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To sell or not to sell: Lessons from a bootstrapped CEO

10 hours 54 min ago
Glen Rabie Contributor Share on Twitter Glen Rabie is co-founder and CEO of Yellowfin, a global analytics and BI software vendor.

The clock begins ticking on a startup the day the doors open. Regardless of a young company’s struggles or success, sooner or later the question of when, how or whether to sell the enterprise presents itself. It’s possibly the biggest question an entrepreneur will face.

For founders who self-funded (bootstrapped) their startup, a boardroom full of additional factors come into play. Some are the same as for investor-funded firms, but many are unique.

Put happiness at the center of the decision, and let your intuition — the instincts that made you the person you are today — be your guide.

After 18 years of bootstrapping a BI software firm into a business that now serves 28,000 companies and three million users in 75 countries, here’s what I’ve learned about myself, my company, about entrepreneurship and about when to grab for that brass ring.

Profitable or bust

Starting a software company 7,900 miles southwest of Silicon Valley requires some forethought and not a small amount of crazy. When we opened, it didn’t occur to us that one could have an idea and then go knock on someone’s door and ask for money.

Bootstrapping forced us to be a bit more creative about how we would go about building our company. In the early days, it was a distraction to growth, because we were doing other revenue-generating activities like consulting, development work, whatever we could find to keep ourselves afloat while we built Yellowfin. It meant we couldn’t be 100% focused on our idea.

However, it also meant we had to generate income from our new company from Day One — something funded companies don’t have to do. We never got into the mindset that it was okay to burn lots of cash and then cross our fingers and hope that it worked.

Categories: Business News

5 emerging use cases for productivity infrastructure in 2021

13 hours 8 min ago
Gleb Polyakov Contributor Gleb Polyakov is co-founder and CEO of Nylas, which provides productivity infrastructure solutions for modern software. Gleb studied Physics at Georgia Tech and enjoys chess, motorcycles and space. Previously, he worked in finance and founded an IoT coffee company.

When the world flipped upside down last year, nearly every company in every industry was forced to implement a remote workforce in just a matter of days — they had to scramble to ensure employees had the right tools in place and customers felt little to no impact. While companies initially adopted solutions for employee safety, rapid response and short-term air cover, they are now shifting their focus to long-term, strategic investments that empower growth and streamline operations.

As a result, categories that make up productivity infrastructure — cloud communications services, API platforms, low-code development tools, business process automation and AI software development kits — grew exponentially in 2020. This growth was boosted by an increasing number of companies prioritizing tools that support communication, collaboration, transparency and a seamless end-to-end workflow.

Productivity infrastructure is on the rise and will continue to be front and center as companies evaluate what their future of work entails and how to maintain productivity, rapid software development and innovation with distributed teams.

According to McKinsey & Company, the pandemic accelerated the share of digitally enabled products by seven years, and “the digitization of customer and supply-chain interactions and of internal operations by three to four years.” As demand continues to grow, companies are taking advantage of the benefits productivity infrastructure brings to their organization both internally and externally, especially as many determine the future of their work.

Automate workflows and mitigate risk

Developers rely on platforms throughout the software development process to connect data, process it, increase their go-to-market velocity and stay ahead of the competition with new and existing products. They have enormous amounts of end-user data on hand, and productivity infrastructure can remove barriers to access, integrate and leverage this data to automate the workflow.

Access to rich interaction data combined with pre-trained ML models, automated workflows and configurable front-end components enables developers to drastically shorten development cycles. Through enhanced data protection and compliance, productivity infrastructure safeguards critical data and mitigates risk while reducing time to ROI.

As the post-pandemic workplace begins to take shape, how can productivity infrastructure support enterprises where they are now and where they need to go next?

Categories: Business News

Fraud prevention platform Sift raises $50M at over $1B valuation, eyes acquisitions

14 hours 19 min ago

With the increase of digital transacting over the past year, cybercriminals have been having a field day.

In 2020, complaints of suspected internet crime surged by 61%, to 791,790, according to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report. Those crimes — ranging from personal and corporate data breaches to credit card fraud, phishing and identity theft — cost victims more than $4.2 billion.

For companies like Sift — which aims to predict and prevent fraud online even more quickly than cybercriminals adopt new tactics — that increase in crime also led to an increase in business.

Last year, the San Francisco-based company assessed risk on more than $250 billion in transactions, double from what it did in 2019. The company has over several hundred customers, including Twitter, Airbnb, Twilio, DoorDash, Wayfair and McDonald’s, as well a global data network of 70 billion events per month.

To meet the surge in demand, Sift said today it has raised $50 million in a funding round that values the company at over $1 billion. Insight Partners led the financing, which included participation from Union Square Ventures and Stripes.

While the company would not reveal hard revenue figures, President and CEO Marc Olesen said that business has tripled since he joined the company in June 2018. Sift was founded out of Y Combinator in 2011, and has raised a total of $157 million over its lifetime.

The company’s “Digital Trust & Safety” platform aims to help merchants not only fight all types of internet fraud and abuse, but to also “reduce friction” for legitimate customers. There’s a fine line apparently between looking out for a merchant and upsetting a customer who is legitimately trying to conduct a transaction.

Sift uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically surmise whether an attempted transaction or interaction with a business online is authentic or potentially problematic.

Image Credits: Sift

One of the things the company has discovered is that fraudsters are often not working alone.

“Fraud vectors are no longer siloed. They are highly innovative and often working in concert,” Olesen said. “We’ve uncovered a number of fraud rings.”

Olesen shared a couple of examples of how the company thwarted fraud incidents last year. One recently involved money laundering through donation sites where fraudsters tested stolen debit and credit cards through fake donation sites at guest checkout.

12 top cybersecurity VCs discuss investing, valuations and no-go zones

“By making small donations to themselves, they laundered that money and at the same tested the validity of the stolen cards so they could use it on another site with significantly higher purchases,” he said. 

In another case, the company uncovered fraudsters using Telegram, a social media site, to make services available, such as food delivery, with stolen credentials.

The data that Sift has accumulated since its inception helps the company “act as the central nervous system for fraud teams.” Sift says that its models become more intelligent with every customer that it integrates.

Insight Partners Managing Director Jeff Lieberman, who is a Sift board member, said his firm initially invested in Sift in 2016 because even at that time, it was clear that online fraud was “rapidly growing.” It was growing not just in dollar amounts, he said, but in the number of methods cybercriminals used to steal from consumers and businesses.

Sift has a novel approach to fighting fraud that combines massive data sets with machine learning, and it has a track record of proving its value for hundreds of online businesses,” he wrote via email.

