Business News

A first look at Coursera’s S-1 filing

Startup News - 4 hours 51 min ago

After TechCrunch broke the news yesterday that Coursera was planning to file its S-1 today, the edtech company officially dropped the document Friday evening.

Coursera was last valued at $2.4 billion by the private markets, when it most recently raised a Series F round in October 2020 that was worth $130 million.

Coursera’s S-1 filing offers a glimpse into the finances of how an edtech company, accelerated by the pandemic, performed over the past year. It paints a picture of growth, albeit one that came at steep expense.

Revenue

In 2020, Coursera saw $293.5 million in revenue. That’s a roughly 59% increase from the year prior when the company recorded $184.4 million in top line. During that same period, Coursera posted a net loss of nearly $67 million, up 46% from the previous year’s $46.7 million net deficit.

Notably the company had roughly the same noncash, share-based compensation expenses in both years. Even if we allow the company to judge its profitability on an adjusted EBITDA basis, Coursera’s losses still rose from 2019 to 2020, expanding from $26.9 million to $39.8 million.

To understand the difference between net losses and adjusted losses it’s worth unpacking the EBITDA acronym. Standing for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization,” EBITDA strips out some nonoperating costs to give investors a possible better picture of the continuing health of a business, without getting caught up in accounting nuance. Adjusted EBITDA takes the concept one step further, also removing the noncash cost of share-based compensation, and in an even more cheeky move, in this case also deducts “payroll tax expense related to stock-based activities” as well.

For our purposes, even when we grade Coursera’s profitability on a very polite curve it still winds up generating stiff losses. Indeed, the company’s adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of revenue — a way of determining profitability in contrast to revenue — barely improved from a 2019 result of -15% to -14% in 2020.

Categories: Business News

Deep Science: AI adventures in arts and letters

Startup News - 6 hours 28 min ago

There’s more AI news out there than anyone can possibly keep up with. But you can stay tolerably up to date on the most interesting developments with this column, which collects AI and machine learning advancements from around the world and explains why they might be important to tech, startups or civilization.

To begin on a lighthearted note: The ways researchers find to apply machine learning to the arts are always interesting — though not always practical. A team from the University of Washington wanted to see if a computer vision system could learn to tell what is being played on a piano just from an overhead view of the keys and the player’s hands.

Audeo, the system trained by Eli Shlizerman, Kun Su and Xiulong Liu, watches video of piano playing and first extracts a piano-roll-like simple sequence of key presses. Then it adds expression in the form of length and strength of the presses, and lastly polishes it up for input into a MIDI synthesizer for output. The results are a little loose but definitely recognizable.

Image Credits: Shlizerman, et. al

“To create music that sounds like it could be played in a musical performance was previously believed to be impossible,” said Shlizerman. “An algorithm needs to figure out the cues, or ‘features,’ in the video frames that are related to generating music, and it needs to ‘imagine’ the sound that’s happening in between the video frames. It requires a system that is both precise and imaginative. The fact that we achieved music that sounded pretty good was a surprise.”

Another from the field of arts and letters is this extremely fascinating research into computational unfolding of ancient letters too delicate to handle. The MIT team was looking at “locked” letters from the 17th century that are so intricately folded and sealed that to remove the letter and flatten it might permanently damage them. Their approach was to X-ray the letters and set a new, advanced algorithm to work deciphering the resulting imagery.

Diagram showing X-ray views of a letter and how it is analyzed to virtually unfold it. Image Credits: MIT

“The algorithm ends up doing an impressive job at separating the layers of paper, despite their extreme thinness and tiny gaps between them, sometimes less than the resolution of the scan,” MIT’s Erik Demaine said. “We weren’t sure it would be possible.” The work may be applicable to many kinds of documents that are difficult for simple X-ray techniques to unravel. It’s a bit of a stretch to categorize this as “machine learning,” but it was too interesting not to include. Read the full paper at Nature Communications.

Image Credits: Asensio, et. al

You arrive at a charge point for your electric car and find it to be out of service. You might even leave a bad review online. In fact, thousands of such reviews exist and constitute a potentially very useful map for municipalities looking to expand electric vehicle infrastructure.

Georgia Tech’s Omar Asensio trained a natural language processing model on such reviews and it soon became an expert at parsing them by the thousands and squeezing out insights like where outages were common, comparative cost and other factors.

Categories: Business News

How and when to hire your first product manager

Startup News - 8 hours 28 min ago

In the world of early-stage startups, job titles are often a formality. In reality, each employee may handle a dozen responsibilities outside their job description. The choose-your-own-adventure type of work style is part of the magic of startups and often why generalists thrive here.

However, as a company progresses and the team grows, there comes a time when a founder needs to carve out dedicated roles. Of these positions, product management might be one of the most elusive — and key — roles to fill.

Product management might be one of the most elusive — and key — roles to fill.

We spoke to startup founders and operators to get their thoughts about how and when they hired their first product manager. Some of the things we talked about were:

  •  Which traits to look for.
  •  Why it’s important to define the role before you look for your best fit.
  •  Whether your new hire needs to have a technical background.
  •  The best questions to ask in an interview.
  •  How to time your first hire and avoid overhiring.
Don’t hire for the CEO of a product

Let’s start by working backward. Product managers often graduate into a CEO role or leave a company to become a founder. Like founders, talented product managers have innate leadership skills and are able to effectively and clearly communicate. Similarly, both roles require a person who is a visionary when it comes to the product and execution.

David Blake was a product manager before he became a serial edtech founder who created Degreed, Learn In, and most recently, BookClub. He says that experience helped him launch the first prototype of Degreed and attract first clients.

“The must-have skill is the ability to put the team’s best wisdom in check and inform the product decisions with users and potential clients to inform what you are building,” he said. The person “must also be able to take the team’s mission and develop and sell that narrative to users and potential clients. That is how you blaze a new trail, balance risk, while avoiding building a ‘faster horse.”

The overlapping synergies between PMs and founders is part of the reason why the role is so confusing to define and hire for. Ken Norton, former director of product at Figma who recently left to solo advise and coach product managers, says companies can start by defining what PMs are not: The CEO of the product.

“It’s about not handing off the product responsibilities to somebody,” he said. “You want the founder and the CEO to continue to be the evangelist and visionary.” Instead, the role is more about day to day “blocking and tackling.” Norton wrote a piece more than 15 years ago about how to hire a product manager, and it’s still an essential read for anyone interested in the field.

Define the role and set your expectations

Product managers help translate all the jugglers within a startup to each other; connecting the engineer with marketing, design with business development and sales with all the above. The role at its core is hard to define, but at the same time is the necessary plumbing for any startup that wants to be high-growth and ambitious.

While a successful product manager is a strong generalist, they have to have the ability to understand and humanize technical processes. The best candidates, then, have some sort of technical experience as an engineer or otherwise.

