This time, Magic Leap investment dollars may come from Saudi Arabia government wealth fund
By Nancy Dahlberg / firstname.lastname@example.org
A half billion here, a half billion there, and another potentially huge leap for South Florida’s secretive startup.
The latest news: Magic Leap, the mixed-reality technology company based in Plantation, is in talks for a $400 million investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the Financial Times reported on Friday. That would bring Magic Leap’s funding to $2.3 billion, unprecedented for a company that hasn’t yet launched its first product.
According to the FT, the deal is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, said the report, which cited sources close to the deal.
While Magic Leap and the Saudi wealth fund would not confirm the news, if true it follows a pattern. In October, just a month after Bloomberg revealed a half billion mega-deal was in the works, Magic Leap announced it had raised $502 million in a funding round led by Singapore government-owned investment firm Temasek Holdings TEM.UL and began dropping more hints the technology will be revealed soon.
The new funding is an extension of the $502 million round and would be at the same $6 billion valuation, the FT said. If completed, the FT said it would be the second high-profile U.S. tech investment for the $230 billion Saudi government fund. In 2016, the fund invested $3.5 billion into Uber.
The internationalization of Magic Leap's funding follows a pattern too. Earlier Magic Leap raised a similar amount from Alibaba in China. Its other funders include Google, Fidelity, various studios and other Silicon Valley funders.
Magic Leap’s “mixed reality” glasses feature its digital lightfield technology. In December, it unveiled some more details of its first product in development, Magic Leap One, which will be available first to selected developers and designers. Founder Rony Abovitz has said the spatial computing technology will provide a more natural computing experience that could replace the phone.
A Miami real estate-tech startup is offering owners a flat-fee service to sell their house or condo, rather than paying the traditional 3 percent.
Until now, Home61, which uses technology to streamline the residential home buying process, was primarily tackling the buying side of the market. But on Thursday, Home61 launched a flat-fee service that provides homeowners with dedicated agents who use a data-driven platform to efficiently list, market, schedule viewings and close the sale of their properties.
“We are now entering the sell side with this flat fee structured home-selling service, aimed at offering a better service at an honest price to homeowners,” Olivier Grinda, CEO and co-founder of Home61, told Starting Gate. “Our ambition at Home61 has always been to become the real estate ecosystem for our clients. Adding the sell side offering was the natural next step.”
The fee, $6,100, would be lower than the traditional 3 percent real estate agent commissions for listing most homes . For any home selling for about $332,000 – the median existing-home sales price in South Florida – the service would save more than $4,000. On a $500,000 home or condo, the savings would be about $9,000. Home61 aims to sell over 200 homes through the service in 2018 and double that number in 2019.
“Our agents will maintain their commission split on deals with buyers, but for selling properties, the clients will work with a specialized team that has been trained on selling homes and work with the flat fee model,” said Grinda (pictured below), who was raised in France and moved to Miami from Brazil in late 2013. “We see both sides of the business as complementary, as managing listings brings new buyers to our traditional team and buy side clients will eventually sell.”
Home61 tested the service with a client in December. That client introduced Home61 to other clients and it ended up with seven properties under management. Two properties have already sold. “We did not anticipate such a ramp-up and had to hire more people faster,” Grinda said.
Home61 has about 65 real estate agents and expects to reach 100 agents by June on the buy side. In 2017, it generated more than $100 million and sales and completed its 1,000th closing of homes and rentals. Home61 expects to do 800 closings this year. [Read about its startup story here.]
Last fall, Home61 raised a $4 million round of financing from FF Angel, Founders Fund’s early stage investment vehicle, global marketplace investment firm FJ Labs, co-founded by brother Fabrice Grinda, and Miami Angels, South Florida's largest angel network formerly called AGP Miami, to help fund its national expansion.
