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There is infinite money for stock-trading startups

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Earlier this week TechCrunch broke the news that Public, a consumer stock trading service, was in the process of raising more money. Business Insider quickly filled in details surrounding the round, that it could be around $200 million at a valuation of $1.2 billion. Tiger could lead.

Public wants to be the anti-Robinhood. With a focus on social, and a recent move away from generating payment for order flow (PFOF) revenues that have driven Robinhood’s business model, and attracted criticism, Public has laid its bets. And investors, in the wake of its rival’s troubles, are ready to make it a unicorn.

Of course, the Public round comes on the heels of Robinhood’s epic $3.4 billion raise, a deal that was shocking for both its scale and speed. The trading service’s investors came in force to ensure it had the capital it needed to continue supporting consumer trades. Thanks to Robinhood’s strong Q4 2020 results, and implied growth in Q1 2021, the boosted investment made sense.

As does the Public money, provided that 1) The company is seeing lots of user growth, and 2) That it figures out its forever business model in time. We cannot comment on the second, but we can say a bit about the first point.

Thanks not to Public, really, but M1 Finance, a Midwest-based consumer fintech that has a stock-buying function amongst its other services (more on it here). It told TechCrunch that it saw a quadrupling of signups in January as compared to December. And in the last two weeks, it saw six times as many signups as the preceding two weeks.

Given that M1 doesn’t allow for trading — something that its team repeatedly stressed in notes to TechCrunch — we can’t draw a perfect line between M1 and Public and Robinhood, but we can infer that there is huge consumer interest in investing of late. Which helps explain why Public, which is hunting up a way to generate long-term incomes, can raise another round just months after it closed a different investment.

Our notes last year on how savings and investing were the new thing last year are accidentally becoming even more true than we expected.

Market Notes

As the week came to a close, Coupang filed to go public. You can read our first look here, but it’s going to be big news. Also on the IPO beat, Matterport is going out via a SPAC, I chatted with Metromile CEO Dan Preston about his insurtech public offering this week that also came via a SPAC, and so on.

Oscar Health filed, and it doesn’t look super strong. So its impending valuation is going to test public traders. That’s not a problem that Bumble had when it priced above-range this week and then skyrocketed after it started to trade. Natasha and I (she’s on Equity, as well) have some notes from Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd that we’ll get to you early next week. (Also I chatted about the IPO with the BBC a few times, which was neat, the first of which you can check out here if you’d like.)

Roblox’s impending public debut was also back in the news this week. The company was a bit bigger than it thought last year (cool), but may delay its direct listing to March (not cool).

Near to the IPO beat, Carta started to allow its own shares to trade recently, on the back of news that its revenues have scaled to around $150 million. Not bad Carta, but how about a real IPO instead of staying private? The company’s valuation more than doubled during the secondary transitions.

And then there were so very many cool venture capital rounds that I couldn’t get to this week. This Koa Health round, for example. And whatever this Slync.io news is. (If you want some earlier-stage stuff, check out recent rounds from Treinta, Level, Ramp and Monte Carlo.

And to close, a small callout to Ontic, which provides “protective intelligence software” and said that its revenue grew 177% last year. I appreciate the sharing of the numbers, so wanted to highlight the figure.

Various and Sundry

Wrapping this week, I have a final bit for you to chew on from Mark Mader, the CEO of Smartsheet, a public company — former startup, it’s worth noting — that plays in the no-code, automation and collaboration markets. That’s a rough summary. Anyhoo, I asked Mader about no-code trends in 2021, as I have my eyes on the space. Here’s what he wrote for us:

If you thought the sudden shift to remote work sped up corporate America’s shift to digital, you haven’t seen anything yet. Digital transformation is going to accelerate even more rapidly in 2021. Last year, the workforce was exposed to many different types of technology all at once. For example, a company may have deployed Zoom or DocuSign for the first time. But much of this shift involved taking analog processes like meetings or document signing and approval and bringing them online. Things like this are merely a first step. 2021 is the year the companies will begin to connect large-scale digital events to infrastructure that can make them automated and repeatable. It’s the difference between one person signing a document and hundreds of people signing hundreds of documents, with different rules for each one. And that’s just one example. Another use case could involve linking HR software to project management software for automated, real-time resource allocation that allows a company to get more out of both platforms, as well as its people. The businesses that can automate and simplify complex workflows like these will see dramatically improved efficiency and return on their technology investments, putting them on the path to true transformation and improved profitability.

