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Alloy raises $4M to build out its e-commerce automation service

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Alloy Automation, a startup that was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 cohort, announced today that it has closed $5 million across two rounds, the most recent of which brought $4 million to the company in October of 2020.

The new funds were raised at a $16 million pre-money, $20 million post-money valuation, Alloy told TechCrunch.

The company’s latest fundraising was led by Bain Capital Ventures and Abstract, with participation from Color Capital, BoxGroup and a collection of individual investors, including Shippo’s Laura Behrens Wu.

TechCrunch spoke with co-founders Sara Du, CEO, and Gregg Mojica, CTO, about the round, their market and their experience in Y Combinator.

Du, a Harvard dropout, and Mojicam, who skipped college altogether, met after the former emailed the latter about speaking at an open-source conference. The event didn’t end up happening, but the pair stayed in touch. Du wound up running a small streetwear store, interested in automation and app-connecting tools like Zapier, which she found to be too simple, and MuleSoft, which she described as very expensive. Out of a desire for something in between that would let her connect apps, Alloy Automation was eventually born.

After a launch on Product Hunt in 2019 offering “complex automation made easy, and with no code,” Bryant Chou, a founder at WebFlow, put money into the company. Alloy was looking to build prosumer automation tooling and now it had material backing.

The startup then went through Y Combinator the next year, sharpened its focus to the e-commerce market and, as it has just announced, attracted millions more from a cadre of investors.

The shift to focus on e-commerce from a broader toolset came from customer pull, the co-founders said. After starting out with a number of integrations for Twilio, HubSpot and other services, the team, toward the end of their time in Y Combinator, noticed places in the e-commerce world into which their product fit neatly. Alloy’s tech was being used by Shopify and BigCommerce customers, helping make e-commerce a fertile area for the company, its co-founders said.

Alloy’s tech helps e-commerce players link services to help automate their shipping, marketing, analytics and other tasks. One example that Du provided TechCrunch was customers using Alloy to connect SMS functionality to fulfillment tools. Doing so might allow small e-commerce companies to automatically text customers when their order ships, for example.

During Y Combinator, the pair said that they might have been the youngest set of founders in their batch. But despite being what they described as not the hottest company in the batch, they skipped the accelerator’s well-known demo day, having already raised capital.

Du said that it’s not generally encouraged to skip demo day. But as Alloy has gone on to raise even more capital, the decision seems to have worked out for the company. The founders also cited a desire to stay in stealth as part of their reasoning for skipping the investor confab, telling TechCrunch that they wanted to stay quiet and build until they “really [had] something.”

Alloy’s $4 million round came from a relationship that started when the startup had shown off its tech on Product Hunt. Bain had contacted the startup then, stayed in touch, and later did due diligence on it by talking about Alloy with e-commerce startups in its own portfolio.

Why $4 million? Per its founders, Alloy had barely dug into its original $1 million round when it raised more, but as the pair want to build out their go-to-market efforts, the capital made sense.

The founders said they intend to raise a Series A for Alloy, but that their current capital could float them for two or three years; their startup is a COVID baby, they joked, and after having some investors pull out of their pre-seed round, Alloy is conservative with its capital.

Finally, let’s talk growth. Per the pair, Q4 2020 was good for Alloy. That’s not surprising, as they serve e-commerce companies, firms that love holiday-boosted fourth-quarters. The founders told TechCrunch that during the fourth quarter, their in-house Slack channel set up to note payments, signups and other positive occurrences went off chronically.

The team today is the co-founders, three engineers, a designer and a marketer, spread across four time zones, with workers in America, India and the Philippines. Alloy intends to hire sales staff, new engineers and a customer success denizen.

Alloy’s software costs from $200 to $1,000 per month or more, depending on need. Let’s see how far it can scale on its new capital base.

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

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UK challenger bank Starling raises $376M, now valued at $1.9B

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Challenger banks continue to see huge infusions of cash from investors bullish on the opportunity for smaller and faster-moving tech-based banking startups to woo customers from their larger rivals. In the latest development, UK-based Starling announced that is has closed £272 million ($376 million at current rates), at a pre-money valuation of £1.1 billion.

