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Luxury consignment e-tailer The RealReal to enter the unicorn club with new funding

The RealReal, an online retailer for authenticated luxury consignment, has authorized the sale of up to $70 million in new shares, per a Delaware stock authorization filing discovered by the Prime Unicorn Index. If the company raises the entire amount, it would reach a valuation of $1.06 billion, cementing its status as the newest e-commerce unicorn.

The filing doesn’t guarantee The RealReal will sell the full amount of authorized shares. The company declined to comment on its fundraising plans.

The RealReal is led by founder and chief executive officer Julie Wainwright (pictured), the former CEO of Pets.com, a company now synonymous with the dot-com bust. It has raised quite a bit of capital to date — a total of $288 million from venture capital and private equity backers, including Great Hill Partners, Sandbridge Capital, PWP Growth Equity, Industry Ventures, Greycroft Partners and Canaan Partners. Most recently, The RealReal closed a Series G financing of $115 million in July 2018 that valued the business at $745 million, per PitchBook.

The RealReal has recently expanded its brick-and-mortar footprint and added additional e-commerce fulfillment centers as demand increased for its supply of second-hand luxury items. Founded in 2011, the company operates eight luxury consignment offices, where customers can receive free valuations of their luxury items. The RealReal is headquartered in San Francisco.

In a conversation with TechCrunch in 2017, Wainwright confirmed the company’s intent to go public at some point. With this upcoming round, The RealReal would be well placed for a 2020 initial public offering.

“That’s the goal,” Wainwright said during the interview. “We really aren’t in the mood to sell the business, we’re in the mood to go public at some point in the future.”

The RealReal competes with fellow second-hand e-tailers ThredUp and Poshmark . The latter is gearing up for a fall IPO, according to The Wall Street Journal. The online marketplace has tapped Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to lead its offering after closing in on $150 million in revenue in 2018. ThredUp, another major player in the fashion retail market, hasn’t raised capital since 2015, but did begin opening physical stores in 2017 as part of its greater effort to compete with fellow venture-backed second-hand e-tailers.

The RealReal would also be the latest in a series of high-profile female-founded companies to gain unicorn status. Glossier tripled its valuation to $1.2 billion with a $100 million round earlier this year, followed by Rent the Runway, which attracted a $125 million investment at a $1 billion valuation, to name a few.

Online used car startup Shift adds another $40M, snags COO in road to IPO

Online used car startup Shift Technologies has tacked on another $40 million in equity funding, hired a new COO with Amazon and Enjoy roots and scaled up its engineering staff — all in the past several months — as the company aims to double its revenue this year.

The recent activity, along with what executives have told TechCrunch is a diligent focus on unit economics, is all directed toward a larger objective to take the company public sometime in 2021.

Shift, which is based in San Francisco, serves car buyers and sellers. The company, founded in 2013, has built a software platform that lets customers shop for cars, get financing and schedule test drives. Car owners can use the platform to sell their vehicle, as well. Shift says any car it buys must pass a “rigorous” 150+ point inspection.

Shift generated $135 million in revenues in 2018. The company is projecting revenues between $220 million and $240 million in 2019, Shift co-CEO Toby Russell told TechCrunch.

An IPO is an aspirational goal, but one both Russell and founder George Arison believe is achievable. They both pointed to Carvana, an online used car company that went public in 2017.

“Given Carvana’s trailing revenue of $350 million when they went public as a benchmark, we’d be well-positioned for IPO if we can hit $300 million to $400 million,” Russell said. “There’s nothing in stone yet, and IPOs depend on a lot of factors like market conditions, but that benchmark is where we’ll be positioning ourselves in the next two years.”

Carvana is often regarded as Shift’s closest competitor — although the two companies have distinct differences. Shift’s inventory is broader, allowing cars as old as 10 years on the platform and with up to 120,000 miles. Carvana focuses on newer cars between 0 and four years in age. Shift also emphasizes its test drives as a differentiator.

Shift’s biggest competitor is the traditional used car business, Russell contends. There are 35,000 new and used car dealers in the U.S., most of which are mom-and-pop shops, responsible for about 15 million transactions each year. Then there are private-party sales between individuals, Russell notes.

“This super-fragmented environment creates a lot of opportunity for growth for Carvana, Shift, Lithia, CarMax, etcetera, much like Walmart, Target and Amazon all grew over the last two decades,” Russell told TechCrunch.

New COO

To get there, Shift has hired a new COO, Sean Foy. The company also raised additional equity as it tries to hire more engineers and other employees and scale up its technology platform.

