STARTUPS

Two-year-old events start-up Hopin boomed in the pandemic. Now it’s a $7.75 billion business

Two-year-old events start-up Hopin boomed in the pandemic. Now it’s a $7.75 billion business 1600 900 M. Laraib

LONDON — When Johnny Boufarhat founded his virtual events business two years ago, there was no pandemic, no lockdowns and no travel restrictions. That all changed in 2020.

The coronavirus outbreak forced a multitude of major events and conferences to be cancelled or postponed, as governments around the world imposed restrictions on public life to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The result was a boom in video conferencing software benefiting the likes of Zoom, Microsoft and Google.

But it wasn’t just U.S. tech giants that saw meteoric growth. Hopin, Boufarhat’s firm, and a handful of other start-ups including Run The World and Bizzabo, were met with heightened demand as event hosts raced to move their gatherings online.

That wave of demand quickly catapulted Hopin to “unicorn” status, with its valuation surging past $2 billion in a November funding round. Hopin’s market value then more than doubled to $5.65 billion in March.

Now, the company has bagged yet another mega investment, its fourth since February last year.

Hopin said Thursday it has raised $450 million in a funding round co-led by Arena Holdings and Altimeter Capital. The latest cash injection values the start-up at a whopping $7.75 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable tech unicorns.

A stroke of luck

Boufarhat, 27, said a lot of his firm’s success boiled down to luck.

“I feel lucky,” he told CNBC in an interview Thursday. “You work really hard, and you make some critical decisions to get your business to where it is. But there’s also a really big part of luck that takes you there.”

The Australian-born entrepreneur started Hopin in London in June 2019 after falling ill with an autoimmune disease that prevented him from leaving the house.

His company’s platform lets organizations host events online with up to 100,000 attendees, with tools for virtual talks and one-to-one networking. It proved a hit during the pandemic, and now has over 100,000 customers including American Express and NATO, while more than 17 million users have registered for an account.

The rising valuation of the business has made Boufarhat Britain’s youngest self-made billionaire on paper, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.

To put Hopin’s growth into perspective, the company had only eight employees in March 2020. Its headcount now stands at 800. All of Hopin’s employees work remotely.

“Quite a few things that had to click in place for that to happen were out of my control,” Boufarhat said of the company’s success. “It’s actually sad, we wish Covid never happened. We were still growing fast pre-Covid but obviously Covid was a massive accelerator for the company.”

Can Hopin’s winning streak continue?

Hopin has snapped up a number of other start-ups including livestreaming Streamyard and video collaboration app Jamm in a bid to expand its suite of products. In three to four months’ time, Hopin plans to launch two new services focused on collaboration and digital video marketing, Boufarhat said.

The company says it now has annual recurring revenue, or ARR, of about $100 million, up from $70 million in March, and $20 million in November. ARR is a metric used by subscription-based software firms to calculate how much money they will likely make in a year.

Hopin was previously profitable but is now running at a loss and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future to prioritize growth, Boufarhat said.

Some investors question whether Hopin and other tech companies that have benefited during the pandemic can continue their winning streak in a post-Covid world.

“As we mature as a company, I think we’re going to go through a time of, not slow growth but not hyper-speed growth, and then it will come back up as we start to release new products,” Boufarhat said.

But Hopin’s founder says the company is preparing for a future with “hybrid” events that take place both online and offline.

“We hosted an on-site hybrid event where there were 40 people in-person and over 10,000 attending globally,” Boufarhat said.

However, he cautioned: “From my conversations with most of these organizations, I believe that next year is the year where we’re going to see these on-site events return.”

As for an initial public offering, Boufarhat thinks Hopin will go public within the next 2-4 years.

Edtech startup bina raises $1.4M to teach 4- to 12-year-olds, launch School-as-a-Service

Edtech startup bina raises $1.4M to teach 4- to 12-year-olds, launch School-as-a-Service 683 492 M. Laraib

With the pandemic wreaking havoc amongst early years education amid school lockdowns, it’s no wonder edtech startups have piled into the space. But it has also served to highlight the abysmal nature of early years teaching: Some 40 million teachers across the globe are leaving the sector, according to the World Bank. Of the 1.5 billion primary-age children, only a few can access high-quality education, and approximately 58 million primary-age children are out of education, most of whom are girls.

So the opportunity to make a difference, using online teaching, in these very young years, is great, because classes sizes can be reduced online, and the quality of teaching improved.

This is the idea behind bina, which bills itself as a “digital primary education ecosystem”. It has now raised $1.4 million to aim at the education of 4- to 12-year-olds.

