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Kafene raises $14M to offer buy now, pay later to the subprime consumer

By Mary Ann Azevedo

The buy now, pay later frenzy isn’t going anywhere as more consumers seek alternatives to credit cards to fund purchases.

And those purchases aren’t exclusive to luxuries such as Pelotons (ahem, Affirm) or jewelry someone might be treating themselves to online. A new fintech company is out to help consumers finance big-ticket items that are considered more “must have” than “nice to have.” And it’s just raised $14 million in Series A funding to help it advance on that goal.

Neal Desai (former CFO of Octane Lending) and James Schuler (who participated in Y Combinator’s accelerator program as a high schooler) founded New York City-based Kafene in July 2019. The pair’s goal is to promote financial inclusion by meeting the needs of what it describes as the “consumers that are left behind by traditional lenders.”

More specifically, Kafene is focused on helping consumers with credit scores below 650 purchase retail items such as furniture, appliances and electronics with its buy now, pay later (BNPL) model. Consider it an “Affirm for the subprime,” says Desai.

Global Founders Capital and Third Prime Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from Valar, Company.co, Hermann Capital, Gaingels, Republic Labs, Uncorrelated Ventures and FJ labs.

“Historically, if you could access credit, you could go to the bank or use a credit card,” Third Prime’s Wes Barton told TechCrunch. “But if you had some unexpected expense, and had to miss a payment with the bank, there would be repercussions and you could fall into a debt trap.”

Kafene’s “flexible ownership” model is designed to not let that happen to a consumer. If for some reason, someone has to forfeit on a payment, Kafene comes to pick up the item and the customer is no longer under obligation to pay for it moving forward.

The way it works is that Kafene buys the product from a merchant on a consumers’ behalf and rents it back to them over 12 months. If they make all payments, they own the item. If they make them earlier, they get a “significant” discount, and if they can’t, Kafene reclaims the item and takes the loan loss.

Image Credits: Kafene

It’s a modern take on Rent-A-Center, which charges more money for inferior products, Desai believes.

“This is also a superior product to credit cards, and the size of that market is massive,” Barton said. “We want to take a huge chunk of credit card business in time, and give consumers the flexibility to quit at any point in time, and fly free, if you will.”

Such flexibility, Kafene claims, helps promote financial inclusion by giving a wider range of consumers options to alternative forms of credit at the point of sale.

It also helps people boost their credit scores, according to Desai, because if they buy out of the loan earlier than the 12-month term, their credit score goes up because Kafene reports them as a positive payer.

“In any situation where they don’t steal the item, their credit score improves,” he said. “Even if they end up returning it because they can’t afford it. In the long run, they can have a better credit score to qualify for a traditional loan product.”

Kafene rolled out a beta of its financing product in December of 2019 and then had to pause in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company essentially “hibernated” from March to June 2020 and re-launched out of beta last July.

By October, Kafene stopped all enrollment with merchants because it had more demand that it could handle — largely fueled by more people being financially strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, the company was handling about $2 million a month in merchandise volume.

With its new capital, Kafene plans to significantly scale its existing lease-to-own financing business nationally, as well as to launch a direct-to-consumer virtual lease card.

Fintech all-star Nubank raises a $750M mega round

By Marcella McCarthy

In 2013, Colombian businessman David Velez decided to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. He didn’t speak Portuguese, nor was he an engineer or a banker, but he did have the conviction that the system was broken and that he could fix it. And as a former Sequoia VC, he also had access to capital.

His gut instinct and market analysis were right. Today, Nubank announced a $750 million extension to its Series G (which rang in at $400 million this past January), bringing the round to a total of $1.15 billion and their valuation to $30 billion — $5 billion more than when we covered them in January.

The extension funding was led by Berkshire Hathaway, which put in $500 million, and a number of other investors.

Velez and his team decided now was a good time to raise again, because, “We saw a great opportunity in terms of growth rate and we’re very tiny when compared to the incumbents,” he told TechCrunch.”

Nubank is the biggest digital bank in the world by number of customers: 40 million. The company started as a tech company in Brazil that offered only a fee-free credit card with a line of credit of R$50 (about USD$10). 

It now offers a variety of financial products, including a digital bank account, a debit card, insurance, P2P payment via Pix (the Brazilian equivalent of Zelle), loans, rewards, life insurance and an account and credit card for small business owners. 

Nubank serves unbanked or underserviced citizens in Brazil — about 30% of the population — and this approach can be extremely profitable because there are many more clients available.

The banking system in Brazil is one of the few bureaucracies in the country that is actually quite skillful, but the customer service remains unbearable, and banks charge exorbitant fees for any little transaction. 

Traditionally, the banking industry has been dominated by five major traditional banks: Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Santander and Caixa Economica Federal. 

While Brazil remains Nubank’s primary market, the company also offers services in Colombia and Mexico (services launched in Mexico in 2018). The company still only offers the credit card in both countries.

“The momentum we’re seeing in Mexico is terrific. Our Mexican credit card net promoter score (NPS) is 93, which is the highest we’ve had in Nubank history. In Brazil the highest we’ve had was 88,” Velez said.

The company has been on a hiring spree in the last few months, and brought on two heavyweight executives. Matt Swann replaced Ed Wible (the original CTO and co-founder). Wible continues to be an important player in the company, but more in a software developer capacity. Swann previously served as CTO at Bookings.com and StubHub, and as CIO of the Global Consumer Bank at Citi, so he brings years of experience of scaling tech businesses, which is what Nubank is focused on now, though Velez wouldn’t confirm which countries are next.

The other major hire, Arturo Nunez, fills the new role of chief marketing officer. Nunez was head of marketing for Apple Latin America, amongst other roles with Nike and the NBA. 

It may sound a little odd for a tech company not to have had a head of marketing, but Nubank takes pride in having a $0 cost of acquisition (CAC). Instead of spending money on marketing, they spend it on customer service and then rely on word of mouth to get the word out.