Foy comes to Shift from Enjoy Technologies, where he was head of operations. He was previously director of operations for Kindle, Fire, Echo and Amazon Devices working out of Amazon’s Lab 126 in Sunnyvale.

Shift is counting on Foy’s expertise to grow the business and leverage the technology platform, all while maintaining or improving the customer experience. In short, using technology to make it easier for the customer to buy or sell a car without making the process overly cumbersome or intimidating because of the technology.

“One of the things that Bezos (Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO) used to say all the time when we were building Kindle was the technology should disappear, you should not get in the way of the experience of reading a book,” Foy said. “And it feels the like the same here; we don’t want this to be a technology-heavy process for the buyer, we want to stay as frictionless as possible so that we can attract more and more people onto the the site rather than going to traditional dealerships and giving them a much better experience. So it’s really about removing friction from the product.”

New funds

Shift announced in September that it had raised more than $140 million in equity and debt in a Series D round. The round, which consisted of about $70 million in debt and $71 million in equity, was led by automotive retailer Lithia Motors. Bryan DeBoer, CEO and president of Lithia, joined Shift’s board of directors.

An additional $40 million in equity has since come in, bringing the total raise of the Series D round to $180 million. This new capital brings Shift’s total financing of equity and debt to more than $300 million.

All of the new capital came from new investors, primarily large institutional investors, according to Shift.

Shift has already put some of that capital to work. The company said back in September it planned to invest in its technology platform and scale its engineering staff from 35 to more than 80 people by the end of 2019. As of early April, Shift employed 54 engineers. Another nine (all new graduate hires) will start over the summer.The company employs 450 people.

KeepTruckin, a developer of hardware and software that helps truck drivers manage their vehicles and cargo, has raised $149 million in Series D funding. Greenoaks Capital has led the round, with participation from existing backers GV, IVP, Index Ventures and Scale Venture Partners .

The round values the business at $1.25 billion, according to KeepTruckin co-founder and chief executive officer Shoaib Makani.

Since it was founded in 2013, KeepTruckin has accumulated 55,000 unique customers, deploying its software in hundreds of thousands of vehicles. The San Francisco-headquartered company will use the latest investment to double its employee headcount to 2,000 in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Our technology really improves the life of the driver,” Makani told TechCrunch. “These are real people doing work that keeps our economy moving. Trucking is really the foundation of the American economy. More than 70 percent of all freight is moved over the road in a truck. This is how we eat, consume and produce; without it, our economy wouldn’t thrive.”

The Series D financing brings KeepTruckin’s total raised to $228 million, including a $50 million Series C that closed in March 2018.

KeepTruckin’s software is intended to bring the antiquated trucking industry into the digital age. Its platform provides electronic logs and fleet management tools, including GPS tracking and driver performance monitoring for fleet managers and dispatchers to track and communicate with their drivers.

“We are competing against paper and pencil,” Makani explained.

Makani left Khosla Ventures, where he had been an investor in early-stage consumer and enterprise companies since 2011, in 2013 to build KeepTruckin. At the time, the beginnings of a new sector focused on tech-enabled logistics was beginning to emerge. Since then, several companies have launched and scaled with similar focuses.

There’s Convoy in Seattle, for example, which also operates a network of connected-trucks. Uber Freight, the logistics and supply chain management business inside Uber. And Huochebang, a Chinese mobile app dubbed the “Uber-for-Trucks.”

“Trucking is forecasted to be a $1 trillion industry by 2024 and is the backbone of the global economy, yet has been underserved by technology but change is coming and KeepTruckin is at the leading edge,” Greenoaks managing partner Neil Mehta said in a statement. “KeepTruckin is building the technology that trucking companies need to compete in the modern economy. The network that KeepTruckin has built will enable it to change the way freight is moved on our roads.”

Airbnb officially owns HotelTonight

Airbnb has completed its acquisition of the last-minute hotel booking application, HotelTonight, the company announced on Monday. The deal is Airbnb’s largest M&A transaction yet, and will accelerate the home-sharing giant’s growth as it gears up for an initial public offering.

Airbnb reportedly began talks to acquire HotelTonight months ago, and finally confirmed its intent to acquire the business in early March. Reports indicated a price tag of more than $400 million; Airbnb declined to comment on the size of the deal.

As part of the deal, HotelTonight co-founder and chief executive officer Sam Shank will lead the boutique hotel category at Airbnb, one of the company’s newer units meant to help it scale beyond treehouses and quirky homes.

“When we founded HotelTonight, we sought to reimagine the hotel booking experience to be more simple, fast and fun, and to better connect travelers with the world’s best boutique and independent hotels,” Shank said in a statement. “We are delighted to take this vision to new heights as part of Airbnb.”

