Parabola no-code platform raises $8M Series A as it focuses on eCommerce

Many workers today are still stuck doing a bushel of manual tasks, copying and pasting data into spreadsheets, sending out the same emails every morning and generally lacking any kind of automation because they lack coding skills. Parabola wants to change that with a simple drag and drop workflow set up, and today the startup announced an $8 million Series A investment.

Matrix Partners led the round with participation from Thrive Capital and various individual investors. Ilya Sukhar from Matrix will be joining the Parabola board under the terms of the agreement. The company has now raised $10.2 million including a $2.2 million seed round in 2018.

At the same time, the company also announced a new Shopify connector. As COVID has forced a dramatic increase in online shopping, Parabola has seen a corresponding increase in demand for its workflow automation services from eCommerce vendors and they have added functionality to support that.

Company founder and CEO Alex Yessin sees the tool as a way to bring programming-like automation to anyone who deals with data tasks on a regular basis, particularly in a spreadsheet. “We’re a drag and drop productivity tool, and we like to say we bring the power of programming to everybody,” Yessin told TechCrunch.

They do this by providing a library of pre-built steps that you can drag and drop onto a workflow canvas. Each of those steps helps you automate what was previously a manual repetitive data task in Excel or Google Sheets.

Image Credits: Parabola

Lead investor Sukhar says that while low code is becoming more popular right now, he and Yessin have always seen it as a way to bring programming-level productivity enhancing skills to a much broader set of users, and to bring that focus to eCommerce in particular.

“The real trick is finding the right set of users, the right abstraction, the right niche to start with and that’s where I think this goes back to the eCommerce focus. I think that’s what’s super exciting about the approach Parabola has taken, and what got me excited,” he said.

As eCommerce in general surges during the pandemic, Yessin says he has seen a corresponding increase in usage on the platform over the last couple of months as retail companies move online or increase their online presence, and need to find ways to automate more of their internal processes to keep up.

While the company is still in its early stages of development with around 20 employees, it is actively hiring and looking to build a diverse workforce as it does. Yessin sees this tied to the company’s overall mission of bringing programming level skills to a larger group of people who don’t know how to code, and they need a diverse set of workers that reflects society at large to build that effectively..

“We talk about this as a core authentic value, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. I think we have a lot of room for improvement, as does the tech industry as a whole, but we are pushing very hard,” he said.

The company wants to use the money from this round to keep refining the design of the platform to make it even easier for non-technical users. “This round is very much for product and design work to make it increasingly comfortable for these users who are today really familiar with doing their tasks in spreadsheets […] and increasingly working towards a less and less technical user, as we make products  easier and more approachable,” he said.

TikTok is being investigated by France’s data watchdog

More worries for TikTok: A European data watchdog that’s landed the biggest blow on a tech giant to date — slapping Google with a $57M fine last year (upheld in June) — now has an open investigation into social video app du jour, TechCrunch has confirmed.

A spokeswoman for France’s CNIL told us it opened an investigation into how the app handles user data in May 2020, following a complaint related to a request to delete a video. Its probe of the video sharing platform was reported earlier by Politico.

Under the European Union’s data protection framework, citizens who have given consent for their data to be processed continue to hold a range of rights attached to their personal data, including the ability to request a copy or deletion of the information, or ask for their data in a portable form.

Additional requirements under the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) include transparency obligations to ensure accountability with the framework. Which means data controllers must provide data subjects with clear information on the purposes of processing — including in order to obtain legally valid consent to process the data.

The CNIL’s spokeswoman told us its complaint-triggered investigation into TikTok has since widened to include issues related to transparency requirements about how it processes user data; users’ data access rights; transfers of user data outside the EU; and steps the platform takes to ensure the data of minors is adequately protected — a key issue, given the app’s popularity with teens.

French data protection law lets children consent to the processing of their data for information social services such as TikTok at aged 15 (or younger with parental consent).

As regards the original complaint, the CNIL’s spokeswoman said the person in question has since been “invited to exercise his rights with TikTok under the GDPR, which he had not taken beforehand” (via Google Translate).

