Prisma co-founders raise $1M to build a social app called Capture

Two of the co-founders of the art filter app Prisma have left to build a new social app.

Prisma, as you may recall, had a viral moment back in 2016 when selfie takers went crazy for the fine art spin the app’s AI put on photos — in just a few seconds of processing.

Downloads leapt, art selfies flooded Instagram, and similar arty effects soon found their way into all sorts of rival apps and platforms. Then, after dipping a toe into social waters with the launch of a feed of its own, the company shifted focus to b2b developer tools — and we understand it’s since become profitable.

But two of Prisma’s co-founders, Aleksey Moiseyenkov and Aram Hardy, got itchy feet when they had an idea for another app business. And they’ve both now left to set up a new startup, called Capture Technologies.

The plan is to launch the app — which will be called Capture — in Q4, with a beta planned for September or October, according to Hardy (who’s taking the CMO role).

They’ve also raised a $1M seed for Capture, led by US VC firm General Catalyst . Also investing are KPCB, Social Capital, Dream Machine VC (the seed fund of former TechCrunch co-editor, Alexia Bonatsos), Paul Heydon, and Russian Internet giant, Mail.Ru Group.

Josh Elman from Greylock Partners is also involved as an advisor.

Hardy says they had the luxury of being able to choose their seed investors, after getting a warmer reception for Capture than they’d perhaps expected — thinking it might be tough to raise funding for a new social app given how that very crowded space has also been monopolized by a handful of major platforms… (hi Facebook, hey Snap!)

But they also believe they’ve identified overlooked territory — where they can offer something fresh to help people interact with others in real-time.

They’re not disclosing further details about the idea or how the Capture app will work at this stage, as they’re busy building and Hardy says certain elements could change and evolve before launch day.

What they will say is that the app will involve AI, and will put the emphasis for social interactions squarely on the smartphone camera.

Speed will also be a vital ingredient, as it was with Prisma — literally fueling the app’s virality. “We see a huge move to everything which is happening right now, which is really real-time,” Hardy tells TechCrunch. “Even when we started Prisma there were lots of similar products which were just processing one photo for five, ten, 15 minutes, and people were not using it because it takes time.

“People want everything right now. Right here. So this is a trend which is taking place right now. People just want everything right now, right here. So we’re trying to give it to them.”

“Our team’s mission is to bring an absolutely new and unique experience to how people interact with each other. We would like to come up with something unique and really fresh,” adds Moiseyenkov, Capture’s CEO (pictured above left, with Hardy).

“We see a huge potential in new social apps despite the fact that there are too many huge players.”

Having heard the full Capture pitch from Hardy I can say it certainly seems like an intriguing idea. Though how exactly they go about selectively introducing the concept will be key to building the momentum needed to power their big vision for the app. But really that’s true of any social product.

Their idea has also hooked a strong line up of seed investors, doubtless helped by the pair’s prior success with Prisma. (If there’s one thing investors love more than a timely, interesting idea, it’s a team with pedigree — and these two certainly have that.)

“I’m happy to have such an amazing and experienced team,” adds Moiseyenkov, repaying the compliment to Capture’s investors.

“Your first investors are your team. You have to ask lots of questions like you do when you decide whether this or that person is a perfect fit for your team. Because investors and the team are those people with whom you’re going to build a great product. At the same time, investors ask lots of questions to you.”

Capture’s investors were evidently pleased enough with the answers their questions elicited to cut Capture its founding checks. And the startup’s team is already ten-strong — and hard at work to get a beta launched in fall.

The business is based in the US and Europe, with one office in Moscow, where Hardy says they’ve managed to poach some relevant tech talent from Russian social media giant vk.com; and another slated to be opening in a couple of weeks time, on Snap’s home turf of LA. 

“We’ll be their neighbors in Venice beach,” he confirms, though he stresses there will still be clear blue water between the two companies’ respective social apps, adding: “Snapchat is really a different product.”

