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Disrupt takes place on September 21-23, but the early-bird deal expires today, July 30 at 11:59 p.m. (PDT). Buy your Disrupt 2021 pass now and save.
Let’s talk about what you’ll experience at Disrupt. Over on the Disrupt Stage you’ll find one-on-one interviews with icons and interactive, expert-led, presentations from across the tech, investing and policy sectors. Folks like Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn and Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam. And that’s just the tip of the tech iceberg. You can check out all the speakers here.
You’ll find plenty of actionable advice and how-to tips and strategies on the Extra Crunch Stage. Take a gander at just two of the topics we have scheduled there and explore the full Disrupt agenda here.
Crafting a Pitch Deck that Can’t Be Ignored: Investors may be chasing after the hottest deals, but for founders selling their startup’s vision, it’s never been more important to communicate it in the clearest way possible. Pitch deck experts Mercedes Bent (partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners), Mar Hershenson (co-founder and managing partner, Pear VC) and Saba Karim (Techstars’ head of accelerator pipeline) dig into what’s essential, what’s unnecessary and what could just make all the difference in your next deck.
How Do You Select the Right Tech Stack: From day zero, startups have to make dozens of trade-offs when it comes to the infinite variety of tech stacks available to today’s engineers. Choose the wrong combination or direction, and a startup could be left with years of refactoring to fix the legacy damage. What are the best practices for assessing potential stacks, and how can you minimize the risk of a painful mistake? Preeti Somal (executive vice president of engineering, HashiCorp) and Jill Wetzler (head of engineering, Pilot) will discuss strategies for improving engineering right from the beginning and at every stage of a startup’s journey.
Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.
One post can’t possibly contain all the events and opportunities of Disrupt. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
One year after voice-based AI technology company ConverseNow raised a $3.3 million seed round, the company is back with a cash infusion of $15 million in Series A funding in a round led by Craft Ventures.
The Austin-based company’s AI voice ordering assistants George and Becky work inside quick-serve restaurants to take orders via phone, chat, drive-thru and self-service kiosks, freeing up staff to concentrate on food preparation and customer service.
Joining Craft in the Series A round were LiveOak Venture Partners, Tensility Venture Partners, Knoll Ventures, Bala Investments, 2048 Ventures, Bridge Investments, Moneta Ventures and angel investors Federico Castellucci and Ashish Gupta. This new investment brings ConverseNow’s total funding to $18.3 million, Vinay Shukla, co-founder and CEO of ConverseNow, told TechCrunch.
As part of the investment, Bryan Rosenblatt, partner at Craft Ventures, is joining the company’s board of directors, and said in a written statement that “post-pandemic, quick-service restaurants are primed for digital transformation, and we see a unique opportunity for ConverseNow to become a driving force in the space.”
At the time when ConverseNow raised its seed funding in 2020, it was piloting its technology in just a handful of stores. Today, it is live in over 750 stores and grew seven times in revenue and five times in headcount.
Restaurants were some of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, and as they reopen, Shukla said their two main problems will be labor and supply chain, and “that is where our technology intersects.”
The AI assistants are able to step in during peak times when workers are busy to help take orders so that customers are not waiting to place their orders, or calls get dropped or abandoned, something Shukla said happens often.
It can also drive more business. ConverseNow said it is shown to increase average orders by 23% and revenue by 20%, while adding up to 12 hours of extra deployable labor time per store per week.
Company co-founder Rahul Aggarwal said more people prefer to order remotely, which has led to an increase in volume. However, the more workers have to multitask, the less focus they have on any one job.
“If you step into restaurants with ConverseNow, you see them reimagined,” Aggarwal said. “You find workers focusing on the job they like to do, which is preparing food. It is also driving better work balance, while on the customer side, you don’t have to wait in the queue. Operators have more time to churn orders, and service time comes down.”
ConverseNow is one of the startups within the global restaurant management software market that is forecasted to reach $6.94 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Over the past year, startups in the space attracted both investors and acquirers. For example, point-of-sale software company Lightspeed acquired Upserve in December for $430 million. Earlier this year, Sunday raised $24 million for its checkout technology.
The new funding will enable ConverseNow to continue developing its line-busting technology and invest in marketing, sales and product innovation. It will also be working on building a database from every conversation and onboarding new customers quicker, which involves inputting the initial menu.
