From ICO to SEC: Join us for a panel on regulation at TechCrunch Disrupt

Capital, crypto, and regulation go together like bread, peanut butter, and jelly. And what better way to make a great sandwich than to bring them all together at TechCrunch Disrupt. I’ll be leading a panel with Avichal Garg of Electric Capital, Arianna Simpson of Autonomous Partners, and Valerie Szczepanik of the SEC in San Francisco.

Garg is a longtime investor and former product head at Facebook. He’s currently at Electric Capital where he’s a managing partner. Simpson is a skilled crypto investor and is currently managing director at Autonomous Partners. Szczepanik has had a long career at the SEC and was recently named Associate Director of the Division of Corporation Finance and Senior Advisor for Digital Assets and Innovation. All three of them will help us navigate the new world of investment we are no all coming to face.

The future of investment is currently up in the air. With the rise of token sales, fundraising seems like a needless task for most founders. But where will they be with the token world fizzles out? Can the new funding tricks stack up to VC and angel investment?

We’ll explore these concepts in our wide-ranging discussion and hopefully Szczepanik can shed some light on these new forms of investment.

The full agenda is here. Passes for the show are available here.

The Palette 2 lets any 3D printer output color

The Mosaic Manufacturing Palette 2 – an upgrade the original Palette – is a self-contained system for full color 3D printing. It works by cutting and splicing multiple filament colors and then feeding them through as the object is printed. The system uses a unique and internal cutter called the Splice Core that measures and cuts filament as it prints, ensuring the incoming filament can change colors quickly and easily.

The printer can out items in four colors and it can print any amount of any color. It extrudes excess color into a little object called a tower, allow it to print as much or as little of a color as necessary. It also has automatic runout detection which lets you print larger objects over a longer period.

It works with a number of current 3D printers and the printers require no real updates to use the Palette or its more robust brother, the Pro. A new piece of software called Canvas allows users to plan their color prints and send the instructions to both the Palette and the printer for printing.

The Palette 2 costs $449 while the Pro costs $699. The Pro lets you print faster than the Palette 2.

It’s a very clever hack – instead of making the printer do all the work you instead make the filament do the work. Because it is a self-contained system you can use the Palette with nearly any printer although the team is working on native support for many popular printers. They are able to print lots of interesting stuff including 3D printed phone case models, rubbery watch bands using stretchable materials, and even educational objects. Most impressive? They were able to print a scan of a brain with evidence of a tumor visible in yellow. While it’s not completely full color – yet – the Palette is a great solution for those looking to print color on a budget.

Apple could release an updated MacBook Air

According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple has been working on multiple new Macs. In particular, Apple could be planning to release a new entry-level laptop to replace the aging MacBook Air.

This isn’t the first rumor about a MacBook Air refresh. While Apple has released a 12-inch retina MacBook, it’s not nearly as cheap as the MacBook Air. It’s also not as versatile as it only has a single USB Type-C port.

And yet, the MacBook Air is arguably Apple’s most popular laptop design in recent years. Many MacBook Air users are still using their trusty device as there isn’t a clear replacement in the lineup right now. According to Bloomberg, the updated MacBook Air could get a retina display. Other details are still unclear.

After Apple updated the MacBook Air in March 2015, the company neglected the laptop for a while. It received an update in June 2017, but it was such a minor update that it looked like the MacBook Air was on life support.

It sounds like neither the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro (the one without a Touch Bar) nor the 12-inch MacBook have fostered as much customer interest as the MacBook Air.

Bloomberg also says that the Mac Mini is going to receive an update. The story of the Mac Mini is quite similar as the product has been neglected for years. Apple last updated the Mac Mini in October 2014 — it’s been nearly four years.

And the fact that Apple still sells the Mac Mini from 2014 is embarrassing. You can find tiny desktop PCs that are cheaper, smaller and more powerful. They don’t run macOS, but that’s the only downside.

It’s clear that laptops have taken over the computer market. Desktop computers have become a niche market. That’s why the updated Mac Mini could focus on people looking for a home server and who don’t want to mess around with a Raspberry Pi.

