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YC-backed Cashfree raises $35.3 million for its payments platform

Cashfree, an Indian startup that offers a wide-range of payments services to businesses, has raised $35.3 million in a new financing round as the profitable firm looks to broaden its offering.

The Bangalore-based startup’s Series B was led by London-headquartered private equity firm Apis Partners (which invested through its Growth Fund II), with participation from existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. The new round brings the startup’s to-date raise to $42 million.

Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.

Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.

In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.

Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.

Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.

Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.

The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.

Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.

“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.

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Weather forecasts get an AI update with Atmo as businesses grapple with climate-related catastrophes

“Almost every business on earth is affected by weather,” says Alexander Levy, an investor serial entrepreneur whose latest company is the new weather prediction startup Atmo.

The company, which graduated from Y Combinator earlier this year, has recently raised $2 million from Signia Ventures and Sound Ventures for its predictive software, because sometimes businesses do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Atmo was founded by Johan Mathe, a former Google X employee who worked on Project Loon, the business unit focused on providing internet connectivity via floating balloons that would create a network of wireless coverage in emerging markets.

“I spent a lot of time working on weather,” said Mathe. It was his job to find ways for the balloons to navigate different areas and much of that navigation was complicated by weather patterns, he said.

“As I needed to build that there was so much complexity from the sheer amount of data with the weather,” Mathe said. “I thought I have to build something to make the intersection of weather and AI much more available for everyone.”

That was the beginning of a four year journey, which culminated in Atmo (formerly known as Froglabs.ai), the Berkeley, Calif.-based startup that’s providing predictive weather analysis for businesses ranging from renewable energy to ice cream shops.

Levy, who had co-founded the drug discovery company Atomwise, knew Mathe socially and initially invested in his company when it was just an idea. But  as he saw the value in weather data and made the jump from investor and advisor to co-founder.

Now Mathe, Levy, and chief technology officer Jeremy Lequeux all work from Levy’s Berkeley house as they develop their software and take their company to the next level.

And recent events make the need for the company’s services abundantly transparent. Since 2019, climate-related events have cost the US roughly $89 billion, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Every business is on this weather spectrum,” said Levy. “Let’s say you just are an ice cream location. Degree to which it’s hot or cold will affect your sales 10%. We’ve worked towards creating a general purpose predictive system and takes weather data on one hand and all the historical weather collected around the world. It compares the two and analyzes how are all of your key business metrics affected by the weather.”

The company already has a half dozen customers including two billion-dollar businesses in the renewable energy and eCommerce and logistics industries, Levy said.

“One of the areas that we work on is risk and extreme weather, like how do you predict these fluke events that you have very little intervention around,” said Levy. “We make that kind of prediction separate and apart from how you can best optimize when things are in a relatively normal state.”

Demand is only going to increase as these extreme events become more common, because governments and businesses will be looking at ways to improve their ability to withstand or adapt to these catastrophic conditions. “There’s a need because everybody is talking about resilience these days,” said Levy. “I see Atmo as the company that’s going to provide these insights for the big companies that are concerned about this problem now.”

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LA-based A-Frame, a developer of celebrity-led personal care brands, raises cash for its brand incubator

A-Frame, a Los Angeles-based developer of personal care brands supported by celebrities, has raised $2 million in a new round of funding led by Initialized Capital.

Joining Initialized in the round is the serial entrepreneur Moise Emquies, whose previous clothing lines, Ella Moss and Splendid, were acquired by the fashion holding company VFC in 2017.

A-Frame previously raised a seed round backed by cannabis dispensary Columbia Care. The company’s first product is a hand soap, Keeper. Other brands in suncare and skincare, children and babycare, and bath and body will follow, the company said.

“We partner with the investment groups at the agencies,” said company founder and chief executive, Ari Bloom. “We start interviewing different talent, speaking with their agents and their managers. We create an entity that we spin out. I wouldn’t say that we compete with the agencies.”

So far, the company has worked with CAA, UTA and WME on all of the brands in development, Bloom said. Two new brands should launch in the next couple of weeks.

As part of the round, actor, activist, and author Hill Harper has joined the company as a co-founder and as the company’s chief strategy officer. Emquies is also joining the company as its chief brand officer.

“Hill is my co-founder. He and I have worked together for a number of years. He’s with me at the holding company level. Identifying the opportunities,” said Bloom. “He’s bridging the gap between business and talent. He’s a part of the conversations when we talk to the agencies, managers and the talent. He’s a great guy that I think has a lot of respect in the agency and talent world.”

Initialized General Partner Alda Leu Dennis took point on the investment for Initialized and will take a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Emquies. Other directors include Columbia Care chief executive, Nicholas Vita, and John D. Howard, the chief executive of Irving Place Capital.

“For us the calculus was to look at personal care and see what categories need to be reinvented because of sustainability,” said Bloom. “It was important to us once we get to a category what is the demographic opportunity. Even if categories were somewhat evolved they’re not all the way there… everything is in non-ingestible personal care. When you have a celebrity focused brand you want to focus on franchise items.”

The Keeper product is a subscription-based model for soap concentrates and cleansing hand sprays.

A serial entrepreneur, Bloom’s last business was the AR imaging company, Avametric, which was backed by Khosla Ventures and Y Combinator and wound up getting acquired by Gerber Technology in 2018. Bloom is also a founder of the Wise Sons Delicatessen in San Francisco.

