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Selling SaaS to developers, cracking YC after 13 tries, all about Expensify – TechCrunch

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Before Twilio had a market cap approaching $56 billion and more than 200,000 customers, the cloud-communications platform developed a secret sauce to fuel its growth: a developer-focused model that dispensed with traditional marketing rules.

Software companies that sell directly to end users share a simple framework for managing growth that leverages discoverability, desirability and do-ability — the “aha!” moment where a consumer is able to incorporate a new product into their workflow.

Data show that traditional marketing doesn’t work on developers, and it’s not because they’re impervious to a sales pitch. Builders just want reliable tools that are easy to use.

As a result, companies that are looking to create and sell software to developers at scale must toss their B2B playbooks and meet their customers where they are.


Attorney Sophie Alcorn, our in-house immigration law expert, submitted two columns: On Monday, she analyzed a decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security not to cancel the International Entrepreneur Parole program, which potentially allows founders from other countries to stay in the U.S. for as long as 60 months.

On Wednesday, she responded to a question from an entrepreneur who asked whether it made sense to sponsor visas for workers who are working remotely inside the U.S.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week, and have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

4 lessons I learned about getting into Y Combinator (after 13 applications)

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

Can you imagine making 13 attempts at something before attaining a successful outcome?

Alex Circei, CEO and co-founder of Git analytics tool Waydev, applied 13 times to Y Combinator before his team was accepted. Each year, the accelerator admits only about 5% of the startups that seek to join.

“Competition may be fierce, but it’s not impossible,” says Circei. “Jumping through some hoops is not only worth the potential payoff but is ultimately a valuable learning curve for any startup.”

In an exclusive exposé for TechCrunch, he shares four key lessons he learned while steering his startup through YC’s stringent selection process.

The first? “Put your business value before your personal vanity.”

The Expensify EC-1

The Expensify EC-1

Image Credits: Illustration by Nigel Sussman, art design by Bryce Durbin

In March, TechCrunch Daily Reporter Anna Heim was interviewing executives at Expensify to learn more about the company’s history and operations when they unexpectedly made themselves less available.

Our suspicions about their change of heart were confirmed on May 3 when the expense report management company confidentially filed to go public.

With a founding team comprised mainly of P2P hackers, it’s perhaps inevitable that Expensify doesn’t look and feel like something an MBA might envision.

“We hire in a super different way. We have a very unusual internal management structure,” said founder and CEO David Barrett. “Our business model itself is very unusual. We don’t have any salespeople, for example.”

Similar to the way companies must file a Form S-1 that describes their operations and how they plan to spend capital, TechCrunch EC-1s are part origin story, part X-ray. We published the first article in a series on Expensify on Monday:

We’ll publish the remainder of Anna’s series on Expensify in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

As Procore looks to nearly double its private valuation, the IPO market shows signs of life

Construction tech unicorn Procore Technologies this week set a price range for its impending public offering. The news comes after the company initially filed to go public in February of 2020, a move delayed by the pandemic.

In March 2021, Procore filed again for a public offering, but its second shot ran into a cooling IPO market. The company filed another S-1/A in April, and then another in early May. This week’s filing is the first that sets a price for the Carpinteria, California-based software upstart.

But Procore is not the only company that filed and later put on hold an IPO to get back to work on floating. Kaltura, a software company focused on video distribution, also recently got its IPO back on track. Are we seeing a reacceleration of the IPO market? Perhaps.

3 golden rules for health tech entrepreneurs

Family physician Bobbie Kumar lays out the golden rules to ensure your healthcare product, service or innovation is on the right track.

Rule 1: “It’s not enough to develop a ‘new tool’ to use in a health setting,” Dr. Kumar writes. “Maybe it has a purpose, but does it meaningfully address a need, or solve a problem, in a way that measurably improves outcomes? In other words: Does it have value?”

Dear Sophie: How does the International Entrepreneur Parole program work?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m the founder of an early-stage, two-year-old fintech startup. We really want to move to San Francisco to be near our lead investor.

I heard International Entrepreneur Parole is back. What is it, and how can I apply?

— Joyous in Johannesburg

Digging into digital mortgage lender Better.com’s huge SPAC

If you have heard of Better.com but really had no idea what it does before this moment, welcome to the club. Mortgage tech is like pre-kindergarten applications — it applies to a very specific set of folks at a very particular moment. And they care a lot about it. But the rest of us aren’t really aware of its existence.

Better.com, a venture-backed digital mortgage lender, announced this week that it will combine with a SPAC, taking itself public in the second half of 2021. The unicorn’s news comes as the American IPO market is showing signs of fresh life after a modest April.

