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Alex Mike

When the pandemic forced everyone to stay at home last year, many gym-goers looked to at-home fitness makers to fill the void for their cardiovascular and strength-training workouts.

To help meet that demand, Tempo, the five-year-old fitness startup founded by Moawia Eldeeb and Josh Augustin, closed a $220 million Series C round led by SoftBank. The company plans to use the raise to shore up its supply chain, keep up with increased consumer demand and fuel efforts such as R&D and content. Other participants in the Series C round included Bling Capital, DCM, General Catalyst and Norwest Venture Partners. 

Tempo’s freestanding cabinet, which the company launched in February 2020, includes a 42-inch touchscreen with a 3D motion-tracking camera that consistently scans, tracks and coaches users as they work out.

It currently sells three hardware bundles, starting at $2,495, that include accessories like barbells, dumbbells, a folding bench, a kettlebell system, a squat rack, a workout mat, a recovery foam roller and a heart rate monitor, depending on which bundle customers spring for. Users also pay a $39 monthly subscription to access on-demand and live classes. 

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The concept for Tempo came about in 2015 when Eldeeb and Augustin developed SmartSpot, a computer vision-augmented smart screen they sold to gyms that helped trainers analyze and improve their clients’ form during workouts. With the trove of data generated and collected by SmartSpot, Eldeeb and Augustin developed a program that identified fitness users’ most common movement errors and utilized machine learning to offer unique recommendations for each individual user — a program that became part of the foundation for Tempo. 

“Being a personal trainer once, I remember charging $150 an hour,” explains Eldeeb. “I want to create a better experience and offer it to many more people for a lot less. That means we’re going to continue to invest in the core technology that makes that possible.” 

Tempo’s launch came during a particularly opportune time. With the pandemic unfolding, demand for at-home fitness solutions soared. The startup has seen sales surge 1,000% since it began taking pre-orders in early 2020, with delivery delays currently ranging between five to seven weeks — a common issue faced by other at-home fitness companies such as Peloton, Tonal and Echelon. Tempo users have collectively performed 5 million workouts, or clocked 40,000 hours on their devices to date, according to the company. 

“That [supply chain] was definitely an issue,” acknowledges Eldeeb, pointing to production challenges posed by factories temporarily shutting down or reducing operations in 2020. “We were doing this for the first time at scale, and we’d made small quantities of the product before [launch]. But for our first year in the market, we had to solve all those problems and still ship the product, which was a huge undertaking. We basically had to reduce sales because I wanted the factory workers to be safe.” 

For Tempo, the opportunity to scale is enormous, as the global market is estimated to reach $29.4 billion by 2025. With new funding in tow, Eldeeb wants to capitalize on surging demand, with plans of doubling down on logistics and its supply chain, growing employee headcount and expanding its content to offer yoga and boxing classes later this year.  

With vaccinations across the U.S. steadily increasing and gyms reopening, the big question is whether people will stick with their at-home fitness workouts, throw themselves back into their old gym routines or adopt a hybrid model that marries the two. Eldeeb is betting that now that more people have acclimated to working out in their homes, they’ll stay the course out of sheer convenience, pointing to a Consumer Trends report from The New Consumer published earlier this year indicating that 81% of people under the age of 40 prefer to exercise at home. 

If true, then companies like Tempo will continue to reap the benefits of this shift of fitness into the home. 

 

Alex Mike

Workflow automation has been one of the key trends this year so far, and Zoho, a company known for its suite of affordable business tools has joined the parade with a new low code workflow product called Qntrl (pronounced control).

Zoho’s Rodrigo Vaca, who is in charge of Qntrl’s marketing says that most of the solutions we’ve been seeing are built for larger enterprise customers. Zoho is aiming for the mid-market with a product that requires less technical expertise than traditional business process management tools.

“We enable customers to design their workflows visually without the need for any particular kind of prior knowledge of business process management notation or any kind of that esoteric modeling or discipline,” Vaca told me.

While Vaca says, Qntrl could require some technical help to connect a workflow to more complex backend systems like CRM or ERP, it allows a less technical end user to drag and drop the components and then get help to finish the rest.

“We certainly expect that when you need to connect to NetSuite or SAP you’re going to need a developer. If nothing else, the IT guys are going to ask questions, and they will need to provide access,” Vaca said.

He believes this product is putting this kind of tooling in reach of companies that may have been left out of workflow automation for the most part, or which have been using spreadsheets or other tools to create crude workflows. With Qntrl, you drag and drop components, and then select each component and configure what happens before, during and after each step.

What’s more, Qntrl provides a central place for processing and understanding what’s happening within each workflow at any given time, and who is responsible for completing it.

