funding

Bunch scores $3.8M to turn mobile games into video chat LAN parties

Posted by | Apps, Bunch, discord, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, HouseParty, openfeint, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, Video, video chat | No Comments

The best parts of gaming are the jokes and trash talk with friends. Whether it was four-player Goldeneye or linking up PCs for Quake battles in the basement, the social element keeps video games exciting. Yet on mobile we’ve lost a lot of that, playing silently by ourselves even if we’re in a squad with friends somewhere else. Bunch wants to bring the laughter back to mobile gaming by letting you sync up with friends and video chat while you play. It already works with hits like Fortnite and Roblox, and developers of titles like Spaceteam are integrating Bunch’s SDK to inspire longer game sessions.

Bunch is like Discord for mobile, and the chance to challenge that gaming social network unicorn has attracted a $3.8 million seed round led by London Venture Partners and joined by Founders Fund, Betaworks, Shrug Capital, North Zone, Streamlined Ventures, 500 Startups and more. With Bunch already cracking the top 100 social iOS app chart, it’s planning a launch on Android. The cash will go to adding features like meeting new people to game with or sharing replays, plus ramping up user acquisition and developer partnerships.

“I and my co-founders grew up with LAN parties, playing games like Starcraft and Counter Strike — where a lot of the fun is the live banter you have with friends,” Bunch co-founder and CEO Selcuk Atli tells me. “We wanted to bring this kind of experience to mobile; where players could play with friends anytime, anywhere.” 

Bunch team

Atli was a venture partner at 500 Startups after co-founding and selling two adtech companies: Manifest Commerce to Rakuten, and Boostable to Metric Collective. But before he got into startups, he co-founded a gaming magazine called Aftercala in Turkey at age 12, editing writers twice his age because “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” he tells me. Atli teamed up with Google senior mobile developer Jason Liang and a senior developer from startups like MUSE and Mox named Jordan Howlett to create Bunch.

Over a year ago, we built our first prototype. The moment we tried it ourselves, we saw it was nothing like what we’ve experienced on our phones before,” Atli tells me. The team raised a $500,000 pre-seed round and launched its app in March. “Popular mobile games are becoming live, and live games are coming to mobile devices,” says David Lau-Kee, general partner at London Venture Partners. “With this massive shift happening, players need better experiences to connect with friends and play together.”

When you log on to Bunch’s iOS app you’ll see which friends are online and what they’re playing, plus a selection of games you can fire up. Bunch overlays group voice or video chat on the screen so you can strategize or satirize with up to eight pals. And if developers build in Bunch’s SDK, they can do more advanced things with video chat, like pinning friends’ faces to their in-game characters. It’s a bit like OpenFeint or iOS Game Center mixed with Houseparty.

For now, Bunch isn’t monetizing, as it hopes to reach massive scale first, but Atli thinks they could sell expression tools like emotes, voice and video filters, and more. Growing large will require beating Discord at its own game. The social giant now has over 130 million users across PCs, consoles and mobile. But it’s also a bit too hardcore for some of today’s casual mobile gamers, requiring you to configure your own servers. “I find that execution speed will be most critical for our success or failure,” Atli says. Bunch’s sole focus on making mobile game chat as easy as possible could win it a mainstream audience seduced by Fortnite, HQ Trivia and other phenomena.

Research increasingly shows that online experiences can be isolating, and gaming is a big culprit. Hours spent playing alone can leave you feeling more exhausted than fulfilled. But through video chat, gaming can transcend the digital and become a new way to make memories with friends — no matter where they are.

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Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Australia, Automation, csiro, drones, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, hardware, robotics, science, Startups, TC | No Comments

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation.

The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared, and so on. Frequently these measurements must be made manually and painstakingly in dangerous circumstances.

One mining technique has ore being blasted from the vertical space between two tunnels; the resulting cavities, called “stopes,” have to be inspected regularly to watch for problems and note progress.