This means that the round, a Series D, values the company at £1.372 billion ($1.9 billion) post-money.

Starling — which competes against incumbent banks, as well as other challengers like Monzo and Revolut — said it will be using the money to continue its growth. The bank is already profitable. In updated financials posted today, Starling said it generated revenue of £12 million ($16.6 million) in January of this year, up 400% compared to a year ago, with an annualized revenue run rate of £145 million. It posted operating profits for a fourth consecutive month, and net income currently exceeds £1.5 million per month.

Starling, founded in 2017, has now pased 2 million accounts, with 300,000 business accounts among them. It’s not clear how many of those accounts are active: the figures are for opened accounts, Starling said. Gross lending has passed £2 billion, with deposits at £5.4 billion.

Starling said it plans to use the funding both to expand its lending operations in the UK, to expand into other parts of Europe, and make some strategic acquisitions.

“Digital banking has reached a tipping point,” said Anne Boden, founder and CEO of Starling Bank, in a statement. “Customers now expect a fairer, smarter and more human alternative to the banks of the past and that is what we are giving them at Starling as we continue to grow and add new products and services. Our new investors will bring a wealth of experience as we enter the next stage of growth, while the continued support of our existing backers represents a huge vote of confidence.”

The round is being led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA); RPMI Railpen (Railpen), the investment manager for the £31 billion Railways Pension Scheme; and global investment firm Millennium Management also participating, and it comes on the heels of us reporting in November that it was raising at least £200 million.

The funding comes at a critical time in consumer banking. The trend in the UK — the market where Starling is active — for the last several year has been a gradual shift to online and mobile banking, with those trends rapidly accelerating in the last year of lock-downs and enforced social distancing to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Challenger (neo) banks have been some of the biggest winners of evolving consumer habits. Using rails provided as white-label services by way of APIs from banking infrastructure providers (another startup category in itself with companies like Rapyd, Plaid, Mambu, CurrencyCloud and others all involved) they will offer the same basic services such as checking and deposit, but they will typically do so with considerably  more flexibility, and additional savings and financial tips, and savings services to customers — all carried out over digital platforms.

Big, incumbent banks have scrambled to keep up with innovation, but newer generations of users are less beholden to their brands and incumbency, not least a result of the banking crisis last decade that revealed many of them to be cosiderably less competent and solid than many might have assumed.

That bigger market picture has also meant a surge of many neobanks, and so Starling competes with more than just the incumbents. Others include Monese, Revolut, Tide, Atom and Monzo — the latter a particularly acute competitor, founded by the ex-CTO of Starling.

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Deliveroo posted narrowed loss of $309M, with gross transactions surging to $5.7B in 2020, EITF shows

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The clock has officially started ticking on Deliveroo’s plans to go public in April. After announcing last week that it planned to list on the London Stock Exchange, today the on-demand food delivery company backed by Amazon and others published selected updated financials for the previous fiscal year, along with its Expected Intention to Float (EITF) — a more formal document that marks the two-week period until the company publishes its prospectus and, at the start of April, embarks on its subsequent IPO.

The bottom line is that Deliveroo is still unprofitable. It posted a 2020 underlying loss of £223.7 million ($309 million), but that figure was down by nearly £100 million from 2019, when it chalked up a loss of £317 million ($438 million). It did not disclose revenues (sometimes called turnover) in today’s statement.

The company said that it now serves some 6 million customers, with its three-sided marketplace also including more than 115,000 restaurants, takeaways and grocery stores, and 100,000 riders in 800 locations among 12 markets.

At the same time, Deliveroo showed some clear momentum in a year where many restaurants had to close their doors and shift operations to take-away models because of Covid-19.

It notes that it has been profitable on an “Adjusted EBITDA basis” over two quarters, with underlying gross profit up by 89.5% to £358 million ($495 million) compared to £189 million in 2019.

