Where top VCs are investing in manufacturing and warehouse robotics

Robotics and automation tools are now foundational parts of warehouses and manufacturing facilities around the world. Unlike many other robotics and AI use cases, the technology has moved well beyond the theoretical into practice and is used by small suppliers and large companies like Amazon and Walmart.

There’s no doubt that automation will transform every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to fulfillment to shipping and logistics. The only question is how long such a revolution will take.

There’s still plenty of market left to transform and lots of room for new players to redefine different verticals, even with many of the existing leaders having already staked their claim. Naturally, VCs are plenty eager to invest millions in the technology. In 2019 alone, manufacturing, machinery and automation saw roughly 800-900 venture-backed fundraising rounds, according to data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase, close to two-thirds of which were still early-stage (pre-seed to Series B) investments.

With our 2020 Robotics+AI sessions event less than two weeks away, we’ve decided to perform temperature checks across some of the hottest robotics sub-verticals to see which trends are coming down the pipe and where checks are actually being written. Just as we did with construction robotics last week, this time, we asked six leading VCs who actively invest in manufacturing automation robotics to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunities in the sector:

Rohit Sharma, True Ventures

Which trends are you most excited about in manufacturing/warehouse automation robotics from an investing perspective?

Where top VCs are investing in open source and dev tools (Part 2 of 2)

In part two of a survey that asks top VCs about exciting opportunities in open source and dev tools, we dig into responses from 10 leading open-source-focused investors at firms that span early to growth stage across software-specific firms, corporate venture arms and prominent generalist firms.

In the conclusion to our survey, we’ll hear from:

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Legacy, a sperm testing and freezing service, just raised $3.5 million to send the message to men: get checked

Legacy, a male fertility startup, has just raised a fresh, $3.5 million in funding from Bill Maris’s San Diego-based venture firm, Section 32, along with Y Combinator and Bain Capital Ventures, which led a $1.5 million seed round for the Boston startup last year.

We talked earlier today with Legacy’s founder and CEO Khaled Kteily about his now two-year-old, five-person startup and its big ambitions to become the world’s preeminent male fertility center. Our biggest question was how Legacy and similar startups convince men — who are generally less concerned with their fertility than women — that they need the company’s at-home testing kits and services in the first place.

“They should be worried about [their fertility],” said Kteily, a former healthcare and life sciences consultant with a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. “Sperm counts have gone down 50 to 60% over the last 40 years.” More from our chat with Legacy, a former TechCrunch Battlefield winner, follows; it has been edited lightly for length.

TC: Why start this company?

KK: I didn’t grow up wanting to be the king of sperm [laughs]. But I had a pretty bad accident — a second-degree burn on my legs after having four hot Starbucks teas spill on my lap in a car — and between that and a colleague at the Kennedy School who’d been diagnosed with cancer and whose doctor suggested he freeze his sperm ahead of his radiation treatments, it just clicked for me that maybe I should also save my sperm. When I went into Cambridge to do this, the place was right next to the restaurant Dumpling House and it was just very awkward and expensive and I thought, there must be a better way of doing this.

TC: How do you get started on something like this?

KK: This was before Ro and Hims began taking off, but people were increasingly comfortable doing things from their own homes, so I started doing research around the idea. I joined the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. I started taking continuing education classes about sperm…

TC: Women are under so much pressure from the time they turn 30 to monitor their fertility. Aside from extreme circumstances, as with your friend, do men really think about testing their sperm? 

KK: Men should be worried about it, and they should be taking responsibility for it. What a lot of folks don’t know is for every one in seven couples that are actively trying to get pregnant, the man is equally responsible [for their fertility struggles]. Women are taught about their fertility but men aren’t, yet the quality of their sperm is degrading over the years. Sperm counts have gone down by 50 to 60% over the last 40 years, too.

TC: Wait, what? Why?

