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Here's a lab-grown diamond startup that’s attracted a16z's attention | TechCrunch

Throughout hip-hop’s long history, jewelry has served as an important vehicle for artists to convey their ideas and affluence, or simply to dazzle onlookers. Diamonds, in particular, serve as an important motif, famously exemplified by Drake’s $400,000 diamond-encrusted iPhone case.

But not everyone is a millionaire rapper, and most people can’t exactly afford to wear bust down watches flooded with ice. Still, there’s certainly a market for such jewelry at a lower price point, and venture capitalists appear to have noticed it: A direct-to-consumer diamond jewelry startup called Pascal has raised nearly $10 million in VC funding to date, of which $2.5 million came from Andreessen Horowitz in early 2023, TechCrunch has learned.

What’s more, the company expects to generate $20-$30 million in revenue this year, and has a three-month customer repurchase rate of roughly 20%, according to its founder and CEO, Adam Hua.

Pascal’s pitch is that it can make diamond jewelry accessible by using lab-grown diamonds that are chemically and physically akin to natural diamonds but cost one-twentieth of the price. The company’s gem-studded jewelry starts at as little as $70, and it is hoping using cultivated diamonds will help it gain a foothold in the more affordable segment of the wider jewelry market.

“Diamond is unique to hip-hop; it’s a status symbol. But most people cannot afford diamonds,” Hua said. “Cultivated diamonds fundamentally transform the supply side of the industry.”

Synthetic diamonds have been around since the 1950s, and they’ve been often used to make high-carat jewelry. These diamonds are usually “grown” in labs, where extreme forces and heat are applied to graphite, similar to the process that gives rise to naturally-occuring diamonds. Manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds often also like to tout their more environmentally friendly process, and some even take their missions a step further by making diamonds from captured carbon.

For Pascal, the focus is “culture,” and it isn’t trying to disrupt the natural diamond sector. “The demand for luxury diamonds [for jewelry like] engagement rings will remain,” Hua said. “We are just creating a new, affordable diamond category.”

Pascal’s diamonds decorate everything from watches to lipsticks and come in a wide range of colors, which is rare in natural diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds, Hua stressed, are also shinier, “making them good for TikTok videos.”

To find supply, Pascal turned to Henan, a central Chinese province that has become a major production hub for synthetic diamonds in the world, and China’s emerging manufacturing neighbors like Vietnam and Thailand.

“It’s a naturally cross-border business,” Hua said of his company. The U.S. is currently Pascal’s largest market, followed by Europe, he added.

Hua appears to have a knack for running fashion businesses. While studying physics at UC Berkeley, he sourced sneakers from the U.S. and supplied them to resellers in China, which helped him earn his first million dollars. He then founded a peer-to-peer streetwear marketplace in China, which raised over $10 million in equity funding and generated $1 billion worth of gross merchandise value in its third year of operation. His experience running that company eventually inspired the idea for Pascal.

“I realized that most of my customers were Gen Z and their purchasing power was growing over time,” he told TechCrunch. “Around 2022-2023, the average ticket size had shot up to $500, but there wasn’t a good product category for the $500+ price range.”

As he scoured the consumer landscape, Hua picked out hip-hop fashion. He looked at how fans of rock bands often purchase clothing and goods that can range from $30 t-shirts and $200 sneakers to $500 leather jackets and $1,000 jewelry to make a statement about their cultural identity.

“What if there were a $500-$1,000 category of diamond products for hip-hop fans and other diamond lovers?” he said, speaking about his thought process. “People want to get their money’s worth when they buy something for quality and cultural needs.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

'Send now, pay later' startup Pomelo lands $35M Series A from secretive Vy Capital, Founders Fund | TechCrunch

Pomelo, a startup that combines international money transfer with credit, has raised $35 million in a Series A round led by Dubai venture firm Vy Capital, TechCrunch has exclusively learned. Additionally, the company is announcing a $75 million expansion of its warehouse facility.

Founders Fund and A* Capital also participated in the financing, along with early investor Afore Capital, and others.

The deal brings total funds raised to date to $55 million in equity capital and $125 million for its warehouse facility. TechCrunch covered Pomelo’s Founders Fund-led $20 million seed funding in 2022.

New backer Vy Capital is an under-the-radar investment firm that has grown to over $5 billion in assets and made headlines for backing Elon Musk in his purchase of Twitter.

Pomelo’s new round was among Keith Rabois’ last deals before recently leaving Founders Fund for Khosla Ventures, and he continues to sit on its board.

“Both Keith Rabois and Kevin Hartz went super pro rata on this round,” Pomelo founder and CEO Eric Velasquez Frenkiel said in an interview with TechCrunch, describing the Series A round as “preemptive.” He declined to reveal valuation, saying only it was an “up round.”

