Startup News

Subscribe to Startup News feed Startup News
Startup and Technology News
Updated: 5 hours 12 min ago

InVideo raises $2.5M and launches an automated assistant to make your videos better

2020, February 19 - 2:33am

Video editing startup InVideo has new funding and a new product.

The San Francisco-headquartered company bills itself as the easiest way for anyone to create professional-quality videos, using a drag-and-drop interface along with a library of templates and stock photos and videos. The resulting videos can then be optimized for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other platforms.

InVideo’s new assistant does even more to help with the process. As demonstrated for me by co-founder and CEO Sanket Shah, as you create a video, it automatically makes suggestions for how the video could be improved — he compared it to Grammarly, but for video.

Shah said the assistant currently focuses on two areas, both text-related. First, it’s making sure that all the text on the screen is readable — so that, for example, you don’t have light-colored text on a light background. Second, it’s making sure the text is “comprehensible” — so that there’s not too much text on the screen, or it’s not flashing by too quickly.

“We all think that design is very creative, but there’s a lot of science in it as well,” he said.

Shah told me InVideo’s founders first worked together on a startup aiming to create 10-minute video summaries of nonfiction books. That’s when they discovered “video creation is a very painful process, it’s just not scalable.” So they launched the current startup hoping to solve this problem.

The company says it now has 100,000 customers — including AT&T, Sony Music, Reuters, CNN and CNBC — in 150 countries.

It might seem surprising for a large media company to need to use a tool like this, but Shah explained, “The users who use us [at those large companies] today are not video editors. If you want to constantly create videos about the U.S. elections, it’s not a video editor who’s doing it, it’s very likely a news producer” with limited or nonexistent editing experience.

Pricing for the editor starts at $10 per month, though there’s also a free version if you don’t mind watermarks.

InVideo is also announcing that it has raised an additional $2.5 million in funding from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge, along with angel investors Anand Chandrasekaran and Gokul Rajaram. It has now raised a total of $3.2 million.

“InVideo has truly captured the imagination of our users with their super user-friendly online video editor and great customer support,” said Ayman Al-Abdullah, CEO and president of software deals website AppSumo, in a statement. “In fact, it has gone on to become the most sold product in AppSumo history.”

Trash uses AI to edit your footage into a fun, short videos

Categories: Business News

Aisera, an AI tool to help with customer service and internal operations, exits stealth with $50M

2020, February 19 - 2:10am

Robotic process automation — the ability to automate certain repetitive software-based tasks to free up people to focus on work that computers cannot do — has become a major growth area in the world of IT. Today, a startup called Aisera that is coming out of stealth has taken this idea and supercharged it by using artificial intelligence to help not just workers with internal tasks, but in customer-facing environments, too.

Quietly operating under the radar since 2017, Aisera has picked up a significant list of customers, including Autodesk, Ciena, Unisys and McAfee — covering a range of use cases from “computer geeks with very complicated questions through to people who didn’t grow up in the computer generation,” says CEO Muddu Sudhakar, the serial entrepreneur (three previous startups, Kazeon, Cetas and Caspida, were respectively acquired by EMC, VMware and Splunk) who is Aisera’s co-founder.

With growth of 350% year-on-year, the company is also announcing today that it has raised $50 million to date, including most recently a $20 million Series B led by Norwest Venture Partners with Menlo Ventures, True Ventures, Khosla Ventures, First Round Capital, Ram Shriram and Maynard Webb Investments also participating.

(No valuation is being disclosed, said Sudhakar.)

The crux of the problem that Aisera has set out to solve is that, while RPA has identified that there is a degree of repetition in certain back-office tasks — which, if that work can be automated, can reduce operational costs and be more efficient for an organization — the same can be said for a wide array of IT processes that cover sales, HR, customer care and more.

There have been some efforts made to apply AI to solving different aspects of these particular use cases, but one of the issues has been that there are few solutions that sit above an organization’s software stack to work across everything that the organization uses, and does so in an “unsupervised” way — that is, uses AI to “learn” processes without having an army of engineers alongside the program training it.

Aisera aims to be that platform, integrating with the most popular software packages (for example in service desk apps, it integrates with Salesforce, ServiceNow, Atlassian and BMC), providing tools to automatically resolve queries and complete tasks. Aisera is looking to add more categories as it grows: Sudhakar mentioned legal, finance and facilities management as three other areas it’s planning to target.

