Startups Weekly: The unicorn from down under, an Uber TV show and All Raise’s expansion

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy news pertaining to startups and venture capital. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Revel, a recent graduate of Y Combinator that’s raised a small seed round.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

What happened this week?

Uber the TV show

Is anyone surprised Mike Isaac’s “Super Pumped” is set to become a TV show? Travis Kalanick’s notorious journey to CEO of Uber and subsequent ouster was made for television. This week, news broke that Showtime’s Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the creators and showrunners of “Billions,” would develop the project, with Isaac himself on board to executive produce. I will be watching.

All Raise expansion

All Raise, an 18-month-old nonprofit organization that seeks to amplify the voices of and support women in tech, announced new chapters in Los Angeles and Boston this week. I spoke with leaders of the organization about expansion plans, new hires, product launches and more. “Women are hungry for the support and guidance we provide. I think the movement is just gathering momentum,” All Raise CEO Pam Kostka told me.

VCThe unicorn from down under

You’ve probably heard of Canva by now. The Australian tech company, which has developed a simplified graphic design tool, is worth a whopping $3.2 billion as of this week. Investors in the company include Bond, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blackbird and Sequoia China. Alongside a fresh $85 million funding, Canva is also making its foray into enterprise with the launch of Canva for Enterprise. Read about that here.

What else?

  1. The Station, TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec’s new weekly newsletter, has officially launched. She is going deep each week on all things mobility and transportation. You can read her first one here and subscribe here.
  2. ‘Cloud kitchens’ is an oxymoron, says TechCrunch editor Danny Crichton. He penned an interesting piece this week, arguing cloud kitchens are just adding more competition to one of the most competitive industries in the world, and that isn’t a path to leverage.
  3. NASA made history this week when astronauts Christina H. Koch and Jessica Meir took part in the first-ever spacewalk in the agency’s history featuring only women. No, this isn’t startup-related but it’s pretty damn cool. Watch the video here.


NASA astronauts Christina H. Koch and Jessica Meir

VC deals

Startup spotlight: Petalfox. I discovered the business earlier this week. Basically, it’s a super easy way to order flowers, coffee and others goods via SMS. I’m trying it out. That’s all.


This week was honestly a treat. We had myself in the studio along with Alex Wilhelm and a special guest, Sarah Guo from Greylock Partners, a venture firm (obviously). Guo has the distinction of having the best-ever fun fact on the show. We kicked off with Grammarly, a company that recently put $90 million into its accounts. Then chatted about Lattice, Tempest, WeWork, SaaS, the future of valuations in Silicon Valley and more if you can believe it. Listen here.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on iTunesOvercast and all the casts.

Where are US fintech’s next billion-dollar startups?

As fintech investments soar to new heights, investors are looking at the bottom and top levels of the services stack to find the next billion-dollar startups.

That’s the word from seasoned investors like Andreessen Horowitz’s managing director, Angela Strange, who has invested in a number of successful financial services technology companies. For Strange and Chris Britt, co-founder and chief executive of financial services startup Chime Bank, the best opportunities are in customer-facing financial services and specific infrastructure opportunities that can support those  businesses.

For many large companies, financial services are already entering a twilight period. Markets like consumer and student lending, banking and financial management and business lending are becoming more crowded, and companies like Affirm, Betterment, Brex, Chime Bank, CommonBond, Kabbage, Robinhood, SoFi, Wealthfront and many others have raised hundreds of millions so they can take on established players in banking and finance.

Investments into financial technology companies in the U.S. exploded in 2019 with at least $12.7 billion flowing in the first half of the year alone. That figure — a 60% jump in dollars committed — came even as the number of deals remained relatively steady, according to data from Accenture.

Increasing capital commitments were even more pronounced in Europe and the United Kingdom, where a fintech boom has nearly doubled the amount of money committed to startups over the first half of 2019 from a year-ago period.

Greylock GP Sarah Guo is as bullish on SaaS as ever

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where each week we discuss other people’s money and what sense their investment choices make (or don’t).