Since we last spoke with Velez in January regarding the $400 million Series G, the company went from having 34 million customers to now having 40 million in a span of roughly 6 months. The funds will be used to grow the business, including hiring more people.

“We’ve seen the entire market go digital, especially people who never thought they would,” Velez said. “There is really now an avalanche of all backgrounds [of people] who are getting into digital banking.”

Indie Video Games Have Finally Embraced the Tabletop Scene

By Luke Winkie
Video games like Monster Train, Slay The Spire, and Gordian Quest use decks, cards, and dice rolls to stake their claim.

Dear Sophie: Any unique immigration strategies for quick hiring?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I do recruitment for tech startups. With a surge of VC investing, many startups are urgently hiring.

Which visas offer the quickest options for international talent? Are there any unique strategies that you would recommend we explore?

— Maverick in Milpitas

Dear Maverick,

Thanks for reaching out with your questions! We’re seeing the same urgent hiring demand from startups. In my columns, you’ll find a lot of materials to support you regarding the most common options. However, in a recent podcast episode, I discussed a handful of very specialized — and rarely used — temporary work visas that in most situations offer an expedited way to bring international talent to the United States to live and work. The eligibility requirements for these work visas are very specific, but if any prospective candidates qualify, these visas are great, quick options for the startups you work with.

The quickest option for employers is to hire international talent already in the U.S. because many consulates still remain closed to routine visa processing due to the pandemic. What’s more, travel restrictions have been imposed on India and remain in place for Brazil, the U.K., Ireland, 26 other countries in Europe, China and Iran. However, there are some exceptions in the national interest. As always, I recommend consulting with an experienced immigration attorney.

Here are a few uncommon visas and strategies that can offer quick options for startups to recruit international talent:

Visa takes a swipe in fintech, builds new online marketplace

By Mary Ann Azevedo

The relationships between banks and fintechs are multi-faceted.

In some cases, they partner. In many cases, they compete. In other cases, one acquires or invests in the other.

Well, today, an announcement by global payments giant Visa is aimed at helping facilitate banks and fintechs’ ability to work together.

Specifically, Visa said today it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect, a program designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

I talked with Terry Angelos, senior vice president and global head of fintech at Visa, to understand just exactly what that means.

“Global fintech investment last year was $105 billion,” Angelos said. “There were about 2,861 deals in venture, PE and M&A. So literally over $100 billion is going into fintech, which is more than the combined tech budgets of every bank in the U.S. As a result, a lot of innovation that is occurring in fintech is funded by venture dollars. We’re trying to bring that innovation to our clients, whether they are banks, processors or other fintechs.”

The program initially launched in Europe in November of 2020, and now is available in the U.S., Asia Pacific, Latin American and CEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa). Visa has worked to identify fintechs that can help banks and financial institutions (that are clients of Visa’s) as well as other fintechs “create digital-first experiences, without the cost and complexity of building the back-end technology in-house.

Local teams will run programs in the respective regions, and vet and manage partners in the following categories: account opening, data aggregation, analytics and security, customer engagement and new cardholder services and operations and compliance.

So far, Visa has identified about 60 partners that offer a range of technologies — from back-office functions to new front-end services, according to Angelos. Those partners include Alloy, Jumio, Argyle, Fidel, FirstSource, TravelBank, Canopy, Hummingbird and Unit21, among others. Twenty-four are located in the U.S.

“So much of fintech focus and coverage is about disrupting existing banks. Everyone is trying to disrupt everyone, including fintechs like PayPal,” Angelos told TechCrunch. “Venture numbers are certainly very large. What we’re realizing is there is a significant opportunity to pair up a lot of venture-backed companies with our existing clients. It runs a little bit against us versus them approach you typically hear about.”

Visa clients can get in touch with program partners via the Visa Partner website and get benefits such as reduced implementation fees and pricing discounts. 

“The Fintech Connect program is about both helping to identify and curate interesting fintech companies and then create a favorable commercial partnership for our clients so they can engage with these Fintech Connect partners,” Angelos said.

So, what does Visa gain from all this?

“Our goal is that all of our clients are in a position to build better digital experiences for their consumers,” he told TechCrunch. “We would love it if every bank had the latest tools in order to onboard clients and build digital experiences.”

One of its partners, for example, is virtual card startup Extend. 

“There are fintechs that provide this today such as TripActions, Ramp and Divvy,” Angelos points out. “But what Visa is doing is looking at ‘How can we enable our banking clients to do something similar?’ So we’re bringing innovation into our ecosystem so that anyone can take advantage.”

It can also help companies such as TripActions, Ramp or Divvy with other complementary technologies for security posture, for example.

“The net beneficiary is to hopefully move more spending onto those rails,” Angelos said. “For example, if you look at B2B spend, there’s about $120 trillion of it annually. We believe about $20 trillion of that is card eligible. Today, Visa captures about $1 trillion of that. So, another $19 trillion is available for Visa to capture through our partners if our banks and fintechs can build these kinds of solutions to enable B2B payments.”

To be clear, Visa also invests in startups from time to time. But this initiative is distinct from those efforts, although a couple of its partners have been recipients of funding from Visa.

The second shot is kicking in

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

First and foremost, Equity was nominated for a Webby for “Best Technology Podcast”! Drop everything and go Vote for Equity! We’d appreciate it. A lot. And even if we lose, well, we’ll keep doing our thing and making each other laugh. (Note: We are in last place, which is, well, something.)

