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VCs from Accel and SoftBank talk Europes startup scene, what they expect in 2020, and the future of SoftBank




If you haven’t noticed, Europe’s startup scene is in full bloom, with more than $30 billion deployed in startups across the continent over the last 12 months and more than 20 countries now home to a so-called unicorn company.

Investors around the globe are jumping into the pool, too. Consider that the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) is currently investing a €300 million fund in Europe. Abu Dhabi’s state investor, Mubadala, last year announced it was launching a $400 million fund to back European startups. And that’s saying nothing of the many Europe-based venture investors who are either raising new funds or recently closed them.

Atomico, for example, one of the continent’s biggest early-stage firms, closed its most recent fund with $765 million in 2017 and is reportedly out fundraising again. Others of all different sizes have recently announced new vehicles, including Balderton Capital, which last month closed a new $400 million fund; United Ventures, a 6.5-year-old, Milan-based early-stage venture capital firm that last week closed its second fund with €120 million in capital commitments (nearly double the €70 million it raised for its debut fund); MiddleGame Ventures, a 1.5-year-old, Luxembourg-based fintech-focused investment firm that recently held a first close on a fund that’s targeting €150 million altogether; Northzone, a 23-year-old, London-based venture capital firm that closed on $500 million in capital commitments for its ninth fund (its largest to date); Ada Ventures, a new London-based seed-stage venture firm that just closed its debut fund with $34 million; and Dawn Capital, a nearly 13-year-old, U.K.-based early-stage venture firm that in summer raised $125 million for an opportunities-type fund.

To find out more about what’s happening on the ground, we sat down at Disrupt Berlin earlier this month with two London-based investors —  Carolina Brochado, who late last year left Atomico to join SoftBank’s Vision Fund, and Andrei Brasoveanu of Accel — to discuss where the money is coming from, which European cities are becoming more interesting to both of them, and some of the challenges they face in covering so many different regions.

We also talked specifically with Brochado about whether SoftBank is changing up its tactics in light of some bets that aren’t panning out as intended — and whether she has any qualms about the outfit’s biggest investor. Our conversation, edited lightly for length and clarity, follows.

TC: We’re all meeting for the first time, and I thought we could do everyone here a service who wants to understand both of you better by talking a little bit about who you are and what you focus on. Do you want to start Carolina? I know you studied in the U.S…

CB: Yes, so I’m originally from Brazil. I moved to the U.S. for university, spent over 10 years in the U.S., [and I] have worked in in large cap private equity, have worked at a pre launch, launch, [then failed] startup, and then have spent a lot of my time in Europe, which has been seven years now, at an earlier stage VC firm called Atomico . . . and for the last year, I’ve been at SoftBank Vision Fund, investing at the growth stage.

AB: I’ve been with Accel for six years. I’m originally from Romania and spent 10 years in the states like Carolina, studying and working in New York in high frequency trading. At Accel, I’ve been focused most of my time on enterprise software and financial services and I’ve been very excited to back European founders from London all the way to Bucharest. Accel is one of the few Valley-based venture firms with on-the-tground presence in Europe. We’ve been here for 20 years, and we really believe in having a local approach to investing.

TC: Carolina, you switched from Atomico to SoftBank this year. Why?

CB: There’s a lot of push and pull with these sort of things. Europe is such an incredibly exciting place right now, and to be totally honest, back [when I moved here] in 2013, I didn’t totally see it, but over the years, you realize how many incredible entrepreneurs [are here], how many incredible teams, and the opportunity that lies ahead. And firms like Accel and Atomico were paving the path of the capital structure in Europe, which is actually very young; maybe the past 15 years, there’s been VC in Europe, and now you starting to see the fruits of that and the exits.

So for me, part of it was while there are great funds at the early stage, there’s still a lot of underfunding at that later stage, so I was really excited about doing growth in Europe and putting significant amounts of capital behind founders who want to go for the really big outcomes.

TC: You now have an insider’s view of these two very important firms. What are some of the biggest differences between Atomico and SoftBank, aside from the different stages at which they invest — how do maybe the processes differ?

