ViSenze, a startup that provides visual search tools for online retailers like Rakuten and ASOS, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series C. The round was co-led by Gobi Ventures and Sonae IM, with participation from other backers including returning investors Rakuten and WI Harper.
Founded in 2012, ViSenze has now raised a total of $34.5 million (its last round was a Series B announced in September 2016). The Singapore-based company, whose clients also include Urban Outfitters, Zalora, and Uniqlo, bills its software portfolio as a “personal shopping concierge” that allows shoppers to find or discover new products based on visual search, automatic photo tagging, and recommendations based on their browsing history. ViSenze’s verticals include fashion, jewelry, furniture, and intellectual property.
ViSenze’s latest funding will be used to develop its software through partnerships with smartphone makers including Samsung, LG, and Huawei. The company has offices in Asia, Europe, and the United States, and claims an annual revenue growth rate of more than 200 percent. Other startups in the same space include Syte.ai, Slyce, Clarifai, and Imagga.
In a statement, Rakuten Ventures partner Adit Swarup said “When we first invested in ViSenze in 2014, retailers had just started seeing the benefits of powering product recommendations with image data. Today, ViSenze not only powers recommendations for the largest brands in the world, but has helped pioneer a paradigm shift in e-commerce; helping consumers find products inside their favorite social media videos and images, as well as initiate a search directly from their camera app.”
Other participants in the round included returning investors Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Ventures, Raffles Venture Partners, Enspire Capital, and UOB Venture Management, as well as new investors Tembusu ICT Fund, 31Ventures Global Innovation Fund, and Jonathan Coon’s Impossible Ventures.
Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-headquartered “talent investor” that recruits and backs individuals pre-team and pre-idea to enable them to found startups, has raised a new fund of its own to continue scaling globally.
The $115 million first close was led by a number of leading (mostly unnamed) institutional investors across the U.S., Europe and Asia, including new anchor LP Trusted Insight. A number of well-known European entrepreneurs also invested. They include Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Alex Chesterman (co-founder of Zoopla), and EF alumnus Rob Bishop (who co-founded Magic Pony Technology which was bought by Twitter for a reported $150m in 2016).
This new fund — which EF says is one the largest pre-seed funds ever raised – will enable the talent investor to back more than 2,200 individuals who join its various programs over the next three years. EF currently operates in Bangalore, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Singapore and Paris.
This will translate to the creation of around 300-plus venture-backed companies, three times the number of startups it has helped create in total since EF was founded by McKinsey colleagues Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck all the way back in 2011.
As part of the same announcement, EF says that General Partner Joe White has relocated to Silicon Valley where he’ll focus on growing EF’s investor network on the West Coast. Perhaps the move shouldn’t come as a total surprise — White is the husband of Wendy Tan White, who was recently recruited by Alphabet’s X (formerly Google X) in Mountain View — but either way it feels like a smart move from EF’s perspective as the talent investor, which is also backed by Reid Hoffman’s Greylock, seeks to create further ties to Silicon Valley.
Comments co-founder and CPO Bentinck: “We pioneered a new model of talent investing, and it’s encouraging to see this become a new frontier for venture capital. We believe the world is missing out on some of its best founders because of ecosystem constraints, a lack of co-founders and difficulties getting early pre-company funding. Entrepreneur First is changing that”.
EF is also sharing some data with TechCrunch, revealing for the first time numbers related to the number of EF graduating startups that have gone on to raise outside capital. For the 2015 “vintage” cohort, there were 16 seed rounds, 8 Series A, and now 2 Series Bs. For 2016, 24 seeds, and 5 A rounds so far. For 2017, 41 seeds, and 2 A rounds. And for 2018, 57 seeds, and 1 Series A already.
A slide thought to be from EF’s recent LP pitch deck
“The graph shows the volume of EF companies funded by VCs each year since 2015 (e.g only those that raise a successful seed, not just those funded by EF),” White tells me. “The average age to series A is 40 months according to Pitchbook or 60 months to series B. Many of our companies are already ahead of that schedule, but many more will reach these milestones in the next 12 months”
Below follows an email Q&A with EF co-founder Matt Clifford to find out more about the new fund and where it positions the so-called talent investor going forward.
