Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Zonos banks $69M to develop APIs for democratizing cross-border commerce

Cross-border commerce company Zonos raised $69 million in a Series A, led by Silversmith Capital Partners, to continue building its APIs that auto classify goods and calculate an accurate total landed cost on international transactions.

St. George, Utah-based Zonos is classifying the round as a minority investment that also included individual investors Eric Rea, CEO of Podium, and Aaron Skonnard, co-founder and CEO of Pluralsight. The Series A is the first outside capital Zonos has raised since it was founded in 2009, Clint Reid, founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

As Reid explained it, “total landed cost” refers to the duties, taxes, import and shipping fees someone from another country might pay when purchasing items from the U.S. However, it is often difficult for businesses to figure out the exact cost of those fees.

Global cross-border e-commerce was estimated to be over $400 billion in 2018, but is growing at twice the rate of domestic e-commerce. This is where Zonos comes in: The company’s APIs, apps and plugins simplify cross-border sales by providing an accurate final price a consumer pays for an item on an international purchase. Businesses can choose which one or multiple shipping carriers they want to work with and even enable customers to choose at the time of purchase.

“Businesses can’t know all of a country’s laws,” Reid added. “Our mission is to create trust in global trade. If you are transparent, you bring trust. This was traditionally thought to be a shipping problem, but it is really a technology problem.”

As part of the investment Todd MacLean, managing partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, joined the Zonos board of directors. One of the things that attracted MacLean to the company was that Reid was building a company outside of Silicon Valley and disrupting global trade far from any port.

He says while looking into international commerce, he found people wound up being charged additional fees after they have already purchased the item, leading to bad customer experiences, especially when a merchant is trying to build brand loyalty.

Even if someone chooses not to purchase the item due to the fees being too high, MacLean believes the purchasing experience will be different because the pricing and shipping information was provided up front.

“Our diligence said Zonos is the only player to take the data that exists out there and make sense of it,” MacLean said. “Customers love it — we got the most impressive customer references because this demand is already out there, and they are seeing more revenue and their customers have more loyalty because it just works.”

In fact, it is common for companies to see 25% to 30% year over year increase in sales, Reid added. He went on to say that due to fees associated with shipping, it doesn’t always mean an increase in revenue for companies. There may be a small decrease, but a longer lifetime value with customers.

Going after venture capital at this time was important to Reid, who saw global trade becoming more complex as countries added new tax laws and stopped using other trade regulations. However, it was not just about getting the funding, but finding the right partner that recognizes that this problem won’t be solved in the next five years, but will need to be in it for the long haul, which Reid said he saw in Silversmith.

The new investment provides fuel for Zonos to grow in product development and go-to-market while also expanding its worldwide team into Europe and Asia Pacific. Eighteen months ago, the company had 30 employees, and now there are over 100. It also has more than 1,500 customers around the world and provides them with millions of landed cost quotes every day.

“Right now, we are the leader for APIs in cross-border e-commerce, but we need to also be the technology leader regardless of the industry,” Reid added. “We can’t just accept that we are good enough, we need to be better at doing this. We are looking at expanding into additional markets because it is more than just servicing U.S. companies, but need to be where our customers are.”

 


By Christine Hall

Ramp and Brex draw diverging market plans with M&A strategies

Earlier today, spend management startup Ramp said it has raised a $300 million Series C that valued it $3.9 billion. It also said it was acquiring Buyer, a “negotiation-as-a-service” platform that it believes will help customers save money on purchases and SaaS products.

The round and deal were announced just a week after competitor Brex shared news of its own acquisition — the $50 million purchase of Israeli fintech startup Weav. That deal was made after Brex’s founders invested in Weav, which offers a “universal API for commerce platforms”.

From a high level, all of the recent deal-making in corporate cards and spend management shows that it’s not enough to just help companies track what employees are expensing these days. As the market matures and feature sets begin to converge, the players are seeking to differentiate themselves from the competition.

But the point of interest here is these deals can tell us where both companies think they can provide and extract the most value from the market.

