India unseats China as Asia’s top fintech funding source

China’s massive fintech industry took a beating in recent months as the government continued to wind down online lending nationwide, rattling investor confidence.

Funding for fintech startups shrank 87.6 percent year-over-year to $192.1 million during the first quarter of 2019, a new report from data provider CB Insights shows. India, which recorded $285.6 million raised for fintech startups in the period, overtook China to be Asia’s top fundraising hub for financial technology. Both countries clocked in 29 fintech deals, suggesting a cooling investor sentiment in China which saw its height of 76 deals just three quarters ago.

cb insights china q1

Chart: CB Insights

The plunge in China has followed on the heels of tightened regulation around online lending, suggests CB Insights . Over the past few years, China has rolled out a flurry of measures to rein in financial risks arising from its fledgling online lending industry. Peer-to-peer lending, which matches an individual looking for a loan with someone looking to invest, has been the top target in a wave of government crackdowns.

This kind of service offers credit to unbanked individuals who cannot otherwise get loans in a country without a mature unified credit system. But a lack of oversight led to rampant frauds across the board. Thousands of peer-to-peer lending sites shut down due to increased regulation, which is estimated to leave as few as 300 players on the market by the end of 2019, Shanghai-based research firm Yingcai forecasted.

Like China, India’s enthusiasm for finance technology is in part a result of the country’s lack of financial infrastructure. Lending startups are gathering steam as they, like their Chinese counterparts, tailor services to the country’s large unbanked and underbanked consumers and enterprises. Moves from tech leaders are also set to send ripples through the rest of the industry. Amazon finally followed its rivals Paytm, Google Pay and PhonePe to start offering peer-to-peer payments in the country. Walmart is closely watching how Flipkart, which it bought out last year, applies data to payments solution.

cb insights china q1

Chart: CB Insights

Despite the setback in online lending, a new form of consumer-facing financing vehicle — so-called mutual aid platforms that let patients crowdfund for serious diseases — is enjoying an early boom in China, CB Insights noted in its report. As with peer-to-peer lending, internet-powered mutual aid is trying to fill gaps in a traditional industry. Though most Chinese people are part of a national public insurance scheme, surgical bills can easily bring down an average family.

The top two performers in the sector are unsurprisingly from the top two opposing camps in China’s tech world. Shuidihuzhu, which translates as “water drop mutual help” in Chinese, counts Tencent as a major investor. Users contribute as little as half a cent to a pool of funds that pays out when a patient needs financial aid. The three-year-old platform, which leverages Tencent’s billion-user WeChat messenger to sign up members, claims it has attracted 78.8 million users and paid out nearly 440 million yuan $65.34 million to more than 3,100 families so far.

Shuidihuzhu’s rival, which is called Xiang Hu Bao and means “mutual protection”, is run by Alibaba’s affiliate e-wallet Alipay. Launched only last September, the service said it had acquired over 50 million users by April and had set itself up for an ambitious goal: to reach low-income groups who can’t afford the premiums and advance payments attached to traditional health insurance and to acquire 300 million users in the next two years. That means almost a third of Alipay users, most of whom live in Chia. By the end of 2018, the digital wallet had over 1 billion annual users worldwide.

The FT is buying another media startup: Deal Street Asia

Fresh from picking up a majority stake in Europe-based The Next Web, the Financial Times is buying another tech blog. The newspaper, which was founded in 1888, is adding Singapore-based Deal Street Asia to its roster with a deal expected to close in April, according to three sources with knowledge of discussions.

Founded in 2014 by Indian journalists Joji Thomas Philip and Sushobhan Mukherjee, Deal Street Asia mixes Asia startup news with updates from Asia’s financial markets and business verticals. It has around a dozen reporters across Southeast Asia and India, as well as a license to use content from wires. Its investors include Singapore Press Holdings, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of Alibaba-backed Paytm, the Singapore Angel Network and Hindustan Times, the Indian media firm that operates Mint, which is a Deal Street Asia content partner.

The company never disclosed its total fundraising, although TechCrunch wrote about an undisclosed round that closed in late 2015.

The deal is led by Nikkei, the Japanese parent of the FT, which has agreed to buy at least one-third of Deal Street Asia, one source told TechCrunch, but the total stake could reach 51 percent (as was the case with The Next Web) depending on which investors decide to sell. A separate source said the investment is worth at least $5 million. That would represent a positive return for all investors with early backers potentially banking 4-5X. That’s a pretty handsome result for an investment in a media business, which are often efforts to spark an ecosystem or at least include a lower expectation on a return.

