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Boosted by the pandemic, meeting transcription service Otter.ai raises $50M

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Over the past year or so, voice transcription startup Otter.ai doubled down on the future of remote work by integrating its product with meeting apps like Zoom and Google Meet. With the COVID-19 pandemic having sent so many to work from home, those investments have paid off — the company has transcribed over 100 million meetings with more than 3 billion minutes, and has seen an 8x increase in revenues during 2020. Now, Otter.ai is announcing its next steps, fueled by a new $50 million Series B round of investment.

The new round was led by Spectrum Equity, with participation from existing investors Horizons Ventures, Draper Associates, GGV Ventures, Draper Dragon Fund, and others. The $50 million figure also includes a $10 million convertible note, announced last year.

Otter.ai’s service offers an easy way to record meetings, whether in-person through an app on your phone, or online through its integrations with popular web conferencing apps. But it’s the latter that really came into play over the course of 2020, when suddenly entire workforces were sent home from the office and forced into endless Zoom calls.

With convenient timing, Otter.ai added Zoom integration back in April 2020 — the early days of the pandemic. It has now become the most popular platform for Otter.ai’s web conferencing users.

“I think with the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge shift in consumer behavior — especially in meeting behavior and education behavior, which are two key use cases for Otter,” says Otter.ai CMO Kurt Apen. “You see a lot of teams that are using Otter in the business and you see a lot of students and universities that are using Otter for accessible. And we think that shift in behavior is going to be permanent,” he notes.

Though the company doesn’t talk user numbers or revenues, specifically, it claims to have “many millions” on its standalone product, not counting the users it reaches through Zoom. And as those users discover Otter.ai’s free service, many later upgrade to its premium plans, which include the ability to record more minutes and access other business-grade features.

To date, this sort of backdoor entry point to the corporate market — through individual employees first, not the companies — has somewhat mirrored the trajectories of other popular business apps, the company believes.

“Actually, if we look at our growth trajectory in the last few year, it matches pretty well against the growth trajectory of Slack and Zoom,” said Otter.ai founder and CEO, Sam Liang. “So we’re pretty confident that, in the next few year, we’re continuing to grow.”

In other words, Otter.ai’s adoption may have been accelerated by the pandemic, but the larger impacts to business culture that took place in 2020 aren’t going away even when the pandemic ends. Not everyone will be going back to the office. But for those who do, Otter can work there, too.

The company has found some traction with businesses like professional services, pharmaceutical companies, financial services, and other multinationals where employees work across time zones. Longer-term, Otter.ai aims to better serve its corporate use cases by extending beyond meeting transcripts into an area it likes to call “conversation intelligence.”

That involves leveraging A.I. technology to extract meaning from the transcripts by allowing the system to learn what’s important based on the time spent on topics, the intonation of voices, and the sentiment of the conversations. It would do this in an automated way, as well, much like it works today.

Otter.ai, however, is not a service meant for highly confidential conversations. The recorded conversation is encrypted in transit and at rest, but is decrypted while processing. The conversations also have to be decrypted to create the index. Plus, Otter.ai transcripts are used as training data to improve its accuracy — learning from users’ manual corrections, from new accents, and the like.

This could ultimately prove to be a limiting factor to large-scale adoption within more sensitive business contexts. But Otter, nevertheless, remains focused more so on its work-related uses cases for the time being, rather than the numerous other areas where its technology can be used —  like podcast transcriptions, integrations with social audio apps (like Clubhouse), online events, and more. Otter.ai is serving these markets, but it’s preparing to staff up in sales to gain more corporate clients.

In addition to sales, where it also expects to hire a VP of Sales, Otter plans to grow its now 25-person team with additions across R&D, marketing, A.I. science, backend and frontend engineering, design, and product management. By year-end, it believes it will triple its headcount with the new hires — some of which may be remote workers.

Otter.ai will also invest the new funds into raising awareness for its app through channels like social and search, content marketing, organic social and more. And it will work to grow revenues through continued free to paid conversations and develop its technology.

John Connolly, Managing Director at Spectrum Equity, has now joined Otter’s board.

