Bots replacing office workers drive big valuations

A lot of people still get paid to sit in offices and do repetitive tasks. In recent years, however, employers have been pushing harder to find ways to outsource that work to machines.

Venture and growth investors are doing a lot to speed up the rise of these worker-bots. So far this year, they’ve poured hundreds of millions into developers of robotic process automation technology, the term to describe software used for performing a series of tasks previously carried out by humans.

Process automation funding activity spiked last week with a $225 million Series C round for one of the category leaders, New York-based UiPath. Sequoia Capital and Alphabet’s CapitalG led the financing, which brings total capital raised by the 13-year-old company to more than $400 million, with a most recent valuation of $3 billion.

A Crunchbase News analysis of funding for startups and growth companies involved in robotic process automation indicates this has been a busy year overall for the space, with more than $600 million in aggregate investment across at least seven sizable deals.

Below, we spotlight some of the largest 2018 rounds in the space:1

UiPath, for its part, has a grand vision and an impressive growth rate. Its broad goal, laid out to incoming employees, involves “liberating the human workforce from tedious, repetitive tasks.”

And employers are willing to pay handsomely to liberate their employees. UiPath said that in one 21-month period, it went from $1 million to $100 million in annual recurring revenue, an absolutely astounding growth rate for an enterprise software company.

The other big unicorn in the process automation space, Automation Anywhere, is also in rapid expansion mode. The company said customers have been using its tools across a broad range of industries for tasks including integrating data in electronic medical records, streamlining mortgage applications and completing complex purchase orders.

One might ask: What are employees to do all day now that the bots have freed them of their tiresome tasks? The general refrain from UiPath and others in the process automation space is that their software doesn’t eliminate jobs so much as it gives workers time to focus on higher-value projects.

That may be broadly true, but there is a significant body of employment trend forecasting that predicts widespread job losses stemming from this kind of automation. It could take the form of layoffs, or it might not. Companies may indeed transition bot-displaced existing employees to other, higher-value roles. Even if they do that, however, process automation could enable reduced hiring for future jobs.

That said, there’s plenty of funding and hiring happening at the handful of high-growth companies that could determine whether the rest of us have a job in our futures.

  1. Providing comprehensive funding numbers for robotic process automation proved challenging because many startups list automation as part of a broader suite of offerings, rather than a core focus area. 

VCs say Silicon Valley isn’t the gold mine it used to be

In the days leading up to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, The Economist published the cover story, ‘Why Startups Are Leaving Silicon Valley.’

The author outlined reasons why the Valley has “peaked.” Venture capital investors are deploying capital outside the Bay Area more than ever before. High-profile entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel, for example, have left. Rising rents are making it impossible for new blood to make a living, let alone build businesses. And according to a recent survey, 46 percent of Bay Area residents want to get the hell out, an increase from 34 percent two years ago.

Needless to say, the future of Silicon Valley was top of mind on stage at Disrupt.

“It’s hard to make a difference in San Francisco as a single entrepreneur,” said J.D. Vance, the author of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ and a managing partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Fund, which backs seed-stage companies based outside Silicon Valley. “It’s not as a hard to make a difference as a successful entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio.”

In conversation with Vance, Revolution CEO Steve Case said he’s noticed a “mega-trend” emerging. Founders from cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Portland are opting to stay in their hometowns instead of moving to U.S. innovation hubs like San Francisco.

“The sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

“We are seeing the beginnings of a slowing of what has been a brain drain the last 20 years,” Case said. “It’s not just watching where the capital flows, it’s watching where the talent flows. And the sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

Farewell, San Francisco

“It’s too expensive to live here,” said Aileen Lee, the founder of seed-stage VC firm Cowboy Ventures, amid a conversation with leading venture capitalists Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn and Benchmark general partner Sarah Tavel .

“I know that there are a lot of people in the Bay Area that are trying to work on that problem and I hope that they are successful,” Lee added. “It’s an amazing place to live and we’ve made it really challenging for people to live here and not worry about making ends meet.”

One of Cowboy’s portfolio companies opted to relocate from Silicon Valley to Colorado when it came time to scale their business. That kind of move would’ve historically been seen as a failure. Today, it may be a sign of strong business acumen.

