Guesty books $170M to double down on property management tools for Airbnb and other rental platforms

Platforms like Airbnb have boomed with more consumers (and business users) than ever before keen stay in private properties when traveling or working away from their usual home base. That’s also meant a boom for startups building technology to help those renting out properties to manage the process. Guesty — which has built a platform to manage property listings across multiple sites like Airbnb, Vrbo, Expedia and — is today announcing that it has raised $170 million, an all-equity round that it will be using to continue fueling its growth, and to tap deeper into providing tools to address our changing habits as consumers.

“With the ways people live, work, socialize and travel having shifted, the lines between traditional hotels and rental accomodations continue to blur,” co-founder and CEO Amiad Soto told me in an interview. “Hospitality operators — everyone from hosts to property managers to hotel brands — are continuing to adapt to this new reality. The last few years brought new customer personas to the short-term rental market, including classic hotel-goers who have higher demands for guest experiences and services.”

Apax Digital Funds, MSD Partners and Sixth Street Growth co-led the round for Tel Aviv-based Guesty, with previous backers Viola Growth and Flashpoint also participating — motivated in part by that vision of a changing travel and living landscape.

“As alternative property management operations become more complex, Guesty is paving the way for the next generation of digital hospitality services,” said Dave Evans, a partner at Apax Digital, in a statement. “Their track record of success and innovation, along with their platform’s growing suite of tools and intuitive user experience has Guesty positioned to define and consolidate its category, working with hosting businesses of all sizes. We are excited to continue partnering with the company as it continues to transform the industry.”

This is an all-equity Series E, Soto said in our interview (via email, because, coincidentally, I happen to be traveling myself). Soto didn’t say at which valuation, but he told me that the figure had tripled since its last round (a $50 million injection in 2021). PitchBook notes that last round was at a $230 million valuation; if that’s accurate it would put today’s round at $690 million. (We’ll update as and when we learn more.) The company is not yet profitable, Soto said, but it’s aiming for it next year, when it is also on course to surpass $100 million in ARR in the first six months.

The size of the round is big, but perhaps especially notable given the constraints that fundraising has been under in general this year. It’s also a measure of where Guesty is today, and where it’s going.

Soto and Guesty are not disclosing how many properties managed using its platform but directionally say the numbers are growing. “We expect our revenue and listings under management to continue to double year-over-year, both in 2022 and 2023,” Soto told me. (For a point of reference, the last time we reported the number was at the time of a $35 million funding round in 2019, when it noted that it had over 100,000 across 70 countries.)

His explanation for moving away from disclosing property numbers is not to do with the inevitable disruption that Covid-19 brought to the industry (and Guesty’s users in particular), but because Guesty itself has changed as a business, expanding both the kinds of properties that are managed, and the uses of those properties.

“Since our inventory has grown to include more than just short-term rental listings and include more flexible accommodations, such as co-living spaces, aparthotels, glamping and more, the key metrics that demonstrate our growth are our revenue and profitability,” Soto said, adding that Guesty has seen 100% growth year on year and expect this to continue. The startup’s team now numbers 585 employees, which has also doubled in size in the last year.

“We expect these numbers to continue growing even faster,” he noted.

To that end, Guesty is also rapidly expanding in terms of what kinds of tools it’s offering to its users, and thus how the platform generates revenues. There are a lot of travel startups out in the wild, including a huge swathe of those dedicated to property management technology and services, and Guesty has been positioning itself as something of a consolidator. The company’s acquisitions have included MyVR (like Guesty, an alum of Y Combinator) and Your Porter respectively to tap into deeper multimedia tools for its users, and to provide more tools for hosts that work across properties owned by third parties.

The plan is to use some of this funding to continue picking up more businesses that complement Guesty’s strategy, and to continue taking it beyond simply providing tools to manage properties, but to provide other services, and for its users, to give them an end-to-end, one-stop platform to manage their own work as a business. Features today number about 18, including not just calendar management and ways to manage across multiple booking portals, but also channels to manage guest-host communications, analytics and accounting tools, payment tools and more.

“Hospitality operators are now expected to provide more amenities, real-time responses, have more availability for ongoing customer communications and provide an overall elevated guest experience,” Soto said. “The trend of merging of accommodation types will continue, and the ever-growing consumer expectations will push property and hospitality managers to provide increasingly flexible levels of service and accommodations. Guesty’s platform is tailored to meet this need. For example, our technology enables hospitality providers to enhance guest communications by incorporating automation, making guest interactions faster, more intuitive, and providing smartphone tools and options which are most guests’ preferred method of communication.”

One area of investment will also be building more automation into the the product, he said, which likely is aimed at working with customers that manage larger amounts of properties and may have more repeatable, repetitive tasks.

“We are working hard to increase the levels of automation within our product as well as enhance AI-based communication tools,” Soto continued. “Guesty’s product provides tools for different types of properties, including multi-unit buildings and multi-location properties, but as our customers evolve, they come with additional needs for different types of guests. With that, we will be enhancing our product to provide hospitality providers with the tools they need to address everything from monthly stays and living-as-a-service, tailored for various types of accommodations – from glamping to more traditional hotel-like properties. To accomplish this, the product must be extremely flexible and accommodate hybrid solutions.”

