TravelPerk grabs $21M to make booking business trips suck less

TravelPerk, a Barcelona-based SaaS startup that’s built an end-to-end business travel platform, has closed a $21 million Series B round, led by Berlin-based Target Global and London’s Felix Capital. Earlier investors Spark Capital and Sunstone also participated in the round, alongside new investor Amplo.

When we last spoke to the startup back in June 2016 — as it was announcing a $7M Series A — it had just 20 customers. It’s now boasting more than 1,000, name-checking “high growth” companies such as Typeform, TransferWise, Outfittery, GetYourGuide, GoCardless, Hotjar, and CityJet among its clients, and touting revenue growth of 1,200% year-on-year.

Co-founder and CEO Avi Meir tells us the startup is “on pace” to generate $100M in GMV this year.

Meir’s founding idea, back in 2015, was to create a rewards program based around dynamic budgeting for business trips. But after conversations with potential customers about their pain-points, the team quickly pivoted to target a broader bundle of business travel booking problems.

The mission now can be summarized as trying to make the entire business travel journey suck less — from booking flights and hotels; to admin tools for managing policies; analytics; customer support; all conducted within what’s billed as a “consumer-like experience” to keep end-users happy. Essentially it’s offering end-to-end travel management for its target business users.

“Travel and finance managers were frustrated by how they currently manage travel and looked for an all in one tool that JUST WORKS without having to compare rates with Skyscanner, be redirected to different websites, write 20 emails back and forth with a travel agent to coordinate a simple trip for someone, and suffer bad user experience,” says Meir.

“We understood that in order to fix business travel there is no way around but diving into it head on and create the world’s best OTA (online travel agency), combined with the best in class admin tools  needed in order to manage the travel program and a consumer grade, smart user experience that travelers will love. So we became a full blown platform competing head on with the big TMCs (travel management companies) and the legacy corporate tools (Amex GBT, Concur, Egencia…) .”

He claims TravelPerk’s one-stop business trip shop now has the world’s largest bookable inventory (“all the travel agent inventory but also booking.com, Expedia, Skyscanner, Airbnb… practically any flight/hotel on the internet — only we have that”).

Target users at this stage are SMEs (up to 1,500 employees), with tech and consulting currently its strongest verticals, though Meir says it “really runs the gamut”. While the current focus is Europe, with its leading markets being the UK, Germany and Spain.

TravelPerk’s business model is freemium — and its pitch is it can save customers more than a fifth in annual business travel costs vs legacy corporate tools/travel agents thanks to the lack of commissions, free customer support etc.

But it also offers a premium tier with additional flexibility and perks — such as corporate hotel rates and a travel agent service for group bookings — for those customers who do want to pay to upgrade the experience.

On the competition front the main rivals are “old corporate travel agencies and TMC”, according to Meir, along with larger players such as Egencia (by Expedia) and Concur (SAP company).

“There are a few startups doing what we are doing in the U.S. like TripActions, NexTravel, as well as some smaller ones that are popping up but are in an earlier stage,” he notes.

“Since our first round… TravelPerk has been experiencing some incredible growth compared to any tech benchmark I know,” he adds. “We’ve found a stronger product market fit than we imagined and grew much faster than planned. It seems like everyone is unhappy with the way they are currently booking and managing business travel. Which makes this a $1.25 trillion market, ready for disruption.”

The Series B will be put towards scaling “fast”, with Meir arguing that TravelPerk has landed upon a “rare opportunity” to drive the market.

“Organic growth has been extremely fast and we have an immediate opportunity to scale the business fast, doing what we are doing right now at a bigger scale,” he says.

Commenting in a statement, Antoine Nussenbaum, partner at Felix Capital, also spies a major opportunity. “The corporate travel industry is one of the largest global markets yet to be disrupted online. At Felix Capital we have a high conviction about a new era of consumerization of enterprise software,” he says.

While Target Global general partner Shmuel Chafets describes TravelPerk as “very well positioned to be a market leader in the business travel space with a product that makes business travel as seamless and easy as personal travel”.

