Concreit closes on $6M to allow more people to invest in the global private real estate market

Concreit, a company that wants to open real estate investing to a broader group of people, announced today that it has closed $6 million in a seed funding round led by Matrix Partners. 

Hyphen Capital also participated in the round, in addition to individual investors such as Betterment founder and CEO Jon Stein; Andy Liu, partner at Unlock Venture Partners; and investor and advisor Ben Elowitz. Concreit raised the capital at a $22.5 million post-money valuation.

The Seattle-based startup also today launched its app, which it claims allows “anyone” to invest in the global private real estate market for as little as $1. 

It’s a lofty claim. But first let’s start with some background.

Concreit is not the first time that co-founders Sean Hsieh and Jordan Levy have worked together. The pair previously founded and bootstrapped VoIP communications platform Flowroute before selling it to West Corp. in 2018. Upon the sale of that company, Hsieh and Levy set out to build a company that, in their words, “could help everyday people become more financially secure.”

Hsieh, a second-generation immigrant, worked in his family’s restaurant where they shared the dream of achieving financial freedom through real estate. Similarly, Levy says he grew up watching his parents build a small construction business from scratch. He was intrigued by the idea of passive income through single-family rental homes but became disillusioned with the overhead, risk and hassle of managing one’s own single-family rental investments. 

So the duo worked together to design a mobile-first offering that could enable small investors to benefit from real estate “without the burden of making repairs at 2 a.m. on a Saturday.” Enter Concreit. 

Today, most investors can open a Concreit account and make their first investment in just minutes on their mobile device, the company claims. The company’s free mobile app allows consumers to invest as little as $1 into a fund managed by a team of investment professionals. Withdrawals can be requested at any time through the app and sent upon approval.

The platform facilitates weekly earned payouts, automated investments and on-demand withdrawals while compounding earned payouts weekly.

After selling Flowroute, Hsieh says he “saw the opportunity to earn a great APR through private real estate investing while gaining less correlation with traditional public stocks or bonds markets,” Hsieh said. “But they were only for the already wealthy or required multiyear commitments of capital. Concreit gives everyone access to a real estate portfolio and the ability to have access to withdrawals when they need them.”

Put simply, the startup wants to make it easy for anyone — not just the wealthy — to invest in real estate.

Concreit, Hsieh said, offers “regular people” the ability to access real estate strategies typically used by large hedge funds and private equity. 

“We’re seeing a surge of retail demand for alternatives and other ways to invest outside of the public markets and the crypto space for those that value diversification,” Hsieh told TechCrunch. Most other competitors are focused on marketing and selling securities, but we knew in order to be an innovator in this space we had to produce a truly unique experience for our investors.”

Concreit’s platform is designed to be a more connected investment experience.

“We knew early on that digital natives deserved a whole new real estate investing experience and that it had to be 100x better than just taking traditional real estate investment opportunities and offering them digitally,” Hsieh said. 

So on the platform side, Concreit has built a cloud-based proprietary securities accounting engine that allows the company to process fractional calculations and pull in a lot of mutual fund practices, applying them toward the “more labor-intensive” private equity markets, with a focus on real estate.

“We’ve taken a lot of the cloud-architectural work that we’ve pioneered in the telecommunications space and applied it towards a back-office accounting solution that gives us a competitive edge around what we offer to our investors,” Hsieh said. “This affords the ability to run accounting at a higher frequency, which is how we are able to run weekly dividends, process fractional redemptions and ultimately a more real-time experience for our users.”

Concreit’s first private REIT fund, focused on passive income, consists of lower-risk fixed-income private market residential and commercial real estate first-lien mortgages. The fund, which the company says has an annualized return of 5.47%, is managed by a team of industry professionals. The startup has added over 18,000 customers to its platform since it was qualified by the SEC (slightly over a year ago), and doubled its user base in the month of August.

“Our current users can invest with any dollar amount, no lock-ups, weekly payouts, and an experience that’s as easy & familiar as a savings account,” Hsieh said.

Matrix’s Dana Stalder, who joined Concreit’s board as part of the financing,  believes Concreit has leveled the playing field for real estate investing by making it more accessible. 

“What Concreit has built is incredibly hard to do from both a technology and regulatory standpoint,” he told TechCrunch. “Alternative asset classes, in particular, have been notoriously closed off to the average consumer, leaving high yield returns exclusively to wealthy investors. “

Kapor Capital, Square co-founder Sam Wen back TomoCredit in its $10M Series A funding round

Building credit history can be difficult if you are a consumer that is having trouble getting access to credit in the first place.

Enter TomoCredit, which has developed a credit card focused on building credit history for first-time borrowers. The San Francisco-based startup is announcing today that it has raised $10 million in a Series A funding round co-led by Kapor Capital and KB Investment Inc. (KBIC), a subsidiary of South Korea’s leading consumer bank. Lewis & Clark Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Knollwood Investment Advisory, WTI, Bronze and Square co-founder Sam Wen also participated in the Series A financing.

The new capital comes just over seven months after TomoCredit raised $7 million in seed funding, and brings its total raised this year to $17 million. The company also announced today it has appointed Ash Gupta, former CRO at American Express, to its board.

TomoCredit co-founder and CEO Kristy Kim came up with the concept for the company after being rejected multiple times for an auto loan while in her early 20s.

Kim, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with her family as a child, was disappointed that her lack of credit history proved to be such an obstacle despite the fact she had a job “and positive cash flow.”

