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Unpacking Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC deals for Latch and Sunlight Financial

Startup News - 6 hours 53 min ago

This morning, investor and SPAC raconteur Chamath Palihapitiya announced two new blank-check deals involving Latch and Sunlight Financial.

Latch, an enterprise SaaS company that makes keyless-entry systems, has raised $152 million in private capital, according to Crunchbase. Sunlight Financial, which offers point-of-sale financing for residential solar systems, has raised north of $700 million in venture capital, private equity and debt.

We’re going to chat about the two transactions.

There’s no escaping SPACs for a bit, so if you are tired of watching blind pools rip private companies into the public markets, you are not going to have a very good next few months. Why? There are nearly 300 SPACs in the market today looking for deals, and many will find one.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Think of SPACs are increasingly hungry sharks. As a shark get hungrier while the clock winds down on its deal-making window, it may get less choosy about what it eats (take public). There are enough SPACs on the hunt today that they would be noisy even if they were not time-constrained investment vehicles. But as their timers tick, expect their deal-making to get all the more creative.

This brings us back to Chamath’s two deals. Are they more like the Bakkt SPAC, which led us to raise a few questions? Or more akin to the Talkspace SPAC, which we found pretty reasonable? Let’s find out.

Keyless locks = Peloton for real estate

Let’s start with the Latch deal.

New York-based Latch sells “LatchOS,” a hardware and software system that works in buildings where access and amenities matter. Latch’s hardware works with doors, sensors and internet connectivity.

The company has raised a number of private rounds, including a $126 million deal in August of 2019 that valued the company at $454.3 million on a post-money basis, according to PitchBook data. The company raised another $30 million in October of 2020, though its final private valuation is not known.

As Chamath tweeted this morning, Latch is merging with TS Innovation Acquisitions Corp, or $TSIA. The SPAC is associated with Tishman Speyer, a commercial real estate investor. You can see the synergies, as Latch’s products fit into the commercial real estate space.

Up front, Latch is not a company that is only reporting future revenues. It has a history as an operating entity. Indeed, here’s its financial data per its investor presentation:

Image Credits: Latch

Doing some quick match, Latch grew booked revenues 50.5% from 2019 to 2020. Its booked software revenues grew 37.1%, while its booked hardware top line expanded over 70% during the same period.

That could be due to strong hardware installation fees, which could later result in software revenues; the company claims an average of a six-year software deal, so hardware revenues that are attached to new software incomes could low key declaim long-term SaaS revenues.

Update: Adding some clarity here, the above are “booked” revenues, which I’ve made more clear, not actual revenues. Its net revenues, better known as actual revenues, were $18 million, with $14 million of that coming from hardware. So, today, the company is certainly more hardware-heavy than I first thought. Damn non-S-1 filings!

While some were quick to note that the company is far from pure-SaaS — correct — I suspect that the model that could get some traction amongst investors is that this feels a bit like Peloton for real estate. How so? Peloton has large hardware incomes up front from new users, which convert to long-term subscription revenues. Latch may prove similar, albeit for a different customer base and market.

Per the deal’s reported terms, Latch will be worth $1.56 billion after the transaction. The combined entity will have $510 million in cash, including $190 million from a PIPE — a method of putting private money into a public entity — from “BlackRock, D1 Capital Partners, Durable Capital Partners LP, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Chamath Palihapitiya, The Spruce House Partnership, Wellington Management, ArrowMark Partners, Avenir and Lux Capital.”

Categories: Business News

Goalsetter raises $3.9 million to teach financial literacy to kids

Startup News - 7 hours 43 sec ago

Goalsetter, a platform that helps parents teach their kids financial literacy, announced the raise of a $3.9 million seed round this morning, led by Astia.

PNC Bank, Mastercard, U.S. Bank, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, Elevate Capital, Portfolia’s First Step and Rising America Fund and Pipeline Angels also participated in the round. The round also saw participation from a handful of individual investors including Robert F. Smith, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Sterling K. Brown, Ryan Bathe, CC Sabathia and Amber Sabathia.

Goalsetter launched in 2019 out of the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator. Founded by Tanya Van Court, who lost over $1 million in the 2001 bubble burst, the platform teaches financial literacy to children of all ages, helping them learn economic concepts, lingo and the principles of financial health.

After long stints at Nickelodeon and ESPN, Van Court understands deeply how kids learn and what keeps their attention. She vowed to make sure that her children were never ignorant of what it takes to protect their wealth and create more.

The app also allows parents to give allowances through the app, and even pay out their own specified amount for every quiz question the kid gets right in the app. Plus, family and friends can give “goal cards” instead of gift cards, helping kids save for the things they really want in the future.

The company recently launched a debit card for kids, as well, letting parents control the way the card is used and even lock it until their kids have passed the week’s financial literacy quiz.

Families save an average of $120 a month on the platform, and Van Court says that two families saved over $10,000 in the last year.

The company is also launching a massive campaign next week for Black History Month with the goal of closing the wealth gap among Black children and kids of color through financial education.

“It’s one thing to put a debit card into your teenager’s hands,” said Van Court. “That’s great. That teaches them how to spend money. It’s another thing to teach kids the core concepts about how to build wealth, or to know the difference between putting your money into an investment account, or putting your money into a CD versus a mutual fund versus a savings account. We teach what interest rates are, and what compound interest means. Our focus is on financial education because it’s not enough to teach kids how to spend.”

Goalsetter raised $2.1 million in 2019 and now adds this latest round to that for a total of $6 million raised. This latest round was oversubscribed, giving Van Court the opportunity to be super selective about her investors.

“Every single one of these investors has a demonstrated commitment prior to people marching in the streets in April, to social justice and to investing in diversity and inclusion initiatives and people,” said Van Court. “Every single one of them. That was really important because we were oversubscribed and we had the luxury of being able to pick who our investors were. Every one of the investors that we invited to our table were investors who we knew invited folks who look like us in 2019 and 2018 and 2017 to their table.”

