Spotify acquires SoundBetter, a music production marketplace, for an undisclosed sum – gpgmail


Spotify today took another step in its efforts to build out services for artists to help diversify itself away from a business model predicated on paying music streaming royalties to labels: it has acquired SoundBetter, a music production marketplace for artists, producers, and musicians to connect on specific projects; and for people who are looking to distribute music tracks to those who want to license them.

SoundBetter has about 180,000 registered users and has paid out more than $19 million to musicians and producers to date, averaging around $1 million per month currently, itself taking a cut by way of a commission (of an undisclosed percentage) on each deal secured through the platform.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, meaning it’s unlikely to be a significant sum for the $24 billion streaming giant, which now has 232 million users, including 108 million Spotify Premium subscribers. New York-based SoundBetter had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors including 500 Startups, Foundry Group, Eric Ries and Verizon Ventures when it was still called Nautilus under AOL (disclosure: gpgmail is part of Verizon Media). Its last funding — convertible debt from Drummond Road and others — was back in 2015.

SoundBetter is not being shut down with the acquisition: a spokesperson confirmed to gpgmail that it will be business as usual as Spotify and the startup work on integrating SoundBetter’s services with Spotify for Artists, which currently offers musicians and others analytics on Spotify tracks and other services to help market themselves.

SoundBetter was founded back in 2012 by Shachar Gilad (CEO) and Itamar Yunger (CTO) and operates two main services. Its main business is an online marketplace for musicians to source singers, sound engineers, producers and other music and audio professionals to put the finishing touches on tracks (think Fiverr or Behance, but specifically for music). In June this year, it launched a newer marketplace called Tracks for people to license finished music, competing with the likes of Epidemic Sound (which earlier this year raised money at a $370 million valuation).

Interestingly, Spotify had tried to launch a direct music distribution platform in the past — including with an investment in DistroKid, a music distribution service that supports cross-platform uploads — but the effort never left the beta phase and was then shut down this past July. That decision possibly make more sense now, since the move might have been made to pave the way for SoundBetter.

Indeed, for Spotify, the deal is a signal that the company is going to continue investing in more behind-the-scenes services for artists and others in the music ecosystem, particularly in building up services that bypass (or at least exist alongside) those of traditional labels, and take some pressure off that side of the business. Last quarter, Spotify faced some criticism (and a drop in its share price) for missing its own targets for subscription growth

“As we build out our tools for creators, we want to give them the resources they need to thrive. SoundBetter has the same vision,” said Beckwith Kloss, VP Product, Creator at Spotify, in a statement.  “We’re excited that creators can generate income through SoundBetter, as well as benefit from its network of top professionals – from instrumentalists to songwriters to producers – as they perfect their tracks.”

Spotify has over the years amassed a growing list of assets that take the platform beyond basic music streaming, with a lot of attention of late focused on spoken word content, providing cloud-based studio services by way of SoundTrap (acquired by Spotify in 2017), and podcast platform Anchor (acquired last year).

But with music continuing to be the beating drum of the platform, Spotify will continue to build up that area of its business, too, not least because competitors like Apple are also continuing to build up its own services for artists that bypass traditional labels. 

SoundBetter already has a decent, if relatively small, business, with its fair share of big names. It claims that “Kanye West’s Producer, Hoobastank’s Drummer, Jamiroquai’s Guitarist, Beyonce’s Songwriter, Joe Cocker’s Bass player, Herbie Hancock’s Engineer, Morrissey’s Guitarist, The Killers’ Mixing Engineer, and George Michael’s Mastering Engineer” are among those using its services. This will give it a big boost in exposure: Spotify for Artists currently has 400,000 registered users, but the platform itself has become a cornerstone of digital music distribution.

SoundBetter offers the most comprehensive global marketplace for music and audio production professionals for hire in the world along with a member community spanning 176 countries and 14,000 cities worldwide,” said SoundBetter Co-Founder and CEO Shachar Gilad. “We are excited to benefit from Spotify’s global scale, resources, and vision to expand our network and drive more economic opportunities for artists of all levels.”


