Corporate credit card platform Moss raises $25.5 million

German startup Moss has raised a $25.5 million (€21 million) funding round led by Valar Ventures. Existing investors Cherry Ventures and Global Founders Capital are also participating. Moss provides credit cards and a spending platform to small and medium businesses in Germany.

The company has developed its own risk engine to come up with a credit card limit for your company. Like Brex in the U.S., Moss promises higher credit card limits compared to credit cards offered by traditional financial institutions.

Again, Moss doesn’t offer prepaid or debit cards — it focuses on credit cards. You can spend within your limit and pay at the end of the month. You don’t need to top up your Moss account to start using it.

Credit cards work on the Mastercard network. Admins can issue a physical card for each employee or each team. You can also issue virtual cards for online payments and subscriptions. You can set different limits for each card.

From the administration panel, you can track expenses, search for specific expenses and see your ongoing subscriptions — it helps you identify duplicates. Users can attach receipts and information to each transaction for accounting purposes.

The company has issued 1,000 credit cards and has processes 10,000 transactions so far. Right now, its clients include startups and tech companies. But Moss expects to expand to other industries soon thanks to today’s funding round.

Moss competes with Spendesk, Revolut Business and others. These corporate card products focus on debit cards. Let’s see if offering credit cards turns out to be an important differentiating feature.

Medium acquires social book reading app Glose

Medium is acquiring Paris-based startup Glose for an undisclosed amount. Glose has been building iOS, Android and web apps that let you buy, download and read books on your devices.

The company has turned reading into a multiplayer experience as you can build a bookshelf, share notes with your followers and start conversations in the margins. Sure, there are social platforms that let you talk about books, such as Goodreads. But Glose’s differentiating point is that the social features are intrinsically linked with the reading features — those aren’t two separate platforms. There are also some gamification features that help you stay motivated as you read difficult books — you get streak rewards for instance.

In many ways, Glose’s one-tap highlighting and commenting features are reminiscent of Medium’s features on this front. You can highlight text in any reading app on your phone or tablet but you can’t do much with it.

More recently, Glose has launched a separate service called Glose Education. As the name suggests, that version is tailored for universities and high schools. Teachers can hand out assignments and you can read a book as a group.

Over 1 million people have used Glose and 25 universities have signed up to Glose Education, including Stanford and Columbia University.

But Glose isn’t just a software play. The company has also put together a comprehensive book store. The company has partnered with 20,000 publishers so that you can buy ebooks directly from the app.

And if you are studying Virginia Wolf this semester, Glose also provides hundreds of thousands of public domain books for free. Glose also supports audio books.

This is by far the most interesting part as Medium now plans to expand beyond articles and blogs. While Glose is sticking around for now, Medium also plans to integrate ebooks and audio books to its service.

It’s a smart move as many prolific bloggers are also book writers. Right now, they write a blog post on Medium and link to a third-party site if you want to buy their books. Having the ability to host everything written by an author is a better experience for both content creators and readers.

“We’re impressed not only by Glose's reading products and technology, but also by their experience in partnering with book authors and publishers," Medium CEO Ev Williams said in a statement. “Books are a means of exploring an idea, a way to go deeper. The vast majority of the world’s ideas are stored in books and journals, yet are hardly searchable nor shareable. With Glose, we want to improve that experience within Medium’s large network of engaged readers and writers. We look forward to working with the Glose team on partnering with publishers to help authors reach more readers."

The Glose team will remain in Paris, which means that Medium is opening its first office outside of the U.S. Glose will continue to honor its partnerships with authors, publishers, schools and institutions.

X1 Card raises $12 million for its credit card with limits based on your income

X1 Card is raising a $12 million funding round. The company is building a credit card that sets limits based on your current and future income, not your credit score.

Spark Capital is leading the round with Jared Leto, Aaron Levie, Jeremy Stoppelman, Max Levchin and Ali Rowghani also participating. American Express veteran Ash Gupta is also joining the company as an advisor — he was the Chief Risk Officer of American Express.

The company says that it has attracted nearly 300,000 signups on its waitlist. I covered X1 Card back in September and it attracted a lot of readers. So that number doesn’t surprise me.

The X1 Card is a stainless steel Visa credit card with a different origin story. When you apply for a card, instead of determining your limits based on your credit score, the company wants to see your current and future income.

The startup believes the credit score system is outdated and doesn’t reflect your creditworthiness. That’s why it doesn’t use it to calculate limits. Your credit score still affects your variable APR (from 12.9% to 19.9%), but that’s it.

There are also a lot of software features that work with the credit card. For instance, you can track your subscriptions from the X1 app, you can also generate an auto-expiring virtual card for free trials that require a credit card. You also get notifications for refunds.