“We’re excited to support such an experienced and dedicated team that has a strong track record in the travel space,” he adds in a supporting statement. “TravelPerk is our first investment in Barcelona. We believe in a pan-European startup ecosystem and we look forward to seeing more opportunities in this emerging startup hub.”

Flush with fresh funding, the team’s next task is even more recruitment. “We’ll grow our teams all around with emphasis on engineering, operations and customer support. We’re also planning to expand, opening local offices in 4-5 new countries within the upcoming year and a half,” says Meir.

He notes the company has grown from 20 to 100 employees over the past 12 months already but adds that it will continue “hiring aggressively”.

DFS Lab is helping the developing world bootstrap itself with fintech

Entrepreneurs have it rough in Africa, India, Pakistan — places where VC cash doesn’t fall from the sky and necessary infrastructure like reliable banking and broadband can be hard to come by. But companies grow and thrive nevertheless in these rugged environments, and DFS Lab is an incubator focused on connecting them with the resources they need to go global.

The company was founded, and funded, on the back of a $4.8 million grant from the Gates Foundation, which of course is deeply concerned with tech-based solutions for well-being all over the world. Its name, Digital Financial Services Lab, indicates its area of focus: fintech. And anyone can tell you that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most interesting places in the world for that.

This week DFS Lab is announcing a handful of new investments — modest ones on the scale companies are used to in Silicon Valley, but the money is only a small part of the equation. Investment comes at the end of a longer process, the most valuable of which may be the week-long sprint DFS Lab does on the ground, helping solidify ideas into products, or niche products into products at scale.

The relative lack of VCs and angel investors puts early-stage companies at risk and can discourage the most motivated entrepreneur, so the program is aimed at getting them over the hump and connected to a network of peers.

The latest round puts a total of $200,000 into four startups, each touching on a different aspect of a region or vertical’s financial needs. All, however, are largely driven by the massive growth of mobile money in Africa over the last decade and the more recent, ongoing transition to modern smartphones and the app/data landscape familiar to the U.S. and Europe.

  • Nala aims to move p2p payments away from the antiquated but widely used USSD system (more on this later) to a Venmo-like app interface that integrates multiple native mobile currencies like M-Pesa into a single tool.
  • Cherehani connects female entrepreneurs with financial resources; the idea is to provide both much-needed credit and financial literacy at as early an age as possible. (They have a chatbot too, naturally.)
  • Nobuntu is a platform through which South Africans can open and contribute to pension plans via mobile money, simply and with low overhead costs.

The fourth company is choosing to remain in stealth mode for now, but you see the general theme here.

For one reason or another there are major gaps in everyday services that many of us take for granted — the ability to prove one’s identity, for example, is critical but commonly absent. I talked with Paul Damalie, founder of a DFS-funded company called Inclusive that helps address that particular shortcoming.

Basic ID verification can be difficult when you remove many of the things we take for granted. So when, for example, someone wanted to get a loan, a savings account, or some other basic financial service, “Originally you’d have to literally walk into the bank to do it,” Damalie said. Needless to say that isn’t always convenient, and banks as well as users want better options.

“We’ve been collecting existing databases and building a layer of rich access around it,” he continued. “Now we can use facial recognition to check those details. Once you have the ID, you need to check it with the government records” — which Inclusive also does. A range of other data creates a confidence score in the person’s identity, helping avoid identity fraud.

Another opportunity arises not from these gaps but from the unique ways in which the African ecosystem has evolved. USSD, which I mentioned before, is probably unknown to many of our readers — it certainly was to me. But it’s become a standard tool used regularly by millions for important tasks in Africa; if you want to work in that market, you have to deal with USSD one way or another.

The problem is that, as you might guess from Nala trying to deprecate it, USSD is a technology dating back to the ’90s, a text-based interface that’s rudimentary but, much like SMS, universally accepted and intelligible. The importance of cross-platform compatibility in mobile markets as fragmented as these can’t be overstated.

So bridging the gap between USSD and a “traditional” (as we might call it) payment app is a unique opportunity, and one a company called Hover (also in the DFS Lab portfolio) is addressing. Its tech acts as a sort of translation layer between USSD and smartphone app interfaces, allowing for modern app design but also deep back-compatibility. It’s an opportunity specific to this time and this area of the world, but nevertheless one that may end up touching millions.

