Vector speeds toward orbital launch capability with $70M in new funding

The market for small satellites in low Earth orbit is expanding faster than the gas in a thruster nozzle, and Vector aims to be the go-to launch platform for companies looking to put a bird in the air on short notice. The company just raised a $70 million B round and aims to take its first payload into space early next year.

Smaller launch systems are already helping bring down the cost of going to orbit, but there’s still a huge amount of room to improve. Satellites and experiments are still waiting for years, or at least more than a few months, for their chance to get to LEO. Vector is hoping to be the company they come to when they want to launch on the scale of weeks.

Of course, that kind of quick turnaround isn’t easy. You have to build hundreds of rockets to be prepared for demand, but that’s exactly Vector’s plan. Naturally this requires a considerable amount of capital.

After doing a lot of groundwork with Defense Dept. and NASA grants, the company raised a $1M seed round back in 2016, and expanded with a $21M round the next year led by Sequoia. The numbers keep on growing with today’s $70M round, led this time by Kodem Growth Partners.

“Vector is entering an extremely important phase of our journey, transitioning from a focus on research and development to flight operations and profitability. This Series B financing is a critical element in Vector’s mission to improve access to space and become a dominant launch provider to the small satellite industry,” said CEO and co-founder Jim Cantrell in a press release.

The company has already done sub-orbital proving flights of its launch system, and the first orbital launch is scheduled for December. They’ll be taking off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska — date TBD. Once orbital launch capability is established, Vector will be getting a lot of calls, so some of the money will go towards sales and marketing personnel, which should roughly double its presence in Silicon Valley,

But the bulk of the new funds will be dedicated to the establishment of a new rocket manufacturing facility in Tucson. You don’t build hundreds of launch vehicles with some second-hand factory.

The company’s original roadmap had orbital launch late last year, but in this business it’s better to be a little late and get things right. That said the vision for the rocket itself hasn’t been adjusted substantially.

“The original design of the Vector-R launch vehicle has largely remained the same since the founding of Vector and the acquisition of Garvey Spacecraft Corporation in 2016 (where the initial design was developed over a 15yr process),” explained co-founder and chief sales and marketing officer Shaun Coleman.

Demand has been sustained for the 50-60kg payload capacities the company is looking to offer, Coleman noted; a heavy configuration that can lift up to 290kg is also underway. (For comparison, a SpaceX Falcon 9 can lift around 25,000kg of payload. These are very small rockets and that’s by design.)

We’ll know more about Vector’s first orbital launch as we approach it. In addition to Kodem, Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners, Sequoia, Lightspeed, and Shasta Ventures all contributed to the round.

Seva snares $2.4M seed investment to find info across cloud services

Seva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today. Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel.

Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company because he felt the frustration personally of having to hunt across different cloud services to find the information he was looking for. When he began researching the idea for the company, he found others who also complained about this fragmentation.

“Our fundamental vision is to change the way that knowledge workers acquire the information they need to do their jobs from one where they have to spend a ton of time actually seeking it out to one where the Seva platform can prescribe the right information at the right time when and where the knowledge worker actually needs it, regardless of where it lives.”

Seva, which is currently in Beta, certainly isn’t the first company to try and solve this issue. Jain believes that with a modern application of AI and machine learning and single sign-on, Seva can provide a much more user-centric approach than past solutions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet.

The way they do this is by looking across the different information types. Today they support a range of products including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive,, Box, Dropbox, Slack and JIRA, Confluence. Jain says they will be adding additional services over time.

Screenshot: Seva

Customers can link Seva to these products by simply selecting one and entering the user credentials. Seva inherits all of the security and permissioning applied to each of the services, so when it begins pulling information from different sources, it doesn’t violate any internal permissioning in the process.

Jain says once connected to these services, Seva can then start making logical connections between information wherever it lives. A salesperson might have an appointment with a customer in his or her calendar, information about the customer in a CRM and a training video related to the customer visit. It can deliver all of this information as a package, which users can share with one another within the platform, giving it a collaborative element.

