October 10, 2019

Thursday! Hope yours went very well.:)

Top News 

Sheesh. A day after Apple pulled an app associated with Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, Google has removed from its Google Play store a mobile game after it was flagged by Hong Kong authorities. The game allowed players to role-play as a Hong Kong protester. According to the developer, Google said the app, called “The Revolution of Our Times,” violated rules related to “sensitive events.” The WSJ has the story here.

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Upgrade, the Newest Company from Renaud Laplanche, Has a New Credit Card That It Swears is Good for You 

Three years ago, the founder of LendingClub, Renaud Laplanche, took the wraps off his second act, a consumer lending venture called Upgrade that now employs 350 people, has lent roughly $2 billion to 200,000 people, and has raised $142 million from outside investors. 

At the time, it was jumping into a crowded market that has only become more frenzied, with a growing number of fintech startups that market themselves as more thoughtful alternatives to established banks and traditional credit card companies. While giants like Visa and MasterCard charge interest and late fees for overdue payments, for example, the Swedish unicorn company Klarna —  which allows shoppers to buy now and pay later — makes money through retailer transaction fees and late fees but doesn’t charge interest fees. Similarly, Max Levchin’s lending company, Affirm, doesn’t charge late fees when its customers rack up big charges, but it does charge interest rates (sometimes as high as 30 percent). 

Upgrade is slightly different in that that it doesn’t invite customers to defer their payments when they buy something using dollars from Upgrade. But it still largely fits into the same mold in that it markets itself as better for lending customers and more mindful of them. Its flagship personal loans product, for example, is largely used by customers to pay off credit cards and it features credit health tools that ostensibly teach people how to improve their credit scores. 

It also charges up to 35.89% interest annually to a small percentage of users. 

A brand-new credit product — the Upgrade Card — takes things even further on the feel-good front. As Laplanche explains it, the card “basically combines the payments capabilities of a credit card with the low cost of a bank loan into one single product.” 

Adds Laplanche of this hybrid creation: “Lending Club created a $100 billion industry with personal loans 12 years ago; I think this is 10 times bigger — and 10 times cheaper for consumers. 

We’re inherently skeptical of most lending products being good — or “cheap” — for customers. But here’s how it works: instead of asking a cardholder to pay a minimum amount each month from the balance they owe on their card, Upgrade breaks down the balance into an installment plan with equal monthly payments — plus an interest payment — that can be completed in a year to three years’ time. 

“It’s like a mortgage or a car loan with a clear payment schedule,” says Laplanche. “You can budget for it and it sort of forces you to pay down the balance over a reasonable period,” unlike credit cards where customers can run a balance for as long as they like —  which can wind up costing them an arm and a leg in interest payments alone over time. 

There is no prepayment penalty and the card replenishes as it is paid off. More, unlike many credit cards that reward users for spending with cash back and other perks, Upgrade customers receive 1% cash back each time they make a payment toward their balance. 

Still, there is an annual percentage rate as with most credit cards, and it’s not much kinder than other alternatives, with a span of 6.49% to upwards of 29.99%. (In fairness, the heavily hyped Apple Card comes with a starting APR of 13%.) 

More here.

Massive Fundings  

Clari, a seven-year-old, Sunnyvale, Ca.-based revenue operations platform, raised $60 million in Series D funding. Sapphire Ventures led the round, joined by Madrona Venture Group and earlier investors Sequoia CapitalBain Capital Ventures, and Tenaya Capital. TechCrunch has more here

Grammarly, a 10-year-old, San Francisco-based maker of writing assistance software, just raised $90 million at a post-money valuation of more than $1 billion led by earlier backers General Catalyst and IVP. TechCrunch has more here

Lilium, a four-year-old, Bavaria, Germany-based flying e-taxi developer, is looking to raise between $400 million and $500 million in fresh funding, according to TechCrunch. Says one of its sources: “It’s a very large round, at a very large valuation.” More here.  

Big-But-Not-Crazy-Big Fundings  

Einride, a three-year-old, Stockholm, Sweden-based autonomous vehicle startup known for its futuristic pods designed to haul freight, has raised $25 million in Series A round funding co-led by EQT Ventures and NordicNinja VC, a fund backed by PanasonicHondaOmron and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Other investors in the deal include Ericsson VenturesNorrsken FoundationPlum Alley Investments and Plug and Play Ventures. The startup has raised $32 million to date. TechCrunch has more here

Emplify, a three-year-old, Fishers, In.-based mobile-first employee engagement platform, has raised $15 million in new funding led by earlier backer Edison Partners. Other earlier backers also participated in the round, including Allos VenturesCultivation Capital, and numerous individuals. Inside Indiana Business has more here

Lattice, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based company that makes an employee performance and engagement management tool, has raised $25 million in Series C funding just six months after closing its B round. Tiger Global Management led the newest round at a post-money valuation of $200 million. The company’s other investors include Thrive Capital, the Slack FundKhosla Ventures and Y Combinator. TechCrunch has more here

Nerd Street Gamers, a 10-year-old, Philadelphia-based e-sports infrastructure company that builds the facilities that house leagues, training camps, and tournaments, has raised $12 million in Series A funding. Five Below led the round, joined by earlier investors ComcastSeventySix CapitalElevate Capital, and angel investor George Miller. VentureBeat has more here

