Issue 440


Artificial Intelligence & Humanity
Relying on AI to help design more and design faster.

Designing A Better Design Handoff File In Figma
Practical tips to enhance the handoff process between design and development in product development.

Don’t skip over the “rough work”
Why exploration should always be a part of your design process, and how to make time for it.

Object-centric vs. Canvas-centric Image Editing
Advances in artificial intelligence have started a shift toward more object-centric workflows.

The Sunken Place is real in UX design
Design leaders often silence historically marginalized voices in the UX world in pursuit of their own career goals.


Don’t know where to start with user research? Try these templates
Want to see how leading organizations do usability testing or customer interviews? Dovetail’s new community has 100s of user-generated templates created by the best in the biz. Get started free today.

Tools and Resources

The Index
A curated online gallery with the best design studios, designers, type foundries, and other creatives worldwide.

Slow design
In our fast-paced world today, we often forget the importance of patience and taking time to think things through.

macOS people-centered design concept.

UX Portfolio

Jordan Hughes
Jordan is a Product Designer from Australia.

Looking to find your next UX gig? Join my UX talent collective and check out the UX job board.

Last But Not Least

Terrible Terms and Conditions
A compilation of stupid ideas for the Boston Stupid Hackathon 2023.

“Design is a human ritual of understanding.”
— Maggie Mcnab

Thanks to this issue’s sponsor:


As Deeptech and AI explodes, European Deeptech VC IQ Capital closes new $200M fund

European Deeptech startups get another shot in the arm this week in the shape of IQ Capital’s new $200m venture fund. The new fund takes its assets under management to more than $1bn. 

The London and Cambridge, UK-based deep tech VC has closed its fourth Venture Fund at that amount, while also launching its second $200m Growth Fund to provide later-stage funding, primarily in its venture portfolio. The means the VC will be able to deploy capital across more funding stages.

Since its foundation in Cambridge in 2007, IQ Capital has invested in over 100 deep tech startups such as Thought Machine (banking), Nyobolt (battery charging) and Speechmatics (speech recognition). It’s also had exits to Oracle, Google, Apple and Facebook, along with a number of IPOs.

Investors in Fund IV include global institutions, funds-of-funds, family offices, and British Patient Capital, the largest LP investing in UK venture capital. 

Kerry Baldwin, co-founder, Managing Partner said deep tech investment was “at the forefront of investor’s minds, topping $17bn in 2022.”

I asked her if it had been hard to raise the fund in this market: “Obviously it’s been quite hard to raise in this in market environment, putting it bluntly. But we’re doing something different.”

“We’ve raised our flagship fund for deeptech and that’s where we invest every day, in really, really deep tech. These deep tech academics actually like us to come all the way through, like we’ve done with Thought Machine, like we’ve done with Speechmatics. But yeah, it’s been an interesting funding environment.”

Given the big debate going on around Generative AI, I asked her if Europe is going to be able to compete with the major Big Tech platforms on that front.

“We’ve got exceptional talent in Europe. Generative AI has got a long way to go, but it’s not going to solve real world problems just yet,” she said.

There’s been criticisms of how University spinouts are hampered by their Alma Maters. What’s her view?

She told me: “That’s where Cambridge University has been different and obviously our roots from Cambridge and in London, and across Europe. I think it’s going to be interesting to see the results of the UK Government review that’s coming out in early September on this.”

As Deeptech and AI explodes, European Deeptech VC IQ Capital closes new $200M fund by Mike Butcher originally published on TechCrunch

Helium Health gets $30M, backed by AXA IM Alts and 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki

Helium Health, the African startup that provides software-as-a-service tools, financing, and insights for healthcare providers and public health organizations, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. 

The news is coming three years after the Lagos-headquartered healthtech secured a $10 million Series A and 18 months following a rare Africa-GCC deal involving UAE-based healthcare provider-patient interaction platform Meddy

Co-founder and CEO Adegoke Olubusi, in an interview with TechCrunch, provided an update on the acquisition. HeliumDoc, the product merging Meddy’s telemedicine capabilities and Helium Health’s revenue cycle management service, is being used in Nigeria with East African expansion in sight. Meanwhile, HeliumOS, the core product digitizing electronic medical records (EMR) and hospital management solutions across Africa, is expected to be rolled out in the GCC. 

Indeed, the new investment will allow Helium Health to drive growth in these verticals. However, it is the fintech offering HeliumCredit that will likely receive more capital concentration as the healthtech startup plans to “expand its reach… and increase its lending portfolio to 1,000 healthcare facilities by 2024 in partnership with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC),” per a statement. 

With 90% of African health facilities run on paper, Helium Health started out digitizing healthcare operations and EMR records for healthcare providers via software, providing them with data and analytics into various touchpoints. But it was only a matter of time before it soon figured that financing was another critical need facing its customers, hence birthing HeliumCredit. 