Hartz serves as the co-founder and general partner at A*. Previously, he also co-founded Eventbrite and Xoom, an online money transfer service that went public in 2013 and was acquired by PayPal for $1.1 billion in 2015.

In a written statement, Rabois said that “Pomelo stands out through a fundamentally different approach to remittance transfer by using credit as its foundation.”

Remittance product on credit card rails

Pomelo launched in the Philippines in 2022, allowing people in the United States to send money to the country while at the same time building their credit. In other words, Pomelo has built a remittance product on credit card rails.

Specifically, the startup has struck up an agreement with Mastercard to create what it describes as a product category called “Send Now, Pay Later” (SNPL), which it claims is “faster and with no transfer fees” as compared to traditional cross-border money movement.

Image Credits: Pomelo

Pomelo works by allowing a user to set up an account that comes with credit cards. The creator of the account can set limits, pause cards and view spending habits.

Senders can give cash, in the form of credit, to family members — which the startup thinks will help with instant access to funds, fraud and chargeback protection and, for potential immigrants that may use this to send money back home, a way to boost one’s credit score with more transaction history.  In the event that someone cannot pay, Pomelo charges a late fee, “so there is no interest on the product,” Frenkiel said. The company makes money mostly through interchange revenue, and foreign exchange is a smaller component.

Since its 2022 launch, Pomelo has added new payment options including most recently, the ability for users to send funds to GCash, a popular e-wallet (similar to Venmo in the U.S.) in the Philippines, in addition to cards. (According to a recent article by STL Partners, 67% of Filipinos use GCash.)

This ability is particularly important in a country like the Philippines where proof of ability to pay can be required before medical treatment, Frenkiel said. He relates the story of customer Danette Flores, a nurse who sends money to two family members in the Philippines with Pomelo. 

“My mom had suffered a heart attack, and she needed to be transferred to the ICU, but the hospital required proof of payment for that. My brother used his Pomelo Card to get her admitted,” Flores said.

Pomelo offers customers two options: either an unsecured credit line or a secured credit line based on its underwriting criteria at this time. The non-revolving credit line for unsecured customers gives them the ability to transfer up to $1,000 a month. On the secured side, a customer can put in a security deposit. In other words, Pomelo can hold funds in the app that effectively can be used to open a credit line.

The startup’s new capital will go toward product and market expansion. Pomelo’s next target country is Mexico.

“Mexico is certainly the largest corridor for the United States — something close to $40 billion is sent over to Mexico every year,” Frenkiel said.

Presently, Pomelo has 55 employees in the U.S. and Philippines.

As Christine Hall recently reported, cross-border fintech is hot right now. The cross-border payments market is forecasted to reach over $250 trillion by 2027, according to the Bank of England. And experts say fintechs are giving banks a run for their money (pun intended) here, especially in the business-to-business sector where artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain come into play — all emerging technologies fintechs love.

But there are other startups focused on the consumer market, including Alza, a startup aimed at helping meet the various banking needs of Latin or Central Americans who have moved to the U.S. With Alza, users get an FDIC-insured checking account and debit card. They also get the ability to send cross-border remittances to more than 20 countries in Latin or Central America embedded in its app via three methods, depending on the recipient country: bank transfer, cash pickup or transfer to a debit card. That company quietly raised $6.6 million in a round led by New York-based Thrive Capital in late 2021.

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Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Fintech startup Ramp sees 32% bump in valuation, Mercury expands into consumer banking | TechCrunch

Welcome to TechCrunch Fintech! This week, we’re looking at Ramp’s big raise and valuation jump, Mercury’s move into personal banking, Klarna’s new credit card, global funding rounds and more!

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important fintech stories delivered to your inbox every Sunday at 7:00 a.m. PT, subscribe here

The big story

Ramp, a spend management startup rivaling the likes of Brex, Navan and Airbase, told TechCrunch exclusively last week that it had raised $150 million at a post-money $7.65 billion valuation. Khosla Ventures and Founders Fund co-led the round, which represented a 31.9% bump in valuation from its August 2023 raise. It’s an impressive feat in a challenging market full of down rounds. Also, notably, Ramp is one of the few larger fintechs that hasn’t had to lay off staff. What’s driving all the investor interest in Ramp? CEO Eric Glyman believes it’s the company’s continued growth and emphasis on AI.

Analysis of the week

Business banking startup Mercury is expanding into consumer banking. The seven-year-old company today serves more than 100,000 businesses, many of which are startups, via its B2B practice. CEO and co-founder Immad Akhund tells TechCrunch that Mercury hopes to convert many of its business clients into customers, rather than go after the masses. Onyx Private, with a similar offering, recently did a reverse move, pivoting from B2C to B2B. Industry experts I talked to emphasize business and personal banking are “two different beasts,” but also, Mercury is not starting completely from scratch.

