India’s OkCredit raises $67M to help small merchants digitize their bookkeeping – gpgmail


OKCredit, a Bangalore-based startup that enables small merchants to turn their bookkeeping digital, has raised $67 million to expand its business in the nation.

The Series B financing round for the two-year-old startup was led by Lightspeed and Tiger Global. The new round, which follows Series A financing round in June this year, climbs OkCredit’s total raise to $87 million.

OkCredit operates an eponymous mobile app that allows merchants to keep track of their day-to-day purchases and sales. Last month, startup founders told gpgmail that the app had amassed over 5 million active merchants across 2,000 cities in India.

More to follow…


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Nigerian online-only bank startup Kuda raises $1.6M – gpgmail


Nigerian fintech startup Kuda — a digital-only retail bank — has raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding.

The Lagos and London-based company recently launched the beta version of its online mobile finance platform. Kuda also received its banking license from the Nigerian Central Bank, giving it a distinction compared to other fintech startups.

“Kuda is the first digital-only bank in Nigeria with a standalone license. We’re not a mobile wallet or simply a mobile app piggybacking on an existing bank,” Kuda bank founder Babs Ogundeyi told gpgmail.

“We have built our own full-stack banking software from scratch. We can also take deposits and connect directly to the switch,” Ogundeyi added, referring to the Nigeria’s Central Switch — a SWIFT-like system that facilitates bank communication and settlements.

A representative for the Central Bank of Nigeria (speaking on background) confirmed Kuda’s banking license and status, telling gpgmail, “As far as I’m aware there is no other digital bank [in Nigeria] that has a micro-finance license.”

 

Kuda offers checking accounts with no monthly-fees, a free debit card, and plans to offer consumer savings and P2P payments options on its platform in coming months.

“You can open a bank account within five minutes, do all the KYC in the app, and you get issued a new bank account number,” according to Ogundeyi. Kuda bank Founder CEO Babs OgundeyiOgundeyi — a repeat founder who exited classifieds site Motortradertrader.ng and worked in a finance advisory role to the Nigerian government — co-founded Kuda in 2018 with former Stanbic Bank software developer Musty Mustapha.

The two convinced investor Haresh Aswani to lead the $1.6 million pre-seed funding, along with Ragnar Meitern and other angel investors. Aswani confirmed his investment to gpgmail and that he will take a position on Kuda’s board.

Kuda plans to use its seed funds to go from beta to live launch in Nigeria by fourth-quarter 2019. The startup will also build out the tech of its banking platform, including support for its developer team located in Lagos and Cape Town, according to Ogundeyi.

Kuda also intends to expand in the near future. “It’s Nigeria for right now, but the plan is build a Pan-African digital-only bank,” he said.

As of 2014, Nigeria has held the dual distinction as Africa’s largest economy and most populous country (with 190 million people).

To scale there, and add some physical infrastructure to its online model, Kuda has correspondent relationships with three of Nigeria’s largest financial institutions: GTBank, Access Bank and Zenith Bank.

He clarified the banks are partners and not investors. Kuda customers can use these banks’ branches and ATMs to put money into bank accounts or withdraw funds without a fee.

“Even though we don’t own a single branch, we actually have the largest branch network in the country,” Ogundeyi claimed.

Kuda’s plans to generate revenues focus largely around leveraging its bank balances. “We plan to match different liability classes to the different asset classes that we create. That’s how we make money, that’s how we get efficiency in terms of income,” Ogundeyi said.

In Nigeria, Kuda enters a potentially revenue-rich market, but its one that already hosts a crowded fintech field — as the country becomes ground zero for payments startups and tech investment in Africa.

Briter Bridges Lagos Nigeria Fintech MapIn both raw and per capita numbers, Nigeria has been slower to convert to digital payments than leading African countries, such as Kenya, according to joint McKinsey Company and Gates Foundation analysis done several years ago. The same study estimated there could be nearly $1.3 billion in revenue up for grabs if Nigeria could reach the same digital-payments penetration as Kenya.

A number of startups — established and new — are going after that prize in the West African country — several with a strategy to scale in Nigeria first before expanding outward on the continent and globally.

San Francisco-based, no-fee payment venture Chipper Cash entered Nigeria this month.

