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Cann, the cannabis-infused drink company, moves 150,000 units and raises $5 million

17:01 | 21 January

Since its launch in May of last year, the cannabis-infused drink company Cann has sold 150,000 cans of its THC and CBD-infused, alcohol-free, intoxicants, in a sign of success that’s bucking current industry trends,.

On its way to that milestone, the company has sold out multiple times as it wrestled with manufacturing facilities that simply couldn’t keep up with demand, according to the company’s co-founders, Luke Anderson and Jake Bullock.

Now, thanks to a $5 million investment from new backers led by Imaginary, an early stage investment firm launched by the founder of the Net-a-Porter group, and JM10, a leading cannabis company, Cann is hoping to break through the legal obstacles surrounding distribution of cannabis-derived intoxicants and overcome investors growing skepticism around the viability of cannabis as a business.

Overall, the industry is hurting. They’re not meeting the growth expectations that they set out,” says Bullock. “What’s happening on delivery platforms is not connected with the mainstream. You have folks that are not going to smoke or are not going to inhale vapor… [and so] you’ve seen a much slower adoption of cannabis as a mainstream mild intoxicant.”

Those problems are threatening the existence of one of the cannabis industry’s most recognizable startups, Eaze. According to earlier TechCrunch reports, the company is running low on cash thanks to a perfect storm of working capital constraints, increased marketing spend and lower customer demand.

Cann’s co-founders think their drink offers something more appealing to a casual consumer than vaping or smoking — but the company chafes under the distribution constraints that tie it to the dispensary businesses.

Cann wants to transform the social alcohol drinker into a Cann consumer, but is hampered by its inability to appear next to beer and wine on grocery store shelves. In fact, the company’s products can’t appear in the grocery store at all.

So to woo these would-be Cann fans, the company is casting about for new distribution deals and cutting its pricing — selling its drinks at a retail price of roughly $4 per Cann.

The $16 four-pack or $24 dollar six-pack is more palatable to consumers than the $27 price point for a euphoric like Kin, the company’s founders think. Investors have backed other would be bud beverages. K-Zen Beverages raised a $5 million from the investment firm DCM  and California Dreamin’, a Y Combinator-backed intoxicant containing a whopping 10 milligrams of THC, has also nabbed some investor cash. Even traditional breweries are getting into the act, with the Heineken-owned brewery Lagunitas offering a THC and CBD-infused, alcohol-free version of their famous beer under the moniker HiFi Hops.

Bullock and Anderson say that their company’s drinks, which pack 2MG of THC and 4MG of CBD, could be a challenger to traditional liquors — offering all of the buzz and none of the bad hangover — if they could only get over the regulatory and supply chain hurdles. 

To address their manufacturing issues, the company found a co-packer called Space Station, the Sacramento, Calif.-based producer that will help boost volumes.

“We are trying to create a product that can appeal to mainstream consumers,” says Bullock. “There are only 600 licensed distributors so how do you meet customers where they are?”

Instead of vertically integrating (just as Eaze is rushing to make its own products, Cann could build out its own distribution channels and delivery services), Cann is doubling down on third parties and will spend at least some of its new money to reach beyond California into other states where weed is legally sold and regulated.

Right now, it’s pretty much a land grab for shelf space at dispensaries, with few THC and CBD beverages on store shelves, but one reason for the new capital is that both Bullock and Anderson know that any edible company would be foolish not to explore the beverage market too.

Investors like Massenet view the investment in companies like Cann as a bet on the increasing movement toward sobriety among younger generations.

“We have been tracking the new generation of consumers who are searching for and embracing new forms of responsible social drinking which do not involve alcohol,” said Natalie Massenet, Co-founder of Imaginary. “Cann, with its formulation that has the potency of a light beer without the alcohol or calories, addresses this growing trend in a brilliantly formulated series of beverages. Being obsessed with backing the best new disruptive consumer product companies, Imaginary also loves the fantastic branding and positioning of Cann.”



SoFi founder Mike Cagney’s already well-funded new startup is raising another $100 million

22:11 | 1 December

Figure Technologies, a nearly two-year-old, San Francisco-based fintech cofounded by Mike Cagney, the founder of the more established fintech company SoFi, is raising a whole lot of money — again.

