Finli puts service-based business payment management in the palm of your hand

If your service-based business is still collecting paper checks and only knows clients by their first name, Finli has an app for you.

After building mobile technology for fintechs and payment companies for the past 20 years, Lori Shao, CEO of Finli, started the mobile-first payment management company nearly 3 years ago when she noticed that she was around technology all day but still using a checkbook to manage household services, like landscaping and after-school programs.

Lori Shao, CEO of Finli

Lori Shao, CEO of Finli Image Credits: Finli

The San Marino, California–based company is focused on microbusinesses, which according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, 9.9% of U.S. businesses are small businesses.

These are businesses that are often using five or more services, like QuickBooks, to manage their client billing and payments. Shao believes many business owners end up abandoning those services because they are complicated, expensive and heavily reliant on owners knowing a lot of information about their clients, over and above a first name and mobile phone number.

“You don’t have to fit yourself into a QuickBooks box or a Square box; you can continue to operate your own way, on your own terms and we meet you where you are,” Shao told TechCrunch. “Finli stands for ‘financial lift,’ so it is in our DNA to financially lift communities, and we can do that through one small, microbusiness at a time.”

Finli’s platform was developed so owners could send invoices, look up customer information and check on payment status in between gigs. Users are able to set up an account and send their first invoice via email, SMS text or other messaging app within minutes. There is also a customer relationship manager feature so they can digitize their client base if they want.

Shao said some competitors take a cut from the payments coming in, so it was important to her that there were zero merchant transaction fees for business bank-to-bank transfers. Owners can also continue to take cash and check payments, which are automatically reconciled within the app, and manage collections through automated emails and text messages.

Currently, Finli has a freemium model for sending invoices and receiving payments. There is also a Pro Package with flat monthly fees, starting at $25 per month, which gives access to advanced tools, like setting up recurring payment and ACH direct debit, all the tools that Shao says they would otherwise need a bank to provide.

The company, which has 11 employees, ended 2021 with 500 business accounts on the platform, and 6 months later, it grew to 3,000, or about 500%.

Shao closed on $6 million in seed funding to help grow the team and continue developing business banking features. The investment was led by the Urban Innovation Fund and included Motley Fool Ventures, M13, Alumni Ventures and all existing investors, including Mac Venture Capital, Slauson and Co., Core Innovation Capital, Techstars and Muse Capital. This gives Finli a total of $9.5 million in funding.

“I started the company with just me and my laptop and recognized that I needed to surround myself with talented individuals that can help me improve and take Finli to the next level,” she added. “We’re able to do so much with very little and finally, with this capital, we’re able to do so much more. There’s a lot of ideas that we have, there’s a lot of opportunities that we want to pursue but we’ve been just like so many other early stage startups, just limited in resources, which had limited acceleration of our growth.”

Finli is not alone in helping business owners manage their processes digitally. Earlier this year, Zuper, a provider of productivity tools for field service management and customer engagement, raised $13 million. Before that, Fuzey raised $4.5 million in seed funding for its “digital one-stop shop” for small businesses and independent contractors, while Puls Technologies raised $15 million for its mobile app connecting tradespeople with on-demand home repair services.

Mighty Buildings lands $22M to create ‘sustainable and affordable’ 3D-printed homes

Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, which is on a quest to build homes using 3D printing, robotics and automation, has raised a $22 million extension to its Series B round of funding.

The additional capital builds upon a $40 million a raise the company announced earlier this year, bringing its total funding since its 2017 inception to $100 million.

Mighty Building’s self-proclaimed mission is to create “beautiful, sustainable and affordable” homes.

The company claims to be able to 3D print structures “two times as quickly with 95% less labor hours and 10-times less waste” than conventional construction. For example, it says it can 3D print a 350-square-foot studio apartment in just 24 hours.

Execs say the new capital will go toward making supply chain improvements and moving up research and development timelines. The money will also go toward helping it achieve a new goal of achieving Net-Zero carbon neutrality by 2028 – which it says is 22 years ahead of the construction industry overall. 

“As a founding team, we have long been passionate about solving productivity for construction in a sustainable way,” said co-founder and CEO Slava Solonitsyn. “We have spent four years figuring out what it takes to achieve that. We believe that we have a master plan now that can work.”