Matt Howard, the partner at Norwest that led its investment in Aisera, said one of the other things that stands out for him about the company is that its tools work across multiple channels, including email, voice-based calls and messaging, and can operate at scale, something that can’t be said in actual fact for a lot of AI implementations.

“I think a lot of companies have overstated when they implement machine learning. A lot of times it’s actually big data and predictive analytics. We have mislabeled a lot of this,” he said in an interview. “AI as a rule is hard to maintain if it’s unsupervised. It can work every well in a narrow use case, but it becomes a management nightmare when handling the stress that comes with 15 million or 20 million queries.” Currently Aisera said that it handles about 10 million people on its platform. With this round, Howard and Jon Callaghan of True Ventures are both joining the board.

There is always a paradox of sorts in the world of AI, and in particular as it sits around and behind processes that have previously been done by humans. It is that AI-based assistants, as they get better, run the risk of ultimately making obsolete the workers they’re meant to help.

While that might be a long-term question that we will have to address as a society, for now, the reward/risk balance seems to tip more in the favour of reward for Aisera’s customers. “At Ciena, we want our employees to be productive,” said Craig Williams, CIO at Ciena, in a statement. “This means they shouldn’t be trying to figure out how a ticketing tool works, nor should they be waiting around for a tech to fix their issues. We believe that 75 percent of all incidents can be resolved through Aisera’s technology, and we believe we can apply Aisera across multiple platforms. Aisera doesn’t just make great AI technology, they understand our problems and partner with us closely to achieve our mission.”

And Sudhakar — similar to the founders of startups that are would-be competitors like UiPath when asked the same kind of question — doesn’t feel that obsolescence is the end game, either.

“There are billions of people in call centres today,” he said in an interview. “If I can automate [repetitive] functions they can focus on higher-level work, and that’s what we wanted to do. Those trying to solve simple requests shouldn’t. It’s one example where AI can be put to good use. Help desk employees want to work and become programmers, they don’t want to do mundane tasks. They want to move up in their careers, and this can help give them the roadmap to do it.”

Categories: Business News

New Early Stage speakers to talk fundraising strategies, growth marketing and PR

2020, February 19 - 1:44am

TC Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, and we are getting pretty damn excited about it!

The show will bring together 50+ experts across startup core competencies, such as fundraising, operations and marketing. We’ll hear from VCs on how to create the perfect pitch deck and how to identify the right investors for you. We’ll hear from lawyers on how to navigate the immigration process when hiring, and how to negotiate the cap table. And we’ll hear from growth hackers on how to build a high-performance SEO engine, and PR experts on how to tell your brand’s story.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, I’m pleased to announce four more breakout sessions.

Lo Toney

Toney is the founding managing partner of Plexo Capital, which was incubated and spun out from GV. Before Plexo, Toney was a partner with Comcast Ventures, where he led the Catalyst Fund, and then moved to GV where he focused on marketplace, mobile and consumer products. Toney also has operational experience, having served as the GM of Zynga Poker, the company’s largest franchise at the time.

Think Like a PM for VC Pitch Success

Your pitchdeck is not just a reflection of your business, it’s a product unto itself. Your startup’s success, and avoiding the end of your runway, depends on the conversion rate of that product. Hear from Plexo Capital founding partner Lo Toney about how thinking like a PM when crafting your pitch deck can produce outstanding results.

Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw

Shaw and Rubino are marketing consultants for Right Side Up, a growth marketing consultancy. Prior to Right Side Up, Shaw scaled podcast campaigns for brands like quip, Lyft and Texture, and has worked with brands like McDonald’s, Honda, ampm, and Tempur Sealy. Rubino has worked with companies across all stages and sizes, including Advil, DoorDash, P&G, Lyft and Stitch Fix.

Why You Need Podcasts in Your Growth Marketing Mix

Podcast advertising is widely viewed as a nascent medium, but smart companies know it can be a powerful channel in their marketing mix. Opportunity is ripe — get in early and you can own the medium, box out competitors and catapult your growth. Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw have launched and scaled successful podcast ad campaigns for early-stage startups and household name brands and will be sharing their strategies for companies to succeed in this often misunderstood channel.

