SetSail nabs $26M Series A to rethink sales compensation

SetSail wants to upend the way sales people get compensated by paying them throughout the sales cycle, rather than a single commission after the sale closes. Today, the startup announced a $ 26 million Series A.

Insight Partners led the round with participation from existing investors Wing Venture Capital, Team8 and Operator Collective. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $ 37 million, according to the company.

SetSail connects to your CRM, email, calendar and other systems that have signals about the progress of a particular sale, and then using machine learning looks at points in the sales cycle where it would make sense to reward the sales person for the progress they are making.

As CEO and co-founder Haggai Levi told me at the time of the startup’s $ 7 million seed round in July, the single commission system discourages risk taking:

“If I’m closing the deal, I’m getting my commission. If I’m not closing the deal, I’m getting nothing. That means from a behavioral point of view, I would take the shortest path to win a deal, and I would take the minimum risk possible. So if there’s a competitive situation I will try to avoid that,” he said in July.

He said the idea of changing the way we think about compensation resonated with sales executives during the pandemic, especially as everyone’s role got altered and teams became distributed because of COVID, but he says while rethinking compensation was certainly a big factor so was SetSail’s ability to connect to all of the sales systems to help build these new approaches to pay.

“I think it’s even beyond just compensation. […] It’s also connecting to all of your data using an end-to-end platform that helps you understand what’s happening between you, your reps and your customers and allowing you to tie that back in using behavioral science to machine learning-based compensation,” he explained.

The company began 2020 with five customers, a reasonable start for an early stage startup, but it ended the year with more than 20 including Cisco, Dropbox and HubSpot. It now has over 5000 sales reps using the platform.

In spite of the growing number of users, Levi says they have no plans to aggregate data, leaving each customer’s data as distinct to build the compensation packages that make sense to them. “We try not to play kind of the data, aggregator role because we want to make sure that every customer’s data is encrypted and secured in a completely different container. The trade off between getting knowledge between customers versus receiving their data is is too high in our opinion,” he said.

The company now has 35 employees with five more hired who will be starting in the next several weeks and plans to reach 70 by the end of the year. They are thinking hard about how to hire a diverse workforce. For starters, Levi says that the company board has two female members. He says hiring in general is a challenge for every CEO, especially early on, and hiring a diverse group even more so, but he says it’s important to be thinking about this from the start because from a gender perspective at least, you are losing half the talent pool if you ignore it.

When the pandemic is over, he sees having at least some in-person office presence in spite of being spread out across San Francisco, New York and Tel Aviv, but it will be probably be a hybrid approach and not require as much office space as they might have rented prior to COVID.

Startups – TechCrunch

Genflow nabs $11M investment from BGF

Genflow, a London an0d LA-based brand building agency that offers an e-commerce and mobile tech platform to let influencers start companies, has raised $ 11 million in funding.

Leading the round is U.K. investor BGF. The injection of capital will be used by Genflow to further scale its offering and for international expansion.

Founded in 2016 by entrepreneur Shan Hanif to help social media influencers develop their brands and extract revenue from their audiences, Genflow combines aspects of a traditional branding agency — such as strategy, design and planning — and a tech company with its own software stack.

This sees Genflow position itself as a brand-as-a-service (BaaS) platform, which helps influencers develop their own digital and physical products instead of promoting other brands, and enables them to launch their own membership club, gated community, mobile app or direct to consumer brand.

“Genflow offers the complete infrastructure from design, development, manufacturing and logistics through to strategy, marketing and content creation to drive revenue and profit,” explains the company.

Genflow says its client base are established influencers who typically have large followings on Instagram and YouTube.

“Genflow allows an influencer to start their own business instead of the traditional brand deals so if someone with an audience wants truly their own audience and business Genflow does that for them,” says Hanif. “We provide them the complete infrastructure to launch a business: design, manufacturing, development, content, strategy and marketing all in one place. This gives us the unique ability to execute to a very high level that drives revenue”.

Hanif says influencers typically approach Genflow either with an idea or when they need help figuring out what brand they can launch. “We use ‘Genlytics,’ our in-house built software, to see what the best brand they can release by checking their analytics, breakdown of their followers, what brands they have worked with in the past and to see how much they can potentially sell,” he explains.

Next, Genflow onboards the client and begins the brand building process, offering broadly two options: Gated content, membership clubs, community and mobile apps, or developing direct to consumer brand with physical products.

The first is akin to having your own OnlyFans, Patreon or social media platform. The second is a classic D2C e-commerce play and includes designing the products, and working with factories to create samples, manufacture the products and then handle all logistics etc.

