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YC-backed Upsolve is automating bankruptcy for everyone

2019, January 16 - 11:01pm

The popular image of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy might be a large company like Enron failing, or maybe some lazy drifter trying to shirk their financial responsibilities. The reality is anything but those sorts of images. Today in America, the most common reason for bankruptcy is to discharge egregious sums of medical debt [1], which might have been incurred in a short stint in a hospital emergency room.

Bankruptcy allows people to get out from under a debilitating and permanent state of financial crisis — assuming one can afford it. Applying for bankruptcy itself costs money, potentially thousands of dollars depending on the attorney used. The cruel irony is that the people who can least afford to apply are those who are most locked out from the help they need.

Upsolve, one of the three nonprofit tech startups in Y Combinator’s current winter batch, is building a unified and efficient software product to allow users easy access to the bankruptcy system. Users go through a series of questions to collect the required information about their financial circumstances, then Upsolve provides automated bankruptcy forms reviewed by an Upsolve attorney — all for free.

“Our mission is to help the victims of our broken financial system,” Upsolve CEO and co-founder Rohan Pavuluri said to me. “If you are poor, you don’t have access to the same rights.” He describes Upsolve as “TurboTax for bankruptcy” (although to be clear, TurboTax is a for-profit business line of Intuit). Much like tax, bankruptcy is convoluted. “There are 23 forms to file for bankruptcy,” he said.

So far, the software platform seems to be finding traction. Since starting the org in summer of 2016 and launching their pilot in early 2018, Upsolve has processed $16 million in bankruptcies on behalf of 400 people and has diagnosed debt problems for 5,000 users during 2018, according to Pavuluri. We’re “automating a $40,000 check to these folks… for three hours’ worth of time.”

Unlike legal processes like estate planning, which are burdened with handling 50 different state processes, bankruptcy is based on federal law, which means that Upsolve’s solution can work across the country. Today, it supports 47 states, and the startup’s first target markets are New York and Illinois.

Where Upsolve gets really interesting is on the financial side, both in how it approaches revenues from users and also how it funds its operations.

On the revenue side, Upsolve is free. Inspired by GoFundMe and other startups, Pavuluri and his team have created a model where users donate “what they think is fair” for the service. That has worked so far, as “on a unit basis we cover our costs from the tipping model,” he said.

Over time, he hopes to break even using just the tipping model, but today the organization relies on legal aid funds to partially fund its operations. The U.S. government and many state governments have funding set aside to finance civil legal aid, and the Legal Services Corporation is the largest funder to date of Upsolve.

I asked about whether incumbent lawyers are threatened by Upsolve. Pavuluri said that most lawyers don’t want to handle these cases in the first place, because they are not profitable and generally need to be handled pro bono. He said that for simple Chapter 7 cases, you (almost certainly) don’t need a lawyer, and “we challenge legal exceptionalism in that sense.” He has spent the last two years criss-crossing the country meeting with bankruptcy groups, judges, bar associations and attorneys to undergird support for the startup’s work.

In addition to Y Combinator, Upsolve has been funded by Harvard University, the Robin Hood Foundation, Schmidt Futures (Eric Schmidt), Fast Forward and Breyer Labs.

[1] There is a large academic debate on how many bankruptcies are triggered by medical debt. The percentage varies hugely between different studies (from say 4 percent to 62 percent), and it really depends on how you define someone’s lead cause of bankruptcy. Most filers with medical debt also have other forms of debt, so what specifically triggered a bankruptcy? Due to stigma, filers will often point to medical debt when other forms of debt may be larger.

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Share your feedback on your startup’s attorney

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Stray thoughts (aka, what I am reading)

Short summaries and analysis of important news stories

Slack’s Financials are quite strong

Zoë Bernard and Alfred Lee at The Information have the scoop on Slack’s financials. Huge revenue growth of about 75 percent last year to $389 million. The challenge is that Slack’s valuation is still very heady given its revenues, and is currently valued at about an 18x multiple, according to the writers. That’s expensive, but perhaps still desirable by investors who are otherwise looking at a relatively bleak market of investment opportunities.

What’s next & obsessions
  • I am reading The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. About half way through — and it’s quite thought-provoking (and depressing).
  • Arman is reading Never Lost Again by Bill Kilday, a history of mapping at Google and beyond.
  • Arman and I are interested in societal resilience startups that are targeting areas like water security, housing, infrastructure, climate change, disaster response, etc. Reach out if you have ideas or companies here.
Categories: Business News

On-demand telehealth company Tyto Care adds Sanford Health, Itochu and Shenzhen Capital Group as strategic investors

2019, January 16 - 11:00pm

Tyto Care, a telehealth company that enables physicians to conduct on-demand remote exams, announced today that it has added $9 million to its Series C, bringing the round’s total to $33.5 million. The new funding comes from strategic investors Sanford Health, Itochu and Shenzhen Capital Group. First announced last year, the oversubscribed Series C was led by Ping An Global Voyager Fund, run by the Chinese financial conglomerate.

Itochu, Shenzhen Capital Group and Sanford Health, the largest rural not-for-profit healthcare system in the United States, will serve as Tyto’s new strategic partners as it expands in Japan, China and the U.S., its largest market. The New York-based company has now raised $54 million to date.

