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September 21, 2018
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Fundings & Exits

Cleo, the ‘digital assistant’ that replaces your banking apps, picks up $10M Series A led by Balderton

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When Cleo, the London-based ‘digital assistant’ that wants to replace your banking apps, quietly entered the U.S., the company couldn’t have expected to be an instant hit. Many better funded British startups have failed to ‘break America’. However, just four months later, the fintech upstart counts 350,000 users across the pond — claiming more than 600,000 active users in the U.K., U.S. and Canada in total — and says it is adding 30,000 new signups each week. All of which hasn’t gone unnoticed by investors.

Already backed by some of the biggest VC names in the London tech scene — including Entrepreneur First, Moonfruit founder Wendy Tan White, Skype founder Niklas Zennström, Wonga founder Errol Damelin, TransferWise founder Taavet Hinrikus, and LocalGlobe — Cleo is adding Balderton Capital to the list.

The European venture capital firm, which has previously invested in fintech unicorn Revolut and the well-established GoCardless, has led Cleo’s $10 million Series A round, in which I understand most early backers, including Zennström, also followed on. One source told me the Series A gives the hot London startup a post-money valuation of around £30 million (~$39.7m), although Cleo declined to comment.

In a call with co-founder and CEO Barney Hussey-Yeo, he explained that the new capital will be used to continue scaling the company, with further international expansion the name of the game. Hussey-Yeo says Cleo will be targeting Western Europe, the Americas, and Australasia, aiming to launch in a whopping 22 countries in the next 12 months, as Cleo bids to become the “default interface” for millennials interacting and managing their money.

Primarily accessed via Facebook Messenger, the AI-powered chatbot gives insights into your spending across multiple accounts and credit cards, broken down by transaction, category or merchant. In addition, Cleo lets you take a number of actions based on the financial data it has gleaned. You can choose to put money aside for a rainy day or specific goal, send money to your Facebook Messenger contacts, donate to charity, set spending alerts, and more.

However, in the context of traction and Cleo’s broader global ambitions, it is the decision not to become a bank in its own right, that Hussey-Yeo feels is really beginning to bear fruit. His argument has always been that you don’t need to be a bank to become the primary way users interface with their finances, and that without the regulatory and capital burden that becoming a fully licensed bank brings, you can scale much more quickly. I have a feeling that strategy — and its pros and cons — has a long way to play out just yet.

News Source = techcrunch.com

GitLab raises $100M

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GitLab, the developer service that aims to offer a full lifecycle DevOps platform, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series D funding round at a valuation of $1.1 billion. The round was led by Iconiq.

As GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij told me, this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $145.5 million, will help it enable its goal of reaching an IPO by November 2020.

According to Sijbrandij, GitLab’s original plan was to raise a new funding round at a valuation over $1 billion early next year. But since Iconiq came along with an offer that pretty much matched what the company set out to achieve in a few months anyway, the team decided to go ahead and raise the round now. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub earlier this year helped to accelerate those plans, too.

“We weren’t planning on fundraising actually. I did block off some time in my calendar next year, starting from February 25th to do the next fundraise,” Sijbrandij said. “Our plan is to IPO in November of 2020 and we anticipated one more fundraise. I think in the current climate, where the macroeconomics are really good and GitHub got acquired, people are seeing that there’s one independent company, one startup left basically in this space. And we saw an opportunity to become best in class in a lot of categories.”

As Sijbrandij stressed, while most people still look at GitLab as a GitHub and Bitbucket competitor (and given the similarity in their names, who wouldn’t?), GitLab’s wants to be far more than that. It now offers products in nine categories and also sees itself as competing with the likes of VersionOne, Jira, Jenkins, Artifactory, Electric Cloud, Puppet, New Relic, and BlackDuck.

“The biggest misunderstanding we’re seeing is that GitLab is an alternative to GitHub and we’ve grown beyond that,” he said. “We are now in nine categories all the way from planning to monitoring.”

Sijbrandij notes that there’s a billion-dollar player in every space that GitLab competes it. “But we want to be better,” he said. “And that’s only possible because we are open core, so people co-create these products with us. That being said, there’s still a lot of work on our side, helping to get those contributions over the finish line, making sure performance and quality stay up, establish a consistent user interface. These are things that typically don’t come from the wider community and with this fundraise of $100 million, we will be able to make sure we can sustain that effort in all the different product categories.”