Quinn said that of all 28 of Spark’s growth-stage portfolio companies, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Pendo has the easiest time recruiting folks locally and from the Bay Area.

She advises her Bay Area-based late-stage companies to open a second office outside of the Valley where lower-cost talent is available.

“We often say go to [flySFO.com], draw a three-hour circle around San Francisco where they have direct flights, find a city that has a university and open up a second office as quickly as possible,” Quinn said.

Still, all three firms invest in a lot of companies based in San Francisco. Of Benchmark’s 10 most recent investments, for example, eight were based in SF, according to Crunchbase.

“I used to believe really strongly if you wanted to build a multi-billion dollar company you had to be based here,” Tavel said. “I’ve stopped giving that soap speech.”

Underestimated talent

A lot of Bay Area VCs have been blind to the droves of tech talent located outside the region. Believe it or not, there are great engineers in America’s small- and medium-sized markets too.

At Disrupt, Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton announced the firm would launch an accelerator to further amplify companies led by underestimated founders. The program will have cohorts based in four cities; San Francisco was noticeably absent from that list.

Instead, the firm, which invests in underrepresented founders and recently raised a $36 million fund, will work with companies in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London and one more city, which will be determined by a public vote. Aniyia Williams, the founder of Tinsel and Black & Brown Founders, will spearhead the Philadelphia effort.

“For us, it’s about closing that wealth gap to address inequity in tech,” Williams said. “There needs to be more active participation from everyone.”

Hamilton added that for her, the tech talent in LA and London is undeniable.

“There is a lot of money and a lot of investors … it reminds me of three years ago in Silicon Valley,” Hamilton said.

Silicon Valley vs. China

Silicon Valley’s demise may not be just as a result of increased costs of living or investors overlooking talent in other geographies. It may be because of heightened competition abroad.

Doug Leone, an early- and growth-stage investor at Sequoia Capital, said at Disrupt that he’s noticed a very different work ethic in China.

Chinese entrepreneurs, he explained, are more ruthless than their American counterparts and they’re putting in a whole lot more hours.

“I’ve had dinner in China until after 10 p.m. and people go to work after 10 p.m.,” Leone recalled.

“We don’t see that in the U.S. I’m not saying the U.S. founders oughta do that but those are the differences. They are similar in character. They are similar in dreams. They are similar in how they want to change the world. They are ultra-driven … The Chinese founders have a half other gear because I think they are a little more desperate.”

Much of this, however, has been said before and still, somehow, Silicon Valley remained the place to be for investors and startup entrepreneurs.

The reality is, those engaged in tech culture are always anxiously awaiting for the bubble to pop, the market to crash and for “peak Valley” to finally arrive.

Maybe, just maybe, Silicon Valley is forever.

Here’s more of our coverage of Disrupt 2018.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain bring Asia funds to the forefront of U.S. tech

Since early 2017, there’s been a new trend in the U.S. where a number of Asian funds have been actively involved in early-stage crypto investing. Many folks in traditional tech have not heard of them before, but these funds will only be growing more important as cryptocurrency and blockchain solidify their position in the American tech industry.

Funds with Asian money, primarily from China, have been in Silicon Valley for a long time. However, in the past, they were rarely heard or seen in the press, mostly because their assets under management (AUM) and investment check sizes were smaller in size and fewer in frequency than their American counterparts on average. These funds were often only found investing in later-stage rounds, since they weren’t able to compete against the top venture funds in the early rounds for highly-coveted startups, as many entrepreneurs weren’t familiar with them.

This has changed in the last few years and recent investment stats are very telling of a different trend. In 2017,  Asian investors directed 40% of the record $154bn in global venture financing, versus their American counterparts at 44%, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Specifically, deals led by U.S.-based venture capital and tech investment firms, such as Sequoia Capital or Andreessen Horowitz, made up of $67 billion in venture financing, just slightly more than the $61 billion led by Asian investors, including Tencent and SoftBank. Asia’s share is up from less than 5% just ten years ago.

