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TechCrunch+ roundup: Allocating equity, unicorn traffic jam, blockchain gaming survey



Early-stage startup founders have just a few ways to recruit and retain employees:

  • Offer a competitive salary
  • Create a role that harnesses their interests/talent
  • Give them a stake in the company.

In most cases, equity will not leave employees with substantial wealth. But even the most embittered worker will think twice about walking away from a job before they’re fully vested.

In a TC+ guest post, Kirsten Prost, vice president at VC/PE firm Tercera, lays out detailed steps for designing your equity program.

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Her guide includes brackets and multipliers for contributors at different levels, along with fictional examples founders can use for modeling, and tips that will help employees understand the value of their stake.

Speaking as a veteran of many early-stage startups: entrepreneurs love to be seen talking about fostering an ownership mentality, but if that’s going to be more than happy talk, you’ll first need a transparent equity program.

We’ll be off on Monday, January 17 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Thanks very much for reading, and have an excellent weekend!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch+

Dear Sophie: Do we need a visa to explore the US market?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My husband and I plan to visit our daughter during her spring break. (She’s an F-1 international student at a U.S. university.)

In between spending time with our daughter and sightseeing, we’d like to explore the feasibility of expanding our business in the United States.

Do we need to get a special visa to do that?

— Multitasking Mom

Unicorn exits augur poorly as Justworks delays IPO, citing ‘market conditions’

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

There’s a growing rift between the public and private markets’ valuation of tech startups, and Justworks’ decision to delay its IPO may well be a bellwether of what’s to come, writes Alex Wilhelm.

Software companies are getting hammered on the public markets, while the private markets continue to retain their enthusiasm for tech startups.

This difference in opinion, writes Alex, could turn out poorly for richly valued startups that want to exit this year.

“Justworks’ IPO delay indicates that the enthusiasm gap between private markets and their public analog is wide. And for pricey unicorns still bleeding cash, that’s terrible news.”

Blockchain gaming survey: 7 investors discuss regulation, opportunities and NFT hype

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

Game distribution platform Steam banned blockchain-based games in October 2021: Any titles that incorporate NFTs or cryptocurrency were summarily booted from the service.

Meanwhile, within Axie Infinity, an NFT-based online game, new players are paying hundreds of dollars to acquire mythical pets and love potions.

Blockchain gaming is making inroads with some consumers, but given the lack of regulatory guidance and the speculative nature of many crypto holdings, what do investors think?

To find out, we surveyed seven who are active in the space:

  • Anton Backman, principal, and Kenrick Drijkoningen, general partner, Play Ventures
  • Banafsheh Fathieh, head of investments, Americas, Prosus Ventures
  • Josh Chapman, managing partner, Konvoy Ventures
  • Eddie Thai, general partner, 500 Startups and general partner, Ascend Vietnam Ventures
  • Beryl Li, co-founder, Yield Guild Games
  • Rajul Garg, founder and managing partner, Leo Capital

Setting up high-conversion lead magnets that deliver value

Magnet drawing people

It’s one thing to get a prospective customer to visit your site, but convincing them to reach for their wallet or share their phone number is a stretch.

As consumers gain greater control over their privacy, Aleksandra Korczynska, CMO of GetResponse, says marketers who align lead generation with the goals of their prospective customers will gain a significant advantage.

“The key is building a foot-in-the-door technique for continuous engagement — lead magnets,” she says.

The SPAC boom was a failure, yeah?

Special purpose acquisition companies took 2020 and 2021 by storm, enabling a large cohort of companies to go public.

But, as they say: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Disappointment isn’t limited to a single industry, writes Alex Wilhelm in The Exchange. Property tech, fintech, media, and personal mobility companies have all seen big drop-offs since their debut.

“I would hazard that we’ve collected enough data to call the SPAC boom a failure.”

Despite blockchain gaming’s play-to-earn angle, I prefer to pay

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

Paying users to play is part of blockchain gaming’s unique selling proposition, but is that the purpose of entertainment?

Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm says he enjoys the fun and excitement associated with playing against others online, but “I am bearish on crypto games as they currently exist for a few reasons, even if the incentives are more aligned than they appear in traditional gaming.”

Why CNET co-founder Halsey Minor is bullish on NFTs

Halsey Minor is best known as a co-founder of CNET and an early investor, but for the last several years, he’s been working in crypto.

After three decades developing content, he’s now leading Vivid Labs, which operates a proprietary NFT publishing platform.

“Much like I recognized the massive explosion of the internet many years ago, I see crypto and NFTs as the technology of the future,” said Minor in a TC+ interview that includes advice for founders hoping to raise capital for web3 projects.

Data show 2021 was a bonkers, record-setting year for venture capital

Next week, Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm plan to file a series of stories for The Exchange examining sectors and trends in different regions. To build a foundation for that reporting, this week, they looked back at a record-setting year for venture capital.

In 2021, VC investment totaled $621 billion, an increase of 111% from the year before, according to CB Insights. Crunchbase pegs the figure at $643 billion.

“Regardless of which number we choose, it’s clear that well north of half a trillion dollars was invested into high-growth private companies last year – a rough doubling of what the same asset class managed in 2020.”

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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