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Main article: Fundings

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Fintech VC sets records in Q4 despite early-stage slowdown

17:39 | 19 February

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

Fintech is what you hear about constantly, but probably aren’t as read up on as you’d like to be. Neither am I.

Luckily we have a new report concerning fintech investing to unpack and explore. Thanks to a dataset from startup and venture data provider CB Insights, we have a fresh, deep look into the world of startup fintech investment. 

Here’s what we want to know:

  • Did fintech venture activity rise in 2019?
  • How are the various venture stages of fintech investing performing
  • Are early-stage fintech startups able to attract capital at similar velocity to their much-lauded, late-stage counterparts?

Let’s find out!

2019: A (near) record

 


0

ForgePoint raises a massive new $450M fund for early stage cybersecurity startups

16:00 | 19 February

ForgePoint Capital has formally announced its new $450 million fund, which it says is the largest fund dedicated to early stage cybersecurity and privacy startups.

The fund, the firm’s second — which it aptly named Fund II — will invest in both early stage and a number of other growth-focused companies.

The aim is to try to cash in early on an increasing number of startups in the cybersecurity space that could go on to become the next Crowdstrike or Cloudflare, both of which saw massive exits last year when they both went public on valuations of several billion apiece. By investing now, it’ll help the firm better position itself to snap up the best talent ahead of an anticipated cybersecurity worker shortage — an estimated 1.8 million workers by 2022.

So far, the fund has already invested in several early stage startups, notably Cysiv, Huntress Labs, and Secure Code Warrior.

“We believe that global prosperity and national security depend upon a commitment to protect the digital world,” said Alberto Yépez, co-founder and managing director at ForgePoint, who will lead the fund.

Much of the decision making will be made by the firm’s Cybersecurity Advisory Council, made up of 60 members (11% are women), made up of industry leaders and investing experts.

ForgePoint previously invested in Qualys, AlienVault, and Appthority to name a few of its high-profile exits.

 


0

Atomico raises new $820M fund to back ‘mission-driven’ European founders at Series A and beyond

09:00 | 18 February

Atomico, the European venture capital firm founded by Skype’s Niklas Zennström, has announced that it has closed its fifth fund — “Atomico V” — giving it another $820 million to invest in European startups.

The London-headquartered VC firm’s previous fund closed at $765 million, so this is an increase over three years ago. However, the remit remains largely the same, as Atomico says it plans to double down on its strategy of backing “mission-driven” European founders at Series A, but with the ability to also invest at Series B and C into what it calls “breakout” companies.

The new fund brings to a hefty $2.7 billion the total assets that Atomico has under management. Investors are said to include various institutional investors, such as pension funds, fund-of-funds, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies, endowments, banks, family offices and government-backed entities from across the world.

A number of individual LPs have backed Atomico V, too, including what are described as founders and early team members from some of Europe’s most successful startups over the last 10 years, including Adyen, Klarna, TransferWise, Spotify, Supercell, Skype and Zoopla.

Founders delivering “positive, transformational change”

Atomico’s Zennström has long argued that entrepreneurs, not politicians, are the new “changemakers” because of the way technology is reshaping society and the economy. Inherent in this world view is that technology and entrepreneurship can and should be a force for good and that venture capital (and Atomico, specifically) has a “critical part to play in a world with so many urgent challenges” — from sustainability, fixing education, to better healthcare. However, unlike a pure Silicon Valley perspective, Zennström doesn’t believe that “for good” is inevitable and will require formal checks and balances to be put in place (see the firm’s “Conscious Scaling” programme).

To that end, Atomico says that fund V will allow it to continue to partner with “ambitious European founders, who deliver positive, transformational change across every aspect of society and the economy,” with the aim of building category-winning and sector-defining companies. “We’re guided by a simple belief: profit and purpose are mutually reinforcing, not mutually exclusive,” says Zennström in a statement.

Meanwhile, Atomico has already made several investments out of fund V. They include urban farming company Infarm; medical AI company HealX; AI-assisted design and construction simulation company Spacemaker; machine learning-based medical imaging company Kheiron Medical, employee retention company Peakon; digital procurement platform Scoutbee, childcare platform Koru Kids; sales team automation software Automation Hero; and doctor messaging service AccuRx.

Personnel changes

The formal closing of Atomico’s fifth fund marks a new era for the VC, which has seen a freshening up of its 60-person investor and operational team over the last three years.

