AI-powered parking platform Metropolis bags $167M

Metropolis, a startup building payment infrastructure for parking facilities, today announced that it raised $167 million in a Series B round co-led by 3L Capital and Assembly Ventures with participation from Dragoneer, Eldridge Industries, Silver Lake Waterman, UP Partners, and former deputy mayor of New York Dan Doctoroff. CEO Alex Israel told TechCrunch via email that the proceeds will be put toward product development, expanding the company’s team, and expanding into “new mobility adjacent verticals.”

Israel contends that parking payment infrastructure is outdated on the whole. Parking garages are stuck in the pre-internet age, he asserts — disconnected from the digital payments ecosystem (e.g., schemes like Apple Pay and Google Pay). Certainly, there’s on-demand systems like SpotHero. Meanwhile, FlashParking, Passport, AirGarage, and REEF Technology (formerly ParkJockey) have raised hundreds of millions from SoftBank and others for tech-forward parking management. But these don’t create the same experiences Metropolis can, Israel claims.

“Metropolis is a mobility commerce company, building infrastructure that allows us to transact in the physical world with the seamlessness and ease we experience online,” Israel told TechCrunch via email. “Our platform powers more than 600 parking facilities, we have more than 1.8 million users, and we connect both to thousands of surrounding restaurants, coffee shops, and retail stores in more than sixty cities.”

Israel, a serial entrepreneur, sold his last company, ParkMe, to Inrix back in 2015. He said that the experience drove him back to the drawing board to develop a new kind of parking payment and management service.


Image Credits: Metropolis

“Metropolis was founded in 2017 with the vision of creating the foundation for future modes of transportation which would allow for seamless transactions and movement,” Israel said. “In order to realize a future with cars that are electric or autonomous, you have to build the infrastructure for them to operate within, and that starts by bringing brick and mortar locations online. Parking and movement within urban environments have not changed in the past 70 years and we set out to change that.”

To this end, Metropolis — which equips existing parking structures with its systems — enables customers to “drive in and drive out” without having to swipe a credit card or pay with cash. Using computer vision systems trained on an in-house data set, the platform can recognize cars via cameras equipped with Metropolis’ software, automatically charging the corresponding customers’ online account. (To use a Metropolis parking facility, customers have to provide their name, license plate, phone number, and payment method.)

From an app, customers can review their visit and know the price in real time. Metropolis emails the receipt after they drive out.

That’s a convenience, to be sure. But Metropolis is investing heavily on the analytics, sales, and marketing side of the business, where it sees a larger addressable market. According to Israel, the high-rise and parking structure owners and municipalities that Metropolis does business with can better inform pricing, staffing, and maintenance with the insights from the platform. And local businesses can gain visibility — promotions and discounts from grocery stores, coffee shops, and other local merchants that choose to partner with Metropolis appear in the aforementioned app.

“Our data means real-time, accurate, and reliable visibility into usage of, and revenue derived from, built environment assets. For commercial real estate businesses, it’s vital to have visibility into both individual property performance, but also portfolio-wide trends,” Israel said. “We have only scratched the surface of the economic opportunity within our cities. For businesses, Metropolis is able to connect them with new customers and revenue opportunities. For people moving around our cities, Metropolis delivers a checkout-free, just-drive-out experience, facilitating a remarkable journey, while connecting them to the local business around them.”


Image Credits: Metropolis

Gearing up for expansion, Metropolis recently acquired Premier Parking, a Nashville-based company that operated hundreds of parking garages and spaces around the U.S. And last November, Metropolis announced a partnership with Uber, Uber Park, which allows Uber riders to use the Uber app to access locations within the Metropolis network.

Israel says that Metropolis plans to expand its workforce of 2,000 employees to 2,500 by the end of the year to support the expansion. It would appear to have the capital to do so; to date, Metropolis has raised $226 million in total.

“Parking, while historically recession resistant, was not COVID-resistant. So commercial real estate owners and operators turned to Metropolis during the pandemic to find efficiencies and opportunities; as people return to work and travel, we are on a major upswing,” Israel said. “Metropolis built its core business in the middle of a global financial crisis, so while others are hitting the brakes to cut burn, our business is built on solid fundamentals, which is why we attracted so much interest from such a range of investors.”

Divesting from one facial recognition startup, Microsoft ends outside investments in the tech

Microsoft is pulling out of an investment in an Israeli facial recognition technology developer as part of a broader policy shift to halt any minority investments in facial recognition startups, the company announced late last week.

The decision to withdraw its investment from AnyVision, an Israeli company developing facial recognition software, came as a result of an investigation into reports that AnyVision’s technology was being used by the Israeli government to surveil residents in the West Bank.

