Kim Kardashian becomes a private equity dealmaker in collab with ex-Carlyle partner

America’s favorite reality star is leveling up her repertoire and levering up businesses. Kim Kardashian, who passed the “baby bar” exam in preparation to become a lawyer last year, just added another job title to her lineup — private equity investor.

Kardashian is launching private equity firm SKKY Partners in conjunction with ex-Carlyle consumer head Jay Sammons to invest in business across consumer products, hospitality, luxury, digital commerce and media, The Wall Street Journal first reported. SKKY will take both control and minority stakes in its target companies, according to the Journal.

Sammons, who left Carlyle this summer after spending 16+ years at the top private equity firm, is known for his bets on brands including Supreme and Beats by Dre. A longtime friend of the Kardashians, Sammons apparently approached Kardashian and her mom-ager, Kris Jenner, with the idea to start the business. Jenner will be joining SKKY as a partner, the Journal reported.

Sammons plans to oversee the firm’s daily operations from Boston, where he lives, while SKKY’s second office will be in Kardashian’s hometown of Los Angeles. Kardashian told the Journal that the firm is aiming to make its first investment before the end of 2022 and plans to go out to institutional investors to raise capital shortly. Neither Sammons nor Kardashian shared any details on the expected fund size they hope to raise.

Kardashian is the latest celebrity to make inroads in the world of private capital management, following tennis sensation Serena Williams’ pivot to working full-time in venture capital last month. For Kardashian, though, private equity is just another side hustle rather than her main area of focus, at least for now.

Kardashian’s foray into launching an undergarment and loungewear brand, Skims, made her a billionaire — the business was most recently valued at $3.2 billion with her stake at over $1 billion. She also launched a nine-product skincare line this year in collaboration with consumer conglomerate Coty, an investor in her beauty company, and announced earlier this week that she is debuting her own true crime podcast called “The System” in a cover story with Interview Magazine. 

Kim Kardashian becomes a private equity dealmaker in collab with ex-Carlyle partner by Anita Ramaswamy originally published on TechCrunch

Draftea kicks off LatAm fantasy football with NFL partnership, fresh funding

Draftea, which calls itself the first daily fantasy sports company in Spanish-speaking Latin America, is taking fantasy football (not fútbol) to the region in a new partnership with the National Football League (NFL) and the NFL Player’s Association, a labor union representing the league’s athletes.

Draftea’s founder, Alán Jaime Misrahi, played soccer in Mexico’s third division before attending Stanford for his MBA and launching Draftea. Mexico is the second-biggest market globally for the NFL, Jaime Misrahi told TechCrunch in an interview.

“There are 50 million NFL fans in Mexico, and it’s very interesting because everyone in Mexico has their local [soccer] team, they have their European team, they have their NFL team, their NBA team, their baseball team. We’re truly passionate about sports in Mexico,” Jaime Misrahi said.

Images of Draftea's mobile fantasy NFL platform

Images of Draftea’s mobile fantasy NFL platform Image Credits: Draftea

The startup emerged from stealth in January this year with a daily fantasy sports (DFS) platform that hosted Mexican fantasy soccer matches. Draftea’s DFS offering is unique in that it offers daily engagement, in contrast to traditional sports betting platforms like Costa Rica’s Betcris or Mexico’s Grupo Caliente that host less-frequent seasonal games that tend to mirror real-world sports schedules.

Unlike Betcris and Grupo Caliente, Draftea isn’t a sports betting company where players compete against a central bookmaker — instead, they compete against one another. In a region where sports allegiances run deep, Draftea’s local roots and the social nature of the platform have helped differentiate it from other players.

That’s part of why the NFL chose the startup to develop its own “NFL by Draftea” product, marking a unique international partnership for the league, according to Jaime Misrahi. “NFL by Draftea” is set to launch today, meaning users will be able to draft their lineups for the upcoming NFL season this fall.

Draftea understands the influence and value that athletes can deliver to fantasy sports. Fueled by diverse personalities and extraordinary athletic skills, the global popularity of NFL players is at an all-time high, and we’re excited to reach more fans throughout Latin America,” Terése Whitehead, vice president of consumer products & strategy at NFL Players, the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, told TechCrunch in an email.

In addition to the new partnership, Draftea, which was Sequoia’s first investment in a Mexican company, raised a round of fresh funding from backers new and old. It brought in $20 million for its Series A led by new investor Stepstone Group with participation from existing investors Sequoia, Kaszek, Bullpen, and Courtside Ventures. In addition to the venture firms, athletes including soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo, Kansas City Chiefs tight end receiver Travis Kelce, Brooklyn Nets basketball player Kevin Durant and Portuguese soccer agent Jorge Mendes also invested as angels in the round.

