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What 377 Y Combinator pitches will teach you about startups – TechCrunch

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Along with a cadre of other TechCrunch folks, I spent this week extremely focused on one event: Y Combinator. The elite accelerator announced a staggering 377 startups as its Summer 2021 cohort. We covered every single on-the-record startup that presented and plucked out some favorites:

There’s something quite earnest and magical about spending literally hours hearing founder after founder pitch their ideas, with one minute, a single slide and a whole lot of optimism. It’s why I like covering demo days: I get tunnel vision into where innovation is going next, what behemoths are ripe for disruption and what founders think is a witty competitive edge versus a simple baseline.

That said, I will share one caveat. While YC is an ambitious snapshot, it’s not entirely illustrative of the next wave of decision-makers and leaders within startups — from a diversity perspective. The accelerator posted small gains in the number of women and LatinX founders in its batch, but dropped in the number of Black founders participating. The need for more diverse accelerators has never been more obvious, and as some in the tech community argue, is Y Combinator’s biggest blind spot.

This in mind, I want to leave you with a few takeaways I had after listening to hundreds of pitches. Here’s what 377 Y Combinator pitches taught me about startups:

  1. Instacart walked so YC startups could stroll. Instacart, last valued at $39 billion, is one of Y Combinator’s most successful graduates — which makes it even more spicier that a number of startups within this summer’s batch want to take on the behemoth. Instead of going after the obvious — speed — startups are looking to enhance the grocery delivery experience through premium produce, local recipes and even ugly vegetables. It suggests that there may be a new chapter in grocery delivery, one in which ease isn’t the only competitive advantage.
  2. Crypto’s pre-seed world is quieter than fintech. YC feels more like a fintech accelerator than ever before, but when it comes to crypto, there weren’t as many moonshots as I’d expect. We discussed this a bit in the Equity podcast, but if anyone has theories as to why, I’m game to hear ‘em.
  3. Edtech wants to disrupt artsy subjects. It’s common to see edtech founders flock to subjects like science and mathematics when it comes to disruption. Why? Well, from a pure pedagogical perspective, it’s easier to scale a service that answers questions that only have one right answer. While math may fit into a box that works for a tech-powered AI tutoring bot, arts, on the other hand, may require a little bit more human touch. This is why I was excited to see a number of edtech startups, from Spark Studio to Litnerd, focusing on humanities in their pitches. As shocking as it sounds, to rethink how a bookclub is read is definitely a refreshing milestone for edtech.
  4. Sometimes, the best pitch is no pitch at all. One pitch stood out simply because it addressed the elephant in the room: We’re all stressed. Jupe sells glamping-in-a-box and the profitable business likely benefited from COVID-19. I remember that because the founder used a portion of his pitch to tell investors to breathe, because it’s been a long two days. Being human, and more importantly, speaking like one, is what it takes to stand out these days.

On that note, exhale. Let’s move on to the rest of this newsletter, which includes nostalgic nods to Wall Street, public filings and my favorite new podcast. As always, you can find and support me on Twitter @nmasc_ or send me tips at natasha.m@techcrunch.com.

A return to old school Wall Street

With so many new funds, solo-GPs and alternative capital sources on the market these days, founders are confused. Funding may have moved away from three dudes on Sand Hill Road, but it’s also become more fragmented, which means entrepreneurs need to be even more sophisticated in how they fill up their cap tables. This week, I interviewed one recently venture-backed startup that proposed a solution: a return to old school Wall Street. 

Here’s what to know: Hum Capital wants to help investors allocate their resources to ambitious businesses, perfectly. The startup seeks to emulate the world of old school Wall Street, which helped ambitious business owners find the best financing option for their goal, instead of today’s dance of startups trying to prove worthiness for one type of capital. In my story, I explained more about the business.

At this stage, Hum Capital’s product is easy to explain:

It uses artificial intelligence and data to connect businesses to the available funders on the platform. The startup connects with a capital-hungry startup, ingests financial data from over 100 SaaS systems, including QuickBooks, NetSuite and Google Analytics, and then translates them to the some 250 institutional investors on its platform.

