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As meal-kit melee stretches on, Sun Basket whips up $30M Series E

2019, May 22 - 2:13am

Sun Basket, a provider of a healthy meal kit delivery service, has raised another $30 million in venture capital funding. The round, led by PivotNorth Capital, brings the company’s total raised to $125 million.

The Series E funding delays Sun Basket’s expected initial public offering once again. There’s been unsubstantiated talk of a Sun Basket float for quite some time; in fact, before Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, a pair of fellow meal-kit delivery businesses, completed IPOs, Sun Basket was the subject of exit rumors. Alas, we will have to wait a while longer before the company makes the big leap.

After all, Blue Apron has performed very poorly since going public on the New York Stock Exchange two years ago. Sun Basket chief executive Adam Zbar has been honest about the difficulties of running a meal-kit startup in a post-Blue Apron IPO universe, telling PitchBook his company’s Series D round “was by far the most challenging fundraise” in its history.

Sun Basket, headquartered in San Francisco, was founded in 2014 by Webby Award winner Zbar and award-winning chef Justine Kelly . The company delivers fresh, organic and sustainable ingredients to customers, setting itself apart from the large number of meal-kit providers active in the U.S. Its latest infusion of capital will be used to expand their offerings to include breakfast, lunch and dinner “personalized for any lifestyle.”

“We’re thrilled to have the strong support of our investors who share our vision for building the leading personalized healthy eating platform,” Zbar said in a statement. “Food is a $1T market ripe for online disruption, and Sun Basket will continue to innovate, focusing on our customers’ top three needs: health, ease, and personalization.”

Sun Basket says it’s growing fast. In its funding announcement, the business cited a compound annual growth rate of 80% over the last three years with “the best unit economics in the space.” Sapphire Ventures, August Capital, Founders Circle, Unilever Ventures, Baseline Ventures, Relevance Capital, Accolade Partners and Correlation Ventures have also participated in the round.

Despite known issues in the space, a tough path to profitability and high-profile failures (see After raising $125M, Munchery fails to deliver), venture capital investors continue to make deals in the meal-kit/ food-delivery space. From large financings like DoorDash’s $400 million Series F to GrubMarket’s recent $25 million deal, food startups continue to attract investment.

GrubMarket raises $25M more for its farm-to-table food delivery service

Categories: Business News

Pro gamer Tfue files lawsuit against esports org over ‘grossly oppressive’ contract

2019, May 22 - 1:48am

Turner ‘Tfue’ Tenney, one of the world’s premier streamers and esports pros, has filed a lawsuit against esports organization Faze Clan over a ‘grossly oppressive, onerous and one-sided’ contract, according to THR.

The complaint alleges that Faze Clan’s Gamer Agreement relegates up to 80 percent of the streamer’s earnings from branded content (sponsored videos) to Faze Clan, and that the contract hinders Tfue from pursuing and earning money from sponsorship deals that Faze Clan hasn’t approved.

Tfue’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman of Freedman + Taitelman, took the complaint to the California Labor Commissioner with issues that span far beyond financial contracts. Freedman wrote that Faze Clan takes advantage of young artists and actually jeopardizes their health and safety, noting an incident where Tfue was allegedly pressured to skateboard in a video and injured his arm. Freedman also wrote that Faze Clan pressured Tfue to live in one of its homes where he was given alcohol before being 21 years old and encouraged to illegally gamble.

From the complaint:

In one instance, Tenney suffered an injury (a deep wound that likely required stitches) which resulted in permanent disfigurement. Faze Clan also encourages underage drinking and gambling in Faze Clan’s so-called Clout House and FaZe House , where Faze Clan talent live and frequently party. It is also widely publicized that Faze Clan has attempted to exploit at least one artist who is a minor.

Faze Clan issued the following statement on Twitter following the news:

A follow-up from FaZe Clan on today's unfortunate situation. pic.twitter.com/qm6sK8v88B

— FaZe Clan (@FaZeClan) May 21, 2019

Faze Clan claims that it has taken no more than 20 percent of Tfue’s earnings from sponsored content, which amounts to a total of $60,000. The owner of Faze Clan, Ricky Banks, took to Twitter to make his case, showing the incredible growth of Tfue’s popularity across Twitch and YouTube since signing with Faze Clan.

I recruited Tfue to FaZe Clan in April of 2018. These are graphs from both his YouTube & Twitch channels following the mark of our relationship. pic.twitter.com/c7m3QwsoTZ

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

As it stands now, Tfue boasts more than 120 million views on Twitch, more than 10 million YouTube subscribers, and 5.5 million followers on Instagram.

Banks also reiterated Faze Clan’s official statement saying that the company has taken 20 percent of Tfue’s earnings from branded deals, totaling $60,000.

OK LAST TWEET – To clarify Turners contract does outline splits in prizes, ad revenue, stuff like that. But again we've collected absolutely none of it with no plans to and that was very clear to him. We have collected a total of $60,000 from 300k in brand deals (20%). That's it

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

The Tfue claim, however, seems to take issue with the content of the agreement, not necessarily its execution, and the general legality of these types of gamer agreements across the esports landscape. Moreover, the complaint alleges that Tfue lost potential earnings due to his agreement with Faze Clan and their own conflicts of interest with various brands interested in a sponsorship.

Categories: Business News

What does ‘regulating Facebook’ mean? Here’s an example

2019, May 22 - 1:05am

Many officials claim that governments should regulate Facebook and other social platforms, but few describe what it actually means. A few days ago, France released a report that outlines what France — and maybe the European Union — plans to do when it comes to content moderation.