Seva currently has 6 employees, but with the new funding is looking to hire a couple of more engineers to add to the team. Jain hopes the money will be a bridge to a Series A round at the end of next year by which time the product will be generally available.

Sick of managing your Airbnb? Vacasa raises $64M to do it for you

Airbnbing can be a ton of work. Between key pickups, tidying, and maintenance emergencies, renting out your place isn’t such a passive revenue source. But Vacasa equips owners with full-service vacation home management, including listings on top rental platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway, as well as local cleaners who come between guests. It now manages 10,000 vacation rental properties in over 16 countries.

With the peer-to-peer housing market maturing and Airbnb looking to go public, private equity firms see an opportunity in who controls the end relationship with home owners like Vacasa does. So today the startup is announcing it’s raised $64 million in a Series B bridge round led by Riverwood, and joined by Level Equity, Assurant, and Newspring. The cash will fuel Vacasa’s expansion into real estate as it seeks to sell property to people who want to own and rent out a vacation home.

Vacasa was impressively bootstrapped from 2009 until 2015. “I’ve always been passionate about vacation rentals. When traveling with friends or family, I love having common spaces to come together in” says CEO Eric Breon. He founded the company after owning a vacation cabin on the Washington Coast. He’d go up in the Spring, spend a weekend fixing up the place, it’d sit idle all summer, and then he’d have to spend another weekend closing it up. He considered a local property manager, but they massively underestimated how much he could earn off renting it out. So Breon built Vacasa to make it easy for home owners to earn the most money without a hassle.

After years growing the business organically, Vacasa raised a $35 million series A from Level Equity in 2015, then $5 million more from Assurant. Then in fall of 2017, it raised an $103.5 million series B. Now it’s topping up that round with $64 million and a new valuation warranted by the startup’s growth this past year. That brings Vacasa to a total of $207.5 million in funding

While that’s just a fraction of the over $4.4 billion Airbnb has raised. But Vacasa caters to a more upscale market that don’t want to manage the properties themselves. With plenty of popular listings sites out there, Vacasa gets easy distribution. But eventually as the other giants in the space become public companies, they’ll be forced to chase bigger margins that could see them compete with Vacasa after years of partnership.

Breon remains confident, though. When I ask him the biggest existential threat to the business, he declares that “We’ve reached a point where failure isn’t a realistic outcome. We have great retention of our homeowners, and strong recurring revenue. The question is more about how quickly we can continue scaling into the huge $32 billion market we’re focused on.” Getting to an exit might not be quite so straightforward, but with life seeming to get more stressful by the year, there’ll be no shortage of people seeking a getaway.

YC grad Oh My Green gets $20M seed investment

In its first institutional funding round, Oh My Green has raised $20 million from Initialized Capital, Powerplant Ventures, Backed VC, ZhenFund, Talis Capital and the Stanford StartX Fund to bring healthier foods to offices around the U.S.

The concierge-style startup, which completed Y Combinator’s startup accelerator in 2016, provides businesses in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, Denver, Boston, New York City and Nashville nutritional snacks and meals. It stocks office snack pantries — a staple at tech startups — caters events, manages cafes and provides wellness programming. Its goal is to be a one-stop shop for corporate nutritional wellness. 

The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2014 by Michael Heinrich. Based off my conversation with him earlier this week, I’m guessing he wouldn’t approve of the TechCrunch snack cupboard, which includes a year-long supply of Skittles, M&Ms and Fruit by the Foot.

“I wanted to do something more meaningful in my life,” Heinrich told TechCrunch. “I had worked in really challenging environments and I found myself really enjoying the people and the problems but looking at the food we had available, a lot of it was ultra-processed and ultra-sugared.”

“When I was sugar crashing and not being productive at work, I realized I should stop complaining and actually make a difference,” he added.

