UK’s MarketFinance secures $383M to fuel its online loans platform for SMBs

Small and medium businesses regularly face cashflow problems. But if that’s an already-inconvenient predicament, it has been exacerbated to the breaking point for too many during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, a UK startup called MarketFinance — which has built a loans platform to help SMBs stay afloat through those leaner times — is announcing a big funding infusion of £280 million ($383 million) as it gears up for a new wave of lending requests.

“It’s a good time to lend, at the start of the economic cycle,” CEO and founder Anil Stocker said in an interview.

The funding is coming mostly in the form of debt — money loaned to MarketFinance to in turn loan out to its customers as an approved partner of the UK government’s Recovery Loan Scheme; and £10 million ($14 million) of it is equity that MarketInvoice will be using to continue enhancing its platform.

Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. and an unnamed “global investment firm” are providing the debt, while the equity portion is being led by Black River Ventures (which has also backed Marqeta, Upgrade, Coursera and Digital Ocean) with participation from existing backer, Barclays Bank PLC. Barclays is a strategic investor: MarketFinance powers the bank’s online SMB loans service. Other investors in the startup include Northzone.

We understand that the company’s valuation is somewhere in the region of under $500 million, but more than $250 million, although officially it is not disclosing any numbers.

Stocker said that MarketFinance has been profitable since 2018, one reason why it’s didn’t give up much equity in this current tranche of funding.

“We are building a sustainable business, and the equity we did raise was to unlock better debt at better prices,” he said. “It can help to post more equity on the balance sheet.” He said the money will be “going into our reserves” and used for new product development, marketing and to continue building out its API connectivity.

That last development is important: it taps into the big wave of “embedded finance” plays we are seeing today, where third parties offer, on their own platforms, loans to customers — with the loan product powered by MarketFinance, similar to what Barclays does currently. The range of companies tapping into this is potentially as vast as the internet itself. The promise of embedded finance is that any online brand that already does business with SMEs could potentially offer those SMEs loans to… do more business together.

MarketFinance began life several years ago as MarketInvoice, with its basic business model focused on providing short-term loans to a given SMB against the value of its unpaid invoices — a practice typically described as invoice finance. The idea at the time was to solve the most immediate cashflow issue faced by SMBs by leveraging the thing (unpaid invoices, which typically would eventually get paid, just not immediately) that caused the cashflow issue in the first place.

A lot of the financing that SMBs get against invoices, though, is mainly in the realm of working capital, helping companies make payroll and pay their own monthly bills. But Stocker said that over time, the startup could see a larger opportunity in providing financing that was of bigger sums and covered more ambitious business expansion goals. That was two years ago, and MarketInvoice rebranded accordingly to MarketFinance. (It still very much offers the invoice-based product.)

The timing turned out to be fortuitous, even if the reason definitely has not been lucky: Covid-19 came along and completely overturned how much of the world works. SMEs have been at the thin edge of that wedge not least because of those cashflow issues and the fact that they simply are less geared to diversification and pivoting due to shifting market forces because of their size.

This presented a big opportunity for MarketInvoice, it turned out.

Stocker said that the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the bulk of loans being taken out to manage business interruptions due to Covid-19. Interruptions could mean business closures, or they could mean simply customers no longer coming as they did before, and so on. “The big theme was frictionless access to funding,” he said, using technology to better and more quickly assess applications digitally with “no meetings with bank managers” and reducing the response time to days from the typical 4-6 weeks that SMBs would have traditionally expected.

If last year was more about “panicking, shoring up or pivoting,” in Stocker’s words, “now what we’re seeing are a bunch of them struggling with supply chain issues, Brexit exacerbations and labor shortages. It’s really hard for them to manage all that.”

He said that the number of loan applications has been through the roof, so no shortage of demand. He estimates that monthly loan requests have been as high as $500 million, a huge sum for one small startup in the UK. It’s selective in what it lends: “We choose to support those we thought will return the money,” he said.

TrueLayer nabs $130M at a $1B+ valuation as open banking rises as a viable option to card networks

Open banking — a disruptive technology that seeks to bypass the dominance of card networks and other traditional financial rails by letting banks open their systems directly to developers (and new services) by way of APIs — continues to gain ground in the world of financial services. As a mark of that traction, a startup playing a central role in open banking applications is announcing a big round of funding with a milestone valuation.

TrueLayer, which provides technology for developers to enable a range of open-banking-based services — these currently include payments  payouts, user account information and user verification — has raised $130 million in a funding round that values the London-based startup at over $1 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading the round, and notably, payments juggernaut Stripe is also participating.

Open Banking is a relatively new area in the world of fintech — the UK was an early adopter in 2018, Europe then signed on, and it looks like we are now seeing more movements that the U.S. may soon also join the party — and TrueLayer is considered a pioneer in the space.

The vast majority of transactions today are still made using card rails or more antiquated banking infrastructure, but the opportunity with open banking is to build a completely new infrastructure that works more efficiently, and might come with less (or no) fees for those using it, with the perennial API promise: all by way of few lines of code.

