FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Will fintech unicorn Flywire’s proposed IPO reach escape velocity?

By Alex Wilhelm

It’s a big morning for fintech startups today: Flywire, a Boston-based magnet for venture capital, has filed to go public.

Flywire is a global payments company that attracted more than $300 million as a startup, according to Crunchbase, most recently raising a $60 million Series F last month. We don’t have its most recent valuation, but PitchBook data indicates that the company’s February 2020, $120 million round valued Flywire at $1 billion on a post-money basis.

So what we’re looking at here is a fintech unicorn IPO. A great way to kick off the week, to be honest, though I’d thought that Robinhood would be the next such debut.

Fintech venture capital activity has been hot lately, which makes the Flywire IPO interesting. Its success or failure could dictate the pace of fintech exits and fintech startup valuations in general, so we have to care about it.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Regardless, we’re doing our regular work this morning. First, what does Flywire do and with whom does it compete? Then, a closer look at its financial results as we hope to get our hands around its revenue quality, aggregate economics and growth prospects.

After that, we’ll discuss valuations and which venture capital groups are set to do well in its flotation. The company had a number of backers, but Spark Capital, Temasek, F-Prime Capital, and Bain Capital Ventures made the major shareholder list, along with Goldman Sachs. So, a number of firms and funds are hoping for a big Flywire exit. Let’s dig in.

What is Flywire?

Flywire is a global payments company. Or, as it states in its S-1 filing, it’s “a leading global payments enablement and software company.” And it thinks that its market, and by extension itself, has lots of room to grow. While “substantial strides [have been] made in payments technology in the retail and e-commerce industries,” the company wrote, “massive sectors of our global economy—including education, healthcare, travel, and business-to-business, or B2B, payments—are still in the early stages of digital transformation.”

That’s the same logic behind Stripe’s epic valuation and the rising value of payments-focused companies like Finix.

In the race toward Web 3 financial privacy, Secret Network attracts backing from key players

By Mike Butcher

In the real world — the world on which the global economy runs — we don’t expose every aspect of our financial activity in public. We want to be able to select which parties can access our financial data and under what circumstances — for example, our credit history or bank transactions. The problem with the blockchain world is that this financial privacy doesn’t really exist. This has led to pretty bad abuses, such as the practice of “front-running,” where a nefarious person can take advantage of you immediately after seeing your transaction on a public blockchain. What’s required is a real infrastructure improvement to this problem, for, without it, the crypto “Shangri-La” of “DeFi” (decentralized finance) will never have a hope of taking off.

It’s therefore significant that some well-known organizations in the realm of blockchain financing are investing the equivalent of $11.5 million into SCRT, the native coin of the Secret Network blockchain. The investment was led by Arrington Capital and Blocktower Capital and also includes Spartan Group and Skynet Trading.

Previous investors in Secret include Outlier Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and Hashed, as well as Secret Foundation and Enigma MPC, and node operators such as Figment and Staked.

Tor Bair, founder of Secret Foundation said: “The addition of these valuable and experienced partners to the Secret ecosystem marks a significant inflection point for Secret Network as we concentrate on expanding and supporting our fast-growing application layer.”

Secret, which used to be called Enigma before a pivot, claims to have been the first privacy-first smart contract platform. (The first version of this blockchain was called the “Enigma Mainnet,” but this branding was changed to Secret Network via a governance vote in summer 2020).

So far in 2021, the Secret Network ecosystem has launched several native applications, including SecretSwap, a “front-running resistant,” cross-chain AMM with privacy protections. It is also developing Secret NFTs.

So why is this at all significant? Why should we care? It’s simply because, without privacy, DeFi is highly unlikely to go mainstream.

Without privacy in transactions, the traditional economic system won’t bother taking any notice of crypto and blockchain, outside of noting whether the price of bitcoin goes up or down.

Admittedly, Secret is not the only player tackling this area. It is playing in the same arena as blockchain projects such as Phala (not yet on mainnet, and built on Polkadot), Oasis and Aleo, which recently just fundraised via Andreessen Horowitz.

What these projects all have in common is this race toward what’s known as the Web3 “application privacy” space. Once again, they are trying to reproduce the kind of financial privacy that we have all come to expect from the traditional financial system, but which remains elusive in the blockchain world.

However, this approach should not be confused with privacy coins like Monero and Zcash. These are coins, and therefore not the same at all as the above-named projects, which are aiming at what’s known as “programmable privacy.”

Bair told me: “Transactional privacy [via privacy coins] just means hiding simple aspects of transactions from other parties — a narrow form of privacy. Smart contract privacy — what we call ‘programmable privacy’ — is a much more powerful idea, allowing developers to build complex decentralized and permissionless applications that also protect data privacy, with big consequences for Web3 security and usability. As an analogy — imagine trying to build a decentralized Facebook. Normal blockchains expose all data by default, a much worse outcome for user privacy and security. Only smart contract privacy allows you to build these types of complex applications without compromising the user experience and threatening their safety.”

Front-running is often described as getting a transaction first in line before a known future transaction occurs. Bair claims Secret protects against this at the protocol level because all interactions with smart contracts are encrypted and cannot be viewed even by the network validators, “so all DeFi applications built on Secret Network are front-running resistant by default” he told me.

That said, Secret will still have to compete with the myriad privacy projects already on — for instance — Ethereum, such as Automata. The Secret Network is a standalone blockchain and would still require a developer community to be successful, versus Ethereum and Polkadot, which technically have a head start, of sorts. But these blockchains are public by default. So Secret’s hyperfocus on the issue of privacy may yet make Secret a major player in this realm.

Bair commented: “Only programmable privacy can give users and developers this level of control in the DeFi world. Without programmable privacy, DeFi will never achieve mass adoption outside of purely speculative activity. Secret Network intends to become the foundation for new types of DeFi applications that better protect users while also allowing traditional institutions to participate securely, with protections for sensitive data. Also, blockchains don’t need thousands of developers to succeed in the short term — they need the right developers who build the early critical applications.”

Furthermore, Secret has in its favor the fact that due to the whole nature of decentralization of the blockchain, the space isn’t nearly as much a “winner-take-all” environment as the general internet has become due to the growth of the large Big Tech platforms — that would be counter to the point of decentralization. As Bair told me: “Secret’s vision is to become a data privacy hub for all public blockchains, collaborating more than competing with networks like Ethereum (to which we already have a live bridge with over $100 million in assets locked).”

Secret Network claims it was one of the first blockchains to feature privacy-preserving smart contracts, which it launched on mainnet in September 2020. It says this means all decentralized applications built on Secret Network have data privacy by default. The Secret Network blockchain itself is based on Cosmos SDK/Tendermint, giving it its own independent consensus, on-chain governance, and features like slashing and delegation. It is secured by the native coin Secret (SCRT), which must be staked by network validators and is used for transaction and computation fees as well as governance, said the foundation.

Commenting on the investment, Michael Arrington, founder of Arrington Capital said: “Secret is the first blockchain ecosystem to prioritize privacy. Financial privacy is critical to individual freedom, and Arrington Capital has long been committed to financial privacy and censorship resistance. The rapid expansion of decentralized finance makes solutions like Secret Network a timely addition to the DeFi ecosystem.” (Arrington Capital was established by Arrington, who was also previously the founder of TechCrunch, but who has no involvement in the title these days).

Jamie Burke, founder of Outlier Ventures in the U.K. and a Secret backer, told me: “Privacy will be essential to the security and adoption of Web3, from DeFi to NFTs and beyond. Secret Network brings new and unique privacy functionality to the space, and as a result we believe it will be foundational to the next generation of successful Web3 applications.”

Secret is also getting support from DeFi players such as the Sienna Network. Monty Munford, Chief Evangelist and Core Contributor to the privacy DeFi company told me: “Of all the networks in all the world, we chose Secret because it was a yes-yes-yes brainer. They understand privacy and we understand DeFi; it’s a match made in heaven.”

Wealthsimple raises $610M at a $4B valuation

By Darrell Etherington

Canadian fintech giant Wealthsimple has raised a new round of $750 million CAD (~$610 million) at a post-money valuation of $5 billion CAD (~$4 billion). The round was led by Meritech and Greylock, and includes funding from Inovia, Sagard, Redpoint, TSV, as well as individual investors including Drake, Ryan Reynolds and Michael J. Fox (basically, all the most famous Canadians).

