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This could have been Marqeta’s year to list as a public company on a major American stock exchange.

The company, while still unprofitable, is a darling of the financial services sector and only last year reached a $ 2 billion valuation on the back of a $ 260 million round of financing.

In the previously torrid public market environment that was supposed to see public listings from Airbnb and other unicorn companies, Marqeta could have been a contender. Now, in the wake of an American economy pushed over the edge by a global pandemic the company has turned to an undisclosed financial services firm for another $ 150 million in equity funding. The round values the company at over $ 4 billion.

“We’re finding that fintech is eating the world,” said Marqeta chief executive Jason Gardner. 

In some ways, Marqeta’s success is a function of the growth of fintech as a category overall. As more companies entered the market competing for customers’ attention, one of the services they all wanted to offer was something akin to a credit or debit card.

Enter Marqeta, which provides the tools for financial services platforms of all stripes to provide cards, wallets, and other payment mechanisms. Customers include Square, Uber, Affirm, Instacart, and DoorDash. 

Now as startups in other countries around the world launch technology enabled challenger banks and credit services to the existing offerings, Marqeta can just follow the money and begin pitching its wares in new markets.

That’s part of what the company will be using its money for, according to Gardner.

“Theres’ an opportunity to issue a card on every continent,” he said. 

As for that initial public offering, even though Marqeta won’t disclose any information about its revenue or other balance sheet information, “we see ourselves as a public company,” Gardner said.  

And even despite the epidemic and its attendant damage to the American economy (not to mention the very human cost in American lives — now numbering over 100,000 dead from the disease’s spread) the need for financial services technologies continues to rise.

The social response to the pandemic will even exacerbate the payment trends that’s driving adoption of Marqeta’s services, according to Gardner.

“I think the idea of payments are going to change. You’re going to see more e-commerce and that leads to curbside pickup and touchless payments,” Gardner said.

That’s accelerating other trends that played a role in Marqeta’s last big round of financing, like the growth of the internet and the use of smartphones for e-commerce.

Last year, Marqeta cited research from Edgar, Dunn & Company, estimating the volume of the card issuing industry — that is, transactions made via cards — to be worth around $ 45 trillion.

“Visa and Mastercard have interconnected every single merchant that accepts cards, and that is still growing significantly,” Gardner said, at the time.

But that expansion is coming at the same time that banks have been pricey and slow to move to accommodate the long tail of new opportunities for payment services, he said. By providing quick and flexible options to any kind of commerce company that wants to make the move into issuing cards to its customers, along with supporting services around them such as payment reconciliations, real-time fund transfers and customer interactive voice response services, Marqeta has managed to grab an entire generation of customers that banks have left behind.

And just as Marqeta opened an office in London to capitalize on the growing market for “challenger banks” (like N26, Monese, Starling and Revolut) that have come from Europe (which account for 14% of the banking market’s revenues in Europe — roughly $ 238 billion) there’s an opportunity for the company in the growing fintech market in Latin America.

There’re an increasing number of fintech unicorns being given their horns in Latin America thanks to investments from SoftBank, Tencent, TCV, and investors like Andreessen Horowitz.

 “Marqeta continues to move forward from strength to strength in 2020 as our global modern card issuing platform provides essential infrastructure and support to our customers across industries and oceans,” said Gardner, in a statement. “We’re building a single global platform to define and power the future of money for the world’s leading innovators. This new capital helps us accelerate our mission to empower builders to bring the most innovative products to market, wherever they are in the world.”

 


TechCrunch

Enterprise startups UIPath and Scale have drawn huge attention in recent years from companies looking to automate workflows, from RPA (robotic process automation) to data labeling.

What’s been overlooked in the wake of such workflow-specific tools has been the base class of products that enterprises are using to build the core of their machine learning (ML) workflows, and the shift in focus toward automating the deployment and governance aspects of the ML workflow.

That’s where MLOps comes in, and its popularity has been fueled by the rise of core ML workflow platforms such as Boston-based DataRobot. The company has raised more than $ 430 million and reached a $ 1 billion valuation this past fall serving this very need for enterprise customers. DataRobot’s vision has been simple: enabling a range of users within enterprises, from business and IT users to data scientists, to gather data and build, test and deploy ML models quickly.

Founded in 2012, the company has quietly amassed a customer base that boasts more than a third of the Fortune 50, with triple-digit yearly growth since 2015. DataRobot’s top four industries include finance, retail, healthcare and insurance; its customers have deployed over 1.7 billion models through DataRobot’s platform. The company is not alone, with competitors like H20.ai, which raised a $ 72.5 million Series D led by Goldman Sachs last August, offering a similar platform.

