With $300M in new funding, Devoted Health launches its Medicare Advantage plan in Florida

Andreessen Horowitz has led the $300 million Series B, with participation from Premji Invest and Uprising.

Devoted Health, a Waltham, Mass.-based insurance startup, has raised a $300 million Series B and began enrolling members in eight Florida counties to its Medicare Advantage plan.

The company, which helps Medicare beneficiaries access care through its network of physicians and tech-enabled healthcare platform, has raised the funds from lead investor Andreessen Horowitz, Premji Invest and Uprising.

The company declined to disclose its valuation.

Devoted’s founders are brothers Todd and Ed Park — the company’s executive chairman and chief executive officer, respectively. Todd co-founded a pair of now publicly-traded companies, Athenahealth, a provider of electronic health record systems, and health benefits platform Castlight Health. He also served as the U.S. chief technology officer during the Obama Administration. Ed, for his part, was the chief operating officer of Athenahealth until 2016 and a member of Castlight’s board of directors for several years.

Venrock partners Bryan Roberts — Devoted’s founding investor — and Bob Kucker — its chief medical officer — are also part of the company’s founding team.

The Park brothers have tapped Jeremy Delinsky, the former CTO at Wayfair and Athenahealth, as COO; DJ Patil, a former data scientist at the White House, as its head of technology; and Adam Thackery, the former CFO of Universal American, as its chief financial officer.

Its board includes former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. As part of the latest round, A16z’s Vijay Pande will join its board, too.

The company says it’s committed to treating its customers as if they were members of its employees’ own families. For Patil, the startup’s head of tech, that’s made the entire process of building Devoted a very emotional one.

“I’ve cried a lot at this company,” Patil told TechCrunch. “You meet these seniors and they’ve done everything right. They’ve worked so incredibly hard their entire lives. They’ve given it their all for the American dream. They’ve paid into this model of healthcare and they deserve better.”

Devoted, which previously raised $69 million across two financing rounds in 2017 from Oak HC/FT, Venrock, F-Prime Capital Partners, Maverick Ventures and Obvious Ventures, has begun enrolling seniors located in Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and Seminole counties to its Medicare Advantage plan. It will begin providing care Jan. 1, 2019.

Its long-term goal is to offer insurance plans to seniors nationwide.

“We are responsible for these people’s healthcare so we need to get it right,” Patil said.

With $300M in new funding, Devoted Health launches its Medicare Advantage plan in Florida

Andreessen Horowitz has led the $300 million Series B, with participation from Premji Invest and Uprising.

Devoted Health, a Waltham, Mass.-based insurance startup, has raised a $300 million Series B and began enrolling members in eight Florida counties to its Medicare Advantage plan.

The company, which helps Medicare beneficiaries access care through its network of physicians and tech-enabled healthcare platform, has raised the funds from lead investor Andreessen Horowitz, Premji Invest and Uprising.

The company declined to disclose its valuation.

Devoted’s founders are brothers Todd and Ed Park — the company’s executive chairman and chief executive officer, respectively. Todd co-founded a pair of now publicly-traded companies, Athenahealth, a provider of electronic health record systems, and health benefits platform Castlight Health. He also served as the U.S. chief technology officer during the Obama Administration. Ed, for his part, was the chief operating officer of Athenahealth until 2016 and a member of Castlight’s board of directors for several years.

Venrock partners Bryan Roberts — Devoted’s founding investor — and Bob Kucker — its chief medical officer — are also part of the company’s founding team.

The Park brothers have tapped Jeremy Delinsky, the former CTO at Wayfair and Athenahealth, as COO; DJ Patil, a former data scientist at the White House, as its head of technology; and Adam Thackery, the former CFO of Universal American, as its chief financial officer.

Its board includes former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. As part of the latest round, A16z’s Vijay Pande will join its board, too.

The company says it’s committed to treating its customers as if they were members of its employees’ own families. For Patil, the startup’s head of tech, that’s made the entire process of building Devoted a very emotional one.

