Amazon leads $12M investment in India-based digital insurance startup Acko

Amazon appears to be restarting its funding efforts in India after Acko, the digital insurance startup in India, confirmed that the U.S. retail giant led a new round of funding for its business.

Amazon — which has been linked with an Acko investment since the start of this year — backed lending startup Capital Float last month, and now it has led a $12 million funding round for Acko alongside Ashish Dhawan, the founder of PE firm ChrysCapital, and existing backer Catamaran Ventures. The deal takes Acko to $42 million raised to date.

Acko was founded in late 2016 by Varun Dua, one of the co-founders of insurance comparison site Coverfox. With Acko, Dua is taking a deeper step into insurance with a digital-only business aimed at disrupting the $10 billion industry in India by leveraging the growth of internet access in India to democratize coverage and develop more relevant products.

Significant funding and big name partners

The company got off to a good start when investors pumped $30 million into it last year, before it had even acquired a license to offer insurance. (That came in September.) Fast-forward 12 months to today, and Acko has covered the traditional space of automobile insurance policies, and a newer category ‘internet economy’ since January. It’s that latter focus that appeals to Amazon via this deal, which Dua told TechCrunch came about after Acko began talking to Amazon as a potential insurance partner.

Acko has gone after big name partnerships in its pursuit of internet economy deals, which Dua said primarily consists of e-commerce, ride-hailing and travel site-focused products. In April, Acko launched passenger insurance for Uber-rival Ola’s ride-hailing service, which covers riders for obvious items like minor accidents, and eventualities like missing a flight due to traffic delays. The insurance claim system is built into the Ola app to simplify the process for users.

“We know from user behavior experience that passengers tend to contact Ola when they have issues, so we wanted to set up a pretty seamless claims process that’s reasonable integrated,” Dua told TechCrunch in an interview, adding that Acko has covered more than 10 million Ola trips so far.

The company is likely to work with Amazon around e-commerce coverage — the first focus of which will be around gadget protection — although nothing is set in stone yet.

“The idea is to find some way to collaborate in the future,” Dua explained. “We’re a new age insurance company and [Amazon] believes it can create value. They see that bundling financial service or something in the lending space [may] happen [in the future] given the data and numbers of users they sit on.”

Acko already offers special deals for Amazon customers

Despite a fierce e-commerce battle in India, Acko isn’t restricted by this deal with Amazon.

Dua said Amazon “completely wants [Acko] to grow independently and it hasn’t laid down any conditions” that might prevent it from working with rivals like Flipkart. Indian media reported that Acko had been in investment talks with Flipkart — which Amazon’s U.S. foe Walmart has agreed to buy a majority stake in — but Dua declined to comment on that rumor.

India has emerged as a key market for Amazon, yet it has backed fewer than half a dozen startups, including home services company HouseJoy, financial comparison service BankBazaar and gift card startup QwikCilver, and acquired just one: payment platform Emvantage in 2016. However, with Capital Float in April and Acko in May, Amazon may be back with renewed vigor.

Dua confirmed that this newest funding round “wasn’t an extremely planned capital raise” but adding Amazon gives the business a further validation.

He said that Acko is aiming to raise a significant funding round next year which would be used to give it a war chest — capital is an important requisite for an insurance provider — and execute on its strategy for the following three years or so. The company has held ongoing talks with undisclosed global insurance firms, Dua said, and that may manifest in a participation in the planned round.

Working with regulators

Part of the current focus is bringing a new online approach to traditional insurance, whilst also figuring out new types of cover that apply to today’s digital age. That’s necessitated a relationship with Indian regulators, and an avoidance of traditional startup practices like the hackneyed (but often true) ‘move fast and break things’ approach to product development and user growth.

“A lot of the thing we want to attempt are new and the regulation isn’t always there,” Dua told TechCrunch. “We have to ensure regulators are on board rather than jumping the gun and facing any backlash later.”

Dua added that typically regulators require two months to sign off on new products — like the Ola micro-insurance for passengers — but that communication lines remain ongoing, and often further clarification is required on Acko’s part.

