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Haus, the real estate startup founded by Garrett Camp, raises $7.1M

Haus, the real estate startup founded by Garrett Camp, raises $7.1M

July 18, 2019

Haus, a startup aiming to make home ownership more affordable and flexible, is announcing that it has raised $7.1 million in new funding.

This amount combines a $4.1 million seed equity investment led by Montage Ventures and $3 million in debt, which will help finance Haus’ new co-investment model.

Haus was created by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp as part of his startup studio Expa . When it launched in 2016, it was focused on digitizing and bringing more transparency to the home-buying process. Since then, former Trulia executive Jonathan McNulty joined as CEO, and he’s introduced that co-investment model, where Haus helps to finance a purchase by buying equity in the home.

The idea is that instead of taking on debt, the homeowner is sharing with Haus both the risks and the rewards of changing home values. And instead of paying off a mortgage, the homeowner makes monthly payments to Haus that both purchases more equity and pays the startup and its investors.

The company estimates that these payments are, on average, 30% lower than a traditional mortgage payment. In an email, McNulty said that Haus caps the “option” portion of the payment so that homeowners are always purchasing as much equity as they did with their first payment, even if the home’s value increases.

“From a consumer perspective, there have historically only been two ownership options, pay cash for your home, or borrow money from a bank or lender with a mortgage,” he said. “With Haus, we replace that mortgage relationship and create a direct partnership with the consumer to create an entirely new way of financing a home.”

Haus can also work with existing homeowners to replace part or all of their mortgage — McNulty noted that in some cases, it may make sense “to …

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What seed-stage dilution tells us about changing investor expectations

What seed-stage dilution tells us about changing investor expectations

July 16, 2019

Round sizes are up. Valuations are up. There are more investors than ever hunting unicorns around the globe. But for all the talk about the abundance of venture funding, there is a lot less being said about what it all means for entrepreneurs raising their early funding rounds.

Take for instance Seed-stage dilution. Since 2014, enterprise-focused tech companies have given up significantly more ownership during Seed rounds. What gives?

Scale is an investor in early-in-revenue enterprise technology companies, so we wanted to better understand how this trend in Seed-stage dilution impacts companies raising Series A and Series B rounds.

Using our Scale Studio dataset of performance metrics on nearly 800 cloud and SaaS companies as well as Pitchbook fundraising records covering B2B software startups, we started connecting the dots between trends in valuations, round sizes, and winner-take-all markets.

Bottom line for founders: Don’t let all the capital in venture mislead you. There’s an important connection between higher Seed-stage dilution and increased investor expectations during Series A and Series B rounds.

These days, successful startups are growing up faster than ever.

Founders face an important trade-off decision

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Voyant Photonics raises $4.3M to fit lidar on the head of a pin

Voyant Photonics raises $4.3M to fit lidar on the head of a pin

July 16, 2019

Lidar is a critical method by which robots and autonomous vehicles sense the world around them, but the lasers and sensors generally take up a considerable amount of space. Not so with Voyant Photonics, which has created a lidar system that you really could conceivably balance on the head of a pin.

Before getting into the science, it’s worth noting why this is important. Lidar is most often used as a way for a car to sense things at a medium distance — far away, radar can outperform it, and up close, ultrasonics and other methods are more compact. But from a few feet to a couple hundred feed out, lidar is very useful.

Unfortunately, even the most compact lidar solutions today are still, roughly, the size of a hand, and the ones ready for use in production vehicles are still larger. A very small lidar unit that could be hidden on every corner of a car, or even inside the cabin, could provide rich positional data about everything in and around the car with little power and no need to disrupt the existing lines and design. (And that’s not getting into the many, many other industries that could use this.)

Lidar began with the idea of, essentially, a single laser being swept across a scene multiple times per second, its reflection carefully measured to track the distances of objects. But mechanically steered lasers are bulky, slow and prone to failure, so newer companies are attempting other techniques, like illuminating the whole scene at once (flash lidar) or steering the beam with complex electronic surfaces (metamaterials) instead.

One discipline that seems primed to join in the fun is silicon photonics, which is essentially the manipulation of …

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Serena Williams, Mark Cuban invest $3 million in Mahmee, a digital support network for new moms

Serena Williams, Mark Cuban invest $3 million in Mahmee, a digital support network for new moms

July 15, 2019

Tennis superstar and mom to a 22-month-old, Serena Willams has joined Mark Cuban to invest $3 million seed funding in Mahmee, a startup working toward filling the critical care gap in postpartum care.

