With an Apple Store designer on board, Juno raises $20M to build apartments more sustainably

Juno, a proptech startup which aims to build more sustainable and affordable apartment buildings, has raised $20 million in a Series A funding round.

Comcast Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Real Estate Technology (RET) Ventures co-led the financing, which brings the company’s total raised to $32 million since its 2019 inception. JLL Spark, Vertex Ventures, Anim, K50, Foundamental and Green D Alumni Ventures also participated in the Series A investment.

Juno co-founder and CEO Jonathan Scherr said the San Francisco-based startup plans to build all electric properties by assembling “the first OEM ecosystem for ground-up development.” (For the unacquainted, OEM stands for “original equipment manufacturer.”)

“We’re…treating housing development like product development, a process we call ‘productization,’ ” he told TechCrunch. “By creating buildings that are worthy of being repeated, tools and systems can be created to enable continuous improvement and increase efficiency. If buildings are considered or designed in a one-off context, then the learnings from one project to the next will fail to exist.”

Note that Juno’s productization could be considered similar to the more commonly used term prefabrication in some aspects. While prefab construction company Katerra crashed and burned, a number of other companies in the space continue to raise money and grow, including Abodu and Mighty Buildings, which is also backed by Khosla but is more focused accessory dwelling units and single-family homes. There is also North Carolina-based Prescient, which is also  constructing multifamily housing and hotels through prefabrication.

Image Credits: Rendering of Austin project; Engraff Studio / Juno

Juno’s theory is that via “productization,” it can create the tools, systems and processes that can lead to things like reduced design timelines, increased precision in estimation and scheduling and a “significantly accelerated” construction process. All this, Scherr said, can result in more affordable housing options for people all over the United States. Also, Juno claims that its design process, for example, is 60% faster than in traditional real estate development.

Like other players in the space, Juno of course touts an approach that it says is far more sustainable than traditional construction methods.

“Today, construction refuse is literally 2x that of all municipal refuse combined in the U.S.,” Scherr told TechCrunch. “The Juno system creates efficiency in the design, supply chain, and construction of buildings that reduce waste and energy usage.” Features include low-carbon, all timber construction, more exposed wood (which Juno says is anti-microbial) and entirely gasless buildings, for example.

Thanks to its focus on all-electric buildings in cities that have established roadmaps to clean energy generation, the Juno residential system is trending toward a net zero target for embodied carbon in its multifamily residential units, Scherr said.

Scherr founded Juno with BJ Siegel, who was a designer of the original Apple Store, and Chester Chipperfield, who currently serves as an advisor to the company. Chipperfield previously served as global creative director at Tesla, head of special projects at Apple and head of digital at Burberry. Scherr has worked as a venture investor and advisor to a number of companies.

“As the concept architect for Apple’s retail program going back as far as 1999, BJ [Siegel] had thought about how to create an identity for the built environment that deserved to be repeated,” Scherr said. “By doing so, he and his colleagues at Apple began to think about Apple retail more like Apple’s products: grounded in a decentralized supply chain.”

Image Credits: From left to right: Chester Chipperfield, co-founder and advisor Jonathan Scherr, co-founder and CEO BJ Siegel, co-founder and Head of Design / Juno

Juno was created with a similar model in mind: with the goal of designing “better” housing that could be replicated so that the company is able “to build out a supply chain and lay the groundwork for learning systems in ways that have never been possible before,” said Scherr, whose father was a real estate developer.

Juno is starting out by building what it describes as the first national network of mass timber apartment buildings at scale with all-electric buildings in cities across the United States. And it’s partnering with Swinerton and Ennead Architects to put its model into practice. The startup has also broken ground on its first project — an apartment building in East Austin — and currently has more than 400 units in development. The East Austin building is slated to open in 2022. Juno also has sites planned for Seattle and Denver.

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to continue to build out its product, break ground on its first cohort of projects and engage with more developers.

Juno’s investors are naturally bullish on what the company is doing, and plans to do.

Evan Moore, partner at Khosla Ventures, said he does not generally invest in real estate development companies or builders or architects.

“But when a strong team is working on a dramatically different product in an important industry, I’ll get behind it,” he wrote via email.

Historically, Moore added, apartment development has been a finance-driven industry, rather than product-driven, despite the fact that apartments are consumer products and derive their value from their use. 

“So there’s a tremendous opportunity to design buildings with the customer experience at the forefront,” he said. “What if Apple built apartment buildings? To me, that means working backwards from the experience you want to create, designing the components, supply chain and systems to support it, and working within cost as a constraint. That’s an ambitious idea, and an experiment worth undertaking.”

Sheena Jindal, principal at Comcast Ventures, notes that America’s housing stock is increasingly aged and in short supply — making it more difficult for people to buy houses. Her firm, she said, believes that everyone deserves access to an affordable home.

“When we first met the Juno team, we were struck by their first principles approach to building,” she wrote via email. “Juno fundamentally understood what was broken in multifamily housing production and tackled it head on by focusing earlier in the value chain with its design and OEM sourcing strategy. Juno partners with existing players in the value chain, rather than displacing them.”

UnitQ raises $30M in Accel-led round to help companies improve product quality

Product quality is hugely important when it comes to the success of a product. Even if your product seems really cool, if it’s buggy or doesn’t work well, many people will just stop using it rather than taking the time to figure it out or even report a problem.

