Quicken, one of the ‘first fintechs,’ is being sold again

Five and a half years after being acquired by a private equity firm, personal finance software company Quicken is announcing that it is being acquired by another private equity firm.

In April 2016, an affiliate of H.I.G. Capital acquired Quicken from Intuit Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Today, Menlo Park, California-based Quicken is announcing that Aquiline Capital Partners will be acquiring a majority stake in the company — also for an undisclosed amount.

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Quicken CEO Eric Dunn did share some other details about Quicken’s performance since that last transaction, as well as its plans for the future. Dunn has a history with the company, so can speak pretty comfortably about where it’s been, and where it’s going.

While he took over as CEO of Quicken in 2016, he first joined previous parent company Intuit as employee No. 4 in 1986 when Quicken was its only software product. During his tenure at Intuit, he served as the CFO through the 1993 IPO and merger with ChipSoft (now known as TurboTax). While he was CFO, Dunn was also a software developer who worked on almost all of the early versions of Quicken, and was the first VP/general manager of the business.

Since the H.I.G. buy, it appears that Quicken has grown quite a lot. It currently has 2 million active users, which Dunn said is “significantly higher” than what it had at the time of its spinoff from Intuit. The executive declined to reveal hard revenue figures but he did share that the company is profitable and has seen a 50% increase in annual sales volume over the five-year period, (or double-digit growth if you annualize it).

“We’re strongly profitable and have been consistently profitable since the time of the spinoff. We’re a very successful company, revenue-wise — far above what it ever was in the Intuit years,” he told TechCrunch. “More importantly, we’re a successful business that has succeeded in modernizing and improving quality for our customers.”

For example, according to Dunn, Quicken has seen an NPS gain of 25 points over a five-year period. (NPS stands for Net Promoter Score, a customer loyalty and satisfaction measurement).

H.I.G., Dunn added, invested alongside the Quicken management team to improve product quality, bring Quicken to a cloud platform and launch a digitally native product in its personal finance app, Simplifi.

Image Credits: Quicken

“H.I.G. is not a growth-oriented expansion firm. They felt their work was done, and they did what they had set out to do,” Dunn said, “which is to carve out an asset with a lot of potential from a parent company which had neglected it.”

Justin Reyna, managing director  at H.I.G. Capital, said the results of its investment in Quicken have been “outstanding.”

In recent years, the number of financial technology companies (and potential competitors to Quicken) has exploded. But, Dunn maintains, Quicken in fact was “the first fintech.”

“It was one of the founding fintechs, the only software product at Intuit when it launched in 1983,” he told TechCrunch. “It started with the idea of automating personal finances to customers as a software tool living only on desktops.”

Moving forward, Dunn said Quicken plans to explore partnering with fintechs as it continues to evolve its model. It’s not ruling out acquisitions, but it’s also not an area of emphasis.

No layoffs are planned with the new ownership. In fact, Dunn expects the company will only continue to hire and add to its 150-person staff (not including 250 contracted “customer care agents).

He said the company will simply focus on continuing the modernization of its Quicken product and bringing more functionality to its web and mobile offerings.

“We’ll also continue to add to our Simplifi product, which is only about 18 months into its life,” he said. “It has a great feature set but there’s lots more we need to do.”

It will also focus on integrated financial services, such as allowing for money movement from account to account in the product as opposed to going to an external site.

Aquiline is a New York- and London-based private investment firm with $6.9 billion in assets under management. Its president, Vincenzo La Ruffa, says he is a Quicken user himself.

“Quicken is trusted by millions of customers, who rely on it to lead healthy financial lives,” he said in a written statement. “As a longtime Quicken user myself, I’ve seen firsthand the work Eric and the team at Quicken have put into building a compelling suite of products and services. I am confident in the growth trajectory ahead as we work with the company to expand the range of innovative solutions it offers in the personal financial management space.”

There has been a flurry of interest in fintechs focused on personal finance as of late. For example, in June, personal finance startup Truebill raised a $45 million Series D funding round led by Accel.

Kikoff raises $30M for its hybrid consumer-credit and financial-literacy service

Kikoff, a personal finance platform aimed at helping consumers build credit, announced today that it has raised $30 million in a Series B round.

