How 4 New Jersey pools turned into a startup that just raised $10M

As the oldest of 12 children, Bunim Laskin spent much of his teen years looking for ways to help keep his siblings entertained. Noticing that a neighbor’s pool was often empty, Laskin reached out to ask if his family could use her pool. To make it worth her while, he suggested that they could help cover her expenses for maintaining the pool.

Soon after, five other families had made the same arrangement with her and the pool owner had six families covering 25% of her expenses. This meant that the neighbor was actually making money off her pool. The arrangement sparked a business idea in Laskin’s mind. At the age of 20, he founded Swimply, a marketplace for homeowners to rent out their underutilized pools to local swimmers, with Asher Weinberger.

The Cedarhurst, New York-based company launched a beta in 2018, starting with four pools in the New Jersey area. 

“We used Google Earth to find houses, and then knocked on 80 doors with a pool,” Laskin recalls. “We got to 100 pools organically. Word of mouth really helped us grow.” The site was pretty bare bones, he admits, with potential customers only able to view photos of the pools and connect with the pool owner by phone.

That year, Swimply did around 400 reservations and raised $1.2 million from friends and family.

In 2019, Swimply launched what he describes as a “proper” website and app with an automated platform. It grew “4 to 5 times” that year, again mostly organically. In an episode that aired in March 2020, the company appeared on Shark Tank but went home without a deal.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Swimply, Laskin said, pivoted right into the pandemic.

“We were the perfect solution for people when the world was falling on its head,” he said. The company restructured its offering to ensure that pool owners did not have to interact with guests. “It was the perfect, contact-free, self-serve experience to hang out and be with people you quarantined with.”

The CDC then came out to say that it was safe to swim because chlorine could help kill the virus, and that proved to be a big boon to its business.

“On one end, it was a way for people to have a normal day and on the other, it helped give owners a way to earn an income, at a time when many people were being affected financially,” Laskin told TechCrunch.

Business took off in 2020 with revenue growing 4,000% and now Swimply is announcing a $10 million Series A round. Norwest Venture Partners led the financing, which also included participation from Trust Ventures and a number of angel investors such as Poshmark founder and CEO Manish Chandra; Rob Chesnut, former general counsel and chief ethics officer at Airbnb; Ancestry.com CEO Deborah Liu and Michael Curtis. 

Swimply is now operating in a total of 125 U.S. markets, two markets in Canada and five markets in Australia. It plans to use its new capital in part to expand into new markets and toward product development.

Image Credits: Swimply

The way it works is pretty straightforward. Swimply simply connects homeowners that have underutilized backyard spaces and pools with those seeking a way to gather, cool off or exercise, for example. People or families can rent pools by the hour, ranging in price from $15 to $60 per hour (at an average of $45/hour) depending on the amenities. New markets that Swimply has recently expanded to include Portland, Oregon; Raleigh, NC and the California cities of Oakland, San Luis Obispo and Los Gatos. 

“The shifting mindset from younger generations about ownership is a huge contributor to increased growth of the Swimply marketplace,” said co-founder Weinberger, who serves as Swimply’s COO. “Swimming is the third most popular activity for adults and number one for children, and yet no other company has tackled the aquatic space to make swimming more affordable and accessible…until now.”

While the company declined to provide hard revenue figures, Laskin said Swimply was seeing “7 digits a month in revenue” and 15,000 to 20,000 reservations a month. Families represent the most popular reservation.

“People can book and pay through our platform, and only 20% of hosts ever meet their guests,” Laskin said. “We’re enabling a new kind of consumer behavior with what we’re doing.”

The company is planning to use its new capital to also rebuild much of its tech infrastructure and boost its customer support team to be more “readily available.”

It is also now offering a complimentary up to $1 million worth of insurance per booking for liability as well as $10,000.

Swimply has a little over 20 employees, up 10 times from 2 people in December of 2020. It plans to double that number over the next few months.

The company’s model has proven quite lucrative for some owners, according to Laskin.

“Last year, there were some owners who earned $10,000 a month. One owner in Denver earned $50,000 last year and he had signed up toward the end of the summer. He should make over $100,000 this year,” Lasken projects.

Its only criteria is that owners offer a clean pool. Eighty five percent of hosts offer restrooms as well. If they don’t, they are limited to one-hour reservations with a max of five guests. Swimply has also partnered with local pool companies, and if they pay one of its owners a visit and certify that pool, that owner gets a badge on the site “so guests get an additional level of security,” Laskin said.

Ed Yip of Norwest Venture Partners admits that when he first heard of the concept of Swimply, he “didn’t know what to make of it.”

But the more he heard about it, the more excited he got.

“This is the holy grail for a consumer investor. We’re not changing consumer behavior, but rather productize the experience and make it safer and easier on both sides,” Yip told TechCrunch.

