Recent Funding

Chat gaming startup Knock Knock raises $2M

Posted by | knock knock, Mobile, raine ventures, Recent Funding, Startups, Venture Capital | No Comments

Knock Knock, a startup building games for platforms like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, is announcing that it has raised $2 million in seed funding.

The goal isn’t to build interactive chat fiction, but rather fully fledged mobile games that are accessed from messaging apps, while also taking advantages of the opportunities offered by incorporating messaging and chatbots into the game mechanics.

“This is the most frictionless an experience can get,” said CEO Andrew Friday. “There’s no download, it’s hooked up to a fast messaging medium that you’re already using and people can bring their friends into the experience seamlessly.”

Friday was a senior product manager for chat games at Zynga, while his co-founder Andrew N. Green was previously the head of business operations at TinyCo. They plan to release their first game for Facebook Messenger later this year, and then a WeChat title in early 2019.

When I asked if there are any specific genres that will do best on messaging, Friday suggested that there’s actually “an embarrassment of riches.”

“Most great mobile game genres, and game genres in general, are good for the platform,” he said. “It’s just that if you try to just port those designs to the platform, it’s not going to work. If you rethink or reimagine these mechanics, how they would work best, how they would be most fun on the platform, there are so many genres that can work on chat.”

He also suggested that compared to FRVR, another recently funded startup looking to build chat games, Knock Knock is less focused on “hypercasual” games and instead taking “a deeper, more thoughtful approach.” Although thoughtfulness and depth are relative — Friday suggested that Knock Knock could still create the initial versions of its games in 90 days.

The funding was led by Raine Ventures, with participation from London Venture Partners, Ludlow Ventures and Gregory Milken.

“Knock Knock has the potential to usher in the next wave of chat games that will redefine the market,” said Courtney Favreau, a venture capital partner at Raine, in the funding announcement. “The founding team has an impressive track record in the mobile and chat gaming spaces and we’re very excited to help them bring their vision to life.”

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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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Bird has officially raised a whopping $300M as the scooter wars heat up

Posted by | bird, electric scooters, Gadgets, lime, Mobile, Recent Funding, sequoia capital, skip, Startups, TC, Transportation | No Comments

And there we have it: Bird, one of the emerging massively hyped Scooter startups, has roped in its next pile of funding by picking up another $300 million in a round led by Sequoia Capital.

The company announced the long-anticipated round this morning, with Sequoia’s Roelof Botha joining the company’s board of directors. This is the second round of funding that Bird has raised over the span of a few months, sending it from a reported $1 billion valuation in May to a $2 billion valuation by the end of June. In March, the company had a $300 million valuation, but the Scooter hype train has officially hit a pretty impressive inflection point as investors pile on to get money into what many consider to be the next iteration of resolving transportation at an even more granular level than cars or bikes. New investors in the round include Accel, B Capital, CRV, Sound Ventures, Greycroft and e.ventures; previous investors Craft Ventures, Index Ventures, Valor, Goldcrest, Tusk Ventures and Upfront Ventures are also in the round. (So, basically everyone else who isn’t in competitor Lime.)

Scooter mania has captured the hearts of Silicon Valley and investors in general — including Paige Craig, who actually jumped from VC to join Bird as its VP of business — with a large amount of capital flowing into the area about as quickly as it possibly can. These sort of revolving-door fundraising processes are not entirely uncommon, especially for very hot areas of investment, though the scooter scene has exploded considerably faster than most. Bird’s round comes amid reports of a mega-round for Lime, one of its competitors, with the company reportedly raising another $250 million led by GV, and Skip also raising $25 million.

“We have met with over 20 companies focused on the last-mile problem over the years and feel this is a multi-billion dollar opportunity that can have a big impact in the world,” CRV’s Saar Gur, who did the deal for the firm, said. “We have a ton of conviction that this team has original product thought (they created the space) and the execution chops to build something extremely valuable here. And we have been long-term focused, not short-term focused, in making the investment. The ‘hype’ in our decision (the non-zero answer) is that Bird has built the best product in the market and while we kept meeting with more startups wanting to invest in the space — we kept coming back to Bird as the best company. So in that sense, the hype from consumers is real and was a part of the decision. On unit economics: We view the first product as an MVP (as the company is less than a year old) — and while the unit economics are encouraging, they played a part of the investment decision but we know it is not even the first inning in this market.”