Series B-stage Nigerian payments company Paga raised $10 million in 2018 to further grow its customer base (that now tallies 13 million) and expand to Asia and Latin America.

Kuda CEO Babs Ogundeyi believes the startup can scale and compete in Nigeria on a number of factors, one being financial safety. He names the company’s official bank status and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation security that brings as something that can attract cash-comfortable bank clients to digital finance.

Ogundeyi also points to offerings and price.”We look to be the next generation bank where you can do everything— savings, payments and transfers — and also the one that’s least expensive,” he said.

 


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Work Life Ventures raises $5M for debut enterprise SaaS seed fund – gpgmail


Brianne Kimmel had no trouble transitioning from angel investor to general partner.

Initially setting out to garner $3 million in capital commitments, Kimmel, in just two weeks’ time, closed on $5 million for her debut venture capital fund Work Life Ventures. The enterprise SaaS-focused vehicle boasts an impressive roster of limited partners, too, including the likes of Zoom chief executive officer Eric Yuan, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Cameo CEO Steven Galanis, Andreessen Horowitz general partners’ Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, Initialized Capital GP Garry Tan and fund-of-funds Slow Ventures, Felicis Ventures and NFX.

At the helm of the new fund, Kimmel joins a small group of solo female general partners. Dream Machine’s Alexia Bonatsos is targeting $25 million for her first fund. Day One Ventures’ Masha Drokova raised an undisclosed amount for her debut effort last year. Sarah Cone launched Social Impact Capital, a fund specializing in impact investing, in 2016, among others.

Meanwhile, venture capital fundraising is poised to reach all-time highs in 2019. In the first half of the year, a total of $20.6 billion in new capital was introduced to the startup market across more than 100 funds.

For most, the process of raising a successful venture fund can be daunting and difficult. For well-connected and established investors in the Bay Area, like Kimmel, raising a fund can be relatively seamless. Given the speed and ease of fund one in Kimmel’s case, she plans to raise her second fund with a $25 million target in as little as 12 months.

“The desire for the fund is to take a step back and imagine how do we build great consumer experiences in the workplace,” Kimmel tells gpgmail.

Kimmel has been an active angel investor for years, sourcing top enterprise deals via SaaS School, an invite-only workshop she created to educate early-stage SaaS founders on SaaS growth, monetization, sales and customer success. Prior to launching SaaS School, which will continue to run twice a year, Kimmel led go-to-market strategy at Zendesk, where she built the Zendesk for Startups program.

“You start by advising, then you start with very small angel checks,” Kimmel explains. “I reached this inflection point and it felt like a great moment to raise my own fund. I had friends like Ryan Hoover, who started Weekend Fund focused on consumer, and Alexia is one of my friends as well and I saw what she was doing with Dream Machine, which is also consumer. It felt like it was the right time to come out with a SaaS-focused fund.”

Emerging from stealth today, Work Life Ventures will invest up to $150,000 per company. To date, Kimmel has backed three companies with capital from the fund: Tandem, Dover and Command E. The first, Tandem, was amongst the most coveted deals in Y Combinator’s latest batch of companies. The startup graduated from the accelerator with millions from Andreessen Horowitz at a valuation north of $30 million.

Dover, another recent YC alum, provides recruitment software and is said to be backed by Founders Fund in addition to Work Life. Command E, currently in beta, is a tool that facilities search across multiple desktop applications. Kimmel is also an angel investor in Webflow, Girlboss, gpgmail Disrupt 2018 Startup Battlefield winner Forethought, Voyage and others.

Work Life is betting on the consumerization of the enterprise, or the idea that the next best companies for modern workers will be consumer-friendly tools. In her pitch deck to LPs, she cites the success of Superhuman and Notion, a well-designed email tool and a note-taking app, respectively, as examples of the heightened demand for digestible, easy-to-use B2B products.

“The next generation of applications for the workplace sees people spinning out of Uber, Coinbase and Airbnb,” Kimmel said. “They’ve faced these challenges inside their highly efficient tech company so we are seeing more consumer product builders deeply passionate about the enterprise space.”

But Kimmel doesn’t want to bury her thesis in jargon, she says, so you won’t find any B2B lingo on Work Life’s website or Instagram.