From Hum to mmhmm:       

IPO filings & other hubbub

Image Credits: ansonmiao / Getty Images

When the pandemic began to impact startups, Toast was top of the list. The restaurant tech startup had a series of deep layoffs as many of its clients in the hospitality industry had to shut down. Months later, Toast reentered headlines with a dramatically different message: It’s going public, and here’s all of our financial data.

Here’s what you need to know: This week, Toast published its S-1, offering a portrait into how the startup was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and answering questions on why it’s going public now. After ripping apart the Warby Parker S-1, Alex had five takeaways from the Toast S-1. My favorite excerpt? Toast was smart to diversify beyond its hardware, hand-held payment processors:

Toast’s two largest revenue sources — software and fintech incomes — have posted constant growth on a quarter-over-quarter basis. Hardware revenues have proved slightly less consistent, although they are also moving in a positive direction this year and set what appears to be an all-time record result in Q2 2021.

Toast would have had a much worse second quarter last year if it didn’t have software revenues. And since then, its growth would not have been as impressive without payments revenues (its fintech line item, speaking loosely). The broad revenue mix that Toast built has proved to limit downside while opening lots of room for growth.

Butter or jam:

Around TC

You already bought your tickets to Disrupt right? If not, here’s the link, with a fancy discount from yours truly.

Now that that’s out of the way, I want you to listen to Found, TechCrunch’s newest podcast that focuses on talking to early-stage founders about building and launching their companies. Recent episodes include:

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Talk next week,

N



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Why Robinhood is getting hammered today – TechCrunch

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The 2020-2021 trading and investing boom lifted a number of companies’ revenue growth, fundraising and narrative strength. Some of the best-known even went public on the back of a global trend that made their businesses shine. Now that shine is fading, and the value of select fintech concerns is in free-fall.

The best example of this reversion is Robinhood, a company that became synonymous with consumer trading and investing activity, and the meme stock craze in particular. That Robinhood added crypto trading in recent years, adding to its torrid ascent, merely makes its recent results all the more pertinent to the ways public and private markets have changed in late 2021 and so far in 2022.

Robinhood’s stock fell sharply yesterday and dropped further after the company reported its Q4 2021 results. As of this morning, Robinhood stock was worth around $10.85 per share, 71.5% off its IPO price and 87.2% off its all-time highs. What happened? Let’s find out.

What makes Robinhood valuable

The simplest way to consider Robinhood’s business is to multiply active users by average revenue per user. Users — monthly active users, or MAUs — help the company generate payment for order flow and other incomes. Average revenue per user — or ARPU, if you are into truly awful acronyms — is just that, allowing us to consider the company’s general health as MAU*ARPU = results.

More of either is good, less of either is bad. More of both in any quarter is great, less of both in any quarter is probably a disaster. Got it? OK, let’s talk numbers.



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Google to invest up to $1 billion in Indian telecom operator Airtel – TechCrunch

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Google will invest $700 million in the second largest Indian telecom operator Airtel, the latest in a series of bets the company has made in the world’s second largest internet market as part of a $10 billion commitment to the country.

Google said it will invest $700 million to acquire a 1.28% stake in Airtel, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers in India and other markets, and pour in up to $300 million more to explore multi-year commercial agreements with the telco.

To begin with, the two firms said they will work to build on Airtel’s extensive offerings to cover a range of Android-enabled devices to consumers via “innovative affordability programs.” The companies also said they will explore partnerships with smartphone makers to “bring down the barriers of owning a smartphone across a range of price points.”

“Airtel is a leading pioneer shaping India’s digital future, and we are proud to partner on a shared vision for expanding connectivity and ensuring equitable access to the Internet for more Indians,” said Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google and Alphabet, in a statement.

“Our commercial and equity investment in Airtel is a continuation of our Google for India Digitization Fund’s efforts to increase access to smartphones, enhance connectivity to support new business models, and help companies on their digital transformation journey.”

An Airtel store as seen in Kolkata, India, on 24 November 2021. (Photo by Debarchan Chatterjee/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Friday’s announcement comes at a time when Airtel and Vodafone have been scrambling for ways to repay billions of dollars they owe to New Delhi. Vodafone gave away over 35% to New Delhi earlier this month, making the Indian government its largest shareholder.