Tyto’s telehealth service combines a set of connected hardware that patients keep at home to make video calls to doctors. Called TytoHome, the small handheld tools are used to examine the heart, lungs, throat, ears, skin, abdomen, heart rate and body temperature of a patient, enabling doctors to assess their condition remotely and decide if they need further medical care. Tyto also integrates with third-party tools for blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation and weight scales. Patient data can be aggregated into Tyto’s data platform, which the company says will eventually be used to help with diagnosis and health alerts.

Remote health exams are especially helpful for children, elderly people, patients with chronic conditions and patients recovering from operations who need frequent monitoring. In an email, CEO and co-founder Dedi Gilad told TechCrunch that the company also targets rural areas that have limited access to healthcare facilities or are affected by the global shortage of physicians.

The U.S., Japan and China “are all turning to digital health technology to help solve myriad public health issues, including expensive healthcare and aging and dense populations,” Gilad said.

Founded in 2012, the company launched in the U.S. in 2017 after receiving clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, and in 2018 in Canada after it also received regulatory approval there. Because of different healthcare systems and regulations in each of its markets, the company expands in new markets like Japan and China through strategic partnerships with health systems, telehealth companies (including Ping An Good Doctor in China, which has 170 million users), large private practices and self-insured employers. So far it has struck partnerships with 50 health organizations.

Tyto’s new funding will be used to find new partners in the U.S. and expand into new markets in Europe and Asia. It also plans to add new modular exam tools for home diagnostics and remote monitoring.

In a statement, Shenzhen Capital Group chairman Zewang Ni said “Tyto Care’s mission of making high-quality healthcare accessible from the comfort of home is crucial, especially in China. We believe that telehealth will significantly improve the lives of Chinese consumers, whether they are parents with sick children at home, elderly patients facing chronic illnesses, or citizens living in remote areas with less access to medical care.”

Categories: Business News

Consolidation is coming to gaming, and Jam City raises $145 million to capitalize on it

2019, January 16 - 10:00pm

A slew of banks are coming together to back a new roll-up strategy for the Los Angeles-based mobile gaming studio Jam City and giving the company $145 million in new funding to carry that out.

There’s no word on whether the new money is in equity or debt, but what is certain is that JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and syndicate partners, including Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Bank, are all involved in the deal.

“In a global mobile games market that is consolidating, Jam City could not be more proud to be working with JPMorgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Group to strategically support the financing of our acquisition and growth plans,” said Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City. “This $145 million in new financing empowers Jam City to further our position as a global industry consolidator. As we grow our global business, we are honored to be working alongside such prestigious advisers who share Jam City’s mission of delivering joy to people everywhere through unique and deeply engaging mobile games.”

The new money comes after a few years of speculation on whether Jam City would be the next big Los Angeles-based startup company to file for an initial public offering. It also follows a new agreement with Disney to develop mobile games based on intellectual property coming from all corners of the mouse house — a sweet cache of intellectual property ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to traditional Disney characters.

Jam City is coming off a strong year of company growth. The Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game, which launched last year, became the company’s fastest title to hit $100 million in revenue.

New Harry Potter game, launching today, lets players enroll in Hogwarts

Add that to the company’s expansion into new markets with strategic acquisitions to fuel development and growth in Toronto and Bogota and it’s clear that the company is looking to make more moves in 2019.

Jam City already holds intellectual property for a new game built on Disney’s “Frozen 2,” the company’s newly acquired Fox Studio assets like “Family Guy” and the Harry Potter property. Add that to its own Cookie Jam and Panda Pop properties and it seems like the company is ready to make moves.

Meanwhile, games are quickly becoming the go-to revenue driver for the entertainment industry. According to data collected by Newzoo, mobile games revenue reached a record $63.2 billion worldwide in 2018, representing roughly 47 percent of the total revenue for the gaming industry in the year. That number could reach $81.3 billion by 2020, the Newzoo data suggests.

Roughly half of the U.S. plays mobile games, and they’re spending significant dollars on those games in app stores. App Annie suggests that roughly 75 percent of the money spent in app stores over the past decade has been spent on mobile games. And consumers are expected to spend roughly $129 billion in app stores over the next year. The data and analytics firm suggests that mobile gaming will capture some 60 percent of the overall gaming market in 2019, as well.

All of that bodes well for the industry as a whole, and points to why Jam City is looking to consolidate. And the company isn’t the only mobile games studio making moves.

The publicly traded games studio Zynga, which rose to fame initially on the back of Facebook’s gaming platform, recently expanded its European footprint with the late-December acquisition of the Helsinki-based gaming studio Small Giant Games.

Categories: Business News

BeMyEye acquires Streetbee, a Russian crowdsourcing and image recognition provider

2019, January 16 - 6:00pm

London-headquartered BeMyEye has made another acquisition, its third in a little over three years. This time the retail execution monitoring service is purchasing Russian crowdsourcing and image recognition provider Streetbee.

The acquisition will see BeMyEye launch “Perfect Shelf,” which will use image recognition technology to lower the cost for consumer goods companies wanting to get “objective and actionable” in-store insights. These will typically include share of shelf and planogram compliance (the specific placement of products on a store shelf).

More broadly, BeMyEye offers a platform to enable companies and brands to crowdsource various in-store data. This can include checking availability (i.e. stock levels) of a particular product, how prominently an item is displayed, or whether or not it is being marketed or sold in the way retailers and staff have been instructed.

