All posts in “Startups”

Taiwanese media startup The News Lens lands deal with top video studio Dawin

Taiwanese digital media startup The News Lens launched only four years ago, but it quickly became one of the country’s most prolific news sources by leveraging social media to reach younger viewers. Today it took another big step by announcing a strategic partnership with Dawin, one of Taiwan’s top video and film production companies, that will help it reach a wider audience.

Based in Taipei, with an office in Hong Kong, The News Lens now claims 7 million monthly unique visitors and publishes four online editions: Chinese-language sites for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia and an English-language site aimed at international readers.

Its partnership with Dawin gives The News Lens access to resources like video and audio recording studios and personnel to create weekly programs and other content. As part of the agreement, The News Lens will create videos for distribution on TV channels and OTT platforms (deals haven’t been announced yet, but one obvious candidate is iQiyi, which is sometimes called “China’s Netflix” by Western media), as well as its own sites.

Co-founder and chief executive Joey Chung tells TechCrunch that The News Lens is one of the first digital media startups in the region in to partner with a major video production company, which not only gives it the ability to create original programming with high production values, but also land distribution deals that will significantly boost its viewership. The News Lens has gained a reputation for appealing to viewers in their twenties and thirties, many of whom were turned off by raucous, celebrity-obsessed Taiwanese media outlets, by focusing on news analysis and using social media. Working with TV channels will allow The News Lens to reach new demographics, including older and more affluent viewers, which in turn helps increase its monetization opportunities.

The News Lens also announced that Ben Tsiang, the co-founder of and documentary production non-profit CNEX, has joined its roster of angel investors and advisors. Tsiang’s presence gives The News Lens another tie to major media companies. Its investors include North Base Media, which was launched by former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal editor Marcus Brauchli and Media Development Loan Fund co-founder Sasa Vucinic to invest in independent media startups, Wiskey Capital, Walden International and Trinity Investment.

Featured Image: kecl/Getty Images

Finiata, the finance platform for SMEs, freelancers and the self-employed, bags €18M funding

Finiata, the finance platform targeting SMEs, freelancers, and the self-employed that was founded by Sebastian Diemer, who previously co-founded credit scoring and loans company Kreditech, appears to be on somewhat of a roll. The company, formerly known as Bezahlt, has picked up €18 million of financing of its own, and already claims 5,000 customers.

The new round is part equity and part debt: €10 million has been invested as a Series A by VC firms DN Capital, Point Nine, Fly Ventures, Redalpine, ENERN, and Kulczyk Investments, while an additional €8 million has been raised in the form of debt financing. Finiata is in the business of providing credit to its own customers, after all.

Taking aim at the German ‘factoring’ market, but with a specific focus on smaller companies, including one-person operators, Finiata provides invoice factoring (or invoice financing) whereby companies secure credit by selling outstanding invoices to a third party at a discount. The idea is that they can free up working capital in the business to reinvest or simply in order to get paid more quickly.

“The problem we are trying to solve is to provide freelancers, small companies and startups with fast, easy and cheap [factoring]. This customer group is ignored by banks and other financial institutions that offer factoring services that have largely been directed almost exclusively at large corporates and companies with minimum sales of 100,000 Euros,” Diemer told me last year

To help it lend money to what Diemer claims is an underserved segment of the business financing market, Finiata has developed a credit scoring system that “mixes manual processes, traditional scoring algorithms and alternative data sources”. The latter, in theory, lets it provide financing to businesses that traditional refactoring providers typically don’t. It also has parallels with Kreditech, Diemer’s previous company.

“Finiata is basically the Kreditech playbook for a much larger market segment with less regulations and a higher customer benefit,” explains Diemer. “Besides the opportunity of servicing a previously uncovered customer segment, our automation further has the benefit that we can provide a financing framework for all customers. This framework tells them exactly how many invoices they can get pre-financed through us”.

To that end, Kenan Deniz, Finiata’s CTO, says the startup’s headcount now sits at 50 people, with more than 50 percent of the team consisting of programers, data scientists and experts that work on its scoring algorithm.

Meanwhile, with today’s new and existing backers, European expansion is planned next. Diemer name-checks Kulczyk Investments and ENERN in particular as partners that give Finiata access to a network of banks, distribution and regulation in its target markets.

Paddle, the software sales platform founded by a Thiel Fellow, raises $12.5M

Paddle, a U.K. startup that offers software companies a single platform for the entire software sales process — including trials and licenses, payments, and analytics — has raised $12.5 million in further funding.

Leading the Series B round is enterprise-focussed VC Notion, with participation from existing investors BGF Ventures and Kindred Capital. MacPaw, the independent Mac software developer, also joined the round, a move that looks a good strategic fit and builds on Paddle’s recent acquisition of MacPaw’s DevMate.

On a self-proclaimed mission to “transform the way that software is sold,” Paddle’s platform tackles the problem whereby software developers typically need to piece together systems from multiple different suppliers in order to sell their wares online.

This spans a number of interlinked tasks, such as trials and licenses, insights and analysis, payment gateways, taxes, internationalization, which often requires relying on multiple third-party APIs. The Paddle platform, instead, consolidates all of these tools into a single offering.

Christian Owens, CEO and founder of Paddle and previous Thiel Fellow, says the current software stack is “prehistoric,” meaning that both small and large software vendors have had to live with a fragmented approach to selling their wares. The 40-person startup, which plans to grow to 100 people by the end of 2018, is helping change that.

Chrys Chrysanthou, Partner at Notion, talks up Paddle’s ability to “abstract the complex puzzle of the commerce layer for fast growth software companies” to enable them to focus on their core business of developing products.