It’s an insightful 34-page document with a nuanced take on toxic content and how to deal with it. There are some brand new ideas in the report that are worth exploring. Instead of moderating content directly, the regulator in charge of social networks would tell Facebook and other social networks a list of objectives. For instance, if a racist photo goes viral and is distributed to 5 percent of monthly active users in France, you could consider that the social network has failed to fulfill its obligations.

This isn’t just wishful thinking as the regulator would be able to fine the company up to 4 percent of the company’s global annual turnover in case of a systemic failure to moderate toxic content.

The government plans to turn the report into new pieces of regulation in the coming months. France doesn’t plan to stop there. It is already lobbying other countries (in Europe, the Group of 7 nations and beyond) so that they could all come up with cross-border regulation and have a real impact on moderation processes. So let’s dive into the future of social network regulation.

Facebook first opened its doors

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April 2018, it felt like regulation was inevitable. And the company itself has been aware of this for a while.

Categories: Business News

Raisin rides into the U.S. with its savings and investment marketplace

2019, May 22 - 1:00am

Raisin, the pan-European fintech marketplace for savings and investment products, is headed to the U.S., announcing plans to roll out a similar offering across the pond.

The German company, which is backed by the likes of PayPal, Index Ventures, Ribbit Capital and Thrive Capital, wants to bring greater competition and easier savings and deposit account opening to U.S. customers. The deposits market in the U.S. is said to be $12.7 trillion, and yet Raisin claims most Americans could be getting a much better return on their savings.

Despite the U.S. Federal Reserve raising interest rates and most consumers having ample opportunities to optimise their savings in theory, Raisin says shopping around for a competitive savings rate often involves too many hurdles for many American to bother. This includes finding out where good rates are available, assessing the quality of offers and in some instances switching from your existing primary bank.

In contrast, Raisin’s marketplace model claims to addresses theses issues by making the range of offers transparent, whilst also creating a convenient and simple way to access the best rates on the market. Part of its remedy is that only have to sign up to Raisin once, including regulatory checks, in order to access any of the offers from partner banks on its platform.

To kick off the new U.S. expansion, Raisin has hired Paul Knodel as U.S. CEO. Boasting twenty years financial industry experience, prior to joining Raisin he held executive and senior management positions at Citigroup and Merrill Lynch as well as TD Ameritrade, E-Trade and robo-advisor Wealthfront. Most recently Knodel led Wealthfront’s extension of its product suite into cash savings.

In addition, Raisin’s American expansion is being supported by the German government’s U.S.-based “German Accelerator” program. Each year 12 of Germany’s most promising startups are selected with the aim of helping them break into America.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Raisin says it has more than 175,000 customers who have invested almost €13 billion into Raisin marketplace deposits. This year has also seen the fintech company acquire Germany’s MHB Bank, and close €100 million in Series D investment.

Categories: Business News

Who helped your startup grow? Nominate a growth marketing agency.

2019, May 22 - 12:00am

Growth marketing is critical to a startup’s survival, but it’s not always clear how to successfully pull it off. How do you jump the chasm from one to 10 million customers? Should you recruit an in-house growth team or hire an agency? How do you actually get content marketing to work? How much money should you spend before writing off or doubling down on a marketing channel? What does it take to build an extraordinary team at every stage of your startup?

There isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to growth, but we are tapping some of the most brilliant minds in growth marketing to share their experiences and advice to entrepreneurs.

Last month, we launched an initiative to find the industry’s best growth marketing agencies, and since then entrepreneurs from all around the world have submitted their nominations.

If you haven’t already, take two minutes to nominate a growth marketing agency that has helped your company scale and reach its target customers.

We’re zeroing in on a short list of top firms, and we’ll begin publishing their profiles in the next few weeks, but founder recommendations, like yours, help determine who we feature.

Similar to our work with startup lawyers and brand designers, our goal is to make it easier and faster for entrepreneurs to find the right service provider, but without real and relevant founder recommendations, we can’t accomplish our mission. Growth is the latest iteration of Verified Experts (with more to come).

Help us support early-stage startups by nominating a growth marketing agency you’ve worked with.

Have any questions? Email ec_editors@techcrunch.com

Categories: Business News

FlareAgent, a platform that automates real estate transactions, launches out of YC

2019, May 21 - 11:32pm

The real estate industry is experiencing a bit of a rejuvenation. After years resisting the influence of tech, the industry is now feeling the entrance of e-buyers, as well as a variety of software to streamline the process. One such tech company looking to infiltrate real estate is FlareAgent, which launches today out of Y Combinator.

FlareAgent was founded by Abhi CVK and Rashid Aziz. The duo, who just graduated out of NYU, first built FlareAgent when Rashid’s dad, a real estate agent, was asked by his boss (Mr. Brown) about finding software that might speed up the process of completing a transaction.

Abhi and Rashid built something that ended up helping grow the real estate firm from 20 deals per month to more than 100 deals/month. How?

FlareAgent lets all parties collaborate on a transaction from the comfort of their own home or office. From purchase offers to escrow documents to the closing agreement, FlareAgent allows brokers and clients to view and interact with various documents to speed up the time to close.

This used to be done manually by brokers, who’d have to fax or mail or hand-deliver documents to and from various parties in the transaction. If changes take place to the paperwork, this process may start over from scratch.

With FlareAgent, all the time spent changing and sharing documents manually can be done online.