“We had a vision that finance should be opened up, and we are actively woking to remove the frictions that exist between intermediaries,” said CEO Francesco Simoneschi, who co-founded the company with Luca Martinetti (who is now the CTO), in an interview. “We want a financial system that works for everyone, but that hasn’t been the case up to now. The opportunity emerged five years ago, when open banking came into law in the UK and then elsewhere, to go after the most impressive oligopoly: the card networks and everything that revolves around them. Now, we can easily say that open banking is becoming a viable alternative to that.”

It seems that the world of finance and commerce is slowly catching on, and so the funding is coming on the heels of some strong growth for the company.

The startup says it now has “millions” of consumers making open banking transactions enabled by TrueLayer’s technology, and some 10,000 developers are building services based on open banking standards. TrueLayer so far this year has doubled its customer base, picking up some key customers like Cazoo to enable open-banking based payments for cars; and it has processed “billions” of dollars in payments, with payment volume growing 400%, and payment up 800%.

The plan is to use the funding to invest in building out that business further — specifically to extend its payments network to more regions (and more banks getting integrated into that network), as well as to bring on more customers using open banking services for more regular, recurring transactions.

“The shift to alternative payment methods is accelerating with the global growth of online commerce, and we believe TrueLayer will play a central role in making these payment methods more accessible,” said Alex Cook, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Francesco, Luca and the TrueLayer team as they help customers increase conversion and continue to grow the network.”

Notably, Stripe is not a strategic investor in TrueLayer at the moment, just a financial one. That is to say, it has yet to integrate open banking into its own payments infrastructure.

But you can imagine how it would be interested in it as part of the bigger mix of options for its customers, and potentially also to build its own standalone financial rails that well and truly compete with those provided by the card networks (which are such a close part of what Stripe does that its earliest web design was based on the physical card, and even its name is a reference to the stripe on the back of them.

There are other providers of open banking connectivity in the market today — Plaid out of the U.S. is one notable name — but Simoneschi believes that Stripe and TrueLayer on the same page as companies.

“We share a profound belief that progress comes through the eyes of developers so it’s about delivering the tools they need to use,” he he said. “We are in a very complementary space.”

Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”

India’s Cars24, a used-vehicle marketplace, raises $450M at a $1.84B valuation

The used car market is getting another major infusion of venture capital today, with one of the faster scaling startups out of India picking up a major round of financing to double down on growth: Cars24 — a site and app that sells users cars and used two-wheeled motorbikes — has raised $450 million, a Series F of $340 million and $110 million in debt. The investment values Cars24 at $1.84 billion post-money, the company said, making it one of the more valuable privately-held used car startups globally.

DST Global, Falcon Edge and SoftBank Vision Fund 2 co-led the Series F, with Tencent and existing investors Moore Strategic Ventures and Exor Seeds also participating. The debt round came from a mix of financial institutions. This fundraise, now confirmed and official, was rumored in past weeks, although at a smaller amount: it didn’t include the debt portion, and some reports were based on regulatory filings for less than the sum ultimately raised.

Vikram Chopra, the CEO who co-founded the company in Gurugram with Mehul Agrawal, Ruchit Agarwal and Gajendra Jangid, said that the plan will be to use the funds across a range of areas.

They include national and international expansion (it’s already operating in India, Australia and UAE, and has its eyes on more markets); technology (specifically areas like further expanding its virtual appraisal process, as well as more data science around pricing and other details related to sales and after-sales); and financing both to buy in vehicles, as well as to help consumers make purchasing a vehicle a viable economic option.

Cars24 is active in 130 cities in India, and it has sold 400,000 vehicles to date (both cars and motorbikes) with upwards of 13 million monthly visitors on its site. All this gives it claim to being the largest platform of its kind in India. But its ambition is to improve the inefficiencies of selling a car, or buying a used car, in many parts of the globe, not just its home market.

“Buying or selling a car is hard anywhere in the world,” Chopra said in an interview. “It’s just a broken experience everywhere, so we are trying to solve for this.”

This is also where the financing and technology figure significantly. When Cars24 first started out in 2015 in India, Chopra said, it faced the added issue (or opportunity?) of a tricky economic landscape with very low car ownership penetration overall — just 2%, or 2 cars per 100 people, compared to typically between 50 and 80 cars per 100 people in Europe.

“But buying a used car in India is a way for a person to own any car,” Chopra said. In a country like India, “we want to take the penetration to 10 or 15.” He added that the car resale market today in India is around $25 billion, but is on track to soon get to $100 billion.

Cars24 has been built around a “buying-in, fixing up, and then reselling” model similar to that of the real-estate juggernaut Opendoor: it appraises vehicles from individuals looking to sell them; buys them up if an agreed price can be reached; reconditions them; and then re-sells and delivers them to new owners. This model, Chopra said, gives Cars24 an edge over some of the shortcomings that exist with traditional players (both on and offline).

First, it provides a centralized platform, cars24.com and its corresponding app, where users can browse a one-stop-shop inventory that goes beyond their local areas (and local dealers). That inventory is curated and made discoverable using a number of algorithms, and pricing is also determined by Cars24’s technology.

“CARS24 is building a data-enabled tech platform that is organizing the fragmented used car market in India,” said Munish Varma, managing partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We have been closely tracking its approach and efforts that have disrupted the used car retailing in India.”

“We believe CARS24 is enhancing the customer experience in the used car industry with its sharp focus on technology,” said Sumer Juneja, partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We will continue to support this growth given our expertise in e-commerce businesses across markets”.

