NEWS

Bird confirms acquisition of Scoot

Bird is acquiring electric scooter and moped startup Scoot, confirming TechCrunch’s previous report that the two companies were in acquisition talks.

“We are thrilled to welcome Scoot to the Bird ecosystem and look forward to working with the Scoot team as we further scale our complementary missions – to replace car trips with micro-mobility options for all,” Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden said in a statement. “Together we will make a bigger impact on our riders’ daily lives and the cities we serve.”

Prior to the acquisition, Scoot was valued at around $71 million with $47 million in funding. Scoot first launched way back in 2011 with its fleet of electric mopeds. Scoot has since deployed electric bikes and scooters.

Bird and Scoot did not disclose the terms of the deal, but the WSJ reports the deal was around $25 million in a combination of cash and stock.

“Since we launched the first electric vehicle service you access with your smartphone, we have pursued our mission of Electric Vehicles for Everyone and showed cities that shared, electric mobility is a convenient, fun, and affordable way for citizens to get where they need to go,” Scoot founder and president Michael Keating said in a statement. “With Bird, our mission remains the same, but the scale at which we will pursue it, and the vehicles we will offer will be so much better for our riders and the cities we serve.”

This acquisition means Bird may finally get to operate shared electric scooters in San Francisco. This would be in addition to its monthly rental service in the city, though, The Information reports Scoot will need a separate approval to continue operating under a new owner.

I’ll update this story once I hear back from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Google to acquire analytics startup Looker for $2.6 billion

Google made a big splash this morning when it announced it’s going to acquire Looker, a hot analytics startup that’s raised more than $280 million. It’s paying $2.6 billion for the privilege and adding the company to Google Cloud.

Thomas Kurian, the man who was handed the reins to Google Cloud at the end of last year, sees the two companies bringing together a complete data analytics solution for customers. “The combination provides an end-to-end analytics platform to connect, collect, analyze and visualize data across Google Cloud, Azure, AWS, on-premises databases and ISV applications,” Kurian explained at a media event this morning.

Google Cloud has been mired in third place in the cloud infrastructure market, and grabbing Looker gives it an analytics company with a solid track record. The last time I spoke to Looker, it was announcing a hefty $103 million in funding on a $1.6 billion valuation. Today’s price is a nice even billion over that.

As I wrote at the time, Looker’s CEO Frank Bien wasn’t all that interested in bragging about valuations; he wanted to talk about what he considered more important numbers:

He reported that the company has 1,600 customers now and just crossed the $100 million revenue run rate, a significant milestone for any enterprise SaaS company. What’s more, Bien reports revenue is still growing 70 percent year over year, so there’s plenty of room to keep this going.

Today, in a media briefing on the deal, he said that from the start, his company was really trying to disrupt the business intelligence and analytics market. “What we wanted to do was disrupt this pretty staid ecosystem of data visualization tools and data prep tools that companies were being forced to build solutions. We thought it was time to rationalize a new platform for data, a single place where we could really reconstitute a single view of information and make it available in the enterprise for business purposes,” he said.

Diagram: Google & Looker

Slide: Google & Looker

Bien saw today’s deal as a chance to gain the scale of the Google cloud platform, and as successful as the company has been, it’s never going to have the reach of Google Cloud. “What we’re really leveraging here, and I think the synergy with Google Cloud, is that this data infrastructure revolution and what really emerged out of the Big Data trend was very fast, scalable — and now in the cloud — easy to deploy data infrastructure,” he said.

Kurian also emphasized that the company will intend to support multiple databases and multiple deployment strategies, whether multi-cloud, hybrid or on premises.

Perhaps, it’s not a coincidence that Google went after Looker as the two companies had a strong existing partnership and 350 common customers, according to Google. “We have many common customers we’ve worked with. One of the great things about this acquisition is that the two companies have known each other for a long time, we share very common culture,” Kurian said.

This is a huge deal for Google Cloud, easily topping the $625 million it paid for Apigee in 2016. It marks the first major deal in the Kurian era as Google tries to beef up its market share. While the two companies share common customers, the addition of Looker should bring a net gain that could help them upsell to other parts of the Looker customer base.