She’s focusing her efforts on a more important issue often vacant from conversations surrounding investment in the future of work: diversity & inclusion.

Kimmel meets with every new female hire of her portfolio companies. Though it’s “increasingly non-scalable,” she admits, it’s part of a greater effort to ensure her companies are thoughtful about D&I from the beginning: “Because I have a very focused fund, it’s about maintaining this community and ensuring that people feel like their voices are heard,” she said.

“I want to be mindful that I am a female GP and I feel honored to have that title.”




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Paytm’s annual loss doubles to $549M – gpgmail


Running a payments business in India is not cheap. Just ask Paytm . One of India’s largest payment companies reported a net loss of Rs 3959 crore ($549 million) for the financial year that ended in March, up 165% over 1490 crore ($206 million) in the same period last year.

During the same period, the company’s revenue rose to Rs 3232 crore ($448 million), compared to Rs 3052 crore ($423 million) in the year before. The firm’s debt also surged to Rs 695 crore ($96 million), One97 Communications, the parent firm of Paytm, told investors in its annual report.

One97 Communications also runs an e-commerce business, which recently raised money from eBay, and Paytm Money, that runs mutual funds business. On a consolidated basis, the 9-year-old firm reported an annual loss of Rs 4217.20 crore ($584 million), up from Rs 1604.34 crore ($222 million) from the year before.

Indian news outlet BloombergQuint first reported (paywalled) the financial performance of Paytm.

The loss should worry Paytm, whose CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said in a conference last week that the firm would begin to work on going public in the next 22 to 24 months. The level of competition that Paytm faces today is only about to increase in the coming future, and unlike earlier, the Indian firm is not facing off financially weaker local rivals.

Paytm, which has raised over $2 billion to date from a range of investors including SoftBank, Alibaba, and Berkshire Hathaway, continues to be the largest mobile wallet app provider in India, but increasingly users are moving to government-backed UPI payments infrastructure. In UPI land, Paytm competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe and Google Pay, both of which are heavily-backed.

As of July, both PhonePe and Google Pay commanded a bigger market share across UPI apps than Paytm.

Also in UPI land, you don’t make money on each transaction. So lately, every payments firm in India, including Paytm, has expanded it offering to include financial services such as a credit card, or loan, or insurance.

In many ways, this has created a level playing field for payment firms that did not dominate the wallet business.

In a statement, Paytm said it has been investing $1 billion per year for the last two years to “expand payments ecosystem in our country.” The company plans to invest a further $3 billion in the next two years.

“We believe India is at the inflection point of digital payments and Paytm’s sole focus is towards solving the merchant payments and offering them financial services. We will invest Rs 20,000 crore ($2.7 billion) in the next two years towards achieving this,” a company spokesperson said.

The biggest challenge for Paytm and other UPI payment apps has yet to emerge. Before the end of this year, WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, plans to offer UPI payment option to all its years in the coming month.


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Troubles keep mounting for the We Company as Softbank reportedly calls for shelving the IPO – gpgmail


The troubles for We Company and its main business WeWork are mounting as the Financial Times is reporting that the company’s main backer, Softbank, is pushing for the company to put its troubled public offering on hold.

Citing sources familiar with the company and its main investor, the Financial Times said that the cool reception We Company has received from public market investors.

The company needs to raise at least $3 billion in the public offering to trigger a $6 billion in debt financing from the very bankers architecting its IPO. If it fails to cross that $3 billion threshold and not have access to that debt, it would be a significant roadblock to the We Company’s global expansion plans. And those plans are vital to the company’s success, since it’s the growth story that the company is selling to public market investors.

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company was thinking about reducing the amount it would seek in a public offering below the $20 billion figure that had been previously reported.

The We Company had last raised money at a valuation of over $47 billion and the constant reductions in the company’s value may create a self-fulfilling prophecy that pushes the share price down even further should the company go ahead with a public offering.

The company has even taken steps to roll back some of the more egregious financial arrangements that made investors look at the company askance. It added a woman to its board of directors after much public outcry over the board composition and unwound a nearly $6 million agreement the company had made with its chief executive Adam Neumann over the licensing rights to the brand “We”.