“In both cases then we plan the launch of the brand, the marketing strategy and then work with the influencer to launch the brand itself,” adds Hanif.

“What’s interesting is that traditionally in startups you find a problem, get a team, some funding then try to find customers. What we have invented is the ‘audience first approach’ where we already have the audience and now just need the right products and it’s instantly a success. The metrics that I see for our brands are not normal: conversion rates that are 5-30%, 20% repeat purchase buys and around 6:1 return on Facebook ads.

“We are proud that every brand we have launched to date is profitable and growing year on year so we know our approach works.”

Startups – TechCrunch

PPRO nabs $180M at a $1B+ valuation to bring together the fragmented world of payments

The pandemic has hastened a shift of most commerce becoming e-commerce in the last year, and that has brought a new focus on startups that are helping to enable that process.

In the latest development, PPRO, a London-based startup that has built a platform to make it easier for marketplaces, payment providers and other e-commerce players to enable localised payments — that is, make and take payments in whatever form local customers prefer to use, which extend well beyond basic payment cards — has closed a round of $ 180 million, funding that catapults PPRO’s valuation to over $ 1 billion.

PPRO (pronounced “P-pro”, as in payments professionals) plans to use the funding to continue expanding in newer markets.

Simon Black, PPRO’s CEO, said in an interview that two particular areas of focus in the coming year will be more activity in Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia, as well as Latin America, where the company acquired a local player, allpago, back in 2019.

In both cases, the opportunity comes in the form of high growth stemming from more transactions moving online, as well as the chaos that is the fragmented payments market.

The capital is coming from a group of investors that includes Eurazeo Growth, Sprints Capital and Wellington Management. It comes on the heels of a $ 50 million round the company raised last August from Sprints, along with Citi and HPE Growth; and a further $ 50 million it picked up in 2018 led by strategic investor PayPal.

PayPal, alongside Citi, Mastercard Payment Gateway Services, Mollie and Worldpay are among PPRO’s 100 large global customers, which use the company’s APIs for a variety of functions, including localised gateway, processing and merchant acquirer services.

The flood of activity coming from consumers and businesses buying more online — a by-product of the pandemic leading to many businesses shutting down physical operations for the moment — has seen the company double transaction volumes between Q4 2020 and the same quarter in 2019.

PPRO is not the only company to be targeting that opportunity.

The fragmentation of financial services overall — where realistically, there is only a handful of types of transactions that might be made (usually: deposits, payments, credit), but quite literally thousands of permutations and methods to make them, with specific markets and their populations typically coalescing around their own localised selections.

That has led to the rise of a number of companies providing what has come to be called “banking as a service” or “fintech as a service,” where a tech provider stitches together in the background a number of services, sometimes thousands, and makes it easier for their customers, by way of an API, to plug in those services for their own customers to use more easily, most often connected to a range of other services provided to them like money management.

Others in this wider space that includes payments and other fintech services include the likes of Rapyd, Mambu, Thought Machine, Temenos, Edera, Adyen, Stripe and newer players like Unit, with many of these raising large amounts of money in recent times in particular to double down on what is currently a rapidly expanding market.

The unique aspect of PPRO is that it was an early mover in the area of identifying the conundrum of fragmentation in payments for companies that operate in more than one country or region, and that it has continued to play only in payments, without a jump to adjacent services.

“We’re ultra focused because the local payments problem is actually growing,” said Black, who believes that “the disconnect between what a consumer wants to use, but also their appetite and the proliferation of payment options” all contribute to more complexity (with the trade-off being more choices for consumers, but equally possibly too much choice?).

As Black sees it, the company’s focus on payments has given it more momentum to build better tech specifically to address that globally.

“PPRO is building solutions for performance in industrial strength. It’s growing rapidly because there are no other players that are truly global. We are globalizing to support the needs of customers who want to nationalize, so we have an opportunity to focus on payments, to be a strategic outsource partner.”

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for product expansion: alongside payments, Black highlighted product compliance and providing better analytics as two areas where the company is already active and will be doing more for customers.

“Where we partner and provide value is in anticipating changes in consumer demand,” he noted. “We monitor how customers are using those methods and — whether you are a service provider or furniture or travel company — determine which are the best relevant payment methods.” Services like open banking, tools for banks to enable allowing payments directly from customers’ accounts, or buy-now-pay-later payments, are examples, he said, of areas that speak of further opportunities.

