Salesforce is buying data visualization company Tableau for $15.7B in all-stock deal

On the heels of Google buying analytics startup Looker last week for $2.6 billion, Salesforce today announced a huge piece of news in a bid to step up its own work in data visualization and (more generally) tools to help enterprises make sense of the sea of data that they use and amass: Salesforce is buying Tableau for $15.7 billion in an all-stock deal.

The latter is publicly traded and this deal will involve shares of Tableau Class A and Class B common stock getting exchanged for 1.103 shares of Salesforce common stock, the company said, and so the $15.7 billion figure is the enterprise value of the transaction, based on the average price of Salesforce’s shares as of June 7, 2019.

This is a huge deal for Salesforce as it continues to diversify beyond CRM software and into deeper layers of analytics.

The company reportedly worked hard to — but ultimately missed out on — buying LinkedIn (which Microsoft picked up instead), and while there isn’t a whole lot in common between LinkedIn and Tableau, this deal is also about extending engagement with the customers that Salesforce already has.

This also looks like a move designed to help bulk up against Google’s move to buy Looker, announced last week, although I’d argue that analytics is a big enough area that all major tech companies that are courting enterprises are getting their ducks in a row in terms of squaring up to stronger strategies (and products) in this area. It’s unclear whether (and if) the two deals were made in response to each other.

“We are bringing together the world’s #1 CRM with the #1 analytics platform. Tableau helps people see and understand data, and Salesforce helps people engage and understand customers. It’s truly the best of both worlds for our customers–bringing together two critical platforms that every customer needs to understand their world,” said Marc Benioff, Chairman and co-CEO, Salesforce, in a statement. “I’m thrilled to welcome Adam and his team to Salesforce.”

“Joining forces with Salesforce will enhance our ability to help people everywhere see and understand data,” said Adam Selipsky, President and CEO of Tableau, in the same statement. “As part of the world’s #1 CRM company, Tableau’s intuitive and powerful analytics will enable millions more people to discover actionable insights across their entire organizations. I’m delighted that our companies share very similar cultures and a relentless focus on customer success. I look forward to working together in support of our customers and communities.”

“Salesforce’s incredible success has always been based on anticipating the needs of our customers and providing them the solutions they need to grow their businesses,” said Keith Block, co-CEO, Salesforce. “Data is the foundation of every digital transformation, and the addition of Tableau will accelerate our ability to deliver customer success by enabling a truly unified and powerful view across all of a customer’s data.”

More to come as we learn it. Refresh for updates.

 

Depop, a social app targeting millennial and Gen Z shoppers, bags $62M, passes 13M users

The rising popularity of omni-channel commerce — selling to customers wherever they happen to be spending time online — has spawned an army of shopping tools and platforms that are giving legacy retail websites and marketplaces a run for their money. Now, one of the faster growing of these is announcing an impressive round of funding to stay on trend and continue building its business.

Depop, a London startup that has built an app for individuals to post and sell (and mainly resell) items to groups of followers by way of its own and third-party social feeds, has closed a Series C round of $62 million led by General Atlantic. Previous investors HV Holtzbrinck Ventures, Balderton Capital, Creandum, Octopus Ventures, TempoCap and Sebastian Siemiatkowski, founder and CEO of Swedish payments company Klarna all also participated.

The funding will be used in a couple of areas. First, to continue building out the startup’s technology — building in more recommendation and image detection algorithms is one focus.

And second, to expand in the US, which CEO Maria Raga said is on its way to being Depop’s biggest market, with 5 million users currently and projections of that going to 15 million in the next three years.

That’s despite strong competition from other peer-to-peer selling platforms like Vinted, Poshmark, and social platforms that have been doubling down on commerce, like Instagram and Pinterest, but on the other hand the opportunity is big: a recent report from ThredUp, another second-hand clothes sales platform, estimated that the total resale market is expected to more than double in value to $51 billion from $24 billion in the next five years, accounting for 10% of the retail market.

Prior to this, Depop had raised just under $40 million. It’s not disclosing its valuation except to say it’s a definitely upround. “I’m extremely happy,” Raga said when I asked her about it this week.

The rise of the bedroom entrepreneur

The funding comes on the heels of strong growth and strong focus for the startup.

If “social shopping”, “selling to groups of followers”, and the “use of social feeds” (or my headline…) didn’t already give it away, Depop is primarily aimed at millennial and Gen Z consumers. The company said that about 90% of its active users are under the age of 26, and in its home market of the UK it’s seen huge traction with one-third of all 16-24 year-olds registered on Depop.

Its rise has dovetailed with some big changes that the fashion industry has undergone, said Raga. “Our mission is to redefine the fashion industry in the same way that Spotify did with music, or Airbnb did with travel accommodation,” she said.

“The fashion world hasn’t really taken notice” of how things have evolved at the consumer end, she continued, citing concerns with sustainability (and specifically the waste in the fashion industry), how trends are set today (no longer dictated by brands but by individuals), and how anything can be sold by anyone, from anywhere, not just from a store in the mall, or by way of a well-known brand name website. “You can now start a fashion business from your bedroom,” she added.

For this generation of bedroom entrepreneurs, social apps are not a choice, but simply the basis and source of all their online engagement. Depop notes that the average daily user opens the app “several times per day” both to browse things, check up on those that they follow, to message contacts and comment on items, and of course to buy and sell. On average, Depop users collectively follow and message each other 85 million times each month.