Regardless, the Equity team got together once again this week to not only go over the news of the week, but also to do a little soul searching. You see, some news broke yesterday, so we figured that we had to talk about it in our usual style. So, here’s the rundown:

  • Do you want to buy TechCrunch? Apparently you can? Albeit probably along with a few billion dollars’ worth of other assets — whatever is left of Yahoo and AOL — you can now own an NFT. A non-fungible TechCrunch. What is ahead for us? We don’t know. So if you do know, tell us. Until then we’ll just yo-yo gently between panic and optimism, as per usual.
  • We also dug into the latest All Raise venture capital data, and the results were abysmal. 
  • Next up was the news that fintech startups are setting records in 2021, raising more capital than ever before. That brought us to the latest from Brex.
  • And then there was a suspicious trend when three fintech companies focused on teen banking raised in one exhale. We talk Step, Greenlight and Current.
  • Natasha talked about her last Startups Weekly post, in which she unpacked The MasterClass effect’s impact on edtech.
  • And to close, we discussed the latest cool-kid venture capital funds. Sure memes are cool, but did you know that they can help you raise a $10 million fund? They can!

We are back Monday morning with our weekly kick-off show. Have a great weekend!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Fraud prevention platform Sift raises $50M at over $1B valuation, eyes acquisitions

By Mary Ann Azevedo

With the increase of digital transacting over the past year, cybercriminals have been having a field day.

In 2020, complaints of suspected internet crime surged by 61%, to 791,790, according to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report. Those crimes — ranging from personal and corporate data breaches to credit card fraud, phishing and identity theft — cost victims more than $4.2 billion.

For companies like Sift — which aims to predict and prevent fraud online even more quickly than cybercriminals adopt new tactics — that increase in crime also led to an increase in business.

Last year, the San Francisco-based company assessed risk on more than $250 billion in transactions, double from what it did in 2019. The company has over several hundred customers, including Twitter, Airbnb, Twilio, DoorDash, Wayfair and McDonald’s, as well a global data network of 70 billion events per month.

To meet the surge in demand, Sift said today it has raised $50 million in a funding round that values the company at over $1 billion. Insight Partners led the financing, which included participation from Union Square Ventures and Stripes.

While the company would not reveal hard revenue figures, President and CEO Marc Olesen said that business has tripled since he joined the company in June 2018. Sift was founded out of Y Combinator in 2011, and has raised a total of $157 million over its lifetime.

The company’s “Digital Trust & Safety” platform aims to help merchants not only fight all types of internet fraud and abuse, but to also “reduce friction” for legitimate customers. There’s a fine line apparently between looking out for a merchant and upsetting a customer who is legitimately trying to conduct a transaction.

Sift uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically surmise whether an attempted transaction or interaction with a business online is authentic or potentially problematic.

Image Credits:

One of the things the company has discovered is that fraudsters are often not working alone.

“Fraud vectors are no longer siloed. They are highly innovative and often working in concert,” Olesen said. “We’ve uncovered a number of fraud rings.”

Olesen shared a couple of examples of how the company thwarted fraud incidents last year. One recently involved money laundering through donation sites where fraudsters tested stolen debit and credit cards through fake donation sites at guest checkout.

“By making small donations to themselves, they laundered that money and at the same tested the validity of the stolen cards so they could use it on another site with significantly higher purchases,” he said. 

In another case, the company uncovered fraudsters using Telegram, a social media site, to make services available, such as food delivery, with stolen credentials.

The data that Sift has accumulated since its inception helps the company “act as the central nervous system for fraud teams.” Sift says that its models become more intelligent with every customer that it integrates.

Insight Partners Managing Director Jeff Lieberman, who is a Sift board member, said his firm initially invested in Sift in 2016 because even at that time, it was clear that online fraud was “rapidly growing.” It was growing not just in dollar amounts, he said, but in the number of methods cybercriminals used to steal from consumers and businesses.

Sift has a novel approach to fighting fraud that combines massive data sets with machine learning, and it has a track record of proving its value for hundreds of online businesses,” he wrote via email.

When Olesen and the Sift team started the recent process of fundraising, Index actually approached them before they started talking to outside investors “because both the product and business fundamentals are so strong, and the growth opportunity is massive,” Lieberman added.

“With more businesses heavily investing in online channels, nearly every one of them needs a solution that can intelligently weed out fraud while ensuring a seamless experience for the 99% of transactions or actions that are legitimate,” he wrote. 

The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand its product portfolio and to scale its product, engineering and sales teams.

Sift also recently tapped Eu-Gene Sung — who has worked in financial leadership roles at Integral Ad Science, BSE Global and McCann — to serve as its CFO.

As to whether or not that meant an IPO is in Sift’s future, Olesen said that Sung’s experience of taking companies through a growth phase such as what Sift is experiencing would be valuable. The company is also for the first time looking to potentially do some M&A.

“When we think about expanding our portfolio, it’s really a buy/build partner approach,” Olesen said.

Forget the piggy bank, Till Financial’s kids’ spend management app gets Gates’ backing

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Today’s children and teens want more power and control over their spending.

And while there are a number of financial services and apps out there aimed at helping this demographic save and invest money (Greenlight being among the most popular and well-known), one startup is coming at the space from another angle: helping younger people also better manage their spend.

Till Financial describes itself as a collaborative family financial tool that aims to empower kids to become smarter spenders. The New York-based company’s banking platform is designed to encourage “open and honest” discussions between parents and their kids. And it has just raised $5 million to help it advance on that goal.

A slew of investors put money in the round, including Elysian Park Ventures, Melinda Gates’ venture fund Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.

Part of Till’s goal is to help kids “learn by doing” and gain confidence in spending decisions. It arms them with a bank account, digital and physical debit card and goal-based savings. For example, say a teen wants to buy an iPad, they can set up an account that they can save toward that iPad and give family members (such as grandparents, for example) the opportunity to pitch in the same amount, or more. They can also set up recurring payments for things like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions so they can get a taste of what it’s like to pay regular bills.

“Parents and the current banking options miss the point when they just focus on savings. We need to first prepare kids to be Smarter Spenders, supported by savings and investing,” said Taylor Burton, who founded the company with Tom Pincince. “On Till, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.”

To Pincince, the market is clearly underserved.

