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Discuss the unbundling of early-stage VC with Unusual Ventures’ Sarah Leary & John Vrionis

This year has been everything but business as usual for the venture and tech community. And we still have a presidential election ahead of us.

So, why not listen to the aptly-named experts over at Unusual Ventures? Partners Sarah Leary (co-founder of Nextdoor) and John Vrionis, formerly of Lightspeed Ventures Partners, will join us on Tuesday, October 20 on the Extra Crunch Live virtual stage.

Thanks to all of you who have joined us for our series of live discussions that has included tech leaders like Sydney Sykes, Alexia von Tobel, Mark Cuban and many others (all recordings are still accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers to watch and learn from).

If you’re new, welcome! You’ll have a chance to participate in the live discussion if you have an Extra Crunch subscription.

Unusual Ventures’ investments span the consumer and enterprise space, including companies like Robinhood, AppDynamics, Mulesoft and Winnie.

For this chat, I plan to spend some time talking to Leary and Vrionis about how early-stage venture capital has changed with the rise of rolling funds, community funds and syndicates. Unusual Ventures claims “there’s an enormous opportunity to raise the bar on what seed-stage investors provide for early-stage founders,” so we’ll get into that opportunity as well.

And if we have time, we’ll discuss remote work, building in public and the U.S. presidential election.

So, what are you waiting for? Add the deets to your calendar (below the jump!) and join me next Tuesday.

Details

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Months-old Uni raises $18.5 million seed round to expand India’s credit card market

The credit card industry in India appears to be stuck. According to industry estimates, between 30 million to 35 million people in the country today have at least one credit card, with up to 58 million being in circulation. Compare this to almost 1 billion debit cards.

One reason the vast majority of the population has not made the cut is because they don’t have a credit score. And so few people have a credit score because banks and credit card companies still rely on age-old methodologies to determine someone’s creditworthiness. For example most banks in India are only comfortable issuing credit cards to individuals who have full-time employment with one of a few hundred companies listed in dated spreadsheets the banks maintain.

Nitin Gupta, a veteran in the financial services business, has co-founded Uni

Nitin Gupta, through his new startup Uni, wants to address some of these issues. And he is one of the few individuals in the country who is positioned to do it. He co-founded PayU India, and then ran ride-hailing firm Ola’s financial services business.

During his tenure at PayU, the startup established a dominance in the payments processing business in the country. And at Ola, he launched Olamoney Postpaid, a service that allows customers to pay for their rides at a later stage. Olamoney, which was valued at $250 million last year, is now one of the largest financial services businesses in the country.

Serious VCs are now willing to bet on Gupta’s new venture.

On Tuesday, Uni announced it has raised $18.5 million in its seed financing round led by Lightspeed and Accel . The startup currently does not have a product, but it took Gupta only two months in the middle of a global pandemic to raise what is one of the largest seed financing rounds in India.

Jayanth Kolla, founder and chief analyst at consultancy firm Convergence Catalyst, said, an “$18.5 million seed funding for a two-month old startup without even a product or an MVP yet — basis purely on the founder’s credentials and history — is the first instance of a pure-play Silicon Valley type funding in India.”

In an interview with TechCrunch, Gupta said at Uni he is joined by two more senior executives — Laxmikant Vyas and Prateek Jindal — who have stellar records in the financial services business.

He declined to reveal what exactly Uni’s product — or line of products — would look like, but suggested that Uni is building the modern age consumer credit card.

“It would seem very obvious when it comes out, and people will wonder why nobody else thought of it,” he said, adding that he is working with multiple banks on partnerships.

The adoption of digital payments has grown exponentially in the country in the last five years, but the credit card business is still struggling to make inroads, he said, adding that he sees an opportunity to expand the credit card base to 200 million over the next five years.

“Nitin and Uni’s team are passionate about unlocking the power of financial services for millions of Indian consumers using new tech-powered solutions,” Bejul Somaia​, a partner at Lightspeed India, said. “We are excited about their mission and proud to support them from day one.”

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Forage, formerly InsideSherpa, raises $9.3 million Series A for virtual work experiences

Tech’s coveted internships were some of the first roles to be cut as offices closed and businesses shuttered in response to the coronavirus. A number of companies across the country, including Glassdoor, StubHub, Funding Circle, Yelp, Checkr and even the National Institutes of Health, canceled their internship programs altogether.

For InsideSherpa co-founders Tom Brunskill and Pasha Rayan, the canceled internships were an opportunity. InsideSherpa, a Y Combinator graduate, hosts virtual work experience programs for college students all around the world.

College students, searching for a way to get job-ready, flocked to the platform from Northern Italy to South-East Asia, to all over the United States. Enrollments in InsideSherpa grew more than 86%, up to 1 million students.