“As the workplace has evolved and online meetings are the new normal, Otter.ai is at the
forefront leading the transformational shift of the future of work and more effective online
interactions,” he said, in a statement. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Sam and the entire team at Otter.ai to support the company’s continued market leadership. We look forward to providing the guidance and strategic resources to drive focused product innovation and operational growth.”

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Vietnamese electric motorbike startup Dat Bike raises $2.6M led by Jungle Ventures

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Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike on one of the startup's motorbikes

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike

Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, has raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Made in Vietnam with mostly domestic parts, Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.

Founder and chief executive officer Son Nguyen began learning how to build bikes from scrap parts while working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2018, he moved back to Vietnam and launched Dat Bike. More than 80% of households in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam own two-wheeled vehicles, but the majority are fueled by gas. Nguyen told TechCrunch that many people want to switch to electric motorbikes, but a major obstacle is performance.

Nguyen said that Dat Bike offers three times the performance (5 kW versus 1.5 kW) and 2 times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes in the market, at the same price point. The company’s flagship motorbike, called Weaver, was created to compete against gas motorbikes. It seats two people, which Nguyen noted is an important selling point in Southeast Asian countries, and has a 5000W motor that accelerates from 0 to 50 km per hour in three seconds. The Weaver can be fully charged at a standard electric outlet in about three hours, and reach up to 100 km on one charge (the motorbike’s next iteration will go up to 200 km on one charge).

Dat Bike’s opened its first physical store in Ho Chi Minh City last December. Nguyen said the company “has shipped a few hundred motorbikes so far and still have a backlog of orders.” He added that it saw a 35% month-over-month growth in new orders after the Ho Chi Minh City store opened.

At 39.9 million dong, or about $1,700 USD, Weaver’s pricing is also comparable to the median price of gas motorbikes. Dat Bike partners with banks and financial institutions to offer consumers twelve-month payment plans with no interest.

“These guys are competing with each other to put the emerging middle class of Vietnam on the digital financial market for the first time ever and as a result, we get a very favorable rate,” he said.

While Vietnam’s government hasn’t implemented subsidies for electric motorbikes yet, the Ministry of Transportation has proposed new regulations mandating electric infrastructure at parking lots and bike stations, which Nguyen said will increase the adoption of electric vehicles. Other Vietnamese companies making electric two-wheeled vehicles include VinFast and PEGA.

One of Dat Bike’s advantages is that its bikes are developed in house, with locally-sourced parts. Nguyen said the benefits of manufacturing in Vietnam, instead of sourcing from China and other countries, include streamlined logistics and a more efficient supply chain, since most of Dat Bike’s suppliers are also domestic.

“There are also huge tax advantages for being local, as import tax for bikes is 45% and for bike parts ranging from 15% to 30%,” said Nguyen. “Trade within Southeast Asia is tariff-free though, which means that we have a competitive advantage to expand to the region, compare to foreign imported bikes.”

Dat Bike plans to expand by building its supply chain in Southeast Asia over the next two to three years, with the help of investors like Jungle Ventures.

In a statement, Jungle Ventures founding partner Amit Anand said, “The $25 billion two-wheeler industry in Southeast Asia in particular is ripe for reaping benefits of new developments in electric vehicles and automation. We believe that Dat Bike will lead this charge and create a new benchmark not just in the region but potentially globally for what the next generation of two-wheeler electric vehicles will look and perform like.”

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Binance Labs leads $1.6M seed round in DeFi startup MOUND, the developer of Pancake Bunny

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Decentralized finance startup MOUND, known for its yield farming aggregator Pancake Bunny, has raised $1.6 million in seed funding led by Binance Labs. Other participants included IDEO CoLab, SparkLabs Korea and Handshake co-founder Andrew Lee.

Built on Binance Smart Chain, a blockchain for developing high-performance DeFi apps, MOUND says Pancake Bunny now has over 30,000 daily average users, and has accumulated more than $2.1 billion in total value locked (TVL) since its launch in December 2020.

The new funding will be used to expand Pancake Bunny and develop new products. MOUND recently launched Smart Vaults and plans to unveil Cross-Chain Collateralization in about a month, bringing the startup closer to its goal of covering a wide range of DeFi use cases, including farming, lending and swapping.

