All posts in “Ceo”

Startups Weekly: What’s up with YC? Plus, mobility layoffs and Airbnb’s grand plans

Where to begin… Netflix darling Marie Kondo is hitting up Sand Hill Road in search of $40 million to fund an ecommerce platform, Y Combinator is giving $150,000 to a startup building a $380,000 flying motorcycle (because why not) and Jibo, the social robot, is calling it quits, speaking to owners directly of its imminent shutdown.

It was a hectic week in unicorn land so, I’m just going to get right to the good stuff.

Changes at Y Combinator

Where to begin! Not only did the prolific accelerator announce long-time president Sam Altman would be making an exit, but TechCrunch scooped the firm’s decision to move its headquarters to San Francisco. Y Combinator is going through a number of changes, outlined here. Interestingly, sources tell TechCrunch that YC has no succession plans. We’re guessing that’s because Altman had already mostly transitioned away from the firm, with CEO Michael Seibel assuming his responsibilities. The question is, is Altman planning to launch a startup? Hmmmmm.

Airbnb’s a hotelier

As it gears up for an IPO, Airbnb is showing its mature side. In a bid to accelerate growth, the home-sharing unicorn is buying HotelTonight in a deal said to be valued at around $465 million. Accel, the storied venture capital firm, was the business’s first-ever investors and is now its largest stakeholder. Oughta be a nice return. We’re still wondering whether it’s a cash deal, a cash and stock deal or an all-stock deal. Let me know if you’ve got the deets.

Mobility cuts

Lyft is preparing for its imminent IPO by getting lean. The ride-hailing company is trimming 50 staff members in its scooters and bikes unit, reports TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden. The cuts are mostly impacting those who joined the company when it acquired the electric bike-sharing startup Motivate, a deal that closed about three months ago. I’ll point out that Lyft employs 5,000 people; these layoffs are about one percent of their total workforce. And while we’re on the topic of mobility layoffs, Mobike, the former Chinese bike-share unicorn, is closing down all international operations and putting its sole focus on China.

Munchery goes bankrupt

Several weeks after a sudden shutdown left customers and vendors in the lurch, meal-kit service Munchery has filed for bankruptcy. In the Chapter 11 filing, Munchery chief executive officer James Beriker cites increased competition, over-funding, aggressive expansion efforts and Blue Apron’s failed IPO as reasons for its demise. Here’s the story, complete with Munchery’s bankruptcy filing.

Funders fundraise

This week Precursor Ventures closed its sophomore pre-seed fund on $32 million, NEA filed to raise its largest venture fund yet ($3.6 billion), SoftBank raised $2 billion on a $5 billion target for a Latin America Fund, aMoon raised $660 million for Israeli healthcare deals and Coral Capital brought in $45 million to make early-stage investments in Japan.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Startup cash

Sea is raising up to $1.5B
Grab confirms $1.46B investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund
Music services company Kobalt is raising roughly $100M
Eargo raises $52M for virtually invisible, rechargeable hearing aids
Matterport raises $48M to ramp up its 3D imaging platform
Netflix star and tidying expert Marie Kondo is looking to raise $40M
Blueground raises $20M for flexible apartment rentals

Netflix star and tidying expert Marie Kondo

A16z gets even bigger

Andreessen Horowitz tapped David George as its newest general partner and its first top dealmaker focused on late-stage deals. George joins from General Atlantic, where he’d backed consumer internet, enterprise software and fintech startups as a principal since 2012. The firm’s swelling team is amongst the largest of any VC firm. Most partnerships consist of one to three top dealmakers and a few partners or principals. A16z breaks the mold with its ever-expanding team of GPs. We talked to George and a16z managing director Scott Kupor.

Worth reading

The Khashoggi murder isn’t stopping SoftBank’s Vision Fund, by TechCrunch’s Jon Russell and Jonathan Shieber.

SXSW

Stopping by SXSW? Meet TechCrunch’s writers at our annual Crunch By Crunch Fest party in Austin, Texas. RSVP here to join us on Sunday, March 10th from 1pm to 4pm at the Swan Dive at 615 Red River St. @ E. 7th St., just 3 blocks from the convention center. Hang out with TechCrunchers and fellow readers, enjoy free drinks and check out a live performance by electro-RnB musician Elderbrook.  And check out the full line-up of TechCrunch panels here. I will be discussing the double standard in sex tech with Lora Haddock, the CEO of Lora DiCarlo, on Thursday, March 14th at 2pm at the Fairmont Congressional A, 101 Red River.

