StrictlyVC: March 28, 2018

Hello, there, and happy Wednesday.:)


Top News


Donald Trump  isn’t interested cracking down on Facebook, according to a new report in Axios. Instead, “he’s obsessed with Amazon,” says one of its five sources who’ve discussed it with him. His reported obsession is taking a toll of Amazon’s shares today, too.


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This Startup Just Lined Up $70 Million Lend Out $2 at a Time


You don’t hear of many $2 loans in the United States, where $2 won’t buy you more than a chocolate bar. But in cities like Lagos, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya, $2 has the buying power of roughly $40, making such “micro” loans useful when you’re running a small business. And borrowing $2 from a startup called Branch is a way onto a platform that promises much bigger loans, based on your credit worthiness.


What is Branch and why is it bothering with such small amounts of money? For answers to those questions, we talked this week with its founder and CEO Matt Flannery, who previously cofounded and co-led Kiva, a now 14-year-old micro-lending platform that enables families to make small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.


Flannery realized while running Kiva that a nonprofit — which Kiva is — can only get so far when it comes to fundraising. Meanwhile, fascinated by the spread of smart phones and digital payment systems in Africa, Flannery knew that if he could raise serious capital, he could make even more loans to small business owners without needing to meet and interview them first.


In service to that idea, what Branch built is an app that analyzes all kinds of information on a user’s phone that determines how to score their credit. For example, in Nigeria, every time you use an ATM, the bank sends you an SMS message with your bank balance. That’s useful information to Branch. In Kenya, every time you pay your energy bill, the receipt comes via SMS. Knowing if you pay it and how big a bill you’re paying is valuable information, too.


Users apparently don’t see the app as invading their privacy — or it’s worth the trade-off to them if they do. Since its 2015 founding, Branch has been downloaded onto more than one million mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa, says Flannery.


Based on that momentum, Branch has attracted the kind of financial muscle Flannery was seeking when he left Kiva to start the company. In fact, Branch is announcing today that it has lined up $70 million in Series B funding to expand its financial offerings to additional countries, including India.


More here.


New Fundings


Arraiy, a two-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based startup that’s trying to automate the creation of digital effects for movies, TV and games, just raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Lux Capital and Softbank Ventures, with participation from Dentsu VenturesCherry Tree Investments, and earlier backers IDG Capital and CRCM Ventures. The New York Times has more here.


Bigfoot Biomedical, a three-year-old, Milpitas, Ca.-based medical device company that ties smartphones to its automated insulin delivery pump for sufferers of Type 1 diabetics, says it has closed its Series B round with $55 million, including from new investor Abbott. The company, whose other backers include Janus Henderson Investors and Quadrant Capital Advisors, has now raised $90 million altogether. FierceBiotech wrote about Bigfoot in December.


CardUp, a 2.5-year-old, Singapore-based online card payments platform for cash management (it enables any payment made by bank transfer to be shifted to a credit card), has raised $1.7 million in seed funding from Sequoia India andSeedPlus. TechinAsia has more here.


Chia, a months-old, San Francisco-based outfit that claims the cryptocurrency it’s building doesn’t waste electricity like Bitcoin, has raised $3.4 million in seed funding led by AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, with participation from Andreessen HorowitzGreylock Partners and others. The company’s cofounder and CEO, Bram Cohen, invented BitTorrent, one of the first modern decentralized network protocols and an inspiration for the Bitcoin protocol. TechCrunch has more here.


Credit Karma, an 11-year-old, San Francisco-based company that’s been evolving from a  simple credit report system into a broader financial assistant, has raised $500 million through a secondary sale of its common shares to Silver Lake. As part of the investment, Credit Karma says it is getting a 23 percent bump in its valuation from its last secondary round, suggesting it’s now valued at roughly $4 billion. TechCrunch has more here.