Shank launched the San Francisco-based company in 2010. Most recently, it was valued at $463 million with a $37 million Series E funding in 2017, according to PitchBook. HotelTonight raised a total of $131 million in equity funding from venture capital firms including Accel, Battery Ventures, Forerunner Ventures and First Round Capital.

Onfido, which verifies IDs using AI, nabs $50M from SoftBank, Salesforce, Microsoft and more

Security breaches, where malicious hackers obtain snippets of information that then get used to impersonate individuals in order to gain access to individuals’ and businesses’ sensitive financial and other private information, have become par for the course in the world of digital services. More than 2.7 billion records were  breached in a single incident this year in the US, and overall the damage from incidents like these potentially runs into the trillions of dollars globally.

Today, a startup called Onfido, which uses AI techniques combined with human verifiers to efficiently verify people are who they say they are when using digital services — is today announcing $50 million in funding to help address that ongoing — and growing — problem.

The funding comes on the heels of some very strong growth for the startup, which was founded in London but now operates most of its business out of San Francisco. In an interview, co-founder and CEO Husayn Kassai said that more than half of its customers, and most of its new growth, is coming out of the US.

Onfido uses computer vision and a number of other AI-based technologies to verify against some 4,500 different types of identity documents, using techniques like “facial liveness testing,” to see patterns invisible to the human eye, now has 1,500 businesses as customers, primarily in categories like marketplaces and communities, gaming and financial services, including companies like Remitly, Zipcar and Europcar; and in the last year, it had sales growth of 342 percent. Kassai said that it has to date verified “tens of millions” of IDs.

The money — a Series C2, technically — is coming from a group that includes top strategic tech investors. The round is being co-led by SoftBank Investment (SBI) and Salesforce Ventures, with M12 (the new name for Microsoft Ventures), FinVC and other unnamed new and previous investors are also participating. That’s a signal not just of how the biggest companies in that sector today are grappling with this problem, but also what approach they are using to solve it.

For SoftBank, the investment is separate from the Vision fund, founder and CEO Husayn Kassai noted, but it’s notable that a lot of the businesses that have been backed out of that fund — companies like Didi, Uber, Oyo, Lemonade, and others — fundamentally rely on people trusting that they are handling personal details securely while also carefully vetting suppliers on the platform (meaning, they need and use services like Onfido’s).

Meanwhile, both Microsoft and Salesforce have extensive enterprise businesses that could see multiple benefits from working with an identity verification provider, not just for their own purposes, but as a service that is sold on to its customers as part of a larger identity management and security offering.

The company is not revealing its valuation but has raised around $100 million to date and Kassai confirmed that it was an upround, with “a lot of happy investors.”

“We have strong metrics, and we have a long way to go in our growth,” he added.

There are a lot of companies today offering services to help offer secure services to authenticate users, for example, to help them log on to their work accounts or to access their online banking services. Onfido’s business focuses on the first step in all of this — customer onboarding — specifically around services geared towards consumers.

The opportunity that has opened up for it has been the result of more than just a rise in breaches. There’s also been a growing realization that a lot of the existing services that had been used for verification are simply not fit for purpose: either they too have been breached — as in the case of some of the bigger credit agencies like Equifax — or are not realistically efficient enough for how many online services run today, such as in the case of in-person verifications. (Onfido claims that its system can make a verification in as little as 15 seconds.)

Or, they are part of the new guard that has shifted its approach to the business of ID verificiation, either by choice or force. One would-be competitor from the past, Checkr, is now a partner of Onfido’s, Kassai noted. Others like Jumio — which is still grappling with the fallout from major illegal missteps from previous management — seem to still be trying to find their feet as standalone businesses.

“Fraud is rising and not going anywhere,” Kassai — who co-founded the company with Ruhul Amin and Eamon Jubbawy — said. “And the problem is that there are a dozen other companies that have not done a good enough job to detect it so far.” While no service is perfect — Onfido says that its “risk exposure” is 0.0195 percent — he says that the advantage of building its service on top of AI means that the algorithms use every experience to continue honing its accuracy. “What we learn from one client gets applied everywhere,” he notes.

“There has never been a more important time for companies to build trust with their customers by showing they are one step ahead of fraudsters,” said Frank van Veenendaal, the ex-vice chairman of Salesforce, who is joining the board with this round. “I believe Onfido has the unique opportunity to transform the digital identity market and deliver robust and scalable authentication-as-a-service, similar to how Salesforce transformed customer relationship management.”

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