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India’s CRED raises $81 million, buys back shares worth $1.2 million from employees



Bangalore-based CRED is kickstarting the new year on a high note.

The two-year-old startup, led by high-profile entrepreneur Kunal Shah, said on Monday it has raised $81 million in a new financing round and bought shares worth $1.2 million (about 90 million Indian rupees) from employees.

The Series C financing round, as first reported by TechCrunch in late November, was led by DST Global. Existing investors Sequoia Capital, Ribbit Capital, Tiger Global, and General Catalyst also participated in the round, and so did a few new names including Satyan Gajwani of Indian conglomerate Times Internet, Sofina, and Coatue.

The round gave CRED — which operates an eponymous app to reward customers for paying their credit card bill on time and offers deals from interesting online brands — a post-money valuation of $806 million.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Shah said that about 10 percent of CRED’s captable is currently allocated to employees and those who held vested stocks were eligible to sell up to 50% of their shares back to the startup in its first ESOP liquidity program. “We believe that startups should think about creating wealth for every shareholder, including employees.”

CRED has nearly doubled its customer base to about 5.9 million in the past year, or about 20% of the credit card holder base in India. The startup said that the median credit score of its customer was about 830, and about 30% of its customer base today holds a premium credit card. (On a side note, more than 50% of CRED customers pay their bills using UPI.)

CRED is one of the most talked about startups in India, in part because of the scale at which its valuation has soared and the amount of capital it has been able to raise in such a short period.

One of the biggest questions surrounding CRED today is just how it makes money, given how most fintech startups in the country today — and there are many of them — are struggling to find a business model.

Shah said CRED makes money by cross-selling financing products — for which it has a revenue-sharing arrangement with banks and other financial institutions — and levies a similar cut from merchants who are on the platform today. More than 1,300 brands including big names Starbucks, TAGG, Eat.Fit, Nykaa, and emerging premium direct-to-consumer brands such as The Man Company, Sleepy Cat, and Crossbeats have joined the platform in recent years.

Direct-to-consumer market in India is still in its nascent stage, though some estimates say it could be worth $100 billion by 2025.

“I don’t think we were very deliberate to make D2C happen. It just so happened that in the early days when we offered rewards for D2C brands, they started to see huge traction,” he said, adding that CRED drove more than 30% sales for some brands.

“We realized that we were able to solve the discovery problem for customers. We are approaching this with themes — work-from-home and coffee — and it’s working out well. We are now playing matchmaking role between customers and brands that otherwise had to spend a lot of money in marketing.”

One of the biggest propositions of CRED is that it has been able to court some of the most sought-after customers in India. Unlike many other startups and giants such as Google and Facebook, CRED is not going after the next billion users.

“About 20 million customers account for 90% of all online consumption in India. These are the customers we are focusing on,” said Shah, who previously ran financial services firm Freecharge and delivered one of the rare successful exits in the country. The core challenge in chasing customers in smaller cities and towns in India is that very few people have the financial capacity to buy things, Shah said.

For that model to work, the GDP of India — where the average annual income of an individual is about $2,000 — needs to grow. And for that, we need more participation from females, said Shah. Fewer than 10% of the female population in India are currently part of the workforce, compared to over 90% in China.

An interesting use case for CRED today is that it could potentially license data about the traction D2C brands are seeing on its platform to venture firms, who could use it as a signal to inform their investment decisions.

Shah cautioned that the startup is “extraordinarily sensitive about data” but said the team is thinking about ways to help venture firms discover these firms. “We are planning to create a newsletter to showcase many of these brands to the investor world,” he said.

And finally, will CRED launch a credit card? “Will we cross-sell every product that banks today offer? The answer is yes,” said Shah, though he cautioned that the startup is in no hurry to supercharge its offerings and will likely engage with other players in the industry to enable these services.

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Will this time be any different for Twitter?



As Twitter seems to buy its way into competing with Clubhouse and Substack, one wonders whether the beleaguered social media company is finally ready to move past its truly awful track record of seizing opportunities.

Twitter’s pace of product ambition has certainly seemed to speed in the past several months, conveniently following shareholder action to oust CEO Jack Dorsey last year. They’ve finally rolled out their Stories product Fleets, they’ve embraced audio both in the traditional feed and with their beta Spaces feature, and they’ve taken some much-publicized steps to reign in disinformation and content moderation woes (though there’s still plenty to be done there).

In the past few weeks, Twitter has also made some particularly interesting acquisitions. Today, it was announced that they were buying Revue, a newsletter management startup. Earlier this month, they bought Breaker, a podcasting service. Last month, they bought Squad, a social screen-sharing app.

It’s an aggressive turn that follows Twitter’s announcement that it will be shutting down Periscope, a live video app that was purchased and long-neglected by Twitter despite the fact that the company’s current product chief was its founder.

TikTok’s wild 2020 success in fully realizing the broader vision for Vine, which Twitter shut down in 2017, seems to be a particularly embarrassing stain on the company’s history; it’s also the most crystallized example of Twitter shooting itself in the foot as a result of not embracing risk. And while Twitter was ahead of that curve and simply didn’t make it happen, Substack and Clubhouse are two prime examples of competitors which Twitter could have prevented from reaching their current stature if it had just been more aggressive in recognizing adjacent social market opportunities and sprung into action.

