Pillar Raises $7M for its Platform for Families to Stay Organized While Caring For Aging Loved Ones

For the 50M+ Americans who act as informal caregivers to an older loved one, the caregiver is often overwhelmed with keeping track of a loved one’s healthcare, finances, and more. Pillar is the digital platform that makes it easier for families to protect and care for their loved ones by organizing and store important information such as medical records, legal documents, and financial accounts – all online. AlleyWatch caught up with CEO and Founder Michael Bloch to learn more about how COVID-19 forced a pivot, how his own personal experience caring for his mother served as the foundation for the idea, and the company’s recent funding round from investors that include Kleiner Perkins, Zach Weinberg, Nat Turner (cofounders of Flatiron Health), Adam Nash, Zach Perret, and Will Hockey.
AlleyWatch

Scotland’s HeySummit raises €847K to grow its virtual event platform and focus on passion economy

HeySummit

The virtual event industry is shining bright! The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of numerous events, turning most of them into a virtual event online. As a result, the virtual event platform is witnessing higher demand as most companies have adopted the work from home (WFH) policy. 

While organising a virtual event may sound easy, but it’s no cakewalk. You need to set a lot of things right to make your event successful. However, there are dozens of platforms in this space offering distinct technologies and services. 

Simplifies event management process

HeySummit is one such startup that claims to take the heavy lifting out of creating, managing, running, and analysing online events, summits, conferences, or talk-series. It provides management and marketing tools that are required for multi-talk virtual events, including landing pages, speaker management, and ticketing, and then integrates with the leading webinar, networking, and video hosting platforms.

HeySummit raised €847K funding

Recently, the Scottish startup raised $ 1M (approx €847K) funding led by Techstart Ventures with the participation of Active Capital and Ankur Nagpal (CEO and founder of Teachable). The company intends to use the funding to accelerate the growth of its platform. 

The company says it has served nearly 2 million attendees and hosted over 4,500 events on the platform within the past year. The app can be integrated into other video hosting platforms including Zoom, Remo, Livewebinar, GoToWebinar, YouTube Live, RunTheWorld, Icebreaker, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, among others. The hosts can opt for the pre-recorded or live programming, or even the hybrid of both.

Main focus on passion economy

As per the company, many organisations including the Red Cross, the UN, Udemy, and others used the platform, but the startup’s main focus remains the passion economy like painters, teachers, and others. 

Founder Benjamin Dell started HeySummit as a side-project to solve his problem as a solopreneur. “I wanted to reach a wide audience, increase my thought leadership, and build my community, but couldn’t find anything that could do the things that took the most time – the marketing, organising, and management of the summit.”

“At HeySummit, we see that innovation first-hand. We’ve seen the yoga teachers who have pivoted to online classes. We’ve seen the museums who have thought up new ways to earn an income virtually. We’ve seen large conferences like SaaStr quickly adapt to a new virtual environment. We’ve also seen the joy and success that can come from sharing your passion, teaching others, and creating communities,” he adds.

Main image credits: fizkes/Shutterstock

Startups – Silicon Canals

Nordic challenger bank Lunar raises €40M Series C, plans to enter the ‘buy now, pay later’ space

Lunar, the Nordic challenger bank that started out life as a personal finance manager app (PFM) but acquired a full banking license in 2019, has raised €40 million in Series C funding from existing investors.

The injection of capital follows a €20 million Series B disclosed in April this year and comes on the back of Lunar rolling out Pro paid-for subscriptions — similar to a number of other challenger banks in Europe — personal consumer loans, and the launch of business bank accounts in August.

The latter appears to have been an instant success, perhaps proof there is — like in the U.K. — pent up demand for more accessible banking for sole traders. Just months since launching in Denmark, Lunar Business claims to have signed up more than 50% of all newly founded sole trader businesses in the country.

I’m also told that Lunar has seen “best-in-class” user engagement with users spending €1,100 per month versus what the bank says is a €212 EU average for card transactions. Overall, the bank has 5,000 business users and 200,000 private users across Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Meanwhile — and most noteworthy — after launching its first consumer lending products on its own balance sheet, Lunar has set its sights on the “buy now, pay later” market, therefore theoretically encroaching on $ 10.65 billion valued Klarna, and Affirm in the U.S. which just filed to go public. Other giants in the BNPL space also include PayPal.

