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Starship Technologies picks up €50M from the EU’s investment arm to expand its fleet of autonomous delivery robots


Starship Technologies, one of the bigger names in the world of autonomous delivery robots — those little caboose-like, boxy delivery vehicles that self-drive around cities — has been on a roll during Covid-19, providing extra (unmanned) horsepower to distribute food and other goods between stores or restaurants and consumers, at a time when consumers were either reluctant or being ordered to stay at home to minimize the spread of the virus. Now it’s picking up some funding along with an endorsement Europe to further its growth.

The startup has received €50 million (just under $57 million at today’s rates) from the European Investment Bank, the funding arm of the European Union. Starship Technologies is describing this as a “quasi-equity facility”, meaning there is a venture loan involved in the mix.

It is not disclosing its valuation with this investment, but Alastair Westgarth said that this doesn’t rule out raising further funding from investors. Starship raised $40 million Series A led by Morpheus Ventures back in 2019, and last January according to Pitchbook data also raised a further $17 million with strategic backers TDK Ventures (the investment arm of the Japanese electronics giant) and Goodyear Ventures among the investors. It has now made more than 2.5 million commercial deliveries (up from 2 million in October 2021) and travelled over 3 million miles globally. Westgarth said that on average, its fleet is making 10,000 deliveries per day.

Based out of Los Angeles, Starship initially made its name, back in 2017, running pilots with delivery companies in the U.S. — Doordash and Postmates (now part of Uber) — and then deployments in closed campus environments. It also butted heads around that time with city regulators in San Francisco, and it has yet to return to that city. It’s also had a significant presence in Europe, with its primary R&D operation based out of Tallinn, in Estonia (hence the financial endorsement from the EU), and its first substantial city deployment in Milton Keynes in the UK. Prices for the service can vary by city and location, but as an example a service that it provides to grocery chain Coop in Milton Keynes is made for a flat fee of 99 pence.

In the last two years, Starship’s name has been coming up a lot as a delivery partner helping companies get food order to customers at a time when delivery drivers were in shorter supply, people wanted to move around less, and generally come into less contact with humans. The Milton Keynes service alone saw hundreds of thousands of deliveries, and Starship started to sign on some significant partners. In the UK, the list includes the grocery chains Tesco, Coop and Budgens, which partner with Starship primarily as a delivery vehicle not for its mega grocery stores, but for its centrally-located, smaller-format shops, which act as ‘dark stores’ stocking the items that Starship delivers to smaller radiuses around them. People order Starship deliveries via the startup’s iOS and Android apps.

Today the campus deployments are a majority of Starship’s business — some 70% — but the signs are pointing to a likely shift, Westgarth said.

“Grocery will be larger in a year to 18 months,” he said. The addressable market for campuses that would likely use Starship’s services is around 400-500, he said, “but grocery is billions of dollars. We are chasing delivery services around the world. We can deliver like anyone on a bike, scooter or car, but we’re cheaper, and our robots get cheaper each year.” The average battery life is 18 hours and a typical robot can travel around 40km/day. 

The company now operates its fleet as a level 4 autonomous system, meaning humans are monitoring at an operations center for issues, and can if need be take over if a vehicle finds itself in an unexpected pickle, but that is not the default.

“99% of the time our robots have nobody involved. We make many deliveries without anyone involved,” Westgarth said.

 

The funding from the EIB ticks a couple of different boxes for the EU. First, it has been looking to promote more sustainable forms of transportation, both to reduce emissions and to reduce traffic on the roads. Second, it’s had a long-term goal of backing tech startups to further its standing in the digital economy.

“Electric vehicles in all shapes and sizes will be part of our future, and can be a key part in the sustainable transport puzzle,” said EIB VP Thomas Östros in a statement. “Starship’s delivery robots are already proving their worth, and we are glad to support the company so that they can continue to develop their technology and scale-up their production.”


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Software Development

Zoi, a preventive care startup co-founded by a former Macron advisor, raises $23 million seed round


Meet Zoi, a new French startup that wants to combine routine medical checkups with preventive care through a mobile app. The startup has been co-founded by Ismaël Emelien, former special advisor to Emmanuel Macron during the early days of its presidency, and Paul Dupuy, who previously worked on Workwell.

Before I tell you more about the product and vision, it’s also worth noting that the company has raised an impressive seed round of $23 million (€20 million) from business angels exclusively.

Zoi is a healthcare startup that focuses on preventive care. The company isn’t working on new treatments, medicines or vaccines. Instead, Zoi wants to give you personalized insights so that you can improve your overall health over the long run.

How does Zoi gather data exactly? “It’s a hybrid model that is physical and digital — we’re going to open centers and we’re going to collect data ourselves,” co-founder and CEO Ismaël Emelien told me.

