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Main article: Funding

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Checkout.com acquires payment optimization startup ProcessOut

03:00 | 26 February

Checkout.com, the quiet London-based payment platform, has acquired its first startup, ProcessOut. Checkout.com surprised everyone last year when it announced a gigantic $230 million Series A round. It turns out the payment processing boom is not over yet.

Checkout.com focuses on enterprise clients with customers all around the world. It provides a full-stack payment service, from accepting transactions, processing them and detecting fraud. It helps you with reconciliation thanks to an API and a reporting hub.

The startup is particularly efficient when it comes to supporting multiple currencies and payment methods. You can accept payments in over 150 different currencies. Checkout.com supports debit and credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, local payment methods, such as Klarna, iDEAL and Giropay, e-wallets, such as PayPal and Alipay.

ProcessOut is a French startup that realized e-commerce companies have been leaving money on the table by relying on a single payment provider. The company built a smart routing checkout module that works with dozens of payment providers.

When you enter your card number, ProcessOut can select the best payment provider when it comes to fees and acceptance rate. For instance, a local payment provider can be a lot cheaper than Stripe, but transactions get declined a lot more often. The startup can figure out whether a transaction will go through before selecting an obscure payment provider.

The company then shows you dashboards so that you can visualize payment data in a single location. You can generate report and match transactions on your bank account with transactions on different payment providers.

That combination of data visualization and smart routing helped them score some big clients, such as Glovo, Veepee, Rakuten.fr and Dashlane. In 2019, ProcessOut have tracked 10% of online transactions in France. Transactions representing $20 billion have been analyzed by ProcessOut over the past 12 months.

With today’s acquisition, ProcessOut’s team of 14 employees are joining Checkout.com’s team of 600 employees. Checkout.com isn’t disclosing the terms of the transaction. Checkout.com is getting a ton of insights on different payment providers. It can learn from ProcessOut’s technology to optimize its internal payment workflows as well.

 


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For investors, late-stage fintech startups are a lucrative bet

18:29 | 25 February

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Over the past three months, a number of financial events have occurred in the fintech and finservices world that have caught our eye. Between two rounds at $500 million and two exits in the billions of dollars, financial technology and services startups have been on fire.

Today I’d like to rewind and go over the four largest events from the past three months in fintech and finservices (total value: $13.4 billion) and pull in data on other rounds that have happened recently. This will help us get a handle on what’s going on in the two heated startup sectors.

Recall that our last look into fintech’s venture activity wrapped up its Q4 2019 results. Today, thanks to the punishing news cycle that the sector has kept up over the last few weeks, we’re going a bit further. Into the breach!

Four events

We have two rounds ($500 million rounds for Revolut and Chime) and two sales (exits for Plaid and Credit Karma) to wrap up today. Here’s what each of those deals might tell us about the current market for money-focused startups and investment, starting with our two rounds and followed by our two exits:

  • Chime raises $500 million, boosting its valuation from $1.5 billion (March 2019) to $5.8 billion (December 2019). Chime’s round demonstrated that the neobanking boom, at least in terms venture interest, is far from over. The America-focused financial services company grew its accounts figure to 6.5 million, giving it a valuation of a little under $1,000 per account; how much revenue and margin it can extract from its existing accounts is almost a red herring given its current pace of growth. But even with the growth caveat, investors have bet big that its long-term revenues will help support a valuation of over $10 billion in time. (The company’s most recent investors expect material return on their funds.) This implies confidence in the long-term economics of neobanking and general bullishness on the company’s category — so the existing 6.5 million accounts better churn out good chunks of top line.

 


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Revolut raises $500 million at $5.5 billion valuation

03:00 | 25 February

Fintech startup Revolut is raising a large Series D round of funding. TCV is leading the $500 million round, valuing the company at $5.5 billion. Over the past few years, Revolut has raised $836 million in total.

Some existing investors are also participating in today’s funding round, but Revolut isn’t sharing names. Previous investors include DST Global, Index Ventures, Balderton Capital and many others.