Jake Saper

Jake Saper, the son of serial co-founders, has been obsessed with entrepreneurialism from a young age. His origin in venture capital started at Kleiner Perkins, and he moved on to become a partner at Emergence in 2014, where he became a Kauffman Fellow. He serves on the boards of Textio, Guru, Ironclad, DroneDeploy, and Vymo, and his self-described “nerdy love” of frameworks has only grown over the years.

When It Comes to Fundraising, Timing Is Everything

There are some shockingly common timing mistakes founders make that can turn an otherwise successful fundraise into a failure. We’ll talk through how to avoid them and how to sequence efforts from the time you close your seed to ensure you find the right partner (at the right price!) for Series A and beyond.

April Conyers

Conyers has been in the communications industry for 15 years, currently serving as the senior director of Corporate Communications at Postmates . Before Postmates, Conyers served as a VP at Brew PR, working with clients like Automattic, NetSuite, Oracle, Doctor on Demand and about.me. During that time, she also found herself on BI’s “The 50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry In 2014” list.

The Media Is Misunderstood, But Your Company Shouldn’t Be

With the media industry in a state of flux, navigating the process of telling your story can be confusing and overwhelming. Hear from Postmates Senior Director of Corporate Communication April Conyers on how startups should think about PR, and how to get your message across in a hectic media landscape.

Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, with more than 50 breakout sessions to choose from. However, don’t worry about missing a breakout session, because transcripts from each will be available to show attendees. And most of the folks leading the breakout sessions have agreed to hang at the show for at least half the day and participate in CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s great app to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buy your ticket today and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today, as well as those already announced. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

So get your TC Early Stage: San Francisco pass today, and get the inside track on the sessions we announced today, as well as the ones to be announced in the coming weeks.

Possible sponsor? Hit us up right here.

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-02477ba73f2ce7104ba54bd838810d2a') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-02477ba73f2ce7104ba54bd838810d2a' }, "https:\/\/tcprotectedembed.com" ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'tcprotectedembed.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

Categories: Business News

Kickstarter workers vote to unionize

2020, February 19 - 1:26am

Kickstarter today announced that its staff has decided to unionize. The move reflects a broader movement for worker representation among tech employees. The site joins a growing list of companies whose staff and/or contractors have expressed public interest in unionizing, including Spin, Instacart and Pittsburgh-based Google technical workers, along with media outlets like BuzzFeed and Vox.

The decision, which was approved through a 46 to 37 vote, comes on the heels of pushback from Kickstarter leadership. As noted in a piece published by Vice late last year, CEO Aziz Hassan called employees’ push to unionize “inherently adversarial” in a letter to staff, adding:

That dynamic doesn’t reflect who we are as a company, how we interact, how we make decisions, or where we need to go. We believe that in many ways it would set us back, and that the us vs. them binary already has.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch this morning, however, the executive appears to have had a change of heart.

“We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here,” Hassan writes. “We’ve worked hard over the last decade to build a different kind of company, one that measures its success by how well it achieves its mission: helping to bring creative projects to life. Our mission has been common ground for everyone here during this process, and it will continue to guide us as we enter this new phase together.”

As part of the National Labor Relations Board vote, Kickstarter United will now be recognized by management of the Brooklyn-based crowdfunding giant. This marks the first time a major tech company’s full-time, white-collar employees have unionized in such a manner.

Categories: Business News

Gojek reportedly buys 4.3% stake in Indonesian taxi company Blue Bird

2020, February 18 - 4:11pm

Gojek has paid $30 million to take a minority stake in Blue Bird, one of the largest taxi operators in Indonesia, according to Bloomberg, which first reported that the deal was in progress last month.

Gojek’s stake in Blue Bird is worth $30 million. The taxi operator’s holding company disclosed in a regulatory filing earlier this month that it had sold 108 million shares of Blue Bird at 3,800 rupiahs (about 28 cents) to an undisclosed buyer. The company already offered reservations for Blue Bird taxis on its super-app, and the investment brings the two closer.

Gojek’s “super-app,” called that because it offers a wide range of services, including on-demand rides and deliveries, a payment service, streaming entertainment and services like home cleaning, competes against Grab, which announced last July that it will use $2 billion of the funding it raised from SoftBank to invest in Indonesian transportation infrastructure and businesses.

While Gojek and Grab compete in several markets, Gojek is currently the biggest player in Indonesia.

TechCrunch has contacted Gojek for comment.

