Calling Amsterdam VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Amsterdam will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how Amsterdam’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Amsterdam, but would like to take part? Or you are in another part of the country? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email [email protected]

Crypto exchange Bitpanda closes $52M Series A from Valar Ventures, backed by Peter Thiel

Bitpanda, a crypto assets platform, has closed a $52 million Series A funding round form Valar Ventures, a venture capital firm backed by Peter Thiel. Vienna-based VC Speedinvest also participated, alongside other unnamed investors. Claiming 1.3 million users, Bitpanda has previously been trading digital assets and tokenizing precious metals.

The Vienna-based company will use the cash to expand internationally. It expanded to France, Spain and Turkey in 2020 and plans to enter additional European markets this year and next. It has 300 employees.

Essentially, Bitpanda is a crypto exchange which can support other kinds of assets in a tokenized form. To date, it’s not very well known or used in the Crypto world.

What this represents is an interesting move by a crypto exchange, effectively expanding into real-world assets. At the other end of the spectrum, platforms like eToro, Robinhood and Revolut, which came from traditional assets world, and are now adding Crypto world assets. Eventually, the two will meet, in some shape or form.

Bitpanda is a centralized exchange with its own infrastructure, and is not running on a public blockchain. Other centralized exchanges include Coinbase, Kraken, Binance, Kucoin and Huobi.

As part of the investment, Valar Ventures founding partner, Andrew McCormack, will also join Bitpanda’s board. McCormack was previously with PayPal in its early years and supported Peter Thiel during its IPO and eventual sale to eBay in 2002. Valar has previously invested in European fintechs including Transferwise and the Germany-based digital bank, N26.

Coinbase UX teardown: 5 fails and how to fix them

Digital currency exchange Coinbase has probably done more than most to push cryptocurrencies closer to the mainstream, earning an $8 billion valuation by private investors along the way. The company is reportedly eyeing a public listing next year, and is inarguably doing a lot of things right. However, that doesn’t mean its product experience is perfect. In fact, far from it.

In our latest UX teardown, with the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of Coinbase’s biggest user experience failings and offer ways to fix them. Many of these lessons can be applied to other existing digital products or ones you are currently building, including the need to avoid the “Get Started” trap, the importance of providing feedback, why familiarity often wins and other principles.

The ‘Get Started’ trap

Only use CTAs like “get started” or “learn more” if you’re actually teaching users something.

The fail: Coinbase doesn’t actually have any onboarding — but it looks like it does. It has a very prominent “get started” CTA, which actually just puts bitcoins in your basket. This isn’t helping you get started, it’s nothing more than an onboarding Trojan horse.

The fix: It’s simple: Don’t lie in your CTAs. You wouldn’t have “Email Support” as a CTA, and then just show the user a bunch of FAQs.

Steve O’Hear: This feels like another classic “bait and switch” and reeks of dark pattern design. However, what if it actually works to get users over the line and purchase their first bitcoin? Growth hackers, rejoice, no?

Peter Ramsey: You’re absolutely right, this may convert better. From a business point of view, this could be a brilliant little growth hack. However, something converting well doesn’t mean it was a good experience for the user. Look at clickbait-y journalism — it gets more eyeballs, but people aren’t generally happy with what they read.

I’m convinced that in the long term having a great product will perform better than frustrating short-term growth hacks.

Feedback architecture

As a general rule of thumb, all “states” — e.g., success/failure of an action — need to provide feedback to the user.

The fail: After adding a card, you click “Add Card,” and … it takes you back to the homepage. There’s no notice if it was successful or not. The user has no awareness if the action they were trying to do failed and they need to do it again. This is a real problem with digital products: All feedback needs to be thought of and built.

The fix: During the design phase, consider statuses and what the user will want feedback on. For example, if they’ve just added an item to their “wishlist,” how will you show them that the action was successful?

Interswitch to revive its Africa venture fund, CEO confirms

Pan-African fintech company Interswitch plans to fire up its corporate venture arm again—according to CEO Mitchell Elegbe—who spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt on Wednesday.

The Nigerian founder didn’t offer much new on the Lagos-based firm’s expected IPO, but he did reveal Interswitch will revive investments in African startups.

Founded by Elegbe in 2002, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly cash-based economy. The company now provides much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million people. Interswitch has expanded to offer personal and business payment products in 23 Africa countries.

The fintech firm achieved unicorn status in 2019 after a $200 million equity investment by Visa gave it a $1 billion valuation.

