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SeedFi closes on $65M to help financially struggling Americans get ahead

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Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and struggle to get out of a debt cycle.

One startup is developing financial products targeted toward this segment of the population, with the goal of helping them build credit, save money, access funds and plan for the future.

That startup, SeedFi, announced Wednesday it has raised $50 million in debt and $15 million in an equity funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, also known as a16z. The VC firm also led SeedFi’s $4 million seed funding when it was founded in March of 2019.

Flourish, Core Innovation Capital and Quiet Capital also participated in the latest financing.

SeedFi was founded on the premise that it is difficult for many Americans to get ahead financially. Its founding team has worked at both startups and big banks, such as JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, and operates under the premise that many legacy financial institutions are simply not designed to help Americans who are struggling financially to get ahead. 

“We’ve seen firsthand how the system has been designed for underprivileged Americans to fail,” said Jim McGinley, co-founder and CEO of SeedFi. “Our average customer earns $50,000 a year, yet they pay $460 a year in overdraft fees and payday loan companies charge them APRs of 400% or more. They barely make enough to cover their expenses and any misstep can set them back for years.”

In previous roles, McGinley was responsible for payday loans for underserved communities.

“There I got insights to the financial difficulties they had and the need for better products to help them get a step up,” he told TechCrunch.

Co-founder Eric Burton said he can relate because he grew up in Central Texas as part of “a super poor family.”

“I experienced all the struggles of being low income and the necessity of taking on high-priced credit to get through day to day,” he recalled. “I personally was trapped in a debt cycle for a long time.”

In fact, a job offer he got from Capital One was temporarily rescinded because the company said he had “bad credit,” which turned out to be a result of unpaid medical bills he’d incurred at the age of 18.

“I didn’t know about them, but was able to get the job after using my signing bonus to pay off that debt,” he said. “So I can understand how a certain starting point makes it very hard to progress.”

SeedFi’s goal is to tackle the root of the problem. It launched in private beta in 2019, and helped its initial customers build more than $500,000 in savings — even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, it’s launching to the public with two offerings. One is a credit building product that is designed to “create important long-term savings habits.” Customers save as little as $10 from every paycheck, which is reported to the credit bureaus to build their credit history, and are then able to generate $500 in savings in six months’ time.

After six months of on-time payments, SeedFi customers with no credit history were able to establish a credit score of 600, while customers with existing credit scores and less than three credit accounts boosted their scores by 45 points, according to the company.

The concept of enabling consumers to build credit history beyond traditional methods is becoming increasingly more common. Just last week, we wrote about Tomo Credit, which provides customers with a debit card so they can build credit based on their cash flow.

SeedFi’s other offering, the Borrow & Grow Plan, is designed to be a more affordable alternative to installment or payday loans. It provides consumers with “immediate access” to funds while also helping them build savings and credit. 

Andreessen Horowitz general partner Angela Strange , who has joined SeedFi’s board with the financing, believes there’s “a massive business opportunity for new financial services entrants to reach historically underserved populations through better product experiences, underwriting and technology.”

In a blog post, she shares an example of how SeedFi works. The company evaluates risk and extends credit to a customer that might be traditionally hard to underwrite. It determines how much to lend, as well as the proportion of dollars to give as money now versus savings. 

“For instance, a typical SeedFi plan might be structured as $500 right now and $500 reserved in a savings account. The borrower pays off $1,000 over time, and at the end of the plan, he or she has $500 in a savings account. Not only has the borrower paid a lower interest rate, he or she is in a better financial position after making the decision to borrow money,” Strange writes.

Looking ahead, SeedFi plans to use its new capital to build out its product suite and grow its customer base. 

“We will be able to more efficiently fund our growing loan portfolio and serve more customers,” McGinley said.

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Swiss maker of meat alternatives Planted will expand and diversify with $18M Series A

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Planted, a startup pursuing a unique method of creating a vegetarian chicken alternative, has raised an $18M (CHF 17M) Series A to expand its product offerings and international footprint. With new kebabs and pulled-style faux meats available and steak-like cuts in the (literal) pipeline, Planted has begun to set its sights outside central Europe.

The company was a spinout from ETH Zurich and made its debut in 2019, but has not rested on the success of its plain chicken recipe. Its approach, which relied on using pea protein and pea fiber extruded to recreate the fibrous structure of chicken for nearly 1:1 replacement in recipes, has proven to be adaptable for different styles and ingredients as well.

“We aim to use different proteins, so that there is diversity, both in terms of agriculture and dietary aspects,” said co-founder Christoph Jenny.

A woman bites into a artificial pulled pork sandwich.

Image Credits: Planted

“For example our newly launched planted.pulled consists of sunflower, oat and yellow pea proteins, changing both structure and taste to resemble pulled pork rather than chicken. The great thing about the sunflower proteins, they are upcycled from sunflower oil production. Hence, we are establishing a circular economy approach.”

When I first wrote about Planted, its products were only being distributed through a handful of restaurants and grocery stores. Now the company has a presence in more than 3,000 retail locations across Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and works with restaurant and food service partners as well. No doubt this strong organic (so to speak) growth, and the growth of the meat alternative market in general, made raising money less of a chore.

The cash will be directed, as you might expect for a company at this stage, towards R&D and further expansion.

“The funding will be used to expand our tech stack, to commercialize our prime cuts that are currently produced at lab scale,” said Jenny. “On the manufacturing side we look to significantly increase our current capacity of half a ton per hour to serve the increasing demand coming from international markets, first in neighboring countries and then further into Europe and overseas.”

A large laboratory environment with clear walls. A person works at machinery in the foreground.

Image Credits: Planted

“We will further invest in our structuring and fermentation platforms. Combining structuring technologies with the biochemical toolboxes of natural microorganisms will allow us to create ultimately new products with transformative character – all clean, natural, healthy and tasty,” said co-founder Lukas Böni in a press release.

No doubt this all will also help lower the price, a goal from the beginning but only possible by scaling up.

As other companies in this space also raise money (incidentally, rather large amounts of it) and expand to other markets, competition will be fierce — but Planted seems to be specializing in a few food types that aren’t as commonly found, at least in the U.S., where sausages, ground “beef,” and “chicken” nuggets have been the leading forms of meat alternatives.

No word on when Planted products will make it to American tables, but Jenny’s “overseas” suggests it is at least a possibility fairly soon.

The funding round was co-led by Vorwerk Ventures and Blue Horizon Ventures, with participation from Swiss football (soccer) player Yann Sommer and several previous investors.

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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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