It’s a hybrid model that is physical and digital — we’re going to open centers and we’re going to collect data ourselves Ismaël Emelien

Once you start your subscription and become a member, the startup will send you an invite to tell you that it’s time to visit a Zoi health center. The company will get blood samples, check your vision, your hearing, your heart and more.

Based on that first checkup, Zoi will use data science to process that data. “We’re going to create the tools that will lead us to predictive algorithms. We’ll be able to improve our data analysis continuously,” co-founder Paul Dupuy told me.

But instead of sending you a 30-page document with a bunch of information, Zoi thinks it’s more efficient to rely on nudge, a popular concept in behavioral sciences. Zoi users will receive messages and content that gently push them to do the right thing for their health.

“At the end of the day, we don’t tell you that you should exercise more and eat healthier — but what kind of sports you should practice for instance,” Emelien said. Zoi users could interact with the app a little bit every day to learn more about their health.

The startup expects to launch its first clinic by the end of the year. There will be a testing phase before Zoi starts accepting a large number of patients. But the business model scales quite well as you can imagine a capacity of tens of thousands of potential patients per clinic.

At first, Zoi is going to be quite expensive as this type of preventive process isn’t covered by France’s national healthcare system. The company compares its offering with checkup centers in Paris, such as the checkup center of the American Hospital in Paris. These processes can cost thousands of euros.

Zoi wants to be a bit cheaper than these existing centers. Over time, the startup also hopes that it can lower its subscription price thanks to economies of scale.

In addition the two co-founders I mentioned already, there are three other members of the founding team. Cédric Carbone and Fabrice Bonan already know each other well as they used to be the CTO and CPO of Talend respectively. On the healthcare side, Dr Claude Dalle is going to act as Zoi’s Chief Scientific Advisor.

Individual investors only

On the investment front, Zoi chose to rule out VC money on purpose. “We were only looking for private investors who could be extremely involved. We asked for a minimum investment that was quite high with €1 million per investor so that they can support us completely,” Dupuy said.

Two persons in particular put more money on the table than the rest — Jean-Claud Marian, the founder of Orpea, a leading healthcare real estate company, as well as Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna. “He considers that preventive medicine is the solution to 90% of health issues,” Emelien said when talking about Stéphane Bancel.

But the list of investors doesn’t stop there. Other men in the round include Xavier Niel, Rodolphe Saadé, Jean-Marie Messier, Jean Moueix, Hassanein Hiridjee, Emmanuel Goldstein and Patrick Levy-Waitz.

There are two concerns with Zoi as it stands. First, with an expensive introductory subscription price, it could create a divide between people who can afford a product like that and everyone else.

Some would say that entrepreneurs should focus more on reducing inequalities in health status and life expectancy. In France, according to a 2018 study, the richest 5% of men live 13 years longer than the poorest 5% of men. When you compare the richest 5% of women and poorest 5% of women, the gap is smaller but there’s still an 8-year difference in life expectancy.

Second, while the startup relies heavily on nudge, Zoi isn’t going be an easy sell for people who don’t live in Paris near Zoi’s inaugural center. To be fair, the startup already plans to expand beyond Paris and the annual checkup only takes a few hours. So you could technically live in the middle of the Alps and get checked once a year.

But I still believe Zoi is tackling preventive care from the right angle. “Conceptually, we put users at the center,” Emelien said. “We don’t start with tech, nor with healthcare. We combine tech with healthcare around users.”

Zoi’s founders are also well aware that preventive care doesn’t stop diseases altogether. It’s all about increasing your odds of living a longer, healthier life. And this sort of methodical, data-driven approach to preventive care combined with the right level of skepticism with technological solutions could definitely have a positive impact on many people’s lives.


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Software Development

Intellect, the mental health startup focused on APAC, raises $10M Series A


Mental health app Intellect's founder and CEO Theodoric Chew

Mental health app Intellect’s founder and CEO Theodoric Chew

Intellect, the Singapore-based mental health startup focused primarily on Asia-Pacific markets, announced today it has raised a $10 million Series A. The company’s services, including self-directed mental wellness programs in 15 languages and online therapy sessions, are available through two channels: as an employee benefit and through Intellect’s consumer app.

The round, which Intellect claims is the largest Series A ever raised by a mental health startup in Asia, was led by HOF Capital. New investors included Headline, East Ventures, MS&AD Ventures, DG Daiwa Ventures, Pioneer Fund and existing backer Insignia Ventures Partners also returned.

Intellect claims its year-on-year revenue grew by over 20x in 2021, due in large part to new enterprise clients like foodpanda, Shopback, Singtel, Kuehne & Nagel and Schroders. It also partners with insurers and benefits brokers like Mercer.

