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Tinder’s head of product has left

2018, November 14 - 11:00pm

Tinder’s chief product officer Brian Norgard wants to get back to his entrepreneurial roots, citing former PayPal executive-turned-venture capitalist Keith Rabois as inspiration.

Norgard, who joined Tinder as part of the acquisition of his Kleiner Perkins-backed ephemeral messaging startup Tappy in 2014, has confirmed to TechCrunch that he’s left the app-based dating company to focus on building products and investing in early-stage businesses. Tinder has not yet identified his successor, but Norgard says “it’s all positive vibes” between him and the company.

Norgard began as Tinder’s head of revenue before being promoted to the chief product role in late 2016. Prior to joining Tinder via Tappy, he co-founded two other successful startups: Chill, a Facebook application that garnered 30 million users, and adtech startup Newroo, which was acquired by FOX Interactive in 2006.

“It’s been a great ride but my strength has always been in the early-stage game,” Norgard told TechCrunch. “What I’m trying to do now is take all the learnings from that wonderful experience and bring them into my investing.”

Though he’s yet to sign on in any official capacity, Norgard said he is in talks with several different entities about investing roles.

Brian Norgard has invested in Coinmine, a developer of a sleek cryptocurrency mining device.

Norgard said he’s invested in one company so far, a cryptocurrency mining startup called Coinmine founded by Justin Lambert, who helped design the second iteration of the Pebble watch, and Farb Nivi, the former chief product officer at Learnist. Coinmine is selling a crypto mining device, similar in size and look to an Xbox, that’s controlled by a mobile app. The device is meant to help anyone, crypto enthusiasts and otherwise, mine crypto easily. Nivi told TechCrunch the internet-connected device uses less energy than a PlayStation.

The Los Angeles-based startup is officially launching today with Norgard signed on as an active advisor.

“There are a lot of parallels I draw from Coinmine and Tinder,” Norgard said. “Online dating was very complicated six years ago. It was an arduous process and so is mining. You have to be pretty sophisticated, but this takes it down to the studs. A normal consumer with no technical knowledge can get into the crypto game.”

Coinmine, which raised a total of $2 million, is also backed by Coinbase Ventures, Social Leverage, Arrington Capital, Wonder VC and angel investors like Coinbase’s chief technology officer Balaji Srinivasan.

Cryptocurrency wallet startup Cobo raises $13M Series A to enter the U.S. and Southeast Asia

Categories: Business News

Home insurance provider Hippo brings in $70M amid a record year in funding for insurtech startups

2018, November 14 - 11:00pm

Felicis Ventures and Lennar Corporation have co-led the $70 million Series C funding round for Hippo, a tech-enabled home insurance marketplace.

Existing investors in the startup, like Comcast Ventures, Fifth Wall Ventures, Horizons Ventures and GGV Capital, also participated in the round.

Hippo has raised $109 million to date, including a $25 million Series B earlier this year. Co-founder and chief executive officer Assaf Wand declined to disclose Hippo’s valuation.

Wand, who co-founded the startup in 2015 with Eyal Navon, said he spent 14 years imagining the technology that would become Hippo, inspired by his father’s career in the antiquated insurance industry.

Hippo co-founder and chief executive officer Assaf Wand.

“I was born into insurance,” Wand told TechCrunch. “Now, the entire real estate ecosystem is changing and the industry is massive. We are getting a crazy good challenge. We think the sky’s the limit with this thing.”

The Mountain View, California-based company officially launched to consumers in 2017. It plans to use its latest investment to fuel the growth of its product, which sells home insurance plans at lower premiums. So far this year, Hippo has expanded into 10 new states and says its sales have grown 30 percent month-over-month since January.

Insurance startups have raised billions as industry players fight tech disruptors

“Hippo has set the bar for the future of insurance with its fully automated, proprietary policy management and proactive underwriting,” Felicis managing director Victoria Treyger said in a statement. “Insurance is the next big sector to undergo the dramatic transformation of customer experience and improved risk management enabled by access to real time data. We see Hippo’s current growth rate and efficient automated policy management system as just the beginning of driving this transformation.”

Treyger will join Hippo’s board of directors as part of the round.

The insurance industry is indeed undergoing a dramatic transformation as a result of technology companies targeting the sector, which are part of a relatively new category of startups dubbed insurtech.

According to PitchBook, insurtech startups have raised nearly $6 billion in venture capital funding since 2012. This year alone, companies in the space have brought in a record amount of capital at $1.8 billion across 94 deals.

Whether or not the hype for the emerging category will continue into 2019 remains to be seen.

Categories: Business News

This startup got $2.3M to identify physical objects using diamond dust

2018, November 14 - 9:09pm

Imagine coating an expensive part with a layer of diamond dust the width of a human hair, capturing its light pattern as a unique identifier, then storing that identifier in a traditional database or on the blockchain. That’s precisely what Dust Identity, a Boston-based startup is trying to do, and today it got $2.3 million in seed money led by Kleiner Perkins with participation from New Science Ventures, Angular Ventures, and Castle Island Ventures.

The science behind Dust Identity was nurtured inside MIT, but the company has been at work for two years trying to build a solution based on that idea after receiving early support from DARPA. What these folks do is manufacture extremely tiny diamonds. They dust an object such as a circuit board with a coating of this and capture the diamonds in a polymer, company CEO and co-founder Ophir Gaathon explained.

“Once the diamonds fall on the surface of a polymer epoxy, and that polymer cures, the diamonds are fixed in their position, fixed in their orientation, and it’s actually the orientation of those diamonds that we developed a technology that allows us to read those angles very quickly,” Gaathon told TechCrunch.