Given this focus, GitLab will invest most of the funding in its engineering efforts to build out its existing products but also to launch new ones. The company plans to launch new features like tracing and log aggregation, for example.

With this very public commitment to an IPO, GitLab is also signaling that it plans to stay independent. That’s very much Sijbrandij’s plan, at least, though he admitted that “there’s always a price” if somebody came along and wanted to acquire the company. He did note that he likes the transparency that comes with being a public company.

“We always managed to be more bullish about the company than the rest of the world,” he said. “But the rest of the world is starting to catch up. This fundraise is a statement that we now have the money to become a public company where we’re not we’re not interested in being acquired. That is what we’re setting out to do.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Marketing data startup Singular raises $30M

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Singular, a startup working to unify data for marketers, is announcing that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding.

The company was founded by former Onavo executives, including Gadi Eliashiv, Eran Friedman and Susan Kuo — who now serve, respectively, as Singular’s CEO, CTO and COO.

Eliashiv explained that Singular was created in response to “this trend of data explosion in the marketing stack,” which require marketers to pull data from hundreds or thousands of different systems.

“Essentially what we see is the creation of this new category of marketing intelligence, where the complexity of the marketing stack has created the need for this layer that sits on top,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you use a marketing cloud like Adobe that’s bundling five products together — at the end of the day, you need a layer on top on making sense of it, helping you make better decisions.”

Eliashiv said Singular is able to go from a high-level dashboard summary for CMOs to “the finest level of detail.” He also noted that while the company is designed to integrate with existing marketing tools, it will “oftentimes displace smaller point solutions.”

“Our principal is, it has to be relevant for data, meaning we’re never going to displace your ad-buying tool,” he added. “It’s not what we do. We’re an intelligence platform.”

The idea of unifying marketing data is one that I hear a lot, but Eliashiv’s claims seem weightier when you see that Singular is already working with a number of big names, including Lyft, Yelp, Airbnb, Linkedin, Symantec, Zynga, Match and Twitter.

Singular previously raised $20 million in funding. Norwest Venture Partners led the new round, with partner Scott Beechuk joining the board of directors.

Beechuk told me that he’d been studying marketing analytics market for quite some time, and he argued, “There is something really unique and special about Singular. It’s the bridge between mobile, web and offline, all on a single platform.”

“What you’re going to find is, there are going to be a lot of technologies that Singular replaces,” Beechuck continued. “Let’s say a CMO or [chief growth officer] has 300 different outlets where they are advertising … Every one of those systems tends to have their own analytics built in. The first thing Singular does, it replaces all of those analytics systems with a single pane of glass.”

General Catalyst, Method Capital, Telstra Ventures, Translink Capital and Thomvest also participated in the new funding.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Africa’s Jumo raises $52M led by Goldman to bring its fintech services to Asia

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Asia’s fintech scene is poised to get a little larger after Jumo, a company that offers loans to the unbanked in Africa, revealed plans to expand into the continent. To get the ball rolling, Jumo has opened an office in Singapore to lead the way and landed a massive $52 million investment led by banking giant Goldman Sachs to fuel the growth.

The new round takes Jumo to $90 million raised from investors. While Goldman is the lead — and standout name — the round also saw participation from existing backers that include Proparco — which is attached to the French Development Agency — Finnfund, Vostok Emerging Finance, Gemcorp Capital, and LeapFrog Investments.

Jumo launched in 2014 and it specializes in social impact financial products. That means loans and saving options for those who sit outside of the existing banking system, and particularly small businesses. To date, it claims to have helped nine million consumers across its six markets in Africa and originated over $700 million in loans. The company, which has some 350 staff across 10 offices in Africa, Europe and Asia, was part of Google’s Launchpad accelerator last year and it is led by CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball, who has close to two decades in finance and investing.

Watkins-Ball told TechCrunch that he believes Jumo’s experience working in Africa sets it up perfectly to offer similar services in markets across Asia.

“We grew up in a very tough play yard,” he said in an interview. “We built our initial success in Tanzania which is probably one of the hardest [financial] markets in the world. A lot of these environments [in Asia] look more attractive.”

Unlike the West, where challengers are trying to unseat banks, fintech startups in emerging markets work with the existing system. That isn’t some cop-out, it actually makes perfect sense. Banks simply aren’t equipped to deal with customers seeking small loans in the hundreds of U.S. dollar bracket.