Co-founder and CEO Theodoric Chew told TechCrunch that Intellect differentiates from other employee wellness programs because “Intellect’s vision isn’t simply to be a self-care app or an employee benefits platform solely, but a full mental healthcare system for Asia. That drives a differentiated approach in how we build our platform which caters from the smallest of daily struggles through self-guided programs, all the way to clinical therapy for chronic issues.”

The company, a Y Combinator alum, will use the capital to increase its product, engineering and commercial teams as it continues expanding into new markets. It currently has about three million registered users, in a total of 20 countries, with a strong commercial presence in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, said Chew.

The new round brings Intellect’s total raised since its launch in 2020 (when TechCrunch first profiled the company) to $13 million and also included angel investors like Shopback co-founder and CEO Henry Chan; Cathay Innovation’s Rajive Keshup; former Headspace VP of Engineering Neel Palrecha; Forge co-founder Samvit Ramadurgam; Peak co-founder Sagi Shorrer; Snap Inc. Director of Southeast Asia Anubhav Nayyar; and Tinder and Match Group general manager of Southeast Asia Gaurav Girotra.

The startup says that among companies that offer it as an employee benefit, adoption rates consistently range between 20% to 40%, much higher than traditional employee assistance programs.

The startup is participating in 10 clinical studies in collaboration with academic institutions, including the National University of Singapore, King’s College London, University of Queensland and the Singapore General Hospital, and says some of them have already shown that Intellect improves stress, anxiety and depression among users.

In a statement about the investment, HOF Capital partner Victor Wong said, “The need for mental health support is exceedingly timely today and it continues to rapidly grow in demand across the world. Intellect has grown to over 3 million individuals and enterprises across 20 countries in just under 2 years and we’re very excited to back them for the long term as they continue to transform millions of lives through inventing a new mental healthcare system for workforces and individuals across Asia.”


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Software Development

Gillmor Gang: Culture Clubs


I’ve spent the last few weeks diving into the world of crypto, and lo and behold, there might be something to it. Part of the problem is I rarely sense an innovation that revolves around the inevitability of people making big money. Instead, I become aware of something that might be bubbling up, like a new Apple chip or series of chips that create a new market opportunity. The M1 series was such a development; it provided a palpable layer of horsepower that changed the equation of how I use computing. As with Tesla, market conditions evolve as chip production is brought in house.

The iPhone and iPad were transformative for Apple and the tech industry. The obvious stuff was the touch interface, the app ecosystem, and the decoupling from the late great PC era. Before, computers represented a way to leverage software as a change agent for our daily lives. I learned the interfaces of Office, then the underlying structure of operating system services, then the connection point to the network. In a way, it was like the structure of filmmaking: the skeleton that was the plot, the scaffolding that was the dialogue, the narrative that was the connection between characters and the situation, and the rhythm that was the product of editing and off-screen context. That last one was most furtive in its revelation, but the key to the humor, music, and not just what is seen and heard but what is inferred.

iPhones were famously the way Steve Jobs realized the iPad. The target was personal and business communications, easier to market than a replacement for the PC. There were the entrenched carriers, who propped up the perception that price was guided by physical distance. Today, we don’t think about the concept of local versus long distance. Our friends and family are equidistant from us and each other. Our politics remain governed by historical measurement. The electoral college maintains the upper House’s power distribution regardless of population; the smallest and the largest of the states each get 2 Senators. The power flows through and is metered by the fractured structure of gerrymandering and filibuster.

Before the iPhone, video conferencing was limited to corporate links between hub and satellite offices. After the iPhone, each new entrant to the network was endowed with the effective unlimited bandwidth of the first carrier domino to fall — AT&T. By signing an exclusive deal with one carrier, Apple effectively held a gun to the head of the rest of the industry. The essential disruptive feature of unlimited access was only possible with the one network. Any other carrier lowered the feature set of the groundbreaking hardware. On the iPhone, audio became a first class citizen. With IP calling, the cost limitation of the previous POTS generation was erased. As other networks worked their way into broadband, the iPhone took new ground, with video conferencing and the apps ecosystem.

Even today, third-party apps like Facebook Messenger are often used more frequently than the iPhone’s built-in iMessage. The Facebook app rides on top of audio, video, messaging, screen sharing, and the beginnings of ecommerce — across international borders, proprietary phone systems, video standards, and wirelessly device to device via Apple’s Airplay WiFi grid. The phone became the hub for watches, AirPods, stationary bikes, telemedicine, and iPads. What started as a small form factor iPad has now absorbed the larger sibling as a peripheral replacement for the PC. Cue the M1.

