Marketing startup Influential raises $12M from WME and others

Influential announced today that it has raised $12 million in Series B funding.

The funding came from existing investors Capital Zed, ECA Ventures, Paradigm Talent Agency, ROAR and Tech Coast Angels, as well as from Hollywood agency WME .

Just a couple weeks ago, Influential said it was working with (and had raised money from) WME. The agency is the first to try out a new Influential product called Talent Pro, which gives agents access to social data around a broader pool of talent.

Influential founder and CEO Ryan Detert said the product will allow WME — and, in the future, other agencies — to sweeten endorsement and promotional deals with more data and to “take an A-list celebrity… and now surround that person with 10 lookalike influencers who are not celebrities themselves.”

One of Influential’s big selling points is its use of artificial intelligence (it’s a developer partner with IBM Watson) to help brands and marketers find influencers who would be a good fit for their campaigns. However, Detert acknowledged that selling access to social media influencers is starting to feel overhyped — as he put it, “People think of influencer marketing sometimes as a four-letter word.”

But in Detert’s view, influencer marketing is just one “tactic” that Influential supports: “We consider ourselves more of social intelligence and activation company.”

And in fact, Influential already offers a social intelligence product that helps customers get a broader understanding of things like the broader competitive landscape.

Detert also said Influential is working to measure the impact of brands’ social media campaigns, so that when they pay an influencer to make a promotional post, they “can actually map back that not only [the consumer] saw it, but that they engaged with it to make a real-world decision — walking into a location, buying a product in a grocery store.”

The company has now raised a total of $26.5 million.

Tableau gets AI shot in the arm with Empirical Systems acquisition

When Tableau was founded back in 2003, not many people were thinking about artificial intelligence to drive analytics and visualization, but over the years the world has changed and the company recognized that it needed talent to keep up with new trends. Today, it announced it was acquiring Empirical Systems, an early stage startup with AI roots.

Tableau did not share the terms of the deal.

The startup was born just two years ago from research on automated statistics at the MIT Probabilistic Computing Project. According to the company website, “Empirical is an analytics engine that automatically models structured, tabular data (such as spreadsheets, tables, or csv files) and allows those models to be queried to uncover statistical insights in data.”

The product was still in private Beta when Tableau bought the company. It is delivered currently as an engine embedded inside other applications. That sounds like something that could slip in nicely into the Tableau analytics platform. What’s more, it will be bringing the engineering team on board for some AI knowledge, while taking advantage of this underlying advanced technology.

Francois Ajenstat, Tableau’s chief product officer says this ability to automate findings could put analytics and trend analysis into the hands of more people inside a business. “Automatic insight generation will enable people without specialized data science skills to easily spot trends in their data, identify areas for further exploration, test different assumptions, and simulate hypothetical situations,” he said in a statement.

Richard Tibbetts, Empirical Systems CEO, says the two companies share this vision of democratizing data analysis. “We developed Empirical to make complex data modeling and sophisticated statistical analysis more accessible, so anyone trying to understand their data can make thoughtful, data-driven decisions based on sound analysis, regardless of their technical expertise,” Tibbets said in a statement.

Instead of moving the team to Seattle where Tableau has its headquarters, it intends to leave the Empirical Systems team in place and establish an office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Empirical was founded in 2016 and has raised $2.5 million.

Amino raises $45M for to bring fan communities to smartphones

Amino has raised a big Series C round of funding — $45 million from GV, Venrock, Union Square Ventures, Goodwater Capital and Time Warner Investments, with Hearst Ventures joining as a new investor.

Co-founder and CEO Ben Anderson has described Amino as an way to help people who have “passionate niche interests” find others who feel the same way, via smartphone apps.

The company started out with apps focused a handful of topics like K-pop, anime and Doctor Who, but it later added the ability for anyone to launch a new community in the main Amino app, and there are now more than 2.5 million communities.

Of course, some of these communities are more active than others, and there’s some overlap between them — but Max Sebela, who’s general manager for Amino’s English-language apps, said there’s less than you might think, because “each interest is actually a universe of micro interest.” For example, there might be one community focused on sharing strategy and tactics around the video game Overwatch, while another might revolve around sharing Overwatch fan art.

Ultimately, Sebela said it’s up to the founders and leaders of each community to decide what the community wants to focus on, and which product features they want to use to enable that. Meanwhile, Anderson said Amino is constantly tweaking its algorithms to make sure it’s surfacing the best communities for each user.

