Shift Technology raises $220M at a $1B+ valuation to fight insurance fraud with AI

While insurance providers continue to get disrupted by startups like Lemonade, Alan, Clearcover, Pie and many others applying tech to rethink how to build a business around helping people and companies mitigate against risks with some financial security, one issue that has not disappeared is fraud. Today, a startup out of France is announcing some funding for AI technology that it has built for all insurance providers, old and new, to help them detect and prevent it.

Shift Technology, which provides a set of AI-based SaaS tools to insurance companies to scan and automatically flag fraud scenarios across a range of use cases — they include claims fraud, claims automation, underwriting, subrogation detection and financial crime detection — has raised $220 million, money that it will be using both to expand in the property and casualty insurance market, the area where it is already strong, as well as to expand into health, and to double down on growing its business in the U.S. It also provides fraud detection for the travel insurance sector.

This Series D is being led Advent International, via Advent Tech, with participation from Avenir and others. Accel, Bessemer Venture Partners, General Catalyst, and Iris Capital — who were all part of Shift’s Series C led by Bessemer in 2019 — also participated. With this round, Paris and Boston-based Shift Technology has now raised some $320 million and has confirmed that it is now valued at over $1 billion.

The company currently has around 100 customers across 25 different countries — with customers including Generali France and Mitsui Sumitomo — and says that it has already analyzed nearly two billion claims, data that’s feeding its machine learning algorithms to improve how they work.

The challenge (or I suppose, opportunity) that Shift is tackling, however, is much bigger. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a non-profit in the U.S., estimates that at least $80 billion of fraudulent claims are made annually in the U.S. alone, but the figure is likely significantly higher. One problem has, ironically, been the move to more virtualized processes, which open the door to malicious actors exploiting loopholes in claims filing and fudging information.

Shift is also not alone in tackling this issue: the market for insurance fraud detection globally was estimated to be worth $2.5 billion in 2019 and projected to be worth as much as $8 billion by 2024.

In addition to others in claims management tech such as Brightcore and Guidewire, many of the wave of insuretech startups are building in their own in-house AI-based fraud protection, and it’s very likely that we’ll see a rise of other fraud protection services, built out of fintech to guard against financial crime, making their way to insurance, as the mechanics of how the two work and the compliance issues both face are very closely aligned.

“The entire Shift team has worked tirelessly to build this company and provide insurers with the technology solutions they need to empower employees to best be there for their policyholders. We are thrilled to partner with Advent International, given their considerable sector expertise and global reach and are taking another giant step forward with this latest investment,” stated Jeremy Jawish, CEO and co-founder, Shift Technology, in a statement. “We have only just scratched the surface of what is possible when AI-based decision automation and optimization is applied to the critical processes that drive the insurance policy lifecycle.”

For its backers, one key point with Shift is that it’s helping older providers bring on more tools and services that can help them improve their margins as well as better compete against the technology built by newer players.

“Since its founding in 2014, Shift has made a name for itself in the complex world of insurance,” said Thomas Weisman, an Advent director, in a statement. “Shift’s advanced suite of SaaS products is helping insurers to reshape manual and often time-consuming claims processes in a safer and more automated way. We are proud to be part of this exciting company’s next wave of growth.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Starboard Value puts Box on notice that it’s looking to take over board

Activist investor Starboard Value is clearly. fed up with Box and it let the cloud content management know it in no uncertain terms in a letter published yesterday. The firm, which bought a 7.7% stake in Box two years ago claims the company is underperforming, executing poorly and making bad business decisions — and it wants to inject the board of directors with new blood.

While they couched the letter in mostly polite language, it’s quite clear Starboard is exasperated with Box. “While we appreciate the dialogue we have had with Box’s management team and Board of Directors (the “Board”) over the past two years, we have grown increasingly frustrated with continued poor results, questionable capital allocation decisions, and subpar shareholder returns,” Starboard wrote in its letter.

Box as you can imagine did not take kindly to the shot across its bow and responded in a press release that it has bent over backwards to accommodate Starboard including refreshing the board last year when they added several numbers, whom they point out were approved by Starboard.

“Box has a diverse and independent Board with directors who bring extensive technology experience across enterprise and consumer markets, enterprise IT, and global go-to-market strategy, as well as deep financial acumen and proven track records of helping public companies drive disciplined growth, profitability, and stockholder value. Furthermore, seven of the ten directors on the Box Board will have joined the Board within the last three years,” the company wrote in a statement. In other words, Box is saying it already has injected the new blood that Starboard claims it wants.

Box recently got a $500 million cash injection from KKR widely believed to be an attempt to bulk up cash reserves with the goal generating growth via acquisition. Starboard was particularly taken aback by this move, however. “The only viable explanation for this financing is a shameless and utterly transparent attempt to “buy the vote” and shows complete disregard for proper corporate governance and fiscal discipline,” Starboard wrote.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis, a firm that closely tracks the content management market, says the two sides clearly aren’t aligned and that’s not likely to change. “Starboard targeted and gained a seat on the board at Box at a difficult time for the firm, thats the modus operandi for activist investors. Since that time there has clearly been a lot of improvements in terms of Box’s financial goals. However, there is and will remain a misalignment between Starboard’s goals, and Box led by Levie as a whole. Though both would like to see the share price rise, Starboard’s end goal is most likely to see Box acquired, sooner rather than later, and that is not Box’s goal,” he said.

Starboard believes the only way to resolve this situation is to inject the board with still more new blood, taking a swipe at the Box leadership team while it was at it. “There is no good reason that Box should be unable to deliver improved growth and profitability, at least in-line with better performing software companies, which, in turn, would create significant shareholder value,” Starboard wrote.

As such the firm indicated it would be putting up its own slate of board candidates at the company’s next board meeting. In the tit for tat that has been this exchange, Box indicated it would be doing the same.

Meanwhile Box vigorously defended its results. “In the past year, under the oversight of the Operating Committee, the company has made substantial progress across all facets of the business — strategic, operational and financial — as demonstrated by the strong results reported for the full year of fiscal 2021,” the company wrote, pointing to its revenue growth last fiscal year as proof of the progress with revenue of $771 million up 11% year over year.

It’s unclear how this standoff will play out, but clearly Starboard wants to take over the Board and have its way with Box, believing that it can perform better if it were in charge. That could result ultimately, as Pelz-Sharpe suggested, in Box being acquired.

We would appear to heading for a showdown, and when it’s over, Box could be a very different company, or the current leadership could assert control once and for all and we could proceed with Box’s current growth strategy still in place. Time will tell which is the case.


By Ron Miller

Vectra AI picks up $130M at a $1.2B valuation for its network approach to threat detection and response

Cybersecurity nightmares like the SolarWinds hack highlight how malicious hackers continue to exploit vulnerabilities in software and apps to do their dirty work. Today a startup that’s built a platform to help organizations protect themselves from this by running threat detection and response at the network level is announcing a big round of funding to continue its growth.

Vectra AI, which provides a cloud-based service that uses artificial intelligence technology to monitor both on-premise and cloud-based networks for intrusions, has closed a round of $130 million at a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion.