For all the advanced technology at play here, Dust Identity is truly an identity company, but instead of identifying an individual, its purpose is to provide a trusted identity for an object using a physical anchor — in this case, diamond dust. You may be thinking that diamonds are kind of an expensive way to achieve this, but as it turns out, the company is actually creating the coating materials from low-cost diamond industrial waste.

“We start with diamond waste (for example, [from] the abrasive industry), but we developed a proprietary process (that’s of course highly scalable and economical) to purify and engineer the diamond waste into dust,” a company spokesperson explained.

The idea behind all of this is to prove that an object is valid and hasn’t been tampered with. The dust is applied at some point during the manufacturing process. The unique identifier is captured with some kind of commercial scanner and stored in the database. It provides a physical anchor for blockchain supply chain solutions that’s currently lacking. When the part makes its way to the buyer, they can run the part under a scanner and make sure it matches. If the dust pattern has been disturbed, there’s a good chance the piece was tampered with.

Finding a way to create uncopyable tags for physical objects is a kind of supply chain holy grail. Ilya Fushman, a partner at Kleiner Perkins says his firm recognized the potential of this solution. “We have a pretty strong hard tech practice. We understand the value of supply chain and supply chain integrity,” he said.

The company is not alone in trying to find a way to attach a physical anchor to items in the supply chain. In fact, you can go back to RFID tags and QR codes, but Gaathon says the security of these approaches has degraded over time as hackers figure out how to copy them. IBM and others are working on tiny chips to attach to objects, but the diamond dust approach could be the most secure if it can scale because it works with an entirely random light pattern that can never be reproduced.

The startup intends to take the money and try to prove this idea can be commercialized for government and manufacturing use cases. It certainly gets points for creativity here and it could be onto something that could transform how we track the integrity of items as they move through a supply chain.

Categories: Business News

Jam City signs mobile game development deal with Disney

2018, November 14 - 8:00pm

Mobile gaming company Jam City is announcing a multi-year deal to create mobile games based on Pixar and Walt Disney Animation characters and films.

As part of the agreement, Jam City is taking over development of the match-three puzzle game Disney Emoji Blitz, which launched in 2016. Jam City says that everyone at Disney’s Glendale game studio who’s affected by this will be offered new jobs at the company to continue working on the title.

The first new game, meanwhile, will be based on the upcoming sequel to “Frozen” (that’s right, there’s going to be a “Frozen 2”), though the companies aren’t revealing any details, like the type of gameplay or the release date.

“While our licensing business for Disney Animation and Pixar games has grown over the last year and we have several top developers creating Disney games, this deal with Jam City represents a significant long-term opportunity for our games business and for the future slate of Disney and Pixar games,” said Kyle Laughlin, Disney’s senior vice president of games and interactive experiences, in a statement.

Jam City was founded in 2009 by Chris DeWolfe (who previously cofounded and served as CEO of MySpace) and former Fox executive Josh Ygaudo. It was initially focused on social games and was known as MindJolt before becoming the Social Gaming Network (named after a company it acquired) and then rebranding again two years ago as Jam City.

While Jam City has created its own games like Cookie Jam and Panda Pop, it’s also been releasing titles based on well-known franchises and intellectual property, such as “Snoopy Pop” and “Marvel Avengers Academy.” Earlier this year, it launched “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery,” a game that allows players to enroll in J.K. Rowling’s famous school for wizards and features the voices of several actors from the films.

Categories: Business News

Discover the next messaging giant at Disrupt Berlin

2018, November 14 - 5:41pm

Truecaller may already be a familiar name, but many of you probably don’t know that it’s slowly becoming a significant messaging app. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Truecaller co-founder and CEO Alan Mamedi will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Truecaller first started as a call screening app. Some countries are more affected than others. But it’s clear that text and call spam is the most intrusive form of spam.

The Swedish company then leveraged this user base to quietly turn the app into a full-fledged messaging app with one focus in particular — India.

With the acquisition of Chillr, the company shows that it wants to recreate a sort of WeChat for India. The company launched payment features — Truecaller Pay lets you pay other Truecaller users as well as pay your bills.

Eventually, Truecaller wants to open up its platform to third-party services. Back in April, the company reported that it had 100 million daily active users.

If you’re impressed by Truecaller’s growth strategy, you should buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.

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CEO & Co-founder, Truecaller

Alan Mamedi is the CEO and Co-founder of Truecaller. Truecaller is one of the leading communication apps in the world with services in messaging, payment, caller ID, spam detection, dialer functionalities, and has more than 300 million users globally. In this position, Alan focuses on product development and innovation, and charting the strategic roadmap for the company’s success. To date, Truecaller has raised 80 million USD from Sequoia Capital, Atomico, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Categories: Business News

Challenger bank Tandem partners with Stripe for upcoming ‘Auto Savings’ feature

2018, November 14 - 5:15pm

Tandem, the U.K. challenger bank, is gearing up to launch a new “Auto Savings” feature — a clever way to lower the barriers for Tandem app users who want to save for a rainy day — and to power the feature the company is partnering with Stripe.

The latter in itself isn’t necessarily huge news when you consider that Stripe is morphing into a payments company in the broadest sense. However, it does come at a time when other U.K. bank upstarts are attempting to wean users off making Stripe-powered card payments to top up their accounts since fees can soon add up.

The new Auto Savings offering will mean that every Tandem app will effectively have a flexible savings bank account with Tandem, which they can pay money into based on various savings rules. These rules will be applied based on transaction data gleaned through third-party bank accounts you’ve linked to in the Tandem app (and possibly your Tandem credit card, if you have one) and include rounding up payments to the nearest pound.