“Instead of one big, blue ocean, we provide a million lakes and help you find the exact right one,” he added.

Perhaps even more impressive than the number of communities is the amount of time the average user spends in Amino — more than 70 minutes per day.

One of the initial inspirations for the startup was a real-world anime convention, and Amino getting closer to that experience with the addition of features like live voice and video chat, as well as the screening room, where you can watch videos with other users.

During our conversation, Sebela opened up one of the K-Pop communities on his phone and was quickly able to listen in on a chat room where multiple users were singing along together. (Sadly, we didn’t join the singing.)

“The technology not super unique,” Anderson acknowledged. “What makes it really special is, I can voice chat with my friends on a lot of idfferent networks, but here I can hop in and join a voice chat with 10 Harry Potter fans who I may not know in my real life.”

While these features are already live, Anderson said they’ve been “downplayed” while Amino tests them out and works out the kinks. Now it’s ready to put them “front-and-center” in the app.

Amino has now raised more than $70 million in total funding.

It’s also been testing out ways to make money, which Anderson said will occur primarily through a subscription service — though apparently it’s too early for him to offer more details.

Kry bags $66M to launch its video-call-a-doctor service in more European markets

Swedish telehealth startup Kry has closed a $66 million Series B funding round led by Index Ventures, with participation from existing investors Accel, Creandum, and Project A.

It raised a $22.8M Series A round just over a year ago, bringing its total raised since being founded back in 2014 to around $92M.

The new funding will be put towards market expansion, with the UK and French markets its initial targets. It also says it wants to deepen its penetration in existing markets: Sweden, Norway and Spain, and to expand its medical offering to be able to offer more services via the remote consultations.

A spokesperson for Kry also tells us it’s exploring different business models.

While the initial Kry offering requires patients to pay per video consultation this may not offer the best approach to scale the business in a market like the UK where healthcare is free at the point of use, as a result of the taxpayer funded National Health Service.

“Our goal is to offer our service to as many patients as possible. We are currently exploring different models to deliver our care and are in close discussions with different stakeholders, both public and private,” a spokesperson told us.

“Just as the business models will vary across Europe so will the price,” he added.

While consultations are conducted remotely, via the app’s video platform — with Kry’s pitch being tech-enabled convenience and increased accessibility to qualified healthcare professionals, i.e. thanks to the app-based delivery of the service — it specifies that doctors are always recruited locally in each market where it operates.

In terms of metrics, it says it’s had around 430,000 user registrations to date, and that some 400,000 “patients meetings” have been conducted so far (to be clear that’s not unique users, as it says some have been repeat consultations; and some of the 430k registrations are people who have not yet used the service).

Across its first three European markets it also says the service grew by 740% last year, and it claims it now accounts for more than 3% of all primary care doctor visits in Sweden — where it has more than 300 clinicians working in the service.

In March this year it also launched an online psychology service and says it’s now the largest provider of CBT-treatments in Sweden.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Martin Mignot, partner at Index Ventures, said: “Kry offers a unique opportunity to deliver a much improved healthcare to patients across Europe and reduce the overall costs associated with primary care. Kry has already become a household name in Sweden where regulators have seen first-hand how it benefits patients and allowed Kry to become an integral part of the public healthcare system. We are excited to be working with Johannes and his team to bring Kry to the rest of Europe.”

As well as the app being the conduit for a video consultation between doctor and patient, patients must also describe in writing and input their symptoms into the app, uploading relevant pictures and responding to symptom-specific questions.

During the video call with a Kry doctor, patients may also receive prescriptions for medication, advice, referral to a specialist, or lab or home tests with a follow-up appointment — with prescribed medication and home tests able to be delivered to the patient’s home within two hours, according to the startup.

“We have users from all age groups. Our oldest patient just turned 100 years old. One big user group is families with young children but we see that usage is becoming more even over different age groups,” adds the spokesman.

There are now a number of other startups seeking to scale businesses in the video-call-a-doctor telehealth space — such as Push Doctor, in the UK, and Doctor On Demand in the US, to name two.

Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, plans $1 billion investment fund

The upstarts of crypto aren’t just aiming to disrupt the startup status quo, some are rivaling traditional venture capital investors, too. That’s particularly evident today after Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange based on daily trade volumes, announced a $1 billion fund to back blockchain and crypto startups.