This rapid uptake and strong usage of the service has driven it to 13 million users, revenue growth of 100% year-on-year for the past few years, and gross merchandise value of more than $500 million since launch. (Depop takes a 10% cut, which would work out to total revenues of about $50 million for the period.)

When we first wrote about Depop back in 2015 (and even prior to that), the startup and app were primarily aiming to provide a way for users to quickly snap pictures of their own clothes and other already-used items to post them for sale, one of a wave of flea-market-inspired apps that were emerging at that time. (It also had an older age group of users, extending into the mid-thirties.)

Fast forward a few years, and Depop’s growth has been boosted by an altogether different trend: the emergence of people who go to great efforts to buy limited editions of collectable, or just currently very hot, items, and then resell them to other enthusiasts. The products might be lightly used, but more commonly never used, and might include limited edition sneakers, expensive t-shirts released in “drops” by brands themselves, or items from one-off capsule collections.

It may have started as a way of decluttering by shifting unused items of your own, but it’s become a more serious endeavor for some. Raga notes that Depop’s top sellers are known to clear $100,000 annually. “It’s a real business for them,” she said.

And Depop still sells other kinds of goods, too. These pressed-flower phone cases, for example, have seen a huge amount of traction on Twitter as well as in the app itself in the last week:

Alongside its own app and content shared from there to other social platforms, Depop extends the omnichannel approach with a selection of physical stores, too, to showcase selected items.

The startup has up to now taken a very light-touch approach to the many complexities that can come with running an e-commerce business — a luxury that’s come to it partly because its sellers and buyers are all individuals, mostly younger individuals, and, leaning on the social aspect, the expectation that people will generally self-police and do right by each other, or less risk getting publicly called out and lose business as a result.

I think that as it continues to grow, some of that informality might need to shift, or at least be complemented with more structure.

In the area of shipping, buyers generally do not seem to expect the same kind of shipping tracking or delivery professionals appearing at their doors. Sellers handle all the shipping themselves, which sometimes means that if the buyer and seller are in the same city, an in-person delivery of an item is not completely unheard of. Raga notes that in the US the company has now at least introduced pre-paid envelopes to help with returns (not so in the UK).

Payments come by way of PayPal, with no other alternatives at the momen. Depop’s 10% cut on transactions is in addition to PayPal’s fees. But having the Klarna founder as a backer could pave the way for other payment methods coming soon.

One area where Depop is trying to get more focused is in how its activities line up with state laws and regulations.

For example, it currently already proactively looks for and takes down posts offering counterfeit or other illicit goods on the platform, but also relies on people or brands reporting these. (Part of the tech investment into image detection will be to help improve the more automated algorithms, to speed up the rate at which illicit items are removed.)

Then there is the issue of tax. If top sellers are clearing $100,000 annually, there are taxes that will need to be paid. Raga said that right now this is handed off to sellers to manage themselves. Depop does send alerts to sellers but it’s still up to the sellers themselves to organise sales tax and other fees of that kind.

“We are very close to our top sellers,” Raga said. “We’re in contact on a daily basis and we inform of what they have to do. But if they don’t, it’s their responsibility.”

While there is a lot more development to come, the core of the product, the approach Depop is taking, and its success so far have been the winning combination to bring on this investment.

“Technology continues to transform the retail landscape around the world and we are incredibly excited to be investing in Depop as it looks to capture the huge opportunity ahead of it,” said Melis Kahya, General Atlantic Head of Consumer for EMEA, in a statement. “In a short space of time the team has developed a truly differentiated platform and globally relevant offering for the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs and consumers. The organic growth generated in recent years is a testament to the impact they are having and we look forward to working with the team to further accelerate the business.”

Sources: Bird is in talks to acquire scooter startup Scoot

If you are among those who thought that the scooter market sounded a little overhyped and overcrowded, we’ve gotten wind of a deal that could point to some impending consolidation. The on-demand scooter business Bird has agreed to acquire Scoot, a smaller two-wheeled mobility startup, sources tell TechCrunch.

The stage of the negotiations is not clear although from what our sources tell us, it sounds like the deal is not closed. Contacted for a response, both Scoot and Bird said they declined to comment on speculation.

If accurate, it would be far from a merger of equals. Scoot was last valued at around $71 million, having raised about $47 million in equity funding to date from Scout Ventures, Vision Ridge Partners, angel investor Joanne Wilson and more.

Bird is significantly larger. Led by chief executive officer Travis VanderZanden, earlier this year the company was working on a round of financing reportedly worth $300 million at a $2.3 billion valuation. We’ve been able to confirm that this round has now closed, although we don’t yet know the final amount or who the investors are. (Backers of Bird include Sequoia, Index, Charles River Ventures, Tusk Ventures, Upfront Ventures and dozens more.) Scoot would be Bird’s first full acquisition.

Scooting toward consolidation

It’s still very early days in the scooter market in terms of consumer adoption, but that hasn’t stopped people from launching a lot of startups and raising funding to capitalise on what many believe will be a big opportunity longer term.

That promise is made bigger by the regulatory structure of the scooter market. Similar to their approach to bikes, many cities restrict the number of licenses they give out to companies to run on-street, hourly scooter services. Winning a license can give a company a near-monopoly on building a business in that city.

It also means that a combination between two companies whose geographic footprints do not overlap becomes a much cheaper and faster way of instantly creating a bigger business.