We’ve seen bigger companies like Microsoft, SAP, ServiceNow and others offering this type of functionality over the last year as low code workflow automation has taken center stage in business.

This has become a more pronounced need during the pandemic when so many workers could not be in the office. It made moving work in a more automated workflow more imperative, and we have seen companies moving to add more of this kind of functionality as a result.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that Zoho is attempting to remove some the complexity from this kind of tool.

“It handles the security pieces to make sure the right people have access to the data and processes used in the workflows in the background, so regular users can drag and drop to build their flows and processes without having to worry about that stuff,” Leary told me.

Zoho Qntrl is available starting today starting at just $7 per user month.

Alex Mike

Ride-hailing and delivery company Grab has announced plans to go public in the U.S. Based in Singapore, the company has evolved from a ride-hailing app to a Southeast Asian super app that offers several consumer services, including food delivery, financial services, such as an e-wallet so that you can send and receive money.

It operates in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. According to Crunchbase, the company has raised over $10 billion, including from SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

In order to go public, Grab has chosen to merge with a SPAC named Altimeter Growth Corp. A SPAC is a publicly-traded blank-check company based in the U.S. Going public through this process should be much easier for Grab — especially because it’s a foreign company.

If the deal goes through, it would be the world’s largest SPAC merger. Grab would be listed on NASDAQ under the symbol ‘GRAB’.

A part of the announcement, Grab has shared some metrics and some big numbers. In 2020, the company managed to generate around $12.5 billion in gross merchandise value (GMV). The merger would value Grab at $39.6 billion and the company would keep $4.5 billion in cash.

The company thinks there’s still a lot of room to grow when it comes to food delivery and on-demand mobility in Southeast Asia. It expects to see the total addressable market jump from $52 billion to $180 billion by 2025.

“This is a milestone in our journey to open up access for everyone to benefit from the digital economy. This is even more critical as our region recovers from COVID-19. It was very challenging for us too, but it taught us immensely about the resiliency of our business,” Grab co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan said in the announcement.

“Our diversified superapp strategy helped our driver-partners pivot to deliveries, and enabled us to deliver growth while improving profitability. As we become a publicly-traded company, we’ll work even harder to create economic empowerment for our communities, because when Southeast Asia succeeds, Grab succeeds,” he added.

Altimeter has agreed to a three-year lockup period for its sponsor shares, which means that Altimeter should remain committed to the company for a while.

Alex Mike

“You wanted me to record this?” asks Saul Klein, LocalGlobe founding partner.

“Just in case you say anything interesting,” I quip back.

“I won’t be doing most of the talking, so maybe someone will say something interesting,” Klein replies poker-faced, before grinning.

Once again, I’ve agreed to an ensemble-style interview with multiple members of the LocalGlobe investment team: Klein, George Henry, Suzanne Ashman, Julia Hawkins, Mish Mashkautsan and Remus Brett. Unlike in 2015, however, when I visited the early-stage VC’s then offices in Tileyard Studios, the interview is taking place over Zoom, rather than the firm’s new Phoenix Court premises in the King’s Cross area of London.

Also in contrast to last time, when I wanted to scoop LocalGlobe’s latest fundraise and Klein rather I didn’t, this time it’s the other way round: I’ve been invited to write a piece partly anchored on news of two new funds that were quietly raised last year.

LocalGlobe, the entity that invests at seed stage, has an additional $150 million of capital to deploy in the U.K. and Europe (and further afield). Running alongside is Latitude, a growth-stage fund now with $220 million more to invest, which allows the LocalGlobe team to take a fresh look at breakout portfolio companies that have proven their growth potential or to back other scale-ups, which, for myriad reasons, didn’t take or weren’t offered LocalGlobe’s cash earlier.

“Latitude was born out of the idea of building continuity,” says LocalGlobe general partner George Henry. “When it comes to existing LocalGlobe companies, Latitude is very much building on top of what we’ve done. It’s giving us the capital to continue to invest more into those companies”.

However, the firm doesn’t think of Latitude as follow-on funding, in the classic sense. Not only is it able to back companies that LocalGlobe hasn’t previously invested in, but even for those it has, the LocalGlobe team, including Julian Rowe, who heads up Latitude, uses the opportunity to take a fresh look before writing a Latitude cheque.

“I think 80% of Latitude companies have at least one LocalGlobe partner fully engaged,” says Klein.

Internally, whichever fund the firm is investing from and at what stage, LocalGlobe frames its strategy as “insights and access”. Though no one explicitly explains what this means, I interpret it as having the expertise in the team (and wider LocalGlobe network) to understand a problem space and its addressable market, and having the access to see and then get in on a deal, should it want to.

