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Yesterday — January 18th 2021Your RSS feeds

Calling Bucharest VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Bucharest and Romania will capture how the country is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to know how Romania’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

The deadline is January 22, 2021.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Romania, but would like to take part? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your country next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every country on in the Union for the Mediterranean, so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

(Please note: Filling out the survey is not a guarantee of inclusion in the final published piece).

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

By Walter Thompson
David Teten Contributor
David Teten is founder of Versatile VC and writes periodically at teten.com and @dteten.
Jamie Finney Contributor
Jamie Finney is a founding partner at Greater Colorado Venture Fund, where he blogs about his work on VC and small communities.

Previously, we introduced the concept of flexible VC: structures that allow founders to access immediate risk capital while preserving exit and ownership optionality. We list here all the active flexible VCs we have identified, broken into these categories:

  • Revenue-based
  • Compensation-based
  • Blended-return streams

Revenue-based flexible VCs

These investors are paid back primarily based on a percentage of revenues.

Capacity Capital

Chattanooga, TN-based Capacity Capital was launched in 2020 with a primary focus on the southeastern U.S. Jonathan Bragdon, its CEO, describes Capacity as “a team of founders-turned-funders making non-dilutive, founder-aligned investments of $50,000-$300,000 in post-startup, post-revenue businesses planning to 2x revenues in 12-24 months. Investments are typically in exchange for a capped, single-digit revenue share and a right to equity under certain circumstances.

If the company sells or raises enough capital, the investment converts into an agreed-upon percentage of equity. If the company grows without raising additional equity funding, founders redeem most of the equity right, based on a pre-agreed return amount. With a portfolio that includes food, tech and services, the fund is industry-agnostic and focused on the overlooked and underrepresented with high-margin business models.”

Jonathan sometimes refers to their investments as “micro-mezzanine” because “mezz is typically structured as a contractual periodic payment, with some equity-like upside, but subordinate to other debt … so most lenders look at it like equity. But, it is typically shorter term with fewer control mechanisms than equity (i.e., not VC). I wanted [a term for] something similar (between debt and equity) but on an extremely small scale.”

In addition to a fund, the overall Capacity organization provides direct mentorship, consulting and connects founders to a broad network of talent, diverse forms of capital and existing resources focused on the post-startup stage of growth. The founders, LPs and venture partners have a long history in local startup ecosystems in the Southeast including LaunchTN, The Company Lab, CO.STARTERS and several other regional funds and resources.

Greater Colorado Venture Fund

Greater Colorado Venture Fund (GCVF) is a $17 million seed fund that invests in high-growth startups in rural Colorado using equity and flexible VC structuring.

A typical GCVF flexible VC investment is $100,000-$250,000 for up to 10% ownership, of which 9% is redeemable, with a sub-10% revenue share and 12-month-plus holiday period. GCVF specializes in providing critical support to founders based in small communities, while connecting them to an unfair network well-beyond their small-town headquarters.

GCVF is pioneering the future of venture capital and high-growth startups for all small communities. With Colorado as an ideal pilot community, the GCVF team (which includes Jamie Finney, a co-author of this article) has helped grow multiple staple initiatives in the rural Colorado startup ecosystem, including West Slope Startup Week, Telluride Venture Accelerator, Startup Colorado, Energize Colorado Gap Fund and the Greater Colorado Pitch Series.

Recognizing the need for creative investment structures in their Colorado market, they co-founded the Alternative Capital Summit, creating the first community of flexible VCs and alternative startup investors.

They share their learnings on flexible VC and pioneering rural startup ecosystems on the GCVF blog.

6 Apps to Help You Trim Down Subscriptions—and Save Money

By David Nield
New year, new recurring subscriptions you've probably forgotten about. Here's how keep track of them.

Venmo adds a check-cashing feature, waives fees for stimulus checks

By Sarah Perez

Venmo this morning announced it will begin to offer a new check-cashing service, “Cash a Check,” in the Venmo mobile app. The feature, which is being rolled out to select users starting today, can be used to cash printed, payroll and U.S. government checks, including the new stimulus checks, the company says. Though typically there will be fees associated with the Cash a Check feature, Venmo says these are being waived on stimulus funds for a limited time.

To be eligible to use Cash a Check, Venmo customers will need to have either Direct Deposit or a Venmo Debit Card enabled on their account, location services turned on, and a verified email address.