For those who’ve never given birth or who (count your blessings!) never had any mishaps in the hospital or afterwards, the weeks and months following childbirth can be extremely hard on the new mom, with estimates as high as one in five women suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety and about 9% of women experiencing post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) following childbirth — and those are just the mood and mental health disorders.

Physical recovery, even for those with a healthy, run-of-the-mill birth, takes at least six weeks. Eight weeks if you’ve had a C-section. And, then there are all the medical complications. Williams, who has a history of blood clots, ended up basically shouting at the doctors to give her a CT scan that saved her life.

The real issue, at the heart of all this, according to Mahmee co-founder Melissa Hanna, is that “the data is fragmented.” She says this is why she built a network to get new moms the support they need — from their community, other moms and medical providers.

Mahmee provides not only online group discussions with other moms going through the same thing and at the same stage but also connection to your medical provider. On top of that, it adds support from a trained “maternity coach” who can flag if something is wrong.

One example Hanna used was a new mom who was exhibiting symptoms of septic shock. The co-founder says a coach was able to call this mom on the spot and get her to contact her OB-GYN right away.

There are other online services like Postpartum Support International (PSI) …

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Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

July 12, 2019

Could Roblox create a new entertainment and communication category, something it calls “human co-experience”?

When it was a small startup, few observers would have believed in that future. But after 15 years — as told in the origin story of our Roblox EC-1 — the company has accumulated 90 million users and a new $150 million venture funding war chest. It has captured the imagination of America’s youth, and become a startup darling in the entertainment space.

But what, exactly, is human co-experience? Well, it can’t be described precisely — because it’s still an emerging category. “It’s almost like that fable where the nine blind men are touching and describing an elephant.

Everyone has a slightly different view,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Baszucki. In Roblox’s view, co-experience means immersive environments where users play, explore, talk, hang out, and create an identity that’s as thoroughly fleshed out (if not as fleshy) as their offline, real life.

But the next decade at Roblox will also be its most challenging time yet, as it seeks to expand from 90 million users to, potentially, a billion or more. To do so, it needs to pull off two coups.

First, it needs to expand the age range of its players beyond its current tween and teen audience. Second, it must win the international market. Accomplishing both of these will be a puzzle with many moving parts.

What Roblox is today

One thing Roblox has done very well is appeal to kids within a certain age range. The company says that a majority of all 9-to-12-year-old children in the United States are on its platform.

Within that youthful segment, Roblox has arguably already created the human co-experience category. Many games are more cooperative than competitive, or have goals that are unclear or don’t seem to …

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How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

July 11, 2019

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun …

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SEC approves 1st consumer RegA+ token Props for cross-app rewards

SEC approves 1st consumer RegA+ token Props for cross-app rewards

July 11, 2019

After cracking down on ICOs, the SEC just okayed the first two RegA+ tokens that offer an alternative way for anyone to gain a financial stake in a company, even unaccredited investors. Blockstack got approved for a $28 million digital token sale to raise money, while influencer live-streaming app YouNow’s spin-off Props received a formal green light for a consumer utility “Howey” token users can earn to get loyalty perks in multiple apps.

Props has already raised $21 million by pre-selling tokens to Union Square Ventures, Comcast, Venrock, Andreessen Horowitz’s Chris Dixon and YouTuber Casey Neistat, so it isn’t raising any money with the RegA+ by selling its tokens like Blockstack. Instead, users earn or “mine” Props by engaging with apps like YouNow, which will award the tokens for creating broadcasts, watching videos and tipping creators. Having more Props entitles YouNow’s 47 million registered users bonus features, VIP status and more purchasing power with the app’s proprietary credits called Bars, which users have bought $70 million-worth of to date.

But unlike most virtual currencies that can only be used in a single app and don’t technically belong to consumers, the open-sourced Props blockchain system can be integrated into other apps via an API and people can export their Props to cryptocurrency wallets. That lets them apply their Props in other apps beyond YouNow. Four partnered apps have been lined up, including xSplit, a 17 million-registered-user app for video game streaming.

