Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Online used car startup Shift adds another $40M, snags COO in road to IPO - TechCrunch

Online used car startup Shift adds another $40M, snags COO in road to IPO - TechCrunch


Online used car startup Shift adds another $40M, snags COO in road to IPO - TechCrunch

Posted: 10 Apr 2019 02:27 PM PDT

Online used car startup Shift Technologies has tacked on another $40 million in equity funding, hired a new COO with Amazon and Enjoy roots and scaled up its engineering staff — all in the past several months — as the company aims to double its revenue this year.

The recent activity, along with what executives have told TechCrunch is a diligent focus on unit economics, is all directed toward a larger objective to take the company public sometime in 2021.

Shift, which is based in San Francisco, serves car buyers and sellers. The company, founded in 2013, has built a software platform that lets customers shop for cars, get financing and schedule test drives. Car owners can use the platform to sell their vehicle, as well. Shift says any car it buys must pass a "rigorous" 150+ point inspection.

Shift generated $135 million in revenues in 2018. The company is projecting revenues between $220 million and $240 million in 2019, Shift co-CEO Toby Russell told TechCrunch.

An IPO is an aspirational goal, but one both Russell and founder George Arison believe is achievable. They both pointed to Carvana, an online used car company that went public in 2017.

"Given Carvana's trailing revenue of $350 million when they went public as a benchmark, we'd be well-positioned for IPO if we can hit $300 million to $400 million," Russell said. "There's nothing in stone yet, and IPOs depend on a lot of factors like market conditions, but that benchmark is where we'll be positioning ourselves in the next two years."

Carvana is often regarded as Shift's closest competitor — although the two companies have distinct differences. Shift's inventory is broader, allowing cars as old as 10 years on the platform and with up to 120,000 miles. Carvana focuses on newer cars between 0 and four years in age. Shift also emphasizes its test drives as a differentiator.

Shift's biggest competitor is the traditional used car business, Russell contends. There are 35,000 new and used car dealers in the U.S., most of which are mom-and-pop shops, responsible for about 15 million transactions each year. Then there are private-party sales between individuals, Russell notes.

"This super-fragmented environment creates a lot of opportunity for growth for Carvana, Shift, Lithia, CarMax, etcetera, much like Walmart, Target and Amazon all grew over the last two decades," Russell told TechCrunch.

New COO

To get there, Shift has hired a new COO, Sean Foy. The company also raised additional equity as it tries to hire more engineers and other employees and scale up its technology platform.

Foy comes to Shift from Enjoy Technologies, where he was head of operations. He was previously director of operations for Kindle, Fire, Echo and Amazon Devices working out of Amazon's Lab 126 in Sunnyvale.

Shift is counting on Foy's expertise to grow the business and leverage the technology platform, all while maintaining or improving the customer experience. In short, using technology to make it easier for the customer to buy or sell a car without making the process overly cumbersome or intimidating because of the technology.

"One of the things that Bezos (Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO) used to say all the time when we were building Kindle was the technology should disappear, you should not get in the way of the experience of reading a book," Foy said. "And it feels the like the same here; we don't want this to be a technology-heavy process for the buyer, we want to stay as frictionless as possible so that we can attract more and more people onto the the site rather than going to traditional dealerships and giving them a much better experience. So it's really about removing friction from the product."

New funds

Shift announced in September that it had raised more than $140 million in equity and debt in a Series D round. The round, which consisted of about $70 million in debt and $71 million in equity, was led by automotive retailer Lithia Motors. Bryan DeBoer, CEO and president of Lithia, joined Shift's board of directors.

An additional $40 million in equity has since come in, bringing the total raise of the Series D round to $180 million. This new capital brings Shift's total financing of equity and debt to more than $300 million.

All of the new capital came from new investors, primarily large institutional investors, according to Shift.

Shift has already put some of that capital to work. The company said back in September it planned to invest in its technology platform and scale its engineering staff from 35 to more than 80 people by the end of 2019. As of early April, Shift employed 54 engineers. Another nine (all new graduate hires) will start over the summer.The company employs 450 people.

Amazon acquires autonomous warehouse robotics startup Canvas Technology - TechCrunch

Posted: 10 Apr 2019 03:04 PM PDT

Amazon has acquired Boulder, Colo.-based warehouse robotics startup Canvas Technology, TechCrunch has learned. The deal makes a lot of sense from the outside, adding another important piece to Amazon Robotics' growing portfolio of fulfillment center machines.

Amazon confirmed the acquisition with TechCrunch. "We are inspired by Canvas Technology's innovations, and share a common vision for a future where people work alongside robotics to further improve safety and the workplace experience," a spokesperson said in a statement. "We look forward to working with Canvas Technology's fantastic team to keep inventing for customers."

Founded in 2015, Canvas has already showcased some impressive technologies, including a fully autonomous cart system that positions the startup as a direct competitor with the likes of Bay Area-based Fetch. The startup raised a $15 million Series A led by Playground Global.

