Archives

San Francisco

Fintech startup Finix closes on $3M in Black and Latinx investor-led SPV

Many founders talk about their desire for a more diverse investor base. Richie Serna took that desire and made it a reality.

Serna, who founded payments infrastructure startup Finix in 2016, had raised more than $95 million in venture funding from the likes of Lightspeed Venture Partners, American Express Ventures, Homebrew, Precursor Ventures, Insight Partners, Bain Capital Ventures, Visa and Activant Capital.

The San Francisco-based fintech last raised $30 million in an extension of its Series C round last August. At the time, Finix — which says its mission is to make every company a payments company — said it had seen its transaction volume more than quadruple from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020.

But Serna, a first-generation Mexican-American who was the first in his family to go to college (Harvard), wanted to broaden his company’s cap table even further. So he created a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that ultimately raised an additional $3 million and brought more than 80 “traditionally marginalized” investors onto Finix’s cap table. 

“This is very personal for me as a founder of color — making sure we have a diverse representation of people in our investor base,” Serna said.

Finix CEO and founder Richie Serna – Image courtesy of Finix

The effort, Serna added, was more than just diversifying his company’s cap table. It was also an initiative aimed at giving Black and Latinx investors access to an opportunity they may not have otherwise had. Indeed, the numbers are dismal. A recent NVCA-Deloitte Human Capital Survey found that 80% of investment partners at VC firms are white, and just 3% are Black and 3% are Hispanic/Latinx.

“This is about helping historically underrepresented groups build track records and get attribution for the work to help them start their careers and hopefully one day start their own fund,” Serna told TechCrunch. “So this is just one way that we at Finix can construct a rewrite of the story about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley.”

It’s also not a one-time thing. Moving forward, in all subsequent rounds, Finix will be allocating 10% of each round to Black and Latinx investors.

Jewel Burks Solomon, managing partner of Collab Capital and head of Google for Startups, U.S. said the opportunity to invest in “a high growth company like Finix at a time that is typically reserved for a very select group of highly connected (usually white) investors is a big deal.”

“Access is the primary determinant of wealth creation,” Atlanta, Ga.-based Solomon added. “So creating an opportunity for access to folks who might not otherwise have it is game-changing.”

For Tiffani Ashley Bell, founder and executive director of The Human Utility (and now Finix investor), the SPV gives “talented, knowledgeable investors and operators from diverse backgrounds — especially Black and Latinx people — who have traditionally been excluded from investing early in rocket ship startups” a chance to be able to do so. 

While fundraising, Finix was also hiring for senior executive positions and through the process was able to find a few who came with a breadth of experience to help the company advance on its long-term goals — including the possibility of going public one day. As a result, its C-suite is now made up of a Mexican American (CEO), a woman (COO), a Black American (CGO, or chief growth officer) and an Indian American (CTO). 

For example, the company recently hired Fiona Taylor — who helped steer Solar City’s IPO and acquisition by Tesla and most recently served as Marqeta’s SVP of operations — to serve as its COO. 

The startup also tapped Ramana Satyavarapu to serve as its CTO. Satyavarapu was a founding member of Microsoft Office 365 and the head of engineering for Google Play Search. He also led software infrastructure engineering at Uber and was most recently the head of data platforms & products at Two Sigma, a quantitative hedge fund. 

Today, Finix has about 100 employees, 50% of whom Serna says he’s never met. The company plans to double its headcount over the next year.

On whether the new hires mean that an IPO was in Finix’s future, Serna replied: “We always like to think that we’re not just building for the next year, we’re building for the future. And I think if you look at the group that we’ve brought together, it’s pretty clear in terms of the direction that we’re trying to head as an organization.”

In looking ahead, Serna said he’s also excited about the potential of the SPV to add diversity to his company’s cap table.

“Black investors and other Latinx entrepreneurs were the first people to believe in me and back Finix,” he added. “I’m honored to pay it forward by creating the SPV, and I hope other founders are inspired to do the same.”

After 80% ARR growth in 2020, Saltmine snags $20M to help employees return to a ‘new normal’ office

What is working in the office going to look like in a post-COVID-19 world?

That’s something one startup hopes to help companies figure out.

Saltmine, which has developed a web-based workplace design platform, has raised $20 million in a Series A funding round.

Existing backers Jungle Ventures and Xplorer Capital led the financing, which also included participation from JLL Spark, the strategic investment arm of commercial real estate brokerage JLL. 

Notably, JLL is not only investing in Saltmine, but is also partnering with the San Francisco-based startup to sell its service directly to its clients — opening up a whole new revenue stream for the four-year-old company.

Saltmine claims its cloud-based technology does for corporate real estate heads what Salesforce did for CROs in digitizing and streamlining the office design process. It saw an 80% spike in ARR (annual recurring revenue) last year while doubling the number of companies it works with, according to CEO and founder Shagufta Anurag. Its more than 35 customers include PG&E, Snowflake, Fidelity, BlackRock, Nike and Workday, among others. Its mission, put simply, is to help companies “create the best possible workplaces for their employees.”