Vodafone and Airtel compete with Jio Platforms, run by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. Jio Platforms has amassed over 400 million subscribers in India, thanks to its cut rate voice calls and data offerings. Google invested $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms in 2020. Facebook and nearly a dozen more firms backed Ambani-controlled firm that year.

Airtel said on Friday that it will explore “larger strategic goals” with Google and “potentially” co-create India-specific network domain use cases for 5G and other standards. The companies also plan to collaborate on “shaping and growing” the cloud ecosystem in India, they said. Airtel, which already serves over 1 million small and medium-sized businesses with its enterprises connectivity offering, said Friday’s announcement will “help accelerate digital adoption.”

“Airtel and Google share the vision to grow India’s digital dividend through innovative products. With our future ready network, digital platforms, last mile distribution and payments ecosystem, we look forward to working closely with Google to increase the depth and breadth of India’s digital ecosystem,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel, in a statement.

With over 600 million internet users — and just as many yet to come online — India is one of the last great growth markets for American technology groups. Both Google and Facebook ran programs in the past decade to bring internet connectivity to tens of millions of Indians.

This is a developing story. More to follow…



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The robotic arm of the law – TechCrunch

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It’s hard to know where to start this week. Any temporary slowdown we might have experienced over the holidays has been wiped away. Once again, we find ourselves knee deep in robotics news, like the trash compactor scene in A New Hope — only without the closing walls, Death Star and weird little one-eyed monster. Honestly, the whole analogy really falls apart under the slightest scrutiny.

There’s a wild flurry of news this week, and it really runs the gamut, in terms of variety. We’re talking space, cops (but not Space Cops), mountain climbing, lawnmowing and a whole lot of factory work. Seeing as how we here in New York City once again find ourselves bearing down something called a “bomb cyclone,” let’s kick things off on the New York Stock Exchange floor.

Knightscope rang the bell this morning, as it became the latest robotics firm to IPO. You might not know the firm’s name, but you’ve more than likely seen its robots, either in person or on the news. Founded in 2013, the company’s profile grew quickly, courtesy of egg-shaped mobile robots designed to patrol public spaces — as well as partnerships with a number of police departments across the U.S.

Image Credits: Knightscope

I recently spoke with the company’s CEO, William Santana Li, a former Ford executive who uttered the phrase, “I’m going to get in trouble for saying this” a lot during the interview. We covered a range of topics, from the decision to IPO to automation accidents to questions over profiling. Several highlights:

I’ve said to the media, our underwriters, our lawyers, our teams, our clients, our investors — more incidents will occur. It’s not an unreasonable thing to say accidents happen. In a lot of cases, we have the evidence to prove that humans are not perfect and maybe have issues driving. In many cases, it’s maybe not the robot, it’s accidents happen. Will more incidents occur in the future? Absolutely. Guarantee it. The most important thing is: How do we handle it? How do we conduct ourselves? How do we take care of our clients? Do we make sure everyone is safe and, wherever possible, make whatever revisions need to happen?

and:

If you’re inferring issues with racial bias — and I might get in trouble for saying this — but to me, it’s garbage in, garbage out. You tell a kid, when they’re growing up that pistachio ice cream is really bad, when they grow up, pistachio ice cream is really bad. If you feed an algorithm all the wrong data or an incomplete set of data, that’s an engineering bad input problem. That’s not that the technology is biased. I’m hoping that over time, that gets corrected over the natural course of engineers always making things better and better.

and:

I worry there’s some conflation happening between questions of implicit biases in AI and broader concerns over automation. The former is a very real problem and something that absolutely needs to be addressed. There’s a lot of truth to the fact AI models are only as what humans put into them – which is precisely what creates biases. These are things that need to be addressed now, as we’re in the very early stages of using robots to police society.

Image Credits: Boston Dynamics

Some big news out of Boston Dynamics this week — something far more grounded than we saw from the company onstage with Hyundai. In fact, this is the sort of stuff I’d like to see highlighted more in the world of robotics: sophisticated systems getting to work doing unglamorous jobs like unloading trucks. It’s far more down-to-earth than the videos Hyundai was showing off with Spot hanging out on Mars. It’s perfectly possible for things to be pragmatic and impressive at the same time.