The investigation, conducted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at Covington & Burling, confirmed that AnyVision’s technology was used to monitor border crossings between the West Bank and Israel, but did not “power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank.”

Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12 Ventures, backed AnyVision as part of the company’s $74 million financing round which closed in June 2019. Investors who continue to back the company include DFJ Growth and OG Technology Partners, LightSpeed Venture Partners, Robert Bosch GmbH, Qualcomm Ventures, and Eldridge Industries.

Microsoft first staked out its position on how the company would approach facial recognition technologies in 2018, when President Brad Smith issued a statement calling on government to come up with clear regulations around facial recognition in the U.S.

Smith’s calls for more regulation and oversight became more strident by the end of the year, when Microsoft issued a statement on its approach to facial recognition.

Smith wrote:

We and other tech companies need to start creating safeguards to address facial recognition technology. We believe this technology can serve our customers in important and broad ways, and increasingly we’re not just encouraged, but inspired by many of the facial recognition applications our customers are deploying. But more than with many other technologies, this technology needs to be developed and used carefully. After substantial discussion and review, we have decided to adopt six principles to manage these issues at Microsoft. We are sharing these principles now, with a commitment and plans to implement them by the end of the first quarter in 2019.

The principles that Microsoft laid out included privileging: fairness, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance.

Critics took the company to task for its investment in AnyVision, saying that the decision to back a company working with the Israeli government on wide-scale surveillance ran counter to the principles it had set out for itself.

Now, after determining that controlling how facial recognition technologies are deployed by its minority investments is too difficult, the company is suspending its outside investments in the technology.

“For Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” the company wrote in a statement on its M12 Ventures website. “Microsoft’s focus has shifted to commercial relationships that afford Microsoft greater oversight and control over the use of sensitive technologies.”



Domio raises $100M in equity and debt to take on Airbnb and hotels with its curated apartments

Airbnb has well and truly disrupted the world of travel accommodation, changing the conversation not just around how people discover and book places to stay, but what they expect when they get there, and what they expect to pay. Today, one of the startups riding that wave is announcing a significant round of funding to fuel its own contribution to the marketplace.

Domio, a startup that designs and then rents out apart-hotels with kitchens and other full-home experiences, has raised $100 million, $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt, to expand its business in the US and globally to 25 markets by next year, up from 12 today. Its target customers are younger, millennials travelling in groups, or families swayed by the size and scope of the accommodation — typically five times bigger than the average hotel room — as well as the price, which is on average 25% cheaper than a hotel room.

The Series B, which actually closed in August of this year, was led by GGV Capital, with participation from Eldridge Industries, 3L Capital, Tribeca Venture Partners, Softbank NY, Tenaya Capital and Upper90. Upper90 also led the debt round, which will be used to lease and set up new properties.

Domio is not disclosing its valuation, but Jay Roberts, the founder and CEO, said in an interview that it’s a “huge upround” and around 50x the valuation it had in its seed round and that the company has tripled its revenues in the last year. Prior to this, Domio had only raised around $17 million, according to data from PitchBook.

For some comparisons, Sonder — another company that rents out serviced apartments to the kind of travellers who have a taste for boutique hotels — earlier this year raised $225 million at a valuation north of $1 billion. Others like Guesty, which are building platforms for others to list and manage their apartments on platforms like Airbnb, recently raised $35 million with a valuation likely in the range of $180 million to $200 million. Airbnb is estimated to be valued around $31 billion.

Domio plays in an interesting corner of the market. For starters, it focuses its accommodations at many of the same demographics as an Airbnb. But where Airbnb offers a veritable hodgepodge of rooms and homes — some are people’s homes, some are vacation places, some never had and never will have a private occupant, and across all those the range of quality varies wildly — Domio offers predictability and consistency with its (possibly more anodyne) inventory.

“We are competing with amateur hosts on Airbnb,” said Roberts, who previously worked in real estate investment banking. “This is the next step, a modern brand, the next Marriott but with a more tech-powered brain and operating model.” These are not to be confused with something like Hilton’s Homewood Suites, Roberts stressed to me. He referred to Homewood as “a soulless hotel chain.”

“Domio is the anti-hotel chain,” he added.

Roberts is also quick to describe how Domio is not a real estate company as much as it is a tech-powered business. For starters, it uses quant-style algorithms that it’s built in-house to identify regions where it wants to build out its business, basing it not just on what consumers are searching for, but also weather patterns, economic indicators and other factors. After identifying a city or other location, it works on securing properties.

It typically sets up its accommodations in newer or completely new buildings, where developers — at least up to now — are not usually constructing with short-term rentals in mind. Instead, they are considering an option like Domio as an alternative to selling as condominiums or apartments, something that might come up if they are sensing that there is a softening in the market. “We typically have 75%-78% occupancy,” Roberts said. He added that hotels on average have occupancy rates in the high 60% nationally.

