Midnite raises $2.5M for its esports betting platform

Midnite, the London-based esports betting startup from the same team behind daily fantasy football app Dribble, has raised just over $2.5 million in funding. The “strategic” investment is led by gaming-focussed venture firm Makers Fund.

Previous investors in Midnite include London VC firm Venrex Investment Management, as well as unnamed “founders and executives” from leading gaming companies including Betfair and GVC. The new round brings the total raised by the 2016 founded company to around $4.5 million.

“The esports market is seeing rapid year-on-year growth and we believe that betting represents the single biggest opportunity in this space,” Midnite co-fonder Nick Wright tells TechCrunch. “Wagering on esports is expected to exceed $12bn by the end of 2020, making betting already one of the fastest growing verticals within esports”.

However, despite the size of opportunity, Wright says that for most big sports betting sites, esports is “just another tab” in their legacy sports betting offering, but that esports fans are not simply just another type of sports fan. “They are an entirely new customer category and deserve a platform tailored to them,” he says. “This is why Midnite exists”.

With that in mind, Wright pitches Midnite as an “entertainment platform” that provides an immersive experience for esports fans. He says fans get the thrill of watching, analysing, and betting on their favorite teams and players as they face off in tournaments around the world.

“What makes esports differ from other sports is the constant action and its highly dynamic nature,” says the Midnite co-founder. “This is conducive to a variety of live betting opportunities that you can seldom find in real sports. Users can bet on your standard match winners and losers, but they can also bet on unique selections such as next kill or next objective achieved while matches are in-play”.

Noteworthy, although operating in an invite-only beta, the startup has already acquired a betting license in the U.K., which Wright points out is the biggest betting market in the world.

He says this makes Midnite the only dedicated esports betting platform that accepts customers in the U.K, and that the company is focused on operating globally in jurisdictions that can legally accept customers. “[We] are acquiring additional licenses to do so,” he adds.

“In the past, betting on esports has been carried out by unregulated operators, which meant that the unregulated market was several times bigger than the regulated market. Many operators offering esports betting would not be licensed, were not taking responsible gambling seriously or even performing age verification checks. This meant customers want to bet on esports were often placing themselves at risk.

“We are creating a safe and responsible environment for these fans. Customer safety is our top priority and we are taking it very seriously. We are doing everything by the book to ensure our community is safeguarded and are compliant with all the regulations in markets where we are operational”.

Funderbeam CEO to talk about disrupting startup funding at Disrupt Berlin

Startup funding hasn’t changed much in the past decade. Funderbeam is an interesting company trying to turn everything upside down using a marketplace approach, a modern syndication system and a blockchain-based platform. I’m excited to announce that Funderbeam founder and CEO Kaidi Ruusalepp will come to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

The first boom of venture capital of the 1980s changed everything in the tech industry. Countless of tech startups managed to get funding, grow and make money down the road. Without venture capital firms, some of the biggest tech firms out there just wouldn’t be around.

Arguably, convertible notes and accelerators turned startups into a mainstream phenomenon. It became much easier to get seed funding and some sort of mentorship.

But it hasn’t changed much since then. Funderbeam has some ambitious goals as the company wants to change everything by adding more transparency and liquidity into private funding.

Funderbeam combines multiple products into one. As a startup, you can use Funderbeam to raise your next funding round. Funderbeam acts as a marketplace so that angel investors can invest in your startup. As a business angel, you can invest in a syndicate.

The startup is also building a secondary market so that early investors in a company can sell shares to newer investors. And Funderbeam also compiles all its data on startups to create a database of financial information on startups.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.


Kaidi Ruusalepp

Founder & CEO, Funderbeam

Founder and CEO of Funderbeam, the global funding and trading platform of private companies built on blockchain. Funderbeam combines three stages of investor journey into one: startup analytics, investing, and trading on the secondary market. Powered by blockchain technology, the marketplace delivers capital to growth companies and on-demand liquidity to investors worldwide.