To be clear, a transaction doesn’t actually go through FlareAgent. In other words, the money changing hands from buyer to seller doesn’t flow through the FlareAgent platform. But all the documents that need to be reviewed, amended and signed can be handled on FlareAgent.

To make money, the company charges a monthly subscription to brokers using the platform.

Thus far, FlareAgent says it has around 100 active agents on the platform and has processed more than 2,500 transactions (worth $550 million in property value) since its inception.

Categories: Business News

People.ai, the predictive sales startup, raises $60M at around $500M valuation

2019, May 21 - 10:24pm

The best salespeople like to pride themselves on having both a sixth sense when it comes to closing a deal, and a healthy amount of persuasive magic to get a sale over the line. Now, a startup that says it can help any salesperson be like those top people, and help those top people be even better, has raised a large round of funding to take its own company to the next level.

People.ai, which has built a platform to ingest all the data that salespeople generate in the course of their work, and then use it to provide guidance to them to help source and close more deals, is today announcing that it has raised another $60 million in funding, which it will use to continue growing the business and building partnerships with new channels, such as system integrators to target bigger enterprises.

Alongside this, it is also launching a new product that it calls “The Wire” — a feed of insights that salespeople can access to find leads, pick up tips on how to approach them and ultimately to sell to them.

“Some people say it’s what LinkedIn should have been,” Oleg Rogynskyy, People.ai’s founder and CEO, said in an interview. It helps, he said with a little laugh, that People.ai had managed to recruit David Flink to lead up project management at the startup. Flink joined earlier this year, having worked for nearly three years at LinkedIn on areas like search and discovery. 

The startup is not disclosing its valuation, but sources tell us it is around $500 million — specifically in the “mid-nine-figures.” The big number is partly the result of the startup’s strong growth so far: It has already ingested 350 million sales activities, 40 million contacts, a sales pipeline of $300 billion and $100 billion in closed and won deals. Its revenues have been growing 5X year-over-year, with customers squarely so far in the tech camp that surrounds the San Francisco-based startup. They include Red Hat, Lyft, Zoom, New Relic and Splunk.

This latest round is being led by Iconiq, the VC that includes the family office of Marc and Priscilla Zuckerberg, among others, with participation from previous investors Andreessen Horowitz (which led its previous round just seven months ago), Lightspeed Venture Partners, GGV Capital and Y Combinator (where it was in a cohort in 2016).

There have been a number of startups and tech giants (Oracle and Microsoft being just two) that have been applying AI mechanics to the world of sales — specifically to help improve one aspect or another of the process. Startups range from those that use Robotic Process Automation to do some of the mundane work around data entry, to those that analyse conversations to parse them for clues to help close deals, to those that offer predictive analytics and those that are using AI to replicate sales agents altogether.

People.ai’s approach, says Rogynskyy, is not to replace salespeople but to “supercharge” the teams by using AI to ingest “high-value, low-volume activity.” Sitting in the background, requiring no active input from the user, it picks up all the “exhaust” produced in the process of a day, and uses it to produce cheat sheets to salespeople so that they can use them when speaking to clients to help them close deals, providing interesting insights, relevant facts and other details.

That is now going to be augmented with The Wire, which takes some cues from social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, providing a stream of information to the viewer, and tapping into the concept of “graphs” to source names of people and information that is most relevant to the viewer (without the ads, of course).

Rogynskyy points out that his company currently has more than 65 patents (secured and in progress) on intelligent matching, and the plan longer term will be to take the sales model and apply it to a wider range of industry verticals. These are likely to include areas like real estate, financial services and recruitment (areas where the product is already being used in smaller use cases, he noted). 

“This model is applicable to any area where you are building external, complex relationships at scale,” he said.

Categories: Business News

Future Family launches a $200 membership for fertility coaching

2019, May 21 - 10:10pm

Future Family is a startup aiming to make fertility services like IVF and egg freezing more accessible. They work with doctors and clinics to make the pricing of these services more predictable and upfront, then offer monthly payment plans to help customers spread the cost (often in the tens of thousands of dollars) over a few years.

In its recent user research, Future Family found that around 70% of their new customers had yet to see a fertility doctor; they were starting the process online, often without the next steps mapped out. With that in mind, today they’re rolling out a new membership plan that offers users a dedicated fertility coach, and helps them find a doctor in their area.

The membership will cost $200, which gets you:

  • Two and a half hours with a dedicated fertility coach, who will video chat with you on your schedule and platform of choice to help you figure out what’s next. Future Family CEO Claire Tomkins tells me their coaches are all registered nurses with clinical fertility experience, many of whom the company recruited from top U.S. clinics. The coach can help you figure out the first steps, prep you to meet with your doctor and help you understand your lab results.
  • Recommendations on doctors/clinics in your area, based on things like distance, cost and your personal preferences, like the doctor’s gender and whether they’re part of a large hospital or a smaller clinic.
  • Upfront service pricing; as Future Family already works with these doctors, they’re able to tell you how much it’ll all cost before you dive in.

The membership will also offer a way for members to sign up for one of Future Family’s financing plans — but Claire Tomkins tells me that there’s no lock in. If a customer does the video coaching and doctor matching and already has the payment side of things figured out, the promised prices will all still apply.

The new membership program will go live today.

Categories: Business News

Kard is a challenger bank for teens

2019, May 21 - 10:03pm

Meet French startup Kard, a challenger bank that works a lot like N26 or Revolut. But Kard is all about convincing teens that their first bank account is going to be a Kard account — a bit like Step in the U.S.

