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Startups Weekly: Squad’s screen-shares and Slack’s swastika

Posted by on Jan 19, 2019 in alex wilhelm, altos ventures, AnchorFree, Andreessen Horowitz, Autotech Ventures, Aviva Ventures, berlin, bird, bluerun ventures, Business, ceo, Ciitizen, crowdstrike, CrunchBase, economy, editor-in-chief, entrepreneurship, Finance, First Round Capital, Flash, France, Greenspring Associates, Ingrid Lunden, Italy, josh constine, Lance Armstrong, Maverick Ventures, Next Ventures, norwest venture partners, Portugal, Private Equity, redpoint ventures, resolute ventures, Rubrik, series C, slack, slow ventures, Spain, Startup company, Startups, switzerland, Tandem Capital, TC, TechStars, tools, unicorn, valar ventures, Venture Capital, zack Whittaker | 0 comments

We’re three weeks into January. We’ve recovered from our CES hangover and, hopefully, from the CES flu. We’ve started writing the correct year, 2019, not 2018.

Venture capitalists have gone full steam ahead with fundraising efforts, several startups have closed multi-hundred million dollar rounds, a virtual influencer raised equity funding and yet, all anyone wants to talk about is Slack’s new logo… As part of its public listing prep, Slack announced some changes to its branding this week, including a vaguely different looking logo. Considering the flack the $7 billion startup received instantaneously and accusations that the negative space in the logo resembled a swastika — Slack would’ve been better off leaving its original logo alone; alas…

On to more important matters.

Rubrik more than doubled its valuation

The data management startup raised a $261 million Series E funding at a $3.3 billion valuation, an increase from the $1.3 billion valuation it garnered with a previous round. In true unicorn form, Rubrik’s CEO told TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden it’s intentionally unprofitable: “Our goal is to build a long-term, iconic company, and so we want to become profitable but not at the cost of growth,” he said. “We are leading this market transformation while it continues to grow.”

Deal of the week: Knock gets $400M to take on Opendoor

Will 2019 be a banner year for real estate tech investment? As $4.65 billion was funneled into the space in 2018 across more than 350 deals and with high-flying startups attracting investors (Compass, Opendoor, Knock), the excitement is poised to continue. This week, Knock brought in $400 million at an undisclosed valuation to accelerate its national expansion. “We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Knock CEO Sean Black told me.

Cybersecurity stays hot

While we’re on the subject of VCs’ favorite industries, TechCrunch cybersecurity reporter Zack Whittaker highlights some new data on venture investment in the industry. Strategic Cyber Ventures says more than $5.3 billion was funneled into companies focused on protecting networks, systems and data across the world, despite fewer deals done during the year. We can thank Tanium, CrowdStrike and Anchorfree’s massive deals for a good chunk of that activity.

Send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Fundraising efforts continue

I would be remiss not to highlight a slew of venture firms that made public their intent to raise new funds this week. Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures filed to raise $350 million across two new funds and Redpoint Ventures set a $400 million target for two new China-focused funds. Meanwhile, Resolute Ventures closed on $75 million for its fourth early-stage fund, BlueRun Ventures nabbed $130 million for its sixth effort, Maverick Ventures announced a $382 million evergreen fund, First Round Capital introduced a new pre-seed fund that will target recent graduates, Techstars decided to double down on its corporate connections with the launch of a new venture studio and, last but not least, Lance Armstrong wrote his very first check as a VC out of his new fund, Next Ventures.

More money goes toward scooters

In case you were concerned there wasn’t enough VC investment in electric scooter startups, worry no more! Flash, a Berlin-based micro-mobility company, emerged from stealth this week with a whopping €55 million in Series A funding. Flash is already operating in Switzerland and Portugal, with plans to launch into France, Italy and Spain in 2019. Bird and Lime are in the process of raising $700 million between them, too, indicating the scooter funding extravaganza of 2018 will extend into 2019 — oh boy!

Startups secure cash

  • Niantic finally closed its Series C with $245 million in capital commitments and a lofty $4 billion valuation.
  • Outdoorsy, which connects customers with underused RVs, raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Greenspring Associates, with participation from Aviva Ventures, Altos Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and Tandem Capital.
  • Ciitizen, a developer of tools to help cancer patients organize and share their medical records, has raised $17 million in new funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
  • Footwear startup Birdies — no, I don’t mean Allbirds or Rothy’s — brought in an $8 million Series A led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from Slow Ventures and earlier investor Forerunner Ventures.
  • And Brud, the company behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela, is now worth $125 million with new funding.

Feature of the week

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine introduced readers to Squad this week, a screensharing app for social phone addicts.

Listen to me talk

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I marveled at the dollars going into scooter startups, discussed Slack’s upcoming direct listing and debated how the government shutdown might impact the IPO market.

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Source: The Tech Crunch

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Passport, a customer service company focused on shipping, has raised $3 million in seed funding from some notable names

Posted by on Oct 16, 2018 in eCommerce, Logistics, passport, precursor ventures, resolute ventures, Sophia Amoruso, TC, Venture Capital | 1 comment

Founders building a brand today are largely relying on new infrastructure to do it, though they’re still heavily reliant on legacy carriers like FedEx and DHL when it comes to international shipping. In fact, prohibitively high prices, along with not a lot of support or tools, are a few reasons why more American products aren’t shipped abroad. Many startups especially decide it’s simply not worth it.

