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GGV Capital gave this real estate startup founder a term sheet 48 hours after meeting

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 9:00pm

Realm, which aims to help homeowners maximize the value of their property with its data platform, has raised $12 million in Series A funding led by GGV Capital.

Existing backers Primary Venture Partners, Lerer Hippeau and Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures also participated in the round, bringing the New York-based startup’s total raised to $15 million.

Liz Young founded Realm, launching the platform earlier this year with the goal of providing “a one-stop-shop for accessible, actionable home advice.”

So far, Realm says it has helped over 20,000 homeowners “uncover” an average of $175,000 in property value. Its user base is growing 20% month over month.

What makes the company different from other valuation offerings out there, according to Young, is that rather than telling owners what their homes are worth today, Realm can tell them what their home could be worth after renovations in months and years to come.

“There are a ton of tools and services that make it easier to buy or sell your home, but once you move, it’s a total black box,” she said. “You’re left trying to cobble together advice from fragmented, often biased resources to navigate big, expensive decisions. There’s nowhere else consumers spend so much money, with such little actionable information.”

For example, using data extracted from a variety of sources such as tax assessors and its own users, Realm can do things like tell a homeowner in real time how their property value will change if they do things like make over a bathroom or add a new deck. Its algorithms can assess a property and offer advice on what projects are most likely to add value.

“The public data that we acquire, the data we ingest from users, and the data that we build ourselves has allowed us to build the most robust and unique actionable real estate data set in the U.S.,” Young told TechCrunch.

Realm’s database is free and according to Young, offers insights on over 70 million single family detached homes across the U.S.

Part of that is determined by zoning data, which tells people where they can and cannot build on a property.

“It’s really important because square feet is one of the biggest drivers of home value,” Young said. “So if you’re trying to understand how much a home’s worth or could be worth, you really have to understand the local zoning rules.”

Image Credits: Realm

Realm’s marketplace offering, where an adviser connects owners to contractors, architects and lenders that can carry out the company’s recommendations, is currently only live in California, but will be expanding to new markets over the next 12 months.

“People can digitally consume our free insights but a lot want help interpreting them,” Young said.

The company plans to use its new capital to “improve the quality and sophistication of the platform’s data insights” and toward hiring across its data science, engineering, marketing and operations teams. It will also continue to develop its proprietary data sets and models, which offer homeowners across the country personalized analysis of over 70 million homes.
A lot of Realm’s business is driven by its relationships with agents and word of mouth via its existing user base.

Jeff Richards, GGV managing partner and new Realm board member, said that when his firm backs at the Series A level, its bet is “100% on the founder.”

“I met Liz when she was raising her seed round in July 2020 and was blown away,” he told TechCrunch. “She’s smart, ambitious and has a deep background in the space she’s going after. Although it was early, I could tell she was thinking big.”

Founder and CEO Liz Young. Image Credits: Realm

He points out that GGV Capital, with $2.5 billion in assets under management, is a long-time investor in other proptechs including Opendoor, Divvy Homes, Belong and Airbnb.

“Zillow made it easy for people to find a home to buy. Opendoor made it easy to buy and sell a home,” Richards told TechCrunch. “Airbnb made it easy to rent a home for a short-term vacation. Belong is making it easy to rent a home for the long term.”

Realm, according to Richards, was right in GGV’s “sweet spot.”

“No one has zeroed in on helping the individual homeowner manage their home, and that’s the opportunity area Liz is going after,” he said. “We kept in touch after the seed round, she pinged me to talk about her A, we met up and I gave her a term sheet 48 hours later.”

In general, Richards believes that residential real estate is one of the biggest spend categories in the U.S. and yet is still virtually untouched by technology.

Home sales are over $1.6 trillion annually, home improvement is one of the biggest categories in the U.S. at over $500 billion annually, and the average home renovation project in the U.S. is around $15,000, with many spending over $50,000.

“I’ve owned a home for 17 years and almost everything I do with respect to the home is the same as it was over a decade ago. The only thing that has really changed is I can manage my thermostat and cameras with my phone,” Richards said. “Literally everything else is the same — the way I do renovations, the way I find contractors to do repairs, the way I pay my mortgage, etc. — exactly the same. That’s ridiculous! Liz sees a huge opportunity here, and so do we. The market is enormous. So there will be many, many winners.”