Africa’s healthcare sector is heavily undercapitalized, with a financing deficit of $66 billion per year. Healthcare funding disbursed by African governments declining by 8% over the last 15 years, and 57% of private health facilities in Nigeria never getting access to external sources of funding (despite being the first point of call for many Nigerians) further highlights the dire state of healthcare financing on the continent.  

This lack of capital trickles down, for example, to the number of health workers that are employed on the continent;  Africa has one of the lowest health worker-to-patient ratios in the world; 31 out of Africa’s 54 countries have fewer than ten doctors to 1,000 patients, leading to average wait times of around 2 hours. 

“In the process of covering the full breadth of health facilities with our HeliumOS product, one of the deep challenges we found out was around healthcare financing deficits on the continent,” said the chief executive who co-founded the startup with Dimeji Sofowora and Tito Ovia. “There are many healthcare facilities making money and are profitable but cannot access financing in Nigeria and most Sub-Saharan African countries because banks don’t have insights into how these hospitals operate. HeliumCredit is us essentially leveraging our end-to-end software product and providing a digital financing solution where our customers can apply for financing and get responses in under 48 hours.”

Launched as a digital finance product in 2020, HeliumCredit uses billing and operational insights obtained from its HeliumOS software to assess the creditworthiness of its customers. The startup, which lends on behalf of financing partners, primarily banks, also pieces data from credit bureaus and traditional systems to strengthen its credit decision framework. 

Since the healthtech’s Series A investment, it has grown its credit from $250,000 to a handful of healthcare facilities to more than $3.5 million across 200+ healthcare facilities in Nigeria. These facilities, including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and diagnostics centers, have used the loans to purchase medical equipment and medications in bulk, expand their locations and increase their top line, according to Helium Health, whose overall business has also witnessed a boost.

According to Olubusi, embedded credit enables SaaS businesses such as Helium Health to scale faster in emerging markets. His opinion is based on the fact that despite launching several years later, HeliumCredit could make the company more money than HeliumOS due to its outsized demand. “We’ve noticed healthcare facilities trying to digitize because they want more access to financing,” said the CEO, who also mentioned that Helium Health records high loan repayment rates. “And as they access long-term loans while we provide them with financial training and tools, they have a stronger incentive to want to digitize because part of the reason they haven’t been lended to historically because of the lack of a digital system which we now provide.”

Helium Health

Helium Health executives; Co-founders Adegoke Olubusi and Dimeji Sofowora (middle).

The YC-backed healthtech startup claims to be the widest-reaching EMR platform in West Africa, used by over 10,000 health workers across 1,000 facilities to care for over 1 million African patients. The 150-man team spread across ten countries and operating in eight, including six African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda) and two GCC markets (Qatar and the UAE), is also looking to deepen its collaborations within the public health and global health communities, another core focus of its work. 

Global health funders contribute about 15% of total health expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa and play a critical role in tackling the continent’s leading causes of death, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and maternal and child mortality. The problem, however, with these organizations is that they work individually, which further silos the healthcare market that is already profoundly fragmented.

Helium Health wants to solve this by leading technology efforts for these health entities and helping them to integrate previously siloed public health program efforts with broader vertical and horizontal initiatives to create interconnected health information systems. In the past year, the seven-year-old healthtech startup has received grant funding from organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MSD for Mothers to execute projects under their maternal health program strategies. 

Equity financing, on the other hand, has come from the likes of lead investor AXA IM Alts, a multi-asset investor and subsidiary of AXA Group, one of the most prominent insurance groups globally. One of AXA IM Alts’ impact strategies is improving global financial inclusion and connectivity; hence its investment in Helium Health is strategic from the perspective of the startup’s healthcare financing product, and also, as Olubusi describes, AXA is “the leading health insurance provider in most of the countries where we operate and the majority of the health facilities we serve have contracts with it.”

Jonathan Dean, the head of impact investing at AXA IM Alts (also an investor in African fintech MFS Africa), in a statement, reiterates this point by referring to Helium Health’s play of “providing digital solutions to improve the quality and efficacy of health services in resource-constrained environments while also directly equipping health sector enterprises with affordable financial services” as reasons for investing. 

New investors in the Series B round — the second largest at this stage for any African healthtech after General Atlantic- and fellow YC-backed startup Reliance Health — include co-founder and CEO of 23andMe Anne Wojcicki, Capria Ventures, Angaza Capital and Flatworld Partners. Existing investors Global Ventures, Tencent, Ohara Pharmaceuticals, LCY Group, WTI and AAIC also participated in the growth round.