Lastly, a third area where it’s likely to be investing more efforts is in the financial services it provides to its users. “To boost the value we offer, we will be looking to add to and enhance our fintech offerings, allowing our customers to bill more efficiently, create credit lines and take loans to grow their business, manage risk, and offer more advanced analytics for customers to make informed decisions about growing their business and managing additional aspects of their operations,” he added. Acquisitions that it might make to grow all of that inorganically will be made both across product lines and geographies, said Soto. It will also be by way of integrations. Today these number about 130 with other third-party tools.

The company appears still to have a lot of runway left as a standalone business. While Soto would not comment on whether it’s been approached as an acquisition target — either by other companies that build tools to manage businesses or customer service, or by some of those other online travel booking giants — he was unequivocal in saying that Guesty was not looking to get acquired, but to play the consolidator itself.

“Guesty is not looking for an exit,” he said. “We are strong believers that the industry is fragmented and ripe for consolidation and have already made multiple acquisitions both in-market and vertical expansion to enhance our offering and position. We are proud to have the highest level of business and technology partnerships with all the large travel platforms including Airbnb,, Vrbo, Expedia and more, and are able to provide value to the entire ecosystem, which benefits everyone.”

That said, the tethering that it has to certain platforms — Soto notes that Airbnb “is still very popular” among its customers and in terms of activity, although “ may be more popular in Europe and have actually grown in the short-term rental (STR) sector [with’s expansion into STR] now accounting for around 30% of their business. VRBO (from the Expedia Group) also remains a very popular option in certain areas in the US, especially for family-oriented properties in more rural vacation areas — does seem to imply a natural pool of companies that might be interested in it longer term, as they too look for more ways of diversifying their own revenues and expanding their reach.

Other more direct competitors today include the likes of TravelNest, Hostaway and Lodgify, among many others.

That competitive landscape doesn’t deter investors, though.

“In a largely specialized and localized industry, there is a huge opportunity to bring a global standard of service and excellence to hospitality operators of all shapes and sizes,” added Dan Bitar, MD and co-head of MSD Growth. “Guesty’s robust product offerings, strong R&D team, and proven ability to scale the business across geographies make it the ideal platform to consolidate the currently fragmented market.”

“The tech-enabled real estate ecosystem continues to grow and mature, and we look forward to joining Guesty on its journey to democratize and further professionalize the property management space,” said Michael McGinn, partner and co-head of Sixth Street Growth, in a statement. “With Guesty’s strong management team, long-term vision, product innovation, and marquee customers and partners, we have full confidence in the company’s ability to further cement its leadership in the world of hospitality and property management.”

NewRelic acquires CodeStream to provide chat in developer environments, inks Microsoft IDE partnership

NewRelic, the application monitoring platform, has made an acquisition and is launching a new service on the back of it to bring a new dimension into its observability play. It has acquired CodeStream, an application that works within integrated developer environments to let developers write related notes to each other alongside the code itself.

NewRelic has integrated it already with NewRelic One, its full-stack data analysis platform covering metrics, events and logs, and will be launching a new service within that called NewRelic CodeStream. It is also announcing a partnership with Microsoft to integrate the new product into its own IDEs and other chat and collaboration products such as VS Code, Visual Studio, Teams and GitHub.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we are asking. CodeStream was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2018 cohort, and it had raised around $3 million. (It also already worked, as an independent startup, with Visual Studio and VS Code, along with JetBrains. It also supports pull requests from GitHub, BitBucket and GitLab, issue management from Jira, Trello, Asana and 9 others, observability from New Relic One and Pixie, and provides code discussion that ties it all together, integrated with Slack, MS Teams, email, and in-editor notifications. It seems that all of this will continue to be supported with the Microsoft integrations becoming deeper.)

The deal underscores a few trends in the world of DevOps. First, there is some consolidation underfoot, and NewRelic, positioning itself as a platform, is looking to bring more functionality into its toolset.

That would also have meant potentially a more challenging sell for CodeStream over time, too, since customers naturally might want to buy observability and communication tools together, as well as see their functionalities become closer over time.

“We founded CodeStream to transform how developers write, deploy and improve their code by building the industry’s best collaboration platform,” said Peter Pezaris, Co-founder and CEO of CodeStream, in a statement. “With New Relic, we found a team and company completely aligned with our mission and values to accelerate our innovation and expand our reach to the global developer community. I’m proud to share the powerful new integration between CodeStream and New Relic with engineers around the globe, and I’m excited about the continued innovations we will bring to market together.”

CodeStream fits into that mix by giving NewRelic an important entry point into the second trend that this deal touches on.

That second trend is that collaboration is the name of the game these days in enterprise software. That also very much goes for developers, who are working across disparate geographies and often spaces of time on projects, and need better ways of communicating their thinking and additional notes to each other now and in the future. As Romain pointed out when covering CodeStream’s integration with VS Code, a number of applications now feature “conversation” channels for those creating content to talk in more detail in the margins about what is going on, and Slack (or another equivalent) should not have to be the default component for that, and that especially counts if you can build something that specifically suits users’ needs more specifically.

In the case of the new launch today, NewRelic says that those interested in trying out the service can sign up for NewRelic One for a free trial. The CodeStream product allows users not only to write notes to each other in the margins of the code, but to create a stream that will let those reading jump directly from a chat note to the line of code in question.

The third trend is the ongoing expansion of DevOps as a salient category in enterprise software. The move to bigger projects, more developers, new IT architectures and technologies and new security and other challenges has all led to a gradual elevation of developers as a critically important component of how organizations are run and how they grow. That has in turn led to an ever-growing business for services built to cater to them. NewRelic, citing estimates from Redpoint, says that the observability market alone has a total addressable market of $35 billion and is seeing double-digit growth annually.