There’s certainly an argument to be made for Bird, whose scooters you’ll see pretty much all over the place in cities like Los Angeles. For trips that are just a few miles down wide roads or sidewalks, where you aren’t likely to run into anyone, a quick scan of a code and a hop on a Bird may be worth the few bucks in order to save a few minutes crossing those considerably long blocks. Users can grab a bird that they see and start going right away if they are running late, and it does potentially alleviate the pressure of calling a car for short distances in traffic, where a scooter may actually make more sense physically to get from point A to point B than a car.

There are some considerable hurdles going forward, both theoretical and in effect. In San Francisco, though just a small slice of the United States metropolitan area population, the company is facing significant pushback from the local government, and scooters for the time being have been kicked off the sidewalks. There’s also the looming shadow of what may happen regarding changes in tariffs, though Gur said that it likely wouldn’t be an issue and “the unit economics appear to be viable even if tariffs were to be added to the cost of the scooters.” (Xiaomi is one of the suppliers for Bird, for example.)

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Winnie raises $4 million to make parents’ lives easier

Posted by | Apps, children, family, kids, Mobile, parents, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, Winnie | No Comments

An app that has the needs of modern-day parents in mind, Winnie, has now raised $4 million in additional seed funding in a round led by Reach Capital. Other investors in the new round include Rethink Impact, Homebrew, Ludlow Ventures, Afore Capital, and BBG Ventures, among others. With the new funds, Winnie has raised $6.5 million to date.

The San Francisco-based startup, which begun its life as a directory of kid-friendly places largely serving the needs of newer parents, has since expanded to become a larger platform for parents.

Winnie was founded by Bay Area technologists, Sara Mauskopf, who spent time at Postmates, Twitter, YouTube and Google, and Anne Halsall, also from Postmates and Google, as well as Quora and Inkling.

As new parents themselves, they built Winnie out a personal need to find the sort of information parents crave – details you can’t easily dig up in Google Maps or Yelp.

For example, you can use Winnie to find nearby kid-friendly destinations like museums or parks, as well as those that welcome children with features like changing tables in restrooms, wide aisles in stores for stroller access, areas for nursing, and other things.

“Babies are people too, and they deserve a designated clean bathroom space just like the rest of us.” 👏👏https://t.co/Ps8egQcDLL

— Winnie (@Winnie) June 5, 2018

Winnie serves as a good example of what investing in women can achieve. Somehow, the young, 20-something men that receive the lion’s share of VC funding had never thought up the idea of app that helps new parents navigate the world. (I know, shocking, right?) And yet, the kind of questions that Winnie tries to answer are those that all parents, at some point, are curious about.

The data on Winnie is crowd-sourced, with details, ratings and reviews coming from other real parents. Listings in San Francisco may be more fleshed out than elsewhere, as that’s where Winnie got its start. However, the app is now available in 10,000 cities across the U.S., and has just surpassed over a million users.

In more recent months, Winnie has been working to expand beyond being a sort of “Yelp for parents,” and now features an online community where parents can ask questions and participate in discussions.

“The crowdsourced directory of family-friendly businesses is still a huge component of what we do…and this has grown to over 2 million places across the United States,” notes Winnie co-founder and CEO Sara Mauskopf. “But we also have these real-time answers to any parenting question from this authentic, supportive community,” she says, referring to Winnie’s online discussions.

The idea is that parents will be searching the web for answers to questions about toddler sleep issues or good local preschools or breastfeeding help, and Winnie’s answers will come up in search results, similar to other Q&A sites like Quora or Yahoo Answers.

“A lot of younger millennial parents are turning to Google to find answers to these questions,” adds Winnie co-founder and CPO Anne Halsall. “So we want to have the answer to these questions at the ready, and we want to have the best page. That’s an example of something that’s yield a lot of traffic for us, just because no one else had that data before Winnie,” she says.

