Singapore’s SalesWhale raises $5.3M to bring AI to sales and marketing teams


This post is by Jon Russell from TechCrunch


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SalesWhale, a Singapore-based startup that uses AI to help marketers and salespeople generate leads, has announced a Series A round worth $5.3 million.

The investment is led by Monk’s Hill Ventures — the Southeast Asia-focused firm that led SalesWhale’s seed round in 2017 — with participation from existing backers GREE Ventures, Wavemaker Partners, and Y Combinator. That’s right, SalesWhale is one a select few Southeast Asian startups to have been through YC, it graduated back in summer 2016.

SalesWhale — which calls itself “a conversational email marketing platform” — uses AI-powered ‘bots’ to handle email. In this case, its digital workforce is trained for sales leads. That means both covering the menial parts of arranging meetings and coordination, and the more proactive side of engaging old and new leads.

Back when we last wrote about the startup in 2017, it had just half a dozen staff. Fast forward two

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Birth control delivery startup Nurx taps Clover Health’s Varsha Rao as CEO


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Varsha Rao, Airbnb’s former head of global operations and, most recently, the chief operating officer at Clover Health, has joined Nurx as its chief executive officer.

Rao replaces Hans Gangeskar, Nurx’s co-founder and CEO since 2014, who will stay on as a board member.

Nurx, which sells birth control, PrEP, the once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV, and an HPV testing kit direct to consumer, has grown 250 percent in the last year, doubled its employee headcount and attracted 200,000 customers. Rao tells TechCrunch the startup realized they needed talent in the C-suite that had experienced this kind of growth.

“The company has made some really great progress in bringing on strong leaders and that’s one of the things that got me excited about joining,” Rao told TechCrunch. Nurx recently hired Jonathan Czaja, Stitch Fix’s former vice president of operations, as COO, and Dave Fong, who previously

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Brex, the credit card for startups, raises $100M debt round


This post is by Kate Clark from TechCrunch


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Brex, widely known for its billboards littered across San Francisco, has secured a $100 million debt financing from Barclays Investment Bank .

The company, which provides a corporate credit card designed specifically for startups, has previously raised $215 million in equity funding at a $1.1 billion valuation in the less than two years since it graduated from the Y Combinator startup accelerator.

Debt, Brex chief executive officer Henrique Dubugras tells TechCrunch, will power the company’s next phase of growth.

“Because we raised so much equity so fast, we put a lot of it to work on the lending; this will allow us to scale way beyond our equity,” Dubugras said, adding that the company has no plans to raise additional equity funding right now: “Especially after this debt raise because now a lot of the capital that was tied up we can get back.”

This year, the company has

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Ro, a direct-to-consumer online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation


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Venture capitalists have valued direct-to-consumer telehealth business Ro at $500 million with an $85 million Series B financing, sources confirm to TechCrunch.

The fresh round of funding comes seven months after Ro — widely known for its men’s health brand Roman, a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction — made headlines with an $88 million Series A. 

Ro didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company’s outsized Series A, led by FirstMark Capital, was used to launch and scale its second digital health brand, “Zero,” a treatment plan meant to help men and women quit smoking. Zero sells a $129 kit complete with a month’s worth of prescription cessation medication Bupropion, nicotine gum and access to an app used to track progress.

Its latest infusion of capital will likely be used in part to support its third personalized health brand, Rory, a purveyor of women’s

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YC alum Keeper raises $1.6M to help gig workers pay taxes


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Every year around this time, Uber drivers, Wag dog walkers, Bird scooter chargers, social media influencers and other gig economy workers face the unsightly challenge of paying their taxes.

Companies like Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as independent contractors, which means you aren’t given any benefits and the company doesn’t withhold any of your taxes. This puts gig workers in a tough position come tax day, especially if they aren’t prepared to shell out big sums to the IRS.

Keeper, a startup that’s just graduated from the Y Combinator startup accelerator, is here to make taxes a lot easier for that demographic and to save them as much money as possible.

Founded by childhood buddies and former debate partners Paul Koullick and David Kang, the San Francisco-based company has raised $1.65 million on a $10 million valuation in a round led by Jake Jolis of Matrix Partners.