HTC announces a wireless adapter for the Vive headset

HTC continues to bet big on VR, today announcing the launch of pre-orders for the Vive Wireless Adapter. The adapter allows Vive and Vive Pro owners to cut the cord, so to speak, and allow users to tether wirelessly to their PC.

The Base Adapter works with both the Vive and Vive Pro, though the Vive Pro requires an extra $60 compatibility pack that includes a connection cable for the Vive Pro, foam padding, and an attachment device that works with the Vive Pro.

The Vive Wireless Adapter itself retails for $299.

According to the blog post, installation works like this:

Installation of the Vive Wireless Adapter occurs in minutes by installing a PCI-e card and attaching a sensor from the PC that broadcasts to and from the newly wireless Vive headset. The adapter has a broadcast range of 6 meters with a 150 degree field of view from the sensor and runs in the interference-free 60Ghz band using Intel’s WiGig specification, which, combined with DisplayLink’s XR codec, means low latency and high performance with hours of battery life.

The Adapter is powered by the HTC QC 3.0 PowerBank, which doubles as a portable charger for a smartphone, and is included in the price with the Adapter.

This isn’t the only wireless adapter for the HTC Vive . TPCast unveiled an adapter in 2016 for $220, as well as an enterprise version of the adapter that delivers 2k content to several HTC Vive units with sub-2ms latency.

Pre-orders for HTC’s own Adapter will begin on September 5 from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Microsoft, NewEgg, and Vive.com.

Braavo raises $6M for its app financing business

Braavo, a startup that provides financing to mobile app developers, is announcing that it has raised $6 million in Series A funding.

The might not seem like much compared to the $70 million that Braavo announced raising last year, but that was debt financing, used to loan money to developers. This new round is equity financing, used to fund Braavo’s own operations and growth.

Co-founder Mark Loranger told me Braavo was founded in 2015 in response to the “new dynamics” of mobile app businesses. And it’s worked with developers including Verv, Fanatee an Pixite.

“The data is there to create ways to provide financing to companies that otherwise would have to raise more [venture funding] and dilute themselves,” Loranger said.

For its first financing product, Braavo looks at Apple App Store and Google Play data, specifically the amount of money already earned by an app but not yet paid out. It can then provide an advance on some of that revenue.

Loranger described Braavo’s newer product as “more exciting” and “more data-driven.” It looks at user acquisition, user engagement and revenue, projecting how revenue would grow if a developer had more money for user acquisition — and then it can provide debt financing for that growth.

Braavo subscriptions

Braavo gets paid back as “a fixed percentage of future earnings,” Loranger said, so its incentives are aligned with the developers: “We only make our money back as they earn more revenue in the future.” And if app revenue doesn’t grow as anticipated, that just means Braavo gets paid back more slowly.

“We’ve never, ever lost a dime,” he said.

The company is also announcing the launch of a new analytics product that will allow businesses to track key metrics like the lifetime value of their customers.

Loranger said this will be available for free to anyone to anyone with a “revenue-generating mobile app business.” Rather than charging for the product directly, the goal is to “create more success for mobile app business that may end up qualifying for funding.”

The new round brings Braavo’s total equity financing to nearly $8 million. It was led by e.ventures, with participation from SWS Venture Capital (founded by Green Dot CEO Steve Streit) and Shipt CEO Bill Smith.

Slack confirms it has raised $427M at a post-money valuation of over $7.1B

Slack, the workplace communications platform, has taken off like a rocket since launching in 2013 and now has more than 8 million daily active users and 70,000 teams paying to use it. Now the startup of the same name has closed its latest round of funding to fuel its growth. The company said it has raised another $427 million in a Series H round that values it at over $7.1 billion, led by Dragoneer Investment Group and General Atlantic.

The news confirms details first reported by TechCrunch earlier this month.

Other investors in this round include T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., funds advised by Wellington Management, Baillie Gifford and Sands Capital, along with unnamed investors.