“I’ve cried a lot at this company,” Patil told TechCrunch. “You meet these seniors and they’ve done everything right. They’ve worked so incredibly hard their entire lives. They’ve given it their all for the American dream. They’ve paid into this model of healthcare and they deserve better.”

Devoted, which previously raised $69 million across two financing rounds in 2017 from Oak HC/FT, Venrock, F-Prime Capital Partners, Maverick Ventures and Obvious Ventures, has begun enrolling seniors located in Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and Seminole counties to its Medicare Advantage plan. It will begin providing care Jan. 1, 2019.

Its long-term goal is to offer insurance plans to seniors nationwide.

“We are responsible for these people’s healthcare so we need to get it right,” Patil said.

Instacart raises another $600M at a $7.6B valuation

D1 Capital Partners has led the $600 million round for Instacart.

Instacart chief executive officer Apoorva Mehta wants every household in the U.S. to use Instacart, a grocery delivery service that allows shoppers to order from more than 300 retailers, including Kroger, Costco, Walmart and Sam’s Club, using its mobile app.

Today, the company is taking a big leap toward that goal.

San Francisco-based Instacart has raised $600 million at a $7.6 billion valuation, just six months after it brought in a $150 million round and roughly eight months after a $200 million financing that valued the business at $4.2 billion.

D1 Capital Partners, a relatively new fund led by Daniel Sundheim, the former chief investment officer of Viking Global Investors, has led the round.

Instacart is raking in cash aggressively but spending it cautiously. The company still has all of its Series E, which ultimately totaled $350 million, and the majority of its $413 million Series D in the bank, a source close to the company told TechCrunch. That means, in total, Instacart has $1.2 billion at its fingertips. Currently, according to the same source, the company is only profitable on a contribution margin basis, meaning it’s earning a profit on each individual Instacart order.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Mehta said the company didn’t need the capital and that it was an “opportunistic” round, i.e. the capital was readily available and Instacart has ambitious plans to scale, so why not fundraise. Instacart plans to use the enormous pool of capital to double its engineering team by 2019, which will include filling 300 open engineering roles in its recently announced Toronto office, he said.

As far as an initial public offering, it will happen — eventually.

“It will be on the horizon,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

“2018 has been a really big year for us,” he added. “The reason why we are so excited is because the opportunity ahead of us is enormous. The U.S. is a $1 trillion grocery market and less than 5 percent of that is bought online. It’s an enormous category that’s highly under-penetrated.”

In the last six months, Instacart has announced a few notable accomplishments.

As of August, the service has been available to 70 percent of U.S. households. That’s due to the expansion of existing partnerships and new deals entirely, like a recently announced pilot program between Instacart and Walmart Canada that gives Canadian Instacart users access to 17 different Walmart locations across Winnipeg and Toronto, Ontario.

The company has also completed several executive hires. Most recently, it tapped former Thumbtack chief technology officer Mark Schaaf as CTO. Before that, Instacart brought on David Hahn as chief product officer and Dani Dudeck as its first chief communications officer.

In early September, the company confirmed its chief growth officer Elliot Shmukler would be leaving the company.

The 6-year-old Y Combinator graduate has raised more than $1.6 billion in venture capital funding from Coatue Management, Thrive Capital, Canaan Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and several others.

 

Cratejoy sheds 60% of its workforce amid restructuring effort

Cratejoy, a startup founded in 2014, helps businesses launch and scale their own subscription box services.

Cratejoy, a startup that runs a marketplace for subscription businesses and helps founders launch and scale their own subscription box services, has laid off 18 members of its 43-person team.

The company’s co-founder and chief executive officer Amir Elaguizy confirmed the lay-offs to TechCrunch. He says the cuts are part of a restructuring effort to keep costs in line and that subscribers and merchants will not be impacted.

The startup has raised a total of $10 million to date from investors, including Charles River Ventures, SV Angel, Andreessen Horowitz, Maverick Capital, Start Fund and ACE Venture Fund. Cratejoy completed the Y Combinator accelerator program in the summer of 2013 alongside DoorDash, Le Tote and Bloom That, which itself recently hit pause on its on-demand flower service.