The capital is in addition to the $12.5 million the startup raised across previously unannounced seed and Series A rounds, which were both led by Lightspeed Venture partners.

Portage Ventures led Kickoff’s Series B, which included participation from Lightspeed, GGV, Coatue and Core Innovation Capital. Previous backers of the company include NBA star Steph Curry, Wex CEO Melissa Smith and Teresa Ressel, former CFO of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

CEO Cynthia Chen and CTO Christophe Chong co-founded the San Francisco-based company in late 2019 with the goal of helping consumers without a credit history establish one, and helping those with credit histories to continue building credit. The pair came from “low to moderate income” families, Chen said, and say they want to help others who also come from similar economic backgrounds. Chen grew up in Beijing before coming to the U.S. for college on a scholarship and says she was struck by the experience of her parents having to borrow money from family and friends in order to purchase a TV.

While the company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, Chen did say that Kikoff has “hundreds of thousands” of customers after being out of beta for half a year.

Kikoff’s product, the “Kikoff Credit Account,” is the first of a planned suite of offerings all aimed at improving consumers’ financial health.

“There are many Americans who don’t come from affluent families and have tons of student loan debt,” Chen said. “For them and so many others, we wanted to create a better way to build good credit than existing offers in the market.” While anyone can use its platform, Chen says the vast majority of its customers are millennials and GenZers as they are most in need of a way to build credit.

Image Credits: Kikoff

With Kikoff, the pair aim to give people not only a way to build a credit history, but also a way to increase consumer financial literacy. Rather than provide a debit or credit card that can be used anywhere, Kikoff restricts the use of its line of credit to an online store it’s created. Users can purchase things like e-books covering a variety of finance-related topics such as how to plan and budget, or profit from trading bitcoin. It also has a selection of courses that it has purchased resell rights for, covering topics such as personal finance education, or how to set up an e-commerce store or even how to learn Python programming skills.

“When a consumer purchases something from our store, [that] item is going to help that person improve his or her financial habits or help him or her make money by making smarter investments, or setting up their small business or learning skills,” Chen told TechCrunch.

The company also does not charge any interest on its credit line or fees for the financing.

“There’s no cost of borrowing money,” she said. Instead, Kikoff collects revenue by taking the margin between the wholesale price for the items it sells in its store and the retail price that customers pay.

To sign up, customers first apply for a $500 revolving line of credit that can be used for purchases at Kikoff’s online store. The company touts that within months, its customers “can become eligible for better interest rates, competitive credit cards and home mortgages,” among other things within a relatively short period of about 45 days. 

Kikoff has intentionally worked to help its customers build credit in what Chen describes as “a very financially responsible way.”

“That’s why they are able to only use the product within our proprietary online store, and we have a number of affordable items in the store for them to purchase,” she told TechCrunch. “So it is relatively easy for them to not overspend or make any kind of impulse purchase that they later cannot really afford to pay.”

Lightspeed Partner Ansaf Kareem said he could empathize with the experiences of Chen and Chong in having to create and build credit for the first time, “especially as immigrants and first-generation Americans.”

A credit score holds the keys to your financial future, yet so many Americans struggle with creating and building credit,” he said. “Adjacent products may let you check your credit score, but do not provide tools or guidance to improve it without charging fees or asking for a large up-front cash commitment,” he added. “Kikoff built a product that provides real value through a simple, no fee structure to initiate and build credit. And they are just getting started.”

Kikoff’s executive team certainly has an impressive background in fintech. Chen previously served as Figure’s Chief Risk Officer and she held senior executive roles at Capital One and OnDeck. Chong was former head of growth at Lime and led growth teams at Facebook and Square. Andrew Brix, Kikoff’s head of product was employee No. 15 at Credit Karma and served as its director of product management. He also was a senior product manager at E-Trade. Patrick Glover, head of marketing, worked at both Plaid and Square and Vinni Bala, head of operations, is former CMO and Chief Credit Officer at Deserve.

Other companies with similar goals that have raised venture funding as of late include Tomo Credit and Welcome Tech, among others.

Kafene raises $14M to offer buy now, pay later to the subprime consumer

The buy now, pay later frenzy isn’t going anywhere as more consumers seek alternatives to credit cards to fund purchases.