You can listen to the Equity crew discuss this week’s fintech news here:

Dollars and cents

Berlin-based embedded fintech startup finmid has raised $24.7 million in a Series A round at a $107 million post-money valuation to further build out its product and enter new markets.

Since 2015, Pula, an insurtech based in Kenya, has been keen on enhancing the access to agricultural insurance by small-holder farmers across emerging markets. So far, the insurtech has supported 15.4 million farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America to get insured, and it is eyeing more following a $20 million Series B funding round.

Midas, a fintech startup that allows people in Turkey to invest in U.S. and Turkish equities, says it has raised $45 million in a funding round led by Portage of Canada.

Rumor has it that HR/fintech startup Rippling is raising $200 million, with another $670 million worth of shares being sold by existing stockholders.

What else we’re writing

Klarna has launched its credit card in the United States, the Swedish fintech giant told TechCrunch in an exclusive interview. With the Klarna credit card, the company is now competing with the likes of Apple and more recently, Robinhood, as well as rival BNPL player Affirm in offering a credit card in the United States.

More stories for you:

Google Wallet appears in India, with local integrations, but Pay will stay

India scrambles to curb PhonePe and Google’s dominance in mobile payments

Jio Financial, BlackRock to tap India’s wealth management market

Inside LemFi’s play to be fintech to the Global South diaspora

High-interest headlines

Pipe launches embedded capital-as-a-service for small business

Kamina raises $3.2M in Ecuador’s largest pre-seed round

Finix launches tool to onboard merchants for payment acceptance

This fintech wants to finance the middle class. SRM Ventures “lent” R$40M to the idea

Forage and Uber Eats partner on SNAP EBT grocery delivery (TC previously covered Forage here.)

Public acquires Stocktwits trading accounts

Bolt co-founder pulled strings on unusual stock buyback, suit alleges

Want to reach out with a tip? Email me at [email protected] or send me a message on Signal at 408.204.3036. You can also send a note to the whole TechCrunch crew at [email protected]. For more secure communications, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and links to encrypted messaging apps.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Harvard's startup whisperer, Peter Gladstone, reveals secrets to validating consumer demand at TechCrunch Early Stage | TechCrunch

Validating consumer demand is a crucial step for any startup, and TechCrunch Early Stage is offering a golden opportunity to learn how to do it right. Peter Gladstone, senior adviser for startups at Harvard Innovation Labs, is set to lead an engaging roundtable titled “Validating Consumer Demand: How to Make the Most of Your Expertise.” With decades of experience as an entrepreneur, marketer, and investor, Gladstone brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Having served as the former head of innovation for Boston Beer Company and Gillette, he’s well-versed in navigating the complexities of bringing products to market.

In this workshop, Gladstone will guide founders on how to leverage their expertise to understand and solve consumer problems effectively. With hands-on advice and practical strategies, attendees can expect to gain insights into testing solutions, refining product development processes, and ultimately validating consumer demand. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to fine-tune your approach, this session promises to offer invaluable guidance for founders at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey.

Peter Gladstone’s extensive background includes founding successful ventures such as Mass Hole Donuts and BladeLife, as well as serving as a senior adviser for numerous Boston-based startups. At the Harvard Innovation Labs, he leads programming and mentoring for student-led ventures, helping them navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship. With a BA from Brandeis University and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Gladstone’s expertise is grounded in both academic rigor and real-world experience.

For founders eager to validate their ideas and drive meaningful consumer engagement, this workshop is a must-attend event at TechCrunch Early Stage. By learning from Peter Gladstone’s insights and experiences, you’ll be equipped with the tools and knowledge needed to make the most of your expertise and build products that resonate with your target audience. Secure your spot today and take the first step toward turning your startup vision into a thriving reality.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Exclusive: Simbian brings AI to existing security tools

Ambuj Kumar is nothing if not ambitious.

An electrical engineer by training, Kumar led hardware design for eight years at Nvidia, helping to develop tech including a widely used high-speed memory controller for GPUs. After leaving Nvidia in 2010, Kumar pivoted to cybersecurity, eventually co-founding Fortanix, a cloud data security platform.

It was while heading up Fortanix that the idea for Kumar’s next venture came to him: an AI-powered tool to automate a company’s cybersecurity workflows, inspired by challenges he observed in the cybersecurity industry.

“Security leaders are stressed,” Kumar told TechCrunch. “CISOs don’t last more than a couple of years on average, and security analysts have some of the highest churn. And things are getting worse.”

Kumar’s solution, which he co-founded with former Twitter software engineer Alankrit Chona, is Simbian, a cybersecurity platform that effectively controls other cybersecurity platforms as well as security apps and tooling. Leveraging AI, Simbian can automatically orchestrate and operate existing security tools, finding the right configurations for each product by taking into account a company’s priorities and thresholds for security, informed by their business requirements.