Just last month, Irina Haivas, Atomico’s surgeon-turned-VC, was promoted to partner. In March 2019, three new (non-investment) partners were added to the list: Bryce Keane (comms), Alison Smith (chief of staff) and Camilla Richards (investor relations). The previous year saw Sophia Bendz, the former Spotify global director of Marketing, promoted to partner. And in September 2017, Tom Wehmeier, the firm’s head of Research, also made partner.

There have been departures, too. Most recently, long-time partner Mattias Ljungman left to raise his own seed fund. Before that, Carolina Brochado jumped ship to join SoftBank’s Vision Fund in London, and Teddie Wardi left for America to join Insight.

 


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Boston’s year jump starts as two local startups raise $520M in two rounds

19:58 | 17 February

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

Late last week two Boston-based companies raised big rounds. The size of the two investments — each over the $100 million mark — and their rapid succession made them stand out.

The pair of investments raised a question: Is Boston seeing an acceleration in the pace at which it attracts venture capital? Of course, Toast raising $400 million and Flywire raising $120 million within a day of each other does not, by itself, constitute a trend. So we’ve pulled some recent, and historical data from Boston to figure out what’s up.

Today let’s take a look at how many rounds of $50 million or more, and $100 million or more, have been raised in Boston so far in 2020 compared to the city’s full-year 2019 results from each category. We’ll be able to see if Boston is ahead of the pace it set last year. This will let us know if Boston’s venture scene is heating up, or cooling thus far in 2020. (Recall that we wrote about the Northeast in December, and found its venture activity to be intense.)

We’ll start with a quick peek at the Flywire and Toast rounds, and then dig into the data.

Winged Bread

Toast, Boston’s restaurant payment processing unicorn, put together $400 million in fresh funding last week, adding to its preceding haul of just over $500 million in known capital. The company, founded in 2011, has now raised $902 million, according to Crunchbase.

 


0

PullRequest snags remote developer hiring platform Moonlight in case of startup buying startup

17:13 | 17 February

PullRequest, a startup that provides code review as a service, announced today that it was buying Moonlight, an early stage startup that has built an online platform for hiring remote developers. The companies did not share the terms.

Lyal Avery, founder and CEO at PullRequest, says that he bought this company to expand his range of services. “Our platform is at a place where we’re very confident about our ability to identify issues. We’re moving to the next phase of fixing issues automatically. In order to do that we have to have access to people producing code. So with the developers on our platform that are currently reviewers, as well as the Moonlight folks, we can start to fix the issues we identify, and also attach that to our learning processes,” Avery explained.

This fits with the company’s vision of eventually automating common fixes. It’s currently working on building machine learning models to facilitate that automation. Moonlight gives PullRequest access to the platform’s data, which can help train and perfect the Beta models that the company is working on.

Avery says his vision isn’t to replace human developers, so much as to make them faster and more efficient than they are today. He says that from the time a bug is found in website code to the time it gets fixed is on average about six hours. He wants to reduce that to 20 minutes, and he believes that buying Moonlight will give him more data to get to that goal faster, while also expanding the range of services from code review to issue remediation.

It’s fairly unusual for a startup that has raised just over $12 million (according to Crunchbase data) to be out shopping for another, but Avery sees buying small companies like Moonlight as an excellent way to fill in gaps in the platform, while offering an easier path to expansion.

Moonlight is a small shop with just two employees, both who will be joining PullRequest, but it has 3000 developers on the platform, which PullRequest can now access. For now, Avery says that the companies will remain separate, and Moonlight will continue to operate its own website under the PullRequest umbrella.

Moonlight is based in Brooklyn, and had raised an unidentified pre-seed round before being acquired today. PullRequest, which is based in Austin, was a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2017 cohort. It raised a $2.3 million seed round in December, 2017 and another $8 million in April, 2018.

 


0

Tinder founder funds sex tips app Lover

23:26 | 14 February

Want to spice up the bedroom without paying for pills or awkward visits to a sex therapist? A new app called Lover lets you take a sexual personality quiz, explore carnal knowledge tutorials, and discretely figure out which turn-ons you share with your partner. Built by board certified sexual medicine clinical psychologist Dr. Britney Blair, Lover launches today on iOS with $5 million in seed funding from Tinder founder Sean Rad and other investors.

“It is strange that there are such taboos around sex when it is something we all do…whether we enjoy ourselves or not. We think it is time to start the conversation around this important aspect of our health” says Dr. Blair. “We believe Lover can help build confidence, facilitate communication, improve partner connection and just raise consciousness about sex and sexuality.”

