Archive for the ‘venture firm’ tag
Sawbuck Realty closed $3.5 million in financing for HomeSnap, a real estate discovery engine that gives house hunters detailed information about a home based on photo.
Billed as “Shazam for Homes”, HomeSnap uses image recognition technology to identify a property. Users snap a photo, and the app will draw from a pool of real estate listings, tax records, census data, attendance zones, and geolocation data to provide relevant information, such as appraised value, number of bathrooms, and school zone.
Whether you are curious how much that suburban split level costs and whether it can accomodate a family of four, or dying to discern the property value of that garish mansion on the corner, HomeSnap will tell you what you want to know.
The tool launched this past March at SXSW, and since then has been downloaded more than 200,000 times, by potential buyers and real estate junkies alike.
Even for people not actively in the market for a house, interest in property values and a voyeuristic curiosity about other peoples’ homes are rampant, as testified by the dozens of reality television shows dedicated to real estate.
Home may be where the heart is, but it takes persistence, dedication, and time to find the perfect abode. House hunters traditionally have to hire brokers, troll through pages and pages of real estate listings, and scour the streets for promising For Sale signs.
HomeSnap was created by Sawbuck Realty, an online real estate brokerage site, to make the discovery process simpler. It can also help aspiring home owners gauge home values and what options are available to them.
Currently, the app is only available on the iPhone, and this recent funding will be used to make it available on Andoird and iPad, as well as build out the web presence and expand the functionality to other areas, like condos, co-ops, and rentals.
The round was led by Revolution Ventures, a Washington DC based venture firm founded by AOL co-founder Steve Case. Sawbuck is also based in DC.
Filed under: deals
Siluria Technologies, the San Francisco-based cleantech company that is developing a technology to turn natural gas into transportation fuels and industrial chemicals, announced it has raised $30 million in investment for its third founding round.
With over $63 million in funding poured into Siluria to date, the company is under pressure to bring their product to market. Siluria said in a statement that it will use the funds for two pilot-scale reactors and a commercial plant, in an effort to scale the technology.
On its website, the startup claims to be the first to provide a commercially viable alternative to petroleum or crude oil.
New investors from Bright Capital and Vulcan Capital (Paul Allen’s venture firm), are taking a bet that Siluria will significantly heighten the global demand for natural gas. ”Siluria opens new, more lucrative markets for the producers and distributors of natural gas,” said Mikhail Chuchkevich, Managing Partner at Bright Capital, in a statement.
As Bloomberg Businessweek reported, natural gas is mostly burned as a fuel to generate steam or power, and fell to a 10-year low this spring in part due to an expansion of U.S. shale drilling.
Alex Tkachenko, Siluria’s president, told VentureBeat that the company will not suffer if the price of natural gas and oil fluctuates over the coming decades, because the price disparity is so stunning. Gas currently sells for around $3 per million BTUs in North America while oil sits at around $88 a barrel.
“Even if the price of oil gets cut in half, chemicals made from Siluria’s processes will still be economical compared to their crude oil counterparts,” he said in an email interview.
Siluria’s technology unlocks the potential in natural gas by converting its primary ingredient, Methane, into Ethylene, using a catalytic process. The Ethylene Siluria produces can be converted into transportation fuels, chemicals or materials such as plastic.
VentureBeat first covered the promising cleantech company back in 2010, on the eve of its first funding round led by Kleiner Perkins.
Filed under: green
Reuters reports that lawyers for the venture capital firm tried to move to arbitration last month but Kahn denied it today, saying that there was no agreement between Pao and Kleiner Perkins.
The refusal essentially means that the case will now wend its long way very publicly through the California legal process. Arbitration is faster and less formal than a lawsuit. Most importantly for Kleiner Perkins, however, arbitration is also private … meaning that the firm would not simultaneously face the fear of being tried in the courts of law and of public opinion.
The refusal by Pao’s lawyers likely means that Pao’s camp intends to press the discrimination suit vigorously, putting pressure on her former employer. That’s a bad sign for Kleiner Perkins.
On the other hand, the news that Kleiner Perkins was attempting to settle via arbitration could signify that the venture firm is not entirely confident about the eventual results of a legal trial. The company has already categorically denied any and all culpability in the case.
