BIG DATA costs big bucks. Perhaps then, it should be no surprise to see ERN, the London-based startup that’s planning to use Big Data to enable banks and merchants to create loyalty-based offers for cardholders, has announced that it’s raised more funding before actually managing to launch. Following a $2 million funding round raised last December, the company has added another $1.6 million in seed funding to its coffers.
Once again, ERN is remaining tight-lipped on who its backers are, only to describe them as “high net worth individuals”, the majority of which I understand are new investors, and that the additional capital will be used to further develop its platform.
In addition to its headquarters in London, the Fintech startup has an office in Silicon Valley and Singapore, and currently employs a team of 14 people, a head-count that it’s planning to ad to. Two noteworthy hires earlier this year include former Mastercard executives Anant Patel and Brian Eagle-Brown. Patel is now ERN’s Head of UK Sales, while Eagle-Brown is the startup’s UK Merchant & Acquiring Sales Director.
ERP’s analytics platform, dubbed “Looop”, enables banks (or more specifically, card issuers) and participating merchants to boost customer loyalty by creating new products and offers based on the analysis of their card transactions. The idea is that by drilling into the Big Data around a customer’s transactional history — after they’ve opted in, of course — individually-tailored offers can be pushed to their smartphone via the Looop app, in the form of an e-coupon redeemable in-store.
From the merchants point of view, these offers can be segmented using the Big Data that the system is able to make sense of, as well as being based on things like time and location. So, for example, only push an offer when a customer who has previously bought a dress is within a certain radius of the participating store.
In addition to receiving highly targeted offers — the Looop system is designed to be non-spammy and is self-learning based on how a consumer interacts with the platform (i.e. which offers they take up) as well as their card transactions — the Looop smartphone app lets consumers track spending on their credit and debit cards in “real-time”. The pull being that they can budget more effectively — the trojan horse needed to push those enticing loyalty-based offers.
Meanwhile, although yet to launch, ERN says it’s now in a position to conduct wider customer trials, which have begun already. What banks or merchants it’s working with, the startup isn’t saying or can’t say. However, I understand them to be household names.
It’s that time of the year again for us nerds to infiltrate Sand Hill Road, let loose, and enjoy some good food and libations. We’ve been hosting the TechCrunch summer party with VC firm August Capital since 2006. This year, as in years past, we’ll be partying on August Capital’s beautiful, sunny Sand Hill balcony on Friday, July 26. The party starts at 5:30 p.m. and goes til 9:00 p.m.
Tickets, which you can buy here, are $80 each and include drinks and food. We also have a number of sponsorship opportunities available and inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As startups compete for the best talent, Homejoy is announcing a way for companies to offer employees an additional perk — a clean home.
Home cleanings may not be a standard perk yet, but they’re not an entirely new idea, either. Last fall, The New York Times wrote that in Silicon Valley, “the employee perk is moving from the office to the home,” with both Evernote and the Stanford School of Medicine experimenting with offering housecleaning to their employees. That can be especially appealing when startups ask teams to work long hours, so they don’t have time to clean their homes themselves.
There are, of course, other cleaning services, but Growth Manager Jeffrey Pang said that as with the company’s consumer product, the goal of Homejoy’s perks program is to make the process as convenient as possible. The company works directly with office administrators to set up Homejoy accounts for employees. Then, when an employee logs in, they should see a credit for their monthly cleaning, and they schedule a cleaning just like any other user. They can also see user ratings for their cleaners and offer their own feedback, and all of that data is also fed into Homejoy’s analytics system.
Homejoy charges the same as it does in the consumer version, $20 an hour — that’s significantly cheaper than most other cleaning services.
Pang said he’s already been testing the program out with some tech companies, such as Heyzap, and he anticipated that it will be startups that are most willing to adopt the program. At the same time, he said larger companies that don’t want to offer this to all employees (at least not initially) could also use it on a more limited basis, for example as a perk for the employee of the month or for expectant mothers.
“I think other industries have been slower to adopt something like this, but I could see it becoming more and more popular outside of tech,” Pang said.
Homejoy is now available in 19 cities, including he San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C. and Seattle. The perks program is available in all of those cities, and interested companies can sign up here.
The company is also promoting the program with a “dirtiest desk” contest, where people can submit a photo of, yes, their dirty desks. The winner will get a month of free home cleanings for their entire company — they’ll be selected via random drawing, but apparently getting people to like and tweet about your photo improves your chances.
Since I had Pang and Homejoy CEO and co-founder Adora Cheung on the phone, I also asked about something I’d been noticing as a Homejoy customer — so the wait times for a cleaning seem to be getting longer. (Maybe I was really just being a grumpy customer complaining about having to schedule cleanings several weeks in advance, but in my head, at least, it was a more substantive question about balancing supply and demand.)
“We want to bring on high-quality cleaners as fast as possible but not so fast that bad cleaners who don’t clean well come through our system,” Cheung said. “We’ve gotten better in recent weeks. We’re trying to balance supply and demand as much as possible.”