A solid portion of Lover’s content is free for the first seven days, including audio guides to oral sex, video explainers on how to be generous in bed, and multi-step “playlists” of content like “Getting Hard, Made Easy”. Lover charges $9.99 to keep using it to dive deeper into themed educational materials like “Coreplay Not Foreplay” and “Fantasy To Reality” that are recommended based on the result of your sexual style questionnaire.

Almost 50% of women and 40% of men have a sexual complaint . . . [but] most people don’t realize how common and treatable their issues are” Dr. Blair tells me. “In our [pre-launch tests] focused purely on erectile dysfunction, 62% of users reported improvements to their erections within three weeks of using the app. That’s pretty wild when you think Viagra’s efficacy rate is approximately 65% and it lasts only five hours.”

With startups like digital pharmacy Ro scoring a $500 million valuation just 18 months after launching by prescribing and selling men’s health drugs like viagra, Lover sees a market for education-based alternative approaches to sexual wellness.

Lover co-founders (from left): Jas Bagniewski, Dr. Britney Blair, and Nick Pendle

Dr. Blair got interested in the space a decade ago after a Stanford grad school lecture illuminated how prevalent sexual problems are but how quickly they can be resolved with learning and communication. She teamed up with her CEO Jas Bagniewski who’d been the manager of Europe’s largest ecommerce business Zalando in the UK, and a founder of City Deal that sold to Groupon. Bagniewski and fellow Lover co-founder Nick Pendle started European Casper mattress competitor Eve Sleep and brought it to IPO.

The plan is to combine Dr. Blair’s educational materials with Bagniewski and Pendle’s ecommerce chops to monetize Lover through subscriptions and eventually recommending products like sex toys for purchase. Now they have $5 million in seed funding led by Lerer Hippeau, and joined by Manta Ray Ventures, Oliver Samwer’s Global Founders Capital, Fabrice Grinda, and Jose Marin. The cash will go towards building out an Android app and adding games that partners can play together in bed.

There are plenty of random sex tip websites out there. Lover tries to differentiate itself by personalizing content based on the results of a Myers-Briggs-esque quiz that asks you how adventurous, communicative, and assertive you are. You then receive a classification like “The Muse” with a few pages of explanation, for example revealing how you like to inspire others while being the center of attention.

From there, Lover can suggest guides for mastering your own sexual personality or branching out into new behavior patterns. There’s also a feature copied from another app called XConfessions for figuring out what you and your partner like. You connect your apps and then separately swipe yes or no on questions about whether you’d like “having your partner drip candle wax on you” or “your partner dressing as a strict cop”. If you and they match, the app tells you both so you can try it out.

Overall, Lover’s content is a lot higher quality and more compassionate than where most people learn about sex: from pornography. Having a real sexual medicine doctor overseeing the app lends credibility to Lover. And the design and tone throughout make you feel empowered rather than sleazy.

Still, Dr. Blair admits that “it’s hard to motivate people into behavioral change, people already have subscription apps on their phones and we may run into ‘subscription fatigue'”. People might feel natural paying for viagra because the impact is obvious, the value of a subscription to sex tips might feel too vague or redundant to what’s free online.

To get a lot of users opening their wallets, not just their pants, Lover will need to do a better job of previewing what’s behind the paywall, and offering more interactivity that online content lacks. But if it can give users one unforgettable night thanks to its advice, it may be able to seduce them for the long-run.

 


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Why startups are raising more venture debt as VC dollars near all-time records

20:55 | 14 February

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

As I write to you, SaaS and cloud stocks are

 and as we’ve seen, venture interest in modern software companies is pushing more money into the sector. But despite it appearing to be an incredibly good time to raise equity funding, venture debt and revenue-based financing appear to be having a moment.

So why are more folks talking about and raising debt to help power their startups, even when valuations are high and there is a lot of venture capital to be raised?

As with all explorations of complex, evolving trends, there’s no one answer. But, some data from a 2019-era survey on venture debt and a conversation I had with equity-free SaaS finance shop Element Finance’s John Gallagher (Element is a Scaleworks spinout) help explain what’s going on. Let’s start with how big the venture debt world is and how fast it is growing and then turn to what’s powering its expansion.

Rising debt

The data we’re going to discuss is directional and probably pretty accurate, which is just fine for what we want to do today: detail a general trend of rising venture debt volume over the past few years to confirm what we’ve presumed to be a trend for some time.

Thanks to a report from last year undertaken by Kruze (a startup accounting and HR consultancy), what the firm described as the “largest survey of the venture debt market” undertaken, including firms that “control well over half of the venture debt dollars in the United States,” here are estimated totals of domestic venture debt volumes for the past half-decade:

 


0

Big meditation money, new VC funds, and how do you value Airbnb?