“Developer workflows are the backbone of all modern companies, and observability as an engineering practice presents a future where these essential developer workflows are fueled by data  – not mere opinion,” said New Relic CEO Bill Staples in a statement. “To accelerate this shared mission to make observability a data-driven daily practice for every engineer, we are bringing production telemetry and collaboration tools to where developers create and flow — the IDE. By launching New Relic CodeStream and joining forces with Microsoft, we are excited to deliver a truly developer-centric experience to millions of developers across our shared communities.”

This is also the rationale behind why Microsoft is also teaming up with the company, although to me it does leave a question hanging, which is whether Microsoft will try to get more directly involved in this aspect of developer services itself over time. It would make sense, considering how many environments where it is going to be integrating this particular solution.

“Developers are essential to helping organizations in every industry accelerate the use of new capabilities. Our goal at Microsoft is to provide a wide range of services to address the real-world needs of customers,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Cloud + AI, Microsoft, in a statement. “With partners like New Relic, it’s exciting to see comprehensive integration support with New Relic CodeStream, spanning multiple Microsoft platforms and products: VS Code, Visual Studio, .NET, GitHub, Microsoft Teams and Azure DevOps, to name a few. Tighter collaboration between development projects and improved connections between existing applications are just some of the benefits New Relic CodeStream will provide to the developer community.”

Hubilo picks up $125M to double down on building a more engaging platform for virtual and live events

Virtual became the norm for physical gatherings at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and now, as many jet back into in-person meetings, some believe that the online version, at least in some form, is here to stay — sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Today, a startup called Hubilo that’s building what it believes is a more engaging take on the medium, is announcing a big funding round to double down on its ambitions. The startup has raised $125 million that it will use to continue expanding its platform and the company.

Alkeon Capital led the round, with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Balderton Capital. This Series B is a huge financial leap for Hubilo. Prior to this, the company — headquartered in San Francisco, but grown out of India — had raised just $28 million in six years (with $23.5 million of that raised in a Series A only seven months ago, also during the pandemic). It is not disclosing valuation.

Virtual events — be they large conferences, company meetings, one-on-one or small group conversations, or dinner parties and quiz nights — have been a huge business in this period of Covid-19, where they became a key way for people to connect when in-person meetings were impossible. In working world, they became a significant cornerstone for communication, with businesses sinking some one trillion dollars of direct spending on events, according to Guru Chahal, the partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners who invests in Hubilo. “These changes are permanent,” he added.

Videoconferencing brands like Zoom; those focused on virtual events like Hopin, TouchCast and Bizzabo; and those building tech to improve how videoconferencing can be used like Engageli and mmhmm all saw their stars rise. Even those you might not associate with virtual events but are aiming to do more in the space like LinkedIn are now getting in on the act.

Hubilo has been among them. The company now has more than 800 customers, big names like Walmart, Blackboard, the United Nations, Roche Pharma, AB inBev, Verizon, Facebook and TikTok. Yes, that’s right. A communications giant, ‘the’ social network and a massively popular video app sensation are all customers of this particular video product that has built and squared away another kind of engaging video experience.

The startup’s particular sweet spot has been helping these organizations plan and run internal and external meetings and events, whether they are private meetings for a few colleagues or external conferences for thousands, giving them the tools to create a customized design and architecture to the event (important when you have multiple tracks) and to tailor a wide set of interactive features to connect with those “visiting” the events, and for those visitors to connect with each other. And to do this easily and regularly.

It’s a little like a Wix or WordPress for virtual events. Which is interesting because WordPress is also one of its customers.

It’s an epic pivot for a startup that was, in early 2020, staring into a deadpool. Founded originally to build engagement apps for in-person events, Hubilo really went to town on that concept as a boostrapped startup, with a dashboard that gave exhibition organizers more than 50 different engagement features such as leaderboards, quizzes, collaboration tools, messaging, “matchmaking” for networking and more. It was being used by events that had up to 10,000 attendees, where organizers leaned on these to keep people from being bored.

That business, however, completely dried up when people stopped going to such gatherings.

So in February 2020, Vaibhav Jain, the CEO and founder, went for the Hail Mary option. He gave his team just a small amount of time — 26 days — to try to come up with a new direction for the company, ideally one that didn’t require massive capital investment, since that was exactly what it didn’t have.

The solution was the first version of the Hubilo that you see today. Ironically, having so little cash on hand and a very short time frame to work in made the team very resourceful: the engagement tools that it had already built for physical experiences became the centerpiece of how Hubilo would build its own take on videoconferencing.

Jain told me in an interview that these are some of the features that he believes helps set Hubilo’s own contribution to the world of video meetings apart from the rest of the pack.

“We have strong engagement features built in the cloud, with a gamification model and analytics to give users insights about how sessions are being watched, we can give visitors certifications to watch a particular session [but not another],” he said. “We have gone deep into it. Exhibitors also get, basically, a mini CRM to build leads, their own set of leads, out of an event.” Organizers can also integrate with lots of other non-mini CRMs like Marketo, Salesforce and Hubspot to supercharge how they, and their interact with people and how people interact with each other, within their virtual events.

All of Hubilo’s initial focus on in-person events was not for naught, however. Now with many people shifting back into the office, back into lunch meetings, back into conferences in faraway cities and the rest, the company is building out a bigger “hybrid” set of features, which bring a lot of its earlier learnings back into the mix.

