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Main article: Startups

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Loop Returns picks up $10 million in Series A led by FirstMark Capital

16:44 | 12 November

Loop Returns, the startup that helps brands handle returns from online purchases, has today announced the close of a $10 million Series A funding round led by FirstMark Capital. Lerer Hippeau and Ridge Ventures also participated in the round.

Loop started when Jonathan Poma, a cofounder and COO and President, was working at an agency and consulting with a big Shopify brand on how to improve their system for returns and exchanges. After partnering with long-time friend Corbett Morgan Loop Returns was born.

Loop sits on top of Shopify to handle all of a brand’s returns. It first asks the customer if they’d like a different size in the item they bought, quickly managing an exchange. It then asks if the customer would prefer to exchange for a new item altogether, depositing the credit in that person’s account in real time so they can shop for something new immediately.

If an exchange isn’t in the cards, Loop will ask the customer if they’d prefer credit with this brand over a straight-up refund.

The goal, according to Poma and Morgan, is to turn the point of return into a moment where brands can create a life-loyal customer when handled quickly and properly.

The more we shop online, the more brands extend themselves financially, and returns are a big part of that. Returns account for 20 to 30 percent of ecommerce sales, which can become a terrible financial burden on a growing direct-to-consumer brand. And what’s more, the cost of acquiring those users in the first place also goes down the drain.

Loop Returns hopes to keep that customer in the fold by giving them post-purchase options that are more sticky and more lucrative for the brand than a refund.

The company thinks of it as Connection Infrastructure. Most brands already have a customer acquisition architecture, and Shopify and Amazon are ahead when it comes to the infrastructure around customer convenience. But the ties that bind customers to brands haven’t been optimized for the many D2C brands out there looking to make an impact.

“The big problem we’re trying to solve long term is connection infrastructure,” said Morgan. “Why does this brand matter? Why does it mean something to me? Why does the product matter? We want to enforce more mindfulness and meaning into buying.”

Of course, a more mindful shopper doesn’t yield as many returns. Poma and Morgan admit that the goal of their software is to minimize returns, the very reason for the software’s existence. After all, return volume is one of a handful of variables that help Loop Returns determine what it will charge its brand clients.

But the team is thinking about other layers of the connection infrastructure, with plans to launch a product in 2020 that also focuses on the connection point after purchase. Poma and Morgan believe, with an almost religious reverence, that the brands themselves will help lead shoppers and infrastructure providers to a better, more connected shopping experience.

“Brands are the torch bearers,” said Poma. “They will lead us to a more enlightened era of how we think about buying. Empowerment of the brand will lead us to a better consumerism.”

The cofounders stayed mum on any specific plans for the 2020 product, but did say they will use the funding to expand operations and further build out its current and future products.

Of course, Loop is playing in a crowded space. Not only are there other players thinking about post-purchase connection, but Shopify has itself built out tools to help with exchanges and returns, and even acquired Return Magic, a similar service, in the summer of 2018.

That said, Loop Returns believes that there is a long way to go as it builds the ‘connection infrastructure’ and that one clear path forward is actual personalization. With data from returns and exchanges, Loop Returns is relatively well positioned to take on personalization in a meaningful way.

For now, Loop Returns has more than 200 customers and has handled more than 2 million returns, working with brands like Brooklinen, AllBirds, PuraVida and more.

 


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Lawyers hate timekeeping. Ping raises $13M to fix it with AI

16:33 | 12 November

Counting billable time in six minute increments is the most annoying part of being a lawyer. It’s a distracting waste. It leads law firms to conservatively under-bill. And it leaves lawyers stuck manually filling out timesheets after a long day when they want to go home to their families.

Life is already short, as Ping CEO and co-founder Ryan Alshak knows too well. The former lawyer spent years caring for his mother as she battled a brain tumor before her passing. “One minute laughing with her was worth a million doing anything else” he tells me. “I became obsessed with the idea that we spend too much of our lives on things we have no need to do — especially at work.”

That’s motivated him as he’s built his startup Ping, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically track lawyers’ work and fill out timesheets for them. There’s a massive opportunity to eliminate a core cause of burnout, lift law firm revenue by around 10%, and give them fresh insights into labor allocation.