Smart Vaults are for farming single asset yields on leveraged lending products. It also automatically checks if the cost of leveraging may be more than anticipated returns and can actively lend assets for MOUND’s cross-chain farming.

Cross-Chain Collateralization is cross-chain yield farming that lets users keep original assets on their native blockchain instead of relying on a bridge token. The user’s original assets serve as collateral when the Bunny protocol borrows assets on the Binance Smart Chain for yield farming. This allows users to keep assets on native blockchains while giving them liquidity to generate returns on the Binance Smart Chain.

In statement, Wei Zhou, Binance chief financial officer, and head of Binance Labs and M&A’s, said “Pancake Bunny’s growth and MOUND’s commitent to execution are impressive. Team MOUND’s expertise in live product design and servie was a key factor in our decision to invest. We look forward to expanding the horizons of Defi together with MOUND.”

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Battery Resourcers raises $20M to commercialize its recycling-plus-manufacturing operations

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As a greater share of the transportation market becomes electrified, companies have started to grapple with how to dispose of the thousands of tons of used electric vehicle batteries that are expected to come off the roads by the end of the decade.

Battery Resourcers proposes a seemingly simple solution: recycle them. But the company doesn’t stop there. It’s engineered a “closed loop” process to turn that recycled material into nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes to sell back to battery manufacturers. It is also developing a process to recover and purify graphite, a material used in anodes, to battery-grade.

Battery Resourcers’ business model has attracted another round of investor attention, this time with a $20 million Series B equity round led by Orbia Ventures, with injections from At One Ventures, TDK Ventures, TRUMPF Venture, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and InMotion Ventures. Battery Resourcers CEO Mike O’Kronley declined to disclose the company’s new valuation.

The cathode and anode, along with the electrolyzer, are major components of battery architecture, and O’Kronley told TechCrunch it is this recycling-plus-manufacturing process that distinguishes the company from other recyclers.

“When we say that we’re on the verge of revolutionizing this industry, what we are doing is we are making the cathode active material — we’re not just recovering the metals that are in the battery, which a lot of other recyclers are doing,” he said. “We’re recovering those materials, and formulating brand new cathode active material, and also recovering and purifying the graphite active material. So those two active materials will be sold to a battery manufacturer and go right back into the new battery.”

“Other recycling companies, they’re focused on recovering just the metals that are in [batteries]: there’s copper, there’s aluminum, there’s nickel, there’s cobalt. They’re focused on recovering those metals and selling them back as commodities into whatever industry needs those metals,” he added. “And they may or may not go back into a battery.”

The company says its approach could reduce the battery industry’s reliance on mined metals — a reliance that’s only anticipated to grow in the coming decades. A study published last December found that demand for cobalt could increase by a factor of 17 and nickel by a factor of 28, depending on the size of EV uptake and advances in battery chemistries.

Thus far, the company’s been operating a demonstration-scale facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has expanded into a facility in Novi, Michigan, where it does analytical testing and material characterization. Between the two sites, the company can make around 15 tons of cathode materials a year. This latest funding round will help facilitate the development of a commercial-scale facility, which Battery Resourcers said in a statement will boost its capacity to process 10,000 tons of batteries per year, or batteries from around 20,000 EVs.

Another major piece of its proprietary recycling process is the ability to take in both old and new EV batteries, process them and formulate the newest kind of cathodes used in today’s batteries. “So they can take in 10-year-old batteries from a Chevy Volt and reformulate the metals to make the high-Ni cathode active materials in use today,” a company spokesman explained to TechCrunch.

Battery Resourcers is already receiving inquiries from automakers and consumer electronics companies, O’Kronley said, though he did not provide additional details. But InMotion Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement its participation in the round as a “significant investment.”

“[Battery Resourcers’] proprietary end-to-end recycling process supports Jaguar Land Rover’s journey to become a net zero carbon business by 2039,” InMotion managing director Sebastian Peck said.

Battery Resourcers was founded in 2015 after being spun out from Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The company has previously received support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a collaboration between General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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