We’ve reached out to TikTok for comment on the CNIL investigation.

It’s not clear whether the French watchdog will be able to see its investigation of TikTok to full conclusion.

In further emailed remarks its spokeswoman noted the company is seeking to designate Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) as its lead authority in Europe — and is setting up an establishment in Ireland for that purpose. (Related: Last week TikTok announced a plan to open its first data center in Europe, which will eventually hold all EU users’ data, also in Ireland.)

If TikTok is able to satisfy the legal conditions it may be able to move any GDPR investigation to the DPC — which has gained a reputation for being painstakingly slow to enforce complex cross-border GDPR cases. Though in late May it finally submitted a first draft decision (on a Twitter case) to the other EU data watchdogs for review. A final decision in that case is still pending.

“The [TikTok] investigations could therefore ultimately be the sole responsibility of the Irish protection authority, which will have to deal with the case in cooperation with the other European data protection authorities,” the CNIL’s spokeswoman noted, before emphasizing there is a standard of proof it will have to meet.

“To come under the sole jurisdiction of the Irish authority and not of each of the authorities, Tiktok will nevertheless have to prove that its establishment in Ireland fulfils the conditions of a ‘principal establishment’ within the meaning of the GDPR.”

Under the framework data watchdogs have powers to issue penalties of up to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover and can order infringing data processing to cease.

Building a fintech giant is very expensive

Venture capitalists and other investors have poured capital into fintech startups around the world in recent years, including a record number of rounds worth $100 million or more in the second quarter of 2020. In Q2 2020 venture-backed fintech startups raised 28 nine-figure rounds, underscoring the scale of the bet investors are making on fintech’s long-term success.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Inside that fintech wave are various hubs of activity, including payments tech, investing and banking. That last category has helped give rise to so-called neobanks, startup banking entities that offer mobile-first, consumer-friendly banking tools and services. Given the old-fashioned nature of banking in many countries (and how far out of reach banking remains for many) neobanks have seen strong uptake by users in recent years.

And the startup cohort has raised oceans of capital to help fuel its growth. In America, Chime was most recently valued at $5.8 billion after raising hundreds of millions in late 2019. More recently, neobank Revolut added $80 million to its Q1 2020 round worth $500 million. Revolut is also worth north of $5 billion. Monzo is well-funded (albeit at a recent valuation reduction), Latin America-focused NuBank is worth $10 billion, according to Crunchbase, Starling recently raised another £40 million, while Germany’s N26 is worth over $3 billion after its most recent nine-figure round.

From the fundraising perspective, then, neobanks are killing the game. And thanks to recent tailwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic which have bolstered interest in savings-related products, many of the same entities could be enjoying a strong year thus far. But recent self-reporting of some neobank’s 2019-era results details ample red ink — perhaps more than we might have anticipated.

Of course, startups don’t raise money for fun; they raise it to invest it in their operations and drive scale. So, we knew that these mega-fundraisers were losing money on purpose. All the same, let’s peek at the economics of several neobanks, as their now dated and thus not at all current results can provide useful context on two points: Why investors are excited to put their capital to work in neobanks, and why neobanks always seem to have another check to announce.

Monzo, Starling and Revolut

To prevent my receiving unhappy emails from irked fans of these companies, please bear in mind that we’re looking several quarters back when observing the following results.

It would be lovely to have more recent data, but with European neobanks reporting their — roughly — 2019 results in recent weeks, this is what we have. We are going to parse the numbers, but we will not conflate past performance with current results. We do not know much about 2020 neobank financial performance.

Anyhoo, to the numbers. You can read the full documents from Monzo here, Starling here (or here, if that link is struggling) and Revolut here.

Let’s start with Monzo, which has a clear set of figures for us to peek at:

Focusing on human and climate health, S2G Ventures launches ocean fund with $100 million in commitments

S2G Ventures, the Chicago-based investment firm focusing on startups developing technology and services for human and planetary health, is launching a new investment vehicle focused on seafood and oceanic cultivation.