SoftBank pumps $2B into Indonesia through Grab investment, putting it head to head with Gojek

Categories: Business News

SumUp launches Mastercard-powered ‘SumUp Card’ for business payments

2020, February 18 - 4:00pm

SumUp, the London-based fintech company that enables small businesses to take card payments via its device and online, is launching its own pre-paid card in partnership with Mastercard.

Dubbed “SumUp Card,” the new offering will enable merchants to gain quicker to access funds collected via SumUp as it will no longer require money to be transferred out to a third-party bank account first.

The idea — and especially useful for cash-flow constrained micro-businesses — is that the new card can be used for all business payments, in addition to letting SumUp merchants access other benefits, such as guaranteed next-day payouts (including on weekends) and low FX rates. It means SumUp now covers collecting and making payments, evolving into a banking app of sorts.

The SumUp Card, which supports online, contactless, and Chip-and-PIN payments, has no upfront cost or monthly fee. It is available immediately in the U.K., Italy and France, with plans to extend the service to further territories in the next 12 months.

“SumUp Card is a beneficial tool for merchants to get their payouts quicker, including on weekends, and control the cash flow,” a SumUp spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “It also allows merchants to have an overview of their finances in one place. Merchants can further keep money on the card and use it for paying business expenses, separating personal and business cash flows”.

More broadly, the paint-point SumUp is trying to solve is that working capital is one of the biggest costs for small businesses, and by allowing them to shorten their cash cycles, it aims to help those businesses become more viable.

“Following feedback from SumUp merchants, it was clear that quicker payments and uninterrupted access to funds were particularly important to those running a micro-business, and who may not be able to open a traditional business account,” adds the spokesperson.

“The cost associated with opening a business account at a traditional bank is prohibitive for the small merchants as banks avoid serving this segment and are not able to do so profitably. In our merchant interviews, we heard feedback from a U.K. merchant that getting a business bank account is like getting married: as soon as you say it’s a wedding the cost doubles. SumUp Card allows these merchants to separate their personal accounts from their day-to-day business, removing friction in the process”.

Categories: Business News

Voodoo Games thrives by upending conventional product design

2020, February 18 - 9:17am
Will Robbins Contributor Share on Twitter Will Robbins is an early-stage investor at Contrary. More posts by this contributor

Voodoo Games is one of the most interesting startups alive today. In mid-2018, it had 150 million MAUs and raised $200 million from Goldman Sachs, yet I’ve never heard anyone mention the company. That might be normal for an obscure enterprise SaaS play, but Voodoo is consumer-facing through and through.

Quantitative success aside, Voodoo upends much of the conventional thinking about product design and gaming. If it can do it, how can similar strategies apply to other products?

But first, some background: What is Voodoo Games?

Voodoo is best described as a product conglomerate. Take a look at its App Store page. It has dozens of generic-looking apps. The basic playbook is:

  • Quickly build a relatively low-quality, single-purpose game.
  • Make sure one mechanic is really fun. It doesn’t matter if users churn 20 minutes after downloading it.
Categories: Business News

GGV Capital says mom-and-pop shops can boost e-commerce in emerging markets

2020, February 18 - 7:54am

Despite the rapid growth of e-commerce in India, Southeast Asia and other emerging markets, the vast majority of retail transactions there still happen offline in small stores that also serve as neighborhood hubs.

The central role these stores play in their communities led GGV Capital to develop what the firm refers to as its mom-and-pop shop investment thesis. This means backing startups that help small retailers digitize operations, tap into better supply chains and serve as delivery points in markets where logistics and online payment infrastructures are still developing. In turn, GGV’s managing partners believe this will lay the groundwork for stronger e-commerce growth.

Companies that GGV has already invested in under this thesis include B2B e-commerce platform Udaan and Telio, bookkeeping app KhataBook and social commerce startup Shihuituan (also called Nice Tuan) in China.

A sociological approach to e-commerce investment

GGV managing partner Hans Tung says the mom-and-pop shop thesis means looking at consumers’ shopping habits across countries and understanding why they are different from a historical and social perspective. During his career, Tung has observed e-commerce develop in markets including the United States, China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Offline shopping habits, population density, transportation infrastructure and credit card penetration all played a factor in how e-commerce evolved in each of those places.

“You realize e-commerce doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists as a substitute for what is happening in the offline world,” he says. “Mobile payment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It just fulfills the same needs with a different method. It was a substitution for what was happening in the offline world with credit card and debit card penetration.”

