May
20
2019
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Wagestream closes $51M Series A to plug the payday gap without putting workers in debt

Getting your work wages on a monthly (not weekly nor biweekly) basis has become a more widespread trend as the price of running payrolls has gone up, and organizations’ cashflow has gone down. That 30-day shift may be a boost to employers, but not employees, who may need access to those wages more immediately and find it a challenge to stretch out their income month to month.

Now, a startup based out of London has raised a large round of funding for service that’s aiming to plug that gap. Wagestream — which works with employers to let employees draw down a percentage of their income in the month for a small, flat fee — today said that it has closed a Series A round of £40 million ($51 million).

The funding is coming in the form of equity and debt, with Balderton and Northzone leading on the equity side, which makes up £15 million of the raise, and savings bank Shawbrook investing £25 million on the debt side to finance employee draw-downs. Other investors in the round include QED, the Rowntree Foundation, the London Co-investment Fund (LCIF) and Village Global, a social venture firm backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, among others.

The company is not disclosing its valuation, but this brings the total raised to just under £45 million, and “the valuation is definitely higher now,” according to CEO and co-founder Peter Briffett.

The list of investors is proving to be a useful one for Wagestream as it grows. I asked if Bezos’ company, Amazon, was working with Wagestream. Briffett confirmed it is not a customer currently, “but we are talking to them.” It does, however, have a number of other customers already signed up, including pest removal service Rentokil PLC, Camden Town Brewery, the Slug & Lettuce pub chain and Carluccio’s chain of eateries, along with the NHS and Hackney Council — covering some 120,000 workers in all.

Amazon is an indicative example of one of the big opportunities for the company, which today is active in the U.K. but aiming to expand across Europe and the rest of the world.

While it is one of the biggest employers in the tech world, where it might typically pay out six-figure salaries in senior management, operational and technical roles, it’s also building out its business by being one of the biggest employers of hourly workers in its warehouses, wider logistics operations and similar areas. It’s employees like these who might be considered the first wave of employees that Wagestream is initially targeting, some of whom may be earning just enough or slightly more than enough to get by (at best), and face being victims of what Briffett referred to as the “payday poverty cycle.”

Getting paid monthly accounts for some 85% of all paychecks in the U.K. today, and the proportion is similar in Europe and also getting increasingly common in the U.S., Briffett — who has also worked at Microsoft, LivingSocial (when it was still backed by Amazon, and where he started the U.K. operation and ran it as the CEO for years) and YPlan (acquired by Time Out) — said in an interview. You might ask: Why don’t the workers just budget better? But it doesn’t always work out that way, especially the longer the gap is between paychecks, and if you, for example, have an unexpected expense to cover.

Because of that ubiquity, and the acuteness of the problem (if you’ve ever earned just about enough, or been a child in a family whose parents did, you may understand the predicament quite well), Wagestream is not the first time we’ve seen a financial services startup emerge to target that demographic.

Some other attempts have been scandalously disastrous, however: recall “Payday Loan” provider Wonga, backed by an illustrious set of investors but ultimately accused of, and hit hard by regulators and the public for, preying on people who were in need of funds with loans that were not transparent enough in their terms and led the borrowers into deep debt.

Wonga itself paid a big price for its practices, and the company is now bankrupt (and apparently still unable to replay creditors, as of the last report in March).

It was the disaster of Wonga — and an article in the WSJ about alternatives to payday loans — that Briffett said got him thinking about the possibilities and building Wagestream. (Ironic note: if you use PitchBook as I do, Wonga is listed among Wagestream’s backers, which Briffett assures me is an error.)

Wagestream positions itself as a “social impact” startup for targeting a very real problem that impacts financial inclusion for a proportion of the population, and it says this represents one of the highest rounds ever for a startup in the U.K. aimed at social impact.

“We fell in love with the strong product-market fit of Wagestream. We very rarely hear such universal positive feedback from all who have tried a product,” said Rob Moffat, a partner at Balderton, in a statement. “Companies used to take an active role in supporting the financial health of their users but this has slowly been eroded, to the extent where employees paid at the end of the month are effectively subsidising their employer for 29 days a month. Wagestream starts to restore the right balance.”