Customers who gain access to the feature will then be able take a picture of their endorsed check and send it to the Venmo app to review, much like they would if cashing a check in a mobile banking app. The check will be reviewed in a few seconds, though in special circumstances, the review may take several minutes or even up to an hour before the approval decision is made.

If approved, the money will be immediately transferred to the customer’s Venmo account.

Venmo will temporarily waive fees on stimulus checks rolling out now and over the next couple of weeks, but eventually 1% fees will apply to any government or payroll check cashed in the app with a pre-printed signature, with a minimum fee of $5.00. Other checks, including hand-signed payroll and government checks, will have a 5% check-cashing fee, or $5.00 minimum, according to PayPal’s terms.

At launch, the Cash a Check service is provided by partners First Century Bank, N.A. and Ingo Money, Inc. Ingo Money already offers a similar feature to Venmo parent company, PayPal, to allow users to cash checks in the PayPal app. 

“We’re always looking for new ways to make it easier for our community to access and manage their money, especially as people continue to experience financial hardships amidst the global pandemic,” said Darrell Esch, Venmo SVP and GM, in a statement about the new service.

“We know that with health and safety top of mind for many, having a safe way to access stimulus payments is essential for many of our customers, especially those who are receiving paper checks and traditionally would have to visit a physical check-cashing location,” he said. “By introducing the Venmo Cash a Check feature, we are not only enabling our customers to access their money quickly and safely from the comfort of their own homes but are also waiving all fees for cashing government-issued checks to ensure customers can use their stimulus funds to pay for the things they need most,” he added.

The company’s move into check cashing doesn’t make the peer-to-peer payment app an alternative to online banking, however. Instead, it serves largely as a way for Venmo to benefit from the influx of stimulus payments that are rolling out now to its U.S. users.

Fintech companies have been scrambling to prove their worth to customers by offering faster and easier access to stimulus payments. Banking startups like Current and Chime, for example, began sending out payments to customers ahead of other traditional banking institutions.

In addition, the stimulus funds can help boost Venmo’s bottom line beyond just the fees it charges. As Venmo users gain access to their stimulus payments or payroll in the app, they may then use that money to make transactions with online merchants or with their Venmo debit card. This transactions allow Venmo to make money through transaction fees, as well.

Venmo said the feature is rolling out now to mobile app users on iOS and Android. The company recommends users download the latest version of the app and update to the latest operating system on their mobile device for the best performance.

Austin-based ReturnSafe raises $3.25 million for its employee health management tools

By Jonathan Shieber

ReturnSafe, a symptom checking and contact tracing employee health management toolkit for businesses, has raised $3.25 million in financing from investors including Fifty Years and Active Capital. 

With companies looking to reopen operations and have their employees return to work safely, management toolkits that track employee health are piling into the market offering all sorts of strategies to maintain a safe work environment.

These include offerings from companies like WorkSafe; or the ProtectWell tool from Microsoft and UnitedHealth; or NSpace, which has similar features and a scheduling tool for booking office space safely.

For its part, ReturnSafe is boasting six figure monthly recurring revenue and is working with 50 organizations since its launch six months ago.

The pitch to investors and customers is that the need to manage employees and ensure that workspaces are free from health risks is only going to grow in a post-COVID-19 world.

Of course, the best way for employers to ensure the safety and security of their employees is to provide adequate leave and time off if employees are sick and to ensure that everyone has access to adequate testing at regular intervals should they not be able to work remotely.

Like other companies in the market, ReturnSafe offers a symptoms screener, a testing dashboard, a case management dashboard and a new vaccine management service. In addition to those software tools, ReturnSafe pitches a set of wearable devices with built-in social distancing alarms to ensure that employees maintain safe distances. 

 

 

Indiegogo founder launches alternative investments discovery platform Vincent

By Lucas Matney

As more and more alternative investment marketplaces pop up around specific verticals like art or collectibles, Indiegogo founder Slava Rubin is launching a Kayak-like platform called Vincent which helps curious investors get a handle on what the entire asset class has to offer.

Rubin and co-founders Evan Cohen, Eric Cantor and Ross Cohen have raised $2 million for the venture with backing from investors including Uncommon Denominator, ERA Ventures, The Fund and Rubin’s own firm Humbition. Vincent launched in beta this July but the firm is now ready to take the platform wide with a public launch. Rubin says the team has assembled the “most comprehensive database of alternate investments.”

Rubin has been a driving force behind alternative investments since his Indiegogo days and has helped guide some of the existing legislation that has made investments in alternative assets more tenable.

