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The Briefing: Kuaishou Soars After IPO, Frontline Raises $84M Seed Fund, And More

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

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Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

Subscribe to the Crunchbase DailyKuaishou stock more than doubles after $5.4B IPO

The price of shares of China-based Kuaishou Technology, an online video platform and TikTok rival, more than doubled in first-day trading as the stock debuted in Hong Kong after raising $5.4 billion in its IPO.

Shares opened in Hong Kong on Friday at HK$338 ($43.60) apiece, a 194 percent jump from its IPO price. The stock closed around HK$300, a 160 percent gain, with a valuation of over $150 billion.

The offering follows a period of sharp growth for Tencent-backed Kuaishou. The company’s services in China had 305 million average daily active users in the nine months ended in September.

— Joanna Glasner

New Funds

Frontline raises $84M for third seed fund: Frontline Ventures, a seed investor focused on European startups, raised 70 million euros ($84 million) for a third fund that will focus on B2B companies with plans to scale in North America.

— Joanna Glasner

Enterprise Software

Infinitus lands $21.4M for health care automation: Infinitus, a startup developing voice robotic process automation tools for the health care industry has raised $21.4 million in a Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins and Coatue.

— Joanna Glasner

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/briefing-2-5-21/

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Cryptocurrency Experts Say These 4 Factors Are Driving Change In The Industry

The COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated acceptance of digital currencies like Bitcoin and the underlying blockchain technologies that power them. And while Bitcoin volatility continues — with the currency hitting its lowest point in months this week — investors are optimistic momentum will continue even as the world slowly starts to return to normal.

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The crypto and blockchain sector has attracted nearly $12.4 billion in venture investment into U.S.-based companies since 2017 and $19.4 billion globally, Crunchbase numbers show. In fact, data so far for 2021 shows dollars were nearly 3x from 2020 for both global and U.S. investments. But the sector also faces continued opportunities and challenges going forward, including more widespread adoption and new regulatory pressures from governments around the world.

Case in point: Earlier this month, El Salvador became the world’s first country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. At the same time, Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission ordered its exchanges to delist meme coins, such as Dogecoin, as well as NFTs, exchange tokens and fan tokens, saying those tokens have “no clear objective or substance or underlying [value].”

Stepped-up efforts by China’s government to rein in the crypto space had the largest impact on valuations. On Friday, authorities in China’s Sichuan province, one of the country’s largest mining centers, reportedly ordered cryptocurrency miners to shut down their operations,

Cryptocurrency experts say these kinds of polarizing events put a spotlight on the space.

“Blockchain was accelerated five years in the pandemic,” according to Alon Goren, founding partner at blockchain fintech venture studio Draper Goren Holm.

Here’s a closer look at four factors that are likely to drive big changes in the cryptocurrency space in years to come.

1) Mainstream adoption

Cryptocurrency startups are working to make the process of using, buying, trading and finding digital currencies easier, driving greater consumer awareness and adoption.

Increasingly, mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies is “crazy important” to the growth of the sector, according to Goren. Still, some of that adoption has come from less serious applications of digital currencies, including “meme coins” — assets based on jokes but with no real value other than those given to them by social indicators — a phenomenon that also concerns Goren because they reinforce the notion that cryptocurrency isn’t legitimate.

“Publicly traded companies can show quarterly earnings, you can follow the CEO on Twitter and you know their opinions on things,” Goren added. “In crypto, you don’t have those kinds of things to show legitimacy.”

Meanwhile, Hsuan Lee, CEO of Portto/Blocto, said the adoption of NFTs — non-fungible tokens — is one of the biggest factors that has changed the industry in the past year. Portto is a Taiwan-based company that aims to make blockchain simple for users and developers.

Although NFTs have been around since 2017, they were initially not appealing for typical use, but that all changed when they became approachable by retail investors, including when sports organizations got involved in selling digital clips and cards, he said.

“The National Basketball Association doesn’t market itself as a blockchain, but offering collectibles on it appeals to fans,” Lee said in an interview. “With those kinds of applications, even introducing a music NFT would potentially attract existing music fans. With that kind of people joining the party, it will make crypto more mainstream.”

