Robinhood on the rocks, China's newest ban, and a look inside the Boring Company's Las Vegas loop system

August 30, 2021
Top News
More changes in China. The country's children and teenagers are now barred from online gaming on school days and limited to one hour a day on weekend and holiday evenings, under government rules issued today that we have since threatened to adopt at StrictlyVC headquarters.
Shares of Robinhood dropped nearly 7% earlier today to $43.64 per share after SEC Chairman Gary Gensler told Barron’s that banning the controversial practice of payment for order flow is “on the table.” Payment for order flow is one of Robinhood’s largest revenue sources and the way the stock trading app is able to provide zero-commission trading. CNBC has more here.
The White House launched a two-year fellowship today designed to place early-career software engineers, data scientists, and other technologists at federal agencies. More here.
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This Sequoia- and Henry Kravis-Backed Prediction Market Wants to Turn Opinions into Money
More than 15 years ago, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which was acquired by Nasdaq in 2008, and another since-sold exchange called HedgeStreet, both announced they intended to offer something called event contracts to investors. The idea was to allow people to bet “yes” or “no” on questions about future events that were structured as all-or-nothing options, and to pay a fixed amount when an outcome either occurred or did not.
At the time, it was a novel but controversial idea; it also failed to generate enough interest from investors to succeed. Now, Kalshi, a young, New York-based, 33-person startup is testing the waters anew and it’s doing so with the help of some heavyweight investors that include Sequoia Capital, Henry Kravis, Charles Schwab and SV Angel that have collectively provided the company with $36 million in funding to date.
Their enthusiasm ties in part to a major hurdle that Kalshi — founded by former MIT classmates and researchers Tarek Mansour and Luana Lopes Lara — overcame last year by winning approval from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to run a derivatives exchange.
Mansour says Kalshi’s small team worked closely with the agency at every turn to ensure it would pass muster. “This was quite the process, as the more problems you face, the more problems emerge,” he says now of the endeavor. Bringing aboard a former head of clearing at the CFTC as Kalshi’s head of regulation also helped, he says.
Kalshi is also emerging during a time when people are consuming more, and sometimes narrower, news stories through their social media feeds and elsewhere.
Massive Fundings
Alpaca, a six-year-old, San Mateo, Ca.-based outfit that says its products enable anyone to build and connect applications and algorithms to buy and sell stocks with zero commissions, has raised $50 million in Series B funding. Tribe Capital led the round, joined by Horizons Ventures and earlier backers Spark Capital, Portage Ventures and Social Leverage. The company has now raised $66 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here.
Eight Sleep, a nearly seven-year-old, New York-based that makes “smart” mattresses and mattress covers, has raised $86 million in Series C funding. Valor Equity Partners led the round, joined by SoftBank, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, and General Catalyst and a long list of high-profile individuals. The company has now raised $150 million altogether and says it is valued at nearly $500 million. TechCrunch has more here.

Laronde, a months-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based developer of circular RNA solutions that launched out of Flagship Labs earlier this year, just raised $440 million from Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, BlackRock and (founding investor) Flagship Pioneering. FierceBiotech has more here.
Lynk Pharma, a three-year-old, Hangzhou, China-based biotech that's focused on a rare blood cancer called myelofibrosis and irritable bowel syndrome, has raised $50 million in Series B funding. Lilly Asia Ventures led the round, joined by New Alliance Capital, Hangzhou HEDA Biological Medicine VC Partnership and earlier investors Legend Capital and Med-Fine Capital. FierceBiotech has more here.
Melio Payments, a three-year-old, New York-based startup that develops software for small businesses to pay suppliers using bank transfers or credit cards, is raising an unknown amount of money at a $4 billion valuation, according to The Information, which notes that's triple where the company was valued eight months ago. Thrive Capital and earlier backer General Catalyst are co-leading the round, according to one of the outlet's sources. More here.
Ola Electric, a four-year-old, Indian EV maker that spun out of the ride-share giant Ola, is in talks to raise up to $500 million led by Falcon Edge Capital (with possible participation from Singapore's Temasek) at a valuation between $2.75 billion and $3.5 billion, saysTechCrunch. The outfit was last valued at $1 billion in 2019. More here.