Oh My Green’s tech-enabled service, which relies on machine learning to give its customers personalized recommendations for meals and snacks, has 200 customers today, including Lyft, Apple and Y Combinator. With the investment, the company will expand throughout the U.S. and eventually launch overseas.

Epsagon emerges from stealth with serverless monitoring tool

Epsagon, an Israeli startup, launched today with a new serverless tool that helps customers monitor infrastructure, even when they don’t know where or what that is.

That’s the nature of serverless of course. It involves ephemeral resources. Developers build a series of event triggers and the cloud vendor spins up the necessary resources as needed. The beauty of that approach is programmers just codes without worrying about infrastructure, but the downside is that operations doesn’t have any way of controlling or understanding that infrastructure.

Epsagon is trying to solve that problem by giving visibility into serverless architecture. “What the company does, essentially is distributed tracing, observability and cost monitoring for serverless. We’ve been laying low for awhile, and now is actually the official launch of the company,” CEO and co-founder Nitzan Shapira told TechCrunch.

With serverless you can’t use an agent because you don’t know where to put it. There is no fixed server to attach it to. This makes using traditional logging tools inappropriate. Epsagon gets around this problem with an agentless approach using libraries. Shapria says the company will be open sourcing these libraries to make them more attractive to developers.

For starters, the company is supporting AWS Lambda, but plans to expand to other cloud platforms next year. First you sign up for Epsagon, enter your AWS credentials and it immediately begins providing some information about performance in the Epsagon dashboard. But Shapira says the real value comes from the libraries. “We have this library that is essentially the instrumentation, which acts in the same way an agent does,” he explained.

Screenshot: Epsagon

The product does more than simply provide traditional monitoring data though. It also allows customers to understand what they are spending. With serverless, the cloud company provides you resources as required, which is convenient, but could also spiral out of control quickly from a cost perspective. Epsagon lets you see exactly what you’re paying.

The company is still playing with pricing, but they are using a self-service approach for starters. You go and sign up on their website and there are a variety of pricing options starting with a free tier. All of the tiers have a free two-week trial.

Epsagon, which is based in Tel Aviv, currently has 11 employees. They are in the process of opening a US office where they will establish sales, marketing and support operations. They raised $4 million led by Lightspeed Venture Partners in January.

Keeps parent company Thirty Madison raises $15 million to fight male pattern baldness

Thirty Madison, the healthcare startup behind the hair loss brand Keeps, has brought in a $15.25 million Series A co-led by Maveron and Northzone.

The company provides a subscription-based online marketplace for men’s hair loss prevention medications Finasteride and Minoxidil. Keeps sells these drugs direct-to-consumer, working with manufacturers to keep the costs low.

On Keeps, a subscription of Minoxidil, an over-the-counter topical treatment often referred to as Rogaine, is $10 monthly. A subscription to Finasteride, a prescription drug taken daily, is $25 per month.

It’s an end-to-end platform that is the single best place for guys who are looking to keep their hair,” Thirty Madison co-founder Steven Gutentag told TechCrunch.

Keeps is tapping into a big market. According to the American Hair Loss Association, two-thirds of American men experience some hair loss by the age of 35.

You may have heard of Hims, a venture-backed men’s healthcare company that similarly sells subscriptions to hair loss treatments, as well as oral care, skin care and treatments for erectile dysfunction. Keeps is its smaller competitor. For now, the company is focused solely on haircare, though with the new funds, Thirty Madison plans to launch Cove, a sister brand to Keeps that will provide treatments to migraine sufferers.

The company was founded last year by Gutentag and Demetri Karagas with a plan to develop several digital healthcare brands under the Thirty Madison umbrella.

“Going through this process myself of starting to experience hair loss, I was not sure where to turn,” Gutentag said. “I went online and looked up ‘why am I losing my hair,’ and if you search on Google, really for any medical condition, you usually walk away thinking you’re going to die … I was so fortunate that I got access to this high-quality specialist who could help me with my problem and I was in the position to afford those treatments but most people don’t get that access.”

