Shift Technology raises $220M at a $1B+ valuation to fight insurance fraud with AI

While insurance providers continue to get disrupted by startups like Lemonade, Alan, Clearcover, Pie and many others applying tech to rethink how to build a business around helping people and companies mitigate against risks with some financial security, one issue that has not disappeared is fraud. Today, a startup out of France is announcing some funding for AI technology that it has built for all insurance providers, old and new, to help them detect and prevent it.

Shift Technology, which provides a set of AI-based SaaS tools to insurance companies to scan and automatically flag fraud scenarios across a range of use cases — they include claims fraud, claims automation, underwriting, subrogation detection and financial crime detection — has raised $220 million, money that it will be using both to expand in the property and casualty insurance market, the area where it is already strong, as well as to expand into health, and to double down on growing its business in the U.S. It also provides fraud detection for the travel insurance sector.

This Series D is being led Advent International, via Advent Tech, with participation from Avenir and others. Accel, Bessemer Venture Partners, General Catalyst, and Iris Capital — who were all part of Shift’s Series C led by Bessemer in 2019 — also participated. With this round, Paris and Boston-based Shift Technology has now raised some $320 million and has confirmed that it is now valued at over $1 billion.

The company currently has around 100 customers across 25 different countries — with customers including Generali France and Mitsui Sumitomo — and says that it has already analyzed nearly two billion claims, data that’s feeding its machine learning algorithms to improve how they work.

The challenge (or I suppose, opportunity) that Shift is tackling, however, is much bigger. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a non-profit in the U.S., estimates that at least $80 billion of fraudulent claims are made annually in the U.S. alone, but the figure is likely significantly higher. One problem has, ironically, been the move to more virtualized processes, which open the door to malicious actors exploiting loopholes in claims filing and fudging information.

Shift is also not alone in tackling this issue: the market for insurance fraud detection globally was estimated to be worth $2.5 billion in 2019 and projected to be worth as much as $8 billion by 2024.

In addition to others in claims management tech such as Brightcore and Guidewire, many of the wave of insuretech startups are building in their own in-house AI-based fraud protection, and it’s very likely that we’ll see a rise of other fraud protection services, built out of fintech to guard against financial crime, making their way to insurance, as the mechanics of how the two work and the compliance issues both face are very closely aligned.

“The entire Shift team has worked tirelessly to build this company and provide insurers with the technology solutions they need to empower employees to best be there for their policyholders. We are thrilled to partner with Advent International, given their considerable sector expertise and global reach and are taking another giant step forward with this latest investment,” stated Jeremy Jawish, CEO and co-founder, Shift Technology, in a statement. “We have only just scratched the surface of what is possible when AI-based decision automation and optimization is applied to the critical processes that drive the insurance policy lifecycle.”

For its backers, one key point with Shift is that it’s helping older providers bring on more tools and services that can help them improve their margins as well as better compete against the technology built by newer players.

“Since its founding in 2014, Shift has made a name for itself in the complex world of insurance,” said Thomas Weisman, an Advent director, in a statement. “Shift’s advanced suite of SaaS products is helping insurers to reshape manual and often time-consuming claims processes in a safer and more automated way. We are proud to be part of this exciting company’s next wave of growth.”

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.

Cymulate nabs $45M to test and improve cybersecurity defenses via attack simulations

With cybercrime on course to be a $6 trillion problem this year, organizations are throwing ever more resources at the issue to avoid being a target. Now, a startup that’s built a platform to help them stress-test the investments that they have made into their security IT is announcing some funding on the back of strong demand from the market for its tools.

Cymulate, which lets organizations and their partners run machine-based attack simulations on their networks to determine vulnerabilities and then automatically receive guidance around how to fix what is not working well enough, has picked up $45 million, funding that the startup — co-headquartered in Israel and New York — will be using to continue investing in its platform and to ramp up its operations after doubling its revenues last year on the back of a customer list that now numbers 300 large enterprises and mid-market companies, including the Euronext stock exchange network as well as service providers such as NTT and Telit.

London-based One Peak Partners is leading this Series C, with previous investors Susquehanna Growth Equity (SGE), Vertex Ventures Israel, Vertex Growth and Dell Technologies Capital also participating.

