Drip Capital helps exporters access working capital

Drip Capital is raising a $20 million funding round from Accel, Wing VC and Sequoia India. The company is helping small exporters in emerging markets access working capital in order to finance big orders.

The startup also participated in Y Combinator back in 2015. Many small companies in emerging markets have to turn down orders because they can’t finance big orders. Even if you found a client in the U.S. or Europe, chances are companies will end up paying for your order a month or two after signing a contract.

If you’re an importer or an exporter, capital is arguably your most valuable resource. You know where to source your products and how to ship many goods. But you still need to buy goods yourself.

And in many emerging markets, you have to pay right away. It creates a sort of capital gap.

At the same time, local banks are often too slow and reject too many credit applications. Drip Capital thinks there’s an opportunity for a tech platform that finances exporters in no time.

The startup is first focusing on India because it meets many of the criteria I listed. This could be particularly useful for small and medium businesses. Large companies don’t necessarily face the same issues as they can access capital more easily.

So far, Drip Capital has funded more than $100 million of trade. After signing up to the platform, you can submit invoices and open a credit line to finance your next orders. Family offices and institutional investors can also invest some money in Drip Capital’s fund and get returns on investment.

This isn’t the only platform that helps you get paid faster. But larger companies tend to do it all and optimize the supply chain for the biggest companies in the world. Drip Capital is focusing on a specific vertical.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to get more customers and expand to other countries.

Personal finance startup SmartAsset raises $28M

I first wrote about SmartAsset nearly six years ago, when it launched its first product, a tool allowing prospective homebuyers to analyze the rent vs. buy decision and to see what kind of home they could actually afford.

According to co-founder and CEO Michael Carvin, “On the consumer side, our strategy has never really changed. Our mission is to help people make the best personal finance decisions and to build the web’s best resource for personal finance decision-making.”

Of course, some aspects of the company have evolved. For one thing, SmartAsset now offers tools, calculators and content in a number of categories, including taxes, retirement and banking.

For another, it’s announcing today that it has raised $28 million in Series C funding, bringing its total raised to more than $51 million. The new round comes from Focus Financial Partners (a firm backed by Stone Point Capital and KKR), Javelin Venture Partners, TTV Capital, IA Capital, Contour Venture Partners, Citi Ventures, Fabrice Grinda and others.

Carvin said SmartAsset reached more than 45 million uniques last month, nearly doubling its traffic year-over-year. And 25 percent of that traffic comes from repeat visitors.

smartasset

As for how SmartAsset makes money from those visitors, it does so partly by promoting financial products like mortgages. But Carvin said the biggest piece is the SmartAdvisor platform, which connects financial advisors with potential investors.

Carvin described it as “the web’s first digital lead generation platform for financial advisors,” and compared the SmartAsset business model to Zillow’s, saying both companies have built big audiences that they can then match up with real estate or finance professionals.

In SmartAsset’s case, users fill out a questionaire and then work with a SmartAsset concierge to help them find an advisor who’s a good fit. Carvin added that the advisors on the platform have been screened by the company, for example to ensure that they haven’t had any criminal violations and that SEC hasn’t upheld any complaints against them for the past decade.

Asked whether this focus on financial advisors has led SmartAsset to change the way it designs its consumer products Carvin said, “We believe the better the user experience, the better our business will work. And so when we’re building a retirement tool, a home affordability tool, a tax tool, we’re building that only with the consumer interest in mind.”

Looking ahead, Carvin said he plans to continue following this strategy.

“We’re going to build out the web’s premiere personal finance resources and then leverage that on advisor side,” he said.

Venmo is discontinuing web support for payments and more

PayPal-owned, peer-to-peer payments app Venmo is ending web support for its service, the company announced in an email to users. The changes, which are beginning to roll out now, will see the Venmo .com website phasing out support for making payments and charging users. In time, users will see even less functionality on the website, the company says.