Enter Passport, a 1.5-year-old, San Francisco-based startup that sees an opportunity to make it easier for brands to reach far-flung customers and has raised $3 million in seed funding toward that end. Among its backers is Resolute Ventures; Precursor Ventures; Product Hunt co-founder Ryan Hoover; Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso; and April Underwood, the chief product officer of Slack.

What piqued investors’ interest? The team, for starters, including co-founder and COO Aaron Schwartz, who previously founded his own e-commerce company (Modify Watches) and CEO Alex Yancher, who, among other things, co-founded a smart fridge kiosk company called Pantry that was acquired. The two have some experience in moving packages from one point to another; they also know the pain of dealing with lost and delayed packages.

The company is also “asset light,” which investors typically like. Indeed, the company is largely a customer service business focused on shipping globally. How it works: One of its customers — let’s take Native Deodorants — will hold its inventory in a third-party logistics warehouse. In Native’s case, it’s a Connecticut company called Fulfillment Works, and Fulfillment Works slaps a label on Native’s packages that have been created by Passport, then gets the packages ready for pickup.

After that, Passport arranges for a daily pickup of all of Native’s internationally bound parcels, working through a third-party freight company like Old Dominion or FedEx Freight. That company brings the parcels to a consolidation point, where the parcels are sorted by country and final mile. After that, the Canada parcels, say, are sent on a truck to the border and perhaps injected into the Canadian Postal system, or they’re flown to Australia on a Qantas flight and shipped out to the recipient via the Australian Post. Passport then acts as a reference point so if a customer has any questions about his or her package, they are fielded by Passport.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science. All the same, in an age where consumer expectations are higher than ever when it comes to at-home delivery, an aggregator that connects all the pieces to provide a better customer experience may well prove worth it to some brands. Indeed, in addition to Native, others of Passport’s early customers include the men’s outfitter Shinesty, the backpack maker ISM, the socks manufacturer Bombas and the clothing company Betabrand.

We were in touch yesterday with Yancher and Schwartz to learn more.

TC: How did you identify this particular sliver of industry as a problem worth tackling?

AY: I ran a personal shopping service — Lynks.com — that helped people abroad buy products from the U.S., and I saw that demand for American goods is booming abroad. In fact, half of a brand’s Instagram followers are from abroad, but only 10 percent of its sales are. Despite the boom in cross-border, current international shipping options are lacking a lot of what a merchant needs to successfully sell and ship abroad.

This pain doesn’t just exist for individual brands alone but also for third-party logistics facilities — the operations companies that partner with brands and that receive, warehouse and fulfill customer orders. They have incredible buying power for shipping customers, and yet they’re also unsatisfied.

TC: It sounds like your differentiator is customer service, but couldn’t another startup come in and strike relationships with international carriers and do precisely the same thing?

AY: Shipping a package internationally is complicated. Building a consistent experience across hundreds of partners with different transit times expectations, technical backends and terms and conditions requires technological as well as logistical expertise. I’ve spent years stringing together custom shipping routes. This isn’t something you just jump into, there’s a ton of nuance into how you work with global posts and private carriers.

What we do differently is embed customer support via Intercom on the tracking page, which is where consumer anxiety happens. Anyone can offer customer experience, but for international shipping, it’s pretty darn hard. You have to get detailed data from a bunch of carriers. You also have to know what the “exceptions” are. We automate a lot of the support behind the scenes, which has taken a year to get going.

We also offer proactive notifications when door tags are left, so a customer can follow-up directly with their local carrier and packages aren’t set back to the U.S.; we set up direct Slack channels with brands in order to help their own customer experience teams deal with any other questions about international shipping; and we do in-shopping-cart integrations, like a fully landed cost calculator, so consumers know exactly what they are paying for an item and won’t get hit with a “your item is held at customs.”

TC: Which international carriers are you working with, and do you have any kind of exclusive deals with them?

AS: We ship to 195 countries around the world and use a different last-mile provider in each country and use a variety of trucks (to Canada and Mexico) and air transport partners to get parcels all over the world. In total we work with over 300 carriers and posts. We don’t have exclusive deals on the carrier side of the business.

TC: How do you price packages? How much more do you mark them up in exchange for the hand-holding you provide?

AS: Our price depends on multiple factors, from the origin point to the quantity of shipments. Our markup range is between 5 percent to 50 percent depending on the client, but our pricing is 100 percent transparent. If you ship with DHL, FedEx, etc. you’ll get a rate sheet. But then you’ll also have a bunch of hidden fees like fuel surcharges, or “remote area surcharges” of up to 30 percent that will be sent 30 days later, after you’ve charged your customer. They’ll charge you extra for certain deliveries. They’ll charge you extra for the fully landed cost calculator — or tell you to partner with a different party. And if your package is lost, they’ll say, “Fill out this form. We’ll be in touch in 90 days after an investigation.”

Our point of view is that great logistics is necessary but insufficient when it comes to international shipping. You also need to deliver a great digital experience for brands. Everything that goes into delivering that gets bundled into our postage price.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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