The educational service successfully attracted student interest, and now, has landed investor interest. Today, InsideSherpa announced that it raised $9.3 million in Series A funding, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners . The startup has now raised $11.6 million in known venture funding. Other investors include FundersClub, Y Combinator and Arizona State University.

The financing will be used to grow InsideSherpa’s staff, with more engineering, product and sales roles. Along with the financing, InsideSherpa announced that it has rebranded to Forage.

Forage isn’t selling an internship replacement, but instead comes in one degree before the recruitment process. Students can go to the website and take a course from large companies such as Deloittee, Citi, BCG and GE. The course, designed in collaboration with the particular company and Forage, gives students a chance to “explore what a career would look like at their firm before the internship or entry-level application process opens,” Brunskill explains.

Forage is focused on partnering with large companies that employ upwards of 1,000 students per year via internships to help open up new pipelines. The corporate partners pay a subscription fee per year to post courses, and students can access all courses for free.

Popular courses include the KPMG Data Analytics Program, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Software Engineering Program and the Microsoft Engineering Program.

While Forage declined to disclose ARR, it confirmed that it was profitable heading into its fundraise, which formally closed in July.

Within edtech, flocks of companies have tried (and failed) to deliver on the promise of skills-based learning and employment opportunities as an outcome. The strategy of getting cozy with corporate partners isn’t unique to Forage, but the team views it as a competitive advantage. Of course, the effectiveness of that strategy matters more than the fact that it exists in the first place. Forage did not disclose efficacy information, but said that “some” corporate partners hired up to 52% of the cohort from their programs.

When Brunskill and Rayan first started Forage in 2017, they imagined a mentoring marketplace to connect students to young professionals. Three years later, much has changed.

“While students were interested in the product, they weren’t using it the way we intended,” he said. “Students kept saying to us ‘we just want an internship at company X, can you get me one?’ ”

While Brunskill doesn’t believe there’s any silver bullet solution to fixing education or recruitment systems, he remains optimistic in Forage’s future. After all, even if democratizing access to skills is the first step in a bigger race, it’s not an easy one.

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Carta’s former marketing VP is suing over gender discrimination after spearheading report on unequal pay

Emily Kramer joined the Silicon Valley company Carta to build up the company’s brand. Now, the company’s former VP of marketing is looking to shine a light on Carta for another reason: in a new lawsuit against Carta, which makes equity management software, Kramer accuses the eight-year-old outfit of gender discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and of violating the California Equal Pay Act.

Carta declined an interview request today, saying through a spokesperson that it isn’t commenting because the suit is a “pending legal matter.”  But we spoke earlier this afternoon with Kramer, and she accuses the company of both unfair labor practices and of being disingenuous in its stated “commitment to transparency and equality in equity.”

The equality piece is certainly the bigger of the two issues, by Kramer’s own telling. She says she learned that she was underpaid when, in the summer of  2018, roughly six months after she joined Carta, it partnered with the women-led investment collective #ANGELS to produce a report that highlighted ownership of venture-backed companies’ equity by gender.

The suspicion driving the report  — and later proved out by its findings — is that as with salary, where women continue to earn less than their male peers, they are also given less equity ownership in the startups for which they work. Kramer, who says she spearheaded the effort, posted the report, which included internal analysis that showed that Carta too, was allocating less equity to women than men.

In response, says the report, 40% of the women at Carta received an equity fix, compared to 32% of the men.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kramer, the only female executive at Carta at the time, says she discovered she was herself underpaid by $50,000 relative to her peers, and that her original equity grant was just one-third of the same amount of shares paid to comparable employees, who she says were all men.

Indeed, at the crux of her suit against Carta is that equity grant. While on the heels of the report, the company bumped up her pay by $50,000 and provided her nearly 300,000 more stock options in addition to the 150,000 options she was originally provided, it declined to backdate or accelerate the options to account for the previous six months of her tenure.

That might not seem like a big deal. But given Carta’s ever-soaring valuation — it was marked at half a billion dollars when Kramer joined the company and it was more recently assigned a $3 billion valuation by its investors — that’s tantamount to a “significant” amount money, notes Kramer. And she wasn’t about to leave it on the table.

The disparity wasn’t a complete shock to Kramer, who’d previously worked in marketing at Ticketfly, Asana, and Astro Technology (acquired by Slack) . According to her lawsuit, filed by attorney Sharon Vinick, Kramer emailed Carta’s founder and CEO, Henry Ward, when she was initially offered the job, noting that the equity offered was “lower than my expectations.”

According to Kramer, Ward told her that any more equity would be “unfair,” as compensation at her level was uniform for all employees. He also said Carta planned a company-wide review of its salaries and stock options later in the year, and that if it revealed that she was being underpaid, her compensation would be adjusted.

