Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes

Disney announced earlier this month that it’s going all-in on streaming media.

As part of this new strategy, the company is undergoing a major reorganisation of its media and entertainment business that will focus on developing productions that will debut on its streaming and broadcast services.

This will include merging the company’s media businesses, ads and distribution, and Disney+ divisions so that they’ll now operate under the same business unit.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber reports, Disney’s announcement follows a significant change to its release schedule to address new realities, including a collapsing theatrical release business; production issues; and the runaway success of its Disney+ streaming service — all caused or accelerated by the national failure to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what better time than now to give Disney+ the Extra Crunch user experience teardown treatment. With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed. They include zero distractions while signing up, “the power of percentages,” and the importance of designing for trackpad, mouse and touch outside of native applications.

Zero distractions while signing up

If the user is trying to complete a very specific task — such as making a payment — don’t distract them. They’re experiencing event-driven behaviour.

The win: Disney have almost entirely removed any kind of distractions when signing up. This includes the header and footer. They want you to stay on-task.

Image Credits: Disney+

Steve O’Hear: This seems like a very easy win but one we don’t see as often as perhaps we should. Am I right that most sign-up flows aren’t this distraction-free and why do you think that is?

Peter Ramsey: Yeah, it’s such an easy win. Sometimes you see sign-up screens that have Google Adwords on it, and I think, “You’re risking the user getting distracted and leaving for what, half a penny?” If I had to guess why more companies don’t utilise this technique, it’s probably just because they don’t want to deal with the technical hassle of hiding a bunch of elements.

The power of percentages

Only use percentages when it makes sense. 80% off sounds like a lot, but 3% doesn’t. Percentages can be a great way of making a discount seem larger than it actually is, but sometimes it can have the reverse effect. This is because people are generally bad at accurately estimating discounts. “What’s 13% off £78?”

The fail: If you sign up to a year of Disney+, then you’re offered 16% free. But 16% isn’t easy to calculate in your head — so people guess. And sometimes, their guesses may be less than the actual value of the discount.

The fix: In this instance, it would be far more compelling (and require less mental arithmetic), if it was marketed as “60 days free.” Sixty days is both easy to understand and easy to assign value to.

Image Credits: Disney+

Percentages may be harder to process or evaluate in isolation as an end user but they are easy to compare with each other i.e., we all know 25% off is better than 10% off. Aren’t you advocating obscuring the actual saving in favour of what sounds better on a case-by-case basis and therefore actually working against the end user? Of course I’m playing devils advocate a little here.

So, it’s actually a really complex dilemma, and there’s no “easy” answer — this would probably make a great dinner time conversation. Yes, if you’re offering two discounts, then a percentage may be the easiest way for people to compare them.

Brighteye Ventures’ Alex Latsis talks European edtech funding in 2020

Brighteye Ventures, the European edtech venture capital firm, recently announced the $54 million first close of its second fund, bringing total assets under management above $112 million. Out of the new fund, the 2017-founded VC will invest in 15-20 companies over the next three years at the seed and Series A stage, writing checks up to $5 million.

Described as a thesis-driven fund investing in startups that “enhance learning” within the context of automation and other new technologies, coupled with changes in the way we live, Brighteye plans to disrupt the $7 trillion global education sector “as educators and students are adapting to distance learning en masse and millions of displaced workers are seeking to upskill,” according to a press release.

The firm’s investments to date include Ornikar, an online driving school in France and Spain serving more than 1.6 million students; Tandem, a Berlin-based peer-to-peer language learning platform with over 10 million members; and Epic!, a reading platform said to be used in more than 90% of U.S. schools.

To dig deeper into Brighteye’s thesis and the edtech sector more broadly, I caught up with managing partner Alex Latsis. We also discussed some of the findings in the firm’s recent European edtech funding report and how more venture capital than ever is set to flow into educational technology.