When I talked with Kard co-founder and CEO Scott Gordon, he kept saying that Kard was a product for the generation Z. While I’m not a fan of that buzzword, it still looks like a well-designed app with some personality.

“Gen Z is a generation that has been forgotten by traditional banks,” Gordon said. “70 percent of their transactions are digital transactions,” he added later. Many teenagers borrow their parents’ card for those expenses.

Kard wants to empower teens with their own bank account, their own IBAN and their own Mastercard debit card. Instead of controlling every expense, parents can just top up the Kard account and let their child spend it however they want — you can top up with a bank transfer or using another card — just like in Revolut. Opening an account is free.

Like other electronic wallet apps, opening a Kard account is much simpler than opening a traditional bank account in France. You can sign up in a few minutes from your phone and confirm your identity later by sending a photo of your ID, etc.

After that, you get an account that you control from a mobile app. You can block and unblock the card, see transactions, send and receive money in real time with other Kard users. It ticks all the right boxes that you’ve come to expect if you have a bank account from a challenger bank.

In a couple of months, you’ll also be able to create money pots, round up your transactions to save some money, donate money to nonprofits, etc.

Kard is also borrowing a few ideas from Venmo. Users will be able to share expenses with their group of friends in the Kard app. Many teens already share a photo of their brand new sneakers on Snapchat for instance. Kard wants you to use their own app for this kind of content.

The startup raised $3.4 million (€3 million) back in January from Kima Ventures, Jean-Pascal Beaufret, Jambu Palaniappan, Francis Nappez, Julien Lemoine, Jason Dorsey and David Amsellem.

While the service is not live yet, you can sign up to the waiting list on the company’s website. Kard’s positioning is interesting. The startup doesn’t need to convince people to open yet another bank account — the company is tapping an endless funnel of new users by focusing on teens.

Like all startups focused on teens, it faces a dilemma. It has to retain its users as their needs become more complex and attract new teens as the product becomes more complex.

Categories: Business News

Payment card startup Marqeta confirms $260M round at close to $2B valuation

2019, May 21 - 9:59pm

Startups that are disrupting and unlocking the lucrative world of financial services continue to unlock big funding rounds for themselves.

Today, Marqeta — which helps third parties like Square, Affirm, DoorDash, Kabbage and Instacart build and offer card services to their customers — announced that it has raised a Series E of $260 million led by Coatue Management.

Marqeta plans to use this growth round to continue building out its platform with an emphasis on global expansion, founder and CEO Jason Gardner said in an interview. He added that the funding values the startup at close to $2 billion.

While the company is not yet profitable, it’s growing fast: Gardner said Marqeta has doubled revenues each year for the last three years, and he expects that the next step for the nine-year-old company is likely an IPO in the next 18 months.

The news today confirms our scoop about the funding two months ago. (When it was still raising, the total was $250 million.)

In addition to Coatue, other new investors include Vitruvian Partners, Spark Capital, Lone Pine and Geodesic, with participation from several of Marqeta’s existing investors: Visa, ICONIQ, Goldman Sachs, 83North, Granite Ventures, CommerzVentures and CreditEase.

“We’re incredibly excited to be partnering with Marqeta,” said Kris Fredrickson, partner at Coatue Management, in a statement. “We believe that the company has a world class team, industry leading technology, and the ability to bring about profound change in card issuing and the global payments infrastructure. The company’s momentum over the last several years is a testament to the team’s hard work and the scale of the opportunity at hand.”

The growth of the internet and the use of smartphones for e-commerce has had a big impact on financial transactions: fewer people and businesses are paying and getting paid in cash, and card usage — both physical and virtual — is on the rise. Citing research from Edgar, Dunn & Company, Marqeta estimates the volume of the card issuing industry — that is, transactions made via cards — to be worth around $45 trillion.

“Visa and Mastercard have interconnected every single merchant that accepts cards, and that is still growing significantly,” Gardner said, but that expansion is coming at the same time that banks have been pricey and slow to move to accommodate the long tail of new opportunities for payment services. That is the opportunity that Marqeta is seizing, by providing quick and flexible options to any kind of commerce company that wants to make the move into issuing cards to its customers, along with supporting services around them such as payment reconciliations, real-time fund transfers and customer interactive voice response services. Gardner notes that while credit remains king, alternatives like debit and virtual cards are growing the fastest.

On the international front, the company opened an office in London recently to start to capitalise on building more inroads to providing card-related services to so-called “challenger banks” (examples include N26, Monese, Starling and Revolut) that have emerged with lower fees and app-friendly interfaces to tap into a growing base of younger working people, and older consumers who have grown tired of bank fees and poor options to move their money digitally.

A recent report from Accenture, cited by Reuters, noted that challenger banks collectively now account for 14% of the banking market’s revenues in Europe, or €206 billion ($238 billion) compared to just 3.5% of the U.S. market (which is worth $1.04 trillion).

Further afield, Gardner said the company has its eye on Asia, where he says growth in the past year has been “stagnant,” largely because its a “cash-centric culture.” However, government efforts to bring more transactions into the digital 21st century will lead to about 30% growth next year — an opportunity Gardner said Marqeta will want to try to cash in on.

Categories: Business News

Generation closes $1B growth fund targeting sustainable startups

2019, May 21 - 9:00pm

Generation Investment Management, the firm co-founded by environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore, was built on the premise of backing sustainable startups. Now, as the idea of sustainability starts to gain wider traction, the firm is doubling down on the concept.