When Olesen and the Sift team started the recent process of fundraising, Insight actually approached them before they started talking to outside investors “because both the product and business fundamentals are so strong, and the growth opportunity is massive,” Lieberman added.

“With more businesses heavily investing in online channels, nearly every one of them needs a solution that can intelligently weed out fraud while ensuring a seamless experience for the 99% of transactions or actions that are legitimate,” he wrote. 

The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand its product portfolio and to scale its product, engineering and sales teams.

Sift also recently tapped Eu-Gene Sung — who has worked in financial leadership roles at Integral Ad Science, BSE Global and McCann — to serve as its CFO.

As to whether or not that meant an IPO is in Sift’s future, Olesen said that Sung’s experience of taking companies through a growth phase such as what Sift is experiencing would be valuable. The company is also for the first time looking to potentially do some M&A.

“When we think about expanding our portfolio, it’s really a buy/build partner approach,” Olesen said.

Fraud prevention platform Seon raises a $12M Series A round led by Creandum

Categories: Business News

Alexa von Tobel will join Disrupt 2021 as a Startup Battlefield judge

14 hours 37 min ago

Alexa von Tobel, co-founder and managing partner of Inspired Capital, will be joining TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 taking place September 21-23 to help judge the startups competing in Startup Battlefield. NOTE: Applications are now open to don’t hesitate to throw your hat in the ring here!

Prior to Inspired Capital, Alexa founded LearnVest in 2008 with the goal of helping women in particular make better investments and learn financial planning. After raising $75 million in venture capital and growing the service to 1.5 million users, LearnVest was acquired by Northwestern Mutual in May 2015 for $250 million.

Following the acquisition, Alexa joined the management team of Northwestern Mutual as the company’s first chief digital officer. She later assumed the role of chief innovation officer, a position in which which she oversaw Northwestern Mutual’s venture arm.

Alexa, who holds a Certified Financial Planner designation, is also The New York Times-bestselling author of “Financially Fearless,” which debuted in December 2013, and its follow-up, “Financially Forward,” which arrived in May 2019. She is also the host of “The Founders Project with Alexa von Tobel,” a weekly podcast with Inc. that highlights entrepreneurs.

Alexa is a member of the 2016 Class of Henry Crown Fellows and an inaugural member of President Obama’s Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship. She has been honored with numerous recognitions, including: a Forbes Magazine cover story, Fortune’s 40 Under 40, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 and World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader.

Alexa recently joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage, where she led a breakout session on financial planning targeted specifically at startups. Join us at Disrupt this September and get your ticket for under $100 for a limited time!

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Categories: Business News

Customer care as a service: Outsourcing can help your startup wow clients 24/7

15 hours 8 min ago

Your clients might not demand 24/7 customer service yet, but they’re certainly hoping for it. But how can a startup with a lean staff provide round-the-clock customer care? There are several options available, but more than ever, outsourcing is one of them.

When should your startup consider outsourcing its customer care? And what should you look for in a provider? Here are some insights on what customer care as a service (CCaaS) can do for you, and how fast-growing startups have been leveraging this new class of partners to boost customer satisfaction.

Addressing customer care challenges

Customer care as a service can address several pain points, such as the need to provide support outside of business hours.

If you find the right partner, outsourcing customer service can help you save time over options such as finding and managing your own freelancers, or hiring in-house, which might burden you with fixed costs.

Since online shoppers didn’t have to wait for stores to open during lockdowns, they have increasingly been making purchases on evenings and weekends, and often tend to abandon their carts if nobody is around to answer their doubts. New clients aside, existing customers also hope to get responses outside of typical business hours.

The COVID-19 crisis has significantly increased the share of e-commerce in total retail in recent months, and these new purchasing habits are likely to stick, the OECD pointed out in a report last year. This led many small retailers to discover a reality that e-commerce startups already know well: When you are an online business, working hours aren’t really a thing.

And it’s not just e-commerce — from SaaS to mobility services, there is a growing range of startups for which always-on customer service no longer a luxury. French CCaaS provider Onepilot learned this firsthand: During its beta program, its “support heroes” were available from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., but it is now moving to 24/7 coverage due to greater demand from clients, co-founder Pierre Latscha told TechCrunch.

French micromobility startup Pony, one of Onepilot’s clients, needed reliable customer care for its dockless bike and scooter fleets in several cities, but couldn’t justify the expense of an in-house hire: “We didn’t have enough demand to have someone take care of customer service full time,” Pony explained to French newspaper Les Échos (translation ours).

In such situations, outsourcing to a partner like Onepilot can save costs when demand isn’t high enough or constant, which is often the case when the business is seasonal or growing faster than the startup can address it.

The latter was the case for SPRiNG, a French subscription service for eco-friendly laundry detergent and cleaning products that has partnered with Onepilot. The startup launched in the summer of 2020, and thanks to €2.1 million in seed funding, its team tripled, but with “tens of thousands of clients,” it soon felt the need for more support to handle the growing volume of requests, co-founder Ben Guerville told us via email.

Categories: Business News

E-commerce tracking platform AfterShip raises $66M led by Tiger Global

15 hours 23 min ago

AfterShip launched in 2012 to help online sellers track packages across different carriers, but since then it has built a suite of data analytics tools covering almost every step of the shopping experience, from email marketing to customer retention. The Hong Kong-headquartered startup announced today it has raised a $66 million Series B led by Tiger Global, with participation from Hillhouse Capital’s GL Ventures.

AfterShip’s last round of funding was a $1 million Series A in 2014. Co-founder Andrew Chan told TechCrunch that the company has been profitable since its launch and grew mainly through word-of-mouth referrals and partnerships, like a Shopify integration, that boosted its profile. But the company recently added a sales team and will use its latest capital on international hiring for sales and customer support. It also plans to launch new products and expand further in the United States, where about 70% of AfterShip’s customers are located.

AfterShip makes its automated shipping API, Postmen, available for free

The company’s software enables sellers to track shipments made through more than 740 carriers and handles more than 6 billion shipments each year. AfterShip’s partners with about 10,000 companies, including some of the biggest names in e-commerce: Shopify (where it is used by 50,000 merchants), Magento, Squarespace, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Groupon, Rakuten, Wish and retail brands like Dyson and Inditex.

A branded shipment tracking page and email created with AfterShip’s software. Image Credits: AfterShip

AfterShip’s core product is its shipment tracking platform, but it also makes apps for shoppers, including self-service returns and package tracking, and sales and marketing tools for merchants that let them get more use out of data from shipments. Chan explained that package tracking is also a user engagement tool for sellers that lets them show more product recommendations and promotions to shoppers. AfterShip’s tools enables merchants to create their own branded tracking pages and notifications. Other features allow them to track the performance of different carriers, create email marketing campaigns and increase customer retention.