In any case, what we know for sure is that we’ll hear a lot more about this case before it’s finished.
Image credit: Lasse Kristensen/ShutterStock
The Start Fund, the consortium of top investors who are backing all Y Combinator companies, has a new partner: General Catalyst. The storied venture firm has already been busy expanding into Silicon Valley from its Boston home in recent years — and it has already gotten into around ten YC companies, including top ones like AirBnB and Stripe.
The Start Fund is a natural extension of that effort. Started last year by DST’s Yuri Milner and SV Angel (and later adding Andreessen Horowitz), it has been providing $150,000 convertible notes to every single company that gets accepted into Y Combinator, on top of what the seed-stage venture firm already puts in. This way, of course, these investors can get equity in any of the many YC startups that turn into big businesses, instead of having to battle it out in later rounds with the countless others fighting to get in.
Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers managing partner John Doerr responded to partner Ellen Pao’s lawsuit against the company, involving sexual harassment and retaliation.
“The last several days have been a difficult time for me and my partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers,” said Doerr in the statement. “It is not easy to stand by as false allegations are asserted against the firm, especially because legal constraints prevent us from responding fully at this time.”
Pao, who remains a partner at the firm, filed the lawsuit earlier this month, saying that fellow partner Ajit Nazre began courting her for a sexual relationship in 2006. Allegedly Pao rejected Nazre’s advances, but gave in and began a sexual relationship with him that same year. She claims that when she ended the relationship, Nazre set out to retaliate against her, and that she received no help from the managing partners, naming Doerr in the complaint.
This is a bit hit against the venture firm, which has been known for bringing women into the male-dominating investing industry. The company currently has 12 female partners at the firm.
Pao also claims that she was denied performance reviews and was receiving negative feedback from individuals with whom she had not worked with extensively. Kleiner’s lawyers are likely to argue that this lawsuit is a product of that negative feedback. In his statement, Doerr mentions that the firm has hired on an investigator who (obviously) believes the “allegations are without merit.”
See Doerr full statement below:
The last several days have been a difficult time for me and my partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a firm I’m proud to have been a part of for 32 years. It is not easy to stand by as false allegations are asserted against the firm, especially because legal constraints prevent us from responding fully at this time. But we have been heartened to hear from so many people – including many women – who have reached out to convey their support.
We have taken great care to treat this situation seriously, swiftly, and with integrity. We hired an expert, independent investigator to conduct a thorough inquiry. The investigator’s report concluded that the allegations are without merit and that our firm does not discriminate on the basis of gender.
In the end, facts – not unfounded claims – will determine the outcome of the suit filed against us. We will vigorously defend our reputation and are confident we will prevail.
But until this matter is resolved I hope those judging Kleiner Perkins will remember one thing about us: our pioneering track record in diversity.
We have long believed the best thinking comes from a diverse set of minds and have highly valued diversity in our partnership and ventures. We are proud of our track record. Our firm today is one of the most diverse in gender, age and ethnicity, as is our equally diverse network of great entrepreneurs, including the women who founded or lead companies such as Auxogyn, Coursera, Genomic Health, Lockerz, One King’s Lane, Plum District, Rent the Runway and Veracyte, among others. Most importantly, we’re backing them not because they are women, but because they are the best at what they do.
That is the same reason we have a dozen female partners at our firm – the most of any leading venture capital firm – including women who are leaders across our Digital Growth Fund, our newest venture fund, our Life Sciences Venture Team, our Human Capital Team, and our Marketing and Communications and Finance functions. They are outstanding executives and leaders.
We are fortunate and grateful to have so many supporters who continue to believe in Kleiner Perkins and our values. Thank you all for your unwavering and heartfelt support.
Filed under: VentureBeat
Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley venture firm, is raising new money for a number of different funds in the U.S. and China, that in aggregate would be around $1 billion.
Fortune is reporting these new funds may be used for a China-focused fund, growth equity for later stage companies, and traditional investing. The company closed its last round at the end of 2011 for its U.S. Growth Equity Fund V. The firm also raised around $1.3 billion for a number of similar funds in 2010.
