HotelTonight, Slack stakeholder Accel stays on top with $2.5B fund

Invest early and stand by your bets. Don’t buy logos or chase unicorns. That’s the Accel philosophy. At 35 years old, it has served them well, bagging the firm dozens of high-profile exits, including nine IPOs and 12 acquisitions in the last four years.

Now, sources confirm to TechCrunch, the respected venture capital firm has nabbed $2.525 billion — its largest pool of capital yet — for three new funds: $525 million for its fourteenth early-stage fund, $1.5 billion for its fifth growth fund and $500 million for its second Leaders Fund, or a dedicated pool of capital meant to help the firm strengthen its positions on particularly competitive bets.

Accel, which operates offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, London and Bengaluru, is hot off the heels of a big exit. Its portfolio company HotelTonight, in which it was the very first institutional investor, is selling to Airbnb in what is the home-sharing company’s largest acquisition yet. The deal is said to be worth roughly $465 million, or just above the $463 million valuation the on-demand hotel booking application garnered with a $37 million Series E in 2017.

The firm can thank Brian O’Malley, now a general partner at Forerunner Ventures, for introducing Accel to HotelTonight back when he was a general partner at Battery Ventures in 2011. Accel and Battery co-led HotelTonight’s Series A, and O’Malley went on to become a partner at Accel. The firm subsequently invested in HotelTonight’s Series B, C, D and E financings, holding true to its promise to stand by its bets.

Today, Accel is the largest stakeholder in HotelTonight and can expect a decent payout in the coming months. Workplace messaging platform Slack, however, is Accel’s true portfolio standout. The company, worth more than $7 billion, is expected to go public this year. In February, the San Francisco-based unicorn filed confidentially with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to make its public market debut; whether that be via a traditional initial public offering or a direct listing, a newfangled approach to going public, is still up in the air.

Accel, at consumer technology investor Andrew Braccia’s recommendation, invested in Slack when it was still Tiny Speck, a seed-stage gaming startup that would go on to become an office necessity. When Tiny Speck pivoted to become Slack, the company’s chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield offered to pay back it’s Series A and B investors, including Accel. Braccia declined.

“The reason we invested in Tiny Speck was because we were investing in that team,” Braccia told TechCrunch in 2015. “I told Stewart, ‘if you want to continue to be an entrepreneur and build something, then I’m with you.’ ”

Now owning a roughly 20 percent stake in Slack, Braccia’s faith in Butterfield will result in a billion-dollar payday for the firm.

Some other high-profile wins for Accel include Qualtrics, which famously accepted an $8 billion acquisition offer hours before completing a Nasdaq IPO. According to Qualtrics’ IPO paperwork, Accel owned a stake worth more than $1 billion. PagerDuty, which is said to have confidentially filed in January, and CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity business that reportedly hired banks for its IPO last fall, are among Accels’ upcoming exits.

Since Accel’s 2016 fundraise got them a fresh $2 billion to invest in startups, the decades-old firm has nabbed some younger talent to help it navigate an inevitable generational transition. Shortly after that fund announcement, Accel added principals Amit Kumar and Steve Loughlin, a pair of co-founders of Accel portfolio companies CardSpring and RelateIQ, respectively. In 2018, the firm hired Maya Noeth as a principal to lead its consumer growth investments, Ethan Choi to back startups in the enterprise and consumer-subscription spaces and Cherry Miao as a vice president focused on growth-stage companies. 

Its newest cohort of dealmakers — poised to become partners down the line — indicates Accel is conscious of an impending generational transition and prepared for the older investors to pass the baton to the younger folk.

Accel is among several incumbent venture funds to raise money from limited partners in the last year. Bessemer Venture Partners, one of the oldest players in the game, closed on $1.85 billion for its tenth flagship fund in October; Insight Venture Partners brought in $6.3 billion in July; Kleiner Perkins raised $600 million for its eighteenth early-stage fund in late January; and Menlo Ventures grabbed $500 million for Series B and C rounds in February. Other outfits, NEA for example, are in the process of closing up big, big funds.

At a time when nouveau venture funds are raising funds equipped with innovative investment strategies and young teams, Accel and some of its counterparts are proving old dogs can learn new tricks — or, at least, continue to lead the pack with no new tricks at all. 

Omidyar Network spins out its fintech investment arm as Flourish, with up to $300 million

After 12 years spent investing in impact-oriented financial services startups around the globe, the Omidyar Network, which serves as the family investment office for eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is spinning off its financial inclusion investment arm as Flourish Ventures.

