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Tradeshift raises $240M and appears to put its expected IPO on hold — for now

2020, January 15 - 1:16am

Tradeshift — the startup which set out to disrupt the traditional arena of supply chain payments and marketplaces when it first appeared in 2008 — has today announced a new funding round of $240 million in equity and debt, raised from a combination of existing and new investors.

The funding will be used to help accelerate its growth and, it says, set the company “on a direct path to profitability in the near future.”

That last line is telling, as the new funding comes in the context of what was widely held to be a window of opportunity for Tradeshift to head toward an IPO.

What this new funding means it that Tradeshift is effectively delaying its IPO to get its “house in order” in the context of a new economic environment that has become skeptical toward tech IPOs in the wake of the WeWork debacle, which saw public investors cool toward new tech company listings.

Although the company isn’t saying this, perhaps in this instance, its motto should be temporarily changed from “shift happens” to the more apt “shit happens.”

Still, at least Tradeshift is coming from a position of relative strength. In a statement, the company said it has reported more than two years of strong growth in quarterly revenue, and recorded its best-ever year in 2019, including more than 60% revenue growth, with more than 250 deals closed (the average deal size was doubled). Furthermore, more than 40% of the total cumulative transaction volume across its platform came in the past year, it says.

Tradeshift said the additional capital will be used to further momentum it has seen across core product lines, including Tradeshift Pay, which was ranked in 2019 as the strongest ePayables SaaS solution in the industry by analyst firm Ardent Partners, and Tradeshift Go, with more than 200 new customers signed in 2019.

The new investment will also support the monetization of its trade finance proposition across a user base of over two million suppliers.

“The additional funding we’ve secured is a testament to the belief the investor community has in our vision and our business model,” said Christian Lanng, CEO of Tradeshift in the statement. “As a network business, growth is always going to be a key part of our story. But it’s also important that we manage that growth responsibly.”

I asked him what he meant by “networked.” Lang believes we are moving “from cloud businesses to networked businesses,” where, instead of companies, like Microsoft having one single solution but also offering a variety of other products (such as LinkedIn and Skype), people and businesses will opt more for single-use tools.

“The fact that both Microsoft and Salesforce bid for Linkedin shows that we have moved into a network era,” he told me.

Tradeshift’s drive toward profitability ahead of a possible IPO also means it’s going to slash costs to bring overheads in line with revenue.

Lanng said this will likely mean reducing headcount in its expensive San Francisco offices, but reallocating resources and talent to locations where that is more affordable. He told me “costs and margins” would now be the focus.

“As we reach the next phase in the maturity of our business, our focus for the coming year will be about doubling down in areas where we’re seeing the greatest momentum, while continuing to ensure we have the necessary balance in place to fully capitalize on the enormous opportunities in front of us,” he said.

What is clearly unspoken about this latest move is that this leaner, meaner Tradeshift is going to continue to weather this year, at the very least, as a private company before, most likely, looking toward its long-awaited IPO in the mid-term.

Previous investors in the company have included Goldman Sachs, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments), HSBC, H14, GP Bullhound, Gray Swan, a venture company established by Tradeshift’s founders, American Express Ventures, the CreditEase Fintech Investment Fund, Notion Capital, Santander InnoVentures and others. In 2018, when it raised $250 million, it claimed its valuation passed $240 million.

Categories: Business News

Google acquires Pointy, a startup to help brick-and-mortar retailers list products online, for $163M

2020, January 15 - 12:11am

Google has been on a long-term mission to build inroads into the world of e-commerce by working more closely with brick-and-mortar retailers, and now it looks like it plans to extend that work a little further. The search giant is acquiring Pointy, a startup out of Dublin, Ireland, which has built hardware and software technology to help physical retailers — specifically those that might not already have an extensive e-commerce storefront detailing in-store inventory — get their products discoverable online without any extra work.

The companies are not disclosing the financial terms of the deal, but a source tells us it is €147 million ($163 million).

We’re told that Google will be making a formal announcement in about an hour, but Pointy has already posted the news on its own site while we were digging around for details after getting pinged by a source. The deal is expected to close in the coming weeks, pending “customary closing conditions.” (Update: Google’s post confirming the acquisition is now here.)

Pointy is continuing to operate post-acquisition. “We look forward to building even better services in the future, with the backing of Google’s resources and reach,” the company writes. It’s not clear yet who will stay on with that plan.

A source notes that this was a “good outcome” because Pointy has a “one of a kind” product that didn’t really have any comparables in the market. Pointy had also managed to pick up quite a lot of traction as a small startup, working with around 10% of all physical retailers in the U.S. in certain categories (pets and toys were two of those, I was told).

Pointy is six years old and had raised just under $20 million from a variety of investors, including Frontline Ventures, Polaris, LocalGlobe and individuals like Lars Rasmussen (the former Google Maps supremo who went on to build search and enterprise products at Facebook).

Pointy was co-founded by Mark Cummins (CEO) and Charles Bibby (CTO). Notably, this is Cummins’ second exit to Google. His first company, the visual search startup Plink, was Google’s first-ever acquisition out of the U.K.

For Google, Pointy is a known quantity for more than the fact that it has transacted with a Cummins startup before: Pointy and Google have been working together since 2018, when the former was part of a bigger push that the search giant was making into building tools for brick-and-mortar merchants.

At that time, Pointy’s primary product was a piece of hardware that plugged a company’s point of sale/barcode scanning units, so that every time a retailer scanned its products at the point of sale, it would upload the products online (including quantities of those items), and then keep stock numbers up to date with every subsequent purchase that was made and scanned in. Pointy doesn’t track incoming inventory per se: it uses algorithms over time to figure out stock amounts to a very close degree of accuracy based just on purchasing patterns.

Then, a user who might be searching for that product online might come across those details through Google’s search results (“See What’s In Store,” which come up in Google’s Knowledge Panels and on Google Maps), or via advertisements. The aim: These listings could potentially result in shoppers buying those products from the retailer in question, ideally getting them to come into the store, where they would buy even more.