Keeps also provide digital access to a network of doctors at a cost of roughly $30 per visit.

TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos wrote last year that “it’s never been a better time to be a man who privately suffers from erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or hair loss” because of advances and investments in telemedicine. Since then, even more money has been funneled into the space.

Hims has raised nearly $100 million to date and is rumored to be working on a line of women’s products. Roman, a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction, raised an $88 million Series A last month and is launching a “quit smoking kit.” And Lemonaid Health, which also provides prescriptions to erectile dysfunction medications and more, secured $11 million last year.

Greycroft, Steadfast Venture Capital, First Round, Entrepreneurs Roundtable, HillCour and Two River also participated in Thirty Madison’s fundraise, which brings its total raised to date to $22.75 million.

With $300M in new funding, Devoted Health launches its Medicare Advantage plan in Florida

Devoted Health, a Waltham, Mass.-based insurance startup, has raised a $300 million Series B and began enrolling members in eight Florida counties to its Medicare Advantage plan.

The company, which helps Medicare beneficiaries access care through its network of physicians and tech-enabled healthcare platform, has raised the funds from lead investor Andreessen Horowitz, Premji Invest and Uprising.

The company declined to disclose its valuation.

Devoted’s founders are brothers Todd and Ed Park — the company’s executive chairman and chief executive officer, respectively. Todd co-founded a pair of now publicly-traded companies, Athenahealth, a provider of electronic health record systems, and health benefits platform Castlight Health. He also served as the U.S. chief technology officer during the Obama Administration. Ed, for his part, was the chief operating officer of Athenahealth until 2016 and a member of Castlight’s board of directors for several years.

Venrock partners Bryan Roberts — Devoted’s founding investor — and Bob Kucker — its chief medical officer — are also part of the company’s founding team.

The Park brothers have tapped Jeremy Delinsky, the former CTO at Wayfair and Athenahealth, as COO; DJ Patil, a former data scientist at the White House, as its head of technology; and Adam Thackery, the former CFO of Universal American, as its chief financial officer.

Its board includes former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. As part of the latest round, A16z’s Vijay Pande will join its board, too.

The company says it’s committed to treating its customers as if they were members of its employees’ own families. For Patil, the startup’s head of tech, that’s made the entire process of building Devoted a very emotional one.

“I’ve cried a lot at this company,” Patil told TechCrunch. “You meet these seniors and they’ve done everything right. They’ve worked so incredibly hard their entire lives. They’ve given it their all for the American dream. They’ve paid into this model of healthcare and they deserve better.”

Devoted, which previously raised $69 million across two financing rounds in 2017 from Oak HC/FT, Venrock, F-Prime Capital Partners, Maverick Ventures and Obvious Ventures, has begun enrolling seniors located in Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and Seminole counties to its Medicare Advantage plan. It will begin providing care Jan. 1, 2019.

Its long-term goal is to offer insurance plans to seniors nationwide.

“We are responsible for these people’s healthcare so we need to get it right,” Patil said.

Paperspace scores $13M investment for AI-fueled application development platform

Paperspace wants to help developers build artificial intelligence and machine learning applications with a software/hardware development platform powered by GPUs and other powerful chips. Today, the Winter 2015 Y Combinator grads announced a $13 million Series A.

Battery Ventures led the round with participation from SineWave Ventures, Intel Capital and Sorenson Ventures. Existing investor Initialized Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total amount to $19 million raised.

Dharmesh Thakker, a general partner with Battery Ventures sees Paperspace as being in the right place at the time. As AI and machine learning take off, developers need a set of tools and GPU-fueled hardware to process it all. “Major silicon, systems and Web-scale computing providers need a cloud-based solution and software ‘glue’ to make deep learning truly consumable by data-driven organizations, and Paperspace is helping to provide that,” Thakker said in a statement.