“Of course, it’s easier to have insight and access when you’ve already been inside the company from pre-seed or seed,” explains Henry. “But we’ve [also] seen opportunities where we feel we had the insight and access because we know the founders already, we know the theme, we know the market [and] we know the investors really well. And then it puts us in a position where we feel confident to participate at Series B or beyond”.

LocalGlobe isn’t the only European early-stage VC firm to launch a separate later-stage fund, either to avoid too much dilution for the most promising portfolio companies or to opportunistically back companies later when there’s arguably less risk. Yet I can’t help wonder what the conversation is like when Latitude wants to invest in a company that LocalGlobe previously turned down.

One example is Monzo, the popular U.K.-based bank with its instantly recognisable hot coral pink-coloured debit card. “We were very aware of Monzo from the earliest days,” says Klein. “We weren’t big believers at the time in consumer neobanks. We thought the neobank was something that would work for SMEs or for business banking, where the incumbents were really not focused… but also it’s kind of typically a better business than consumer retail banking. And we took the view that consumer neobanks weren’t going to be a thing”.

Instead, LocalGlobe invested in Cleo, a financial assistant chatbot and app that runs on top of consumer bank accounts, and Tide, a business bank account for SMEs.

“And it turns out, you know, we were wrong,” admits Klein, before revealing that LocalGlobe general partner Suzanne Ashman was the outlier in the team. After becoming an early customer of Monzo, she backed the challenger bank’s equity crowd fund in a personal capacity.

“When we had an opportunity later on through Latitude to get involved with Monzo, we felt it’s an exceptional company,” continues Klein. “We love the investors, we work very closely with General Catalyst, and they were getting involved with the business at the time, and with Accel. And we thought it was a great opportunity to enter”.

Another example of missing out first time around is Cazoo, the used car retailer founded by Alex Chesterman. Klein and Chesterman go way back to their time at Lovefilm, and LocalGlobe was an early investor in Zoopla, the proptech company Chesterman took all the way to IPO. Access, therefore, wasn’t a problem. Instead, a perceived conflict of interest was.

LocalGlobe had invested in Motorway (curiously, as had Chesterman), which at the time looked like a potential Cazoo competitor. No longer deemed as such, Latitude would go on to write a later-stage (and more expensive) check. Then, last month, Cazoo announced plans to SPAC its way to going public with a valuation of $7 billion, proving that conflicts of interest can be costly.

These near misses are the exception, says Klein, underlining that Latitude’s core thesis is to be able to support LocalGlobe portfolio breakouts. “LocalGlobe is about that startup phase of pre-seed and seed. Latitude is the breakout phase where things are really starting to hit an inflection point,” he says.

That is, of course, true, but it can also be argued that having a later stage fund does provide additional optionality and I posit that this could make LocalGlobe less risk-taking. With Latitude potentially able to mop up deals that didn’t happen at seed, LocalGlobe can take a wait and see approach for investments where early insights are less forthcoming.

Henry shakes his head ferociously, prompting Klein to suggest he takes this question.

“You want to get in as early as possible, because that’s the way you build the relationship… There’s nothing that gives you more credit than to be the first believer in a team,” says Henry.

“Also, in the market we’re in, you don’t want to make a bet on something that looks exciting, but you’re not sure and say, ‘it’s okay, we’ll get into Series B’. Because the reality is, the more you wait, the harder it gets to get into a great company”.

In LocalGlobe’s own (interesting) words…

On capital going into private markets

“The amount of capital that is now in the private markets looking to invest in tech, it’s not just extraordinary, but, arguably, it’s necessary and important, because this is where growth comes from and this is where innovation comes from. I’ve been doing this for 20-25 years, and it took 20 years to get to the starting line. Now it gets interesting.” — Saul Klein.

On investing in regulated industries

“Opportunities in the highly regulated industries are just massive. And they were largely untouched by wave one of VC, and even five years ago, we tended not to see that many founders building in heavily regulated spaces. So it feels to me that, yes, while the base of capital has gotten much larger, the opportunity in all of these segments is now much larger.” — Suzanne Ashman

On healthcare opportunities

“We think overall, obviously, healthcare is one of the largest markets, and we are very, very bullish on that, on the opportunity at large. We’ve doubled down on specific themes within healthcare. So, for example, developing communication rails for healthcare, improving how patients get connected with hospital systems… Mental health is another enormous market and opportunity, not just in terms of market, but in terms of impact.” — Julia Hawkins