Still, Neumann’s control over the company and the mounting losses of the core business sub-leasing long term commercial rental space to short term tenants have made public investors balky on the We Company’s longterm prospects.


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AppZen nabs $50M to build AI tools for expenses and other finance team work – gpgmail


AI now touches every aspect of how a company operates — from forming the core of the service itself, through to customer interactions, building new things, and helping with mundane paperwork and other back-office tasks. Today, one of the faster-growing startups in the latter category is announcing a round of funding as it continues on its own path: AppZen, which builds AI-powered tools to automate functions within the finance department, has raised another $50 million in funding led by Coatue Management with previous investors Redpoint Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participating.

We understand from sources that this funding has been raised at a $500 million valuation, which is a huge hike. For some context, the company in October of last year raised a $35 million round led by Lightspeed that put it at a post-money valuation of $175 million.

The Series C — which brings the total raised by the company to just over $100 million — will be used to continue expanding the platform and its capabilities, CEO Anant Kale said in an interview (Kale co-founded the company with Kunal Verma, who is its CTO).

To date, AppZen’s biggest product has been a service that automatically audits expenses — comparing, for example, an employee’s charges with travel that person has undertaken (along with many other data points) to see if the charges match up; as well as making sure the expenses are compliant with company policies and raising flags when they are not.

This is the product that has won the company a ton of business from huge businesses, which now number 1,500 (another point of comparison: this is more than double the 650 customers it had last October). AppZen users include Amazon, Nvidia, Salesforce, and three of the top ten banks in the US, four of the top ten media companies, three of the top ten pharmaceutical manufacturers, two of the top five aerospace companies, a number of other software providers and (disclaimer) Verizon, which happens to own us.

Going forward, while the company continues to see a lot of traction with its existing products in auditing how a company pays out money, the plan will be to build that out to other functions of the finance department, covering, for example, other areas where the finance department makes evaluations to determine spend and money collection (billing) across the business.

“There have been so many decades where nothing new was developed for finance departments,” Kale said of the opportunity.

That’s an opportunity that is so big — enterprise IT overall is forecast to be a $1 trillion market by Gartner this year — that AppZen will be facing a large range of competitors, not just those applying automation and AI to auditing expenses but those coming from other angles like robotic process automation (RPA) that are looking to expand from their computer-vision-based tasks into a deeper set of tools addressing other back-office needs. And that’s before you consider the number of other giant businesses (such as SAP) that provide expense management software, the very tools that AppZen helping to be used in a better way by their clients.

For now, though, AppZen is growing fast, and has secured a formidable place as a reliable partner for its customers.

“AppZen allows enterprises to do something they’ve never been able to do – audit 100 percent of their spend at scale and with the team they have, all before payments go out the door. AI lets these enterprises dramatically reduce spend, comply with policy and streamline process,” said Thomas Laffont, Senior Managing Director for Coatue Management, in a statement. “When we met Anant, Kunal and the team, we were struck by their AI expertise and finance transformation vision, not to mention the company’s clear and rapid execution in the market. ”

At the end of the day, however, even with all the strides that artificial intelligence has help us make, there is always a catch. In this case, automating more repetitive tasks and calculations that had been the domain of humans doubtless must reduce operational costs in an organization, and generally speed up the process, but AI is not always perfect, and sometimes replacing people with those systems makes it very hard to query results if there is a hiccup.

“Our goal is to make sure employees don’t get too frustrated,” Kale said of the learning process, words that apply not just to the companies building these services, but those organizations buying them, too.

 


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After Epstein, it’s time for the Valley to find a moral view on capital – gpgmail


Is capital moral or amoral?

In the predominant view held in Silicon Valley today, capital is amoral — cash is cash, and regardless of where it comes from, once it leaves the hand of its investor or donor, it no longer has that individual’s taint. That money might have previously been spent on acquiring access to underage girls, or murder, or espionage, but now it is being spent on something productive, something useful. Isn’t that ultimately a net win for society?

That culture of fundraising is under an exacting microscope this week after the MIT Technology Review reported that Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the famed MIT Media Lab, would have continued to take convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to the research center.