The life of a venture capital fund generally lasts around 10 years. The first three to four years are spent investing the money, with reserves being paid out to those portfolio companies over the remaining years. A firm may introduce around three or four new funds within that 10 years, to keep capital flowing to new companies.
Sequoia has invested in a number of well-known technology companies since 1972. Currently the company has investments in China, Israel, India, and the United States. These companies include Apple, Instagram, Dropbox, Oracle, LinkedIn, and others. The New York Times recently reported that the firm is looking to expand into Brazil as well.
The fund comes soon after managing partner Michael Moritz announced that he is stepping down from his position at Sequoia due to a rare medical condition. Moritz assured employees that he will still be involved in Sequoia as chairman, but will no longer continue managing the day-to-day activities of the venture firm.
Filed under: deals
EchoEcho is one of the more useful location-based applications on the market today. Instead of focusing on check-ins and deals, the application simply makes it easy for you to find out where your friends are and lets you set up a meeting with them. Last September, EchoEcho raised $750,000 from Google Ventures, UK-based venture firm PROfounders and Don Dodge. The company just told us that it has raised another $750,000. This round was led by Bullpen Capital with participation by PROfounders Capital. EchoEcho plans to use this new funding to grow its team and focus on user acquisition.
In its current iteration, EchoEcho lets you quickly figure out where one of your friends currently is with just a few taps. To ensure privacy, your location is also automatically shared with the friends you try to locate. From there, you can either use the built-in chat to organize a meeting or use the app’s built-in location database to decide on which bar, coffee shop, restaurant or other public place you want to meet at. Users who don’t have the app installed will receive a text message and can then use the service’s web app to update their location. EchoEcho is currently available for all the major smartphone platforms, including iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Phone. The company’s current and future development efforts will focus on iOS, Android and Windows Phone, however.
EchoEcho was founded in 2010 and the company has been iterating over this problem of how to make location-sharing useful ever since. The core concepts behind the app (simplicity and privacy) haven’t really changed since then, though. In a day and age where biannual pivots aren’t unusual, that’s a long time to work on a single product, but the work is clearly starting to pay off for EchoEcho. The company’s co-founder and CEO Nick Bicanic told us that he has some major announcements planned for later this summer, but sadly refused to provide us with more details at this stage.
Talking about today’s investment, Bullpen’s Duncan Davidson told us that Bullpen likes to “invest in essential mobile apps that everyone should be using. A Find Friends app is such an app. EchoEcho is designed to be useful, not cute. It remains in the control of the user, and makes it easier for people to meet up, rather than broadcast ambient location or require a check-in.”
We also asked Don Dodge about his reasons for investing in EchoEcho in the previous round. In his view, the need for accurate location services is exploding. Dodge also noted that he thinks, “Nick Bicanic is a true visionary in location-based services, and EchoEcho is a great example of what can be done.”
With this new funding, EchoEcho plans to add more group features to the app. Group features have long been missing from the app. As Bicanic told me, it took the team a long time to figure out how to best design this functionality. The company is also working on providing better support for indoor location and has partnered with Walkbase and WiFiSlam (another company Don Dodge invested in) to improve its indoor location features (it first tested these features at SXSW earlier this year and is currently running at trial at Stanford University as well). Also on EchoEcho’s roadmap is support for tablets and integration with Facebook.
What’s interesting about the company is that it is also looking outside the traditional markets for location apps. It just did a deal with Pioneer, for example, to bring its service to Pioneer’s AppRadio platform for in-car apps. In addition to this, as Bicanic told me, the company is also thinking about how mobile location technology could be used in developing countries to, for example, locate doctors or a mobile ATM.
At its core, though, EchoEcho is about figuring out how to best answer the question, “Where are you?” Bicanic is pretty outspoken about the fact that he doesn’t think ambient location tools like Highlight are the answer to this, as there are too many technological and social issues (think battery life and privacy) that currently condemn these apps to remain niche products. Instead, he says, people just want to figure out when and where to pick up their friend at the airport or where to best meet for coffee.
Australian start-up Scalify has raised $2 million in venture funding so that it can create networking technology that enables the fast and efficient creation of online games and virtual worlds.