Lunar founder and CEO Ken Villum Klausen says the “schizophrenic” Nordic banking market is the reason why the challenger is launching BNPL. “It’s the most profitable banking landscape in the world, but also the most defensive, with least competition from the outside,” he says. “This means that the traditional banking customer is buying all their financial products from their bank”.

It is within this context that Lunar’s BNPL products are built as “post-purchase,” where Lunar will prompt its users after they have bought something (not dissimilar to Curve’s planned credit offering). For example, if you were to buy a new television, the app will ask if you want to split the purchase into instalments. “This does not require merchant agreements etc, and will work on all transactions both retail and e-commerce,” explains Klausen.

“We do not view Klarna as a direct competitor as they are not in the Nordic clearing system,” he adds. “Hence, you cannot pay your bills, get your salary and use it for daily banking. Klarna is enormous in Sweden, but relatively small in Denmark, Norway and Finland”.

In total, Lunar has raised €104 million from investors including Seed Capital, Greyhound Capital, Socii Capital and Chr. Augustinus Fabrikker. The challenger has offices in Aarhus, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, with a headcount of more than 180 employees. It plans to launch its banking app in Finland in the first half of 2021.

Startups – TechCrunch

This Danish startup believes co-living can help fight housing and climate crisis, intolerance & loneliness; raises €6M

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has impacted many industries including aviation, hospitality and much more. Despite the hardship, a Danish proptech startup LifeX, which already operates in six European cities secured fresh funding to expand its presence. This makes its co-living model successful during extremely tough times.

Secures €6M funding

LifeX has secured €6M funding from a Copenhagen-based startup studio, Founders alongside Berlin-based VC fund, Cherry Ventures. Previously, LifeX announced a seed funding round of €7.5M from the same investors along with participation from a few others. With the current funding round, LifeX has now received nearly €15M funding on the whole and is gearing up to raise a Series A round in the near future.

LifeX: A sneak peak!

The fresh investment will.be used to strengthen the presence of LifeX in both the existing and new markets, fuel product development, and accelerate its vision to make anyone feel at home across the world.

Founded in 2017 by Sune Theodorsen and Ritu Jain, LifeX claims to help young professionals overcome the many challenges of finding housing and growing a social network. The company offers a family-style approach to co-living, featuring shared living spaces filled with designer furniture. It also removes common points of conflict such as chores, house maintenance and bills.

LifeX also claims to help young professionals grow their social networks through community fostering initiatives such as events, networking opportunities and more with its embedded members from over 50 different countries.

According to the company, the monthly rent depends on the city, the apartment and the room size. Deposits vary from city-to-city in the range of €1 – €1.5k. The startup asks its customers to prepay the last month’s rent when they join LifeX. This means that as soon as they give their one-month move out notice, LifeX knows what your last month will be and this month will already be paid for.

According to the company, its prices are all-inclusive and includes, rent, utilities, Wi-Fi and Netflix membership, cleaning service (twice a week) for both the shared space and private room, shared supplies (household items that are generally shared among housemates like toilet paper, laundry detergent, salt, pepper, cooking oil etc.)

Success amidst COVID-19 crisis

While the hospitality industry is extremely hit by the COVID-19 crisis, LifeX claims to have continued to find success and has earned the attention of investors. “We have been focusing on our community of members, which is the essence of LifeX. It was really important for us to remain approachable and reactive during these unprecedented times. We were due to release a new feature in our LifeX app, which aimed to enhance communication with our members. We identified the need to accelerate development of this feature and released it during the lockdown period, allowing us to maintain a closer line of communication with our members,” says Theodorsen, who is the CEO of LifeX.

According to the company, it has also been focusing on fighting loneliness brought about by the pandemic-driven lockdown and isolation. “What we noticed during the crisis was that our members were very appreciative of not having to face this alone. They enjoyed spending time together, bonding and having their housemates as a support system to rely on,” says Theodorsen.

Currently, LifeX operates co-living homes in Copenhagen, Berlin, London, Paris, Munich and Vienna. There are 30 employees with offices in these cities mentioned here.

Main image picture credits: LifeX

Startups – Silicon Canals

Render raises $4.5M for its DevOps platform

Render, the winner of our Disrupt SF 2019 Startup Battlefield, today announced that it has added another $ 4.5 million onto its existing seed funding round, bringing total investment into the company to $ 6.75 million.

The round was led by General Catalyst, with participation from previous investors South Park Commons Fund and a group of angels that includes Lee Fixel, Elad Gil and GitHub CTO (and former VP of Engineering at Heroku) Jason Warner.