These differences come atop another layer of divergence between the two companies: While Brex has instituted a paid software tier of its service, Ramp has not.

Earning more by spending less

Let’s start with Ramp. Launched in 2019, the company is a relative newcomer in the spend management category. But by all accounts, it’s producing some impressive growth numbers. As our colleague Mary Ann Azevedo wrote this morning:

Since the beginning of 2021, the company says it has seen its number of cardholders on its platform increase by 5x, with more than 2,000 businesses currently using Ramp as their “primary spend management solution.” The transaction volume on its corporate cards has tripled since April, when its last raise was announced. And, impressively, Ramp has seen its transaction volume increase year over year by 1,000%, according to CEO and co-founder Eric Glyman.

Ramp’s focus has always been on helping its customers save money: It touts a 1.5% cashback reward for all purchases made through its cards, and says its dashboard helps businesses identify duplicitous subscriptions and license redundancies. Ramp also alerts customers when they can save money on annual vs. monthly subscriptions, which it says has led many customers to do away with established T&E platforms like Concur or Expensify.

All told, the company claims that the average customer saves 3.3% per year on expenses after switching to its platform — and all that is before it brings Buyer into the fold.


By Ryan Lawler

Payments company Paystone raises $23.8M to help service-based businesses engage with customers

Paystone, a payments and integrated software company, secured another strategic investment this year, this time $23.8 million ($30 million CAD) from Crédit Mutuel Equity, the private equity arm of Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale.

The Canada-based company got its start in 2008 as the payment processing company Zomaron, and rebranded itself as Paystone in 2019. Today it provides electronic payments and customer engagement technology to businesses, particularly those that provide services, CEO Tarique Al-Ansari told TechCrunch.

“Paystone is on a mission to help businesses grow, and we were enthralled by their commitment to that mission and their focus on service-oriented verticals,” said Léa Perge, investor at Crédit Mutuel Equity in Canada, via email.

While most of the company’s peers focus on product companies, Al-Ansari saw how underserved the service side was: their needs are different, and unlike retail, aren’t looking to sell online. Rather, they need an online presence and digital marketing to engage with customers, but their focus is being findable and having content that tells people why they should do business with them.

Paystone provides the marketing through content, help with reviews and with loyalty and rewards programs. However, rather than reward for spending, Paystone rewards for behavior. Refer a friend, get a reward. Write a review, get a reward. Al-Ansari calls it “payments as a benefit.” Referrals and reviews are how businesses become more findable, and the more content that’s out there, the more it helps people consider the business trustworthy, he added.

The new funding gives Canada-based Paystone total funds raised in 2021 of $78.8 million in a mix of debt and equity. It raised $54.9 million in January, funds that were barely touched as of yet, Al-Ansari said.

Though he wasn’t actively seeking new funds, Al-Ansari had been speaking with Crédit Mutuel Equity, which used to be CIC Capital Canada, prior to the pandemic, and their deal was put on hold.

Crédit Mutuel Equity came back with similar interest, and taking into account the kind of talent Paystone wanted to go after and its acquisition strategy — the company has already acquired five companies — Al-Ansari decided to take the additional funds. He said it gives the company options to hire more and double down on building the company, as well as enough capital to look for more acquisitions.

This year, Paystone entered the U.S. market for the first time and will do a proper launch later this year. The company has over 30,000 merchant locations on its platform throughout North America, and Al-Ansari expects that to grow by 5,000 this year. The company has 150 employees currently, and another 50 are expected to come on board by the end of the year.

In addition, Al-Ansari expects growth to accelerate for the rest of the year. The company processes around $6 billion in credit card payments and is on track to bring in $55.7 million in revenue this year. It is cash flow positive, residuals from the company’s origins of being bootstrapped, he said.

“We want to become the go-to destination for service businesses to set up a digital presence to accept payments and provide loyalty and rewards,” Al-Ansari said. “We will do this by solidifying our market position and growing our platform with the tools that customers want.”

