Upskilling platform GrowthSpace secures $25M to grow its global business

GrowthSpace

As the jobs market remains tight (mass layoffs and hiring freezes in tech aside), companies are laser-focused on retaining staff. One of the areas they’re investing in is upskilling, which aims to teach employees new skills in departments with which they’re unfamiliar. For example, Walmart announced in 2021 that it would invest nearly $1 billion over the next five years to provide its employees with access to higher education and training.

Unsurprisingly, “skilling” platforms have benefited enormously from these investments. According to Crunchbase, upskilling and reskilling startups raised $2.1 billion from VCs between early 2021 and 2022. One of the winners is GrowthSpace, founded by Omer Glass, which leverages algorithms to match individual employees and groups of employees with experts for development sprints. The company today announced that it raised $25 million in Series B financing led by Zeev Ventures, with participation from M12 (Microsoft’s venture fund) and Vertex Ventures, bringing GrowthSpace’s total raised to $44 million.

GrowthSpace was founded in 2018 by Dan Terner, Izhak Kedar and Glass. A former management consultant, Glass was approached several years ago by Terner, who was then the COO of Signals Analytics, a company with a significant churn problem.

“Terner realized that there was no effective, outcome-driven employee development platform to enable companies [including his] to better invest in their employees,” Glass said. “This led to the creation of GrowthSpace … During the pandemic and amid current economic uncertainty, companies have realized that they needed to double down on talent development.”

GrowthSpace combines a software-as-a-service platform with a marketplace of experts — providers of mentoring, coaching, training and workshops. Drawing on a taxonomy of professional backgrounds and skills, which includes tags across expertise areas, industries and roles, the platform’s AI model attempts to predict the right programs and coach-student matches with the highest probability of achieving desired development outcomes.

Image Credits: GrowthSpace

Of course, AI doesn’t always get it right. Biased datasets can lead to unreliable predictions, and — as the case may be — coach-student matches. Upskilling already suffers from a human bias issue, with research from PwC showing that companies focus too much on upskilling postgraduate degree holders at the expense of almost all others. Workers are often passed over for training on the basis of their ethnicities and genders, PwC also found, with women twice as likely to report gender discrimination as men.

When asked, Glass didn’t provide a detailed account of GrowthSpace’s debiasing efforts. But he said that the AI system tries to mitigate bias by presenting a “mirror data image” of each user that excludes personal characteristics like race, gender and age.

“GrowthSpace has developed a unique algorithm that eliminates 90% of users’ personal data from its platform within three weeks of user onboarding, once the data is no longer in frequent use,” Glass said. “[This enables] it to reduce to a minimum its exposure to user personal data.”

The GrowthSpace platform can be implemented modularly to address the requirements of …read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/upskilling-platform-growthspace-secures-25m-to-grow-its-global-business/

Guesty books $170M to double down on property management tools for Airbnb and other rental platforms

Platforms like Airbnb have boomed with more consumers (and business users) than ever before keen stay in private properties when traveling or working away from their usual home base. That’s also meant a boom for startups building technology to help those renting out properties to manage the process. Guesty — which has built a platform to manage property listings across multiple sites like Airbnb, Vrbo, Expedia and Booking.com — is today announcing that it has raised $170 million, an all-equity round that it will be using to continue fueling its growth, and to tap deeper into providing tools to address our changing habits as consumers.

“With the ways people live, work, socialize and travel having shifted, the lines between traditional hotels and rental accomodations continue to blur,” co-founder and CEO Amiad Soto told me in an interview. “Hospitality operators — everyone from hosts to property managers to hotel brands — are continuing to adapt to this new reality. The last few years brought new customer personas to the short-term rental market, including classic hotel-goers who have higher demands for guest experiences and services.”

Apax Digital Funds, MSD Partners and Sixth Street Growth co-led the round for Tel Aviv-based Guesty, with previous backers Viola Growth and Flashpoint also participating — motivated in part by that vision of a changing travel and living landscape.