And for a product with no existing commercial clients, this was some big news. DHL agreed to a $15 million deal to bring Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot to its North America logistics centers. The number of units hasn’t been disclosed yet, but they will roll out over three years, serving as a key proving ground for the firm’s commercial potential beyond Spot. Moving boxes around is a highly repetitive, intensive task that will really push the tech to its limit. There’s also often an expectation here that these systems be able to effectively run 24/7.

This will be the first major test for Boston Dynamics under the Hyundai umbrella, as well as DHL’s own automation ambitions as it looks to remain competitive with the likes of Amazon encroaching on its logistics territory.

Sorting Robot in Paack Distribution Centre Madrid

Sorting Robot in Paack Distribution Centre Madrid. Image Credits: Paack

Speaking of, staying competitive with Amazon (something that sure seems to come up a lot in this newsletter), there were a couple of big raises for robotic logistics firm. Paack announced this week a $225 million Series D led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, as it looks to expand further into Europe.

Says founder and CEO Fernando Benito, “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts-based Vecna Robotics announced a $65 million Series C that more than doubles its funding to date. Forklift injuries are a very real issue in the world of warehouses, so the firm is looking to help automate pallet lifting with its robotic systems. The round was led by Tiger Global Management, which also led the $21.5 million Electric Sheep raised for its robotic lawnmowers.

Image Credits: Electric Sheep Robotics

In spite of the indefinite delay of iRobot’s Terra, there are a number of players in this field (well, lawn), aimed at both commercial and professional applications. Electric Sheep’s (yeah, it’s a Philip K. Dick reference, got it) approach is similar to what the John Deere-owned Bear Flag Robotics is doing in the tractor space, allowing users to effectively retrofit their existing mowers, using the Dexter system.

Former TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield contestant Wandelbots continues to raise big numbers. This time out it’s an $84 million Series C. The company’s among those looking to tackle a key issue in automation: How can workplaces train robots without programming expertise? The firm’s solution comes in the form of a “Trace Pen,” which workers use to create movements the robots can then mimic. The company already has a number of high-profile clients, including BMW and VW, and will be using the funding to further expand into markets like the U.S. and Asia.

Image Credits: Starship Technologies

Is it truly an issue of Actuator without some funding for delivery robots? Starship just collected around $57 million from the EU’s European Investment Bank. As Ingrid notes, the San Francisco-based startup has already seen a fair bit of deployment in Europe.

Image Credits: Takahiro Miki/ETH Zurich

And just so it’s not all funding this week, a fun one out of ETH Zurich, which taught the quadrupedal ANYmal robot how to hike — specifically up nearby Mount Etzel. Researchers say that, using visual and tactile feedback, the robot learned to hike some 120 vertical meters in 31 minutes — four minutes faster than the standard for human hikers.

A little higher up, the Bezos-owned Blue Origin has agreed to acquire Honeybee Robotics, which creates drills and other tools for Earth and space travel. CEO Kiel Davis confirmed the acquisition on the company’s blog:

We’ve been building Honeybee’s capabilities and brand for almost forty years. Joining Blue Origin is a major step forward for us. We thank the entire EBI family for their support over the last four and a half years. With Blue Origin we look forward to further expanding our capacity to meet the most exciting challenges in next-generation space transportation, space mobility, space destinations, and planetary science and exploration.

Terms of the deal, which is set to close next month, have not been disclosed. Honeybee says it expects to operate “business as usual” under its newer, bluer, parent.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Actuator: To infinity and subscribe!



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Lamborghini’s NFT scheme includes real-world space treasures – TechCrunch

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Lamborghini is dipping its supercar toe into the non-fungible token pool. But unlike the primate-based computer-designed Twitter avatars that have come to represent the NFT community, the automaker is bridging the physical and digital world for its crypto offering.

Well, off-world to be exact.

The automaker — in partnership with NFT PRO and RM Sotheby’s — will auction off five pairs of linked digital and physical art between February 1 and February 4 at the automaker’s dedicated NFT website.