Listen to me talk

This week on Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines, Crunchbase New’s editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I discuss Y Combinator’s new HQ, Chime’s big funding round and SoftBank’s new Latin America fund. Listen here.

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eToro bringing crypto trading and wallet to the US

eToro, the social investing and trading platform, announced that it will finally be launching its platform in the US. The platform, which already operates in more than 140 countries, will be available in 30 states and two territories with plans to expand elsewhere in the US after receiving the necessary regulatory sign-offs.

The US platform will only support trading for crypto assets at launch, but eToro plans to add additional asset classes within the next 12 months. In eToro’s existing markets, the company’s ten million-plus users are able to trade and hold over 1,500 different asset classes and markets, including stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies, commodities and more.

Though eToro even supports more advanced trading strategies – including short-selling and the use of leverage – the platform’s transparency and community engagement features act as great tools for beginners to learn the capital markets and learn how to trade.

eToro is equal parts trading platform, social network and educational resource. Anyone who signs up for eToro can see, comment and copy the trading activity of everyone else on the network, as well as their realized returns and losses to date (though only on a percentage basis to protect sensitive financial information). While learning from the strategies of their peers, users can opt to invest with virtual currency to practice and effectively train before actually risking their own money.

Alternatively, based on a trader’s track record, other users can choose to mimic their portfolio through eToro’s “CopyTrader” feature, which not only proportionally allocates funds to match the trader’s portfolio but can also automatically make any trade the copied investor makes. On top of that, members are also able to share, comment on, engage with or follow specific users, assets, or markets – allowing them to participate in the latest debate and news regarding their particular area of interest.

Despite being limited to crypto at launch, almost all the same features available in eToro’s existing geographical markets will be available in the US. And alongside its trading platform, the company is also launching its digital multi-signature eToro wallet where users can store, send and receive multiple coins across a multitude of cryptocurrencies.

Using their eToro accounts, US users can now transfer cryptocurrencies to and from their trading account and can easily convert between them as well. The wallet initially will support Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ripple and Stellar for US users but the company plans to make additional currencies available in the near future.

eToro users can make transactions, share trading activities, and portfolio performance with the community, allowing users to discuss ideas that are executed using real dollars.

The expansion plan, however, doesn’t come without risk. eToro is entering a competitive marketplace – alongside other popular trading platforms like Coinbase and Robinhood – and is launching its crypto-only version in the midst of “crypto winter”, where widespread weakness has plagued the sector.

Part of the strategy is attributable to the fact that crypto is a lighter lift from a licensing perspective relative to other asset classes in the strict and highly fragmented US regulatory environment. But eToro’s launch strategy is also firmly rooted in the company’s belief in the immense market opportunity that exists with the tokenization of assets.

“We think [the tokenization of assets] is a bigger opportunity than the internet and we have to be in the US when it happens given its the financial hub in the world,” eToro founder and CEO Yoni Assia said in a conversation with TechCrunch.

eToro is taking a long-term view with its strategy and isn’t thrown by the current crypto weakness. Assia equated the market softness to the dotcom bubble, where despite the crash, the internet still permeated and disrupted the economy in the long-run. And just like with the internet, Assia and eToro believe there will be more than enough room for multiple winners in the broader crypto ecosystem.

The company was the first platform in its markets to support Ethereum and Ripple and believes that as similar currencies and the next generation of investors mature, eToro will be there to support them wherever they are in whatever way they need.

“When I founded eToro, I envisioned a community where people could trade, invest and share their knowledge in a simple and transparent way,” said Assia. “eToro also acts as a bridge between the old world of investing and a blockchain-powered future, helping our users navigate and benefit from the transition to crypto assets for wealth building.”

Africa Roundup: Zimbabwe’s net blackout, Partech’s $143M fund, Andela’s $100M raise, Flutterwave’s pivot

A high court in Zimbabwe ended the government’s restrictions on internet and social media last month.

