Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Stripe’s grand plans. Before that, I noted Peloton’s secret weapons.
The best companies are built by people who have personally experienced the problem they’re attempting to solve. Lauren Jonas, the founder and chief executive officer of Part & Parcel, is intimately familiar with the struggles faced by the women she’s building for.
San Francisco-based Part & Parcel is a plus-sized clothing and shoe startup providing dimensional sizing to women across the U.S. The company operates a bit differently than your standard direct-to-consumer business by seeking to include the women who wear and evangelize the Part & Parcel designs by giving them a cut of their sales.
Here’s how it works: Ambassadors sign up to receive signature styles from Part & Parcel, which they then share and sell to women in their network. Ultimately, the sellers are eligible to receive up to 30% of the profit per sale. The out-of-the-box model, which might remind you somewhat of Mary Kay or Tupperware’s business strategy, is meant to encourage a sense of community and usher in a new era in which plus-sized women can facilitate other plus-sized women’s access to great clothes.
“I bought a brown men’s polyester suit and wore it to an interview,” Jonas, an early employee at Poshmark and the long-time author of the popular blog, ‘The Pear Shape,’ tells TechCrunch. “I was that kid wearing a men’s suit.”
Clothing tailored to plus-sized women has long been missing from the retail market. Increasingly, however, new brands are building thriving businesses by catering precisely to the historically forgotten demographic. Dia&Co., for example, raised another $70 million in venture capital funding last fall from Sequoia and USV. And Walmart recently acquired another brand in the space, ELOQUII, for an undisclosed amount. Part & Parcel, for its part, has raised $4 million in seed funding in a round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew.
The startup launched earlier this year in Anchorage, “a clothing desert,” and has since grown its network to include women in several other underserved markets. Given her own history struggling to find a fitted woman’s suit, Jonas launched her line with structured pieces, including suits and blouses — though the startup’s biggest success yet, she says, has been its boots, which come in three different calf width options.
“Seventy percent of women in this country are plus-sized,” Jonas said. “I’m bringing plus out of the dark corner of the department store.”
Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch
TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey published a highly anticipated deep dive on the state of sex tech this week. The piece provides new data on funding in sex tech and wellness companies, analysis on sex tech startup’s battle for public advertising and responses from industry leaders on how we can destigmatize sex with technology. Here’s a short passage from the story:
Cindy Gallop sees a market opportunity in every type of business obstacle she encounters. That’s why All The Sky will also seek to invest in startups that tackle the infrastructural tools needed to fuel sextech, like payments, hosting providers and e-commerce sites.
“I want to fund the sextech ecosystem to maintain and sustain a portfolio for All the Skies, to create a bloody huge sextech ecosystem and three, to monopolistically build out the ecosystem to be a multi-trillion-dollar market,” Gallop says.
I swung by Contrary Capital‘s Demo Day this week, in which a number of startups gave a 4- to 5-minute pitch. Next on my list is Alchemist‘s Demo Day in Menlo Park. The accelerator welcomes enterprise startups for a six-month program focused on early customer adoption, company development and mentorship.
Also on my radar is Females To The Front. The event began this week in Palm Springs and if I were based in SoCal, I would have swung by. Led by Amy Margolis, the event is said to be the largest gathering of female cannabis founders and funders to date. Here’s how the group describes the event: “Females to the Front Retreat will mix immersive and hands-on workshops, pitch training, investment deck preparation and business skill set education with investor meetings and plenty of shared meals, pool time, yoga, connections, rest and rejuvenation. Every workshop is built to directly engage attendees instead of powerpoint and panels. Be prepared to return home inspired, engaged and with so many more tools in your toolbox.”
For the record, I don’t advertise events in my newsletter just wanted to give props to this one because it’s a great development for the cannabis tech ecosystem.
We are just weeks away from our flagship conference, TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco. We have dozens of amazing speakers lined up. In addition to taking in the great line-up of speakers, ticket holders can roam around Startup Alley to catch the more than 1,000 companies showcasing their products and technologies. And, of course, you’ll get the opportunity to watch the Startup Battlefield competition live. Past competitors include Dropbox, Cloudflare and Mint… You never know which future unicorn will compete next.
This week, the lovely Alex Wilhelm, editor-in-chief of Crunchbase News, and I gathered to discuss a number of topics including WeWork’s IPO and Uber’s attempts to bypass a new law meant to protect gig workers. Listen here.
Tesla said Saturday that its Model 3 interiors are now completely free of leather, fulfilling a promise made by CEO Elon Musk at this year’s annual shareholder meeting.
Tesla has been closing in on a leather-free interior for a couple of years now. But a sticking point was the steering wheel, which Musk made mention of at the company’s shareholder meeting in June in response to a request from PETA activist.
“I believe we were close to having a non-heated steering wheel, that’s not leather,” Musk said at the time. “There are some challenges when when heat the non-leather material and also how well it wears over time.”
Musk said Model Y and Model 3 would be vegan by 2020. He wasn’t sure if the company would be able to meet that same goal for the Model S and X.
Model 3 interior is now 100% leather-free pic.twitter.com/2F47zp8A4T
— Tesla (@Tesla) August 31, 2019
Activist shareholders made a proposal in 2015 that Tesla no longer use animal-derived leather in the interiors of its electric vehicles by 2019. While stockholders rejected that proposal, Tesla did begin rolling out more “vegan” interior components in its cars.
The company began by offering leather-free seats as an option. Two years ago, Tesla made the synthetic material standard in its Model 3, Model X and Model S vehicles.
Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about a new e-commerce startup, Pietra. Before that, I wrote about the flurry of IPO filings.
Peloton revealed its S-1 this week, taking a big step toward an IPO expected later this year. The filing was packed with interesting tidbits, including that the company, which manufacturers internet-connected stationary bikes and sells an affiliated subscription to its growing library of on-demand fitness content, is raking in more than $900 million in annual revenue. Sure, it’s not profitable, and it’s losing an increasing amount of money to sales and marketing efforts, but for a company that many people wrote off from the very beginning, it’s an impressive feat.
Despite being a hardware, media, interactive software, product design, social connection, apparel and logistics company, according to its S-1, the future of Peloton relies on its talent. Not the employees developing the bikes and software but the 29 instructors teaching its digital fitness courses. Ally Love, Alex Toussaint and the 27 other teachers have developed cult followings, fans who will happily pay Peloton’s steep $39 per month content subscription to get their daily dose of Ben or Christine.