And from the narrowness of its vision that DFS Lab derives its effectiveness.

“They’re one of the most specialized accelerators in the world,” said Damalie. “It goes beyond just funding — it involves having the right kind of network: access to partners, data, sources across the continent. They had context-relevant fellows, people who had very specific challenges.”

“The grant was useful and let us build a proof of concept, and of course the Gates Foundation gives us credibility. But they were taking bets on us as individuals.”

Although DFS Lab has heretofore been funded by the Gates infusion, that well will run dry soon. Jake Kendall, DFS Lab’s executive director, indicated that the plan is to move towards a more traditional investor fund. They already focus on profitability and the potential for growth to the continental stage or beyond; this isn’t a charity but tactical investment in such a way that social good is a necessary byproduct.

“The best way to have a global impact is to be self-sustaining,” he said.

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Microsoft surges 8% after Morgan Stanley says it will reach $1 trillion market cap

The Dow surged 669 points on Monday after trade tensions eased.

Tech stocks like Amazon and Apple saw gains, but the biggest winner of all was Microsoft .

The Seattle tech giant, which is a Dow 30 company, benefitted not only from the solid stock market day, but also because a Morgan Stanley analyst had kind things to say about it.

Keith Weiss wrote in a note to clients that he’s raising his 12-month price target to $130, an almost 50% increase from the $90 shares traded at last week. This would give the company a market cap of $1 trillion. He spoke about it further on CNBC.

He’s particularly bullish on Microsoft’s cloud business. He believes that it will continue to do well, despite competition from Amazon and Google.

The race to $1 trillion has been talked about for several years. Apple is currently in the lead with a market cap of $877 billion. Amazon is at $753 billion. And After Monday’s strong day of trading, Microsoft is nearing it at $722 billion.

In general, stocks have done very well in recent years, with the Dow up nearly 10,000 points from where it was five years ago.

CryptoKitties raises $12M from Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures

CryptoKitties, the virtual collectible kitten game that turned into a viral sensation has raised $12M in funding and will be spun out from Axiom Zen, the Vancouver and San Francisco-based design studio that originally built the game.

The round is being led by Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures, both of which have quickly developed a reputation for backing fast-growing cryptocurrency startups like Coinbase. A bunch of notable angels also participated, including Naval Ravikant (CEO and founder of AngelList), Mark Pincus (founder of Zynga) and Fred Ehrsam (founder of Coinbase) among others.

So what are CryptoKitties? They’re essentially digital collectibles built on top of the Ethereum blockchain. Each one is unique and has certain attributes that make them rare and desirable, almost like a digital beanie baby. And users are spending tons of real money on them, with some of the rarest kitties fetching over $100,000 when the game first launched.

While the startup is being pretty mum on what the future looks like and what they’re planning on using this funding for, it’s almost certain that the long term goal is to expand beyond CryptoKitties and use the same Ethereum ERC-721 collectible standard to create other game experiences, especially ones that can be played by regular people who are unfamiliar with cryptocurrency.

To this note, Fred Wilson of USV quickly outlined the firm’s thesis behind investing in CryptoKitties, saying “we think digital collectibles is one of many amazing things that blockchains enable that literally could not be done before this technology emerged. We also think digital collectibles and all of the games they enable will be one of the first, if not the first, big consumer use cases for blockchain technologies.” 

If you want to find out more about how CryptoKitties works check out our original story here.

Detectify raises €5M for its crowdsourced website vulnerability scanner

Sweden-based Detectify, which offers a website vulnerability scanner that is in part powered by the crowd, has raised €5 million in new funding. The round was led by New York-based venture capital and private equity firm, Insight Venture Partners. Existing investors, Paua Ventures and Inventure, also participated.

Founded in late 2013 by a self-described group of “white-hat hackers” from Sweden, the now 20-person strong company offers a website security tool that uses automation to scan websites for vulnerabilities to help customers (including developers) stay on top of security. The more unique part of the service, however, is that it is in part maintained — or, rather, kept up to date — via the crowd in the form of Detectify’s ethical hacker network.

