Author: Steve O'Hear

With two new funds, LocalGlobe has more latitude than ever



“You wanted me to record this?” asks Saul Klein, LocalGlobe founding partner.

“Just in case you say anything interesting,” I quip back.

“I won’t be doing most of the talking, so maybe someone will say something interesting,” Klein replies poker-faced, before grinning.

Once again, I’ve agreed to an ensemble-style interview with multiple members of the LocalGlobe investment team: Klein, George Henry, Suzanne Ashman, Julia Hawkins, Mish Mashkautsan and Remus Brett. Unlike in 2015, however, when I visited the early-stage VC’s then offices in Tileyard Studios, the interview is taking place over Zoom, rather than the firm’s new Phoenix Court premises in the King’s Cross area of London.

Also in contrast to last time, when I wanted to scoop LocalGlobe’s latest fundraise and Klein rather I didn’t, this time it’s the other way round: I’ve been invited to write a piece partly anchored on news of two new funds that were quietly raised last year.

LocalGlobe, the entity that invests at seed stage, has an additional $150 million of capital to deploy in the U.K. and Europe (and further afield). Running alongside is Latitude, a growth-stage fund now with $220 million more to invest, which allows the LocalGlobe team to take a fresh look at breakout portfolio companies that have proven their growth potential or to back other scale-ups, which, for myriad reasons, didn’t take or weren’t offered LocalGlobe’s cash earlier.

“Latitude was born out of the idea of building continuity,” says LocalGlobe general partner George Henry. “When it comes (Read more...)

Butter is building an ‘all-in-one’ platform to run virtual workshops



Butter, a startup registered in Denmark but operating fully remote, is building an “all-in-one” platform for planning and running virtual workshops.

Offering video software and other features dedicated to workshopping, the idea is to pull people away from using more generic tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which, arguably, aren’t well suited to workshops. It’s also an idea that will be welcomed by many remote workers trapped in a groundhog day full of back-to-back Zooms — and one that has already attracted venture capital.

Backing Butter’s seed round of $2.75 million, which is being disclosed today, is Project A. Others investing in the burgeoning startup are Des Traynor, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Intercom (amongst other angels). It adds to $440,000 previously raised through a mix of equity funding from Morph Capital, venture debt from The Danish Growth Fund and grants from Innovation Fund Denmark.

Butter co-founder and CEO Jakob Knutzen tells me that workshop facilitators, such as strategy consultants, HR trainers and design sprinters, typically have two problems: technical overload and a lack of energy in the workshops.

The former includes having to juggle too many tools needed to plan, run and disseminate a workshop, coupled with unintuitive interfaces and an inability to set up elements of a workshop in advance. The lack of “energy” when delivering workshops virtually is likely a harder nut to define and then crack, but anyone who has taken part in an online workshop has likely experienced it.

“We solve these (Read more...)

Butter is building an ‘all-in-one’ platform to run virtual workshops



Butter, a startup registered in Denmark but operating fully remote, is building an “all-in-one” platform for planning and running virtual workshops.

Offering video software and other features dedicated to workshopping, the idea is to pull people away from using more generic tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which, arguably, aren’t well suited to workshops. It’s also an idea that will be welcomed by many remote workers trapped in a groundhog day full of back-to-back Zooms — and one that has already attracted venture capital.

Backing Butter’s seed round of $2.75 million, which is being disclosed today, is Project A. Others investing in the burgeoning startup are Des Traynor, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Intercom (amongst other angels). It adds to $440,000 previously raised through a mix of equity funding from Morph Capital, venture debt from The Danish Growth Fund and grants from Innovation Fund Denmark.

Butter co-founder and CEO Jakob Knutzen tells me that workshop facilitators, such as strategy consultants, HR trainers and design sprinters, typically have two problems: technical overload and a lack of energy in the workshops.

The former includes having to juggle too many tools needed to plan, run and disseminate a workshop, coupled with unintuitive interfaces and an inability to set up elements of a workshop in advance. The lack of “energy” when delivering workshops virtually is likely a harder nut to define and then crack, but anyone who has taken part in an online workshop has likely experienced it.

“We solve these (Read more...)

TrueLayer raises $70M for its open banking platform



TrueLayer, the London startup that offers a developer-friendly platform for companies, including other fintechs, to utilise open banking, is disclosing $70 million in new funding.

The Series D round is led by new investor Addition. Existing investors, including Anthemis Group, Connect Ventures, Mouro Capital, Northzone and Temasek, also participated. New investors include Visionaries Club, Zack Kanter (CEO Stedi), Daniel Graf (ex-Uber, Google, Twitter) and David Avgi (ex-CEO SafeCharge, CEO UniPaaS).

