Karat is a new startup promising to build better banking products for the creators who make a living on YouTube, Instagram, Twitch and other online platforms. Today it’s unveiling its first product — the Karat Black Card.
The startup, which was part of accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch, is also announcing that it has raised $4.6 million in seed funding from Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, SignalFire, YC, CRV and Coatue.
Co-founder and co-CEO Eric Wei knows the creator world well, thanks to his time as product manager for Instagram Live. (His co-founder Will Kim was previously an investor with seed fund Lucky Capital.) Wei told me that although many creators have significant incomes, banks rarely understand their business or offer them good terms when they need capital.
“Traditional banks care a lot about FICO [credit scores],” he said. “A lot of YouTubers, when they’re blowing up, they don’t have time to think: Let me make sure my FICO is awesome as well.”
At the same time, he argued that creators have become suspicious of potentially scammy financial offers, to the point that if you were to attend a pre-COVID VidCon and tried to give out $3,000, “The good creators will not take it, even if you tell them there are no strings behind it.”
Karat co-founders Will Kim and Eric Wei
With the Karat Black Card, the startup is giving creators a credit card that they can use for their business-related expenses. When creators are approved, they receive a $250 bonus that can be applied to any future purchases of electronics or equipment. The card also comes with custom designs, 2% to 5% cash back on purchases and it even offers advances on sponsorship payments.
Underlying it, Wei said Karat has developed an underwriting model that works for creators. Instead of looking at credit scores, Karat focuses on the size of a creator’s following, their current revenue and whether or not they’re “business savvy.”
“It’s not just the number of followers you have, but what platforms,” Wei added. “I would rather have 100,000 subscribers on YouTube than 1 million on TikTok, because on TikTok, it’s all algorithmically driven.”
Karat has already provided the card to an initial group of creators, including TheRussianBadger, TierZoo and Nas Daily. Wei said the model is working so far, with no defaults.
For now, the card is aimed at professional, full-time creators who have at least 100,000 followers. Wei estimated that that’s a potential customer base of 1 million creators. Eventually, he wants to provide those creators with more than a black card.
“We’re building a vertical financial and biz ops experience,” he said. “People in earlier stages, we do want to get to them eventually, but only after we feel like we’ve developed enough of an underwriting model.”
Earlier today, insurtech unicorn Lemonade filed an S-1/A, providing context into how the former startup may price its IPO and what the company may be worth when it begins to trade.
According to its new filing, Lemonade expects its IPO to price at $23 to $26 per share. As the company intends to sell 11 million shares in its debut, the rental and home insurance-focused unicorn would raise between $253 million and $286 million at those prices.
Counting an additional 1.65 million shares that it will make available to its underwriting banks, the company’s fundraise grows to $291 million to $328.9 million. Including shares offered to underwriters, Lemonade’s implied valuation given its IPO price range runs from $1.30 billion to $1.47 billion.
That’s the news. Now, is that expected valuation interval strong, and, if not, what might it portend for other insurtech startups? Let’s talk about it.
Not great, not terrible
TechCrunch is speaking with the CEOs of Hippo (homeowner’s insurance) and Root (car insurance) later today, so we’ll get their notes in quick order regarding how Lemonade’s IPO is shaping up, and if they are surprised by its pricing targets.
But even without external commentary, the pricing range that Lemonade is at least initially targeting is not terribly impressive. That said, it’s stronger than I anticipated.
The world is rife with me-too startups, which makes it all the more refreshing when a founder comes along that manages to find a broken market that’s hiding in plain sight.
That’s what Mike Kennedy appears to be doing with Koala, a young outfit determined to update the stodgy world of property time-share management, wherein people acquire points or otherwise pay for a unit at a timeshare resort that they intend to regularly use or swap or rent out (or all three).
It’s a big and growing market. According to data published last year by EY, the U.S. timeshare industry grew nearly 7% between 2017 and 2018 to hit $10.2 billion in sales volume.
It’s a market that Kennedy became acquainted with first-hand as a sales executive at the Hilton Club in New York, which, at least in 2018, was among 1,580 timeshare resorts up and running, representing approximately 204,100 units, most of them with two bedrooms or more.