Streetwear marketplace Bump raises $7.5M


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Bump, the Y Combinator-backed marketplace for streetwear, is announcing that it has raised $7.5 million in Series A funding.

Bump’s Jack Ryder told me that even before starting the company, he and his co-founder Sam Howarth were active in buying and selling streetwear and sneakers — but he admitted that it took several tries before the startup found the right model. (He described a previous iteration, involving a reverse marketplace where people post the items they’re interested in buying, as “the world’s worst idea.”)

Now, however, Ryder said Bump has nearly 2 million registered users. It allows them to buy and sell jackets, T-shirt, sneakers and more among themselves. They can sort through the marketplace based on brand, color and size, and can chat one-on-one or in groups.

The startup it relies on moderators and crowdsourcing to determine when a listing looks fake — apparently there

Bump screenshot

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India’s Cashfree raises $5.5M from Korea’s Smilegate, Y Combinator and others


This post is by Jon Russell from TechCrunch


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Cashfree, an India-based startup that specializes in making corporate banking services more accessible and easier to use, has closed a $5.5 million Series A round.

The deal is led by Smilegate Investment — the fund affiliated with Korean games firm Smilegate — with participation from Y Combinator, the U.S. accelerator program that Cashfree graduated from in 2017. The startup previously raised an undisclosed seed round from investors that include former UK Finance Minister George Osborne, and Vellayan Subbiah, who was previously managing director of Cholamandalam Investment, both of whom joined this new round.

Founded in 2015 by Reeju Datta and Akash Sinha, Cashfree started out as a payment gateway before it pivoted to tackle the more pertinent issue of moving money in India. Today, its service is used by more than 12,000 businesses to disperse bulk transfers for things like vendor payments, wages, reimbursements, refunds, and more.

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The team behind Baidu’s first smart speaker is now using AI to make films


This post is by Rita Liao from TechCrunch


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The HBO sci-fi blockbuster Westworld has been an inspiring look into what humanlike robots can do for us in the meatspace. While current technologies are not quite advanced enough to make Westworld a reality, startups are attempting to replicate the sort of human-robot interaction it presents in virtual space.

Rct studio, which just graduated from Y Combinator and ranked among TechCrunch’s nine favorite picks from the batch, is one of them. The “Westworld” in the TV series, a far-future theme park staffed by highly convincing androids, lets visitors live out their heroic and sadistic fantasies free of consequences.

There are a few reasons why rct studio, which is keeping mum about the meaning of its deliberately lower-cased name for later revelation, is going for the computer-generated world. Besides the technical challenge, playing a fictional universe out virtually does away the geographic constraint. The Westworld experience, in contrast, happens within

rct studio
rct studio

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Africa Roundup: Jumia files for IPO, OneFi acquires Amplify, FlexClub expands in Mexico


This post is by Jake Bright from TechCrunch


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Less than a decade ago IPOs, acquisitions, and global expansion by African startups were more possibility than reality. March saw all three from the continent’s tech scene.

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, per SEC documents and confirmation from chief executive Sacha Poignonnec.

In an updated filing, (since the March 12 original) Jumia indicated it will offer 13,500,000 ADR shares, for an offering price of $13 to $16 per share to trade under the ticker symbol “JMIA”. The IPO could raise up to $216 million for Jumia.

Since our first story (and reflected in the latest SEC docs) Mastercard Europe agreed up front to buy $50 million in Jumia ordinary shares.

With a smooth filing process, Jumia will become the first African startup to list on a major global exchange. The company is incorporated in Germany, but maintains its headquarters in

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Crypto 2.0, accessibility, and Apple’s future strategy


This post is by Danny Crichton from TechCrunch


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From Extra Crunch

  • Jon Evans has a comprehensive look at the most compelling futures for “Crypto 2.0.” With the trading frenzy out of the way (at least for the time being), engineers and product designers can now get back to the real world of improving these systems.
  • Digital accessibility expert Beth Franssen has a piece on how to improve accessibility for websites. Handling this well can improve the quality of a product for all users, while limiting legal liability.
  • We’ve published our post-Apple extravaganza conference call transcript with TechCrunch editor-in-chief Matthew Panzarino. Lots of nuggets in here about the future of Apple’s strategy.