“The way they scan these stopes is pretty archaic,” said Hrabar. “These voids can be huge, like 40-50 meters horizontally. They have to go to the edge of this dangerous underground cliff and sort of poke this stick out into it and try to get a scan. It’s very sparse information and from only one point of view, there’s a lot of missing data.”

Emesent’s solution, Hovermap, involves equipping a standard DJI drone with a powerful lidar sensor and a powerful onboard computing rig that performs simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) work fast enough that the craft can fly using it. You put it down near the stope and it takes off and does its thing.

“The surveyors aren’t at risk and the data is orders of magnitude better. Everything is running onboard the drone in real time for path planning — that’s our core IP,” Hrabar said. “The dev team’s background is in drone autonomy, collision avoidance, terrain following — basically the drone sensing its environment and doing the right thing.”

As you can see in the video below, the drone can pilot itself through horizontal tunnels (imagine cave systems or transportation infrastructure) or vertical ones (stopes and sinkholes), slowly working its way along and returning minutes later with the data necessary to build a highly detailed map. I don’t know about you, but if I could send a drone ahead into the inky darkness to check for pits and other scary features, I wouldn’t think twice.

The idea is to sell the whole stack to mining companies as a plug-and-play solution, but work on commercializing the SLAM software separately for those who want to license and customize it. A data play is also in the works, naturally:

“At the end of the day, mining companies don’t want a point cloud, they want a report. So it’s not just collecting the data but doing the analytics as well,” said Hrabar.

Emesent emerged from Data61, the tech arm of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, an Australian agency not unlike our national lab system. Hrabar worked there for over a decade on various autonomy projects, and three years ago started on what would become this company, eventually passing through the agency’s “ON” internal business accelerator.

Data collected from a pass through a cave system.

“Just last week, actually, is when we left the building,” Hrabar noted. “We’ve raised the funding we need for 18 months of runway with no revenue. We really are already generating revenue, though.”

The $3.5 million (Australian) round comes largely from a new $200M CSIRO Innovation fund managed by Main Sequence Ventures. Hrabar suggested that another round might be warranted in a year or two when the company decides to scale and expand into other verticals.

DARPA will be making its own contribution after a fashion through its Subterranean Challenge, should (as seemly likely) Emesent achieve success in it (they’re already an approved participant). Hrabar was confident. “It’s pretty fortuitous,” he said. “We’ve been doing underground autonomy for years, and then DARPA announces this challenge on exactly what we’re doing.”

We’ll be covering the challenge and its participants separately. You can read more about Emesent at its website.

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Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, eCommerce, funding, Fundings & Exits, home improvement, Mobile, sequoia capital, Startups, TC, Thumbtack, Yelp | No Comments

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate and, with its added markup, you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages,” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $500 each, with 70 percent repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live-action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckel describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself,” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $1.2 billion valuation and had raised $273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.

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Scared to trade stocks? Titan algorithmically invests for you

Posted by | Apps, betterment, eCommerce, Education, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, hedge fund, Mobile, Recent Funding, robo investment, Startups, stock trading, TC, titan, Wealthfront | No Comments

Titan could put an end to stock market FOMO. The app chooses the best 20 stocks by scraping top hedge fund data, adds some shorts based on your personal risk profile and puts your money to work. No worrying about market fluctuations or constantly rebalancing your portfolio. You don’t have to do anything, but can get smarter about stocks thanks to its in-app explanations and research reports. Titan wants to be the easiest way to invest in stocks for a mobile generation that wants an affordable coach to guide them through the market themselves.

“Our goal is to take things that aren’t accessible [in wealth management] and make them accessible, starting with hedge funds,” says Titan co-founder Joe Percoco. That potential to democratize one of the keys to financial mobility has won Titan a $2.5 million seed round from Y Combinator’s co-founder Paul Graham, president Sam Altman and partners including Gmail creator Paul Bucheit. The rest of the capital comes from Maverick Ventures, BoxGroup and Liquid2 Ventures.