Tasks are sent out to paid members of the public via the BeMyEye app, which could include taking a photo and ‘checking in’ using geolocation as proof that it has been carried out, with the results anonymised and passed on to BeMyEye’s clients. One way to think about the proposition is as a much more scalable version of employing ‘secret shoppers’.

Augmenting these human data gatherers with image recognition technology can speed up data processing and, presumably, make a proposition like BeMyEye even more scalable.

Luca Pagano, CEO of BeMyEye, comments: “Field forces should not be burdened with data collection tasks, instead they should be empowered with action orientated in-store insights so they can focus 100 percent on selling and taking remedial action when and where it is needed. Perfect Shelf enables consumer goods companies to adopt a lean go-to-market strategy, progressively eliminating waste and enhancing field performance at a time when they are under huge pressure to find growth and demonstrate a positive ROI on their field force investments”.

The acquisition also extends BeMyEye’s reach to Russia and the CIS countries. With existing coverage in Europe, the combined companies claim aggregate crowd of more than 1.5 Million data gatherers, which will enable consumer goods companies to get a consistent view of in-store performance in 21 countries.

Meanwhile, BeMyEye isn’t disclosing the exact terms of the acquisition, although I understand it is an all-stock deal. The entire Streetbee business is being acquired, including the 50-person team, IP and technology. As part of this, the Streetbee founders will be joining BeMyEye in senior roles: Andrey Elisev is joining as CMO, Kirill Nepomnyashchiy is joing as VP Sales Russia and CIS, and Vladimir Lyzo is joining as Head of Image Recognition Development.

This news comes after BeMyEye’s acquisition of its largest French competitor, LocalEyes, in 2016, and U.K. operator Task360 in 2017.

Categories: Business News

Doctolib details how telemedicine appointments work

2019, January 16 - 5:16pm

French startup Doctolib announced back in September that it would open up telemedicine appointments on its platform in 2019. The company is taking advantage of recent legal changes that finally make telemedicine legal in France.

Doctolib is a marketplace matching patients with health practitioners — 70,000 practitioners and 1,400 medical institutions use it in France and Germany. Each health professional pays €109 per month to access the service ($124).

By replacing your calendar with Doctolib, you save a ton of time. You no longer have to pick up the phone constantly and say when you’re available and not available. Everything stays in sync between the public website and your calendar.

And now, all practitioners can go beyond face-to-face appointments. If they start accepting telemedicine appointments, patients will be able to book a remote appointment. The company has been testing the new service with 500 practitioners.

After configuring the service, patients can start a video chat when it’s time to talk with their doctor. Once the call is done, patients pay on Doctolib’s website. They can then access prescriptions in their user accounts.

Doctolib won’t take a cut on each transaction. The startup is selling this services as an add-on instead. Practitioners can choose to pay €79 per month ($90) on top of their standard Doctolib plan to start accepting remote appointments.

This is a great way to boost the company’s bottom line and also a seamless experience for everyone involved. Practitioners can accept video calls from Doctolib’s interface and patients don’t have to use another service.

Those appointments comply with France’s national healthcare system. Patients get reimbursed just like a normal appointment. But there are some legal restrictions.

In particular, you can’t book a remote appointment and get reimbursed if the doctor doesn’t know you already. So Doctolib only lets you book remote appointments with practitioners you’ve physically seen over the last 12 months. But that feature could still be particularly useful to renew your prescription and other minor medical stuff.

Categories: Business News

GBatteries let you charge your car as quickly as visiting the pump

2019, January 16 - 5:41am

A YC startup called GBatteries has come out of stealth with a bold claim: they can recharge an electric car as quickly as it takes to fill up a tank of gas.

Created by aerospace engineer Kostya Khomutov, electrical engineers Alex Tkachenko and Nick Sherstyuk, and CCO Tim Sherstyuk, the company is funded by the likes of Airbus Ventures, Initialized Capital, Plug and Play and SV Angel.

The system uses AI to optimize the charging systems in electric cars.

“Most companies are focused on developing new chemistries or materials (ex. Enevate, Storedot) to improve charging speed of batteries. Developing new materials is difficult, and scaling up production to the needs of automotive companies requires billions of $,” said Khomutov. “Our technology is a combination of software algorithms (AI) and electronics, that works with off-the-shelf Li-ion batteries that have already been validated, tested, and produced by battery manufacturers. Nothing else needs to change.”

The team makes some bold claims. The product allows users to charge a 60kWh EV battery pack with 119 miles of range in 15 minutes as compared to 15 miles in 15 minutes today. “The technology works with off-the-shelf lithium ion batteries and existing fast charge infrastructure by integrating via a patented self-contained adapter on a car charge port,” writes the team. They demonstrated their product at CES this year.

Most charging systems depend on fairly primitive systems for topping up batteries. Various factors — including temperature — can slow down or stop a charge. GBatteries manages this by setting a very specific charging model that “slows down” and “speeds up” the charge as necessary. This allows the charge to go much faster under the right conditions.

The company bloomed out of frustration.

“We’ve always tinkered with stuff together since before I was even a teenager, and over time had created a burgeoning hardware lab in our basement,” said Tim Sherstyuk. “While I was studying Chemistry at Carleton University in Ottawa, we’d often debate and discuss why batteries in our phones got so bad so rapidly — you’d buy a phone, and a year later it would almost be unusable because the battery degraded so badly.”