And those purchases aren’t exclusive to luxuries such as Pelotons (ahem, Affirm) or jewelry someone might be treating themselves to online. A new fintech company is out to help consumers finance big-ticket items that are considered more “must have” than “nice to have.” And it’s just raised $14 million in Series A funding to help it advance on that goal.

Neal Desai (former CFO of Octane Lending) and James Schuler (who participated in Y Combinator’s accelerator program as a high schooler) founded New York City-based Kafene in July 2019. The pair’s goal is to promote financial inclusion by meeting the needs of what it describes as the “consumers that are left behind by traditional lenders.”

More specifically, Kafene is focused on helping consumers with credit scores below 650 purchase retail items such as furniture, appliances and electronics with its buy now, pay later (BNPL) model. Consider it an “Affirm for the subprime,” says Desai.

Global Founders Capital and Third Prime Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from Valar, Company.co, Hermann Capital, Gaingels, Republic Labs, Uncorrelated Ventures and FJ labs.

“Historically, if you could access credit, you could go to the bank or use a credit card,” Third Prime’s Wes Barton told TechCrunch. “But if you had some unexpected expense, and had to miss a payment with the bank, there would be repercussions and you could fall into a debt trap.”

Kafene’s “flexible ownership” model is designed to not let that happen to a consumer. If for some reason, someone has to forfeit on a payment, Kafene comes to pick up the item and the customer is no longer under obligation to pay for it moving forward.

The way it works is that Kafene buys the product from a merchant on a consumers’ behalf and rents it back to them over 12 months. If they make all payments, they own the item. If they make them earlier, they get a “significant” discount, and if they can’t, Kafene reclaims the item and takes the loan loss.

Image Credits: Kafene

It’s a modern take on Rent-A-Center, which charges more money for inferior products, Desai believes.

“This is also a superior product to credit cards, and the size of that market is massive,” Barton said. “We want to take a huge chunk of credit card business in time, and give consumers the flexibility to quit at any point in time, and fly free, if you will.”

Such flexibility, Kafene claims, helps promote financial inclusion by giving a wider range of consumers options to alternative forms of credit at the point of sale.

It also helps people boost their credit scores, according to Desai, because if they buy out of the loan earlier than the 12-month term, their credit score goes up because Kafene reports them as a positive payer.

“In any situation where they don’t steal the item, their credit score improves,” he said. “Even if they end up returning it because they can’t afford it. In the long run, they can have a better credit score to qualify for a traditional loan product.”

Kafene rolled out a beta of its financing product in December of 2019 and then had to pause in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company essentially “hibernated” from March to June 2020 and re-launched out of beta last July.

By October, Kafene stopped all enrollment with merchants because it had more demand that it could handle — largely fueled by more people being financially strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, the company was handling about $2 million a month in merchandise volume.

With its new capital, Kafene plans to significantly scale its existing lease-to-own financing business nationally, as well as to launch a direct-to-consumer virtual lease card.

Truebill raises $45 million for its personal finance app

Personal finance startup Truebill has raised a $45 million Series D funding round led by Accel. This comes just a few months after the company raised a $17 million Series C. Overall, the startup has raised $85 million since its creation.

Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Cota Capital and Eldridge Industries are also participating in today’s funding round.

Truebill offers several tools to help people living in the U.S. take control of their finances. One of the app’s key features is that you can track all your subscriptions in one place. Users can also cancel unwanted subscriptions. For cell phone and cable bills, Truebill can negotiate a discount for you.

More recently, the startup has been adding features to turn the app into a financial companion. You can see spending insights, create a healthy monthly budget and track it from the app, view your credit reports and more.

Truebill also lets you put some money aside automatically. The company analyzes your accounts to save some money when you have some money left.

Now, the company is working on a wealth management dashboard that centralizes all your assets and debt. Wealth management is a bit tedious as you need to connect to every single pocket of money, otherwise you don’t see the full picture.

“More than 10,000 members sign up for Truebill every day seeking to better understand and improve their finances,” co-founder and CEO Haroon Mokhtarzada said in a statement. “With this new capital, we’re transforming Truebill into an all-in-one, holistic platform that makes it easy for members to not only manage subscriptions and spending but also optimize their savings and make informed decisions to improve their financial health. Truebill is rapidly becoming the most valuable financial membership for everyday consumers.”