Origin, a 2.5-year-old, San Francisco-based employee financial wellness platform that offers a suite of services to companies’ workforces that include advising on retirement, equity grants, real estate and taxes, has raised $56 million Series B funding. 01.A and earlier backers General Catalyst and Lachy Groom co-led the round, joined by (other) earlier backers Founders Fund, Felicis Ventures and Abstract Ventures. The WSJ has more here
Petlove&Co, a 21-year-old, São Paulo, Brazil-based pet supplies and services network, has raised $150 million in new funding led by Riverwood Capital, with participation from Tarpon, SoftBank, L Catterton, Porto Seguro and Monashees. The round is twice what the company had raised previously across the years and brings its total funding to $225.8 million. TechCrunch has more here.

Whoop, a Boston-based maker of fitness wearables, has raised $200 million in Series F finding at a $3.6 billion valuation. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the round, joined by IVP, Cavu Ventures, Thursday Ventures, GP Bullhound, Accomplice, NextView Ventures and Animal Capital.  The company says it has now raised nearly $400 million altogether. Reuters has more here.
Big-But-Not-Crazy-Big Fundings
Flip, a 2.5-year-old, L.A.-based beauty and wellness social commerce startup that mixes live commerce mobile apps with customer reviews to improve the buying experience and opportunity for the creator economy, has raised $28 million in Series A funding led by Streamlined Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.
Urbanbase, an eight-year-old, Seoul-based 3D spatial data tool for interior design, has raised $11.1 million in new Series B funding led by Hanwha Hotel & Resort. The company has now raised roughly $20 million altogether, though TechCrunch notes that earlier backers didn't join this round. More here.
Vanilla, a two-year-old, L.A.-based digital estate planning platform that says it's for households of all wealth levels and their financial advisors, has raised $11.6 million in Series A funding led by Venrock. More here.
Zipmex, a three-year-old, Singapore-based digital asset exchange, has raised $41 million in Series B funding from two of Thailand’s major multimedia companies -- Plan B Media and Master Ad -- along with Krungsri Finnovate, which is the the corporate venture capital arm of Thailand’s fifth-largest bank by assets, Bank of Ayudhya. CoinDesk has more here.
Smaller Fundings
Clay, a three-year-old, New York-based startup whose tools aim to help users better manage their personal and business relationships, is revealing for the first time that it has raised $8 million in seed funding dating back to 2019. Forerunner Ventures is its biggest outside investor, followed by General Catalyst. TechCrunch has more here.
HAAS Alert, a six-year-old, Chicago-based developer of collision prevention SaaS that depends on cellular-based sensors to ingest roadway hazard data that it then delivers to vehicle systems, has raised $5 million. The seed funding was co-led by R^2 and Blu Ventures. Other backers in the round include TechNexus, Stacked Capital, Urban Us, Techstars, Ride Ventures and Gramercy Fund. TechCrunch has more here.
Komodo, a three-year-old, New Zealand-based student wellbeing platform that creates space for students to communicate with school staff, while providing schools with data to help them spot and address issues like depression or bullying, has raised $1.26 million in seed funding. Folklore Ventures led the round, joined by Icehouse Ventures and Flying Fox Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.
Open, a six-year-old, Sydney, Australia-based embedded insurance technology start-up that builds and manages infrastructure for the global insurance industry, has raised $31 million AUD ($22.6 million) in new funding that brings its total funding to $53 million AUD ($38.7 million). The New Zealand firm Movac, the U.K. firm Latitude, and earlier backer AirTree Ventures participated in the round. Australia's Financial Review has more here.
Prive, a months-old, San Francisco-based startup founded by two former Uber product managers, just raised $1.7 million in pre-seed funding to create what it describes as a far more customizable e-commerce subscriptions platform for D2C brands. The round was co-led by Patrick Chung and Brandon Farwell at XFund and Ben Ling from Bling Capital, with participation from Defy Partners, Halogen Ventures and Uber executives. We have a bit more here.
Solo, a year-old, Seattle-based time and income optimization platform for app-based gig workers, has raised $5.3 million in seed funding led by Slow Ventures. GeekWire has more here.