Ping co-founder and CEO Ryan Alshak. Image Credit: Margot Duane

That’s why today Ping is announcing a $13.2 million Series A led by Upfront Ventures, along with BoxGroup, First Round, Initialized, and Ulu Ventures. Adding to Ping’s quiet $3.7 million seed led by First Round last year, the startup will spend the cash to scale up enterprise distribution and become the new timekeeping standard.

I was a corporate litigator at Manatt Phelps down in LA and joke that I was voted the world’s worst timekeeper” Alshak tells me. “I could either get better at doing something I dreaded or I could try and build technology that did it for me.”

The promise of eliminating the hassle could make any lawyer who hears about Ping an advocate for the firm buying the startup’s software, like how Dropbox grew as workers demanded easier file sharing. “I’ve experienced first-hand the grind of filling out timesheets” writes Initialized partner and former attorney Alda Leu Dennis. “Ping takes away the drudgery of manual timekeeping and gives lawyers back all those precious hours.”

Traditionally, lawyers have to keep track of their time by themselves down to the tenth of an hour — reviewing documents for the Johnson case, preparing a motion to dismiss for the Lee case, a client phone call for Sriram case. There are timesheets built into legal software suites like MyCase, legal billing software like Timesolv, and one-off tools like Time Miner and iTimeKeep. They typically offer timers that lawyers can manually start and stop on different devices, with some providing tracking of scheduled appointments, call and text logging, and integration with billing systems.

Ping goes a big step further. It uses AI and machine learning to figure out whether an activity is billable, for which client, a description of the activity, and its codification beyond just how long it lasted. Instead of merely filling in the minutes, it completes all the logs automatically with entries like “Writing up a deposition – Jenkins Case – 18 minutes”. Then it presents the timesheet to the user for review before the send it to billing.

The big challenge now for Alshak and the team he’s assembled is to grow up. They need to go from cat-in-sunglasses logo Ping to mature wordmark Ping.  “We have to graduate from being a startup to being an enterprise software company” the CEO tells meThat means learning to sell to C-suites and IT teams, rather than just build solid product. In the relationship-driven world of law, that’s a very different skill set. Ping will have to convince clients it’s worth switching to not just for the time savings and revenue boost, but for deep data on how they could run a more efficient firm.

Along the way, Ping has to avoid any embarrassing data breaches or concerns about how its scanning technology could violate attorney-client privilege. If it can win this lucrative first business in legal, it could barge into the consulting and accounting verticals next to grow truly huge.

With eager customers, a massive market, a weak status quo, and a driven founder, Ping just needs to avoid getting in over its heads with all its new cash. Spent well, the startup could leap ahead of the less tech-savvy competition.

Alshak seems determined to get it right. “We have an opportunity to build a company that gives people back their most valuable resource — time — to spend more time with their loved ones because they spent less time working” he tells me. “My mom will live forever because she taught me the value of time. I am deeply motivated to build something that lasts . . . and do so in her name.”

 


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Only four days left to buy early-bird passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019

13:55 | 12 November

Last week, we extended the early-bird pricing on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019 until 15 November at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Consider it distinctly non-divine intervention from Expeditus, the patron saint of procrastinators (and speedy causes). The countdown continues, and you have just four days left to save serious dough — we’re talking up to €500 depending on the type of pass you purchase.

No matter what role you play in the startup world, you’ll find tremendous value at Disrupt Berlin. Add even more value — buy an early-bird pass to Disrupt Berlin before the early bird flies away for good on 15 November at 11:59 p.m. (CEST).

Disrupt Berlin draws attendees from more than 50 countries across Europe and beyond, making it an international celebration of all things startup. This is the place to see the latest tech from innovative early-stage startups, and you’ll find hundreds of them exhibiting in Startup Alley. Don’t miss the Country Pavilions where you’ll find delegations from different countries showcasing the best of their up-and-coming startups.

You’ll also find TC Top Picks exhibiting in Startup Alley. Our editors selected up to five startups they feel represent the most interesting use of technology in the following categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education. Come to meet, greet and network with the founders who earned the coveted Top Pick designation.

With so many exhibiting startups to see, not to mention all the founders, investors and technologists roaming around the Berlin Arena, how can you cut through the noise to find the people who align with your business goals and interests? Use CrunchMatch, our free business-matchmaking tool that slays the old needle-in-a-haystack approach to networking.

