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Rapyd raises $300M on a $2.5B valuation to boost its fintech-as-a-service API

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A wave of organizations — propelled by global Covid-19 pandemic circumstances — are moving their commercial and financial interactions online, and today one of the big players helping to enable that shift is announcing a significant round of growth funding to expand the tools and services that provides to them.

Rapyd, which provides an API-based “fintech-as-a-service” platform covering payments, banking services, fraud protection and more, has raised $300 million, funding that CEO and co-founder Arik Shtilman said in an interview will be used to expand its team, build out more technology (next up: expanded fraud ID services and a wider marketplace), and to make selected acquisitions.

Rapyd’s customer base now numbers about 5,000 businesses, which includes marketplaces (labor marketplaces, and marketplaces for goods), e-commerce businesses, other kinds of lenders, and any business that might want to incorporate transactions or new financial services into their wider offerings. Shtilman said that at the moment, Rapyd is seeing its strongest growth yet, onboarding about 500 new customers each week.

The funding is coming at a $2.5 billion post-money valuation, Shtilman confirmed. (For some context on that, Rapyd was last valued at $1.2 billion in December 2019.)

The round is a Series D and is being led by prolific growth-round VC Coatue, with Spark Capital, Avid Ventures, FJ Labs, and Latitude (all new backers) and General Catalyst, Oak FT, Tiger Global, Target Global, Durable Capital, Tal Capital, and Entrée Capital (all previous backers) also participating. Other past investors, notably, include another major player in the world of API-based financial services, Stripe.

As with other companies in categories that have seen a huge surge of demand in the last year, financial services — and in particular those providing services to be able to carry out transactions online via the internet or phone — have proven to be some of the most mandatory and most used. (And no wonder, since bills still need paying, food and other items still need to be purchased, loans very much still need to be made, and so on.)

Notably, this was what many call and “opportunistic” raise, made not to keep the lights on or to extend runway, but because they money was being offered at good terms, and there were smart places where it could be put to use to grow the business.

“We didn’t plan to raise money when we raised this round, but when the pandemic came in our business started to boom,” Shtilman said. “We were approached by existing investors to scale beyond our original business plans after we completed our 2021 growth plans in three months in 2020. So we thought the timing was probably right for world domination.”

Shtilman was partly (only partly) joking — he has a sort of deadpan delivery that I can’t quite capture here — but it’s a far cry from the startup’s early days, when “no one wanted to invest because everyone thought it would be too hard to execute. Even our early investors advised us to focus on a smaller concept. But we thought building globally doesn’t work to start small it’s against the idea. Over the last several years the need to explain and what we do almost vanished.”

The challenge (and opportunity) that Rapyd identified back in 2017 when it first opened for business is that the global commerce and financial markets are very highly fragmented: consumers and businesses in individual markets have their own preferred payment methods and demands, regulations differ, and the key companies involved vary from country to country.

Meanwhile, APIs have long been a great instrument for integration and connection: using a few lines of code — and presuming your own services are built on code too — you can knit together services, and bring in commoditized functionality that would take ages to build from the ground up, cutting down the effort and work needed, to focus on making your core business more unique.

While companies like Stripe, Twilio and many others had identified the opportunity of leveraging APIs to scale out a world of functionality to a wider set of would-be customers, what Rapyd really identified and built out was the idea of loading not just one, two, or three services, but hundreds (even thousands) of features into that proposition. The idea is smart and, as Shtilman noted, very much in keeping with the economies of scale that exist in e-commerce and fintech: individual transactions are at the end of the day very incremental, so services that bring many together can finally start to conceive of interesting returns.