Wagestream operates by striking deals with employers to offer its services to its workers, who download an app and link up Wagestream with their salary and banking details. Businesses are able to set limits for what percentage of their wages employees can draw down each month, and how often the service can be used. Typically the limit is around 40% of a monthly wage, Briffett said.

Employees then can get the money instantly by paying a fee of £1.75 per withdrawal. “We are funding all of the withdrawals up front,” Briffett said. “We are the first company to marry workforce management and financial data.”

Down the road, the plan will be to expand to Europe as well as to the U.S., where there are already some other services that are trying to tackle the same problem, such as Instant Financial and DailyPay. There are also a number of areas the company could move into, such as working with companies that employ contract workers, and providing additional financial services to workers already using the app to draw down funds.

More expansion, Briffett said, will inevitably also mean more funding, particularly on the debt side.

For now, the emergence of Wagestream is an encouraging sign of how VCs are not just interested in tapping their coffers to bet on tech companies that they think will be hits. They also want to hunt for those whose returns may well be strong, but ultimately are made stronger by the longer-term effect they might have on the wider landscape of consumers, how they interface with fintech, and continue their own progress in the world.

Mar
20
2019
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Abstract, a versioning platform that helps designers work like developers, raises $30M

Design and engineering are two sides of the same coin when it comes to building software and hardware, and yet — unlike engineers, who can use services like GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or many others to help manage their development process — it has traditionally been slim pickings for designers when it comes to tools to manage the iterations and collaborations that are a part of their workflow.

Now, we are seeing a rising wave of startups responding to that vacuum in the market. In the latest development, Abstract, which has built a platform to help manage versioning and workflow for design projects, is announcing $30 million in funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from previous investors Scale Venture Partners, Amplify Partners and Cowboy Ventures.

Abstract is not disclosing valuation, but I understand from sources that it is now $190 million, a decent leap from the $76 million valuation (according to PitchBook) it reached in its last round. Abstract has raised around $55 million since 2016.

This latest round, a Series C, comes at a time when we are seeing a number of other startups that are building tools for designers — some competing with Abstract, and some significantly larger — also raising big money.

In December, InVision (which has an ambition to be the “Salesforce of design”), raised $115 million at a $1.9 billion valuation. Last month, Figma (building both design development and collaboration tools) raised $40 million at a $440 million valuation. Last week, Sketch (which also makes design tools) raised its first outside round of $20 million after a long track record as a very popular bootstrapped startup.

Abstract fits very much in the middle of this spread. The problem that it has identified is that many designers still work in an inefficient way compared to their engineering counterparts (as well as those in other parts of an operation, including people who collaborate on creating documents or presentations). Designers still typically sling around multiple versions of the same file, or try to handle all passing around and working on one single file. That loose structure makes for many errors and lost changes, not to mention an inability to track who has done what and when.

To address this, Abstract offers a number of features. First and foremost, it provides a way for designers to track versions of files — it automatically uploads the most recent copy even if you are working locally, so that whoever works next will use the most updated version. It also lets a project manager task different people with different parts of a project and manage the reviewing system. When a project is in progress or already completed, there is a way to present it and also gather feedback. And then, importantly, the design team can also use Abstract to interface with engineering teams that are building the tech underneath and around that design.

The funding is going to help Abstract expand that with more features, including a better and more streamlined way to export the most current files, as well as more security integrations for better control over who can access materials and when.

It started with a hashtag…

Abstract was co-founded by Josh Brewer and Kevin Smith — the former a designer, the latter an engineer who has also headed up design teams. Brewer, the CEO, said in an interview that his own past experience — his track record includes a period as Twitter’s principal designer — was the kindling that eventually led to the building of Abstract. One example he gave was the rebuild of Twitter back in 2011, which needed a redesign across web, mobile web, iOS and Android with a consistent navigation pattern, and new behavioral/usage patterns. (Not a small task.)

“We had only 12 designers at that time, a relatively small crew, but also a short timeline,” he recalled. “We decided to try to standardize on one tool to manage everything, but didn’t really have much to work with.” He and the team decided to “hack some of the tools we were using at the time,” which included Apache Subversion and GitHub for software development, “to solve the problem.” This helped him identify that there was a clear opportunity to build something that spoke specifically to designers’ needs.

That something has indeed started to find some traction: there are now more than 5,000 design teams using Abstract, with companies using it including Shopify, Cisco, Intuit, Spotify, Salesforce, Zappos and Instacart.