UnitQ, a Burlingame, California-based startup using a data-driven approach to product quality, today announced it has raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Accel to tackle this issue. In a nutshell, the company uses artificial intelligence to help businesses determine what is specifically impacting product quality at any given time, notes unitQ co-founder and CEO Christian Wiklund.

While he would not disclose valuation or hard revenue figures, the CEO says unitQ has been tripling its ARR (annual recurring revenue) every 12 months. 

The SaaS company’s goal is to give engineering, support, product ops and product management teams the ability to identify and, more importantly, fix quality issues that might be impacting customer satisfaction and retention.

Specifically, unitQ says it identifies actionable insights in a variety of ways. For one, it gathers user feedback from public sources like app reviews and social media and from private sources such as support tickets, support chats and surveys. It also does this through its own API, which connects to other external data sources. Currently, the company integrates into, and pulls insights from, 26 platforms and also ingests the data from anywhere there is user feedback.

With all these data points, Wiklund said, unitQ then “automatically tags and analyzes” quality issues with the goal of delivering “the most comprehensive and accurate view of product quality yet.”

The startup is mostly focused on consumer companies, but also has some B2B clients. Customers include Chime, Pandora, The RealReal, NerdWallet, Strava and AppLovin, among others.

“Our goal is to not only enable them to move faster and build higher-quality products, we want to help them build a quality company,” Wiklund told TechCrunch.

The premise behind the company is that these days, when so many consumer-facing industries are incredibly crowded, it can be difficult to stand out.

“Product features are a bit too easy to replicate and copy so most apps and products have a very similar feature set,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with features pricing too. Even content is becoming a commodity. But quality is the one thing that we all experience and the one thing that when we touch a product, we form our opinion.”

And poor quality, Wiklund maintains, can impact the growth of a company in many ways, such as reputation and pace of product development. 

“So we want to make sure that every conversion cycle inside of the product is as fine-tuned as possible,” he said.

Image Credits: UnitQ

The company says that on average, its customers are able to increase their product quality by 20% in 30 days. It also touts that its technology is able to glean insights that are more valuable than Net Promoter Scores (NPS) — a tool used by many product teams that tend to be based mostly on surveys that are proactively sent out by businesses. Such scores, Wiklund said, are more likely to capture positive sentiments and “represent a tiny fraction of users.”

Existing backers Creandum — the early-stage Swedish fund which also backed Shopify — and Gradient Ventures, Google’s AI-focused venture fund, also put money in the round, which brings the startup’s total amount raised since its 2018 launch to $41 million.  

UnitQ plans to use its new capital toward beefing up its engineering and go-to-market teams, according to Wiklund. 

The idea for unitQ was born out of the co-founding duo’s previous company, Skout. That Andreessen Horowitz-backed social app had over 50 million app installations before being acquired by MeetMe for $28.5 million in cash and approximately 5.37 million common shares in 2016. 

“During the decade we worked on Skout, we never lost sight of the user experience and our top priority was ensuring people were happy with our product,” Wiklund recalls. “We would have loved to have access to a product like unitQ.”

DI Repotage

Andrew Braccia and Ben Fletcher of Accel, who worked on the deal, believe the fact that the founding team are repeat founders who intimately understand the problem that they are solving is a big advantage. 

“The customer feedback was over-the-top positive. Spotify, Cornershop, Pinterest, Whoop and Strava all rave that not only does unitQ ingest all of their data from app store reviews, internal support tickets and social media feedback, but they correlate this data so that it gives them the highest-value bug and improvement fixes for their products, something they could not find elsewhere,” Fletcher told TechCrunch.

They also believe that unitQ is creating a category around aggregating user feedback and then tying it back to product and engineering teams.  

“Similar to PagerDuty for incident management and DataDog for performance observability; unitQ is creating a new category around product quality and quality scores and indicators for their end customers; we think this would be really, really large,” Braccia added. “Teams are citing that churn is going down, revenue is going up, and engineering teams are shipping code faster for the things that really matter for their products because of the insights that they are getting from unitQ.”

Addi raises $75M to advance ‘buy now, pay later’ in LatAm, nearly triples valuation

Buy now, pay later is officially everywhere, and Latin America is no exception.

Today, one startup in the region, Addi, is announcing a $75 million extension to its Series B, bringing the total round size to $140 million. In late May, the startup announced it had raised $35 million in an equity round led by Union Square’s Opportunity Fund, and $30 million in debt funding from Architect Capital.

The company, which has dual headquarters in Bogota, Colombia, and São Paulo, Brazil, declined to reveal its new valuation other than to say it is “nearly triple” what it was 90 days ago when it closed on the first tranche of its Series B, and that it is now in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars range.

New York-based Greycroft led the extension, which also included participation from new backers GGV Capital, Citius Capital and Intersection Growth Partners, as well as existing investors Union Square’s Opportunity Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Endeavor Catalyst, Foundation Capital, Monashees and Quona Capital. 

With the latest financing, Addi has now raised a total of $220 million in debt and equity since its September 2018 inception — $140 million of that in equity and over $80 million in debt.

Addi co-founder and CEO Santiago Suarez, says he, Daniel Vallejo and Elmer Ortega started the company with a vision of making digital commerce a reality in Latin America — a region where an estimated fewer than 25% of people have a credit card.

