StrictlyVC: January 28, 2016

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Top News in the A.M.

Facebook held its fourth-quarter earnings call yesterday. The takeaway: It crushed estimates.


Can Fractional Car Ownership Work?

couple of weeks ago, Ford Motor Company somewhat quietly announced that next month, it’s beginning a leasing pilot program in Austin that will enable three to six people to lease a Ford Vehicle together.

It’s not alone in thinking about fractional car ownership. Audi is similarly trying out a fractional car ownership program called Audi Unite that allows up to five people to own a car together. (It launched, and remains exclusively available, in Stockholm, Sweden.)

A nascent startup in London called Orto is entering the business of fractional car ownership.

The big question, of course, is whether the concept – which has been enormously successful when it comes to hotel time shares and private jets – can work when it comes to cars.

People clearly aren’t as wedded to owning vehicles as they once were, partly owing to congestion and related parking challenges, and partly owing to the rising cost of cars, particularly as they grow increasingly sophisticated. It’s no wonder that car-hailing services like Lyft and Uber — along with car-sharing services like ZipCar and Getaround — have taken off like gangbusters.

Even General Motors, which estimates that there are currently six million people around the world using a shared-based model of transportation, thinks that number will grow four or fivefold between now and the end of the decade.

In fact, that foregone conclusion explains why GM, along with Ford, Audi and BMW, have recently begun testing out their own car-sharing services. They haven’t gone terribly well to date, though. While GM’s service is about to launch, BMW’s pilot program, called DriveNow, was suspended in its pilot city of San Francisco last November. The company cited the city’s parking policies as too big a hindrance.

We haven’t heard a whole lot about Audi’s program, Audi On Demand, either. The nine-month-old service chose San Francisco as its testbed, and it still hasn’t expanded out of the city. (For what it’s worth, Uber expanded out of San Francisco and into New York City 10 months after it launched its operations.)

Given these earlier initiatives, carmakers’ newer ideas about fractional ownership make a certain kind of sense. You can imagine, for example, people who might not like the idea of all the germs that invariably come with popular car-sharing services. Buying a car with a small group can be a similarly priced but cleaner alternative.

Fractional ownership also puts luxury cars within the reach of many more people. You can bet people would share Tesla Model S cars if the company came up with a fractional ownership scheme.

More here.


New Fundings

Booster Fuels, a 1.5-year-old, Seattle-based company that partners with large businesses and then offers on-demand fuel service on their corporate campuses, has raised $9 million in Series A funding from Madrona Venture Group, Version One Ventures and RRE Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

Farmers Edge, an 11-year-old, Winnipeg-based company that makes precision agriculture and independent data management software, has raised C$58 million ($41.2 million) from earlier backers Mitsui & Co., Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Osmington Inc.

Insurify, a 2.5-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based startup that spun out of the M.I.T., has raised $2 million in seed funding to help motorists shop for auto insurance without having to talk to an agent of fill out online forms with personal data. Rationalwave Capital Partners led the round, which was filled out by individual investors. Venture Capital Dispatch has more here.

JobToday, a 1.5-year-old, Luxembourg-based startup whose mobile app helps service and blue collar workers connect with people and companies looking to hire them, has raised $10 million Series A round, led by Accel Partners, with participation from Felix Capital and existing investor Mangrove Capital Partners. TechCrunch has more here.

Mercatus, a 6.5-year-old, San Jose, Ca.-based cloud-based software company that aims to help advanced energy projects reduce costs and increase profitability, has raised $11.7 million in Series B funding led by Traverse Venture Partners and TPG‘s Alternative and Renewable Technology Fund.More here.

Naritiv, a 1.5-year-old, L.A.-based Snapchat-focused marketing company, has raised $3 million in funding from Third Wave Digital, Walt Disney Co., and Luminari Capital. The company had previously raised $1.2 million. The L.A. Times has more here.