“As design becomes an increasingly significant competitive advantage, the tools designers use have to become more sophisticated, collaborative, and transparent to the broader organization. At Lightspeed, we invest in the sort of exceptional teams that are poised to transform a market,” said Nakul Mandan, who is also joining the board. “Josh, Kevin and the rest of the Abstract team have reimagined a design workflow that is quickly becoming the professional standard for how growing design teams work together and with functional stakeholders. We are excited to partner with Abstract to help the company continue its explosive growth.”

Abstract’s first efforts have been to support Sketch, the design tool that raised money just last week. The two are often associated with each other, it seems: many tend to use Abstract and Sketch together as an alternative to using Figma. But in addition to adding more versioning tools, the plan will be to add more design software to the list Abstract supports, starting with Adobe XD and Illustrator (it has currently opened early access waitlists for both). But even in the effort to be the go-to platform for all kinds of design projects, there are lines being drawn. It seems there are no plans, for example, to support Figma.

Another thing Abstract does not plan to do, Smith added, is to start building and offering many of those design tools itself.

“We are focused on expanding support for other file formats and bringing all your design files, whether it’s for a font or data to populate a design,” he said. There might be exceptions down the line, however: the company launched an SDK last fall, which Smith described as “our first step to exposing data to developers and design engineers, and that is part of our vision, which may or may not involve other kinds of tooling on the Abstract platform.”

He noted that “one of the things we’re been hearing about is the need for light-weight editing,” so that might be one area where Abstract might build or offer a third-party tool. “If we understand the data we are storing it’s not outside the realm of possibility to expose that. From a tooling perspective, it would be coming from the needs of our customers.”

May
31
2018
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More speakers, panels at The Europas, and how to get your ticket free

The Europas Unconference & Awards is back on 3 July in London and we’re excited to announce more speakers and panel sessions as the event takes shape. Crypto and Blockchain will be a major theme this year, and we’re bringing together many of the key players. TechCrunch is once again the key media partner, and if you attend The Europas you’ll be first in the queue to get offers for TC events and Disrupt in Europe later in the year.

You can also potentially get your ticket for free just by sharing your own ticket link with friends and followers. See below for the details and instructions.

To recap, we’re jumping straight into our popular breakout sessions where you’ll get up close and personal with some of Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders.

The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.

Our Crypto HQ will feature two tracks of panels, one focused on investing and the other on how blockchain is disrupting everything from financial services, to gaming, to social impact to art.

We’ve lined up some of the leading blockchain VCs to talk about what trends and projects excite them most, including Outlier Ventures’ Jamie Burke, KR1’s George McDonaugh, blockchain angel Nancy Fenchay, Fabric Ventures’ Richard Muirhead and Michael Jackson of Mangrove Capital Partners.

Thinking of an ICO vs crowdfunding? Join Michael Jackson on how ICOs are disrupting venture capital and Ali Ganjavian, co-founder of Studio Banana, the creators of longtime Kickstarter darling OstrichPillow to understand the ins and outs of both.

We’ve also lined up a panel to discuss the process of an ICO – what do you need to consider, the highs, the lows, the timing and the importance of community. Linda Wang, founder and CEO of Lending Block, which recently raised $10 million in an April ICO, joins us.

We are thrilled to announce that Civil, the decentralised marketplace for sustainable journalism, will be joining to talk about the rise of fake news and Verisart’s Robert Norton will share his views on stamping out fraud in the art world with blockchain. Min Teo of ConsenSys will discuss blockchain and social impact and Jeremy Millar, head of Consensys UK, will speak on Smart Contracts.

Our Pathfounders Startup Zone is focused purely on startups. Our popular Meet the Press panel is back where some of tech’s finest reporters will tell you what makes a great tech story, and how to pitch (and NOT pitch them). For a start, TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear and Quartz’s Joon Ian Wong are joining.

You’ll also hear from angels and investors including Seedcamp’s Carlos Eduardo Espinal; Eileen Burbidge of Passion Capital; Accel Partners’ Andrei Brasoveanu; Jeremy Yap; Candice Lo of Blossom Capital; Scott Sage of Crane Venture Partners; Tugce Ergul of Angel Labs; Stéphanie Hospital of OneRagtime; Connect Ventures’ Sitar Teli and Jason Ball of Qualcomm Ventures.