Despite this growth, timeshares don’t jump to travelers’ minds as readily as hotel rooms or Airbnb stays, and therein lies the opportunity.
Part of the problem, as Kennedy see it, is that timeshares are harder to rent out than they should be. If a timeshare owner wants to reserve a week outside of the week that he or she purchased, for example, that person has to go through an antiquated exchange system like RCI (owned by Wyndam) or Interval International (owned by Marriott). Kennedy, who spent 10 years with Hilton, says he saw a number of his customers grow frustrated over time with their inability to better control their units’ usage.
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As the IPO market heats up, one offering slipped beneath our radar. This morning, then, we’ll catch up on Accolade’s initial public offering and what its proposed pricing may tell us about the state of the IPO market.
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Catching everyone back up, Accolade sells its service to employers who in turn offer it to their employees; the company’s tech provides a portal for individuals to “better understand, navigate and utilize the health care system and their workplace benefits,” Accolade states in its S-1 filings.
The firm goes on to point out that the U.S. health care system is complex, which puts “significant strain on consumers.” Correct. Its solution? To help “consumers make better, data-driven health care and benefits-related decisions” through its service by selling a “platform to support and influence consumer decision-making that is built on a foundation of mission-driven people and purpose-built technology.”
Regardless of that verbiage, Accolade’s business has proven sufficiently attractive to allow the firm to file to go public in late February, around when Procore filed. Both companies delayed their offerings, but Procore raised more private capital, a $150 million round that values it at around $5 billion. Accolade, to our knowledge, did not raise more funds. So, its IPO is back on and today we have its pricing interval.
Let’s unpack its pricing range, write some notes on its recent financial results and try to figure out how ambitious Accolade is being in terms of its expected valuation as it counts down to trading publicly.
According to Accolade’s June 24th S-1/A, the company expects a $19 to $21 per-share IPO price range. The company intends to sell 8.75 million shares in its debut, not counting a 1,312,500 share greenshoe option offered to its underwriters. Discounting the extra shares, Accolade would raise between $166.3 million to $183.8 million in its debut; inclusive of greenshoe shares, the total fundraise grows to a range of $191.2 million to $211.3 million.
Homebuilding is not for the faint of heart, particularly those who want to build something custom. Selecting the right architect and designer, the myriad contractors, the complexity of building codes and siting, the regulatory approvals from local authorities. It’s a full-time job — and you don’t even have a roof built over your head.
Atmos wants to massively simplify homebuilding, and in the process, democratize customization to more and more homeowners.
The startup, which is in the current Y Combinator batch, wants to take both the big decisions and the sundries of construction and combine them onto one platform where selecting a design and moving forward is as simple as clicking through a Shopify shopping cart.
It’s a vision that has already piqued the attention of investors. The company disclosed that it has already raised $2 million, according to CEO and co-founder Nick Donahue, from Sam Altman, former YC president and now head of OpenAI, and Adam Nash, former president and CEO of Wealthfront, along with a bunch of other angels.
It’s also a vision that is a radical turn from where Atmos was before, which was centered in virtual reality.
Donahue comes from a line of homebuilders — his father built home subdivisions as a profession — but his interests initially turned toward the virtual. He dropped out of college after realizing process engineering wasn’t all that exciting (who can blame him?) and headed out to the Valley, where he built projects like “a Burning Man art installation and [an] open-source VR headset.” That headset attracted the attention of angels, who funded its development.
The concept at the heart of the headset was around what the team dubbed the “spatial web.” Donahue explained that the idea was that “the concept of the web would one day flow from the 2D into the 3D and that physical spaces would function more like websites.” The headset he was developing would act as a sort of “browser” to navigate these spaces.
Of course, the limitations around VR hit his company as much as the rest of the industry, including limits on computation performance to build these 3D environments and the lack of scaling in the sector so far.
The thinking around changing physical spaces though got Donahue pondering about what the future of the home would look like. “We think the next kind of wave of this is going to be an introduction to compute,” he said, arguing that “every home will have like a brain to it.” Homes will be digital, controllable and customizable, and that will revolutionize the definition of the home that has remained stagnant for generations.
The big vision for Atmos going forward then is to capture that trend, but for today at least, the company is focused on making housing customization easier.