Related to this expansion, Winnie is also serving this data across platforms, including – obviously – the web, in addition to its native app on iOS and Android. The hope is that, with the growth, business owners will come in to claim their pages on Winnie.com, too, and update their information.

In the near-term, the founders say they’ll put the funding to use building out more personalization features.

“As a technology company, we have a unique opportunity to give you this really tailored experience that grows with your family over time – so as your children are getting older, and you’re entering new phases of development, our product’s adapting and putting relevant information in front of you,” Halsall says. 

Data on businesses serving the needs of parents with older kids – like summer camps or driver’s ed classes, for example – are the kind of things Winnie will focus on as it grows to include information for more parents, instead of just those with younger children and babies.

Winnie will also use the funds to hire additional engineers to help it scale its platform.

Esteban Sosnik from Reach Capital joined Hunter Walk from Homebrew on Winnie’s board as a result of the funding.

The app is a free download for iOS and Android, and is available on the web at Winnie.com.

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Opendoor raises $325M to make buying and selling homes a near-instant process

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, OpenDoor, real estate, Recent Funding, Startups | No Comments

Investors are placing another huge bet on a startup looking to reinvent a decades-old process into something that’s near instant, this time pouring $325 million into Opendoor — a company that wants to bring the complex operation of buying or selling a home down to something similarly as simple as hailing a Lyft.

The idea of Opendoor is one not so dissimilar from a consumer theory that’s blossomed into companies worth tens of billions of dollars — consumers hate complex processes and are willing to hand off those processes to technology companies if they can make it even a little simpler. Home-buying and selling can be one of the more intense ones, requiring a lot of moving pieces and coordinating multiple time tables and schedules. Opendoor’s theory is that it can create a sizable business by dropping that time and energy cost to zero and effectively create a new technology-powered business model in the process, just like Uber or Airbnb.

Opendoor says it hopes to expand to 50 markets by the end of 2020 with this additional financing. It is in 10 markets right now, and also says it now purchases more than $2.5 billion in homes on an annual run rate. The company says it has raised a $325 million financing round co-led by General Atlantic, Access Technology Ventures and Lennar Corporation. Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue Management, 10100 Fund and Invitation Homes also participated, as well as existing investors Norwest Venture Partners, Lakestar, GGV Capital, NEA and Khosla Ventures. Opendoor has in total raised $645 million in equity and $1.5 billion in debt.

“What I realized was that there’s a lot of tailwinds with people wanting to transact with their mobile device,” CEO Eric Wu said. “We see this with Uber and Lyft and Amazon. I believe the future of real estate will be on demand and that’s the centerpiece of Opendoor’s thesis, making the transaction real time and instant. I realized there were going to be tailwinds, and that real estate was in need of being transformed.”

Opendoor has also sought to expand its efforts to make viewing those homes just as seamless. The company enables potential customers to check out a home by opening it with the app seven days a week. Wu said that most potential buyers go to the house each of the seven days up to the transaction, and then seven days after the transaction happens. Given that it’s such a significant step for any home owner, it makes sense that a lot of planning and consideration would go into the process. The next step is to create a sort of trade-up system, where Opendoor works to create a streamlined way to turn around an existing home for a new home.

Still, buying (or selling) a home is one of the single-largest transactions a consumer can do — especially if they are in a major metropolitan area where houses can quickly hit the $1 million-plus range. So it’s still a hurdle to convince consumers that they should press a few buttons to make a transaction in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Wu said that the challenge there was to build enough trust with customers that they realize the process should be as seamless and powered by transparent data.

“It’s something we faced early on when we launched the service,” Wu said. “We were asking sellers to sell their home online to a tech company. A lot of the things we’ve done — such as lowering the fees and being transparent about pricing — which helped us build trust. Since it’s one of the largest financial transactions anyone makes, we had to build a world-class pricing model, be transparent about how we got to the quote, make it a low-fee service, and provide a certainty around the process.”

