Powered by $25 million, Arcadia Power looks to expand its distributed renewable energy services

As renewable energy use surges in the U.S. and the effects of global climate change become more visible, companies like Arcadia Power are pitching a nationwide service to make renewable energy available to residential customers. While states like New York, California and regions across the upper Midwest have access to renewable energy through their utilities […]

As renewable energy use surges in the U.S. and the effects of global climate change become more visible, companies like Arcadia Power are pitching a nationwide service to make renewable energy available to residential customers.

While states like New York, California and regions across the upper Midwest have access to renewable energy through their utilities and competitive marketplaces, not all states in the country have utilities that are building renewable power generation to offset coal and natural gas energy production.

Enter Arcadia Power and its new $25 million in financing, which will be used to redouble its marketing efforts and expand its array of services in the U.S.

Right now, renewable energy is the fastest growing component of the U.S. energy mix. It’s grown from 15 percent to 18 percent of all power generation in the country, according to a 2018 report from Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

And while Arcadia Power is only accounting for 120 megawatts of the 2.9 gigawatts of new renewable energy projects initiated since 2017, its new $25 million in financing will help power new projects.

When we first wrote about the company in 2016, it was just developing solar projects that would generate power for the grid to offset electricity usage from its customers.

Now the company is expanding its array of services. All customers are automatically enrolled in a 50 percent wind energy offset program, where half of their monthly usage is matched in investments in wind farms — and they can upgrade to fully offset their energy usage with wind power. Meanwhile, community solar projects are also available for free or customers can then purchase a panel and receive a guaranteed solar savings on each monthly power bill.

Reduced prices are given to customers through the consolidation of their buying power across multiple competitive energy markets.

Finally, Arcadia is offering new home efficiency upgrades like LED lighting and smart thermostats, along with smart metering and tracking services to improve customers’ payment options, the company said.

“The electricity industry hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years, and we believe that homeowners and renters want a new approach that puts them first. Our platform places clean energy, home efficiency and data insights front and center for residential energy customers in all 50 states,” said chief executive Kiran Bhatraju.

Kiran Bhatraju, chief executive officer Arcadia Power

Funding for the new Arcadia Power financing was led by G2VP, the investment firm that spun out from Kleiner Perkins cleantech investing, ValueAct Spring Fund, McKnight Foundation, Energy Impact Partners, Cendana Capital, Wonder Ventures, BoxGroup and existing investors, according to the company. As a result of the investment, Alex Laskey, Opower’s founder and president; Ben Kortlang, a partner at G2VP; and Dan Leff, a longtime investor in energy technology companies, will all join the Arcadia board of directors.

“We’re taking a piece of the savings that is a part of the power purchase agreement,” says Bhatraju. “Customers get a 5 percent guaranteed savings against the utility rate. In competitive markets like Ohio or Maryland, it’s a shared savings model.”

Beyond the savings, the offsets can do something to reduce the carbon emissions that are exacerbating the problems of global climate change.

“When you build community solar projects you are displacing former fossil fuel plants from being used because these of customers,” Bhatraju said. But the entrepreneur recognizes that they have a long way to go to make a difference. “120 MW is not nearly enough,” Bhatraju said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Bumble announces a fund to invest in women-led businesses

Dating and networking app Bumble today announced the launch of Bumble Fund, a new vehicle focused on early stage investments specifically aimed at helping diverse, female entrepreneurs raise capital for their businesses. Sarah Jones Simmer, Bumble Chief Operating Officer, will lead Bumble Fund’s investment strategy along with Bumble Senior Advisor, Sarah Kunst, the company says. “Investing […]

Dating and networking app Bumble today announced the launch of Bumble Fund, a new vehicle focused on early stage investments specifically aimed at helping diverse, female entrepreneurs raise capital for their businesses. Sarah Jones Simmer, Bumble Chief Operating Officer, will lead Bumble Fund’s investment strategy along with Bumble Senior Advisor, Sarah Kunst, the company says.

“Investing in and empowering women in business is something that our founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is deeply passionate about and is at the very core of what Bumble stands for,” said Jones Simmer, in a statement about the fund’s launch. “Through Bumble Fund we’ll look not only to support those women leaders who have been largely ignored, but we’ll also demonstrate why those investments build smart, successful businesses.”