Notably, Scoot has a license to operate a pick-up/drop-off street service in the key market of San Francisco — where it competes with Skip, the only other licensed operator in the city. (Note: Bird last month did start up business again in SF, but only for the less popular offer of monthly rentals.)

What’s more, the two startups do not have any overlap in the rest of their footprints. Scoot is active in Barcelona, Spain and Santiago, Chile. Bird, on the other hand, has launched in about 100 cities spanning the U.S. and Europe, but its list does not include any of the cities where Scoot has rolled out its service.

Bird announced its new, two-seated electric vehicle earlier this week

On the vehicle front, the story is a little different. The two are providing, more or less, the same kinds of vehicles. Scoot has built out a network focused primarily on electric push scooters, seated scooters and electric bikes. Bird, meanwhile, has mostly built its service around electric push scooters, but just yesterday the company debuted its first seated vehicle to expand into a new product class.

Bird acquiring Scoot will help the two achieve better economies of scale in terms of vehicle purchasing power and device R&D.

It also helps them compete against the big boys. The market for scooters and other two-wheeled vehicles (collectively termed “micro-mobility”) is still a relatively new one, but Lyft and Uber have also waded in early to establish market share, as part of their own strategies to position themselves as the go-to platforms for any and all transportation needs.

Bird buying Scoot is one likely M&A move, but it’s not the only one.

Sources have told TechCrunch that an Uber acquisition of Skip (the other provider in SF) could also be in the works. Skip, much like Scoot, is another small player in the e-scooter market. To date, it has secured $31 million in venture capital funding from Initialized Capital, Accel and others.

Uber is already an active acquirer in the area of mico-mobility. If you remember, it acquired JUMP Bikes for $200 million in April 2018.

Uber’s acquisition of JUMP wasn’t surprising. In January 2018, the ride-hailing giant partnered with JUMP to launch Uber Bike, which lets Uber riders book JUMP bikes via the Uber app.

Other acquisitions in the nascent micro-mobility space include Lyft’s purchase of Motivate, a deal announced roughly one year ago. Motivate, the oldest and largest electric bike-share company in North America, did not disclose terms of the deal, though reports indicated it was asking for at least $250 million.

Bird — founded in 2017 — has yet to announce any acquisitions, although a spokesperson for the company said there have been quiet acqui-hires before now.

It was itself the subject of acquisition rumors for several months in 2018, too. Prior to Uber filing to go public in what was one of the most highly anticipated initial public offerings of the decade, many expected it to shell out cash for either Bird or Lime. From what we know, Uber was in discussions to acquire Bird, but ultimately it wasn’t able to meet Bird’s steep asking price.

Alibaba, Mail.Ru, Megafon form AliExpress Russia JV to double down on e-commerce in CIS

After announcing plans in September 2018 to build a joint venture together, today Russian internet giant Mail.ru,  Megafon and China’s Alibaba announced that the deal has closed. With support also from Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF, the three are forming a new operation called AliExpress Russia JV — which will include business assets and investment from all three — to double down on building e-commerce services to serve consumers and businesses in Russia and neighboring countries. The joint effort is estimated to have a value in the region of $2 billion.

The operation has several moving pieces, which is one reason why it’s taken nearly eight months to bring it all together and close the deal:

  • Alibaba Group will invest $100 million and contribute AliExpress Russia into the joint venture. Alibaba says this includes Alibaba Group’s current Russia-based domestic and cross-border operations of the global retail marketplace business of AliExpress.
  • MegaFon will sell its 9.97% economic stake in Mail.ru Group to Alibaba Group. It will then own 24.3% of the AliExpress Russia JV with 30.2% voting rights.
  • Mail.ru Group will also contribute its Pandao e-commerce business and cash investments of $182 million in exchange for a 15% stake in the AliExpress Russia JV with 18.7% voting rights.
  • RDIF will invest $100 million into the AliExpress Russia JV “and may further acquire additional shares of the joint venture from Alibaba Group for $194 million.” Upon the exercise of the option to purchase the additional shares in the AliExpress Russia JV, the RDIF will own economic and voting stakes in the joint venture of 12.9% and 9.6%, respectively.
  • Alibaba and Mail.ru will respectively nominate a CEO each for the JV and they will run it jointly.

But while the business will largely be built on e-commerce know-how from Alibaba, it will be majority-controlled by Russian entities.

The deal underscores the potential of the Russian-speaking market, but also at the challenges of building a new e-commerce entity, or conversely expanding an established one into the market without deeper local knowledge. You could argue that Uber faced a similar challenge before forming a joint venture with Yandex to continue building out a combined ridesharing business.

Indeed, this is largely how the deal is being characterised by Alibaba:

“This partnership will enable the AliExpress Russia JV to accelerate the development of the digital consumer economy of Russia and CIS countries in ways that no one party could accomplish alone,” said Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group, in a statement. “Together, we are uniquely positioned to offer consumers in Russia and neighbouring countries an innovative shopping experience by combining social platforms with commerce, as well as enabling regional brands and SMEs to sell their products locally and globally. Alibaba’s mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. This JV is an important part of Alibaba’s international expansion and step toward our goal of supporting 10 million small businesses reach profitability and serving 2 billion consumers around the world.”

Megafon, the mobile operator that is an investor in Mail.ru, is not contributing an e-commerce business into the venture like Mail.ru and Alibaba are, but the fact that so much mobile commerce has moved to mobile creates some interesting possibilities for what they may contribute strategically in the longer term.

