All posts in “Europe”

Company builder Entrepreneur First is expanding to Berlin

Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-headquartered company builder that invests in individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” to help create new technology startups, is continuing to expand internationally. Following adding an outpost and program in Singapore, in addition to London, the so-called talent-first investor is setting up shop in Berlin, kicking off its first German program this April.

That perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given Germany’s reputation for technical education and the city’s growing tech company ecosystem, the two pillars of EF’s recruitment funnel as it seeks out the founders of tomorrow. It also follows EF’s most recent funding round that saw $12.4 million invested in the company builder, with the primary aim to scale EF, including running more programs in European cities and elsewhere.

At the time of EF’s funding announcement, Reid Hoffman, who led the round on behalf of Silicon Valley’s Greylock Partners, told me he could see “a universe in which there’s 20 or 30 or 40 cities, maybe even 50, where Entrepreneur First is integral to creating a set of interesting tech companies in those areas”. Furthermore, he argued that EF can reach scale if it gets the formula right, pointing to how Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator has grown in the last decade.

To that end, EF says that its Berlin program will only be three months long per cohort, not the six months seen by London and Singapore. That, explained EF co-founder Matt Clifford, is a realisation — or, perhaps, hypothesis — that for the company builder to scale globally without becoming an ever sprawling organisation and in turn too large to manage, it needs to focus locally on the part most unique to EF.

That is, attracting talented individuals into entrepreneurship and matching them with a complementary co-founder so that they can form a startup that might otherwise never exist.

The second three months of EF’s program in London and Singapore sees it support these newly formed co-founder teams to develop their business plan and be ready to pitch for and receive investment at Demo Day. In Berlin that won’t happen through a formal and locally run program but teams formed at EF Berlin will still be eligible to participate in its London demo day and receive investment from the existing EF investment fund and take advantage of EF’s investor network.

Clifford also makes the point that while “talent is local, venture capital is global,” and London VCs are as likely to invest in Berlin as in their home city and vice versa. It’s a “more modular” form of EF, he says, and should this model work as well as the longer London and Singapore programs it will pave the way for EF to scale up quicker across Europe in future.

Aside from its strong academia and technical industries, including a growing number of scale-ups, I asked Clifford what else made Berlin a good choice over, say, Paris or other European cities that have burgeoning startup scenes. Quite candidly, he says that Berlin, especially compared to London, which has grown up a lot over the last few years, has more left-field ideas and founders. “Berlin is a place where we see a little bit more contrarian thinking, a little bit more weirdness. And I mean that in a really positive way,” he says.

Revolut launches geolocation-powered travel insurance

Fintech startup Revolut is launching international medical and dental insurance. You can subscribe using the company’s app for £1 per day or more depending on the options.

But the best part is that you can set it up and forget about it as Revolut uses your device’s location data to automatically turn insurance coverage on and off.

By default, insurance coverage costs £1 per day for medical and dental insurance. You can add an option for winter sports and you can also cover your friends and family.

But if you’re always on the road and tend to spend weeks or even months abroad, Revolut is going to cap its travel insurance after a certain amount of time. You can also pay a fixed upfront price for an annual policy.

Revolut isn’t becoming an insurance company. Just like with its mobile device insurance product, the startup is working with third-party insurance companies. This time, Thomas Cook Money is in charge of the travel insurance product. It’s also worth noting that Revolut Premium includes travel insurance.

It’s still unclear if Revolut is going to regularly request your location when the app is in the background or if Revolut is just going to get your location when you open the app.

Revolut is slowly building an insurance hub to control all your insurance needs from the company’s app. And this is smart as Revolut just has to take a bit of money from your Revolut balance. It feels like you’re not spending any money because you don’t need to enter your card number.

The startup has been releasing new features at an impressive pace. The service is now much more than a simple prepaid MasterCard with a foreign exchange feature. You can now trade cryptocurrencies in the Revolut app, receive money on your own IBAN, ask for a credit line and more. It’s becoming a serious banking alternative.

Curve, the fintech that connects all your cards to a single card and app, gets full consumer launch

Curve, the London fintech startup that offers a platform that lets you consolidate all your bank cards into a single Curve card and app to make it easier to manage your spending, is finally launching to U.K. consumers. Up until now, the service remained in beta and was only officially available to business users.