With Simbian’s chatbot-like interface, users can type in a cybersecurity goal in natural language, then have Simbian provide personalized recommendations and generate what Kumar describes as “automated actions” to execute the actions (as best it can).

“Security companies have focused on making their own products better, which leads to a very fragmented industry,” Kumar said. “This results in a higher operational burden for organizations.”

To Kumar’s point, polls show that cybersecurity budgets are often wasted on an overabundance of tools. More than half of businesses feel that they’ve misspent around 50% of their budgets and still can’t remediate threats, according to one survey cited by Forbes. A separate study found that organizations now juggle on average 76 security tools, leading IT teams and leaders to feel overwhelmed.

“Security has been a cat-and-mouse game between attackers and defenders for a long time; the attack surface keeps growing due to IT growth,” Kumar said, adding that there’s “not enough talent to go around.” (One recent survey from Cybersecurity Ventures, a security-focused VC firm, estimates that the shortfall of cyber experts will reach 3.5 million people by 2025.)

In addition to automatically configuring a company’s security tools, the Simbian platform attempts to respond to “security events” by letting customers steer security while taking care of lower-level details. This, Kumar says, can significantly cut down on the number of alerts a security analyst must respond to.

But that assumes Simbian’s AI doesn’t make mistakes, a tall order, given that it’s well established that AI is error-prone.

To minimize the potential for off-the-rails behavior, Simbian’s AI was trained using a crowdsourcing approach — a game on its website called “Are you smarter than an LLM?” — that tasked volunteers with trying to “trick” the AI into doing the wrong thing. Kumar explained that Simbian used this learning, along with in-house researchers, to “ensure the AI does the right thing in its use cases.”

This means that Simbian effectively outsourced part of its AI training to unpaid gamers. But, to be fair, it’s unclear how many people actually played the company’s game; Kumar wouldn’t say.

There are privacy implications of a system that controls other systems, especially concerning those that are security-related. Would companies — and vendors, for that matter — be comfortable with sensitive data funneling through a single, AI-controlled centralized portal?

Kumar claims that every attempt has been made to protect against data compromise. Simbian uses encryption — customers control the encryption keys — and customers can delete their data at any time.

“As a customer, you have full control,” he said.

While Simbian isn’t the only platform to attempt to apply a layer of AI over existing security tools — Nexusflow offers a product along a similar vein — it appears to have won over investors. The company recently raised $10 million from investors including Coinbase board member Gokul Rajaram, Cota Capital partner Aditya Singh, Icon Ventures, Firebolt and Rain Capital.

“Cybersecurity is one of the most important problems of our time, and has famously fragmented ecosystem with thousands of vendors,” Rajaram told TechCrunch via email. “Companies have tried to build expertise around specific products and problems. I applaud Simbian’s method of building an integrated platform that would understand and operate all of security. While this is extremely challenging approach from technology perspective, I’ll put my money — and I did put my money — on Simbian. It’s the team with unique experience all the way from hardware to cloud.”

Mountain View-based Simbian, which has 15 employees, plans to put the bulk of the capital it’s raised toward product development. Kumar’s aiming to double the size of the startup’s workforce by the end of the year.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Y Combinator's latest cohort had only one LatAm startup in large part because of AI | TechCrunch

Brazilian startup Salvy, a mobile carrier for businesses, was the only company based in Latin America in Y Combinator’s latest batch, the accelerator confirmed to TechCrunch.

That’s a significant drop compared to cohorts that went through the accelerator during COVID when it was remote, but also more recent classes: There were 33 Latin American companies in Y Combinator’s Winter 2022 batch, 16 in summer 2022 and 10 in winter 2023.

One caveat to the stark Winter 2024 group data point is that the directory is not exhaustive; some companies prefer to remain in stealth mode. But that doesn’t explain the steady and now seemingly complete decline of Latin American startups in the company’s startup cohorts, and neither does the fact that Y Combinator post-pandemic batches are smaller and in-person again. In fact, you’d have to go back to summer 2015 to find a group with just a single Latin American participant.

The accelerator also cut down on efforts it previously made to incentivize startups to apply, such as the global outreach tours that once included stops in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. The last such tour took place in 2022, and it was virtual, TechCrunch learned. It is one of several things that changed at YC since 2022 and its return to in-person batches.

Says Cristóbal Griffero, whose startup Fintoc was part of YC’s W21 cohort: “The number of YC deals has decreased overall, not just in Latin America. But if we consider that about 8% of the companies were from the region in the W22 batch, versus the current one where the region represents less than 1%, it becomes clear that Latin America is being disproportionately affected.”

Unpacking what’s at play is a worthy exercise for what it says of 2024 Y Combinator, but also of the state of LatAm startups more broadly, and where the Rappis of tomorrow could fit in.

Yesterday’s flavor?