“MegaFon is pleased to enter into this partnership with global technology leaders Alibaba Group, RDIF and Mail.Ru Group,” said  Gevork Vermishyan, CEO of MegaFon, in a statement. “This agreement is in line with our digital strategy of ‘driving digital world’ aimed at creating new opportunities for over 76 million customers. E-commerce is a perfect fit for our rapidly developing ecosystem of partnerships to furnish best-in-class financial services, media, and other consumer offerings. This combination is beneficial for all parties, providing unparalleled access to the Russian consumer base.”

Russia and China have both been in the crosshairs of countries like the US over cybersecurity allegations. This is a turn away from that very messy issue and focuses attention on the role of Russia as part of the “BRIC” bloc of large, emerging markets with lots of potential for growth.

“Mail.ru Group is looking forward to leveraging the synergies within a leading social commerce joint venture in Russia and CIS countries,” said Boris Dobrodeev, CEO of Mail.ru Group, commented. “AliExpress Russia JV will become an undisputed leader in Russian e-commerce and create an unparalleled social commerce offering for our users. This partnership is in line with our strategy of bringing together people and businesses, as we will offer customers richer social experience and provide entrepreneurs with a platform for growth. We hope that the successful realization of the deal will strengthen our cooperation with local and global technology leaders. This is a major milestone for the Russian e-commerce market, and we believe it will promote the development of the digital economy.”

“This landmark partnership will bring both significant benefits to customers and create unprecedented opportunities for services growth,” said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), in a statement. “RDIF continues to support the acceleration of the digital transformation of the Russian economy through the expansion of the e-commerce market. Bringing together the expertise of the companies at the forefront of social commerce and global retail opens a new era for the Russian market.”

 

LinkedIn to shutter Chitu, its Chinese-language app, in July, redirects users to LinkedIn in Chinese

LinkedIn has long eyed China as an important country to offset slowing growth in more mature markets. But now it’s calling time on a localized effort after failing to see it pick up steam. The company has announced that it will be shutting down Chitu — a Chinese-only app it had built targeting younger people and those who had less of a need to network with people outside of the country — at the end of July.

The closure is notable for a couple of reasons.

First, it marks a retreat of sorts for LinkedIn in the country from building standalone apps to target younger users, and specifically those targeting young professionals, at the same time that LinkedIn also faces stiff competition from other services like Maimai and Zhaopin.

Second, Chitu was a rare (and possibly the only) example of an app from LinkedIn built specifically to target one non-English market — and a very big one at that — by building a social graph independent of LinkedIn’s. Chitu’s shutdown is therefore a sign of how LinkedIn ultimately didn’t succeed in that effort.

The company posted an announcement of the change in Chinese on Chitu’s website, and a spokesperson for LinkedIn confirmed the changes further in a statement provided to TechCrunch, where it described Chitu — which has been around since 2015 — as “one of many experiments.”

It also noted that it will be upgrading the LinkedIn core app as a “one-stop shop”, incorporating some of Chitu’s features, presumably in an effort to attract Chitu’s users rather than lose them altogether.

“Chitu will officially go offline at the end of July 2019,” the company noted in the statement. “In the future, we will focus on the continuous optimization and upgrade of the LinkedIn app, serving as a one-stop shop to accompany Chinese professionals along each step of their career development and connect to more opportunities.” We’ll post the full statement LinkedIn sent us at the bottom of this article.

LinkedIn first officially set up shop in China back in 2014 as “领英”. Its branding firm pointed out at the time that the characters’ pronunciation, “ling ying,” sounding a bit like “LinkedIn” and loosely meant “to lead elites.” It was initially established as a joint venture with Sequoia and CBC since it was still an independent company and not owned by Microsoft at the time.

LinkedIn already had users in the country at that point — some 4 million individuals and 80,000 companies were already using the English-language version of the site at the time — but the idea was to set up a local operation to seize the opportunity of creating services more tailored to the world’s biggest mobile market, which would include local language support, and to meet the regulatory demands of needing to establish local operations to do that. It included efforts to build integrations with other sites like WeChat, as well as bigger partnerships with the likes of Didi.

A year later, Derek Shen, the LinkedIn executive who led the launch of LinkedIn China, spearheaded the launch of Chitu.

The idea was to build a new app that could tap into the smartphone craze that had swept the country, in particular among younger users who had foregone using computers in favor of their hand-held devices that they used to regularly check in on apps like WeChat.

“In the past year, we have done a lot of localization efforts and achieved great results, such as deep integration with WeChat, Weibo, QQ mailbox, and Alibaba,” he wrote in an essay at the time (originally in Chinese).

“However, in general, we are still maintaining a global platform that is note evolving fast enough, and localization is not determined. We believe that only a product that is independent of the global platform can fully meet the unique needs of social networking in China, so that we can really run like a startup.”

LinkedIn would at the same time continue to build out the Chinese version of LinkedIn itself targeting older and more premium users who might be interacting with people in other languages like English.

From what we understand, Chitu had a good start, with millions of users signing up in the early years, beating LinkedIn itself on user retention rates and engagement.

But a source says that internally it faced some issues for trying to develop an ecosystem independent of the LinkedIn platform, which only became more challenging after Microsoft acquired the company, the source said. (He didn’t say why, but for starters it would have been more lucrative to monetise a single user base, and to develop new features for a single platform, rather than do either across multiple apps.)