If you’re not familiar with Revolut, the company is building a financial service to replace traditional bank accounts. You can open an account from an app in just a few minutes. You can then receive, send and spend money from the app or using a debit card.

On top of that, Revolut has added a ton of features that it has built in house or through partnerships. You can insure your phone, get a travel medical insurance package, buy cryptocurrencies, buy shares, donate to charities, save money and more.

Revolut currently has over 10 million customers, mostly in Europe and the U.K. The company doesn’t share specific numbers when it comes to transaction volume and monthly active customers. But here are some percentage-based metrics:

  • The total number of users has grown by 169% in 2019.
  • Daily active customers grew by 380% in 2019.
  • Revenue grew by 354% in 2018 (yes, 2018).
  • Revenue from premium subscription plans (Revolut Premium and Revolut Metal) have grown by 154% in 2019.

With the new influx of cash, the company says that it’ll focus on improving its product for existing users as well as revenue. It’s all about making Revolut more useful and stickier going forward.

In particular, you can expect new lending services for both retail customers as well as companies using Revolut for Business. While Revolut provides a ton of services in the U.K., customers in other markets don’t have the same feature set. For instance, Revolut recently launched savings vaults in the U.K. — customers in other markets will be able to open savings sub-accounts in the future as well.

Other than that, Revolut wants to double down on the core features. The company will improve its two subscription tiers (Premium and Metal) and improve banking operations across Europe — you can expect full bank accounts in Europe in the future.

There are currently 2,000 people working for Revolut. “We’re on a mission to build a global financial platform – a single app where our customers can manage all of their daily finances, and this investment demonstrates investor confidence in our business model. Going forward, our focus is on rolling-out banking operations in Europe, increasing the number of people who use Revolut as their daily account, and striving towards profitability,” Revolut co-founder and CEO Nik Storonsky said in the release.

Revolut is currently live in the U.K., Europe, Singapore and Australia (in beta). While the company has announced plans to expand to a handful of countries, the main focus is on launching in the U.S. and Japan in the coming months.

 


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With cinnamon, fruit and mint-flavored nicotine gum, is LA’s Lucy Goods the next Juul?

22:18 | 24 February

David Renteln, the Los Angeles-based co-founder of Soylent and the co-founder and chief executive of new nicotine gum manufacturer Lucy Goods, thinks there should be a better-tasting, less-medicinal offering for people looking to quit smoking.

That’s why he founded Lucy Goods, and that’s why investors, including RRE Ventures, Vice Ventures and FundRX joined previous investors YCombinator and Greycroft in backing the company with $10 million in new funding.

“We reformulated nicotine gum and the improvements that we made were to the taste, the texture and the nicotine release speed,” said Renteln.

These days, any startup that’s working on smoking cessation or working with tobacco products can’t avoid comparisons to Juul — the multi-billion-dollar startup that’s at the center of the surge in teen nicotine consumption.

“The Juul comparison is something that’s obviously top of people’s minds,” Renteln said. “It’s important to note that there’s a huge difference in nicotine products.”

Renteln points to statements from former Food and Drug Administration chief, Scott Gottlieb (who’s now a partner at the venture firm New Enterprise Associates), which drew a distinction between combustible tobacco products on one end and nicotine gums and patches on the other.

“Nicotine isn’t the principle agent of harm associated with these tobacco products,” said Rentlen. “It’s addictive but not inherently bad for you.”

Lucy Goods also doesn’t release its nicotine dosage in a concentrated burst like vapes, which are designed to replicate the head rush associated with smoking a cigarette, said Renteln.

“It is a stimulant and they will get a sensation, but it’s not as intense as taking a very deep drag of a cigarette,” Renteln said. 

The company’s website also doesn’t skew to young, lifestyle marketing images. Instead, there are testimonials from older, ex-smokers hawking the Lucy gum.

“I don’t want anyone underage using any nicotine product or any drug in general… [and] the flavors have been around for a long time.”