TC: You’ve announced the first close of a new fund — $115m. What is the remit for the fund and how does it fit into the broader EF program and funnel? I.e. is it mainly for follow on funding so EF doesn’t get too diluted for the most promising companies it helps create?
MC: The main thing we’re doing with this fund is taking our talent investing model global. We’ve always said the world’s missing out on some of its best founders and now we’ve got the capital to change that. It’s true it’s a lot bigger than our last fund, but that’s mainly driven by scaling internationally, not by a change in investment strategy. This fund will do stipends, pre-seed, seed and Series A investing in all our companies globally. It gives us capacity to fund 2,000 individuals around the world over the next three years.
We’ll absolutely be backing the best Entrepreneur First companies up to their Series A, but we’ve been doing that since 2016, so no change there.
TC: An earlier SEC filing suggested the fund was going to be much bigger. What happened?
MC: As far as I know, you have to file the hard cap with the SEC, but that’s not a target. This is a first close, not a final close, but with $115m we can fully fund all six sites for three years, which is great.
TC: Like previous EF funds, the new fund’s LPs include many known founders and angel investors from the London tech scene and beyond. But this time around I gather you have some quite large institutional LPs, too, including from the U.S. How were those conversations different this time or was it simply the Reid Hoffman effect after Greylock Partners became an investor in EF itself?
MC: Yes, this is definitely a “growing up” fund for us. Our first “fund” in 2013 was under £400K, so a lot’s changed! Almost all this capital comes from institutional LPs and they include some of the best investors in venture capital funds globally. EF is a totally new stage of VC – talent investing – and LPs are quite rightly naturally fairly conservative. So Joe and I and the rest of the team have put in a lot of work to get institutions comfortable with something radically different and we feel it’s really paid off.
Certainly having Reid and others involved has helped a lot, but EF is just generally a very different beast from when we closed the last fund: the portfolio is now valued at well over $1.3bn; we’ve had $300m of exits; the fastest growing alumni companies have been funded by some of the best VCs in Europe and the US, etc. So across the board we had a lot more to show.
TC: EF began life calling itself a “talent-first” investor based on the EF program recruiting potential founders pre-team and pre-idea, which made you an outlier at the time. In that sense, you were — and I hesitate to use the word — ‘disrupting’ startup founding and traditional career paths. But now it’s starting to look like the EF model is a ruse to disrupt early stage venture capital or is that too simple an analysis?
MC: Haha! Alice and I are still much more interested in disrupting careers than disrupting VC. What I would say is that we believe we’re heading for a world where many more of the most talented people will become founders and most of those people won’t be in established tech ecosystems. We think that makes the opportunity hard to capture for traditional VC, because it assumes away the real problems – above all, where to find a world-class co-founder.
But we’re very much ecosystem players. I think we’ve now co-invested with pretty much every seed fund in Europe and SE Asia and I think they’d all tell you we play nice.
TC: It’s been reported that in a bid to expand globally, EF has come up against scaling issues with regards to matching founders and company formation. I’ve heard from my own sources that there were teething problems in Berlin, for example. What’s really going on?
MC: It’s definitely the conventional wisdom that VC isn’t scaleable, but I think we’re proving that wrong. If you take our core metric of co-founder matching, our most recent European cohorts had the highest matching rate so far – over 80% of people who joined us found a co-founder (though of course we don’t fund every team that forms). Similarly if you look at our first Paris cohort, it has one of the highest investment rates of any cohort we’ve ever done (and we’ve done 21 cohorts so far). Honestly, we’re really happy with the way the international expansion went, though I’d be the first to say that scaling is hard and we’ll make mistakes!
TC: We’ve seen a few EF clones appear. Sincerest form of flattery or blatant opportunism? And which, if any, part of EF is defensible?
