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Formant is solving the robotic Tower of Babel with a unified platform



If you’re building a SaaS company or a web app, you’re not going to roll your own analytics solution — it’s specialized work with lots of edge cases, rabbit holes and, for most companies, it’s so far removed from the core platform, that it just doesn’t make sense. Formant is doing kinda-sorta the same thing for robotics, helping automation companies with a number of shortcuts that speed up their time to market. The company has three major strings to its bow: remote-controlling autonomous bots (“operation”), analytics and “why is my robot being so dumb,” — or “observe,” as Formant would no doubt prefer I referred to it.

The company just closed an $18 million Series A round led by SignalFire, with participation from a selection of VCs and strategic investors, including Hillsven, Pelion, Goodyear Ventures, Thursday Ventures, Ericsson, Picus Capital and Holman Strategic Ventures.

“We founded this in 2017, when I left Google and brought my team with me. I was working in the robotics group and I saw an opportunity. The insight was that the robotics hardware was incredible, with folks like Boston Dynamics, really pushing the envelope. Before that, we had 20-25 years of industrial robots that are incredibly accurate, powerful and build every car that you see on the road,” Jeff Linnell outlines the genesis of the company. “That said, the software was in the stone age. There’s no unified operating system. Everybody is building every part of the stack, for every application. If you were starting a company, you had to build your perception and your autonomy, of course. But on top of that, you’d also have to build your data management and everything else. We saw an opportunity to build a generalized solution that could amplify a lot of companies.”

Linnell left Google to found that exact company. It started off as an API that would enable a machine or a robot to request assistance from a human — imagine a cart getting stuck in a corner, for example. The robot would get confused and could phone a friend for some help. A human could control the robot to get it free using a D-pad or a joystick and then hit the “resume” button so the robot could continue on its merry way.

From there, the company built a more substantial platform to help manage the edge cases in robotics and, specifically, robotic fleets.

“We don’t really touch the autonomy part of the robot — getting the robot to do what you need it to do is still the responsibility of our customers,” explains Linnell, “But when it goes off track, or when you need to figure out what happened when something goes wrong, or if you need to determine whether the robot is performing well, that’s where our software comes in.”

If your robo-vac has ever gotten stuck behind the sofa, the “oh crap not again, I wish I could control it with a remote rather than having to go back there and haul its sorry, confused little carcass out from the television wiring” use case will make sense to you. Except with much bigger and potentially more dangerous robots that have all sorts of fail-safes so they stop without just bumping into stuff until they run out of batteries.

The other use cases may need a bit of additional context.

“Imagine you’re in a services department for a company that makes floor-scrubbing robots. You notice a trend that a certain set of robots are struggling with a particular area of the warehouse. You see this happen, or someone contacts customer support to complain, or a customer goes ‘Hey, we have bad performance over here.’ With Formant, you could go back in time and look at the logs, inspecting the moment that the customers say this happens,” explains Linnell. “You might notice that the Wi-Fi strength drops low in this corner of the warehouse.”

Of course, if the Wi-Fi drops altogether, most robots are smart enough to report that, but things like low connectivity or time-outs can be a nightmare to troubleshoot without either sending a (very expensive) customer service engineer to the warehouse or using something like Formant’s software. The solution might be as simple as plugging in a Wi-Fi extender.

“The third use might be that a business owner could wish to measure the ROI of this fleet of 200 robots that are working in a particular warehouse, with efficiency statistics,” Linnell explains. “How many times do they need assists? How much time are they spending doing their jobs autonomously, versus being manually controlled? Think of it as an analytics workflow, where you are looking at dashboards that will show you trends of data over days, months, weeks and years.”

Most of the customers come to Formant to solve one of those three specific problems, the company claims, and then stay for the full solution.

The final benefit is that Formant offers a platform to get a broader view of the performance of a number of different robotics manufacturers.

