#USA Endurance events startup Let’s Do This raises seed cash from Serena Williams, Usain Bolt


Let’s Do This is a YC alumni startup form 2018 which is a marketplace for endurance events, from a 5k fun run or an IronMan triathlon. It’s now raised a $5M seed round with Serena Williams and Usain Bolt participating. The round was led by Pete Flint (Partner at NFX, formerly Trulia, LastMinute).

Other investors include YCombinator, Shasta, Index, and FJ Labs. Other angels were Paul Buchheit (YC, Gmail), Yuri Sagalov (YC, AeroFS), Simon Nixon (MoneySupermarket), Tim Thackrah (Elmsleigh), Paul Radcliffe (Marathon World Record Holder) and Andy Philips (Booking.com).

The platform lists 30,000 races of all distances and disciplines and claims to be the largest marketplace for endurance events in the world, offering key information about the races and exclusive booking perks for members such as free cancellation protection.

They have recently agreed a partnership with Hearst to power all race listings across Runner’s World, Men’s Health and Women’s Health in the US and the UK.

Serena Williams, the 22 time Grand Slam Champion, said in a statement: “I’ve seen first-hand the incredible impact these events can have on making people fitter, healthier and happier. I love that Let’s Do This is not only making events like these more accessible but also helping to support athletes of all different fitness levels. Women are especially less likely to participate in marathons and obstacle races, so it’s really important there’s a platform encouraging people to step out of their comfort zones and make a positive difference in their lives.”

In a statement Flint said: “This is a $30bn global market with enormous growth potential and already 100 million people crossing a finish line in the US each year. In just 18 months they’ve gone from launch to building the world’s best online marketplace to find, learn about, and book your next race. With over 30,000 events across the US, UK, and Australasia, this team is just getting started.”

Usain Bolt, World Record holder in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m, said: “Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to inspire people to follow their dreams, get off the couch and get exercising. That’s what attracted me to Let’s Do This. It’s a company that is totally committed to changing the world and inspiring more people to get out there. Like me, their team doesn’t believe in limits and is totally committed to being the best in the world. It’s a really natural fit with what I care about and what I believe in so I am very happy to be supporting their mission to inspire more people to have epic experiences.”

The company was founded by childhood friends Alex Rose and Sam Browne who got into the space at University. Their team consists of people from Facebook, Google, Oracle, Deliveroo or SkyScanner.

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#USA Railsbank raises £10M Series A for its open banking and compliance platform


Railsbank, the open banking and compliance platform co-founded by CEO Nigel Verdon, who previously founded Currencycloud, has raised £10 million in Series A funding.

The new injection of capital will be used for further expand beyond Europe, including the U.S., Australia and South East Asia. The latter includes a new office in Singapore where a small team has already been assembled.

Backing Railsbank’s Series A is Moneta Capital, which led the round, alongside CreditEase, Clocktower Technology Ventures, Singapore Life. A number of existing investors also participated including Firestartr.

In a call with Verdon, who was talking to TechCrunch from Singapore, he explained that the new office is part of a strategy that will see Railsbank ride the next wave of fintech innovation, which he says is happening in South East Asia and where the playbook from London and New York 2011 is being repeated.

“In 2011, [we] saw the emergence of the finTech 1.0 scene with people like Currencycloud (which I also founded), TransferWise, Betterment, Bank Simple etc,” he tells me.

“This was enabled by the opening up of regulation as the macro trend. We currently see [a] similar regulator macro trend in SE Asia emerging and also the macro trend of tech companies being the distributors of financial products driven by access to cheap smart phones by firms like Xiaomi”.

To that end, Railsbank is positioning itself as a “utility” on which other companies — spanning fintech upstarts, challenger brands, to incumbent banks that want to re-factor their tech — can build and sell various financial services or add fintech features to their products.

“Just like the water company – reliable, safe and works 24×7 and priced at utility pricing,” Verdon says of Railsbank, likening it to what Amazon has done for data centres with AWS. “Railsbank is a utility for the compete financial services backend: platform, connectivity, operations, scheme memberships (e.g. Visa), regulation, and compliance”.

