Helium launches $51M-funded “LongFi” IoT alternative to cellular

With 200X the range of WiFi at 1/1000th of the cost of a cellular modem, Helium’s “LongFi” wireless network debuts today. Its transmitters can help track stolen scooters, find missing dogs via IoT collars, and collect data from infrastructure sensors. The catch is that Helium’s tiny, extremely low-power, low-data transmission chips rely on connecting to P2P Helium Hotspots people can now buy for $495. Operating those hotspots earns owners a cryptocurrency token Helium promises will be valuable in the future…

The potential of a new wireless standard has allowed Helium to raise $51 million over the past few years from GV, Khosla Ventures, and Marc Benioff including a new $15 million round co-led by Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital. That’s in part because one of Helium’s co-founders is Napster inventer Shawn Fanning. Investors are betting that he can change the tech world again, this time with a wireless protocol that like WiFi and Bluetooth before it could unlock unique business opportunities.

Helium already has some big partners lined up including Lime, which will test it for tracking its lost and stolen scooters and bikes when they’re brought indoors obscuring other connectivity or their battery is pulled out deactivating GPS. “It’s an ultra low-cost version of a LoJack” Helium CEO Amir Haleem says.

InvisiLeash will partner with it to build more trackable pet collars. Agulus will pull data from irrigation valves and pumps for its agriculture tech business, Nestle will track when its time to refill water in its ReadyRefresh coolers at offices, and Stay Alfred will use it to track occupancy status and air quality in buildings. Haleem also imagines the tech being useful for tracking wildfires or radiation.

Haleem met Fanning playing video games in the 2000s. They teamed up with Fanning and Sproutling baby monitor (sold to Mattel) founder Chris Bruce in 2013 to start work on Helium. They foresaw a version of Tile’s trackers that could function anywhere while replacing expensive cell connections for devices that don’t need high-bandwith. Helium will compete with SigFox, another lower-power IoT protocol, though Haleem claims its more centralized infrastructure costs are prohibitive. Lucky for Helium, on-demand rental bikes and scooters that are perfect for its network have reached mainstream popularity just as Helium launches six years after its start.

Helium says its already pre-sold 80% of its Helium Hotspots for its first market in Austin, Texas. People connect them to their Wifi and put in their window so thee devices can pull in data from Helium’s IoT sensors over its open-source LongFi protocol. The hotspots then encrypt and send the data to the company’s cloud that clients can plug into to track and collect info from their devices. The Helium Hotspots only require as much energy as a 12-watt LED lightbulb to run, but that $495 price tag is steep. The lack of a concrete return on investment could deter later adopters from buying the expensive device.

Only 150-200 hotspots are necessary to blanket a city in connectivity, Haleem tells me. But since they need to be distributed across the landscape so a client can’t just fill their warehouse with the hotspots and the upfront price is expensive for individuals, Helium might need to sign up some retail chains as partners for deployment. Haleem admits “The hard part is the education”. Making hotspot buyers understand the potential (and risks) while demonstrating the opportunities for clients will require a ton of outreach and slick marketing.

Without enough Helium Hotspots, the Helium network won’t function. That means this startup will have to simultaneously win at telecom technology, enterprise sales, and cryptocurrency for the network to pan out. As if one of those wasn’t hard enough.


By Josh Constine

Misfits Market raises $16.5 million for their ‘ugly’ produce subscription box

As grocery shopping moves online, one piece of the puzzle hasn’t been directly addressed: fresh fruits and vegetables. That also happens to be a category in which there is a ton of food waste, with a good deal of fruits and veggies never making it out of the grocery store to begin with.

Misfits Market has raised $16.5 million in Series A to handle just that.

Greenoaks Capital led the round, but Misfits isn’t disclosing other participants in the financing. Other Greenoaks Capital investments include Deliveroo, OYO, Clover Health, Brex and Discord.

Misfits Market offers a subscription box of “ugly” fruits and veggies, the ones with blemishes or odd shapes that make a grocery shopper think twice before checking out, each week.

Misfits sources these fruits and veggies straight from farms. This means that the extra time spent shipping them to a grocery store, and then sitting on shelves, is eliminated from the equation with Misfits.

The company currently operates in all zip codes in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine and Ohio, with plans to expand into Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Currently, Misfits Market offers two different box options. The smaller box, called The Mischief, includes 10 to 12 pounds of fruits and veggies each week for $23.75 à la carte, or less than $20 as a weekly subscription. The Madness, Misfits’ bigger box, includes 18 to 20 pounds of fresh fruits and veggies for $42.50 as a one-time purchase, or for $34 as a subscription.

Users can pause their weekly subscription or cancel at any time.

CEO and founder Abhi Ramesh said the idea for Misfits Market started when he visited a farm a few years ago. The farmer was collecting apples that he said weren’t of the grade he could sell to grocery stores or farmers’ markets, and that they’d either be given away to neighbors or thrown away.

“That was my sort of romanticized light bulb moment,” said Ramesh.

He was fascinated and started interviewing farmers in the north east and asking them how much of their produce ended up going to waste because it wasn’t pretty enough for grocery stores. The answer was consistently between 20% and 40%.

Ramesh says there is an opportunity down the line to expand beyond fruits and veggies, but that for now the company is laser-focused on that category.

Since launching in 2018, Misfits has sent out 5 million pounds of produce that would have gone to waste otherwise.