So she teamed up with Dmitry Kashlev, a Russian immigrant, in January of 2019 to create a solution for other foreign-born individuals and young adults facing similar credit challenges. That fall, the startup (short for Tomorrow’s Credit) was accepted into the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

The fintech offers a credit card aimed at helping first-time borrowers build credit history, based on their cash flow, rather than on their FICO or credit report ratings. Its biggest differentiator, believes Kim, is that it has no fees, no APR and no credit pull. Traditional credit products rely heavily on fees and APR, she said, while TomoCredit makes money through merchant fees.

Image Credits: TomoCredit

TomoCredit is powered by Finicity (which was acquired by Mastercard last year), and leverages that company’s data network and open banking technology so that it can “securely” access applicants’ bank accounts to obtain financial data for underwriting purposes.

Once approved, applicants receive the TomoCredit Mastercard. The goal is to bring “millions of individuals that lack a credit score into the financial system, allowing a diverse group of consumers the opportunity to better position themselves as qualified candidates for mortgages, auto loans, or other major life purchases,” the company said.

TomoCredit has already pre-approved more than 300,000 customers and expects to issue a total of 500,000 cards by year’s end, according to Kim.

“We’ve grown 10x this year from the beginning of 2021,” Kim said. “Still, this round came together earlier than expected.”

Something that has been surprising to Kim is the interest from a variety of types of consumers.

“In the beginning, we thought international students and immigrants would be most interested in our product,” she told TechCrunch. “But after launching, we’ve realized that so many people can benefit — from gig economy workers to YouTubers to any young person who hasn’t had a chance to build credit yet. The market is way bigger than we even realized.”

In early 2022, the company plans to roll out the Tomo Black card, a product for some of its existing customers that “are showing good performance.” It’s currently testing it with some of its existing user base.

“This is a premium product that can grow with our customers, who we want to retain over the next 10 to 20 years,” Kim said. “We don’t want our product to be a stop-gap solution.”

Image Credits: TomoCredit

The startup plans to use its new capital to do more hiring and enhance features such as weekly autopay and high credit limits in an effort to “boost credit scores faster,” she added. Currently, TomoCredit has about 30 employees, up from 10 at the time of its last raise in February.

“My main focus is recruiting top talent,” Kim said, noting that the company had already hired “some senior people from Wells Fargo.” 

“When we recruit and hire, we care about diversity,” she added. “We’re building products for people who have been traditionally underserved by major banks. I think to align with our mission, we should embody that in building our team. More than 50% of our execs are female. The entire risk team is female. We are diverse in terms of gender, age and ethnicity because we want to truly understand our customers and build a product that is inclusive.”

Brian Dixon, partner at Kapor Capital, points out that there are about 45 million people in the U.S. who should have credit scores, but cannot take out a loan, get a credit card, or apply for a mortgage. And that number is only increasing.

“When we learned that Kristy experienced these issues firsthand when she moved to the United States and thoughtfully figured out a way to circumvent the predatory and broken credit card system, it deepened our conviction in her and the product itself,” he wrote via email.

Dixon believes that TomoCredit’s model of not charging the user makes it a “safe and affordable alternative” to what is in the market.

“Their mission aligns with our thesis of closing gaps of access and opportunity in the credit space at large as well,” he added.

Logistics startup Stord raises $90M in Kleiner Perkins-led round, becomes a unicorn and acquires a company

When Kleiner Perkins led Stord’s $12.4 million Series A in 2019, its founders were in their early 20s and so passionate about their startup that they each dropped out of their respective schools to focus on growing the business.

Fast-forward two years and Stord — an Atlanta-based company that has developed a cloud supply chain — is raising more capital in a round again led by Kleiner Perkins.

This time, Stord has raised $90 million in a Series D round of funding at a post-money valuation of $1.125 billion — more than double the $510 million that the company was valued at when raising $65 million in a Series C financing just six months ago.

In fact, today’s funding marks Stord’s third since early December of 2020, when it raised its Series B led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and brings the company’s total raised since its 2015 inception to $205 million.

Besides Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital, D1 Capital, Palm Tree Crew, BOND, Dynamo Ventures, Founders Fund, Lineage Logistics and Susa Ventures also participated in the Series D financing. In addition, Michael Rubin, Fanatics founder and founder of GSI Commerce; Carlos Cashman, CEO of Thrasio; Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart; and Will Gaybrick, CPO at Stripe, put money in the round.

Founders Sean Henry, 24, and Jacob Boudreau, 23, met while Henry was at Georgia Tech and Boudreau was in online classes at Arizona State (ASU) but running his own business, a software development firm, in Atlanta.

Over time, Stord has evolved into a cloud supply chain that can give companies a way to compete and grow with logistics, and provides an integrated platform “that’s available exactly when and where they need it,” Henry said. Stord combines physical logistics services such as freight, warehousing and fulfillment in that platform, which aims to provide “complete visibility, rapid optimization and elastic scale” for its users.

About two months ago, Stord announced the opening of its first fulfillment center, a 386,000-square-foot facility, in Atlanta, which features warehouse robotics and automation technologies. “It was the first time we were in a building ourselves running it end to end,” Henry said.

And today, the company is announcing it has acquired Connecticut-based Fulfillment Works, a 22-year-old company with direct-to-consumer (DTC) experience and warehouses in Nevada and in its home state.

With FulfillmentWorks, the company says it has increased its first-party warehouses, coupled with its network of over 400 warehouse partners and 15,000 carriers.