“This new service is a continuation of our aim to bring honesty and transparency to the real estate industry,” said Grinda. “Innovation is sorely lacking in the space, and consumers end up paying the price for it – they pay overinflated commissions for sub-par service. Adding on this service allowed us to take a more holistic approach in addressing this problem by serving both sides of the market, buying and selling.”
ChronWell, a Fort Lauderdale startup that is developing a technology-enabled platform company for the workers’ compensation insurance industry, raised $4.5 million in Series A funding, the company announced this week.
The investors were not disclosed.
ChronWell was launched in September 2017 by long-time veterans in the healthcare information technology and insurance industries. Dr. Joe Rubinsztain, ChronWell's CEO, and his brother Sam Rubinsztain, VP of Product Development, together founded Weston-based gMed in Weston in 1997, which was sold to Modernizing Medicine in 2015. ChronWell's president, Salomon Sredni, was formerly president and CEO of TradeStation, one of the largest online brokers in the U.S.
The company said that it aims to be the first line of care for injured workers, while getting them back to work faster and reducing costs.
“Our mission is to use technology to bridge the gap between employee, employer and insurance company,” said Joe Rubinsztain. “In making the process more efficient, we will improve outcomes and help injured workers receive the care they deserve. Everyone agrees the workers’ compensation market is long overdue for disruption, and this is the right time to do it.”
The funding will support the first phase of the company’s innovative platform, which covers triage, on-site care, care coordination and personalized assistance service, the company said. When an employee is injured on the job, a ChronWell healthcare professional backed by Artificial Intelligence will determine the best course of action by recommending self-care, on-site care or a health care facility. The service provides follow-up with the worker and manages the claim.
“The current workers’ comp system is broken,” said Sredni. “We strongly believe in bringing compassion and empathy back into a system that is failing to serve those most in need.”
South Florida startups proved Miami is more than tourism and hospitality -- it's tourism-tech too.
Hundreds of entrepreneurs and professionals from the travel and hospitality industry gathered at The LAB Miami and the LightBox in Wynwood on Monday for the inaugural Future of Travel Summit produced by LAB Ventures, The LAB Miami's venture builder. Between panel discussions and keynote talks on everything from AR/VR to digital nomads to blockchain by executives from Ritz Carlton, Marriott, Visa, SeaTrade, JetBlue, Kayak, Spirit and others, 10 startups selected from around the world pitched for the opportunity to present at SeaTrade as well as other prizes.
And the winners were... both South Florida startups. Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise given it is one the biggest industries here and a number of travel-tech companies have already blossomed in the Miami area, including Amadeus, Oasis, EveryMundo, Local Measure, Boatsetter and Nobox.
Voyhoy took the grand prize, selected by the judges. Voyhoy is an online booking platform that allows users to compare and buy plane, bus, ferry, and train tickets throughout Latin America. It offers simple and secure ways to acquire the best deal among thousands of travel tickets.
Daycation was the People's Choice winner. Daycation allows users to book day-by-day access to various hotel amenities, such as the pool or spa, starting at $25 a day. It allows for membership as well as individual day pass purchases. (I haven't written about this startup yet, but I will).
Will Future of Travel be back next year? Absolutely, said Tigre Wenrich, CEO of LAB Ventures and The LAB Miami.
LAB Ventures has made a mission of bringing together startups and corporations. It's also running a Pitch to PERY (Perry Ellis International) fashion startup competition. There's still time to enter Pitch to PERY, but the deadline is Feb. 21. More info here: https://www.pitchtopery.com/
Three Miami coders were just messing around one Friday night and thought, "what if we could build a Birchbox for crypto?"
And they did.
Mario Aguayo, PK Banks and Auston Bunsen launched CBlocks, a mystery box of cryptocurrency, on Jan. 16. Their idea: To give anyone access to investment in cryptocurrencies without being a blockchain expert.
Despite January being a wild ride down for Bitcoin, the Miami startup still sold over 320 CB Wallets worth $17,000 in just two weeks, selling out twice.