Toss, Korea’s top payment app, raises $40M from Sequoia China and Singapore’s GIC

The largest payment app in South Korea, Toss, has pulled in $40 million in fresh investment from Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and Sequoia China.

The deal for Viva Republica, Toss’s parent company, comes just over a year after it raised $48 million from payment giant PayPal and others. There’s no valuation for this newest round, but we do know that it is a ‘bridge’ intended to bring new investors in and help accelerate the business for a large raise further down the line. (It is also the first Korean investment for both GIC and Sequoia China.)

Not that the business seems to need much more impetus for acceleration, growth is already strong. Viva Republica says that Toss’s registered user base has doubled over the past year to each eight million consumers, while it claims the app is processing $10 billion in transaction volume per month. The company forecasts that its annual transaction run rate will surpass $18 billion.

Back in 2016 when we reported on the PayPal -backed round, founder and CEO SG Lee — a dentist until he saw the potential for a mobile payment service — told us that Toss had begun to introduce additional services beyond peer-to-peer payments. That’s included consumer financing products, like loans, micro-insurance and cross-border payments.

Toss doesn’t have Korea to itself, its main rival is Kakao, the country’s most popular messaging app. In recent times Kakao, a $7 billion company, had opened business units in a range of industries including ride-hailing, content and payment. Its Kakao Pay business is backed by Alibaba, and it plugs into Kakao the chat app to allow peer-to-peer transfers with other consumer finance services.

Lee, the Viva Republica CEO, previously said he doesn’t fear Kakao since in his mind it is creating a b2b business while Toss is focused wholly on the consumer experience. Now it has a couple more seasoned backers in its corner too, courtesy of this new investment.

F-Secure to buy MWR InfoSecurity for ~$106M+ to offer better threat hunting

The ongoing shift of emphasis in the cyber security industry from defensive, reactive actions towards pro-active detection and response has fueled veteran Finnish security company F-Secure’s acquisition of MWR InfoSecurity, announced today.

F-Secure is paying £80 million (€91,6M) in cash to purchase all outstanding shares in MWR InfoSecurity, funding the transaction with its own cash reserves and a five-year bank loan. In addition, the terms include an earn-out of a maximum of £25M (€28,6M) in cash to be paid after 18 months of the completion subject to the achievement of agreed business targets for the period from 1 July, 2018, until 31 December, 2019.

F-Secure says the acquisition will enable it to offer its customers access to the more offensive skillsets needed to combat targeted attacks — specialist capabilities that most companies are not likely to have in-house.

It points to detection and response solutions (EDR) and managed detection and response services (MDR) as one of the fastest growing market segments in the security space. And says the acquisition makes it the largest European single source of cyber security services and detection and response solutions, positioning it to cater to both mid-market companies and large enterprises globally.

“The acquisition brings MWR InfoSecurity’s industry-renowned technologies to F-Secure making our detection and response offering unrivaled,” said F-Secure CEO Samu Konttinen in a statement. “Their threat hunting platform (Countercept) is one of the most advanced in the market and is an excellent complement to our existing technologies.”

As well as having experts in-house skilled in offensive techniques, MWR InfoSecurity — a UK company that was founded in 2002 — is well known for its technical expertise and research.

And F-Secure says it expects learnings from major incident investigations and targeted attack simulations to provide insights that can be fed directly back into product creation, as well as be used to upgrade its offerings to reflect the latest security threats.

MWR InfoSecurity also has a suite of managed phishing protection services (phishd) which F-Secure also says will also enhance its offering.

The acquisition is expected to close in early July, and will add around 400 employees to F-Secure’s headcount. MWR InfoSecurity’s main offices are located in the UK, the US, South Africa and Singapore.

“I’m thrilled to welcome MWR InfoSecurity’s employees to F-Secure. With their vast experience and hundreds of experts performing cyber security services on four continents, we will have unparalleled visibility into real-life cyber attacks 24/7,” added Konttinen. “This enables us to detect indicators across an incredible breadth of attacks so we can protect our customers effectively. As most companies currently lack these capabilities, this represents a significant opportunity to accelerate F-Secure’s growth.”