Member of Startup Europe Advisory Board at European Commission. Kaidi is a former CEO of Nasdaq Tallinn Stock Exchange and of the Central Securities Depository. Co-Founder of Estonian Service Industry Association. The first IT lawyer in Estonia, she co-author of the Estonian Digital Signatures Act of 2000 — landmark legislation that enables secure digital identities and, in turn, the country’s booming electronic economy.

Kaidi was named as an Entrepreneur of a Year in 2018 by the Playmakers Technology Award and as a Person of a Year in 2016 by the Estonian IT and Telecommunication Association. Co-author of #Foundership Playbook and mentor of various girls and women in tech initiatives.

TaxScouts wants to make filing your tax return a lot less tedious

TaxScouts, a U.K. startup founded by TransferWise and Marketinvoice alumni, is the latest online service designed to make filing your tax return a lot less tedious. However, rather than focusing on the bookkeeping part of the problem primarily tackled by cloud accounting software — which is often overkill if you are self-employed or simply earn a little additional income outside of your day job — the company combines “automation” with human accountants to help you prepare your tax submission.

“Doing taxes is either tedious when you have to do them yourself, or expensive when you hire an accountant,” says TaxScouts co-founder and CEO Mart Abramov, who was employee number 8 at TransferWise and also previously worked at Intuit, MarketInvoice and Skype. “We’re automating as much of the admin part of tax preparation as possible in our online app. We then connect you with a certified accountant who will take care of the entire tax filing process for you”.

The headline draw is that TaxScouts charges a flat fee of £99 if you pay in advance, and promises a turn-around of just 24 hours. To help with this, the web app walks you through your tax status, income and expenses without assuming too much prior knowledge. This includes asking you to upload or take a photo of any required documents, such as invoices or dividend certificates. The idea is that all of the admin is captured digitally and packaged up ready for your assigned accountant to take a look.

“As more of the menial tasks are handled by our app this allows accountants to focus on what they do best and not get stuck in admin,” explains Abramov. “They can focus on providing advice and expertise to make sure everything is done right. Our customers get both the benefits of getting a personal accountant and having a simple tool to manage it all, without the huge costs”.

Abramov tells me that TaxScouts’ typical customers are anyone who wants to have their self assessment done for them or who just wants help with tax preparation. This spans self-employed people — from construction workers to professional freelancers — entrepreneurs and company directors, and people who are entitled to some kind of tax relief or refund, such as investors on crowdfunding platforms. He also said that gig economy workers are a good fit.

Moving forward, TaxScouts plans to further develop the automation functionality, including plugging into more data sources beyond its existing integration with HMRC. Abramov says this could include a driver’s Uber data for tracking mileage claims, for example, while I can immediately see how the app could integrate with various fintech offerings that capture transactions and receipts.

To that end, the startup has raised £300,000 in “pre-seed” funding to continue building out the product. Backers include Picus Capital, Charlie Delingpole (co-founder of ComplyAdvantage and MarketInvoice), and Charlie Songhurst (former GM corporate strategy at Microsoft).

Email security startup Tessian raises $13M led by Balderton and Accel

Tessian (formerly called CheckRecipient), the London-based startup that is deploying machine learning to improve email security, has raised $13 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Balderton Capital, and existing backer Accel. A number of previous investors also followed on, including Amadeus Capital Partners, Crane, LocalGlobe, Winton Ventures, and Walking Ventures.

Founded in 2013 by three engineering graduates from Imperial College — Tim Sadler, Tom Adams and Ed Bishop — Tessian is built on the premise that humans are the weak link in company email and data security. This can either be through mistakes, such as a wrongly intended recipient, or through nefarious employee activity. By applying “machine intelligence” to monitoring company email, the startup has developed various tools to help prevent this.