The challenge that Vectra is looking to address is that applications — and the people who use them — will continue to be weak links in a company’s security set-up, not least because malicious hackers are continually finding new ways to piece together small movements within them to build, lay and finally use their traps. While there will continue to be an interesting, and mostly effective, game of cat-and-mouse around those applications, a service that works at the network layer is essential as an alternative line of defense, one that can find those traps before they are used.

“Think about where the cloud is. We are in the wild west,” Hitesh Sheth, Vectra’s CEO, said in an interview. “The attack surface is so broad and attacks happen at such a rapid rate that the security concerns have never been higher at the enterprise. That is driving a lot of what we are doing.”

Sheth said that the funding will be used in two areas. First, to continue expanding its technology to meet the demands of an ever-growing threat landscape — it also has a team of researchers who work across the business to detect new activity and build algorithms to respond to it. And second, for acquisitions to bring in new technology and potentially more customers.

(Indeed, there has been a proliferation of AI-based cybersecurity startups in recent years, in areas like digital forensics, application security and specific sectors like SMBs, all of which complement the platform that Vectra has built, so you could imagine a number of interesting targets.)

The funding is being led by funds managed by Blackstone Growth, with unnamed existing investors participating (past backers include Accel, Khosla and TCV, among other financial and strategic investors). Vectra today largely focuses on enterprises, highly demanding ones with lots at stake to lose. Blackstone was initially a customer of Vectra’s, using the company’s flagship Cognito platform, Viral Patel — the senior MD who led the investment for the firm — pointed out to me.

The company has built some specific products that have been very prescient in anticipating vulnerabilities in specific applications and services. While it said that sales of its Cognito platform grew 100% last year, Cognito Detect for Microsoft Office 365 (a separate product) sales grew over 700%. Coincidentally, Microsoft’s cloud apps have faced a wave of malicious threats. Sheth said that implementing Cognito (or indeed other network security protection) “could have prevented the SolarWinds hack” for those using it.

“Through our experience as a client of Vectra, we’ve been highly impressed by their world-class technology and exceptional team,” 
John Stecher, CTO at Blackstone, said in a statement. “They have exactly the types of tools that technology leaders need to separate the signal from the noise in defending their organizations from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. We’re excited to back Vectra and Hitesh as a strategic partner in the years ahead supporting their continued growth.”

Looking ahead, Sheth said that endpoint security will not be a focus for the moment because “in cloud there is so much open territory”. Instead it partners with the likes of CrowdStrike, SentinelOne, Carbon Black and others.

In terms of what is emerging as a stronger entry point, social media is increasingly coming to the fore, he said. “Social media tends to be an effective vector to get in and will remain to be for some time,” he said, with people impersonating others and suggesting conversations over encrypted services like WhatsApp. “The moment you move to encryption and exchange any documents, it’s game over.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Vista Equity takes minority stake in Canada’s Vena with $242M investment

Vena, a Canadian company focused on the Corporate Performance Management (CPM) software space, has raised $242 million in Series C funding from Vista Equity Partners.

As part of the financing, Vista Equity is taking a minority stake in the company. The round follows $25 million in financing from CIBC Innovation Banking last September, and brings Vena’s total raised since its 2011 inception to over $363 million.

Vena declined to provide any financial metrics or the valuation at which the new capital was raised, saying only that its “consistent growth and…strong customer retention and satisfaction metrics created real demand” as it considered raising its C round.

The company was originally founded as a B2B provider of planning, budgeting and forecasting software. Over time, it’s evolved into what it describes as a “fully cloud-native, corporate performance management platform” that aims to empower finance, operations and business leaders to “Plan to Growtheir businesses. Its customers hail from a variety of industries, including banking, SaaS, manufacturing, healthcare, insurance and higher education. Among its over 900 customers are the Kansas City Chiefs, Coca-Cola Consolidated, World Vision International and ELF Cosmetics.

Vena CEO Hunter Madeley told TechCrunch the latest raise is “mostly an acceleration story for Vena, rather than charting new paths.”

The company plans to use its new funds to build out and enable its go-to-market efforts as well as invest in its product development roadmap. It’s not really looking to enter new markets, considering it’s seeing what it describes as “tremendous demand” in the markets it currently serves directly and through its partner network.

“While we support customers across the globe, we’ll stay focused on growing our North American, U.K. and European business in the near term,” Madeley said.

Vena says it leverages the “flexibility and familiarity” of an Excel interface within its “secure” Complete Planning platform. That platform, it adds, brings people, processes and systems into a single source solution to help organizations automate and streamline finance-led processes, accelerate complex business processes and “connect the dots between departments and plan with the power of unified data.”            

Early backers JMI Equity and Centana Growth Partners will remain active, partnering with Vista “to help support Vena’s continued momentum,” the company said. As part of the raise, Vista Equity Managing Director Kim Eaton and Marc Teillon, senior managing director and co-head of Vista’s Foundation Fund, will join the company’s board.

“The pandemic has emphasized the need for agile financial planning processes as companies respond to quickly-changing market conditions, and Vena is uniquely positioned to help businesses address the challenges required to scale their processes through this pandemic and beyond,” said Eaton in a written statement. 

Vena currently has more than 450 employees across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., up from 393 last year at this time.


By Mary Ann Azevedo

IBM breaks latest revenue losing streak as cloud revenue shows modest growth

For IBM, much of the last 8 years simply posting positive revenue growth was a challenge. In fact, the company had a period between 2013 and 2018 when it experienced an astonishing 22 straight quarters of negative revenue growth. So when Big Blue reported yesterday that revenue was up slightly, I’m sure the company took that as a win. Investors appear to be happy with the results with the stock up 4.73% this morning as of publication.

Consider that over the last 8 quarters encompassing FY2019 and FY2020, the company had only one positive revenue quarter when it was up 0.1% in Q42019. It had had five losing quarters prior to that one. When you look at yesterday’s report in that light, and combine it with growth in the Cloud and Cognitive Services group, it adds up to a decent quarter for IBM, one it badly needed after another negative report in the prior quarter.

Looking back at the January report, the company reported Cloud and Cognitive Services revenues down 4.5% at $6.8 billion, which was a big blow considering the company has been betting much of its future on those very areas, fueled in large part by the $34 billion Red Hat acquisition in 2018.

Its most recent quarterly report proved much better with the company reporting Cloud and Cognitive Services revenues of $5.4 billion, up 3.8% YoY. Interestingly quarter-on-quarter revenue for the segment was down, but rose on a year-over-year basis. Perhaps a year-end enterprise revenue push could account for the difference between Q4 2020 and Q1 2021.

At any rate, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna saw today’s report as a positive sign that his attempts to push the company toward a future focused on hybrid computing and AI were starting to take root. He also saw enough in the report to predict some growth this year.

“In our last call, we shared our financial expectations for the year, revenue growth and $11 billion to $12 billion of adjusted free cash flow. While it’s still early in the year and a lot remains to be done, we are confident enough to say that we are on track,” Krishna said in the earnings call with analysts yesterday.

