OP3N raises $28M to build ‘WhatsApp meets Amazon’ for web3

OP3N, a web3 AI-powered platform, raised a $28 million Series A round that values the company at $100 million, the startup shared exclusively with TechCrunch.

“I wanted to make a connection for creators, chats and commerce in one place,” Jaeson Ma, co-CEO of OP3N, said to TechCrunch. “It’s a web3 version of WhatsApp meets Amazon, or WeChat meets Alibaba.”

OP3N’s chat-based product, Superapp, aims to bridge the gap between Web 2.0 and web3 through implementing blockchain and decentralized technologies into Web 2.0-friendly interfaces. The application will have the ability to add audio, video and mixed media content to on-chain interactions so users can have a “one-stop” experience.

The platform was born out of a need for a user experience and interface similar to Web 2.0 platforms, but powered by web3 technologies, Ma said.

The platform allows artists and creators to offer fans new ways to engage through NFT-gated experiences that fans can buy at different price points, Ma shared. Customers can sign up through email and the platform will create a crypto wallet for users, he added.

The funding round was led by Animoca Brands and included investments from Dragonfly Capital, SuperScrypt, Creative Artists Agency and New Enterprise Associates’ Connect Ventures, Republic Crypto, Avalanche’s Blizzard Fund, Galaxy Digital and Warner Music Interactive. Additional investors include GSR Markets, The Spartan Group, BRV Capital Management and NBA player Russell Westbrook, among others.

“These are all long-term players and people who are here to stay and bring strategic synergy for us,” Ma said of the investors. “We’re here to build a product that I believe will hopefully in two years become the decentralized Facebook, YouTube, Spotify or WhatsApp for web3.”

In 2021, OP3N closed its $10 million seed round from investors like Goodwater Capital, Soma Capital, 500 Global, WhaleShark, Twitch co-founder Justin Kan and The Sandbox co-founder and COO Sébastien Borget, to name a few.

The fresh capital will be used to further develop its application as well as grow its leadership team, Ma shared. The product is currently in beta mode and has been testing with different communities, he added.

“Through our learnings in version one, we realized when we did [an NFT] drop, fans didn’t know the difference between AVAX, Solana, Polygon or whatever cryptocurrency it was,” Ma said. Just that one experience caused so much friction and fallout.”

So going forward, Ma realized OP3N has to bridge the traditional market into web3 in a way that’s more understandable. “It’s not going to happen overnight that a billion people will know how to download a wallet and use it, so we are solving for that.”

OP3N raises $28M to build ‘WhatsApp meets Amazon’ for web3 by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

Pitch Deck Teardown: StudentFinance’s $41M Series A deck

There’s no shortage of “upskilling” startups out there, but it’s rare to see one raise a $41 million round. That’s what Spanish startup StudentFinance pulled off a couple of weeks ago. Today, we are taking a closer look at the pitch deck the company used to make that happen.

We’re looking for more unique pitch decks to tear down, so if you want to submit your own, here’s how you can do that

Slides in this deck

StudentFinance shared a slightly redacted slide deck; it removed sensitive revenue, cost and unit economics slides. Everything else is as pitched.

  1. Cover slide
  2. Mission slide
  3. Opportunity slide
  4. Problem slide
  5. Solution slide
  6. Value proposition slide part 1
  7. Value proposition slide part 2
  8. Business model slide
  9. Technology slide
  10.  Metrics slide
  11.  Road map slide (labeled “expansion” slide)
  12.  Geographic expansion slide (labeled “expansion” slide)
  13.  Growth history and trajectory slice (labeled “expansion” slide)
  14.  Team slide
  15.  Contact slide

Three things to love

To raise a $41 million round, a company needs solid traction and a huge market. I’m unsurprised to see that those parts of the story, in particular, were very well covered.

Clear, bold mission

Student Finance mission slide

[Slide 2] Off to a solid start. Image Credits: StudentFinance (opens in a new window)

Company-building is future-building, and being able to have a clear vision for the future is a crucial part of that. StudentFinance’s second pitch deck slide sets the tone for what’s about to come: It’s a BHAG, as it’s called in the industry —a big, hairy, audacious goal. StudentFinance has great clarity about what they are building and who they are building it for, and it really helps investors co-dream with the founders.