Helium Health gets $30M, backed by AXA IM Alts and 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki by Tage Kene-Okafor originally published on TechCrunch

How to watch Apple unveil its AR/VR headset , iOS 17 and more at WWDC 2023

Tomorrow’s the big day, and we’re expecting big things – well, one really big thing for sure. Apple will kick of WWDC 2023 at 10AM PT Monday June 5 with its customary keynote. As ever, the event will focus on the latest versions of the company’s operating systems, namely: iOS/iPadOS 17, macOS 14 and watchOS 10.

We’re also expecting so new additions to the MacBook line, potentially including a 15-inch Air. You can read our full rundown of the rumors over here.

But let’s be real. All eyes will be focused on the company’s (ridiculously) long-rumored Reality Pro AR/VR (MR, if you will) headset. After a reported seven to eight years of development, the company is finally ready to unveil the system – or a developer version, at least. Sink or swim, it’s going to be one of the most fascinating WWDCs in recent memory.

You’ve got two options to stream. The above YouTube link and Apple’s own events page. Pro tip: I find that the latter tends to be a bit faster.

Read more about WWDC 2023 on TechCrunch

How to watch Apple unveil its AR/VR headset , iOS 17 and more at WWDC 2023 by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Elon goes to China, Rivian is selling stock for $3 billion, and Fiat’s cutest tiny EV

Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Rebecca Bellan here, and yup, I’m still steering the ship.

The biggest news this week has been Elon Musk’s visit to China, a move that has the potential to strengthen Tesla’s ties with the world’s largest auto market. It’s Musk’s first visit since the COVID-19 pandemic, and his commitment to China isn’t surprising given how much China’s vehicle sales carry the automaker’s global sales. In Q1, China accounted for over half of Tesla’s deliveries.

Even though Twitter is banned in China, Musk has still managed to make himself something of a legend to the Chinese people, reports Rita. The CEO has over 2 million followers on Weibo, where Musk shares his admiration for China, his opposition to cutting off supply chains and his plans to expand his business in China.

“The China space program is far more advanced than most people realize,” wrote Musk on Weibo.

His sweet-talking has earned him the nickname “Iron Man.”

The pieces of Musk’s visit to China are still falling, and we’ll keep updating, but here’s what we know so far. Musk kicked off his trip by dining with Zeng Yuqun, chairman of CATL, one of the largest battery manufacturing companies. There have been talks lately of CATL and Tesla partnering to build cheaper batteries in the U.S., but there’s nothing solid yet.

Musk also paid a visit to the Shanghai Gigafactory, where he met the staff behind Tesla’s popular Model 3 and Model Y.

We’re keeping our eyes out for more news of Musk’s happenings in China. And with that, onto the rest!

Want to reach out with a tip, comment or complaint? Email Kirsten at You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec. Or you can reach Rebecca at or follow her at @rebeccabellan.

Reminder that you can drop us a note at tips@techcrunch.comIf you prefer to remain anonymousclick here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.


the station scooter1a

Cake is expanding into India via a partnership with Pepfuels under the brand name CollarEV.

Cowboy is being sued by eBikeLabs, a French startup that builds embedded software for e-bikes, for patent infringement and copying eBikeLabs’ tech in its latest feature, AdaptivePower. Cowboy has refuted the claims and accused eBikeLabs of running a smear campaign. As Romain Dillet reports, “This is a messy story about a business relationship that fell apart between a small startup that doesn’t have deep pockets and a popular consumer brand that wants to protect its reputation.”

Zoomo will start offering Urban Arrow’s electric cargo bikes on its e-bike subscription platform.

Residents of Santa Barbara can check out e-bikes on a weekly basis from a new e-bike lending library.

Honda filed patents for two new moped-style electric scooters called Dax:e and Zoomer:e. Both are poised to enter the Indian market.

Zeus launched a solar panel charging pilot program in Regensburg, Germany. Under the pilot, scooters parked at the company’s three “Zolar stations” will get a charge from the sun. Maybe they should be called Helios stations, amiright?!

Porsche has launched two new e-bike cross-performance models that look like they can absolutely shred mountains.

City Spotlight: Atlanta

On June 7, TechCrunch is going to (virtually) be in Atlanta. We have a slate of amazing programming planned, including the mayor himself, Andre Dickens. If you are an early-stage Atlanta-based founder, apply to pitch to our panel of guest investors/judges for our live pitching competition. The winner gets a free booth at TechCrunch Disrupt this year to exhibit their company in our startup alley. Register here to tune in to the event.

Deal of the week

money the station

Lucid Group plans to raise $3 billion through a stock offering, the majority of which will come from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). PIF already owns more than 60% of the company, and it’s agreed to buy 265.7 million shares in a private placement for about $1.8 billion, which suggests a price of about $6.80 per share. The rest will be raised from a public offering of 173.5 million shares of common stock, according to the company.