“This was a hard decision made by the leadership team to keep our costs in line,” Elaguizy told TechCrunch. “Whenever we’re forced to make hard staffing decisions it is difficult, and this reduction was no exception. We had to part ways with many very good and talented people.”

Elaguizy declined to elaborate on any other changes to the business.

Austin-based Cratejoy sells a curated collection of subscription boxes and helps entrepreneurs develop their own subscription box. It exists on the premise that the future of e-commerce is these packaged collections of goods delivered on a recurring basis.

For some time, venture capitalists were drinking the subscription box Kool-Aid, but those days appear to be over. Funding into subscription box startups, according to Crunchbase data, has dropped off significantly.

Cratejoy was founded in 2014 amid the subscription box funding boom. The same year it completed its $4 million Series A, Birchbox completed a $60 million round, Dollar Shave Club raised $13 million and Stitch Fix brought in $30 million. With 30 companies raising about $200 million, 2014 was the highest on record for investment in subscription box companies.

Last year, companies in the sector raised just $39.7 million across 20 deals.

Atrium raises $65M from A16z to replace lawyers with machine learning

Let the computers do the legal busy work so attorneys can focus on complex problem solving for their clients. That’s the lucrative idea behind Atrium LTS, Twitch co-founder Justin Kan’s machine learning startup that digitizes legal documents and builds applications on top to speed up fundraising, commercial contracts, equity distribution, and employment issues. For example, […]

Let the computers do the legal busy work so attorneys can focus on complex problem solving for their clients. That’s the lucrative idea behind Atrium LTS, Twitch co-founder Justin Kan’s machine learning startup that digitizes legal documents and builds applications on top to speed up fundraising, commercial contracts, equity distribution, and employment issues. For example, one of its apps automatically turns startup funding documents into Excel cap tables.

Automating expensive legal labor has led to a rapid rise to 110 employees and 250 clients for Atrium, including startups like Bird and MessageBird. Atrium only came of stealth a year ago with a $10.5 million party round before going into Y Combinator last winter. Today it announces it’s raised a $65 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

In characteristic dude fashion, Kan tells me “I’m pretty stoked about that because of having more resources for Atrium.” The venture firm’s partner Andrew Chen is taking a board seat and famed co-founder Marc Andreessen is joining as a board observer. “I wanted a visionary who’s always going to be pushing us to build something really big” Kan says. YC’s Continuity Fund and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures are also joining the round

With the massive influx of cash, Atrium will be able to develop more internal tools it can use to crank out client work faster than its traditional competitors. “We can ultimately be this platform on top of which you’re building these legal business and eventually other professional services and software services” Kan explains,”They’re all sitting on top of the platform that understands legal documents.”

In more Atrium news, Y Combinator’s leading partner Michael Seibel will join the startup’s board too. And it’s acquired Tetra, a YC artificial intelligence startup that had raised $1.5 million to analyze voice, “to help us build our platform that understands and structures data” Kan tells me.

What Kan didn’t initially mention is that two of Atrium’s co-founders, CTO Chris Smoak and legal partner BeBe Chueh. have left. He later admitted they had transitioned out of the company several months before the new funding. “BeBe wanted to spend time working on family (she just got engaged); Chris and I disagreed on his job role” regarding the definition of the CTO position, Kan tells me. He’ll now be running Atrium with remaining co-founder Augie Rakow, formerly of mega-law firm Orrick, and Kan’s long-term business partner and former McKinsey analyst Nick Cortes.

Justin Kan (Atrium) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017

The law firm business model has left the door open for disruption by technology companies like Atrium. “Law firms generate revenue from hourly billing, and lack an incentive to vastly improve efficiency” Chen writes. “Many law firms dividend out all their profits at the end of each year, making it hard to invest in the expensive investment of building software. Software is hard to build inside a software company, much less a law firm”.

