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Booksy raises $70M war chest to acquire salon appointment apps, expand internationally

Beauty and wellness appointment booking apps have proliferated of the last few years, but it appears the race is still on as today one of the leaders, Booksy, raises $70 million in a Series C round led by Cat Rock Capital, with participation from Sprints Capital. 

The round was also joined by OpenOcean, Piton Capital, VNV Global, Enern, Kai Hansen, Zach Coelius and Manta Ray Ventures, and takes the total raised by the firm to $119 million. The funding will be used for expansion plans across North America, expanding to new verticals, and acquiring complementary businesses.

The Booksy app is used by customers to book and pay for beauty appointments with local businesses. Salons, nail bars and barbershops can manage the bookings, payments, and customer base via the accompanying Booksy Biz app. The platform also allows salons to sell other products via Booksy E-Commerce, which acts as a marketplace allowing customers to discover and book other local stylists, nail technicians etc.

Booksy was founded by Polish entrepreneurs Stefan Batory (CEO) and Konrad Howard. Allowing customers to schedule their best appointment time means that 38% of customers end up booking after-hours and increasing their appointment frequency by 20%, says the company. The startup launched in 2014 but is now in the US (its largest market), UK, Poland, Spain, Brazil, and South Africa. It claims to be the number-one beauty booking app in each country, with “13 million” consumers on the app.

Batory said in a statement: “Like with many sectors negatively hit by the pandemic, it’s been a turbulent time for the beauty and wellness industry but we’re confident in its ability to come back from this, so it’s fantastic to see our latest group of investors share our optimism and vision. This latest round of funding enables us to reach even more salons and service providers across the US, and in all the regions we operate, which in turn helps them reach more customers.” 

Alex Captain, founder and managing partner at Cat Rock Capital, said: “We are incredibly excited to invest in Booksy as it builds the leading global software platform for digitizing the beauty and wellness industry around the world.”

Booksy certainly seems to have cracked the international expansion game ahead of most competitors, which tend to stay more local to their countries of origin such as Treatwell, Styleseat, Vagaro and Mindbody. The opportunity for Booksy is to now use its war cast to roll-up other local players.

It has already acquired rival Lavito in 2018 and, more recently, merged with Versum in December 2020 allowing it to enter Mexico.

Poland’s GeneMe secures €5.2M seed funding for its rapid COVID-19 test

GeneMe, Poland-based biotechnology company with a COVID-19 test, has secured a €5.2M round of seed funding led by Robin Tombs, co-Founder of Yoti and previously of Gamesys, and other angel investors.

The startup has developed and patented a universal protein (polymerase) for RT-LAMP testing, which allows the production of highly accurate, rapid, molecular genetic COVID tests. It has three molecular NAAT COVID-19 tests: FRANKD, SAVD, and ICED. FRANKD is CE IVD-approved and FDA EUA-applied, and its solution is already utilized in over twenty countries. FRANKD has been identified, through official research made by the Scottish government, as the most accurate, rapid COVID-19 test on the market. The FRANKD solution has already been used by Heathrow Airport, Virgin Atlantic and TV show Britain’s Got Talent.

Dawid Nidzworski, CEO of GeneMe said: “We’re interested not only in health issues, but also in genetic predispositions, such as talents, sports abilities, learning problems, or caffeine metabolism. In the future, everyone will be able to conduct genetic analysis at home.”

Robin Tombs, Co-Founder of Yoti said: “GeneMe’s innovative approach will be highly disruptive over coming years, enabling more regular testing at point of care at much lower cost.”

GeneMe is a spin-oout from The Institute of Biotechnology and Molecular Medicine (IBMM), an independent biomedical research institution.

Recently, the company announced a partnership with U.S.-based BIOLYPH, the world leader in lyophilization services, to scale up FRANKD and SAVD significantly.

GeneMe’s patented technology simplifies the entire testing procedure compared to standard laboratory-based RT-PCR tests. RT-LAMP tests are more effective, which means results can be trusted. GeneMe’s testing technology can also be assembled at point-of-care, which makes it possible to integrate highly accurate testing stations at places of work and in locations with high throughput, such as international borders.

The global COVID-19 diagnostics market size is estimated at $84.4B in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1% from 2021 to 2027 (Grand View Research).

10 Poland-based investors discuss trends, opportunities and the road ahead

Poland is becoming an important European tech ecosystem after experiencing record levels of investment and growth in recent years.

It’s the largest economy in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), is known for its technical talent and has now nurtured a number of large startups that have raised multiple rounds of funding. In 2019, investment in Poland’s startups — with Warsaw being the biggest startup hub in the country — grew eight times year-on-year to reach €294 million. This was more than the combined amounts of the nine years prior. While investment has slowed due to the pandemic, it has not stopped. And of course, COVID-19 has only accelerated the pace of digital adoption inside the country itself.