Once the iPhone/iPad iOS operating system could run on M1 Macs, it seemed likely that the apps ecosystem would migrate to the Mac. Notifications seem better supported on the Mac than previously, but there’s no real synchronization between the two platforms. Some video production apps like LumaFusion run across iPad and M1 without modification, but I’ve been happy to use the iPad as a staging machine for editing, and the M1 for transcription of conversations and interviews. The iPad has been upgraded recently to use the M1 chips, but for now I’m so happy with the Mac Book Pro that I’d rather move the majority of my computing off the iPad and split between the iPhone and M1 Mac. I didn’t expect this, but the pandemic and its acceleration of work from anywhere has been the driver.

As video conferencing has become a core service of the new office, the M1 has shifted my consumption of media in important ways. Streaming tools like Restream and the cross-platform ubiquity of Zoom make it trivial to produce a video conversation on multiple platforms. Airpods let us work on multiple streams and editing projects on multiple iPads and M1s, with an elastic subscription model that reduces all-over costs by as much as 10-1 on a monthly basis. Screensharing over Zoom will soon be atomized as APIs open up to allow live editing and audio sweetening to be distributed to iPads while the M1s (a Mac Book Air and Pro) produce text and manage social media releases. Zero fan noise makes the M1s ideal for use in live production. And when travel and events return, the whole studio comes along for the ride. Blur mode retains a consistent visual feel.

Then there’s the live audio trend, which sits atop the same tools plus an emphasis on the iPhone. The two major platforms have distinctive personalities: Twitter Spaces leverage the social graph, while Clubhouse seems more aggressive about adding features to keep pace with larger and more enterprise competitors. Twitter’s tools for downloading recordings are clunky; the 30 day limitation on replays needs to shift to a more producer-centric perspective. Over time, the two feature sets should combine as notifications have done on Apple and Android. The vendor sports horserace aspect of the creator economy may drive media interest, but the more tangible impact will emerge in the iterative wave of what David Weinberger called small pieces, loosely joined.

Clubhouse’s new Shared on Clubhouse tool seems geared to earballs, quantity over influence. You can broadcast a comment to followers, expanding the social graph to welcome not just live participation, but crucially Replay listeners. Those notifications attract more organic groups of shared rooms and interests that exist outside of the more traditional newsmaker interviews and other celebrity-focused events. Sharing statistics promote a kind of interactive guide at the top of shared rooms, and listeners become 1st class citizens with the ability to comment and aggregate their discoveries to the same middle tier that retweets drove Twitter’s viral social graph. Of course, Twitter or LinkedIn adoption of these tools will prove successful in their bigger ponds. If crypto fans prove prescient, decentralized open standards may facilitate an actual use case for an alternative to centralized first- and third-party cookie replacements.

None of this is to suggest these networks will become an important part of our work or social lives. Following the news on a regular basis is a frustrating exercise for those more accustomed to legacy platforms such as newspapers and magazines, or what some are called the new land line — cable.. But informing yourself about issues of the day seems a waste of time when large swaths of the country refuse even the simplest actions like vaccinations as some sort of political conspiracy. The characteristics of a replay economy may turn out to be more significant than the misinformation mills that social networks struggle with.

the latest Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, January 14, 2022.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.


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Software Development

Hundreds of Y Combinator alumni join crypto collective to back web3 startups


A crypto collective backing web3 startups is seeking new members. The only condition for joining? Applicants must be alumni of the Y Combinator accelerator.

The group, called Orange DAO, is an effort to build out a venture structure which can scout out and back young crypto startups. It was formed this fall with a few dozen YC alums, but has grown in recent weeks to attract more than 1,000 YC founders. The collective wants to use the crypto-native DAO formation to better incentivize its growing network to source deals.

“Orange DAO will help startups apply to, and be accepted into Y Combinator, provide them with pre- and post-YC funding, while helping mentor their leadership and recruit talent, and acquire customers,” Orange DAO’s official charter reads. “And we will do it responsibly and equitably by becoming a DAO governed by its members because our hive mind is greater than any single ape brain.”

The 1,000 founders now in Orange DAO’s Discord chat represent a sizable chunk of the total volume of YC founders — Y Combinator has backed more than 3,300 companies since launch. The effort is co-led by Ben Huh, who has co-founded a handful of startups and helped lead YC’s New Cities initiative back in 2016. Y Combinator is not formally involved in the project, the accelerator tells us.

“It’s crazy to think about an alumni group that becomes its own entity that is for-profit and generates wealth for its members, but that’s exactly the state of the world we’re in,” Huh told TechCrunch in an interview. “We think that these groups will serve as a buying power as well as validation… So, if 1,000 YC alumni choose a specific service provider or toolset to use, it must mean that it’s actually quite good because these people build for a living.”