YC declined to comment, but by now, we know its team always says it funds founders, not ideas. In other words, it doesn’t think in terms of startup categories. Still, its batches typically reveal a lot about what’s in fashion among entrepreneurs and investors. This year, it’s clearly AI.

With nearly double the number from the Winter 2023 batch and close to triple the number from Winter 2021, AI startups dominated at Y Combinator’s Winter 2024 Demo Day, my colleague Kyle Wiggers noted.

On the other hand, fintech representation has shrunk compared to previous batches: Only 8% of YC’s latest batch is listed as fintech in its director, compared to 24% in the winter of 2022. Historically, around one-third of the 231 Latin American companies that went through YC focused on fintech.

These data points could explain in big part why Latin American startups are less present in this batch. In a region with a strong need for better financial inclusion, fintech has long been a sector that entrepreneurs have loved to tackle. In contrast, deep tech companies represent only 10% of the Latin American and Caribbean startup ecosystem.

Deep tech and fintech aren’t mutually exclusive; AI-enabled fraud detection, for instance, would fall under both categories. But an AI-hungry YC would still be less aligned with Latin America’s tech scene.

It’s not just AI, though; it’s YC’s take on AI that makes it even more geographically challenging. Out of the 89 AI startups in its latest batch, 73 were based in the U.S. and Canada, 3 in Europe, and 26 remote. So much for the Paris AI buzz.

Maybe the French AI scene is overhyped. But judging by the number of Demo Day pitchers with French accents, YC isn’t backing fewer European founders than in previous years, where France was quite well represented. Only this time, maybe they aren’t based in Europe — only 13 batch participants are, according to YC’s directory.

Despite its virtual programs, YC has really been a Bay Area–based program for most of its 15 years. And in a conversation between longtimes YC partners Dalton Caldwell and Michael Seibel, Seibel conceded that startups can still “win” elsewhere but argued that the San Francisco Bay Area is still the place to be.

“Getting into the Bay Area is so relatively easy [compared] to all the other things you have to do to succeed. Choosing where to live is so relatively easy [compared] to all the other things you have to choose correctly. Why not pick up the easy wins? It’s an easy percentage multiplier. And this game is so hard, you might as well take the easy ones.”

This belief is even more widely shared for AI startups, Brazilian entrepreneur Bruno Vieira Costa told TechCrunch. “My own company is building generative AI models [and] based in Rio, so I don’t see it as necessarily true, but I understand for more junior founders, this must be relevant for mindset and references.” Vieira Costa’s task automation startup Abstra was part of Y Combinator’s summer 2021 batch.

Abstra’s founder thinks in-person batches are better for founder success, but there are trade-offs. Relocating to the Bay Area is hard for many Latin American founders, and perhaps riskier. Their experiences, college backgrounds and professional networks resonate less with U.S. investors, Vieira Costa said. Conversely, U.S. references were peppered through Demo Day, with founders mentioning their “nationwide” reach and their degrees whose fame isn’t always international.

While one cohort is not a trend, maybe YC, too, is returning to its U.S.-focused roots. YC’s latest request for startups called for companies to “bring back manufacturing to America” — a term that many in Latin America find grating — and the “new defense technology” section only mentioned the U.S. “Silicon Valley was born in the early 20th century as an R&D area for the U.S. military. … This decade is the time to return Silicon Valley to these roots,” partners Jared Friedman and Gustaf Alströmer wrote.

If YC continues to slant toward U.S. companies, that doesn’t mean its cohorts would be less diverse. Several YC alumni with Hispanic founders were U.S.-based when they applied.

Do LatAM startups need YC?

Founders who went to YC often call the experience “life-changing,” and the impact usually goes beyond their companies. Colombian startup and YC alum Rappi, for instance, turned into a startup factory. Looking into its multiplier effect, entrepreneurship network Endeavor found out that 130 founders previously worked at the on-demand delivery company, whose founders also invested in two dozen startups.

Rappi is on the list of YC alumni with the most revenue, but otherwise, there isn’t that much overlap between the accelerator’s Latin American bets and the region’s top startups.

“When you look at the biggest startups coming out of Latin America in the past five years, they didn’t go through YC,” Latitud co-founder and COO Gina Gotthilf told TechCrunch via email. “We don’t know why, but it might be that YC is better at assessing the U.S. market and opportunity. Latin America is hard, there’s a lot of local context that’s hard to understand if you don’t have a local grasp and strong network.”

Latitud describes itself as “the operating system for every venture-backed company in Latin America” and offers a software platform for software platform for incorporation and compliance, with funding from a16z and NFX. It also recently spun off its VC arm, Latitud Ventures. On some level, it makes YC a competitor, but also a potential co-investor. Salvy, the Brazilian company from its latest batch, is a Latitud portfolio company “where we were the first investor,” Gotthilf said.