The message to users was quietly shared in the body of Venmo’s monthly transaction history email. It reads as follows:

NOTICE: Venmo has decided to phase out some of the functionality on the Venmo.com website over the coming months. We are beginning to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website, and over time, you may see less functionality on the website – this is just the start. We therefore have updated our user agreement to reflect that the use of Venmo on the Venmo.com website may be limited.

The decision represents a notable shift in product direction for Venmo. Though best known as a mobile payments app, the service has also been available online, similar to PayPal, for many years.

The Venmo website today allows users to sign in and view their various transaction feeds, including public transactions, those from friends, and personal transactions. You can also charge friends and submit payments from the website, send payment reminders, like and comment on transactions, add friends, edit your profile, and more.

Some users may already be impacted by the changes, and will now see a message alerting them to the fact that charging friends and making payments can only be done in the Venmo app from the App Store or Google Play.

It’s not entirely surprising to see Venmo drop web support. As a PayPal-owned property after its acquisition by Braintree which later brought it to PayPal, there’s always been a lot of overlap between Venmo and its parent company, in terms of peer-to-peer payments.

Venmo had grown in popularity for its simple, social network-inspired design and its less burdensome fee structure among a younger crowd. This made it an appealing way for PayPal to gain market share with a different demographic.

It’s also cheaper, which people like. PayPal doesn’t charge for money transfers from a bank account or PayPal balance, but does charge 2.9 percent plus a $0.30 fixed fee on payments from a credit or debit card in the U.S. Venmo, meanwhile, charges a fee of 3 percent for credit card payments, but makes debit card payments free. That’s appealing to millennials in particular, many of whom have ditched credit cards entirely, and are careful about their spending.

Plus, as a mobile-first application, Venmo was offering a more modern solution for mobile payments, at a time when PayPal’s app was looking a bit long in the tooth. (PayPal has since redesigned its mobile app experience to catch up.)

Another factor in Venmo’s decision could be that, more recently, it began facing competition from newcomer Zelle, the bank-backed mobile payments here in the U.S. which is forecast to outpace Venmo on users sometime this year, with 27.4 million users to Venmo’s 22.9 million. In light of that threat, Venmo may have wanted to consolidate its resources on its primary product – the mobile app.

Not everyone is happy about Venmo’s changes, of course. After all, even if the Venmo website wasn’t heavily used, it was used by some who will certainly miss it.

Reached for comment, Venmo explained the decision to phase out the website functionality stems from how it sees its product being used.

A Venmo spokesperson told TechCrunch:

Venmo continuously evaluates our products and services to ensure we are delivering our users the best experience. We have decided to begin to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website. Most of our users pay and request money using the Venmo app, so we’re focusing our efforts there. Users can continue to use the mobile app for their pay and charge transactions and can still use the website for cashing out Venmo balances, settings and statements.

The company declined to clarify what other functionality may be removed from the website over time, but noted that using Venmo to pay authorized merchants is unaffected.

Celebrity funds from Jay Z, Will Smith and Robert Downey Jr. are backing a life insurance startup

Ethos, the company that bills itself as making life insurance accessible, affordable and simple, has officially come out of stealth with an $11.5 million investment led by on of the world’s top venture firms, Sequoia Capital, and additional participation from the family offices of Hollywood’s biggest stars and an NBA all-star.

Jay Z’s Roc Nation, the family funds of Kevin Durant, Robert Downey Jr. and Will Smith all participated in the new round for Ethos, and Sequoia Partner Roelof Botha is taking a seat on the company’s board. Because nothing says star power like a life insurance startup.

The life insurance market is one that’s been attracting interest from venture investors for a little over a year now. Companies like England’s Anorak, HealthIQ, Ladder, Mira Financial, France’s Alan, which is backed by Partech Investments (among others), Fabric, and Quilt, are all pitching life insurance products as well.