“To do this, we had to solve the payment problem,” he said. “We wanted to make frictionless payments possible while allowing customers to afford what they wanted.”

Addi started with a buy now, pay later offering, which allowed consumers to make purchases in minutes with “just a few clicks.” Today, the company allows customers to pay for their purchases over three months at no cost. For bigger purchases, Addi lets them pay for up to 24 months at what it describes as “competitive and fair rates.”

Addi is currently available for e-commerce, mobile and brick-and-mortar purchases in Brazil and Colombia, with plans to expand across Latin America in the coming years. In particular, it plans to enter the Mexican market in 2022.

Since the beginning of this year alone, Addi has grown its GMV (gross merchandise volume) by 13x, according to Suarez.

“And our ARR has seen similar growth,” he said.

Like many other companies, Addi temporarily saw a slowdown in business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it quickly bounced back.

“We lost 99% of our GMV in 20 days when the pandemic hit. We had to make some painful decisions, including letting go of many of our colleagues at a very difficult time,” Suarez recalled. “We also refocused the business on e-commerce and digital payments, and we haven’t looked back since then.”

As a result, Addi reached its pre-COVID high again in March/April of 2021, and has grown by about 3x since.

For now, the company is more focused on growth than profitability, Suarez added.

“This round has increased our focus on making digital commerce ubiquitous and accessible across Latin America,” he said.

Indeed, Latin America led the world in e-commerce sales growth last year. For its part, Addi currently has more than 150,000 customers, a number that is growing at 30% to 40% month over month. On the merchant side, it has close to 500 merchant partners, including brands such as Arturo Calle, Mario Hernandez, Keep Running and Claro. Earlier this year, it inked a strategic partnership with Banco Santander.

Addi currently has over 260 employees (or as Suarez put it, partners), up from less than 120 a year ago. The company prides itself as being “one of the few Latin American startups” that grants equity to everyone on staff.

“And we make it a point of speaking about partners and co-owners rather than employees,” Suarez told TechCrunch.

The company plans to use the new capital to speed up its product roadmap and geographic expansion. On the product side, it will be launching “a one-click checkout solution” for its merchant partners and customers by year’s end. Addi will also be accelerating its entry into Mexico, as mentioned previously, where it’s aiming to launch in early 2022.

Greycroft’s Thabet Mahayni said that prior to investing in Addi, his firm had been tracking the startup “for a long time.”

“In addition to an exceptional team, we believe the BNPL value proposition is stronger in LatAm than anywhere else in the world,” Mahayni told TechCrunch.” We…believe they have an opportunity to fundamentally reshape the entire consumer payments experience in the region.”

That is in part because currently, consumers in Latin America have very few alternatives when it comes to credit, he points out. Card penetration is very low and those who apply for credit “face a cumbersome and frustrating application process,” Mahayni added.

And those who do have credit cards are often given very low limits with high interest rates.

“It’s easy to see how this dynamic makes it difficult and expensive for consumers to access safe and reliable credit,” he said. 

Addi, according to Mahayni, has “rebuilt the entire onboarding, underwriting and fraud stack so they can provide safer credit alternatives to consumers while enabling merchants to meaningfully increase their basket sizes and GMV.”

It’s the second LatAm investment for Greycroft, which previously invested in Rocket.chat, a Brazilian enterprise communication and collaboration platform.

In Mexico next year, Addi will join existing player, Nelo. That startup raised $3 million in April, and at the time, was live with more than 45 merchants and over 150,000 users. Also, Alchemy earlier this year entered the Mexican market.

HoneyBee raises millions to make financial wellness a workplace benefit

HoneyBee, a startup that aims to help companies provide access to financial support for their employees, announced today it has raised $5.7 million in equity in a round led by FFVC.

Resolute Ventures, Afore Capital, Rebalance Capital, K50 and Financial Venture Studio also participated in the financing, along with two-time NBA all-star Baron Davis.

HoneyBee has also secured a $100 million debt facility from CIM, an institutional impact investment manager that provides debt capital for innovation that lends to underserved communities. 

The Los Angeles-based Certified B Corp describes itself as a B2B financial technology company that is on a mission to give employees — and their families — free access to financial support in the workplace as a benefit. That support could come in the form of employer-sponsored “no-cost rainy day funds” and on-demand financial therapy with the goal of “creating a healthier workforce environment.”

Or put even more simply, HoneyBee aims to give HR and DEI leaders that say they are committed to creating an equitable and inclusive culture a way to provide access to financial tools and education to help improve their employees’ financial health.

CEO and co-founder Ennie Lim said she was inspired to start HoneyBee after suffering financial setbacks after her own divorce several years ago.

“My credit was negatively impacted to the point where I found myself unable to get access to any affordable credit,” she recalls. “I wish I had done a lot of things differently, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I was embarrassed to ask for help.”

The experience helped Lim realize the importance of feeling in control of your financial life.

“It affects your self-esteem, happiness, and personal relationships and it made me want to help others take control of theirs,” she said.

Lim teamed up with Benny Yiu and Max Zschoch in 2017 to build HoneyBee with that goal in mind.