The funding round was led by Taizo Son, one of Japan’s billionaires. Other investors and advisors include Jutta Steiner, founder at Parity Technologies, the company behind Polkadot decentralized protocol, and Lord Jim Knight, ex-Minister of Education (U.K.).

Bina’s “schtick” is that it has very small online class sizes of six students (3x smaller than the OECD average).

It also boasts of “adaptive learning paths” that cover international standards; teachers with a minimum of eight years of digital teaching experience; and data-driven decision making for its pedagogical approach.

Noam Gerstein, bina’s CEO and founder said: “I’ve interviewed students, teachers and parents globally for years, and it is clear a new systemic design is needed. With our founding families, we are building a world in which every child has access to quality education, educators’ skills are valued and continuously developed, and parents don’t need to choose between their work and family life.”

He says it also grants pupils company shares (RSUs) as they grow with the school. Currently available to English-speaking students in the CET time zone, the bina School is planning a SaaS product for governments, NGOs and school systems.

“We right now compete against companies like Outschool, Pearson’s online Academy, Primer and Prisma,” he told me over a call. “So these are the big names of the last year for the first phase. But the strategy is that we’re building it in two phases. The first phase is actually building a school that we operate as a ‘lab’ school. And the second phase is what we call ‘bina as a service’. So it’s a SaaS ‘school as a service’. The idea is that we offer collaboration with NGOs and governments, doing accreditation and training and licencing of the product. So for that second part we’re actually competing against the big accreditation system.”

German startup Aleph Alpha raises $27M Series A round to build ‘Europe’s OpenAI’

German startup Aleph Alpha raises $27M Series A round to build ‘Europe’s OpenAI’ 663 400 M. Laraib

With Microsoft now being an investor in OpenAI the field now more open for new insurgents into the open-source AI arena. Now a German company hopes to take on the next AI mantle and produce something akin to the success of the GPT-3 AI model.

German AI startup Aleph Alpha has now raised €23 million / $27 million in a Series A funding co-led by Earlybird VC, Lakestar, and UVC Partners. Following a seed round of €5.3 million from LEA Partners, 468 Capital, and Cavalry Ventures in November 2020, Aleph Alpha has now raised a total of €28.3 million (people in $33.3 million).

Headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, Aleph Alpha was founded in 2019 by Jonas Andrulis and co-founder Samuel Weinbach.

The idea behind Aleph Alpha is that it researches, develops, and “operationalizes” large AI systems towards generalizable AI, offering GPT-3-like text, vision and strategy AI models. The platform will run a public API enabling public and private sectors to run their own AI experiments and develop new business models.

The team says it will have a strong commitment to open-source communities (such as Eleuther.AI), academic partnerships, and will be pushing “European values and ethical standards,” it says, “supporting fairer access to modern AI research – aimed at counteracting ongoing ‘de-democratization’, monopolization, and loss of control or transparency.” The move is clearly meant to be a stake in the ground in the international world of AI development.

It’s also quite clear that there is a “European Union” angle going on here.

One of Aleph Alpha’s key messages is that it will aim to be a “sovereign EU-based compute infrastructure” for Europe’s private and public sectors. In other words, they want to firmly center themselves in the EU under EU law, GDPR and regulation. They may well prove a useful “Fortress Europe” for the company.

Jonas Andrulis, CEO and founder of Aleph Alpha said: “Aleph Alpha’s mission is to enable the accessibility, usability and integration of large, European multilanguage and multimodal AI models following the likes of GPT-3 and DALL-E, driving innovation for the explainability, alignment and integration. The funds significantly accelerate the process of bringing the latest generation of AI technology into application and secure the digital sovereignty for public and private sector partners in Europe and beyond”.

Dr. Hendrik Brandis, Co-Founder, and Partner at Earlybird: “We’re excited to partner with the exceptional team around Jonas and Samuel on their vision to develop one of the most transformative platform technologies of our time and bring Artificial General Intelligence into reality – made in Europe. They are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between cutting-edge research and real-world applications, unlocking incredible potential across industries.”

Dr. Klaus Hommels from Lakestar commented: “The latest advances towards artificial general intelligence – non-domain specific autonomous systems delivering task performance beyond human capabilities – especially in the domain of large language models, provides us with glimpses of AI’s tremendous promise for the future. We believe Europe has to step up its game to secure access to technologies with such vast and profound transformational potential. We are impressed by the results Aleph Alpha has delivered to date. We believe Aleph Alpha has the right people and ambition to deliver generalizing AI models that are as innovative as their US and Chinese counterparts.”