Wide Angle

Rajesh Vijayarajan Photography via Getty Images

Stories from outside the 280/101 corridor

Proxy raises $13.6M to unlock anything with Bluetooth identity


This post is by Josh Constine from TechCrunch


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You know how kings used to have trumpeters heralding their arrival wherever they went? Proxy wants to do that with Bluetooth. The startup lets you instantly unlock office doors and reserve meeting rooms using Bluetooth Low Energy signal. You never even have to pull out your phone or open an app. But Proxy is gearing up to build an entire Bluetooth identity layer for the world that could invisibly hover around its users. That could allow devices around the workplace and beyond to instantly recognize your credentials and preferences to sign you into teleconferences, pay for public transit, or ask the barista for your usual,

Today, Proxy emerges from stealth after piloting its keyless, badgeless office entry tech with 50 companies. It’s raised a $13.6 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins to turn your phone into your skeleton key. “The door is a forcing function to solve

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Goodly replaces lame office perks with student loan repayment


This post is by Josh Constine from TechCrunch


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There are better employee perks than a ping-pong table. 70 percent of Americans graduate college with student loan debt. That’s 45 million people who owe $1.6 trillion. So when employers use Goodly to offer $100 per month in student loan payback for a $6 fee, talent sticks around. The startup found 86 percent of employees said they’d stay with a company for at least five years if their employer helped pay down their student loans. Yet employers break even if workers stay just two extra months, and get a 5X return if they stay an extra year since it costs so much to hire and train replacement staff.

Now, Y Combinator-backed Goodly has raised a $1.3 million seed round led by Norwest. The startup hopes capitalize on corporate America waking up to student loan payback as a benefit, which is expected grow from being offered by 4 percent

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Five really, really good reasons to attend TC Sessions: Robotics & AI @ UC Berkeley on April 18


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There are actually a lot more than five great reasons, but these five should be enough to make just about anyone eager to join TechCrunch’s robotics and AI show April 18 at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.

1. Fireside & Panel Discussions
TechCrunch’s editors will have a busy day with more than 20 riveting sessions — including Marc Raibert and the latest SpotMini; AI and synthetic media experts Hany Farid and Alexei Efros; autonomous-vehicle expert Anthony Levandowski; Kiyonori Inaba, chief at Japan’s robotics giant FANUC; and Affectiva’s Rana el Kaliouby and UC Berkeley’s Anca Dragan on human-robotics interaction. Check out the complete agenda here.

2. Q&A Sessions with Founders & Investors
Who doesn’t have an AI or robotics startup in mind? The Main Stage programming includes panels with prominent VCs and founders in the robotics and AI domains, and for the first time the audience will

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Meet the Texas startup that wants to decarbonize the chemical industry


This post is by Jonathan Shieber from TechCrunch


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Solugen, a startup that has set itself up with no less lofty a goal than the decarbonization of a massive chunk of the petrochemical industry, may be the first legitimate multi-million dollar company to start out in a meth lab.

When company co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt began hunting for a lab to test their process for enzymatically manufacturing hydrogen peroxide they only had a small $10,000 grant from MIT — which was supposed to pay their salaries and cover rent and lab equipment. 

Chakrabarti, who now jokingly calls himself “the Heisenberg of hydrogen peroxide” says that the lab spaces they looked at initially were all too pricey, so through a friend of a friend of a friend, he and Hunt wound up leasing lab space in a facility by the Houston airport for $150 per month.

It was there among the burners and round-bottomed flasks that

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Startups Weekly: A much-needed unicorn IPO update


This post is by Kate Clark from TechCrunch


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As I’m sure everyone reading this knows, female-founded businesses receive just over 2 percent of venture capital on an annual basis. Most of those checks are written to early-stage startups. It’s extremely difficult for female founders to garner late-stage support, let alone cash $100 million checks.

Maybe that’s finally changing. This week, not one but two female-founded and led companies, Glossier and Rent The Runway, raised nine-figure rounds and cemented their status as unicorn companies. According to PitchBook data from 2018, there are only about 15 unicorn startups with female founders. Though I’m sure that number has increased in the last year, you get the point: There are hundreds of privately held billion-dollar companies and shockingly few of those have women founders (even fewer have female CEOs)…

Moving on…

YC Demo Days

I spent a good part of the week at San Francisco’s Pier 48 in a room full

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What’s the cost of buying users from Facebook and 13 other ad networks?


