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Friday, December 4, 2020

Social media content and analytics startup PressLogic raises $10M from popular Chinese selfie app...

PressLogic founders Ryan Cheung and Edward Chow PressLogic, a Hong Kong-based social media content and data analytics startup, announced today that it has raised a $10 million Series A+ round from Meitu, developer of the popular Chinese selfie app. PressLogic will use the funds to launch its new lifestyle brand GirlStyle and enter e-commerce with its proprietary algorithms, which predict what topics will trend on social media among specific groups. The new round brings PressLogic’s total raised to $15 million. Meitu first acquired a minority stake in PressLogic last year. After launching a data-analytics service for social media managers called MediaLens in 2016, founders Ryan Cheung and Edward Chow began creating social media publishing and marketing brands in order to show potential clients how their technology could boost audience engagement. PressLogic, their social media publishing platform, now claims a total of 8 million Facebook and Instagram followers and over 700 million monthly content impressions across its social media profiles and websites, with about 75 percent of its visitors aged 18 to 34. MediaLens still serves as PressLogic’s core technology, underpinning its content brands, as well as the insights it provides to partners in order to increase their social media engagement and return on investment. CEO Cheung (Chow serves as PressLogic’s CTO) told TechCrunch that MediaLens “creates a pipeline from data sourcing to content suggestion to optimization” and has an edge against its competitors because it is able to make more granular suggestions about what content is likely to be popular among specific groups based on trending topics. With its new round of funding, PressLogic will launch GirlStyle, a lifestyle and fashion-based social network targeted to young women, as an app and website in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Korea, and Malaysia by the end of this year. In terms of e-commerce, CEO Cheung (Chow serves as PressLogic’s CTO) says the company will start by focusing on skincare and cosmetics by leveraging data from its online traffic and readers. PressLogic hasn’t revealed if Meitu’s photo imaging technology will be integrated into its platform, but Cheung says it would like to extend MediaLens’ analytics to images, too, since data from photos and videos shared on social media is potentially valuable, but still difficult to transform into the kind of insights that help predict what content will go viral next.

Portify raises £1.3M to help gig economy workers improve their financial wellbeing

Portify, a London fintech startup that offers an app and various financial products to help gig economy workers better manage their finances and in turn improve financial wellbeing, has raised £1.3 million in seed investment. The round is led by Kindred Capital, and company builder and investor Entrepreneur First (EF), with participation from various unnamed angel investors. Founded in May last year by EF alumni Sho Sugihara (CEO) and Chris Butcher (CTO), Portify is setting out to address the financial volatility many flexible or so-called gig economy workers face. The startup offers a number of tailored financial products, accessible via its mobile app, to help flexible workers get insights into their current financial status and income, as well as do short and long-term financial planning. The app — primarily a B2B2C play — is distributed in partnership with various gig economy platforms and also includes earning “rewards” at partnering merchants or service providers. The current Portify website lists TransferWise, Amazon, and Spotify as rewards. “Portify’s vision is to enable financial security and wellbeing for independent workers,” Portify co-founder and CEO Sho Sugihara tells me. “While we’ve seen rapid growth in the numbers of independent workers (6 million in the U.K., and up to 162 million in the E.U. and U.S., according to McKinsey), there is still a large gap in the market for financial services to ensure these workers are secure, and have access to an economic ladder. “We work with companies to help build access to financial products that enable this security and progression, and offer this through a mobile app which workers can port between different jobs”. Sugihara says there are three elements to Portify’s mission: helping flexible workers control “immediate income volatility”, helping them budget effectively on a day-to-day basis, and support with financial planning for the long-term. “Once a user gets access to our app, the first thing they do is securely connect their bank account,” he explains. “We then help control volatility by offering emergency credit with select stores to buy essentials products if required. We also help our users manage cash flow and budget for tax and other recurring expenses. By building up financial security and wellbeing from the ground up, our goal is to improve our user’s financial standing over the long term, whether through saving for retirement or helping them invest into their own businesses and careers”. To that end, Sugihara says Portify is currently being used by independent workers in the gig economy and temp staffing sector. This covers couriers, ride-hailing drivers, retail shop floor staff, hospitality workers, amongst others. Its B2B customers span large gig economy platforms and digital temporary staffing agencies “with global coverage”.