Once installed on a company’s email systems, Tessian’s machine learning tech analyses an enterprise’s email networks to understand normal and abnormal email sending patterns and behaviours. It then attempts to detect anomalies in outgoing emails and warns users about potential mistakes before an email is sent. This, the startup says, makes it different to legacy rule-based technologies and that Tessian requires “no admin from security teams and no end-user behaviour change”.

One neat aspect is that Tessian can get to work retroactively, producing historical reports that show how many misaddressed emails an organisation has sent prior to the installation date. That is bound to help with sales, even if it could give an enterprise’s security team quite a shock, especially in light of recent GDPR data regulation in Europe. The new EU directive stipulates that companies must report data breaches involving personal information to their local regulator and face fines as high as 4 percent of global turnover for the worst data breaches.

In a call late last week with Tessian CEO and co-founder Tim Sadler, he told me the company plans to use the additional funding for R&D, including the launch of new product, and to expand its sales and marketing teams. Since the startup’s seed round last year, the Tessian team has grown from 13 to 50 people.

Sadler explained that Tessian is looking to apply its tech to in-bound email, in addition to its existing out-bound products. One way to think about it, he says, is that an email address is like an IP address for humans, enabling human to human networks. However, in terms of security, not only are humans an obvious weak point, acting as the gatekeeper to the network and the data that resides on it, email by design is inherently open.

To that end, Sadler tells me that next on Tessian’s roadmap is a way to make in-bound email less prone to data breaches. This will include using Tessian’s machine intelligence to identify spoofed emails or other unusual communication.

“What Tessian have done — and this is why we are so excited about them — is apply machine intelligence to understand how humans communicate with each other and use that deeper understanding to secure enterprise email networks,” says Balderton Capital Partner Suranga Chandratillake. “The genius of this approach is that while the product focus today is on email — by far the most used communication channel in the corporate enterprise — their technology can be applied to all communication channels in time. And, as we all communicate in larger volumes and on more channels, that represents a vast opportunity”.

Meanwhile, Sadler says the startup’s customers span legal, healthcare and financial services, but that any enterprise handling sensitive data are a potential fit. “World leading organisations like Schroders, Man Group and Dentons and over 70 of the UK’s leading law firms are now using platform to protect their email networks,” adds the company.

Google makes $550M strategic investment in Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com

Google has been increasing its presence in China in recent times, and today it has continued that push by agreeing to a strategic partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com which will see Google purchase $550 million of shares in the Chinese firm.

Google has made investments in China, released products there and opened up offices that include an AI hub, but now it is working with JD.com largely outside of China. In a joint release, the companies said they would “collaborate on a range of strategic initiatives, including joint development of retail solutions” in Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

The goal here is to merge JD.com’s experience and technology in supply chain and logistics — in China, it has opened warehouses that use robots rather than workers — with Google’s customer reach, data and marketing to produce new kinds of online retail.

Initially, that will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the word, but it seems clear that the companies have other collaborations in mind for the future.

JD.com is valued at around $60 billion, based on its NASDAQ share price, and the company has partnerships with the likes of Walmart and it has invested heavily in automated warehouse technology, drones and other ‘next-generation’ retail and logisitics.

The move for a distribution platform like Google to back a service provider like JD.com is interesting since the company, through search and advertising, has relationships with a range of e-commerce firms including JD.com’s arch rival Alibaba.

But it is a sign of the times for Google, which has already developed relationships with JD.com and its biggest backer Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese internet giant. All three companies have backed Go-Jek, the ride-hailing challenger in Southeast Asia, while Tencent and Google previously inked a patent sharing partnership and have co-invested in startups such as Chinese AI startup XtalPi.

Microsoft acquires conversational AI startup Semantic Machines to help bots sound more lifelike

Microsoft announced today that it has acquired Semantic Machines, a Berkeley-based startup that wants to solve one of the biggest challenges in conversational AI: making chatbots sound more human and less like, well, bots.

In a blog post, Microsoft AI & Research chief technology officer David Ku wrote that “with the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces.”