Australian venture firm Starfish Ventures led the investment in Melbourne, Australia-based Scalify, which has created Badumna, a technology that uses a peer-to-peer user network to deliver functions normally handled by large server farms. The result is games that look better, perform better, and cost less to operate. That’s important since driving down online costs is key to making game companies more profitable.
Scalify says that rapid growth can cause a lot infrastructure headaches for game publishers. Traditional client-server online games rely on centralized communication. That slows gameplay, is difficult to scale quickly, and reduces the number of players who can be online at any given time.
Badumna allows traffic to communicate via peer-to-peer in a decentralized network. The company argues that this approach enables multiplayer apps that were not possible before. It does so by forming a secondary network of trusted nodes that are used for services such as authentication, third-party arbitration, and others tasks. These tasks are executed in the peer-to-peer network, and so, that network offloads work from the servers.
“As each player joins the game, they automatically contribute additional capacity to the network, making the approach inherently more scalable than any client-server approach,” Steve Telburn, chief executive of Scalify, said in an email. “This is obviously important because publishers do not know if their games will be a success or not, so they need to plan their infrastructure based on the ‘best case’ scenario.”
That’s true even if the infrastructure is outsourced as they still need to secure dedicated servers. Testing shows improvements to latency, Telburn said. “There is only one hop peer-to-peer rather than two hops via a server.”
He contends the approach can reduce server and bandwidth costs by up to 75 percent, depending on the design of the game. Those costs are usualy the third-highest expense for an online game — after development and advertising. In addition, the game design can be better, Telburn said. Designers can create un-sharded worlds with lots of synchronous (simultaneous) action.
Past peer-to-peer gaming attempts haven’t succeeded well on a large scale. But Telburn said Badumna is different as it was created after a huge four-year research effort. His team has addressed things such as dealing with cheaters through a “distributed validation” technology.
The first version of Badumna debuted last year, and it is now being used to power games in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. The new funds will be used to expand the company’s sales and marketing capability and increase the range of game development platforms supported.
Starfish investment director Anthony Glenning, who will join Scalify’s board, said, “The online gaming market is large and is growing quickly, but is hindered by the traditional client-server model which is expensive and limits scalability. We recognized Scalify’s unique solution for peer-to-peer games, especially in terms of scalability and reducing traffic to the server.”
Telburn said, “We always get a great reaction to our product from customers, so we’ve always been very keen to expand its reach. We’re thrilled that this investment will now enable us to show Badumna’s full potential.”
The core technology came from NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence. That entity worked on the technology for four years as a research project. Scalify was formed in 2010, and it has four employees. Rivals include networking middleware companies such as Exit Games, but their solutions are based on client-server designs.
Scalify has also gotten a small grant from the Australian government. Game trials are now under way with major publishers. In addition to Telburn, another founder is Santosh Kulkarni, chief technology officer.
Online private sales burst onto the scene a few years ago in the shape of Vente Privee in Europe and, later, Gilt in the US. It’s a model we all know and love – and it’s rapidly proving a model with which emerging economies are, well, rather obsessed. I was just recently in Istanbul where you can almost throw a stone and be sure of hit a private sales startup entrepreneur. And from there, and across the Middle East and North Africa (known as MENA), online businesses are growing like weeds.
And some investors know it. Thus today MarkaVIP, a runaway private sales success story in the Middle East has completed a $10 million Series B funding led by European venture firm Prime Ventures. It’s joined buy participation from New York City-based Invus Financial Advisors (IFA), Antwerp-based Hummingbird Ventures, and San Francisco-based Lumia Capital.
The cash will be used to expand MarkaVIP’s current operations and marketing, and expand into other parts of the Middle East, specifically the region known as the Gulf states, of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to its friends.
Ahmed Alkhatib, founder and CEO, MarkaVIP says the company pursued the funding to “focus on decreasing product delivery lead times and improve quality across the board.”
If you’re unfamiliar with MarkaVIP, was founded in Jordan in November 2010 by Alkhatib and Amer Abulaila, MarkaVIP’s CTO.
Since its launch in Jordan and Saudi Arabia in November 2010 and expansion across the GCC and Lebanonit’s garnered 1.5 million registered users and is adding around 5,000 new members per day.