Shares immediately dropped 9% after-hours on the news as investors considered how much more money Lucid would need to surmount its rising losses and diminishing available capital. And all of this amid a looming recession, a Tesla-sparked price war, and the aftertaste of large-scale layoffs in March.

Sure, Lucid can bring in more cash, but the company really needs to cure its spending problem. In the first quarter, Lucid’s cash and cash equivalents dropped to $900 million, down from $1.74 billion at the end of Q4 2022.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Boeing has fully acquired eVTOL startup Wisk Aero. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Boeing already owned part of Wisk and had committed $450 million in capital back in January.

A British consortium that includes mining company Glencore will invest $9 billion in Indonesia’s mining and EV battery sectors. Indonesia has the world’s biggest nickel reserves.

General Motors and South Korea’s Posco Chemical are getting C$150 million from Canada’s federal government and Quebec to build a battery materials facility. The companies aim to have the C$600 million project up and running by 2025.

Loewi, a Paris-based e-bike refurbishment startup, raised €1 million in funding to help it reach 300 refurbishments per month and expand globally.

Ola Electric, an Indian manufacturer of electric two-wheelers, is said to be preparing for an initial public offering before the year’s end. The company achieved a valuation of $5 billion during its most recent fundraising round in 2022.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

A California bill that would require a trained human safety operator to be present anytime a heavy-duty autonomous vehicle operates on public roads passed the state’s Assembly floor. It’ll go to the Senate now and, if passed, to the governor’s desk. The AV industry argues the bill stifles California’s competitiveness and defeats the whole purpose of self-driving trucks. The bill’s authors are concerned about safety on highways and job security for truckers.

Cruise is expanding hours of operation in San Francisco for certain riders who have access to its free service. For some, rides will start at 9 p.m. and go until 5:30 a.m.

Einride announced a partnership with the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure to deploy 2,000 EVs, 200 autonomous vehicles, eight charging stations and Einride’s SaaS product Saga across 550 km of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The partnership is expected to play out over the next five years. Einride did not share the financial terms.

Serve Robotics and Uber have expanded their existing partnership. Over the next couple of years, about 2,000 of Serve’s little autonomous sidewalk delivery robots will deliver food via the Uber Eats platform in multiple markets across the U.S.

Electric vehicles, batteries and charging

Arcimoto unveiled its new tiny, three-wheeled flatbed truck called the MUV. It has a customizable rear storage space, top speed of 75 mph, and about 102 miles of city range. The MUV is available now for $23,500, and Arcimoto is aiming to sell fleets.

Select 2024 Audi and other VW Group cars will have Webex available to download from the automaker’s in-app car store. Webex is also available on the 2024 Mercedes-Benz E-Class and in Ford vehicles.

Fiat’s new Topolino tiny EV is so cute we could scream. The remade Citroen Ami is a retro-looking quadricycle with a convertible top and ropes instead of doors, and aside from a teaser image, that’s really all we know about it. It probably won’t go any faster than the Ami, which hits around 28 mph, so it’ll be a no-go for the States. Which is sad because, again, it’s super cute and better for the environment and urban landscapes than an electric Hummer.

Ford’s CEO Jim Farley said the automaker might not break even on its EVs until 2030.

Geely is preparing to enter Thailand’s electric vehicle market.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV is a practical, luxurious car with top-notch tech in the form of a Hyperscreen and a handful of driver-assist features. It’s great for tech-forward families who like the finer things in life and plenty of space. Only downside? The exterior is a bit meh. As Tim Stevens describes it, “The result is a bit of a blob that absolutely disappears into any parking lot.”

Polestar’s latest software update includes YouTube. Like other similar iterations, users can stream video while stopped, like if they’re waiting for a pickup or charging their vehicles. The Polestar 2 software update also includes an updated version of Apple CarPlay that lets you project Apple Maps onto the instrument cluster.

Rivian has teased its smaller, lower-cost R2 SUV design over the Memorial Day weekend during an Instagram Q&A. CEO RJ Scaringe stood in front of a clay model of an R2 covered with a black cloth, outlining a boxy-looking compact vehicle.

Tesla says all of its Model 3 sedans now qualify for the full $7,500 EV tax credit.

Toyota has committed another $2.1 billion to its battery factory in North Carolina. The automaker also said its first U.S.-made electric SUV will be built at its Kentucky factory.

Volkswagen has finally debuted its U.S. version of the Volkswagen ID.Buzz minivan after years of teasing. The specs on the U.S. van are, unsurprisingly, much bigger than the European bus. The whole feel of it is retro-meets-cool, and indeed, we have ourselves asking, Can VW make minivans cool? Once factoring in the nostalgia aspect, the answer is undoubtedly yes. And VW will need that as it coasts into EV-land.