By leveraging artificial intelligence, the company will be able to course-correct any inconsistencies, like background noise on a call, and better predict what a customer might be saying. It will also correct missing words and translate the order better. In the future, Shukla and Aggarwal also want the platform to be able to tell what is going on around the restaurant — what traffic is like, the weather and any menu promotions to drive upsell.
The universe of Indian firms attempting to replicate Thrasio’s success in the world’s second largest internet market just got bigger. Three-month-old GlobalBees said on Monday it has raised $150 million in a Series A financing round led by FirstCry.
Lightspeed Venture Partners also invested in the new financing round, which is $75 million in equity and $75 million in debt. Even with a $75 million equity raise, Monday’s announcement makes GlobalBees’ round the largest Series A funding in India.
Founded by Nitin Agarwal, formerly of Edelweiss Financial, and Supam Maheshwari, a founder of FirstCry, GlobalBees acquires and partners with digitally native brands across categories such as beauty, personal care, home and kitchen, food and nutrition, and sports and lifestyle with a revenue rate of $1 million to $20 million.
New Delhi-based startup then helps these firms scale and sell to marketplaces (such as Amazon and Flipkart) and through other channels in India and outside the South Asian market, Agarwal told TechCrunch in an interview. He said GlobalBees has already acquired or partnered with over a dozen brands and they are selling both in India and outside of the country.
“At FirstCry, we created a lot of brands and realized that most of these brands reach a scale after which it becomes too difficult to scale them,” he said. “Supam and I have been talking about this for several years, trying to find ways to disrupt this market. We think there’s an opportunity to create a new house of brands that is digital native.”
Agarwal said GlobalBees will attempt to build a distribution and enterprise ecosystem in the online space similar to how traditional firms have established those connections in the offline world. (Not all brands GlobalBees engages with will get acquired on day one, Agarwal said. Typically, some brands get acquired in a span of three years or so, he said.)
“The time it takes for D2C brands to go from 0 – 100Cr (about $13 million) in revenue has more than halved over the past few years,” said Harsha Kumar, Partner at Lightspeed Venture, in a statement.
“We believe that this creates a unique opportunity to create a brand house much faster as well. With their past entrepreneurial stints together and their experience in building one of the largest ecommerce platforms in India, the duo of Supam and Nitin is the perfect team to go after this idea. Lightspeed is thrilled to be part of this journey!” said Kumar, who is joining the board of GlobalBees.
Scores of startups in India today are trying to replicate what is popularly known as the Thrasio-model. Mensa Brands, a similar venture by former fashion e-commerce Myntra chief executive, recently raised $50 million in equity and debt. 10club, another similar startup, recently raised $40 million — though much of it is in debt. TechCrunch reported last month that UpScale, another prominent player in this space, is in advanced talks with Germany’s Razor Group to raise capital.
Like Thrasio, several of these firms are trying to acquire brands that sell midrange to high-end products in categories where competition is limited. In fact, some of the categories that are common among these brands are so underappreciated that even Amazon and other e-commerce firms have not explored them through their private label ecosystems.
GlobalBees’ Agarwal agreed with this assessment, though he added that not all brands are operating in niche categories.
New York-headquartered Thrasio, which has raised over $1.3 billion in equity and debt since December last year, had acquired or otherwise consolidated about 6,000 third-party sellers on Amazon as of earlier this year.
“India is at the cusp of a D2C revolution with an estimated market size of $200 billion in the next 5 years. Indian brands have shown great promise in the recent years, and we believe that GlobalBees is building great assets to accelerate the growth of digitally native brands in the country,” said Vikas Agnihotri, Operating Partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement.
Agnihotri, alongside Atul Gupta of Premji Invest, Sudhir Sethi of Chiratae Ventures and Kshitij Sheth of Chrys Capital are also joining GlobalBees’ board.
Netskope, focused on Secure Access Service Edge architecture, announced Friday a $300 million investment round on a post-money valuation of $7.5 billion.
The oversubscribed insider investment was led by ICONIQ Growth, which was joined by other existing investors, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Accel, Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Base Partners, Sapphire Ventures and Geodesic Capital.
Netskope co-founder and CEO Sanjay Beri told TechCrunch that since its founding in 2012, the company’s mission has been to guide companies through their digital transformation by finding what is most valuable to them — sensitive data — and protecting it.
“What we had before in the market didn’t work for that world,” he said. “The theory is that digital transformation is inevitable, so our vision is to transform that market so people could do that, and that is what we are building nearly a decade later.”
With this new round, Netskope continues to rack up large rounds: it raised $340 million last February, which gave it a valuation of nearly $3 billion. Prior to that, it was a $168.7 million round at the end of 2018.