Paperspace provides its own GPU-powered servers to help in this regard, but co-founder and CEO Dillon Erb says they aren’t trying to compete with the big cloud vendors. They offer more than a hardware solution to customers. Last spring, the company released Gradient, a serverless tool to make it easier to deploy and manage AI and machine learning workloads.

By making Gradient a serverless management tool, customers don’t have to think about the underlying infrastructure. Instead, Paperspace handles all of that for them providing the resources as needed. “We do a lot of GPU compute, but the big focus right now and really where the investors are buying into with this fundraise, is the idea that we are in a really unique position to build out a software layer and abstract a lot of that infrastructure away [for our customers],” Erb told TechCrunch.

He says that building some of the infrastructure was an important early step, but they aren’t trying to compete with the cloud vendors. They are trying to provide a set of tools to help developers build complex AI and machine learning/deep learning applications, whether it’s on their own infrastructure or on the mainstream cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

What’s more, they have moved beyond GPUs to support a range of powerful chips being developed to support AI and machine learning workloads. It’s probably one of the reasons that Intel joined as an investor in this round.

He says the funding is definitely a validation of something they set out to work on when they first started this in 2014 and launched out of Y Combinator in 2015. Back then he had to explain what a GPU was in his pitch decks. He doesn’t have to do that anymore, but there is still plenty of room to grow in this space.

“It’s really a greenfield opportunity, and we want to be the go-to platform that you can start building out into intelligent applications without thinking about infrastructure.” With $13 million in hand, it’s safe to say that they are on their way.

Instacart raises another $600M at a $7.6B valuation

Instacart chief executive officer Apoorva Mehta wants every household in the U.S. to use Instacart, a grocery delivery service that allows shoppers to order from more than 300 retailers, including Kroger, Costco, Walmart and Sam’s Club, using its mobile app.

Today, the company is taking a big leap toward that goal.

San Francisco-based Instacart has raised $600 million at a $7.6 billion valuation, just six months after it brought in a $150 million round and roughly eight months after a $200 million financing that valued the business at $4.2 billion.

D1 Capital Partners, a relatively new fund led by Daniel Sundheim, the former chief investment officer of Viking Global Investors, has led the round.

Instacart is raking in cash aggressively but spending it cautiously. The company still has all of its Series E, which ultimately totaled $350 million, and the majority of its $413 million Series D in the bank, a source close to the company told TechCrunch. That means, in total, Instacart has $1.2 billion at its fingertips. Currently, according to the same source, the company is only profitable on a contribution margin basis, meaning it’s earning a profit on each individual Instacart order.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Mehta said the company didn’t need the capital and that it was an “opportunistic” round, i.e. the capital was readily available and Instacart has ambitious plans to scale, so why not fundraise. Instacart plans to use the enormous pool of capital to double its engineering team by 2019, which will include filling 300 open engineering roles in its recently announced Toronto office, he said.

As far as an initial public offering, it will happen — eventually.

“It will be on the horizon,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

“2018 has been a really big year for us,” he added. “The reason why we are so excited is because the opportunity ahead of us is enormous. The U.S. is a $1 trillion grocery market and less than 5 percent of that is bought online. It’s an enormous category that’s highly under-penetrated.”

In the last six months, Instacart has announced a few notable accomplishments.

As of August, the service has been available to 70 percent of U.S. households. That’s due to the expansion of existing partnerships and new deals entirely, like a recently announced pilot program between Instacart and Walmart Canada that gives Canadian Instacart users access to 17 different Walmart locations across Winnipeg and Toronto, Ontario.

The company has also completed several executive hires. Most recently, it tapped former Thumbtack chief technology officer Mark Schaaf as CTO. Before that, Instacart brought on David Hahn as chief product officer and Dani Dudeck as its first chief communications officer.

In early September, the company confirmed its chief growth officer Elliot Shmukler would be leaving the company.

The 6-year-old Y Combinator graduate has raised more than $1.6 billion in venture capital funding from Coatue Management, Thrive Capital, Canaan Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and several others.