Wealthsimple’s big new raise more than doubles its valuation from its last round, a $114 million CAD (roughly $93 million) funding announced last October, which carried a post-money valuation of $1.5 billion CAD ($~1.22 billion USD). The Toronto-based company has been a leader in the realm of democratizing financial products for consumers, including stock trading, crypto asset sales, and peer-to-peer money transfers.

The company says that it experienced significant growth during the pandemic, which is likely one big reason why its valuation rose so much between its most recent raise and this one. Its commission-free retail investment platform has grown “rapidly” over the course of the past 14 months, the company says, and the crypto trading platform which it launched last August has also seen strong uptake given the recent surge in consumer interest in cryptocurrency assets.

Late last year, Wealthsimple soft-launched its P2P money transfer app, Wealthsimple Cash, and in March it made it available to all Canadians. The app is very similar in terms of features to Venmo or Square’s Cash app, but neither of those offerings have been available to Canadians thus far. Wealthsimple’s app, which is free to use and distinct from its stock trading and crypto platforms, has thus tapped significant pent-up demand in the market and seen rapid uptake rthus far.

With this funding, Wealthsimple plans to “expand its market position, build out its product suite, and grow its team.” The company also offers automated savings and investing products (the robo-advisor tools it was originally founded around), as well as tax filing tools, and it has demonstrated a clear appetite and ability to expand its offerings to encompass even more of its customers financials lives when committed with fresh resources to do so.

The company says it has over 1.5 million users, with over $10 billion in assets under management as of the last publicly available numbers.

How UK-based Lendable is powering fintechs across emerging markets

By Tage Kene-Okafor

What moves the needle for digital lenders is serving loans to their respective customers. But where does this money come from? The pool is usually equity or debt. While some lenders use the former, it can be seen as folly because, over time, the founders tend to lose ownership of their businesses after giving out too much equity to raise capital for loans. Hence the reason why most lending companies secure debt facilities. 

TechCrunch has recently reported on two prominent digital lenders (also digital banks in their own rights) gaining steam in Africa — Carbon and FairMoney. In 2019, Carbon secured $5 million in debt financing and the following year, FairMoney did the same but raised a higher sum, $13 million.

Enter Lendable, the UK-based firm responsible for supplying both lenders with debt finance.

The company with offices in Nairobi, New York, and Singapore advances loans to fintechs across eight markets in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Since launching in 2014, the company has disbursed over $125 million to these fintechs — SME lenders, payment platforms, asset lenders, marketplaces, and consumer lenders.

In a phone conversation with TechCrunch, Samuel Eyob, a principal at the firm, said the company is raising almost $180 million to continue its investment efforts across the three continents.

“We want to raise more than $180 million and we have investors that have committed cash to us,” he said. “Right now, we’re already investing out of that amount because we’ve already closed on a bunch of it. Ideally, the goal is to invest that amount over this year.”

Lendable was founded by Daniel Goldfarb and Dylan Friend. It was based on an insight that they had while Daniel was a partner at Greenstart, a venture capital firm focused on data, finance and energy. That insight was that the poorest people in the world pay the most for goods and services, so if capital markets could provide a path to ownership, that could help individuals build assets. So the pair set out to solve this by providing capital to fintechs catering to the needs of these people.

Eyob, a first-generation American from Ethiopia, knows what a lack of access to fair finance does to people and countries. Given the millions of people and businesses not effectively served by banks and MFIs, Eyob joined the team to drive financial inclusion in these markets

“Over a billion people still lack access to financial services and multiple reports indicate that the financing gap for micro and small businesses is trillions of dollars and growing. We believe this is a massive opportunity. So, whilst we started in Africa, the lack of access to fair financing solutions is a problem across all emerging markets, which we want to address,” he said.

Samuel Eyob

Samuel Eyob (Principal, Lendable)

So in 2014, Lendable started as a SaaS platform to democratize access to African capital markets by providing risk and analytics software. “We hoped to do this by bringing the securitization market from the Global North into Africa,” Eyob added

The company built an analytics platform to analyze loans and used machine learning to predict loan portfolio cashflows. In addition to that, they created an automated investment platform helping ventures to raise nondilutive (not equity) capital to help scale their businesses.

After sufficiently proving out its tech, the firm made a pivot. According to Eyob, the previous model wasn’t experiencing enough growth and was incurring unsustainable costs. So the company began raising capital based on its own analytics in 2016. It had only raised $600,000 and was focused on East African startups with SME financing and Pay-Go solar home models. That number has since increased to over $125 million across Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

So why do these companies actually need debt financing? Here’s a clearer picture of the instance used at the beginning of this piece.

Imagine a VC-backed startup whose ultimate goal is to help scale up female-founded SMEs with one-year loans. The startup could easily use its equity to provide the capital for all the one-year loans. The payoff from the loans, after one year, would be the interest due to them. Or, it could put that capital into hiring developers, build a go-to-market strategy, hire a CTO, all of which would likely have payoffs that are up to a 100x multiple of the interest they would have made on the single SME loan that is tied up for an entire year.

So ultimately, debt would be an ideal source of nondilutive capital for the startup as they wouldn’t have to tie up equity for one year. Therefore, debt would be a much cheaper source of capital to scale up their operations, especially if it has scaled up to having tens of thousands of one-year loans. If it were equity, they would have to raise an endless amount with constant dilution as they scale.

In its five years of official operations, Lendable has given debt facilities to more than 20 startups. While the stage at which Lendable gives money differs, it is particular about startups that are post Series A. 

Apart from Carbon and FairMoney, some startups to have raised debt from Lendable include Tugende, Uploan, KoinWorks, Planet42, TerraPay, Watu Credit, Trella, Amartha, Payjoy, Solar Panda, Cars45 and MFS Africa. Collectively, Eyob said, Lendable has reached 1.2 million end borrowers through its partners and helped finance up to 290,000 SMEs.

Of the $125 million disbursed so far as debt, Eyob said the company has a default rate of about 0.01%. The reason behind this low number, Eyob reckons, is because Lendable ensures to be in constant conversation with the companies offering help, advice or connections when necessary.

“We view lending as a partnership and typically when both parties act in good faith, there are ways to solve problems,” Eyob said

The debt facilities start at $2 million but can go up to over $15 million, Eyob said. But while the global standard at which lenders pay back their debt investments is typically 4 to 6 years, Lendable expects the companies it gives cash to do so in 3 to 4 years

Eyob pushes that founders in emerging markets should be willing to take more debt financing to scale their startups. These days, startups tend to be high on giving out equity instead of weighing options on effectively using debt in critical points when scaling.

Equity could be used to help attract the best talent or expand into new markets. Still, debt proves essential when scaling up capital-intensive operations like working capital or pre-funding activities. More often than not, debt and equity are complementary to one another, and Lendable is hoping to use the new funds it’s raising to push that notion

I think, just like everywhere else in the world, debt and equity are tools that should be used to support one another, supporting the venture’s ultimate mission. We have lasting relationships with multiple VC teams across emerging markets that we work with to ultimately support one another’s partner investees.”

 

Amid the IPO gold rush, how should we value fintech startups?

By Ram Iyer
Allen Miller Contributor
Allen Miller is a principal at Oak HC/FT based in San Francisco. He invests in early- and growth-stage companies, with a particular focus on fintech.
Tess Munsie Contributor
Tess Munsie is a senior associate at Oak HC/FT based in New York City. She focuses on early- and growth-stage investments in fintech.

If there has ever been a golden age for fintech, it surely must be now. As of Q1 2021, the number of fintech startups in the U.S. crossed 10,000 for the first time ever — well more than double that if you include EMEA and APAC. There are now three fintech companies worth more than $100 billion (Paypal, Square and Shopify) with another three in the $50 billion-$100 billion club (Stripe, Adyen and Coinbase).

Yet, as fintech companies have begun to go public, there has been a fair amount of uncertainty as to how these companies will be valued on the public markets. This is a result of fintechs being relatively new to the IPO scene compared to their consumer internet or enterprise software counterparts. In addition, fintechs employ a wide variety of business models: Some are transactional, others are recurring or have hybrid business models.