According to Eyal Wachsman, the CEO and co-founder, Cymulate’s technology has been built not just to improve an organization’s security, but an automated, machine-learning-based system to better understand how to get the most out of the security investments that have already been made.

“Our vision is to be the largest cybersecurity ‘consulting firm’ without consultants,” he joked.

The valuation is not being disclosed but as some measure of what is going on, David Klein, managing partner at One Peak, said in an interview that that he expects Cymulate to hit a $1 billion valuation within two years at the rate it’s growing and bringing in revenue right now. The startup has now raised $71 million, so it’s likely the valuation is in the mid-hundreds of millions. (We’ll continue trying to get a better number to have a more specific data point here.)

Cymulate — pronounced “sigh-mulate”, like the “cy” in “cyber” and a pun of “simulate”) is cloud-based but works across both cloud and on-premises environments and the idea is that it complements work done by (human) security teams both inside and outside of an organization, as well as the security IT investments — in terms of software or hardware) that they have already made.

“We do not replace — we bring back the power of the expert by validating security controls and checking whether everything is working correctly to optimize a company’s security posture,” Wachsman said. “Most of the time, we find our customers are using only 20% of the capabilities that they have. The main idea is that we have become a standard.”

The company’s tools are based in part on the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a knowledge base of threats, tactics and techniques used by a number of other cybersecurity services, including a number of others building continuous validation services that compete with Cymulate. These include the likes of FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, Randori, Khosla-backed AttackIQ and many more.

Although Cymulate is optimized to help customers better use the security tools they already have, it is not meant to replace other security apps, Wachsman noted, even if the by-product might become buying less of those apps in the future.

“I believe my message every day when talking with security experts is to stop buying more security products,” he said in an interview. “They won’t help defend you from the next attack. You can use what you’ve already purchased as long as you configure it well.”

In his words, Cymulate acts as a “black box” on the network, where it integrates with security and other software (it can also work without integrating but integrations allow for a deeper analysis). After running its simulations, it produces a map of the network and its threat profile, an executive summary of the situation that can be presented to management and a more technical rundown, which includes recommendations for mitigations and remediations.

Alongside validating and optimising existing security apps and identifying vulnerabilities in the network, Cymulate also has built special tools to fit different kinds of use cases that are particularly relevant to how businesses are operation today. They include evaluating remote working deployments, the state of a network following an M&A process, the security landscape of an organization that links up with third parties in supply chain arrangements, how well an organization’s security architecture is meeting (or potentially conflicting) with privacy and other kinds of regulatory compliance requirements, and it has built a “purple team” deployment, where in cases where security teams do not have the resources for running separate “red teams” to stress test something, blue teams at the organization can use Cymulate to build a machine learning-based “team” to do this.

The fact that Cymulate has built the infrastructure to run all of these processes speaks to a lot of potential of what more it could build, especially as our threat landscape, and how we do business, both continue to evolve. Even as it is, though, opportunity today is a massive one, with Gartner estimating that some $170 billion will be spent on information security by enterprises in 2022. That’s one reason why investors are here, too.

“The increasing pace of global cyber security attacks has resulted in a crisis of trust in the security posture of enterprises and a realization that security testing needs to be continuous as opposed to periodic, particularly in the context of an ever-changing IT infrastructure and rapidly evolving threats. Companies understand that implementing security solutions is not enough to guarantee protection against cyber threats and need to regain control,” said Klein, in a statement. “We expect Cymulate to grow very fast,” he told me more directly.

Cased announces $2.25M seed round to help developers work in production environments

An issue every developer faces is dealing with problems on a live application without messing it up. In fact, in many companies such access is restricted. Cased, an early stage startup, has come up with a solution to provide a way to work safely with the live application.

Today, the company announced a $2.25 million seed round led by Founders Fund along with a group of prestigious technology angel investors. The company also announced that the product is generally available to all developers today for the first time. It’s worth noting that the funding actually closed last April, and they are just announcing it today.

Bryan Byrne, CEO and co-founder at Cased says he and his fellow co-founders, all of whom cut their teeth at GitHub, experienced this problem of working in live production environments firsthand. He says that the typical response by larger companies is to build a tool in-house, but this isn’t an option for many smaller companies.

“We saw firsthand at GitHub how the developer experience gets more difficult over time, and it becomes more difficult for developers to get production work done. So we wanted to provide a developer friendly way to get production work done,” Byrne explained.