Equipped with up to $300 million in capital for operations and investments, the new Flourish will continue to invest around the Network’s core mission of backing companies with a dual focus of making a social impact and achieving quality financial returns.

Already, the new firm is one of the most active financial services investors globally, according to a report from FT Partners.

This double-bottom line approach has already yielded results for the company.

“After 10 or 12 years with people becoming more broadly interested in the impact investment space, we had an opportunity to reinvent ourselves,” says Tilman Ehrbeck, a managing partner at the newly independent Flourish.

Flourish is actually the third spin-out from Omidyar Network’s investment and philanthropic arms. Two years ago, Omidyar spun out its U.S. emerging technology initiative as Spero, and last year launched a governance and citizen engagement-focused group called Luminate.

Now the organization, financed by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, will launch Flourish as the latest independent entity.

“We feel that we are the right team at the right place at the right time,” says Ehrbeck.

Flourish, he says, is launching into a financial services environment that looks far different than it did when the Omidyar Network first identified financial services and inclusion as a focus area for its operations.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, financial services organizations indicated that they could not, or would not, deliver necessary access to consumers and small businesses. There was an erosion of trust, says Ehrbeck, and against a backdrop of stagnating wages and the changing nature of work, low and middle-income consumers and would-be entrepreneurs in emerging and established financial markets need all the help they can get.

Indeed, an entire generation of entrepreneur is leveraging a slew of technologies, from blockchain to the platforms that Omidyar Network has helped create through its earliest investments in the market.

That includes companies like Lenddo, an online lender using alternative sources of social media data to determine the creditworthiness of applicants raised its first institutional capital in 2012 with capital from investors, including the Omidyar Network. That investment and the company’s subsequent merger with another Omidyar Network company, EFL, is indicative of the formative role that Omidyar — and now Flourish — can play in the growth of a business.

We knew each other for three years. As we were looking to identify and scale we started to look at where there synergistic opportunities between smaller companies and could we put something together that would allow us to grow,” says Lenddo chief executive Richard Eldridge. 

That scaling has paid off in Lenddo’s expansion into more markets and a more robust product offering.

Stories like those repeat across the Flourish portfolio of companies, and speak to the kind of value the company provides to portfolio companies, said Eldridge.

Indeed, Flourish’s global portfolio holds at least 40 fintech companies helping low and middle-income households and small businesses. From challenger banks like Chime, Aspiration, Neon, Albo and Tez; to insurance technology companies like MicroEnsure and Kin; and asset optimization tools, including United Income and Scripbox.

Given the explosion of interest in financial services offerings across challenger banks and through insurance technology offerings, Ehrbeck said it was a no-brainer for the company to spin out, focus and potentially expand.

With the spin-off, Flourish is taking the existent $200 million portfolio the team had built at Omidyar and expanding that with the additional capital commitment from the Omidyar Group.

The firm is also starting to realize its first exits. The firm realized a 3x return on its investment in Asian Networks and has had another exit in the sale of Ruma to Go-Jek.

“It’s a carve out of a successful team that has momentum and that Pierre wants to double down on,” Ehrbeck says. “What’s carved out is the existing portfolio and a commitment to fund the next wave. The reason the number has a flexibility. Pierre gives us the capital we think we can deploy against opportunity.”

Flourish will do more than commit capital to financial services startups. It also has the opportunity to provide grants and encourage research around financial inclusion.

Some recent work from the firm included the financing of a study of 240 households called the U.S. Financial Diaries, which provided hard data around the illness that pervades a large swath of the U.S. population.

Investments from Flourish will fall into similar buckets as the firm’s previous operations under the umbrella of the Omidyar Network. Including alternative credit, challenger banks, insurance technologies and low-cost digital infrastructures that can level the playing field for financial services providers. 

“We find a gap in the system and try to fill it and improve it,” says Arjuna Costa, another partner on the new Flourish team coming over from Omidyar’s financial services group. 

“We have the impact of companies scaling and reaching and serving people and led to replicators and competitors and widespread adoption,” Costa says.

Lenddo and its credit-scoring business is a perfect example of the trend, according to Costa.

We started investing behind a number of companies that were coming up with using nontraditional data sets to try and score people,” he said. “We picked different data sets… we invested in the pioneering company using mobile payment data, the pioneering company using social media data, and the pioneering company using psychometric data.”