The firm was an investor in Beyond Meat, the $9 billion-valued publicly traded meat replacement startups that’s been one of the biggest recent success stories in the market for food science startups. It also holds stakes in companies like the healthy food chain, Sweetgreen, the microbial meat replacement technology developer Future Meat Technologies, robotic harvesting tech developer, Augean Robotics, food preservation technology developer Apeel, and other food and agriculture-focused tech companies.

Now the firm is turning its attention to the oceans. It has already received commitments for $100 million in new capital to finance the endeavor and added Kate Danaher, the former chief lending officer at RSF Social Finance, and Larsen Mettler, the former owner and chief financial officer of Silver Bay Seafoods as managing directors to oversee the oceans and seafood strategy.

The new investment vehicle will invest in early, venture, and growth stage companies globally that are developing alternative proteins and seafood, aquaculture, supply chain innovaiton, transparency, algae and seaweed cultivation and commercialization and ecosystem services, according to a statement.

GettyImages 1140243144

IZMIR, TURKEY – APRIL 25 : An aerial view of fish farm, raising a new breed ‘Egeli’ fish, in Izmir’s Karaburun district, Turkey on April 25, 2019. ‘Egeli’ fish, cross breeding of sea bream and dentex, are expected to be put on sale in a year. (Photo by Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Seafood is a primary source of protein for 3 billion people around the world, and as consumers look to lower their meat consumption, many more are turning to fish and seafood as their alternative. According the United Nations panel on climate change, oceans have already absorbed over 90 percent of the excess heat trapped in the climate system.

The warming is causing significant changes in currents and sea levels, which affect the health of marine species, nearshore and deep ocean ecosystems, as well as weather systems across the globe, the firm said.

Any solution to climate change will need to address the acidification and overheating that the oceans have endured as the first victim of the world’s evolving climate catastrophe.

Nurx has $22.5 million in new money, a path to profitability, and new treatments for migraines on the way

As the COVID-19 epidemic spread across the US earlier this year, Nurx, like most other digital providers of healthcare and prescription services saw a huge spike in demand.

Now, with $22.5 million in new financing and a surging annual run rate that could see the company hit $150 million in revenue, the company is emerging as the largest digital practice for women’s health.

“We saw this tremendous surge in need for our contraception and sensitive health services,” says Nurx chief executive Varsha Rao .

The growth hasn’t come without controversy. Only last year, a New York Times article pointed to corner cutting at the startup which boasts Chelsea Clinton as an investor and advisor.

Undeterred Rao said that the company has now seen tremendous acceleration in all areas of its business. It’s now providing care to over 300,000 patients on a monthly basis, boasts that $150 million run rate and new investors like Comcast Ventures, Trustbridge and Wittington Ventures — the investment arm of one of the largest pharmacy chains in Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart.

The new $22.5 million is an extension on the company’s previous $32 million round and will take the company to profitability by 2021, according to Rao.

And while birth control and contraception are still the largest areas of the company’s business, Nurx is growing its range of services, seeing adoption of its testing for sexually transmitted infections including HPV and herpes and a new treatment area for migraines.

That focus on sexual health and what the company calls sensitive health is different from trying to be a primary care provider says Rao. “Our real focus right now is on our core demographic who are women between the ages of twenty and forty and really focusing on their needs,” she says. “That’s why migraines make a lot of sense. It’s not exclusively hormone related, but it often is… One-in-four women experience migraines and they’re largely from hormonal changes… This is a condition we’re well positioned to address.”

Another way that Nurx differentiates itself from competitors like Hims and Ro, which provide women’s health and contraceptive prescriptions as well, is through its ability to take insurance. “It’s actually pretty challenging to build the system to actually offer insurance,” says Rao. “And yet, we don’t think you can be a true healthcare company if you don’t accept insurance.”

 

Google’s Lookout app for vision-impaired now scans food labels and long documents

Google has updated its Lookout app, an AI toolkit for people with impaired vision, with two helpful new capabilities: scanning long documents and reading out food labels. Paper forms and similarly-shaped products at the store present a challenge for blind folks and this ought to make things easier.