Per usual, this deal is going to be subject to regulatory approval, but it is expected to close later this year if all goes well.

Thumbtack is raising up to $120M on a flat valuation

Thumbtack, one of the first players in what is now known as the gig economy, has hit the fundraising circuit once again.

The online services marketplace that matches customers with nearby professionals is raising up to $120 million in Series H shares, according to a Delaware stock authorization filing uncovered by the Prime Unicorn Index. Thumbtack did not respond to a request for comment.

At more than 10 years old, the business has previously raised nearly $300 million in a combination of debt and equity funding. The upcoming round comes at a flat valuation to its 2015 Series G funding of $125 million, which valued Thumbtack at $1.3 billion. Scottish asset manager Baillie Gifford led that round, which increased its valuation roughly 60% from $804 million, according to PitchBook:

Thumbtack’s funding history

June 2009: $650,000 Series A | $3.3M valuation

Jan. 2012: $4.4M Series C | $16.5M valuation

June 2013: $12.5M Series D | $46.5M valuation

May 2014: $30M Series E | $230M valuation

Aug. 2014: $100M Series F | $804M valuation

Sept. 2015: $125M Series G | $1.3B valuation

June 2019: ~$120M Series H | ~$1.3B valuation

Source: PitchBook

As Thumbtack has worked its way through the fundraising alphabet, the business has sought acquisition offers, TechCrunch has learned. Ahead of filing to raise another nine-digit round, we’ve heard Thumbtack was exploring M&A opportunities with a competing or complementary companies.

Raising venture capital at a flat valuation is typically a sign a company’s investors are dubious of the business’s future prospects. It’s possible an acquisition deal fell through and Thumbtack, not yet prepared for an initial public offering, turned back to its investors for a necessary capital infusion.

Founded by Marco Zappacosta, whose parents were the founders of Logitech, Thumbtack helps professionals find work close by, from home maintenance, to gardening, to DJing a party. The business is supported by investment firms such as CapitalG, Sequoia Capital and Draper Associates, as well as individual investors Scott Banister, Cyan Banister and Jason Calacanis, among others.

Here’s a full look at Thumbtack’s Delaware stock authorization:

Shopify quietly acquired Handshake, an e-commerce platform for B2B wholesale purchasing

E-commerce platform Shopify has quietly made an acquisition to continue its expansion of the services and products that merchants can sell and purchase through its platform. It has acquired Handshake, a New York startup that offers a commerce platform for businesses that sell wholesale goods.

Shopify has confirmed the deal in a short statement:

Handshake is now a part of Shopify. We consider acquisitions in the normal course of business as we focus on making commerce better for everyone.” It hasn’t disclosed the value but a source tells us it was less than $100 million.

We also received an emailed tip that noted that the acquisition was announced to staff earlier this month, and that the team is operating as part of Shopify’s extended service tier, Shopify Plus, headed by David Moellenkamp. Indeed, Handshake’s profile on LinkedIn now indicates that it was acquired by Shopify, and Glen Coates, who had been the founder and CEO of Handshake, is now the director of product at Shopify Plus.

Handshake had raised about $23.5 million and was valued in its last round (in 2016 — note that it’s not this Handshake) at just under $54 million, according to PitchBook. Investors included Boldstart Ventures, Emergence Capital, SoftTech VC, Point Nine and others. (We’re trying to find out more on the price.)

The opportunity that Handshake had identified, and now Shopify is targeting, is the end of the e-commerce market for brands and other merchants selling items wholesale, potentially alongside consumer-focused retail efforts.

This is big business: a recent report found that B2B e-commerce sales in the U.S. alone passed $1 trillion for the first time in 2018. As with consumer-focused sales, platforms like Handshakes offer merchants the ability to handle these sales directly, rather than handing off the sales to third-party marketplaces.

Handshake’s customers include the likes of Bugaboo, Williams-Sonoma and Roland.

This deal comes at an interesting time for Shopify.

Some weeks ago, we reported on how Mailchimp and Shopify had stopped working together, only to find out days later that Mailchimp had actually also quietly acquired an e-commerce startup to start to build out more purchasing tools for its customers. In that regard, this latest acquisition by Shopify underscores how it’s also growing and expanding its scope — albeit in a way that puts it into closer competition with the likes of Alibaba and Amazon, which themselves have carved out a strong place as B2B marketplaces.