Here’s a few stats for ya: The MENA apparel and accessories market is worth US$15 billion/year. But right now almost all of it is offline. Additionally, there are only 77m Internet users in MENA (excluding Turkey) right now with an overall Internet penetration of 30%, but this is still growing fast. Plus, there are 36m Facebook users in MENA (and this grew 30% in the last 6 months). So there is a huge opportunity here.
But MENA is not ALL about e-commerce, and that’s a theme I’ll be returning to soon, so watch this space…
A year ago, Peter Thiel called it a bubble. Whatever you call it, the cost of attaining a college degree has skyrocketed to the point of absurdity — to the point of one trillion red flags. Student debt in the U.S. recently pushed over $1 trillion, and the average debt per student now stands at more than $25K. (And 30 percent of students are more than 30 days overdue on payments.)
StraighterLine, a Baltimore-based startup, is one of many young companies trying to find a solution to these rising costs, through online education. Founded in 2010, StraigherLine offers a low-cost, subscription-based service that allows students to take a variety of accredited, general ed courses online. And, now, with the goal of bringing its service to a wider audience, the startup has announced that it has raised $10 million in series A funding.
The round of financing was led by New York venture firm FirstMark Capital, with contributions from City Light Capital and existing investor Chrysalis Ventures, among others. The company said that it will use its new capital to accelerate its outreach to colleges, employers, and students, and focus on building a viable, next-gen market for credit-bearing, web-based general ed courses.
With unemployment remaining fairly high and with non-traditional students (older people, single mothers, workers retraining) returning to academia, competition for already-scant resources is growing. Institutions are struggling to carry the load. Yale recently decided to add 250 students to its incoming class, which cost the university a quarter of a billion dollars.
Luckily, as online content distribution media have matured, the quality of online ed is fast-improving as a number of startups, like Khan Academy, 2tor, ShowMe, Udemy, Udacity, Grockit, Lynda.com, and the Minerva Project are all showing how video, mobile devices, games, and advanced web platforms can transform distance learning into low-cost, viable supplement (if not alternative) to on-campus learning.
StraighterLine, too, is focused on bringing price transparency to online education, offering general ed courses that students generally take (and are often required) during their freshman and sophomore years, like Algebra, Biology, Calculus, U.S. History, and English Composition, to name a few — on the Web. If we say the average price for a private institution is about $32K per year, StraigherLine’s pricing compares favorably, with the option to pay $100 a month, plus $39 for each course started, $399 per course, or a full freshman year education for $1K.
Included in this pricing is free live, on-demand instruction, although if students choose to buy a textbook, they have to do so separately. But the cool part is that the startup’s courses are ACE Credit recommended and can be transferred for credit to a number of degree granting institutions. Over 25 grant credit today, with more than 200 universities across the U.S. having accepted post-review.
There aren’t yet many “big name” institutions accepting StraigherLine credits, and obviously it will be important for the startup to expand its list of participating universities if it hopes to reach the tipping point. But the model is certainly an appealing one, as it means that students can participate in a flexible, low-cost education and transfer into institutions that accept its courses for credit, significantly reducing the cost of a four-year degree. A degree that they eventually receive from the universities themselves, not StraighterLine.
It’s also all about quality when it comes to online education, something 2tor has been religiously focused on and is raising big money to take the necessary steps to ensure. StraighterLine, on the other hand, doesn’t have to offer an Ivy League education like that which Minerva is setting out to build, as long as it offers those quality, prerequisite courses that students can knock out on their way to an on-campus degree. In this way, it can provide a great complement to community colleges and equivalent feeder programs into four-year institutions.
The company said that it is working towards building out its platform so that it can begin to offer the kind of robust online education (multimedia, interactive content, live, on-demand instruction, employment resources, etc.) that is now expected of distance learning. It also plans to boost its offerings around placement, career training, and is hustling to engage the employer community so that its educational platform maintains relevance to students’ futures, beyond just being an easy way to knock out first-year requirements.
The founder and CEO of StraighterLine, Burck Smith, has experience building online educational programs, having sold his online tutoring and support services company, SmartThinking to Pearson early last year.
For more on StraighterLine, check ‘em out at home here.