Not only is there more money coming from Asia, but U.S. funds are also coming to realize the growing and massively underinvested tech opportunity in China and the rest of Asia. In a joint study issued by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology affiliate and a Beijing-based consultancy, the 2017 China Unicorn Enterprise Development Report showed that in the same year, China had 164 unicorns, worth a combined US$628.4 billion, while the most recent U.S. figures suggested 132 unicorns. Companies such as Meituan Dianping (the Yelp equivalent of China) and Didi (the Uber equivalent of China) are examples of large disruptive technology companies from China that have garnered massive valuations.

Subsequently, more U.S.-based funds are branching out geographically. In the past, some funds may have had an understanding of China’s large market opportunity and had a China-focused partner, team, or partnership relationships in Asia. But now, there is increasingly more focus on Asia from these funds than ever before, not only driven by the potential investment opportunities, but also by the untapped market opportunity for their portfolio companies.

Several funds have been ahead of the game. For example, Y Combinator recently made a big entrance into China with their announcement of a new China office headed by Qi Lu, the former COO of Baidu. Additionally, Connie Chan, who has been responsible for spearheading Andreessen Horowitz’s China network, was promoted to general partner earlier this year, the first to be promoted from within the company.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain accelerate West-East investment ties

Now, cryptocurrency and blockchain have accelerated this cross-border activity. The global, or rather, the censorship-resistance nature of cryptocurrency and blockchain have brought Asia – and specifically China – to the forefront of the focus. In the blockchain space, Chinese companies make up more than 80% share in mining compute power, while Asia in aggregate makes up a significant market share in cryptocurrency trading. The top Cryptocurrency exchanges, including Binance, OKex and Huobi, are also run by Chinese teams.

The cryptocurrency phenomenon began in Asia and the U.S. around the same time, but Asia got a head start due to a favorable set of regulations compared to the U.S. While certainly not laissez faire, blockchain technology has been hailed by regulators throughout countries such as China, Japan and Korea. Since the start of this year, blockchain has been highlighted as one of the most promising technologies by China’s President Xi Jingping, calling it “a breakthrough technology.” Japan has also placed a spotlight on the technology in an effort for the country to re-invigorate itself and its economy. And last but not least, Korean regulators have started debating the idea of using blockchain technology as part of the democratic process, with advocates calling for the introduction of blockchain-powered voting systems.

As a result, Chinese and Korean cryptocurrency and blockchain funds for the first time have an edge, with access to proprietary information and relationships, along with a massive market that cryptocurrency companies in the U.S. can no longer ignore.

Eric Ly, a former CTO and co-founder of LinkedIn, recently started a blockchain based company called Hub. And in our conversation, he has recognized the importance of Asia as a market: “it’s a region that is not to be dismissed, especially in the crypto world in terms of the interest and the activities that’s going on there.” With more funds coming from China and Asia, and many crypto projects coming out of Asia, there will be more cross-border activities on both the investment as well as business development front.

Given the global nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, it’s increasingly important for entrepreneurs to raise money from investors who are not just local to where their team is based but also globally useful to one’s success as a cryptocurrency and blockchain company. Not only can overseas investors bring a vastly different point of view to the table, but they can also provide access and market opportunities in the other half of the hemisphere that otherwise would have been difficult.

Strong examples of this fundraising pattern are emerging. Take Messari for instance, a company based out of New York with the mission to create an authoritative data resource for crypto assets. CEO Ryan Selkis has mentioned how he has made a conscious effort to raise from Asian and other global funds when he initially raised the company’s seed round.

Typically, regional investors will have better information and relationship with the local businesses and regulators, and that should prove to be useful as the company scales and grows overseas. Additionally, local investors will likely be more in touch with the policies and the regulators, which is crucial when it comes to treading through the gray areas in cryptocurrency and blockchain space. Having someone who recognizes and can predict regulatory inflection points would be hugely valuable for the company as they map out their global strategy.

Sino-US investment firms are targeting over $4 billion for new funds launched this year

As limited partners increasingly demand greater exposure to emerging market opportunities, venture capital firms with a focus on Asia are bulking up their funds and chasing deals in an increasingly competitive race to own stakes in the next generation of local startups with global aspirations.

Over the last year, firms, including DCM Ventures, GGV CapitalMatrix Partners China and Qiming Venture Partners, have all significantly increased the targets for their new funds. If each firm hits their targets, there’s roughly $4.4 billion in new capital that could be flooding into an already scorching market for investment into Chinese startups, according to SEC filings.

