Startups Venture

Last Week In Venture: Raincloud Computing, Fast Chat Nets, And Bean-Counting Bots

Greetings! Salutations! Hello, and welcome to Last Week In Venture, Crunchbase News’s weekly roundup of venture funding deals that may have flown under your radar this week.

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It may have been Thanksgiving week, but the private market takes no holidays.1 This week, we’ve covered some of the biggest news in tech VC. This includes an analysis of Uber’s latest financials, SoftBank’s $2 billion deal with Coupang, supergiant rounds in China, and big buyouts by Microsoft and Autodesk. We also looked at esports, media consolidation, and how universities use H1-B visas to cultivate startup ecosystems, among other topics.

And, as always, this is just a tiny fraction of all the stuff that happened, even on a slow week. It’s easy to miss what companies outside the spotlight are contributing to the global startup ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean their stories aren’t worth sharing.

Let’s dive into the week that was in venture-land.

Communicating At Speed And Scale

Less than six months after extending its Series B round, cloud communications company raised $70 million in a Series C round led by tech sector hedge fund Coatue Management. This round brings the company’s total venture funding to $125 million.

A couple of facts for you: realtime video communication (especially between mobile devices) is growing at a rapid pace. And, it’s a non-trivial challenge to build, scale, and maintain a realtime video distribution network from scratch, which is why most companies rely on third party infrastructure providers.

Organizations like Xiaomi, Hike Messenger, Momo, and The Meet Group are among Agora’s over two hundred customers. They use Agora’s application programming interfaces (APIs), software development kits (SDKs), and its proprietary software-defined network to process and route an average of 10 billion minutes of live communications every month.

Crunchbase News profiled the company and its technology in June.

Big Weather Rises

Understory might ring a bell for long-time readers of Last Week In Venture. Back in the the October 12th edition, we covered a $6.5 million Series B fundraise by the Madison, WI-based weather sensor and data company. This week, Understory secured another $7.5 million in funding from 4490 Ventures and Revolution’s Rise Of The Rest Seed Fund, an investment firm founded by former AOL CEO Steve Case.

Named one of Forbes’s most innovative agriculture technology startups in 2018, Understory is also expanding into South America through a partnership with Bayer (current owner of controversial agtech company Monsanto.)

According to the company, it has deployed over 500 weather stations throughout five metro areas and plans to expand to over 5,000 stations nationwide by the end of 2019.

Makes Paying Bills Just A Bit More Rewarding

In the US, some of our biggest recurring expenses, like rent or mortgage payments, are paid by check or direct deposit. Meaning: those prime opportunities for earning rewards just go by the wayside. That is, unless you or your business use a service like Plastiq.

Plastiq is a company that lets businesses and individuals pay bills (like rent or taxes) that can’t otherwise be paid by credit card. In exchange for a 2.5 percent fee (which can be classified as a business expense on tax forms) Plastiq facilitates the transaction, ensuring the delivery of a physical check or direct deposit to the recipient.

On Monday, Plastiq announced it raised $27 million in Series C funding from Kleiner Perkins and DST Global. TechCrunch reports that the deal at least doubled the company’s valuation, compared to its Series B raise.

It Takes A Village To Pass A Class

College is daunting. There’s all the new people, new classes, and a whole lot of stuff to learn. If you are anything like me, you sought out the help of students who took the exact same class before.

Knack is a Tampa Bay, FL-based upstart doing the same thing. It’s building a marketplace that connects college students who need some extra help with students who excelled in their prior coursework. Knack announced $1.5 million in seed funding co-led by Precursor Ventures and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

According to a statement from the company, Knack is already helping students start their own tutoring businesses and connect with clientele on more than 40 campuses. And now, the company is working with corporate partners like PwC and ConnectWise to give its best-performing tutors preferential access to career development and professional networking opportunities.

Other Deals

  • As the FDA mulls a crackdown on popular (and insanely profitable) U.S.-based e-cigarette company JUUL, investors elsewhere are dumping millions more into the emerging market. Salt Labs, a Shenzhen-based developer of e-cigarette technology, raised $2.9 million in funding from Arena Capital Partners. China is currently the world’s largest market for tobacco products (producing and consuming nearly 40% of the world’s cigarettes). About 95 percent of the e-cigarette products are manufactured in China, primarily in Shenzhen, though market penetration in-country remains limited.
  • botkeeper (which the company typically stylizes with a lowercase ‘b’) is a Boston-based AI company tackling the tedium of bookkeeping. Its software ingests a company’s financial information, categorizes expenses, pays bills, invoices customers, logs data into a company’s existing accounting software, and produces live-updating dashboards. It’s certainly not the most exciting line of work, but it’s apparently lucrative. It raised a $4.5 million seed round in January and, this week, announced its $18 million Series A, which was co-led by Greycroft and Gradient Ventures, Google’s AI investing arm.
  • Taking photos on the go is only half the fun; it’s in the editing process that creativity can really shine. Jerusalem-based Lightricks, an award-winning app-maker behind Facetune and the Enlight editing suite, raised $60 million in new venture funding from Insight Venture Partners and ClalTech. VentureBeat reports the company expects to pull in $100 million in revenue in 2019, doubling 2018’s tally.

And for those of you who made it to the end, a little gift for you: whether you choose to work off Thanksgiving dinner with a nice run or by getting an early jump on holiday shopping, we all have something to be thankful for. We survived the holiday. Oh, and it’s almost ugly sweater season. 🎁

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles.  Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

  1. This being said, given the state of public stock markets this week, the fact that U.S. trading halted Thursday could have been a good thing.