“This sparked us to see if we can solve the problem by somehow extending the cycle life of batteries and achieve better performance, so that we’d have something that lasts. We spent a few weeks in our basement lab wiring together a simple control system along with an algorithm to charge a few battery cells, and after 6 months of testing and iterations we started seeing a noticeable difference between batteries charged conventionally, and ones using our algorithm. A year and a half later of constant iterations and development, we applied and were accepted in 2014 into YC.”

While it’s not clear when this technology will hit commercial vehicles, it could be the breakthrough we all need to start replacing our gas cars with something a little more environmentally friendly.

Categories: Business News

Opendoor competitor Knock raises $400M

2019, January 16 - 4:57am

Home trade-in platform Knock has brought in a $400 million investment to accelerate a national expansion and double its 100-person headcount.

Foundry Group has led the Series B funding round in New York-based Knock, with participation from Company Ventures and existing investors RRE Ventures, Corazon Capital, WTI and FJ Labs . Knock co-founder and chief executive officer Sean Black declined to disclose the startup’s valuation.

Founded in 2015, Knock helps its customers find a new home, then buys it for them outright in cash. That way home-buyers — who are often in the process of selling an old home and purchasing a new home at the same time — are able to move into their new home before listing their old one. Knock doesn’t purchase your old home but it does help with repairs in hopes of getting its customers the most value out of the sale. Ultimately, Knock receives a 3 percent commission from both the buyer and the seller of the original home.

“We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Black told TechCrunch.

Knock is led by founding team members of Trulia, a platform for real estate listings, including Black and co-founder and chief operating officer Jamie Glenn. The pair wanted to build an end-to-end market place where people could trade in their homes at a reduced cost, with less stress and uncertainty.

“Good luck finding anyone who’s bought or sold a home and said they had a great experience doing it,” Black said. “It’s something people just hate and dread. We can make it better and faster and transparent and stress-free.”

The investment in Knock comes amid consistent year-over-year growth in venture capital deals for real estate technology companies. According to PitchBook, deal count in the sector has been increasing since 2010, with 351 deals closing in 2018 — a record for the space. Capital invested looks to be leveling out, with $5 billion funneled into global real estate tech startups in 2017 and $4.65 billion invested last year.

“We are at that part of the evolution cycle of the internet; the low-hanging fruit has been taken,” Black explained. “[Real estate] is so inefficient. Mostly consumers have no idea what is going on. They have no sense of control or empowerment. I just think it’s ripe for disruption.”

SoftBank is responsible for the largest deals in the space as an investor in Knock’s biggest competitors. The Vision Fund has deployed capital to both Compass and Opendoor in rounds that valued the companies at $4.4 billion and north of $2 billion, respectively. Katerra, a construction tech startup also backed by the Vision Fund, is said to be raising an additional $700 million from the prolific Japanese investor at a more than $4 billion valuation, per a recent report from The Information.

Knock previously raised a $32 million Series A in January 2017 in a round led by RRE Ventures, and is currently active in Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Dallas and Fort Worth.

Compass nabs $400M, valuing the real estate technology startup at $4.4B

Categories: Business News

Campaign Monitor acquires email enterprise services Sailthru and Liveclicker

2019, January 16 - 3:04am

CM Group, the organization behind email-centric services like Campaign Monitor and Emma, today announced that it has acquired marketing automation firm Sailthru and the email personalization service Liveclicker. The group did not disclose the acquisition price but noted that the acquisition would bring in about $60 million in additional revenue and 540 new customers, including Bloomberg and Samsung. Both of these acquisitions quietly closed in 2018.

Compared to Sailthru, which had raised a total of about $250 million in venture funding before the acquisition, Liveclicker is a relatively small company that was bootstrapped and never raised any outside funding. Still, Liveclicker managed to attract customers like AT&T, Quicken Loans and TJX Companies by offering them the ability to personalize their email messages and tailor them to their customers.

Sailthru’s product portfolio is also quite a bit broader and includes similar email marketing tools, but also services to personalize mobile and web experiences, as well as tools to predict churn and make other retail-focused predictions.

“Sailthru and Liveclicker are extraordinary technologies capable of solving important marketing problems, and we will be making additional investments in the businesses to further accelerate their growth,” writes Wellford Dillard, CEO of CM Group. “Bringing these brands together makes it possible for us to provide marketers with the ideal solution for their needs as they navigate the complex and rapidly changing environments in which they operate.”

With this acquisition, the CM Group now has 500 employees and 300,000 customers.

Categories: Business News

Ahead of IPO, Airbnb achieves profitability for second year in a row

2019, January 16 - 2:35am

Airbnb, which is expected to go public this year, announced today a number of milestones. For starters, Airbnb says it was profitable on an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) basis for the second year in a row in 2018.

In Q3 2018, Airbnb said it had its strongest quarter ever, where it saw “substantially more” than $1 billion in revenue. The following quarter, Airbnb found a replacement for former CFO Laurence Tosi, who left amid tension between him and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. To lead the home-sharing giant into its next phase, Airbnb brought on Dave Stephenson, a long-time Amazon executive.

“He will use his experience in growing large businesses quickly at scale to ensure we are investing for both growth and long-term profitability,” Airbnb wrote in a press memo today.

Airbnb also announced it expects to hit 500 million arrivals by the end of Q1 2019.