Categories: Business News

Dan Siroker’s new startup Scribe automates Zoom note-taking

Startup News - 8 hours 56 min ago

Optimizely co-founder Dan Siroker said the idea for his new startup Scribe goes back to a couple of personal experiences — and although Scribe’s first product is focused on Zoom, those experiences weren’t Zoom-related at all.

Instead, Siroker recalled starting to go deaf and then having an “epiphany” the first time he put in a hearing aid, as he recovered a sense he thought he’d lost.

“That really was the spark that got me thinking about other opportunities to augment things your body naturally fails at,” he said.

Siroker added that memory was an obvious candidate, particularly since he also has aphantasia — the inability to visualize mental images, which made it “hard to remember certain things.”

Optimizely hires Jay Larson as its new CEO

It may jog your own memory if I note that Siroker founded Optimizely with Pete Koomen in 2010, then stepped down from the CEO role in 2017, with the testing and personalization startup acquired by Episerver last year. (And now Episerver itself is rebranding as Optimizely.)

Fast-forward to the present day and Siroker is now CEO at Scribe, which is taking signups for its first product. That product integrates into Zoom meetings and transforms them into searchable, shareable transcripts.

Siroker demonstrated it for me during our Zoom call. Scribe appears in the meeting as an additional participant, recording video and audio while creating a real-time transcript. During or after the meeting, users can edit the transcript, watch or listen to the associated moment in the recording and highlight important points.

From a technological perspective, none of this feels like a huge breakthrough, but I was impressed by the seamlessness of the experience — just by adding an additional participant, I had a full recording and searchable transcript of our conversation that I could consult later, including while I was writing this story.

Image Credits: Scribe

Although Scribe is recording the meeting, Siroker said he wants this to be more like a note-taking replacement than a tape recorder.

“Let’s say you and I were meeting and I came to that meeting with a pen and paper and I’m writing down what you’re saying,” he said. “That’s totally socially acceptable — in some ways, it’s flattering … If instead, I brought a tape recorder and plopped in front of you and hit record — you might actually have this experience — with some folks, that feels very different.”

Best practices for Zoom board meetings at early-stage startups

The key, he argued, is that Scribe recordings and transcripts can be edited, and you can also turn individual components on and off at any time.

“This is not a permanent record,” he said. “This is a shared artifact that we all create as we have a meeting that — just like a Google Doc — you can go back and make changes.”

Image Credits: Scribe

That said, it’s still possible that Scribe could record some embarrassing comments, and the recordings could eventually get meeting participants in trouble. (After all, leaked company meeting recordings have already prompted a number of news stories.) Siroker said he hopes that’s “not common,” but he also argued that it could create an increased sense of transparency and accountability if it happens occasionally.

Scribe has raised around $5 million in funding, across a round led by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and another led by First Round Capital.

Siroker told me he sees Zoom as just the “beachhead” for Scribe’s ambitions. Next up, the company will be adding support for products like Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Eventually, he hopes to build a new “hive mind” for organizations, where everyone is “smarter and better” because so many of their conversations and knowledge are now searchable.

“Where we go after that really depends on where we think we can have the biggest positive impact on people’s lives,” he said. “It’s harder to make a case for personal conversations you have with a spouse but … I think if you strike the right balance between value and privacy and control, you could really get people to adopt this in a way that actually is a win-win.”

And if Scribe actually achieves its mission of helping us to record and recall information in a wide variety of contexts, could that have an impact on our natural ability to remember things?

“Yes is the answer, and I think that’s okay,” he responded. “Your brain has limited energy … Remembering the things somebody said a few weeks ago is something a computer can do amazingly. Why waste your precious brain cycles doing that?”

Wall Street needs to relax, as startups show remote work is here to stay

Categories: Business News

How Rani Therapeutics’ robotic pill could change subcutaneous injection treatment

Startup News - 9 hours 37 min ago

A new auto-injecting pill might soon become a replacement for subcutaneous injection treatments.

The idea for this so-called robotic pill came out of a research project around eight years ago from InCube Labs—a life sciences lab operated by Rani Therapeutics Chairman and CEO Mir Imran, who has degrees in electrical and biomedical engineering from Rutgers University. A prominent figure in life sciences innovation, Imran has founded over 20 medical device companies and helped develop the world’s first implantable cardiac defibrillator.

In working on the technology behind San Jose-based Rani Therapeutics, Imran and his team wanted to find a way to relieve some of the painful side effects of subcutaneous (or under-the-skin) injections, while also improving the treatment’s efficacy. “The technology itself started with a very simple thesis,” said Imran in an interview. “We thought, why can’t we create a pill that contains a biologic drug that you swallow, and once it gets to the intestine, it transforms itself and delivers a pain-free injection?”

Rani Therapeutics’ approach is based on inherent properties of the gastrointestinal tract. An injecting mechanism in their pill is surrounded by a pH-sensitive coating that dissolves as the capsule moves from a patient’s stomach to the small intestine. This helps ensure that the pill starts injecting the medicine in the right place at the right time. Once there, the reactants mix and produce carbon dioxide, which in turn inflates a small balloon that helps create a pressure difference to help inject the drug-loaded needles into the intestinal wall. “So it’s a really well-timed cascade of events that results in the delivery of this needle,” said Imran.

Synthetic biology startups are giving investors an appetite

Despite its somewhat mechanical procedure, the pill itself contains no metal or springs, reducing the chance of an inflammatory response in the body. The needles and other components are instead made of injectable-grade polymers, that Imran said has been used in other medical devices as well. Delivering the injections to the upper part of the small intestine also carries little risk of infection, as the prevalence of stomach acid and bile from the liver prevent bacteria from readily growing there.

One of Imran’s priorities for the pill was to eliminate the painful side effects of subcutaneous injections. “It wouldn’t make sense to replace them with another painful injection,” he said. “But biology was on our side, because your intestines don’t have the kind of pain sensors your skin does.” What’s more, administering the injection into the highly vascularized wall of the small intestine actually allows the treatment to work more efficiently than when applied through subcutaneous injection, which typically deposits the treatment into fatty tissue.

Imran and his team have plans to use the pill for a variety of indications, including the growth hormone disorder acromegaly, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In January 2020, their acromegaly treatment, Octreotide, demonstrated both safety and sustained bioavailability in primary clinical trials. They hope to pursue future clinical trials for other indications, but chose to prioritize acromegaly initially because of its well-established treatment drug but “very painful injection,” Imran said.

At the end of last year, Rani Therapeutics raised $69 million in new funding to help further develop and test their platform. “This will finance us for the next several years,” said Imran. “Our approach to the business is to make the technology very robust and manufacturable.”

Next-gen skincare, silk without spiders and pollution for lunch: Meet the biotech startups pitching at IndieBio’s Demo Day

Categories: Business News

Address cybersecurity challenges before rolling out robotic process automation

Startup News - 9 hours 53 min ago
Alan Radford Contributor Alan Radford is regional CTO of One Identity and has a passion for helping organizations solve unique challenges in the identity and access management space.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is making a major impact across every industry. But many don’t know how common the technology is and may not realize that they are interacting with it regularly. RPA is a growing megatrend — by 2022, Gartner predicts that 90% of organizations globally will have adopted RPA and its received over $1.8 billion in investments in the past two years alone.