CB: There’s obviously a difference in size — Atomico was 70 people and SoftBank is a 500-person organization. There is an interesting founder-led approach to both organizations. They are both very mission- driven by founders who want to change the world and by founders who want to be the best at what they do, which is really exciting.

One of the key differences at SoftBank is that it’s really global firm [with] offices everywhere. We have offices in the U.S. We have offices in Asia. We have offices in Europe. For me, it has been a really interesting platform to see what other great founders are doing in other places of the world.

And then, just because of the sheer size of the organization, you have a group of 50-plus operating partners who may have really deep areas of domain expertise like talent but who are also helping our companies do business development, and who can look at our ecosystem — which today is over 85 portfolio companies —  and make connections, and win business and actually win profitability for companies across and within that ecosystem.

TC: You’re both [in Berlin right now] from London. Andrei, do you run into each other in deals, or are your worlds vastly different?

AB: I would say we have quite different focus areas, we’re very much early-stage focused as our sweet spot [though] some of our companies, when they get to that mature stage, may benefit from working with SoftBank.

CB: We try to stay very close to the great companies at Accel, so they’ll nudge us [when it’s the right time].

TC: Who are you seeing coming into deals who you might not have when you joined Accel in 2014?

AB: It’s interesting. Since I joined Accel, the quality of investors in Europe has increased dramatically. So we’ve seen quite a few former operators, for example, [meaning] very successful founders who are now starting the starting their own funds. We’ve seen more family offices enter the industry. We’ve seen more U.S. capital in the market. And in general, I think [all] has helped raise the bar in terms of the quality of capital available to founders across Europe. And many of these folks, especially the local players, have been good partners for us.

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Banking Challenger Monzo Now Offering New and Improved Invoices for Business Pro Clients




Digital bank Monzo has introduced new and improved invoices on Business Pro.

The team at Monzo notes that they’ve made in-app invoicing “better” in order to give users more time “for what really matters (like running your business, being with family, or queuing for an al fresco meal).”

Monzo Business Pro users may send their customers PDF invoices, however they .like. The Fintech firm explains that before, they’d email invoices you created in Monzo to your clients for you, but now, to send an invoice you can simply share a PDF via the Monzo app — “however you like.”

Monzo writes in a blog post that “whether it’s by text, email or WhatsApp, you can share an invoice with your customers however you usually communicate with them (it “looks a lot slicker, too”).”

There’s also an option to preview a PDF invoice before sending it, so users are able to make sure “everything looks right.”

The Monzo team also mentioned that you may add extra information. New footer space “means you can add in even more detail to your invoice, so customers know exactly what it’s for (and you’ve got the summary section for that too),” the digital bank noted in its blog post. It also mentioned that you might “use that extra space to summarize a job, drop in reference details or a link to your terms and conditions.”

Now, it’s also possible to “stay VAT-compliant more easily” with Monzo Business Pro. The company explains that you may add discounts or VAT amounts “as separate line items in your invoice.” It’s now “much clearer when you’ve got multiple VAT rates (or discounts for specific items) in a single invoice,” the Fintech firm noted.

If you’re looking to try invoices out, then make sure you’re using the most recent version of the Monzo app, and then head on over to “Invoices”, under the “Payment” tab, the digital bank noted while adding that if you’re not currently a Monzo Business Pro client, you may get “easy invoicing, automatic tax saving and much more – for £5 a month.”

You can learn more here.

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China: WeiyangX Fintech Review




Police in Changsha Receive Salaries in the Form of Digital RMB

At present, digital RMB pilots have been conducted in various applications across China. On May 8th, employers at the Kaifu branch of Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau received their salaries in the form of digital RMB. This is the first time that digital RMB has been used for salary payment in the government agencies of Changsha. In fact, from January 2021, Chinese tech giant JD has already started to conduct a digital RMB salary payment pilot. JD employers based in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Changsha, and Xi’an joined the first batch to experience the innovative payment mechanism. (Source: REDNET.CN)

Ant Group: Ant Forest is not a money-making project

On May 13th, Ant Group made a response to the question of whether Ant Forest is a money-making project. According to the statement, Ant Forest is a project purely for public welfare.

As introduced on its official website, “Alipay Ant Forest users can generate green energy from low-carbon deeds to redeem real trees. These trees will be planted by Alipay Ant Forest and nonprofit institutions in sandy areas.”