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss proptech’s biggest opportunities

Categories: Business News

iOS 15 removes some third-party Siri features

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 8:37pm
Other omissions include CarPlay categories, payments, menus, and VoIP calls. Apple states that Maps will continue to support third-party apps.
Categories: VoIP News

Employee engagement platform Culture Amp raises $100M at a $1.5B valuation

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 8:00pm

Culture Amp was founded in 2009 to let companies conduct anonymous employee surveys, but since then, its focus has expanded to helping employers turn the data they collect into action. The company announced today it has raised $100 million in Series F funding, led by returning investors Sequoia Capital China and TDM Growth Partners. The round bumps Culture Amp’s valuation to $1.5 billion, more than double what it was after the company’s Series E in 2019.

New investor Salesforce Ventures, along with existing backers Felicis Ventures, Blackbird Ventures, Index Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Skip Capital, Grok Ventures and Global Founders Capital also participated in the round.

Culture Amp is now used by more than 4,000 organizations with a total of 25 million employees. Its clients range in size from about 20 to 30 people to more than 150,000 employees, and include Salesforce, Unilever, PwC, KIND, SoulCycle and BigCommerce.

Employee survey startup Culture Amp closes $82M round led by Sequoia China

From its start as a survey platform, Culture Amp has grown to encompass analytics for managers, like turnover prediction and team goal tracking. It also has a sizable online community where users can connect and book workshops, including ones run by diversity, equity and inclusion experts. Culture Amp recently held a virtual version of Culture First, its annual event, with over 20,000 participants.

Founder and chief executive officer Didier Elzinga told TechCrunch that he sees Culture Amp’s Series F as a “validation of the HR space in general.”

“I think for a long time, the HR space and HR tech space have been viewed as not that interesting or important, but what we see now is that people are the most important thing that most companies have, so what can we do to craft their experiences,” he added. “I think it’s a really interesting step for the space as a whole, for an organization like Culture Amp to have made it to this level of revenue, fundraising and valuation.”

The company still has most of its funds from its Series E, but the new round will allow it to “work at a whole other level of scale,” Elzinga said. Culture Amp launched in Australia, and about two-thirds of its revenue comes from the United States. It is also growing in Europe, so some of its new funding will be used on its dual data centers. Elzinga added that the raise also gives Culture Amp a warchest to spend on acquisitions.

Over the past year and a half, employers have dealt with two major issues: a remote workforce coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and growing calls for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Culture Amp saw more employers addressing DEI in surveys; for example, the number of companies who asked employees questions like do they “build teams that are diverse” increased about 30% in 2020. Clients have access to surveys created with behavioral psychologists, including ones designed to see if women, people of color or people who use English as a second language are feeling disengaged and, if so, how to help them.

To understand the pandemic’s impact, the platform introduced well-being templates, asking if employees are feeling overwhelmed, how they feel about messaging from company leaders and gauging their willingness to return to the office.

eqtble, a platform that uses data analytics to create healthier workplaces, raises $2.7M seed

Surveys are answered anonymously and data is aggregated to protect the privacy of individual employees. To help companies act on the results they get, Culture Amp provides what it calls an “Inspiration Engine,” or practices that have worked for other companies.

Since Culture Amp works with a large group of employers, it is able to create benchmarks by industry, size and region. This allows companies to see how their employee engagement compares to others in the same space.

Another feature, Skills Coach, is based on behavioral science research and helps managers develop “soft skills” through two-minute interactive exercises that are delivered by Slack or email.

“The experience that employees have is the thing we want to up level, but the way we want to do it and what we’re focused on is lifting managers’ capability to delivery that employee experience,” Elzinga said. Skills Coach was designed to fit into busy workdays and its usage has tripled over the past year, he added.

“We think that for all the progress we have made, we’re still at the beginning of actually delivering on that employee experience,” he added. “I think the last two years have shown us how important mental well-being is, how important diversity and inclusion is, and how important it is for leaders to truly listen to their people and then to act on that and follow up.”

Other employee feedback platforms include Lattice, Glint and Qualtrics. Elzinga said the main way Culture Amp differentiates is its team of “People Scientists,” or organizational and behavioral psychologists who design surveys, work in its product team as analysts and serve as consultants for clients.