“We are solving a massive economic disparity and we’re leveling the playing field in the workplace by reducing the financial literacy gap and providing access to credit to people that need it most,” Lim said. “It’s important to acknowledge that people come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The varying levels of financial illiteracy is an issue we can no longer ignore.”

Image Credits: HoneyBee

A study conducted by Washington University in St Louis found that 89% of HoneyBee users are people of color, women, or both. During the pandemic, when the need for its offering was even greater, HoneyBee signed over 60 mid-markets companies as customers and is launching with Fortune 500 companies later this year.

The startup’s user growth grew by 225% during the pandemic and the company says it delivered over $2 million in rainy day funds. Meanwhile, its on-demand financial therapy usage increased by 172% over the prior year.

“Amidst this pandemic, when employers were cutting budgets, furloughing, laying off, reducing hours and salaries, we started to see a shift in their buying behavior to address financial health,” Lim said.

Honeybee’s customers include Alameda County Community Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, Kate Somerville, Community Catalyst of California, Southwest Water Company, Straus Family Creamery, Asian Art Museum, Pasadena Humane Society and Peachtree Health.

NBA star Baron Davis grew up in South Central Los Angeles with his grandmother and says he believes strongly in the startup’s desire to provide access to affordable credit.

“Financial literacy is a barbed wire for people like me. It is essential for companies to provide equitable access to financial support for their employees,” he wrote via email. “Financial access alleviates stress in the workplace especially when they are working hard to make ends meet to support their family. Providing easy access to money and education will result in a happier, healthier, productive workforce.”

FFVC Partner AJ Plotkin said his firm likes that the structure of the product “solves a serious access problem for customers who need a bridge for short-term, emergency needs, in a way that is not burdensome for the employee or the employer.”

The company plans to use its new capital in part to grow its sales, engineering, and customer success team. 

Fintech startup Jeeves raises $57M, goes from YC to $500M valuation in one year

Last summer, Jeeves was participating in Y Combinator’s summer batch as a fledgling fintech.

This June, the startup emerged from stealth with $31 million in equity and $100 million in debt financing. 

Today, the company, which is building an “all-in-one expense management platform” for global startups, is announcing that it has raised a $57 million Series B at a $500 million valuation. That’s up from a valuation of just north of $100 million at the time of Jeeves’ Series A, which closed in May and was announced in early June.

While the pace of funding these days is unlike most of us have ever seen before, it’s pretty remarkable that Jeeves essentially signed the term sheet for its Series B just two months after closing on its Series A. It’s also notable that just one year ago, it was wrapping up a YC cohort.

Jeeves was not necessarily looking to raise so soon, but fueled by its growth in revenue and spend after its Series A, which was led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), the company was approached by dozens of potential investors and offered multiple term sheets, according to CEO and co-founder Dileep Thazhmon. Jeeves moved forward with CRV, which had been interested since the A and built a relationship with Thazhmon, so it could further accelerate growth and launch in more countries, he said.

CRV led the Series B round, which also included participation from Tencent, Silicon Valley Bank, Alkeon Capital Management, Soros Fund Management and a high-profile group of angel investors including NBA stars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, Odell Beckham Jr. and The Chainsmokers’ Mantis Venture Capital. Notably, the founders of a dozen unicorn companies also put money in the Series B including (but not limited to) Clip CEO Adolfo Babatz; QuintoAndar CEO Gabriel Braga; Uala CEO Pierpaolo Barbieri, BlockFi CEO Zac Prince; Mercury CEO Immad Akhund; Bitso founder Pablo Gonzalez; Monzo Bank’s Tom Blomfield; Intercom founder Des Traynor; Lithic CEO Bo Jiang as well as founders from UiPath, Auth0, GoCardless, Nubank, Rappi, Kavak and others.

Whew.

The “fully remote” Jeeves describes itself as the first “cross country, cross currency” expense management platform. The startup’s offering was live in Mexico and Canada and today launched in Colombia, the United Kingdom and Europe as a whole. 

Thazhmon and Sherwin Gandhi founded Jeeves last year under the premise that startups have traditionally had to rely on financial infrastructure that is local and country-specific. For example, a company with employees in Mexico and Colombia would require multiple vendors to cover its finance function in each country — a corporate card in Mexico and one in Colombia and another vendor for cross-border payments.

Jeeves claims that by using its platform’s proprietary Banking-as-a-Service infrastructure, any company can spin up their finance function “in minutes” and get access to 30 days of credit on a true corporate card (with 4% cash back), non card payment rails, as well as cross-border payments. Customers can also pay back in multiple currencies, reducing FX (foreign transaction) fees.

For example, a growing business can use a Jeeves card in Barcelona and pay it back in euros and use the same card in Mexico and pay it back in pesos, reducing any FX fees and providing instant spend reconciliation across currencies. 

Thazhmon believes that the “biggest thing” the company is building out is its own global BaaS layer, that sits across different banking entities in each country, and onto which the end user customer-facing Jeeves app plugs into.

Put simply, he said, “think of it as a BaaS platform, but with only one app — the Jeeves app — plugged into it.”

Image Credits: Jeeves

The startup has grown its transaction volume (GTV) by more than 5,000% since January, and both revenue and spend volume has increased more than 1,100% (11x) since its Series A earlier this year, according to Thazhmon.