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Zyl raises $1.1 million to resurface old memories from your photos – gpgmail


French startup Zyl has raised $1 million (€1 million) in a round led by OneRagtime. The company has developed an app that uses artificial intelligence to find the most interesting photos and videos in your photo library.

Now that smartphones have been around for a while, many people have thousands of unsorted photos on their iPhone or Android device. And chances are you don’t often scroll back to look at past vacations and important life events.

Zyl is well aware of that. That’s why the company does the heavy lifting for you. The app scans your photo library to find important memories and photos you may have forgotten. It has even registered patents for some of its algorithms.

But identifying photos and videos is just one thing. In order to turn that process into a fun, nostalgia-powered experience, the app sends you a notification every day to tell you that Zyl has identified a new memory — they call it a Zyl. When you tap on it, the app reveals that memory and you can share it with your friends and family.

You then have to wait another 24 hours to unlock another Zyl. That slow-paced approach is key as you spend more time looking at Zyls and sharing them with loved ones.

It’s also worth noting that Zyl processes your photo library on your iPhone or Android device directly. Photos aren’t sent to the company’s server.

Up next, Zyl plans to enrich your collection of Zyls with more photos and videos from your friends and family. You could imagine a way to seamlessly share photos of the same life event with your loved ones, even if they are currently spread out over multiple smartphones.

With today’s funding round, the company wants to improve the app and reach millions of users. Zyl already has impressive retention rates with 38% of users opening the app regularly during 5 weeks or more.


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Akeneo raises $45 million for its product information management service – gpgmail


French startup Akeneo has raised a $45 million Series C round led by Summit Partners, with existing investors Alven, Partech, Salesforce Ventures and Stephan Dietrich also participating. The company develops a popular product information management (PIM) service to manage all information about products in your stores, online and in paper catalogs.

Akeneo started as a sort of CRM for product information. Instead of managing your catalog using Excel spreadsheets or an outdated ERP, Akeneo provides a service that works across all your communication channels. You can also collaborate in Akeneo directly.

Akeneo started as an open source PIM application. Today, thousands companies actively use that open source version. But Akeneo also offers an enterprise edition with a more traditional software-as-a-service approach. The startup has managed to attract 300 clients, such as Sephora, Fossil and Auchan.

“With the open source edition, we have 60,000 companies actively using Akeneo. It means that we are the most used PIM solution in the world,” co-founder and CEO Frédéric de Gombert told me.

Over the years, Akeneo has expanded beyond product information management. The company acquired Sigmento, a startup that collects public data about millions of products in order to automatically generate descriptions, specifications, keywords and more.

Akeneo has integrated Sigmento into its core product and now has a database of 50 million different products. Akeneo uses machine learning to clean up that data set. For Akeneo customers, it lets you automate several tasks and fix mistakes in specifications for instance.

“Investing in this technology is one of the goals of this funding round,” Frédéric de Gombert said.

With today’s funding round, the company also wants to hire more people and focus even more on the U.S. — it currently has 180 employees and they will be 300 by the end of 2020. 75% of its revenue is coming from abroad, and the company generates 20% of its revenue in the U.S.


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Tech startups want to destigmatize sex – gpgmail


Sex, despite being one of the most fundamental human experiences, is still one of those businesses that some advertisers reject, banks are hesitant to financially support and some investors don’t want to fund.

Given how sex is such a huge part of our lives, it’s no surprise founders are looking to capitalize on the space. But the idea of pleasure versus function, plus the stigma still associated with all-things sex, is at the root of the barriers some startup founders face.

Just last month, Samsung was forced to apologize to sextech startup Lioness after it wrongfully asked the company to take down its booth at an event it was co-hosting. Lioness is a smart vibrator that aims to improve orgasms through biofeedback data.