The long road to the Qualtrics IPO

“We see ourselves at the point now where we have enough data that we can start to do primary research on a lot of these issues and we’re looking at how can the data we are developing help inform the space in general, not just ‘here’s what our customers are doing,’ but research that shows how this correlates to that in a situation,” said Elzinga. “The people science component is a hugely important to us.”

In a statement about its investment in Culture Amp, TDM Growth Partners co-founder Hamish Corlett said, “Organizations are living in a world of unprecedented change, and the last 12 months have only accelerated this. We have seen first hand the power that Culture Amp’s unrivaled data set and unique insights have inside boardrooms globally, and we expect this only to amplify in the coming years.”

Optimize employee onboarding to better retain top talent

Categories: Business News

Exo secures $200M toward commercializing ultrasound device

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 8:00pm

Exo, pronounced “echo,” raised a fresh cash infusion of $220 million in Series C financing aimed at commercializing its handheld ultrasound device and point-of-care workflow platform, Exo Works.

The round was led by RA Capital Management, while BlackRock, Sands Capital, Avidity Partners, Pura Vida Investments and prior investors joined in.

The new funding gives the Redwood City, California-based company over $320 million in total investments since the company was founded in 2015, Exo CEO Sandeep Akkaraju told TechCrunch. This includes a $40 million investment raised in 2020.

Ultrasound machines can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $250,000 for low-end technology and into the millions for high-end machines. Meanwhile, Exo’s device will be around the cost of a laptop.

“It is clear to us that ultrasound is the future — it is nonradiating and has no harmful side effects,” Akkaraju said. “We want to take the technology and put it in the palms of physicians. We also want to bring it down to the patient level. The beauty of having this window into the body is you can immediately see things.”

Using a combination of artificial intelligence, medical imaging and silicon technology, the device enables users to use it in a number of real-world medical environments like evaluating cardiology patients or scanning lungs of a COVID-19 patient. It can also be used by patients at home to provide real-time insight following a surgical procedure or to monitor a certain condition.

Exo then adds in its Exo Works, the workflow platform, that streamlines exam review, documentation and billing in under one minute.

Akkaraju said the immediate focus of the company is commercializing the device, which is where most of the new funding will go. He intends to also build out its informatics platform that is being piloted across the country and to ramp up both production and its sales force.

The global point-of-care ultrasound market is expected to reach $3.1 billion by 2025 and will grow 5% annually over that period. In addition to physicians, Akkaraju is hearing from other hospital workers that they, too, want to use the ultrasound device for some of their daily tasks like finding the right vein for an IV.

Once the company’s device is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Exo will move forward with its plan to bring the handheld ultrasound device to market.

Zach Scheiner, principal with RA Capital Management, said he met the Exo team in 2020 and RA made its first investment in the Series B extension later that year.

He was “immediately compelled” by the technology and the opportunity to scale. Scheiner also got to know Akkaraju over the months as well as saw how Exo’s technology was improving.

“We are seeing an expanding opportunity in healthcare technology as it improves and costs go down,” he added. “The vision Sandeep has of democratizing the ultrasound is not a vision that was possible 15 or 20 years ago. We are seeing the market in its early stage, but we also recognize the potential. Every doctor should want one to see what they were not able to see before. As technology and biology improves, we are going to see this sector grow.”

R&D Roundup: Ultrasound/AI medical imaging, assistive exoskeletons and neural weather modeling

 

Categories: Business News

Global <b>VoIP</b> Providers Market Top Manufacturers: Nextiva, RingCentral, Verizon, 8×8, Jive etc.

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 7:30pm
Introduction: VoIP Providers Market The report provides a detailed summary as well as a consistent estimation of accurate profits over the forecasted ...
Categories: VoIP News

Fixed telephony in Costa Rica heading for extinction

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 6:45pm
The VoIP service presents the same downward behavior in the number of subscriptions, going from almost 65 thousand in 2019 to just over 52 thousand ...
Categories: VoIP News

<b>VoIP</b> Providers Market 2021 Financial Highlights Analysis with Top Companies: Nextiva, Avaya ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 6:23pm
“The latest report on the global VoIP Providers market offers significant data with respect to the forthcoming business occasions. The report moreover ...
Categories: VoIP News