But Atrium is an engineering company with a legal clientele. It takes the most common and time-consuming activities — often related to ingesting mountains of documents — and builds machine learning workarounds. Atrium’s lawyers can focus on advising their clients on what to do, rather than burning the midnight oil doing it as they look for tiny quirks in the paperwork. The legal services get faster, cheaper, and more predictable so Atrium can offer upfront pricing.

For now, Atrium’s tech is limited to a narrow band of use cases. But “over $300 billion is spent per year in the enterprise legal market” Chen writes, so there’s plenty of room to grow now that Atrium is well capitalized. It will have to convince big corporations to ditch the old way and let computers lend a hand. Luckily, Atrium isn’t a SAAS company forcing clients to use the tech themselves. Done right, they shouldn’t even know that it’s machine vision software, not junior associates, pouring over their docs. It will have to out-match fellow legal tech startups like Ravel, CaseText, Judicata, Premonition, and more, though they’re often just tools rather than software-equipped law firms.

Kan also cops to his lack of experience in legal. “I think for any full stack vertical startup started by a non subject matter expert (ie. me who is not a lawyer), there is a risk that you come in and are very prescriptive on how things work. Then you build software that says ‘the providers must do it this way!'” Kan tells me. “But the practical reality is that it doesn’t work with the nuanced, non-linear workflows that providers already have. So the technology doesn’t get adopted and fails to provide value. That to me is the biggest upcoming risk.”

Justin Kan, from lifevlogger to legal giant

Yet if Atrium can ease clients into this new world service by service, it could generate network effects that fuel the whole business. It’s just a matter of prioritization. “One of the things I always need to be focused on is…focusing. That’s sometimes a blindspot.” From Justin.tv to Twitch to its acquisition by Amazon to his role as YC partner, Kan delivers but can be frenetic. “As an entrepreneur, I have a tendency to take on too much.”

But after leaving YC because “I had felt like I’d stopped learning”, Kan has found the legal space so full of knowledge and opportunity that it can hold his attention. “Part of why I like this business is because it was so different. I didn’t think it was something that would be as easily competed with” Kan recalls. “I had this calendar company and Google came out with something similar. I told [Twitch co-founder] Emmett ‘We have to do something no one can compete with. At least Google will never do this’. Then they did.”

But unlike with that game streaming startup, Atrium doesn’t have to worry about beating or getting bought by some legal tech giant. Instead, it wants to become one.

PagerDuty raises $90M to wake up more engineers in the middle of the night

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $90 million Series D round at a valuation of $1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $170 million. The round […]

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $90 million Series D round at a valuation of $1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $170 million.

The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management . Accel, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners participated. Given the leads in this round, chances are that PagerDuty is gearing up for an IPO.

“This capital infusion allows us to continue our investments in innovation that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to help our customers transform their companies and delight their customers,” said Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty in today’s announcement. “From a business standpoint, we can strengthen our investment in and development of our people, our most valuable asset, as we scale our operations globally. We’re well positioned to make the lives of digital workers better by elevating work to the outcomes that matter.”

Currently PagerDuty users include the likes of GE, Capital One, IBM, Spotify and virtually every other software company you’ve ever heard of. In total, more than 10,500 enterprises now use the service. While it’s best known for its alerting capabilities, PagerDuty has expanded well beyond that over the years, though it’s still a core part of its service. Earlier this year, for example, the company announced its new AIOps services that aim to help businesses reduce the amount of noisy and unnecessary alerts. I’m sure there’s a lot of engineers who are quite happy about that (and now sleep better).

Rappi raises $200M as Latin American tech investment reaches new highs

Rappi, the Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has brought in a new round of funding at a valuation north of $1 billion, as first reported by Axios and confirmed to TechCrunch by a source close to the company. DST Global has led the more than $200 million financing, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia—all of which were existing investors in the company.

Rappi, the Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has brought in a new round of funding at a valuation north of $1 billion, as first reported by Axios and confirmed to TechCrunch by a source close to the company. DST Global has led the more than $200 million financing, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia—all of which were existing investors in the company.