“To create Peloton, we needed to build what we believed to be the best indoor bike on the market, recruit the best instructors in the world, and engineer a state-of-the-art software platform to tie it all together,” founder and CEO John Foley writes in the IPO prospectus. “Against prevailing conventional wisdom, and despite countless investor conference rooms full of very smart skeptics, we were determined for Peloton to build a vertically integrated platform to deliver a seamless end-to-end experience as physically rewarding and addictive as attending a live, in-studio class.”
Peloton succeeded in poaching the best of the best. The question is, can they keep them? Will competition in the fast-growing fitness technology sector swoop in and scoop Peloton’s stars?
Last week I published a long feature on the state of seed investing in the Bay Area. The TL;DR? Mega-funds are increasingly battling seed-stage investors for access to the hottest companies. As a result, seed investors are getting a little more creative about how they source deals. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and everyone wants a stake in The Next Big Thing. Read the story here.
Don’t miss out on our flagship Disrupt, which takes place October 2-4. It’s the quintessential tech conference for anyone focused on early-stage startups. Join more than 10,000 attendees — including over 1,200 exhibiting startups — for three jam-packed days of programming. We’re talking four different stages with interactive workshops, Q&A sessions and interviews with some of the industry’s top tech titans, founders, investors, movers and shakers. Check out our list of speakers and the Disrupt agenda. I will be there interviewing a bunch of tech leaders, including Bastian Lehmann and Charles Hudson. Buy tickets here.
This week on Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, we had Floodgate’s Iris Choi on to discuss Peloton’s upcoming IPO. You can listen to it here. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast and Spotify.
We published a number of new deep dives on Extra Crunch, our paid subscription product, this week. Here’s a quick look at the top stories:
Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch has been circulating in business news around a possible IPO on the London Stock Exchange.
Last month Bloomberg News ran a story—based on unnamed sources—reporting the financial services firm had hired investment banks to go public on the LSE later in 2019. The piece spurred additional aggregated press.
That Interswitch—which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure—could become one of Africa’s earliest tech companies to list on a global exchange isn’t exactly news.
It’s more deja vu of a story that began several years ago.
As TechCrunch reported, Interswitch was poised to launch on the LSE in 2016. CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe confirmed “a dual-listing on the London and Lagos stock exchange is an option on the table,” in a January 2016 call.
Two additional sources wired into Nigeria’s tech market and close to Interswitch’s investors also said the public launch would happen by the end of that year.
The IPO would have made Interswitch Africa’s first tech company to go from startup to a billion-dollar plus unicorn valuation status. Of course, it didn’t happen in 2016.
In 2017, TechCrunch checked in with Interswitch on the delay and was told the company could not comment on its pending IPO. In other public interviews, executives Mitchell Elegbe and Divisional Chief Executive Officer Akeem Lawal named Nigeria’s recession as a reason for the delay and reaffirmed a likely dual Longon-Lagos listing by the end of 2019.
After the latest round of IPO buzz, TechCrunch asked Interswitch this week about the Bloomberg reporting and an imminent public stock listing. ““Interswitch does not comment on market speculation,” was the only info a public spokesperson could offer.
So, its tough to say if or when the company could list. There are still a few reasons why the company (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on.
One is Interswitch’s growing role as a nexus for payments and financial services infrastructure in Nigeria (home of Africa’s largest economy), across Africa, and between Africa and the world. Back in 2002, the company became the pioneer for creating infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-is-king based economy.
Interswitch has since moved into high-volume personal and business finance, with its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app. The Nigerian company (which is now well beyond startup phase) has expanded with physical presence in Uganda, Gambia, and Kenya—the latter being home-turf of M-Pesa and Safaricom, which are largely responsible for making Kenya the mobile-money capital of Africa.
Interswitch also sells its products in 23 African countries, through bank partnerships, and has presence abroad. Through its Verve Global Card product, the company’s cardholders can now make payments in the U.S., UK, and UAE. Interswitch launched a partnership this month for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network. The first transaction for the partnership was placed in New York, with an advertisement for the Nigerian company’s payment product flashing across Times Square. Another facet to a possible Interswitch IPO is its potential to spark more corporate venture arm and acquisition activity in African fintech, which as a sector receives the bulk of the continent’s startup capital. Interswitch launched a venture arm in 2015—called its global ePayment Growth Fund—that made two investments, but then went largely quiet.
A windfall of IPO capital and increasing competition from fintech startups could spur Interswitch to fire up its venture investing activity again. Startups such as Flutterwave and TeamAPT (formed by a former Interswitch alum) have already entered some of Interswitch’s product territory. If a public listing led Interswitch to ramp up investing in (or even acquiring) startups, the net effect would be more capital and exits in Africa’s fintech sector.
And finally, if Interswitch does IPO on the London and Lagos stock exchanges, it could provide another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia. This spring the e-commerce company became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE.
So far, Jumia’s IPO has been an up and down affair. The company gained investor and analyst confidence out of the gate, but also came under a short-sell assault and share-price volatility.
Two successful global IPOs of tech companies from Africa would and could become the best-case scenario for the continent’s startup scene. But for that to be a possibility, Interswitch will have to confirm the speculation and finally list as a publicly traded fintech firm.
Mo Gawdat, the former Google and Google X executive, is probably best known for his book Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy. He left Google X last year. Quite a bit has been written about the events that led to him leaving Google, including the tragic death of his son. While happiness is still very much at the forefront of what he’s doing, he’s also now thinking about his next startup: T0day.
To talk about T0day, I sat down with the Egypt-born Gawdat at the Digital Frontrunners event in Copenhagen, where he gave one of the keynote presentations. Gawdat is currently based in London. He has adopted a minimalist lifestyle, with no more than a suitcase and a carry-on full of things. Unlike many of the Silicon Valley elite that have recently adopted a kind of performative aestheticism, Gawdat’s commitment to minimalism feels genuine — and it also informs his new startup.
“In my current business, I’m building a startup that is all about reinventing consumerism,” he told me. “The problem with retail and consumerism is it’s never been disrupted. E-commerce, even though we think is a massive revolution, it’s just an evolution and it’s still tiny as a fraction of all we buy. It was built for the Silicon Valley mentality of disruption, if you want, while actually, what you need is cooperation. There are so many successful players out there, so many efficient supply chains. We want the traditional retailers to be successful and continue to make money — even make more money.”
What T0day wants to be is a platform that integrates all of the players in the retail ecosystem. That kind of platform, Gawdat argues, never existed before, “because there was never a platform player.”
That sounds like an efficient marketplace for moving goods, but in Gawdat’s imagination, it is also a way to do good for the planet. Most of the fuel burned today isn’t for moving people, he argues, but goods. A lot of the food we buy goes to waste (together with all of the resources it took to grow and ship it) and single-use plastic remains a scourge.