“The FT is not involved in plans to acquire Deal Street Asia,” an FT spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Deal Street Asia declined to comment. At the time of writing, Nikkei’s press department had not responded to a request for comment that was sent yesterday at 20:31 Japanese time.

TechCrunch understands that the deal for Deal Street Asia will be similar to that of The Next Web. That’s to say that one of the primary interests is adding the company’s events business to its roster to help to break into the conference scene in Southeast Asia.

Deal Street Asia’s events are targeted at a business crowd. For example, its main summit in Singapore in September costs upwards of $1,000 and features senior executives from the likes of DBS, Grab, Sea, GGV, Allianz and IFC.

The startup uses a subscription business for its website, which is priced upwards of $89 for three months of complete access. Its paywall is a selective one that keeps some stories locked for subscribers, whilst others are left open for all readers.

Deal Street Asia’s upcoming Asia PE-VC Summit takes place in Singapore in September

This far from it for the FT in terms of deals. TechCrunch understands that the company is actively seeking acquisition and investment opportunities in media startups across the world. Beyond augmenting its existing events business, one source told TechCrunch that the FT is considering a new media subscription business which could bundle some of its acquisitions together. That’s very much an ongoing work in progress as seeks additional deals to plump up that potential subscription offering.

Aside from The Next Web and Deal Street Asia, the FT has acquired content startup AlphaGrid, intelligence service GIS Planning and research firm Longitude. The FT itself was bought by Nikkei from previous owner Pearson for $1.3 billion in 2015.

Disclaimer: The author is a former employee of The Next Web

Our 9 favorite startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 2

Heathcare kiosks, a home-cooked food marketplace, and a way for startups to earn interest on their funding topped our list of high-potential companies from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 2. 88 startups launched on stage at the lauded accelerator, though some of the best skipped the stage as they’d already raised tons of money.

Be sure to check out our write-ups of all 85 startups from day 1 plus our top picks, as well as the full set from day 2. But now, after asking investors and conferring with the TechCrunch team, here are our 9 favorites from day 2.

Shef 

Two months ago, California passed the first law in the country legalizing the sale of home cooked food. Shef creates a marketplace where home chefs can find nearby customers. Shef’s meals cost around $6.50 compared to $20 per meal for traditional food delivery, and the startup takes a 22 percent cut of every transaction. It’s been growing 50 percent week over week thanks to deals with large property management companies that offer the marketplace as a perk to their residents. Shef wants to be the Airbnb of home cooked food.

Why we picked Shef: Deregulation creates gold rush opportunities and Shef was quick to seize this one, getting started just days after the law passed. Food delivery is a massive megatrend but high costs make it unaffordable or a luxury for many. If a parent is already cooking meals for their whole family, it takes minimal effort to produce a few extra portions to sell to the neighbors at accessible rates.

Handle

This startup automates the collection process of unpaid construction invoices. Construction companies are often forced to pay for their own jobs when customers are late on payments. According to Handle, there are $104 billion in unpaid construction invoices every year. Handle launched six weeks ago and is currently collecting $22,800 in monthly revenue. The founders previously launched an Andreessen Horowitz-backed company called Tenfold.

Why we picked Handle: Construction might seem like an unsexy vertical, but it’s massive and rife with inefficiencies this startup tackles. Handle helps contractors demand payments, instantly file liens that ensure they’re compensated for work or materials, or exchange unpaid invoices for cash. Even modest fees could add up quickly given how much money moves through the industry. And there are surely secondary business models to explore using all the data Handle collects on the construction market.

Blueberry Medical

This pediatric telemedicine company provides medical care instantly to families. Blueberry provides constant contact, the ability to talk to a pediatrician 24/7 and at-home testing kits for a total of $15 per month. They’ve just completed a paid consumer pilot and say they were able to resolve 84 percent of issues without in-person care. They’ve partnered with insurance providers to reduce ER visits.

Why we picked Blueberry: Questionable emergency room visits are a nightmare for parents, a huge source of unnecessary costs, and a drain on resources for needy patients. Parents already spend so much time and money trying to keep their kids safe that this is a no-brainer subscription. And the urgent and emotional pull of pediatrics is a smart wedge into telemedicine for all demographics.

rct studio

Led by a team of YC alums behind Raven, an AI startup acquired by Baidu in 2017, rct studio is a creative studio for immersive and interactive film. The platform provides a real time “text to render “engine (so the text “A man sits on a sofa” would generate 3D imagery of a man sitting on a sofa) that supports mainstream 3D engines like Unity and Unreal, as well as a creative tool for film professionals to craft immersive and open-ended entertainment experiences called Morpheus Engine.