As an example of what the Railsbank platform is capable of, Verdon described how SingLife was able within 2 days to develop a completely working digital banking app with a own debit card and support for bank transfers, including dedicated account numbers and sort codes etc.

This, he tells me, is made possible because the Railsbank platform and API provides all of the tech, compliance and integration “hooks” required to build a full banking experience.

Meanwhile, although the startup continues to count other fintech startups as customers, Verdon says Railsbank is also working with brands offering financial products (e.g. supermarkets, travel, retail) and what he dubs “old fin”: companies looking to replace their own costly tech with a platform solution.

“We are also working with banks to provide a complete utility infrastructure and payments/card/ops rails to reduce their… operational costs,” he tells me.

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#USA PayPal-backed money lender Tala raises $110M to enter India


Tala, a Santa Monica, California-headquartered startup that creates a credit profile to provide uncollateralized loans to millions of people in emerging markets, has raised $110 million in a new financing round to enter India’s burgeoning fintech space.

The Series D financing for the five year-old startup was led by RPS Ventures, with GGV Capital and previous investors IVP, Revolution Growth, Lowercase Capital, Data Collective VC, ThomVest Ventures, and PayPal also participating in the round.

The new round, which takes the startup’s total fundraising to $215 million, valued it above $500 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Tala has also raised an additional $100 million in debt, including a $50 million facility led by Colchis in last one year.

Tala looks at a customer’s data on texts and calls, merchant transactions, overall app usage, and other behavioral data through its Android app to build their credit profile. Based on these pieces of information, it provides instant loans in the range of $10 to $500 to customers.

The loans are approved within minutes and disbursed via mobile payment platforms. The startup has lent over $1 billion to more than 4 million customers to date — up from issuing $300 million in loan to 1.3 million customers last year, Shivani Siroya, founder and CEO of Tala, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which employs more than 550 people, will use the new capital to enter India, Siroya, who built Tala after interviewing thousands of small and micro-businesses, said. In the run up to launch in India, Tala began a 12-month pilot program in the country last year to conduct user research and understand the market. It has also set up a technology hub in Bangalore, she said.

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Shivani Siroya (Tala CEO) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

“The opportunity is very massive in India, so we spent some time customizing our service for the local market,” she said.

According to World Bank, more than 2 billion people globally have limited access to financial services and working capital. For these people, many of whom live in India, securing a small size loan is extremely challenging as they don’t have a credit score.

In recent years, several major digital payment platforms in India including Paytm and MobiKwik have started to offer small loans to users. Traditional banks are still lagging to serve this segment, industry executives say.

Tala goes a step further and takes liability for any unpaid returns, Siroya said. More than 90% of Tala customers pay back their loan in 20 to 30 days and are recurring customers, she added.

The startup also forwards the positive credit history and rankings to the local credit bureaus to help people secure bigger and long-term loans in the future, she added.

Tala, which charges a one-time fee that is as low as 5% for each loan, relies on referrals, and some marketing through radio and television to acquire new customers. “But a lot of these users come because they heard about us from their friends,” Siryoa said.

As part of the new financing round, Kabir Misra, Founding General Partner of RPS Ventures, has joined Tata’s board of directors, the startup said.

Tata will also use a portion of its new fund to expand its footprint and team in its existing markets — East Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines — and also build new solutions.

Siroya said the startup has identified some more markets where it plans to enter next. She did not disclose the names, but said she is eyeing more countries in South Asia and Latin America.

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#Africa Nigerian maritime logistics startup MVXchange targets 3 new markets post-funding

Nigerian startup MVXchange plans to expand to Ghana, Senegal and Angola once it raises its seed round, with the long-term plan being to serve the entire African continent.

Launched at the beginning of this year, MVXchange is a tech-driven maritime platform that matches vessel charter requests with available Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs), helping users conveniently charter vessels while reducing man-hours, cutting costs and improving performance.

The startup last month closed a pre-seed funding round worth US$100,000 led by Oui Capital with participation from Neon Ventures, Zircon Marine and other angel investors, in order to scale its technology and acquire more enterprise customers. Tonye Membere-Otaji, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of MVXchange, told Disrupt Africa the company was planning expansion once it raised a seed round, hopefully within the next year.