What also gets the investor excited is the potential for Swimply beyond just swimming pools in the future.

“We’re seeing a ton of demand from hosts wanting to list hot tubs and tennis courts, for example,” Yip said. “So this can turn into a marketplace for shared outdoor resources and that’s a huge market opportunity that adds value on both sides.”

Indeed, the concept of monetizing underutilized space is a growing concept. Earlier this year, we reported on Neighbor, which operates a self-storage marketplace, raising $53 million in a Series B round of funding. Neighbor’s unique model aims to repurpose under-utilized or vacant space — whether it be a person’s basement or the empty floor of an office building — and turn it into storage.

 

 

With backers like Tiger Global, LatAm crypto exchange Bitso raises $250M at a $2.2B valuation

Bitso, a regulated crypto exchange in Latin America, announced today it has raised $250 million in a Series C round of funding that values the company at $2.2 billion.

Tiger Global and Coatue co-led the round, which also included participation from Paradigm, BOND & Valor Capital Group and existing backers QED, Pantera Capital and Kaszek.

The news caught our attention for several reasons. For one, it comes just four months after the Brazilian startup raised $62 million in a Series B round. Secondly, the company believes the funding makes it the most valuable crypto platform in Latin America. And lastly, it also makes the company one of the most highly valued fintechs in the region.

Last year was a good one for Bitso, which says it processed more than $1.2 billion in international payments — including remittances and payments between companies — during 2020 alone. Bitso says it also has surpassed 2 million users. These two milestones, the company argues, is evidence of the growing use of crypto as an everyday financial tool in the region.

Demand for crypto assets and crypto-enabled financial products have soared in popularity both for individuals and businesses in the region, according to Bitso, which aims to be “the safest, most transparent, and only regulatory compliant platform” in Latin America. The company also says it’s the only player in the region to offer crypto-insurance for its client’s funds.

“The growth of the crypto ecosystem this year has been remarkable. It took Bitso six years to get its first million clients. Now — less than 10 months later — we have reached the 2 million mark,” said Bitso co-founder and CEO Daniel Vogel. But the metrics he is most proud of are that Bitso has also more than doubled the assets on its platform in the last five months and that its transacting volume during the 2021 first quarter exceeded the transaction volume it did in all of 2020.

Bitso was founded in January 2014 and acquired its first customer in April of that year.

Bitso’s mission, put simply, is to build next-generation borderless financial services for consumers and businesses alike. “Cryptocurrencies are the future of finance and Bitso makes the future available today,” the company says.

“Bitso offers products and services for individuals and businesses to use crypto in their everyday life,” Vogel said. “In some parts of the world, crypto is associated with speculation. Bitso’s customers rely on the technology for everyday uses from receiving remittances to engaging in international commerce.”

Image Credits: Bitso

Bitso says its “global-minded” product offerings fit the needs of local customers in Mexico, Argentina and now Brazil, where it just launched its retail operations. The company plans to use its new capital toward broadening its capabilities and product offering. It also plans to expand its operations in other Latin American countries in the coming months. In January, the Financial Superintendence of Colombia announced Bitso as one of the authorized companies in its Sandbox and crypto pilot program.

Bitso’s upcoming products include a crypto derivatives platform and interest bearing accounts for crypto.

“This is a pivotal moment for the future of finance in Latin America,” Vogel told TechCrunch. “We see a significant amount of traditional financial infrastructure in the region being replaced by crypto. We plan to use this funding to continue that trend by expanding our product offering for individuals and businesses.”

Naturally, Bitso’s investors are bullish on the company’s potential.

QED Investors co-founder and managing partner Nigel Morris admits that in the past he was “a crypto denier.”

“For the longest time, we didn’t see a way crypto fit. It wasn’t clear until recently that the use cases for crypto expanded much beyond speculative trading. There are now a whole series of conventional banking products that we can wrap around it,” Morris told TechCrunch.

Bitso’s mission, he said, is to “make crypto useful” and QED believes the company is succeeding at doing just that.

“Daniel and the entire Bitso team is passionate about taking the mystique out of crypto. Crypto is not going away; it’s going to be here for the future,” Morris said. “By sitting at the intersection of crypto and traditional financial institutions, Bitso has a promise to provide lower-cost, friction-free financial services to entire populations of individuals who otherwise would be excluded — a laudable and unique mission indeed.”

Bitso, he added, is learning from the crypto experience in the U.S. and around the world.

“Not making the same mistakes and leaning into the emerging regulatory landscape has been a competitive advantage to Bitso’s success in Mexico,” Morris said. “As Bitso grows throughout the regions, they certainly have a leg up and might even leapfrog crypto adoption in the U.S.”

“Crypto is rapidly gaining adoption in Latin America,” said Tiger Global Partner Scott Shleifer, in a written statement. “We are excited to partner with Bitso and believe they have the right team and platform to increase share in this growing market.”