Part of the buzz around alternative investments in 2020 is the result of evolving guidance from stateside regulatory bodies, while added attention comes from the boom around investment platforms that bring users more approachable tools to access financial institutions. Specific verticals may be hoping to build up a Robinhood -like brand and following around their particular niche, but Vincent is aiming to benefit from rising tides and users eyeing diversification.

“[Our partners] are really heads down often on a lot of curation around a specific deal and trying to become experts in that space,” Rubin tells TechCrunch . “What we’ve learned is that the investor is thinking more about trying to get exposure to alternative investments and not only do they want exposure to one alternative investment, they want exposure to the entire asset class.”

The company currently has partnerships with about 50 platforms, Rubin tells me, including platforms like WeFunder, SharesPost, Rally Rd. and Otis. The deals which span real estate, venture, collectibles, and art, among others, bring Vincent users access to $2 billion worth of investments, the company says. Users visiting Vincent are asked whether or not they are accredited which routes them to the list of deals they have access to.

Similar to Kayak, people are using Vincent to source the deals, but once they find an asset that tickles their fancy, they’ve being redirected to the partner platform’s site or app in order to actually carry out the deal. Once a user carries out an investment on said platform, Vincent receives a standard fee from the partner platform.

Vincent’s main challenge is building up a brand that resonates with users without actually managing the actual investments themselves. Most of these partner platforms, as Rubin notes, are built around curating and developing an expertise around a specific niche, whether that works in a broader scenario is the big question.

“The whole goal of an aggregator is to really simplify an experience where the market is massively fragmented,” Rubin says.

Vincent is also aiming to be more than an aggregator, serving up editorial content with a blog and newsletter that the team hopes can make the platform more of a one-stop-shop for investors looking to educate themselves on alternative assets. For his part, Rubin hopes that the gold rush of startups building alternative investment platforms is the perfect time for a player to come in that focuses on streamlining everything.

 

Helping big banks out-Affirm Affirm and out-Chime Chime gives Amount a $681 million valuation

By Jonathan Shieber

Amount, a new service that helps traditional banks compete in a digital world, has raised $81 million from none other than Goldman Sachs as it looks to help legacy fintech players compete with their more nimble digital counterparts.

The company, which spun out from the startup lending company Avant in January of this year, has already inked deals with Banco Popular, HSBC, Regions Bank and TD Bank to power their digital banking services and offer products like point-of-sale lending to compete with challenger banks like Chime and lenders like Affirm or Klarna.

“Most banks are looking for resources and infrastructure to accelerate their digital strategy and meet the demands of today’s consumer,” said Jade Mandel, a Vice President in Goldman Sachs’ growth equity platform, GS Growth, who will be joining the Board of Directors at Amount, in a statement. “Amount enables banks to navigate digital transformation through its modular and mobile-first platform for financial products. We’re excited to partner with the team as they take on this compelling market opportunity.”

Complimenting those customer facing services is a deep expertise in fraud prevention on the back-end to help banks provide more loans with less risk than competitors, according to chief executive Adam Hughes.

It’s the combination of these three services that led Goldman to take point on a new $81 million investment in the company, with participation from previous investors August Capital, Invus Opportunities and Hanaco Ventures — giving Amount a post-money valuation of $681 million and bringing the company’s total capital raised in 2020 to a whopping $140 million.

Think of Amount as a white-labeled digital banking service provider for luddite banks that hadn’t upgraded their services to keep pace with demands of a new generation of customers or the COVID-19 era of digital-first services for everything.

Banks pay a pretty penny for access to Amount’s services. On top of a percentage for any loans that the bank process through Amount’s services, there’s an up-front implementation fee that typically averages at $1 million.

The hefty price tag is a sign of how concerned banks are about their digital challengers. Hughes said that they’ve seen a big uptick in adoption since the launch of their buy-now-pay-later product designed to compete with the fast growing startups like Affirm and Klarna .

Indeed, by offering banks these services, Amount gives Klarna and Affirm something to worry about. That’s because banks conceivably have a lower cost of capital than the startups and can offer better rates to borrowers. They also have the balance sheet capacity to approve more loans than either of the two upstart lenders.

 “Amount has the wind at its back and the industry is taking notice,” said Nigel Morris, the co-founder of CapitalOne and an investor in Amount through the firm QED Investors. “The latest round brings Amount’s total capital raised in 2020 to nearly $140M, which will provide for additional investments in platform research and development while accelerating the company’s go-to-market strategy. QED is thrilled to be a part of Amount’s story and we look forward to the company’s future success as it plays a vital role in the digitization of financial services.”