[… He] said he had recommended that [Joichi Ito, the lab’s current director] take Epstein’s money. “If you wind back the clock,” he added, “I would still say, ‘Take it.’” And he repeated, more emphatically, “‘Take it.’”

The comments, made during a meeting of the lab’s staff, shocked many of the participants, with some angrily replying in the heat of the moment. As the Review noted, “Kate Darling, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, shouted, ‘Nicholas, shut up!’ Negroponte responded that he would not shut up and that he had founded the Lab, to which Darling said, ‘We’ve been cleaning up your messes for the past eight years.’”

Epstein funded projects widely in the tech world through the Edge Foundation and other initiatives, and his acquaintances read like a who’s-who of tech luminaries.

Yet, this week’s controversy over fundraising is hardly novel. Just last year, SoftBank’s Vision Fund was dealing with the fallout in its own fundraising after Saudi Arabia — the fund’s largest limited partner with a $45 billion commitment to the $93 billion fund — murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul.

These two singular cases also connect to the larger story about the U.S. government’s active shutdown of Chinese venture capital dollars flowing into the Valley for fear of foreign intelligence espionage. Through the modernization of legal tools like CFIUS, to the Pentagon’s creation of a Trusted Capital Marketplace, to reversals of acquisitions like the unwinding of Chinese company Kunlun’s purchase of gay dating app Grindr, the government has repeatedly been telling entrepreneurs: it matters where your capital comes from.

Indeed, that’s the very quandary that Silicon Valley is facing these days. Its amoral view of capital is increasingly clashing with the reality that it matters a whole heck of a lot where that capital comes from. And it is about time that founders and investors take responsibility for cleaning up a capital base that has become more and more squalid over time.

Why can’t capital just be immoral? Well, Epstein’s web of donations provided him with a philanthropic sheen that eased access to the highest echelons of society while he committed his crimes. Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in Silicon Valley not only because it drives a return and diversifies its oil-dependent economy, but also because it can Valley-wash the horrific rights abuses and atrocities it commits against all of its citizens, including women, LGBT people, and immigrants.

(But hey, women can drive now, just in time for autonomous vehicles.)

This amoral versus moral view of capital is just the classic debate in philosophy between utilitarianism versus deontological duties, but Silicon Valley has almost exclusively chosen the former rather than the latter. My bank asks me more questions about my $50 deposits than many founders ask about where that $500 million check comes from.

That’s perhaps understandable in context. Founders — as with non-profit leaders — fundraise around-the-clock. When a check finally arrives, they don’t bother to ask a bunch of due diligence questions. They just want that money to hit the bank and get back to building what they were intending to the entire time.

It’s a mode of operating that continues to the present day. I was chatting with a founder this week, and during demo day last week, he got an emailed check for $50,000 from an investor in the audience. It was amazing, he said with exclamation points to me, and it sounded like he just added the check to the pile he had accumulated. Who is this person? Do we know where his capital comes from? Is there going to be some scandal that shocks the startup in a couple of years? Yet the excitement was palpable — the round was closed, and it was the easiest $50,000 ever fundraised.

Those diligence questions probably didn’t need to be asked a decade or two in the Valley, back when a few dozen firms mostly raised from blue-chip university and non-profit endowments as well as state pension funds.

Today though, there are all kinds of sources of capital, with little clarity about where the capital is coming from. Take, for instance, Carlos Ghosn, who once headed Nissan Motors and is currently on trial in Japan for a variety of financial crimes. He has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars for a VC fund run by his son by running a kickback scheme through a Nissan distributor in Lebanon. As the Wall Street Journal reported a little more than a week ago:

In March 2015, the Ghosns set up in Delaware an investment vehicle called Shogun Investments, which Mr. Ghosn described as a fund that would invest in Silicon Valley startups. Mr. Ghosn was majority owner while his son, Anthony, held a stake, according to people familiar with the matter. The younger Mr. Ghosn, who was about to graduate from Stanford University, was working at the time as chief of staff for Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale, providing the elder Mr. Ghosn a close-up view of the tech investment world. The lofty returns had stunned him, according to one of the people.

That fund would go on to fund some of the most well-known unicorns in the world:

“Following our phone conversation, I ordered a transfer of $3 million,” Carlos Ghosn wrote in a December 2017 email to his son, who was 22 years old at the time.