“After Microsoft acquired LinkedIn, independence became unthinkable,” the source said. “People with entrepreneurial DNA have all left, so it’s natural to shut down Chitu at this point.” It didn’t help that Shen himself left the company in 2017.

It’s unclear how many users Chitu ultimately picked up but LinkedIn says that it has 47 million LinkedIn members in China, out of a total of 610 million globally. Notably, observers point out that its two big rivals Maimai and Zhaopin are both growing faster.

More generally, and likely to better compete against local players, LinkedIn tells us that it’s rebooted its growth strategy in the country last month. That new strategy appears to be based fundamentally on any new services or partnerships now stemming from one centralised platform.

“2.0 [as the new strategic effort is called] is built on LinkedIn’s vast global network of professionals with real identities and profiles as the foundation and providing a one-stop shop services to our members and constructing an ecosystem in China,” a spokesperson said in response to a question we had about whether the company will continue to build out more partnerships with third parties. “We do not exclude any partners who participate in building this “one-stop shop “and eventually construct a powerful ecosystem.” 

Here is the full statement on the shut-down of Chitu.

“China is core to LinkedIn’s mission and vision globally – creating economic opportunity to every member of the global workforce. Since entering China in 2014, LinkedIn has explored its development path within the Chinese market, adjusting short-term strategies according to changes in the market environment. This includes Chitu, which launched in 2015, to help LinkedIn expand the social network market through the mobile app.

“Chitu is one of many experiments we conducted to continue to learn and provide more value to members. Other efforts include WeChat integration, Sesame Credit partnership etc. Based on user feedback and data analysis, we find that Chinese professionals are proactively seeking for career development opportunities. We incorporate many learnings and insights from Chitu into our new offerings on LinkedIn app that we believe will cover different needs and stages in professional and career development.

“Chitu will officially go offline at the end of July 2019, following the completion of its historical mission. In the future, we will focus on the continuous optimization and upgrade of the LinkedIn app, serving as a one-stop shop to accompany Chinese professionals along each step of their career development and connect to more opportunities.”

Amazon launches physical kiosks in UK train stations, a local extension of its Treasure Trucks

After announcing a year-long pilot of pop-up shops in the UK earlier this week to sell items from smaller marketplace merchants, Amazon has added another development to its brick-and-mortar efforts in the country. Starting today, the company is setting up physical kiosks, initially in train stations, to sell passers-by a rotating range of items at discounted prices.

The first of these will be in London, where Amazon is situating them in rail stations — Charing Cross, King’s Cross, Paddington, Liverpool Street and my local station London Bridge — and will start off by selling Boodles Mulberry Gin for £14.99 a bottle (a 40% discount on the normal price, Amazon notes).

The kiosks, Amazon says, are an extension of the company’s Treasure Truck concept, which sees a large vehicle doing the rounds across various towns — currently London, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Birmingham, Coventry, Portsmouth, Southampton, Nottingham, Leicester, Windsor, Maidenhead, Reading and Slough (for US readers: the original site of The Office) — offering a rotating selection of items at discounted prices. These have been operating in the UK for a couple of years now.

With Treasure Truck in the UK, you sign up for the service (by texting “truck” to 87377) and Amazon texts you to let you know when the truck is coming your way. Users can pre-order and pay for items to collect them from the truck. It looks like the same format will apply to the kiosks, which will also become pick-up points. To incentivise more signups, Amazon said that new users will get an additional introductory discount of £5 per bottle.

Kiosks are a practical adaptation of the Treasure Truck concept for Amazon: as with other cities in Europe, the locations Amazon visits in the UK have narrow streets sometimes clogged with traffic and generally not designed for speedy arrivals of giant vehicles, and the population is more dense.

Also, situating kiosks in rail stations to catch people during their commutes means more may buy knowing they are on their way home or to an office so will not have to carry items around all day.

“Kiosks are a natural extension of the exciting shopping experience of Amazon’s Treasure Truck. Whether you’re on the way to work or heading home for the day, Amazon customers and passersby will have a fun and convenient way to shop for an amazing deal, get their hands on a trending product or take part in a fun event. Kiosks will help turn an ordinary day into something a bit more special,” said Suruchi Saxena Bansal, Country Leader, Amazon Treasure Truck, in a statement.

More generally, Amazon has been slowly increasing the different channels that it uses to connect with potential customers beyond its basic website and mobile app.

This is because “omnichannel” is the order of the day in commerce: in markets that are especially competitive and mature, we’ve seen a big shift among retailers to cater to a wider variety of audiences and sell to them in whichever channel where they are spending time and discovering things.

That’s included selling on social media (Instagram for one is making a big push with this), through email (see: Mailchimp’s efforts here), and of course doing things the old-fashioned way, by selling in person (something that efforts from the likes of Square and PayPal have also helped to grow).

That in-person experience is something that Amazon — born in the virtual world of cyberspace — has been doubling down on for years to reach a wider set of shoppers.

Its efforts have included bookstores near college campuses, cashier-free Amazon Go stores, the whopping acquisition of Whole Foods, and — as of earlier this week — setting up pop-up shops.

The latter are particularly ironic, given that the Amazon name is regularly invoked when people discuss how brick-and-mortar shops — and in the UK, “high street” shopping precincts — have died a death.

