All posts in “money”

Zero raises $20 million from NEA and others for a credit card that works like debit

Just ahead of the launch of the Apple Card, a startup that has its own take on modernizing the credit card industry, Zero, is announcing the close of its $20 million Series A. The new round of funding was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), and brings Zero’s total raised to date to $35 million, including both equity and debt funding.

Other investors in the round include SignalFire, Eniac Ventures, Nyca Partners, and some unnamed school endowments. Zero had previously announced an $8.5 million raise in fall 2017, led by Eniac, and had raised $7 million in venture debt from Silicon Valley Bank.

Zero has a clever idea that targets millennials’ hesitance to sign up for credit cards.

Today, only 33 percent of millennials have a major credit card, a Bankrate survey found — largely because they’re wary of falling into the vicious debt cycle. Instead, this younger demographic often only carries a debit card. But that also means they’re missing out on credit card benefits — like points, rewards, and cash back.

Zero’s idea is to offer a rewards credit card that works like debit.

The Zerocard itself is a World Mastercard, so it earns credit card cash back. But unlike a traditional credit card, it’s combined with an FDIC-backed checking account called Zero Checking. That means Zerocard and Zero Checking work together in the app, allowing cardholders to see one net number they can spend from.

That way, they won’t make the mistake of accidentally going over budget, as is often the case with traditional credit cards who then benefit from charging interest on the unpaid balance.

Zero co-founder and CEO Bryce Galen says he had always liked optimizing his personal finances, but didn’t see the value in overspending to chase rewards.

“People spend 10 to 15 percent more on average just because they’re putting it on a credit card, and not seeing where they stand all the time,” he says. “Spending 10 to 15 percent more to chase 1 to 2 percent in rewards doesn’t make sense.”

Plus, he adds, “half of all credit card points are never even redeemed.”

With Zerocard, the company does away with other credit card annoyances as well.

Zerocard doesn’t charge annual fees like many traditional credit cards do. And Zero Checking doesn’t add any additional ATM fees beyond what the ATM owner charges. It also does away with foreign transaction fees, minimum balance fees, and overdraft fees — like many of today’s challenger banks.

Meanwhile, the Zero app is built with an eye towards what makes apps great.

Galen, who led product development for Zynga’s “Words with Friends” has experience in this department, while co-founder and COO Joel Washington previously co-founded car sales marketplace Shift. The executive team, combined, has backgrounds that include time at Affirm, Apple, Capital One, Dropbox, Google, Postmates, Silicon Valley Bank, Upgrade, and Wells Fargo.

Overall, Zero’s design feels clean and simple, compared to the cluttered and dated apps from traditional banks. It has smart features, too, like a detailed transaction view that shows the vendor’s logo and location on a map to make it easier to recognize purchases.

“Zero creates an innovative debit-style experience, with an elegant design, and truly compelling rewards. It’s a fabulous banking experience,” said Hans Morris, Managing Partner of Nyca Partners and former President of Visa, Inc., in a statement. “Few people understand how complex it is to launch either a credit card or a checking account program, and I believe Zero is the first U.S. startup to launch both,” he said.

Zero launched in November 2018, but only to a small number of customers. Though officially open for business, it was functioning more like a public beta — though it didn’t call it that at the time. Meanwhile, its waitlist continued to grow.

Today, there are still 204,000 people waiting to be allowed in — something that Galen says is now going to happen.

“We haven’t launched to everyone on the waitlist yet, but we expect to within the next few weeks,” he says.

Another interesting twist on traditional credit cards is Zero’s path to card upgrades: it encourages but also rewards customers for telling their friends. By doing so, customers gain access to better-looking cards and higher cash back percentages.

Zero customers start with a “Quartz” card offering 1 percent back on purchases. When a friend they refer joins, they receive a higher-level card called “Graphite” that offers 1.5 percent back. Two friends earns you the “Magnesium” card with 2 percent back and four friends gets you the “Carbon” card with 3 percent back. The Carbon card is also solid metal, capitalizing on the millennial trend of wanting their cards to look cool. And metal cards are in particular demand.

To receive the full cash back rates, customers have to pay their balances in full by the due date, Zero says.

The company has partnered with Salt Lake City-based WebBank to issue the card, and deposits are held at Memphis-based Evolve Bank & Trust, an FDIC member. Zero makes money primarily on interchange and interest on deposits.

While some users may leave balances on the card that generate interest, Zero isn’t focused on that aspect of the business for revenue generation.

“Most companies in fintech today are launching undifferentiated debit cards as a feature or extension to their product for an additional engagement and monetization stream,” says Rick Yang, partner at NEA, as to why he invested.

“Zero is completely focused on their card programs and building a differentiated solution that actually provides a value proposition that resonates with consumers. We’ve also been fascinated by the growth of debit outpacing credit, and we think that our solution gives consumers the best of both worlds,” he adds.