Bumble Fund’s initial commitments include one of the winners of Bumble’s first “Bizz Pitch” competition, Sofia Los Angeles, a swimwear company founded by Anasofia Gomez. Its other commitments so far include Mahmee, a health care platform for coordinating prenatal and postpartum care; Female Founders Fund, another early stage fund for backing female talent; BeautyCon, the digital media company and festival operator focused on the beauty industry; and venture fund Cleo Capital, also focused on female founders.

The new fund will make investments that range from $5,000 to $250,000, in companies that are headed by women and focus on women’s interests. Bumble has committed over a million so far, it says.

The team will also work to identify new, potential investments via Bumble’s own Bumble Bizz platform – the dating app’s business networking platform available within its flagship mobile app. The company will also find new founders to back through its future Bumble Bizz pitch competitions, it says.

The move could help bring more attention to Bumble Bizz, while giving the company a stake in promising companies. Bumble, however, only spoke of the need for more investment in female founders, not the other bottom line advantages to its own operations.

In a blog post, Bumble shared the fact that startups headed by women had only received 2% of all venture capital last year.

“For black, Latinx, and other women from underrepresented groups, that statistic is even more bleak,” the post explained. “Black women are both the most educated and most entrepreneurial demographic in the U.S., but received only 0.2% of all venture funding for their startups last year,” it noted.

Bumble, whose app now has over 37 million users worldwide and has an 85% female workforce, says it wants to help solve the problem of women being “largely ignored by the venture capital establishment” with this fund.

Bumble announces a fund to invest in women-led businesses

Dating and networking app Bumble today announced the launch of Bumble Fund, a new vehicle focused on early stage investments specifically aimed at helping diverse, female entrepreneurs raise capital for their businesses. Sarah Jones Simmer, Bumble Chief Operating Officer, will lead Bumble Fund’s investment strategy along with Bumble Senior Advisor, Sarah Kunst, the company says. “Investing […]

Dating and networking app Bumble today announced the launch of Bumble Fund, a new vehicle focused on early stage investments specifically aimed at helping diverse, female entrepreneurs raise capital for their businesses. Sarah Jones Simmer, Bumble Chief Operating Officer, will lead Bumble Fund’s investment strategy along with Bumble Senior Advisor, Sarah Kunst, the company says.

“Investing in and empowering women in business is something that our founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is deeply passionate about and is at the very core of what Bumble stands for,” said Jones Simmer, in a statement about the fund’s launch. “Through Bumble Fund we’ll look not only to support those women leaders who have been largely ignored, but we’ll also demonstrate why those investments build smart, successful businesses.”

Bumble Fund’s initial commitments include one of the winners of Bumble’s first “Bizz Pitch” competition, Sofia Los Angeles, a swimwear company founded by Anasofia Gomez. Its other commitments so far include Mahmee, a health care platform for coordinating prenatal and postpartum care; Female Founders Fund, another early stage fund for backing female talent; BeautyCon, the digital media company and festival operator focused on the beauty industry; and venture fund Cleo Capital, also focused on female founders.

The new fund will make investments that range from $5,000 to $250,000, in companies that are headed by women and focus on women’s interests. Bumble has committed over a million so far, it says.

The team will also work to identify new, potential investments via Bumble’s own Bumble Bizz platform – the dating app’s business networking platform available within its flagship mobile app. The company will also find new founders to back through its future Bumble Bizz pitch competitions, it says.

The move could help bring more attention to Bumble Bizz, while giving the company a stake in promising companies. Bumble, however, only spoke of the need for more investment in female founders, not the other bottom line advantages to its own operations.

In a blog post, Bumble shared the fact that startups headed by women had only received 2% of all venture capital last year.

“For black, Latinx, and other women from underrepresented groups, that statistic is even more bleak,” the post explained. “Black women are both the most educated and most entrepreneurial demographic in the U.S., but received only 0.2% of all venture funding for their startups last year,” it noted.

Bumble, whose app now has over 37 million users worldwide and has an 85% female workforce, says it wants to help solve the problem of women being “largely ignored by the venture capital establishment” with this fund.

Twistlock snares $33 million Series C investment to secure cloud native environments

As the world shifts to a cloud native approach, the way you secure applications as they get deployed is changing too. Twistlock, a company built from the ground up to secure cloud native environments, announced a $33 million Series C round today led by Iconiq Capital. Previous investors YL Ventures, TenEleven, Rally Ventures, Polaris Partners […]

As the world shifts to a cloud native approach, the way you secure applications as they get deployed is changing too. Twistlock, a company built from the ground up to secure cloud native environments, announced a $33 million Series C round today led by Iconiq Capital.