By February of this year, Figure had already raised $120 million in equity funding from a gaggle of investors, including RPM Ventures, partners at DST Global, Ribbit Capital, DCM, DCG, Nimble Ventures, and Morgan Creek. In May, it announced that it had closed an up to $1 billion uncommitted asset-based financing facility on its own custom blockchain with Jefferies and WSFS Institutional Services.

Now, according to paperwork filed with the SEC earlier this month, it appears that Figure has closed or is about to close on $103 million in Series C funding.

Presumably, investors are interested partly in the company’s growing spate of products. While Figure started out providing home loans to older customers who aren’t earning income and have much of their wealth tied up in their homes — a fast-growing demographic — it has more recently begun to chase after a demographic that Cagney knows well through SoFi, younger people looking to refinance their student loans.

According to Figure’s website, it also plans to introduce a money market product soon.

Figure talked recently with American Banker about the company’s interest in competing more directly with SoFi, citing the $1.4 trillion in outstanding loan debt as the primary reason it’s swooping into the space, and with the “same mousetrap” that Figure has developed to quickly process home loans, which it then securitizes and sells.

Specifically, all of Figure’s financial services business is executed entirely on its blockchain, Provenance, which further has a native token, Hash, that’s used to both access the blockchain and to memorialize off-chain exchange of fiat currency.

Cagney co-founded Figure with his wife, June Ou, who was the company’s chief operating officer. She was previously chief technology officer at SoFi, where Cagney lost his job in 2017 as CEO after a board investigation into sexual misconduct at the company.

Others of Figure’s cofounders include Alana Ackerson and Cynthia Chen. Ackerson was previously the CEO of the Thiel Foundation. Chen was most recently a venture partner with DHVC (Danhua Capital), a venture capital firm based in Palo Alto, Ca.



Bodega, once dubbed ‘America’s most hated startup,’ has quietly raised millions

00:10 | 26 September

2What’s in a name?

More than two years ago, Fast Company published a story with the headline “Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas And Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Obsolete.” The focus of the story was a nascent startup by the name of Bodega .

The company had raised $2.5 million in funding from First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green and Homebrew’s Hunter Walk. To announce their funding and vision to create the unmanned store of the future, Bodega briefed a number of journalists on its big idea. Given the simplicity of its product — a tech-enabled vending machine, in essence — the team was blindsided by the uproarious response that followed. September 13, 2017 was supposed to be the most exciting day in the startup’s history, at least until that point; instead, it was a nightmarish lesson in poor branding and messaging.

Why do tech wizards keep thinking of new and more horrible ways to avoid dealing with people? -CityLab, September 13, 2017

The press storm and public lambasting catapulted Bodega into the limelight — for all the wrong reasons. Overnight, the company went from just another early-stage commerce business to the symbol of everything that is wrong with Silicon Valley. Many wondered if it would fall victim to criticism and crumble like Juicero, a well-financed startup that sold a $400 juicer — that is, until a Bloomberg story proved its juice packets could be squeezed by hand, no machine necessary. Or would it take the public condemnation in stride, hearing out the critics and amending its brand as necessary?

Two years after its ill-fated launch, the latter seems to be true. Today, the three-year-old Oakland-based company — now known as Stockwell — is said to be growing quickly thanks to more than $45 million in venture capital funding from a number of deep-pocketed investors, the company has confirmed to TechCrunch.


Bodega’s original branding included a cat logo. Cats are often features of small neighborhood stores, known as bodegas.

Public outcry

Bodega is either the worst named startup of the year, or the most devious,” wrote The Verge in the fall of 2017. “Tech firm markets glorified vending machines where users can buy groceries,” said The Guardian. The Washington Post dubbed the company “America’s most hated start-up.” CityLab, which writes about issues impacting cities, bluntly reported “Bodega, a Startup for Disrupting Bodegas, Is Terrible,” followed by 30 reasons why the startup sucks: “Maybe a Bodega can stock Soylent to appeal to people who also think that eating delicious food is a grim burden,” CityLab wrote. “Why do tech wizards keep thinking of new and more horrible ways to avoid dealing with people? How come they hate being human?”

It’s safe to say Bodega endured one of the most catastrophic company launches in the history of tech startups. But the press cycle surrounding Bodega was more than an attack on the startup alone. It represented a greater frustration with Silicon Valley culture and its reputation for funding “disruptive” products devoid of impact. Time and time again, VCs had proven their willingness to inject millions into standard concepts lacking originality. A juicer had raised more than $100 million, after all, scooters were beginning to attract private capital and Soylent, which sells a meal replacement drink fit for techies, was hot off the heels of a $50 million round.