The company, which describes itself as a “Zero DevOps alternative to AWS, Azure and Google Cloud,” originally raised a $ 2.25 million seed round in April 2019, but it got a lot of inbound interest after winning the Disrupt Battlefield. In the end, though, the team decided to simply raise more money from its existing investors.

Current Render users include Cypress.io, Mux, Bloomscape, Zelos, 99designs and Stripe.

“We spoke to a bunch of people after Disrupt, including Ashton Kutcher’s firm, because he was one of the judges,” Render co-founder and CEO Anurag Goel explained. “In the end, we decided that we would just raise more money from our existing investors because we like them and it helped us get a better deal from our existing investors. And they were all super interested in continuing to invest.”

What makes Render stand out is that it fulfills many of the promises of Heroku and maybe Google Cloud’s App Engine. You simply tell it what kind of service you are going to deploy and it handles the deployment and manages the infrastructure for you.

“Our customers are all people who are writing code. And they just want to deploy this code really easily without having to worry about servers, or maintenance, or depending on DevOps teams — or, in many cases, hiring DevOps teams,” Goel said. “DevOps engineers are extremely expensive to hire and extremely hard to find, especially good ones. Our goal is to eliminate all of that work that DevOps people do at every company, because it’s very similar at every company.”

Image Credits: Render

One new feature the company is launching today is preview environments. You can think of them as disposable staging or development environments that developers can spin up to test their code — and Render promises that the testing environment will look the same as your production environment (or you can specify changes, too). Developers can then test their updates collaboratively with QA or their product and sales teams in this environment.

Development teams on Render specify their infrastructure environments in a YAML file and turning on these new preview environments is as easy as setting a flag in that file.

Image Credits: Render

“Once they do that, then for every pull request — because we’re integrated with GitHub and GitLab — we automatically spin up a copy of that environment. That can include anything you have in production, or things like a Redis instance, or managed Postgres database, or Elasticsearch instance, or obviously APIs and web services and static sites,” Goel said. Every time you push a change to that branch or pull request, the environment is automatically updated, too. Once the pull request is closed or merged, Render destroys the environment automatically.

The company will use the new funding to grow its team and build out its service. The plan, Goel tells me, is to raise a larger Series A round next year.

Startups – TechCrunch

Here.fm raises $2.9 million to reimagine video chat

Here.fm, a new web-based communication platform founded by Jesse Boyes and Seth Harris, has today announced the close of a $ 2.9 million seed round from FirstMark with participation by Y Combinator and a group of angel investors.

Here is all about giving people the chance to create personal, shareable and flexible video chat rooms. Boyes and Harris, like the rest of us, moved to Zoom to collaborate when the pandemic hit and felt that there were several shortcomings.

Harris explained that it felt very impersonal and formal to switch into presentation mode with his co-founder and buddy, and that notes and other content in those meetings disappeared when the meeting ended, “like a wormhole.”

They set out to add more layers to virtual communication.

“There are four main components to communication,” said Harris. “What you’re saying, where you are, what you’re doing and how you move. Everything we use today almost exclusively focuses on what you say, and very little on what you do. Zoom is a phone call with pictures.”

Here, in contrast, is a fully customizable room with video chat built on top of it, giving users the ability to decorate their room with virtual items, gifs, backgrounds, notes, pictures, etc. And, of course, these users can also customize their own video chat window and those of others, arranging them in the room in the size and shape that they prefer.

As with any other video chat software, users can also share their screen.

Image Credits: Here.fm

Harris and Boyes aren’t ready to commit to a certain business model or even use case, but would rather prefer to see how users approach the platform. Some have built out product war rooms, while others have set up their own virtual Blue Bottle shop to have coffee with each other. Others have set up Pilates classes that look and feel more like an actual Pilates studio than a Zoom call would.

That’s not to say they haven’t started thinking about revenue at all. There is potential here to offer payments processing for folks hosting classes or paid events, and there are also options to paywall persistence of the room and the items inside it, or even to charge for premium virtual objects or goods.

Here launched two months ago and thousands of rooms have been created since, with the average user session being 41 minutes.

Competition in this space is heating up. Mmhmm offers similar tools to customize the video chat room, but focuses more on presenting than hanging out. Macro is a tool that sits on top of a Zoom call to help ensure meetings are productive and efficient. And then there are the dozens (if not more) of startups that sprung to action at the onset of the pandemic to build out the next-generation of video chat.

