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Daily Crunch: After clinching $12.3B valuation, Brex hires Meta exec as chief product officer

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 11, 2022! Today we have new venture funds, spyware news, Brex raising (again), and more. We’re back to 100% of last year’s startup and technology news pace, so we do hope you are rested up. It’s going to be a hectic, busy year. – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Cybersecurity matters to democracy: Spyware built by the infamous NSO Group was “used to spy on three critics of the Polish government,” according to Citizen Lab, TechCrunch reports. The result of the allegations is that there are now questions regarding Poland’s 2019 parliamentary elections. This is not the last time we’ll see this sort of story around the world.
  • Turo’s business roars back in 2021: Car-rental unicorn Turo has filed to go public, so TechCrunch dug into the numbers. The gist is that after a pretty flat 2020, Turo’s business posted strong growth and improved revenue quality during the first three quarters of 2021. We should get more updated numbers in time. (For you IPO fans out there, recall that HR software firm Justworks will debut later this week.)
  • Brex confirms $300M raise: The race to control the corporate spend market was a key theme last year, and 2022 is starting on a similar note, with well-known market competitor Brex confirming that it raised nine figures in a Series D-2 round that values the former startup at $12.3 billion. We expect Ramp, Brex’s rival, to announce more capital by the time you read this brief, given how last year went.

Startups/VC

Kicking off our startup coverage today, a few notes before we get into the individual bulletins. First, the SPAC boom has left the public market littered with formerly private companies that combined with blank-check entities and then lost half their value. SPACs failed to get enough private companies public last year to cut the number of unicorns, and the lackluster post-combination results add up to a general failure.

And Kleiner Perkins has joined a16z and Norwerst in announcing more than 10 figures worth of new capital. The venture capital firm, now in its 50th year, just closed $1.8 billion across two funds. Founders, that sound you just heard was the starting gun.

  • Locket shoots to the top of app stores: Today Sarah Perez added me on a new social service, leading to us trading selfies and dog pics back and forth. The app? Locket, which is tearing up the mobile application charts. Read on for what it does and why it’s popular.
  • In-orbit refueling: This story is the coolest. Darrell Etherington, our in-house space expert, writes that “Orbit Fab has teamed with Astroscale to provide on-orbit refueling services to the latter company’s geostationary servicing spacecraft.” This is a solution to a problem that most folks don’t think about. But if we want low-flying satellites to stay, well, afloat, they will at times need more fuel. And it looks like the tech to do so is getting close to maturity.
  • Back Market puts more points on the board for France: French startups had a pretty good 2021, and Back Market is helping the country’s upstart tech scene start this year on solid footing. The company “operates a marketplace of refurbished electronics devices” and just closed a $510 million Series E that values it at $5.7 billion. Last year it raised $335 million, for reference.
  • IVF tech is hot: If you haven’t had a chance to visit the shores of infertility, you might not be aware of just how complicated the in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process is. It’s complex. The good news for would-be parents is that startups like Fertilis, an Australian company, are raising capital to make the ordeal a bit more likely to result in a live birth.
  • Novo proves that there is still capital in the market for neobanks: Sure, Chime has yet to go public, much to our chagrin, but a lack of exits in the neobanking space is not slowing investors down. Novo, a neobank aimed at SMBs, just closed $90 million at a $700 million valuation.
  • StoreDot raises capital for super-fast battery charging: EVs are great, but they are still a bit slow to recharge. While gas-powered cars are not great for the air we breathe, they are incredibly good at onboarding fuel. StoreDot is busy closing a round that could be worth up to $80 million for like, very fast battery topping-up.
  • Online tutoring is big business (outside of China): Sure, the Chinese government drop-kicked its domestic edtech market, but that doesn’t mean that tutoring is kaput as a business type around the world. Evidence of that? GoStudent just closed a $340 million Series D less than a year after it closed a $244 million Series C.

We’re low on time, but there was so much more: This African e-commerce company just closed a Series A, Mostly AI landed $25 million, and Qonto – also in the business banking space like Novo! – raised more than half a billion. It’s busy out there.

And just to squeeze in one more thing, Ron Miller has a great story up on a group that is helping women in tech thrive through mentorship.

Don’t trust averages: How to assess and strengthen the health of your business

Image Credits: ShadowPix (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Startups grow fast, and when you’re building one, it can be easy to lose track of what’s working — and what’s not.

One way to track how well your business is doing is to look at the big-picture numbers, but Karen Peacock, CEO of Intercom, has a warning: Averages can be dangerously misleading.

“If Jeff Bezos walks into a bar with 100 people, suddenly, on average, the net worth of each individual in that bar is over a billion dollars. Is that useful? Would that lead you to take the right actions? No — averages hide true insights.”

Peacock explains how founders can assess where their business’ strengths lie and where they need to work harder, including how to gauge revenue health and use customer segmentation to find “leaks in the bucket.”

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Apple to allow third-party payment options in South Korea: A change in the wind? Perhaps. News that Apple will change its in-app payment rules in South Korea – it didn’t have a choice – could lead other countries to similar rulings. For Apple, focused on preserving a large slice of the iOS economy for itself, it’s bad news.
  • The EU sanctions itself over privacy errors: Here’s a fun one – insert the Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme – the “European Union’s chief data protection supervisor has sanctioned the European Parliament for a series of breaches of the bloc’s data protection rules,” Natasha Lomas writes. At least they are consistent!
  • And finally today, the Indian government will now own just under 36% of Vodafone Idea, “to save the third-largest telecom operator in the country from collapsing.” Wild!

