develop its proprietary data sets and models, which offer homeowners across the country personalized analysis of over 70 million homes.
A lot of Realm’s business is driven by its relationships with agents and word of mouth via its existing user base.

Jeff Richards, GGV managing partner and new Realm board member, said that when his firm backs at the Series A level, its bet is “100% on the founder.”

“I met Liz when she was raising her seed round in July 2020 and was blown away,” he told TechCrunch. “She’s smart, ambitious and has a deep background in the space she’s going after. Although it was early, I could tell she was thinking big.”

Founder and CEO Liz Young. Image Credits: Realm

He points out that GGV Capital, with $2.5 billion in assets under management, is a long-time investor in other proptechs including Opendoor, Divvy Homes, Belong and Airbnb.

“Zillow made it easy for people to find a home to buy. Opendoor made it easy to buy and sell a home,” Richards told TechCrunch. “Airbnb made it easy to rent a home for a short-term vacation. Belong is making it easy to rent a home for the long term.”

Realm, according to Richards, was right in GGV’s “sweet spot.”

“No one has zeroed in on helping the individual homeowner manage their home, and that’s the opportunity area Liz is going after,” he said. “We kept in touch after the seed round, she pinged me to talk about her A, we met up and I gave her a term sheet 48 hours later.”

In general, Richards believes that residential real estate is one of the biggest spend categories in the U.S. and yet is still virtually untouched by technology.

Home sales are over $1.6 trillion annually, home improvement is one of the biggest categories in the U.S. at over $500 billion annually, and the average home renovation project in the U.S. is around $15,000, with many spending over $50,000.

“I’ve owned a home for 17 years and almost everything I do with respect to the home is the same as it was over a decade ago. The only thing that has really changed is I can manage my thermostat and cameras with my phone,” Richards said. “Literally everything else is the same — the way I do renovations, the way I find contractors to do repairs, the way I pay my mortgage, etc. — exactly the same. That’s ridiculous! Liz sees a huge opportunity here, and so do we. The market is enormous. So there will be many, many winners.”

One week left to buy passes to TC Disrupt 2021 for less than $100

By Alexandra Ames

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, the world’s original and most epic conference dedicated to tech startups, takes place September 21-23. Are you ready to take full advantage of this opportunity-packed event? Start right now and buy a Disrupt pass for less than $100. But don’t wait — the early bird prices disappear on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Experience the full range of the global tech startup culture. Disrupt draws thousands of attendees from around the world, ready to learn, network, inspire and inform. You’ll hear from the leading voices across the tech spectrum — people like Coinbase CEO, Brian Armstrong, Pear VC’s Mar Hershenson and Accel’s Arun Matthew. And even a few tech-savvy celebrity founders (we’re looking at you, Seth Rogan).

Head to the Disrupt Stage for compelling interviews, panel discussions and presentations. And if you’re hot for tips, strategies and advice you can put to work in your startup right away, head on over to the Extra Crunch Stage. Our virtual platform makes it easy to pop in and out as your schedule permits, and you’ll have three months of video-on-demand access to all presentations when the event ends. You won’t miss a thing.

Check out the Disrupt 2021 agenda and register here to get updates when we add new speakers, events and discounts.

Startup Alley, our legendary expo area, is already sold out. Do not miss this collection of innovative startups showcasing their impressive tech and talent. Stop by their virtual booths, schedule 1:1 video meeting, ask for a product demo. You might just find a new collaborator, the perfect solution to a nagging problem or a promising addition to your investment portfolio.

Pro Tip: Every Startup Alley exhibitor will take part in one of our pitch feedback breakout sessions. It’s not only an opportunity to learn about the company — the feedback they receive from the Team TechCrunch can help you improve your own pitch.

Of course, Startup Battlefield is where the best-of-the best take the virtual stage to pitch for glory, global exposure and, oh yeah, $100,000 in equity-free prizemoney. It’s the startup world’s best launch pad and, since its inception, 922 companies have collectively raised $9 billion and generated 117 exits. Here’s how Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars described watching Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020.

“The Startup Battlefield translated easily to the virtual format. You could see the excitement, enthusiasm and possibility of the young founders, and I loved that. You could also ask questions through the chat feature, and you don’t always have time for questions at a live event.”