At the end of each week Tandem will move the money it’s allocated to Auto Savings out of your linked account via your debit card. This, of course, is also where Stripe comes into play by handling all the needed rerouting, and processing the card payment. It is also evidence of how the U.S. payments company plans to take advantage of Open Banking as a major part of its growth strategy.

Cue statement from Iain McDougall, U.K. and Ireland Country Manager, at Stripe says: “Building on infrastructure that powers the programmatic movement of money will be increasingly seen as a differentiator for technology companies, emerging fintechs and even established financial services providers. By providing this infrastructure, Stripe is helping Tandem to extend their product in new directions at a faster pace, which is a significant competitive advantage”.

Meanwhile, I’m told the feature will work alongside existing tools Tandem has built around aggregating your financial data and helping you budget. This means that Auto Savings will only withdraw money based on what Tandem deems you can actually afford. Oh, and in case you are wondering: yes, an Auto Savings account will pay interest.

The bigger picture is that Tandem wants to find ways to encourage people who don’t currently save to start doing so. To achieve this, saving needs to be “frictionless” and done in a way that is sustainable and doesn’t set someone up to fail. The challenger bank believes that roundups, which essentially ties saving to spending, and other forms of “auto saving”, that happens retrospectively once per week, is one way of doing this. Powering it by debit card is also lowering the barrier somewhat, too.

Adds Ricky Knox, Tandem CEO: “With this latest savings solution we wanted our customers to be able to pay money into their Tandem account without any hassle. A lot of other banks require you to make manual transfers or standing orders, which can make the whole process of saving a chore. With the help of Stripe, we want to make it as quick and easy as possible to save small and often straight from your debit card”.

Tandem’s Ricky Knox will be on-stage at TechCrunch Berlin later this month.

Categories: Business News

Loans marketplace Mintos scores €5M Series A and plans to launch a debit card

2018, November 14 - 5:00pm

Mintos, the Latvian fintech that operates a global loans marketplace to let you invest in loans from various loan originators, has raised €5 million in Series A funding. Backing the startup once again is the Riga-based venture capital firm Grumpy Investments (previously known as Skillion Ventures). More noteworthy, the new capital will be used to launch a Mintos banking account and debit card, significantly expanding the company’s offering.

“Both banking account and the card in our opinion is a natural step in our journey of revolutionising financial services through technology and serving our investors and will nicely complement our current offering of investments in loans, and low-fee mid-market rate currency exchange,” Mintos co-founder and CEO Martins Sulte tells me. “This development also means that, theoretically, our investors won’t need their banks anymore”.

The Mintos banking account will act like any other IBAN account. You’ll be able to receive a salary into your Mintos account, use it to get paid by companies, or receive money from friends. And of course you’ll be able to transfer money out of your Mintos account, just like a regular bank account.

Sulte says the idea behind plans to launch a Mintos banking account, and the reason why the company is applying for a European e-money license, is to improve the overall Mintos experience. This includes making it quicker to access money generated by the loans you have invested in (which is held by Mintos on your behalf) and easier to invest on a regular basis.

“The card will allow investors to access the money they hold on the Mintos account instantly by paying at their local grocery shop or online or withdrawing money at ATMs; basically use the card like any other bank card,” he says. “They will no longer need to request a withdrawal from the platform to their bank account and wait up to two days for their money to arrive”.

The fintech startup claims a customer base of 87,000 investors from 71 different countries. In addition to launching the Mintos banking account, the company will use the additional funding for further geographical expansion, including Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia). It will also invest in acquiring more customers, and significantly expanding the size of its 60 person team. Notably, Mintos has been profitable since January 2017.

To that end, the fintech company says it has already facilitated more than €1 billion in investments in loans through its marketplace since launching in 2015. It says Investors in total have earned €26.7 million in interest through loans to individuals and businesses and have attained an average net return of nearly 12 percent.

Categories: Business News

Skincare startup Heyday raises $8M

2018, November 14 - 9:00am

Heyday, a startup aiming to make facials more affordable and personalized, announced today that it has raised $8 million in Series A funding.

I first wrote about the company a year ago, when it raised its $3 million seed round. At the time, co-founder and CEO Adam Ross said his goal was to offer something that sits between expensive, high-end facials and “random little places that are generally cheap in a bad way.” (Heyday pricing starts at $65 for a 30-minute session.)

The company currently operates six brick-and-mortar locations — it started in New York City but recently opened its first Los Angeles store. At the same time, Ross said the website was recently redesigned to offer a more “frictionless” booking experience, and the company also says it can use its “Facial Record” of customers to personalize the treatment and products.

Moving forward, the goal is to both open new physical locations (particularly in LA), but also to continue investing in the technology.

“It’s not an either/or — we see mutual growth and expansion across both channels,” Ross said. “The physical footprint is always going to be a key pillar of our brand strategy, but to win and service customers’ needs in this space, you need to be online.”

Ross also suggested that Heyday is changing the way customers look at facials. For one thing, 30 percent of its customers say they’ve never had a facial before. In addition, Ross said they’re starting to see facials not as an occasional luxury, but as a regular part of their wellness routine: “Most of our clients think about us like an Equinox membership.” And they should, he argued, especially since “your skin is your largest organ.”

The new funding was led by Fifth Wall Ventures, with participation from Lerer Hippeau, Brainchild Funding, M3 Ventures and CircleUp. Fifth Wall partner Kevin Campos is joining Heyday’s board of directors.

“We are in the midst of a significant shift in the retail industry, where marquee brands are moving from digitally native to an omnichannel model,” Campos said in the funding announcement. “We believe the team at Heyday is offering the best experience across both digital and physical touchpoints, and we are thrilled to partner with them to help navigate this complex process and position them for success.”

