Equity Monday: Ola, DeFi, and how to turn cooler cabinets into ads

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode.

Starting the day American stocks are set to rise despite the country’s president spending the weekend in a military hospital to combat his COVID-19 infection. The weekend itself was marked with national turmoil as information was incomplete, and shifting when it came to the health of the current administration.

Over the weekend a few stories caught our eyes:

  • The Ola-London dustup that shows what regulatory risk remains for ride-hailing companies.
  • This DappRadar report on the boom in DeFi that is boosting ethereum.
  • Facebook’s leaked plan to combat a push by government to break it up into smaller pieces.

And there were a number of interesting funding rounds to look into. We selected two for your pleasure this morning:

What else was on our mind? We’re getting mentally ready for Q3 earnings. Now that it is Q4 that’s what’s coming up. What will the cycle bring? A clearer image of what happened in the quarter to companies that are not COVID-accelerated. What has happened to them, and can their results match investor expectations? The v-shaped recovery is actually a k-shaped recovery and, in time, it’s going to show. So, buckle up for one hell of an earnings cycle.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Cooler Screens raises $80M to bring interactive screens into cooler aisles

Cooler Screens, which replaces the glass doors in store cooler aisles with interactive digital displays, is announcing that it has raised more than $80 million in Series C funding.

The startup has now raised more than $100 million in funding. The latest round comes from Verizon Ventures (Verizon owns TechCrunch), Microsoft’s M12 venture fund, Great Point Ventures, Silicon Valley Bank and others.

Cooler Screens is led by co-founder and CEO Arsen Avakian, who was previously founder and CEO of Argo Tea. Avakian told me that before starting Argo, he worked at a number of technology companies, including i2 Technologies.

“The joke was, I went from IT to tea, and now I’m back to IT,” he said. He also suggested the startup draws on all of his past experience — while Cooler Screens is a tech company, it also requires an understanding of how to build a consumer brand.

The idea of replacing simple glass doors with electronic displays might seem unnecessary or even annoying, but Avakian said his first priority is “winning consumers’ hearts.”

After all, we’re used to doing as much research as we want before buying a product online, but very little of that information is available in the brick-and-mortar shopping and experience. Avakian said Cooler Screens is changing that: “You could ask the screens, ‘Show me all the vegan items’ or ‘How many calories are in this product?'”

And it’s already available in some stores. After installing screens in 50 Walgreens locations in the Chicago area (where Cooler Screens is based), the startup announced plans to expand to 2,500 Walgreens stores across the United States. Other partners include Kroger and GetGo.

Avakian said he pitches stores on a partnership for “sophisticated digital merchandising and contextual advertising technology.”

Cooler Screens

Image Credits: Cooler Screens

He added, “We can digitize your stores, and as we do that, we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is and show you that the consumers will love us: The NPS scores will be through the [roof]. If we prove all of that to you, we’d love to start bringing into this marketplace the CPG brands that are relevant to consumers in your stores, and now we become the last mile of advertising.”

Avakian said that unlike most forms of digital advertising, Cooler Screens doesn’t gather any personal information about the viewer. Instead, its appeal to advertisers is the fact that it gives them a way to reach consumers “in a safe environment, where they’re in the mindset for shopping.”

Avakian said that since March, the startup has grown from 40  brands advertising on the platform to nearly 150.

Noting that stores like Walgreens and Kroger have been essential for many shoppers during the pandemic, Avakian said, “It’s obvious to everyone that brick-and-mortar retail is here to stay. It just needs to reinvent itself.”