Reviving venture investing

Interswitch, which is well beyond startup phase, launched a $10 million venture arm in 2015 that has been dormant since 2016, after it acquired Vanso—a Nigerian fintech security company.

But Interswitch will soon be back in the business of making startup bets and acquisitions, according to Elegbe. “We’ve just certified a team and the plan is to begin to make those kinds of investments again.”

He offered a glimpse into the new fund’s focus. “This time around we want to make financial investments and also leverage the network that Interswitch has and put that at the disposal of these companies,” Elegbe told TechCrunch.

“We’ll be very selective in the companies we invest in. They should be companies that Interswitch clearly as an entity can add value to. They should be companies that help accelerate growth by the virtue of what we do and the customers that we have,” he said.

Recent venture events in African tech have likely pressed Interswitch to get back in the investing arena. As an ecosystem, VC on the continent has increased (roughly) by a factor of four over last five years, to around $2 billion in 2019. But most of that has come from single-entity investment funds, while corporate venture funding (and tech M&A activity) has remained light. That’s shifted over the last several months and the entire uptick has occurred in African fintech around entities that could be viewed as Interswitch competitors.

In July, Dubai’s Network International acquired Kenya -based payment mobile payment processing company DPO for $288 million. Shortly after the acquisition, DPO’s CEO Eran Feinstein said the company would pursue more African acquisitions on its own. In June, another mobile-money payment processor, MFS Africa, acquired digital finance company Beyonic. And in August, South Africa’s Standard Bank—Africa’s largest by assets and lending—acquired a stake in fintech security firm TradeSafe.

Since the rise of Safaricom’s dominant M-Pesa mobile money product in Kenya, fintech in Africa has become infinitely larger and more competitive. The sector has hundreds of startups and now receives nearly 50% of all VC investment on the continent.

The opportunity investors and founders are chasing is bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data, and mobile-based finance platforms have presented the best use-cases to shift that across the region.

Interswitch has established itself as a leader in the Africa’s digital finance race. But it’s hard to envision how it can maintain or extend that role without an active venture arm that invests in and acquires innovative, young fintech startups.

No news on IPO

Elegbe had less to offer on Interswitch’s long-anticipated IPO. Asked if the company still planned to list publicly, he offered up a non-answer answer. “At this point in time we’re focused on growing the business and creating value for our customers and that is the our primary focus.”

When pressed “yes or no” on whether an IPO was still a possibility Elegbe confirmed it was. “We have private equity investors and at some point in the life of the business they want exits.” he said. “When it is time for them to exit there are various options on the table and an IPO is an option.”

There’s been talk of an Interswitch IPO for years. In 2016, Elegbe told TechCrunch a dual-listing on the Lagos and London Stock Exchanges was possible. Then word came through other Interswitch channels that it was delayed due to recession and currency volatility in Nigeria in 2017. In November 2019, a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch on background, “an IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020.” Then came the Covid-19 crisis and the accompanying global economic slump, which may have delayed Interswitch’s IPO plans yet again.

If and when the company goes public, it would be a major event for Nigerian and African fintech. No VC backed fintech firm on the continent has listed globally. Exits for Interswitch’s investors would likely attract to Nigeria and broader Africa more VC from major funds—many of whom remain on the fence about startup opportunities on the continent.

Focus on Africa

On global product expansion, Interswitch plans to maintain an African focus for now, Elegbe explained. “There are enough opportunities for Interswitch on the continent. We’d like to be in as many African countries as possible…and position Interswitch as the (financial) gateway to the continent,” he said.

Elegbe explained the company would continue to work through alliances with major financial services firms to open up global financial access for its African client base. In August 2019, Interswitch launched a partnership that allows its Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.

CEO Mitchell Elegbe concluded his Disrupt session with some perspective on balancing the stigmas and possibilities of doing business in Nigeria. Over recent years the country has shifted to become an unofficial hub for big tech expansion, VC investment, and startup formation in Africa. But Nigeria continues to have a difficult operating environment with regard to infrastructure and is often associated with political corruption and instability in its Northeast region due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

“Nigeria has a very large population and a very large market. We have lots of challenges that need to be solved, but it makes sense to me that lots of money is finding its way to Nigeria because the opportunity is there,” he said.

Elegbe’s advice to tech investors considering the country, “Don’t take a short-termist view. There are good people on the ground doing fantastic work—honest people who want to make impact. You need to  seek those people out.”

Calling Madrid & Barcelona VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Madrid & Barcelona will capture how the cities are faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to repeat).

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you want to add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions will include which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

Over the next few weeks, we will be “zeroing-in” on Europe’s major cities.