FT Partners served as advisor to Amount on this transaction.

HMBradley raises $18.25 million planting a flag as LA’s entrant into the challenger bank business

By Jonathan Shieber

With $90 million in deposits and $18.25 million in new financing, HMBradley is making moves as the Los Angeles-based entrant into the challenger bank competition.

LA is home to a growing community of financial services startups and HMBradley is quickly taking its place among the leaders with a novel twist on the banking business.

Unlike most banking startups that woo customers with easy credit and savvy online user interfaces, HMBradley is pitching a better savings account.

The company offers up to 3% interest on its savings accounts, much higher than most banks these days, and it’s that pitch that has won over consumers and investors alike, according to the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Zach Bruhnke.

With climbing numbers on the back of limited marketing, Bruhnke said raising the company’s latest round of financing was a breeze. 

“They knew after the first call that they wanted to do it,” Brunke said of the negotiations with the venture capital firm Acrew, a venture firm whose previous exposure to fintech companies included backing the challenger bank phenomenon which is Chime . “It was a very different kind of fundraise for us. Our seed round was a terrible, treacherous 16-month fundraise,” Brunke said.

For Acrew’s part, the company actually had to call Chime’s founder to ensure that the company was okay with the venture firm backing another entrant into the banking business. Once the approval was granted, Brunke said the deal was smooth sailing.

Acrew, Chime, and HMBradley’s founders see enough daylight between the two business models that investing in one wouldn’t be a conflict of interest with the other. And there’s plenty of space for new entrants in the banking business, Bruhnke said. “It’s a very, very large industry as a whole,” he said.

As the company grows its deposits, Bruhnke said there will be several ways it can leverage its capital. That includes commercial lending on the back end of HMBradley’s deposits and other financial services offerings to grow its base.

For now, it’s been wooing consumers with one click credit applications and the high interest rates it offers to its various tiers of savers.

“When customers hit that 3% tier they get really excited,” Bruhnke said. “If you’re saving money and you’re not saving to HMBradley then you’re losing money.”

The money that HMBradley raised will be used to continue rolling out its new credit product and hiring staff. It already poached the former director of engineering at Capital One, Ben Coffman, and fintech thought leader Saira Rahman, the company said. 

In October, the company said, deposits doubled month-over-month and transaction volume has grown to over $110 million since it launched in April. 

Since launching the company’s cash back credit card in July, HMBradley has been able to pitch customers on 3% cash back for its highest tier of savers — giving them the option to earn 3.5% on their deposits.

The deposit and lending capabilities the company offers are possible because of its partnership with the California-based Hatch Bank, the company said.

Mobile banking app Current raises $131M Series C, tops 2 million members

By Sarah Perez

U.S. challenger bank Current, which has doubled its member base in less than six months, announced this morning it raised $131 million in Series C funding, led by Tiger Global Management. The additional financing brings Current to over $180 million in total funding to date, and gives the company a valuation of $750 million.

The round also brought in new investors Sapphire Ventures and Avenir. Existing investors returned for the Series C, as well, including Foundation Capital, Wellington Management Company and QED.

Current began as a teen debit card controlled by parents, but expanded to offer personal checking accounts last year, using the same underlying banking technology. The service today competes with a range of mobile banking apps, offering features like free overdrafts, no minimum balance requirements, faster direct deposits, instant spending notifications, banking insights, check deposits using your phone’s camera and other now-standard baseline features for challenger banks.

In August 2020, Current debuted a points rewards program in an effort to better differentiate its service from the competition, which as of this month now includes Google Pay.

When Current raised its Series B last fall, it had over 500,000 accounts on its service. Today, it touts over 2 million members. Revenue has also grown, increasing by 500% year-over-year, the company noted today.

“We have seen a demonstrated need for access to affordable banking with a best-in-class mobile solution that Current is uniquely suited to provide,” said Current founder and CEO Stuart Sopp, in a statement about the fundraise. “We are committed to building products specifically to improve the financial outcomes of the millions of hard-working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, and whose needs are not being properly served by traditional banks. With this new round of funding we will continue to expand on our mission, growth and innovation to find more ways to get members their money faster, help them spend it smarter and help close the financial inequality gap,” he added.

The additional funds will be used to further develop and expand Current’s mobile banking offerings, the company says.