Since its launch, the company has produced and installed a number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

Sam Ruben, co-founder and Chief Sustainability Officer of Mighty Buildings, said the new funds will also go toward kicking off development of the startup’s multi-story offering. The multi-story efforts will likely initially focus on 2-3 story single family homes and townhouses with an eye towards expanding into low-rise apartment buildings.  The company hopes to have at least a prototype multi-story offering in late 2022 or early 2023, according to Ruben.

“Along with the sustainability improvements already captured by our new formula, this will allow us to develop our next generation material to get us even closer to our goal of being carbon neutral by 2028,” Ruben said. “It will also give us opportunities to implement improvements in our existing design by reducing the impact of our foundations and other, non-printed elements.” 

Specifically, Mighty Buildings plans to speed up its carbon neutrality roadmap by building “high-throughput, sustainable” micro factories, forming strategic supply chain partnerships, accelerating ”blue skies” technology research and developing new composite materials produced from recycled or bio-based feedstock. 

The micro factories, according to the company, will be able to produce 200 to 300 homes per year in locations where housing gaps exist. Mighty Buildings plans to create single family residential developments with its panelized “Mighty Kit System.”

Mighty Buildings has seen quarter over quarter growth in sales, Ruben said, with the company seeing a record of over $7 million in total contracted revenue in the second quarter. 

The company is also excited about its new fiber reinforced printing material, which is currently undergoing testing with certification expected to be completed later this year. Mighty Buildings claims that its new formula shows “over 50% improvement” in embodied carbon from its original material and a strength profile similar to reinforced concrete, with more than 4 times less weight.

The round extension was supported by a few new and existing investors including ArcTern Ventures, Core Innovation Capital, Decacorn Capital, Gaingels, Khosla Ventures, Klaff Realty, MicroVentures, Modern Venture Partners, Polyvalent Capital, Vibrato Capital and others.

Kikoff raises $30M for its hybrid consumer-credit and financial-literacy service

Kikoff, a personal finance platform aimed at helping consumers build credit, announced today that it has raised $30 million in a Series B round.

The capital is in addition to the $12.5 million the startup raised across previously unannounced seed and Series A rounds, which were both led by Lightspeed Venture partners.

Portage Ventures led Kickoff’s Series B, which included participation from Lightspeed, GGV, Coatue and Core Innovation Capital. Previous backers of the company include NBA star Steph Curry, Wex CEO Melissa Smith and Teresa Ressel, former CFO of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

CEO Cynthia Chen and CTO Christophe Chong co-founded the San Francisco-based company in late 2019 with the goal of helping consumers without a credit history establish one, and helping those with credit histories to continue building credit. The pair came from “low to moderate income” families, Chen said, and say they want to help others who also come from similar economic backgrounds. Chen grew up in Beijing before coming to the U.S. for college on a scholarship and says she was struck by the experience of her parents having to borrow money from family and friends in order to purchase a TV.

While the company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, Chen did say that Kikoff has “hundreds of thousands” of customers after being out of beta for half a year.

Kikoff’s product, the “Kikoff Credit Account,” is the first of a planned suite of offerings all aimed at improving consumers’ financial health.

“There are many Americans who don’t come from affluent families and have tons of student loan debt,” Chen said. “For them and so many others, we wanted to create a better way to build good credit than existing offers in the market.” While anyone can use its platform, Chen says the vast majority of its customers are millennials and GenZers as they are most in need of a way to build credit.

Image Credits: Kikoff

With Kikoff, the pair aim to give people not only a way to build a credit history, but also a way to increase consumer financial literacy. Rather than provide a debit or credit card that can be used anywhere, Kikoff restricts the use of its line of credit to an online store it’s created. Users can purchase things like e-books covering a variety of finance-related topics such as how to plan and budget, or profit from trading bitcoin. It also has a selection of courses that it has purchased resell rights for, covering topics such as personal finance education, or how to set up an e-commerce store or even how to learn Python programming skills.

“When a consumer purchases something from our store, [that] item is going to help that person improve his or her financial habits or help him or her make money by making smarter investments, or setting up their small business or learning skills,” Chen told TechCrunch.

The company also does not charge any interest on its credit line or fees for the financing.

“There’s no cost of borrowing money,” she said. Instead, Kikoff collects revenue by taking the margin between the wholesale price for the items it sells in its store and the retail price that customers pay.

To sign up, customers first apply for a $500 revolving line of credit that can be used for purchases at Kikoff’s online store. The company touts that within months, its customers “can become eligible for better interest rates, competitive credit cards and home mortgages,” among other things within a relatively short period of about 45 days. 