“Slack is an exceptional company that is revolutionizing the way people collaborate, and we look forward to a long term partnership with the Slack team as they continue to grow the business,” said Marc Stad, Founder and Managing Partner of Dragoneer, in a statement.

Before this round, Slack had raised $841 million with its 40 or so previous investors reading like a who’s who of the VC world, including a number of individuals as well as the firms SoftBank, Accel, Kleiner Perkins, GV, DST, Index, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital and many more. Its most recent round before this was a SoftBank-led $250 million round at a $5.1 billion valuation, pointing to a huge leap in Slack’s price since September 2017.

Over the years, there have been a number of startups and larger tech giants attempting to build workplace communications platforms but Slack appears to have been the right platform at just the right moment. The public appetite for social media and using digital platforms to communicate has exploded in recent times, and Slack’s easy interface, combined with the ability to integrate just about any other piece of software or app that you might use in your office, has helped it take off.

That has not come without a sharp rise in competition, with the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and others all developing their own platforms to take it on, and either gain new customers, or hope to hang on to those that it already has.

In previous rounds, Slack’s CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield has often said that the company raises “opportunistically.” That is, it doesn’t have to raise money because it’s making money and still has some in the bank, but as long as VCs are knocking, it’s worth taking the funding if it’s coming in at good valuations because you never know what might lie ahead.

That “ahead” appears to be now. The company did not specify how it plans to use this funding in the short statement it sent to TechCrunch (we’re asking), but it’s been picking up competitors (like Hipchat) and looking to scale up and consolidate, in addition to ramping up its own offerings to target bigger and more lucrative customers beyond the smaller businesses and startups that helped the company get its start.

“Slack has made strong progress in a very short time in this new era of enterprise collaboration. Our investment represents our belief in the company’s vision and leadership team, together with the product’s potential to increase productivity and change the way people work on an even larger scale,” said Alan Tu, Equity Research Analyst, T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., in a statement.

“There is still enormous potential to change the way that people and organizations collaborate and work together,” it notes.

Semmle, startup that makes code searchable, hauls in $21M Series B

Semmle, a startup that originally spun out of research at Oxford, announced a $21 million Series B investment today led by Accel Partners. It marked the second time Accel has led an investment in the company.

Other investors include Work-Bench, Capital One, Credit Suisse, Google, Microsoft, NASA and Nasdaq Trust. Today’s investment brings the total to $31 million.

Semmle has warranted this kind of interest by taking a unique approach to finding vulnerabilities in code. “The key idea behind our technology is to treat code as data and treat analysis problems as simple queries against a database. What this allows you to do is very easily encode domain expertise, security expertise or any other kinds of specialist knowledge in such a way it can be easily easily and automatically applied to large amounts of code,” Pavel Avgustinov, Semmle co-founder and VP of platform engineering told TechCrunch.

Screenshot: Semmle

Once you create the right query, you can continuously run it against your code to prevent the same mistakes from entering the code base on subsequent builds. The key here is building the queries and the company has a couple of ways to deal with that.

They can work with customers to help them create queries, although in the long run that is not a sustainable way of working. Instead, they share queries, and encourage customers to share them with the community.

“What we find is that the great tech companies we work with have the best security teams in the world, and they are giving back what they created on the Semmle platform with other users in an open source fashion. There is a GitHub repository where we publish queries, but Microsoft and Google are doing the same thing,” Oege de Moor, company CEO and co-founder explained.

In fact, the Semmle solution is freely available to open source programmers to use with their applications, and the company currently analyzes every commit of almost 80,000 open source projects. Open source developers can run shared queries against their code or create their own.

They also have a paid version with customers like Microsoft, Google, Credit Suisse, NASA and Nasdaq. They have relied mostly on these strategic partners up until now, all of which are also investors. With today’s investment they plan to build out their sales and marketing departments to expand their customer base into a wider enterprise market.

The company spun out of research at Oxford University in 2006. They are now based in San Francisco with 60 employees, a number that should go up with this investment. They received an $8 million Series A in 2014 and $2 million seed round in 2011.