Airbnb aims to be ‘ready’ to go public from June 30, 2019, creates cash bonus program for staff

Categories: Business News

Help us find the best startup lawyers

2019, January 16 - 2:10am

We’re looking for the best lawyers who are working with startups today, and we’d like your recommendations.

Right now, it’s hard to find the sort of attorney who can help you see around corners as a young company, negotiate tricky situations and connect you to other legal experts when you need to go deep on a topic.

Help us by filling out this two-minute survey.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours researching online, working your network for word-of-mouth recommendations and going through a trial-and-error process. TechCrunch is trying to save you time and money here by publishing a list of lawyers with whom other founders have had great experiences.

Since we began the project last month, we’ve already heard from nearly 600 founders and early startup leaders about lawyers they recommend, across booming local startup scenes and top Silicon Valley companies. We’ve also gotten great feedback about lawyers who people work with through the new generation of online legal services, like Atrium and UpCounsel, so please tell us about your experiences if you’ve gone that route.

So far, it feels like we’re solving a real problem. But we know there are many more stories to hear — and lawyers who should be on the list — so we want your recommendations, too.

If you’re a lawyer reading this, please note that we strongly encourage you to share this survey with your clients. We’ve found that when they’ve had good experiences, they are more than happy to give you a strong recommendation.

Any questions? Email me at This project is part of a new thing TechCrunch is working on, which we’ll have more to share about soon.

Categories: Business News

Maverick Ventures announces $382M evergreen fund

2019, January 15 - 11:00pm

In an era when validation-seeking venture capitalists are lauded as much as high-flying founders, Maverick Ventures’ small team of investors have opted to stay quiet.

Now, the years-old firm is ready to publicize its successes and shed some light on its global strategy. Today, Maverick is disclosing for the first time the size of its evergreen venture fund: a $382 million early-stage vehicle.

Launched in 2015 as the venture arm of 25-year-old hedge fund Maverick Capital, San Francisco-based Maverick has funneled cash into direct-to-consumer wellness brand Hims, new-age insurer Devoted Health and primary care services provider One Medical. Led by David Singer (pictured above, center), the former chief executive officer of genetics company Affymetrix and drug developer Genesoft Pharmaceuticals, Maverick has oft supported healthtech startups.

“We are thematic, but this business is all about opportunism,” Singer told TechCrunch. “The whole challenge of venture is to figure out what’s next and that, by nature, doesn’t fit into one bucket.”

With that in mind, Maverick has deviated from healthcare, a decision that led it to some of its biggest successes. The firm became the first institutional investor in Coupang, Korea’s largest e-commerce business, which recently brought in $2 billion from SoftBank’s Vision Fund at a reported $9 billion valuation and is poised for a multi-billion exit. It also supported the Tencent-acquired video streaming platform Youku and the now-public Korean texting service Kakao.

Grocery delivery service FreshDirect, facial recognition startup D-ID and cloud-based software firm Aptible are also among its non-healthtech portfolio companies.

In total, Maverick has helped build 13 unicorns across a portfolio of 100 companies. The firm, Singer explained, almost always provides its companies follow-on capital, beyond the seed, Series A or Series B investment they initially provide. Why? Because they believe in their companies, as any good VC should, but also because Singer admittedly has a hard time saying no to Maverick’s startups.

“I’ve lost money from being too emotionally invested,” he said. “We are old-school. We feel this is a business to help build strong companies. It’s not a quick flip. For better or for worse, that’s what we like doing.”

In addition to Singer, Maverick’s investment team includes former Bessemer Venture Partners vice president Ambar Bhattacharyya, Oscar’s former director of finance Prateesh Maheshwari and long-time Maverick Capital managing director Matthew Kinsella.

Categories: Business News

For $5,400 per year, Chief helps women reach the C-suite

2019, January 15 - 10:00pm

For decades, women in business have lacked the resources necessary to navigate to or sustain executive roles. Finally, venture-funded projects have emerged to fill this gap.

The latest is Chief, a private network for New York-based women in senior roles in tech, retail, enterprise, finance, media and more. The company launches today with $3 million in venture capital funding to provide its 200 members access to a Tribeca clubhouse, monthly executive coaching and leadership development sessions and a salon series, which includes “intimate dinners with captains of industry” and celebrity fireside conversations.

The catch? Chief membership costs $5,400 per year for members with a vice president-level job title and even more for those in the C-suite, at $7,800. Its founders, Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan, say the idea is for companies to pay the way for members, similar to how a startup might pay to send one of its employees to a conference.

Chief and its investors, Primary Venture Capital, Flybridge Capital Partners, Accel, Box Group, Able Partners, XFactor Ventures, Silas Capital and BBG Ventures, are betting the company’s coaching sessions, clubhouse, mobile application and network of successful women will keep its members coming back every year — check in hand.

“Companies are looking for something like this,” Kaplan, the former VP of communications at Casper, told TechCrunch. “They have these amazing women, they know there is a problem with equality up top and this isn’t something they can provide within their own four walls.”

Though Chief’s initial 200-person cohort does not include any men, the group is open to all genders. Given the controversy surrounding The Wing’s former membership policy, which barred men from entry, Chief’s decision to accept anyone ready “to fight the 200-year gap in gender equality,” in the words of Kaplan, will probably save them a headache down the line.

Women’s co-working space The Wing adjusts membership policy to allow all genders

“We are a very mission-based company,” Childers, the former VP of operations at household services marketplace Handy, told TechCrunch. “If a man is inspired to help women get to the C-suite, they can apply and become a part of Chief.”