This slide invites investors to join the journey, something all startups should do when pitching. What is the big goal, the big change you want to see in the world? Bring that to life, and you’ve made a great first impression.

A clearly formulated problem space

[Slide 4] Gotta love a clear problem. Image Credits: StudentFinance

The company goes from a great mission to discussing what the opportunity looks like. From there, it moves on to this slide, talking about the three big problems getting in the way of a global, comprehensive approach to upskilling. Having a clear, well-articulated problem statement goes a long way toward helping an investor get a feeling for how big, how serious and how urgent the problem is. Ideally, it should also hint at how prevalent the problem is (i.e., how many people are experiencing it).

Breaking down the problem into three easy-to-grasp segments like this is particularly elegant. Funding is an obvious one‚ people are worried about money — but finding jobs and getting career guidance are less obvious slices of this challenge at first glance. Bringing it to life by using the short example questions underneath helps humanize the problem. All very well done.

Promising early metrics

For a company raising more than $40 million, I would have expected pretty beefy metrics. Of course, I have nothing to benchmark it against, so I don’t know if these metrics are actually good or great, but the investors must have seen something. The win here, though, is identifying and reporting on metrics that seem key to the company:

[Slide 10] Metrics, metrics, metrics. Image Credits: StudentFinance

Some crucial numbers are missing here, and in any other circumstance, I would give the founders a hard time.

You can tell a lot from a company’s metrics — both the KPIs themselves, of course, but also the figures that a company believes are key to its growth. StudentFinance overlaps these metrics on the UN sustainable development goals, which is a great way to signal how it can be a force for good in the world. Again, elegantly done.

The number of people reskilled and the value of tuition fees are both crucial numbers (although I can’t figure out what ISA stands for, so perhaps there’s an opportunity for a tweak there). Job creation, salary generation and finding that half of the folks who go through the program land jobs are all key indicators that make a lot of sense.

Some crucial numbers are missing here, and in any other circumstance, I would give the founders a hard time, but the team already let me know that “sensitive revenue, cost and unit economics slides” had been removed — and those are exactly the type of metrics that I would like to see here.

In the rest of this teardown, we’ll take a look at three things StudentFinance could have improved or done differently, along with its full pitch deck!

Pitch Deck Teardown: StudentFinance’s $41M Series A deck by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

Are we bullfighting in Spain? Because that’s a red flag

Hello and welcome back to Equity, a podcast about the business of startups, where we unpack the numbers and nuance behind the headlines.

For the last time in 2022, the whole Friday gang got together to chat through the latest and greatest in the world of technology and startup news. From here on out, Equity is heading into Holiday Mode. We have a regular Monday show for you next week, but past that we have a string of kick-butt end-of-year episodes planned for you. Onward!

And for those of you who just wanted the show notes, here you are:

Equity is not done for the year, but we are settling into our final 2022 groove. This is Alex writing this, and I wanted to take the moment to thank you for sticking around with us this year. Really. I think we broke a bunch of records in terms of downloads and the like. Wild that the show just keeps getting bigger. Hugs.

Equity drops at 7 a.m. PT every Monday and Wednesday, and at 6 a.m. PT on Fridays, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts. TechCrunch also has a great show on crypto, a show that interviews founders, one that details how our stories come together, and more!

Are we bullfighting in Spain? Because that’s a red flag by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

Venture deal pace is starting to ramp back up as Q4 looms

Venture is back, baby! But not really at the later stages and, oh, also definitely not at the same valuations or cadence as 2021.

After more than six months of declining deal counts and venture activity, venture deal pace is starting to pick up again. Multiple investors and lawyers told TechCrunch this week that they’ve started to see deal activity start to ramp up since summer unofficially ended on Labor Day.