PayPal launches a new crowdsourced fundraising platform, the Generosity Network

By Sarah Perez

PayPal is expanding its fundraising efforts with today’s launch of the Generosity Network. Unlike the PayPal Giving Fund, which helps people support charities through online donations, the new Generosity Network lets people raise money for themselves, other individuals in need, or organizations like a small business or a charity. This puts the network more directly in competition with other crowdsourced fundraising platforms, like GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraisers, for example.

At launch, the Generosity Network will be open to PayPal customers in the U.S. only and will allow them to create fundraising campaigns of up to $20,000 over a 30-day period.

The company says it was motivated to create the new service after seeing the growth in the peer-to-peer fundraising market following the coronavirus outbreak. It also noted the pandemic has made it difficult for traditional charitable organizations to raise as they had before. More than half of charities in the U.S. now expect to raise less money than in 2019 as a result of the economic hardships driven by the pandemic, PayPal said, citing a survey (PDF) by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

In addition, over 65 million Americans filed for unemployment at some point over the course of the pandemic, PayPal says, which often led to them turning to family, friends and their community for extra support.

This isn’t the first product PayPal has developed that focused on social fundraisers. A few years ago, it launched Money Pools, which would let friends and family donate towards a shared expense — like a surprise party, group gift, travel fund, and more. The Generosity Network is an expansion on that earlier effort.

The new Generosity Network fundraisers can be created directly from PayPal’s website and donations are deposited directly into the organizer’s account for them to distribute as needed. The campaigns are also more broadly shared on the Generosity Network platform, which allows them to reach millions of more people than the organizer may have been able to reach through their own posts and shares across social media and the web.

Already, PayPal users are raising funds for disaster relief, funeral expenses, medical expenses, community efforts, and other organizations.

Like other fundraising platforms, PayPal’s Generosity Network will include fees. But, at launch, the website says it’s waiving those fees for donations made through credit and debit cards for a limited time. Cross-border fees and currency conversions fees will still apply, however.

For comparison, Facebook doesn’t charge fees for donations to charitable organizations, but does for personal fundraisers. (In the U.S., it’s 2.60% + $0.30). GoFundMe’s U.S. transaction fees are $2.9% + $0.30.

We’ve asked PayPal to disclose its fees schedule for the new platform and will update if one is provided. (The website offers no information about fees, in fact — its FAQ even links to the Money Pools FAQ, which seems to imply this Generosity Network is not yet a fully-fleshed out product.)

PayPal is likely hoping to acquire users during the increased fundraising that generally occurs over the holiday season, and believes that a platform that waives fees will give it an edge against the established competition.

“From collecting money for grocery deliveries to high-risk populations to fundraising campaigns in support of teachers and frontline workers, we’ve seen an outpouring of generosity from the PayPal community using our platform to help one another during this unprecedented year,” said PayPal VP of Giving, Oktay Dogramaci, in a statement. “The Generosity Network was designed to provide an accessible, easy and secure way for our customers to raise money on behalf of causes, and connect them with millions of PayPal customers who can offer their support this holiday season and beyond,” he said.

 

Greece’s Marathon Venture Capital completes first close for Fund II, reaching $47M

By Mike Butcher

Marathon Venture Capital in Athens, Greece has completed the first closing of its second fund, reaching the €40m / $47M mark. Backing the new fund is the European Investment Fund, HDBI, as well as corporates, family offices and HNWIs around the world (plus many Greek founders). It plans to invest in Seed-stage startups from €1m to 1.5m initial tickets for 15-20% of equity.

Team changes include Thaleia Misailidou being promoted to Principal, and Chris Gasteratos is promoted to Associate.

Marathon’s most prominent portfolio company is Netdata, which last year raised a $17 million Series A led by Bain Capital, and later raised another $14m from Bessemer. On the success side, Uber’s pending $1.4B+ acquisition of BMW/Daimler’s mobility group was in part driven by a Marathon-backed startup, Taxibeat, which was earlier acquired by Daimler.

Partners George Tziralis and Panos Papadopoulos tell me the fund is focused generally on enterprise/B2B, plus “Greek founders, anywhere”.

Highlights of Fund One’s investments include:

  • Netdata (leading infra monitoring OSS, backed by Bessemer & Bain)
  • Lenses (leader in DataOps, backed by 83North)
  • Hack The Box (cybersecurity adversarial training labs)
  • Learnworlds (business-in-a-box for course creators)
  • Causaly (cause-and-effect discovery in pharma)
  • Augmenta (autonomous precision agriculture)

Tziralis tells me the majority of its next ten companies have already raised a Series A round.