As tech offices begin to reopen, the workplace could look very different

Colleagues in the office working while wearing medical face mask during COVID-19

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

The pandemic forced many employees to begin working from home, and, in doing so, may have changed the way we think about work. While some businesses have slowly returned to the office, depending on where you live and what you do, many information workers remain at home.

That could change in the coming months as more people get vaccinated and the infection rate begins to drop in the U.S.

Many companies have discovered that their employees work just fine at home. And some workers don’t want to waste time stuck on congested highways or public transportation now that they’ve learned to work remotely. But other employees suffered in small spaces or with constant interruptions from family. Those folks may long to go back to the office.

On balance, it seems clear that whatever happens, for many companies, we probably aren’t going back whole-cloth to the prior model of commuting into the office five days a week.

For unicorns, how much does the route to going public really matter?

4 progressively larger balls of US $1 bills, studio shot

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

On a recent episode of TechCrunch’s Equity podcast, hosts Natasha Mascarenhas and Alex Wilhelm invited Yext CFO Steve Cakebread and Latch CFO Garth Mitchell on to discuss when companies should go public, the costs and benefits of the process and when a SPAC can make sense. Yext pursued a traditional IPO a few years back; Latch is now going public via a blank-check company combination.

The chat was more than illustrative, as we got to hear two CFOs share their views on delayed public offerings and when different types of debuts can make the most sense. While the TechCrunch crew has, at times, made light of certain SPAC-led deals, the pair argued that the transactions can make good sense.

Undergirding the conversation was Cakebread’s recent IPO-focused book, which not only posited that companies going public earlier rather than later is good for their internal operations but also because it can provide the public with a chance to participate in a company’s success.

In today’s hypercharged private markets and frothy public domain, his argument is worth considering.

The truth about SDK integrations and their impact on developers

Image of three complex light trails converging against a white background to represent integration.

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

Ken Harlan, the founder and CEO of Mobile Fuse, writes about the perks and pitfalls of software development kits.

“The digital media industry often talks about how much influence, dominance and power entities like Google and Facebook have,” Harlan writes. “Generally, the focus is on the vast troves of data and audience reach these companies tout. However, there’s more beneath the surface that strengthens the grip these companies have on both app developers and publishers alike.

“In reality, SDK integrations are a critical component of why these monolith companies have such a prominent presence.”

Don’t hate on low-code and no-code

The Exchange caught up with Appian CEO Matt Calkins after his enterprise app software company reported its first-quarter performance to discuss the low-code market and what he’s hearing in customer meetings. To round out our general thesis — and shore up our somewhat bratty headline — we’ve compiled a list of recent low-code and no-code venture capital rounds, of which there are many.

As we’ll show, the pace at which venture capitalists are putting funds into companies that fall into our two categories is pretty damn rapid, which implies that they are doing well as a cohort. We can infer as much because it has become clear in recent quarters that while today’s private capital market is stupendous for some startups, it’s harder than you’d think for others.

Bird’s SPAC filing shows scooter-nomics just don’t fly

A pair of Bird e-scooters parked in Barcelona. Image Credits: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch

Historically — and based on what we’re seeing in this fantastical filing — Bird proved to be a simply awful business. Its results from 2019 and 2020 describe a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, per filings. After posting negative gross profit in both of the most recent full-year periods, Bird’s initial model appears to have been defeated by the market.

What drove the company’s hugely unprofitable revenues and resulting net losses? Unit economics that were nearly comically destructive.

Dear Sophie: Does it make sense to sponsor immigrant talent to work remotely?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My startup is in big-time hiring mode. All of our employees are currently working remotely and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future — even after the pandemic ends. We are considering individuals who are living outside of the U.S. for a few of the positions we are looking to fill.

Does it make sense to sponsor them for a visa to work remotely from somewhere in the United States?

— Selective in Silicon Valley

The hamburger model is a winning go-to-market strategy

Follow the Hamburger model for your go-to-market strategy

Image Credits: ivan101 / Getty Images

“Today, we live in a world of product-led growth, where engineers (and the software they have built) are the biggest differentiator,” says Coatue Management general partner Caryn Marooney and investor David Cahn. “If your customers love what you’re building, you’re headed in the right direction. If they don’t, you’re not.

“However, even the most successful product-led growth companies will reach a tipping point, because no matter how good their product is, they’ll need to figure out how to expand their customer base and grow from a startup into a $1 billion+ revenue enterprise.