 


By Christine Hall

Ethos picks up $100M at a $2.7B+ valuation for a big data platform to improve life insurance accessibility

More than half of the U.S. population has stayed away from considering life insurance because they believe it’s probably too expensive, and the most common way to buy it today is in person. A startup that’s built a platform that aims to break down those conventions and democratize the process by making life insurance (and the benefits of it) more accessible is today announcing significant funding to fuel its rapidly growing business.

Ethos, which uses more than 300,000 data points online to determine a person’s eligibility for life insurance policies, which are offered as either term or whole life packages starting at $8/month, has picked up $100 million from a single investor, SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Peter Colis, Ethos’s CEO and co-founder, said that the funding brings the startup’s valuation to over $2.7 billion.

This is a quick jump for the the company: it was only two months ago that Ethos picked up a $200 million equity round at a valuation of just over $2 billion.

It’s now raised $400 million to date and has amassed a very illustrious group of backers. In addition to SoftBank they include General Catalyst, Sequoia Capital; Accel; GV; Jay-Z’s Roc Nation; Glade Brook Capital Partners; Will Smith and Robert Downey Jr.

This latest injection of funding — which will be used to hire more people and continue to expand its product set into adjacent areas of insurance life critical illness coverage — was unsolicited, Colis said, but comes on the heels of very rapid growth.

Ethos — which is sold currently only in the U.S. across 49 states — has seen both revenues and user numbers grow by over 500% compared to a year ago, and it’s on track to issue some $20 billion in life insurance coverage this year. And it is approaching $100 million in annualized growth profit. Ethos itself is not yet profitable, Colis said.

There are a couple of trends going on that speak to a wide opportunity for Ethos at the moment.

The first of these is the current market climate: globally we are still battling the Covid-19 global health pandemic, and one impact of that — in particular given how Covid-19 has not spared any age group or demographic — has been more awareness of our mortality. That inevitably leads at least some part of the population to considering something like life insurance coverage that might not have thought about it previously.

However, Colis is a little skeptical on the lasting impact of that particular trend. “We saw an initial surge of demand in the Covid period, but then it regressed back to normal,” he said in an interview. Those who were more inclined to think about life insurance around Covid-19 might have come around to considering it regardless: it was being driven, he said, by those with pre-existing health conditions going into the pandemic.

That, interestingly, brings up the second trend, which goes beyond our present circumstances and Colis believes will have the more lasting impact.

While there have been a number of startups, and even incumbent providers, looking to rethink other areas of insurance such as car, health and property coverage, life insurance has been relatively untouched, especially in some markets like the U.S. Traditionally, someone taking out life insurance goes through a long vetting process, which is not all carried out online and can involve medical examinations and more, and yes, it can be expensive: the stereotype you might best know is that only wealthier people take out life insurance policies.

Much like companies in fintech who have rethought how loan applications (and payback terms) can be rethought and evaluated afresh using big data — pulling in a new range of information to form a picture of the applicant and the likelihood of default or not — Ethos is among the companies that is applying that same concept to a different problem. The end result is a much faster turnaround for applications, a considerably cheaper and more flexible offer (term life insurance lasts for only as long as a person pays for it to), and generally a lot more accessibility for everyone potentially interested. That pool of data is growing all the time.

“Every month, we get more intelligent,” said Colis.

There is also the matter of what Ethos is actually selling. The company itself is not an insurance provider but an “insuretech” — similar to how neobanks use APIs to integrate banking services that have been built by others, which they then wrap with their own customer service, personalization and more — Ethos integrates with third-party insurance underwriters, providing customer service, more efficient onboarding (no in-person medical exams for example) and personalization (both in packages and pricing) around them. Given how staid and hard it is to get more traditional policies, it’s essentially meant completely open water for Ethos in terms of finding and securing new customers.

Ethos’s rise comes at a time when we are seeing other startups approaching and rethinking life insurance also in the U.S. and further afield. Last week, YuLife in the UK raised a big round to further build out its own take on life insurance, which is to sell policies that are linked to an individual’s own health and wellness practices — the idea being that this will make you happier and give more reason to pay for a policy that otherwise feels like some dormant investment; but also that it could help you live longer (Sproutt is another also looking at how to emphasize the “life” aspect of life insurance). Others like  DeadHappy and BIMA are, like Ethos, rethinking accessibility of life insurance for a wider set of demographics.