Titan is where investing meets virality,” says Graham. “Those are two very powerful forces.” Since TechCrunch broke the news of Titan’s launch in August, it’s doubled its assets under management to $20 million and hired its first non-founder engineer.

Now it’s launching in-app educational videos so stock market dummies can get up to speed if they want to understand where their money’s going amidst a swirling see of financial news. “There are so many different headlines telling so many different narratives,” Percoco tells me. “Everyone is searching for explanations in a voice they trust. An ‘ETF’ can’t talk back. Sometimes a human face is better than writing. A video can really help people make choices.” Here’s its two-minute video about Facebook’s Q2 earnings a few months ago, explaining why the share price crashed 25 percent:

Percoco and Clayton Gardner met on their first day of Wharton business school, while their third co-founder was earning a hedge fund patent and studying computer science at Stanford. They went on to work at hedge funds and private equity firms like Goldman Sachs, but got fed up just growing the fortunes of the already rich.

So they started Titan to invent a modern, mobile version of BlackRock, the investment giant founded in the 1980s. Titan uses the public disclosures of hedge funds to find consensus around the 20 best performing stocks. With as little as $1,000, users can let Titan robo-manage their investments for a 1 percent fee on assets. Users provide some info on how big they want to gamble, and Titan personalizes their portfolio with more or less conservative shorts to hedge their bets.

Titan’s simplicity combined with the sense of participation could help it grow quickly. It sits between do-it-yourself options like Robinhood or E*Trade, where you’re basically left to fend for yourself, and totally passive options like Wealthfront and Betterment, where you’re so divorced from your portfolio that you’re not learning. Managed hedge funds and fellow active investment vehicles like BlackRock with a human advisor can require a $100,000 minimum investment that’s too steep for millennials.

“Even the best hedge fund in the world is only going to send you a PDF every 90 days,” Percoco explains. But Titan doesn’t want you nervously checking your portfolio non-stop. “Our median user checks the app once per day.” That seems like a healthy balance between awareness and sanity. It thinks its education and informative push notifications make it worth a higher required investment and fees than Wealthfront charges.

Essentially, Titan is a stock trading auto-pilot merged with a flight simulator so you improve your finance skills without having to fear a crash. Percoco tells me the sense of accomplishment that engenders is why clients say they’re telling friends about Titan. “When I invest, I look for companies that are growing quickly and making a huge positive impact on the world. Titan is one of those companies,” investor Altman says. “I think they could improve the financial well-being of an entire generation.”

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Subscription management startup RevenueCat raises $1.5M

Posted by | funding, jason lemkin, Mobile, RevenueCat, Startups, TC | No Comments

RevenueCat, a startup that helps developers manage their in-app subscriptions, has raised $1.5 million in new funding.

The company was part of the most recent batch at Y Combinator, and CEO Jacob Eiting said growth has been “a rocket ship” for the past few months. As of this week, RevenueCat is working with 100 live apps, and it’s crossing $1 million in tracked revenue.

The startup offers an API to address what sounds like a straightforward task, supporting in-app subscriptions in iOS and Android. As Eiting put it when I first interviewed him a few months ago, it’s “boring work” solving a “boring problem” — but that’s one of the reasons why developers don’t want to deal with it. It also means they don’t have to spend time dealing with bugs and updates on the subscription side of either platform.

And RevenueCat continues to add new features, like allowing developers to bring their revenue data into analytics and attribution services. That, in turn, makes it easier for them to see which ads are driving real revenue.

The long-term goal is to build what Eiting (who’s pictured above with his co-founder Miguel Carranza) calls a “revenue management platform.”

“Our mission as a company is to help developers make more money,” he said. “I think we do become this one-stop shop, a service that you integrate with all the payment touch points in your app to help you track your revenue and help you understand how customers are spending.”

The new funding (which is on top of the $120,000 RevenueCat received from YC) was led by Jason Lemkin of SaaStr. Eiting said it’s “an obvious fit,” since the software-as-a-service entrepreneurs who read SaaStr articles, listen to its podcasts and attend its events form “this huge community of companies that are potential customers for us.”