“The answer is the hamburger model. Why call it that? Because the best go-to-market (GTM) strategies for startups are like hamburgers:

  • The bottom bun: Bottom-up GTM.
  • The burger: Your product.
  • The top bun: Enterprise sales.”

Software subscriptions are eating the world: Solving billing and cash flow woes simultaneously

the recycle logo recreated in folded US currency no visible serial numbers/faces etc.

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

Krish Subramanian, the co-founder and CEO of Chargebee, writes that while subscription business models are attractive, there are two major pitfalls: First, payment.

“Regardless of company size, there’s an ongoing need to convince customers to sign up long term,” Subramanian writes. “The second issue: How do businesses cover the funding gap between when customers sign up and when they pay?”

Is there a creed in venture capital?

Scott Lenet, the president of Touchdown Ventures, asks how deal-makers should think about how to handle themselves when counter-parties attempt to change an agreement. “When is it OK to modify terms, and when should deal-makers stand firm?” he asks.

“Entrepreneurs and investors should recognize that contracts are worth very little without the ongoing relationship management that keeps all parties aligned. Enforcement is so unusual in the world of startups that I consider it a mostly dead-end path. In my experience, good communication is the only reliable remedy. This is the way.”

Even startups on tight budgets can maximize their marketing impact

Maximize the impact of your marketing strategy

Image Credits: Ray Massey / Getty Images

“Search engine optimization, PR, paid marketing, emails, social — marketing and communications is crowded with techniques, channels, solutions and acronyms,” writes Dominik Angerer, CEO and co-founder of Storyblok, which provides best practice guidance for startups on how to build a sustainable approach to marketing their content. “It’s little wonder that many startups strapped for time and money find defining and executing a sustainable marketing campaign a daunting prospect.

“The sheer number of options makes it difficult to determine an effective approach, and my view is that this complexity often obscures the obvious answer: A startup’s best marketing asset is its story.”



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As clinical guidelines shift, heart disease screening startup pulls in $43M Series B – TechCrunch

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Cleerly Coronary, a company that uses A.I powered imaging to analyze heart scans, announced a $43 million Series B funding this week. The funding comes at a moment when it seems that a new way of screening for heart disease is on its way. 

Cleerly was started in 2017 by James K. Min a cardiologist, and the director of the Dalio Institute for Cardiac Imaging at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College. The company, which uses A.I to analyze detailed CT scans of the heart, has 60 employees, and has raised $54 million in total funding.

The Series B round was led by Vensana Capital, but also included LVR Health, New Leaf Venture Partners, DigiTx Partners, and Cigna Ventures. 

The startup’s aim is to provide analysis of detailed pictures of the human heart that have been examined by artificial intelligence. This analysis is based on images taken via Cardiac Computer Tomography Angiogram (CTA), a new, but rapidly growing manner of scanning for plaques. 

“We focus on the entire heart, so every artery, and its branches, and then atherosclerosis characterization and quantification,” says Min. “We look at all of the plaque buildup in the artery, [and] the walls of the artery, which historical and traditional methods that we’ve used in cardiology have never been able to do.”

Cleerly is a web application, and it requires that a CTA image specifically, which the A.I. is trained to analyze, is actually taken when patients go in for a checkup. 

When a patient goes in for a heart exam after experiencing a symptom like chest pain, there are a few ways they can be screened. They might undergo a stress test, an echocardiogram (ECG), or a coronary angiogram – a catheter and x-ray-based test. CTA is a newer form of imaging in which a scanner takes detailed images of the heart, which is illuminated with an injected dye. 

Cleerly’s platform is designed to analyze those CTA images in detail, but they’ve only recently become a first-line test (a go-to, in essence) when patients come in with suspected heart problems. The European Society of Cardiology updated guidelines to make CTA a first-line test in evaluating patients with chronic coronary disease. In the UK, it became a first-line test in the evaluation of patients with chest pain in 2016.

CTA is already used in the US, but guidelines may expand how often it’s actually used. A review on CTA published on the American College of Cardiology website notes that it shows “extraordinary potential.” 

There’s movement on the insurance side, too. In 2020, United Healthcare announced the company will now reimburse for CTA scans when they’re ordered to examine low-to medium risk patients with chest pain. Reimbursement qualification is obviously a huge boon to broader adoption.

CTA imaging might not be great for people who already have stents in their hearts, or, says Min, those who are just in for a routine checkup (there is low-dose radiation associated with a CTA scan). Rather, Cleerly will focus on patients who have shown symptoms or are already at high risk for heart disease. 