The company has made a number of smaller acquisitions over the last year including a couple of consulting companies, which should help as they try to work with customers around the transition to hybrid computing and artificial intelligence, both of which tend to require a lot of hand-holding to get done.

At the same time of course, the company is continuing apace with its spin out of the legacy infrastructure services division, which it announced last year. The plan at this point is to rename the company Kyndryl (an unfortunate choice) and complete the spin out by year’s end.

CFO Jim Kavanaugh also sees the modestly positive quarter as something the company can build on. “…in fact we are even more confident in the position we put in place with regards to our two most important measures, one, revenue growth, and second, adjusted free cash flow, which is going to provide the fuel for the investments needed for us to capture that hybrid cloud $1 trillion TAM,” Kavanaugh said in the earnings call with analysts.

All of this is being pushed by Red Hat, which grew revenue 15% in the most recent quarter, something the company is banking will continue to advance it deeper into positive territory throughout the rest of 2021.

Krishna is not looking for booming growth by any means. He just wants growth, and even sustained single digit top line expansion will make him happy. “Our systems if I take a two-year to three-year view kind of flattish, but in any given year it might increase or decrease but not by a whole lot. It doesn’t impact the topline a lot and that’s how sort of we get to the mid-single-digit sustainably,” Krishna said in the call.

The CEO simply wants to bring some long-term stability back to the company it has been sadly lacking in recent years. Of course, it’s hard to know if this quarter was a temporary upward blip on IBM’s earnings chart, one of those fluctuations up or down he spoke of, or if it is the corner the company has been looking to turn for years. Only time will tell whether IBM can sustain the modest revenue goals Krishna has set for the organization, or if it will fall back into the revenue doldrums that have plagued the company for the last eight years.


By Ron Miller

FintechOS nabs $60M for a low-code approach to modernizing legacy banking and insurance services

“Challenger” startups in banking and insurance have upended their industries, and picked up significant business, by building more customer-friendly tools and services — more personalized, easier to access, and usually competitively priced — than those typically provided their bigger, incumbent rivals. Now, a startup out of Romania that is building tools to help the incumbents respond with better services of their own is announcing a significant round of funding as its business grows.

FintechOS, which has built a low-code platform aimed at larger (older) banking and insurance companies to help them build new services and analytics on top of and around their existing infrastructure, has raised €51 million ($61.5 million at today’s rates, but $60 million at the time of the deal closing) in a Series B round of funding.

FintechOS’s opportunity has been to target wave of incumbents in the insurance and banking industries that have been slowly watching as newer players like Lemonade (in insurance) and a huge plethora of challenger banks (Revolut, N26, Monzo and many others) are swooping in and picking up customers, especially among younger demographics, while they have been unable to respond mostly because their infrastructure is too old and big. Turning a huge ship around, as we have seen, is no small task — a situation that has become only more apparent in the last year of pandemic living and the big shift to digital interactions that resulted from it.

“When we launched FintechOS in 2017, we could already see existing solutions to digital transformation would struggle to deliver tangible results. By contrast, our unique approach has quickly inspired a sea-change in how financial institutions address digitization and engage with their customers,” said Teodor Blidarus, co-founder and CEO at FintechOS, in a statement. “Events over the last year have only increased pressure on our industry to evolve and as a result we’re seeing growing demand for our powerful platforms. Our latest round of funding will help us grow at the pace needed to improve outcomes for financial institutions and their customers globally.”

(It is not the only one. Others out of Europe in the space of bringing new tools to incumbent banks to help them make more modern and competitive products include 10x, Thought Machine, Temenos, Mambu and many more.)

The Series B round of funding is being led by Draper-Esprit, with Earlybird, Gapminder Ventures, Launchub, and OTB Ventures (which all participated in its Series A in December 2019) also participating. There are other backers in the round that are not being disclosed at this time, the startup added. FintechOS is also not disclosing its valuation. The company, based out of Bucharest, has raised just under $80 million to date.

FintechOS is active today in the UK and Europe — where it has been growing at a CAGR of 200% and says its services touch “millions” of people, with some of its key customers including the likes of banking giants Societe Generale and IdeaBank and international insurance brokers Howden. The plan will be to continue investing in those markets, as well as expanding internationally.

And it will be adding in more services. Today, the banking platform is designed to help banks launch more retail services for consumers and small and medium business customers, and for insurance companies to build new health, life and general insurance products (there are a lot of synergies in how insurance and financial services companies have been built over the years, and so it’s a natural couplet when it comes to building tools for those industries).

In the financial sector, FintechOS lets banks build in new digital onboarding flows, credit cards and loan products, savings and mortgage products. Insurance products include new approaches to generating and handling quotes, customer onboarding and management and claims automation — which may well bring FintechOS into closer contact and collaboration with the most successful startup to come out of its home country to date, the RPA juggernaut UiPath. In all cases, it helps stitch together data from a bank’s own systems with more modern tooling, and to link that up with yet more modern tools to help process that data more easily.

This is “low code” but it typically means that the company needs to work with third parties to enable all of this. Partners include the likes of integrators and other global services technicians, such as Microsoft, Deloitte, CapGemini, KPMG, and so on. (And the founders of the startup themselves come from consulting backgrounds so they well understand the role these companies play in the process of bringing technology into big businesses.)

FintechOS is tapping into a couple of very big trends that have arguably been the biggest in the financial and related insurance industries.

The first of these is the fact that core services around things like credit/loans, current deposits and savings are not just very complex to build but actually have largely become commoditized — similar to digital payments — and so packaging them up and turning them into services that can be integrated by way of an API makes them more easily accessed without the heavy lifting needed to build them from scratch. This lets companies focus instead on customer service or building more interesting tools around those basic services to customise them (for example AI based personalization). Disintermediating basic functions from the services built around them is arguably a bigger trend but it has been especially prevalent in enterprise, which has long been a slow-moving space when it comes to innovation in the back-end, and the front-end.

The second of these is the big swing towards using no-code and low-code tools to empower more people within organizations to get stuck in when they can see something not working as efficiently as it could, and building the workflows themselves to improve that. This also applies to trying out and testing new products — again something that typically has not been done in financial and insurance services but can now be possible with low-code and no-code tools.

“Not only is our technology helping financial institutions become customer centric, but it’s also helping them provide products and services to more people and businesses,” said Sergiu Negut, the other co-founder who is FintechOS’s CFO and COO, said in a separate statement. “With so many markets still underserved, the ability to tailor offerings to a segment of one offers the opportunity to increase financial inclusion and adheres to our ideal that easy access to financial services is essential. We’re delighted to be working with investors who share our views on how fintech should be transforming the financial services industry.”

Notably, Draper Esprit also has backed Thought Machine, another big player in the world of fintech that is taking some of the learnings and models that have helped new entrants disrupt incumbents, and is packaging them up as services for incumbents, too. It takes a different approach to doing this, not using low-code but smart contracts, which could be one reason why the VC doesn’t see the investments as conflict of interest. They are also tackling an enormous market, and so at least for now there is room for them, and many others in the space, such as 10x, Temenos, Mambu, Rapyd and many others.