“We’ve always relied on research-driven innovations executed by the best people and technology. This approach has earned MWR InfoSecurity the trust of some of the largest organizations in the world,” added MWR InfoSecurity CEO, Ian Shaw, who will be joining F-Secure’s leadership team after the transaction closes. “We see this approach thriving at F-Secure, and we look forward to working together so that we can break new ground in the cyber security industry.”

The companies will be holding a webcast to provide more detail on the news for investors and analysts later today, at 13:30 EEST.

Email security startup Tessian raises $13M led by Balderton and Accel

Tessian (formerly called CheckRecipient), the London-based startup that is deploying machine learning to improve email security, has raised $13 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Balderton Capital, and existing backer Accel. A number of previous investors also followed on, including Amadeus Capital Partners, Crane, LocalGlobe, Winton Ventures, and Walking Ventures.

Founded in 2013 by three engineering graduates from Imperial College — Tim Sadler, Tom Adams and Ed Bishopon — Tessian is built on the premise that humans are the weak link in company email and data security. This can either be through mistakes, such as a wrongly intended recipient, or through nefarious employee activity. By applying “machine intelligence” to monitoring company email, the startup has developed various tools to help prevent this.

Once installed on a company’s email systems, Tessian’s machine learning tech analyses an enterprise’s email networks to understand normal and abnormal email sending patterns and behaviours. It then attempts to detects anomalies in outgoing emails and warns users about potential mistakes before an email is sent. This, the startup says, makes it different to legacy rule-based technologies and that Tessian requires “no admin from security teams and no end-user behaviour change”.

One neat aspect is that Tessian can get to work retroactively, producing historical reports that show how many misaddressed emails an organisation has sent prior to the installation date. That is bound to help with sales, even if it could give an enterprise’s security team quite a shock, especially in light of recent GDPR data regulation in Europe. The new EU directive stipulates that companies must report data breaches involving personal information to their local regulator and face fines as high as 4 percent of global turnover for the worst data breaches.

In a call late last week with Tessian CEO and co-founder Tim Sadler, he told me the company plans to use the additional funding for R&D, including the launch of new product, and to expand its sales and marketing teams. Since the startup’s seed round last year, the Tessian team has grown from 13 to 50 people.

In terms of future products, Sadler explained that is looking to apply its tech to in-bound email, in addition to Tessian’s current out-bound products. One way to think about email, he says, is that an email address is like an IP address for humans, enabling human to human networks. However, in terms of security, not only are humans an obvious weak point, acting as the gatekeeper to the network and the data that resides on it, email by design is inherently open.

To that end, Sadler tells me that next on Tessian’s roadmap is a way to make in-bound email less prone to data breaches. This will include using Tessian’s machine intelligence to identify spoofed emails or other unusual communication.

“What Tessian have done — and this is why we are so excited about them — is apply machine intelligence to understand how humans communicate with each other and use that deeper understanding to secure enterprise email networks,” says Balderton Capital Partner Suranga Chandratillake. “The genius of this approach is that while the product focus today is on email — by far the most used communication channel in the corporate enterprise — their technology can be applied to all communication channels in time. And, as we all communicate in larger volumes and on more channels, that represents a vast opportunity”.

Meanwhile, Sadler says the startup’s customers span legal, healthcare and financial services, but that any enterprise handling sensitive data are a potential fit. “World leading organisations like Schroders, Man Group and Dentons and over 70 of the UK’s leading law firms are now using platform to protect their email networks,” adds the company.

Google makes $550M strategic investment in Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com

Google has been increasing its presence in China in recent times, and today it has continued that push by agreeing to a strategic partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com which will see Google purchase $550 million of shares in the Chinese firm.

Google has made investments in China, released products there and opened up offices that include an AI hub, but now it is working with JD.com largely outside of China. In a joint release, the companies said they would “collaborate on a range of strategic initiatives, including joint development of retail solutions” in Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

The goal here is to merge JD.com’s experience and technology in supply chain and logistics — in China, it has opened warehouses that use robots rather than workers — with Google’s customer reach, data and marketing to produce new kinds of online retail.