He said without proper tooling, it forces CTOs to restrict access to the production code, which in turn makes it difficult to fix problems as they arise in production environments. “Companies are forced to restrict access to production and restrict access to tools that developers need to work in production. A lot of the biggest tech companies invest in millions to deliver great developer experiences, but obviously smaller companies don’t have those resources. So we want to give all companies the building blocks they need to deliver a great developer experience out of the box,” he said.

This involves providing development teams with open access to production command line tools by adding logging and approval workflows to sensitive operations. That enables executives to open up access with specific rules and the ability to audit who has been accessing the production environment.

The company launched at the beginning of last year and the founders have been working with design partners and early customers prior to officially opening the site to the general public today.

They currently have five people including the four founders, but Byrne says that they have had a good initial reaction to the product and are in the process of hiring additional employees. He says that as they do, diversity and inclusion is a big priority for the founders, even as a very early stage company.

“It’s very prominent in our company handbook, so that we make sure we prioritize an inclusive culture from the very beginning because [ … ] we know firsthand that if you don’t invest in that early, it can really hold you back as a company and as a culture. Culture starts from day one, for sure,” he said.

As part of that, the company intends to be remote first even post-pandemic, a move he believes will make it easier to build a diverse company.

“We will definitely be remote first. We believe that also helps with diversity and inclusion as you allow people to work from anywhere, and we have a lot of experience in leading remote-first culture from our time at GitHub, so we began as a remote culture and we will continue to do that,” he said.

Fitness ring maker Oura raises $100M

It’s been a wild couple of years for Oura. Last year, in particular, proved to be a major driver for the wearable fitness manufacturer. With the pandemic bringing professional sports to a screeching halt in 2020, a number of major leagues have adopted the ring, including the NBA, WNBA, UFC and NASCAR.

The company has also been making a major push into health research courtesy of UCSF, which has published peer-review studies around the ring’s temperature monitor. That feature in particular has made it a big draw for the aforementioned leagues, as temperature spikes could point to larger issues, including the early stages of COVID-19.

Today the company is announcing a $100 million Series C. The round, led by The Chernin Group and Elysian Park (the Dodgers’ investment arm), brings the wearable company’s total funding up to $148.3 million. New investors include Temasek, JAZZ Venture Partners and Eisai, joining existing investors Forerunner Ventures, Square, MSD Capital, Marc Benioff, Lifeline Ventures, Metaplanet Holdings and Next Ventures.

The company initially set itself apart with its form factor, joining a crowded field that largely revolved around the wrist. Clearly, however, it’s come into its own over the last few years. To date, it’s sold more than 500,000 rings.

“The wearables industry is transitioning from activity trackers to health platforms that can improve people’s lives,” CEO Harpreet Singh Rai said in a press release tied to the news. “Oura focused first on sleep because it’s a daily habit, and lack of sleep has been linked to worsening health conditions including diabetes, cardiac disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, poor mental health, and more.”

The company says the round will go toward R&D (both hardware and software development) and hiring, including additional marketing and customer experience. The round also sees the hiring of a number of key roles, including head of Science, Shyamal Patel; site leader Tommi Heinonen and Daniel Welch, who has been promoted to CFO.

“This year has shined a spotlight on gaps in our healthcare industry, and the increasing need for each of us to take control over our own health,” Forerunner Managing Director Eurie Kim said in the release. “Oura is emerging as the trusted leader and community in the space by empowering people with personalized data that provides actionable insights for health improvement.”

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.”

Indian online teaching platform Teachmint raises $16.5 million

An Indian startup that began its life after the global pandemic broke last year said on Tuesday it has concluded its third financing round as it enables hundreds of thousands of teachers in the world’s second largest internet market run classes online and serve their students.

Bangalore-based Teachmint said today it has raised $16.5 million in its Series A financing round. The round was led by Learn Capital, the San Francisco Bay Area-headquartered venture capital firm that focuses on edtech firms and has backed some of the world’s most promising online learning startups including Coursera, Udemy, Nerdy, Minerva, and Brainly.

Existing investors Better Capital, which first invested in Teachmint before the startup had even registered itself, and Lightspeed India Partners also participated in the new round, which brings the Indian startup’s to-date raise to $20 million.