Lamborghini is joining Nike, Samsung, and other tech companies in embracing NFTs. For instance, Twitter has created a way for NFT owners to show off their favorite NFT via a special profile-picture hexa-shaped frame. Reddit has also recently waded into the NFT fray allowing users to set their artwork as their profile image.

Unlike many other NFTs, the Lamborghini artwork will have five tangible items that are paired with the digital works. These physical objects should continue to hold value even if the NFT craze collapses largely because the items have been to space — yes, space — as part of the endeavor’s human space exploration theme.

Lamborghini sent pieces of carbon fiber to the international space station in 2020 as part of a joint research project. The physical Space Key, which contains those same bits of carbon fiber, will be something the winners of the auctions can hold — and brag about.

The carbon fiber squares are housed in a special case and are engraved with individual QR codes that correspond to the accompanying digital artwork created by Fabian Oefner, an artist known for a series of pieces that highlight the mechanical world via mind-bending photographs.

On the digital side, will be Oefner’s exploded image of a Lamborghini Ultimate floating above a photo of the Earth. The image, called Space Time Memory, was created using 1,500 individual photographs of the vehicle’s parts which were assembled digitally to resemble a spaceship launching into space, above the Earth with a trial of small mechanical parts trailing behind. The image of the Earth in the background was taken via a weather balloon sent to the edge of the stratosphere.

The five images are slightly different from one another; when put together, they create an intriguing series of images that creates a sense of motion.

In other words, it makes a pretty great GIF.

Image Credits: Fabian Oefner/Lamborghini

In a statement, the artists said,”for me, Space Time Memory is an analogy to the memories we make in life.” Whatever it means, it looks quite spectacular. At least far more intriguing than a JPEG of a cartoon monkey.

Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann told TechCrunch that to him and the automaker, NFTs are all about the community, its young spirit, and the designs. He noted that the NFT community was looking at Lamborghini to at least try out the NFT world, “because they know that our customers are very innovative and they’re looking into things like this. So they are speaking to people which think alike.”

The automaker was also approached by Oefner about the project. In fact, multiple agencies approached the company about the chance to create an NFT. But it might have been the artist that helped seal the deal. Oefner for his part has already created artwork using Lamborghinis including the Miura piece from 2018. The artist and Lamborghini will split the proceeds of the sale.

Lamborghini will evaluate the sale and depending on the results may create more NFTs in the future. Still, Winkelmann emphasized the the automaker isn’t wading into NFT hastily.

“The highest value we have is our brand so we have to act very carefully,” Winkelmann said.

As for why the NFT has real-life elements, the CEO said that the automaker’s world is very physical and that they should never forget that. It was the combination of physical and digital that intrigued him and Lamborghini.

For Lamborghini, a company that thrives on a customer base that loves to be noticed, the NFT auction also has to have some pizazz. To continue the theme of human space exploration, Lamborghini’s Space Time Memory actions will last 75 hours and 50 mins. The same amount of time it took Apollo 11 to leave Earth and enter the moon’s orbit.

If it succeeds, it could prompt the automaker to send items into space and potentially the moon to link to future digital artworks. There’s no reason Lamborghini can’t team up with SpaceX on a moon flight in the future to make this reality.

Although, Lamborghini might want to wait until attention shifts away from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster  that is expected to crash into the moon in early March after seven years in space.

When it comes to NFT’s, supercars, and space exploration — crashing is always a bad word.



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No-code SaaS platform CaptivateIQ spears $1.25B valuation with $100M Series C – TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PST, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 26, 2022! Today we have surveillance robots, a Harry Potter reference, layoffs and startup news galore. Heck, we even have some Reddit news in the mix. It’s a good day to be a tech fan, worker and general consumer. Enjoy! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Taking a robot surveillance company public in 2022: Is not an easy feat, frankly. Given a rising general consciousness about privacy, Knightscope is going public at an interesting time. The IPO window has also been tricky of late, with some companies delaying their offerings. We have our eyes on this, if for no other reason than the fact that robots are inherently cool.
  • Firebolt’s valuation soars higher: Announcing a $100 million round at a $1.4 billion valuation is big news for any company. For a startup that shares a name with a Harry Potter broomstick, it’s somewhat epic (we tried to work a golden snitch joke into the headline here and failed). Per our own Ingrid Lunden, Firebolt is “taking on Google’s BigQuery, Snowflake and others” with a cloud data warehouse product that it claims is both less expensive and faster.
  • Layoffs at Glossier: Eighty corporate staffers at Glossier are out, we learned today. TechCrunch notes that the layoffs are worth about a third of the company’s corporate workforce. The gist, per an internal email, is that the company is going to leverage third-party tech instead of, we presume, building its own.

