WhatsApp ramps up revenue with global launch of Cloud API and soon, a paid tier for its Business App

WhatsApp is continuing its push into the business market with today’s news it’s launching the WhatsApp Cloud API to all businesses worldwide. Introduced into beta testing last November, the new developer tool is a cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business API — WhatsApp’s first revenue-generating enterprise product — but hosted on parent company Meta’s infrastructure.

The company had been building out its Business API platform over the past several years as one of the key ways the otherwise free messaging app would make money. Businesses pay WhatsApp on a per-message basis, with rates that vary based on the region and number of messages sent. As of late last year, tens of thousands of businesses were set up on the non-cloud-based version of the Business API including brands like Vodafone, Coppel, Sears Mexico, BMW, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Itau Brazil, iFood, and Bank Mandiri, and others. This on-premise version of the API is free to use.

The cloud-based version, however, aims to attract a market of smaller businesses, and reduces the integration time from weeks to only minutes, the company had said. It is also free.

Businesses integrate the API with their backend systems, where WhatsApp communication is usually just one part of their messaging and communication strategy. They may also want to direct their communications to SMS, other messaging apps, emails, and more. Typically, businesses would work with a solutions provider like Zendeks or Twilio to help facilitate these integrations. Providers during the cloud API beta tests had included Zendesk in the U.S., Take in Brazil, and MessageBird in the E.U.

During Meta’s messaging-focused “Conversations” live event today, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the global, public availability of the cloud-based platform, now called the WhatsApp Cloud API.

“The best business experiences meet people where they are. Already more than 1 billion users connect with a business account across our messaging services every week. They’re reaching out for help, to find products and services, and to buy anything from big-ticket items to everyday goods. And today, I am excited to announce that we’re opening WhatsApp to any business of any size around the world with WhatsApp Cloud API,” he said.

He said the company believes the new API will help businesses, both big and small, be able to connect with more people.

In addition to helping businesses and developers get set up faster than with the on-premise version, Meta says the Cloud API will help partners to eliminate costly server expenses and help them provide customers with quick access to new features as they arrive.

Some businesses may choose to forgo the API and use the dedicated WhatsApp Business app instead. Launched in 2018, the WhatsApp Business App is aimed at smaller businesses that want to establish an official presence on WhatsApp’s service and connect with customers. It provides a set of features that wouldn’t be available to users of the free WhatsApp messaging app, like support automated quick replies, greeting messages, FAQs, away messaging, statistics, and more.

Today, Meta is also introducing new power features for its WhatsApp Business app that will be offered for a fee — like the ability to manage chats across up to 10 devices. The company will also provide new customizable WhatsApp click-to-chat links that help businesses attract customers across their online presence, including of course, Meta’s other applications like Facebook and Instagram.

These will be a part of a forthcoming Premium service for WhatsApp Business app users. Further details, including pricing, will be announced at a later date.

 

Data intelligence startup Near, with 1.6B anonymized user IDs, lists on Nasdaq via SPAC at a $1B market cap; raises $100M

The IPO window has all but closed for technology companies in the wake of a massive downturn in the market, but an opening still remains for some, in the form of SPACs. Near — a data intelligence company that has amassed 1.6 billion anonymized user profiles attached to 70 million locations in 44 countries — today announced that it would be listing on Nasdaq by way of a merger with KludeIn I Acquisition Corp., one of the many blank check companies that have been set up for the purposes of taking privately held companies public, at a valuation “near” $1 billion. It will trade on Nasdaq using the “NIR” ticker.

Alongside that, the company is picking up a $100 million equity investment into its business from CF Principal Investments, an affiliate of Cantor Fitzgerald. 

If you’ve been following Near or the SPAC market, you might recall that there were rumors of KludeIn talking to Near back in December. At the time Near was reportedly aiming at a valuation of between $1 billion and $1.2 billion with the listing. The last several months, however, have seen the IPO market virtually shut down alongside a massive drop in technology stocks across the board and a wider downturn in tech investing overall, even in much smaller, earlier-stage startups.

Near, originally founded in Singapore in 2012 and now based out of Pasadena, had raised around $134 million in funding, including a $100 million round in 2019 — which had been the company’s last big raise.