A mini-fridge equipped with computer vision technology boasting a culturally insensitive name wasn’t going to change the world. Questioning why it had the support of VCs was only fair.

An innocent misunderstanding?

Behind the upsetting name was a business developing hundreds of five-foot-wide pantry boxes to be housed in luxury apartment lobbies, offices, college campuses, gyms and more. Similar to Amazon Go, the “smart stores” recognize what customers remove from the cases using computer vision and automatically charge the credit card associated with the account.

When you’re not in the room, the name of your company is what gets passed between people. -James Currier, NFX .

Bodega was founded by a pair of Google veterans, Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan. It had all the ingredients for a successful startup stew. Founders with years of experience in big tech: McDonald spent more than a decade at Google; Rajan had just finished up the search engine’s competitive associate product manager program. Both attended top universities: University of California -Berkeley and Columbia University, respectively. Still, neither of the two men nor their investors seemed to have predicted the controversy afoot.

“Bodega doesn’t want to disrupt the bodega,” Hunter Walk, a Bodega investor and co-founder of the seed fund Homebrew, wrote in a 2017 blog post. “Some instances of today’s press coverage suggested that element, a sound bite which, exacerbated by Bodega’s naming, pissed people off as another example of tech startups being at best tone-deaf, and at worst, predatory … It didn’t occur to me that some people would see the word and associate its use in this context with whitewashing or cultural appropriation.”

The company, too, quickly authored a blog post outlining their thought process behind the name: “Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration,” McDonald wrote.

After penning blog posts, the founders continued working on the company under the provocative and upsetting name. Meanwhile, investors seemed unfazed by the negative press, evidenced by the company’s ability to continue raising venture capital funding. After all, many of the best businesses endure the wrath of bloggers, competing founders and the general public. As for VCs, high-risk bets are just part of the ball game.

DCM Ventures, a Chinese venture capital fund with offices in Beijing, Tokyo and Silicon Valley, was the first to agree to invest in Bodega following the PR disaster. The firm, an investor in Lime, Hims and SoFi, led a $7.5 million Series A financing in the business in early 2018, sources tell TechCrunch. DCM vice president David Cheng, named to the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Venture Capital, is actively involved with the company, according to his bio.

Finally, after pocketing nearly $10 million in total funding, Bodega announced a name change: “Did you buy something today from a Bodega?” Bodega’s McDonald wrote. “You may have noticed that we’ve changed our name to Stockwell . Our new name is one of the changes we’re making as we expand our offerings and open more stores around the country.”

Stockwell Founders

Stockwell, fka Bodega, founders Paul McDonald (left) and Ashwath Rajan (Courtesy of Stockwell).

A new era

With a new logo and a toned-down, somewhat bland identity, Stockwell had a fresh start and, soon, more attention from top VCs. In late 2018, the company raised a $35 million round of funding co-led by Uber and Slack-backer GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, and NEA, an investor known for bets in Coursera, MasterClass and OpenDoor, Stockwell has confirmed. NEA’s Amit Mukherjee and GV’s John Lyman joined Stockwell’s board as part of the deal, which is said to have valued the business at north of $100 million. Stockwell, however, declined to confirm the figure.

Stockwell's funding history

Instead of announcing the news via TechCrunch, Venture Beat, Forbes or another tech publication, as is the norm for fast-growing consumer-facing startups, Stockwell remained mum on financing events and scaling plans, assumedly burned by the press and the public’s scorn a year prior.

Rather than subject itself to continued scrutiny as it attempted to rewrite its narrative, Stockwell was heads down, iterating, expanding and quietly raising millions. Bad press can break a startup, and given the sheer number of negative reports on Stockwell so early on, the company had already defied the odds. Keeping a low profile was undoubtedly the best strategy moving forward, and it seems to have paid off.

“It was a difficult time and transition and we learned a lot from it,” a spokesperson for Stockwell said in an email to TechCrunch. “As a company, we put our heads down and focused on building our business. We kept a low profile and concentrated on our core product, the mission, and the people who work for us. We’re excited for the progress we’ve made but won’t forget the path that got us here.”