Joining Renteln in the quest to create a better nicotine gum is Samy Hamdouche, a former business development executive at several Southern California biotech startups and the previous vice president of research at Soylent. 

For both men, the idea is to get a new product to market that can help people quit smoking — without a social stigma — Renteln said.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States claiming over 480,000 lives every year and costing the U.S. an estimated $300 billion in direct health costs and lost productivity. Lucy is committed to bringing innovative nicotine products to the market to eliminate tobacco related harm and we’re proud to be part of their journey,” said RRE investor, Jason Black in a statement.

 


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Chattermill raises $8M Series A to enable companies to gain customer feedback insights ‘at scale’

12:00 | 24 February

Chattermill, the London startup that offers what it calls a “customer understanding” platform that uses machine learning to gain scalable insights into customer feedback, has raised $8 million in Series A funding.

Leading the round is DN Capital, alongside Ventech and btov Partners. Silicon Valley Bank also participated, in addition to a number of angel investors including Matt Price (Senior Vice President at Zendesk), and Nilan Peiris (VP Growth at Transferwise). Existing investors Entrepreneur First, Avonmore Developments and 2be.lu also followed on.

I’m also told that Price, who previously led Zendesk’s growth in EMEA, will join the Chattermill board as Non-Executive Director.

Co-founded by Mikhail Dubov and Dmitry Isupov in 2015 while going through the company builder program run by Entrepreneur First, Chattermill was born out of a frustration that it can take weeks or months for customer research to yield any quality insights, which would then be out of date by the time it reached decision-makers and action could be taken. Like many problems of scale, the pair believed machine learning could be an important part of the solution, coupled with an accessible user interface that surfaces customer feedback across multiple channels in an actionable way.

Since then, Chattermill’s platform has been used by a number of high-growth companies, such as HelloFresh, Uber, Deliveroo, and Zappos. London fintech darling Transferwise was also an earlier customer — so perhaps unsurprising that its VP of Growth is now an investor.

Comments Transferwise’s Peiris: “Chattermill enables our team to take customer insights deeper than ever before and focus on the key factors that make a difference to our users and drive our growth. I’ve seen first-hand the value a product like Chattermill’s can add to a company and that’s why I decided to invest in this round”.

Agonistic to where the customer feedback is generated, Chattermill integrates with lots of third-party software, aggregating various feedback such as surveys, reviews, support tickets, and social media.

“We have built a large library of pre-built connections to the most popular customer feedback systems such as SurveyMonkey, Trustpilot, Zendesk and Salesforce,” explains Chattermill co-founder Mikhail Dubov.

“A new customer would usually connect a few of these data sources to start with. We then build a model to understand their customer experience from both the data we see and knowledge already embedded in our system. Once this is done, we can start delivering analytics and insights directly to their users in real time and with high accuracy, enabling businesses to make better-informed decisions at a faster speed and scale”.

Asked what assumptions Chattermill got right after raising its seed round in December 2017, Dubov says two key strategies have panned out well. One was to go after “customer-focused” businesses at the start, and the other was to double down on the depth of insights and the product’s ease of use versus “over-investing” in specific machine learning technologies.

“This meant our offering became even more powerful as NLP made a huge step forward in the last two years with models such as GPT and BERT,” Dubov explains. “We were able to swap out parts of our model to improve quickly rather than being attached to a specific architecture”.

However, not everything was foreseen, and Dubov says he didn’t anticipate how much the tech landscape around customer experience would change. “With the acquisitions of Qualtrics and IPOs from Medallia and SurveyMonkey, we now see a lot more attention to the sector from both customers and investors,” he says. “We also see a lot more interest in extracting insight from customer conversations via chat and voice than we did two years ago”.

 


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Spain’s Cobee raises €2.1M for its employee benefits app and payment card

11:30 | 24 February

Cobee, a Spanish fintech startup that has developed an employee benefit management app and accompanying card, has closed €2.1 million in “pre-Series A” funding.