Ethos is licensed in 49 states, which is pretty comparable to the offering from providers like Haven Life, the Mass Mutual-backed life insurance product.

What has made the life insurance market interesting for investors is the fact that consumers’ interest in it continues to decline. Whether it’s because no one trusts insurers to actually pay out, or because Americans are putting their faith in the anti-aging technologies from funds like the Longevity Fund, folks just aren’t buying insurance products the way they used to.

So when investors see the numbers of users of a formerly ubiquitous product decline from 77% in 1989 to below 60% in 2018, the assumption is that there’s room for new companies to come in and provide better service.

Scads of investors have taken the same bet, which makes Ethos a marketing play as much as anything else. In the company’s press release it touts the fast, easy, and inexpensive process for getting a quote.

The initial process requires only four questions to et a quote and a ten minute survey to get a policy (in most cases). The company says 99% of its applicants don’t need a medical exam or blood test to get a policy.

What may have been most interesting to investors is the pedigree of the company’s co-founders. Peter Colis and Lingke Wang have both worked in the insurance industry before. They previously co-founded a life insurance marketplace called, Ovid Life

“Life insurance is critical for families, but the process is broken for those who want and need it,” said Peter Colis. “We are consumer advocates, intensely focused on expanding life insurance accessibility to the millions of US families who have college debt, mortgages​, spouses and children​ to care for, and who want to be financially empowered to live their lives without worry.”

Bitcoin price falls but doesn’t flatline

Those not looking at the Bitcoin markets lately will either gasp or smile. Bitcoin, down from its all time high of around $19,000, is now floating at $6,785 as of this writing. To many this means that either the Bitcoin experiment is over or, to many more, that it has just begun.

There are plenty of folks who will have been hurt by this crash. I was speaking with a Romanian entrepreneur about his friend who bought BTC on a credit card only to find that he is wildly underwater. The volatility is also frightening to folks who might have gotten in on the last run up only to find themselves back at the start. I pity the poor waiter who a friend saw making Bitcoin trades at $18,000 during his shift. I hope he sold.

But there are no signs that the cryptocurrency train is stopping. Startups around the world are all examining – and doing – ICOs. Plenty of early crypto miners and buyers still have enough cash to play around in all sorts of ways. Bitcoin naysayers like R3 are figuring out that bankers didn’t want to hear “blockchain, not bitcoin” after all once they realized that bitcoin, like their beloved equities and commodities, was just another place for them to play.

And people are still active in the market. That’s important. As this Coindesk analysis notes, the markets will be deeply volatile during this stretch and could remain so as risk-taking buyers snap up coin on the downswing.

Don’t believe me? This is the seven day trading volume for almost all of the exchanges.

Ultimately these moves make up one of the most interesting forms of intergenerational and international wealth transfer we’ve ever seen. Whereas this wealth transfer once came in the form of inheritances and joint ventures, cryptocurrencies enable an almost instantaneous partners ship between the old and young and the near and far. It’s a fascinating economic time and I doubt it will let up any time soon.

Sometimes the price goes up, sometimes it goes down. That’s the best advice any smart person can give anyone in any market. However, the signs point less to a flatline and more to a gut-wrenching EKG full of ups and downs. The patient, however, is not dead yet.

Korean crypto exchange Coinrail loses over $40M in tokens following a hack

Another day, another crypto hack. This time it’s Korea, the crypto-mad Asian country, where an exchange called Coinrail lost more than $40 million in altcoins, ICO-issued tokens that aren’t bitcoin or Ethereum, after it was hit by an apparent attack over the weekend.

Korea may be a hot spot for crypto investment, but Coinrail is one of its smaller exchanges, just about ranking inside the world’s top 90 based on trading volume, according to coinmarketcap.com. Nonetheless, even the smaller exchanges have plenty of coins, as the size of this heist illustrates.