“I have been interested in cryptocurrency for some years now in my personal life,” said Bunsen, in a press release. “But we’ve realized that the process of getting started was too difficult and fairly risky because you have to trust online exchanges with your private keys.”
How it works: Users choose how much to invest from the four CB Wallet tiers available ranging from $75 to $500. A proprietary algorithm loads your CB Wallet with a unique set of five alt-coins at random from the top 300 on CoinMarketCap. Your CB Wallet in the form of an encrypted USB arrives at your house by mail in a collectors case until you decide you want to open it.
While Bitcoin’s rise and recent plunge has grabbed the headlines, CBlocks loads the mystery box with so-called alternative coins (alt-coins), a lesser-known but fast-growing segment that accounts for roughly $11 billion in daily transaction volume.
CBlocks takes $50 for processing, so a CB Wallet costing $500 wallet would contain $450 worth of cryptocurrency. Because of demand, the startup has temporarily paused orders and hopes to start accepting orders again within the next three to five days.
From Uber drivers to I-95 commuters to soccer moms, Floridians spend an average of $2,900 annually on gas. What if there were a Priceline-like app to slash that cost burden?
Now there is. On Tuesday, GetUpside launched service in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County, where more than 400 gas stations are offering exclusive deals through the app.
How does it work? With the free GetUpside app, users see discounted prices from dozens of nearby gas stations – deals offering up to 25 cents cash back per gallon. Users can pick their station, pump and pay using a credit or debit card, and then upload a photo of their receipt to the GetUpside app. The cash back savings accumulate in users’ online accounts and can be cashed out at any time via check or PayPal.
The venture capital-backed startup was founded by a pair of former Googlers in 2016 in Washington, DC, where it already has 130,000 users who have saved more than $1 million dollars in cash back deals, the company said. GetUpside incentivizes businesses to compete with one another on price in return for bringing more customers to their stores. In Washington, the app also offers deals on groceries and restaurants.
“With year-round tourism and status as a transportation hub, Florida was an obvious choice for GetUpside’s first market expansion. We are committed to helping consumers here save and businesses here grow,” said GetUpside co-founder/CEO Alex Kinnier in a press release.
By the end of 2018, more than 1,500 gas stations throughout Florida are expected on the GetUpside platform. More info: www.getupside.com
All about extraordinary exits and the journey to them: Ryan Cohen, CEO of Chewy.com, and angel investor Jason Calacanis share views at two separate events.
Angel investor and author Jason Calacanis and Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Miami's Krillion Ventures, discuss investing in startups at Refresh Miami's event Jan. 30. Earlier in the day, Ryan Cohen, CEO of Chewy, and David Coddington, VP at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, shown below, discuss the startup journey at the Florida Venture Capital Conference in Fort Lauderdale.
One day in South Florida, two separate conversations, priceless insight.
Last Tuesday, during the day, Ryan Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Chewy.com, took the stage as the keynote speaker at the Florida Venture Forum's Florida Venture Capital Conference in Fort Lauderdale, for a couple hundred investors, entrepreneurs and service providers from around the state. In the evening, angel investor extraordinaire Jason Calacanis gave an entertaining, but insightful interview in front of 350 from the tech community at Refresh Miami’s monthly event.
Cohen sold his Dania Beach-based e-commerce company for $3.35 billion to PetSmart last year; it was the largest ecommerce deal in history and the biggest exit in South Florida. The pet supplies retailer is a homegrown success story, and as he relayed the Chewy story in an on-stage discussion with David Coddington, VP of business development at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, it was clear the journey was anything but easy.
Cohen, who started his first business at 14 creating websites, said he started Chewy in 2011 to replicate the same great customer experience of a neighborhood store, but online. He used Zappos as a model and inspiration. When he needed capital to grow, he approached more than 100 investors – and they all passed. “But I thought there’s a chance … we are on to something genius. I just felt with scale we will prove them wrong,” said Cohen.