While Props aren’t currently redeemable for fiat currency, they were valued at $0.1369 each by the SEC-approved filing. The company is working to have Props listed on Alternative Trading Systems that work similarly to cryptocurrency exchanges. That lets Props give everyday app users a financial incentive to see the network of apps that adopt them grow. Because there’s a finite …

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Luminar eyes production vehicles with $100M round and new Iris lidar platform

Luminar eyes production vehicles with $100M round and new Iris lidar platform

July 11, 2019

Luminar is one of the major players in the new crop of lidar companies that have sprung up all over the world, and it’s moving fast to outpace its peers. Today the company announced a new $100 million funding round, bringing its total raised to more than $250 million — as well as a perception platform and a new, compact lidar unit aimed at inclusion in actual cars. Big day!

The new hardware, called Iris, looks to be about a third of the size of the test unit Luminar has been sticking on vehicles thus far. That one was about the size of a couple hardbacks stacked up, and Iris is more like a really thick sandwich.

Size is very important, of course, as few cars just have caverns of unused space hidden away in prime surfaces like the corners and windshield area. Other lidar makers have lowered the profiles of their hardware in various ways; Luminar seems to have compactified in a fairly straightforward fashion, getting everything into a package smaller in every dimension.

Test model, left, Iris on the right.

Photos of Iris put it in various positions: below the headlights on one car, attached to the rear-view mirror in another and high up atop the cabin on a semi truck. It’s small enough that it won’t have to displace other components too much, although of course competitors are aiming to make theirs even more easy to integrate. That won’t matter, Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell told me recently, if they can’t get it out of the lab.

“The development stage is a huge undertaking — to actually move it towards real-world adoption and into true series production vehicles,” he said (…

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The future of car ownership: Cars-as-a-service

The future of car ownership: Cars-as-a-service

July 10, 2019

Car shoppers now have several new options to avoid long-term debt and commitments. Automakers and startups alike are increasingly offering services that give buyers new opportunities and greater flexibility around owning and using vehicles.

Cars-as-a-Service

In the first part of this feature, we explored the different startups attempting to change car buying. But not everyone wants to buy a car. After all, a vehicle traditionally loses its value at a dramatic rate.

Some startups are attempting to reinvent car ownership rather than car buying.

Don’t buy, lease

My favorite car blog Jalopnik said it best: “Cars Sales Could Be Heading Straight Into the Toilet.” Citing a Bloomberg report, the site explains automakers may have had the worst first half for new-vehicle retail sales since 2013. Car sales are tanking, but people still need cars.

Companies like Fair are offering new types of leases combining a traditional auto financing option with modern conveniences. Even car makers are looking at different ways to move vehicles from dealer lots.

Fair was founded in 2016 by an all-star team made up of automotive, retail and banking executives including Scott Painter, former founder and CEO of TrueCar.

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A91 Partners, a new VC fund from former Sequoia Capital India execs, closes $351M maiden fund

A91 Partners, a new VC fund from former Sequoia Capital India execs, closes $351M maiden fund

July 10, 2019

India’s growing number of startups now have one additional VC fund that will listen to their business ideas. A91 Partners, a new VC fund founded by former partners at Sequoia Capital India, has closed their maiden fund at $351 million.

A91 Partners will focus on high-growth startups in consumer, technology, financial services and healthcare sectors in India, Abhay Pandey, a partner at A91 told TechCrunch in an interview.

A91, whose maiden fund is one of the largest for any VC funds in India, will focus on early as well as mid-stage startups that are looking to raise between $10 million and $30 million, Pandey said. Earlier this year, it invested about $14.2 million in Sugar, a cosmetics brand.

“In our experience, some companies get to this stage after having raised capital and some bootstrap their way into that position,” he added. Other than him, V.T. Bharadwaj, Gautam Mago, Prasun Agarwal — all former partners at Sequoia Capital India — and Kaushik Anand, formerly of CapitalG, are also partners at A91. They founded the fund late last year.

The inspiration of the name comes from the country code of India, which is 91. The letter A is inspired from Ashoka, India’s greatest emperor.

“We are excited about the opportunity ahead of us and look forward to partnering with founders building enduring businesses for tomorrow’s India,” the founding members said in a statement.

“Our role in this development and growth is to partner with exceptional founders to build the next generation of enduring Indian businesses. While fulfilling this role, we aspire to build an enduring, excellent, uniquely Indian investment firm,” they said.

A91 raised about 80% of the $351 million capital from overseas investors that include foundations, endowments, family offices and fund of funds, Pandey said. Some of these include the …

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