There are some signs that Ethos is catching on with its mission to expand that pool, not just grow business among the kind of users who might have already been considering and would have taken out life insurance policies. The startup said that more than 40% of its new policy holders in the first half of 2021 had incomes of $60,000 or less, and nearly 40% of new policy holders were under the age of 40. The professions of those customers also speak to that democratization: the top five occupations, it said were homemaker, insurance agent, business owner, teacher, and registered nurse.

That traction is likely one reason why SoftBank came knocking.

“Ethos is leveraging data and its vertically integrated tech stack to fundamentally transform life insurance in the U.S.,” said Munish Varma, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Through a fast and user-friendly online application process, the company can accurately underwrite and insure a broad segment of customers quickly. We are excited to partner with Peter Colis and the exceptional team at Ethos.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Commercial real estate lending startup Lev brings in $30M on a $130M valuation

Commercial real estate has been slow to embrace technology; though it has an addressable financing market of more than $40 billion, putting together a deal is still mostly manual, paper-heavy and complicated.

New York-based Lev is taking on this problem by automating workflows online and gathering hundreds of millions of data points into machine learning software to ensure financing accuracy. To do this, the commercial real estate financing transaction platform raised $30 million to give it a $130 million valuation just two years into its inception.

The latest financing comes four months after the company raised $10 million in seed funding led by NFX. Greenspring led the latest round, with participation from First American Title. Existing investors NFX, Canaan Partners, JLL Spark, Animo Ventures and Ludlow Ventures also joined in to give Lev total investments of more than $34 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Lev founder and CEO Yaakov Zar previously co-founded Boston-based Dispatch, which built tools for home services businesses. It was when he and his wife went through the homebuying process — and their mortgage fell through — that Zar decided to look at real estate financing.

He channeled his frustration into becoming a licensed mortgage loan originator. After relocating to New York, Zar was helping a friend at a nonprofit organization refinance their building and got a firsthand look at what he said was a fragmented commercial real estate mortgage industry.

Companies like Blend are addressing the problem of real estate lending, Zar told TechCrunch, but very few are focusing on commercial real estate, where lending is sensitive to interest rates and total amortization. In addition, property owners have a burden of refinancing every five to 10 years.

“Legacy businesses like JLL, which is an investor, Cushman Wakefield and CBRE work on lending, but they are much more ‘relationship focused’ than tech focused,” Zar said. “We think that it is a necessary part because the deals are so large and complex that you need a relationship for them, but transactions less than $1 billion are pretty straightforward. On experience and product, no one is close to us.”

Initially, Zar and his team wanted to build the “Rocket Mortgage of commercial real estate lending,” but found that to be difficult because real estate brokers are putting together their own pitch books for lenders. Instead, Lev is building a technology platform of more than 5,000 lenders with information on what projects they like to finance. It then analyzes a customer’s portfolio and connects them in minutes with the right lender, taking 1% of the loan amount for each transaction as payment. Lev is also working to be able to close deals online.

Zar wasn’t looking for funding when he was approached by investors, but said he was introduced to some people who liked the company’s growth and trajectory and decided to accept the funding offer.

He intends to use the new funding on product development, with the aim of giving a term sheet in seconds and closing a loan in seven days. Right now it can take a week or two to get the term sheet and 45 to 90 days to close a loan.

The company has about 40 employees currently in its New York headquarters, Miami R&D center, Los Angeles outpost and remotely. Continued investments will be made to expand the team.

Lev grew 10 times in volume in the past year, closing approximately $100 million of loans in 2020. Zar expects to close over $1 billion in 2021.

“Customers come back to us repeatedly, and there are a ton of referrals,” Zar said. “We want to be the platform on which capital market transactions are processed. You need an advantage to network and find great deals. I don’t want to mess with that, but when you find it, bring it to us, we will close it and provide the asset management with the best option to close online and manage the deal from a single platform.”