FundersClub, Oakhouse Partners, Buckley Endeavours, Josh Buckley and OneSignal CEO George Deglin also invested.

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Truphone, an eSIM mobile carrier that works with Apple, raises another $71M, now valued at $507M

Posted by | Apple, Enterprise, Europe, funding, Mobile, TC, truphone | No Comments

Truphone — a UK startup that provides global mobile voice and data services by way of an eSIM model for phones, tablets and IoT devices — said that it has raised another £18 million ($23.7 million) in funding; plus it said it has secured £36 million ($47 million) more “on a conditional basis” to expand its business after signing “a number of high-value deals.”

It doesn’t specify which deals these are, but Truphone was an early partner of Apple’s to provide eSIM-based connectivity to the iPad — that is, a way to access a mobile carrier without having to swap in a physical SIM card, which has up to now been the standard for GMSA-based networks. Truphone is expanding on this by offering a service for new iPhone XS and XR models, taking advantage of the dual SIM capability in these devicews. Truphone says that strategic partners of the company include Apple (“which chose Truphone as the only carrier to offer global data, voice and text plans on the iPad and iPhone digital eSIM”); Synopsys, which has integrated Truphone’s eSIM technology into its chipset designs; and Workz Group, a SIM manufacturer, which has a license from Truphone for its GSMA-accredited remote SIM provisioning platform and SIM operating system.

The company said that this funding, which was made by way of a rights issue, values Truphone at £386 million ($507 million at today’s rates) post-money. Truphone told TechCrunch that the funding came from Vollin Holdings and Minden Worldwide — two investment firms with ties to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who also owns the Chelsea football club, among other things — along with unspecified minority shareholders. Collectively, Abramovich-connected entities control more than 80 percent of the company.

We have asked the company for more detail on what the conditions are for the additional £36 million in funding to be released and all it is willing to say is that “it’s KPI-driven and related to the speed of growth in the business.” It’s unclear what the state of the business is at the moment because Truphone has not updated its accounts at Companies House (they are overdue). We have asked about that, too.

For some context, Truphone most recently raised money almost exactly a year ago, when it picked up £255 million also by way of a rights issue, and also from the same two big investors. The large amount that time was partly being raised to retire debt. That deal was done at a valuation of £370 million ($491 million at the time of the deal). Going just on sterling values, this is a slight down-round.

Truphone, however, says that business is strong right now:

“The appetite for our technology has been enormous and we are thrilled that our investors have given us the opportunity to accelerate and scale these groundbreaking products to market,” said Ralph Steffens, CEO, Truphone, in a statement. “We recognised early on that the more integrated the supply chain, the smoother the customer experience. That recognition paid off—not just for our customers, but for our business. Because we have this capability, we can move at a speed and proficiency that has never before seen in our industry. This investment is particularly important because it is testament not just to our investors’ confidence in our ambitions, but pride in our accomplishments and enthusiasm to see more of what we can do.”

Truphone is one of a handful of providers that is working with Apple to provide plans for the digital eSIM by way of the MyTruphone app. Essentially this will give users an option for international data plans while travelling — Truphone’s network covers 80 countries — without having to swap out the SIMs for their home networks.

The eSIM technology is bigger than the iPhone itself, of course: some believe it could be the future of how we connect on mobile networks. On phones and tablets, it does away with users ordering, and inserting or swapping small, fiddly chips into their devices (that ironically is also one reason that carriers have been resistant to eSIMs traditionally: it makes it much easier for their customers to churn away). And in IoT networks where you might have thousands of connected, unmanned devices, this becomes one way of scaling those networks.

“eSIM technology is the next big thing in telecommunications and the impact will be felt by everyone involved, from consumers to chipset manufacturers and all those in-between,” said Steve Alder, chief business development officer at Truphone. “We’re one of only a handful of network operators that work with the iPhone digital eSIM. Choosing Truphone means that your new iPhone works across the world—just as it was intended.” Of note, Alder was the person who brokered the first iPhone carrier deal in the UK, when he was with O2.