Most notably, the hackers got away with $19.5 million-worth of NPXS tokens that were issued by payment project Pundi X’s ICO. Added to that they scored a further $13.8 million from Aston X, an ICO project building a platform to decentralize documents, $5.8 million in tokens for Dent, a mobile data ICO, and over $1.1 million Tron, a much-hyped project originating from China.

That’s according to a wallet address that has been identified as belonging to the alleged attacker, who also got hold of smaller volumes of a further five tokens from Coinrail.

In all the cases, the companies issuing the tokens themselves were not hacked, the tokens that were nabbed belong to Coinrail users.

It isn’t clear how, or indeed whether, Coinrail will go about compensating its customers — Japan’s Coincheck refunded its customers following a high-profile attack earlier this year — but some of the ICO projects are taking steps in response.

Pundi was hit the hardest, claiming that some three percent of its total volume of tokens was impacted by this attack. It said it has frozen the tokens that were stolen and it has ceased trading of its tokens across all exchanges to help with the post-attack investigation, which it said includes the Korean police. NPER, which had around $860,000-worth of tokens taken from Coinrail, said it had frozen the stolen funds and it plans incinerate the tokens to render them useless to the hacker. Aston has also frozen its affected tokens, according to Coinrail.

Other projects have yet to comment, although Coinrail said in a statement on its website that two-thirds of the stolen tokens have been frozen with more action likely to happen.

Coinrail took its service offline and it said in a statement that it has moved the remainder of its assets — which it said is 70 percent of its total holdings — to cold storage while it reviews its security system and fully investigates the incident.

Some have suggested that the hack was responsible for bitcoin’s valuation dropping by over five percent in what is the cryptocurrency’s biggest decline for two weeks. However, Coinrail is so obscure that this theory seems unlikely.

What is for certain is that the hack serves as another strong reminder that the space remains unregulated — there’s with little recourse for victims of a crypto exchange hack, unlike say a bank robbery or payment fraud. More importantly, those who do buy bitcoin, Ethereum or other crypto tokens should keep their tokens securely in a private wallet (ideally using a hardware device for access) rather than leaving them within an exchange where they could be stolen.

For those of you keeping score on recent hacks on exchanges, here are a few: Coincheck lost an estimated $400 million earlier this year, last November saw Tether claim it lose $31 million following an attack while EtherDelta suspended its exchange service for a period in December after it was compromised.

The Mt. Gox hacking in 2014 is the mother of all crypto attacks, of course. In total the exchange lost around 744,408 BTC. That was worth around $350 million at the time, but today a holding of that size would be valued at some $5.3 billion.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Accenture wants to beat unfair AI with a professional toolkit

Next week professional services firm Accenture will be launching a new tool to help its customers identify and fix unfair bias in AI algorithms. The idea is to catch discrimination before it gets baked into models and can cause human damage at scale.

The “AI fairness tool”, as it’s being described, is one piece of a wider package the consultancy firm has recently started offering its customers around transparency and ethics for machine learning deployments — while still pushing businesses to adopt and deploy AI. (So the intent, at least, can be summed up as: ‘Move fast and don’t break things’. Or, in very condensed corporate-speak: “Agile ethics”.) 

“Most of last year was spent… understanding this realm of ethics and AI and really educating ourselves, and I feel that 2018 has really become the year of doing — the year of moving beyond virtue signaling. And moving into actual creation and development,” says Rumman Chowdhury, Accenture’s responsible AI lead — who joined the company when the role was created, in January 2017.

“For many of us, especially those of us who are in this space all the time, we’re tired of just talking about it — we want to start building and solving problems, and that’s really what inspired this fairness tool.”

Chowdhury says Accenture is defining fairness for this purpose as “equal outcomes for different people”. 

“There is no such thing as a perfect algorithm,” she says. “We know that models will be wrong sometimes. We consider it unfair if there are different degrees of wrongness… for different people, based on characteristics that should not influence the outcomes.”