Sound great? You can grab your ticket here.

All you need to do is share your personal ticket link. Your friends get 15% off, and you get 15% off again when they buy.

The more your friends buy, the more your ticket cost goes down, all the way to free!

The Public Voting in the awards ends 11 June 2018 11:59: https://theeuropas.polldaddy.com/s/theeuropas2018

We’re still looking for sponsor partners to support these editorially curated panels.

Please get in touch with Petra@theeuropas.com for more details.

SPEAKERS SO FAR:

Jamie Burke, Outlier Ventures


Jeremy Millar, ConsenSys


Linda Wang, Lending Block


Robert Norton, Verisart


George McDonaugh, KR1


Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital


Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp


Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures


Michael Jackson, Mangrove Capital Partners


Min Teo, ConsenSys


Steve O’Hear, TechCrunch


Joon Ian Wong, Quartz


Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures


Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel


Candice Lo, Blossom Capital


Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners


Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel


Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker


Jeremy Yap


Candice Lo, Blossom Capital


Tugce Ergul, Angel Labs


Stéphanie Hospital, OneRagtime


Jason Ball, Qualcomm Ventures

The Europas Awards
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.

Vote for your Favourite Startups

Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!

Awards by category:

Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup

Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup

Hottest Education Startup

Hottest Startup Accelerator

Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup

Hottest Games Startup

Hottest Mobile Startup

Hottest FinTech Startup

Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup

Hottest Hardware Startup

Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace

Hottest Health Startup

Hottest Cyber Security Startup

Hottest Travel Startup

Hottest Internet of Things Startup

Hottest Technology Innovation

Hottest FashionTech Startup

Hottest Tech For Good

Hottest A.I. Startup

Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year

Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year

Hottest Startup Founders

Hottest CEO of the Year

Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year

Hottest VC Investor of the Year

Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)

Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project

Hottest Blockchain DApp

Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project

Hottest Blockchain Investor

Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)

Hottest Financial Crypto Project

Hottest Blockchain for Good Project

Hottest Blockchain Identity Project

Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe

The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)

The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.

Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers

• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network

• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage

• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics

• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene

• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s sunny (probably)!

europas8

That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

europas13

Mar
13
2018
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WeWork expands its Flatiron School education business to London with £1M in scholarships

WeWork — the co-working startup valued at $20 billion with some 200,000 members across 200 locations globally — is continuing with its strategy of expanding into a wide array of adjacent operations to grow its business. Today the company announced that it will be expanding the coding-focused Flatiron School abroad, starting in London this June.

Alongside this, it’s also launching a scholarship program, offering £1 million in fees to people from underrepresented groups in tech to enrol in Flatiron classes, working with existing local groups like AllBright, Code Bar and Women Who Code to spread the word.

This is the Flatiron School’s first move outside of the U.S. for its physical classes — it had already offered online courses internationally before this — and notably it is also WeWork’s first significant educational effort since acquiring the New York startup last October for an undisclosed sum.

Since acquiring Flatiron, WeWork’s chief growth officer Dave Fano — who himself joined WeWork when the company acquired his own startup, building infomation modelling firm Case, heralding the start of the company’s acquisition spree — said that the idea has been to let Flatiron run business as usual, offering a variety of online and in-person coding and related courses. That is now changing as WeWork puts the acquisition to work, so to speak.

Expanding the kinds of services that it offers in European markets specifically is an interesting move for WeWork. When it first opened for business here in London, for example, people hiring out desks in other people’s offices, or working out of dedicated co-working spaces, was already a standard practice.

“There was lots of co-working already, so there was no need to educate the market on it,” Fano said in an interview. Hence, adding in more services and offerings is a way to help differentiate WeWork from the rest of the productivity pack. Education sits alongside a number of other services that WeWork has been developing, from offering all-in, optimised office spaces (complete with the ever-present glass decanter of fruit-infused water in the kitchen) both for individuals and running then on behalf of other companies, through to event planning (by way of its Meetup acquisition), and likely more down the line.

On the other side, this move is also an indication of how Flatiron, which had raised a modest $14 million in funding in its five years of life before getting acquired, is using the acquisition by the well-capitalised WeWork to upsize and compete against the likes of General Assembly and others who have doubled down on international expansion to build out their coding education businesses.