The round was co-led by Speedinvest, and Target Global. Other backers include Chris Bouwer (co-founder of Adyen) and existing investors Encomenda Smart Capital, BStartup (Banco Sabadell), Lanai Partners and Abac Nest.

Founded in 2018 by Borja Aranguren and Daniel Olea, Cobee aims to help employees “leverage better economic performance” from their salary via a range of employee benefits and discounts offered through the platform. These are managed within the Cobee app and redeemed through use of the Cobee payment card.

The draw for companies signing up is that Cobee already claims its platform has higher engagement than many existing employee benefit programmes. And by being a fully digital and automated solution, there is considerably less administration needed to manage the programme.

“We realized that there is an increasing number of solutions that are being sold as benefits or products to the end employees through their HR department (gyms, insurance products, perks, vouchers, salary sacrifice formulas, etc.),” Cobee co-founder and CEO Borja Aranguren tells TechCrunch. “This, on the one hand, means administrative hassle for the HR departments to manage all the different providers and processes and, most importantly, on the other hand, brings a totally fragmented and unclear value proposition for the employee”.


With this problem in mind, Aranguren and Olea set out to build Cobee, which the pair describe as a fintech HR solution that empowers employees to consume their compensation and benefits on-demand.

“All our efforts are focused on making employees feel happy about their benefits, trying to unify the value proposition in an understandable and easy to use formula,” Aranguren explains. “For the companies, we offer an easy-to-use SaaS platform to configure their benefit offering and upload their employees. For the employees, it is an app and a payment card to consumer those benefits as they like, with funds coming from a company subsidy or from their own salary”.

The current Cobee offering includes benefits like meals, transportation, childcare, health insurance and training courses. Additional options, such as gym membership, are said to be coming in the next few months.

“Our product can cater for companies of all sizes, from SMEs or startups to large corporations of any sector,” adds Aranguren. “However, our main target segment are those companies ranging between 50 to 5,000 employees. We have customers and users like Petronas, Avis Budget Group, Auto1 Group, Opinno, Glovo, and Willis Towers Watson”.

Meanwhile, Cobee says it will use the new funding to “scale up its business model” in Spain and expand into international markets. To support its mission to become a European category leader, the company plans to strengthen its team and enhance its platform by integrating new products and benefits.

The business model is straightforward, too: Cobee charges companies a SaaS fee per active employee. “We follow a pure success-based approach and we only win if the employees win, which, after all, makes the companies win,” says the Cobee CEO. “Besides that, we leverage purchasing volumes to build a marketplace that we can monetize and that also allows us to create savings that can be transferred to our end customers/employees”.

 


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Europe’s Target Global raises new €120M early-stage fund

11:00 | 24 February

Target Global, the pan-European venture capital firm headquartered in Berlin, has raised a new €120 million early-stage fund, following what it claims was only 3 months of fundraising.

Dubbed “Early Stage Fund II”, the new vehicle will see the firm continue to back early-stage tech companies across Europe and Israel, leading and co-leading seed and Series A rounds. It also has a later-stage growth fund and a dedicated mobility fund, and in combination Target Global currently has over €800 million in assets under management.

“Our ‘Early Stage Fund II’ will pretty much follow the same strategy as our ‘Early Stage Fund I’; same team, same size, same investment strategy,” Shmuel Chafets, General Partner and Vice-Chairman at Target Global, tells TechCrunch.

“We had long debates around fund size, and despite it being oversubscribed, we opted to keep it at the original €120 million, which we believe is optimal for European early-stage at the moment and will also us to both deliver venture returns to LPs and give our founders the time and attention that early stage companies need”.

To that end, Target Global — which has a 50-person team across offices in Berlin, London, Tel Aviv, Moscow and Barcelona — says it will continue to focus on startups that are disrupting “truly European, trillion-Euro industries,” citing retail, financial services, food, mobility, healthcare, and manufacturing organizations, and the application of technologies such as SaaS, online marketplaces and e-commerce, and AI.