Of that amount, $2 million was for an investment in Grab, a Southeast Asian competitor to Uber Technologies Inc., Mr. Ghosn wrote, adding that he was sending “$1 million for the company of your friend that you think will do very well.” It wasn’t clear which company Mr. Ghosn was referring to.

I would love a world in which founders asked all the right due diligence questions. I would love for them to inquire about limited partners, about how wealth was created, and how it has been invested. But I am also aware that in what can be a desperate search for funds, those questions may well never get asked in the first place.

If you want to stop the capital laundering taking place every day in the Valley, you have to create active, real-time antidotes. That means stopping it at every point of contact, every single opportunity where it can infect the ecosystem.

And so, we need better systems as a community and as an ecosystem to cleanse ourselves of this dirty money. We need “know-your-capital” processes that are standardized, robust, and accurate so that every check can be verified before it hits the bank. We need tools to verify that a startup or non-profit has actually followed those KYC processes, so that employees don’t suddenly show up at work and realize they are making money for a bunch of murderers. It’s “trust but verify.”

Systematization and process are key to execution, but that doesn’t disclaim the responsibility for the Valley’s leaders to take a moral stance here. Utilitarianism only takes you so far — it does matter that you take capital from a bad actor. Negroponte is wrong to say that he would still take Epstein’s money, regardless of what that capital might have funded at the MIT Media Lab.

Taking responsibility for your capital is part of being a leader of an organization today. Hopefully, the next generation of founders will take a look at Epstein, and Khashoggi, and China, and Ghosn, and the Sacklers, and a whole host of other case studies and learn from them and change their fundraising practices. A moral view on capital isn’t a cost of doing business — it’s simply the right thing to do.


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PrimaryBid closes $8.6M round for its platform aimed to help retail investors – gpgmail


PrimaryBid, a UK-regulated platform connecting publicly listed companies with everyday investors for discounted share issuances has previously raised $3M. It’s now upped those stakes with an $8.6M funding round, led by UK VCs Pentech and Outward VC with participation from new and existing investors. Craig Anderson, a partner at Pentech, will join the PrimaryBidBoard of Directors with Outward VC having a Board Observer seat.

This investment is representative of the trend towards unpacking complex financial investment products for the average person, especially in the UK.

The FCA-regulated platform recently made a long-term commercial agreement with Euronext, the leading pan-European exchange in the Eurozone. The partnership gives the company access to nine new geographies, with the first new site launching in France later this year.

Commenting, Anand Sambasivan, co-founder and CEO of PrimaryBid, said: “Everyday investors are a vital part of the stock market and yet unable to buy discounted share deals – a longstanding imbalance in the public markets. This is true whether it is a government selling down its holding in a large company or a quoted company is raising growth capital. Our platform addresses this challenge, giving small investors the same access as traditionally afforded to large institutional investors.”

Investors can tap into PrimaryBid’s centralizing infrastructure that allows access to everyday investors as part of a share issuance, including block sales. The inclusion of retail investors can improve pricing and liquidity outcomes for their clients. The company’s solution allows private investors to participate, at the same time and the same price, delivering open access regardless of the size of their investment. The service is free of charge for investors, from £100 upwards.

PrimaryBid doesn’t have competitors because Retail investors have not previously had access to discounted equity offerings run by investment banks. This is because the retail investment market is too fragmented, and these deals are highly time-sensitive. As a result, only clients of Investment Banks (i.e. institutional investors) could previously access these attractive deals.

So now, listed companies that want to raise more capital on the stock exchange by issuing new shares can now connect with retail investors and offer these retail investors these shares at the same discounted rates as those offered to institutional investors. “In the past, these retail investors just couldn’t access these attractive deals for these new shares,” explains Sambasivan.

Craig Anderson of Pentech said: “We believe equity capital markets infrastructure is dominated by an institutional focus and is not geared for retail investors, which unfairly restricts consumer access to the primary equity markets. PrimaryBid addresses this problem by using technology to democratize the equity capital markets to provide a new asset class to retail investors.”