The hardware retails for around $700, but Pointy also has a free app that integrates with specific POS devices from Clover, Square, Lightspeed, Vend, Liberty, WooPOS, BestRx and CashRx POS, removing the need for the hardware.

Google’s initial partnership with Pointy in 2018 was part of a push to build out Google’s search portal with more e-commerce tools, and it was coming not a moment too soon: Amazon was both ramping up its own efforts with physical retail, and becoming a bigger threat to Google as a first port-of-call for online shoppers.

Two years on, those themes have only grown bigger with Amazon’s rise, perhaps one reason why Google was keen to bring Pointy in-house. Now, it can more deeply integrate the tech, and build upon it.

Pointy had also started to work a little closer with retailers, giving them insights into what was selling well, and what they might want to stock more of in the future, but it had never delved into the actual transaction aspect of products that it was listing online: that was left to the retailer and a shopper visiting a store to buy in person.  All of that leaves a wide door open to how Pointy — and Google’s own retail commerce efforts — might develop in the future.

Updated with more detail on price, Pointy’s technology and Google’s confirmation.

Categories: Business News

Equinix is acquiring bare metal cloud provider Packet

2020, January 14 - 10:50pm

Equinix announced today that it is acquiring bare metal cloud provider Packet, the New York City startup that had raised over $36 million on a $100 million valuation, according to PitchBook data.

Equinix has a set of data centers and co-location facilities around the world. Companies that may want to have more control over their hardware could use their services, including space, power and cooling systems, instead of running their own data centers.

Equinix is getting a unique cloud infrastructure vendor in Packet, one that can provide more customized kinds of hardware configurations than you can get from the mainstream infrastructure vendors like AWS and Azure. Company COO George Karidis described what separated his company from the pack in a September, 2018 TechCrunch article:

“We offer the most diverse hardware options,” he said. That means they could get servers equipped with Intel, ARM, AMD or with specific nVidia GPUs in whatever configurations they want. By contrast public cloud providers tend to offer a more off-the-shelf approach. It’s cheap and abundant, but you have to take what they offer, and that doesn’t always work for every customer.

In a blog post announcing the deal, company co-founder and CEO Zachary Smith had a message for his customers, who may be worried about the change in ownership. “When the transaction closes later this quarter, Packet will continue operating as before: same team, same platform, same vision,” he wrote.

He also offered the standard value story for a deal like this, saying the company could scale much faster under Equinix than it could on its own, with access to its new company’s massive resources, including 200+ data centers in 55 markets and 1,800 networks.

Sara Baack, chief product officer at Equinix, says bringing the two companies together will provide a diverse set of bare metal options for customers moving forward. “Our combined strengths will further empower companies to be everywhere they need to be, to interconnect everyone and integrate everything that matters to their business,” she said in a statement.

While the companies did not share the purchase price, they did hint that they would have more details on the transaction after it closes, which is expected in the first quarter this year.

Full-Metal Packet is hosting the future of cloud infrastructure

Categories: Business News

Codagenix raises $20 million for a new flu vaccine and other therapies

2020, January 14 - 10:11am

Codagenix, a company developing vaccines and viral therapies for illnesses ranging from the flu and respiratory viruses to dengue fever, has raised $20 million in a new round of financing.

The company’s new investment round was led by Adjuvant Capital, with additional participation from Euclidean Capital and Topspin Partners .

Codagenix will use the funds to support clinical development of its general flu vaccine and the first RSV vaccine for elderly patients — who are more at risk to serious consequences from contracting the virus.

The company uses a technology called “codon deoptimization” to make versions of viruses and viral therapies that are rendered relatively harmless by replacing more virulent pathogens with milder strains.

Codagenix said it will use the new financing to bring its RSV and flu vaccines through Phase 1 trials and move its oncology program for a breast cancer treatment into Phase 1 clinical trials. It also will launch two new vaccine development programs for what the company called “neglected public health challenges.”

“With the potential to develop optimized, more affordable versions of existing vaccines, Codagenix is poised to solve persistent public health challenges where existing vaccines have made enormous improvements, but still fall short of desired disease control objectives,” said Glenn Rockman, managing partner at Adjuvant Capital. “Equally exciting, the Codagenix technology has an opportunity to succeed where other immunization attempts have failed. We are proud to be supporting the further clinical development of the company’s RSV and influenza programs.”

Founded as a spin-out from Stony Brook University in New York in 2012, Codagenix has received backing from government institutions like the National Institute of Health, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army for its dengue fever, flu, swine flu, RSV and foot and mouth disease virus vaccines.

In all, the company has raised $38 million from private nonprofits and venture capital investors, and $11 million in federal funding.

Categories: Business News

Oscar Health now has 400,000 members and expects to bring in $2 billion by the end of 2020

2020, January 14 - 9:18am

Oscar Health, the upstart healthcare insurance company and technology developer, expects to have roughly 400,000 members insured under its healthcare plans, who collectively will bring in roughly $2 billion in revenue for the company by the end of 2020, according to slides of a presentation from the JP Morgan Healthcare conference seen by TechCrunch.

Those figures, based on the open-enrollment period that just closed, would represent 50% growth both in membership and revenue for the healthcare provider co-founded by Mario Schlosser and Joshua Kushner, founder of VC firm Thrive Capital and the brother of senior Trump advisor Jared Kushner.

Earlier today, Oscar announced that it was partnering with Cigna to provide services to small business owners. Commercial health insurance is a small but growing proportion of Oscar’s total membership, and it’s one area where the company hopes to expand. Essentially, Oscar can bring its technology-enabled healthcare services to small businesses in concert with the large healthcare networks with which businesses are used to working.

To date, Oscar counts around 375,000 individual members on its insurance plans, with another 20,000 coming through small-group insurance and the balance derived from Medicare Advantage customers, according to a person familiar with the company’s business.

Only three years ago, Oscar was a much smaller business, with only 70,000 members after retrenching its coverage and pulling out of markets in Dallas-Fort Worth and New Jersey. From a footprint that encompassed New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco, Oscar now expects to operate in 29 markets by the end of 2020.