In a statement, Oleksandr Kosovan, Founder of MacPaw and now a Paddle board member, echoes the same sentiment: “MacPaw’s mission is to improve and perfect user experience within products, however there have long been limited opportunities to control the entire flow, and deliver the best checkout experience. We are really excited to join Paddle in their effort towards building a new and effective method of selling software products online.”

To that end, Paddle says it will invest in features that focus on insight to help software companies better capture sales-related data. Specifically, it wants its customers to understand how factors such as pricing, checkout flow, customer behaviour, and location country correlate, in a bid to help them boost revenue.

The London-based startup is also planning further integrations to other areas of a software company’s business, so that marketing, product, support, and finance can connect to its “sales operating system”. In addition, it will roll out more local payment methods, and SDKs for Mac and Windows products.

SoundCloud resuscitates home screen with personalized playlists

After laying off 40% of its staff and securing $169 million in emergency funding, SoundCloud’s first product push is a much needed step in the right direction. It’s filling its home page with personalized playlists and best of collections from top genres rather than other content like it’s feed. The hope is to make SoundCloud instantly accessible to new users and a more reliable place to discover fresh songs for long-time loyalists.

In my recent deep-dive into SoundCloud’s strategy, I outlined its need to differentiate itself from Spotify by focusing on its $5 tier of ad-free access to independent music, legally grey remixes and DJ sets you can’t find elsewhere, and helping artists earn money beyond royalties through commerce. In line with that strategy, today’s redesign lets SoundCloud highlight the best of its unique archive of user uploaded songs.

SoundCloud’s new CEO Kerry Trainor tells me “The new SoundCloud home is a more curated, personalized way to discover amazing creators first—years ahead of the mainstream charts”.

Read TechCrunch’s feature piece “To fix SoundCloud, it must become the anti-Spotify

Listeners will now be greeted by featured playlists including Hip Hop Supreme and DJ mixset-focused In The Mix, the Spotify Discover Weekly-esque personalized tracklist The Upload, and algorithmically generated More Of What You Like and Artists You Should Know. There’s also New & Hot charts and Top 50 charts playlists, Fresh Pressed for new album releases, and editorially selected collections like SoundCloud Next Wave and Playback.

The home screen refresh is a direly needed change. Yesterday I opened SoundCloud to see two big ads filling my screen.

With funding and a leaner operation giving SoundCloud some runway after years of sluggish performance, it’s up to Trainor to give SoundCloud some momentum. Interface changes are an easy way to start, though a deeper repositioning of SoundCloud around indie creators that its competitors lack will be important.

“What differentiates SoundCloud is our catalog of over 170 million tracks, and new home lets us elevate and celebrate the incredible talent that drives the SoundCloud experience” says Trainor. With Spotify, Apple, Google’s YouTube, Amazon, and Pandora duking it out, the music space is crowded. SoundCloud’s success lies in being what others aren’t.

For more on SoundCloud, check out our post with three ways it can bounceback and become the “anti-Spotify”

Wizeline expands its outsourced IT services business into southeast Asia

Wizeline, a provider of outsourced programming services, is expanding its global footprint with agreements to partner with a slew of development shops across Southeast Asia.

Founded in 2014, the company has a similar vision as Andela — providing programming jobs for developers in emerging markets to unlock the local talent pool and expose a new generation and geographies to the startup world.

While Andela has focused on opportunities to employ developers in Africa, Bismarck Lepe, Wizeline’s founder and chief executive, initially focused on Latin America. The company currently employs 300 people in Guadalajara, Mexico and opened its second office a year ago in Ho Chi Minh City.

Now, the company is expanding its footprint by leveraging third-party developer shops to add additional programmers to its roster. “From our perspective, that has allowed us to scale dramatically,” said Lepe. “Our company is 400 people. We have 250 to 275 developers… With the network we’ve been able to increase it to 1,000 engineers that have been vetted.”

Lepe started looking at opportunities in Guadalajara with his first company, Ooyala. When that company was acquired by Telstra for $270 million in 2014, Lepe immediately started working on Wizeline — and returned to Guadalajara to do it.

“My parents left Mexico because it was corrupt and dangerous and there weren’t opportunities,” Lepe told me. “[Now] Mexico graduates 80,000 software engineers per year. When we started Wizeline, we started day one with our engineers in Guadalajara.”

The company builds developer toolkits to solve specific problems for its corporate clients. They range from conversational artificial intelligence, data analytics and language processing.

“They start to work with our individual consultants, then over time our footprint within an organization expands,” Lepe told me.

Wizeline is already working with customers like News Corp., Nike and Lands’ End and is on track to hit a $30 million run rate.

In addition to its product development services, the company is already beginning to work on its own products, including a chatbot SDK and other developer tools.

In August, the company raised a $10 million round led by Leap Global alongside existing investors, Sierra Ventures, A Capital, SV Angel and Lowercase Capital.

The company’s success and new funding rounds for companies across Latin America, like Creditas, point to the growing strength of the technology market across the region.

“In 2010, when we started operations in Mexico there were four funds. Now there are nearly 100 venture funds in Mexico,” Lepe said. “Mexico is becoming a lot more open and they recognize that they need to have an appreciation and understanding for what technology can do for their business.”

Beyond increasing the talent pool that’s been exposed to working for startups in other markets, Wizeline is also doing its part to launch new companies. To that end, Lepe has carved out a $5 million seed fund to invest in projects launched by Wizeline employees. The fund will invest between $25,000 and $250,000 in new businesses.

“I started a $5 million fund to invest in Wizeline employees. We have four that we’re accelerating… the Wizefund will invest from $25,000 to $250,000,” Lepe said.

“Through the Wizefund, if we can build 100 Ooyalas and 100 Wizelines that’s when you see a pretty big impact to society,” says Lepe.