Kikoff has intentionally worked to help its customers build credit in what Chen describes as “a very financially responsible way.”

“That’s why they are able to only use the product within our proprietary online store, and we have a number of affordable items in the store for them to purchase,” she told TechCrunch. “So it is relatively easy for them to not overspend or make any kind of impulse purchase that they later cannot really afford to pay.”

Lightspeed Partner Ansaf Kareem said he could empathize with the experiences of Chen and Chong in having to create and build credit for the first time, “especially as immigrants and first-generation Americans.”

A credit score holds the keys to your financial future, yet so many Americans struggle with creating and building credit,” he said. “Adjacent products may let you check your credit score, but do not provide tools or guidance to improve it without charging fees or asking for a large up-front cash commitment,” he added. “Kikoff built a product that provides real value through a simple, no fee structure to initiate and build credit. And they are just getting started.”

Kikoff’s executive team certainly has an impressive background in fintech. Chen previously served as Figure’s Chief Risk Officer and she held senior executive roles at Capital One and OnDeck. Chong was former head of growth at Lime and led growth teams at Facebook and Square. Andrew Brix, Kikoff’s head of product was employee No. 15 at Credit Karma and served as its director of product management. He also was a senior product manager at E-Trade. Patrick Glover, head of marketing, worked at both Plaid and Square and Vinni Bala, head of operations, is former CMO and Chief Credit Officer at Deserve.

Other companies with similar goals that have raised venture funding as of late include Tomo Credit and Welcome Tech, among others.

SeedFi closes on $65M to help financially struggling Americans get ahead

Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and struggle to get out of a debt cycle.

One startup is developing financial products targeted toward this segment of the population, with the goal of helping them build credit, save money, access funds and plan for the future.

That startup, SeedFi, announced Wednesday it has raised $50 million in debt and $15 million in an equity funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, also known as a16z. The VC firm also led SeedFi’s $4 million seed funding when it was founded in March of 2019.

Flourish, Core Innovation Capital and Quiet Capital also participated in the latest financing.

SeedFi was founded on the premise that it is difficult for many Americans to get ahead financially. Its founding team has worked at both startups and big banks, such as JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, and operates under the premise that many legacy financial institutions are simply not designed to help Americans who are struggling financially to get ahead. 

“We’ve seen firsthand how the system has been designed for underprivileged Americans to fail,” said Jim McGinley, co-founder and CEO of SeedFi. “Our average customer earns $50,000 a year, yet they pay $460 a year in overdraft fees and payday loan companies charge them APRs of 400% or more. They barely make enough to cover their expenses and any misstep can set them back for years.”

In previous roles, McGinley was responsible for payday loans for underserved communities.

“There I got insights to the financial difficulties they had and the need for better products to help them get a step up,” he told TechCrunch.

Co-founder Eric Burton said he can relate because he grew up in Central Texas as part of “a super poor family.”

“I experienced all the struggles of being low income and the necessity of taking on high-priced credit to get through day to day,” he recalled. “I personally was trapped in a debt cycle for a long time.”

In fact, a job offer he got from Capital One was temporarily rescinded because the company said he had “bad credit,” which turned out to be a result of unpaid medical bills he’d incurred at the age of 18.

“I didn’t know about them, but was able to get the job after using my signing bonus to pay off that debt,” he said. “So I can understand how a certain starting point makes it very hard to progress.”

SeedFi’s goal is to tackle the root of the problem. It launched in private beta in 2019, and helped its initial customers build more than $500,000 in savings — even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, it’s launching to the public with two offerings. One is a credit building product that is designed to “create important long-term savings habits.” Customers save as little as $10 from every paycheck, which is reported to the credit bureaus to build their credit history, and are then able to generate $500 in savings in six months’ time.

After six months of on-time payments, SeedFi customers with no credit history were able to establish a credit score of 600, while customers with existing credit scores and less than three credit accounts boosted their scores by 45 points, according to the company.

The concept of enabling consumers to build credit history beyond traditional methods is becoming increasingly more common. Just last week, we wrote about Tomo Credit, which provides customers with a debit card so they can build credit based on their cash flow.

SeedFi’s other offering, the Borrow & Grow Plan, is designed to be a more affordable alternative to installment or payday loans. It provides consumers with “immediate access” to funds while also helping them build savings and credit. 