Today the company counts 1,000 “stores” in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago. Stockwell has used its latest infusion of funding to explore shared ownership models, i.e. the opportunity for anyone to run their own Stockwell store. The company tells TechCrunch they are also working on building out their “unique curation model,” which allows customers to help determine what items are stocked in their local “store,” as well as their support for emerging brands, whose products they can stock in their next-generation vending machines.


Stockwell’s five-foot wide next-generation vending machine.

So what’s in a name?

Human beings make snap judgments, evaluate products quickly and can develop distaste for brands in a matter of seconds. A company’s moniker is their first opportunity to impress customers.

“When you’re not in the room, the name of your company is what gets passed between people,” writes NFX co-founder James Currier. “It speaks for you when you’re not there … It sets expectations of your company in the blink of an eye. And first impressions are hard to change. Both positive and negative.”

Most cases of poor startup naming are easily fixed. Most founders aren’t forced to bear the brunt of the internet’s fury. The case of Bodega is much more extreme and, as such, serves as the ultimate lesson for founders searching for the best way to tell their story. At the end of the day, avoiding a complete and total train-wreck is easy if you include a diverse group of people in the naming process and remember there’s a lot in a name — if that weren’t the case, Bodega would still be Bodega.



At TechCrunch Disrupt, insights into key trends in venture capital

19:00 | 20 September

At TechCrunch Disrupt, the original tech startup conference, venture capitalists remain amongst the premier guests.

VCs are responsible for helping startups — the focus of the three-day event — get off the ground and as such, they are often the most familiar with trends in the startup ecosystem, ready to deliver insights, anecdotes and advice to our audience of entrepreneurs, investors, operators, managers and more.

In the first half of 2019, VCs spent $66 billion purchasing equity in promising upstarts, according to the latest data from PitchBook. At that pace, VC spending could surpass $100 billion for the second year in a row. We plan to welcome a slew of investors to TechCrunch Disrupt to discuss this major feat and the investing trends that have paved the way for recording funding.

Mega-funds and the promise of unicorn initial public offerings continue to drive investment. SoftBank, of course, began raising its second Vision Fund this year, a vehicle expected to exceed $100 billion. Meanwhile, more traditional VC outfits revisited limited partners to stay competitive with the Japanese telecom giant. Andreessen Horowitz, for example, collected $2.75 billion for two new funds earlier this year. We’ll have a16z general partners Chris Dixon, Angela Strange and Andrew Chen at Disrupt for insight into the firm’s latest activity.

At the early-stage, the fight for seed deals continued, with larger funds moving downstream to muscle their way into seed and Series A financings. Pre-seed has risen to prominence, with new funds from Afore Capital and Bee Partners helping to legitimize the stage. Bolstering the early-stage further, Y Combinator admitted more than 400 companies across its two most recent batches,

We’ll welcome pre-seed and seed investor Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures and Redpoint Ventures general partner Annie Kadavy to give founders tips on how to raise VC. Plus, Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel and Ali Rowghani, the CEO of YC’s Continuity Fund, which invests in and advises growth-stage startups, will join us on the Disrupt Extra Crunch stage ready with tips on how to get accepted to the respected accelerator.

Moreover, activity in high-growth sectors, particularly enterprise SaaS, has permitted a series of outsized rounds across all stages of financing. Speaking on this trend, we’ll have AppDynamics founder and Unusual Ventures co-founder Jyoti Bansal and Battery Ventures general partner Neeraj Agrawal in conversation with TechCrunch’s enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

We would be remiss not to analyze activity on Wall Street in 2019, too. As top venture funds refueled with new capital, Silicon Valley’s favorite unicorns completed highly-anticipated IPOs, a critical step towards bringing a much needed bout of liquidity to their investors. Uber, Lyft, Pinterest, Zoom, PagerDuty, Slack and several others went public this year and other well-financed companies, including Peloton, Postmates and WeWork have completed paperwork for upcoming public listings. To detail this year’s venture activity and IPO extravaganza, David Krane, CEO and managing partner of Uber and Slack investor GV will be on deck, as will Sequoia general partner Jess Lee, Floodgate’s Ann Miura-Ko and Aspect Ventures’ Theresia Gouw.

There’s more where that came from. In addition to the VCs already named, Disrupt attendees can expect to hear from Bessemer Venture Partners’ Tess Hatch, who will provide her expertise on the growing “space economy.” Forerunner Ventures’ Eurie Kim will give the Extra Crunch Stage audience tips on building a subscription product, Mithril Capital’s Ajay Royan will explore opportunities in the medical robotics field, SOSV’s Arvind Gupta will dive deep into the cutting edge world of health tech and more.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 – 4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of San Francisco. Passes are available here.