This sees top-ranked security researchers submit vulnerabilities that are then built into the Detectify scanner and used in customers’ security tests. The really clever part is that researchers get paid every time their submitted module identifies a vulnerability on a customer’s website. In other words, incentives are always kept aligned, giving Detectify a potential advantage and greater scale compared to similar website security automation tools.

“Companies are building applications and users happily enter their data into these applications, but the applications are built from mix of technologies that are changing rapidly (open source, plugins, funky js-frameworks), without a clear vendor “responsible” for the security,” says Detectify co-founder and CEO Rickard Carlsson, explaining the problem the startup set out to solve.

“As no clear vendor is responsible for communicating about security [as compared to a Windows patch, for example], the knowledge sits in the community. We wanted to build a platform that takes the knowledge from white-hat and supercharges it with automation”.

Put more simply, developers typically have a long backlog of things to do and security testing often “falls between the cracks” because of limited time. It’s also near-impossible for any single developer to manually security test their code while keeping up with the latest vulnerabilities. By using automation, the wisdom of the crowd, and via integrations with popular developer tools, Detectify aims to help catch security issues before every new release and as part of a developer’s normal workflow.

To that end, Detectify already counts customers spanning a range of industries and company sizes, including Trello, Le Monde, and King. “It might have been easier to target a specific segment but we have a land and expand strategy. We also aim to make the internet a safer place, hence we want to offer our solution to organisations of all sizes,” says Carlsson.

Meanwhile, he does concede that automated vulnerability scanning tools aren’t new, but says one key difference is that the Detectify team comes from the world of ethical hacking instead of the world of compliance. “Our tool offers a great UI/UX, high-quality results and the latest security tests thanks to our crowdsourcing,” he adds.

Stock trade app Robinhood raising at $5B+, up 4X in a year

By adding a cryptocurrency exchange, a web version and stock option trading, Robinhood has managed to quadruple its valuation in a year, according to a source familiar with a new round the startup is raising. Robinhood is closing in on around $350 million in Series D funding led by Russian firm DST Global, the source says. That’s just 11 months after Robinhood confirmed TechCrunch’s scoop that the zero-fee stock trading app had raised a $110 million Series C at a $1.3 billion valuation. The new raise would bring Robinhood to $526 million in funding.

Details of the Series D were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The astronomical value growth shows that investors see Robinhood as a core part of the mobile finance tools upon which the next generation will rely. The startup also just proved its ability to nimbly adapt to trends by building its cryptocurrency trading feature in less than two months to make sure it wouldn’t miss the next big economic shift. One million users waitlisted for access in just the five days after Robinhood Crypto was announced.

The launch completed a trio of product debuts. The mobile app finally launched a website version for tracking and trading stocks without a commission in November. In December it opened options trading, making it a more robust alternative to brokers like E*Trade and Scottrade. They often charge $7 or more per stock trade compared to zero with Robinhood, but also give away features that are reserved for Robinhood’s premium Gold subscription tier.

Robinhood won’t say how many people have signed up for its $6 to $200 per month Gold service that lets people trade on margin, with higher prices netting them more borrowing power. That and earning interest on money stored in Robinhood accounts are the startup’s primary revenue sources.

Rapid product iteration and skyrocketing value surely helped recruit Josh Elman, who Robinhood announced yesterday has joined as VP of product as he transitions to a part-time roll at Greylock Partners. He could help the company build a platform business as a backbone for other fintech apps, they way he helped Facebook build its identity platform.

In effect, Robinhood has figured out how to make stock trading freemium. Rather than charge per trade with bonus features included, Robinhood gives away the bare-bones trades and charges for everything else. That could give it a steady, scalable business model akin to Dropbox, which grew by offering small amounts of free storage and then charging for extras and enterprise accounts. From a start with free trades, Robinhood could blossom into a hub for your mobile finance life.

Blue Vision Labs, which builds ‘collaborative’ AR, emerges from stealth with $14.5M led by GV

Blue Vision Labs, a London-based augmented reality startup co-founded by computer vision experts from Oxford and Imperial College, is emerging from stealth today with a new platform that it claims will be the first to bring ‘collaboration’ to the AR experience: with an app built on Blue Vision’s technology (via its API and SDK), multiple users will be able to see the same virtual objects, and interact with each other in that virtual space with spatial accuracy that hasn’t been seen in widely-available AR services before.