TechCrunch: Brighteye Ventures backs seed and Series A startups across Europe and North America that “enhance learning.” Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit, such as subsectors or specific technologies and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Alex Latsis: We invest in startups that use technology to directly enable learning, skills acquisition or research as well as companies whose products address structural needs in the education sector. For example, Zen Educate addresses the systemic issue of teacher supply shortages in the U.K. via an on-demand platform that saves schools money whilst allowing educators to earn more. Litigate is an AI-driven coach and workflow tool improving results for legal associates, while Ironhack, the largest tech bootcamp in Europe and Latin America, gives young professionals the skills needed to enter the innovation economy and connects them to employers with a 90% job placement rate.

As education is a complex field we always seek to establish a degree of founder market fit, but more importantly that the founding teams themselves are a good fit internally. No startup succeeds on the merits of a founder alone, even if they may be driving the momentum.

In “The European EdTech Funding Report 2020,” you note that Europe is gaining momentum with a healthy increase in VC investments in local edtech startups. Specifically, you say that edtech VC investment has experienced 9.2x growth between 2014 and 2019 in terms of money invested. What is driving this and how does Europe compare to other major tech regions for edtech, such as Silicon Valley/U.S. or China?

Both Europe and the U.S. saw about 2% of venture capital invested in edtech in 2019. Growth in edtech investment in these markets to date has been driven largely by increased willingness to pay for training that is unavailable, unengaging or too expensive in legacy institutions and to a lesser extent by increased digital penetration in schools and universities that has enabled SaaS products to scale.

Given the rapid evolution of online education in the face of the pandemic, we expect funding for edtech will trend closer to 3%-5% of venture funding in the coming years on both sides of the Atlantic. This will mean billions in incremental investment, hundreds of new promising companies and incredible learning opportunities, particularly for those looking to upskill/reskill. In countries like India and China where school and university student populations are growing more rapidly, we expect 5%+ of VC funding to go into edtech as there is more growth in core demand.

Brighteye Ventures sees $54M first close of its second fund to back edtech startups in Europe

Brighteye Ventures, the European edtech VC firm, is announcing the $54 million first close of its second fund, bringing total assets under management to over $112 million.

Backing comes from a mixture of existing and new investors, made up primarily of unnamed international family offices. The fund’s second close is expected to take place next year and will include additional institutional investors.

Founded in 2017, Brighteye describes itself as a thesis-driven fund investing in startups that enhance learning. Unsurprisingly, the VC says it sees an unprecedented opportunity within the $7 trillion global education sector “as educators and students are adapting to distance learning en masse and millions of displaced workers are seeking to upskill’.

Out of this new fund, Brighteye will invest in 15-20 companies over the next three years at the seed and Series-A stage and write cheques of up to $5 million.

“We invest in startups that use technology to directly enable learning, skills acquisition or research as well as companies whose products address structural needs in the education sector,” Alex Spiro Latsis, managing partner at Brighteye Ventures, tells me.

“For example, Zen Educate addresses the systemic issue of teacher supply shortages in the U.K., via an on-demand platform that saves schools money whilst allowing educators to earn more. Litigate is an AI-driven coach and workflow tool improving results for legal associates, while Ironhack, the largest tech bootcamp in Europe and Latin America, gives young professionals the skills needed to enter the innovation economy and connects them to employers with a 90% job placement rate”.

The VC’s investments also includes Ornikar, the online driving school in France and Spain serving over 1.6 million students; Tandem, the Berlin-based peer-to-peer language learning platform with over 10 million members; and Epic!, a reading platform said to be used in more than 90% of U.S. schools.

“Sector specialisation means that our entire team is devoted to mapping, evaluating and building networks in the learning industry,” adds Spiro Latsis, when asked how Brighteye will compete for edtech deals when many generalist VCs are eyeing up the sector. “We understand what a differentiated approach looks like, can develop conviction quickly and make an offer based on that conviction. Once we invest, portfolio companies benefit from a network that includes not just potential clients and investors but also some of the best performing edtech companies in Europe”.

Meanwhile, Brighteye says it will be expanding its advisory team to support the new fund and expects to grow from three members to ten within the next 12 months. In addition, David Guerin has been promoted to principal to manage deal making and portfolio support in Paris, and the firm expects to open a DACH region presence by summer 2022.

