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Brazilian proptech startup QuintoAndar lands $300M at a $4B valuation

Fintech and proptech are two sectors that are seeing exploding growth in Latin America, as financial services and real estate are two categories in particular dire need of innovation in a region.

Brazil’s QuintoAndar, which has developed a real estate marketplace focused on rentals and sales, has seen impressive growth in recent years. And today, the São Paulo-based proptech has announced it has closed on $300 million in a Series E round of funding that values it at an impressive $4 billion.

The round is notable for a few reasons. For one, the valuation – high by any standards but especially for a LatAm company – represents an increase of four times from when QuintoAndar raised a $250 million Series D in September 2019.

It’s also noteworthy who is backing the company. Silicon Valley-based Ribbit Capital led its Series E financing, which also included participation from SoftBank’s LatAm-focused Innovation Fund, LTS, Maverik, Alta Park, an undisclosed US-based asset manager fund with over $2 trillion in AUM, Kaszek Ventures, Dragoneer and Accel partner Kevin Efrusy.

Having backed the likes of Coinbase, Robinhood and CreditKarma, Ribbit Capital has historically focused on early-stage investments in the fintech space. Its bet on QuintoAndar represents clear faith in what the company is building, as well as its confidence in the startup’s plans to branch out from its current model into a one-stop real estate shop that also offers mortgage, title, insurance and escrow services.

The latest round brings QuintoAndar’s total raised since its 2013 inception to $635 million.

Ribbit Capital Partner Nick Huber said Quintoandar has over the years built “a unique and trusted brand in Brazil” for those looking for a place to call home.

“Whether you are looking to buy or to rent, QuintoAndar can support customers through the entire transaction process: from browsing verified inventory to signing the final contracts,” Huber told TechCrunch. “The ability to serve customers’ needs through each phase of life and to do so from start to finish is a unique capability, both in Brazil and around the world.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as an “end-to-end solution for long-term rentals” that, among other things, connects potential tenants to landlords and vice versa. Last year, it expanded also into connecting a home buyers to sellers.

Image Credits: QuintoAndar

TechCrunch spoke with co-founder and CEO Gabriel Braga and he shared details around the growth that has attracted such a bevy of high-profile investors.

Like most other businesses around the world, QuintoAndar braced itself for the worst when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year – especially considering one core piece of its business is to guarantee rents to the landlords on its platform.

“In the beginning, we were afraid of the implications of the crisis but we were able to honor our commitments,” Braga said. “In retrospect, the pandemic was a big test for our business model and it has validated the strength and defensibility of our binsess on the credit side and reinforced our value proposition to tenants and landlords. So after the initial scary moments, we actually felt even more confident in the business that we are building.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as “a distant market leader” with more than 100,000 rentals under management and about 10,000 new rentals per month. Its rental platform is live in 40 cities across Brazil, while its homebuying marketplace is live in 4. Part of its plans with the new capital is to expand into new markets within Brazil, as well as in Latin America as a whole.

The startup claims that, in less than a year, QuintoAndar managed to aggregate the largest inventory among digital transactional platforms. It now offers more than 60,000 properties for sale across Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belho Horizonte and Porto Alegre. To give greater context around the company’s growth of that side of its platform: in its first year of operation, QuintoAndar closed more than 1,000 transactions. It has now surpassed the mark of 8,000 transactions in annualized terms, growing between 50% and 100% quarter over quarter.

As for the rentals side of its business, Braga said QuintoAndar has more than 100,000 rentals under management and is closing about 10,000 new rentals per month. The company is not profitable as it’s focused on growth, although it is unit economics are particularly favorable in certain markets such as Sao Paulo, which is financing some of its growth in other cities, according to Braga.

Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

Now, the 2,000-person company is looking to begin its global expansion with plans to enter the Mexican market later this year. With that, Braga said QuintoAndar is looking to hire “top-tier” talent from all over.

“We want to invest a lot in our product and tech core,” he said. “So we’re trying to bring in more senior people from abroad, on a global basis.”

Some history

CEO Braga and CTO André Penha came up with the idea for QuintoAndar after receiving their MBAs at Stanford University. As many startups do, the company was founded out of Braga’s personal “nightmare” of an experience – in this case, of trying to rent an apartment in Sao Paulo.

The search process, he recalls, was difficult as there was not enough information available online and renters were forced to provide a guarantor, or co-signer, from the same city or pay rent insurance, which Braga described as “very expensive.”