Driverless vehicle start-up Aurora to go public in $11bn Spac merger

Driverless vehicle start-up Aurora to go public in $11bn Spac merger 900 506 M. Laraib

Deal comes via blank-cheque company owned by LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and tech entrepreneur Mark Pincus

Aurora, the driverless vehicle start-up backed by Amazon and Uber, has unveiled plans to go public in a merger with a blank-cheque company, becoming the first top-tier player in the industry to achieve a stock market listing and setting up a test of investor appetite for such cash-guzzling ventures. Aurora said on Thursday it would merge with a special purpose acquisition vehicle set up by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and tech entrepreneur Mark Pincus. The deal values Aurora at $11bn and gives it close to $2bn in fresh funding, which it said would put it in position to “launch its first autonomous product at the end of 2023”. The Bay Area company, which has 1,600 employees, was founded by a trio of driverless tech pioneers — including chief executive Chris Urmson, Sterling Anderson, who led Tesla’s Autopilot efforts, and Drew Bagnell, who joined from Uber’s self-driving group, which Aurora acquired last December. Aurora was founded in 2016 amid a boom in robotaxi start-ups that emerged to rival Google’s self-driving car project, where Urmson was lead engineer until his departure in 2015. The deal provides Aurora with access to the $850m raised by Hoffman and Pincus’s Spac, Reinvent Technology Partners Y, plus $1bn in new investment from a consortium that includes Baillie Gifford, Fidelity and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Aurora’s $11bn valuation, up from $10bn when it acquired the Uber business last year, compares with $30bn-plus valuations recently put on rival autonomous vehicle ventures Cruise and Waymo, the Alphabet unit that evolved from Google’s self-driving project.

Earlier this year it signed partnerships with Volvo Trucks and Paccar, the maker of Peterbilt and Kenworth heavy-duty trucks. Together, these groups have a combined market share in the US of more than 50 per cent.  It also has partnerships with Uber, Toyota and Japanese parts supplier Denso. Uber, Paccar and Volvo are contributing to the $1bn in new funding. Aurora disclosed on Thursday that it expected a cash outflow of $553m this year and projected $3.7bn more in outflows over the following five years. The company will have $2.5bn in cash after the Spac deal closes. Shares in Reinvent Technology Partners Y rose 2 per cent on news of the merger. Hoffman and Pincus are now serial Spac deal-doers. Another of their blank-cheque companies purchased flying taxi start-up Joby Aviation earlier this year. Pincus said the investors in the Aurora deal all agreed to a four-year lock up, longer than usual, with typical Spac investors agreeing to only six months or a year.  “Aurora is iterating very rapidly against a very tough problem, with a focus on actual commercialisation at scale, not driving live demos,” Pincus said. “Everything they are doing from driving down the hardware costs and working closely with the OEMs is focused on launching a real commercial, at scale solution.”

Walmart-Backed Indian Startup Flipkart Soars to $37.6 Billion Valuation

Walmart-Backed Indian Startup Flipkart Soars to $37.6 Billion Valuation 1260 840 M. Laraib

Fundraising cements Flipkart’s status as one of the world’s most valuable private technology companies

Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce startup backed by Walmart Inc., WMT -0.38% has jumped in value to nearly $38 billion, with a fundraising supported by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. 9984 2.91% and some major sovereign investors.

The deal cements Flipkart’s status as one of the world’s most valuable private technology companies, and is the latest sign of investor appetite for tech deals in emerging markets. In May, for example, Grab Holdings Inc. said it planned to go public in the U.S. in a deal valuing the Southeast Asian ride-hailing and delivery group at nearly $40 billion.

Flipkart said Monday it had raised $3.6 billion in new funds from a group of investors led by Singapore’s GIC Pte. Ltd., the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, and Walmart. Including the new money, the deal values Flipkart at $37.6 billion, it said.

“This investment reflects global investor confidence in digital commerce in India, which has continued to accelerate over the last year” as safe and convenient access to products has taken priority, Flipkart said in a statement.

Just under a year ago, an earlier round of funding valued the company at $24.9 billion.

Flipkart said it has more than 350 million registered users. It is also the majority owner of PhonePe, a payment app with more than 300 million users that handles more than a billion transactions a month.

Walmart, the U.S. retail giant, bought a near-77% stake in Flipkart in 2018 for $16 billion. As part

of that deal, it bought a large stake held by SoftBank’s original Vision Fund. Walmart sold its Indian stores to the company last year. The latest funding round reduces Walmart’s stake in the company to around 75%, said a person familiar with the deal.

“Flipkart is a great business whose growth and potential mirrors that of India as a whole—that’s why we invested in 2018 and why we continue to invest today,” the Flipkart statement quoted Judith McKenna, president and chief executive of Walmart International, as saying.

