Welcome to my weekly fintech-focused column. I’ll be publishing this every Sunday, so in between posts, be sure to listen to the Equity podcast and hear Alex Wilhelm, Natasha Mascarenhas and me riff on all things startups! And if you want to have this hit your inbox directly once it officially turns into a newsletter on May 1, sign up here.
Fintech M&A hasn’t been as robust as one might expect in recent months. So when Goldman Sachs announced this week it was buying NextCapital — a fintech company that provides automated advice to corporate retirement plan participants — my ears perked up.
NextCapital was a fintech company before fintech became cool. Founded in 2013 (or 2014 depending on the source), the Chicago-based company has raised over $82 million in funding over its lifetime from investors such as FinTech Collective and Oak HC/FT, according to Crunchbase.
In a statement, Luke Sarsfield, co-head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said: “Employers are looking to provide their employees tailored solutions and customizable advice that can better support individual saving and investing needs to help improve retirement savings outcomes. We believe personalization represents the future of retirement savings and will drive the next wave of innovative retirement solutions.”
The move is an interesting one as the investment giant has for years been strategically scooping up fintech companies. Again, according to Crunchbase, Goldman Sachs has acquired 27 companies over time. Last September, it announced it was acquiring buy now, buy later fintech GreenSky for $2.24 billion in an all-stock deal that was a reflection of its continued push into consumer finance. That deal closed last week.
In the case of NextCapital, which uses algorithms and automation to allow users to invest in retirement funds, Goldman didn’t say how much it was shelling out. But CNBC reported that “the acquisition ranks among the top five asset management deals New York-based Goldman has done, according to the Financial Times.”
It’s another example of an incumbent recognizing that it makes more sense to buy a company that has developed technology that it wants rather than building it out itself — a process that would take far longer and require more resources than a simple acquisition would.
Early investor FinTech Collective said it backed NextCapital at a time when robo advisors were just coming to market.
“We felt that the underlying infrastructure supporting the shift from investment product to digital advice was a more durable, interesting space to be allocating capital to,” the firm said in a recent newsletter.
It also noted that Goldman’s intent to buy NextCapital “follows several moves by multiline incumbents (e.g. Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan) to diversify into steadier income streams and to build out their own stacks in wealth and asset management.”
Over the years, Crunchbase data indicates that Goldman has also invested in more than 900 companies, and led 343 of those investments. At the height of the dot.com boom in the first quarter of 2000, the bank had invested in a record 53 startups. In Q2 of 2000, that number dipped slightly to 46. And of course, by Q3, it had plunged to just 13.
Its investment activity started picking up again starting in late 2018 and the bank backed 30 startups in the fourth quarter of 2019 alone. In Q1 of this year, it wrote checks to 17 companies, according to Crunchbase data, including to a few that TechCrunch has covered, including corporate spend startup Ramp, tech-enabled homebuilder Homebound and Indian food delivery giant Swiggy.
I, for one, will be curious to see who else Goldman backs or buys in Q2.
Fast slows its roll
Last week, The Information published a piece revealing that Fast, which offers a one-click checkout service for online merchants, generated just $600,000 in revenue in 2021. Its biggest competitor, Bolt, raised “roughly 50 times that figure,” according to The Information.
TechCrunch last reported on Fast in January of 2021, when the startup raised a $102 million Series B financing led by Stripe. Other backers include Index Ventures, Susa Ventures and Global Founders Capital. When it tried later in the year to raise a $100 million Series C financing at a valuation of over $1 billion, it didn’t find any takers, according to the Information.
But wait, there’s more. The publication went on to report on April 1 (and no, it was not an April Fool’s joke), that Fast was seeking a buyer after its failed fundraise attempt.
Reportedly, the startup hired about 400 employees last year, and burned through about $10 million a month for most of that period; $600,000 divided by 12 = $50,000 in revenue a month. Spending $10 million a month when your product is only generating $50,000 in the same time frame doesn’t seem smart. As my extremely talented colleague, Ingrid Lunden, put it: “This is the story for a lot of startups, but maybe particularly ironic when it’s a fintech startup built to process and make money…A lot of these payment companies are built precisely on economies of scale. Margins are super thin on the transactions, and the tech costs a lot to build and operate, which is why growth/reach/size matter.”
Add to this equation a CEO — Domm Holland — who is known for his “brash style” and had his share of controversy in Australia prior to starting Fast. Holland’s former startup Tow.com.au, which aimed to be “the Uber of towing,” failed in what at least one person described as a “disaster.” In February, NPR published an article noting that Holland’s previous venture was embroiled “in a multimillion-dollar billing dispute with the Australian state government over towing and impounding fees that led to the startup’s liquidation in 2018.”