Challenges were setting up the company for hyper growth. The year 2014 was transformational, he said, because Chew went from having virtually no experience with operations to it becoming its core competency. “In order to scale to a billion dollar company we had to go through that, but it was very, very challenging. … Our management team was working 7 days a week 16 hours a day and everything that could go wrong went wrong.”
So what went right? Customer service was its differentiator.
“We are 100 percent customer obsessed. We want them to feel as though they would never dream of shopping anywhere else. We’re human we get it, and we really care about their pets,” said Cohen, who owns a teacup poodle. After all, this is the company where hand-written holiday cards writing is a massive department; 5 million Chewy customers received them last year.
Today, Chewy has more than 7,000 employees; about 1,500 in South Florida, including a giant new call center in Hollywood. It’s got six warehouses, including one recently opened in Ocala.
“I’m persistent, I’m obsessive, … I’m relentless, I’m a contrarian. When all these VCs passed I didn’t change our business plan at all,” said Cohen.
He said scaling a company is not for everybody.
"Scaling a business is going to test you physically and emotionally. ... It is a huge act of selflessness and dedication and if you are ready for it, it is going to be a crazy, crazy, crazy roller-coaster and it will be a the journey of a lifetime." If not, he said stick to your day job.
Calacanis would agree with that.
That evening, at the Refresh Miami event, Calacanis’ conversation with Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Miami-based Krillion Ventures, gave a view from the other side of the table.
“Startups are a shitshow, they are a complete utter disaster,” the angel investor with a private syndicate, author and podcaster said. Calacanis hosts a popular podcast called “This Week in Startups,” has authored the new book, “Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups” and created Launch Festival and Launch Scale and Launch Incubator, among other endeavors.
Just don’t get him started on ICOs. Uh-oh, Krinzman did.
“I have seen this movie before. It’s not going to end well,” said Calacanis. “It’s a giant scam right now, 90 percent are incompetent, criminal people. UPDATE: For his rant on ICOs, watch this just-published video below! (rant starts at about 12:30.)
But once he [sort of] got back on track, Krinzman asked Calacanis, an an early investor in Uber and scores of other startups) about the questions investors should ask themselves. Among them: Why have the founder chosen this business? Why is he/she doing this? How skilled are the founders and the team and what do their customers think?
His advice to entrepreneurs: Go big.
“We need to take big bold risks,” he said. “If something doesn’t have long odds, it’s not worth doing as an investor or an entrepreneur. Don’t do the easy things, do the hard things.”
For startups raising money (always), he said the stakes are higher.
“I want to see what you are capable of. …. It’s a different world than 10 years ago. You have to up your game. Traction speaks, show me your traction.”
Signals of a downward spiral”: If the founder stops sending you updates.
“I always know when I hear I am going to WebSummit or Summit at Sea, that is a really bad sign. I go, 'why don’t we summit revenue, why don’t we summit hiring a CTO?' ”
While a great entrepreneur can come from anywhere he thinks opening up an office and spending some time in Silicon Valley is a good thing. “You have to be cutthroat.”
For some practical advice he listened to three pitches by South Florida startups. Some of his advice, in no particular order:
Never read a script, it becomes robotic. Say it is your own words.
He’s not a fan of unpaid pilots. “You need to know if people are willing to pay for it, you need to get that piece of data.”
Always include an example of how your product or service would work and walk us through it.
The more reality you can give investors the better. Answer the questions crisply.
Get to the point sooner. When you have the nuts, you got a get to this immediately.
UPDATE: I can’t do his talk justice, so watch the show below, courtesy of Refresh Miami.
After carefully reviewing hundreds of applications, LAB Miami Ventures has chosen the 10 most disruptive startups to pitch at the first annual Future of Travel summit. At this unique event, guests will hear keynotes and panel discussions from travel industry leaders, meet startups set to shake up TravelTech, and mingle with investors - all on Feb. 12 at the Lightbox & The Lab Miami in the Wynwood Arts District.