The CDC estimates that currently 18.2 million adults currently have coronary artery heart disease (the most common kind), and that 47 percent of Americans have one of the three most prominent risk factors for the disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a smoking habit. 

These shifts (and anticipated shifts) in guidelines suggest that a lot more of these high-risk patients may be getting CTA scans in the future, and Cleerly has been working on mining additional information from them in several large-scale clinical trials.

There are plenty of different risk factors that contribute to heart disease, but the most basic understanding is that heart attacks happen when plaques build up in the arteries, which narrows the arteries and constricts the flow of blood. Clinical trials have suggested that the types of plaques inside the body may contain information about how risky certain blockages are compared to others beyond just much of the artery they block. 

A trial on 25,251 patients found that, indeed, the percentage of construction in the arteries increases the risk of heart attack. But the type of plaque in those arteries identified high-risk patients better than other measures. Patients who went on to have sudden heart attacks, for example, tended to have higher levels of fibrofatty or necrotic core plaque in their hearts. 

These results do suggest that it’s worth knowing a bit more detail about plaque in the heart. Note that Min is an author of this study, but it was also conducted at 13 different medical centers. 

As with all A.I based diagnostic tools the big question is: How well does it actually recognize features within a scan? 

At the moment FDA documents emphasize that it is not meant to supplant a trained medical professional who can interpret the results of a scan. But tests have suggested it fares pretty well. 

A June 2021 study compared Cleerly’s A.I analysis of CTA scans to that of three expert readers, and found that the A.I had a diagnostic accuracy of about 99.7 percent when evaluating patients who had severe narrowing in their arteries. Three of nine study authors hold equity in Cleerly. 

With this most recent round of funding, Min says he aims to pursue more commercial partnerships and scale up to meet the existing demand. “We have sort of stayed under the radar, but we came above the radar because now I think we’re prepared to fulfill demand,” he says. 

Still, the product itself will continue to be tested and refined. Cleerly is in the midst of seven performance indication studies that will evaluate just how well the software can spot the litany of plaques that can build up in the heart.



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Iceland’s Frumtak Ventures raises its third, $57M, fund focusing on post-seed and Series A – TechCrunch

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Frumtak Ventures, one of the few VCs in Iceland, has raised its third fund, Frumtak III. The $57 million (ISK 7b, €48m) fund will focus on post-seed and Series A startups. The firm says its typical ticket size will range from $1-5 million (€850k-4.2m).

Frumtak was a somewhat lesser-known European VC until it popped up on our radar as the backers behind the Controlant real-time supply chain monitoring startup, the technology from which was pictured beside Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, when he held up a box containing the first-ever shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine to the city. Controlant has been a key player in the global distribution cold chain associated with vaccines.

However, the fund has also backed digital banking solutions provider Meniga, digital therapeutics scaleup Sidekick Health, travel CRM and travel booking system provider Kaptio, live event and fan engagement data analytics company Activity Stream, and Data Market, which was acquired by Qlik in 2014.

Svana Gunnarsdottir, managing partner of Frumtak Ventures said: “We are proud of the accomplishments of our portfolio companies and their teams, as well as the investment decisions we made through our first two funds. We look forward to continuing our support of high-potential startups and brilliant founders with Frumtak III. We are also grateful for the confidence shown to us by our LP’s, many of whom have been with us since our first fund in 2009.”

Concurrently, Asthildur Otharsdottir has joined the firm as partner and Frumtak III’s lead investment manager. Otharsdottir was previously Frumtak’s Chairman for 6 years and has been on the board of Marel and Icelandair Group.



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Aircall raises $120 million for its cloud-based phone system – TechCrunch

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Aircall has raised a $120 million Series D round led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Following today’s funding round, the company has reached unicorn status, which means it has a valuation above $1 billion — this is the 16th French unicorn.

The startup has been building a cloud-based phone system for call centers, support lines and sales teams. It integrates with Salesforce, HubSpot, Zendesk, Slack, Intercom and other popular CRM, support and communication systems.

Aircall customers can create local numbers and set up an interactive voice response directory. The service manages the call queue for you and your agents can start answering inbound calls. Agents can transfer calls and put customers on hold. Admins can see analytics, monitor calls and see how everyone is doing.

In addition to Goldman Sachs Asset Management, existing investors DTCP, eFounders, Draper Esprit, Adam Street Partners, NextWorldCap and Gaia are also participating once again in today’s funding round.

As a cloud-based software product, Aircall works well with remote or hybrid teams. For the past year, many companies have been looking for a new phone system with various lockdowns taking place around the world. And Aircall has capitalized on this influx of customers.

