Huawei 5G indecision is hitting UK’s relations abroad, warns committee

The UK’s next prime minister must prioritize a decision on whether or not to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to be a 5G supplier, a parliamentary committee has urged — warning that the country’s international relations are being “seriously damaged” by ongoing delay.

In a statement on 5G suppliers, the Intelligence and Security committee (ISC) writes that the government must take a decision “as a matter of urgency”.

Earlier this week another parliamentary committee, which focuses on science and technology, concluded there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei as a 5G supplier, despite security concerns attached to the company’s ties to the Chinese state, though it did recommend it be excluded from core 5G supply.

The delay in the UK settling on a 5G supplier policy can be linked not only to the complexities of trying to weight and balance security considers with geopolitical pressures but also ongoing turmoil in domestic politics, following the 2016 EU referendum Brexit vote — which continues to suck most of the political oxygen out of Westminster. (And will very soon have despatched two UK prime ministers in three years.)

Outgoing PM Theresa May, whose successor is due to be selected by a vote by Conservative Party members next week, appeared to be leaning towards giving Huawei an amber light earlier this year.

A leak to the press from a National Security Council meeting back in April suggested Huawei would be allowed to provide kit but only for non-core parts of 5G networks — raising questions about how core and non-core are delineated in the next-gen networks.

The leak led to the sacking by May of the then defense minister, Gavin Williamson, after an investigation into confidential information being passed to the media in which she said she had lost confidence in him.

The publication of a government Telecoms Supply Chain Review, whose terms of reference were published last fall, has also been delayed — leading to carriers to press the government for greater clarity last month.

But with May herself now on the way out, having agreed to step down as PM back in May, the decision on 5G supply is on hold.

It will be down to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining contenders to take over as PM, to choose whether or not to let the Chinese tech giant supply UK 5G networks.

Whichever of the men wins the vote they will arrive in the top job needing to give their full attention to finding a way out of the Brexit morass — with a mere three months til a October 31 Brexit extension deadline looming. So there’s a risk 5G may not seem as urgent an issue and a decision again be kicked back.

In its statement on 5G supply, the ISC backs the view expressed by the public-facing branch of the UK’s intelligence service that network security is not dependent on any one supplier being excluded from building it — writing that: “The National Cyber Security Centre… has been clear that the security of the UK’s telecommunications network is not about one company or one country: the ‘flag of origin’ for telecommunications equipment is not the critical element in determining cyber security.”

The committee argues that “some parts of the network will require greater protection” — writing that “critical functions cannot be put at risk” but also that there are “less sensitive functions where more risk can be carried”, albeit without specifying what those latter functions might be.

“It is this distinction — between the sensitivity of the functions — that must determine security, rather than where in the network those functions are located: notions of ‘core’ and ‘edge’ ate therefore misleading in this context,” it adds. “We should therefore be thinking of different levels of security, rather than a one size fits all approach, within a network that has been built to be resilient to attack, such that no single action could disable the system.”

The committee’s statement also backs the view that the best way to achieve network resilience is to support diversity in the supply chain — i.e. by supporting more competition.

But at the same time it emphasizes that the 5G supply decision “cannot be viewed solely through a technical lens — because it is not simply a decision about telecommunications equipment”.

“This is a geostrategic decision, the ramifications of which may be felt for decades to come,” it warns, raising concerns about the perceptions of UK intelligence sharing partners by emphasizing the need for those allies to trust the decisions the government makes.

It also couches a UK decision to give Huawei access a risk by suggesting it could be viewed externally as an endorsement of the company, thereby encouraging other countries to follow suit — without paying the full (and it asserts vitally) necessary attention to the security piece.

“The UK is a world leader in cyber security: therefore if we allow Huawei into our 5G network we must be careful that that is not seen as an endorsement for others to follow. Such a decision can only happen where the network itself will be constructed securely and with stringent regulation,” it writes.

The committee’s statement goes on to raise as a matter of concern the UK’s general reliance on China as a technology supplier.

“One of the lessons the UK Government must learn from the current debate over 5G is that with the technology sector now monopolised by such a few key players, we are over-reliant on Chinese technology — and we are not alone in this, this is a global issue. We need to consider how we can create greater diversity in the market. This will require us to take a long term view — but we need to start now,” it warns.