Volvo revealed some details about the interior of its new EX30. From what we can tell, that good old Scandinavian design is really pulling through to optimize space in the small SUV.


Attending Apple’s WWDC this month? Check out this new website from flight tracking tool Flighty to find others who are traveling to the event and connect with them, maybe even en route!

Delta Air Lines is being sued in a class action lawsuit for allegedly greenwashing. The company made a $1 billion pledge in 2020 to become carbon neutral, but the plan relied on carbon credits to offset the airline’s pollution.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new rule that would require all new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. to be equipped with automatic emergency braking systems.

Tesla has been given the all-clear by NHTSA after the agency closed an investigation into Tesla for allowing in-dash gaming while its vehicles were moving.

Bored of the standard navigation voice on Waze? Now you can have Roger Federer give you turn-by-turn directions, because why not?

Wingcopter and Siemens have signed an MoU to develop and roll out an integrated drone delivery solution to transport lab diagnostics and other medical supplies in Africa.


Ford launched a new pilot called Ford Drive that will give Uber drivers in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles access to flexible leases on Mustang Mach-Es.

Revel is diversifying its all-Tesla ride-share fleet with about 50 Kia Niro EVs.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other app-based ride-hail and delivery companies will have to reimburse California gig workers potentially millions of dollars for unpaid vehicle expenses between 2022 and 2023. The backpay comes from a provision in Prop 22 that gives low-earning drivers a vehicle reimbursement fee of $0.30 per active mile driven. That fee was meant to increase with the rate of inflation, but for the past year and a half, it has remained stagnant.

Uber is dropping the 5% discounts on rides that it used to offer members of its Uber One subscription service. Instead, riders can now earn 6% Uber Cash on rides that can be spent on more Uber stuff. It’s a bold move, and one that might see the instant gratification seekers among us ditch their memberships. But if it works out for Uber, the company might see even more spend coming from its subscribers.

* A previous newsletter inadvertently had some missing words in the following write-up. Here is the complete sentence. QuantumScape, the solid-state battery company, is (sort of) pivoting. The company said it is planning to focus more on the consumer-electronics sector in an effort to bring in the capital it needs to commercialize automotive-grade cells.

Elon goes to China, Rivian is selling stock for $3 billion, and Fiat’s cutest tiny EV by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

After investing $28B in Slack, Salesforce bets on one of its own as new CEO

In a flurry of activity at the end of last year, Salesforce announced that co-CEO Bret Taylor was stepping down. Shortly thereafter, Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield announced his exit. We would soon learn that his replacement would be Lidiane Jones, who at the time was GM of Commerce Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Experience Cloud at Salesforce.

While Jones was running essentially the entire B2C business with that title, she was relatively unknown in the industry. Yet she brought with her a deep background that included more than a dozen years at Microsoft and almost four years at Sonos, all of which helped her build a keen understanding of software and product development.

To be sure, she was walking into a difficult situation replacing a beloved founder-CEO, while trying to find ways to bridge the gap between Salesforce and Slack. At the same time those executives were leaving, Salesforce as a company was dealing with a slew of activist investors. One of their primary complaints was a lack of integration between the core Salesforce products and the company’s expensive acquisitions over the last several years.

Of those, Slack was by far the most expensive at a whopping $28 billion. The hope was to bring the platform into the fold and have it be the communications layer across the entire Salesforce family of products. Salesforce has to this point done some integrations between the two platforms but not enough to satisfy critics.

At the same time, Jones still must protect the independence of Slack because it can’t be perceived as being so tightly integrated into Salesforce that it can’t operate outside of the ecosystem.

Nobody claimed the job was going to be easy.

TechCrunch+ sat down with Jones recently at the Salesforce offices in Boston to discuss how her transition is going so far and what challenges she faces as she dives into job.

Welcome aboard

Not long before Jones took over as CEO, The Information ran an expose suggesting that the relationship between the two companies was damaged. The report also stated that Marc Benioff and Butterfield butted heads, the deal was Taylor’s baby, and with Taylor and Butterfield gone, Benioff was less interested in it, a point that Jones disputes now.

After investing $28B in Slack, Salesforce bets on one of its own as new CEO by Ron Miller originally published on TechCrunch

For startups, growth still trumps cloud cost control

There’s room for startups to cut their cloud costs, even if they have to balance the implicit costs of doing so, such as the time required and the potential for slower development. The question then becomes: How much of a priority is finding incremental savings for young tech companies?

A recent survey of founders by TechCrunch+ indicates that a change in investor expectations is spurring startups to take a closer look at their cloud spending and move away from a position more focused on speed than cost efficiency — just not too much.