Categories: Business News

Lime is debuting its line of shareable vehicles in Seattle this week

2018, November 14 - 4:13am

Lime, the well-funded startup known for its fleet of brightly colored dockless bicycles and electric scooters, has a new way for its customers to get around: cars.

Beginning this week, Lime users in Seattle will be able to reserve a “LimePod,” a Lime-branded 2018 Fiat 500, within the Lime mobile app. There will be 50 cars available to start as part of the company’s initial rollout. Lime plans to increase that number at the end of the month.

“LimePods, Lime’s car-sharing product line, a convenient, affordable, weather-resistant mobility solution for communities,” a spokesperson for Lime said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “The ease of use of finding, unlocking, and paying for cars will be consistent with how riders use Lime scooters and e-bikes today.”

Lime will roll out 50 “LimePods” in Seattle this week.

Rides in the LimePod will cost $1 to unlock the car and 40 cents per minute of use. The company plans to unleash additional shareable cars in California early next year. Its scooters and e-bikes, for reference, are $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute and regular pedal bikes are $1 to unlock and 5 cents per minute.

Founded in 2017 by Berkeley graduates Toby Sun and Brad Bao, the startup has raised a total of $467 million to date from GV, Andreessen Horowitz, IVP, Section 32, GGV Capital and more. Reports indicate that Lime is on the fundraising circuit now, targeting a $3 billion valuation, or nearly 3x its latest valuation.

LimePods will be available to order in the Lime mobile app.

The company is expanding rapidly, most recently releasing a fleet of e-scooters and bikes in Australia, as well as making notable hires on what seems like a weekly basis. In the last month, Lime has tapped Joe Kraus, a general partner at Alphabet’s venture arm GV and an existing member of the startup’s board of directors, as its first chief operating officer. Before that, it brought on Uber’s former chief business officer David Richter as its first-ever chief business officer and interim chief financial officer.

In July, the company hired Peter Dempster from ReachNow to lead the LimePod initiative out of Seattle.

Ford buys electric scooter startup Spin

Categories: Business News

RideCell expands funding round to $60 million

2018, November 14 - 1:45am

RideCell, a transportation software startup, has doubled its previously announced Series B funding round to $60 million, a sign that investors believe demand for cloud-based mobility platforms will grow as more companies try to scale up car-sharing, ride-hailing and even robotaxi businesses.

The company, which has developed a platform designed to help car-sharing, ride-sharing and autonomous technology companies manage their vehicles, announced it raised $28 million in May.

Activate Capital led this round; its co-founder and managing director Raj Atluru has joined RideCell’s board. Reinsurance group Munich Re’s ERGO fund, LG Technology Ventures, BNP Paribas, Sony Innovation Fund, Ally Ventures and Khosla Ventures joined this extended round. Denso also upped its investment in the Series B round.

Nearly half a dozen other companies had already invested in the Series B round, including Cox Automotive, Initialized Capital, Denso, Penske, Deutsche Bahn and Mitsui.

“Investor interest in cloud-based mobility platforms and autonomous vehicles increases almost daily as the disruptive potential of these new technologies are realized,” RideCell CEO Aarjav Trivedi said in a statement.

The company recently received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test its Auro autonomous vehicles on public roads. RideCell acquired self-driving car company Auro in October 2017. Auro initially developed and operated driverless shuttles for private geo-fenced locations such as corporate and university campuses. The company has since expanded its focus to include passenger vehicle models and minivans, although it still plans to target low-speed urban use cases focused on solving last-mile transportation.

The company’s real-world trials will start on Ford Fusion vehicle platforms equipped with Auro’s autonomous driving system.

Categories: Business News

WeRecover, the Kayak for addiction recovery, raises $2M

2018, November 14 - 1:44am

Approximately 90 percent of people in need of rehabilitation services for drug and alcohol abuse don’t have access to them, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. Why? Often, because they don’t know where to look.

Santa Monica-based WeRecover wants to fill that information gap with its Kayak-like online booking engine for rehab centers. The startup’s matching algorithm pairs people with an accredited rehab center with open beds, tailored to that person’s budget, insurance, clinical needs and location. The goal is to make it easier for anyone seeking treatment for themselves or otherwise to quickly discover and secure a spot at a facility, streamlining what can be a daunting and logistically complicated process that prevents people from receiving the care they need.

Today, WeRecover is announcing another $2 million fundraise led by Crosslink Capital, bringing its total venture capital backing to $4.5 million. Box Group, Wonder Ventures, Struck Capital and others also participated in the round.

“It’s a really obvious idea … but truly no entrepreneurs anywhere were working to build a marketplace for addiction recovery centers,” WeRecover co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Estes told TechCrunch. “There’s an overwhelming need for a simpler way to connect with patients.”

WeRecover co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Estes.

Founded in 2016 by Estes and Max Jaffe, WeRecover has rapidly grown from connecting a few hundred people seeking treatment per month to roughly 4,000 users last month. The startup now provides information on 11,000 treatment centers in 29 states. The goal is to have at least 1 program listed in every state by the end of 2018. Currently, most of the programs the company tracks are located in California, Florida, Arizona and Colorado.

Estes said the WeRecover database is the most comprehensive database of free, nonprofit and state-funded treatment programs in existence, simply because no one had set out to aggregate this particular set of information until now.

The startup plans to use the latest round of venture financing to continue hunting down treatment centers to add to its database, expand its 16-person team and, eventually, Estes said, WeRecover would like to craft and integrate content into the experience.