Jeeves now covers more than 12 currencies and 10 countries across three continents. Mexico is its largest market. Jeeves is currently beta testing in Brazil and Chile and Thazhmon expects that by year’s end, it will be live in all of North America and Europe. Next year, it’s eyeing the Asian market, and Tencent should be able to help with that strategically, he said.

“We’re building an all-in-one expense management platform for startups in LatAm and global markets — cash, corporate cards, cross-border — all run on our own infrastructure,” Thazhmon told TechCrunch. “Our model is very similar to that of Uber’s launch model where we can launch very quickly because we don’t have to rebuild an entire infrastructure. When we launch in countries, we actually don’t have to rebuild a stack.”

Jeeves’ user base has been doubling every 60 days and now powers more than 1,000 companies across LatAm, Canada and Europe, including Bitso, Kavak, RappiPay, Belvo, Runa, Moons, Convictional, Muncher, Juniper, Trienta, Platzi, Worky and others, according to Thazhmon. The company says it has a current waitlist of over 15,000.

Jeeves plans to use its new capital toward its launch in Colombia, the U.K. and Europe. And, of course, toward more hiring. It’s already doubled its number of employees to 55 over the past month.

Former a16z partner Matt Hafemeister was so impressed with what Jeeves is building that in August he left the venture capital firm to join the startup as its head of growth. In working with the founders as an investor, he concluded that they ranked “among the best founders in fintech” he’d ever interacted with.

The decision to leave a16z also related to Jeeves’ inflection point, Hafemeister said. The startup is nearly doubling every month, and had already eclipsed year-end goals on revenue by mid-year.

It is evident Jeeves has found early product market fit and, given the speed of execution, I see Jeeves establishing itself as one of the most important fintech companies in the next few years,” Hafemeister told TechCrunch. “The company is transitioning from a seed company to a Series B company very quickly, and being able to help operationalize processes and play a role in their growth and maturity is an incredible opportunity for me.”

CRV General Partner Saar Gur (who is also an early investor in DoorDash, Patreon and Mercury) said he was blown away by Jeeves’ growth and how it has been “consistently hitting and exceeding targets month over month.” Plus, early feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, Gur said.

“Jeeves is building products and infrastructure that are very difficult to execute but by doing the ‘hard things’ they offer incredible value to their customers,” he told TechCrunch. “We haven’t seen anyone build from the ground up with global operations in mind on day one.”

Panorama raises $60M in General Atlantic-led Series C to help schools better understand students

Panorama Education, which has built out a K-12 education software platform, has raised $60 million in a Series C round of funding led by General Atlantic.

Existing backers Owl Ventures, Emerson Collective, Uncork Capital, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Tao Capital Partners also participated in the financing, which brings the Boston-based company’s total raised since its 2012 inception to $105 million.

Panorama declined to reveal at what valuation the Series C was raised, nor did it provide any specific financial growth metrics. CEO and co-founder Aaron Feuer did say the company now serves 13 million students in 23,000 schools across the United States, which means that 25% of American students are enrolled in a district served by Panorama today. 

Over 50 of the largest 100 school districts and state agencies in the country use its platform. In total, more than 1,500 school districts are among its customers. Clients include the New York City Department of Education, Clark County School District in Nevada, Dallas ISD in Texas and the Hawaii Department of Education, among others.

Since March 2020, Panorama has added 700 school districts to its customer base, nearly doubling the 800 it served just 18 months prior, according to Feuer.

Just what does Panorama do exactly? In a nutshell, the SaaS business surveys students, parents and teachers to collect actionable data. Former Yale graduate students Feuer and Xan Tanner started the company in an effort to figure out the best way for schools to collect and understand feedback from their students.

With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to many students attending school virtually, the need to address students’ social and emotional needs has probably never been more paramount. Many children and teenagers have suffered depression and anxiety due to being isolated from their peers, and some believe the impact on their mental health has been even greater than any negative academic repercussions.

Students, for example, are asked questions to determine how safe they feel at school, how much they trust their teachers and how much potential they think they have.

“We help schools survey students, teachers and parents to understand the environment and experiences of the school,” Feuer told TechCrunch. “And then we help schools measure social and emotional development so that in the same way you might have rigorous data on math, you can now get information about social emotional learning and well-being.”

In the past year, for example, 25 million people across the country have taken a Panorama survey, which has resulted in quite a bit of information. The company is able to integrate with all of a district’s existing data systems so that it can pull together a “panorama” of its data, plus the information about a student.

“It’s really powerful because a teacher can then log in and see everything about a student in one place,” Feuer said. “But most importantly, we give teachers the tools to plan actions for a student.”

The company claims that by using its software, districts can see benefits such as improved graduation rates, fewer behavior referrals, more time engaged in learning and students building “stronger supportive relationships with adults and peers.”

Panorama plans to use its new capital toward continued product development, further deepening its district partnerships and naturally, toward hiring. Panorama currently has about 250 employees.

Notably, Panorama had not raised capital in a couple of years simply because, according to Feuer, it did not need the money.

“We met General Atlantic and realized the opportunity to reach the next level of impact for our schools,” he told TechCrunch. “But it was important to me that we didn’t need to raise the money. We chose to because we want to be able to invest in the business.”

Tanzeen Syed, managing director at General Atlantic, said edtech has been an important area of focus for this firm.