It has been a long road for MVXchange so far. Membere-Otaji came up with the idea for the business back in 2015, when he was chartering officer at Elshcon, a servicing company for the Nigerian maritime and oil and gas industries.

“My key task was to find vessels as quickly as possible for contracts, but I constantly struggled with it due to the absence of reliable vessel databases or platforms to easily find vessels. The presence of too many intermediaries made the process inefficient and complex,” he said.

Membere-Otaji built a demo, but stopped working on the project due to the sharp decline in the oil price between 2015 and 2017. He returned to it in 2017, and MCXchange is now very focused on that industry.

“We spotted the inefficiencies and delay it took to find vessels. Vessel availability is rarely promoted by owners and the presence of intermediaries between ship owners and charterers led to high day rate of the chartered vessels. This made the entire vessel chartering process disorganised, inefficient and expensive,” Membere-Otaji said.

MCXchange’s attempts to ease the process have met with a positive reception from the market. It has so far received more than 50 charter requests, and had three successful vessel charters and 32 charter days in less than three months.

The startup, which charges a fixed commission on each transaction made through its platform, has found sourcing talent to join its team to be a major challenge, while Membere-Otaji said gaining trust within the industry has also been tough.

“The maritime and oil and gas industries are legacy industries set in their ways. Online adoption by users is tough, but we are progressively gaining the confidence of our users one successful charter at a time,” he said.

These tactics now look set to take MVXchange into new markets within the next year or so as it follows up on its pre-seed raise.

The post Nigerian maritime logistics startup MVXchange targets 3 new markets post-funding appeared first on Disrupt Africa.

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#USA Depop, a social app targeting millennial and Gen Z shoppers, bags $62M, passes 13M users


The rising popularity of omni-channel commerce — selling to customers wherever they happen to be spending time online — has spawned an army of shopping tools and platforms that are giving legacy retail websites and marketplaces a run for their money. Now, one of the faster growing of these is announcing an impressive round of funding to stay on trend and continue building its business.

Depop, a London startup that has built an app for individuals to post and sell (and mainly resell) items to groups of followers by way of its own and third-party social feeds, has closed a Series C round of $62 million led by General Atlantic. Previous investors HV Holtzbrinck Ventures, Balderton Capital, Creandum, Octopus Ventures, TempoCap and Sebastian Siemiatkowski, founder and CEO of Swedish payments company Klarna all also participated.

The funding will be used in a couple of areas. First, to continue building out the startup’s technology — building in more recommendation and image detection algorithms is one focus.

And second, to expand in the US, which CEO Maria Raga said is on its way to being Depop’s biggest market, with 5 million users currently and projections of that going to 15 million in the next three years.

That’s despite strong competition from other peer-to-peer selling platforms like Vinted, Poshmark, and social platforms that have been doubling down on commerce, like Instagram and Pinterest, but on the other hand the opportunity is big: a recent report from ThredUp, another second-hand clothes sales platform, estimated that the total resale market is expected to more than double in value to $51 billion from $24 billion in the next five years, accounting for 10% of the retail market.

Prior to this, Depop had raised just under $40 million. It’s not disclosing its valuation except to say it’s a definitely upround. “I’m extremely happy,” Raga said when I asked her about it this week.

The rise of the bedroom entrepreneur

The funding comes on the heels of strong growth and strong focus for the startup.

If “social shopping”, “selling to groups of followers”, and the “use of social feeds” (or my headline…) didn’t already give it away, Depop is primarily aimed at millennial and Gen Z consumers. The company said that about 90% of its active users are under the age of 26, and in its home market of the UK it’s seen huge traction with one-third of all 16-24 year-olds registered on Depop.

Its rise has dovetailed with some big changes that the fashion industry has undergone, said Raga. “Our mission is to redefine the fashion industry in the same way that Spotify did with music, or Airbnb did with travel accommodation,” she said.