Its CRM capabilities help AfterShip differentiate from other shipment tracking aggregator providers.

“When we think of our vision, we look at what Salesforce is doing, but is there an e-commerce Salesforce that can cover more topics for sales people to use,” Chan said.

In press statement, Pengfei Wang, global partner at Tiger Global, said, “AfterShip leads the charge in making the shipping process more transparent and reliable for consumers and companies alike. As growth in e-commerce spirals ever upward, we are excited to partner with AfterShip and its leadership team as they continue to advance technology in this critical and expanding industry.”

How tech can build more resilient supply chains

Categories: Business News

Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

15 hours 23 min ago

Nearly exactly one month ago, digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. The round included participation from a mix of new and existing investors such as DST, Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Fifth Wall and QED, among many others.

At the time, Loft was valued at $2.2 billion, a huge jump from its being just near unicorn territory in January 2020. The round marked one of the largest ever for a Brazilian startup.

Now, today, São Paulo-based Loft has announced an extension to that round with the closing of $100 million in additional funding that values the company at $2.9 billion. This means that the 3-year-old startup has increased its valuation by $700 million in a matter of weeks.

Baillie Gifford led the Series D-2 round, which also included participation from Tarsadia, Flight Deck, Caffeinated and others. Individuals also put money in the extension, including the founders of Better (Zach Frenkel), GoPuff, Instacart, Kavak and Sweetgreen.

Loft has seen great success in its efforts to serve as a “one-stop shop” for Brazilians to help them manage the home buying and selling process. 

Image Credits: Loft

In 2020, Loft saw the number of listings on its site increase “10 to 15 times,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz. Today, the company actively maintains more than 13,000 property listings in approximately 130 regions across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, partnering with more than 30,000 brokers. Not only are more people open to transacting digitally, more people are looking to buy versus rent in the country.

“We did more than 6x YoY growth with many thousands of transactions over the course of 2020,” Pencz told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s last raise. “We’re now growing into the many tens of thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, of active listings.”

Real estate platform Loft raises $425M at a $2.2B valuation in one of Brazil’s largest venture rounds

The decision to raise more capital so soon was due to a variety of factors. For one, Loft has received “overwhelming investor interest” even after “a very, very oversubscribed main round,” Pencz said.

“We have seen a continued acceleration in our market share growth, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two markets we currently operate in,” he added. “We saw an opportunity to grow even faster with additional capital.”

Pencz also pointed out that Baillie Gifford has relatively large minimum check size requirements, which led to the extension being conducted at a higher price and increased the total round size “by quite a bit to be able to accommodate them.”

While the company was less forthcoming about its financials as of late, it told me last year that it had notched “over $150 million in annualized revenues in its first full year of operation” via more than 1,000 transactions.

The company’s revenues and GMV (gross merchandise value) “increased significantly” in 2020, according to Pencz, who declined to provide more specifics. He did say those figures are “multiples higher from where they were,” and that Loft has “a very clear horizon to profitability.”

Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch founded Loft in early 2018 and today serve as its co-CEOs. The aim of the platform, in the company’s words, is “bringing Latin American real estate into the e-commerce age by developing online alternatives to analogue legacy processes and leveraging data to create transparency in highly opaque markets.” The U.S. real estate tech company with the closest model to Loft’s is probably Zillow, according to Pencz.

In the United States, prospective buyers and sellers have the benefit of MLSs, which in the words of the National Association of Realtors, are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Loft itself spent years and many dollars in creating its own such databases for the Brazilian market. Besides helping people buy and sell homes, it offers services around insurance, renovations and rentals.

In 2020, Loft also entered the mortgage business by acquiring one of the largest mortgage brokerage businesses in Brazil. The startup now ranks among the top-three mortgage originators in the country, according to Pencz. When it comes to helping people apply for mortgages, he likened Loft to U.S.-based Better.com.

This latest financing brings Loft’s total funding raised to an impressive $800 million. Other backers include Brazil’s Canary and a group of high-profile angel investors such as Max Levchin of Affirm and PayPal, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and David Vélez, CEO and founder of Brazilian fintech Nubank. In addition, Loft has also raised more than $100 million in debt financing through a series of publicly listed real estate funds.

Loft plans to use its new capital in part to expand across Brazil and eventually in Latin America and beyond. The company is also planning to explore more M&A opportunities.

This article was updated post-publication to reflect accurate investor information.

Latin America’s digital transformation is making up for lost time

Categories: Business News

Universal Hydrogen raises $20.5M Series A to help launch hydrogen aviation

15 hours 24 min ago

The race to decarbonize aviation got a boost this Earth Day with the announcement of a $20.5 million Series A round by Universal Hydrogen, a Los Angeles-based startup aiming to develop hydrogen storage solutions and conversion kits for commercial aircraft.

“Hydrogen is the only viable path for aviation to reach Paris Agreement targets and help limit global warming,” said founder and CEO Paul Eremenko in an interview with TechCrunch. “We are going to build an end-to-end hydrogen value chain for aviation by 2025.”

The round was led by Playground Global, with an investor syndicate including Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation and Future Shape.

[gallery ids="2141963,2141959,2141962"]

The company’s first product will be lightweight modular capsules to transport “green hydrogen,” produced using renewable power to aircraft equipped with hydrogen fuel cells. The capsules will ultimately be available in different sizes for aircraft ranging from VTOL air taxis to long-distance, single-aisle planes.

“We want them to be interchangeable within each class of aircraft, a bit like consumer batteries today,” says Eremenko.

To help kickstart the market for its capsules, Universal Hydrogen is developing one such plane itself, a modified 40-60-seat turboprop capable of regional flights of up to 700 miles. The effort is a collaboration with seed investor Plug Power, which will supply the hydrogen and fuel cells, and magniX, which develops motors for electric aircraft.

Eremenko hopes to have the plane flying paying passengers in a larger, 50-plus seater aircraft by 2025 and ultimately to produce kits for regional airlines to retrofit their own aircraft.

What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

“We want to have a couple of years of service to de-risk hydrogen certification and passenger acceptance before Boeing and Airbus decide on the airplanes they are going to build in the early 2030s,” says Eremenko. “It’s imperative that at least one of them build a hydrogen airplane or aviation is not going to hit its climate goals.”