It ends by reiterating that the debate about 5G supply has been “unnecessarily protracted” — pressing the next UK prime minister to get on and take a decision “so that all concerned can move forward”.

Tiny UK startup takes on Google’s Wing in the race to a drone traffic control system

A future where drones can easily and cheaply do many useful things such as deliver packages, undertake search and rescue missions, deliver urgent medical supplies, not to mention unclogging our roads with flying taxis seems like a future worth shooting for. But before all this can happen, we need to make sure the thousands of drones in the sky are operating safely. A drone needs to be able to automatically detect when entering into the flight path of another drone, manned aircraft or restricted area and to alter its course accordingly to safely continue its journey. The alternative is the chaos and danger of the recent incidences of drones buzzing major airports, for instance.

There is a race on to produce just such a system. Wing LLC, an offshoot of the Alphabet / Google-owned X company, has announced a platform it calls OpenSky that it hopes will become the basis for a full-fledged air-traffic control system for drones. So far, it’s only been approved to manage drone flights in Australia, although it is also working on demonstration programs with the US Federal Aviation Administration.

But this week Altitude Angel a UK-based startup backed by Seraphim Capital and with $4.9M in funding has launched it’s own UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) system.

Its ‘Conflict Resolution System’ (anti-collision) system is basically an automatic collision avoidance technology. This means that any drone flying beyond the line of sight, will remain safe in the sky and not cross existing flight plans or into restricted areas. By being automated, Altitude Angel says this technology will prevent any mid-air collisions, simply because by knowing where everything else is in the sky, there’ll be no surprises.

Altitude Angel’s CRS has both ‘Strategic’ and ‘Tactical’ aspects.

The Strategic part happens during the planning stages of a flight, i.e. when someone is submitting flight plans and requesting airspace permission. The system analyses the proposed route and cross-references it with any other flight plans that have been submitted, along with any restricted areas on the ground, to then propose a reroute to eliminate any flight plan conflicts. Eventually, what happens is that a drone operator does this from an app on their phone, and the approval to flight is automated.

The next stage is Tactical. This happens while the drone is actually in-flight. The dynamic system continuously monitors the airspace around the aircraft both for other aircraft or for changes in the airspace (such as a temporary flight restriction around police incident) and automatically adjusts the route.

The key aspect of this CRS is that drones and drone pilots can store flight plans with a globally-distributed service without needing to exchange private or potentially sensitive data with each other while benefiting from an immediate pre-flight conflict resolution advice.

Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder says: “The ability for drones and automated aircraft to strategically plan flights, be made aware of potential conflict, and alter their route accordingly is critical in ensuring safety in our skies. This first step is all about pre-flight coordination, between drone pilots, fleet operators and other UTM companies. Being able to predict and resolve conflict mid-flight by providing appropriate and timely guidance will revolutionize automated flight. CRS is one of the critical building blocks on which the drone and automated flight industries will grow.”

Altitude Angel wone be the last to unveil a CRS of this type, but it’s instructive that there are startups confident of taking on the mighty Google and Amazon – which also has similar drone delivery plans – to achieve this type of platform.

How Carl Pope helped drive a $500 million pledge to push the U.S. “Beyond Carbon” (Part 2)

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg recently pledged to rapidly spend $500 million in a bid to push the U.S. “Beyond Carbon,” aiming to end this country’s use of coal and natural gas power in a generation or less.

In another recent piece, I featured an in-depth interview with Carl Pope, the veteran environmental leader who has essentially been the inspirational force behind Bloomberg’s evolution. The former New York City Mayor had never given a major gift to environmental causes as of a decade or so ago, until Pope “convinced” him to get involved.

Carl Mike Option 1

My previous piece was an attempt to understand the ethical vision influencing Bloomberg’s work, by looking at Pope’s personal story and the history of the environmental movement he has helped to shape. Below, Pope joins me again to look at the details of Bloomberg’s “Beyond Carbon” plan, including how he was able to persuade Bloomberg to take it on, and some areas of controversy that could arise as the $500 million is distributed.