“We play a really important role in somebody’s journey,” he said. “They find treatment through us and we are part of one of the most important decisions they make in their life, so we should keep them engaged. We do think there’s room to build an app to help people sustain their sobriety and connect them with their peers.”

WeConnect is an app to support addiction recovery

Categories: Business News

WeWork picks up ANOTHER $3B from SoftBank

2018, November 14 - 1:16am

WeWork has picked up another $3 billion in financing from SoftBank Corp, not to be confused with SoftBank Vision Fund. The deal comes in the form of a warrant, allowing SoftBank to pay $3 billion for the opportunity to buy shares before September 2019 at a price of $110 or higher, ultimately valuing WeWork at $42 billion minimum.

In August, SoftBank Corp invested $1 billion in WeWork in the form of a convertible note.

According to the Financial Times, SoftBank will pay WeWork $1.5 billion on January 15, 2019 and another $1.5 billion on April 15.

SoftBank is far and away WeWork’s biggest investor, with SoftBank Vision Fund having poured $4.4 billion into the company just last year.

The real estate play out of WeWork is just one facet of the company’s strategy.

More than physical land, WeWork wants to be the central connective tissue for work in general. The company often strikes deals with major service providers at ‘whole sale’ prices by negotiating on behalf of its 300,000 members. Plus, WeWork has developed enterprise products for large corporations, such as Microsoft, who tend to sign longer, more lucrative leases. In fact, these types of deals make up 29 percent of WeWork’s revenue.

The biggest issue is whether or not WeWork can sustain its outrageous growth, which seems to have been the key to its soaring valuation. After all, WeWork hasn’t yet achieved profitability.

Can the vision become a reality? SoftBank seems willing to bet on it.

Categories: Business News

In one of Latin America’s largest deals, Movile raises $400 million for its iFood delivery business

2018, November 14 - 1:02am

The Brazilian technology conglomerate Movile has just raised one of the largest rounds ever recorded for a Latin American startup, pulling in an additional $400 million for its iFood subsidiary from existing investors, including Naspers and Innova Capital.

Founded roughly 20 years ago by chief executive officer Fabricio Bloisi, the company, which began as a digital content studio for mobile device, has grown into a mobile services and content empire with aspirations of reaching 1 billion people.

Latin America’s Movile is quietly building a mobile empire

The company is on its way with estimated revenues more than $240 million and more than 150 million monthly active users. iFood alone recorded 10.4 million delivery orders for the month of October and the growth of the business is nothing short of explosive.

According to data from the company, iFood received 390,000 orders per day in Brazil in the last weeks of October — representing 109 percent growth, compared to 183,000 from October 2017. The company’s 10.8 million monthly orders have fed 9 million Brazilian customers, and iFood boasts a network of 50,000 restaurants and 120,000 couriers. 

“Movile is very fortunate to have long-term investors who have supported us for the past decade to help achieve our goal of transforming the lives of more than one billion people and thus we are able to continually back iFood to ensure it remains the market leader,” said Fabricio Bloisi, the company’s chief executive in a statement. “Our entire ecosystem of companies is focused on allocating resources and energy towards our one billion people goal, and iFood is leading the way fueling unprecedented growth through its innovative technology platform, providing consumers, couriers and restaurants with the best experience in food ordering and delivery.”

Movile Chief Executive Officer, Fabricio Bloisi

Delivery is central to Movile’s expansion plans and it serves as a gateway to many of the company’s other business lines.

While the engine of growth in the company’s earliest days was PlayKids, its mobile content business focused on children’s entertainment, it has moved well beyond content and entertainment. Now it counts the payment business Zoop, delivery company Rappido and the ticketing business Sympla among its many and varied business units.

In an interview onstage at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Latin America event last week, Bloisi attributed the company’s success to its aggressive mergers and acquisitions strategy across the region and an ability to rapidly spin up and shut down business units as it experimented with what could work for Latin American consumers.

The goal for Bloisi was always to create a multi-billion-dollar business that could span the globe and compete with any of the technology giants hailing from Silicon Valley or, increasingly, China.

Indeed, as Movile expands, its model is looking more and more similar to another Naspers portfolio company, the Chinese mammoth of mobile messaging and services, Tencent.

Leveraging its messaging platform, WeChat, Tencent has become a multi-billion-dollar powerhouse — and a platform for exchanging goods and services for a huge percentage of China’s mobile internet users.

Movile hopes to follow the same path, with operations in content, payments and delivery all housed under its roof. And as the connections between online and offline commerce increase, food delivery is emerging as the central hub for that plan, as our contributor, Nathan Lustig wrote for us earlier this year.

The insights and data that Movile gathered during its strategic venture capital investments in iFood were critical. During this time, Movile built the foundation for its investments that followed shortly after, and learned how to make them a success. With each new investment, Movile’s goal was simple: take a fast-moving startup and help it grow beyond what the founding team ever thought possible by infusing cash, human capital and any technical resources or expertise that the startup could possibly need.

Movile quickly solidified its M&A strategy, its processes and its position as a leader in Latin America’s mobile market. To continue financing its growth through acquisitions, Movile raised another $55 million from Innova Capital, Jorge Paulo Lemann and FINEP in its Series D round in 2014. This new round of financing led to even more acquisitions, including the acquisition of Rapiddo, ChefTime and FreshTime. It also allowed the company to make additional investments in LBS Local, the owners of Apontador, MapLink, Cinepapaya and TruckPad.

“We want our consumers to have an amazing delivery experience from the moment they order their food to the moment it arrives, and our partners – the restaurants and delivery fleet – make that happen by living our purpose of improving people’s lives using our services,” said Carlos Moyses, iFood’s chief executive in a statement. “iFood exists for our customers and with an increased investment commitment of this size, we will be able to build out our state of the art technology platform, and increase our courier and restaurant partners to even better serve our current and future customers in Latin America.”