In 2020 alone, Ant Group has invested over RMB 760 million in the project. Over the past few years, 550 million users, nearly 1000 partners, and Ant Forest project have jointly planted more than 223 million trees in areas of over 3 million mu. The trees belong to the country and the society.

In the future, if the trees generate carbon sinks and could be included in the trading system, all the benefits from the process will belong to the users respectively, not Ant Group. (Source: Sina)

The China Banking Association Will Set Up Working Group for Promoting Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Achieving Carbon Neutrality 

On May 13th, Guo Sanye, Deputy Secretary-General of the China Banking Association (CBA), briefly introduced the work of the association in achieving the strategic objectives of green finance. At present, the CBA is preparing to establish a working group for promoting Chinese banking institutions to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

In the future, the working group will: (Source: CBIRC)

  • provide decision-making advice for the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC);
  • set data standards required for banking institutions in achieving carbon emissions peaking and carbon-neutrality goals;
  • lead financial resources towards green industries, and offer suggestions for the structure optimization of credit assets;
  • establish a tracking system for the carbon emissions data of Chinese banking industry. 

Insurtech platform Yuanbao received nearly RMB 1 billion in Series C round of financing

On May 10th, online insurance brokerage platform Yuanbao announced that it had secured nearly RMB 1 billion in a Series C round of financing. The investment was led by Source Code Capital, with participation from Cathay Capital, Hike Capital, Northern Light Venture Capital, Qiming Venture Partners and SIG.

With its national insurance brokerage license, Yuanbao provides insurance product matching services between users and insurers (e.g. Sunshine Insurance Group) based on analysis of big data and AI technologies.

Less than a year since its launch, Yuanbao has attracted over 1 million users, covering 90% of mainland China. (Source: lieyun)

The above is a weekly synopsis of the biggest stories on Fintech in China provided by WeiyangX, part of Tsinghua University, in partnership with Crowdfund Insider.

WeiyangX is the most influential website focusing on Fintech in China. The site covers the latest news, industry data analysis, business practices, and in-depth cases in Fintech. WeiyangX is incubated by Fintech Lab. Founded by Tsinghua University’s People’s Bank of China (PBC) School of Finance in 2012, the Fintech Lab is the first and leading research entity dedicated to leading best practices, promoting interdisciplinary innovation, and encouraging entrepreneurship in the field of fintech through scientific research and innovative project incubation. Coinsmart. Beste Bitcoin-Börse in Europa

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Digital Banking: Revolut Business Web App has Been Updated, Now It’s Easier to Work with Marketplace Apps




Digital bank Revolut says your account has had “a spring clean.”

Revolut Business has a “new look” and a more “personalized” experience.

The Revolut team writes in a blog post:

“We’ve updated our Revolut Business web app and the new, simpler navigation makes it easier and quicker to move around your account and manage your business.”

The app’s users are able to find and connect all the tools they currently use in the Revolut Marketplace, such as handy Business apps including Expenses and partner apps: Xero, QuickBooks, Slack and Zapier. Additionally,  you may personalize your account menu by “pinning your favorite apps and tools for quick and easy access.”

The Revolut team also revealed that they’ve improved monthly statements in January, and now they have made it easier to access “all types of statements” in one convenient place, including:

  • Monthly statements as a PDF or CSV
  • Transaction statements – “slice and dice financial activity of your business by transaction types, transfers direction, company cards, currency and other filters.”
  • For complex analysis, “you can export them to CSV of PDF files”
  • Statement of balances as a PDF
  • Account confirmation as a PDF

Revolut’s blog post also noted that you can “just tap the Statements button or go to the Statements section in Settings to view and manage all your important documents.”

The Revolut team added:

“You can now manage your physical and virtual debit cards on any platform. View and copy your card details and PIN, adjust monthly limits, and order cards for your team members anytime, anywhere, on any device. With our company debit cards you can control your team’s spend with a tap – set limits, track, and freeze or unfreeze cards, stay on top of your online spend with virtual debit cards and get extra protection from theft and fraud, spend like a local with debit cards worldwide in over 150 currencies, and get iconic, sleek metal cards for you and your power players.”