Zero is currently iOS-only, but is working on an Android version which is expected to be ready in August.

Startups Weekly: There’s an alternative to raising VC and it’s called revenue-based financing

Revenue-based financing is on the rise, at least according to Lighter Capital, a firm that doles out entrepreneur-friendly debt capital.

What exactly is RBF you ask? It’s a relatively new form of funding for tech companies that are posting monthly recurring revenue. Here’s how Lighter Capital, which completed 500 RBF deals in 2018, explains it: “It’s an alternative funding model that mixes some aspects of debt and equity. Most RBF is technically structured as a loan. However, RBF investors’ returns are tied directly to the startup’s performance, which is more like equity.”

Source: Lighter Capital

What’s the appeal? As I said, RBFs are essentially dressed up debt rounds. Founders who opt for RBFs as opposed to venture capital deals hold on to all their equity and they don’t get stuck on the VC hamster wheel, the process in which you are forced to continually accept VC while losing more and more equity as a means of pleasing your investors.

RBFs, however, are better than traditional debt rounds because the investors are more incentivized to help the companies they invest in because they are receiving a certain portion of that business’s monthly revenues, typically 1% to 9%. Eventually, as is explained thoroughly in Lighter Capital’s newest RBF report, monthly payments come to an end, usually 1.3 to 2.5X the amount of the original financing, a multiple referred to as the “cap.” Three to five years down the line, any unpaid amount of said cap is due back to the investor. When all is said in done, ideally, the startup has grown with the support of the capital and hasn’t lost any equity.

At this point, they could opt to raise additional revenue-based capital, they could turn to venture capital or they could tap a tech bank to help them get to the next step. The idea is RBF is easier on the founder and it allows them optionality, something that is often lost when companies turn to VCs.

IPO corner, rapid-fire edition

Slack’s direct listing will be on June 20th. Get excited.

China’s Luckin Coffee raised $650 million in upsized U.S. IPO

Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity unicorn, dropped its S-1.

Freelance marketplace Fiverr has filed to go public on the NYSE.

Plus, I had a long and comprehensive conversation with Zoom CEO Eric Yuan this week about the company’s closely watched IPO. You can read the full transcript here.

Second Chances

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Hosain Rahman, the man behind Jawbone, has managed to raise $65.4 million for his new company, according to an SEC filing. The paperwork, coincidentally or otherwise, was processed while most of the world’s attention was focused on Uber’s IPO. Jawbone, if you remember, produced wireless speakers and Bluetooth earpieces, and went kaput in 2017 after burning up $1 billion in venture funding over the course of 10 years. Ouch.

More startup capital

Funds!

On the heels of enterprise startup UiPath raising at a $7 billion valuation, the startup’s biggest investor is announcing a new fund to double down on making more investments in Europe. VC firm Accel has closed a $575 million fund — money that it plans to use to back startups in Europe and Israel, investing primarily at the Series A stage in a range of between $5 million and $15 million, reports TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden. Plus, take a closer look at Contrary Capital. Part accelerator, part VC fund, Contrary writes small checks to student entrepreneurs and recent college dropouts.

Extra Crunch

Our paying subscribers are in for a treat this week. Our in-house venture capital expert Danny Crichton wrote down some thoughts on Uber and Lyft’s investment bankers. Here’s a snippet: “Startup CEOs heading to the public markets have a love/hate relationship with their investment bankers. On one hand, they are helpful in introducing a company to a wide range of asset managers who will hopefully hold their company’s stock for the long term, reducing price volatility and by extension, employee churn. On the other hand, they are flagrantly expensive, costing millions of dollars in underwriting fees and related expenses…”

Read the full story here and sign up for Extra Crunch here.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about the notable venture rounds of the week, CrowdStrike’s IPO and more of this week’s headlines.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

WorldCover raises $6M round for emerging markets’ climate insurance

WorldCover, a New York and Africa-based climate insurance provider to smallholder farmers, has raised a $6 million Series A round led by MS&AD Ventures.

Y Combinator, Western Technology Investment and EchoVC also participated in the round.

WorldCover’s platform uses satellite imagery, on-ground sensors, mobile phones and data analytics to create insurance options for farmers whose crop yields are affected adversely by weather events — primarily lack of rain.

The startup currently operates in Ghana, Uganda and Kenya . With the new funding, WorldCover aims to expand its insurance offerings to more emerging market countries.

“We’re looking at India, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia. India could be first on an 18-month timeline for a launch,” WorldCover co-founder and chief executive Chris Sheehan said in an interview.

The company has served more than 30,000 farmers across its Africa operations. Smallholder farmers are those earning all or nearly all of their income from agriculture, farming on 10-20 acres of land and earning around $500 to $5,000, according to Sheehan.