Previous investors YL Ventures, TenEleven, Rally Ventures, Polaris Partners and Dell Technologies Capital also participated in the round. The company reports it has received a total of $63 million in venture investment to date.

Twistlock is solving a hard problem around securing containers and serverless, which are by their nature ephemeral. They can live for fractions of seconds making it hard track problems when they happen. According to company CEO and co-founder Ben Bernstein, his company came out of the gate building a security product designed to protect a cloud-native environment with the understanding that while containers and serverless computing may be ephemeral, they are still exploitable.

“It’s not about how long they live, but about the fact that the way they live is more predictable than a traditional computer, which could be running for a very long time and might have humans actually using it,” Bernstein said.

Screenshot: Twistlock

As companies move to a cloud native environment using Dockerized containers and managing them with Kubernetes and other tools, they create a highly automated system to deal with the deployment volume. While automation simplifies deployment, it can also leave companies vulnerable to host of issues. For example, if a malicious actor were to get control of the process via a code injection attack, they could cause a lot of problems without anyone knowing about it.

Twistlock is built to help prevent that, while also helping customers recognize when an exploit happens and performing forensic analysis to figure out how it happened.

It’s is not a traditional Software as a Service as we’ve come to think of it. Instead, it is a service that gets installed on whatever public or private cloud that the customer is using. So far, they count just over 200 customers including Walgreens and Aetna and a slew of other companies you would definitely recognize, but they couldn’t name publicly.

The company, which was founded in 2015, is based in Portland, Oregon with their R&D arm in Israel. They currently have 80 employees. Bernstein said from a competitive standpoint, the traditional security vendors are having trouble reacting to cloud native, and while he sees some startups working at it, he believes his company has the most mature offering, at least for now.

“We don’t have a lot of competition right now, but as we start progressing we will see more,” he said. He plans to use the money they receive today to help expand their marketing and sales arm to continue growing their customer base, but also engineering to stay ahead of that competition as the cloud-native security market continues to develop.

Fighting food waste, Full Harvest raises $8.5m to bring excess produce to commercial buyers

It’s a story that any urban millennial can (and will) complain about. You are looking for a non-caffeinated beverage, so you walk into a juice shop only to be shocked at the $13 price point for a couple of apricots and kale mixed in a blender. Yes, there is an intentional premium signaling going on, […]

It’s a story that any urban millennial can (and will) complain about. You are looking for a non-caffeinated beverage, so you walk into a juice shop only to be shocked at the $13 price point for a couple of apricots and kale mixed in a blender.

Yes, there is an intentional premium signaling going on, but there is also a much deeper challenge that goes all the way back to the ground where that kale came from. Farms are throwing away produce that doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards of grocery stores, and that means perfectly edible and delicious vegetables are completely lost. Some studies show that a majority of all food weight is lost before it even leaves the farm. Yet, there are no easy ways to sell those loose leaves of romain — at least, not yet.

San Francisco-based Full Harvest is building a B2B marketplace that connects large-scale farms with companies like retail juice franchises, who seek excess produce in order to make their products more affordable. The marketplace, which TechCrunch has discussed before, has closed an $8.5m series A round led by Spark Capital, with agriculture-focused venture shop Cultivian Sandbox Ventures joining the round.

Full Harvest is the brainchild of Christine Moseley, who worked for more than a decade in the logistics and food industries, including a stint at retail juice chain Organic Avenue. As she was thinking about potential startups, she learned about the incredible food waste that takes place every day in America.

While spending time at a farm “knee-deep in romaine,” she saw farmers throwing away lettuce that would have been perfect for her former employer. “They were leaving 75% behind on the ground, and after all of those water resources were spent,” Moseley said. For farmers, “they are really dictated by what those big grocery stores are demanding, because consumers are becoming pickier and pickier, so the supermarkets are getting more picky,” she continued.

Full Harvest then is designed to bridge the gap, connecting farms to businesses that don’t need the same aesthetics. The startup focuses on vegetable farms greater than 1000 acres and fruit farms larger than 100 acres and then connects them to customers. The company has developed a set of quality standards to make buying and selling more fluid, and it is focused on “the foundational large-volume items that these food and beverage companies buy,” Moseley said. Today, the company brokers 40 items.