Universal Hydrogen is not alone in betting on hydrogen. ZeroAvia in the U.K. is developing its own regional fuel cell aircraft on an even more ambitious timeline, and Airbus in particular has been working on hydrogen aircraft concepts.

Eremenko hopes that producing a simple and safe hydrogen logistics network will soon attract new entrants.

“It’s like the Nespresso system. We have to make the first coffee maker or nobody cares about our capsule technology, but we don’t want to be in the coffee maker business. We want other people to build coffee with our capsules.”

Universal Hydrogen will use the Series A funds to grow its current 12-person team to around 40 and accelerate its technology development.

https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/IRON-BIRD_SYNC.mp4

30kW sub-scale demonstration of Universal Hydrogen’s aviation powertrain, with Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell and a magniX motor.

ZeroAvia’s hydrogen fuel cell plane ambitions clouded by technical challenges

Categories: Business News

PicPay, the Brazilian mobile payments platform, files for an IPO on Nasdaq

15 hours 40 min ago

Brazilian mobile payments app PicPay filed on Wednesday an F-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for an IPO valued at up to $100 million. The company plans to list on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol PICS.

PicPay operates largely as a financial services platform that includes a credit card, a digital wallet similar to that of Apple Pay, a Venmo-style P2P payments element, e-commerce and social networking features.

“We want to transform the way people and companies interact, make transactions, and communicate in an intelligent, connected, and simple experience,” said José Antonio Batista, CEO of PicPay, in a statement.

While the company is based in São Paulo now and operates across Brazil, PicPay originally launched in Vitoria in 2012, a coastal city north of Rio. In 2015 the company was acquired by the group J&F Investimentos SA, a holding company owned by Brazilian billionaire brothers Wesley and Joesley Batista, which also own the gigantic meatpacker JBS SA.

According to the company’s registration statement, J&F was involved in the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history, known as The Car Wash, and in 2017 entered into a plea deal with the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor. In December 2020 the company agreed to pay a fine of $1.5 billion and contribute an extra $442.6 million to social projects in Brazil. That being said, J&F continues to be a powerful conglomerate in the country, positioning itself as a strong backer for PicPay.

Latin America’s digital transformation is making up for lost time

2020 was an explosive year for PicPay as the company saw its active userbase grow from 28.4 million to 36 million as of March 2021. According to the company’s 2020 financial report, which PicPay shared with TechCrunch, the company’s revenues also grew drastically from $15.5 million in 2019, to $71 million in 2020. The company is not yet profitable, however, and PicPay shelled out $146 million in 2020 to fuel its growth.

“We believe that the growth of our base and user engagement in our ecosystem demonstrates the scalability of our business model and reveals a great opportunity to generate more value for these customers,” Batista added.

Fintech is one of the most popular sectors in Brazil today, because there’s a lot of room for improvement in the region. The country has traditionally been controlled by four major banks, which have been slow to adapt to technology and also charge very high fees.

PicPay’s IPO is being led by Banco Bradesco BBI, Banco BTG Pactual, Santander Investment Securities Inc., and Barclays Capital Inc. 

*The Brazilian Real was valued at 5.50 to $1 USD on the date of publication.

Categories: Business News

WhizzCo helps publishers maximize their content recommendation revenue

16 hours 11 min ago

Israeli startup WhizzCo says it’s time for publishers to adopt the programmatic, auction-based approach when it comes to the ads in content recommendation widgets like Outbrain and Taboola.

After all, publishers regular employ this approach for most of their other digital ad units. But co-founder and CEO Alon Rosenthal said that when trying to monetize his own websites, he discovered for himself that it was “impossible” to maximize the revenue from those widgets in the same way.

“That was our real pain,” he said.

So with WhizzCo, Rosenthal and his team have built what they call a Content Recommendation Yield Platform, pulling native advertising from more than 40 different content recommendation providers, predicting which one will deliver the highest revenue for a given impression (whether that’s measured in CPM, CPC or CPA) and then delivering the ad from that provider.

10 VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021

Rosenthal added that WhizzCo works with publishers to ensure that the recommendation widgets and ads look like they’re a native part of a page, and that their appearance doesn’t change regardless of where the ad comes from. He also said the publishers implement WhizzCo’s JavaScript on “not in the header, but on the actual code of the site — by doing that, we eliminate any loading problems whatsoever.”

Although WhizzCo is coming out of stealth now, it was actually founded in 2017 and has already worked with a number of publishers, including Penske Media Corporation’s She Media. In a statement, She Media Senior Vice President of Operations Ryan Nathanson said, “WhizzCo’s platform allowed us to create a competitive ecosystem, which has enabled tighter customization, competition and editorial guideline control, yielding a 75% increase in content recommendation CPM.”

And Rosenthal said that on average, WhizzCo customers see a 37.7% lift in content recommendation revenue.

“Our motto is that no one delivers 100% performance, 100% of the time,” he said. “No matter who you are, even if you’re Google [or any of the other big ad companies,] you cannot perform best at all times. That’s where we come in with our technology.”

Taboola is going public via SPAC

Categories: Business News

How are VCs handling diligence in a world where deals open and close in days, not months?

16 hours 14 min ago

The global venture capital market had a cracking start to the year. Coming off a 2020 high, VC totals in the United States, in Europe, and among competitive verticals like insurtech and AI are on pace to set new records in 2021.

The rapid-fire deal-making and trend of larger venture checks at higher valuations that The Exchange has tracked for some time require private-market investors to make decisions faster than ever. For venture capitalists, the timeline for reaching conviction around a startup’s thesis and executing due diligence has become compressed.

Some venture capitalists are turning to data to move more quickly. Some are spending more time preparing to be vetted themselves. And some investors are simply doing the work beforehand.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

We were tipped off to the concept of pre-diligence during the reporting process for a look into recent fundraising trends in the AI/ML space. Sapphire investor Jai Das, when asked about how he was handling a competitive and swiftly moving market for AI startup investments, said that “most firms are completing their due diligence way before the financing actually happens.”

How does that work in practice? Per Das, startups that raise quick Series A and B rounds are “tracked by [early-stage] investors as soon as they raise their seed financings. So there is no need to do any due diligence during the financing and hence most of these financings are pre-emptive.”

Venture capital: Now more about sales than ever before!

This morning, The Exchange is digging into the question of how VCs are handling diligence in a world where the most attractive deals can open and close faster than ever, and old models of deep diligence and paced deal-making are outmoded.

Getting to yes

One way that investors are betting on themselves in a bid to speed their diligence and decision-making is by investing in their own tech. That may sound obvious, given that venture capital dollars often land in the accounts of tech-focused companies, but in a business that was previously known for its relationship focus — more on that shortly — the trend is worth considering.

