StrictlyVC: March 15, 2018

It’s Thursday! (Right? Is it?)


Top News


According to a new report in the WSJ, Robinhood, the zero-fee stock-trading app, is set to be valued at an astronomic $5.6 billion in a new, $350 million funding round led by DST Global, which also led Robinhood’s last funding a year ago. (As regular readers know, we talked with Robinhood’s cofounder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev at our StrictlyVC event in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and he shared the company’s ambitions to be much more than a trading app.)


Sponsored By . . .


Morgan Conbere loves public transit and values elegant UX. Conbere and his co-founders — alums of Google, Apple, and other giants — depend on public transit day-to-day. It bugged them that there was no modern, simple interface to pay for and ride the bus. So Token Transit was born, and it has been operating at high speed ever since. Of course it’s a FinLab company, today’s sponsor. Know of a fintech or nonprofit that could benefit from some added speed and access? Apply now for FinLab’s next class.


Lightning Labs


Lightning Labs, a young, Bay Area-based startup, is trying to make it easier for users to send bitcoin and litecoin to each other without the costly and time consuming process of settling their transactions on the blockchain.


It has investors excited about its work, too. The company is announcing today that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding to date from a kind of list of big names in payments and beyond, including Square and Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey,  Square exec Jacqueline Reses, serial-founder-turned investor David Sacks, Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, Eventbrite cofounder Kevin Hartz, BitGo CTO Ben Davenport, and Robinhood cofounder Vlad Tenev, along with The Hive, Digital Currency Group, and others.


In an enthusiastic tweet earlier today, Sacks characterized the company as “one of the most important projects in crypto overall.”


Why is it notable, exactly? For starters, Lightning Labs works off Lightning Network, a protocol that’s sometimes called the second layer of bitcoin. (Think of it a little like HTTP.) Champions of this newer layer, including Lightning Labs, see it as a way to exponentially boost the number and speed of transactions of the bitcoin blockchain without increasing the size of blocks — batches of transactions that are confirmed and subsequently shared on bitcoin’s public ledger.


It’s all a little confusing to people still trying to get a handle on how the blockchain works, but the Lightning protocol essentially aims to let two or more people — and eventually machines — create instant, high-volume transactions that still use the underlying blockchain for security.


Here’s how it works.


More here.


(Other) New Fundings


Airtable, a nearly six-year-old, Bay Area-based startup that’s trying to turn normal spreadsheets into robust database tools, has raised $52 million in funding co-led byCRV and Caffeinated Capital, with participation from Freestyle Ventures and Slow Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.


Blue Vision Labs, a seven-year-old, London-based augmented reality startup that says it’ll be the first to bring collaboration to the AR experience (imagine multiple users seeing the same virtual objects), has raised $17 million in seed and Series A funding, it says. GV led its $14.5 million Series A round; it was joined by the company’s seed investors, including Accel PartnersHorizons Ventures, and SV Angel. TechCrunch has more here.


Foxtrot, a nearly five-year-old, Chicago-based corner store franchise that features beer, wine, food and everyday essentials, all of which can also be ordered on-demand, has raised $6 million in Series A funding. Fifth Wall Ventures led the deal. Built in Chicago has more here.


SambaNova Systems , a five-month-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based startup that was founded by Stanford professors and a former chip company exec and is building new hardware to supercharge AI-centric operation, has raised a massive $56 million in Series A funding. GV and Walden International co-led the round, with participation from Redline Capital and Atlantic Bridge Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.


The Skimm, a six-year-old, New York-based media company whose newsletters target millennial women, has raised $12 million in fresh funding led by GV, with participation from Spanx founder Sara Blakely, as well as earlier backers that include RRE Ventures and Homebrew. The company has now raised $28 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here.


New Funds


Another day, another new European firm is announcing the close of its debut fund.  This time is Five Seasons Ventures, a Paris-based outfit that’s backed by the European Investment Fund, Nestlé, Fondo Italiano d’Investimento, and Bpifrance, and which plans to invest its roughly $74 million in fresh capital commitments in European food and agtech startups. TechCrunch has more here.



Concerned that allegations of his harassing women would reach the media, Rami Beracha — the head of Pitango Venture Capital, Israel’s biggest venture capital fund — reportedly hired private investigators to thwart news stories about him and asked them covertly enter closed online forums of high-tech women to see if he name was being mentioned. #OhNo. Haaretz has more here.


Someone at Snap was fired today (pretty sure).


Billionaire Peter Thiel suggested during an appearance today at the Economic Club of New York that bitcoin will only grow in importance — as ethereum and other new currencies lose momentum. (As Bloomberg notes, Thiel’s venture firm, Founders Fund, has been buying bitcoin since 2012.)


Where did venture capitalists go to college? Click to find out here!




Bose, the audio giant, is looking to hire a corporate development associate to help source and evaluate M&A opportunities. The job is in Framingham, Ma.




Ride-hail apps officially became more popular than New York City’s iconic yellow cabs as of the beginning of 2017. Recode has more here.



Essential Reads


How Amazon‘s bottomless appetite became corporate America’s nightmare.


Bitcoin mania has passed — for now, notes Bloomberg. Its price has stalled between $8,000 and $11,300 for the last month. More telling, perhaps, online searches for “bitcoin” fell 82 percent from December, according to Google Trends.


Beleaguered Blue Apron is about to begin selling its meal kits in stores, says TechCrunch. Though it’s not saying which stores.




A fond farewell to our favorite third wheel.


Toddler feelings helpline.


The man who has helped Elon Musk, Tom Brady, and Ari Emanuel get dressed.


Retail Therapy


retro classic keyboard after our own hearts.


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