Scenarios where this kind of feature could come in useful could include multi-player games, on-street navigation apps, social media applications and education. Peter Ondruska, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, tells me that Blue Vision’s tech can pinpoint people and other moving objects in a space to within centimeters of their actual location — far more accurate than typical GPS — meaning that it could give far better results in apps that require two parties to find each other, such as in a ride-hailing app. (Hands up if you and your Uber driver have ever lost each other before you’ve even stepped foot in the vehicle.)

Blue Vision has been in stealth mode for the past two years building its product — and its founding team, which also includes Lukas Platinsky, Hugo Grimmett, and repeat entrepreneurs Andrej Pancik and Bryan Baum, have been working on the idea since 2011 — but now it is finally hitting the ground running.

Along with the launch of its SDK for developers, Blue Vision announcing that it has raised $17 million in funding — $14.5 million in a new Series A led by Alphabet’s GV, plus another $2.5 million in Seed funding that it raised earlier from Accel, Horizons Ventures, SV Angel and others — all of whom also participated in this latest round, too.

The SDK will initially be free to use, Ondruska said.

There’s been a surge of interest in augmented and virtual reality technology in the last couple of years, fuelled by some interesting moves from larger tech companies like Google and Apple — launching developer kits to build applications, and working on more hardware to consume it — investments by larger media companies in building content for these platforms, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that investors are pouring into the army of startups that are building both software and hardware to usher in this new age of how we will, apparently, soon be seeing the world.

Some of these investments have so far felt like audacious moonshots. (Magic Leap’s hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, for example, have yet to materialise into anything we can use, virtually or otherwise.) But some are making their way to people today, and causing a stir, if not a massive wave of usage. (Think here of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore.)

And VR development has even already started to tackle the collaboration challenge too: recall Facebook’s Oculus division work on Rooms, where you can interact with multiple people.

Blue Vision’s approach is a little different, in that it requires no more hardware than what many people already have — a smartphone and a basic smartphone camera — both to interact with the experience and to ingest the environment to create it. The fact that it provides that relatively low barrier to entry, while also doing an enormous amount of heavy lifting at the back end to solve a persistent challenge in AR, is what potentially makes the company unique and noteworthy.

“They have reduced the need for specific, tailored hardware,” said GV’s Tom Hulme, who is joining the board. “Where we might have needed multiple lenses before, they have achieved same thing with a basic smartphone lens.”

Some of that heavy lifting has also involved building highly detailed maps that developers can now use to build collaborative AR experiences: the idea here is that the map of a space becomes the canvas onto which all of the other objects get placed for their interactions.

Ondruska said that initially the company has built maps covering the city centers of London, San Francisco and New York, with plans to add more locations. Users, he said, can also essentially “build” locations on the fly while using apps powered by Blue Vision, although these would work less well in fast-moving environments, where you might need to reference locations more accurately and pick up more detail.

Some have projected that AR-based applications could generate $83 billion by 2021. That seems like a big leap, considering we’re now already at 2018 and so far our biggest “hit” in AR has been Pokemon Go. Ondruska believes that this is because there have been missing pieces in making AR a truly seamless and smooth experience, and that his team has built the parts that will complete the picture.

“One of the reasons why AR hasn’t really reached mass market adoption is because of the tech that is on the market,” he said. “Single-user experiences are limiting. We are allowing the next step, letting people see the right place, for example. None of that was possible before in AR because the backend didn’t exist. But by filling this piece, we are creating new AR use cases, ones that are important and will be used on a daily basis.”

 

 

The rise and rise of supergiant rounds

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HackerRank raises $30M to match developers with jobs

 HackerRank, the skills-based recruiting platform and online coding challenge community, today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series C funding round led by JMI Equity, a fund that specializes in helping software companies scale. Exiting investors Khosla Ventures, Battery Ventures, Randstad and Chartline Capital Partners also participated in this round. As HackerRank co-founder and… Read More