Greg Epstein: You and Michael Bloomberg met around a decade ago or so, right?

Carl Pope: About 12 years ago, actually. 2007.

Epstein: Bloomberg had never given a major gift to an environmental group before he met you, and, as he writes in the book, you “convinced him” to get massively involved, to the tune now of many hundreds of millions of dollars. What do you think it is about you, the way that you approach things, or the work you do that made the two of you, in this relatively unlikely partnership, work so well?

Pope: We both like big ideas, and we both like to pursue them very pragmatically. We set very high expectations for what we want to get, and we’re willing to take necessarily small steps to get there. That’s one thing.

The second thing is, my original environmental frame was air pollution, [which] I worked on the first seven or eight years I was an environmentalist. Mike is a big public health advocate. So the fact that I was talking about saving people’s lives made a lot of sense to him.

Epstein: He talked about how you ‘showed him the numbers,’ back in 2011, on just how deadly coal actually is.

Pope: Yeah, that was the deal sealer.

Epstein: Interpersonally, what the interactions between you and him like?

Pope: We’re both public figures who are actually somewhat introspective, and so it works.

Epstein: I’ve read the “Beyond Carbon” plans as they’re presented by the Bloomberg organization. They do seem quite promising as far as broad, sweeping PR statements go.

But whether or not they will work is all in the details, right? You’re a detail-oriented person, as you just mentioned, so, what are some of the practical steps the plan calls for that you think deserve the most attention, beyond the headlines?

Pope: In A Climate of Hope, Mike and I articulated an approach to climate in which we gave our reasons for thinking that most climate leadership is going to come not from national governments but from businesses, cities, provinces, civic organizations, from the bottom up.

Facebook accused of contradicting itself on claims about platform policy violations

Prepare your best * unsurprised face *: Facebook is being accused of contradicting itself in separate testimonies made on both sides of the Atlantic.

The chair of a UK parliamentary committee which spent the lion’s share of last year investigating online disinformation, going on to grill multiple Facebook execs as part of an enquiry that coincided with a global spotlight being cast on Facebook as a result of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, has penned another letter to the company — this time asking which versions of claims it has made regarding policy-violating access to data by third party apps on its platform are actually true.

In the letter, which is addressed to Facebook global spin chief and former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, Damian Collins cites paragraph 43 of the Washington DC Attorney General’s complaint against the company — which asserts that the company “knew of other third party applications [i.e. in addition to the quiz app used to siphon data off to Cambridge Analytica] that similarly violated its Platform Policy through selling or improperly using consumer data”, and also failed to take “reasonable measures” to enforce its policy.

The Washington, D.C. Attorney General, Karl Racine, is suing Facebook for failing to protect user data — per allegations filed last December.

Collins’ letter notes Facebook’s denial of the allegations in paragraph 43 — before raising apparently contradictory evidence the company gave the committee last year on multiple occasions, such as the testimony of its CTO Mike Schroepfer, who confirmed it is reviewing whether Palantir improperly used Facebook data, among “lots” of other apps of concern; and testimony by Facebook’s Richard Allen to an international grand committee last November when the VP of EMEA public policy claimed the company has “taken action against a number of applications that failed to meet our policies”.

The letter also cites evidence contained in documents the DCMS committee seized from Six4Three, pertaining to a separate lawsuit against Facebook, which Collins asserts demonstrate “the lax treatment of abusive apps and their developments by Facebook”.

He also writes that these documents show Facebook had special agreements with a number of app developers — that allowed some preinstalled apps to “circumvent users’ privacy settings or platform settings, and to access friends’ information”, as well as noting that Facebook whitelisted some 5,200 apps “according to our evidence”.

“The evidence provided by representatives of Facebook to this Select committee and the International Grand Committee as well as the Six4Three files directly contradict with Facebook’s answer to Paragraph 43 of the complaint filed against Facebook by the Washington, D.C. Attorney General,” he writes.

“If the version of events presented in the answer to the lawsuit is correct, this means the evidence given to this Committee and the International Grand Committee was inaccurate.”

Collins goes on to ask Facebook to “confirm the truthfulness” of the evidence given by its reps last year, and to provide the list of applications removed from its platform in response to policy violations — which, in November, Allan promised to provide the committee with but has so far failed to do so.