Global Voice over Internet Protocol (<b>VoIP</b>) Services Market Top Manufacturers: 8×8, Inc, Apple Inc ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 6:22pm
Introduction: Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Services Market The report provides a detailed summary as well as a consistent estimation of ...
Categories: VoIP News

Windstream Enterprise launches <b>VoIP</b> service with cellular back-up

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 6:00pm
Windstream Enterprise launched a new VoIP platform tailored to critical safety voice applications. Named 'Digital Voice Lines (DVL) with Cellular ...
Categories: VoIP News

iOS 15 cuts amazing Siri features that Apple hasn&#39;t created

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 4:29pm
Other changes include several categories of CarPlay, payments, lists and notes, and VoIP calls. However, Apple says Maps will continue to support ...
Categories: VoIP News

Research on <b>VoIP</b> Market – Key Data Points Necessary for Effective Strategies | Nippon Shokubhai ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 4:11pm
Global VoIP Market Report 2021 comes with the exclusive industry analysis of development components, patterns, flows, and sizes. The report also ...
Categories: VoIP News

Growth Drivers of <b>VoIP</b> Phone Market with Relevancy Mapping by Key Player like Cisco, Huawei ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 4:07pm
The report on VoIP Phone Market added by Affluence provides a complete briefing on strategic recommendations, trends, segmentation, use case ...
Categories: VoIP News

Unmuted founder Max van den Ingh on success beyond the metrics

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 2:20pm

There is no authoritative playbook for marketing these days. Every company must find its own voice, and as it grows and evolves, its marketing needs to evolve as well.

Relying on proven tactics and measurable metrics isn’t enough — today, the most effective marketers constantly study and learn from innovative approaches while exploring new avenues.

This is where Unmuted comes in. A growth marketing agency based in Amsterdam, this company focuses on LinkedIn marketing, content marketing, marketing automation and email marketing. Before starting Unmuted, Max van den Ingh was head of growth and product at MisterGreen, an electric vehicle leasing company, and he also served as head of growth marketing at ShopPop, a chat-based marketing platform.

Van den Ingh, who also serves as a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University, was recommended to TechCrunch through the TechCrunch Experts project. We’re currently on the lookout for top-tier growth marketers that you can recommend to other startups. If you know of one, let us know by filling out this quick survey.

Van den Ingh spoke with us about his “modern” approach to marketing, setting realistic goals, how startups had to shift during the pandemic and more.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You call Unmuted a “modern” growth marketing agency. What do you do that makes your approach to marketing modern?

The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. At Unmuted, our clients don’t come to us to have their ideas executed; they come to us for our process. In a way, we’ve productized a growth marketing process that generates ideas for our clients. They find immense value in that process.

Depending on the customer’s team size and resources, we either guide them during execution or execute autonomously and report back. This process-based service model is, in our opinion, the only way to grow a business in a sustainable way.

“The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. “

In a practical sense, this is what that process boils down to: We take all that we’ve learned from fast-growing companies and apply these principles to our clients’ businesses. Typically we focus on what we call “innovative companies” — whether that’s because they have a SaaS offering or they’re an innovator within a traditional industry doesn’t really matter. The process we’ve designed works for B2B startups, scaleups and SMBs. That last category can benefit greatly from the way we work.

Our role, then, is threefold: We come up with strategies that we carry out by experimenting with several proven marketing tactics based on our extensive in-house knowledge and experience. This relieves our clients’ marketing teams of potentially stifling tunnel vision.

Our growth program typically unfolds in three stages as well, which we call the Foundation, Acceleration and Transformation stages. In the Foundation stage, we set up the fundamentals based on an extensive audit of the client’s business, and start out with our initial experiments. In the Acceleration stage, we scale the experiments that have shown promising early results. Finally, in the Transformation stage, we teach our clients how to continue growing their business themselves. If necessary, we stick around in a consulting role.

Your work at MisterGreen helped it grow about 10x. How much can a client expect to grow when working with you? How do you help clients set realistic goals?

Setting goals is always a challenge, especially when it comes to marketing. Why should you aim for a certain number? Why not aim higher, or lower, for that matter? At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we perform a series of exercises together. This helps us get a clear picture of where the client is now and where they could be when we’ve optimized marketing.

