Top News in the A.M.
In the fourth quarter, Yahoo will spin off the rest of its stake in China’s Alibaba Group, pleasing its many cash-hungry investors. BloombergView’s Matt Levine explains what’s going on.
Richard Wolpert’s Big Idea: Tech Support for Your Parents
“I’m no spring chicken,” says Richard Wolpert. “But I’ve been at this for 30 years and I have a lot of great experience under my belt.”
Wolpert — who sold companies to Adobe and RealNetworks and launched Disney’s earliest online businesses before joining Accel Partners as a venture partner and cofounding Amplify.la — is explaining why, after more than seven years as a full-time investor, he just founded his fourth startup.
The L.A.-based company is three-month-old Hello Tech. Its big idea, the one that Wolpert couldn’t let go: remote tech support for consumers who own or want to buy products like Sonos speakers and Nest thermostats, but who need help in keeping them up and running.
“These are homeowners with disposable income who don’t how how to get through the newest digital security service or latest update [to their other products],” says Wolpert. “It’s much more than, “Let us catch that virus.” He adds with a laugh: “Most investors we pitched said, ‘I would buy this for my parents so I don’t have to do this anymore.’”
It’s really no joke. The tech support market — valued at $21 billion — appears to remain wide open at the moment.
Services like Geek Squad, the Best Buy subsidiary, have largely alienated U.S. consumers over the years. Meanwhile, no brand has managed to capture much of the market in its place. A sampling of Hello Tech’s current competitors include Student[at]Home, a London-based company that sends IT students to customers’ homes; iCracked, a two-year-old, Redwood Shores, Ca., company that sends out help to consumers who’ve damaged their Apple products; and Geekatoo of Mountain View, Ca., an Angie’s List-like service that connects product owners with “verified geeks” and which Wolpert doesn’t seem to take very seriously.
“You ask for help, then within 24 hours, someone like Tom at ComputerRepair.com arranges to come out and you pay him directly. It’s not an end-to-end service. We imagine something much tighter.”
Just don’t ask how it works. Aside from Hello Tech’s funding – it just raised $2.5 million co-led by Accel, Upfront Ventures, and Crosscut Ventures – Wolpert isn’t ready to disclose much, saying he prefers not to share “some of what we think will be the secret sauce.”
Indeed, he declines to answer numerous questions about how Hello Tech will manage supply and demand, how it will market the service, or how the company can ensure that its remote workforce represents the standards Wolpert envisions.
Wolpert offers instead that he cofounded Hello Tech with two former Disney colleagues who he has known for 19 years: Ninah Oh and Sascha Linn. He says Hello Tech will run “much like other marketplace models,” meaning it will take a percentage off every transaction and that users will rate the technicians who visit them. He also says that Hello Tech will launch in six cities to prove out its model, starting this spring in L.A. Asked another question about the company’s road map, Wolpert says only that, “We have some clever ideas and we don’t want to tip our hat to the market.”
Likely, by “market,” Wolpert means Ron Johnson. As PandoDaily notes, Johnson, a former SVP of retail operations at Apple, also recently launched a company that’s largely operating in stealth mode.
It sounds as if it’s targeting the same, big opportunity, too. Back in October, Johnson talked with the Wall Street Journal about providing customers with the ability to touch and try expensive electronic goods before making a big purchase.
Johnson told the outlet: “That’s when you typically want something more than fast delivery; you might want a little help . . . There’s a place for high touch in a high-tech world.”
Advance Health, a five-year-old, Chantilly, Va.-based company that provides in-home health risk assessments and chronic care management services, has raised $40 million in growth equity. The funding was led by Summit Partners, with Noro-Moseley Partners participating in the round.
Claritas Genomics, a two-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based company focused on producing next-generation genetic and genomics-based diagnostic tests, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by WuXi NextCODE Genomics. Earlier investors Boston Children’s Hospital, Cerner Corporation, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, also participated in the funding.
