Spirable refuels with $7.4M to serve more personalized video ads in the US – gpgmail


London based adtech startup Spirable has closed a £6M Series A. The round was led by Smedvig Capital, with existing backers Frontline Ventures, Downing Ventures and 24 Haymarket also participating.

The startup is one of several playing in the customized video ads space — offering a platform that simplifies and scales video ad creation by enabling brands and advertisers to combine video templates with creative and data sources to automate the creation and delivery of scores of personalized marketing messages.

Spirable says its platform, which launched in 2014, is now used by more than 50 customers. Campaigns have run across 75+ countries, with more than 100M personalised videos distributed since launch.

Its most successful industries to date are CPG (consumer packaged goods), travel and telco, according to co-founders Dave and Ger O’Meara.

On the travel front, they give the example of a Deutsche Bahn ‘No Need to Fly’ campaign that used dynamic video to show a location-sensitive side by side comparison of flight costs juxtaposed with cheaper train trips to local beauty spots — which Spirable claims achieved a 397% increase in click throughs; a 849% performance increase; and 59% reduction in cost per click vs the control.

Another example they cite is a Vodafone campaign to promote two own brand smartphone models which integrates multiple data feeds (such as contextual weather and date data) with creative assets in order to dynamically spotlight different features of the devices. The personalized marketing messages were served across Facebook, YouTube and Display channels via APIs baked into the platform.

From five video templates the tech automated the creation of more than five and a half thousand “unique” videos, tweaked to be more relevant to the targeted viewers.

On that particular campaign, Spirable says Vodafone saw sales of its own-brand devices increase by 100%. While ad performance increased by up to 50%.

“We can use all the targeting available in Facebook and layer this with contextual live data like the weather, live sports scores etc. So if we know someone is in London (via geo-targeting via Facebook), we can pull the local weather for that location and tailor the video to people in that audience and also update the video when a goal is scored in a match by a team that the audience supports,” they explain. “Once set up the whole process if fully automated. When the weather, sports data etc change the videos update and change.”

As well as automating serving up personalized ads, the platform provides performance reports on the backend, and uses machine learning technology to optimize ad creative to boost engagement.

The startup notes it’s been a Facebook Marketing Partner for more than two years.

The privacy implications of such highly targeted ads are — or should be — plain.

Among the laundry list of data sources that Spirable’s platform lets advertisers plug in to automate “personalized” ads are “CRM data” which it says includes personal data, purchase data, website browsing, service usage data and preferences; “social audience data”, including behavioral data, audience persona, interests, preferences and intents; and “contextual” signals such as store locations, weather (including pollen and UV levels), markets and stock levels live spots, trending events, pricing, time & date, live travel data, Google traffic data and supermarket wi-fi data.

So, for example, a parent who recently logged into a supermarket’s wi-fi network to check their Facebook account and was tracked lingering near shelves of diapers might find themselves being served video ads for a discount on girlie pink baby products at a nearby store.

The sheer volume of data integrations Spirable offers is one of the areas it claims sets its platform apart from competitors — name-checking Clinch and Idomoo as its main rivals in personalized video ads.

“Spirable has an unparalleled amount of data integrations to uniquely personalise video ads in real-time,” it says, further claiming Idomoo “doesn’t talk about live data and pre-render ads and upload to Facebook — so there is a lack of data-driven pipelines”.

Other areas where it reckons its approach stands out vs the competition is because it’s offering a ‘self-serve’ platform — meaning advertisers and brands can use it to “create, scale and optimise personalised video in-house”, without the need for specialist teams or agencies trained in video effects software (such as After Effects) to make use of the platform.

The video ad building process is also “modular” and “100% customisable” — vs the two named rivals not supporting layer level manipulation, meaning it’s less easy for their users to make changes on the fly to optimize ads.

Another claimed differentiator is that Spirable’s platform is cross-channel — with support for “all major social, email, messenger and display channels”.

It says the Series A funding will go on expanding the business in the US, with a plan to ramp up spending there on sales, customer support and marketing. Product development will also get investment.