“As alternative property management operations become more complex, Guesty is paving the way for the next generation of digital hospitality services,” said Dave Evans, a partner at Apax Digital, in a statement. “Their track record of success and innovation, along with their platform’s growing suite of tools and intuitive user experience has Guesty positioned to define and consolidate its category, working with hosting businesses of all sizes. We are excited to continue partnering with the company as it continues to transform the industry.”

This is an all-equity Series E, Soto said in our interview (via email, because, coincidentally, I happen to be traveling myself). Soto didn’t say at which valuation, but he told me that the figure had tripled since its last round (a $50 million injection in 2021). PitchBook notes that last round was at a $230 million valuation; if that’s accurate it would put today’s round at $690 million. (We’ll update as and when we learn more.) The company is not yet profitable, Soto said, but it’s aiming for it next year, when it is also on course to surpass $100 million in ARR in the first six months.

The size of the round is big, but perhaps especially notable given the constraints that fundraising has been under in general this year. It’s also a measure of where Guesty is today, and where it’s going.

Soto and Guesty are not disclosing how many properties managed using its platform but directionally say the numbers are growing. “We expect our revenue and listings under management to continue to double year-over-year, both in 2022 and 2023,” Soto told me. (For a point of reference, the last time …read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/guesty-books-170m-to-double-down-on-property-management-tools-for-airbnb-and-other-rental-platforms/

YC-backed Arc, a digital bank for ‘high-growth’ SaaS startups, lands $20M Series A

Arc, a company that aims to give SaaS startups “a way to borrow, save and spend” in one place, has raised $20 million in a Series A round of funding.

The raise comes seven months after Arc emerged from stealth with $150 million in debt financing and $11 million in seed funding. The startup graduated from Y Combinator in March.

While it’s early days still, Arc says it has seen strong early interest in its offering, which offers both debt funding and digital banking services to SaaS startups. The company says that on average, its revenue has grown by 250% every month since the fourth quarter of 2021. It is partnered with Stripe, one of the world’s largest and most valuable private fintechs.

When TechCrunch first covered Arc in mid-January, the company noted that since it had launched its introductory product — Arc Advance — last summer, more than 100 startups had signed up for the Arc platform. That offering gives founders a way “to convert future revenue into upfront capital.” Fast forward to today and co-founder and CEO Don Muir told TechCrunch that Arc is deploying “tens of millions of dollars in volume” and now has more than 1,000 companies on its platform.

Further, he said that Arc has a backlog of over $3 billion of demand for its Arc Advance funding product from companies already signed up on its platform. Over the next 12 months, Muir projects that Arc will activate over $500 million of funding and deposits for its customers.

Muir, Nick Lombardo (president) and Raven Jiang (CTO) founded Arc in January of 2021 and incorporated the company in April of that year. 

Left Lane led Arc’s Series A financing, which also included participation from NFX, Y Combinator, Bain Capital Ventures, Clocktower Technology Ventures, Torch Capital and Atalaya, as well as founders from Wayflyer, Plaid, Column, Chargebee, Vouch and Jeeves, among others.

“All of our existing investors with pro rata rights came into the round again, which we view as a point of validation,” Muir said.

There have been a flurry of startups emerging to offer financing alternatives outside of venture capital, especially to SaaS startups. Those companies are appealing to lend to because of their predictable recurring revenue.

Other players in the space include Founderpath, Pipe and Capchase, among others.

Muir said Arc is not deterred by the competition, viewing it as “a good thing.”

“The reality is that the market is currently dominated by the legacy offline banks who have entrenched relationships in the startup ecosystem,” he told TechCrunch. “Collectively, the fintech players still represent a low single-digit percentage of the annual deposit and funding volume in the market.”

The startup’s biggest differentiator, in Muir’s view, is that it goes beyond offering upfront revenue to also offer banking services.

“Arc is the first digital business bank that is purpose-built for high-growth startups,” he said. “So for the first time ever, startups can convert their future revenue into upfront capital, deposit those funds into …read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/fintech-yc-backed-arc-a-digital-bank-for-high-growth-saas-startups-lands-20m-series-a/

Google’s third bet from its Africa Investment Fund is in logistics company Lori Systems

In Africa, more than $180 billion is spent annually on haulage, and logistics account for more than 70% of a product’s price, according to reports. For comparison, it’s 6% in the U.S. The influence of logistical operations on products leads to various problems for operators, from inconsistent pricing, which stems from a fragmented supply and demand market, to paper documentation and little or no access to financing.

