All posts in “Fundings & Exits”

Hiver lets you manage shared email addresses from Gmail

Meet Hiver, a service that lets you collaborate on generic email addresses, such as jobs@yourcompany.com, support@, sales@, etc. Hiver isn’t the only company working on shared inboxes. But compared to Front, everything happens in Gmail directly.

To be fair, Front has been doing a fantastic job when it comes to multiplayer email — and the company has been doing great. Front is a new email client that lets you work together on your inbound emails.

But many teams don’t necessarily want to use a brand new email client. Some people love the Gmail interface so much that they don’t even think about switching to something else.

Hiver is a Google Chrome extension that adds a bunch of feature to your Gmail inbox. In addition to your personal inbox, you can now access shared inboxes with other people in your team. You can then assign an email to one of your coworkers and see what everybody is working on.

If you need help in order to reply to a tedious email, you can write a note in the right column and notify your teammates using @-mentions. All your comments live in this separate column so that you don’t clutter your email thread with forwards and CCs.

Whenever someone starts replying, Hiver shows a collision alert so that customers don’t get two replies. You can also use templates for faster replies, send emails later and share drafts to get another pair of eyes.

More recently, Hiver added automation with simple if/then rules to assign conversations to the right person and categorize your emails automatically.

If you’ve used Front in the past, those features will sound familiar as you can do all of this in Front, and much more. But it turns out that some companies really wanted a “Front for Gmail”.

Hiver just raised a $4 million funding round from Kalaari Capital and Kae Capital. The company is based in India and has 50 employees already. A thousand companies are currently using Hiver, such as Hubspot, Vacasa, Pinterest and Lyft. Most of Hiver’s clients are based in the U.S.

Building a product on top of Gmail creates some limitations. For instance, you’ll have to remain a G Suite customer in order to keep using Hiver. Hiver also works better on desktop. The company has mobile apps, but they are still a bit basic so far.

Hiver uses a software-as-a-service approach. Plans start at $14 per user per month, and you need to pay more for automations, Salesforce integration and more.

Funderbeam CEO to talk about disrupting startup funding at Disrupt Berlin

Startup funding hasn’t changed much in the past decade. Funderbeam is an interesting company trying to turn everything upside down using a marketplace approach, a modern syndication system and a blockchain-based platform. I’m excited to announce that Funderbeam founder and CEO Kaidi Ruusalepp will come to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

The first boom of venture capital of the 1980s changed everything in the tech industry. Countless of tech startups managed to get funding, grow and make money down the road. Without venture capital firms, some of the biggest tech firms out there just wouldn’t be around.

Arguably, convertible notes and accelerators turned startups into a mainstream phenomenon. It became much easier to get seed funding and some sort of mentorship.

But it hasn’t changed much since then. Funderbeam has some ambitious goals as the company wants to change everything by adding more transparency and liquidity into private funding.

Funderbeam combines multiple products into one. As a startup, you can use Funderbeam to raise your next funding round. Funderbeam acts as a marketplace so that angel investors can invest in your startup. As a business angel, you can invest in a syndicate.

The startup is also building a secondary market so that early investors in a company can sell shares to newer investors. And Funderbeam also compiles all its data on startups to create a database of financial information on startups.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.

Kaidi Ruusalepp

Founder & CEO, Funderbeam

Founder and CEO of Funderbeam, the global funding and trading platform of private companies built on blockchain. Funderbeam combines three stages of investor journey into one: startup analytics, investing, and trading on the secondary market. Powered by blockchain technology, the marketplace delivers capital to growth companies and on-demand liquidity to investors worldwide.

Member of Startup Europe Advisory Board at European Commission. Kaidi is a former CEO of Nasdaq Tallinn Stock Exchange and of the Central Securities Depository. Co-Founder of Estonian Service Industry Association. The first IT lawyer in Estonia, she co-author of the Estonian Digital Signatures Act of 2000 — landmark legislation that enables secure digital identities and, in turn, the country’s booming electronic economy.

Kaidi was named as an Entrepreneur of a Year in 2018 by the Playmakers Technology Award and as a Person of a Year in 2016 by the Estonian IT and Telecommunication Association. Co-author of #Foundership Playbook and mentor of various girls and women in tech initiatives.