“Overall, I felt it was a very inefficient and fragmented process with no transparency or tech,” Braga told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “There was all this friction and high cost involved, just real tangible problems to solve.”

The concept for QuintoAndar (which can be translated literally to “Fifth Floor” in Portuguese) was born.

“Little by little, we created a platform that consolidated supply and inventory in a uniform way,” Braga said.

The company took the search phase online for the first time, according to Braga. It also eliminated the need for tenants to provide a guarantor, thereby saving them money. On the other side, QuintoAndar also works to help protect the landlord with the guarantee that they will get their rent “on time every month,” Braga said.

It’s been interesting watching the company evolve and grow over time, just as it’s been fascinating seeing the region’s startup scene mature and shine in recent years.

SoftBank mints QuintoAndar a new unicorn in Latin American real estate tech


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Privacy.com rebrands to Lithic, raises $43M for virtual payment cards

When Privacy.com was founded in 2014, the company’s focus was to let anyone generate virtual and disposable payment card numbers for free.

The goal was to allow those users to keep users’ actual credit card numbers safe while allowing the option to cut off companies from their bank accounts. In an age of near-constant data breaches and credit card skimmers targeting unsuspecting websites, Privacy.com has made it harder for hackers to get anyone’s real credit card details.

The concept has appealed to many. At the time of its $10.2 million Series A last July, Privacy.com said it had issued 5 million virtual card numbers. Today, that number has more than doubled, to over 10 million, according to CEO and co-founder Bo Jiang.

“We set out to create the safest and fastest way to pay online. Our mobile app and web browser extension lets you generate a virtual card for every purchase you want to make online,” Jiang explained. “That can be especially convenient for things like managing subscriptions or making sure your kid doesn’t spend $1,000 on Fortnite skins.”

Over the years, the New York-based company realized the value in the technology it had developed to issue the virtual and disposable payment cards. So after beta testing for a year, Privacy.com launched its new Card Issuing API in 2020 to give corporate customers the ability to create payment cards for their customers, optimize back-office operations or simplify disbursements.

Privacy.com, a virtual payment card startup, raises $10.2M in Series A

The early growth of the new card issuing platform, dubbed Lithic, has prompted the startup to shift its business strategy — and rebrand.

In the process of building out its consumer product, Privacy.com ended up building a lot of infrastructure around programmatically creating cards.

“If you think about the anatomy of credit/debit card transactions there’s a number of modern processors such as Stripe, Adyen, Braintree and Checkout,” Jiang told TechCrunch. “On the flip side, we’re focused on card creation and issuing, and the APIs for actually creating cards. That side has lagged the card acquiring side by five to seven years…We’ve built a lot to support card creation for ourselves, and realized tons of other developers need this to create cards.”

As part of its new strategy, Privacy.com announced today that it has changed its name to Lithic and raised $43 million in Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners to double down on its card issuing platform and new B2B focus. Index Ventures, Tusk Venture Partners, Rainfall Ventures, Teamworthy Ventures and Walkabout Ventures also participated in the financing, which brings Lithic’s total raised to date to $61 million.

Image Credits: Lithic CEO and co-founder Bo Jiang / Lithic

Privacy.com, the company’s consumer product, will continue to operate as a separate brand powered by the Lithic card issuing platform.

Put simply, Lithic was designed to make it simple for developers to programmatically create virtual and physical payment cards. Jiang is encouraged by the platform’s early success, noting that enterprise issuing volumes tripled in the last four months. It competes with the likes of larger fintech players such as Marqeta and Galileo, although Jiang notes that Lithic’s target customer is more of an early-stage startup than a large, established company.

“Marqeta, for example, goes after enterprise and is less focused on developers and making their infrastructure accessible. And, Galileo too,” he told TechCrunch. “When you compare us to them, because we’re a younger company, we have the benefit of building a much more modern infrastructure. That allows us to bring costs down but also to be more nimble to the needs of startups.”

The benefits touted by Lithic’s “self-serve” platform include being able to “instantly” issue a card and “accessible building blocks,” or what the company describes as focused functionality so developers can include only the features they want.

Another benefit? An opportunity for a new revenue stream. Developers earn back a percentage of interchange revenue generated by the merchant, according to Lithic. “What we’ve noticed is a lot of folks have really big ambitions to build more of a stack in-house. We offer a path for folks by bringing more of a payments piece of the world that they can build for scale,” he said. “As a result of all these things, we end up not competing head to head with Marqeta, for example, on a ton of deals.”

The company charges a fee per card for Lithic API customers (it’s free for Privacy.com). And it makes money on interchange fees with both offerings.