While Stord would not disclose the amount it paid for Fulfillment Works, Henry did share some of Stord’s impressive financial metrics. The company, he said, in 2020 delivered its third consecutive year of 300+% growth, and is on track to do so again in 2021. Stord also achieved more than $100 million in revenue in the first two quarters of 2021, according to Henry, and grew its headcount from 160 people last year to over 450 so far in 2021 (including about 150 Fulfillment Works employees). And since the fourth quarter is often when people do the most online shopping, Henry expects the three-month period to be Stord’s heaviest revenue quarter.

For some context, Stord’s new sales were up “7x” in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. So far in the third quarter, sales are up almost 10x, according to Henry.

Put simply, Stord aims to give brands a way to compete with the likes of Amazon, which has set expectations of fast fulfillment and delivery. The company guarantees two-day shipping to anywhere in the country.

“The supply chain is the new competitive battleground,” Henry said. “Today’s buying expectations set by Amazon and the rise of the omni-channel shopper have placed immense pressure on companies to maintain more nimble and efficient supply chains… We want every company to have world-class, Prime-like supply chains.”

What makes Stord unique, according to Henry, is the fact that it has built what it believes to be the only end-to-end logistics network that combines the physical infrastructure with software.

That too is one of the reasons that Kleiner Perkins doubled down on its investment in the company.

Ilya Fushman, Stord board director and partner at Kleiner Perkins, said even at the time of his firm’s investment in 2019, that Henry displayed “amazing maturity and vision.”

At a high level, the firm was also just drawn to what he described as the “incredibly large market opportunity.”

“It’s trillions of dollars of products moving around with consumer expectation that these products will get to them the same day or next day, wherever they are,” Fushman told TechCrunch. “And while companies like Amazon have built amazing infrastructure to do that themselves, the rest of the world hasn’t really caught up… So there’s just amazing opportunity to build software and services to modernize this multitrillion-dollar market.”

In other words, Fushman explained, Stord is serving as a “plug and play” or “one stop shop” for retailers and merchants so they don’t have to spend resources on their own warehouses or building their own logistics platforms.

Stord launched the software part of its business in January 2020, and it grew 900% during the year, and is today one of the fastest-growing parts of its business.

“We built software to run our logistics and network of hundreds of warehouses,” Henry told TechCrunch. “But if companies want to use the same system for existing logistics, they can buy our software to get that kind of visibility.”

SoftBank’s latest proptech bet is leading Pacaso’s $125M Series C

Less than six months after raising $75 million, Pacaso — a real estate platform which aims to help people buy and co-own a second home — announced today that it has raised $125 million at a $1.5 billion valuation.

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the Series C funding round for Pacaso, which essentially went from “launch to unicorn” in five months earlier this year and is pronounced like Picasso. New backers Fifth Wall and Gaingels also participated in the financing, along with existing backers Greycroft, Global Founders Capital, Crosscut and 75 & Sunny Ventures. (Sunny Ventures is Pacaso co-founder Spencer Rascoff’s venture firm). With the latest round, Picasso has now raised a total of $215 million in equity funding since its 2020 inception. It also secured $1 billion in debt financing earlier this year.

The fully distributed startup launched its platform in October of last year and already has an annualized revenue run rate of $330 million, according to CEO and co-founder Austin Allison — a feat which quite frankly seems remarkable. The company currently manages nearly $200 million in real estate on its platform, and in the second quarter, its website and mobile app saw a combined 1.8 million visits, up 196% from the first quarter. It’s currently serving owners “in the hundreds.”

Former Zillow executives Allison and Rascoff came up with the concept of Pacaso after leaving Zillow together about two years ago. (Publicly traded Zillow today has a market cap of $24 billion.) 

With a unique co-ownership model made possible via the creation of a property-specific LLC, the company aims to reduce the cost and hassle of second home ownership. It also gives vacation homeowners an alternative option to renting out their property.

Pacaso distinguishes its model from the age-old concept of timeshares, which sell the right to use a fixed amount of time in a condo or hotel. Pacaso aims to bring together a small group of co-owners to purchase a share of a single-family home and “enjoy ongoing access throughout the year.”

The way it works is that Pacaso purchases a home either outright or shares in a home. The company then partners with local real estate agents to market the properties. It then sells shares in the home — from one-eighth of the home to a greater percentage.

Pacaso holds a brokerage license in about 25 top second home markets such as Napa, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, Malibu and Park City. It recently expanded to its first market outside of the U.S. — Spain. Buyers can view curated listings on the startup’s website, which includes active listings, as well as previews of homes under consideration for purchase based on buyer demand.

In addition to curating the listings, Pacaso also offers integrated financing, “upscale” interior design, professional property management and proprietary scheduling technology.

In January of this year, Pacaso had 30 employees. Today, it has over 120, according to Allison.

It’s important to note that while Pacaso one day aspires to offer homes that are affordable to a broader segment of the population, Allison acknowledges that currently, the homes available on its platform are “very much” luxury, or higher price, homes.

As for what markets it plans to enter next, he said that will be based on customer feedback. For now, Allison said, 65% of Pacaso’s customers are first-time second homeowners and 25% of are non-white or identify as LGBTQ.

SoftBank Investing Partner Lydia Jett says she was drawn to Pacaso for both professional and personal reasons.

For one thing, she says that when she was growing up, her family owned one-tenth of a “modest” beach house on the coast of Oregon.

“This asset that should be an investment, and source of joy actually had an incredible amount of friction, pain and unexpected cost,” Jett told TechCrunch. “It was a difficult asset to make liquid.”

The friction and pain she referred to included debates around scheduling, capital investments and tension when one of the co-owners needed liquidity but none of the others wanted to buy them out.

Part of the pain involved many of the the things that Pacaso is trying to solve for, Jett believes. By managing the whole co-ownership process, owners don’t have to deal with the “headaches” of maintenance, furnishings and scheduling respective vacations, among other things.