The company’s Bombay office directs the regulator dialogue and related areas such as compliance, finance and auditing. Acko’s other office in Bangalore houses product development, marketing and tech teams. The startup’s total headcount has grown to around 100, Dua said, with a tech team of around 40 whose priorities include developing claims systems, pricing models and integrating with partners such as Ola and potentially Amazon and Flipkart further down the line.

Acko is an ambitious digital play to disrupt India’s $10B insurance industry

Acko was one of the first insurers to go all in on digital — certainly at its scale — and Dua said over the past year he has heard of new challengers lining up funding, whilst traditional insurers are taking aim at online by breaking out new business units. In his eyes, Acko has a head start on other digital-only outfits — in terms of timing and funding — while he believes traditional players typical struggle with tech talent and have their eyes on legacy businesses which bring in the bulk of their revenue.

Still, he sees these moves as further validations of Acko’s goal of fully digital insurance.

“I genuinely think it’s possible to create a billion-dollar income in five to six years,” he said. “There have been three insurance model generations world: the global retail commercial risk like AIG, progressives such as DirectLine and now there’s a third-way with the likes of [$3 billion-valued U.S. startup] Oscar, [SoftBank-backed] Lemonade and [China’s] Zhong An.

“When we look at India as a market, generation two and three are both missing — there’s a lot of innovation potential in terms of pricing, distribution, claims efficiency and more.”

Riminder raises $2.3 million for its AI recruitment service

French startup Riminder recently raised a $2.3 million funding round from various business angels, such as Xavier Niel, Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, Romain Niccoli, Franck Le Ouay, Dominique Vidal, Thibaud Elzière and Fred Potter. The company has been building a deep learning-powered tool to sort applications and resumes so you don’t have to. Riminder participated in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield.

Riminder won’t replace your HR department altogether, but it can help you save a ton of time when you’re a popular company. Let’s say you are looking for a mobile designer and you usually get hundreds or thousands of applications.

You can then integrate Riminder with your various channels to collect resumes from various sources. The startup then uses optical character recognition to turn PDFs, images, Word documents and more into text. Riminder then tries to understand all your job positions and turn raw text into useful data.

Finally, the service will rank the applications based on public data and internal data. The company has scraped the web to understand usual career paths.

Existing HR solutions can integrate with Riminder using an API. This way, you could potentially use the same HR platform, but with Riminder’s smart filtering features.

With this initial sorting, your HR team can more easily get straight to the point and interview the top candidates on the list.

While it’s hard to evaluate algorithm bias, Riminder thinks that leveraging artificial intelligence for recruitment can help surface unusual candidates. You could come from a different country and have a different profile, but maybe you have the perfect past experience for a particular job. Riminder isn’t going to overlook those applications.

With today’s funding round, the company is opening an office in San Francisco to get some clients in the U.S.

Dot lets you invest in property without the hassle of a traditional mortgage

Dot, a new U.K. startup de-cloaking today, aims to make it easy to invest in property without the hassle of taking out a traditional ‘buy to let’ mortgage. The company is founded by Gray Stern, who previously co-founded London-based Buy to Let mortgage lender Landbay, and so knows at least a thing or two about investing in property. Namely, that it doesn’t need to be as arduous as it currently is.

In fact, Dot’s headline draw is that it makes property ownership a one-click affair via the “Dot Button” it wants to embed on property listings sites, including estate agents and property developers. Under the hood of the offering is what the startup describes as a “point-of-sale finance and management solution” that can be wrapped around any property that meets Dot’s lending criteria.

If you want to purchase the property as an investment, you simply click the button, pay the required deposit, and Dot will acquire and manage the property on your behalf, advancing 70 percent of the purchase price in the form of its pre-approved or “instant mortgage”. In addition, the property is furnished and Dot takes out buildings, contents and rent guarantee insurance. After those expenses, you receive monthly rent from the property, minus management fees and interest paid on your Dot mortgage.

Technically, once the property is purchased it is moved into a passive investment structure: an SPV known as a “Dot Container”. This structure holds the asset on your behalf (you effectively become the SPV’s beneficial owner/shareholder).