Fueling that expansion is prodigious capital infusions the company has received over the past few years. In 2018 alone, Oscar raised $540 million from investors including Alphabet, Founders Fund, Capital G (Alphabet’s later-stage investment firm) and Verily, Alphabet’s investment firm focused on life sciences. In all, Oscar Health has raised $1.3 billion to fulfill its vision of providing better healthcare services through technologies like a mobile app for telemedicine, physician consultations, booking appointments, prescription refills and a more concierge-like healthcare experience for its members.

Initially, the company took advantage of the Affordable Care Act’s creation of new marketplaces for individuals to buy health insurance when it launched in 2012, but is now looking to buoy its growth by adding more deals with insurance providers like Cigna for small businesses.

Ultimately, the company envisions a healthcare industry where employer-defined plans will disappear as more consumers turn to Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements. In that environment, Oscar’s bespoke services — like the recent partnership with the startup Capsule Pharmacy to provide same-day prescription delivery for Oscar’s members in New York — or the company’s tight relationship with providers like the Cleveland Clinic, become competitive advantages.

Categories: Business News

Atrium lays off lawyers, explains pivot to legal tech

2020, January 14 - 8:20am

Seventy-five-million-dollar-funded legal services startup Atrium doesn’t want to be the next company to implode as the tech industry tightens its belt and businesses chase margins instead of growth via unsustainable economics. That’s why Atrium is laying off most of its in-house lawyers.

Now, Atrium will focus on its software for startups navigating fundraising, hiring and collaborating with lawyers. Atrium plans to ramp up its startup advising services. And it’s also doubling down on its year-old network of professional service providers that help clients navigate day-to-day legal work. Atrium’s laid-off attorneys will be offered spots as preferred providers in that network if they start their own firm or join another.

“It’s a natural evolution for us to create a sustainable model,” Atrium co-founder and CEO Justin Kan tells TechCrunch. “We’ve made the tough decision to restructure the company to accommodate growth into new business services through our existing professional services network,” Kan wrote on Atrium’s blog. He wouldn’t give exact figures, but confirmed that more than 10 but less than 50 staffers are impacted by the change, with Atrium having a headcount of 150 as of June.

The change could make Atrium more efficient by keeping fewer expensive lawyers on staff. However, it could weaken its $500 per month Atrium membership that included some services from its in-house lawyers that might be more complicated for clients to get through its professional network. Atrium will also now have to prove the its client-lawyer collaboration software can survive in the market with firms paying for it rather than it being bundled with its in-house lawyers’ services.

“We’re making these changes to move Atrium to a sustainable model that provides high-quality services to our clients. We’re doing it proactively because we see the writing on the wall that it’s important to have a sustainable business,” Kan says. “That’s what we’re doing now. We don’t anticipate any disruption of services to clients. We’re still here.”

Justin Kan (Atrium) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017

Founded in 2017, Atrium promised to merge software with human lawyers to provide quicker and cheaper legal services. Its technology can help automatically generate fundraising contracts, hiring offers and cap tables for startups while using machine learning to recommend procedures and clauses based on anonymized data from its clients. It also serves like a Dropbox for legal, organizing all of a startup’s documents to ensure everything’s properly signed and teams are working off the latest versions without digging through email.

The $500 per month Atrium membership offered this technology plus limited access to an in-house startup lawyer for consultation, plus access to guide books and events. Clients could pay extra if they needed special help such as with finalizing an acquisition deal, or access to its Fundraising Concierge service for aid with developing a pitch and lining up investor meetings.

Kan tells me Atrium still has some in-house lawyers on staff, which will help it honor all its existing membership contracts and power its new emphasis on advising services. He wouldn’t say if Atrium is paid any equity for advising, or just cash. The membership plan may change for future clients, so lawyer services are provided through its professional network instead.

“What we noticed was that Atrium has done a really good job of building a brand with startups. Often what they wanted from attorneys was…advice on ‘how to set my company up,’ ‘how to set my sales and marketing team up,’ ‘how to get great terms in my fundraising process,’ ” so Atrium is pursuing advising, Kan tells me. “As we sat down to look at what’s working and what’s not working, our focus has been to help founders with their super-hero story, connect them with the right providers and advisors, and then helping quarterback everything you need with our in-house specialists.”

Here’s what you’ll learn at Atrium’s fundraising workshop

LawSites first reported Saturday that Atrium was laying off in-house lawyers. A source tells TechCrunch that Atrium’s lawyers only found out a week ago about the changes, and they’ve been trying to pitch Atrium clients on working with them when they leave. One Atrium client said they weren’t surprised by the changes because they got so much legal advice for just $500 per month, which they suspected meant Atrium was losing money on the lawyers’ time as it was so much less expensive than competitors. They also said these cheap legal services rather than the software platform were the main draw of Atrium, and they’re unsure if the tech on its own is valuable enough.

One concern is Atrium might not learn as quickly about which services to translate into software if it doesn’t have as many lawyers in-house. But Kan believes third-party lawyers might be more clear and direct about what they need from legal technology. “I feel like having a true market for the software you’re building is better than having an internal market,” he says. “We get feedback from the outside firms we work with. I think in some ways that’s the most valuable feedback. I think there’s a lot of false signals that can happen when you’re the both the employer and the supplier.”

It was critical for Atrium to correct course before getting any bigger, given the fundraising problems hitting late-stage startups with poor economics in the wake of the WeWork debacle and SoftBank’s troubles. Atrium had raised a $10.5 million Series A in 2017 led by General Catalyst alongside Kleiner, Founders Fund, Initialized and Kindred Ventures. Then in September 2018, it scored a huge $65 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Raising even bigger rounds might have been impossible if Atrium was offering consultations with lawyers at far below market rate. Now it might be in a better position to attract funding. But the question is whether clients will stick with Atrium if they get less access to a lawyer for the same price, and whether the collaboration platform is useful enough for outside law firms to pay for.

