German insurance ‘robo-advisor’ Clark scores $29 million Series B

Clark, one of a plethora of so-called ‘insurtech’ startups offering something akin to a digital insurance brokerage all delivered through a convenient mobile app, has closed a hefty $29 million in Series B funding.

The round was led by fintech investor Portag3 Ventures, and VC fund White Star Capital, with participation from a number of existing investors including Coparion, Kulczyk Investments, and Yabeo Capital. It brings Clark’s total funding to $45 million.

Founded in July 2015 — and originally out of fintech company builder Finleap — Frankfurt and Berlin-based Clark has built what it describes as an “insurance­ robo-­advisor”. Once you’ve given the startup a mandate to act as your insurance broker, the Clark iOS, Android and web apps let you manage and purchase various insurance products, spanning the full gamut of life, health, and property insurance.

Specifically, its algorithms analyze your current insurance situation and automatically propose ways to improve your coverage or get a better deal than the one you are currently on. It makes the majority of its revenue from management and admin fees paid by insurance companies on its platform, but also via commission on any new policy taken out.

To date, Clark says it has acquired close to 100,000 customers for its digital insurance services, making it one of the largest digital insurance players in Europe. This, we’re told, translates to $310 million in contract volume, which the insurtech startup says is a ten-fold increase from the contract volume it managed in 2016 at the time of its Series A.

Some of that growth appears to have come from partnerships with a number of banks in Germany, including challenger N26, and incumbents ING-DiBa, and DKB. I’m also told Clark has started working on a B2B line, offering Clark technology to banks and other insurance companies as a white-label product. Four deals with leading companies have been signed and are “in development”.

“Over the next few years, we will continue to focus on growth to cement our digital insurance management as the standard in Europe,” says Dr. Christopher Oster, CEO and co-founder of Clark, in a statement. “To drive Clark’s development, we will invest in our team in both Frankfurt and Berlin, especially in technology and marketing”.

Bose acquires Andrew Mason’s walking tour startup, Detour

Groupon founder Andrew Mason’s audio tour startup Detour has been sold to Bose. The acquisition, which involves only the software and tour content – not the team – was quietly announced on Detour’s blog a few days ago, followed by an email to customers. Bose, initially, seems like an unlikely acquirer for an app designed to help people discover a city through narrated walking tours. But its interest in the product has to do with its upcoming AR platform, which involves audio experiences delivered through a pair of sensor-laden glasses.

Bose is now “actively looking for a partner to host the Detour content,” and make it available to its customers, including those on Bose AR.  The Detour app itself will soon shut down.

Mason says he may help Bose a bit in the process of finding that third party, but his focus is on his new company, Descript.

Detour had launched a few years ago, and was entirely self-funded by Mason. Its goal was to offer tourists and locals alike a way to discover a city’s hidden gems, like its off-the-beaten-track shops and alleys – things other tours would overlook. The service arrived to the public with tours in San Francisco starting in 2015, before later expanding to other markets, including international destinations, all available as in-app purchases.

The app, at the time of sale, had around 120 available tours.

A tour of the Marina’s sweets shops in Detour, narrated by a German philosopher

As part of the creation of its tours, Detour had also developed some interesting technology – like a tool to transcribe audio that lets you edit the audio file by editing the written transcription, and a way to add music and sound to a narrative by adding it to the transcription.

This technology has now been spun off as a new startup, Descript. The Detour team, including Mason, have been working on Descript for around six months now. Descript, which aims to make editing sound files as easy as editing a Word document, launched in December with $5 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz.

Given Mason’s current focus, it’s not surprising that Detour was shutting down. But it is a little surprising it found an acquirer.

The app was never able to gain a sizable following on the scale of other travel guides. (It had been ranking in the 400’s to 700’s in the App Store’s “Travel” category as of late – meaning, practically invisible.) However, its tours were unique and interesting and had been designed with features others at the time lacked – like location awareness or the ability to sync with multiple people in a group, for example.

The Detour app will remain available until May 31, 2018, and all tours will be free through then. Afterwards, the app will be removed from the App Store.

“Thank you to the producers, engineers, designers, and storytellers that made Detour what it is over the last four years. I’m excited to see where Bose takes it,” wrote Mason, on Detour’s blog.

Pitchbook claims Detour had raised funding, but Mason says that’s incorrect.