Despite her bullishness about the region, Gotthilf can also see why an AI-heavy cohort includes fewer Latin American startups. “Most of the companies pitching [YC] are doing something in AI. I believe that core AI companies building LLMs in Silicon Valley have serious leverage right now and that real innovation in the field won’t be coming from Latin America so soon.”

This is also a reminder that many startups from the region aren’t applying to YC, or even seeking VC funding at all. A recent report on Latin American SaaS startups showed that one-third went for the bootstrapping route. This has pros and cons: It pushes startups to be more efficient but can also get in the way of bigger ambitions.

Griffero thinks that another factor is the region’s fragmentation, which makes it more difficult for founders to support each other, but he’s optimistic. “This situation is likely to change soon, as I’m seeing more founders from the region who are starting to think globally, instead of self-imposing the limit of being ‘X for LatAm.’”

Unlike predecessors like Mercado Libre, these companies will find venture capital firms both local and global willing to look at them and offer them less dilutive terms that weren’t the norm before YC became a potential rival.

There’s still the question of whether the math will add up for investors, since massive exits are still a rare occurrence for Latin American startups. But even if they succeed, doing it outside of YC means they won’t be part of its 10,000-alumni network. A lose-lose situation, or the price to pay for SF evolving from “doom loop” to “boom loop”? You decide.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Turkish startup ikas attracts $20M for its e-commerce platform designed for small businesses | TechCrunch

It’s easy to assume the e-commerce ship has sailed when you consider we have giant outfits like Shopify, WooCommerce and Wix dominating the sector. But the opportunity for e-commerce platforms that cater to brands remain vast and fertile, since so many smaller businesses continue foraying into the internet in the wake of the pandemic.

Further evidence of this has surfaced in the form of one of the largest fundraises by a startup in Turkey, given that the average Series A usually comes in at below $15 million. E-commerce platform ikas has raised $20 million in a Series A funding round as it seeks to expand its operations into new markets in Europe. The company currently operates in Turkey and Germany, and says its platform simplifies store management for companies that want to have a digital presence.

The investment was led by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) fund, a venture arm of the World Bank Group.

ikas’ co-founder and CEO Mustafa Namoğlu told TechCrunch that the company would be using the new funding for international expansion in Eastern Europe and the DaCH region.

“Most of Europe is predominantly neglected or underserved by those U.S.-based giants,” he said. “The global platforms lack customer service in local languages. It looks easy to start with, for example, a Shopify. But once you start, you need to add other plugins, and you may even need an agency to run it.”

Namoğlu said ikas can win customers against other platforms because it’s more of a “fire and forget” platform. “The first reason our merchants pick us over others is storefront speed, which gives them higher conversion rates. You get this out of the box, even if you pay us €30 per month. The second reason is customer service. Thirdly, we bundle the payments and the shipping labels into our core product, which means you don’t need to go and negotiate with payment providers or shipping labels. You’re immediately ready to go,” he said.

Namoğlu previously founded MUGO, a fashion distribution and retail company, and launched ikas in 2017 with co-founders Tugay Karaçay, Ömercan Çelikler and Umut Ozan Yildirim.

The IFC invests directly in companies as well as through PE and VC funds.

Also investing in ikas is Re-Pie Asset Management, which has grocery delivery startup Getir in its portfolio. The round saw participation from ikas’ existing investor Revo Capital, best known as the first institutional investor in Getir, Param, Midas and Roamless.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Live selling startup CommentSold uses AI to generate shoppable, social-ready clips | TechCrunch

CommentSold, the e-commerce tech startup that provides web and video tools to online retailers, launched a new generative AI-powered tool on Wednesday that can sift through livestreamed footage and generate short product explainer videos for sellers to post to their website, app and social media platforms.

The “AI ClipHero” feature creates short clips from livestreamed selling events, which often last for hours. Instead of retailers rewatching content and scouring for relevant clips to edit and post, CommentSold’s new tool saves them some time by automatically identifying the most interesting parts of the livestream for customers who missed the event to get a brief summary of the products. The tool also uses speech recognition to generate captions.

“Shoppable ‘explainer’ videos are the most powerful video commerce medium right now, with TikTok and Instagram becoming the primary way Gen Z discovers, learns about products and purchases products. However, creating shoppable videos [requires] significant production times,” CommentSold CEO Guatam Goswami told TechCrunch.

Image Credits: CommentSold

AI-powered clipping software isn’t new, but not many companies have developed AI-powered tools specifically designed for live commerce. Various startups (Powder, Eklipse, and others), though, have introduced similar features for content creators to capture highlights from gaming streams.

“Companies like TikTok and Twitch have been trying to create AI that can create shoppable videos from live-stream events … CommentSold is now the first provider to launch a commercially available AI, which learns from millions of hours of livestreams in CommentSold’s library to identify and create product explainer videos from livestream selling events,” Goswami said.

