Anti-fraud startup Fraugster score $14M Series B

Fraugster, the Berlin-based startup that uses artificial intelligence to prevent fraud for online retailers, has raised $14 million in a Series B funding. The round is led by CommerzVentures, the venture capital subsidiary of Commerzbank, alongside early Fraugster investors Earlybird, Speedinvest, Seedcamp, and Rancilio Cube.

Notably, Munich Re/HSB Ventures, the VC arm of global reinsurer Munich Re, also participated in the round. That’s because Munich Re is insuring Fraugster’s “Fraud Free” product, which takes on the full liability for each transaction to ensure retailers utilising Fraugster’s fraud detection technology never lose out — a sign that the company is pretty confident in its machine learning.

Selling its wares to payments companies — including Ingenico ePayments, and Six Payments — the Fraugster AI technology takes data from multiple sources, analyses and cross-checks it in a fraction of a second, to determine whether a transaction is fraudulent or not.

The idea isn’t just to block any potential fraud, which rules-based systems can already do, but to actually let more transactions through. That’s because false-positives (ie accidentally preventing perfectly valid purchases) is the real bane of the industry.

Citing industry average stats of false positives, Fraugster CEO and co-founder CEO Max Laemmle tells me that for every dollar lost to fraud, $17 is lost through transactions that are wrongly turned down, leading to lower revenues for merchants. He says that Fraugster’s technology has already got that down to $2.

Meanwhile, the anti-fraud startup says it will use the new funds to continue expansion into new markets. This includes the U.S., Asia and Europe, where retailers are facing “an accelerating battle against fraud”.

Precision farming startup Taranis gets $20M Series B for its crop monitoring tech

Taranis, an ag-tech startup that uses aerial scouting and deep learning to identify potential crop issues, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series B led by Viola Ventures. Existing investors Nutrien (one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers), Wilbur-Ellis venture capital arm Cavallo Ventures, and Sumitomo Corporation Europe also participated.

Tel Aviv-based Taranis says its aerial imaging technology, carried on high-speed drones or manned aircraft, is currently used by farms in Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. It plans to expand into more countries with this round of funding, including Australia.

Founded in 2015 by Ofir Schlam, Asaf Horvitz, Eli Bukchin, and Ayal Karmi to increase food production, Taranis’ software targets commodity crops like corn, cotton, wheat, soybean, sugarcane, and potatoes. It identifies potential crop issues, including insect damage, nutrient deficiencies, and diseases, and provide farmers with magnified, high-resolution images that are detailed enough to (for example) let them see what bugs are eating their plants.

In a press statement, Viola Ventures partner Zvika Orron said “After analyzing the digital farming industry, we proudly chose Taranis to be our first investment in this space. Taranis has all the necessary ingredients to become the leader in farm digitalization: a comprehensive precision agriculture solution, leading industry partners to scale and penetrate the market and a passionate team making it all happen.”

Traditional crop monitoring is labor-intensive and not always accurate, even with the use of sensors to track soil quality, fertilizer levels, insects, and other issues. Other venture capital-backed startups using computer vision and AI-based technology to make the process more efficient (a growing field referred to as “precision farming”) include Prospera, which is also based in Tel Aviv, Arable, and Ceres Imaging.

Agricultural giants have also started shopping for precision farming startups. For example, over the past twelve months, Deere agreed to buy Blue River, and Brazilian startup Strider was purchased by Syngenta.

SoftBank to wait on Khashoggi murder investigation before deciding on second Vision Fund

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son says the company won’t walk away from its existing commitment with the Saudi Arabian royal family — the largest LP in its $100 billion Vision Fund — but the firm will wait on the outcome of an investigation into the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi before deciding on whether to continue the relationship.

In his first public remarks following the gruesome death of Khashoggi, whose murder last month is linked with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Son condemned the journalist’s killing as an “act against humanity and also journalism and free speech… a horrible and deeply regrettable act.”

While he said the company “want(s) to see those responsible held accountable,” Son told the audience at a SoftBank investor day that there’s no immediate strategy for a follow-up to the $100 billion fund, which has forced other VCs to raise charge fund and adjust their investment strategies.

“We still have money in the Vision Fund 1, in addition, the [SoftBank Mobile] IPO is underway so therefore we can collect money so we will use that effectively for now,” he said. “I think it is still too early to go ahead with Vision Fund 2 so we will be cautious in our next step… however, we have no change in the SoftBank 2.0 strategy, we want to continue expanding better.”

That is in line with previous comments from SoftBank playing down an imminent second fund — its COO Marcelo Claure recently said there is “no certainty” of a follow-up — but the firm has adopted a softer response than other top businessmen who are aligned with Saudi money.

Virgin CEO Richard Branson very publicly suspended his role with two Saudi projects and walked away from investment talks with the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which was in discussion to put money into his Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit ventures.