Tziralis and Papadopoulos have been key players in the Greek startups scene, backing many of the first startups to emerge from the country over 13 years ago. And they were enthusiastic backers of our TechCrunch Athens meetup many years ago.

Three years ago, they launched Marathon Venture Capital to take their efforts to the next level. Fund I invested in 10 companies with the first fund, and most have raised a Series A. The portfolio as a whole has raised 4x their total invested amount and maintains an estimated total enterprise value of $350 million.

They’ve also been running the “Greeks in Tech” meetups all over the world – Berlin to London to New York to San Francisco, and many more locations in between, connecting with Greek founders.

OpsLevel raises $5M to fix DevOps

By Frederic Lardinois

The term ‘DevOps’ has been rendered meaningless and developers still don’t have access to the right tools to put the overall idea into practice, the team behind DevOps startup OpsLevel argues. The company, which was co-founded by John Laban and Kenneth Rose, two of PagerDuty’s earliest employees, today announced that it has raised a $5 million seed funding round, led by Vertex Ventures. S28 Capital, Webb Investment Network and Union Capital also participated in this round, as well as a number of angels, including the three co-founders of PagerDuty .

“[PagerDuty] was an important part of the DevOps movement. Getting engineers on call was really important for DevOps, but on-call and getting paged about incidents and things, it’s very reactive in nature. It’s all about fixing incidents as quickly as possible. Ken [Rose] and I saw an opportunity to help companies take a more proactive stance. Nobody really wants to have any downtime or any security breaches in the first place. They want to prevent them before they happen.”

Image Credits: OpsLevel

With that mission in mind, the team set out to bring engineering organizations back to the roots of DevOps by giving those teams ownership over their services and creating what Rose called a “you build it, you own it” culture. Service ownership, he noted, is something the team regularly sees companies struggle with. When teams move to microservices or even serverless architectures for their systems, it quickly becomes unclear who owns what and as a result, you end up with orphaned services that nobody is maintaining. The natural result of that is security and reliability issues. And at the same time, because nobody knows which systems already exist, other teams reinvent the wheel and rebuild the same service to solve their own problems.

“We’ve underinvested in tools to make DevOps actually work,” the team says in today’s announcement. “There’s a lot we still need to build to help engineering teams adopt service ownership and unlock the full power of DevOps.”

So at the core of OpsLevel is what the team calls a “service ownership platform,” starting with a catalog of the services that an engineering organization is currently running.

Image Credits: OpsLevel

“What we’re trying to do is take back the meaning of DevOps,” said Laban. “We believe it’s been rendered meaningless and we wanted to refocus it on service ownership. We’re going to be investing heavily on building out our product, and then working with our customers to get them to really own their services and get really down to solving that problem.”

Among the companies OpsLevel is already working with are Segment, Zapier, Convoy and Under Armour. As the team noted, its service becomes most useful once a company runs somewhere around 20 or 30 different services. Before that, a wiki or spreadsheet is often enough to manage them, but at that point, those systems tend to break.

OpsLevel gives them different onramps to start cataloging their services. If they prefer to use a ‘config-as-code’ approach, they can use those YAML files as part of their existing Git workflows. But OpsLevel offers APIs that teams can plug into their various systems if they already have existing service creating workflows.

The company’s funding round closed in late September. The pandemic, the team said, didn’t really hinder its fundraising efforts, something I’ve lately heard from a lot of companies (though the ones I talk obviously to tend to be the ones that recently raised money).

“The reason why [we raised] is because we wanted to really invest in building out our product,” Laban said. “We’ve been getting this traction with our customers and we really wanted to double down and build out a lot of product and invest into our go-to-market team as well and really wanted to accelerate things.”

Construction rental startup YardLink raises funding from Speedinvest

By Mike Butcher

YardLink allows construction companies to obtain critical equipment faster than traditional equipment rental companies. It’s now raised a £1.7m seed round, bringing the total it’s raised to date to £2.4m. The round was led by Speedinvest Network Effects, with participation from FJ Labs.

Construction sites often have to hire equipment, but the centralized nature of the traditional hire market means suppliers can be slow to deliver, leading to downtime on-site, and delayed projects. Traditional suppliers include HSS Hire, Travis Perkins, Speedy Hire, Sunbelt Rentals. But YardLink aims to speed this process up with a digital-first, marketplace approach. It has a network of 100 suppliers with over 1,400 equipment depots across the UK.