Muneeb Jan, a cryptocurrency and fintech expert operating out of Hong Kong, said the investor base for cryptocurrency is still largely retail investors, while major financial institutions are in the discovery phase.

Still, new companies are announcing on a daily basis that they will accept bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and banks are facing crypto investor demand to get more involved in the space, Jan said.

“Crypto funds are increasingly viewed as an asset class,” he said in an interview. “There is not much of a use case currently, but they want to jump onto the bandwagon. If more large institutional investors come in, there will be price stability, and it will improve the legitimacy.”

2) Price volatility

Jan believes two of the biggest headwinds slowing more mainstream cryptocurrency adoption are price volatility and the fact that bitcoin as a mode of payment is not yet completely viable due the current inability to quickly process transactions.

Bitcoin has been particularly volatile in recent days. After surging above $40,000 about a week ago, the currency fell below $30,000 this week, recovering to around $32,400 as of Tuesday afternoon. Over the past year, the price grew to a peak of more than $60,000 before falling back to half that at the end of May.

Just processing transactions is not a sustainable use long-term due to the expensive transaction fees associated with it, even though people want bitcoin to be able to do that, he added.

“Other cryptocurrencies are not volatile because the community investing in them have come to a consensus on the price,” Jan said.

Lee said price volatility will be aided by regulations, especially as cryptocurrency is adopted more broadly. Price volatility will only be fixed with time, he said.

“This is a very young market and it has attracted attention, which makes prices volatile,” he added. “It can be dangerous to get into a space without established regulations. Being at an early stage, there is a lot of imagination that can be had for these cryptocurrencies. At the same time, when bad news comes out, it can easily dump harder on crypto than other companies.”

3) Regulatory pressure

Regulations proposed for cryptocurrency have gained steam since the beginning of 2021.

Among them: The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced in May that it will require any transfer worth $10,000 or more to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service as part of an effort to curb tax evasion.

“I’m happy to see regulations come into place because it will be good for the industry overall,” Lee said. “It will minimize possible scams or malicious use cases and make it better for everyone to get on board.”

The government is also examining possible regulations of cryptocurrency exchanges with a focus on protecting investors and preventing market manipulation, as well as financial account reporting as it relates to cryptoasset exchange accounts and payment service accounts that accept cryptocurrencies.

Goren called a focus on Bitcoin, Etherium and the public markets “a double-edged sword.” Any real value is eroded when inflation occurs, but Bitcoin is a decentralized currency, so its value holds up well against inflation.

And the more institutions that participate, the more legitimacy it creates so regulators are less likely to fight it, he said.

“Most lawmakers know crypto is not used by criminals, but the people who put them in office are large financial institutions that are cheering when they say that happens,” Goren said.

While he understands why there have to be IRS reporting requirements for tax purposes, he disagrees when government regulations don’t consider Bitcoin a currency, but then treats it like cash.

By instead treating cryptocurrency as a capital asset, the IRS is taxing capital gains, which could also have implications on the venture capital world, he added.

Goren said other countries have a bit more clarity, but there is still misunderstanding in the U.S. when it comes to how cryptocurrencies should be reported financially, and it won’t change until there is clear categorization of cryptocurrencies.

4) Beyond Bitcoin

Rocketfuel Blockchain founder Peter Jensen said it will take time for the public to understand and be comfortable with cryptocurrency, much as people had to acclimate to the idea of online banking and ATM cards before that.

Jensen’s company, based in San Francisco, processes crypto payments. He believes people are distracted by the price volatility of Bitcoin, although it is just one out of some 200 cryptocurrencies.

“We need to move people’s minds away from Bitcoin because who knows if cryptocurrency will survive,” Jensen said in an interview. “There are many cryptocurrencies pegged to the dollar, which means they have zero volatility. If you take those and use them for payment, then you get the benefits of that.”