Its investors include the likes of Sequoia India, JP Morgan, Cisco and Telstra (which have agreed to a one-year lock-up according to KludeIn’s SEC filings). Company data from PitchBook notes that Near had tried but cancelled a fundraise in May 2021.

All in all, Near is an interesting example when considering the predicament that a lot of later-stage startups might be finding themselves at the moment.

On the one hand, the company has some big customers and some potentially interesting technology, especially in light of the swing from regulators and the public toward demanding more privacy in data intelligence products overall.

It works with major brands and companies including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Ford, the CBRE Group and 60% of the Fortune 500, which use Near’s interactive, cloud-based AI platform (branded Allspark) to tap into anonymised, location-based profiles of users based on a trove of information that Near sources and then merges from phones, data partners, carriers and its customers. It claims the database has been built “with privacy by design.”

It describes its approach as “stitching” and says that it’s patent-protected, giving it a kind of moat against other competitors, and potentially some value as an asset for others that are building big data businesses and need more privacy-based approaches.

On the other hand, while financials detailed in KludeIn’s SEC filings show growth, it is at a very modest pace — numbers may not look that great to investors especially in the current climate. In 2020, Near posted revenues of $33 million, with estimated revenues of $46 million for 2021, $63 million for 2022 and $91 million for 2023. The company estimates that its gross profit margin for this year will be 72% ($44 million) but equally estimates that EBITDA has been negative and will continue to be until at least 2024.

Image Credits: Near

Looking out further than Near, it will be interesting to see how many others follow the company in taking the SPAC exit route, which has proven to be a controversial vehicle overall.

On the plus side, SPACs are lauded by supporters for being a faster, more efficient route for strong startups to enter the public markets and thus raise money from more investors (and giving sight of an exit to private investors): this is very much the position Near and KludeIn are taking.

“Enterprises around the world have trusted Near to answer their critical questions that help drive and grow their business for more than a decade. The market demand for data around human movement and consumer behavior to understand changing markets and consumers is growing exponentially and now is the time to accelerate the penetration of the large and untapped $23 billion TAM,” Anil Mathews, founder and CEO of Near, said in a statement. “Going public provides us the credibility and currency to double-down on growth and to continue executing on our winning flywheel for enhanced business outcomes over the next decade.”

“I am thrilled to partner with Anil and the entire team at Near as they continue to help global enterprises better understand consumer behavior and derive actionable intelligence from their global, full-stack data intelligence platform,” added Narayan Ramachandran, the chairman and CEO of KludeIn. “We believe this merger is highly compelling based on the diversified global customer base, superior SaaS flywheel and network effects of Near’s business, highlighted by the company’s strong customer net retention.”

On the minus side, those positives are also the very reasons for some of SPAC’s problems: Simply put, they have enabled public listings for companies that might have found it much harder, if not impossible, to do so through the scrutiny of more traditional channels. Sometimes that has played out okay anyway, but sometimes it has ended badly for everyone. Just this week, Enjoy — which also listed by way of a SPAC — said that it was on course to run out of money by June and was reviewing its strategic options.

Time, the appetite for more data intelligence and potentially some factors out of its control like the investment climate, ultimately will show which way Near will go. The transaction is expected to generate $268 million of gross proceeds, assuming there are no redemptions and a successful private placement of $95 million of KludeIn common stock, KludeIn said.

New Relic enters the security market with its new vulnerability management service

New Relic, which has long been known for its observability platform, is entering the security market today with the launch of a new vulnerability management service. Aptly named New Relic Vulnerability Management, the service aggregates data from botth its own native vulnerability detection system and third-party tools, giving security, DevOps, SecOps and SRE teams a single service for monitoring their sotware stack for vulnerabilities.

“Minimizing security risk across the entire software development life cycle is imperative — and we are seeing more pressure on DevOps to manage risk while making sure it doesn’t become a blocker to the pace of innovation,” said New Relic CEO Bill Staples. “New Relic Vulnerability Management delivers more value to engineers harnessing the power of observability with our platform approach, and accelerates our mission to help every engineer do their best work with data, not opinions.”

