Startups

Valar triples down on Petal, leading $55M Series C round into the credit card disruptor

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close up of credit card
Image Credits: Bryan Mullennix (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Sometimes raising venture capital can be as simple as talking to your existing investor and having them wire over another check.

When we last caught up with Petal in January 2019, the startup was hot off its $30 million Series B round and was accelerating its mission to take on the world of credit cards. Petal’s core differentiation is that it looks at the cash flow of potential borrowers rather than traditional credit scores to assess creditworthiness, helping to identify underbanked users who have the ability to be trusted with a credit card, but lack the formal statistics to prove it.

Well, a lot has happened since then. COVID-19 hit, and along the way, the traditional credit score has been rent asunder as millions lost their jobs, had their hours cut back and changed life circumstances. At the same time, federal stimulus relief in the form of direct payments to taxpayers actually led some credit scores to increase during the pandemic. All of this is to say that underwriting based on prospective cash flow has been a bit more attuned to reality rather than credit scores based on retrospective history.

Now, the New York City-headquartered startup is expanding, and netted a $55 million Series C round led by Valar again, which not only led the company’s Series B, but also its $13 million Series A round back in 2018. This Series C round closed in April just after the COVID-19 pandemic got fully underway, and is officially being announced today.

Valar, one of the many vehicles in the Peter Thiel capital universe, has staked its claim in the fintech world, backing companies like Even, Stash, N26, BlockFi, Point Card and Taxfix. I asked Petal CEO Jason Gross his thoughts on why he took capital from his existing investors two more times, and his line was, “if you’ve heard the expression, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ ” He continued, “Our view has been that if we already have a really great working relationship, and a lot of support and a dynamic that’s been successful in the boardroom, there’s no reason to necessarily change that.”

Petal raises $30M from Valar to bank the unbanked with credit cards

Gross said that the company’s model has allowed it to handle the storm of changes that have been underway this year. “It’s allowing us to make credit accessible at a period of time when legacy institutions — traditional banks and so on — are being forced to pull back,” he said. “We’ve been able to continue to accurately understand what’s going on with the financial circumstances of our customers and applicants,” allowing the company to “lean in” this year.

He noted the company has brought on “tens of thousands of customers” since the last time TechCrunch chatted with the company.

Petal has slightly tweaked the cosmetic design of the card. Photo via Petal.

Outside of fundraising and customer growth, the company has been busy. It launched a second office in Richmond, Virginia last year. It “has a really strong, kind of vibrant and emerging technology scene. It is the largest concentration of colleges in Virginia, and it also is a financial-services-heavy location,” Gross explained. Conveniently, it also shares the same time zone as NYC.

Last September, the company raised $300 million from Jeffries as a debt facility to finance its credit card, and in February, it recruited Kaustav Das as its new chief risk officer. Das came from small business loan platform Kabbage, which was sold to American Express earlier this year following the heavy economic blow from the pandemic to small businesses across the country.

Petal is now about 100 employees, and the company has been operating entirely remotely since March. Gross says his goal for the next two years is to onboard “hundred of thousands of new customers.”

In addition to Valar, a huge miscellany of funds participated in the round, including “Rosecliff Ventures, Afore Capital, RiverPark Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital, GR Capital, Nelstone Ventures, Abstract Ventures, Ride Ventures, Gramercy Fund, Adventure Collective, Starta Ventures and NFL star Kelvin Beachum, Jr.” The company has now raised about $100 million of equity capital all together.

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