Andreessen Horowitz general partner Angela Strange , who has joined SeedFi’s board with the financing, believes there’s “a massive business opportunity for new financial services entrants to reach historically underserved populations through better product experiences, underwriting and technology.”

In a blog post, she shares an example of how SeedFi works. The company evaluates risk and extends credit to a customer that might be traditionally hard to underwrite. It determines how much to lend, as well as the proportion of dollars to give as money now versus savings. 

“For instance, a typical SeedFi plan might be structured as $500 right now and $500 reserved in a savings account. The borrower pays off $1,000 over time, and at the end of the plan, he or she has $500 in a savings account. Not only has the borrower paid a lower interest rate, he or she is in a better financial position after making the decision to borrow money,” Strange writes.

Looking ahead, SeedFi plans to use its new capital to build out its product suite and grow its customer base. 

“We will be able to more efficiently fund our growing loan portfolio and serve more customers,” McGinley said.

Mighty Buildings nabs $40M Series B to 3D print your next house

Once upon a time, the idea of 3D-printed homes felt like a thing of the future.

But as housing gets less and less affordable — especially in ultra-expensive markets such as the Bay Area — companies are getting creative in their quest to build more affordable homes using technology.

One of those companies, Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, just raised $40 million in Series B funding for its quest to create homes that it says are “beautiful, sustainable and affordable” using 3D printing, robotics and automation. It claims to be able to 3D print structures “two times as quickly with 95% less labor hours and 10-times less waste” than conventional construction. For example, it says it can 3D print a 350-square-foot studio apartment in just 24 hours.

The four-year-old startup’s efforts caught the eye of Khosla Ventures, which co-led the financing along with Zeno Ventures. 

Ryno Blignaut, an operating partner at Khosla, believes that Mighty Buildings — which launched out of stealth last August — has the potential to cut both the cost and carbon footprint of home construction “by 50% or more.”

The company takes a hybrid approach to home construction, combining 3D printing and prefab (meaning built offsite) building, according to co-founder and COO Alexey Dubov. It has invented a proprietary thermoset composite material called Light Stone Material (LSM) as part of its effort to reduce the home construction industry’s reliance on concrete and steel. 

The material can be 3D printed and hardens almost immediately, according to the company, while also maintaining cohesion between layers to create a monolithic structure. Mighty Buildings can then 3D print elements like overhangs or ceilings without the need for additional supporting formwork. That way, it’s able to fully print a structure and not just the walls. 

Robotic arms can post-process the composite, which combined with the company’s ability to automate the pouring of insulation and the 3D printing gives Mighty Buildings the ability to automate up to 80% of the construction process, the company claims.

Khosla was drawn to the Mighty Buildings’ innovative approach.

“We believe in dematerializing buildings and non-linearly reducing the amount of cement and steel used, thereby reducing the cost of construction in order to increase affordable access to housing together with improved sustainability,” Blignaut wrote via email.

Mighty Building’s use of 3D printing, advanced manufacturing techniques, modern robotics and “new lighter and stronger materials” gives it an edge, he added.

Since its launch, the company has produced and installed a number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and is now taking orders for Mighty Houses — its newest product line that will range from 864 to 1,440 square feet at an estimated cost of $304,000 to $420,500. (Similarly sized houses in some parts of the Bay Area can sell for upwards of $1 million).

The units are created with a 3D-printed exterior panelized shell while certain elements — such as bathrooms for example — are prefabricated in the company’s 79,000-square-foot production facility in Oakland. 

For now, the company is only building in California, but Dubov says it’s open to exploring other markets as its factory can be replicated.

Also, Mighty Buildings plans this year to market its Mighty Kit System and a new fiber-reinforced material for multi-story projects as part of a planned B2B platform for developers. In fact, the company already has secured contracts with developers for its single family housing product line. It also plans to use the new capital in part to scale its production capacity with increased automation.

Ultimately, Mighty Building’s vision is to provide production-as-a-service, with builders and architects designing their own structures and then developers using Mighty Factories to produce them at scale.

Mighty Buildings is not the only startup doing 3D-printed homes. Last August, Austin-based ICON raised $35 million in Series A funding. The company also aims to reinvent building affordable homes with the use of 3D printers, robotics and advanced materials. The biggest difference between the two companies, according to Dubov, is that ICON does primarily onsite construction while Mighty Buildings prefabricates in a factory.