When it comes to metrics, it means that signups increased by 65% in 2020. New customers include Caudalie, OpenClassrooms and Too Good To Go. Overall, Aircall has 8,500 customers. 15% of them are based in France, 35% in the U.S. and 50% in other countries.

With the new funding round, the company plans to iterate on its product with new integrations with third-party tools, and in particular industry-specific integrations. There will be new offices in London and Berlin as well as new hires in the company’s existing offices based in New York, Paris, Sydney and Madrid.

The company also plans to control a bigger chunk of its tech stack. It means that it’ll collaborate with big telecommunications companies to leverage their networks. You can also expect more product features with better transcription and better sentiment analysis.



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These Forge cofounders just raised $5 million to work on a new, still-stealth investing startup – TechCrunch

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Sohail Prasad and Samvit Ramadurgam are cofounders who met during Y Combinator’s 2012 summer batch and went on to cofound Forge, which helps accredited investors and institutions buy and sell private company shares and which most recently raised $150 million in new funding in May.

Forge — originally known as Equidate —  has taken off as demand for private company shares has ballooned. The company, launched in 2014, has now raised $250 million altogether, including from, Deutsche Börse, Temasek, Wells Fargo, BNP Paribas, and Munich Re. It acquired rival SharesPost last year for $160 million in cash and stock. According to the company, it now has more than $14 billion in assets under custody.

Prasad and Ramadurgam — who helped hire Forge CEO Kelly Rodriques back in 2018 — say they’re excited about that success. They still own a stake in the company; they remain non-voting board members.

But after spending 18 months as co-president of Forge at the outset of Rodrigues’s tenure, they left early last year to begin tinkering on a new idea, one that Prasad says is centered around giving a much wider pool of people access to private company shares. Called D/XYZ (pronounced “Destiny”), the idea is to enable any investor — not just the 1% —  to invest in startups whose services they use and love.

Unfortunately, the two aren’t offering much more of a curtain raiser than that right now, though Prasad suggests D/XYZ is neither a new fund nor a crowdfunding vehicle. It’s also not selling any tokens, we gather. Instead, Prasad hints at an entirely new product, saying the company is being cautious in how much it shares publicly because it first wants to “get the go-ahead from regulators, as well as to ensure we have a clear path to market,” he says.

In the meantime, the two have raised $5 million in seed funding from numerous founders who like the idea of making private company shares easier for their parents, friends, customers, partners, and everyone else who likes what they’re building. Among the round’s participants is Coinbase cofounder Fred Ehrsam; Plaid cofounder and CEO Zach Perret; Quora and Expo cofounder Charlie Cheever; Superhuman founder and CEO Rahul Vohra; and serial entrepreneur Siqi Chen, who most recently founded a finance software company called Runway.

As for some of the nascent startup’s most obvious competition, Prasad doesn’t sound concerned. Asked, for example, about Carta, a well-funded company that helps private companies and their employees manage and sell their stock and options and that has long talked about democratizing access to private company shares, Prasad says it remains very much a direct competitor instead to Forge given that both cater first and foremost to companies, not individuals.

And what of SPACs, the special purpose acquisition companies that are moving private companies onto the public market faster, allowing (at least in theory) more people to access high-growth companies at earlier stages? It’s a partial solution, says Prasad. But the way he sees it, “SPACs are more a reflection that people want late-stage access to private tech and their best option right now is giving money to a SPAC manager who will hopefully find a promising company to merge with in two years or less.” He calls them a “layer of abstraction.”

Of course, there’s also the question of whether Forge will be a friend of foe if whatever Prasad and Ramadurgam are building succeeds. Could their tech be sold back to their first company? Could Forge come to see them as a rival to its business?

“What we’re doing now is not competitive,” insists Prasad. “It’s more picking up the mantle where we left off. Forge is focused on trading, custody, company solutions and data. It has built what some call boring plumbing.” Now that the plumbing has been erected, it has “enabled a lot of other interesting things to be built, too.”

So is D/XYZ working with Forge in some capacity? Prasad demurs. “Potentially,” he says.

In other words, stay tuned.

Pictured above, left to right: Sohail Prasad and Samvit Ramadurgam.



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Viva Republica, developer of Korean financial super app Toss, raises $410M at a $7.4B valuation – TechCrunch

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Viva Republica, the Seoul-based fintech company behind Toss, a super app with more than 40 financial services, announced today it has raised $410 million at a post-money valuation of $7.4 billion. The new funding was led by Alkeon Capital, an American investment firm, and included participation from new investors like Korea Development Bank, and returning backers Altos Ventures and Greyhound Capital.