However, one thing to consider when sizing up the eSIM market is that rollout has been slow so far: there are around 10 countries where there are carriers that support eSIM for handsets. Combining that with machine-to-machine deployments, the market is projected to be worth $254 million this year. However, forecasts put that the market size at $978 million by 2023, possibly pushed along by hardware companies like Apple making it an increasingly central part of the proposition, initially as a complement to a “home carrier.”

Truphone has not released numbers detailing how many devices are using its eSIM services at the moment — either among enterprises or consumers — but it has said that customers include more than 3,500 multinational enterprises in 196 countries. We have asked for more detail and will update this post as we learn more.

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Indonesian fintech startup Moka raises $24M led by Sequoia India

Posted by | Android, Asia, East Ventures, eCommerce, fenox, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Indonesia, moka, PayPal, softbank ventures korea, Southeast Asia, Vertex Ventures | No Comments

Indonesia’s Moka, a startup that helps SMEs and retailers manage payment and other business operations, has pulled in a $24 million Series B round for growth.

The investment is led by Sequoia India and Southeast Asia — which recently announced a new $695 million fund — with participation from new backers SoftBank Ventures Korea, EDBI — the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board — and EV Growth, the later stage fund from Moka seed investor East Ventures. Existing investors Mandiri Capital, Convergence and Fenox also put into the round.

The deal takes Moka to $27.9 million raised to date, according to data from Crunchbase.

Moka was started four years ago primarily as a point-of-sale (POS) terminal with some basic business functionality. Today, it claims to work with 12,500 retailers in Indonesia and its services include sales reports, inventory management, table management, loyalty programs, and more. Its primary areas of focus are retailers in the F&B, apparel and services industries. It charges upwards of IDR 249,000 ($17) per month for its basic service and claims to be close to $1 billion in annual transaction volume from its retail partners.

That’s the company’s core offering, a mobile app that turns any Android or iOS device into a point-of-sale terminal, but CEO and co-founder Haryanto Tanjo — who started the firm with CTO Grady Laksmono — said it harbors larger goals.

“Our vision is to be a platform, we want to be an ecosystem,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

That’s where much of this new capital will be invested.

Tanjo said the company is opening its platform up to third-party providers, who can use it to reach merchants with services such as accounting, payroll, HR and more. The focus is initially on local services that cater to SMEs in Indonesia, but as Moka targets larger enterprises as clients, he said that it will integrate larger, global solutions, too.

Moka offers services beyond point-of-sale, but the core offering is turning any smart device into a cash machine

Moka itself is expanding its capabilities on the payment side.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country based on population and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is in the midst of a fintech revolution with numerous companies pioneering mobile-based wallet services aimed at ending the country’s fixation on cash-based transactions. That’s mean that there are a plethora of options available today. Tanjo said Moka is working to support them all in order to help its merchants grow their businesses and consumers to have easier lives.

There are so many wallets here in Indonesia,” he said. “There are more than 10 right now and maybe in the next few months there’ll be 15-20, we want to be the platform that works with all of them.”

Already it works with the likes of OVO, T-Cash and Akulaku, and e-wallets including DANA and Kredivo. The startup is also working in another area of fintech: loans.

As an extension of its platform, it has tied up with SME loan companies who can reach out to Moka businesses using its platform. With the merchant’s consent, Moka can provide business data — including revenue, profit, etc — to help provide data to assess a loan application. That’s important because the process is particularly challenging in Southeast Asia, where few organized credit checking facilities exist — it makes sense that Moka — which has built its business around encouraging business growth and management — uses the information it has access to help its partners.

Tanjo said the company takes an undisclosed cut of the loan in cases where it has successfully connected the two parties. He said that he doesn’t expect that to initially become a major revenue stream, but over time he anticipates it will help its customer base grow and become a more important source of income for the startup.