The ‘Community Influence’ fund, which will be denominated in Binance’s BNB coin, will be aimed at nascent startups and also funds themselves, Ella Zhang — who heads the Binance Labs division — revealed today in an online web broadcast held today in Chinese. For fund of funds investments as an LP, Binance is looking to back funds with at least $100 million in capital and, of course, a focus on blockchain and crypto.

The firm will also launch a Binance Ecosystem Fund which it said will include 20 partners. A Binance spokesperson told TechCrunch that further details of both initiatives will be released soon.

Data from Coinmarketcap.com ranks Binance as the world’s most active crypto exchange, with over $5 billion of crypto traded in the past 24 hours at the time of writing. The company calls Hong Kong home but it is in process of relocating to Malta, where it has been welcomed by regulators after it was forced out of Japan when regulators cracked down on its business.

Catch Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao at TechCrunch’s blockchain event on July 6

This isn’t Binance’s first run at investment, it has already made deals via its Labs division, which was unveiled earlier this year and is described by Zhang as a “social impact fund.” It led a $30 million investment in MobileCoin — a startup that’s advised by Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of encrypted messaging app Signal and Open Whisper Systems — and it is establishing an incubator that will nurture ideas and young projects with financial backing and mentorship.

The company revealed today that its first incubation project will be Dache Chain, a new blockchain-based ride-hailing service in China. The company is already getting hype because one co-founder is Chen Weixing, the CEO of app development startup Funcity who initially founded Kuaidi Dache, a Chinese ride-hailing startup that eventually became Didi Chuxing, the country’s dominant service that forced Uber’s exit from China.

“This project will utilize blockchain technology to redesign the relationship between the interests and power of entrepreneur, labors, consumers, investors, and organizers. Dache Chain will establish a community ecosystem with value anchoring, and it is expected to achieve a pure shared ecosystem and solve the problem of unfair distribution of productivity and wealth,” Binance said in a statement.

Binance also revealed that, besides MobileCoin, it has made investments in smart contract startup Oasis Labs, verification service Certik, and crowdfunding platform Republic.

This initiative is another example of a major crypto company using its wealth to become an investor and grow its platform through deals with younger companies. I wrote about the trend earlier this year, and since then we’ve seen some notable vehicles emerge including the Ethereum Community Fund, Ripple’s Xpring initiative and EOS-creator Block One’s $1 billion commitment, which has birthed multiple funds that cover some $600 million.

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

Neighborhood Goods raises $5.75M to reinvent the department store

Neighborhood Goods, a startup rethinking the traditional department store experience, is announcing that it has raised $5.75 million in seed funding.

Co-founder and CEO Matt Alexander (who co-founded the company with Mark Masinter) told me via email that while the largely static layout and offerings of a department store provide a degree “consistency and reliability,” they’re also “dull and unchanging,” as well as “fairly transactional with little more to provide.”

So instead, Neighborhood Goods will allow around 15 brands to create their own “activations,” each highlighting the aesthetic and products that the brands choose. (Bulletin is another startup looking to bring a pop up approach to traditional retail.) The store will also have a restaurant and bar, and communal spaces that could be used for things like speaking events or art installations.

“At Neighborhood Goods, we’re creating something more social and communal around an ever-changing landscape of products,” Alexander said, later adding, “Neighborhood Goods ostensibly takes the polish and approachability of the typical department store, but combines it with the dynamism and community of a pop-up store or pop-up marketplace.”

He also said technology will play a big role in the experience — particularly with an iOS app that will allow customers to learn more about the brands, text the staff, have products brought to them and make purchases.

The funding was led by Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Maveron, CAA Ventures, Global Founders Capital, NextGen Venture Partners, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin and Retail Connection co-founder Alan P. Shor (who’s also joining the board of directors).

“Community and emotional connection are a big part of what drives consumer spending — something Matt and Mark understand wholeheartedly,” said Forerunner’s Kirsten Green in the funding announcement. “The delicate balance of both experience and discovery is reshaping the retail industry as shoppers crave brands that are unique and worth getting excited over.”

Neighborhood Goods plans to open its first location — a 13,000-square-foot store in Plano, Texas — this fall. Asked why he chose Plano, Alexander said:

Specifically, we’re able to tap into an aggressive consumer market, whilst bringing brands closer to exceptional customers. And we’re able to do so without the brands having to invest exorbitant amounts, hiring extensive retail teams, or developing marketing initiatives from the ground-up in new markets … That’s not to say we won’t look at markets like LA, NY, and SF in future, but, as a launchpad for a new concept, Plano is uniquely good for us today.