MC: I always remember Paul Graham being asked this about YC clones and saying he felt “like how JK Rowling would feel if someone wrote a book called Henry Potter”. Joking aside though, I think YC has shown that highly defensible network effects in VC are possible. There are literally hundreds of YC clones and yet 95% of the value in accelerators has accrued to YC. I think we’re on track for something similar in the talent investing space.
The key way to think about defensibility is at the level of the customer – i.e. the founder. Which talent investor do you want to join? You want to join the one with the highest quality potential cofounders. Which one has that? Well, unsurprisingly, the one with the track record, the best alum, the best network, etc. Once you’ve established that – and EF is 5 or 6 years ahead of the clones – it’s very difficult to catch up and the advantage compounds quickly.
TC: You shared some stats with regards the success rate of EF startups and the figures look encouraging. But what we don’t yet still have are many exits. This isn’t surprising given that you invest incredibly early so it will take time for startups to move through the cycle, but it also means that LPs backing EF continue to take a leap of faith. Is that a fair statement and what was the major pushback you got from LPs that declined not to join EF on this next phase of your journey?
MC: For sure, that’s fair. The numbers look great on paper, but it’s way too early to see significant cash returns. In fact, right now we don’t want more exits, as we want our best companies to keep growing privately for as long as possible. Last year, the portfolio raised more money than they had in the history of EF before that put together, so we’re feeling very positive.
It’s definitely true that some LPs don’t want to invest until you’ve returned a whole fund, but fortunately lots of them put in a lot of time to understand the model and were willing to partner with us for the long-term. This will be a big year for the portfolio – no big exits, I hope, but lots of momentum on revenue, product and funding for sure.
TC: Lastly, you now have a General Partner and EF’s CFO Joe White (who I understand was instrumental in helping to raise this new fund) posted to Silicon Valley, where he’ll be helping to grow EF’s investor network on the West Coast. How important is U.S. venture capital to EF’s future and when can we expect to see EF launch a program across the pond?
MC: Yes, Joe and I spent a lot of time on planes and in the US last year to pitch LPs! The vast majority of the capital in this fund is US-based and, of course, Reid and Greylock are there too. What Joe, Alice and I all believe is that Silicon Valley remains perhaps the best place in the world to scale a tech company, even if it’s no longer the essential place to start one. This means that being able to build relationships with the best US VCs is a key competitive advantage for an EF company.
We’ve already seen some of this, with Insight leading Tractable’s B round and Founders Fund leading Massless’s (EF LD9) seed. But Joe being there full time is an ideal way for us to accelerate this and I think you’ll see a bunch of EF companies raise US-led B and C rounds this year. The key is the right capital at the right time.
We’re still thinking hard about our next stage of expansion. It’s hard to see a major need for EF in Silicon Valley itself, but there may be a big opportunity in other parts of North America. Watch this space…
The company sees a tool that can help enhance the Palo Alto security portfolio by adding a higher level of automation. “The addition of Demisto’s orchestration and automation technologies will accelerate Palo Alto Networks Application Framework strategy and serve as a critical step forward in the company’s aim to deliver immediate threat prevention and response for security teams,” the company explained in a statement.
Palo Alto also hopes that Demisto’s automated solutions will help accelerate its AI and machine learning capabilities to bring intelligent automation across the platform. The company brings more than technology, of course. It also brings its 150 customers to Palo Alto, a quarter of which are in the Fortune 500.
Prior to being acquired, Demisto had raised $69 million from Accel, Greylock, Stewart McClure and others. We covered the company’s $6 million Series A, and what the investors saw was a platform that enabled security professionals with a range of backgrounds and skill levels to communicate with one another, while automating security tasks across a variety of security tools.
“If you look at the security space, each company has its own API and UI to run their [product]. What customers don’t have is a cross-product workflow,” Demisto CEO and co-founder Slavik Markovich told TechCrunch. That’s what Demisto is attempting to solve with this product.