How does T0day fix that? Gawdat argues that today’s e-commerce is nothing but a digital rendering of the same window shopping people have done for ages. “You have to reimagine what it’s like to consume,” he said.
The reimagined way to consume is essentially just-in-time shipping for food and other consumer goods, based on efficient supply chains that outsmart today’s hub and spoke distribution centers and can deliver anything to you in half an hour. If everything you need to cook a meal arrives 15 minutes before you want to start cooking, you only need to order the items you need at that given time and instead of a plastic container, it could come a paper bag. “If I have the right robotics and the right autonomous movements — not just self-driving cars, because self-driving cars are a bit far away — but the right autonomous movements within the enterprise space of the warehouse, I could literally give it to you with the predictability of five minutes within half an hour,” he explained. “If you get everything you need within half an hour, why would you need to buy seven apples? You would buy three.”
Some companies, including the likes of Uber, are obviously building some of the logistics networks that will enable this kind of immediate drop shipping, but Gawdat doesn’t think Uber is the right company for this. “This is going to sound a little spiritual. There is what you do and there is the intention behind why you do it,” he said. “You can do the exact same thing with a different intention and get a very different result.”
That’s an ambitious project, but Gawdat argues that it can be done without using massive amounts of resources. Indeed, he argues that one of the problems with Google X, and especially big moonshot projects like Loon and self-driving cars, was that they weren’t really resource-constrained. “Some things took longer than they should have,” he said. “But I don’t criticize what they did at all. Take the example of Loon and Facebook. Loon took longer than it should have. In my view, it was basically because of an abundance of resources and sometimes innovation requires a shoestring. That’s my only criticism.”
T0day, which Gawdat hasn’t really talked about publicly in the past, is currently self-funded. A lot of people are advising him to raise money for it. “We’re getting a lot of advice that we shouldn’t self-fund,” he said, but he also believes that the company will need some strategic powerhouses on its side, maybe retailers or companies that have already invested in other components of the overall platform.
T0day’s ambitions are massive, but Gawdat thinks that his team can get the basic elements right, be that the fulfillment center design or the routing algorithms and the optimization engines that power it all. He isn’t ready to talk about those, though. What he does think is that T0day won’t be the interface for these services. It’ll be the back end and allow others to build on top. And because his previous jobs have allowed him to live a comfortable life, he isn’t all that worried about margins either, and would actually be happy if others adopted his idea, thereby reducing waste.
As cities in emerging markets grapple with increasingly traffic-clogged and dangerous streets, Urbvan, a startup providing private, high-end transportation shuttles in Mexico, has raised $9 million in a new round of financing.
Hailing from Portugal, Albino arrived in Mexico City as a hire for the Rocket Internet startup Linio. Although Linio didn’t last, Albino stayed in Mexico, eventually landing a job working for the startup Mercadoni, which is where he met Picard.
The two men saw the initial success of Chariot as it launched from Y Combinator, but were also tracking companies like the Indian startup Shuttl.
“We wanted to make shared mobility more accessible and a little bit more efficient,” says Albino. “We studied the economics and we studied the market and we knew there was a huge urgency in the congested cities of Latin America.”
Unlike the U.S. — and especially major cities like San Francisco and New York — where public transportation is viewed as relatively safe and efficient, the urban environment of Mexico City is seen as not safe by the white-collar workers that comprise Urbvan’s principal clientele.
The company started operating back in 2016. At the time it had five vans that it leased and retrofitted to include amenities like Wi-Fi and plenty of space for a limited number of passengers. The company has expanded significantly since those early days. It now claims more than 15,000 monthly users and a fleet of 180 vans.
Urbvan optimized for safety as well as comfort, according to Albino. The company has deals with WeWork, Walmart and other retailers in Mexico City, so that all the stops on a route are protected and safe. The company also vets its drivers and provides them with additional training because of the expanded capacity of the vans.
Each van is also equipped with a panic button and cameras inside and out for additional monitoring.
Customers either pay $3 per ticket or sign up for a monthly pass that ranges from $100 to $130.
Financing for the company came from Kaszek Ventures and Angel Ventures, with previous investor Mountain Nazca also participating.
For Albino, who went to India to observe Shuttl’s operations, the global market for these kinds of services is so large that there will be many winners in each geography.
“Each city is different and you need to adapt. The technology needs to be adaptable to the city’s concerns, and where it can, add more value,” says Albino. “The Indian market is super different from Latin America… It’s a huge market with a lot of congestion… But the value proposition is a bit more basic [for Shuttl].”
Urbvan is currently operating in Mexico City and Monterrey, but has plans to expand into Guadalajara later this year.
You can tell a lot about a service by what it prioritizes on its home screen. With the new Disney + service, the focus is initially organized by fan base, with different silos for the company’s various studios and the fans that follow them.
As the company gets the service off the ground — and casts about for content to stuff it with — curation is increasingly important. Over the course of my conversation with Michael Paull, who’s overseeing Disney’s streaming service, “quality over quantity” was the mantra.
I spent some time reviewing the app and its features at the D23 expo and it seems the emphasis of quality over quantity in content didn’t necessarily extend to the app itself. The user interface and controls — at least on the AppleTV version that was used in my demonstration — were a little clunky.
While there’s going to be a rich content library of old and new titles — Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars classics and a mix of Fox content (chiefly “The Simpsons”) featured prominently on the home screen — other content is going to be a little bit more difficult to find.
Navigation over to the sidebar is required to find the new Disney+ original series (including acquisitions like the “Diary of a Female President” series that Disney ordered earlier in the year. And don’t even bother trying to find any media from Hulu — or Hulu itself. There are no plans to integrate any Hulu content or Fox properties that now fall under the auspices of Disney or its underlying studios (that includes the mutant corner of the Marvel Comics world that now falls under Disney’s purview after the Fox deal).
Family-friendly fare for Disney means that the service (as previously reported) won’t have any media that would warrant a rating above PG-13. There won’t be a whiff of anything remotely as bloody or graphic as “Deadpool” on Disney’s streams.
While there aren’t a number of robust parental controls (since the content is designed to be more family friendly than the average streaming service), there is a kids mode designed for ages seven and below.
In the kids mode, shows are organized by character, because that’s the way children (many of whom are pre-literate) relate to the medium. The screen for kids is also brighter, and, in kids’ accounts, the autoplay feature is turned off (the default for the streaming services is that autoplay is on for adults).
Initially the service will be available in several languages at launch through subtitles and dubbing, with plans to be as inclusive as possible when the service rolls out in each of the countries in which it will be operating. And eventually Disney wants the streaming service to be available everywhere.