As those companies gained traction and new customers, proving the market demand, Omidyar’s investments could scale to higher value offerings around financial services.

“Initially talking about those deals other people in the industry looked at us and said that you’re nuts. And now it’s become the table stakes if you’re getting into lending,” Costa says. “After building this digital infrastructure to enable credit… now there’s version two and version three of the infrastructure that’s coming up.”

Those higher value services are things like the agricultural lending business Rose Goslinga has launched for farmers in Africa.

“We bootstrapped our business for the first two years. They were the largest investor in our seed round,” Goslinga says of the Flourish commitment to her company, Pula Advisors

“Omidyar is extremely well-known in the financial inclusion space. They had the first investment in micro-insurance 10 or 15 years ago. They are really seen as the blue chip of financial or insurtech investors,” Goslinga said. 

With their investment, it validated Goslinga’s attempt to provide credit and working capital loans to small farmers.

“We had quite a number of clients at that point but we didn’t have any kind of institutional or financial investors at that point,” Goslinga says. “It was a stamp of approval for a lot of people later in.”

In mature markets like the U.S., Flourish’s approach is bit more nuanced, to serve a market with significant inefficiencies and baseline inequality, but one where the disparities manifest in different ways.

That’s why Flourish has gravitated toward businesses like Aspiration, which helps people bank more ethically — promoting sustainable investment portfolios and offering pay-your-own-fee for services; and Propel, which helps American consumers manage their public assistance benefits.

“At the highest level we look at the same criteria, we care about financial health and technology to promote financial health,” says Emmalyn Shaw, a partner managing the firm’s U.S. portfolio. “The U.S. as a more mature market tends to be a lot more competitive.”

Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invests $92M in Ola

The money is starting to flow from India’s largest startup exit. Ola has added a major name to its ongoing financing round after it confirmed that Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal has invested 650 crore INR (around $92 million) into the Indian ride-hailing business.

The deal rumored in January when Paper.vc, an intelligence service that sifts through company filings in India, noticed that Bansal had committed to investing 150 crore. Today, eight-year-old Ola not only confirmed the pairing, but it revealed that the actual size of Bansal’s investment is significantly higher. It represents his most prominent and largest investment to date, and his first major deal since he left Flipkart following its sale to Walmart for $16 billion last year.

An Ola spokesperson confirmed that Bansal will not take an advisory role nor will he be involved in operations.

The investment is part of an ongoing Series J round of financing that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola, which competes fiercely with Uber in India, at around $6 billion. Bansal’s commitment comes a month after existing investor Steadview Capital put $75 million towards the round.

Here’s what Bansal — who started Flipkart with co-founder Binny Bansal in 2007 — had to say on the deal:

Ola is one of India’s most promising consumer businesses, that is creating deep impact and lasting value for the ecosystem. On one hand, they have emerged as a global force in the mobility space and on the other, they continue to build deeper for various needs of a billion Indians through their platform, becoming a trusted household name today.

I have known Bhavish as an entrepreneur and as a friend over these years and I have great respect for what he and the team at Ola have built in just 8 years! I am personally thrilled to be part of the Ola journey and I look forward to contributing to their success.

Aggarwal, Ola’s CEO, in turn, lauded Bansal as “an icon of entrepreneurship.”

“His investment is a huge encouragement for all of us at Ola and our mission to serve a billion people,” he said in a statement. “I personally look forward to learning from Sachin’s journey, his mentorship and guidance, as we look to build one of the most impactful global businesses out of India.”

Ola is locked in a dog fight with Uber, which has made India its highest priority market outside of the U.S. Uber started slowly in India, but it is pushing hard in the country having opened a dedicated local R&D center and hired a country management team that operates outside of the rest of its Asia Pacific business.

To battle its U.S. rival, Ola has expanded nationwide to cover over 100 cities and towns. It has also expanded beyond just cars, developed its own mobile money service, invested in other startups and pushed other strategies to appeal to local customers.

Flipkart’s exit money may be moving back into the ecosystem, but the company is running without the two men who founded it. Sachin Bansal left around the time of the deal while Binny Bansal (the two are not related) resigned following an incident of “serious personal misconduct” just months after the Walmart acquisition was finalized.

Binny has set up a fund — expect to see more Walmart capital flowing back into Indian startups — but his newest project is a venture aimed at helping India’s most promising founders to scale their businesses.