After days of intermittent blackouts at the order of the country’s Minister of State for National Security, ISPs restored connectivity per a January 21 judicial order.

Similar to net shutdowns around the continent, politics and protests were the catalyst. Shortly after the government announced a dramatic increase in fuel prices on January 12, Zimbabwe’s Congress of Trade Unions called for a national strike.

Web and app blackouts in the southern African country followed demonstrations that broke out in several cities. A government crackdown ensued, with deaths reported.

On January 15, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile carrier, Econet Wireless, confirmed that it had complied with a directive from the Minister of State for National Security to shutdown internet.

Net access was restored, taken down again, then restored, but social media sites remained blocked through January 21.

Throughout the restrictions, many of Zimbabwe’s citizens and techies resorted to VPNs and workarounds to access net and social media, as reported in this TechCrunch feature.

Global internet rights group Access Now sprung to action, attaching its #KeepItOn hashtag to calls for the country’s government to reopen cyberspace soon after digital interference began.

The cyber-affair adds Zimbabwe to a growing list of African countries — including Cameroon, Congo and Ethiopia — whose governments have restricted internet expression in recent years.

It also provides another case study for techies and ISPs regaining their cyber rights. Internet and social media are back up in Zimbabwe — at least for now.

Further attempts to restrict net and app access in Zimbabwe will likely revive what’s become a somewhat ironic cycle for cyber shutdowns. When governments cut off internet and social media access, citizens still find ways to use internet and social media to stop them.

Partech doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice.

The Partech Africa Fund plans to make 20 to 25 investments across roughly 10 countries over the next several years, according to general partner Tidjane Deme. The fund has added Ceasar Nyagha as investment officer for the Kenya office to expand its East Africa reach.

Partech Africa will primarily target Series A and B investments and some pre-series rounds at higher dollar amounts. “We will consider seed-funding — what we call seed-plus — tickets in the $500,000 range,” Deme told TechCrunch for this story on the new fund. Partech is open to all sectors “with a strong appetite for people who are tapping into Africa’s informal economies,” he said.

Partech Africa joined several Africa-focused funds over the last few years to mark a surge in VC for the continent’s startups. Partech announced its first raise of $70 million in early 2018 next to TLcom Capital’s $40 million, and TPG Growth’s $2 billion.

Africa-focused VC firms, including those locally run and managed, have grown to 51 globally, according to recent Crunchbase research.

Andela, the company that connects Africa’s top software developers with technology companies from the U.S. and around the world, raised $100 million in a new round of funding.

The new financing from Generation Investment Management (an investment fund co-founded by former VP Al Gore) puts the valuation of the company at somewhere between $600 million and $700 million—based on data available from PitchBook on the company’s valuation.

The company now has more than 200 customers paying for access to the roughly 1,100 developers Andela has trained and manages.

With the new cash in hand, Andela says it will double in size, hiring another thousand developers, and invest in new product development and its own engineering and data resources. More on Andela’s recent raise and focus here at TechCrunch.

Fintech startup Flutterwave announced a new consumer payment product for Africa called GetBarter, in partnership with Visa.

The app-based offering is aimed at facilitating personal and small merchant payments within and across African countries. Existing Visa  cardholders can send and receive funds at home or internationally on GetBarter.

The product also lets non-cardholders (those with accounts or mobile wallets on other platforms) create a virtual Visa card to link to the app.  A Visa spokesperson confirmed the product partnership.

GetBarter allows Flutterwave  — which has scaled as a payment gateway for big companies through its Rave product — to pivot to African consumers and traders.

The app also creates a network for clients on multiple financial platforms to make transfers across payment products and national borders, and to shop online.

“The target market is pretty much everyone who has a payment need in Africa. That includes the entire customer base of M-Pesa,  the entire bank customer base in Nigeria, mobile money and bank customers in Ghana — pretty much the entire continent,” Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola told TechCrunch in this exclusive.

Flutterwave and Visa will focus on building a GetBarter user base across mobile money and bank clients in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, with plans to grow across the continent and reach those off the financial grid.