With an acquisition price of $560 million after raising $69 million, it would appear that Demisto has given its investors a healthy return, although rumors prior to the sale had the price pegged higher. Its customers will have to wait and see what impact becoming part of a much larger organization will have on Demisto’s products and services. The larger company offers much greater resources, but also brings a level of uncertainty, as in any acquisition scenario.
The acquisition is expected to close in the company’s third quarter, which should be some time in the next few months. As always, the acquisition is subject to regulatory approval.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many emails can you replace with a video? As offices fragment into remote teams, work becomes more visual, and social media makes us more comfortable on camera, it’s time for collaboration to go beyond text. That’s the idea behind Loom, a fast-rising startup that equips enterprises with instant video messaging tools. In a click, you can film yourself or narrate a screenshare to get an idea across in a more vivid, personal way. Instead of scheduling a video call, employees can asynchronously discuss projects or give ‘stand-up’ updates without massive disruptions to their workflow.
In the 2.5 years since launch, Loom has signed up 1.1 million users from 18,000 companies. And that was just as a Chrome extension. Today Loom launches its PC and Mac apps that give it a dedicated presence in your digital workspace. Whether you’re communicating across the room or across the globe, “Loom is the next best thing to being there” co-founder Shahed Khan tells me.
Now Loom is ready to spin up bigger sales and product teams thanks to an $11 million Series A led by Kleiner Perkins . The firm’s partner Ilya Fushman, formally Dropbox’s head of business and corporate development, will join Loom’s board. He’ll shepherd Loom through today’s launch of its $10 per month per user Pro version that offers HD recording, calls-to-action at the end of videos, clip editing, live annotation drawings, and analytics to see who actually watched like they’re supposed to.
“We’re ditching the suits and ties and bringing our whole selves to work. We’re emailing and messaging like never before. but though we may be more connected, we’re further apart” Khan tells me. “We want to make it very easy to bring the humanity back in.”
Loom co-founder Shahed Khan
But back in 2016, Loom was just trying to survive. Khan had worked at Upfront Ventures after a stint as a product designer at website builder Weebly. Him and two close friends, Joe Thomas and Vinay Hiremath, started Opentest to let app makers get usabilty feedback from experts via video. But after six months and going through the NFX accelerator, they were running out of bootstrapped money. That’s when they realized it was the video messaging that could be a business as teams sought to keep in touch with members working from home or remotely.
Together they launched Loom in mid-2016, raising a pre-seed and seed round amounting to $4 million. Part of its secret sauce is that Loom immediately starts uploading bytes of your video while you’re still recording so it’s ready to send the moment you’re finished. That makes sharing your face, voice and screen feel as seamless as firing off a Slack message, but with more emotion and nuance.
“Sales teams use it to close more deals by sending personalized messages to leads. Marketing teams use Loom to walk through internal presentations and social posts. Product teams use Loom to capture bugs, stand ups, etc” Khan explains.
Loom has grown to a 16-person team that will expand thanks to the new $11 million Series A from Kleiner, Slack, Cue founder Daniel Gross, and actor Jared Leto that brings it to $15 million in funding. They predict the new desktop apps that open Loom to a larger market will see it spread from team to team for both internal collaboration and external discussions from focus groups to customer service.
Loom will have to hope that after becoming popular at a company, managers will pay for the Pro version that shows exactly how long each viewer watched for. That could clue them in that they need to be more concise, or that someone is cutting corners on training and cooperation. It’s also a great way to onboard new employees. ‘Just watch this collection of videos and let us know what you don’t understand.’
Next Loom will have to figure out a mobile strategy — something that’s surprisingly absent. Khan imagines users being able to record quick clips from their phones to relay updates from travel and client meetings. Loom also plans to build out voice transcription to add automatic subtitles to videos and even divide clips into thematic sections you can fast-forward between. Loom will have to stay ahead of competitors like Vidyard’s GoVideo and Wistia’s Soapbox that have cropped up since its launch. But Khan says Loom looms largest in the space thanks to customers at Uber, Dropbox, Airbnb, Red Bull, and 1100 employees at Hubspot.