Healthcare wearables level up with new moves from Apple and Alphabet

Announcements that Apple has partnered with Aetna health insurance on a new app leveraging data from its Apple Watch and reports that Verily — one of the health-focused subsidiaries of Google‘s parent company — Alphabet, is developing a shoe that can detect weight and movement, indicate increasing momentum around using data from wearables for clinical health applications and treatments.

For venture capital investors, the movea from Apple and Alphabet to show new applications for wearable devices is a step in the right direction — and something that’s been long overdue.

“As a healthcare provider, we talk a lot about the important of preventative medicine, but the US healthcare system doesn’t have the right incentives in place to pay for it,” writes Cameron Sepah, an entrepreneur in residence at Trinity Ventures. “Since large employers largely pay for health care (outside of Medicaid and Medicare), they usually aren’t incentivized to pay for prevention, since employees don’t stay long enough for them to incur the long-term costs of health behaviors. So most startups in this space end up becoming an expendable wellness perk for companies. However, if an insurer like Aetna keeps its members long enough, there’s better alignment for disseminating this app.”

Sepah sees broader implications for the tie ups between health insurers and the tech companies making all sorts of devices to detect and diagnose conditions.

“Most patients relationship with their insurer is just getting paper bills/notifications in the mail, with terrible customer satisfaction (NPS) across the board,” Sepah wrote in an email. “But when there’s a way to build a closer relationship through a device that sits on your wrist, it opens possibilities to partner with other health tech startups that can notify patients when they are having mental health issues before they even recognize it (e.g. Mindstrong); or when they should get treatment for hypertension or sleep apnea (e.g. Cardiogram); or leverage their data into a digital chronic disease treatment program (e.g. Omada Health).”

Aetna isn’t the first insurer to tie Apple Watch data to their policies. In September 2018, John Hancock launched the Vitality program, which also gave users discounts on the latest Apple Watch if they linked it with John Hancock’s app. The company also gave out rewards if users changed their behavior around diet and exercise.

In a study conducted by Rand Europe of 400,000 people in the U.S., the U.K., and South Africa, research showed that users who wore an Apple Watch and participated in the Vitality benefits program averaged a 34 percent increase in physical activity compared to patients without the Apple Watch. It equated to roughly 5 extra days of working out per month.

“[It will] be interesting to see how CVS/Apple deal unfolds. Personalized health guidance based on a combination of individual medical records and real time wearable data is a huge and worthy goal,” wrote Greg Yap, a partner at the venture capital firm, Menlo Ventures . But, Yap wrote,I’m skeptical their first generation app will have enough data or training to deliver value to a broad population, but we’re likely to see some anecdotal benefits, and I find that worthwhile.”

Meanwhile the types of devices that record consumer health information are proliferating — thanks in no small part to Verily.

With the company reportedly working to co-develop shoes with sensors that monitor users’ movement and weight, according to CNBC, Verily is expanding its portfolio of connected devices for health monitoring and management. The company already has a watch that monitors certain patient data — including an FDA approved electrocardiogram — and is developing technologies to track diabetes-related eye disease in patients alongside smart lenses for cataract recovery.

It’s part of a broader push from technology companies to tie themselves closer to consumer health as they look to seize a part of the nearly $3 trillion healthcare industry.

If more data can be collected from wearable devices (or consumer behavior) and then monitored in a consistent fashion, tech companies ideally could suggest interventions faster and provide lower cost treatments to help avoid the need for urgent or emergency care.

These “top of the funnel” communications and monitoring services from tech companies could conceivably divert users and future healthcare patients into an alternative system that is potentially lower-cost with more of a focus on outcomes than on the volume of care and number of treatments prescribed.

Not all physicians are convinced that the use of persistent monitoring will result in better care. Dr. John Ioannidis, a celebrated professor from Stanford University, is skeptical about the utility of monitoring without a better understanding of what the data actually reveals.

“Information is good for you provided you know what it means. For much of that information we have no clue what it means. We have absolutely no idea what to do with it other than creating more anxiety,” Dr. Ioannidis said

The goal is to provide personalized guidance where machine learning can be used to identify problems and come up in concert with established therapeutic practices, according to investors who back life sciences starups.

“I think startups like Omada, Livongo, Lark, Vida, Virta, and others, can work and are already working on this overall vision of combining real time and personal historical data to deliver personalized guidance. But to be successful, startups need to be more narrowly focused and deliver improved outcomes and financial benefits right away,” according to Yap.