“We are delighted to support Simon and the team at PPRO as they continue to develop best-in-class local payment solutions,” commented Nathalie Kornhoff-Brüls, managing director at Eurazeo Growth, in a statement. “All signs for the future indicate that digital commerce, and even more so cross-border commerce, will continue to grow exponentially while innovation in payment methods remains strong. As a result, facilitating local payments is becoming increasingly complex. Payment service providers, however, no longer have a choice as merchants and their customers are pushing for the adoption.”

“PPRO has proven to be the go-to problem solver in this area, providing the local payments technology and expertise that the world’s biggest payment players rely on. Our investment reflects our confidence in the growth potential for PPRO and we’re excited to support PPRO and its team on their journey,” added Voria Fattahi, a partner at Sprints Capital, in a separate statement.

Startups – TechCrunch

Glia Raises Nabs Another $78M for its Interactive Digital Customer Service Platform

The pandemic has amplified the importance of a robust digital customer service experience. Yet most solutions on the market provide a simple live chat function, which really does not adequately address the needs of today’s modern customers. Glia is a native digital customer service platform that allows consumers to interact with their choice of messaging, video, or even voice. The platform features the ability to collaborate with its CoBrowsing function that allows customers to get the help that they need while jointly navigating sites, eliminating any confusion or uncertainty. AlleyWatch caught up with CEO and Cofounder Dan Michaeli to learn more about how the platform enabled its partners to support customers during the lockdown, the company’s expansion plans, and recent funding round led by Insight Partners.
AlleyWatch

Human AI nabs $3.2M seed to build personal intelligence platform

The last we heard from Luther.ai, the startup was participating in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in September. The company got a lot of attention from that appearance, which culminated in a $ 3.2 million seed round it announced today. While they were at it, the founders decided to change the company name to Human AI, which they believe better reflects their mission.

Differential VC led the round, joined by Village Global VC, Good Friends VC, Beni VC and Keshif Ventures. David Magerman from Differential will join the startup’s board.

The investors were attracted to Human AI’s personalized kind of artificial intelligence, and co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti says the Battlefield appearance led directly to investor interest, which quickly resulted in a deal four weeks later.

“I think overall the messaging of what we delivered at TechCrunch Disrupt regarding an individual personal AI that is secured by blockchain to retain and recall [information] really set the stage for what the company is all about, both from a user standpoint as well as from an investor standpoint,” Kanuganti told me.

As for the name change, he reported that there was some confusion in the market that Luther was an AI assistant like Alexa or a chatbot, and the founders wanted the name to better reflect the personalized nature of the product.

“We are creating AI for the individual and there is so much emphasis on the authenticity and the voice and the thoughts of an individual, and how we also use blockchain to secure ownership of the data. So most of the principle lies in creating this AI for an individual human. So we thought, let’s call it Human AI,” he explained.

As Kanuganti described it in September, the tool allows individuals to search for nuggets of information from past events using a variety of AI technologies:

It’s made possible through a convergence of neuroscience, NLP and blockchain to deliver seamless in-the-moment recall. GPT-3 is built on the memories of the public internet, while Luther is built on the memories of your private self.

The company is still in the process of refining the product and finding its audience, but reports that so far they have found interest from creative people such as writers, professionals such as therapists, high-tech workers interested in AI, students looking to track school work and seniors looking for a way to track their memories for memoir purposes. All of these groups have the common theme of having to find nuggets of information from a ton of signals, and that’s where Human AI’s strength lies.

The company’s diverse founding team includes two women, CTO Sharon Zhang and designer Kristie Kaiser, along with Kanuganti, who is himself an immigrant. The founders want to continue building a diverse organization as they add employees. “I think in general we just want to attract a diverse kind of talent, especially because we are also Human AI and we believe that everyone should have the same opportunity,” Zhang told me.

The company currently has seven full-time employees and a dozen consultants, but with the new funding is looking to hire engineers and AI talent and a head of marketing to push the notion of consumer AI. While the company is remote today and has employees around the world, it will look to build a headquarters at some point post-COVID where some percentage of the employees can work in the same space together.

Startups – TechCrunch

Capchase nabs $60M in credit to help founders avoid dilution

No one likes dilution, and that’s why every founder is looking for alternatives to traditional equity investing by venture capitalists. Financial entrepreneurs have launched a number of products, from SaaS securitization to debt-based financing, to help founders avoid that dilution, particularly when they have recurring revenues clocked on the books.

Capchase is one of this new crop of startup-focused fintech companies. It allows startups to receive their future recurring revenue today in the form of debt, allowing founders to spend future money earlier and potentially avoid at least some of those expensive, dilutive rounds of venture capital, particularly when they are just getting started. I profiled the Boston-based company a few months ago, when they had raised a $ 4.6 million seed led by Caffeinated Capital.