The construction industry faces new guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as having to provide portable site cabins and accommodation for its workforce. This, coupled with tight availability in the market and more demand for renting equipment, rather than buying it.

The global market for construction equipment rental is around $70bn.

The team consists of Neeral Shah (Founder and CEO), Matt Bloor (CCO) and Daniel Morris (CTO) .

CVS becomes first national retailer to offer support for PayPal and Venmo QR codes at checkout

By Sarah Perez

PayPal announced this morning that its customers can now use either PayPal or Venmo QR codes when checking out at over 8,200 CVS retail stores across the U.S. This is the first national retailer to integrate PayPal’s QR code checkout technology at point-of-sale, the company noted. The additional checkout option will also expand the number of ways customers can pay “touch-free” at CVS — a way to transact that’s become increasingly popular as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the country.

CVS and PayPal announced their plans to cooperate on a point-of-sale solution back in July. At the time, they pegged the timeframe for the rollout as sometime in Q4 2020.

The QR code checkout process itself will pull the funds needed for the purchase from the customer’s existing PayPal or Venmo account balance, bank account, or from a debit or credit card, just as it would if the transaction was taking place online. Venmo users will additionally have the option to utilize their Venmo Rewards.

Image Credits: PayPal

The transaction does not include any fees, PayPal says. Plus, CVS’ ExtraCare Rewards Program members will still be able to redeem and apply savings using their ExtraCare account when using PayPal’s QR code checkout.

The entire transaction can be touch-free, as it involves QR code scanning as opposed to using a card that has to be swiped or inserted into a terminal or numbers punched into a keypad.

The new option arrives at a time when CVS says it’s seeing increased demand for contactless payments.

Since January, CVS has seen a 43% increase in touch-free transactions, according to data from Forrester. In addition, 11% of the U.S. population says they’re now using a digital payment method for the first time as a result of the pandemic, PayPal noted. The company’s own research also indicated that 57% of consumers said merchants’ digital payment offerings impacted their decisions to shop in their stores.

To use the new QR code checkout option, customers will first launch either their PayPal or Venmo app, click the “Scan” button, then select the “show to pay” option.

The new checkout experience was made possible through PayPal’s partnership with payments technology provider InComm, which distributed the PayPal QR code technology through its cloud-based software updates to make the feature available at point-of-sale.

While CVS is the first national retailer to rollout PayPal’s QR code checkout, PayPal said it has 10 other major retailers signed up for a similar rollout, including Nike, Tumi, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Samsonite, among others. It’s in discussions with well over 100 large retailers about the technology, as well.

“The launch of PayPal and Venmo QR codes in CVS Pharmacy stores will not only provide health-conscious customers with a touch-free way to pay at checkout, but also brings the safety and security of PayPal and Venmo transactions into the store with shoppers,” said Jeremy Jonker, PayPal Senior Vice President Head of Consumer In-Store and Digital Commerce, in a statement. “We are thrilled that PayPal and Venmo QR codes will help to maintain the safety of CVS customers and employees, especially in the essential pharmacy retail environment as we go into the winter months.”

In addition to the CVS news, PayPal today also noted that its recently announced “Pay in 4” option for splitting purchases across four installments is now fully live across millions of retailers.

PayPal says all users in US can now buy, hold and sell cryptocurrencies

By Sarah Perez

PayPal announced today it’s dropping the waitlist to buy, hold and sell cryptocurrency in the U.S. With the move, all customers in the U.S. will be able to purchase cryptocurrency directly from within their PayPal accounts. U.S. customers will also be alerted to the new feature through both an email and a push notification in the coming days, the company says.

The feature was already partially available in the U.S. before today, but PayPal had been onboarding interested customers via a waitlist. With the update, users will no longer have to wait for a spot to open.

In addition, PayPal says that due to initial demand from its customers, it’s increasing its weekly cryptocurrency purchase limit from $10,000 per week to $20,000 per week.

In October, PayPal had first announced its plans to enter the cryptocurrency market by way of a partnership with cryptocurrency company Paxos. This partner helps to power the new service for PayPal, enabling its customers to buy, sell and hold a range of cryptocurrencies —  initially including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

By next year, PayPal plans to allow users to make PayPal purchases with cryptocurrencies as well, the company has said.