“[Latin American] fanbases are extremely passionate about their favorite players and teams,” Kelce wrote in an email to TechCrunch.

Since its seed round in January, Draftea’s team has grown from 34 employees to 70 total, mostly in engineering and product, Jaime Misrahi said. While he declined to share how many users are on the platform today or the company’s revenue, he said the number of players using Draftea is growing “double digits” week-over-week. He added that he’s seen a resurgence in GMV as lineups per user have risen.

An image of the Draftea team on a video call

The Draftea team on a video call Image Credits: Draftea

“In Draftea, you build your dream team to compete against others. What I do is build our own dream team to really win,” Jaime Misrahi said of his plans to continue making new hires.

Payouts for games on Draftea can range from a couple thousand pesos to hundreds of thousands or even millions of pesos at play each week, Jaime Misrahi said. The platform offers a number of different game structures, including head-to-head matchups and games where the top 20% of players win payouts, and plans to continue adding new types of contests to keep up with player demand, he added.

The company is eyeing the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this November, expected to be this year’s biggest live sports event worldwide, as a major opportunity to gain traction. Jaime Misrahi said the NFL partnership in Mexico is just the start of Draftea’s eventual expansion into all Spanish-speaking countries.

“We definitely want to consolidate our position in the Mexican market, but we are already thinking of the next thing and the next places where we can go. We want to become the go-to platform for sports fans in the Spanish-speaking world,” Jaime Misrahi said.

9count, maker of Wink and new dating app Summer, scores an additional $27.5M

Alex Hofmann once served as’s president, overseeing the North and South American markets for the TikTok precursor, then leaving shortly after the app exited to Chinese tech giant ByteDance in 2017. For his next act, the startup exec returned to the consumer social space with the launch of 9count — the maker of the popular friend-finder Wink, mobile dating app Summer (previously Spark), and others.

Though it’s typically difficult for new consumer social apps to gain widespread adoption, 9count’s apps have already seen some early traction — and investors have taken notice.

As a result, the company is today announcing an additional $27.5 million in new funding from GGV Capital Redpoint, Signia, Greycroft, Progression, Crosscut Grishin Robotics, I2BF, and Waverley Capital, among others. The round is an extension of 9count’s earlier Series A and includes only its existing investors.

In particular, 9count’s backers were impressed with the metrics coming out of Summer, which launched as Spark back in May but later rebranded. The dating app targets a younger demographic, ages 18 and up. But unlike traditional swipe-based dating apps, Summer’s differentiator is its grid that displays many users at once — an experience meant to more closely mimic the way it feels to walk into a crowded space in real life, like a bar or a party, for example.

“[Summer is retaining users] better than the top apps, especially in our strongest markets,” Hofmann says. “That just tells us that we’re on the right path with this product.

The 9count co-founder says Summer hit the No. 1 position in the App Store in two markets immediately following its launch and now has over 300,000 monthly active users, only a few months later. If looking at growth metrics alone, Hofmann claims it’s the fastest-growing dating app to hit the market since Bumble arrived in 2014. When he showed these figures to current investors, they wanted to double down on the app’s growth.

The company plans to use a large portion of the new investment to fuel marketing efforts for Summer after it launches on Android next month. This will include some in-person events in the startup’s hometown of L.A. 9count will also use the funds to expand its 35-person team, though Hofmann says they haven’t yet determined the exact headcount they plan to add.

Image Credits: 9count, Alex Hofmann and Joe Viola

But more than betting on Summer’s success alone, investors seem interested in the model 9count espouses.

Founded in January 2019 by both Hofmann and an experienced product manager, Joe Viola, 9count isn’t focused only on developing a single app and perfecting it. Instead, it’s co-developing multiple consumer products at once, iterating using data and customer feedback, then cross-promoting the apps within its portfolio. In addition to Wink and Summer, the startup has also developed social arcade app Juju, motivational app Everland, creator-fan connection app Popstream, and more.

This multi-product approach is something Hofmann is familiar with, thanks to his time spent at

There, the team ran four different products:, its live-streaming counterpart known as, and two others that weren’t as well known to the public. This model, Hofmann notes, is popular in Asia, where tech companies often operate multiple products — including TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, as well as Tencent, Alibaba, and others.

To benefit from this method, 9count tests and iterates on its products using a combination of A/B testing, data analysis, and user feedback. It additionally hosts employee hackathons and runs a “labs” division where it can try out new ideas to see if anything sticks.

“The learnings we have by rolling out new products are just tremendous,” Hofmann notes. “We can either make them into a standalone product or feed them into existing products.”