Moseley says that buyers and sellers both need better pricing. For farmers, many of whom are struggling with their own economics, a marketplace allowing them to get some value for produce they are currently throwing away could be a critical source of incremental revenue. For buyers, lower prices could mean cheaper product prices, increasing profits and driving sales to consumers.

Excess produce is the focus of several startups. Imperfect Produce and Hungry Harvest are focused on the B2C market of delivering excess produce straight to consumers. In comparison, Full Harvest doesn’t work with consumers at all, and instead focuses on large commercial buyers.

A series A venture round is by no means uncommon today, but it is rarer for solo founders, rarer still for female founders, and even rarer in the agricultural space. Moseley said that she was “pleasantly surprised” that being a solo female founder in a space like agriculture wasn’t the focus of her investors, and that they instead focused on “execution and market opportunity.” At the start, “It’s a lot to handle on your own,” Moseley said, but “now we are scaling, and it’s gotten very manageable.”

Spark’s John Melas-Kyriazi and Cultivian’s Dan Phillips will join Full Harvest’s board. In addition to the two funds, Jenny Fleiss, Jon Scherr, and Adam Zeplain joined the round along with former seed investor Wireframe Ventures.

To fight the scourge of open offices, ROOM sells rooms

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But […]

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But a new startup called ROOM is building a prefabricated, self-assembled solution. It’s the Ikea of office phone booths.

The $3495 ROOM One is a sound-proofed, ventilated, powered booth that can be built in new or existing offices to give employees a place to take a video call or get some uninterrupted flow time to focus on work. For comparison, ROOM co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen says “Most phone booths are $8,000 to $12,000. The cheapest competitor to us is $6,000 — almost twice as much.” Though booths start at $4,500 from TalkBox and $3,995 from Zenbooth, they tack on $1,250 and $1,650 for shipping while ROOM ships for free. They’re all dividing the market of dividing offices.

The idea might seem simple, but the booths could save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, recruitment, and retention if it keeps employees from going crazy amidst sales call cacophony. Less than a year after launch, ROOM has hit a $10 million revenue run rate thanks to 200 clients ranging from startups to Salesforce, Nike, NASA, and JP Morgan. That’s attracted a $2 million seed round from Slow Ventures that adds to angel funding from Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen. “I am really excited about it since it is probably the largest revenue generating company Slow has seen at the time of our initial Seed stage investment” says partner Kevin Colleran.

“It’s not called ROOM because we build rooms” Meisner-Jensen tells me. “It’s called ROOM because we want to make room for people, make room for privacy, and make room for a better work environment.”

Phone Booths, Not Sweatboxes

You might be asking yourself, enterprising reader, why you couldn’t just go to Home Depot, buy some supplies, and build your own in-office phone booth for way less than $3,500. Well, ROOM’s co-founders tried that. The result was…moist.

Meisner-Jensen has design experience from the Danish digital agency Revolt that he started befor co-founding digital book service Mofibo and selling it to Storytel. “In my old job we had to go outside and take the class, and I’m from Copenhagen so that’s a pretty cold experience half the year.” His co-founder Brian Chen started Y Combinator-backed smart suitcase company Bluesmart where he was VP of operations. They figured they could attack the office layout issue with hammers and saws. I mean, they do look like superhero alter-egos.

Room co-founders (from left): Brian Chen and Morten Meisner-Jensen

“To combat the issues I myself would personally encounter with open offices, as well as colleagues, we tried to build a private ‘phone booth’ ourselves” says Meisner-Jensen. “We didn’t quite understand the specifics of air ventilation or acoustics at the time, so the booth got quite warm – warm enough that we coined it ‘the sweatbox.'”

With ROOM, they got serious about the product. The 10 square foot ROOM One booth ships flat and can be assembled in under 30 minutes by two people with a hex wrench. All it needs is an outlet to plug into to power its light and ventilation fan. Each is built from 1088 recycled plastic bottles for noise cancelling so you’re not supposed to hear anything from outsides. The whole box is 100 percent recyclable plus ith can be torn down and rebuilt if your startup implodes and you’re being evicted from your office.