We’ll email all registered attendees when we launch CrunchMatch, and we’ll explain how to access the platform. You then create a professional profile outlining your role and the specific types of people and connections you want to make.  CrunchMatch will find and suggest matches and — with your approval — suggest meetings, send out meeting requests and schedule appointments. Closing the deal? That’s up to you.

Beyond all the networking opportunities, you’ll have the chance to learn from and engage with tech and investing experts and icons. Hear from world-class speakers, attend smaller Q&A Sessions where you have the chance to get your pressing questions answered, watch the Startup Battlefield and don’t miss the Hackathon finalists pitch on the Extra Crunch Stage. Check out the Disrupt Berlin agenda.

Join us on 11-12 December for all the value and opportunity Disrupt Berlin 2019 offers. And remember, you have just four more days to grab all the value you can. Channel Saint Expeditus and beat the deadline. Buy your early-bird pass before 15 November at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). We’ll see you in Berlin!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

 


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PacketAI predicts IT incidents by parsing large event data sets

12:20 | 12 November

Meet PacketAI, a French startup that wants to alert you when there’s something wrong with your app or service. The company uses machine learning to parse raw event data and find out if there’s anything wrong.

PacketAI can intercept incidents at many different levels. For instance, the service can tell you if your users can’t write something on your database or if there’s something wrong with your compute layer.

PacketAI doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The startup is well aware that there are many monitoring tools our there — Datadog, Splunk and Dynatrace for instance.

“Those tools are primarily designed for humans so that they can understand information delivered by machines,” co-founder and CEO Hardik Thakkar told me.

PacketAI integrates directly with the APIs of Datadog, Splunk or Dynatrace to analyze raw event data in real time. Instead of scrolling through thousands of lines, you can get an alert that tells you that bank transfers take a a lot more time than usual to go through for instance.

Eventually, you should be able to repair your problem much more quickly, which could potentially improve your revenue.

For now, the startup creates a machine learning model for each client. But the plan is to create a model for each vertical as soon as you have four or five companies in the same space using PacketAI. You could imagine a model for banking companies, a model for telecom companies, etc.

The startup already raised $2.3 million (€2.1 million) from Aster Capital, BNP Paribas Developpement, Entrepreneur First and SGPA.

PacketAI is already working with some clients on the first implementations of its product. The service will be available to anyone in early 2020. Pricing varies depending on the number of nodes (any physical or virtual network element) you want to monitor using PacketAI.

 


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Introducing the TC Top Picks for Disrupt Berlin 2019

12:00 | 12 November

Can we get a fanfare of trumpets, please? The time has come to introduce you to our TC Top Picks for Disrupt Berlin 2019. The ingenuity and creativity reflected in the international startup community can’t be overstated, and narrowing the field from the hundreds of applications we received was no easy task.

The program showcases outstanding early-stage startups across these categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

Challenging as it was, TechCrunch editors had a (wicked fun) job to do — select up to five early-stage startups they felt represent the best of their specific tech category. This remarkable cadre of early-stage startups knocked our proverbial socks off. Cold toes notwithstanding, we think you’ll be equally impressed.

Founders who earn the TC Top Picks designation receive a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package, one full day of exhibiting, three free Founder passes, intense investor and media interest and VIP treatment — including an interview on the Showcase Stage with a TechCrunch editor. And we promote that video across our social media platforms.

Alright, it’s time for the big reveal. Congratulations to the TC Top Picks for Disrupt Berlin 2019!

Artificial Intelligence + Machine Learning

  • Apostera: An automotive company offering a set of innovative products world-wide.
  • CYANITE: Music analysis tool — the interface between the music industry, data science and software engineering.
  • Prodsight: Helps companies make data-driven product development decisions.
  • Stormly: An AI-powered platform that works as a data consultant.
  • Timekettle Technologies: Committed to building a global brand of AI translator so immersive that it disappears into the experience.

Biotech + Healthtech

  • Glazomer: An affordable Hi-End Eye Tracking system for professional academic and clinical research.
  • Healthy Quit: Digital health company and a pharmacy that provides vaping and smoking cessation by utilizing an artificial intelligent treatment algorithm and medications to help patients quit.
  • mettleAI: Leveraging ML/AI to predict substance abuse relapse before it happens.
  • Thryve: We power the individualization of health care by providing the API needed by health services to access health data from more than 100 wearables.
  • Volta Medical: Aims at developing a wide range of intelligent software solutions designed to guide cardiologists during interventional procedures.