Farmers connect to WorldCover by creating an account on its USSD mobile app. From there they can input their region and crop type and determine how much insurance they would like to buy and use mobile money to purchase a plan. WorldCover works with payments providers such as M-Pesa in Kenya and MTN Mobile Money in Ghana.

The service works on a sliding scale, where a customer can receive anywhere from 5x to 15x the amount of premium they have paid. If there is an adverse weather event, namely lack of rain, the farmer can file a claim via mobile phone. WorldCover then uses its data-analytics metrics to assess it, and, if approved, the farmer will receive an insurance payment via mobile money.

Common crops farmed by WorldCover clients include maize, rice and peanuts. It looks to add coffee, cocoa and cashews to its coverage list.

For the moment, WorldCover only insures for events such as rainfall risk, but in the future it will look to include other weather events, such as tropical storms, in its insurance programs and platform data analytics.

The startup’s founder clarified that WorldCover’s model does not assess or provide insurance payouts specifically for climate change, though it does directly connect to the company’s business.

“We insure for adverse weather events that we believe climate change factors are exacerbating,” Sheehan explained. WorldCover also resells the risk of its policyholders to global reinsurers, such as Swiss Re and Nephila.

On the potential market size for WordCover’s business, he highlights a 2018 Lloyd’s study that identified $163 billion of assets at risk, including agriculture, in emerging markets from negative, climate change-related events.

“That’s what WorldCover wants to go after…These are the kind of micro-systemic risks we think we can model and then create a micro product for a smallholder farmer that they can understand and will give them protection,” he said.

With the round, the startup will look to possibilities to update its platform to offer farming advice to smallholder farmers, in addition to insurance coverage.

WorldCover investor and EchoVC founder Eghosa Omoigui believes the startup’s insurance offerings can actually help farmers improve yield. “Weather-risk drives a lot of decisions with these farmers on what to plant, when to plant, and how much to plant,” he said. “With the crop insurance option, the farmer says, ‘Instead of one hector, I can now plant two or three, because I’m covered.’ ”

Insurance technology is another sector in Africa’s tech landscape filling up with venture-backed startups. Other insurance startups focusing on agriculture include Accion Venture Lab-backed Pula and South Africa based Mobbisurance.

With its new round and plans for global expansion, WorldCover joins a growing list of startups that have developed business models in Africa before raising rounds toward entering new markets abroad.

In 2018, Nigerian payment startup Paga announced plans to move into Asia and Latin America after raising $10 million. In 2019, South African tech-transit startup FlexClub partnered with Uber Mexico after a seed raise. And Lagos-based fintech startup TeamAPT announced in Q1 it was looking to expand globally after a $5 million Series A round.

Startups Weekly: All these startups are raising big rounds

TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos published some interesting stats on seed and Series A financings this week, courtesy of data collected by Wing Venture Capital. In short, seed is the new Series A and Series A is the new Series B. Sure, we’ve been saying that for a while, but Wing has some clean data to back up those claims.

Years ago, a Series A round was roughly $5 million and a startup at that stage wasn’t expected to be generating revenue just yet, something typically expected upon raising a Series B. Now, those rounds have swelled to $15 million, according to deal data from the top 21 VC firms. And VCs are expecting the startups to be making money off their customers.

“Again, for the old gangsters of the industry, that’s a big shift from 2010, when just 15 percent of seed-stage companies that raised Series A rounds were already making some money,” Connie writes.

As for seed, in 2018, the average startup raised a total of $5.6 million prior to raising a Series A, up from $1.3 million in 2010.

Now on to IPO updates, then a closer look at all the companies raising big rounds. Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here. Contact me at kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets.

Slack iOS logo (2019)

IPO corner

Slack: The workplace communication software provider dropped its S-1 on Friday ahead of a direct listing. That’s when companies sell existing shares directly to the market, allowing them to skip the roadshow and minimize the astronomical fees typically associated with an initial public offering. Here’s the TLDR on financials: Slack reported revenues of $400.6 million in the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019, on losses of $138.9 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million for the year before. Slack’s losses are shrinking (slowly), while its revenues expand (quickly). It’s not profitable yet, but is that surprising?

Uber: The ride-hail giant is fast approaching its IPO, expected as soon as next week. On Friday, the company established an IPO price range of $44 to $50 per share to raise between $7.9 billion and $9 billion at a valuation of approximately $84 billion, significantly lower than the $100 billion previously reported estimations. The most likely outcome is Uber will price above range and all the latest estimates will be way off course. Best to sit back and see how Uber plays it. Oh, and PayPal said it would make a $500 million investment in the company in a private placement, as part of an extension of the partnership between the two.

There are a lot of fascinating companies raising colossal rounds, so I thought I’d dive a bit deeper than I normally do. Bear with me.