“When we met Teo and Sergiu, we were immediately convinced of their vision: a data led, end-to-end platform, facilitated with a low-code/no-code infrastructure,” Vinoth Jayakumar, partner at Draper Esprit, said in a statement. “Incumbent financial services firms have cost-to-income ratios up to 90%, so we see a huge and increasing need for infrastructure software that allows digitisation at speed, ease and lower cost. Draper Esprit builds enduring partnerships; with the team at FintechOS we hope to build an enduring fintech company that will dramatically change financial services experiences for people all over the world.”

 

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Should Dell have pursued a more aggressive debt-reduction move with VMware?

When Dell announced it was spinning out VMware yesterday, the move itself wasn’t surprising: there had been public speculation for some time. But Dell could have gone a number of ways in this deal, despite its choice to spin VMware out as a separate company with a constituent dividend instead of an outright sale.

The dividend route, which involves a payment to shareholders between $11.5 and $12 billion, has the advantage of being tax-free (or at least that’s what Dell hopes as it petitions the IRS). For Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, the dividend translates to somewhere between $9.3 and $9.7 billion in cash, which the company plans to use to pay down a portion of the huge debt it still holds from its $58 billion EMC purchase in 2016.

VMware was the crown jewel in that transaction, giving Dell an inroad to the cloud it had lacked prior to the deal. For context, VMware popularized the notion of the virtual machine, a concept that led to the development of cloud computing as we know it today. It has since expanded much more broadly beyond that, giving Dell a solid foothold in cloud native computing.

Dell hopes to have its cake and eat it too with this deal: it generates a large slug of cash to use for personal debt relief while securing a five-year commercial deal that should keep the two companies closely aligned. Dell CEO Michael Dell will remain chairman of the VMware board, which should help smooth the post-spinout relationship.

But could Dell have extracted more cash out of the deal?

Doing what’s best for everyone

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategies, says that beyond the cash transaction, the deal provides a way for the companies to continue working closely together with the least amount of disruption.

“In the end, this move is more about maximizing the Dell and VMware stock price [in a way that] doesn’t impact customers, ISVs or the channel. Wall Street wasn’t valuing the two companies together nearly as [strongly] as I believe it will as separate entities,” Moorhead said.


By Ron Miller

Feedzai raises $200M at a $1B+ valuation for AI tools to fight financial fraud

On the heels of Jumio announcing a $150 million injection this week to continue building out its AI-based ID verification and anti-money laundering platform, another startup in the space is levelling up. Feedzai, which provides banks, others in the financial sector, and any company managing payments online with AI tools to spot and fight fraud — its cornerstone service involves super quick (3 millisecond) checks happening in the background while transactions are being made — has announced a Series D of $200 million. It said that the new financing is being made at a valuation of over $1 billion.

The round is being led by KKR, with Sapphire Ventures and strategic backer Citi Ventures — both past investors — also participating. Feedzai said it will be using the funds for further R&D and product development, to expand into more markets outside the U.S. — it was originally founded in Portugal but now is based out of San Mateo — and towards business development, specifically via partnerships to integrate and sell its tools.

One of those partners looks to be Citi itself:

“Citi is committed to advancing global payments anchored on transparency, efficiency, and control, and our partnership with Feedzai is allowing us to provide customers with technology that seamlessly balances agility and security,” said Manish Kohli, Global Head of Payments and Receivables, with Citi’s Treasury and Trade Solutions, in a statement.

The funding is coming at a time when the need for fraud protection for those managing transactions online has reached a high watermark, leading to a rush of customers for companies in the field.

Feezai says that its customers include 4 of the 5 largest banks in North America, 80% of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, 154 million individual and business taxpayers in the U.S., and has processed $9 billion in online transactions for 2 of the world’s most valuable athletic brands. In total its reach covers some 800 million customers of businesses that use its services.

In addition to Citibank, its customers include Fiserv, Santander, SoFi, and Standard Chartered’s Mox.

The round comes nearly four years after Feedzai raised its Series C, a $50 million round led by an unnamed investor and with an undisclosed valuation. Sapphire also participated in that round.

While money laundering, fraud and other kinds of illicit financial activity were already problems then, in the interim, the problem has only compounded, not least because of how much activity has shifted online, accelerating especially in the last year of pandemic-driven lockdowns. That’s been exacerbated also by a general rise in cybercrime — of which financial fraud remains the biggest component and motivator.

Within that bigger trend, solutions based on artificial intelligence have really emerged as critical to the task of identifying and fighting those illicit activities. Not only is that because AI solutions are able to make calculations and take actions and simply process more than non-AI based tools, or humans for that matter, but they are then able to go head to head with much of the fraud taking place, which itself is being built out on AI-based platforms and requires more sophistication to identify and combat.

For banking customers, Feedzai’s approach has been disruptive in part because of how it has conceived of the problem: it has built solutions that can be used across different scenarios, making them more powerful since the AI system is subsequently “learning” from more data. This is in contrast to how many financial service providers had conceived and tackled the issue in the past.

“Until now banks have used solutions based on verticals,” Nuno Sebastiao, co-founder and CEO of Feedzai, said in the past to TechCrunc. “The fraud solution you have for an ATM wouldn’t be the same fraud solution you would use for online banking which wouldn’t be the same fraud solution would have for a voice call center.” As these companies have refreshed their systems, many have taken a more agnostic approach like the kind the Feedzai has built.

The scale of the issue is clear, and unfortunately also something many of us have experienced first-hand. Feedzai says its data indicates that the last quarter of 2020 that show consumers saw a 650% increase in account takeover scams, a 600% in impersonation scams, and a 250% increase in online banking fraud attacks versus the first quarter of 2020.  (Those periods are, essentially, before pandemic and during pandemic comparisons.)

“The past 12 months have accelerated the world’s dependency on electronic financial services – from online banking to mobile payments, and in turn have increased fraud and money laundering activity. Our services are in more demand than ever,” said Sebastiao in a statement today.

Indeed, yesterday, when I covered Jumio’s $150 million round, I said I wouldn’t consider its funding to be an outlier (even though Jumio made clear it was the largest funding to date in its space): the fast follow from Feedzai, with an even higher amount of financing, really does underscore the trend at the moment.

In addition to these two, one of Feedzai’s biggest competitors, Kount, was acquired by credit ratings giant Equifax earlier this year for $640 million to move deeper into the space. (And related to that field, in the area of identity management, which goes hand-in-hand with tools for laundering and fraud, Okta acquired Auth0 for $6.5 billion.)

Other big rounds for startups in the wider space have included included ForgeRock ($96 million round), Onfido ($100 million), Payfone ($100 million), ComplyAdvantage ($50 million), Ripjar ($36.8 million) Truework ($30 million), Zeotap ($18 million) and Persona ($17.5 million).