Due to the shift to remote work, companies across every industry have implemented some form of RPA to simplify their operations to deal with an influx of requests. For example, when major airlines were bombarded with cancellation requests at the onset of the pandemic, RPA became essential to their customer service strategy.

Throughout 2021, security teams will begin to realize the unconsidered security challenges of robotic process automation.

According to Forrester, one major airline had over 120,000 cancellations during the first few weeks of the pandemic. By utilizing RPA to handle the influx of cancellations, the airline was able to simplify its refund process and assist customers in a timely matter.

Delivering this type of streamlined cancellation process with such high demand would have been extremely challenging, if not impossible, without RPA technology.

The multitude of other RPA use cases that have popped up since COVID-19 have made it evident that RPA isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, interest in the usage of RPA is at an unprecedented high. Gartner inquiries related to RPA increased over 1,000% during 2020 as companies continue to invest.

However, there’s one big issue that’s commonly overlooked when it comes to RPA — security. Like we’ve seen with other innovations, the security aspect of RPA isn’t implemented in the early stages of development — leaving organizations vulnerable to cybercriminals.

If the security vulnerabilities of RPA aren’t addressed quickly, there will be a string of significant RPA breaches in 2021. However, by realizing that these new “digital coworkers” have identities of their own, companies can secure RPA before they make the headlines as the latest major breach.

Understanding RPA’s digital identity

With RPA, digital workers are created to take over repetitive manual tasks that have been traditionally performed by humans. Their interaction directly with business applications mimics the way humans use credentials and privilege — ultimately giving the robot an identity of its own. An identity that is created and operates much faster than any human identity but doesn’t eat, sleep, take holidays, go on strike or even get paid.

Categories: Business News

Eco raises $26M in a16z-led round to scale its digital cryptocurrency platform

Startup News - 10 hours 30 min ago

‍Eco, which has built out a digital global cryptocurrency platform, announced Friday that it has raised $26 million in a funding round led by a16z Crypto.

Founded in 2018, the SF-based startup’s platform is designed to be used as a payment tool around the world for daily-use transactions. The company emphasizes that it’s “not a bank, checking account, or credit card.”

“We’re building something better than all of those combined,” it said in a blog post. The company’s mission has also been described as an effort to use cryptocurrency as a way “to marry savings and spending,” according to this CoinList article.

Eco users can earn up to 5% annually on their deposits and get 5% cash back when transacting with merchants such as Amazon, Uber and others. Next up: The company says it will give its users the ability to pay bills, pay friends and more “all from the same, single wallet.” That same wallet, it says, rewards people every time they spend or save.

After a “successful” alpha test with millions of dollars deposited, the company’s Eco App is now available to the public.

Gemini is launching a credit card with bitcoin rewards

A slew of other VC firms participated in Eco’s latest financing, including Founders Fund, Activant Capital, Slow Ventures, Coinbase Ventures, Tribe Capital, Valor Capital Group and more than one hundred other funds and angels. Expa and Pantera Capital co-led the company’s $8.5 million funding round.

CoinList co-founder Andy Bromberg stepped down from his role last fall to head up Eco. The startup was originally called Beam before rebranding to Eco “thanks to involvement by founding advisor, Garrett Camp, who held the Eco brand,” according to Coindesk. Camp is an Uber co-founder and Expa is his venture fund.

For a16z Crypto, leading the round is in line with its mission.

In a blog post co-written by Katie Haun and Arianna Simpson, the firm outlined why it’s pumped about Eco and its plans.

“One of the challenges in any new industry — crypto being no exception — is building things that are not just cool for the sake of cool, but that manage to reach and delight a broad set of users,” they wrote. “Technology is at its best when it’s improving the lives of people in tangible, concrete ways…At a16z Crypto, we are constantly on the lookout for paths to get cryptocurrency into the hands of the next billion people. How do we think that will happen? By helping them achieve what they already want to do: spend, save, and make money — and by focusing users on tangible benefits, not on the underlying technology.”

Eco is not the only crypto platform offering rewards to users. Lolli gives users free bitcoin or cash when they shop at over 1,000 top stores.

Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1

Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.

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Categories: Business News

Early-stage investor Mayfield shows how to scale up your biotech startup at TC Early Stage in April

Startup News - 10 hours 38 min ago

Founders in the earliest stages of startup life face a hefty learning curve. Just some of the core competencies you need to lock down include how to raise VC funding, recruiting the right people, finding product-market fit and building a killer go-to-market team. The list goes on and on…and on. You’ll learn about all those topics and more at TechCrunch Early Stage Operations & Fundraising taking place on April 1-2. 

Do you science? Are you inspired to use biology as technology? If your entrepreneurial interests lean toward the scientific side of the startup equation, you don’t want to miss this special session — brought to you by Mayfield — at TC Early Stage 2021 on April 1-2.

Scientist Entrepreneurs — Scaling Breakout Engineering Biology Companies 

Arvind Gupta and Ursheet Parikh, early-stage investors, company builders and Mayfield partners, along with Po Bronson, NYT bestselling author and managing director of IndieBio, will discuss scaling startups and touch upon three seminal areas that influence trajectory: fundraising, hiring and product design. Their insights draw on their experience with companies including ingredients-as-service leader Geltor (which raised a $91 million Series B in 2020); CRISPR platform Mammoth Biosciences (its dream team includes co-founder and Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna); and Endpoint Health (started by GeneWEAVE’s founding team and former YC Bio Partner Diego Rey).

Whether you’re a biotech entrepreneur, a researcher or a scientist tackling the daunting challenges of human and planetary health, this session will help you build a stronger, more successful startup as you take your product to market.

Mayfield will follow up this session with even more content at Disrupt 2021 in September. These sessions will reveal company-building insights from entrepreneurs, investors, industry leaders and policymakers. Mayfield invests in exceptional people whose mission in life is to create a better world — not just for our generation  but for future generations as well. If you science, don’t miss your opportunity to learn from leading investors who have partnered with iconic biotech and health IT entrepreneurs — from Amgen and Genentech to Mammoth Biosciences.

Get your ticket for the April TC Early Stage event here. Or get a dual-event ticket for the April and July events for double the knowledge across operations, marketing, recruiting and fundraising — and save up to $100.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Early Stage 2021 — Operations & Fundraising? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Categories: Business News

The technology selloff is getting to be somewhat material

Startup News - 11 hours 36 min ago

Tech stocks are getting hammered today, with previously high-flying shares of software companies taking even more damage.

For a sector that has enjoyed a year in the sun, recent trading sessions have punctured a period of market adoration. It is too soon to say that the market is repricing tech stocks, but the selloff has reached the point of materiality and is therefore something we need to note.