Blockchain

  • Acatena AG: IoT & Blockchain platform to reinvent premium product authenticity.
  • Anytype: An operating system for the new internet.
  • etoshi: The all-in-one crypto platform: trading, wallets and taxes under one roof!
  • SIMBA Chain: A cloud-based, smart-contract-as-a-service (SCaaS) platform, enabling users across a variety of skill sets to implement dapps (decentralized applications).

CRM + Enterprise

  • Cumul.io: A cloud analytics platform for business experts & SaaS companies to integrate intuitive yet powerful data visualization into their daily lives.
  • cux.io: Your one-stop shop for understanding your users’ experiences online.
  • Radicalbit: Event stream processing self-service platform. One platform for data engineering, data ops & MLOps on top of Kafka.
  • Stack: Internet launchpad, increasing the efficiency of working with the web for the average internet users by allowing simultaneous use of multiple web-apps within a neatly organized working environment.
  • Usercentrics: A CMP that helps enterprise customers obtain, manage and document the user consent, with all different aspects of consent storage, consent API’s, consent in ad tech.

Fintech

  • ChromaWay: Blockchain “2.0” platform that enables smart contracts and digital assets for financial applications and non-financial applications.
  • CurioInvest: A technology platform that lets anyone invest directly in rare alternative assets.
  • Raison: A platform for operations with investments and personal finance.
  • TXC Markets: Peer to peer fintech trading technologies and marketplaces for illiquid and alternative assets.

Mobility + Transportation

  • DUCKT: The world’s first universal electrical scooter charging station. Better operations, better experience for people & the city.
  • MachineMax: Used to track utilisation, idling, fuel and geolocation for any machine.
  • Pixmoving: Provides universal autonomous driving chassis.
  • Qibus: Making autonomous mobility a reality.
  • TRAXIT: Tracking multi service company changing the way we track our belongings, starting from Aviation vertical.

Privacy + Security

  • Nect: Delivers the self-service future of identity verification as a service — easy to use and with military-grade security.
  • o.vision: Develops facial identification solutions for integration within smart office frameworks and commercial bank security systems.
  • Sypher Solutions: Software platform that simplifies analysis and helps prevent mistakes when documenting and maintaining GDPR compliance.
  • Wire: The most secure collaboration platform, transforming the way business’ communicate in the same way and speed that our founders disrupted telephony with Skype.

Retail + E-commerce

  • combyne: A social tool for combining clothing. Our vision is to digitize the usage of fashion.
  • Fashwire: A global data-driven marketplace with 200+ fashion designers from 25+ countries.
  • Squareshot: We help consumer, fashion and dnvb brands streamline content production and create beautiful product shots to maximize their online sales.

Robotics + Hardware + IoT

  • Aether Biomedical: A rehabilitation robotics startup focused on building bionic limbs for upper limb amputees.
  • Domotron: The most advanced smart home that adapts to your lifestyle. To make your life easier.
  • Infocode: Smart building solution company that provides smart waste bin for office and public spaces.
  • RoboChef: World’s first fully automated robotic kitchen cooking 500+ recipes with ZERO manual effort powered by IoT, Robotics & AI.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December. Buy your pass today and be sure to swing by Startup Alley to meet and greet the TC Top Picks. One more thing. It’s not too late to buy a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and strut your stuff alongside hundreds of companies and sponsors. All exhibiting startups have a shot at winning the Wild Card to compete for $50,000 in our famous pitch competition, Startup Battlefield. What have you got to lose? Nuthin!

 


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A16Z-backed Shift.org announces veterans hiring pipeline partnership with Better.com

02:43 | 12 November

While across much of Asia, November 11th is either “singles day” (a $38 billion Alibaba extravaganza this year) or Pepero Day (named because 11/11 looks like a bunch of chocolate dessert sticks), here in the United States and parts of Europe, November 11th also marks the end of World War I and the commemoration of Veterans Day.

Every year in the U.S., tens of thousands of soldiers leave active duty and transition into the civilian workforce, a route that can be startlingly difficult to navigate. How do you describe what an ordnance specialist does to civilians who have no idea what an MOS is? While the military teaches skills useful to a wide number of professions, holding the right conversations in a job search is key to making the leap.