Tune in to watch this thrilling throwdown. You never know — this year’s cohort might produce a future unicorn or two.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place on September 21-23. Buy your Disrupt pass before July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT), and you’ll pay less than $100. Now that’s an opportunity worth grabbing.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

i80 Group has quietly committed $1B in credit to the fintech and proptech worlds

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Not every startup wants to raise venture capital. And then there are those that do want to raise VC money but don’t want to use it for specific things.

In recent years, a number of firms have emerged looking to meet the credit needs of such venture-backed and growth startups: i80 Group is one of those firms.

Former Goldman Sachs investment banker Marc Helwani founded i80 in 2016 after investing in early-stage New York-based fintechs in 2014-2015 via his VC fund, Avenue A Ventures.

“It became very clear to me that fintech was going to explode,” he recalls. “At that time, it was still relatively new. And every time I spoke to a company, they would tell me, ‘We know how to raise VC, but what about the credit?’ I just saw this white space.”

For example, proptechs that buy homes on behalf of buyers don’t want to use venture money. Fintechs that want to make loans to consumers don’t want to use equity to do it. Instead, in those cases, credit might be more desirable.

Enter i80. The firm offers credit exclusively, and over the years has quietly committed more than $1 billion to over 15 companies –including real estate marketplace Properly, finance app MoneyLion and SaaS financing company Capchase — that have all raised a significant amount of venture capital but are looking for credit “to help them scale very efficiently and in a non-dilutive manner so they can retain more ownership of their companies,” Helwani said. 

Its $1 billion milestone follows fund commitments nearing $500 million from an unnamed “leading global asset manager” as well as other institutional and retail investors.

Image Credits: Founder and Chief Investment Officer Marc Helwani / i80 Group

I80 — which derives its name from the highway that connects New York and San Francisco — is mainly focused on the fintech and proptech sectors. 

“They are the two centers for the venture ecosystem,” Helwani said. “And we’re trying to be a bridge between those two cities.” I80 has offices in both locations and will soon be opening one in Montreal.

The firm works in conjunction with VC firms such as a16z (more formally known as Andreessen Horowitz); Affirm and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s SciFi; Khosla Ventures; Union Square Ventures; and QED.

“In a perfect world, venture capital would be called venture equity,” Helwani said. “VCs’ capital is critical for companies to hire and get office space. But when it comes time to do what the actual business is, such as provide loans or buy homes, capital like ours is very accretive without VCs and management losing ownership in the business. In these cases, using both credit and equity makes a lot of sense.”

Helwani is reluctant to call what i80 offers venture “debt.” He says that has a very specific connotation and is what Silicon Valley Bank and others like it do in providing debt as a percentage of a previous equity round. Instead, according to Helwani, i80’s approach is to minimize fees. The vast majority of its deals are “interest-rate related.”

“With mortgages, for example, we never think about the fees upfront, and focus more on the interest rate,” Helwan said. “We believe the more transparent we are, the more companies will want to work with us.”

I80 conducts quarterly calls with VCs and for now, that’s how it typically sources most of its deal flow. It also gets referrals. Helwani believes that i80 stands out from other firms also offering credit in that it’s “not trying to be credit investors in VC clothing.”

He also thinks that the fact that the i80 team is made of operators, as well as investors, is a contributing factor.

The firm is set to close another half a dozen deals in the next 60 to 90 days, and then plans to set its sights on raising more capital.

“We want to fill this void, and help companies raise money in their subsequent rounds at higher valuations,” Helwani said.

Titan, a platform aimed at the ‘everyday investor,’ valued at $450M as a16z leads $58M Series B

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Titan, a startup that is building a retail investment management platform aimed at the new generation of “everyday investors,” has closed on $58 million in a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

The financing comes just over five months after Titan raised $12.5 million in a Series A round led by General Catalyst, and brings the startup’s total raised since its 2017 inception to $75 million. It values the company at $450 million.

General Catalyst also put money in the Series B round, along with BoxGroup, Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures and a group of professional athletes and celebrities including Odell Beckham Jr., Kevin Durant, Jared Leto and Will Smith. 