New THC and CBD infused beverage company, Cann, joins the race to replace booze

16:03 | 24 July

Cann, a Los Angeles-based purveyor of CBD and THC-infused intoxicants, is rolling out its first major distribution through the venture-backed delivery service Eaze as it begins to hit the streets in California.

The company founded by two former Bain consultants is the latest to take on the growing market for non-alcoholic intoxicants that use a combination of chemicals traditionally found in the marijuana plant to make their drinks.

First dreamed up by Jake Bullock while attending business school at Stanford, Cann launched earlier this month at MedMen and is now selling its $30 multi-flavor six packs both in stores and through Eaze .

The beverages come with 2 milligram dose of THC and 5milligrams of CBD per can.

Bullock and his partner Luke Anderson met while both men were at Bain Consulting — and both have a background in consumer retail businesses. Bullock initially worked at the investment bank, Allen & Co., before moving over to Bain for consulting and finally settling in to a job at Bain Capital investing in the firm’s San Francisco-based private equity shop.

Anderson remained at Bain Consulting until Bullock pulled him away to start Cann.

Combining low doses of THC and CBD isn’t a new concept. K-Zen Beverages has raised $5 million from the investment firm DCM to roll out its line of intoxicants and California Dreamin is a Y Combinator backed intoxicant containing a whopping 10 milligrams of THC.

Bullock graduated from Stanford in 2018 and convinced Anderson to quit his job, the company raised cash through the fall and collected a cool $1.5 million for their venture.

Unlike other brands that are going for more fruity flavored beverages, Bullock and Anderson chose more herbaceous and floral flavors for their drinks –grapefuit and rosemary,  lemon and lavender and blood orange and cardamom (honestly, it seems they’d go well with alcohol rather than replace it).

“We’re really proud of it being an innovative flavor profile and really interesting with the microdose on THC,” says Anderson.  

Cash came in from tNavy Capital, a cannabis-focused hedge fund, and strategic angel investors like Bonobos co-founder, Brian Spaly, and Elizabeth Spaulding, the head of Bain & Co.’s digital practice.

For Eaze, which has stayed away from cannabis beverages, Cann seems to be a literal gateway for consumers who have been unwilling to try higher dosage drinks.

Screen Shot 2019 07 23 at 6.26.59 PM

Cann co-founders Luke Anderson and Jake Bullock. Image courtesy of Cann

“They see this big blue ocean of future cannabis users that they haven’t accessed yet,” says Bullock. 

Younger consumers seem more willing to experiment with intoxicants other than traditional spirits these days and venture capital firms are buzzed by the possibility of returns like the ones reaped by the George Clooney-founded spirit company Casamigos (which sold for $1 billion).

Kin Euphorics, backed by KBW Ventures, Canaan, and Fifty Years is using chemicals other than cannabis to get that buzz, but most investors are looking at cannabis for the high and euphoria of intoxicating returns.

Cann, did a soft launch in June with a limited release across four MedMen stores in Los Angeles. “You start really small and notice what people are purchasing and what’s driving repurchasing,” says Anderson. “We had this fortunate problem of it flying off of the shelf with its packaging and flavor differentiation.”

And the company’s founders are also aware of the blatant injustice inherent in their ability to launch a drug distribution and delivery business in 2019 in Los Angeles when the city’s minority communities have been ravaged the criminal justice system for doing the same thing.

So far, the company has taken the step of reaching out to 4thMVMT, the organization founded by Karim Webb to bring entrepreneurialism and investment to communities that have been damaged by the “War on Drugs”.

“We talk to them pretty frequently,” says Bullock. “We’re hoping that their first class will take over all their dispensaries… But we have a standing offer for anyone who they send over to us.”

For both Bullock and Anderson their involvement in the cannabis industry also ties in to their own identities as gay men. “The role that cannabis played in the AIDS crisis, when the process to decriminalize was driven by the real need for that medicine,” says Anderson. “We’re early and it’s young, but part of the reason we launched the business was to make an impact in communities with our company.”



A Chinese ecommerce app that lures grocery shoppers with cash just raised $100M in Series B

14:07 | 11 December

There is no shortage of up-and-comers jostling for a spot in China’s massive ecommerce industry, and oftentimes they pick a niche market and present a novel business model different from the establishment of Alibaba or .