Similar to other rounds, the company was not actively seeking new capital, but that it was “an inside round with people who know everything about us,” Beri said.
“The reality is we could have raised $1 billion, but we don’t need more capital,” he added. “However, having a continued strong balance sheet isn’t a bad thing. We are fortunate to be in that situation, and our destination is to be the most impactful cybersecurity company in the world.
Beri said the company just completed a “three-year journey building the largest cloud network that is 15 milliseconds from anyone in the world,” and intends to invest the new funds into continued R&D, expanding its platform and Netskope’s go-to-market strategy to meet demand for a market it estimated would be valued at $30 billion by 2024, he said.
Even pre-pandemic the company had strong hypergrowth over the past year, surpassing the market average annual growth of 50%, he added.
Today’s investment brings the total raised by Santa Clara-based Netskope to just over $1 billion, according to Crunchbase data.
With the company racking up that kind of capital, the next natural step would be to become a public company. Beri admits that Netskope could be public now, though it doesn’t have to do it for the traditional reasons of raising capital or marketing.
“Going public is one day on our path, but you probably won’t see us raise another private round,” Beri said.
As most Indian edtech startups work on broadening their catalog with live and recorded courses for students, some are beginning to take a different approach to tackle the South Asian nation’s large education market.
Teachmint, a one-year-old startup, is betting on empowering teachers to create their own virtual classrooms with a few taps on their smartphone.
The startup, which started its journey during the pandemic, has developed what it calls a mobile-first, video-first tech infrastructure to help teachers take online classes, engage with students virtually, assign them tasks, conduct attendance and also collect fees.
Teachmint’s offering has already amassed over 1 million teachers from over 5,000 Indian cities and the usage is growing over 100% each month, said Mihir Gupta, co-founder and chief executive of Teachmint, in an interview with TechCrunch.
Last month, students consumed over 25 million live classes on Teachmint, he said. Naturally investors are paying attention, too.
On Thursday, the startup said it has raised $20 million in a new investment led by Learn Capital and with participation from CM Ventures. The new investment, dubbed Pre-Series B, comes in less than two months after the startup closed its $16.5 million Series A funding.
Other than taking a different approach to tackle the education space in India, where over 250 million students go to schools, another key thing that differentiates Teachmint is its in-house prowess with tech infrastructure.
Most startups today rely on scores of technology vendors for streaming their videos, cloud storage and processing tasks, and collecting fees. “Zoom and Google Meet are great services for talking to people. But they are not fundamentally designed to solve the needs of teachers and students,” said Gupta.
By not relying on other tech providers, Teachmint, which counts Lightspeed India Partners and Better Capital among its investors, has also been able to optimize its offerings more aggressively, said Gupta.
Through its proprietary approach, Teachmint said it is able to significantly control and improve the interactiveness in these classrooms. Having in-house technology offering also helps the startup spend only a fraction on each class, he said.
“We have created a new category altogether. Any teacher can download the Teachmint app and create their first classroom within minutes. This ease of digitization of classroom didn’t exist before Teachmint,” he said, adding that more than 75% teachers on the platform use their smartphones to conduct classes.
Teachers on Teachmint can also create public links of their classrooms and share it on Facebook and other platforms to create additional distribution channels.
Students also don’t need to jot down the entire session. Teachmint delivers the notes that teachers go through during their classes in real-time with students. This way, “teachers also don’t have to recreate their notes,” he said.
The app, which supports 10 Indian languages (in addition to English), is just 14 megabytes in size and consistently ranks at — or among — the top education apps in Play Store in India.
On Thursday, the startup also announced a new product to serve schools and colleges. The product, called Teachmint for Institute, offers educational institutes a platform to conduct and monitor all their online classes and institute activities.
The expansion to this new category came after Teachmint, which consults with many teachers for building products and new features, learned that schools were struggling to collect fees from students amid the pandemic since these institutions were not able to continue their offerings in a structured way, said Gupta. And the pandemic, which last year prompted New Delhi to close schools, also made it less transparent for institutes to have visibility into how their classes were being conducted.
“In just 12 months, Teachmint has blossomed from a nascent idea to the #1 ranked education app in India – an unprecedented growth narrative for an Indian edtech company,” said Vinit Sukhija, Partner at Learn Capital, in a statement.