KK: [Likely culprits are] chemicals in plastics, chemicals in what we eat eat and drink, changes in lifestyle; we move less and eat more, and sperm health relates to overall health. I also think mobile phones are causing it. I will caveat this by saying there’s been mixed research, but I’m convinced that cell phones are the new smoking in that it wasn’t clear that smoking was as dangerous as it is when the research was being conducted by companies that benefited by [perpetuating cigarette use]. There’s also a generational decline in sperm quality [to consider]; it poses increased risk to the mother but also the child, as the risk of gestational diabetes goes up, as well as the rate of autism and other congenital conditions.

TC: You’re selling directly to consumers. Are you also working with companies to incorporate your tests in their overall wellness offerings?

KK: We’re investing heavily in business-to-business and expect that to be a huge acquisition channel for us. We can’t share any names yet, but we just signed a big company last week and have a few more in the works. These are mostly Bay Area companies right now; it’s an area where our experience as a YC alum was valuable because of the founders who’ve gone through and now run large companies of their own.

TC: When you’re talking with investors, how do you describe the market size? 

KK: There are four million couples that are facing fertility challenges and in all cases, we believe the man should be tested. So do [their significant others]. Almost half of purchases [of our kits] are by a female partner. We also see men in the military freezing their sperm before being deployed, same-sex couples who plan to use a surrogate at some point and transgender patients who are looking at a life-changing [moment] and want to preserve their fertility before they start the process. But we see this as something that every man might do as they go off to college, and investors see that bigger picture.

TC: How much do the kits and storage cost?

KK: The kit costs $195 up front, and if they choose to store their sperm, $145 a year. We offer different packages. You can also spend $1,995 for two deposits and 10 years of storage.

TC: Is one or two samples effective? According to the Mayo Clinic, sperm counts fluctuate meaningfully from one sample to the next, so they suggest semen analysis tests over a period of time to ensure accurate results.

KK: We encourage our clients to make multiple deposits. The scores will be variable, but they’ll gather around an average.

TC: But they are charged for these deposits separately?

KK: Yes.

TC: And what are you looking for?

KK: Volume, count, concentration, motility and morphology [meaning the shape of the sperm].

TC: Who, exactly, is doing the analysis and handling the storage?

KK: We partner with Andrology Labs in Chicago on analysis; it’s one of the top fertility labs in the country. For storage, we partner with a couple of cryo-storage providers in different geographies. We divide the samples into four, then store them in two different tanks within each of two locations. We want to make sure we’re never in a position where [the samples are accidentally destroyed, as has happened at clinics elsewhere].

TC: I can imagine fears about these samples being mishandled. How can you assure customers this won’t happen?

KK: Trust and legitimacy are core factors and a huge area of focus for us. We’re CPPA and HIPAA compliant. All [related data] is encrypted and anonymized and every customer receives a unique ID [which is a series of digits so that even the storage facilities don’t know whose sperm they are handling]. We have extreme redundancies and processes in place to ensure that we’re handling [samples] in the most scientifically rigorous way possible, as well as ensuring the safety and privacy of each [specimen].

TC: How long can sperm be frozen?

KK: Indefinitely.

TC: How will you use all the data you’ll be collecting?

KK: I could see us entering into partnerships with research institutions. What we won’t do is sell it like 23andMe.

Waymo’s Anca Dragan and Ike Robotics CTO Jur van den Berg are coming to TC Sessions: Robotics+AI

The road to “solving” self-driving cars is riddled with challenges from perception and decision making to figuring out the interaction between human and robots.

Today we’re announcing that joining us at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI on March 3 at UC Berkeley are two experts who play important roles in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicle technology: Anca Dragan and Jur van den Berg.

Dragan is assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department as well as a senior research scientist and consultant for Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that is now a business under Alphabet. She runs the InterACT Lab at UC-Berkeley, which focuses on on algorithms for human-robot interaction. Dragan also helped found and serve on the steering committee for the Berkeley AI Research Lab, and is co-PI of the Center for Human-Compatible AI.

Last year, Dragan was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Van den Berg is the co-founder and CTO of Ike Robotics, a self-driving truck startup that last year raised $52 million in a Series A funding round led by Bain Capital  Ventures. Van den Berg has been part of the most important, secretive and even controversial companies in the autonomous vehicle technology industry. He was a senior researcher and developer in Apple’s special projects group, before jumping to self-driving trucks startup Otto. He became a senior autonomy engineer at Uber after the ride-hailing company acquired Otto .

