All posts in “Fundings & Exits”

Original Tech helps banks offer better loan applications

Americans apply for more than 250 million new financial products each year, but the majority of those applications are completed on paper or over the phone. A startup called Original Tech wants to change that by providing white-label software to improve loan applications completed online.

While many of the big financial institutions have their own in-house engineering teams focused on building better products for consumers, it’s difficult for the mid-market and smaller banks, credit unions and non-bank lenders to compete on the customer-facing user experience. That’s where Original Tech comes in.

It enables borrowers to apply for loans on desktop, tablet or mobile devices without needing to go through the manual process of filling out paper applications or fax documents to the financial institution.

For lenders, Original Tech takes care of the data collection, fraud prevention and compliance enforcement. But its system is designed to work within lenders’ existing workflows and allows them to apply all their own underwriting rules.

Original Tech was founded by Heang ChanSean Li and Chris Blaser, all of whom are former employees of Blend, a B2B fintech company focused on providing technology solutions to mortgage lenders. Like Blend, the Original Tech team wants to take the pain out of the application process for borrowers, while also increasing application completion, and thus increasing the number of loans issued by lenders.

There are a few differences, however: Blend is currently focused almost exclusively on providing white-label tools to process mortgage applications, while Original Tech’s system can be used for multiple different lending products.

In addition, Blend historically has taken a top-down view of customer acquisition, going after some of the largest financial institutions as its anchor clients. Meanwhile, Original Tech is targeting the mid-market and below for its initial customer outreach, as it believes it can best serve financial institutions with limited engineering resources.

Finally, Blend has raised about $60 million since being founded, while Original Tech is angel-funded and just got started. That said, Original Tech is angel-funded and just about to graduate from Y Combinator’s Summer 2017 class.

Though it just launched, Original Tech has signed up 10 customers, including banks like Metropolitan Capital Bank, Rockhold Bank, Conventus Lending, Guarantee Mortgage, Loan Factory, Pacific Private Money and Clear Choice Credit. With Demo Day next week, the company is hoping to attract more funding and maybe also some new customer interest.

‘Airbnb for boats’ startup Boatsetter buys competitor Boatbound

You don’t have to be rich or T-Pain to be “on a boat.” You can rent one plus a captain for the day from Boatsetter. And now it’s got boats in more than 300 locations around the U.S. since it just acquired rival maritime marketplace Boatbound.

Boatsetter will be taking select talent from Boatbound plus logistics tech and its inventory of vessels for rental. A source familiar with the transaction said the acquisition was paid for with Boatsetter stock valued in the low-millions range.

The deal makes Boatsetter the biggest peer-to-peer boat rental service in the States, and possibly the world.

To fund future acquisitions of other competitors, Boatsetter also is announcing it has added $4.75 million in funding to its December 2016 Series A round, bringing the startup to a total of $17.75 million raised.

“The primary uses of the funds are M&A, growth and international expansion,” Boatsetter CEO Jackie Baumgarten tells me. When asked if she’ll go after European counterpart Click To Boat, she said, “I think we’re best poised for a roll-up strategy. There’s an opportunity to acquire and roll up several of the players. It’s ripe for consolidation.”

Everyone’s a captain

Boatbound launched back in 2013, well before Boatsetter, and raised more than $5 million from 500 Startups, equity crowdfunding platforms and boat manufacturer Brunswick.

The company went on to process more than $25 million in booking requests. However, it also faced complaints about safety and insurance after a woman lost her leg in an accident after renting through Boatbound. The startup didn’t require people to rent a captain with a boat as Boatsetter does, which delayed rescue procedures after the renter was sucked into the boat’s propeller.

Boatbound quieted down since moving from San Francisco to Seattle 2016 to cut costs and push towards profitability. Now the nationally available service is somewhat oddly being acquired by a competitor that was only operating in one state.

The combined company hopes things will sail smoothly thanks to Boatbound’s technology for routing rental requests and Boatsetter’s focus on insurance.

Based out of Florida, Boatsetter is a three-party marketplace where private boat owners and professional charter companies, captains and renters meet. Users can pick from nearby boats, rent one with a captain attached or pick a separate captain, and quickly get out on the water at an affordable price. Since the private owners are just trying to make back some of the non-stop expenses of keeping a boat afloat, Boatsetter can be cheaper than going through a traditional rental company.