Categories: Business News

Atolla uses machine learning to address your skin care needs

2018, November 14 - 1:00am

Atolla, a skin care startup that got its roots at MIT, is launching a Kickstarter campaign to help people achieve their skin goals. Atolla uses machine learning to identify skin health issues and then recommend the right skin care products based on what affects your skin.

Atolla comes as a monthly subscription, with the idea being that you test your skin every month to see how it changes depending on the season. The kit allows you to test for oil, moisture and pH. Every month, you receive a customized product based on the data extrapolated from your skin.

“So we’re thinking that if we do this measurement for people like just once a month, after about a year we can start to predict how their skin’s going to change,” Atolla co-founder Meghan Maulpin told TechCrunch. “It’s like, we know that your skin gets this percent dryer in the winter so before you actually have the issue of super dry skin, we already know that you need to use something that’s like this.”

Testing your skin takes just about 10 minutes (I tried it) and is pretty straightforward, thanks to on-screen directions from Atolla’s mobile app.

Atolla’s vision is to build a longitudinal data set that looks at skin concerns across demographics, geographies and lifestyles. Atolla use two distinct machine learning models. The first is to create skin archetypes based on all the factors that may affect someone’s skin, and the second is to predict how someone’s skin may change.

“What we’re really trying to build is a database that represents all different types of like skin attributes, and understand what the actual skin types are,” Maulpin told TechCrunch. “So it’s not just about like, number of data, it’s also diversity.”

Maulpin and her co-founder Sid Salvi met at MIT while in graduate school last year. Following acceptance into MIT’s Delta V accelerator for students, the two opened a handful of pop-up shops in New York City. Fast-forward to today, and Atolla is gearing up to start shipping to consumers in February.

Categories: Business News

Meditation app Simple Habit raises $10 million Series A

2018, November 13 - 11:30pm

Five-minute meditation app Simple Habit announced today that it has raised a $10 million Series A, led by Foundation Capital. The round brings the developer’s total funding up to $12.5 million, following a $2.5 million seed last year.

The Shark Tank alum has been kicking since 2016, the result of CEO and co-founder Yunha Kim’s attempt to build a kind of “Spotify for Meditation.” The startup graduated Y Combinator in April of last year and has made a large push to increase available content.

The company has received praise for its focus on helping users incorporate short meditation sessions into their busy lives. And certainly the time is pretty ideal if you happen to be a mindfulness app in search of some serious VC. 

Most of the reception has been positive, and according to numbers provided to TechCrunch by SensorTower, Simple Habit was the third most popular meditation app in the iOS App Store for Q3 2018. The app trails only Calm and Headspace in terms of both downloads and revenue.

Categories: Business News

Cognigo raises $8.5M for its AI-driven data protection platform

2018, November 13 - 11:30pm

Cognigo, a startup that aims to use AI and machine learning to help enterprises protect their data and stay in compliance with regulations like GDPR, today announced that it has raised an $8.5 million Series A round. The round was led by Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, with participation from privacy company Prosegur and State of Mind Ventures.

The company promises that it can help businesses protect their critical data assets and prevent personally identifiable information from leaking outside of the company’s network. And it says it can do so without the kind of hands-on management that’s often required in setting these kinds of systems up and managing them over time. Indeed, Cognigo says that it can help businesses achieve GDPR compliance in days instead of months.

To do this, the company tells me, it’s using pre-trained language models for data classification. That model has been trained to detect common categories like payslips, patents, NDAs and contracts. Organizations can also provide their own data samples to further train the model and customize it for their own needs. “The only human intervention required is during the systems configuration process which would take no longer than a single day’s work,” a company spokesperson told me. “Apart from that, the system is completely human-free.”

The company tells me that it plans to use the new funding to expand its R&D, marketing and sales teams, all with the goal of expanding its market presence and enhancing awareness of its product. “Our vision is to ensure our customers can use their data to make smart businesses decisions while making sure that the data is continuously protected and in compliance,” the company tells me.

Categories: Business News

Mercaux bags $4.5M to help bricks-and-mortar retail tool up to sell more

2018, November 13 - 11:00pm

Retail tech SaaS platform Mercaux has closed a £3.5 million (~$4.5M) Series A funding round led by European VC fund Nauta Capital. 

The 2013 founded London-based startup sells software for retailers to tap into digital capabilities in their physical retail stores — offering a modular platform that’s intended to support digital transformations at a pace of the retailer’s choosing.

“Historically offline retail was just a sales channel. But with the rise of e-commerce, and ability to communicate with clients digitally at any moment of time, offline stores (and in-store employees) have started to play multiple roles,” says founder and CEO Olga Kotsur.

Physical stores are “not just a sales channel but also an e-commerce window, marketing channel, customer relationship centre” and much more, she argues.

Or, well, they can be — if retailers spend to upgrade legacy IT systems that have not been designed with more expansive digital shopping capabilities in mind.

Mercaux’s platform offers a pick n mix of services intended to empower retailers’ employees to sell more — such as by tapping into up-to-the-minute style suggestions — and thereby “improve and personalise the in-store customer journey”.

On a practical level this translates into real-time access to inventory levels in-store and online at one end; through merchandising content via cross-sell suggestions and styling ideas (powered by crowdsourcing); digital marketing content; all the way up to customer profiles and preferences, pulling on personal data to better inform and steer the in store shopping experience.

At the business end, the platform plugs into retailers’ POS and e-commerce systems to power instant online and checkout sales. On top of that its value-add is assistant tools and analytics for in-store sales people, as well as a channel through which they can communicate with each other and Head Office.