In addition, fintechs now have a multitude of options in terms of how they choose to go public. They can take the traditional IPO route, pursue a direct listing or merge with a SPAC. Given the multitude of variables at play, valuing these companies and then predicting public market performance is anything but straightforward.

It is important to note that fintech is a complex category with many different types of players, and not all fintech is created equal.

The fintech gold rush has arrived

For much of the past two decades, fintech as a category has been very quiet on the public markets. But that began to change considerably by the mid-2010s. Fintech had clearly arrived by 2015, with both Square and Shopify going public that year. Last year was a record one with eight fintech IPOs, and there has been no slowdown in 2021 — the first four months have already produced seven IPOs. By our estimates, there are more than 15 additional fintech companies that could IPO this year. The current record will almost certainly be shattered well before the end of the year.

Fintech IPOs from 2000 to 2021

Image Credits: Oak HC/FT

Sorbet raises $6M seed led by Viola Ventures to tackle the thorny financials of paid time off

By Mike Butcher

A US/Israeli startup, Sorbet — which is tackling what companies do with the financial risks as employees accrue Paid Time Off (PTO) — has raised $6 million in a Seed funding round led by Viola Ventures, with participation by Global Founders Capital, Meron Capital.

The economics of Paid Time Off is relatively hidden in the business world, but essentially,
Sorbet takes on the burden of this PTO from employers and then allows employees to spend it. This gives the employers far more control over the whole process and the ability to forecast its impact on the business.

Sorbet says that in the US, employees use only 72% PTO balances, even though it’s the most sought-after benefit. But this, effectively, comes out at 768 million unused days off a year, worth around $224 billion. This creates a difficult problem for CFO’s and accountants because its creates balance sheet liabilities on the company’s books, says Sorbet. If the employee doesn’t use all of their PTO, the employer can end up owing them a lot of money which creates a cash flow liability on the company’s books. So Sorbet buys out these PTO liabilities from employees, then loads the cash value of the PTO on prepaid Credit Cards for the employees.

Speaking to me on a call, CEO and cofounder Veetahl Eilat-Raichel, said: “We researched this whole idea of paid time off and found this huge, massive market failure and inefficiency around the way that PTO is constructed. It’s kind of one of those things where, on the face of it, there’s this boring bureaucratic payroll item that turns into a boring balance sheet item. But under it is a $224 billion problem for US businesses… If you think about it, employers are borrowing money from their employees at the worst terms possible and employees aren’t benefitting either. So everyone’s hurting here.”

She said: “Sorbet assumes the liability on ourselves and so then we can allow the company to control their cash flow and decide when they want to pay us back. They gain a lot of financial value because we are able to be very, very attractive on our funding. So it saves costs, it provides them with complete control of their cash flow, and it allows them to give out amazing financial benefits to employees at a time where we can all use some extra cash right now.”

The platform Sorbet has built will, it says, sync with calendars, HR, and payroll systems, identifies habits, and then proactively suggests personalized, pre-approved 3-6 hour “Micro Breaks”, 1-4 day “Micro Vacations” and +1 week Vacations. This, says the startup, increases PTO used by as much as 15%.

Employers can constantly renegotiate the terms of the loan with Sorbet, thus matching future cash flow, insulating themselves against salary raises (wage inflation), and take advantage of other benefits.

The cofounders are Eilat-Raichel, who previously worked at L’Oreal and Lockheed Martin, and a Fintech entrepreneur; Eliaz Shapira, co-founder and CPO; and Rami Kasterstein co-founder and board Member.

The era of the European insurtech IPO will soon be upon us

By Ram Iyer
Phil Edmondson-Jones Contributor
Phil Edmondson-Jones is a principal at Oxx, the specialist SaaS VC backing Europe and Israel's most promising B2B SaaS businesses at the scale-up stage.

Once the uncool sibling of a flourishing fintech sector, insurtech is now one of the hottest areas of a buoyant venture market. Zego’s $150 million round at unicorn valuation in March, a rumored giant incoming round for WeFox, and a slew of IPOs and SPACs in the U.S. are all testament to this.

It’s not difficult to see why. The insurance market is enormous, but the sector has suffered from notoriously poor customer experience and major incumbents have been slow to adapt. Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology. And the pandemic has cast the spotlight on high-potential categories, including health, mobility and cybersecurity.

Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology.

This has begun to brew a perfect storm of conditions for big European insurtech exits. Here are four trends to look out for as the industry powers toward several European IPOs and a red-hot M&A market in the next few years.

Full-stack insurtech continues to conquer

Several early insurtech success stories started life as managing general agents (MGAs). Unlike brokers, MGAs manage claims and underwriting, but unlike a traditional insurer, pass risk off their balance sheet to third-party insurers or reinsurers. MGAs have provided a great way for new brands to acquire customers and underwrite policies without actually needing a fully fledged balance sheet. But it’s a business model with thin margins, so MGAs increasingly are trying to internalize risk exposure by verticalizing into a “full-stack” insurer in the hope of improving their unit economics.

This structure has been prevalent in the U.S., with some of the bigger recent U.S. insurtech IPO successes (Lemonade and Root), SPACs (Clover and MetroMile), and more upcoming listings (Hippo and Next) pointing to the prizes available to those who can successfully execute this expensive growth strategy.

What private tech companies should consider before going public via a SPAC

By Annie Siebert
Drew N. Goodwin Contributor
Drew N. Goodwin is a senior associate with Farella Braun + Martel LLP in San Francisco.
Alex Reese Contributor
Alex Reese is a partner with Farella Braun + Martel LLP in San Francisco.

The red-hot market for special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, has “screeched to a halt,” according to CNN. As the SPAC market grew in the past six months, it seemed that everyone was getting into the game, with celebrities from Shaquille O’Neal to former House Speaker Paul Ryan leading their own SPACs.

But shareholder lawsuits, huge value fluctuations and warnings from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have all thrown the brakes on the SPAC market, at least temporarily. So what do privately held tech companies that are considering going public need to know about the SPAC process and market?

Despite some warning signs, there are still hundreds of SPACs on the market looking to close deals, and this process can still have plenty of upsides.

SPAC perks

First, the upside of SPACs: They’re a much more efficient way for a private company to go public than a traditional IPO. By merging with a SPAC instead of launching an IPO, a private company can avoid the rigamarole of working with underwriters, hosting roadshows, preparing a prospectus and other complexities of the public filing process.

Furthermore, it can potentially be a fast track into an IPO with a seasoned partner who has experience navigating the process.

There are also big potential financial upsides. For example, stockholders of the private company will often roll over their stock and provide significant cash liquidity. SPACs also offer more certainty about a private company’s valuation than a traditional IPO, and some experts believe that a SPAC can add up to 20% to a company’s sale price compared to a typical private equity transaction.

And, especially when the SPAC market was hot, multiple SPACs could create a bidding war to increase value and generate more favorable terms for a transaction than through the traditional capital markets.

Lastly, partnering with an experienced management team and impressive industry insiders can help a private company accelerate its financial growth and create long-term value.

Warning signs

All these benefits led to a dramatic increase in SPAC transactions in late 2020 and early 2021. But the market cooled substantially in April, in part because of high-profile problems in the market and signs that the SEC will be scrutinizing the entities more closely in the future.

Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire and Vise’s Samir Vasavada will talk success in fintech on Extra Crunch Live

By Jordan Crook

In the past few weeks, we’ve heard Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss the biggest opportunities in prop tech, heard why Scale AI’s Alex Wang and Accel’s Dan Levine think that unconventional VC deals can be the best option and taken a stroll through the Poshmark Series A deck with CEO Manish Chandra and Mayfield’s Navin Chaddha.

This is the particular flavor of content, rich in key insights and tactical advice for founders, that goes down on Extra Crunch Live.

In an upcoming episode on Wednesday, May 19, we’ll sit down with Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire and Vise CEO and co-founder Samir Vasavada.