The $7-a-month price tag will enable families to get four simultaneous streams; all the videos will be available in up to 4K HDR video playback and Dolby Atmos audio, with an ability for a family to set up seven different user profiles. As CNET noted, this is in sharp contrast to Netflix, which only allows for five profiles and enables simultaneous streaming only at a higher price point.
Given the broader functionality, it’d be more apt to compare Disney+ to Netflix’s premium $15.99 per month service, rather than its basic $8.99 price point. Disney+’s content library and family-friendly pitch also make it a compelling offering for families with young children.
Each profile can be designated with the Disney avatar of your choice. The service also won’t be dropping its original episodes all at once, preferring to serialize the entertainment — more like a traditional network.
For Disney, which owns Marvel, Lucasfilm, its own catalog of live-action and animated shows through the now 36-year-old Disney Channel and the film libraries of Pixar and the Walt Disney Co., the successful launch of Disney+ is nothing less than the future of the company.
At D23, the company’s fan service expo, that was incredibly apparent.
There has long been a stigma associated with therapy and mental health coaching, a stigma that is even more pronounced in the business world, despite considerable evidence of the efficacy of these services. One of the organizations that has set out to change this negative association is Torch, a startup that combines the therapeutic benefits of executive coaching with data-driven analytics to track outcomes.
Yet, as Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough explains in this Breaking Into Startups episode, the startup wasn’t initially a tech-oriented enterprise. At first, Yarbrough drew on his years of experience as a marriage and family counselor as he made the transition into executive coaching, even referring to the early iterations of Torch as little more than “a matchmaking service between coaches and professionals.”
In time, Yarbrough identified a virtually untapped market for executive coaching — one that, by his estimate, could amount to a $15 billion industry. To demonstrate to investors the great potential of this growing market, he first built up a clientele that provided Torch with sufficient recurring revenue and low churn rate.
Only then was Yarbrough able to raise a $2.4 million seed round from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator, and other investors, convincing them that data analytics software could enhance the coaching process — as well as coach recruitment — enough to effectively “productize feedback,” as he puts it.
For Yarbrough and Torch, “productizing feedback” involves certain well-known business strategies that complement traditional coaching methods. For instance, Torch’s coaching procedure includes a “360 review,” a performance review system that incorporates feedback from all angles, including an employee’s manager, peers, and other people within an organization who have knowledge of the employee’s work.
The 360 review is coupled with an OKR platform, which provides HR departments and other interested parties with the metrics and analytics to track employee progress through the program. This combination is designed to promote the development of soft skills, which in turn drive leadership.
Torch has achieved considerable success, landing several influential clients in the tech sector through its B2B approach. But Yarbrough is clear that his goal with the company is to “democratize” access to professional coaching, in hopes of providing the same kind of mental health counseling and support to employees in all levels of an organization.
In this episode, Yarbrough discusses the history and trajectory of Torch, his experience scaling a company many considered unscalable, and the methods he uses to manage his own emotional and mental health as the CEO of an expanding startup. Yarbrough offers insights into the feelings of anxiety and dread common among entrepreneurs and provides a close look at how he has found business and personal success with Torch.
Breaking Into Startups: There’s a difference between a mentor and a coach. Today, I want to talk about that difference and in addition to the intersection between business and psychology, What Cameron Yarbrough, CEO of Torch and Founder of Well Clinic.
If you’re someone that is looking for a mentor or a coach as you break into tech, or if you just want to be surrounded by peers, make sure you download the Career Karma app by going to www.breakingintostartups.com/download.
On today’s episode, you’re going to understand the importance of therapy, mental health and coaches, as well as how historically, it has been inaccessible to people and how Cameron is using his background to democratize this for the world.
If this is your first time listening to the Breaking Startups Podcast, make sure you leave a review on iTunes and tell your friends. Listen to it on Soundcloud and talk about it on Spotify. If you have any feedback for us, positive or negative, please let us know. Without further ado, let’s break-in.
Cameron Yarbrough is the CEO of Torch. He’s one of the best executive coaches in the world. Not only are we going to be talking about coaching and mentoring for executives, but we’ll also be talking about coaching in general for everyone. We’re going to go into how he created his company.
Croatia has not exactly been known for a huge startup scene in the past, and probably the most famous tech company out of there in recent years has been Rimac Automobili, the startup out of Zagreb that created an electric supercar to rival anything Porsche might make. But the technical talent in the country remains high, as is the way with many Eastern European countries, which have a long and deep heritage of engineering and science going back to the bad old Soviet days.
Croatia is about to get a shot in the arm, however, with the arrival of a home-grown dedicated VC fund, Fil Rouge Capital, which plans to invest in young entrepreneurs, startups and scale-up companies, as well as establishing a local entrepreneurial ecosystem in Croatia.
The fund is fully operational as of last month, having received funding commitments of more than €42 million ($46.6 million), demonstrating a strong interest of investors in the growing startup economy there.
Stevica Kuharski, of the firm, says: “Startups need to be given an opportunity, and opportunities are precisely what Fil Rouge Capital brings to Croatia. Startup founders, whose projects are in very early, early and growth stages now have a place to go to for mentoring and financial support.”
He says Fil Rouge will invest in a variety of sectors, including software, fintech, marketplace, manufacturing, hardware, IOT and logistics.
The fund aims to run over the next four and a half years until the end of 2023, and plans to invest in up to 250 companies operating in Croatia through its three investment stages: “The Startup School” for super-early-stage companies; “The Accelerator Program” for companies that are still early but already up and running; and more full-blown institutional funding-ready companies requiring capital up to €1.5 million.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
This week we were helmed by Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm, but those of you who love the show having guests on, don’t despair. As we explain at the top, there’s a lot of folks coming on the show soon, many of whom you know by name.
But that’s to come, and we had a lot to chat through this week. Including, right from the jump, the latest gyrations in the stock market. Earlier this week tech stocks, and especially cloud and SaaS stocks, took a nosedive. Sentiment swung around later in the week when markets caught their breath and Lyft’s earnings went well. But the movement in highly valued SaaS companies caught our eye. Perhaps if the market finally does correct, we’ll see growth stakes take the worst of it.
But it wasn’t all bad news on the show; a new app that raised $5 million caught Kate’s attention. It’s called Squad and it’s now backed by First Round Capital, the seed fund behind the likes of Uber . You can read Kate’s interview with the founder, Esther Crawford, here.
Next, we turned to two startups that are focused on male reproductive health. While we’ve covered startups focused on fertility, this is the first time we’ve delved into male-focused services that are designed to help men take part in conception. The news here is Dadi has raised another $5 million in venture capital funding. Legacy, the other male fertility company we discussed, is taking part in Y Combinator’s summer batch right now.