NewVoiceMedia, a 15-year-old, U.K.-based business that helps companies to run their customer contact centers and sales services in the cloud, has raised $30 million in funding led by BGF Ventures, with participation from earlier backers Bessemer Venture Partners, Eden Ventures, Highland Capital Partners Europe, Salesforce Ventures and Technology Crossover Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

Pindrop, a four-year-old, Atlanta, Ga.-based company that uses audio analysis to provide anti-fraud and authentication technology to its customers, has raised $75 million in Series C funding led by Google Capital, with participation from Google Ventures, Citi Ventures, Felicis Ventures, and earlier backers Andreessen Horowitz and Institutional Venture Partners. TechCrunch hasmore here.

Sonovate, a two-year-old, London-based fintech recruitment contract finance provider, has raised a £5 million ($7.1 million) in Series A funding led by Dawn Capital, with participation from DN Capital. Sonovate has also secured further £15 million ($21.5 million) in debt funding from Shawbrook Business Credit.

Tapdaq, a 2.5-year-old, London-based company that provides indie and mid-sized app developers with selective cross-promotional opportunities to highlight other devs’ apps, has raised $6.5 million in Series A funding from BGF Ventures, Balderton Capital, Spring Partners and Open Ocean Capital. TechCrunch has more here.

Wercker, a three-year-old, Amsterdam-based company that helps developers test and deploy code, has raised $4.5 million in Series A funding led by Inkef Capital, with participation from earlier backer Notion Capital. The company has now raised $7.5 million to date. TechCrunch has more here.


New Funds

Blockchain Capital, a 2.5-year-old, San Francisco-based venture firm that invests exclusively in bitcoin-related startups, has closed its second fund with $13 million, reports VentureWire. The outfit has has backed 37 companies to date, including BitFury, Circle Internet Financial, Coinbase, Ripple Labs and Xapo.

More here.

Good news for Illinois-based venture outfits, past and future. The state’s treasurer, Michael Frerichs, said earlier this week that Illinois will  will invest more than $220 million in venture funds focused on emerging local technology companies. The Illinois Growth and Innovation Fund will invest the capital in 15 to 20 funds over the next three years, with no more than 15 percent of the money placed in any one fund. The Chicago Tribune has more here.

Steamboat Ventures, the 15-year-old, Burbank, Ca.-based venture firm, is looking to raise up to $100 million for its sixth fund, shows an SEC filing that states the first sale has yet to occur.



Alibaba is reportedly selling its stake in Meituan-Dianping, a group deals and online booking site that recently raised $3.3 billion in funding, reports the WSJ. Alibaba begun negotiating the transaction when Meituan-Dianping was raising the in order to focus on Koubei, its rival online-to-offline (O2O) platform.

ScribbleLive, an eight-year-old, Toronto-based brand engagement platform, has acquired the four-year-old, San Francisco-based content creation platform Visually for an undisclosed price. Visually had raised about $15 million in funding from Crosslink Capital, SoftTech VC and 500 Startups. ScribbleLive, meanwhile, has raised nearly $60 million, including from Rogers Venture Partners, Summerhill Venture Partners, and Georgian Partners. TechCrunch has more here.



Siraj Khaliq, an ex-Googler and co-founder of The Climate Corporation (sold to Monsanto for around $1.1 billion in 2013), has joined Atomico in Zurich as an investment partner. More here.

Highland Capital Partners just promoted Manish Patel to lead the firm’s Silicon Valley consumer internet practice. Patel joined the firm in 2010 after nearly seven years at Google.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just became the sixth richest person on earth.



VMWare (which, yes, just laid off 800 people), is looking to hire a corporate development associate. The job is in Palo Alto, Ca.


Essential Reads

Alibaba profit doubled(!) in the last quarter.



New clues to how the brain maps time.

A French street artist who’s making boring buildings beautiful.

The Present.”


Retail Therapy

A duffle bag filled with $500,000 of prop money. (You’ll figure out what to do with it.)

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