That, of course, is not just something Rapyd has identified and run with. That is to say, the company has a number of competitors now in the market. Just last week, Germany-based Mambu, which also provides an API-based suite of services (7,000 at last count) under the idea of “banking as a service” raised $135 million at a valuation of over $2 billion. Stripe, a backer of Rapyd, also has continued to expand and add in a number of services well beyond payments. Thought Machine also raised a big round last year; Temenos and Italy’s Edera are also strong players here. And the field has so much opportunity that it’s even attracting a lot of newer entrants: witness Unit, another interesting player that came out of stealth in the U.S. in December with an interesting list of backers of its own.

“To build infrastructure doesn’t matter whether you are small mom and pop or something bigger, you need many things, and if you want to sell in more the one jurisdiction you need a lot of those services,” Shtilman noted about the need for scale and breadth in a fintech platform proposition. He’s also very sanguine about competition. “They have emerged like mushrooms after the rain. But if you don’t have competition it means you don’t have a business so this is good. It means there is a lot of demand. But for now we are the market leader. We think we will become the AWS of this space.”

That’s where investors like Coatue are also landing for now.

“The payment landscape varies dramatically across countries. A company doing business globally might need to accept hundreds of local payment methods. Rapyd’s API, which abstracts away this complexity, is currently powering what we think are many of the world’s most exciting companies,” said Kris Fredrickson, Managing Partner at Coatue, in a statement. “We are honored to partner with Arik and team for the next phase of the Rapyd journey.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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AT&T may keep majority ownership of DirecTV as it closes in on final deal

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A DirecTV satellite dish mounted to the outside of a building.

Enlarge / A DirecTV satellite dish seen outside a bar in Portland, Oregon, in October 2019. (credit: Getty Images | hapabapa)

AT&T is reportedly closing in on a deal to sell a stake in DirecTV to TPG, a private-equity firm.

Unfortunately for customers hoping that AT&T will relinquish control of DirecTV, a Reuters report on Friday said the pending deal would give TPG a “minority stake” in AT&T’s satellite-TV subsidiary. On the other hand, a private-equity firm looking to wring value out of a declining business wouldn’t necessarily be better for DirecTV customers than AT&T is.

It’s also possible that AT&T could cede operational control of DirecTV even if it remains the majority owner. CNBC in November reported on one proposed deal in which “AT&T would retain majority economic ownership of the [DirecTV and U-verse TV] businesses, and would maintain ownership of U-verse infrastructure, including plants and fiber,” while the buyer of a DirecTV stake “would control the pay-TV distribution operations and consolidate the business on its books.”

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Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021

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Three years ago, we released the first edition of the Matrix Fintech Index. We believed then, as we do now, that fintech represents one of the most exciting major innovation cycles of this decade. In 2020, all the long-term trends forcing change in this sector continued and even accelerated.

The broad movement away from credit toward debit, particularly among younger consumers, represents one such macro shift. However, the pandemic also created new, unforeseen drivers. Among them, millennials decamped from their rentals in crowded cities to accelerate their first home purchase, to the benefit of proptech companies and challenger mortgage players alike.

E-commerce saw an enormous acceleration in growth rates, furthering adoption of online payments platforms. Lastly, low interest rates and looming inflation helped pave the way for the price of Bitcoin to charge toward $30,000. In short, multiple tailwinds combined to produce a blockbuster year for the category.

In this year’s refresh of the Matrix Fintech Index, we’ll divide our attention into three parts. First, a look at the public stocks’ performance. Second, liquidity. Third, we highlight one major trend in the sector: Buy Now Pay Later, or BNPL.

Public fintech stocks rose 97% in 2020

For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.

For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index.

Our own representation of the public fintechs’ performance is the Matrix Fintech Index — a market cap-weighted index that tracks the progress of a portfolio of 25 leading public fintech companies. The Matrix fintech Index rose 97% in 2020, compared to a 14% rise in the S&P 500 and a 10% drop for the incumbent financial service companies over the same time period.