On successful exits

“You’re just the supporting cast, and obviously, you are delighted for them. But you’re never the main show. What’s lovely about being a seed investor, and then supporting with Latitude, is it is not a quick journey, and you get to know people over time, you get to know their friends, their partners. And honestly, it’s just a privilege to sit on the sidelines.” — Suzanne Ashman

On fintech’s longevity

“Over the next five years, on all dimensions, from payments to core banking to insurance, you know, we’re going to see many more interesting companies. Just when you think the market map is pretty clear, and the winners are emerging, you’ll still see these companies that emerge and completely destroy the market.” — Remus Brett

On frontier tech need for more capital

“Proper frontier tech, and foundational tech, requires even more patience and focus on what’s beyond the horizon… The available capital for proper frontier tech startups is much more limited than startups in general. And that’s something we all know and feel daily.” — Mish Mashkautsan

Alex Mike

The crypto industry as a whole has seen a momentous year of growth, heavily spurred on by the entrance of institutional investors adopting bitcoin due to its store of value properties. The 2020 spike bitcoin experienced was also accelerated by its global adoption as the number of global cryptocurrency users surpassed 100 million in Q3 2020.

For Luno, a U.K.-based crypto company founded by Marcus Swanepoel and Timothy Stranex in 2013, it grew to 6 million customers from January 2020 to January 2021. However, that number has since gone up to 7 million. Today the company, headquartered in London, has nearly 400 employees across London, South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Singapore, with customers in 40 countries globally

According to CEO Swanepoel, Luno’s numbers have been increasing month-on-month over the last seven years. However, this is the first time it is observing an acceleration of this magnitude.

There are a couple of reasons for Luno’s surge in numbers (like any other crypto exchange startup). Generally, despite talks of bitcoin being used in everyday life by crypto enthusiasts and interests from institutional entrants like BNY Mellon, Mastercard and Tesla, it is a long shot before becoming mainstream.

For now, crypto mainly serves investment purposes. This singular factor has particularly made it very popular with Africans — a demographic that has been a major part of Luno’s growth and the huge traction it is witnessing.

Last year, the company surveyed the markets in which it currently operates. It featured 15,000 respondents from South Africa, U.K., France, Italy, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria; the answers helped Luno understand how the pandemic influenced attitudes towards the current financial system. According to the survey, 54% of Africans were ready to adopt a single global digital currency, compared to 41% for Asia and 35% for Europe

Africa’s dominance also shows in its numbers. Out of the 7 million customers it has globally, 4.7 million people are in Africa. This number was 2.3 million in January 2020. Luno’s app installs across the continent have increased by 271% within this time frame, and trading volumes skyrocketed 12x, from $555 million to $7 billion. For context, Luno did $8.3 billion in total trading volume.  

But a large part of this growth is down to Luno’s early play in the market. Over the last few years, infrastructure in parts of the world that could not previously support the crypto market has improved substantially. Luno has played a vital role as one of the first platforms to improve the crypto marketplace experience by including local currencies. It also helped to lay the groundwork for educating people on digital currencies.  

“The last time bitcoin went up as it did during the past year was in 2017 and 2018, and it was mostly driven by retail, but it was still very difficult to buy crypto. There were trust issues; it would take days to get your account verified and even set up a wallet,” Swanepoel told TechCrunch. “Now, over the last three years, companies like ours, especially in Africa, have built up this infrastructure, KYCs, new payment methods, customer experience and support. The experience is much better and education levels are a lot higher. To me, I think that’s played a large role in crypto adoption in the continent.”

In September last year, Luno got acquired by Digital Currency Group (DCG), an investment firm that builds, buys and invests in blockchain companies. Some of its portfolio companies include Coindesk, Genesis and Grayscale Investments. Before acquiring Luno, BCG first invested in the company’s seed round in 2014. Then last year, Swanepoel said he saw the opportunity to take Luno to a larger scale after noticing the immense growth and adoption on its platform.

“The first five to six years for us was on a small scale and now, we want to go big. So it helps to have a global platform like DCG to do it from because they have large amounts of capital and are committed to investing in Africa as well as outside the continent,” he remarked

The CEO adds that DCG has more visibility on the crypto industry and trends. The acquisition was simply for Luno to leverage DCG’s insights and stay ahead of the curve, which looks to have paid off. Since the acquisition, Luno has seen the number of active users increase by 167%. As of January, the average user held more than $7,000 in their wallet, up 56% from December 2020.

Nothing lasts forever, but if the crypto market bull run is anything to go by, crypto isn’t the fad people once thought it was. In Q1 2021, companies like Coinbase (going public Wednesday) and Robinhood experienced monster numbers showing strong growth projections. For Luno, it expects to continue growing exponentially, a trajectory that sets the company on track to reach 1 billion customers by 2030.

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