“When we looked at the U.S. education system, we thought that there was a massive opportunity and that we’re in the very early innings of using software and technology to really enhance the student experience,” he said.

When it came to Panorama, he believes “it’s not just a business” for the company.

“They truly and deeply care about providing students and administrators with the tools to make the student experience better,” Syed told TechCrunch. “And they’re maniacally focused on developing the sort of product to allow them to do that. In addition to that, we spoke with a lot of schools and districts and the feedback came back consistently positive.”

Forum Brands secures $100M in debt financing to acquire more e-commerce brands

Forum Brands, an e-commerce acquisition platform, announced today that it has secured $100 million in debt funding from TriplePoint Capital.

The financing comes just just over two months after the startup raised $27 million in an equity funding round led by Norwest Venture Partners.

Brenton Howland, Ruben Amar and Alex Kopco founded New York-based Forum Brands in the summer of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’re buying what we think are A+ high-growth e-commerce businesses that sell predominantly on Amazon and are looking to build a portfolio of standalone businesses that are category leaders, on and off Amazon,” Howland told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “A source of inspiration for us is that we saw how consumer goods and services changed fundamentally for what we think is going to be for decades and decades to come, accelerating the shift toward digital.”

Since we covered the company in June, Forum Brands says it has acquired several new brands, including Bonza, a seller of pet products, and Simka Rose, a baby-focused brand specializing in eco-friendly products. Simka sells in the U.S. and the EU and is an example of how Forum is expanding globally, Amar said.

Howland and Amar emphasize that the Forum team continues to focus on quality over quantity when evaluating potential acquisitions. Although they meet with 15-20 founders a week, they are selective in which companies they choose to acquire.

“We continue to be a quality-first buyer, and not quantity-driven,” Amar said, noting that the company will still help a company build its brand even if it does not yet meet Forum’s quality threshold or if the founders are just not yet ready to sell.

The new funds will be used to, naturally, acquire more e-commerce companies. As part of the debt financing, Sajal Srivastava, co-CEO and co-founder of TriplePoint Capital, will be joining Forum’s board of directors.

“We are impressed not only by Forum’s long-term strategy and ability to leverage technology and deep collective e-commerce and M&A experience but also by how Forum cultivates relationships with their sellers both before and after partnering with them,” he said in a written statement.

At the time of its June raise, Forum had about 20 employees. As of today, it has about 40.

Forum’s technology employs “advanced” algorithms and over 100 million data points to populate brand information into a central platform in real time, instantly scoring brands and generating accurate financial metrics.

On August 31, we covered the news that on the heels of Heroes announcing a $200 million raise to double down on buying and scaling third-party Amazon Marketplace sellers, another startup out of London aiming to do the same announced some significant funding of its own. Olsam, a roll-up play that is buying up both consumer and B2B merchants selling on Amazon by way of Amazon’s FBA fulfillment program, closed on $165 million — a combination of equity and debt that it will be using to fuel its M&A strategy, as well as continue building out its tech platform and to hire more talent.

Insurify, a ‘virtual insurance agent,’ raises $100M Series B

How many of us have not switched insurance carriers because we don’t want to deal with the hassle of comparison shopping?

A lot, I’d bet.

Today, Insurify, a startup that wants to help make it easier for people to get better rates on home, auto and life insurance, announced that it has closed $100 million in an “oversubscribed” Series B funding round led by Motive Partners.

Existing backers Viola FinTech, MassMutual Ventures, Nationwide, Hearst Ventures and Moneta VC also put money in the round, as well as new investors Viola Growth and Fort Ross Ventures. With the new financing, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Insurify has now raised a total of $128 million since its 2013 inception. The company declined to disclose the valuation at which the money was raised.

Since we last covered Insurify, the startup has seen some impressive growth. For example, it has seen its new and recurring revenue increase by “6x” since it closed its Series A funding in the 2019 fourth quarter. Over the last three years, Insurify has achieved a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 151%, according to co-founder and CEO Snejina Zacharia. It has also seen consistent “2.5x” year-over-year revenue growth, she said.

Insurify has built a machine learning-based virtual insurance agent that integrates with more than 100 carriers to digitize — and personalize — the insurance shopping experience. There are others in the insurtech space, but none that we know of currently tackling home, auto and life insurance. For example, Jerry, which has raised capital twice this year, is focused mostly on auto insurance, although it does have a home product. The Zebra, which became a unicorn this year, started out as a site for people looking for auto insurance via its real-time quote comparison tool. Over time, it has also evolved to offer homeowners insurance with the goal of eventually branching out into renters and life insurance. But it too is mostly focused on auto.

Zacharia said that since Insurify’s Series A funding, it has expanded its home insurance marketplace, deepened its carrier integrations to provide users an “instant” purchase experience and launched its first two embedded insurance products through partnerships with Toyota Insurance Management Solutions and Nationwide (the latter of which also participated in the Series B funding round).

Image Credits: Insurify

Last year, when SkyScanner had to lay off staff, Insurify scooped up much of its engineering team and established an office in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Zacharia, a former Gartner executive, was inspired to start the company after she was involved in a minor car accident while getting her MBA at MIT. The accident led to a spike in her insurance premium and Zacharia was frustrated by the “complex and cumbersome” experience of car insurance shopping. She teamed up with Chief Product Officer Tod Kiryazov and her husband KAYAK President Giorgos Zacharia to build Insurify, which they describe as a virtual insurance agent that offers real-time quotes.