Goalsetter gives parents a way to teach their kids how to save money

Categories: Business News

Virgin Orbit will launch first Dutch defense satellite in mission that will demo rapid response capabilities

Startup News - 7 hours 37 min ago

Virgin Orbit isn’t slowing down after joining the exclusive club of small launch companies that have made it to orbit — the company just announced that it’s flying a payload on behalf of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF). This is the first-ever satellite being put up by the Dutch Ministry of Defense, and it’s a small satellite that will act as a test platform for a number of different communications experiments.

The satellite is called BRIK-II — not because it’s the second of its kind, but rather because it’s named after Brik, the first airplane ever owned and operated by the RNAF. This mission is one of Virgin Orbit’s first commercial operations after its successful test demonstration and will fly sometime later this year. It’s also being planned as a rideshare mission, with other payloads expected to join — likely from the U.S. Department of Defense, which is working with Virgin Orbit’s dedicated U.S. defense industry subsidiary VOX Space on planning what they’ll be adding to the mission load out.

This upcoming mission is actually a key demonstration of a number of Virgin Orbit’s unique advantages in the launch market. For one, it’ll show how the U.S. DOD and its ally defense agencies can work together in the space domain when launching small communications satellites. Virgin Orbit is also going to use the mission as an opportunity to show off its “late-load integration” capabilities — effectively, how it can add a payload to its LauncherOne rocket just prior to launch.

For this particular flight, there’s no real reason to do a late-load integration, since there’s plenty of lead time, but part of Virgin’s appeal is being able to nimbly add satellites to its rocket just before the carrier jet that flies it to its take-off altitude leaves the runway. Demonstrating that will go a long way to help illustrate how it differentiates its services from others in the launch market, such as Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

Watch Virgin Orbit launch a rocket to space from a modified 747 for the first time

Categories: Business News

BlackCart raises $8.8M Series A for its try-before-you-buy platform for online merchants

Startup News - 7 hours 44 min ago

A startup called BlackCart is tackling one of the key challenges with online shopping: an inability to try on or test out the merchandise before making a purchase. That company, which has now closed on $8.8 million in Series A funding, has built a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with e-commerce storefronts, allowing customers to ship items to their home for free and only pay if they choose to keep the item after a “try on” period has lapsed.

The new round of financing was led by Origin Ventures and Hyde Park Ventures Partners, and saw participation from Struck Capital, Citi Ventures, 500 Startups and several other angel investors, including Christian Sullivan of Republic Labs, Dean Bakes of M3 Ventures, Greg Rudin of Menlo Ventures, Jordan Nathan of Caraway Cookware and First National Bank CFO Nick Pirollo, among others.

The Toronto-based company last year had raised a $2 million seed.

Image Credits: BlackCart

BlackCart founder Donny Ouyang had previously founded online tutoring marketplace Rayku before joining a seed-stage VC fund, Caravan Ventures. But he was inspired to return to entrepreneurship, he says, after experiencing a personal problem with trying to order shoes online.

Realizing the opportunity for a “try before you buy” type of service, Ouyang first built BlackCart in 2017 as a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform that worked by way of a Chrome extension with some 50 different online merchants, largely in apparel.

This MVP of sorts proved there was consumer demand for something like this in online shopping.

Ouyang credits the earlier version of BlackCart with helping the team to understand what sort of products work best for this service.

“I think, in general, for try-before-you-buy, anything that’s moderate to higher price points, lower frequency of purchase, where the customer makes a considered purchase decision — those perform really well,” he says.

Two years later, Ouyang took BlackCart to 500 Startups in San Francisco, where he then pivoted the business to the B2B offering it is today.

Image Credits: BlackCart

The startup now provides a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with online storefronts, including those from Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, SalesForce Commerce Cloud, WordPress and even custom storefronts. The system is designed to be turnkey for online retailers and takes around 48 hours to set up on Shopify and around a week on Magento, for example.

BlackCart has also developed its own proprietary technology around fraud detection, payments, returns and the overall user experience, which includes a button for retailers’ websites.

Because the online shoppers aren’t paying upfront for the merchandise they’re being shipped, BlackCart has to rely on an expanded array of behavioral signals and data in order to make a determination about whether the customer represents a fraud risk. As one example, if the customer had read a lot of helpdesk articles about fraud before placing their order, that could be flagged as a negative signal.

BlackCart also verifies the user’s phone number at checkout and matches it to telco and government data sets to see if their historical addresses match their shipping and billing addresses.

Image Credits: BlackCart

After the customer receives the item, they are able to keep it for a period of time (as designated by the retailer) before being charged. BlackCart covers any fraud as part of its value proposition to retailers.

BlackCart makes money by way of a rev share model, where it charges retailers a percentage of the sales where the customers have kept the products. This amount can vary based on a number of factors, like the fraud multiplier, average order value, the type of product and others. At the low end, it’s around 4% and around 10% on the high end, Ouyang says.

The company has also expanded beyond home try-on to include try-before-you-buy for electronics, jewelry, home goods and more. It can even ship out makeup samples for home try-on, as another option.

Once integrated on a website, BlackCart claims its merchants typically see conversion increases of 24%, average order values climb by 51% and bottom-line sales growth of 27%.

Koio, the D2C luxury sneaker brand, raises $6 million

To date, the platform has been adopted by more than 50 medium-to-large retailers, as well as e-commerce startups, like luxury sneaker brand Koio, clothing startup Dia&Co, online mattress startup Helix Sleep and cookware startup Caraway, among others. It’s also under NDA now with a top-50 retailer it can’t yet name publicly, and has contracts signed with 13 others that are waiting to be onboarded.

Soon, BlackCart aims to offer a self-serve onboarding process, Ouyang notes.