As Domio lengthens its track record — its 12 U.S. markets include Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Phoenix — Roberts says that they’re getting a more select seat at the table in conversations.

“Investors are starting to go out buy properties on our behalf and lease them to us,” he said. This gives the startup a much more favorable rate and terms on those deals. “The next step is that Domio will manage these directly.” The most recent property it signed, he noted, includes a Whole Foods at the ground level and a gym.

Using technology to identify where to grow is not the only area where tech plays a role. Roberts said that the company is now working on an app — yet to be released — that will be the epicenter of how guests interact to book places and manage their experience once there.

“Everything you can do by speaking to a human in a traditional hotel you will be able to do with the Domio app,” he said. That will include ordering room service, getting more towels, booking experiences and getting restaurant recommendations. “You can book your Uber through the Domio app, or sync your Spotify account to play music in the apartment.

There are plans to extend the retail experience too using the app. Roberts says it will be a “shoppable” experience where, if you like a sofa or piece of art in the place where you’re staying, you can order it for your own home. You can even order the same wallpaper that’s been designed to decorate Domio apartments.

Ripe for the booking

Although Airbnb has grown to be nearly as ubiquitous as hotels (and perhaps even more prominent, depending on who you are talking to), the wider travel and accommodation market is still ripe for the taking, estimated to reach $171 billion by 2023 and the highest growth sector in the travel industry.

“Airbnb has taught us that hotels are not the only to stay,” said Hans Tung, GGV’s managing partner. “Domio is capitalizing on the global shift in short-term travel and the consumer demand for branded experiences.  From my travels around the world, there is a large, underserved audience – millennials, families, business teams – who prefer the combined benefits of an apartment and hotel in a single branded experience.”

I mentioned to Roberts that the leasing model reminded me a little of WeWork, which itself does not own the property it curates and turns into office space for its tenants. (The Softbank investor connection is interesting in that regard.) Roberts was very quick to say that it’s not the same kind of business, even if both are based around leased property re-rented out to tenants.

“One of the things we liked about Domio is that is very capital efficient,” said Tung, “focusing on the model and payback period. The short-term nature of customer stays and the combination of experience/price required for to maintain loyal customers are natural enforcers of efficient unit economics.”

“For GGV, Domio stands out in two ways,” he continued. “First, CEO Jay Roberts and the Domio team’s emphasis on execution is impressive, with expansion in to 12 cities in just three years. They have the right combination of vision, speed and agility. Domio’s model can readily tap into the global opportunity as they have ambition to scale to new markets. The global travel and tourism spend is $2.8 trillion with 5 billion annual tourists. Global travellers like having the flexibility and convenience of both an apartment and hotel – with Domio they can have both.”

Truebill raises $15M to build a comprehensive platform for personal finance

Personal finance startup Truebill announced today that it has raised $15 million in Series B funding.

The new funding was led by Eldridge Industries, with participation from Evolution VC previous investors including Cota Capital, Lucas Venture Group and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim.

When the Y Combinator-backed startup raised seed funding back in 2016, it was focused on what Chief Revenue Officer Yahya Mokhtarzada now describes as “a single function” — helping users track all their subscriptions and recurring expenses, and then to cancel them when desired.

Mokhtarzada said the Truebill team subsequently saw an opportunity, given “the increasing degree of financial complexity in people’s lives,” to take “a more holistic view of personal finance.”

Truebill still offers subscription tracking, and Mokhtarzada said that’s usually what brings new users in. But it’s also added capabilities like automated budgeting, automated saving and bill negotiation. And this fall, it plans to launch additional features including bill pay, credit score monitoring and a rewards program.

Consumers have plenty of other personal finance tools to choose from, but Mokhtarzada said most of them are focused on fulfilling a specific need and will likely become less relevant as your financial situation changes.

“The other half is, if you look at the App Store, it’s filled with single point solutions,” he said. “As your financial life gets more sophisticated and complex, the consumer is ending up with five or more different point solutions. All of that needs to be consolidated into one place.”

Truebill says it currently has 500,000 active users. The basic product is free, then users can pay a price of their choosing for premium features like custom budget categories; Truebill also takes a cut of the savings when it negotiates lower bills.

The company recently opened new headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mokhtarzada said Truebill still has an office in San Francisco, but he noted that he and his co-founders/brothers previously built in Silver Spring.

“San Francisco obviously has very competitive market — it’s harder to hire and very difficult to retain talent,” he added. “With the D.C. area, it feels like we’ve found an untapped market, with very talented engineers working for the government, working in an area of technology that’s not very exciting for them.”