KKR’s involvement in this round is notable as another example of a private equity firm getting in earlier with venture rounds with fast-scaling startups, similar to Great Hill’s investment in Jumio yesterday and a number of other examples. The firm says it’s making this investment out of its Next Generation Technology Growth Fund II, which is focused on making growth equity investment opportunities in the technology space.

“Feedzai offers a powerful solution to one of the biggest challenges we are facing today: financial crime in the digital age. Global commerce depends on future-proof technologies capable of dealing with a rapidly evolving threat landscape. At the same time, consumers rightfully demand a great customer experience, in addition to strong security layers when using banking or payments services,” said Stephen Shanley, Managing Director at KKR, in a statement

“We believe Feedzai’s platform uniquely meets these expectations and more, and we are looking forward to working with Nuno and the rest of the team to expand their offering even further,” added Spencer Chavez, Principal at KKR.


By Ingrid Lunden

Genesis raises $45M to expand its fintech-focussed low-code platform to more verticals

Low-code and no-code tools have been a huge hit with enterprises keen to give their operations more of a tech boost, but often lack the resources to handle more complex integrations. Today, one of the startups that has been building low-code finance tools is announcing funding to tap into that trend and expand its business.

Genesis — which has to date primarily worked with financial services companies, giving non-technical employees the tools to create ways to monitor and manage real-time risk, high-frequency trades and other activities — has picked up $45 million. It plans to use to bring the tools it has already built to a wider set of verticals that have some of the same needs to manage risk, compliance, and other factors as finance — healthcare and manufacturing are two examples — as well as to continue building more into the stack. 

This Series B includes a mix of financial investors along with strategic backers that speak to who already integrates with Genesis’ tools on their own platforms.

Led by Accel, it also includes participation from new backers GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Salesforce Ventures, in addition to existing investors Citi, Illuminate Financial and Tribeca Venture Partners, who also invested in this round. To give you an idea of who it works with, Citi, along with ING, London Clearing House, and XP Investments, are some of Genesis customers.

Originally conceived in 2012 in Brazil by a pair of British co-founders — Stephen Murphy (CEO) and James Harrison (CTO), who cut their teeth in the world of investment banking — Genesis had raised less than $5 million before this round, mostly bootstrapping its business and leaning on Murphy and Harrison’s existing relationships in the world of finance to grow its customer base.

Today, Murphy lives in and leads the business from Miami — where he moved from New York just as the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to gain steam last year — while James Harrison (CTO) leads part of the team based out of the UK.

As you might imagine with so little funding before now for a company going on nine years old, Genesis was doing fine financially before this Series B, so the plan is to use the funding specifically to grow faster than it could have on its own steam. The startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

“We were not really fixated on valuation,” said Murphy in an interview, who said the funding came about after a number of VCs had approached the startup. “The most important thing is the future opportunity and where we could take the company with additional funding… this will help us hyper scale up.” He did note that the term sheets contained “some amazing numbers and multiples,” given the current interest in no-code and low-code technology.

Indeed, the vogue for no-code and low-code tech — other well-funded names in the crowded space include startups like Zapier, Airtable, Rows, Gyana, Bryter, Ushur, Creatio, and EasySend, as well as significant launches from Google and Microsoft and other bigger players — is coming out of two trends colliding.

On one side, we’ve well and truly entered an era in enterprise technology — with the same trend playing out in consumer tech, too — where smart developers are taking sophisticated and complex services and putting “wrappers” around them by way of APIs and simpler (low- or no-code) interfaces, so that those sophisticated tools can in turn be integrated and implemented in more places. This saves needing to build or integrate that complexity from scratch and expands access to the processes within those wrappers.

On the other side, the thirst for tech knowledge has become well and truly mainstream and as a result getting far more democratized. Working in a variety of applications, using different digital tools and devices, and seeing the fruits of tech pay off are all second nature to today’s working world — whether or not you are a technologist. So it’s no surprise to see more proactive, non-technical people looking for more ways to get their hands on these tools themselves.

“You now have a whole citizen developer world, for example business analysts who understand the solution you want but might not know how to get there,” Murphy said. “We play to seasoned developers first but the investment will help us put more low code and no code tools into place to widen the tools out to them.”

Starting out in finance made sense not just because that was where the two founders had previously worked, but also because of the history of how different software tools were already being used. Specifically, he noted that the ubiquity of microservices — which themselves are collections of services as apps — laid the groundwork for more low-code. “We saw that if we could build a low-code entry point to microservices, that would be powerful.”

On top of that, investment banks, he said, have a history of wanting to build things themselves to tailor to their specific needs. “Buying off the shelf means you are at the mercy of the vendor,” he said. These factors made financial services companies very receptive to what Genesis was offering.

While a lot of the no/low-code players are coming at the concept with specific verticals in mind — no surprise, since different verticals have very specific use cases and needs — so what’s interesting with Genesis is how the company is leveraging what it already knows about finance, and then looking at other industries that have similar demands, structures and rules.

Murphy said that Genesis will stay “very focused on financial markets for 2021” but that it’s identified a number of other verticals similar to it, and is actually already seeing some inbound interest from them.

“A number of people have already approached us from the world of healthcare,” he said, pointing out that these organizations, like financial services, face challenges around how to audit data and regulations around performing transactions. Manufacturing, meanwhile, has some parallels around the area of complex event processing similar to equity algorithmic trading, he said. (In short, this relates to how external events might trigger more transactions, not unlike how external factors affect manufacturing operations.)

The trend is one that analysts forecast will only grow in the coming years: Gartner, for example, says that by 2024, low-code platforms will account for no less than 65% of all app development activity.

“Low-code promises business users the autonomy to make their own technology usage and purchase decisions while enabling them to actually build their own applications without having to rely on IT,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, a partner at Accel, said n a statement. “By bringing one of the most transformative innovations in software development to financial services, Steve and the Genesis team are taking on a huge market of legacy vendors – and winning too – while delivering on the promise of low-code. The confidence they’ve gained from serving such large institutions is proof that there’s a real and urgent need for a purpose-built low-code solution for financial markets. We’re excited to partner with Genesis and support them in delivering this across the world.” Brasoveanu is joining the startup’s board with this round.


By Ingrid Lunden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A three-way marketplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pariti’s investor platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wossen Ayele (COO) and Yacob Berhane (CEO)

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

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

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

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

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


By Tage Kene-Okafor

Extra Crunch roundup: Digital health VC survey, edtech M&A, deep tech marketing, more

I had my first telehealth consultation last year, and there’s a high probability that you did, too. Since the pandemic began, consumer adoption of remote healthcare has increased 300%.

Speaking as an unvaccinated urban dweller: I’d rather speak to a nurse or doctor via my laptop than try to remain physically distanced on a bus or hailed ride traveling to/from their office.

Even after things return to (rolls eyes) normal, if I thought there was a reliable way to receive high-quality healthcare in my living room, I’d choose it.

Clearly, I’m not alone: a May 2020 McKinsey study pegged yearly domestic telehealth revenue at $3 billion before the coronavirus, but estimated that “up to $250 billion of current U.S. healthcare spend could potentially be virtualized” after the pandemic abates.