It’s part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors. For example, here is the recent survey of London.

Not in Madrid or Barcelona? European VC investors can STILL fill out the survey, as we will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! The survey will cover almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country in the menu on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email [email protected]

Calling Warsaw VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Warsaw will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to know how the Warsaw startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19 and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you want to add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions will include which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

Over the next few weeks, we will be “zeroing-in” on Europe’s major cities.

It’s part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors. For example, here is the recent survey of London.

Not in Warsaw? All European VC investors can STILL fill out the survey, as we will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! The survey will cover almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country in the menu on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email [email protected]

Calling Paris VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Paris will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to know how your Paris’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19 and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you want to add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions will include which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

Over the next few weeks, we will be “zeroing-in” on Europe’s major cities.

It’s part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors. For example, here is the recent survey of London.

Not in Paris? European VC investors can STILL fill out the survey, as we will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! The survey will cover almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country in the menu on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email [email protected] and/or reply on twitter to @mikebutcher

As it adds Jeremy Milken to the partnership, Watertower Ventures nears $50 million close for its new fund

Derek Norton and Jeremy Milken have known each other for twenty years. Over their longtime personal and professional relationship, the two Los Angeles-based serial entrepreneurs have invested in each other’s companies and investment firms, but never worked together until now.

Milken is taking the plunge into institutional investing, joining Norton as a partner in Watertower Ventures just as the firm prepares to close on a $50 million new fund.

It’s an auspicious time for both Los Angeles-based businessmen, as the LA venture community sees a wave of technology talent relocating from New York and San Francisco in the newly remote work culture created by the COVID-19 epidemic.

“I see two things happen. One people look at the effects of where the market’s going. We’re seeing a lot more companies that are starting up now as a result of a [the pandemic],” said Norton. “New company formation is happening faster than before covid. [And] a lot of venture capitalists that have relocated to LA. They’ve moved down to LA for lifestyle reasons and they’re saying that they don’t need to go back to San Francisco.”

For Milken, the opportunity to get into venture now is a function of the company creation and acceleration of digital adoption that Norton referenced. “The pandemic is accelerating change in the marketplace. Things that might have taken a decade are taking two years now,” Milken said.

These opportunities are creating an opening for Watertower Ventures in markets far beyond the Hollywood hills. The firm, whose original thesis focused on Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, is now cutting checks on investments in Texas and Utah, and spending much less time looking for companies in the Bay Area.

Derek Norton, founder, Watertower Ventures: Image Credit: Watertower Ventures

Norton’s latest fund is the only the most recent act in a career that has seen the investor traverse the financial services digital media and the early days of the internet. Norton built Digital Boardwalk, a pioneering internet service provider and the second commercial partner for the trailblazing browser service, Netscape.

Later, at Jeffries Technologies, and the $120 million Entertainment Media Ventures seed and early stage venture capital fund, Norton was intimately involved in bringing tech to market and focusing on early stage investments. With that in mind, the Watertower Ventures group, which launched in 2017 with a small, $5 million fund, is a return to those roots.

The plan, even at the time, was always to raise a larger fund. After founding and running the boutique investment banking business at Watertower Group, Norton knew he had to raise a starter fund to prove the thesis he was working on.

That thesis was to provide a bridge between early stage companies and large technology companies using the network that Norton has built in the Southern California tech and entertainment community over decades.

“We want to take our contacts at Google, Apple, Facebook, Disney, Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and other companies we believe should have a relationship with our portfolio companies, and help the CEOs and management teams more effectively do business development,” Norton told SoCal Tech when he closed his first fund in 2017. “We want to connect them to the right person at those companies to create a commercial relationship. That has a really large impact on early stage companies, who typically don’t have a deep network of relationships, and the ability to get to those type of people. It’s because of our advisory business that we have those relationships, and that’s also why those relationships stay fresh and active, versus people who aren’t in those businesses. It’s almost a full time job to maintain that, and that’s where our value-add is.”

Milken, who has spent his professional career in entrepreneurship, was ready to try investing, and was intimately familiar with Watertower and its portfolio, as an investor in the firm’s first $5 million fund.

“Two years ago we started having those conversations,” said Norton in an interview. “As Jeremy exited his business in September it created the opportunity to go out and raise together as the evolution of our partnership.”

Jeremy Milken, general partner, Watertower Ventures. Image Credit: Watertower Ventures

With the new capital coming in, Norton expects to back some 30 to 35 companies, he said. And, in a testament to the first fund’s performance, which has it in the top decile of venture funds for its vintage, Norton said he was able to raise the capital amidst the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 70 percent of the existing portfolio has been marked up, according to Norton.