Flying Whales, a six-year-old, Suresnes, Île-de-France-based company, has raised $246 million in funding to develop a 500-foot blimp designed to lift lumber from deep woodland. Investors include Bpifrance, which injected 25 million euros this month, and AVIC, China’s main producer of warplanes, transport aircraft and helicopters. France’s national forestry office and the Nouvelle Aquitaine region in the southwest of the country are also backing the project. Bloomberg has the story here.


LetsGetChecked, a four-year-old, Dublin, Ireland-based startup whose health test kit service allows users to take various common laboratory tests from the comfort of home, has raised $12 million in Series A funding. Optum Ventures, the independent venture fund of health services provider Optum, co-led the round withQiming Venture Partners, the Chinese venture firm. TechCrunch has more here.


Neighbor, a year-old, Salt Lake City, Ut.-based peer-to-peer self storage startup that connects people looking for storage with people who have unused space (in those rare cases where this exists), has raised $2.5 million in seed funding from Peak Ventures and Pelion VenturesMore here.


Oscar Health, a six-year-old, New York-based health insurance startup, has raised $165 million in new funding in a round led by Founders Fund, with participation from two branches of Google’s parent company Alphabet: the Capital G growth investment arm, and the Verily life sciences segment. According to CNBC, the company is now valued at $3.2 billion. More here.


Siren, a three-year-old, Copenhagen- and San Francisco-based startup that has developed fabric with embedded micro sensors, just unveiled a sock for people with diabetes, along with $3.4 million in funding from DCMKhosla Ventures and Founders Fund. TechCrunch has more here.


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Cushman & Wakefield, the century-old real estate brokerage giant backed by private equity firm TPG, is interviewing advisers to help take the company public, according to Bloomberg.


Homology Medicines, a three-year-old, Bedford, Ma.-based firm that aims to treat rare genetics diseases, has raised $144 million in its IPO. The company, which had raised $127 million in private funding previously, priced 9 million shares at $16. Its biggest outside shareholders sailing into its IPO include 5AM VenturesARCH VentureDeerfield, and Novartis.





Equifax has appointed former GE exec Mark Begor as CEO, the second change to the position since the credit-reporting company disclosed a massive cyberattack in September.


Crypto’s billionaire trading king — Binance’s Zhao Changpeng — has suddenly run into problems.


Tim Cook explains why “it’s not true” that the iPhone “isn’t built in the United States.”


Docker founder Solomon Hykes today announced that he is leaving the company he started.


Chris Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica  employee turned whistleblower, suggested yesterday that scale of the data leak is substantially larger than has been reported so far.




Turn/River Capital, a tech-focused private equity firm, is looking to bring aboard an investment development analyst to help it source deals. The job is in San Francisco.




The average Wall Street bonus hit $184,220 last year, or “pre-crisis level,” as Quartz reports. The median household income in the U.S., by way of comparison, was $59,039 in 2016.


Essential Reads


Last month, the board of SoftBank Group launched an investigation into who was behind a shareholder campaign that sought the ouster of two of its executives—Nikesh Arora and Alok Sama –and whether that effort had any connections to current company insiders, according to the WSJ. The piece suggests t the effort was meant to strengthen the career prospects of Rajeev Misra, now the head of Softbank’s $100 billion Vision Fund. Find the story — which is pretty fascinating — here. (H/T: Axios for flagging.)


Facebook has made its privacy and deletion settings easier to find, amid escalating criticism of the company.


Uber, after suspending its self-driving car operations in all markets following a fatal crash, has decided not to re-apply for its self-driving car permit in California. Uber’s current permit expires at the end of this month.


Slack is developing tools to tell if you treat men and women differently.




Hulu’s newest trailer for the second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which premiers April 28(!)


An American could become the next world chess champion. (Watch out, Magnus Carlsen.)


Robbie Frei’s father lost part of his arm serving in Iraq, so Robbie designed him a new one. He’s 18.


Retail Therapy


1,000-square-foot home that’s designed to function like one twice its size. (Also, it’s in Maui, so do you really care how big it is?)


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