Sick of managing your Airbnb? Vacasa raises $64M to do it for you

Airbnbing can be a ton of work. Between key pickups, tidying, and maintenance emergencies, renting out your place isn’t such a passive revenue source. But Vacasa equips owners with full-service vacation home management, including listings on top rental platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway, as well as local cleaners who come between guests. It now manages 10,000 vacation rental properties in over 16 countries.

With the peer-to-peer housing market maturing and Airbnb looking to go public, private equity firms see an opportunity in who controls the end relationship with home owners like Vacasa does. So today the startup is announcing it’s raised $64 million in a Series B bridge round led by Riverwood, and joined by Level Equity, Assurant, and Newspring. The cash will fuel Vacasa’s expansion into real estate as it seeks to sell property to people who want to own and rent out a vacation home.

Vacasa was impressively bootstrapped from 2009 until 2015. “I’ve always been passionate about vacation rentals. When traveling with friends or family, I love having common spaces to come together in” says CEO Eric Breon. He founded the company after owning a vacation cabin on the Washington Coast. He’d go up in the Spring, spend a weekend fixing up the place, it’d sit idle all summer, and then he’d have to spend another weekend closing it up. He considered a local property manager, but they massively underestimated how much he could earn off renting it out. So Breon built Vacasa to make it easy for home owners to earn the most money without a hassle.

After years growing the business organically, Vacasa raised a $35 million series A from Level Equity in 2015, then $5 million more from Assurant. Then in fall of 2017, it raised an $103.5 million series B. Now it’s topping up that round with $64 million and a new valuation warranted by the startup’s growth this past year. That brings Vacasa to a total of $207.5 million in funding

While that’s just a fraction of the over $4.4 billion Airbnb has raised. But Vacasa caters to a more upscale market that don’t want to manage the properties themselves. With plenty of popular listings sites out there, Vacasa gets easy distribution. But eventually as the other giants in the space become public companies, they’ll be forced to chase bigger margins that could see them compete with Vacasa after years of partnership.

Breon remains confident, though. When I ask him the biggest existential threat to the business, he declares that “We’ve reached a point where failure isn’t a realistic outcome. We have great retention of our homeowners, and strong recurring revenue. The question is more about how quickly we can continue scaling into the huge $32 billion market we’re focused on.” Getting to an exit might not be quite so straightforward, but with life seeming to get more stressful by the year, there’ll be no shortage of people seeking a getaway.

Cryptocurrency wallet startup Cobo raises $13M Series A to enter the U.S. and Southeast Asia

Cobo, a cryptocurrency wallet startup headquartered in Beijing, has raised a $13 million Series A to enter new international markets. The round was led by DHVC and Wu Capital, a family office based in China. Cobo plans to expand in the United States and Southeast Asia, in particular Vietnam and Indonesia. Cobo is also now taking pre-orders for Cobo Vault, a hardware wallet (pictured above) that it claims is military grade. Cobo’s Series A brings its total funding to $20 million so far.

Cobo Wallet allows users to store both proof-of-stake and proof-of-work coins. One incentive for people to pick the app over its competitors is the ability to pool proof-of-stake assets with other users so they can increase their chances of mining and validating new blocks on the blockchain. Since launching earlier this year, Cobo says its digital wallet has gained more than 500,000 users.

The startup was founded last year by CEO Shixing Mao, who is known as Discus Fish in the crypto community, and CTO Changhao Jiang, a former platform engineer at Facebook and Google who co-founded Bihang, a cryptocurrency wallet acquired by OKCoin in 2013. Discus Fish, meanwhile, is known for launching F2Pool, China’s first mining pool.

Cobo Vault, which will retail for $479, meets the MIL-STD-810G U.S. military standard for equipment, Cobo’s head of hardware Lixin Liu said in an email, adding that it was built with proprietary firmware created especially for the device, a bank-grade encryption chip and military-grade aluminum.

Cobo Vault’s creation was prompted by an August 2017 incident in which F2Pool was hacked and more than 8,000 ETH was stolen from Discus Fish’s account. Fish also refunded customers’ lost ETH from his own assets. “As a result, Discus Fish was resolute on the fact that for crypto to gain mass market adoption, products had to be made to be hacker-resistant and truly safe,” said Liu.