Today, Generation is announcing that it has closed a $1 billion Sustainable Solutions Fund for growth investments. As the name implies, it plans to put the $1 billion to work backing later-stage startups that work on sustainability in at least one of three areas — environmental solutions; healthcare; and financial inclusion, including the future of work — and are creating financially sustainable businesses out of that focus.

Typical investments will range from $50 million to $150 million, and there have already been two made out of the fund before it closed, both indicative of the kinds of investments Generation plans to be making.

Andela — the startup that pairs companies needing engineering talent to work on projects with developers based out of Africa — in January announced a $100 million round. Also that month, Sophia Genetics — the company that applies AI to DNA sequencing to help formulate more accurate medical treatments — raised $77 million led by the firm.

Other companies that Generation has backed include Asana, DocuSign, gogoro, CiBO, M-Kopa, Ocado, Optoro and Seventh Generation.

This is Generation’s third growth fund and the largest raised by the firm to date, which itself is a sign of the swing we’ve seen in the tech world.

In general, founders, workers and investors all remain relentlessly focused on growing new ideas. But along with that there has been a rising conscientiousness of the massive role that tech plays in shaping the world, and so some are now trying to make more of an effort to use that for more meaningful outcomes.

“You are seeing how sustainability is attracting high performing entrepreneurs,” said Lilly Wollman, partner and co-head of the Growth Equity platform, in an interview. “They care about the mission, and that is also driving financial performance.”

“We believe that we are at the early stages of a technology-led sustainability revolution,” said Al Gore, Chairman and Co-Founder, in a statement, “which has the scale of the industrial revolution, and the pace of the digital revolution.”

In the case of Generation, it’s also an indication that the firm — which has $22 billion under management today — is providing impressive enough returns on its mission to drive more interest from LPs to grow the commitment to back it.

“There is a recognition of this momentum,” added Lila Preston, a Partner who is the growth platform’s co-head, of the 15 years the firm has already spent on this concept and the work it’s put into it. “We see this as a movement, but one with a roadmap based on research and understanding.”

It’s also notable to me that the two people leading the growth team are women. Wollman noted that 60 percent of the Generation team is female, with the employee base spanning eight nationalities. “The firm believes more diversity leads to better outcomes,” she said.

Consumers are also playing a big role. Of all the good, bad and ugly that have been wrought by the rise of social media, one of the positives has been how social platforms have been used to raise awareness of issues such as climate change and inclusion. We may be getting into more online fights with our distant cousins (and closer friends and relatives), and sometimes issues like trying to curtail emissions gasses seems like an insurmountable challenge. But some will also use what they read about and watch online as inspiration to try to make a change.

“One of the things that is so interesting in this moment is at we are at an inflection point,” said Wollman. “Sustainability is winning on economics alone. You see sustainable products and solutions that are both efficacious and cheap. People are buying electric vehicles not just because they are green, but because they are starting to become cheap enough, and provide better performance.”

That’s bringing in a new wave of investors to the mix, and it’s interesting to see how some more conventional investors are even starting to take a bigger step into making mission-driven investment decisions. (Just yesterday, in the UK, Balderton co-led a large round for Wagestream, a startup aimed at helping promote financial inclusion by creating a way to easily and cheaply draw down money from monthly paychecks. Generation hinted that it too might be making an investment in a startup working in a similar area in the weeks to come.)

“It helps to have a set of coinvestors to ask questions related not only to ‘what are your growth metrics’ but ‘how does what you are doing affect the wider world,'” said Preston. “We are finding an increase of sophistication, which we think is positive recognition. Given the context of our shift, whether it’s a new economic model or climate change, we are going to need masses of capital to drive sustainable solutions and reframe what is successful.”

Categories: Business News

Ravin.ai raises $4M to use computer vision for vehicle damage inspections

2019, May 21 - 6:00pm

Ravin.ai, an Israel and U.K.-based startup developing AI to autonomously inspect vehicles for damage, has closed a $4 million seed round. The investment is led by Pico Venture Partners, with participation from Shell Ventures and “automotive entrepreneur” Adam Draizin. It marks Shell Ventures’ first Israel investment.

Founded in 2018 and based in Haifa and London, Ravin combines computer vision and deep learning to detect and analyse damage in vehicles via standard cameras, such as a smartphone or CCTV cameras. The startup is initially targeting car rental companies but also eyeing up other markets for its tech, including fleet companies within the shared mobility space, and used car marketplaces.

“We have all rented and bought used cars in our lives and there is always some discomfort associated with true car condition: Ravin’s mission is to create transparency around damage wherever vehicles operate or change hands,” Ravin co-founder and CEO Eliron Ekstein, who previously helped launch Shell’s digital business arm, tells me.

“Damage in vehicles is a massive problem, if you consider that vehicles get damaged almost every fice seconds. For the consumer it’s a big headache because you’re never really sure if the car you’re picking up for rental, or the one you just bought, has some kind of hidden damage. For car rental, dealers and insurance companies, this translates to losses of over $100 billion due to damage undetected in time, overestimated repairs and the overhead of dealing with claims. This problem will only get worse as more vehicles are shared and people buy their cars online”.

In contrast, Ekstein says Ravin provides the needed transparency to facilitate easier transactions. This is delivered via what he claims is an “objective” vehicle condition report generated via the startup’s AI using off-the-shelf cameras. Vehicles can be scanned via a mobile phone walk-around (similar to a panoramic view experience) or by driving through a set of CCTV cameras.