“This would be later, end of Q2 or early Q3,” he says. “But I think for us, it will still be probably 80% self-serve, and then larger enterprises will want to be handheld.”

With the additional funding, BlackCart aims to shift to paying the merchant immediately for the items at checkout, then reconciling afterwards in order to be more efficient. This has been one of merchants’ biggest feature requests, as well.

Image Credits: BlackCart; team photo

The funding will also allow BlackCart to expand its remotely distributed 10-person team to around 50 by year-end, including engineers, product specialists, customer support staff and sales.

More broadly, it aims to quickly capitalize on the growth in the e-commerce market, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cookware startup Caraway raises $5.3M as it eyes new product categories

“[We want to] take advantage of the favorable macroeconomic situation to scale as quickly as possible,” Ouyang explains. “We’re hoping to get to around $250 million in transactions through our platform by the end of 2021. And this would be driven by both engineering and sales hires, and just pushing it up,” he says.

Longer-term, Ouyang envisions adding more consumer-facing features to BlackCart’s platform, like on-demand returns where a courier comes to the house to pick up your return, for example.

“Our firm is excited to partner with BlackCart as it makes try-before-you-buy the standard in online shopping,” said Prashant Shukla of Origin Ventures, who now sits on BlackCart’s board, as result of the new financing. “Its underwriting technology provides merchants with peace of mind, and its best-in-class consumer experience delivers significant sales and conversion lifts. Digital Native generations expect to be able to shop online exactly as they would in a retail store, and BlackCart is the only company providing this experience,” he adds.

Categories: Business News

Melio raises $110M on a $1.3B valuation to bring B2B payments for SMBs into the 21st century

Startup News - 8 hours 26 min ago

Payments for consumers have made a huge shift to the online world in the last year, a time when they have moved more of their purchasing to the internet to minimize in-person transactions in the midst of a virus-based health pandemic. Today, a startup that has built a similar kind of payments infrastructure — but specifically targeting small businesses and the payments they need to make — has raised a big round of funding to double down on its own slice of the market.

Melio, which provides a platform for SMBs to pay other companies electronically using bank transfers, debit cards or credit — along with the option of cutting paper checks for recipients if that is what the recipients request — has closed $110 million in funding at a valuation that the company said was now $1.3 billion.

The company’s focus to date has been building and growing a system to replace the paper invoices, snail mail and bank transfers that might take multiple days to clear and still dominate payments for small and medium enterprises. The company was founded in Israel but has to date focused a lot of its attention on the U.S. market, where it saw growth of 2,000% last year (it doesn’t disclose the actual number of customers that it has). CEO Matan Bar said that this is where the company will continue to focus for now.

This latest round was led by Coatue and also included participation from previous backers Accel, Aleph, Bessemer Venture Partners, Corner Ventures, General Catalyst and Latitude. It caps off a huge year for the company, which raised $130 million in 2020 (and $256 million overall), with other recent backers including others like American Express and Salesforce.

The latter two are strategic backers: AmEx is one of the options given to customers paying other businesses through Melio’s rails.

Salesforce, meanwhile, is not yet an integration partner, but Bar — who co-founded the company with Ilan Atias and Ziv Paz (respectively CTO and COO) — described its interest as similar to that of Intuit-owned accounting giant QuickBooks. QuickBooks connects with Melio so that users of one can seamlessly import activity from one platform into the other, and Bar hinted that there is an interest from the CRM giant, which provides a number of other business and productivity tools, to work together in a similar fashion.

Bar came to found Melio on the heels of years of experience in peer-to-peer payments focused on the consumer market. He previously ran PayPal’s business unit focused on peer-to-peer payments, which included Venmo in the U.S. and equivalent services (not branded Venmo) outside of it. He came to PayPal, which at the time was a part of eBay, through eBay’s acquisition of his previous startup, a social gifting platform called The Gifts Project.

As Bar describes it, PayPal “was the first time I experienced what the digitization of payments looked like as they were shifting from cash to mobile payments. Consumers were buying online instead of at brick-and-mortar stores, and even when they were getting physical items, they were paying online.” What he quickly realized, though, was that the same was not applying to the businesses themselves.

“There are still trillions being transferred via paper checks in the B2B space,” he said, with paper invoices and paper checks dominating the market. “The space is way behind other payment areas. I would be talking with SMB owners who would be using fancy Square or PayPal point of sale devices, but when they had to pay, say, a coffee bean supplier, they stuffed checks in envelopes. That’s very intriguing obviously, and it triggered our interest.”

Interestingly this isn’t a problem that hasn’t been identified before, but many of the solutions, such as Bill.com or Tipalti, are really designed for larger enterprises. “They are too overwhelming for SMBs,” he said. “Even their names say it all: Accounts Payable Automation Solutions. It’s about tens of thousands of payments, and accounting departments, not an order from a wine shop.”

Tipalti receives $150M at a $2B+ valuation after its accounts payable platform sees a surge in use

That formed the basis of what the startup started to build, which has been, in essence, a very pared-down version of these other payments platforms with SMB needs in mind.

The first of these is a focus on cashflow, Bar said. Specifically, the Melio platform lets payments be made automatically but businesses themselves can delay the timing on when money actually leaves their accounts: “Buyers keep cash longer, vendors get paid faster,” is how Bar describes it.

This is in part enabled by the tech that Melio has built, which builds in risk assessment, as well as fraud management, and balances payments across the whole of its platform to send money in and out without the need for the company to raise debt to back up those payments.

“We leverage data to assess risk,” said Bar. “Every dollar in this round is going towards R&D and sales and marketing. We don’t need the capital in our model.” It also works with the likes of AmEx and its own credit system in cases where people are paying on credit, but Bar also noted that currently most of the transactions that happen on its platform are not credit based. Most are bank transfers.