“The legacy banks really don’t care about this young person and the early digital players are really missing the mark,” he said. 

And despite the plethora of apps targeting the demographic, Pincince believes there’s plenty of room for the right players.

“The reality is you’re talking about a swath of kids under the age of 18 and over the age of eight that is the single largest unbanked population,” he said. “We’re not fighting to be the top of your son’s wallet. We’re fighting to be the first product into that wallet.”

Indeed, it’s a big market — the average middle-class family in the U.S. spends $284,570 per child by the time they turn 18.

The platform is free to all families and, early on, attracted the attention of Peggy Mangot, operating partner/COO of PayPal Ventures. She invested personally in Till in its pre-seed rounds. Prior to PayPal, Mangot ran development of Greenhouse, Well Fargo’s fee-free mobile banking app that aimed to help younger users build responsible spending habits.

Mangot has three kids and recalls that when they were shopping online, she’d give them her credit card. Or, if they were going to the corner store or meeting with friends, she’d give them cash.

“But that way, the money is meaningless to them. They didn’t really know how to understand what things cost and there was no sense of ownership,” she said. “It was just me handing over cash or a card.”

What attracted her the most about Till, Mangot said, was the team’s approach to treat younger people “with respect and agency.”

She also believes that by helping children and teens understand important financial lessons at a younger age, the world will ultimately be full of more responsible adults.

“By putting these tools in the hands of these young people early, they’ll have years and years of experience before they’re more independent and have to manage their paycheck and bills,” Mangot told TechCrunch. “Once you have mass adoption, it’s going to create a much more financially literate, confident and in control set of young adults than we’ve ever had.”

Besides making money on interchange fees, Till aims to earn revenue by partnering with merchants to offer rewards to users. It also plans to earn referral fees by referring the teens to other financial institutions when they get older and have different needs.

“It’s not our intention to be your son or daughter’s forever bank. It’s our intention to be the first bank,” Pincince said. “So, they hit the age of maturity, we’re actually giving them a high-five off of our platform and introducing them to maybe their first college loan or their first credit card.”

Dear Sophie: How can I get an H-1B without the lottery?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

For the past few years, our company has put very promising candidates into the annual H-1B lottery. None of them have been selected — and none of them meet the requirements for other work visas like an O-1A.

We lost out again in this year’s H-1B lottery. Are there any other ways we can obtain H-1Bs for our team members?

— Soldiering On in Sunnyvale

Dear Soldiering:

Thank you for your timely question — you are not alone! Many employers face the same frustration given that the number of H-1B visas the government issues each year is capped at 85,000, while typically more than twice that number are sought by employers annually.

At my Silicon Valley immigration law firm, we’ve been delighted for the opportunity to collaborate with the nonprofit Open Avenues Foundation to support private companies with a Plan B: a cap-exempt, concurrent H-1B for their employees, without needing to go through the H-1B lottery.

It’s a timely, predictable solution that supports teams whether the beneficiary is currently outside or inside the United States.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

I recently interviewed Danielle Goldman, co-founder and executive director of Open Avenues, on my podcast. Through the Global Talent Fellowship program, the foundation offers a unique solution for employers like you to have a Plan B for H-1Bs: It’s possible to obtain an H-1B visa for an existing or prospective employee without going through the H-1B lottery process — or the randomness and timing restrictions that come with it. Goldman refers to the program as “innovation within legislation.”

So how does that work? Well, first off, you should know that four categories of employers are exempt from the annual H-1B lottery, meaning they can apply for an H-1B visa at any time of year and their pool of H-1B visas is not capped. The four categories of employers that are eligible for cap-exempt H-1Bs include:

ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi

By Mike Butcher

ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.

Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.

The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.

After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.

This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.

Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”

With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.

Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”

For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.

Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”

Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users  — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”

TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.

The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.

ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.

The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.

As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s was regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”

The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.

It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.

Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.

The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.

Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.

Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.

The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.

And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.

Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.

Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.

As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”

Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”

African crypto usage spurs Luno as customers reach 7M

By Tage Kene-Okafor

The crypto industry as a whole has seen a momentous year of growth, heavily spurred on by the entrance of institutional investors adopting bitcoin due to its store of value properties. The 2020 spike bitcoin experienced was also accelerated by its global adoption as the number of global cryptocurrency users surpassed 100 million in Q3 2020.

For Luno, a U.K.-based crypto company founded by Marcus Swanepoel and Timothy Stranex in 2013, it grew to 6 million customers from January 2020 to January 2021. However, that number has since gone up to 7 million. Today the company, headquartered in London, has nearly 400 employees across London, South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Singapore, with customers in 40 countries globally

According to CEO Swanepoel, Luno’s numbers have been increasing month-on-month over the last seven years. However, this is the first time it is observing an acceleration of this magnitude.

There are a couple of reasons for Luno’s surge in numbers (like any other crypto exchange startup). Generally, despite talks of bitcoin being used in everyday life by crypto enthusiasts and interests from institutional entrants like BNY Mellon, Mastercard and Tesla, it is a long shot before becoming mainstream.

For now, crypto mainly serves investment purposes. This singular factor has particularly made it very popular with Africans — a demographic that has been a major part of Luno’s growth and the huge traction it is witnessing.

Last year, the company surveyed the markets in which it currently operates. It featured 15,000 respondents from South Africa, U.K., France, Italy, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria; the answers helped Luno understand how the pandemic influenced attitudes towards the current financial system. According to the survey, 54% of Africans were ready to adopt a single global digital currency, compared to 41% for Asia and 35% for Europe

Africa’s dominance also shows in its numbers. Out of the 7 million customers it has globally, 4.7 million people are in Africa. This number was 2.3 million in January 2020. Luno’s app installs across the continent have increased by 271% within this time frame, and trading volumes skyrocketed 12x, from $555 million to $7 billion. For context, Luno did $8.3 billion in total trading volume.  