After founders verify themselves by posting their crypto wallet address to their YC-linked HackerNews profile, each member can mint a non-transferable NFT that verifies they are indeed a previous YC founder and are now an NFT-carrying participant of Orange DAO.

Orange DAO isn’t the first effort to build an alumni fund that taps into the networks of well-connected YC founders. Back in 2017 a group of a couple hundred YC alumni helped form the Pioneer Fund, a more traditional venture effort to tap into the expertise of past YC founders to win deals. 

DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations, are groups that leverage blockchain tech to help multiple users make decisions as a single entity. Throughout the crypto bull market, they’ve become a popular way for users to band together to buy expensive NFTs or other objects. In November, a DAO called ConstitutionDAO generated excitement around its ultimately failed bid to buy an original copy of the U.S. Constitution. DAOs are also used by crypto projects and protocols to create decentralized governance structures to vote on key decisions.

“At the end of the day, DAOs are a collective technology as opposed to an individual one,” Syndicate co-founder Will Papper tells TechCrunch. “DAOs are kind of the next evolution of the corporation because they encode both voice and exit into their foundations.”

DAO startup Syndicate helps the groups get off the ground and navigate complex regulatory issues. Papper helped the ConstitutionDAO team navigate the intricacies of their Sotheby’s bid and also helped guide Huh’s efforts in early conversations around Orange DAO.

Orange DAO’s structure is a bit unusual, part of an effort to experiment with the organization type while staying compliant with securities law. The DAO itself is an LLC, while the fund which actually backs startups is a separate legal entity called Orange Fund, which is run by Huh and a couple other general partners. That entity has already closed an initial fund and invested in about 30 startups, including DeFi startup Goldfinch.

“We figured out a way to kind of combine the investing entity structure and then the DAO structure — they’re still separate but they work together,” Huh says “I think where we want to be headed is: do as the smart contract says.”

The DAO itself is run through committees — an effort to organize the 1,000 members into smaller working groups.  A fundamental element of Orange DAO’s structure will be finding ways to reward members who do more work on individual deals by awarding them internal governance tokens, Huh says. The group is a bit opaque on how performance from the fund will translate to returns for DAO members, though Orange Fund’s GPs will be contributing their carry in the fund to the Orange DAO’s internal treasury.

The effort was initially branded the “YC Crypto DAO,” but as its ambitions have scaled, the group has taken efforts to adopt its own unique brand leading to its new name and a new mascot — a glasses-adorned pixelated citrus fruit bullishly nicknamed “Juicy Returns.”




Atoms Lanka Solutions

Software Development

Telemedicine startups can survive and thrive under renewed regulation


As the pandemic shifts from an acute phase to one in which we learn to live with COVID-19 as an endemic presence, some entrepreneurs and investors may fear what comes next for virtual medicine.

Nearly half the U.S. states have ended emergency legal waivers introduced during the pandemic that allowed patients to be seen by doctors who practiced elsewhere. To some, the end of these waivers might portend daunting headwinds for telemedicine: a return to old regulations that snuff out the promise of new technology.

Yet there’s another thesis – one driven not by fear but by strategic insight – where the return of regulations could mean something much more beneficial for telemedicine startups and those invested in their success: a moat.

Telemedicine companies that research and understand the varied patchwork of state and federal regulations, analyzing them to identify patterns and build scalable business models, will survive and thrive in the coming environment. Those that do not prioritize this work and shoot from the hip will not fare as well, because patients and enforcement authorities alike will step in. It might mean a classic shakeout.

Even with the return of regulation, the opportunity in digital health will expand. While state laws might change, the macroeconomic rule of supply and demand remains, and patient demand for healthcare far outstrips the supply of available clinicians. That imbalance only accelerated during the pandemic, as physicians and nurses downshifted productivity, moved into less stressful roles or quit the field entirely.

On the demand side of the equation, there are more patients in need of care. Due to the aging Baby Boomers, the Affordable Care Act’s insurance plans, and a proliferation of affordable retail health care options, more people have access to care today than a decade ago.

On the supply side, telemedicine builds efficiency and access. While the increase in telemedicine may benefit doctors and nurses struggling with burnout — a reduced need for in-person visits may lead to less stress, goes the thinking — it does nothing to change the denominator in the equation. Surging inbound demand has, and will continue to, overwhelm the number of new clinicians graduating each year.

Telemedicine companies that research and understand the varied patchwork of state and federal regulations, analyzing them to identify patterns and build scalable business models, will survive and thrive in the coming environment.