We’ve also reached out to Facebook to ask which of the versions of events it’s claimed are true is the one it’s standing by at this time.

Inside Harley Davidson’s EV shift with a ride on its LiveWire

Harley-Davidson will release its first production electric motorcycle in September, the LiveWire.

Yes, the American symbol for internal combustion, chrome and steel is going all in on two-wheeled EVs.

Founded in Milwaukee in 1903, Harley Davidson opened a Silicon Valley office in 2018 with plans to add a future line-up of electric vehicles—from motorcycles to bicycles to scooters.

With these moves HD joins a list of established transportation companies that are redefining themselves in the transformation of global mobility.

TechCrunch talked to the company’s senior management on the EV pivot and got a chance to test the  LiveWire on New York’s Formula E race track. 

The battery powered Harley will do 0-60 mph in 3 seconds, 110 mph, and charge to 100 percent in 60 minutes for a $29,799 MSRP.

The motorcycle’s 15.5kWh battery and magnet motor produce 105 horsepower and 86 ft-lbs of torque for a city range of 146 miles (and 95 for combined city/highway riding).

Harley Davidson Livewire static 1

In contrast to some of Harley’s minimalist gas motorcycles, the company teched out the LiveWire. The e-moto has five processors to manage performance and app-based connectivity, according to HD’s Chief Engineer for EV Technology, Sean Stanley.

The LiveWire’s tablet type dash synchronizes with smartphones and allows for preset and customized digital riding modes. From the dash or a smartphone one can calibrate and monitor the LiveWire’s power output, charge-status, traction-control settings, and ABS braking characteristics. The EV has navigation capabilities and a Bluetooth system for music, helmet comms, and to accept incoming phone calls.

Harley Davidson is famous for its internal combustion rumble—which warranted a new signature electric sound generated from the LiveWire’s mechanical movements. “We spent a lot of time optimizing it…The sound comes from a combination of the electric motor, the transmission, and the drive line,” explained Stanley.

You can power the LiveWire on a home outlet or get your electric motor running to head out on the highway with the same fast-charging networks that power Teslas—such as Chargepoint.

HD is also adding charging stations at its LiveWire selling dealers and announced a partnership last week with Electrify America to provide new owners 500 kW for free.

Harley Davidson’s electric-shift puts the iconic American company in a position to hedge competition from e-moto startups, as it jumps out front as the EV leader among established motorcycle companies.

The major gas names have been slow to embrace production e-motos. None of the big motorcycle manufacturers—Honda, Kawasaki, BMW—offer a street-legal, electric motorcycle in the U.S. KTM introduced its Freeride E-XC off-road motorcycle in 2018 and will soon offer a junior version for the first all electric Supercross racing class.

Harley’s electric moves come after a period of revenue decline for the company and stagnation in the powered two-wheeler market.

The U.S. motorcycle industry has been in pretty bad shape since the recession. New sales dropped by roughly 50 percent since 2008—with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40—and have never recovered.

LiveWire Charging Harley DavidsonAnalysts, such as UBS’s Robin Farley, have suggested that appealing to the preferences of more tech-savvy millennials, over those of baby boomers, should be a priority for Harley Davidson.

For the last several years, e-motorcycle startups have worked to produce models that rejuvenate interest from a younger generation, while creating gas rider converts. In addition to offering more tech features to attract new riders, companies such as California based Zero have worked to close gaps on price, range, charge times and performance compared to petrol powered motorcycles. The startup began shipping its 2020 $18,995 SR/F model—a potential LiveWire competitor—with a 161 mile city range, one-hour charge capability, and a top speed of 124 mph.

E-moto startup, Fuell, will debut its $10,995 Flow with 2.7 second 0-60 speed, 150 mile range, and 30 minute charge times in Europe this year, then the U.S., according to founder Erik Buell.

Harley Davidson LiveWire TrackSo market competition aside, what’s it like to ride Harley Davidson’s LiveWire? Nearly a dozen laps around NYC’s Formula E circuit offered a solid first impression. The LiveWire is everything that’s becoming the e-motorcycle experience: lightning-like acceleration with little noise beyond the wind cracking around you.