“From there we create a 360-degree view of the vehicle and expose any damages, and in many cases some underlying problems, reasons and repair action,” says Ekstein. “This leads to frictionless rental and sharing of vehicles and minimises unnecessary arguments as both sides know about the vehicle condition. It also helps car buyers verify a vehicle condition, and finally helps insurance companies validate claims quickly”.

More broadly, Ravin wants to provide an almost “Docusign-like” experience where people can hand cars over in confidence, which Ekstein says is really what the sharing economy is all about.

To that end, Ravin says it has commercial partners across the U.S. and Europe, including Avis’ Heathrow Airport location. It plans to use the new funding to further develop its technology products and to expand commercial reach across North America, Europe and Asia.

Categories: Business News

Quadric.io raises $15M to build a plug-and-play supercomputer for autonomous systems

2019, May 21 - 6:09am

Quadric.io, a startup founded by some of the folks behind the once-secretive bitcoin mining operation “21E6,” has raised $15 million in a Series A round that will fund the development of a supercomputer designed for autonomous systems.  

The round was led by automotive Tier 1 supplier DENSO and its semiconductor products arm NSITEXE, which will also be one of Quadric.io’s customers for future electronic systems in all levels of autonomous driving solutions. Leawood VC also participated in the Series A round.

The company says it will use the injection of capital to build out its product and hire more people, as well as business development.

Pear, Uncork Capital, SV Angel, Cota Capital and Trucks VC are seed investors in Quadric.io.

The roots of Quadric.io grew from a seemingly disconnected mission to produce an agricultural robot designed to transform the way vineyards were managed. The company launched in 2016 by CEO Veerbhan Kheterpal, CTO Nigel Drego and CPO Daniel Firu — all co-founders of 21 Inc. The bitcoin startup, once known as 21E6, would later rebrand as Earn.com before being acquired by Coinbase for $100 million.

Quadric’s original plan was stymied by some real-world fundamentals. The power-hungry ag robot was weighed down by batteries that became too unwieldy to move amongst vineyard rows and the processing time to turn loads of environmental data into actual actions based on algorithms were too slow.

Quadric was looking for a chip designed for processing on the edge and that supported decision making in real time — all while crunching data faster and sipping, not slurping power. That need grew into Quadric’s core product today: a supercomputer that the company says hits that sweet spot of increased computational speed and reduced power consumption.

Kheterpal noted in a recent post on Medium that Intel’s CPUs work “very well for standard computer processing” and Nvidia’s GPUs have “ushered in astounding new graphics processing for gaming and much more.” But, he argued, Quadric needed something neither of those companies could provide: a chip designed for processing on the edge.

The company created a single unified architecture in the supercomputer that enables high-performance computing and artificial intelligence. The supercomputer, which is built around the Quadric Processor, is plug-and-play. This means people can plug in their sensor set and build their entire application to support “near-instantaneous” decision making, Quadric says. The company claims that early testing of Quadric’s system has shown up to 100 times lower latency and a 90% reduction in power consumption. 

Quadric designed the instruction set, chip architecture and system architecture of the chip. System-level manufacturing is done at a contract manufacturer in Santa Clara, Calif., while chip manufacturing and assembly is done in Asia.

Quadric argues this underlying technology is a prerequisite for companies developing autonomous systems that will be used in the construction, transportation, agriculture and warehousing industries. The underlying tech that supports autonomous machines used in these industries either lacks the performance or solves only a small part of the full application, according to Quadric.

The startup contends that machines with autonomous functions require processing speed and responsiveness “on the edge” — meaning at the machine level, not in the cloud.   

Other companies, most recently Tesla, have opted to build their own chips to meet this specific need. But as Kheterpal notes, not all companies have the resources to build the tech from the ground up. 

“ Quadric is a plug and play option that eliminates the need for building heterogeneous systems with significant hardware and software integration costs — thereby taking years off of product development roadmaps,” Kheterpal wrote.

Categories: Business News

Talk key takeaways from KubeCon 2019 with TechCrunch writers

2019, May 21 - 5:00am

The Linux Foundation’s annual KubeCon conference is going down at the Fira Gran Via exhibition center in Barcelona, Spain this week and TechCrunch is on the scene covering all the latest announcements.

The KubeCon/CloudNativeCon conference is the world’s largest gathering for the topics of Kubernetes, DevOps and cloud-native applications. TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois and Ron Miller will be on the ground at the event. Wednesday at 9:00 am PT, Frederic and Ron will be sharing with Extra Crunch members via a conference call what they saw and what it all means.

Tune in to dig into what happened onstage and off and ask Frederic and Ron any and all things Kubernetes, open-source development or dev tools.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.

Categories: Business News

Instagram’s IGTV copies TikTok’s AI, Snapchat’s design

2019, May 21 - 4:49am

Instagram conquered Stories, but it’s losing the battle for the next video formats. TikTok is blowing up with an algorithmically suggested vertical one-at-a-time feed featuring videos of users remixing each other’s clips. Snapchat Discover’s 2 x infinity grid has grown into a canvas for multi-media magazines, themed video collections, and premium mobile TV shows.

Instagram’s IGTV…feels like a flop in comparison. Launched a year ago, it’s full of crudely cropped & imported viral trash from around the web. The long-form video hub that lives inside both a homescreen button in Instagram as well as a standalone app has failed to host lengthier must-see original vertical content. Sensor Tower estimates that the IGTV app has just 4.2 million installs worldwide with just 7,700 new ones per day — implying less than half a percent of Instagram’s billion-plus users have downloaded it. IGTV doesn’t rank on the overall charts and hangs low at #191 on the US – Photo & Video app charts according to App Annie.