Second, when consumers do make a purchase, they can keep and try out a vehicle for up to seven days “and return it if you don’t like it.”

This, Chopra continued, is in contrast to other used-car sales sites, as well as physical dealers: either they don’t offer trial runs, or (in the case of physical dealers or individual offline sellers), they might give a driver 10 or 15 minutes tops, with someone attending you as you drive the vehicle around: not a great way to discover what you like or don’t like about a vehicle.

It’s also a model that investors believe will give Cars24 an edge over competitors.

“We have studied used car platforms globally and are struck by the similarities we see between CARS24 and analogous businesses that have scaled successfully,” said Navroz D. Udwadia, co-founder of Falcon Edge Capital, in a statement. “CARS24 has cemented its first-mover advantage by building wide-ranging supply side moats, which in turn drive demand liquidity on the platform. In positioning itself as a buying and selling solution for consumers, CARS24 drives immense top-of-mind recall. It is rare to find a business as focused on the consumer experience and as driven to ensure it is outstanding via the use of data science and technology. Finally, we are deeply impressed by the founders’ leadership, and are thrilled to back them as they transform the used car industry in India and scale internationally across MENA and SE Asia.”

A used-vehicle marketplace raising a huge amount of money is somewhat ironic given some of the bigger trends in the world of transportation.

Some have theorized that a wave of factors — they include the rise of ubiquitous e-hailing apps like Uber; on-demand car-sharing services like Getaround or Zipcar; a push in urban centers encouraging people to use a wider array of transportation options to offset traffic; and bigger environmental trends that are leading some to eschew gas guzzling autos — would push the world away from car ownership. Yet essentially, Cars24 (and others like it) are extending the life of a lot of older models to keep more vehicles in circulation and private hands.

But using Uber can get pricey and is not the same as having your own wheels, and the desire to have your own vehicle is perhaps at a high-point right now because of Covid-19 and people concerned about spreading or catching the virus, Chopra said.

“It’s definitely not the case in India that less people want to own cars,” he said. “During the pandemic, we have seen a lot of demand, in India specifically.” On new, greener vehicle technology, this is also interesting and will simply present another class of vehicles on Cars24 as adoption of electric vehicles increases, he added. But it’s not all quite there, yet.

The strength of the current opportunity is partly why it seems that we’ve found ourselves crowded with startups and scale-ups hoping to define the new generation of used-car-sale platforms.

Others in the same space that have recently raised money include close competitors like Spinny, also out of India; Cazoo in the UK, which has now gone public; InstaCarro out of Brazil; Kavak out of Mexico; and Carsome from Malaysia, among many others. Carvana, one of the biggest used-car platforms, is also publicly listed and is now valued at nearly $28 billion.

What has been interesting is that each of these big players have up to now carved out very strong markets for themselves in their home countries, and they are only more recently moving to expand internationally. Cars24 has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in funding (it also raised $200 million less than a year ago) in part because its investors think it has what it takes to export, and thus scale, its model beyond the huge market of India.

“CARS24 is at the forefront of transforming the way consumers buy and sell cars by providing a unique end-to-end digital shopping and transaction experience,” said Rahul Mehta, managing partner at DST Global, in a statement. “They have emerged as the undisputed leader in the used car space in India and early traction in international markets is exceeding expectations. We love backing founders who are bold and ambitious thinkers and couldn’t be more excited to enter the second innings of our long-lasting partnership with CARS24.”

Tyk raises $35M for its open-source, open-ended approach to enterprise API management

APIs are the grease turning the gears and wheels for many organizations’ IT systems today, but as APIs grow in number and use, tracking how they work (or don’t work) together can become complex and potentially critical if something goes awry. Now, a startup that has built an innovative way to help with this is announcing some funding after getting traction with big enterprises adopting its approach.

Tyk, which has built a way for users to access and manage multiple internal enterprise APIs through a universal interface by way of GraphQL, has picked up $35 million, an investment that it will be using both for hiring and to continue enhancing and expanding the tools that it provides to users. Tyk has coined a term describing its approach to managing APIs and the data they produce — “universal data graph” — and today its tools are being used to manage APIs by some 10,000 businesses, including large enterprises like Starbucks, Societe Generale, and Domino’s.

Scottish Equity Partners led the round, with participation also from MMC Ventures — its sole previous investor from a round in 2019 after boostrapping for its first five years. The startup is based out of London but works in a very distributed way — one of the co-founders is living in New Zealand currently — and it will be hiring and growing based on that principle, too. It has raised just over $40 million to date.

Tyk (pronounced like “tyke”, meaning small/lively child) got its start as an open source side project first for co-founder Martin Buhr, who is now the company’s CEO, while he was working elsewhere, as a “load testing thing,” in his words.

The shifts in IT towards service-oriented architectures, and building and using APIs to connect internal apps, led him to rethink the code and consider how it could be used to control APIs. Added to that was the fact that as far as Buhr could see, the API management platforms that were in the market at the time — some of the big names today include Kong, Apigee (now a part of Google), 3scale (now a part of RedHat and thus IBM), MuleSoft (now a part of Salesforce) — were not as flexible as his needs were. “So I built my own,” he said.