“Category leaders” that the VC has already backed include Auto1, Delivery Hero, Wefox, TravelPerk, and Rapyd.

“We like to invest in companies that target huge markets and with great teams that have relevant experience for the problem they are solving and that show durability,” adds Chafets. “It is very rare to have a team in the pre-A stage that really has all the answers around product-market-fit and technology. Most companies go through good and bad times, we try to find the founders that would go the distance”.

Meanwhile, Target Global is also announcing that Dr Ricardo Schäfer has been appointed as a new partner for Early-Stage Fund II. He’ll be leading the firm’s early-stage investments in its London office. Described as a serial angel investor and an early backer of Revolut, Schäfer was most recently part of Seedcamp’s investment team, as well as a Venture Partner with Cherry Ventures.

“We are happy to strengthen our London team with such an experienced and successful early-stage investor,” says Alex Frolov, General Partner and CEO at Target Global, in a statement. “With his focus on fintech and proptech, and a hands-on, entrepreneurial approach, we feel that it’s an excellent match both for our Target Global investment strategy and our culture”.

 


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Created to help employees figure out health benefits, HealthJoy raises $30 million

09:59 | 24 February

HealthJoy, a platform designed to make it easier for employees to use their healthcare benefits, has raised $30 million in Series C funding led by Health Velocity Capital. Returning investors also participated, including U.S. Venture Partners, Chicago Ventures, Epic Ventures, Brandon Cruz and Clint Jones. This brings HealthJoy’s total funding so far to $53 million.

By integrating with healthcare service providers and partnering with benefit consultant agencies, HealthJoy simplifies the process of finding and using benefits. Its features include an AI-based virtual assistant and healthcare concierges. The startup says it has a monthly login rate of 33% and that its clients, which now includes 500 employers, see a tenfold increase in the employee use of benefits, including telemedicine.

Since TechCrunch covered HealthJoy’s Series B round last year, the company has launched two new services. One is a price transparency tool called HealthJoy Rewards that allows companies to provide incentives for employees to use more cost-efficient services.

“For example, an MRI in Chicago can vary in price from around $500 for an independent clinic to around $3,500 in a hospital system,” HealthJoy founder and CEO Justin Holland told TechCrunch. “Our rewards platform allows companies to customize the incentive, but we provide nearly 100 recommendations. We’re showing an amazing ROI for companies that have adopted the program since we’re targeting high-cost procedures.”

The second new service is called HealthJoy EAP, an employee assistance program that Holland says is a priority for further development. It gives 24/7 access to short-term counseling, with several sessions available for free.

“Addressing mental heath is of extreme importance for companies in today’s world. Access to traditional counseling is on decline in many rural areas due to lack of access. In cities, costs have risen so many users are priced out of the market,” he says.

The funding will also be used to improve HealthJoy’s virtual assistant, develop new services, integrate with more partners and aggregate data. HealthJoy plans to add 200 employees in its Chicago office during 2021, with the goal of doubling its engineering team. Future plans include working with more small- to medium-sized businesses and a potential partnership to serve Medicare recipients.

Other startups focused on employee benefits include League, Catch and Collective Health. Holland says HealthJoy integrates with, instead of competing with, benefits administration platforms and differentiates by being able to work with any benefits package.

Health Velocity Capital partner Saurabh Bhansali will join HealthJoy’s board of directors. In a press statement, Bhansali said “HealthJoy offers proven technology solutions to help navigate employees through our nation’s complex and costly healthcare system, one that costs US employees over $1.2 trillion each year. Healthjoy has shown that it can deliver substantial cost savings to employers while simplifying the employee healthcare experience.”

 


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BharatPe raises $75M to help Indian merchants accept digital payments and secure working capital

05:00 | 24 February

BharatPe, a New Delhi-based startup that is enabling hundreds of thousands of merchants to accept digital payments for the first time and also providing them access to working capital, has raised $75 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale its business in the nation.