“We’ve designed  a very innovative scheduling solution we call SmartStay, which empowers a calendar to be shared equitably among the ownership group so that each co-owner has fair and equitable access to the property all times of the year,” Allison told TechCrunch

In other words, Picasso is effectively an intermediary between the co-owners, something Jett makes it a very attractive model.

Also, she said, SoftBank was drawn to the opportunity to “create a whole new category of home ownership.”

“This is something that fundamentally can enrich millions of people’s lives,” she told TechCrunch, “and help them realize that dream of co-ownership.”

SpotOn raises $300M at a $3.15B valuation and acquires Appetize

Last year at this time, SpotOn was on the brink of announcing a $60 million Series C funding round at a $625 million valuation.

Fast-forward to almost exactly one year later and a lot has changed for the payments and software startup.

Today, SpotOn said it has closed on $300 million in Series E financing that values the company at $3.15 billion — more than 5x of its valuation at the time of its Series C round, and significantly higher than its $1.875 billion valuation in May (yes, just three and a half months ago) when it raised $125 million in a Series D funding event.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led both the Series D and E rounds for the company, which says it has seen 100% growth year over year and a tripling in revenue over the past 18 months. Existing investors DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group, Franklin Templeton and Mubadala Investment Company too doubled down on their investments in SpotOn, joining new backers Wellington Management and Coatue Management. Advisors Douglas Merritt, CEO of Splunk, and Mike Scarpelli, CFO of Snowflake, also made individual investments as angels. With the new capital, SpotOn has raised $628 million since its inception.

The latest investment is being used to finance the acquisition of another company in the space — Appetize, a digital and mobile commerce payments platform for enterprises such as sports and entertainment venues, theme parks and zoos. SpotOn is paying $415 million in cash and stock for the Los Angeles-based company.

Since its 2017 inception, SpotOn has been focused on providing software and payments technology to SMBs with an emphasis on restaurants and retail businesses. The acquisition of Appetize extends SpotOn’s reach to the enterprise space in a major way. Appetize will go to market as SpotOn and will work to grow its client base, which already includes an impressive list of companies and organizations, including Live Nation, LSU, Dodger Stadium and Urban Air. 

In fact, Appetize currently covers 65% of all major league sports stadiums, specializing in contactless payments, mobile ordering and menu management. So for example, when you’re ordering food at a game or concert, Appetize’s technology makes it easier to pay in a variety of contactless ways through point of sale (POS) devices, self-service kiosks, handheld devices, online ordering, mobile web and API integrations.

Image Credits: SpotOn

SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.

The combined company will have 1,600 employees — 1,300 from SpotOn and 300 from Appetize. SpotOn will now have over 500 employees on its product and technology team, according to co-founder and co-CEO Zach Hyman. It will also have clients in the tens of thousands, a number that SpotOn says is growing by “thousands more every month.”

The acquisition is not the first for SpotOn, which also acquired SeatNinja last year and Emagine in 2018.

But in Appetize it saw a company that was complementary both in its go-to-market and tech stacks, and a “natural fit.”

“SMEs are going to benefit from the scalable tech that can grow with them, including things like kiosks and offline modes, and for the enterprise clients of Appetize, they’re going to be able to leverage products like sophisticated loyalty programs and extended marketing capabilities,” Hyman told TechCrunch. 

SpotOn was not necessarily planning to raise another round so soon, Hyman added, but the opportunity came up to acquire Appetize.

“We spent a lot of time together, and it was too compelling to pass up,” he told TechCrunch.

For its part, Appetize — which has raised over $77 million over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase — too saw the combination as a logical one.

“It was important to us to retain a stake in the business. We were not looking to cash out,” said Appetize CEO Max Roper. “We are deeply invested in growing the business together. It’s a big win for our team and our clients over the long term. This is a rocketship that we are excited to be on.” 

No doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the need for more digital offerings from small businesses to enterprises alike.

“There has been a high demand for our services and now as businesses are faced with a Covid resurgence, no one is closing down,” Hyman said. “So they see a responsibility to install the necessary technology to properly run their business.”

One of the moves SpotOn has made, for example, is launching a vaccination alert system in its reservation management software platform to make it easier for consumers to confirm they are vaccinated for cities and states that have those requirements.

Clearly, a16z General Partner David George too was bullish on the idea of a combined company.

He told TechCrunch that the two companies fit together “extremely nicely.”

“It felt like a no-brainer for us to want to lead the round, and continue to support them,” George said.

Since first investing in SpotOn in May, the startup’s growth has “exceeded” a16z’s expectations, he added.

“When companies are growing as fast as it is organically, they don’t need to rely on acquisitions to fuel growth,” he said. “But the strategic rationale here is so strong, that the acquisition will only turbocharge what is already high growth.”

While the Series E capital is primarily funding the acquisition, SpotOn continues to double down on its product and technology.

“This is our time to shine and invest in the future with forward-thinking technology,” Hyman told TechCrunch. “We’re thinking about things like how are consumers going to be ordering their beer at a Dodgers game in three years? Are they going to be standing in line for 25 minutes or are they going to be interacting and buying merchandise in other unique ways? Those are the things we’re looking to solve for.”

Startup insurance provider Vouch raises $90M, now valued at $550M

Vouch, a provider of business insurance to startups and high-growth companies, announced today it has raised $90 million in new funding.

The $90 million figure was raised across two rounds: a $60 million Series C co-led by SVB Capital (a subsidiary of Silicon Valley Bank) and Ribbit Capital that values the company at $550 million, and a previously unannounced $30 million Series B1 led by Redpoint Ventures.