When you’re ready to sell, in theory a Dot Container can move from owner to owner without conveyancing, and can be refinanced without requiring new mortgage documents (via Dot Platform, Dot’s mortgage marketplace). Alternatively, the property can be put on the open market. Either way, as the SPV’s sole shareholder, you benefit from any increase in the valuation of the property, less the remaining balance of the mortgage.

“Dot enables anyone with a 30 percent deposit to become a professional property investor instantly, with none of the hassle of being a landlord,” explains Stern. “We do this by providing U.K. and U.S. estate agents and property developers with a pre-approved finance and management solution — a Dot Container — that can hold any suitable property. The agent can then offer Dot as a payment option (via the embedded Dot Button), turning their previously static listings into turnkey investments that anyone, anywhere can buy online on a fully financed and managed basis.

“Every Dot Container comes complete with a pre-approved mortgage, insurance, legal/conveyancing, tax compliance and reporting, lettings and management, furnishings and everything else required to turn that property into a compliant, well-managed and good-looking rental home. Dot takes care of the entire end-to-end process… and because we are lending a large portion of the total cost we have a vested interest in managing your property well”.

Stern says that Dot differs from property crowd-investing type platforms, such as Property Partner or Bricklane, which typically let you buy shares in a portion of a property or a property portfolio and aren’t coupled with a financing option.

“Dot’s solution is for sole investors or couples looking to build property portfolios that they control, we do not offer fractional ownership,” he adds. “Our clients own the asset and while they give Dot management rights, they can also remove Dot at any time, sell at any time, refinance their loans at any time. Dot’s challenge is to make our offer sufficiently compelling that they won’t want to”.

Meanwhile, Dot has raised $1.5 million in a pre-seed round from Stage Dot O, an L.A.-based venture-build firm run by Roofstock co-founder Devin Wade and ex hedge fund manager Mike Self.

Sentry raises $16M Series B from NEA and Accel to help developers squash bugs more quickly

Created to help app developers find and fix bugs more efficiently, Sentry announced today that it has raised a $16 million Series B led by returning investors NEA and Accel. Both firms participated in Sentry’s Series A round two years ago.

Co-founder and CEO David Cramer tells TechCrunch that the new round puts Sentry’s post-money valuation at around $100 million. The company recently launched Sentry 9, which, like its other software, is open source. Sentry 9 lets app developers integrate error remediation into their workflows by automatically notifying the developers responsible for that part of the code, letting them filter by environment to hone in on the issue, and manage collaboration among different teams. This reduces the amount of time it takes to fix bugs from “five hours to five minutes,” Sentry claims.

The company will “double down on developers and their adjacent roles,” in particular product teams, Cramer says. Next in the pipeline is tools that will answer more in-depth questions related to app performance management.

“Today we answer ‘this specific thing is broken, why?’ Next we’ll expand that into deeper insights whether it’s ‘these sets of things are broken for the same reason’ as well as exploring non-errors. For example, if you deploy an update to your product and traffic to your sign-up form goes to zero that’s pretty serious, even if you’re not generating errors,” Cramer says.

Sentry’s technology originated as an internal tool for exception logging in Djana applications while its founders, Chris Jennings and Cramer, were working at Disqus. After they open-sourced it, the software quickly expanded into more programming languages. Sentry launched a hosted service in 2012 to answer demand. It now claims to have 9,000 paying customers (including Airbnb, Dropbox, PayPal, Twitter and Uber), be used by 500,000 engineers and process more than 360 billion errors a year.

In a press statement, Accel partner Dan Levine said “Sentry’s growth is a testament to the now-universal truth that app users everywhere expect a flawless experience free of bugs and crashes. Poor user experience kills companies. In order to keep moving forward as quickly as possible, product teams need to know that customers will never leave because of a broken app update. Sentry lets every developer build software that is functionally error-free.”

Hugging Face raises $4 million for its artificial BFF

Chatbot startup Hugging Face has raised a $4 million seed round led by Ronny Conway from a_capital. Existing investors Betaworks, SV Angel and Kevin Durant are also participating.