A year ago, there was a rumor that Amazon was negotiating in the UK to acquire a selection of large retail locations that were being vacated by the bankrupt hardware and DIY chain Homebase.

These sprawling locations, situated often in town outskirts among other large stores with huge parking lots, are a far cry from little kiosks in crowded train stations. And indeed, the Homebase deal, if it was every really on the cards, never came to pass.

But the report and Amazon’s wider track record are sure signs that the commerce is only going to get more physical, not less. It’s not a question of “if”, but rather of how and when.

SentinelOne raises $120M for its fully-autonomous, AI-based endpoint security solution

Endpoint security — the branch of cybersecurity that focuses on data coming in from laptops, phones, and other devices connected to a network — is an $8 billion dollar market that, due to the onslaught of network breaches, is growing fast. To underscore that demand, one of the bigger startups in the space is announcing a sizeable funding round.

SentinelOne, which provides real-time endpoint protection on laptops, phones, containers, cloud services and most recently IoT devices on a network through a completely autonomous, AI-based platform, has raised $120 million in a Series D round — money that it will be using to continue expanding its current business as well as forge into new areas such as building more tools to automatically detect and patch software running on those endpoints, to keep them as secure as possible.

The funding was led by Insight Partners, with Samsung Venture Investment Corporation, NextEquity participating, alongside all of the company’s existing investors, which include the likes of Third Point Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Data Collective, Sound Ventures and Ashton Kutcher, Tiger Global, Granite Hill and more.

SentinelOne is not disclosing its valuation with this round, but CEO and co-founder Tomer Weingarten confirmed it was up compared to its previous funding events. SentinelOne has now raised just shy of $130 million, and PitchBook notes that in its last round, it was valued at $210 post-money.

That would imply that this round values SentinelOne at more than $330 million, likely significantly more: “We are one of the youngest companies working in endpoint security, but we also have well over 2,000 customers and 300% growth year-on-year,” Weingarten said. And working in the area of software-as-a-service with a fully-automated solution that doesn’t require humans to run any aspect of it, he added, “means we have high margins.”

The rise in cyberattacks resulting from malicious hackers exploiting human errors — such as clicking on phishing links; or bringing in and using devices from outside the network running software that might not have its security patches up to date — has resulted in a stronger focus on endpoint security and the companies that provide it.

Indeed, SentinelOne is not alone. Crowdstrike, another large startup in the same space as SentinelOne, is now looking at a market cap of at least $4 billion when it goes public. Carbon Black, which went public last year, is valued at just above $1 billion. Another competitor, Cylance, was snapped up by BlackBerry for $1.5 billion.

Weingarten — who cofounded the company with Almog Cohen (CTO) and Ehud Shamir (CSO) — says that SentinelOne differs from its competitors in the field because of its focus on being fully autonomous.

“We’re able to digest massive amounts of data and run machine learning to detect any type of anomaly in an automated manner,” he said, describing Crowdstrike as “tech augmented by services.” That’s not to say SentinelOne is completely without human options (options being the key word; they’re not required): it offers its own managed services under the brand name of Vigilance and works with system integrator partners to sell its products to enterprises.

There is another recurring issue with endpoint security solutions, which is that they are known to throw up a lot of false positives — items that are not recognized by the system that subsequently get blocked, which turn out actually to be safe. Weingarten admits that this is a by-product of all these systems, including SentinelOne’s.

“It’s a result of opting to use a heuristic rather than deterministic model,” he said, “but there is no other way to deal with anomalies and unknowns without heuristics, but yes with that comes false positives.” He pointed out that the company’s focus on machine learning as the basis of its platform helps it to more comprehensively ferret these out and make deductions on what might not otherwise have proper representation in its models. Working for a pilot period at each client also helps inform the algorithms to become more accurate ahead of a full rollout.

All this has helped bring down SentinelOne’s own false positive rate, which Weingarten said is around 0.04%, putting it in the bracket of lower mis-detectors in this breakdown of false positive rates by VirusTotal:

“Endpoint security is at a fascinating point of maturity, highlighting a massive market opportunity for SentinelOne’s technology and team,” said Teddie Wardi, Managing Director, Insight Partners, in a statement. “Attack methods grow more advanced by the day and customers demand innovative, autonomous technology to stay one step ahead. We recognize SentinelOne’s strong leadership team and vision to be unique in the market, as evidenced through the company’s explosive growth and highly differentiated business model from its peer cybersecurity companies.”

By virtue of digesting activity across millions of endpoints and billions of events among its customers, SentinelOne has an interesting vantage point when it comes to seeing the biggest problems of the moment.

Weingarten notes that one big trend is that the biggest attacks are now not always coming from state-sponsored entities.

“Right now we’re seeing how fast advanced techniques are funnelling down from government-sponsored attackers to any cyber criminal. Sophisticated malicious hacking can now come from anywhere,” he said.

When it comes to figuring out what is most commonly creating vulnerabilities at an organization, he said it was the challenge of keeping up to date with security patches. Unsurprisingly, it’s something that SentinelOne plans to tackle with a new product later this year — one reason for the large funding round this time around.

“Seamless patching is absolutely something that we are looking at,” he said. “We already do vulnerability assessments today and so we have the data to tell you what is out of date. The next logical step is to seamlessly track those apps and issue the patches automatically.”

