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Work trips are making a $5 billion comeback

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Would you bet millions of dollars on a corporate travel comeback? Doesn’t matter. Andreessen Horowitz, Addition and Elad Gil are anyways.

This week, the trio led a nine-figure financing round in TripActions, a software company that helps other companies book and manage corporate travel. But the news is (always) more than the number. I see TripActions’ growth as a signal to travel sector startups, which faced the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. We’ve heard the market is emerging again, but the fact that investors poured money into an up-round valued at $5 billion adds an extra layer of conviction.

TripActions, like many travel startups, laid off hundreds of employees in the beginning of the pandemic as the coronavirus froze business travel. It still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, but a spokesperson for the company said that a more distributed working class could boost corporate travels. If you don’t have to commute every day, maybe you don’t mind hopping on a flight once a month instead.

Here’s why this could be good news: Distributed work and corporate travel aren’t mutually exclusive categories. For founders in the remote work space, this is key wiggle room to consider as we wait for post-pandemic consumer behavior to be colored in. So often, founders pitch that their startup is remote-or-bust, and while that might make a good headline, it’s clear that everyone will come out of this time with a different mindset.

Read on, as we discuss Plaid’s new investment in early-stage founders, Israel’s startup ecosystem, and telehealth in two different ways. Also, here’s your weekly reminder that you can find me @nmasc_and send me tips on early-stage startup financings to natasha.m@techcrunch.com

Plaid takes notes from Y Combinator

Last week, I joked that ‘Plaid for X’ startups will live on, even though the business ended its plans to merge with Visa for $5.3 billion. This week, Plaid announced an accelerator to boost Plaid for X startups. You can’t make this stuff up.

What you need to know: Finrise, which began as an idea in an internal hackathon last summer, will help three to five entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds navigate starting a fintech business. There’s no capital involved, but there is Plaid mentorship, a bootcamp, and access to a network of investors.

Etc: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Plaid is building out its own incubator program. Fintech as a sector has been booming. The latest fintech data dive shows un-exited fintech unicorns are now worth an all-time high. The “unicorn effect” is impacting average valuations and deal-size.

And in case other sectors are feeling left out, VCs invested $428 million into U.S.-based startups everyday in 2020.

unicorn

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Telehealth enters a ‘unique, high-growth period’

In our latest investor survey, eight healthcare-focused venture capitalists talked about the future of digital health.

What you need to know: Telehealth isn’t just growing in demand, it’s growing in definition. Investors examined the future of digital health financing, how the Biden administration will impact their portfolio companies, and how to balance opportunity with incentives in a sector as emotional as this. Here’s how Nan Li, managing director at Obvious Ventures, puts the opportunity ahead:

[This is] absolutely not a blip! We are headed into a unique, high-growth period in healthcare where many aspects of the healthcare ecosystem are being rebuilt. From insurance underwriting, the disease-specific standard of care protocols, clinical staffing models, to patient coordination and triage … every aspect of healthcare is fair game for innovative companies to address. This is a drastic expansion from the days where health tech was confined to “healthcare IT,” selling software to hospitals and the rise in investing attention reflects this generational opportunity.

Etc: Another investor survey for you this week: 6 investors on 2021’s mobile gaming trends and opportunities.

Isometric Healthcare and technology concept banner. Medical exams and online consultation concept. Medicine. Vector illustration

Speaking of the public markets

Up, up and away is the only way to phrase the performance of recent IPOs.

Here’s what you need to know:

Etc: Subscribe to The Exchange, a weekly newsletter penned by our IPO and public markets reporter Alex Wilhelm.

Image Credits: Hims & Hers

Around TechCrunch

The inimitable Drew Olanoff, an early writer for TechCrunch, has rejoined the team to build out our community offering for our Extra Crunch subscribers. He’s cooking up some exciting ways to help connect y’all to the TC team, the best founders in the business, and decision-makers in startups. If you have thoughts, bug him!