The Canvas Autonomous Cart was on display at Playground's open house roughly this time last year, doing an impressive job avoiding people and obstacles in the crowded space. The system utilizes 3D imaging and an in-house software solution that can be applied to other hardware — essentially operating like a self-driving car in a warehouse setting.

Canvas should make a nice addition to Amazon Robots' offerings. The division was created after the company's 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems, whose shelving robotics now serve as a kind of robotic epicenter to Amazon's many fulfillment centers.

On our recent tour of the company's JFK8 in Staten Island, the company noted that it currently has some 100,000 systems deployed across 25 fulfillment centers. That number is a combination of Amazon's own systems, along with devices from third parties, including Japanese industrial giant, Fanuc. Clearly, however, the company is looking to put its own stamp on the systems going forward in a push to increase delivery efficiency through automation.

Safety has been a big factor, as well. It always is with these sorts of collaborative robotics, of course, but Amazon's fulfillment centers have a built-in extra layer of scrutiny. Earlier this year we got a sneak peek at the company's robotic safety vest, designed to give employees an added layer of protection when entering the fenced-off section of the floor that sports the Kiva systems.

Canvas, on the other hand, brings its own built-in safety with its autonomous vision system. The hardware is designed to more directly interact with workers on the floor. It's easier to imagine the company adopting the technology for some of its existing systems, as well.

Notably, Canvas co-founder and CTO Nima Keivan will be onstage at our Robotics + AI event next week in Berkeley, where he will no doubt be able to provide some extra insight for his robotics startup panel.

Calling all countries: Bring your best startups to exhibit at Disrupt SF 2019 - TechCrunch

Posted: 10 Apr 2019 08:00 AM PDT

Creativity knows no geographical borders, which is why we're inviting countries from around the globe to bring their very best early-stage tech startups to Disrupt San Francisco 2019 on October 2-4. Join more than 1,000 startups and exhibit your country or region's innovative tech, talent and expertise in Startup Alley — in your own country pavilion.

Organizing a sponsored pavilion in Startup Alley is an opportunity for your country or region to step onto the international stage, showcase its emerging companies and be recognized as a leader in tech innovation. Country or regional pavilions can include delegations of international startup groups, government innovation centers, incubators and accelerators.

Startup Alley — the pulsing heartbeat of every Disrupt — is about as prime a piece of real estate as you'll find in the startup world. More than 10,000 Disrupt attendees will flow through the Alley — including hundreds of media outlets looking for a great story and investors looking for the next big thing. It's networking nirvana, and the connections you make could place your country on the tech startup map.

One of your startups might even be considered for a Startup Battlefield Wild Card spot. Back in 2017, Recordgram earned the Wild Card spot — and went on to win the Startup Battlefield. Might lightning strike twice?

Here's how country pavilions work. We offer one-day and three-day sponsor options. When you organize a three-day pavilion, you can bring a minimum of eight startups to exhibit in Startup Alley for all three days of Disrupt, and your logo will be included in Disrupt marketing materials. Each delegation startup receives two Founder passes, and each organizer receives four Innovator passes.

Organizers of a one-day pavilion can bring a minimum of eight startups to exhibit for one day in Startup Alley, and your brand will be included in Disrupt marketing materials (no logo). Each delegation startup receives three Founder passes if the pavilion contract is signed by August 30 — if not, they receive two Founder passes each. Each organizer receives two Innovator passes.

Interested in organizing a pavilion? Shoot us an email at startupalley@techcrunch.com, tell us about your delegation and where you're from. We'll provide information about the application process, other organizer perks and pricing. There's only one caveat, and it's not hard to meet. Each startup in your delegation must qualify as a Pre-Series A company.

When you're not busy networking in Startup Alley, you and your delegation members can take in all that Disrupt SF 2019 offers. That includes the Startup Battlefield competition, watching the Hackathon winners present their new products, Q&A sessions and programming with the top names in tech across several different stages and interactive workshops and panel discussions focused on (but not limited to) these categories: Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Gaming, Investor Topics, Media, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS, Space, Social Impact & Education.

Disrupt San Francisco 2019 takes place October 2-4 at Moscone North. This is a great opportunity to show the international startup community the creative genius taking place in your country. Contact us today to learn more about organizing a country pavilion.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt SF? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

An Australian start-up is using robots to pull weeds and herd cattle - CNBC

Posted: 10 Apr 2019 06:51 AM PDT

An Australian start-up that develops robots which use artificial intelligence is hoping to soon sell its technology to the wider market.

The company, called Agerris, specializes in both "air and ground field robotic systems" for agriculture. It uses tech that has been developed at the University of Sydney's Australian Center for Field Robotics.

Earlier this week, Agerris secured 6.5 million Australian dollars ($4.64 million) in funding in the hope of developing and trialing products that can then be commercialized.