This dynamic all but guarantees that telemedicine startups offering a quality user experience, more medically nuanced/specialized services, and a wider variety of virtual-first access points will remain in high demand.

Telemedicine was previously reserved for academic medicine or Medicare beneficiaries living in rural areas, with broad restrictions on who could receive the services and which providers could be paid to deliver them. While less than 1% of medical services were provided via telemedicine in January 2020, that figure is now estimated to be 38 times higher than the pre-pandemic baseline. Indeed, some startups have been conceived, launched and funded entirely during the era of COVID-19 waivers.

Startups that gained traction at a time when the rules were relaxed are now going to have to raise their game. Regulators expect it and patients deserve it.

The pressure for some form of regulatory clarity is only likely to increase. Along with the number of digital health startups transitioning to virtual provider groups and online clinics, there are giant players accelerating their digital transformation, reducing the footprint of brick-and-mortar locations, and increasing virtual care, including virtual primary care alternatives.

No market participant should be lulled into inaction by temporary extensions of crisis waivers. The smart founders (and their investors) will waste no time in launching or modifying a business that can flourish in an environment where regulations revert to the pre-COVID standards.

It’s a development that will allow telemedicine to mature, moving from a convenient replacement in a crisis to earning its own seat at the table in the healthcare industry as an essential participant in the continuum of care.


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Software Development

For the first time in 4 years, profitability beats growth


For the last decade, private company executives have all asked us the same question: “Do public market investors prefer profitability or growth?” While the answer to that question is not simple, the recent trends in the data are clear.

In 2021, profitability — measured by free cash flow (FCF) margins, not revenue growth — had the higher correlation to positive stock returns in the software sector. This broke a four-year trend of revenue growth being the more important driver of software company stock performance.

This correction is big. And the reversal in investor sentiment is clear.

In addition to deviating from the four-year trend, the data shows profitability correlation hit a seven-year high at the end of last year, while revenue growth correlation was close to a seven-year low. With the continued selloff, revenue growth correlation broke well below the seven-year historic low, and profitability correlation stayed at record highs, as shown below.

What’s happening?

So far in 2022, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones have significantly outperformed the tech-heavy Nasdaq. Additionally, a number of recent high-profile/high-growth/unprofitable IPOs have broken IPO price (Hashicorp, Sweetgreen, Rivian Automotive, Rent the Runway, etc.).

As the market turns and volatility increases, investors retreat to names they are comfortable with.

The Bessemer Emerging Cloud Index (made up of prominent SaaS companies) is down over 30% from its November 2021 peak, while some high-multiple names like Cloudflare and HubSpot are down about 50% from their peaks. Broad SaaS valuation multiples over the same period have adjusted from a peak of about 17.5x NTM EV/Rev in November 2021 to about 10.5x.

Investors are “rotating” out of high-growth/high-multiple software names into sectors like finance (banks) and insurance, which benefit from rising interest rates. Also, it is important to note that big, slower-growing, more profitable tech stocks like Microsoft, Google and Facebook have corrected, but to a much smaller degree.

This shift has been fast, resolute and extreme.

Why are investors selling high-growth stocks?

Interest rates are increasing

Inflation is rising, which led the U.S. Federal Reserve to signal three or four interest rate hikes in 2022, which has caused the 10-year treasury yield to rise from about 1.5% in the beginning of the year to about 1.9% today, an around 40bps increase. As interest rates go up, investors focus more on profitability (or a derivative of profitability; Rule of 40 or Magic Number).


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Software Development

Asia HR tech platform Darwinbox becomes unicorn with TCV-led $72 million funding


HR tech platform Darwinbox has more than tripled its valuation to become a unicorn in a new $72 million funding round as the Indian startup leads what an investor calls the “SaaSification of Asia” trend.

Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) – an investor known for backing firms such as Netflix, Meta, Spotify and Airbnb – led the Hyderabad-headquartered startup’s $72 million Series D funding.

Existing investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital India, Salesforce Ventures, 3One4 Capital and SCB 10X also participated in the round, which pushes Darwinbox’s all-time raise to over $110 million and values it at over $1 billion, the six-year-old startup said.

Darwinbox operates a cloud-based human resource management platform. The startup’s eponymous platform manages the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle needs of employees. Hundreds of firms including Starbucks, Domino’s, recently-turned decacorn Swiggy, Tokopedia, Zilingo, and Kotak use the startup’s platform to handle onboarding of new hires and gaining visibility on their performance, attrition rates, and establishing an ongoing feedback loop.

The new funding follows a year of strong growth for Darwinbox. Co-founder Chaitanya Peddi told TechCrunch in an interview that the pandemic accelerated Darwinbox’s growth as firms across the globe scrambled to find tools to coordinate with – and serve – their employees.