The largest of these new funds, by far, is GGV Capital, which has registered a new $1.8 billion fund with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Qiming Ventures has targeted $900 million for its latest fund, while DCM Ventures and Matrix Partners China are each looking for $750 million for their own new investment vehicles, according to securities filings.

Managing partners at the firms did not respond to a request for comment.

These four firms are among the last standing from the initial flood of U.S.-based venture capital firms that poured into Asia (and China specifically) in the first decade of the new millennium.

While marquee names like Kleiner Perkins, DFJ and others foundered in China, these four firms (along with global venture capital juggernauts like Sequoia Capital and NEA) put down deep roots and notched notable wins with investments in startups like Didi Chuxing, Kuaidi, Meituan-Dianping, Xiaomi and many more.

In part, these massive new funds are simply a response to the new world that venture investors find themselves in thanks to the massive amounts of capital raised by SoftBank with its $100 billion Vision Fund, or Sequoia with its $9 billion new investment vehicle.

Firms are also under pressure to raise more capital from limited partners, who want to reduce their exposure and consolidate their own investments around venture firms with track records of success and the ability to deploy capital into larger checks.

Couple those facts with the (still) low cost of capital given where interest rates are, and the sustained growth of technology companies across emerging market geographies, and you have a more willing pool of investors that want to commit more capital to emerging technology ecosystems (this is happening in Latin America, too).

But there are also some contours of China’s competitive environment that are pushing these venture capital firms to raise increasingly larger funds.

One is the sheer size of the opportunity that exists for new technology companies in China. As the WeChat messaging service increasingly evolves into a new operating system, there are opportunities to scale quickly with larger infusions of capital to capture the market.

Like their peers in the U.S., Chinese companies are also delaying their public offerings and spending more time to build a better outcome with their IPOs. That’s putting pressure on earlier-stage investors to raise capital so they don’t get crowded out in those later-stage rounds.

Chinese entrepreneurs are also often putting in their own money to finance companies at the earliest stages, which means startups are more mature when they’re seeking their first round. It’s this phenomenon that leads to the $100 million Series A and B rounds that crop up in the Chinese market more regularly than in the U.S.

Eventbrite is reportedly going public in the second half of this year

Eventbrite, the 12-year-old, San Francisco-based event-planning company, has filed confidentially for an IPO and plans to go public later this year, according to a new report in the WSJ. The company’s lead underwriters are Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase & Co., it says.

The offering must seem a long time in coming for Eventbrite founders Julia Hartz; her husband, Kevin Hartz; and the company’s technical cofounder and CTO, Renaud Visage.

Originally created for individuals wanting to host smaller events and private parties, but who faced few few options aside creating Excel spreadsheets — remember, the ticketing world formerly revolved around stadiums and major sporting events —  Eventbrite has grown steadily over the years into a corporate giant. It now powers ticketing for millions of events in more than 180 countries, and it has rung up more than $10 billion in cumulative tickets sales since its founding.

According to Forbes, in 2017, Eventbrite processed more than three million tickets per week to events, including conferences and festivals.

Part of the company’s growth has come through acquisitions. Last year, for example, Eventbrite acquired Ticketfly, a ticketing company that focused largely on the live entertainment industry and which had sold to the streaming music company Pandora in 2015 for a reported $335 million but Eventbrite was able to nab last year at the discounted price of $200 million.

Eventbrite has also made a broader international push in recent years, acquiring Ticketea, one of Spain’s leading ticketing providers, back in April, and acquiring Amsterdam-based Ticketscript back in January of last year. And those deals followed roughly half a dozen others.

Indeed, the company — which has raised roughly $330 over the years, including from Sequoia Capital, Tiger Global Management, and DAG Ventures  — has long been expected to go public, thanks in large part to its momentum, as well as its fairly turnkey and (we’d guess) lucrative business model.