Food labels, if you think about it, are actually a pretty difficult problem for a computer vision system to solve. They’re designed to be attention-grabbing and distinctive, but not necessarily highly readable or informative. If a sighted person can accidentally buy the wrong kind of peanut butter, what chance does someone who can’t read the label themselves have?

GIF of Google's Lookout app showing it identifying a jar of mustard.

Image Credits: Google

The new food label mode, then, is less about reading text and more about recognizing exactly what product it’s looking at. If the user needs to turn the can or bottle to give the camera a good look, the app will tell them so. It compares what it sees to a database of product images, and when it gets a match it reads off the relevant information: brand, product, flavor, other relevant information. If there’s a problem, the app can always scan the barcode as well.

Document scanning isn’t exactly exciting, but it’s good to have the option built in a straightforward way into a general-purpose artificial vision app. It works as you’d expect: Point your phone at the document (the app will help you get the whole thing in view) and it scans it for your screen reader to read out.

The “quick read” mode that the app debuted with last year, which watches for text in the camera view and reads it out loud, has gotten some speed improvements.

The update brings a few other conveniences to the app, which should run on any Android phone with 2 gigs of RAM and running version 6.0 or higher. It’s also now available in Spanish, German, French, and Italian.

Google’s Lookout app for vision-impaired now scans food labels and long documents

Google has updated its Lookout app, an AI toolkit for people with impaired vision, with two helpful new capabilities: scanning long documents and reading out food labels. Paper forms and similarly-shaped products at the store present a challenge for blind folks and this ought to make things easier.

Food labels, if you think about it, are actually a pretty difficult problem for a computer vision system to solve. They’re designed to be attention-grabbing and distinctive, but not necessarily highly readable or informative. If a sighted person can accidentally buy the wrong kind of peanut butter, what chance does someone who can’t read the label themselves have?

GIF of Google's Lookout app showing it identifying a jar of mustard.

Image Credits: Google

The new food label mode, then, is less about reading text and more about recognizing exactly what product it’s looking at. If the user needs to turn the can or bottle to give the camera a good look, the app will tell them so. It compares what it sees to a database of product images, and when it gets a match it reads off the relevant information: brand, product, flavor, other relevant information. If there’s a problem, the app can always scan the barcode as well.

Document scanning isn’t exactly exciting, but it’s good to have the option built in a straightforward way into a general-purpose artificial vision app. It works as you’d expect: Point your phone at the document (the app will help you get the whole thing in view) and it scans it for your screen reader to read out.

The “quick read” mode that the app debuted with last year, which watches for text in the camera view and reads it out loud, has gotten some speed improvements.

The update brings a few other conveniences to the app, which should run on any Android phone with 2 gigs of RAM and running version 6.0 or higher. It’s also now available in Spanish, German, French, and Italian.

With former Misfit founder Sonny Vu at the helm, Arevo raises $25 million for its 3D printing tech

Sonny Vu, the former founder and chief executive of the wearable technology company, Misfit, has had a busy summer since he was named the new chief executive of 3D printing technology company, Arevo.

Vu’s new startup brought on a new executive management team, launched a crowdfunding campaign for its 3D printed Superstrata bicycle and is now announcing the close of a $25 million financing round to support the growth of its business.

It’d be a lot for anyone to take on even if it didn’t happen in the middle of global pandemic. But Vu, a serial entrepreneur whose last business went head-to-head with Apple before it was acquired by Fossil for $260 million, doesn’t shy away from challenges.

Vu was first introduced to Arevo in 2019 and was initially going to come on as an advisor to the company. Since the acquisition of Misfit he had been investing from Alabaster, his personal investment vehicle. First introduced by Vinod Khosla, an investor in the business, Vu quickly moved from being an advisor to an executive at the helm of the business and an investor providing bridge financing until the company could close its latest round.

Vu had initially intended to start his own business, but was drawn to Arevo’s potential. “3D printing is about making things slowly and in small quantities. With Arevo’s technology you can make big things quite fast,” Vu said in an interview.