The ROOM One features a bar-height desk with outlets and a magnetic bulletin board behind it, though you’ll have to provide your own stool of choice. It actually designed not to be so comfy that you end up napping inside, which doesn’t seem like it’d be a problem with this somewhat cramped spot. “To solve the problem with noise at scale you want to provide people with space to take a call but not camp out all day” Meisner-Jensen notes.

Booths by Zenbooth, Cubicall, and TalkBox (from left)

A Place To Get Into Flow

Couldn’t office managers just buy noise-cancelling headphones for everyone? “It feels claustrophobic to me” he laughs, but then outlines why a new workplace trend requires more than headphones. “People are doing video calls and virtual meetings much, much more. You can’t have all these people walking by you and looking at your screen. [A booth is] also giving you your own space to do your own work which I don’t think you’d get from a pair of Bose. I think it has to be a physical space.”

But with plenty of companies able to construct physical spaces, it will be a challenge for ROOM to convey to subtleties of its build quality that warrant its price. “The biggest risk for ROOM right now are copycats” Meisner-Jensen admits. “Someone entering our space claiming to do what we’re doing better but cheaper.” Alternatively, ROOM could lock in customers by offering a range of office furniture products. The co-founder hinted at future products, saying ROOM is already receiving demand for bigger multi-person prefab conference rooms and creative room divider solutions.

The importance of privacy goes beyond improved productivity when workers are alone. If they’re exhausted from overstimulation in a chaotic open office, they’ll have less energy for purposeful collaboration when the time comes. The bustle could also make them reluctant to socialize in off-hours, which could lead them to burn out and change jobs faster. Tech companies in particular are in a constant war for talent, and ROOM Ones could be perceived as a bigger perk than free snacks or a ping-pong table that only makes the office louder.

“I don’t think the solution is to go back to a world of cubicles and corner offices” Meisner-Jensen concludes. It could take another decade for office architects to correct the overenthusiasm for open offices despite the research suggesting their harm. For now, ROOM’s co-founder is concentrating on “solving the issue of noise at scale” by asking “How do we make the current workspaces work in the best way possible?”

Wonderschool raises $20M to help people start in-home preschools

Educators already don’t get paid enough, and those that work in preschools or daycares often make 48% less. Meanwhile, parents struggle to find great early education programs where kids receive enough attention and there’s space, but they don’t need special connections or to pass grueling admissions interviews to get in. Any time there’s a lousy […]

Educators already don’t get paid enough, and those that work in preschools or daycares often make 48% less. Meanwhile, parents struggle to find great early education programs where kids receive enough attention and there’s space, but they don’t need special connections or to pass grueling admissions interviews to get in.

Any time there’s a lousy experience people have an emotional connection to and spend a lot of money on, there’s an opportunity for a startup. Enter ‘Wonderschool‘, a company that lets licensed educators and caretakers launch in-home preschools or daycares. Wonderschool helps candidates get credentialed, set up their programs, launch their websites, boost enrollment, and take payments in exchange for a 10 percent cut of tuition. The startup is now helping run 140 schools in the SF Bay, LA, and NYC where parents are happy to pay to give their kids an advantage.

That chance to fill a lucrative gap in the education market has attracted a new $20 million Series A for Wonderschool led by Andreessen Horowitz . The round brings the startup to $24.1 million in total funding just two years after launch. With the cash and Andreessen partner Jeff Jordan joining its board, Wonderschool is looking to build powerful lead generation and management software to turn teachers into savvy entrepreneurs.

Finding good childcare has become one of the most difficult experiences for families. I’ve seen parents who are making a livable wage in urban cities like San Francisco and New York still struggle to find and afford quality childcare” says co-founder and CEO Chris Bennett. “We wanted to deliver a solution for parents that also had the potential to create jobs and empower the caregiver — that’s Wonderschool.”

By spawning and uniting programs across the country, Wonderschool could scale as the way software eats preschool. But without vigorous oversight of each educator, Wonderschool is also at risk of a safety mishap at one of its franchises ruining the brand for them all.

Airbnb For Schooling

Wonderschool started when co-founder Arrel Gray was having trouble finding childcare for his daughter close to home. “My little sister went to an in-home preschool, so I suggested he check them out” says Bennett. “But he wasn’t very satisfied with the options – the majority were full and some didn’t meet the expectations for his family. We also found that they didn’t use the internet much so they were hard to find and contact.”