Teachmint helps teachers conduct classes online through an app on their Android smartphone or iPhone or through web. The startup has built an all-in-one product that allows teachers to kickstart a live class, do doubt-clearing sessions, take attendance, conduct webinars, collect fees, find new students, offer support via phone calls, and take tests among other tasks.

“When the pandemic broke, teachers were struggling with several tools including Google Meet, Zoom and even Youtube/Facebook Live to teach online. They were using additional tools like Google Forms for tests and WhatsApp for communication. It was a difficult and disconnected experience for most teachers as none of these tools were productised for teaching. That’s when we decided to build a mobile-first video-first solution specifically for teaching,” said Mihir Gupta, co-founder and chief executive of Teachmint, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The product, available in 10 local languages, is highly localised for India-specific needs, said Gupta.

More than 700,000 teachers from over 1,500 cities and towns have signed up on the platform in less than 10 months since the launch of Teachmint’s product, said Gupta.

“From the Learn Capital team’s first meeting with Teachmint’s co-founders several months ago, it was clear that their collective team had meticulously architected an end-to-end, multi-modal, and best-in-class solution enabling teachers in India to instantly and seamlessly digitize their classrooms,” said Vinit Sukhija, Partner at Learn Capital, in a statement.

“Now with over 700,000 teachers, Teachmint has become India’s leading online teaching platform,” he said, adding that Learn Capital believes that Teachmint can eventually expand its offering outside of India.

Gupta said Teachmint is currently not monetizing its product, and doesn’t intend to do so in the immediate future as it is currently priortizing reaching more teachers in India and also expand its offerings.

He said most teachers have learned about Teachmint from their friends and without any investment in marketing. Teachmint is open to exploring any strategic acquisition opportunities with smaller startups, he said.

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.

alt.bank, Brazil’s latest fintech targeting the unbanked, raises $5.5M

It looks like everyone and their mother is trying to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. Earlier this year we wrote about Nubank’s $400 million Series G, last month there was the PicPay IPO filing and today, alt.bank, a Brazilian neobank, announced a $5.5 million Series A led by Union Square Ventures (USV).

It’s no secret that the Brazilian banking system has been poised for disruption, considering the sector’s little attention to customer service and exorbitant fee structure that’s left most Brazilians unbanked, and alt.bank is just the latest company trying to take home a piece of the pie.

Following Nubank’s strategy of launching a bank with colors that are very un-bank-like, signaling that they do things differently, alt.bank similarly launched its first financial product in 2019 — a fluorescent-yellow debit card which the locals have endearingly dubbed, “o amarelinho,” meaning, “the little yellow card.”

The company, founded by serial entrepreneur Brad Liebman, follows the founder’s $480 million exit of Simply Business, which was acquired by U.S. insurance giant Travelers in 2017.

Unlike many fintechs, alt.bank has a strong social mission and pays commissions for referrals that last for the customer’s lifetime. 

“Most fintechs just help wealthy people get wealthier, so I thought let’s do something with a social mission,” Liebman told TechCrunch in an interview.

To drive home the mission, and really target the unbanked, Liebman and his team of 80 employees have designed an app that can be used by the illiterate. Instead of words, users can follow color-coded prompts to complete a transaction. The company also plans to launch credit products soon.

According to the company, close to a million people have downloaded the android app since launch, but Liebman declined to disclose how many active users the company actually has.

Today, the company’s core offerings include the debit card, a prepaid credit card, Pix (similar to Zelle), a savings account and even telemedicine visits via a partnership with Dr. Consulta, a network of healthcare clinics throughout the country. The prepaid credit card is key because online stores in Brazil don’t accept debit card purchases.

In addition to the perk of ongoing commissions, alt.bank has also partnered with three major drugstores, allowing their users to get 5-30% off any item at the stores, including medication.

While the company is based in São Paulo and São Carlos, Liebman and his family are currently based in London due to regulations around the pandemic.

The investment in alt.bank marks USV’s first investment in South America, solidifying a trend by other major U.S. investors such as Sequoia who only in the last several years have started looking to LatAm for deals.

“The bar was high for our first investment in South America,” said Union Square Ventures partner John Buttrick. “The combination of the alt.bank business model and world-class management team enticed us to expand our geographic focus to help build the leading digital bank targeting the 100 million Brazilians who are currently being neglected by traditional lenders,” he added in a statement.