Image Credits: 9count

In fact, this model is what led the company to develop Summer in the first place, the co-founder explains.

He says some Wink users were asking for a way to use the social app for dating purposes. But Wink also caters to minors aged 13 to 17 (who aren’t allowed to interact with adult users, we should note). This focus skews the app toward a younger crowd, which wouldn’t be appropriate for online dating, even if it’s what some of the older users wanted. That prompted the team to break out the feature request into its own, new product — the app that has since become Summer.

Today, 9count claims its new dating app has already attracted over 500,000 downloads, over a million registered users, and more than 300,000 monthly actives. This makes it the sixth most popular dating app in the U.S. and the fourth in Canada, Hofmann said. (App intelligence firm Sensor Tower confirmed this with TechCrunch, saying Hofmann’s statement is correct based on App Store and Google Play downloads for July 2022.)

In addition, the video chat app Wink reportedly has over 2 million monthly active users, remaining 9count’s largest app to date.

In total, 9count’s app portfolio now reaches over 10 million users, the company says. Sensor Tower data indicated an even higher figure of 16 million-plus downloads across all their products launched to date. Wink was the largest chunk of this with over 15 million lifetime downloads.

Image Credits: 9count team photo

“Alex and Joe are building a next-generation social application company at 9count, consolidating disparate products under one banner, with one team to find what works for the next generation,” said Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital, a 9count board member and early investor in “The team at 9count is poised to experience rapid growth among their user base and we’re excited to partner with them to bring their vision to reality,” he added.

The new investment is also another signal that there’s an increased willingness from VCs to again back the often difficult consumer social app market.

Historically, it’s been near impossible to unseat Facebook and Meta’s other products from the top of the App Store. But TikTok has proven Facebook’s hold on the market could be winding down. The Meta-owned social network is no longer popular with Gen Z users, who are also growing frustrated with Instagram’s clutter and its continual attempt to force video on them through Reels.

Hungry for new experiences, today’s younger users are sampling a range of social apps, like the chart-topper BeReal, the home screen widget provider Locket, and the video chat app Yubo — a Wink rival. Not surprisingly, these apps have also pulled in VC backing. BeReal was valued at $600 million following its Series B this past spring, for instance. Locket announced this month it has closed on $12.5 million across two seed stage rounds. And Yubo banked $47.5 million in its 2020 Series C. Even Pinterest’s brand-new experimental app Shuffles has rocketed to the top of the App Store’s “Lifestyle” charts, despite being in invite-only status.

According to Hofmann, fueling this trend is younger users’ demand for apps offering them “niche” experiences.

“[9count’s team] looked at the market and realized that in the last ten years, there were really just — in our opinion — two major consumer social products. One is, the other one is Discord. We realized that to build products that connect people, it might not be a one-product approach, but a multi-product approach,” the co-founder explains. “We see this trend towards…niche desires and niche preferences. We realized that very few products can serve a larger audience and bring them joy and happiness,” Hofmann says.

Startup layoffs, the art of reinvention and a MasterClass in change

Just as one company’s success shouldn’t cast a halo on its vertical’s brethren, one company’s layoffs don’t quite mean that its competitors are equally screwed. Instead, I think that changes within a particular startup can be used as benchmark questions for their larger market; in other words, we can use the micro to better understand the macro.

With that in mind, I want to talk about MasterClass’ decision to lay off 20% of its staff, around 120 people, across all teams. The workforce reduction, per CEO David Rogier on Twitter, was made “to adapt to the worsening macro environment and get to self-sustainability faster.” Put differently, the company — which sells subscriptions to celebrity-taught classes — is in search of operating discipline and needs to cut staff in order to get there.

The layoffs place a spotlight on the premise behind MasterClass. When I first covered the company in March 2020, I got stuck on its pitch of aspirational learning.

[MasterClass] also touches on the public’s innate curiosity about how famous people think and work. MasterClass tugs on that idea a bit by also offering classes that fundamentally do not make sense to be “digitized.” Think high-contact sports, like a tennis lesson from Serena Williams or a basketball lesson from Steph Curry. Or just general pontifications from RuPaul on self expression and Neil deGrasse Tyson on scientific thinking and communication.

Despite its flashy lineup of stars, MasterClass doesn’t sell access but instead sells a window into someone’s work diary. Celebrities are not interacting with students on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes, not at all.

Around a year later, I returned to this idea while trying to extract what MasterClass’ prominence meant for edtech. Fiveable founder Amanda DoAmaral said at the time that MasterClass raises the bar for content quality across all of edtech, while Toucan founder Taylor Nieman pointed out that MasterClass faces the same issues “as so many other consumer products that try to steal time out of people’s very busy days.”