Why we picked rct studio: Netflix’s Bandersnatch was just the start of mainstream interactive film. With strong technology, an innovative application, and proven talent, rct could become a critical tool for creating this kind of media. And even if the tech falls short of producing polished media, it could be used for storyboards and mockups.

Interprime

Provides “Apple level” treasury services to startups. Startups are raising a lot of money with no way to manage it, says Interprime. They want to help these businesses by managing these big investments by helping them earn interest on their funding while retaining liquidity. They take a .25 percent advisory fee for all the investment they oversee. So far, they have $10 million in investment capital they are servicing.

Why we picked Interprime: The explosion of early stage startup funding evidenced by Y Combinator itself has created new banking opportunities. Silicon Valley Bank is ripe for competition and Interprime’s focus on startups could unlock new financial services. With Interprime’s YC affiliation, it has access to tons of potential customers.

 

Nabis

Nabis is tackling the cannabis shipping and logistics business, working with suppliers to ship out goods to retailers reliably. It’s illegal for FedEx to ship weed so Nabis has swooped in and is helping ship and connect while taking cuts of the proceeds, a price the suppliers are willing to pay due to their 98 percent on-time shipping record.

Why we picked Nabis: Quirky regulation creates efficiency gaps in the marijuana business where incumbents can’t participate since they’re not allowed to handle the flower. As more states legalize and cannabis finds its way into more products, moving goods from farm to processor to retailer could spawn a big market for Nabis with a legal moat. It’s already working with many top marijuana brands, and could sell them additional services around business intelligence and distribution.

WeatherCheck

This startup measures weather damage for insurance companies. WeatherCheck has secured $4.7 million in annual bookings in the five months since it launched to help insurance carriers reduce their overall claims expense. To use the service, insurers upload data about their properties. WeatherCheck then monitors the weather and sends notifications to insurance companies, if, for example, a property has been damaged by hail.

Why we picked WeatherCheck: Extreme weather is only getting worse due to climate change. With 10.7 million US properties impacted by hail damage in 2017, WeatherCheck has found a smart initial market from which to expand. It’s easy to imagine the startup working on flood, earthquake, tornado, and wildfire claims too. Insurance is a fierce market, and old-school providers could get a leg up with WeatherCheck’s tech.

 

Upsolve

Upsolve wants to help low-income individuals file for bankruptcy more easily. The non-profit service gets referral fees from pointing non low-income families to bankruptcy lawyers and is able to offer the service for free. The company says that medical bills, layoffs and predatory loans can leave low-income families in dire situations and that in the last 6 months, their non-profit has alleviated customers from $24 million in debt.

Why we picked Upsolve: Financial hardship is rampant. With the potential for another recession and automation threatening jobs, many families could be at risk for bankruptcy. But the process is so stigmatized that some people avoid it at all costs. Upsolve could democratize access to this financial strategy while inserting itself into a lucrative transaction type.

Pulse Active Stations Network

This startup makes health kiosks for India, meant to be installed in train stations. Co-founder Joginder Tanikella says that there are 600,000 preventable deaths in India as many in the region don’t get regular doctor checkups. “But everyone takes trains,” he says. Their in-station kiosk measures 21 health parameters. The company made $28,000 in revenue last month. Charging $1 per test, Tanikella says each machine pays for itself within 3 months. In the future, the kiosks will allow them to sell insurance and refer users to doctors.

Why we picked Pulse: Telemedicine can’t do everything, but plenty of people around the world can’t make it in to a full-fledged doctor’s office. Pulse creates a mid-point where hardware sensors can measure body fat, blood pressure, pulse, and bone strength to improve accuracy for diagnosing diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiac problems, and more. Pulse’s companion app could spark additional revenue streams, and there’s clearly a much bigger market for this than just India.

Honorable Mentions

-Allo, a marketplace where parents can exchange babysitting and errand-running

-Shiok, a lab-grown shrimp substitute

-WithFriends, a subscription platform for small retail businesses

More Y Combinator coverage from TechCrunch:

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Lucas Matney, and Greg Kumparak

500 Startups Japan becomes Coral Capital with a new $45M fund

The 500 Startups Japan crew is going independent. The VC firm announced a $30 million fund in 2015, and now the follow up is a new $45 million fund called Coral Capital.

Helmed by James Riney and Yohei Sawayama, just like 500 Startups Japan, Coral will essentially continue the work the U.S. firm made in Japan, where it made more than 40 investments including Kakehashi, satellite startup Infostellar, SmartHR and Pocket Concierge, which was acquired by American Express.

