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.

Why more automation from Google Ads is good for tool makers and PPC careers

We’re now all adjusting to the new interface of Google Ads. Change at what was formerly called AdWords is constant, and some of the biggest adaptations we’ll need to adjust to may still be in store.

Google keeps moving toward a more automated ad system under CEO Sundar Pichai, who says the future of Google is artificial intelligence.

As someone who builds PPC tools for a living, I’ve had to do some soul-searching to figure out if my work is likely to remain relevant in an industry that is seemingly moving toward full automation courtesy of the search engines.

The more I investigate automation features like Smart Shopping campaigns and changes to Google Ads like simplified targeting options for ads on mobile apps, I can’t help but come away encouraged that the work my team and other tool and script creators do will remain very valuable for a while to come.

For the many agencies and consultants who have questions about their future role in an industry dominated by automation, I’ll lay out some of my thoughts about our future prospects here.

Know your customer and you will thrive

One of the cool things about running a SaaS company is that I get to know a lot about my customers and their needs. One of the best lessons I learned when working at Google was that I’d have a good career as long as I stayed close to the customer.

[Read the full article on MarTech Today.]


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


Understanding the convergence of industry 4.0 and the rise of autonomous vehicles

As a society and as marketers, we’ve moved into embracing a brave new world bursting with myriad emerging technologies so quickly that we don’t take the time to understand the interconnections. We see new entrants like cryptocurrency and the internet of things (IoT) as singular, when in fact, they are symbiotic in nature. Together, these trends form an extensive, disruptive infrastructure.

Search advertising is often discussed within the context of a digital marketing vacuum, with the words “performance” and “efficiency” driving conversations. In our busy daily routines, we seldom look past the last click to see what the future may hold.

But search behavior is one of the most accurate predictors of human intent on earth. So, why don’t we look to it more often to answer important questions about what’s happening in our time?

Today, we’ll do just that. Let’s use search in the context of a leading indicator of attitudinal behavior shifts to better understand the rise of the autonomous vehicle (AV) and the mega-disruption of our time: convergence.

Groundbreaking technologies and the as-a-service economy are deeply interrelated. If you take time to think with precision about the impact of these disruptive trends, you will begin to clearly identify the power of convergence and how these seemingly unique ideas are ubiquitous and closely intertwined. Convergence is the truest form of digital transformation, and it’s happening all around us.

Bing Ads (my employer) recently analyzed 600,000 instances of queries over 16 months from categories aligned with a variety of disruptive trends to better understand and quantify their momentum. What we’ve learned, and our methods, can benefit marketers seeking to reach B2B and B2C audiences in these emerging areas.

In the stream graph below, we looked at six months of recent data and used average site time as a proxy to understand user engagement:

[Read the full article on MarTech Today.]


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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.