We shall see!

Alex

 

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

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How Rani Therapeutics’ robotic pill could change subcutaneous injection treament

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A new auto-injecting pill might soon become a replacement for subcutaneous injection treatments.

The idea for this so-called robotic pill came out of a research project around eight years ago from InCube Labs—a life sciences lab operated by Rani Therapeutics Chairman and CEO Mir Imran, who has degrees in electrical and biomedical engineering from Rutgers University. A prominent figure in life sciences innovation, Imran has founded over 20 medical device companies and helped develop the world’s first implantable cardiac defibrillator.

In working on the technology behind San Jose-based Rani Therapeutics, Imran and his team wanted to find a way to relieve some of the painful side effects of subcutaneous (or under-the-skin) injections, while also improving the treatment’s efficacy. “The technology itself started with a very simple thesis,” said Imran in an interview. “We thought, why can’t we create a pill that contains a biologic drug that you swallow, and once it gets to the intestine, it transforms itself and delivers a pain-free injection?”

Rani Therapeutics’ approach is based on inherent properties of the gastrointestinal tract. An injecting mechanism in their pill is surrounded by a pH-sensitive coating that dissolves as the capsule moves from a patient’s stomach to the small intestine. This helps ensure that the pill starts injecting the medicine in the right place at the right time. Once there, the reactants mix and produce carbon dioxide, which in turn inflates a small balloon that helps create a pressure difference to help inject the drug-loaded needles into the intestinal wall. “So it’s a really well-timed cascade of events that results in the delivery of this needle,” said Imran.

Despite its somewhat mechanical procedure, the pill itself contains no metal or springs, reducing the chance of an inflammatory response in the body. The needles and other components are instead made of injectable-grade polymers, that Imran said has been used in other medical devices as well. Delivering the injections to the upper part of the small intestine also carries little risk of infection, as the prevalence of stomach acid and bile from the liver prevent bacteria from readily growing there.

One of Imran’s priorities for the pill was to eliminate the painful side effects of subcutaneous injections. “It wouldn’t make sense to replace them with another painful injection,” he said. “But biology was on our side, because your intestines don’t have the kind of pain sensors your skin does.” What’s more, administering the injection into the highly vascularized wall of the small intestine actually allows the treatment to work more efficiently than when applied through subcutaneous injection, which typically deposits the treatment into fatty tissue.

Imran and his team have plans to use the pill for a variety of indications, including the growth hormone disorder acromegaly, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In January 2020, their acromegaly treatment, Octreotide, demonstrated both safety and sustained bioavailability in primary clinical trials. They hope to pursue future clinical trials for other indications, but chose to prioritize acromegaly initially because of its well-established treatment drug but “very painful injection,” Imran said.

At the end of last year, Rani Therapeutics raised $69 million in new funding to help further develop and test their platform. “This will finance us for the next several years,” said Imran. “Our approach to the business is to make the technology very robust and manufacturable.”

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Address cybersecurity challenges before rolling out robotic process automation

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Robotic process automation (RPA) is making a major impact across every industry. But many don’t know how common the technology is and may not realize that they are interacting with it regularly. RPA is a growing megatrend — by 2022, Gartner predicts that 90% of organizations globally will have adopted RPA and its received over $1.8 billion in investments in the past two years alone.