By Jordan Crook

Alyce picks up $11.5 million Series A to help companies give better corporate gifts

Alyce, an AI-powered platform that helps sales people, marketers and event planners give better corporate gifts, has today announced the close of an $11.5 million Series A funding. The round was led by Manifest, with participation from General Catalyst, Boston Seed Capital, Golden Ventures, Morningside and Victress Capital.

According to Alyce, $120 billion is spent each year (just in the United States) on corporate gifts, swag, etc. Unfortunately, the impact of these gifts isn’t usually worth the hassle. No matter how thoughtful or clever a gift is, each recipient is a unique individual with their own preferences and style. It’s nearly impossible for marketers and event planners to find a one-size-fits-all gift for their recipients.

Alyce, however, has a solution. The company asks the admin to upload a list of recipients. The platform then scours the internet for any publicly available information on each individual recipient, combing through their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, videos and podcasts in which they appear, etc.

Alyce then matches each individual recipient with their own personalized gift, as chosen from one of the company’s merchant partners. The platform sends out an invitation to that recipient to either accept the gift, exchange the gift for something else on the platform, or donate the dollar value to the charity of their choice.

This allows Alyce to ensure marketers and sales people always give the right gift, even when they don’t. For charity donations, the donation is made in the name of the corporate entity who gave the gift, not the recipient, meaning that all donations act as a write-off for the gifting company.

The best marketers and sales people know how impactful a great gift, at the right time, can be. But the work involved in figuring out what a person actually wants to receive can be overwhelming. Hell, I struggle to find the right gifts for my close friends and loved ones.

Alyce takes all the heavy lifting out of the equation.

The company also has integrations with Salesforce, so users can send an Alyce gift from directly within Salesforce.

Alyce charges a subscription to businesses who use the software, and also takes a small cut of gifts accepted on the platform. The company also offers to send physical boxes with cards and information about the gift as another revenue channel.

Alyce founder and CEO Greg Segall says the company is growing 30 percent month-over-month and has clients such as InVision, Lenovo, Marketo and Verizon.


By Jordan Crook

Vectra lands $100M Series E investment for AI-driven network security

Vectra, a seven-year old company that helps customers detect intrusions at the network level, whether in the cloud or on premises, announced a $100 million Series E funding round today led by TCV. Existing investors including Khosla Ventures and Accel also participated in the round, which brings the total raised to over $200 million, according to the company.

As company CEO Hitesh Sheth explained, there are two primary types of intrusion detection. The first is end point detection and the second is his company’s area of coverage, network detection and response or NDR.  He says that by adding a layer of artificial intelligence, it improves the overall results.

“One of the keys to our success has been applying AI to network traffic, the networking side of NDR, to look for the signal in the noise. And we can do this across the entire infrastructure, from the data center to the cloud all the way into end user traffic including IoT,” he explained.

He said that as companies move their data to the cloud, they are looking for ways to ensure the security of their most valuable data assets, and he says his company’s NDR solution can provide that. In fact, securing the cloud side of the equation is one of the primary investment focuses for this round.

Tim McAdam from lead investor TVC, says that the AI piece is a real differentiator for Vectra and one that attracted his firm to invest in the company. He said that while he realized that AI is an overused term these days, after talking to 30 customers he heard over and over again that Vectra’s AI-driven solution was a differentiator over competing products. “All of them have decided to standardize on the Vectra Cognito because to a person, they spoke of the efficacy and the reduction of their threat vectors as a result of standardizing on Vectra,” McAdam told TechCrunch.

The company was founded in 2012 and currently has 240. That is expected to double in the year to 18 months with this funding.


By Ron Miller

The Ticket Fairy is tech’s best hope against Ticketmaster

Ticketmaster’s dominance has led to ridiculous service fees, scalpers galore, and exclusive contracts that exploit venues and artists. The moronic approval of venue operator and artist management giant Live Nation’s merger with Ticketmaster in 2010 produced an anti-competitive juggernaut. It pressures venues to sign ticketing contracts under veiled threat that artists would otherwise be routed to different concert halls. Now it’s become difficult for venues, artists, and fans to avoid Ticketmaster, which charges fees as high as 50% that many see as a ripoff.

But The Ticket Fairy wants to wrestle control of venues away from Ticketmaster while giving fans ways to earn tickets for referring their friends. The startup is doing that by offering the most technologically advanced ticketing platform that not only handle sales and checkins, but acts as a full-stack Salesforce for concerts that can analyze buyers and run ad campaigns while thwarting scalpers. Co-founder Ritesh Patel says The Ticket Fairy has increased revenue for event organizers by 15% to 25% during its private beta focused on dance music festivals.

Now after 850,000 tickets sold, it’s officially launching its ticketing suite and actively poaching venues from EventBrite as it moves deeper into esports and conventions. With a little more scale, it will be ready to challenge Ticketmaster for lucrative clients.

Ritesh’s combination of product and engineering skills, rapid progress, and charismatic passion for live events after throwing 400 of his own has attracted an impressive cadre of angel investors. They’ve delivered a $2.5 million seed round for Ticket Fairy adding to its $485,000 pre-seed from angels like Twitch/Atrium founder Justin Kan, Twitch COO Kevin Lin, and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. The new round includes YouTube founder Steve Chen, former Kleiner Perkins partner and Mark’s sister Arielle Zuckerberg, and funds like 500 Startups, ex-Uber angels Fantastic Ventures, G2 Ventures, Tempo Ventures, and WeFunder. It’s also scored music industry angels like Serato DJ hardware CEO AJ Bertenshaw, Spotify’s head of label licensing Niklas Lundberg, and celebrity lawer Ken Hertz who reps Will Smith and Gwen Stefani.