Mike Brown, a general partner at Bowery Capital, said that while the numbers don’t match 2021’s totals, it’s a big uptick from recent months. Latif Peracha, a partner at M13, agreed. “That first week after Labor Day was an incredibly vibrant week,” Peracha said. “Now it feels like we are not only seeing more deal activity from an initial check standpoint, we’re also seeing more interest in our companies, which is a huge relief.”

Venture deal pace is starting to ramp back up as Q4 looms by Rebecca Szkutak originally published on TechCrunch

TrovaTrip, a group travel management platform and marketplace, raises $15M

TrovaTrip, a travel planning and booking platform that lets creators host adventures with their communities, has raised $15 million in Series A funding led by Madrona. Founded in 2017, the Portland-based company makes it easy for creators to sell and host multi-day experiences around the world. TrovaTrip offers more than 150 experiences in 48 countries. To date, more than 15,000 travelers have used TrovaTrip to book an experience.

The platform includes bookable experiences like hiking in Patagonia, sourcing textiles in Morocco, practicing yoga in Bali and more. Hosts, which is the name for creators on the platform, set their price for a specific experience that they will be leading. TrovaTrip then provides a landing page for hosts to publish and promote their trip and then start accepting bookings. Hosts can also set up an email marketing campaign, in addition to promoting their bookable experience across their social media channels.

TrovaTrip handles payment processing, customer support, traveler management and also covers the host with free insurance during the trip. The company charges a 10% service fee and a $2.9% transaction fee.

All trips are organized and run by a certified tour operator and include a local guide to ensure a safe experience. Trips include accommodations, transportation between cities, listed meals and guided activities relevant to the theme of the trip. Examples of trip categories and themes include photography, exploration, health and wellness, food, LGBTQ+, yoga and more.

The platform was founded by TrovaTrip CEO Nick Poggi, CRO Lauren Schneider and CTO Branden Denham. The idea for TrovaTrip began when Poggi, Schneider and a few of their friends were planning a two-week vacation trip to Europe, but were unable to find group travel options for young professionals, Poggi told TechCrunch in an interview. While they were on the trip, they started mapping out a plan to build the solution that they wish existed. Poggi then brought Denham on board, after which the trio had the idea to create a platform that lets you not only travel, but travel while learning about something you’re passionate about with someone you look up to.

An image of TrovaTrip's co-founders

Image Credits: TrovaTrip

“Rather than us selling these experiences directly to customers, we thought let’s build a platform that makes it easy for creators to offer and host experiences with their communities,” Poggi said. “This would create an authentic and reputable source of income for creators, while also supporting them as they look to build out their community. The concept worked and led to a pretty incredible experience. Our first trip was to Italy and then the next two were to Portugal.”

The company’s Series A funding round included participation from existing investors, PSL Ventures, Oregon Venture Fund, Elevate Capital and Portland Seed Fund. TrovaTrip will use the new funding to further advance its platform and open up access to more creators, Poggi says.

“We are very much focused on continuing to enhance our platform to provide a world class experience for our hosts, travelers and operators,” Poggi said. “We will be growing our sales and marketing efforts to open up the platform for more creators and their communities. We’ve only scratched the surface with the various categories and themes that we could potentially work with. We’re very excited to open up the platform a bit more on the host side. And then we will continue to work to expand our selection of itineraries across destinations.”

TrovaTrip’s Series A funding round follows the company’s $5 million seed funding announced in August 2021, which was led by PSL Ventures. The company has raised $20 million in funding to date.

In terms of the future, TrovaTrip plans to continue to develop its platform to be a reputable income stream for creators. The company notes that it’s already becoming some creators’ primary source of income. TrovaTrip also plans to continue to make travel safer and maintain a high bar for quality group travel.

TrovaTrip, a group travel management platform and marketplace, raises $15M by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

Sardine raises $51.5M led by a16z to sniff out fishy fintech transactions

As fintechs become more efficient, so too do fraudsters.

“Faster instant payments mean faster fraud,” Sardine CEO and co-founder Soups Ranjan told TechCrunch. That’s the thesis behind his startup, which uses behavioral, financial and device-specific user data to detect fraud on behalf of its clients in the crypto and fintech industries.