Companies like Lori solve such problems and reduce costs with their on-demand logistics and trucking marketplaces, which connect shippers to transportation, help them move cargo, extend working capital facilities and provide them with software to manage their operations. Lori, in a statement, said it has helped thousands of shippers and carriers move over $10 billion worth of cargo across the continent since launching in 2016.

Lori Systems, an African on-demand logistics and trucking company digitizing haulage and providing shippers with solutions to manage their cargo and transporters, has raised a pre-Series B round in which Google participated along with other existing investors. Sources say the company raised at a slightly higher valuation than its last $110 million valuation in 2020. 

This undisclosed investment is Google’s third from the $50 million Africa Investment Fund targeted at the continent’s early- and growth-stage startups, which the company CEO Sundar Pichai announced last October. The fund is part of Google’s plan to invest $1 billion in “tech-led initiatives” over the next five years. The news also comes off the back of the launch of Google’s first product development center on the continent, in Nairobi, Kenya, the city where Lori Systems first launched.

Last December, Google announced its first investment in Ugandan super app SafeBoda. During the announcement, Nitin Gajria, the managing director of sub-Saharan Africa, said that the Africa Investment Fund wouldn’t restrict itself to specific verticals or regions. “We are focusing on investments where we believe that Google could add value. If founders are building interesting products solving real challenges in Africa, that would fall squarely within our investment thesis,” he added. 

The following month, the fund participated in South African games publisher and studio Carry1st’s $20 million Series A extension round led by a16z. With its most recent investment in Lori Systems, a Google spokesperson — when quizzed about the fund’s investment strategy considering its investments have come from three different sectors — told TechCrunch that the Africa Investment Fund has an eye for startups that it has a strategic overlap in key verticals, including fintech, logistics, e-commerce and local language content.

Image Credits: Lori Systems

In Africa, more than $180 billion is spent annually on haulage, and logistics account for more than 70% of a product’s price, according to reports. For comparison, it’s 6% in the U.S. The influence of logistical operations on products leads to various problems for operators, from inconsistent pricing, which stems from a fragmented supply and demand market, to paper documentation and little or no access to financing.

Companies like Lori solve such problems and reduce costs with their on-demand logistics and trucking marketplaces, which connect shippers to transportation, help them move cargo, extend working capital facilities and provide them with software to manage their operations. Lori, in a statement, said it has helped thousands of shippers and carriers move over $10 billion worth of cargo across the continent since launching in 2016.

The TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa winner in 2017 is currently present in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. In 2019, we reported the firm’s Series A round, which several publications quoted to be between $20-30 million, led by Imperial Logistics (recently acquired by Dubai Ports …read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/googles-third-bet-from-its-africa-investment-fund-is-in-logistics-company-lori-systems/

VLC-developer VideoLan says India blocking site endangers its own citizens

VideoLan, the developer of popular media player VLC, says Indian telecom operators have been blocking its website since February of this year in a move that is potentially impacting some users in one of the open source firm’s largest markets.

“Most major ISPs [internet service providers] are banning the site, with diverse techniques,” VideoLan president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf said of the blocking in India, in an email to TechCrunch.

The telecom operators began blocking the VideoLan website on February 13 of this year, when the site saw a drop of 80% in traffic from the South Asian market, he said.

India represents 10% of all VLC users worldwide, he said. The website’s traffic has seen an overall drop of 20% as a result of the blocking in India.

Indian telecom operators have not explained why they have blocked the VideoLan website, but some speculate that it could be because of a misinterpretation of a security warning from earlier this year.

Security firm Symantec reported in April this year that the hacker group Cicada, which has ties with the Chinese government, was exploiting VLC Media Player as well as several other popular applications to gain remote access to the victim’s computers.