The changing economy and the resulting impact on both venture capital availability and the price of money keeps showing up in our investigative work. Put another way, rising interest rates are having a knock-on effect on cloud spending at tech companies, and therefore, slowing growth at public cloud incumbents.

TechCrunch+ also recently asked startup founders if new startups should pursue a multicloud strategy. They answered mostly in the negative, with some caveats regarding edge cases.

This morning, we have a sheaf of perspectives to digest, building off our work in late 2022 aiming to understand how startups picked their first major cloud provider and why.

Finding fat to trim

Last year, Boldstart Ventures partner Shomik Ghosh told TechCrunch+ that for startups still “in early product or go-to-market stages, optimizing cloud spend should be the last thing on a founder’s mind besides utilizing as much cloud resource credits as possible.”

For startups, growth still trumps cloud cost control by Alex Wilhelm originally published on TechCrunch

Inside Stripe’s latest moves

Welcome back to The Interchange! If you want this in your inbox, sign up here. While there is always a lot going on in the world of fintech, this week felt a little subdued overall — at least when it came to funding rounds. But there was definitely still other fintech news to cover, and we’ll dive into it here.

Stripe has been busy

Stripe made headlines more than once this week as it acquired a (non-fintech!) startup and announced an expansion of its issuing product into credit.

In each case, I covered the news exclusively, which helped give me some insight into the fintech giant’s motivations behind each move.

Let’s start with the acquisition. Stripe picked up Okay, a startup that developed a low-code analytics software to help engineering leaders better understand how their teams are performing. Okay is a small startup, with just seven employees, that over time had raised $6.6 million from investors such as Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins after graduating from Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 cohort. I didn’t talk to Stripe directly about the deal but Okay’s co-founder and CEO Antoine Boulanger told me that “by increasing engineering effectiveness, Stripe will be better positioned to attract and retain talented engineers.” It also presumably will be in a better position to compete in an increasingly crowded space.

In other words, Stripe deciding to acquire a startup that helps engineering leaders build performance dashboards to gauge how their teams are doing feels like the company is very serious about making sure its own engineering team is working effectively enough to not only move faster, but also be more productive. I found it interesting that one of Okay’s customers is Stripe competitor Plaid. Or I should say was. Of course, now Okay will be folded into Stripe’s engineering team and will no longer serve outside customers.

Stripe also announced this week its plans to give companies the ability to create and distribute virtual or physical charge cards that allow their customers to spend on credit rather than using the funds in their accounts.

“Among our suite of products, Issuing [which it launched in 2018] has been doing really, really well,” Denise Ho, Stripe’s head of product for BaaS, told TechCrunch. “And the No. 1 top demand within Issuing has been the ability for Stripe to enable our platforms to offer credit to their users.”

This has a twofold benefit for Stripe — giving it a new revenue stream as well as the option to offer new financing capabilities to their customers “with little additional operational cost,” Stripe touts. It also gives companies like Ramp and Karat, among others, the ability to give their clients access to credit at a time when credit may not be as easy to come by.

Ho also told me that Stripe has worked hard to make sure all its products work well together. For example, she said, its Issuing product is built on top of its Connect offering so customers “don’t have to KYC every single [one] of the thousands of businesses on their platform.”

“And when these businesses need to pay you back for, say, the couple [grand] they spent last month, they can use Stripe Invoicing and Stripe payments. And then we have the ability to move the money from the payments balance into issuing.” One Twitter user speculated that the expansion might mean that Stripe “is going towards becoming a bank.” While we don’t know about that, we can say that Stripe’s efforts to become a one-stop-shop for its customers appear to be advancing.

Stripe, which is one of the world’s highest-valued private companies, has had some struggles as the payments space in which it operates only continues to get more competitive and the IPO market has dried up. In the past year alone, companies such as Plaid and Finix have released competing products, for example. And Stripe, which has yet to go public via a long-awaited IPO, earlier this year raised $6.5 billion at a $50 billion valuation after being valued at $95 billion in March of 2021. Stripe’s latest raise took place months after the company laid off about 1,120 workers, or 14% of its workforce, in November of 2022 after saying it had “overhired for the world we’re in.”

On that note, CB Insights pointed out in an email this past week that despite laying off 14% of its staff last year, Stripe still has nearly 2x the employees of Adyen while its valuation ($50 billion as of March 2023) is essentially equivalent to Adyen’s market cap. — Mary Ann

Close up macro color image depicting an abstract view of a collection of debit and credit cards and numeric digits.

Image Credits: Getty Images

Spend management update

Another week, another spend management company providing milestones.

This past week, two players in the space provided us with some business updates worth noting.

For one, Brex shared that two of its products — Empower, Brex’s spend management platform, and Brex business accounts — “have each achieved $100 million in ARR.”