That’s why a spate of new programs aims to help make it easier for veterans to head into the civilian workforce, and particularly into tech, which obviously has huge growth and great jobs waiting for those who can lock them up. I’ve previously covered one TechStars-connected non-profit, Patriot Boot Camp, which helps veterans looking to launch startups navigate the founder route.

One company that we haven’t covered on TechCrunch before though is Shift.org, an A16Z-backed for-profit startup that aims to help veterans learn the key career skills needed to “shift” from the military into the civilian workforce.

Today for Veterans Day, the company announced a new employer partnership with mortgage fintech startup Better.com that will see Better.com hire 80 veterans in the next few months using Shift.org as a sourcing pool, and a projected target of 5,000 veterans and their spouses by 2025 (assuming, as with all high-growth startups, that the high-growth continues firing on all cylinders).

In a press statement, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg said that “Veterans are an untapped source of talent that learned, operated and adapted to some of the world’s most innovative technologies from VR to robotics, nuclear technology and cyber.”

I chatted a bit with Shift.org CEO Mike Slagh about how he sees these partnerships and his own path into building a company. I “got started three years ago after serving in the Navy for just over five years as a bomb disposal officer,” he explained. In many ways, Shift.org was trying to fix his own challenge in moving back into the civilian workforce:

… My story was, I was going on base to the career fairs — there are these big aircraft hangers — and you’re sitting across the table from these employers, and they’re telling you what it’s like to work at their company, they’re telling you what [their] culture is like, and it’s just really hard to picture and it’s such an anxiety-ridden decision, and a big high-stakes moment in your life where you want to get it right for your family, you want to get it right for your future career trajectory.

Part of that anxiety is that saying the right things is often more crucial in recruitment settings than having the right skills. Slagh said that “I actually think that the gap is much narrower than many people naturally assume,” but, “you have to have oftentimes industry-specific context for somebody to take a bet on you when you have a non-traditional background.”

Since launching, Shift.org has partnered with employers like Better.com, Major League Baseball, and Symantec to help bridge the divide and open the pipeline to a wider and more diverse set of candidates.

The company was first funded by Garrett Camp of Expa Labs, and netted a reported $4 million round from Jeff Jordan at Andreessen Horowitz early last year. Slagh said his hope is to eventually work with hundreds of thousands of veterans not just secure great jobs, but also to train them in the skillsets they need to succeed in the future. The company is exclusively partnered today with Lambda School to help provide some of that technical background, for instance.

 


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OLX Group invests up to $400M in used car marketplace Frontier Car Group at $700M valuation

15:10 | 11 November

Frontier Car Group, the Berlin-based startup building used-car marketplaces targeting high-growth, emerging markets, has picked up another significant round of funding from a strategic backer also focusing on the same geographical opportunity.

Today, OLX, the online classifieds division Prosus (the digital division of Naspers that listed earlier this year in Europe) announced that it would invest up to $400 million in Frontier, in a mix of equity, secondary share acquisitions and existing business shares. The deal will include a primary capital injection of an unspecified amount, which OLX has confirmed to me values Frontier Car Group at $700 million, post-money.

In terms of business shares: OLX also said that it will be contributing its shares in a JV it had in place with Frontier in India and Poland. Meanwhile, the secondary acquisitions — the shares are currently held by other investors, founders and management — are subject to a tender process. The markets that Frontier operates in now include Nigeria, Mexico, Chile, Pakistan, and Indonesia, and the USA (where it acquired WeBuyAnyCar last year) in addition to India and Poland.

Notably, even before the full $400 million amount is exercised (that is, after the tender process is completed), an OLX spokesperson confirmed that first capital injection will make it Frontier’s largest single shareholder (but not the majority shareholder), which essentially values the deal at less than $350 million (based on the $700 million valuation).

Today, Frontier Car Group offers buyers and sellers a range of services: in addition to basic inventory listings, there are inspection reports, financial, pricing guides, warranties and insurance. The plan will be to expand more services for one of the key players in the used-car space, dealers — via Frontier’s Dealer Management System — more resale services (via OLX), and more CarFax/Blue Book-style pricing guides and other products.