Pang added that the Bay Area is the only region where Homejoy has experienced “wait time issues.”
There’s some interesting news coming out of London today in the form of VC musical chairs. DFJ Esprit, the European VC firm that is also part of Silicon Valley’s DFJ Global Network, has announced that Associate Scott Sage has been promoted to full VC Partner. However, that isn’t the big story. In events that seem somewhat related, TechCrunch has learned that long-standing DFJ Esprit Partner Nic Brisbourne, who has been at the London-based VC firm since 2006, is moving on to pastures new.
According to my sources, he’s joining Forward Investment Partners, the venture capital arm of Forward Internet Group, where I understand he’ll be helping Forward “double-down” in terms of the number of investments it plans to make, and in how it supports the startups in its portfolio and the ‘founders in residence’ coming through its startup foundry Forward Labs.
Confirming Brisbourne’s appointment, Paul Fisher, Director at Forward Internet Group, said in a statement issued to TechCrunch: “We’re humbled to have been able to recruit a high-calibre Partner like Nic and he is the ideal person to help build our portfolio while retaining the entrepreneurial essence of the Forward Group.”
It’s certainly true that the recruitment of Brisbourne by Forward does seem to be quite a coup. One of the higher profile VCs on the European tech scene (and regular blogger via The Equity Kicker), he’s been in the venture capital business since 2000, spending time based in both Silicon Valley and Europe. He’s also said to be personally responsible for over 25 investments including Buy.AT (acquired by AOL for $125m), Zeus Technology (acquired by Riverbed for $140m), WAYN, Tribold, Conversocial, StrikeAd and Lyst. A decent track record by any measure, not least in European VC.
Undoubtedly he’ll bring a wealth of experience to Forward’s venture arm, as well as his personal brand, network and deal-flow. As I was reminded in a conversation with a VC yesterday, investors have to court entrepreneurs too. It’s also worth noting that Forward Investment Partners invests its own money in the companies it backs — it doesn’t have shareholders or limited partners — so one might infer that Brisbourne has the opportunity to be even more nimble in terms of turning deal-flow into investments at speed when the opportunity strikes. The companies that Forward Investment Partners has backed to date include Hailo, Zopa, Appear Here, Hubbub and BlikBook.
A spokesperson for DFJ Esprit wouldn’t confirm Brisbourne’s departure — we appear to have blindsided any official announcement — although I understand that technically he is still a DFJ employee until the end of today and will start his new post as early as next Monday.
Meanwhile, Brisbourne himself is currently “off grid” traveling in India where, according to his blog, he’s staying at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas near Rishikesh “to study meditation and yoga, and to unwind.” It’s well-acknowledged how stressful startup life can be, but spare a thought for the VCs!
Finally, it would be remiss not to say congratulations to DFJ Esprit’s new Partner Scott Sage. It’s often said that when raising venture capital you don’t want to pitch an Associate, you want to pitch a full Partner at a VC firm, the person with the decision-making power. So this is a significant promotion for Sage, and in a call last night I could tell how excited he is. It’s something he says he’s been working really hard to achieve since he joined DFJ as an Associate in 2010. However, when he was offered the promotion it still came as a surprise. At the age of 30, he’s also likely one of the youngest to make full Partner at a major VC firm in Europe.
Welcome to the Summer of 2013. Welcome to the summer when you’re not quite sure which of your Internet activities are being tracked. When you want to start Snapchatting everyone because at least then data “disappears.” Except when it doesn’t?
The fallacy of the tech industry is that we think our “change the world/connect the world” intentions are enough, or at least that they should shield us from reproach, much like our gated communities of Ubers, Airbnbs, and TaskRabbits. We revel in our massive concentration of wealth, private-public transportation, private tech-heavy schools, and the underlying ideology that the government is stupid. We are exempt.
Silicon Valley is suffering from an acute fallacy of composition: Just because it does some good doesn’t mean the whole is good. Tech isn’t above harming society. Just because change (i.e. Disruption) is inevitable doesn’t mean it’s always welcome.
Machine guns were innovation. They Disrupted muskets. They also Disrupted a lot of human bodies in World War II. Pharmaceuticals save lives. But they also let people numb emotional pain rather than face it, quiet their children rather than teach them. Social games can be seen as entertainment and relaxation. They can also be seen as dehumanizing thieves of our time and attention.
The tech sector is particularly ill-suited to address its own footprint, staving off its rich guilt with the misguided belief that it lives in a meritocracy. Hell, even the people who blog about it are rich.
Like the problem of technology replacing jobs, there is no solution to technology’s feigned innocence. As nerds and underdogs, we will always believe we have the best intentions. That doesn’t negate the problem: Even though we’re not Washington D.C., we are still an industry with absurd amounts of power, attention and money. And plenty of intentional and unintentional opportunities to abuse it.