While others like Stripe have also built B2B payment services to pay out suppliers, Bar points out that what it has created is unique in that it is a standalone service: no need to be a part of Stripe’s wider ecosystem of services to use this if you already use another payments provider you are happy with.

Given that focus on cashflow for SMBs, what’s also interesting is the low bar to entry that Melio has built into its platform. Specifically, the service is completely free for businesses to use — that is, no fee is charged — as long as companies are making bank transfers or using debit cards. It takes a 2.9% fee when a business elects to use a credit card for a transaction (and even then Melio says that the fee is tax deductible in the U.S.).

He noted that one of the reasons that Melio has to date targeted the U.S. market is because of how antiquated it still is. “The average bank transfer still takes three to four business days, if you don’t want to take any risk,” he said. “We have developed models to do it same day. We take the risk that the buyer might not have the funds in that account but think about how that impacts cash flows. With Melio you still pay in three days, but money will be delivered the same day. That is how you can keep cash longer, without a payments risk.”

Targeting a market that remains very underserved at a time when so much has gone virtual in payments is why investors are also interested.

“Melio has identified both the opportunity and duty to help small businesses manage their finance remotely and improve cash flow, in normal times as well as during this crisis, as physical payments supply chains are interrupted and overwhelmed,” said Michael Gilroy, a general partner at Coatue, in a statement. “Going digital is the only way small businesses can compete against larger rivals and stay ahead of the curve.”

In terms of more product development, Bar said that the company has received “a lot of incoming interest from partners to enable B2B payments within their products on their product,” similar to what QuickBooks is doing and Salesforce is likely to do. “Payments are contextual and they want to enable a quicker way to get there. The SMB is underserved. And yes, from a unit economics it’s much better to go after Nike. But this is also to really create some financial inclusion. We want to enable services for the small shop that the big guys already have.”

All B2B startups are in the payments business

Categories: Business News

Equity Monday: Clubhouse, Taboola and why the SPAC wave will get worse

Startup News - 8 hours 28 min ago

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and make sure to check out last week’s main ep, which was super-packed and a real treat.

This morning the news was heavy, so here’s your rundown to get you into the show:

Hugs, and we are back Thursday, if not before. Stay safe!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

The only take about the future of media is that media is the future

Categories: Business News

Early-stage African VC firm Microtraction reports portfolio boom despite the weight of COVID-19

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 11:37pm

In a year marred by the coronavirus pandemic, it seems that early-stage startups on the African continent are continuing to see some notable growth, both in terms of their business and from investors looking to back them. 

Microtraction, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Lagos, Nigeria, saw funding nearly quadruple for its portfolio.

In a review of the year published last week, the firm noted that 21 companies in its portfolio have raised more than $33 million in funding. This represents nearly four-fold growth over a year ago, when its portfolio raised $6 million (and just $3 million in 2018). The companies’ combined valuation stands at more than $147 million, according to the firm.

Founded by Yele Bademosi in 2017, Microtraction arrived on the continent’s early-stage investment scene with all intent to be “the most accessible and preferred source of pre-seed funding for African tech entrepreneurs.”

Bademosi, who returned to Nigeria from the U.K. in 2015, worked as the general manager for Starta Africa, an online community for African tech entrepreneurs. After his stint there, he saw the need to plug the gap of early-stage funding in Nigeria and the continent at large with Microtraction.

Microtraction does not specify the size of its fund, but what is more clear is that it has attracted a great deal of attention and has built a strong network in part because of who backs it. 

Michael Seibel, the CEO of Y Combinator, is a global advisor and an investor in the firm, and so is Andy Volk, the head of ecosystem for Google Sub-Saharan Africa. Other investors include Pave Investments and U.S.-based angel investor Chris Schultz.

Being entrepreneurs in the past, some of these investors know what it takes to build a startup in the U.S. But it’s completely different in Africa. With no on the ground knowledge as to which startups to fund but an interest to do so, for portfolio diversification and other personal reasons, Microtraction and a few other early-stage investors present the best bets to accomplish this goal.

How fintech and serial founders drove African pre-seed investing to new heights in 2020

At first, Microtraction’s standard deal was to offer portfolio startups $15,000 in exchange for a 7.5% equity. But as a sign of how the market is firming up, that changed last year, and now the firm invests $25,000 for 7% equity.

Microtraction revealed that it accepted more than 500 applications from startups in Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Mauritius in its first full year of operation (though, just eight of those companies got investments).

The introductory batch was all Nigerian: four fintech startups — Cowrywise, Riby, Wallets Africa and ThankUCash; a crypto-exchange startup, BuyCoins; a SaaS platform, Accounteer; an edtech startup, Schoolable; and healthtech startup, 54gene.

2019 saw the local VC firm invest in six companies. This time there was a representative outside Nigeria — Ghanaian fintech startup Bitsika. The Nigerian startups included social commerce startup Sendbox; events startup Festival Coins; and communications-as-a-service platform Termii. The rest were unannounced.

Half of its portfolio companies are backed by YC and other global accelerators

Last year (the one this latest review covers), Microtraction announced seven startups. The latest selection includes Nigerian fintech startups Evolve Credit and Chaka; edtech startup Gradely; bus-hailing platform PlentyWaka; and Kenyan credit data marketplace CARMA.

Of the total investments raised in 2019 and 2020, 54gene contributed more than half of those numbers by raising $4.5 million in seed and a $15 million Series A investment. With an ingenious solution to solve the underrepresentation of African genomics data in global genomics research, 54gene got accepted into the winter batch in January 2019, the same month it officially launched.

Excluding 54gene, there were six other African-focused startups in the YC W19 batch. Two out of the six, Schoolable and Wallets Africa, were Microtraction portfolio companies. Others accepted into YC before and after include BuyCoins, Cowrywise, Termii and two unannounced startups.