As for rewards, you get 2X points on all purchases. If you’re a heavy user and you spend more than $15,000 on your card per year, you’re upgraded to a new tier and earn 3X points. There’s also a viral element as you get a boosted reward level when you refer a friend — you get 4X points for a month. You can then spend your points with retail partners.

The company has promised a lot of features and now has enough cash in its bank account to deliver. Let’s see if the company can live up to the hype once the first customers get their cards. But it’s clear that the credit score system is outdated.

Gemini is launching a credit card with bitcoin rewards

Cryptocurrency exchange company Gemini is acquiring Blockrize and announcing a new product today based on Blockrize’s work. Later this year, the company is launching a credit card that works like a regular credit card — but you earn bitcoin rewards based on your purchases.

The credit card will work on the Visa network and will be available in the U.S. Customers will earn up to 3% in bitcoin rewards (again, up to 3%). You'll be able to earn other crypto assets as well. Those rewards will be deposited on your Gemini account.

This isn't the first time a company is announcing a credit card with bitcoin rewards. BlockFi already announced its own card back in December. Both companies have yet to launch their cards.

As a comparison, BlockFi promises 1.5% rewards on fiat purchases. There's a $200 annual fee but you get $250 back if you spend at least $3,000 with the card in the first three months.

This new category of credit cards could be interesting for people who want to slowly acquire cryptocurrencies without going through an exchange. Similarly, some crypto enthusiasts don't want to use a debit card tied to a cryptocurrency wallet as they don't want to spend their crypto assets — HODL, as they say.

You could consider those credit cards as an alternative to credit cards that give you cashback. Sure, you don't get points that you can exchange for perks. But you get crypto assets without having to think about it.

Gemini customers can sign up to the waitlist today. Blockrize has been working on a credit card for some time. While it is now part of Gemini, people who previously signed up to Blockrize’s waitlist are still on the waitlist.

Image Credits: Gemini

Upgrade launches checking accounts and debit cards

Fintech startup Upgrade has been positioning itself as a neobank. And yet, the company has mostly been focused on personal loans and more recently credit cards. You couldn’t just replace your bank account with Upgrade. Upgrade is adding two important missing pieces of the puzzle with checking accounts and debit cards.

With today’s launch, Upgrade competes more directly with other challenger banks, such as Chime, N26 and others. You can open a checking account, control it from a mobile app, send and receive money from that account.

There are no monthly fees and no minimum account balance. Under the hood, Cross River Bank provides FDIC-insured checking accounts.

You also get a debit card with your checking account. When it comes to ATM withdrawals, Upgrade will reimburse ATM fees for its most loyal customers up to five times a month. You need to maintain a minimum balance or set up direct payroll deposit for that feature.

Debit card payments on subscriptions and common everyday expenses let you earn 2% cash back. Eligible purchases include convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, food deliveries, etc. Your earn 1% on other debit charges.

Rewards on debit card transactions are somewhat uncommon. Most financial companies focus on credit card rewards as the interchange fees on credit card transactions are much higher. Debit cards don’t generate as much interchange revenue.

“Neobanks in particular cannot pay high rewards (or any rewards at all) on debit cards because the interchange fee is often their only source of revenue,” Upgrade CEO Renaud Laplanche told me in an email.

And interchange fees can add up if you manage to attract millions of customers. According to The Information, Chime generated more than $600 million in revenue last year thanks to interchange fees.

The company still plans to generate the vast majority of its revenue from credit products. “Our strategy is to monetize our base through credit,” Laplanche said.

Upgrade also offers a credit card with 1.5% cash back on all purchases. If, for one reason or another, you can’t pay your monthly balance payment, the company helps you combine monthly charges into installment plans that you can pay back over 24 to 60 months. You pay down your balance at a fixed rate with equal monthly payments. Upgrade customers who use the company’s checking account will get lower rates on Upgrade loans.

You can also get a personal loan from Upgrade without a credit card or a checking account. And maybe you’ll end up discovering Upgrade’s other products after signing up to a personal loan.

Image Credits: Upgrade

Apple announces new projects related to its $100 million pledge for racial equity and justice

Last June, Apple committed $100 million to a Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI). Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, is leading the initiative. Today, Apple is sharing some of its work as part of the initiative.

“We’re launching REJI’s latest initiatives with partners across a broad range of industries and backgrounds — from students to teachers, developers to entrepreneurs, and community organizers to justice advocates — working together to empower communities that have borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long. We are honored to help bring this vision to bear, and to match our words and actions to the values of equity and inclusion we have always prized at Apple,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

The company will contribute $25 million to the Propel Center, an innovation and leaning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It is going to be both a virtual platform and a physical campus in the Atlanta University Center. Apple is sharing some early renderings of the new building (see above and below).