All of this led to Ike, which was founded in 2018 with Nancy Sun and Alden Woodrow, who were also veterans of Apple, Google and Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s self-driving truck program

TC Sessions: Robotics+AI returns to Berkeley on March 3. Make sure to grab your early-bird tickets today for $275 before prices go up by $100. Students, grab your tickets for just $50 here.

Startups, book a demo table right here and get in front of 1,000+ of Robotics/AI’s best and brightest — each table comes with four attendee tickets.

Roofstock, which makes it easier to buy a home as an investment property, just raised $50 million in new funding

There are plenty of startups that say they’re making it easier to buy a home. There are fewer startups that are promising to make it easier to buy a home as an income-producing property. Among these is Roofstock, a four-year-old, Oakland, Ca.-based online marketplace where buyers and sellers buy and sell rental homes in more than 70 U.S. markets — homes with tenants residing in them oftentimes. The idea: both institutional and retail investors can buy and sell homes without forcing renters to leave their homes; buyers can also presumably generate income from day one.

It’s a huge market to chase after. Though there’s an assortment of (huge) estimates out there, Roofstock pegs the single-family rental market at a whopping $3 trillion. Investors just gave the company a fresh $50 million to go after it more aggressively, too. Earlier backer SVB Capital led the round, but it was joined by Citi Ventures, Fort Ross Ventures and 7 Global Capital, as well some other earlier investors, like Khosla Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Canvas Ventures.

The company, which says it has facilitated more than $2 billion worth of transactions since launching, isn’t willing to talk about its post-money valuation (it has now raised roughly $125 million altogether). But its cofounder and CEO, Gary Beasley, answered some of our other questions this morning.

TC: How, or where, does the company drum up inventory?

GB: Roofstock’s properties come from a variety of sources, including individual property owners directly, brokers and agents who represent owners of investment properties, property management companies, listing services, and institutions. Last year the number of home sellers on Roofstock’s marketplace increased by 10 times.

TC: And they can list tenant-occupied properties on your marketplace?

GB: Yes [and that] has been difficult to do through traditional channels.

TC: Is there anything preventing new landlords from increasing the rent of tenants as soon as a property changes hands?

GB: Landlords need to honor existing leases and follow local laws and regulations when contemplating rent increases.

TC: Who determines pricing — Roofstock or the sellers?

GB: Sellers ultimately determine the pricing and sale strategy [but we] provide sellers with several data-driven tools to help them set a listing price, including comparable sales values, probabilities of sale at various prices, and estimates of days-to-sell. We also provide sellers with the ability to field offers on homes or list at a non-negotiable price. Nearly all sellers on Roofstock select the option to field all offers.

TC: Do you use any other information ‘hubs’ to assess the value of properties?

GB: We combine our data with various third-party sources, like Corelogic, House Canary, and Zillow to give investors a portrait of a property that includes valuation, neighborhood rating, comparisons with similar homes, as well as other tools and information.

TC: How does Roofstock get paid?

GB: We make money through each transaction. We charge 2.5 percent to sellers, and .5 percent to buyers.

TC: How long on average does it take to sell a house?

GB: The majority of properties that sell on Roofstock go under contract within 15 days or less, which is significantly faster than the industry standard.

TC:  How many properties has Roofstock sold thus far?

GB: We’ve facilitated more than $2 billion of transactions on our marketplace since we launched, and as of the fourth quarter of last year, our run rate was about 500 home transactions per month. It’s been extremely popular with the next generation of investors: 75% of our users are first-time real estate investors, and more than half are under 35.

TC: You operate in more than 70 U.S. markets. Where are you seeing the most transactions?

GB:  The top markets on Roofstock are Atlanta, Memphis, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and the greater Chicago area.

TC: How might a downturn in the economy impact the company’s business?

GB: Broadly speaking, single-family rentals have historically been a strong investment option during economic downturns. During the 2007 to 2011 housing downturn, rental rates [showed] positive rent growth despite broader economic conditions.