The startup said its revenue doubled last year and grew by three times in the Southeast Asia region, which accounts for about 20% of its overall revenue.

Chaitanya Peddi (left), Rohit Chennamaneni, and Jayant Paleti co-founded Darwinbox in late 2015. (Image credits: Darwinbox)

The startup’s full-stack offering – which includes a social network for employees to stay connected with one another and an AI assistant to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from phones – has helped it plant its place as the only Asian startup to be featured on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for enterprise Cloud HCM.

The broad offering might explain why a third of Darwinbox’s customers today are those who previously used more established platforms by Oracle and SAP and Workday.

“We get most excited investing behind visionary founders that are fundamentally transforming large industries with a highly resonant product,” said Gopi Vaddi, General Partner at TCV, in a statement.

“I am delighted to back an outstanding team that is doing exactly that in a highly impactful, fast-evolving HR technology space and partner with them on their journey to global HCM leadership.”

Darwinbox is part of a cohort of startups that is building from Asia for the world, said Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. “I am a strong believer in the SaaSification of Asia. I see increasing pull in the market for Asia-facing SaaS companies, a sea change from what I observed five years ago,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post in 2019.

“You may ask why SaaS for Asia needs to even exist as a category. Why can’t vendors from the US or Europe continue to dominate here? My view is these Western vendors never really dominated, but only skimmed the top of the market. What’s really happening in India/Asia is that companies that were non-users of packaged applications, or employees (e.g. blue collar workers) that were non-users of technology are now starting to leapfrog straight from paper-based and manual processes to SaaS,” he wrote.

Darwinbox plans to deploy the fresh funds to expand its team and further fuel its global expansion plans. It is also aiming to broaden its product offerings to add a number of ancillary services and solutions that enterprises can plug and play into their HR tech ecosystem.

The startup is eyeing to add some of those product offerings by the way of merging with or acquiring startups, said Peddi.


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Software Development

TikTok is working on avatars, live audio streams, new creator tools and more


TikTok is building a number of new features, including Bitmoji-like avatars, keyword filtering for the For You Page, group chats, audio-only livestreams, screen sharing on livestreams, and Twitch-like subscription features, which would allow creators to make subscriber-only emotes and subscriber-only comment sections. These potential features-in-progress were spotted by social media analyst Matt Navarra.

 

These leaks should be taken at face value — just because TikTok is playing around with a new idea doesn’t mean it will roll out in the app. But, developing features can sometimes provide insight into a platform’s plans.

“We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. The spokesperson confirmed that these features are indeed being considered, but emphasized that when TikTok tries out new ideas, the goal is to get feedback from users — the resulting feature (if it gets rolled out) could look vastly different from what we see in leaks.

Some of these leaked features have already been publicly tested in some form, like paid creator subscriptions. But subscriber-only emotes and comment sections — which borrow directly from Twitch — could make sense in context of yet another recent TikTok test: a desktop streaming software called TikTok Live Studio. The keyword filtering feature — which is similar to Twitter’s muted words feature — has already been mentioned as part of TikTok’s ongoing effort to clean up its For You Page.

“We’re working on a feature that would let people choose words or hashtags associated with content they don’t want to see in their For You feed,” TikTok wrote in a December blog post.

The other leaked ideas, like avatars and audio-only livestreams, point toward other potential avenues for TikTok’s expansion. If they can do livestream video, why not try to capitalize (pretty late) on interest in live audio? Also, it’s about time we can group message on TikTok.




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Software Development

Daily Crunch: Peloton CEO in hot seat, activist investor says ‘the ride for Mr. Foley is over’


To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PST, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 24, 2022! Today is a kinda tough day for, well, everyone. The value of assets new and old dropped around the world, and everyone is staring around at the mess, wondering what comes next.

Well, the good news is that we can answer that question for you. What’s next? A gajillion startup funding rounds, of course! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Activist investor calls for CEO switch at Pelton: After riding the pandemic up, at-home cycling company Peloton is stuck in neutral, spinning its wheels as its share price drops. The value of the former startup has fallen so far that activist investors are calling for a CEO swap, a sale of the company, or both.
  • Meta joins the supercomputer game: It is a truth universally acknowledged: A [tech megacorp] in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a [supercomputer]. And thus did we learn today that The Artist Formerly Known As Facebook is gunning for a top-10 spot on the global supercomputer charts. Perhaps now the company will have the computer power required to no longer report incorrect metrics to partners and customers.
  • Will this selloff shake investors? The day’s selloff hit everything from stocks to crypto prices. But while readily traded assets are taking damage, less liquid startup shares appear to be in high demand. Precisely how long the public-market damage will take to leak back into earlier startup rounds is not clear, but that the climate has changed, well, is.