“The purpose of starting The Ticket Fairy was not to be another EventBrite, but to reduce the risk of the person running the event so they can be profitable. We’re not just another shopping cart” Patel says. The Ticket Fairy charges a comparable rate to EventBrite’s $1.59 + 3.5% per ticket plus payment processing that brings it closer to 6%, but Patel insists it offers far stronger functionality.

Constantly clad in his golden disco hoodie over a Ticket Fairy t-shirt, Patel lives his product, spending late nights dancing and taking feedback at the events his clients host. He’s been a savior of SXSW the past two years, injecting the aging festival that shuts down at 2am with multi-night after-hours raves. Featuring top DJs like Pretty Lights in creative locations cab drivers don’t believe are real, The Ticket Fairy’s parties have won the hearts of music industry folks.

The Ticket Fairy co-founders. Center and inset left: Ritesh Patel. Inset right: Jigar Patel

Now the Y Combinator startup hopes its ticketing platform will do the same thanks to a slew of savvy features:

Earn A Ticket – The Ticket Fairy supercharges word of mouth marketing with a referral system that lets fans get a rebate or full-free ticket if they get enough friends to buy a ticket. 30% of ticket buyers are now sharing a Ticket Fairy referral link, and Patel says the return on investment is $30 in revenue for each $1 paid out in rewards, with 10% to 25% of all ticket sales coming from referrals. A public leaderboard further encourages referrals, with those at the top eligible for backstage passes, free merch, and bar tabs. And to prevent mass spamming, only buyers, partners, and street teamers get a referral code.

Creative Payment Options – The startup offers “FreeFund” tickets for free events that otherwise see huge no-show rates. Users pay a small deposit that’s refunded when they scan their ticket for entry, discouraging RSVPs from those who won’t come. Buyers can also pay on layaway with Affirm or LayBuy and then earn a ticket before their debt is due.

Anti-Scalping – The Ticket Fairy offers identity-locked tickets that must be presented with the buyer’s ID on arrival, which means customers can’t scalp them. Instead, the startup offers a waitlist for sold out events, and buyers can sell their tickets back to the company which then redistributes them at face value with a new QR code to a specific friend or whoever’s at the top of the waitlist. Patel says client SunAndBass Festival hasn’t had a scalped ticket in five years of working with the ticketer.

Clever Analytics – Never wasting an opportunity, The Ticket Fairy lets events collect contact info and demand before ticket sales start with its pre-registration system. It can ceate multiple variants of ticketing sites designed for different demographics like rock vs dance fans for a festival, track sales and demographics in real-time, and relay instant stats about checkins at the door. Integration of email managers like MailChimp and sales pixels like Facebook plus the ability to instantly retarget people who abandoned their shopping via Facebook Custom Audience ads makes marketing easier. And all the metrics, budgets, and expenses are automatically organized into financial reports to eliminate spreadsheet busywork.

Still, the biggest barrier to adoption remains the long exclusive contracts Ticketmaster and other giants like AEG coerce venues into in the US. Abroad, venues typically work with multiple ticket promoters who sell from the same pool, which is why 80% of The Ticket Fairy’s business is international right now. In the US, ticketing is often handled by a single company except for the 8% of tickets artists can sell however they want. That’s why The Ticket Fairy has focused on signing up non-traditional venues for festivals, trade convention halls, newly built esports arenas, as well as concert halls.

“Coming from the event promotion background, we understand the risk event organizers take in creating these experiences” The Ticket Fairy’s co-founder and Ritesh’s brother Jigar Patel explains. “The odds of breaking even are poor and many are unable to overcome those challenges, but it is sheer passion that keeps them going in the face of financial uncertainty and multi-year losses.” As competitors’ contracts expire, The Ticket Fairy hopes to swoop in by dangling its sales-boosting tech. “We get locked out of certain things because people are locked in a contract, not because they don’t want to use our system.”

The live music industry can brutal, though. Events can have slim margins, organizers are loathe to change their process, it’s a sales heavy process convincing them to try new software. But while record business has been redefined by streaming, ticketing looks a lot like it did a decade ago. That makes it ripe for disruption.

“The events industry is more important than ever, with artists making the bulk of their income from touring instead of record sales, and demand from fans for live experiences is increasing at a global level” Jigar concludes. “When events go out of business, everybody loses, including artists and fans. Everything we do at The Ticket Fairy has that firmly in mind – we are here to keep the ecosystem alive.”


By Josh Constine

Yellowbrick Data raises $81M Series C for hybrid data warehouse

There’s lots of data in the world these days, and there are a number of companies vying to store that data in data warehouses or lakes or whatever they choose to call it. Old school companies have tended to be on prem, while new ones like Snowflake are strictly in the cloud. Yellowbrick Data wants to play the hybrid angle, and today it got a healthy $81 million Series C to continue its efforts.

The round was led by DFJ Growth with help from Next47, Third Point Ventures, Menlo Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Threshold Ventures and Samsung. New investors joining the round included IVP and BMW i Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total raised to a brisk $173 million.

Yellowbrick sees a world that many of the public cloud vendors like Microsoft and Google see, one where enterprise companies will be living in a hybrid world where some data and applications will stay on prem and some in the cloud. They believe this situation will be in place for the foreseeable future, so its product plays to that hybrid angle, where your data can be on prem or in the cloud.