“Detour is self-funded (by me) and we never disclosed how much,” he says. But he did confirm that Mihir Shah, a friend, had invested a “some token number of thousands of dollars in the very beginning,” which is why the investment is listed on Shah’s LinkedIn.

Deal terms were not available, but it was likely a small exit.

It’s unclear when Detour would arrive on Bose AR, as Bose is still in the process of finding a third party to continue with Detour, and hasn’t yet shipped test builds of its AR glasses to developers.

Belgium’s Cowboy raises $3M led by Index to launch a smarter e-bike

Cowboy, the startup that’s building a new, smarter electronic bicycle, quietly launched in its home country of Belgium this past week, whilst simultaneously disclosing it has raised $3 million in seed funding.

Notably, the round is led by Index Ventures. The London and San Francisco-based VC appears to be particularly bullish on electric-powered mobility, recently backing electric scooter startup Bird.

France’s Hardware Club, and Kima Ventures also participated in Cowboy’s seed round, along with individual investors Thibaud Elziere (eFounders), Bertrand Jelensperger (LaFourchette), Harold Mechelynck (Ogone), Frederic Potter (Netatmo) and Francis Nappez (BlaBlaCar).

Founded by Adrien Roose and Karim Slaoui, who both previously co-founded Take East Easy, an early Deliveroo competitor, and Tanguy Goretti, who was previously co-founder ride-sharing startup Djump, Cowboy has set out to build and sell a better designed e-bike that it claims addresses issues that have historically held back the category’s mass appeal. This includes a more elegant design than many existing models currently on the market, making the bike ‘smart’ by being connected to a mobile phone and ‘over the air’ through cellular and GPS networks, and better affordability than comparative offerings.

In a call last week, Roose gave me a brief run down of the Cowboy’s features and a little of the product’s back story, including how Index got interested. He says he first became aware of e-bikes (or “ped-elec” bikes that combine a manual pedal and electric motor) after being puzzled that they weren’t more widely used by Take Eat Easy’s bicycle couriers. Riders that did use an e-bike tended to be older, suggesting that current e-bikes didn’t appeal to a younger demographic.

After researching the market a lot deeper, Cowboy’s eventual founders also noticed that most e-bikes use entirely off the shelf components, which not only constrains differentiation, but also price, since most of the margin goes to parts suppliers and retailers. By designing a completely new e-bike, where the body and brain is bespoke — namely, the chassis/battery, and printed circuit board (PCB) — and where the product is sold direct online, the team believed there was an opportunity to re-define the e-bike category entirely.

The resulting Cowboy e-bike is pitched as a better ride, powered by “intuitive and automatic motor assistance”. This uses built-in sensor technology that measures speed and torque, and adjusts to pedalling style and force to deliver an added boost of motor-assisted speed at key moments e.g. when you start pedalling, when you accelerate, or go uphill.

In addition, the Cowboy it attempting to be more secure thanks to its connectivity. You unlock the bike via the Cowboy smart phone app, which also supports on-board navigation and a data dashboard that tracks speed and other useful stats.

It is also worth noting that this is definitely a vertical platform in the longer-run. That IoT-styled SIM card and GPS have been added to the e-bike for a reason. Initially it will be used for diagnostics and ‘find my bike’ in case of theft, but one can easily imagine other premium services being offered on top, such as bike insurance perhaps.

The battery is said to be good to go for around 50km, and takes 2.5 hours to fully charge. As part of the bespoke design, it is integrated into the frame under the saddle and is easily removable. The Cowboy claims to be one of the lightest urban electric bikes on the market, too (the bike and battery together weigh 16kg).

However, as with any product where it’s ultimately about the ride, you probably need to try a Cowboy before truly appreciating it — which, as a powered wheelchair user with limited muscle strength, I’m never going to be able to do. Instead, I’ll note that a pre-production model — which Roose admits still had many remaining issues to iron out — won the prestigious EuroBike trade fair in July 2017.

He also echoes this sentiment when I ask him to tell the story of how the Cowboy team first got the attention of Index Ventures. He says that the startup weren’t originally planning to raise a large seed round, having already got a commitment from Cowboy’s original backers for enough follow-on investment to do a production run and small launch in Belgium. However, knowing that hardware is, well, hard, and that costs can easily overshoot, the company was advised by Hardware Club (who he says has been instrumental in making Cowboy a reality) to find a larger VC backer to mitigate this risk. Index Partner Martin Mignot, who led the round, was immediately interested and then convinced after actually trying the e-bike, but Roose says that it took a lot more to persuade the rest of the Index team to back Cowboy when he subsequently pitched the startup over a video call.