Global developments — such as El Salvador adopting cryptocurrency and both Sweden and Dubai issuing their own digital currencies — bring promise for the future of the industry, and Jensen predicts the U.S. will eventually issue a digital version of the dollar.

He sees a world where when you get a job, you will have the choice of receiving your paycheck in dollars or cryptocurrency, and there will be no volatility because those funds will be guaranteed by the U.S. government.

“We feel that the U.S. has an opportunity to be ahead, even though China is adopting cryptocurrency faster, as well as those with less-efficient banking systems,” Jensen added. “If we don’t stay in front, we are going to be last.”

Crunchbase Pro queries listed for this article

The query used for this article was “Global Cryptocurrency Companies,” in which “Bitcoin,” “cryptocurrency” and “virtual currency” were the organizational industry search terms. The data was then separated out by changing the headquarters location to “United States.”

All Crunchbase Pro Queries are dynamic with results updating over time. They can be adapted with any company or investor name for analysis.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.

Stepped-up efforts by China’s government to rein in the crypto space had the largest impact on valuations. On Friday, authorities in China’s Sichuan province, one of the country’s largest mining centers, reportedly ordered cryptocurrency miners to shut down their operations,

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/cryptocurrency-experts-say-these-4-factors-are-driving-change-in-the-industry/

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Zenefits Payroll Glitch Results In Delayed Paychecks For Small-Business Employees

Employees of several small businesses weren’t paid Friday after payroll and benefits platform Zenefits closed for the Juneteenth holiday and experienced a glitch, two people affected told Crunchbase News.

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Employees of several small businesses were paid late Friday after payroll and benefits platform Zenefits closed for the Juneteenth holiday and experienced a glitch, two people affected told Crunchbase News.

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Zenefits provides tools for businesses to handle HR, onboarding, benefits and payroll. It’s used by many small and medium-sized businesses. The San Francisco-based company has raised at least $584 million in known venture funding, per Crunchbase data, and was most recently valued at $4.5 billion by private investors when it raised funding in 2015.

On Friday, several people took to the comments section of a Facebook post Zenefits made in honor of Juneteenth, which this week became a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S., to complain that their employees hadn’t been paid, despite their respective companies processing payroll.

The post was soon deleted.

John Bazyk, CEO of Connecticut-based security system company Command Corp., told Crunchbase News that he realized Friday morning that his company’s employees hadn’t been paid after one of them contacted him.

Command usually sees a tax withdrawal and employees’ net pay come out of its bank account on Wednesday, but this week only the tax withdrawal was taken on Wednesday, Bazyk said.

The payroll amount was taken out this morning, but had yet to be disbursed to employees as of 4 p.m. Eastern, he said.

Bazyk said he spent four hours Friday trying to deal with the issue, and hadn’t received any communication from Zenefits such as an email alerting him of the issue.

Some employees have bills that automatically debit from their bank accounts, he said, and not being paid could put them in a bind.

“The employees are upset at me, they think I didn’t run payroll,” Bazyk said. “Some of these are new employees. They’re joining a new company and it’s like, ‘Wait I’m not getting paid?’ ”

Usually preceding a holiday, Zenefits will remind customers to run payroll early, Bazyk said, but that wasn’t the case this week. He noted that he understands it’s a unique situation — with President Biden on Thursday signing legislation that made Friday a new federal holiday in celebration of Juneteenth — but the situation and lack of communication from Zenefits were frustrating.

“Even if they make it right, we’re probably going to leave them because it’s an unacceptable mistake,” Bazyk said.

It’s not clear how many of Zenefits’ customers or their employees were impacted by the error.

Nancy, a controller and HR administrator at a company in the Washington, D.C., area, said she was notified by two employees Friday that they hadn’t been paid. Around 2:15 p.m. Eastern, she saw a notification in the Zenefits portal acknowledging the issue. Nancy did not want to share her full name because she was not authorized to speak on behalf of her employer.

“Businesses can make mistakes,” she said. “Whatever caused the debit to not go out is not good. But then to not be there to answer what happened … that’s bad.”

A Zenefits spokeswoman said in an email to Crunchbase News that the issue causing the payroll delay was resolved, and that employees would receive payment by 5 p.m. Pacific time.