Qatalog, the ‘virtual workspace’ rebundling SaaS tools to help teams function better, raises $15M

Qatalog, a London-based startup that has developed a “virtual workspace” that brings together disparate SaaS tools to help teams function better, is disclosing $15 million in Series A funding.

Leading the round is European venture capital firm Atomico, with participation from Salesforce Ventures, and angel investors Jacob de Geer (CEO/co-founder of iZettle), Chris Hitchen (partner at Inventures, founder Getprice), and Thijn Lamers (former EVP at Adyen). As part of the investment, Atomico partner Irina Haivas will join the board.

Existing investors, including London’s Mosaic Ventures, which led Qatalog’s $3.5 million seed round in late 2019 while the company was still in stealth, also followed on. Other backers are Taavet Hinrikus (Transferwise co-founder), Paul Forster (founder, Indeed), Ott Kaukver (former CTO, Twilio), Renaud Visage (co-founder, Eventbrite), Philipp Moehring and Andy Chung (Tiny Supercomputer), Andreas Klinger (Remote First Capital) and various unnamed angels from Transferwise, Deepmind and Monzo. It brings total funding raised to $18.5 million.

Founded in 2019 by Tariq Rauf, a former global product lead at Amazon, and prior to that, a head of growth at TransferWise, Qatalog aims to bring together all of the SaaS building blocks used in the modern workplace, including Teams/Slack, Microsoft/Google Suite, Zoom, Confluence, Jira, Notion, Asana and others.

The virtual workspace plugs into these various SaaS tools and organises the content and its relationships around “people, teams and projects” presented and accessible through a single interface. By building what Rauf calls the “work graph,” Qatalog wants to unify workplace information to make it much more accessible and transparent, and with the ability to automate routine work and enable SaaS tools to talk to one another. In doing so, the idea is that teams can work smarter and collaborate better throughout the organisation.

Image Credits: Qatalog

“Organizations have an endless supply of tools, methods, and data to make people more productive and happy at work,” he tells me. “But these tools create a lot of chaos, wasted time, and frustration. These pain points are exacerbated by silos of tools and processes, and an increase in remote work”.

To solve this, Rauf says Qatalog has built a “source of truth” for the teams, projects and people within a company and all the “ancillary information” about them. This includes connecting various tools, locations and systems, and providing additional “capabilities and features that make accessing, retrieving, sharing and coordinating work very seamless”.

In some ways, Qatalog is perhaps akin to a modern workplace intranet, if one were to take a SaaS-first and ‘small pieces, loosely joined’ approach. Or perhaps another way to think about Qatalog is that SaaS tools are especially good at solving one problem or a subset of related problems, but don’t scale particularly well when operating in a vacuum or if they (or users) try to bolt on additional functionality outside of their core offering. What’s needed is a way to re-bundle this disparate functionality and the information and workflows it spawns, therefore negating the need for companies to hack together spreadsheets or “super Google docs” to try to consolidate processes and a company’s knowledge-base.

“We connect to [a company’s] various tools, pull as much information about them as possible together, and ask for additional information as needed,” Rauf explains. “Users can then search across their workspace and tools from one place; create teams and projects and wire up all the different silos into them; set trackable goals and connect them to various tools, people, teams and projects; and build workflows that can be assigned and tracked across the team”.

The “workflows” can be something as mundane as the steps required and people involved when booking leave, or something more involved such as a complex work task. The clever part is not just the way a workflow is created and presented, but how workflows are powered under the hood by Qatalog’s “work graph”. This reduces form filling when linking people, teams and SaaS tools to different steps in a workflow and also means that information is two-way. Complete a task within Qatalog and information can be automatically pushed to Slack, Google Calendar etc., and vice versa. It is also not hard to see how a work graph of this kind could enable more automation and/or work macros to be employed in future.

With regards to Qatalog’s typical customer, Rauf says that so far the startup has found that companies with 50 plus people and distributed teams have been good candidates as that’s when internal systems and ad-hoc knowledge management processes start to fail. “At that point, most companies have also likely picked up 10+ tools and are finding information requires manual switchboarding by people,” he tells me.