To use the platform, a user inputs the location for a new home and a floor plan for the site, and Atmos will find builders that best match the plan and coordinate the rest of the tasks to get the home built. It’s targeting homes in the $400,000-$800,000 range, and its focus cities are Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Atlanta, Denver and Austin.
It’s very much early stages for the company — Donahue says that the company has its first few projects underway in the Raleigh-Durham area and is working to partner and scale up with larger homebuilders.
Image Credits: KentWeakley / Getty Images
Will it work? That’s the big question with anything that touches construction. Customization is great — everyone loves to have their own pad — but the traditional challenge for construction is that the only way to bring down the cost of housing is to make it as uniform as possible. That’s why you get “cookie-cutter” subdivisions and rows of identical apartment buildings. The sameness allows a builder to find scale. Work crews can move from one lot to the next in synchronicity saving labor costs and time while building materials can be bought in bulk to save costs.
With better technology and some controls, Atmos might be able to find synergies between its customers, particularly if it gets market penetration in individual cities. Yet, I find the longer-term vision ultimately more compelling for the company. Redefining the home may not have made much sense three months ago, but as more people work from home and connect with virtual worlds, how should our homes be redesigned to accommodate these activities? If Atmos can find an answer, it is sitting on a gold mine.
Atmos team pic (minus two). Image Credits: Atmos
In addition to Altman and Nash, Mark Goldberg, JLL Spark, Shrug Capital, Daniel Gross’ Pioneer, Venture Hacks, Yuri Sagalov, Brian Norgard and others participated in the company’s angel/seed round.
“There were lots and lots of videoconferencing companies and yet everybody’s experience was really bad,” he said. “It just took [Zoom] coming along and getting just a few more things right that totally transformed” videoconferencing.
Zoom lesson in mind, Candidate Labs launched today as a modern talent agency, after operating in stealth for the past seven months. The company also announced today that it has raised $5 million in seed funding. Investors in the round include SignalFire, Leah Solivan of Fuel Capital, BoxGroup, Lattice CEO Jack Altman and the founders of Opendoor, Eric Wu and Ian Wong.
Candidate Labs connects a data platform with 100 million professionals to its database of 60,000 jobs. Then it creates short lists of talent recommendations that clients can then screen and interview.
Jonathan Downey, CEO and co-founder of Candidate Labs (Image Credits: Candidate Labs)
Its competitive edge is not in its access to data, but rather the technology it lays atop it. Downey said that Candidate Labs uses “human in the loop” machine learning, similar to Stitch Fix, which combines data and human judgement to better recommend style guides.
Candidate Labs leverages a big data set to get a product that is quality, not quantity. Using machine learning, Candidate Labs might extract a 25-person candidate list to help companies fill a singular role. Then a seasoned recruiter will look over the list to see the quality of the candidates, pull in personal judgement and create a final list. Once a client sees the list, Candidate Labs will see who it chooses to interview and then digest that feedback. Over time, humans and machines will get better at recommendations.
In an industry like recruitment, which has a lot of messy and unstructured data, human in the loop machine learning makes sense. There needs to be a two-pronged approach to hiring people, one that speeds up the bits that are purely logistical, but gives room for humans to make a correction if needed.
Candidate Labs’ big sell is that it connects sales and marketing professionals to jobs at a fraction of the time of normal recruitment tools. In over half of cases to date, Candidate Labs has introduced employers to candidates that are eventually hired within seven days. More than 50% of the talent it has placed has been diverse talent, according to Downey.
Leah Solivan, a general partner of Fuel Capital, invested in Candidate Labs in mid-2019 and said Candidate Labs’ launch compass is at a “critical inflection point for talent within the startup ecosystem.”
“During the best of times, candidates tend to rely largely on limited insights and a handful of network referrals to make a critical life decision with long-term consequences,” she said. “Their next role.”
“Candidate Labs is a recruiting firm that we wish we had been able to work with in building our own companies,” Downey said.
Along with the financing, Candidate Labs is announcing a job search tool. Sales and marketing professionals, among the most impacted by pandemic-related job losses, can use search filters to look for job openings. In early April, a ton of new tools were launched to help support those without jobs secure their next gig.