Alibaba Group leads $26.4M Series B in GPU database provider SQream

SQream CEO and co-founder Ami Gal

SQream, the GPU database developer, will deepen its focus on China after raising a $26.4 million Series B led by Alibaba Group. The round also included investors Hanaco Venture Capital, Sistema.vc, World Trade Ventures, Paradiso Ventures, Glory Ventures and Silvertech Ventures.

The startup describes the funding, which brings its total raised to a little over $40 million, as a strategic investment from Alibaba. Earlier this year, SQream and Alibaba Cloud announced a new agreement that will give Alibaba Cloud users access to the GPU database starting in October.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Chaoqun Zhan, director of Alibaba Database Business, said “Alibaba Cloud and SQream announced a collaboration in February and this investment deepens our relationship, and together we aim to provide the best cloud solutions to all kinds of businesses to enable their success in this digital age.”

Based in Tel Aviv, SQream was founded in 2010. Its SQL analytical database, called SQream DB, uses thousands of parallel processing cores in NVIDIA GPUs to allow large companies to perform big data analytics more quickly and cheaply (SQream claims its clients can “analyze up to 20 times more data, up to 100 times faster, at as little 10% of the cost”).

SQream co-founder and CEO Ami Gal told TechCrunch that one of SQream’s main differentiators from other GPU databases, like Kinetica and MapD, is its ability to adapt to increasingly massive hoards of data. Kinetica and MapD use in-memory storage, so while they can analyze up to about 5 terabytes of data extremely quickly, their scalability is limited. On the other hand, SQream was created to handle data stores of up to hundreds of terabytes.

The company’s Series B capital is being used to add new feature to SQream DB and grow its sales, marketing and delivery teams as it focuses on the Chinese market and other regions. In addition to Alibaba Cloud, SQream’s other new customers in Asia include Thai mobile operator AIS and India’s ACL Mobile, an enterprise messaging service.

Collaborative Fund raises $100M for its fourth fund

When Collaborative Fund is looking at whether to invest in a company, it’s looking for a startup that’ll be able to accomplish some kind of social good — but also actually make money and be a real business. It’s that theory that’s led the fund for eight years, and Collaborative Fund is going to keep going now with the announcement of closing its fourth fund.

Collaborative Fund has closed its fourth fund, this one a $100 million fund that includes LPs like Quora founder Adam D’Angelo, former Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, former Sequoia partner Tom McMurray, and Indeed founder Rony Kahan. At a time when there are plenty of questions as to where the actual exits are going to happen in venture — including some kinds of creative activity by some firms or necessary ones by larger startups like Uber — Collaborative Fund is doubling down on its strategy of investing early in those companies, which has checked off a number of successful investments thus far.

Collaborative Fund raised its last fund in 2015, when it put together a $70 million fund. Since then, there’s been plenty of activity in some of its investments — perhaps one of the biggest events being Blue Bottle Coffee’s big exist in September last year. Collaborative Fund also includes investments in a number of other companies including  Kickstarter, Lyft, Reddit, Quora, Tala, Science Exchange, LTSE, and Outdoor Voices. The fund led (or co-led) 13 seed rounds, including Ava Winery, Spruce, Dandelion Energy.

“Our thesis works best when there’s clear alignment between founders and investors,” Collaborative Fund founder Craig Shapiro said. “…There’s a growing acceptance and excitement for our thesis. Eight years ago it was obscure and even belittled. More people understand it today.”

In addition, Taylor Greene will be Collaborative Fund’s new partner. Green was previously a partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures. Shapiro said he’d known Greene for around five years (and competed on many investments, in addition to co-investing in some rounds). “It was through these experiences that I saw firsthand his work ethic, people skills, and steady hand,” Shapiro said. The firm announced it had added Lauren Locktev from New Island Capital around the time it announced its last fund.

Looking at those investments kind of gives a sense of what the firm is looking to accomplish: a company like Lyft has the potential to change the way we move around cities, reduce drunk driving, and have other substantial effects — but at the same time it has to figure out how to run it as a real business if it’s actually going to remain active. Lyft most recently raised $1 billion from Alphabet in a round that valued it at $11 billion.

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.