Several companies are attempting to take 3D printing into heavy industry and large scale manufacturing. Relativity raised $140 million in its most recent financing to make rockets using 3D printers, Velo3D is a supplier of 3D printers to SpaceX, and now Arevo has $34 million for its efforts to scale 3d printers. Of course all of these investments pale in comparison to the whopping $438 million that Desktop Metal has raised for its 3D printing tech.

“Arevo is a compelling opportunity for us as it combines our three main investment foci: consumer internet, enterprise, and smart tech. We see fantastic potential in this market, and have backed Sonny before at Misfit,” said Hans Tung, in a statement. “Arevo is led by an experienced team with solid technological foundation and 3D printing manufacturing know-how at scale – to offer breakthrough products at competitive prices.”

Arevo already has a successful proof of concept with its Superstrata bicycle and manufacturing facilities in Vietnam that are intended to prove that the company’s technology will work as expected.

“We’re making this bike to make a point that we can make complex shapes at a pretty large scale,” Vu said. Unlike other companies that sell their printers to manufacturers, Arevo intends to sell parts. That’s because the printers are a pretty hefty ticket for anyone to buy. At $1 million to $1.4 million, it’s a big ask for a company to acquire if it wants to start using 3D printing.

On top of that cost, Vu said candidly that the company’s Achilles heel was the post-manufacturing treatment process required to finish the pieces. And while Arevo already counts automotive and aerospace companies as customers (including Airbus, which previously invested in the business), Vu wants to bring this to consumers. “We’ve had tennis racquet companies, golf clubs, surfboards,” approach Arevo about using the company’s technology, Vu says.

“We can do about two frames per day per machine,” Vu says of the latest production rates. “And coming up with our next gen system we can do about six frames per day.”

The ascension of Vu to the chief executive position and the new capital infusion marks the latest chapter for Arevo which is on its third chief executive since it was founded. Two years ago, Jim Miller, a former Amazon and Google executive, was brought on board to take the reins at the company. Miller’s appointment coincided with a $12.5 million investment round led by Asahi Glass, with Sumitomo Corp., Leslie Ventures and Khosla Ventures participating. Miller was involved with collaborating with Studio West on the design of its Superstrata bike.

Now, Defy Partners and GGV Capital are joining to lead the company’s Series B round with participation from Khosla Ventures, Alabaster and others. Brian Shin, a scout with Defy Ventures is joining the board which now counts Bruce Armstrong, from Khosla Ventures, and Hemant Bheda, Arevo’s co-founder as directors (along with Vu).

“Arevo’s new platform enables fabrication of high strength, low weight carbon fiber parts, currently not possible with today’s standard techniques,” said Trae Vassallo, founding partner at Defy. “We are thrilled to be working with the team to help scale up this incredibly impactful technology.”

With former Misfit founder Sonny Vu at the helm, Arevo raises $25 million for its 3D printing tech

Sonny Vu, the former founder and chief executive of the wearable technology company, Misfit, has had a busy summer since he was named the new chief executive of 3D printing technology company, Arevo.

Vu’s new startup brought on a new executive management team, launched a crowdfunding campaign for its 3D printed Superstrata bicycle and is now announcing the close of a $25 million financing round to support the growth of its business.

It’d be a lot for anyone to take on even if it didn’t happen in the middle of global pandemic. But Vu, a serial entrepreneur whose last business went head-to-head with Apple before it was acquired by Fossil for $260 million, doesn’t shy away from challenges.

Vu was first introduced to Arevo in 2019 and was initially going to come on as an advisor to the company. Since the acquisition of Misfit he had been investing from Alabaster, his personal investment vehicle. First introduced by Vinod Khosla, an investor in the business, Vu quickly moved from being an advisor to an executive at the helm of the business and an investor providing bridge financing until the company could close its latest round.

Vu had initially intended to start his own business, but was drawn to Arevo’s potential. “3D printing is about making things slowly and in small quantities. With Arevo’s technology you can make big things quite fast,” Vu said in an interview.