That’s a staggering number, but in a category that includes startups focused on sexual health, women’s health, pediatrics, mental health, data management and testing, it’s clear to see why digital-health funding topped more than $10 billion in the first three quarters of 2020.

Drawing from The TechCrunch List, reporter Sarah Buhr interviewed eight active health tech VCs to learn more about the companies and industry verticals that have captured their interest in 2021:

  • Bryan Roberts and Bob Kocher, partners, Venrock
  • Nan Li, managing director, Obvious Ventures
  • Elizabeth Yin, general partner, Hustle Fund
  • Christina Farr, principal investor and health tech lead, OMERS Ventures
  • Ursheet Parikh, partner, Mayfield Ventures
  • Nnamdi Okike, co-founder and managing partner, 645 Ventures
  • Emily Melton, founder and managing partner, Threshold Ventures

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Since COVID-19 has renewed Washington’s focus on healthcare, many investors said they expect a friendly regulatory environment for telehealth in 2021. Additionally, healthcare providers are looking for ways to reduce costs and lower barriers for patients seeking behavioral support.

“Remote really does work,” said Elizabeth Yin, general partner at Hustle Fund.

We’ll cover digital health in more depth this year through additional surveys, vertical reporting, founder interviews and much more.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

8 VCs agree: Behavioral support and remote visits make digital health a strong bet for 2021

Woman having a medicine video conferencing with her doctor using digital tablet. Senior woman on a video call with a doctor using her tablet computer at home.

Image Credits: Luis Alvarez (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

In the last year, edtech startup Top Hat acquired three publishing companies: Fountainhead Press, Bludoor and Nelson HigherEd.

Natasha Mascarenhas interviewed CEO and founder Mike Silagadze to learn more about his content acquisition strategy, but her story also discussed “some rumblings of consolidation and exits in edtech land.”

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020

Last year, U.S.-based VCs invested an average of $428 million each day in domestic startups, with much of the benefits flowing to fintech companies.

This morning, Alex Wilhelm examined Q4 VC totals for Europe, which had its lowest deal count since Q1 2019, despite a record $14.3 billion in investments.

Asia’s VC industry, which saw $25.2 billion invested across 1,398 deals is seeing “a muted recovery,” says Alex.

“Falling seed volume, lots of big rounds. That’s 2020 VC around the world in a nutshell.”

Decrypted: With more SolarWinds fallout, Biden picks his cybersecurity team

Image Credits: Treedeo (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In this week’s Decrypted, security reporter Zack Whittaker covered the latest news in the unfolding SolarWinds espionage campaign, now revealed to have impacted the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Malwarebytes.

In other news, the controversy regarding WhatsApp’s privacy policy change appears to be driving users to encrypted messaging app Signal, Zack reported. Facebook has put changes at WhatsApp on hold “until it could figure out how to explain the change without losing millions of users,” apparently.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech

A big IPO debut is a juicy topic for a few news cycles, but because there’s always another unicorn ready to break free from its corral and leap into the public markets, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to reflect.

Alex studied companies like Lemonade, Airbnb and Affirm to see how well these IPO pop stars have retained their value. Not only have most held steady, “many have actually run up the score in the ensuing weeks,” he found.

Dear Sophie: What are Biden’s immigration changes?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I work in HR for a tech firm. I understand that Biden is rolling out a new immigration plan today.

What is your sense as to how the new administration will change business, corporate and startup founder immigration to the U.S.?

—Free in Fremont

Hello, Extra Crunch community!

Hello in Different Languages

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I began my career as an avid TechCrunch reader and remained one even when I joined as a writer, when I left to work on other things and now that I’ve returned to focus on better serving our community.

I’ve been chatting with some of the folks in our community and I’d love to talk to you, too. Nothing fancy, just 5-10 minutes of your time to hear more about what you want to see from us and get some feedback on what we’ve been doing so far.

If you would be so kind as to take a minute or two to fill out this form, I’ll drop you a note and hopefully we can have a chat about the future of the Extra Crunch community before we formally roll out some of the ideas we’re cooking up.

Drew Olanoff
@yoda

In 2020, VCs invested $428m into US-based startups every day

Last year was a disaster across the board thanks to a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and widespread social and political upheaval.

But if you were involved in the private markets, however, 2020 had some very clear upside — VCs flowed $156.2 billion into U.S.-based startups, “or around $428 million for each day,” reports Alex Wilhelm.

“The huge sum of money, however, was itself dwarfed by the amount of liquidity that American startups generated, some $290.1 billion.”

Using data sourced from the National Venture Capital Association and PitchBook, Alex used Monday’s column to recap last year’s seed, early-stage and late-stage rounds.

How and when to build marketing teams at deep tech companies

Pole lifting rubber duck with hook in its head

Image Credits: Andy Roberts (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Building a marketing team is one of the most opaque parts of spinning up a startup, but for a deep tech company, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

How can technical founders working on bleeding-edge technology find the right people to tell their story?

If you work at a post-revenue, early-stage deep tech startup (or know someone who does), this post explains when to hire a team, whether they’ll need prior industry experience, and how to source and evaluate talent.

Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg explains his plans for taking the company public

Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg

Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg. Image Credits: Bustle Digital Group

Senior Writer Anthony Ha interviewed Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg to get his thoughts on the state of digital media.

Their conversation covered a lot of ground, but the biggest news it contained focuses on Goldberg’s short-term plans.

“Where do I want to see the company in three years? I want to see three things: I want to be public, I want to see us driving a lot of profits and I want it to be a lot bigger, because we’ve consolidated a lot of other publications,” he said.

It may not be as glamorous as D2C, but beauty tech is big money

Directly Above Shot Of Razors On Green Background

Image Credits: Laia Divols Escude/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is not a huge fan of personal-care D2C brands merging with traditional consumer product companies.

This month, razor startup Billie and Proctor & Gamble announced they were calling off their planned merger after the FTC filed suit.

For similar reasons, Edgewell Personal Care dropped its plans last year to buy Harry’s for $1.37 billion.

In a harsher regulatory environment, “the path to profitability has become a more important part of the startup story versus growth at all costs,” it seems.

Twilio CEO says wisdom lies with your developers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: Founder and CEO of Twilio Jeff Lawson speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 at Pier 48 on September 12, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Image Credits: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Companies that build their own tools “tend to win the hearts, minds and wallets of their customers,” according to Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson.

In an interview with enterprise reporter Ron Miller for his new book, “Ask Your Developer,” Lawson says founders should use developer teams as a sounding board when making build-versus-buy decisions.

“Lawson’s basic philosophy in the book is that if you can build it, you should,” says Ron.


By Walter Thompson

Extra Crunch roundup: antitrust jitters, SPAC odyssey, white-hot IPOs, more

Some time ago, I gave up on the idea of finding a thread that connects each story in the weekly Extra Crunch roundup; there are no unified theories of technology news.

The stories that left the deepest impression were related to two news pegs that dominated the week — Visa and Plaid calling off their $5.3 billion acquisition agreement, and sizzling-hot IPOs for Affirm and Poshmark.