Microtraction-backed ThankUCash and a second unannounced startup have also joined cohorts at 500 Startups. On the other hand, Festival Coins is the only startup to be selected into Google for Startups Accelerator. With all accounted for, 11 out of the 21 startups are either backed by Y Combinator, 500 Startups or Google for Startups.

The Microtraction team with founding partner, Yele Bademosi (far right). Image Credits: Microtraction

Getting into these global accelerators is a surefire way to receive follow-up investment, ranging from $125,000 to $150,000. From the outside in, startups see Microtraction and other early-stage VC firms like Ventures Platform as a means to that end. There have also been arguments that these firms build startups to be “YC or any global accelerator ready.”

However, Dayo Koleowo, a partner at Microtraction alongside Chidinma Iwueke, debunks it saying there’s no formula behind the numbers we see. He believes YC and other accelerators share the same fundamentals with Microtraction, which revolves around the team, the market and traction.

“We love super technical teams that understand the industry they are in and are likely to succeed without us. We are always looking for companies that are solving huge problems that a lot of people face,” he told TechCrunch. “Also, the tech and startup world moves fast, so we like teams who understand that and can show in real-time that they can execute. I believe that these global accelerators look for these same things.”

Typically, YC and other accelerators may perform extended due diligence and risk assessments before cutting cheques for any African startup without a local backer. Koleowo points out that this might be why Microtraction portfolio companies get accepted quicker. “The icing on the cake is that there is a level of de-risking that has been done by Microtraction and other local investors on the ground before these global accelerators step in,” he added.

These specialized Africa VC funds are welcoming co-investors

That said, there’s no denying the significance of Microtraction’s advisory board in playing a part as to why half the firm’s portfolio are in global accelerators. Besides the names mentioned earlier, some of its past advisors included Lexi Novitske, former PIO at Singularity Investments and Dotun Olowoporoku, VC at Novastar Ventures, and Monique Woodward, ex-venture partner at 500 Startups.

And with the growing trends of globalization, plus the acceptance of a more decentralised approach to building and operations in the tech industry because of COVID-19, it’s a trend that might continue for a while.

Categories: Business News

Proving voicemail doesn’t have to be wack, the Slack-backed startup Yac raises $7.5 million

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 10:30pm

Yac, the Orlando, Florida-based startup that’s digitizing voice messages for remote offices, has raised $7.5 million in a new round of funding.

The company’s service has garnered enough attention to pick up a pretty sizable new round from investors led by GGV Capital and a return investment from the Slack Fund.

Apparently, reinventing voicemail is a multi-million-dollar endeavor.

“The future of meetings will be asynchronous, in your ears and hands-free,” says Pat Matthews, the chief executive and founder of Active Capital, when the company announced its seed round nearly a year ago.

Yac is reinventing voicemail for the Slack generation

Co-founded by Justin Mitchell, Hunter McKinley and Jordan Walker, Yac was spun out of the digital agency SoFriendly, and was developed as a pitch for Product Hunt’s Maker Festival. The voice messaging service won that startup competition at the event and attracted the interest of Boost VC and its founder, the third-generation venture capitalist Adam Draper.

About six months after that seed round, Yac received outreach from Slack thanks to a referral from another entrepreneur. Throughout their negotiations last year, the teams used Yac to conduct due diligence, according to Mitchell. At the time of the company’s August announcement that Slack had come on to finance the company, Yac had a bit over 5,000 users on its service; it charges per seat, in the same way Slack does.

 

Categories: Business News

Wolt closes $530M round to continue expanding beyond restaurant delivery

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 9:04pm

Wolt, the Helsinki-based online ordering and delivery company that initially focused on restaurants but has since expanded to other verticals, has raised $530 million in new funding. The round was led by Iconiq Growth, with participation from Tiger Global, DST, KKR, Prosus, EQT Growth and Coatue.

Previous backers 83North, Highland Europe, Goldman Sachs Growth Equity, EQT Ventures and Vintage Investment Partners also followed on. The new round takes the total amount of financing Wolt has raised to $856 million. Wolt declined to disclose the company’s latest valuation, although we know from the previous D round that the company is one of Europe’s so-called unicorns.

“We operate in an extremely competitive and well-funded industry, and this round allows us to have a long-term mindset when it comes to doubling down on our different markets,” says co-founder and CEO Miki Kuusi in a statement. “Despite the turbulence of 2020, we’ve remained focused on growth, tripling our revenue to a preliminary $330 million against a net loss of just $38 million. Compared to the $670 million in new capital that we’ve raised during this year, this puts us into a strong position for investing in our people, technology, and markets when thinking about the next few years ahead”.

Former Atomico and SoftBank VC Carolina Brochado has joined EQT to help build its new growth fund

Since launching with 10 restaurants in its home city in 2015, five years on Wolt has expanded to 23 countries and 120 cities, mostly in Europe but also including Japan and Israel. More recently, like others in the restaurant delivery space, Wolt has expanded beyond restaurants and takeout food into the grocery and retail sectors. This, says the company, sees it offer anything from cosmetics to pet food and pharmaceuticals on its platform.

“This was mostly a primary raise,” Kuusi tells me when I ask if the new round includes secondary funding (i.e. shareholders that exited to new investors). “We’re not looking to disclose the valuation at this time, but we’ve previously shared that the Series D round that we raised in early 2020 valued the company at above €1 billion,” he adds.

Kuusi says that the latest funding round is based on the belief that local services in the offline world will gradually be brought online by players “that can execute and maintain a great customer experience”. “We started with an exclusive focus on the restaurant, as it’s the biggest local service with an underlying high-frequency use case,” he says. “We quickly learnt that the magical product market fit for bringing the restaurant online was to offer a quick and predictable delivery experience from restaurants that didn’t use to be available for delivery. We do this by handling the complexity of the delivery on the restaurant’s behalf”.

However, this was especially difficult to do efficiently and sustainably in a small and difficult home market in the Nordics. To solve this, Wolt needed to build an “optimization-heavy logistics setup for last-mile delivery” that Kuusi says lets the service operate even in “very small cities with low income disparity, limited population density and high labor costs”.

