All posts in “Startups”

Startup that sells your salary data to VCs gets bought by Solium


Investors don’t want their portfolio companies to pay you too much, or too little. So they pay Advanced-HR for its compensation data pulled from 2,500 startups. With a generic name, the service has flown somewhat under the radar since launching 20 years ago.

As startups grow more professional while staying private longer, they’re getting serious about how they structure equity compensation plans to retain talent. Solium sells them stock option planning software.

But together, they hope to offer the most accurate view of how much salary and stock other companies offer to help startups figure out exactly how to pay their employees. Today Solium announced that it’s acquiring the tech and whole team of Advanced-HR, which will continue to sell its Option Driver software-as-a-service.

It’s part of an acquisition spree that comes from a war chest of $50 million that Solium has told the public markets is going to buying companies and developing new products. In October Solium bought Capshare, which helps 10,000 smaller startups manage their equity compensation plans. In March, it bought NASDAQ’s ExactEquity planning business. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but you could expect it’s a modest chunk of the $50 million that’s being spread across multiple deals.

The plan seems to be working, as Solium’s share price is up 35 percent this year. Though Solium went public in 2001 and became profitable in 2004, it raised a $48 million financing last year to capitalize on the shift toward startups staying private longer and equity becoming an increasingly important way to keep talent from skipping off to somewhere with a higher salary.

“The other over-arching trend is that startups are taking over control of managing their equity,” says Lopez. “Equity has been historically managed with spreadsheets in a startup while the official ledger/cap table sat with a law firm. With equity management platforms like Shareworks there is now a system of record that the company controls and can give access to legal counsel, investors and other stakeholders as desired.”

Dee DiPietro started AHR as a consultant practice back in 1997 as a solo female founder. Eventually she took over running the popular Venture Capital Executive Compensation Survey from Benchmark. Its sponsors, including heavy hitters like Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia and Y Combinator, pay $4,000 a year to submit their data and get everyone else’s. The service has evolved from models in Excel to automated compensation planning software used by 120 top VC firms.

“We launched the first private company compensation survey, the first internet-based salary survey, the first real-time compensation data delivery system,” says DiPietro. “And more recently, the first compensation planning platform for scaling private companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.”

Still, what the industry really needs is a better tool for employees to vet their own job offers. It can be quite tough to predict what your stock options will be worth depending on vesting schedules, multiple rounds of funding and dilution. And then there’s the heavy upfront costs and risks of actually exercising your stock options.

The sad truth of the matter is that unless a company is an extraordinary 1-in-10,000 success, few teammates beyond the founders or very first employees stand to gain a life-changing windfall. Yet employees number 10 to 50 are often tasked with unrelenting deadlines and long hours that might only really benefit the C-level executives. Software like Advanced-HR and Solium make sure startups don’t pay too much, but it’s the rank-and-file workers that need to know if they’re earning enough.

Featured Image: studiostoks/Shutterstock

Camera rental startup KitSplit raises $2.1M


KitSplit, which operates an online rental marketplace for creative equipment, is announcing that it’s raised $2.1 million in seed funding.

The equipment available for rental can include cameras, lights and lenses, but also VR gear and drones. Renters get access to this equipment for a lower price (CEO Lisbeth Kaufman estimated KitSplit usually costs 30 to 50 percent less than traditional rentals), while the equipment owners get to make some extra money from equipment when they’re not using it.

I first wrote about KitSplit in 2016, and president Kristina Budelis (a former video producer for The New Yorker) said that since then, the service has grown from 5,000 to 30,000 members. It’s also acquired one of its competitors, CameraLends.

Customers include NBC, Vox and National Geographic. According to Kaufman (daughter of Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman), KitSplit is being used in all kinds of productions, but some of the strongest interest is coming from digital media companies as they try to the meet the constant demands of online video production. (The industry’s “pivot to video” may be hitting a rocky patch, but the need for video content isn’t going away.)

Investors in the seed round include HearstLab (which also invested in KitSplit’s pre-seed funding), Entrepreneurs Roundtable, 3311 Ventures, NYU Innovation Venture Fund, WTI and Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger.

Kristina Budelis, Lisbeth Kaufman

Among other things, the funding should help KitSplit continue to expand its presence in Los Angeles — users can rent gear anywhere in the United States, but the company is currently focused on the NYC and LA markets.

Eventually, Kaufman said she wants KitSplit to become a “one-stop shop for content creators.”

“We’re reimagining the Hollywood production studio as a local marketplace,” she added. “We want to make resources like gear and staffing and location more accessible to all content creators.”

Budelis pointed to things like KitSplit’s insurance purchase features, its concierge service (to help with the logistics of actually transporting the equipment) and its events as early signs of how KitSplit is “starting to dabble” in areas beyond just being a marketplace.

Update: An earlier version of the story described KitSplit as a peer-to-peer marketplace, but Budelis said that’s not quite accurate anymore, since there are now businesses among the renters and the equipment owners.

Featured Image: KitSplit

Onward helps businesses automate their customer service


How much can customer service be automated? Onward has some straightforward targets — 40 percent of tickets and 40 percent of messages should be automated, and average response times should be 40 seconds on average.

Founders Rémi Cossart and Pramod Thammaiah describe this as Automation40 — basically, a set of goals for businesses looking to bring more automation into the customer service process. They compare these targets to fitness goals: The idea isn’t to hit them right away, but rather to have something to aim for.

This is a new direction (and new name) for Cossart and Thammaiah’s startup. They were previously building Agent Q, a text message-based shopping assistant. Like other founders building virtual assistants, they pitched Agent Q as a mix of automation and human interaction. Eventually, they decided that the real opportunity lay in helping other companies achieve that mix.