With the latest financing, San Francisco-based Vouch has now raised a total of $160 million since its 2018 inception. Other investors include Allegis Group, Sound Ventures and SiriusPoint.

While there are many insurance technology companies out there that serve consumers, there are far fewer that offer it to companies, much less startups. Vouch describes itself as “a new kind of insurance platform” for startups that offers fully digital, “tailored coverage that takes minutes to activate.”

Over the past year, Vouch has seen impressive growth. The company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, but said it saw “7x” increase in its customer base year over year and currently protects over $5.7 billion in risk across thousands of policies. Today, Vouch has more than 1,600 clients, including Pipe, Middesk, Neighbor and Routable. It is also the “preferred” business insurance provider to the customers of Silicon Valley Bank, Brex, Carta and WeWork. Y Combinator too also refers Vouch to its portfolio companies. 

To Vouch co-founder and CEO Sam Hodges, the ability to attract some of the highest-profile businesses in the startup world speaks to the company’s understanding of the startup ecosystem. 

“It’s our responsibility to meet startup founders where they are, and give startups flexibility as they navigate changing laws, regulations and the virtual and physical locations of their businesses,” he said.

Like many other companies, Vouch had to shift its model during the pandemic to adapt to the different types of emerging risks businesses have faced. For example, last year, Vouch saw a change in where its startup clients’ teams were distributed. Before the pandemic, nearly 30% of the teams were remote. During the pandemic, that figure has shifted to over 53%. As a result, Vouch developed a broader range of insurance coverages to adapt to the “new normal.”

Included in its new line of proprietary products and services aimed at startups are: work from anywhere coverage, broader cyber coverages and embedded insurance. It also expanded its underwriting capabilities to serve early-stage to growth-market startups.

In particular, the work from anywhere coverage is in direct response to the pandemic-related shift in remote work and can insure up to $500,000 per occurrence and can include a specified property owned by a startup regardless of the location of that property.

One major differentiator for Vouch, said Hodges, is that it is now the only business insurance provider that has its own insurance carrier, which means the company backs its own policies.

“This capability means we have a lot of control over how we build and underwrite our policies — which translates into superior coverage and a better experience for our clients,” he said.

 Hodges co-founded Vouch with Travis Hedge three years ago after seeing how challenging it could be for a company to get the business insurance it needs to start and then scale.

The goal is to make it as easy as possible to onboard new customers and personalize the coverage as much as possible based on each company’s needs based on what they do, their customer base, stage of growth and the founder’s threshold for risk.

“A typical client can get a quote and bind their coverage online in under 10 minutes, without any phone calls or paperwork,” he told TechCrunch. “Vouch also has many coverage features that are uniquely geared for startups. For example, our directors and officers coverage includes a cap table coverage feature meant specifically to protect startups.”

Vouch looks at startups that need business insurance on a case by case basis, Hodges added. 

For example, it asks questions like, “Does an e-commerce company handle a very limited amount of client-sensitive information?” If so, it could make sense that it has a lower cyber insurance coverage limit and pay less for its policy. 

Conversely, if a startup is trying to raise money, it might need to invest more in Vouch’s directors and officers insurance to make sure it is covered should disputes arise in the future. 

Looking ahead, Hodges said the new capital would go toward continued investment in technical capabilities, an expansion of its product offerings, more hiring and building embedded insurance for its partners.

With regard to the embedded capabilities, within the next 12 months, all of the company’s partners’ customers will be able to purchase Vouch insurance directly from those partners’ websites. Vouch’s headcount has more than doubled, from 55 employees in September 2020 to 125 full-time employees presently, and Hodges expects that will continue to grow.

Greg Becker, president and CEO of SVB Financial Group, said that Vouch’s mission aligns with SVB’s in that they both aim to “empower the innovation economy.” 

That’s what Vouch is doing today, helping startups and tech innovators mitigate their risks as they grow,” he wrote via email. “We are proud to co-lead Vouch’s latest funding round to give startups access to the insurance they need as they add headcount, increase their customer base, or raise funding rounds of their own.”

HoneyBee raises millions to make financial wellness a workplace benefit

HoneyBee, a startup that aims to help companies provide access to financial support for their employees, announced today it has raised $5.7 million in equity in a round led by FFVC.

Resolute Ventures, Afore Capital, Rebalance Capital, K50 and Financial Venture Studio also participated in the financing, along with two-time NBA all-star Baron Davis.

HoneyBee has also secured a $100 million debt facility from CIM, an institutional impact investment manager that provides debt capital for innovation that lends to underserved communities. 

The Los Angeles-based Certified B Corp describes itself as a B2B financial technology company that is on a mission to give employees — and their families — free access to financial support in the workplace as a benefit. That support could come in the form of employer-sponsored “no-cost rainy day funds” and on-demand financial therapy with the goal of “creating a healthier workforce environment.”

Or put even more simply, HoneyBee aims to give HR and DEI leaders that say they are committed to creating an equitable and inclusive culture a way to provide access to financial tools and education to help improve their employees’ financial health.

CEO and co-founder Ennie Lim said she was inspired to start HoneyBee after suffering financial setbacks after her own divorce several years ago.

“My credit was negatively impacted to the point where I found myself unable to get access to any affordable credit,” she recalls. “I wish I had done a lot of things differently, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I was embarrassed to ask for help.”

The experience helped Lim realize the importance of feeling in control of your financial life.

“It affects your self-esteem, happiness, and personal relationships and it made me want to help others take control of theirs,” she said.

