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Hallow, a religious app for Catholics, talks the talk as religious platforms draw investor attention



Hallow, a religious app for Catholics, talks the talk as religious platforms draw investor attention

According to Pitchbook data, faith-based, mostly Christian, apps attracted $175.3 million in venture funding this year through mid-December, more than tripling the $48.5 million they attracted from VCs last year.

It’s a far cry from the meager $6.1 million they attracted in 2016.

We talked with one of the startups that raised a big round  — Glorify — earlier this month when it landed $40 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz. The subscription-based “well-being” app currently offers users guided meditation, along with audio bible passages and Christian music, and its co-founder and co-CEO, Ed Beccle, has big ambitions to create a broader platform that includes dating and other features.

Even more recently, we talked with Alex Jones, the founder of another of the year’s buzziest faith-based apps, Hallow, a three-year-old, 40-person outfit that raised $40 million in Series B funding back in November from Peter Thiel, Drive Capital and others and that has raised $50 million altogether this year to “help folks to build a routine of prayer and to journey together through the content,” says Jones.

Beyond the fact that Hallow is exclusively focused on Catholics, while Glorify focuses on all Christians, we wondered how the two outfits — which are clearly racing to capture many of the same users — differ in their offerings and in their outlook. What we observed is that Hallow’s CEO, Alex Jones, sounds more “religious” than Beccle, a young serial entrepreneur who describes himself as a philosophical person who is largely focused how how tech impacts how people think and feel.

But we’ll let you hear directly from Jones regarding how he thinks Hallow’s app differs from its rivals. Our chat, below, has been edited lightly for length.

TC: What do you see as Hallow’s place in this increasingly crowded competitive landscape?

AJ: First off, we’re big fans of anybody helping folks deep their relationship with God and find peace, so we’re excited to see a lot of folks — Glorify, Pray, Abide — all these folks continue to try to help folks to grow deeper in their spirituality. As for Hallow, we are focused on the Catholic world, so all the content is 100% authentically Catholic and in line with the Catholic Church’s teaching, which is a specific theology.

Then on the content side, we have a ton of really phenomenal exclusive content [including] Jonathan Roumi, the guy who plays Jesus from “The Chosen,” [who] does a lot of the meditations for us. [YouTube priest and personality] Father Mike Schmitz, [author and speaker] Bishop Robert Barron, [author] Dr. Scott Hahn, Sister Miriam, and Sister Josephine create content for the app. We also have Mass readings that align with the Catholic Church’s daily Mass; we have daily rosary stuff; and we have a massive music library with a lot of really beautiful Gregorian chants and old-school traditional stuff, along with new contemporary music and peaceful Andean music and all that jazz.

TC: Like other apps, this is a subscription product?

AJ: Yeah, I think everybody has the same model, but there’s a free version of the app that has 1000-plus meditations and then with Hallow Plus you can unlock up to 3500 custom meditations.

TC: How many daily average users do you have and what percentage of them are paying customers?

AJ: We don’t disclose the daily active user stuff, but we just crossed 1.5 million downloads or so, around 50,000 five-star reviews, and 25 million prayers completed.

TC: Why start this company?

AJ: It was largely a personal journey. I was raised Catholic but fell away from my faith in high school and college. I would consider myself atheist or agnostic most of the time. Then I got pretty into secular meditation. I was fascinated by it, and Headspace had just launched and Calm and I loved the product(s) and thought they were an awesome way to learn the technique of meditation from the comfort of your own home. But every time I would meditate, my mind would feel pulled towards something spiritual, something Christian. So I started talking to priests, brothers, sisters, pastors, anybody I could I could talk to, asking the question, ‘Hey, is there any intersection here between this meditation thing and this faith thing?’ And they all laughed at me and said, ‘Yeah, we’ve been doing it for 2000 years. It’s called prayer.’

TC: Are you a first-time founder?

AJ: Yeah. I was an engineer in undergrad, so I’d known a little bit of how to code. Then I went to McKinsey [and worked in] strategy consulting for a couple years, then I went to [the Stanford Graduate School of Business], so I had some exposure to entrepreneurship. When we started talking about this idea, I learned how to code in Swift for iOS in a couple weeks [with the help of] a free Stanford course, so I was able to pick that up quickly enough, but I am a terrible engineer [and we’ve thrown away] the code that I’ve written [since]. I’m by no means a legit developer.

TC: Glorify plans to add a lot of features that turn it more into a social network centered around micro interactions. Is that also on Hallow’s road map?

AJ: There’s a lot of opportunity to help folks bring God into as many aspects of their life as possible. I know folks have thrown out the dating stuff or [generating revenue through] tithing stuff. For us, we’re just really maniacally focused on trying to help folks grow deeper in their spiritual lives and to find peace with God, so the categories we’re focused on right now are really the categories [we already feature], including music, sleep, Bible, prayer and meditation. We think we’ve really just scratched the surface with all of these. Just 5% to 10% of the Catholics in the world are in the U.S.; the vast majority are international, we’re just now launching our Spanish content. We’re also very focused on school and parish partnerships.

TC: Has anyone from Facebook reached out you? The company is reportedly also very focused on trying to keep Christians on its platform, including by forming partnerships with faith-based groups.

AJ: Facebook has been really helpful for us in terms of reaching out to folks and spreading the word about Hallow, especially during the pandemic. Facebook has also been incredibly helpful in helping us figure out how to advertise to folks and what messaging works. They have a core partner program thing that we’ve been able to be a part of.

Still, the majority of our growth is from just folks talking about the app and sharing it with folks. Also, our big pitch is that your phone is usually a place of stress and anxiety, where you have to figure out how many likes you got or who commented on your thing or what your aunt said about whatever political hot button issue. Our goal is to try to build a place of peace away from that.

TC: Who do you consider your biggest competition? The Bible app is the giant in the space, I know.

AJ: That’s a tough one because, in all honesty, if folks are ending up in heaven, we don’t really care how they get there.

Source: Tech


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



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



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



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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