These now sit alongside the virtual tools to create both more dynamic in-person experiences, as well as a complementary virtual component for those who are not physically there. These include not just video streams of stages, but separate communication tools for those in both “places” to converge; virtual and on-stage conference tracks alongside each other, and more.

The opportunities for serving the market in a firmly hybrid environment with a platform that gives organizers a new kind of dynamic control over the experience is reminiscent of the technology that helped push the web into the busy and much-used platform that it is today: there are tools being put into the hands of publishers (in this case event organizers) helps to spur the next stages of what gets created and used. That, along with the strong list of customers, helped propel this round of funding, which Jain told me was oversubscribed.

“We believe strongly that the global distributed workforce is a megatrend that will impact all of us in the future. It is clear that the way we collaborate and connect will need to be rearchitected in order for any global player to succeed,” said Abhi Arun, Managing Partner at Alkeon Capital, in a statement. “In Hubilo, we saw a powerful technology capable of connecting the offline and online worlds, a strong CEO, and an amazing market opportunity that gave us the confidence to invest.”

Apple delays plans to roll out CSAM detection in iOS 15

Apple has delayed plans to roll out its child sexual abuse (CSAM) detection technology that it chaotically announced last month, citing feedback from customers and policy groups.

That feedback, if you recall, has been largely negative. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.

In a statement on Friday morning, Apple told TechCrunch:

“Last month we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material. Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Apple’s so-called NeuralHash technology is designed to identify known CSAM on a user’s device without having to possess the image or knowing the contents of the image. Because a user’s photos stored in iCloud are end-to-end encrypted so that even Apple can’t access the data, NeuralHash instead scans for known CSAM on a user’s device, which Apple claims is more privacy-friendly than the current blanket scanning that cloud providers use.

But security experts and privacy advocates have expressed concern that the system could be abused by highly resourced actors, like governments, to implicate innocent victims or to manipulate the system to detect other materials that authoritarian nation states find objectionable.

Within a few weeks of announcing the technology, researchers said they were able to create “hash collisions” using NeuralHash, effectively tricking the system into thinking two entirely different images were the same.

iOS 15 is expected out later in the next few weeks.

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The essential revenue software stack

From working with our 90+ portfolio companies and their customers, as well as from frequent conversations with enterprise leaders, we have observed a set of software services emerge and evolve to become best practice for revenue teams. This set of services — call it the “revenue stack” — is used by sales, marketing and growth teams to identify and manage their prospects and revenue.

The evolution of this revenue stack started long before anyone had ever heard the word coronavirus, but now the stakes are even higher as the pandemic has accelerated this evolution into a race. Revenue teams across the country have been forced to change their tactics and tools in the blink of an eye in order to adapt to this new normal — one in which they needed to learn how to sell in not only an all-digital world but also an all-remote one where teams are dispersed more than ever before. The modern “remote-virtual-digital”-enabled revenue team has a new urgency for modern technology that equips them to be just as — and perhaps even more — productive than their pre-coronavirus baseline. We have seen a core combination of solutions emerge as best-in-class to help these virtual teams be most successful. Winners are being made by the directors of revenue operations, VPs of revenue operations, and chief revenue officers (CROs) who are fast adopters of what we like to call the essential revenue software stack.

In this stack, we see four necessary core capabilities, all critically interconnected. The four core capabilities are:

  1. Revenue enablement.
  2. Sales engagement.
  3. Conversational intelligence.
  4. Revenue operations.

These capabilities run on top of three foundational technologies that most growth-oriented companies already use — agreement management, CRM and communications. We will dive into these core capabilities, the emerging leaders in each and provide general guidance on how to get started.

Revenue enablement

Five key lessons from founders who launched social impact startups

From healthcare, to education, to human rights, tech has the potential to drive social impact at scale. In this moment of global pandemic, growing economic insecurity and an uprising against racial injustice, the need for scalable solutions is greater than ever. But there are lessons we’ve seen founders learn the hard way time and again.

In the spirit of reaching impact at scale faster, we rounded up our top five lessons to take to heart if you want to turn your world-changing idea into a tech nonprofit. Distilled from The Tech Nonprofit Playbook, a free guide to starting a social impact startup, we drew from the learnings of tech nonprofits whose work has transformed their sectors.

1. Get to know the problem intimately

You have a big idea. You’ve identified a social problem you can’t help but try to fix, and you think you just might have a world-changing, tech-driven solution. But you can’t solve the issue you’ve identified without a deep understanding of the community you’re serving. Not doing so is a recipe for failure. If you haven’t lived the problem, bring on a co-founder who has. Then, go meet others who have firsthand experience with the problem. Interview these individuals with a user-centered lens to allow insights and opportunities to reveal themselves.

To see this in action, consider Upsolve, the TurboTax for chapter 7 bankruptcy, helping low-income Americans recover from crippling financial crises. During their user research phase, the co-founders asked brick and mortar legal aid organizations for their waitlists, and passed out their cards in legal aid clinics where people were seeking help around debt lawsuits. These strategies enabled Upsolve to consider a broad sample of perspectives and develop a deep understanding of the problem from the users’ point of view. Don’t skimp on this — your user research should inspire and inform your initial product idea.