Lim teamed up with Benny Yiu and Max Zschoch in 2017 to build HoneyBee with that goal in mind.

“We are solving a massive economic disparity and we’re leveling the playing field in the workplace by reducing the financial literacy gap and providing access to credit to people that need it most,” Lim said. “It’s important to acknowledge that people come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The varying levels of financial illiteracy is an issue we can no longer ignore.”

Image Credits: HoneyBee

A study conducted by Washington University in St Louis found that 89% of HoneyBee users are people of color, women, or both. During the pandemic, when the need for its offering was even greater, HoneyBee signed over 60 mid-markets companies as customers and is launching with Fortune 500 companies later this year.

The startup’s user growth grew by 225% during the pandemic and the company says it delivered over $2 million in rainy day funds. Meanwhile, its on-demand financial therapy usage increased by 172% over the prior year.

“Amidst this pandemic, when employers were cutting budgets, furloughing, laying off, reducing hours and salaries, we started to see a shift in their buying behavior to address financial health,” Lim said.

Honeybee’s customers include Alameda County Community Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, Kate Somerville, Community Catalyst of California, Southwest Water Company, Straus Family Creamery, Asian Art Museum, Pasadena Humane Society and Peachtree Health.

NBA star Baron Davis grew up in South Central Los Angeles with his grandmother and says he believes strongly in the startup’s desire to provide access to affordable credit.

“Financial literacy is a barbed wire for people like me. It is essential for companies to provide equitable access to financial support for their employees,” he wrote via email. “Financial access alleviates stress in the workplace especially when they are working hard to make ends meet to support their family. Providing easy access to money and education will result in a happier, healthier, productive workforce.”

FFVC Partner AJ Plotkin said his firm likes that the structure of the product “solves a serious access problem for customers who need a bridge for short-term, emergency needs, in a way that is not burdensome for the employee or the employer.”

The company plans to use its new capital in part to grow its sales, engineering, and customer success team. 

Fintech startup Jeeves raises $57M, goes from YC to $500M valuation in one year

Last summer, Jeeves was participating in Y Combinator’s summer batch as a fledgling fintech.

This June, the startup emerged from stealth with $31 million in equity and $100 million in debt financing. 

Today, the company, which is building an “all-in-one expense management platform” for global startups, is announcing that it has raised a $57 million Series B at a $500 million valuation. That’s up from a valuation of just north of $100 million at the time of Jeeves’ Series A, which closed in May and was announced in early June.

While the pace of funding these days is unlike most of us have ever seen before, it’s pretty remarkable that Jeeves essentially signed the term sheet for its Series B just two months after closing on its Series A. It’s also notable that just one year ago, it was wrapping up a YC cohort.

Jeeves was not necessarily looking to raise so soon, but fueled by its growth in revenue and spend after its Series A, which was led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), the company was approached by dozens of potential investors and offered multiple term sheets, according to CEO and co-founder Dileep Thazhmon. Jeeves moved forward with CRV, which had been interested since the A and built a relationship with Thazhmon, so it could further accelerate growth and launch in more countries, he said.

CRV led the Series B round, which also included participation from Tencent, Silicon Valley Bank, Alkeon Capital Management, Soros Fund Management and a high-profile group of angel investors including NBA stars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, Odell Beckham Jr. and The Chainsmokers’ Mantis Venture Capital. Notably, the founders of a dozen unicorn companies also put money in the Series B including (but not limited to) Clip CEO Adolfo Babatz; QuintoAndar CEO Gabriel Braga; Uala CEO Pierpaolo Barbieri, BlockFi CEO Zac Prince; Mercury CEO Immad Akhund; Bitso founder Pablo Gonzalez; Monzo Bank’s Tom Blomfield; Intercom founder Des Traynor; Lithic CEO Bo Jiang as well as founders from UiPath, Auth0, GoCardless, Nubank, Rappi, Kavak and others.

Whew.

The “fully remote” Jeeves describes itself as the first “cross country, cross currency” expense management platform. The startup’s offering was live in Mexico and Canada and today launched in Colombia, the United Kingdom and Europe as a whole. 

Thazhmon and Sherwin Gandhi founded Jeeves last year under the premise that startups have traditionally had to rely on financial infrastructure that is local and country-specific. For example, a company with employees in Mexico and Colombia would require multiple vendors to cover its finance function in each country — a corporate card in Mexico and one in Colombia and another vendor for cross-border payments.

Jeeves claims that by using its platform’s proprietary Banking-as-a-Service infrastructure, any company can spin up their finance function “in minutes” and get access to 30 days of credit on a true corporate card (with 4% cash back), non card payment rails, as well as cross-border payments. Customers can also pay back in multiple currencies, reducing FX (foreign transaction) fees.

For example, a growing business can use a Jeeves card in Barcelona and pay it back in euros and use the same card in Mexico and pay it back in pesos, reducing any FX fees and providing instant spend reconciliation across currencies. 

Thazhmon believes that the “biggest thing” the company is building out is its own global BaaS layer, that sits across different banking entities in each country, and onto which the end user customer-facing Jeeves app plugs into.

Put simply, he said, “think of it as a BaaS platform, but with only one app — the Jeeves app — plugged into it.”

Image Credits: Jeeves

The startup has grown its transaction volume (GTV) by more than 5,000% since January, and both revenue and spend volume has increased more than 1,100% (11x) since its Series A earlier this year, according to Thazhmon.

Jeeves now covers more than 12 currencies and 10 countries across three continents. Mexico is its largest market. Jeeves is currently beta testing in Brazil and Chile and Thazhmon expects that by year’s end, it will be live in all of North America and Europe. Next year, it’s eyeing the Asian market, and Tencent should be able to help with that strategically, he said.