While Son did cancel a speaking engagement at a high-profile Saudi investment event last month, he said today that he believes SoftBank has a responsibility to use the funds it has already collected from PIF.

“Before this tragic case happened, we had already accepted a responsibility to the people of Saudi Arabia to help them manage their financial resources and we can’t all of a sudden drop such responsibility. Things that we have already accepted, we would like to fulfill our fiduciary duties,

“For new projects, we would like to carefully watch the outcome of the case and once the explanation is fully made then we will think about it once again,” Son said.

Despite ducking out of that event, the SoftBank supremo has traveled to the Middle East to meet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and government officials, and he said that he “directly raised our concerns with them and asked for further clarity on this tragic case.” The prince, he said, is “taking this very seriously.”

PIF’s role in Vision Fund — it is the largest single investor — has threatened to taint its efforts, with chatter in Silicon Valley suggesting that many companies would prefer to take money from less-tainted sources. However, SoftBank has struck two deals in the past week — putting $375 million into robotic food-prep startup Zume and $1.1 billion into glass maker View — which suggest that the sheer size of the checks on offer outweigh any concerns on the origins of its money.

When asked about negative blowback, Son said he hadn’t heard of any cases of startups refusing an investment from the Vision Fund, but he did concede that there “may be some impact” in the future.

Silicon Valley hoped the Khashoggi story would go away; instead, it may end an era

Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate and, with its added markup, you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages,” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $500 each, with 70 percent repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live-action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckel describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself,” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $1.2 billion valuation and had raised $273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.

Edo raises $12M to measure TV ad effectiveness

Edo, an ad analytics startup founded by Daniel Nadler and actor Edward Norton, announced today that it has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

Nadler and Norton have both had startup success before — Nadler co-founded and led Kensho, which S&P Global acquired for $550 million. Norton invested in Kensho and co-founded CrowdRise, which was acquired by GoFundMe.

Even so, ad analytics might seem like an arcane industry for an actor/filmmaker to want to tackle. However, Norton said he was actually the one to convince Nadler that it was worth starting the company, and he argued that this is an important topic to both of them as creators. (Nadler’s a poet.)

“Movie studios and publishers, they take risks on talent, on creative people like us,” Norton said. “We want them to do well … The better they do with the dollars they spend, the less risk averse they become.”

Nadler and Norton recruited Kevin Krim, the former head of digital at CNBC, to serve as Edo’s CEO.

Krim explained that while linear TV advertising still accounts for the majority of ad budgets, the effectiveness of those ads is still measured using old-fashioned “survey-based methodologies.” There are other measurement companies looking online; Norton said they’re focused on social media sentiment and other “weak proxies” for consumer behavior.

In contrast, Edo pulls data from sources like search engines and content sites where people are doing research before making a purchase. By applying data science, Krim said, “We basically can measure the change in consumer engagement, the behaviors that are indicative of intent. We can measure the change in consumer behavior for every ad.”

In fact, Edo says that since its founding in 2015, it has created a database of 47 million ad airings, so advertisers can see not just their own ad performance, but also that of their competitors. This allows advertisers to adjust their campaigns based on consumer engagement — Krim said that in some cases, advertisers will receive the overnight data and then adjust their ad rotation for that very night.

As for the Series A, it was led by Breyer Capital. (Jim Breyer has backed everything from Facebook to Etsy to Marvel.) Vista Equity co-founders Robert Smith and Brian Sheth participated in the round, as did WGI Group.

“For more than a decade I’ve watched the data science talent arbitrage transform industries from finance to defense, from transportation to commerce,” Breyer said in the funding announcement. “We needed someone to bring these capabilities to bear on the systemic inefficiencies and methodological shortcomings of measurement and analytics in media and advertising.”

On the customer side, Edo is already working with ESPN, Turner, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. I wondered whether some of the TV networks might have been worried about what Edo would reveal about their ads, but Norton said the opposite was true.

“I don’t sense that they in any way have trepidation that we’re going to pull their pants down — quite the opposite,” he said. “They are absolutely thrilled with our ability to help burnish and validate their assertions about the strength of what they’re offering.”

Rockset launches out of stealth with $21.5 M investment

Rockset, a startup that came out of stealth today, announced $21.5M in previous funding and the launch of its new data platform that is designed to simplify much of the processing to get to querying and application building faster.

As for the funding, it includes $3 million in seed money they got when they started the company, and a more recent $18.5 million Series A, which was led by Sequoia with participation from Greylock.

Jerry Chen, who is a partner at Greylock sees a team that understands the needs of modern developers and data scientists, one that was born in the cloud and can handle a lot of the activities that data scientists have traditionally had to handle manually. “Rockset can ingest any data from anywhere and let developers and data scientists query it using standard SQL. No pipelines. No glue. Just real time operational apps,” he said.