To try to do all this, Opendoor says it’s built a robust data set that will help best model potential prices for homes and be more transparent about that information. Wu said Opendoor currently employs around 650 people and hopes to double that by the end of next year, and the company is investing a significant amount of capital in growing out its data science team. The challenge is to understand the dynamics of the housing market — and any potential chaos — in order to best assess how to buy and sell those homes. Opendoor acquires some risk by purchasing some homes and holding them for a period of time, so ensuring that the company knows how the market performs will be one of its biggest challenges.

Opendoor is certainly not the only player in this area, as some competitors like Knock and OfferPad are starting to raise additional capital. Knock picked up $32 million in January last year with a similar bet: simplify the home-buying process and handle all of the details behind the scenes. If anything, it’s shown that there’s an appetite among the venture community (especially one where the numbers just keep getting bigger) for models that look to tap the same consumer demand of simplifying overly complex processes to just a few inputs on a smart app powered by data science.

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Scooter startup Lime is reportedly raising $250M led by Uber investor GV

Posted by | bird, electric scooters, GV, lime, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups, Transportation | No Comments

It’s scooters all the way down this morning, with Lime also reportedly raising $250 million in a funding after a new Delaware filing this morning indicated that competitor Bird authorized the sale of up to $200 million in shares.

GV (formerly Google Ventures) is leading this round, according to the report by Axios, as the massive land grab for a stake in the scooter wars continues to heat up — whether that’s funding or actual scooters piling up on the sidewalk. Both companies have faced pushback from some city regulators (probably on the basis of tripping over them and falling on your face), but it still means the venture community is still salivating over potentially the next major mode of metropolitan transportation. Most venture investors in the Valley argue scooters make sense for short trips throughout areas that are just too far to be considered a trek, but too close that it would be a waste of time and money to call a rideshare like Uber or Lyft.

Given that Uber exposed a massive hole for easier transportation in major metropolitan areas — and potentially replacing cars in those areas — getting into the next big transportation revolution is more than tempting enough for firms like GV (which is also an investor in Uber). Lime was previously reported to be seeking up to $500 million in funding and was taking meetings with some major firms in Silicon Valley over the past few weeks. It might not get that, but a $250 million influx might be plenty to try to continue to ramp up its business and get more rides on board. Axios is reporting that Lime has told investors users have taken 4.2 million rides and each scooter gets 8 to 12 rides per day.

Still, while it’s not $500 million, there’s plenty of interest in the on-demand scooter business — challenges of keeping them charged and intact included — that Bird has authorized the sale of up to $200 million in new shares at a $1 billion valuation just months after its previous round. So it might not be surprising if this, too, ends up as kind of a rolling process where Lime eventually gets all the capital it sought.

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Parsable secures $40M investment to bring digital to industrial workers

Posted by | Cloud, digital transformation, Enterprise, funding, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

As we increasingly hear about automation, artificial intelligence and robots taking away industrial jobs, Parsable, a San Francisco-based startup sees a different reality, one with millions of workers who for the most part have been left behind when it comes to bringing digital transformation to their jobs.

Parsable has developed a Connected Worker platform to help bring high tech solutions to deskless industrial workers who have been working mostly with paper-based processes. Today, it announced a $40 million Series C cash injection to keep building on that idea.

The round was led by Future Fund with help from B37 and existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures and Aramco Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total to nearly $70 million.

The Parsable solution works on almost any smartphone or tablet and is designed to enter information while walking around in environments where a desktop PC or laptop simply wouldn’t be practical. That means being able to tap, swipe and select easily in a mobile context.

Photo: Parsable

The challenge the company faced was the perception these workers didn’t deal well with technology. Parsable CEO Lawrence Whittle says the company, which launched in 2013, took its time building its first product because it wanted to give industrial workers something they actually needed, not what engineers thought they needed. This meant a long period of primary research.

The company learned, it had to be dead simple to allow the industry vets who had been on the job for 25 or more years to feel comfortable using it out of the box, while also appealing to younger more tech-savvy workers. The goal was making it feel as familiar as Facebook or texting, common applications even older workers were used to using.

“What we are doing is getting rid of [paper] notebooks for quality, safety and maintenance and providing a digital guide on how to capture work with the objective of increasing efficiency, reducing safety incidents and increasing quality,” Whittle explained.