As you can see, the startup is growing at a rapid pace. The user base has doubled from 1 million to 2 million users since November 2020. The company analyzes $40 billion in monthly transaction volume.

Penfold closes $8.5M to provide a full stack pension in an app aimed at freelancers

Penfold, a startup that offers a full stack pension in a smartphone app, has closed a $8.5 million (£6m) funding round, $4M of which was from a crowdfunding campaign. The company is now approved by the FCA to operate a pension itself rather than relying on third parties, and is aimed at freelancers who rarely save.

The round was led by Bridford Group, the Family Office of Jorg Mohaupt, allegedly the only Angel investor in Adyen. Alan Morgan of MMC Ventures also invested.

Penfold says it built the backend infrastructure “from scratch” Hykin told me. He said legacy providers are built up from “100s of consolidated schemes” and are often still paper-based and require an army of people to administer. Thus a tech-driven approach means fewer overheads and the ability to make an attractive offer to freelancers.

CEO Pete Hykin told me: “I was self-employed for two years so had no pension. I tried five times to set one up with Scottish widows, standard life, AJ bell etc. I gave up, as all of them forced you to print something, call them, or speak to an IFA. At a previous company, I set up a workplace pension for 70 staff and none of them engaged. Many left money on the table as a result.”

He said: “We rebuilt the entire backend of pensions so all processes can happen instantly, quick, flexibly and at a low cost. Then we put an amazing UX on it via a great app and amazing human customer service.” Features include search, track, consolidate old pensions, among others.

Hykin said users download the app, enter bare minimum legal details for KYC, choose one of 5 investment plans based on age/risk appetite, choose how to fund (Recurring Direct Debit, Open banking topup, transfer another pension). Then they receive HMRC 25% top ups until retirement.

A “Find my pension” tool is possibly the most powerful feature of this startup, where you put in the name of your old employer it tracks down your old pension pot.

Its competitors include traditional providers such as Standard Life, Scottish Widows, Aviva and AJ Bell.

Pensions are definitely heading to apps. PensionBee recently arrived on the London Stock Exchange, for instance. PensionBee also recently announced self-employed offering.

Users will be charged an annual percentage fee on their pension balance (0.75%), but with no other fees. The other founders are Chris Eastwood (Co-Founder and Co-CEO), Stuart Robinson (Co-Founder and CTO).

FinanZero, Brazil’s free online credit marketplace, raises $7M

FinanZero, a Brazilian online credit marketplace, announced today that it has closed a $7 million round of funding – its fourth since it launched in 2016 was founded in 2016. It has raised a total of $22.85 million to date.

The real-time online loan broker allows people to apply for a personal loan, a car equity loan, or a home equity loan for free and receive an answer in minutes. A key to FinanZero’s success is that it doesn’t offer the loans itself, but has instead partnered with about 51 banks and fintechs who back the loans.

FinanZero is based in Brazil’s financial capital, Sao Paulo, and has 52 employees.

“From day one we said, ‘We only work with a success fee,’ so we only get paid when the customer signs the loan contract,” said Olle Widen, the company’s co-founder, and CEO. 

Instead of charging the customer, FinanZero gets a commission from one of its partners, and with a growing volume of credit applications – an average of 750,000 applications per month – the company has seen 61% revenue growth from 2019-2020.

Olle Widen, cofounder and CEO of Finanzero

The Brazilian finance and banking market has been ripe for disruption, as it has traditionally favored the rich. 

Those with low incomes – the vast majority of Brazilian citizens – are then left with few options when it comes to financing, and which in turn forces them into compounding debt they’ll likely never escape from. Traditionally, young Brazilians have lived with their families until they got married, and while there is a cultural aspect to it, the bottom line is that mortgages were infinitely hard to get approved for. 

With products like FinanZero and Nubank – Latin America’s largest digital bank – Brazilians are starting to see more economic mobility and independence from the legacy institutions that dictated their lives for so long.

Widen, who is Swedish, moved to Brazil about 10 years ago for personal reasons, and while there, was pitched the idea of FinanZero by Webrok Ventures, an investment company focused on bringing Nordic innovation to Brazil. 

At the time, Swedish startup Lendo – a precursor to FinanZero – was making waves in Sweden, and the team felt that a similar model would succeed in Brazil, a country known for its bureaucracy and red tape, and thus primed for a streamlined and hassle-free approach to loans.