The biggest distinction between the LiveWire—vs. gas motorcycles—is its monster torque and uninterrupted forward movement. The machine has one gear, so there’s no clutch or shifting. With only a battery, processor, and drive-train there’s much less that needs to happen mechanically to deliver power from the throttle to the rear wheel. You simply twist and go.

As Harley Davidson rolls out its adrenaline inducing LiveWire, there are several things to watch. The first is how the $29K price-point fares in the market vis-a-vis startup competitors, such as Zero—who are launching comparable, yet less expensive e-motos. HD’s Paul James (see video) gives LiveWire an edge over Zero on performance attributes and Harley’s service and dealer networks. Sales figures will soon tell if buyers agree.

Harley Davidson’s EV foray could also create the spark that pushes the gas motorcycle industry toward electric—which would make HD a case of the almost disrupted transportation company becoming the disruptor.

And even more significant than the LiveWire release is what Harley Davidson offers next. The company has committed to produce a lighter, lower priced, e-motorcycle in the near future, as well as e-scooters and e-bicycles.

At an event this spring, Harley Davidson’s VP for Product Marc McAllister stressed the need for HD to remain a premium motorcycle transportation company, while developing products for a more on-demand, urban mobility era.

Harley Davidson’s LiveWire is a leap in that direction, but the company’s next round of two-wheel EVs—and the market response—will tell us more about HD’s relevance in the transformation of how people chose to move from place to place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qualcomm hit with $271M EU fine over predatory pricing of baseband chips

A long-running European antitrust investigation into whether Qualcomm used predatory pricing when selling UMTS baseband chips about a decade ago has landed the chipmaker with a fine of €242 million (~$271M) — aka, 1.27% of its global revenue for 2018.

The EU regulator concluded Qualcomm used abusive pricing to force its main rival at the time, UK-based company Icera, out of the market — by selling certain quantities of three of its UMTS chipsets below cost to two strategically important customers: Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE.

Commenting on the decision in a statement, competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, said: Baseband chipsets are key components so mobile devices can connect to the Internet. Qualcomm sold these products at a price below cost to key customers with the intention of eliminating a competitor. Qualcomm’s strategic behaviour prevented competition and innovation in this market, and limited the choice available to consumers in a sector with a huge demand and potential for innovative technologies. Since this is illegal under EU antitrust rules, we have today fined Qualcomm €242M.

Qualcomm has come out fighting in response — dismissing what it dubs as the Commission’s “novel theory” and saying it plans to appeal.

It also says it will provide a financial guarantee in lieu of paying the fine while this appeal is pending.

The case — which was triggered by a complaint filed by Icera — dates back to 2015, and relates to Qualcomm business practices between 2009 and 2011. The baseband chipsets in question were used over the period for connecting smartphones and tablets to cellular networks, including 3G networks, and for both for voice and data transmission.

The Commission says Icera had been offering advanced data rate performance vs Qualcomm’s chipsets, thereby posing a threat to the latter’s business.

The EU regulator found Qualcomm held a dominant position in the global market for UMTS baseband chipset between 2009 and 2011 — when it had a marketshare of around 60% (almost 3x that of its biggest competitor), as well as on the high barriers to entry to the market — such as significant initial investments in R&D for designing such chipsets  and IP barriers given the volume of related patents Qualcomm holds.

European competition rules mean those holding a dominant position in a market have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful position by restricting competition.

The Commission says its conclusion that Qualcomm engaged in predatory pricing during the probe period is based on a price-cost test for the three Qualcomm chipsets concerned; and “a broad range of qualitative evidence demonstrating the anti-competitive rationale behind Qualcomm’s conduct, intended to prevent Icera from expanding and building market presence”.

“The results of the price-cost test are consistent with the contemporaneous evidence gathered by the Commission in this case,” it writes. “The targeted nature of the price concessions made by Qualcomm allowed it to maximise the negative impact on Icera’s business, while minimising the effect on Qualcomm’s own overall revenues from the sale of UMTS chipsets. There was also no evidence that Qualcomm’s conduct created any efficiencies that would justify its practice.

