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Main article: Fundings Exits

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WordPress.com parent company acquires Atavist

19:47 | 22 June

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and a few other things, is acquiring Brooklyn-based startup Atavist.

Atavist has been working on a content management system for independent bloggers and writers. With an Atavist website, you can easily write and publish stories with a ton of media.

You might think that this isn’t particularly groundbreaking as anyone can create a website on WordPress.com or Squarespace and do the same thing. But the company also lets you create a paywall and build a subscription base.

Many writers don’t want to deal with the technical details of running a website. That’s why Atavist gives you the tools so that you can focus on your stories.

Atavist is also running a publication called Atavist Magazine. The publication is also joining Automattic. It’s unclear if it’s going to be part of Longreads or remain its own thing.

The CMS itself won’t stick around. Automattic said that the publishing platform will be integrated into WordPress. And this is the interesting part.

While WordPress is probably a much more solid CMS than Atavist, it could mean that Automattic wants to start offering subscriptions and paywalls. You can imagine WordPress.com websites that offer monthly subscriptions natively.

30 percent of the web runs on WordPress. Many of them are open source instances of WordPress hosted on their own servers. But many websites are hosted by WordPress.com, including TechCrunch.

Subscriptions on WordPress.com is good news for the web. Medium abruptly canceled its subscription program leaving many independent publications in the dust. So it’s hard to trust Medium when it comes to providing enough revenue to independent writers.

Automattic could create a seamless portal to manage subscriptions to multiple publications. And this could lead to less advertising and better content.

 


0

Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth $250M

16:00 | 22 June

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos and I jammed out on a couple topics as Alex Wilhelm was out managing his fake stock game spreadsheets or something. (The jury is out on whether this was a good or bad thing.)

First up is Twitter buying Smyte, a startup targeting fixes for spam and abuse. This is, of course, Twitter’s perennial problem and it’s one that it’s been trying to fix for some time — but definitely not there yet. The deal terms weren’t disclosed, but Twitter to its credit has seen its stock basically double this year (and almost triple in the past few years). Twitter is going into a big year, with the U.S. midterm elections, the 2018 World Cup, and the Sacramento Kings probably finding some way to screw up in the NBA draft. This’ll be a close one to watch over the next few months as we get closer to the finals for the World Cup and the elections. Twitter is trying to bill itself as a home for news, focusing on live video, and a number of other things.

Then we have Juul Labs, an e-cigarette company that is somehow worth $10 billion. The Information reports that the PAX Labs spinout from 2015 has gone from a $250 million valuation all the way to $10 billion faster than you can name each scooter company that’s raising a new $200 million round from Sequoia that will have already been completed by the time you finish this sentence. Obviously the original cigarette industry was a complicated one circa the 20th century, so this one will be an interesting one to play out over the next few years.

Finally, we have meditation app Calm raising a $27 million round at a $250 million pre-money valuation. Calm isn’t the only mental health-focused startup that’s starting to pick up some momentum, but it’s one that’s a long time coming. I remember stumbling upon Calm.com back in 2012, where you’d just chill out on the website for a minute or so, so it’s fun to see a half-decade or so later that these apps are showing off some impressive numbers.

That’s all for this week, we’ll catch you guys next week. We apologize in advance if Alex makes it back on to the podcast.

Equity  drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

 


0

Labstep wants to fix the way science experiments are recorded and reproduced

11:00 | 22 June

Labstep, an app and online platform to help scientists record and reproduce experiments, has raised £1 million in new funding, including from existing investors. The company, whose team has a background in commercial R&D and academic research, including at Oxford University, is backed by Seedcamp and says it plans to use the new capital to double its team to 12, and for further product development.

This will include the launch of a marketplace for lab supplies, and is one of the ways Labstep plans to generate revenue. The startup will also add features to its app that streamline how scientists outsource elements of their research.

First conceived of in late 2013 and soft launched in 2015, Labstep has set out to digitise the lab experiment tracking and sharing process, and in turn give scientific research a major leg up.