“Some of our larger customers are working with a diverse fleet of robots. They may have an autonomy department that is interested in robots from multiple vendors, and they might need to have a unified data platform that can speak to a Boston Dynamics robot, a Fanuc robot, a drone from DJI — and have all that data in the same place,” says Linnell. “By using Formant, they will know what’s going on within the operation of their heterogenous fleet of robots. And no individual robot manufacturers is able to offer that.”

The company suggests that its software has been used to run tens of thousands of robots, and is going to spend the next 12-18 months to double the size of the company, building out engineering and sales operations, and expanding into Europe. The company is hiring in a few locations, including Pittsburgh.

“We acquired a stealth teleoperations company several years ago, that was based in Pittsburgh,” Linnell says, describing the city as a hub of automation. “They’ve got Carnegie Mellon University, and probably more-self driving companies, even than in the Bay Area. There’s a huge robotics community in Pittsburgh, and we are going to want to continue to invest there. I believe it is one of the hubs, in addition to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Bay Area. The cost of doing business in Pittsburgh is just tremendously different — you’ve got top talent, but it’s very cost-effective.”

Source: Tech


Spendesk is the fifth French startup to reach unicorn status this month



Fintech startup Spendesk is announcing that it has raised an extension to its Series C round. Tiger Global is investing $114 million (€100 million) in the startup. Following today’s funding round, the company says that is has reached a valuation of more than $1.14 billion (more than €1 billion).

In other words, Spendesk is a new unicorn in the French tech ecosystem. Funding news has been accelerating over the last few months in France. In January alone, five startups announced that they have crossed the threshold to reach unicorn status — PayFit, Ankorstore, Qonto, Exotec and Spendesk.

Back Market, an e-commerce marketplace focused on refurbished smartphones and electronics devices, has also raised a mega round and reached a $5.7 billion valuation.

Let’s go back to Spendesk. The startup offers an all-in-one corporate spend management platform for medium companies in Europe. Originally focused on virtual cards for online payments, the company has expanded its product offering to tackle everything related to corporate spending.

Spendesk customers can order physical cards for employees, team members can use the platform to pay outstanding invoices, file expense reports, manage budgets and generate spending reports. By offering everything in a single service, Spendesk wants to simplify accounting and approvals in general so that money moves more freely.

The startup defines its platform as a “7-in-1 spend management solution”, meaning that Spendesk is no longer just a product that lets you order debit cards for your employees.

“We have had this goal since the beginning — we really want to become this platform, this operational system to manage your spending,” co-founder and CEO Rodolphe Ardant told me. “When we started working on the product, we looked at each use case and designed the right workflow for that.”

In particular, Spendesk helps you formalize your internal processes. You can define team budgets, set up complicated approval workflows for expensive payments, automate some pesky tasks, such as VAT extraction.

“We target mid-market clients. Those are customers with 50 to 1,000 employees. We have a few clients that are bigger than that and a few clients that are smaller than that,” Ardant said.

And the company currently has 3,500 clients — around half of them are based in France while other clients are mostly based in Germany and the U.K. Clients have spent €3 billion through Spendesk in 2021 alone.

With its central positioning in the financial stack, Spendesk needs to interface perfectly with other financial tools — banks on one side and ERP products on the other side.

The startup currently supports many of the popular accounting tools used by European companies, such as Xero and Datev. Spendesk customers can also export transaction batches and import them into Sage, Cegid and other accounting software solutions.

Spendesk is also working on automating the integrations with your bank accounts, which could be particularly useful for companies with multiple bank accounts. For instance, you could imagine setting up a rule that automatically triggers a transfer between your German bank account and your Spendesk account when you want to pay a German supplier.

Image Credits: Spendesk

Spend management in Europe

Spendesk isn’t the only spend management solution in Europe. There are some competitors, such as Pleo, which recently reached a $4.7 billion valuation, and Soldo — another well-funded competitor as it has raised $180 million last year.