In a call with Curve founder and CEO Shachar Bialick, he described the consumer launch as a major milestone for the company, noting that 50,000 people have signed up to its waitlist, in addition to the 100,000 or so users who joined Curve in its beta phase. Users on the waiting list will begin being activated as of today, with the usual viral loop built in that means if you invite a friend, you can skip the queue. It’s free to join, although a premium version of the Curve card is also available for £50 that offers additional perks.

A quick reminder of the Curve proposition: Like a plethora of fintech startups, Curve is building an app that essentially turns your mobile phone into a financial control center to help you manage “all things money.”

But rather than building, say, a new current account or a personal financial manager that scrapes data from your existing bank accounts — as is the case with the challenger banks such as Monzo and Starling, or chatbots Cleo and Plum, respectively — the startup’s “attack vector” (as Monzo’s Tom Blomfield calls each fintech’s entrance point) is a card and app that lets you connect all your other debit and credit cards so you only ever have to carry a single card.

Once you’ve added your cards to Curve, you use the Curve app to switch which underlying debit or credit cards you wish the Curve MasterCard to spend from, and track and see a single and consolidated view of your spending regardless of which card was charged.

Additional functionality includes being able to lock your Curve card at a touch of a button, instant spend notifications, cheaper FX fees than your bank typically charges when spending abroad or in a foreign currency and the ability to switch payment sources retroactively.

The latter is dubbed “Go Back in Time” and means if you make a purchase via Curve that gets charged to a card other than you intended, you have two weeks to change your mind (see our coverage on the feature to see why this is clever and useful).

More broadly, Bialick says Curve’s consumer launch represents a further step toward the startup’s vision for fintech convergence. The bet that the Curve founder made when he started the company in 2015 was that whenever there’s disruption — in this case, following technological and regulatory changes, a plethora of new fintech companies are unbundling various parts of the banking sector — this inevitably leads to fragmentation. What then eventually follows is convergence. Curve, like other fintechs, is seeking to fill that void with a platform that re-bundles various financial products but in a way that puts the consumer in control.

We can already see evidence of how this is playing out with Curve’s single view of your spending and the way the platform is entirely agnostic to where your money is stored. Bialick is pretty fond of saying that banks do a good job of looking after your money (just as well, as Santander Ventures is a recent backer — more on that below) and that nobody needs to become a bank in order to provide a financial control center and nobody needs to switch banks to access one.

He also believes that by offering a Curve MasterCard (a standard that is pretty much accepted everywhere and supports contactless, chip and PIN, magstripe and ATM withdrawals) that re-routes all of your spending through Curve, it has other advantages over being asked to switch banks. That’s because, argues Bialick, a sprawling fintech and financial services landscape means that we have more bank accounts and cards than ever, and while account aggregation isn’t new or unique (indeed, HSBC’s new Beta banking app lets you pull in transaction data from external bank accounts), on its own it doesn’t solve fragmentation at the point of payment.

For example, I have two current accounts with incumbent banks, a credit card, and more recently TransferWise’s multi-currency account and debit card. Three of those are already plugged into my Curve card and there is nothing stopping me from adding the likes of Revolut, Monzo, Starling or Tandem’s credit card, too. (Noteworthy, both TransferWise founder Taavet Hinrikus and Tandem founder Ricky Knox have invested in Curve).

Bialick also tells me that Curve, like just about every other fintech, plans to take advantage of Open Banking/PSD2, recent legislation in the U.K./Europe that makes it a requirement for banks to let third-party apps access a customer’s transaction data and make payments on their behalf (with permission, of course). Once this is added, probably much later in the year, Curve will be able to track all your spending, not just card transactions, giving it a much fuller picture of your financial life.

The plan then is to put that spending data to better use on your behalf through the Curve Connect platform, a kind of curated app store for financial and other related products. The idea is that Curve will connect to the best financial services, including fintechs, but also from major banks, to help you get more from your money.

It’s similar, in varying degrees, to the vision of Starling’s marketplace banking, Monzo’s upcoming curated partnerships or N26’s growing number of integrations. Then there are a long list of Personal Finance Manager apps, chatbots or even fintech startups like Bud, which is helping incumbent banks offer their own fintech marketplaces powered by your transaction data. And that’s before the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple or Facebook make their first move into Open Banking, something that the banks fear as much as any fintech.