The startup, which describes itself as “a new-guard active investment manager, launched its first investment strategy in February of 2018 and today has 30,000 users. Titan’s platform grew by 500% in the last 12 months, largely organically, according to the company, which expects to cross its first billion in assets under management later this year. At the time of its last raise in February, Titan co-founder and co-CEO Joe Percoco said the startup was approaching $500 million in assets under management and was cash flow positive last year. 

“What Fidelity and its iconic mutual funds were for baby boomers, Titan is for new generations. Titan is the first DTC, mobile-first investment platform where everyday investors, irrespective of wealth, can have their capital actively managed by investment experts in long-term strategies,” Percoco said.

He went on to describe the mutual fund or an ETF as “fundamentally just a piece of technology for an investment manager to accept money from someone in order to invest in securities.” He likened that piece of technology to a VHS tape that “does the job, but is archaic for a few reasons.” Those reasons, he said, are that the investor is an “anonymized dollar value” and the products have layers of costs with high minimums and are difficult to create.

“The factory that creates the mutual fund itself is very old. The entire investment management industry is predicated on these VHS tapes,” Percoco said. “These are the archaic technologies being used. We’re rebuilding it entirely. Fidelity is an old factory. Titan is effectively a new factory.”

Image credits: Titan

On August 3, Titan plans to launch its cryptocurrency offering, which the company claims will be the first and only actively managed portfolio of cryptocurrency assets available to U.S. investors. At launch, Titan Crypto will be available to all U.S. residents except those with home addresses in New  York. Access for NY-based residents will be provided once Titan’s custodial partner receives regulatory approval for the state’s jurisdiction. 

Looking ahead, Titan said it plans to allow other investment managers to launch their products from its “factory.”

“The initial strategies on Titan’s platform are predominantly in stocks,” Percoco said. “We’re already getting in-bounds from multibillion-dollar managers asking to launch products on Titan.”

The company plans to use its new capital toward continuing to build out its underlying platform and suite of investment products as well as hiring. It currently has about 30 employees, up from seven a year ago. Percoco expects that Titan will have 100 employees by this time next year.

A16z general partner Anish Acharya said that since meeting the Titan team last year, his firm has “consistently been impressed” by Titan’s product vision, execution and team.

“If we pull back and look at trends happening in consumer investing, we can see that younger generations are embracing more risk in investing, that they demand easy to navigate, mobile-first interfaces and transparency from their banks, and that they want to deeply understand how their money is being invested and participate in the learnings from that process,” said Acharya, who will be joining Titan’s board as part of the financing.

In his view, Titan sits at an “interesting intersection” between passive robo-advisors and active stock-pricing, “allowing their customers to ride shotgun alongside some of the best fund managers in the world, thus achieving the returns and knowledge of stock picking without having to make the decisions themselves.”

Powered by local stores, JOKR joins the 15-min grocery race with a $170M Series A

By Mike Butcher

“We are true believers in the fact that the world needs a new Amazon, a better one, a more sustainable one, one that appreciates local areas and products.” It’s quite one thing to claim you are out to replace Amazon (just as its founder goes into space), but Ralf Wenzel, Founder and CEO of JOKR, certainly believes his company might have a shot. And he’s raising plenty of money to aim at that goal.

Today the fast-growing grocery and retail delivery platform has closed a whopping $170 million Series A funding round. The round comes three months after the company started operations in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe. JOKR’s team consists of people who created both foodpanda and Delivery Hero, so from the outside at least, they have the chops to build a big business.

The round was led by Led by GGV Capital, Balderton Capital, and Tiger Global Management. It was joined by Activant Capital, Greycroft, Fabrice Grinda’s FJ Labs, as well as Latin America’s tech-specialized VC firms Kaszek and Monashees, as did HV Capital, the first institutional investor.

Based out of New York, where it launched last month JOKR plans to roll out across cities in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. Right now it’s live in nine cities, across Latin American countries, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, as well as Poland and Austria in Europe.

Wenzel said: “The investment we announced today will empower us to continue our expansion at an unprecedented rate as we continue to build JOKR into the premier platform for a new generation of online shopping, with instant delivery, a focus on local product offerings and more sustainable delivery and supply chains. We are proud to be able to partner with such a distinguished group of international tech investors to help us seize the enormous opportunity in front of us.”