Help TechCrunch find the best growth marketers for startups.

Provide a recommendation in this quick survey and we’ll share the results with everybody.

Next, instead of fixed numbers, like a specific amount of new customers in a given period, we focus on growth levers, like month-over-month growth in certain conversion or activation areas. Focusing on growth levers makes our work more actionable.

We then construct a framework as part of our growth program that also allows room for certain beliefs a company has. I feel this “belief system” is truly essential to any growth marketing strategy. If you don’t allow room for gut feeling activities and only focus on data-driven projects, you will end up only working on things you can measure. We believe that growth marketing will become more effective when you also invest time and effort in channels and spaces you can’t necessarily measure.

5 companies doing growth marketing right

When people talk about your solution on WhatsApp or during podcast episodes, that’s amazing and will effectively influence revenue, but sometimes there’s just no way to track these activities.

Finally, we don’t make any guarantees when it comes to growth results. That’s not how it works. We’ll always aim to maximize results as part of the process. Diligent focus on continuous improvement and optimization comes first. Results will automatically follow afterward.

For instance, we recently helped a B2B SaaS platform increase demo requests by 350%. But this wasn’t the goal at all. The process we were following was focused on optimizing every aspect of the demo request journey, from acquiring visitors to optimizing the demo page and more. Every experiment we ran increased the demo request metric to some extent. After six months, you start seeing these compounded results.

You were also the head of growth at ShopPop. How did that experience shape the way you help your clients?

Working for a fast-growing B2B SaaS company with a self-serve product taught me quite a few things. For starters, the importance of getting a really clear understanding of what sustainable growth looks like. Especially in growth marketing, there are a lot of things you can do to gain short-term results. But this doesn’t necessarily help, because you might be acquiring customers that you lose in the long run.

For example, running aggressive advertising campaigns in the early stages to acquire new users in sectors that you know won’t benefit considerably from your product. This type of superficial growth will come back in the form of churn sooner rather than later, and simply isn’t sustainable.

At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we put a lot of time and effort into understanding their best type of customers, what their problems are, and why that’s the case. Only then do we start looking at how to solve those problems with our client’s products or services.

You’re a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University and do speaking engagements as well. What do you hope people take away from your talks?

When I stand in front of a crowd during a speaking engagement, I always share stories about times where I took a pragmatic approach and did things differently. Growth can come in different shapes and forms, and although it often seems simple, it’s never easy. People, and especially management, have to understand that growth takes time and that you need failures to learn.

You need to have conversations to be able to learn and iterate. It’s better to have the wrong type of conversations than not having any at all. Without feedback, there’s no way to grow. And while an eagerness to learn comes naturally to most marketers, this isn’t necessarily the case for your average business person. If I can inspire audiences with my approach to growing by learning, I think that’s a great takeaway.

How have you seen startups change during the pandemic?

A lot of startups have been forced to change their approaches during the pandemic. Some have adapted successfully, while others are now stuck. I experienced it personally when I was still working at ShopPop, where we were focused on the music industry when the pandemic hit.

Music industry clients weren’t buying, for obvious reasons, so we had to pivot somehow. We ended up moving into e-commerce, which was, and still is, booming.

As the pandemic continues, what trends are you seeing in growth marketing?

The biggest trend I’m currently seeing is in the role marketing departments play. These have never been as important as they are now. Digital marketers, especially, are often the ones that come up with new ideas as to how a company can grow online. Nobody will know how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out, but in the meantime, every company is trying to adapt and find new ways to connect with their customers in unique, meaningful ways.

Logically, we’re seeing a surge in demand for online events like webinars and virtual summits. But everybody is doing those. So where can you carve out your own thing that becomes recognizable for your brand? Discovering these new channels and approaches — I think that should be the role of marketing.

How have you seen the startup market develop while working in growth?

The development of the startup market has been most noticeable in how new standards are being set. For example, startups have always been characterized as fast movers, but remote working and the rise of highly collaborative tools have further increased the speed at which startups operate. The whole industry transformed from speedboats into rocket ships. Talent became much more accessible, and through that internal cultures became more diverse and more resilient.

You can always depend on startups adopting new ways of working early on. They need to differentiate in order to survive, and a novel approach can be the one thing that makes them stand out from the crowd.