“Coral provides a foundational role within the marine ecosystem, it’s symbolic about how we want to be in the Japanese startup ecosystem,” Riney told TechCrunch in an interview.

LPs in the fund include 500 Startups backers Mizuho Bank, Mitsubishi Estate, and Taizo Son — the brother of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son and founder of Mistletoe — and Shinsei Bank as well as other undisclosed institutional investors, who Riney said account for nearly half of the LPs. Riney said the fund was closed within two and a half months of fundraising and Coral had to turn some prospective investors away due to the overall interest shown.

Riney said that the scandals around 500 Startups — founding partner Dave McClure resigned in 2017 after admitting he’d been a “creep” around women — “wasn’t really a strong consideration” for starting Coral.

“It’s something we’d been wanting to do for a while,” he explained.

Coral Capital founding partners James Riney and Yohei Sawayama previously led 500 Startups Japan

Riney explained that Coral won’t mix in with 500 Startups Japan investments, and the team will continue to manage that portfolio whilst also running the fund.

Thesis-wise, the plan is to continue on from 500 Startups Japan, that means going after early stage deals across the board. Riney said that over the last four years, he’s seen more founders leave stable jobs and start companies which bodes well for Japan’s startup ecosystem.

“Now you’re seeing people more into their careers who see entrepreneurism as a way to fundamentally change their industry,” he said in an interview. “That bucks the trend of risk aversion in Japan which is commonly the perception.”

He sees the arrival of Coral as an opportunity to continue to push startup culture in Japan, a country well known for massive corporations and company jobs with an absence of early stage capital options for founders.

“There’s a lot of work we can do and the impact we can make in Japan is much higher than in somewhere like Silicon Valley,” Riney said.

“Pretty much every corporate has a startup program, but few of them are strong leads within seed or early stage deals, they tend to feel more comfortable in later stage investments. There have been investors investing on behalf of corporations who got the courage to spin out and go alone… but it is still much much fewer than other countries,” he added.

Startups Weekly: Even Gwyneth Paltrow had a hard time raising VC

I spent the week in Malibu attending Upfront Ventures’ annual Upfront Summit, which brings together the likes of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC’s elite for a two-day networking session of sorts. Cameron Diaz was there for some reason, and Natalie Portman made an appearance. Stacey Abrams had a powerful Q&A session with Lisa Borders, the president and CEO of Time’s Up. Of course, Gwyneth Paltrow was there to talk up Goop, her venture-funded commerce and content engine.

“I had no idea what I was getting into but I am so fulfilled and on fire from this job,” Paltrow said onstage at the summit… “It’s a very different life than I used to have but I feel very lucky that I made this leap.” Speaking with Frederic Court, the founder of Felix Capital, Paltrow shed light on her fundraising process.

“When I set out to raise my Series A, it was very difficult,” she said. “It’s great to be Gwyneth Paltrow when you’re raising money because people take the meeting, but then you get a lot more rejections than you would if they didn’t want to take a selfie … People, understandably, were dubious about [this business]. It becomes easier when you have a thriving business and your unit economics looks good.”

In other news…

The actor stopped by the summit to promote his startup, HitRecord . I talked to him about his $6.4 million round and grand plans for the artist-collaboration platform.

Backed by GV, Sequoia, Floodgate and more, Clover Health confirmed to TechCrunch this week that it’s brought in another round of capital led by Greenoaks. The $500 million round is a vote of confidence for the business, which has experienced its fair share of well-publicized hiccups. More on that here. Plus, Clutter, the startup that provides on-demand moving and storage services, is raising at least $200 million from SoftBank, sources tell TechCrunch. The round is a big deal for the LA tech ecosystem, which, aside from Snap and Bird, has birthed few venture-backed unicorns.

Pinterest, the nine-year-old visual search engine, has hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for an IPO that’s planned for later this year. With $700 million in 2018 revenue, the company has raised some $1.5 billion at a $12 billion valuation from Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Valiant Capital Partners, Wellington Management, Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners and more.

Kleiner Perkins went “back to the future” this week with the announcement of a $600 million fund. The firm’s 18th fund, it will invest at the seed, Series A and Series B stages. TCV, a backer of Peloton and Airbnb, closed a whopping $3 billion vehicle to invest in consumer internet, IT infrastructure and services startups. Partech has doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice. And Sapphire Ventures has set aside $115 million for sports and entertainment bets.

The co-founder of Y Combinator will throw a sort of annual weekend getaway for nerds in picturesque Boulder, Colo. Called the YC 120, it will bring toget her 120 people for a couple of days in April to create connections. Read TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos’ interview with Altman here.