On the IPO-ish beat, we talked about Postmates, which has a new stadium partnership, and, more importantly, permission to use cute robots to deliver things in San Francisco. After hearing for years about how small, rolling robots will handle last-mile deliveries, we’re excited for them to actually make it to market. In our view, technology of this sort won’t eliminate the need for human workers at on-demand shops, though they may replace some routine runs. Bring on the burrito robots.
We closed on Airbnb’s purchase of Urbandoor, yet another acquisition from the popular home-sharing company that will eventually go public. It has to, right? Perhaps Urbandoor will help unlock new revenues in the corporate travel space before we see an S-1. After all, Airbnb wants to debut with plenty of growth under its belt to help it meet valuation expectations. Adding revenue to its core business could be a good way to ensure that there’s new top-line to report.
More to come, including something special next week!
The Hyundai Nexo, a hydrogen fuel cell SUV first unveiled at CES 2018, has earned a top safety award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The award, announced Thursday, marks two firsts. The Nexo is the first fuel cell vehicle to earn IIHS’s top safety award. Then again, it’s also the first fuel cell vehicle IIHS has ever tested.
The top safety pick+ award is for 2019 Hyundai Nexo vehicles built after June 2019, when the automaker adjusted the headlights to provide better visibility through curves. Any Nexo vehicles produced prior to June still get high marks, but fall short of the top award. Instead, they qualify for IIHS’ second-tier top safety award. The Nexo joins other 2019 Hyundai and Kia vehicles to earn top safety pick+ awards, including the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Niro hybrid and Kia Soul.
The market for the Nexo is small right now. Within the U.S., the new vehicle, which has a base price of $58,300, is only sold in California. Deliveries of the vehicle to California residents began in December 2018. The vehicle has been available to customers in Korea since early 2018.
Normally, such a limited vehicle wouldn’t be included in IIHS’s routine test schedule, the organization said. Hyundai nominated the vehicle for testing. IIHS says it ended up benefiting too because it gave the organization an early opportunity to evaluate a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
Earning this top safety pick+ award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. It also needs an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.
The Nexo, a midsize luxury SUV, has good ratings in all six crashworthiness tests, IIHS said. The Nexo’s standard front crash prevention system earned a superior rating. The vehicle avoided collisions in 12 mph and 25 mph track tests and has a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria, according to IIHS.
The Nexo could someday become more common, and even used in fleets. Self-driving vehicle startup Aurora has been working with Hyundai and Kia for the last year to integrate its “Driver” into Hyundai’s Nexo.
A number of startups are bringing technology and innovation to the fertility industry, with a growing few focused specifically on male fertility.
“Society at large doesn’t understand the subject of fertility,” Tom Smith, the co-founder and chief executive officer of men’s sperm storage startup Dadi tells TechCrunch. “People see it as a female issue.”
Dadi has raised a $5 million seed extension led by The Chernin Group, a private equity fund that typically invests in media, with existing investors including London seed-fund Firstminute Capital and New York’s Third Kind Venture Capital also participating. The company, which sends at-home fertility tests and sperm storage kits, closed a $2 million seed round earlier this year.
Dadi’s funding event comes shortly after another men’s fertility business, Legacy, raised a $1.5 million round for its sperm testing and freezing service. Both companies hope to leverage venture capital funding to become the dominant men’s fertility brand.
Bain Capital Ventures -backed Legacy, which won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield competition at Disrupt Berlin 2018, allows men to get their sperm tested and frozen without visiting a clinic or meeting with a doctor. Founder and chief executive officer Khaled Kteily said the company, which is based out of the Harvard Innovation Labs in Boston, planned to use the capital to expand its sperm analysis and cryogenic storage services.
Sarah Steinle, head of marketing, Khaled Kteily, founder and CEO, and Daniel Madero, head of clinic partnerships at Legacy .
Like many startups today, Dadi and Legacy are capitalizing on the direct-to-consumer business model to educate men about their fertility. Customers of both Dadi and Legacy simply order a DIY sperm collection kit online, collect a sperm sample and send it back to the company for a full fertility report. Both companies offer sperm storage services too. Dadi charges a total of $199.98 for its sperm testing kit and one year of sperm storage, while Legacy asks for $350 for clinical fertility analysis and lifestyle recommendations. To store your sperm in Legacy’s cryogenic storage facilities, it’s an additional $20 per month.
One in six couples struggles to get pregnant after one year of trying. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, one-third of the infertility cases amongst those couples are caused by fertility problems in men, another one-third of issues are connected to women and the remaining cases are a result of a combination of male and female fertility issues. By making sperm storage more accessible, startups hope to encourage a conversation around family planning and fertility among young men.
“Men also have a biological clock,” Smith said. “From your late 20s and onward, your overall sperm count absolutely declines and, more importantly, the number of mutations that can be passed on to that potential child grows.”
Dadi, a New York-based company, plans to use its latest bout of funding to continue developing a number of yet-to-be-announced products, as well as offer new support services to customers who’ve taken Dadi’s fertility tests: “If we are going to live up to our overall objective of being this encompassing business helping men through the fertility stack, the next step for us is investing in next-step support,” Smith explains.
Dadi’s founding team lacks experience in the healthcare sector, which is likely to pose problems as the company expands and forges partnerships in the greater healthcare field. Smith previously led a custom emoji business, Imoji, which was acquired by Giphy in 2017. Dadi co-founder Mackey Saturday, for his part, was previously a graphic designer responsible for creating Instagram’s logo.
Aiming to make up for its lack of expertise, Dadi has formed a Science and Technology Advisory Board with participation from Dr. Michael Eisenberg, associate professor of urology at Stanford’s Medical Center, and Dr. Jacques Cohen, the laboratory director at ART Institute of Washington at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Legacy’s Kteily previously worked as a consultant focused on health & life sciences before serving as a senior manager at the World Economic Forum. Daniel Madero and Sarah Steinle, also Legacy co-founders, previously worked at Medifertil, a Colombian fertility clinic, and Extend Fertility, respectively.
In addition to Dadi and Legacy, other companies close to the space have recently secured notable investments including Hims, the provider of direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction (ED) and hair loss medication, which raised a $100 million this year. Another seller of ED meds, Ro, has raised a total of $91 million. And Manual, an educational portal and treatment platform for men’s issues, raised a £5 million seed round in January from Felix Capital, Cherry Ventures and Cassius Capital.
The company—which has a robust Africa sales network—could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).
“The company’s listing-related work is running smoothly. The registration application and issuance process is still underway, with the specific timetable yet to be confirmed by the CSRC and Shanghai Stock Exchange,” a spokesperson for Transsion’s Office of the Secretary to the Chairman told TechCrunch via email.
STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public.
Headquartered in Shenzhen—where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility—Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.
The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.
Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai—a company spokesperson said.
Transsion recently announced a larger commitment to capturing market share in India, including building an industrial park in the country for manufacture of phones to Africa.
The IPO comes after Transsion announced its intent to go public and filed its first docs with the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April.
Listing on the STAR Market will put Transsion on the freshly minted exchange seen as an extension of Beijing’s ambition to become a hub for high-potential tech startups to raise public capital. Chinese regulators lowered profitability requirements, for the exchange, which means pre-profit ventures can list.
Transsion’s IPO process comes when the company is actually in the black. The firm generated 22.6 billion yuan ($3.29 billion) in revenue in 2018, up from 20 billion yuan from a year earlier. Net profit for the year slid to 654 million yuan, down from 677 million yuan in 2017, according to the firm’s prospectus.
Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market—through its brands Tecno, Infinix, and Itel—and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.
Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also attracted attention for being one of the first known device makers to optimize its camera phones for African complexions.
On a recent research trip to Addis Ababa, TechCrunch learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3600 Ethiopian Birr, or roughly $125.
In Africa, Transsion’s ability to build market share and find a sweet spot with consumers on price and features gives it prominence in the continent’s booming tech scene.
Africa already has strong mobile-phone penetration, but continues to undergo a conversion from basic USSD phones, to feature phones, to smartphones.
Smartphone adoption on the continent is low, at 34 percent, but expected to grow to 67 percent by 2025, according to GSMA.
This, added to an improving internet profile, is key to Africa’s tech scene. In top markets for VC and startup origination—such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa—thousands of ventures are building business models around mobile-based products and digital applications.
If Transsion’s IPO enables higher smartphone conversion on the continent that could enable more startups and startup opportunities—from fintech to VOD apps.
Another interesting facet to Transsion’s IPO is its potential to create greater influence from China in African tech, in particular if the Shenzhen company moves strongly toward venture investing.
Comparatively, China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities—further boosted in recent years as Beijing pushes its Belt and Road plan.
Transsion’s IPO move is the second recent event—after Chinese owned Opera’s big venture spending in Nigeria—to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene.
So in coming years, China could be less known for building roads, bridges, and buildings in Africa and more for selling smartphones and providing VC for African startups.
Big companies today may want to look and feel like startups, but when it comes to the way they approach buying new enterprise solutions, especially from new entrants. But from the standpoint of a true startup, closing deals with just a few big customers is critical to success. At our much anticipated inaugural TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5, Okta’s Monty Gray, SAP’s DJ Paoni, VMware’s Sanjay Poonen, and Sapphire Venture’s Shruti Tournatory will discuss ways for startups to adapt their strategies to gain more enterprise customers (p.s. early-bird tickets end in 48 hours – book yours here).
This session is sponsored by SAP, the lead sponsor for the event.
Monty Gray is Okta’s Senior Vice President and head of Corporate Development. In this role, he is responsible for driving the company’s growth initiatives, including mergers and acquisitions. That role gives him a unique vantage point of the enterprise startup ecosystem, all from the perspective of an organization that went through the process of learning how to sell to enterprises itself. Prior to joining Okta, Gray served as the Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at SAP.
Sanjay Poonen joined VMware in August 2013, and is responsible for worldwide sales, services, alliances, marketing and communications. Prior to SAP, Poonen held executive roles at Symantec, VERITAS and Informatica, and he began his career as a software engineer at Microsoft, followed by Apple.
SAP’s DJ Paoni has been working in the enterprise technology industry for over two decades. As president of SAP North America, DJ Paoni is responsible for the strategy, day-to-day operations, and overall customer success in the United States and Canada.
These three industry executives will be joined on stage by Sapphire Venture’s Shruti Tournatory, who will provide the venture capitalist’s perspective. She joined Sapphire Ventures in 2014 and leads the firm’s CXO platform, a network of Fortune CIOs, CTOs, and digital executives. She got her start in the industry as an analyst for IDC, before joining SAP and leading product for its business travel solution.
Grab your early-bird tickets today before we sell out. Early-bird sales end after this Friday, so book yours now and save $100 on tickets before prices increase. If you’re an early-stage enterprise startup you can grab a startup demo table for just $2K here. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a great location for you to showcase your company to investors and new customers.
Musk is due to speak at an AI conference, called the World Artificial Intelligence Conference, taking place in Shanghai on August 29-31. Replying to a tweet about the event he announced: “Will also be launching The Boring Company China on this trip.”
Will also be launching The Boring Company China on this trip
— E (@elonmusk) August 3, 2019
Another Twitter user chipped into the conversation to ask whether the company would also do underwater tunnels — to which Musk replied simply “yes“.
A securities filing last month revealed that the The Boring Company had raised its first outside investment via the sale of $120M in stock. So the company has some extra cash sloshing around to plough into new ventures.
It also recently landed its first commercial contract: $48.7M to build and operate an underground “people mover” in Las Vegas, focused on the Las Vegas Convention Center.
This underground ‘people mover’ is not, as you might imagine, a tried and tested metro train system. The plan apparently involves building two tunnels: One for vehicles (Musk does also sell electrics cars) and a second tunnel for pedestrians who will be carried in (modified) Tesla cars. The latter fully autonomous, under the plan.
Current generation Teslas are not capable of driving themselves, merely offering driving assistance features to humans. But autonomous driving inside a tunnel is about as much of a controlled environment you could hope for — without, y’know, sticking cars together on rails and making a driverless train (like the one that’s been serving London’s Docklands area since 1987).
The Las Vegas contract specifies three months of safety testing before Musk’s modified Teslas will be allowed to whisk people through the tunnel.
Another design that The Boring Company has proposed — for an ambitious Loop system from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore — is still on the drawing board, having attracted major safety concerns by failing to meet several key national safety standards, including lacking sufficient emergency exits and not taking note of the latest engineering practices.
So perhaps, in looking to expand The Boring Company by taking his spade to the Far East, Musk is hoping for a more accommodating set of building standards to drive an electric truck through.
Here are five words you’ll never hear spring from the mouth of an early-stage startupper. “I don’t mind paying more.” We feel you, and that’s why we’re letting you know that the price of admission to TC Sessions Enterprise 2019, which takes place on September 5, goes up next week.
Our $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play until 11:59 p.m. (PT) on August 9. Buy your ticket now and save $100.
Now that you’ve scored the best possible price, get ready to experience a full day focused on what’s around the corner for enterprise — the biggest and richest startup category in Silicon Valley. More than 1,000 attendees, including many of the industry’s top founders, CEOs, investors and technologists, will join TechCrunch’s editors onstage for interviews covering all the big enterprise topics — AI, the cloud, Kubernetes, data and security, marketing automation and event quantum computing, to name a few.