It was built as an open source tool, and some engineers at other companies started to use it. As it got more attention, some of the bigger companies interested in using it started to ask why he wasn’t charging for anything — a sure sign as any that there was probably a business to be built here, and more credibility to come if he charged for the it.

“So we made the gateway open source, and the management part went into a licensing model,” he said. And Tyk was born as a startup co-founded with James Hirst, who is now the COO, who worked with Buhr at a digital agency some years before.

The key motivation behind building Tyk has stayed as its unique selling point for customers working in increasingly complex environments.

“What sparked interest in Tyk was that companies were unhappy with API management as it exists today,” Buhr noted, citing architectures using multiple clouds and multiple containers, creating more complexity that needed better management. “It was just the right time when containerization, Kubernetes and microservices were on the rise… The way we approach the multi-data and multi-vendor cloud model is super flexible and resilient to partitions, in a way that others have not been able to do.”

“You engage developers and deliver real value and it’s up to them to make the choice,” added Hirst. “We are responding to a clear shift in the market.”

One of the next frontiers that Tyk will tackle will be what happens within the management layer, specifically when there are potential conflicts with APIs.

“When a team using a microservice makes a breaking change, we want to bring that up and report that to the system,” Buhr said. “The plan is to flag the issue and test against it, and be able to say that a schema won’t work, and to identify why.”

Even before that is rolled out, though, Tyk’s customer list and its grow speak to a business on the cusp of a lot more.

“Martin and James have built a world-class team and the addition of this new capital will enable Tyk to accelerate the growth of its API management platform, particularly around the GraphQL focused Universal Data Graph product that launched earlier this year,” said Martin Brennan, a director at SEP, in a statement. “We are pleased to be supporting the team to achieve their global ambitions.”

Keith Davidson, a partner at SEP, is joining the Tyk board as a non-executive director with this round.

The Org nabs $20M led by Tiger Global to expand its platform based on public organizational charts

LinkedIn normalized the idea of making people’s resume’s visible to anyone who wanted to look at them, and today a startup that’s hoping to do the same for companies and how they are organized and run is announcing some funding. The Org, which wants to build a global, publicly-viewable database of company organizational charts — and then utilize that database as a platform to power a host of other services — has raised $20 million, money that it will be using to hire more people, add on more org charts, and launch new features, with a recruitment toolkit being first on the list.

The Series B is led by Tiger Global, with previous backers Sequoia, Founders Fund, and Balderton Capital also participating alongside new investors Thursday Ventures, Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen (a former Balderton partner), Neeraj Arora (formative early WhatsApp exec), investor Gavin Baker, and more. From what we understand, the investment values The Org at $100 million.

Founders Fund led the company’s last round, a Series A in February 2020, and the whole world of work has really changed a lot in the interim because of Covid-19: companies have become more distributed (a result of offices shutting down); the make-up of businesses has changed because of new demands; many of us have had our sense of connection to our jobs tested in ways that we never thought it would.

All of that has had a massive impact on The Org, and has definitely played into its theory of why org charts are useful, and most useful as a tool for transparency.

“In many ways the pandemic has forced us to reevaluate the norms of how work happens. One of the misconceptions was the idea that you are only working when you are at the office, 9-5. But the future of work is a hybrid set up but you get a lot of issues that arise out of that, communication being one of them. Now it’s much more important to create alignment, a sense of connection, and really feeling a sense of belonging in your company,” Christian Wylonis, the CEO who co-founded the company with Andreas Jarbøl, said in an interview. “We think that a lot of these issues are rooted around transparency and that is what The Org is about. Who is doing what, and why?”

He said that when the coronavirus suddenly ramped up a global issue — and it really was sudden; our conversation in February 2020 had nothing whatsoever to do with it, yet it was only weeks later that everything shut down — it wasn’t obvious that The Org would have a place in the so-called “new normal.”

“We were as nervous as anyone else, but the idea of what work would look like and how we enable people around that has gotten a lot higher on the agenda,” he said. “The appetite for new tools has improved dramatically, and we can see that in our traffic.”

The Org has indeed seen some very impressive growth. The company now hosts some 130,000 public org charts, sees 30,000 daily visitors, and has more than 120,000 registered users. And more casual usage has boomed, too. Wylonis notes that The Org now has close to 1 million visitors each month versus just 100,000 in February 2020, when it only had 16,000 org charts on its platform.

Monetization is coming slowly for the startup. Building, editing and officially “claiming” a profile on the platform are all still free, but in the meantime The Org is working on its platform play and using the database that it is building to power other services. Job hunting is the first area that it will tackle. Posting jobs will be free, and it’s integrating with Greenhouse to feed information into its system, but recruiters and HR pro’s are given an option to manage the sourcing and screening process through The Org, a kind of executive recruitment tool, which will come at a charge. Down the line there are plans for more communications and HR tools, Wylonis said. Some of this will be built by way of integrations and APIs with other services, and some tools — such as communications features — will be built in-house, from the ground up.

When I covered the company’s last round, I’d noted that there were some obvious hurdles for The Org, as well as others building business models on providing more transparency and information around hiring and how companies are run. Sometimes the companies in question don’t actually want to have more transparency. And any database that is based around self-reporting runs the risk of being only as good as the data that is put into it — meaning it may be incomplete, or simply wrong, or just presented to the contributors’ best advantage, not that of the company itself. (This is one of the issues with LinkedIn, too: even with people’s resumes being public, it’s still very easy to lie about what you actually do, or have done.)

So far, the theory is that some of this will be resolved by way of who The Org is targeting and how it is growing. Today the company’s “sweet spot” is early-stage startups with about 50-200 employees, and generally org charts are created for these businesses in part by The Org itself, and then largely by way of wiki-style user-edited content (anyone with a company email can get involved).

The plan is both to continue working with those smaller startups as they scale up, but also target bigger and bigger businesses. These however can be trickier to snag — not least because they will stretch into the realm of public companies, but also because their charts will be more complicated to map and manage consistently. For that reason, The Org is also adding in more features around how companies can “claim” their profiles, including managing permissions for who can edit profiles.

This might mean more managed public profiles, but the idea is that it will be a start, and once more companies post more information, we will see more transparency overall, not unlike how LinkedIn evolved, Wylonis said.

The LinkedIn analogy is interesting for another reason. It seems a no-brainer that LinkedIn, which is at its heart a massive database of information about the world of professional work, and the people and companies involved in it, would have wanted to build its own version of org charts at some point. And yet it hasn’t.

Some of this might be down to how LinkedIn has fundamentally built and organised its own database and knowledge graph, but Wylonis believes it might also be a conceptual difference.

“We think that this might be the fundamental difference between us and them,” Wylonis said of LinkedIn. “They are a database of resumes. ‘I can say whatever I want.’ But for us, the atomic unit is the organization itself. That is an important distinction because it’s a one to many relationship. It can’t be only me editing my profile. And allows us to build structures.”

He added that this was one of the reasons that Rabois — who was an early exec at LinkedIn — became an early investor in The Org: “LinkedIn has been looking at this forever, but they haven’t been able to build it, and so that is how we caught his attention.”

Constructor finds $55M for tech that powers search and discovery for e-commerce businesses

One of the biggest problems in the world of e-commerce is the predicament of shopping cart abandonment: when shoppers aren’t getting to what they want fast enough — whether it’s finding the right item, or paying for it in a quick and easy way — they bounce. That singular problem is driving a wave of technology development to make the experience ever more seamless, and today one of the companies closely involved in that space is announcing some funding on the back of healthy growth.

Constructor, which has built technology that powers search and product discovery tools for e-commerce businesses, has picked up $55 million in a Series A round of funding. Constructor says that it powers “billions” of queries every month, with revenues growing 233% in the last year. Customers it works with include Sephora, Walmart’s Bonobos, Backcountry and many other big names.

The round is being led by Silversmith Capital Partners — which coincidentally, just today, led another round for an e-commerce startup, Zonos.

It is joined by a long list of notable individual investors. They include David Fraga, former president of InVision; Kevin Weil, former head of product at Twitter and Instagram; Jason Finger, founder of Seamless; Carl Sparks, ex-CEO of Travelocity; Robyn Peterson, CTO at CNN; Dave Heath, founder of Bombas; Ryan Barretto, president at Sprout Social; Melody Hildebrandt, EVP engineering and CISO at FOX; Zander Rafael, co-founder of Better.com; and Seth Shaw, CRO at Airtable. Cap Table Coalition — a firm that helps underrepresented background investors back up-and-coming startups — was also involved. Fraga is joining Constructor’s board with this round.

The last year and a half has been a bumper one for the world of e-commerce — with more traffic, transactions and retailers moving online in the wake of social distancing measures impacting in-person, physical shopping. But that has also exposed a lot of the cracks in how e-commerce works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be).

One of the more dysfunctional areas is search and discovery. As most of us have unfortunately learned firsthand, when we search for things in the search window of an online store, it’s almost always the case that the results don’t have what we want.

When we browse as we might in a physical store, because we are not sure of what we want, all too often we are not prompted with pictures of things we might actually like to buy. They may be there — we typically visit sites because we either already know them, or have seen something we like elsewhere — but nevertheless, finding what we might actually like to buy can take a lot of time, and in many cases may never happen at all.

Eli Finkelshteyn, Constructor’s CEO and founder, says that one of the issues is that search and discovery are often built as static experiences: they are designed to meet a one-size-fits-all model where site architects have effectively guessed at what a shopper might want, and built for that. This is one area that Constructor has rethought, specifically by making search and discovery more dynamic and responsive to what’s happened before you ever visit a site.

“One of the things wrong with product discovery was that prescriptively sites show you what they think is valuable to you,” he said. “We think the process should be descriptive.”

As an example, he talked about Cheetos. Sometimes people who might want to buy these start out by navigating to the potato chip category. In many static searches, those results might not include Cheetos. Some people might abandon their search altogether (bounce), but some might navigate away from that and search specifically for Cheetos and add them to their carts. In a descriptive and more dynamic environment, Finkelshteyn believes that these two flows should subsequently inform all future chip searches.

“We take into account as much data as we can learn from, and that list is always growing,” he said. “The goal is anything we can learn from should become part of the user experience.”

Google is the current, undisputed leader in the world of search, and it too uses a lot of dynamic, AI-based tools to learn and tweak how it searches and what results it produces.