Though we won’t see its numbers until closer to its IPO apparently, Eventbrite makes money off every transaction. For event organizers charging for ticket sales, Eventbrite’s fees vary by package, but one of its most popular packages collects 1 percent of the ticket price and $0.99 per paid ticket, plus another 3 percent for payment processing per transaction. It also sells a “professional package” wherein it collects 2.5 percent of the ticket price and $1.99 per paid ticket, plus a 3 percent payment processing fee per transaction. Last but not least, Eventbrite sells “premium package” with customized pricing.

Eventbrite is led by Julia Hartz, who took over the position of CEO in 2016, roughly six months after husband Kevin stepped down from his chief executive duties owing to a “non-life-threatening medical condition.” Until that point, Julia Hartz had primarily been tasked with overseeing marketing, customer support, sales, and human resources.

Both cofounders appeared earlier this month at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, an event that attracts many of the wealthiest and most powerful people in U.S. media, technology, and sports, and whose attendees are often on the cusp of taking their companies public — if they haven’t already.

When Eventbrite does complete its IPO, Hartz will join a tiny but growing list of female founders to steer their companies onto the public markets. Last October, when the mail-ordering clothing service Stitch Fix went public, its founder and CEO, Katrina Lake, became the first woman to take an internet company public in all of 2017.

While tech waffles on going public, biotech IPOs boom

For people who make investment decisions based on revenues and projected earnings, biotech IPOs are kind of a non-starter. Not only are new market entrants universally unprofitable, most have zero revenue. Going public is mostly a means to raise money for clinical trials, with red ink expected for years to come.

That pattern may be one reason the venture capital press, Crunchbase News included, tends to devote a disproportionately small portion of coverage to biotech IPOs. It’s more exciting to watch a big-name internet company pop in first-day trading or poke fun at an underperforming dud.

But with our fixation on all things tech, we’re missing out on the big picture. There are actually a lot more biotech and healthcare startup IPOs than tech offerings. In the second quarter of this year, for instance, at least 16 U.S. venture-backed biotech and healthcare companies went public, compared to just 11 tech startups. In three of the past four years, bio offerings outnumbered tech IPOs, according to Crunchbase data.

In the following analysis, we attempt to get up to speed on the pace of biotech offerings, assess where we are in the cycle and spotlight some of the rising stars.

Biotech outpaces tech

As mentioned above, U.S. bio IPOs outnumber tech offerings in most years. However, the bio cohort raises less total capital, partly because the largest technology IPOs tend to be much bigger than the largest bio IPOs. In the chart below, we compare the two sectors over the past four years.

Globally, the numbers are much higher. Using Crunchbase data, we’ve put together a chart looking at global VC-backed biotech and healthcare IPOs over the past four years. While we’re just over halfway through 2018, biotech and health IPOs have already raised more money than in any of the prior three full calendar years.

Fundamentals driven, cycle amplified

It’s pretty clear we’re in an upcycle for all things startup-related. VCs are flush with cash, late-stage rounds are ballooning in size and IPO and M&A action is picking up, too.

So what does that mean for bio IPOs? Is the uptick in the pace and size of offerings mostly a result of bullish market conditions? Or is the current slate of pre-IPO candidates more compelling than in the past?

We turned to Bob Nelsen, co-founder of ARCH Venture Partners, one of the top-performing biotech investors, for his take, which is that it’s a “fundamentals driven, cycle amplified” IPO boomlet.

More companies are launching well-received IPOs because the pace of startup innovation is faster than in the past. Nelson calls it “the result of the previous 30 years of investment and innovation in biotech that has finally led to essentially data-driven innovation.” That’s leading to more curative treatments, disease-modifying therapies and preventative technologies.

Yet we’re also in a bullish segment of the market cycle for biotech. That’s prompting companies that might have stayed private under other conditions to give going public a shot. It’s also providing bigger outcomes for emerging companies that were already on the IPO track.

The latest example of a big outcome IPO is Rubius Therapeutics, which develops drugs based on genetically engineered red blood cells. This week, the five-year-old company raised $241 million at an initial valuation of over $2 billion, making it the largest bio offering of 2018. The Cambridge, Mass. company, which previously raised nearly a quarter-billion-dollars in venture funding, is still in the pre-clinical trial phase.

This year has delivered several other good-sized offerings as well, including drug developers Eidos Therapeutics and Homology Medicines, recently valued around $800 million each, along with Tricida, valued around $1.2 billion. (See the full list of 2018 global bio and health offerings here.)