MessageBird, the ‘omnichannel platform-as-a-service,’ raises $200M Series C at $3B valuation

MessageBird, the Amsterdam-headquartered cloud communications company, has raised $200 million in Series C funding in a round led by Silicon Valley’s Spark Capital.

The new investment gives 2011-founded MessageBird a whopping $3 billion valuation, and includes participation from Bonnier, Glynn Capital, LGT Lightstone, Longbow, Mousse Partners and New View Capital. Existing investors Accel, Atomico, and Y Combinator also followed on.

Notably, MessageBird spent its first six years largely bootstrapped, claiming to have been profitable from day one. Aside from going through YC’s accelerator programme, the company’s first institutional investment came in late 2017 when it raised $60 million in Series A funding from U.S-based Accel and Europe’s Atomico. TechCrunch understands that off the back of accelerated growth, a $40 million Series B was quietly closed in February 2019 from existing investors but never announced.

Originally seen as a European or “rest of the world” competitor to U.S.-based Twilio — offering a cloud communications platform that supports voice, video and text capabilities all wrapped up in a API — MessageBird has since repositioned itself as an “Omnichannel Platform-as-a-Service” (OPaaS). The idea is to easily enable enterprises and medium and smaller-sized companies to communicate with customers on any channel of their choosing.

Out of the box, this includes support for WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Twitter, SMS, email and voice. Customers can start online and then move their support request or query over to a more convenient channel, such as their favourite mobile messaging app, which, of course, can go with them. It’s all part of MessageBird founder and CEO Robert Vis’ big bet that the future of customer interactions is omni-channel.

“People think of live chat as a ‘live’ channel, but [there’s] no ability to jump to other channels,” Vis told me in June when the company launched its omni-channel chat widget and Intercom competitor. “People still have to wait with a browser window open for a response during peak times. With the launch of the first-ever omni-channel widget, customers can now opt to have a business get back to them on WhatsApp, Messenger or the messaging platform of their choice. This means no more customers waiting in line, online, and agents don’t get flooded with tickets and can better manage customer relationships and response times”.

In a call earlier this week, Vis told me that the Series C was raised remotely during lockdown, and comes at a time where enterprises are increasingly looking for “messaging-first” customer communication tools across channels. In part, he puts this down to the coronavirus trend of companies wanting to move their sales and customer service fully remote and online, but concedes that with enterprise sales cycles typically quite long, in many instances this expedited digitisation was already underway.

To that end, MessageBird says the funding will be used to triple the size of its global team and further expand into its core markets in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Vis doesn’t rule out M&A activity, either, including both acqui-hires and companies with products or technology that can add value to MessageBird’s omni-channel offering.

One area the company is bolstering, for example, is the automation capabilities of its “Flow Builder” software, which aims to let customer service agents automate a portion of customer queries via AI-powered chatbots and FAQ bots. The bigger vision is that Flow Builder evolves to become an RPA (robotic process automation) platform for external business messaging.

Vis also says that MessageBird is now officially a “work from anywhere” company, even though he was initially slightly skeptical towards remote working. Now a full convert, he says in many instances at MessageBird the option to work remotely has already resulted in increased productivity and a better work-life balance. As the company continues to expand (and with an eye on a future IPO), he also says that being remote-first should help with recruitment, citing talent as any fast-growing company’s biggest challenge.

Picker, an app to discover products recommended by people you follow, picks up €1.3M seed

Picker, an app that lets you discover and buy products recommended by people you follow, has raised €1.3 million in seed funding. Backing the Barcelona-based startup is Berlin’s Btov. The company has received €2 million in funding to date, mainly from various angel investors.

Founded in 2018 by Daniel Ramos, Conan Moriarty and Enric Gabarró, Picker offers a curated marketplace that enables you to discover and buy products based on the recommendations of influencers, friends or the wider Picker community. The iOS and Android app is currently live in Spain, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

“We live in a world where buying online is an overcrowded experience, [and] good products are hidden under a mountain of junk,” says CEO Enric Gabarró, who previously worked at Zalando and has a background in influencer marketing. “Try searching for a camera on the biggest seller online, you will get more than 200,000 results. Which one is the best for you? It is impossible to know; reviews are anonymous and not related to you. As I always say, Picker is for finding the best products for you, because one trusted person beats 500 reviews”.