Jumo CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball believes his company’s work in Africa is ideal preparation for its expansion into Asia

Financially, the returns aren’t there from these customers and it doesn’t make sense for banks to invest resources sounding out a prospective loan. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t vet these would-be customers, though. Many emerging markets simply don’t have the formalized credit checking systems that exist in the West, while many of the unbanked (or ‘less banked’) consumers wouldn’t even show up if they did due to a range of factors.

That’s where a new approach is needed. Fintech startups essentially act like a funnel. They manage the customer acquisition and retention, develop systems to assess credit based on alternative signals and, over time, build up a customer profile that reduces credit risk. That suits banks because they don’t need to handle the nitty-gritty and, when it works well, the startups bring them larger enough volumes of small loans that are a worthwhile opportunity for financial institutions.

Just looking at recent funding deals, the model is evident in markets like India — where ZestMoney pulled in funds last month — and Southeast Asia, where Experian backed fintech startup C88.

Watkins-Ball said Jumo is aiming to do the same having already proven its model in Africa. He acknowledged that a number of startups are also tackling the problem and welcomed the increase competition and growth potential across the fintech and micro-financing space.

“We’ve offered services to millions of new customers who weren’t part of the banking ecosystems,” he explained. “Essentially we grow the addressable market for banks.”

Already, Jumo has begun offering services in Pakistan and it has plans to open up in more markets in Asia, although Watkins-Ball isn’t saying which ones or when right now. But, in addition to proving its model, he believes that Jumo has already shown it can adapt to new markets.

“The differences between countries like Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia are as great as those between India, China and Indonesia,” he told TechCrunch. “So we’ve had to learn to use our platform, which we built to be flexible, and localize in order to fit the customer.”

That’s backed up by Goldman Sachs executive director Jules Frebault, who said in a statement: “There’s an immense opportunity across Africa and beyond for Jumo to build on their successful track record developing digital marketplace infrastructure to offer mobile subscribers access to relevant financial products.”

In addition to Asian expansions, Jumo’s new capital will also go towards expanding its current selection of productions in Africa. In particular, Watkins-Ball says the company is working to partner with more banks and it plans to introduce “new generations” of saving products.

While it isn’t taking its foot off the pedal in Africa, he said Jumo will likely devote the majority of its resources to the Asia expansion plan. That’ll make Jumo a very notable addition to a fintech scene that is already showing significant potential across the Asian region.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Logistics startup Freightos raises $44.4M Series C led by Singapore Exchange

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Freightos, a marketplace for logistics providers, announced today that it has raised a $44.4 million Series C led by Singapore Exchange. Returning investors including General Electric Ventures (the lead investor of Freightos’ Series B extension last year), ICV and Aleph also participated in the round, which brings Freightos’ total funding so far to $94.4 million.

Launched in 2016 as a price comparison service for freight forwarders—the agents that organize shipments from a supplier or manufacturer to their final destination—Freightos now also lets users book, manage and track shipments with more than 1,200 logistics providers.

In an email, founder and CEO Zvi Schreiber said its online freight marketplace will continue to be Freightos’ flagship product, but the company also wants to find ways to make the industry more efficient by building a global digital infrastructure.

The company claims to process more than one million instant freight quote requests each month using its patent-pending routing and pricing engines. Its database of global shipping rates also underpins the Freightos Baltic Index (FBX), an industry-specific index created to provide more pricing transparency.

Developed in partnership with the Baltic Exchange, a market information provider for the maritime transportation industry, the FBX tracks freight pricing from 12 major routes around the world and also combines them into one index to serve as the freight industry’s equivalent of the S&P 500.

“Nearly every major global industry, from jet fuel to livestock, leverages dynamic pricing based on real-time metrics to make smarter, automated decisions. We’re excited to explore how our global freight index, the Freightos Baltic Index, can reduce pricing risks and improve stability, and are already exploring implementation with major multinational corporations,” Schreiber said.

He added that Freightos is also looking at more ways to connect airlines with logistics providers to sell cargo space on passenger flights.

Freightos will partner with the Singapore Exchange, which owns the Baltic Exchange, to develop new financial instruments. It will start by launching daily reporting on the FBX, which is currently updated weekly.

In a press statement, SGX head of derivatives Michael Syn said, “Freightos is at the forefront of a new wave of solutions for price discovery and digital marketplaces in global freight – an industry at the heart of the global economy. SGX is excited by the potential to develop risk management tools and services and build on Singapore’s unique position in the trade ecosystem, to bridge the physical and financial markets.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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