“We have an exciting product roadmap of new features that will enable us to reach our vision of making video ads as engaging and useful as any other content a person sees on digital. This requires investment to scale up our engineering and product teams,” the co-founders tell gpgmail.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Joe Knowles, principal at Smedvig Capital, added: “Spirable is a critical enabler of personalised video advertising, one of the major trends in video advertising today. Every marketer wants to use video in a more personalised way. But so far, slow and expensive content creation has been a barrier to mass adoption. Spirable’s Software as a Service removes this barrier and makes real time, automated video personalisation at scale a reality.

“Having tracked the business for over a year, we are excited to work with Ger, Dave and the high-quality team they are building at Spirable.”


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We Company reportedly mulls slashing its valuation ahead of its initial public offering – gpgmail


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the company formerly known as WeWork is considering slashing its valuation as it looks to woo public market investors.

The company is reportedly considering a valuation of somewhere in the $20 billion range for its initial public offering, a figure that’s far less than the $47 billion valuation it received when it raised its last round of private funding.

Since filing for its initial public offering earlier this summer, questions have swirled around the viability of The We Company (as it’s now known).

According to the Journal, the company’s chief executive officer and co-founder Adam Neumann flew to Tokyo last week to meet with SoftBank Group — one of the company’s largest investors.

Neumann went to see if SoftBank would make another investment into the company — reportedly coming in as an anchor investor for the public offering and taking a big bite of the $3 billion to $4 billion the company was looking to raise. Neumann also reportedly discussed using SoftBank cash to delay the public offering until 2020.

A few billion here and a few billion there, and soon you’re talking about real money.

SoftBank has already balked at putting more cash into the We Company ahead of the public offering, and it’s not clear whether the company will step in as a white knight now.  

What is clear is that We needs money and its long term viability as a business is contingent on the infusion of massive amounts of cash.

Indeed, the company has a $6 billion line of credit at stake, which would be pulled if the public offering underperforms.

If the company fails to hit the $3 billion mark in its public offering, then the credit line promised from the big banks that are underwriting the public offering goes away.  That would be a pretty devastating turn of events for a company that’s currently racking up losses in the billions of dollars.

All of this comes during a shuffling of deck chairs designed to make the company look somewhat better to institutional investors and the public. Stories like this, however, don’t instill confidence that the We Company can avoid the iceberg that is its own business model.


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SoftBank reportedly plans to lend employees as much as $20 billion to invest in its VC fund – gpgmail


SoftBank has a plant to loan up to $20 billion to its employees, including CEO Masayoshi Son, for the purposes of having that capital re-invested in SoftBank’s own Vision venture fund, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. That’s a highly unusual move that could be risky in terms of how much exposure SoftBank Group has on the whole in terms of its startup bets, but the upside is that it can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of its newly announced second Vision Fund’s total target raise of $108 billion from a highly aligned investor pool.

SoftBank revealed its plans for its second Vision Fund last month, including $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from Apple, Microsoft and more. The company also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, WSJ reports, with stakes from employees provided with loans totalling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment.

The potential pay-off is big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that provide big returns that employees can then use to pay off the original loans, walking away with profit. That’s definitely a risk, however, especially in the current global economic client. As WSJ notes, the Uber shares that Vision Fund I acquired are now worth less than what SoftBank originally paid for them according to sources, and SoftBank bet WeWork looks poised to be another company whose IPO might not make that much, if any, money for later stage investors.


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India’s Awfis raises $30M to grow its co-working spaces business – gpgmail


Speaking of businesses that operate co-working spaces in India, New Delhi-based startup Awfis announced today that it has raised $30 million in a new financing round to expand its footprint in the country.

The Series D round for the four-year-old startup was led by ChrysCapital. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India and The Three Sisters Institutional Office also participated in the round, the startup said. Awfis has raised $81 million to date.

Awfis operates in nine cities in India and has 63 centers. It currently has the capacity to accommodate 30,000 people across its centers. In an interview with gpgmail, Amit Ramani, founder and CEO of Awfis, said the startup will use the capital to add about 340 centers to accommodate 170,000 more people in the next one year and a half.