So what is MasterClass? A high bar for edtech quality? Or a more educational Netflix?

Planet FWD secures $10M so consumer products industry can track carbon emissions

Planet FWD, a carbon-assessment startup founded by Zume Pizza co-founder Julia Collins, grabbed another cash infusion in the way of 10 million Series A dollars to continue developing technology so that the $1.5 trillion consumer products industry can more accurately measure and reduce their carbon footprint.

We profiled Collins’ journey from pizza to climate-friendly food beginning in March 2020 when she announced a $2.7 million seed round, led by BBG Ventures, for Planet FWD to look at regenerative agriculture. The company went on to launch its Moonshot Snacks brand later in that year.

It was while Planet FWD was creating its cracker product that Collins says she learned just how difficult it was to develop a product that is carbon neutral.

“We want to expand our carbon footprint at the product level for a box of crackers, and that was really hard,” she added. “We wanted to understand our corporate level footprint as a company and that was really hard. We wanted to understand how to reduce our emissions, and that was really hard. We wanted to understand how to purchase very high-quality, carbon offsets, to get to carbon neutral, and again, it’s really hard.”

What emerged from those learnings was a carbon-management technology platform for consumer brands to create a climate-friendly company and products more easily by being able to measure, reduce and neutralize emissions and report its carbon footprint.

For example, if your company wanted to launch a line of granola bars that is as low in emissions as possible, you can use Planet FWD’s emissions-reduction engine during the product-development phase to understand how to change your supplier or your packaging supplier to a more efficient method.

“Imagine the next generation of products that can be produced with low emissions because we’ve made it really easy for customers to understand not just details on how to calculate calories, fat and protein, but actually how to calculate carbon and carbon equivalent during product development,” Collins added.

The company’s technology provides GHG Protocol Scope 3 emissions modeling capabilities to help brands address the emissions along their supply chain. Scope 3 emissions account for up to 89% of emissions for consumer products on average, Collins added.

Time is of the essence in reducing emissions, with Collin noting that there are less than 100 months left to reach the 2030 global goal of cutting at least 40% of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. Household consumption of things like food, which impacts land, energy and water, account for 60% of global emissions, she added.

Planet FWD JustSalad carbon label

JustSalad’s carbon label create from Planet FWD

“The emerging regulatory landscape is causing an acceleration of companies really needing better solutions for carbon management and that regulatory framework or those regulatory frameworks are being bolstered by the emerging consumer appetite, sustainable and climate friendly products,” she said. “Retailers paying more attention are prioritizing brands that are motivated, sustainable and willing to stand behind it. And then of course, new ESG is becoming an important part of the way that companies are able to access financial instruments.”

As a result, the past year has been one of growth. Though Collins declined to go into detail about growth metrics, she did say the company is now working with 25 customers, including Kashi, Pangaia, Just Salad, Numi Organic Tea, Healthy Hippo, Toodaloo and Sweet Loren’s.

Planet FWD, aided by an acquisition of climate tech startup CleanMetrics in 2021, also amassed what Collins touts as the “largest Life Cycle Analysis database for agricultural production systems in North America.” It also hired a climate science team to continue to expand that data.

Meanwhile, the Series A is co-led by Acre Venture Partners and Congruent Ventures and includes participation from existing investors BBG Ventures, Precursor, Concrete Rose, January Ventures, Elemental Excelerator, Cleo Capital and Rethink Food. To date, Planet FWD has raised $16.8 million.

The new funding will be deployed into the company’s ongoing development of its data, including building out its climate science team. It will also go into product development, like more predictive emissions reduction, and supporting existing and new customers.

“Supply chains are so complex, and frankly very difficult to manage, and that is why Planet FWD is very much a vertically-oriented solution,” Collin said. “We are obsessed with helping to decarbonize the consumer landscape and focused on continuing to heat up and fine tune our emissions reductions engine.”

Lightspeed’s Mercedes Bent on why the metaverse isn’t overhyped

On the Chain Reaction podcast this week, we dove into a topic that tends to stir up strong emotions, even from those outside the crypto space — the metaverse. Mercedes Bent, an investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners who focuses on consumer investments in crypto, joined us to unpack this loaded term and explain why she sees its potential.

“It’s become like a punching bag,” Bent told TechCrunch. “If you think about the potential of it, and why maybe a geek like me gets excited about it, it’s because there are things you can do [in the metaverse] that you could not do in the real world.”