“We’re building an all-in-one expense management platform for startups in LatAm and global markets — cash, corporate cards, cross-border — all run on our own infrastructure,” Thazhmon told TechCrunch. “Our model is very similar to that of Uber’s launch model where we can launch very quickly because we don’t have to rebuild an entire infrastructure. When we launch in countries, we actually don’t have to rebuild a stack.”

Jeeves’ user base has been doubling every 60 days and now powers more than 1,000 companies across LatAm, Canada and Europe, including Bitso, Kavak, RappiPay, Belvo, Runa, Moons, Convictional, Muncher, Juniper, Trienta, Platzi, Worky and others, according to Thazhmon. The company says it has a current waitlist of over 15,000.

Jeeves plans to use its new capital toward its launch in Colombia, the U.K. and Europe. And, of course, toward more hiring. It’s already doubled its number of employees to 55 over the past month.

Former a16z partner Matt Hafemeister was so impressed with what Jeeves is building that in August he left the venture capital firm to join the startup as its head of growth. In working with the founders as an investor, he concluded that they ranked “among the best founders in fintech” he’d ever interacted with.

The decision to leave a16z also related to Jeeves’ inflection point, Hafemeister said. The startup is nearly doubling every month, and had already eclipsed year-end goals on revenue by mid-year.

It is evident Jeeves has found early product market fit and, given the speed of execution, I see Jeeves establishing itself as one of the most important fintech companies in the next few years,” Hafemeister told TechCrunch. “The company is transitioning from a seed company to a Series B company very quickly, and being able to help operationalize processes and play a role in their growth and maturity is an incredible opportunity for me.”

CRV General Partner Saar Gur (who is also an early investor in DoorDash, Patreon and Mercury) said he was blown away by Jeeves’ growth and how it has been “consistently hitting and exceeding targets month over month.” Plus, early feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, Gur said.

“Jeeves is building products and infrastructure that are very difficult to execute but by doing the ‘hard things’ they offer incredible value to their customers,” he told TechCrunch. “We haven’t seen anyone build from the ground up with global operations in mind on day one.”

Playbook, which aims to be the ‘Dropbox for designers,’ raises $4M in round led by Founders Fund

When Jessica Ko was head of design at Google and then Opendoor, she realized that her teams spent about 90% of their time digging around Dropbox looking for assets.

In many cases, they’d find older versions. Or they couldn’t find what they were looking for. Or even worse, they’d accidentally pick the wrong asset.

“It was such a chaotic process,” Ko recalls. “Anyone could go in and alter things and change folder structures around. It was a total mess, and just continued like that because there was no alternative.”

As Opendoor grew in size, the problem became an even bigger one, she said. 

“Designers were quitting because it was giving them so much anxiety,” Ko recalls. “Dropbox hadn’t solved it yet. Google Drive was not a good alternative either. Designers deal with files the most, and we’re exchanging files constantly.

Besides the frustration and stress the problem of file storage and sharing caused, not being able to locate the correct assets also led to errors, which in turn led to lots of money lost, according to Ko.

“We spent a lot of money on photo shoots because we couldn’t find new things, or people would have to recreate designs,” she said. 

On top of that, she said, designers weren’t the only ones who needed to access the assets. Finance teams were constantly needing them for things like creating pitch decks.

So in 2018, Ko left Opendoor to set about solving the problem she was tired of dealing with by creating file storage for modern design workflows and processes. Or put more simply, she wanted to build a new kind of cloud storage that would serve as an alternative to Dropbox and Google Drive “built by, and for, creatives.”

In early 2020, Ko (CEO) teamed up with Alex Zirbel (CTO) to launch San Francisco-based Playbook, which she describes as the “Dropbox for designers,” to tackle the challenge. And today, the startup has emerged from stealth and announced it has raised $4 million in a seed funding round led by Founders Fund at a $20 million post-money valuation.

Other investors in the round include Abstract, Inovia, Maple, Basis Set, Backend, Wilson Sonsini and a number of angels, including Opendoor co-founder and CEO Eric Wu, Gusto co-founder Eddie Kim and SV Angel’s Beth Turner.

In a nutshell, Playbook claims it can automatically imports, tags, categorizes an organization’s entire media library, in minutes.

When starting out, the first thing Playbook set out to do was attempt to reinvent the way folders exist for assets, with subfolders underneath. And then, the company set about trying to change the way people share files. 

“Since so much is done over email and Slack these days, version control becomes even more difficult,” Ko told TechCrunch. So Playbook, she said, has built a storage system that can be accessed by all parties as opposed to just sending files via different channels.

“For years, these assets have been dropped into what feels like a file cabinet,” Ko said. “But these days, sharing assets is much more collaborative and there’s different kinds of parties involved such as freelancers and contractors. So who is managing these files, and controlling the versions has become very complex.”

Playbook offers 4TB of free storage, which Ko says is 266 times the free version of Google Storage and 2,000 times that of Dropbox. The hope is that this encourages users to use its platform as an all-around creative hub without worrying about running out of storage space. It also automatically scans, organizes and tags files and has worked to make it easier to browse files and folders visually.

Image Credits: Playbook

In March, Playbook opened a beta version of its product to the design community and got about 1,000 users in two months. People continued to sign up and the company at one point had to close the beta so that it could manage all the new users.

Today, it has about 10,000 users signed up in beta. Early users include individual freelancers to design teams at companies like Fast, Folx and Literati.