Maguire focuses on enterprise, fintech and frontier technology for Sequoia. His portfolio companies include AMP Robotics, Knowde, Physna and Vise. He joined Sequoia in 2019, before which he was a partner at GV, where he led investments in Stripe, Opendoor, IonQ, SpinLaunch, Lambda School, Dandelion Energy, Clutter and Mode and sourced the firm’s investment in Segment.

Maguire has also been an entrepreneur in his own right, co-founding Expanse (a cybersecurity company), which was ultimately acquired by Palo Alto Networks for more than $800 million.

If that weren’t enough, Maguire also spent two years working at DARPA, and was deployed to Afghanistan, participating on a team that earned a Joint Meritorious Unit Award from the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Samir Vasavada co-founded Vise in 2016. Vise is an AI-powered investment management platform that aims to give independent financial advisors access to technology and tools to build and manage personalized portfolios for their clients, ultimately giving those advisors more time and energy to spend on the relationships.

Vise has raised upwards of $60 million.

We’ll talk to Maguire and Vasavada about what brought them together, key tips for fundraising and how to be successful in the fintech space, and ask about the next great opportunity in fintech.

On the second half of the episode, Maguire and Vasavada will put on their feedback hats and listen to live elevator pitches from the audience as part of the ECL Pitch-off. Folks attending the event will be able to raise their hand and pitch their startup to the VC/founder duo, and then answer their questions and get their feedback.

But the only way you can pitch is to show up. This episode of Extra Crunch Live goes down on Wednesday, May 19 at 3pm ET/12pm PT. Anyone can attend as long as they register here, but on-demand access to the content is reserved strictly for Extra Crunch members, who also have access to the complete library of Extra Crunch Live content, among many, many other awesome articles and perks.

 

Google Pay update adds grocery offers, transit expansions and spending insights

By Sarah Perez

Following November’s overhaul of Google Pay, which saw the service expanding into personal finance, the company today is rolling out a new set of features aimed at making Google Pay more a part of its users’ everyday lives. With an update, Google Pay will now include new options for grocery savings, paying for public transit, and categorizing their spending.

Through partnerships with Safeway and Target, Google Pay users will now be able to browse their store’s weekly circulars that showcase the latest deals. Safeway is bringing over 500 stores to the Google Pay platform, and Target stores nationwide will offer a similar feature. Google Pay users will be able to favorite the recommended deals for later access. And soon, Google Pay will notify you of the weekly deals when you’re near a participating store, if location is enabled.

Image Credits: Google

Another update expands Google Pay’s transit features, which already today support buying and using transit tickets across over 80 cities in the U.S. New additions arriving soon now include major markets, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. This follows Apple Pay’s recently added and much welcomed support for the Bay Area’s Clipper card. The company is also integrating with Token Transit to expand transit support to smaller towns across the U.S.

Soon, the Google Pay app will also allow Android users to access transit tickets from the app’s homescreen through a “Ride Transit” shortcut. They can then purchase, add, or top up the balance on transit cards. Once purchased, you’ll be able to hold up your transit card to a reader — or show a visual ticket in the case there’s no reader.

Image Credits: Google

The final feature is designed for those using Google Pay for managing their finances. With last year’s revamp, Google partnered with 11 banks to launch a new kind of bank account it called Plex. A competitor to the growing number of mobile-only digital banks, Google’s app serves as the front-end to the accounts which are actually hosted by the partner banks, like Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union.

As a part of that experience, Google Pay users will now gain better access into their spending behavior, balances, bills, and more via an “Insights” tab. Here, you’ll be able to see what your balance is, what bills are coming due, get alerts about larger transactions, and tracking spending by either category or business. As Google is now automatically categorizing transactions, that means you’ll be able to search for general terms (like “food”) as well as by specific business names (like “Burger King”), Google explains.

Image Credits: Google

These features are a part of Google’s plan to use the payments app to gain access more data on users, who can then be targeted with offers from Google Pay partners.

When the redesigned app launched, users were asked to opt in to personalization features which could help the app show users better, more relevant deals. While Google says it’s not providing your data directly to these third-party brands and retailers, the app provides a conduit for those businesses to reach potential customers at a time when the tracking industry is in upheaval over Apple’s privacy changes. Google ability to help brands reach consumers through Google Pay could prove to be a valuable service, if the is able to grow its user base, and encourage more to opt in to the personalization features.

To make that happen, you can expect Google Pay to roll out more useful or “must have” features in the weeks to come.

Vectra AI picks up $130M at a $1.2B valuation for its network approach to threat detection and response

By Ingrid Lunden

Cybersecurity nightmares like the SolarWinds hack highlight how malicious hackers continue to exploit vulnerabilities in software and apps to do their dirty work. Today a startup that’s built a platform to help organizations protect themselves from this by running threat detection and response at the network level is announcing a big round of funding to continue its growth.

Vectra AI, which provides a cloud-based service that uses artificial intelligence technology to monitor both on-premise and cloud-based networks for intrusions, has closed a round of $130 million at a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion.

The challenge that Vectra is looking to address is that applications — and the people who use them — will continue to be weak links in a company’s security set-up, not least because malicious hackers are continually finding new ways to piece together small movements within them to build, lay and finally use their traps. While there will continue to be an interesting, and mostly effective, game of cat-and-mouse around those applications, a service that works at the network layer is essential as an alternative line of defense, one that can find those traps before they are used.

“Think about where the cloud is. We are in the wild west,” Hitesh Sheth, Vectra’s CEO, said in an interview. “The attack surface is so broad and attacks happen at such a rapid rate that the security concerns have never been higher at the enterprise. That is driving a lot of what we are doing.”

Sheth said that the funding will be used in two areas. First, to continue expanding its technology to meet the demands of an ever-growing threat landscape — it also has a team of researchers who work across the business to detect new activity and build algorithms to respond to it. And second, for acquisitions to bring in new technology and potentially more customers.

(Indeed, there has been a proliferation of AI-based cybersecurity startups in recent years, in areas like digital forensics, application security and specific sectors like SMBs, all of which complement the platform that Vectra has built, so you could imagine a number of interesting targets.)

The funding is being led by funds managed by Blackstone Growth, with unnamed existing investors participating (past backers include Accel, Khosla and TCV, among other financial and strategic investors). Vectra today largely focuses on enterprises, highly demanding ones with lots at stake to lose. Blackstone was initially a customer of Vectra’s, using the company’s flagship Cognito platform, Viral Patel — the senior MD who led the investment for the firm — pointed out to me.

The company has built some specific products that have been very prescient in anticipating vulnerabilities in specific applications and services. While it said that sales of its Cognito platform grew 100% last year, Cognito Detect for Microsoft Office 365 (a separate product) sales grew over 700%. Coincidentally, Microsoft’s cloud apps have faced a wave of malicious threats. Sheth said that implementing Cognito (or indeed other network security protection) “could have prevented the SolarWinds hack” for those using it.

“Through our experience as a client of Vectra, we’ve been highly impressed by their world-class technology and exceptional team,” 
John Stecher, CTO at Blackstone, said in a statement. “They have exactly the types of tools that technology leaders need to separate the signal from the noise in defending their organizations from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. We’re excited to back Vectra and Hitesh as a strategic partner in the years ahead supporting their continued growth.”

Looking ahead, Sheth said that endpoint security will not be a focus for the moment because “in cloud there is so much open territory”. Instead it partners with the likes of CrowdStrike, SentinelOne, Carbon Black and others.

In terms of what is emerging as a stronger entry point, social media is increasingly coming to the fore, he said. “Social media tends to be an effective vector to get in and will remain to be for some time,” he said, with people impersonating others and suggesting conversations over encrypted services like WhatsApp. “The moment you move to encryption and exchange any documents, it’s game over.”

Vivid Money raises $73 million to build a European financial super app

By Romain Dillet

German startup Vivid Money has raised a new $73 million Series B funding round (€60 million) led by Greenoaks with existing investor Ribbit Capital also participating. Following today’s funding round, Vivid Money has reached a valuation of $436 million (€360 million).

Vivid Money could be considered as a Revolut competitor designed specifically for the Eurozone. Built on top of Solarisbank for the banking infrastructure, the company lets you send, receive, spend, invest and save money in different ways.