Meanwhile, Pete Flint, general partner at NFX, told TechCrunch that he got to know the Lev team over the last 18 months, checking in on the company during various stages of the global pandemic, and was impressed at how the company navigated it.

As co-founder of Trulia, he saw firsthand the problems in the real estate industry over search and discovery, but as that problem was being solved, the focus shifted to financing. NFX is also an investor in Tomo and Ribbon, which both focus on residential financing.

Wanting to see what opportunities were on the commercial real estate side, Flint heard Lev’s name come up more and more among brokers and industry insiders.

“As we got to know the Lev team, we recognized that they were the best team out there to solve this problem,” Flint said. “We are also among an amazing group of people complementing the round. The folks that are deep industry insiders will put a helpful lens on strategy and business development opportunities.”

 


By Christine Hall

Payments giant Stripe launches Stripe Tax to integrate sales tax calculations for 30+ countries

On the heels of acquiring sales tax specialist TaxJar in April, today Stripe is making another big move in the area of tax. The $95 billion payments behemoth is launching a new product called Stripe Tax, which will provide automatic, updated sales tax calculations (covering sales tax, VAT, and GST) and related accounting services to Stripe payments customers initially in some 30 countries and across the U.S.

Stripe Tax is a separate service from TaxJar, but the two are not unconnected. As Stripe Tax was being built out of Stripe’s offices in Dublin over the last several months, Stripe’s business lead for EMEA Matt Henderson told me that the team had identified TaxJar as a strong company in the field. That ultimately led to M&A between them.

Sales tax — and specifically a more seamless way to deal with charging and tracking sales tax — is a painful issue for people doing business online.

Digital and physical goods are taxed in over 130 countries, Stripe said, and within that there can be a huge amount of variation and compliance complexity, since codes get updated all the time, too. Mishandled sales tax, meanwhile, can result in pretty hefty fines, sometimes up to 30% interest on past-due amounts.

Unsurprisingly, a sales tax tool has been the most-requested feature from Stripe’s customers, Henderson said, a call that presumably only got louder in the last year, as e-commerce and digital transactions went through the roof with Covid-19.

Arguably, that makes Stripe Tax one of the company’s more significant product launches, not to mention the first since announcing its monster funding round earlier this year.

Previously, Stripe customers would have resorted to using a third-party service (like TaxJar) to work out sales tax. Or, more typically, those Stripe customers would have opted to limit the number of places they sold goods and services, in order to minimize the pain of dealing with multiple, complex, and usually quite localized tax codes.

“No one leaps out of bed in the morning excited to deal with taxes,” said John Collison, co-founder and president of Stripe in a statement. “For most businesses, managing tax compliance is a painful distraction. We simplify everything about calculating and collecting sales taxes, VAT, and GST, so our users can focus on building their businesses.”

Stripe said that a survey of its customers found that two-thirds of respondents said the challenge of implementing sales tax actually limited their growth.

TaxJar has built a strong system for handling that, but the company — based out of Massachusetts — is primarily focused on the U.S. market, which has sales tax that is complicated enough (there are 11,000 different tax jurisdictions in the country).

That leaves a lot on the table for building out sales tax tools for the rest of the world: the wider focus of Stripe Tax thus fills a particular geographical gap for the company, regardless of how well TaxJar and Stripe integrate over time.

There is another key difference worth noting between the two.

TaxJar came to Stripe’s attention with an established operation — 15,000 customers at the time of the announcement. Stripe (wisely) bolted that on as a standalone business, which means that new and existing customers that use TaxJar can continue to use it as is. That is to say, at least for now, they do not need to be Stripe payments customers in order to use TaxJar, even if the integration between the two platforms will only improve over time.

Stripe Tax, on the other hand, is being built from the ground up as a product aimed specifically at increasing touchpoints and stickiness with Stripe customers.