“We decided to build the most trusted virtual insurance agent in the industry that allows for customers to easily search, compare and buy fully digitally — directly from their mobile phone, or desktop, and really get a very smart, personalized experience based on their unique preferences,” Zacharia told TechCrunch. “We leverage artificial intelligence to be able to make recommendations on both coverage as well as carrier selection.”

Notably, Insurify is also a fully licensed agent that takes over the fulfillment and servicing of the policies. Since the company is mostly working as an insurance agent, it gets paid new and renewed commission. So while it’s not a SaaS business, its embedded insurance offerings have SaaS-like monetization.

“Our goal is to provide an experience for the end consumer that allows them to service and manage all of their policies in one place, digitally,” Zacharia said. “We think that the data recommendations that the platform provides can really remove most of the friction that currently exists in the shopping experience.”

Insurify plans to use its fresh capital to continue to expand its operations and accelerate its growth plans. It also, naturally, wants to add to its 125-person team.

“We want to build into our API integrations so customers can receive real-time direct quotes with better personalization and a more tailored experience,” Kiryazov said. “We also want to identify more embedded insurance opportunities and expand the product functionality.”

The company also down the line wants to expand into other verticals such as pet insurance, for example.

Insurify intends to use the money in part to build brand awareness, potentially through TV advertising.

“Almost half of our revenue comes from self-directed traffic,” Zacharia said. “So we want to explore more inorganic growth.”

James “Jim” O’Neill, founding partner at Motive Partners and industry partner Andy Rear point out that online purchasing now accounts for almost all of the growth in U.S. auto insurance. 

“The lesson from other markets which have been through this transition is that customers prefer choice, presented as a simple menu of products and prices from different insurers, and a straightforward online purchasing process,” they wrote via email. “The U.S. auto market is huge: even a slow transition to online means a massive opportunity for Insurify.”

In conducting their due diligence, the pair said they were impressed with how the startup is building a business model “that works for customers, insurers and white-label partners.”

Harel Beit-On, founder and general partner at Viola Growth, believes that the quantum leap in e-commerce due to COVID-19 will completely transform the buying experience in almost every sector, including insurance.

“It is time to bring the frictionless purchasing experience that customers expect to the insurance space as well,” she said. “Following our fintech fund’s recent investment in the company, we watched Insurify’s immense growth, excellent execution with customer acquisition and building a brand consumers trust.”

Flat.mx raises $20M from VCs, proptech unicorn founders to fix Mexico’s ‘broken’ real estate market

Flat.mx, which wants to build a real estate “super app” for Latin America, has closed on a $20 million Series A round of funding.

Anthemis and 500 Startups co-led the investment, which included participation from ALLVP and Expa. Previously, Flat.mx had raised a total of $10 million in equity and $25 million in debt. Other backers include Opendoor CEO and co-founder Eric Wu, Flyhomes’ co-founder and CEO Tushar Garg and Divvy Homes’ co-founder Brian Ma.

Founded in July 2019, Mexico City-based Flat.mx started out with a model similar to that of Opendoor, buying properties, renovating them and then reselling them. That September, the proptech startup had raised one of Mexico’s largest pre-seed rounds to take the Opendoor real estate marketplace model across the Rio Grande.

“The real estate market in Mexico is broken,” said co-founder Bernardo Cordero. “One of the biggest problems is that it takes sellers anywhere from six months to two years to sell. So we launched the most radical solution we could find to this problem: an instant offer. This product allows homeowners to sell in days instead of months, a fast and convenient experience they can’t find anywhere else.”

Building an instant buyer (ibuyer) in Mexico — and Latin America in general — is a complex endeavor. Unlike in the U.S., Mexico doesn’t have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS). As such, pricing data is not readily available. On top of that, agents are not required to be certified, so the whole process of buying and selling a home can be informal.

And since mortgage penetration in Mexico is also low; it can be difficult for buyers to have access to reasonable financing options.

“To build an iBuyer, we had to solve the transaction end-to-end,” said co-founder Victor Noguera. “We had to build the MLS, a third-party marketplace, a contractor marketplace, financial products, broker technology and a home maintenance provider, along with other services. In other words, we have been building the real estate super app for LatAm.”

Flat.mx says its certified remodeled properties have gone through a 200+ point inspection and “a full legal review.” 

Flat.mx is growing sales by 70% quarter-over-quarter, and has increased its inventory by 10x over the last year, according to its founders. It has also nearly tripled its headcount from 30 at the middle of last year to over 85 today. So far, Flat.mx has conducted thousands of home valuations and more than 100 transactions.

Image Credits: Flat.mx

The pandemic only helped boost interest.

“Our low-touch digital solution was key for having a strong business during the pandemic. We were able to create quick liquidity for sellers at a time in Mexico where it was complicated to sell,” said Cordero. “Our model allows sellers to sell with one visit instead of having to receive over 40 potential buyers at a time where they wanted to sell but also wanted to avoid contact with many buyers.”

The company plans to use its new capital to continue to develop what it describes as a “one-stop shop where homeowners and buyers will be able to get all the services they need in one place.”

The founders believe that rather than just try to tackle one aspect of the homebuying process, it makes more sense in emerging markets to address them all.