Indeed it’s this longer term vision of how the platform will be developing, and how it’s moving in response to what the current threats are today, that attracted the backers. (Indeed the IoT element of the “endpoint” focus is a recent additions.

“SentinelOne’s combination of best-in-class EPP and EDR functionality is a magnet for engagement, but it’s the company’s ability to foresee the future of the endpoint market that attracted us as a technology partner,” a rep from Samsung Venture Investment Corporation said in a statement. “Extending tech stacks beyond EPP and EDR to include IoT is the clear next step, and we look forward to collaborating with SentinelOne on its groundbreaking work in this area.

Apple gives Maps a major rebuild, includes Street View-like 3D imagery

Apple has spent years trying to live down the fiasco of swapping out Google for its own, underdeveloped version of Maps, and today at its WWDC event it unveiled a sizeable rebuild that that gives it a big leap in dynamic rendering and interactivity, which could indeed bring a new wave of users back into the fold.

The updates are being rolled out across the US by the end of this year, Apple’s SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi said, with more countries getting added next year.

Federighi said that the team has covered some 4 million miles in the process of gathering more data for Maps — “Our team continues its obsession,” is how he put it — underscoring how mapping is a major priority for the company, not least because it is a cornerstone of getting Apple more users in connected vehicles by way of Car Play.

To be fair, Apple has a long road ahead of it: Google Maps, combined with Google-owned Waze, essentially dominate the market for mapping apps today, and that’s not just because Android is a more ubiquitous operating system.

Meg Cross, the director of product design, then came on to the stage for a demo. She noted that the new Maps app will feature a more detailed rendering of roads that will also include more data about public spaces such as beaches and parks, as well as buildings, handy when you are trying to find a specific address that isn’t immediately visible when you are on the move or in an unfamiliar place.

She also noted that users will now be able to mark and easily skip to favorite locations by way of a short tap. Favorites, in turn, can now be organised into handy collections to make it easier to call up a specific subject-based list rather than scroll through a larger list (for example, kids’ activities, or favorite restaurants, or houses of people you know, or places in a specific neighborhood). Collections can also be used when you are planning a trip somewhere to pin all the places that you will want to visit. 

The rendering in the new Maps app is particularly nice looking, a little like Google’s Street View on steroids. When you spot something that catches your eye, you can zoom in on it with a set of binoculars, which lets you then look around the space more deeply in a three-dimensional experience. This seems to also extend into interior spaces, although I couldn’t quite tell from Cross’s demo. (It would make sense, considering that Apple has also been doing a lot of work on acquiring and building interior mapping IP.)

The binocular effect is notable for another reason: it’s also a sign of how Apple is using and envisioning use of Apple maps: it’s not just a practical tool that a person would use in real time when travelling from going from A to B. It becomes its own discovery platform.

Apple has yet to make any big moves into VR and AR, although it’s certainly been dabbling in it, but you can see how all of this could eventually become very useful to a company that has in recent times made a big shift into content and media that are used (and purchased!) for its hardware. Maps will likely be developing to fit with that vision (no pun intended) as well.

The Maps reveal also is important for one other aspect: the company has been going big on the privacy angle, not least because others have not. “Privacy is a fundamental human right,” Federighi said when he took over the presentation again, “and we engineer [it] into everything we do.” That, he said, extends to location and how you are tracked. The idea and implication here is that while Apple is aiming to provide an informative and entertaining maps experience, it’s doing so just for you — not to make you into one more of its data points. Hopefully, that commitment will not becoming a moving target itself.

Global Fashion Group plans to raise €300M in Frankfurt IPO

The ongoing evolution of the startup factory known as Rocket Internet continues apace. Today, the group of regional e-commerce fashion sites incubated in the Berlin outfit that eventually got spun out under the Global Fashion Group umbrella — Zalora, Dafifi, The Iconic and La Moda — announced that it is planning a public listing on the Frankfurt stock exchange. It is expecting to raise €300 million ($336 million) by selling newly issued shares in its IPO.

Part of the hope is that the funding and IPO will help the group continue building out its presence in emerging markets — when it was in growth mode, one of Rocket’s key strategies was building e-commerce “clones” in developing markets to tap into early growth ahead of large global brands like Amazon expanding and competing against it.

Emerging markets are still growing at a time when growth in more developed markets in regions like the US and Western Europe has levelled off. GFG estimates that the total value of fashion and lifestyle in its operating regions totalled €320 billion in 2018.

“We are excited about this next step for GFG,” Christoph Barchewitz and Patrick Schmidt, the co-CEOs, said in a joint statement. “It is still very early days for fashion and lifestyle e-commerce in our markets. Today, most of our markets have less e-commerce adoption than Europe had 10 years ago. As consumer behaviour migrates towards e-commerce, GFG’s well-known consumer platforms, local teams, and fashion-specific operational infrastructure put us at the forefront of this growth opportunity. An IPO will allow us to keep investing in our end-to-end customer proposition, further strengthening our position as the leading fashion and lifestyle destination in growth markets.”

We’ve asked for an estimated valuation of the GFG, and we’ll update this post as we learn more. Historically, the group has had some ups and downs. One round of funding in 2016 came at a $1.1 billion valuation — but that was down on a valuation of $3.5 billion a year before. Several of the most unprofitable operations have also been closed or downsized over the years.