“This means that we can operate efficiently even with relatively low order volumes, enabling us to grow and expand rapidly with much less financing than some of the other players in the market. We simply had no other choice than to do it this way as we came from such a difficult home market”.

On this foundation, Wolt is expanding into other ordering and local delivery verticals, aiming to be what Kuusi dubs as “the everything app” of goods and services. “Today, Wolt is much more than a restaurant delivery service; you can order groceries, electronics, flowers, clothes and many other things on our platform,” he explains. “We believe that the future of how people buy Nike shoes is a few taps on Wolt and some 30 minutes later you get any pair of shoes brought to your door. This is what we strive to make into a reality with our team at Wolt”. (I’m an Adidas guy myself, steadfastly European.)

Asked what he thinks about all the money being pumped into the dark convenience store model, Kuusi says Wolt is investing into its own dark store operation called Wolt Market. “It’s not surprising to also see a growing amount of financing going into this sector”, he admits. “We’re huge believers in a hybrid model where there will be both offline/online retailers as well as focused online retailers in the mix. Obviously the latter category is only getting started, and we should see a massive amount of growth for the coming years ahead”.

Gorillas, the on-demand grocery delivery startup taking Berlin by storm, has raised $44M Series A

 

Categories: Business News

Taboola is going public via SPAC

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 9:00pm

Taboola is the latest company seeking to go public via special purpose acquisition company — more commonly known as a SPAC.

To achieve this, it will merge with ION Acquisition Corp., which went public in 2020 with the aim of funding an Israeli tech acquisition (Haaretz reported last month that Taboola was in talks with ION). The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter, and the combined company will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol TBLA.

Founded in 2007, Taboola powers content recommendation widgets (and advertising on those widgets) across 9,000 websites for publishers including CNBC, NBC News, Business Insider, The Independent and El Mundo. It says it reaches 516 million daily active users while working with more than 13,000 advertisers.

The company had previously planned to merge with competitor Outbrain before the deal was canceled last fall, with sources pointing to the market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a “challenging culture fit” and regulatory issues to explain the deal’s end.

Taboola’s founder and CEO Adam Singolda (pictured above, left) told me that this didn’t lead directly to the SPAC deal. But he said, “I always wanted to go public,” which wasn’t possible while the merger was in the works. Once that deal was called off, and with 2020 turning out to be a strong year for Taboola — it’s projecting revenue of $1.2 billion, including $375 million ex-TAC revenue (revenue after paying publishers), with over $100 million in adjusted EBITDA — the time seemed right, and ION seemed like the right partner.

Taboola and Outbrain call off their $850M merger

“We believe Taboola is an open web recommendation leader which is well positioned to challenge the walled gardens,” said ION CEO Gilad Shany in a statement. “We were looking to merge with a global technology leader with Israeli DNA and we found that in Taboola. The combination of long-term partnerships built by the company with thousands of open web digital properties, their direct access to advertisers, massive global reach and proven AI technology, allows Taboola to provide significant value to their partners while also achieving attractive unit economics as the company grows.”

The deal will value Taboola at $2.6 billion. Through this transaction, the company plans to raise a total of $545 million, including $285 million in PIPE financing secured from Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baron Capital Group, funds and accounts managed by Hedosophia, the Federated Hermes Kaufmann Funds and others.

Singolda said that the company plans to invest $100 million in R&D this year, and that he hopes to expand the technology into areas like e-commerce and TV advertising, with the goal of moving “beyond the browser.” More broadly, he said he wants Taboola to be “a strong public company that champions the open web.”

“The open web is a $64 billion advertising market [according to Taboola estimates], but there’s no Google for the open web,” he said.

Yes, Google itself spends plenty of time talking about similar ideas, but Singolda argued that while Google has consumer products like search and YouTube that compete with other publishers for time and attention, “Taboola is not in the consumer business … We serve our partners, and it’s in our identity to drive audience growth, engagement and revenue.”

Almost everything you need to know about SPACs

Categories: Business News

<b>VoIP</b> Phone Market 2017 Opportunities, Growth Analysis, Trends and Forecast by 2026 | Cisco ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 25 - 8:41pm
The Global VoIP Phone Market Research Report Forecast 2017-2026 is a valuable source of insightful data for business strategists. It provides the ...
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<b>VoIP</b> Phone Market to Witness Growth Acceleration During 2020-2026 | With Top Key Players

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The report bearing the title “global VoIP Phone market” depicts a picture of the market with all the underlying factors at play. This RMoz study prepares ...
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<b>VoIP</b> Phone Market 2021 Share, Market Analysis, Industry Trends, Growth Factor, Size and ...

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Also, the VoIP Phone market introduces company details, business strategies, types, applications, historical data, technology, industry chain structure.
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Virtual social network IMVU raises $35M from China’s NetEase and others

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 7:00pm

The line between social networking and gaming is increasingly blurring, and internet incumbents are taking notice. NetEase, the second-largest gaming company in China (behind Tencent), is among a group of investors who just backed IMVU, an avatar-focused social network operating out of California.

Menlo Park-based Structural Capital among other institutions that also joined in the strategic round totaling $35 million. IMVU has raised more than $77 million from five rounds since it was co-founded by “The Lean Startup” author Eric Ries back in 2004. The company declined to disclose its post-money valuation.

The fresh investment will be used to fund IMVU’s product development and comes fresh off a restructuring at the company. A new parent organization called Together Labs was formed to oversee its flagship platform IMVU, in which users can create virtual rooms and chat with strangers using custom avatars, a product that’s today considered by some a dating platform; a new service called Vcoin, which lets users buy, gift, earn and convert a digital asset from the IMVU platform into fiat; and other virtual services.