Interestingly it hasn’t extended as much of this to third parties as you might think. The company wound down its own site search product in 2017 and now if you look for this you are redirected to the company’s enterprise search suite.

There are, however, others that have also stepped into that void to provide services that compete with Constructor, including the likes of Algolia, Yext, Elasticsearch and more. Finkelshteyn believes that among all of these, none have managed yet to provide a service like Constructor’s that learns and adjusts its results constantly based on search and browsing activity.

This is one reason the company has stood out with its customers, and with investors.

“Constructor has built a search and discovery platform that is truly making a difference for enterprise retailers. They are providing customers with comprehensive and optimized search and discovery that is unmatched in the market,” said Sri Rao, Constructor board member and general partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with the Constructor team as they continue to revolutionize search and discovery capabilities for retailers across all platforms.”

Looking forward, there will be some interesting opportunities ahead for Constructor to take its search and discovery tools to new frontiers. These could include ways to bring in and account for shoppers on third-party platforms — currently Constructor does not power experiences on, say, social media, so that is one potential area to explore — as well as more offline experiences, critical as retailers and shoppers take on more blended approaches that might start online and finish in stores, or proceed the other way around, or find users walking around with their phones to shop even as they are in physical stores.

Matillion raises $150M at a $1.5B valuation for its low-code approach to integrating disparate data sources

Businesses and the tech companies that serve them are run on data. At best, it can be used to help with decision-making, to understand how well or badly an organization is doing, and to build new systems to run the next generation of services. At its most challenging, though, data can represent a real headache: there is too much of it, in too many places, and too much of a task to bring it into any kind of order.

Enter a startup called Matillion, which has built a platform to help companies harness their data so that it can be used, and what’s more the platform is not just for data scientists, but it’s written with a “low-code” approach that can be used by a wider group of users.

Today, it is announcing a big round of investment — $150 million at a $1.5 billion valuation — a sign not just of Matillion’s traction in this space, but of the market demand for the tech that it has built.

The company currently has “hundreds” of large enterprise customers, including Hundreds of large enterprises including Western Union, FOX, Sony, Slack, National Grid, Peet’s Coffee and Cisco for projects ranging from business intelligence and visualization through to artificial intelligence and machine learning applications.

General Atlantic is leading the funding, with Battery Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, and Lightspeed Venture Partners — some of the biggest enterprise startup investors in the world — also participating. Matillion last raised money — a Series D of around $100 million million — as recently as February this year, at what was an undisclosed valuation at the time.

Announcing this latest round at a $1.5 billion valuation is significant not just for Matillion. The startup was founded in Manchester (it now also has a base in Denver), and this makes it one of a handful of tech startups out of the city — others we’ve recently covered include The Hut Group, Peak AI and Fractory — now hitting the big leagues and helping to put it on the innovation map as an urban center to watch.

Matthew Scullion, the startup’s CEO and founder, explained that the crux of the issue Matillion is addressing is the diamond-in-the-rough promise of big data. Typically, large organizations are producing giant amounts of data every day, hugely valuable information as long as it can be tapped efficiently. The problem is that this data is often sitting across a lot of different places — typically large organizations might have over 1,000 data sources, apps sitting across multiple clouds and servers, and storage across Snowflake, Amazon Redshift, and Databricks. On top of this, while a lot of that data is very structured, those sources are not necessarily aligned with each other.

“Data has become the new currency, and the world is pivoting to that,” he said. “It’s changing all aspects of how we work, and it is happening very fast. But the problem is that the world’s ability to innovate with data is constrained. It’s not the shortage of data or demand to put it to work, but the point is the world’s ability to make that data useful.”

Matillion has answered that with a framework and system that can both identify data sources and basically bring order to them, without needing to move the data from one place to another in order to be used. It’s an ETL (extract, transform, and load) provider, and it is far from being the only one in the market, with others like Dataiku, Talent, SnapLogic, as well as cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft, among the many trying to address this area.

The difference with Matillion, Scullion said, is that it has democratized platform, so that organizations don’t have to rely on data scientists to get involved in order to use it, by building a low-code interface around it.

“We have made it accessible, intuitive and easy to use by bringing in a low-code approach,” he said. “We’ve developed a platform and data operating system that has all the things in the kit bag that an organization needs to make it useful.”

This is important because, as big data analytics and the tools to build these processes become more mainstream and themselves take on low-code interfaces, Matillion is providing a way for those less technical users to source and use their data, too. This means more efficiency, less cost, and more time for data scientists to work on more difficult problems and do less busy work.

“As organizations look for ways to harness data to make better business decisions, the market for cloud data integration and transformation is expanding,” said Chris Caulkin, MD and Head of Technology for EMEA at General Atlantic. “We believe that Matillion’s low-code ETL platform simplifies the process of constructing data pipelines and preparing data for analysis, enabling citizen data scientists and data engineers alike to play a valuable role in extracting data-based insights. We look forward to supporting the team through its next phase of growth and expansion.”

Sendcloud nabs $177M led by SoftBank to double down on SaaS — shipping as a service

E-commerce has undoubtedly seen a huge boost in growth in the last year and a half of Covid-19 living, with people turning to the web and apps to shop for essentials and not-so-essentials to keep their social distance, and using delivery services to receive their goods rather than picking things up in person.