Carbon: The poster child for 3D printing has authorized the sale of $300 million in Series E shares, according to a Delaware stock filing uncovered by PitchBook. If Carbon raises the full amount, it could reach a valuation of $2.5 billion. Using its proprietary Digital Light Synthesis technology, the business has brought 3D-printing technology to manufacturing, building high-tech sports equipment, a line of custom sneakers for Adidas and more. It was valued at $1.7 billion by venture capitalists with a $200 million Series D in 2018.

Canoo: The electric vehicle startup formerly known as Evelozcity is on the hunt for $200 million in new capital. Backed by a clutch of private individuals and family offices from China, Germany and Taiwan, the company is hoping to line up the new capital from some more recognizable names as it finalizes supply deals with vendors, according to reporting from TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber. The company intends to make its vehicles available through a subscription-based model and currently has 400 employees. Canoo was founded in 2017 after Stefan Krause, a former executive at BMW and Deutsche Bank, and another former BMW executive, Ulrich Kranz, exited Faraday Future amid that company’s struggles.

Starry: The Boston-based wireless broadband internet startup has authorized the sale of Series D shares worth up to $125 million, according to a Delaware stock filing. If Starry closes the full authorized raise it will hold a post-money valuation of $870 million. A spokesperson for the company confirmed it had already raised new capital, but disputed the numbers. The company has already raised more than $160 million from investors, including FirstMark Capital and IAC. The company most recently closed a $100 million Series C this past July.

Selina & Sonder: The Airbnb competitor Sonder is in the process of closing a financing worth roughly $200 million at a $1 billion valuation, reports The Wall Street Journal. Investors including Greylock Partners, Spark Capital and Structure Capital are likely to participate. Sonder is four years old but didn’t emerge from stealth until 2018. The startup, which turns homes into hotels, quickly attracted more than $100 million in venture funding. Meanwhile, another hospitality business called Selina has raised $100 million at an $850 million valuation. The company, backed by Access Industries, Grupo Wiese and Colony Latam Partners, builds living/co-working/activity spaces across the world for digital nomads.

Fresh funds: Mary Meeker has made history with the close of her new fund, Bond Capital, the largest VC fund founded and led by a female investor to date. Bond has $1.25 billion in committed capital. If you remember, Meeker ditched Kleiner Perkins last fall and brought the firm’s entire growth team with her. Kleiner said it was a peaceful split that would allow the firm to focus more on its early-stage efforts, leaving the growth investing to Bond. Fortune, however, reported this week that a power struggle of sorts between Meeker and Mamoon Hamid, who joined recently to reenergize the early-stage side of things, was a larger cause of her exit.

Plus, SOSV, a multi-stage venture firm that was founded as the personal investment vehicle of entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan after his company went public in 1994, has raised $218 million for its third fund. The vehicle has a $250 million target that SOSV expects to meet. Already, the fund is substantially larger than the firm’s previous vehicle, which closed with $150 million.

A grocery delivery startup crumbles: Honestbee, the online grocery delivery service in Asia, is nearly out of money and trying to offload its business. Despite looking impressive from the outside, the company is currently in crisis mode due to a cash crunch — there’s a lot happening right now. TechCrunch’s Jon Russell dives in deep here.

Extra Crunch: When it comes to working with journalists, so many people are, frankly, idiots. I have seen reporters yank stories because founders are assholes, play unfairly, or have PR firms that use ridiculous pressure tactics when they have already committed to a story.” Sign up for Extra Crunch for a full list of PR don’ts. Here are some other EC pieces to hit the wire this week:

Equity: If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about Kleiner Perkins, Chinese IPOs and Slack & Uber’s upcoming exits. 

Microsoft joins Amazon and Apple in $1 trillion club

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Microsoft has joined the trillion dollar club.
Microsoft has joined the trillion dollar club.

Image: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Microsoft is now part of an exclusive club: $1 trillion dollar companies. 

On Thursday, the company’s stock price opened at $130 per share, bringing its total market cap (the price of all of its shares combined) to over $1 trillion. It’s the third company to achieve this somewhat mind-bending milestone, following Apple, which hit the mark in August 2018, and Amazon, which earned that valuation in September 2018.

The bump in value comes thanks to an impressive earnings report the company posted Wednesday. All three of Microsoft’s divisions — hardware, software, and cloud and enterprise services — are pulling their weight. Microsoft’s revenue for the quarter increased 14 percent over last year, for a total quarterly revenue of $30.6 billion.

Stock prices fluctuate often — Apple and Amazon have both since lost their T prize, and Microsoft’s value was already just under $1 trillion as of 10:30 a.m. ET. The trillion dollar valuation is more of a milestone of flabbergasting confidence in these giant tech companies. 

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