This week was honestly a treat. We had Kate Clark in the studio along with Alex Wilhelm and a special guest, Sarah Guo from Greylock Partners, a venture firm (obviously). Guo has the distinction of having the best-ever fun fact on the show.

We kicked off with Grammarly, a company that recently put $90 million into its accounts. We chatted about for whom it was built, and if we use it today. One thing that felt clear was that consumers are more willing than before to pay for their tooling. And that means that companies like Grammarly may prove strong investment candidates.

Next, we hit on two more rounds, namely Tiger Global’s investment into Lattice and Clari’s $60 million Series D. Starting with Lattice, a performance management company founded by none other than Sam Altman’s brother, Jack. The startup raised $25 million from Tiger Global; read more about that here.

Clari led us to a discussion of vertical SaaS, and Guo’s views on the future of SaaS products (she’s bullish). Alex and Guo had a lot to say on this subject.

After talking over a few rounds, the discussion turned to the Q3 venture market. A few things stood out from the data and projections. First, that early-stage fundraising was a little light in the quarter. It could be a single-quarter wobble, but the data was worth chewing on all the same. And, second, that seed deal and dollar volume were hot once again.

And we wrapped with a discussion of Tempest, a new sobriety-focused startup that raised a $10 million round. Honestly, we aren’t sure how we feel about the business model. Please let us know if you have thoughts.

It was a good time. A big thanks to Guo for coming on the show, and a shout-out to the team that makes Equity happen: Chris Gates and Henry Pickavet.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on iTunesOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

The battle to become the Mexican Nubank just started

Banks in Latin America have long dominated the market as oligopolies, becoming highly profitable but not serving well the population.

In the region, Brazil was the first market to have the banks’ oligopoly challenged by neobanks, with Nubank proving that it was possible to break them up. Providing a superior product and exceptional customer support, it was able to attract more than 15 million customers, valuing the company at an astonishing US$10 billion in its latest round.

Although Brazil has been the center of the neobanks’ emergence in Latin America, attention has been shifting toward another country in the region.

The Mexican opportunity

Mexico, the second-largest economy in the region, has become a relevant market for the fintechs in the region.

The reason is not exactly the most flattering; Mexico is a large country with almost 130 million population, but a large share are still unbanked. Indeed, 63% of the adult population still doesn’t have access to financial services, according to the Global Findex database, and banks haven’t been able (or are not interested) to serve them.

Furthermore, Mexicans are very suspicious of banks because of their lack of transparency, as well as recent financial crises.

Because of this skepticism toward banks, together with a cash-based economy, 90% of all consumer transactions are still made in cash, which prompts a rather peculiar situation — twice a month (quincena) there are long lines at ATMs all across the country with people withdrawing all their wages.

On the other hand, Mexico has a digitally engaged population (Mexico is the fifth largest market for Facebook, ninth for YouTube and the third for Uber), with high smartphone penetration (85.8% according to The Competitive Intelligence Unit).

All these elements put together create a rather attractive opportunity for the emergence of neobanks.

Mexico becomes the next battleground

Mexico had a few neobank pioneers in the past couple of years; Bankaool launched its services in 2015, but was too early in the market; later on came Broxel and Albo in 2016 followed by Flink in 2018.

However, the market started to garner more attention in April 2018 when the Iranian Matin Tamizi raised US$2 million from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and Kaszek Ventures to create a neobank in Mexico (Cuenca). It is interesting to note that Matin, at that time, had never been to Mexico and only had a slide deck to demonstrate the opportunity.

Neobanks aren’t the only ones trying to get a share of the Mexican wallets.

This event, together with the success of neobanks in Brazil, sparked attention for the potential of the market.

A couple of months after, Albo announced a Series A, raising US$7.4 million. It is currently the leading player in the market, with 150,000 customers and the third debit card issuer in Mexico.

Shortly thereafter, Fondeadora raised a US$1.5 million seed round to enter the neobank market, pivoting from a crowdfunding platform.