This conference features more than 20 sessions on the main stage, plus separate Q&As with the speakers and breakout sessions. Check out the agenda here.
Just to peek at one session, TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos will interview three top VCs — Jason Green (Emergence Capital), Maha Ibrahim (Canaan Partners) and Rebecca Lynn (Canvas Ventures) — in a session entitled Investing with an Eye to the Future. In an ever-changing technological landscape, it’s not easy for VCs to know what’s coming next and how to place their bets. Yet, it’s the job of investors to peer around the corner and find the next big thing, whether that’s in AI, serverless, blockchain, edge computing or other emerging technologies. Our panel will look at the challenges of enterprise investing, what they look for in enterprise startups and how they decide where to put their money.
Want to boost your ROI? Take advantage of our group discount — save 20% when you buy four or more tickets at once. And remember, for every ticket you buy to TC Sessions: Enterprise, we’ll register you for a free Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.
TC Sessions: Enterprise takes place September 5, but your chance to save $100 ends next week. No one enjoys paying more, so buy an early-bird ticket today, cross it off your to-do list and enjoy your savings.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
The latest bout in Las Vegas is not taking place in a raucous casino boxing ring, but in the hushed rooms of planning committees. The reigning champion, the Las Vegas Monorail, is facing upstart challenger The Boring Company, in a fight to decide the future of Sin City’s urban transportation.
In May, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority approved a $48.7 million contract for The Boring Company (TBC) to design and build a short underground transit system at the city’s Convention Center, using Tesla electric vehicles running through narrow tunnels.
The ambitious contract calls for the system, called the LVCC Loop, to be up and running in time for the city’s biggest trade show, CES, in January 2021. Over the next 18 months, TBC has to construct one pedestrian tunnel, two 0.8-mile vehicle tunnels and three underground stations, as well as modify and test seven-seater Tesla cars to carry up to 16 people.
TBC has already submitted detailed construction plans to the city for review, which TechCrunch has obtained, and recently raised $120 million in funding. The company hopes to start construction later this summer.
But TBC’s tight deadlines — and the payments it receives by meeting them — could be jeopardized by the Monorail’s concerns that the new tunnels could undermine its own system. To connect two parts of the Convention Center, the Loop will have to burrow directly beneath the Monorail’s elevated tracks.
“The proposed underground people mover system intersects our existing system route, and it appears the presented tunnel alignment interferes with our existing columns for the Las Vegas Monorail system and creates significant concern regarding both vertical and lateral loads,” Monorail CEO Curtis Myles wrote in a letter to Clark County planning officials in June.
Chris Kaempfer, a lawyer representing the Monorail, clarified the company’s position at a meeting of the Winchester Town Advisory Board the same day.
“When you have columns that would be this close, you’re not just concerned about contact with the columns, you’re also concerned about vibration,” Kaempfer said. “The record has to be absolutely clear, if there’s any damage at all to the columns, it will shut the Monorail down.”
Kaempfer lobbied the advisory board to increase oversight of the TBC project, and require the company to work with the Monorail and city officials during construction to prevent damage to the train system’s columns.
“It’s extremely important to the Monorail that everyone acknowledge that this potential exists and that it needs to be appropriately addressed,” Kaempfer said.
TBC pushed back against any new restrictions, telling the board that it was already committed to protecting existing infrastructure along the Loop’s route.
“[Tunneling] noise and vibration are imperceptible at the surface. We design our process to be deep enough underground such that a person walking [at ground level] creates more vibration than our tunnel-boring machine underground,” said Jane Labanowski, TBC’s government relations executive.
At the final bell, the Winchester Town Board awarded this round to the Monorail, conditioning the Loop design’s approval on regular coordination between TBC, the Monorail and the city’s Public Works department. “That way we all have a point of reference to go back to, just in case somebody forgets or doesn’t check in with other people,” said the chairperson. “All of a sudden, someone gets to be a bad actor who doesn’t mean to be.”
TBC did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
While the Monorail and Elon Musk’s Loop don’t yet compete directly, TBC’s ultimate ambition is to expand the LVCC Loop from a campus people mover to a Vegas-wide transit system serving the airport, the Strip and beyond.
The Monorail itself started as a short, one-mile system shuttling tourists between the MGM Grand and Bally’s Hotel, using monorail cars bought from Disney World in Florida. It now extends nearly four miles and carries up to 67,000 passengers a day during its busiest times.
The Las Vegas Monorail crosses over the Las Vegas Convention Center as viewed on January 4, 2017 in Las Vegas.
TBC has promised that the Loop will be able to handle up to 4,400 passengers an hour — equivalent to more than 100,000 a day — as soon as it becomes operational. Its website states that the total journey time between the farthest LVCC stations will be around one minute. This means that the Loop will need at least six 16-person vehicles operating simultaneously to hit its goal. However, a one-minute journey might not be realistic at busy times. New York and Boston subway trains regularly stop for more than 30 seconds at popular stations.
At the Winchester meeting, Labanowski also revealed further details about the Loop’s vehicles and operations. Although TBC’s website states that the system would use autonomous vehicles, presumably using Tesla’s Autopilot technology, Labanowski said the LVCC Loop vehicles would actually also have human drivers “for additional safety.”
Loop plans submitted by TBC to Las Vegas show a modest glass structure at surface level, with elevators, escalators and stairs leading down to a mezzanine level with gates, and then down again to three platforms. With no room at the platform level for vehicles to turn around, it appears TBC’s people movers will operate in both forward and reverse.
And although TBC hopes its Loop system will eventually span the city, a TBC contractor at the Winchester meeting said that public access could be limited for now. “We will monitor how it’s open to the public based on our commitment to our trade show customers on any given day,” said Terry Miller of the Cordell Corporation, which has been awarded a $1 million contract to oversee the project. “During CES it will be a little more difficult to have the public coming in and out than it would be for a [smaller] trade show.”
The next challenge for TBC is getting all the necessary permits to excavate a shaft to deploy its tunnel-boring machine underground. Its schedule calls for construction to begin in September.
Get ready to dive into the fiercely competitive waters of enterprise software. Join more than 1,000 attendees for TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 on September 5 to navigate this rapidly evolving category with the industry’s brightest minds, biggest names and exciting startups.
Our $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play, which saves you $100. But one is the loneliest number, so why not take advantage of our group discount, buy in bulk and bring your whole team? Save an extra 20% when you buy four or more tickets at once.