As we write, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite is off another 1.2% today after previous declines. The now-infamous ARK Innovation ETF is off 6.5% and the list of individual declines worth noting in the tech sector is very long indeed.

The change in sentiment is clear in recent results. Here’s the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite:

  • Nasdaq Composite 52-week high: 14,175.12
  • Nasdaq Composite today: 12,561.13
  • Percent change: -11.4%

And the damage intensifies if we consider just SaaS and cloud stocks. Here’s the Bessemer cloud index:

  • Bessemer cloud index 52-week high: 2,884.23
  • Bessemer cloud index today: 2,185.62
  • Percent change: -24.2%

In more prosaic terms, the Nasdaq is in a technical correction, while SaaS stocks have reached bear-market territory. That’s quite a turnabout from recent all-time highs for both.

Not just software

Lost on the TechCrunch editing floor from late yesterday is a post we wrote noting the sharp declines in the value of insurtech stocks ahead of the impending public debut of Hippo, another neo-insurance company. The SPAC-led Hippo flotation will not touch down in a warm market. Instead, its contemporaries look like this today:

  • Lemonade 52-week high: $188.30
  • Lemonade current price: $84.72
  • Change: -55.0%
  • Root Insurance 52-week high: $29.48
  • Root Insurance current price: $12.38
  • Change: -58.0%
  • MetroMile 52-week high: $20.39
  • MetroMile current price: $10.04
  • Change: -50.8%

The damage is widespread. Hell, recent IPO success-story Snowflake announced yesterday that it grew from revenues of $88 million in its year-ago quarter to $190 million in its most recent. And its stock is off more than 7% today.

We’ll leave it to you whether the changing public valuations are just a blip or a more staid change in the winds. But it does feel different out there.

For startups, this is all somewhat poor news. Valuations for public comps were strong in 2020. To lose that halo in 2021 could crimp late-stage valuations, perhaps even reaching back to Series A and B rounds to limit some upside for growing upstarts. But such an impact will lag the public markets, so don’t expect things to change quite yet.

Still, every private investor has their eye on the exit when it comes to their deals. And if that exit is suddenly shrinking, so too might their interest in paying for quite so great a markup on their next deal.

Understanding how investors value growth in 2021

Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.

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Categories: Business News

YC-backed Pangea discusses growth, fundraising ahead of demo day

Startup News - 12 hours 7 min ago

Pangea, a marketplace startup that wants to connect college freelancers and companies in need of digital help, is seeing its growth rate accelerate as it races toward the impending Y Combinator demo day.

It’s traditional around this time that startups in the accelerator reach out to say hello. Provided that they are willing to chat growth metrics, we’re willing to listen.

Pangea, based in Providence, Rhode Island, is one such company. TechCrunch previously covered the company when it announced a $400,000 pre-seed round last April. Now most of the way through the YC accelerator, the company dished regarding its recent growth and the fact that it added more capital to its accounts late last year.

The Pangea team, from their shared house/office. Via the company.

On the growth side of the coin, Pangea CEO Adam Alpert told TechCrunch the company has grown its gross merchandise volume (GMV) sequentially by 35% in each of the last two months. That’s a steep pace of GMV expansion. And the growth is adding up to real numbers, with Pangea facilitating $50,000 in transactions between college freelancers and businesses in the last four weeks.

Alpert said that its year-ago number was around $3,000 or $4,000.

And the company has managed to expand its market take rate to around 25%, tinkering with how it charges for its service. The result is a model that might resonate with anyone familiar with Fiverr, and may help the company more rapidly expand its net revenue.

The company’s recent growth comes after it secured another $350,000 in November 2020 at a higher cap to its previously known pre-seed round. And, of course, it raised $125,000 from Y Combinator, funds that landed in its accounts this January.

Pangea.app raises $400K pre-seed round to help connect student workers with businesses

Pangea is now active in 600 campuses, Alpert said. And it has found where its service is most in-demand, namely among emerging brands and smaller tech startups. Those firms often need the types of services that college kids are good at — social media, design, etc. — making them a good fit.

The company was somewhat coy on upcoming product news but was clear that it’s looking for investing partners as it works toward Series A scale. Let’s see how Pangea does in a few weeks.

African countries need ‘startup acts’ more than ever to support innovation

Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.

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Categories: Business News

Understanding how investors value growth in 2021

Startup News - 12 hours 20 min ago

We’re not digging into another IPO filing today. You can read all about AppLovin’s filing here, or ThredUp’s document here.

This morning, instead, we’re talking about an old favorite: software valuations. The folks over at Battery Ventures have compiled a lengthy dive into the 2020 software market that’s worth our time — you can read along here; I’ll provide page numbers as we go — because it helps explain some software valuations.

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

There’s little doubt that there is some froth in the software market, but it may not be where you think it is.

The Battery report has a lot of data points that we’ll also work through in this week’s newsletter, but this morning, let’s narrow ourselves to thinking about rising aggregate software multiples, the breakdown of multiples expansion through the lens of relative growth rates, and cap it off with a nibble on the importance, or lack thereof, of cash flow margins for the valuation of high-growth software companies.

We’ll look at the changing public market perspective, and then ask ourselves if the aggregate image that appears is good or not good for software startups.

I chatted through pieces of the report with its authors, Battery’s Brandon Gleklen and Neeraj Agrawal. So, we’ll lean on their perspective a little as we go to help us move quickly. This is our Friday treat. Or at least mine. Let’s get into it.

Rising multiples

Let’s start with an affirmation. Yes, software valuations have risen to record-high multiples in recent years. Here’s the Battery chart that makes the change clear:

Page 31, Battery report. Image Credits: Battery Ventures

Categories: Business News

SoftBank makes mountains of cash off of human laziness

Startup News - 12 hours 58 min ago

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

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was yet another crazy week, but we did our best to get through as much of it as we could. Here’s the rundown, in case you are reading along with us!

  • Square is buying Tidal in a deal that some are skeptical of, but one about which we found quite a lot to like.
  • How capital-as-a-service can get you your first check in 2021, and a nod to Indie.VC, a pioneer in alternative financing for startups that announced it is shutting down net new investments this year.
  • Oscar Health priced its IPO above its raised range, which was good for it in terms of fundraising. However, since its debut the company has lost pricing altitude. Its declines mimic those of other public neo-insurance providers in what could be a new trend.
  • And sticking to the insurtech beat, Hippo is going public via a SPAC. Because everyone else is?
  • Compass filed its S-1, which triggered a debate on how it’s different than Opendoor.
  • Coupang’s IPO is also coming, replete with huge growth, an improving profitability picture and a massive valuation. This is one to watch.
  • There was also a whole global news circuit around grocery delivery startups, with Instacart raising at a $39 billion valuation.
  • And we wrapped with the Surreal seed round that we found to be more than a little spicy. As it turns out, commercialized deepfakes are not merely on the way; they are here.

How China’s synthetic media startup Surreal nabs funding in 3 months

And with that we are back on Monday. Have a rocking weekend!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.