TechCrunch Experts

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TechCrunch wants you to recommend software consultants who have expertise in UI/UX, website development, mobile development and more! If you’re a software consultant, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

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Paack pulls in a $225M Series D led by SoftBank to scale its E-commerce delivery platform

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By now, many of us are familiar with the warehouse robots which populate those vast spaces occupied by the likes of Amazon and others. In particular, Amazon was very much a pioneer of the technology. But it’s 2021 now, and allying warehouse robots with a software logistics platform is no longer the monopoly of one company.

One late-stage startup which has been ‘making hay’ with the whole idea is Paack, an e-commerce delivery platform which a sophisticated software platform that integrates with the robotics which are essential to modern-day logistics operations.

It’s now raised €200m ($225m) in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The capital will be used for product development and European expansion.

New participants for this round also include Infravia Capital Partners, First Bridge Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. Returning investors include Unbound, Kibo Ventures, Big Sur Ventures, RPS Ventures, Fuse Partners, Rider Global, Castel Capital, and Iñaki Berenguer.

This funding round comes after the creation of a profitable position in its home market of Spain, but Paack claims it’s on track to achieve similar across its European operations, Such as in the UK, France, and Portugal.

Founded by Fernando Benito, Xavier Rosales and Suraj Shirvankar, Paack now says it’s delivering several million orders per month from 150 international clients, processing 10,000 parcels per hour, per site. Some 17 of them are amongst the largest e-commerce retailers in Spain.

The startup’s systems integrate with e-commerce sites. This means consumers are able to customize their delivery schedule at checkout, says the company.

Benito, CEO and Co-founder, said: “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.” 

Max Ohrstrand, Investment Director at SoftBank Investment Advisers said: “As the e-commerce sector continues to flourish and same-day delivery is increasingly the norm for consumers, we believe Paack is well-positioned to become the category leader both in terms of its technology and commitment to sustainability.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the last-mile delivery business is expected to grow 78% by 2030, causing a rise in CO2 emissions of nearly one-third.

As a result, Paack claim it aims to deliver all parcels at carbon net-zero by measuring its environmental impact, using electric last-mile delivery vehicles. It is now seeking certification with The Carbon Trust and United Nations.

In an interview Benito told me: “We have a very clear short term vision which is to lead sustainable e-commerce delivers in Europe… through technology via what we think is perhaps the most advanced tech delivery platform for last-mile delivery. Our CTO was the CTO and co-founder of Google Cloud, for instance.”

“We are developing everything from warehouse automation, time windows, routing integrations etc. in order to achieve the best delivery experience.”

Paack says it is able to work with more than one robotics partner, but presently it is using robots from Chinese firm GEEK.

The company hopes it can compete with the likes of DHL, Instabox, and La Poste in Europe, which are large incumbents.

Source: Tech

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Infermedica raises $30M to expand its AI-based medical guidance platform

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Infermedica, a Poland-founded digital health company that offers AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by One Peak and included participation from previous investors Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital and Inovo Venture Partners. The new capital means the startup has raised $45 million in total to date.

Founded in 2012, Infermedica aims to make it easier for doctors to pre-diagnose, triage and direct their patients to appropriate medical services. The company’s mission is to make primary care more accessible and affordable by introducing automation into healthcare. Infermedica has created a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process and follow-up after a visit. Since its launch, Infermedica is being used in more than 30 countries in 19 languages and has completed more than 10 million health checks.

The company offers a preliminary diagnosis symptom checker, an AI-driven software that supports call operators making timely triage recommendations and an application programming interface that allows users to build customized diagnostic solutions from scratch. Like a plethora of competitors, such as Ada Health and Babylon, Infermedica combines the expertise of physicians with its own algorithms to offer symptom triage and patient advice.

In terms of the new funding, Infermedica CEO Piotr Orzechowski told TechCrunch in an email that the investment will be used to further develop the company’s Medical Guidance Platform and add new modules to cover the full primary care journey. Last year, Infermedica’s team grew by 80% to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists and engineers. Orzechowski says Infermedica has an ambitious plan to nearly double its team in the next 12 months.

Image Credits: Infermedica

“We will invest heavily into our people and our products, rolling out new modules of our platform as well as expanding our underlying AI capabilities in terms of disease coverage and accuracy,” Orzechowski said. “From the commercial perspective, our goal is to strengthen our position in the US and DACH and we will focus the majority of our sales and marketing efforts there.”

Regarding the future, Orzechowski said he’s a firm believer that there will be fully automated self-care bots in 5-10 years that will be available 24/7 to help providers find solutions to low acuity health concerns, such as a cold or UTI.

“According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally,” Orzechowski said. “Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.”

Infermedica’s Series B round follows its $10 million Series A investment announced in August 2020. The round was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and digital health fund Heal Capital. Existing investors Karma Ventures, Inovo Venture Partners and Dreamit Ventures also participated in the round.

Source: Tech

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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs

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A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 

Source: Tech

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