We’ve packed this day-long conference with an outstanding lineup of presentations, interviews, panel discussions, demos, breakout sessions and, of course, networking. Check out the agenda, which includes both industry titans and boundary-pushing startups eager to disrupt the status quo.
We’ll add more surprises along the way, but these sessions provide a taste of what to expect — and why you’ll need your posse to absorb as much intel as possible.
With tools like Jira, Bitbucket and Confluence, few companies influence how developers work as much as Atlassian. The company’s co-founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar will join us to talk about growing his company, how it is bringing its tools to enterprises and what the future of software development in and for the enterprise will look like.
Enterprises face a litany of threats from both inside and outside the firewall. Now more than ever, companies — especially startups — have to put security first. From preventing data from leaking to keeping bad actors out of your network, enterprises have it tough. How can you secure the enterprise without slowing growth? We’ll discuss the role of a modern CSO and how to move fast — without breaking things.
Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course
Bill McDermott (SAP)
With over $166 billion in market cap, Germany-based SAP is one of the most valuable tech companies in the world today. Bill McDermott took the leadership in 2014, becoming the first American to hold this position. Since then, he has quickly grown the company, in part thanks to a number of $1 billion-plus acquisitions. We’ll talk to him about his approach to these acquisitions, his strategy for growing the company in a quickly changing market and the state of enterprise software in general.
While we’re still a few years away from having quantum computers that will fulfill the full promise of this technology, many companies are already starting to experiment with what’s available today. We’ll talk about what startups and enterprises should know about quantum computing today to prepare for tomorrow.
Visa is pitching a new way for startups in the fintech space to get to market faster by using its rails and a group of pre-approved partners.
The Fast Track program, a variant of an investment commitment and ecosystem of services the company has already launched in other geographies around the world, comes to the U.S. without an investment commitment, but with a pre-defined list of partners that will help new financial services startups launch more quickly, the company said.
Chiefly, the process makes it easier to integrate with Visa . It’s an attempt to put the payment processor’s network, VisaNet, at the center of a vast array of services ranging from payroll to business to business payments and online banking, online lending and even digital wallets.
“There’s about $17 trillion in cash and checks today that hasn’t gone digital and $20 trillion in business to business that’s happening over wires and check… those are all opportunities for Visa,” says Terry Angelos, a former fintech entrepreneur who now serves as a senior vice president at Visa and the company’s global head of fintech.
“To some degree Visa has been the original fintech,” says Angelos. “Today, you would pitch it as a SaaS platform for payment and commerce.”
For its new service, Visa has come up with a list of partners to provide the array of compliance services and infrastructure that a startup in the financial services space would need to get up and running quickly.
“These are vetted partners that are providing a fast track process and a concierge service so we can track the companies in the program,” says Angelos.
What the program won’t include, Angelos said, is a commitment to invest in startups in the U.S. that would be equivalent to the $100 million investment fund the company has carved out for European investments as part of the fast track program there.
“We have investments that are happening that are in parallel,” Angelos says. “We don’t have a separate fund.”
Companies that are partnering with Visa on this program represent a different service offering for the ecosystem, including: Alloy, BBVA Open Platform, Cross River Bank, Galileo, Green Dot, Marqeta, Netspend (TSYS’ Consumer Segment), Stripe, TabaPay, TSYS, Q2 and Very Good Security. The company said its debit processing service will support some of the partners’ participation in the program.
Last year, fintech companies raised $39.5 billion from investors globally, up 120% from the previous year, according to data provided by Visa. And as part of their outreach to this startup community, Visa is pre-qualifying for its program portfolio companies from investment firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Nyca Partners, Ribbit Capital and Trinity Ventures.
“We see many entrepreneurs with big ideas that can add real value and solve problems in the global payments system; the problem can be the difficulty of distribution and connectivity to the essential infrastructure,” said Hans Morris, managing partner, Nyca Ventures, in a statement. “Fast Track solves for this, enabling some of our best companies to start working with Visa right away.”
Many of the firms’ portfolio companies are already partnering with Visa in some capacity. The company has already announced agreements (of an undefined and undisclosed nature) with startups like Currencycloud, Flutterwave, Ininal, N26, PayActiv, Rappi, Razer and Remitly.
The main thing that startups would get from the Visa Fast Track program is mentorship and access to the company’s experts in payments and fintech. And its effort to tie itself more closely to a financial services ecosystem comes as Visa finds itself under threat from some of the very startup technologies that the company may look to co-opt.
Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies offer the possibility of alternative payment mechanisms that don’t rely on the traditional money transfer systems developed decades ago by companies like Visa and Mastercard, and can offer potentially faster transaction times and charge lower fees.
To combat that threat, Visa has been aligning with some of the largest technology companies to head off challengers at the pass. The company (along with its largest rival, Mastercard) is collaborating with Facebook on its controversial proposed cryptocurrency, Libra, in an effort to head off any challengers with a new transaction system of its own.
Angelos insists that there’s nothing nefarious in Visa’s efforts to engage with startups, and says that the company is merely another actor supporting the movement of trillions of dollars into a digital economy.
“If you look at what’s happening in the fintech ecosystem… Fintechs are reducing friction and adding consumers that are underbanked,” Angelos says. “They can work on any payment rails they choose. [But] all those fintechs… are choosing to build at least part of their products on top of the rails that we built… if you look around the world, fintechs are probably leveraging the existing payment rails to provide a lot of innovation and remove friction.”
Following her talk at the recent Banff World Media Festival in Canada, I interviewed Laura Martin, the senior analyst covering entertainment and internet stocks at leading investment bank Needham & Company, to sort out how the pieces are moving in this chess game between content creators, streaming services, consumers, and government regulators.
We discuss why Netflix is still at risk of a downfall, the effect of EU content quotas, why Martin thinks regulators should break up Google, and why video streaming and game streaming are likely to merge into the same subscription products.
Here is the transcript of our discussion, edited for length and clarity:
Eric Peckham: There’s an optimistic case that the rise of online video streaming is a win for both consumers and content creators because it creates a vast landscape of content platforms. Onstage in Banff, you argued that the number of content platforms (and thus the number of content buyers) will in fact shrink. Why do you see it going that direction?
Laura Martin: There are 4,000 video apps on the Roku platform today (and similarly on Samsung and on Amazon Fire). What you’ll see is a consolidation in the industry as we get big players like the Walt Disney Company, AT&T, and Apple coming into the DTC business with big, deep pockets. Although we have more buyers of content today, it’s driving prices up.
It is likely that the big players are just battling out between themselves, putting smaller players out of business. Over a 10-year time frame, I expect just three or four winners, and that will bring more discipline back into the financial aspects of the business.
Peckham: What will separate the winners from the losers here?