Rappi kicked off its business delivering beverages and has since expanded into meals, groceries, and even tech and medicine. You can, for example, have a pair of AirPods delivered to you using Rappi’s app. The company also has a popular cash withdrawal feature that allows users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents.

Rappi charges $1 per delivery. To help keep costs efficient, the company’s fleet of couriers use only motorcycles and bikes.

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. From there, Rappi quickly captured the attention of American venture capitalists. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America.

The new capital will likely be used to help Rappi compete with Uber Eats in Latin America.

The round for Rappi is notable for a Latin American company, as is its new unicorn status. Only one other Latin American startup, Nubank, has surpassed a billion-dollar valuation with new venture capital funding so far in 2018. Sao Paulo-based Nubank makes a no-fee credit card and is also backed by DST.

Investment in Latin American tech continues to reach new highs. In the first quarter of 2018, more than $600 million was invested. That followed a record 2017, which was the first time VCs funneled more than $1 billion into the continent’s tech ecosystem during a 12-month period.

The rise in investment is mostly due to companies like Rappi and NuBank, as well as Brazil-based 99, which sold to Chinese ride-hailing business Didi Chuxing in deal worth $1 billion.

 

DFINITY raises $102M from a16z and Polychain for a decentralised ‘Internet Computer’ to rival AWS

Since blockchain technology appeared, there has been a persistent problem in its development: how to make it scale to billions of users. Bitcoin was famously never really designed for this, and today other platforms like Ethereum are also struggling. If you could crack this problem, the thinking goes, you’d end up with the hottest property […]

Since blockchain technology appeared, there has been a persistent problem in its development: how to make it scale to billions of users. Bitcoin was famously never really designed for this, and today other platforms like Ethereum are also struggling. If you could crack this problem, the thinking goes, you’d end up with the hottest property in blockchain right now.

That, a very healthy dose of ambition, and a bench of strong computer science talent are some of the big reasons why investors are gathering around DFINITY, a startup based out of Zug, Switzerland and Palo Alto that is also a foundation, and has a very lofty goal to build what it calls the “Internet Computer”: a blockchain-based, decentralised and non-proprietary network to run the next generation of mega-applications. DFINITY aims to launch an initial version of its public network — which it has also dubbed “Cloud 3.0” — towards the end of the year.

Today, DFINITY is announcing that it has raised $102 million in funding, in a round jointly led by Andreessen Horowitz (via its crypto fund a16z crypto) and Polychain Capital. Both were previous investors in a $61 million round DFINITY announced earlier this year — which has been a blockbuster for blockchain, with at least $1.3 billion being invested into the technology in the first half of 2018 alone. DFINITY has now raised just over $195 million to date since being founded in 2015.

Other investors in this latest round include SV Angel, Aspect Ventures, Village Global, Multicoin Capital, Scalar Capital, and Amino Capital, KR1, as well as DFINITY community members.

DFINITY’s approach to the scalability problem is to resolve the dilemma between full decentralization (where every miner runs every instruction of every computation) versus delegating the mechanics to nodes or super nodes (so therefore more centralisation). DFINITY says it has tested its network to the point where it can finalize software computations in under 5 seconds, which is extremely fast. Bitcoin by contrasts takes 3600 seconds, and Ethereum 600 seconds.

DFINITY conducted an airdrop in May of 35 million Swiss Francs worth of tokens to DFINITY community members to help them become early users. Now DFINITY has followed the newer approach of raising a private sale for its token, without going to a public sale.

You can also watch a test demo of the network here:

While a lot of blockchain projects are tied up with currency (an area that DFINITY has also developed, as you can see), what’s notable about what this startup is doing is that its wider focus is on building a platform that could be used across a significantly wider set of applications.

The Internet Computer, as described by founder and chief scientist Dominic Williams, “is a public infrastructure that aims to host the world’s next generation of software and services.” The belief is that by making it open source and non-proprietary, it’s significantly more secure and less costly to maintain. DFINITY claims that R&D on such an architecture is 90 percent lower.