How to break into Silicon Valley as an outsider

For Charles Birnbaum, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, the shift from B2C to B2B is a smart strategy. He believes Lithic is building a critical piece of the embedded fintech and payments infrastructure stack.

“We have been big fans of the Privacy.com team and product since the beginning, but once we started to see such strong organic growth across the fintech landscape for their new card processing developer platform the past year, we just had to find a way to partner with the team for this next phase of growth,” he said.

Index Ventures partner Mark Goldberg notes that as every business becomes a fintech, there’s been an “explosion” in demand for online payments and card issuance.

“Lithic has stood out to us as being the developer-friendly solution here — it’s fast, powerful and insanely easy to get up-and-running,” he said. “We’ve heard from customers that Lithic can power a launch in the same amount of time it takes an incumbent issuer to return a phone call.”

Lithic plans to use its new capital to expand the tools and tech it offers to developers to issue and manage virtual cards as well as enhance its Privacy.com offering.


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More funding flows into Pipe, as buzzy fintech raises $250M at a $2B valuation

At the end of March, TechCrunch reported that buzzy startup Pipe — which aims to be the “Nasdaq for revenue” — had raised $150 million in a round of funding that values the fintech at $2 billion.

Well, that deal has closed and in the end, Miami-based Pipe confirms that it has actually raised $250 million at a $2 billion valuation in a round that was “massively oversubscribed,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Harry Hurst.

“We had originally allocated $150 million for the round, but capped it at $250 million although we could have raised significantly more,” he told TechCrunch.

As we previously reported, Baltimore, Maryland-based Greenspring Associates led the round, which included participation from new investors Morgan Stanley’s Counterpoint Global, CreditEase FinTech Investment Fund, Fin VC, 3L and Japan’s SBI Investment. Existing backers such as Next47, Marc Benioff, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six, MaC  Ventures and Republic also put money in the latest financing.

The investment comes about 2 ½ months after Pipe raised $50 million in “strategic equity funding” from a slew of high-profile investors such as Siemens’ Next47 and Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Group, Shopify, Slack, HubSpot, Okta and Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya. With this latest round, Pipe has now raised about $316 million in total capital. The new funding was raised at “a significant step up in valuation” from the company’s last raise.

Pipe, which aims to be the ‘Nasdaq for revenue,’ raises more money at a $2B valuation

As a journalist who first covered Pipe when they raised $6 million in seed funding back in late February 2020, it’s been fascinating to watch the company’s rise. In fact, Pipe claims that its ability to achieve a $2 billion valuation in just under a year since its public launch in June of last year makes it the fastest fintech to reach this valuation in history. While I can’t substantiate that claim, I can say that its growth has indeed been swift and impressive.

Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia founded Pipe in September 2019 with the mission of giving SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

The goal of the platform is to offer companies with recurring revenue streams access to capital so they don’t dilute their ownership by accepting external capital or get forced to take out loans.

More than 4,000 companies have signed up on the Pipe trading platform since its public launch in June 2020, with just over 1,000 of those signing up since its March raise, according to Hurst. Tradable annual recurring revenue (ARR) on the Pipe platform is in excess of $1 billion and trending toward $2 billion, with tens of millions of dollars currently being traded every month. When I last talked to the company in March, it had reported tens of millions of dollars traded in all of the first quarter.

“Growth has been insane,” Hurst told TechCrunch. “This speaks to why we managed to raise at such a high valuation and attract so much investor interest.”

Image Credits: Pipe

Over time, Pipe’s platform has evolved to offer non-dilutive capital to non-SaaS companies as well. In fact, 25% of its customers are currently non-SaaS, according to Hurst — a number he expects to climb to over 50% by year’s end.

Examples of the types of businesses now using Pipe’s platform include property management companies, direct-to-consumer companies with subscription products, insurance brokerages, online pharmacies and even sports/entertainment-related organizations, Hurst said. Even VC firms are users.

This Pipe-ing hot startup just raised $50M to be the ‘Nasdaq for revenue’

“Any business with very predictable revenue streams is ripe for trading on our platform,” Hurst emphasizes. “We have unlocked the largest untapped asset class in the world.”

He emphasizes that what Pipe is offering is not debt or a loan.

“Other companies in this space are dealing in loans and they’re actually raising debt and giving companies money — like reselling debt,” Hurst said. “This is what differentiates us so massively.”

Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit. Trading limits currently range from $50,000 for smaller early-stage and bootstrapped companies to over $100 million for late-stage and publicly traded companies, although there is no cap on how large a trading limit can be.

Pipe has no cost of capital. Institutional investors compete against each other for deals on its platform. In return, Pipe charges both parties on each side of the transaction a fixed trading fee of up to 1%, depending on the volume.

The startup has been operating with a lean and mean strategy and has a current headcount of 34. Pipe plans to use its latest capital in part to double that number by year’s end.

“We haven’t actually spent a penny of our prior financing,” Hurst told TechCrunch. “But we’re seeing huge demand for the product globally, and across so many different verticals, so we’re going to use this capital to not only secure the future of business obviously but to continue to invest into growing all of these different verticals and kick off our global expansion.”

Image Credits: Pipe co-founder and co-CEO Harry Hurst / Pipe

Ashton Newhall, managing general partner of Greenspring Associates, described Pipe as “one of the fastest-growing companies” his firm has seen.

The startup, he added, is “addressing a very large TAM (total addressable market) with the potential to fundamentally shift the financial services landscape.”

In particular, Greenspring was drawn to Pipe’s alternative financing model.

“While there are many companies that service specific niches with traditional lending products, Pipe isn’t a lender,” Newhall told TechCrunch. “Rather, it’s a trading platform and does not actually raise any money to give to customers. Instead, Pipe connects customers directly with institutional investors to get the best possible pricing to trade their actual contracts in lieu of taking a loan.”


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UK’s Zilch raises $80M at a $500M+ valuation for its direct-to-consumer buy now, pay later service

The buy now, pay later model, popularized by companies like Klarn and Affirm has been one of the big e-commerce winners in the last year, giving consumers who might be stretched financially another option to pay for things when they buy them online. While that has prompted the UK financial authority to re-examine how it regulates the space, an enterprise taking a slightly different approach is announcing some funding as it prepares to expand to the US.

Zilch, a London startup that has built an “over the top” buy now, pay later (BNPL) business out of cutting deals directly with consumers — bypassing the need for integrating anything new into an e-commerce site’s check-out process, as many of the leading providers have done — has raised $80 million, an all-equity Series B that values the company at over $500 million.

The funding is coming from Gauss Ventures and M&F Fund, among other unnamed investors. The startup has up to now opted to raise from individuals and smaller firms, CEO and founder Philip Belamant said in an interview, although that may change in future rounds as it looks both to bring in a tier-one debt line, not just to fuel growth in its current market of the UK but to expand to more countries, including the United States.

For now, Zilch has financed usage of its service off its own balance sheet: it has more than 500,000 users, Belamant said, and is seeing sign-ups of around 4,000 a day on its app.

BNPL is a payment scheme that has been around as long as stores themselves, but its emergence online has been more a later arrival. It’s proven to be a very popular one. A recent report from Worldpay estimated that in the UK, which is the world’s third-biggest e-commerce market in its estimation (£192 billion, or $266 billion, transacted in 2020), BNPL will account for 10% of all sales by 2024, when the overall e-commerce market will be worth £264 billion ($366 billion).

Most schemes today are run by third parties — Klarna and Affirm being two of the biggest — who ink deals with e-commerce companies and integrate in the check-out alongside other options for payment. Zilch’s key differentiation has been that it’s cut a deal with only one other company — Mastercard — and created a payment card with it so that when a person wants to pay using Zilch, they use the Mastercard number in the checkout, which then triggers the option to them to either pay in installments or pay as you would with a normal credit card.

As with other BNPL schemes, Zilch doesn’t charge fees on its service, and instead makes a cut in the transaction from the retailer (part of the fee retailers pay to card companies in card transactions: the deals are all predicated on the idea that these alternatives to paying everything up front increases conversions, and that ‘convenience’ is what retailers are paying to have as an option). Its approach is pretty straightforward: it offers installments for paying back that start with 25% up front (so not exactly “zilch”) and paying for the item in full in 25% installments over 6 weeks. For those who miss a payment, they are stopped from using the service again until this gets cleared but Zilch doesn’t charge late fees.

The prospect of bypassing the retailer means that Zilch has been able to scale by making its service more applicable to more payment scenarios, a model that Belamant said was inspired by another killer disaggregator.

“If you look at when Amazon started, many commented on it being a phenomenal bookstore, but they built an infrastructure to sell everything. They could have built that covering different booksellers one by one but Amazon went direct to the consumer and said it would ship any book in a day. How profitable is not your problem,” he said. “We didn’t want to be beholden to the retailer and wanted the relationship with consumer. We go to them and say, pay over time, and use us anywhere you like. We built this technology plugging them in on one side and plugging retailers on the other. We can now build up any way to play and can use it anywhere they like without being restricted by retailers.”