In the U.S. as well, companies like Brex and Ramp have reached sky-high valuations. And yet, Spendesk doesn’t think it has the same positioning as American startups.

“On the American market, it shouldn’t be called the spend management industry — it’s the corporate card industry. Players like Brex and Ramp position themselves as a payment method,” Spendesk co-founder and CEO Rodolphe Ardant told me. “Europe’s corporate culture is a culture of debit — not credit. We don’t provide payment methods, we provide a process.”

It’s a slight difference in product positioning, so it’s going to be interesting to see if a European spend management startup can successfully enter the U.S. and vice versa.

When it comes to business model as well, Spendesk considers itself as a software-as-a-service company with recurring subscriptions. The startup didn’t want to share any hard numbers for its revenue. Its CEO just said that Spendesk’s revenue “more than doubles every year.”

With today’s funding round, Spendesk plans to triple the size of its team over the next two years. The company plans to have 1,000 employees by the end of 2023.

Source: Tech

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Tech expands venture arm to $500 million to back early-stage web3 startups


on, a popular cryptocurrency exchange, has extended its venture arm’s fund size to $500 million as it looks to more aggressively back early-stage startups to help the nascent ecosystem grow, following similar moves by rivals Binance, Coinbase and FTX.

The broadening of Capital comes less than a year after the Singapore-headquartered firm unveiled its maiden fund of $200 million. The fund, unlike those of many of its rivals, has no LPs (meaning, it’s fully financed by the firm’s balance sheet.)

The maiden fund, whose individual checks run up to $10 million in size, has been so far deployed to back about 20 startups including YGG SEA, multi-chain crypto portfolio tracker DeBank, cross-chain token infrastructure Efinity and Ethereum scaling solution Matter Labs. will continue to focus on backing early-stage startups, said Jon Russell, who joined the firm as a general partner this month, in an interview with TechCrunch.

With the fund, is broadly focusing on gaming, decentralized-finance and startups innovating on cross-chain solutions. But he cautioned that the industry could change and expand, as it has in recent years, to areas “we don’t know about,” hence the firm is keeping an eye out on everything.

Tuesday’s announcement also further illustrates the growing involvement of cryptocurrency exchanges in being the rainmaker – and beneficiary – of the ecosystem which encompasses the industry in which they operate.

FTX, which has backed over 15 startups, last week announced a $2 billion crypto fund. Its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, also owns Alameda Research, a venture firm that has backed close to 100 web3 startups.

Coinbase Ventures, the investment arm of the only crypto exchange that is publicly traded, and Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, are also among the most prolific investors in the web3 space.

Venture investment in crypto / web3 in 2021 by category (Image credits: Galaxy Digital)

The funding activity in the space, even as most of the aforementioned names often co-invest in startups, is at an all-time high. VCs invested more than $33 billion in crypto/web3 startups in 2021, more than all prior years combined, Galaxy Digital, another prolific investor in the space, wrote in a recent report.

“Valuations in the crypto/blockchain space were 141% higher than the rest of the venture capital space in Q4, highlighting a founder-friendly environment and the intense competition among investors for deal allocations,” the report added.

Scores of venture capital firms have also raised new funds for their crypto investments. Just last year, Andreessen Horowitz added a $2.2 billion crypto fund, Paradigm unveiled a $2.5 billion fund, and Hivemind Capital Partners announced a $1.5 billion fund. Katie Haun, who co-led a16z’s $2.2 billion crypto fund, has left the firm to launch her own crypto-focused fund.

Russell – a former journalist who previously had stints at TechCrunch, The Next Web, and The Ken – said is backing startups to help the ecosystem grow.

“If you’re in the industry, it’s in your interest to help companies grow in the ecosystem and the ecosystem itself to grow,” he said. (Worth pointing out that Solana, Avalanche, Polkadot — as well as some of their major investors — are also aggressively backing startups that are building applications for the native blockchains.)