“On this basis, the Commission concluded that Qualcomm’s conduct had a significant detrimental impact on competition. It prevented Icera from competing in the market, stifled innovation and ultimately reduced choice for consumers.”

In May 2011 Icera was acquired for $367M by US tech company Nvidia — which the Commission notes then decided to wind down the baseband chipset business line in 2015.

In its press release responding to the decision, Qualcomm’s Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel, comes out throwing punches — claiming the Commission’s theory is without precedent and “inconsistent”.

“The Commission spent years investigating sales to two customers, each of whom said that they favored Qualcomm chips not because of price but because rival chipsets were technologically inferior.  This decision is unsupported by the law, economic principles or market facts, and we look forward to a reversal on appeal,” he writes. “The Commission’s decision is based on a novel theory of alleged below-cost pricing over a very short time period and for a very small volume of chips. There is no precedent for this theory, which is inconsistent with well-developed economic analysis of cost recovery, as well as Commission practice.

“Contrary to the Commission’s findings, Qualcomm’s alleged conduct did not cause anticompetitive harm to Icera, the company that filed the complaint. Icera was later acquired by Nvidia for hundreds of millions of dollars and continued to compete in the relevant market for several years after the end of the alleged conduct. We cooperated with Commission officials every step of the way throughout the protracted investigation, confident that the Commission would recognize that there were no facts supporting a finding of anti-competitive conduct.  On appeal we will expose the meritless nature of this decision.”

The size of the fine being issued to Qualcomm — which is dwarfed by the $1.23BN fine also handed out to the company by EU regulators a year ago (for iPhone LTE chipset related market abuse) — has been calculated on the basis of the value of its direct and indirect sales of UMTS chipsets in the European Economic Area, with the Commission also factoring in the duration of the infringement it found to have taken place.

In addition to being fined, the Commission decision orders Qualcomm not to engage in the same or equivalent practices in the future.

Watch an unfiltered interview of PicsArt founder at Disrupt Berlin

Smartphones have become a creative playground thanks to cameras and innovative apps, such as PicsArt. With PicsArt, anybody can add filters, stickers and tweak photos and videos in many different ways. It has been a massive hit with 130 million monthly active users. And that’s why I’m excited to announce that PicsArt founder and CEO Hovhannes Avoyan is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

PicsArt started with a simple app that lets you edit photos before sharing them. There are many companies in this space, including VSCO, Snapseed and Prisma. But PicsArt has managed to become a cultural phenomenon in many countries including China.

If you’re thinking about editing a photo or video in one way or another, chances are you can do it in PicsArt. In addition to traditional editing tools (cropping, rotating, curves, etc.), you can add filters, auto-beautify your face, change your hair color, add stickers and text, cut out your face and use masks just like in Photoshop… I’m not going to list everything you can do because it’s a long list.

The result is an app packed with features that lets you express yourself, create visual storytelling and improve your social media skills. If you’re an Instagram user, chances you’ve seen more than one photo that has been edited using PicsArt.

picsart

While the app is free with ads, users can also subscribe to a premium subscription to unlock additional features. And PicsArt is not just about editing as you can also use the app as its own social network.

PicsArt is based in the U.S. and has raised $45 million over the years. But the company is also betting big on Armenia with a big engineering team over there.

And it’s a natural fit as Hovhannes Avoyan is originally from Armenia. In addition to PicsArt, he has founded many successful startups in the past — Lycos, Bertelsmann, GFI, Teamviewer and Helpsystems. Many entrepreneurs would have a hard time founding just one of these companies, so I can’t wait to hear how Avoyan manages to work on so many different products and turn those products into successes.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.




Hovhannes Avoyan is a serial entrepreneur, investor and scholar. He is the founder and CEO of PicsArt, the #1 photo and video editing app and community with more than 130 million monthly active users. PicsArt is backed by Sequoia Capital, Insight Venture Partners, DCM and Siguler Guff. The company employs more than 350 people and is headquartered in San Francisco with offices across the globe in Yerevan, Armenia; Los Angeles; Beijing; and an AI Lab in Moscow.