The digital bank confirmed that Easy payroll will be coming to Revolut Business. You will have the option to quickly review, approve, and pay your workers in “just a few clicks” along with other features:

  • Make payments “straight from payroll”
  • Get “instant” accounting reports
  • Give your team “more than their salary with early payments, and access to payslips”
  • Enjoy “stress-free legal reporting”
  • Let your team “self-onboard”

Revolut added that doing your payroll has “never been easier.” You may join their Payroll waitlist on their main menu or by going to Marketplace.

To learn more, check here.

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UK’s Starling Bank Explains how their Overdraft Facility can Serve as Short-Term Safety Net for Clients




UK-based digital bank Starling notes that their overdraft can serve as a short-term “safety net” for eligible or qualified personal customers.

The Starling Bank team writes in a blog post that if you don’t have enough funds in your account to cover essential payments or have seen a sudden drop in your earnings, then their flexible overdraft may help.

The Starling team notes:

“We offer flexible overdrafts with some of the most competitive interest rates on the market. Depending on an eligibility check, we’ll offer you an interest rate of 15%, 25% or 35% EAR (Equivalent Annual Rate). This compares with 39.9% at most other banks at the time of writing.”

They added:

“We also offer tools to help you manage your money, so, if you don’t have sufficient funds to cover a scheduled payment, we send you alerts so that you can fund your account.”

If you happen to dip into your arranged overdraft, then Starling will send you another message to inform you. They’ll also make it easier for you to view your overdraft fees via a simple screen, the digital bank explained while adding that after your overdraft has been approved, you may use the in-app slider feature to “manage and set the amount you need within that limit.”

For instance, if they provide you with a £1,000 overdraft, then you may bring this limit down to £500 using their slider. And if you later find out that you require £1,000, then you may “do so quickly through the slider.”

To find out whether you qualify for such offers, Starling explained that after you’ve applied for a Starling personal account and it has been verified and opened, then you may apply for an overdraft through the app “by tapping ‘Manage Overdraft’ in the menu.”

Starling further noted:

“After we’ve run an eligibility check and looked through a few details, we’ll tell you if you’re eligible for an overdraft, and the potential amount and the interest rate you would pay. You can then accept or decline.”

They added:

“If you decline your overdraft offer, but later find you need one, you can re-apply, provided 60 days have passed since your last check. Your potential interest rate and overdraft limit may have changed since your initial offer. The offer details are based on a creditworthiness assessment, which takes into consideration your credit score.”

To check whether you’re eligible, Starling’s team runs a “hard credit check, which may impact your credit score.” The check will be “recorded on your credit report,” the banking challenger explained.

They also noted that for those asking to “increase the limit of their existing Starling overdraft, we run a soft credit check – the type that does not usually impact your credit score.”

The digital bank also mentioned:

“Starling charges you the agreed interest rate on the money you’ve withdrawn through your overdraft. We won’t charge you for going into your overdraft if there are sufficient funds stashed away in the Spaces section of the app.”

They further noted:

“If you’ve not got enough money in your account to cover a payment, we’ll decline the transaction. … we don’t charge for declined transactions. … when you might go into an unauthorized overdraft … we will not charge one-time fees or interest in these situations, although it’s still important that you pay off the amount to avoid going into arrears.”

You are able to view a detailed breakdown of all your outstanding fees in the overdraft screen of your Starling app. Additional pricing information can be found via the Fintech firm’s overdraft pages.

Starling also mentioned that “at any time, we may end an overdraft facility or reduce the limit, or we may require repayment of all amounts owed.”

They added:

“We will always try to give advance notice if we plan to do any of these. You can also ask to remove your overdraft, provided it’s been cleared and any amounts owing repaid, by contacting Customer Service.”

Starling reminded clients that if they are finding it challenging to pay back their  overdraft, then remember that “you’re not alone.” They also noted that “if you feel able, try creating a budget so that you can build overdraft repayments into your money plan.”

Starling’s blog post revealed:

“There are places to turn if you need help, including UK organisations and charities dedicated to supporting people with debt, such as StepChange and Money Advice Service, as well as Starling’s Specialist Support Team.””

To learn more about using Overdrafts with Starling, check here.

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