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Affirm, Airbnb, C3.ai, Roblox, Wish file for tech IPO finale of 2020

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Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

The wait was long but this week the time was right: Airbnb finally filed its S-1 and so did Affirm, C3.ai, Roblox, and Wish. We are likely to see these five price on public markets before the end of an already superlative year for tech IPOs. The ongoing pandemic and political turmoil were not scary enough, apparently.

This coming decade, you have to think that we’ll see a more even spread of tech companies going public. Many of the companies above have been bottled up for years behind privately funded growth strategies. Today, however, the industry has a better grasp of SPACs and direct listings, and various funding routes. Companies have more options from their founding for how they might grow and exit one day. Public investors in 2020 also seem to have a deeper appreciation for the current revenue numbers and future growth opportunities for tech companies. Why, I can still remember all the geniuses who bragged about shorting the Facebook IPO not so long ago.

Will we see a more even spread of where IPOs come from? While all of this week’s filers are headquartered in San Francisco or environs, that now feels almost like a coincidental reference to the years when these companies were founded. More states have been minting their own unicorns, with Ohio-based Root Insurance recently going public and Utah-based Qualtrics heading (back) that way. Tech startups are now global, meanwhile, and plenty of countries are working to keep their unicorns closer to home than New York.

On to the headlines from TechCrunch and Extra Crunch:

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right (EC)

Affirm files to go public

Inside Affirm’s IPO filing: A look at its economics, profits and revenue concentration (EC)

Airbnb files to go public

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing (EC)

The VC and founder winners in Airbnb’s IPO (EC)

Roblox files to go public

What is Roblox worth? (EC)

Wish files to go public with 100M monthly actives, $1.75B in 2020 revenue thus far

Unpacking the C3.ai IPO filing (EC)

With a 2021 IPO in the cards, what do we know about Robinhood’s Q3 performance? (EC)

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

What does a Biden administration mean for tech?

What does Joe Biden intend as president around technology policy? On the one hand, tech companies might not be returning to the White House too fast. “All told, we’re seeing some familiar names in the mix, but 2020 isn’t 2008,” Taylor Hatmaker explains about potential presidential appointments from the industry. “Tech companies that emerged as golden children over the last 10 years are radioactive now. Regulation looms on the horizon in every direction. Whatever policy priorities emerge out of the Biden administration, Obama’s technocratic gilded age is over and we’re in for something new.”

However, tech industries and companies focused on shared goals might find support. In a review of Biden’s climate-change policies, Jon Shieber looks at major green infrastructure plans that could be on the way.

Any policies that a Biden administration enacts would have to focus on economic opportunity broadly, and much of the proposed plan from the campaign fulfills that need. One of its key propositions was that it would be “creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation — rural, urban and tribal,” according to the transition website. An early emphasis on grid and utility infrastructure could create significant opportunities for job creation across America — and be a boost for technology companies. “Our electric power infrastructure is old, aging and not secure,” said Abe Yokell, co-founder of the energy and climate-focused venture capital firm Congruent Ventures. “From an infrastructure standpoint, transmission distribution really should be upgraded and has been underinvested over the years. And it is in direct alignment with providing renewable energy deployment across the U.S. and the electrification of everything.”

Image Credits: Steve Proehl (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The future of construction tech

A skilled labor shortage is piling on top of the construction industry’s traditional challenges this year. The result is that tech adoption is getting a big push into the real world, Allison Xu of Bain Capital Ventures writes in a guest column for Extra Crunch this week. She maps out six main construction categories where tech startups are emerging, including project conception, design and engineering, pre-construction, construction execution, post construction and construction management. Here’s an excerpt from the article about that last item:

  • How it works today: Construction management and operations teams manage the end-to-end project, with functions such as document management, data and insights, accounting, financing, HR/payroll, etc.
  • Key challenges: The complexity of the job site translates to highly complex and burdensome paperwork associated with each project. Managing the process requires communication and alignment across many stakeholders.
  • How technology can address challenges: The nuances of the multistakeholder construction process merit value in a verticalized approach to managing the project. Construction management tools like ProcoreHyphen Solutions and IngeniousIO have created ways for contractors to coordinate and track the end-to-end process more seamlessly. Other players like Levelset have taken a construction-specific approach to functions like invoice management and payments.

Virtual HQs after the pandemic?