Applied gets $2M to make hiring fairer — using algorithms, not AI

London-based startup Applied has bagged £1.5M (~$2M) in seed funding for a fresh, diversity-sensitive approach to recruitment that deconstructs and reworks the traditional CV-bound process, drawing on behavioural science to level the playing field and help employers fill vacancies with skilled candidates they might otherwise have overlooked.

Fairer hiring is the pitch. “If you’re hiring for a product lead, for example, it’s true that loads and loads of product leads are straight, white men with beards. How do we get people to see well what is it actually that this job entails?” founder and CEO Kate Glazebrook tells us. “It might actually be the case that if I don’t know any of the demographic background I discover somebody who I would have otherwise overlooked.”

Applied launched its software as a service recruitment platform in 2016, and Glazebrook says so far it’s been used by more than 55 employers to recruit candidates for more than 2,000 jobs. While more than 50,000 candidates have applied via Applied to date.

The employers themselves are also a diverse bunch, not just the usual suspects from the charitable sector, with both public and private sector organizations, small and large, and from a range of industries, from book publishing to construction, signed up to Applied’s approach. “We’ve been pleased to see it’s not just the sort of thing that the kind of employers you would expect to care about care about,” says Glazebrook.

Applied’s own investor Blackbird Ventures, which is leading the seed round, is another customer — and ended up turning one investment associate vacancy, advertised via the platform, into two roles — hiring both an ethnic minority woman and a man with a startup background as a result of “not focusing on did they have the traditional profile we were expecting”, says Glazebrook.

“They discovered these people were fantastic and had the skills — just a really different set of background characteristics than they were expecting,” she adds.

Other investors in the seed include Skip Capital, Angel Academe, Giant Leap and Impact Generation Partners, plus some unnamed angels. Prior investors include the entity Applied was originally spun out of (Behavioural Insights Team, a “social purpose company” jointly owned by the UK government, innovation charity Nesta, and its own employees), as well as gender advocate and businesswoman Carol Schwartz, and Wharton Professor Adam Grant.

Applied’s approach to recruitment employs plenty of algorithms — including for scoring candidates (its process involves chunking up applications and also getting candidates to answer questions that reflect “what a day in the job actually looks like”), and also anonymizing applications to further strip away bias risks, presenting the numbered candidates in a random order too.

But it does not involve any AI-based matching. If you want to make hiring fairer, AI doesn’t look like a great fit. Last week, for example, Reuters reported how in 2014 ecommerce giant Amazon built and then later scrapped a machine learning based recruitment tool, after it failed to rate candidates in a gender-neutral way — apparently reflecting wider industry biases.

“We’re really clear that we don’t do AI,” says Glazebrook. “We don’t fall into the traps that [companies like] Amazon did. Because it’s not that we’re parsing existing data-sets and saying ‘this is what you hired for last time so we’ll match candidates to that’. That’s exactly where you get this problem of replication of bias. So what we’ve done instead is say ‘actually what we should do is change what you see and how you see it so that you’re only focusing on the things that really matter’.

“So that levels the playing field for all candidates. All candidates are assessed on the basis of their skill, not whether or not they fit the historic profile of people you’ve previously hired. We avoid a lot of those pitfalls because we’re not doing AI-based or algorithmic hiring — we’re doing algorithms that reshape the information you see, not the prediction that you have to arrive at.”

In practice this means Applied must and does take over the entire recruitment process, including writing the job spec itself — to remove things like gendered language which could introduce bias into the process — and slicing and dicing the application process to be able to score and compare candidates and fill in any missing bits of data via role-specific skills tests.

Its approach can be thought of as entirely deconstructing the CV — to not just remove extraneous details and bits of information which can bias the process (such as names, education institutions attended, hobbies etc) but also to actively harvest data on the skills being sought, with employers using the platform to set tests to measure capacities and capabilities they’re after.