The company argues that one if its major differentiators is that this new tool can integrate with third-party security tools. This in turn should help teams prioritize which security risks to focus on (because there are always more than any team can handle), with the new service also helping them to identify which actions to take to remediate those risks).

The new service is part of a series of announcement New Relic made at the CNCF’s KubeCon + CloudNativeCon conference and its own FutureStack event today. Other announcements include enhancements to the company’s application performance monitoring service (which now collects logs in context), new partners in its Instant Observability ecosystem (which now features more than 470 integrations), and a major new partnership with Microsoft, allowing Azure users to use New Relic as their default observability platform natively inside the Azure Portal.

Coinbase backtracks on its hiring plans, citing crypto market turmoil

Coinbase, the third-largest crypto exchange by volume, has changed its tune on hiring amid a market downturn.

“Heading into this year, we planned to triple the size of the company. Given current market conditions, we feel it’s prudent to slow hiring and reassess our headcount needs against our highest-priority business goals,” Emilie Choi, Coinbase’s president and COO wrote in a post on the company’s website today.

Choi noted that headcount growth is a key input in the company’s financial model, and that slowing the rate of hiring is important in ensuring Coinbase can reach the profitability guidance it has set for investors.

The news comes as cryptocurrency markets take a beating more broadly, catalyzed by uncertainty in the equity markets as a whole as well as the recent collapse of the Terra UST stablecoin.

Coinbase’s stock is down nearly 80% today compared to its IPO price, though it’s worth noting the company’s top line had already been suffering from a decline in crypto trading volumes since the beginning of the year. The company, which depends on trading activity for most of its revenue, reported a loss of $430 million during the first quarter of 2022.

Coinbase also drew controversy last week for a disclosure in its quarterly report saying that shareholders could lose the funds they have deposited in the exchange in the event it goes bankrupt. CEO Brian Armstrong tweeted a clarification after the fact, reassuring users that Coinbase has “no risk of bankruptcy” but adding that “it is possible, however unlikely, that a court would decide to consider customer assets as part of the company in bankruptcy proceedings even if it harmed consumers.”

Goldman Sachs co-leads $70M investment in Elwood Technologies

Despite continued volatility in the crypto markets, there still are plenty of funding rounds being announced by traditional finance players betting on companies experimenting with crypto.

Elwood Technologies, a crypto-focused platform founded by British hedge fund billionaire Alan Howard, closed a $70 million Series A co-led by Goldman Sachs and early-stage venture fund Dawn Capital.

Other investors from both traditional and crypto backgrounds include Barclays, BlockFi Ventures, Chimera Ventures, CommerzVentures, Digital Currency Group, Flow Traders and Galaxy Digital Ventures. The round values the firm at about $500 million, according to people familiar with the terms, Financial Times reported.

The mix of investors highlights the involvement of traditional financial institutions working alongside digital asset technology providers, James Stickland, CEO of Elwood Technologies, said.

Elwood’s platform aims to provide institutional-level access to cryptocurrency markets and liquidity venues. The capital will be used toward increased demand from institutional clients and expanding its products and global operations, it said.

“As institutional demand for cryptocurrency rises, Goldman Sachs has been broadening its market presence to appeal to client demand,” Mathew McDermott, Global Head of Digital Assets at Goldman Sachs said in a statement.

Subscribe to TechCrunch’s crypto newsletter “Chain Reaction” for news, funding updates and hot takes on the wild world of web3 — and take a listen to our companion podcast!

Classiq raises additional funding for its quantum algorithm design tools

Tel Aviv-based Classiq, a startup that wants to make it easier for developers to build quantum algorithms and applications, today announced that it has raised additional funding for its service by adding HSBC, NTT Finance, and Intesa Sanpaolo as new investors to its $33 million Series B round, which brings the round to $36 million and the company’s total funding to $51 million.

While this is not a huge extension round, it’s still worth an extra look because it shows how these new strategic investors in the financial services industry are placing early bets on quantum computing and Classiq’s ability to make building quantum software easier.

“In this round, it was important for us to bring in strategic money — money is important, funding is important and this is our way to scale — but also, in this market, strategic partners are important. The common thing for all of these strategic investors is that they see quantum computing as a key part of their IT strategy,” Classiq CEO Nir Minerbi told me.