Watching Plaid and Visa sing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in harmony after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block their deal wasn’t shocking. But I was surprised to find myself editing an interview Alex Wilhelm conducted with with Plaid CEO Zach Perret the next day in which the executive said growing the company on its own is “once again” the correct strategy.


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In an analysis for Extra Crunch, Managing Editor Danny Crichton suggested that federal regulators’ new interest in antitrust enforcement will affect valuations going forward. For example, Procter & Gamble and women’s beauty D2C brand Billie also called off their planned merger last week after the Federal Trade Commission raised objections in December.

Given the FTC’s moves last year to prevent Billie and Harry’s from being acquired, “it seems clear that U.S. antitrust authorities want broad competition for consumers in household goods,” Danny concluded, and I suspect that applies to Plaid as well.

In December, C3.ai, Doordash and Airbnb burst into the public markets to much acclaim. This week, used clothing marketplace Poshmark saw a 140% pop in its first day of trading and consumer-financing company Affirm “priced its IPO above its raised range at $49 per share,” reported Alex.

In a post titled A theory about the current IPO market, he identified eight key ingredients for brewing a debut with a big first-day pop, which includes “exist in a climate of near-zero interest rates” and “keep companies private longer.” Truly, words to live by!

Come back next week for more coverage of the public markets in The Exchange, an interview with Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg where he shares his plans for taking the company public, a comprehensive post that will unpack the regulatory hurdles facing D2C consumer brands, and much more.

If you live in the U.S., enjoy your MLK Day holiday weekend, and wherever you are: thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

 

Rapid growth in 2020 reveals OKR software market’s untapped potential

After spending much of the week covering 2021’s frothy IPO market, Alex Wilhelm devoted this morning’s column to studying the OKR-focused software sector.

Measuring objectives and key results are core to every enterprise, perhaps more so these days since knowledge workers began working remotely in greater numbers last year.

A sign of the times: this week, enterprise orchestration SaaS platform Gtmhub announced that it raised a $30 million Series B.

To get a sense of how large the TAM is for OKR, Alex reached out to several companies and asked them to share new and historical growth metrics:

  • Gthmhub
  • Perdoo
  • WorkBoard
  • Ally.io
  • Koan
  • WeekDone

“Some OKR-focused startups didn’t get back to us, and some leaders wanted to share the best stuff off the record, which we grant at times for candor amongst startup executives,” he wrote.

5 consumer hardware VCs share their 2021 investment strategies

For our latest investor survey, Matt Burns interviewed five VCs who actively fund consumer electronics startups:

  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital
  • Dayna Grayson, co-founder and general partner, Construct Capital
  • Cyril Ebersweiler, general partner, SOSV
  • Bilal Zuberi, partner, Lux Capital
  • Rob Coneybeer, managing director, Shasta Ventures

“Consumer hardware has always been a tough market to crack, but the COVID-19 crisis made it even harder,” says Matt, noting that the pandemic fueled wide interest in fitness startups like Mirror, Peloton and Tonal.

Bonus: many VCs listed the founders, investors and companies that are taking the lead in consumer hardware innovation.

A theory about the current IPO market

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

If you’re looking for insight into “why everything feels so damn silly this year” in the public markets, a post Alex wrote Thursday afternoon might offer some perspective.

As someone who pays close attention to late-stage venture markets, he’s identified eight factors that are pushing debuts for unicorns like Affirm and Poshmark into the stratosphere.

TL;DR? “Lots of demand, little supply, boom goes the price.”

Poshmark prices IPO above range as public markets continue to YOLO startups

Clothing resale marketplace Poshmark closed up more than 140% on its first trading day yesterday.

In Thursday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex noted that Poshmark boosted its valuation by selling 6.6 million shares at its IPO price, scooping up $277.2 million in the process.

Poshmark’s surge in trading is good news for its employees and stockholders, but it reflects poorly on “the venture-focused money people who we suppose know what they are talking about when it comes to equity in private companies,” he says.

Will startup valuations change given rising antitrust concerns?

GettyImages 926051128

financial stock market graph on technology abstract background represent risk of investment

This week, Visa announced it would drop its planned acquisition of Plaid after the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to block it last fall.

Last week, Procter & Gamble called off its purchase of Billie, a women’s beauty products startup — in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued to block that deal, too.

Once upon a time, the U.S. government took an arm’s-length approach to enforcing antitrust laws, but the tide has turned, says Managing Editor Danny Crichton.

Going forward, “antitrust won’t kill acquisitions in general, but it could prevent the buyers with the highest reserve prices from entering the fray.”

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

I’m a grad student currently working on F-1 STEM OPT. The company I work for has indicated it will sponsor me for an H-1B visa this year.

I hear the random H-1B lottery will be replaced with a new system that selects H-1B candidates based on their salaries.

How will this new process work?

— Positive in Palo Alto

Venture capitalists react to Visa-Plaid deal meltdown

A homemade chocolate cookie with a bite and crumbs on a white background

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After news broke that Visa’s $5.3 billion purchase of API startup Plaid fell apart, Alex Wilhelm and Ron Miller interviewed several investors to get their reactions:

  • Anshu Sharma, co-founder and CEO, SkyflowAPI
  • Amy Cheetham, principal, Costanoa Ventures
  • Sheel Mohnot, co-founder, Better Tomorrow Ventures
  • Lucas Timberlake, partner, Fintech Ventures
  • Nico Berardi, founder and general partner, ANIMO Ventures
  • Allen Miller, VC, Oak HC/FT
  • Sri Muppidi, VC, Sierra Ventures
  • Christian Lassonde, VC, Impression Ventures

Plaid CEO touts new ‘clarity’ after failed Visa acquisition

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm interviewed Plaid CEO Zach Perret after the Visa acquisition was called off to learn more about his mindset and the company’s short-term plans.

Perret, who noted that the last few years have been a “roller coaster,” said the Visa deal was the right decision at the time, but going it alone is “once again” Plaid’s best way forward.

2021: A SPAC odyssey

In Tuesday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm took a closer look at blank-check offerings for digital asset marketplace Bakkt and personal finance platform SoFi.

To create a detailed analysis of the investor presentations for both offerings, he tried to answer two questions:

  1. Are special purpose acquisition companies a path to public markets for “potentially-promising companies that lacked obvious, near-term growth stories?”
  2. Given the number of unicorns and the limited number of companies that can IPO at any given time, “maybe SPACS would help close the liquidity gap?”

Flexible VC: A new model for startups targeting profitability

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Growth-stage startups in search of funding have a new option: “flexible VC” investors.

An amalgam of revenue-based investment and traditional VC, investors who fall into this category let entrepreneurs “access immediate risk capital while preserving exit, growth trajectory and ownership optionality.”

In a comprehensive explainer, fund managers David Teten and Jamie Finney present different investment structures so founders can get a clear sense of how flexible VC compares to other venture capital models. In a follow-up post, they share a list of a dozen active investors who offer funding via these non-traditional routes.