“The fashion world hasn’t really taken notice” of how things have evolved at the consumer end, she continued, citing concerns with sustainability (and specifically the waste in the fashion industry), how trends are set today (no longer dictated by brands but by individuals), and how anything can be sold by anyone, from anywhere, not just from a store in the mall, or by way of a well-known brand name website. “You can now start a fashion business from your bedroom,” she added.

For this generation of bedroom entrepreneurs, social apps are not a choice, but simply the basis and source of all their online engagement. Depop notes that the average daily user opens the app “several times per day” both to browse things, check up on those that they follow, to message contacts and comment on items, and of course to buy and sell. On average, Depop users collectively follow and message each other 85 million times each month.

This rapid uptake and strong usage of the service has driven it to 13 million users, revenue growth of 100% year-on-year for the past few years, and gross merchandise value of more than $500 million since launch. (Depop takes a 10% cut, which would work out to total revenues of about $50 million for the period.)

When we first wrote about Depop back in 2015 (and even prior to that), the startup and app were primarily aiming to provide a way for users to quickly snap pictures of their own clothes and other already-used items to post them for sale, one of a wave of flea-market-inspired apps that were emerging at that time. (It also had an older age group of users, extending into the mid-thirties.)

Fast forward a few years, and Depop’s growth has been boosted by an altogether different trend: the emergence of people who go to great efforts to buy limited editions of collectable, or just currently very hot, items, and then resell them to other enthusiasts. The products might be lightly used, but more commonly never used, and might include limited edition sneakers, expensive t-shirts released in “drops” by brands themselves, or items from one-off capsule collections.

It may have started as a way of decluttering by shifting unused items of your own, but it’s become a more serious endeavor for some. Raga notes that Depop’s top sellers are known to clear $100,000 annually. “It’s a real business for them,” she said.

And Depop still sells other kinds of goods, too. These pressed-flower phone cases, for example, have seen a huge amount of traction on Twitter as well as in the app itself in the last week:

Alongside its own app and content shared from there to other social platforms, Depop extends the omnichannel approach with a selection of physical stores, too, to showcase selected items.

The startup has up to now taken a very light-touch approach to the many complexities that can come with running an e-commerce business — a luxury that’s come to it partly because its sellers and buyers are all individuals, mostly younger individuals, and, leaning on the social aspect, the expectation that people will generally self-police and do right by each other, or less risk getting publicly called out and lose business as a result.

I think that as it continues to grow, some of that informality might need to shift, or at least be complemented with more structure.

In the area of shipping, buyers generally do not seem to expect the same kind of shipping tracking or delivery professionals appearing at their doors. Sellers handle all the shipping themselves, which sometimes means that if the buyer and seller are in the same city, an in-person delivery of an item is not completely unheard of. Raga notes that in the US the company has now at least introduced pre-paid envelopes to help with returns (not so in the UK).

Payments come by way of PayPal, with no other alternatives at the momen. Depop’s 10% cut on transactions is in addition to PayPal’s fees. But having the Klarna founder as a backer could pave the way for other payment methods coming soon.

One area where Depop is trying to get more focused is in how its activities line up with state laws and regulations.

For example, it currently already proactively looks for and takes down posts offering counterfeit or other illicit goods on the platform, but also relies on people or brands reporting these. (Part of the tech investment into image detection will be to help improve the more automated algorithms, to speed up the rate at which illicit items are removed.)

Then there is the issue of tax. If top sellers are clearing $100,000 annually, there are taxes that will need to be paid. Raga said that right now this is handed off to sellers to manage themselves. Depop does send alerts to sellers but it’s still up to the sellers themselves to organise sales tax and other fees of that kind.

“We are very close to our top sellers,” Raga said. “We’re in contact on a daily basis and we inform of what they have to do. But if they don’t, it’s their responsibility.”

While there is a lot more development to come, the core of the product, the approach Depop is taking, and its success so far have been the winning combination to bring on this investment.