“We manage the hiring process right from the design of an inclusive job description, right through to the point of making a hiring decision and all of the selection that happens beneath that,” says Glazebrook. “So we use over 30 behavioural science nudges throughout the process to try and improve conversion and inclusivity — so that includes everything from removal of gendered language in jobs descriptions to anonymization of applications to testing candidates on job preview based assessments, rather than based on their CVs.”

“We also help people to run more evidence-based structured interviews and then make the hiring decision,” she adds. “From a behavioral science standpoint I guess our USP is we’ve redesigned the shortlisting process.”

The platform also provides jobseekers with greater visibility into the assessment process by providing them with feedback — “so candidates get to see where their strengths and weaknesses were” — so it’s not simply creating a new recruitment blackbox process that keeps people in the dark about the assessments being made about them. Which is important from an algorithmic accountability point of view, even without any AI involved because vanilla algorithms can still sum up to dumb decisions.

From the outside looking in, Applied’s approach might sound highly manual and high maintenance, given how necessarily involved the platform is in each and every hire, but Glazebrook says in fact it’s “all been baked into the tech” — so the platform takes the strain of the restructuring by automating the hand-holding involved in debiasing job ads and judgements, letting employers self-serve to step them through a reconstructed recruitment process.

“From the job description design, for example, there are eight different characteristics that are automatically picked out, so it’s all self-serve stuff,” explains Glazebrook, noting that the platform will do things like automatically flag words to watch out for in job descriptions or the length of the job ad itself.

“All with that totally automated. And client self-serve as well, so they use a library of questions — saying I’m looking for this particular skill-set and we can say well if you look through the library we’ll find you some questions which have worked well for testing that skill set before.”

“They do all of the assessment themselves, through the platform, so it’s basically like saying rather than having your recruiting team sifting through paper forms of CVs, we have them online scoring candidates through this redesigned process,” she adds.

Employers themselves need to commit to a new way of doing things, of course. Though Applied’s claim is that ultimately a fairer approach also saves time, as well as delivering great hires.

“In many ways, one of the things that we’ve discovered through many customers is that it’s actually saved them loads of time because the shortlisting process is devised in a way that it previously hasn’t been and more importantly they have data and reporting that they’ve never previously had,” she says. “So they now know, through the platform, which of the seven places that they placed the job actually found them the highest quality candidates and also found people who were from more diverse backgrounds because we could automatically pull the data.”

Applied ran its own comparative study of its reshaped process vs a traditional sifting of CVs and Glazebrook says it discovered “statistically significant differences” in the resulting candidate choices — claiming that over half of the pool of 700+ candidates “wouldn’t have got the job if we’d been looking at their CVs”.

They also looked at the differences between the choices made in the study and also found statistically significant differences “particularly in educational and economic background” — “so we were diversifying the people we were hiring by those metrics”.

“We also saw directional evidence around improvements in diversity on disability status and ethnicity,” she adds. “And some interesting stuff around gender as well.”

Applied wants to go further on the proof front, and Glazebrook says it is now automatically collecting performance data while candidates are on the job — “so that we can do an even better job of proving here is a person that you hired and you did a really good job of identifying the skill-sets that they are proving they have when they’re on the job”.

She says it will be feeding this intel back into the platform — “to build a better feedback loop the next time you’re looking to hire that particular role”.

“At the moment, what is astonishing, is that most HR departments 1) have terrible data anyway to answer these important questions, and 2) to the extent they have them they don’t pair those data sets in a way that allows them to prove — so they don’t know ‘did we hire them because of X or Y’ and ‘did that help us to actually replicate what was working well and jettison what wasn’t’,” she adds.

The seed funding will go on further developing these sorts of data science predictions, and also on updates to Applied’s gendered language tool and inclusive job description tool — as well as on sales and marketing to generally grow the business.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Nick Crocker, general partner at Blackbird Ventures said: “Our mission is to find the most ambitious founders, and support them through every stage of their company journey. Kate and the team blew us away with the depth of their insight, the thoughtfulness of their product, and a mission that we’re obsessed with.”

In another supporting statement, Owain Service, CEO of BI Ventures, added: “Applied uses the latest behavioural science research to help companies find the best talent. We ourselves have recruited over 130 people through the platform. This investment represents an exciting next step to supporting more organisations to remove bias from their recruitment processes, in exactly the same way that we do.”