Kan had gone through tough pivots in the past. He had strapped a camera to his head to create content for his live-streaming startup Justin.tv, but wisely recentered on the 3% of users letting people watch them play video games. Justin.tv became Twitch and eventually sold to Amazon for $970 million. His on-demand personal assistant startup Exec had to switch to just cleaning in 2013 before shutting down due to rotten economics.

Rather than deny the inevitable and wait until the last minute, with Atrium Kan tried to make the hard decision early.

Categories: Business News

Grab ’em quick: More tickets released for 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize

2020, January 14 - 1:30am

You better move fast if you want to party with us and 1,000 of your closest startup entrepreneur and investor friends. We just released a fresh round of tickets to our 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize in San Francisco on February 7. Tickets are limited, and they fly off the shelf faster than you can say seed funding. Don’t get shut out — buy your tickets here.

What can you do at the Winter Party? Plenty. Commune with the Silicon Valley community over craft beer and signature cocktails. Nosh on delectable appetizers. Converse and connect in a fun, relaxed setting. You never know who you’ll meet, but you can be sure to find influencers eager to meet and greet.

Demo your startup and introduce your genius product to the Valley’s finest thinkers, makers and investors. We have a very limited number of tables available — only two demo tables left — so get cracking. FYI: The price of a demo table includes four tickets to the party. Bring your crew and maximize your networking mojo.

What else goes down at the Winter Party? Lots of laughter, party games and activities — killer karaoke, anyone? — and plenty of photo ops. You might even score door prizes, like TC swag and tickets to Disrupt SF, our flagship event coming in September 2020. We’ll toss in a few surprises that night, too. Sweet!

Here’s the Winter Party lowdown.

  • When: Friday, February 7, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Ticket price: $85
  • Demo tables: $1,500 (buy tickets and tables here)

Remember, we release tickets in batches. If you don’t score a ticket this time, keep your eyes peeled for the next round. Don’t miss out!

Come to the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize and hang out with your people. Enjoy the food, the drinks, the fun and the opportunity to expand your network in a relaxed setting. We’ll see you in February!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Categories: Business News

Casper’s IPO could be a bellwether for unprofitable startups in the post-WeWork era

2020, January 14 - 1:20am

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re working to figure something out, namely the tradeoffs that D2C unicorn (and soon to be public company) Casper faces as it seeks to balance growth and profitability. And then we’re going to stack it next to its most obvious public comp, Purple, to figure out what it might be worth.

This is going to be a little more wonky than usual, but I can’t help myself. Let’s go.

Profit v. Growth

Every growing company faces a tradeoff in growth and profitability. The faster a company grows, generally speaking, the lower its profitability. In reverse, companies that grow more slowly can focus on wringing profits from existing operations. Companies that grow quickly while generating profit are rare (the Zooms of the world).

The tension between growth and profit is so well-known and understood that startups are held to a rule regarding the pair, called the Rule of 40. (In the post-WeWork IPO era, get used to hearing about this sort of thing more often.)

Categories: Business News

Equity Monday: Away’s CEO plans comeback while SaaS valuations rise and epiFI raises

2020, January 14 - 12:39am

Good morning friends, and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a short-form audio hit to kickstart your week. Regular Equity episodes still drop Friday morning, so if you’ve listened to the show over the years don’t worry — we’re not changing the main show. (Here’s last week’s episode with Danny Crichton, which was a lot of fun.)

What was on our minds this morning? Brian Heater’s CES overview of sleeptech from the weekend, which made the argument that not all gadgets are bad for our sleep, even if there is some irony in using tech to help cure our tech-addled brains. Here’s to something a bit more substantial than blackout shades.

Also, Facebook closed out last week after setting some record valuations — so much for the techlash — and Casper’s IPO filing landed to much impact just as everyone was trying to get away from their desks and onto their couches.

Looking at the coming week, earnings season is upon us, but not quite yet for companies that we care about, the recently public tech and venture-backed firms of the world. There are some big names that are reporting this month, but over the next five days expect things to be a bit quiet. Pending news, of course.

And in terms of the Twitter forecast, with the CEO of Away coming back to her company as early as today, expect your timeline to feature one topic in particular. Can you guess what it is?

This morning we also took a look at two funding rounds:

  • Former Google Pay execs raise $13.2M to build neo-banking platform for millennials in India (TechCrunch)
  • Legalpad Raises $10M To Help Immigrant Entrepreneurs With The Visa Process (Crunchbase News)

And we wrapped with notes on the Casper IPO filing, and why it’s attracting so much commentary, and criticism.

Hit play, and let’s get this week started!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

ToursByLocals snaps up its first funding, C$33M, to link sightseers with guides globally

2020, January 13 - 9:38pm

The tours and experiences market is projected to be worth $183 billion this year, and today a startup that has made inroads into the space through bootstrapping is announcing its first outside investment.

ToursByLocals — which sources local guides in some 162 countries, then helps tourists search and book them for either individual or small group tours and experiences in the place they are visiting — is today announcing 33 million Canadian dollars (US$25 million) in funding, from a single investor, Tritium Partners, money that it plans to use to hire more talent, build out its proprietary booking, payment and review publishing technology and expand its business development team.

This is the first outside funding for the Vancouver, Canada -based startup, which for the past 10 years has bootstrapped its business, building it up to 1.45 million customers and some US$45 million in revenues. It has around 100 employees today.

The valuation of ToursByLocals — co-founded by Paul Melhus, Dave Vincent and Luciano Bullorsky — is not being disclosed, but for some context, it’s operating in a dynamic (and crowded) space that includes competitors like Airbnb (by way of its Experiences effort); Berlin’s GetYourGuide, which last year raised funding from SoftBank and is now valued at over $1 billion; Hong Kong’s Klook, also backed by Softank and also valued at over $1 billion; Withlocals from the Netherlands; and more.

But it’s not all up, up, up: Vayable, an experiences startup incubated in Y Combinator, quietly shut down in December.

The company today says it has some 4,130 professional guides and 30,000 different tours discoverable on its platform, ranging from small group tours to private excursions. Its unique selling point up to now has been the fact that it curates the guides it works with — on average only one in 10 applying gets selected, the company tells me; and also, that it has focused on people who you might not typically associate with touristic outings, including “archaeologists, art historians, wildlife experts, photographers and foodies.” The idea here is that “local” doesn’t just mean someone who lives in the area, but someone very close to a particular subject.