Why the excitement? As artificial intelligence pushed into the enterprise, the first step was to go from data to a working ML model, which started with data scientists doing this manually, but today is increasingly automated and has become known as “auto ML.” An auto-ML platform like DataRobot’s can let an enterprise user quickly auto-select features based on their data and auto-generate a number of models to see which ones work best.

As auto ML became more popular, improving the deployment phase of the ML workflow has become critical for reliability and performance — and so enters MLOps. It’s quite similar to the way that DevOps has improved the deployment of source code for applications. Companies such as DataRobot and H20.ai, along with other startups and the major cloud providers, are intensifying their efforts on providing MLOps solutions for customers.

We sat down with DataRobot’s team to understand how their platform has been helping enterprises build auto-ML workflows, what MLOps is all about and what’s been driving customers to adopt MLOps practices now.

The rise of MLOps


TechCrunch

Despite what companies have said about providing personal protective equipment to gig workers, some workers say they are struggling to get masks, gloves and other items from companies like Target-owned Shipt, Uber, Lyft and Instacart.

“PPE is still a huge issue for us,” Shipt shopper and organizer Willy Solis told TechCrunch. “We have dozens of reports across the country where shoppers have gone to pick up their equipment to be told it’s only for employees. On top of that, Target’s Twitter account essentially said that much.”

Earlier this month, Shipt workers staged a walk-off in protest of Shipt’s treatment of workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Around that time, Shipt said it would provide all shoppers with gloves and a mask within the next two weeks. Those shoppers, Shipt said, would be able to pick them up at their nearest Target stores. Shipt said it also would allow its most active shoppers to claim a free kit that included gloves and hand sanitizer. But some shoppers report struggling to pick up the PPE at Target and through the Shipt app.

Shipt declined to comment for this story but pointed us to both Shipt’s and Target’s respective announcements.

Over in Los Angeles, some Uber and Lyft drivers say the rideshare companies have yet to provide them with face masks and other protective equipment. This is in light of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Worker Protection Order, which requires companies to provide essential workers with PPE.

“As an Uber driver, I’m incredibly vulnerable to infection,” Uber driver Deborah Garcia said in a statement. “I transport dozens of passengers every day, and many are the doctors and nurses dealing with coronavirus cases up close. Uber and Lyft love to talk about drivers as heroes on the frontlines, but what does it say about these companies that they’d rather brainstorm clever hashtags than use even a small slice of their billions to keep drivers like me safe? It’s infuriating, and it’s time for our elected officials to take action.”

Uber says it’s begun distributing masks to active drivers and delivery workers throughout the nation, initially focused on New York City and Los Angeles. Active drivers and delivery people in Los Angeles who have requested masks should receive them in the mail by the end of this week, according to Uber.

“This is a long term commitment,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We have ordered tens of millions of masks for drivers around the world and expect another major shipment to the US very soon.”

Uber says it has also started shipping around 30,000 bottles of disinfectant. Lyft, in response to claims that the company is not providing PPE, says what drivers are saying is not true.

“In light of the latest CDC guidance on cloth face coverings, we’ve ordered face masks for drivers at no cost to them,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We have been making them available to drivers, prioritizing regions where additional guidance about face coverings has been given. This includes LA, where we’ve already begun handing out thousands of face coverings to drivers.”

Lyft began distributing masks last Saturday, and distributed some more this past Monday and Wednesday. Lyft plans to distribute more on Friday. So far, Lyft says it has been able to hand out thousands of masks.

There are also reports that Instacart shoppers are having difficulty obtaining hand sanitizer and reusable face masks, according to The Hill. Instacart says it has been providing shoppers with hand sanitizer since last week and began shipping thousands of kits with face masks, sanitizer and thermometers this past Monday.

Nationwide, there is an understanding that gig workers delivering food and groceries, and providing rides to people during the pandemic are essential. As more cities begin to implement rules requiring people to wear masks upon entering grocery stores, companies will be forced to step up their production and delivery of personal protective equipment to workers.


TechCrunch

[Editor’s note: Want to get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that startups can use by email? Subscribe here.] 

There are a few online productivity stocks booming, and a few popular remote-first product companies still announcing funding rounds amid a huge new wave of unicorn layoffs. But what about the previously white-hot software-as-a-service category overall?

Pullbacks in spending are expected in general, obviously, which means higher churn and slower growth for major SaaS companies. An informal peer survey put together by Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta indicates that many leading execs in the space expect churn to head to double digits in the near future, Alex Wilhelm learned while researching the topic this week for Extra Crunch.

But, the effects of so much of the world going remote could end up still being a bigger lift for many companies large and small. George Kurtz, CEO of publicly traded cybersecurity company Crowdstrike, expects global growth as mainstream businesses everywhere get serious about remote for the first time.

