All posts in “Europe”

Swedish lock giant Assa Abloy acquires smart lock maker August Home


The smart home market continues to heat up, and the legacy giants do not want to get locked out: quite literally. This morning, Assa Abloy, the $23 billion Swedish lock giant that owns Yale and many other brands — announced that it is buying US-based smart lock maker August Home to double down on new technology. 

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed but we have asked both August and Assa Abloy and will update this post as we learn more. Pending regulatory approvals, Assa Abloy says the acquisition will close in the fourth quarter of 2017.

August has confirmed to us that co-founder Jason Johnson will remain CEO of August Home, and Yves Behar will continue in his co-founder role as well. The company will keep its branding and operate under the  Americas division of ASSA ABLOY.

“I am very pleased to welcome August into the ASSA ABLOY Group. August constitutes a strategic addition to the Group and reinforces our position in the residential smart door market,” Johan Molin, President and CEO of Assa Abloy, said in a statement.

“August Home strengthens our residential smart door strategy with complementary smart locks, expansion into video doorbells and comprehensive solutions for home delivery,” Thanasis Molokotos, its EVP and head of Americas added.

The news comes at a tumultuous time for Assa Abloy — it announced earlier this month that CEO Johan Molin is considering exiting the company next year, although he is still making prominent statements in support of the company’s acquisition strategy and future plans, as you can see here. 

Assa Abloy is the very definition of an old-guard giant that is now figuring out its steps in a new world very much being shaped by technology. The company has been in business in some form since 1881 (although the currently publicly traded company has been around since 1994). The company employs 47,000 people and has annual sales of about $8 billion.

August, in contrast, has been around since 2013 and has 90 employees. But it has become a market leader in the emerging connected security space, courtesy of its smart home locks and door bells.

The smart lock market is still a relatively nascent area. To put this deal into some context, August Home’s revenues for 2018 are expected to be $60 million, Assa Abloy noted today, or 0.75% of Assa Abloy’s entire current business. Future projections of the value of this market vary widely: one estimate puts it at $1.17 billion by 2023; another has boldly predicted it will be worth $24 billion by 2024.

August had raised around $75 million in venture funding, with the most recent round closing only in July of this year. Investors were a long list that included strategics like Japan’s KDDI and Qualcomm, as well as Maveron, Bessemer, Rho, Cowboy Ventures and a number of individual investors.

August has been growing fairly quickly on its own in recent years, courtesy of distribution deals with mega-retailers in the U.S. like Best Buy. Back in July, the hardware startup raised a $25 million series C, with plans to beef of August Access, the company’s partner platform. Late last month, it also found a partner in mega-retailer Wal-mart, which announced its intentions to use the company’s connected locks as part of its delivery services. Among other things, this deal should increase August’s international presence.

Updated with more detail on August under its new owner. We will update this post as we learn more.

London-based on-demand delivery startup Jinn shutters


Jinn, the London-based startup that offers a same-hour ‘shop on your behalf’ delivery app that operates quite similarly to Postmates in the U.S., has shut down, with the company in the process of going into administration. TechCrunch understands that the remaining fifteen or so people still working in Jinn’s London office were let go on Tuesday, while, according to a source, payments to freelance delivery drivers and other staff are outstanding.

Founder and CEO of Jinn Mario Navarro confirmed that the startup has entered the deadpool, and issued the following statement:

“To our employees, couriers, partners and customers,

It is with a heavy heart that I share that Jinn has now stopped operating and won’t be taking any new orders.

These past few months, we have tried through all means to find solutions to keep Jinn alive. Unfortunately, we have now run out of time and we will be filing for administration. We deeply apologise to everyone who relied on Jinn in any way.

To our employees, I’d like to thank you for everything that you’ve done in these past four years. You have helped develop a platform capable of delivering orders from any store or restaurant in around thirty minutes, a first of its kind in the United Kingdom. You have helped make this service known to over a hundred thousand customers, who have received over a million deliveries. You have supported these customers and thousands of couriers and partners across these years. Your achievements have been nothing short of extraordinary and the fact that Jinn is closing does not change that.

To our couriers, partners and customers, thank you for being part of a great community and for accelerating innovation in the on-demand delivery space. Together, we have greatly improved the standards of this market, and it is stronger than ever thanks to you. We encourage you to continue working with the different companies providing solutions for on-demand delivery in the UK. I’m confident that this market will continue to grow and I’m hopeful for the future.

Mario”

Meanwhile, Business Insider is reporting that Jinn — which to varying degrees competes with Deliveroo, UberEATS, and Quiqup — had met with three rival food delivery businesses earlier this month about a potential acquisition deal, but in the end ran out of time to be able to make a sale possible.

However, my understanding is that the company began shopping itself around as early as this Summer, but with administration looking increasingly likely, accelerated efforts to find a buyer in the last week.

I also understand that the administrator Moorfields has been appointed and will now be tasked with finding an acquirer for any of Jinn’s remaining assets, namely the software platform that powered the ordering and dispatching functionality of the delivery service.