The prospect of attending an event with tens of thousands of other attendees across the world in the metaverse, for example, excites Bent. But even more than entertainment, Bent is enthusiastic about the potential for the metaverse to have an impact through education. She shared the hypothetical example of public school students being able to learn from the best instructors in the world in a metaverse similar to the movie Ready Player One — though without the dystopian elements, she qualified. Bent’s vision squares up with some of her non-crypto consumer investments at Lightspeed, such as small-group live education platform Outschool.

But what will the metaverse actually look like? When we asked Bent, who once worked for virtual reality technology company Upload, she said she used to think the metaverse had to be tied to VR technology, specifically the head-mounted display screen.

She’s since realized that what the metaverse has to offer has less to do with how users access it physically and more to do with the sense of community it can foster.

“I think what this era — the 2021 and 2022 era of the metaverse terminology — has shown is that it’s not about the headset, it’s not about what physical apparatus you use, it’s about the sense of [a] collective being together, and presence,” she added.

While VR tech itself has been around for decades, Bent posits that the metaverse gained traction as a concept last year because it offered one thing classic VR games like Second Life did not — the ability to transfer in-game currency to fiat currency. Cryptocurrency, she believes, made that switch possible.

“There was obviously in-game currency and there were obviously virtual goods you could buy before, but the ability to be able to transfer that to fiat and then go use it in the real world to pay your rent bill is just something entirely different that we didn’t have in such a mass quantity before,” Bent said.

That technological development coupled with the onset of the pandemic, which gave people the opportunity to spend more time online, gave the metaverse new life, she continued.

Skeptics think the metaverse gets a lot of hype and isn’t backed by substantial technology or user adoption. Bent said that in her experience, skepticism is to be expected for any early-stage consumer products.

“These hyped areas look really nonobvious. I mean, they don’t have traction, they’re just an idea. They’re often from a founder who hasn’t necessarily had the most pedigree, so you have to kind of take a leap of faith,” Bent said. Bent’s mission as an investor is to back “early stage consumer companies that are unlocking wealth creation for underserved individuals and regions,” according to her website — a thesis that might help explain where she finds some of that faith.

As an early-stage consumer investor, Bent pushes back on the idea that it’s too early to fund consumer-facing crypto companies that haven’t yet honed their user experience.

“There are not very many companies [in web3] that I would say have scaled to what I would call a mass audience yet. We have Metamask, which is pretty far along, but I think all of these companies are up for grabs in terms of [whether] somebody else could come along to replace them,” Bent said. “I think we’re going to see the next WhatsApp, AOL, and Google founded in short order.”

Subscribe to Chain Reaction on AppleSpotify or your alternative podcast platform of choice to keep up with us every week.

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.

Glow Labs raises seed round to help NFT creators reward their loyal customers

The NFT market was worth $41 billion at the end of last year — nearly as large as the conventional art market by some estimates — and it’s expected to nearly double in size by the end of 2022, according to a report released this week by blockchain analytics firm Nansen. As the space becomes increasingly crowded, individual NFT projects must find ways to stand out in order to succeed.

The crypto community is tight-knit, so incentivizing repeat purchases from customers is often a key driver behind success.

“Right now, there are just too many NFT projects and not enough utility [to NFT holders],” Brandon Bryant, a partner at venture firm Harlem Capital, told TechCrunch.

That’s part of why Bryant led Harlem Capital’s investment into Glow Labs, a white-label software that allows companies and creators to build their own loyalty rewards programs on the blockchain, he said.

Glow Labs, which launched in November 2021, is the brainchild of co-founders Annie Reardon and Renee Russo, two engineers in their twenties who first met at JPMorgan, where they worked together on the developer team for the Chase site and mobile app. Reardon and Russo now serve as co-CEOs of Glow Labs, Russo told TechCrunch.

Russo, who had been investing in crypto as a hobby since 2016, said she started her own NFT project, DinoMonks, in 2020 while she was still working at JPMorgan. She wanted to reward her customers with an airdrop of a free NFT that they would receive for their loyalty that she hoped would encourage them to continue engaging with her project.

Despite Russo’s technical background, deploying the airdrop was so complex that it took her and her team nearly four weeks and cost $10,000 to build, she said. Through that experience, she realized it was prohibitively difficult from a technical perspective to build community through loyalty programs in web3, and teamed up with Reardon to build an easy-to-use solution for project creators.

Glow Labs’ product allows creators to deploy a smart contract with no coding required in a matter of seconds, allowing them to create customized loyalty offerings without as much hassle, Russo said. The company offers four main rewards features today, it says.

One reward Glow Labs helps its customers launch is gas back. Projects can offer to cover the gas fee required to mint an NFT on behalf of their customers for future purchases with the goal of encouraging repeat transactions.