More broadly, Gabarró believes that “empowering good products” by sharing them with our friends, family and communities is the best way to save money and the planet, while also “supporting responsible and good manufacturers and helping our loved ones”. Or, as the company likes to say, “stop buying more, buy better”.

With that said, Picker users appear to be buying quite a lot of stuff, regardless, with the startup disclosing that it is on track to generate over €2 million in sales globally this year. Further country launches are also underway.

“We make money since the very first day,” says Gabarró, before explaining that the company has partnerships with various brands, e-commerce sites, marketplaces and resellers, and receives a cut on every sale. He tells me that brands are also interested in running campaigns together with its users, although this is something Picker is only just testing.

“Our main customers are women above 25 years old, [who are] super interested in decoration, makeup and stuff for the kids,” he adds. “We also have super niche categories where people share their favourite startup books, gardening stuff, favourite whiskeys, the hammers and screwdrivers for the backyard or even sexual toys”.

(Gabarró reveals that Spain saw a big increase in orders of sex toys during quarantine, while in Germany there was a big increase in DIY equipment during the same time period. Just shows there’s more than one way to get busy.)

Meanwhile, competitors are cited as Pinduoduo in Asia, which is more focused on discounts, and a few smaller players emerging in Europe. And of course there’s Instagram and Pinterest.

“We believe their core as a social media platform focused on making money with advertising (average time spent) offers us the big possibility of creating something new with a completely different approach based on purchase rather than advertising,” says the Picker CEO. “We are 100% aligned with the users, we want them to enter the app, find the product they want to buy or share and then leave the platform. We want to help them find the best fit for them as fast as possible without being addicted to our platform. Our focus on discovering products with social leverage is the key differentiator”.

2 Kindred Capital partners discuss the firm’s focus and equitable venture model

Kindred Capital, the London-based VC that backs early-stage founders in Europe and Israel, recently closed its second seed fund at £81 million.

Out if its first fund raised in 2018, the firm has backed 29 companies. They include Five, which is building software for autonomous vehicles; Paddle, SaaS for software e-commerce; Pollen, a peer-to-peer marketplace for experiences and travel; and Farewill, which lets users create a will online.

However, what sets Kindred apart from most other seed VCs is its “equitable venture” model that sees the founders it backs get carry in the fund, effectively becoming co-owners of Kindred. Once the VC’s LPs have their investment returned, along with the firm’s partners, the portfolio founders share any subsequent fund profits.

To learn more about Kindred’s investment focus going forward and how its equitable venture model works in practice, I caught up with partners Leila Rastegar Zegna and Chrys Chrysanthou. We also discussed closing deals remotely and how the VC approaches diversity and inclusion.

TechCrunch: Kindred Capital backs seed-stage startups across Europe and in Israel. Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit, such as sector or specific technologies, and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Rastegar Zegna: As a fund, we are very focused on the founder(s), so everything starts there. We try to drill down and get to know them as people and leaders, first and foremost. Do they have what it takes to get the company off the ground, the resilience to get through the inevitable ups and downs of startup life and through the scaling years to make this a massive outcome for the team and the investors?

The second element we spend time thinking about is the market itself and how big the company can grow within the constraints of that market. We also think deeply about the timing of the business, especially if they are trying to create a new market, such as in quantum computing, for example.

Chrysanthou: It’s also worth mentioning that many investors talk about product-market fit, but we are also great believers in founder-market fit. In other words, a founder who might be successful in one market, might well fail in another, as different skills are required and even different personality types might be better suited. One way we assess this is to look for deep insights they have to the problem they’re trying to solve and how they think about their market.

After that, we are fairly sector-agnostic, which is why we have such a diverse portfolio, ranging from consumer products through to deep science.

How has the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns and social distancing affected the way you source and close deals?