In the meantime, GFG is disclosing some numbers ahead of the listing:

● It notes that its active customer base is now 11.2 million, up from 8.9 million in 2016.
● NMV grew from €1,076 million to €1,453 million between 2016 and 2018.
● Revenues were €1,156 million in 2018, up from €887 million in 2016.
● GFG is still operating at a net loss but individual operations are now break-even on an Adjusted EBITDA basis. These include its Latin American operations and Australia.
● For the year 2018, Adjusted EBITDA margin (post the adoption of IFRS 16) was (4.3)%.
● Following a strong first quarter, GFG expects NMV to grow by 20-23% (on an organic basis)
to reach €1.7bn to €1.8bn in 2019.
● Further, the Company expects to generate more than €1.3 billion in revenue and to make additional progress towards EBITDA break-even in 2019.

DTC (direct to consumer) has become one of the most important trends in online commerce in the last several years, with a number of brands bypassing traditional retailers and leveraging their own websites, social media and other channels to find and sell to customers.

The companies that make up the GFG have been built in part on that trend: consumers have become more open to hearing about and trusting new brands in recent years, and that has helped GFG’s companies establish themselves in the market, collectively selling more than 40 of their own fashion and lifestyle brands (and reaching economies of scale by selling them across their various markets) alongside 10,000 global, local and own fashion brands to a market of over 1 billion consumers.

 

WorldRemit raises $175M to help users send money to contacts in emerging markets

The value of remittances globally continues to rise, and today a startup that has built a business targeting money transfers into emerging markets has raised a large round of growth funding to capitalize on that. WorldRemit, the London startup that has focused on enabling competitively-priced, quick money transfers from migrant workers and immigrants living in developed countries back home, typically in developing countries, has raised $175 million in a Series D round of funding from TCV, Accel and Leapfrog.

The company has to date focused on providing remittance services to individuals, specifically to help people  living and working abroad to send money to friends and family back home, by way of an app. That business now covers 50 ‘send’ countries and 150 ‘receive’ countries, and some 4 million users, with the US (where it has a license to operate in all states) its biggest ‘send’ market today. This is a mixed message of growth, however: the company had 2 million users in 2017, so it’s doubled, but it also projected at that time that it would hit 10 million users by 2018.

WorldRemit says that the plan will be to continue growing the company’s business around individual transfers but also expand that also to more payments between small and medium businesses. Indeed, the company still has ‘remit’ in its brand name, but describes itself as a ‘mobile payments company’ in its announcement of the Series D.

The three investors in this round were all previous investors in WorldRemit, which has to date raised around $386 million.

The company is not disclosing its valuation, but missing its own projections on user growth may have had an impact. Sources close to the company told us it was valued at just under $670 million at the end of 2017, when it raised its Series C. However, in November 2018, PitchBook noted that in an extension of the Series C, its post-money valuation was around $538 million. On a straight linear path, that would put mean the Series D would be at a post-money valuation of $713 million.

In the last year, the company has also had a change of leadership. Ismail Ahmed, who co-founded the company with Catherine Wines, stepped down as CEO in September 2018 and a month later was replaced by Breon Corcoran, who had been previously the CEO of Paddy Power Betfair, an online betting company.

At the time, reports said Ahmed stepping down was to help prep for an IPO, although if that was accurate, raising this large round will likely put back the timeline on any listing for a while at least. (Ahmed remains executive chairman.)

“For more than eight years our core purpose has been and continues to be to help migrants send money to their families, friends and communities,” Corcoran said in a statement. “Our customers play a key role in the economies where they work and their remittances are important to their home countries. Our mission is to help them transfer money as securely and speedily as possible while reducing the cost to our customers. We will grow our business through differentiation on speed, service, security and value.”

The opportunity for remittances is a big one: the World Bank estimates that annual remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries reached $529 billion in 2018, up 9.6 percent and beating 2017’s then-record $483 billion figure. If you add in money sent to to high-income countries, remittances reached $689 billion in 2018, up from $633 billion in 2017, it said.

Although incumbents like Western Union still largely dominate the world of remittances, the rise of online payments and mobile technology (with phones themselves becoming proxies for bank accounts in some developing markets, as in the case of MPesa) has opened up an opportunity for new entrants into the field.

Amazon has recently teamed up with Western Union to help sell items in emerging markets: money that has been sent by transfer can now be used to buy goods. And Facebook, with its continuing interest in trying to do something in payments and remittances (although with very mixed results), is now dabbling in cryptocurrency, which could be another way to enable passing money from one person to another.

That is why, despite any growth hiccups, investors continue to bet big on the space — other big startup winners include Azimo, Remitly and TransferWise — and, specifically here, they continue to invest in WorldRemit so that it can develop its own technology both to compete with these other companies, and to build out its existing business.

“Over the past eight years, Ismail and his founding team have built a fantastic business that offers customers a compelling solution and value proposition,” said TCV General Partner John Doran in a statement. “Since passing the reins to Breon and the new management team last year, the business has continued to build on this platform and accelerated. We believe the opportunity and proposition is larger than ever.”

“Having first partnered with the WorldRemit team in 2014, I have seen the company grow from a London-founded startup to a global business pioneering the future of the remittance market and making international mobile payments more accessible and affordable for millions of individuals and businesses,” said Accel’s Harry Nelis in a statement. “This investment and CEO Breon Corcoran’s experience leading consumer service-oriented, global digital businesses will help fuel the next phase of global growth. We are excited to deepen our relationship with the team and help them fulfil the company’s vast potential.”