Conversely, this has also helped Zilch fend off competition from bigger BNPL players, at least up to now: “Their main customers are retailers, and they have pre-existing arrangements with those retailers,” Belamant said of the Affirms and Klarnas of the world. Offering a model similar to Zilch’s, he said, “would have to circumvent those services, and that’s a massive cannibalization. Can they do that? Well, it’s naive to say they can’t. But will they? I’m not sure.”

Zilch’s approach of riding the rails of Mastercard — which may well soon to be augmented by other providers like Visa — means that it can quickly distribute a recognized payment method, but as Belamant describes it, it’s Zilch that is still building the algorithms to make the credit evaluations for individual consumers.

Using what Belamant described to me as “soft credit checks” alongside Open Banking data — a system used in the UK and Europe that taps into using APIs to share and integrate data from one financial service with another (in this case a way to easily check a person’s credit and financial history by way of their bank details as they are applying for a new financial service) — people sign up and automatically get assessed for their suitability for a BNPL scheme.

This has helped the company, as it says, become the first BNPL provider to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, the financial services regulator in the UK that has run an investigation of BNPL companies and appears to be preparing tighter regulation around how they can work, to stave off people inadvertently walking into spending money that they don’t have and may never be able to repay. Zilch was officially authorized as a consumer credit provider in 2020.

This is not to say that others in the space will not be able to also get the same certification for their models, incidentally, but it might mean more regulatory hoops, possibly slower growth, and perhaps also more consumer wariness as the situation continues to get more publicity. (The UK in particular has a pretty sordid history with other schemes to provide people with financing, specifically around the murky practices associated with payday loan schemes, and that has left a bad taste in many consumers’ mouths.)

One specific advantage also of linking up with a card company is that, in this world of “everything will soon be virtual”, it gives Zilch users access to a card, which they can in turn use to also shop using BNPL in brick-and-mortar stores. Tap and Pay-over-time, as it’s called, means users can integrate the card number into a digital wallet to and use it as they would their handsets to pay with Apple or Android-based payment schemes. Zilch said it’s the first BNPL do make this leap. (To be clear, for now there is no physical ‘card’ although it seems they are considering how and if to offer it.)


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Sarah Kunst will outline how to get ready to fundraise at Early Stage

Sarah Kunst, founding partner at Cleo Capital, has worn many hats. She’s been an entrepreneur, served on plenty of boards, is a contributing author at Marie Clare, has been a senior advisor to Bumble and worked as a consultant in marketing, business development and more.

With all that experience, she knows all too well that the process of fundraising starts well before your first pitch meeting. That’s why we’re so excited to have Kunst join us at Early Stage in July to discuss how to get ready to fundraise.

This isn’t the first time Kunst has discussed the topic with us. On a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, Kunst and one of her portfolio company founders Julia Collins described how to conduct the process of fundraising.

Julia Collins and Sarah Kunst outline how to build a fundraising process

For example, there is a story to tell, metrics to share and an art to building momentum before you ever start filling your calendar. That all requires preparation, and Kunst will outline how to go about that at our event in July.

Early Stage is going down twice this year, with our first event taking place tomorrow! Here’s a look at some of the topics we’ll be covering:

Fundraising

Bootstrapping Best Practices (Tope Awotona and Blake Bartlett, Calendly)
Four Things to Think About Before Raising a Series A (Bucky Moore, Kleiner Perkins)
How to Get An Investor’s Attention (Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital)
How to Nail Your Virtual Pitch Meeting (Melissa Bradley, Ureeka)
How Founders Can Think Like a VC (Lisa Wu, Norwest Venture Partners)
The All-22 View, or Never Losing Perspective (Eghosa Omoigui, EchoVC Partners)

Operations:

Finance for Founders (Alexa von Tobel, Inspired Capital)
Building and Leading a Sales Team (Ryan Azus, Zoom CRO)
10 Things NOT to Do When Starting a Company (Leah Solivan, Fuel Capital)
Leadership Culture and Good Governance (David Easton, Generation Investment Management)

The cool thing about Early Stage is that it’s heavy on audience Q&A, ensuring that everyone gets the chance to ask their own specific questions. Oh, and ticket holders get free access to Extra Crunch.

Interested? You can buy a ticket here.