Sequoia wraps up new $695M fund for India and Southeast Asia

Sequoia has announced the close of its newest fund for India and Southeast Asia. The firm has raised $695 million for this fund, which is its fifth since it expanded into India 12 years ago.

With this new money, Sequoia said it plans to “double down” on technology, consumer and healthcare startups to “unleash the potential” of the two regions, which collectively over 800 million internet users. That number is growing fast among India, population 1.3 billion, and Southeast Asia, population 650 million.

Beyond being one of the premier VCs in the U.S. and China, Sequoia also enjoys a top-tier reputation in Asia and, more recently, in Southeast Asia where it has accelerated its presence in recent years. To date, the firm has made over 200 investments in India, which include major hits like Freshworks (which is headed to IPO), Freecharge (which was acquired by Snapdeal), Pine Labs (which recently raised from PayPal), JustDial (which went public in 2013) and OYO Rooms, which is backed by SoftBank’s Vision fund.

The firm has expanded to Southeast Asia in recent years, after first opening an office in 2012, and it said that the region accounts for 20-30 percent of portfolio value. That’s a ratio it intends to maintain going forward — which means there’s no dedicated Southeast Asia fund, for now at least.

Already, though, Sequoia has gotten itself into a number of Southeast Asia’s top startups. They include Indonesian unicorn trio Go-Jek, Tokopedia and Traveloka, Singapore’s Carousell and e-commerce startup Zilingo. The fact that Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh relocated to Singapore also speaks volumes about how seriously the firm is taking Southeast Asia — even though, as mentioned, there’s no standalone fund.

“As we look to the future, the menu of investment opportunities is unprecedented — from mobile internet to online brands, enterprise SaaS to AI, crypto to deep tech in healthcare, new age consumer brands and beyond,” Sequoia wrote in a blog post announcing its new fund.

“India and Southeast Asia, meanwhile, are at an inflection point, and we are witnessing incredible quality of new investment opportunities,” it added.

Finally, the firm has announced some staff changes. Most notably, managing director Abhay Pandey is leaving after an 11-year stint to focus on investment opportunities in the consumer space, according to Sequoia. Pandey joined Sequoia from Merrill Lynch in 2007 and he previously spent time with Credit Suisse and McKinsey.

Abhay Pandey is leaving his role as managing director at Sequoia’s India fund after more than 11 years

There are also promotions. Former Facebook product manager Abheek Anand is now managing director with a focus on Southeast Asia, while four VPs —  Ishaan Mittal, Sakshi Chopra, Ashish Agarwal and Harshjit Sethi — have stepped up to become principals.

Stealthy Singapore VC firm Qualgro is raising a $100M fund

Founder Heang Chhor previously spent 26 years with McKinsey

Southeast Asia’s venture capital space is booming right now. Openspace Ventures just announced the close of its newest $135 million fund, Golden Gate Ventures hit the first close on its upcoming $100 million vehicle, and a third Singapore-based fund is also raising big right now: Qualgro.

Unlike others, Qualgro has operated relatively under the radar to date.

That’s been very deliberate, according to managing partner Heang Chhor, who started the firm after leaving McKinsey following a 26-year stint that spanned Europe and Asia. Cambodian by birth, Chhor grew up in France and he rose to become a member of the McKinsey Global Board, whilst also leading the business in Japan.

Prior to McKinsey, Chhor started a number of businesses — of which he says he got a modest exit but plenty of experience — and now he is turning his attention to Southeast Asia, where growing internet access among a cumulative base of 650 million consumers is opening up new opportunities for tech and internet businesses. The region’s digital economy is forecast to pass $200 billion by 2020, up from an estimated $50 billion in 2017, according to a much-cited report from Temasek and Google.

Qualgro — which stands for ‘quality’ and ‘growth,’ in case you wondered — opened its doors in 2015 with a maiden $50 million fund. Alongside Chhor is Jason Edwards, formerly with PE firm Clearwater Capital and Peter Huynh, who joined from the Singtel Innov8 VC arm. To date, Qualgro has made 19 investments, which include IP and data firm Patsnap, e-commerce startup Shopback, and lending platform Funding Societies.