The two were seeking to pivot their social commerce startup Soldsie after Facebook algorithm changes curtailed its growth. Their research led to the discovery of just how much lower preschool and daycare workers’ wages were. “When we had the idea we thought, ‘what the best way to test this?’ Why don’t we start a preschool ourselves'” says Bennett. “So we rented a home in the Berkeley Hills, hired an amazing educator, set up a school and started one. The school ended up being a huge success. Five-star reviews on Yelp. A high NPS. Parents loved the place.” It also netted the teacher a 3X higher salary than before.

With that proof, Wonderschool went on to raise $4.1 million from Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Omidyar Network, Cross Culture Ventures, Uncork Capital, Lerer Ventures, FundersClub, and Edelweiss. That let Bennett and Gray flesh out the business. Wonderschool would recruit existing teachers and caregivers or guide people to get licensed so they could become “directors” of in-home schools. Wonderschool acts almost like Airbnb by turning them into small businesses earning money from home.

Teachers can pick whatever schedule, curriculum, or format they want, like Montesori or nature-focused learning. Wonderschool now has over 500 directors working with its software, with some making as much as $150,000 or $200,000. In exchange for its 10 percent cut of tuition, Wonderschool provides directors with a “bootcamp” to prep them for the job. It pairs them with a mentor, then helps them build their website and figure out their pricing options. Coaching guides train the directors to scout for new leads, offer appealing tours, and track their fledgling business.

The $20 million from Andreessen, OmidyarGary Community Investments, and First Round will go to expanding the Wonderschool software. Each student slot it can help director fill, the more it earns. The startup will also have to compete with  companies like Wildflower Schools, which Bennett admits has a similar business model but he says “We are focused on in home and they also focus on Montessori while we are curriculum agnostic.” There’s also Cottage Class which powers homeschooling for students up to age 18, Tinkergarten that concentrates on short-term outdoor education, and VIPKid connects kids in China with U.S. teachers over video chat.

They, like Wonderschool, are trying to scale up to meet the massive existing demand. “The challenge is that there aren’t enough programs for the number of children needing public or private schooling – 1st grade or earlier – and our goal is to provide enough supply for every child” Bennett explains.

Still, safety remains a top concern. Bennett notes that “Wonderschool has a support team that helps school Directors prepare their homes for operation. With regard to safety, each state’s licensing office covers this in their approval process for being granted a license to operate.” But could a problem at one school shake the businesses of all the rest of its franchises? “We have a system of checks in balances in place that we feel confident would allow us to anticipate any potential issues, including regular, weekly check-ins with Directors and a feedback loop with parents. We also email parents on a regular cadence to get feedback from parents and we step in and work with the Director if we find that there are issues” Bennett insists.

If Wonderschool can keep its brand clean through thorough oversight, it could both create better paying jobs in a field rife with undercompensated heroes, and open early schooling to a wider range of students. Bennett’s parents moved to the U.S. from Honduras, pouring their efforts into supporting his and his sister’s education. Now he’s building the next generation of teachers the tools to give more kids a head start in life.

Neat is a challenger bank for early-stage startups and SMEs

With the growth in cross-border payment services and ‘challenger’ bank cards for consumers, you’d be forgiven for wondering where the options are for small business — where cash is particularly precious. They do exist. One of the newer options is Neat, which is nested in Hong Kong but open for business worldwide. The startup started off […]

With the growth in cross-border payment services and ‘challenger’ bank cards for consumers, you’d be forgiven for wondering where the options are for small business — where cash is particularly precious.

They do exist. One of the newer options is Neat, which is nested in Hong Kong but open for business worldwide.

The startup started off following the same track as the likes of Monzo, Starling and Revolut in Europe, developing a ‘new’ kind of account free of branch-based banking and tedious paperwork. But quickly the team realized that its service was being adopted in large by startups and SMEs as a way to get more flexible financing and perks like install balance/billing.

Neat still offers a consumer service in Hong Kong, but it places a heavy focus on developing its business service. Right now, that helps companies who can’t apply for credit cards get a Neat Mastercard which can be used for trivial (but important!) items such as monthly bills for services, flights, hotels and more. There’s no credit involved since the cards and account are debit-based.

Beyond the basics, Neat Business customers can use their account to handle employee payroll, business invoices, receive money and really pay all other bills that would require a credit card without using their personal one, as is so often the case for early-stage startups. More advanced features include expense cards for employees, while detailed company reporting and automated accounts are planned for introduction soon.