The company plans to launch Toss Bank, a neobank, in September 2021, which it describes as “the final key component” of its super app strategy. It will also use the funding to continue its expansion in overseas markets, including Vietnam, where Toss launched last year.

Viva Republica, which hit unicorn status in 2018, has now raised more than $940 million in equity funding.

Founder and chief executive officer SG Lee told TechCrunch that Toss Bank will focus on lending, and also offer savings accounts with competitive interest rates.

“A lot of challenger banks and neobanks are focusing on the banking experience, such as cards, so their main revenue source is interchange fees,” he said. “Toss is quite different because we already cover all that. We cover P2P payment, money transfer, cards and all sorts of services. So we are focusing on loans, unsecured loans, mortgages, all sorts of loans. We are going to use this vehicle to give the most competitive interest rates to users, and Toss Bank will not have a separate app, since we have super app strategy.”

Toss founder SG Lee

One of the reasons Toss Bank is focusing on loans is because if someone has a middling credit score, many South Korean banks will only offer them loans at subprime interest rates, Lee said. Toss Bank will be able to offer better rates because its risk-scoring model leverages data from its millions of users.

Toss now claims a total of 20 million users (or more than a third of South Korea’s 51.7 population) and of that amount, 11 million are monthly active users.

The app launched as a Venmo-like peer-to-peer money transfer platform in 2015, before adding more services. Now its users can turn to the app for almost all of their financial needs.

For example, they can check their balances at different banks and credit cards on a dashboard. Merchants can use Toss Payments to send and receive online payments and manage their business finances. Other features include budgeting tools, bill payments, a credit score tracker and insurance plans. Lee said more than 20% of bank accounts and credit cards in South Korea are already registered on Toss.

As a financial super app, Toss Bank will be able to supplement information from South Korea’s main credit rating agencies with its own data about user transactions: for example, where do they spend money, how often do they spend, their cash flow and balances.

Lee added that one of South Korea’s leading credit bureaus, KCB (Korea Credit Bureau), backtested Toss’ engine with data from over two million users, and it turned out to be 150% better in terms of differential power analysis and 30% lower in delinquency rates. “This is the first engine that counts this asset-related data, and no machine-learning technologies have been used in credit evaluation” in South Korea, he said. “I think Toss Bank is really well-positioned to disrupt the whole loan market.”

In March, Toss also launched an investment service called Toss Securities, designed to make stock trading accessible to new investors who shy away from traditional brokerages. Over the past three months, it has signed up more than 3.5 million users.

Viva Republica launched Toss in Vietnam, its first international market, in 2020, and the app now has services like no-fee money transfers, debit cards and a financial dashboard through a partnership with CIMB bank. Toss currently claims more than three million monthly active users in Vietnam and says it adds more than 500,000 active users every month. Toss is planning to enter other Southeast Asian markets, too.

Toss hasn’t finalized a timeline, but it is targeting Malaysia for its next market by the end of this year. “The product that we built for Vietnam is actually quite scalable across all Southeast Asia markets, so it’s a matter of time,” Lee said. “But we want to focus on the Vietnam market because it’s scaling increasingly fast and we have to cover the growth.”

As for the possibility of holding an initial public offering or finding another exit opportunity, Lee said the company is still finalizing its plans. “As an Asian company, reaching a $7.4 billion valuation is pretty high, and I think at some point we will face not being able to do more fundraising in the private market. So we’re targeting to raise once more by the end of this year or early next year for over $300 million. That will be our last private fundraising, and then we’re thinking a timeline of three years, and we are reviewing not only for a Korean listing but also a U.S. listing.”



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Oyster, an HR platform for distributed workforces, snaps up $50M on a $475M valuation – TechCrunch

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The future of work is long on long-distance, and today a startup that’s built a platform to help organizations hire global talent and build out those remote workforces is announcing a round of funding on the heels of strong growth.

Oyster — which provides tools to help with hiring, onboarding, payroll, benefits and salary management services for both contractors and full-time employees working outside of an organization’s home country — has closed a Series B of $50 million.

We understand that the funding is coming in at a $475 million valuation, six times the company’s valuation when it last raised money — a $20 million round just four months ago. The company itself has seen business grow “exponentially” since then, said Tony Jamous, London-based Oyster’s CEO who co-founded the company with Jack Mardack. The company now works with 80 large businesses, he said, helping them fill knowledge worker roles.

Stripes is leading the Series B, with previous backers Emergence Capital and The Slack Fund, as well as new investor Avid Ventures, also participating.