Sextech companies that relate to the ability to reproduce or, the ability to not reproduce, don’t always face the same problems when it comes to everything from social acceptance to advertising to raising venture funding. It seems to come down to the distinction between pleasure and function, stigma and the patriarchy. 

This is where the trajectories for sextech startups can diverge. Some startups have raised hundreds of millions from traditional investors in Silicon Valley while others have struggled to raise any funding at all. As one startup founder tells me, “Sand Hill Road was a big no.”

A market worth billions or trillions?




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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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JobTeaser scores £45M for its graduate recruitment platform – gpgmail


JobTeaser, the graduate recruitment and career guidance platform, has raised £45 million in new funding to help it expand its careers service to more students across the U.K. and Europe.

The investment is led by Highland Europe, with continued backing from existing investors Alven, Idinvest Partners, Seventure Partners and Korelya Capital. It brings the total amount raised to £61 million since the company was founded all the way back in 2008.

JobTeaser says the funding will be used to expand JobTeaser’s partner network of schools and universities across the U.K. and Ireland.

That company’s aim is to become the official careers website for its education partners. The promise is that it can connect more students and graduates to the careers they seek and in turn help corporates and organisations plug gaps in the talent and skills they need.

“We believe the transition between University and the professional world is very difficult for young talent,” Adrien Ledoux, co-founder of JobTeaser, tells me. “A lot of young talent feel lost when it comes to choosing their career; in the survey that we conducted with WISE this year, we discovered that 9 out of 10 young people in Europe want better support to define their career choices.”

Ledoux says JobTeaser’s goal is to transform the way students and recent graduates find work by helping them choose a career path that fits with their aspirations and ambitions. “We are convinced that if each young talent puts their energy into the right job, all of society benefits from it,” he says

To achieve this mission, JobTeaser has built a platform that combines bespoke career guidance with internships, job opportunities and ongoing career and interview support.

In order to reach the largest number of students and recent graduates, JobTeaser provides its “Career Centre by JobTeaser” platform free of charge to universities. It then charges businesses a fee to advertise jobs to that captive audience.

“Businesses can access talent at the right place (the university) and at the right time (when they are looking for their first job),” explains Ledoux. “Our platform allows businesses to pay once to multi-post their job ads and employer-branded content in a single click, which then goes out to all of JobTeaser’s partner higher education institutions.”

It’s this business model that allows JobTeaser to reach businesses, universities and prospective young jobseekers across 19 European countries, says the JobTeaser co-founder.

Since its launch, JobTeaser says it has served 2.5 million students and recent graduates. The company works with more than 70,000 businesses, including Amazon, PWC, Deutsche Bank, Blackrock, L’Oréal and LVMH.


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Pento raises $2.8M seed round for its payroll SaaS – gpgmail


Pento, a Danish startup working on a better payroll experience for companies and employees, has raised $2.8 million in seed funding.

Leading the round is Point Nine Capital and Seedcamp, with participation from a number of smaller funds and angel investors, including departing Atomico Partner Mattias Ljungman. The company had previously raised $700,000 from the likes of Preseed Ventures, and Futuristic.vc.

Founded by Jonas Bøgh Larsen (CEO) and Emil Hagbarth (CTO) in 2016, Pento offers a SaaS for companies wanting to automate their payroll and offer complementary features to employees, such as user-friendly access to pay history and personal pay-related data. The startup is live in Denmark with over 400 customers and says a U.K. launch is happening soon.

“Payroll is a very manual process for most companies, which causes errors and is super time-consuming,” Larsen tells me. “The process usually includes a lot of manual tasks like updating spreadsheets, sending emails with personal information, making manual bank transfers, manually keying in data from HR software, and much more. We have built a SaaS product that automates all of this”.