Founded in 2014, Bitso has more than 300 employees across 25 different countries. That compares to 116 employees last year at this time. In particular, its growth in Brazil is increasing exponentially.

“We’ve gone from 1 to 26 Bitsonauts already based in Brazil, with many more working from abroad, and plan to 3X our number of hires in Brazil by the end of the year,” Vogel said, who acknowledged that the pandemic really impacted his company via the shift to remote work. “As we expand our reach into new territories, it has become a lot easier to meet staffing needs when the requirements are based on knowledge over geography.”

Bitso’s leadership is mostly based in Mexico, but the company also has offices in Buenos Aires, São Paolo and Gibraltar.

HoneyBook raises $155M at $1B+ valuation to help SMBs, freelancers manage their businesses

HoneyBook, which has built out a client experience and financial management platform for service-based small businesses and freelancers, announced today that it has raised $155 million in a Series D round led by Durable Capital Partners LP.

Tiger Global Management, Battery Ventures, Zeev Ventures, 01 Advisors as well as existing backers Norwest Venture Partners and Citi Ventures also participated in the financing, which brings the New York-based company’s valuation to over $1 billion. With the latest round, HoneyBook has now raised $215 million since its 2013 inception. The Series D is a big jump from the $28 million that HoneyBook raised in March 2019. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, HoneyBook’s leadership team was concerned about the potential impact on their business and braced themselves for a drop in revenue.

Rather than lay off people, they instead asked everyone to take a pay cut, and that included the executive team, who cut theirs “by double” the rest of the staff.

“I remember it was terrifying. We knew that our customers’ businesses were going to be impacted dramatically, and would impact ours at the same time dramatically,” recalls CEO Oz Alon. “We had to make some hard decisions.”

But the resilience of HoneyBook’s customer base surprised even the company, who ended up reinstating those salaries just a few months later. And, as corporate layoffs driven by the COVID-19 pandemic led to more people deciding to start their own businesses, HoneyBook saw a big surge in demand.

“Our members who saw a hit in demand went out and found demand in another thing,” Oz said. As a result, HoneyBook ended up doubling its number of members on its SaaS platform and tripling its annual recurring revenue (ARR) over the past 12 months. Members booked more than $1 billion in business on the platform in the past nine months alone. 

HoneyBook combines tools like billing, contracts, and client communication on its platform with the goal of helping business owners stay organized. Since its inception, service providers across the U.S. and Canada such as graphic designers, event planners, digital marketers and photographers have booked more than $3 billion in business on its platform. And as the pandemic had more people shift to doing more things online, HoneyBook prepared to help its members adapt by being armed with digital tools.

Image Credits: HoneyBook

“Clients now expect streamlined communication, seamless payments, and the same level of exceptional service online, that they were used to receiving from business owners in person,” Alon said.

Oz and co-founder/wife, Naama, were both small business owners themselves at one time, so they had firsthand insight on the pain points of running a service-based business. 

HoneyBook’s software not only helps SMBs do more business, but helps them “convert potentials to actual clients,” Oz said.

“We help them communicate with potential clients so they can win their business, and then help them manage the relationship so they can keep them,” Naama said.

The company plans to use its new capital toward continued product development and to “dramatically” boost its 103-person headcount across its New York and Tel Aviv offices.

“We’re seeing so much demand for additional services and products, so we definitely want to invest and create better ways for our members to present themselves online,” Alon told TechCrunch. “We’re also seeing demand for financial products and the ability to access capital faster. So that’s just a few of the things we plan to invest in.”

The company also wants to make its platform “more customizable” for different categories and verticals.

Chelsea Stoner, general partner at Battery Ventures, said her firm recognized that the expansive market of productivity tools to serve small businesses and entrepreneurs was “a market of discrete and separate productivity tools.”

HoneyBook, she said, is a true platform for SMBs, “providing a huge array of functionality in one cohesive UX.”

“It unites and connects every task for the solopreneurs, from creating and distributing marketing collateral, to organizing and executing proposals, to sending invoices and collecting payments,” Stoner said. “The company is constantly innovating and iterating in response to its members; we also see a lot of opportunity with payments going forward…And, due to Covid-19 and other factors, the company is sitting on pent-up demand that will accelerate growth even more.”

Persona lands $50M for identity verification after seeing 10x YoY revenue growth

The identity verification space has been heating up for a while and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated demand with more people transacting online.

Persona, a startup focused on creating a personalized identity verification experience “for any use case,” aims to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded space. And investors are banking on the San Francisco-based company’s ability to help businesses customize the identity verification process — and beyond — via its no-code platform in the form of a $50 million Series B funding round. 

Index Ventures led the financing, which also included participation from existing backer Coatue Management. In late January 2020, Persona raised $17.5 million in a Series A round. The company declined to reveal at which valuation this latest round was raised.