Categories: Business News

Satellite imagery startup Albedo closes $10M seed round

16 hours 24 min ago

While most startups today are creating software, not every upstart enterprise is taking a code-only approach to building a business. Some of today’s most ambitious startups are aiming quite a bit higher.

Albedo is one such company. The recent Y Combinator graduate wants to build a constellation of low-orbit satellites that can provide higher-resolution Earth imaging than what is generally available today. And it just closed a $10 million seed round.

Initialized Capital led the investment, which also saw participation from JetstreamLiquid2 Ventures and Soma Capital.

TechCrunch has had its eye on Albedo since its Y Combinator run, discussing the firm’s approach to providing what it describes as “aerial-quality” images — though they are taken from space instead of a drone or aircraft. In more technical parlance, Albedo wants to provide 10-centimeter visual imagery and 2-meter thermal imagery.

According to Topher Haddad, Albedo’s co-founder and CEO, the company aims to launch its first satellite in 2024 and bring its full constellation to orbit by 2027. With eight satellites, the company can provide daily image revisits; with 24, it can do that three times each day, though the eight-satellite fleet will be an early milestone for the startup, according to its CEO.

Why hasn’t someone already tried to build what Albedo is working on? The company, Haddad explained, has been made possible in part due to advances in the larger space economy, and the fact that major cloud providers AWS and Azure have both built out services to handle satellite data — “AWS Ground Station” in the case of the former and “Azure Orbital” in the latter. Mix in cheaper launches and more modular satellite construction, and what Albedo wants to do is becoming possible.

Albedo CEO and co-founder Topher Haddad. Image Credits: Albedo

There’s some tech risk to what Albedo aims to do, however. Haddad explained to TechCrunch how his company hopes to employ in-orbit refueling for its satellites’ electric propulsion so that they can stay afloat longer; if that effort fails, or drag winds up being worse than anticipated, Albedo’s satellites might have to opt for slightly higher orbits and lower-res photos in the 12- to 15-centimeter range.

For fun, what does that resolution mean in more practical terms? A 10-centimeter-resolution image from a satellite is one in which each pixel is 10 centimeters on each side. So, a 15-centimeter-resolution image would have pixels that were more than twice the surface area of a 10-centimeter shot.

Resolution matters, as does the regularity of new pictures being taken. On the latter front, the company’s eventual fleet of satellites should keep its photos fresh.

Albedo intends to target companies of all sizes as customers. The imaging world is a big market, with Haddad expecting to find customers among property insurance companies, mapping concerns, utility firms and other large companies. And now it has more capital than ever to pursue its goals.

The round

It takes more money to get a space startup off the ground than it takes to iterate on an early software product. So, what does the $10 million it just raised get Albedo? The first thing is staff. When TechCrunch last spoke with Haddad, the company was still a team of three. That’s about to change, however; a number of new hires recently accepted offers, and the company expects to add another four or five people to its staff in addition to those already planning to join.

Albedo said it anticipates a staff of 10 to 12 by the end of the year.

The $10 million will also allow the company to fund a down payment on rocket space and payments to suppliers that should allow Albedo to wrap up its satellite design. Per its CEO, the startup expects to raise a larger Series A in around a year to help finance getting its first satellite into orbit. That moment will allow the startup to better prove its technology, and, if all goes well, help it to raise even more capital to keep its launch schedule packed.

Let’s see how far the company can get with its new capital, and if it finds sufficient, ahem, lift to reach the next funding milestone. If it does, we could wind up covering the launch of its first satellite. That would be fun.

As launch market matures, space opportunities on the ground take off

Categories: Business News

Podcast recording platform Riverside.fm raises $9.5M

2021, April 22 - 11:00pm

The past year has changed the way we work, on so many levels — a fact from which podcasters certainly weren’t immune. I can say, anecdotally, that as a long-time podcaster, I had thrown in the towel on my long-standing insistence that I do all of my interviews in-person — for what should probably be obvious reasons.

2020 saw many shows shifting to a remote format and experimenting with different remote recording tools, from broad teleconferencing software like Zoom to more bespoke solutions like Zencastr. Tel Aviv-based Riverside.fm (originally from Amsterdam) launched right on time to ride the remote podcasting wave, and today the service is announcing a $9.5 million Series A.

The round is led by Seven Seven Six and features Zeev-ventures.com, Casey Neistat, Marques Brownlee, Guy Raz,  Elad Gil and Alexander Klöpping. The company says it plans to use the money to increase headcount and build out more features for the service.

“As many were forced to adapt to remote work and production teams struggled to deliver the same in person quality, from a distance—Gideon and Nadav saw an opportunity to not only solve a great need for creators, but to build an extraordinary product,” Seven Seven Six founder Alexis Ohanian said in a release. “As a creator myself, I can say from experience that Riverside’s quality is unmatched and the new editing capabilities are peerless.”

Riverside.fm is a remote video and audio platform that records lossless audio and 4K video tracks remotely to each user’s system, saving the end result from the kind of technical hiccups that come with spotty internet connections.

Along with the funding round, the company is also rolling out a number of software updates to its platform. At the top of the list is brand new version of its iPhone app, which instantly records and uploads video, a nice extension as more users are looking to record their end on mobile devices.

On the desktop front, “Magic Editor” streamlines the multi-step process of recording, editing and uploading. There’s also a new “Smart Speakerview” feature that automatically switches between speakers for video editing, while not switching for accidental noises like sneezing and coughing.

It’s a hot space that’s only heating up. Given how quickly the company was able to piece their original offering together, it will be interesting to see what they’re able to do with an additional $9.5 million in their coffers.

Riverside.fm launches its video podcasting platform

More thoughts on growing podcasts

 

Categories: Business News

Audi spinoff holoride collects $12M in Series A led by Terranet AB

2021, April 22 - 10:32pm

Holoride, the company that’s building an immersive XR in-vehicle media platform, today announced it raised €10 million (approximately $12 million) in its Series A investing round, earning the company a €30 million ($36 million) valuation. 

The Swedish ADAS software development company Terranet led the round with €3.2 million (~$3.9 million), followed by a group of Chinese financial and automotive technology investors, organized by investment professional Jingjing Xu, and educational and entertainment game development company Schell Games, which has partnered with holoride in the past to create content. 

Holoride will use the fresh funds to search for new developers and other talent both as it prepares to expand into global markets like Europe, the United States and Asia, and in advance of its summer 2022 launch for private passenger cars. 