He likens this to the idea of putting a sensor on a machine, but instead they are putting that instrumentation into the hands of the human worker. “We are effectively putting a sensor on humans to give them connectivity and data to execute work in the same way as machines,” he says.

The company has also made the decision to make the platform flexible to add new technology over time. As an example they support smart glasses, which Whittle says accounts for about 10 percent of its business today. But the founders recognized that reality could change and they wanted to make the platform open enough to take on new technologies as they become available.

Today the company has 30 enterprise customers with 30,000 registered users on the platform. Customers include Ecolab, Schlumberger, Silgan and Shell. They have around 80 employees, but expect to hit 100 by the end of Q3 this year, Whittle says.

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Quarterback lets top esports gamers and streamers create their own fan-based leagues

Posted by | broadcasting, esports, Gaming, Mergers and Acquisitions, Recent Funding, serial entrepreneur, Startups, TC, Twitch, twitch tv, UpWest Labs | No Comments

In an effort to tie the top gamers and streamers more directly with their fans, a new company called Quarterback has just raised $2.5 million to create and manage fan-based leagues for the superstars of the esports and streaming world.

The company raked in its seed round from investors led by Bitkraft Esports, which is quickly building one of the most complete portfolios of gaming-related startups in the industry. Additional investors include Crest Capital Ventures, Deep Space Ventures, UpWest Labs and angel investors.

Essentially, it’s a platform for creating gaming leagues and content driven not by game publishers, leagues, or existing streaming sites like Twitch, but by the gamers themselves. It gives streamers and players a new way to reach their audience, the company claims.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Jonathan Weinberg, who acted as the chief executive for Round Robin and held a leadership role in the mobile game studio Spartonix, Quarterback is the latest attempt to get more revenue into the hands of gamers. 

Leagues created on Quarterback can host daily challenges, give away prizes and compete against fan clubs devoted to other top players.

Esports streamers and gamers are among the most bankable influencers, pitching to a new generation of consumers that don’t track traditional media sources. The ability to host and own their own channels gives these streamers an ability to create their own game libraries, cultivate a next generation of talent and encourage one-to-one interactions on platforms they control.

“Most streamers and pros struggle to monetize their fan-base and lose touch with their audience when the fans break away to play their own games,” says Jens Hilgers, a founding partner of Bitkraft Esports Ventures. “Quarterback solves this problem in a unique way by helping streamers become an integral part of their fan’s game-play.”

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Bluedot Innovation gets $5.5 million in funding to track smartphone users more precisely

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Bluedot Innovation, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups | No Comments

When it comes to the promises of persistent location hyper-awareness, the promises of mobile have largely fallen flat. While this has been a bummer for consumers looking for more contextual services from the apps they have installed, this also has been a pain for marketers keen to get their hands on more quality user data.

Bluedot Innovation wants to tackle this by building out tech that can zero-in on smartphone users’ locations in the background. Bluedot announced today they have raised $5.5 million in Series A funding led by a major toll road company, Transurban. The Melbourne startup has raised $13 million to date.

The startup’s tech focuses on dialing-in user location data to just a few meters so that companies utilizing the API can tell whether their marketing efforts are actually turning into consumers visiting physical locations. There are no shortage of players in this space; what makes Bluedot unique, the company insists, is their focus on R&D to develop more precise, low-power solutions that rely on networks and a variety of sensors in the phone to deliver data insightful enough that customers can distinguish what users are doing in tighter urban areas and how they’re getting around.

Bluedot had initially focused its efforts entirely on developing a service that could make mobile payments for toll roads, the idea being that rather than having to install something on your windshield, you could just download an app, allowing persistent location access so whenever you drove through a tollway that had been mapped within the app, you’d make a payment without any friction.

The startup’s ambitions have certainly expanded since then, particularly through a partnership with Salesforce, though given the fact that this round was led by a toll road company it suffices to say that this use case is still firmly within their sights. In November, the startup released the LinktGO app with Transurban, which allows Australian users to make toll road payments from their phone.

The startup says it’s using this latest fund raise to build out its U.S. office in San Francisco and its Melbourne HQ, where it plans to double its current staff of 30 employees.

 

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