The company is based in Hong Kong, but Neat’s service can be used overseas, and indeed it already is.

Co-founder and CEO David Rosa, a former managing director of Citi Bank Asia Pacific, told TechCrunch that the company has customers in over 100 countries since account holders don’t need to be resident in, or incorporated in Hong Kong, to qualify for the service.

That said, a large portion is based in or associated with Hong Kong as it stands today, but Rosa — who started the business in 2015 alongside CTO Igor Wos — said he wants to change that and grow the userbase globally. The fact that Neat is working on introducing multi-currency solutions, as well as accountancy software integrations, is sure to help widen its appeal to those based outside of Hong Kong.

(Left to right) Neat co-founders Igor Wos (CTO) and David Rosa (CEO)

In a further validation, Neat recently snagged $2 million in funding to develop its tech and increase marketing. Those investors included Singapore’s Dymon Asia and Portag3 Ventures, which is the VC arm of Canada-based Power Corp, a public listed international management firm with a market cap of $9 billion. The Neat deal represents the Portag3 Ventures’ first investment in Asia and its CEO is bullish on how the duo can work together.

“From Hong Kong, we can reach the world. There’s a lot to be done here especially because of the China angle,” Rosa, who has lived in Hong Kong for 17 years, said.

Blissfully grabs $3.5 million seed investment to help companies get their SaaS in gear

Blissfully, a New York City startup that helps companies understand their SaaS usage inside their organizations, announced it has received a $3.5 million seed round. The investment was led by by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. Hubspot, Founder Collective, and several unnamed pre-seed investors also participated. They got a $1.5 million pre-seed investment, bringing the total […]

Blissfully, a New York City startup that helps companies understand their SaaS usage inside their organizations, announced it has received a $3.5 million seed round.

The investment was led by by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. Hubspot, Founder Collective, and several unnamed pre-seed investors also participated. They got a $1.5 million pre-seed investment, bringing the total so far to $5 million, according the company.

Company co-founder and CEO Ariel Diaz says Blissfully actually helped him and his co-founder solve a problem they were having tracking the SaaS usage at their previous startups. Like many companies, they were using spreadsheets to track this information and they found it was untenable as the company grew beyond 30 or 40 people. They figured there had to be a better way, so they built one.

Their product is much more than simply a database of the SaaS products in use inside an organization. It can integrate with existing company systems like single sign-on tools such as Okta and OneLogIn, financial reporting systems and G Suite login information. “We are trying to automate as much of the data collection as possible to discover what you’re using, who’s using it and how much you are spending,” he said.

Screenshot: Blissfully (cropped)

Their scans often turn up products customers thought they had canceled or those that IT had asked employees to stop using. More than finding Shadow IT, the product also gives insight to overall SaaS spend, which many companies have trouble getting a grip on. They can find most usage with a scan. Some data such as customized contract information may have to be manually entered into the system, he says.

Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan, whose company is one of the investors in this round, sees a growing need for this kind of tool. “The widespread growth of SaaS across companies of all sizes is a leading indicator of the market need for Blissfully. As business’ investments in SaaS increase, they lose visibility into issues ranging from spending to security,” Halligan said in a statement.

The company offers a freemium and pay model and is available in the G Suite Marketplace. If you go for the free version, you can scan your systems for SaaS usage, but if you want to do more complex integrations with company systems, you have to pay. They currently have 10 employees and 500 customers with a mix of paying and free.

One interesting aspect of the Blissfully tool is that it is built entirely using Serverless architecture on AWS Lambda.

Soundcloud on the blockchain? Audius raises $5.5M to decentralize music

Audius wants to cut the middlemen out music streaming so artists get paid their fair share. Coming out of stealth today led by serial entrepreneur and DJ Ranidu Lankage, Audius is building a blockchain-based alternative to Spotify or SoundCloud. Users will pay for Audius tokens or earn them by listening to ads. Their wallet will […]

Audius wants to cut the middlemen out music streaming so artists get paid their fair share. Coming out of stealth today led by serial entrepreneur and DJ Ranidu Lankage, Audius is building a blockchain-based alternative to Spotify or SoundCloud.

Users will pay for Audius tokens or earn them by listening to ads. Their wallet will then pay out a fraction of a cent per song to stream from decentralized storage across the network, with artists receiving roughly 85 percent — compared to roughly 70 percent on the leading streaming apps. The rest goes to compensating whoever is hosting that song, as well as developers of listening software clients, one of which will be built by Audius.