Exhibit your startup at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Mobility mavericks, get ready to strut your stuff at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on May 14. Don’t miss our second annual day-long conference devoted to technologies that move people and parcels around the world in new, exciting ways.

More than 1,000 of the industry’s mightiest minds, makers, innovators and investors will converge in San Jose for a mobile mind meld. That spells opportunity for early-stage mobility startup founders. Buy an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package and plant your company in front of the influencers who can drive your mobility dreams to the next level.

Whether you’re racing to perfect autonomous vehicles or flying cars, developing AI-based applications, focused on improving battery technology — or you want to recruit a few brilliant engineers — exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility offers invaluable exposure and opportunity.

Your exhibitor package includes a 30-inch high-boy table, power, linen and signage. Even better — it includes four tickets to the event. That’s four times the networking power. And it gives you time to take in some of the show’s many panel discussions, fireside chats and workshops.

Because, of course, the day will be loaded with top-notch speakers who, along with TC editors, will discuss the opportunities and challenges — social, economic and regulatory — that come from creating new mobile paradigms.

We’re building our slate of speakers for this year’s event, and we’ll be announcing them on a rolling basis in the coming months. Know someone who should be onstage at this event? You can nominate a speaker here. In the meantime, here are just a couple of examples of what went down at last year’s Session.

Alisyn Malek, co-founder and COO of May Mobility, an autonomous transportation startup, talked about making transportation easier and accessible for everyone, and Jesse Levinson, Zoox CTO and co-founder, shared specifics on the company’s autonomous vehicle hardware design.

And here are just a few more of the speakers who graced the TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 stage:

  • Seleta Reynolds, head of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation
  • Caroline Samponaro, Lyft, head of Micromobility Policy
  • Ted Serbinski, Techstars, founder and managing director of The Mobility Program
  • Sarah Smith, Bain Capital Ventures, partner

You get the idea. And you can expect more high-caliber technologists, policy makers and investors to be in the house when TC Sessions: Mobility takes place May 14, 2020.

Plenty of reason to attend — and even more reason to exhibit. But don’t wait. Exhibition space is limited, and so are the number of packages available. Reserve your demo table here, and get ready to move your early-stage mobility startup in a whole new direction.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Fintech’s next decade will look radically different

The birth and growth of financial technology developed mostly over the last ten years.

So as we look ahead, what does the next decade have in store? I believe we’re starting to see early signs: in the next ten years, fintech will become portable and ubiquitous as it moves to the background and centralizes into one place where our money is managed for us.

When I started working in fintech in 2012, I had trouble tracking competitive search terms because no one knew what our sector was called. The best-known companies in the space were Paypal and Mint.

fintech search volume

Google search volume for “fintech,” 2000 – present.

Fintech has since become a household name, a shift that came with with prodigious growth in investment: from $2 billion in 2010 to over $50 billion in venture capital in 2018 (and on-pace for $30 billion+ this year).

Predictions were made along the way with mixed results — banks will go out of business, banks will catch back up. Big tech will get into consumer finance. Narrow service providers will unbundle all of consumer finance. Banks and big fintechs will gobble up startups and consolidate the sector. Startups will each become their own banks. The fintech ‘bubble’ will burst.

https://techcrunch.com/2019/12/22/who-will-the-winners-be-in-the-future-of-fintech/

Here’s what did happen: fintechs were (and still are) heavily verticalized, recreating the offline branches of financial services by bringing them online and introducing efficiencies. The next decade will look very different. Early signs are beginning to emerge from overlooked areas which suggest that financial services in the next decade will:

  1. Be portable and interoperable: Like mobile phones, customers will be able to easily transition between ‘carriers’.
  2. Become more ubiquitous and accessible: Basic financial products will become a commodity and bring unbanked participants ‘online’.
  3. Move to the background: The users of financial tools won’t have to develop 1:1 relationships with the providers of those tools.
  4. Centralize into a few places and steer on ‘autopilot’.

Prediction 1: The open data layer

Thesis: Data will be openly portable and will no longer be a competitive moat for fintechs.

Personal data has never had a moment in the spotlight quite like 2019. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and the data breach that compromised 145 million Equifax accounts sparked today’s public consciousness around the importance of data security. Last month, the House of Representatives’ Fintech Task Force met to evaluate financial data standards and the Senate introduced the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act.

A tired cliché in tech today is that “data is the new oil.” Other things being equal, one would expect banks to exploit their data-rich advantage to build the best fintech. But while it’s necessary, data alone is not a sufficient competitive moat: great tech companies must interpret, understand and build customer-centric products that leverage their data.

Why will this change in the next decade? Because the walls around siloed customer data in financial services are coming down. This is opening the playing field for upstart fintech innovators to compete with billion-dollar banks, and it’s happening today.

Much of this is thanks to a relatively obscure piece of legislation in Europe, PSD2. Think of it as GDPR for payment data. The UK became the first to implement PSD2 policy under its Open Banking regime in 2018. The policy requires all large banks to make consumer data available to any fintech which the consumer permissions. So if I keep my savings with Bank A but want to leverage them to underwrite a mortgage with Fintech B, as a consumer I can now leverage my own data to access more products.

Consortia like FDATA are radically changing attitudes towards open banking and gaining global support. In the U.S., five federal financial regulators recently came together with a rare joint statement on the benefits of alternative data, for the most part only accessible through open banking technology.

The data layer, when it becomes open and ubiquitous, will erode the competitive advantage of data-rich financial institutions. This will democratize the bottom of the fintech stack and open the competition to whoever can build the best products on top of that openly accessible data… but building the best products is still no trivial feat, which is why Prediction 2 is so important:

Prediction 2: The open protocol layer

Thesis: Basic financial services will become simple open-source protocols, lowering the barrier for any company to offer financial products to its customers.

Picture any investment, wealth management, trading, merchant banking, or lending system. Just to get to market, these systems have to rigorously test their core functionality to avoid legal and regulatory risk. Then, they have to eliminate edge cases, build a compliance infrastructure, contract with third-party vendors to provide much of the underlying functionality (think: Fintech Toolkit) and make these systems all work together.

The end result is that every financial services provider builds similar systems, replicated over and over and siloed by company. Or even worse, they build on legacy core banking providers, with monolith systems in outdated languages (hello, COBOL). These services don’t interoperate, and each bank and fintech is forced to become its own expert at building financial protocols ancillary to its core service.

But three trends point to how that is changing today:

First, the infrastructure and service layer to build is being disaggregates, thanks to platforms like Stripe, Marqeta, Apex, and Plaid. These ‘finance as a service’ providers make it easy to build out basic financial functionality. Infrastructure is currently a hot investment category and will be as long as more companies get into financial services — and as long as infra market leaders can maintain price control and avoid commoditization.

Second, industry groups like FINOS are spearheading the push for open-source financial solutions. Consider a Github repository for all the basic functionality that underlies fintech tools. Developers could continuously improve the underlying code. Software could become standardized across the industry. Solutions offered by different service providers could become more inter-operable if they shared their underlying infrastructure.

And third, banks and investment managers, realizing the value in their own technology, are today starting to license that technology out. Examples are BlackRock’s Aladdin risk-management system or Goldman’s Alloy data modeling program. By giving away or selling these programs to clients, banks open up another revenue stream, make it easy for the financial services industry to work together (think of it as standardizing the language they all use), and open up a customer base that will provide helpful feedback, catch bugs, and request new useful product features.

As Andreessen Horowitz partner Angela Strange notes, “what that means is, there are several different infrastructure companies that will partner with banks and package up the licensing process and some regulatory work, and all the different payment-type networks that you need. So if you want to start a financial company, instead of spending two years and millions of dollars in forming tons of partnerships, you can get all of that as a service and get going.”

Fintech is developing in much the same way computers did: at first software and hardware came bundled, then hardware became below differentiated operating systems with ecosystem lock-in, then the internet broke open software with software-as-a-service. In that way, fintech in the next ten years will resemble the internet of the last twenty.

placeholder vc infographic

Infographic courtesy Placeholder VC

Prediction 3: Embedded fintech

Thesis: Fintech will become part of the basic functionality of non-finance products.

The concept of embedded fintech is that financial services, rather than being offered as a standalone product, will become part of the native user interface of other products, becoming embedded.

This prediction has gained supporters over the last few months, and it’s easy to see why. Bank partnerships and infrastructure software providers have inspired companies whose core competencies are not consumer finance to say “why not?” and dip their toes in fintech’s waters.

Apple debuted the Apple Card. Amazon offers its Amazon Pay and Amazon Cash products. Facebook unveiled its Libra project and, shortly afterward, launched Facebook Pay. As companies from Shopify to Target look to own their payment and purchase finance stacks, fintech will begin eating the world.

If these signals are indicative, financial services in the next decade will be a feature of the platforms with which consumers already have a direct relationship, rather than a product for which consumers need to develop a relationship with a new provider to gain access.

Matt Harris of Bain Capital Ventures summarizes in a recent set of essays (one, two) what it means for fintech to become embedded. His argument is that financial services will be the next layer of the ‘stack’ to build on top of internet, cloud, and mobile. We now have powerful tools that are constantly connected and immediately available to us through this stack, and embedded services like payments, transactions, and credit will allow us to unlock more value in them without managing our finances separately.

Fintech futurist Brett King puts it even more succinctly: technology companies and large consumer brands will become gatekeepers for financial products, which themselves will move to the background of the user experiences. Many of these companies have valuable data from providing sticky, high-affinity consumer products in other domains. That data can give them a proprietary advantage in cost-cutting or underwriting (eg: payment plans for new iPhones). The combination of first-order services (eg: making iPhones) with second-order embedded finance (eg: microloans) means that they can run either one as a loss-leader to subsidize the other, such as lowering the price of iPhones while increasing Apple’s take on transactions in the app store.

This is exciting for the consumers of fintech, who will no longer have to search for new ways to pay, invest, save, and spend. It will be a shift for any direct-to-consumer brands, who will be forced to compete on non-brand dimensions and could lose their customer relationships to aggregators.

Even so, legacy fintechs stand to gain from leveraging the audience of big tech companies to expand their reach and building off the contextual data of big tech platforms. Think of Uber rides hailed from within Google Maps: Uber made a calculated choice to list its supply on an aggregator in order to reach more customers right when they’re looking for directions.

Prediction 4: Bringing it all together

Thesis: Consumers will access financial services from one central hub.

In-line with the migration from front-end consumer brand to back-end financial plumbing, most financial services will centralize into hubs to be viewed all in one place.

For a consumer, the hub could be a smartphone. For a small business, within Quickbooks or Gmail or the cash register.

As companies like Facebook, Apple, and Amazon split their operating systems across platforms (think: Alexa + Amazon Prime + Amazon Credit Card), benefits will accrue to users who are fully committed to one ecosystem so that they can manage their finances through any platform — but these providers will make their platforms interoperable as well so that Alexa (e.g.) can still win over Android users.

As a fintech nerd, I love playing around with different financial products. But most people are not fintech nerds and prefer to interact with as few services as possible. Having to interface with multiple fintechs separately is ultimately value subtractive, not additive. And good products are designed around customer-centric intuition. In her piece, Google Maps for Money, Strange calls this ‘autonomous finance:’ your financial service products should know your own financial position better than you do so that they can make the best choices with your money and execute them in the background so you don’t have to.

And so now we see the rebundling of services. But are these the natural endpoints for fintech? As consumers become more accustomed to financial services as a natural feature of other products, they will probably interact more and more with services in the hubs from which they manage their lives. Tech companies have the natural advantage in designing the product UIs we love — do you enjoy spending more time on your bank’s website or your Instagram feed? Today, these hubs are smartphones and laptops. In the future, could they be others, like emails, cars, phones or search engines?

As the development of fintech mirrors the evolution of computers and the internet, becoming interoperable and embedded in everyday services, it will radically reshape where we manage our finances and how little we think about them anymore. One thing is certain: by the time I’m writing this article in 2029, fintech will look very little like it did today.

So which financial technology companies will be the ones to watch over the next decade? Building off these trends, we’ve picked five that will thrive in this changing environment.

Where top VCs are investing in fintech

Over the past several years, ‘fintech’ has quietly become the unsung darling of venture.

A rapidly swelling pool of new startups is taking aim at the large incumbent institutions, complex processes and outdated unfriendly interfaces that mar billion dollar financial services verticals, such as insurtech, consumer lending, personal finance, or otherwise.  

In just the past summer, the startup community saw a multitude of hundred-million dollar fintech fundraises. In 2018, fintech companies were the source of close to 1,300 venture deals worth over $15 billion in North America and Europe alone according to data from Pitchbook. Over the same period, KPMG estimates that over $52 billion in investment pour into fintech initiatives globally. 

With the non-stop stream of venture capital flowing into the never-ending list of spaces that fall under the ‘fintech’ umbrella, we asked 12 leading fintech VCs who work at firms that span early to growth stages to share where they see the most opportunity and how they see the market evolving over the long-term.

The participants touched on a number of key trends in the space, including rapid innovation in fintech infrastructure, fintech companies embedding themselves in specific verticals and platforms, rebundling and unbundling of financial services offerings, the rise of challenger banks and the state of fintech valuations into 2020.

Charles Birnbaum, Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners

The great ‘rebundling’ of fintech innovation is in full swing. The emerging consumer leaders in fintech — Chime, SoFi, Robinhood, Credit Karma, and Bessemer portfolio company Betterment — are moving quickly to increase their share of wallet with their valuable customers and become a one-stop-shop for people’s financial lives.

In 2020, we anticipate continued entrepreneurial activity and investor enthusiasm around the infrastructure and middleware layers within the fintech ecosystem that are enabling further rebundling and a rapid convergence of product themes and business models across the consumer fintech landscape.

Many players now look like potential challenger bank models more akin to what we have seen unfold in Europe the past few years. Within consumer fintech, we at Bessemer are more focused on demographically-specific product offerings that tap into underserved themes, whether that be the financial problems facing the aging population in the US or new models to serve the underbanked or underserved population of consumers and small businesses.

Ian Sigalow, Co-founder & Partner, Greycroft

What trends are you most excited in fintech from an investing perspective? 

I suspect that many enterprise software companies become fintech companies over time — collecting payments on behalf of customers and growing revenues as your customers grow. We have seen this trend in many industries over the past few years. Business owners generally prefer a model that moves IT expenditures from Operating Expenses into Cost of Goods Sold, because they can increase prices and pass their entire budget onto the customer.

On the consumer side, we have already made investments in branchless banking, insurance (auto, home, health, workers comp), cross-border payments, alternative investments, loyalty cards/services, and roboadvisor services. The companies we funded are already a few years old, and I think we will have some interesting follow-on activity there over the next few years. We have been picking spots where we think we have an unfair competitive advantage.

Our fintech portfolio is also more global than other sectors we invest in. This is because there are opportunities to achieve billion dollar outcomes in fintech, even in countries that are much smaller than the United States. That is not true in many other sectors.

We have also seen trends emerge in the US and move abroad. As an example we seeded Flutterwave, which is similar to Stripe, and they have expanded across Africa. We were also the lead investor in Yeahka, which is similar to Square in China. These products are heavily localized —tin for instance Yeahka is the largest processor of QR code payments in the world, but QR code payments are not popular in the US yet.

How much time are you spending on fintech right now? Is the market under-heated, over-heated, or just right?

Fintech is about a quarter of my time right now. We continue to see interesting new ideas and the valuations have been more or less consistent over time. The broader market doesn’t impact us very much because we tend to have a 10 year holding period.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t?

Former Stitch Fix COO Julie Bornstein is rewriting the e-commerce playbook

More than two years after Julie Bornstein–Stitch Fix’s former chief operating officer–mysteriously left the subscription-based personal styling service only months before its initial public offering, she’s taking the wraps off her first independent venture.

Shortly after departing Stitch Fix, Bornstein began building The Yes, an AI-powered shopping platform expected to launch in the first half of 2020. She’s teamed up with The Yes co-founder and chief technology officer Amit Aggarwal, who’s held high-level engineering roles at BloomReach and Groupon, and most recently, served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bain Capital Ventures, to “rewrite the architecture of e-commerce.”

“This is an idea I’ve been thinking about since I was 10 and spending my weekends at the mall,” Bornstein, whose resume includes chief marketing officer & chief digital officer at Sephora, vice president of e-commerce at Urban Outfitters, VP of e-commerce at Nordstrom and director of business development at Starbucks, tells TechCrunch. “All the companies I have worked at were very much leading in this direction.”

Coming out of stealth today, the team at The Yes is readying a beta mode to better understand and refine their product. Bornstein and Aggarwal have raised $30 million in venture capital funding to date across two financings. The first, a seed round, was co-led by Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green and NEA’s Tony Florence. The Series A was led by True Ventures’ Jon Callaghan with participation from existing investors. Bornstein declined to disclose the company’s valuation.

“AI and machine learning already dominate in many verticals, but e-commerce is still open for a player to have a meaningful impact,” Callaghan said in a statement. “Amit is leading a team to build deep neural networks that legacy systems cannot achieve.”

Bornstein and Aggarwal withheld many details about the business during our conversation. Rather, the pair said the product will speak for itself when it launches next year. In addition to being an AI-powered shopping platform, Bornstein did say The Yes is working directly with brands and “creating a new consumer shopping experience that helps address the issue of overwhelm in shopping today.”

As for why she decided to leave Stitch Fix just ahead of its $120 million IPO, Bornstein said she had an epiphany.

“I realized that technology had changed so much, meanwhile … the whole framework underlying e-commerce had remained the same since the late 90s’ when I helped build Nordstrom.com,” she said. “If you could rebuild the underlying architecture and use today’s technology, you could actually bring to life an entirely new consumer experience for shopping.”

The Yes, headquartered in Silicon Valley and New York City, has also brought on Lisa Green, the former head of industry, fashion and luxury at Google, as its senior vice president of partnerships, and Taylor Tomasi Hill, whose had stints at Moda Operandi and FortyFiveTen, as its creative director. Other investors in the business include Comcast Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures

FOSSA scores $8.5 million Series A to help enterprise manage open-source licenses

As more enterprise developers make use of open source, it becomes increasingly important for companies to make sure that they are complying with licensing requirements. They also need to ensure the open-source bits are being updated over time for security purposes. That’s where FOSSA comes in, and today the company announced an $8.5 million Series A.

The round was led by Bain Capital Ventures, with help from Costanoa Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. Today’s round brings the total raised to $11 million, according to the company.

Company founder and CEO Kevin Wang says that over the last 18 months, the startup has concentrated on building tools to help enterprises comply with their growing use of open source in a safe and legal way. He says that overall this increasing use of open source is great news for developers, and for these bigger companies in general. While it enables them to take advantage of all the innovation going on in the open-source community, they need to make sure they are in compliance.

“The enterprise is really early on this journey, and that’s where we come in. We provide a platform to help the enterprise manage open-source usage at scale,” Wang explained. That involves three main pieces. First it tracks all of the open-source and third-party code being used inside a company. Next, it enforces licensing and security policy, and, finally, it has a reporting component. “We automate the mass reporting and compliance for all of the housekeeping that comes from using open source at scale,” he said.

The enterprise focus is relatively new for the company. It originally launched in 2017 as a tool for developers to track individual use of open source inside their programs. Wang saw a huge opportunity inside the enterprise to apply this same kind of capability inside larger organizations, which were hungry for tools to help them comply with the myriad open-source licenses out there.

“We found that there was no tooling out there that can manage the scale and breadth across all the different enterprise use cases and all the really complex mission-critical code bases,” he said. What’s more, he found that where there were existing tools, they were vastly underutilized or didn’t provide broad enough coverage.

The company announced a $2.2 million seed round in 2017, and since then has grown from 10 to 40 employees. With today’s funding, that should increase as the company is expanding quickly. Wang reports that the startup has been tripling its revenue numbers and customer accounts year over year. The new money should help accelerate that growth and expand the product and markets it can sell into.