The startup currently operates two models: It works with landowners to use their workspaces and splits profits with them, and second, it serves as a management operator where it takes a cut of the revenue as its fee. Ramani did not disclose the financial performance of Awfis, but said the startup is aiming to go public in 2022.

Most of its customers today are either small businesses or corporate clients. Some of its customers include Vodafone, Reliance, Hitachi, Zomato, and Practo . It also offers a mobility solution for individuals who want to work from Awfis’ workspaces.

Kshitij Sheth, VP of ChrysCapital, told gpgmail in an interview that India is finally beginning to see a major boom in the co-working spaces culture. He said his team was impressed by Awfis’ quality services, business model, and ratings from customers.

India’s co-working space, still a relatively new business category in the nation, is worth $390 million — a fraction of the $30 billion office and commercial real estate business. Awfis today competes with a number of startups including GoWork, which announced $53 million in a debt financing round earlier today, 91Springboard, GoHive, and the global giant WeWork.

Fast-growing hotel lodging startup Oyo also recently entered the co-working spaces business with the launch of Oyo Workspaces. For the expansion, it acquired local player Innov8 for a sum of about $30 million to immediately establish presence in 10 cities in India with more than 20 centers.

But the competition does not necessarily worry Ramani, who said the market today remains largely untapped. “Competition is great. It helps educate the market. People have more choices.” Ramani is happy to compete with others on quality and service front, he said.


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SoftBank pumps $2B into Indonesia through Grab investment, putting it head to head with Gojek – gpgmail


Grab — the on-demand transportation app worth $14 billion that is the Uber of Southeast Asia — today announced how it would be using some of the $7 billion or so that it has raised to date: $2 billion provided by SoftBank is being earmarked Grab’s operations in Indonesia — the biggest economy in Southeast Asia — over the next five years, to help it go head-to-head with local rival Gojek.

Specifically, Grab said it and SoftBank met with Indonesian government officials and have agreed to use the money to help modernise the country’s transportation infrastructure and economy with the development of an electronic vehicle “ecosystem”, new geo-mapping solutions, and the establishment of a second headquarters for Grab in Jakarta focused on R&D for Indonesia and the wider region, to sit alongside its existing HQ in Singapore.

Grab has confirmed that this investment news does not affect the company’s valuation as it’s not fresh funding — although it looks like it might lead to another, new SoftBank injection in Grab, too.

“I’d like to invest more… We would invest (in) Grab more, and also encourage to invest more in other companies,” SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said in a press conference earlier today. “We will create a second headquarters of Grab in Indonesia, and become 5th unicorn and also invest $2b through Grab. On top of that, we will invest more.”

Grab last raised money just four weeks ago, $300 million from Invesco as part of a larger, ongoing Series H that it wants to use in part for acquisitions. That round is already at around $4.5 billion, with SoftBank having already put in just under $1.5 billion. This $2 billion is on top of that previous round, the company said today.

The company’s last reported valuation from a couple of months ago was around $14 billion, a figure that we have been able to confirm remains the same today.

“With our presence in 224 cities, Indonesia is our largest market and we are committed to long-term sustainable development of the country,” said Anthony Tan, CEO of Grab, in a statement. “We are delighted to facilitate this SoftBank investment, as we believe by investing in digitizing critical services and infrastructure, we hope to accelerate Indonesia’s ambition to become the largest digital economy in the region and improve the livelihoods of millions in the country.” Indonesia accounts for the lion’s share of Grab’s business in terms of total footprint: its in 338 countries overall, meaning this country accounts for two-thirds of the whole list.

The news puts Grab head to head with another big on-demand transportation startup Gojek: the two were already rivals in the region, but GoJek is based out of Jakarta and has been the dominant player in that specific market up to now.

Indeed, the deal is notable not just for the amount, but for how it casts both Grab and SoftBank as allies of the government, not just accepted as businesses but endorsed as key players in helping improve the Indonesian economy and how the country is able to deliver critical services like healthcare and transportation, as well as give more services to drive the growth of “micro-entrepreneurs” by way of Grab-Kudo, the payments startup in the country that Grab acquired in 2017 for less than $100 million.