A member of Moorfields’ team confirmed that couriers working for Jinn are owed money. In a message sent by Jinn to its fleet of drivers (and seen by TechCrunch) they are advised that if they are owed any money, they will be contacted by the administrator in the coming days who will “deal with your situation on a case by case basis”.

The shuttering of Jinn comes after a turbulent time for the startup over the last year. In May, the company announced that it had raised $10 million in further funding. That, in theory, brought total raised by Jinn to a modest $20 million in comparison to other players in the on-demand delivery space. However, it isn’t clear that the full $10 million entered the startup’s balance sheet and was likely contingent on milestones and delivered in tranches, a key detail that will hopefully be made public in any postmortem of the company’s shuttering.

This was followed just two months later with news that Jinn had pulled out of all markets outside London, “pausing” operations in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds in the U.K., and Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. We also learned that Jinn co-founder and COO Leon Herrera had departed the startup a few weeks earlier.

Those drastic cutbacks appeared to have been enough to save the company, and one month later Jinn claimed that it was profitable at an EBITDA level, with 30 per cent contribution margins, and expecting to close the year with $22 million in sales. This evidently didn’t pan out with today’s news that Jinn has entered the deadpool. I suspect we will learn a lot more about exactly why in the next coming weeks or months, including, I hope, from the Jinn founder himself.

Hiya, a Whitepages spinout, nabs $18M to for its smart caller ID technology


Hiya came to life a year ago when it was spun out by Whitepages to take on TrueCaller and others in the world of smart caller ID services. Using machine learning and a vast database of calling data (3.5 billion calls to date), Seattle-based Hiya’s mission has been to supercharge the humble phone call — by providing detailed information about who is calling you, whether it’s a regular person or an IRS fraudster.

Now a fully independent company, Hiya is today announcing its first outside funding to grow its business: a Series A of $18 million led by Balderton with participation also from Nautilus Venture Partners and Lumia Capital.

Phone calls are the oldest and possibly most negelcted part of mobile phones these days, and Alex Algard — a Swede who founded and led Whitepages but left that business to lead and build Hiya — told TechCrunch in an interview that the funding will be used to change that perception by adding in more services to make calls more useful and actionable.

“We recognise that there has been remarkable little innovation on what is the core app of the smartphone, the phone app itself,” he said. “We think this is a massive opportunity, and we’re partnering with smartphone OEMs and wireless carriers to provide innovation as deeply as possible.”

The cash infusion comes after a year of pretty impressive growth for the startup: Hiya already has 20 million users in 196 countries, by virtue of the fact that it deep partnerships with carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T, and Samsung and ZTE, two of the world’s biggest phone makers. Companies like these integrate Hiya’s technology directly into their phones and diallers; and for those not on those networks or using phones made by those OEMs — namely the iPhone, where Apple keeps the calling experience close — Hiya also has an app.

Hiya’s growth comes at an interesting juncture in the mobile world. When it comes to communicating on smartphones these days, a lot of the focus is on messaging apps, where you can better control who you chat with, whether it’s via a text-based message or an audio or video call. But there’s also a trend in the mobile world where we are seeing some smart tech solutions emerging to bring some of the more legacy functions of phones into the modern era.

One of the reasons why those messaging apps have proven to be so popular is that they have let people control their experiences in a better way: for example, with Messenger, you connect with people who are your contacts already (and send them stickers!) and those who are not can be relegated never to be seen by you.

And you can increasingly use that platform for much more, such as sending money or finding out movie times. SMS or phone calls, on the other hand, have been overrun by spam and unsolicited contacts, often people you have no interest in hearing from.

Just as Google and others have been tackling making good old SMS more useful with the development of RCS, Hiya is attempting to bring back some dignity to the neglected phone dialler by providing a big infusion of data behind the scenes to give you a bigger and better picture of what is going on behind each ring of your phone. It’s coming not a moment too soon, it seems, for carriers who are seeing their core revenues and uses getting hit every day from “over the top” app providers.

“We are restoring trust in the phone call,” Algard says. “There are so many unidentified phone calls coming through and a good portion are unwanted nuisance calls. People are no longer picking up the phone when it rings because of that enormous erosion of trust.”

While Hiya’s first year of business has been focused on inbound calls — essentially the data that you see on your phone screen when a call comes in — the startup is now expanding that to also consider the business opportunity of outbound.

It’s building a service for businesses so that they can customise how their calling ID looks when they call people, with more details about addresses and other services, which would come up not just when the call is being made, but when a user looks at a call log later and needs to follow up on something, such as the location of a business and how to get there, or even your purchasing history — say if it’s a pharmacy and you want to track an order of some medicine.

I asked, and Algard was unequivocal in noting that whatever data the company amasses about spammers and unwanted calls comes only from the call log data that the company collects by way of its integrations with carriers — not from the content of the calls themselves.