Students will be able to follow different educational tracks focused on artificial intelligence, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment, app development, augmented reality, design and create arts and entrepreneurship. This isn’t just a monetary investment for Apple as employees will help develop curricula and provide mentorship as well. There will be internship opportunities for students.

In Downtown Detroit, the company will also open an Apple Developer Academy focused on young Black entrepreneurs. This is a collaborative effort with Michigan State University. It’ll be open to all learners across Detroit and teach valuable skills for entrepreneurs, creators and coders.

There will be two programs. A 30-day introductory program will help you learn more about app economy careers. And if you’re willing to dive deeper, there’s an intensive 10- to 12-month program. Apple is trying to reach 1,000 students per year with these two programs.

The third effort is focused on investment opportunities for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. Apple will invest $10 million with Harlem Capital, a VC firm based in New York. There will be more collaboration between Harlem Capital and Apple down the road.

Apple is also investing $25 million in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund. Finally, Apple is making a contribution to The King Center.

As you can see, Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative is an on-going effort that requires evaluating new opportunities constantly. The company isn’t just trying to give money to everyone. It is evaluating each opportunity individually to find the best collaboration.

Image Credits: Apple

Molotov starts its international expansion with seven African countries

French startup Molotov provides an OTT TV streaming service in France with live TV, premium channels, a cloud DVR and on-demand content. While the service has managed to attract 13 million users in France, it has yet to expand to other countries.

Molotov is starting its international expansion this year with a dozen countries on the roadmap. First, the service will be available in seven African countries, starting with Ivory Coast where it’s already live, Senegal in January, Cameroon in February, Burkina Faso in March, Tunisia in April, Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo after that.

“When it comes to features, the service is more or less the same but content is different,” co-founder and CEO Jean-David Blanc told me. Molotov is betting on local partnerships to launch its service in new countries.

In today’s case, Molotov is partnering with Digital Virgo, a mobile payments company available in 40 countries. Digital Virgo is handling the relationships with local content owners. Molotov is taking care of operations and the tech stack.

There will be 15 channels at launch, such as Nina TV, Passions TV, Trace Urban, Trace Africa, Trace Urban Africa, Savannah TV, Gametoon, Africanews, Euronews, France24, Trace Sport Stars and DocuBox. Molotov will also grant access to its ad-supported on-demand streaming service Mango.

Image Credits: Molotov

In order to support its international expansion plans, the startup had to rework its infrastructure so that it’s more robust — it relies more on cloud hosting and it is partnering with more CDN companies. For instance, the service should work better if you don’t have as much bandwidth as before.

And this is just a start as Molotov is already talking with different B2B partners in Asia, South America and Europe. “Our strategy is that we lean on local players to launch Molotov in new countries,” Blanc said. So you can expect more news on the international front with new countries and new partners.

Checkout.com raises $450 million and reaches $15 billion valuation

Payments company Checkout.com is raising once again. The company has closed a $450 million Series C round with Tiger Global Management leading the round — Greenoaks Capital and all existing investors are also participating.

If you’re not familiar with the company, Checkout.com wants to build a one-stop shop for all things related to payments, such as accepting transactions, processing them and detecting fraud. It focuses on large merchants and tries to make its product as customizable as possible so that you integrate it as an infrastructure partner in your product.

The company’s fundraising story in particular is jaw-dropping. The startup was founded in 2012 in London. At first, it grew slowly and methodically. Every time it would generate a bit of revenue, it would hire more people. “We can hire one employee this month. Now we can hire two employees this month,” founder and CEO Guillaume Pousaz said at TechCrunch Disrupt when thinking about the early days of the company.

But Checkout.com kept growing and growing until it raised one of the biggest Series A rounds ever for a European company — $230 million at a $2 billion valuation. Just a year later, Checkout.com added $150 million in funding at a $5.5 valuation.

Checkout.com is now valued at $15 billion based on today’s funding round. According to the startup, it is now the fourth largest fintech company globally.

Checkout.com had 440 employees in January 2020. It finished 2020 with 940 employees. And this year, the company plans to hire an additional 700 people.

While Checkout.com didn’t actually need to raise to stay alive, Pousaz says VC firms are a form of validation. Suddenly, you can talk with big prospects if you’re backed by Insight, DST, Coatue, Tiger Global Management, etc.

And yet, the company needs a lot of money on its bank account to expand to more countries. “Today, we process billions every week,” Pousaz told me in December. “And when you process over a billion euros per week, your cash flow on your bank account increases significantly. So you need to be well capitalized for regulators.”