Chinese social ecommerce app Fresh Buddy announced on Tuesday that it has raised $100 million in a series B funding round led by Genesis Capital, a growth-stage fund founded by two former Tencent executives. SIG China, DCM Ventures and Vision Plus Capital also participated in the round with China Renaissance serving as the exclusive financial advisor.

The new financial injection came just months after Fresh Buddy, or Meiri Yitao in Chinese, made its debut in April and raised $30 million from a series A round led by DCM Ventures in July. Fresh Buddy plans to spend the proceeds to strengthen its supply chain and logistics center.

The company is a project incubated by Miss Fresh (branded as Meiri Youxian in China), a Tencent-backed service that are used by 50 percent of China’s online fresh produce shoppers as of June, according to research firm Trustdata. Zeng Bin, founder and president of Miss Fresh, owns 40.79 percent shares in Fresh Buddy while Miss Fresh has an 11.8 percent stake in the new app, according to enterprise registration information that’s publicly available.

Like its parent, Fresh Buddy sells and delivers vegetables and fruits, but it comes with a twist. While Miss Fresh goes after consumers in China’s megacities, the new project lures small-town consumers with a multilevel revenue-sharing scheme: Users get cash rewards when they get other people to use the app.

A social media account on Weibo marketed at Fresh Buddy’s money-grubbing users claim it’s normal for an average “recruiter” to earn 10,000 yuan, or $145, a month. Someone that’s reached the “advisor-level” can pocket no less than 1,000 yuan a day and a senior “advisor” can make more than 10,000 a day.

Fresh Buddy has utilized the social reach of Tencent’s billion-user messenger WeChat where shoppers can discuss potential purchases and recruit others. Other ecommerce apps that have taken off on WeChat include group-buying site Pinduoduo, which scored one of the biggest US IPOs by a Chinese firm this year. Alibaba has also toyed with a few social ecommerce ideas, but the giant lacks a networking app that matches the size of WeChat, which has long blocked Alibaba’s range of products.

On the supply end, Fresh Buddy says it sources directly from farms, bypassing layers of distribution to cut costs.

The app grew 70 percent month-over-month to reach 30 million unique mobile installs in October, according to market research firm iResearch.

Cash rewards have been proven effective in acquiring users in China. Yunji Weidian, which also has a revenue-splitting program to incentivize users but covers a wider range of products, is reportedly targeting an initial public offering in the US that could value the company between $7 billion to $10 billion. Qutoutiao, the NASDAQ-listed rival to TikTok’s sibling news distributor Jinri Toutiao, also has a similar scheme that lets users earn money by reading content and bringing in new users.



Japan’s Sansan raises $26.5M to help Southeast Asia get more from business cards

07:03 | 6 December

The humble business card is a target for disruption in Southeast Asia after Japanese contacts management startup Sansan raised JPY 3 billion ($26.5 million) to expand its business into the region.

Founded way back in 2007, Sansan helps bring business intelligence to companies through a system that helps build connections between users and both internal employees and external contacts using, among other things, business cards.

“Our purpose is to use tech to enhance the utility and value of business cards,” Sansan co-founder and CEO Chikahiro Terada told TechCrunch in an interview. “They are customary for business in most parts of the world, esJapanlly japan, but there’s no easy way to digitize them.”

This new round will bring that focus to Southeast Asia, where Sansan already has an office in Singapore. The capital — which is a Series E round — was provided Japan Post Capital, T. Rowe Price, SBI Investment and DCM Ventures, and it takes Sansan to around $100 million raised to date.

Sansan claims that 7,000 corporations use its core product — also called Sansan — which helps build and organize networks. At its core, users scan another person’s business card which is then digitized, uploaded to the cloud and made part of their database. The Sansan system then allows interactions, such as meetings, calls, notes and more to be added to the entry to help track interactions. The resources are held within companies, rather than employees themselves, which means strategies around sales, marketing and more can be kept organized and centralized.

In addition, Sansan operates a LinkedIn -like service called Eight which is available for free and is linked to the core product, allowing users to update their job, company, etc without having to provide a new business card. Eight has some two million users today, according to Sansan.

Unlike LinkedIn, however, which is commonly used for finding jobs, Terada suggested that Eight and Sansan help maintain networks and increase communication and engagement.