When TC+ editor and my Equity podcast co-host Alex Wilhelm and I pressed Brex on what this meant exactly, a spokesperson told us the following via email:

  1. ARR in this case means annual recurring revenue.
  2. To clarify, it’s revenue that is contracted on Empower, which includes software and interchange from committed spend.
  3. The revenue in regards to Brex business accounts is from its deposits where the company is “paid by banks and asset managers for providing funding / assets under management. That is highly recurring as customers rarely move their funds.”

The company added that since launching Empower last year, Brex has signed on companies such as Coinbase, Indeed, SeatGeek, Lemonade and DoorDash, among others. It also said that its business accounts, which it describes as cash management accounts with a suite of money movement tools across ACH, wires and checks, have seen “rapid growth due to the ease of use and up to $6M in FDIC insurance coverage.”

You may recall that Brex also recently announced it was going global.

It’s not the only one.

Mesh Payments this past week also announced an expansion to support global multinational businesses operating in Europe, the United Kingdom and Asia in local currencies. The company believes that by doing so, it can work to solve “a major pain point companies encounter when managing spend for remote workforces and across multiple entities.”

I hopped on a call with Mesh co-founder and CEO Oded Zehavi, who shared that the expansion comes during a period in which the fintech company saw its payments volume (and revenue as a result) climb by 3x compared to the first half of 2022. He was candid about the fact that while that volume came both from existing and new customers, the company could definitely see a decline in spending from existing clients — but was making up for that by continuing to sign on new ones, including an unnamed Fortune 100 company.

Mesh aims to serve mid-market and enterprise companies, and Zehavi said the expansion into Europe, the U.K. and Asia is just the beginning as the company continues to explore other territories. Acknowledging that it is challenging to serve global customers, he said that in some cases Mesh partners with local banks and with other fintechs that serve multiple territories.

He was also adamant about the fact that disruption of this space still has a long way to go.

“We just came from a Gartner event and I will not exaggerate and say that more than 90% of the companies that attended this event are using Concur, and don’t use any one of the new players in this space,” Zehavi said. “So it means that the space is still far from being disrupted.”

globe and dollars

Image Credits: PonyWang (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

City Spotlight: Atlanta

On June 7, TechCrunch is going to (virtually) be in Atlanta. We have a slate of amazing programming planned, including the mayor himself, Andre Dickens. If you are an early-stage Atlanta-based founder, apply to pitch to our panel of guest investors/judges for our live pitching competition. The winner gets a free booth at TechCrunch Disrupt this year to exhibit their company in our startup alley. Register here to tune in to the event.

Weekly News

TC+ editor Alex Wilhelm did a couple of fintech-related deep dives this week, including his unique take on Klarna’s first-quarter earnings that led him to conclude that while “a few good quarters do not make for a comeback…there’s lots to like about the company best known for its buy now, pay later services.” He also dug into U.K.-based neobank Monzo’s fiscal 2023 results and “what its recent profitability tells us about its performance this past year (spoiler alert: good things).” Alex also took that opportunity to make some other observations on other neobanks worth $1 billion or more. As he put it, “We are compiling an IPO list in our heads, after all.”

This week, Mary Ann caught up with personal finance guru Suze Orman, who made her debut into the startup world about a year ago with SecureSave, a company that enables employers to offer employees sponsored emergency savings accounts. Mary Ann and Suze discussed a number of hard-hitting topics, including why SecureSave isn’t like its competitors (it doesn’t try to go after all your money) and how Americans aren’t saving enough (people like to spend — spoiler!). Oh, and we found out her weapon for success. There was more fintech talk on Friday’s episode of the Equity podcast as well. Check it out here.

As Ivan Mehta reports, Amazon may have gotten out of the food delivery business in India but recognizes that dining is big business. The company is now testing dine-in payments at select restaurants. Read more.

Affirm has a partnership with FIS’ Worldpay that enables Worldpay merchants to offer Affirm’s Adaptive Checkout product. Eligible consumers can, in a few clicks, sign up for biweekly and monthly payment options. Check out TechCrunch’s coverage of Affirm, including what happened with Affirm’s earnings earlier this year and the buy now, pay later boom.

Speaking of FIS, rumor has it that the company is acquiring BaaS platform Bond, according to fellow fintech enthusiast Jason Mikula.