Jamous told me back in February that the idea for building Oyster was first planted when he was working at his first startup, Nexmo (which eventually he sold to Vonage), after being faced with the challenges of hiring talent internationally, and specifically the millions the company invested to build out the infrastructure to do so itself, since every country has very specific procedures for employing people and handling all of the contractural, tax, and regulatory details related to that.

Oyster’s mission has been to  make it possible for any company to hire wherever they want, without going through that pain themselves, making the “world their oyster,” so to speak.

While that in itself is a great idea that definitely fills a need for businesses, it has also been compounded by recent changing tides. Not only are more people wanting to work further afield, but at “home”, many companies — especially those who need to fill knowledge worker roles — are facing talent shortages. All of this is driving even more demand for sourcing and hiring candidates from further afield, and a culture in the workplace that it’s possible to work well even if you are not in the same physical space.

“What’s happening in the world is that there’s a talent shortage, and also there’s no need to be in the office anymore,” he said. “When it comes to tapping into the global talent pool, if you think about it, if you’re a London-based company, then the chances that your best talent is in London is less than 1%. So by tapping into the global talent pool, suddenly you’re dramatically increasing your chances, especially if you depend on talent as as a key source of your success.”

The number of startups in the market today targeting the remote working opportunity — helping companies source and hire people wherever they happen to be located — and Oyster is not the only one of them raising big money to scale. Others include Deel, which is now valued at $1.25 billion; Turing; Papaya Global (now also valued at over $1 billion); Remote, and many more.

Oyster is not — yet? — in the business of helping to source or vet potential hires, but once someone is identified and an organization wants to make an offer, Oyster provides a seamless way to handle the rest, including giving advice on whether it’s best to hire the person as a contractor or full time employee (the trend here, he said, is full-time), how to handle benefits based on the country in which the talent is based; and other aspects of remuneration, again particular to each local market. Pricing ranges from $29 per person, per month for contractors, to $399 for working with full employees, to other packages for larger deployments.

The company also has a public service mission in all this. Jamous himself originally hails from Lebanon and has a particular mission to help people from less high-profile parts of the world, and emerging countries, also get on the career ladder. In this day and age, since relocation and migration are no longer a must-do, it opens up a lot of opportunities for people that didn’t exist before. Oyster applied for, and now has B-Corp certification, which it’s using to fill out that global employment and talent mandate.

This is not just for greater good, though. There are actual talent shortages, and a recent study from Korn Ferry, cited by Oyster, found that 1.5 billion knowledge workers will be entering the workforce in the next decade from emerging economies. Building tools to help hire and manage that talent makes business sense.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Stripes for the next chapter of growth and positive impact for Oyster,” said Jack Mardack, co-Founder of Oyster, in a statement. “Investors like Stripes, Emergence, Slack Fund, Avid, and PeopleTech Partners among others, who share in our passion for the Oyster mission and vision for the future of work, give us the rocket fuel we need to change the world by unblocking access to job opportunities for everyone.”

“The transition to remote work is one of the most fundamental macro trends in business today and COVID-19 accelerated that transition by 10 years,” said Saagar Kulkarni, partner at Stripes, in a statement. “Oyster makes it seamless for any company to hire the best person for each job, removing location as a barrier. Tony and the team have built the best software product in the market and are poised to build a market-defining company. We are thrilled to join the entire Oyster team on their mission to level the playing field for the global workforce.”



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A.I. drug discovery platform Insilico Medicine announces $255 million in Series C funding – TechCrunch

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Insilico Medicine, an A.I-based platform for drug development and discovery announced $255 million in Series C financing on Tuesday. The massive round is reflective of a recent breakthrough for the company: proof that it’s A.I based platform can create a new target for a disease, develop a bespoke molecule to address it, and begin the clinical trial process. 

It’s also yet another indicator that A.I and drug discovery continues to be especially attractive for investors. 

Insilico Medicine is a Hong Kong-based company founded in 2014 around one central premise: that A.I assisted systems can identify novel drug targets for untreated diseases, assist in the development of new treatments, and eventually predict how well those treatments may perform in clinical trials. Previously, the company had raised $51.3 million in funding, according to Crunchbase

Insilico Medicine’s aim to use A.I to drive drug development isn’t particularly new, but there is some data to suggest that the company might actually accomplish that gauntlet of discovery all the way through trial prediction. In 2020, the company identified a novel drug target for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease in which tiny air sacs in the lungs become scarred, which makes breathing laborious. 