When you create an account, you get a German IBAN that starts with DE as well as a metal card. There are no card details on the card itself — everything is available in the app instead. Like other fintech startups, Vivid Money lets you control your card from the app — you can lock it and unlock it, add it to Google Pay and Apple Pay, etc.

After that, you can top up your account and hold dozens of different currencies. When you pay with your card abroad, the startup applies a small mark-up on the current exchange rate — you should get a better exchange rate than what you usually get with a regular bank.

In addition to this fairly standard feature set, Vivid Money offers stock trading with fractional shares. You can invest in stocks and ETFs and there’s no commission. Similarly, you can buy, hold and share cryptocurrencies from the app. The startup has partnered with CM Equity AG for those features.

The company also has a cashback program and a premium subscription for €9.90 per month. Paid users get higher limits on free cash withdrawals, the ability to create a virtual card, support for additional currencies and better cashback rewards.

Finally, users can create sub-accounts called pockets. You can move money around from one pocket to another and add other users to your pockets. Each pocket has its own IBAN, which means that you can pay for certain bills with a separate pocket. You can also associate your card with a specific pocket for upcoming purchases.

Vivid Money has managed to add a ton of features in no time. It now has a ton of money on its bank account. Now let’s see if it can attract a significant user base to compete with other, well-established European fintech players.

EU-based digital assets platform Finoa inks $22M Series A funding led by Balderton Capital

By Mike Butcher

Institutions need to keep their crypto assets somewhere. And they aren’t going to keep it on some random, or consumer-grade crypto operation. This requires more sophisticated technology. Furthermore, being in the EU is going to be a key barrier to entry for many US or Asia-based operations.

Thus it is that Berlin-based digital asset custody and financial services platform
Finoa, has closed a $22 million Series A funding round, to do just that.

The round was led by Balderton Capital, alongside existing investors Coparion, Venture Stars and Signature Ventures, as well as an undisclosed investor.

Crucially, the Berlin-based startup works with Dapper Lab’s FLOW protocol, NEAR, and Mina, which are fast becoming standards for crypto assets. They are going up against large players such as Anchorage, Coinbase Custody, Bitgo, exchanges like Binance and Kraken, and self-custody solutions like Ledger.

Finoa says it now has over 250 customers, including T-Systems, DeFi-natives like CoinList and financial institutions like Bankhaus Scheich.

The company says its plan is to become a regulated platform for institutional investors and corporations to manage their digital assets and it has received a preliminary crypto custody license and is supervised by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin).

The company was founded in 2018 by Christopher May and Henrik Ebbing, but both had previously worked together at McKinsey and started working in blockchain in 2017.

May commented: “We are proud to have established Finoa as Europe’s leading gateway for institutional participation and incredibly excited to accelerate our growth even further. We look forward to supporting new exciting protocols and projects, empowering innovative corporate use cases, and adding additional (decentralized) financial products and services to our platform.”

Colin Hanna, Principal at Balderton Capital, who leads most of Balderton’s Crypto investments, said: “Chris, Henrik, and the entire Finoa team have built a deeply impressive business which bridges the highest levels of professionalism with radical innovation. As custodians of digital asset private keys, Finoa needs to be trusted both with the secure management of those keys and with the products and services that allow their clients to fully leverage the power of native digital assets. The team they have assembled is uniquely positioned to do just that.” 

May added: “We identified a lack of sophisticated custody and asset servicing solutions for safeguarding and managing blockchain-based digital assets that successfully cover the needs of institutional investors. Finoa is bridging this gap by providing seamless, safe, and regulated access to the world of digital assets.”

“Being in the European Union requires a fundamentally different organizational setup, and poses a very high entry to new incumbents and other players overseas. There are few that have managed to do what Finoa has done in a European context and hence why we now see ourselves in a leading position.”

India’s ElasticRun raises $75 million to grow its commerce platform for neighborhood stores

By Manish Singh

A startup that is helping over 125,000 neighborhood stores in India secure working capital, inventory from top brands, and work with e-commerce firms to boost revenues said on Thursday it has raised a new financing round as it looks to further its reach in the world’s second largest internet market.

Pune-based ElasticRun said it has raised $75 million in its Series D financing round co-led by existing investors Avataar Ventures and Prosus Ventures. Existing investor Kalaari Capital also participated in the round, which takes the four-year-old startup’s to-date raise to $130.5 million.

Millions of neighborhood stores that dot large and small cities, towns and villages in India and have proven tough to beat for e-commerce giants and super-chain retailers are at the center of a new play in the country.

A score of e-commerce companies, offline retail chains and fintech startups are now racing to work with these mom and pop stores as they look to tap a massive untapped opportunity.

Screen Shot 2019 10 30 at 2.18.53 PM

Sandeep Deshmukh, co-founder and CEO of ElasticRun, talking about the startup’s business at a conference in 2019.

ElasticRun helps merchants operating these stores, who typically have to spend a few days a month visiting bigger cities to secure inventory, get reliable and more affordable goods directly from big brands. (Big brands love this because this enables them to significantly expand their reach.)

These store owners also spend a number of hours a day not doing much when the business is slow. ElasticRun is also addressing this by partnering with some of the biggest e-commerce firms including Amazon and Flipkart to utilize this workforce to make deliveries to customers. (E-commerce firms find value in this because neighborhood stores have a larger presence in the country, can reach a customer much faster, and also often have their own inventory.)

Ashutosh Sharma, Head of Investments for India at Prosus Ventures, told TechCrunch that ElasticRun has built a variable capacity, crowdsourced delivery model, which distinguishes the startup from other players in the market that have a fixed number of people on payrolls making these deliveries. He said as the startup has developed the railroads, a number of new opportunities has unlocked.

One such opportunity is providing working capital to these neighborhood stores. Their operators typically don’t have savings, and need to sell the existing inventory to secure funds to refill the stock. In recent years, ElasticRun has struck partnerships with banks and NBFCs to provide credit to these merchants.

ElasticRun today operates in over 300 cities in nearly all Indian states. The startup works with over 125,000 neighborhood stores, and plans to expand to reach 1 million in 18 to 24 months, said Shitiz Bansal, co-founder and chief technology officer of ElasticRun, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The startup’s current run rate is about $350 million, a figure it plans to grow to over $1 billion in the next 12 months, he said.

Saurabh Nigam, co-founder and chief operating officer, said the new financing round has also enabled the startup to offer early employees access to “tangible benefits” of the firm’s growth over the last five years.

Weav raises $4.3M to knit together a universal API for commerce platforms

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Weav, which is building a universal API for commerce platforms, is emerging from stealth today with $4.3 million in funding from a bevy of investors, and a partnership with Brex.

Founded last year by engineers Ambika Acharya, Avikam Agur and Nadav Lidor after participating in the W20 YC batch, Weav joins the wave of fintech infrastructure companies that aim to give fintechs and financial institutions a boost. Specifically, Weav’s embedded technology is designed to give these organizations access to “real time, user-permissioned” commerce data that they can use to create new financial products for small businesses.  

Its products allow its customers to connect to multiple platforms with a single API that was developed specifically for the commerce platforms that businesses use to sell products and accept payments. Weav operates under the premise that allowing companies to build and embed new financial products creates new opportunities for e-commerce merchants, creators and other entrepreneurs. 

Left to right: Co-founders Ambika Acharya, Nadav Lidor and Avikam Agur; Image courtesy of Weav

In a short amount of time, Weav has seen impressive traction. Recently, Brex launched Instant Payouts for Shopify sellers using the Weav API. It supports platform integrations such as Stripe, Square, Shopify and PayPal. (More on that later.) Since its API went live in January, “thousands” of businesses have used new products and services built on Weav’s infrastructure, according to Lidor. Its API call volume is growing 300% month over month, he said.

And, the startup has attracted the attention of a number of big-name investors, including institutions and the founders of prominent fintech companies. Foundation Capital led its $4.3 million seed round, which also included participation from Y Combinator, Abstract Ventures, Box Group, LocalGlobe, Operator Partners, Commerce Ventures and SV Angel. 