Extra Crunch Live is returning in a big way in 2021. We’ll be interviewing VC/founder duos about how their Series A deals went down, and Extra Crunch members will have the chance to get live feedback on their pitch deck. You can check out our plans for ECL in 2021 right here, or hit up this form to submit your pitch deck. Episodes air every Wednesday at 3pm ET/12pm PT starting in February.

Across the week

On TechCrunch 

Israel’s startup ecosystem powers ahead, amid a year of change

Instacart is eliminating the jobs of unionized workers

Eight Roads Ventures Europe promotes Lucile Cornet to Partner

Alphabet shuts down Loon internet balloon company

On Extra Crunch

15 steps to fundraising a new VC or private equity fund

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020

How and when to build marketing teams at deep tech companies

@EquityPod: The only take about the future of media is that media is the future

After a slew of media and VC stories this week, the Equity team had to weigh in on the future of journalism now that A16z is launching its own publication. I won’t give away our takes, but the title should give you a hint.

Other topics we got into included a barrage of mobility news, a Nigerian edtech startup, and a GPS story that is much more fascinating than the 400 pages it took to get to the end product.

Listen here, and remember that we also have a popular Monday morning show to prepare you for the week.

Okay, until next week!

Natasha

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

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Bitski raises $19 million from a16z to become the ‘Shopify for NFTs’

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For every crypto-skeptic that see NFTs as yet another hype bubble, there’s an acolyte who sees NFTs as the key to unlocking the future of the creative web.

Bitski, an SF-based startup that builds custom NFT storefronts for brands and creators, is banking on the latter and they have new investors betting the same. The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $19 million in a Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz. The firm joins a host of creators and celebrities including Jay Z, MrBeast, Serena Willliams and 3LAU in backing the startup.

The NFT space has gotten awfully crowded lately, riding a wave of investor hype and billions of dollars worth of transactions in the past several months. While the high-dollar artwork sold by artists like Beeple and exclusive crypto communities like CryptoPunks have been hotbeds of activity, founders like those behind Bitski believe that these blockchain-backed digital goods are going to inspire a massive transformation in how artists, influencers and brands monetize their online popularity.

Bitski is aiming to allow mainstream brands and celebrities to bypass the crypto complexity of early marketplaces, hoping to give customers like early partner Adidas an on-ramp to the NFT world that’s more approachable to consumers who understand digital items but might not have fully bought into crypto. The startup sells creators a variety of subscription plans to power custom NFT storefronts that they can sell through as their own channel rather than pushing users to wide-ranging marketplaces. 

There are plenty of arguments among builders and users of NFT platforms surrounding which elements of a service should be blockchain-based and which should default to more time-honed e-commerce flows. Bitski often errs on the side of user familiarity, allowing credit card purchases on the platform, “forgot your password” functionality and user wallets hosted on Bitski’s own server hardware. They’re controversial onboarding choices that won’t satisfy crypto purists and decentralization advocates but will likely help new users get acquainted with NFTs quickly.

With the company’s Series A closed, Bitski has raised some $23.4 million to date.

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Figure raises $7.5M to help startup employees better understand their compensation

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The topic of compensation has historically been a delicate one that has left many people — especially startup employees — wondering just what drives what can feel like random decisions around pay and equity.

Last June, software engineers (and housemates) Miles Hobby and Geoffrey Tisserand set about trying to solve the problem for companies by developing a data-driven platform that aims to help companies structure their compensation plans and transparently communicate them to candidates.

Now today, the startup behind that platform, Figure, announced it has raised $7.5 million in seed funding led by CRV. Bling Capital, Better Tomorrow Ventures and Garage Capital also participated in the financing, along with angel investors such as AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant, Jason Calacanis, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and other executives based in Silicon Valley.

The startup has amassed a client list that includes other startups such as fintechs Brex and NerdWallet and AI-powered fitness company Tempo. 