Company co-founder and CEO Venkat Venkataramani is a former Facebook engineer where he learned a bit about processing data at scale. He wanted to start a company that would help data scientists get to insights more quickly.

Data typically requires a lot of massaging before data scientists and developers can make use of it and Rockset has been designed to bypass much of that hard work that can take days, weeks or even months to complete.

“We’re building out our service with innovative architecture and unique capabilities that allows full-featured fast SQL directly on raw data. And we’re offering this as a service. So developers and data scientists can go from useful data in any shape, any form to useful applications in a matter of minutes. And it would take months today,” Venkataramani explained.

To do this you simply connect your data set wherever it lives to your AWS account and Rockset deals with the data ingestion, building the schema, cleaning the data, everything. It also makes sure you have the right amount of infrastructure to manage the level of data you are working with. In other words, it can potentially simplify highly complex data processing tasks to start working with the raw data almost immediately using SQL queries.

To achieve the speed, Venkataramani says they use a number of indexing techniques. “Our indexing technology essentially tries to bring the best of search engines and columnar databases into one. When we index the data, we build more than one type of index behind the scenes so that a wide spectrum of pre-processing can be automatically fast out of the box,” he said. That takes the burden of processing and building data pipelines off of the user.

The company was founded in 2016. Chen and Sequoia partners Mike Vernal joined the Rockset board under the terms of the Series A funding, which closed last August.

Chat app Line’s games business raises $110M for growth opportunities

Messaging app firm Line has given up majority control of its Line Games business after it raised outside financing to expand its collection of titles and go after global opportunities.

The Line Games business was formed earlier this year when Line merged its existing gaming division from NextFloor, the Korea-based game publisher that it acquired in 2017. Now the business has taken on capital from Anchor Equity Partners, which has provided 125 billion KRW ($110 million) in financing via its Lungo Entertainment entity, according to a disclosure from Line.

A Line spokesperson clarified that the deal will see Anchor acquire 144,743 newly-created shares to take a 27.55 percent stake in Line Games. That increase means Line Corp’s own shareholding is diluted from 57.6 percent to a minority 41.73 percent stake.

Korea-based Anchor is best known for a number of deals in its homeland including investments in e-commerce giant Ticket Monster, Korean chat giant Kakao’s Podotree content business and fashion retail group E-Land.

Line operates its eponymous chat app which is the most popular messaging platform in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, and also significantly used in Indonesia, but gaming is a major source of income. This year to date, Line has made 28.5 billion JPY ($250 million) from its content division, which is primarily virtual goods and in-app purchases from its social games. That division accounts for 19 percent of Line’s total revenue, and it is a figure that is only better by its advertising unit, which has grossed 79.3 billion JPY, or $700 million, in 2018 to date.

The games business is currently focused on Japan, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, but it said that the new capital will go towards finding new IP for future titles and identifying games with global potential. It is also open to more strategic deals to broaden its focus.

While Line has always been big on games, Line Games isn’t just building for its own service. The company said earlier this year that it plans to focus on non-mobile platforms, which will include the Nintendo Switch among others consoles.

That comes from the addition of NextFloor, which is best known for titles like Dragon Flight and Destiny Child. Dragon Flight has racked up 14 million users since its 2012 launch, at its peak it saw $1 million in daily revenue. Destiny Child, a newer release in 2016, topped the charts in Korea and has been popular in Japan, North America and beyond.

Line went public in 2016 via a dual U.S.-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion.

Note: the original version of this article was updated to clarify that Lungo Entertainment is buying newly-issued shares.

Concord raises $25 million for its contract management platform

Concord is raising a new $25 million funding round led by Tenaya Capital, with existing investors CRV and Alven also participating. The company is building a platform that makes it easier to manage your contracts all the way from writing them to signing them.

Even if you used a service like DocuSign to sign a contract in the past, chances are you or the sender used Microsoft Word to write the contract. It’s fine if you’re the only one working on this contract. But it can quickly become a mess as your legal team gets larger.

“It’s ultimately bringing a B2C experience to a really complex B2B experience,” VP of Marketing Travis Bickham told me.

And one of the company’s main challenge has been to make it convenient for all teams in your organization. If you work in human resources, you’re dealing with HR contracts. If you’re an office manager, you may need to sign a contract to order a new fridge. If you’re on the sales team, you want to make sure your client signs a contract. The procurement team also wants some sort of legal proof from its partners. And the list goes on.

Concord lets you create templates and workflows. For instance, the most basic contracts don’t require the same attention to details. A non-disclosure agreement is pretty standard. You just have to replace some fields and make the person sign it.

You can create an approval process for more complicated contracts. For instance, you can say that the legal team has to approve any sales contract above $100,000.

Concord has also built integrations with third-party tools. For instance, you can generate a contract in Salesforce using Concord’s integration.