Clearly, Ward and Kramer have different views on whether or not that ultimately happened.

In our call with Kramer, she said still believes in the company’s mission to make equity more understandable for its users. She declined to say whether she has exercised any of her shares, but she said that Carta gives its employees a longer window to do this than many other startups. (How much time is is based in part on their tenure with the company, she’d added.)

Kramer also said that she hopes the company can “live up to” how it markets itself externally, as an ally of women who are paid less for the same amount of work.

Kramer says her experience inside of Carta — which still has an exclusively male board of directors —  was not of a company that values women as much as men. She alleges that not only was she the only woman who reported directly to Ward during her tenure,  but that two other VP-level execs who joined at roughly the same were promoted to C-level positions despite having “less, and less relevant” work experience in their respective fields, whereas her efforts to be promoted went nowhere. (Asked if there were other VP-level male colleagues who were also not promoted during the same period, Vinick said that no one at the time had a comparable role to Kramer, who grew to oversee 27 other people.)

Kramer adds that she stopped being included in meetings where a marketing head would normally be included, fundraising meetings among them, and believes that her efforts to remedy what she perceived as a “sexist culture” within the male-dominated company were at the root of all of these developments.

Eventually, Kramer says, she felt she was forced to resign after a meeting with Ward turned heated and he said Kramer was in violation of the company’s “no asshole policy.” When she wrote him two days later to quit, he wrote back within eight minutes, accepting her resignation and suggesting that they both might learn from their experience working together.

Vinick, Kramer’s attorney, tells us Carta is being sued for emotional, punitive, and economic distress and says that now that her law firm has filed the suit, Carta will be served officially with the complaint within another week or two, at which point the discovery process can begin.

Carta does not ask its employees to sign arbitration clauses in their employment agreements, so unless it settles with Kramer or a judge finds some reason to dismiss the case, it could eventually head to trial.

In the meantime, the decision to sue is a big gamble for Kramer, but Vinick says she is proud of her client. “Standing up to these situations is an extraordinarily difficult and potentially career-limiting move to take,” but will ultimately help “shine a light on the problem of this equity gap.”

Carta has raised more than $600 million from investors to date, including Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Ventures, and Goldman Sachs. In April, as it was sealing it up its newest round of funding, it also conducted its first major layoff, parting ways with 161 employees.

At the time, Business Insider spoke with eight former employees and one investor who described Carta as a “quickly changing company with huge vision but little focus, where hiring and hypergrowth” had become its core priorities.

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12 major league edtech VCs discuss top trends, opportunities

Ready or not, edtech has been shoved into the spotlight as millions of students shifted to remote learning due to pandemic-related school shutdowns.
But backing these companies are investors who have long believed that edtech was always set up for great returns and a big impact. We reached out to …

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Where top VCs are investing in D2C

Don’t over-index the Casper mess; investors say there’s strength yet in the sector

If you’re looking for toothbrushes, skin-care face masks, mattresses, glasses or even socks, there’s a digitally-native, direct-to-consumer (D2C) company or two that can help you out.
And thanks to smart digital marketing, …

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Meditation Apps Address Stress of COVID-19

Social distancing, by nature, is isolating. And extended periods of isolation can take a toll on one’s mental health.
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With the news cycle churning out updates on the latest COVID-19 developments, the uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last and inevitable economic effects, …

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Cloud Security Provider Netskope Raises $340M At ‘Nearly $3B’ Valuation






Netskope, a cloud security company, announced this morning it has raised $340 million in a Series G round led by Sequoia Capital Global Equities.

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The financing values the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company at nearly $3 billion, it said, and brings its total raised to over $740 million, according to Crunchbase data. Netskope’s last funding–a $168.7 million Series F–closed in November 2018, propelling it to unicorn status.

New investors Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and PSP Investments participated in its latest round, as well as all existing investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners (which led its Series F), Accel, Base Partners, ICONIQ Capital, Sapphire Ventures, Geodesic Capital and Social Capital.

Netskope describes itself as an alternative to “legacy, outdated security solutions that have failed to keep up with enterprises’ rapid adoption of new cloud and mobile technology, which have dissolved the ‘perimeter’ of a business’ network that traditional solutions were originally built for.”

Put more simply, Netskope’s Security Cloud offering aims to give companies visibility and real-time data and threat protection when accessing cloud services, websites and private apps from anywhere, on any device.

Netskope CEO Sanjay Beri said that when he started the company in 2012, “it was clear that the cloud was changing everything, but few saw how it would disrupt security.”

Netskope CEO and Founder Sanjay Beri

Patrick Fu, managing partner at Sequoia Capital Global Equities, said his firm believes Netskope is the “unrivaled leader driving innovation” across cloud, data and network security.”

