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.

Adzuna acquires job board Work In Startups

Armed with new capital (following a recent £8 million Series C round) and now doing £1 million per month in revenue, job meta-search engine Adzuna has acquired the U.K. tech startup job board Work In Startups.

Terms of deal aren’t being disclosed. However, it will see Adzuna take over operation of the Work In Startups website but continue to run it as an independent brand and community. Notably, the site will remain free to post jobs.

Launched in 2011 by Diana Ilinca and Alex Borbely, Work In Startups set out to create a way for startups to more easily find tech and creative talent, without having to go through recruiters or use more generic job sites. It is said to have become an important tool in U.K. startup hiring over the past few years, and, I understand, has been used by Adzuna itself.

“As we continue to grow and learn more and more about the market, we’ve realised that ‘generalist’ search is not always the best solution for all jobseekers/employers, and sometimes a focussed, niche site can offer a more tailored experience and build a stronger community,” Adzuna co-founder Andrew Hunter tells me.

“Tech startup jobs and companies are cutting-edge, early adopters and have very particular needs… and this is truly a really strong but underdeveloped market-leading community asset with a freemium model like Adzuna. So it’s a great way for us to learn better how we can take what we’re good at — tech, traffic acquisition, data etc. — and apply it to create more value for a site like this and its users.”

Related to this, Adzuna’s data shows there are currently 1.1 million open job roles in the U.K. and that 90,000 (more than 8 percent) are in tech.

“On a personal note, I want to make hiring great people easier and less expensive for U.K. startups,” continues Hunter. “I’ve been through ‘the struggle’ and it’s f***ing hard to attract the best talent when your company is just getting going (let alone having to compete with big banks and established tech companies for talent!). We’d like to change that by taking on this community and growing it to new heights”.

With that said, he cautions me not to expect other imminent acquisitions. “Would we do other similar acquisitions in the future? For now, it’s a one-off but maybe for right asset,” says the Adzuna co-founder.

Hong Kong’s Neat raises $3M to offer easy banking for startups and SMEs

Neat, a Hong Kong-based startup that gives startups and SMEs access to credit cards and banking services has pulled in $3 million in fresh funding.

The new round is led by China-based VC Linear Capital with participation from Hong Kong’s Sagamore investments and existing backers Dymon Asia Ventures and Portag3 Ventures . Neat previously landed a $2 million seed round earlier this year.

In a nutshell, the company offers quick access to prepaid Mastercard-based cards and basic banking services. Cards are charged at around $7.50 per month, with varying prices on incoming, outgoing and international payments. There is also a consumer option, which is much like European startups Monzo, Starling and Revolut, but Neat is more focused on business users.

We profiled the company in August and since then U.S-based Brex — a two-year-old startup that offers similar services — has gone on to reach a billion-dollar valuation. That shows that there’s plenty of validity in the model… at least in the eyes of the investors who write those all-important checks.

Neat is in a much earlier stage of development and it is serving a more fragmented market in Asia via Hong Kong. When we talked to CEO David Rosa earlier this year, he said that “a large portion” of its customers were either based in Hong Kong or associated with the market, but Neat does offer services globally with a focus on Asia. In particular, the company has introduced international payments — which allow users to pay out overseas without incurring exorbitant fees — while Rosa said it is working on other multi-currency solutions and integrations with third-party services such as accountancy and more.

Neat already claims to have customers in 100 countries, but with Linear Capital’s backing, it is aiming to zone in on Chinese businesses that are looking for banking options in Hong Kong. Given the considerable control on moving capital out of Mainland China, Neat may be an easy option for Chinese startups that are looking to go global but don’t want the hassle of dealing with traditional banks to set up their Hong Kong entity. But of course, there is plenty of incumbent competition.

Even the world’s largest crypto exchange needs help from traditional VCs

Crypto-anarchists may not like it, but money doesn’t buy everything. Sometimes, you just need the help of a traditional venture capitalist.

Binance is the fastest growing company in crypto — having risen to become the world’s largest crypto exchange based on trading volumes in under one year — but even it needs help from the old guard. Earlier today the exchange firm, which is officially headquartered in Malta, announced that it has landed an undisclosed investment from Vertex Ventures, a VC firm belonging to Singapore sovereign fund Temasek.

The deal is aimed at launching Binance’s fiat-to-crypto exchange in Singapore which is in beta right now but expected to launch fully, with regulatory compliance, before the end of this year.

VCs have long invested in crypto and crypto exchanges — $8 billion-valued Coinbase is the best example with phenomenal gains for backers — but Binance is not traditional. It is barely one year old, it operates in legal grey areas worldwide and it is seemingly not in need of money (even in this bear market) having made a $350 million profit in the last six months alone.

But this deal is about seeking legitimacy and the right partners.

Binance made its name offering fast crypto-to-crypto trades that make use of its BNB token to save on fees, but a big focus for this year is moving into fiat-based exchanges, as CEO Changpeng Zhao explained to TechCrunch in an interview last month. The company is aiming to open three crypto exchanges this year, with plans to raise the number to 10 next year. Aside from Singapore, it has announced a joint venture in Lichtenstein and gone public with plans to offer fiat in Malta, where it has been courted by the island nation’s pro-crypto administration.

The move in Singapore is particularly telling since it shows that, despite early rhetoric that crypto (and ICOs) would ‘rid’ the tech industry of venture capitals. Traditional money and networks are very much required if ambitious companies are to fulfill their promise, as I explained recently when I argued that professional investors now dominate ICOs. The writing has been on the wall with crypto companies using money to make startup investments and grow their own ecosystems — Binance is the most aggressive with a fund that’s said to be $1 billion and an ambitious accelerator program — and so these businesses themselves also need the connections that professional VCs can bring.

(The deal is also a blow to Vertex rival Sequoia, which ended up taking Binance to court over the breakdown of a proposed investment deal last year.)

(Left to right) Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao pictured announcing Binance’s acquisition of Trust Wallet with its founder Viktor Radchenko

Wei Zhou — the Binance executive leading the firm’s Singapore business — told TechCrunch that the deal is very much about opening doors.

“This partnership is not about capital but about finding a partner for Binance’s fiat exchange expansions. This partnership signifies the long-term commitment Binance has to build out the ecosystem in the [Southeast Asia] region,” Zhou said.

Vertex certainly brings a network and know-how. The firm was founded in 1988, it has five funds worldwide and offices in Southeast Asia, Silicon Valley, China, India, Israel, and Taiwan.

The firm’s current $210 million fund is the largest in Southeast Asia, and this deal is a joint one between Vertex China and its Southeast Asia/India sibling.

More importantly, as a fund under the Temasek banner — Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund — the deal gives Binance a very good seat at the table for working with authorities. The company has already shown its keenness in Singapore by taking slow steps and working with authorities to roll out its fiat exchange in Singapore slowly — small and slow rollouts are a departure from Binance’s usual ‘move fast and break things’ approach to business — so pairing up with Vertex mirrors that.

Zhao, the Binance CEO, has artfully dodged many questions about his company’s past — such as why it left Hong Kong, the reasons it declined to become regulated in Japan, why it runs to governments like Malta and Bermuda, and whether it has violated U.S. securities laws — but the newest, and perhaps best, response is to work with the establishment in recognized markets where it can be fully legally compliant.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life