17:00 | 14 February

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

After having a good time with NEA’s Rick Yang last week, we thought we’d bring on another venture capitalist. So this week

and I had Elliott Robinson from Bessemer swing over for the show. As it turned out, he was about as correct as guest as possible as not only did the topics of the week line up with where he invests, he’s also friends with some of the folks that we discussed on the show.

So what did we talk about? A whole host of things including two rounds:

Then we turned to two new funds, including Battery’s battery of new capital vehicles that add up to $2 billion. In this part of the discussion we also touched on capital velocity, and why some firms are writing the same number of checks, but still need more capital. On the other end of the capital spectrum, Equal Ventures put together its first fund, and we riffed on the health of the micro-fund ecosystem.

The news run continued, with our trio touching on Airbnb’s recent financial results, and our wonderment about how to price the firm, the closure of Brandless (RIP), and the issues at SoftBank.

All that and we had to leave Lyft’s fascinating earnings and Uber’s profit promises alone as we ran a bit long with just that set of topics. A good week, and we’re back Monday morning!

 


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Where top VCs are investing in construction robotics

15:30 | 14 February

Venture capital has been flooding the various subverticals under the robotics umbrella in recent years, and the construction space is one of the largest beneficiaries.

Last November, we surveyed 13 of the top robotics-focused VCs to find out which areas of robotics are exciting them most going into 2020. One of the most common areas of attention respondents highlighted were startups focused on construction and manufacturing. In 2019 alone, the robotics space saw roughly 600 venture-backed fundraising rounds, while construction companies successfully raised roughly 200 venture rounds.

With our 2020 Robotics + AI sessions event on the horizon in early March, we’re diving back into the sector to learn about the attributes of construction attracting robotics VCs the most and which types of startups VCs are actually writing checks for in 2020. We asked 16 leading people who actively invest in construction robotics and work at firms spanning early to growth-stage to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunity in the sector:

 

Rohit Sharma, True Ventures

True Ventures has been investing in industrial automation broadly for 4+ years and focusing on founders who bring technology to market that eliminates repetitive manual labor and multiplies human productivity by automating routine tasks.

 


0

Tamatem, the games publisher for the MENA market, raises $3.5M to reach other ‘underserved’ gamers

13:00 | 14 February

Tamatem, the leading mobile games publisher in the Arabic speaking market, has raised $3.5 million in additional funding — essentially an extension of the startup’s earlier Series A.

The round was led by existing investor ​Wamda Capital, with participation from Modern Electronics Company (a subsidiary of AlFaisaliah Group) and North Base Media.

Tamatem says the purpose of this round is two-fold: to “double down” on its efforts in the MENA region, and to expand to other underserved markets worldwide. This will mean investing further in marketing for existing titles, including through offline events, which I’m told is an important part of the region’s marketing landscape. In addition, the company will open an office in Riyadh and launch multiple new titles in 2020.

Tamatem says it will expand internationally beyond its current regional boundaries, with plans to publish titles in other emerging and underserved markets. That’s something CEO Hussam Hammo believes isn’t always the norm for Middle East-based startups that often feel their market potential is limited to the MENA region.

“I love seeing startups expand beyond those boundaries, and I am proud that the team at Tamatem is now looking beyond just the Arabic speaking market,” he says. “I believe this latest round of funding will allow us to deliver on our vision of becoming the top mobile games publisher for every underserved emerging market in the world”.

Founded in Jordan, a country that has both Iraq and Syria as neighbours, Hammo says the country’s economy has been a bright spot in the region, in part through technology companies’ ability to cross “virtual borders.”

“Tamatem [has] led this digital economic expansion for the country and has shown that, despite tough regional conditions, commerce and high tech startups can thrive,” he tells me.

He says that Jordan has also been more welcoming to refugees than almost any other country, taking in over one million Syrian refugees (“pretty good for a population of just ten million”). However, despite Jordan making claims it has the biggest concentration of entrepreneurs in the Arab market, external venture capital investment is flowing towards the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“Tamatem is focusing hard on creating high skilled jobs in the country and also has a plan specifically to employ more young Jordanians and refugees by giving workshops and training to over 150 university graduates in 2020,” adds Hammo. “It’s important to me that we give back to the people that need it the most. These are hard working people that have been stripped of all their freedoms while being largely neglected by a lot of Western economies, so I’m proud that we are employing a lot of them in high skilled, stable and exciting jobs”.

 


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