Consumer wellness business Hims has raised $100 million in an ongoing round at a $1 billion pre-money valuation. A growth-stage investor has led the round, with participation from existing investors (which include Forerunner Ventures, Founders Fund, Redpoint Ventures, SV Angel, 8VC and Maverick Capital) . Our sources declined to name the lead investor but said it was a “super big fund” that isn’t SoftBank and that hasn’t previously invested in Hims.

Five years after Andreessen Horowitz backed Oculus, it’s leading a $68 million Series A funding in Sandbox VR. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney talked to a16z’s Andrew Chen and Floodgate’s Mike Maples about what sets Sandbox apart.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

In a new class-action lawsuit, a former Munchery facilities worker is claiming the startup owes him and 250 other employees 60 days’ wages. On top of that, another former employee says the CEO, James Beriker, was largely absent and is to blame for Munchery’s downfall. If you haven’t been keeping up on Munchery’s abrupt shutdown, here’s some good background.

Consolidation in the micromobility space has arrived — in Brazil, at least. Not long after Y Combinator-backed Grin merged its electric scooter business with Brazil-based Ride, it’s completing another merger, this time with Yellow, the bike-share startup based in Brazil that has also expressed its ambitions to get into electric scooters.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos and Jeff Clavier of Uncork Capital chat about $100 million rounds, Stripe’s mega valuation and Pinterest’s highly anticipated IPO.

Sequoia goes after early-stage with an accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia

Sequoia India is going deep into early-stage investing after it announced an accelerator program, Surge, which is focused on fledging startups in India and Southeast Asia, the two regions that it covers.

It’s been nearly six months since Sequoia India closed its newest $695 million fund — its fifth since its establishment 12 years ago — and with over 200 deals under its belt, it is going earlier than ever before. The Surge program is designed to work with a mix of companies; that could include founders with just an idea, to those at pre-launch or pre-seed, businesses with an existing product-market fit or even startups intending to pivot, Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh told TechCrunch.

“It’s a bold attempt to try to create a better program for seed to Series A,” Singh said in an interview. “We think founders are underserved. There is quality early-stage talent but we are trying to find a way to serve them better.”

Singh explained that the program is a result of extensive research. He said Sequoia India talked to startups, founders and investors, and that a series of Twitter polls he conducted last year show founders in India and Southeast Asia are too frequently under-capitalized, over-diluted and forced to spend too much time on the fundraising trail.

“We decided there is a better way,” Singh said.

So what is the Sequoia India solution?

Surge is aiming to recruit 10-20 companies per batch, with two cohorts running each year for four months each. Perhaps the most notable feature is that selected companies will receive a $1.5 million investment from Sequoia, with the option to raise more from the firm and other co-investors in a final “UpSurge” demo week that concludes the program. Participants will, however, need to pay a “program fee” although that is being waived for the first cohort.

On its website, the firm describes Surge as being designed to give founders an “unfair advantage, right out of the gate.”

That first program is scheduled to run in March and applications are open now, although Sequoia has already picked a small selection for the first program. While the focus is local startups, China-based startups looking at India and Southeast Asia and U.S. startups seeking an Asia will also be considered, the firm said.

Singh said equity will be negotiated on a company-by-company basis, but he anticipates that valuations will be will be in the range of “high single-digit to high-teens” pre-money. There’s no obligation for a Sequoia follow-on, and Singh stressed that a “curated” selection of investors will be invested to invest in the post-program round and even alongside the initial $1.5 million check.

Shailendra Singh, Sequoia India managing director

The program is quite unusual in being globally distributed. That’s to say that it is split into five ‘modules,’ each of which is hosted in a different city which taps into Sequoia’s global presence. That’ll include Singapore, China, India and Silicon Valley. Singh said each module will require founder presence for a week, when they will work together with Sequoia — including the firm’s AMP program — Surge mentors and others, before taking the learnings back to their company for the remainder of the month. The only exception is the final month, which will include an additional week for the demo segment.

Sequoia India has tapped its portfolio companies and other Sequoia investees to pull an initial list of mentors that include Nadiem Makarim (Go-Jek), Rajan Ananadan (Google), Byju Raveendran (Byju’s), Neeraj Arora (WhatsApp) and Kunal Shah (Freecharge and now Cred). Singh said more will be added after the public launch.

He added that Sequoia India is hiring dedicated Surge staff to work exclusively on the program. For now, the budget for the program will come from the India fund but, in the long term, Singh said a dedicated Surge fund could be created. That could be necessary given the potential costs from the program.