Rastegar Zegna: Initially, we moved everything to video calls, like pretty much everyone else in the industry. Upon reflection, however, we realized that we were just using a new tool (e.g. Zoom) but in the old way — meaning, any meeting we used to have at Kindred HQ, we just transitioned onto Zoom. The interesting transition we’re going through now is to create a new way of working around the tool. That means for some meetings, Zoom will be the most effective medium of communication. For others it may be an audio call, and for a third category of discussion, a walking meeting in the park may be what’s called for. But the opportunity is to throw out the playbook written by inertia and generally accepted industry working norms, and create a first principles approach to the way in which we do business to optimize for the best outcome.

Paired picks up $1M funding and launches its relationship app for couples

Paired, a new app for couples, is launching today and disclosing $1 million in funding. Backing the startup, which wants to support “happier and healthier” relationships, is Taavet Hinrikus of TransferWise, the co-founders of Runtastic (which was sold to Adidas), Ed Cooke of Memrise and Bernhard Niesner of Busuu.

Founded in September 2019 by Kevin Shanahan and Diego López, who previously worked together at language learning app Memrise, and joined shortly afterwards by Chief Relationships Officer Dr Jacqui Gabb, who is Professor of Sociology and Intimacy at The Open University, Paired combines audio tips from experts with “fun daily questions and quizzes” that partners answer together.

The app has been piloted (and iterated) in Australia for the last six months and is pitched as different to traditional couples therapy, which is often prescribed to couples in distress, in that it is targeting the “full spectrum” of couples who want help building intimacy and improving communication. The idea is that Paired can provide the steps needed by couples to improve their relationship each day.

Available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, Paired is free to download but requires a subscription to unlock the full library of content.

“Our relationship with our partner is one of the most important parts of our lives: it affects our physical health, our mental health, and the lives of our children,” says Kevin Shanahan, co-founder and CEO. “However, there aren’t many solutions to help couples keep their relationship healthy. Most are designed for couples in distress”.

Image Credits: Paired

Shanahan says that Paired prompts you and your partner to take “small, positive steps” to improve your relationship. To do this, the startup works with relationship academics and therapists to create quizzes, audio courses, and tips that “help you to learn more about each other, resolve conflict, and build intimacy”.

Experts collaborating with Paired include University of Washington Professor and Married at First Sight USA’s Dr. Pepper Schwartz, University of Exeter academics Mark Rivett and Hannah Sherbersky, and Oakland University Professor and Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Terri Orbuch.

After downloading Paired, you’re asked if you’d like to pair with your partner to swap answers. To enable this, you’re given a unique code to share. Alternatively, you can choose to pair later or just use the app by yourself.

“Each day we then prompt you to answer either a question or quiz,” explains Shanahan. “These rotate between different areas of your relationship so you can learn which areas are strong and which have room for growth. If you’re paired with your partner, then when they answer the quiz or question you can unlock each other’s answer and discuss them together.

“In parallel, you begin listening to (and will soon be able to read) audio courses and tips that are presented by top relationship academics and therapists. These are on a range of topics — including sex and intimacy, managing conflict, and parenting — and include couple case studies to learn from and exercises to do outside of the app”.

Shanahan describes Paired’s user base as quite broad, made up of new couples, some who have been together for a long time, long-distance couples and people using the app individually. The majority are aged 30-50 and use the app with their partner.

“Each day they typically use the app for about 5 minutes and (based on anecdotal feedback) discuss their answers outside of the app for another 5 minutes or so,” says the Paired CEO.

Blossom Capital appoints Carmen Alfonso Rico as its newest partner

Blossom Capital, the early-stage venture capital firm founded by Ophelia Brown, has recruited its latest partner: Carmen Alfonso Rico has joined from Samaipata VC, where she led the U.K. office. Before that she was at Felix Capital and is also a co-founder of the London outpost of “community-driven” VC, The Fund.

During her time at Felix Capital and Samaipata, Alfonso Rico is said to have sourced and invested in a number of promising European startups, such as virtual events platform Hopin, food delivery platform Deliveroo, networking app Peanut and D2C stationary brand Papier.