Pandemic-era work solutions like online team meeting spaces are heading towards a less certain, vaccine-based reality. Have we all gone remote-first enough that they will have a real market, still? Natasha Mascarenhas checks in with some of the top companies to see how it’s looking, here’s more:

With the goal of making remote work more spontaneous, there are dozens of new startups working to create virtual HQs for distributed teams. The three that have risen to the top include Branch, built by Gen Z gamers; Gather, created by engineers building a gamified Zoom; and Huddle, which is still in stealth.

The platforms are all racing to prove that the world is ready to be a part of virtual workspaces. By drawing on multiplayer gaming culture, the startups are using spatial technology, animations and productivity tools to create a metaverse dedicated to work.

The biggest challenge ahead? The startups need to convince venture capitalists and users alike that they’re more than Sims for Enterprise or an always-on Zoom call. The potential success could signal how the future of work will blend gaming and socialization for distributed teams.

Around TechCrunch

Head of the US Space Force, Gen. John W. ‘Jay’ Raymond, joins us at TechCrunch Sessions: Space

Amazon’s Project Kuiper chief David Limp is coming to TC Sessions: Space

Across the week

TechCrunch

Against all odds: The sheer force of immigrant startup founders

S16 Angel Fund launches a community of founders to invest in other founders

Pre-seed fintech firm Financial Venture Studio closes on debut fund to build on legacy of top investments

How esports can save colleges

Why are telehealth companies treating healthcare like the gig economy?

A court decision in favor of startup UpCodes may help shape open access to the law

Extra Crunch

Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

Is the internet advertising economy about to implode?

Surging homegrown talent and VC spark Italy’s tech renaissance

Why some VCs prefer to work with first-time founders

3 growth tactics that helped us surpass Noom and Weight Watchers

A report card for the SEC’s new equity crowdfunding rules

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week wound up being incredibly busy. What else, with a week that included both the Airbnb and Affirm IPO filings, a host of mega-rounds for new unicorns, some fascinating smaller funding events and some new funds?

So we had a lot to get through, but with Chris and Danny and Natasha and your humble servant, we dove in headfirst:

What a week! Three episodes, some new records, and a very tired us after all the action. More on Monday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/21/affirm-airbnb-c3-ai-roblox-wish-file-for-tech-ipo-finale-of-2020/

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SpaceX gears up for Record-breaking Satellite Launch – Top Tech News

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Here are the top trending news from the world of technology..  

1

SpaceX gears up for Record-breaking Satellite Launch

As early as Saturday morning, SpaceX will be earning yet another feather in its cap by launching most number of satellites in a single mission. Elon Musk’s satellite company will be launching total 143 satellites into sun-synchronous orbit as part of its rideshare program that was announced in late 2019. If the mission becomes successful then SpaceX will be breaking the record of Indian space agency ISRO’s previous record of most satellites launched. In 2017, ISRO had launched 104 satellites into few sun-synchronous orbits.

2

Pinterest launches new AR feature for eye shadow styling

Pinterest is ramping up its virtual makeup try-on capabilities by rolling out a new augmented reality feature that will allow online shoppers to virtually try out new eye-shadow linear. As of now, customers can try 4,000 shades offered by brands like Lancome, YSL, Urban Decay and NYX cosmetics.

3

World gets to experience first-ever virtual reality premier with Baba Yaga

Last week, the world got the novel experience of witnessing one of its kind Hollywood movie premiers. Nothing was unusual about last week’s Baba Yaga’s premier except for the fact that it was all virtual and not real. In the post-pandemic era, the creator of short film Baba Yaga thought of giving a VR touch to its movie premier, which allowed everyone to enjoy the premier in the comfort of their home. Of course, they all needed a VR headset to enjoy the movie premier.

4

After Timnit Gebru, Google suspends Ethical AI Team Lead Margaret Mitchell

Google has reportedly revoked the privileges of its ethical AI team leader Margaret Mitchell and has put her under investigation for her alleged controversial activities. If Google does fire Mitchell then she will be the second outspoken critic in Google’s Ai team to be sidelined in a month.

Source: https://www.techpluto.com/spacex-gears-up-for-record-breaking-satellite-launch/

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How fintech and serial founders drove African pre-seed investing to new heights in 2020

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When Stripe-subsidiary Paystack raised its seed round of $1.3 million in 2016, it was one of the largest disclosed rounds at that stage in Nigeria. 