Kempf said he or his firm has not been contacted by any Indian government agency and the block is likely a result of a misunderstanding of the Chinese security issue.

VLC, downloaded over 3.5 billion times worldwide, is a local media player that doesn’t require internet access or connection to any particular service online for the vast majority of its features. A block on its website doesn’t impact the existing install base of VLC. Users can also continue to receive updates from mirror websites and app stores.

But by blocking the website, India is pushing its citizens to “shady websites that are running hacked version of VLC. So they are endangering their own citizens with this ban,” Kempf added.

New Delhi-based privacy advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation said in a tweet that blocking VideoLan “is without any publicly disclosed reason.

…read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/vlc-india/

Spotify prompts some users to record reaction podcasts to playlists

After testing new in-app podcast recording tools for users in New Zealand, Spotify is now trialing a new audio feature in Vietnam, one that’s designed to encourage users to record voice reactions to playlists.

A Reddit user posted screenshots of the feature, showing how they received a prompt to react to a playlist with a voice clip that will be posted as a podcast episode. As per its previous test in New Zealand, it’s fair to assume that these reaction ‘podcasts’ will be published directly to creators’ personal profilers where followers will be able to listen.

The screenshots show that users included in the test are seeing a microphone icon on playlist screens, and upon tapping that, they see a new screen that prompts them to record a voice reaction to the playlist.

Users are seeing a mic icon to record a voice reaction to a playlist Image Credits: Reddit (opens in a new window)

Once they hit the button, they can either record in one go or multiple clips by pausing. Later, they can edit the clip, add background music, and tag the playlist before publishing.

This workflow is similar to the test in New Zealand, except in that test, the starting point was a “Record Podcast” button on the home screen. So this test is more about giving a prompt to users who might not have a podcast idea in their mind.

Spotify podcast

Spotify shows some rules creators must follow for podcast recording for safety Image Credits: Reddit (opens in a new window)

Spotify has confirmed the test, but the company didn’t share any details about what locations the feature is available, and how it plans to moderate these voice reactions.

“At Spotify, we are always looking for ways to enhance our users’ experience on our platform, and we regularly test features that we believe will bring value to listeners and creators. We are currently running a limited test of in-app audio creation, but have no further details to share at this time,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

As we noted in our story in June, a lot of these features are powered by Spotify-owned podcast creation app Anchor. These tests indicate that the streaming giant is trying to convert listeners to creators by providing them with easy in-app tools to make and publish podcasts.

In its Q2 2022 earnings last month, Spotify said it now has 4.4 million podcasts on the platform, and users engaging with them have grown at a “substantial double digits year-on-year.” Spotify has invested more …read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/spotify-prompts-some-users-to-record-reaction-podcasts-to-playlists/

Sequoia India-backed Digit Insurance files for $440 million IPO

Indian insurer Digit has filed for an initial public offering, looking to raise about $440 million even as many of its local peers have deferred plans to list publicly in the South Asia nation.

The Indian startup, whose valuation jumped to $3.5 billion in a Sequoia India-led financing round last year, said in a filing to the local regulator Tuesday that it plans to raise up to $157.5 million through issue of new shares while existing shareholders plan to sell about 109.45 million shares. It didn’t say exactly how much it is planning to raise in the public offering, but a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the startup is eyeing to raise about $440 million in total.

The five-year-old startup, which sells auto, health and travel insurance, is part of a group of firms that is attempting to expand the number of individuals in India that buy insurance coverage. Digit, founded by Kamesh Goyal, an ex-KPMG executive with over three-decade experience in the insurance industry, says it has simplified the process of buying insurance, allowing users the ability to self-inspect, claim submissions and process service requests from their smartphones.

“Digit simplifies insurance through a product-led growth. The thing about insurance is that it’s thought of as a commodity which makes pricing king – lower pricing gets adopted. But cheaper pricing is a race to the bottom. Digit’s products have enhanced coverage (without the baggage of traditional insurance models and data) and is often better priced, making it a compelling investment,” wrote Osborne Saldanha, a Bangalore-based fintech investor, in a newsletter last year.