Late in September, a new entrant closed a relevant round; Klar raised US$7.5 million in equity and US$50 million in debt financing with the goal to become the “Chime of Mexico.”

Vexi is another player in the market, though it is focused on providing credit cards to people at the base of the pyramid. It has issued, so far, more than 20,000 credit cards and, recently, raised US$2 million in equity and US$1 million in debt financing.

Regional and international players are also becoming interested in the opportunity. The Brazilian giant Nubank announced this year officially that it would be expanding there. From overseas, the leading Spanish neobank, Bnext, announced it would be entering the Mexican market, fueled by a fresh new round of €22.5 million. Different from other neobanks, Bnext partners with fintechs and financial institutions to provide services to its customers via a marketplace.

Nonetheless, there are rumors that other heavyweights, such as the Europeans Revolut and N26, are planning to enter the market, as well as the Argentinian Ualá.

Neobanks aren’t the only ones trying to get a share of the Mexican wallets. Many tech companies such as Cabify, Weex and Rappi are launching digital wallets and issuing debit cards, leveraging their large user base.

To add a final spice to the market, traditional banks are making a significant effort to improve their digital offers — some even going as far as launching digital branchless initiatives. The Spanish Banco Sabadell entered the Mexican market with a full digital strategy, while Banregio (a local medium-sized bank) launched Hey Banco, a new digital account.

On the sidelines, there also are a few neobanks focusing on a different segment. Oyster and Evva are targeting the unattended market of freelancers, startups and SMEs, long neglected by the incumbents.

The stage is set for an upcoming battle

Although the market is still in its early stage with just a handful of neobanks with running services, the stage is set for an amusing upcoming battle. Most players will be launching in the next couple of months, which will trigger a race for acquiring customers and raising more money.

This competition will definitely change the landscape of the financial industry in Mexico, bringing better and more affordable services to its population.

It will be indubitably interesting to watch how the market will unfold in the following years, and the prize for the winners can be quite attractive, as Nubank proved in Brazil.

How to radically change finance through startups at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

Fintech has been a very popular area for venture investment, and this is particularly true in Europe. Dozens of high-growth fintech startups have launched over the past decade, from challenger banks and neobanks to new payment services and better ways to save and invest wealth.

On the Extra Crunch stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, we wanted to dive deeper into what it takes to build a great fintech startup, and also radically reshape finance along the way. That’s why we invited two deep thinkers — Yoni Assia of eToro and Charlie Delingpole of ComplyAdvantage — to discuss how entrepreneurs today can affect the future of finance in the years to come, as well as the lessons learned from building their own successful fintech startups.

Assia has been a lifelong finance geek, day trading in his youth while learning computer science before eventually founding eToro in 2006. eToro’s social trading platform allows investors to follow peer investors and mirror their trades, all the while creating a hub for analysis and discussion around investment opportunities. The company has raised nearly a quarter billion dollars in venture capital according to Crunchbase.

Over the past few years, Assia has dived head first into the crypto world, and eToro now supports crypto trading in addition to more traditional public equities. Assia’s ambition has been to make eToro the single largest crypto trading platform in the world. Despite its popularity and success, eToro has almost always focused its efforts on the European and nearby market, and only this year officially launched its trading features in the U.S.

Delingpole has also had the entrepreneurial bug his entire life, and ComplyAdvantage is his third startup. ComplyAdvantage is an API-based know-your-customer/anti-money-laundering (KYC/AML) service for identifying the actors behind financial transactions. More than five years into the company, it has raised tens of millions in venture capital from the likes of Index Ventures and Balderton Capital to grow, and works with hundreds of customers processing data on tens of millions of names per day.

ComplyAdvantage’s product challenge is combining structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data in real-time to provide banks and other clients with risk assessments that are attuned to the changing nature of geopolitics every day. As such, Delingpole has had to work with everyone from financial asset control regulators to banking procurement directors to integrate his product into their workflows.

Together, Assia and Delingpole will discuss the changing landscape for fintech and how founders today can tackle the space.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin and join us on the Extra Crunch stage for an in-depth look at this white hot market.

Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global is buying a startup that uses neuroscience to boost app usage

When Arianna Huffington stepped down from her role at the Huffington Post to start Thrive Global, she said the goal of her new business was to help a generation “avoid the burnout that all too often comes with success today.”

In practice, that has meant creating a business that sells mindfulness and general health and wellness tips and tricks to a cohort of corporations that believe increased mental and physical health can lead to greater on-the-job productivity.

Now, Thrive Global is adding a tech tool to its arsenal of cognitive behavioral therapies with the acquisition of the Los Angeles-based startup, Boundless Mind.

Originally called Dopamine Labs, the company was founded in 2015 to bring some of the same technologies that social media companies like Facebook used to boost engagement to a broader range of applications.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the stock and cash acquisition will see all nine members of the current Boundless team join Thrive Global. Previous Boundless investors including Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Esther Dyson will join Thrive Global’s cap table.

“We were very impressed by their neuroscience-based artificial intelligence that they used to power changes in behavior,” says Huffington. “We can use technology to hook people to unhook them from unhealthy behaviors.”

Boundless “epitomized the use of technology to encourage healthy habits,” Huffington says.

From Huffington’s perspective, most health problems in the U.S. are actually rooted in behavioral problems rather than biological ones. “Until 100 years ago, people died from infectious diseases… Now most people are dying from behaviors,” says Huffington, quoting Boundless Mind co-founder Dalton Combs.

Roughly 70% of healthcare spending in the U.S. goes to behavioral change and lifestyle-related conditions, says Huffington. Thrive Global tackles the issue through a combination of pop psychology and celebrity advice, while Boundless uses artificial intelligence and machine learning nudges.

The Boundless technology works by monitoring what activity is happening on the phone’s tap screen (similar to Apple’s screen time monitoring). What Boundless does on the back end is analyze that data and create prompts to encourage behavior — in much the same way that other companies’ apps have notifications to prompt re-engagement.

Going forward, the Boundless team is hoping to use more of the information coming from a phone’s increasing array of sensors to better refine its notifications. Results from the adoption of the company’s software vary, but Boundless points to data from apps spanning health, fitness, productivity, finance and e-commerce – including a 60% increase in walking, 30% increase in productivity and 21% increase in engagement around diet and exercise. 


Arianna Huffington and the co-founders and staffers of Boundless Mind

Thrive Global has three pillars to its business: live workshops, a digital health program called Thriving Academy, and a newer mental health focused package called Thriving Mind.

The company has already signed corporate partners like Accenture, JPMorgan, Hilton, Bank of America and Procter & Gamble, and Huffington says customers have already seen results in lower rates of employee attrition and better employee satisfaction results on surveys. 

These kinds of correlations don’t mean causation and the company is still working to better quantify the benefits of adopting its workplace wellness protocols. One of the places where Thrive Global is putting its brain training regime to the test is in call centers in Central America, 

“You can imagine how the Boundless intervention will allow us to hyper-personalize,” says Danny Shea, Thrive Global’s head of global expansion. In call centers that could mean prompting an employee to take a break after a long or stressful call.

“We’re thrilled to see the continued growth and market expansion at Thrive Global” said Somesh Dash, General Partner at IVP and member of Thrive Global’s Board of Directors. “The combination of Thrive’s mission and Boundless Mind’s technology is truly remarkable and the integration will help Thrive scale a game-changing and differentiated behavior change technology platform to enterprises around the world.”

To date Thrive Global has raised over $65 million from investors including JAZZ Venture Partners, IVP, Marc Benioff, Ray Dalio, and Kevin Durant.


Brazilian unicorn Ebanx will hit $2 billion in payments processed by the end of the year

Ebanx, the newly minted Brazilian financial services unicorn, expects to process $2 billion in payments by the end of the year and is looking to expand its offerings into domestic payments as it grows.

Since its launch in 2012, Ebanx has primarily focused on helping international merchants sell locally in Brazil. The Brazilian business accounts for nearly 90% of the company’s revenue, but as it expands into other markets the company is also broadening its suite of services.