The original idea was to just copy Lendo, Widen said, but as others have discovered, along the way the team needed to “tropicalize” the product and the experience, meaning they had to build a custom solution for the Brazilian market and its people.

“The founder of Lendo was a childhood friend of mine,” said Widen, of his close ties to the Swedish fintech.

To apply for a loan on FinanZero you don’t need to provide your credit score. Instead, all you need is a utility bill (proof of address), proof of income, and your government ID. The process is so simple, Widen said, that 92% of loan applications are initiated from a smartphone.

“Our business model is very based on the bank’s risk appetite and we saw 60% growth from 2019-2020. We are close to 3 million visits per month, about 1.5 are unique and in March of 2021, we had 800K people fill out the entire loan form. We have about a 10% approval rating across all products,” Widen said.

The round was led by the Swedish investors VEF, Dunross & Co, and Atlant Fonder, which are all previous investors in the company. The funding will go toward marketing – most of which will be on T.V. – product development, and talent acquisition.

SeedFi closes on $65M to help financially struggling Americans get ahead

Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and struggle to get out of a debt cycle.

One startup is developing financial products targeted toward this segment of the population, with the goal of helping them build credit, save money, access funds and plan for the future.

That startup, SeedFi, announced Wednesday it has raised $50 million in debt and $15 million in an equity funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, also known as a16z. The VC firm also led SeedFi’s $4 million seed funding when it was founded in March of 2019.

Flourish, Core Innovation Capital and Quiet Capital also participated in the latest financing.

SeedFi was founded on the premise that it is difficult for many Americans to get ahead financially. Its founding team has worked at both startups and big banks, such as JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, and operates under the premise that many legacy financial institutions are simply not designed to help Americans who are struggling financially to get ahead. 

“We’ve seen firsthand how the system has been designed for underprivileged Americans to fail,” said Jim McGinley, co-founder and CEO of SeedFi. “Our average customer earns $50,000 a year, yet they pay $460 a year in overdraft fees and payday loan companies charge them APRs of 400% or more. They barely make enough to cover their expenses and any misstep can set them back for years.”

In previous roles, McGinley was responsible for payday loans for underserved communities.

“There I got insights to the financial difficulties they had and the need for better products to help them get a step up,” he told TechCrunch.

Co-founder Eric Burton said he can relate because he grew up in Central Texas as part of “a super poor family.”

“I experienced all the struggles of being low income and the necessity of taking on high-priced credit to get through day to day,” he recalled. “I personally was trapped in a debt cycle for a long time.”

In fact, a job offer he got from Capital One was temporarily rescinded because the company said he had “bad credit,” which turned out to be a result of unpaid medical bills he’d incurred at the age of 18.

“I didn’t know about them, but was able to get the job after using my signing bonus to pay off that debt,” he said. “So I can understand how a certain starting point makes it very hard to progress.”

SeedFi’s goal is to tackle the root of the problem. It launched in private beta in 2019, and helped its initial customers build more than $500,000 in savings — even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, it’s launching to the public with two offerings. One is a credit building product that is designed to “create important long-term savings habits.” Customers save as little as $10 from every paycheck, which is reported to the credit bureaus to build their credit history, and are then able to generate $500 in savings in six months’ time.

After six months of on-time payments, SeedFi customers with no credit history were able to establish a credit score of 600, while customers with existing credit scores and less than three credit accounts boosted their scores by 45 points, according to the company.

The concept of enabling consumers to build credit history beyond traditional methods is becoming increasingly more common. Just last week, we wrote about Tomo Credit, which provides customers with a debit card so they can build credit based on their cash flow.

SeedFi’s other offering, the Borrow & Grow Plan, is designed to be a more affordable alternative to installment or payday loans. It provides consumers with “immediate access” to funds while also helping them build savings and credit. 

Andreessen Horowitz general partner Angela Strange , who has joined SeedFi’s board with the financing, believes there’s “a massive business opportunity for new financial services entrants to reach historically underserved populations through better product experiences, underwriting and technology.”

In a blog post, she shares an example of how SeedFi works. The company evaluates risk and extends credit to a customer that might be traditionally hard to underwrite. It determines how much to lend, as well as the proportion of dollars to give as money now versus savings. 