Other headlines

JPMorgan debuts payments partner marketplace

How a $13 billion fintech that angered Jamie Dimon won over banks

Kasisto launches KAI-GPT, the first banking industry-specific large language model

Adyen launches payout services to provide faster global payments

Fundings and M&A

Seen on TechCrunch

Revolut alums raise millions for Vault, a startup offering banking services to Canadian SMBs

Olé Life wants to make buying life insurance for Latin Americans easier

Vartana lands a $20M investment to scale its sales closing platform

NomuPay, formed from pieces of failed fintech Wirecard, says it’s raised $53.6M for cross-border payments

Hostaway unlocks $175M to expand its vacation rental management platform

Qflow raises $9.1M to track construction receipts, making it easier to de-carbonize

Taxfix, the $1B German accounting startup, slashes 120 jobs amid funding crunch

And elsewhere

Mexican fintech unicorn Stori secures $50M in debt capital

Fintech startup from JPMorgan alum raises $23.5M

Brazilian health insurance company Sami secures $18M

ICYMI fintech funding round-up: Ballerine, Trébol & more

RealBlocks raises additional $10M in extension of Series A financing

SVB alum raises $7M for new cash management startup

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Inside Stripe’s latest moves by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

A peek into China’s stance on web3

Web3 has come to be known as the internet built on decentralized blockchains that power applications like cryptocurrencies and NFTs. The catch-all term is sometimes used interchangeably with crypto, but in China, the government is pursuing its own path in web3 that so far has excluded all things crypto-related.

Earlier this week, the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission, Administrative Commission of Zhongguancun Science Park released a white paper on the so-called Internet 3.0 that offered a peek into China’s stance on web3. The paper caught the attention of Binance founder Changpeng Zhao, who said in a viral tweet that “web3 [is] all over the places” in the document.

It’s worth noting that the white paper is from Zhongguancun, the Chinese government’s designated high-tech industrial zone that’s home to some of the country’s better-known tech firms, and may not necessarily reflect the official position of Beijing’s municipal government, let alone the nation’s top policymakers. Zhao also seems to have conflated what the Commission dubs Internet 3.0 with web3.

Nevertheless, the document hints at how some Chinese officials are discussing terms like Internet 3.0 and web3.

The white paper defines Internet 3.0 as “a three-dimensional space that combines virtual and real realms with a highly immersive interactive experience. It will greatly improve the interaction between people and information and the efficiency of economic activities. It’s characterized by a high level of intelligence and the advancement of virtual-real integration.”

Web3 is just one element within this new immersive world. The paper goes on to explain that Internet 3.0 “includes the essence of the metaverse and web3. Its concept embodies the transition of human society and economy from reality to virtuality, from virtuality to reality, and the virtual-real integration.”

In other words, Internet 3.0 isn’t just web3 but comprises AR/VR, the metaverse (however you define that) and other concepts that highlight the integration of the virtual and real worlds.

Changes in Hong Kong

The white paper arrives at a particularly interesting time given Hong Kong recently implemented its new regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies, allowing licensed exchanges to serve retail investors, a departure from mainland China’s crackdown on all forms of crypto trading.

The new crypto-friendly regulation, however, only applies to people in Hong Kong and remains off-limits to mainland users. King Leung, head of fintech at InvestHK, the city’s foreign direct investment department, explained in an interview with Coindesk that licensed exchanges in the city are obliged to follow the rules of different jurisdictions around the world. That includes barring users from mainland China, where crypto is banned, from accessing their services through IP address blocking. This practice has become the standard for major exchanges since China outlawed crypto transactions in 2021.

Still, changes in Hong Kong are boosting confidence among crypto investors and developers in mainland China who view it as a sign of the country’s softening stance on digital assets. As one Chinese founder of a decentralized identity startup told me: “Hong Kong has historically served as the testing ground for mainland China. The [new regulatory regime] shows that the government is watching and experimenting.”

The reality on the mainland

The white paper signals that China is open to incorporating web3 in its future internet in some capacity. Impressively, it mentions Gavin Wood, a co-founder of Ethereum, and how he was the first to expound the concept of web3, a set of inclusive protocols that provide basic modules for application developers, enabling them to build applications in new ways. The paper also references how artist Beeple’s record-breaking Christie’s auction helped bring NFT into the mainstream consciousness.

As for how web3 might manifest in China in a tangible way, the paper echoes Western technologists in maintaining that web3 enables read-write-own, allowing users to not only consume and create information but also own their data. The paper argues that in the new world where reality and virtuality merge, a new economic system will emerge, and “web3 will serve as a crucial foundation for identity verification, data authentication, asset trading and regulation in the metaverse.”

The statement appears a good sign for blockchain adoption in China. In fact, the country’s public and private sectors have been cautiously exploring blockchain across a range of fields that don’t involve cryptocurrencies, which regulators worry can spark speculation and market volatility. Furthermore, instead of censorship-resistant public blockchains, China encourages the use of consortium blockchains that are governed only by selected participants rather than anyone out in the public.

Ant Group, the fintech affiliate of Alibaba, for instance, launched a consortium blockchain for small enterprises and developers to build “trust in multi-party collaborations, including in areas such as supply chain finance, product provenance, digital invoices and charitable donations.”

A peek into China’s stance on web3 by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch