Embedded finance, or why fintech mega VC rounds have become so common

Another day, another monster fintech venture round.

This morning, it was personalized banking app MoneyLion, which raised $100 million at a near unicorn valuation. Last week, it was N26, which raised another $170 million on top of its $300 million round earlier this year. Brex raised another $100 million last month on top of its $125 million Series C from late last year. Meanwhile, companies like payments platform Stripe, savings and investment platform Raisin, traveler lender Uplift, mortgage backers Blend and Better, and savings depositor Acorns have also raised massive new rounds this year.

That’s all on top of 2018’s record-breaking year for fintech, which saw $52.5 billion of investment flow into the space according to KPMG’s estimate.

What’s with all the money flowing into the fintech world? And what does all this investment portend not only for the industry and other potential entrants, but also for customers of financial services? The answer is that this new wave of fintech startups has figured out embedded finance, and that it is changing the entire economics of disruptive financial services.

First, this isn’t (really) about blockchain

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away, for whenever the topic of financial services and digital disruption come together, some blatherer always yells blockchain from the proverbial back row (often with a bit of foaming at the mouth I might add).

Lightspeed Venture Partners doubles its growth practice

Lightspeed Venture Partners, a firm behind the likes of BetterUp, Aurora, Goop and dozens of others, will allocate more capital to mature companies with the hiring of three new partners.

Adam Smith, Amy Wu and Arsham Memarzadeh join the Menlo Park-headquartered venture capital fund’s growth practice. The team is led by longtime partner Will Kohler and Brad Twohig, who joined LSVP in 2018 to amp up the firm’s late-stage efforts, leading a $1.25 billion investment in Epic Games only months after arriving from Insight Venture Partners.

“I think we will continue to add to the team as we see the market opportunity ahead of us, so we can better understand when and where to invest,” Twohig tells TechCrunch. “They are going out and helping us identify interesting new opportunities. We are really looking for outlier businesses. We aren’t trying to invest in any company. We want outlier founders, outlying companies with outlying performance.”

The new hires double the size of LSVP’s late-stage team and come shortly after the firm closed on $1.8 billion for two new funds. Last year, LSVP announced Lightspeed Venture Partners XII, a $750 million early-stage vehicle, and Lightspeed Venture Partners Select III, a $1.05 billion fund for late-stage follow-on fundings.

Lightspeed, historically an early-stage fund, has continued to move downstream as deal sizes swell across all stages. With fresh capital to deploy, LSVP is not only continuing to invest in existing portfolio companies but also backing companies for the first time as late as the Series E.

“We still think there are great opportunities to make investments with a strong return profile even at the late-stage,” Kohler tells TechCrunch, citing the buzzworthy financial technology business Carta as an example. “[Carta is] an exceptional company even at a growth-stage investment because it has so much potential to keep growing. We are convinced there will be venture-sized returns.”

In addition to Carta, which LSVP invested in at its Series E earlier this year, Lightspeed has made late-stage bets on the B2B sales platform Seismic, employee coaching service BetterUp, Indian hotel business Oyo and Indian B2B wholesale marketplace Udon.

“Some time ago it might not have made sense for us to do this,” Kohler said. “But as we followed the growth of our early-stage companies, we’ve realized the markets are getting bigger, the global demand is impacting the size these companies can get and we can invest at an entry point that’s later on and realize a great venture return.”

Kohler emphasized the firm’s global funds — Lightspeed operates venture funds in China and India — as helpful mechanisms for late-stage deal sourcing. He also noted the firm’s expansion into late-stage is a “natural extension of its original vision.”

Founded in 2000, Lightspeed’s four founding partners — Chris Schaepe, Barry Eggers, Ravi Mhatre and Peter Nieh — “understood the boring non-sexy elements of tech,” Kohler explained.

As for the newest additions, Wu joins from Discovery Inc., where she was chief financial officer and senior vice president of the company’s global digital division. She will be focused on scaling businesses within LSVP’s portfolio.

Smith, focused on high-growth enterprise and consumer investment opportunities, previously worked as a principal at Bain Capital Ventures and a lead operations manager at Uber. Finally, Memarzadeh, who will invest in product-driven software startups, spent the last five years at OpenView, a Boston-based venture firm.

Lime’s founding CEO steps down as his co-founder takes control

In an all-hands meeting this afternoon, the scooter and bike-sharing phenom Lime announced co-founder and chief executive officer Toby Sun would transition out of the C-suite to focus on company culture and R&D. Brad Bao, a Lime co-founder and long-time Tencent executive, will assume chief responsibilities, Lime confirmed to TechCrunch.

“Lime has experienced unprecedented growth in the global marketplace under the joint leadership of our co-founders Brad Bao and Toby Sun,” the company said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Fortunately, Lime’s structure allows for our executive leadership to be multipurpose and we are making a few changes to our team today to seize the opportunity ahead of us.”

Sun and Bao launched Lime together in late 2016. The San Mateo-based company had near-immediate success, attracting hundreds of millions in venture capital funding and reaching a valuation of more than $1 billion in only a year and a half’s time. Today, the company is valued at $2.4 billion and is expected to hit the fundraising circuit soon.

In addition to today’s CEO shake-up, Lime’s chief operating officer and former GV partner Joe Kraus has been promoted to the role of president. Kraus joined Lime full-time late last year after more than a decade at the venture capital arm of Alphabet.

Bao, given his Tencent tenure, seems like a natural choice to lead Lime into a more mature phase of business. Sun, a former investment director at Fosun Kinzon, has less operational experience than his counterpart, who was most recently the vice president of the Chinese conglomerate’s gaming decision.

News of Sun’s demotion comes hot off the heels of a fresh new marketing campaign, featured above, in which the Lime co-founders describe the scooter-sharing startup’s origin story and grand ambitions. The company, backed by Bain Capital Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity Ventures, GV, IVP and a slew of other top-notch investors, is active in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and 27 cities internationally. As of June, riders had taken more than 50 million trips on one of Lime’s vehicles.

OpenFin raises $17 million for its OS for finance

OpenFin, the company looking to provide the operating system for the financial services industry, has raised $17 million in funding through a Series C round led by Wells Fargo, with participation from Barclays and existing investors including Bain Capital Ventures, J.P. Morgan and Pivot Investment Partners. Previous investors in OpenFin also include DRW Venture Capital, Euclid Opportunities and NYCA Partners.

Likening itself to “the OS of finance”, OpenFin seeks to be the operating layer on which applications used by financial services companies are built and launched, akin to iOS or Android for your smartphone.

OpenFin’s operating system provides three key solutions which, while present on your mobile phone, has previously been absent in the financial services industry: easier deployment of apps to end users, fast security assurances for applications, and interoperability.

Traders, analysts and other financial service employees often find themselves using several separate platforms simultaneously, as they try to source information and quickly execute multiple transactions. Yet historically, the desktop applications used by financial services firms — like trading platforms, data solutions, or risk analytics — haven’t communicated with one another, with functions performed in one application not recognized or reflected in external applications.

“On my phone, I can be in my calendar app and tap an address, which opens up Google Maps. From Google Maps, maybe I book an Uber . From Uber, I’ll share my real-time location on messages with my friends. That’s four different apps working together on my phone,” OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar explained to TechCrunch. That cross-functionality has long been missing in financial services.

As a result, employees can find themselves losing precious time — which in the world of financial services can often mean losing money — as they juggle multiple screens and perform repetitive processes across different applications.

Additionally, major banks, institutional investors and other financial firms have traditionally deployed natively installed applications in lengthy processes that can often take months, going through long vendor packaging and security reviews that ultimately don’t prevent the software from actually accessing the local system.

OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar. Image via OpenFin

As former analysts and traders at major financial institutions, Dar and his co-founder Chuck Doerr (now President & COO of OpenFin) recognized these major pain points and decided to build a common platform that would enable cross-functionality and instant deployment. And since apps on OpenFin are unable to access local file systems, banks can better ensure security and avoid prolonged yet ineffective security review processes.

And the value proposition offered by OpenFin seems to be quite compelling. Openfin boasts an impressive roster of customers using its platform, including over 1,500 major financial firms, almost 40 leading vendors, and 15 out of the world’s 20 largest banks.

Over 1,000 applications have been built on the OS, with OpenFin now deployed on more than 200,000 desktops — a noteworthy milestone given that the ever popular Bloomberg Terminal, which is ubiquitously used across financial institutions and investment firms, is deployed on roughly 300,000 desktops.

Since raising their Series B in February 2017, OpenFin’s deployments have more than doubled. The company’s headcount has also doubled and its European presence has tripled. Earlier this year, OpenFin also launched it’s OpenFin Cloud Services platform, which allows financial firms to launch their own private local app stores for employees and customers without writing a single line of code.

To date, OpenFin has raised a total of $40 million in venture funding and plans to use the capital from its latest round for additional hiring and to expand its footprint onto more desktops around the world. In the long run, OpenFin hopes to become the vital operating infrastructure upon which all developers of financial applications are innovating.

Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems and app stores have enabled more than a million apps that have fundamentally changed how we live,” said Dar. “OpenFin OS and our new app store services enable the next generation of desktop apps that are transforming how we work in financial services.”

Flipkart co-founder and other top names join AngelList’s first investment syndicate in India

A little over a year after it introduced Syndicates to the India market, AngelList — the U.S. service that helps connect companies with investors — is rolling out its own fund in the country with the backing of some stellar names.

Dubbed ‘The Collective,’ the syndicate includes money from Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal — Flipkart, of course, sold a majority stake to Walmart for $16 billion last year — and VCs Salil Deshpande of Bain Capital Ventures, Matrix India trio Avnish Bajaj, Tarun Davda and Vikram Vaidyanathan, Navroz Udwadia from Falcon Edge Capital and Rahul Mehta of DST Global. There’s also involvement from funds that include Kalaari Capital, FJ Labs and Beenext.

The Collective will be managed through an investment committee that is Utsav Somani, a partner with AngelList who launched the service in India, former 500 Startups India partner Pankaj Jain and Nipun Mehra, who has worked with Sequoia Capital, Flipkart and payment startup Pine Labs.

The size of the fund is undisclosed, but Somani told TechCrunch it will likely back 60-80 companies over the next 12-18 months. Syndicates interested in engaging The Collective can draw up to $150,000 per deal, according to an AngelList India announcement.

“The fund will exclusively deploy on AngelList India. This is to give more power to the most active GP base we have through our syndicate leads,” Somani explained.

Utsav Somani launched AngelList’s syndicates product in India last year and he will now look after the company’s first managed fund in the country

More generally, he said that the first year of Syndicates in India has seen more than $5 million deployed across more than 50 publicly announced investments, including deals with BharatPe, HalaPlay, Yulu Bikes and Open Bank. Six of those startups have already raised follow-on capital. Somani said AngelList India Syndicates have invested alongside well-known funds that include Sequoia Capital India, Matrix Partners India, Omidyar Network, Blume Ventures and Beenext.

To date, AngelList has helped deploy some $1.09 billion to over 3,100 startups, according to its website. The company claims its portfolio has raised close to $9 billion in follow-on funding. AngelList is primarily focused on the U.S. market, but India is fast becoming a majority priority. Like the U.S., the Indian service is open only to accredited investors so it isn’t a crowdfunding service.

Rent the Runway hits a $1 billion valuation

Rent the Runway just closed a $125 million round led by Franklin Templeton Investments and Bain Capital Ventures. This round values the company at $1 billion. In total, Rent the Runway has raised $337 million in venture funding.

“Shared, dynamic ownership is a movement that Rent the Runway has pioneered over the last decade and we’re excited to continue to lead the market and innovate our subscription service,” Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman said in a statement.

Late last year, Rent the Runway opened a physical location in San Francisco, marking the company’s fifth standalone brick and mortar space. Rent the Runway, which launched about 10 years ago, has expanded from the sole offering of one-time rentals to now three offerings, including two subscription offerings.

With the funding, Rent the Runway plans to scale its subscription business, broaden its clothing and home decor offerings and open additional fulfillment facilities.

Since its founding, a number of other fashion services have cropped up. The most notable one is StitchFix, which went public in 2017. But what differentiates Rent the Runway from the likes of Stitch Fix is that, “they’re trying to get you to buy stuff,” Rent the Runway COO Maureen Sullivan told me back in September. “You’re still buying things that accumulate in your closet.”

India’s Rentomojo raises $10M from Bain Capital and Lending Club founder

 Indian startup Rentomojo — which lets consumers rent appliances furniture, motorbikes and other urban living essentials — has closed a $10 million Series B to continue its expansion. The round was led by Bain Capital Ventures, and others that put in include Lending Club founder and former CEO Renaud Laplanche and existing investors Accel and IDG. It’s nearly one year to the… Read More

AngelList just launched full-fledged venture funds

 According to AngelList, the startup funding and recruiting platform, the number of companies being minted continues to far exceed the numbers of funds that can support them at the Series A and even the seed stage. Meanwhile, angel investors don’t necessarily have enough capital, particularly those who may be respected operators but haven’t yet enjoyed a major liquidity event… Read More

Bain Capital Ventures raises $600 million (and another big fund is born)

American dollars falling in the sky It’s starting to happen like clockwork. Firms are closing new funds almost exactly 24 months to the date from their last fund closing. The newest example? Bain Capital Ventures (BCV), which this morning announced a new, $600 million fund. It last closed two funds — a $650 million early-stage vehicle, and a $200 million co-investment fund to back maturing BCV investments —… Read More

Checking the market’s temperature with Bain’s Ajay Agarwal

Ajay Agarwal Ajay Agarwal leads the West Coast team for Bain Capital Ventures, which he joined 13 years ago. Because he he has seen some market zigs and zags, we met him for coffee this week to talk about what he’s seeing in the market right now. Our chat has been edited for length. TC: Bain Capital Ventures opened its first office in the Bay Area five years ago. Now you have an office in Palo… Read More