You have to understand that working at a startup often feels like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. And that’s also the moment you’re at your most creative. I think this is also how growth marketing as a whole came about. In competitive markets, people have to fight for their right to exist. Marketing is often a way to radically differentiate. When people become really good at that, set new standards and raise the bar, the market develops as a whole.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

It’s been said many times before, but even today, most startups don’t learn quickly and deeply enough. Founders often have an amazing idea and vision of how things will play out. But how much field experience does this person really have? Enough to be able to foresee the future?

Usually, for startups, short-term growth goes well — they get some initial traction from their network, but then the next phase kicks in. Especially when there’s an investment involved, putting more pressure on the commercial side of things, this next phase will mean encountering a lot of hurdles.

When a company doesn’t find a strong enough product-market fit and doesn’t apply what its learned early on, things will get extremely tough. In this phase, a lot of research and experimentation is necessary. If the founding team isn’t up for this and they put their heads in the sand, the startup will deteriorate quickly.

On the other side: What are startups doing better now than ever before?

The best thing a startup can do, and I’m seeing it happen more and more, is investing in community early on. When I was leading growth at MisterGreen, we created a community for the first thousand Tesla Model 3 owners in the Netherlands. Everyone wanted to be a part of this founding tribe, learn from each other, get insights and so on.

This group turned out to be our most effective marketing tool. Word-of-mouth went through the roof. We had all of these people talking about our community at birthday parties, in their office, you name it. This is a great example of investing in marketing you can’t really measure, but which you do strongly believe in.

Demand Curve: 10 lies you’ve been told about marketing

Categories: Business News

Telephone exchange racket busted, 6 held

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 11:03am
The illegal operators allegedly used the mobile numbers to convert international VoIP calls to local ones, evading the network of long-distance ...
Categories: VoIP News

Japanese sneaker platform SODA raises $56.4M, accquires rival Monokabu

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 10:00am

Just half a year after leading SODA’s Series B, SoftBank Ventures Asia is raising its bet on the Tokyo-based sneaker resell platform. The early-stage venture capital arm of SoftBank Group announced today it has returned to lead SODA’s Series C, which currently totals $56.4 million.

Other investors include South Korean sneaker reselling platform KREAM (another SoftBank Ventures Asia portfolio company), Altos Ventures and JAFCO.

Launched in 2018, SODA runs SNKRDUNK, one of Japan’s largest sneaker reselling platforms with about 2.5 million monthly users. Along with its new funding, SODA announced it has acquired rival Monokabu. SODA said that the deal means its share of Japan’s sneaker resale industry is now 80%, making it the market leader by far.

A SoftBank Ventures Asia spokesperson told TechCrunch the fund decided to invest in SODA again because the company’s growth has increased rapidly since its previous funding. SODA’s post-money valuation is now about 24 billion JPY, or about $218 million USD.

Part of SODA’s Series C funding will also be used to expand into other Asian markets, starting with Indonesia and the Philippines next year because both countries have growing e-commerce markets and a large percentage of Generation Zs, an ideal combination for SNKRDUNK.  

Tokyo-based SODA, which runs Japan’s largest sneaker resell platform, lands $22 million led by SoftBank Ventures Asia

 

The company’s previous funding, its $22 million Series B, was announced in January. At the time, Uchiyama told TechCrunch demand for sneakers remained high despite the pandemic’s economic impact and increased adoption of online shopping also helped drive sales.

SODA claims it hit record sales of $34.7 million in May 2021, growing 900% year-over-year. Despite COVID-19, many sneaker C2C marketplaces, like StockX, have also seen their sales increase.

SNKRDUNK will work closely with KREAM to share knowledge about sneaker authentication, inventory management, logistics and other operations-related areas, with the goal of increasing their share of the Asian sneaker resell market.

In addition to KREAM and SODA, SoftBank Ventures Asia is also an investor in China-based sneaker trading platform Nice.

The StockX EC-1

Categories: Business News

INKR draws in $3.1M to make more comics accessible to worldwide audiences

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 9:00am

Digital comics platform INKR’s team

INKR is a digital comics platform that crosses cultural and language divides, enabling creators to reach global audiences with its proprietary localization technology. Previously bootstrapped, the company announced today that it has raised $3.1 million in pre-Series A funding led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from manga distributor TokyoPop founder and chief executive Stu Levy.