More than a dozen other investors also participated in Mighty Building’s latest round, including returning backers Bold Capital Partners, Core Innovation Capital and Foundamental and new investors including ArcTern Ventures, Abies Ventures, Modern Venture Partners, MicroVentures, One Way Ventures, Polyvalent Capital and others. Mighty Buildings was also included in Y Combinator’s Top companies list, all of which have valuations over $150 million (although the company declined to reveal its current valuation). 

For its part, Khosla’s Blignaut believes that buildings are “a big part of our urban landscape and a large consumer of resources.”

“Construction and building account for more carbon emissions in the U.S. than transportation or industry,” he said. Other portfolio companies addressing such challenges include Ori Living, Vicarious, Katerra and Arevo.

PadSplit uses the Airbnb model to tackle the country’s affordable housing crisis

The United States is currently in the middle of an affordable housing crisis that’s putting the nation’s most economically insecure citizens at risk of becoming homeless even as a pandemic continues to spread across the country.

But one Atlanta startup called PadSplit is using the same model that Airbnb created (which ultimately drove up rental and housing prices across the country) to bring down costs for subsidized housing and provide relief for some of the people most at risk.

America’s second housing crisis

Twelve years after the last housing crisis in the United States caused a global economic meltdown, the U.S. is once again on the brink of another real estate-related economic disaster.

This time, it’s not speculators and investors that will carry the weight of the coming collapse, but low income renters faced with still sky-high housing costs and no income thanks to historic unemployment caused by the nation’s COVID-19 epidemic, as Vox reported.

Before COVID-19 swept across the world, half of U.S. renters were spending roughly 30 percent of their income on apartments and homes. One fifth of the population actually spent over half of their income on rent, and now, with roughly 10 percent of the country unemployed, that population faces eviction and the prospect of homelessness.

One third of American families failed to make rent in June, and by September more than 20 million renters could be evicted by landlords.Can an Airbnb model provide relief?

To solve the problem of housing insecurity, PadSplit borrows a page from the Airbnb playbook by creating a marketplace where homeowners can list rooms for rent for long-term stays.

Each room comes furnished with wifi and includes access to laundry facilities. And the company provides access to free telemedicine services and reports weekly payments to credit agencies so renters can build their credit scores.

Currently, the company manages 1,000 units in the Atlanta area and has expanded its presence into Maryland. The company’s renters include teachers, grocery store employees, restaurant workers — all people whose services are considered essential during the COVID-19 epidemic. “40 percent of our population has been functionally homeless,” said company founder, Atticus LeBlanc. “The average income [for our renters] is $25,000 per year.”

The average age of an occupant in a PadSplit room is 39, but renters have been as young as 19 or as old as 77, according to the company.

A quick scan of PadSplit rates in the Atlanta area shows rents of roughly $140 to $250 per week for rooms in existing homes. “We are focused on longer term stays for lower income,” said LeBlanc.

The company screens tenants and landlords, including criminal background checks and employment verification. “We sit between a hotel provider and a longer term apartment,” said Leblanc. “Where we need to both be an immediate housing provider for people who are in difficult situations while also underwriting that [person].” Owners looking to rent on PadSplit also need to prove that they haven’t been convicted of a felony within the last seven years.

GettyImages 117642785

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

Launching PadSplit

LeBlanc, a New Orleans native turned Atlanta entrepreneur was named for Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer whose fight for social justice in “To Kill A Mockingbird” is a staple of schoolroom lit assignments, and a model for white liberal southern gentry.

“My mother… said she wanted to give me someone to live up to,” says LeBlanc. 

With a degree in architecture from Yale University, LeBlanc has run a real estate development and construction business in Atlanta for over 12 years. He launched PadSplit in 2017, after writing up the idea for the business in response to a competition from the Atlanta housing non-profit, House ATL and the non-profit Enterprise Community Partners.

LeBlanc’s plan was selected as one of the finalists and he received a small grant from the organization and the JPMorgan Chase foundation to pursue the business.

With the help of John O’Bryan, a serial entrepreneur who had built businesses in the vacation rental industry, LeBlanc built up the marketplace that would become PadSplit, starting first in Atlanta and moving out to surrounding suburbs and into Maryland. LeBlanc later brought in Frank Furman, a Naval Academy graduate, US Marine Corps veteran and former McKinsey consultant to help grow the business. 