Today, a Dutch startup called Sendcloud that has built a service to help retailers with the latter of these — providing a cloud-based to easily organize and carry out shipping services by choosing from a wide range of carriers and other options — is announcing $177 million in funding, a major investment that speaks not just to Sendcloud’s recent growth, but of the demand in the market for what it does: provide an efficient and viable alternative to simply turning to Amazon for fulfillment, or going through the manual and costly process of sorting out shipping directly with the companies that provide it.

“We try to provide Amazon-level logistics to all the other merchants out there,” Rob van den Heuvel, Sendcloud’s CEO and co-founder, said in an interview. Pre-lock down, he said the company — which now has 23,000 customers — was seeing on average between 70% and 80% growth each year. During lockdown that went up to 120%, with 133% increases in parcel volumes, “And we have not seen volumes going down since,” he added.

Softbank Vision Fund 2 — a prolific investor in the many parts of the e-commerce ecosystem — is leading this Series C, with L Catterton and HPE Growth also participating. This by far the biggest investment Sendcloud has ever had: the Eindhoven, Netherlands-based startup has been around since 2012 and before now had raised just over $23 million ($23 million, 23,000 customers has a nice ring to it.)

Van den Heuvel confirmed that the startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round although a source very close to the deal tells us it’s around $750 million.

As a point of reference, Shippo — a U.S. company operating in a similar space but with 100,000 customers to Sendcloud’s 23,000 — in June raised money at a $1 billion valuation. Shippo has, however, also raised significantly more money and will have had its valuation ratcheting up as a result of that, too. On Sendcloud’s side, our source pointed out that it’s demonstrated a very strong amount of capital efficiency in its growth.

The gap in the market that Sendcloud (and would-be rivals like Shippo and Stamps.com) is addressing is a very clear one. E-commerce is now a major channel for retailers of all sizes, and as the market continues to mature, customers buying online or in-person but still getting their goods delivered are getting more sophisticated in terms of what they expect in service levels.

The issue is that smaller retailers — realistically, anyone that is not Amazon, but especially those new to the e-commerce arena — typically don’t have systems in place to manage that delivery process in an efficient way. The very smallest, Van den Heuvel said, physically go to post offices to mail packages; and the bigger ones may order pick-up and shipping directly from specific carriers but find it costly to scale up from there, and to do so in a flexible way that ensures that they are getting the best prices and the best levels of service and the most options in terms of timings.

Amazon has in many ways set the bar for how shipping and delivery work, and in terms of what customers expect. It makes it easy for customers to expect and get fast and free shipping by way of its Prime membership club. It has a vast network of operations for itself and third parties it works with, and is increasingly directly controlling the different parts of that machine.  And, critically, it already provides shipping as a service, plus a wider range of warehousing and other options — wrapped up in the company’s Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) product.

Sendcloud essentially is an aggregator and integrator that brings together the longer tail of e-commerce technology providers used by retailers — it has over 50 integrations with the likes of Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Amazon and so on — with the range of companies that carry out shipping and delivery services — the DHL, UPS, FedEx, DPD and so on, more than 35 in all currently (and growing). It’s a very fragmented market on both ends of that, and so this is about bringing that together in a seamless way so that retailers can just search for and pick services that work for their needs. And this is all automated and integrated into their check-out: picking shippers and organising it ceases to be a manual effort.

It provides its tools in freemium tiers: a no-cost “essentials” for the smallest users, with the next tier at €40 per month, then €89 and €179 per month depending on the size of business.

Sendcloud sits in the same category as startups that have been addressing the physical aspect of e-commerce in other areas like freight forwarding and warehousing, by building cloud-based platforms to knit the many providers of those services together in a way that hadn’t been digitized previously. Doing so in the area of shipping and delivery, an area that is only getting more ubiquitous and expected by consumers, represents a massive opportunity: the delivery market is expected to grow from $475 billion today to $591 billion in 2024, the company estimates. It may be a pain point that that the average consumer never has to deal with on an organizational level as much as retailers do, but as e-commerce continues to grow, so too will the need for this to work correctly, to keep consumers happy.

“Growing parcel volume and demand for flexible delivery have increased the need for smart shipping solutions amongst online merchants,” said Yanni Pipilis, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Sendcloud has built a leading all-in-one shipping platform that aims to help merchants easily integrate functionalities such as checkout, shipping, tracking, returns, and analytics. We are pleased to partner with Rob and the Sendcloud team to support their mission of fueling the next wave of e-commerce enablement.” 

“Sendcloud’s scalable, intuitive, and highly localized platform is at the forefront of enabling sophisticated shipping for online merchants across Europe,” added Christopher North, managing partner at L Catterton. “We are excited to partner with the exceptional Sendcloud team to leverage our consumer-focused e-commerce experience and deep expertise working with high-growth technology and software businesses to drive continued innovation and position the Company for growth globally.” 

Sendcloud said that SoftBank Investment Advisors’ Neil Cunha-Gomes and Monika Wilk, and L Catterton’s Ido Krakowsky, are all joining its board.