The company moved into local payment processing in Brazil in April of this year, and recently closed on a new financing round from previous investors FTV and Endeavor Catalyst that values the company north of $1 billion, according to chief executive Alphonse Voigt. 

The money will be used to continue an aggressive hiring push in new markets and the launch of the company’s local payment services in other geographies, beginning with Colombia in the new year.

As credit cards penetrate the Latin American market, approval rates for local companies are increasing, which represents an attractive new source of revenue, Voigt says.

In addition to the local payment processing, Ebanx recently announced that it became a payment partner for the Uber Pay ecosystem in Latin America and would start processing cash voucher and bank transfer payments for Uber in Brazil and across Latin America. The company also inked deals with Coursera, Scribd, and Shopify throughout Latin America. Finally, the company partnered with Visa* on an initiative to increase electronic payments in the Brazilian state of Parana.

*This story has been updated to reflect that Ebanx is partnering with Visa in Parana.

True Balance raises $23M to bring its payments app to more small cities and towns in India

South Korean startup True Balance, which operates an eponymous financial services app aimed at tens of millions of users in small cities and towns in India, has closed a new financing round as it looks to court more first time users in the world’s second largest internet market.

True Balance said on Tuesday that it has raised $23 million in its Series C financing round from seven Korean investors — NH Investment & Securities, IBK Capital, D3 Jubilee Partners, SB Partners, Shinhan Capital, and existing partners IMM Investment, and HB Investment.

TechCrunch reported earlier this year that True Balance — which has raised $65 million to date including the $38 million that it closed in its previous financing round — was looking to raise as much as $70 million for this financing round.

True Balance began its life as a tool to help users easily find their mobile balance, or top up pre-pay mobile credit. But in its four-year journey, its ambition has significantly grown beyond that. Today, it serves as a digital wallet app that helps users pay their mobile and electricity bills, and offer credit to customers so that they can pay later for their digital purchases.

true balance

The startup says it has amassed over 60 million registered users in India, most of whom live in small cities and towns — or dubbed India 2 and India 3. Most of these users are coming online for the first time and True Balance says it has an army of local agents — who get certain incentives — to help first time internet users understand the benefit of online transactions and start using the app.

True Balance says it clocks more than 300,000 digital transactions on its app each day. The startup, which recently introduced e-commerce shopping service on its app to sell products like smartphones, has clocked $100 million in GMV sales in the country to date.

Charlie Lee, founder of True Balance, said the startup will use the fresh capital to bulk up the offerings on the app. Some of the features that True Balance intends to add before the end of this fiscal year include the ability to purchase bus and train tickets, digital gold, and book cooking gas cylinders.

True Balance will also expand its lending and e-commerce services, Lee said. Its lending feature was used 1 million times in three months when it was introduced earlier this year. “We aim to strengthen our data and alternative credit scoring strategy to provide better financial services to our target — the next billion Indian users. Our goal is to reach 100 million digital touch points and become one of the top fin-tech companies in India by 2022,” he added in a statement.

Even as more than 600 million users in India are online today, just about as many remain offline. In recent years, many major companies in India have started to customize their services to appeal to users in India 2 and India 3 — who also have limited financial power.

Founder’s guide to the pre-IPO secondary market

The increase in activity in the pre-IPO secondary market means that founders, early employees, and investors are receiving liquidity much sooner in a company’s lifecycle than ever before. For most startups and privately-held companies, liquidity is often an issue for stockholders, as no market exists for selling shares and/or transfer restrictions can prevent their sale. Secondary stock transactions, however, are a way to work around this problem.

Here’s a quick look at how they work and what to keep in mind, especially if you’re going through the process for the first time. (If you’re not familiar, secondaries are transactions in which an existing stockholder sells their stock for cash to third parties or back to the company itself before the company undergoes an exit; traditionally, an exit refers to an M&A or an IPO.)

Offering secondary transactions to founders is a tool VCs have been using to win deals. For example, if a VC promises that the founders will receive $1,000,000 in cash through a secondary sale from a $15,000,000 venture financing round, the founders will likely prefer that VC’s term sheet to a term sheet from a VC that does not offer that deal.