Portify raises £1.3M to help gig economy workers improve their financial well-being

Portify, a London fintech startup that offers an app and various financial products to help gig economy workers better manage their finances and in turn improve financial well-being, has raised £1.3 million in seed investment. The round was led by Kindred Capital and company builder and investor Entrepreneur First (EF), with participation from various unnamed angel investors. Founded in May last year by EF alumni Sho Sugihara (CEO) and Chris Butcher (CTO), Portify is setting out to address the financial volatility many flexible or so-called gig economy workers face. The startup offers a number of tailored financial products, accessible via its mobile app, to help flexible workers get insights into their current financial status and income, as well as do short and long-term financial planning. The app — primarily a B2B2C play — is distributed in partnership with various gig economy platforms and also includes earning “rewards” at partnering merchants or service providers. The current Portify website lists TransferWise, Amazon and Spotify as rewards. “Portify’s vision is to enable financial security and well-being for independent workers,” Portify co-founder and CEO Sho Sugihara tells me. “While we’ve seen rapid growth in the numbers of independent workers (6 million in the U.K., and up to 162 million in the E.U. and U.S., according to McKinsey), there is still a large gap in the market for financial services to ensure these workers are secure, and have access to an economic ladder. “We work with companies to help build access to financial products that enable this security and progression, and offer this through a mobile app which workers can port between different jobs.” Sugihara says there are three elements to Portify’s mission: helping flexible workers control “immediate income volatility,” helping them budget effectively on a day-to-day basis and support with financial planning for the long term. “Once a user gets access to our app, the first thing they do is securely connect their bank account,” he explains. “We then help control volatility by offering emergency credit with select stores to buy essential products if required. We also help our users manage cash flow and budget for tax and other recurring expenses. By building up financial security and well-being from the ground up, our goal is to improve our user’s financial standing over the long term, whether through saving for retirement or helping them invest into their own businesses and careers.” To that end, Sugihara says Portify is currently being used by independent workers in the gig economy and temp staffing sector. This covers couriers, ride-hailing drivers, retail shop floor staff and hospitality workers, amongst others. Its B2B customers span large gig economy platforms and digital temporary staffing agencies “with global coverage.”

Home Made raises further £2M for its premium online lettings agency

Home Made, the London premium online lettings agency, has raised a further £2 million in funding. The round is led by Athens-based venture capital firm VentureFriends, and follows the proptech startup’s £850,000 “pre-seed” round nine months ago. Founded in 2016 by Asaf Navot, a former Bain strategy consultant and INSEAD graduate, and Nick Binnington, a former British Army Captain and LBS graduate, Home Made’s proposition is based on the premise that the letting agent model is broken. Specifically, that high-street agents offer average service and charge extortionate fees, while online agents typically charge low fees but offer a worse service as a result. The company positions itself as the only estate agency in the U.K. that offers a premium service akin to a high-end traditional estate agent, including accompanied property viewings and working until 10 pm at night, on weekends and bank holidays — for a low online fee starting at £948 +VAT. However, competitor Rentify also occupies a more upmarket space, but charges a monthly fee and is fully-managed and provides a ‘rent guarantee’. At the lower end are startups like Open Rent and uPad that operate more of a pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap à la carte model with various services to help you rent out your property. To that end, Home Made says it plans to use the new funding to expand its offering and further develop its underlying technology, focus on growing its customer base in London “and beyond”. This will include hiring 20-25 new sales and marketing staff in the coming months. The company’s proprietary online platform allows landlords to manage their properties from marketing to move-in. This includes full control during the marketing phase – landlords can add or remove marketing photos on the portals, write or enhance existing descriptions and change the price – and visibility of progress during tenancy progression.International expansion has also begin: Home Made recently opened an office in Athens and says it is looking to develop several company functions in the country, including lead generation, tech support, and customer service and support. The startup says it has selected Greece for its first international office primarily due to “the growing Greek startup ecosystem which offers access to high caliber talent with international experience”. Meanwhile, Home Made recently announced the launch of Sentinel, a tool that detects illegal subletting by tenants via short-let websites such as AirBnB. The idea is to help landlords tackle a growing illegal subletting problem that sees “tenants” rent out properties with no intention of ever ever staying in the property. This activity commonly violates the terms of a Tenancy Agreement, and may also violate the building lease, local authority regulations, buildings insurance, and mortgage terms. It also withdraws these properties from the market for long-term tenants, which in turn contributes to rental increases in London.

