VENTURE CAPITAL MARKET REVIEW, ISSUE 18 (DEC, 28 – JAN, 4)
New Year week was not full of news and events. Few deals were closed, some capital was raised, new announcements were done
STARTUP. Apploi, A Job Hunting App, Raises Over $7 Million In Series A
Apploi’s CEO, Adam Lewis, launched the company to allow service industry workers put their best foot forward in job interviews. Designed as a sort of central system for applications as well as a way to share videos of your personality and skills, it’s already helping hundreds of folks find work.
The company offers a mobile and browser-based application process and also sets up hiring kiosks in malls and busy areas where multiple employers can grab walking traffic. Users can submit multiple applications and even show off their skills by shooting short videos.
The company raised $7,407,800 in Series A with Andrew Heyer, CEO of Mistral Equity Partners, Simon Jacobs, former owner of Hale and Hearty, among others. Tony Wang, president of Three-W International, and Heyer will join the Board.
The company hopes to expand its reach and bring more kiosks and employers online. The site is humming along right now and they’ve served over 80,000 job seekers a month in 36 states. They expect to be in all 50 states by Summer 2015.
STARTUP. TinyPulse Raises $3.5M Led By Baseline To Make Employees Happy
A few years ago, a startup called TinyPulse launched to change the way employee reviews were done. Based on the promise of weekly, one-question surveys, the company has grown to more than 20 employees and just raised $3.5 million in Series A funding.
The funding was led by Baseline Ventures, with former eBay, Microsoft, and Starbucks executive (and Baseline founder) Steve Anderson joining the board. Also participating was Michael Dearing’s Harrison Metal, along with other investors.
TinyPulse was founded in 2012 to help companies track employee happiness and productivity within the organization. Rather than asking employees to answer a long survey or questionnaire annually or semi-annually, TinyPulse sends them an email with a single question each week.
Because the barrier to answering each one-question survey is so low, companies see relatively high response rates among employees each week, giving them the ability to instantly keep tabs on employee happiness. The answers to those questions also provide a more accurate representation of how that environment changes over time and how it compares to other employers.
In addition to answering the one question a week, employees are also able to nominate their peers for recognition each week, and also to make suggestions about how workplaces can improve. Since feedback is anonymous and immediate, employers can more readily respond to issues, rather than waiting for yearly review periods to recognize when there are problems.
As TinyPulse has added new customers, it’s also managed to collect a huge amount of data on how employees in different workplaces respond to questions each week. According to founder and CEO David Niu, the company now has more than 500 clients, which include companies like HubSpot, Deloitte, and Converse.
Until now, most of those clients have come to TinyPulse via word-of-mouth. But with the new funding, TinyPulse will be ramping up its sales efforts to bring more customers on board. It will also be investing in product development to add more features for its clients.
Although TinyPulse is always looking for ways to improve the experience for client, the company stay focused on keeping the interaction with employees lightweight, easy, and approachable. At the same time, company believes there are ways to make the product more flexible and customizable for employers.
STARTUP. Grocery Delivery Startup Instacart Raises $210 Million More
Grocery delivery startup Instacart has raised an additional $210 million. Company confirms a Series C funding round reported earlier in December, which values the company at more than $2 billion.
Kleiner Perkins was expected to lead the round, although no new board members appeared. The financing comes just six months after Instacart’s last raise, which was led by Andreessen Horowitz and valued the company at $400 million. Other investors include Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures and Canaan Partners, along with Box CEO Aaron Levie and Y Combinator president Sam Altman.
STARTUP. Scribd Raises $22M For Its Subscription E-Book Service
Scribd, a company offering unlimited access to half a million e-books for $8.99 a month, is announcing that it has raised $22 million in additional funding.
The round was led by Khosla Ventures, with Khosla partner Keith Rabois (previously an executive at PayPal, LinkedIn, Slide, and Square) joining the Scribd’s board as an observer. Asked about how the subscription business will play out for books, Rabois noted that the model has “already transformed the way we consume other forms of content.”
Launched in 2007 and incubated at Y Combinator, Scribd started out as a document-sharing service. While it still supports those features, its focus shifted last year to subscription e-books, where competitors include startup Oyster and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service.
Echoing Rabois’ comment, co-founder and CEO Trip Adler told that Scribd now reaches more than 80 million unique visitors each month. He didn’t specify how many of those visitors are actually paying subscribers, but he did say subscriptions have been growing an average of 31 percent each month since the service was officially unveiled in October 2013.