TrueLayer says the Series D brings the total investment to date to $142 million. The injection of capital will be used to continue scaling its open banking network, which brings together payments, financial data and identity to enable companies to build new products that improve “how we spend, save, and transact online”.

This will include further development of premium open banking-based services that go beyond simply accessing open banking APIs and will enable more innovation across financial services, including embedded finance and payments more generally.

To do this, and to support what it says is growing demand, TrueLayer is expanding its engineering, product and commercial teams. In the past 12 months, the fintech has expanded its services across 12 European markets.

Over the years, TrueLayer CEO and co-founder Francesco Simoneschi and I have often pontificated on what open banking’s killer use case or use cases may turn out to be. We may finally have our answer: payments.

That’s because one aspect of open banking is payment initiation, which lets an authorised third party initiate the transfer of money out (Read more...)

Bob W, the ‘tech-driven’ hospitality provider, raises €10M in seed funding



Bob W, the self-described “tech-driven” hospitality provider that offers an alternative to traditional hotels and short-stay rentals, is disclosing €10 million in seed funding.

Leading the round, which included a first tranche of €4 million last year, is byFounders VC and private equity firm Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi). Other European real estate and venture capitalist investors participating include Kaamos, Superangel, United Angels and NREP (via its anchor investment into the 2150 venture capital fund, which promises to back sustainable urban technologies).

Founded in 2018 by Niko Karstikko and Sebastian Emberger, Bob W — which is a play on the phrase “best of both worlds” — is described as offering tech-powered short-stay apartments that combine hotel-like quality with the authenticity of individual rentals.

Its “full-stack” model sees it source and manage properties and provide an accompanying app for guests, with support for chat-based customer service and contactless online check-in. It also claims to have made the majority of its operations autonomous. “[This] not only minimises human error but also allows the company to craft the entire guest experience, from booking to check-out, at scale,” says the company.

Launched in a number of Nordics markets, and on the verge of opening properties in London, the startup seems to be weathering the pandemic, reaching occupancy rates as high as 90% at its existing properties in Estonia and Finland. Revenue is also said to have grown by 80% in 2020, with the company putting a lot of marketing toward claims behind being more (Read more...)

Charles raises €6.4M seed to bring ‘conversational commerce’ to WhatsApp



Charles, a Berlin-based startup that offers a “conversational-commerce” SaaS for businesses that want to sell on WhatsApp and other chat apps, has raised €6.4 million in funding.

Led by Accel and HV Capital, the seed funding will be used by the company to scale and meet existing demand for its conversational commerce platform.

Launched in 2020 by Artjem Weissbeck and Andreas Tussing after the pair had run a year-long experiment running a store in WhatsApp, Charles enables businesses to sell products and services via WhatsApp and other chat apps in order to “increase conversion rate, customer loyalty and ultimately revenue”.

The SaaS connects chat app APIs, such as WhatsApp and Messenger, with shop and CRM systems, like Shopify, SAP and HubSpot, all delivered through a user-friendly interface. The idea is to make it easier for businesses to meet their customers on the channels they already use and to bridge the gap between sales enquiries and support, and actual conversions.

” ‘Traffic’ and with it ‘conversion’ will exponentially move from the streets (retail) and the browser/native apps into chat apps,” says Weissbeck. “Thereby, conversational commerce will be the third big pillar of commerce, gluing together all channels and unlocking the full potential of personalization via the unique identification of customers via their phone number”.

This transition, argues the Charles founder, creates “tremendous challenges and opportunities” for companies in terms of customer journey design and the tech stack, which to date — Asia, aside (Read more...)

Zapp, the on-demand delivery and ‘dark’ store operator, picks up backing from Lightspeed and Atomico



Zapp, one of a number of startups currently battling it out in London and beyond by promising to let you order everyday items on-demand from its own delivery-only stores, has quietly raised a new round of funding from leading VCs, TechCrunch has learned.

According to multiple sources, Silicon Valley’s Lightspeed and Europe’s Atomico (the VC firm started by Skype founder Niklas Zennström) have invested in Zapp’s unannounced Series A. Those same sources have also confirmed that Zapp has raised around $100 million in total, including via an earlier seed round.

In addition to Lightspeed and Atomico, other investors in Zapp include 468 Capital, and Burda, alongside notable angels such as Mato Peric, Christopher North (former Amazon UK CEO), and Stefan Smalla (Westwing CEO). One source tells me that the startup’s Series A is the first deal that consumer-focused partner, Sasha Astafyeva, has led on Atomico’s behalf since joining the London-headquartered VC firm.