Put simply, Hobby and Tisserand’s mission is to improve workflows and transparency around pay, particularly equity. The pair had both worked at startups themselves (Uber and Instacart, respectively) and ended up leaving money on the table when they left those companies because no one had properly explained to them what their equity, which changed at every valuation, meant.  

Figure co-founders and co-CEOs Miles Hobby and Geoffrey Tisserand. Image Credits: Figure

So, one of their goals was to create a solution that would provide a user-friendly explanation of what a person’s equity stake really means, from tax implications to whether or not they have to buy the stock and/or hold onto it.

“I’ve gone through the job search process many times before and there’s all these complex legal documents to understand why you’re getting 10,000 stock options, but obviously we knew the vast majority of people have no idea how that works,” Tisserand told TechCrunch. “We saw an opportunity there to help companies actually convey the value to their candidates while also making them aware of the potential risks of owning something that’s so illiquid.”

Image Credits: Figure

Another goal of Figure’s is to help create a more fair and balanced process about decisions around pay and equity so that there’s less inequality out there. Pointedly, it aims to remove some of the biases that exist around those decisions by systematizing the process.

“We saw a void in this kind of context around equity…and knew that there had to be a better way for companies to structure, manage and explain their compensation plans,” Hobby said.

To Hobby and Tisserand, Figure is designed to help stop instances of implicit bias.

“Compensation should be based on the work that you’re doing, and not gender or ethnic background,” Tisserand told TechCrunch. “We’re trying to give that context and remove biases. So, we’re trying to help at two different stages –– to surface inequities that already exist and make sure there are no anomalies, and then to help stop them before they can exist.”

Figure also aims to give companies the tools to educate candidates and employees on their total compensation — including equity, salary, benefits and bonuses — in a “straightforward and user-friendly” way. For example, it can create custom offer letters that interactively detail a candidate’s compensation.

“Our goal is for Figure to become an operating system for compensation, where a company can encode their compensation philosophy into our system, and we help them determine their job architecture, compensation bands and offer numbers while monitoring their compensation health to provide adjustment suggestions when needed,” Hobby said.

Post-hire, Figure’s compensation management system “helps keep everything running smoothly.”

Anna Khan, general partner of enterprise software at CRV, is joining Figure’s board as part of the funding. The decision to back the startup was in part personal, she said.

“I’d been investing in software for eight years and was alarmed that no one was building anything around pay equity when it comes to how we’re paid, why we’re paid what we’re paid and on how to build equity long term,” Khan told TechCrunch. “Unfortunately, discussions around compensation and equity still happen behind closed doors and this extends into workflow around compensation — equally broken — with manual leveling, old data and large pay inequities.”

The company plans to use its new capital to expand its product offerings and scale its organization.

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Diginex launches ESG reporting platform aimed at small businesses

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As ESG reporting goes up the agenda for large companies, it’s also increasingly doing so for smaller companies as well. But right now, tracking things like your company’s CO2 emissions is mainly the preserve of large corporations. Now a startup hopes to address this.

Diginex Solutions has a self-guided tool which claims to generate ESG reports six times faster than competitors and comes in at a relatively affordable $99 per month.

The blockchain-enabled reporting tool also generates reports, giving companies the ability to demonstrate their ESG creds.

DiginexESG is certified by the GRI, an international independent standards organization and now operates in the US, UK, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chile. It is currently raising venture backing largely from strategic corporate investors.

Competitors include Turnkey Group, NASDAQ Onereport, Enablon (raised $15M) and World-favour.

Mark Blick, CEO at Diginex Solutions said, “The current landscape of ESG reporting is challenging for many organizations – particularly SMEs – requiring huge consultancy fees, time and resources that distracts from day-to-day activity. The DiginexESG platform quite simply takes away those challenges and does all the heavy lifting for them. It’s like Docusign, Dropbox, TurboTax or Slack hardcoded for ESG reporting.”

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