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Pipe, which aims to be the ‘Nasdaq for revenue,’ raises more money at a $2B valuation

Fast-growing fintech Pipe has raised another round of funding at a $2 billion valuation, just weeks after raising $50 million in growth funding, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Although the round is still ongoing, Pipe has reportedly raised $150 million in a “massively oversubscribed” round led by Baltimore, Maryland-based Greenspring Associates. While the company has signed a term sheet, more money could still come in, according to the source. Both new and existing investors have participated in the fundraise.

The increase in valuation is “a significant step up” from the company’s last raise. Pipe — which only launched its platform last June — has declined to comment on the deal.

A little over one year ago, Pipe raised a $6 million seed round led by Craft Ventures to help it pursue its mission of giving SaaS companies a funding alternative outside of equity or venture debt.

The buzzy startup’s goal with the money was to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

Just a few weeks ago, Miami-based Pipe announced a new raise — $50 million in “strategic equity funding” from a slew of high-profile investors. Siemens’ Next47 and Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Group co-led the round, which also included participation from Shopify, Slack, HubSpot, Okta, Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya, Marc Benioff, Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Republic, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six and Joe Lonsdale.

This Pipe-ing hot startup just raised $50M to be the ‘Nasdaq for revenue’

At that time, Pipe co-CEO and co-founder Harry Hurst said the company was also broadening the scope of its platform beyond strictly SaaS companies to “any company with a recurring revenue stream.” This could include D2C subscription companies, ISP, streaming services or a telecommunications companies. Even VC fund admin and management are being piped on its platform, for example, according to Hurst.

“When we first went to market, we were very focused on SaaS, our first vertical,” he told TC at the time. “Since then, over 3,000 companies have signed up to use our platform.” Those companies range from early-stage and bootstrapped with $200,000 in revenue, to publicly traded companies.

Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit. Trading limits currently range from $50,000 for smaller early-stage and bootstrapped companies, to over $100 million for late-stage and publicly traded companies, although there is no cap on how large a trading limit can be.

In the first quarter of 2021, tens of millions of dollars were traded across the Pipe platform. Between its launch in late June 2020 through year’s end, the company also saw “tens of millions” in trades take place via its marketplace. Tradable ARR on the platform is currently in excess of $1 billion.

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Revolut lets customers switch to Revolut Bank in 10 additional countries

Fintech startup Revolut has its own banking license in the European Union since late 2018. It lets the company offer some additional financial services without partnering with third-party companies. And the company is going to let customers switch to Revolut Bank in 10 additional countries.

The Bank of Lithuania has granted a specialized license — it isn’t a full-fledged license per se, as it focuses on some activities. The company is taking advantage of European passporting rules to operate in other European countries. Right now, Revolut takes advantage of its banking license in two countries — Poland and Lithuania.

In Lithuania for instance, you can apply for a credit card with a credit limit that’s twice the value of your monthly salary (up to €6,000). The company also offers personal loans between €1,000 and €15,000. You can pay back over one to 60 months.

Now, customers in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will be able to become Revolut Bank customers. It’s not a transparent process, as you need to get through a few steps to carry your account over.

But once this process is done, your deposits are protected under the deposit guarantee scheme. If Revolut Bank shutters at some point down the road, customers can claim up to €100,000 thanks to the scheme — both euros and foreign currencies are protected.

You can expect new credit products in the 10 new markets. Overall, Revolut has attracted 15 million customers. The company recently announced that it was also applying for a banking license in the U.K., its home country and its biggest market.

Revolut gets European banking license in Lithuania


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As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings

As the e-commerce market grows, startups are racing to help online retailers sell larger items to consumers with so-called “buy-now-pay-later” options. Via BNPL, consumers turn a one-time purchase into a limited string of regular payments.

Terms vary, but the space is very active. TechCrunch covered Scalapay’s January $48 million round, what the Italian BNPL described as a seed round. Also this year, we’ve seen France’s Alma raise a $59.4 million Series B for its BNPL efforts. And I recently covered Wisetack’s aggregate $19 million fundraise as it looks to make more noise about its service that focuses on real-world transactions like home improvement.

But unlike some burgeoning startup niches where we lack visible results from leading players to use as a lens for vetting the market, we do have a number for the BNPL space. This morning, to better understand what’s going on with the younger companies hoping to help you finance your next mistaken purchase, let’s check out earnings results from Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm.