Kevin Chong of Outward VC said: “By bringing publicly listed companies directly to ordinary investors, PrimaryBid addresses increasing frustrations felt by equity issuers and potentially expands global equity markets to the benefit of all players – investors, issuers and investment bank advisers.”

Pentech previously invested in Nutmeg (which recently closed a £45m funding round led by Goldman Sachs) . Outward VC has previously backed Monese, Curve and Bud.


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APIs are the next big SaaS wave – gpgmail


While the software revolution started out slowly, over the past few years it’s exploded and the fastest-growing segment to-date has been the shift towards software as a service or SaaS.

SaaS has dramatically lowered the intrinsic total cost of ownership for adopting software, solved scaling challenges and taken away the burden of issues with local hardware. In short, it has allowed a business to focus primarily on just that — its business — while simultaneously reducing the burden of IT operations.

Today, SaaS adoption is increasingly ubiquitous. According to IDG’s 2018 Cloud Computing Survey, 73% of organizations have at least one application or a portion of their computing infrastructure already in the cloud. While this software explosion has created a whole range of downstream impacts, it has also caused software developers to become more and more valuable.

The increasing value of developers has meant that, like traditional SaaS buyers before them, they also better intuit the value of their time and increasingly prefer businesses that can help alleviate the hassles of procurement, integration, management, and operations. Developer needs to address those hassles are specialized.

They are looking to deeply integrate products into their own applications and to do so, they need access to an Application Programming Interface, or API. Best practices for API onboarding include technical documentation, examples, and sandbox environments to test.

APIs tend to also offer metered billing upfront. For these and other reasons, APIs are a distinct subset of SaaS.

For fast-moving developers building on a global-scale, APIs are no longer a stop-gap to the future—they’re a critical part of their strategy. Why would you dedicate precious resources to recreating something in-house that’s done better elsewhere when you can instead focus your efforts on creating a differentiated product?

Thanks to this mindset shift, APIs are on track to create another SaaS-sized impact across all industries and at a much faster pace. By exposing often complex services as simplified code, API-first products are far more extensible, easier for customers to integrate into, and have the ability to foster a greater community around potential use cases.

Graphics courtesy of Accel

Billion-dollar businesses building APIs

Whether you realize it or not, chances are that your favorite consumer and enterprise apps—Uber, Airbnb, PayPal, and countless more—have a number of third-party APIs and developer services running in the background. Just like most modern enterprises have invested in SaaS technologies for all the above reasons, many of today’s multi-billion dollar companies have built their businesses on the backs of these scalable developer services that let them abstract everything from SMS and email to payments, location-based data, search and more.

Simultaneously, the entrepreneurs behind these API-first companies like Twilio, Segment, Scale and many others are building sustainable, independent—and big—businesses.

Valued today at over $22 billion, Stripe is the biggest independent API-first company. Stripe took off because of its initial laser-focus on the developer experience setting up and taking payments. It was even initially known as /dev/payments!

Stripe spent extra time building the right, idiomatic SDKs for each language platform and beautiful documentation. But it wasn’t just those things, they rebuilt an entire business process around being API-first.

Companies using Stripe didn’t need to fill out a PDF and set up a separate merchant account before getting started. Once sign-up was complete, users could immediately test the API with a sandbox and integrate it directly into their application. Even pricing was different.

Stripe chose to simplify pricing dramatically by starting with a single, simple price for all cards and not breaking out cards by type even though the costs for AmEx cards versus Visa can differ. Stripe also did away with a monthly minimum fee that competitors had.

Many competitors used the monthly minimum to offset the high cost of support for new customers who weren’t necessarily processing payments yet. Stripe flipped that on its head. Developers integrate Stripe earlier than they integrated payments before, and while it costs Stripe a lot in setup and support costs, it pays off in brand and loyalty.

Checkr is another excellent example of an API-first company vastly simplifying a massive yet slow-moving industry. Very little had changed over the last few decades in how businesses ran background checks on their employees and contractors, involving manual paperwork and the help of 3rd party services that spent days verifying an individual.

Checkr’s API gives companies immediate access to a variety of disparate verification sources and allows these companies to plug Checkr into their existing on-boarding and HR workflows. It’s used today by more than 10,000 businesses including Uber, Instacart, Zenefits and more.