Businesses and organizations can access Persona’s platform by way of an API, which lets them use a variety of documents, from government-issued IDs through to biometrics, to verify that customers are who they say they are. The company wants to make it easier for organizations to implement more watertight methods based on third-party documentation, real-time evaluation such as live selfie checks and AI to verify users.

Persona’s platform also collects passive signals such as a user’s device, location, and behavioral signals to provide a more holistic view of a user’s risk profile. It offers a low code and no code option depending on the needs of the customer.

The company’s momentum is reflected in its growth numbers. The startup’s revenue has surged by “more than 10 times” while its customer base has climbed by five times over the past year, according to co-founder and CEO Rick Song, who did not provide hard revenue numbers. Meanwhile, Persona’s headcount has more than tripled to just over 50 people.

When we look back at the space five to 10 years ago, AI was the next differentiation and every identity verification company is doing AI and machine learning,” Song told TechCrunch. “We believe the next big differentiator is more about tailoring and personalizing the experience for individuals.”

As such, Song believes that growth can be directly tied to Persona’s ability to help companies with “unique” use cases with a SaaS platform that requires little to no code and not as much heavy lifting from their engineering teams. Its end goal, ultimately, is to help businesses deter fraud, stay compliant and build trust and safety while making it easier for them to customize the verification process to their needs. Customers span a variety of industries, and include Square, Robinhood, Sonder, Brex, Udemy, Gusto, BlockFi and AngelList, among others.

“The strategy your business needs for identity verification and management is going to be completely different if you’re a travel company verifying guests versus a delivery service onboarding new couriers versus a crypto company granting access to user funds,” Song added. “Even businesses within the same industry should tailor the identity verification experience to each customer if they want to stand out.”

Image Credits: Persona

For Song, another thing that helps Persona stand out is its ability to help customers beyond the sign-on and verification process. 

“We’ve built an identity infrastructure because we don’t just help businesses at a single point in time, but rather throughout the entire lifecycle of a relationship,” he told TechCrunch.

In fact, much of the company’s growth last year came in the form of existing customers finding new use cases within the platform in addition to new customers signing on, Song said.

“We’ve been watching existing customers discover more ways to use Persona. For example, we were working with some of our customer base on a single use case and now we might be working with them on 10 different problems — anywhere from account opening to a bad actor investigation to account recovery and anything in between,” he added. “So that has probably been the biggest driver of our growth.”

Index Ventures Partner Mark Goldberg, who is taking a seat on Persona’s board as part of the financing, said he was impressed by the number of companies in Index’s own portfolio that raved about Persona.

“We’ve had our antennas up for a long time in this space,” he told TechCrunch. “We started to see really rapid adoption of Persona within the Index portfolio and there was the sense of a very powerful and very user friendly tool, which hadn’t really existed in the category before.”

Its personalization capabilities and building block-based approach too, Goldberg said, makes it appealing to a broader pool of users.

“The reality is there’s so many ways to verify a user is who they say they are or not on the internet, and if you give people the flexibility to design the right path to get to a yes or no, you can just get to a much better outcome,” he said. “That was one of the things we heard — that the use cases were not like off the rack, and I think that has really resonated in a time where people want and expect the ability to customize.”

Persona plans to use its new capital to grow its team another twofold by year’s end to support its growth and continue scaling the business.

In recent months, other companies in the space that have raised big rounds include Socure and Sift.

Gatheround raises millions from Homebrew, Bloomberg and Stripe’s COO to help remote workers connect

Remote work is no longer a new topic, as much of the world has now been doing it for a year or more because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies — big and small — have had to react in myriad ways. Many of the initial challenges have focused on workflow, productivity and the like. But one aspect of the whole remote work shift that is not getting as much attention is the culture angle.

A 100% remote startup that was tackling the issue way before COVID-19 was even around is now seeing a big surge in demand for its offering that aims to help companies address the “people” challenge of remote work. It started its life with the name Icebreaker to reflect the aim of “breaking the ice” with people with whom you work.

“We designed the initial version of our product as a way to connect people who’d never met, kind of virtual speed dating,” says co-founder and CEO Perry Rosenstein. “But we realized that people were using it for far more than that.” 

So over time, its offering has evolved to include a bigger goal of helping people get together beyond an initial encounter –– hence its new name: Gatheround.

“For remote companies, a big challenge or problem that is now bordering on a crisis is how to build connection, trust and empathy between people that aren’t sharing a physical space,” says co-founder and COO Lisa Conn. “There’s no five-minute conversations after meetings, no shared meals, no cafeterias — this is where connection organically builds.”

Organizations should be concerned, Gatheround maintains, that as we move more remote, that work will become more transactional and people will become more isolated. They can’t ignore that humans are largely social creatures, Conn said.