Meanwhile, fresh index data from Profitwell seems to already show a bit of a rebound in subscriptions following weeks of drops, which Alex digs into separately. It’s probably too soon to be hopeful, but anecdotally Extra Crunch’s own growth has gotten back to its previously strong footing in the last few weeks (thanks for the support, everyone).

He also caught up with Mary D’Onofrio, an investor with Bessemer Venture Partners about how to value a startup during a downturn. She also pointed out that many of the losses you’re seeing are relative. “We’re just reverting back to historical cloud software multiples. Historically if you look at the emerging cloud index basket, it’s traded at seven times forward [revenue]. Right now we’re trading at eight times forward [revenue].” At least for many companies in the space, things are still not so bad.

The venture capital crunch continues

We’ve been writing a daily-ish series of articles about the state of startup investing in the face of COVID-19. First up, Danny Crichton breaks down “the denominator effect” on TechCrunch, where a limited partner is required through their own funding agreements to allocate a mix of equities beyond startups and rebalance based on the circumstances. When the other portions lose too much (such as, say, public stocks), LPs then have to pull back on the amount of money they can have in venture capital firms… thereby leaving those firms short of money for startups. Where is this going? “If the markets happen to rapidly recover, they might quickly reopen their investments in VC and other alternative assets,” Danny writes. “But if the markets stay sour for longer, then expect further downward gravitational pull on the VC asset class as portfolio managers reset their portfolios to where they need them. It’s the tyranny of fifth grade mathematics and a complex financial system.”

How can venture firms navigate this daunting terrain? Connie Loizos checks in for TechCrunch with Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures (“now is probably one of the toughest times” to get a firm launched), Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures (find some family offices who are going to be less orthodox in general and potentially less affected) and Eva Ho of Fika Ventures (don’t get discouraged, but use the additional challenge to really reflect about this career choice).

Check out additional coverage over on Extra Crunch, including a quick survey of other investors about their approaches, an interview with a venture debt lender, and a look at the trends in funding going back to last year.

The content library is king for TikTok

Why is TikTok able to dominate the charts in the face of giant competitors? As millions sit at home using the app, Josh Constine dives into why it is likely to continue beating incumbent consumer products from companies like Alphabet and Facebook (or consumer startups). It’s what he calls the “content network effect,” as he detailed on TechCrunch:

Facilitating remixes offers a way to lower the bar for producing user generated content. You’d don’t have to be astoundingly creative or original to make something entertaining. Each individual’s life experiences inform their perspective that could let them interpret an idea in a new way. What began with someone ripping audio of two people chanting “don’t be Suspicious, don’t be suspicious” while sneaking through a graveyard in TV show Parks and Recreation led to people lip syncing it while trying to escape their infant’s room without waking them up, leaving the house wearing clothes they stole from their sister’s closet, trying to keep a llama as a pet, and photoshopping themselves to look taller. Unless someone’s already done the work to record an audio clip, there’s nothing to inspire and enable others to put their spin on it.

Healthtech in the time of COVID-19

While most people reading this newsletter have probably been experiencing the worldwide remote-first switch, an equally momentous set of changes are sweeping health care as medical systems try to get a grip on the pandemic. We had just published a big survey of leading digital health investors in December, but now is the time for an update. We checked in with:

Here’s CRV’s Spohn, summing the situation up nicely: “COVID-19 is driving opportunities, notably the rapid adoption of telehealth/virtual care by clinicians and patients, clinical trials in the cloud, as well as renewed focus on rapid point-of-care diagnostics. With virtual care, we’re seeing a decade of acceleration happening in a matter of weeks. Up until this point, there has been high-activation energy to conduct a first “eVisit” because the alternative (in-person care) was so well-established and largely available.”

Read the full thing on Extra Crunch.

Around TechCrunch

  1.  From Danny: On Monday, prolific enterprise seed investor Jonathan Lehr of Work-Bench will be joining us for a live conference call on TechCrunch. Work-Bench has been an investor in such notable investments as Tamr, Cockroach Labs, Backtrace, Socure, and x.ai. Danny and Alex will quiz Jon on all kinds of questions around what the seed stage looks like for enterprise startups these days, and of course, will take questions from Extra Crunch members.
  2.  Disrupt will have a remote version this year, which we’re now beginning to sell as a Digital Pass. Check it out!

Across the week

TechCrunch

Proposed amendments to the Volcker Rule could be a lifeline for venture firms hit by market downturn=

The space in between: The stratosphere

Test and trace with Apple and Google

Want to survive the downturn? Better build a platform

Using AI responsibly to fight the coronavirus pandemic

Extra Crunch

Lending startups are angling for new business from the COVID-19 bailout

What happens to edtech when kids go back to school?