“A private tour with a local guide is the best way to experience a destination. Since our founding, we’ve focused on creating truly memorable private tour experiences for travelers, while helping local tour guides offer customizable tours in over 1,000 destinations globally,” said Melhus, the CEO of ToursByLocals, in a statement.

“We are excited to partner with Tritium. In addition to growth capital, we value the strategic advice offered by both the Tritium team and its network of experienced marketplace executives, as we continue to scale up our operations as a leading online travel marketplace.”

Indeed, for a first outing into the private venture markets, Tritium Partners is a notable backer — a private equity firm that has built a focus in the travel market, backing the likes of HomeAway and a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, RVShare.

“ToursByLocals stood out as the premier private tour marketplace with the highest quality tours and local guides in the industry,” said Brett Shobe, a partner at Tritium, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to partner with the ToursByLocals team and look forward to leveraging our capital and resources to support and accelerate their exciting growth trajectory.”

Today, the startup appears to be picking up the majority of its business through direct sales, which helps the startup control the full experience. Part of its hand-picking of guides includes running background checks on them, and it also handles payments and any customer support directly. This seems to have a positive impact on both sides of its marketplace, both by getting repeat business from travelers but also positive responses from guides. ToursByLocals earns a 20% commission on all tours booked.

What will be interesting is to see whether, in a bid for more scale, ToursByLocals expands the third-party aspect of its business. That could include feeding its own product into aggregation platforms like Booking.com or Airbnb, which are keen to expand their revenues per user with extras like tours and experiences, on top of airline and other transportation sales, accommodation bookings and other travel services they may already offer.

Or it could mean bringing in more third-party content to its own platform, for example larger tours or other travel-related products and services. The company is also looking at ways of letting people “share” small tours with others, for example if two couples on a cruise are looking to split the cost of a four-person day tour when they each step ashore during a cruise.

Categories: Business News

Skyqraft, a startup using AI and drones for electricity power-line inspection, raises $505K

2020, January 13 - 7:15pm

Skyqraft, a Swedish startup using AI and drones for electricity power-line inspection, has picked up $505,000 in early backing.

Leading the round is “startup generator” and investor Antler, with participation from a number of angels, including Claes Ekström and Tomas Kåberger.

Founded in March 2019 and launched that September, Skyqraft provides what it calls “smart” infrastructure inspections for power-lines. It uses unmanned airplanes, combined with AI, to gather images and detect risk automatically.

This is in contrast to the status quo, where power-lines are typically inspected by teams of people and helicopters, which isn’t ideal on a number of fronts.

“Power-line inspections most importantly are not environmentally friendly, very costly and unsafe with the use of helicopters and people,” Skyqraft co-founder and CMO Sakina Turabali tells TechCrunch. “We provide smart infrastructure inspections using unmanned airplanes by gathering images and 360 videos and feeding that data into a machine learning system that automatically detects any risk to the power-lines.”

Skyqraft says it has already achieved several key milestones, including having a contract in place with one customer that has stopped using helicopters for yearly inspections. The company is also working on pilots with Eon, two Swedish municipalities and New York Gas and Electric.

“Our competitors are mainly quadcopter drone operators,” said Turabali. “And they inspect only the transmission grids. We on the other hand, offer our customers a full service and inspect both transmission and distribution grids also using our machine learning system to detect any threats automatically.

“Some of our competitors also only provide machine learning software and do not fly with drones and inspect the grid. They usually get their data set from partners’ flying drones. In a machine learning (ML) world, successful ML is 85% data handling and 15% software work. We use a uniform aircraft camera setup that can gather data in a swift and cost-efficient manner. That means we will do the data handling in a streamlined manner from the beginning and have total control of the data acquisition platform, i.e. the aircraft plus cameras.”

Meanwhile, Skyqraft says it will use the new funding for building further machine learning software, and expanding the map user interface for its customers. It will also continue to build out its drone operation teams, and test new apparatus.

In a statement, Lisa Enckell, partner of Antler, adds: “Skyqraft has developed a new solution on an unsolved problem. Their focus on emerging data collection methods gives them the opportunity to make an industry safer, more efficient and more sustainable. We’re delighted to be part of this journey.”

Categories: Business News

Jolt raises $14.1M for its ‘pay-monthly’ business school

2020, January 13 - 5:00pm

Jolt, an education startup that describes itself as an alternative to traditional MBA courses, has raised $14.1 million in Series A funding.

The round is led by Balderton Capital, with participation from Hillsven Capital and Octopus Ventures. It brings Jolt’s total funding to $23.3 million in three years.

The company plans to use the additional capital to continue expansion across the U.K. and Israel, and to enter the U.S. with a first campus in Manhattan. It currently operates three sites in London (Shoreditch, Soho and Liverpool Street), claiming to have more students than London Business School, and seven across Israel.

“Higher education is in a bubble in which trillions is being invested in something that works for a small minority of people,” says Jolt co-founder and CEO Roei Deutsch. “A staggering $2.3 trillion a year is invested into higher education despite the fact that data shows 79% of graduates don’t believe it’s working as it should… At Jolt, we’re creating a high-end, in-person, widely global and affordable higher education platform that people can actually see as an alternative to traditional higher education.”

Jolt says its business courses are aimed at professionals with undergraduate degrees and at least two years work experience, or three years experience without a degree, who have typically reached a point in their career when they want up-skill in order to move up the career ladder or move into a new industry, but don’t want to put their life on hold to re-enter education.

With Jolt, students only accumulate (and pay for) the classes they need to build their own diploma, and if they don’t want to complete the full program, they don’t have to. Operating on a monthly rolling basis, courses can be “paused,” too, so as to make them manageable, both financially and in terms of time management.