The seven-person company wants to focus on getting the product “right” before attempting to monetize and launch to enterprises (which will likely happen next year), Ko said.

For now, Playbook is focused on the needs of freelancers. The company believes that the exponential growth of freelancers post-pandemic means “cloud storage needs to be smarter.”

“We want to first solve that use case, and unlock the problem from the bottom up,” Ko told TechCrunch. 

Also, another strategy behind that initial focus is that freelancers can also introduce Playbook to the companies and enterprises they work for, so the marketing then becomes built into the product.

“They can transfer assets and files through Playbook to their clients, who tend to adopt,” she said.

Today, Playbook is helping manage over 2 million assets and says it has “hundreds of waitlist sign-ups” every month.

Looking ahead, Zirbel said the startup wants to branch out into image scanning, similarity, content detection, previewing and long-term cloud storage and tons of integrations.

“There are lots of interesting technology challenges when you focus on the creative side of cloud storage,” he said.

Founders Fund’s John Luttig said when the firm first met Ko and Zirbel last year, it was “clear that they had a depth of understanding and thoughtfulness around file management” that his firm hadn’t seen before. Plus, in his view, there has been very little innovation in cloud storage since Dropbox launched in 2007. 

“The product leverages modern design, collaboration principles, and artificial intelligence to make file management much faster and easier,” he wrote via email. “Given their design-centric backgrounds, they’re extremely well-positioned to rethink the user experience for file systems from the ground up.”

Playbook, he said, is able to leverage recent advancements in computer vision and design “to build a far better product to manage and share files.”

With investors like Lightspeed and The Chainsmokers, Mexican neobroker Flink raises $57M to boost financial inclusion in LatAm

Flink, a Mexico City-based neobroker, has raised $57 million in a Series B round of funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.

The financing comes just over six months after Flink raised $12 million in a Series A round led by Accel. Existing backers Accel, ALLVP, Clocktower and new investor Mantis Venture Capital (founded by The Chainsmokers) also put money in the Series B. Since its 2017 inception, the startup has raised nearly $70 million.

Neobrokers are defined as startups that are disrupting the investment industry by providing a platform for a wider range of consumers to partake in the stock market by offering them more incremental investment options and modern and easy mobile-based interfaces to manage their money. There is a growing number of them globally, including Scalable Capital, Bitpanda and Trade Republic in Europe.

For Mexico City-born Sergio Jiménez Amozurrutia, the fact that in his country of more than 120 million people, only a tiny fraction of the population has the ability to invest in the capital markets felt unfair. To him, the lack of widespread participation in investing is an example of the rich getting richer as part of an infrastructure “that is built for the wealthy.” The result of the imbalance is that a lot of people have historically been locked out of making potentially wealth-building investments.  

So after selling Easy Credit, a consumer lending platform he’d built with Rick Rafael Bueno (whom he met in 2015 at a hackathon at Tech de Monterrey), Amozurrutia set out to give Mexicans access to something he believed they’d never had access to: an app-based consumer trading platform.

Flink launched its app in 2018 with a wallet service, a digital and physical global debit card backed by Mastercard and, last year, it began offering the ability to buy and sell fractional shares from 30 pesos, without commissions, for NYSE-listed stocks.

“Users can invest as little as US$1 and with zero commissions,” Amozurrutia said. “We want Flink to be the easiest way to invest, save and use your money.” 

Image Credits: Lightspeed’s Mercedes Bent and Flink founding team / Lightspeed

The demand for what the startup has to offer is clearly there. Since launching its first brokerage product in July of 2020, Flink has 1.6 million users, up from 1 million users at the time of its February raise. Over 85% of its users are first-time investors. GenZers seem to be the most interested in investing — 27% of the app’s clients are between 18 and 25 years old, while 22% are millennials, execs say.

“Most legacy Mexican banks cater to less than 1% of the population — meaning most Mexicans don’t have a bank account, let alone a brokerage account,” Amozurrutia said at the time of the company’s last raise. “At Flink, we’re guided by the belief that Mexico’s financial system should work for everyone — not only a select few.”

The company is growing its user base by 38% per month and revenue by 31% per month, according to  Amozurrutia, and touts a user acquisition cost of 62 cents. It is currently the largest retail brokerage service in Mexico, he said. Flink has 110 employees, up from 25 people a year ago today.

The startup plans to use its new capital to keep growing its team, toward product development and to expand its service to different countries in Latin America.

“The lack of access for retail investing is all over LATAM, and at Flink we want to change that,” Amozurrutia told TechCrunch. “We are focused on offering the opportunity to invest and grow their money to everyone in LATAM.”

Lightspeed Partner Mercedes Bent said her firm “fell in love” with Flink’s mission and impact on the country’s “financial ecosystem.” It was also impressed by the company’s unique features, including allowing Mexican investors to access the U.S. stock market and invest fractional shares.

“Many equities platforms only let you invest in equities in your own country,” she said. “Flink also has a big focus on education and creating an investment experience that makes it easy for their users to onboard.” For example, Bent noted, Flink has a podcast dubbed “Finanzas en órbita” that provides financial and stock market education in México.

In a blog post, Bent and Will Kohler wrote that they could feel the company’s passion and vision for creating more financial inclusion in Mexico, even via a Zoom call.

“The excitement leapt through the video screen,” the pair wrote. “…Flink’s vision for the future goes beyond accessing stocks, and we wanted to be a part of it.”

Flink marks Lightspeed’s third investment in Mexico, alongside Stori and Frubana, and Bent and Kohler say there is “more to come.”

“We are big believers in México, and bullish on LATAM,” they wrote.