The focus is fairly vertical agnostic, Sequoia said, with a focus on the teams behind companies.

“The single biggest focus is on being founder-centric,” Singh told TechCrunch. “We want to assemble a group of founders who are quite special. We expect founders to learn a lot from each other.”

When I put it to Singh that Sequoia’s move into early stage puts it into competition with the very up-stream, seed investors that it works with to get Series A deal flow, he argued that Sequoia is already very present in that segment.

Pointing to a recent LinkedIn post — which reads like a precursor to today’s announcement — Singh said one-quarter of its deals have been with startups valued at $5 million or lower, with 64 percent at $10 million or lower.

“We’ve made seed investments and collaborated with other firms in the past. We’ve already spoken to a few friendly firms and they are excited to be involved,” Singh said.

Sequoia is well known for later-stage deals, but Sequoia’s Singh shared data showing that it is well invested in early-stage deals, too

That may well be true for some firms, but I can’t help but feel that others may be intimated at a deep-pocketed investor playing in their backyard. In such a case, there’s little more than you can do other than play along. That said, Singh seems genuinely keen to build links between Surge and other VCs at all levels.

“It’s not about us or them but what’s good for founders,” he explained, adding that Sequoia will “actively” work with firms to involve them in the program.

It’s definitely a fascinating move, and it is certainly one of Sequoia’s boldest strategies worldwide. It is too early to say if it will be replicated by Sequoia other global funds, but they will certainly be watching, as Singh himself admitted.

You can find more information about Surge here.

Startups Weekly: Will Trump ruin the unicorn IPOs of our dreams?

The government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, upping concerns of potentially long-lasting impacts on the U.S. stock market. Private market investors around the country applauded when Uber finally filed documents with the SEC to go public. Others were giddy to hear Lyft, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack (via a direct listing, according to the latest reports) were likely to IPO in 2019, too.

Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP.  This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.

1. Postmates gets pre-IPO cash

The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.

2. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.

3. Deal of the week

N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.

4. On the market

Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.


Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets


5. A unicorn’s deal downsizes

WeWork, a co-working giant backed with billions, had planned on securing a $16 billion investment from existing backer SoftBank . Well, that’s not exactly what happened. And, oh yeah, they rebranded.

6. A startup collapses

After 20 long years, augmented reality glasses pioneer ODG has been left with just a skeleton crew after acquisition deals from Facebook and Magic Leap fell through. Here’s a story of a startup with $58 million in venture capital backing that failed to deliver on its promises.

7. Data point

Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital.

8. Meanwhile, in startup land…

This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.

9. Finally, Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

The startup, which makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, has revealed a total of $3 million, including a $2.15 million seed round led by First Round Capital .

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Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate and, with its added markup, you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages,” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $500 each, with 70 percent repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live-action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckel describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself,” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $1.2 billion valuation and had raised $273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.

One-year-old Ribbon raises $225M to remove the biggest stress of home buying

Big problems require big war chests. Ribbon wants the biggest chest of them all.

The startup, which was founded just about a year ago by ex-LendingClub head of strategic development Shaival Shah and ex-Twitter/TellApart engineer Jian Wei Gan (who, full disclosure, is married to TechCrunch columnist Joyce Yang), wants to replace the incredible stress of securing a mortgage during the home buying process with a Ribbon Offer: If a buyer can’t secure a mortgage in time for close, Ribbon will pay for the house itself and give the buyer extra time to get financing.

It’s a simple premise, but potentially revolutionary in its effect on home buying in the United States, and Ribbon’s investors have taken notice. After raising a small seed earlier this year, the company announced today that it has raised $225 million in a combination of debt and Series A equity financing. (The company refused to go on the record about the breakdown of debt and equity.) The equity portion was led by its existing seed investors Bain Capital Ventures, Greylock, NFX and NYCA.

Understanding Ribbon requires understanding the immense difficulties of consumer home buying. Home ownership remains a dream for most Americans, but actually purchasing a home in the United States remains incredibly challenging. From finding a home to negotiating with a seller and handling hundreds of pages of paperwork — all of it together can create one of the most stressful periods of anyone’s life.

And it is getting even more intense. For consumers buying homes, their competitors are often not their fellow humans, but rather large investment firms that come with all-cash offers and guarantees to close. As The Wall Street Journal noted last year in a deep dive on the practice, “All told, big investors have spent some $40 billion buying about 200,000 houses, renovating them and building rental-management businesses, estimates real-estate research firm Green Street Advisors LLC.”