As explained by CEO and co-founder Jake Schofield, science experiments are often recorded in an archaic way, relying on a mixture of pen and paper or entering resulting data into legacy software. Not only is this cumbersome but it also means that experiments are prone to mistakes and can be especially hard to replicate and therefore validate, either by a team working together internally or when sharing and cross-checking with the wider scientific and research community.

Enter: Labstep. The platform and app enables scientists to build libraries of experimental procedures — a bit like recipes — and then easily record progress when following a procedure in the lab, including building a timeline of the experiment. Procedures can also be shared with teams or more broadly, as well as deviated from in a transparent way. In fact, Schofield says one way to think about Labstep is as a ‘Github for lab experiments’. Procedures can be made public or private and can be optionally forked.

“Rather than following paper printouts, when actually carrying out your experimentation you can walk through these procedures step by step on a mobile device at the bench,” Schofield tells me. “Interactive features streamline and make it much easier to capture, comment, and record when you deviate from these processes”.

“Our API allows you to connect all the devices in your lab and automate the upload of results,” he explains. “Every action creates a timeline post, this automatic audit trail increases accuracy and saves the huge amounts of time normally spent writing a progress diary after the fact. You can form lab groups, like internal slack channels, that allow you to share these protocol libraries and real-time updates to see how your colleagues are progressing, this is massive as people are often collaborating and working in different geographical locations”.

In addition, the record of the steps that lead to a scientific conclusion can be attached to academic papers in the form of a URL so that other scientists can attempt to replicate the findings. This feature alone could go some way to tackling what the Labstep founder says is “a global reproducibility crisis,” estimated to cost billions per year in wasted research.

“At the point you publish your results, the competitive emphasis on keeping your research private shifts as you now want others to reproduce and validate your findings. We generate unique IDs that can be put in your publications and methods sections to link the protocols and the process that lead to these results,” he says.

As a route to monetisation, in the coming months Labstep will roll out a marketplace to make it easier to source the lab supplies needed to reproduce findings. It also plans to harness the real-time data that the Labstep app captures on how supplies in the lab are used, and Schofield says that by streamlining the ordering process, the reproducibility problem can be further addressed.

In another nod to collaboration, Labstep will also launch cloud features that allow users to outsource elements of the experimental process. I’m told that although outsourcing of research is commonly done in commercial R&D, it is used much less in academia.

Meanwhile, Labstep says it has users from over 600 universities globally including Stanford, Harvard and MIT in the U.S., and Oxford, University College London, Imperial College, King’s College and the Crick Institute in the U.K. It’s also not the only startup in this space to have got the attention of investors. Benchling, a graduate of Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, raised a $14.5 million funding round a couple of weeks ago.

 


0

Indian food delivery startup Swiggy raises $210M at a $1.3B valuation

09:40 | 21 June

India’s food delivery race is hotting up after Swiggy, one of the startups vying for pole position, landed $210 million in new capital for expansion and joined the billion-dollar startup unicorn club.

The investment is led by existing backer Naspers, the media conglomerate famous for an early bet on Tencent in China, and new investor DST Global. Others taking part in the round include returning investor China’s Meituan Dianping and (another new investor) Coatue Management.

The deal takes Swiggy’s valuation past the $1 billion mark for the first, with sources close to the company confirming that the deal values the company at around $1.3 billion. That’s perhaps not a tonne of surprise around today’s announcement since it has been rumored in Indian press for some time, with Economic Times first reporting on it in April.

This Series G investment comes just months after Naspers and Meituan Dianping invested $100 million into Swiggy in February. The new round takes Swiggy to over $465 million raised from investors to date, making it India’s most-capitalized food delivery startup. Nearest competitor Zomato has raised some $440 million from investors that include Alibaba’s Ant Financial affiliate, Sequoia Capital and Temasek, but its business also includes markets outside of India, whereas Swiggy’s is firmly focused on its homeland. (Zomato was most recently valued at $1.1 billion.)

Swiggy claims to cover 35,000 restaurants with a delivery fleet of over 40,000. The company isn’t giving financials at this point, but it said that it has seen “a three-fold increase in revenues in the last financial year.”