Which brings us to Cowboy’s go-to-market strategy. If you really need to touch the device to truly appreciate it, how will the startup sell directly online? In Brussels, Roose says the startup is experimenting with recruiting product ambassadors — people who already have a Cowboy in their possession — who will be able to bring the device to a prospective buyer to try beforehand. This isn’t as scalable as a pure digital marketing effort, but is still likely a lot cheaper than selling to physical retailers, which in turn would push up the €1,790 price. Meanwhile, the company is only delivering to Belgium for now, but with capital in the bank it plans to launch more widely in Europe next year.

Glowforge opens public orders for its desktop 3D laser cutter

Hardware startup Glowforge, which makes a desktop laser cutter and engraver for home or office use, has finally opened up sales to the general public.

The maker-targeted device, which can ‘print’ (read: engrave/laser cut) a variety of materials including leather, wood, acrylic, glass, and even the metal surface of a Macbook, starts at $2,495 for the entry level machine, rising to a full $5,995 for the pro model — which is billed as faster, able to print larger items, and capable of running for longer periods.

With a starter price-tag of $2.5k Glowforge is clearly not for everyone. Though arguably it does offer more creative bang for your buck than, say, the equally expensive Skydio face-tracking selfie drone. But horses for courses, and all that.

The Seattle-based startup has also topped up with $10M more in VC funding, according GeekWire, from existing investors True Ventures and Foundry Group — who also backed its $22M Series B, in mid 2016, and an earlier $9M Series A.

Glowforge has raised just over $60M at this point, according to Crunchbase, including pulling in almost $30M in pre-sales via a crowdfunding campaign back in 2015. We first covered the hardware startup ahead of that, when it announced its Series A.

Safe to say, it’s been a long journey to turn the founders’ novel idea and prototype into a market-ready and robust laser cutter — and get that into all its backers’ hands.

It’s also clearly been a frustrating process at times. But Glowforge now at least appears confident it can fulfill orders in a timely fashion — it’s offering a May 3 shipping date to new buyers (within the US).

That said, it does not look like all original backers have had their device shipped though.

According to founder Dan Shapiro’s comments to GeekWire, there are some backers who still haven’t got their device — for a few different reasons. “There’s some folks who haven’t replied, asked us not to send it yet, or live in a country that’s awaiting regulatory approval,” he told it.

A quasi-optional air filter component for the Glowforge — which costs an additional $995 — also isn’t shipping until November. (A note on the website says the machine can be used without it, though in that case it warns the placement of the machine “needs a window or 4″ dryer hose”.)

 

Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

Pivotal Software closed up 5% following IPO, raised $555 million

Stock market investors showed lukewarm enthusiasm for Pivotal Software’s debut on Friday. After pricing the IPO at $15, the company closed the day at $15.73.

Although it didn’t “pop” for new investors, pricing at the midpoint of its proposed range allowed Pivotal to raise $555 million. Its public company market cap exceeded $3 billion.

The enterprise cloud computing company has been majority-owned by Dell, which came about after its merger with EMC in 2016. It was spun off from Dell, EMC and VMware in April 2013.

After that, it raised $1.7 billion in funding from Microsoft, Ford and General Electric.

Here’s how it describes its business in the S-1 filing:

Pivotal looks to “provide a leading cloud-native platform that makes software development and IT operations a strategic advantage for our customers. Our cloud-native platform, Pivotal  Cloud Foundry (‘PCF’), accelerates and streamlines software development by reducing the complexity of building, deploying and operating new cloud-native applications and modernizing legacy applications.”

According to the filing, Pivotal brought in $509.4 million in revenue for its fiscal year ending in February. This is up from $416.3 million in revenue for 2017 and $280.9 million in revenue the year before.

The company is still losing a lot of money, however. Losses for fiscal 2018 stood at $163.5 million, improved from the than the negative $232.5 million seen in 2017 and $282.5 million in 2016.

“We have incurred substantial losses and may not be able to generate sufficient revenue to achieve and sustain profitability,” the company warned in the requisite “risk factors” section of its IPO filing.