“This market resonance is a testament to the Teachmint team’s ongoing commitment to authentically incorporating teachers’ perspectives into the company’s ever-expanding suite of market-pioneering digital teaching tools. Having inaugurated its partnership with Teachmint just several months ago, Learn Capital is thrilled to now augment its partnership at this critical juncture in the company’s trajectory as it plans for exciting new product launches and international expansion.”
The startup will deploy the fresh funds to continue to expand its product offerings and hire talent, said Gupta. But more interestingly, he said, Teachmint is ready to expand outside of India and serve teachers in international markets.
With a flip of a switch, Gupta said he will make the offering available globally. “We don’t create content, so product is geography agnostic,” he said.
Indian online learning platform Unacademy is in advanced talks to acquire Rheo TV, a less than two-year-old startup founded by two former Unacademy employees, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
The current deal values Rheo TV, a startup that has built a platform to help professional game streamers live stream their gameplays and monetize those feeds, at over $10 million, one of the sources said. The deal proposes Rheo TV’s team of fewer than a dozen people to join Unacademy.
The younger startup counts Lightspeed India Partners, Sequoia Capital India’s Surge, as well as the founding team of Unacademy — Gaurav Munjal, Hemesh Singh, and Roman Saini — among its existing investors.
Munjal and Sequoia Capital India declined to comment. A founder of Rheo TV didn’t immediately respond.
As tens of millions of college students come online and play games, the startup is betting that many of them, provided platforms are able to help them make a living, will consider streaming their gameplays as a viable career option.
Streamers on Rheo TV, which offers several features similar to those of Twitch, are currently rewarded based on their gameplays, followerbase, and past performance in different tournaments.
If the deal materializes, it would be the latest acquisition by Unacademy, the Bangalore-based startup that has amassed over 5 million monthly active users in over 10,000 cities in India.
In the past two years, the Facebook, Tiger Global, and SoftBank-backed startup has acquired WiFi Study, PrepLadder, Coursavy, and led a strategic investment in Mastree.
The startup, which also operates creator platform Graphy, this week unveiled a fund worth over $13 million to help applicants kickstart their online school.
India’s online education market is estimated to grow to $19.7 billion by 2030, up from $1 billion last year, analysts at Bernstein wrote in a recent report.
Business operation automation startup Tonkean announced this morning that it closed a $50 million Series B round of capital. Accel led the round, which came just over a year after the startup raised a $24 million Series A. Lightspeed Ventures, which led the company’s preceding venture capital round, also participated in its new funding event.
Sagi Eliyahu, Tonkean’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch in an interview that his company’s valuation rose by around 4x in its latest funding round.
The startup was able to secure more capital at a higher price thanks in part to quick growth in 2020, which Eliyahu said was concentrated in the second half of 2020.
Tonkean is an interesting mix of business process automation, no-code and humans. In short, the startup allows a company’s ops groups — sales ops, marketing ops, etc. — to set up automated business logic across applications that can include human-in-the-loop elements. And Tonkean built its system to be IT-friendly, allowing it to support enterprise-scale customers.
The automation space has been broadly hot in recent quarters. Robotic process automation (RPA) is great for mechanizing repetitive tasks that waste human time. The method of using computers to do stuff that humans previously had to do by clicking far too much has proven to be big business.
Tonkean allows for something a bit different. An example may help: During our interview, Eliyahu mused about what might happen if a salesperson for a Tonkean client wanted to send a lead into a nurture campaign. Tonkean would let the sales ops team set up logic so that when the frontline salesperson selects the lead for a nurture effort inside their CRM, the lead would then automatically be added to a specific Marketo campaign. Furthermore, the click-to-nurture system would alert a human on the sales team, perhaps asking for approval of the decision.
Tonkean software employs no-code tools to let ops groups use off-the-shelf command modules to build business logic — or craft their own as needed. The use of the company’s software could allow for more empowered teams at companies that are less reliant on engineering groups for help in accelerating and automating their work.
That thematically fits inside the general narrative we’ve seen from no-code startups in general: They want to allow non-technical folks to have more control of their work through less reliance on technical teams at their place of employment.
Tonkean employs around 60 people today, up from around 15 folks at the time of its Series A. It plans to hire rapidly now that it has more capital. Eliyahu claims most of its Series A is still in the bank. So why did it raise?
Because Eliyahu considers his startup’s market to be so large that he wants to pull the company’s future closer to today; the new capital will give Tonkean the space it needs to hire more rapidly and build more quickly than it might have if it continued to operate from a smaller capital case.