The startups backs are under no obligation to list their tokens on over any of its rivals or offer the exchange any other preferential treatment, he said. The exchange team similarly doesn’t have a soft spot for the investment arm’s portfolio firms, he added.

(What’s up with the career move? “I’ve been crypto curious for a number of years but I wasn’t gasping to dive in full-time. This project appeals to me because is ambitious but yet it does things the right way. There’s certainly a lot of hype and hot air in crypto and web3 right now, but it’s impossible to ignore the talent that’s pouring into the industry,” he said.), which started its life as a blog of professor Matt Blaze (who sold the domain to the crypto exchange), has aggressively expanded in the past year as it looks to court more users. The Singapore-headquartered firm last year agreed to pay more than $700 million for the naming rights of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The downtown Los Angeles complex has been rebranded as Arena for the next 20 years.

The firm, which bills itself as the “fastest-growing” crypto exchange, said at the time of the announcement that the move is positioned to make cryptocurrencies mainstream., which processes trade volumes of over $2.5 billion every day, also teamed up with Hollywood star Matt Damon last year to promote the brand and cryptocurrencies.

The Damon-starring ad equated buying crypto tokens and NFTs to one of the greatest and boldest accomplishments in the history of humankind. Hyperbole, to be sure, but having the most mainstream American actor as’s celebrity sponsor has certainly helped bring the trading platform, and all that it sells, into the mainstream. The ad went viral and also attracted criticism for being cringeworthy.

Source: Tech

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Focused on smaller cities, Vietnamese social commerce startup Mio raises $8M Series A



Mio, the Vietnamese social commerce platform, has raised an $8 million Series A, less than a year after announcing its seed round. The funding was led by Jungle Ventures, Patamar Capital and Oliver Jung, with participation from returning investors GGV, Venturra, Hustle Fund, iSEED SEA and Gokul Rajaram.

TechCrunch first covered Mio at the time of its $1 million seed funding in May 2021. Founded in 2020, Mio is a group buying platform that focuses on selling fresh produce and groceries in Tier 2 and 3 cities in Vietnam. The company is able to offer next day delivery because it built a logistics infrastructure that enables it to send produce directly from farms to customers.

The Series A brings Mio’s total raised to $9.1 million, and will be used to expand its logistics and fulfillment system, enter new areas in Vietnam and add new product categories like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and household appliances.

Mio co-founder and chief executive officer Trung Huynh said that since TechCrunch first covered Mio seven months ago, it has achieved 10x gross merchandise value growth, a 10x increase in agents, or resellers, and grew its team from 60 people to 240. It now fulfills more than 10,000 pieces of fresh produce per day, operating in Ho Chi Minh, Thu Duc, Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An, with plans to expand into northern Vietnam.

The numbers “strengthened our conviction in this model and its potential,” he said. “We need fresh capital to accelerate hiring, product development and supply chain to keep up with the pace of growth as we deepen our presence in existing geographies and expand to new provinces.”

Mio is able to offer next day deliveries because its vertically integrated mayor layers of the value chain, including procurement, warehousing, order sorting and bulk delivery. The startup owns the majority of its logistics infrastructure and uses its own fleet of couriers. Its ability to delivery fresh produce directly from farms to customers in less than 16 hours contributed to higher customer retention and growth, Huynh said, and it will continue to shorten delivery times. .

Mio resellers are called Mio Partners. Huynh said one of the driving factors behind Mio is targeting the right people for the program, or “housewives and stay-home-moms in lower income regions who love sharing value-for-money products to their social circle of friends.”

They aggregate orders, usually from friends and family, and orders are delivered to them in batches for distribution. The startup claims Mio Partners can make up to $400 a month, including a 10% commission on each order and additional commissions based on the monthly performance of other resellers they referred to the program.

“There is a strong possibility” that Mio will expand beyond Vietnam, Huynh said, “but will only be considered at a more appropriate time after we successfully built our playbook for Vietnam.”

Source: Tech

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