“Students sign up for lessons via the Jolt app and attend these lessons at their nearest campus,” explains Deutsch. “Lessons are offered outside of traditional working hours, largely in the evening, to help people study alongside their day job. Once they’ve completed a lesson/section, they are given a qualification that can be used straightaway, or put towards part of a wider diploma. These lessons and workshops revolve around practical application of the skills, debates and discussions, role-playing and other interactive tasks.”

Deutsch describes Jolt’s instructors as “highly skilled professionals who are currently working for some of the world’s biggest and most innovative companies,” including Google, Netflix, TrustLab and others. “This ensures our curriculum is as up-to-date and as relevant as possible,” he says.

“We have a thorough streaming process for hiring lecturers so we only use the very best talent, and at the end of each lesson, students rate the content and delivery to create a constant feedback loop that ensures quality and value for money for our students.”

Price is another area where Jolt wants to put pressure on traditional higher education. It says that a Jolt “NAMBA” (Not an MBA) program, for example, costs £175 a month, or £4,500 in total, which it claims is more than six times cheaper than traditional U.K. MBAs, which, unsubsidised, cost on average £30,000. “This is before you factor in the loss of earnings caused by traditional, inflexible two or one-year courses,” says the company.

Adds the Jolt CEO: “During our time in the Israeli Defense Forces, we were astonished at how regular people could be turned into intelligence officers within months, demonstrating that the military and other government organisations are effective at training people while the rest of the population is seemingly suffering from education that’s not always good enough. This led us to question why traditional, centuries-old private and government-led educational institutions seem to struggle to achieve such results, which motivated us to build an alternative higher education option.”

Categories: Business News

Former Google Pay execs raise $13.2M to build neo-banking platform for millennials in India

2020, January 13 - 4:07am

Two co-founders of Google Pay in India are building a neo-banking platform in the country — and they have already secured backing from three top VC funds.

Sujith Narayanan, a veteran payments executive who co-founded Google Pay in India (formerly known as Google Tez), said on Monday that his startup, epiFi, has raised $13.2 million in its Seed financial round led by Sequoia India and Ribbit Capital. The round valued epiFi at about $50 million.

David Velez, the founder of Brazil-based neo-banking giant Nubank, Kunal Shah, who is building his second payments startup CRED in India, and VC fund Hillhouse Capital also participated in the round.

The eight-month-old startup is working on a neo-banking platform that will focus on serving millennials in India, said Narayanan, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“When we were building Google Tez, we realized that a consumer’s financial journey extends beyond digital payments. They want insurance, lending, investment opportunities and multiple products,” he explained.

The idea, in part, is to also help users better understand how they are spending money, and guide them to make better investments and increase their savings, he said.

At this moment, it is unclear what the convergence of all of these features would look like. But Narayanan said epiFi will release an app in a few months.

Working with Narayanan on epiFi is Sumit Gwalani, who serves as the startup’s co-founder and chief product and technology officer. Gwalani previously worked as a director of product management at Google India and helped conceptualize Google Tez. In a joint interview, Gwalani said the startup currently has about two-dozen employees, some of whom have joined from Netflix, Flipkart, and PayPal.

Shailesh Lakhani, Managing Director of Sequoia Capital India, said some of the fundamental consumer banking products such as savings accounts haven’t seen true innovation in many years. “Their vision to reimagine consumer banking, by providing a modern banking product with epiFi, has the potential to bring a step function change in experience for digitally savvy consumers,” he said.

Cash dominates transactions in India today. But New Delhi’s move to invalidate most paper bills in circulation in late 2016 pushed tens of millions of Indians to explore payments app for the first time.

In recent years, scores of startups and Silicon Valley firms have stepped to help Indians pay digitally and secure a range of financial services. And all signs suggest that a significant number of people are now comfortable with mobile payments: More than 100 million users together made over 1 billion digital payments transaction in October last year — a milestone the nation has sustained in the months since.

A handful of startups are also attempting to address some of the challenges that small and medium sized businesses face. Bangalore-based Open, NiYo, and RazorPay provide a range of features such as corporate credit cardsa single dashboard to manage transactions and the ability to automate recurring payouts that traditional banks don’t currently offer. These platforms are also known as neo-bank or challenger banks or alternative banks. Interestingly, most neo-banking platforms in South Asia today serve startups and businesses — not individuals.

Categories: Business News

CES takes half-baked stance on cannabis

2020, January 11 - 5:47am

A cannabis company won a CES award for 2020. Called Keep, the desktop storage device features biometric security to secure cannabis products, and looks good while doing it. The CTA gave them an Innovations Award Nominee in October and then weeks later told the company they were unable to use the word “cannabis” when exhibiting.

Keep Labs decided to stay home and not exhibit at the massive Consumer Electronics Show, potentially missing out on distribution deals, funding and increased brand awareness.

Vaporizers, cannabis and tobacco alike have long been found on the CES show floor. They’re often hidden under different names, like aromatherapy devices. This year is different. They’re gone from the show floor. I spent hours in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo center. The vapes are missing from the 2020 show.

That could change, according to a spokesperson for CES. The trade group behind the show is evaluating if cannabis has a place at CES.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) runs CES. It’s the largest such trade event in the world and attended by some 200,000 people. After speaking with a CTA spokesperson, it’s clear the trade organization knows its under close scrutiny and yet it’s still willing to blur lines to allow some companies ancillarily to cannabis to exhibit. That is, if they don’t talk about the device’s true intention.

In the past, sex tech was explicitly banned, so companies like OhMiBod exhibited under Health and Wellness. Vaporizers could be categorized as aromatherapy devices. Emails obtained by TechCrunch show the CTA has told cannabis-adjacent companies it can exhibit if cannabis is not mentioned on the show floor.

Keep Labs submitted its cannabis storage device exhibit under the “Home Storage” category. Upon its acceptance, the CTA nominated the device to the coveted Innovation Award and told the company it could present, as long as it doesn’t mention cannabis. You see, to the CTA, Keep Labs’ product is acceptable as it could have another purpose other than storing cannabis gummies; it could, in theory, be used to store candy gummies. Keep Labs told TechCrunch that avoiding saying “cannabis” goes against the company’s best interest, so it decided to skip the show.