Baumgarten actually started a peer-to-peer boating insurance company called Cruzin that later merged with Boatsetter. That’s how Boatsetter provides $1 million in liability coverage, $2 million in boat damage coverage, plus additional umbrella coverage to make renters feel safe.

Boatsetter says it has 5,000 vetted boats available, and is poised for 5X growth this year to hit over 10,000 rentals. That’s because Boatsetter has only concentrated on Florida, while Boatbound works with vessels across the country. The business model sees Boatsetter take 28 percent of the rental fee from the owner, 10 percent of the captain’s fee and adds a 7.5 percent booking fee to the renter. Those combine into a healthy margin, considering Boatsetter doesn’t own or upkeep any boats.

Experience > possession

Now the 27-person startup has a new channel to chase the estimated $50 billion yearly total addressable market for boat rentals. Boatsetter has partnered with Airbnb’s new experiences platform to let people pay to learn to sail in the San Francisco Bay, take a lesson from a pro wakeboarder in Miami or have paella cooked fresh onboard by a chef in Barcelona.

Boatsetter’s biggest challenge will be developing awareness. Most people assume they need a ton of money or boating skills to get out on the water. But the world is shifting from a materialistic culture to an experiential culture. It’s why Airbnb is blowing up.

People want to do amazing things they can capture on their camera phones and share on their social networks. They want memories. And it’s hard to top gliding over the waves with friends on your own private boat… even if it’s just for the afternoon.

LiftIgniter raises $6.4M to bring website personalization to the rest of the internet

You’ve probably had the experience of going to a website and seeing a lot of content that’s not really relevant. For the most part, a lot of this is organized in a way that’s either pre-defined or based on a limited number of signals that aims to sort of personalize the experience for a normal user.

But as time goes on and the competition for eyeballs continues to heat up, that light level of personalization probably won’t be enough. Instead, users can go to Facebook or Amazon, which have an enormous amount of data on its users, to get a much more personalized experience. Every other site that wants the attention of users needs to have a better-curated experience, and that’s what LiftIgniter is hoping to help those sites achieve. The company is raising $6.4 million in a round led by Storm Ventures. LiftIgniter has raised $8.25 million to date and was a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2016.

The goal is that the software will help customize the content on any given page for a specific user, which, hopefully, makes their experience more enjoyable. Those users may then end up either coming back over and over or eventually converting to customers and buying products. It’s all designed to create a more engaging experience, which in the end will help drive additional business to these sites through either more customer conversions or simply more unique visits and page views. LiftIgniter services more than 5 billion page views a month, co-founder Adam Spector said.

“Our view is that there should be a personalization API, just like there’s an API for text messages with Twilio or payments with Stripe,” Spector said. “Every digital property should have personalization built in. Media, e-commerce, enterprise, business-to-business SaaS, it doesn’t matter. If you create an experience for users, you should want to give them something they want. The only way to do that at scale is with machine learning.”

That “machine learning” part is important because the signals that users give to various websites are going to constantly be changing. As more and more users feed more and more data to the internet, having a truly engaging and personalized experience is table stakes to keep someone’s attention. A lot of companies will claim to be AI companies, but Spector says LiftIgniter has its own flavor that looks at a ton of signals that help define a profile of a user. Each signal is dependent on the last, and it’s the sum of those signals — all closely intertwined — that determines the user’s experience.

“Our customers’ websites are living and breathing things, and the connections between every piece of content is changing,” Spector said. “The articles you write today could be super relevant to an article that’s five years old. The relevance may change over time. The world is constantly in flux, the idea of having a hard-coded, static list of connections doesn’t make sense.”

A product like LiftIgniter certainly makes sense: you probably won’t be able to manually update your site fast enough to suit your specific visitors’ needs — especially for each individual user. But the sum of all those individual users is what will drive business, whether that’s through advertising views or purchases. Instead of manually curating a site or a shopping experience and hoping for the best, LiftIgniter tries to convince companies that it can do it at a technical level and drive results immediately.

And that’s one of the core elements of the company. LiftIgniter aims to ensure that the companies are able to get some meaningful metrics of success within 30 days of deploying it. That’s key for many companies, which are looking for some kind of return on any services they employ but may not necessarily get them right away. If you’re going to A/B test and try to personalize your site in order to get users to engage with it more, you’ll want to figure out if the service is actually going to be successful. That means that the companies can, early on, define various objectives and LiftIgniter will try to determine whether it’s able to hit those kinds of targets.