Categories: Business News

So much for pessimism

2020, February 18 - 7:11am

After WeWork exploded there was — at least supposedly — a change in sentiment among investors and founders alike. Gone were the days of easy nine-figure rounds, expensive growth, negative unit economics and the rest of the excess that Startupland has enjoyed over the past half-decade.

Inside this purported sentiment shift, I presumed, was a decrease in optimism; surely venture capitalists and entrepreneurs would change their behavior inside this new paradigm?

But by some measures, they haven’t. I expected that startups would achieve more conservative proximate valuations in the post-WeWork world, as their leaders would aim to raise a bit less, and a bit more conservatively, and investors would be less starry-eyed in the prices they were willing to pay for startup equity.

That was all wrong, it turns out. A recent report from Fenwick and West, a legal firm that works with technology companies, paints a picture that is the complete opposite of what we might have anticipated.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised; our recent reporting hardly describes a market in slowdown. Boston is having a good start to the year, for example. SaaS is also looking healthy from a venture capital perspective. Cloud stocks are at all-time highs and One Medical is still defying gravity as a public stock. Whatever lesson WeWork was supposed to teach, it doesn’t appear to have made much impact.

Let’s explore the Fenwick data and then ask if we can spot anywhere where the markets are behaving like the chastened children that we were told had taken over.

Up, and to the right
Categories: Business News

Rippling starts billboard battle with Gusto

2020, February 18 - 5:49am

Remember when Zenefits imploded, and kicked out CEO Parker Conrad. Well, Conrad launched a new employee onboarding startup called Rippling, and now he’s going after another HR company called Gusto with a new billboard, “Outgrowing Gusto? Presto change-o.”

The problem is, Gusto got it taken down by issuing a cease & desist order to Rippling and the billboard operator Clear Channel Outdoor. That’s despite the law typically allowing comparative advertising as long as it’s accurate. Gusto sells HR, benefits and payroll software, while Rippling does the same but adds in IT management to tie together an employee identity platform.

Rippling tells me that outgrowing Gusto is the top reasons customers say they’re switching to Rippling. Gusto’s customer stories page lists no customers larger than 61 customers, and Enlyft research says the company is most often used by 10 to 50-person staffs. “We were one of Gusto’s largest customers when we left the platform last year. They were very open about the fact that the product didn’t work for businesses of our size. We moved to Rippling last fall and have been extremely happy with it,” says Compass Coffee co-founder Michael Haft.

That all suggests the Rippling ad’s claim is reasonable. But the C&D claims that “Gusto counts as customers multiple companies with 100 or more employees and does not state the businesses will ‘outgrow’ their platfrom at a certain size.”

In an email to staff provided to TechCrunch, Rippling CMO Matt Epstein wrote, “We take legal claims seriously, but this one doesn’t pass the laugh test. As Gusto says all over their website, they focus on small businesses.”

So rather than taking Gusto to court or trying to change Clear Channel’s mind, Conrad and Rippling did something cheeky. They responded to the cease & desist order in Shakespeare-style iambic pentameter.

Our billboard struck a nerve, it seems. And so you phoned your legal teams,
who started shouting, “Cease!” “Desist!” and other threats too long to list.

Your brand is known for being chill. So this just seems like overkill.
But since you think we’ve been unfair, we’d really like to clear the air.

Rippling’s general counsel Vanessa Wu wrote the letter, which goes on to claim that “When Gusto tried to scale itself, we saw what you took off the shelf. Your software fell a little short. You needed Workday for support,” asserting that Gusto’s own HR tool couldn’t handle its 1,000-plus employees and needed to turn to a bigger enterprise vendor. The letter concludes with the implication that Gusto should drop the cease-and-desist, and instead compete on merit:

So Gusto, do not fear our sign. Our mission and our goals align.
Let’s keep this conflict dignified—and let the customers decide.

Rippling CMO Matt Epstein tells me that “While the folks across the street may find competition upsetting, customers win when companies push each other to do better. We hope our lighthearted poem gets this debate back down to earth, and we look forward to competing in the marketplace.”

Rippling's rhyming response to Gusto's cease & desist order from Josh Constine

Rippling might think this whole thing was slick or funny, but it comes off a bit lame and try-hard. These are far from 8 Mile-worthy battle rhymes. If it really wanted to let customers decide, it could have just accepted the C&D and moved on…or not run the billboard at all. It still has four others that don’t slam competitors running. That said, Gusto does look petty trying to block the billboard and hide that it’s unequipped to support massive teams.