Amid shift to remote work, application performance monitoring is IT’s big moment

Rebecca Minkoff has some advice for e-commerce companies right now

#EquityPod

From Alex:

How are you holding up? Are you keeping up? And most importantly, are you hydrating yourself? There’s so much news lately that we’re all falling a bit behind, but, hey, that’s what Equity is for. So, NatashaDanny, and Alex got together to go over a number of the biggest stories in the worlds of private companies.

A warning before we get into the list, however. We’re going to be covering layoffs for a while. Don’t read more into that beyond a note to this unfortunate situation. We try to talk about the most important news, not what brings delight or joy to our hearts (because if that was the case, we would be all over mega-rounds). That in mind, here’s this week’s rundown….

Which you can find here!


TechCrunch

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

We’re wrapping the week with Lime, scooters and the divergence between Uber and Lyft and their two-wheeled rivals. It’s been a hectic year for ride-hailing, but an even more turbulent time for the scooter unicorns that exploded into the venture capital scene in early 2018.

Scooter-focused startups were, at one point in time, among the hottest companies that money could chase. That’s no longer true. This week it was reported that at least one major player in the scooter world is pursuing a painful valuation cut so that it can raise the cash it needs to survive. Lime, according to The Information, may see its valuation fall to $ 400 million from $ 2.4 billion as it tries to “raise emergency funds.”

The scooter crisis has arrived as Uber and Lyft have come to something akin to a truce with public market investors, a feat that we’ve covered extensively. But perhaps most notable of all is the differing fortunes between Lime and friends, and Uber and Lyft. The two categories of on-demand transportation are diverging, and ironically, it’s the option that’s human-powered that appears set to come out in the best shape.

Let’s talk cash, profits, margins, and survival this morning as Uber and Lyft prepare to drive straight through the economic crisis, while scooters appear headed for a pothole at best.


TechCrunch

Trump said in July that some U.S. suppliers would be allowed to sell to Huawei while it remains blacklisted, but so far no vendors have been allowed to do so. Reuters reports that more than 130 applications have been submitted by companies that want to do business with Huawei, but the U.S. Commerce Department has not approved any of them yet.

Huawei has served as a bargaining chip in the U.S.-China trade war, which escalated again last week when Trump said he would adds tariffs to $ 550 billion worth of Chinese imports, after China said it would impose duties of $ 75 billions on U.S. goods. Trump’s mixed signals during this weekend’s G7 summit also created confusion on Wall Street.

When both presidents met at the G20 Summit in June, Donald Trump told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he would allow some American companies to sell to Huawei, even though it remains on the Commerce Department’s Entity List. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the Commerce Department would begin accepting applications again, requiring companies to prove that the tech they sell to Huawei would not pose a national security risk.

But one of the reasons no licenses have been granted yet is because the Commerce Department is unclear about what it is supposed to do. Former Commerce department official William Reinsch told Reuters that “nobody in the executive branch knows what [Trump] wants and they’re all afraid to make a decision without knowing that.”

In addition to providing telecom equipment, Huawei is an important customer for many U.S. tech firms, including Qualcomm, Intel and Micron. Out of the $ 70 billion in parts it bought last year, $ 11 billion of that went to U.S. suppliers. The U.S. claims Huawei is a national security risk, a charge the company has repeatedly denied.


TechCrunch

President Donald Trump and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative have issued technology companies some temporary tariff relief.

Citing an unwillingness to hit consumers with higher prices on things like computers, mobile phones, laptops, video game consoles, computer monitors, clothes and shoes before the holidays, the President and his trade reps are holding off on slapping additional tariffs on those products coming from China.

The President could also have been motivated by growing concerns that the ongoing trade war could trigger a global recession and hurt his chances for re-election in 2020.

Whatever the reason, the news sparked a stock market rally on Tuesday with investors ignoring the rising prices that 10% tariffs on imports that don’t include consumer goods would cause.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 indices were both up 1.4% on the day, while the Nasdaq rose 1.9% — thanks in large part to a surge of Apple stock. The company’s stock rose $ 8.49 or over 4.2% to close at $ 208.97.

At the beginning of the month, President Trump said he would slap a 10% tariff on $ 300 billion worth of Chinese goods, which sent markets tumbling. An ensuing slight devaluation of the Chinese currency further pushed markets into a tailspin before they began to recover.

The news on Tuesday all but erased those earlier losses.

These market whipsaws between fear and trembling and irrational exuberance won’t end until the U.S. and China come to some sort of agreement in the trade war.

Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke with their Chinese counterparts Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan about the ongoing trade battle. The two Chinese officials issued a protest against the duties that were set to take effect in September. The two trade representatives have a called scheduled for another two weeks.


TechCrunch

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