At the time, seven-figure seed investments in African startups were a rarity. But over the years, those same seed-stage rounds have become more common, with some very early-stage startups even raising eight-figure sums. Nigerian fintech startup, Kuda, which bagged $10 million last year, comes to mind, for example.

Also notable amidst the growth in seven and eight-figure African seed deals have been gains in pre-seed fundraising. Typically, pre-seed rounds are raised when the startup is still in the product development phase, yet to make revenue or discover product-market fit. These investments are usually made by third-party investors (friends and family), and range between $25,000-$150,000.

But the narrative as to how much an early-stage African startup can raise as pre-seed has changed. 

Last year, African VCs who usually fund seed and Series A rounds began partaking in pre-seed rounds, and they don’t seem to be slowing down. Just a month into 2021,  Egyptian fintech startup Cassbana raised a $1 million pre-seed investment led by VC firm Disruptech in a bid to drive expansion within the country.

So why the sudden change in appetite from investors?

Andreata Muforo is a partner at TLcom Capital, a pan-African early-stage VC firm. She told TechCrunch that last year’s run of 23 pre-seed rounds (10 of which were $150,000+ deals) per Briter Bridges data, was due to the confidence investors had in the market, especially fintech.

Startups building financial infrastructure got noticed

While most African pre-seed investments in 2020 went to fintech, there were exceptions, including Egyptian edtech startup Zedny, which raised $1.2 million; Nigerian automotive tech startup Autochek Africa, which raised $3.4 million; and Nigerian talent startup TalentQL, which raised $300,000. 

Just as Paystack and Flutterwave built payment infrastructure for thousands of African businesses, these fintech startups are trying to make their mark in the sweet spots of credit and banking. 

“Fintech is compelling. But while most fintech startups play around the commodities side of fintech, it’s the companies building infrastructure around the market that got most of the pre-seed validation last year,” Muforo said. Her firm, TLcom, led the $1 million pre-seed investment in Okra.

Okra is an API fintech startup. So are Mono, OnePipe and Pngme. They are building Africa’s API infrastructure that connects bank accounts with financial institutions and third-party companies for different purposes. Within the past 18 months, Mono and Pngme raised $500,000, while OnePipe raised $950,000 in pre-seed.

It is noteworthy that while these startups are clamoring to solve Africa’s open API banking issues, three of the four deals came after Visa’s $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid last year in January.

Although the Visa-Plaid acquisition has now been called off, it is safe to say some African investors developed FOMO, handing out sizable checks to fund “Africa’s Plaid” in the process.

Digital lenders remain one of their most important customers for fintech API startups. They can access customers’ financial accounts to understand their spending patterns and know who to loan to.

Egypt’s Shahry and Nigeria’s Evolve Credit are fintech startups building credit infrastructure for their markets. Evolve Credit connects digital lenders to those who need loan services in Nigeria via its online loan marketplace. Shahry, on the other hand, employs an AI-based credit scoring engine so users in Egypt can apply for credit. The pair also secured impressive pre-seed funding — Evolve Credit, $325,000, and Shahry, $650,000.

A recurring theme: Serial founders

Muforo points out that aside from startups building fintech infrastructure, the caliber of founders was another reason pre-seed funding peaked last year.

Adewale Yusuf, co-founder and CEO of TalentQL, a startup that hires, manages and outsources talent for Nigerian and global companies, seemed to agree. He told TechCrunch that trust between the VCs and founders involved played a major role in most pre-seed rounds last year. 

“It wasn’t surprising that a lot of investors put money in pre-seed rounds. I say this because we also saw existing founders and serial entrepreneurs coming back to the market. To me, these founders’ credibility was a major part of why those rounds were large,” he said.

A second-time founder himself, Yusuf is the co-founder of Nigerian tech media publication Techpoint Africa. His partner at TalentQL, Opeyemi Awoyemi, is also a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded Ringier One Africa Media-owned Jobberman, one of Africa’s most popular recruitment platforms.

According to Adedayo Amzat, founder of Zedcrest Capital, which is the lead investor in TalentQL’s round, the founders’ experience proved vital in closing the deal. 

He says investors are more comfortable backing experienced founders in pre-seed rounds because they have a more mature understanding of the problems they’re trying to solve. So, in essence, they tend to raise more capital.