Several companies are attempting to take 3D printing into heavy industry and large scale manufacturing. Relativity raised $140 million in its most recent financing to make rockets using 3D printers, Velo3D is a supplier of 3D printers to SpaceX, and now Arevo has $34 million for its efforts to scale 3d printers. Of course all of these investments pale in comparison to the whopping $438 million that Desktop Metal has raised for its 3D printing tech.

“Arevo is a compelling opportunity for us as it combines our three main investment foci: consumer internet, enterprise, and smart tech. We see fantastic potential in this market, and have backed Sonny before at Misfit,” said Hans Tung, in a statement. “Arevo is led by an experienced team with solid technological foundation and 3D printing manufacturing know-how at scale – to offer breakthrough products at competitive prices.”

Arevo already has a successful proof of concept with its Superstrata bicycle and manufacturing facilities in Vietnam that are intended to prove that the company’s technology will work as expected.

“We’re making this bike to make a point that we can make complex shapes at a pretty large scale,” Vu said. Unlike other companies that sell their printers to manufacturers, Arevo intends to sell parts. That’s because the printers are a pretty hefty ticket for anyone to buy. At $1 million to $1.4 million, it’s a big ask for a company to acquire if it wants to start using 3D printing.

On top of that cost, Vu said candidly that the company’s Achilles heel was the post-manufacturing treatment process required to finish the pieces. And while Arevo already counts automotive and aerospace companies as customers (including Airbus, which previously invested in the business), Vu wants to bring this to consumers. “We’ve had tennis racquet companies, golf clubs, surfboards,” approach Arevo about using the company’s technology, Vu says.

“We can do about two frames per day per machine,” Vu says of the latest production rates. “And coming up with our next gen system we can do about six frames per day.”

The ascension of Vu to the chief executive position and the new capital infusion marks the latest chapter for Arevo which is on its third chief executive since it was founded. Two years ago, Jim Miller, a former Amazon and Google executive, was brought on board to take the reins at the company. Miller’s appointment coincided with a $12.5 million investment round led by Asahi Glass, with Sumitomo Corp., Leslie Ventures and Khosla Ventures participating. Miller was involved with collaborating with Studio West on the design of its Superstrata bike.

Now, Defy Partners and GGV Capital are joining to lead the company’s Series B round with participation from Khosla Ventures, Alabaster and others. Brian Shin, a scout with Defy Ventures is joining the board which now counts Bruce Armstrong, from Khosla Ventures, and Hemant Bheda, Arevo’s co-founder as directors (along with Vu).

“Arevo’s new platform enables fabrication of high strength, low weight carbon fiber parts, currently not possible with today’s standard techniques,” said Trae Vassallo, founding partner at Defy. “We are thrilled to be working with the team to help scale up this incredibly impactful technology.”

Google is turning Android Phones into seismometers

Google is launching a handful of new Android features today that don’t really have a lot in common but that are all interesting in their own right. There are updates to Android Auto and Android’s emergency location service, new accessibility features thanks to an updated Lookout app, and the promise of better sleep thanks to the bedtime tools in the Android Clock app now rolling out to all Android devices running version 6.0 or later (this was a Pixel-only feature before).

But the highlight of today’s release is surely Google’s new worldwide earthquake detection system and the new earthquake alerting feature it is launching for California. With this, Google is essentially turning your Android phone into a seismometer to create what the company says is “the world’s largest earthquake detection network.”

Image Credits: Google

The company argues that smartphone accelerometers are sensitive enough to measure the P-waves that are the first waves to arrive after an earthquake. Whenever the phone thinks it has detected an earthquake, it will send that info to a central server which then determines whether this was really an earthquake. For now, Google will only use this data to show information when somebody then searches for ‘earthquake’ or a similar keyword. Over time, though, it expects to be able to send out alerts based on these phone-based systems.

In California, the company is already going a step further, though. Working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), Google is using the ShakeAlert network — which itself uses data from 700 seismometers from across the state — to provide earthquake alerts. “A few seconds of warning can make a difference in giving you time to drop, cover, and hold on before the shaking arrives,” Google argues.

Image Credits: Google