She envisages the tool having wide application and utility across different industries and markets, suggesting early adopters are likely those in the most heavily regulated industries — such as financial services and healthcare, where “AI can have a lot of potential but has a very large human impact”.

“We’re seeing increasing focus on algorithmic bias, fairness. Just this past week we’ve had Singapore announce an AI ethics board. Korea announce an AI ethics board. In the US we already have industry creating different groups — such as The Partnership on AI. Google just released their ethical guidelines… So I think industry leaders, as well as non-tech companies, are looking for guidance. They are looking for standards and protocols and something to adhere to because they want to know that they are safe in creating products.

“It’s not an easy task to think about these things. Not every organization or company has the resources to. So how might we better enable that to happen? Through good legislation, through enabling trust, communication. And also through developing these kinds of tools to help the process along.”

The tool — which uses statistical methods to assess AI models — is focused on one type of AI bias problem that’s “quantifiable and measurable”. Specifically it’s intended to help companies assess the data sets they feed to AI models to identify biases related to sensitive variables and course correct for them, as it’s also able to adjust models to equalize the impact.

To boil it down further, the tool examines the “data influence” of sensitive variables (age, gender, race etc) on other variables in a model — measuring how much of a correlation the variables have with each other to see whether they are skewing the model and its outcomes.

It can then remove the impact of sensitive variables — leaving only the residual impact say, for example, that ‘likelihood to own a home’ would have on a model output, instead of the output being derived from age and likelihood to own a home, and therefore risking decisions being biased against certain age groups.

There’s two parts to having sensitive variables like age, race, gender, ethnicity etc motivating or driving your outcomes. So the first part of our tool helps you identify which variables in your dataset that are potentially sensitive are influencing other variables,” she explains. “It’s not as easy as saying: Don’t include age in your algorithm and it’s fine. Because age is very highly correlated with things like number of children you have, or likelihood to be married. Things like that. So we need to remove the impact that the sensitive variable has on other variables which we’re considering to be not sensitive and necessary for developing a good algorithm.”

Chowdhury cites an example in the US, where algorithms used to determine parole outcomes were less likely to be wrong for white men than for black men. “That was unfair,” she says. “People were denied parole, who should have been granted parole — and it happened more often for black people than for white people. And that’s the kind of fairness we’re looking at. We want to make sure that everybody has equal opportunity.”

However, a quirk of AI algorithms is that when models are corrected for unfair bias there can be a reduction in their accuracy. So the tool also calculates the accuracy of any trade-off to show whether improving the model’s fairness will make it less accurate and to what extent.

Users get a before and after visualization of any bias corrections. And can essentially choose to set their own ‘ethical bar’ based on fairness vs accuracy — using a toggle bar on the platform — assuming they are comfortable compromising the former for the latter (and, indeed, comfortable with any associated legal risk if they actively select for an obviously unfair tradeoff).

In Europe, for example, there are rules that place an obligation on data processors to prevent errors, bias and discrimination in automated decisions. They can also be required to give individuals information about the logic of an automated decision that effects them. So actively choosing a decision model that’s patently unfair would invite a lot of legal risk.

 

While Chowdhury concedes there is an accuracy cost to correcting bias in an AI model, she says trade-offs can “vary wildly”. “It can be that your model is incredibly unfair and to correct it to be a lot more fair is not going to impact your model that much… maybe by 1% or 2% [accuracy]. So it’s not that big of a deal. And then in other cases you may see a wider shift in model accuracy.”

She says it’s also possible the tool might raise substantial questions for users over the appropriateness of an entire data-set — essentially showing them that a data-set is “simply inadequate for your needs”.

“If you see a huge shift in your model accuracy that probably means there’s something wrong in your data. And you might need to actually go back and look at your data,” she says. “So while this tool does help with corrections it is part of this larger process — where you may actually have to go back and get new data, get different data. What this tool does is able to highlight that necessity in a way that’s easy to understand.