In addition to its AI ClipHero feature, CommentSold recently rolled out PopClips, which allows retailers to tag products in a banner at the bottom of each clip to direct customers to the product page and drive more sales. The company also provides tools for custom website and mobile app building, as well as systems to automate inventory, invoices, shipping, and more.

Since launching in 2017, CommentSold now helps over 7,000 small- and mid-sized businesses deliver live shopping and e-commerce experiences. According to the company, it has facilitated the sale of over 180 million items with more than $4.4 billion in lifetime gross merchandise value (GMV), up from $3.8 billion in 2023.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Fintech startup Mercury, which is under regulatory scrutiny, expands into consumer banking | TechCrunch

Business banking startup Mercury, founded in 2020, is now launching a consumer banking product. Mercury today serves more than 100,000 businesses, many of which are startups, via its B2B practice.

The expansion is a natural move for the company and one that has been in the works for a couple of years, according to Immad Akhund, Mercury’s co-founder and CEO.

“We already have a few hundred thousand users of our business banking product, and a lot of people have expressed that they want a personal banking product,” he told TechCrunch in an interview. 

While there are plenty of neobanks, many of them “focus on the underbanked. It’s not a great market for power users” who need features like wire transfers or support for multiple users, features that Mercury’s service offers, according to Akhund. Other features are of the type expected by banking power users: multiple debit cards with custom spending limits, access up to $5 million in FDIC insurance through its partner banks and their sweep networks, and interest-bearing savings accounts.

Essentially, Mercury hopes to convert many of its business clients into customers. It’s not going after the masses like say Chime or Dave.

The expansion into personal banking comes at an interesting time for Mercury, which recently made headlines for being the target of federal scrutiny around its practice of allowing foreign companies to open accounts through one of its partners, Choice Bank.

According to a report by The Information, the FDIC was “concerned” that Choice “had opened Mercury accounts in legally risky countries.” Officials also reportedly chastised Choice for letting overseas Mercury customers “open thousands of accounts using questionable methods to prove they had a presence in the U.S.” 

And that’s not all. The FDIC also wasn’t happy that Choice hadn’t “vetted a compliance system Mercury was using, which the agency said was flagging a curiously low number of suspicious transactions.”

Adding fuel to the fire, Mercury also earlier this year reportedly told users with Evolve Bank & Trust-issued debit cards that those cards would no longer work where the merchant has a legal address in 41 countries, including Turkey, Ukraine, Cuba and Iran. (Evolve is also a partner of Mercury’s.) When TechCrunch asked about these allegations, the company declined to comment.

When asked about The Information’s report, a Mercury spokesperson emphasized that the company is investing in its risk and compliance teams. The person also said the fintech partner banking market as a whole has been the target of more regulatory scrutiny.

Alexey Likuev, who led the buildout of the consumer offering for Mercury, acknowledges there are “definitely more rigorous regulations around consumer protection” and said the company has been mindful of those regulations when it built out its consumer product.

Crossing over

But success in B2B banking doesn’t automatically queue up Mercury to handle consumer banking. Each has differing regulations and compliance issues, noted Gartner analyst Agustin Rubini. Risk management for personal banking, for instance, is about assessing the individual’s financial stability, “which can be less predictable compared to businesses,” he said. 

More than that, adhering to stringent regulatory requirements can be “challenging” for startups, he warns. “The complexities increase when partnering with a bank due to the additional layers of regulation that apply to banking services,” he said. “This includes everything from anti-money laundering (AML) protocols to meeting capital requirements.” 

Rubini added that partnering with a bank can help the startup by providing an initial platform and compliance framework, but then scaling up operations to a larger customer base can open up a different can of worms. Startups need “substantial capital and strategic planning” to do that well while staying competitive, and without running afoul of regulators. 

Cesare Fracassi, associate professor of finance at the University of Texas at Austin, also told TechCrunch that business and consumer banking are “two different beasts, two different types of services.” But he’s a bit more bullish on fintechs trying their hand at both because he does see “obvious synergies involved in owning both the business and person” in the banking space.

That’s one of the main reasons Mercury is expanding in this direction. It could leverage much of the software powering its B2B product for its consumer offering, Akhund said.

It’s also not the only fintech thinking like this. Onyx Private, with a similar offering, recently did a reverse move, pivoting from B2C to B2B

Besides earning revenue off of interchange fees and the interest rate spread, Mercury will make money by charging users an annual subscription fee of $240 upon the first deposit and then annually after that. Last year, it touted a big bump in business following the SVB crisis, and a recent report from Kruze Consulting showed that 40% of startups created after the SVB crisis have an account with Mercury.

The company said it’s had seven consecutive quarters of cash flow and EBITDA profitability as of March 2024. While it would not reveal hard revenue figures, it also claims that its new revenue grew by 180% last year while its customer base climbed by 60% and transaction volume by 90% to $95 billion as of January 2024. 