“We are excited to back DFINITY’s Internet Computer and their vision to host the world’s next generation of software and services on a public network,” said Chris Dixon, Partner at a16z crypto. “The Internet Computer is on track to become a critical piece of the future technology stack. This is groundbreaking and a real testament to Dominic and the incredible team at DFINITY.”

“Dfinity is exciting to a new decentralised world because it has the ability to solve the big issues of the day, including scaling and network security. It’s perhaps one of the handful of new blockchain platform’s that can achieve this. We were always impressed with Dominic and his conviction of their approach,” added Keld Van Shreven, CEO of KR1.

In addition to Williams, that team is impressive indeed.

It includes Timo Hanke as head of engineering, who is a former mathematics and cryptography professor who created AsicBoost to increase the efficiency of Bitcoin mining; Mahnush Movahedi, who joined as a senior researcher from Yale where he’s worked on “scalable and fault-tolerant distributed algorithms for consensus and secure multi-party computation, secret sharing, and interactive communication over noisy channels”; ex-Googler Ben Lynn, who is the “L” from BLS cryptography, used in Threshold Relay to “generate randomness and achieve security, speed and scale in public networks”; and Adreas Rossberg, another ex-Googler who had co-designed the WebAssembly virtual machine, which is also used at DFINITY.

While Internet networks and the largest players online today are proprietary entities with their own commercial and strategic agendas, the vision behind DFINITY is that it can be used to run “autonomous software” that will run in a more independent way. These will exist as running open source software that updates itself using inbuilt governance that can provide hard guarantees to users in the form of “smart contracts” (computing and other transactions that can be made without third parties). These can cover how data might be used, or provide guarantees to startups wishing to build functionality without the precarious worry of a platform access getting revoked. You can read more about the technology in its white paper.

DFINITY has not disclosed its valuation with this round.

Very Good Security makes data ‘unhackable’ with $8.5M from Andreessen

“You can’t hack what isn’t there,” Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader tells me. His startup assumes the liability of storing sensitive data for other companies, substituting dummy credit card or Social Security numbers for the real ones. Then when the data needs to be moved or operated on, VGS injects the original info without […]

“You can’t hack what isn’t there,” Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader tells me. His startup assumes the liability of storing sensitive data for other companies, substituting dummy credit card or Social Security numbers for the real ones. Then when the data needs to be moved or operated on, VGS injects the original info without clients having to change their code.

It’s essentially a data bank that allows businesses to stop storing confidential info under their unsecured mattress. Or you could think of it as Amazon Web Services for data instead of servers. Given all the high-profile breaches of late, it’s clear that many companies can’t be trusted to house sensitive data. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that they’d rather leave it to an expert.

That’s why the famous venture firm is leading an $8.5 million Series A for VGS, and its partner Alex Rampell is joining the board. The round also includes NYCA, Vertex Ventures, Slow Ventures and PayPal mafioso Max Levchin. The cash builds on VGS’ $1.4 million seed round, and will pay for its first big marketing initiative and more salespeople.

“Hey! Stop doing this yourself!,” Abdelkader asserts. “Put it on VGS and we’ll let you operate on your data as if you possess it with none of the liability.” While no data is ever 100 percent unhackable, putting it in VGS’ meticulously secured vaults means clients don’t have to become security geniuses themselves and instead can focus on what’s unique to their business.

“Privacy is a part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We should be able to build innovative applications without sacrificing our privacy and security,” says Abdelkader. He got his start in the industry by reverse-engineering games like StarCraft to build cheats and trainer software. But after studying discrete mathematics, cryptology and number theory, he craved a headier challenge.

Abdelkader co-founded Y Combinator-backed payment system Balanced in 2010, which also raised cash from Andreessen. But out-muscled by Stripe, Balanced shut down in 2015. While transitioning customers over to fellow YC alumni Stripe, Balanced received interest from other companies wanting it to store their data so they could be PCI-compliant.