The company did not want to discuss valuation in spite of the high amount of raised dollars. Neither did it want to discuss revenue growth rates, other than to say that it was growing at a healthy rate.

Randy Glein, partner at DFJ Growth, did say one of the things that attracted his company to invest in Yellowbrick was its momentum along with the technology, which in his view, provides a more modern way to build data warehouses. “Yellowbrick is quickly providing a new generation of ultra-high performance data warehouse capabilities for large enterprises. The technology is a step function improvement on every dimension compared to legacy solutions, helping modern enterprises digest and interpret massive data workloads in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost,” he said in a statement.

It’s interesting that a company with just 100 employees would require this kind of money, but as company COO Jason Snodgress told TechCrunch, it costs a lot of money to build out a data warehouse. He’s not wrong. Snowflake, a company that’s building a cloud data warehouse, has raised almost a billion dollars.


By Ron Miller

AntiToxin sells safetytech to clean up poisoned platforms

The big social networks and video games have failed to prioritize user well-being over their own growth. As a result, society is losing the battle against bullying, predators, hate speech, misinformation and scammers. Typically when a whole class of tech companies have a dire problem they can’t cost-effectively solve themselves, a software-as-a-service emerges to fill the gap in web hosting, payment processing, etc. So along comes AntiToxin Technologies, a new Israeli startup that wants to help web giants fix their abuse troubles with its safety-as-a-service.

It all started on Minecraft. AntiToxin co-founder Ron Porat is cybersecurity expert who’d started popular ad blocker Shine. Yet right under his nose, one of his kids was being mercilessly bullied on the hit children’s game. If even those most internet-savvy parents were being surprised by online abuse, Porat realized the issue was bigger than could be addressed by victims trying to protect themselves. The platforms had to do more, research confirmed.

A recent Ofcom study found almost 80% of children had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year. Indeed, 23% said they’d been cyberbullied, and 28% of 12 to 15-year-olds said they’d received unwelcome friend or follow requests from strangers. A Ditch The Label study found of 12 to 20-year-olds who’d been bullied online, 42% were bullied on Instagram.

Unfortunately, the massive scale of the threat combined with a late start on policing by top apps makes progress tough without tremendous spending. Facebook tripled the headcount of its content moderation and security team, taking a noticeable hit to its profits, yet toxicity persists. Other mainstays like YouTube and Twitter have yet to make concrete commitments to safety spending or staffing, and the result is non-stop scandals of child exploitation and targeted harassment. Smaller companies like Snap or Fortnite-maker Epic Games may not have the money to develop sufficient safeguards in-house.

“The tech giants have proven time and time again we can’t rely on them. They’ve abdicated their responsibility. Parents need to realize this problem won’t be solved by these companies” says AntiToxin CEO Zohar Levkovitz, who previously sold his mobile ad company Amobee to Singtel for $321 million. “You need new players, new thinking, new technology. A company where ‘Safety’ is the product, not an after-thought. And that’s where we come-in.” The startup recently raised a multimillion-dollar seed round from Mangrove Capital Partners and is allegedly prepping for a double-digit millions Series A.

AntiToxin’s technology plugs into the backends of apps with social communities that either broadcast or message with each other and are thereby exposed to abuse. AntiToxin’s systems privately and securely crunch all the available signals regarding user behavior and policy violation reports, from text to videos to blocking. It then can flag a wide range of toxic actions and let the client decide whether to delete the activity, suspend the user responsible or how else to proceed based on their terms and local laws.

Through the use of artificial intelligence, including natural language processing, machine learning and computer vision, AntiToxin can identify the intent of behavior to determine if it’s malicious. For example, the company tells me it can distinguish between a married couple consensually exchanging nude photos on a messaging app versus an adult sending inappropriate imagery to a child. It also can determine if two teens are swearing at each other playfully as they compete in a video game or if one is verbally harassing the other. The company says that beats using static dictionary blacklists of forbidden words.

AntiToxin is under NDA, so it can’t reveal its client list, but claims recent media attention and looming regulation regarding online abuse has ramped up inbound interest. Eventually the company hopes to build better predictive software to identify users who’ve shown signs of increasingly worrisome behavior so their activity can be more closely moderated before they lash out. And it’s trying to build a “safety graph” that will help it identify bad actors across services so they can be broadly deplatformed similar to the way Facebook uses data on Instagram abuse to police connected WhatsApp accounts.

“We’re approaching this very human problem like a cybersecurity company, that is, everything is a Zero-Day for us” says Levkowitz, discussing how AntiToxin indexes new patterns of abuse it can then search for across its clients. “We’ve got intelligence unit alums, PhDs and data scientists creating anti-toxicity detection algorithms that the world is yearning for.” AntiToxin is already having an impact. TechCrunch commissioned it to investigate a tip about child sexual imagery on Microsoft’s Bing search engine. We discovered Bing was actually recommending child abuse image results to people who’d conducted innocent searches, leading Bing to make changes to clean up its act.

AntiToxin identified publicly listed WhatsApp Groups where child sexual abuse imagery was exchanged

One major threat to AntiToxin’s business is what’s often seen as boosting online safety: end-to-end encryption. AntiToxin claims that when companies like Facebook expand encryption, they’re purposefully hiding problematic content from themselves so they don’t have to police it.