But Boyes and Harris don’t see competition as the greatest challenge to the company.

“Here is a product problem, it is not an execution problem,” said Harris. “It is about generating a very strong emotional response in our users when they come in.”

Image Credits: Here.fm

Startups – TechCrunch

Oula Raises $3.2M to Modernize Maternity Care for Expectant Mothers

Expectant mothers are so often presented with binary options for childbirth – a heavily medicalized approach in a hospital with an obstetrician or a “natural birth” at home with a midwife, neither of which provides the multidimensional and convenient care that women want. Oula, a modern maternity center, blends the best of both options so women don’t have to choose and weaves technology into the experience to provide safe, convenient, and personalized care. AlleyWatch caught up with Cofounders Adrianne Nickerson and Elaine Purcell to learn more about the company’s experience of building a brick and mortar business in the middle of the pandemic and the company’s oversubscribed seed round from investors that include Collaborative Fund. Female Founders Fund, 8VC, and Rock Health.
AlleyWatch

Freelancer banking startup Lili raises $15M

It’s only been a few months since Lili announced its $ 10 million seed round, and it’s already raised more funding — namely, a $ 15 million Series A.

The startup, founded by CEO Lilac Bar David and CTO Liran Zelkha, is creating a bank account and associated products designed for freelancers, with features like early access to direct deposit payments and the ability to set aside a percentage of income for taxes.

The account (and associated Visa debit card) is free of overdraft fees or minimum balance requirements; Bar David said the company only makes money from card processing fees.

She also said that the platform has seen rapid growth this year, with transactions up 700% since the beginning of the pandemic and nearly 100,000 accounts opened since the launch in 2019.

Bar David suggested that the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19 has prompted (or forced) more skilled workers — such as programmers and digital marketers — to turn to freelancing. Meanwhile, she’s also seen “a big shift from part-time freelance to full-time freelance.”

Lili CEO Lilac Bar David

Lili CEO Lilac Bar David

Bar David predicted that the recent growth of the freelance economy won’t simply disappear once the pandemic is over, because workers are discovering the benefits of freelancing.

“If you have a 9-to-5 job, you’re dependent on one employer,” she said. “If something happens you’re out of a job … If you’ve got a diversified customer base, you’re not dependent on just one source of income.”

In recent months, Lili has added new features like automatically generated quarterly income and expense reports, a digital debit card (which customers can use before the physical card arrives in the mail) and the ability to send and receive money via Google Pay (Lili already supported Cash App and Venmo).

Bar David said the startup decided to raise more funding to expand its engineering team and further accelerate its growth. Apparently she was preparing for a traditional Series A fundraising process (albeit one that was conducted in the middle of a pandemic), but “our current investors were so tremendously impressed by the product-market fit and the growth” that they were willing to fund almost all of the new round.

So the Series A was led by previous investor Group 11, with participation from Foundation Capital, AltaIR Capital, Primary Venture Partners and Torch Capital — along with new backer Zeev Ventures.

“As the global workforce evolves at a rapid pace, we are excited to lead another round of funding to help Lili capitalize on unprecedented demand and offer an entirely new solution to help freelancers seamlessly save time and money,” said Group 11’s Dovi Frances in a statement.

Startups – TechCrunch

Road trippers can rejoice as RVshare raises over $100 million to grow its RV rental business

As continentally confined Americans look for domestic vacation options that won’t expose them to too much risk of infection from the pandemic that’s still raging across the country, the RV rental company RVshare has raised more than $ 100 million to capitalize on its historic opportunity.

The company’s new cash has come from the private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners, and is intended to provide operational support to meet the booming demand for RVs as Americans hit the road in unprecedented numbers.

Growth for the Akron, Ohio-based company can only be described as absurd. The company saw a 650% increase in bookings from April to May of 2020, according to a report in The Drive.

The resurgence of the RV industry isn’t just pandemically driven, but there’s no doubt that the outbreak of Sars-Cov-2 has played a role in the dramatic surge in demand for campers. Vacationers just don’t have many other options, given travel restrictions and risk.

And RVshare certainly isn’t alone in reaping the benefits.