It’s particularly hard to reckon in the shadow of Facebook’s ever-swelling isolation. Once the eager enemy of any social upstart, Facebook finds itself desperately complicated by global politics and antitrust woes in a way that may never strike it down, but have seemed to slow its maneuverability. A startup like Clubhouse may once seemed like a prime acquisition target, but it’s too complicated of a purchase for Facebook to even attempt in 2021, leaving Twitter a potential competitor that could scale to full size on its own.

Twitter is a much smaller company than Facebook is, though it’s still plenty big. As the company aims to move beyond the 2020 US election that ate up so much of its attention and expand its ambitions, one of its most pertinent challenges will be reinvigorating a product culture to recognize opportunities and take on rising competitors — though another challenge might be getting its competition to take it seriously in the first place.

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Sila Nanotechnologies raises $590M to fund battery materials factory



Sila Nanotechnologies, a Silicon Valley battery materials company, has spent years developing technology designed to pack more energy into a cell at a lower cost — an end game that has helped it lock in partnerships with Amperex Technology Limited as well as automakers BMW and Daimler.

Now, Sila Nano, flush with a fresh injection of capital that has pushed its valuation to $3.3 billion, is ready to bring its technology to the masses.

The company, which was founded nearly a decade ago, said Tuesday it has raised $590 million in a Series F funding round led by Coatue with significant participation by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Existing investors 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Sutter Hill Ventures also participated in the round.

Sila Nano plans to use the funds to hire another 100 people this year and begin to buildout a factory in North America capable of producing 100 gigawatt-hours of silicon-based anode material, which is used in batteries for the smartphone and automotive industries. While the company hasn’t revealed the location of the factory, it does have a timeline. Sila Nano said it plans to start production at the factory in 2024. Materials produced at the plant will be in electric vehicles by 2025, the company said.

“It took eight years and 35,000 iterations to create a new battery chemistry, but that was just step one,” Sila Nano CEO and co-founder Gene Berdichevsky said in a statement. “For any new technology to make an impact in the real-world, it has to scale, which will cost billions of dollars. We know from our experience building our production lines in Alameda that investing in our next plant today will keep us on track to be powering cars and hundreds of millions of consumer devices by 2025.”

The tech

A lithium-ion battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. Typically, an electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier, moving ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Graphite is commonly used as the anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries.

Sila Nano has developed a silicon-based anode that replaces graphite in lithium-ion batteries. The critical detail is that the material was designed to take the place of graphite in without needing to change the battery manufacturing process or equipment.

Sila Nano has been focused on silicon anode because the material can store a lot more lithium ions. Using a material that lets you pack in more lithium ions would theoretically allow you to increase the energy density — or the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery per its volume — of the cell. The upshot would be a cheaper battery that contains more energy in the same space.

The opportunity

It’s a compelling product for automakers attempting to bring more electric vehicles to market. Nearly every global automaker has announced plans or is already producing a new batch of all-electric and plug-in electric vehicles, including Ford, GM, Daimler, BMW, Hyundai and Kia. Tesla continues to ramp up production of its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles as a string of newcomers like Rivian prepare to bring their own EVs to market.

In short: the demand of batteries is climbing; and automakers are looking for the next-generation tech that will give them a competitive edge.

Battery production sat at about 20 GWh per year in 2010. Sila Nano expects it to jump to 2,000 GWh per year by 2030 and 30,000 GWh per year by 2050.

Sila Nano started building the first production lines for its battery materials in 2018. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries.

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Daily Crunch: Calendly valued at $3B



A popular scheduling startup raises a big funding round, Twitter makes a newsletter acquisition and Beyond Meat teams up with PepsiCo. This is your Daily Crunch for January 26, 2021.

The big story: Calendly valued at $3B

Calendly, which helps users schedule and confirm meeting times, has raised $350 million from OpenView Venture Partners and Iconiq.

Until now, the Atlanta-based startup had only raised $550K, but the company says it has 10 million monthly users, with $70 million in subscription revenue last year.

“Calendly has a vision increasingly to be a central part of the meeting life cycle,” said OpenView’s Blake Bartlett.

The tech giants

Twitter acquires newsletter platform Revue — Twitter is getting into the newsletter business.

TikTok is being used by vape sellers marketing to teens — Sellers are offering flavored disposable vapes, parent-proof “discreet” packaging and no ID checks.

PepsiCo and Beyond Meat launch poorly named joint venture for new plant-based food and drinks — The name? The PLANeT Partnership.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Fast raises $102M as the online checkout wars continue to attract huge investment — The new funding was led by Stripe.

SetSail nabs $26M Series A to rethink sales compensation — SetSail says salespeople should be paid them throughout the sales cycle.

Mealco raises $7M to launch new delivery-centric restaurants — By launching a restaurant with Mealco, chefs don’t sign a lease or pay any other upfront costs.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Ten VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021 — We asked about the likelihood of further industry consolidation, whether we’ll see more digital media companies take the SPAC route and, of course, what they’re looking for in their next investment.

The five biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder — Finmark CEO Rami Essaid has some regrets.

Does a $27B or $29B valuation make sense for Databricks? — A look at Databricks’ growth history, economics and scale.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

President Joe Biden commits to replacing entire federal fleet with electric vehicles — His commitment is tied to a broader campaign promise to create 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry and supply chains.

Meet the early-stage founder community at TC Early Stage 2021 — Early Stage part one focuses on operations and fundraising and takes place on April 1-2, while Early Stage part two focusing on marketing, PR and fundraising and runs July 8-9.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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