The company isn’t saying in specifics how it will use the new capital, but a representative told TechCrunch that the plan is to invest in extending its reach to new locations in India and also to build out its logistics network to better serve customers.

“With this investment, we will continue to widen Swiggy’s offerings, along with bolstering our capabilities and plugging the gaps in the on-demand delivery ecosystem,” added Swiggy CEO Sriharsha Majety in a statement.

In addition, no doubt the business is capital intensive given the competition, so you’d imagine that a significant amount of money is needed to offset the monthly burn rate that Swiggy and others chalk up.

Beyond Zomato, Swiggy’s competitors also include ride-hailing companies Ola — which acquired the FoodPanda India business last year — and Uber, which has offered its Uber Eats service in India for over a year. A smaller player (but equally big-name) is Google, which launched its Areo food delivery service in India in April 2017.

 


0

Singapore-based game studio Mighty Bear raises $2.5M ahead of debut release

08:44 | 21 June

Mighty Bear, a game studio startup that grew out of King.com’s former office in Singapore, has landed new funding as it readies its debut title for smartphones.

The startup was founded by four former King.com staffers — Simon Davis, Fadzuli Said, Benjamin Chevalier and Saurabh Shukul — after the gaming giant closed its Singapore office — inherited via the acquisition of Non Stop Games — following its $5.9 billion acquisition by Activision. Today, Mighty Bear’s team of 18 counts experience working with Ubisoft, EA, Lucasarts, Disney, Gameloft and others.

The startup previously raised $775,000 in a pre-seed round in early 2017, and this time around it has pulled in a seven-figure USD investment. The deal is officially undisclosed, but a source with knowledge of discussions told TechCrunch it is worth around $2.5 million.

The deal was led by U.S.-based Skycatcher, New York hedge fund banker Eric Mindich’s Everblue fund, and M Ventures from Los Angeles. Others in the round include Singapore’s Atlas Ventures, Lev Leviev — who is co-founder of VK.com among other things — and existing backer Global Founders Capital, which is affiliated with Rocket Internet.

“We’ve already got a good set of investors from Europe and Asia so we realized we needed networks in North America, too,” Mighty Bear CEO Simon Davis told TechCrunch in an interview.

Davis added that, beyond extending their reach for purposes like hiring, partnerships and more, they open up the potential for IP and media deals further down the road.

First thing first though: Mighty Bear is working to launch its first title, which Davis said will be an MMORPG. Right now, it is being secretly tested for scalability and technical capabilities among users in India and the Philippines with a view to a full launch on iOS and Android later this year. Davis said the company plans to launch another title, too, with both games managed concurrently.

“We’ve basically taken a genre that we know is monetized and engaged with hardcore users and tried to bring it to a large audience. Our goal is to take big desktop experiences and streamline them into five-minute bursts,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

You may not know it, but you may have run into Mighty Bear’s concepts already even though it hasn’t fully launched a title yet. That’s because part of the research and development process includes creating and disseminating videos and advertising for mock games through channels like Facebook.

That, Davis explained, can help Mighty Bear in all manner of ways, from basics such as figuring out what kind of visuals or advertising approach gets engagement from users, to broader purposes such as understanding the types of games that people want to play.

“The process helps witter down ideas to those that will get traction with users. If a game makes it through the various internal gates we have, and to soft launch, then we have the best potential for it to perform well,” Davis said.

Developing artwork and advertising for ‘fake’ games isn’t as obscure as it may sound. While it may not be usual for smaller studios, it’s a practice that Davis said is common at huge game development companies — that in turn is a reflection in the experience that the team at Mighty Bear has under its belt.

 


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Drip Capital helps exporters access working capital

03:31 | 21 June

Drip Capital is raising a $20 million funding round from Accel, Wing VC and Sequoia India. The company is helping small exporters in emerging markets access working capital in order to finance big orders.

The startup also participated in Y Combinator back in 2015. Many small companies in emerging markets have to turn down orders because they can’t finance big orders. Even if you found a client in the U.S. or Europe, chances are companies will end up paying for your order a month or two after signing a contract.