“Digit goes a step further and doubles down on service-led growth as well. In its 7th transparency report, Digit reported ‘average approval time for healthcashless claims in March 2021 was 1 hour and 8 minutes and for reimbursement claims was 2 hours and 1 minute. Our overall Claim Closure Rate for health was 96%.’ It settled 95+% of insurance claims across most products,” he added.

The startup, which also counts Fairfax Group, Indian cricketer Virat Kohli and TVS Capital among its backers and has raised over $540 million from them, says its motor insurance coverage generated $413 million in gross written premium in the financial year that ended in March. “This level of premium accounted for a market share of 4.5% and 3.5%, respectively, of the total motor insurance premiums written by all non-life insurers in India,” it added.

The startup, which distributes its insurance through 32,600 partners, including nearly 31,000 point of sale agents and brokers, reported a total income of about $572 million and $37.29 million in losses for the fiscal year that ended in March.

Digit Insurance’s filing comes at a time when several local startups including budget hotel chain Oyo and financial services platform MobiKwik have delayed their IPO plans as they closely monitor the condition of the global market, which has reversed much of the gains from the 13-year bull run.

…read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/sequoia-india-backed-digit-insurance-files-for-440-million-ipo/

Motional launches autonomous Hyundai IONIQ 5s on Lyft network in Las Vegas

Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture that’s working to commercialize autonomous driving technology, has launched its new all-electric IONIQ 5-based robotaxi for driverless ride-hail operations on the Lyft network in Las Vegas. The news follows years of collaboration between the two companies in Las Vegas.

The launch of the IONIQs, which marks the turnover of Motional’s fleet of BMW-based AVs, is right on schedule. Motional and Lyft said last November that they would aim to start transporting passengers using the Hyundai vehicles in the City of Sin by the second half of 2022, with a full scale commercial launch set for 2023.

Similar to Motional’s autonomous ride-hailing service that the company launched with Via in February, riders will not be charged for autonomous Lyft rides — the companies are mutually focused on rider feedback, said a company spokesperson. The spokesperson also noted that Motional has a permit to conduct fully driverless testing anywhere in Nevada, and that Motional and Lyft will secure the appropriate permits to start conducting commercial rides in fully driverless vehicles ahead of the launch in 2023.

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has not responded to TechCrunch’s requests for clarification on what permits those might be, but a spokesperson from the department previously told TechCrunch the state is working on drafting new legislation around AVs. Nevada’s current legislation doesn’t make a distinction between testing or operating AVs with a human safety operator onboard or without, nor does it include specific language around commercializing robotaxi or autonomous delivery.

Motional did not share how many IONIQ 5s will be deployed in Las Vegas, but the company did say it will continue to expand its fleet over the course of 2022 as it gears up for its commercial launch next year.

Any Lyft rider in Las Vegas can request a Motional AV, according to the spokesperson. There will be two vehicle operators present in the front seats — presumably one behind the steering wheel in case a human needs to take over, and one in the passenger seat to record data and observations. The service route is focused on high-traffic and popular destinations along the Vegas strip and will only be available during daytime hours, which is fair when one considers that not many AV systems are trained to spot and avoid drunk hooligans vomiting on the street.

Customers who order a robotaxi ride can use the Lyft app to unlock the doors of the autonomous IONIQs. While inside the vehicle, riders can interact with an in-ride display that allows them to start the ride or contact customer support. Many of the features within the vehicles come from years of testing and rider feedback from over 100,000 rides over the last four years, according to Motional.

Motional has said for a time that it plans to expand to other major U.S. cities after commercially launching in Las Vegas, but the company hasn’t said what other cities it is targeting. Like 47 other companies, Motional has a permit to test its driverless …read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/motional-launches-autonomous-hyundai-ioniq-5s-on-lyft-network-in-las-vegas/

Klarna founder to launch new ‘Nobel Prize for Impact’

According to BCG global assets under management are around $100 trillion, but only $715 billion, or less than 1%, goes on what you might term ‘impact’ companies or projects to tackle the world’s biggest environmental and social issues.