Parsley Health, a three-year-old, New York-based membership-only doctor practice that doesn’t take insurance, has raised $26 million Series B funding. White Star Capital led the round, and was joined by FirstMark CapitalAmploAlpha Edison PartnersArkitekt VenturesGalaxy Digital, and individual investors, including One Medical founder Tom Lee and Flatiron Health cofounder Nat Turner. TechCrunch has more here

Revel, a 1.5-year-old, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company that rents out electric mopeds in New York and Washington, has raised $27.6 million in Series A funding. Ibex Investors led the round, joined by Toyota, Blue CollectiveLaunch Capital, and Maniv Mobility. TechCrunch has more here

Vahdam Teas, a 4.5-year-old India-based e-commerce startup that sells fresh tea in international markets, has raised $11 million in Series C funding led by Sixth Sense Ventures, with participation from earlier backer Fireside Ventures, along with numerous family offices and individual investors, including Zomato cofounder Pankaj Chaddah. The company has now raised around $16 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here

Smaller Fundings  

New Vector, a two-year-old, London-based startup that’s looking to help businesses and individuals run their own secure communication infrastructure, has raised $8.5 million in Series A funding from Notion Capital and Dawn Capital, along with European seed fund Firstminute Capital. TechCrunch has more here

Nexkey, a six-year-old, San Mateo, Ca.-based company that provides a mobile access control solution for commercial buildings and workspaces (it can turn your smartphone into your door key), has raised $6 million in Series A funding led by earlier investor Upfront Ventures. Other participants include K9 VenturesMark IV Capital and Anand Chandrasekaran, who is the former head of Platform for Messenger at Facebook. The company has now raised $10.8 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here

Pela, a 12-year-old, British Columbia-based maker of compostable phone cases, has raised C$5 million led by Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners, with participation from Kensington CapitalMore here

Sentio, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based behavioral health startup offering an emotion-sensing wearable and a connected support app, has raised $4.5 million in seed funding led by Felicis Ventures, with participation from AnthemisExponential Ventures, and SOSV. MobiHealth News has more here

Sweepr, a year-old, Dublin, Ireland-based smart-home customer service platform, just raised $9 million in Series A funding led by Draper Esprit, with participation from Frontline.vcMore here.

New Funds 

BoxGroup, the New York-based seed-stage investment firm led by David Tisch, has raised two separate, same-size funds from outside limited partners for the first time (instead of the firm’s partners). Both — a seed-stage vehicle and an opportunity fund — were closed with $82.5 million in capital commitments. Its outside LPs include Willoughby Capital, TrueBridge and founders from BoxGroup’s portfolio, TJ Parker (PillPack), Jeff Raider (Harry’s) and Nat Turner (Flatiron Health). TechCrunch has the story here.


C2FO, a Kansas City-based online marketplace for working capital, has acquired Priority Vendor, a Noida, India-based early-payment platform. C2FO has raised more than $400 million from investors, including SoftBank Vision Fund, Temasek, Mithril Capital Management, and Union Square Ventures. Priority Vendor had, in comparison, raised a small amount from Lightspeed Venture Partners. IBS Intelligence has more here

James Murdoch’s new holding company has agreed to buy a minority stake in Vice Media Group, according to the Financial Times. It reminds readers that the younger Murdoch son created Lupa Systems as an investment vehicle to assemble a new portfolio of media companies, using his $2 billion in proceeds from the $71 billion sale of most of the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox empire to Disney. It also notes that he has been on the board of Vice for several years. More here.


Vir Biotechnology, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based company that develop treatments for infectious diseases, just raised $143 million after pricing its U.S. IPO at the low end of a marketed range. It sold 7.14 million shares yesterday for $20 each, after offering them at between $20 to $22 each. Vir is backed by the SoftBank Vision Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings among backers. Bloomberg has more here.


Bebo founders Michael and Xochi Birch are apparently moving to the British Virgin Islands so looking to sell their extravagant San Francisco mansion. If the property sells for its $39 million asking price (they bought it in 2008 for $28 million and spent a fortune on design), it will tie for the most expensive home ever sold in the city. The person who set that record, just last year: venture capitalist Matt Cohler. The WSJ has more here

Self-described “self-made billionaire” money manager Ken Fisher reportedly stunned a crowd at a private San Francisco conference Tuesday by talking about genitalia and likening winning money-management clients to “trying to get into a girl’s pants.” Fisher told Bloomberg afterward he was surprised by how people reacted, saying he has spoken like that plenty of times in the past. Meanwhile, attendees who typically keep quiet about these fireside chats piped up at risk to their careers, they were so horrified

SAP today announced that Bill McDermott, its CEO for the last nine years, is  stepping down immediately. The company says he decided not to renew his contract, which McDermott himself has since elaborated on here. Worth noting: activist investor Elliott Management today disclosed a $1.35 billion stake in SAP and reportedly supports the move. More here

Melanie Strong, a former sports marketing executive with Nike, has joined Lance Armstrong’s months-old venture firm Next Ventures as a managing partner. More here.

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Essential Reads 

Is Amazon unstoppable

Apple CEO Tim Cook today defended the company’s decision to remove a mapping app in Hong Kong, but few are buying what he’s selling


How to get your worn-out AirPods replaced without paying $138. 

Nike just bought the most expensive building on Paris’ Champs Elysées for a whopping €613 million. 

Change your diet, change your mood?

Retail Therapy 

Cut your own vinyl records with this $1,100 machine.

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