Audius plans to launch its open sourced product in beta later this year. But it’s already found some powerful investors who see SoundCloud as vulnerable to the cryptocurrency revolution. Audius has raised a $5.5 million Series A led by General Catalyst and Lightspeed, with participation from Kleiner Perkins, Pantera Capital, 122West and Ascolta Ventures. They’re betting that Audius’ token will grow in value, making the stockpile it keeps worth a fortune. It could then sell chunks of its tokens to earn revenue instead of charging artists directly.

Audius co-founders (from left): Head of product Forrest Browning, CEO Ranidu Lankage, CTO Roneil Rumburg

“The biggest problem in the music industry is that streaming is taking off and artists aren’t necessarily earning a lot of money. And it can take 3 months, or up to 18 months for unsigned artists, to get paid for streams” says Lankage. “That’s what crypto really solves. You can pay artists in near real-time and make it fully transparent.”

The big question will be whether Audius can use the token economy to crack the chicken-and-egg problem of getting its first creators and listeners on a platform that might be less functionally robust than its traditional competitors. There are a lot of moving parts to decentralize, but there are also plenty of disgruntled musicians out there waiting for something better.

From Sri Lankan Hip-Hop Star To Serial Entrepreneur

Most startup guys don’t have Billboard charting singles on their bio, but Lankage does. Born in Sri Lanka, his hip-hop songs in his native tongue of Sinhalese were the first of the language to be played on the BBC and MTV. He got signed to Sony and even went platinum, but left the label seeking greater control over his work. After going to Yale, he applied his music business knowledge to build a Reddit for dance music called The Drop with Twitch’s Justin Kan back in 2015.

The two teamed up again on a video version of Q&A app Quora called Whale, but that fizzled out too. Lankage’s next venture Polly, a polling tool built as a complement to Snapchat, inspired that now super-popular Instagram Stories polls and questions stickers. But after an acquihire by Reddit fell through, he returned to first love: music.

“I’ve always been passionate about building tools for creators” says Lankage. But this time, he wanted to focus on helping them turn their art into a profession. He teamed up with CTO Roneil Rumburg, an engineering partner at Kleiner Perkins who’d build a crypto wallet called Backslash, and head of product Forrest Browning, who’d sold his software metering startup StacksWare to Avi Networks.

Their goal is to build a blockchain streaming music service where listeners don’t have to understand blockchains. “A user wouldn’t even know that they have a wallet” says Rumburg. They’ll just hear an ad every once in a while, get a subscription, or pay per stream. Since Audius is open sourced, developers will be able to build their own listening clients on top which could specialize in discovery of certain types of music or offer their own payment schemes.

“I have known Ranidu, Forrest, and Roneil for a long time, and have always been impressed with their ability to blend art, technology and business together” says investor Niko Bonatsos of General Catalyst. “In Audius, they bring together all three skills, with a deep technical heart and a compelling solution for a very big marketplace.”

Tokens, Not Record Labels

For starters, Audius is focusing on signing up independent electronic musicians. These are the types that might be popular on SoundCloud but actually have to pay for hosting there while not getting much back due to the platform’s weak monetization options. Don’t expect U2 and Ariana Grande on Audius, at least not yet. But the startup could differentiate by offering access to content you can’t find elsewhere.

To get artists on board, Lankage tells me Audius plans “to use token incentives”. Those willing to jump on first before there are many listeners could get a bonus allotment of tokens that might be worth more if they help popularize the service. And where artists go, their fans will follow. Audius is hoping artists will share its links first because that’s where they’ll earn the most money.

Audius has also lined up a legion of big-name advisors to help it develop its blockchain product and artist relationships. Those include Augur co-founder Jeremy Gardner, EDM artist 3LAU, EA Co-Founder Bing Gordon, and more it can’t announce just yet.

The linchpin of Audius will be the user experience. If the system feels too complicated, listeners and artists will stay elsewhere. A DJ might earn more per stream from Audius, but if Spotify or SoundCloud offer better ways for fans to subscribe to them and generate more plays long-term, they’ll still direct supporters there. But if Audius can hide the nerdy bits while solving the music industry’s problems, it has the potential to be one of the first mainstream consumer blockchain projects that treats the tech as a utility, not just a new stock market to bet on.