To do that, they’ve designed different solutions to address different types of customer service questions.

Automation40

For the most common questions, Onward can simply pull up a response from the company’s knowledge base. For queries that are a bit more difficult, there’s a visual bot builder, allowing customers to design the flow around how questions get answered, what information gets collected from the customer and so on.

In some cases, the system will need to hand customers over to a human agent. But even in those cases, the agents will be assisted by Onward’s technology, which will suggest different answers, hopefully making them faster and more accurate.

Onward is launching today as a self-serve product. Monthly pricing starts at $9 for the most basic version, going up to $99 per desk for features like integration into HubSpot and Salesforce.

Featured Image: Onward

Gabi gets $9.5M to help car and home owners find better insurance once it’s available


If you own a car or home, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is finding the right insurance plan that’ll cover everything you need and save you some money — but those plans are always changing, and consumers are getting stuck footing a bill they don’t necessarily need, according to HannoFichtner.

That’s why he started Gabi, which gives car and home owners a way to keep track of their insurance plans — and find new plans that are cheaper when they become available. The main goal is to help car owners avoid overpaying for car insurance as the plans change over time, and other providers end up giving them a better deal for the coverage they need. That can be a result of changes in your personal life, or changes on the provider’s end, but in the end consumers may have an opportunity to save money.Fichtner said today that Gabi has raised $9.5 million in a series A financing round led by Canvas Ventures, with Correlation Ventures, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, and Securian Ventures along with other existing investors participating.

“When you sign up for insurance, you buy it at some point and then you forget about it for like six years,” Fichtner said. “During that time, you are overpaying lots because you are not getting the cheapest rate and the best coverage. That’s due to changes in the insurance rate, changes in your personal life situation. That’s why people are overpaying, we calculated [consumers are overpaying around] $50 billion in insurance premiums per year. We tried to reduce that amount with technology.”

At each renewal period, Gabi users will get a notification if there are cheaper plans. The plans are generally pretty inflexible, which means that users should be keeping track of changes because that’s the way they’ll be able to save money on their insurance. The startup compares insurance from a few dozen companies and tries to identify the cheapest plan with that kind of coverage and then shows them the way to get that insurance for their property. Users give some information about their needs, and Gabi on the back end tries to figure out which plan suits them best.

While Gabi continues to collect data on user behavior and see what people are looking for over time, there are quite a number of opportunities. After all, it’s that store of data that usually ends up helping a startup have some kind of defense against potential competitors coming in, and it also helps them target the best offers to those customers. Sometime down the line, Fichtner also acknowledged that there may be an opportunity to look into providing insurance itself given the data it has, but in the mean time the challenge is making sure all those integrations with insurance providers are in place.

To be sure, there is a lot of brewing competition in the insurance policy comparison space — even if it may not be exploding in car or property insurance quite yet. There are startups like PolicyGenius which have raised big financing rounds, which offers renters insurance among others. But Fichtner says that the car and home insurance space, due to a constantly shifting environment, as well as the tools its created can offer something that can head off any potential competition coming his way.

“Insurance is super regulated and all rates need to be filed to the Department of Insurance on a bi-annual basis, so it’s impossible to negotiate rates,” Fichtner said. “Even if you said I’m leaving, can I have a cheaper deal, you won’t get it. Unless you change the coverage, but there’s no way to negotiate. If you look at our customer base, on average we find them $460 savings just on the auto insurance, and that’s on an equivalent basis. It’s the same coverage, just a different insurance company.”

Raisin, the European savings deposit marketplace backed by PayPal, gets dedicated UK launch


Raisin, the PayPal-backed savings deposit marketplace that lets you shop for a better interest rate across Europe, has launched a dedicated U.K. site, meaning that savers can now access deposit accounts in Sterling.

The first partner bank on the British version of the platform is BACB, which is offering a range of fixed-term savings accounts, from 1 to 3 years, with what appears to be pretty competitive interest rates.

Originally founded in 2013, Raisin set out to crack open the savings deposit market in Europe by taking advantage of EU-wide banking regulation. The problem the startup solves is that saving deposit rates differ not only from one local bank offer to another but even more strikingly across Europe as a whole.

The Raisin marketplace lets you shop around and compare different rates European-wide. However, the key difference to a comparison site is that, via its own bank partner, the company offers consumers a single interface that includes account opening and anti-money laundering checks, making it easy to switch and continually ensure you get a competitive interest rate.

For the banks that integrate with the Raisin marketplace, especially smaller and midsize banks, they get exposure to customers across Europe that might otherwise never be reached. It also gives them potential access to many more deposits, which helps with their own balance sheet lending and scale.

However, until today, all of Raisin’s listed products were Euros-based only, although accessible pan-Europe by residents of any EU/EEA country or Switzerland (with the exception of Belgium, apparently). To that end, Raisin U.K. says it is currently on-boarding a number of additional banks to the platform and “will build a marketplace with a broad range of participating banks and savings products over the coming months.”

Last month, Berlin-based Raisin revealed that more than €5 billion has now been invested using its savings tool by more than 100,000 customers across Europe. Along with strategic investor PayPal, the fintech startup has raised more than €60 million from various backers, including Thrive Capital, Ribbit Capital and Index Ventures.

Adds Raisin U.K. CEO Kevin Mountford in a statement: “This represents the beginning of our journey to bring great partner banks with attractive offers to U.K. savers. Over time we will be introducing enticing marketplace features to offer savers a better deal for their money.”

Featured Image: Mario Gutiérrez/Getty Images