Now, a Klarna founder plans to create what he calls a ‘Nobel Prize for Impact’. Niklas Adalberth co-founded Klarna in 2005 but left in 2015 and established the Norrsken Foundation in 2016, contributing $20 million to the launch and an additional $62 million in 2017.

Now, the organization’s new initiative will be “Norrsken Impact100”, an annual list of “the world’s most promising impact companies” in order to shine a light on founders working in this space.

The companies that will make it to the final 100 (announced this month) will be nominated by several partner organizations, including the Obama Foundation, Softbank Investment Advisers, World Fund, Katapult, BMW Foundation, Leaps by Bayer, Summa Equity and several others.

In a statement, Adalberth said: “We believe that entrepreneurs building rapidly scalable businesses are our best bet to solving the world’s hardest and biggest problems… Unicorns are usually companies with a valuation of over $1 billion, but we want to recognize potential impact unicorns – those that will positively impact 1 billion people.”

The Impact 100 will be judged by a panel including Adalberth, as well as Ulrika Modéer, UN Assistant Secretary General; Matt Miller, partner Sequoia; and Carl Manneh, co-founder Mojang.

The winners will be revealed at Impact Week in Stockholm, this Fall.

The Norrsken Foundation runs Norrsken House in Sweden, a hub for impact entrepreneurs, and incubated Norrsken VC, a $130m impact VC. It also runs Norrsken 22, a US$200m growth fund for African startups.

…read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/15/klarna-founder-to-launch-new-nobel-prize-for-impact/

Qeepsake, a journaling app that helps families capture and store memories, raises $2M

Qeepsake app

Qeepsake, a New York-based family journaling app, has raised $2 million in seed funding. Founded in 2015, Qeepsake sends its users daily questions via text or push notifications to encourage them to reflect on their day, children, parenting and more. Text, photo and video responses are then automatically organized into digital journals in Qeepsake’s app.

The app was founded by two parents, Jeff and Stephanie McNeil, who wanted to create a private and secure service that would store their memories and remind them to stay on top of saving fleeting moments. The idea came from Stephanie and Jeff’s experience raising four young children at the time and feeling like they didn’t have the time or help in saving the memories that mattered most to them.

Qeepsake uses simple prompts to help parents save memories that would otherwise be missed. Users also have the option to turn these memories into custom-printed Qeepsake Books. To date, Qeepsake says it has over 700,000 registered users and has helped parents save over 50 million memories.

Once you sign-up for the app, you’re asked to add your child’s name or nickname to create a journal for them. You have the option to add more journals for your other children, as well. From there, you’re asked how many prompts you want to receive in a day and what time you want to receive them. You can also decide if you want to receive prompts for specific holidays, such as New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas and more. When you’re all set up, you’ll start receiving daily prompts.

The app is free to join, but also offers two paid memberships to users who want to unlock more features. The company’s Qeepsake Plus membership, which costs $47.88 per year, gives users access to unlimited entries and photos, up to two questions per day texted to your phone, the ability to answer previous questions and more. The membership also gives users the ability to sync the app with their social media accounts. Once you sync your social media accounts, you can add your posts on Instagram and Facebook to your Qeepsake journal. In addition, you can choose to skip questions and send in any photo and story to create a spontaneous journal entry. 

Image Credits: Qeepsake

The company’s Qeepsake Premium membership, which costs $95.99 per year, gives users the ability to add their spouse, partner, grandparent, sister, friend, nanny, daycare teacher, or neighbor to contribute to their journal. The premium membership is designed to capture your family’s journey from every perspective and is the only membership that includes Qeepsake video.

In addition to the funding announcement, Qeepsake also announced the appointment of Tracy Cho as its new CEO. Cho told TechCrunch that Qeepsake plans to explore new monetization opportunities over the next few years. The company also plans to pilot a few partnerships to introduce relevant parenting products and services.

The company’s seed funding round was led by LaunchCapital and included participation from TechStars, Right Side …read more

https://techcrunch.com/2022/08/16/qeepsake-a-journaling-app-that-helps-families-capture-and-store-memories-raises-2m/