Sansan CEO Chikahiro Terada started the business in 2006 alongside fellow co-founders Kei Tomioka, Joraku Satoru, Kenji Shiomi and Motohisa Tsunokawa

Terada — who previously worked for Oracle in Thailand — said that he sees much potential for the services in Southeast Asia, where the region’s digital economy is expected to triple by 2025, albeit with a greater focus on SMEs rather than Japan-style mega corporations.

Already, Sansan has picked up some 100 or so clients in the region — mostly by targeting Japanese corporations in Singapore — while Eight has reached 100,000 registered users across Southeast Asia since a soft launch in October 2017.

“We want to expand to globally and Singapore is our first step,” said Terada, indicating that there are future plans to look at business in India, Europe and potentially the U.S. further down the line. Elsewhere, the firm is hiring data scientists as it aims to bring additional smarts to its services.

The proposition is interesting — personally speaking I have multiple stacks of business cards sitting idle — but it remains to be seen how open businesses in Southeast Asia will be to paying for the service, even with clear benefits. Saas as a model is still establishing its roots among SMEs while there are already popular options. LinkedIn is, of course, the de facto professional social network while Facebook, which has been ramping up its efforts in that space lately, is also a popular option.



Former eBay product chief RJ Pittman takes the reins at 3D capture company Matterport

17:08 | 3 December

Matterport, a provider of 3D image capture technology, has named former eBay chief product officer RJ Pittman as its new chief executive.

Pittman will take the reins from former chief executive Bill Brown, who will continue to advise Matterport as the company looks to capitalize on its library of three dimensional scans.

The company currently has a library of 1.4 million three dimensional models that have been viewed at least 600 million times since the company launched.

According to Silicon Valley Business Journal, the company had revenue in 2017 of $33 million from selling its camera equipment and software services to businesses.

The company was launched when founders Matt Bell and David Gausebeck realized the commercial potential of the motion capture and sensor technology that Microsoft had unveiled with their Kinect camera back in 2010.

At the time, the company’s several thousand dollar pieces of hardware were the cutting edge for capturing images — now it can be done with software and a cell phone camera. The march of technology has put Matterport in a somewhat precarious position, but the company continues to lock in deals with companies like Donan, an investigation service for insurers and others that looks at fire damage.

The company has inked deals with a number of different enterprise customers — and even brought on State Auto Labs as a strategic investor earlier this year.

“Matterport has the opportunity to revolutionize how property risks are underwritten and claims are handled in the insurance industry,” said Kim Garland, Senior Vice President, Commercial Lines & Managing Director of State Auto Labs said in a statement at the time.

In all, Matterport has raised around $77 million from investors including State Auto Labs, Lux Capital, DCM Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Ericsson Ventures, AMD Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, CBRE, Felicis Ventures, GIC, Crate and Barrel founder Gordon Segal, iGlobe Partners, Navitas Ventures, News Corp, and Sound Ventures.

Matterport’s hardware can digtially capture, document, visualize and collaborate around properties in 3D on web, mobile and in VR. And its hosted Matterport Cloud service automates the creation of state-of-the-art 3D models, high-quality 4K 2D photography, floorplans and other assets and stores them in easily accessible formats.

There’s still a lot of contested space in the collection and capture of the real world for use in augmented and virtual reality and the addition of Pittman should help Matterport as it looks at a much more crowded competitive landscape.

“RJ’s operating experience at scale, paired with his entrepreneurial DNA and deep product vision will be instrumental to unlocking the full potential of our breakthrough technology and unparalleled 3D media and data,” said company co-founder and chief technology officer David Gausebeck, in a statement.

Indeed, Pittman discussed the importance of Matterport’s library when he spoke of the opportunity he saw for the company. “Matterport Cloud is an unrivaled dataset of precision 3D environments that represents an enormous opportunity to scale the company’s data services business exponentially. This will open up new strategic partnerships and investments as we realize the full value of this data,” Pittman said in a statement.

As an entrepreneur, product developer and real estate investor, Pittman is uniquely qualified to take charte at Matterport.

He previously worked on product, design, engineering and mobile payments at eBay and held roles at Apple and Google. In addition, he had also co-founded and served as the chief executive for the search engine that created the industry’s first graphical information interface, Groxis.

Finally, Pittman worked on a number of real estate projects in the U.S. and UK, giving him insight on the role that technology can play in the new architectural landscape.




