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Andela reaches $1.5B valuation after SoftBank leads $200M Series E – TechCrunch

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for September 29, 2021. Welcome to what feels like fall on the East Coast of the United States. Yes, the seasons are changing, but the technology and startup worlds are refusing to shift from the high-velocity pace that they’ve held for what feels like years at this point. Someone should tell them to drink hot tea by a window looking out at trees for a few days instead of doing, well, all that follows in this letter. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Google announces slew of search updates: Alphabet company Google is the world leader on search, but with competition starting to nip at its heels, the company is busy rolling out upgrades to its tech. Today the company announced some redesign work, better wildfire tracking and an effort to bake more context into results. All of that is welcome, but doesn’t cut at the core issue of rising ad loads on prime search real estate.
  • Direct listings are hot: Recent public-market debuts from Amplitude and Warby Parker indicate that the direct-listing route to public-market liquidity is more than open today. For unicorns perhaps uncomfortable with the traditional IPO, it’s more than good news.
  • SoftBank pours $200M into Andela: While Tiger is making the largest media waves these days, SoftBank is still busy doing deals. Today the Japanese telco and investing powerhouse announced a deal to put several hundred million dollars into Andela, a startup that connects tech talent from Africa with companies elsewhere in the world. The round fits neatly in the talent crunch narrative we’ve heard so much about from companies in recent quarters and greater global respect for Africa’s tech scene that we’re seeing in venture capital results as well.

Startups/VC

Before we get into our general startup news roundup, let’s talk climate. Earlier this week TechCrunch put together a deep dive into the huge opportunities for startups working on climate-related issues, efforts that could improve the world and make piles of money. Today’s news really underscores the point.

Today on TechCrunch we learned about DroneSeed’s $36 million round that could help with habitat restoration post-wildfire; how climate volatility helped agtech startup Semios land $100 million; and that two new funds (Investible with AUD$100 million and Energize Ventures with $330 million) are also looking at the climate-tech space.

That’s quite the thematic bundle. Now, the rest of it:

  • Read AI wants to help you shut up: Are you in lots of video meetings? Do you talk too much? It can’t just be me. Folks dominating conversations is enough of a problem that Read AI is building tech to help meeting attendees track their speaking time and get it under control. The company just raised $10 million to fuel its efforts.
  • Starfish Space is building space tugs: The current space race is not just SpaceX versus whatever else billionaires can cook up. There are a host of startups building for a space-friendly future in which in-space servicing is going to really matter. Starfish just raised $7 million for its work on building space tugs. Which are like tug boats, but smaller, and in orbit. Space tugs! That rules!
  • Tonic.ai raises $35M: Today from the enterprise beat, Tonic just raised a huge grip of cash to grow its service that helps provide engineers with synthetic data sets. What are those? Per TechCrunch, it’s “production-like data” that they can use for testing without annoying regulators both inside and outside their companies. So it’s like lorem ipsum, but for even bigger nerds than lorem ipsum is for, I suppose.
  • Cocoon raises $20M, wins prize in our hearts for having a good name: Cocoon is building a platform to help employees and employers alike better understand and manage leave. Hence cocoon, aka the thing you spin yourself into when you are not at work. The name is good, the product is neat — admit it, you don’t really understand your corporate leave policy! — now let’s see what market appetite is for the startup.
  • VCs want to buy shares in startups working to help workers at venture-backed startups buy shares of their own: Today TechCrunch wrote about EquityBee and its new $55 million investment. The company helps workers at venture-backed companies exercise their options, a process that can be fraught with both tax implications and high cash costs.

3 questions startups must answer before taking on their largest competitors

There is no level playing field in capitalism, but it is easier than ever for a scrappy startup to go head-to-head with industry leaders.

Warby Parker is reshaping consumer expectations about eyewear, just as Poshmark and thredUP made a direct run at eBay and the luxury resale market.

In a world where customers are more loyal to value than branding and 18-month roadmaps are the norm, startups that develop solid competitive plans have an advantage, says Sudheesh Nair, CEO of business intelligence company ThoughtSpot.

“Successful startups will inevitably draw the attention of powerful incumbents in their industry,” he writes for TechCrunch+. “They will fight you, but if you are positioned well for the challenge there has never been a better time to prevail.”

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

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At Disrupt, Jordan Crook was joined by Ryan Reynolds for a conversation about marketing. You can read the recap on TechCrunch+, “How Ryan Reynolds has mastered authentic marketing.”

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