“NetEase operates some of the most successful, biggest in scale, and evergreen MMO [massively multiplayer online] games in China and they see in IMVU business highlights echoing theirs,” Daren Tsui, chief executive officer at Together Labs, told TechCrunch.

“IMVU operates one of the world’s oldest, yet most vibrant and young — in terms of our user base — metaverses. We have many shared business philosophies and complementary know-how. It is a natural fit for us to become partners,” he added.

Founded in 2005, NetEase is now known for its news portal, music streaming app, education products and video games that compete with those of Tencent. It has over the years made a handful of minority investments in companies outside China, though it’s not nearly as aggressive as Tencent in terms of investment pace and volume.

A NetEase spokesperson declined to comment on the investment in IMVU.

The partnership, according to Tsui, would allow the virtual networking company to tap NetEase’s game development and engineering capabilities as well as leverage NetEase’s knowledge in global market strategy as Together Labs launches future products, including one called WithMe.

In 2020, IMVU saw record growth, with over 7 million monthly active users and 400,000 products created every month by IMVU users. The service currently has a footprint in more than 140 countries and is “always looking to expand” in existing markets, including Asia, in which it already has a localized Korean app, according to Tsui.

“With IMVU’s accelerating growth over recent years, the launch of VCOIN, and the development of the new WithMe platform, we felt timing was right to bring all of these products under a new roof to reinforce our commitment for creating authentic human connections in virtual spaces,” said the chief executive.

Why social networks want even more gaming

Categories: Business News

Sano Genetics, a startup helping with Long Covid research, raises £2.5M in seed funding

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 7:00pm

Sano Genetics, a startup with a broad mission to support personalised medicine research by increasing participation in clinical trials, has raised £2.5 million in seed funding.

The round is led by Episode1 Ventures, alongside Seedcamp, Cambridge Enterprise, January Ventures, and several Europe and U S.-based angel investors. It adds to £500,000 in pre-seed funding in 2018.

Sano Genetics says part of the new capital will be to fund free at-home DNA testing kits for 3,000 people affected by Long Covid. It will also further invest in the development of its tech platform and grow the team

Founded in 2017 by Charlotte Guzzo, Patrick Short and William Jones after they met at Cambridge University while studying genomics as postgrads, Sano Genetics has built what it describes as a “private-by-design” tech platform to help patients take part in medical research and clinical trials. This includes at-home genetic testing capabilities, and is seeing the company support research into multiple sclerosis, ankylosing spondylitis, NAFLD, and ulcerative colitis2, with a research programme for Parkinson’s disease on the agenda for later in 2021.

“For participants in medical research, the process is not user friendly,” says Sano Genetics CEO Patrick Short. “There is usually little to no benefit for participants beyond altruism, taking part is difficult and time consuming, and people are also concerned about the privacy of their sensitive genetic and medical information.

“[Therefore], for researchers in biotech, pharma, and academia, it is very difficult to attract and retain research participants, which adds substantial costs and time to their research. In particular for research involving genetics and precision therapies, it is doubly challenging to find the ‘right’ patients because genetic testing is not routine in the healthcare system”.

To help solve this, Sano Genetics matches relevant participants to research via its platform. It then makes participation easier by enabling at-home genetic testing and by guiding participants through the process.

“The system is designed so users know exactly what will happen with their data, and we give them straightforward ways to control their data,” explains Short. “We keep our users engaged and involved in the research process by giving them updates on the research they have been a part of, and with free personalised content including genetic reports, and stories from other people like them on our blog”.

A typical end user is someone who has a chronic or rare disease and is using the platform to take part in research that helps them personally (e.g. access to a new therapy via a clinical trial) or to help others like them.

Meanwhile, Sano Genetics generates revenue by charging biotech and pharma companies fees to find the right patients for their studies. “The typical study for us consists of a set-up fee, a per-test fee for our at-home genetic testing and analysis, and a fee for each referral we make of an interested and eligible participant to their research study,” adds the Sano Genetics CEO.

Categories: Business News

Biamp launches open-architecture meeting room processor range

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Kenyan insurtech startup Pula raises $6M Series A to derisk smallholder farmers across Africa

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 6:00pm

Pula, a Kenyan insurtech startup that specialises in digital and agricultural insurance to derisk millions of smallholder farmers across Africa, has closed a Series A investment of $6 million.

The round was led by Pan-African early-stage venture capital firm,  TLcom Capital, with participation from nonprofit Women’s World Banking. The raise comes after Pula closed $1 million in seed investment from Rocher Participations with support from Accion Venture Lab, Omidyar Network and several angel investors in 2018.  

Founded by Rose Goslinga and Thomas Njeru in 2015, Pula delivers agricultural insurance and digital products to help smallholder farmers navigate climate risks, improve their farming practices and bolster their incomes over time.

Agriculture insurance has traditionally relied on farm business. In the U.S. or Europe with typically large farms, an average insurance premium is $1,000. But in Africa, where smallholding or small-scale farms are the norms, the number stands at an average of $4.

It is particularly telling that the value of agricultural insurance premiums in Africa represents less than 1 percent of the world’s total when the continent has 17 percent of the world’s arable land. 

This disparity stems from the fact that the traditional method of calculating insurance through farm visits is often unaffordable for these smallholder farmers. Thus, they are often neglected from financial protection against climate risks like flood, drought, pestilence and hail.

Pula is solving this problem by using technology and data. Through its Area Yield Index Insurance product, the insurtech startup leverages machine learning, crop cuts experiments and data points relating to weather patterns and farmer losses, to build products that cater to various risks.

But getting farmers on board has never been easy, Goslinga told TechCrunch. According to her, Pula has understood not to sell insurance directly to small-scale farmers, because they can suffer from optimism bias. “Some think a climate disaster wouldn’t hit their farms for a particular season; hence, they don’t ask for insurance initially. But if they witness any of these climate risks during the season, they would want to get insurance, which is counterproductive to Pula,” said the founder in a phone call.