Facebook claims it still can use metadata about connections on its already encrypted WhatApp network to suspend those who violate its policy. But AntiToxin provided research to TechCrunch for an investigation that found child sexual abuse imagery sharing groups were openly accessible and discoverable on WhatsApp — in part because encryption made them hard to hunt down for WhatsApp’s automated systems.

AntiToxin believes abuse would proliferate if encryption becomes a wider trend, and it claims the harm that it  causes outweighs fears about companies or governments surveiling unencrypted transmissions. It’s a tough call. Political dissidents, whistleblowers and perhaps the whole concept of civil liberty rely on encryption. But parents may see sex offenders and bullies as a more dire concern that’s reinforced by platforms having no idea what people are saying inside chat threads.

What seems clear is that the status quo has got to go. Shaming, exclusion, sexism, grooming, impersonation and threats of violence have started to feel commonplace. A culture of cruelty breeds more cruelty. Tech’s success stories are being marred by horror stories from their users. Paying to pick up new weapons in the fight against toxicity seems like a reasonable investment to demand.


By Josh Constine

Fintech and clean tech? An odd couple or a perfect marriage?

The Valley’s rocky history with clean tech investing has been well-documented.

Startups focused on non-emitting generation resources were once lauded as the next big cash cow, but the sector’s hype quickly got away from reality.

Complex underlying science, severe capital intensity, slow-moving customers, and high-cost business models outside the comfort zones of typical venture capital, ultimately caused a swath of venture-backed companies and investors in the clean tech boom to fall flat.

Yet, decarbonization and sustainability are issues that only seem to grow more dire and more galvanizing for founders and investors by the day, and more company builders are searching for new ways to promote environmental resilience.

While funding for clean tech startups can be hard to find nowadays, over time we’ve seen clean tech startups shift down the stack away from hardware-focused generation plays towards vertical-focused downstream software.

A far cry from past waves of venture-backed energy startups, the downstream clean tech companies offered more familiar technology with more familiar business models, geared towards more recognizable verticals and end users. Now, investors from less traditional clean tech backgrounds are coming out of the woodworks to take a swing at the energy space.

An emerging group of non-traditional investors getting involved in the clean energy space are those traditionally focused on fintech, such as New York and Europe based venture firm Anthemis — a financial services-focused team that recently sat down with our fintech contributor Gregg Schoenberg and I (check out the full meat of the conversation on Extra Crunch).

The tie between clean tech startups and fintech investors may seem tenuous at first thought. However, financial services has long played a significant role in the energy sector and is now becoming a more common end customer for energy startups focused on operations, management and analytics platforms, thus creating real opportunity for fintech investors to offer differentiated value.

Finance powering the world?

Though the conversation around energy resources and decarbonization often focuses on politics, a significant portion of decisions made in the energy generation business is driven by pure economics — Is it cheaper to run X resource relative to resources Y and Z at a given point in time? Based on bid prices for Request for Proposals (RFPs) in a specific market and the cost-competitiveness of certain resources, will a developer be able to hit their targeted rate of return if they build, buy or operate a certain type of generation asset?

Alternative generation sources like wind, solid oxide fuel cells, or large-scale or even rooftop solar have reached more competitive cost levels – in many parts of the US, wind and solar are in fact often the cheapest form of generation for power providers to run.

Thus as renewable resources have grown more cost competitive, more, infrastructure developers, and other new entrants have been emptying their wallets to buy up or build renewable assets like large scale solar or wind farms, with the American Council on Renewable Energy even forecasting cumulative private investment in renewable energy possibly reaching up to $1 trillion in the US by 2030.

A major and swelling set of renewable energy sources are now led by financial types looking for tools and platforms to better understand the operating and financial performance of their assets, in order to better maximize their return profile in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Therefore, fintech-focused venture firms with financial service pedigrees, like Anthemis, now find themselves in pole position when it comes to understanding clean tech startup customers, how they make purchase decisions, and what they’re looking for in a product.

In certain cases, fintech firms can even offer significant insight into shaping the efficacy of a product offering. For example, Anthemis portfolio company kWh Analytics provides a risk management and analytics platform for solar investors and operators that helps break down production, financial analysis, and portfolio performance.

For platforms like kWh analytics, fintech-focused firms can better understand the value proposition offered and help platforms understand how their technology can mechanically influence rates of return or otherwise.

The financial service customers for clean energy-related platforms extends past just private equity firms. Platforms have been and are being built around energy trading, renewable energy financing (think financing for rooftop solar) or the surrounding insurance market for assets.

When speaking with several of Anthemis’ clean tech portfolio companies, founders emphasized the value of having a fintech investor on board that not only knows the customer in these cases, but that also has a deep understanding of the broader financial ecosystem that surrounds energy assets.

Founders and firms seem to be realizing that various arms of financial services are playing growing roles when it comes to the development and access to clean energy resources.

By offering platforms and surrounding infrastructure that can improve the ease of operations for the growing number of finance-driven operators or can improve the actual financial performance of energy resources, companies can influence the fight for environmental sustainability by accelerating the development and adoption of cleaner resources.

Ultimately, a massive number of energy decisions are made by financial services firms and fintech firms may often times know the customers and products of downstream clean-tech startups more than most.  And while the financial services sector has often been labeled as dirty by some, the vital role it can play in the future of sustainable energy offers the industry a real chance to clean up its image.