Two A.I-based platforms first identified 20 potential targets, narrowed it down to one, and then designed a small molecule treatment that showed promise in animal studies. The company is currently filing an investigational new drug application with the FDA and will begin human dosing this year, with aims to begin a clinical trial late this year or early next year. 

The focus here isn’t on the drug, though, it’s on the process. This project condensed the process of preclinical drug development that typically takes multiple years and hundreds of millions of dollars into just 18 months, for a total cost of about $2.6 million. Still, founder Alex Zhavoronkov doesn’t think that Insilico Medicine’s strengths lie primarily in accelerating preclinical drug development or reducing costs: its main appeal is in eliminating an element of guesswork in drug discovery, he suggests. 

“Currently we have 16 therapeutic assets, not just IPF,” he says. “It definitely raised some eyebrows.” 

“It’s about the probability of success,” he continues. “So the probability of success of connecting the right target to the right disease with a great molecule is very, very low. The fact that we managed to do it in IPF and other diseases I can’t talk about yet – it increases confidence in A.I in general.” 

Bolstered partially by the proof-of-concept developed by the IPF project and enthusiasm around A.I based drug development, Insilico Medicine attracted a long list of investors in this most recent round. 

The round is led by Warburg Pincus, but also includes investment from Qiming Venture Partners, Pavilion Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, Lilly Asia Ventures, Sinovation Ventures, BOLD Capital Partners, Formic Ventures, Baidu Ventures, and new investors. Those include CPE, OrbiMed, Mirae Asset Capital, B Capital Group, Deerfield Management, Maison Capital, Lake Bleu Capital, President International Development Corporation, Sequoia Capital China and Sage Partners. 

This current round was oversubscribed four-fold, according to Zhavoronkov. 

A 2018 study of 63 drugs approved by the FDA between 2009 and 2018 found that the median capitalized research and development investment needed to bring a drug to market was $985 million, which also includes the cost of failed clinical trials. 

Those costs and the low likelihood of getting a drug approved has initially slowed the process of drug development. R&D returns for biopharmaceuticals hit a low of 1.6 percent in 2019, and bounced back to a measly 2.5 percent in 2020 according to a 2021 Deloitte report

Ideally, Zhavoronkov imagines an A.I-based platform trained on rich data that can cut down on the amount of failed trials. There are two major pieces of that puzzle: PandaOmics, an A.I platform that can identify those targets; and Chemistry 42, a platform that can manufacture a molecule to bind to that target.

“We have a tool, which incorporates more than 60 philosophies for target discovery,” he says. 

“You are betting something that is novel, but at the same time you have some pockets of evidence that strengthen your hypothesis. That’s what our A.I does very well.” 

Although the IPF project has not been fully published in a peer-reviewed journal, a similar project published in Nature Biotechnology was. In that paper, Insilco’s deep learning model was able to identify potential compounds in just 21 days

The IPF project is a scale-up of this idea. Zhavoronkov doesn’t just want to identify molecules for known targets, he wants to find new ones and shepherd them all the way through clinical trials. And, indeed, also to continue to collect data during those clinical trials that might improve future drug discovery projects. 

“So far nobody has challenged us to solve a disease in partnership” he says. “If that happens, I’ll be a very happy man.” 

That said, Insilico Medicine’s approach to novel target discovery has been used piecemeal, too. For instance, Insilico Medicine has collaborated with Pfizer on novel target discovery, and Johnson and Johnson on small molecule design and done both with Taisho Pharmaceuticals. Today, the company also announced a new partnership with Teva Branded Pharmaceutical Products R&D, Inc. Teva will aim to use PandaOmics to identify new drug targets.

That said, it’s not just Insilico Medicine raking in money and partnerships. The whole field of A.I-based novel targets has been experiencing significant hype.

In 2019 Nature noted that at least 20 partnerships between major drug companies and A.I drug discovery tech companies had been reported. In 2020, investment in A.I companies pursuing drug development increased to $13.9 billion, a four-fold increase from 2019, per Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Index annual report. R&D cost 

Drug discovery projects received the greatest amount of private A.I investment in 2020, a trend that can partially be attributed to the pandemic’s need for rapid drug development. However, the roots of the hype predate Covid-19. 

Zhavorokov is aware that A.I based drug development is riding a bit of a hype wave right now. “Companies without substantial evidence supporting their A.I powered drug discovery claims manage to raise very quickly,” he notes. 

Insilico Medicine, he says, can distinguish itself based on the quality of its investors. “Our investors don’t gamble,” he says. 

But like so many other A.I-based drug discovery platforms, we’ll have to see whether they make it through the clinical trial churn. 



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