If you’re an importer or an exporter, capital is arguably your most valuable resource. You know where to source your products and how to ship many goods. But you still need to buy goods yourself.

And in many emerging markets, you have to pay right away. It creates a sort of capital gap.

At the same time, local banks are often too slow and reject too many credit applications. Drip Capital thinks there’s an opportunity for a tech platform that finances exporters in no time.

The startup is first focusing on India because it meets many of the criteria I listed. This could be particularly useful for small and medium businesses. Large companies don’t necessarily face the same issues as they can access capital more easily.

So far, Drip Capital has funded more than $100 million of trade. After signing up to the platform, you can submit invoices and open a credit line to finance your next orders. Family offices and institutional investors can also invest some money in Drip Capital’s fund and get returns on investment.

This isn’t the only platform that helps you get paid faster. But larger companies tend to do it all and optimize the supply chain for the biggest companies in the world. Drip Capital is focusing on a specific vertical.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to get more customers and expand to other countries.

 


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Tiller raises $13.9 million for its modern cash register

21:55 | 20 June

French startup Tiller has raised a $13.9 million Series B round (€12 million) from Ring Capital. Omnes Capital and existing investors 360 Capital Partners also participated in today’s funding round. The company has been working on a cash register that works better than your clunky touchscreen from ten years ago.

Tiller is working on a software solution for restaurants. It works with a good old iPad and connects with multiple payment solutions.

You can customize the menu and restaurant layout in the app to make it as easy as possible to enter an order. And at the end of the meal, you can make your customers pay using multiple payment methods and keep track of what’s left to pay.

This sounds like basic features, but Tiller’s secret sauce is that you can configure your app and integrate with many third-party services. For instance, you can manage your inventory and your staff directly from Tiller with third-party services.

You can receive orders from UberEats or Lunchr on your Tiller tablet. You can manage bookings from TheFork and other services.

When it comes to payment, you can pair Tiller with a Sumup or Ingenico card reader and accept all sorts of cards and contactless payments. You can also add Lydia, Lyf Pay and other mobile payment apps. Finally, Tiller tries to automate your accounting reports as much as possible.

If you want to use Tiller even more than that, you can give an iPhone to your waiters so that they can use the Tiller mobile app to write down orders. You can also get reports and track your revenue depending on the time of the day or the product category.

Most of Tiller’s clients are based in France and Spain, and the startup has attracted 5,000 clients so far. With today’s funding round, the company plans to attract more customers in other European countries.

It’s also worth noting that Tiller has the option to raise an additional $9.3 million (€8 million) to finance acquisitions. It could be a good way to get started in new markets.

 


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Stensul raises $7M to make email creation easier for marketers

20:05 | 20 June

Email marketing startup Stensul is announcing that it has raised $7 million.

Stensul spun out of founder and CEO Noah Dinkin’s previous company FanBridge. Dinkin explained via email that the startup isn’t competing with the big email service providers — in fact, it integrates with ESPs including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe Marketing Cloud and Marketo.

Dinkin said that while ESPs include email creation tools, most companies ignore them. Instead, the marketer has to work with specialists like designers, developer and agencies: “That process often takes weeks, everyone hates it, and it is SUPER expensive.”

Stensul, meanwhile, is focused exclusively on the email creation process. Marketers can build the email themselves, without having to rely on anyone else, in less than 20 minutes.

“They don’t need to know how to code, they don’t need to know how to use Photoshop or have memorized the 100 page pdf of brand guidelines,” Dinkin said. “The platform controls for brand governance and rules, and also guarantees that the output will be technically perfect.”

Stensul

Javelin Venture Partners led the Series A, with participation from Arthur Ventures, First Round Capital, Uncork Capital, Lowercase Capital and former ExactTarget President Scott McCorkle.

“Stensul has zeroed in on a massive problem space hiding in plain sight,” said Javelin’s Alex Gurevich in the funding announcement. “Email Marketing is used by every large company in the world, and the amount of time and money spent on email creation is far more than most people realize. The quality of top-tier customers that stensul has been able to bring on made it clear to us that they have a solution that really delivers value on day 1.”