Now Instagram has quietly overhauled the design of IGTV’s space inside its main app to crib what’s working from its two top competitors. The new design showed up in last week’s announcements for Instagram Explore’s new Shopping and IGTV discovery experiences. At the time, Instagram’s product lead on Explore Will Ruben told us that with the redesign, “the idea is this is more immersive and helps you to see the breadth of videos in IGTV rather than the horizontal scrolling interface that used to exist” but the company declined to answer follow-up questions about it.

IGTV has ditched its category-based navigation system’s tabs like “For You”, “Following”, “Popular”, and “Continue Watching” for just one central feed of algorithmically suggested videos — much like TikTok. This affords a more lean-back, ‘just show me something fun’ experience that relies on Instagram’s AI to analyze your behavior and recommend content instead of putting the burden of choice on the viewer.

IGTV has also ditched its awkward horizontal scrolling design that always kept a clip playing in the top half of the screen. Now you’ll scroll vertically through a 2 x infinity grid of recommended clips in a what looks just like Snapchat Discover feed. Once you get past a first video that auto-plays up top, you’ll find a full-screen grid of things to watch. You’ll only see the horizontal scroller in the standalone IGTV app, or if you tap into an IGTV video, and then tap the Browse button for finding a next clip while the last one plays up top.

Instagram seems to be trying to straddle the designs of its two competitors. The problem is that TikTok’s one-at-a-time feed works great for punchy, short videos that get right to the point. If you’re bored after 5 second you swipe to the next. IGTV’s focus on long-form means its videos might start too slowly to grab your attention if they were auto-played full-screen in the feed rather than being chosen by a viewer. But Snapchat makes the most of the two previews per row design IGTV has adopted because professional publishers take the time to make compelling cover thumbnail images promoting their content. IGTV’s focus on independent creators means fewer have labored to make great cover images, so viewers have to rely on a screenshot and caption.

Instagram is prototyping a number of other features to boost engagement across its app, as discovered by reverse engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Those include options to blast a direct message to all your Close Friends at once but in individual message threads, see a divider between notifications and likes you have or haven’t seen, or post a Chat sticker to Stories that lets friends join a group message thread about that content. And to better compete with TikTok, it may let you add lyrics stickers to Stories that appear word-by-word in sync with Instagram’s licensed music soundtrack feature, and share Music Stories to Facebook. What we haven’t seen is any cropping tool for IGTV that would help users reformat landscape videos. The vertical-only restriction keeps lots of great content stuck outside IGTV, or letterboxed with black, color-matched backgrounds, or meme-style captions with the video as just a tiny slice in the middle.

When I spoke with Instagram co-founder and ex-CEO Kevin Systrom last year a few months after IGTV’s launch, he told me “It’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time . . . Everything that is great starts small.”

But to grow large, IGTV needs to demonstrate how long-form portrait mode video can give us a deeper look at the nuances of the influencers and topics we care about. The company has rightfully prioritized other drives like safety and well-being with features that hide bullies and deter overuse. But my advice from August still stands despite all the ground Instagram has lost in the meantime. “Concentrate on teaching creators how to find what works on the format and incentivizing them with cash and traffic. Develop some must-see IGTV and stoke a viral blockbuster. Prove the gravity of extended, personality-driven vertical video.” Until the content is right, it won’t matter how IGTV surfaces it.

Categories: Business News

In-car commerce startup Cargo extends Uber partnership to Brazil

2019, May 21 - 4:48am

Cargo, the startup that brings the convenience store into ride-hailing vehicles, is making its first international expansion through an exclusive partnership with Uber in Brazil.

Uber drivers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will now be able to sign up for Cargo and potentially earn additional income by selling products to passengers during their ride.

Cargo, which launched in 2017, provides qualified ridesharing drivers with free boxes filled with the kinds of goods you might find in a convenience store, including snacks and phone chargers. Riders can use Cargo’s mobile web menu on their smartphones (without downloading an app) to buy what they need.

The expansion into Brazil includes a relationship with am/pm convenience stores. In Brazil, about 2,500 am/pm stores are operated and located in Ipiranga gas stations. Uber drivers that sign up with Cargo will collect their boxes of products at these stores.

The announcement is an extension of a partnership with Uber that began last July in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Cargo and Uber have added more U.S. cities to the partnership, including Boston, Miami, New York and Washington, D.C.

The move will give Cargo access to the more than 600,000 Uber drivers in Brazil. It also signals the beginning of what will be a broader global expansion for the company. Some 20,000 U.S. drivers have used the Cargo service. 

In October, Cargo announced it had raised $22 million in a Series A round led by Founders Fund. The Series A round included additional investment from Aquiline Technology Growth, Coatue Management and a number of high-profile entertainment, gaming and technology executives such as Zynga founder Mark Pincus, Twitch’s former CSO Colin Carrier, media investor Vivi Nevo, former NBA commissioner David Stern, Def Jam Records CEO Paul Rosenberg, Steve Aoki, Maria Shriver and Patrick and Christina Schwarzenegger.

To date, Cargo has raised $30 million in venture funding.

Categories: Business News

Graphic design platform Canva valued at $2.5B with new funds

2019, May 21 - 1:00am

Canva, an Australian-headquartered business, has raised another $70 million to expand its graphic design platform. The round, which values the company at a massive $2.5 billion, brings its total raised to $166 million.

General Catalyst and Bond, Mary Meeker’s debut venture capital fund, have participated in the funding alongside existing backers Felicis Ventures and Blackbird Capital. Canva becomes Meeker’s first Bond-specific portfolio company.