“This goes hand-in-hand with putting more emphasis on the content creator community, and as of summer this year, releasing a lot of tools to help them build content for cars on our platform,” Nils Wollny, holoride’s CEO and founder, told TechCrunch. 

The Munich-based company launched at CES in 2019. TechCrunch got to test out its in-car virtual reality system. Our team was surprised, and delighted, to find that holoride had figured out how to quell the motion sickness caused both by being a passenger in a vehicle, and by using a VR headset. The key? Matching the experience users have within the headset to the movement of the vehicle. Once holoride launches, users will be able to download the holoride app to their phones or other personal devices like VR headsets, which will connect wirelessly to the car itself, and extend their reality.  

I used VR in a car going 90 mph and didn’t get sick

“Our technology has two sides,” said Wollny. “One is the localization, or positioning software, that takes data points from the car and performs real-time synchronization. The other part is what we call our Elastic Software Development Kit. Content creators can build elastic content, which adapts to your travel time and routes. The collaboration with Terranet means their sensors and software stack that allow for a more precise capture and interpretation of the environment at an even faster speed with higher accuracy will enable us in the future for even more possibilities.”

Terranet’s VoxelFlow software, which was originally designed for ADAS applications, will help holoride advance its real-time, in-vehicle XR entertainment. Terranet’s CEO Par-Olof Johannesson, describes VoxelFlow as a new paradigm within computer vision and object identification, wherein a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object.

Terranet’s VoxelFlow uses computer vision and object identification via a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner, which are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps, in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object. Image Credits: Terranet

Holoride, which is manufacturer-agnostic, will be able to use the data points calculated by VoxelFlow in real time if holoride were being used in a vehicle that was built integrated with Terranet’s software. But more important is the ability for holoride to reuse 3D event data for XR applications, giving it to creators so they can create the most interactive experience. Terranet is also looking forward to opening up a new vertical for VoxelFlow. 

“We are of course very eager to access holoride’s wide pipeline, as well,” said Johannesson. “This deal is very much about expanding the addressable market and tapping into the heart of the automotive industry, where lead times and turnaround times are usually pretty long.”

Holoride is on a mission to revolutionize the passenger experience by turning dead car time into interactive experiences that can run the gamut of gaming, education, productivity, mindfulness and more. For example, around Halloween 2019, holoride teamed up with Ford and Universal Pictures to immerse riders into the frightening world of the Bride of Frankenstein, replete with monsters jumping out and tasks for riders to perform. 

Automakers, suppliers and startups see growing market for in-vehicle AR/VR applications

Wollny said holoride always has an eye toward the next step, even though its first product hasn’t gone to market yet. He understands that the future is in autonomous vehicles, and wants to build an essential element of the future tech stack of future cars, cars in which everyone is a passenger. 

“Car manufacturers always focus on the buyer of the car or the driver, but not so much on the passenger,” said Wollny. “The passenger is who holoride really focuses on. We want to turn every vehicle into a moving theme park.”

Categories: Business News

Applied XL raises $1.5M to build ‘editorial algorithms’ that track real-time data

2021, April 22 - 10:17pm

AppliedXL, a startup creating machine learning tools with what it describes as a journalistic lens, is announcing that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding.

Emerging from the Newlab Venture Studio last year, the company is led by CEO Francesco Marconi (previously R&D chief at The Wall Street Journal) and CTO Erin Riglin (former WSJ automation editor). Marconi told me that AppliedXL started out by working on a number of different data and machine learning projects as it looked for product-market fit — but it’s now ready to focus on its first major industry, life sciences, with a product launching broadly this summer.

He said that AppliedXL’s technology consists of “essentially a swarm of editorial algorithms developed by computational journalists.” These algorithms benefit from “the point of view and expertise of journalists, as well as taking into account things like transparency and bias and other issues that derive from straightforward machine learning development.”

Marconi compared the startup to Bloomberg and Dow Jones, suggesting that just as those companies were able to collect and standardize financial data, AppliedXL will do the same in a variety of other industries.

He suggested that it makes sense to start with life sciences because there’s both a clear need and high demand. Customers might include competitive intelligence teams as pharmaceutical companies and life sciences funds, which might normally try to track this data by searching large databases and receiving “data vomit” in response.

Newlab and The Boston Globe team up to launch AI tools startup Applied XLabs

“Our solution for scaling [the ability to spot] newsworthy events is to design the algorithms with the same principles that a journalist would approach a story or an investigation,” Marconi said. “It might be related to the size of the study and the number of patients, it might be related to a drug that is receiving a lot of attention in terms of R&D investment. All of these criteria that science journalist would bring to clinical trials, we’re encoding that into algorithms.”

Eventually, Marconi said the startup could expand into other categories, building industry-“micro models.” Broadly speaking, he suggested that the company’s mission is “measuring the health of people, places and the planet.”

The seed funding was led by Tuesday Capital, with participation from Frog Ventures, Team Europe and Correlation Ventures.

“With industry leading real-time data pipelining, Applied XL is building the tools and platform for the next generation of data-based decision making that business leaders will rely on for decades,” said Tuesday Capital Partner Prashant Fonseka in a statement. “Data is the new oil and the team at Applied XL have figured out how to identify, extract and leverage one of the most valuable commodities in the world.”

5 machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand

 

Categories: Business News

Kandji nabs $60M Series B as Apple device management platform continues to thrive

2021, April 22 - 10:11pm

During the pandemic, having an automated solution for onboarding and updating Apple devices remotely has been essential, and today Kandji, a startup that helps IT do just that, announced a hefty $60 million Series B investment.

Felicis Ventures led the round with participation from SVB Capital, Greycroft, Okta Ventures and The Spruce House Partnership. Today’s round comes just 7 months after a $21 million Series A, bringing the total raised across three rounds to $88.5 million, according to the company.

CEO Adam Pettit says that the company has been growing in leaps in bounds since the funding round last October.

“We’ve seen a lot more traction than even originally anticipated. I think every time we’ve put targets up onto the board of how quickly we would grow, we’ve accelerated past them,” he said. He said that one of the primary reasons for this growth has been the rapid move to work from home during the pandemic.

“We’re working with customers across 40+ industries now, and we’re even seeing international customers come in and purchase so everyone now is just looking to support remote workforces and we provide a really elegant way for them to do that,” he said.

Maintain data security when staff is working from home

While Pettit didn’t want to discuss exact revenue numbers, he did say that it has tripled since the Series A announcement. That is being fueled in part he says by attracting larger companies, and he says they have been seeing more and more of them become customers this year.

As they’ve grown revenue and added customers, they’ve also brought on new employees, growing from 40 to 100 since October. Pettit says that the startup is committed to building a diverse and inclusive culture at the company and a big part of that is making sure you have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from.