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Categories: Business News

Scrum Ventures launches new program to connect startups with Japanese corporations

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 9:00pm

Masami Takahashi, the president of Scrum Studios. Image Credits: Scrum Ventures

Headquartered in San Francisco and Tokyo, Scrum Ventures is known for its accelerator programs focused on sports, food and smart-city tech. Today it announced the launch of a new incubator program that will help startups form business partnerships with Japanese corporations.

Called Scrum Studio, it will be spun out as an independent entity from Scrum Ventures, and headed by Masami Takahashi, who was previously strategy officer and general manager for WeWork Japan. Before that, he led Uber’s operations in Japan.

Takahashi told TechCrunch that Scrum Studio is currently focused on the startups in its current accelerator programs (Sports Tech Tokyo, SmartCityX and Food Tech Studio), but plans to launch new programs in the future that also center on specific verticals. Through Scrum Studio, startups will be able to establish subsidiaries in Japan, or form joint ventures with Japanese companies.

The future of sports tech: Here’s where investors are placing their bets

Scrum already has more than 50 Japanese corporate partners, including Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance, energy company Idemitsu Kosan Co and East Japan Railway Company for Smart City X, and Fuji Oil Holdings, Nissin Food Holdings and ITO EN for Food Tech Studio.

“We are looking to work with startups and technology that can help solve some of the challenges that our society faces today,” Takahashi said in an email. “These include, but are not limited to, sustainability, health, safety, waste reduction, and efficiency of cities and their people.”

Cross-border investments aren’t dead, they’re getting smarter

Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.

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Categories: Business News

How Pariti is connecting founders with capital, resources and talent in emerging markets

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 6:22pm

According to Startup Genome, Beijing, London, Silicon Valley, Stockholm, Tel Aviv are some of the world’s best startup ecosystems. The data and research organisation uses factors like performance, capital, market reach, connectedness, talent, and knowledge to produce its rankings.

Startup ecosystems from emerging markets excluding China and India didn’t make the organisations’ top 40 list last year. It is a known fact that these regions lag well behind in all six factors, and decades might pass before they catch up to the standards of the aforementioned ecosystems.

However, Pariti, a Kenyan B2B management startup founded by Yacob Berhane and Wossen Ayele wants to close the gap on three of the six factors — access to capital, knowledge, and talent.

These issues, specifically that of access to capital, is heightened in Africa. For instance, only 25% of funding goes to early-stage startups in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to more than 50% in Latin America, MENA, and South Asia regions.

“We wanted to build a solution that will help startups be successful that otherwise would not have been able to get the resources they needed,” said CEO Berhane to TechCrunch. “This problem is especially acute in Africa because it’s particularly nascent, but this platform is designed for founders across emerging markets. So basically anywhere that doesn’t have a mature, healthy startup ecosystem.”

So, how is the team at Pariti setting out to solve these problems? Ayele tells me that in one sense, Pariti is like an unbundled accelerator.

In a typical accelerator, founders will need to go through an intense program where they are loaded with information on all the things a startup will likely need to know at some point in their growth. Whereas with Pariti, founders get the needed information or resources that are immediately relevant to helping them get to the next stage of the business.

A three-way marketplace

When a founder joins Pariti, they run their company through an assessment tool. There, they share pitch materials and information about their business. Pariti then assesses each company across more than 70 information points ranging from the team and market to product and economics.

After this is done, Pariti benchmarks each company against its peers. Companies in the same industry, product stage, revenue, fundraising are some of the comparisons made. The founder gets a detailed assessment with feedback on their pitch materials, the underlying metrics that they can use to develop their business and, their ability to raise capital down the line.

“This approach gives us an extremely granular view of their businesses, its strengths, weaknesses and allows us to triage the right resources to the founder based on their particular needs.”

It doesn’t end there. Pariti also connects the founders for one-on-one sessions with members of its global expert community. Their backgrounds, according to Ayele, run the gamut from finance and marketing to product and technology across a range of sectors. Pariti also provides vetted professionals for hire from its community if a founder needs more hands-on support building a product.

Ayele says founders can continue to go through this process multiple times, getting assessed, implementing feedback, and connecting with resources and talent.

On another end, Pariti allows investors to sign up on its platform, thereby collating data on their preferences. So once a startup wants to raise capital, the platform matches them with investors based on their profile and preferences.

“We’ve built an algorithm-based matching platform where we curate relevant deals to VC investors. We also simplify the investor reach-out process for founders, which is a huge pain point — especially in this ecosystem.”

Pariti’s investor platform

In a nutshell, Pariti helps founders connect with affordable talent, access capital and develop their businesses. Professionals can find interesting opportunities to mentor startups and get paid gig opportunities. They also get more exposure to the early stage ecosystem while tracking their progress, verifying their skills and increasing earning potential. Investors can run extremely lean operations with access to proprietary deal flow, automated deal filtering and on-demand experts to support due diligence, research and portfolio support.

According to the COO, the company has seen a tremendous amount of value built through the platform so far. A testament to this is an experience shared by Kiiru Muhoya, founder of Kenyan fintech startup Fingo Africa with TechCrunch, on how the platform helped him raise a $250,000 pre-seed round.

He said that after going through Pariti’s assessment ahead of a planned fundraiser, he realized that the market he was targeting was too small. Also, he needed to learn more about what VCs were looking for to be successful.

Muhoya decided to switch to being at the other end of things. Joining the expert platform on Pariti, he began to review companies and provided feedback to other founders. This led him to take some months off to pivot his business based on Pariti’s first feedback and what he had learned from the expert platform. He took his startup through another assessment on the platform and thus closed the round.

The company has made significant strides since launching in 2019. It has over 500 companies across 42 countries, 100 freelance experts, and 60 investors using its platform. Berhane also adds that five funds currently use Pariti’s operating system for their deal management.

“For us, I think we’re building the rails for how ventures are built and scaled in emerging markets. We have partners in place across emerging markets, including Latin America and India. We also have a strong interest in the United States, where we see a real need for our platform.” Berhane said.

It charges a subscription model for investors, but Berhane wouldn’t disclose the numbers. He says that Pariti will begin to charge a subscription fee for founders as well. Another revenue stream comes when investors or founders pay a certain transaction fee when using Pariti’s freelance experts for projects. The same happens when there’s any fundraise executed from the platform.

Talking about fundraising, the company recently secured an undisclosed pre-seed capital from angels and VCs like 500 Startups, Kepple Africa and Huddle VC.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Pariti as one issue that has stood out in dealing with founders and investors is trust. Berhane says founders have shared some horror stories about engaging with investors, while investors have shared trust concerns about founders reporting false numbers.

Pariti tries to address this by providing NDAs for both parties where the company will not share founders data with investors until they want it to be.  And investors won’t get deals that Pariti hasn’t thoroughly vetted.

Both founders of East African descent — Berhane from Eritrea and Ayele from Ethiopia — crossed paths a couple of times but took different routes to be where they are now.