Pivotal also acknowledged that it faces competition from “legacy application infrastructure and middleware form vendors” like IBM and Oracle. The company says it additionally competes with “open-source based offerings supported by vendors” like RedHat. Pivotal also faces challenges from SAP Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

The company says it believes it will stand out from the pack because of its strong security and easy-to-use platform. Pivotal also claims to have strong brand awareness and a good reputation. It has 118 U.S. patents and 73 pending and is betting that it will remain innovative.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs served as lead underwriters. Davis Polk and Fenwick & West worked as counsel.

The company listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “PVTL.”

It has been an active spring for tech IPOs, after a slow winter. Dropbox, Spotify and Zuora are amongst the companies that have gone public in recent weeks. DocuSign, Smartsheet, Carbon Black and Pluralsight are all expected to debut within the next month.

Genetics testing startup Prenetics buys UK’s DNAFit to move into consumer services

Prenetics, a Hong Kong-based startup that offers genetic testing services for patients, is expanding outside of Asia and into the consumer space after it acquired London-based company DNAFit.

The deal — which a source told TechCrunch is worth $10 million — not only sees Prenetics enter new geographies, but also expand the scope of its services. Prenetics, which includes Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba among its backers, works directly with insurance firms and physicians who use its testing service for their customers and patients, but DNAFit goes straight to consumers themselves.

Five-year-old DNAFit sells a test that profiles an individual’s DNA to help them to figure out the fitness and nutrition setup that is best suited to them. DNAFit’s kits — which cost up to £249 ($350) and take 10 days for results — are sold online and via employee packages.

The company said it has sold its product to around 100,000 people with companies including LinkedIn, Talk Talk and Channel 4 among its corporate clients. High-profile backers include Olympic gold medal-winning British athlete Greg Rutherford, who said the results helped him make “clear, informed decisions” on his training regime.

Prenetics has been considering global expansion options for some time, and this acquisition gets its foot in the door in new markets while also tackling the consumer health market, too.

“We definitely plan on investing and growing our reach in Europe for the DNAFit business. In addition, Prenetics International will be focused on a B2B with insurers and for corporates,” Prenetics CEO Danny Yeung told TechCrunch via email.

“At the same time, DNAFit is a partner for [fitness company] Helix in the U.S., thus we plan on investing further on customer acquisition and growing our reach in the U.S.,” Yeung added. “We are extremely excited at the potential to bring DNA testing to a global market, making an impact on the lives of many.”

In another tie-up primarily targeted at the U.S., an offer for 23andMe customers allows them to use their results and pay $79 for DNAFit.

The deal sees DNAFit CEO Avi Lasarow becomes CEO of Prenetics International, a newly formed business unit, with Yeung CEO of parent company Prenetics Group. DNAFit itself will continue to run under its existing brand, both companies confirmed.

This marks the first piece of acquisition for Prenetics, which last year closed a $40 million Series B funding round led by Beyond Ventures and Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund. Yeung told us at the time that a portion of that capital would be reserved for meaningful acquisitions as the startup aims to go beyond its early focus on China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. At the time of that funding, which happened in October, Yeung said Prenetics had processed 200,000 DNA samples.

Prenetics started out as ‘Multigene’ in 2009 when it span out from Hong Kong’s City University. Yeung joined the firm as CEO in 2014, after leaving Groupon following its acquisition of his Hong Kong startup uBuyiBuy, and it has been in startup mode since then. Prenetics has raised over $52 million from investors which, aside from Alibaba, include 500 Startups, Venturra Capital and Chinese insurance giant Ping An.

Another day, another $50 million ICO exit scam

Savedroid, a German company that purportedly raised $50 million in ICO and direct funding, has exited with a bang. The site is currently displaying the above image and the founder — one Dr. Yassin Hankir — has posted a tweet thanking investors and saying “Over and out.”

A reverse image search found Hankir’s photo on this page for Founder Institute, and he has pitched his product at multiple events, including this one in German:

Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well-managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events.

One Reddit user visit SaveDroid’s offices and recorded this desolate scene:

Still another wrote: “The CEO on their twitter feed posted this several times ‘contribute now to participate in our #Airdrop and become a #Crypto Millionaire.’ Not about technology, its all about GIVE US MONEY AND WE WILL MAKE YOU A MILLIONAIRE. Anyone who fell for this despite all the warning signs can blame no one but themselves.”

The beer Hankir is holding in that image is Egyptian, and one can assume that the backdrop is easily recognizable and designed to throw pursuers off the trail… for good reason.