That has made mortgage financing — necessary for most buyers — an increasingly common no-go for home sellers. To solve for this, Ribbon wants to give every consumer the leverage of an all-cash offer while eliminating the mortgage contingency in home buying.

Ribbon’s app allows home buyers to find houses and determine Ribbon Offer prices (Photo from Ribbon)

When purchasing a home, buyers who need mortgage financing will include a clause in the home purchase contract stating that if they are unable to get a mortgage in time for closing, they are able to walk away from a deal, generally without financial penalty. This is known as a mortgage contingency.

That clause puts sellers in a bind: move forward with such a buyer, and their creditworthiness will determine whether a transaction is completed. Yet, sellers don’t really know their buyers, and they have very little visibility into a buyer’s ability to get a mortgage. Pre-approved mortgages help here, when they are available, but are a poor substitute for cash.

Ribbon takes on home buyers as clients and assesses their likelihood of securing a mortgage using data science. If convinced that a buyer will get a mortgage, it then offers a Ribbon guarantee to the seller that if financing falls through, it will offer the cash needed to close the transaction.

“We guarantee a close and we guarantee a move in,” explained Shah, who is CEO. He emphasized that “we are not just providing a cash offer, but a guarantee to close … which creates certainty in the real estate process.”

One of Ribbon’s early purchases was this home (Photo from Ribbon)

Ribbon is free for buyers, and the company charges a 1.95 percent fee at closing from sellers. It is not uncommon for home sellers to discount their home price for all-cash offers due to the greater certainty of close, and Ribbon believes the same pattern will hold true for its Ribbon Offer. “Our view is that if discounts are going to exist because of the cash guarantee … let that discount flow through to the consumer ecosystem,” Shah explained.

If a mortgage falls through at the last minute, Ribbon will buy the home and wait for the buyer to secure a different mortgage. That process can sometimes be just a few days, which means that Ribbon doesn’t need to hold substantial housing inventory or take on macroeconomic risk, and can turn over its debt quite rapidly.

The company launched in Charlotte, North Carolina and has been in the market for about six months. Shah said that the company “tripled” transaction volume from Q2 to Q3, although demurred on deeper details of the company’s revenues. Charlotte was chosen both because home prices are cheaper than in major global cities like New York City and San Francisco, and because the percentage of cash offers locally has hovered slightly above one-third in recent years, according to company data, due to a surge in corporate buying.

Ribbon wants to be “Switzerland” according to Shah, which means working with existing realtors and existing mortgage lenders in a neutral and non-competitive way. He doesn’t see a world in which the company would offer its own mortgage products (at least, not yet), and instead wants to focus on perfecting the data models that underwrite its guarantee.

Home buying startups have been heavily financed by venture capitalists, including Opendoor, which has raised $1 billion, and others like Perch and Knock. Shah says that his competitors primarily focus on sellers rather than buyers, and Ribbon wants to do the opposite.

The company intends to expand to 10 new markets in the coming year, and has already grown organically through realtor referrals to expand to Asheville and Cary, North Carolina.

Siilo injects $5.1M to try to transplant WhatsApp use in hospitals

Consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp are not only insanely popular for chatting with friends but have pushed deep into the workplace too, thanks to the speed and convenience they offer. They have even crept into hospitals, as time-strapped doctors reach for a quick and easy way to collaborate over patient cases on the ward.

Yet WhatsApp is not specifically designed with the safe sharing of highly sensitive medical information in mind. This is where Dutch startup Siilo has been carving a niche for itself for the past 2.5 years — via a free-at-the-point-of-use encrypted messaging app that’s intended for medical professions to securely collaborate on patient care, such as via in-app discussion groups and being able to securely store and share patient notes.

A business goal that could be buoyed by tighter EU regulations around handling personal data, say if hospital managers decide they need to address compliance risks around staff use of consumer messaging apps.

The app’s WhatsApp-style messaging interface will be instantly familiar to any smartphone user. But Siilo bakes in additional features for its target healthcare professional users, such as keeping photos, videos and files sent via the app siloed in an encrypted vault that’s entirely separate from any personal media also stored on the device.

Messages sent via Siilo are also automatically deleted after 30 days unless the user specifies a particular message should be retained. And the app does not make automated back-ups of users’ conversations.

Other doctor-friendly features include the ability to blur images (for patient privacy purposes); augment images with arrows for emphasis; and export threaded conversations to electronic health records.

There’s also mandatory security for accessing the app — with a requirement for either a PIN-code, fingerprint or facial recognition biometric to be used. While a remote wipe functionality to nix any locally stored data is baked into Siilo in the event of a device being lost or stolen.