Wossen Ayele (COO) and Yacob Berhane (CEO)

Ayele started his career at a consulting shop with offices across East Africa before moving back to the U.S. for law school. There, he got his first exposure to the early-stage startup world and worked with an emerging markets-focused VC fund.

“I could see how technology and innovation could play a role in helping communities – whether it’s through financial inclusion, access to essential goods and services, connecting people at the base of the pyramid to markets,” he said.

Upon graduation and completion of his legal training, Ayele headed back to Nairobi to get involved with its growing African startup ecosystem, where he and Berhane founded the company.

The CEO who studied finance and investment banking in the U.S. moved back to Africa to start a pan-African accelerator in Johannesburg, South Africa. While he has worked in managerial positions for companies like the African Leadership University and Ajua, Berhane spent most of his time brokering deals for them which ultimately led him to start Pariti. 

“After helping businesses raise more than $20m and seeing how that money led to job creation and upward mobility for employees, I knew there was a path I could have that would be meaningful within finance. I continued to think about the growing asymmetry of access to capital, talent and knowledge in the startup ecosystem and the lack of infrastructure addressing it. Pariti was how we wanted to solve it.”

Categories: Business News

Indonesian logistics startup SiCepat raises $170 million Series B

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 2:28pm

SiCepat, an end-to-end logistics startup in Indonesia, announced today it has raised a $170 million Series B funding round. Founded in 2014 to provide last-mile deliveries for small merchants, the company has since expanded to serve large e-commerce platforms, too. Its services now also cover warehousing and fulfillment, middle-mile logistics and online distribution.

Investors in SiCepat’s Series B include Falcon House Partners; Kejora Capital; DEG (the German Development Finance Institution); Telkom Indonesia’s investment arm MDI Ventures; Indies Capital; Temasek Holdings subsidiary Pavilion Capital; Trihill Capital; and Daiwa Securities. The company’s last funding announcement was a $50 million Series A in April 2019.

In a press statement, The Kim Hai, founder and chief executive officer of SiCepat’s parent company Onstar Express, said the funding will be used to “further fortify SiCepat’s position as the leading end-to-end logistics service provider in the Indonesian market and potentially to explore expansion to other markets in Southeast Asia.” SiCepat claims to be profitable already and that it was able to fulfill more than 1.4 million packages per day in 2020.

The logistics industry in Indonesia is highly fragmented, which means higher costs for businesses. At the same time, demand for deliveries is increasing thanks to the growth of e-commerce, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SiCepat is one of several Indonesian startups that have raised funding recently to make the supply chain and logistics infrastructure more efficient. For example, earlier this week, supply chain SaaS provider Advotics announced a $2.75 million round. Other notable startups in the space include Kargo, founded by a former Uber Asia executive, and Waresix.

Indonesian supply chain startup Advotics raises $2.75M led by East Ventures

SiCepat focuses in particular on e-commerce and social commerce, or people who sell goods through their social media networks. In statement, Kejora Capital managing partner Sebastian Togelang, said the Indonesian e-commerce market is expected to grow at five-year compounded annual growth rate of 21%, reaching $82 billion by 2025.

“We believe SiCepat is ideally positioned to serve customers from e-commerce giants to uprising social commerce players which contribute an estimated 25% to the total digital commerce economy,” he added.

Waresix acquires Trukita to connect more of Indonesia’s fragmented logistics chain

Former Uber exec raises $31M for his Jakarta-based logistics startup Kargo, announces relief fund to battle coronavirus

Categories: Business News

InsurGrid raises pre-seed financing to help modernize legacy insurance agents

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 9:22am

Insurance agents spend hours handling paperwork and grabbing client information over the phone. A new seed-stage startup, InsurGrid, has developed a software solution to help ease the process, and make it easier for agents to serve existing clients — and secure new ones.

InsurGrid gives agents a personalized platform to collect information from clients, such as date of birth, driver’s license information and policy declaration. This platform helps agents avoid sitting on long calls or managing back-to-back emails, and instead gives them one spot to understand how all their different clients function. It is starting with property and casualty management.

The startup integrates with 85 insurance carriers, serving as the software layer instead of the provider. Using the InsurGrid platform, insurers can ask clients to upload information and within seconds be registered as a policyholder. This essentially turns into a living Rolodex that insurers can use to access information on the account, and offer quotes on a faster rate.

Image Credits: InsurGrid

There’s a monetary benefit in providing better service. Eden Insurance, a customer of InsurGrid, said that people who submit information through the platform converted at an 82% higher rate than those who don’t. Jeremy Eden, the agency owner of Eden Insurance, said they were able to show consumers that its plan was $300 cheaper than its existing rate.

At the heart of InsurGrid is a bet from the founding team that legacy insurance agents aren’t going anywhere. Co-founder/CEO Chase Beach pointed out that the majority of the $684 billion of annual property and casualty insurance premiums in the United States is distributed by approximately 800,000 agents working in 16,000 brokerages. So far, InsurGrid works with more than 150 of those agencies.

When asked if InsurGrid ever had plans to offer its own insurance, similar to insurtech giants Hippo, Lemonade and Root, Beach said that it is solely working on innovating around the sales process for now. He said that these big companies, which have either recently gone public or are planning to, still rely on agents to be successful.

“Instead of us replacing the insurance agent, what if we gave them that same level of technology of a Hippo or large carrier,” Beach said. “And provide them with the digital experiences so they can compete in 2021.”

As time goes on, he sees insurance agents taking the same role that financial advisors or real estate agents take: “very much involved in the process because they are that expert.”

Other startups that have popped up in this space include Gabi, Trellis and Canopy Connect. The differentiator, the team sees, is that Beach comes from a 144-year-old insurance legacy, giving him key insights on how to sell to agents in a successful and effective way. It is starting with sales, but expect InsurGrid to expand to other parts of the insurance process as well.

To help them compete with new and old startups, InsurGrid recently raised $1.3 million in pre-seed financing to help it fulfill its goal to be the “underdog for the underdogs,” Beach said. Investors include Engineering Capital, Hustle Fund, Vess Capital, Sahil Lavingia and Trevor Kienzle.

Categories: Business News

Backed by Blossom, Creandum and Index, grocery delivery and dark store startup Dija launches in London

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 9:00am

Dija, the London-based grocery delivery startup, is officially launching today and confirming that it raised £20 million in seed funding in December — a round that we first reported was partially closed the previous month.

Backing the company is Blossom Capital, Creandum and Index Ventures, with Dija seemingly able to raise pre-launch. In fact, there are already rumours swirling around London’s venture capital community that the upstart may be out raising again already — a figure up to £100 million was mooted by one source — as the race to become the early European leader in the burgeoning “dark” grocery store space heats up.