According to Downey, the tool will help Candidate Labs work directly with people within what is now a saturated job market.
Restaurants, hotels and other public venues where we spend leisure and business time have started to reopen in many parts of the world after a period of going dark to try to slow down the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, a startup called SevenRooms, which builds software to help those venues with their guest management, is announcing a growth round of $50 million — to double down on providing tools for venues that now have to handle a whole new layer of management to implement social distancing and more.
The funding, a Series B, is coming from a single investor, Providence Strategic Growth, the company tells me. SevenRooms has some notable backers on its cap table already: Amazon (which invested via its Alexa Fund and directly), Comcast (via Comcast Ventures) and BoxGroup, along with a number of individuals.
The company has now raised about $75 million in total and it’s not disclosing its valuation, but CEO Joel Montaniel (who co-founded the company with Allison Page, CPO; and Kinesh Patel, CTO) said in an interview that it’s a significant up round. (PitchBook estimates that its previous valuation was a modest $28 million.)
SevenRooms serves restaurants, hotels and other venues, although food service establishments account for about 95% of its business in terms of customers and revenues. Another new opportunity has emerged out of the need for a lot of other in-person venues, like shops, needing to consider how to implement reservations to help with social distancing.
Today, it counts a number of large chains, including 70% of the restaurants along the Las Vegas Strip (because MGM is a customer), among its users. In all some 500 million bookings globally have been made through its software since it was founded in 2011, and other customers include Bloomin’ Brands, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Wolfgang Puck, Michael Mina, D&D London, Corbin & King, Jumeirah Group, Black Sheep Restaurants, Zuma and Topgolf.
Montaniel described the last three months of business as something like a “tale of two cities” — a reference to the Charles Dickens novel, which starts out with the famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
In the context of SevenRooms, that has played out as a big drop in its mainstay business, which was focused around reservations, customer loyalty and other services sold as white-label services directly to the venues (or the operators, as Montaniel calls them), which in turn customised them for their customers, and created experiences across multiple platforms, including their own sites and apps, as well as Google Maps.
“It’s been really tough to see the industry go through the pandemic,” he said. “A lot of operators closed doors overnight. It created a lot of challenges for businesses.”
On the other side of the issue, necessity has been the mother of invention for SevenRooms and its customers. The company has built out a new tool for letting its customers take online orders for delivery — something it had been planning to launch later in the year but decided to launch earlier, given the state of things. It’s sold with a licensing fee, with no commission to SevenRooms, and links in with SevenRooms’ marketing and loyalty tools; it has done well, so much so that Montaniel said it and the longer-term customer relationships it’s building offset the drop in its other business.
“Delivery and pickup grew like crazy,” Montaniel said. And like some of the other “digital transformation” we’ve seen where retailers have accelerated their e-commerce strategies simply to stay in business, he believes that the switches and packages generated tens of thousands per month of savings.
There are a lot of companies that have built out tools to serve the hospitality industry, and specifically to help with bookings, with some of the bigger names including OpenTable and Yelp. Montaniel believes that SevenRooms stands out because of its focus primarily on its operators, rather than providing a business in being the interface between operators and their customers, and on how it views its role in not just helping perform functions but expanding the wider business, by way of data that it can use to help grow customer loyalty and help people who are regulars feel like it.
There remain a lot of potential competitors who are also sometimes partners. Google, and Google Maps, is perhaps the most obvious, although these days Montaniel says Google Maps and the entry point it gives to discovering restaurants is a great boost to its business.
“Google is a company that every company in the world thinks about and talks about in their strategy sessions,” he said. “But there are others too. Big companies always can be competition: they do so many things so well, and they are a team away and a cash infusion away from competing with you, and those who don’t think they are are rivals are not thinking big enough.”
All the same, there are also two potential allies in SevenRooms’ corner that make this bet a little more interesting.
Amazon’s Alexa Fund is about strategic investments: SevenRooms used the backing to build out an Alexa integration into its white-label tools. But there are other ways in which that connection might potentially develop. The company has dabbled in travel services (including bookings) in the past, via Amazon Destinations, and although that was short-lived, the company continues to serve a number of hospitality and travel businesses via AWS, and frankly you can’t really count Amazon out of any vertical with an online component, which is to say, you can’t really count Amazon out of any vertical at all.