Just a couple of months ago, the company also expanded into audiobooks, and Adler said the response “beat our expectations.” Users have already logged 180,000 listening hours, according to Scribd.
This brings Scribd’s total funding to $48 million. Previous backers Redpoint Ventures, Charles River Ventures, and Silicon Valley Bank also invested in the new round.
Adler said he plans to spend the money on improving the product (with a focus on algorithmic book recommendations and the reading experience itself), as well as continuing to expand the content available in Scribd.
STARTUP. EHANG, Maker Of Ghost Drone, Raises $10M Series A Led By GGV Capital
Though the market is still in its early stages, drone startups are becoming increasingly popular among venture capital firms. One of the latest companies to benefit is EHANG, maker of Ghost Drone, which users can control by tilting their smartphones. The company announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A led by GGV Capital, with participation from entrepreneurs Xiaoping Xu, the co-founder of ZhenFund; entrepreneur Nick Yang, former chief technology officer of Sohu; and early-stage startup fund PreAngel also participated.
EHANG co-founder Derrick Xiong says the Series A will be used to grow EHANG from its current roster of 70 employees, who are based in Guangzhou, Beijing, and San Francisco. EHANG plans to expand its marketing team to promote the drone as well as its software development kit and hopes to hire more people for its research and development crew to continue working on its drone technology.
Part of the capital will also be used to fulfill orders from Ghost Drone’s current Indiegogo campaign, which originally aimed for $100,000 but has raised more than $640,000 so far. The Ghost Drone is expected to start shipping next month.
EHANG, which means “a hundred million pilots” in Chinese, wants to make drones accessible to as many people as possible, says Xiong. The company’s founders have been working on the technology behind EHANG’s drones for two years and the startup was officially launched in April.
One of Ghost Drone’s key selling points is that users navigate it with a smartphone app instead of a radio controller, which can be cumbersome and difficult for beginners to use.
INVESTMENT. Incubate Fund Launches $91M Fund For Startups In Asia And The U.S.
Incubate Fund, one of Japan’s leading venture capital firms, announced that it has raised a new 11 billion yen ($91 million) fund. Though Incubate Fund usually focuses on seed investments, a representative said the new fund, called Incubate Fund III will put larger amounts of money in early-stage startups located in North America, Japan, and the rest of Asia.
Incubate Fund III boosts a roster of backers that includes several of Asia’s largest or highest-profile tech companies. These include Chinese Internet giant Tencent, Yahoo Japan, Sega Sammy, and Tokyo Broadcasting System, as well as INCJ, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, Mistletoe, Mixi, and Development Bank of Japan.
This is good news for Asian startups, which often have difficulty securing VC backing.
Other sectors it will focus on include media, entertainment, gaming, online commerce, logistics, medical, financial, real estate, and housing.
INVESTMENT. Alibaba Competitor Wanda E-commerce Raises $161M At $3B Valuation
China-based Wanda E-commerce, which hopes to position itself as a rival against Alibaba, has raised about $161 million in funding from investment funds Shengke Limited and Hong Kong Xu De Ren Dao E-commerce Investment Co. Wanda E-commerce says this quadruples its valuation to about $3 billion.
Wanda E-commerce was founded in August as a $814 million joint venture by mega-conglomerate Wanda and two of China’s biggest Internet firms, Tencent and Baidu.
In a statement, Wanda E-commerce says it expects to be fully operational in the fourth quarter of this year, when it will also initiate a second round of fundraising. After the funding, Centec Networks now holds a three percent equity stake in Wanda E-commerce, while Xude Rendao holds two percent.
Tencent and Baidu each hold 15 percent of Wanda E-commerce. Their involvement in the venture is significant because they are Alibaba’s main rivals. Wanda E-commerce uses Tencent products like TenPay and Weixin Payment, which are both rivals to Alibaba’s online payment platform Alipay. The joint venture will also help Tencent as it seeks to capitalize on the e-commerce potential of WeChat, the most popular messaging app in China with 396 million users.
While Alibaba dominates China’s e-commerce industry, its rivals are still eager to grab a slice of the rapidly-growing market. According to Ali Research Center, online transactions in China are expected to reach $540 billion, or 10 percent of total retail transactions in the country.