The company now has about 40 employees and is looking to scale that to 80 soon. With both the quantum market in Europe and Japan growing quickly, Classiq is focusing its efforts on these geographies right now, in addition to the United States.

“We sell our platform mainly to enterprises and academia — but mainly enterprises. So what we care about is where the main markets of enterprises that will adopt quantum computing are. If I had to name two, it would be Japan and Germany. You see many Japanese enterprises like Toshiba, NTT, Hitachi and Mizuho — and so many others — opening quantum computing teams,” Minerbi explained.

Image Credits: Classiq

Another focus for Classiq is to scale the overall talent pool. Earlier this week, the company launched its Classiq Coding Competition, for example, which rewards those developers who can create the most efficient quantum circuits while using its tools. Minerbi also noted that the Classiq platform is now used at a number of universities, including Carnegie Mellon, to train the next generation of computer scientists.

It’s obviously still (very) early days for quantum computing, but as Minerbi noted, many enterprises are now starting to think about how they can, eventually, integrate quantum into their overall IT strategy. In addition, while verticals like finance, pharma and automotive have long been interested in quantum, a number of cybersecurity firms are also now starting to investigate how they could potentially use quantum computers (beyond the obvious focus on breaking existing encryption schemes).

“Quantum computing has the potential to overhaul how we operate areas of the bank, like option pricing and risk analysis, which would lead to greater efficiencies and customer service improvements,” said Steve Suarez, global head of innovation, global functions at HSBC. “We look forward to working with Classiq to explore this technology further.”

Nigeria’s Topship raises $2.5M from Flexport and YC to help merchants with international shipping

African merchants encounter many challenges when it comes to international shipping ranging from logistics and customs to hidden and excessive charges.

Digital freight forwarders on the continent have grown to tackle these supply chain issues. In some way, they are taking after the likeness of an $8 billion company and a market leader in the freight space, Flexport; some have dubbed themselves the “Flexport for Africa.” 

Recent YC graduate Topship is one such startup and it has raised a $2.5 million seed round months after concluding the recent YC winter batch. Flexport is its lead investor. Other backers include Y Combinator, Soma Capital, Starling Ventures, Olive Tree Capital, Capital X and True Capital. The individual investors in the round include Immad Akhund, Mercury CEO and Arash Ferdowsi, co-founder of Dropbox.

Topship was founded in 2020 during the pandemic when co-founder and CEO Moses Enenwali noticed a surge in merchants’ needs for shipping parcels and cargo outside Nigeria. He had built relationships with these merchants following his time with logistics company ACE Logistics and e-commerce fulfilment provider, Sendbox. Though demand was steady during his time with both companies from 2015 to 2020, this was different.

“The world was shutting down, but there was this high demand for stuff and demand for international shipping was going up simultaneously. So I was like, “this is interesting.” It wasn’t a business then as we just helped these people move stuff like a scrappy, little hustle,” Enenwali told TechCrunch over a call.

Globally, about 60% of air cargo is flown in the belly hold of passenger flights which is one reason why to an extent, shipping businesses done via air are more straightforward to start than those done via the sea. For Enenwali, it even made more sense to go through this route because passenger planes flew half empty for most of 2020. After months of iteration, Topship went live in March 2021 with Junaid Babatunde as CTO.

Topship says it wants to create the easiest way for African businesses to export and import parcels and cargo to their customers, suppliers, and distributors worldwide. The company and similar players such as Sote, SEND, and OnePort365 want to improve the overall shipping experience in Africa. However, Topship’s expectations are pretty lofty; it said in a statement that “its mission is to make the shipping experience in Africa as easy and stress-free as booking an Uber ride.” And one factor that might work in its favour is its focus on air cargo even as others explore a mix of air, sea and truck haulage pioneered by Flexport.

CEO Enenwali argues that while African startups, including his, take some cues from Flexport’s playbook, he doesn’t think Africa is ready for the unicorn’s model, which is super-heavy on sea cargo movement.

“The reason why the Flexport model wouldn’t work here is it’s heavily invested in ocean freight and we don’t have enough ports on the continent. For example, in Nigeria, we have one function port, and for ocean freight to work, we need ports, railways, and roads for trucking. But we don’t have the roads, and we don’t have the railways,” said the CEO, giving reasons why Topship doesn’t involve itself with sea cargo.