Very Good Security co-founder and CEO Mahmoud Abdelkader

Now Abdelkader and his VP from Balanced, Marshall Jones, have returned with VGS to sell that as a service. It’s targeting startups that handle data like payment card information, Social Security numbers and medical info, though eventually it could invade the larger enterprise market. It can quickly help these clients achieve compliance certifications for PCI, SOC2, EI3PA, HIPAA and other standards.

VGS’ innovation comes in replacing this data with “format preserving aliases” that are privacy safe. “Your app code doesn’t know the difference between this and actually sensitive data,” Abdelkader explains. In 30 minutes of integration, apps can be reworked to route traffic through VGS without ever talking to a salesperson. VGS locks up the real strings and sends the aliases to you instead, then intercepts those aliases and swaps them with the originals when necessary.

“We don’t actually see your data that you vault on VGS,” Abdelkader tells me. “It’s basically modeled after prison. The valuables are stored in isolation.” That means a business’ differentiator is their business logic, not the way they store data.

For example, fintech startup LendUp works with VGS to issue virtual credit card numbers that are replaced with fake numbers in LendUp’s databases. That way if it’s hacked, users’ don’t get their cards stolen. But when those card numbers are sent to a processor to actually make a payment, the real card numbers are subbed in last-minute.

VGS charges per data record and operation, with the first 500 records and 100,000 sensitive API calls free; $20 a month gets clients double that, and then they pay 4 cent per record and 2 cents per operation. VGS provides access to insurance too, working with a variety of underwriters. It starts with $1 million policies that can be much larger for Fortune 500s and other big companies, which might want $20 million per incident.

Obviously, VGS has to be obsessive about its own security. A breach of its vaults could kill its brand. “I don’t sleep. I worry I’ll miss something. Are we a giant honey pot?,” Abdelkader wonders. “We’ve invested a significant amount of our money into 24/7 monitoring for intrusions.”

Beyond the threat of hackers, VGS also has to battle with others picking away at part of its stack or trying to compete with the whole, like TokenEx, HP’s Voltage, Thales’ Vormetric, Oracle and more. But it’s do-it-yourself security that’s the status quo and what VGS is really trying to disrupt.

But VGS has a big accruing advantage. Each time it works with a clients’ partners like Experian or TransUnion for a company working with credit checks, it already has a relationship with them the next time another clients has to connect with these partners. Abdelkader hopes that, “Effectively, we become a standard of data security and privacy. All the institutions will just say ‘why don’t you use VGS?'”

That standard only works if it’s constantly evolving to win the cat-and-mouse game versus attackers. While a company is worrying about the particular value it adds to the world, these intelligent human adversaries can find a weak link in their security — costing them a fortune and ruining their relationships. “I’m selling trust,” Abdelkader concludes. That peace of mind is often worth the price.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain bring Asia funds to the forefront of U.S. tech

Since early 2017, there’s been a new trend in the U.S. where a number of Asian funds have been actively involved in early-stage crypto investing. Many folks in traditional tech have not heard of them before, but these funds will only be growing more important as cryptocurrency and blockchain solidify their position in the American […]

Since early 2017, there’s been a new trend in the U.S. where a number of Asian funds have been actively involved in early-stage crypto investing. Many folks in traditional tech have not heard of them before, but these funds will only be growing more important as cryptocurrency and blockchain solidify their position in the American tech industry.

Funds with Asian money, primarily from China, have been in Silicon Valley for a long time. However, in the past, they were rarely heard or seen in the press, mostly because their assets under management (AUM) and investment check sizes were smaller in size and fewer in frequency than their American counterparts on average. These funds were often only found investing in later-stage rounds, since they weren’t able to compete against the top venture funds in the early rounds for highly-coveted startups, as many entrepreneurs weren’t familiar with them.

This has changed in the last few years and recent investment stats are very telling of a different trend. In 2017,  Asian investors directed 40% of the record $154bn in global venture financing, versus their American counterparts at 44%, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Specifically, deals led by U.S.-based venture capital and tech investment firms, such as Sequoia Capital or Andreessen Horowitz, made up of $67 billion in venture financing, just slightly more than the $61 billion led by Asian investors, including Tencent and SoftBank. Asia’s share is up from less than 5% just ten years ago.