A slew of founders and executives also put money in the round, including Brex founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi; Ramp founder Karim Atiyeh; Digits founders Jeff Seibert and Wayne Chang; Hatch founder Thomson Nguyen; GoCardless founder Matt Robinson and COO Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas; Vouch founder Sam Hodges; Plaid’s Charley Ma as well as executives from fintechs such as Square, Modern Treasury and Pagaya.

Foundation Capital’s Angus Davis said his firm has been investing in fintech infrastructure for over a decade. And personally, before he became a VC, Davis was the founder and CEO of Upserve, a commerce software company. There, he says, he witnessed firsthand “the value of transactional data to enable new types of lending products.”

Foundation has a thesis around the type of embedded fintech that Weav has developed, according to Davis. And it sees a large market opportunity for a new class of financial applications to come to market built atop Weav’s platform.

“We were excited by Weav’s vision of a universal API for commerce platforms,” Davis wrote via email. “Much like Plaid and Envestnet brought universal APIs to banking for consumers, Weav enables a new class of B2B fintech applications for businesses.”

How it works

Weav says that by using its API, companies can prompt their business customers to “securely” connect their accounts with selling platforms, online marketplaces, subscription management systems and payment gateways. Once authenticated, Weav aggregates and standardizes sales, inventory and other account data across platforms and develops insights to power new products across a range of use cases, including lending and underwriting; financial planning and analysis; real-time financial services and business management tools.

For the last few years, there’s been a rise of API companies, as well as openness in the financial system that’s largely been focused on consumers, Lidor points out.

“For example, Plaid brings up very rich data about consumers, but when you think about businesses, oftentimes that data is still locked up in all kinds of systems,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re here to provide some of the building blocks and the access to data from everything that has to do with sales and revenue. And, we’re really excited about powering products that are meant to make the lives of small businesses and e-commerce, sellers and creators much easier and be able to get them access to financial products.”

In the case of Brex, Weav’s API allows the startup to essentially offer instant access to funds that otherwise would take a few days or a few weeks for businesses to access.

“Small businesses need access as quickly as possible to their revenue so that they can fund their operations,” Lidor said.

Brex co-CEO Henrique Dubugras said that Weav’s API gives the company the ability to offer real-time funding to more customers selling on more platforms, which saved the company “thousands of engineering hours” and accelerated its rollout timeline by months.

Clearly, the company liked what it saw, considering that its founders personally invested in Weav. Is Weav building the “Plaid for commerce”? Guess only time will tell.

Detroit-based Signal Advisors raises $10M Series A led by General Catalyst

By Matt Burns

Signal Advisors is building a specialized financial platform for financial advisors, and the company is announcing it raised a $10 million Series A led by Brian Ru and Hemant Taneja at General Catalyst. This funding is on top of the $6 million seed round it raised in 2020 from Detroit Venture Partners, Ludlow Ventures, General Catalyst and others.

In a released statement, new board member and managing partner at Michigan-based Annox Capital Robert Mylod puts it well: “We’ve seen a lot of capital investment in technologies that promise to replace financial advisors. But the bigger opportunity, by far, is to build technology that empowers advisors.”

Signal was founded following CEO Patrick Kelly’s career as a financial advisor. In this capacity, he discovered the need for an end-to-end platform for financial advisors, specifically those independent and offering annuities and life insurance. Signal’s solution allows these advisors to bypass traditional distributors and simplify the sale of annuities. The company says its product can track commissions in real time and advance payout ahead of carrier payments.

“We started with annuities because advisors simply don’t have great options for this technology today,” said Pat Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Signal Advisors, in a press release. “But that’s just the beginning. We want to provide independent financial advisors with an integrated platform. Whatever their needs, whatever their clients need, the technology and service can provide a seamless experience.”

China’s e-commerce giant JD.com starts paying some staff in digital yuan

By Rita Liao

China’s plan to introduce its digital currency is getting a lot of help from its tech conglomerates. JD.com, a major Chinese online retailer that competes with Alibaba, said Monday that it has started paying some staff in digital yuan (since January), the virtual version of the country’s physical currency.

China has been busy experimenting with digital currency over the past few months. In October, Shenzhen, a southern city known for its progressive economic policies, doled out 10 million yuan worth of digital currency to 500,000 residents, who could then use the money to shop at certain online and offline retailers.

Several other large Chinese cities have followed Shenzhen’s suit. The residents in these regions must apply through selected banks to start receiving and paying by digital yuan.

The electronic yuan initiative is a collective effort involving China’s regulators, commercial banks and technology solution providers. At first glance, the scheme still mimics how physical yuan is circulating at the moment; under the direction of the central bank, the six major commercial banks in China, including ICBC, distribute the digital yuan to smaller banks and a web of tech solution providers, which could help bring more use cases to the new electronic money.

For example, JD.com partnered with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to deposit the digital income. The online retailer has become one of the first organizations in China to pay wages in electronic yuan; in August, some government workers in the eastern city of Suzhou also began getting paid in the digital money.

Across the board, China’s major tech companies have actively participated in the buildout of the digital yuan ecosystem, which will help the central government better track money flows.

Aside from JD.com, video streaming platform Bilibili, on-demand services provider Meituan and ride-hailing app Didi have also begun accepting digital yuan for user purchases. Gaming and social networking giant Tencent became one of the “digital yuan operators” and will take part in the design, R&D and operational work of the electronic money. Jack Ma’s Ant Group, which is undergoing a major overhaul following a stalled IPO, has also joined hands with the central bank to work on building out the infrastructure to move money digitally. Huawei, the telecom equipment titan debuted a wallet on one of its smartphone models that allows users to spend digital yuan instantaneously even if the device is offline.

Updated the article to clarify the timeline of the digital salary rollout.

 

Extra Crunch roundup: Klaviyo EC-1, micromobility’s second wave, UiPath CFO interview, more

By Walter Thompson

Origin stories are satisfying because we already know the hero will overcome the odds — and in doing so, they’ll reveal their core strengths.

This week, we published a four-part series about how Klaviyo co-founders Andrew Bialecki and Ed Hallen bootstrapped their startup into an e-commerce marketing automation platform now valued at $4.15 billion.

Neither founder was bitten by a radioactive spider or received a serum that enhanced their entrepreneurial skills; instead, they focused on outreach to prospective customers to find out what they were willing to pay for and largely ignored the competition.

“Bootstrapping Klaviyo, it came out of this: ‘Hey, if we are super-disciplined about finding a problem that someone will pay us to solve, we have a real company,'” said Hallen.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


Even though millions of us respond every day to the personalized, automated emails sent through its platform, Klaviyo still isn’t a well-known brand. Our ongoing series of EC-1s offers entrepreneurs real insight into growing and scaling successful companies, but they’re also extremely useful for consumers who want to understand how the internet really works.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

The Klaviyo EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles

Set of 3 electric kick scooters with map location pin and different percent of battery charge indicator isolated on white background. Micromobility city transport. Vector illustration eps10.

Image Credits: slowcentury (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Several micromobility companies once operated in my city, but consolidation has reduced that to a small handful.

Now that many consumers are buying their own e-bikes and e-scooters, shared dockless micromobility “just hasn’t proven itself to be a profitable line of business,” Puneeth Meruva, an associate at Trucks Venture Capital, told TechCrunch.

There’s only one dockless electric moped provider in my town, so price is no longer a consideration. Instead, my first priority is to find a vehicle with the best-charged battery. (San Francisco has a lot of hills, and you never know where the day might take you.)

Larger players like Lime and Bird have vertically integrated tech stacks for fleet management features like this, but there are also opportunities for startups — imagine a “phantom scooter” that drives itself to a neighborhood with high demand or a moped that alerts drivers if there’s traffic ahead.

This in-depth industry analysis shows how increased regulation on the local level and changing consumer habits are pushing micromobility providers to adapt and innovate.

“Whether you want to stack regulatory compliance on the vehicles, do safety features like ADAS or add mapping content, you kind of need this platform where you can actively develop and launch new apps on the vehicle without having to bring it back to the factory,” Meruva said.

Enterprise security attackers are one password away from your worst day

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then one might say the cybersecurity industry is insane.

Criminals continue to innovate with highly sophisticated attack methods, but many security organizations still use the same technological approaches they did 10 years ago. The world has changed, but cybersecurity hasn’t kept pace.

Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront

Book on wooden deck with glowing graph illustrations and symbols

Image Credits: ra2studio (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

By 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, according to some estimates. It’s now easier than ever to translate physical and digital actions into data, and businesses of all types have raced to amass as much data as possible in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, in our collective infatuation with data (and obtaining more of it), what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from data.

The reality is that data by itself is insufficient to really influence human behavior. Whether the goal is to improve a business’ bottom line or convince people to stay home amid a pandemic, it’s the narrative that compels action, not the numbers alone.

As more data is collected and analyzed, communication and storytelling will become even more integral in the data science discipline because of their role in separating the signal from the noise.

Business continuity planning is a necessity for your fund and portfolio

Close-Up Of Dominoes On Table

Image Credits: Raquel Segato/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

We all need to be taking precautionary measures, not just in light of COVID, but to ensure our firms can continue to thrive when faced with unexpected tragedy.

So ask yourself this question: “What would happen if I or my partner(s) checked into the hospital tomorrow and had no phone and/or was too sick to call anyone, and that went on for two or three weeks (or longer)?”

If the answer is “I’m really not sure,” then you don’t have a business continuity plan.

Outdoor startups see supercharged growth during COVID-19 era

Two couples sitting by a campfire

Image Credits: rubberball (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

After years of sustained growth, the pandemic supercharged the outdoor recreation industry. Startups that provide services like camper vans, private campsites and trail-finding apps became relevant to millions of new users when COVID-19 shut down indoor recreation, building on an existing boom in outdoor recreation.

Startups like Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Once VMware is free from Dell, who might fancy buying it?

Barcelona, Spain - October 13, 2014: View of the exhibition center. News & Training at VMworld exhibition of VMWARE in Barcelona, Spain.

Image Credits: MaboHH / Getty Images

Dell last week agreed to spin out VMware in exchange for a huge one-time dividend, a five-year commercial partnership agreement, lots of stock for existing Dell shareholders and Michael Dell retaining his role as chairman of its board.

So, where does the deal leave VMware in terms of independence, and in terms of Dell influence?

Time-strapped IT teams can use low-code software to drive quick growth

Image of a white cube with smaller red cubes being outsourced.

Image Credits: Westend61 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Many emerging and mature organizations survive or die based on their ability to scale. Scale quicker. Scale cheaper. Scale right.

Typically the IT team bears that burden — on top of countless other demands. IT teams move mountains for their organizations while scaling the tech platform as fast as possible, putting out the latest infrastructure fire and responding to countless day-to-day requests.

The most helpful gift any chief information officer or chief technology officer can give their IT teams is more time. Many people think that means adding another team member. But it could be as simple as introducing a low-code integration platform.

European VC soars in Q1

A stunning first quarter in venture capital funding was not restricted to the United States; Europe also had one hell of a start to the year.

The venture capital world kicked off its 2021 European investing cycle with enough activity to set the continent on the path that would crush yearly records.

Inside the data, there’s lots to unpack, including which sectors of European startups stood out in terms of capital raised, rising seed and late-stage deals, and dollar volume. We’ll also need to discuss exits — the Deliveroo IPO and its various woes was not the only transaction from the period worth understanding.

We’ll keep in mind that all venture capital data lags reality somewhat, as many deals from a particular period are not disclosed or discovered until long after they actually occurred.

In this case, it makes the numbers all the more impressive.

UiPath raises IPO range, still targets lower valuation than final private round

Robot paper holding pen, space for text

Image Credits: Zastrozhnov (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Robotic process automation unicorn UiPath went public this week, concentrating our focus on its value.

UiPath raised its last private round when the markets were most interested in public offerings and is now going public in a slightly altered climate.

In numerical terms, UiPath raised its IPO range from $43 to $50 per share to $52 to $54 per share. That’s a 21% jump in the value of the lower end of its range and an 8% gain to the value of the upper end of its per-share IPO price interval.

UiPath is also selling more shares than before, which should make its total valuation slightly larger at the top end than a mere 8% gain. So let’s go through the math one more time.

Insurtech startups are leveraging rapid growth to raise big money

The investment landscape for insurtech startups is off to a hot start in Q2 2021. Since the end of the first quarter, we’ve seen several players in the broad startup category announce new capital.

But, as anyone who’s familiar with startups that offer insurance-related products and services knows, the sector is enough of a mixed bag that one needs to segment down to get clarity on how constituent companies are performing.

Let’s discuss insurtech’s 2020 as a whole, peek at some preliminary 2021 venture data and then dive deep into what we’ve collected regarding growth among insurtech marketplace players.

Covering longitudinal progress of specific startup categories is one of our favorite things to do. So, please, walk with us!

Deep Science: Introspective, detail-oriented and disaster-chasing AIs

Image Credits: Kehan Chen / Getty Images

Research papers come out far too frequently for anyone to read them all. That’s especially true in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company.

This column aims to collect some of the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in, but not limited to, artificial intelligence — and explain why they matter.

This week, we dove into “introspective failure prediction,” using ML to identify dangerous moles, and spotting cows from space.

Who’s funding privacy tech?

3d rendering of question mark made up of dollar banknotes on blue background. Banking and finance. Business success. Management and production.

Image Credits: Gearstd (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

With strict privacy laws such as GDPR and CCPA already listing big-ticket penalties — and a growing number of countries following suit — businesses have little option but to comply.

It’s not just bigger, established businesses offering privacy and compliance tech; brand-new startups are filling in the gaps in this emerging and growing space.

Privacy isn’t dead, as many would have you believe. New regulations, stricter cross-border data transfer rules and increasing calls for data sovereignty have helped the privacy startup space grow thanks to an uptick in investor support.

This is how we got here, and where investors are spending.

A cooling trend in public markets makes UiPath’s down-round IPO a win for the company

UiPath is not worth $36 billion, as we might have expected, but at a figure below $30 billion.

At $29.1 billion, UiPath has a roughly 35x run-rate multiple. That just about ties it for eighth-best overall. Among all public cloud companies. That means that UiPath is insanely valuable, just not that insanely valuable.

So what went wrong with the company’s final private round? The Exchange’s hunch is that UiPath’s final private investors expected the market to stay as hot as it once was, but it has cooled since the first two months of the year. So, instead of UiPath coming to the market in the expected climate, the company instead had to price where it did because the weather predicted by its final private price had already chilled.

Those investors gambled, in other words, hoping that a last-minute, pre-IPO round could snag them a rapid return on a company going public in a hot market. That didn’t work out.

And how bad is that? Not very! UiPath’s IPO is more a meeting of private-market exuberance and modestly more conservative public markets. It’s nothing to cry about.

4 ways martech will shift in 2021

Smiling young Asian woman using smartphone on social media network application while having meal in the restaurant, viewing or giving likes, love, comment, friends and pages. Social media addiction concept

Image Credits: d3sign (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The second half of 2021 will bring incredible growth, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.

Here’s how marketing in tech will shift — and what you need to know to reach more customers and accelerate growth this year.

First and foremost, differentiation is going to be imperative. It’s already hard enough to stand out and get noticed, and it’s about to get much more difficult as new companies emerge and investments and budgets balloon in the latter half of the year.

Additionally, tech companies need to be mindful not to ignore the most important part of the ecosystem: people. Technology will only take you so far, and it’s not going to be enough to survive the competition.

Tactically, the most successful tech companies will embrace video and experimentation in their marketing — two components that will catapult them ahead of the competition.

Ignoring these predictions, backed by empirical evidence, will be detrimental and devastating. Fasten your seatbelts: 2021 is going to be a turbocharged year of growth opportunities for marketing in tech.

Dear Sophie: How can I get my startup off the ground and visit the US?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m a female entrepreneur who created my first startup a few months ago.

Once my startup gets off the ground — and as COVID-19 gets under control — I’d like to visit the United States to test the market and meet with investors. Which visas would allow me to do that?

—Noteworthy in Nairobi

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

Despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed on Wednesday worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings and the IPO market’s current temperature.

How are VCs handling diligence in a world where deals open and close in days, not months?

The global venture capital market had a cracking start to the year. Coming off a 2020 high, VC totals in the United States, in Europe, and among competitive verticals like insurtech and AI are on pace to set new records in 2021.