“It’s difficult to connect the continent with ocean freight. Flexport’s business model makes a lot of sense even with the way they attack problems aggressively, and I love that. But for Africa, we need to tweak it to fit the use case here. So what we’ve seen is the way to connect the continent is via air. Every country and major city on the continent has a functioning airport, and airlines are flying to all those airports daily.”

Topship caters to a wide range of users. From a merchant moving tons of heavy equipment and a solo entrepreneur sending parcels to a student mailing documents to a school abroad and a Gen Z shopping from a foreign store, Topship is a borderline local and international shipping solution between digital freight and e-commerce fulfilment. Flexport has backed several African companies from both categories, such as Trella, Flextock, ShipBlu, Sendbox, and Freeterium.

According to Enewali, Topship allows 1,500 merchants to move cargo and parcels from Nigeria to over 150 countries. Although it can help Nigerian merchants receive parcel deliveries from the other way round, they can only accept cargo deliveries from the U.S., the U.K and China

The company’s revenue comes from two ways: selling shipping insurance and taking a margin on transactions. Enewali said the company is exploring other revenue streams, including trade financing and customs clearance charges. The company has recorded ~50% month-on-month revenue growth since getting into YC this January.

I think what YC does more than anything is just push you to dive as deep as possible in understanding your users,” said the CEO about Topship’s revenue growth after YC. I mean, look into the future, a lot of it’s coming from that ethos of just the user is the most important piece of the puzzle, and we have to be obsessive about it. We’re taking all the learnings and insights that we’ve learned from our users over the past five months or six months and building it into the product in a way that is merchants-focus.”

Late last year, merchant groups from Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya invited Topship to gauge the possibility of launching in their respective markets. Enewali said this new funding provides Topship with the pockets to follow through and start operations there. A portion of the investment will be used to improve its asset-light technology and build out proprietary global shipping infrastructure to make imports/exports significantly faster and easier, the CEO said.

Topship has also set aside fashion design and retail grants worth $3,500 to award new and established fashion brands in Nigeria as a sign of “support for the future of the growing e-commerce sector” in the country.

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal says he fired key execs due to ‘challenging’ economy

Twitter’s new CEO Parag Agrawal has largely remained silent through the company’s ongoing rollercoaster ride, even as its likely future owner Elon Musk continues to very much do the opposite.

But Agrawal finally broke his silence following an especially tumultuous week at the company, which saw him oust two key executives, Twitter’s head of product Keyvon Beykpour and Bruce Falck, who led the revenue side of the company.

“The truth is that this isn’t how and when I imagined leaving Twitter, and this wasn’t my decision,” Beykpour said of the surprise decision, which happened while he was out on paternity leave. Beykpour explained that Agrawal asked him to leave the company due to a desire to take the consumer team “in a different direction.”

In his new tweet thread, Agrawal deftly said a lot without saying much of substance, a classic CEO skill not really shared by his often casual, off-the-cuff predecessor.

Agrawal explained that he does expect the Musk deal to close, but that under his watch, Twitter needs to “be prepared for all scenarios.” His comments mostly gesture at the current economic climate, in which the tech industry and the broader stock market have come crashing down from recent highs. Startups and tech giants alike are battening the hatches, trimming costs and putting hiring freezes in place to weather the storm. According to Agrawal, Twitter is doing the same.

“People have also asked: why manage costs now vs after close?” Agrawal said. “Our industry is in a very challenging macro environment – right now. I won’t use the deal as an excuse to avoid making important decisions for the health of the company, nor will any leader at Twitter.”

What’s less clear is how Agrawal’s decision to cut influential leaders in the company squares with whatever vision Musk has in store. While Twitter languished for the better part of a decade without new products or investor-pleasing growth, the company has looked like a very different beast over the last year, shipping new consumer products left and right, solving for hard problems like harassment and experimenting with new revenue streams to set it free from advertising. Whatever Agrawal’s moves ultimately mean, the company appears to be switching tracks, getting rid of two figures who laid a lot of recent groundwork for growth in the process. If Agrawal will survive that process and stick it out into the Musk era is anyone’s guess at this point.