Initially, that will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the word, but it seems clear that the companies have other collaborations in mind for the future.

JD.com is valued at around $60 billion, based on its NASDAQ share price, and the company has partnerships with the likes of Walmart and it has invested heavily in automated warehouse technology, drones and other ‘next-generation’ retail and logisitics.

The move for a distribution platform like Google to back a service provider like JD.com is interesting since the company, through search and advertising, has relationships with a range of e-commerce firms including JD.com’s arch rival Alibaba.

But it is a sign of the times for Google, which has already developed relationships with JD.com and its biggest backer Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese internet giant. All three companies have backed Go-Jek, the ride-hailing challenger in Southeast Asia, while Tencent and Google previously inked a patent sharing partnership and have co-invested in startups such as Chinese AI startup XtalPi.

YC alum Modern Health, a startup focused on emotional wellbeing, gets $2.26M seed funding

About one year ago, a note from a CEO thanking his employee for using sick days to take care of her mental health went viral. It was a reminder to Alyson Friedensohn of what she wants to accomplish with Modern Health, the emotional health benefits startup she founded last year with neuroscientist Erica Johnson.

“We want that to be normal. We want the email she sent to be normal, to be able to be that open,” Friedensohn tells TechCrunch.

Modern Health, a Y Combinator alum, announced today that it has raised $2.26 million in seed funding for hiring, accelerating the development of its healthcare platform and growing its network of therapists, coaches and other providers. Offered as a benefit by companies, Modern Health’s services are meant to improve employee well-being and retention rates. The round was led by Afore, with participation from Social Capital, Precursor Ventures, Merus Capital, Maschmeyer Group Ventures, Y Combinator and angel investors.

Friedensohn, Modern Health’s chief executive officer, says several employers have already signed up for its platform, which includes services like counseling and career and financial coaching. One of its newest customers, human resources startup Gusto, hit a 43% utilization rate of its services, including connecting employees to coaches and therapists, among registered users just four days after it began offering the platform. 

The startup is especially proud of the fact that Modern Health’s team is currently all female and Friedensohn wants to parlay their points of view into services that address issues affecting women. For example, the platform already works with providers who specialize in postpartum depression and infertility.

“People don’t talk about what working moms are dealing with and countless things like that,” says Friedensohn, who previously worked at health tech companies Keas and Collective Health. “People don’t want to talk about it because they are worried it will jeopardize their careers, but it makes a difference.”

Several other tech startups are working on mental health care platforms for employers to offer as a benefit, including Ginger.io, Lyra Health and Quartet, which have all have received significant amounts of funding from prominent investors. The space is especially important, given the alarming rise in the United States’ suicide rate and the fact that about 6.7% of all adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one major depressive episode.

One of Modern Health’s priorities is to reach employees before they hit a crisis point. Since many people are daunted by the idea of therapy, the platform connects them to coaches instead to focus on specific issues, like their careers, or overall emotional wellbeing. This helps referrals, Friedensohn notes, because it makes the service feel more approachable.

“They can say to friends, I have this awesome Modern Health coach, versus saying I have a therapist, so it’s way easier for people to engage,” she says.

Modern Health also makes its services more accessible by offering several ways to use the platform: texting, video calls or, for people who don’t want to talk to a therapist or coach yet, meditation apps and other digital tools created by the company. Friedensohn adds that it’s not uncommon for people to write essays on their sign-up forms when registering because it’s the first time they’ve been able to unload their problems.

“People like that it’s coaching,” she says. “What we found is that by focusing on that point, the biggest thing is lowering the barrier to entry, so that people who are depressed are also comfortable reaching out.”

Cheq raises $5M for a proactive, AI-driven approach to safe ad placement

While brand safety and fraud prevention have been big topics in the online ad industry over the past couple years, Cheq CEO Guy Tytunovich argued that “first generation solutions for ad verification” aren’t good enough.