It’s going to be a crowded space — with plenty of competition from companies like Google — as companies race to build these kinds of products for companies. They’re going to become mission-critical tools for the rest of the world going forward as Facebook and other services train users to become completely accustomed to very personalized content. LiftIgniter hopes that creating a sort of blanket tool that any site can employ, as well as very quickly demonstrating some success, will give it a competitive edge to survive.

“We’re literally diverging from ourselves in every moment,” Spector said. “Humans adjust to a changing environment well. Our goals are going to be able to adjust for that and give users what they want. There’s no way I could consume every article. I should find the article I care about with a minimal amount of effort. Without that, they bounce back to Google, or Facebook, and then we outsource their discovery to Facebook and Google.”

Ripcord’s $40 million Series B will pay for more file digitizing robots and human jobs

Bay Area startup Ripcord just scored a $40 million Series B, following its successful launch earlier this year. By all accounts, the company has apparently hit the ground running with its decidedly unsexy goal of using robots to digitize paper records for large corporations and organizations.

According to CEO Alex Fielding, Ripcord already has a number of Fortune 100 companies on board, along with recent deals struck with UCLA and construction giant, Bechtel. The startup is working to distinguish itself with an end-to-end solution that includes, among other things, the aforementioned paper digitizing robots and Canopy, its consumer-facing cloud-based software, designed to actually access those records once digitized.

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“I think Ripcord is really finding our stride now as the only company is the space that’s really focused on end to end,” Fielding tells TechCrunch. “We build our own hardware and we have our own people operating our machines. It’s our own software, and we’re using AI and ML. I think it’s become really refreshing to clients who are used to paying five separate bills to manage their records.”

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The latest Icon Ventures-led round follows a $9.5 million Series A back in March, which also served as a sort of public-facing launch party for the company. The investors this time out are about half-new, and Icon General Partner Jeb Miller will also be joining the company’s board as part of the deal.

Fielding says the money will go toward the development of new robots and staff expansion. Ripcord’s current 50-person staff is expected to increase by more than 100 by the end of 2018, many of whom will be located in the company’s new Hayward, California-based production facility. The company is also exploring new markets and Fielding tells me that it’s looking to potentially license its proprietary robots to third-parties as part of the company’s future growth.

Codacy, a platform that helps developers check the quality of their code, raises $5.1M

Codacy, a startup based in Lisbon, Portugal that offers what it calls an “automated code review platform,” has raised $5.1 million in Series A funding. EQT Ventures led the round, with participation from existing investors Faber, Caixa Capital, Join Capital, and Seedcamp.

Launched in 2014, Codacy says it has been used by hundreds of companies, name-checking Paypal, Adobe, Qlik, Cancer Research UK, and Deliveroo as customers. The software can be installed on-premise or accessed in the cloud and is used by developers to check the quality of code, and implement code quality standards.

“Code review has become an essential part of any development workflow and developers now spend more than 20 per cent of their time reviewing code to catch bugs as early as possible and ensure quality,” says Codacy co-founder Jaime Jorge. “With Codacy, we estimate that we help developers optimise around 30 per cent of their code review time”.

This, claims Jorge, sees engineering teams be more efficient by 6 per cent. Or, put in more tangible terms, can correspond to delivering software two weeks ahead of plan.

“More than code reviews, our mission is to achieve developer productivity through quality at scale. We do this by centralizing the most meaningful problems, alerts and metrics and completely integrating them into your workflow,” he says.

“As an example, as you are creating a pull request we can tell you that we’ve found a security vulnerability as well as tell you that your test coverage is almost at your team’s defined objective. We’re continually developing our product to ensure it’s best-in-class at helping developers understand their code quality and make great engineering decisions”.

Codacy customers range from small digital consultancy shops to large multinational corporations, and span multiple industries and geographies.

Direct competitors are cited as Code Climate, and Sonarqube, but Jorge claims customers choose Codacy because of the way it is integrated into their workflow, to the point of automatically syncing with their favorite tools such as Github Enterprise. “This is particularly useful for our very large customers,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the new round of funding will be used to further build out the team to enable Codacy to expand its offering to a broader base of customers. The company currently employs 13 people and says it is hiring in the areas of software engineering, customer success, sales and marketing.