Meanwhile, Comcast has been making a number of investments into the kinds of services that it could potentially resell as part of larger business connectivity packages, which includes a focus on local businesses, spelling out another opportunity for how SevenRooms might expand.
Interestingly, SevenRooms is already close to profitability, and it didn’t need this funding — in contrast to a lot of other startups that have found it hard to make ends meet in these difficult months. Montaniel said that it raised because it had a list of “seven things we wanted to do, and without the extra cash we could only do three of them,” without elaborating on what those product features will be.
It’s a big area, though, and now that so much activity has been cut off for so many of us, we’re only now starting to realise how critical it can be, one reason why investors were interested.
“SevenRooms is a category-defining company that provides a vital solution to hospitality operators worldwide,” said Adam Marcus, managing director at PSG. “Joel and the talented SevenRooms management team have built the only vertically integrated solution in the hospitality industry, which has enabled them to scale into a global powerhouse. SevenRooms is uniquely positioned, and we are excited to partner with the team to support their next phase of growth.”
The coronavirus pandemic has bruised and battered many technology startups, but it has also boosted a small few. One such company is Zoom, which has shouldered the task of keeping us connected to one another in the midst of remote work and social distancing.
Yuan moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 after being rejected for a work visa nine times. He got a job at WebEx and, upon the company’s acquisition by Cisco, became VP of Engineering at the company. He pitched an idea for a mobile-friendly video conferencing system that was rejected by his higher-ups.
And thus, Zoom was born.
Zoom launched in 2011 and quickly became one of the biggest teleconferencing platforms in the world, competing with the likes of Google and Cisco. The company has investors like Emergence, Horizon Ventures and Sequoia, and ultimately filed to go public in 2019.
With some of the most reliable video conferencing software on the market, a tiered pricing structure that’s friendly to average users and massive enterprises alike, and a lively ecosystem of apps and bots on the Zoom App Marketplace, Zoom was well poised to be a public company. In fact, Zoom popped 81% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq, garnering a valuation of $16 billion at the time.
But few could have prepared the company for the explosive growth it would see in 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic necessitated access to reliable and user-friendly video conferencing software for everyone, not just companies moving to remote work. People used Zoom for family dinners, cocktail hours with friends, first dates and religious gatherings.
But that growth led to increased scrutiny of the business and the product. The company was beset by security issues and had to pause product innovation to focus its energy on resolving those issues.
We’ll talk to Yuan about the growing pains the company went through, his plans for Zoom’s future, the acceleration in changing user behavior and more.
It’ll be a conversation you won’t want to miss.
Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 to September 18, and the show will be completely virtual. That means it’s easier than ever to attend and engage with the show. There are just a few Digital Pro Passes left at the $245 price — once they are gone, prices will increase. Discounts are available for current students and nonprofit/government employees. Or if you are a founder, you can exhibit at your virtual booth for $445 and be able to generate leads even before the event kicks off. Get your tickets today.
Imran Tariq is the co-founder of Webmetrix Group, the best-selling author of two books, a serial entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist.
Picture the drive to work you used to make every day before the COVID-19 pandemic struck — the same route, the same time and the same old billboards on the side of the freeway. Your drive to work isn’t about discovering new products or services, so in theory, you wouldn’t care about the dental offices, lawyers or whatever else that billboard is promoting.
But when there comes a day when your tooth aches and your insurance no longer covers your old provider, you might end up calling the number on that billboard after seeing it hundreds of times. That’s the billboard effect.
Digital marketing has largely left billboards in the dust, making it far easier to reach any of the billions of people online. But that doesn’t mean brands should be ignoring the principles that made billboards work in the first place.
Over the last five years, I’ve helped clients implement those principles by running video ads and have, for instance, helped a family lawyer in Joliet, Illinois book 130 phone calls with $1,000 in advertising spend with the strategy. Here’s how it works from start to finish.
The key to optimizing phone calls: Don’t link your website
While many brands already see the value in video marketing, most still don’t know how to go about making an effective video without having to hire an expensive video production company. Remember, the video doesn’t have to be a high-production project; it just has to get the message across to the right audience and give people a way to learn more.