Those conditions also mean a faster fundraising process for Sardine, evidently. The company announced it has raised $51.5 million in a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s (a16z’s) Growth Fund after closing $19.5 million for its Series A earlier this year. a16z was a new investor in the Series A, with the fintech-focused GP Angela Strange leading Sardine’s previous round and Growth Fund partner Alex Immerman taking the lead this time around.

The other Series B participants were a mix of new and existing investors including XYZ, Nyca Partners, Sound Ventures, Activant Capital, Visa, Google Ventures, Eric Schmidt, Vikram Pandit, The General Partnership, NAventures, ING Ventures, ConsenSys, Cross River Digital Ventures, Alloy Labs, and Uniswap Labs Ventures, according to the company.

Sardine has grown considerably since it announced the Series A back in February, growing its roster of clients from ~50 to ~135 today, Ranjan said. Its customers include crypto exchanges FTX and Blockchain.com as well as fintechs with broader mandates such as Wealthsimple and Digit, he added.

After participating as one of ten startups in the FIS Fintech Accelerator program this summer, the startup is making a push into “core banking processes” and is in discussions with large banks in the U.S. and Europe, Ranjan said.

It’s easier to understand why a fintech or crypto startup might want to beef up its fraud prevention capabilities, but Ranjan explained that even for big banks, the standard KYC (“Know Your Customer”) compliance process isn’t equivalent to a fraud protection program. 90% of fraud detected on Sardine’s customers’ platforms comes from individuals who have already passed the KYC process, he said.

Sardine does have competition from other startups in the identity-verification space such as Socure, which told TechCrunch last year that it counts three of the top five global banks as customers. Socure, which counts Tiger Global as its lead investor, was valued at $4.5 billion during its last publicly announced fundraise in November 2021, a Series D round. Sardine didn’t share the valuation from its latest fundraise, but the startup is significantly earlier-stage than Socure.

Ranjan described Sardine’s differentiation in the market as stemming from his team’s experience and the company’s focus on fintechs in particular. Ranjan himself previously worked as Coinbase’s director of data science and risk and Revolut’s head of crypto, and the company’s head of banking partnerships came to the startup from Zelle.

Sardine co-founders Soups Ranjan, Zahid Shaikh and Aditya Goel

Sardine co-founders Aditya Goel, Soups Ranjan and Zahid Shaikh Image Credits: Sardine

“If you actually peek underneath the hood at any of these traditional fraud prevention vendors, you will find that the APIs don’t even have support for the identity of an individual, because they’re all built or designed for the e-commerce checkout experience,” Ranjan said. Rather than analyzing a customer’s shipping address and shopping cart, Sardine looks at device intelligence and behavioral biometric data that helps identify whether an individual engaging in a transaction is really who they say they are, he continued.

Another major differentiator for Sardine from competitors like Socure is its instant ACH and card onramp to crypto, which allows its customers to purchase over 30 different crypto assets instantly rather than having to wait the traditional few days to access their funds. It also offers direct fiat to NFT checkout in partnership with Tom Brady’s company, Autograph, and plans to expand that product to other NFT marketplaces, according to Ranjan.

Banks and card issuers typically use fraud detection algorithms for crypto that aren’t nearly granular enough, Ranjan said, meaning around half of the customers who attempt to transact using fiat-to-crypto onramps through traditional platforms are declined as fraudulent.

When Sardine launched its NFT checkout product in partnership with Autograph earlier this month, its conversion rate was much higher, around 98%, Ranjan said. It’s too early to tell if there are any chargebacks, or instances of fraud that went undetected, from that launch, he added, noting that Sardine is one of the first companies to even offer such instantaneous access to crypto through ACH.

“One of the reasons why folks haven’t dabbled or launched ACH to crypto, or even direct ACH to NFT, has been that there is no one [else] taking on the fraud risk liability,” Ranjan said. He declined to share details around the chargeback rates Sardine sees across its older products, but said that the platform allows customers to access some, but not all, of their crypto instantly.