Pakistan’s growing tech ecosystem is finally taking off

Pakistan’s growing tech ecosystem is finally taking off 1390 1042 M. Laraib

Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country, has been slow to adapt to the internet economy. Unlike other emerging economies such as China, India and Indonesia, which have embraced digitization and technology, Pakistan has trailed the region in the adoption of technology and startup formation.

Despite this, investors have dreamed for years of the huge opportunities in unlocking Pakistan’s potential as a digital economy. As a country of 220 million people, almost two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30, Pakistan draws natural comparisons to Indonesia — which has rapidly emerged as one of the most vibrant technology ecosystems outside the U.S. and China.

After years of lagging behind, over the course of the past 18 months, Pakistan’s technology ecosystem has come to life in unprecedented fashion. In 2021, Pakistani startups are on track to raise more money than the previous five years combined. Even more excitingly, a large portion of this capital is coming from international investors from across Asia, the Middle East and even famed investors from Silicon Valley.

Image Credits: Mikal Khoso

The rapid emergence of Pakistan’s technology ecosystem on the international stage has been no accident — it’s the result of a confluence of changing facts on the ground and shifting dynamics in the startup and investing world as a result of the pandemic.

Database optimization startup Silk raises $55M

Database optimization startup Silk raises $55M 1567 1175 M. Laraib

Silk, a platform designed to improve database performance, today announced it has raised $55 million in a series B funding round led by S Capital. The company says that the funds will be used to support its sales and marketing operations and expand its engineering team as the demand for cloud environments rises in the wake of the pandemic.

As companies increasingly move their workloads to the cloud, their cloud infrastructure needs to provide the stability these workloads require. Seventy percent of companies now use more than one database in their stack, according to Redgate. And in a recent Gleanster survey, respondents said databases are the No. 1 source of issues with app performance.

Silk, which was founded in 2008 by CEO Dani Golan, Moshe Selfin, and Ofir Dubovi, enables customers to scale databases on-demand while delivering ostensibly better performance compared with conventional setups. The platform automatically detects and removes duplicate data, mitigating gaps between data and applying compression to bridge silos between clouds and on-premise servers.

Golan claims the platform makes cloud environments run up to 10 times faster and the entire app stack more resilient to malfunctions. “The cloud vendors are now beginning the fight over customers’ databases and other mission-critical ‘crown jewels’. To win this fight, they need to guarantee that customers will meet their own end users’ service-level agreements by enabling prime scalability and performance of their mission-critical applications,” he added. “Having this capital allows us to bring the vision-accelerated cloud adoption to a wider audience.”

Database optimization

Silk, which sits between cloud environments and a customer’s databases, allocates cloud capacity to deliver automatic provisioning and clones data for free, letting companies create test environments without spending or slowing workload. The platform’s machine learning-powered dashboard shows real-time metrics and allows admins to scale up or down on the fly, as well as seeing the features and data they’re using.

Cloud observability and management remains a major challenge in the enterprise. In a Pepperdata report,  64% of respondents said cost management and containment was their biggest concern when it came to running cloud big data technologies and applications. Moreover, a majority of respondents said the desire to better optimize current cloud resource was their highest-priority big data cloud initiative.

Silk counts Payoneer, Priceline, Cisco, and Telefonica among its customers and has partnered with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud Platform to sell its technology and services. To date, the Needham, Massachusetts-based company has raised over $294 million in venture capital, including a $75 million series F round led by CIRTech Fund and Waterwood Group that closed in January 2017.

The most recent funding round included participation from Sequoia Capital, Pitango, Globespan, Ibex, Vintage, Clal Insurance, Bank HaPoalim, Meitav Dash, and Menora Mivtachim.

Twitter tests more attention-grabbing misinformation labels

Twitter tests more attention-grabbing misinformation labels 1390 781 M. Laraib

Twitter is considering changes to the way it contextualizes misleading tweets that the company doesn’t believe are dangerous enough to be removed from the platform outright.

The company announced the test in a tweet Thursday with an image of the new misinformation labels. Within the limited test, those labels will appear with color-coded backgrounds now, making them much more visible in the feed while also giving users a way to quickly parse the information from visual cues. Some users will begin to see the change this week.

Tweets that Twitter deems “misleading” will get a red background with a short explanation and a notice that users can’t reply to, like or share the content. Yellow labels will appear on content that isn’t as actively misleading. In both cases, Twitter has made it more clear that you can click the labels to find verified information about the topic at hand (in this case, the pandemic).