Childers and Kaplan said diversity is “top of mind,” and when I first spoke with the pair this fall, they said 25 percent of their initial membership are women of color.

They also plan to offer grants to members who are unable to pay the annual fee. “We don’t want to see a 1 percent increase in female management in 10 years,” Childers said. “We want to close that gap as quickly as possible.”

The startup seems to have the best of intentions, though what Chief appears to be is an expensive networking opportunity for New York’s existing elite. With that said, if Chief only helps the existing 1 percent of women in business maintain executive roles, at least it’s helping move the needle ever so slightly.

Categories: Business News

Pia d’Iribarne joins Stride.VC as third partner

2019, January 15 - 9:43pm

It turns out Stride.VC isn’t going to focus exclusively on the U.K. after all. Pia d’Iribarne is leaving Accel to join Stride.VC as a partner.

Stride.VC was originally co-founded by former Accel partner Fred Destin along with Harry Stebbings, producer of “The Twenty Minute VC” podcast. Back in October, when TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear covered the official closing of the £50 million fund, the pair said they would focus on the U.K. at first. Arj Soysa also joined the firm as operating partner around the same time.

“Currently, the firm is 100 percent focused on the U.K., but Destin and Stebbings say they will relax that rule once Stride.VC’s operations are well honed,” my colleague wrote.

And it’s happening a bit sooner than expected — d’Iribarne is going to spend most of her time in Paris and travel back and forth between Paris and London. The firm’s new partner d’Iribarne worked at Accel for three and a half years, including a couple of years with Destin. Before that, she worked at Felix Capital and McKinsey.

At Accel, she worked on many interesting deals for the VC firm, particularly on the French market — Doctolib, Shift Technology, Selency, PayFit, Framer and Zenaton. She has sourced and has been a board observer at PayFit, Selency and Shift Technology.

But Accel is also a well-oiled machine. While d’Iribarne loved working there, she couldn’t miss today’s opportunity. For instance, she spotted PayFit way before Accel invested in the Series B round — it is now one of the most promising software-as-a-service startups in Paris. Being able to invest at the seed level with more flexibility is exactly what she was looking for.

“I learned so much there but I had the urge to invest at an earlier stage and do something more entrepreneurial,” d’Iribarne wrote in an email. “I am very grateful for the incredible exposure I got at Accel and am proud I was able to contribute some meaningful opportunities to the firm, but it was time for me to branch out and go earlier stage.”

Stride.VC is focusing on seed rounds that are slightly larger than your typical seed round. With such a small team, the firm doesn’t want to spread itself too thin across dozens of investments. It isn’t going to invest all over Europe — the U.K. and France remain the focus for now. So far, Stride.VC has officially announced two investments — Forward Health and Cazoo.

Prior to the closing of Stride.VC’s initial fund, Bloomberg reported in July 2017 that Destin was facing an accusation of inappropriate behavior with a female founder at an event in 2013. Destin later issued a statement and apologized — he had also disclosed the incident, as he saw it, in an earlier blog post. Stride.VC told us it was not specifically looking to hire a woman for this role.

“[Gender balance] is an important topic for our industry and I’m delighted that more and more of us are in a position to make investment decisions; having said that I will hopefully be known for being a great VC, not just a great woman VC!,” d’Iribarne said.

Natasha Lomas contributed reporting to this article.

Categories: Business News

Workforce management solution Quinyx raises further $25M

2019, January 15 - 9:23pm

Quinyx, the cloud-based workforce management solution, has raised a further $25 million in funding. The investment was led by the startup’s existing investors Alfvén & Didrikson, Battery Ventures and Zobito.

Founded in 2005 by Erik Fjellborg, Quinyx’s CEO, after he spent the summer working at McDonald’s, the company’s workforce management software helps businesses of all sizes manage employee scheduling, communication, task management and payroll integration.

Quinyx’s core focus is shift-based or “flexible” workers, including but not limited to those operating in the fast-food industry. Clients include McDonald’s, London City Airport, Burger King, Rituals, Swarovski, IHG and Boots. I’m told that more recent wins include Daniel Wellington and Odeon Cinemas Group.

The software’s feature-set includes scheduling, shift planning and swapping, timesheet functionality via workers checking in using Quinyx’s mobile apps and budget forecasting.

To give you a better idea of the company’s scale, it currently has close to 500,000 employees on its platform. Its core customer base is in Europe, and Quinyx has offices in the U.K., Sweden, Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the global workforce management market is estimated to be worth $2.4 billion overall.

To that end, Quinyx says the new funding will be used to further accelerate Quinyx’s roll-out of “innovative features and new AI technologies” that will automate and streamline workforce management processes. This will include developing and embedding new technologies into the platform “to unlock the full potential of the flexible workforce,” says Fjellborg.

Adds Michael Brown, general partner of Battery Ventures: “Having joined the board at Quinyx when we invested in the company last year, I’ve seen first-hand the ambition and drive Erik and his team have shown in going after this large market. Quinyx has made significant progress in the last year by continuing to focus on the strength of its technology. This new investment will help take Quinyx’s business to the next level.”

Categories: Business News

Contabilizei raises $20 million to ease Brazilians’ tax pain

2019, January 15 - 8:30pm

Online tax filing and accounting service Contabilizei has raised $20 million in a new round of financing led by Point72 Ventures, the early-stage investment arm associated with hedge fund guru Steven Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management.