 

Starting with data centers, Carbon Relay is slashing energy costs and emissions using AI

Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn International is backing Carbon Relay, a Boston-based startup emerging from stealth today, that’s harnessing the algorithms used by companies like Facebook and Google for artificial intelligence to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the technology industry’s own backyard — the datacenter.

Already, the computing demands of the technology industry are responsible for 3% of total energy consumption — and the addition of new technologies like Bitcoin to the mix could add another half a percent to that figure within the next few years, according to Carbon Relay’s chief executive, Matt Provo.

That’s $25 billion in spending on energy per year across the industry, Provo says.

A former Apple employee, Provo went to Harvard Business School because he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur and start his own business — and he wanted that business to solve a meaningful problem, he said.

Variability and dynamic nature of the data center relating to thermodynamics and the makeup of  a facility or building is interesting for AI because humans can’t keep up..

“We knew what we wanted to focus on,” said Provo of himself and his two co-founders. “All three of us have an environmental sciences background as well… We were fired up about building something that was true AI that has positive value… the risk associated [with climate change] is going to hit in our lifetime we were very inspired to build a company whose technology would have an impact on that.”

Carbon Relay’s mission and founding team including Thibaut Perol and John Platt (two Harvard graduates with doctorates in applied mathematics) was able to attract some big backers.

The company has raised $6 million from industry giants like Foxconn and Boston-based angel investors including Dr. James Cash — a director on the boards of Walmart, Microsoft, GE, and State Street; Black Duck Software founder, Douglas Levin; Karim Lakhani, a director on the Mozilla Corporation board; and Paul Deninger, a director on the board of the building operations management company, Resideo (formerly Honeywell).

Provo and his team didn’t just raise the money to tackle data centers — and Foxconn’s involvement hints at the company’s broader goals. “My vision is that commercial HVAC systems or any machinery that operates in a business would not ship without our intelligence inside of it,” says Provo.

What’s more compelling is that the company’s technology works without exposing the underlying business to significant security risks, Provo says.

“In the end all we’re doing are sending these floats… these values. These values are mathematical directions for the actions that need to be taken,” he says. 

Carbon Relay is already profitable, generating $4 million in revenue last year and on track for another year of steady growth, according to Provo.

Carbon Relay offers two products: Optimize and Predict, that gather information from existing HVAC devices and then control those systems continuously and automatically with continuous decision making.

“Each data center is unique and enormously complex, requiring its own approach to managing energy use over time,” said Cash, who’s serving as the company’s chairman. “The Carbon Relay team is comprised of people who are passionate about creating a solution that will adapt to the needs of every large data center, creating a tangible and rapid impact on the way these organizations do business.”

Entrepreneur First eyes further Asia growth to build its global network of founders

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed.

The Entrepreneur First program is billed as a “talent investor.” It matches prospective founders and, through an accelerator program, it encourages them to start and build companies which it backs with financing. The organization started out in London in 2011, and today it is also present in Paris and Berlin in Europe and, in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Bangalore. To date, it says it has graduated over 1,200 founders who have created more than 200 companies, estimated at a cumulative $1.5 billion on paper.

Those six cities cover a spread of unique cultures — both in general life and startup ecosystems — but, despite that, co-founder Matthew Clifford believes there’s actually many commonalities between among its global founder base.

“It’s really striking to me how little adjustment of the model has been necessary to make it work in each location,” Clifford — who started EF with Alice Bentinck — told TechCrunch in an interview. “The outliers in each country have more in common with each other and their fellow compatriots… we’re uncovering this global community of outliers.”

Despite the common traits, EF’s Asia expansion has added a new dimension to the program after it announced a tie-in with HAX, one of the world’s best-known hardware-focused accelerator programs, that will see the duo co-invest in hardware startups via a new joint program.

“We saw early that hardware was a much more viable part of the market in Asia than it is traditionally seen in Europe [and] needed a partner to accelerate the talent,” Clifford said.

Already, the first four beneficiaries of that partnership have been announced — AIMS, BOPSIN, Neptune Robotics and SEPPURE — each of which graduated the first EF cohort in Hong Kong, its fourth in Asia so far. Going forward, Clifford expects that around three to five startups from each batch will move from EF into the joint initiative with HAX. The program covers Asia first but it is slated to expand to EF’s European sites “soon.”