The rapid-fire deal-making and trend of larger venture checks at higher valuations that The Exchange has tracked for some time require private-market investors to make decisions faster than ever. For venture capitalists, the timeline for reaching conviction around a startup’s thesis and executing due diligence has become compressed.

Some venture capitalists are turning to data to move more quickly. Some are spending more time preparing to be vetted themselves. And some investors are simply doing the work beforehand.

We were tipped off to the concept of pre-diligence during the reporting process for a look into recent fundraising trends in the AI/ML space. Sapphire investor Jai Das, when asked about how he was handling a competitive and swiftly moving market for AI startup investments, said that “most firms are completing their due diligence way before the financing actually happens.”

How does that work in practice?

Customer care as a service: Outsourcing can help your startup wow clients 24/7

floating headset with dropshadow

Image Credits: MartinvBarraud (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Your clients might not demand 24/7 customer service yet, but they’re certainly hoping for it.

But how can a startup with a lean staff provide round-the-clock customer care? There are several options available, but more than ever, outsourcing is one of them.

When should your startup consider outsourcing its customer care? And what should you look for in a provider?

Here are some insights on what customer care as a service (CCaaS) can do for you, and how fast-growing startups have been leveraging this new class of partners to boost customer satisfaction.

5 emerging use cases for productivity infrastructure in 2021

Image Credits: Erik Isakson / Getty Images

Productivity infrastructure is on the rise and will continue to be front and center as companies evaluate what their future of work entails and how to maintain productivity, rapid software development and innovation with distributed teams.

Understanding the benefits, use cases and steps to consider can propel organizations into the next phase of digital transformation.

To sell or not to sell: Lessons from a bootstrapped CEO

Full length of woman pulling vibrant red rope from tangle pattern against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The clock begins ticking on a startup the day the doors open. Regardless of a young company’s struggles or success, sooner or later the question of when, how or whether to sell the enterprise presents itself. It’s possibly the biggest question an entrepreneur will face.

For founders who self-funded (bootstrapped) their startup, a boardroom full of additional factors comes into play. Some are the same as for investor-funded firms, but many are unique.

After 18 years of bootstrapping a BI software firm into a business that now serves 28,000 companies and 3 million users in 75 countries, here’s what I’ve learned about myself, my company, about entrepreneurship and about when to grab for that brass ring.

Put happiness at the center of the decision, and let your intuition — the instincts that made you the person you are today — be your guide.

Should you give an anchor investor a stake in your fund’s management company?

By Annie Siebert
David Teten Contributor
David Teten is founder of Versatile VC and writes periodically at teten.com and @dteten.

Raising capital for a new fund is always hard. But should you give preferential economics or other benefits to a seed anchor investor who makes a material commitment to the fund?

These “VCs for investment management companies” are also known as GP stake investors or fund platforms. According to DocSend, “About half the VC firms in our survey had an anchor LP for their fund, and the average percentage that an anchor LP took in a first-time fund was 25%. The prevalence of anchor LPs among both early-stage and more established firms in our data suggests that securing an anchor investor can be crucial for signaling a firm’s credibility to other potential LPs.”

However, data about whether those anchors received preferential terms are very hard to obtain.

“In the hedge fund world, fund platforms are common and therefore more transparent,” Ha Duong, the investment principal at Ocean Investment, a single-family office based in Berlin, told me. “In venture, I haven’t seen many fund platforms.”

A number of firms provide infrastructure for emerging VCs, including Capria, Draper Venture Network, Oper8r and Recast Capital, and may provide capital or assistance in raising capital.

However, this ecosystem is much more built out in the private equity and hedge fund spaces. Examples include Archean Capital Partners, Gatewood Capital Partners, Lafayette Square, Nesvold Capital Partners and Reservoir Capital Group. Certain family offices also make these investments on an ad-hoc basis. As do some VCs: LuneX.com notes it is a dedicated blockchain and cryptocurrency fund that partners with a Southeast Asia-based VC, Golden Gate Ventures.

A GP stake investor brings some significant advantages:

  • Meaningful upfront initial capital, usually greatly shortening the lengthy fundraising process. This can be particularly helpful for founders who do not come from a wealthy background and may not be able to forgo an income for an 18-month fundraising period.
  • Credibility. This is proportionate to the stake investor’s credibility. Everyone else will assume the GP stake investor did extensive due diligence.
  • Assistance in business development, marketing, risk management and governance.
  • Ability to access LPs who require meaningful assets under management (AUM) before they’ll consider you.
  • Back office, in some cases.

There can also be meaningful disadvantages to working with a GP stake investor:

Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Nearly exactly one month ago, digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. The round included participation from a mix of new and existing investors such as DST, Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Fifth Wall and QED, among many others.

At the time, Loft was valued at $2.2 billion, a huge jump from its being just near unicorn territory in January 2020. The round marked one of the largest ever for a Brazilian startup.

Now, today, São Paulo-based Loft has announced an extension to that round with the closing of $100 million in additional funding that values the company at $2.9 billion. This means that the 3-year-old startup has increased its valuation by $700 million in a matter of weeks.

Baillie Gifford led the Series D-2 round, which also included participation from Tarsadia, Flight Deck, Caffeinated and others. Individuals also put money in the extension, including the founders of Better (Vishal Garg), GoPuff, Instacart, Kavak and Sweetgreen.

Loft has seen great success in its efforts to serve as a “one-stop shop” for Brazilians to help them manage the home buying and selling process. 

Image courtesy of Loft

In 2020, Loft saw the number of listings on its site increase “10 to 15 times,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz. Today, the company actively maintains more than 13,000 property listings in approximately 130 regions across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, partnering with more than 30,000 brokers. Not only are more people open to transacting digitally, more people are looking to buy versus rent in the country.

“We did more than 6x YoY growth with many thousands of transactions over the course of 2020,” Pencz told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s last raise. “We’re now growing into the many tens of thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, of active listings.”

The decision to raise more capital so soon was due to a variety of factors. For one, Loft has received “overwhelming investor interest” even after “a very, very oversubscribed main round,” Pencz said.

“We have seen a continued acceleration in our market share growth, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two markets we currently operate in,” he added. “We saw an opportunity to grow even faster with additional capital.”

Pencz also pointed out that Baillie Gifford has relatively large minimum check size requirements, which led to the extension being conducted at a higher price and increased the total round size “by quite a bit to be able to accommodate them.”

While the company was less forthcoming about its financials as of late, it told me last year that it had notched “over $150 million in annualized revenues in its first full year of operation” via more than 1,000 transactions.

The company’s revenues and GMV (gross merchandise value) “increased significantly” in 2020, according to Pencz, who declined to provide more specifics. He did say those figures are “multiples higher from where they were,” and that Loft has “a very clear horizon to profitability.”

Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch founded Loft in early 2018 and today serve as its co-CEOs. The aim of the platform, in the company’s words, is “bringing Latin American real estate into the e-commerce age by developing online alternatives to analogue legacy processes and leveraging data to create transparency in highly opaque markets.” The U.S. real estate tech company with the closest model to Loft’s is probably Zillow, according to Pencz.

In the United States, prospective buyers and sellers have the benefit of MLSs, which in the words of the National Association of Realtors, are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Loft itself spent years and many dollars in creating its own such databases for the Brazilian market. Besides helping people buy and sell homes, it offers services around insurance, renovations and rentals.

In 2020, Loft also entered the mortgage business by acquiring one of the largest mortgage brokerage businesses in Brazil. The startup now ranks among the top-three mortgage originators in the country, according to Pencz. When it comes to helping people apply for mortgages, he likened Loft to U.S.-based Better.com.

This latest financing brings Loft’s total funding raised to an impressive $800 million. Other backers include Brazil’s Canary and a group of high-profile angel investors such as Max Levchin of Affirm and PayPal, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and David Vélez, CEO and founder of Brazilian fintech Nubank. In addition, Loft has also raised more than $100 million in debt financing through a series of publicly listed real estate funds.

Loft plans to use its new capital in part to expand across Brazil and eventually in Latin America and beyond. The company is also planning to explore more M&A opportunities.

❌