Smart money in both the venture and private equity space has been increasing in Brazil for a bit, and the new investment provides even more firepower to the thesis that Brazil’s startup ecosystem is on the move.

“For the Brazilian ecosystem, the investment represents the trust and the opportunity that we have here in the Brazilian market. For quite some time it was difficult to attract this kind of investment from abroad,” says Contabilizei chief executive Vitor Torres. Even though we had a recession there are technology companies that are growing,” Torres says, noting that the company has already staved off acquisition offers and will eventually eye a potential public offering in U.S. or domestic markets.

Though it was only founded five years ago, the company already has 200 employees and more than 10,000 customers throughout Brazil.

Contabilizei has already audited more than 2 billion reals in customer revenue and saved its users over 500 million reals in taxes. For new companies, Contabilizei will also offer free business registration and formation filings. So far, the company has helped 5,000 new businesses get their paperwork done around the country.

“In Brazil, one of the greatest frictions for a small company is meeting its tax reporting requirements,” said Pete Casella, head of Fintech & Financial Services Investments at Point72 Ventures. “By building an automated tax accounting service that can deliver services at a fraction of the cost of a traditional accountant, we believe that Contabilizei has established the high trust relationships that will enable it to serve customers in many new ways over the coming years.”

New investors also contributed to the round, including the International Financial Corp., an investment arm of the The World Bank, and Quona Capital, Quadrant and the Fintech Collective. They joined existing company backers Kaszek Ventures, e.Bricks, Endeavor Catalyst and Curitiba Angels.

“Our goal is to simplify the entrepreneur’s routine so they can focus on their own business and not on bureaucracy. We are only at the beginning, and in three years we want to grow 15 times more,” said Vitor Torres, chief executive and founder of Contabilizei, in a statement. “We were pioneers in the debureaucratization of accounting in the country and we managed to do it with a quality that surpasses 98 percent of our customers’ satisfaction.”

Categories: Business News

Manual raises £5M to build its ‘wellbeing guide’ for men

2019, January 15 - 6:00pm

Manual, a ‘wellbeing platform’ for men, has closed £5 million in seed funding. Backing the round is the U.K.’s Felix Capital, Germany’s Cherry Ventures, and U.S.-based Cassius Capital.

The first iteration of the startup’s offering is being launched today: a new website that aims to arm men with the knowledge and tools they need “to proactively solve their wellbeing and look after their health”.

“At Manual we want men to take control of their health and happiness by helping guide them to the choices that work best for them. We believe this starts with promoting a change in how men approach their wellbeing,” Manual CEO George Pallis, who co-founded the company along with Michalis Gkontas, tells me.

“Michalis and I both have first hand experience of the physical and mental toll that can happen when you’re not looking out for yourself, and at Manual we want to encourage men to talk openly, challenging the outdated notions of masculinity where ‘being a man’ meant sweeping problems under the carpet”.

Pallis says Manual’s vision is to improve the everyday lives of men by providing knowledge and solutions for key parts of their wellbeing, citing a report by the National Pharmacy Association that suggest almost 90 percent of men don’t seek help unless they have a serious problem.

“The goal is to change habits in the way men understand and fix their problems,” he says. “Manual will provide users with products, services and in-depth information so they can implement a holistic approach to their wellness”.

At launch, Manual is focussing on solutions to what Pallis says are two of the most common men’s health problems: erectile dysfunction (ED) and hair loss. The plan is to then build up other wellbeing offering from there, “from sex to skin, and hair to general wellbeing”.

It is also worth noting Pallis and Gkontas’ startup and entrepreneur backgrounds. Pallis was most recently an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at Felix Capital. Before that he ran marketing at Deliveroo, as Director of Marketing, and before that he was an early employee at TransferWise. Gkontas built and exited healthy food startup Forky to Vivartia in 2018. The pair say that the stresses associated with startup life also informed their decision to build a platform targeting men’s wellbeing.

Meanwhile, Manual says its seed funding will be invested into the development and growth of the platform. In addition, the new capital will be used to scale the team, split between its HQ in London and a technical team in Athens, and for further European expansion.

Categories: Business News

Freelancer banking service Shine switches to paid subscriptions

2019, January 15 - 3:25am

French startup Shine wants to be the only professional bank account you need if you’re a freelancer. So far, 25,000 people have signed up to the service, and the company recently raised a $9.3 million funding round.

Shine wants to help freelancers in France all steps of the way. After signing up, the app helps you fill out all the paperwork to create your freelancer status. You then get a card and banking information.

This way, you can generate invoices, accept payments and also pay for stuff. Creating an account and basic transactions have been free so far, but starting on January 21st, freelancers will have to pay €4.90 to €7.90 per month depending on their status.

Freelancers who generate less than €70,000 (so-called “auto-entrepreneurs”) will pay €4.90 per month, while others will pay more. This is still cheaper than most professional bank accounts. Existing users won’t have to pay anything.

The company mentioned premium plans in the past, but Shine now wants to create a single plan with a unified feature set for everyone. If you’re more serious about your indie lifestyle and generate a lot of revenue, you’ll pay a bit more.

In addition to that change, the startup is working on some new features. Soon, you’ll be able to generate better exports for accounting purposes. You’ll be able to deposit checks, control your account from a web browser, generate better invoices and more.