There are currently 80 people working for Concord in San Francisco and Paris. With today’s funding round, the company plans to hire more people, get more clients, target bigger companies, etc. Concord currently works with 200,000 companies.

Southeast Asia’s Grab pulls in $200M from travel giant Booking

Fresh from a strategic investment from Microsoft, Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing leader Grab is back in the money again after it closed $200 million in fresh capital from Booking Holdings, the travel firm formerly known as Priceline.

The investment is part of an ongoing round of funding that Grab said is on course to reach $3 billion before the end of the year. Grab raised $2 billion for the round — including a $1 billion check from Totoya — but it continues to add strategic partners, like Microsoft and Booking. Grab — which bought Uber’s regional business in March and is present in eight countries — is valued at $11 billion and we understand that hasn’t changed with this round.

The deal — which mimics Booking’s recent $500 million investment in China’s Didi — will lead to the two companies team up to offer reciprocal services. That’ll see Grab’s transportation services integrated into Booking’s apps and services with support for Grab Pay. On the other side, Grab said that Booking’s travel accommodation services will come to its app sometime in 2019, although Grab customers in “multiple markets” will get rewards and offers in the app before the end of this year.

Besides Booking.com and Agoda, Booking also operates Kayak, Priceline.com, Rentacars.com and OpenTable. The firm rebranded from Priceline in February 2018.

The tie-in makes sense on both sides. Ride-hailing services are a prime channel for travel companies — Didi and Grab both dominate their respective markets, Grab claims over 110 million downloads — while the idea of pre-ordering a Grab to meet you after a flight has landed, or having one take you to your hotel will be logical for many.

Grab started out offering taxis, but it has since expanded to private car vehicles, motorbikes and a range of non-transportation services that include payments and food delivery. In addition, the company opened its platform to third-parties this summer in an effort to develop a ‘super app’ for Southeast Asia’s rapidly growing internet population, which is already larger than the entire U.S. population.

It hasn’t all been plain-sailing for Grab in its post-Uber world. Both Uber and Grab were fined a collective $9.5 million by Singapore’s watchdog for the merger — they got a lighter rap on the knuckles in the Philippines — while some users have complained about a bloated app, inferior service quality and higher fees in recent months. Grab disputes the latter claim that it has increased prices, but it has pledged to do better by its customers.

Grab’s chief rival is Indonesia Go-Jek, which is said to be raising $2 billion more to support a regional expansion plan. Go-Jek has already moved into Vietnam and Thailand, while this week it opened sign-ups for drivers in Singapore.

Southeast Asia’s Grab partners with MasterCard to offer prepaid cards

Microsoft closes its $7.5B purchase of code-sharing platform GitHub

After getting EU approval a week ago, today Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub, the Git-based code sharing and collaboration service with 31 million developers, has officially closed. The Redmond, WA-based software behemoth first said it would acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock in June of this year, and after the acquisition closed it would continue to run it as an independent platform and business.

The acquisition is yet another sign of how Microsoft has been doubling down on courting developers and presenting itself as a neutral partner to help them with their projects.

That is because, despite its own very profitable proprietary software business, Microsoft also has a number of other businesses — for example, Azure, which competes with AWS and Google Cloud — that rely heavily on it being unbiased towards one platform or another. And GitHub, Microsoft hopes, will be another signal to the community of that position.

In that regard, it will be an interesting credibility test for the companies.

As previously announced, Nat Friedman, who had been the CEO of Xamarin (another developer-focused startup acquired by Microsoft, in 2016), will be CEO of the company, while GitHub founder and former CEO Chris Wanstrath will become a Microsoft technical fellow to work on strategic software initiatives. (Wanstrath had come back to his CEO role after his co-founder Tom Preston-Werner resigned following a harassment investigation in 2014.)

Friedman, in a short note, said that he will be taking over on Monday, and he also repeated what Microsoft said at the time of the deal: GitHub will be run as an independent platform and business.

This is a key point because there has been a lot of developer backlash over the deal, with many asking if GitHub would become partial or focused more around Microsoft-based projects  or products.

“We will always support developers in their choice of any language, license, tool, platform, or cloud,” he writes, noting that there will be more tools to come. “We will continue to build tasteful, snappy, polished tools that developers love,” he added.

One of those, he noted, will be further development and investment in Paper Cuts, a project it launched in August that it hopes will help address some of the gripes that its developer-users might have with how GitHub works that the company itself hadn’t been planning to address in bigger product upgrades. The idea here is that GitHub can either help find workarounds, or this will become a feedback forum of its own to help figure out what it should be upgrading next on the site.

Of course, the need to remain neutral is not just to keep hold of its 31 million developers (up by 3 million since the deal was first announced), but to keep them from jumping to GitHub competitors, which include GitLab and Bitbucket.