Startups/VC

Today’s startup news is a really neat mix of things, so we’re proceeding in paragraphs instead of bullet points so that we can stretch our legs. To work!

With the stock market in turmoil, and valuations falling for tech companies around the world, three TechCrunchers put their heads together to answer a question: How should founders prepare for a decline in startup valuations and investor interest? We tend to put out three-views pieces around singular news events, but this time we had some fun with a trend.

Moving along, news broke today that UBS is buying robo-advisor Wealthfront for $1.4 billion. Those of us who were paying attention to fintech back in the day will recall when Wealthfront and Betterment battled it out for new customers and assets, building new tech to attract capital and users while also working to crush one another. The story is now partially closed, so we took a look at the deal from the perspective of revenue, assets under management and customers.

In good news for European startups generally – not like they have been suffering, mind – Spain’s startup law is “months away,” we report. The idea here is that Spain wants to attract more tech talent and startups. This makes good sense as tech companies can grow into large firms replete with high-payings jobs, given the space and time to do so. What’s in the law? According to our own Natasha Lomas, the bill covers “key areas like tax breaks for investors, talent incentives like stock options and a new digital nomad visa to attract international tech workers.”

Back on this continent, TechCrunch wrote today about Boom, the supersonic jet startup that wants to bring back fast traveling for consumers. Since the Concord kicked the bucket, we’ve all been flying at speeds that are pretty piddling compared to how fast our species has managed in the past. And we’ve all been kinda like, all right, I guess. I didn’t think that the comnpany was going to survive, but it has, and Boom is planning on building its speedy jets in North Carolina. Go Tarheels, I suppose!

Today from the oh god just go public file, Reddit is testing a method of allowing its users to upload NFTs as their profile pictures. Twitter recently did this. It’s a bit like uploading a picture to be your profile picture, but more complicated. Regardless of what regulars think of the NFT boom, it’s clear that tech-heads are all-in.

Speaking of tech workers, how most companies hire their engineers is a bit backwards. Most developers don’t really spend their time doing solo logic work on whiteboards while being watched by recruiters. So why is that how they are vetted? Byteboard’s new method of testing computer engineering talent just landed $5 million, so perhaps change is on the way.

If you live in Europe, you might want to invest in Asian stocks. Or if you live in Latin America, you might want to invest in companies public in the United States. This is not always as simple as you might think, so Vest’s work to help folks in the larger Americas investing in U.S. companies caught our eye. Founders Fund is backing the company’s work.

One interesting part of today’s startup landscape is the world of sales. SalesOps software is no small niche, with Gong proving that the sales use case can lead to serious dollars. CaptivateIQ is another player in the space, albeit with a different focus. Per our own Mary Ann Azevedo, CaptivateIQ “has developed a no-code SaaS platform to help companies design customized sales commission plans,” just raised $100 million and tripled its revenue last year.

And from the miscellaneous bucket, the Equity team had Bessemer growth-stage investor Mary D’Onofrio on to chat changing valuations, exit multiples and what’s ahead for startups. And I made a small argument that more drama in the tech space would do us good.

A CISO’s playbook for responding to zero-day exploits

Image Credits: Kalawin (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The Log4Shell exploit that gave bad actors the ability to execute malicious code on infiltrated servers made global headlines and ruined many cybersecurity professionals’ holidays.

Despite a series of high-profile attacks, many companies still lack a response plan, writes Jonathan Trull, SVP of customer solutions, architecture and engineering at Qualys.