Still, there is a clear opportunity to start to enhance Hiya — as and when people consent to call recordings, such as in cases of customer service calls — to use natural language processing to analyse conversations and use these to also inform the kind of data that the startup provides both to users and companies, and to help build a better picture of what you, the user, might deem an unwanted call.

And there is other evidence that the space of on-phone, native services like calls and SMS is not quite over just yet. Witness the news that Apple recently acquired the team of messaging app Init.ai, and may end up using some of its tech, too — which was based around being able to offer more intelligence around interactions between businesses and their customers, tapping into natural language and voice recognition.

“Voice is at the top of the agenda right now when it comes to the user interface,” said Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, Balderton’s partner who led its investment in Hiya and is now also joining the board. That trend will be an interesting one to watch as we start to see tech companies tackle old frontiers like phone calls, as well as new ones. 

Hiya is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

European house removals platform Movinga raises up to another €22M


Movinga, the European platform for house removals that was seemingly written off last year, continues to perform what appears to be an impressive turn around. The Berlin-headquartered startup has closed a new funding round of up to €22 million led by Santo Venture Capital, the venture arm of the Strüngmann family office, with participation from existing backers Earlybird Venture Capital and Rocket Internet.

In an unusual but welcome level of transparency for a privately owned company, Movinga is breaking out the investment. Santo Venture Capital’s backing is structured as two tranches and dependent on certain milestones being met: €9 million is being provided up front, with a further €9 million due in Spring 2018 if those milestones are reached, which, I understand, aren’t unrealistically onerous.

Earlybird and Rocket are investing €4.4 million in this round, and, once again, Movinga’s Series B backer Index Ventures is nowhere to be seen (and has presumably been further diluted).

Speaking earlier this week, Finn Age Hänsel, Managing Director of Movinga, told me that the new capital will be used for further growth and to achieve “operational break-even”. Specifically, the startup plans to invest more in its technology platform in order to automate more of the removals process, which at the moment includes things like being able to price a house move in real-time and dispatch work to its removal partners in the most efficient way.

In addition, Hänsel says that further European geographical expansion is on the cards. The company currently operates in Germany and France, focusing on intercity house moves, including aggregating removal jobs where appropriate in order to reduce costs and ensure vehicles don’t make return journeys empty handed unnecessarily. It claims to have facilitated over 30,000 moves since 2016 and says it is on track for annual revenues “significantly over 20 million Euros”.

Meanwhile, on the consumer front, Movinga is eyeing up additional services it can offer, such as changing your electricity provider or taking out a contract for home broadband. The company is also building out tools for its removals partners in a bid to digitise more of the removals process. This will include SaaS ERP software to simplify the management of “general planning processes” endured by removals companies.

Moving forward, Hänsel tells me that Movinga wants to expand into removals within the same city, which requires a different set of strengths, and is an area where the company doesn’t really compete at the moment. Another sector he thinks has future potential is “on-demand” removals, such as wanting to move a couch you have just purchased or sold on eBay, and would operate more along the lines of Uber for removals.

Amazon adds loads more branded Dash buttons in UK


Amazon has doubled the total selection of branded Dash buttons available to UK members of its Prime subscription service, to more than 100, just over a year after launching the push-button wi-fi gizmos, which let people reorder a specific product via its ecommerce marketplace just by pushing the button.

The first Dash buttons launched in the UK in August last year. Amazon now says Dash Button orders have delivered more than 160,000 cups of coffee and almost 300,000 rolls of toilet tissue paper in the market.

Although it’s not — in typical Amazon fashion — breaking out any hard metrics for the buttons, which cost £4.99 a piece (though users then get a £4.99 discount on their first Dash push order — so sticking these things all over your white goods comes with essentially zero additional cost, assuming you’re already locked into Amazon’s Prime membership program).

Reordering toilet roll is the most popular Dash push for UK users, according to the ecommerce giant. Followed by dishwasher tablets, cat litter, cat food, beer, mouthwash and baby wipes. So most definitely this gadget is one to file under ‘utility & convenience’ (not ‘shiny & sexy’).

Among the new brands willingly sticking themselves on Dash buttons are Bold, Cillit Bang, English Tea Shop, evian, Febreze, Flash, Gaviscon, Harringtons, Head & Shoulders, Pampers, Purina Gourmet, SMA, Tampax, Vet’s Best and Waterwipes.

The full list of new (and existing) UK Dash buttons can be found here.

For fast moving consumer goods brands, which inevitably have stacks of similarly priced rival products vying to catch consumers’ eyes on shop shelves, the chance to peel away and monopolize consumers’ attention in their own homes is clearly the equivalent of catnip.

Add in the fact Dash also reduces friction for repeat orders of their product and, well, there’s really no down side as far as the brands are concerned. Dash buttons for every kind of staple seems inevitable — at least until some kind of instant reordering gets integrated into products themselves.

Until then an unknown number of Brits are apparently comfortable pebble-dashing their homes with stick-on buttons. Or at least happy to put a Dash button for reordering bog roll somewhere near the toilet (hopefully in close proximity to soap and hot water).