Now, the company is swimming in new funds, and it’s ready to start lending out to even more startups. This morning, the company announced that it has raised $ 60 million in an “asset-backed credit facility” from i80 Group. That should allow Capchase to expand the number of startups it works with, as well as the amount of revenue prepayment it could potentially extend to each startup as well.

i80 itself has built an investment firm based around credit underwriting just these sorts of projects for startups. In addition to this facility for Capchase and similar fintech underwriting, the group also backs real estate underwriting projects like for Properly, where it co-led a $ 100 million facility with Silicon Valley Bank.

Capchase, which was founded in early 2020, claims that its initial customers have delayed fundraises by an average of 8 months and saved about 16% in overall dilution. Of course, those number will vary widely depending on the startup, its growth, its recurring revenues and other variables.

Capchase’s goal isn’t just to extend revenue prepayment to startups, but to do it fast, sometimes in just days or even hours depending on the complexity of the recurring revenues of its clients. With $ 60 million more, it’s hungry to lend even faster.

Startups – TechCrunch

Rome-based Fitprime nabs €2.5 million to expand its online workout and gym platform

Italian startup Fitprime, a digital platform dedicated to the fitness world that allows people to keep fit both in the gym and at home, has raised approximately €2.5 million. The round was led by Vertis SGR, through the Vertis Venture 2 Scaleup and Vertis Venture 4 Scaleup Lazio funds, with existing investors (LVG, IAG and…

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Darmstadt-based Energy Robotics nabs €2 million for its mobile inspection robots

The German company Energy Robotics, a developer of software solutions for mobile inspection robots, has received €2 million in seed funding round led by Earlybird, alongside other prominent business angels. Interestingly, one type of robots worked on by this startup, alongside company Boston Dynamics, were the inspiration for the robot dogs from the ‘dystopian future’…

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London-based Peptone nabs €2 million to help big pharma develop life-saving proteins

Peptone, a computational physics company that has built one of the world’s first protein engineering operating systems, has landed an approx. €2 million seed round. The round was led by Hoxton Ventures and supported by dRx Capital, a venture arm of Novartis Pharma AG, Founders Factory and a number of angel investors, and will be…

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Chronosphere nabs $43M Series B to expand cloud native monitoring tool

Chronosphere, the scalable cloud native monitoring tool launched in 2019 by two former Uber engineers, announced a $ 43.4 million Series B today. The company also announced that their service was generally available starting today.

Greylock, Lux Capital and venture capitalist Lee Fixel, all of whom participated in the startup’s $ 11 million Series A in 2019, led the round with participation from new investor General Atlantic. The company has raised $ 54.4 million.

The two founders, CEO Martin Mao and CTO Rob Skillington, created the open-source M3 monitoring project while they were working at Uber, and left in 2019 to launch Chronosphere, a startup based on that project. As Mao told me at the time of the A round, the company wanted to simplify the management of running the open source project:

M3 itself is a fairly complex piece of technology to run. It is solving a fairly complex problem at large scale, and running it actually requires a decent amount of investment to run at large scale, so the first thing we’re doing is taking care of that management,

He said that the company spent most of last year iterating the product and working with beta customers, adding that they certainly benefited from building the commercial service on top of the open-source project.

“I think we’re lucky that we have the foundation already from the open-source project, but we really wanted to focus a lot on building a product on top of that technology and really have this product be differentiated, so that was most of the focus of 2020 for us,” he said.

Mao points out that he and Skillington weren’t looking for this new round of funding as they still had money left from the A round, but the company’s previous investors approached them and they decided to strike to add additional money to the balance sheet, which would help grow the company, attract employees and help reassure customers they had plenty of capital to continue building the product and the company.

As the company has developed over the last year, it has been adding employees at a rapid clip, growing from 13 at the time of the A round in 2019 to 50 today with plans to double that by the end of next year. Mao says the founders have been thinking about how to build a diverse company from its early days.

“So [ … ] beginning last year we were making sure we were hiring the right leaders, and the right recruiting team who also care about diversity, then following that we made company-wide goals and targets for both gender and ethnic diversity, and then [we have been] holding ourselves accountable on these particular goals and tracking against them,” Mao said.

The company has been spread out from the beginning, even before COVID, with offices in Seattle, New York and Lithuania, and that has helped in terms of having a broader base to recruit from. Mao wants to remain mostly remote whenever it’s possible to return to the office, but maintain hubs on each coast where employees can meet and see each other in person.

With the product generally available today, the company will look to expand its customer base, and with the open-source project to drive interest, they have a proven way to attract new customers to the commercial product.

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