It’s not clear how big the business is today (we’re asking) but as a point of reference, in May of last year, when the company raised $58 million, it had sold 50,000 cars to date and was on track for $200 million in annualised revenues, and CEO and cofounder Sujay Tyle says the company has been on a growth tear.

“FCG has nearly tripled performance across every key metric since the first OLX Group investment less than 18 months ago and has expanded to four new countries in that time,” said Sujay Tyle, the co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “This is a testament to FCG’s team, the ripe market opportunity, and the results of early integration with OLX in our key markets. Together with OLX and Prosus, we are aiming to revolutionize the used car market in several emerging and developed economies by adding trust, transparency and a comprehensive suite of services to all participants in the ecosystem.”

“Together with FCG, we are aiming to build the leading global used car marketplace, offering a premium and convenient service to millions of car buyers, sellers and dealers,” said Martin Scheepbouwer, CEO of OLX Group. “We’re in a unique position to accelerate the expansion of this platform worldwide. Our experience in India is a great proof of concept, where within the space of a year, our joint venture has already increased the number of stores threefold, with car purchase volumes continuing to grow by 10% month-on-month.”

This is the second time that OLX has invested in Frontier: in May 2018, Naspers had invested $89 million in the business, an investment that came just weeks after Frontier had raised $58 million from Balderton, TPG and others.

The deal underscores the longtime trend of consolidation in e-commerce businesses — something Prosus is also seeing played out in a completely different arena, that of food delivery.

The basics of the economy-of-scale principle, as applied to used car sales, goes something like this: economies of scale makes a platform more useful (there will be more cars on it, and less on competitors’ sites); but it also potentially means that Frontier would be making more transactions, thereby more revenues overall; and building and running more sales on the same platform improves the margins on the investment that gets made in building and operating that platform.

Targeting P2P used car sales in emerging markets is a big potential business: in part because of the nature of those economies, car owners are more likely to sweat out assets rather than go for buying completely new vehicles. OLX notes that combining the operations in Frontier’s footprint with those of the JV businesses that it is now taking over, plus OLX’s own business in Latin America, Asia and Poland, results in a market where some 30 million used cars are sold annually, “more than double that of China.”

 


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Join Jeremy Johnson from Andela at Disrupt Berlin

12:00 | 11 November

Over the past few years, Andela has built a simple yet powerful answer to the talent shortage in Silicon Valley and other overheating tech ecosystems. The company helps you hire some of the most talented software developers in a handful of African cities. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Andela co-founder and CEO Jeremy Johnson is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Andela’s basic premise is that expertise is evenly distributed across the globe. And yet, the biggest tech companies are concentrated in a few places. More and more companies are now open to hiring remote employees and Andela is taking advantage of that.

The company makes it easy to find software engineers in no time. It screens applications and selects the best software engineers that can develop in Javascript (React.js, Angular.js), Python, Ruby, PHP and for the Android platform.

So far, 130,000 people have applied and Andela only accepted the top 1,000 engineers. The startup then tries to match your company with the best candidates for the job in order to facilitate onboarding. After that, you have a new team member.

With offices in Lagos, Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali, New York, San Francisco and Austin, Andela is trying to create a bridge between some of the most active tech communities in Africa and U.S.-based startups.

This isn’t Jeremy Johnson’s first startup. The young entrepreneur previously co-founded 2U, a software solution that helps schools and universities provide online degree programs. The company went public in 2014.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

Jeremy Johnson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Andela, a company that builds high-performing, distributed engineering teams with Africa’s most talented software developers. Founded on the premise that brilliance is evenly distributed, Andela is solving the global technical talent shortage while catalyzing the growth of tech ecosystems on the African continent.

Prior to founding Andela, Jeremy co-founded 2U, one of the fastest growing education technology startups to date. 2U went public in 2014 (NASDAQ:TWOU) and continues to transform higher education by delivering the world’s best online degree programs with top tier universities.

Jeremy is recognized broadly for his work as an education innovator. He has spoken on education and entrepreneurship at meetings hosted by the White House and Congress. His speaking appearances include conferences and college campuses around the world as well as media outlets like NBC, ABC, FOX, and CNBC. Jeremy was named “30 Under 30” by Inc. Magazine in 2012 and Forbes in 2013 and 2014.

Outside of Andela, Jeremy serves on the board of the Young Entrepreneur Council and the education non-profit PENCIL and co-authored a book for the World Economic Forum: ‘Education & Skills 2.0: New Targets & Innovative Approaches.’