ClickTale, a nine-year-old, Tel Aviv-based customer experience analytics platform, has raised $35 million in new funding led by KKR, with participation from Amadeus Capital Partners, Viola Credit and other existing investors. The company has now raised $60 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.
Earnest, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based online lender that uses data science to determine customer rates, has raised $17 million in Series A funding led by Maveron, with participation from earlier backers Andreessen Horowitz and Atlas Venture. Including debt financing, the company has now raised $32 million altogether. StrictlyVC talked with founder Louis Beryl last year about his company’s ambitions.
Final, a year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based credit card that enables users to generate multiple card numbers, has raised $1 million in seed funding, including from Ludlow Ventures, T5 Capital Partners, YCombinator and several unnamed angel investors. (Final has one of the better promotional videos we’ve seen; if you’ve missed it, it’s here. Meanwhile, here’s a story about the company that produced it.)
GrubMarket, a three-month-old, San Francisco-based startup that delivers locally sourced, organic food to customers’ doors, has raised $2.1 million in seed funding from investors, including GGV Capital, Jerry Yang, Y Combinator, Wang Gang, and New Gen Partners.
Impartus Innovations, a two-year-old, Bangalore-based educational video technology startup, has raised an undisclosed of Series A funding from the investment firm Kaizen. VCCircle has more here.
Nilas, a year-old, San Francisco-based startup (f.k.a. Inbox) that promises developers a better API for building email client applications, has raised $8 million in Series A funding led by Formation 8, with participation from earlier investors Fuel Capital, SV Angel, Data Collective, Great Oaks Venture Capital and others. The company has now raised $10 million altogether.
UserTesting, an eight-year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based platform that enables companies to test user experiences across channels and devices, has raised $45.5 million in Series C funding led by Accel Partners, with participation from OpenView Venture Partners. UserTesting competes with ClickTale (see above).
RedShelf, a three-year-old, Chicago-based distributor of digital textbooks and academic papers, has raised $2 million in Series A funding from the National Association of College Stores and previous, unnamed, Detroit-based angel investors. The company had previously raised $1 million in seed funding.
Tradesy, a 2.5-year-old, Santa Monica, Ca.-based company that operates an online consignment shop, has raised $30 million in funding led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with participation from Rincon Venture Partners, billionaire Richard Branson, and others. The company has now raised $44.5 million altogether. Recode has more on the round — including investors’ recent perception that this was a “stale deal” — here.
Zipwhip, a six-year-old, Seattle-based cloud texting carrier, has raised $5 million in funding from undisclosed sources. In 2011, the company had raised a $3.1 million Series A round, including from Lakewest Venture Partners.
Victor Chu, chairman of First Eastern Investment Group, a Hong Kong-based direct investment firm with private equity investments in China, is creating a $50 million venture fund that will back startups in Nova Scotia and help them expand into Asia. CBC has more here.
Singulariteam, a venture firm in Tel Aviv that backs local startups and companies with Israeli founders, has closed its second fund with $102 million. Its LPs that include co-founders of Tencent Holdings and Renren. TechCrunch has much more here.
Five high-profile internet and tech IPOs poised to launch this year.
The bitcoin business CoinTerra has filed for bankruptcy. According to Crunchbase, the company had raised roughly $2 million from investors. Austin Business Journal has more here.
Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans (and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers) is trying to save Detroit, but there are lots of risks tied to his one-man effort, observes the National Post.
Sean Flynn, who joined the Sand Hill Road firm Shasta Ventures in 2008, has been named a managing director at the firm. Flynn was previously a senior director of communication and messaging products at Yahoo and, earlier in his career, an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley. Shasta closed a $300 million fourth fund last June.
Sony plans to cut an additional 1,000 employees in its smartphone business, mainly in Europe and China.
AOL is looking for a director of corporate development in New York.
Tech exits jumped 58 percent last year, according to CB Insights. Here’s who did the most deals.
On-demand workers: “We are not robots.”
A glimpse inside Dudley House, London’s reported most expensive private residence.
A smart mattress cover. It has to be better than what you’re using, which, let’s face it, just kind of lays around all day doing not much.