Given the track record that companies like Uber have had in locking horns with regulators, this puts Grab immediately into a strong position in terms of introducing and running with new services in the future. Its restaurant delivery business, GrabFood, is already the largest in the region, it claimed today.

Grab said the financial commitment was the result of a meeting between Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group, Anthony Tan, CEO of Grab and Ridzki Kramadibrata, President of Grab Indonesia, at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta.

“Indonesia’s technology sector has huge potential,” said Son in a statement. “I’m very happy to be investing $2 billion into the future of Indonesia through Grab.”

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan also had words supporting the deal: “Supported by the growing economy, Indonesia has a good investment climate where we are working together to boost the ease of investment in Indonesia,” he said. “This investment is evidence that Indonesia has been on the radar of investors, especially in the technology sector. We look forward to working with Grab, the fifth unicorn in Indonesia, and SoftBank to empower SMEs, accelerate tourism, and improving health services.”

This deal is a win on a couple of levels for Grab.

Most obviously, it’s giving the company a huge injection of capital to continue expanding its business aggressively in what is the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, with GDP of around $1 trillion annually.

A well-worn strategy by on-demand transportation companies — typified by others like Uber, Lyft and Didi — is to go big and go fast in order to establish a market presence among drivers and passengers, which can be used as a foothold to expand into other areas like food or package delivery and to then increase prices to improve margins.

Given that Indonesia is Gojek’s home country, and given that Indonesia is one of the biggest markets in the region, this makes it one of the most important territories for Grab to — err — grab.

“Grab is an Indonesia-focused company,” said Ridzki Kramadibrata, president of Grab Indonesia, in a statement today. “Having our second headquarters in Jakarta will allow us to better serve the needs of all Indonesians and those from emerging economies in the region. As a technology decacorn, Grab very well understands the needs and challenges we have here. We are also well positioned to support more high tech industries and infrastructure companies originating from Indonesia.”

On another front, this is an important strategy for the company on the regulatory and government front.

In a climate where it’s not unusual to see companies banned from operating in markets where they have run afoul of officials and the public, Grab is essentially buying its way into working with the state, and actually taking a commercial role in building its infrastructure. This — offering help with building infrastructure and simply passing on some of its experience and learnings — is a route that Didi has also been taking to make its way into new markets.

Grab said that it has invested $1 billion to date in Indonesia before now, and it said that its contribution to the economy in 2018 was $3.5 billion (48.9 trillion Indonesian rupiahs).

Updated to clarify that this is NOT a new infusion of capital, but a specification of how existing investments will be used. Meanwhile, Grab is still raising money and SoftBank said it wants to invest more.


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SoftBank’s second act – gpgmail


Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I noted some challenges plaguing mental health tech startups. Before that, I wrote about Zoom and Superhuman’s PR disasters.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@Gpgmail.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

Anyway, onto the subject on everyone’s mind this week: SoftBank’s second Vision Fund.

Well into the evening on Thursday, SoftBank announced a target of $108 billion for the Vision Fund 2. Yes, you read that correctly, $108 billion. SoftBank indeed plans to raise even more capital for its sophomore vehicle than it did for the record-breaking debut vision fund of $98 billion, which was majority-backed by the government funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, as well as Apple, Foxconn and several other limited partners.

Its upcoming fund, to which SoftBank itself has committed $38 billion, has attracted investment from the National Investment Corporation of National Bank of Kazakhstan, Apple, Foxconn, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and more. Microsoft, a new LP for SoftBank, reportedly hopped on board with the Japanese telecom giant as part of a grand scheme to convince the massive fund’s portfolio companies to transition to Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud platform that competes with Amazon Web Services . Here’s more on that and some analysis from gpgmail editor Jonathan Shieber.

News of the second Vision Fund comes as somewhat of a surprise. We’d heard SoftBank was having some trouble landing commitments for the effort. Why? Well, because SoftBank’s investments have included a wide-range of upstarts, including some uncertain bets. Brandless, a company into which SoftBank injected a lot of money, has struggled in recent months, for example. Wag is said to be going downhill fast. And WeWork, backed with billions from SoftBank, still has a lot to prove.