As for aftermarket performance, that’s been up and down, but includes some big ups. Last year, biotech led the pack for best-performing IPOs on U.S. exchanges. The sector accounted for four of the six top spots, according to Renaissance Capital, led by drug developers AnaptysBioArgenx and UroGen, along with Calyxt, an agbio startup.

Looking ahead

While things are already up, bio VCs, generally an optimistic bunch, see several reasons why bio IPOs could go higher.

Nelson points to what he sees as the lagging pace of in-house innovation at big pharma and biotech players. Increasingly, they need to acquire startups and recently public companies to stay competitive and build out new product pipelines.

There is also tons of fresh capital earmarked for healthcare startups. In the U.S. in 2017, healthcare-focused venture capitalists raised $9.1 billion. That figure was up 26 percent from 2016, per Silicon Valley Bank.

More dollars also are flowing from venture firms that invest in a mix of tech and life sciences through a single fund. That list includes well-established VCs with dry powder to invest, including Polaris PartnersFounders FundKleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital.

Still, Nelson observes, deep into an IPO bull market, the average quality of offerings does tend to decline. That said, he’s been through similar inflection points in previous cycles and “for the same point in the cycle, the quality is markedly higher.”

The five best reasons you don’t want to miss Disrupt SF this September

TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF (Sept. 5-7) is our most ambitious event ever. And if we’re sure of one thing, it’s that people in the startup scene will extract more insights and inspiration from this Disrupt than any before. Here’s why…

  1. More, better programming. For the first time ever at Disrupt, we have two stages, plus two additional off-stage “Q&A” areas where Disrupt attendees can ask questions directly to speakers. Sequoia’s Doug Leone, Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe Herd, Sinovation’s Dr. Kai-Fu Lee,  23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki are just a few of the stellar interviews TechCrunch editors will conduct on stage. Disrupt will be live streamed, but only Disrupt pass holders will be able to catch sessions they missed via video-on-demand.
  2. Precision-guided networking. We spent years refining CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s founder-investor matching and meeting system, and we’ve got it down to a science that has already produced thousands of meetings. Investors, use the CrunchMatch/Brella app to find the the founders and startup ideas you’re looking for, request a meeting, get the thumbs up, and boom you have a time and an assigned meeting table in the CrunchMatch meeting area.
  3. Startup Battlefield and Startup Alley. We’ve already selected the 20 startups that will compete in Startup Battlefield, and though the list is under wraps until the start of Disrupt, trust us it’s an amazing field of contestants – the fruits of a very deep, global recruitment effort. And Startup Alley will have more than 1,000 companies exhibiting across a dozen tracks – AI, mobility, blockchain, fintech – and each has Top Picks – the standouts that TechCrunch’s editors chose to exhibit free of charge. (Learn more about exhibiting in Startup Alley.)
  4. Comfortable digs. We built past Disrupts in pier warehouses, but this year we’re moving to the glistening, super comfortable Moscone West, where we have 3x the floorspace, which means spacious, sunny lounge areas where attendees can relax, charge gear and catch up with fellow attendees.
  5. The right pass for you. For the first time, Disrupt is offering passes with features and prices designed to suit different attendees, like founders, investors, all around innovators and more. Plus, passes come with access to discounted San Francisco hotel rooms. Right now, early birds prices apply, so do don’t wait. Get your pass now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truecaller makes first acquisition to build out payment and financial services in India

Sweden’s Truecaller started out life as a service that screens calls and messages to weed out spammers. In recent times the company has switched its focus to India, its largest market based on users, adding services that include payments to make it more useful. Now Truecaller is putting even more weight behind its India push after it announced its first acquisition, mobile payment service Chillr.

The vision is to go deeper into mobile payments and associated services to turn Truecaller into a utility that goes beyond just handling messages and calls, particularly payments — a space that WhatsApp is preparing to enter in India.

Truecaller doesn’t have WhatsApp -like scale — few companies can match 200 million active users in Indua, but it did recently disclose that it has 100 million daily active users worldwide, while India is its largest country with 150 million registered users.