By capturing the usage of the app, the platform also provides retailers with an overview of store analytics — serving up insights on shoppers’ behaviour, most popular products, lost sales and so on.

The SaaS platform can be deployed on a variety of hardware touchpoints, including in-store kiosks.

“Mercaux integrates across all retailers digital touchpoints, making existing data (CRM, Inventory, or Marketing) actionable in-store and enhancing it further,” says Kotsur. “It also follows a ‘lego approach’: modularity in terms of features, flexible configuration and easy integration allow retailers to launch first what they can or need most (for example real-time inventory and recommendations for effective selling), and gradually enhance the platform subject to their new needs (for example customer profiles and preferences for personalised experience).”

The company claims its platform drives an up to a 14% increase in direct store sales — achieved via store conversion and basket size uplift as well as new omni-channel sales.

It also reckons it can quantify its “sales people efficiency” gains — claiming to eke out up to a fifth more productivity from your humans thanks to digital aids like its mobile sales assistant app. (It offers “help” with initial training of salespeople but Kotsur suggests the app is intuitive enough that sales people “normally adopt it in a matter of days”.)

“Conversion increases due to more effective sales people who do not waste time walking away from a customer, can confidently offer alternative if something is not available, or can show all options via catalogue,” she continues. “Basket size increases due to cross-sell and styling suggestions. Omni-channel sales means new online orders directly from stores or e-commerce purchase by a customer after receiving a follow up email post store visit.

“Our most recent UK customer Karen Millen, realised +9% store sales increase in less than 3 months.”

Deployment time for integrating the platform varies depending on the retailer. Kotsur says it can take up to a month to integrate with systems, plus another couple of weeks for retail prep. So it “normally” takes clients between one to two months to go live, although rolling the platform out across all stores can take “between a month and a year” — depending on the number of stores and infrastructure readiness.

Mercaux has more than 15 customers at this stage, across markets including the UK, continental Europe, LatAm and Russia.

Other current customers include the likes of French Connection, United Colors of Benetton, Nike and Under Armour, and it says its platform is being used more than 100,000 times per day in more than 250+ stores around the world. 

Fashion remains the company’s largest segment but Kotsur says the platform can operate in any retail vertical that requires “service selling” (or where sales people are expected to have “at least basic product knowledge”), and is looking to grow usage in other verticals.

“Currently we work with Apparel & Fashion, Sports, Department stores, Cosmetics, and even Alcohol segments,” she says, adding: “We are planning to expand to Home & Furniture as well as Electronics over the next few months.”

The Series A funding will be used to drive growth in existing and new markets, as well as being put into R&D to further develop the platform.

On the competition front, Kotsur names Canada based Tulip Retail and US PredictSpring as also addressing similar challenges around digital transformation but she suggests a modular approach and attention to analytics is helping it stand out.

“Mercaux approach is different as not only our in-store solution is modular and easily configurable, which means faster integration and more flexibility for our clients, but we also provide a powerful tool for Head Office teams that allows them to get in-store analytics, control stores performance and execution, and allows real-time connection between stores and retail management teams.”

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Carles Ferrer, Nauta Capital’s London-based general partner — who now joins Mercaux’s board — added: “We have been fans of Olga and Mercaux over the past years, as they have achieved a fantastic commercial traction by tackling a large industry in need of a transformative digital disruption. Within our broader software approach, we have developed a very strong thesis around the massive transformation the retail industry is currently facing.

“Having led several deals within this space — both in the offline retail tech market and in the online-enabled technology retail vertical — we are building another fundamental block that supports our broader view of the space with Olga and Mercaux’s value proposition.”

Categories: Business News

Poynt raises $100M for its smart payment terminal

2018, November 13 - 10:30pm

Elavon, a U.S. Bank-owned payment processing company, and National Australia Bank have participated in the $100 million Series C for Poynt, a developer of smart payment terminals and an open operating system that powers any payment terminal worldwide.

Palo Alto-based Poynt was launched in 2014 by Osama Bedier, the former vice president of Wallet and Payments at Google. Prior to joining Google in 2011, Bedier had been the head of platform, mobile and new ventures at PayPal.

In four years, Poynt has brought in a total of $133 million from backers such as Google Ventures, Matrix Partners, Oak HC/FT, Webb Investment Network and Nyca Partners. In the last 16 months, it has shipped some 150,000 terminals. The company says total payment volume will exceed $25 billion in the next year.

“Our vision is to transform retail by becoming that innovation platform for payment terminals everywhere,” Bedier wrote in a statement. “We give developers a technical canvas to build the experiences merchants and their customers have come to expect and ultimately, make visiting your local store the personal experience it was always meant to be.”

With the investment, Poynt plans to bring its technology to Asia, Europe and South America.

LendingTree is the secret success story of fintech

Categories: Business News

“Rent tech” focused RET closes first fund; pours $5M into management platform SmartRent

2018, November 13 - 10:00pm

Today, Real Estate Technology Ventures (RET) Ventures announced the final close of $108 million for its first fund.  RET focuses on early-stage investments in companies that are primarily looking to disrupt the North American multifamily rental industry, with the firm boasting a roster of LPs made up of some of the largest property owners and operators in the multifamily space.

RET is one of the latest in a rising number of venture firms focused on the real-estate sector, which by many accounts, has yet to experience significant innovation or technological disruption. 

The firm was founded in 2017 by managing director, John Helm, who possesses an extensive background as an operator and investor in both real estate and real estate technology.  Helm’s real-estate journey began with a position right out of college and eventually led him to the commercial brokerage giant Marcus Millichap, where he worked as CFO before leaving to build two venture-backed real estate technology companies.  After successfully selling both companies, Helm worked as a Venture Partner at Germany-based DN Capital, where he invested in companies such as PurpleBricks and Auto1. 