A July 2020 report by Dealroom found over 2,400 Polish early- and later-stage startups, 97 venture capital funds and cataloged over 1,600 funding rounds in 2019. The country has over 401,000 engineers (twice that of Romania at 139,000). It also had twice the number of venture capital rounds in the region (823 compared to Estonia’s 477).

Polish startups are on a funding roll, as the average cheque size for pre-Seed-stage investments has almost tripled since 2013. At the same time, it’s attracting foreign investors. Codility and Nomagic were two startup investments that stood out this year so far. Nomagic, a smart “pick and place” robotic solution, attracted investment from the U.K.’s Hoxton Ventures and Khosla Ventures in the U.S.

Key, later-stage startups include Booksy, Brainly and Docplanner, while significant recent exits include Fibaro, PizzaPortal and Frisco. Poland has a sophisticated banking system, meaning there is an increasing number of fintech startups in the space.

Meanwhile, the startup ecosystem has, in recent years, been spreading outward from the capital, Warsaw, to Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław and Gdansk.

The country has also developed into a leading video game exporter. CD Projekt’s Witcher series was a big hit, based as it was on a series of best-selling Polish books, which were also the basis for a Netflix show.

According to data from PwC, Poland’s video game and esports market was worth $664 million in 2019 — up from $400 million in 2014 — and is predicted to climb to nearly $850 million over the next four years.

We asked 10 investors, principally based in Warsaw, to give us their take on where things are right now.

Bryony Cooper, managing partner, Arkley Brinc VC

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Deep tech topics including food and agritech, industrial IoT, media tech, cybersecurity and energy tech.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
We just closed a follow-on round in CyberHeaven sp. Z o.o., bringing the total investment to 4 million PLN ($1 million). Together with their partner company UseCrypt, they’re setting a new standard in data security with a complete ecosystem of tools to ensure the highest possible level of encryption. Trusted by major corporations, military and government organisations, they are soon to announce a partnership with a major TV network.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I had a funny conversation with a friend the other day; we wondered how come cats and dogs can get a simple, six-month treatment to protect against ticks and fleas, but no such solution exists for humans?!
Many food and bio tech startups we see are in early/MVP stage; we’d like to see more in pilot stage, trialling/testing with customers.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We’re looking for experienced founders who have demonstrated their ability to execute and succeed in business, with beneficial strategic partnerships/network in place and a viable exit strategy. We’re particularly interested in deep tech startups with a physical/hardware aspect, at pilot stage.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
I’ve seen so many B2C home food growing/urban farming startups (hydroponics) — a nice idea, but I don’t believe it will take off. I’m also weary of consumer electronics and wearables that don’t deliver real value and are rather a gimmick.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We focus heavily on Poland (our local ecosystem), especially because our fund was created with the PFR Starter FIZ program from PFR Ventures (the Polish Development Fund). However we can invest into startups from any European country, and we review applications Europe-wide.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Of course COVID-19 has altered the answer to this question. Regardless of region, industries that are not affected by (or are benefiting from) the pandemic are best-positioned to thrive. That includes health and medtech, certain mobility sectors, remote work tools! As for Poland, there’s a strong resource pool for software and hardware capabilities at very competitive rates, so a wide range of industries can thrive here.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
In Warsaw and Poland, many new VC funds have been set up over the last 1-2 years, so there’s a lot of competition to find great startups. We differentiate ourselves by focusing on deep tech and hardware-related sectors (many others only invest into software/SaaS). Many Polish VCs are optimistic, but are focusing only on the current situation of companies — not thinking long term (i.e., exit strategy). I would definitely say the startup ecosystem in Poland is growing and should be considered as “one to watch” by global investors.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes, I do believe it is becoming less important to be located in a major city. More and more companies are making remote work possible, with more tools available for remote work and communication. Therefore location is no longer paramount to successful networking and meetings. The world is going virtual.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Many industries that require manufacturing of hardware or physical products have been affected by factory closures, putting time delays on production. Also, B2B food tech companies have struggled with the downturn in restaurant business, with supply chains and distribution channels affected. They have to rethink their business models. Whereas ordering take-out food and any on-demand/home delivery services are on the rise, opening up new opportunities (though this trend began years ago).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
The main concerns are about delays in production, or that B2B customers are less open to making new investments/purchases at the moment with so much economic uncertainty. Some of our portfolio companies (such as Cyberheaven, mentioned above) are going full speed ahead. The global discussions on data privacy raised by health-tracking apps have opened up many opportunities for them, as more corporations and individuals are prioritising protecting personal data.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
We see some acceleration, some slowing down but no stopping!

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Seeing our team consistently keep up momentum and adapt so quickly to remote work has given me hope. Also seeing our portfolio companies assess and adapt to “the new normal” with total confidence in achieving their goals.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Startups should not lose faith due to COVID-19. Consumers and businesses still have needs to be fulfilled. Opportunities may change, but there are still plenty out there. And let’s not forget the importance of fighting climate change and the UN Sustainable Development goals! We’re happy with how our Q4 pipeline is looking 🙂