“For instance, a typical SeedFi plan might be structured as $500 right now and $500 reserved in a savings account. The borrower pays off $1,000 over time, and at the end of the plan, he or she has $500 in a savings account. Not only has the borrower paid a lower interest rate, he or she is in a better financial position after making the decision to borrow money,” Strange writes.

Looking ahead, SeedFi plans to use its new capital to build out its product suite and grow its customer base. 

“We will be able to more efficiently fund our growing loan portfolio and serve more customers,” McGinley said.

PrimaHealth Credit offers a buy-now, pay-later lending service for elective procedures

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based healthcare lending service PrimaHealth Credit  is now pitching point-of-sale lending services for elective medical procedures.

Taking the kinds of financial lending services that have been popularized by companies like Klarna and Affirm, PrimaHealth Credit is bringing them into elective surgical space for things like cataract surgery, orthodontic work, dental care, or LASIK.

“For many dental, orthodontics, LASIK, and cataract surgery patients, our BNPL product is a ‘last resort’ – the difference between getting the treatment they need, or not,” said Brendon Kensel, founder and CEO of PrimaHealth Credit, in a statement.

The company expects that patients will pay somewhere between 25% and 50% of the cost of their treatment up front with repayment durations for the loans ranging between two and four months.

Rates for the loans will range from 19.99% to 24.99% APR with average loan sizes coming in at around $1,800 across dental, orthodontics, and LASIK, according to the company.

“Until now, when providers couldn’t approve patients for an existing payment plan, they’d either forego providing them care or take them on anyway, exposing themselves to significant liability as they struggle with adequately assessing creditworthiness and properly servicing and collecting loans,” Kensel said.

The program not only handles loan origination for healthcare practices, but handles the back-office tasks for payment and servicing.

“Our goal as a company is to remove barriers to patient acceptance and help people who have the means but not necessarily the credit score to get the quality care that everyone deserves,” Kensel said.

Using the PrimaHealth Credit mobile app, patients can receive instant credit decisions and choose the payment plan that works best for them. The company said the service is currently available in Arizona, California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas and will be expanded to all 50 states by 2021.

 

Anthos Capital and NBA All-Star Baron Davis back LA-based college tuition savings service, UNest

UNest, a Los Angeles provider of financial planning and savings tools for parents including college savings plans and other beneficial investment vehicles for various life events, has raised $9 million in a new round of funding, the company said. 

Its round will be used to speed up its growth through strategic hires and partnerships, according to UNest.

Ksenia Yudina initially founded the company to provide financial planning and services to lower- and middle-class families looking for ways to start saving for their children’s education, she said.

Over time, the company realized that tax-advantaged savings plans for college tuition weren’t providing the range of financial services that these families needed so UNest added Uniform Transfer To Minor Accounts  management services to its slate of offerings.

The business attracted interest from Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, Artemis Fund, Draper Dragon and Unlock Ventures initially, and the company has now added Anthos Capital to its roster of investors.

Since its public launch in February, one month before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a major lockdown of US cities and sent the economy into a tailspin, UNest has actually signed up more than 25,000 users.

The savings app is similar to other financial planning services available, but funnels users’ money into 529 accounts and UTMAs so that parents can begin to save for the children’s future.

“To me the investment in UNest is a great opportunity to help my community. It aligns with my vision that all kids deserve a chance to get an education and have equal opportunities in life regardless of their race or ethnicity. All kids should have access to the financial resources that make these goals achievable,” said Baron Davis, two-time NBA All-Star, current CEO and Founder of Baron Davis Enterprises, in a statement. “As a father of two young boys, I care about their financial future and I know that other parents are feeling the same way. By making it easy for parents to step into saving plans, UNest is going to transform the future of the next generation and I’m excited to be a part of this journey.”

Users can open a savings account with as little as $25, according to Yudina. The company charges a $3 advisory fee per-user, per-month and on average customers are depositing around $250 per-month in the accounts, according to Yudina.

People who are more sophisticated and pick their own stocks themselves, according to a company executive, and see how their portfolio grows over ten or fifteen years.