By Arman Tabatabai

Logz.io lands $52M to keep growing open source-based logging tools

Logz.io announced a $52 million Series D investment today. The round was led by General Catalyst.

Other investors participating in the round included OpenView Ventures, 83North, Giza Venture Capital, Vintage Investment Partners, Greenspring Associates and Next47. Today’s investment brings the total raised to nearly $100 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Logz.io is a company built on top of the open source tools Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana (collectively known by the acronym ELK) and Grafana. It’s taking those tools in a typical open source business approach, packaging them up and offering them as a service. This approach enables large organizations to take advantage of these tools without having to deal with the raw open source projects.

The company’s solutions intelligently scan logs looking for anomalies. When it finds them, it surfaces the problem and informs IT or security, depending on the scenario, using a tool like PagerDuty. This area of the market has been dominated in recent years by vendors like Splunk and Sumo Logic, but company founder and CEO Tomer Levy saw a chance to disrupt that space by packaging a set of open source logging tools that were rapidly increasing in popularity. They believed could build on that growing popularity, while solving a pain point the founders had actually experienced in previous positions, which is always a good starting point for a startup idea.

Screenshot: Logz.io

“We saw that the majority of the market is actually using open source. So we said, we want to solve this problem, a problem we have faced in the past and didn’t have a solution. What we’re going to do is we’re going to provide you with an easy-to-use cloud service that is offering an open source compatible solution,” Levy explained. In other words, they wanted to build on that open source idea, but offer it in a form that was easier to consume.

Larry Bohn, who is leading the investment for General Catalyst, says that his firm liked the idea of a company building on top of open source because it provides a built-in community of developers to drive the startup’s growth — and it appears to be working. “The numbers here were staggering in terms of how quickly people were adopting this and how quickly it was growing. It was very clear to us that the company was enjoying great success without much of a commercial orientation,” Bohn explained.

In fact, Logz.io already has 700 customers including large names like Schneider Electric, The Economist and British Airways. The company has 175 employees today, but Levy says they expect to grow that 250 by the end of this year, as they use this money to accelerate their overall growth.


By Ron Miller

Equalum grabs $18M Series B to help companies ingest data faster

Equalum, an Israeli startup, which helps companies gather data from a variety of enterprise sources, announced an $18 million Series B investment today.

The round was led by Planven Investments . Other participants included United Ventures and prior investors Innovation Endeavors and GE Ventures along with a group of unnamed individuals. Today’s haul brings the total raised to $25 million, according to data provided by the company.

Equalum CEO and founder Nir Livneh says his company essentially acts as the data pipes to feed artificial intelligence, machine and more traditional business intelligence requirements. “Equalum is a real-time data ingestion platform. The idea of the platform is to be able to [gather] data coming from a bunch of enterprise system sources and be able to centralize that data and send it in real-time into analytic environments and feed those analytic environments,” Livneh explained.

He sees the money from this round as a way to continue to expand the original vision he had for the company. His approach in many ways is a classic Series B play. “I think the original thesis was validated. We have proven that we can go into Fortune 100 companies and get our solution adopted quickly,” he said. The next step is to expand beyond the original set of several dozen large customers and accelerate growth.

The company was founded in 2015 in Tel Aviv in Israel. It still maintains its R&D arm there today with sales, marketing and management in Silicon Valley. Interestingly, its first customer was GE, which was also an early investor via GE Ventures.

Livneh says that he sees lots of room to grow in this market, which he says is still dominated by legacy vendors. He believes he can swoop in and replace aging offerings by offering a more modern and streamlined approach to data collection. Time will tell if he is right.


By Ron Miller

Andreessen pours $22M into PlanetScale’s database-as-a-service

PlanetScale’s founders invented the technology called Vitess that scaled YouTube and Dropbox. Now they’re selling it to any enterprise that wants their data both secure and consistently accessible. And thanks to its ability to re-shard databases while they’re operating, it can solve businesses’ troubles with GDPR, which demands they store some data in the same locality as the user it belongs to.

The potential to be a computing backbone that both competes with and complements Amazon’s AWS has now attracted a mammoth $22 million Series A for PlanetScale. Led by Andreessen Horowitz and joined by the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, head of the US Digital Service Matt Cutts plus existing investor SignalFire, the round is a tall step up from the startup’s $3 million seed it raised a year ago.

“What we’re discovering is that people we thought were at one point competitors, like AWS and hosted relational databases — we’re discovering they may be our partners instead since we’re seeing a reasonable demand for our services in front of AWS’ hosted databases” says CEO Jitendra Vaidya.

PlanetScale co-founders (from left): Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane

Vitess, a predescessor to Kubernetes, is a horizontal scaling sharding middleware built for MySQL. It lets businesses segment their database to boost memory efficiency without sacrificing reliable access speeds. PlanetScale sells Vitess in four ways: hosting on its database-as-a-service, licensing of the tech that can be run on-premises for clients or through another cloud provider, professional training for using Vitess, and on-demand support for users of the open-source version of Vitess.

“We don’t have any concerns about the engineering side of things, but we need to figure out a go-to-market strategy for enterprises” Vaidya explains. “As we’re both technical co-founders, about half of our funding is going towards hiring those functions [outside of engineering], and making that part of our organization work well and get results.”


By Josh Constine

Wagestream closes $51M Series A to plug the payday gap without putting workers in debt

Getting your work wages on a monthly (not weekly nor biweekly) basis has become a more widespread trend as the price of running payrolls has gone up, and organizations’ cashflow has gone down. That 30-day shift may be a boost to employers, but not employees, who may need access to those wages more immediately and find it a challenge to stretch out their income month to month.