The Series C round for the one-and-a-half-year old startup was led by New York-headquartered hedge fund Coatue Management and existing investor Palo Alto-based fintech investor Ribbit Capital .

VC firm Amplo, and existing investors Steadview Capital and Insight Partners also participated in the round, which valued the startup at over $400 million. The startup has raised $140 million to date.

BharatPe operates an eponymous service to help offline merchants accept digital payments. Even as India has already emerged as the second largest internet market, with more than 500 million users, much of the country remains offline. Among those outside of the reach of the internet are merchants running small businesses, such as roadside tea stalls.

To make these merchants comfortable in accepting digital payments, BharatPe relies on QR codes built as part of government-backed UPI payments infrastructure. Ashneer Grover, co-founder and chief executive of BharatPe, said the startup will use much of the fresh capital to fund working capital for its merchant partners.

BharatPe, he said, has disbursed about $14 million “short-term” loans to over 20,000 merchants in the last seven months. New merchants can secure about $500 for a period of three months from BharatPe. As merchants spend more time on BharatPe, the firm increases the amount to about $2,000.

The startup has amassed over 3 million merchants in 30 Indian cities. It aims to more than double that number by March 2021.

The lending business is crucial to BharatPe. Payment apps make little to no money through making transactions on their platforms. Those processing UPI payments can not even charge a small commission to merchants.

Additionally, access to working capital is a major challenge in developed markets such as India. According to a World Bank report, more than 2 billion people globally do not have access to working capital.

 


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Investors in LatAm get bitten by the hotel investment bug as Ayenda raises $8.7 million

01:07 | 22 February

Some of Latin America’s leading venture capital investors are now backing hotel chains.

In fact, Ayenda, the largest hotel chain in Colombia, has raised $8.7 million in a new round of funding, according to the company.

Led by Kaszek Ventures, the round will support the continued expansion of Ayenda’s chain of hotels in Colombia and beyond. The hotel operator already has 150 hotels operating under its flag in Colombia and has recently expanded to Peru, according to a statement.

Financing came from Kaszek Ventures, and strategic investors like Irelandia Aviation, Kairos, Altabix, and BWG Ventures.

The company, which was founded in 2018, now has more than 4,500 rooms under its brand in Colombia and has become the biggest hotel chain in the country.

Investments in brick and mortar chains by venture firms are far more common in emerging markets than they are in North America. The investment in Ayenda mirrors big bets that SoftBank Group has made in the Indian hotel chain Oyo and an investment made by Tencent, Sequoia China, Baidu Capital and Goldman Sachs, in LvYue Group late last year amounting to “several hundred million dollars”, according to a company statement.

“We’re seeking to invest in companies that are redefining the big industries and we found Ayenda, a team that is changing the hotel’s industry in an unprecedented way for the region”, said Nicolas Berman, Kaszek Ventures Partner.

Ayenda works with independent hotels through a franchise system to help them increase their occupancy and services. The hotels have to apply to be part of the chain and go through an up to 30-day inspection process before they’re approved to open for business.

“With a broad supply of hotels  with the best cost-benefit relationship, guests can travel more frequently accelerating the economy”, says Declan Ryan, Managing Partner at Irelandia Aviation.

The company hopes to have over 1 million guests in 2020 in their hotels. With rooms listing at $20 per-night including amenities and an around the clock customer support team.

Oyo’s story may be a cautionary tale for companies looking at expanding via venture investment for hotel chains. The once high-flying company has been the subject of some scathing criticism. As we wrote:

The New York Times  published an in-depth report on Oyo, a tech-enabled budget hotel chain and rising star in the Indian tech community. The NYT wrote that Oyo offers unlicensed rooms and has bribed police officials to deter trouble, among other toxic practices.

Whether Oyo, backed by billions from the SoftBank  Vision Fund, will become India’s WeWork is the real cause for concern. India’s startup ecosystem is likely to face a number of barriers as it grows to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

 


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