“The Canva team are building their platform around three trends – content, community and commerce – that we’ve been observing in some of the world’s fastest growing companies,” Meeker, an investor in Slack, Airbnb and more, said in a statement. “With its global user base of more than 15 million monthly active users, Canva is a clear leader providing a platform that empowers users to create compelling, data-rich visuals and gain design fluency through collaboration and feedback.”

The news comes mere days after the provider of design and publishing tools acquired the free stock image providers Pexels and Pixabay and launched a new subscription service for its premium image marketplace, Photos Unlimited. The new capital, however, will be used to fuel another new product, Canva Enterprise, which is tailored for larger brands and businesses seeking additional brand control and collaboration.

Founded in 2013, Canva counts 15 million users in 190 countries.

“We’ll be using this new funding to further cement Canva as the default tool in every workplace,” Canva co-founder and chief executive officer Melanie Perkins said in a statement. “We’ve seen incredible uptake from millions of people all around the world, with organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500s, using Canva every day.”

Australia’s design unicorn, Canva, picks up two free image-sharing services, and launches new photo product

Categories: Business News

MIT and US Air Force team up to launch AI accelerator

2019, May 21 - 12:38am

The Pentagon is one of the largest technology customers in the world, purchasing everything from F-35 planes (roughly $90 million each) to cloud services (the JEDI contract was $10 billion). Despite outlaying hundreds of billions of dollars for acquisitions though, the Defense Department has struggled to push nascent technologies from startups through its punishing procurement process.

The department launched the Defense Innovation Unit a few years back as a way to connect startups into the defense world. Now, the military has decided to work even earlier to ensure that the next generation of startups can equip the military with the latest technology.

Cambridge, Mass.-based MIT and the U.S. Air Force announced today they are teaming up to launch a new accelerator focused on artificial intelligence applications, with the Air Force committed to investing $15 million into roughly 10 MIT research projects per year. The accelerator will be called the MIT-Air Force AI Accelerator (clearly, the Pentagon hasn’t gotten better at naming things).

The accelerator will be housed on campus at MIT’s new computing college, which received a $1 billion commitment last year, including $350 million from Stephen A. Schwarzman. The college is expected to officially launch later this fall.

This will not be the Air Force’s first foray into accelerators. The service also built out an accelerator with Techstars that is directly targeted at solving the Air Force’s problems. It’s not yet clear whether the Techstars accelerator, which is also based in Boston, is being merged into the MIT accelerator or will remain a separate entity.

While MIT has had close relationships with the military going back decades, concerns have increased among some technologists about working on frontier tech like artificial intelligence and drones within a military context, especially an offensive military context. Last year, employees at Google blocked the tech giant from signing a cloud agreement with the Pentagon related to Project Maven, which would have applied AI and “algorithms” to battlefield applications.

In the announcement for this accelerator, MIT said that, “In addition to disaster relief and medical readiness, other possible research areas may include data management, maintenance and logistics, vehicle safety, and cyber resiliency.” It also highlighted that it hoped the projects entering the accelerator would be “addressing challenges that are important to both the Air Force and society more broadly.” Whether there are any limits on the types of projects that will be allowed on campus is not clear.

Categories: Business News

Why startups need to be careful about export licenses and the Huawei ban

2019, May 20 - 11:55pm

America is the land of free trade … precisely until it is not. Through a thicket of laws and regulations, the U.S. government has broad control over what can get exported to whom, particularly in areas with sensitive technology or national security concerns. In general, those restrictions are loose, which is why startups mostly haven’t had to think about export laws.

That open world is rapidly closing though, and startups could well be the most harmed given that they have limited resources to handle these sorts of bureaucratic processes and the potential large penalty fines.

Last week, President Trump signed an executive order requiring that the Department of Commerce initiate a review of regulations and enforcement practices to ensure that U.S. entities (people and companies) don’t provide “information and communications technology or services” to a “foreign adversary.” That term was read as describing China, although nothing in the order prevents its expansion to cover other countries in the future.

Categories: Business News

Identity platform Auth0 raises $103M, pushing its valuation over $1B

2019, May 20 - 10:00pm

Auth0, a 2013-founded identity and authentication platform, has pushed into unicorn territory with a $1 billion valuation after raising $103 million in its latest Series E round.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from K9 Ventures, Telstra Ventures and several others. In all, Auth0 total funding tops $210 million to date.

Auth0 — pronounced “auth-zero” — provides authentication-as-a-service to its corporate customers — or, to everyone else, a secure login system used to properly authenticate the identity of employees. Anyone working in a medium-to-large business will know the process all too well. Auth0 provides login and authentication systems for a bevy of device types — including Internet of Things devices — in a variety of formats, including single sign-on, multi-factor authentication and passwordless logins.

By securing the perimeter to a corporate network, the company says it can prevent data breaches from unauthorized logins and improper access.

The company touts more than 7,000 enterprise customers with more than 2.5 billion logins per month. It’s come a long way since its $2.4 million seed round in 2016.

Auth0 chief executive Eugenio Pace said its Series E was “validation” that the company is doing things right.

Clearly it is: It says customer growth and revenue has doubled year-over-year, and its employee numbers have increased by more than half in two years. Its latest Series D funding round that led its international expansion has seen offices also open in Buenos Aires, London and Sydney.

Auth0 said the Series E will help support the growth of its five international offices. Pace said he was “truly grateful” for his investors’ support.

Cybersecurity 101: Two-factor authentication can save you from hackers

Categories: Business News

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