Image Credits: Pula

So the startup instead partners with banks. Banks provide loans to farmers and make it compulsory for them to have insurance. With the loan, banks can pay the insurance on behalf of the farmers at the start of the season. But at the end of the season, the farmer has to repay the loan with interest.

“The unit economics doesn’t work for us to work with farmers directly. But with banks, we know they provide loans to farmers with much better margins to pay for insurance. Also, we work together with government subsidy programs since they’re also interested in protecting their farmers.”

Through its partnerships with banks, governments and agricultural input companies, Pula is at the center of an ecosystem that provides insurance to smallholder farmers and has amassed 50 insurance partners and six reinsurance partners. 

Its clientele includes the likes of the World Food Programme and Central Bank of Nigeria as well as the Zambian and Kenyan governments. Social enterprises like One Acre Fund, startups like Apollo Agriculture, and agribusiness giants like Flour Mills and Export Trading Group are also among Pula’s clients.

Co-CEOs with agricultural backgrounds

When Goslinga met Njeru in 2008, she worked for Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA). There, she started Kilimo Salama, as a micro-insurance program for more than 200,000 farmers in Kenya and Rwanda. She met Njeru who was the lead actuary at UAP Insurance, a partner to the Kilimo Salama program, at the time.

After staying with Syngenta for six years and recognising the need to provide standard insurance products for smallholder farmers, Goslinga left to start Pula with Njeru in 2015. However, it wasn’t until two years later that Njeru joined fulltime as he had a six-year engagement with Deloitte South Africa from 2012 as a consultant actuary. The pair both act as co-CEOs.

“When Thomas and I launched Pula in 2015, we had one goal in mind: to build and deliver scalable insurance solutions for Africa’s 700 million smallholder farmers,” Goslinga said. “With our latest funding, now is the time to break into new ground. In our five years since launching, we’ve built strong traction for our products. However, the fact remains that across Africa and other emerging markets, there are still millions of smallholder farmers with risks to their livelihoods that have not been covered.”

According to Goslinga, the COVID-19 pandemic helped Pula double its footprint and size as rural farming activities and operations continued despite pandemic-induced lockdowns. 

Pula co-founders and Co-CEOs (Rose Goslinga and Thomas Njeru)

Therefore, the new financing will scale up operations in its existing 13 markets across Africa, where it has insured over 4.3 million farmers. They include Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Likewise, the Kenyan startup hopes to propel its expansion for smallholder farmers in Asia and Latin America.

Pula is one of the few African startups disrupting the farming industry with technology. Its Series A investment attests that investors’ appetite for agritech startups is still on the rise.

A week ago, Aerobotics, a South African startup that uses artificial intelligence to help farmers protect their trees and fruits from risks, raised a Series B round of $17 million. Last month, SunCulture, a Kenyan startup that provides solar power systems, water pumps and irrigation systems for small-scale farmers, raised $14 million. 

South African startup Aerobotics raises $17M to scale its AI-for-agriculture platform

Another startup is Apollo Agriculture which raised $6 million Series A, akin to Pula. Not only did the pair raise the same round, Apollo Agriculture and Pula both deal with providing financial resources to smallholder farmers. But while both companies might look like competitors, even to the admission of Goslinga, she argues that the startups are partners and complement each other.

As part of the new fundraise, TLcom’s senior partner Omobola Johnson will join Pula’s board. However, it was her colleague, Maurizio Caio, the firm’s managing partner, who had something to say about the round. 

“The potential for the insurance market for smallholder farmers in Africa is huge, and under the leadership of Rose and Thomas, Pula has rapidly established a strong presence throughout the continent and has several high-profile clients on their books. We are confident of Pula’s potential for growth in spite of the pandemic and look forward to partnering with them as they execute the next phase of their journey,” he said in a statement.

For the lead investor, Pula’s investment marks the culmination of its busiest run of investments having led and co-led rounds in Okra, Shara, Autochek and Ilara Health within the past year.

Christina Juhasz, CIO at Women’s World Banking, the other investor in the round, explained that the organisation cut a check for Pula “given the legions of women engaged in small-hold farming and securing the food supply for communities around the globe.”

Categories: Business News

Global <b>VoIP</b> Equipments Market 2020 Demand, Business Growing Strategies, Industry ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 25 - 5:15pm
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Alma raises $59.4 million for its Klarna-like payment option

Startup News - 2021, January 25 - 5:10pm

French startup Alma is raising a $59.4 million Series B funding round (€49 million). The company has been building a new payment option for expensive good. You can choose to pay over three or four installments. This product sounds familiar if you’ve used Klarna in the past. But Klarna isn’t available in France.

Cathay Innovation, Idinvest, Bpifrance’s Large Venture fund, Seaya Ventures and Picus Capital are participating in today’s funding round. In addition to today’s equity round, Alma is raising a credit line of $25.5 million (€21 million) to finance merchant payments.

What makes Alma attractive to merchants is that the startup is handling 100% of the risk involved with a payment over multiple installments. When a customer buys a bike over four installments, they’ll get charged over several months. But the merchant gets paid on day one.

Since I first covered Alma, the startup has launched the ability to pay later. You enter your card information right now but you get charged 15 days or a month later. It can be particularly useful if you’re unsure about something you’re buying and if you think there’s a chance you’ll send it back.

And it’s an attractive option in France where debit cards are the norm — not credit cards. Alma also plans to offer longer plans, such as the ability to buy now and pay over 6, 10 or 12 installments.

Thanks to the new influx of cash, the startup plans to triple the size of its team and reach €1 billion in annual payment volume within two years. It’s also going to expand to other countries, but with a specific focus on helping French merchants reach European customers living in other European countries.

Alma is a Klarna-like payment startup that lets you buy now and pay later

Making sense of Klarna

Categories: Business News

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