According to Crunchbase, Semantic Machines was founded in 2014 and raised about $20.9 million in funding from investors including General Catalyst and Bain Capital Ventures.

In a 2016 profile, co-founder and chief scientist Dan Klein told TechCrunch that “today’s dialog technology is mostly orthogonal. You want a conversational system to be contextual so when you interpret a sentence things don’t stand in isolation.” By focusing on memory, Semantic Machines’ AI can produce conversations that not only answer or predict questions more accurately, but also flow naturally.

Instead of building its own consumer products, Semantic Machines focused on enterprise customers. This means it will fit in well with Microsoft’s conversational AI-based products, including Microsoft Cognitive Services and Azure Bot Service, which are used by one million and 300,000 developers, respectively, and virtual assistants Cortana and Xiaolce.

Capital One acquires digital identity and fraud alert startup Confyrm

Capital One has acquired the San Francisco-based digital identity and fraud alert startup Confyrm, the company announced through a blog post on Thursday. The deal will bring Confyrm’s technology to the bank in order to help speed its development and implementation of consumer identity services at scale.

CEO Andrew Nash founded Confyrm in 2013, along with Dale Olds and Emma Lindley, with a vision of restoring trust in digital identities, he says.

“We recognized that despite an increasing reliance on digital identities, consumer trust in those identities continued to erode,” explains Nash. “We wanted to make a real difference to reducing online fraud and to make the internet a safer place for everyone engaged in it, but critically to do this without abusing customer privacy and storing personal data.”

The company created a system to offer early notifications of suspicious account activity, in order to mitigate the impact of fraud or account theft for identity providers and consumers alike. The system also uses privacy-enhancing mechanisms to protect the identities of the individual consumers and the event publishers.

For example, if a financial service was processing a password reset request but detected that the consumer’s email account had been taken over by a fraudster, it could stop the attack on the consumer’s account immediately. Meanwhile, the consumer could be alerted at the same time to take additional steps to secure their account.

Before starting Confyrm, Nash had previously served as Director of Identity Services at Google, one of the largest providers of consumer identity services in the world, with over a billion consumer and enterprise accounts. He also served as Senior Director of Consumer Identity at PayPal, managing over 350 million identities validated for use in the financial services space, and was Director of Technologies at RSA Security.

So for Capital One, the acquisition of Confyrm isn’t just about the technology itself – it’s about bringing Nash on board.

Following the deal’s close, Nash will become Managing Vice President of Consumer Identity Services.

He says working at Capital One will help the team reach more consumers than a startup could on its own, allowing them to “massively increase the set of consumers that we can help to protect.”

It’s unclear how far along Confyrm was on actually bringing its product to consumers – its website touted a few pilot programs several years ago, but hadn’t been updated in some time. Some of the site’s text is still “Lorem Ipsum” filler text, in fact, and there’s been little coverage by press in the years since its founding. The company hadn’t talked much about its pilot partners, but the list was reported to include an internet email provider, mobile operator, financial services company, and multiple e-commerce sites. Likely, Capital One was the early partner, which is what later led to this acquisition.

On the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) website, one of Confyrm’s pilot programs was listed, noting pilot partners included InCommon, Google, AOL, LinkedIn, and Microsoft. (AOL merged with Yahoo to form Oath, which also now owns TechCrunch.)

Deal terms regarding the Capital One acquisition were not being shared, but Confyrm had raised $1.2 million, according to Crunchbase, which attributes the funding to a grant. (Another source states the grant was for $2.4 million, however).

Acquiring an early stage startup isn’t rare for Capital One, which regularly picks up young companies to fuel its company with fresh talent and unique IP. Over the past several years, it’s acquired mobile savings startup BankOns, local business directory Bundle, budgeting app Level Money, design and development firm Monsoon, design firm Adaptive Path, price tracker Paribus (which launched at TechCrunch Disrupt), and secure container orchestration platform Critical Stack. 

There’s a video of Nash explaining how Confyrm works, here.