Startups/VC

  • Mark Cuban wants to lower consumer pharma stress: To avoid getting fired, I will retain my views on the modern pharmaceutical industry. But in good news, Mark Cuban is backing a startup that wants to change the pharmacy game for consumers by selling drugs at cost plus 15%. Which is a modest profit margin for drugs, frankly. Let’s see if it works.
  • Today in good startup names: Pestle is building an app for recipes, shopping lists and other cooking needs. Anyone who has been in charge of making food on a regular basis for others can attest to the issues that stem from — to pick a few at random — stale meal rotations, boring ingredient mixes and the sheer ennui of uninspired food creation. Pestle – which has a great name, and when it goes brick and mortar, can call itself Mortar and Pestle – could change the situation for the cooks in our lives.
  • Deliverect raises $150M: Now worth some $1.4 billion thanks to its latest funding round, Deliverect is a bet that building “a platform to integrate the many moving parts that go into ordering and delivery for the average restaurant” is going to be a post-pandemic hit.
  • Anyplace is making room for you to work wherever: If you don’t have pets, kids or a partner that has a geo-located job, you can scoot about the world now and work where you will. This is very good. Less good are the office setups you might encounter on the road. Anyplace is now building “furnished apartments that include a ‘fully equipped’ home office” for rent, which is pretty neat.
  • Consolidation in the instant food space: While I am an impatient person, I have never really minded the time it takes for food to reach my house via Uber Eats or similar. But for many folks, it’s too long a wait. So, instant-delivery startups have been busy bringing foodstuffs to homes, and raising lots of money at the same time. Now we are seeing some consolidation, including Gorillas buying Frichti, creating a new German-French fusion that sounds like a tasty morsel.

To close out our startup news today, we’re taking on a Manish Singh three-pack. Singh is a flat-out reporting beast, and he has a trio of stories out today that you need to read:

  • Good news: Indian food delivery giant Swiggy just raised $700 million at a huge $10.7 billion valuation less than a year after it raised at a $5.5 billion price tag.
  • Good news: Ola Electric is now worth some $5 billion after raising a fresh $200 million. The company is building low-cost electric scooters for consumers.
  • Bad news: And yet, despite the above enthusiasm for high-priced startup rounds, the value of Paytm, Zomato, PolicyBazaar and Nykaa, Indian tech upstarts that went public last year, “tumbled to their record lows” today.

How our SaaS startup broke into the Japanese market without a physical presence

Bitrise mega plushie that doubles as drinking costume in Japan.

Image Credits: Bitrise

Launching a product in a foreign market where you’re unfamiliar with the language and culture is a tall order — but investors expect growth.

Barnabas Birmacher, CEO of platform-as-a-service company Bitrise, shared the lessons he learned as his team attempted to crack the Japanese market.

Instead of relying solely on strategic partners, his team visited Japan before its expansion to host events and engage directly with early adopters.

Using tactics that dispensed with traditional media and marketing, Birmacher’s company hired a manga artist to create a comic featuring a mobile developer, developed “Japan-first” swag to hand out and even crafted a full-sized mascot costume for conferences.

“We left the suit with one of our customers and now people wear it while they’re drinking,” he writes in a TechCrunch+ post.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Tesla bug was bad: It’s cool that cars today can get updates over the air, and do more stuff over time. What’s not cool is when your neat computer-on-wheels has a bug. It turns out that a security aficionado was “able to remotely access dozens of Teslas around the world because security bugs found in an open-source logging tool popular with Tesla owners exposed their cars directly to the internet.” Whoops!
  • Google in trouble at home, abroad: Google is under fire in its home market for putatively deceiving users into sharing data, while in Europe it is in trouble for its “plan to end support for tracking cookies in Chrome” thanks to a “complaint to the European Commission” put together by German publishers.
  • NBC hopes TikTok will make the upcoming Olympics cool: I don’t know if TikTok has yet reached the “Hello, Fellow Kids” level of cheugy that all social networks reach at some point, but it’s clear that megabrands hope that it has not. Hence TV groups hoping to piggy-back on the cool to make their own product a bit less, well, cheugy.
  • Apple fined: Once upon a time, Apple didn’t allow third-party apps on the iPhone. Then it did and made a squintillion dollars. Now some countries are saying that Apple has to allow for third-party payment systems in third-party apps. And Apple is Not Stoked. Hence why it just got fined “€5 million (~$5.6 million) for failing to comply with conditions in an order requiring it to allow local dating apps to make use of third-party payment technology in their apps” by the Dutch.

TechCrunch Experts

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Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

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