These 5 VCs have high hopes for cannabis in 2021

Marijuana leaf on a yellow background.

Image Credits: Anton Petrus (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For some consumers, “cannabis has always been essential,” writes Matt Burns, but once local governments allowed dispensaries to remain open during the pandemic, it signaled a shift in the regulatory environment, and investors took notice.

Matt asked five VCs about where they think the industry is heading in 2021 and what advice they’re offering their portfolio companies:


By Walter Thompson

UIPath files confidential IPO paperwork with SEC

UIPath, the robotic process automation startup that has been growing like gangbusters, filed confidential paperwork with the SEC today ahead of a potential IPO.

UiPath, Inc. today announced that it has submitted a draft registration statement on a confidential basis to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) for a proposed public offering of its Class A common stock. The number of shares of Class A common stock to be sold and the price range for the proposed offering have not yet been determined. UiPath intends to commence the public offering following completion of the SEC review process, subject to market and other conditions,” the company said in a statement.

The company has raised over $1.2 billion from investors like Accel, CapitalG, Sequoia and others. Its biggest raise was $568 million led by Coatue on an impressive $7 billion valuation in April 2019. It raised another $225 million led by Alkeon Capital last July when its valuation soared to $10.2 billion.

At the time of the July raise, CEO and co-founder Daniel Dines did not shy away from the idea of an IPO, telling me:

“We’re evaluating the market conditions and I wouldn’t say this to be vague, but we haven’t chosen a day that says on this day we’re going public. We’re really in the mindset that says we should be prepared when the market is ready, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s in the next 12-18 months,” he said.

This definitely falls within that window. RPA helps companies take highly repetitive manual tasks and automate them. So for example, it could pull a number from an invoice, fill in a number in spreadsheet and send an email to accounts payable, all without a human touching it.

It is a technology that has great appeal right now because it enables companies to take advantage of automation without ripping and replacing their legacy systems. While the company has raised a ton of money, and seen its valuation take off, it will be interesting to see if it will get the same positive reception as companies like Airbnb, C3.ai and Snowflake.


By Ron Miller

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

Digital transformation has been one of the big enterprise themes of 2020: organizations are doubling down on cloud services both to link up suddenly remote teams and centralize apps, documents and data in a more efficient way. Today, one of the startups that has filled out that story with a cloud-based suite of accounting services is announcing a major round of funding on the back of massive growth.

Tipalti, an Israeli company that helps businesses manage suppliers, invoices, purchase orders, tax compliance, payments and billing and other accounting services from a single cloud platform, has raised $150 million at a valuation that the company says is now over $2 billion.

The plan is to use the funding to continue enhancing Tipalti’s accounts payable suite with more tools; hire across all departments; and for business development. Tipalti’s aim, according to founder and CEO Chen Amit, is to provide easy to integrate accounts payable services to a base of fast-scaling businesses, which need AP services to function well, but would never consider them core functions of their businesses in themselves.

“Accounts payable is the last area that companies in the mid market would want to invest in,” said founder and CEO Chen Amit. “They will invest in literally anything else other than building software to pay or manage suppliers.”

The round, a Series E, is being led by Durable Capital Partners (the firm founded last year by Henry Ellenbogen, previously a star at T. Rowe Price), with participation also from Greenoaks Capital and existing investor 01 Advisors, the firm co-founded by Twitter alums Dick Costolo and Adam Bain.

Tipalti’s growth comes as the result of a perfect storm of sorts for the startup.

The Covid-19 health pandemic has led to a global economic crunch, and businesses are especially focused now on watching where money is coming in and where it is going.

But at the same time, even before the coronavirus pandemic, Tipalti had been seeing a lot of inbound business from organizations that were scaling fast and looking for solutions that could integrate easily into their current systems.

The backstory and necessity around accounts payable can be told in a few words: it’s a boring but necessary area, and if it goes wrong, it can potentially bring a whole company down because of the tax, fraud and auditing implications.

Tipalti describes accounts payable as “the most time-consuming function in finance”, noting that 47% of finance organizations in a recent survey said they still spend around 520 hours per year on manual accounts payable tasks, with 27% of respondents indicating that their teams dedicate up to 80 people-hours per month on AP tasks, or 1,040 hours annually.

Tipalti, which fittingly means “I’ll handle it” in Hebrew, is positioned as a helper in this context. By way of an API, it integrates with a number of other accounting and tracking platforms that its customers use including NetSuite, Sage, QuickBooks, Affise, Cake, Everflow, HitPath, LinkTrust, Paladin, Tune (HasOffers) and Vidooly and lets companies run and track how payments are being made relative to actives within the organization, all with relatively little input from the companies themselves, essentially giving them time and other resources to focus on other areas.

The pandemic has hit some of Tipalti’s customers hard. But overall, Chen said that it’s seen more business as a result, not just from companies suddenly growing much faster (as in the case, for example, for e-commerce businesses, or those catering to people spending much more time at home and on screens), but from businesses that simply need to pay much more attention to how money is moving around.

In 2020 so far, Tipalti has seen transaction volume on its platform balloon to $12 billion, up 80% on a year ago. It now has some 1,000 customers on its books, with a specifically strong emphasis on fast-growing tech companies. The list includes Amazon Twitch, Amplitude, Roku, Duolingo, Gitlab, Medium, ClassPass, Toast, Automattic, Twitter, Business Insider, GoDaddy, Zola, Boston Globe Media, Noom, Roblox, Headspace, Fiverr, Vimeo, Stack Overflow, ZipRecruiter, AppLovin, Canva, Indeed, and Foursquare.

Indeed, as we have described before, it was Tipalti’s initial work with Twitter on its own accounts payable services (central to how it can make money on its ad business) that served as its first introduction to Costolo and Bain, who went on to invest in it after they left the social network and started 01 Advisors.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to increase our investment in Tipalti during a time in which organizations have been focused on rapidly transforming and modernizing the way they operate,” said Dick Costolo, Founding Partner of 01 Advisors and former Chief Executive Officer of Twitter, in a statement. “When I ran Twitter, I saw first-hand the importance and value of Tipalti in automating financial operations. Tipalti transformed our processes and opened up our expansion, growth, and scalability strategies.”

It’s worth pointing out that the rise in valuation is a huge spike for Tipalti, a sign not just of its growth but investors’ bet that there will be more of that to come.

Chen Amit, the company’s founder and CEO, said it is four times the size of its valuation in its previous round (it raised $76 million in a Series D round led by 01 Advisors a little over a year ago, which would have been at around a $500 million valuation), and a whopping 14 times what Tipalti was valued in 2017). Indeed, even with other competitors like Bill.com and Coupa also targeting the same users as Tipalti, Amit estimates that between them all, they have just 3-4% of the addressable market.

“The accounts payable automation space has an extremely large total addressable market with significant growth potential,” explained Henry Ellenbogen, Founder, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement. “We believe that Tipalti has the potential to become a much larger company within the Midmarket space due to its differentiated holistic platform, superior global capabilities and management team. This has resulted in leading retention and customer satisfaction.”


By Ingrid Lunden