Technically, there isn’t a single bank account that holds the company’s cash. Checkout.com is regulated in the U.K., but also in France, Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. And the company is working on adding India, the Philippines. And it turns out you need cash on your balance sheet in the Philippines if you want to get a license from the local regulator — it doesn’t matter if you have a ton of money sitting in your bank account in London. That’s why raising capital can be helpful.

But why do investors want to hand over more and more money? “At any point you have a lot of visibility on what your next year is going to look like,” Pousaz told me. “It’s something that investors like because you can show them your pipeline and all your customers in your pipeline. If you forecast on the pipeline, it gives you a good idea of how much you’re going to generate in the coming year.

“For instance, I could tell you right now that we’ll grow by at least 80% in 2021,” he added. And that’s only based on clients who are currently in the process of integrating Checkout.com. The company already tripled its payment processing volume in 2020 compared to 2019.

In many ways, Checkout.com tries to forecast like a public company. It isn’t focused on runway as it is EBITDA profitable. Instead, it tries to reinvest a lot of its revenue in the company. “We don’t generate $50 million in EBITDA, far from it. But we generate double-digit million dollars,” Pousaz told me.

With today’s funding round, the company will open two new offices in the U.S. In addition to San Francisco, Checkout.com will have offices in New York and Denver.

Revolut applies for UK banking license

It’s hard to believe that fintech startup Revolut doesn’t have a proper banking license in its home country. But this is about to change as the company has applied for a banking license in the U.K. Up next, the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are going to look at the application.

Revolut already has a banking license in the European Union. The Bank of Lithuania has granted a license and the company is taking advantage of European passporting rules to operate in other European countries.

It is slowly starting to offer its own banking products in Europe. Revolut is testing a credit offer in two European markets.

Revolut dubs itself as a financial super app. After you create an account, you get an e-wallet and a debit card. You can send and receive money, hold money in your account and use your card for in-store and online purchases.

Over the past few years, Revolut has greatly expanded beyond that simple premise. You can buy cryptocurrencies, stocks and commodities. You can set money aside in a vault. You can get travel and mobile phone insurance products.

Some of these features have been developed in house. Other features have required partnerships with other fintech companies. While you can do a lot of things with your Revolut account, it’s still not technically a bank in the U.K.

It has been great when it comes to growth, but it can be limiting when it comes to revenue opportunities and product offering. If Revolut gets a banking license, the company will be able to offer full-service current accounts with overdrafts and loans in the U.K. Revolut could also offer credit cards.

Customers will also be protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). If Revolut becomes a bank and disappears, customers are protected up to £85,000 per person.

Revolut currently has 13 million customers and a valuation of $5.5 billion. While the company doesn’t break down its user base based on markets, the U.K. represents one of the most important markets for the company.

Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are coming to LG TVs

LG spent a good chunk of its CES press conference talking about its lineup of TVs for 2021. You can expect bigger, slimmer and brighter TVs. I’m not going to list the specifications of new models. But there are a few new features that are worth mentioning.

LG doesn’t use Android TV for the operating system. Instead, the company has its own operating system called webOS. App developers have to release specific versions of their apps for LG’s smart TVs. And the company announced that Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are coming to LG 2021 TVs.

Google’s cloud gaming service will arrive first in the coming months. It won’t be available everywhere as Stadia is only available in a handful of countries. But if you live in a country where Stadia is available, you will be able to unplug your Chromecast to access Stadia.

Stadia works a bit like a console that runs in the cloud. You can buy games and run them in a data center near you. The video feed is streamed directly to your screen and your gamepad controls are relayed to the server.

As for Nvidia’s cloud gaming service, it is coming later this year. This service is a bit different as you can take advantage of your Steam, Epic Games, GOG or Ubisoft Connect libraries.

Nvidia has favored its own set-top box in the past with a GeForce Now app on the Nvidia Shield TV. Recently, the Android app has been updated with support for more devices, and it looks like it’s expanding beyond Android TV with webOS support.

LG also announced that it is updating webOS with a brand new interface this year. The overlay menu at the bottom of the screen has been replaced with a full screen menu. You’ll be able to find your favorite apps, access live TV and get some content recommendations — and, yes, there will be ads.

If you’re playing games, there will be a new game menu to access the most relevant settings. For instance, you’ll be able to switch from one TV profile to another from that menu depending on the type of games that you’re playing (FPS, racing games, etc.). It sounds pretty useless to me as you mostly want to reduce latency as much as possible with any genre. You’ll also be able to turn on G-Sync and FreeSync if you’re using a compatible device.

When it comes to new OLED TVs, there are the entry-line A1 models with old processors, the C1 models with support for modern game consoles thanks to variable refresh rate, low latency, etc. At the top of the lineup, the G1 models come in three different sizes (77 inches, 65 inches and 55 inches).

Image Credits: LG