“The overall space of collaboration tools is becoming deeper than just email + docs” says Fushman, citing Slack, Zoom, Dropbox Paper, Coda, Notion, Intercom, Productboard, and Figma. To get things done the fastest, businesses are cobbling together B2B software so they can skip building it in-house and focus on their own product.
No piece of enterprise software has to solve everything. But Loom is dependent on apps like Slack, Google Docs, Convo, and Asana. Since it lacks a social or identity layer, you’ll need to send the links to your videos through another service. Loom should really build its own video messaging system into its desktop app. But at least Slack is an investor, and Khan says “they’re trying to be the hub of text-based communication” and the soon-to-be-public unicorn tells him anything it does in video will focus on real-time interaction.
Still, the biggest threat to Loom is apathy. People already feel overwhelmed with Slack and email, and if recording videos comes off as more of a chore than an efficiency, workers will stick to text. But Khan thinks the ubiquity of Instagram Stories is making it seem natural to jump on camera briefly. And the advantage is that you don’t need a bunch of time-wasting pleasantries to ensure no one misinterprets your message as sarcastic or pissed off.
Khan concludes “We believe instantly sharable video can foster more authentic communication between people at work, and convey complex scenarios and ideas with empathy.”
The money is starting to flow from India’s largest startup exit. Ola has added a major name to its ongoing financing round after it confirmed that Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal has invested 650 crore INR (around $92 million) into the Indian ride-hailing business.
The deal rumored in January when Paper.vc, an intelligence service that sifts through company filings in India, noticed that Bansal had committed to investing 150 crore. Today, eight-year-old Ola not only confirmed the pairing, but it revealed that the actual size of Bansal’s investment is significantly higher. It represents his most prominent and largest investment to date, and his first major deal since he left Flipkart following its sale to Walmart for $16 billion last year.
The investment is part of an ongoing Series J round of financing that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola, which competes fiercely with Uber in India, at around $6 billion. Bansal’s commitment comes a month after existing investor Steadview Capital put $75 million towards the round.
Ola is one of India’s most promising consumer businesses, that is creating deep impact and lasting value for the ecosystem. On one hand, they have emerged as a global force in the mobility space and on the other, they continue to build deeper for various needs of a billion Indians through their platform, becoming a trusted household name today.
I have known Bhavish as an entrepreneur and as a friend over these years and I have great respect for what he and the team at Ola have built in just 8 years! I am personally thrilled to be part of the Ola journey and I look forward to contributing to their success.
Aggarwal, Ola’s CEO, in turn, lauded Bansal as “an icon of entrepreneurship.”
“His investment is a huge encouragement for all of us at Ola and our mission to serve a billion people,” he said in a statement. “I personally look forward to learning from Sachin’s journey, his mentorship and guidance, as we look to build one of the most impactful global businesses out of India.”
Ola is locked in a dog fight with Uber, which has made India its highest priority market outside of the U.S. Uber started slowly in India, but it is pushing hard in the country having opened a dedicated local R&D center and hired a country management team that operates outside of the rest of its Asia Pacific business.
Meet Metronaut, an app for smartphones and tablets that could change the way you play classical music. The startup behind the app, Antescofo, raised a $4.5 million funding round (€4 million) and has attracted 160,000 downloads.
Daphni and OneRagTime are leading the round, with Nobuyuki Idei, Yann LeCun, Sophie Gasperment and Thibault Viort also participating.
Metronaut lets you play a music instrument with a professional orchestra playing all the other instruments with you. It isn’t just an audio player — the app leverages your device microphone to listen to your music and adjust the tempo of the other instruments.
The startup has recorded professional musicians in a studio so that you can play the flute without hearing the flute coming out of your speakers or headphones.
And if you still need to practice, you can set your own tempo while you learn your part — nothing will be distorted. You can record your performance, annotate the score and track your progress.
The company is betting on a freemium model. You can download the app for free and play for 10 minutes per month. If you want to experience the app without any limit, you need to buy a monthly subscription for $10 per month.