Canopy Growth operates several prominent brands in the cannabis space. Like Keep Labs, it feels CES is not the right place to exhibit its wares if true intentions need to be hidden.

The Canadian company announced a new line of vape pens and cartridges in late 2019. With smart features and an app component, it would be perfect fodder among CES’ high-tech exhibits. The company also owns Storz-Bickel, a vaporizer company with historic roots that could exhibit in this CES gray area.

Canopy Growth acknowledges it’s banned from the show while some smaller competitors are able to exhibit by skirting the rules.

Canopy Growth CTO Peter Popplewell tells TechCrunch he still attends CES. It’s essential for him and Canopy Growth’s brands, even if the company isn’t exhibiting. For him, as the CTO, he’s meeting with component makers and suppliers.

“As the largest producer of legally produced medical and recreational cannabis and hemp products, and now a hardware manufacturer, Canopy Growth is constantly looking for ways to provide next-generation innovation to our customers and enhance their cannabis experience,” Popplewell told TechCrunch. “Within its portfolio of brands, Canopy has brought to market five different vaporizer products this fiscal year and our R&D pipeline is full of exciting developments.

“CES is the tradeshow where I am able to meet with a host of component manufacturers that help us develop safety features on our devices — such as accurate temperature control and locking the devices to address the unique needs and concerns of cannabis users,” Popplewell said.

Pax is one of the largest cannabis hardware companies and does not exhibit at CES. To be clear, Pax still has a presence in Las Vegas during CES, even though it’s not at the show itself. Like many companies at CES, Pax holds meetings and attends third-party events during CES. This lets the company bypass the CTA’s rules and still access CES attendees.

Earlier this week Pax released its Era Pro vaporizer that features PodID, a clever feature that brings a lot of information to the user.

Pax VP of Policy Jeff Brown, tells TechCrunch he’s puzzled by the CTA’s stance.

“CTA’s stubborn refusal to allow cannabis companies on the show floor is both comic and puzzling,” Brown said. “Cannabis is fully legal in Las Vegas, and there are multiple dispensaries within a mile of the convention center. Inside, companies offer an open bar in their booth, and hundreds walk the floor with a drink in hand.

“Nobody is asking to consume at CES,” Brown added. “There’s a lot of interesting technology being developed to take the guesswork out of weed. There are vaporizers with apps that tell consumers what they’re smoking, they detail the chemical attributes, and provide controls to measure each dose. There’s even a numeric lock to make the vaporizer unusable by children.”

As he told TechCrunch, this technology is legal, and cannabis itself is legal in 33 states and Canada.

“Unfortunately, you’re not going to learn about it at CES,” Brown said.

Right now, even in 2020, there are ways around the CTA’s ban. In the case of Keep Labs, the CTA granted the company permission to exhibit — as long as cannabis wasn’t mentioned. The company decided that to exhibit without saying “cannabis” wouldn’t do the brand justice. They don’t want to shy away from cannabis.

This is the puzzling part. The CTA will let companies exhibit, as long as their true intentions are hidden. The CTA used to do the same with sex toys, too.

In the run-up to the 2019 show, the CTA awarded sextech maker Lori DiCarlo with an Innovations Award. It later rescinded the award after the trade organization decided it was too sexy for CES. Fallout followed and expanded as the show opened, and sextech was found throughout the show floor, despite the ban affecting Lori DiCarlo. As with cannabis, the CTA allowed sextech under the guise of as “personal massagers” alongside therapy and sports massagers in the Health and Wellness category.

The CTA introduced the Sex Tech category for the 2020 show on a trial basis. I’m told the category will likely live on to future shows, too. This is how the CTA operates, the CTA told TechCrunch. It trials a category, and then if it works out, the category is rolled into the show.

“For us, cannabis is a tough decision,” a CTA spokesperson told TechCrunch. “It’s complicated, and the laws are changing quickly. We are watching closely, and I would not be surprised if, at some point in the future, it was part of the show.”

The CTA tells TechCrunch it continually looks at the regulatory environment, pointing out that cannabis is still an illicit substance at the federal level in the United States. The CTA however acknowledges cannabis is legal in the state of Nevada.

Nevada is one of the 33 states in the United States where cannabis is legal in some form. In Nevada, it’s legal to consume for recreational uses. The state law allows for cannabis consumption in a private residence, making it illegal to consume in a hotel, public space or convention center. There are dozens of cannabis dispensaries within miles of CES.

Cortney Smith’s vaporizer company DaVinci is based in Las Vegas and has exhibited at CES a handful of times. As he tells TechCrunch, the company didn’t have a problem presenting on the show floor, but “didn’t paste pot leaves all over.”

Smith explained that he feels the CTA’s radar has grown more sensitive in part by the vaporizer scare in 2019.

“In the past, [cannabis products weren’t] challenged,” Smith said. “So when we were there, as a cannabis vaporizer, we did not get scrutinized because [the CTA] was not on alert.”

DaVinci isn’t exhibiting this year despite recently launching a new product. The dry herb DaVinci IQ2 just hit the market and is among a new crop of vaporizers designed to bring more transparency to cannabis use. It uses on-device processing to track and record active compounds produced per draw. The sleek device and smartphone app would look at home among the latest gadgets found at CES.

As he puts it, if CES doesn’t want the business, there’s an opportunity for other trade shows to pick up cannabis products and run with it.

“CES has competition,” Smith said. “There are other consumer electronics shows around the world that would love to steal their thunder and star power. And the chance [the CTA] takes when they limit their innovation — like no sex toys or no cannabis — it gives the opportunity to some other electronics show to welcome adult toys or adult devices. So I guess they’re willing to make this compromise to play it safe.”

Categories: Business News

Rappi and Oyo pare staff as Vision Fund companies trim costs, target profits

2020, January 11 - 5:09am

This week we’ve covered layoffs at unicorns both inside the Vision Fund and out. This afternoon we add two more to our list: Oyo and Rappi.

