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Literati raises $40M for its book club platform

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Literati has raised a $40 million Series B to pursue an unusual startup opportunity — namely, book clubs.

Founder and CEO Jessica Ewing (a former product manager at Google) explained that the Austin-based company started out with book clubs for kids, before launching its Luminary brand for adult book clubs last year. And the Luminary clubs live up to the name — they’re curated by notable figures such as activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, NBA star Stephen Curry, entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, journalist Susan Orlean and the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

When you sign up for a Literati book club, you receive a print edition of each month’s selection with a note from the curator. You also get access to the Literati app, where you can discuss the book with other readers, and where curators host author conversations. For example, Curry is leading a book club focused on nonfiction about people who “transcend expectations” (he invested in Literati as well), while Yousafzai chooses books by women “with bold ideas from around the world.”

Ewing told me that she’s trying to build the first “new, innovative bookseller” since Amazon launched 25 years ago. And she’s doing that by focusing on curation.

“There’s too much choice, too many lists, it’s completely overwhelming for most people,” she said. She argued that it helps to enlist celebrities and other big names to do that curation: “Books are aspirational. No one aspires to play more video games, people aspire to read more … People want their books to be recommended by someone a little bit smarter than they are.”

Literati CEO Jessica Ewing

Literati CEO Jessica Ewing

Ewing’s hope for Literati is to create “the next great literary social network,” bridging the gap between celebrity-driven lists like Oprah’s Book Club and Reese’s Book Club and what she described as “the wine-and-cheese, super intimate model.”

I would love to see in-person meetups once we’re out of the COVID environment,” she added. “But I also think there’s everything in between. We’re enabling threaded discussions [in the app] right now, and it’s cool to have asynchronous conversations about the books.”

And on the children’s book side, Literati is also working to build personalization tools designed to recommend the best books for each child.

“To me, this is one of the most exciting applications: How do we make this generation of kids love reading by pairing them with the right books?” Ewing said.

Literati previously raised $12 million in funding from Shasta Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase. The new round was led by Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures, with participation from Dick Costolo and Adam Bain of 01 Advisors, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Shasta, Silverton Partners, Springdale Ventures and, as previously noted, Stephen Curry.

“I wanted to start my own book club with Literati, because their mission to better the world through reading naturally aligns with my values as an entrepreneur and father,” Curry said in a statement. “I was a fan before I was an investor, and am so proud to be a part of a company that works to better the lives of others, one book at a time.”

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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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