Image Credits: Dija

Over the last few months, a host of European startups have launched with the promise of delivering grocery and other convenience store items within 10-15 minutes of ordering. They do this by building out their own hyper-local, delivery-only fulfilment centres — so-called “dark stores” — and recruiting their own delivery personnel. This full-stack or vertical approach and the visibility it provides is then supposed to produce enough supply chain and logistics efficiency to make the unit economics work, although that part is far from proven.

Earlier this week, Berlin-based Flink announced that it had raised $52 million in seed financing in a mixture of equity and debt. The company didn’t break out the equity-debt split, though one source told me the equity component was roughly half and half.

Others in the space include Berlin’s Gorillas, London’s Jiffy and Weezy, and France’s Cajoo, all of which also claim to focus on fresh food and groceries. There’s also the likes of Zapp, which is still in stealth and more focused on a potentially higher-margin convenience store offering similar to U.S. unicorn goPuff. Related: goPuff itself is also looking to expand into Europe and is currently in talks to acquire or invest in the U.K.’s Fancy, which some have dubbed a mini goPuff.

Cajoo promises grocery deliveries in 15 minutes

However, let’s get back to Dija. Founded by Alberto Menolascina and Yusuf Saban, who both spent a number of years at Deliveroo in senior positions, the company has opened up shop in central London and promises to let you order groceries and other convenience products within 10 minutes. It has hubs in South Kensington, Fulham and Hackney, and says it plans to open 20 further hubs, covering central London and Zone 2, by the summer. Each hub carries around 2,000 products, claiming to be sold at “recommended retail prices”. A flat delivery fee of £1.99 is charged per order.

“The only competitors that we are focused on are the large supermarket chains who dominate a global $12 trillion industry,” Dija’s Menolascina tells me when I ask about competitors. “What really sets us apart from them, besides our speed and technology, is our team, who all have a background in growing and disrupting this industry, including myself and Yusuf, who built and scaled Deliveroo from the ground up”.

Menolascina was previously director of Corporate Strategy and Development at the takeout delivery behemoth and held several positions before that. He also co-founded Everli (formerly Supermercato24), the Instacart-styled grocery delivery company in Italy, and also worked at Just Eat. Saban is the former chief of staff to CEO at Deliveroo and also worked at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

During Dija’s soft-launch, Menolascina says that typical customers have been doing their weekly food shop using the app, and also fulfilling other needs, such as last-minute emergencies or late night cravings. “The pain points Dija is helping to solve are universal and we built Dija to be accessible to everyone,” he says. “It’s why we offer products at retail prices, available in 10 minutes — combining value and convenience. Already, Dija is becoming a key service for parents who are pressed for time working from home and homeschooling, as one example”.

Despite the millions of dollars being pumped into the space, a number of VCs I’ve spoken to privately are skeptical that fresh groceries with near instant delivery can be made to work. The thinking is that fresh food perishes, margins are lower and basket sizes won’t be large enough to cover the costs of delivery.

“This might be the case for other companies, but almost everyone at Dija comes from this industry and knows exactly what they are doing, from buying and merchandising to data and marketing,” Menolascina says, pushing back. “It’s also worth pointing out that we are a full-stack model, so we’re not sharing our margin with other parties. In terms of the average basket size, it varies depending on the customer’s need. On one hand, we have customers who do their entire grocery shop through Dija, while on the other hand, our customers depend on us for emergency purchases e.g. nappies, batteries etc.”

Delivery company goPuff is in talks to acquire the UK’s Fancy

On pricing, he says that, like any retail business, Dija buys products at wholesale prices and sells them at recommended retail prices. “Going forward, we have a clear roadmap on how we generate additional revenue, including strategic partnerships, supply chain optimisation and technology enhancements,” adds Menolascina.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has learned that prior to launching its own app, Dija ran a number of experiments on takeout marketplace Deliveroo, including selling various convenience store items, such as potato chips and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. If you’ve ever ordered toiletry products from “Baby & Me Pharmacy” or purchased chocolate sweets from “Valentine’s Vows,” you have likely and unknowingly shopped at Dija. Those brands, and a number of others, all delivered from the same address in South Kensington.

“Going direct to consumer without properly testing pick & pack is a big risk,” Menolascina told me in a WhatsApp message a few weeks ago, confirming the Deliveroo tests. “We created disposable virtual brands purely to learn what to sell and how to replenish, pick & pack, and deliver”.

Categories: Business News

A new asynchronous video startup, Weet, is helping employees communicate on their own schedule

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 7:09am

For founder Najette Fellache, coming to the Bay Area a few years ago from Nantes, France was a way to grow a company she’d founded and which was already beginning to count major U.S. corporations like GE, Tesla, Amazon, and Medtronics as customers.

What that six-year-old outfit, Speach, sells is essentially knowledge-sharing between colleagues via videos produced by the employees themselves, often to augment written instructions. The idea is to maximize learning, fast, and investors liked it enough to provide Speach with $14 million in funding.

But while the technology has only become more relevant in a world shut down by COVID-19, an internal project within the company began to interest Fellache even more after her children abruptly began attending school remotely from home. As she tells it, her aha moment came in the form of a drawing from her youngest son, who struggled to understand why his mother’s meetings kept taking precedent over him.

Image Credit: Najette Fellache

Like many parents trying to figure out how to balance work and family over the last year, Fellache wasn’t immediately sure of how to parent around the clock while also leading a company. Unlike a lot of parents, she had access to engineers who could create a technology that enabled her, along with other members of Speach’s team, to make short videos that could quickly communicate important information and be viewed at the recipient’s convenience — as well as saved for future reference.

In fact, as sometimes happens with internal projects, the technology worked so well for Speach that it has since taken on a life of its own. Indeed, using a bit of that earlier funding from Speach — its backers are Alven and Red River West, a fund co-managed by Artémis, the investment company of the Pinault family — Fellache and a team of 10 employees this week launched Weet, a new asynchronous video startup.

The Slack origin story

It’s entering a crowded field. Fellache is hardly alone in recognizing the power of asynchronous meetings as an attractive alternative to phone calls, real-time meetings and even email, where tone is often lost and content can be misconstrued. Loom, for example, a six-year-old enterprise collaboration video messaging service that enables users to send short clips of themselves, has already raised at least $73 million from investors, including Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins and Coatue.

Another, newer entrant is SuperNormal, a year-old, Stockholm, Sweden-based work communication platform that employs video and screen recording tools to help teams create and send asynchronous video updates throughout the day and which raised $2 million in seed funding led by EQT Ventures in December.

Still, if you believe that the future of work is remote, it’s clear that the opportunity here is a big one. Further, Weet — which is accessible for free via a browser extension and whose integrations with both Slack and Microsoft Teams are scheduled to go live next month — is fast becoming a better product than some of what’s available in the market already, says Fellache.

Weet already features instant recording, screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, video filters, emoji reactions, commenting options and auto transcription. For a premium paid version in the works, it is also developing features that will make it easier to organize discussions for users. Imagine, for example, a salesperson looking for communications about a potential client and wanting notes from those auto-transcriptions that are presented together in one email to them.