The startup aims to bring people together online through real-time events such as a range of chats, videos and one-on-one and group conversations. The startup also provides templates to facilitate cultural rituals and learning & development (L&D) activities, such as all-hands meetings and workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Gatheround’s video conversations aim to be a refreshing complement to Slack conversations, which despite serving the function of communication, still don’t bring users face-to-face.

Image Credits: Gatheround

Since its inception, Gatheround has quietly built up an impressive customer base, including 28 Fortune 500s, 11 of the 15 biggest U.S. tech companies, 26 of the top 30 universities and more than 700 educational institutions. Specifically, those users include Asana, Coinbase, Fiverr, Westfield and DigitalOcean. Universities, academic centers and nonprofits, including Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, are also customers. To date, Gatheround has had about 260,000 users hold 570,000 conversations on its SaaS-based, video platform.

All its growth so far has been organic, mostly referrals and word of mouth. Now, armed with $3.5 million in seed funding that builds upon a previous $500,000 raised, Gatheround is ready to aggressively go to market and build upon the momentum it’s seeing.

Venture firms Homebrew and Bloomberg Beta co-led the company’s latest raise, which included participation from angel investors such as Stripe COO Claire Hughes Johnson, Meetup co-founder Scott Heiferman, Li Jin and Lenny Rachitsky. 

Co-founders Rosenstein, Conn and Alexander McCormmach describe themselves as “experienced community builders,” having previously worked on President Obama’s campaigns as well as at companies like Facebook, Change.org and Hustle. 

The trio emphasize that Gatheround is also very different from Zoom and video conferencing apps in that its platform gives people prompts and organized ways to get to know and learn about each other as well as the flexibility to customize events.

“We’re fundamentally a connection platform, here to help organizations connect their people via real-time events that are not just really fun, but meaningful,” Conn said.

Homebrew Partner Hunter Walk says his firm was attracted to the company’s founder-market fit.

“They’re a really interesting combination of founders with all this experience community building on the political activism side, combined with really great product, design and operational skills,” he told TechCrunch. “It was kind of unique that they didn’t come out of an enterprise product background or pure social background.”

He was also drawn to the personalized nature of Gatheround’s platform, considering that it has become clear over the past year that the software powering the future of work “needs emotional intelligence.”

“Many companies in 2020 have focused on making remote work more productive. But what people desire more than ever is a way to deeply and meaningfully connect with their colleagues,” Walk said. “Gatheround does that better than any platform out there. I’ve never seen people come together virtually like they do on Gatheround, asking questions, sharing stories and learning as a group.” 

James Cham, partner at Bloomberg Beta, agrees with Walk that the founding team’s knowledge of behavioral psychology, group dynamics and community building gives them an edge.

“More than anything, though, they care about helping the world unite and feel connected, and have spent their entire careers building organizations to make that happen,” he said in a written statement. “So it was a no-brainer to back Gatheround, and I can’t wait to see the impact they have on society.”

The 14-person team will likely expand with the new capital, which will also go toward helping adding more functionality and details to the Gatheround product.

“Even before the pandemic, remote work was accelerating faster than other forms of work,” Conn said. “Now that’s intensified even more.”

Gatheround is not the only company attempting to tackle this space. Ireland-based Workvivo last year raised $16 million and earlier this year, Microsoft  launched Viva, its new “employee experience platform.”

How Shopify aims to level the playing field with its machine learning-driven model of lending

Shopify is widely known for giving independent merchants a platform to start, run, market and manage their businesses.

But over the past 5 years, the company has been steadily growing another part of its own business: Shopify Capital. Through this arm, the Canadian commerce giant revealed today that it has provided $2 billion in funding to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs.

Besides being a cool milestone, how it works is interesting. Merchants don’t necessarily have to apply for loans. Shopify’s machine learning models identify eligible merchants based on their previous sales history and store performance, according to Solmaz Shahalizadeh, vice president of data science and engineering, commerce intelligence at Shopify. If a merchant accepts a pre-approved offer, they can generally receive funding in 2 to 5 business days.

While the milestone is significant, I was especially intrigued by the model by which Shopify lends money to its merchants. 

It is intentional about using machine learning and AI “to make sure offers are based on factors different from any other in the financial industry,” Shahalizadeh said. “We don’t ask for a business plan. Our models see the business performance and it’s potential and makes an offer based on that.”

“We use 70 million data points to understand larger trends across the platform for merchants, and can see they are growing before they even can so we can preemptively offer them,” she added.

Kaz Nejatian, vice president of merchant services at Shopify, emphasizes that Shopify Capital does not lend in the manner of traditional banks by charging interest on loans.

“Our funding is designed to work off sales. If you don’t sell anything, we don’t get paid back until you make sales,” Nejatian said. “It’s a highly merchant aligned form of funding designed to fund the type of people banks and VCs won’t fund.”