Meanwhile, the Musk sideshow goes on. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO indeed looks to be locked into the Twitter deal at this point, but he continues to sow chaos and rack up likely SEC fines nonetheless. On Friday, Musk cast doubt over the whole thing, claiming that the deal is “temporarily on hold” as he reviews the social network’s ratio of bots to real accounts, just one of the platform’s many existential issues but the one that happens to be his pet issue.

At the time of writing, that supposed development wasn’t supported by any financial filings or corroborating evidence. While it’s possible Musk is trying to back out or re-price his purchase somehow, it’s just as likely that the notoriously mercurial billionaire is just tweeting his passing thoughts stream of consciousness-style, SEC fines be damned, in this case to the detriment of the company he’s ostensibly trying to buy.

Register now for TechCrunch Live’s event in Columbus, Ohio!

TechCrunch Live is thrilled to shine the spotlight on Columbus, Ohio. On June 1, our crew is virtually heading to Columbus to explore the region’s growing startup ecosystem. We have a speaker lineup that represents a broad swath of the community including the CEO of Olive and a Drive Capital founding partner. There’s a panel on raising startup capital, followed by a panel on startup jobs in Columbus. Finally, we have a pitch competition and a live recording of the Found podcast featuring the CEO of Aunt Flow.

Register for the virtual event here, and apply for the pitch-off here.

Why Columbus? Because it’s quickly becoming a major startup scene in the Midwest, especially in the areas of healthcare and insurance. More than $3 billion has been injected into the city over the past 20 years, according to Crunchbase data. Investment into the city startups started picking up around 2017 and really peaked in 2021. That’s when investment essentially doubled, going from $583 million in 2020 to just over $1 billion, with half of those dollars going into two companies: healthcare technology company Olive and autonomous robotics company Path Robotics. So far in 2022, $110 million has gone into Columbus startups.

Olive is now valued at over $4 billion and is among other Columbus success stories like CoverMyMeds, a healthcare software company that was acquired by the McKesson Corp. in 2017 for $1.4 billion, which represents Central Ohio’s first $1 billion exit. Root Insurance, which raised over $800 million since 2015, went public in 2020. Other notable raises include Forge Biologics’ $120 million Series B round, which was thought to be Ohio’s largest Series B to date. Forge plans to add 200 new jobs by 2023.

We hope you can attend this event! Like every TechCrunch Live event, it’s free to participate and attend. And like every TechCrunch Live event, it kicks off at 3:00 pm EDT/12:00 pm PDT, and this one happens on June 1, 2022.

Apply for the pitch-off! To qualify you need to:

  • Be based in the greater Columbus, Ohio area
  • Have an MVP
  • Be pre-Series A

TechCrunch Live in Columbus!

Columbus Unicorns with Olive and Drive Capital (3:00 pm EDT)
Olive is a homegrown Columbus unicorn; hear from the CEO and lead investor how the company was built and raised $856 million since its founding in 2012.

Raising startup capital  (3:30 pm EDT)

Ohio isn’t Silicon Valley, and yet there are numerous venture capital funds eager to write checks to early-stage founders. Join this session and hear from two investors on which industries are thriving in Columbus, and which sort of founders fit best in this scene.

Work for a startup in Columbus (4:00 pm EDT)

Columbus, like many major American cities, is home to industry giants with hundreds of workers toiling away in cubicles. But startups are hiring! Hear from two local leaders on who’s hiring, and what startups look for in new employees.

Pitch Competition (4:20 pm EDT)

Apply here!

Judges

  • Anna Mason, Managing Partner, Rise of the Rest Seed Fund at Revolution
  • Alda Leu Dennis, General Partner, Initialized Capital

Found Live with Claire Coder, CEO of Aunt Flow (5:00 pm EDT)

Aunt Flow is an innovative startup from Columbus, Ohio that supplies 23,000 bathrooms with essential feminine products. The company’s clients include Apple, Meta and more. Hear from the company’s CEO Claire Coder about the pains of raising capital in Ohio, and scaling her company to 40 employees during this special Found Live podcast recording.