LAB Ventures, a company-builder that designs and launches new digital businesses, held an open call for innovative TravelTech startups and received applications from five continents. The 10 finalists offer services ranging from rental car meta search and multi/modal travel booking, to interactive city guides and hotel management systems: Viajala (Colombia), Axle (NY, US), VoyHoy (Chile), RentingCarz (FL, US), Porter and Sail (NY, US), Daycation (FL, US), Simplenight (FL, US), PurpleCloud Technologies (PA, US), Soundwalkrs (Colombia) and Hotel Online (Kenya).
The startups are competing for a chance to attend Phocuswright’s Startup Battleground in Las Vegas, a spot on stage at Seatrade Global, and over $20,000 of other prizes. The panel of expert judges include Kerri Zeil, Director of Amadeus for Startups; Noam Beno, Corporate Strategy at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd; Seth Cassel, President of EveryMundo; Andrew Sturner, Founder of Boatsetter; and Parker Stanberry, Founder of Oasis Collection.
Axle Travel (NY, US) provides door-to-door ground transportation for long-distance travel. Axle works with bus companies to ensure the fastest, safest, most affordable and enjoyable trip possible.
Daycation App (FL, US) allows users to book day-by-day access to various hotel amenities, such as the pool or spa, starting at $25 a day. Daycation allows for membership as well as individual day pass purchases.
Hotel Online (Kenya) is cloud-based reservations management and marketing system to help smaller hotels access more than 100 online sales and marketing channels.
Porter and Sail (NY, US) provides guest services technology to boutique and luxury hotel properties. These services include e-commerce platforms, guest-facing front-end mobile applications (iOS and Android), back-end operational dashboards, and industry-first analytics and data insights.
PurpleCloud Technologies (Philadelphia, US) offer a suite of mobile software products primarily for the hospitality industry. Their mobile software "Cielo" comprises of housekeeping, management, engineering and front office modules, and provides the fastest access to room status and guest information possible.
RentingCarz (FL, US) allows residents from Latin America and the Caribbean to compare all major car rental brands and get the lowest price when renting a car anywhere in the world.
SIMPLENIGHT (US) enables any company to provide a one-stop-shopping experience to search and book everything there is to do in any city. SIMPLENIGHT acts as merchant of record and takes commission on all inventory sold, pays transaction fees and shares the net revenue with the distribution partner.
Sound Walkrs(Colombia) is a smartphone app that allows users to discover a new city through a series of GPS-guided, audio walks led by fictionalized versions of historical figures from a city’s past. Users can create and share their own personalized maps and find and bookmark exciting things to do within the city.
Viajala (Colombia) enables LATAM travelers to search dozens of travel sites at once, including local online travel agencies and airlines that cannot be found elsewhere. Viajala gives travel brands the opportunity to distribute and advertise their offers in front of a premium audience of LATAM travelers.
VoyHoy (Chile) is an online booking platform that allows users to compare and buy plane, bus, ferry, and train tickets throughout Latin America. VoyHoy offers simple and secure means to acquiring the best deal among thousands of travel tickets.
Tender Armor, a financial technology startup based in Fort Lauderdale, announced it has closed “a multi-million-dollar Series A investment.”
The Series A round enables Tender Armor, a global fraud prevention technology provider, to drive new business and product innovation, expand its workforce, and meet increasing demand by financial institutions for its multi-patent-pending CVV+ solution.
The investment was led private investors Aubrey Strul and Barry Beck, with additional funding through Strul Logistics and Technology.
“Three years ago, the market void in fraud prevention solutions was evident as it still is today. We set out to create a highly effective payment fraud prevention tool that deputizes cardholders to protect them from fraudsters," said Madeline K. Aufseeser, co-founder and CEO of Tender Armor, in a press release. "Now, with the support of investors, Tender Armor enters the next phase of growth, expanding our product and workforce, and driving new business within the payments industry and beyond.”