As for privacy, Fellache points to the data management expertise that Speach has developed over time working with clients like Airbus and Colgate-Palmolive that are acutely mindful of privacy. Weet — which Fellache says is already being used by units inside Colgate-Palmolive — employs the same standards and practices.

Weet is seemingly taking a different approach on the marketing front, too. Fellache says while some rivals enable users to publish one video at a time, Weet is a more conversational tool where teammates and contacts can create sections of the same video for a back-and-forth, sending video feedback, audio feedback, sharing their screen or reacting with emoticons.

Put another way, Weet enables not only the exchange of more critical information but can invite more interaction broadly and, presumably, strengthen team relationships in the process.

“It’s a discussion, not a transaction,” Fellache offers, and that’s important, she suggests. As she has seen firsthand, in a world where teams are increasingly scattered around the globe, open communication is more central than ever to a company’s success — and that of its employees.

Categories: Business News

Flourish, a startup that aims to help banks engage and retain customers, raises $1.5M

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 6:28am

It’s not uncommon these days to hear of U.S.-based investors backing Latin American startups.

But it’s not every day that we hear of Latin American VCs investing in U.S.-based startups.

Berkeley-based fintech Flourish has raised $1.5 million in a funding round led by Brazilian venture capital firm Canary. Founded by Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, the startup offers an “engagement and financial wellness” solution for banks, fintechs and credit unions with the goal of helping them engage and retain clients.

Also participating in the round were Xochi Ventures, First Check Ventures, Magma Capital and GV Angels as well as strategic angels including Rodrigo Xavier (former Bank of America CEO in Brazil), Beth Stelluto (formerly of Schwab), Gustavo Lasala (president and CEO of The People Fund) and Brian Requarth (founder of Viva Real). 

With clients in the U.S., Bolivia and Brazil, Flourish has developed a solution that features three main modules: 

  • A rewards engine designed to incentivize users to save or invest money.
  • An intelligent and automated micro-savings feature where users can create personalized rules (such as transferring $15 into a rainy day fund every time their favorite sports team wins).
  • A financial knowledge module, where personal financial transactions and spending patterns are turned into a question and answer game. 

In the U.S., Flourish began by testing end-user mechanics with organizations such as CommonWealth and Opportunity Fund. In 2019, it released a B2C version of the Flourish app (called the Flourish Savings App) as a pilot for its banking platform, which can integrate with banks through an SDK or an API. It is also now licensing its engagement technology to banks, retailers and fintechs across the Americas. Flourish has piloted or licensed its solution to U.S.-based credit unions, Sicoob (Brazil’s largest credit union) and BancoSol in Bolivia. 

The startup makes money through a partnership model that focuses on user activation and engagement. 

Both immigrants, Moura and Eting met while in the MBA program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Moura came to the U.S. from Brazil as a teen, while Eting is the daughter of a Filiponio father and mother of Mexican descent.

The pair bonded on their joint mission of building a business that empowered people to create positive money habits and understand their finances.

Currently, the 11-person team works out of the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. It plans to use its new capital to increase its number of customers in LatAm, do more hiring and develop new functionalities for the Flourish platform. 

In particular, it plans to next focus on the Brazilian market, and will scale in a few select countries in the Americas. 

“There are three things that make Latin America, and more specifically Brazil, attractive to us at this moment,” Moura said. “Currently, the B2B financial technology market is still in its nascency. This combined with open banking regulation and the need for more responsible products provides Flourish a unique opportunity in Brazil.”

Categories: Business News

Inside Workvivo’s plans to take on Microsoft in the employee experience space

Startup News - 2021, March 5 - 5:40am

Maintaining company culture when the majority of staff is working remotely is a challenge for every organization — big and small.

This was an issue, even before COVID. But it’s become an even bigger problem with so many employees working from home. Employers have to be careful that workers don’t feel disconnected and isolated from the rest of the company and that morale stays high.

Enter Workvivo, a Cork, Ireland-based employee experience startup that is backed by Zoom founder Eric Yuan and Tiger Global that has steadily grown over 200% over the past year.

The company works with organizations ranging in size from 100 employees to over 100,000 and boasts more than 500,000 users. According to CEO and co-founder John Goulding, it’s had 100% retention since it launched. Customers include Telus International, Kentech, A+E Networks and Seneca Gaming Corp., among others.

Founded by Goulding and Joe Lennon in 2017, Workvivo launched its employee communication platform in mid-2018 with the goal of helping companies create “an engaging virtual workplace” and replace the outdated intranet.

“We’re not about real time, we’re more asynchronous communication,” Goulding explained. “We have a lot of transactional tools, and typically carry the bigger message about what’s going on in a company and what positive things are happening. We’re more focused on human connection.”

Using Workvivo, companies can provide information like CEO updates, recognition for employees via a social style — “more things that shape the culture so workers can get a real sense of what’s happening in an organization.” It launched podcasts in the second quarter and livestreaming in Q4.

Workvivo, a platform for employee culture, raises a $16M Series A from Tiger Global

In 2019, Workvivo showed its product to Zoom’s Yuan, who ended up becoming one of the company’s first investors. Then in May of 2020, the company raised $16 million in a Series A funding led by Tiger Global, which is best known for large growth-oriented rounds.

Workvivo, which was built out long before the COVID-19 pandemic, found itself in an opportune place last year. And demand for its offering has reflected that. 

“Since COVID hit, growth has accelerated,” Goulding told TechCrunch. “We grew three times in size over where we were before the pandemic started, in terms of revenue, users, customers and employees.”

The SaaS operator’s deals range from $50,000 to close to $1 million a year, he said. Workvivo is Europe-based and operates in 82 countries. But the majority of its customers are located in the U.S. with 80% of its growth coming from the country.

The startup opened an office in San Francisco in early 2020, which it is expanding. Thirty percent of its 65-person team is currently U.S.-based, with some working remotely from other states.

While Workvivo would not reveal hard revenue figures, Goulding only said it’s not seeking additional funding anytime soon considering the company is “in a very strong capital position.”

To tackle the same problem, Microsoft last month launched Viva, its new “employee experience platform,” or, in non-marketing terms, its new take on the intranet sites most large companies tend to offer their employees. With the move, Microsoft is taking on the likes of Facebook’s Workplace platform and Jive in addition to Workvivo.

Despite the increasingly crowded space, Workvivo believes it has an advantage over competitors in that it integrates well with Slack and Zoom.

Microsoft launches Viva, its new take on the old intranet

“We’re sitting alongside Slack and Zoom in the ecosystem,” Goulding said. “There’s Zoom, Slack and us.”

Slack is real-time messaging and what’s happening in the immediate future, and Zoom is real-time video and “about the moment,” he said.

To Goulding, Microsoft’s new offering is unproven yet and a reactionary move.

“It’s obvious there’s a battle to be won for the center of the digital workplace,” he said. “We’re here to capture the heartbeat of an organization, not pulses.”

Categories: Business News

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