2. Build a tech for good product, but don’t start from scratch

Now, it’s time to put your product idea to the test by piloting a minimum viable product, or MVP — an early version of a product that surfaces learnings about your users with little effort. Your MVP needn’t be a fully fleshed-out product. In Upsolve’s case, it was a physical space where they helped users file for bankruptcy in real life. Run a small-scale pilot of your MVP to confirm, deny or alter your hypothesis. Once you’ve piloted your MVP for enough time that you’re confident you have a viable solution, it’s time to build a beta product.

To build your beta product, or an almost ready-to-launch product, leverage existing tech solutions to address your new use case — don’t start from scratch. For Upsolve, it was a Typeform, an online plug-and-play form. From less technical products like website and communication tools, to more technical ones like app development tools, databases and APIs, piecing together existing tech building blocks will drive your startup costs down and ultimately make it easier to maintain your product. With your solution out in the world, build user feedback into your product as you continue testing, refining and iterating to more closely serve your mission.

3. Learn the art of nonprofit judo

Being a tech nonprofit comes with a pretty unique set of advantages that, when leveraged, are what we like to call nonprofit judo. A critical nonprofit judo tactic is forging aligned partnerships with other organizations, funders and companies to create mutually beneficial relationships that drive sustainability for your tech nonprofit and increase user acquisition.

Take, which crowdsources career advice for millions of underserved youth. For the first few years, recruiting volunteers and fundraising each took a lot of the founding team’s time. But a solution arose when they learned that Fortune 500 companies were looking for easy and scalable volunteering programs for their employees. built a sustainable “earned income” revenue model centered around volunteering engagements for corporate employees.

This nonprofit judo has become a major driver of the organization’s rapid growth. Win-win.The Tech Nonprofit Playbook digs into more strategic advantages nonprofits can leverage, and shares real-world examples of nonprofit judo. Rather than going into your tech nonprofit journey imagining an uphill battle, turn the scenario around by tapping into the unique opportunities it presents.

4. Your people will make or break your organization

To achieve your mission, find the people who believe in your cause and can help you get there.

Most importantly, find a complementary co-founder early on who is either technical or an issue expert. Co-founders fill in each other’s gaps, distribute the work and build a strong foundation for the team.

Next, focus on hiring talented, mission-driven people (they exist!) who can help you build and scale. This doesn’t mean hiring as many people as possible once you have the funding for it — something CommonLit, the free reading platform for students, learned the hard way. After winning a $4 million grant, founder Michelle Brown raced to hire 15 people in 40 days. After the fact, Brown realized that you cannot hire people as individuals, you must hire a team. The individuals powering your organization will define what it becomes. Choose wisely.

5. Be intentional about how you measure impact

Impact is a tech nonprofit’s true north. Before you can get down to creating impact, you have to figure out your “who” and your “why,” or distribution ethics. Distribution ethics, the framework shared by Josh Nesbit, founder of Medic Mobile, is the concept that deciding who you are going to help and why they need your help over others is an ethical stance — and will impact everything you do as an organization.

When Nesbit first launched Medic Mobile, the organization was implementing healthcare tools in partnership with on-the-ground organizations. In doing so, he was providing tools to local partners who already had human and financial capital. Nesbit realized this framework wasn’t reflective of his moral stance — he wanted to help those with the least access to medical care. This realization helped him refocus the organization and redefine its product vision to serve those most in need. Since then, Medic Mobile has been building open-source tools that enable a decentralized network of community health workers to deliver effective last-mile healthcare. And it has made a huge impact: Last year, Medic Mobile supported a global network of 27,477 health workers, which provided more than 11 million services for their community.

As you grow, be intentional about how you measure your impact. Impact measurement dictates your organization’s architecture by aligning your work with the value you want to create for the world. It’s a critical practice that not only centers your output around your mission, but helps you raise support for your work through funding and partnerships.

Congressional testimony reveals some faults in Facebook’s digital currency plans

As Facebook continues to lay the foundation for getting some of the world’s largest payment processing and technology companies a seat at the global monetary policy table, the company faces significant obstacles to enacting its plans from both sides of the Congressional aisle.

In the second of what’s sure to be many (many many many) hearings in front of Congressional committees, David Marcus, the chief executive of Facebook’s new digital payments subsidiary, Calibra, faced hours of questions from Representatives on the House Financial Services Committee about the how and why of Facebook’s digital currency plans.

Facebook’s critics had questions about both sides of the company’s two-pronged approach to transforming the global financial services industry.

Marcus was able to avoid answering some of his toughest questioning by taking advantage of the grey area between Facebook’s role as the chief architect behind Libra (a financial instrument that uses blockchain technology to enable transactions using a digital currency managed by a consortium of private companies) and Calibra (the payments subsidiary that Facebook owns).

Marcus stated in his testimony, Facebook’s plans for Libra are entirely about getting the digital currency that the company is creating recognized by international financial bodies — skirting the oversight of U.S. banking and financial services regulators in favor of Switzerland’s “neutral” approach.

Representatives, rightly, have concerns about each step of the process, so it’s probably best to examine the currency that Facebook is hoping to create with its partners in the Libra Association and the Calibra subsidiary separately.

First, there are significant questions around the Libra Association that Facebook assembled itself, and the regulatory responsibility that Congress and various Federal agencies have to oversee the digital currency that it’s hoping to create.

The structural problems of the Libra Association and its currency

Concerns begin with the independence of the association Facebook selected to be its partners in the cryptocurrency. There are any number of ties between the corporations and investors that are on Libra’s existing governing body and Facebook. The fact that Facebook selected the initial charter members that paid $10 million for the privilege of being co-founders of the currency was not lost on Representatives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the first term representative from New York.