Saltmine claims to have a 95% customer retention rate and in 2020 saw 350% year over year growth in monthly active users of its SaaS platform. So far, the square footage of all the office real estate properties designed and analyzed by customers on Saltmine totals 50 million square feet across 1,500 projects.

Saltmine says it offers companies tools to do things like establish social distancing measures in the office. Its platform, the company says, houses all workplace data — including strategy, design, pricing and portfolio analytics — in one place. It combines and analyzes floor plans with project requirements with real-time behavioral data (aggregated through a combination of utilization sensors and employee feedback) to identify companies’ design needs. Besides aiming to improve the workplace design process, Saltmine claims to be able to help companies “optimize their real estate portfolios.”

The pandemic has dramatically increased the need for a digital transformation of how workplaces are designed and reimagined, according to Anurag. 

“Given the need for social distancing capabilities and a greater emphasis on work-life balance in many office settings, few workers expect a complete ‘return to normal,’ ” she said. “There is now enormous pressure on corporate heads of real estate to adapt and modify their workplaces.”

Once companies identify their new needs, Saltmine uses “immersive” digital 3D renderings to help them visualize the necessary changes to their real estate properties.

Singapore-based Anurag has previous experience in the design world, having founded Space Matrix, a large interior design firm in Asia, as well as Livspace, a digital home interior design company.

“I saw the same pain points and unmet needs in office real estate that I did in the residential market,” she said. “Real estate is the second-largest cost for companies and has a direct impact on their largest cost — their people.”

Looking ahead, Saltmine plans to use its new capital to (naturally) do some hiring and continue to acquire customers — in particular, seeking to expand its portfolio of Global 2000 companies.

Saltmine has about 125 employees in five offices across Asia, Europe and North America. It expects to have 170 employees by year’s end and to be profitable by the end of fiscal year 2021.

The company’s initial focus has been in North America, but it is now beginning to expand into APAC and Australia. 

JLL Technologies’ co-CEO Yishai Lerner said JLL Spark was drawn to Saltmine’s approach of making data and analytics accessible in one place.

“Having a single source of truth for data also facilitates collaboration across teams, which is important, for example, in workspace planning,” he told TechCrunch. “This reduces inefficiencies and improves workflows in today’s fragmented design, build and fit-out market.”

JLL Spark invests in companies that it believes can benefit from its distribution and network — hence the firm’s agreement to sell Saltmine’s software directly to its customers.

“As JLL tenants and clients continue to embrace the future of work, they are seeking technology solutions that keep their buildings running efficiently and effectively,” Lerner said. “Saltmine’s platform checks all of the boxes by streamlining stakeholder collaboration, increasing transparency and simplifying data management.”

Brex applies for bank charter, taps former Silicon Valley Bank exec as CEO of Brex Bank

Brex is the latest fintech to apply for a bank charter.

The fast-growing company, which sells a credit card tailored for startups with Emigrant Bank currently acting as the issuer, announced Friday that it has submitted an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (UDFI) to establish Brex Bank.

The industrial bank will be located in Draper, Utah, and be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brex.

The company has tapped former Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) exec Bruce Wallace to serve as the subsidiary’s CEO. He served in several roles at SVB, including COO, Chief Digital Officer and head of global services. It also has named Jean Perschon, the former CFO for UBS Bank USA, to be the Brex Bank CFO.

Last May, Brex announced that it had raised $150 million in a Series C extension from a group of existing investors, including DST Global and Lone Pine Capital.

With that raise, Brex, which was co-founded by Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi, had amassed $465 million in venture capital funding to-date.

The company said in a statement today that “Brex Bank will expand upon its existing suite of financial products and business software, offering credit solutions and FDIC insured deposit products to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).”

Offering credit products to small businesses has become a popular product offering and source of revenue for tech companies serving entrepreneurs, including Shopify and Square in the commerce arena. Likewise, offering business-focused bank accounts, like Shopify Balance, which is currently in development with a plan to launch sometime this year in the U.S.

These financial products can provide additional opportunities for revenue on interest and cost of borrowing for these companies, who might have better insight into the risk profiles of the types of businesses they serve than traditional lenders and FIs.

“Brex and Brex Bank will work in tandem to help SMBs grow to realize their full potential,” said Wallace.

Brex is based in San Francisco and counts Kleiner Perkins Growth, YC Continuity Fund, Greenoaks Capital, Ribbit Capital, IVP, and DST Global as well as Peter Thiel and Affirm CEO Max Levchin among its investors. It currently has over 400 employees, and though it had significant layoffs mid-year in 2020, it cited restructuring rather than financial difficulty as the cause of that downsize.

Other fintechs that have made moves toward bank charters include Varo Bank, which this week raised another $63 million and SoFi, which last October was granted preliminary approval for a national bank charter.