Stripe Tax provides real-time tax calculation based on customer location and product sold; transparent itemizing for customers; tax ID management in areas (like Europe) where business customers can provide their code and get a reverse charge on tax if they are under a certain turnover threshold themselves; and reconciliation and reporting across all transactions to make filing and remittance easier.

But, there is for now no way to use Stripe Tax outside of Stripe payments.

This could pose some problems for some customers. These days, many of the strongest retailers will take an ‘omnichannel’ approach that might cover selling through marketplaces, selling through websites, selling through social media and more — and not all of those experiences may be powered by Stripe. It will be worth watching whether future iterations of Stripe Tax can account for that.

Stripe’ most significant product launch prior to Stripe Tax — Stripe Treasury last December — underscores how the company is currently very focused on diversifying outside of its basic payments business and opening the platform to much wider, more scaled transactions.

Treasury, which is still in invite-only mode, saw Stripe partner with established banks to provide a business banking service, providing a way for its customers to handle money that they generate from their Stripe-powered businesses.

The full country list where Stripe Tax is launching is Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom.


By Ingrid Lunden

How Expensify hacked its way to a robust, scalable tech stack

Take a close look at any ambitious startup and you’ll find pugnacity nestled in its core. Stubbornness and a bullheaded belief in the worth of what a company wants to bring to fruition is often the biggest driver of its success, and the people at such companies also tend to share this quality.

So it wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say the people at Expensify are a stubborn lot — to the company’s ultimate benefit. This group of P2P pirates/hackers that set out to build an expense management app stuck to their gut, made their own rules. They asked questions few thought of, like: Why have lots of employees when you can find a way to get work done and reach impressive profitability with a few? Why work from an office in San Francisco when the internet lets you work from anywhere, even a sailboat in the Caribbean?

It makes sense in a way: If you’re a pirate, to hell with the rules, right? And even more so when nobody can explain the rules in the first place.

With that in mind, one could assume Expensify decided to ask itself: Why not build our own totally custom tech stack? Indeed, Expensify has made several tech decisions that were met with disbelief — from having an open-source frontend and cross-platform mobile development to hiring contractors to train its AI and recruiting open-source contributors — but its belief in its own choices has paid off over the years, and the company is ready to IPO any day now.

How much of a tech advantage Expensify enjoys owing to such choices is an open question, but one thing is clear: These choices are key to understanding Expensify and its roadmap. Let’s take a look.

Built on Bedrock

I think another question Expensify also decided to ask in its early days was something like: Why not have our database on top of a technology that’s built for small-scale application software?

It may sound incredible, but Expensify actually runs on a custom database built on top of SQLite. This is surprising, because despite being one of the most widely deployed database engines, SQLite is known for running on small, embedded systems like smartphones and web browsers, not powering enterprise-scale databases.

It may sound incredible, but Expensify actually runs on a custom database built on top of SQLite.

This custom database is called Bedrock, and its architecture is as unique as they come. Expensify explains it as an “RDBMS optimized for self-healing replication across relatively slow, relatively unreliable WAN (internet) connections, enabling extremely high availability/high performance multi-datacenter deployments without any single point of failure.” RDBMS means relational database management system, describing SQLite and other row-based databases where entries are interconnected with each other.

But why would Expensify build this instead of going for any number of widely available enterprise database solutions?

To answer that question, we need to go back to the early days of the company, which was originally a side project for its founder and CEO, David Barrett. His initial idea was to develop a prepaid card for the homeless, but this required putting a server on the Visa network, which brought several strict requirements and challenges. “I would say one of the most difficult [parts] was that I needed the ability to automatically replicate and failover,” Barrett told TechCrunch when we interviewed him a couple of months ago.

This was no easy feat in 2007, but Barrett was up for the challenge. “I just hit a moment where the technology available off the shelf just wasn’t that good. And I happened to be a peer-to-peer software developer who had tons of spare time and really wanted to build this thing to put on the Visa backend,” he said. The P2P aspect was important, as Barrett had the skills to make it work. His first hires for Expensify, P2P engineers he had worked with at Red Swoosh and Akamai, were also unusually suited for the job.


By Anna Heim

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