Due to the shift to remote work, companies across every industry have implemented some form of RPA to simplify their operations to deal with an influx of requests. For example, when major airlines were bombarded with cancellation requests at the onset of the pandemic, RPA became essential to their customer service strategy.

Throughout 2021, security teams will begin to realize the unconsidered security challenges of robotic process automation.

According to Forrester, one major airline had over 120,000 cancellations during the first few weeks of the pandemic. By utilizing RPA to handle the influx of cancellations, the airline was able to simplify its refund process and assist customers in a timely matter.

Delivering this type of streamlined cancellation process with such high demand would have been extremely challenging, if not impossible, without RPA technology.

The multitude of other RPA use cases that have popped up since COVID-19 have made it evident that RPA isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, interest in the usage of RPA is at an unprecedented high. Gartner inquiries related to RPA increased over 1,000% during 2020 as companies continue to invest.

However, there’s one big issue that’s commonly overlooked when it comes to RPA — security. Like we’ve seen with other innovations, the security aspect of RPA isn’t implemented in the early stages of development — leaving organizations vulnerable to cybercriminals.

If the security vulnerabilities of RPA aren’t addressed quickly, there will be a string of significant RPA breaches in 2021. However, by realizing that these new “digital coworkers” have identities of their own, companies can secure RPA before they make the headlines as the latest major breach.

Understanding RPA’s digital identity

With RPA, digital workers are created to take over repetitive manual tasks that have been traditionally performed by humans. Their interaction directly with business applications mimics the way humans use credentials and privilege — ultimately giving the robot an identity of its own. An identity that is created and operates much faster than any human identity but doesn’t eat, sleep, take holidays, go on strike or even get paid.

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Eco raises $26M in a16z-led round to scale its digital cryptocurrency platform

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‍Eco, which has built out a digital global cryptocurrency platform, announced Friday that it has raised $26 million in a funding round led by a16z Crypto.

Founded in 2018, the SF-based startup’s platform is designed to be used as a payment tool around the world for daily-use transactions. The company emphasizes that it’s “not a bank, checking account, or credit card.”

“We’re building something better than all of those combined,” it said in a blog post. The company’s mission has also been described as an effort to use cryptocurrency as a way “to marry savings and spending,” according to this CoinList article.

Eco users can earn up to 5% annually on their deposits and get 5% cashback on when transacting with merchants such as Amazon, Uber, and others. Next up: the company says it will give its users the ability to pay bills, pay friends and more “all from the same, single wallet.” That same wallet, it says, rewards people every time they spend or save.

After a “successful” alpha test with millions of dollars deposited, the company’s Eco App is now available to the public.

A slew of other VC firms participated in Eco’s latest financing, including Founders Fund, Activant Capital, Slow Ventures, Coinbase Ventures, Tribe Capital, Valor Capital Group, and more than one hundred other funds and angels.  Expa and Pantera Capital co-led the company’s $8.5 million funding round.

CoinList co-founder Andy Bromberg stepped down from his role last fall to head up Eco. The startup was originally called Beam before rebranding to Eco “thanks to involvement by founding advisor, Garrett Camp, who held the Eco brand,” according to Coindesk. Camp is an Uber co-founder and Expa is his venture fund.

For a16z Crypto, leading the round is in line with its mission.

In a blog post co-written by Katie Haun and Arianna Simpson, the firm outlined why it’s pumped about Eco and its plans.

“One of the challenges in any new industry — crypto being no exception — is building things that are not just cool for the sake of cool, but that manage to reach and delight a broad set of users,” they wrote. “Technology is at its best when it’s improving the lives of people in tangible, concrete ways…At a16z Crypto, we are constantly on the lookout for paths to get cryptocurrency into the hands of the next billion people. How do we think that will happen? By helping them achieve what they already want to do: spend, save, and make money — and by focusing users on tangible benefits, not on the underlying technology.”

Eco is not the only crypto platform offering rewards to users. Lolli gives users free bitcoin or cash when they shop at over 1,000 top stores.


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