Sequoia India has some experience in POS startups having backed Pine Labs in India, which recently landed a big $125 million round from PayPal and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. Still, there are plenty of local players across various markets in Southeast Asia, including StoreHub, which is backed by Temasek subsidiary Vertex Ventures, and Malaysia’s SoftSpace.

While those two competitors have established a presence in multiple markets in Southeast Asia, Tanjo — the Moka CEO — said there are no plans to venture overseas for at least the next 12 months.

“We’re still scratching the service,” he said. “So [it] doesn’t make sense to expand too soon.”

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Kids’ gaming platform Roblox raises $150M

Posted by | david baszucki, David Sze, disrupt sf 2018, funding, Gaming, Greylock Partners, Roblox, Social, Startups, Tiger Global Management | No Comments

Roblox, which allows kids to create 3D worlds and games, has raised an additional $150 million in funding.

The company didn’t disclose its valuation in the announcement, but a source with knowledge of the deal told us that it valued Roblox at more than $2.5 billion — the price that Microsoft paid to acquire Minecraft four years ago.

“This is a big year for us that fortifies the dream,” said co-founder and CEO David Baszucki .

Earlier this year, Roblox announced that it had become cash-flow positive, and Baszucki told me the company remains “extremely profitable.” So why raise more money?

“First and foremost, the reason to fundraise is to have a war chest, to have a buffer, to have the opportunity to do acquisitions, to have a strong balance sheet as we grow internationally,” he said.

In order to support that growth, Baszucki said Roblox will be opening offices in some regions like China (“most likely with a partner that hasn’t been announced yet”), but it also requires building out infrastructure like local language and local payment support.

Roblox Developers Conferen

Roblox has now raised a total of $185 million in equity funding. The new round was led by Greylock Partners and Tiger Global, with participation from existing investors Altos Ventures, Index Ventures, Meritech Capital Partners and others.

Greylock’s David Sze has had big successes in both gaming and social media, having backed Facebook, LinkedIn, SGN and others. But he said Roblox is the first company he’s seen to “unify those two together on a platform in a magical kind of way.”

Apparently, Sze has known Baszucki for a long time — their kids went to the same school, and Sze remembered Baszucki bringing an early version of Roblox to the science fair. Gaming companies can be a risky investment, because their business relies on creating new hits, but Sze said Roblox is different.

“They aren’t making the games,” Sze said. “They’re letting the long tail of developers develop all the games on the platform, they’re let users decide what the successes are. It’s much more like a YouTube or much more like an Apple with the App Store.”

In a blog post about the funding, Sze even suggested that some of the next big gaming franchises could emerge from the Roblox platform, a prediction he repeated in our interview

“I’d be surprised if there aren’t some huge, high quality games that aren’t originated on Roblox in the next three-to-five years,” he said.

Roblox says it now has more than 70 million monthly active users, with more than 4 million creators who have built more than 40 million-plus experiences.

Of course, having a big platform with lots of user-generated content also creates risks — as illustrated in a recent incident where characters mimed gang raping a young girl’s avatar. (Roblox said a single server had been hacked, allowing users to upload code that violated the company’s rules.)

Asked whether these risks gave him any pause, Sze said, “User protection, user safety, all the aspects of having of having youth on your platform, it takes those things extremely seriously.”

“Are we perfect? No,” he said. “But I can tell you from inside the company that it’s an incredibly high priority. They’ve already done lots of things to help protect and make the user experience the best, and they have a list of stuff that they’re already working on.”

I’ll be interviewing Baszucki on-stage at Disrupt SF this afternoon, so stay tuned to TechCrunch (or come on out to the event!) for more on the funding and his future plans.

This story has been updated with the corrected amount for Roblox’s total funding.

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Kapwing is Adobe for the meme generation

Posted by | Adobe, Apps, funding, Imgur, Kapwing, Media, Memes, Mobile, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, video editor | No Comments

Need to resize a video for IGTV? Add subtitles for Twitter? Throw in sound effects for YouTube? Or collage it with other clips for the Instagram feed? Kapwing lets you do all that and more for free from a mobile browser or website. This scrappy new startup is building the vertical video era’s creative suite full of editing tools for every occasion.