“Previously people didn’t have that ability to visualize and understand that their data may actually not be adequate for what they’re trying to solve for.”

She adds: “This may have been data that you’ve been using for quite some time. And it may actually cause people to re-examine their data, how it’s shaped, how societal influences influence outcomes. That’s kind of the beauty of artificial intelligence as a sort of subjective observer of humanity.”

While tech giants may have developed their own internal tools for assessing the neutrality of their AI algorithms — Facebook has one called Fairness Flow, for example — Chowdhury argues that most non-tech companies will not be able to develop their own similarly sophisticated tools for assessing algorithmic bias.

Which is where Accenture is hoping to step in with a support service — and one that also embeds ethical frameworks and toolkits into the product development lifecycle, so R&D remains as agile as possible.

“One of the questions that I’m always faced with is how do we integrate ethical behavior in way that aligns with rapid innovation. So every company is really adopting this idea of agile innovation and development, etc. People are talking a lot about three to six month iterative processes. So I can’t come in with an ethical process that takes three months to do. So part of one of my constraints is how do I create something that’s easy to integrate into this innovation lifecycle.”

One specific draw back is that currently the tool has not been verified working across different types of AI models. Chowdhury says it’s principally been tested on models that use classification to group people for the purposes of building AI models, so it may not be suitable for other types. (Though she says their next step will be to test it for “other kinds of commonly used models”.)

More generally, she says the challenge is that many companies are hoping for a magic “push button” tech fix-all for algorithmic bias. Which of course simply does not — and will not — exist.

“If anything there’s almost an overeagerness in the market for a technical solution to all their problems… and this is not the case where tech will fix everything,” she warns. “Tech can definitely help but part of this is having people understand that this is an informational tool, it will help you, but it’s not going to solve all your problems for you.”

The tool was co-prototyped with the help of a data study group at the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, using publicly available data-sets. 

During prototyping, when the researchers were using a German data-set relating to credit risk scores, Chowdhury says the team realized that nationality was influencing a lot of other variables. And for credit risk outcomes they found decisions were more likely to be wrong for non-German nationals.

They then used the tool to equalize the outcome and found it didn’t have a significant impact on the model’s accuracy. “So at the end of it you have a model that is just as accurate as the previous models were in determining whether or not somebody is a credit risk. But we were confident in knowing that one’s nationality did not have undue influence over that outcome.”

A paper about the prototyping of the tool will be made publicly available later this year, she adds.

US startups off to a strong M&A run in 2018

With Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub this week, we can now decisively declare a trend: 2018 is shaping up as a darn good year for U.S. venture-backed M&A.

So far this year, acquirers have spent just over $20 billion in disclosed-price purchases of U.S. VC-funded companies, according to Crunchbase data. That’s about 80 percent of the 2017 full-year total, which is pretty impressive, considering we’re barely five months into 2018.

If one included unreported purchase prices, the totals would be quite a bit higher. Fewer than 20 percent of acquisitions in our data set came with reported prices.1 Undisclosed prices are mostly for smaller deals, but not always. We put together a list of a dozen undisclosed price M&A transactions this year involving companies snapped up by large-cap acquirers after raising more than $20 million in venture funding.

The big deals

The deals that everyone talks about, however, are the ones with the big and disclosed price tags. And we’ve seen quite a few of those lately.

As we approach the half-year mark, nothing comes close to topping the GitHub deal, which ranks as one of the biggest acquisitions of a private, U.S. venture-backed company ever. The last deal to top it was Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp in 2014, according to Crunchbase.

Of course, GitHub is a unique story with an astounding growth trajectory. Its platform for code development, most popular among programmers, has drawn 28 million users. For context, that’s more than the entire population of Australia.

Still, let’s not forget about the other big deals announced in 2018. We list the top six below:

Flatiron Health, a provider of software used by cancer care providers and researchers, ranks as the second-biggest VC-backed acquisition of 2018. Its purchaser, Roche, was an existing stakeholder who apparently liked what it saw enough to buy up all remaining shares.