“If you look at pre-seed sizes, experienced founders can demand a significant premium over first-time founders,” Amzat said. “Pre-seed valuation cap for first-time founders will typically be between 400K to $1 million while we frequently see up to $5 million for experienced founders.” 

It was a recurring theme last year. Yele Bademosi, who runs Microtraction, a West African early-stage VC firm, is the CEO of Bundle Africa, a Nigerian-based crypto-exchange startup that raised $450,000 in April 2020. 

Shahry co-founders Sherif ElRakabawy and Mohamed Ewis also run Egypt’s largest shopping engine and price comparison website, Yaoota.

Mono co-founder and CEO Abdulhamid Hassan was the co-founder of Nigerian fintech startup OyaPay and data science startup Voyance. Also, Etop Ikpe, the co-founder and CEO of Autochek Africa, was CEO of DealDey and Cars45.

That said, Fara Ashiru Jituboh of Okra and Akan Nelson of Evolve Credit as first-time founders got investments that most of their counterparts would only dream of. For Jituboh, her solid tech background spoke for her — boasting a senior software engineering job at Pexels and engineering consultant role at Canva before founding Okra.

“We backed Fara because she’s a strong tech founder. When you look at the core of what Okra does as a tech-heavy company, you see how important it was to make the decision,” Muforo said about backing Okra’s CEO and CTO.

Nelson also told TechCrunch that his finance background helped Evolve Credit raise its six-figure sum. The team’s bullishness on finding product-market fit and the potential of Africa’s loan marketplace was also enough to bring foreign and local VCs like Samurai Incubate, Future Africa, Ingressive Capital and Microtraction on board.

While early-stage investments in African startups haven’t reached full speed, the explosion in the number of angel investors has lowered entry barriers into early-stage investing. 

Now investors are beginning to show readiness toward African startups that have promise as they continue to search for the next Paystack. 

“More people are willing to take risks now in the market, especially angel investors. They can easily let go of $10K-$50K because of success stories like Paystack,” Yusuf said about the $200 million acquisition by U.S. payments startup Stripe

For all of its significance to the African tech ecosystem, what particularly stands out about Paystack’s exit is the return on investment made for early investors.

By the time it exited in October 2020, some angel investors had an ROI of more than 1,400% according to Jason Njoku in his blog post. Njoku, who took part in the round as an angel investor, is the CEO of IROKO, a Nigerian VOD internet company.

For Muforo, witnessing more early-stage investments is a big deal, one the African tech ecosystem should savor regardless of the round in question.

“Pre-seed or seed are just names investors and founders give,” she said. “What I think is most important is the fact that we’re getting more early-stage capital into Africa, and startups are getting more attention from investors, which is fantastic.”

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/22/how-fintech-and-serial-founders-drove-african-pre-seed-investing-to-new-heights-in-2020/

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AI Tech Company Uniphore Acquires Spain-based Emotion Research Lab

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  • With this acquisition, Emotion Research Lab employees’ will be joining the Uniphore team to create voice and video combined AI products.
  • The acquisition will also help Uniphore tap and expand its presence in the European market.
  • Emotion Research Labs uses AI and ML-driven technology to identify emotion and engagement in a live video interaction.

Palo Alto-based AI technology company Uniphore, on January 21, announced that it has acquired Valencia-based Emotion Research Lab for an undisclosed amount.

With this acquisition, Emotion Research Lab employees’ will be joining the Uniphore tech team to create voice and video combined artificial intelligence products for the enterprise, which will be released in the second half of 2021.

Further, The acquisition will also help Uniphore tap into the European market and expand its presence in the European countries by the FY22. 

Founded in 2014 by Alicia Mora and María Pocoví, Spain-based Emotion Research Labs uses facial recognition and eye-tracking technology to identify emotion and engagement in a live video interaction.

The company offers its services to various business segments such as Clinical Research, Psychology, Marketing, Robotics, Security, etc.

Through its AI-driven technology, It can also detect attention span, engagement, and other essential demographics, the company said in a press release.

Commenting on the acquisition, Maria Pocovi, CEO & Co-founder, Emotion Research Lab said, “We are looking forward to this unique opportunity to join such an innovative company and work together alongside a world-class team to scale our technology for customer service.”

Combining Uniphore’s Conversational Service Automation (CSA) solutions, which understands, analyzes, and automates voice conversations in real-time, Emotion Research Lab’s extensive video-focused AI capabilities will deliver entirely new applications and experiences across the enterprise, the statement said.