“The membership is open, based on certain criteria,” Marcus said in his testimony responding to a question from Representative Ocasio Cortez about the membership of the Libra Association. “The first 27 members that have joined are companies that have shared that desire to build this network and solve problems.”

Representative Ocasio Cortez responded, “So, we are discussing a currently controlled by an undemocratically selection of largely massive corporations.”

The New York representative wasn’t alone in her criticism of the composition of the Libra Association, questioning whether Facebook would have undue influence over the organization.

Setting aside the independence of the Libra Association, Representatives also had some pertinent questions about the ways in which the currency is structured.

Libra’s currency is set up as a stablecoin whose value is set by the Association and is pegged to a basket of global currencies that provide a hedge against the the currency fluctuating in value as a result of speculative investment. Users pay in a certain amount of currency and receive an amount of Libra that they can spend at participating merchants or companies (a vast network considering that Mastercard, PayPal, and Visa are all participating in the Association).

Given the size of Facebook’s user base (which numbers in the billions), if every user put an average of $100 into the network, the Libra Association would vault into the ranks of the top 20 largest banks in America (assuming $100 billion in assets). That alone would warrant regulatory oversight by any number of Federal agencies, some representatives argued.

They also expressed concern about how the Libra Association and its membership could manipulate currencies and potentially displace the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency.

“Sovereign currencies should remain sovereign and we do not want to challenge sovereign currencies,” said Marcus in response to a particularly sharp line of questioning. “We just want to augment their capabilities in the way they can be used.”

It’s an engineer’s answer to a question about the social function of currencies. Facebook can use the basket of currency structure to argue that Libra isn’t actually a currency, but instead rests atop of several currencies to provide more stability and access for its users — and make the system function more effectively. But should Libra’s adoption begin to accelerate, the organization behind it would be able to pick currency winners and losers and begin to leverage its holdings to potentially manipulate markets, some representatives feared.

Facebook could destabilize currencies and governments,” said California Rep. Maxine Waters. “Facebook’s entry is troubling because it has already harmed vast numbers of people.”

For some members of the Finance Committee, the structure of the asset-backed currency itself makes it resemble a financial instrument that also demands regulation from government agencies. At varying times they compared the proposed currency to an Exchange Traded Fund (because it relies on a basket of currencies to create value) or an alternative fiat currency itself.

“What exactly is this? Is it fish or fowl? And it seems to me that it’s more of a platypus and it evolves in its different parts,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, of Michigan.

For Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, the foreign currency risk that users could be exposed to presents an opportunity for the government to exercise oversight under investment laws passed in 1940. “They will have some degree of volatility,” said Marcus in his testimony.

“This looks to me exactly like an exchange traded fund. Backed by a series of short term instruments in foreign currency… it even has a creation and remittance mechanism,”  says Himes. If that’s true, then the Libra Association would be subject to regulations under the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Marcus says that the instrument behind Libra isn’t an exchange traded fund, because the users that will transact using the cryptocurrency through services like Facebook’s Calibra, aren’t going to be speculating on the currency’s rise in value. However, that logic seems to be slightly faulty given that all of the members of the Libra Association are expected to generate returns from the assets that are held in Libra and invested in the short term basket of currencies.

What’s the matter with Calibra?

If the Libra Association and its mechanism for establishing a stablecoin creates one knot for regulators to untie, then the actual transaction mechanism that Facebook is proposing in the form of the Calibra subsidiary is yet another.

Here again a host of issues raise their head for members of Congress… Some are associated with Facebook’s perennial privacy problems and the history of predatory behavior that reared its head yet again with the company’s $5 billion fine for continuing violations.

MROthers are related to the company’s policy of what conservative critics called “social engineering” which saw Facebook boot some controversial users from its platforms (potentially denying them access to the benefits of Libra). Still another batch of concerns rests on Facebook’s ability to properly implement the know your customer (KYC) regulations that are required of banks and other financial services institutions.

The concern about Facebook’s propensity for de-platforming was topmost in the mind of Wisconsin’s Republican Representative Duffy

“Can Milo Yiannopoulos or Louis Farrakhan use Libra?” Duffy asked. “I bring that up because both of those two individuals have been banned from Facebook.”

Marcus could only respond “I don’t know yet.”

Rep. Duffy compared the potential for Facebook to engage in the same kind of social engineering to grant access to its new payment network as the experiments that China is conducting with its social credit scoring.

“For this system, I think you’re going to see a lot of pushback from both sides,” said Duffy. “I’m also concerned about the data privacy and how we’re going to use that data… How we spend our money is really powerful information and you have access to that too.”

Calibra may face anticompetitive challenges too. Facebook has said that its payment processing app will be the only one that’s directly integrated with the company’s other social networking and communication tools, but that other potential wallets would be interoperable. The exclusive access to Facebook gives Calibra an automatic advantage over other potential payment tools and opens the company up to receive a whole host of transaction information that it would otherwise not be privy to.

And while Facebook is restricting wallet access on its platform to its own digital payments service, it’s giving free rein to developers to build other apps for Libra’s payment platform without vetting them at all.

It’s a situation that could lead to another Cambridge Analytica-style scandal for Facebook and is yet another hole in the company’s oversight.