“Sardine is taking on the fraud risk. [The transaction] typically settles into two-plus days, so for that period of time, we’re taking on the settlement risk, and we’re taking on the third-party fraud risk, as in, if somebody connects a stolen bank account,” Ranjan explained.

Venture capitalist Andrew Steele, who led Activant Capital’s investment in Sardine, thinks the company is uniquely positioned to assume and manage risk in a way that enables instant transactions.

“Identity and fraud are usually completely separate things,” Steele said. “We’ve invested in identity platforms. We’ve also invested in fraud platforms, and typically they’re completely separate. Identity to me is a moment in time. It’s when you onboard someone, it’s how you make sure that they are who they say they are. And then fraud is usually a transaction-based thing, but both are completely separate and siloed. Typically, that lack of connection means that you have limited data and you can’t really take on risk in the way we’re talking about [with Sardine].”

Sardine raises $51.5M led by a16z to sniff out fishy fintech transactions by Anita Ramaswamy originally published on TechCrunch

Kenya’s insurtech Turaco maintains 1 billion user target as it raises $10M funding

Insurance penetration in Africa is currently below 3% largely attributable to the slow adoption of innovation in the sector. Many underwriters rely on traditional systems involving agents and lots of paperwork to sign-up new customers, which limits customer reach, and hampers the uptake of their products. However, a change-point is in the offing as insurtechs like the Kenya-based insurtech Turaco introduce new technologies and products that are disrupting the market.

Through its B2B2C model, Turaco has created an expansive distribution channel that is enabling it to tap into a large pool of potential customers in its markets, and providing insurance to a group that has never consumed it before.

Driven by a viable business model, the startup, which also has operations in Uganda and Nigeria, has entered its growth phase and is eyeing more partnerships in a bid to drive mass market insurance adoption in Africa.

The startup’s planned growth comes against the backdrop of a $10 million Series A equity funding in a round led by AfricInvest, through its Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund (CAIF), and Novastar Ventures. Enza Capital, Global Partnerships, Zephyr Acorn, Operator Stack, Asi Ventures Limited, and Push Ventures, also participated in the round, which brings the total funding raised by Turaco to 13.3 million.

“We want to insure a billion people in the next 25 years and that’s what we’re building towards. It’s an audacious goal in every way and I can’t even really describe how to get there, but I have a clear vision of insuring 100 million people. Getting to that next stage of growth means working with some of the largest brands in the world. We have the right mix of talent, ambition, technology and vision to get us there. But it’s a long road ahead of us for sure,” Ted Pantone, Turaco co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

Pantone co-founded Turaco with Peter Gross after their stint at MIC Global (Micro-Ensure), a tech-enabled embedded insurance provider.

“Insuring a billion people is what I want to do for the rest of my life, and this is both socially impactful, as well as commercially scalable,” he said.

Through API integration Turaco’s partners like solar PAYGO companies (MKOPA), ride-hailing platforms (SafeBoda), fintechs and micro-finance institutions are able to bundle insurance with their core products or services.

The insurtech works closely with each partner, to “design and distribute its insurance products as a white-labeled offering”. The customers buy life, asset, medical and vehicle insurance from as low as $0.2.

“We get typically north of a 50% conversion rate when we sell into these partnerships, because the value proposition really makes sense. And people are very aware of the risks like having medical emergencies and needing to clear that hospital bill. Demand is not the issue. People actually really want to buy insurance if it’s designed appropriately for them from a price point value proposition, and if it’s sold in a frictionless, efficient manner. So, most of our innovation is really around the distribution model. That’s really the key we are fixing to make it really easy for people to say yes, and then pay for insurance,” said Pantone.

The insurtech has so far reached over half a million customers, 268,000 of whom are active. Its users have grown 300% since 2020. Pantone attributed the growth to their business model and value proposition, which he says works for both partners and end users.