There’s Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV rental company that was founded in 2015; bootstrapped by its founders for a couple of years, it has more recently attracted $ 88 million in venture funding. That funding included a $ 13 million extension to a $ 50 million Series B round that it quietly closed early this year, as TechCrunch reported. Cabana, another startup, launched by a former Lime executive, is merging the RV rental market with hotels. Then there’s Kibbo, which is turning RV parks into a photo-worthy version of the hashtag vanlife.

Founded in 2013, RVshare connects RV owners with people who want to rent an RV. Since 2013, the company has amassed a network of more than 100,000 recreational vehicles or trailers, ranging from deluxe motorhomes to camper vans to trailer attachments. Led by chief executive Jon Gray, RVshare has seen bookings for the fall rising 166% year-on-year from 2019.

“As a result of the pandemic, RVshare has seen an acceleration of growth as consumers have sought out RVs as a way to travel during these challenging times. Tritium is excited to continue investing in this team, business, and a category that is just getting started. Adding the KKR team, with their fantastic set of experiences and resources, will help take RVshare to much greater heights.”

KKR made the investment through its Next Generation Technology Growth Fund II, which closed with $ 2.2 billion in January 2020. The investment in RVshare is actually the tenth commitment from the fund. Earlier investments include Zwift, ReliaQuest, Artlist, Darktrace, o9 Solutions and Slice.

GCA Global served as financial advisor to RVshare on the deal, according to a statement.

“RVs are the preferred accommodation for the more than 40 million US households that go camping each year,” said Ben Pederson, a Principal with KKR’s Technology Growth team. “Younger generations of travelers are discovering and embracing domestic travel and RVshare is providing a seamless marketplace experience where RV owners can share their passion for camping and unlock the value of their assets.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Dance: The invite-only e-bike subscription service founded by SoundCloud founders raises €15M

DANCE E-bike

E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular, and there is little to no evidence to suggest this growth will slow in the recent future. As Europeans are adapting to the ‘new normal’ post-COVID-19 pandemic, e-bikes are likely to play a crucial role in everyone’s future. 

According to the report, one in five people in Europe is likely to buy/use an e-bike. Another report from CONEBI, ECF’s partners in the bicycle industry, says more than 3M e-bikes were sold in 2019, a substantial increase of 23% compared to the previous year. In the UK, sales of e-bikes have boomed as travel restrictions encouraged commuters to seek alternative transport methods with some retailers seeing a 230% increase in demand over the summer.

Addressing much-needed concerns

Across the EU, more than 2300km of bike lanes have been put into place since the start of the pandemic with the UK alone pledging £250M in investment. However, the cost of e-bikes remains to be the biggest impediment to their further uptake by far. Based out of London, Dance is hoping to address those concerns. 

Secured €15M Series A funding

A few months back, founders of SoundCloud Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss and Alexander Ljung, together with the co-founder of Jimdo, Christian Springub, launched ‘DANCE,’ a new e-bike service to capitalise on the e-bike boom through the Netflix-like subscription model. 

The e-bike startup recently secured €15M Series A funding led by VC HV Holtzbrinck Ventures. With this funding, DANCE aims to offer its all-inclusive service subscription package into expanded markets across Europe and the US. 

Invite-only pilot

According to the founders, DANCE is an e-bike subscription service founded with the purpose of positively impacting health, sustainability, and livable cities. “We set out to create a frictionless e-bike subscription service with no upfront costs and all-inclusive services.” In case of repair or theft, the e-bike will be replaced immediately, claims the company.

Right now, DANCE is currently operating the invite-only pilot of its e-bike subscription in Berlin, with plans for a broader launch, expanded accessibility & availability, and new cities next year. Customers interested can sign up, after which they will be invited to subscribe for an introductory price of €59 per month. However, the specifications of the ebike have not been mentioned on the company’s website. 

Post subscription, users will get a fully assembled e-bike delivered to your door within 24 hours. It’s worth mentioning here that as part of its all-inclusive services, maintenance and theft replacement insurance is also included. With the Dance app, users can track, share, and control your bike when not riding.  

Investors

DANCE is backed by venture capital funds HV Holtzbrinck Ventures and BlueYard together with entrepreneurs and investors such as Ilkka Paananen (Founder & CEO Supercell), Jeannette zu Fürstenberg (La Famiglia), Kevin P. Ryan (Founder & CEO, AlleyCorp), Neil Parikh (Founder & CSO Casper), Bjarke Ingels (Founder & CEO BIG Architects) and several others.

Main image credits: DANCE

Startups – Silicon Canals