Here’s everything else we know about The Vision Fund 2:

  • It’s focused on the “AI revolution through investment in market-leading, tech-enabled growth companies.”
  • The full list of investors also includes seven Japanese financial institutions: Mizuho Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, MUFG Bank, The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, SMBC Nikko Securities and Daiwa Securities Group. Also, international banking services provider Standard Chartered Bank, as well as “major participants from Taiwan.”
  • The $108 billion figure is based on memoranda of understandings (MOUs), or agreements for future investment from the aforementioned entities. That means SoftBank hasn’t yet collected all this capital, aside from the $38 billion it plans to invest itself in the new Vision Fund.
  • Saudi and Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds are not listed as investors in the new fund.
  • SoftBank is expected to begin deploying capital fund from Fund 2 immediately, and a first close is expected in two months, per The Financial Times.
  • We’ll keep you updated on the Vision Fund 2’s investments, fundraising efforts and more as we learn about them.

On to other news…

iHeartMedia And WeWork's

IPO Corner

WeWork is planning a September listing

The company made headlines again this week after word slipped it was accelerating its IPO plans and targeting a September listing. We don’t know much about its IPO plans yet as we are still waiting on the co-working business to unveil its S-1 filing. Whether WeWork can match or exceed its current private market valuation of $47 billion is unlikely. I expect it will pull an Uber and struggle, for quite some time, to earn a market cap larger than what VCs imagined it was worth months earlier.

Robinhood had a wild week

The consumer financial app made headlines twice this week. The first time because it raised a whopping $323 million at a $7.6 billion valuation. That is a whole lot of money for a business that just raised a similarly sized monster round one year ago. In fact, it left us wondering, why the hell is Robinhood worth $7.6 billion? Then, in a major security faux pas, the company revealed it has been storing user passwords in plaintext. So, go change your Robinhood password and don’t trust any business to value your security. Sigh.

Another day, another huge fintech round

While we’re on the subject on fintech, gpgmail editor Danny Crichton noted this week the rise of mega-rounds in the fintech space. This week, it was personalized banking app MoneyLion, which raised $100 million at a near unicorn valuation. Last week, it was N26, which raised another $170 million on top of its $300 million round earlier this year. Brex raised another $100 million last month on top of its $125 million Series C from late last year. Meanwhile, companies like payments platform Stripe, savings and investment platform Raisin, traveler lender Uplift, mortgage backers Blend and Better and savings depositor Acorns have also raised massive new rounds this year. Naturally, VC investment in fintech is poised to reach record levels this year, according to PitchBook.

Uber’s changing board

Arianna Huffington, the CEO of Thrive Global, stepped down from Uber’s board of directors this week, a team she had been apart of since 2016. She addressed the news in a tweet, explaining that there were no disagreements between her and the company, rather, she was busy and had other things to focus on. Fair. Benchmark’s Matt Cohler also stepped down from the board this week, which leads us to believe the ride-hailing giant’s advisors are in a period of transition. If you remember, Uber’s first employee and longtime board member Ryan Graves stepped down from the board in May, just after the company’s IPO. 

Startup Capital

Unity, now valued at $6B, raising up to $525M
Bird is raising a Sequoia-led Series D at $2.5B valuation
SMB payroll startup Gusto raises $200M Series D
Elon Musk’s Boring Company snags $120M
a16z values camping business HipCamp at $127M
An inside look at the startup behind Ashton Kutcher’s weird tweets
Dataplor raises $2M to digitize small businesses in Latin America

Extra Crunch

While we’re on the subject of amazing gpgmail #content, it’s probably time for a reminder for all of you to sign up for Extra Crunch. For a low price, you can learn more about the startups and venture capital ecosystem through exclusive deep dives, Q&As, newsletters, resources and recommendations and fundamental startup how-to guides. Here are some of my current favorite EC posts:

  1. What types of startups are the most profitable?
  2. The roles tools play in employee engagement
  3. What to watch for in a VC term sheet

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out gpgmail’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm, gpgmail editor Danny Crichton and I unpack Robinhood’s valuation and argue about scooter startups. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast and Spotify.

That’s all, folks.




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