Like WhatsApp, Siilo also uses end-to-end encryption — though in its case it says this is based on the opensource NaCl library

It also specifies that user messaging data is stored encrypted on European ISO-27001 certified servers — and deleted “as soon as we can”.

It also says it’s “possible” for its encryption code to be open to review on request.

Another addition is a user vetting layer to manually verify the medical professional users of its app are who they say they are.

Siilo says every user gets vetted. Though not prior to being able to use the messaging functions. But users that have passed verification unlock greater functionality — such as being able to search among other (verified) users to find peers or specialists to expand their professional network. Siilo says verification status is displayed on profiles.

“At Siilo, we coin this phenomenon ‘network medicine’, which is in contrast to the current old-­fashioned, siloed medicine,” says CEO and co-founder Joost Bruggeman in a statement. “The goal is to improve patient care overall, and patients have a network of doctors providing input into their treatment.”

While Bruggeman brings the all-important medical background to the startup, another co-founder, Onno Bakker, has been in the mobile messaging game for a long time — having been one of the entrepreneurs behind the veteran web and mobile messaging platform, eBuddy.

A third co-founder, CFO Arvind Rao, tells us Siilo transplanted eBuddy’s messaging dev team — couching this ported in-house expertise as an advantage over some of the smaller rivals also chasing the healthcare messaging opportunity.

It is also of course having to compete technically with the very well-resourced and smoothly operating WhatsApp behemoth.

“Our main competitor is always WhatsApp,” Rao tells TechCrunch. “Obviously there are also other players trying to move in this space. TigerText is the largest in the US. In the UK we come across local players like Hospify and Forward.

“A major difference we have very experienced in-house dev team… The experience of this team has helped to build a messenger that really can compete in usability with WhatsApp that is reflected in our rapid adoption and usage numbers.”

“Having worked in the trenches as a surgery resident, I’ve experienced the challenges that healthcare professionals face firsthand,” adds Bruggeman. “With Siilo, we’re connecting all healthcare professionals to make them more efficient, enable them to share patient information securely and continue learning and share their knowledge. The directory of vetted healthcare professionals helps ensure they’re successful team­players within a wider healthcare network that takes care of the same patient.”

Siilo launched its app in May 2016 and has since grown to ~100,000 users, with more than 7.5 million messages currently being processed monthly and 6,000+ clinical chat groups active monthly.

“We haven’t come across any other secure messenger for healthcare in Europe with these figures in the App Store/Google Play rankings and therefore believe we are the largest in Europe,” adds Rao. “We have multiple large institutions across Western-Europe where doctors are using Siilo.”

On the security front, as well flagging the ISO 27001 certification the company has gained, he notes that it obtained “the highest NHS IG Toolkit level 3” — aka the now replaced system for organizations to self-assess their compliance with the UK’s National Health Service’s information governance processes, claiming “we haven’t seen [that] with any other messaging company”.

Siilo’s toolkit assessment was finalized at the end of Febuary 2018, and is valid for a year — so will be up for re-assessment under the replacement system (which was introduced this April) in Q1 2019. (Rao confirms they will be doing this “new (re-)assessment” at the end of the year.)

As well as being in active use in European hospitals such as St. George’s Hospital, London, and Charité Berlin, Germany, Siilo says its app has had some organic adoption by medical pros further afield — including among smaller home healthcare teams in California, and “entire transplantation teams” from Astana, Kazakhstan.

It also cites British Medical Journal research that found that of the 98.9% of U.K. hospital clinicians who now have smartphones, around a third are using consumer messaging apps in the clinical workplace. Persuading those healthcare workers to ditch WhatsApp at work is Siilo’s mission and challenge.

The team has just announced a €4.5 million (~$5.1M) seed to help it get onto the radar of more doctors. The round is led by EQT Ventures, with participation from existing investors. It says it will be using the funding to scale­ up its user base across Europe, with a particular focus on the UK and Germany.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, EQT Ventures’ Ashley Lundström, a venture lead and investment advisor at the VC firm, said: “The team was impressed with Siilo’s vision of creating a secure global network of healthcare professionals and the organic traction it has already achieved thanks to the team’s focus on building a product that’s easy to use. The healthcare industry has long been stuck using jurassic technologies and Siilo’s real­time messaging app can significantly improve efficiency
and patient care without putting patients’ data at risk.”

While the messaging app itself is free for healthcare professions to use, Siilo also offers a subscription service to monetize the freemium product.

This service, called Siilo Connect offers organisations and professional associations what it bills as “extensive management, administration, networking and software integration tools”, or just data regulation compliance services if they want the basic flavor of the paid tier.