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Klarna, based in Sweden, is said to be considering a direct listing. Its 2020 results are here. Afterpay, based in Australia, went public a few years ago. Its H1 fiscal 2021 results are here. And then there’s Affirm, the recently public U.S.-based BNPL company that had a recent direct listing. Its fiscal Q2 2021 (calendar Q4) results are here.

Let’s see how the three are doing, yank learnings for the mix and then check our gut about what their results might mean for BNPL startups the world ’round.

BNPL results

The BNPL cohort of startups is showing signs of pursuing verticalization to find veins of market demand that remain untapped by the largest players in their market. So, while Affirm wants to check you out everywhere online, providing you with repayment options wherever you travel digitally, Wisetack wants to integrate with a particular set of merchants. The latter model could provide startups pursuing similar, narrower market targets the ability to better understand their economics and perhaps generate more total margin on their loans.

That’s a long way to say that even with the information at our disposal, we’re thinking directionally. But doing so is both good fun and illustrative, so let’s get into it. First, Klarna.

Klarna

This morning we’ll look at Klarna’s Q3 2020 report and its Q4 report from the same year.

The gist is that Klarna had a super-solid 2020. In its Q3 update, Klarna wrote that it saw 43 percent growth in gross merchandise volume during the first nine months of the year. In its Q4 report, it noted a full-year number of 46 percent GMV growth. From that, we can intuit that Klarna had a great fourth quarter.

Turning to the U.S. market, Klarna first reported “10 million total consumers by [the Q3] period end, and 11 million by the end of October.” And for the full year, it wrote that it had seen “15 million consumers choosing to shop with Klarna by January 2021” in the United States. Again, those look pretty great.

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Crypto-currency pioneer Diana Biggs joins digital assets startup Valour as its new CEO

Crypto-currency pioneer and early Bitcoin thought-leader Diana Biggs has joined Swiss-based startup Valour, which lets investors easily buy digital assets through their bank or broker. The move is significant with the news that Tesla has bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, thus massively boosting the mainstream markets for crypto assets. Biggs explored the potential for blockchain technology to help solve humanitarian challenges through her venture, Proof of Purpose, in 2017, and her TEDx speech on Blockchain Technology that year is considered by many in the blockchain space to be one of the best in the genre.

Valour, a Zug, Switzerland-based issuer of investment products, brought in Biggs, the former Private Banking Global Head of Innovation for HSBC, as CEO after recently launching Bitcoin Zero, a fee-free, digital asset ETP product, which trades on the NGM stock exchange.

Biggs, who has been in the Bitcoin space since 2013 told TechCrunch: “I have never seen this much attention to Bitcoin and other crypto-assets… The time for decentralized technologies has arrived, and their potential is increasingly realized by institutional investors.”

Johan Wattenström, the founder of Valour, said: “Diana is the perfect candidate to lead the company through this next phase of growth and expansion. With a wealth of experience in traditional finance, as well as fintech, and her vision for bringing digital assets into the mainstream, we feel very lucky to have her on board.” Wattenström created and listed the digital asset ETP on Nasdaq Nordic, in 2015.

Biggs is an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and served as Head Tutor for their Blockchain Strategy Programme from 2018 to 2020. She is on the Board of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Leaders of Europe community and is a member of the Milken Institute’s Young Leaders Circle. Prior to joining Valour, Biggs was Global Head of Innovation for HSBC Private Banking, where she led on fintech partnerships and driving open innovation.


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Pngme, a financial data platform, closes $3M seed to accelerate growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

Since M-Pesa’s mobile money infrastructure came into play in 2007, there has been a proliferation of fintech services ranging from wallets to savings and loans. With this mobile money ecosystem growing in double-digits year-on-year, a lot of data is being created in the process. But this has left some fragmentation, where one person’s information is diverse and can be accessed via multiple channels. 

For banks and financial institutions, it becomes difficult to understand and provide insights from users’ data. Over the past three years, some platforms have looked to solve this problem. They aggregate users’ financial data and share it with these financial players through APIs driving more data-driven insights and value-added products. One such platform is Pngme.

Today, the Africa-focused but U.S.-based unified financial data platform announced its seed round of $3 million. The investment, led by Radical Ventures, Raptor Group, Lateral Capital and EchoVC was closed in Q3 2020 and came after the fintech startup raised $500,000 in pre-seed two years ago. It further reflects the continued customer growth from banks, fintechs, credit bureaus and microfinance banks in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.

Founded by Brendan Playford and Cate Rung, Pngme started primarily as a lending platform in 2018. Playford, who grew up in the U.K., came to East Africa in 2007 to work on philanthropic biofield projects. He ended up writing short-term loans to entrepreneurs, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania, and during this time formed the basis for which he as CEO and Rung as COO founded Pngme.