Speaking with investors and past customers, John realized that there was a need for a venture fund specifically focused on the multifamily rental sector.  RET points out that while multifamily properties have traditionally fallen under the commercial real estate umbrella, operators are forced to deal with a wide set of idiosyncratic dynamics unique to the vertical.  In fact, outside of a select group, most of the companies and real estate investment trusts that invest in multifamily tend to invest strictly within the sector.

Now, RET has partnered with leading multifamily owners to help identify innovative startups that can help the LPs better run their portfolios, which account for nearly a million units across the country in aggregate.  With its deep sector expertise and its impressive LP list, RET believes it can bring tremendous value to entrepreneurs by providing access to some of the largest property owners in the US, effectively shortening a notoriously lengthy sales cycle and making it much easier to scale.

Photo: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock

One of the first companies reaping the benefits of RET’s deep ties to the real estate industry is SmartRent, the startup providing a property analytics and automation platform for multifamily property managers and renters.  Today, SmartRent announced it had closed $5 million in series A financing, with seed investor RET providing the entire round. 

SmartRent essentially provides property managers with many of the smart home capabilities that have primarily been offered to consumers to date, making it easier for them to monitor units remotely, avoid costly damages and streamline operations, all while hopefully enhancing the resident experience through all-in-one home controls.

By combining connected devices with its web and mobile platform, SmartRent hopes to provide tools that can help identify leaks or faulty equipment, eliminate energy waste, and provide remote access control for door locks.  The functions provided by SmartRent are particularly valuable when managing vacant units, in which leaks or unnecessary energy consumption can often go unnoticed, leading to multimillion-dollar damage claims or inflated utility bills. SmartRent also attempts to enhance the leasing process for vacant units by pre-screening potential renters that apply online and allowing qualified applicants to view the unit on their own without a 3rd party sales agent.

Just like RET, SmartRent is the brainchild of accomplished real-estate industry vets. Founder and CEO, Lucas Haldeman, was still the CTO of Colony Starwood’s single-family portfolio when he first rolled out an early version of the platform in around 26,000 homes.  Haldeman quickly realized how powerful the software was for property managers and decided to leave his C-suite position at the publicly-traded REIT to found SmartRent.

According to RET, the strong industry pedigree of the founding team was one of the main drivers behind its initial investment in SmartRent and is one of the main differentiators between the company and its competitors.

With RET providing access to its leading multifamily owner LPs, SmartRent has been able to execute on a strong growth trajectory so far, with the company on pace to complete 15,000 installations by the end of the year and an additional 35,000 apartments committed for 2019.  And SmartRent seems to have a long runway ahead.  The platform can be implemented in any type of rental property, from retrofit homes to high rises, and has only penetrated a small portion of the nearly one million units owned by RET’s LPs alone.

SmartRent has now raised $10 million to date and hopes to use this latest round of funding to ramp growth by broadening its sales and marketing efforts.  Longer-term, SmartRent hopes to permeate throughout the entire multifamily industry while continuing to improve and iterate on its platform.

“We’re so early on and we’ve made great progress, but we want to make deep penetration into this industry,” said Haldeman.  “There are millions of apartment units and we want to be over 100,000 by year one, and over a million units by year three.  At the same time, we’re continuing to enhance our offering and we’re focused on growing and expanding.”

As for RET Ventures, the firm hopes the compelling value proposition of its deep LP and industry network can help RET become the go-to venture firm startups looking to disrupt the real estate rental sector.

Categories: Business News

Calm heads to the airport, invests $3 million in XpresSpa

2018, November 13 - 9:30pm

Wellness app Calm has today announced a $3 million equity investment in XpresSpa Group, a fast-spa service you may have noticed in your local airport. Calm sees the investment as a way to expand its offline presence, growing awareness of the app as well as its retail products like Sleep Mist and the Calm Book.

Calm subscribers will have access to a variety of in-store benefits and treatments at one of 52 XpresSpa locations in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

As investor and general interest around mental health and wellness grows, Calm has carved out its slice of the pie. The company has raised $28.5 million from investors Insight Venture Partners and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, with a $250 million valuation.

The app is, for all intents and purposes, a content hub for folks looking to bring more calm into their life. This can range from in-the-moment meditation sessions to tracks to help you sleep. The company has also introduced a music hub and a video hub for “mindful movement and gentle stretching.”

A Calm subscription costs $69.99/year. The app has 36 million users, with more than 1 million paid users.

“The greatest challenge (and opportunity) for Calm is waking people up to mental fitness,” said Dun Wang, VP of Product & Growth, in an email. “It’s becoming more and more common now, but it’s definitely been a challenge for us. We have a massive poster of a 1970s People Magazine cover in our office. Farrah Fawcett is on the cover in this crazy 70s workout get up and the cover reads “the craze of jogging.” Mental fitness is growing in both importance and popularity, similarly to physical fitness in the 70s.”

Here’s what cofounder and co-CEO Michael Acton Smith had to say in a prepared statement:

The need for mental fitness in our stressed, fast-paced world is clear, and we’ve already seen a tremendous increase in our digital user base, growing 110% percent in downloads this year. By partnering with XpresSpa, we’re expanding beyond our core app offering to reach more offline consumers, and dialing in on a common consumer pain point: traveler stress.

With the XpresSpa partnership, Calm can capitalize on the stress of travel, not only converting people over to the app but doing so at a time when the user is likely to engage.

Categories: Business News

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