We reached out to Gusto over the weekend and again today asking for comment, whether it will drop the C&D, if it’s trying to get Rippling’s bus ads dropped too and if it does in fact use Workday internally.

[Update 2pm Pacific: Gusto’s PR representative Paul Loeffler claims that “This is common business practice in maintaining a brand”, says that for Gusto “A core, but not exclusive focus, are small businesses”, and admits that “as Gusto itself has grown to become a large-scale company, we have different needs than many of our customers and transitioned to Workday.”

Finally, he declares that “We’re excited to see more companies create new solutions that make it easier for businesses to take care of and support their teams” despite theatening to sue one that was. If Gusto itself grew out of Gusto, an ad asking if its customers are too seems wholly accurate.]

Given Gusto has raised $516 million10X what Rippling has — you’d think it could just outspend Rippling on advertising or invest in building the enterprise HR tools so customers really couldn’t outgrow it. They’re both Y Combinator companies with Kleiner Perkins as a major investor (conflict of interest?), so perhaps they can still bury the hatchet.

At least they found a way to make the HR industry interesting for an afternoon.

Rippling raises $45M at $270M to be the biz app identity layer

SMB payroll startup Gusto raises $200M Series D, plans R&D expansion to NYC

Categories: Business News

Daily Crunch: HQ Trivia is dead

2020, February 18 - 4:05am

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. HQ Trivia shuts down after acquisition falls through

HQ Trivia is dead. On Valentine’s Day, the company laid off its full team of 25. The company had a deal in the works to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out and the investors aren’t willing to fund it any longer, according to a statement from CEO and co-founder Rus Yusupov.

At least the game went out with a bonkers finale, where the hosts cursed, sprayed champagne, threatened to defecate on the homes of trolls in the chat window and begged for new jobs.

2. Living with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Brian Heater says he enjoyed his (admittedly brief) time with the Galaxy Z Flip. In fact, in many ways, it’s exactly the device that Samsung’s original foldable should have been.

3. Google ends its free Wi-Fi program Station

Google is winding down Google Station, a program where it worked with partners to bring free Wi-Fi to more than 400 railway stations in India and “thousands” of other public places in several additional pockets of the world.

4. Facebook pushes EU for dilute and fuzzy internet content rules

“I do think that there should be regulation on harmful content,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a Q&A session at the Munich Security Conference. He then suggested that Facebook should fall “somewhere in between” media and telco regulation.

5. Is tech socialism really on the rise?

In the second part of our interview with writer/ethicist Ben Tarnoff, he goes in-depth on the relationship between socialism and technology. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Oyo’s revenue surged in FY19, but loss widened, too

Budget-lodging startup Oyo on Monday reported a loss of $335 million on $951 million revenue globally for the financial year ending March 31, 2019, and pledged to cut down on its spending as the India-headquartered firm grows cautious about its aggressive expansion. (Yes, it seems a bit late to be talking about earnings from 2018-19, but that’s how Indian finance law works.)

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The latest full episode of Equity discusses a big funding round for meditation app Headspace, while its Monday news roundup looks at global growth concerns due to coronavirus. And over at Original Content, we’ve got a review of “Mythic Quest,” the video game-focused comedy on Apple TV+.

Categories: Business News

Boston’s year jump starts as two local startups raise $520M in two rounds

2020, February 18 - 1:58am

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

Late last week two Boston-based companies raised big rounds. The size of the two investments — each over the $100 million mark — and their rapid succession made them stand out.

The pair of investments raised a question: Is Boston seeing an acceleration in the pace at which it attracts venture capital? Of course, Toast raising $400 million and Flywire raising $120 million within a day of each other does not, by itself, constitute a trend. So we’ve pulled some recent, and historical data from Boston to figure out what’s up.

Today let’s take a look at how many rounds of $50 million or more, and $100 million or more, have been raised in Boston so far in 2020 compared to the city’s full-year 2019 results from each category. We’ll be able to see if Boston is ahead of the pace it set last year. This will let us know if Boston’s venture scene is heating up, or cooling thus far in 2020. (Recall that we wrote about the Northeast in December, and found its venture activity to be intense.)

We’ll start with a quick peek at the Flywire and Toast rounds, and then dig into the data.