She’s also been an entrepreneur herself, having founded two companies, both with limited success but plenty of learnings. Vinpho was a Spanish crowdsourced journalism platform (you can read the early pitch deck here), and Reconnect was a U.K.-based direct-to-consumer lifestyle and fashion brand for pregnant women.

“It actually came about quite unexpectedly,” Alfonso Rico tells me on a call discussing her latest career move. “Ophelia and I like to joke now that it was almost like generating a deal and when founders are not looking to raise because I was not looking to move at all… We had breakfast and discussed Blossom and I very quickly realised that Blossom was a very, very interesting platform and that it had a lot of the kind of deal-making mindset that I was looking for”.

That’s a partial reference to the firm’s “high conviction” investing pitch, which sees the Series A and sometimes seed investor back fewer companies by writing larger cheques. Alfonso Rico says she was also attracted to the way Blossom is structured, being an all-partner firm where investments are worked on together and one that it isn’t particularly thesis-driven with regards to sectors or geography, unlike much of her previous VC experience. And, of course, there’s Brown’s own ambition.

“I think you know Ophelia [Brown], she is quite bold and very hungry and I think she projects that into Blossom,” says Alfonso Rico. “I immediately got very interested but we did take a lot of time to get to know each other, we spent weeks discussing deals, we spent some time together, actually properly together, to just make sure that there was that personal fit. And at the end, it was kind of an obvious decision”.

Although Blossom’s partner team isn’t “strictly segmented,” in terms of individual focus areas, Alfonso Rico says her investing and entrepreneurial background includes consumer, where she has an established network and some “muscle [memory]” analysing consumer companies, and digital platforms and marketplaces, both B2C and B2B. She’s also long-been obsessed with the “power of communities” and how they can be leveraged to support the success of products and brands regardless of sector.

“Following that customer love, that power of the community, has led me to my best investments, and I plan on continuing down that path,” she adds.

Huboo, the ‘full stack’ fulfilment provider, picks up £14M Series A

Huboo, the U.K.-headquartered startup that offers an end-to-end fulfilment service for online retailers of all sizes, has raised £14 million in Series A funding.

The round is led by Stride.VC, with participation from Hearst Ventures. Existing investors, including Episode 1, Maersk Growth, Ada Ventures, and True Capital all followed on, bringing Huboo’s funding to £18 million to date.

Launched in November 2017 by Martin Bysh and Paul Dodd after the pair had run a number e-commerce experiments, Huboo aims to solve the fulfilment pain point that most online stores face. Using what it calls a “micro-warehousing” and a vertical software model, the full-stack service promises to store your stock, and then “pick, pack and deliver it” automatically as customer orders are placed.

The Huboo dashboard provides stock control, order tracking and billing information. It is also integrated with third-party sales channels and marketplaces, such as Amazon, eBay and Shopify. This enables Huboo to directly receive and process its customers’ orders in real-time.

The idea is that by “democratising” fulfilment, online shops can focus on the parts of the business where most value is added, such as customer service and choosing which products to develop and/or sell.

“The vast majority of independent retailers are currently moving online,” says Huboo CEO Martin Bysh. “The pandemic has provided the catalyst for a mass shift into multi-channel commerce over the next five years”.

In addition, he says the direct-to-consumer (D2C) “revolution” is rapidly gaining pace, “with a new breed of agile young D2C businesses bypassing conventional retail channels to engage directly with consumers”. At the same time, retail fulfilment is becoming more complex as customers continue to demand faster delivery times.

“The composition of supply chains is changing due to the pandemic, with retailers forced to pay more attention to where they’re sourcing their products and how to build more robust supply chains,” adds Bysh.

To that end, Huboo will use the new funding to support what its CEO describes as three strategic priorities: software development, U.K. expansion, and establishing an on-the-ground European presence as Brexit hardens.

This will see Huboo increase its software development team ten-fold in the next year to further expand the capabilities of its fulfilment software platform. To support client growth, the startup will also be opening a third U.K. warehouse in October 2020 with a fourth warehouse planned to open in January 2021.