Besides seeing 80 percent enterprise customer growth (25 percent of which is among the Fortune 100), the company says it has boosted its headcount by 50 percent with a focus on engineering and sales. Specifically, Netspoke says it has 1,000 customers and added 300 employees in less than a year’s time. It now has nearly 1,000 employees.

In addition to its new headquarters in Santa Clara, Netskope has opened new offices in Paris, São Paulo, Seattle, New York, St. Louis, San Francisco and Tokyo. It’s also expanded into new markets including Australia, Singapore, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Spain and Germany.

As far as vertical markets are concerned, Beri told Crunchbase News that “there is not an industry that is immune to the security concerns” Netspoke addresses.

“That in mind, we continue to see massive uptake in regulated industries such as financial services, healthcare, and retail,” he said.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias







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A look at some of the mid-sized startup hubs, which despite lower amounts, keep steady pace with funding rounds.

Source: Crunchbase News

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Indian tech startups raised a record $14.5B in 2019

Indian tech startups have never had it so good.

Local tech startups in the nation raised $14.5 billion in 2019, beating their previous best of $10.6 billion last year, according to research firm Tracxn .

Tech startups in India this year participated in 1,185 financing rounds — 459 of those were Series A or later rounds — from 817 investors.

Early stage startups — those participating in angel or pre-Series A financing round — raised $6.9 billion this year, easily surpassing last year’s $3.3 billion figure, according to a report by venture debt firm InnoVen Capital.

According to InnoVen’s report, early stage startups that have typically struggled to attract investors saw a 22% year-over-year increase in the number of financing deals they took part in this year. Cumulatively, at $2.6 million, their valuation also increased by 15% from last year.

Overall, there were 81 financing deals of size between $25 million and $100 million, up from 56 last year and 36 the year before, and 27 rounds above $100 million, up from 17 in 2018 and and 9 in 2017, Tracxn told TechCrunch.

Also in 2019, 128 startups in India got acquired, four got publicly listed, and nine became unicorns. This year, Indian tech startups also attracted a record number of international investors, according to Tracxn.

This year’s fundraise further moves the nation’s burgeoning startup space on a path of steady growth.

Since 2016, when tech startups accumulated just $4.3 billion — down from $7.9 billion the year before — flow of capital has increased significantly in the ecosystem. In 2017, Indian startups raised $10.4 billion, per Tracxn.

“The decade has seen an impressive 25x growth from a tiny $550 million in 2010 to $14.5 billion in 2019 in terms of the total funding raised by the startups,” said Tracxn.

What’s equally promising about Indian startups is the challenges they are beginning to tackle today, said Dev Khare, a partner at VC fund Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a recent interview to TechCrunch.

In 2014 and 2015, startups were largely focused on building e-commerce solutions and replicating ideas that worked in Western markets. But today, they are tackling a wide-range of categories and opportunities and building some solutions that have not been attempted in any other market, he said.

Tracxn’s analysis found that lodging startups raised about $1.7 billion this year — thanks to Oyo alone bagging $1.5 billion, followed by logistics startups such as Elastic Run, Delhivery, and Ecom Express that secured $641 million.

176 horizontal marketplaces, more than 150 education learning apps, over 160 fintech startups, over 120 trucking marketplaces, 82 ride-hailing services, 42 insurance platforms, 33 used car listing providers, and 13 startups that are helping businesses and individuals access working capital secured funding this year. Fintech startups alone raised $3.2 billion this year, more than startups operating in any other category, said Tracxn.

The investors

Sequoia Capital, with more than 50 investments — or co-investments — was the most active venture capital fund for Indian tech startups this year. (Rajan Anandan, former executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, joined Sequoia Capital India as a managing director in April.) Accel, Tiger Global Management, Blume Ventures, and Chiratae Ventures were the other top four VCs.

Steadview Capital, with nine investments in startups including ride-hailing service Ola, education app Unacademy, and fintech startup BharatPe, led the way among private equity funds. General Atlantic, which invested in NoBroker and recently turned profitable edtech startup Byju’s, invested in four startups. FMO, Sabre Partners India, and CDC Group each invested in three startups.

Venture Catalysts, with over 40 investments including in HomeCapital and Blowhorn, was the top accelerator or incubator in India this year. Y Combinator, with over 25 investments, Sequoia Capital’s Surge, Axilor Ventures, and Techstars were also very active this year.

Indian tech startups also attracted a number of direct investments from top corporates and banks this year. Goldman Sachs, which earlier this month invested in fintech startup ZestMoney, overall made eight investments this year. Among others, Facebook made its first investment in an Indian startup — social-commerce firm Meesho and Twitter led a $100 million financing round in local social networking app ShareChat.

Source: TechCrunch