The current feature set of Pento include things like tax reporting, pension reporting, payslip generation, payouts to employees and tax authorities, and bookkeeping. “[This] means payroll admins can run the whole payroll process in one single product, usually in a matter of minutes rather than hours,” claims Larsen.

Typical Pento customers are companies with 1-150 employees, although the startup is also seeing quite a lot of demand from bigger companies too. It operates a classic SaaS model, charging a monthly subscription per seat.

“We currently charge £3 per employee per month for our basic plan, and charge £7 per employee per month for more support and more features,” explains the Pento CEO.

Meanwhile, competitors are said to fall into three camps: Traditional payroll outsourcing; older payroll software products like Sage, Brightpay and MoneySoft; and newer competitors like Payfit and Xero Payroll. (There’s also Duane Jackson’s latest upstart, Staffology Payroll, which looks to be similar to Pento on the pure SaaS side.)

“Contrary to other newer payroll products like Payfit and Xero, Pento has a 100% focus on payroll, not HR or accounting, and we will much rather integrate to other products in the ecosystem than try to build it all ourselves,” adds Larsen.


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SimShine raises $8 million for home security cameras that use edge computing – gpgmail


SimShine, a computer vision startup based in Shenzhen, has raised $8 million in pre-Series A funding for SimCam, its line of home security cameras that use edge computing to keep data on-device. The funding was led by Cheetah Mobile, with participation from Skychee, Skyview Fund and Oak Pacific Investment.

Earlier this year, SimShine raised $310,095 in a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. It will use its pre-Series A round for product development and hiring.

SimShine’s team started off developing computer vision and edge computing software, spending five years working with enterprise clients before launching SimCam.

The company plans to release more smart home products that use edge computing with the ultimate goal of building a IoT platform to connect different devices, co-founder and chief marketing officer Joe Pham tells gpgmail. SimCam currently integrates with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, with support for Apple Homekit in the works.

Pham says edge computing protects users’ privacy by keeping data, including face recognition data, on device, while also decreasing latency and false alarms, because calculations are performed continuously on the device (cameras connect to Wi-Fi so customers can watch surveillance video on their smartphones). It also means customers don’t have to sign up for the subscription plans that many cloud-based home security cameras require and reduces the price of each device since SimCam does not have to maintain cloud servers.


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Uizard scores $2.8M seed round for its app wireframe to prototype dev tool – gpgmail


Uizard, the Copenhagen-based startup that is using “machine intelligence” to quickly turn app sketches into prototypes, has raised $2.8 million in seed funding.

The round is led by Nordic VC firm byFounders, with participation from LDV Capital, av8 Ventures, and New York Venture Partners. A number of individuals are also investing, including Scott Kurnit, Julia Qiu, Lars Houbak, and Alex Spiro.

Aiming to accelerate the ideation phase of website and app design, Uizard says it legerages “advanced” machine learning and computer vision to turn a simple sketch into a basic prototype for almost immediate testing.

Sketched can be drawn with pen and paper, photographed, and then uploaded to Uizard for the AI to do its work. “Imagine hand-sketching wireframes on your notebook during a meeting and being able to present a functional prototype from these ideas only seconds after,” reads the company’s pitch.

“Anyone who ever visited the product team office at any tech company would have noticed the thousands of sketches and wireframes covering the whiteboards, sticky notes, and notebooks,” Uizard co-founder and CEO Tony Beltramelli tells me.

“Designers are constantly scribbling their latest ideas but it literally takes days to implement them into testable prototypes”.

Beltramelli says that Uizard enables product teams to go from sketches to working code in as little time as possible. “The value of our product is all about speed of execution,” he adds.

Typical users of the product, which is currently operating as a free to use beta, are UX design teams in enterprises, agencies, and startups.

Beltramelli claims Uizard doesn’t yet have direct competitors and the closest so far has been Airbnb and Microsoft who have showed interest in developing their own non-commercial “sketch2code” technologies.

“UX design teams currently rely on traditional design studios to create interactive prototypes such as Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD, and InVision,” he tells me.