Winged Bread

Toast, Boston’s restaurant payment processing unicorn, put together $400 million in fresh funding last week, adding to its preceding haul of just over $500 million in known capital. The company, founded in 2011, has now raised $902 million, according to Crunchbase.

Categories: Business News

MotoRefi raises $8.6 million to bring its auto refinancing platform to the masses

2020, February 18 - 1:30am

Americans are saddled with $1.2 trillion in auto loans, according to data collected by the Federal Reserve. And while that debt can be refinanced, even U.S. car owners who know it’s an option face a complicated task.

MotoRefi, a new fintech startup that was born out of QED Investors in 2017, says it has developed an auto refinancing platform that handles the entire process, from rooting out the best rates to paying off the old lender and re-titling the vehicle.

Now, the company is preparing to scale up and bring its platform to the masses, with $8.6 million in capital raised in a Series A funding round co-led by Accomplice and Link Ventures. Motley Fool Ventures, CMFG Ventures (part of CUNA Mutual Group) and Gaingels also participated in the round. The round follows $4.7 million in seed funding that MotoRefi announced in March 2019.

MotoRefi is also gaining two new board members, Rob Chaplinsky, managing director of Link Ventures, and Rachel Holt, former Uber executive and co-founder of a new VC firm, Construct Capital.

Auto loan debt is the same as student loan debt in the U.S., said MotoRefi CEO Kevin Bennett. And yet the majority of car owners don’t know that refinancing their auto loan is even an option, he added. A 2017 Harris Poll found that 47% of Americans were aware they could refinance their auto loan.

“People shop their home loans, while most just get their auto loans from the dealership where they bought their car, so their rates are artificially high,” Bennett said in a recent interview. “Meanwhile, credit unions can be great for auto loans but they might not have the tools to reach consumers.”

That’s where MotoRefi hopes to step in. Bennett said the MotoRefi platform can save customers an average of $100 per month on their car payments.

Holt, who was an early investor in MotoRefi, said during her time at Uber she saw firsthand the amount of auto loans drivers were carrying. Dealerships aren’t making money on selling cars, they’re making it on financing, Holt said. “I saw this problem and so I was looking out for startups trying to solve this problem,” she added.

The U.S. auto refinancing market is about $40 billion, according to TransUnion. But that market could be two to three times that size, according to data shared at TransUnion Financial Services Summit. It’s an opportunity that has prompted companies like Lending Tree to launch auto refinancing products.

MotoRefi is already scaling up by adding new lenders and partners, according to Bennett. The new funding will be used to hire more employees and invest in its technology platform.

The startup also launched in January separate pilot programs with Progressive and Chime. Under these pilots, Progressive and Chime will directly offer refinance options to their customers in addition to working with affiliate programs such as Credit Karma — a company backed by QED Investors.

Categories: Business News

Equity Monday: Oyo’s losses, global growth concerns, and four early-stage rounds

2020, February 17 - 11:48pm

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 and Bessemer’s Elliott Robinson which I really enjoyed. And, we just posted the video from that taping, in case you wanted to see what a podcast looks like IRL. Spoiler: It’s mostly a bunch of microphones and cables and nerds.

Turning to the news, global growth concerns stemming from the coronavirus outbreak are starting to come true, with Singapore changing its own forecasts. Singapore now expects either slower growth, or negative expansion in 2020. That’s bad news. And, Japan’s economy was on the ropes even before the virus really slowed things down. Expect more of this to keep happening.

Also this weekend there was yet another tech-media dustup. If you missed it, you didn’t miss much.

The week ahead looks pretty tame. No major earnings reports or IPOs are on our horizon, though Dropbox, Wix and Zscaler will report. If you are a SaaS person, that’s for you.

We then talked about Dovetail, Copper, Seez, and Bosta — bringing the morning venture update together with a theme, a first I think for Equity Monday.

All that and we wrapped with Oyo’s most recently disclosed financial performance. Surprise, it contained a lot of growth and quickly expanding losses.

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

Categories: Business News

Startup buys startup: PullRequest snags remote developer hiring platform Moonlight

2020, February 17 - 11:13pm

PullRequest, a startup that provides code review as a service, announced today that it was buying Moonlight, an early-stage startup that has built an online platform for hiring remote developers. The companies did not share the terms.