While the app works with dozens of instruments, most people use it to play the piano, the violin or the flute. Singers can also use the app.
And content is key with this service. People will keep subscribing if there’s enough content for their own instruments in the catalog. So let’s see if Antescofo is going to use today’s funding round to record even more content and turn the app into an essential service for musicians.
Compared to startups born into the frothy London fintech space as it exists today, 2011-founded GoCardless could well be considered a slow burner. However, in more recent years, the nearly 300 person company — headed up by co-founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi — has undoubtedly stepped on the gas in a bid to become the one stop shop globally for businesses that want to let customers pay via recurring bank payments.
A little over a year ago, GoCardless announced that it had raised $22.5 million in further funding, off the back of record annual growth in the U.K. and strong early traction in new markets. And today the fintech is disclosing another fresh injection of capital: $75 million in Series E funding, in part to fund new offices across EMEA, APAC and North America. In addition to its London HQ, the company already has sites in France, Australia and Germany, from which it says it processes transactions for 40,000 businesses worldwide.
Leading the round are new investors Adams Street Partners, Google Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. Previous backers Accel Partners, Balderton Capital, Notion Capital and Passion Capital have also followed on.
In a call with Takeuchi late last week, he picked up on a familiar a theme, describing the collection of recurring payments for many business as “broken”. Accessing the various bank to bank payments schemes has traditionally been difficult from a commercial, compliance and technical point of view. Instead, businesses have typically relied on payment methods, such as card payments or cheques, which aren’t up to the job of recurring payments.
That’s because these payment options are designed for one-off transactions (cards, for example, expire, breaking the payment flow). Meanwhile, there’s been a rise in subscription business models and an expanding B2B market in which contractors and partners need to make regular variable payments. According to Takeuchi, this means an international recurring payments network like the one GoCardless is building is needed more than ever.
“A global network for bank debit is an absolute necessity in allowing businesses to easily collect recurring payments anywhere, in any currency,” he says. “Thanks to the support of our investors we can now open up our global network and payments platform to more businesses across the world, delivering on our mission to take the pain out of getting paid, so that businesses can focus on what they do best”.
Takeuchi also tells me GoCardless is investing heavily in its product, with a product team of around 100 members. He declined to go into much detail with regards to GoCardless’ immediate or more long term roadmap, although currency conversion is one area the company is developing new products for. It’s not clear if that will be via an FX partner, such as London neighbour TransferWise, or a more home grown solution, although the former seems more likely. Takeuchi wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics.
Other areas of development include products to help businesses boost cash flow via “instant settlement,” and smarter payment features to increase transaction success rates. The latter could include using open banking to check if funds are available before trying to process a bank debit, or to automatically set the most appropriate payment date.
Apple’s Siri is seen as lagging far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, not only in voice recognition and utility, but also in terms of developer ecosystem. Google and Amazon has built platforms to distribute Skills from tons of voice app makers, including storytelling, quizzes, and other games for kids. If Apple wants to take a real shot at becoming the center of your connected living room with Siri and HomePod, it will need to play nice with the children who spend their time there. Buying PullString could jumpstart Apple’s in-house catalog of speech-activated toys for kids as well as beef up its tools for voice developers.
PullString did catch some flack for being a “child surveillance device” back in 2015, but countered by detailing the security built intoHello Barbie product and saying it’d never been hacked to steal childrens’ voice recordings or other sensitive info. Privacy norms have changed since with so many people readily buying always-listening Echos and Google Homes.
We’ve reached out to Apple and PullString for more details about whether PullString and ToyTalk’s products will remain available. .
The startup raised its cash from investors including Khosla Ventures, CRV, Greylock, First Round, and True Ventures, with a Series D in 2016 as its last raise that PitchBook says valued the startup at $160 million. While the voicetech space has since exploded, it can still be difficult for voice experience developers to earn money without accompanying physical products, and many enterprises still aren’t sure what to build with tools like those offered by PullString. That might have led the startup to see a brighter future with Apple, strengthening one of the most ubiquitous though also most detested voice assistants.