Flatiron School’s London operation will be based out of Finsbury Pavement, one of WeWork’s multiple London locations, and it will kick off with two courses, one a full-time software engineering immersive course that will last 15 weeks; and the other a part-time front-end web developer course that will run 10 weeks.

There have been a lot of efforts, both private and public, to help raise tech literacy among the workforces of the world, as industries and economies hope to train people for the next generation of employment as more legacy roles and processes tip into obsolescence, and all signs point to a more digital, connected and technological future.

Not all of these have been home runs, though, with many programmes failing to connect the dots between learning new skills and then applying them in actual jobs. And of course there remains a big digital divide between those who are already socially or economically challenged ever getting access to either the training or the subsequent work opportunities.

The company claims to have a strong success track record for its educational program.

“In the US, Flatiron School has set the benchmark for programming education with its community-first learning platform, market-aligned open-source curriculum, and outcomes-focused approach to education,” claims Adam Enbar, Flatiron School’s co-founder and CEO. “Since 2012, Flatiron has maintained a 99 percent graduation rate for its Software Engineering Programs in NYC and more than 2,000 students have graduated from Flatiron School to date, across both the on-campus and online programs. With our new Flatiron London location, we’ll be able to give more people access to attain the skills they need to create their life’s work.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the school said that it also has a 99 percent placement rate for those looking for jobs in NYC in the area of the immersive program, and 97 percent placement overall in software engineering, iOS development and the fellowship program.

It’s a small start, but offering £1 million in scholarships alongside the launch can offer at least a small boost in trying to fix that problem. And for WeWork, which has now raised $7.3 billion in funding — including backing from the seemingly bottomless coffers of Softbank’s Vision Fund — a $1 million scholarship fund is small change, so hopefully it prove to be successful and it might consider how it can dole out more.

Updated with more stats.

Mar
13
2018
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WeWork expands its Flatiron School education business to London with £1M in scholarships

 WeWork — the co-working startup valued at $20 billion with some 200,000 members across 200 locations globally — is continuing with its strategy of expanding into a wide array of adjacent operations to grow its business. Today the company announced that it will be expanding the coding-focused Flatiron School abroad, starting in London this June.
Alongside this, it’s also… Read More

Jan
29
2018
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Relx acquires ThreatMetrix for $817M to ramp up in risk-based authentication

 Another startup in the area of cyber security has been snapped up as platform businesses serving enterprises look for more ways of securing their own networks and working with customers to secure theirs. Today, the RELX Group (formerly known as Reed Elsevier) announced that it would acquire ThreatMetrix for £580 million (about $817 million) in cash. This is a big exit for ThreatMetrix, which… Read More

Nov
14
2017
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UK plans $80M in tech initiatives, doubles tech visas to 2,000 to shore up support amid Brexit anxiety

 While the UK continues to try to find solid ground to begin its contentious Brexit negotiations, the government has launched several initiatives to try to shore up support to (and from) the country’s technology industry. Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond today announced that the UK would double the number of visas issued to “the brightest and best”… Read More

Sep
18
2017
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Goodbye, photo studios. Hello, colormass virtual photoshoots

 Berlin-based colormass, one of the startups presenting today at TechCrunch Disrupt as part of the Battlefield, has developed a platform that lets you recreate an IKEA-style experience for your own merchandise: highly realistic, but digitally manipulated 3D facsimiles. Read More

Feb
09
2017
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Kelvin Kwong leaves Jawbone for product VP role at Big Health

Sleepio As Jawbone continues to work towards a pivot, the Up device maker also continues to talent that may not be core to its future. In the latest departure, Kelvin Kwong, who had been the Jawbone’s director of product management, has joined Big Health, maker of the Sleepio sleep improvement program, as VP of product management. Alongside that, Dr Jenna Carl is now the startup’s… Read More

May
20
2016
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The Europas — It’s time for a different kind of tech conference

awards3 (1) Let’s face it. Some tech conferences have lost their way. While TechCrunch Disrupt remains a firmly curated, media-driven, event, with hundreds of journalists attending, a couple of other conferences have really gone for scale. A minimum of 15,000 people, thousands of companies, echoing halls — and a lot of investors (and journalists) turning their badges around so they don’t… Read More

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