But a large part of this growth is down to Luno’s early play in the market. Over the last few years, infrastructure in parts of the world that could not previously support the crypto market has improved substantially. Luno has played a vital role as one of the first platforms to improve the crypto marketplace experience by including local currencies. It also helped to lay the groundwork for educating people on digital currencies.  

“The last time bitcoin went up as it did during the past year was in 2017 and 2018, and it was mostly driven by retail, but it was still very difficult to buy crypto. There were trust issues; it would take days to get your account verified and even set up a wallet,” Swanepoel told TechCrunch. “Now, over the last three years, companies like ours, especially in Africa, have built up this infrastructure, KYCs, new payment methods, customer experience and support. The experience is much better and education levels are a lot higher. To me, I think that’s played a large role in crypto adoption in the continent.”

In September last year, Luno got acquired by Digital Currency Group (DCG), an investment firm that builds, buys and invests in blockchain companies. Some of its portfolio companies include Coindesk, Genesis and Grayscale Investments. Before acquiring Luno, BCG first invested in the company’s seed round in 2014. Then last year, Swanepoel said he saw the opportunity to take Luno to a larger scale after noticing the immense growth and adoption on its platform.

“The first five to six years for us was on a small scale and now, we want to go big. So it helps to have a global platform like DCG to do it from because they have large amounts of capital and are committed to investing in Africa as well as outside the continent,” he remarked

The CEO adds that DCG has more visibility on the crypto industry and trends. The acquisition was simply for Luno to leverage DCG’s insights and stay ahead of the curve, which looks to have paid off. Since the acquisition, Luno has seen the number of active users increase by 167%. As of January, the average user held more than $7,000 in their wallet, up 56% from December 2020.

Nothing lasts forever, but if the crypto market bull run is anything to go by, crypto isn’t the fad people once thought it was. In Q1 2021, companies like Coinbase (going public Wednesday) and Robinhood experienced monster numbers showing strong growth projections. For Luno, it expects to continue growing exponentially, a trajectory that sets the company on track to reach 1 billion customers by 2030.

Dear Sophie: Help! My H-1B wasn’t chosen!

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

My startup registered two H-1B candidates in this year’s lottery. Sadly, neither was selected.

One is my co-founder, the other is on OPT. Help! We can’t afford for them to have to leave the U.S. What are our options?

— Lost in Los Angeles

Dear Lost:

Take a deep breath; I’ve got your back. There are many creative immigration pathways for you, your co-founder and your F-1 OPT employee to explore. We’ll take a look at several options, and you can also check out my recent podcast in which my colleague Nadia Zaidi and I explain them in greater depth.

I hope the below ideas inspire you and fill you with a sense of hope and possibility. As always, I suggest consulting with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you identify the strongest path forward, as well as backup options for your co-founder and employee. The particular immigration strategy that’s best for you is always an individual determination. It’s best identified through a personal consultation with an attorney such as myself based on a variety of factors, including each person’s immigration history and your particular startup’s goals.

Co-founder immigration options

For a funded startup, there’s a great H-1B Plan B: the Cap-Exempt H-1B. Especially if your co-founder has a STEM background (and possibly even for some founders who don’t have this), there’s a wonderful new triple-win option that supports startups, international candidates and even diverse U.S. STEM college students seeking better project-based learning opportunities.

What is this magical rainbow-striped unicorn option, you ask? Well, here’s the legal background: Some employers qualify to petition for an H-1B visa at any time without going through the lottery. These employers — called cap-exempt employers because they are not subject to the annual H-1B cap of 85,000 visas available to for-profit employers — include:

  • Institutions of higher education.
  • Nonprofits tied to institutions of higher education.
  • Nonprofit research organizations.
  • Government research organizations.

If your co-founder can get a part-time H-1B visa through one of these cap-exempt employers, your startup can concurrently sponsor your co-founder for an H-1B regardless of the recent lottery results.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

To take advantage of this special law, I’m a huge fan of Open Avenues Foundation, which offers a Global Talent Fellowship. In this program, international talent can receive cap-exempt H-1B visas by leading university students for about five hours a week in real-world, project-based work within their field of expertise for the startup that nominated them for the fellowship. The candidate gets to stay in (or come to) the U.S., your startup gets a team of students working on a group project that benefits your company and increases diversity in your hiring pipeline, and U.S. students get the benefit of hands-on high quality STEM learning.

Once your candidate’s first cap-exempt H-1B is in place, your startup can petition for a second, concurrent Cap-Exempt H-1B for direct startup employment.

Interested in variations? If you’re not in STEM but have a university that would host you (free to the university), you can potentially partner with OAF. In addition, many universities in the U.S have global entrepreneur-in-residence programs that can help international co-founders qualify for concurrent Cap-Exempt H-1Bs. Your startup should also consider sponsoring your co-founder for an O-1A visa or change of status.

Another option to consider is for your co-founder to apply for International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP), a new 30-month immigration status in the U.S. The International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) was created by President Barack Obama and is the closest thing the U.S. has right now to a startup visa. The Trump administration tried to eliminate it, but the National Venture Capital Association, led by Jeff Farrah, successfully challenged the administration’s effort in federal court, so IEP remains on the books.

A lot of folks don’t believe it’s an option yet, so I’m currently looking for international startup founders with a strong case to file for IEP to test out this new program and demonstrate its existence to the world. We’re currently seeking global startup founders holding at least 15% equity in a U.S. startup that’s less than five years old and has raised at least $250,000 from U.S. investors. If you want to be on our free interest list, you can fill out this form. If we think you have a strong application, we’ll reach out.

If your co-founder wants to remain permanently in the U.S., consider starting a green card now such as the EB-1A green card for individuals of extraordinary ability or an EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card for individuals of exceptional ability. Of these, the EB-1A is the quickest option, but its qualification requirements are tougher than for the EB-2 NIW.