Its gross transaction volume (total amount spent by consumers ordering food) grew by 64% to £4.1 billion ($5.67 billion) with the run-rate in Q4 surging to £5 billion. This figure is unsurprising when you consider that Q4 represented the holiday period, and additionally the UK market (Deliveroo’s primary market and its home) went through not one but two different periods of being locked down in that quarter (the second of these is still in place).

It also notes that gross profit margin as a percentage of GTV has grown from 5.8% in 2018 to 8.8% in 2020, with some markets getting to 12%.

“The company remains focused on investing in driving growth in a nascent online food market,” it noted in the EITF, although I’m not sure nascent is exactly the word I’d use. Its drivers are easily the most visible of the many delivery services that exist in London. Deliveroo estimates that the restaurant and grocery sectors represent an addressable market of £1.2 trillion ($1.66 trillion) across the 12 regions where it offers services. In that figure, it says that just 3% of sales are estimated to be online, “equivalent to less than 1 out of the 21 weekly meal occasions being online.”

The company was valued at over $7 billion in it last fundraising, a $180 million round from Durable, Fidelity and others, as recently as January of this year.

It’s a huge leap that is the stuff that tech myths are made of (with untold hours of blood, sweat and tears, and a lot of luck too). I met Will Shu, the CEO and founder, when he was just really getting started at Deliveroo, and he seemed somewhat bewildered by how fast the startup was growing and where it was leading him. It’s interesting that he himself hasn’t forgotten those early days, either, which surely help keep the company focused at a time when there are a lot of opportunities, and therefore a lot of potential for focus unravelling.

“I never set out to be a founder or a CEO. I was never into start-ups, I didn’t read TechCrunch. I’m not one of those Silicon Valley types with a million ideas,” he noted in his letter published in the EITF. “I had one idea. One idea born out of personal frustration. An idea that I was fanatically obsessed with: I wanted to get great food delivered from amazing London restaurants.”

The prospectus will tell us how much the company intends to raise in its IPO so we’ll know those numbers soon. In the meantime, Deliveroo said that it plans to “invest in its long-term proposition by developing its core marketplace, enhancing its superior consumer experience, providing restaurant and grocery partners with unique tools to help them grow their businesses, and providing riders with the flexible work they value alongside security.”

It’s also going to continue building out “dark kitchens” (which it brands Editions); Signature, a white-label service for restaurants to offer delivery via their own online channels; Plus, a Prime-style loyalty subscription service; and on-demand grocery — which is also shaping up to be a huge market in Europe and the rest of the world.

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Porsche raises stake in electric car and components maker Rimac Automobili

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Rimac Automobili, the Croatian company known for its electric hypercars and battery and powertrain development, has gained yet another investment from Porsche AG.

Porsche said Monday it has invested 70 million euros ($83.3 miilion) into Rimac, a move that increases its stake from 15% to 24%.

This is the third time Porsche has invested into Rimac. The German automaker made its first investment into Rimac in 2018. Porsche increased its equity stake into Rimac in September 2019. A few months earlier, Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors jointly invested €80 million ($90 million at the time) into Rimac.

Rimac was founded by Mate Rimac in 2009 and is perhaps best known for its electric hypercars, such as the two-seater C Two that it debuted in 2018 at the Geneva International Motor Show. The vehicle produces an eye-popping 1,914 horsepower, has a top speed of 256 miles per hour and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 1.85 seconds. Rimac plans to unveil C Two in its final form in 2021.

However, Rimac does more than produce hypercars. The company, which employs 1,000 people, also focuses on battery technology within the high-voltage segment, engineers and manufactures electric powertrains and develops digital interfaces between humans and machines.

Porsche is most interested in Rimac’s development of components, according to comments made by Lutz Meschke, the deputy chairman of Porsche AG’s executive board. Meschke noted that Rimac is “excellently positioned in prototype solutions and small series” and “is well on its way to becoming a Tier 1 supplier for Porsche and other manufacturers in the high-tech segment.”

Porsche has already placed its first orders with Rimac for the development of highly innovative series components, according to Meschke.

Despite its continued investments, Porsche said it doesn’t have a controlling stake in Rimac.

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