Next up is job and employer review site Glassdoor, a company familiar to many of those who’ve looked for a new post or handled hiring in the past decade. The 11-year-old company found a fan in Tokyo-based Recruit Holdings, a provider of recruitment and human resources services that also owns leading job site Indeed.com.

Meanwhile, Impact Biomedicines, a cancer therapy developer that sold to Celgene for $1.1 billion, could end up delivering an even larger exit. The acquisition deal includes potential milestone payments approaching nearly $6 billion.

Deal counts look flat

Not all metrics are trending up, however. While acquirers are doing bigger deals, they don’t appear to be buying a larger number of startups.

Crunchbase shows 216 startups in our data set that sold this year. That’s roughly on par with the pace of dealmaking in the year-ago period, which had 222 M&A exits using similar parameters. (For all of 2017, there were 508 startup acquisitions that met our parameters.2)

Below, we look at M&A counts for the past five calendar years:

Looking at prior years for comparison, the takeaway seems to be that M&A deal counts for 2018 look just fine, but we’re not seeing a big spike.

What’s changed?

The more notable shift from 2017 seems to be buyers’ bigger appetite for unicorn-scale deals. Last year, we saw just one acquisition of a software company for more than a billion dollars — Cisco’s $3.7 billion purchase of AppDynamics — and that was only after the performance management software provider filed to go public. The only other billion-plus deal was PetSmart’s $3.4 billion acquisition of pet food delivery service Chewy, which previously raised early venture funding and later private equity backing.

There are plenty of reasons why acquirers could be spending more freely this year. Some that come to mind: Stock indexes are chugging along, and U.S. legislators have slashed corporate tax rates. U.S. companies with large cash hordes held overseas, like Apple and Microsoft, also received new financial incentives to repatriate that money.

That’s not to say companies are doing acquisitions for these reasons. There’s no obligation to spend repatriated cash in any particular way. Many prefer share buybacks or sitting on piles of money. Nonetheless, the combination of these two things — more money and less uncertainty around tax reform — are certainly not a bad thing for M&A.

High public valuations, particularly for tech, also help. Microsoft shares, for instance, have risen by more than 44 percent in the past year. That means that it took about a third fewer shares to buy GitHub this month than it would have a year ago. (Of course, GitHub’s valuation probably rose as well, but we’ll ignore that for now.)

Paying retail

Overall, this is not looking like an M&A market for bargain hunters.

Large-cap acquirers seem willing to pay retail price for startups they like, given the competitive environment. After all, the IPO window is wide open. Plus, fast-growing unicorns have the option of staying private and raising money from SoftBank or a panoply of other highly capitalized investors.

Meanwhile, acquirers themselves are competing for desirable startups. Microsoft’s winning bid for GitHub reportedly followed overtures by Google, Atlassian and a host of other would-be buyers.

But even in the most buoyant climate, one rule of acquiring remains true: It’s hard to turn down $7.5 billion.

  1. The data set included companies that have raised $1 million or more in venture or seed funding, with their most recent round closing within the past five years.
  2. For the prior year comparisons, including the chart, the data set consisted of companies acquired in a specified year that raised $1 million or more in venture or seed funding, with their most recent round closing no more than five years before the middle of that year.