I already reviewed Hugging Face so I won’t write the same thing again. But the startup has been building a chatbot app with a strong personality for bored teenagers. Instead of focusing on customer support or convenience, Hugging Face is focusing on emotions and entertainment.

It’s been available in the App Store as a standalone app and on Kik. Today, the company is also launching Hugging Face on Messenger. It should help bring new users.

Even without Messenger, Hugging Face now handles 1 million messages per day. In total, Hugging Face has received over 100 million messages.

It’s also worth noting that Hugging Face accepts text messages, photos, emojis, everything. So you can take a selfie, send a sad emoji, and the chatbot will know how you feel.

And it’s clear that Hugging Face is betting on surprise and enjoyment. The app doesn’t have to be perfect to be entertaining.

Beyond the consumer app, the team behind Hugging Face has written a couple of research papers about artificial intelligence. It’s clear that the startup plans on building a great team of engineers when it comes to natural language conversations. The team will double over the coming months.

Parabola raises $2.2 million to simplify programming for employees stuck in Excel all day

While knowledge workers are handling increasingly difficult tasks — ones that may be much easier to handle with just a Python script — Alex Yaseen thinks that in the future not everyone will actually need to learn how to code.

Instead, he hopes that tools like the one he’s building, called Parabola, will bridge that gap between the complex technical problems and otherwise nontechnical employees. Instead of running through massive excel spreadsheets, Parabola is designed to make it easier for employees that might not be highly technical to piece together the kinds of processes that will help automate mundane tasks that run through each action. The company said it has raised a new $2.2 million financing round led by Matrix Partners.

“The logical version of the future doesn’t look like everyone coding by running Python or whatever language,” Yaseen said. “It’s a very valid opinion, but we talked a lot with various investors about that perspective of the future where all knowledge workers have to increasingly be more productive to compete. We thought about how we could bridge that gap by giving nontechnical people these tools to work like an engineering without being an engineer.”

At its core, Parabola is a more visually-oriented way of designing a workflow where users can piece together a complex work problem in a kind of flowchart, piece by piece. These are all functions that you might find built into Excel or other spreadsheet tools, like Google Sheets, but Parabola is a tool that is designed to make it easier to automate all those updates into new fields, as well as make the model pretty flexible and easy to manipulate.

Parabola is designed to take those account executives or salespeople that run through hundred-plus step processes in order to do their jobs through dozens of excel tabs. Users can figure out how to describe those steps in Parabola and then begin executing them without having to constantly tweak formulas and ensure that everything is operating properly. At the same time, Parabola is designed to ensure that the whole experience feels like a spreadsheet, where making small changes causes the whole data set to update — something that nontechnical users actually gravitate toward, Yaseen said.

“The reason people love using spreadsheets even though they’re not the right tool for most of these experiences, is that they can make a change and see things immediately,” Yaseen said. “Nontechnical people don’t adapt to [an engineering] mindset, they value the process of making a change and everything updating. That’s one of our hypotheses, and other tools don’t give you those options, and therefore are not really geared to a true nontechnical user.”

Still, the whole idea of trying to simplify programming down to something that’s more palatable for a nontechnical user is both a significant challenge and a very crowded market. There are many approaches to the problem, though Yaseen says they target different niches or use cases, like Airtable or Zapier — many of which have raised large sums of money. But some companies have different demands and users may gravitate toward different options, so those aren’t the direct competition. Instead, the competition is larger firms hiring engineers to handle all these processes in the back-end, as well as users just sitting in Excel all day.

Whisk, the smart food platform that makes recipes shoppable, acquires competitor Avocando

Whisk, the U.K. startup that has built a B2B data platform to power various food apps, including making online recipes ‘shoppable’, has acquired Avocando, a competitor based in Germany.

The exact financial terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although TechCrunch understands it was all-cash and that Whisk is acquiring the tech, customer base, integrations, and team. Related to this, Avocando’s founders are joining Whisk.

“The team is joining Whisk to help scale a joint global vision to help leading businesses create integrated and meaningful digital food experiences using cutting-edge technology,” says Whisk in a statement.