Companies that have used Stensul include YouTube, Grubhub, BMW, Lyft and Box. Dinkin said he will continue to invest in product, but he the big goal with the new funding is to grow sales and marketing.

 


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Beamery closes $28M Series B to stoke support for its ‘talent CRM’

19:30 | 20 June

Beamery, a London-based startup that offers self-styled “talent CRM”– aka ‘candidate relationship management’ — and recruitment marketing software targeted at fast-growing companies, has closed a $28M Series B funding round, led by EQT Ventures.

Also participating in the round are M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, and existing investors Index Ventures, Edenred Capital Partners and Angelpad Fund. Beamery last raised a $5M Series A, in April 2017, led by Index.

Its pitch centers on the notion of helping businesses win a ‘talent war’ by taking a more strategic and pro-active approach to future hires vs just maintaining a spreadsheet of potential candidates.

Its platform aims to help the target enterprises build and manage a talent pool of people they might want to hire in future to get out ahead of the competition in HR terms, including providing tools for customized marketing aimed at nurture relations with possible future hires.

Customer numbers for Beamery’s software have stepped up from around 50 in April 2017 to 100 using it now — including the likes of Facebook (which is using it globally), Continental, VMware, Zalando, Grab and Balfour Beatty.

It says the new funding will be going towards supporting customer growth, including by ramping up hiring in its offices in London (HQ), Austin and San Francisco.

It also wants to expand into more markets. “We’re focusing on some of the world’s biggest global businesses that need support in multiple timezones and geographies so really it’s a global approach,” said a spokesman on that.

“Companies adopting the system are large enterprises doing talent at scale, that are innovative in terms of being proactive about recruiting, candidate experience and employer brand,” he added.

A “significant” portion of the Series B funds will also go towards R&D and produce development focused on its HR tech niche.

“Across all sectors, there’s a shift towards proactive recruitment through technology, and Beamery is emerging as the category leader,” added Tom Mendoza, venture lead and investment advisor at EQT, in a supporting statement.

“Beamery has a fantastic product, world-class high-ambition founders, and an outstanding analytics-driven team. They’ve been relentless about building the best talent CRM and marketing platform and gaining a deep understanding of the industry-wide problems.”

 


0

Nginx lands $43 million Series C to fuel expansion

16:00 | 20 June

Nginx, the commercial company behind the open source web server, announced a $43 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity.

NEA, which has been on board as an early investor is also participating As part of the deal, David Campbell, managing director at Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division will join the Nginx board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

The company was not willing to discuss valuation for this round.

Nginx’s open source approach is already well established running 400 million websites including some of the biggest in the world. Meanwhile, the commercial side of the business has 1500 paying customers, giving those customers not just support, but additional functionality such as load balancing, an API gateway and analytics.

Nginx CEO Gus Robertson was pleased to get the backing of such prestigious investors. “NEA is one of the largest venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and Goldman Sachs is one of the largest investment banks in the world. And so to have both of those parceled together to lead this round is a great testament to the company and the technology and the team,” he said.

The company already has plans to expand its core commercial product, Nginx Plus in the coming weeks. “We need to continue to innovate and build products that help our customers alleviate the complexity of delivery of distributed or micro service based applications. So you’ll see us release a new product in the coming weeks called Controller. Controller is the control plane on top of Nginx Plus,” Robertson explained. (Controller was launched in Beta last fall.)

But with $43 million in the bank, they want to look to build out Nginx Plus even more in the next 12-18 months. They will also be opening new offices globally to add to its international presence, while expanding its partners ecosystem. All of this means an ambitious goal to increase the current staff of 220 to 300 by the end of the year.

The open source product was originally created by Igor Sysoev back in 2002. He introduced the commercial company on top of the open source project in 2011. Robertson came on board as CEO a year later. The company has been growing 100 percent year over year since 2013 and expects to continue that trajectory through 2019.

 


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