Headquartered in Singapore with an office in Ho Chi Minh City, INKR was founded in 2019 by Ken Luong, Khoa Nguyen and Hieu Tran. The company says that since it launched in October 2020, its monthly average users have grown 200%. It currently partners with more than 70 content creators and publishers, including FanFan, Image Comics, Kodansha USA, Kuaikan, Mr. Blue, SB Creative, TokyoPop and Toons Family, and has more than 800 titles so far, including manga, webtoons and graphic novels.

Luong, INKR’s CEO, told TechCrunch that the platform will focus first on translated comics from top global publishers, but plans to open to small and indie creators in 2022.

At the heart of INKR’s platform is its localization technology, which the company says reduces the time spent on preparing comics for different markets from days to just hours.

“Comics localization is more than just translation. It is a time-consuming process with many steps involving many people—file handling, transcription, translation, typesetting, sound effects, quality control, etc,” Luong said.

Some of the titles on INKR

In addition to language, publishers also have to take into account the differences between comic styles around the world, including Japanese manga, Chinese manhua, Korean manhwa, American comics. For example, comics can be laid out page-by-page or use vertical scrolling. Some languages read from left to right, while others go from right to left.

Luong says INKR’s proprietary AI engine, called INKR Comics Vision, is able to recognize different formats and elements on a comic page, including text, dialogue, characters, facial expressions, backgrounds and panels. INKR Localize, its tool for human translators, helps them deliver accurate translations more quickly by automating tasks like text transcription, vocabulary suggestions and typesetting.

Since localization is performed by teams, including people in different locations, INKR provides them with browser-based collaboration software. The platform supports Japanese-English, Korean-English and Chinese-English translations, with plans to add more languages. Some publishers, like Kuaikan Manhua and Mr. Blue, have used INKR to translate thousands of comic chapters from Chinese and Korean into English.

INKR provides content creators with a choice of monetization models, including ad-supported, subscription fees or pay-per-chapter. Luong says the platform analyzes content to tell publishers which model will maximize their earnings, and shares a percentage of the revenue generated.

INKR is vying for attention with other digital comics platforms like Amazon-owned Comixology and Webtoon, the publishing portal operated by Naver Corporation.

Amazon Acquires Digital Comic Book Store Comixology

Luong said INKR’s competitive advantages include the diversity of comics it offers and the affordability of its pricing. Before launching, it also invested in data and AI-based technology for both readers and publishers. For example, users get personalized recommendation based on their reading activity, while publishers can access analytics to track title performance based on consumption trends.

In a statement, Monk’s Hill Ventures general partner Justin Nguyen said INKR’s “proprietary AI-driven platform is addressing pain points for creators and publishers who need to go digital and global—localizing for many languages quickly and cost-effectively while also helping them improve reach and readership through analytics and intelligent personalized feeds. We look forward to partnering with them to quench the huge demand for translated comics globally.”

With new owner Naver, Wattpad looks to supercharge its user-generated IP factory

Shadows’ Dylan Flinn and Kombo’s Kevin Gould on the business of ‘virtual influencers’

Categories: Business News

Business <b>VoIP</b> Services Market Size, Key Opportunities, Strategic Assessment, Strong Revenue ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 8:26am
Business VoIP Services Market Size, Key Opportunities, Strategic Assessment, Strong Revenue | Oprating Vendors: AT&T, RingCentral, 8×8, Vonage ...
Categories: VoIP News

Dear Sophie: Should we sponsor international hires for H-1B transfers and green cards? 

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 6:50am
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Share on Twitter Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

My startup is desperately recruiting, and we see a lot of engineering candidates on H-1Bs. They’re looking for H-1B transfers and green cards. What should we do?

— Baffled in the Bay Area

Dear Baffled,

Yes, you should absolutely sponsor international talent for green cards! Listen to my podcast in which I discuss how to hire international professionals who are already in the United States by transferring their H-1B visa and using green cards as a benefit to attract and retain them.

The severe shortage of tech talent currently in the U.S. is prompting professionals to negotiate better compensation packages, and companies are increasingly using green card sponsorship as a benefit to attract and retain international talent.