Not only is there more money coming from Asia, but U.S. funds are also coming to realize the growing and massively underinvested tech opportunity in China and the rest of Asia. In a joint study issued by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology affiliate and a Beijing-based consultancy, the 2017 China Unicorn Enterprise Development Report showed that in the same year, China had 164 unicorns, worth a combined US$628.4 billion, while the most recent U.S. figures suggested 132 unicorns. Companies such as Meituan Dianping (the Yelp equivalent of China) and Didi (the Uber equivalent of China) are examples of large disruptive technology companies from China that have garnered massive valuations.

Subsequently, more U.S.-based funds are branching out geographically. In the past, some funds may have had an understanding of China’s large market opportunity and had a China-focused partner, team, or partnership relationships in Asia. But now, there is increasingly more focus on Asia from these funds than ever before, not only driven by the potential investment opportunities, but also by the untapped market opportunity for their portfolio companies.

Several funds have been ahead of the game. For example, Y Combinator recently made a big entrance into China with their announcement of a new China office headed by Qi Lu, the former COO of Baidu. Additionally, Connie Chan, who has been responsible for spearheading Andreessen Horowitz’s China network, was promoted to general partner earlier this year, the first to be promoted from within the company.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain accelerate West-East investment ties

Now, cryptocurrency and blockchain have accelerated this cross-border activity. The global, or rather, the censorship-resistance nature of cryptocurrency and blockchain have brought Asia – and specifically China – to the forefront of the focus. In the blockchain space, Chinese companies make up more than 80% share in mining compute power, while Asia in aggregate makes up a significant market share in cryptocurrency trading. The top Cryptocurrency exchanges, including Binance, OKex and Huobi, are also run by Chinese teams.

The cryptocurrency phenomenon began in Asia and the U.S. around the same time, but Asia got a head start due to a favorable set of regulations compared to the U.S. While certainly not laissez faire, blockchain technology has been hailed by regulators throughout countries such as China, Japan and Korea. Since the start of this year, blockchain has been highlighted as one of the most promising technologies by China’s President Xi Jingping, calling it “a breakthrough technology.” Japan has also placed a spotlight on the technology in an effort for the country to re-invigorate itself and its economy. And last but not least, Korean regulators have started debating the idea of using blockchain technology as part of the democratic process, with advocates calling for the introduction of blockchain-powered voting systems.

As a result, Chinese and Korean cryptocurrency and blockchain funds for the first time have an edge, with access to proprietary information and relationships, along with a massive market that cryptocurrency companies in the U.S. can no longer ignore.

Eric Ly, a former CTO and co-founder of LinkedIn, recently started a blockchain based company called Hub. And in our conversation, he has recognized the importance of Asia as a market: “it’s a region that is not to be dismissed, especially in the crypto world in terms of the interest and the activities that’s going on there.” With more funds coming from China and Asia, and many crypto projects coming out of Asia, there will be more cross-border activities on both the investment as well as business development front.

Given the global nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, it’s increasingly important for entrepreneurs to raise money from investors who are not just local to where their team is based but also globally useful to one’s success as a cryptocurrency and blockchain company. Not only can overseas investors bring a vastly different point of view to the table, but they can also provide access and market opportunities in the other half of the hemisphere that otherwise would have been difficult.

Strong examples of this fundraising pattern are emerging. Take Messari for instance, a company based out of New York with the mission to create an authoritative data resource for crypto assets. CEO Ryan Selkis has mentioned how he has made a conscious effort to raise from Asian and other global funds when he initially raised the company’s seed round.

Typically, regional investors will have better information and relationship with the local businesses and regulators, and that should prove to be useful as the company scales and grows overseas. Additionally, local investors will likely be more in touch with the policies and the regulators, which is crucial when it comes to treading through the gray areas in cryptocurrency and blockchain space. Having someone who recognizes and can predict regulatory inflection points would be hugely valuable for the company as they map out their global strategy.