The problem, Tytunovich said, is that existing products use sampling to alert advertisers to issues “after the fact.” Compare this to credit card fraud — if the credit card company only alerted you long after the fraud had occurred, “You’re not going to be happy with that kind of answer.”

At Cheq, Tytunovich and his team have developed an approach that uses artificial intelligence to deliver what he calls “autonomous brand safety” — the idea is that when an ad is being served, Cheq can detect whether it might be a fraudulent impression that will only be seen by bots, or if it might show up next to content that a brand doesn’t want to be associated with. If there’s an issue, Tytunovich said, “We block [the ad] from being served in real time.”

Beforehand, advertisers set up their own ad placement guidelines, and afterwards, they can see the reason why individual ads didn’t get served.

Cheq is announcing that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Battery Ventures . Tytunovich said that 80 percent of the Cheq team consists of developers, and that most of the funding will go towards further product development.

If the Cheq approach really is so much better, why aren’t bigger, better-funded companies doing the same thing? Tytunovich pointed to his experience, and his team’s experience, in the Israel Defense Forces, where he said “they teach you to compensate for a lack of scale, of manpower, by focusing on automation and speed.”

Similarly, Tytunovich said that at Cheq, “the name of the game is speed.”

“A lot about our underlying technology lies around the speed of the data crunching,” he added. “We look at around 700 data parameters per impression … We need to be able to take all that data, analyze it and do it in real time.”

Cheq has offices in Tokyo, New York and Tel Aviv. Tytunovich said it’s currently focused on the American and Japanese markets — customers listed on the Cheq website include Coca Cola, Turner and Mercedes-Benz. Update: A spokesperson clarified that those companies are listed on the Cheq website because Cheq participated with them in The Bridge program.

IP platform PatSnap picks up $38M from Sequoia and Xiaomi founder’s fund

PatSnap, a Euro-Asian company that offers a patent and R&D platform and services, has pulled in a $38 million Series D funding round led by existing investors Sequoia and Shunwei Capital, the investment firm founded by Xiaomi co-founder and CEO Lei Jun. Southeast Asia’s Qualgro also took part.

All three backed the company in 2016 when it led an undisclosed Series C round. While PatSnap didn’t give a figure for that previous round, it is saying this time around that it has raised over $100 million to date. Doing some quick via math via figures on Crunchbase suggests that the Series C was something in the region of $50 million.

PatSnap was founded in 2007 and it is based out of the UK and Singapore, with locations in China and the U.S.. The company started out as essentially a directory for IP, helping companies — and particularly enterprises — pull in data for R&D and product development purposes.

The company claims 8,000 clients worldwide, with the U.S. its largest market for revenue. PatSnap said that in China, its second-largest market and a major focus for the firm, it said it has more than 4,500 clients. In addition to its core service, it is focused on going beyond a data repository to offer services for enterprises that help manage internal product development and other R&D initiatives.

“Patent data let us kick down the door and earn respect, but now we’re looking at completely different products,” Ray Chohan, SVP of corporate strategy at PatSnap told TechCrunch in an interview. “We are working on new products for R&D with a long-term view of becoming the software stack for R&D teams.”

That’s exactly how this new capital will be put to work, Tiong said. Related to that, the company plans to open an office in Toronto, Canada, for development. Already, the company has 700 staff across a range of offices that include London (commercial), China (product), Singapore (machine learning) and LA (go to market).

Series D is a fairly advanced stage for a startup in Southeast Asia (and London) and exits are something that the tech industry is giving more thought to given the growth of the ecosystem, and events such as Sea’s U.S. listing last year. Despite that, Chohan — who founded the company’s London-based office — said that he’s not thinking too hard about the future for now.

“Our obsession is our employees, customers and building great products, if we can do that then the byproduct of a liquidity event will happen by itself,” he explained.

Chohan added that PatSnap is “well funded” and on course to become profitable over the next two to three years.