According to American Express, nearly half of consumers who shop online report they have been the victim of payment fraud, representing nearly 80 million online shoppers. The CVV+ solution addresses the growing threat of card-not-present (CNP) fraud, which can result in customer hassles and significant losses for financial institutions. In the U.S. alone, CNP fraud is forecast to increase by 68 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to U.S. Payments.
The company's CVV+ technology anonymously authenticates the cardholder where ever payment cards are accepted, including through mobile devices, online, and over-the-phone, by generating a security code that only the cardholder can obtain, the company said. Tender Armor was founded in 2015.
Startups and suits don’t mix – or is that changing? New opportunities linking startups and Corporate America are beginning to grow in South Florida.
And if you are a fashion-tech, ecommerce or retail entrepreneur, this new pitching opportunity may be for you. Miami-based Perry Ellis International, a leading multi-billion dollar apparel designer, distributor and licensor, is teaming up with The LAB Miami’s venture builder, LAB Ventures, and angel network AGP Miami to launch Pitch to PERY (Perry Ellis International’s stock symbol), a search for the next great startup revolutionizing the fashion, e-commerce and retail industries.
Pitch to PERY is focused on finding novel solutions to some of retail’s biggest opportunities. Some of these could be driving brand awareness, increasing e-commerce sales, enhancing consumer in-store experience, and introducing new Internet of Things (IoT) products to PEI’s roster of brands, which include Perry Ellis®, An Original Penguin® by Munsingwear®, Laundry by Shelli Segal®, Cubavera®, Callaway® and Peony & Me®. Building on the momentum of the company’s 50th anniversary, Pitch to PERY is part of a broader future-focused approach, which seeks to apply a digital mindset, technology and product innovation to PEI’s family of brands, the company said.
"Our vision is to continue embracing our entrepreneurial spirit, foster our ability to adapt to change and integrate technology into our business strategy,” said Oscar Feldenkreis, CEO and President of Perry Ellis International, in a news release.
Through the competition, startups and entrepreneurs will receive private pitch-coaching from LAB Ventures, spend a day at PEI’s headquarters and ultimately, pitch their ideas in person to PEI executives during the Pitch to PERY Finals Night in March. The winning team will work with PEI and The LAB Miami to develop and implement a pilot program for their respective product or service, and have an opportunity to earn a long-term contract with PEI.
“When we started LAB Ventures our idea was always to try to build a bridge between corporations looking for external sources of innovation and startups looking for customers. The one thing an early stage startup needs even more than investment capital is a marquee reference customer.” Said Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich, CEO of The LAB Miami and LAB Ventures. “So when Perry Ellis International told us they wanted to meet local startups that might be able to provide technology relevant to their business, we jumped at the chance to help.”
Applicants are encouraged to attend The Future of Tech & Pitch to PERY Launch Night at The LAB Miami’s Wynwood offices on the evening of Wednesday, January 24 to meet executives from Perry Ellis International and learn specific details about the challenges they are looking to solve. The event will also feature a panel discussion with industry experts about where the worlds of fashion and retail are heading, and how startups can work with large corporations.
Applicants should preferably be companies with demonstrated proof-of-concepts, established client base and preliminary funding. To apply and learn more, visit: http://www.pitchtopery.com or visit the Pitch to PERY event page HERE.
It isn’t surprising to Wenrich that the Pitch to Pery Launch Night is already seeing a lot of signups on Eventbrite.
It’s part of a larger mission at The LAB to connect startups and corporations. Last year, LAB Ventures worked with Visa and Finnovista on the first annual Visa Everywhere startup search for the Latin America region, and coming up on Feb. 12, LAB Ventures will be present the finals of its TravelTech pitch competition at the Future of Travel Summit (www.FutureOfTravel.Miami). That is another event that brings together not only startups and investors in TravelTech, but also corporate executives from the traditional travel companies, Wenrich said.