“Technology continues to transform the retail landscape around the world and we are incredibly excited to be investing in Depop as it looks to capture the huge opportunity ahead of it,” said Melis Kahya, General Atlantic Head of Consumer for EMEA, in a statement. “In a short space of time the team has developed a truly differentiated platform and globally relevant offering for the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs and consumers. The organic growth generated in recent years is a testament to the impact they are having and we look forward to working with the team to further accelerate the business.”

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#USA Voatz has raised $7 million in Series A funding for its mobile voting technology


Voatz, the four-year-old, Boston, Ma.-based voting and citizen engagement platform that has been at the center of debate over the merits and dangers of mobile voting, has raised $7 million in Series A funding. The round was co-led by Medici Ventures and Techstars, with participation from Urban Innovation Fund and Oakhouse Partners.

Voatz, which current employs 17 people, is modeled after other software-as-a-service companies but geared toward election jurisdictions, working with state and local governments to conduct elections and provide related election management and cybersecurity services.

As we’d reported back in March, the city of Denver agreed to implement a mobile voting pilot in its May municipal election using Voatz’s technology, an opportunity that was offered exclusively to active-duty military, their eligible dependents and overseas voters using their smartphones.

The company hasn’t yet shared how many people wound up using the platform. As Voatz cofounder and CEO Nimit Sawhney told us late yesterday, “Our most recent election in Denver CO finished last night on June 4th and the post election audit will be beginning shortly.”

Denver was not the company’s first pilot program. Rather, Voatz had conducted more than 30 pilots previously, including two in West Virginia last year that had attracted the financial backing of Tusk Philanthropies, the philanthropic operation of investor and strategist Bradley Tusk.

As for where Voatz will be used next, Sawhney says to “stay tuned. The next phase of our pilot programs will be announced by the relevant jurisdictions a bit later in the summer.”

Voatz has become the best-known mobile voting app, which has also made it the target of some unflattering attention, including last summer, when numerous security experts criticized it roundly in a Vanity Fair piece. One said it was “going to backfire.” Another warned that the “United States needs some form of vetting process for online voting in elections.” A software expert separately called Voatz an “horrifically bad idea.”

Apparently, investors, along with growing number of city and state governments, are still willing to bet that it’s better than what’s currently available.

Voatz had previously raised $2.2 million in funding led by the venture arm of Overstock.com.

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#USA The 10 benefits and policies any modern workplace should have


Want to attract (and retain) top talent, making your company’s workforce more competitive and cutting down on turnover costs to boot? The simplest way to do so starts with the benefits and policies you offer to employees.

We already know that benefits play a major hand in how candidates evaluate a job offer. One recent survey conducted by Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women, in partnership with Extend Fertility, found that 87% of professional women say a benefits package is important or very important to them when interviewing at a company. Respondents stated that the presence (or absence) of certain benefits would impact their likelihood to stay at an employer, too.

So, which specific benefits and policies are the ones that will set your company apart as a modern, desirable workplace? We spoke to experts — from CEOs to heads of HR — to find out exactly what the benefits package of today’s most relevant employers looks like.

1. Summer Fridays

Giving employees a few extra hours to jumpstart their weekend through “Summer Fridays” can lead to a whole spate of positive benefits, including improved morale, focus and engagement at work, according to Brian Kropp, Group Vice-President of HR at Gartner . “Most companies have told us that with this benefit in place, they’ve found employees work harder earlier in the week because they know they have to complete their work before Friday,” Kropp said.

2. Pay transparency

Via Getty Image / abstractdesignlabs

The days of salary and bonus conversations happening only behind closed doors are long gone. Thanks to whisper networks and a growing belief in salary sharing, for many companies, this information is available with or without their consent. Companies who want to appear modern (as well as do the right thing) should embrace this trend through official pay transparency policies.

“Companies that don’t want to appear outdated have written pay, incentive and bonus plans for all employees at all levels so that how pay is calculated is not a mystery,” Sarah Morgan, Senior HR Director of SafeStreets USA, said.

“The compensation is equitable across gender and races so everyone is paid fairly based on the position, experience, skills and responsibilities. Such companies are also open about their pay policies and share general information about how much people are earning at every level. This may be shared as ranges or as specific amounts.”

3. Inclusion initiatives

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