JOKR’s pitch is that it enables small local businesses to sell their goods, sourced from other local businesses, via the platform, thus expanding their reach without the need for complex logistics and delivery networks on their own. But that local aspect also builds sustainability into the model.

Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, and newly appointed member of JOKR’s board said: “Ralf has put together an all-star team for food delivery that will transform the retail supply chain. The combination of food delivery experience and the sophisticated data capabilities that optimizes inventory allocation and dispatch, set JOKR apart. We look forward to working with the team on their mission to make retail more instant, more democratic, and more sustainable.”

JOKR is joining other fast-delivery grocery providers like Gorillas and Getir in providing a 15 minute delivery time for supermarket and convenience products, pharmaceuticals, but also ‘exclusive’ local products that are not available in regular supermarkets. Although, so far, it only has an app on Google Play.

Speaking at an interview with me Wenzel said: “We are close to the equivalent of Instacart, strongly grocery focused. Our offering is significantly broader than the ones of Gorillas because we’re not only focusing on convenience and all kinds of different grocery categories, we’re getting closer to a supermarket offering, so the biggest competing element would be the traditional supermarkets, the offline supermarkets, as well as online grocery propositions. We are vertically integrating and hence procuring directly, cutting out middlemen and building our own distribution warehouses.”

LeagueApps raises $15M to be the ‘operating system’ for youth sports organizations

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Youth sports are an integral part of our communities, bringing families together and helping kids all over gain confidence and skills.

Most of us don’t think about all the work that goes into setting up, growing and maintaining these leagues. It’s a lot. Today, LeagueApps, which aims to be the operating system for youth sports organizations, announced it has raised $15 million in a Series B round of funding.

Existing investor Contour Venture Partners led the financing, which brings the company’s total funding since its 2010 inception to $35 million. Major League Baseball and Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers, also participated in the round. 

A slew of new and existing backers also put money in the round including Olympic Gold Medalists Julie Foudy and Swin Cash; NFL veteran Derrick Dockery; Peter J. Holt, chairman of Spurs Sports & Entertainment; Laura Dixon, founder & president of PRO Sports Assembly and investment management firm Hamilton Lane. 

The New York-based company is working to help youth sports organizations, well, be better organized. It has developed registration and management software so that leaders of these sports organizations can better manage the process of running the leagues, communicate more effectively and collect payment more efficiently.

“We’ve built all the tools they need to power their programs,” said Brian Litvack, LeagueApps CEO & co-founder. Those tools include giving these leaders the means to do things like build a website, accept registrations, send messages to coaches and parents and help them share information with governing bodies or associations.

“Local sports organizers have an important role in the community to make sure that sports happens,” Litvack said.

Image Credits: LeagueApps

Rather than charging for its software, it charges a small fee upfront and then takes a percentage of any transactions that are conducted via its platform. So if its users don’t get paid, it doesn’t get paid.

That means the company, like many others, took a bit of a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. But it’s since rebounded, and then some.

In the spring of 2021, the platform crossed the $2 billion in transactions processed mark, doubling the $1 billion mark it reached in the summer of 2019. From 2016 to 2019, LeagueApps saw 275% revenue growth. Today, over 3,000 sports organizations use LeagueApps as their operating system. 

The company projects that it will process more than 4 million sports registrations in 2021.

In addition to its flagship software, the company’s NextUp platform is designed to provide organizers with opportunities for leadership development and networking. It also runs FundPlay, a philanthropic program focused on sports-based youth development programs in underserved communities.

As a parent with children playing sports, Contour Ventures’ Matt Gorin said he was drawn to invest in LeagueApps. In his view, the company is tackling a “large yet fragmented” market.

I have seen firsthand just how important youth sports experiences, and the organizations that provide them, are to kids, families, and communities,” he said.LeagueApps is unique in so many ways, particularly regarding its unparalleled approach and commitment to combining technology, community, customer service and impact for the maturing youth sports market.”

LeagueApps plans to use its new capital mainly to invest in product and engineering so that it can “provide more solutions” to youth sports organizations.

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