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad. It allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber, Facebook,  Booking.com and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

Flutterwave added operations in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with its largest operations center in Nigeria, the startup plans to add operations centers in South Africa and Cameroon, which will also become new markets for GetBarter.

And sadly, Africa’s tech community mourned losses in January. A terrorist attack on Nairobi’s 14 Riverside complex claimed the lives of six employees of fintech startup Cellulant and I-Dev CEO Jason Spindler. Both organizations had been engaged with TechCrunch’s Africa work over the last 24 months. Condolences to  family, friends and colleagues of those lost.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around The Net    

Vinli raises $13.5m Series B to expand its vehicle data intelligence platform

Connected car service provider Vinli today announced it closed a $13.5 million Series B financing round. The company says this infusion of capital allows it broaden its mobility services and integrations as it attempts to connect cars around the world.

The funding came from new and existing investors and brings the total amount the company raised to over $20 million.

Based in Dallas, TX, Vinli launched in 2014 in TechCrunch Startup Battlefield as a direct consumer company that allowed owners to add cloud services to automobiles. It was a clever concept, and when it launched four years ago, it was ahead of the curve. Now, in 2019, the focus of the business is different as the company seeks to provide deep data intelligence to auto makers and transportation providers.

“The investment validates our place in the industry. In the last five years, we have seen the industry unfold and evolve into an industry driven by digital services,” said Mark Haidar, CEO of Vinli, in a press release released to TechCrunch. “Companies today need viable data solutions — not only to support the growing number of data sources but to deliver on the multiple service offerings to their end customers. We’re focused on making it easier for large fleets and automakers to access smarter data intelligence. It’s in helping those partners scale and be successful is what we look forward to most at Vinli.”

Now, with the latest round of investment, Vinli is looking to integrate its platform with electric vehicles and turned to an energy company, E.ON, to examine the market. Vinli says it will expand its offerings for electric mobility and fleets of electric vehicles.

Vinli’s approaching a largely untapped market. As vehicles become more connected, there are countless data points that can be examined and expanded. With Vinli’s deep background in vehicle intelligence, it’s well suited to continue to grow and provide rich data sets of vehicle information.

Humio raises $9M Series A for its real-time log analysis service

Humio, a startup that provides a real-time log analysis service for on-premises and cloud infrastructures, today announced that it has raised a $9 million Series A round led by Accel. It previously raised its seed round from WestHill and Trifork.

The company, which has offices in San Francisco, the U.K. and Denmark, tells me that it saw a 13x increase in its annual revenue in 2018. Current customers include Bloomberg, Microsoft and Netlify .

“We are experiencing a fundamental shift in how companies build, manage and run their systems,” said Humio CEO Geeta Schmidt. “This shift is driven by the urgency to adopt cloud-based and microservice-driven application architectures for faster development cycles, and dealing with sophisticated security threats. These customer requirements demand a next-generation logging solution that can provide live system observability and efficiently store the massive amounts of log data they are generating.”

To offer them this solution, Humio raised this round with an eye toward fulfilling the demand for its service, expanding its research and development teams and moving into more markets across the globe.

As Schmidt also noted, many organizations are rather frustrated by the log management and analytics solutions they currently have in place. “Common frustrations we hear are that legacy tools are too slow — on ingestion, searches and visualizations — with complex and costly licensing models,” she said. “Ops teams want to focus on operations — not building, running and maintaining their log management platform.”

To build this next-generation analysis tool, Humio built its own time series database engine to ingest the data, with open-source tools like Scala, Elm and Kafka in the backend. As data enters the pipeline, it’s pushed through live searches and then stored for later queries. As Humio VP of Engineering Christian Hvitved tells me, though, running ad-hoc queries is the exception, and most users only do so when they encounter bugs or a DDoS attack.

The query language used for the live filters is also pretty straightforward. That was a conscious decision, Hvitved said. “If it’s too hard, then users don’t ask the question,” he said. “We’re inspired by the Unix philosophy of using pipes, so in Humio, larger searches are built by combining smaller searches with pipes. This is very familiar to developers and operations people since it is how they are used to using their terminal.”

Humio charges its customers based on how much data they want to ingest and for how long they want to store it. Pricing starts at $200 per month for 30 days of data retention and 2 GB of ingested data.