Now, the company, a Techstars accelerator graduate, has $10 million in new financing from Core Innovation Capital, Alate Partners, the Citi Impact Fund, Kapor Capital, Impact Engine and Cox Enterprises to expand PadSplit into Texas, starting with Houston and quickly ramp up hiring.

“PadSplit provides a truly unique solution to a complicated national problem that’s becoming more dire each day,” said Arjan Schütte, Founder and Managing Partner of Core Innovation Capital, in a statement. “We’re proud to support Atticus and the PadSplit team as they expand into new markets and introduce critical housing supply at a time when so many require affordable housing.”

Making money in affordable housing

According to LeBlanc, affordable housing is built around two things. One is the subsidy owners receive from the federal government and the second is a percentage of the cost of rentals. To convince owners that being in the affordable housing market was a good idea, LeBlanc just proved to them that they could get higher risk-adjusted returns versus other long-term rentals.

So far, that’s been proven out, he says. Through its model of fixed costs and weekly rent payments, PadSplit occupants have been able to save roughly $516 per month, according to data supplied by the company. Lowering rent has also allowed tenants to build credit, move into their own apartments and bought vehicles — or even, in some cases, houses of their own.

The company estimates it has also saved taxpayers over $203 million in subsidies by eliminating the the need to build subsidized housing units. Property owners have also benefited, the company said, increasing revenues on properties by over 60 percent.

And LeBlanc isn’t just the founder of PadSplit, he’s also a customer. “I rent a room downstairs in my personal home,” he said.

Ultimately, LeBlanc sees housing stability and a path to home ownership as one of the key tenets of economic equality in the United States.

“Every zoning law in America was based on a system that had no racial equity. We’re still battling those vestiges that exist in almost every jurisdiction,” he says.

And for LeBlanc the problem goes back to nearly 100 years. “If you acknowledge that racial inequality led to income stratification where it was impossible for returning Black GIs to get access to the same wealth building opportunities that white returning GIs had.. it’s no surprise that you have lower incomes by a substantial margin for African Americans as you do for whites.”

LeBlanc sees his business providing an additional revenue stream for the owners who rent properties, and an on-ramp to the financial system for people who are at risk or historically disenfranchised.

“We wanted to create a value proposition that is valuable to anyone in the housing space,” said LeBlanc. 

Fintech platform Synapse raises $33M to build ‘the AWS of banking’

Synapse, a San Francisco-based startup that operates a platform enabling banks and fintech companies to easily develop financial services, has closed a $33 million Series B to develop new products and go after international expansion.

The investment was led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from existing backers Trinity Ventures and Core Innovation Capital . Synapse — which recently rebranded (slightly) from ‘SynapseFi’ — announced a $17 million Series A back in September 2018 so this deal takes it to $50 million raised to date.

The startup was founded in 2014 by Bryan Keltner and India-born CEO Sankaet Pathak, who came to the U.S. to study but grew frustrated at the difficulty of opening a bank account without U.S. social security history. Inspired by his struggles, Synapse, which operated under the radar prior to that Series A deal, is focused on democratizing financial services.

Its approach to doing that is a platform-based one that makes it easy for banks and other financial companies to work with developers. The current system for working with financial institutions is frankly a mess; it involves a myriad of different standards, interfaces, code bases and other compatibility issues that cause confusion and consume time. Through developer- and bank-facing APIs, Synapse aims to make it easier for companies to connect with banks, and, in turn, for banks to automate and extend their back-end operations.

Pathak previously told us the philosophy is a “Lego brick” approach to building services. Its modules and services include payment, deposit, lending, ID verification/KYC, card issuance and investment services.

“We want to make it super easy for developers to build and scale financial products and we want to do that across the spectrum of financial products,” he told TechCrunch in an interview this week.

Synapse CEO Sankaet Pathak

“We don’t think Bank Of America, Chase and Wells Fargo will be front and center” of new fintech, he added. “We want to make it really easy for internet companies to distribute financial services.”

The product development strategy is to add “pretty much anything that we think would be an accelerant to democratizing financial services for everyone,” he explained. “We want to make these tools and features available for developers.”

Interestingly, the company has a public product roadmap — the newest version is here.

The concept of an ‘operating system for banking’ is one that resonates with the kind of investment thesis associated with A16z, and Pathak said the firm was “number one” on his list of target VCs.

With more than half of that Series A round still in the bank, Pathak explained that the Series B is less about money and more around finding “a partner who can help us on the next phase, which is very focused on expansion.”