To that end, Bialick says that, although being able to see all of your spending in a single place, many people actually find viewing their transactions and balance quite stressful. What they really want are better tools that put them in control and help with the management of their money, meaning that they need to worry about their finances less.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing that Curve is working on a partnership with multinational bank Santander (which, as noted, is a backer of Curve through Santander Ventures). This, if my sources are correct, will see a co-branded version of Curve offered to Santander customers within a couple of the regions it operates. I also understand the startup is gearing up for further fundraising in the form of a sizeable Series B later this year.

Forest raises $3.7 million for its administration interface to rule them all

French startup Forest just raised a $3.7 million seed round (€3 million) from Connect Ventures and Xavier Niel, with Taavet Hinrikus also participating. Pietro Bezza and Jean de La Rochebrochard are joining the board of the company. The startup first started in the eFounders startup studio.

I already wrote about the startup back in May. The vision hasn’t changed at all. Forest still wants to build the backbone of your company by creating hooks with all the web services you use. This way, you get a single dashboard to track your data, manipulate your data and handle basic actions.

For instance, you can plug Forest with Stripe, Intercom, and Mixpanel. You can also create custom integrations and build dashboards with your company’s most important metrics. You can also dive into your data and search, save specific searches, segment your user base, get charts and more. It’s an easy way to get insights on your startup.

But Forest doesn’t want you to just look at data — you can look at Intercom messages and issue a refund on Stripe without ever leaving Forest for instance. It’s going to save you a ton of time when it comes to handling repetitive tasks with multiple services.

Forest is also a good way to manage administration rights across the board. Instead of granting access to five different services, you can add them to Forest. You can also restrict some features if your intern doesn’t need to see all past transactions.

Using Forest doesn’t mean that you have to give the startup all your data. Forest requests are all issued from your client to your application database. Nothing goes through Forest’s servers.

So far, the startup has attracted over 350 clients. Basic features are free, and you can also pay to get more features, such as permissions, smart views custom integrations and more.

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BeMyEye, the startup that lets companies crowdsource in-store data, acquires rival Task360

In a move that represents further consolidation in the crowdsourced in-store data gathering space, London-headquartered BeMyEye has acquired U.K. rival Task360. Similar to BeMyEye, the company offers an app that pays users to collect data for its corporate clients, but with a greater emphasis on time-sensitive tasks.

Financial terms of the acquisition remain undisclosed, though I understand that it was a mixture of cash and stock, and that Task360’s founders are sticking around. The deal follows a similar buyout by BeMyEyes of French competitor LocalEyes in May 2016.

Founded in 2011, BeMyEye offers a platform to enable companies and brands to crowdsource in-store data. This can include checking availability (i.e. stock levels) of a particular product, how prominent an item is displayed, or whether or not it is being marketed or sold in the way retailers and staff have been instructed.

Tasks are sent out to paid members of the public via the BeMyEye app, which could include taking a photo and ‘checking in’ using geolocation as proof that it has been carried out, with the results anonymised and passed on to BeMyEye’s clients. One way to think about the proposition is as a much more scalable version of employing ‘secret shoppers’.

Crucially, insights are designed to be “actionable,” so that the course of a campaign can be corrected before it is too late (see the video below on how Samsung employed BeMyEye). The data collected can also be used for business intelligence on how well competitors are executing.

BeMyEye says the acquisition of Task360 will make it the “de facto reference point in the U.K.,” which it says is arguably the most advanced market in Europe for data-driven field marketing.

The acquisition will also give BeMyEye access to an additional crowd of 10,000 active “Taskers,” bringing a combined total crowd of 520,000 on-demand workers across Europe. It also brings total number of customers to 460. These include large blue-chip brands such as Mattel, Nestlé, Samsung, Heineken, Reckitt Benkiser, Lavazza and Ferrero.

“Ultimately, we want to offer as many people as possible a new way to earn money and we want to improve the way they perceive work by making it fun, rewarding and on their terms. We are doing this by building Europe’s largest crowd of real world data gatherers, who earn money by completing gamified challenges set by businesses in their local area,” BeMyEye CEO Luca Pagano explained when the company acquired LocalEyes.

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