It added that “the way Holland has rewritten and polished his past raises questions about how far the envelope can be pushed before crossing ethical lines.”
Also, according to NPR, as Ilya Strebulaev, a professor of finance who studies the venture capital industry at Stanford University told NPR: “Failure is not a curse. But what’s important is how the failure happened.”
So what’s next for Fast? Will Holland resign? Will Bolt scoop it up? Or will some retailer just buy its technology? Or will it just die a slow death?
TechCrunch reached out to Fast for comment. It had not responded by the time of writing.
Fundings across the globe
Funding activity seemed to pick up some this week, although still not as crazy as it felt last year.
Here’s just a trio that I covered:
I got the scoop on Cross River Bank raising $620 million in a round co-led by Andreessen Horowitz — going from “tiny to mighty with a $3B+ valuation and a crypto-first strategy.”
Cross River Bank is not just any bank. The Fort Lee, New Jersey-based institution is also a technology infrastructure provider that quietly powers lending and payments for many of the fintechs that top VCs are also backing — a reverse of sorts of the more common fintech-powering-bank dynamic we’re used to. As fintech has exploded in recent years, so has Cross River Bank’s business — as well as investor interest.
Founder and CEO Gilles Gade told me the company, which powers the likes of Affirm and Coinbase, views crypto as front and center of its future efforts. Profitable since 2010, the bank is also ready for an international expansion.
Notably, David George, general partner of the Growth Fund at Andreessen Horowitz, told TechCrunch:
When Coinbase was first starting out and looking for a partner bank, many traditional financial institutions had blanket policies that prevented them from participating in crypto. Cross River, on the other hand, had the foresight to lean into this new frontier and support Coinbase, and many other leading crypto companies, who are still happy partners to this day.
I also got the exclusive on a trio of Palantir alums who just raised $25 million in a Series B led by Founders Fund for their new finance startup, Mosaic. This is interesting because both Palantir and Founders Fund were co-founded by Peter Thiel.
“Mosaic is born out of our experience as CFOs and as domain experts over the past decade,” CEO Bijan Moallemi said. “We are trying to create a Strategic Finance category. If you think about the way that CFOs do their work, 80% of their time is mostly manual, right? It’s pulling down data from disparate systems, it’s doing ad hoc Excel formulas, it’s often one-off analyses. Only 20% of their time is more strategic, making an impact on the business.”
Mosaic wants to flip that ratio on its head.
Meanwhile, I also wrote about January, which wants to use technology to make debt collection a more humane and efficient process. That company just raised $10 million to keep growing.
“We started off by solving the really, really hard problem of how do you collect at scale in a really compliant manner or really compassionate but still really effective manner, and that enabled us to solve some of the larger problems in the industry,” CEO Jake Cahan told TechCrunch. “We have to stop treating individuals like criminals and start making the system work, because debt isn’t going away.”
And here’s more that either my awesome colleagues wrote or that I thought were interesting but just couldn’t get to:
Yonder, a U.K.-based fintech founded in 2021, raised £20 million ($26 million) in a round led by Northzone and LocalGlobe to bring its lifestyle credit card to market. The company says its vision is to “rebuild customers’ relationship with credit.” Its three co-founders are Clearscore alumni, who have pulled in talent from (Transfer)Wise and Monzo to build out Yonder’s team.
CEO Tim Chong came up with the concept soon after he moved to the U.K. from Australia and attempted to apply for a credit card. Despite having a “solid” credit history back home, the best he could qualify for was an Amex with a “child-safe” credit limit and hefty fees. Yonder’s first aim is to solve the problem of access to credit cards for expats and anyone with a thin credit file, with a sign-up process and credit suitability evaluation based on transaction history from daily spending habits instead of relying entirely on traditional credit checks, which Chong feels are discriminatory.
Payments and infrastructure, oh my
From the wonderful and oh-so-talented Christine Hall: Payment cards provider CarbonPay, which focuses on sustainability, now has a corporate prepaid offering called CarbonPay Business Ctrl. Visa and Stripe are powering the card, and businesses can get physical cards, lodge cards or virtual cards and pay using ApplePay and GooglePay in the U.S.
Whenever company employees in the U.S. and U.K. use the card, their carbon footprint is offset automatically. For example, for every £1 or $1.50 spent, CarbonPay says it will offset 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide at no extra cost. The company keeps track of carbon footprints through a partnership with sustainability-as-a-service company ecolytiq.