As part of the deal, Angela Strange A16z’s fintech and enterprise-focused general partner — has joined the startup’s board. Strange, whose portfolio includes Branch, described Synapse as “the AWS of banking” for its potential to let anyone build a fintech company, paralleling the way Amazon’s cloud services let anyone, anywhere develop and deploy a web service.

Having already found a product market fit in the U.S. — where its tech reaches nearly three million end users, with five million API requests daily — Synapse is looking overseas. The first focuses are Canada and Europe, which it plans to launch in before the end of the year with initial services including payments and deposits/debit card issuance. Subsequently, the plan is to add lending and investment products next year.

Members of the Synapse team

Further down the line, Pathak said he is eager to break into Asia and, potentially, markets in Latin America and Africa, although expansions aren’t likely until 2020 at the earliest. Once things pick up, though, the startup is aiming to enter two “key” markets per year alongside one “underserved” one.

“We’ve been preparing for [global expansion] for a while,” he said, pointing out that the startup has built key tech in-house, including computer vision capabilities.

“Our goal is to be in every country that’s not at war or under sanction from the U.S,” Pathak added.

At home, the company is looking to add a raft of new services for customers. That includes improvements and new features for card issuance, brokerage accounts, new areas for its loans product, more detailed KYC and identification and a chatbot platform.

Outside of product, the company is pushing to make its platform a self-service one to remove friction for developers who want to use Synapse services, and there are plans to launch a seed investment program that’ll help Synapse developer partners connect with investors. Interesting, the latter platform could see Synapse join investment rounds by offering credit for its services.

More generally on financial matters, the Synapse CEO said the company reached $12 million ARR last year. This year, he is aiming to double that number through growth that, he maintains, is sustainable.

“If we stop hiring, we could break even and be profitable in three to four months,” said Pathak. “I like to keep the burn like that… it stabilizes us as a company.”

SynapseFi raises $17M to develop its fintech and banking platform

SynapseFi, a startup that helps banks and fintech companies work together to develop technology, has announced that it raised a $17 million Series A funding round.

The funding actually closed at the back end of last year, but CEO Sankaet Pathak said the company has been so busy developing new products, hiring and more than that it is only getting around to disclosing the deal now. The investment was led by Trinity Ventures and Core Innovation Capital, with participation from other unnamed backers.

The San Francisco-based startup has sat under the radar for a while now despite starting up in 2014. Its core product is a platform that helps banks and developers work together. That involves developer-facing APIs that allow companies to connect with banks to offer services, and also bank-facing APIs that allow banks to automate and extend back-end operations.

Pathak describes the vision as making it possible for anyone around the world to get access to high-quality financial products. The first focus is to make financial products “like Lego bricks” to enable banks to add new products and services easily. As it stands today, development is a painful process that requires specific infrastructure development, but SynapseFi aims to standardize a lot of the processes and platform to make things much simpler.

The idea for the business came when Pathak, who moved to the U.S. from India in 2010, grew frustrated at being unable to get a bank account or loan because he had no social security history. He left the University of Memphis, where he had studied computer engineering and sciences, and founded the startup in April 2014 alongside his friend Bryan Keltner.

Initially, the business focused on payments, but it gradually tilted to become a technology enabler for the financial industry.

Today, SynapseFi has over 60 staff and it works with a roster of over 100 financial industry clients. Its products include the basics like payment, deposit, lending and investment services, but it has also ventured into crypto with services that include a white-label wallet.

To date, it claims to have processed over $10 billion in transactions and helped bank more than 1.5 million people through its technology.

The SynapseFi team

“There are three core things we want to fix in banking,” Pathak told TechCrunch in an interview. “The back office is still mostly manual today and we want to automate that. There’s a need for vertical integration… we want any large or small financial company to be able to come to us and operate at the same scale as the likes of Wells and Chase. We also want to automate financial advice using behavior science.”

Pathak added that the startup also harbors an ambition to expand overseas. That’s likely to mean Europe first — potentially a market like the UK or Germany — but it’ll require fairly intensive localization as the SynapseFi platform is customized to accommodate U.S. APIs and data pipes, none of which will work outside of the country.

An expansion would be likely to happen around the time that the company looks to raise its Series B, although Pathak stressed that he is also focused on building a sustainable business and not simply relying on venture capital money. Indeed, he said that the company is likely to reach breakeven by the end of the year.

“I still think it’s a healthy business practice,” Pathak said.