Why would a founder consider a secondary sale of their equity?

Pegging Libra to just the $ could soothe regulators, a16z says

What if Libra wasn’t backed by a basket of international currencies, but only the dollar?

Regulatory pushback to the Facebook-led cryptocurrency Libra has caused major partners including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and eBay to pull out of the Libra Association. But one of the remaining members has floated a major change to the stablecoin that could calm concerns that Libra could hurt the world economy by challenging national currencies for supremacy.

Last week, venture partner Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto, one of the remaining members of the governing Libra Association, spoke  on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt. He said he still believed Libra will launch, but it might require some changes to get the green light from governments. When I asked what changes might assuage regulators, he told me “For example, denominating the currency in US dollars. I’m giving a hypothetical example. My understanding is the intention was never to create a new currency. It’s much focused on the payment rails.”

Dixon meant that Libra could be pegged directly to the US dollar instead of to a basket of international currencies as is currently the plan, a16z Crypto clarified when asked.

Originally, Libra was slated to be denominated in…Libra using the unicode symbol ≋. It would be a stablecoin backed 1:1 with a basket of the world’s top currencies that Reuters says Der Spiegel reports Facebook told a German legislator would be made up of 50% US dollar, 18% Euro, 14% Japanese Yen, 11% British pound, and 7% Singaporean dollar.

The purpose of the basket was to make Libra’s value more consistent. A spike or decline in value of any currency in the basket would have limited impact on Libra’s value, and the basket could be altered in makeup to further protect it from fluctuations.

Libra cryptocurrency logo

But if it was denominated in $, the US regulators in particular might be less worried that citizens might choose to use the Libra instead of the dollar. This might demonstrate that Libra sees itself as deferential to the American economic system and government Facebook must answer to.

Conversely, the Libra would become vulnerable to shifts in value of the US dollar. But since many international currencies and financial systems are also linked to the dollar, there at least would be more precedent for how Libra would operate. The move could make foreign governments less skiddish about the cryptocurrency since their national currencies wouldn’t be directly influenced.

On Monday, the Libra Association will meet to finalize its membership, elect a board, and create a charter governing its efforts. How Libra is denominated could be reviewed at this meeting.

Denominating in dollars that could quell another worry about the cryptocurrency — that if it became popular and the Libra Association decided to change the basket’s components or remove one currency, it could significantly impact that currency’s value.

The French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire previously said “the monetary sovereignty of countries is at stake from a possible privatisation of money . . . we cannot authorise the development of Libra on European soil.”

Facebook’s head of Libra David Marcus has tried to dispel this idea, saying Libra is designed to run “on top of existing currencies . . . there’s no new money creation, which will strictly remain the province of sovereign Nations.” Yet regulators are still largely opposed to its planned launch in 2020.

Pegging Libra to the dollar would give the Libra Association less flexibility to maintain a steady value, but also less power. Governments wouldn’t fear that they’d need to maintain a positive relationship with the Libra Association for fear of their currency being ejected from the basket. It would put Libra more directly in competition with other stablecoins like Tether that are locked to the US dollar.

Chris Dixon DSC02399

a16z Crypto’s Chris Dixon (left) speaks with TechCrunch’s Josh Constine at Disrupt SF 2019

Dixon also announced that Andreessen Horowitz is launching the a16z Crypto Startup School, which will offer a free, zero-equity educational program for blockchain entrepreneurs. The goal is to pass knowledge from seasoned cryptocurrency startup founders to newer entrants to the space.

Dixon says the hope is that the best students would seek investment from the fund but that won’t be required. Those interested can sign up for more info on how to apply when it’s available, though videos of the school’s sessions will be available.

Andreessen Horowitz’s commitment to cryptocurrency could make it less likely to abandon the Libra Association than some other payments companies more firmly rooted in the status quo financial system. That loyalty will only pay off if Libra ever passes muster with regulators and actually reaches the market.