Entrepreneur First held its first investor day in Hong Kong this month

Another impending expansion is EF’s first foray into India via Bangalore which starts this month, and there could be other new launches in 2019.

“We’ll continue to grow by adding sites but we are not in a rush,” Clifford said. “The most important thing is retraining quality of talent. It may be six months until we add another site in Asia but there’s no shortage of places we think it will work.

“We operate a single global fund,” he added. “We’re a talent investor and we believe there are strong network effects in that. The people who back us are really betting on the model… [that it’s] an asset class with great returns.

While it appears that its global expansion drive is a little more gradual than what was previously envisaged — backer and board member Reid Hoffman told TechCrunch in 2016 that he could imagine it in 50 cities — Clifford said EF isn’t raising more capital presently. That previous investment coupled with management fees is enough fuel in the tank, he said. The organization also operates a follow-on fund but it has one major exit to date, Pony Technology, the AI startup bought by Twitter for a reported $150 million.

Still, with hundreds of companies in the world with EF on the cap table, Clifford said he is bullish that his organization can target an international-minded breed of entrepreneur worldwide. The impact he sees is one that will work regardless of any local constraints placed on them.

“With our global network of capital, we always want capital, not talent, to be the limiting factor. Our goal is to make being ‘an EF company’ more relevant to your identity as a startup regardless of your location,” he told TechCrunch

Backing Culture Genesis, T.I. launches Tech Cypha, an investment syndicate for tech deals

With an inaugural investment into the Los Angeles-based entertainment startup Culture Genesis, Clifford Harris Jr., who’s better known as “T.I.”, has launched a new syndicated investment vehicle called Tech Cypha.

Launched by the music and cultural impresario with more hustle than hustle and his business partner Jason Geter, the new collaborative investment strategy focused on tech startups will allow high-net-worth individuals to participate in deals.

The strategy has evolved since Geter and Harris made their first investment 12 years ago into a company called Streetcred.com, a site that allowed fans to go online and share opinions about street culture. While that first deal didn’t work out, Geter and Harris both remained interested in the technology and startup scene and saw a new opportunity to leverage their networks and promote new businesses.

“We learned a lot,” says Harris. “Now we know where our demographic is.”

For Geter, that demographic is taking advantage of Atlanta’s surging position as a cultural and technological mecca in the United States. Indeed, Atlanta-area startups raised roughly $1.15 billion in 2018, a record for the region, according to data from PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association.

“Being in the city of Atlanta and with Georgia Tech producing so much talent, and coming from us being within the hip-hop culture, which is always influencing and promoting things, we saw an opportunity,” says Geter. “In the past, we were always looking through the glass window and looking at ways we can participate earlier. And that’s by coming together to pool our resources so we can invest more.”

Harris and Geter aren’t the first hip-hop entrepreneurs to branch out into tech investment.

Calvin Broadus Jr. (better known as Snoop Dogg) closed a $45 million investment fund last year; Sean Carter, or “Jay-Z” launched Marcy Venture Partners; the Chamillionaire, Hakeem Seriki, is an entrepreneur in residence at the LA-based firm Upfront Ventures and has his own app; and Nas, who founded Queensbridge Venture Partners, recently saw an exit when one of his companies, PillPack, was sold to Amazon for around $750 million.

“We are a group of guys and girls who’ve been doing business together over time. While we’ve been doing just fine on our own we thought that if we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and pool our resources together we could do much more together than on our own,” says Harris.

Investors and entrepreneurs should think of Tech Cypha as an open-ended investment syndicate — like a rap version of SV Angels out of Silicon Valley.

“It’s people around our constituency who wake up knowing that there is dealing to be done,” says Geter.

While the Culture Genesis crew out of Los Angeles may seem slightly out of the Atlanta-based wheelhouse for Tech Cypha, the company’s co-founder Cedric Rogers spent a lot of time in Atlanta.

“I lived in Atlanta for many years and [Geter] and I have grown a relationship over seven years,” says Rogers. “I’m excited to work with these guys.”

For Harris, the opposite of moderate, immaculately polished with the spirit of a hustler and the swagger of a college kid, the investment into Culture Genesis is indicative of the type of deal that the syndicate will make. It’s got a media component, it’s leveraging new technology and it taps into the incredibly tech-forward community that comprises the rising middle class audience of urban (for lack of a better word) consumers.

Now the only question is whether Harris and Geter can find out what’s up and what’s happening next.