The appropriate response 

The Libra project is hugely ambitious and its critics have several valid concerns about its execution. Some of the concerns about the risk that it poses are justified and it could, indeed, become a systemic player in the global financial system more quickly than its proponents are willing to accept. All of that doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be thrown out or dismissed because of the potential dangers it poses, some economists argued.

The hard work of governing demands appropriate oversight (which Facebook has been calling out for — although it’s arguably doing it in the jurisdictions that will have the lightest touch over its activities).

No less an expert than the acting International Monetary Fund chair, David Lipton, has said as much in recent discussions over the role that Libra should play (or could play) in the global monetary system.

“Risks include the potential emergence of new monopolies, with implications for how personal data is monetized; the impact on weaker currencies and the expansion of dollarization; the opportunities for illicit activities; threats to financial stability; and the challenges of corporates issuing and thus earning large sums of money — previously the realm of central banks,” Lipton said of Facebook’s proposed digital currency, according to Bloomberg. “So, regulators — and the IMF — will need to step up”

But stepping up does not mean regulating Facebook’s currency out of existence.

“We look back at the the history of technology and innovation, and a conclusion is you never know at the beginning how valuable a technology will be,” Lipton said. “It requires experimentation and adaptation over years and often decades.”

Higher Ground Labs is betting tech can help sway the 2020 elections for Democrats

When Shomik Dutta and Betsy Hoover first met in 2007, he was coordinating fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and she was a deputy field director for the campaign.

Over the next two election cycles the two would become parts of an organizing and fundraising team that transformed the business of politics through its use of technology — supposedly laying the groundwork for years of Democratic dominance in organizing, fundraising, polling and grassroots advocacy.

Then came Donald J. Trump and the 2016 election.

For both Dutta and Hoover the 2016 outcome was a wake up call against complacency. What had worked for the Democratic party in 2008 and 2012 wasn’t going to be effective in future election cycles, so they created the investment firm Higher Ground Labs to provide financing and a launching pad for new companies serving Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations.

As the political world shifts from analog to digital, we need a lot more tools to capture that spend,” says Dutta. “Democrats are spending on average 70 cents of every dollar raised on television ads. We are addicted to old ways of campaigning. If we want to activate and engage an enduring majority of voters we have to go where they are (and that’s increasingly online) and we have to adapt to be able to have these conversations wherever they are.”

Social media and the rise of “direct to consumer” politics

While the Obama campaign effectively used the Internet as a mobilization tool in its two campaigns, the lessons of social media and mobile technologies that offer a “direct-to-consumer” politics circumventing traditional norms have, in the ensuing years, been harnessed most effectively by conservative organizations, according to some scholars and activists.

“The internet is a tool and in that sense it’s neutral, but just like other communication tools from the past, people with more power, with more resources, with more organization, have been able to take advantage of it,” Jen Schradie, an Assistant Professor at the Observatoire sociologique du changement at Sciences Po in Paris, told Vox in an interview earlier this month.

Schradie is a scholar whose recent book, “The Revolution That Wasn’tcontends that the Internet’s early applications as a progressive organizing tool has been overtaken by more conservative elements. “The idea of neutrality seems more true of the internet because the costs of distributing information are dramatically lower than with something like television or radio or other communication tools,” she said. “However, to make full use of the internet, you still need substantial resources and time and motivation. The people who can afford to do this, who can fund the right digital strategy, create a major imbalance in their favor.”

Schradie contends that a web of privately funded think tanks, media organizations, talk radio, and — increasingly — mobile applications have woven a conservative stitch into the fabric of social media. The medium’s own tendency to promote polarizing and fringe viewpoints also served to amplify the views of pundits who were previously believed to be political outliers.

Essentially, these sites have enabled commentators and personalities to create a patchwork of “grassroots” organizations and media operations dedicated to reaching an audience receptive to their particular political message that’s funded by billionaire donors and apolitical corporate ad dollars.

Then there’s the technology companies, like Cambridge Analytica, which improperly used access to Facebook data for targeting purposes — also financed by these same billionaires.

“The last six years have witnessed millions and millions of dollars of private Koch money and Mercer money that have gone to pretty sophisticated data and media efforts to advance the Republican agenda,” says Dutta. “I want to even the scale.”

Dutta is referring to Charles and David Koch and Robert Mercer, the scions and founder (respectively) of two family dynasties worth billions. The Koch brothers support a web of political advocacy groups while Mercer and his daughter were large backers of Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, two organizations which arguably provided much of the policy underpinnings and online political machinery for the Trump presidential campaign.

But there’s also the simple fact that Donald Trump’s digital strategy director, Brad Parscale, was able to effectively and inexpensively leverage the social media tools and data troves amassed by the Republican National Committee that were already available to the candidate who won the Republican primary. In fact, in the wake of Romney’s loss, Republicans spent years building up profiles of 200 million Americans for targeted messaging in the 2016 election.

“Who controls Facebook controls the 2016 election,” Parscale said during a speaking engagement at the Romanian Academy of Sciences, according to a report in Forbes.

Parscale, now the campaign manager for the President’s 2020 reelection campaign recalled, “These guys from Facebook walked to my office and said: ‘we have a beta … it’s a new onboarding tool … you can onboard audiences straight into Facebook and we will match them to their Facebook accounts,’” according to Forbes .

During the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton’s team made 66,000 visual ads, according to Parscale, while the Trump campaign made 5.9 million ads by leveraging social media networks and the language of memes. And in the run-up to the 2020 election, Parscale intends to go back to the same well. The Trump campaign has already spent over $5 million on Facebook ads in the current election cycle, according to The New York Times outspending every single Democratic candidate in the field and roughly all of the Democrats combined.