The staff reductions are surprising — and not. They are surprising, as Oyo (India-based, low-cost hotels) and Rappi (Latin America-focused e-commerce) were bright lights in the Vision Fund’s crown. And the layoffs are not surprising as other famous unicorns have recently cut staff in a bid to reduce costs, diminish losses and aim closer to profitability.

Our net lack of shock is underscored by the Vision Fund itself, which signaled late last year that it wants portfolio companies to get profitable and get public. The cuts are therefore a little more than unsurprising; we should have anticipated them.

Categories: Business News

Casper files to go public, shows you can lose money selling mattresses

2020, January 11 - 4:27am

E-commerce phenom and D2C bright light Casper has filed to go public.

The New York-based company that raised nearly $340 million while private, according to Crunchbase data, expects to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “CSPR.” Its S-1 filing includes a $100 million placeholder figure for its possible capital raise.

The company will need the money, as it loses money and burns cash. Let’s explore just how a mattress company does that.

Growth, loss

In the full years of 2017 and 2018, Casper recorded revenue of $250.9 million (net of $45.7 million in “refunds, returns, and discounts”) and $357.9 million (net of $80.7 million in “refunds, returns, and discounts”). That worked out to growth of 42.6% in the year.

Over the same two periods, Casper lost $73.4 million and $92.1 million on a net basis, respectively.

Layoffs at Lime and Getaround herald rise of profit-hungry unicorns

In the first three quarters of 2019 versus 2018, Casper put up $312.3 million in top line (net of $80.1 million in “refunds, returns, and discounts”), up just over 20% from its year-ago three-quarter tally of $259.7 million in revenue (net of $57.7 million in “refunds, returns, and discounts”).

The company’s net loss during the three-quarter period rose from $64.2 million in 2018 to $67.4 million in 2019. The company’s net losses are generally rising (though slowly so far in 2019), while its growth decelerates.

In contrast, and to the company’s favor, its operating cash burn is slowing. From $84.0 million in 2017 to $72.3 million in calendar 2018, Casper slowed its operating cash consumption further in 2019, to just $29.7 million in the first three quarters of the year, compared to $44.9 million over the same period of the preceding year.

But the company’s slowing growth and stiff losses using regular accounting methods (GAAP) could strain its valuation. Casper was valued at $1.1 billion in its most recent funding round.

While the company’s gross margins aren’t bad for a non-software company (49.6% in the first nine months of 2019), the firm spent over 73% of its gross profit last year on sales and marketing costs. That figure indicates that Casper spent heavily to generate growth, growth that came in at about 20% so far in 2019, as reported.

That fact implies that growth will remain constrained, as the firm can’t afford to spend too much more on the line item. Which begs the question: What’s the value of a firm that is showing slowing growth, non-recurring revenue and sticky GAAP losses?

The company’s adjusted losses aren’t much better. Looking at its adjusted EBITDA, a profit metric so distorted to flatter that it’s nigh a funhouse mirror, Casper only marginally improved on its 2018 tally looking at the first three quarters of that year (-$57.5 million) in 2019 (-$53.8 million).

Investors

Casper has raised from IVP, Lerer Hippeau, Target and New Enterprise Associates. The firm raised seed capital back in 2014 along with a Series A. Lerer and NEA were most active back then, looking at its funding history.

The company raised $55 million more in 2015, and a far-larger $170 million in mid-2017. A $100 million round came in 2019 that set it up for its 2020 IPO.

This company’s IPO is a pricing question. And one that will impact a host of startups that both compete directly with Casper or operate in a different vertical with a similar business. Get hype.

Categories: Business News

Layoffs at Lime and Getaround herald rise of profit-hungry unicorns

2020, January 11 - 1:37am

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Positive adjusted EBITDA, or something close to it.

That’s the message from scooter unicorn Lime, which announced this week that it was cutting about 14% of its staff and closing a dozen markets. The staff reductions, numbering about 100, come as the company has touted efforts to improve its profitability — going as far as setting targets for when it might reach capital freedom, as well as highlighting the matter in a recent corporate blog post.

(Bird, a Lime competitor, also underwent layoffs this year.)

What’s going on? Unicorns, once hungry for growth, are now hell-bent to show current (and future) investors that their businesses aren’t unprofitable quagmires. Profitability, or movement towards it, is hot, and Lime is a good example of the trend — as is Getaround, which also wrote about its own layoffs this week. Let’s dig in.

Categories: Business News

Lucky coffee, unicorn stumbles and Sam Altman’s YC wager

2020, January 10 - 11:00pm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we had TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm and Danny Crichton on hand to dig into the news, with Chris Gates on the dials and more news than we could possibly cram into 30 minutes. So we went a bit over; sorry about that.

We kicked off by running through a few short-forms to get things going, including:

  • Alex wanted to talk about his recent story on Lily AI’s $12.5 million Series A. Canaan led the round into the e-commerce-focused recommendation engine that has a cool take on what people care about.
  • Danny talked about the acquisition of Armis Security by Insight for $1.1 billion, the VC round for self-driving forklift startup Vecna and an outside-the-Valley round for Houston-based HighRadius.

Turning to longer cuts, the team dug into the latest from SoftBank, its Vision Fund and the successes and struggles of its enormous startup bets. Leading the news cycle this week were layoffs at Zume, a robotic pizza delivery venture that is no longer pursuing robotic pizza delivery. Now it’s working on sustainable packaging. Cool, but it’s going to be hard for the company to grow into its valuation while pivoting.

Other issues have come up — more here — that paint some cracks onto the Vision Fund’s sunny exterior. Don’t be too beguiled by the bad news, Danny says; venture funds run like J-Curves, and there are still winners in that particular portfolio.

After that, we turned to China, in particular its venture slowdown. The bubble, in Danny’s view, has burst. The story discussed is here, if you want to read it. The short version for the lazy is that not only has China’s venture scene slowed down dramatically, but startups — even those with ample capital raised — are dying by the hundred. But one highly caffeinated Chinese startup continues to find growth in the world’s greatest tea market.

Finally we hit on the Sam Altman wager and the latest from Sisense, which is now a unicorn. All that and we had some fun.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

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