Green card sponsorship as a benefit

Companies need to offer green card sponsorship to remain competitive. In fact, Envoy’s 2021 Immigration Trends Report found that 74% of employers said they have sponsored an individual for permanent residence (a green card), which is the highest percentage in the six years Envoy has asked this question in its annual survey. Rather than waiting until the last possible moment to sponsor an H-1B visa holder for a green card, 58% of employers say they are starting the process with the employee’s first year at the company on an H-1B visa. Most employers — 96% — said that sourcing international talent is important to their company’s talent acquisition strategy.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Sponsoring international talent for a green card is a way for companies to show they invest in and prioritize their employees and are willing to make a long-term commitment to a prospective employee. Employers can further distinguish themselves by offering to cover expenses for green card applications for a spouse and children, as well as a work permit application for a spouse.

Employers should also consider paying for an employee’s marriage-based green card as a third-party payor, particularly since marriage-based green cards take about one-third of the time and one-third of the investment compared to employment-based green cards. What’s more, most marriage-based green cards are not subject to annual quotas.

H-1B transfers are most common right now

Because most U.S. embassies and consulates abroad remain closed for routine visa processing due to COVID-19, most employers are hiring international talent who are already in the United States on an H-1B sponsored by another employer. In these situations, an employer must file for an H-1B transfer for the prospective employee. Take a look at a previous Dear Sophie column for more details on the H-1B transfer process.

The questions that employers ask me most often about the H-1B transfer process include:

Categories: Business News

Egyptian ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a $1.5B SPAC merger

Startup News - 2021, July 29 - 5:29am

Cairo and Dubai-based ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, Swvl said Tuesday. The deal will see Swvl valued at roughly $1.5 billion.

Swvl was founded by Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah in 2017. The trio started the company as a bus-hailing service in Egypt and other ride-sharing services in emerging markets with fragmented public transportation.

Its services, mainly bus-hailing, enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route. This is pocket-friendly for residents in these markets compared to single-rider options and helps reduce emissions (Swvl claims it has prevented over 240 million pounds of carbon emission since inception).

After its Egypt launch, Swvl expanded to Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The company also moved its headquarters to Dubai as part of its strategy to become a global company.

Swvl offerings have expanded beyond bus-hailing services. Now, the company offers inter-city rides, car ride-sharing, and corporate services across the 10 cities it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.

Queen’s Gambit, the women-led SPAC in charge of the deal, raised $300 million in January and added $45 million via an underwriters’ overallotment option focusing on startups in clean energy, healthcare and mobility sectors.

The statement also mentions a group of investors — Agility, Luxor Capital and Zain Group — which will contribute $100 million through a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.

Per Crunchbase, Swvl has raised over $170 million. From an African perspective, Swvl features as one of the most venture-backed startups on the continent. The company has been touted to reach unicorn status in the past and will when this SPAC merger is completed.

The company will aptly trade under the ticker SWVL. The listing will make it the first Egyptian startup to go public outside Egypt and the second to go public after Fawry. It will also make the mobility company the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange, beating Jumia’s debut of $1.1 billion on the NYSE. In the Middle East, Swvl joins music-streaming platform Anghami as the second startup to go public via a SPAC merger.

Swvl had annual gross revenue of $26 million in 2020, according to the statement, and the company expects its annual gross revenue to increase to $79 million this year and $1 billion by 2025 after expanding to 20 countries across five continents.

On why Queen’s Gambit picked Swvl for this deal, Victoria Grace, founder and CEO, said in a statement that the company fit the profile of what she was looking for: “a disruptive platform that solves complex challenges and empowers underserved populations.”

“Having established a leadership position in key emerging markets, we believe Swvl is ready to capitalize on a truly global market opportunity,” she added.

In May, TechCrunch wrote that SPACs didn’t target African startups for several reasons, including a lack of global appeal and private capital and market satisfaction. Judging by Grace’s comments, Swvl has that global appeal and is ready to venture into the public market despite being in operation for just four years.

Why SPACs aren’t targeting African startups

Categories: Business News

Illegal telecom operating gang busted

Google News - VoIP - 2021, July 29 - 4:40am
The group was using a set of SIM cards to convert international VoIP calls into local calls, causing huge monetary loss. “By obviating the network, ...
Categories: VoIP News

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