On that note, Uizard is also announcing that it has hired Rizwan Khan, formerly sales executive and first international business hire at InVision, as its Chief Commercial Officer. Notably, Benjamin Wilkins, lead designer of Airbnb’s Sketch2code, has also joined the Uizard product advisory board.


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Huboo raises £1M to take the pain out of e-commerce fulfilment – gpgmail


Huboo, a U.K. startup that operates a multi-channel fulfilment service for e-commerce businesses of varying sizes, has raised £1 million in seed funding. Backing the majority of the round is London venture capital firm Episode 1, alongside a number of unnamed private individual investors.

Launched in November 2017 by Martin Bysh and Paul Dodd after the pair had ran a number e-commerce experiments, Huboo aims to solve the fulfilment pain-point that most online stores face. The service promises to store your stock, and then “pick, pack and deliver it” automatically as customer orders are placed.

The idea is that by outsourcing fulfilment, online shops can focus on the parts of the business where most value is added, such as customer service and choosing what products to develop and/or sell, by outsourcing fulfilment with confidence.

However, according to Huboo’s founders, except for larger e-commerce stores, the market is woefully underserved, with most fulfilment providers too expensive and uninterested in servicing smaller businesses. The only other option, they claim, is Amazon’s “Fulfillment by Amazon” (FBA), which they say is viable only for goods sold on Amazon because of discounts the e-commerce giant offers.

“Packing boxes and queuing in the post office were a horrible side effect of our [e-commerce] experimentation, and we needed to offload this if we weren’t to waste hours each day or abandon the whole e-commerce research project,” says Bysh.

“Luckily this is a solved problem, or so we thought… but we called around some fulfilment companies and discovered that they had no interest in our business, our items were too cheap and our volumes too low. And they weren’t very tech savvy, often basing their business on 3rd party warehouse management software, and limited marketplace integrations”.

The pair decided to change tact. Instead of attempting to find the next pure e-commerce opportunity, as their e-commerce experiments had intended, they began trying to figure out a way to “shatter the traditional economics of fulfilment”. The potential prize is a “huge chunk” of what Bysh frames as a “multi-billion, largely uncontested” market.

“We did some research on the market opportunity and determined that in the U.K. alone the opportunity was around £1 billion of more or less uncontested fulfilment business,” he says.

The key was to build systems that are flexible enough for Huboo to work with sellers, regardless of what they sell, how many they sell, and whether or not the goods are sold new or “re-commerced”. “We have clients that ship a couple of items a day and other that ship thousands. Items range in price for a few pounds to hundreds,” explains Bysh.

Products fulfilled by Huboo already span items such as vitamins, CBD oils, headphones, bingo tickets, electronic bagpipes, antiques, coffee, electronics, clothes (new and used), and beauty products. Clients include startups, subscription businesses, and individuals selling niche or boutique products.

Bysh says that serving this part of the fulfilment market is made possible via a combination of bespoke technology and algorithms, leading to “massive process optimisation” and reducing client management costs through SaaS sign-ups, on-boarding, and support.

But it’s not just about tech-driven optimised processes. Part of Huboo’s proposition is achieved through something as simple as a modular approach the company has designed to organise its warehouses. This sees every client given a designated space within a hub a and hub manager who understands their business.

From a revenue model perspective, Huboo is attempting to align its own interests with that of sellers. The startup provides two months of free storage to all clients for every new inventory shipment, so if sellers manage and maintain turnover they won’t need to pay for storage again.

“When a seller sells, we fulfil, which means they pay us primarily when they are earning. That’s where 80% of the revenue comes from,” explains Bysh.

Meanwhile, Huboo generates additional revenues from a small administrative subscription and optional services, such as packaging. The latter will grow when “Hubstore” is launched later this year, offering upgrades and customisations in a single click. This will include related services, such as tech to help expand to additional sales channels and increase sales.


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