Reaching Higher Ground

Dutta and Hoover are working to offset this movement with investments of their own. Back in 2017, the two launched Higher Ground Labs, an early stage company accelerator and investment firm dedicated to financing technology companies that could support progressive causes.

The firm has $15 million committed from investors including Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a partner at Greylock; Ron Conway, the founder of SV Angel and an early backer of Google, Facebook, and Twitter; Chris Sacca, an early investor in Uber; and Elizabeth Cutler, the founder of SoulCycle. Already, Higher Ground has invested in over thirty companies focused on services like advocacy outreach, polling, and campaign organizing — among others. 

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The latest cohort of companies to receive backing Higher Ground Labs

“It is vitally important that Democrats learn to do their campaigns online,” says Dutta. “The way you recruit volunteers; the way you poll sentiment; the way you target and mobilize voters has to be done with online tools and has to improve in the progressive movement and that’s the job of Higher Ground Labs to fix.”

For profit companies have a critical role to play in election organizing and mobilization, Dutta says. Thanks to government regulation, only private companies are allowed to trade data across organizations and causes (provided they do it at fair market value). That means advocacy groups, unions and others can tap the information these companies collect — for a fee.

The Democratic party already has one highly valued private company that it uses for its technology services. Formed from the merger of NGP Software and Voter Activation Network, two companies that got their start int he late 90s and early 2000s, NGP VAN is the largest software and technology services provider for Democratic campaigns. It’s also a highly valued company, which received roughly $100 million in financing last year from the private equity firm Insight Venture Partners, according to people familiar with the investment. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Our vision has been to build a platform that would break down the painful data silos that exist in the campaigns and nonprofit space, and to offer truly best-in-class digital, fundraising and organizing features that could serve both the largest and the smallest nonprofits and campaigns, all with one unified CRM,” wrote Stu Trevelyan, the chief executive of NGP VAN + EveryAction, in an August blogpost announcing the investment. “We’re so excited that others, like our new partners at Insight, share that vision, and we can’t wait to continue innovating and growing together in the coming years.”

Can startups lead the way? 

Even as private equity dollars boost the firepower of organizations like NGP VAN, venture capitalists are financing several companies from the Higher Ground Labs portfolio.

Civis Analytics, a startup founded by the former Chief Analytics Officer of Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign raised $22 million from outside investors and counts Higher Ground Labs among its backers. Qriously, another Higher Ground Labs portfolio company, was acquired by Brandwatch, as was GroundBase, a messaging platform acquired by the nonprofit progressive advocacy organization ACRONYM.

Other companies in the portfolio are also attracting serious attention from investors. Standouts like Civis Analytics and Hustle, which raised $30 million last May, show that investors are buying into the proposition that these companies can build lasting businesses serving Democratic and progressive political campaigns and corporate businesses that would also like to rally employees or personalize a marketing pitch to customers.

These are companies like Change Research, an earlier stage company that just launched from Higher Ground Labs accelerator last year. That company, founded by Mike Greenfield, a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was the first data scientist working on the problem fraud detection at PayPal, and Pat Reilly, a communications professional who worked with state and local Democratic politicians, is slashing the cost of political polling.

“I wanted to do something for American Democracy to try and improve the state of things,” Greenfield said in an interview last year.

For Greenfield, that meant increasing access to polling information. He cited the test case of a Kansas special election in a district that Donald Trump had won by 27 points. Using his own proprietary polling data, Greenfield predicted that the Democratic challenger, James Thompson, would pose a significant threat to his Republican opponent, Mike Estes.

Estes went on to a 7% victory at the ballot, but Thompson’s campaign did not have access to polling data that could have helped inform his messaging and — potentially — sway the election, said Greenfield.

“Public opinion is used to ween out who can be most successful based on how much money they’re able to raise for a poll,” says Reilly. It’s another way that electoral politics is skewed in favor of the people with disposable income to spend what is a not-insignificant amount of money on campaigns.

Polls alone can cost between $20,000 to $30,000 — and Change Research has been able to cut that by 80% to 90%, according to the company’s founders.

“It’s safe to say that most of the world was stunned by the outcome [of the Presidential election] because most polls predicted the opposite.,” says Greenfield. “Being a good American and as a parent of a ten-year-old and a twelve-year-old, providing forward thinking candidates and causes with the kind of insight they needed to win up and down the ballot could not only be a good business, but really help us save our Democracy.”

Change Research isn’t just polling for politicians. Last year, the company conducted roughly 500 polls for political candidates and advocacy groups.

“The way that I’ve described Change Research to investors is that we want to simultaneously move the world in a better direction and having a positive impact while building a substantial business,” says Greenfield. “We’re only going to work with candidates and causes that we’re aligned with.”

Being exclusively focused on progressive causes isn’t the liability that many in the broader business community would think, says Dutta. Many Democratic organizations won’t work with companies that sell services to both sides of the aisle.

For Higher Ground Labs, a stipulation for receiving their money is a commitment not to work with any Republican candidate. Corporations are okay, but conservative causes and organizations are forbidden.

“We’re in a moment of existential crisis in America and this Republican party is deeply toxic to the health and future of our country,” says Dutta. “The only path out of this mess is to vote Republicans out of office and to do that we need to make it easier for good candidates to run for office and to engage a broader electorate into voting regularly.”