Drawing on his experience as a CISO, Trull outlines three steps companies can take to develop a playbook:

  • Establish a standard operating procedure
  • Inventory, inventory, inventory
  • Information gathering, sharing and analysis

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Apple closes security holes: There are updates out for iOS 15.3 of macOS Monterey 12.2, so if you use those operating systems, it’s time to patch your code. The iOS update alone fixes 10 security bugs.
  • Activision Blizzard won’t voluntarily recognize union, because of course: Nothing says we’re an employee-focused company more than looking at the collective will of your staff and saying no. Or at least that appears to be what corporations think. Not that you or I had high hopes for a company immiserated by its own incompetence, but, hey, hope springs and all that.
  • Snap upgrades its AR shopping feature set: Per our own Sarah Perez, the social network Snapchat is “upgrading its AR shopping experience,” including changes to “Shopping Lenses” and analytics for third parties.
  • More money for EVs: Rita Liao agrees with you and me that there are quite a lot of electric vehicle companies to track. Thankfully, she’s on the beat so that we can stay informed. This time it’s “Jidu, an electric carmaking company founded by Baidu and its Chinese auto partner Geely,” which just raised $400 million.

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CaptivateIQ raises $100M at a $1.25B valuation to help companies design customized sales commission plans – TechCrunch

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Less than 10 months after raising a $46 million Series B, CaptivateIQ announced today that it has raised $100 million in a Series C round at a $1.25 billion valuation.

The San Francisco-based startup, which has developed a no-code SaaS platform to help companies design customized sales commission plans, says it “more than tripled” its revenue compared to the year prior, although it declined to provide hard revenue figures. 

A trio of firms co-led CaptivateIQ’s latest investment, including ICONIQ Growth and existing backers Sequoia and Accel. Sapphire Ventures also joined as a new investor in the financing, which brings the company’s total funding raised to date to $164.6 million.

CaptivateIQ’s customer base includes “hundreds of organizations across industries and continents,” including more than a quarter of the Forbes’ Cloud 100 and Affirm, Amplitude, ClassPass and Podium.

CaptivateIQ was founded in the winter of 2017 and came from Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 batch. In a nutshell, CaptivateIQ is part of a new wave of Incentive Compensation Management (ICM) solutions that have sprung up in recent years to help companies automate and improve the “complex” task of designing, processing and reporting commissions, according to Mark Schopmeyer, co-founder and co-CEO.

“Sales compensation represents the single largest go-to-market investment for most B2B companies, making commissions a mission-critical process for businesses,” he said. “However, managing commissions is difficult, and companies have been forced to choose between two suboptimal choices for the process — manual, opaque and error-prone spreadsheets or rigid and costly legacy solutions.”

Those legacy solutions, Schopmeyer contends, can only handle specific types of commission plans and require users to learn “arcane” programming languages.

“They are also often cost prohibitive with implementation fees in the six-figure range,” he said.

Image Credits: CaptivateIQ

In his view, CaptivateIQ alleviates these pain points by taking the flexibility of spreadsheets and combining it with the scalability and performance of software technology to configure commissions plans with minimal support. 

“Calculating commissions is really complicated and mission-critical — think of it like a very complicated form of payroll — each company has a unique commission plan that involves a lot more calculations and data than your typical salary payroll math,” co-CEO Conway Teng told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “Also, in recent years, companies have access to more data than ever, giving them room to incentivize employees on more performance metrics.”

For now, the company is in growth mode and focused on investing in the product, R&D and “building a great team,” Schopmeyer said.

Speaking of which, CaptivateIQ has more than 200 employees, up from about 90 at the time of its Series B in April of 2021.

For his part, ICONIQ Growth General Partner Doug Pepper believes the market opportunity in sales commissions is “enormous.”

Unlike spreadsheets and legacy solutions, CaptivateIQ is extremely powerful and flexible, capable of adapting to diverse compensation plans and sales organizations as these organizations scale,” he wrote via email. “At the same time, the product strategically preserves familiar features of spreadsheets that makes using the platform highly intuitive to users.”

No-code is having a moment. Last week, Walnut, a company that creates sales and marketing demo experiences, announced a $35 million Series B financing. And Softr, a Berlin-based startup that lets customers build apps atop Airtable databases, recently raised $13.5 million in a Series A round.



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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs – TechCrunch

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A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 



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