Grab pulls in $250M from Hyundai as ongoing round reaches $2.7B

Grab, the Singapore startup that bought Uber’s Southeast Asia business earlier this year, continues to announce strategic investors for its ongoing Series H funding round. The latest edition revealed today is Korean automotive firm Hyundai, which is investing $250 million. Hyundai first invested in Grab in January, and it joins recently announced investors Microsoft (undisclosed) and Booking Holdings ($200 million) in the round, which is aimed at reaching at least $3 billion before the end of this year. Grab first announced a $1 billion investment from Toyota in June and that was doubled to $2 billion when a range of institutional backers joined. Those include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital, and today Grab disclosed two others: Goldman Sachs Investment Partners and Citi Ventures. In total, these additions take that Series H round to $2.7 billion so far, Grab said. That means that Grab, which is valued at over $11 billion, has now raised more than $6 billion from investors including SoftBank and China’s Didi. That’s a figure that extends its record for a startup in Southeast Asia. Grab claims 125 million downloads across its eight markets in Southeast Asia and over 2.5 billion rides completed to date, up from two billion in July. Like Toyota, Microsoft and travel giant Booking — which was formerly known as Priceline — Hyundai’s involvement includes a fairly hefty strategic portion: electric vehicles. Grab said that it will work with the Korea firm introduce a series of EV pilots in Southeast Asia that’ll feature Hyundai and Hyundai-owned Kia vehicles. The companies began working on the rollout of Hyundai’s IONIQ vehicle in Singapore earlier this year and now they will add Kia EVs and explore opportunities beyond Singapore. (Right to left) Euisun Chung, Executive Vice Chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, and Anthony Tan, Grab CEO, mark the new $250 million investment deal [Image via Bloomberg New Economy Forum]Grab has an EV fleet in Singapore — size undisclosed — and it is working with Singapore Power to roll out a network of charging hubs and packages for Grab EV drivers as it expands that EV presence in the country. But this Hyundai partnership would represent its first EV foray into other markets in Southeast Asia, which has a cumulative population of more than 600 million consumers, although it didn’t name which markets or give a timeframe. As in Singapore, Grab said its EV strategy will include engaging governments and “infrastructure players” to set up the right conditions for EVs, such as charging networks, maintenance packages for drivers and general research into how EVs perform in more humid environments. Beyond the EV plans, Grab’s Series H is being put aside for a number of ventures which include its push to become an all-in-one ‘super app’ that goes beyond transportation to cover food deliveries, services on-demand, payments and fintech services, and more. There’s also likely an allocation for competition because, although Grab consumed Uber’s local business in the region, Indonesia-based rival Go-Jek is expanding in the region. Go-Jek, which is aiming to raise $2 billion in its latest funding round according to sources, has entered Vietnam, is in the process of launching in Thailand and has just begun recruiting drivers for a Singapore rollout. That means Grab needs to keep a substantial amount of powder dry in case of the (likely) event that its battle with Go-Jek descends into a discount war, as was often the case during its rivalry with Uber. That explains why it is raising an enormous $3 billion round despite having already removed Uber from the region via the buyout deal, which saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant take a 27.5 percent stake in Grab. That deal, by the way, didn’t really go as planned. Not only was Grab over ambitious on the logistics, including plans to consume most of Uber’s 500 staff, but it misread the public reaction and incurred the wrath of regulators. Singapore’s consumer watchdog hit Uber and Grab with a total of $9.5 million in fines for the “anti-competitive” merger, while the pair got a lighter reprimand in the Philippines. Southeast Asia’s Grab partners with MasterCard to offer prepaid cards