Pronounced “Ka-pwing,” like the sound of a ricocheted bullet, the company was founded by two former Google Image Search staffers. Now after six months of quiet bootstrapping, it’s announcing a $1.7 million seed round led by Kleiner Perkins.

Kapwing hopes to rapidly adapt to shifting memescape and its fragmented media formats, seizing on opportunities like creators needing to turn their long-form landscape videos vertical for Instagram’s recently launched IGTV. The free version slaps a Kapwing.com watermark on all its exports for virality, but users can pay $20 a month to remove it.

While sites like Imgur and Imgflip offer lightweight tools for static memes and GIFs, “the tools and community for doing that for video are kinda inaccessible,” says co-founder and CEO Julia Enthoven. “You have something you install on your computer with fancy hardware. You should able to create and riff off of people,” even if you just have your phone, she tells me. Indeed, 100,000 users are already getting crafty with Kapwing.

“We want to make these really relevant trending formats so anyone can jump in,” Enthoven declares. “Down the line, we want to make a destination for consuming that content.”

Kapwing co-founders Eric Lu and Julia Enthoven

Enthoven and Eric Lu both worked at Google Image Search in the lauded Associate Product Manager (APM) program that’s minted many future founders for companies like Quip, Asana and Polyvore. But after two years, they noticed a big gap in the creative ecosystem. Enthoven explains that “The idea came from using outdated tools for making the types of videos people want to make for social media — short-form, snackable video you record with your phone. It’s so difficult to make those kinds of videos in today’s editors.”

So the pair of 25-year-olds left in September to start Kapwing. They named it after their favorite sound effect from the Calvin & Hobbes comics when the make-believe tiger would deflect toy gunshots from his best pal. “It’s an onomatopoeia, and that’s sort of cool because video is all about movement and sound.”

After starting with a meme editor for slapping text above and below images, Kapwing saw a sudden growth spurt as creators raced to convert landscape videos for vertical IGTV. Now it has a wide range of tools, with more planned.

The current selection includes:

  • Meme Maker
  • Subtitles
  • Multi-Video Montage Maker
  • Video Collage
  • Video Filters
  • Image To Video Converter
  • Add Overlaid Text To Video
  • Add Music To Video With MP3 Uploads
  • Resize Video
  • Reverse Video
  • Loop Video
  • Trim Video
  • Mute Video
  • Stop Motion Maker
  • Sound Effects Maker

Kapwing definitely has some annoying shortcomings. There’s an 80mb limit on uploads, so don’t expect to be messing with much 4K videos or especially long clips. You can’t subtitle a GIF, and the meme maker flipped vertical photos sideways without warning. It also lacks some of the slick tools that Snapchat has developed, like a magic eraser for Photoshopping stuff out and a background changer, or the automatic themed video editing found in products like Google Photos.

The No. 1 thing it needs is a selective cropping tool. Instead of letting you manually move the vertical frame around inside a landscape video so you always catch the action, it just grabs the center. That left me staring at blank space between myself and an interview subject when I uploaded this burger robot startup video. It’s something apps like RotateNFlip and Flixup already offer. Hopefully the funding that also comes from Shasta, Shrug Capital, Sinai, Village Global, and ZhenFund will let it tackle some of these troubles.

Beyond meme-loving teens and semi-pro creators, Kapwing has found an audience amongst school teachers. The simplicity and onscreen instructions make it well-suited for young students, and it works on Chromebooks because there’s no need to download software.

The paid version has found some traction with content marketers and sponsored creators who don’t want a distracting watermark included. That business model is always in danger of encroachment from free tools, though, so Kapwing hopes to also become a place to view the meme content it exports. That network model is more defensible if it gains a big enough audience, and could be monetized with ads. Though it will put it in competition with Imgur, Reddit and the big dogs like Instagram.

“We aspire to become a hub for consumption,” Enthoven concluded. “Consume, get an idea, and share with each other.”