Contabilizei raises $20 million to ease Brazilians’ tax pain

Online tax filing and accounting service, Contabilizei, has raised $20 million in a new round of financing led by Point72 Ventures, the early stage investment arm associated with hedge fund guru Steven Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management.

Smart money in both the venture and private equity space has been long Brazil for a bit, and the new investment provides even more firepower to the thesis that Brazil’s startup ecosystem is on the move.

“For the Brazilian ecosystem, the investment represents the trust and the opportunity that we have here in the Brazilian market. For quite some time it was difficult to attract this kind of investment from abroad,” says Contabilizei chief executive Vitor Torres. Even though we had a recession there are technology companies that are growing,” Torres says, saying that the company has already staved off acquisition offers and will eventually eye a potential public offering in U.S. or domestic markets.

Though it was only founded five years ago, the company already has 200 employees and more than 10,000 customers throughout Brazil.

Contabilizei has already audited more than 2 billion reals in customer revenue and saved its users over 500 million reals in taxes. For new companies, Contabilizei will also offer free business registration and formation filings. So far, the company has helped 5,000 new businesses get their paperwork done around the country.

“In Brazil, one of the greatest frictions for a small company is meeting its tax reporting requirements,” said Pete Casella, Head of Fintech & Financial Services Investments at Point72 Ventures. “By building an automated tax accounting service that can deliver services at a fraction of the cost of a traditional accountant, we believe that Contabilizei has established the high trust relationships that will enable it to serve customers in many new ways over the coming years.”

New investors also contributed to the round including the International Financial Corp., an investment arm of the The World Bank, and Quona Capital, Quadrant, and the Fintech Collective. They joined existing company backers Kaszek Ventures, e.Bricks, Endeavor Catalyst, and Curitiba Angels.

“Our goal is to simplify the entrepreneur’s routine so they can focus on their own business and not on bureaucracy. We are only at the beginning, and in three years we want to grow 15 times more,” said Vitor Torres, chief executiver and founder of Contabilizei, in a statement. “We were pioneers in the debureaucratization of accounting in the country and we managed to do it with a quality that surpasses 98% of our customers’ satisfaction.”

A photo of an egg has toppled reality star Kylie Jenner as Instagram’s most-liked post

Instagram has found something it likes more than a Kardashian-Jenner family baby, and it’s an egg.

This weekend, a photo of a plain egg became the most-liked photo on Instagram, the social app owned by Facebook with over one billion users that’s reflective of internet culture.

The photo, which you can see below in its full glory, currently has more than 23 million likes at the time of writing. That has seen it surpass a February 18 photo from Kylie Jenner — the sister of Kim Kardashian and a reality TV star in her own right — which announced the birth of her baby with rapper Travis Scott and has 18.2 million likes.

Unlike Jenner, who has 21 million Instagram followers, the egg account — “world_record_egg” — is a newcomer that seems to have been created in early January. Nothing is known of its ownership, although it now has 2.4 million followers which could — and I can’t believe I’m writing this… — make it an influencer account.

While much can be said about Jenner’s rise to fame, she’s a pretty successful entrepreneur. Her two-year-old ‘Kylie Cosmetics’ brand is estimated to gross over $600 million in annual revenue. While it is funny that a photo of an egg can take the record on Instagram there might be more to it. Jenner’s company trades on her brand, the egg could be a rejection or protest of today’s reality TV culture… which is best embodied by the Kardashians and, in particular, Kylie Jenner. That certainly seems the case looking at the splurge in new and egg-related comments on Jenner’s birth post from last year.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking and this is just another internet phenomenon that can’t be explained. It could simply be a joke that blew up, but don’t discount the potential that this is a stunt from a company launching a new product or wanting to make a splash.

Showing that she might have a sense of humor, 21-year-old Jenner acknowledged the new record in a video of her smashing an egg.

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Take that little egg

A post shared by Kylie (@kyliejenner) on

This is the second social media record set this year after Twitter got a new most-retweeted tweet — however, the roles were very much different.

Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who is paying Elon Musk’s SpaceX for a trip to the moon, saw a tweet that offered nearly $1 million in prize money for retweets surpass a true internet phenomenon, U.S. teen Carter Wilkerson. Back in April 2017, Wilkerson took to Twitter to plead for free chicken nuggets; his original tweet now has around 3.6 million retweets.

Why Silicon Valley needs more visas

When I hear protesters shout, “Immigrants are welcome here!” at the San Francisco immigration office near my startup’s headquarters, I think about how simple a phrase that is for a topic that is so nuanced, especially for me as an immigrant entrepreneur.