The aim is super-size that with this new fund, which this week completed a first close of $60 million. The total target is $100 million. Qualgro didn’t comment on the identity of its LPs, but it said the increased capital will see it further its efforts on Series B deals.

The firm has focused on Series A and B deals in Southeast Asia. Its primary focus is b2b businesses to date, with Chhor particularly keen on those that use data, AI, enterprise and Sass models. Beyond that b2b specialism, the firm looks to distinguish itself by offering international growth opportunities to its portfolio. That’s to say that Chhor uses his networks across the world to help Southeast Asia-based companies expand into new geographical markets — issues like setting up offices and hiring — whilst also tapping his connections within the enterprise and business worlds.

“As a Southeast Asia-based VC, we are looking for talented people that are able to grow their company regionally and potentially become a real global player. It’s a little bit difficult because as a Southeast Asian entrepreneur you need to have certain skills and be on the right business model to access the global world and compete successfully [but] we invest in this type of talent irrespective of their country in Southeast Asia,” Chhor told TechCrunch.

[Left to right] Heang Chhor, Qualgro founder and managing partner, Jason Edwards, co-founder and partner, and Peter Huynh, co-founder and partner

That’s been most visible with its efforts in Australia to date. For example, Qualgro has worked closely with Shopback to expand its service into the country. While Patsnap, too, has leveraged its investor to expand into Europe, where it has a sizeable operation in addition to its Singapore HQ.

But the strategic deals also flow the other way.

Qualgro is looking to back companies that seek the opportunities to move into Southeast Asia. To date that has seen it get active in the Australian market, where it has done more deals that other Southeast Asian VC firm. Those include Data Republic, which has expanded to Singapore with plans to go beyond that, too.

Chhor explained that, beyond its current scope on Southeast Asia and Australia, the firm is open to pursuing deals with companies in markets like Europe and Japan when there are opportunities for Qualgro to come in as a strategic investor help grow businesses and expand networks across Asia.

Indeed, Qualgro’s focus on international is reflected in its team which consists of six people in Singapore with one in Australia and an advisor in Europe.

Cootek, the Chinese maker of TouchPal keyboard, files for $100M US IPO

Cootek, the Chinese mobile internet company best known for keyboard app TouchPal, has filed for a public offering in the United States. In its F-1 form, submitted last week to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Cootek said it wants to raise up to $100 million.

The Shanghai-based company began operating in 2008, when TouchPal was launched, and incorporated as CooTek in March 2012. In its SEC filing, Cootek said it currently has 132 million daily active users, with average DAUs increasing 75% year-over-year as of June. It also said it achieved 453% total ad revenue growth in the six month period before June.

While AI-based TouchPal, which offers glide typing and predictive text, is Cootek’s most popular product, it also has 15 other apps in its portfolio, including fitness apps HiFit and ManFIT and a virtual assistant called Talia. The company uses its proprietary AI and big data technology to analyze language data collected from users and the Internet. Then it uses those insights to develop lifestyle, healthcare and entertainment apps. Together, those 15 apps reached an average of 22.2 million monthly average users and 7.3 million daily average users in June.

TouchPal itself had 125.4 million daily average users in June 2018, with active users launching the app an average of 72 times a day. It currently supports 110 languages.

Most of Cootek’s revenue comes from mobile advertising. It says net revenue grew from $11 million in 2016 to $37.3 million in 2017, or 238.5% year-over-year, while its net loss dropped from $30.7 million in 2016 to $23.7 million in 2017. It achieved net income of $3.5 million for the six months ending in June, compared to a net loss of $16.2 million in the same period a year ago.

Cootek plans to be listed under the ticker symbol CTK on the New York Stock Exchange and will use the IPO’s proceeds to grow its user base, invest in AI and natural language processing tech and improve advertising performance. The offering will be underwritten by underwritten by Credit Suisse, BofA Merrill Lync and Citi.