Later this year, CarbonPay plans to unveil another business card option and personal card offering
Our own Romain Dillet reported on how Visa surprised the European fintech industry last year when it announced that it would acquire Tink for €1.8 billion ($2.15 billion at the time of the deal). Klarna now wants to compete directly with Tink with a new business unit that has its own brand — Klarna Kosma.
Like Tink, Klarna offers an open banking application programming interface (API) with Klarna Kosma. Tink and Klarna are also both headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. There are other open banking API companies, such as TrueLayer and Plaid. And it’s been a competitive space as Visa also tried to acquire Plaid but that deal fell through.
With this new strategy, Klarna is essentially saying that it’s open for business. If you’re building a financial product and need to interact with bank accounts, you have one more option.
Also, Fortune reported that payments giant Adyen on March 31 announced that it is moving into providing banking services — making it a banking-as-a-service (BaaS) provider. Alex Wilhelm and I talked about how this is another example of how so many companies are realizing the value of providing infrastructure. In this case, Adyen says it is launching a suite of embedded financial products that will allow platforms and marketplaces to create tailored financial experiences for their users, including small business owners and individual merchants. As Alex put it: “Stripe did this but now everyone is coming for banking infra, I think, as a way to drive more enterprise software revenues and get away from consumer incomes.”
Meanwhile, fellow fintech enthusiast Ron Shevlin in February summed it up nicely in a recent Forbes piece, writing that “the rise of interest in banking as a service is the result of the growing embedded finance trend.”
In other infrastructure news…
Plaid’s CTO detailed to Ron Miller how he grew his engineering team by 17.5x in 4 years.
Cross-border payments platform dLocal is one of the most notable Latin American startups in recent history — the company became Uruguay’s first unicorn in 2020 and went public on the Nasdaq in 2021. DLocal’s founders had first launched AstroPay, another digital payments platform that now has over five million users.
Now, dLocal and AstroPay co-founder Sergio Fogel has teamed up with AstroPay’s former head of product, Gonzalo Strauss, to launch another fintech out of Montevideo, Uruguay, called Datanomik. Datanomik’s goal is to connect financial institutions across LatAm through its B2B open finance API, which gathers a company’s banking information on one platform, Strauss told TechCrunch, as told by Anita Ramaswamy, who is starting a crypto-focused podcast with Lucas Matney (exciting!).
A few more compelling news items seen on TechCrunch:
Per Axios’ Dan Primack, Carta has launched a free program to help employees understand equity. As Dan says: “Such an incredibly important thing. Always stuns me how many people, particularly startup employees, don’t understand how their own comp works.”
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, one fintech startup is doing its part to help people being affected by the war.
Igor Khmel is CEO of SaveChain, a new neobank for underbanked people globally to open U.S. bank accounts. Khmel tells TechCrunch that while SaveChain is still in its infancy (the company plans to launch its app by July), he wants to use its technology to help Ukrainians now by powering a new fintech-humanitarian initiative called HelpUkrainedirect, which provides “Temporary Basic Income” to Ukrainian refugees via direct donations in crypto and USD.
Through its initiative HelpUkraineDirect (HUD), the company says its goal is to provide Ukrainians with direct financial relief, leveraging blockchain technology and existing banking and volunteer infrastructure to pioneer a “Temporary Basic Income” (TBI) scheme for refugees via direct donor-to-refugee money distribution. The aim is to provide hard-pressed individuals with $100/month for 3-6 months, according to Khmel. Crypto and tax-deductible donations can be made at https://HelpUkraineDirect.org.
HubSpot, a $24 billion software company, announced a new partnership between HubSpot for Startups and buzzy alternative financing platform Pipe. Under this new partnership, HubSpot for Startups customers gain access to $100 million in “fee-free funding,” while Pipe customers will receive a 30% discount on HubSpot’s CRM Suite.
In other Pipe news, Yas Moaven has been promoted to the role of the company’s chief marketing officer. Previously, Yas has worked in what she calls the “trifecta of male dominance:” auto, finance, and technology. Prior to joining Pipe, Yas was one of the first employees at Fair.com, the car subscription app. Before Fair, Yas worked in marketing and communications for Sotheby’s, TrueCar, and the LA Tourism Board, where she led branding, growth marketing, communications and capital raising. Love to see more women in executive roles in fintech!
Well, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading! Now get off your computers and enjoy the rest of your Sunday!! See you next week.