But Shine doesn’t just want to build an endless list of bullet points with as many features as possible. The company wants to create the best banking assistant for freelancers. You get notifications for admin tasks and you can ask the support team any question you have when it comes to the administrative part of your work.

It’s not just customer support for the product — it’s customer support for French paperwork. And that has some value by itself.

Categories: Business News

Computer vision startup AnyVision pulls in new funding from Lightspeed

2019, January 15 - 3:20am

While there have been a few massive surveillance startups in China that have raised funds on the back of computer vision advances, there’s seemed to be less fervor outside of that market. Tel Aviv-based AnyVision is aiming to leverage its computer vision chops in tracking people and objects to create some pretty clear utility for the enterprise world.

After announcing a $28 million Series A in mid-2018, the computer vision startup is bringing Lightspeed Venture Partners into the raise, closing out the round at $43 million.

“When you have a company with the technology AnyVision has, and the market need that I’m hearing from across industries, what you need to do is push the gas pedal and build an organization which can monetize and take on this opportunity to grow massively,” Lightspeed partner Raviraj Jain told TechCrunch.

Right now the 200-person company has its eyes on the security and identity markets as it aims to bring its computer vision technology into more industry-tailored solutions.

The company’s “Better Tomorrow” product delivers camera-agnostic surveillance insights from its object and human-tracking tech. “Sesame” is the company’s consumer-facing play for bringing mobile banking authentication to hundreds of millions of phones. The company is still looking to release a retail analytics platform to customers, as well.

Categories: Business News

What3words breaks the world down into phrases

2019, January 15 - 2:03am

If you’re down in ///joins.slides.predict you may want to visit ///history.writing.closets, or if you’ve got a little money to spend, try the Bananas Foster at ///cattle.excuse.luggage. Either way, don’t forget to stop by ///plotting.nest.reshape before you fly out.

If things go what3words’ way, that’s how you’ll be sending out addresses in the future. Founded by musician Chris Sheldrick and Cambridge mathematician Mohan Ganesalingam, the company has cut the world into three meter boxes that are identified by three words. Totonno’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn is at ///cats.lots.dame, while the White House is at ///kicks.mirror.tops. Because there are only three words, you can easily find spots that have no addresses and without using cumbersome latitude and longitude coordinates.

The team created this system after finding that travelers found it almost impossible to find some out-of-the-way places. Tokyo, for example, is notoriously difficult to traverse via address, while other situations — renting a Yurt in Alaska, for example — require constantly updated addresses that do not lend themselves to GPS coordinates. Instead, you can tell your driver to take you to ///else.impulse.broom and be done with it.

The team has raised £40 million and is currently working on systems to add their mapping API to industrial and travel partners. You can browse the map here.

“I organized live music events around the world. Often in rural places. HeIfound equipment, musicians and guests got lost. We tried to give coordinates but they were impossible to remember and communicate accurately,” said Sheldrick. “This is the only address solution designed for voice, and the only system using words and not alphanumeric codes.”

Obviously this will take some getting used to. The three words might get mispronounced, leading to some fun problems, but in general it might be a good to way to get around the world in a post-modern way. After all, some of the spot names sound like poetry, and if you don’t like it you can always just go to ///drills.dandelions.bounds.

Categories: Business News

Goldman Sachs leads $8M round in cyber security skills platform Immersive Labs

2019, January 14 - 5:00pm

Immersive Labs, a cyber security skills platform founded by James Hadley, who used to be a researcher at GCHQ, has raised $8 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Goldman Sachs, with participation from a number of unnamed private investors.

Operating in the cyber security training space, Immersive Labs helps enterprise IT and other cyber security teams acquire the latest security skills by combining up to date threat data with what is describes as “gamified” learning. This sees the startup use real-time feeds of the latest attack techniques, hacker psychology and technological vulnerabilities to quickly create “cyber wargames” for IT and security teams to learn from.

The idea is that the platform can up-skill people within hours of a threat emerging, in addition to being used more generally to help identify and remedy less immediate weaknesses in a company’s cyber security team.

“First, there is a big picture problem that the world is crying out for cyber security talent and is currently struggling to fill that gap,” Immersive Labs founder and CEO James Hadley tells me. “Secondly, the way that cyber skills are being taught is massively obsolete and puts the companies they work for at risk. On many occasions, what is taught is out of date before people leave the classroom”.

The inspiration for Immersive Labs was born out of Hadley’s experience running a summer school at GCHQ. It was while running the course that he came to the realisation that “passive classroom-based learning doesn’t suit the people, or pace, of cyber security”.

“Not only does the content date quickly, but the lack of challenge is just not enough for the curious and creative minds required to be good in cyber. You cant dictate, they have to teach themselves through exploration,” he says.

“We let technical and security teams learn cyber skills like an attacker, allowing them to keep pace by combining breaking threat data with short browser-based wargames. This takes the form of a series of stories that encourage people to research, analyse and build their own attacks and solutions. Whilst doing this, they learn in a fun and compelling way”.

To that end, Immersive Labs says its Series A funding will be used to grow its offering for enterprise IT and cyber security teams. This will include investing in headcount and infrastructure to develop the platform further, and to support the company’s go-to-market strategy. Current clients include global corporates with complex cyber security needs, such as BAE Systems, Sophos and Grant Thornton.

Categories: Business News