“That was sort of the impetus we needed and also the experience of being credit invisible in the U.K. led Cate and me to found the company specifically focusing on providing access to finance to Africans,” he said to TechCrunch.

According to Rung, the company’s initial thesis was that entrepreneurs didn’t get enough help, capital-wise. But going into 2019, when the company raised its pre-seed round, the founders realized another problem — the lack of data infrastructure to access risk when giving out loans or capital.

Their stint in an accelerator based in Toronto, Canada helped to better understand the more valuable version of the company — the B2C layer which connects entrepreneurs with finance or the data infrastructure layer to understand risk or a person’s financial identity.

“We were building two different companies at once, so we had to choose one path. We realised that the data infrastructure layer was critical and a massive pain point in most of sub-Saharan Africa,” the COO added.

Pngme had to make a swift pivot to the latter. Building this would have a much more significant impact. Being able to aggregate mobile money transactions, bank transactions, loan data, behavioural data, process all that data into a structured format and make it available as an open API to developers, fintechs or banks across the continent will provide data to power real-time credit and new financial products.

Additionally, the company found out in the course of building that consumers want to understand their finances more. This helps to navigate their way to financial wellness using credit and, later, more sophisticated products. On the other hand, financial institutions need the data to know what customer segments to expand to or increase their bottom line. Therefore, placing emphasis on the customers’ needs is one of the company’s core value propositions.  

“We’re hyper-focused on providing the highest real-time data coverage on credit-invisible customers, something that no other API is offering in our markets,” said Playford regarding the company’s consumer-centric play.

Image Credits: Pngme

Some of Pngme’s customers include SimpleFi, Pavelon, ReadyCash, CashTopUp and Rigo Microfinance. In addition to this, the CEO says the company will integrate with large institutional banks next month.

Despite similarities to other API fintech startups in the region with Plaid-esque functionalities, Playford says Pngme intends to be different from the billion-dollar company.

Nigeria’s Okra raises $1M from TLcom connecting bank accounts to apps

For one, its focus on traditional channels like USSD data — which has the highest financial coverage on the continent — attests to that. “We’ve gone a step beyond just providing rails to actually building on top of the data. We also provide machine learning insights for our customers,” Rung said.

Also, the platform’s SDK collects user-permissioned data through a partner’s existing app using a one-click data-sharing feature. This data is served up through an easy to integrate API that delivers real-time financial data and alerts. With 300% month-on-month growth in the fourth quarter of 2020, Pngme forecasts the number of user-permissioned data profiles created on its platform to reach hundreds of thousands and millions by 2022.

Pngme’s revenue model is subscription and API-call driven. The platform has different tiers; developers can get a set number of free API calls with no subscription with the free tier. With the enterprise tier for banks and fintech, API calls are charged and can be discounted in some instances. Besides that, the company has a white-glove onboarding process where Playford says developers and startups can reach out to build specific use cases on the platform.

Since raising its pre-seed round, Pngme has been in stealth mode, working with a close group of customers. But with this seed round, the company is going full tilt. According to Pngme, the investment is being used to grow its Lagos and Nairobi teams, particularly the engineers and data scientists, and scaling its product for banks, mobile money operators and fintechs.

Lateral Capital, one of the investors in this round, also backs another API fintech startup in Mono. On the firm’s decision to invest in Pngme, managing partner, Rob Eloff said to TechCrunch that “over the past five years, we have seen a growing appreciation for the continent-wide challenge of providing accurate relational data for financial services customers across Africa. In Pngme, we are fortunate to have met a team with a unique solution to the root cause of financial exclusion in Africa, and a unique culture that spans the best of Africa and the U.S.”

Mono, a startup that wants to build Plaid for Africa, gets backing from Y Combinator

For EchoVC Partners, a Lagos-based early-stage VC, it’s the remarkable job the Pngme team has done in building and delivering a unified financial data API platform for credit identity and access. This is according to Damilola Thompson, the VP and associate general counsel at the firm.

At the moment, Pngme is processing millions in data points per month. With that scale, Rung hopes it will lead to the creation of new technology and more sophisticated financial products.

“What I think is most exciting is the way mobile money leapfrogged any sort of traditional financial infrastructure. Similar to that is how we’re seeing open banking in the U.S. give way to so many new financial products for the end consumer. I hope that by providing forward-thinking open API layers, the same can happen in Africa.”


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