Photomath raises $6 million for its math solving app

Photomath just raised a $6 million funding round from Goodwater Capital with Learn Capital also participating. Photomath has created a hugely successful mobile app for iOS and Android with 100 million downloads so far. Photomath first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt London back in 2014. The company was working on text recognition technology. Photomath was just a demo app to promote that technology. But the startup accidentally created a consumer success. The app instantly attracted millions of downloads from many desperate students willing to learn math with their phones. Years later, the app is still one of the most downloaded apps in the App Store and Play Store. And the reason why it’s been so successful is that it’s a simple concept. After downloading the app, you just have to point your phone at a math problem. It can be in a book, or it can recognize your own handwriting. The app then gives you a step-by-step explanation to solve this problem. Combining these two things together is what makes Photomath useful. WolframAlpha can solve equations, and Evernote can recognize your handwriting. But nobody thought about combining these things together. Typing an equation can be hard, so it makes a ton of sense to bridge the gap between the physical world and smartphones. Before everybody started talking about augmented reality, Photomath was already taking advantage of the system-on-a-chip in your phone. Photomath is also capable of generating graphs and supports advanced problems, such as limits, integrations, complex numbers, etc. The app solves around 1.2 billion math problems per month.

Photomath raises $6 million for its math-solving app

Photomath just raised a $6 million funding round from Goodwater Capital, with Learn Capital also participating. Photomath has created a hugely successful mobile app for iOS and Android with 100 million downloads so far. Photomath first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt London back in 2014. The company was working on text recognition technology. Photomath was just a demo app to promote that technology. But the startup accidentally created a consumer success. The app instantly attracted millions of downloads from many desperate students willing to learn math with their phones. Years later it is still one of the most downloaded apps in the App Store and Play Store. And the reason it’s been so successful is that it’s a simple concept. After downloading the app, you just have to point your phone at a math problem. It can be in a book, or it can recognize your own handwriting. The app then gives you a step-by-step explanation to solve the problem. Combining these two things is what makes Photomath useful. WolframAlpha can solve equations, and Evernote can recognize your handwriting. But nobody thought about combining these things. Typing an equation can be hard, so it makes a ton of sense to bridge the gap between the physical world and smartphones. Before everybody started talking about augmented reality, Photomath was already taking advantage of the system-on-a-chip in your phone. Photomath is also capable of generating graphs and supports advanced problems, such as limits, integrations, complex numbers, etc. The app solves around 1.2 billion math problems per month.

Precision farming startup Taranis gets $20M Series B for its crop monitoring tech

Taranis, an ag-tech startup that uses aerial scouting and deep learning to identify potential crop issues, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series B led by Viola Ventures. Existing investors Nutrien (one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers), Wilbur-Ellis venture capital arm Cavallo Ventures, and Sumitomo Corporation Europe also participated. Tel Aviv-based Taranis says its aerial imaging technology, carried on high-speed drones or manned aircraft, is currently used by farms in Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. It plans to expand into more countries with this round of funding, including Australia. Founded in 2015 by Ofir Schlam, Asaf Horvitz, Eli Bukchin, and Ayal Karmi to increase food production, Taranis’ software targets commodity crops like corn, cotton, wheat, soybean, sugarcane, and potatoes. It identifies potential crop issues, including insect damage, nutrient deficiencies, and diseases, and provide farmers with magnified, high-resolution images that are detailed enough to (for example) let them see what bugs are eating their plants. In a press statement, Viola Ventures partner Zvika Orron said “After analyzing the digital farming industry, we proudly chose Taranis to be our first investment in this space. Taranis has all the necessary ingredients to become the leader in farm digitalization: a comprehensive precision agriculture solution, leading industry partners to scale and penetrate the market and a passionate team making it all happen.” Traditional crop monitoring is labor-intensive and not always accurate, even with the use of sensors to track soil quality, fertilizer levels, insects, and other issues. Other venture capital-backed startups using computer vision and AI-based technology to make the process more efficient (a growing field referred to as “precision farming”) include Prospera, which is also based in Tel Aviv, Arable, and Ceres Imaging. Agricultural giants have also started shopping for precision farming startups. For example, over the past twelve months, Deere agreed to buy Blue River, and Brazilian startup Strider was purchased by Syngenta.