Spinach, a new, Atlanta, Ga.-based still-in-private-beta provider of Zoom App integrations for distributed teams, has raised $2.75 million in seed funding led by Cardumen Capital, with participation from Zoom and Tuesday Capital. The outfit is one of numerous nascent startups to receive funding from a $100 million fund that Zoom announced back in April. VentureBeat has the full list here.
Vietcetera, a five-year-old, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam-based digital media startup that's targeting millennials and Gen-Z audiences, has raised $2.7 million in funding. North Base Media led the round, joined by Gojek, East Ventures, Genesia Ventures, Summit Media, Hustle Fund and Z Venture Capital. TechCrunch has more here.
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SaaStr Annual 2021, the world's largest non-vendor B2B software event, is almost at capacity! Don't miss this year's Annual on Sept 27-29 at the San Mateo County Event Center. The three-day conference will bring together more than 10,000 global SaaS founders, executives, and venture capitalists for a series of high-quality content sessions and networking opportunities. Across five stages more than 300 SaaS leaders will share their hard-earned learnings and actionable insights to help you scale up and grow your company faster. Readers can grab 20% off tickets with code StrictlyVC. 
New Funds
Entrepreneur and investor Elad Gil is now raising an exceptional amount of money for a "solo venture capitalist": $620 million from at least 26 limited partners, according to a securities filing. It’s the largest amount ever raised by a solo fund manager for a single fund, based on The Information’s analysis of PitchBook data, and it follows Gil’s first fund of $300 million, which he launched just last year. The Information has much more here
Coral Capital, a 2.5-year-old, Tokyo, Japan-based seed- and early-stage venture firm focused on backing startups in Japan, has closed its third fund with $128 million in capital commitments (14 billion yen). Coral Capital’s total assets under management are now $275 million. Limited partners in the new vehicle include Mizuho Bank, Mitsubishi Estate, Shinsei Bank, Pavilion Capital, Founders Fund, Dai-ichi Life Insurance, GREE, and undisclosed domestic and international institutional investors. TechCrunch has more here.
Susa Ventures, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based early-stage venture firm, says it has closed its fourth flagship fund, a seed-stage vehicle, with $125 million in capital commitments, and an later-stage opportunity-type fund (its second) with $250 million. The seed-stage fund will write initial checks of between $1 million and $2 million; the opportunity fund will invest between $10 million and $15 million into companies at the Series B and C stages and primarily in existing portfolio companies, the fir says. Susa focuses largely on fintech, health care, supply chain and software-as-a-service startups. Among its most notable bets are Robinhood and Flexport. More here.
TikTok parent company ByteDance is "coming for Facebook’s moonshot," says TechCrunch by buying up its own virtual reality headset maker called Pico. The deal, first reported on by Bloomberg last week, was confirmed by the company on today, though ByteDance isn't disclosing terms of the deal. Pico had raised some $62 million in venture funding from Chinese firms. TechCrunch has more here.
In a bid to expand its classical music offering, Apple today announced that it has acquired Primephonic. The Amsterdam-based service, which launched in 2014, will bring a laser focus on a music genre that’s been lacking in Apple Music’s approach to streaming. TechCrunch has more here.
Jury selection in Elizabeth Holmes’s trial will begin tomorrow and is expected to take at least two days, a process that typically takes less than a day in lower-profile cases. Opening statements are scheduled for Sept. 8 and the trial is expected to last 13 weeks. If convicted, the Theranos founder could face 20 years in prison, notes CNBC.
Shreyas Garg and Joanne Shang have both joined the late-stage venture firm IVP from Morgan Stanley’s tech investment banking group to focus on enterprise and consumer tech investments. (H/T: Axios.)
The still relatively small group of companies that have made their debuts on U.S. exchanges through direct listings have, on average, outperformed the S&P 500 and a key broader index for initial public offerings during the same period, according to an analysis by University of Florida finance professor Jay Ritter. The WSJ has more here.
Popular instant messaging app Telegram has joined the elite club of apps that have been downloaded over 1 billion times globally, according to Sensor Tower. TechCrunch has more here.
Essential Reads
Humans are in the loop -- the Boring Company's Loop system in Las Vegas -- show emails obtained by TechCrunch under public record laws. 
Inside Politico's billion-dollar drama.
The dangers of wearing a tie.
Is aloe a [does double-take] scam
Recycled garages.
Retail Therapy
A 130-foot catamaran with a fold-out beach club(!).
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