Early stage investment fund Uniseed said the money would be used to commercialize "robotics platforms, intelligent automated tools and artificial intelligence" with the aim of boosting agricultural productivity and sustainability. Uniseed, together with Carthona Capital and the BridgeLane Group, co-ordinated the investment.

"Farmers worldwide will need to increase production through enhancing agricultural productivity, yet many often struggle to afford the best customized advice for their farm, leading to sub-optimal yields and efficiencies from their crops," the CEO of Agerris, Salah Sukkarieh, said in a statement issued on the University of Sydney's website.

Sukkarieh explained that livestock farmers were facing a range of "competing and complex issues," citing the example of high labor and fuel costs and concerns surrounding animal welfare and mismanagement.

"Our platforms help to mitigate these challenges and help increase productivity by giving farmers smart precision farming approaches, made possible through our advances in sensor technology and farming automation," he added. "At the same time, our technology also enhances animal welfare and environmental sustainability."

One of Agerris' platforms is called Swagbot. An autonomous, ground-based vehicle, it uses onboard AI and other intelligent tools to undertake tasks such as identifying and eradicating weeds and monitoring pasture. It also has the capacity to herd livestock, and will be able to monitor the welfare of animals.

Technology is driving change across the agriculture sector. At the end of March 2019, fruit grower T&G Global announced that robotic harvesters were being used to carry out a commercial apple harvest in New Zealand.

The automated apple-picking robots have been developed by Abundant Robotics, a California-based technology firm.

"Developing an automated apple harvester requires solving a number of complex technical problems in parallel, from visually identifying harvestable fruit and physically manipulating it to pick without bruising, to safely navigating the orchard itself," Dan Steere, the CEO of Abundant Robotics, said at the time.

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Virtual Card Startup Extend Raises $11 Million - Forbes

Posted: 10 Apr 2019 05:05 AM PDT

Extend credit card app.

Company

Managing corporate credit cards have long been a costly headache for businesses. Add an explosion of freelancers to the mix and staying on top of it can be a full-time job.

Startup Extend is trying to solve that problem and just landed $11 million in fresh capital to meet that end.  The Series A round of financing was led by investors Point72Ventures and FinTech Collective and included participation from Reciprocal Ventures and strategic partner City National Bank.

Unlike other fintechs in the business credit card space, Extend partners with issuers rather than tries to disrupt them. Its technology that enables companies to instantly issue and control virtual cards is integrated with Mastercard and Visa. The startup also counts half a dozen banks as strategic partners.

The New York-based fintech, founded in 2017 by Andrew Jamison, Danny Morrow, and Guillaume Bouvard, industry veterans hailing from American Express and Capital One, plans to use proceeds from the round of funding to add new features to its app and open APIs. It also wants to pick up the pace of bank partnerships and build out its staff in engineering, marketing, and operations.  Extend has two products: an app for businesses that want to provision credit to contractors and employees and APIs for banks and startups to leverage virtual credit cards. To date, Extend has raised $14 million.

"Through Extend we built controls so companies have the ability to instantly provision someone a credit card and have control over when and how they can use it," said Jamison, CEO of Extend. "Companies don't have to change their banking relationship. They are not moving money, just giving a micro portion of their credit line."  

While virtual credit cards have been around for years startups like Extend are trying to transform the industry by giving companies more control.  Working with banks, its technology is showing up in industries where freelancers and employees need access to cash on the fly. "The issuers tend to focus on different verticals. City National Bank is focused on entertainment and construction," as one example said Jamison, noting that virtual credit cards can be used for sports teams traveling with cash, airline operators that have to issue voucher checks, nonprofits like Red Cross and even local and federal government agencies such as FEMA. Down the road, Jamison said there will be consumer applications as well. Parents could use the technology to provision and control credit for their college students while families can use it to send money overseas.

"As companies take increasing advantage of microservices and the gig economy to build their businesses, Extend is building the critical infrastructure that will redefine how corporate credit cards can be distributed to manage these new categories of expense," said Gareth Jones, co-founder and Managing Partner at FinTech Collective. "As seen in recent news, virtual cards are an area which will continue to see major innovation this year."

Extend isn't alone in going after the business market. Marqeta, Stripe, and Brex are big-time players with Brex recently reaching unicorn status. Jamison said Extend is different than its rivals, largely because it's partnering with top tier banks and doesn't require customers to open a new account. As for Brex, the executive said it's changing the underwriting level for startups, looking at cash on hand to figure out how much to lend. "That works really well for startups that are venture-backed but what about the mom and pop businesses," said Jamison.

Extend's funding comes at a time when the notion of a virtual card is getting more interest thanks to Apple. In March the Cupertino, California iPhone maker announced the Apple Card, which has zero fees and low-interest rates. But what makes the Apple Card unique is the ability to sign up in the Wallet app on a user's iPhone and use it immediately. "The ability to instantly provision someone came to life with the general public with the Apple Card," said Jamison. "The whole storyline is that cards will start to appear on phones first."

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