 

2020 performance of individual fintech companies vs. SPX

2020 performance of individual fintech companies versus S&P 500. Image Credits: PitchBook

 

Fintech incumbents and new entrants vs. the S&P 500

Fintech incumbents and new entrants versus the S&P 500. Image Credits: PitchBook

E-commerce undoubtedly stood out as a major driver. As a category, retail e-commerce grew 35% YoY as of Q3, propelling PayPal and Shopify to add over $160 billion of market capitalization over the year. For its part, PayPal in the third quarter signed up 15 million net new active accounts (its highest ever).

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Walking with Dolly

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A walk is, more often than not, a solitary experience. As far as the age of COVID-19 is concerned, that’s probably more bug than feature. It’s a way to escape the confines of a shutdown for a few glorious moments, to get some air and, for better or worse, reflect on the day that’s passed or the one to come.

It can, like many things these days, however, be isolating.

For me, long weekend walks have been a sort of lifesaver throughout this bizarre year. Following two months of being completely sidelined over (non-COVID) health issues, I began walking more per week than I ever have. It was a slow process at first — frankly, never leaving my one-bedroom apartment for April and May made it so it was physically painful to walk around the block when I finally felt comfortable going outside.

These days, I walk every morning, regularly crossing the bridge into Brooklyn and Manhattan. Until I started using Apple’s new Fitness+ service a few times a day, it was easily my main source of exercise. In November, however, my Apple Watch Activity bars swapped the more generic gray for the Fitness+ yellow. But even as I’ve made a point to do a couple of indoor exercises a day, I still start each day with a walk. Rain, snow, this weekend’s sub-freezing weather — skipping a day would feel like breaking a promise to myself.

My actual bars (not sure what happened in September — maybe testing a competitor’s device)

This morning Apple dropped the first five installments (episodes?) of Time to Walk. The feature is an attempt to expand the Fitness+ experience beyond the confines of its titular iOS app. A largely Watch-based experience, the feature leverages much of the wearable’s existing features (and Apple’s growing software ecosystem) to offer a more tailored and multimedia experience than you would get listening to a podcast or music alone.

As with the canny arrival of Fitness+ (December) and handwashing for watchOS (September), Apple says the timing was something of a happy coincidence. The company had been working on the feature well before COVID-19 entered the picture.

“Everything from Time to Walk and our launch of Fitness+ was something we had been working on well before COVID,” the company’s senior director of Fitness Technologies Jay Blahnik tells TechCrunch. “From the very beginning, we thought of Fitness+ as a place where everyone was welcome. We wanted it to feel like a place where, whether you’re new to fitness or very fit, there was something for everyone.”

For many, a walk (or push, in the case of those who use a wheelchair for mobility) is square one when it comes to daily workouts. For my part, I was certainly far more comfortable taking quick strolls around the neighborhood. With limits on space and no real exercise equipment to speak of beyond a kettlebell and yoga mat, attempting to approximate the gym experience at home has seemed a fool’s errand.

April found me trying some YouTube yoga classes with limited efficacy. Like most attempts to exercise, it didn’t stick. Walking every day was the only thing that did. And for the first time in my life, COVID-19 found me walking without any particular destination in mind. That old cliché about it being about the journey not the destination is fine when you don’t mind constantly being late to meetings. Walking for the sake of itself, however, changes the dynamic significantly. I speak to artists, writers and musicians on a regular basis for my podcast. The common sentiment is a familiar one: You simply can’t force creativity. But for those who make a point to regularly walk and run, it’s perhaps the most surefire way to kickstart the process.

Time to Walk is Apple’s attempt to capture some of that lightning in a bottle — to follow a rotating cast of big names as they walk through locations that mean something to them. The company says it’s been making an effort to meet guests where they are and essentially coach them through the process. The ability to do so is, of course, depends on their given location — especially with all of the sorts of travel restrictions that have been in place since early last year.

Ultimately, Apple says, the decisions of where to record are made by the guests. “Some guests said, ‘this is where I want to go,’ ” says Blahnik. “And some guests were like, ‘no, I want to to do the walk I normally do.’ For us, it’s not about Shawn Mendes in the Grand Canyon, it’s about where they want to go. Sometimes that’s limited by COVID, but what we found delightful was for many people, they loved to take the walk they loved to take.”