“We have made it our priority to invest in minorities and exceptional female entrepreneurs that are transforming how individuals experience financial security,” said Craig Schedler, Managing Director, Northwestern Mutual Venture Fund, in a statement. “Our additional investment in UNest on top of our initial participation in the company’s Seed round is a testament to the tremendous progress UNest has demonstrated over the past several months. It also reflects the ongoing commitment to providing smart, practical financial solutions to people of all economic backgrounds. We are delighted to be part of UNest’s future in helping even more American families achieve financial stability.”

Felix Capital closes $300M fund to double down on DTC, break into fintech and make late-stage deals

To kick off 2020, one of Europe’s newer — and more successful — investment firms has closed a fresh, oversubscribed fund, one sign that VC in the region will continue to run strong in the year ahead after startups across Europe raised some $35 billion in 2019. Felix Capital, the London firm founded by Frederic Court that was one of the earlier firms to identify and invest in the trend of direct-to-consumer businesses, has raised $300 million, money that it plans to use to continue investing in creative and consumer startups and platform plays as well as begin to tap into a newer area, fintech — specifically startups that are focused on consumer finance. 

Felix up to now has focused mostly on earlier-stage investments — it now has $600 million under management and 32 companies in its portfolio in eight countries — based across both Europe and the US. Court said in an interview that a portion of this fund will now also go into later, growth rounds, both for companies that Felix has been backing for some time as well as newer faces.

As with the focus of the investments, the make-up of the fund itself has a strong European current: the majority of the LPs are European, Court noted. Although Asia is something it would like to tackle more in the future both as a market for its current portfolio and as an investment opportunity, he added, the firm has yet to invest into the region or substantially raise money from it.

Felix made its debut in 2015, founded by Court after a strong run at Advent Capital where he was involved in a number of big exits. While Court had been a strong player in enterprise software, Felix was a step-change for him into more of a primary focus on consumer startups focused on fashion, lifestyle and creative pursuits.

That has over the years included investing in companies like the breakout high-fashion marketplace Farfetch (which he started to back when still at Advent and is now public), Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP, the jewellery startup Mejuri, trend-watching HighSnobiety, and fitness startup Peloton (which has also IPO’d).

It’s not an altogether easygoing, vanilla list of cool stuff. Peloton and GOOP have had been mightily doused in snarky and sharky sentiments; and sometimes it even seems as if the brands themselves own and cultivate that image. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad press, I guess.

Although it wasn’t something especially articulated in startup land at the time of Felix’s launch, what the firm was honing in on was a rising category of direct-to-consumer startups, essentially all in the area of e-commerce and building brands and businesses that were bypassing traditional retailers and retail channels to develop primary relationships with consumers through newer digital channels such as social media, messaging and email (alongside their own DTC websites). 

This is not all that the company has focused on, with investments into a range of platform businesses like corporate travel site TravelPerk, Amazon -backed food delivery juggernaut Deliveroo and Moonbug (a platform for children’s entertainment content), as well as increasingly later stage rounds (for example it was part of a $104 million round at TravelPerk; a $70 million round for marketplace-building service Mirakl; and $23 million for Mejuri.

Court’s track record prior to Felix, and the success of the current firm to date, are two likely reasons why this latest fund was oversubscribed, and why Court says it wants to further spread its wings into a wider range of areas and investment stages.

The interest in consumer finance is not such a large step away from these areas, when you consider that they are just the other side of the coin from e-commerce: saving money versus spending money.

“We see this as our prism of opportunity,” said Court. “Just as we had the intuition that there was a space for investors looking at [DTC]… we now think there is enough evidence that there is demand from consumers for new ways of dealing with money and personal finance.”

The firm has from the start operated with a board of advisors who also invest money through Felix while also holding down day jobs. They include the likes of executives from eBay, Facebook, and more. David Marcus –who Court backed when he built payments company Zong and eventually sold it to eBay before he went on to become a major mover and shaker at Facebook and is now has the possibly Sisyphean task of building Calibra — is on the list, but that has not translated into Felix dabbling in cryptocurrency.

“We are watching cryptocurrency, but if you take a Felix stance on the area, it’s only had one amazing brand so far, bitcoin,” said Court. “The rest, for a consumer, is very difficult to understand and access. It’s still really early, but I’ve got no doubt that there will be some things emerging, particularly around the idea of ‘invisible money.'”