“It comes down to at the onset just making the decision that it’s important to you and it’s important to the company, which we’ve done. Then you take it step by step all the way through, and we start at the back into the funnel where are candidates are coming from.”

That means clearly telling their recruiting partners that they want a diverse candidate pool. One way to do that is being remote and having a broader talent pool to work with. “We realized that in order to hold true to [our commitment], it was going to be really hard to do that just sticking to the core market of San Diego or San Francisco, and so now we’ve expand expanded nationally and this has opened up a lot of [new] pools of top tech talent,” he said.

Pettit is thinking hard right now about how the startup will run its offices whenever they allowed back, especially with some employees living outside major tech hubs. Clearly it will have some remote component, but he says that the tricky part of that will be making sure that the folks who aren’t coming into the office still feel fully engaged and part of the team.

Kandji hauls in $21M Series A as Apple device management flourishes during pandemic

Categories: Business News

Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola and Unilever join AB InBev’s sustainable supply chain accelerator

2021, April 22 - 10:05pm

A clutch of the world’s largest consumer products and food companies are joining Budweiser’s parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev in backing an investment program to support early-stage companies focused on making supply chains more sustainable.

The Earth Day-timed announcement comes as companies and consumers confront the failure of recycling programs to adequately address the problems associated with plastic waste — and broader issues around the contributions of consumer behavior and industrial production and distribution to the current climate emergency.

The AB InBev program, called the 100+ Accelerator, launched in 2018 with the goal to solve supply chain challenges in water stewardship, the circular economy, sustainable agriculture and climate action, the company said. These are problems with which the alcohol manufacturer’s new partners — Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola and Unilever — are also intimately familiar.

Since the launch of the accelerator and investment program, AB InBev has backed 36 companies in 16 countries, according to a statement. Those startups have gone on to raise more than $200 million in follow-on financing.

The accelerator program creates funding for pilot programs and offers opportunities for early-stage companies to consult with executive management at the world’s top consumer brands.

Since the program’s launch, AB InBev has worked with startups to pilot returnable packaging programs; implement new cleaning technologies to reduce water and energy use in Colombian brewing operations; provide insurance to small farms in Africa and South America; collect more waste in Brazil; recycle electric vehicle batteries in China; and upcycle grains waste from the brewing process to create new, nutrient-rich food sources.

As pressures from outside investors and regulators mount, companies are beginning to shift their attention to focus on ways to make their industrial processes more sustainable.

These kinds of collaborative initiatives among major corporations, which are long overdue, have the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental footprint of business, but it depends on the depth of the commitment and the speed at which these businesses are willing to deploy solutions beyond a few small pilot programs.

Applications for the latest cohort will be due by May 31, 2021.

How to get into a startup accelerator

 

Categories: Business News

Window Snyder’s new startup Thistle Technologies raises $2.5M seed to secure IoT devices

2021, April 22 - 10:00pm

The Internet of Things has a security problem. The past decade has seen wave after wave of new internet-connected devices, from sensors through to webcams and smart home tech, often manufactured in bulk but with little — if any — consideration to security. Worse, many device manufacturers make no effort to fix security flaws, while others simply leave out the software update mechanisms needed to deliver patches altogether.

That sets up an entire swath of insecure and unpatchable devices to fail, and destined to be thrown out when they break down or are invariably hacked.

Security veteran Window Snyder thinks there is a better way. Her new startup, Thistle Technologies, is backed with $2.5 million in seed funding from True Ventures with the goal of helping IoT manufacturers reliably and securely deliver software updates to their devices.

Snyder founded Thistle last year, and named it after the flowering plant with sharp prickles designed to deter animals from eating them. “It’s a defense mechanism,” Snyder told TechCrunch, a name that’s fitting for a defensive technology company. The startup aims to help device manufacturers without the personnel or resources to integrate update mechanisms into their device’s software in order to receive security updates and better defend against security threats.

“We’re building the means so that they don’t have to do it themselves. They want to spend the time building customer-facing features anyway,” said Snyder. Prior to founding Thistle, Snyder worked in senior cybersecurity positions at Apple, Intel, and Microsoft, and also served as chief security officer at Mozilla, Square, and Fastly.

Thistle lands on the security scene at a time when IoT needs it most. Botnet operators are known to scan the internet for devices with weak default passwords and hijack their internet connections to pummel victims with floods of internet traffic, knocking entire websites and networks offline. In 2016, a record-breaking distributed denial-of-service attack launched by the Mirai botnet on internet infrastructure giant Dyn knocked some of the biggest websites — Shopify, SoundCloud, Spotify, Twitter — offline for hours. Mirai had ensnared thousands of IoT devices into its network at the time of the attack.

Other malicious hackers target IoT devices as a way to get a foot into a victim’s network, allowing them to launch attacks or plant malware from the inside.

Since device manufacturers have done little to solve their security problems among themselves, lawmakers are looking at legislating to curb some of the more egregious security mistakes made by default manufacturers, like using default — and often unchangeable — passwords and selling devices with no way to deliver security updates.

California paved the way after passing an IoT security law in 2018, with the U.K. following shortly after in 2019. The U.S. has no federal law governing basic IoT security standards.

Snyder said the push to introduce IoT cybersecurity laws could be “an easy way for folks to get into compliance” without having to hire fleets of security engineers. Having an update mechanism in place also helps to keeps the IoT devices around for longer — potentially for years longer — simply by being able to push fixes and new features.

“To build the infrastructure that’s going to allow you to continue to make those devices resilient and deliver new functionality through software, that’s an incredible opportunity for these device manufacturers. And so I’m building a security infrastructure company to support that security needs,” she said.

With the seed round in the bank, Snyder said the company is focused on hiring device and back-end engineers, product managers, and building new partnerships with device manufacturers.

Phil Black, co-founder of True Ventures — Thistle’s seed round investor — described the company as “an astute and natural next step in security technologies.” He added: “Window has so many of the qualities we look for in founders. She has deep domain expertise, is highly respected within the security community, and she’s driven by a deep passion to evolve her industry.”

UK’s IoT ‘security by design’ law will cover smartphones too

Categories: Business News

MasterClass co-founder’s Outlier.org raises $30M for affordable, virtual college courses

2021, April 22 - 10:00pm

Outlier.org — a startup offering intro-level college courses online and at a relatively affordable price — is announcing that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding.

The startup was founded by CEO Aaron Rasmussen, previously co-founder at MasterClass (which Axios reports is raising new funding at a $2.5 billion valuation). Like Rasmussen’s old company, Outlier offers beautifully shot online courses; unlike MasterClass, students can actually earn college credit.