Like Checkr and Stripe, Plaid provides a similar value prop to applications in need of banking data and connections, abstracting away banking relationships and complexities brought upon by a lack of tech in a category dominated by hundred-year-old banks. Plaid has shown an incredible ramp these past three years, from closing a $12 million Series A in 2015 to reaching a valuation over $2.5 billion this year.

Today the company is fueling an entire generation of financial applications, all on the back of their well-built API.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 10.41.02 AM

Graphics courtesy of Accel

Then and now

Accel’s first API investment was in Braintree, a mobile and web payment systems for e-commerce companies, in 2011. Braintree eventually sold to, and became an integral part of, PayPal as it spun out from eBay and grew to be worth more than $100 billion. Unsurprisingly, it was shortly thereafter that our team decided to it was time to go big on the category. By the end of 2014 we had led the Series As in Segment and Checkr and followed those investments with our first APX conference in 2015.

Plaid, Segment, Auth0, and Checkr had only raised Seed or Series A financings! And we are even more excited and bullish on the space. To convey just how much API-first businesses have grown in such a short period of time, we thought it would be useful perspective to share some metrics over the past five years, which we’ve broken out in the two visuals included above in this article.

While SaaS may have pioneered the idea that the best way to do business isn’t to actually build everything in-house, today we’re seeing APIs amplify this theme. At Accel, we firmly believe that APIs are the next big SaaS wave — having as much if not more impact as its predecessor thanks to developers at today’s fastest-growing startups and their preference for API-first products. We’ve actively continued to invest in the space (in companies like, Scale, mentioned above).

And much like how a robust ecosystem developed around SaaS, we believe that one will continue to develop around APIs. Given the amount of progress that has happened in just a few short years, Accel is hosting our second APX conference to once again bring together this remarkable community and continue to facilitate discussion and innovation.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 10.41.10 AM

Graphics courtesy of Accel


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How early-stage startups can use data effectively – gpgmail


“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” – Jim Barksdale

It is a commonly held belief that startups can measure their way to success. And while there are always exceptions, early-stage companies often can’t leverage data easily, at least not in the way that later stage companies can. It’s imperative that startups recognize this early on — it makes all the difference.

In this piece, I draw on my experiences using data to take Framer from seed round to Series B. More concretely, I’ll describe what to (not) focus on, and then, how to get real results.

There are good and bad ways for startups to use data. In my opinion, the bad way unfortunately is often preached on saas blogs, a/b test tool marketing pages, and especially growth hacker conferences: that by simply measuring and looking at data you’ll find simple things to do that will drive explosive growth. Silver bullets, if you will.

The good way is comparable to first principles thinking. Below the surface of your day to day results, your startup can be described by a set of numbers. It takes some work to discover these numbers, but once you have them you can use them to make predictions and spot underlying trends. If everyone in your company knows these numbers by heart, they will inevitably make better decisions.

But most importantly, using data the right way will help answer the single most important – but complex – question at any moment for a startup: how are we really doing?

Let’s start with looking at what not to do as a startup.

Table of Contents


Common pitfalls

Don’t measure too much

Technically, it’s easy to measure everything, so most startups start out that way. But when you measure everything, you learn nothing. Just the sheer noise makes it hard to discover anything useful and it can be demotivating to look at piles of numbers in general.

My advice is to carefully plan what you want to measure upfront, then implement and conclude. You should only expand your set of measurements once you’ve made the most important ones actionable. Later in this article, I provide a clear set of ways to plan what you measure.

A/B tests are anti-startup

To make decisions based on data you need volume. Without volume, the data itself is not statistically significant and is basically just noise. To detect a 3% difference with 95% confidence you would need a sample size of 12,000 visitors, signups, or sales. That sample size is generally too high for most early-stage startups and forces your product development into long cycles.

While on the subject of shipping fast and iterating later, let’s talk about A/B testing. To get reliable measurements, you should only be changing one variable at a time. During the early stages of Framer, we changed our homepage in the middle of a checkout A/B test, which skewed our results. But as a startup, it was the right decision to adjust the way we marketed our product. What you’ll find is that those two factors are often incompatible. In general, constant improvements should trump tests that block quick reactionary changes.

Understand your calculations


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