“As the insurance penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa remains below 3%, one of the lowest rates globally, we believe Turaco has developed the tools and know-how to fill this gap and reach low-income earners with products adapted to their needs, thus being a critical part of the push to help shield the most disadvantaged from unforeseen financial burdens and shocks,” AfricInvest and co-head of CAIF, Partner Yassine Oussaifi, said in a statement.

Kenya’s insurtech Turaco maintains 1 billion user target as it raises $10M funding by Annie Njanja originally published on TechCrunch

Morpheus Space’s satellite thrusters are propelled forward with a $28M Series A

The booming satellite industry has been a boon for Morpheus Space, which produces a modular, electric propulsion system for small satellites.

Morpheus has raised a $28 million Series A, with which it intends to build a factory in Dresden, Germany, where it’s based, and to increase headcount. That will allow the company to ramp up production of its propulsion systems to meet exponentially growing demand in the smallsat market; since 2019, the number of small satellite launches has increased by nearly 450%.

In 2020, Morpheus launched its Nano Field Effect Electric Propulsion (NanoFEEP) thruster, which it claims is the “smallest and most efficient electric in-space propulsion system” in the world.

Because the system is modular, NanoFEEP thrusters can be combined to create more powerful propulsion systems to meet the needs of a specific satellite. For instance, a cluster of seven NanoFEEP thrusters is called a MultiFEEP, and multiple MultiFEEP thrusters can be added in order to maneuver larger craft. This allows clients to avoid spending additional time and resources developing customized propulsion systems for each of its satellites.

Since the launch of NanoFEEP, Morpheus has landed clients like Spire Global, Antaris Space, and Rocket Factory Augsburg—with plenty more on the way.

“In the last year, our number of contracts has increased by 250% and is on pace to grow more,” said István Lőrincz, president of Morpheus, who also spoke on the topic at last year’s TC Sessions: Space. “The new factory will help us meet the needs of our growing user base. We are going to show by example that the NewSpace industry needs to implement scalable business and production solutions as fast as possible to meet the expected projections.”

Morpheus has already indicated its nimbleness in two short years. “One major improvement we implemented recently in our hardware came in the form of a new propellant that has improved the performance of our propulsion systems. It is non-toxic and non-corrosive with zero transport or handling restrictions,” said Lőrincz, noting that the former fuel used gallium.

The company has also developed the Sphere ecosystem, an all-in-one package that Morpheus claims differentiates it from its competitors. “We provide a platform-agnostic AI for their satellite navigation, an application that helps plan the entire customer journey from design to satellite operations, mission design software for constellations, and our world-class propulsion devices,” said Lőrincz.

The funding round was led by Alpine Space Ventures, with participation from Vsquared Ventures, Lavrock Ventures, Airbus Ventures, In-Q-Tel, Pallas Ventures, and Techstars Ventures. With thousands of satellites due to launch over the next few years, Morpheus has plenty more potential clients (and investors) to woo with its system.

Morpheus Space’s satellite thrusters are propelled forward with a $28M Series A by Stefanie Waldek originally published on TechCrunch

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

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

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

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

Images of Draftea's mobile fantasy NFL platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An image of the Draftea team on a video call

The Draftea team on a video call Image Credits: Draftea

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about party rounds

When it comes to types of venture capital instruments, party rounds are as controversial as they come. A party round is an early-stage financing round, usually occurring between the pre-seed and Series A stages, that includes a laundry list – or “party” – of individual investors. It’s different from a more traditional round, which may look like it’s led by one or two institutional investors with a few participating investors also taking part.

The investment vehicle has been around for over a decade and has been a subject of debate for just as long. The positives are obvious: With more investors on their cap table, startups have more avenues for distribution, introductions and advice throughout their lifecycle.

The cons are more complicated. Is the party-round investment as helpful as capital from fewer, more commitment sources? Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Is it a negative signal that this startup had to raise from dozens of people instead of one high-conviction partner? During a downturn, is a party round all about the confetti and no allergen-friendly appetizers?

While the argument is nothing new, the current market introduces dynamics that make party rounds a little more complex than just bringing a few of your favorite founders and thought leaders onto your cap table.