“We’re relentlessly focused on delighting our customers and generally do not comment on our capital structure. We are excited to bring Zapp to millions of customers in London and beyond this year,” said Zapp, in a statement issued to TechCrunch when asked about the Series A and list of investors.

Started last summer, Zapp’s founders are Joe Falter, who was part of the founding team at Jumia where he led the on-demand services business through to the group’s IPO, and Navid Hadzaad, who most recently was (Read more...)

Nested, the UK-based ‘modern’ estate agent, raises additional £5M to improve the home-selling experience



Nested, the London-based startup that is using technology to build a “modern” estate agency and improve the home-selling experience, has raised an additional £5 million. Backing comes from Axel Springer, alongside previous backers Balderton Capital and Northzone.

Described as a “strategic investment,” Nested co-founder and CEO Matt Robinson tells TechCrunch that the round brings the “vast industry experience and resources” of Axel Springer to the board, in advance of a U.K. nationwide launch this year — meaning that the proptech is expanding beyond its current footprint of London.

Pitched as a “modern estate agent,” Nested’s offering pairs local agents with what it claims is industry leading tools and technology to help them better-support home-sellers (and buyers). It initially launched by offering to front the cash needed to buy your next home before you had sold your existing one, but now covers the entire house-selling journey.

Most recently, Robinson says Nested has been testing a new “hyper-local” approach so it can better service different neighbourhoods in a huge city like London. The idea, he says, is to give customers the best of both worlds: “a fantastic local agent who knows their area inside out, powered by Nested’s unique technology”.

This saw Nested launch 5 hyper-local areas in 2020 and Robinson says it has quickly gained up to 15% market share in those local markets. It is planning to launch an additional 30 areas over the next 18 months, as well as moving outside London for the first time.

“We find (Read more...)

MessageBird acquires 24sessions to bring video to its ‘omnichannel’ platform



MessageBird, the omnichannel cloud communications platform recently valued at $3 billion, is continuing to ramp up its M&A activity. Following last year’s acquisition of Pusher, a company that provides real-time web technologies, it is announcing that it has acquired “video-first” customer engagement platform 24sessions, and customer data platform Hull.

Terms of the two new deals aren’t being disclosed, although MessageBird founder and CEO Robert Vis tells me the three acquisitions add up to about $100 million in total, and we alreadly know that Pusher’s acquisition price was $35 million. I also understand that the 24sessions and Hull acquisitions saw both companies’ investors exit entirely.

Originally seen as a European or “rest of the world” competitor to U.S.-based Twilio — offering a cloud communications platform that supports voice, video and text capabilities all wrapped up in an API — MessageBird has since repositioned itself as an “Omnichannel Platform-as-a-Service” (OPaaS). The idea is to easily enable enterprises and medium and smaller-sized companies to communicate with customers on any channel of their choosing.

Out of the box, this includes support for WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Twitter, Line, Telegram, SMS, email and voice. Customers can start online and then move their support request or query over to a more convenient channel, such as their favourite mobile messaging app, which, of course, can go with them. It’s all part of MessageBird Vis’ big bet that the future of customer interactions is omni-channel.

(Read more...)

Finch Capital acquires Wirecard Turkey



Finch Capital, the early-stage fintech VC with a presence in London and Amsterdam, is acquiring Wirecard Turkey, a subsidiary of Wirecard, the disgraced fintech out of Germany. The acquisition, for which terms remain undisclosed and is still subject to regulatory approval, sees Finch create a new Ireland-registered entity called Nomu Pay.

After facing a huge accounting scandal and failing to make payments on its own loans, Wirecard went into insolvency last year. Since then, various parts of its business have been bought, including one of its largest assets, Wirecard Solutions, which was acquired by the U.K.’s Railsbank.

Finch’s managing partner Radboud Vlaar tells me Noma Pay’s larger plan is to invest in payments infrastructure in Turkey and the Middle East region. He says that more details will be provided on the new entity’s strategy and branding once the deal has formally closed.

Explains Vlaar: “We see tremendous growth opportunities to further enhance payments for Turkey’s 80 million inhabitants. We are excited to team up with Wirecard Turkey under the leadership of its CEO Serkan Yasin and we continue to actively look for further M&A opportunities in the region to accelerate its growth and development”.

Wirecard Turkey (Wirecard Ödeme ve Elektronik Para Hizmetleri A.Ş.) was established in Turkey in July 2008 and started its operations the following year as the country’s first “direct carrier billing” service provider. In 2014, it (Read more...)