F-1 OPT employee immigration options

If your F-1 OPT employee graduated with a qualified STEM degree, that employee can apply for a 24-month work extension, known as STEM OPT. That will allow the employee to remain in the U.S. to continue working for you. In the meantime, you can register them again next year for the H-1B lottery. If there’s no possibility for STEM, please check out the Cap-Exempt H-1B option explained above.

If your F-1 OPT employee only has a bachelor’s degree, they might want to consider pursuing an advanced degree. Individuals with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. university have better odds of being selected in the annual H-1B lottery. That’s because 20,000 of the 85,000 H-1B visas available each year are earmarked for individuals with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. university.

You should be aware, however, that next year’s H-1B lottery will likely shift from the current random selection process to one based on the highest wages. Unless the Biden administration changes the policy, which was devised by the previous administration, employers who pay their H-1B candidates a Level III wage or higher have the best chance of getting selected to file for an H-1B visa.

As you know, sponsoring employers must agree to pay an H-1B candidate the higher of either the actual wage paid for the job or the prevailing wage, which is broken down into four levels based on experience required for the position and location of the position. Level I wage is basically for an entry-level position, while a Level IV wage is for a position requiring the most experience. While this will add greater predictability to the annual H-1B “lottery,” early-stage startups and small businesses may have a difficult time competing against more established companies on salary, particularly because stock options and equity are not included in the salary calculation.

If you need to find alternative visa solutions, you can always consult with an attorney. I hope all of these options help you realize the control and agency you have in this situation. You have choices!

All my best,

Sophie


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Avant doubles down on digital banking with Zero Financial acquisition

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Avant, an online lender that has raised over $600 million in equity, announced today that it has acquired Zero Financial and its neobank brand, Level, to further its mission of becoming a digital bank for the masses.

Founded in 2012, Chicago-based Avant started out primarily as an online lender targeting “underserved consumers,” but is evolving into digital banking with this acquisition. The company notched gross revenue of $265 million in 2020 and has raised capital over the years from backers such as General Atlantic and Tiger Global Management.

“Our path has always been to become the premier digital bank for the everyday American,” Avant CEO James Paris told TechCrunch. “The massive transition to digital over the last 12 months made the timing right to expand our offerings.” 

The acquisition of Zero Financial and its neobank, Level (plus its banking app assets), will give Avant the ability to offer “a full ecosystem of banking and credit product offerings” through one fully digital platform, according to Paris. Those offerings include deposits, personal loans, credit cards and auto loans.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed other than the fact that the acquisition was completed with a combination of cash and stock.

Founded in 2016, San Francisco-based Zero Financial has raised $147 million in debt and equity, according to Crunchbase. New Enterprise Associates (NEA) led its $20 million Series A in May of 2019.

Level was unveiled to the public in February of 2020, created by the same California-based team that founded the “debit-style” credit card offering Zero, according to this FintechFutures piece. The challenger bank was created to target millennials dissatisfied with the incumbent banking options.

Zero Financial co-founder and CEO Bryce Galen said that Avant shared his company’s mission “to challenge the status quo by bringing innovative financial services products to consumers who might otherwise be unable to access them.”

Avant, notes Paris, uses thousands of AI-driven data points to determine credit risk. With this acquisition, that lens will be expanded with data, such as a deposit customer’s cash flow, how they manage their finances and whether they pay their bills on time. 

“This will allow us to make credit decisions faster and deliver personalized options to help underbanked consumers gain financial freedom, at any and every stage of their financial journey,” Paris told TechCrunch. “It will also build long-term engagement and loyalty and help grow our reach beyond the 1.5 million customers we’ve served to date.”  

Like a growing number of fintechs, Avant operates under the premise that a person’s ability to get credit shouldn’t be dictated by a credit score alone.

“A significant amount of Americans have poor, bad or no credit at all. For these people, accessing credit isn’t exactly easy and often comes with extra fees,” Paris said. That’s why, he added, Avant has focused on providing options for such consumers with “transparent, rewards-driven products.”

Level’s branchless, all-digital platform offers things such as cashback rewards on debit card purchases, a “competitive APY” on deposits, early access to paychecks and no hidden fees, all of which are especially beneficial for consumers on the path to financial freedom, according to Paris.

Since its inception in 2012, Avant has connected more than 1.5 million consumers to $7.5 billion in loans and 400,000 credit cards. The company launched its credit card in 2017 and over the past two years alone, it has grown its number of credit card users by 170%.

Mastercard to invest $100 million in Airtel Africa’s mobile money business

By Manish Singh

Mastercard will invest $100 million in Airtel Africa’s mobile money business, two firms said today, just two weeks after TPG’s Rise Fund also backed the telecommunications firm’s unit.

The London-headquartered firm said it was taking a minority stake in Airtel Africa’s mobile money business. The deal valued Airtel Mobile Commerce at $2.65 billion, the two firms said in a press statement Thursday.

New investment comes as Airtel Africa looks to monetize its mobile money business — one of the key fintech players in the continent that offers mobile wallet transactions, merchant and commercial payments, loans, virtual credit cards and support for overseas transfers — by selling up to 25% stake and “list this business within four years,” said Raghunath Mandava, CEO of Airtel Africa, in a statement.

“We are significantly strengthening our existing strategic relationship with Mastercard to help us both realise the full potential from the substantial opportunity to improve financial inclusion across our countries of operation. The combination of our extensive customer base and distribution platforms and Mastercard’s products and services, innovation and know how, mean we can together accelerate demand and drive growth in financial services for the benefit of all our customers and markets,” he added.

Airtel Africa and Mastercard are no strangers. The two firms announced in 2019 that they had partnered to serve 100 million Airtel Africa mobile phone users in 14 African nations using the payments firm’s network.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Airtel Africa receives $100M for its mobile money business from Mastercard

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Two weeks ago, TPG’s Rise Fund invested $200 million in Airtel Mobile Commerce BV (AMC BV) — the mobile money business of London-listed telecom Airtel Africa. After closing the deal, the Bharti Airtel subsidiary noted that it was still in discussions to give up more minority stake (25% of the issued share capital) to more potential investors

Today, it has announced another investor — global payments provider Mastercard in a deal that will see Airtel Africa receive an additional $100 million for its mobile money business.