The platform also supports projects in rewarding both early adopters and loyal holders, Russo said.

It also allows creators to reward their communities for engagement with the project on social media, drumming up hype around spreading the word on Twitter or Discord. On the back end, Glow Labs collects analytics on social media engagement and shows its customers a detailed dashboard of this information. Its analytics tool automatically detects social engagement for a particular project and can distribute rewards to users in real-time, the company says.

While the startup is mainly targeting web3 native companies and projects today, it eventually hopes to attract traditional businesses as well that want to attract customers through blockchain-based rewards, Russo said.

First, though, the company wants to “rinse, repeat and get as much data as [it] can to find [customer] stickiness,” according to Russo.

“I’d say 75% of our conversations today are with NFT projects or DAOs, and 10 to 15% of our conversations are with brands that have already done an airdrop, so we’re not convincing them on the [value of the] blockchain,” Russo said.

Its current customers include web3 accelerator Atlas Lyons Club and jewelry NFT marketplace Digital Twin, according to the company.

Glow Labs is certainly not the only startup trying to build a product that leverages the power of web3 to build community and brand engagement. Ty Haney, founder of athleticwear company Outdoor Voices, made waves last month when she announced her latest venture, Try Your Best, which aims to help brands reward their customers with blockchain-based assets.

But Glow Labs differs from Try Your Best and other, similar platforms because of its B2B focus, according to Russo.

“We provide software and tools and we let the users create their tokens, have their own branding, and empower them to have their own rewards program, whereas other competitors are kind of using their own branding or their own token, or they’re only rewarded on one platform,” Russo said.

The company has received a lot of inbound interest, but right now, it’s chosen to be selective about which customers it brings on board, Russo said. Glow Labs is currently focused on working primarily with brands that have already done two to three airdrops, she added.

“I think that’s been a challenge. There’s so much demand from the web2 side, but we really need [those companies] to find their way, find their path, and then we can circle back and do the rewards,” she added.

Glow Labs announced today that it has raised $4.15 million in seed funding led by Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green, with participation from Female Founders Fund, Red Beard Ventures, Human Ventures, and Harlem Capital.

The company’s long-term goal is to work with a broader set of companies outside of just seasoned NFT projects, Russo said. Its investors’ areas of expertise tend to coalesce around consumer products, particularly those tailored to women, she added, so a lot of the inbound interest Glow Labs has seen has come from companies in the fashion space.

“We definitely can see Glow Labs being that bridge from web2 to web3, and providing those tools. There’s going to be the Squarespace of web three, there’s going to be the Stripe of web3, and, and there’s going to be a loyalty rewards software for web3,” Russo said. “We want to be that plugin for any project or any company that comes into the space.”

UX focuses on men’s experience: We need financial products built for women

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of fintech products that are specifically targeted at otherwise underrepresented groups.

Daylight is a U.S. neobank built for the LGBTI+ community, in which 53% struggle to maintain regular savings — despite having an estimated $1 trillion spending power in the U.S. Majority, another U.S. neobank, is built and designed for migrants to help them overcome the struggles associated with opening an account in the U.S. In the EU and U.K., Monese, Emerald Life and Wahed are all examples of fintechs that aim to serve underrepresented groups.

It’s no different when it comes to fintech products focused on women. From insurance to financial management and spending, European and Silicon Valley VCs alike are increasingly interested in what specialized women’s financial products have to offer.

But do women need or even want their own financial products? Isn’t money something that should be approached gender-neutrally? As the co-founder of a financial education platform focused on the financial empowerment of women and non-binary people, these are questions I’ve been asked a lot.

This shift can only happen once women are no longer seen as a ‘niche’ audience but rather are recognized as agents of change.

Right now, fintechs are built for men

Looking at the current state of affairs, fintech is an industry built by men, for men. And while that may or may not be a conscious effort from leadership, it’s undoubtedly a byproduct of a systemic lack of diversity throughout the technology sector. Women make up to just 30% of fintech staff, and when you get to leadership, that picture gets even worse. Just 1.1% of funding went to women-led businesses in 2021, worse than 2020, according to Atomico. The figures are significantly worse for businesses led by Black and Latinx women.

This lack of diversity ultimately influences the product. Any good technology company knows the power of user research in refining and optimizing your product. But if your product is made for the lived male experience, it will attract more male customers and so — yep, you guessed it — your user experience data – will also be biased.

A recent study into women’s experience of investing by investment management firm BNY Mellon found that almost nine in 10 asset managers (86%) say that their default customer – the person they automatically target when developing and communicating products – is a man. Likewise, “three-quarters of asset managers (73%) state that their organization’s investment products are primarily aimed at men, suggesting that they focus on the benefits and features that generally appeal more to men than women.”