Now, a startup based out of London has raised a large round of funding for service that’s aiming to plug that gap. Wagestream — which works with employers to let employees draw down a percentage of their income in the month for a small, flat fee — today said that it has closed a Series A round of £40 million ($51 million).

The funding is coming in the form of equity and debt, with Balderton and Northzone leading on the equity side, which makes up £15 million of the raise, and savings bank Shawbrook investing £25 million on the debt side to finance employee draw-downs. Other investors in the round include QED, the Rowntree Foundation, the London Co-investment Fund (LCIF) and Village Global, a social venture firm backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, among others.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but this brings the total raised to just under £45 million and “the valuation is definitely higher now”, according to CEO and co-founder Peter Briffett.

The list of investors is proving to be a useful one for Wagestream as it grows. I asked if Bezos’ company Amazon was working with Wagestream. Briffett confirmed it is not a customer currently, “but we are talking to them.” It does, however, have a number of other customers already signed up, including pest removal service Rentokil PLC, Camden Town Brewery, the Slug & Lettuce pub chain and Carluccio’s chain of eateries, along with the NHS and Hackney Council — covering some 120,000 workers in all.

Amazon is an indicative example of one of the big opportunities for the company, which today is active in the UK but aiming to expand across Europe and the rest of the world.

While it is one of the biggest employers in the tech world, where it might typically pay out six-figure salaries in senior management, operational and technical roles, it’s also building out its business by being one of the biggest employers also of hourly workers in its warehouses, wider logistics operations and similar areas. It’s employees like these who might be considered the first wave of employees that Wagestream is initially targeting, some of whom may be earning just enough or slightly more than enough to get by (at best), and face being victims of what Briffett referred to as the “payday poverty cycle.”

Getting paid monthly today accounts for some 85 percent of all paychecks in the UK today, and the proportion is similar in Europe and also getting increasingly common in the US, Briffett — who has also worked at Microsoft, LivingSocial (when it was still backed by Amazon, and where he started the UK operation and ran it as the CEO for years), and YPlan (acquired by Time Out) — said in an interview. You might ask: why don’t the workers just budget better? But it doesn’t always work out that way, especially the longer the gap is between paychecks, and if you, for example, have an unexpected expense to cover.

Because of that ubiquity, and the acuteness of the problem (if you’ve ever earned just about enough, or been a child in a family whose parents did, you may understand the predicament quite well ), Wagestream is not the first time that we’ve seen a financial services startup emerge to target that demographic.

Some other attempts have been scandalously disastrous, however: recall “Payday Loan” provider Wonga, backed by an illustrious set of investors but ultimately accused of, and hit hard by regulators and the public for, preying on people who were in need of funds with loans that were not transparent enough in their terms and led the borrowers into deep debt.

Wonga itself paid a big price for its practices, and the company is now bankrupt (and apparently still unable to replay creditors, as of the last report in March).

It was the disaster of Wonga — and an article in the WSJ about alternatives to payday loans — that Briffett said got him thinking about the possibilities and building Wagestream. (Ironic note: if you use PitchBook as I do, Wonga is listed among Wagestream’s backers, which Briffett assures me is an error.)

Wagestream positions itself as a “social impact” startup for targeting a very real problem that impacts financial inclusion for a proportion of the population, and it says this represents one of the highest rounds ever for a startup in the UK aimed at social impact.

“We fell in love with the strong product-market fit of Wagestream. We very rarely hear such universal positive feedback from all who have tried a product,” said Rob Moffat, a partner at Balderton, in a statement. “Companies used to take an active role in supporting the financial health of their users but this has slowly been eroded, to the extent where employees paid at the end of the month are effectively subsidising their employer for 29 days a month. Wagestream starts to restore the right balance.”

Wagestream operates by striking deals with employers to offer its services to its workers, who download an app and link up Wagestream with their salary and banking details. Businesses are able to set limits for what percentage of their wages employees can draw down each month, and how often the service can be used. Typically the limit is around 40 percent of a monthly wage, Briffett said.

Employees then can get the money instantly by paying a fee of £1.75 per withdrawal. “We are funding all of the withdrawals up front,” Briffett said. “We are the first company to marry workforce management and financial data.”

Down the road, the plan will be to expand to Europe as well as to the US, where there are already some other services that are trying to tackle the same problem, such as Instant Financial and DailyPay. There are also a number of areas the company could move into, such as working with companies that employ contract workers, and providing additional financial services to workers already using the app to draw down funds.

More expansion, Briffett said, will inevitably also mean more funding particularly on the debt side.

For now, the emergence of Wavestream is an encouraging sign of how VCs are not just interested in tapping their coffers to bet on tech companies that they think will be hits. They also want to hunt for those whose returns may well be strong, but ultimately are made stronger by the longer-term effect they might have on the wider landscape of consumers, how they interface with fintech, and continue their own progress in the world.


By Ingrid Lunden

Robin picks up $20 million Series B to optimize the office

Robin Powered, a startup looking to help offices run better, has today announced the close of a $20 million Series B funding. The round was led by Tola Capital, with existing investors Accomplice and FirstMark participating in the round, along with a new strategic Allegion Ventures.