To that end, Whisk’s “smart food platform” enables app developers, publishers and online supermarkets/grocery stories to do a number of interesting things.

The first relates to making recipes shoppable i.e. making it incredibly easy to order the ingredients needed to cook a recipe listed online or in an app. Specifically, Whisk’s platform parses ingredients in a recipe, and matches it to products at local grocery stores based on user preferences (e.g. “50g of butter, cubed” matched to “250g Tesco Salted Butter”). It then interfaces with the store to fill the users basket with the needed items.

The second is recipe personalisation. Based on user preferences (e.g. disliked ingredients, diet, previous behaviour, deals at a favourite store, and trending recipes based on location), Whisk is able to create personalised recipe feeds, search results, and meal plans.

The third aspect is an Internet-of-Things play. This is seeing Whisk’s data power experiences that connect IoT devices with different parts of a user’s journey. Think: smart fridges connected to recipes.

“As the e-commerce grocery market quickly accelerates across Europe, players are increasingly looking for ways to connect recipe content to grocery retailers and provide consumers with personalized nutrition, planning and purchase options right from the comfort of their kitchen,” says the startup.

Whisk says its platform powers experiences for over 100,000,000 monthly users through the applications of its clients. They include retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Instacart, and Tesco who use Whisk to enable online grocery shopping via recipes. On the IoT front, Samsung is using Whisk to build smart food applications that take user preferences, what’s in their fridge, what offers are in the supermarket, and recommends recipes. Other customers include publishers, such as the BBC, and food brands like McCormick, Nestle, Unilever, and General Mills.

Meanwhile, Whisk says it is currently focused on the U.S., U.K. and Australia, and with today’s acquisition will expand services across Europe. “Together, Germany, France and Spain represent a larger e-commerce grocery market than both the U.S. and U.K. individually, with the largest online recipe usage per capita figures in the world,” adds the company.

Job search engine Adzuna raises £8M Series C from Smedvig Capital

Adzuna, the meta-search engine for jobs, has raised £8 million in Series C funding from Smedvig Capital. The U.K. company’s previous backers include Index Ventures, Passion Capital, LocalGlobe and more than 400 Crowdcube investors. It takes total funding to £12 million.

Founded by the team behind Gumtree, Zoopla and Qype, Adzuna essentially aggregates job listings across the web to offer a single destination to search for a job. It launched first in the U.K. in 2011 but has since expanded to 16 countries, in which co-founder Doug Monro tells me the U.K., the U.S., Germany, Netherlands, France and Brazil are its strongest markets.

“We’re growing very quickly in several of the others. We are really excited about the growth we are seeing in the U.S. in particular,” he says.

Across the 16 sites Adzuna operates, the jobs search engine is seeing 10 million monthly visitors, and has 7 million registered users. “Millions” of CVs have been uploaded to the site — no doubt drawn in by Adzuna’s data-driven “ValueMyCV” tool — and it currently aggregates 5,000 sources of jobs. But, perhaps more importantly, given its Series C backing, the company is disclosing more than £1 million in monthly revenue.

Adzuna generates revenue by referring job seekers to jobs. Job ads are included for free in its search index to ensure it always lists every job available, but advertisers have the option to promote listings on a CPC basis similar to Google Adwords. “Some additional revenue is generated through labor market data sales and of course now from the Find a job contract which is publicly disclosed,” says Monro.

The “Find a job” contract is a major recent win for the company that saw it displace competitor Monster who ran the pre-existing Universal Jobmatch service for the U.K. government’s Department for Works and Pensions. The publicly procured contract is said to be worth £2.5 million per year.

“We’d been talking to the DWP for a number of years about our vision for how we could help use our tech to help make their service better,” Monro tells me. “Last year they decided to put the Universal Jobmatch out to tender. As a startup with little govtech experience, we thought we had very little chance, but with the help of the Public.io team, we gave it a shot. There was a lot of paperwork and processes to navigate, and we were lucky to have great mentors to help guide us through this, but we were also pleasantly surprised with how agile and open to change the DWP team were.”