With that growth, the startup has been hiring. Presently Mercury has 620 employees, compared to 440 at the start of 2023.

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Robotic Automations

AI data security startup Cyera confirms $300M raise at a $1.4B valuation | TechCrunch

Artificial intelligence continues to be a big threat, but it’s also a huge promise in the world of cybersecurity. Today, one of the startups tackling both the opportunity and the challenge is announcing a major round of funding. Cyera has built an AI-based platform to help organizations understand the location and movement of all the data in their networks — critical for taking the right steps to secure that data, whether to defend against cyberattacks or to keep it from inadvertently leaking into a large language model.

The company has raised $300 million in a Series C round that values it at $1.4 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

Growth rounds continue to be a major challenge for tech startups, so Cyera’s fundraise is notable not just for its size, but also because it nearly triples the company’s valuation in less than a year — it last raised a $100 million Series B in June 2023. This speaks to the company’s traction — it didn’t disclose numbers, but its customers include a number of giant multinationals — as well as its outlook on the market and how it’s addressing that.

TechCrunch and other outlets reported on this fundraise when it was still in the works, and today’s news confirms several of the details we uncovered, including the size of the round and the lead investor, Coatue, which is new to the startup’s cap table. Other new investors include Spark Capital, Georgian, and strategic backer AT&T Ventures.

AT&T is a noteworthy name here. In March, TechCrunch revealed that the multinational carrier had to initiate a mass reset of accounts after the details of 7.6 million current account holders, and more than 65 million former account holders, were dumped online due to a data breach that happened in 2019. Incidents like that are typical of what drives companies to sign up to companies like Cyera, sometimes ahead of any crisis, sometimes in order to prevent another crisis.

“You have no idea how many times a month I get a phone call from a CISO asking delicately for some time,” said Cyera CEO Yotam Segev in an interview. “‘I’ve got something going on,’ they say. ‘I need you. How fast can you guys scan my environment?’ It happens every time. And what we do is, we jump on it. We send a squad, we have them figure out what data was in scope. They sometimes don’t even know what data was breached.” (AT&T’s breach, it should be noted, took place before Cyera was founded.)

In a nutshell, Cyera has built a platform that takes a full assessment of an organization’s data, where it was created, and where it’s stored and where it’s being used.

That’s no small task in itself, since most organizations today work across hybrid environments with a variety of apps, devices, clouds and on-premises servers, with the total amount of data now being counted in tens of zetabytes and exponentially growing to hundreds of zetabytes in the next couple of years, analysts predict. That spaghetti of connections and activity has turned into a nightmare when it comes to auditing data.

Cyera is part of the general category of “posture management,” and there are dozens of others in the space, including big names like CrowdStrike, Zscaler, Wiz, Palo Alto Networks, and Fortinet. All of them will largely agree on why you need to have good posture management: It’s important to know what you have and where it is in order to take care of it. Cyera’s extra step is using AI to handle that process, and it looks at the next generation of enterprise applications and use cases, and the challenges they will pose for data posture management. In today’s world, that next generation is all about one thing: artificial intelligence.

“If you think about it, AI security is where the biggest gap is today for enterprises,” said Segev. “They just have no control over their data, and AI runs on data,” he said in reference to how large language models are built and subsequently work. “But if you don’t even know what data you have, where it lives, how many duplicates of it there are, and what’s the source of truth versus a copy from five years ago, then how are you supposed to actually go and leverage this technology to its full extent? When you think about the risks that AI produces for these companies, it’s all about losing their proprietary data.”

Segev and his co-founder, Tamar Bar-Ilan (CTO), both cut their teeth in the Israeli military, a training ground that puts engineers into real-world scenarios for testing out the most cutting-edge tech. What’s caught the eye of investors is that they have added a strong entrepreneurial layer (plus some charm and salesperson flair) to those learnings.

“We’re going to use this investment to continue to grow our offerings for the customers into the data security platform that they deserve and want,” Segev said. “They don’t want to stitch together 20 products in order to make this program a reality. They want to buy from one vendor.”

Previous backers Sequoia, Accel, Redpoint, and Cyberstarts all also participated in the Series C, and this brings the total raised by Cyera — headquartered in New York with roots in Israel — to $460 million in just three years.

Although Doug Leone is no longer an active partner at Sequoia, he remains a board member at select companies, including Cyera.

“The co-founders here are as good as any I’ve been in business with. They are clear outliers,” he said in an interview. “They had a vision of the increased need and awareness of the need that would hit us like an avalanche. Data is the crown jewel of any company.” 

“The customer’s reactions to Cyera as a platform remind me of our early days at ServiceNow,” said David Schneider, general partner at Coatue Management, in a statement. “I am confident that Cyera will grow to become a key part of enterprise’s data security, which is so crucial with the advent of AI.”

Software Development in Sri Lanka