The company’s model also aims to eliminate any biases that exist in the current financial system, when it comes to educational background, ethnicity, race or gender, he added.

For Nejatian, it’s also personal. His mother is a Shopify merchant who herself struggled with getting capital herself last year.

“Our goal is to reduce barriers to entrepreneurship by offering access to funds,” he said.

As part of that effort, Shopify Capital has increased the maximum amount of funding to $2 million. Previously, it granted funds ranging from $200 to $1 million.

Shopify offers two types of funding – merchant cash advances and loans. Shopify Capital charges a fixed fee (factor rate) on its financings.

On a merchant cash advance for example, it purchases $10,000 of a merchant’s future receivables in exchange for a promise to remit $10,900 of their future sales. The $900 is the amount it charges for the financing, and is repaid by a merchant’s daily remittances on days they make sales.

On its loans, it also applies a similar fixed fee to get a total repayment number, which is repaid via daily payments and milestone payments.

Simply put, the fixed fee that it charges is how Shopify earns money in exchange for funding our merchants. This fee, plus the amount advanced, are returned to the company over the life of a financing via daily remittance payments.

Says the company: “By charging a fixed fee, a merchant is able to understand exactly how much they’ll be expected to repay, before they take financing from Shopify Capital. These amounts don’t change over the life of a financing.”

Over time, Shopify plans to continually improve the machine learning algorithm behind Capital, making its predictive model “even smarter,” Shahalizadeh said. 

“Our model allows us to predict merchants’ minimum sales with 90% accuracy while helping us make more proactive, pre-qualified offers as quickly as possible,” she added.

Shopify merchant Steven Borrelli, Founder of CUTS, says that when he was looking for funding as a newer business, he ran into the challenge of most traditional banks and lenders wanting to see that he had been in business for several years.

CUTS started with getting $2,000 in funding from Shopify Capital. Over the last three years, it has grown into a business with sales “in the tens of millions.”

“We found Shopify Capital to be so valuable that we’ve returned for 10 rounds of funding. Our most recent round of Shopify Capital was $1 million,” he said. “So far we’ve used the funding for expanding our product line and growing our inventory.”

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’

Blockchain developer platform Alchemy announced today it has raised $80 million in a Series B round of funding led by Coatue and Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. The company previously raised a total of $15.5 million, so the latest financing brings its total raised to $95.5 million since it launched in 2017.

The latest round caught our attention for a few reasons.

First, the company, which describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry, went from public launch to a $505 million valuation in a matter of just eight months. During that time, Alchemy says it powered over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users all over the world. Second, the startup says it also already powering the majority of the NFT industry.

And finally, its investors in the round include a high-profile mix of institutions and individuals such as DFJ Growth, K5 Global, the Chainsmokers, actor Jared Leto and the Glazer family (owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United). They joined existing backers including Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Pantera Capital, Coinbase, SignalFire, Samsung, Stanford University, Google chairman and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, Charles Schwab, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.

Sources with inside knowledge of Alchemy’s operations tell TechCrunch that the company has already grown its business more than eightfold since it signed the Series B term sheet. They also said Alchemy had over $300 million of investor demand wanting to enter the round and is being inbounded to do another financing at “many times” the current valuation.

TechCrunch talked with Alchemy co-founders Nikil Viswanathan (CEO) and Joe Lau (CTO) about the raise and their passion for the startup’s mission was clear. As is its explosive growth.

“We realized that in order for space to thrive and build to its full potential, we needed to build a developer platform layer for blockchain,” Viswanathan told TechCrunch.

Alchemy’s goal is to be the starting place for developers considering to build a product on top of a blockchain or mainstream blockchain applications. Its developer platform aims to remove the complexity and costs of building infrastructure while improving applications through “necessary” developer tools.

The startup powers a range of transactions across nearly every blockchain vertical, including financial institutions, exchanges, billion-dollar decentralized finance projects and multinational organizations such as UNICEF. It has also quickly become the technology behind every major NFT platform, including Makersplace, OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare and CryptoPunks.  

“Every time you open DoorDash, you’re using Amazon’s infrastructure,” Lau said. “Every time you interact with an NFT, you’re using Alchemy. It’s being powered by Alchemy underneath the hood.”

While the pair would not provide hard revenue figures, the company – which operates as a SaaS business – says it increased its revenue by 600% in 2020.

For inside players, Alchemy’s efforts are paving the way for the whole industry. 

“The cryptoeconomy is innovating faster than any technological movement that came before it, and Alchemy has been a key driver of that,” said Coinbase President and COO Emilie Choi. “Alchemy enables developers to build the rich ecosystem of applications necessary for mainstream blockchain adoption.”

Pantera Capital’s Paul Veradittakit describes Alchemy as “the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the blockchain industry” that is “enabling the vision of a decentralized web.”

“While in Web 2.0, Microsoft, Apple and AWS are three of the most valuable companies in the world because they are the developer platform powering the computer and internet industries, Alchemy is primed to do the same for the blockchain,” he said.

The company believes the comparison to AWS is fair, noting that: “Just as AWS provides the platform that powers Uber, Netflix and much of the technology industry, Alchemy powers infrastructure for many large players in the blockchain industry.”

Alchemy plans to use its new capital to expand its developer platform to new blockchains, fuel global expansion and to open new offices in the U.S. and globally. The startup is based in San Francisco and is planning to open an office in New York.  

“We are going to use the funds to support new chains with our developer platform,” Viswanathan said. “We also expect to 5x the team this year.”

But to be clear, Alchemy prides itself on being lean and mean.

“We just went from 14 to 22 employees,” Lau said. “We have intentionally wanted to keep the team as small as possible.”

The blockchain space has been the subject of increased investor interest as of late.

In March, BlockFi, which describes itself a financial services company for crypto market investors, announced it had closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that valued it at $3 billion. Also last month, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, revealed the close of $100 million in Series D financing, which doubled its valuation to over $2 billion.

Kids-focused fintech Greenlight raises $260M in a16z-led Series D, nearly doubles valuation to $2.3B

Greenlight, the fintech company that pitches parents on kid-friendly bank accounts, has raised $260 million in a Series D funding round that nearly doubles its valuation to $2.3 billion.

The funding comes just months after the Atlanta-based startup landed $215 million in funding at a $1.2 billion valuation. With the latest round, Greenlight has now raised over $550 million.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led its Series D, which also included participation from return backers TTV Capital, Canapi Ventures, Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, BOND, Fin VC, Goodwater Capital, as well as new investors Wellington Management, Owl Ventures and LionTree Partners.

Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has managed to set up accounts for more than 3 million parents and children, who have saved more than $120 million through the app. That’s up from 2 million parents and kids having saved $50 million at the time of its September 2020 raise.

Overall, Greenlight says it has “more than tripled” YoY revenue, more than doubled the number of parents and kids on its platform and doubled the size of its team within the past year. 

“Greenlight has quickly emerged as a leader in the family finance category,” said Andreessen Horowitz general partner David George, who will join Greenlight’s board of directors, in a written statement. “Greenlight was built to help parents raise financially-smart kids, and with its breakthrough combination of easy-to-use money management tools and educational resources, the company is well-positioned to become one of the most loved and trusted brands for families around the world.”

The company pitches itself as more than just a debit card, with apps that give parents the ability to deposit money in accounts and pay for allowance, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend. In January, Greenlight introduced its educational investing platform for kids — Greenlight Max. Through that platform, kids can research stocks with analysis from Morningstar and actually make real investments in companies like Apple, Tesla, Microsoft and Amazon as long as their parents approve.

As TechCrunch previously reported, it’s a potentially massive business that can lock in a whole generation to a financial services platform, which is likely one reason why a whole slew of companies have launched with a similar thesis. There’s Kard, Step, Till Financial and Current pitching similar businesses in the U.S. and Mozper recently launched from Y Combinator to bring the model to Latin America. (Step and Current also announced big rounds today, while Till Financial announced its seed round last week).

“Our vision at Greenlight is to create a world where every child grows up to be financially healthy and happy,” said Tim Sheehan, co-founder and CEO of Greenlight. “Today’s financing will enable us to bring even more value to families as we continue to introduce new innovative products that shine a light on the world of money.”

 Greenlight says it will use the new capital to accelerate product development to add more financial services to its platform as well as to invest further in strategic distribution partnerships and geographic expansion. It also plans to hire another 300 employees over the next two years, with an emphasis on engineers.

 

Vista Equity takes minority stake in Canada’s Vena with $242M investment

Vena, a Canadian company focused on the Corporate Performance Management (CPM) software space, has raised $242 million in Series C funding from Vista Equity Partners.

As part of the financing, Vista Equity is taking a minority stake in the company. The round follows $25 million in financing from CIBC Innovation Banking last September, and brings Vena’s total raised since its 2011 inception to over $363 million.

Vena declined to provide any financial metrics or the valuation at which the new capital was raised, saying only that its “consistent growth and…strong customer retention and satisfaction metrics created real demand” as it considered raising its C round.

The company was originally founded as a B2B provider of planning, budgeting and forecasting software. Over time, it’s evolved into what it describes as a “fully cloud-native, corporate performance management platform” that aims to empower finance, operations and business leaders to “Plan to Growtheir businesses. Its customers hail from a variety of industries, including banking, SaaS, manufacturing, healthcare, insurance and higher education. Among its over 900 customers are the Kansas City Chiefs, Coca-Cola Consolidated, World Vision International and ELF Cosmetics.

Vena CEO Hunter Madeley told TechCrunch the latest raise is “mostly an acceleration story for Vena, rather than charting new paths.”

The company plans to use its new funds to build out and enable its go-to-market efforts as well as invest in its product development roadmap. It’s not really looking to enter new markets, considering it’s seeing what it describes as “tremendous demand” in the markets it currently serves directly and through its partner network.

“While we support customers across the globe, we’ll stay focused on growing our North American, U.K. and European business in the near term,” Madeley said.

Vena says it leverages the “flexibility and familiarity” of an Excel interface within its “secure” Complete Planning platform. That platform, it adds, brings people, processes and systems into a single source solution to help organizations automate and streamline finance-led processes, accelerate complex business processes and “connect the dots between departments and plan with the power of unified data.”            

Early backers JMI Equity and Centana Growth Partners will remain active, partnering with Vista “to help support Vena’s continued momentum,” the company said. As part of the raise, Vista Equity Managing Director Kim Eaton and Marc Teillon, senior managing director and co-head of Vista’s Foundation Fund, will join the company’s board.

“The pandemic has emphasized the need for agile financial planning processes as companies respond to quickly-changing market conditions, and Vena is uniquely positioned to help businesses address the challenges required to scale their processes through this pandemic and beyond,” said Eaton in a written statement. 

Vena currently has more than 450 employees across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., up from 393 last year at this time.

Brazil’s Positive Ventures closes on $10M fund for impact investing

Positive Ventures, a Sao Paulo-based venture firm, has secured $10 million for its latest fund.

Positive Ventures has raised the capital from an impressive list of LPs including investor Luis Stuhlberger, founding partner of Verde Asset Management and Teresa and Cândido Bracher, who was the chairman of Itaú-Unibanco, Brazil’s largest bank.

The Brazilian venture firm’s self-described mission is to “invest in startups where every dollar of revenue is also delivering environmental or social impact.”

I spoke with co-founder and co-CEO Fabio Kestenbaum who emphasized the importance of such an investment strategy in a country like Brazil that has had its share of corruption over the years. (Kestenbaum co-founded the firm with Andrea Oliveira and Bruna Constantino).

Positive Ventures prides itself on being guided by the United Nations as part of its Global Compact initiative. It also has a top tier B Impact Score, meaning as a B Corp. that makes impact part of its core strategy, it’s doing pretty darn good.

The firm’s sweet spot is early-stage — Seed and Series A — ventures “that can deliver outsized impact and financial return,” according to Kestenbaum. Its average investment size is $500,000, but the firm can go up to $1.5 million in follow-on rounds. 

Positive Ventures seeks to back impact-oriented early-stage companies “building breakthrough solutions to tackle massive challenges related to inequality and climate change.”

Partner and CIO Murilo Johas Menezes is based out of the Bay Area and leads the firm’s offshore strategy and investments in companies.

Investments

Positive Ventures is sector agnostic but keeps three impact megatrends in mind when sourcing deals: 

  • Planetary Boundaries, such as recycling, carbon, sustainable systems
  • Social Resilience, such as financial services, credit, workforce upskilling and 
  • Institutional Voids, focused on emerging economies’ most pressing challenges such as education, health and rising technologies.

“If you want to bring private capital to the game to help address social and environmental challenges, we have to reward this capital,” Kestenbaum told me in a previous interview. “As such, we recognize that we have to invest in good businesses that can provide financial returns as well.”So far, Positive Ventures has backed five companies from its new fund.

One of its first investments, Labi Exames, went on to become a “yardstick for fighting Covid in Brazil,” Kestenbaum said, by delivering a fair-priced and quality alternative to test millions of uninsured low-income families in vulnerable communities.

Labi helped support companies in reopening safely by continually testing their workforce. 

“This hybrid value proposition made Labi the most admired health tech in Brazil and resulted in MRR growth beyond 600%, accelerating their Series B, which will happen in the upcoming months,” Kestenbuam noted.

Another cornerstone investment for Positive Ventures was Slang, an AI-driven app to challenge the English illiteracy in Latin America backed by Chamath Palihapitiya of Social Capital and Mexico’s AllVP. 

“Less than 3% of Brazilians speak English with proficiency, and such a void hammers their chances to get a decent job and improve income,” Kestenbaum said. “The same happens in all LATAM’s countries.”

Positive Ventures recently went on to close its largest investment thus far — in Provi, a B-Certified fintech providing education-driven loans to enable upskilling and employability for LATAM’s workforce, starting in Brazil. The company’s mission is to revolutionize education by delivering hassle-free and impact-oriented credit.      

Provi has pioneered income-share agreements (ISAs) in the region and already generated over $30 million in credit, most of which will go toward technology and healthcare courses.

Next up for Positive Ventures is a $30 million growth fund.