Even though limited partners, the investors who back venture funds, were reluctant to commit capital to new firms in March and April, fundraising returned with a vengeance in June and July, according to Norton. The paper performance likely was enough to woo additional limited partners and individual investors including TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer, the former head of streaming at Disney.

Mayer’s presence in the firm’s investor base is a testament to the firm’s pitch to founders. “We view fundraising as a massive distraction for these early stage companies from their business. We try to deliver that network that’s ours to those founders,” said Norton.

“I think we’re in a unique position starting with a fresh fund here,” says Norton. “Uncertainty creates opportunity and people are bringing solutions. We haven’t noticed any slowdown whatsoever, we’re working with twenty five companies per week. Since the inception of the fund, we haven’t seen deal flow at this level.”

Vitesse, a fintech providing real-time cross-border payments for businesses, scores £6.6M Series A

Vitesse, the London-based fintech that offers real-time cross-border payments for businesses, has raised £6.6 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from existing backers including Hoxton Ventures and various angel investors.

The company says the new investment will be used for growth, including building out its sales and marketing functions, and expanding Vitesse’s footprint in the U.S. market. It will also further invest in the “reach and speed” of its banking capabilities in order to meet customer demand as the fintech expands globally.

Founded in 2014 by Phillip McGriskin and Paul Townsend, who sold their previous fintech to Worldpay, Vitesse operates a global banking and payment network. This sees it able to provide customers with direct access to the domestic payment networks of more than 100 countries in over 60 currencies.

It currently targets businesses in the insurance, payroll and corporate payment space who want to simplify their liquidity management and easily make cross-border payments. Existing customers include Brit Insurance, DXC Technology and Gett. To date, Vitesse has processed over £2.1 billion across almost 2.3 million transactions.

“Cross border payments are still largely inefficient, especially for businesses,” explains McGriskin. “They can be slow and expensive, and tracking and reconciling them and keeping compliant in a constantly shifting regulatory environment can prove difficult”.

To remedy this, Vitesse’s banking network provides access to multiple domestic banking services so that businesses can make payments to other businesses and their customers in the “fastest, and most economical way”. In addition, they gain greater transparency through things like real-time reporting.


Over on Extra Crunch, early Vitesse backer Hoxton Ventures assess Europe’s early-stage landscape.


“We are essentially running a globally distributed, local banking network to make payments so our customers don’t have to do it themselves,” says McGriskin. “And then we supply a customer specific view so they can manage their funds most effectively, giving appropriate views right across their business. It saves them a lot of time and money and operational expense”.

In the verticals it currently operates, the fintech typically competes with banks, which, conversely, it also partners with to gain access to those domestic payments networks and to tailor its services to customers.

Explains McGriskin: “The biggest different between us and the banks is technology. We are able to use our technology to provide real-time services with very rich and flexible reporting for our customers. And we can be nimble. But we prefer to work with the banks to optimise services for our customers”.

Casa pivots to provide self-custody services to secure bitcoin

Casa, a Colorado-based provider of bitcoin security services, is launching a managed service allowing customers to buy and hold their own bitcoin, rather than using an external custodian like Coinbase.

“With self-custody using Casa it’s impossible to be hacked and nearly impossible to have your bitcoin stolen,” wrote chief executive Nick Neuman in an email. “Leaving bitcoin on an exchange (e.g. Coinbase or many others) opens it up to theft; there is a long history of bitcoin theft and hacks from exchanges.”

Just last year, the major cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, was hacked and thieves made off with bitcoin that was worth $40 million at the time.

Before the upgrade with the new product offering, bitcoin traders had to buy their bitcoin at an exchange and then move their bitcoin off of the exchange to increase security. They can now be secure by default using Casa, according to Neuman.

Bitcoin can now be purchase through Casa and deposited directly into a user’s wallet on the service where they control the funds. Casa never has custody of the user’s bitcoin at any point in the process, which the company said eliminates the risk of using an exchange.

“With the dollar declining in value and a new era of potential inflation on the horizon, consumers are naturally looking for a safe asset class that’s outside the turbulence of the existing financial system,” said Neuman in a statement. “Traditionally, if investors wanted the security and control of Bitcoin self-custody, they had to jump through multiple hoops to register with an exchange, deposit funds for trading, and then move bitcoin to their wallet. As new users begin their Bitcoin journey, they have a much simpler and faster option for buying and securing their first bitcoin with Casa.”