Growing up in Brazil, I am less familiar with the nuances of the American debate on immigration legislation, but I know that immigrants here add a lot of jobs and stimulate the local economy. As an immigrant entrepreneur, I’ve tried to check all of those boxes, and really prove my value to this country.

My tech startup Brex has achieved a lot in a short period of time, a feat which is underscored by receiving a $1 billion dollar valuation in just one year. But we didn’t achieve that high level of growth in spite of being founded by immigrants, but because of it. The key to our growth and to working towards building a global brand is our international talent pool, without it, we could never have gotten to where we are today.

So beyond Brex, what do the most successful Silicon Valley startups have in common? They’re also run by immigrants. In fact, not only are 57% of the Bay Area’s STEM tech workers immigrants, they also make up 25% of business founders in the US. You can trace the immigrant entrepreneurial streak in Silicon Valley from the founders of SUN Microsystems and Google to the Valley’s most notorious Twitter User, Tesla’s Elon Musk.

Immigrants not only built the first microchips in Silicon Valley, but they built these companies into the tech titans that they are known as today. After all, more than 50% of billion dollar startups are founded by immigrants, and many of those startups were founded by immigrants on H-1B visas.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/jvoves

While it might sound counterintuitive, immigrants create more jobs and make our economy stronger. Research from the National Foundation of American Policy (NFAP) has shown that immigrant-founded billion-dollar companies doubled their number of employees over the past two years. According to the research, “WeWork went from 1,200 to 6,000 employees between 2016 and 2018, Houzz increased from 800 to 1,800 employees the last two years, while Cloudflare went from 225 to 715 employees.”

We’ve seen the same growth at Brex. In just one year we hired 70 employees and invested over $6 million dollars in creating local jobs. Our startup is not alone, as Inc. recently reported, “50 immigrant-founded unicorn startups have a combined value of $248 billion, according to the report [by NFAP], and have created an average of 1,200 jobs each.”

One of the fundamental drivers of our success is our international workforce. Many of our key-hires are from all over Latin America, spanning from Uruguay to Mexico. In fact, 42% of our workforce is made up of immigrants and another 6% are made up of children of immigrants. Plenty of research shows that diverse teams are more productive and work together better, but that’s only part of the reason why you should bet on an international workforce. When you’re working with the best and brightest from every country, it inspires you to bring forth your most creative ideas, collaborate, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It motivates you to be your best.

With all of the positive contributions immigrants bring to this country, you’d think we’d have less restrictive immigration policies. However, that’s not the case. One of the biggest challenges that I face is hiring experienced, qualified engineers and designers to continue innovating in a fast-paced, competitive market.

This is a universal challenge in the tech industry. For the past 10 years, software engineers have been the #1 most difficult job to fill in the United States. Business owners are willing to pay 10-20 percent above the market rate for top talent and engineers. Yet, we’re still projected to have a shortage of two million engineering jobs in the US by 2022. How can you lead the charge of innovation if you don’t have the talent to do it?

What makes matters worse is that there are so few opportunities and types of visas for qualified immigrants. This is limiting job growth, knowledge-sharing, and technological breakthroughs in this country. And we risk losing top talent to other nations if we don’t loosen our restrictive visa laws.

H1-B visa applications fell this year, and at the same time, these visas have become harder to obtain and it has become more expensive to acquire international talent. This isn’t the time to abandon the international talent pool, but to invest in highly specialized workers that can give your startup a competitive advantage.

Already, there’s been a dramatic spike in engineering talent moving to Canada, with a 40% uptick in 2017. Toronto, Berlin, and Singapore are fastly becoming burgeoning tech hubs, and many fear (rightfully) that they will soon outpace the US in growth, talent, and developing the latest technologies.

This year, U.S. based tech companies generated $351 billion of revenue in 2018. The U.S. can’t afford to miss out on this huge revenue source. And, according to Harvard Business School Professor William R. Kerr and the author of The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society, “Today’s knowledge economy dictates that your ability to attract, develop, and integrate smart minds governs how prosperous you will be.”

Immigrants have made Silicon Valley the powerhouse that it is today, and severely limiting highly-skilled immigration benefits no-one. Immigrants have helped the U.S. build one of the best tech hubs in the world— now is the time for startups to invest in international talent so that our technology, economy, and local communities can continue to thrive.