Also Read: Deeptech Startup LightSpeedAI Labs Raises Funding From YourNest Venture Capital And Others

Combining voice and video AI with automation and machine learning will open up new use cases, including customer experience, sales, marketing, HR and other critical areas of business, the statement added.

“Today we welcome the Emotion Research Lab family to Uniphore and celebrate the addition of not only cutting-edge technology to our portfolio but a very talented team of professionals who will add high voltage charges to the Uniphore innovation engine. This current pandemic has reshaped traditional customer service and has universally increased the use of video across a range of applications,” said Umesh Sachdev, CEO & Co-founder of Uniphore. 

“I am very excited to have Maria, Alicia and the rest of the Emotion Research Lab team join us as we work together and bring our customers the next generation of innovations in AI and automation,” he added.

This is Uniphore’s second technology acquisition after it acquired Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology from NTT DATA in October 2020.

Follow IndianStartupNews on FacebookInstagramTwitter for the latest updates from the startup ecosystem.

Source: https://indianstartupnews.com/news/ai-tech-company-uniphore-acquires-spain-based-emotion-research-lab/

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Brightly raises $1M for eco-friendly e-commerce and content platform, following the Goop playbook

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Liza Moiseeva (left) and Laura Alexander Wittig, co-founders of Brightly. (Brightly Photo)

Laura Alexander Wittig and Liza Moiseeva have turned a simple podcast about sustainable living into a full blown platform for content, community, and online shopping.

The entrepreneurs are co-founders of Brightly, a Seattle startup that just reeled in $1 million to fuel its momentum.

They launched their Good Together podcast in 2019, partly as a way to see if their branding and voice around eco-conscious product recommendations and general life tips would resonate with “conscious customers” — and it did, quickly rising up the podcast charts.

The podcast also caught the attention of Snapchat, which accepted Wittig and Moiseeva into its Yellow Accelerator program this past February.

Brightly then took shape, building off the podcast and creating more content geared toward sustainable living. The company figured out a way to earn revenue by partnering with brands and featuring their products. Brightly also participated in the Seattle-based Female Founders Alliance accelerator, which opened up conversations with investors.

Its community grew rapidly last year, with millions of new followers across TikTok and Instagram channels. The company now reaches more than 250,000 women daily and has an ambassador program of more than 10,000 members who share ideas and recommendations on Brightly’s apps.

Now the startup is ready to step on the gas, with plans to grow its 5-person team and add an e-commerce arm later this year.

“Our main goal is to empower billions of conscious consumers to change the world through simple, everyday steps,” Wittig said.

In some ways, Brightly is following the blueprint laid out by Goop, the wellness and lifestyle brand founded by actress Gwyneth Paltrow that started as a weekly newsletter. Another similar example is Glossier co-founder Emily Weiss, whose cosmetics company originally started as a blog called Into the Goss.

“It’s a combination of community and content to drive commerce,” Wittig said. “This is the future of how companies are going to be built. Rather than chasing customers to come in your door, you can establish relationships before you even ask them to pull out their wallet.”

Wittig said the pandemic has made people think more deeply about what they buy and who they buy from, whether it’s the local restaurant down the street or an eco-friendly product manufacturer.

Brightly differentiates itself from other marketplaces or e-commerce giants such as Amazon with its curation and vetting process, Wittig said.

“It’s truly allowing people to see the story behind products and forming an emotional relationship with the product,” she noted.

Wittig previously worked at Amazon, Adobe, Sephora, and Google, where she helped lead a social impact program. Moiseeva was a co-founder and exec at GlobeIn, which sold a fair trade subscription box.

Wittig is based in Seattle while Moiseeva is in the Bay Area. Brightly will have a presence in Seattle but is “remote-first,” following a pandemic-driven trend of startups not tying themselves down to one physical location.

Investors in the round include Tacoma Venture Fund; Keeler Investments; and the Female Founders Alliance. Odile Roujol, the former Lancôme CEO, also invested through her firm FAB Ventures.

“I founded FAB Ventures to back purpose-driven entrepreneurs,” Roujol said in a statement. “I’m excited to put this capital to work backing Brightly’s female founders, building a vibrant community of GenZ and Millennials, and scaling conscious consumerism. We can all make a difference.”

Source: https://www.geekwire.com/2021/brightly-raises-1m-eco-friendly-e-commerce-content-platform-following-goop-playbook/

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