Sino-U.S. investment firms are targeting over $4 billion for new funds launched this year

20:50 | 17 August

As limited partners increasingly demand greater exposure to emerging market opportunities, venture capital firms with a focus on Asia are bulking up their funds and chasing deals in an increasingly competitive race to own stakes in the next generation of local startups with global aspirations.

Over the last year, firms including DCM Ventures, GGV CapitalMatrix Partners China, and Qiming Venture Partners have all significantly increased the targets for their new funds. If each firm hits their targets, there’s roughly $4.4 billion in new capital that could be flooding into an already scorching market for investment into Chinese startups, according to SEC filings.

The largest of these new funds, by far, is GGV Capital, which has registered a new $1.8 billion fund with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Qiming Ventures has targeted $900 million for its latest fund, while DCM Ventures and Matrix Partners China are each looking for $750 million for their own new investment vehicles, according to securities filings.

Managing partners at the firms did not respond to a request for comment.

These four firms are among the last standing from the initial flood of U.S.-based venture capital firms that poured into Asia (and China specifically) in the first decade of the new millennium.

While marquee names like Kleiner Perkins, DFJ and others foundered in China, these four firms (along with global venture capital juggernauts like Sequoia Capital and NEA) put down deep roots and notched notable wins with investments in startups like Didi-Chuching, Kuaidi, Meituan-Dianping, Xiaomi, and many many more.

In part, these massive new funds are simply a response to the new world that venture investors find themselves in thanks to the massive amounts of capital raised by SoftBank with its $100 billion Vision Fund, or Sequoia with its $9 billion new investment vehicle.

Firms are also under pressure to raise more capital from limited partners, who want to reduce their exposure and consolidate their own investments around venture firms with track records of success and the ability to deploy capital into larger checks.

Couple those facts with the (still) low cost of capital given where interest rates are, and the sustained growth of technology companies across emerging market geographies, and you have a more willing pool of investors that want to commit more capital to emerging technology ecosystems (this is happening in Latin America too).

But there are also some contours of China’s competitive environment that are pushing these venture capital firms to raise increasingly larger funds.

One is the sheer size of the opportunity that exists for new technology companies in China. As the WeChat messaging service increasingly evolves into a new operating system, there are opportunities to scale quickly with larger infusions of capital to capture the market.

Like their peers in the U.S., Chinese companies are also delaying their public offerings and spending more time to build a better outcome with their IPOs. That’s putting pressure on earlier stage investors to raise capital so they don’t get crowded out in those later stage rounds.

Chinese entrepreneurs are also often putting in their own money to finance companies at the earliest stages, which means startups are more mature when they’re seeking their first round. It’s this phenomenon which leads to the $100 million Series A and B rounds that crop up in the Chinese market more regularly than in the U.S.



Investment advisory software developer SigFig raises $50 million

17:43 | 19 June

SigFig, the developer of an automated wealth management toolkit, has raised $50 million in a new round of funding.

The company said the new money would be used to continue its research and development.

The new funding was led by General Atlantic and included participation from existing investors like Bain Capital Ventures, DCM Ventures, Eaton Vance, New York Live, Nyca Partners, UBS and Union Square Ventures.

Unlike other tech-enabled advisory services firms like Betterment and WealthFront, which have primarily taken a direct to consumer approach, SigFig sells its tools primarily to financial services firms like Wells Fargo, UBS, and Citizens Bank.

SigFig also has a small direct to consumer business, which the company uses to test new products and services before bringing them to their main, business, customers.

SigFig’s chief executive and co-founder, Mike Sha, says that the blended approach of working with wealth managers actually allows his company to reach more customers than if they were to pitch their services directly to consumers.

Sha isn’t the only executive with that philosophy. Companies like Starburst Labs and FutureAdvisor have a blended, advisory focused approach according to market analysis companies like Owler and CBInsights.

“The market for digitally-native investment advisors continues to grow due to increasing customer demand for accessible and affordable financial advice,” said Paul Stamas, Managing Director at General Atlantic, in a statement.

SigFig makes money by selling its toolkit under a license to financial services firms and by taking a percentage of the assets that are managed through its tech.

 Some of the new services that SigFig will look to develop (now that it’s raised additional capital) include the expansion of its advisory and planning capabilities to look at retirement planning and plan and save for other longterm goals, Sha said.

Sha declined to comment on the company’s valuation, revenue, or exact number of customers, but he did say



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