GitHub’s epic exit, Domo’s dicey math and Dataminr’s big raise

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This time ’round we had Connie and Alex on hand with Brian Ascher, a longtime partner with Venrock down in Palo Alto, Calif. It was a surprisingly busy week, so we had our work cut out for us. Without further ado:

  • GitHub! The biggest story in tech this week was right up our alley: Microsoft bought the venture-backed GitHub for $7.5 billion, bringing a massive portion of the developer world under its auspices. Whether developers want passports to Redmond remains up for debate, but from a corporate perspective, Microsoft’s move has largely been well-received. The transaction also provided a huge bump for GitHub’s investors, including a16z.
  • Domo! Another tech company is fighting to go public, but this time there’s doubt it can pull it off. Domo’s numbers are the wrong side of rough, with the firm burning tectonic amounts of cash to grow quite modestly. If the firm manages to go public, and soon, it may struggle to stay alive.
  • Scooters! As per usual, there’s new money flowing into the scooter niche. (Note: Domo is looking to tap the public markets at a time when scooter companies can raise $450 million in two rounds. Ouch.) We try to find out if Bird and Lime are worth the change, as well as why do they need so much cash. We also touched on the broader crowded non-car, on-demand transit space.
  • Dataminr! Sticking to the mega-round theme, Dataminr’s huge raise was perfectly timed for this episode, as our guest’s firm has money in the company. Indeed, with $221 million more in its pocket, Dataminr —  which makes sense of online chaos for its customers — has an epic bankroll from which to bet.

Here’s a fun question: What will Equity sound like when the market turns and we cover the slowing of venture and the compression of valuations instead of venture acceleration and towering new post-money figures? All we know today is that the venture world is investing like that reality is far-off. We’ll see.

Hit play, and we’ll be right back.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Alibaba’s Ant Financial fintech affiliate raises $14 billion to continue its global expansion

Ant Financial, the financial services affiliate connected to Alibaba which operates the Alipay mobile payment service, has confirmed that it has closed a Series C funding round that totals an enormous $14 billion.

The rumors have been flying about this huge financing deal for the past month or so, with multiple publications reporting that Ant — which has been strongly linked with an IPO — was in the market to raise at least $9 billion at a valuation of upwards of $100 billion. That turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg here.

The money comes via a tranche of U.S. dollar financing and Chinese RMB from local investors. Those names include Singapore-based sovereign funds GIC and Temasek, Malaysian sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Warburg Pincus, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Silver Lake and General Atlantic.

Ant said that the money will go towards extending its global expansion (and deepening its presence in non-China markets it has already entered), developing technology and hiring.

“We are pleased to welcome these investors as partners, who share our vision and mission, to embark on our journey to further promote inclusive finance globally and bring equal opportunities to the world. We are proud of, and inspired by, the transformation we have affected in the lives of ordinary people and small businesses over the past 14 years,” Ant Financial CEO and executive chairman Eric Jing said in a statement.

Alibaba itself doesn’t invest in Ant, which it span off shortly before its mega-IPO in the U.S. in 2014, but the company did recently take up an option to own 33 percent of Ant’s shares.

Ant has long been tipped to go public. Back in 2016 when it raised a then blockbuster $4.5 billionlittle did we know it would pull in many multiples more — the company has been reportedly considering a public listing, but it instead opted to raise new capital at a valuation of $60 billion.

It looks like the same again, but with higher stakes. This new Series C round pushes that valuation up to $100 billion, according to Bloomberg. (Ant didn’t comment on its valuation.) So what has Ant done over the past two years to justify that jump?

It has long been a key fintech company in China, where it claims to serve offer 500 million consumers and offers Alipay, digital banking and investment services, but it has begun to replicate that business overseas in recent years. In particular, it has made investments and set up joint-ventures and new businesses in a slew of Asian countries that include India, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The company was, however, unsuccessful in its effort to buy MoneyGram after the U.S. government blocked the $1.2 billion deal.

On the business-side, Ant is said to have posted a $1.4 billion profit over the last year, suggesting it is more than ready to make the leap to being a public firm.

Despite that U.S. deal setback, Ant said today that its global footprint extends to 870 million consumers. I’d take that with a pinch of salt at this point since its business outside of China is in its early stages, but there seems little doubt that it is on the road to replicating its scale in its homeland in many parts of Asia. Raising this huge round only solidifies those plans by providing the kind of capital infusion that tops most of the world’s IPOs in one fell swoop.