From the statement released, Airtel Africa and Mastercard have “extended commercial agreements and signed a new commercial framework which will deepen their partnerships across numerous geographies and areas including card issuance, payment gateway, payment processing, merchant acceptance and remittance solutions, amongst others.”

AMC BV’s $2.65 billion valuation on a cash and debt-free basis remains unchanged from the last time. This means TPG’s Rise Fund and Mastercard will own 7.55% and 3.775.% stake respectively upon the completion of their deals. For Mastercard, the transaction will close in two tranches — $75 million invested at first close (which will be finalized in the next four months), and $50 million to be invested at the second close.

By selling off a minority stake in the mobile money business to The Rise Fund, Mastercard and other potential investors, the telecom operator believes it can raise enough cash to monetize its mobile money business and pursue a possible listing in four years

In addition to receiving investments from TPG’s Rise Fund and Mastercard, Airtel Africa has begun selling off some assets as well. Last week, the company sold 1,424 telecommunications towers companies in Madagascar and Malawi to Helios Towers for $119 million. Both Helios and Airtel Africa also agreed to trade tower assets in Chad and Gabon, although the details remain undisclosed.

These efforts are geared towards the company’s pursuit of strategic asset monetisation, investment opportunities, and, ultimately, debt reduction.

“With today’s announcement, we are pleased to welcome Mastercard as an investor in our mobile money business, joining The Rise Fund, which we announced two weeks ago,” CEO of Airtel Africa, Raghunath Mandava said of the investment. “This is a continuation of our strategy to increase the minority shareholding in our mobile money business with the further intention to list this business within four years. We are significantly strengthening our existing strategic relationship with Mastercard to help us realise the full potential from the substantial opportunity to improve financial inclusion across our countries of operation.” 

Dear Sophie: What should I know about prenups and getting a green card through marriage?

By Walter Thompson
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m a founder of a startup on an E-2 investor visa and just got engaged! My soon-to-be spouse will sponsor me for a green card.

Are there any minimum salary requirements for her to sponsor me? Is there anything I should keep in mind before starting the green card process?

— Betrothed in Belmont

Dear Betrothed,

Congratulations on your engagement and thanks for reaching out!

There are several things to keep in mind before you tie the knot. These important considerations are particularly relevant since you’re a startup founder, currently on an E-2 visa, and if you’ll continue to live in California.

My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, who is an expert in family immigration law, recently interviewed Lydia Hsu and Kara Foster, the co-founders of Foster Hsu, LLP, a California family law firm, on our podcast. They cover the ins and outs of family law and prenups, and what to know before you tie the knot and pursue the green card process.

California is a community property state, which means if your marriage doesn’t work out, all of the assets acquired by you and your spouse during the marriage will be divided up equally unless you have a prenuptial agreement (prenup) in place before you get married. Since you are an E-2 investor and I imagine you have significant assets, it’s beneficial to consider entering into a prenup before you become legally married.

This is especially important for you in pursuing a marriage-based green card because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) often looks to see whether couples are commingling funds in a joint bank account when assessing if your marriage is good-faith to approve your green card.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

“A prenup may not be right for you,” says Kara, “but at least you should be educated going into a marriage and know what you’re going to be responsible for, what your obligations are going to be, and how California is going to treat your property, assets and income during the marriage. We have a lot of people coming in later for a divorce saying, ‘If I had known this, I would have done everything differently.’”

In addition to California, there are several other community property states in the U.S., including Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

From the immigration side of things, keep in mind that the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), which is required for a marriage-based green card, will remain in effect even in the event of a divorce—and takes precedence over any spousal support designated in a prenup.

Finch Capital acquires Wirecard Turkey

By Steve O'Hear

Finch Capital, the early-stage fintech VC with a presence in London and Amsterdam, is acquiring Wirecard Turkey, a subsidiary of Wirecard, the disgraced fintech out of Germany. The acquisition, for which terms remain undisclosed and is still subject to regulatory approval, sees Finch create a new Ireland-registered entity called Nomu Pay.

After facing a huge accounting scandal and failing to make payments on its own loans, Wirecard went into insolvency last year. Since then, various parts of its business have been bought, including one of its largest assets, Wirecard Solutions, which was acquired by the U.K.’s Railsbank.

Finch’s managing partner Radboud Vlaar tells me Noma Pay’s larger plan is to invest in payments infrastructure in Turkey and the Middle East region. He says that more details will be provided on the new entity’s strategy and branding once the deal has formally closed.

Explains Vlaar: “We see tremendous growth opportunities to further enhance payments for Turkey’s 80 million inhabitants. We are excited to team up with Wirecard Turkey under the leadership of its CEO Serkan Yasin and we continue to actively look for further M&A opportunities in the region to accelerate its growth and development”.

Wirecard Turkey (Wirecard Ödeme ve Elektronik Para Hizmetleri A.Ş.) was established in Turkey in July 2008 and started its operations the following year as the country’s first “direct carrier billing” service provider. In 2014, it was wholly acquired by Wirecard Issuing & Acquiring Gmbh, which is a subsidiary of Wirecard AG.

Today, the Turkish company provides various payment services, namely: direct carrier billing, credit card acquiring, and e-money. It has contracts with all three GSM operators and the majority of banks in Turkey, and more than 1,200 merchants.

“There is great talent in Turkey to build a leading next generation payments company,” adds Vlaar.

Big banks rush to back Greenwood, Killer Mike’s Atlanta-based digital bank for underrepresented customers

By Jonathan Shieber

Before even taking its first deposit, Greenwood, the digital banking service targeting Black and Latino individuals and business owners, has raised $40 million — only a few months after its launch.