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith. Chillr, which offer payment services between over 50 banks, had raised $7.5 million from the likes of Blume Ventures and Sequoia Capital.

Truecaller isn’t disclosing how much it has paid for the deal, but it said that Chillr’s entire team of 45 people will move over and the Chillr service will be phased out. In addition, Chillr CEO Sony Joy will become vice president of Truecaller Pay, running that India-based payment business which will inherit Chillr’s core features.

“We’ve acquired a company that is known for innovation and leading this space in terms of building a fantastic product,” Truecaller co-founder and CSO Nami Zarringhalam told TechCrunch in an interview.

Zarringhalam said the Truecaller team met with Chillr as part of an effort to reach out to partners to build out an ecosystem of third-party services, but quickly realized there was potential to come together.

“We realized we shared synergies in thought processes for caring for the customer and user experience,” he added, explaining that Joy and his Chillr team will “take over the vision of execution of Truecaller Pay.”

Truecaller added payments in India last year

Joy told TechCrunch that he envisages developing Truecaller Pay into one of India’s top three payment apps over the next two years.

Already, the service supports peer-to-peer payments following a partnership with ICICI Bank, but there are plans to layer on additional services from third parties. That could include integrations to provide services such as loans, financing, micro-insurance and more.

Joy pointed out that India’s banking push has seen many people in the country sign up for at least one account, so now the challenge is not necessarily getting banked but instead getting access to the right services. Thanks to gathering information through payments and other customer data, Truecaller could, with permission from users, share data with financial services companies to give users access to services that wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.

“Most citizens have a bank account (in each household), now being underserved is more to do with access to other services,” he explained.

Joy added that Truecaller is aiming to layer in value-added services over its SMS capabilities, digging into the fact that SMS remains a key communication and information channel in India. For example, helping users pay for items confirmed via SMS, or pay for an order which is tracked via SMS.

The development of the service in India has made it look from the outside that the company is splitting into two, a product localized for India and another for the rest of the world. However, Zarringhalam said that the company plans to replicate its approach — payments and more — in other markets.

“It could be based on acquisitions or partners, time will tell,” he said. “But our plan is to develop this for all markers where our market penetration is high and the market dynamics are right.”

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith.

SoftBank Vision Fund leads $250M Series D for Cohesity’s hyperconverged data platform

San Jose-based Cohesity has closed an oversubscribed $250M Series D funding round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, bringing its total raised to date to $410M. The enterprise software company offers a hyperconverged data platform for storing and managing all the secondary data created outside of production apps.

In a press release today it notes this is only the second time SoftBank’s gigantic Vision Fund has invested in an enterprise software company. The fund, which is almost $100BN in size — without factoring in all the planned sequels, also led an investment in enterprise messaging company Slack back in September 2017 (also a $250M round).

Cohesity pioneered hyperconverged secondary storage as a first stepping stone on the path to a much larger transformation of enterprise infrastructure spanning public and private clouds. We believe that Cohesity’s web-scale Google-like approach, cloud-native architecture, and incredible simplicity is changing the business of IT in a fundamental way,” said Deep Nishar, senior managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a supporting statement.

Also participating in the financing are Cohesity’s existing strategic investors Cisco Investments, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, along with early investor Sequoia Capital and others.

The company says the investment will be put towards “large-scale global expansion” by selling more enterprises on the claimed cost and operational savings from consolidating multiple separate point solutions onto its hyperconverged platform. On the customer acquisition front it flags up support from its strategic investors, Cisco and HPE, to help it reach more enterprises.

Cohesity says it’s onboarded more than 200 new enterprise customers in the last two quarters — including Air Bud Entertainment, AutoNation, BC Oil and Gas Commission, Bungie, Harris Teeter, Hyatt, Kelly Services, LendingClub, Piedmont Healthcare, Schneider Electric, the San Francisco Giants, TCF Bank, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force, and WestLotto — and says annual revenues grew 600% between 2016 and 2017.

In another supporting statement, CEO and founder Mohit Aron, added: “My vision has always been to provide enterprises with cloud-like simplicity for their many fragmented applications and data — backup, test and development, analytics, and more.

“Cohesity has built significant momentum and market share during the last 12 months and we are just getting started.”