With the current status quo, women are simply not seen as a target audience. As Caroline Criado Perez puts it in her book “Invisible Women,” “The result of this deeply male-dominated culture is that the male experience, the male perspective, has come to be seen as universal, while the female experience – that of half the global population, after all – is seen as, well, niche.”

Do women even need their own fintech products?

I’ve often been told — primarily from men, I should add — that money is not gendered. It’s a topic that affects us all in similar ways.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Money is gendered because, however frustrating, women’s and men’s experience of the world is different.

Sallie Krawcheck is the founder of Ellevest, the U.S. investment platform for women. She identified six money gaps that persist – – including gender gaps in wage, debt, investing, funding, issues with unpaid labor, and the “pink tax” (the higher cost of consumer products targeting women). Put simply, women face different financial challenges compared with men, so we’re on the back foot when it comes to finance.

There is also the topic of financial education and confidence, best outlined in Starling’s Make Money Equal campaign, which noted the vast disparities in the quality and breadth of financial information served in mainstream media. While 73% of financial articles targeting men focused on investing, 90% of the financial articles targeting women focused on spending less. We are receiving wildly different information and messages about finance.

Unfortunately, the fintech industry consistently fails to acknowledge the differences between men’s and women’s experience, values and motivations when it comes to finance. This leads to a disconnect between women’s financial priorities (which may be more focused on longer-term stability as opposed to short, risky financial gains) and what the financial services industry typically emphasizes.

The untapped market opportunity

If you’re an asset manager or working within fintech, not taking a proactive and informed approach to increase women’s engagement in investing means you’re missing out on a huge market opportunity. The same BNY study found that if women invested at the same rate as men, there would be at least an extra $3.22 trillion of assets under management from private individuals today.

Furthermore, there’s a reason why women’s economic empowerment is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Increasing women’s engagement is good for the planet and society. Women are more likely to make investments that have positive social and environmental impacts, meaning that there would be an influx of $1.87 trillion of additional capital into investing responsibly if women invested at the same rate as men.

It’s not to say there haven’t been (often cringeworthy) attempts to engage with women by the fintech community. But efforts often rest around outdated stereotypes or assumptions. In these sorts of campaigns, women are targeted as a homogeneous group, rather than as a highly diverse set of people who have different needs, goals and spending habits. Within what is labeled in user data as “women,” you need to also take into account the unique experiences of non-binary people and ethnic minorities. Needless to say, we’re a diverse bunch!

In 2021, Revolut caught headlines by launching a campaign aimed to engage their female audience by offering to cover the cost of period care as part of their premium card membership. They received backlash for the trivializing nature of the campaign, which failed to truly understand the reality of women’s experiences with money. I don’t think this comes as much of a surprise, given there are just two women out of the 11 members on Revolut’s senior leadership team.

There is one area, however, where gendered marketing has excelled: debt. The opportunity for gendered marketing has been seized by buy now, pay later companies like Klarna, which experienced huge market success with its pastel pink logo and partnerships with brands like H&M & ASOS. When will fintechs offering the expansion of wealth, rather than diminishing it, catch on to the market opportunity?

Now is the time

With the wealth being generated from the rise in financial opportunity born from cryptocurrencies, now is the time for investors, founders and fintechs alike to start prioritizing the building of women-focused fintech and in the engagement of its female users. Else we risk amplifying the gender money gap for generations to come. Coin Dance, a company that tracks and provides statistics on bitcoin users, keeps a regular tab on the gender balance of the bitcoin community, noting that women make up less than 15% of investors.

The answer to engaging women in investment isn’t found in outdated gimmicks or pinkwashing. Women need to be built into the foundations of a business and prioritized by teams that are motivated to create financial products that truly reflect women’s unique needs and attitudes. At the very least, it’s about forming a connection with this highly diverse audience by understanding what motivates women to invest and what sort of communication they respond well to.

This shift can only happen once women are no longer seen as a “niche” audience but rather are recognized as agents of change. For this to happen, there must be a significant structural and cultural shift from every element of the fintech industry, from investment all the way through to user-facing copy.

Actionable steps to bring more women into fintech

Fintech employees:

  1. Make women part of your product, not just your marketing plan. Ensure women and marginalized genders make up an equal segment of your user data. Proactively seek out UX from female users and interview female customers and potential customers from a range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  2. Audit the language across your product and external-facing communications. Is it gendered?
  3. Diversify your teams to widen your pool of potential customers. Your product is in part a reflection of your teams. Set OKRs to make your team more inclusive across your teams (not just marketing) as a priority.