Robin started as part of an agency called One Mighty Roar, where Robin Powered cofounder Sam Dunn and his two cofounders built out RFID and beacon tech for clients’ live events. In 2014, they spun out the tech as Robin and tweaked the focus on the modern office.

The office stands to be one of the least efficient pieces of any business. As a company grows, or even if it doesn’t, it’s particularly difficult to understand the ‘inventory’ of the office and how it is used by workers throughout the day.

“Before, if I asked you what you needed out of your next office, you might go around and survey employees or hire an architecture firm,” said Dunn. “I heard a story where a manager sent around an intern every Thursday at 3pm to talk to employees about the office, and that was one of two pieces of information handed over to the architecture firm. At the end of the day, it’s hard to know if there’s a shortage of meeting rooms, or teleconference-enabled rooms, or collaborative workspaces.”

That’s where Robin comes in. Robin hooks into Google Calendar and Outlook to help employees get a sense of what meeting rooms and activity spaces are available in the office, complete with tablet signage out front. Meetings are the starting point for Robin, but the company can also offer tools for seating charts and office maps, as well as insights. The company wants to offer insights about how the space in this or that office is being used — what they lack and what they have too much of.

Robin charges its clients per room ($300) and per desk ($24 – $60). The hope is to build out the same technological backbone for clients’ offices as WeWork provides alongside its physical space, giving every business the opportunity to optimize one of their biggest investments: the office itself.

Robin has raised a total of $30 million.


By Jordan Crook

Under the hood on Zoom’s IPO, with founder and CEO Eric Yuan

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Kate Clark sat down with Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of video communications startup Zoom, to go behind the curtain on the company’s recent IPO process and its path to the public markets.

Since hitting the trading desks just a few weeks ago, Zoom stock is up over 30%. But the Zoom’s path to becoming a Silicon Valley and Wall Street darling was anything but easy. Eric tells Kate how the company’s early focus on profitability, which is now helping drive the stock’s strong performance out of the gate, actually made it difficult to get VC money early on, and the company’s consistent focus on user experience led to organic growth across different customer bases.

Eric: I experienced the year 2000 dot com crash and the 2008 financial crisis, and it almost wiped out the company. I only got seed money from my friends, and also one or two VCs like AME Cloud Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures.

nd all other institutional VCs had no interest to invest in us. I was very paranoid and always thought “wow, we are not going to survive next week because we cannot raise the capital. And on the way, I thought we have to look into our own destiny. We wanted to be cash flow positive. We wanted to be profitable.

nd so by doing that, people thought I wasn’t as wise, because we’d probably be sacrificing growth, right? And a lot of other companies, they did very well and were not profitable because they focused on growth. And in the future they could be very, very profitable.

Eric and Kate also dive deeper into Zoom’s founding and Eric’s initial decision to leave WebEx to work on a better video communication solution. Eric also offers his take on what the future of video conferencing may look like in the next five to 10 years and gives advice to founders looking to build the next great company.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Kate Clark: Well thanks for joining us Eric.

Eric Yuan: No problem, no problem.

Kate: Super excited to chat about Zoom’s historic IPO. Before we jump into questions, I’m just going to review some of the key events leading up to the IPO, just to give some context to any of the listeners on the call.


By Arman Tabatabai

Health[at]Scale lands $16M Series A to bring machine learning to healthcare

Health[at]Scale, a startup with founders who have both medical and engineering expertise, wants to bring machine learning to bear on healthcare treatment options to produce outcomes with better results and less aftercare. Today the company announced a $16 million Series A. Optum, which is part of the UnitedHealth Group, was the sole investor .

Today, when people looks at treatment options, they may look at a particular surgeon or hospital, or simply what the insurance company will cover, but they typically lack the data to make truly informed decisions. This is true across every part of the healthcare system, particularly in the U.S. The company believes using machine learning, it can produce better results.

“We are a machine learning shop, and we focus on what I would describe as precision delivery. So in other words, we look at this question of how do we match patients to the right treatments, by the right providers, at the right time,” Zeeshan Syed, Health at Scale CEO told TechCrunch.

The founders see the current system as fundamentally flawed, and while they see their customers as insurance companies, hospital systems and self-insured employers; they say the tools they are putting into the system should help everyone in the loop get a better outcome.

The idea is to make treatment decisions more data driven. While they aren’t sharing their data sources, they say they have information from patients with a given condition, to doctors who treat that condition, to facilities where the treatment happens. By looking at a patient’s individual treatment needs and medical history, they believe they can do a better job of matching that person to the best doctor and hospital for the job. They say this will result in the fewest post-operative treatment requirements, whether that involves trips to the emergency room or time in a skilled nursing facility, all of which would end up adding significant additional cost.

If you’re thinking this is strictly about cost savings for these large institutions, Mohammed Saeed, who is the company’s chief medical officer and has and MD from Harvard and a PhD in electrical engineering from MIT, insists that isn’t the case. “From our perspective, it’s a win-win situation since we provide the best recommendations that have the patient interest at heart, but from a payer or provider perspective, when you have lower complication rates you have better outcomes and you lower your total cost of care long term,” he said.

The company says the solution is being used by large hospital systems and insurer customers, although it couldn’t share any. The founders also said, it has studied the outcomes after using its software and the machine learning models have produced better outcomes, although it couldn’t provide the data to back that up at that point at this time.

The company was founded in 2015 and currently has 11 employees. It plans to use today’s funding to build out sales and marketing to bring the solution to a wider customer set.


By Ron Miller