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India’s Cashify raises $12M for its second-hand smartphone business

Posted by | Asia, bessemer, eCommerce, funding, Fundings & Exits, india, Mobile, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Southeast Asia, technology | No Comments

Cashify, a company that buys and sells used smartphones, is the latest India startup to raise capital from Chinese investors after it announced a $12 million Series C round.

Chinese funds CDH Investments and Morningside led the round which included participation from Aihuishou, a China-based startup that sells used electronics in a similar way to Cashify and has raised over $120 million. Existing investors including Bessemer Ventures and Shunwei also took part in the round.

This new capital takes Cashify to $19 million raised to date.

The business was started in 2013 by co-founders Mandeep Manocha (CEO), Nakul Kumar (COO) and Amit Sethi (CFO) initially as ‘ReGlobe.’ The business gives consumers a fast way to sell their existing electronics, it deals mainly in smartphones but also takes laptops, consoles, TVs and tablets.

“When we began we saw a lot of transaction for phone sales moving from offline to online,” Manocha told TechCrunch in an interview. “But consumer-to-consumer [for used devices] is highly opaque on price discovery and you never know if you’re making the right decision on price and whether the transaction will take place in the timeframe.”

These days, the company estimates that the average upgrade cycle has shifted from 20 months to 12 months, and now it is doubling down.

With Cashify, sellers simply fill out some details online about their device, then Cashify dispatches a representative who comes to their house to perform diagnostic checks and gives them cash for the device that day. The startup also offers an app which automatically carries out the checks — for example ensuring the camera, Bluetooth module, etc all work — and offers a higher cash payment for the user since Cashify uses fewer resources.

 

A sample of the Cashify Q&A for selling a device.

Beyond its website and app, Cashify gets devices from trade-in programs for Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple in India, as well as e-commerce companies like Flipkart, Amazon and Paytm Mall.

Used device acquired, what happens next is interesting.

The startup has built out a network of offline merchants who specialize in selling used phones. Each phone it acquires is then sold (perhaps after minor refurbishments) to that network, so it might pop up for sale anywhere in India.

With this new money, Cashify CEO Manocha said the company will develop an online resale site that will allow anyone to buy a used phone from the company’s network. Devices sold by Cashify online will be refurbished with new parts where needed, and they’ll include a box and six-month warranty to give a better consumer experience, Manocha added.

Today, Cashify claims to handle 100,000 smartphones a month, but it is planning to grow that to 200,000 by the end of this year. Cashify said its devices are typically low-end, those that retail for sub-$300 when new. A large part of that push comes from the online site, but the startup is also enlarging its offline merchant network and working to reach more consumers who are actually selling their device. That’s where Manocha said he sees particular value in working with Aihuishou.

Cashify is also developing other services. It recently started offering at-home repairs for customers and Manocha said that adding Chinese investors — and Aihuishou in particular — will help it with its sourcing of components for the repairs service and general refurbishments.

Cashify estimates that the used smartphone market in India will see 90 million phones sold this year, with as many as 120 million trading by 2020. That’s close to the 124 million shipments that analysts estimate India saw in 2017, but with surprisingly higher margins.

A reseller can make 10 percent profit on a device, Manocha explained, and Cashify’s own price elasticity — the difference between what it buys from consumers at and what it sells to resellers for — is typically 30-35 percent, he added. That’s more than most OEMs, but that doesn’t take into account costs on the Cashify side which bring that number down.

“When I sell to a reseller, the margins aren’t that exciting which is why we want to sell direct to consumers,” the Cashify CEO said.

The startup has plenty going on at home in India, but already it is considering overseas possibilities.

“We will focus on India for at least next 12 months but we have had discussions on markets that would make sense to enter,” Manocha, explaining that the Middle East and Southeast Asia are early frontrunners.

“We are working very closely with one of the Chinese players and figuring out if we can do some business in Hong Kong because that’s the hub for second-hand phones in this part of the world,” he added.

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