Avoyan brings more than 25 years of experience in computer programming and global business management. Prior to PicsArt, Avoyan founded five other startups, all of which had successful acquisitions by global companies including Lycos, Bertelsmann, GFI, Teamviewer, and Helpsystems.

He is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Bertelsmann Senior Executive's program. He received his B.S. and M.S. from the State Engineering University of Armenia and his M.A. in Political Science and International Affairs from the American University of Armenia. He’s also a frequent speaker at business conferences on topics ranging from business strategy to international team building and Al.

On a growth tear, work trip SaaS TravelPerk adds $60M to its Series C

Business travel SaaS startup, TravelPerk, has announced it’s more than doubled the $44M Series C round we wrote about just nine months ago — taking in a further $60M from its existing investors, which brings the round to $104M, and the business’ total raised to date to $134M.

Investors increasing the size of their Series C commitment are Kinnevik, partners of DST Global, Target Global, Felix Capital, Sunstone, and LocalGlobe.

A mere three years ago the 2015-founded, Barcelona-based startup had bagged a $7M Series A — with a pitch to take the pain out of business travel booking.

Since then it’s been on a major growth tear. Co-founder and CEO Avi Meir says this momentum is behind the Series C expansion.

“We grew faster than expected,” he tells TechCrunch. “Unit economics are fantastic. Investors have been pushing us to inject more funding, accelerate our growth, and expand faster. We weren’t looking for more runway.

“We always knew that expanding this round was an option depending on performance, and as we exceeded even our most optimistic targets, we had the choice to stay on our same path or become even more aggressive.”

“The team has grown 250% since January and bookings on the platform have increased by 300%,” he adds. “The number of active users has grown by 150% this year compared to last. When you look at those two numbers side-by-side, it demonstrates that not only are we adding customers, but our existing ones are booking more often.”

TravelPerk now has more than 2,000 customers for its business travel booking platform — including some very familiar names n the European startup scene, such as Adyen, Farfetch, Transferwise, Sumup, GetYourGuide and Glovo.

It’s not disclosing the latest valuation of the business but Meir says it’s more than doubled in the last eight months — due to “rapid growth”.

He’s also not sharing the GMV target for the year — but says it’s 300% higher than last year.

The extra Series C funds will be ploughed into further fuelling its European expansion.

It is also trailing “major product additions in the coming weeks and months” — which TravelPerk claims will bring “a new level of disruption to the pricing structure of an industry that is still dominated by outdated solutions that make business travel expensive and painful”.

It’s certainly true that you don’t have to ask too many office workers before you find someone more than willing to hate long and loud on legacy platforms their employer forces them to use when they need to book a work trip.

“In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be releasing products that give the business traveler more freedom and flexibility than ever before,” says Meir. “Meaning business travelers are not restricted by the rigid, outdated systems of the travel industry. With these releases, we’ll not be playing catchup with the leisure travel industry, but bringing to market features designed specifically for the business traveler.”

Given the sustained growth tear that’s encouraged its investors to increase their commitments, what about an IPO? Is that now fast looming on the horizon for TravelPerk?

“It’s a very natural path for us,” says Meir. “We don’t have a hard and fast plan, we’re focused on building a really big company that will be a market leader for years to come, and we’re certainly not at all focused on selling.”

“We want to be THE choice for the modern business traveler,” he adds. “A no-brainer choice for anyone booking, managing, reporting, or analyzing their business travel.”

Discussing the startup’s plans for the next year, he says they’ll aim to bolster their position with SMEs in Europe — and “expand outwards”

“We’re planning to have 430 people hired by the end of this year, and more than 580 by end of 2020 – that’s nearly doubling in a year,” he continues. “This is the plan as it stands today, I wouldn’t be surprised if next year is an even higher trajectory. Certainly that’s the pattern when I look back at our journey so far.”

Commenting in a statement, Antoine Nussenbaum, partner at Felix Capital added: “We are excited to see Avi and his team hitting and surpassing their objectives, as a result we are doubling up our investment as part of this large Series C.

“We’re delighted to be strengthening our relationship with TravelPerk and look forward to seeing the business continue to grow. We are particularly thrilled about the new features soon to be released which will materially transform the traveller experience — building on TravelPerk’s leadership position as the new standard for business travel.”