“Today, Zenefits experienced an issue that resulted in a delay for some employees’ direct deposits,” the statement read. “This has been resolved and we can confirm that employees who did not receive their direct deposit this morning will receive it today by 5 PM PT. All employees will be paid and the funds have already been processed. We are currently waiting on the banks to send them out this afternoon.”

Another Zenefits spokeswoman said in an email at 2:40 p.m. Pacific time that the issue was resolved and affected employees had been paid.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Editor’s Note: This story was updated after it was first published to reflect that payment for affected employees had gone through late Friday afternoon, after Crunchbase News first spoke with sources.

Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.

On Friday, several people took to the comments section of a Facebook post Zenefits made in honor of Juneteenth, which this week became a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S., to complain that their employees hadn’t been paid, despite their respective companies processing payroll.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/zenefits-payroll-glitch-results-in-small-business-employees-not-getting-paid/

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Curate Brings In $1.25M Seed For Small Business Sales, Operations Platform

The company’s platform provides back office functions so that small businesses can focus on building clientele and maximizing profits.

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After a year of helping small businesses navigate sales and operations during the global pandemic, Curate has raised a $1.25 million seed to continue developing its modern sales and operations platform for florists, caterers and other creative businesses.

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Ryan O’Neil and his wife founded the St. Louis-based company in 2013 after previously owning a wedding and event floral business together. A year in, and their event company was losing customers because it was taking too long for O’Neil’s wife to get proposals back due to the time she put into researching all of the event components and their costs.

“Sitting at the kitchen table, we realized that all of these spreadsheets and lists should be talking to each other,” he said. “We started building a tool for ours and other florist businesses, but then started having catering companies ask us for software.”

Curate’s platform enables businesses to create proposals, process payments, manage supply chains, and maintain communication with customers and suppliers so owners can spend more time on their business. It also has workflow integrations with popular tools such as Square, QuickBooks and Stripe.

The seed round was led by OCA Ventures, which was joined by Jim McKelvey, Cultivation Capital and Stout Street Capital. Prior to this investment, Curate was largely bootstrapped with a small seed round, O’Neil said.

“Coming out of COVID, there were some important opportunities we knew we had to jump on, and we knew if we were going to raise a Series A, we needed all of the pieces in order,” he added. “We ended up finding great partners, like OCA.”

O’Neil intends to use the new funding on technology development, to grow and provide new features and functionalities, especially for catering companies, as well as for a more robust customer relationship management platform for florists.

Tamim Abdul Majid, general partner at OCA Ventures, said he was introduced to O’Neil by another entrepreneur in St. Louis. The firm was looking for solid vertical SaaS solutions and was impressed with how well O’Neil had coordinated Curate’s growth.

“Ryan is the kind of customer-driven CEO that we like,” Abdul Majid said in an interview. “His numbers are really good, he has good economics and churn rates — the right kind of thing you want to see in a SaaS play. In addition, Ryan’s customers are some of the best we have had in terms of fans, who are saying ‘you can’t take this service away from me.’”

Meanwhile, O’Neil said Curate experienced “explosive demand” over the past year, with April 2021 revenue up 700 percent over the year prior. As such, he also expects to double his employee headcount to 32 people and is hiring in infrastructure and product development.

During the global pandemic, the company was working with customers to cancel events and solve supply chain issues. Within six weeks, Curate had also built a brand-new product for customers to see what their workflow would look like for one product versus another. It even hired a full-time employee to answer Paycheck Protection Program questions and help companies apply, O’Neil said.

Next up, the company will round out key roles within the leadership team and work on product development.

“As we look forward, we will be restructuring the application so it is faster and stronger,” O’Neil added. “One of the key things that showed up this year was that we can jump verticals. We are seeing dynamic growth with caterers, but also have landscapers, interior designers and creative small businesses, and we want to be the sales and operations center for all businesses.”

Illustration: iStock

Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/curate-brings-in-1-25m-seed-for-small-business-sales-operations-platform/

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