Twitter bags deep learning talent behind London startup, Fabula AI

Twitter has just announced it has picked up London-based Fabula AI. The deep learning startup has been developing technology to try to identify online disinformation by looking at patterns in how fake stuff vs genuine news spreads online — making it an obvious fit for the rumor-riled social network.

Social media giants remain under increasing political pressure to get a handle on online disinformation to ensure that manipulative messages don’t, for example, get a free pass to fiddle with democratic processes.

Facebook, Google and Twitter told to do more to fight fake news ahead of European elections

Twitter says the acquisition of Fabula will help it build out its internal machine learning capabilities — writing that the UK startup’s “world-class team of machine learning researchers” will feed an internal research group it’s building out, led by Sandeep Pandey, its head of ML/AI engineering.

This research group will focus on “a few key strategic areas such as natural language processing, reinforcement learning, ML ethics, recommendation systems, and graph deep learning” — now with Fabula co-founder and chief scientist, Michael Bronstein, as a leading light within it.

Bronstein is chair in machine learning & pattern recognition at Imperial College, London — a position he will remain while leading graph deep learning research at Twitter.

Fabula’s chief technologist, Federico Monti — another co-founder, who began the collaboration that underpin’s the patented technology with Bronstein while at the University of Lugano, Switzerland — is also joining Twitter.

“We are really excited to join the ML research team at Twitter, and work together to grow their team and capabilities. Specifically, we are looking forward to applying our graph deep learning techniques to improving the health of the conversation across the service,” said Bronstein in a statement.

“This strategic investment in graph deep learning research, technology and talent will be a key driver as we work to help people feel safe on Twitter and help them see relevant information,” Twitter added. “Specifically, by studying and understanding the Twitter graph, comprised of the millions of Tweets, Retweets and Likes shared on Twitter every day, we will be able to improve the health of the conversation, as well as products including the timeline, recommendations, the explore tab and the onboarding experience.”

Terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed.

We covered Fabula’s technology and business plan back in February when it announced its “new class” of machine learning algorithms for detecting what it colloquially badged ‘fake news’.

Its approach to the problem of online disinformation looks at how it spreads on social networks — and therefore who is spreading it — rather than focusing on the content itself, as some other approaches do.

Fabula has patented algorithms that use the emergent field of “Geometric Deep Learning” to detect online disinformation — where the datasets in question are so large and complex that traditional machine learning techniques struggle to find purchase. Which does really sound like a patent designed with big tech in mind.

Fabula likens how ‘fake news’ spreads on social media vs real news as akin to “a very simplified model of how a disease spreads on the network”.

One advantage of the approach is it looks to be language agnostic (at least barring any cultural differences which might also impact how fake news spread).

Back in February the startup told us it was aiming to build an open, decentralised “truth-risk scoring platform” — akin to a credit referencing agency, just focused on content not cash.

It’s not clear from Twitter’s blog post whether the core technologies it will be acquiring with Fabula will now stay locked up within its internal research department — or be shared more widely, to help other platforms grappling with online disinformation challenges.

The startup had intended to offer an API for platforms and publishers later this year.

But of course building a platform is a major undertaking. And, in the meanwhile, Twitter — with its pressing need to better understand the stuff its network spreads — came calling.

A source close to the matter told us that Fabula’s founders decided that selling to Twitter instead of pushing for momentum behind a vision of a decentralized, open platform because the exit offered them more opportunity to have “real and deep impact, at scale”.

Though it is also still not certain what Twitter will end up doing with the technology it’s acquiring. And it at least remains possible that Twitter could choose to make it made open across platforms.

“That’ll be for the team to figure out with Twitter down the line,” our source added.

A spokesman for Twitter did not respond directly when we asked about its plans for the patented technology but he told us: “There’s more to come on how we will integrate Fabula’s technology where it makes sense to strengthen our systems and operations in the coming months.  It will likely take us some time to be able to integrate their graph deep learning algorithms into our ML platform. We’re bringing Fabula in for the team, tech and mission, which are all aligned with our top priority: Health.”

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