The first four guests — Mendes, Dolly Parton, Draymond Green and Uzo Aduba — run the gamut on approaches. “We think about the stories, we think about the diverse guest,” says Blahnik. We think about all of the ways you’d like the conversations to go. But what was important to us was that the idea resonated with them. The idea of going out for a walk, having a lovely conversation and hearing stories that could give you a different perspective.”

Parton, who turned 75 earlier this month, recorded her session in a studio — in contrast to the other three names. She relates a handful of stories largely revolving around her upbringing in Sevier County (pronounced “severe”), Tennessee. There’s a story about a Christmas tree and one about opening a literacy center with the help of her father (who struggled with his own ability to read and write).

She somewhat self-effacingly relates a story about the time her hometown erected a statue of her. “So I went home, and I said, ‘Daddy, did you know they’re putting a statue of me? Do you know about the statue down at the courthouse?’ ” Parton explains. “And Daddy said, ‘Well, yeah, I heard about that.’ He said, ‘Now, to your fans out there, you might be some sort of an idol. But to them pigeons, you ain’t nothing but another outhouse.’ ”

According to Parton, her father would visit the statue at night with a bucket of soap and water to clean the pigeons’ mess off his daughter’s likeness. Her segment culminates with something approaching a behind the music-style segment, describing stories behind three of her own songs: “Coat of Many Colors,” “Circle of Love” and “9 to 5.” The latter is the real gem of the bunch, contrasting her morning routines to costars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, while describing the role her acrylic nails played in the songwriting and recording process.

Image Credits: Apple

Green’s stories are more emblematic of the rest. On a walk around Malibu, the Warriors power forward discusses some inspiration stories on and off the court, from being told he would never be a star to a time he tried and failed to cheat on a test in school. The stories are purposefully personal. Aduba relates some of her own struggles to break into acting, as she walks her amusingly named dog Fenway Bark through Fort Green Park in Brooklyn.

The guests share images relating to their stories or snapshots of where they go on their walks, which are delivered to the wrist with a haptic buzz. At they end of the journey, they share three handpicked songs that can be saved to a playlist on Apple Music, similar to what the company has done for its Fitness+ workouts.

Write-ups of the Time to Walk have thus far compared it to podcasting — understandably so, given that it’s an on-demand, audio-first experience. Though the feature, which downloads directly onto the Watch when the new installment drops once a week, has its own flavor, according to Apple.

“Often podcasts are hosted,” Blahnik says, by way of distinction. “In our journey to build out this experience, we certainly considered if there should be a host walking with this person. What we realized is that, for what we were trying to create, the intimacy of having the singular guest talk to you felt a lot more like you were on a walk with them. The notion that it’s not happening in a studio (in almost all cases), that they’re walking someplace that inspires them. You’ll hear that with Draymond and Shawn — with Shawn he’s huffing and puffing up that hill and it’s kind of nice because you’re in that moment together.”

Time to Walk isn’t raw, exactly. It is an Apple production, after all. The company’s certainly not tossing out found audio here. But the content does seem more off-the-cuff than many of its productions, even as it’s packaged together with a slick intro and a trio of songs at the end. But it’s a nice change of pace for those looking for something that feels a little more personal than we’re accustom to from some of the names involved.

Your own mileage will vary, depending on, among other things, your interest in the guest. Though, there’s always a chance someone you’ve never been particularly interested in — or even heard of — will offer some unique tidbit or interesting way of looking at things. That’s one of the potential upsides of having Apple doing the curating here — there’s some interesting potential for discovery. And even in the case of artists you’re familiar with, there’s good potential to discover something new.

The weekly 20 to 45-minute audio supplement won’t make the actual act of walking any less solitary — but for a little while, at least, it’s nice to feel like someone’s along for the ride.

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