This post is by David Riggs from TechCrunch


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This post reveals the cost of acquiring a customer on every ad channel my agency has tested. The ad channels include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Quora, Google Search, Google Shopping, Snapchat, LinkedIn and others. Using this data, you can reduce your costs by identifying which channels are a likely fit for your own product. Then you can focus on testing just those channels to start. I’m pulling data from my agency’s experience testing 15+ ad channels and running thousands of ads for dozens of Y Combinator startups.

This post leaves you with a prioritized to-do list of which channels might work for your product, and reference

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Lyft’s IPO is hot, YC demo day, two new unicorns, and what’s Boy Brow?


This post is by Kate Clark from TechCrunch


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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm took us through an IPO, a big round, 943 startup pitches, two new unicorns, and some scooter news. A very 2019 mix, really.

Up first we took a peek at the latest from the Lyft IPO saga. Recall that Lyft is beating Uber to the public markets, and we can report that it’s having a good time doing so. The popular ride-hailing company, second-place by market share in its domestic market, is oversubscribed at an already-healthy valuation. If the company will raise its price or the number of shares that it sells isn’t yet known, but early indications hint that Lyft timed its IPO well.

Next, we took a look at the recent OpenDoor round that has been long-rumored. Tipping the scales at $300

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To fund Y Combinator’s top startups, VCs scoop them before Demo Day


This post is by Kate Clark from TechCrunch


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Hundreds gathered this week at San Francisco’s Pier 48 to see the more than 200 companies in Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 cohort present their two-minute pitches. The audience of venture capitalists, who collectively manage hundreds of billions of dollars, noted their favorites. The very best investors, however, had already had their pick of the litter.

What many don’t realize about the Demo Day tradition is that pitching isn’t a requirement; in fact, some YC graduates skip out on their stage opportunity altogether. Why? Because they’ve already raised capital or are in the final stages of closing a deal.

ZeroDown, Overview.AI and Catch are among the startups in YC’s W19 batch that forwent Demo Day this week, having already pocketed venture capital. ZeroDown, a financing solution for real estate purchases in the Bay Area, raised a round upwards of $10 million at a $75 million valuation, sources tell TechCrunch.

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Gig workers need health & benefits — Catch is their safety net


This post is by Josh Constine from TechCrunch


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One of the hottest Y Combinator startups just raised a big seed round to clean up the mess created by Uber, Postmates and the gig economy. Catch sells health insurance, retirement savings plans and tax withholding directly to freelancers, contractors, or anyone uncovered. By building and curating simplified benefits services, Catch can offer a safety net for the future of work.

“In order to stay competitive as a society, we need to address inequality and volatility. We think Catch is the first step to offering alternatives to the mandate that benefits can only come from an employer or the government,” writes Catch co-founder and COO Kristen Tyrrell. Her co-founder and CEO Andrew Ambrosino, a former Kleiner Perkins design fellow, stumbled onto the problem as he struggled to juggle all the paperwork and programs companies typically hire an HR manager to handle. “Setting up a benefits plan was a

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Seven Africa-focused startups present at Y Combinator’s Demo Day


This post is by Jake Bright from TechCrunch


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The seven African-focused companies which presented as part of Y Combinator’s 200 strong cohort of Winter 2019 class of 200 startups may seem like a small percentage for such a large class, but it represents the growing significance of African ventures in YC’s universe.

Since 2016, the Silicon Valley accelerator—that provides seed funds and mentorship for early stage startups—has backed 25 companies located in Africa and another 10 with an Africa product focus, according to YC spokesperson Lindsay Amos.

Past YC Africa alumns covered here at TechCrunch include payments startup Paystack, logistics firm Kobo360, and VOD startup Afrostream (now shuttered).

Of the 7 Africa-oriented YC class who presented at demo day 2019, 5 originated in Nigeria and 1 in Tanzania. All 7 are fintech ventures with products targeted across currency trading, agriculture, healthcare, and education.

Here’s the skinny on the Africa focused startups that presented at Demo Day

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