When Outlier launched in the fall of 2019, Rasmussen said his goal was to make a college education more affordable and accessible — though he also told me that Outlier is only focused on bringing intro-level classes online, not the entire curriculum.

This idea seems even more appealing during a pandemic, when a completely “normal” college experience isn’t really available to anyone. In fact, Rasmussen said there’s been a surge in interest from universities that want to partner with Outlier, especially since some colleges are struggling to attract students — so with difficult financial choices ahead, they can use Outlier to supplement their offerings.

“We’ve learned that many universities love the idea of high-quality intro classes for students,” he said. “That was a question mark for us, [but] many say, ‘We want to focus on upper level courses, so this is a great way to keep people on track.'”

MasterClass founder launches Outlier, offering online courses for college credit

To that end, Outlier has hired Anjuli Gupta as its head of partnerships. Gupta previously led university partnerships at Coursera, and Rasmussen suggested the company could work with high schools and employers, not just universities.

Of course, the pandemic has created some challenges for Outlier as well. Initially, in order to produce its classes, Rasmussen said the company was shipping its instructors “literally 500 pounds of cinematography equipment.” Now it has developed a production method where a small crew sets everything up, then the instructor teaches on the set alone.

“It’s just you, a motion-controlled dolly and little pieces of tape telling you where to push all the buttons,” he said. “Then [the crew] remotely runs the cameras, you’re hitting record and they can see everything coming in through the feeds, so you’re remotely directed.”

Outlier currently offers six classes, including Calculus I, Microeconomics, Astronomy and Philosophy, with a goal of expanding to 14 by the end of 2022. Rasmussen said the company is now allowing students to join courses in new cohorts every two weeks — so even though the lectures are pre-recorded, you’re still moving through the class with a group of fellow students. And Outlier has built a variety of custom student support tools — for example, the company can identify when a student is “falling behind” and reach out to offer more support.

The startup has also expanded its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh into a five-year agreement, with students receiving credit from the school and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown providing academic oversight. (Though it seems that some faculty members are unhappy about the arrangement.) They’ve also partnered to offer $3.8 million worth of scholarships to 1,000 frontline workers.

Each Outlier course costs $400, which the company says is approximately one-sixth the cost of a traditional college class. Still, Rasmussen said, “I couldn’t have afforded it when I was growing up,” so he’s trying to find ways to make the program even more affordable — hence the scholarships, as well as monthly payment plans with Klarna (Outlier covers the interest on student payments).

The new funding was led by GV (formerly known Google Ventures), with participation from Unusual Ventures, GSV, Harrison Metal and Gaingels, bringing Outlier’s total funding to $46 million.

“We’re inspired by Outlier.org’s mission to increase educational access and equity, and to reduce student debt,” said GV’s John Lyman in a statement. “We strongly believe in Aaron Rasmussen and the founding team’s vision to provide better access to more affordable education for hundreds of millions of students around the globe.”

To win post-pandemic, edtech needs to start thinking big

Categories: Business News

Newly-christened Percent wants to make it easier to securitize corporate debt

2021, April 22 - 10:00pm

Debt is the new equity. As founders run around trying to fend off prying VCs from their cap tables, they are increasingly turning to debt products like revenue-based securities in order to get the capital they need today while protecting them from dilution they don’t want tomorrow. It’s a huge business, with leading company Pipe just valued at $2 billion and others like CapChase cashing in on founders’ newly-found love of debt.

All those new securities creates a dilemma for potential investors: how do they evaluate every single new debt product from every single company? It’s a problem they face not just in the startup world, but also private debt in general as companies borrow hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The solution is securitization and syndication, aggregating the small debts from multiple companies and fusing them together into one consistent new security. It’s a major component of capital markets, but one that remains mired in legacy business practices.

Percent is building an end-to-end technology securitization platform for debt originators to connect with a much wider network of investors than traditional institutions to get the best rates at the fastest speeds. When we last checked in a year ago with the company, previously known as Cadence, it had just raised $4 million and had processed $125 million through its platform in its short lifetime.

Well, it has now structured more than $400 million across its platform, an eye-popping performance that has attracted new VC interest, this time from Sep Alavi at White Star Capital and Karen Page at B Capital. The two firms are investing $12.5 million in a Series A into Percent, with previous backers Revel Partners and Recharge Capital participating.

For CFOs, Percent’s pitch is that it can offer a wider spectrum of private debt buyers to originators, therefore lowering the cost of capital. The traditional corporate debt world remains quite clubby, with major institutional holders being connected to originators through investment banks. High fees and a limited investor base can raise expenses significantly. Through its platform, Percent can break that clubbiness and open the debt world to a wider range of buyers.

Furthermore, Percent also acts as the deal origination and transaction platform, allowing companies to easily put together debt offerings, process requests for information, and avoid the sort of “attach Excel financials to email or upload to cloud” workflow that remains a mainstay in these processes.

Percent’s business model is to take a percentage fee on the dollars originated on its platform as well as an additional percentage fee if it is the underwriter itself. In this way, it has essentially a recurring-revenue model — the more debt that is transacted on its platform, the more continuous revenue the company generates over time.

Percent scored one of its biggest wins to date with the securitization of $144 million in debt originated by FAT Brands, the owners of popular restaurant franchises like Fatburger and Johnny Rockets. Precent acted as co-lead bookrunner with lead Jefferies for the debt announced yesterday, and FAT noted that its cost of capital was significantly lower than its previous two securitizations from last year. Given the changing macro environment and the radically shifting fortunes in the foods service business in the wake of COVID-19 though, it is hard to precisely identify what changed the cost of capital and what extent a modern technology stack helped the company’s debt performance. Outside of FAT Brands, Percent has a list of many of its other originators available.

Nelson Chu, the founder and CEO of Percent, noted that he was particularly interested in finding investors with knowledge of capital markets and the enterprise sales cycle. He observed in an interview that as more and more VCs in recent years have tended to come from product and growth roles at startups rather than the traditional path through an investment bank, there are fewer VCs with knowledge or interest in the capital markets space.

Alavi at White Star has invested in a range of financial services and blockchain companies, while Page at B Capital has long been in the enterprise space at Apple and as an early employee at cloud provider Box.

Percent’s team in New York City this week. Image Credits: Percent

Percent, which is headquartered in New York City and was founded in 2018, has expanded its team by double over the past year as it scales up its engineering and sales teams.

SaaS securitization will disrupt VC’s biggest returns this coming decade

Categories: Business News

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