Lyal Avery, founder and CEO at PullRequest, says he bought this company to expand his range of services. “Our platform is at a place where we’re very confident about our ability to identify issues. We’re moving to the next phase of fixing issues automatically. In order to do that, we have to have access to people producing code. So with the developers on our platform that are currently reviewers, as well as the Moonlight folks, we can start to fix the issues we identify, and also attach that to our learning processes,” Avery explained.

This fits with the company’s vision of eventually automating common fixes. It’s currently working on building machine learning models to facilitate that automation. Moonlight gives PullRequest access to the platform’s data, which can help train and perfect the beta models on which the company is working.

Avery says his vision isn’t to replace human developers so much as to make them faster and more efficient than they are today. He says that from the time a bug is found in website code to the time it gets fixed is on average about six hours. He wants to reduce that to 20 minutes, and he believes that buying Moonlight will give him more data to get to that goal faster, while also expanding the range of services from code review to issue remediation.

It’s fairly unusual for a startup that has raised just over $12 million (according to Crunchbase data) to be out shopping for another, but Avery sees buying small companies like Moonlight as an excellent way to fill in gaps in the platform, while offering an easier path to expansion.

Moonlight is a small shop with just two employees, both who will be joining PullRequest, but it has 3,000 developers on the platform, which PullRequest can now access. For now, Avery says the companies will remain separate, and Moonlight will continue to operate its own website under the PullRequest umbrella.

Moonlight is based in Brooklyn; it had raised an unidentified pre-seed round before being acquired today. PullRequest, which is based in Austin, was a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2017 cohort. It raised a $2.3 million seed round in December, 2017 and another $8 million in April, 2018.

PullRequest pulls in $8M Series A just months after scoring seed round

Categories: Business News

Oyo’s revenue surged in FY19, but loss widened, too

2020, February 17 - 3:43pm

Budget-lodging startup Oyo reported a loss of $335 million on $951 million revenue globally for the financial year ending March 31, 2019, and pledged to cut down on its spending as the India-headquartered firm grows cautious about its aggressive expansion.

The six-year-old startup’s growing revenue, up from $211 million in financial year ending March 31, 2018 (FY18), is in line with the company’s ambitions to be in a clear path to profitability this year, said Abhishek Gupta, Global CFO of OYO Hotels & Homes, in a statement.

But the startup’s loss has widened, too. Its consolidated loss at $335 million in FY19 was up over six-fold from about $52 million in FY18. In India, where Oyo clocked $604 million in revenue in FY19 (up 2.9X since FY18), it was able to reduce its loss to 14% (from 24%) of revenue in FY19 to $83 million.

The startup, which today operates more than 43,000 hotels with over a million rooms in 800 cities in 80 nations, said its expansion to China and other international markets contributed to the loss. Oyo entered China in 2018, and it has already become its second largest market.

“These markets constituted 36.5% of the global revenues. While consistently improving operating economics in mature markets like India where it’s already seeing an improvement in gross margins, the company is determined to bring in the same fiscal discipline in emerging markets in the coming financial year,” the startup said in a statement.

The startup said it is working on improving its gross margin. In India, its gross margin increased to 14.7% from 10.6% as of FY18.

Oyo’s growth in international markets

Oyo has come under scrutiny in recent months for its aggressive expansion in a manner that some analysts have said is not sustainable. The startup, which rebrands and renovates independent budget hotels, has also engaged in sketchy ways to sign up new hotels, as documented by the New York Times earlier this year.

In 2019, Oyo, which counts Airbnb among its investors, expanded in Europe and the U.S. among other markets. It bought Leisure Group from Axel Springer for $415 million to targer Europe’s vacation rental market — and announced plans to invest another $335 million for this effort. In the same month, it announced it had acquired the Hooters Casino Hotel Las Vegas for about $135 million in its first U.S. property purchase.

It also entered Japan in a partnership with SoftBank. Bloomberg reported on Sunday that Oyo currently has about 7,500 rooms in the country, less than 1% of its 1 million ambitious target.

In recent months, Oyo executives have acknowledged that the startup grew too fast and is confronting a number of “teething issues.” Oyo has laid off at least 3,000 employees, mostly in India, in last three months.

“The company’s increased focus on corporate governance and building a high-performing and employee-first work culture will also drive this next phase of sustainable growth for us,” said Gupta.

Local Indian laws require every local startup — and international businesses — to disclose their annual financials. Most of them filed their financials in early October.

More to follow shortly…

Categories: Business News

Pages