Fintech investors:

  1. Get clued up on the financial opportunity. By not prioritizing women-focused fintech, you’re missing out on an underserved market with a growing appetite for financial products and spending power.
  2. Bring more women into your team of VCs. The gender composition of investment decision-makers significantly impacts the allocation of investment capital. Lead the way for change.

Fintech users:

  1. Voice your opinion. As a consumer, you have a lot of power. If you notice gendered language, gender stereotypes or a significant lack of diversity in your product, give feedback to customer support. In the world of customer-centered products, this goes a long way.
  2. Support fintechs who are leading the way. There are some great new pension, investment and money management platforms making inclusivity a priority. Try them out.

I would love money to be ungendered in the same way that I would love the world to be colorblind, but our societies and institutions have bias — unconscious or otherwise. Until that’s not the case, we need more fintech products built for women, by women.

Fresh round of $355M lifts online checkout company Bolt into decacorn territory

Checkout technology company Bolt continues to make quick work of attracting new capital. The company announced Friday $355 million in Series E financing to give Bolt an $11 billion valuation, according to sources close to the company.

Bolt’s one-click checkout product aims to give businesses the same technology Amazon has been known for since 1997, and at the same time, incorporates payments and fraud services meant to ensure transactions are real and payments can be accepted. In addition, shoppers can create an account once and then use those credentials across a network of hundreds of Bolt network brands.

This newest raise comes just three months after Bolt took in a sizable $393 million in Series D funding. Including the Series E, Bolt’s total funding to date is nearly $1 billion. The company’s valuation is nearly double what it was at the Series D, Ryan Breslow, founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

In discussing Bolt’s rise to the $1 billion mark, Breslow explained that the company operates in a space with competitors that are actually worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Depending on the source, that’s companies like Stripe, Shopify and

“It may seem like a lot of money raised, but actually no, this is capital for us to be competitive,” he added. “We don’t just want to be on par with competitors, but be better. The capital will enable us to bring in the best talent, make strategic acquisitions and expand into Europe, which is important to us.”

On the international front, the company got a head start there in November after securing agreements with both Benefit Cosmetics and PrestaShop, and when Bolt made its first-ever acquisition of Tipser, a Swedish-based technology company enabling direct checkout on any digital surface.

“We saw how significant Tipser could be for Bolt,” Breslow said at the time. “They had been perfecting their embedded commerce technology for a decade and were the only formidable player. They were stronger than us in areas where we were weaker. It is very strategic to have them on our team.”

Two months later, he says the integration of Bolt’s native checkout and shopper experience with Tipser’s embedded commerce technology continues and that, together, they are already signing up some big customers.

Meanwhile, funds and accounts managed by BlackRock led the Series E investment, with new investors Schonfeld, Invus Opportunities, CreditEase and H.I.G. Growth joining existing investors Activant Capital and Moore Strategic Ventures.

Ben Tsai, partner at Invus Opportunities, said via email that the e-commerce landscape provides “a huge opportunity to improve the online checkout experience, and retailers are realizing that they are losing customers as a result.”

“Bolt has a growing network of millions of shoppers who benefit from the ease of one-click checkout across Bolt’s expanding network of retailers,” he added. “We’re pleased to support Ryan and the ambitious Bolt team and see tremendous opportunity in the space that Bolt is disrupting.”

Over the past year, Bolt grew its gross merchandise value per merchant by 80% and saw increased accounts by 180% over 2020, while transactions grew 200% year over year. The company also says 100 million shoppers are poised to join the Bolt network over the next 18 months.

Finally, after launching Conscious Culture, a playbook aimed at helping businesses create people-first work cultures, last May, it now counts nearly 80 companies and hundreds of customers in the collective.

Bolt currently has over 550 employees working remotely across over 200 cities. In addition to talent, acquisitions and international expansion, the new funding will also accelerate Bolt’s goals of putting out a flurry of new products this year.

Within the pipeline are key investments into areas, like social commerce, where native embedded commerce will be able to go on any channel: websites, chat bots, in-venue, video streams, games, you name it. Breslow expects this move will put Bolt’s checkout capabilities everywhere. Funding will also be pumped into expansion of consumer products to help shoppers shop more efficiently across Bolt’s network.

Going forward, Breslow sees Bolt unbundling the “Amazon gold standard” buying experience as it launches new products so that any business can not only have the one-click checkout, but also the seamless order tracking, fast returns, fast shipping and membership benefits — all technologies that gave Amazon an early advantage.

When asked if becoming a public company was near, Breslow said that it was not in the immediate horizon nor the end goal.

“We have one goal, and that is to build the greatest company ever,” he added.