“We first invested in Avametric at Initialized in 2013 and he had experience prior to that as well. From a venture perspective I think of these all around real defensibility of brand building,” said Dennis.

The investors believe that between Bloom’s software for determining market preferences, A-Frame’s roster of celebrities and the company’s structure as a brand incubator, all of the ingredients are in place for a successful direct to consumer business.

However, venture capitalists have been down this road before. The Honest Co. was an early attempt to build a sustainable brand around sustainable personal care products. Bloom said Honest provided several lessons for his young startup, one of them being a knowledge of when a company has reached the peak of its growth trajectory and created an opportunity for other, larger companies to take a business to the next level.

“Our goal is a three-to-seven year horizon that is big enough at a national scale that a global player can come in and internationally scale it,” said Bloom.

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Developer productivity tools startup Raycast raises $2.7M from Accel

Workplace SaaS tools for teams have seen rocket ship growth in the past several years, and that adoption has given rise to a host of software tools geared towards improving individual productivity. Many of the startups behind these tools see building a cult following among individual users as the best way to set themselves up for later enterprise-wide success.

Raycast is a developer-focused productivity tool that aims to be the quickest way to get common tasks done. Today, it’s launching into public beta and sharing with TechCrunch that the team has raised new funding from Accel months after graduating from Y Combinator.

The company has closed a $2.7 million seed round led by Accel with participation from YC, Jeff Morris Jr.’s Chapter One fund as well as angel investors Charlie Cheever, Calvin French-Owen and Manik Gupta .

The desktop software takes a note from peers like Superhuman and Command E, allowing users to quickly pull up and modify data with keyboard shortcuts. Users can easily create and re-modify issues in Jira, merge pull requests in Github and find documents. The software is very much a developer-focused version of the Apple’s Spotlight search that aims to help software engineers navigate all of the parts of their job that aren’t development work with a single tool.

Image via Raycast.

Like plenty of workplace tools startups, one of the keys for Raycast is building out a network of extensions that can encompass a user’s workflow. For now, the software supports integrations from Asana, Jira, Zoom, Linear, G Suite, Calendar, Github and Reminders alongside core functionality that can help manage system settings and a calculator that can handle complex math problems. As the startup launches out of public beta, they’re looking to double down on extensions and are rolling out a developer program for early access to their API.

The Mac-only software is free while in public beta, but the company does plan on charging a monthly subscription for the service eventually, though they aren’t quite ready to talk about pricing yet.

Raycast’s team is interested in appealing to individual users for now, but might eventually expand to becoming a teams-level enterprise product that could help onboard new employees faster by quickly orienting them with their office’s software suite, but that’s all a bit down the road, the team says.

“We’re staying focused on single-player mode for a while,” CEO Thomas Paul Mann tells TechCrunch.

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India’s WareIQ raises $1.65M for its Amazon-like delivery platform for sellers

Despite e-commerce firms Amazon and Walmart and others pouring billions of dollars in India, offline retail still commands more than 95% of all sales in the world’s second largest internet market.

The giants have acknowledged the strong hold neighborhood stores (mom and pop shops) have in the country, and in recent quarters scrambled for ways to work with them. Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, has made the dynamics more interesting in the past year as he works to help these neighborhood stores sell online.

But the market opportunity is still too large, and there are many aspects of the old retail business that could use some tech. That’s the bet WareIQ, a Bangalore-headquartered, Y Combinator-backed startup is making. And it has just raised a $1.65 million Seed financing round from YC, FundersClub, Pioneer Fund, Soma Capital, Emles Venture Advisors, and founders of Flexport.

The one-year-old startup operates a platform to leverage the warehouses across the country. It has built a management system for these warehouses, most of which largely engage in offline business-to-business commerce and have had little to no prior e-commerce exposure.

“We connect these warehouses across India to our platform and utilize their infrastructure for e-commerce order processing,” said Harsh Vaidya, co-founder and chief executive of WareIQ, in an interview with TechCrunch. The company offers this as a service to retail businesses.

Who are these businesses? Third-party sellers, some of whom sell to Amazon and Flipkart and use WareIQ to speed up their delivery, e-commerce firms, social commerce platforms as well as neighborhood stores, and social media influencers.

Any online store, for instance, can send its products to WareIQ, which has integrations with several popular e-commerce platforms and marketplaces. It works with courier partners to move items from one warehouse to another to offer the fastest delivery, explained Vaidya.

The infrastructure stitched together by WareIQ also enables an online seller to set up their own store and engage with customers directly, thereby saving fees they would have paid to Amazon and other established e-commerce players.

“The sellers were not able do this on their own before because it required them to talk directly to warehousing companies that maintain their own rigid contracts, and high-security deposits, and they still needed to work with multiple technology providers to complete the tech-stack,” he said. WareIQ also offers these sellers last-mile delivery, cash collection, and fraud detection among several other services.

“In a way, we are building an open source Amazon fulfilment service, where any seller can send their goods to any of our warehouses and we fulfil their Amazon orders, Myntra orders, Flipkart orders, or their own website orders. We also comply with the standard of these individual marketplaces, so our sellers get a Prime tag on Amazon,” he said.

WareIQ is free for anyone to sign up with any charge and it takes a cut by the volume of orders it processes. The startup today works with over 40 fulfilment centres and it plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its network to tier 2 and tier 3 cities, he said. It’s also hiring for a number of tech roles.

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