Sendcloud nabs $177M led by SoftBank to double down on SaaS — shipping as a service

E-commerce has undoubtedly seen a huge boost in growth in the last year and a half of Covid-19 living, with people turning to the web and apps to shop for essentials and not-so-essentials to keep their social distance, and using delivery services to receive their goods rather than picking things up in person.

Today, a Dutch startup called Sendcloud that has built a service to help retailers with the latter of these — providing a cloud-based to easily organize and carry out shipping services by choosing from a wide range of carriers and other options — is announcing $177 million in funding, a major investment that speaks not just to Sendcloud’s recent growth, but of the demand in the market for what it does: provide an efficient and viable alternative to simply turning to Amazon for fulfillment, or going through the manual and costly process of sorting out shipping directly with the companies that provide it.

“We try to provide Amazon-level logistics to all the other merchants out there,” Rob van den Heuvel, Sendcloud’s CEO and co-founder, said in an interview. Pre-lock down, he said the company — which now has 23,000 customers — was seeing on average between 70% and 80% growth each year. During lockdown that went up to 120%, with 133% increases in parcel volumes, “And we have not seen volumes going down since,” he added.

Softbank Vision Fund 2 — a prolific investor in the many parts of the e-commerce ecosystem — is leading this Series C, with L Catterton and HPE Growth also participating. This by far the biggest investment Sendcloud has ever had: the Eindhoven, Netherlands-based startup has been around since 2012 and before now had raised just over $23 million ($23 million, 23,000 customers has a nice ring to it.)

Van den Heuvel confirmed that the startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round although a source very close to the deal tells us it’s around $750 million.

As a point of reference, Shippo — a U.S. company operating in a similar space but with 100,000 customers to Sendcloud’s 23,000 — in June raised money at a $1 billion valuation. Shippo has, however, also raised significantly more money and will have had its valuation ratcheting up as a result of that, too. On Sendcloud’s side, our source pointed out that it’s demonstrated a very strong amount of capital efficiency in its growth.

The gap in the market that Sendcloud (and would-be rivals like Shippo and Stamps.com) is addressing is a very clear one. E-commerce is now a major channel for retailers of all sizes, and as the market continues to mature, customers buying online or in-person but still getting their goods delivered are getting more sophisticated in terms of what they expect in service levels.

The issue is that smaller retailers — realistically, anyone that is not Amazon, but especially those new to the e-commerce arena — typically don’t have systems in place to manage that delivery process in an efficient way. The very smallest, Van den Heuvel said, physically go to post offices to mail packages; and the bigger ones may order pick-up and shipping directly from specific carriers but find it costly to scale up from there, and to do so in a flexible way that ensures that they are getting the best prices and the best levels of service and the most options in terms of timings.

Amazon has in many ways set the bar for how shipping and delivery work, and in terms of what customers expect. It makes it easy for customers to expect and get fast and free shipping by way of its Prime membership club. It has a vast network of operations for itself and third parties it works with, and is increasingly directly controlling the different parts of that machine.  And, critically, it already provides shipping as a service, plus a wider range of warehousing and other options — wrapped up in the company’s Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) product.

Sendcloud essentially is an aggregator and integrator that brings together the longer tail of e-commerce technology providers used by retailers — it has over 50 integrations with the likes of Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Amazon and so on — with the range of companies that carry out shipping and delivery services — the DHL, UPS, FedEx, DPD and so on, more than 35 in all currently (and growing). It’s a very fragmented market on both ends of that, and so this is about bringing that together in a seamless way so that retailers can just search for and pick services that work for their needs. And this is all automated and integrated into their check-out: picking shippers and organising it ceases to be a manual effort.

It provides its tools in freemium tiers: a no-cost “essentials” for the smallest users, with the next tier at €40 per month, then €89 and €179 per month depending on the size of business.

Sendcloud sits in the same category as startups that have been addressing the physical aspect of e-commerce in other areas like freight forwarding and warehousing, by building cloud-based platforms to knit the many providers of those services together in a way that hadn’t been digitized previously. Doing so in the area of shipping and delivery, an area that is only getting more ubiquitous and expected by consumers, represents a massive opportunity: the delivery market is expected to grow from $475 billion today to $591 billion in 2024, the company estimates. It may be a pain point that that the average consumer never has to deal with on an organizational level as much as retailers do, but as e-commerce continues to grow, so too will the need for this to work correctly, to keep consumers happy.

“Growing parcel volume and demand for flexible delivery have increased the need for smart shipping solutions amongst online merchants,” said Yanni Pipilis, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Sendcloud has built a leading all-in-one shipping platform that aims to help merchants easily integrate functionalities such as checkout, shipping, tracking, returns, and analytics. We are pleased to partner with Rob and the Sendcloud team to support their mission of fueling the next wave of e-commerce enablement.” 

“Sendcloud’s scalable, intuitive, and highly localized platform is at the forefront of enabling sophisticated shipping for online merchants across Europe,” added Christopher North, managing partner at L Catterton. “We are excited to partner with the exceptional Sendcloud team to leverage our consumer-focused e-commerce experience and deep expertise working with high-growth technology and software businesses to drive continued innovation and position the Company for growth globally.” 

Sendcloud said that SoftBank Investment Advisors’ Neil Cunha-Gomes and Monika Wilk, and L Catterton’s Ido Krakowsky, are all joining its board.