“We believe that each one of our products makes the others stronger and creating this ecosystem of products will continue to give us an important advantage in the market,” said Noguera. The startup plans to also use the capital from the round to expand its presence in Mexico for iBuying, and to invest in data and financial products.

Image Credits: Flat.mx

Naturally, Flat.mx’s investors are bullish.

Archie Cochrane, principal investor at Anthemis Group, said his firm views Flat.mx as an integral part of its embedded finance thesis in the context of the Mexican property sector. 

“The iBuyer model itself is well understood and developed in many parts of the world, but it is also a complex model with many variables that requires a seasoned and astute team to execute the strategy,” Cochrane wrote via email. “When we met Victor and Bernardo, it was clear that their clarity of vision and deep understanding of the broader opportunity set would allow them to succeed over the long term.”

Tim Chae, managing partner at 500 Startups, said he envisions that Flat.mx will become “the go-to route” for buyers, sellers, agents and lenders in Mexican real estate. 

“There are nuances and specific problems that are unique to Mexico that Flat.mx has done a great job identifying and solving,” he said. 

ALLVP partner Fernando Lelo de Larrea said that essentially after years of “unkept promises,” software is finally transforming the real estate industry in Mexico. 

“Most models replicate successful models from the more mature U.S. proptech space,” he said. “Since we started investing in proptech, we’ve never seen such an innovative approach to seizing a trillion-dollar opportunity.”

Osana Salud raises $20M to build API-connected infrastructure for the LatAm healthcare industry

Osana Salud, which aims to transform the healthcare infrastructure in Latin America, has closed on a $20 million Series A round of funding led by General Catalyst.

The Argentina-based, yet fully remote, startup was founded in 2019 — just a few months before the pandemic. Since launching less than a year ago, Osana says it has secured contracts with health insurance firms and providers that collectively serve more than 6 million patients in the region. For example, it is working with Sanatorio Güemes and PAMI, which has a network of 5 million patients, among others.

Quiet Capital, Preface Ventures, FJ Labs, AforeVC and K50 Ventures also put money in the latest round, which brings Osana’s total raised over its lifetime to $26.5 million. Lee Fixel’s Addition is also an investor.

CEO Andre Lawson told TechCrunch he was inspired to start Osana Salud because an estimated 50% of Latin America does not have access to quality healthcare. So he teamed up with COO Jorge Lopez to found the company to help change that. President Charu Sharma (the only staffer who is U.S.-based) and CTO Hugo Martin joined at a later date.

“Our vision is to enable affordable and accessible healthcare for every person in Latin America by leveraging technology,” Lawson said.

Specifically, Osana Salud is building an API-connected infrastructure to help the region’s healthcare industry offer a patient experience that offers “greater convenience, outcomes and value,” Lawson told TechCrunch. Its initial focus is on building solutions for telehealth, pharmacy and diagnostics. 

For example, he said, Osana wants to make it faster and cheaper for healthcare players to build solutions that are “safe, secure and interact well” with other health systems. With that in mind, the company has tapped doctors and engineers to design that infrastructure.

“The goal is to empower the next generation of healthcare providers in building patient-centric solutions with the potential to positively impact the healthcare experiences and outcomes for hundreds of millions of people,” Lawson said.

In the past eight months, Osana has grown from four to about 50 people, and it expects to have over 250 employees in the next year. Despite not quite being two years old, the startup believes it’s already grown to be Latin America’s biggest telehealth company.

Sharma told TechCrunch that despite living in Silicon Valley, she was drawn to the company’s mission and found the potential to “massively transform healthcare for a whole continent” appealing.

“In the U.S. tech ecosystem, we focus on first-world problems a lot, but an emerging market like LatAm gave me the opportunity to make a meaningful impact at a very basic human need level,” she said. “As the saying goes, talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not.”

In fact, as evidence that remote work will never be the same after COVID, neither Sharma nor Martin have met Lawson or Lopez in person.

The new capital will in part go toward accelerating the company’s product roadmap, Lawson said, and helping it expand to Brazil and Mexico, where it has seen “strong inbound interest.” But primarily, it will be used for hiring.

The timing of the company’s inception was good. The pandemic shed light on the fractures of the healthcare system in Latin America, Lawson believes. It also gave the industry the opportunity to show the benefits of a “virtual first” approach, he added. And once people got a taste of it, they wanted more.

As a result, Osana says it has seen a big bump both in the number of clients and in the usage of its technology platform amongst existing ones.

“Furthermore, COVID-19 created urgency for healthcare providers, which resulted in very short sales cycles for us,” Lawson said.

Hemant Taneja of General Catalyst said the startup’s thesis aligns “perfectly” with his firm’s thesis around healthcare. Taneja himself is also a co-founder and executive chairman of San Francisco-based Commure, a venture-backed startup which is also building software infrastructure aimed at transforming the healthcare space.

“The healthcare infrastructure landscape in Latin America is highly fragmented,” he told TechCrunch. Most software vendors are small or medium-sized local vendors, who have not crossed into other Latin American geographies, Taneja pointed out.

“Osana has a variety of solutions for providers, payors and the pharmaceutical industry that are customizable and modular to create truly personalized experiences — regardless of the region in Latin America,” he said. “They can be an important unifier in a really fractured marketplace.”