 

Truphone, an eSIM mobile carrier that works with Apple, raises another $71M, now valued at $507M

Truphone — a UK startup that provides global mobile voice and data services by way of an eSIM model for phones, tablets and IoT devices — said that it has raised another £18 million ($23.7 million) in funding; plus it said it has secured £36 million ($47 million) more “on a conditional basis” to expand its business after signing “a number of high-value deals.”

It doesn’t specify which deals these are, but Truphone was an early partner of Apple’s to provide eSIM-based connectivity to the iPad; and it will also be offering a service for new iPhone XS and XR models, taking advantage of the dual SIM capability. Truphone says that strategic partners of the company include Apple (“which chose Truphone as the only carrier to offer global data, voice and text plans on the iPad and iPhone digital eSIM”); Synopsys, which has integrated Truphone’s eSIM technology into its chipset designs; and Workz Group, a SIM manufacturer, which has a license from Truphone for its GSMA-accredited remote SIM provisioning platform and SIM operating system.

The company said that this funding, which was made by way of a rights issue, values Truphone at £386 million ($507 million at today’s rates) post-money. Truphone told TechCrunch that the funding came from Vollin Holdings and Minden Worldwide — two investment firms with ties to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who also owns the Chelsea football club, among other things — along with unspecified minority shareholders. Collectively, Abramovich-connected entities control more than 80 percent of the company.

We have asked the company for more detail on what the conditions are for the additional £36 million in funding to be released and all it is willing to say is that “it’s KPI-driven and related to the speed of growth in the business.” It’s unclear what the state of the business is at the moment because Truphone has not updated its accounts at Companies House (they are overdue). We have asked about that, too.

For some context, Truphone most recently raised money almost exactly a year ago, when it picked up £255 million also by way of a rights issue, and also from the same two big investors. The large amount that time was partly being raised to retire debt. That deal was done at a valuation of £370 million ($491 million at the time of the deal). Going just on sterling values, this is a slight down-round.

Truphone, however, says that business is strong right now:

“The appetite for our technology has been enormous and we are thrilled that our investors have given us the opportunity to accelerate and scale these groundbreaking products to market,” said Ralph Steffens, CEO, Truphone, in a statement. “We recognised early on that the more integrated the supply chain, the smoother the customer experience. That recognition paid off—not just for our customers, but for our business. Because we have this capability, we can move at a speed and proficiency that has never before seen in our industry. This investment is particularly important because it is testament not just to our investors’ confidence in our ambitions, but pride in our accomplishments and enthusiasm to see more of what we can do.”

Truphone is one of a handful of providers that is working with Apple to provide plans for the digital eSIM by way of the MyTruphone app. Essentially this will give users an option for international data plans while travelling — Truphone’s network covers 80 countries — without having to swap out the SIMs for their home networks.

The eSIM technology is bigger than the iPhone itself, of course: some believe it could be the future of how we connect on mobile networks. On phones and tablets, it does away with users ordering, and inserting or swapping small, fiddly chips into their devices (that ironically is also one reason that carriers have been resistant to eSIMs traditionally: it makes it much easier for their customers to churn away). And in IoT networks where you might have thousands of connected, unmanned devices, this becomes one way of scaling those networks.

“eSIM technology is the next big thing in telecommunications and the impact will be felt by everyone involved, from consumers to chipset manufacturers and all those in-between,” said Steve Alder, chief business development officer at Truphone. “We’re one of only a handful of network operators that work with the iPhone digital eSIM. Choosing Truphone means that your new iPhone works across the world—just as it was intended.” Of note, Alder was the person who brokered the first iPhone carrier deal in the UK, when he was with O2.

Truphone has not released numbers detailing how many devices are using its eSIM services at the moment — either among enterprises or consumers — but it has said that customers include more than 3,500 multinational enterprises in 196 countries. We have asked for more detail and will update this post as we learn more.