Meanwhile, on who Adzuna’s most direct competitors are these days, Monro says there are a number of other job search engines that aggregate content in a similar way but that he believes the startup is taking the market to the next level by bringing innovative tools and smart data to bear, such as the ValueMyCV tool and machine-learning based matching. “It’s a huge market and we are focused on building the best solution for job seekers. We see ourselves as competing in that sense with the likes of Indeed, ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn,” he says.

Pluralsight pops more than 30% in its public debut

Pluralsight is having a pretty good day in its debut as a public company, with its shares popping more than 30% after its first trade following its IPO.

There’ll be a little bit of debate as to whether Pluralsight might have left some money on the table in its IPO after raising its price last night above its original target range. After looking at a range between $12 and $14 per share, the company settled on $15 in an IPO that would raise as much as $357 including additional shares offered to underwriters. But the significant pop this morning suggests that there is both a lot of demand for the company, and also that it could have potentially captured more capital in its IPO.

Still, Pluralsight will be considered a pretty successful one this morning, much like zScalar and Dropbox before it. Pluralsight, like many other enterprise-focused companies, offers investors an opportunity to tap a business model that can grow more consistently and methodically than a consumer company subject to the whims of fickle consumers. While Dropbox has more of a hybrid model, it was considered a substantially successful enterprise IPO, as was zScalar and others earlier this year.

Pluralsight offers companies a way to run courses that help their employees pick up new software engineering skills. That’s important for larger companies that can have a sprawling employee base, offering them an opportunity to find talent in their own workforces that might be missing a few skills instead of having to look out in a very competitive landscape. That minted another successful unicorn startup in the Utah tech scene, and now the company is going to potentially offer a nice return for its investors and an opportunity for investors with some appetite for risky early IPOs .

The company launched in 2004 and was largely bootstrapped until its first financing round in 2013, and raised nearly $200 million total prior to going public. Having a successful IPO like this one is also going to have the ancillary effect of keeping up morale at the company, as well as attracting talent with generous compensation packages. Pluralsight can point to the pop in its IPO and ongoing performance as a public barometer of its success, and the interest Wall Street has in it going forward as a good investment.

Circle raises $110 million (or 13,300 BTC)

Cryptocurrency startup Circle has raised a $110 million funding round, which values the company near $3 billion. Cryptocurrency mining company Bitmain is leading the round.

Existing investors IDG Capital, Breyer Capital, General Catalyst, Accel, Digital Currency Group and Pantera are investing more money. Blockchain Capital and Tusk Ventures are investing in Circle for the first time. Goldman Sachs also invested in the company in a previous round.

It’s hard to describe Circle in a few words because the company has been active on all fronts. For a really long time, the company pitched itself as a social payment company, a Venmo and Square Cash competitor. But Circle is more focused than ever on cryptocurrencies.

The company has been operating one of the largest over-the-counter trading desks for big cryptocurrency investors and exchanges. Circle Trade manages more than $2 billion a month in transactions and is able to fulfill large orders and provide liquidity.

More recently, the company launched Circle Invest, a really simple mobile app for the U.S. market. It lets you buy and sell Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Litecoin, Zcash and Monero in just a few taps. It’s a good way to get started with cryptocurrencies without learning about exchanges and order types. It could become a good Coinbase competitor for small cryptocurrency investors.

And Circle also acquired Poloniex, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the U.S.

But the most interesting projects right now are probably CENTRE and a new tokenized USD coin. There are so many different cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies, exchanges and wallets that it has become hard to make everything work together. Cryptocurrencies still suffer from price volatility, so bitcoin can’t be the common denominator.

That’s why Circle is creating a token that is pegged to the U.S. dollar. The USD Coin is based on an open source framework developed by CENTRE and everything should be audited regularly.

CENTRE is a Circle initiative to create a common framework to connect all electronic wallets. This protocol could let you send money to an Alipay user with your Square Cash balance.

It’s clear that Circle wants to build the infrastructure of the cryptocurrency industry. The company will need to convince multiple industry players to work with Circle, but it could help the cryptocurrency ecosystem as a whole.