Precision farming startup Taranis gets $20M Series B for its crop-monitoring tech

Taranis, an ag-tech startup that uses aerial scouting and deep learning to identify potential crop issues, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series B led by Viola Ventures. Existing investors Nutrien (one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers), Wilbur-Ellis venture capital arm Cavallo Ventures and Sumitomo Corporation Europe also participated. Tel Aviv-based Taranis says its aerial imaging technology, carried on high-speed drones or manned aircraft, is currently used by farms in Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine and the United States. It plans to expand into more countries with this round of funding, including Australia. Founded in 2015 by Ofir Schlam, Asaf Horvitz, Eli Bukchin and Ayal Karmi to increase food production, Taranis’ software targets commodity crops like corn, cotton, wheat, soybean, sugarcane and potatoes. It identifies potential crop issues, including insect damage, nutrient deficiencies and diseases, and provides farmers with magnified, high-resolution images that are detailed enough to (for example) let them see what bugs are eating their plants. In a press statement, Viola Ventures partner Zvika Orron said “After analyzing the digital farming industry, we proudly chose Taranis to be our first investment in this space. Taranis has all the necessary ingredients to become the leader in farm digitalization: a comprehensive precision agriculture solution, leading industry partners to scale and penetrate the market and a passionate team making it all happen.” Traditional crop monitoring is labor-intensive and not always accurate, even with the use of sensors to track soil quality, fertilizer levels, insects and other issues. Other venture capital-backed startups using computer vision and AI-based technology to make the process more efficient (a growing field referred to as “precision farming”) include Prospera, which is also based in Tel Aviv, Arable and Ceres Imaging. Agricultural giants have also started shopping for precision farming startups. For example, over the past 12 months, Deere agreed to buy Blue River, and Brazilian startup Strider was purchased by Syngenta.

VMware acquires Heptio, the startup founded by 2 co-founders of Kubernetes

During its big customer event in Europe, VMware announced another acquisition to step up its game in helping enterprises build and run containerised, Kubernetes-based architectures: it has acquired Heptio, a startup out of Seattle that was co-founded by Joe Beda and Craig McLuckie, who were two of the three people who co-created Kubernetes back at Google in 2014 (it has since been open sourced). Beta and McLuckie and their team will all be joining VMware in the transaction. Terms of the deal are not being disclosed — VMware said in a release that they are not material to the company — but as a point of reference, when Heptio last raised money — a $25 million Series B in 2017, with investors including Lightspeed, Accel and Madrona — it was valued at $117 million post-money, according to data from PitchBook. Given the pedigree of Heptio’s founders, this is a signal of the big bet that VMware is taking on Kubernetes, and the belief that it will become an increasing cornerstone in how enterprises run their businesses. The larger company already works with 500,000+ customers globally, and 75,000 partners. It’s not clear how many customers Heptio worked with but they included large, tech-forward businesses like Yahoo Japan. It’s also another endorsement of the ongoing rise of open source and its role in cloud architectures, a paradigm that got its biggest boost at the end of October with IBM’s acquisition of RedHat, one of the biggest tech acquisitions of all time at $34 billion. Heptio provides professional services for enterprises that are adopting or already use Kubernetes, providing training, support and building open-source projects for managing specific aspects of Kubernetes and related container clusters, and this deal is about VMware expanding the business funnel and margins for Kubernetes within it its wider cloud, on-premise and hybrid storage and computing services with that expertise. “Kubernetes is emerging as an open framework for multi-cloud infrastructure that enables enterprise organizations to run modern applications,” said Paul Fazzone, senior vice president and general manager, Cloud Native Apps Business Unit, VMware, in a statement. “Heptio products and services will reinforce and extend VMware’s efforts with PKS to establish Kubernetes as the de facto standard for infrastructure across clouds upon closing. We are thrilled that the Heptio team led by Craig and Joe will be joining VMware to help us guide customers as they move to a multi-cloud world.” VMware and its Pivotal business already offer Kubernetes-related services by way of PKS, which lets organizations run cloud-agnostic apps. Heptio will become a part of that wider portfolio. “The team at Heptio has been focused on Kubernetes, creating products that make it easier to manage multiple clusters across multiple clouds,” said Craig McLuckie, CEO and co-founder of Heptio. “And now we will be tapping into VMware’s cloud native resources and proven ability to execute, amplifying our impact. VMware’s interest in Heptio is a recognition that there is so much innovation happening in open source. We are jointly committed to contribute even more to the community—resources, ideas and support.” VMware has made some 33 acquisitions overall, according to Crunchbase, but this appears to have been the first specifically to boost its position in Kubernetes. The deal is expected to close by fiscal Q4 2019, VMware said.
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