Fifty million dollars is a lot of money. Let’s see how far it gets Tonkean. The next time we talk to the company, we’ll demand some harder growth metrics so we can see if the additional capital was the accelerant that the company hopes it will be.
The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.
Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just completed a $300 million Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.
Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.
Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.
Another Chinese lidar startup Innovusion, a major supplier to electric vehicle startup Nio, raised a $64 million round led by Temasek in May. Livox is another emerging lidar maker that was an offshoot of DJI.
Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.
Meituan, delivering food to hundreds of millions of consumers in China, could similarly benefit from replacing human riders with lidar-enabled unmanned vans and drones.
Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California.
Last July, Hesai and lidar technology pioneer Velodyne entered a long-term licensing agreement as the two dismissed legal proceedings in the U.S., Germany and China.
Lightspeed, has picked up two more companies in what is shaping up to be an acquisition spree for the Canadian point-of-sale software provider. The company today announced that it would acquire e-commerce platform Ecwid for $500 million; and NuOrder, a B2B ordering platform servicing wholesales, brands and retailers, for $425 million.
Together, the two deals underscore the long-anticipated consolidation trend swirling around the fragmented e-commerce industry, at a time when digital transactions are playing an ever more critical role in the Covid-impacted global economy, and smaller players are looking for better ways to compete against behemoths like Amazon and Stripe with a mix of tools and services addressing the various needs of merchants, brands, suppliers and everything in between.
“By joining forces with Ecwid and NuOrder, Lightspeed becomes the common thread uniting merchants, suppliers and consumers, a transformation we believe will enable innovative retailers to adapt to the new world of commerce,” said Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed, in a statement. “As economies reopen and business creation accelerates, we hope to embolden entrepreneurs with the tools they need to simplify their operations and scale their ambitions.”
Lightspeed will pay $175 million in cash and $325 million in shares for Ecwid; and it will pay $212.5 million in cash and $212.5 million in shares for NuOrder, the company said. Both deals are expected to close at the end of September, pending regulatory and other approvals.
Lightspeed is publicly traded and has a market cap of about $9.4 billion. It has been on an acquisition march in the last several months, with the bigger picture being to build a complete, end-to-end, one-stop-shop for customers beyond the basics of the point-of-sale software that helped the company make its name. That has also included acquiring Upserve in a $430 million deal in December to deepen its presence in the restaurant industry.
Ecwid itself has been around for years, initially making its name as a key partner of Facebook’s to help small businesses build commerce experiences on the social media platform, and eventually expanding to provide tools for merchants that use services like Square and Wix, as well as other third-party platforms like Instagram and Google — sometimes competing with but also potentially integrating with other e-commerce backends like Shopify.
The company — originally founded in Russia — had largely been under the venture radar until last year, when it raised $42 million from Morgan Stanley and PeakSpan Capital, to double down on growth.
And that growth has been good. It current has 130,000 paying customers across 100+ countries and Lightspeed said it had revenue of more than $20 million in the year that ended in March, with growth of 50% year-over-year.. The deal, which is subject to customary closing conditions and post-closing working capital adjustment, is expected to close during the quarter ended September 30, 2021 after the receipt of applicable regulatory approvals.
“The distinction between online and brick-and-mortar retail has disappeared. Lightspeed and Ecwid, two best-in-class platforms, will unite to truly empower businesses. By eliminating the barriers merchants face when selling online, we will only more rapidly achieve our common vision of democratizing retail for independent businesses worldwide and enrich the communities they serve,” said Ecwid CEO, Ruslan Fazlyev, in a statement.
NuOrder, meanwhile, will help Lightspeed deepen its role in supplier relationships and transactions — an essential cornerstone in how commerce works and one where Lightspeed had already been building a business, by way of its Lightspeed Supplier Network. NuOrder has 3,000 brand and 100,000 retailer customers — some of them include Canada Goose, Converse and Arc’teryx — and Lightspeed said that some $11.5 billion in orders were made through its platform in the year that ended in March.
Like Ecwid, NuOrder also posted revenues of $20 million in that period; its growth rate was 30% year-over-year.
“At NuORDER, we have been on a journey to revolutionize retail by building a global network for brands and retailers. The coming together of Lightspeed and NuORDER accelerates that vision exponentially. The power of connected commerce comes to life now,” said NuORDER co-founders and co-CEO’s Olivia Skuza and Heath Wells in a statement. “We are thrilled to join forces with Lightspeed to unlock transformative value for brands and retailers globally. This represents an inflection point in the history of retail.”