Coming in to finance the new challenger bank are six of the seven largest U.S. Banks and the payment technology developers Mastercard and Visa.

That’s right, Bank of America, PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Truist, are backing a bank co-founded by a man who declared, “I’m with the revolutionary. I’m with the radical policy,” when stumping for then Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Joining the financial services giants in the round are FIS, a behind-the-scenes financial services tech developer; along with the venture capital firms TTV Capital, SoftBank Group’s SB Opportunity Fund, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Sports investors Quality Control and All-Pro NFL running back Alvin Kamara also came in to finance the latest round.

Atlanta-based Greenwood was launched last October by a group that included former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Bounce TV founder, Ryan Glover.

“The net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family and eight times greater than that of a Latino family. This wealth gap is a curable injustice that requires collaboration,” said \ Glover, Chairman and Co-founder of Greenwood, in a statement. “The backing of six of the top seven banks and the two largest payment technology companies is a testament to the contemporary influence of the Black and Latino community. We now are even better positioned to deliver the world-class services our customers deserve.”

Named after the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., which was known as the Black Wall Street before it was destroyed in a 1921 massacre, the digital bank promises to donate the equivalent of five free meals to an organization addressing food insecurity for every person who signs up to the bank. And every time a customer uses a Greenwood debit card, the bank will make a donation to either the United Negro College FundGoodr (an organization that addresses food insecurity) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition, each month the bank will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that uses the company’s financial services.

“Truist Ventures is helping to inspire and build better lives and communities by leading the Series A funding round for Greenwood’s innovative approach to building greater trust in banking within Black and Latino communities,” said Truist Chief Digital and Client Experience Officer Dontá L. Wilson who oversees Truist Ventures, in a statement. “In addition to the opportunity to work with and learn from this distinguished group of founders, our investment in Greenwood is reflective of our purpose and commitment to advancing economic empowerment of minority and underserved communities.”

So far, 500,000 people have signed up for the wait list to bank with Greenwood.

Dear Sophie: When can I finally come to Silicon Valley?

By Walter Thompson
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m a startup founder looking to expand in the U.S. I was originally looking at opening an office in Silicon Valley to be close to software engineers and investors, but then… COVID-19 :)

A lot has changed over the last year – can I still come?

— Hopeful in Hungary

Dear Hopeful:

How and where work is getting done in Silicon Valley (as well as in much of the world)  shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, yes, it can still make business sense for many to join the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

According to a recent report from PitchBook, Silicon Valley will continue to be the center for VC investment and high-tech talent, even though several large tech companies relocated out of Silicon Valley and implemented full-time work-from-home policies — and many predicted that “the Bay Area tech scene as we know it would be lost, and VC would find a new home.”

Clearly, while the pandemic’s impact on the venture industry will be felt in years to come, VC will continue to be centered in Silicon Valley. In a recent episode of my podcast, I discussed work trends and how to use immigration to support company priorities as well as attract and retain talent in the United States.

The PitchBook report points out that Silicon Valley “has kept a tight hold on fundraising in the U.S., closing on commitments exceeding $151 billion over the past five years, more than the rest of the U.S. ecosystems combined. LPs have continued to funnel capital to area VCs because of the region’s track record of success, which includes 17 of the 22 U.S. companies to ever receive a private valuation of $10 billion or more.”

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

So while VCs will likely return to the old ways of networking and funding post-pandemic, we’ll see a hybrid of online and in-person meetings because there are so many benefits to in-person networking and exchanging ideas.

LA’s socially conscious bank challenger, Aspiration, launches a carbon offset credit card

By Jonathan Shieber

Aspiration, the financial services business for socially conscious consumers, is back with another environmentally friendly offering for its customers — this time, it’s a credit card.

The Los Angeles-based company, which has raised roughly $250 million from investors including the celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition, and Orlando Bloom and more traditional institutional investors like AlphaEdison, Capricorn Investment Group, the Omidyar Network, and Allen & Co., wouldn’t say how much about the terms of the card or the credit limits available.

What Aspiration co-founder Andrei Cherny did discuss was the company’s sense of the significance of its new offering.

“There are plenty of credit cards out there that let you rack up miles, this is the only card that rewards you for taking miles off of the planet,” Aspiration co-founder and CEO Andrei Cherny said in a statement. “For the first time, you can have a climate change-fighting tool right in your wallet.” 

The key to Aspiration’s offset services is nothing more or less than tree planting. It’s the easiest way for consumers to eventually cancel out the greenhouse gas emissions associated with daily living in the U.S.

Every time someone uses the card, Aspiration will have one of its global reforestation partners plant a tree. If a customer uses Aspiration’s credit card 60 times, the resulting trees that are planted are enough to offset the carbon emissions from an average American home

“What we’re doing is basing it on the average American’s carbon footprint,” Cherny affirmed. “Every time you make a purchase Aspiration plants your tree. The way the math works out. The average carbon impact of the average tree when you have 60 of them you eliminate the emissions from an average American home.”

Using Aspiration’s app, which includes other tools for consumers to gauge the social impact of their purchases, credit card customers can track their progress towards offsetting their emissions. For every month in which a user gets to carbon zero, Aspiration will reward them with 1% cashback on their credit card purchases.

Cherny said the company works with accredited partners and uses satellite imaging and on-the-ground monitoring to ensure that the forestation projects are proceeding according to plan and that the trees aren’t being harvested.

The company isn’t just doing this out of a sense of corporate responsibility there’s actually an arbitrage case where the planting of seeds becomes a profit center (however nominal) for the company.

“As we get to scale that will be the case,” Cherny said. “We are not a nonprofit, we’re a for-profit company dedicated to saving the planet. Until people can make a profit off of saving the planet in the same way people have been profiting on destroying the planet, there are going to continue to be problems… If only oil companies and incumbent banks can make money by destroying the planet, then we’re in trouble.”

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