In terms of exchange rates, PayPal will charge $0.50 USD on transactions up to $24.99 USD, 2.3% on transactions from $25 to $100 USD; 2% on transactions from $100.01 to $200 USD; $1.8% on transactions of $200.01 to $1,000 USD; and 1.5% on transactions over $1,000 USD.

PayPal notes there are no fees for holding crypto in your account. And, to get things started, PayPal is waiving fees until 2021.

The company somewhat quietly disclosed the news today via an update to last month’s press release. It says users can download the PayPal app or log in to their PayPal account to learn more.

 

MSCHF’s Push Party raises an unconventional seed round at a $200 million valuation

By Lucas Matney

As part of its latest stunt, MSCHF, a venture-backed creative studio that’s smarter and more audacious than most, is poking a little fun at the venture industry itself and perhaps publications like TechCrunch too. The startup has spun out a rather simplistic app into a separate company and raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from a very real venture capital firm at an eye-popping $200 million valuation.

For the time being, the actual completion of the legal paperwork to cement this valuation seems like a more complex hurdle than the technical challenges of building the app itself. Push Party is by all means a Gen-Z Yo, it does one thing and one thing only, allows people to push a button which sends a push notification to every user of the app. There are no friends, no groups, no influencers. It’s a big button that fires off an awful lot of notifications.

Image via MSCHF

Like everything else MSCHF does, the app is designed with virality in mind. The startup’s last application they shipped, “Finger on the App” launched a huge online contest that ended after multiple winners who spent several days with their finger sitting on their phone screen. The fun with this rollout is that there’s no telling who pushed the button especially when users can set their own user names and unsurprisingly seem keen to pick celebrity names.

If the app Push Party takes some heavy inspiration from Yo, it’s also taking a page from what helped make it famous, namely a quizzically high early valuation for a product that did almost nothing. Back in simpler times, 2014, Yo raised $1.5 million on $10 million. But fast forward to 2020 and earning a $10 million valuation for a half-baked conceptual take doesn’t mean quite as much, it’s been normalized to a degree. As a result, MSCHF upped the ante and banked a $200 million valuation for Push Party in this raise.

It used to be that a $200 million valuation was a sign of late-stage traction rather than early-stage hype, but high valuations have grown increasingly common for investors racing to win the most competitive deals. Earlier this summer, audio startup Clubhouse raised eyebrows when it banked a $100 million early valuation, and just a few months ago, Roam, a note-taking app with a cult following raised a seed round on $200 million.

Push Party’s round was financed by Founders Fund with Principal Trae Stephens driving the deal. If you’re puzzled how the MSCHF team bagged a real investor from a real firm for a dubiously real project, the mystery fades when you find Stephens is unsurprisingly a backer of MSCHF itself. Stephens is by all means, in on the joke.

In a tongue-in-cheek press release, Stephens notes that, “We were a bit concerned by the valuation at first, but I told my people to run toward gunfire for anything less than $250 million.”

Is any of this real? Well, MSCHF insists that they went through all of the legal steps of incorporating Push Party and raising this round. How much the startup actually raised is perhaps more suspect, it’s unclear whether this was a $10 million investment or $1 million or $1,000, the team wasn’t too keen to go into details there, though I did ask someone from MSCHF whether the round was more than $100, and they confirmed that it was definitely more than $100.

Though the company refused to dissect what exactly it’s trying to communicate here, I think a good part of it is just poking at the idea that in today’s climate of ridiculous valuations there’s a tendency for some fairly nebulous numbers to signal value or innovation where this isn’t quite as much. And that often times a high valuation from a prestigious firm is a vote of confidence that drives Silicon Valley watchers to drive downloads while other investors toss in checks, engineers send in job applications and, yes, journalists write stories.

Yes, You Should Be Using Apple Pay or Google Pay

By Whitson Gordon
Hear us out: Paying with a smartphone is actually more secure and more efficient than using a credit card.

With $200 Million, Uber and Lyft Write Their Own Labor Law

By Aarian Marshall
Following a well-funded campaign, California voters approved Proposition 22—allowing gig economy companies to keep treating workers as independent contractors.

Why Is Everyone Building an Electric Pickup Truck?

By Aarian Marshall
Tesla has the Cybertruck, GM a $113,000 Hummer, and Ford an electric F-150. And then there are the startups.

All the Ways You Can Pay With a Phone or Smartwatch

By David Nield
It's perfectly possible to leave your wallet at home.
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