“People who come across the new labels as a part of this limited test should expect a more communicative impact from the labels themselves both through copy, symbols and colors used to distill clear context about not only the label, but the information or content they are engaging with,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter found that even tiny shifts in design could impact how people interacted with labeled tweets. In a test the company ran with a pink variation of the label, users clicked through to the authoritative information that Twitter provided more but they also quote-tweeted the content itself more, furthering its spread. Twitter says that it tested many variations on the written copy, colors and symbols that made their way into the new misinformation labels.

The changes come after a long public feedback period that convinced the company that misinformation labels needed to stand out better in a sea of tweets. Facebook’s own misinformation labels have also faced criticism for blending in too easily and failing to create much friction for potentially dangerous information on the platform.

Twitter first created content labels as a way to flag “manipulated media” — photos and videos altered to deliberately mislead people, like the doctored deepfake of Nancy Pelosi that went viral back in 2019. Last May, Twitter expanded its use of labels to address the wave of COVID-19 misinformation that swept over social media early in the pandemic.

A month ago, the company rolled out new labels specific to vaccine misinformation and introduced a strike-based system into its rules. The idea is for Twitter to build a toolkit it can use to respond in a proportional way to misinformation depending on the potential for real-world harm.

“… We know that even within the space of our policies, not all misleading claims are equally harmful,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “For example, telling someone to drink bleach in order to cure COVID is a more immediate and severe harm than sharing a viral image of a shark swimming on a flooded highway and claiming that’s footage from a hurricane. (That’s a real thing that happens every hurricane season.)”

DataHawk provides analytics for e-commerce just like App Annie for apps

DataHawk provides analytics for e-commerce just like App Annie for apps 1390 926 wp-admin

DataHawk, a French startup company that eager to build an App Annie for amazon listing. The company enables you to track products and search results so you can learn about competition around you and your space.

                This type of products are becoming increasingly relevant as more and more products sold on amazon are listed directly on Amazon by third party companies on Amazon market place. The performance of selling products on amazon truly depend upon search results for Product sellers on amazon. So you want to be on high rank as possible on amazon listing by important keywords because most customers choose from top results come on their search.

                So here comes the DataHawk, where you can track any keywords and see that how results dimensions changed over time. So with this you know how and why your sales dropped or increased. So this platform help a lot to increase product listing in ranking.

                DataHawk is based scrapping procedure which enables you to track your product as well as track products from your competitors so you can spot changes and review descriptions and prices.  Datahawk’s interface allows you to visualize data as well as provide option to export everything to excel Spread Sheet. Email integration is available for alerts DataHawk has manged to raise $1.3 million from Axeleo Capital and business angels. Also company has so far gained 140 clients, 80% from US including L’Oréal, Pfizer and PharamaPacks. Company has managed to track 2.6 million products every day.

Cheetay Logistics raises $7.8 million investment for US investors

Cheetay Logistics raises $7.8 million investment for US investors 266 190 wp-admin

Cheetay Logistics (Pvt.) Ltd. Is a fast growing tech based mile logistic company which issued a Statement that: “Cheetay Logistics has raised $7.8 million in a Series A round from US-based investors, which brings the inception-to-date funding for the company to over $11.5 million”.

                This is the largest amount raised by any local startup company in Pakistan in its early days. Former CEO of Daraz.pk and founder of Cheetay Ahmed Khan made a statement that, “This magnitude of capital is a testament to the quality of technology that we have developed locally in Pakistan and a recognition by the international investing community of Cheetay’s success to date and the enormous opportunity ahead of us. With the fundraising behind us, we are now searching for driven, talented and creative leaders who can help take us to the next level”.

This is the largest amount raised by any local startup company in Pakistan in its early days. Former CEO of Daraz.pk and founder of Cheetay Ahmed Khan made a statement that, “This magnitude of capital is a testament to the quality of technology that we have developed locally in Pakistan and a recognition by the international investing community of Cheetay’s success to date and the enormous opportunity ahead of us. With the fundraising behind us, we are now searching for driven, talented and creative leaders who can help take us to the next level”.

                Cheetay right now operating in four Pakistani cities but CEO Majid Khan said he is focused to develop company operation into every big city in the country and expecting rapid geography coverage this year. The company is focusing to invest these raised funds to enables its geographic growth and expand the team and continuous investment in development in its industry standard logistic technology and algorithm.

                Majid Khan summed up by saying, “I want to thank all the members of the Cheetay team for their energy, enthusiasm, and dedication in creating a business so compelling that it is attractive on a global scale. We are going to deploy our capital aggressively in our bid to become Pakistan’s pre-eminent technology company”.

                Pakistan’s fastest growing tech based logistic services company is expanding and right now it provides its services in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.