 


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Voi raises another $85M for its European e-scooter service

03:00 | 11 November

Voi Technology, the “micro-mobility” startup that operates an e-scooter service in a 38 cities across 10 European countries, has raised an $85 million in Series B funding.

Backing the round is a mixture of existing and new investors. They include Balderton Capital, Creandum, Project A, JME Ventures, Raine Ventures, Kreos Capital, Inbox Capital, Rider Global, and Black Ice Capital. The new funding brings the total raised by Voi to $136 million.

Eagled-eyed readers will have noticed that, based on our previous Voi coverage, the total figure is $32 million short. That’s because not all of Voi’s previous Series A commitment was cashed in after the company was offered more favourable terms for its $30 million Series A extension and therefore elected not to draw down the second tranche of its original Series A.

Launched in 2018, the company is best-known for its e-scooter rentals but now pitches itself as a micro-mobility provider, offering a number of different transport devices. These include various e-scooter and e-bike models, in a bid to become a broader transport operator helping to re-shape urban transport and wean people off using cars.

To date, Voi says it has 4 million registered users and has powered 14 million rides. More recently it has launched new, more robust hardware that has been designed to sustain the rigours of commercial e-bike sharing. The idea is that more suitable hardware will help e-scooter companies improve margins since more rides can be extracted from the life-span of each vehicle.

On that note, Voi says it will use the new funding to develop “strong profitable businesses” in the 38 cities where it is already operating, as well as increase its R&D spend to improve its technology platform and products. Earlier this year, the company announced that it is already profitable in the cities of Stockholm and Oslo.

“Clearly, we feel we are on track to achieve this in more of our cities and that is our aim,” Voi co-founder and CEO Fredrik Hjelm tells me. “At this point, a key focus for us is to ensure we continue to increase the lifetime of our e-scooters, forge key partnerships and continue to work in those cities which provide the best conditions for a profitable e-scooter business”.

Hjelm says that Voi’s version 2 scooters are projected to last over 18 months, which means the company should be in profit before it needs to raise again. However, he wouldn’t be drawn on when that might be.

With regards to R&D and improvements to the Voi platform, the company will continue to work on the lifetime of its e-scooters, in addition to improved repair management via integrating “predictive diagnostics”.

Hjelm also says Voi is developing “AI-powered” fleet management and more generally the platform’s capability to support future product portfolio expansion. In other words, we can expect new micro-mobility device categories in the future.

 


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Startups Weekly: Airbnb’s growing pains

16:00 | 9 November

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Uber’s new “money” team. Before that, I told you about how SoftBank is screwing up.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.


Brian Chesky, chief executive officer and co-founder of Airbnb Inc. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Airbnb’s growing up

Following the death of five people at a Halloween party hosted at a California Airbnb rental, and a scathing Vice report outlining Airbnb’s failure to prevent nation-wide scams, the company says it will begin verifying all seven million of its listings.

Airbnb properties will soon be verified for accuracy of photos, addresses, listing details, cleanliness, safety and basic home amenities, according to a company-wide email sent by Airbnb co-founder and chief executive officer Brian Chesky on Wednesday. All rentals that meet the company’s new standards will be “clearly labeled” by December 15, 2020, he notes. Beginning next month, Airbnb will rebook or refund guests who check into rentals that do not meet the new accuracy standards.

These changes, outlined fully here, come as Airbnb preps for an IPO or a direct listing slated for 2020. The company was in need of some serious additions to its barely-there security measures and it also needed to make a grand gesture (or two) to Wall Street following multiple PR disasters over the last two weeks. Airbnb’s response to the recently-highlighted problems will help determine how it fares on the public market and given its quick and seemingly comprehensive response, money managers may be pleased.


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TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2017 in Berlin on 5 December 2017. ImageXDante for TechCrunch

Meet me in Berlin

The TechCrunch team is heading to Berlin again this year for our annual event, TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, which brings together entrepreneurs and investors from across the globe. We announced the agenda this week, with leading founders including Away’s Jen Rubio and UiPath’s Daniel Dines. Take a look at the full agenda.

I will be there to interview a bunch of venture capitalists, who will give tips on how to raise your first euros. Buy tickets to the event here.


VC deals

 


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