A little over a month ago, the New York Times had a hot take—”The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink“—and an online firestorm ensued. For many, this was blasphemy. The Aperol Spritz—a cocktail containing prosecco, soda, and the eponymous Italian aperitif had become a holy rite of summer—mostly, as it turns out, because Campari, Aperol’s parent company, had made it so with some genius guerrilla marketing. The Times, it seemed, was impugning millions of summer-loving people’s alcoholic sensibilities. Those who read the entire article (which I’m guessing most did not) were met with a slightly different thesis than the headline implied. The idea wasn’t that the Aperol Spritz is always and completely bad, but that the version most often served in millions of bars around the world is a saccharine syrup bomb that could be so much better. This fervor, perhaps unintentionally, highlighted an emerging trend: Aperitifs, long part of cocktail culture in Europe, are catching on in the United States.
MakerSights Racks Up $8.5M Series A to Modernize Retail Product Decision-making
MakerSights, pioneer of the product decision engine for retail, today announced its $8.5 million Series A round led by new investors Forerunner Ventures and joined by Brett Hurt and Brant Barton, the founders of BazaarVoice. Brian O'Malley of Forerunner Ventures will also join the MakerSights Board of Directors. Following a $3.1 million seed funding round, the additional capital infusion will enable key leadership hires, accelerate the growth of in-house engineering and data teams, fuel international expansion and scale its go-to-market operations. MakerSights has grown its customer base by 5x and significantly expanded its footprint of enterprise brands—including Calvin Klein, Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger, Shinola, Taylor Stitch, HOKA ONE ONE, Teva and Allbirds.
Collective Health Raises $205 Million in SoftBank-Led Funding Round
Enterprise healthcare platform Collective Health raises $205M led by SoftBank
SoftBank’s Vision Fund may be facing some challenges when it comes to restocking its massive reserves, but the firm famous for cutting big checks is leading a sizeable round for Collective Health. This startup focused on enterprise employee healthcare management announced a $205 million Series E raise today, brining its total funding to $434 million since its founding in 2013. Its last raise was a $110 million round in February, 2018. Collective Healths’ client list includes Red Bull, Pinterest, Zendesk and more, and it counts GV, NEA, DFJ Growth and Sun Life among its financial backers. Its platform is an integrator for the various insurance and benefit providers that large employers offer to the their employees, and provides access to info, as well as claims filing, eligibility checks and data sharing across vendors. The funding will also help with additional engineering hires to continue to build out the platform. The funding will help the company add more partner providers, a process that’s key to continued growth as it seeks to expand its footprint and ensure that it can serve customers and their employees across the U.S. In addition to the Vision Fund, this round included new investors PSP Investments, DFJ Growth, G Squared, as well as new participation from existing investors.
Billionaires Jim Breyer & Thomas Tull Lead $15M Bet That Genies’ Avatars Will Be Next Big Thing
If you had asked Genies CEO Akash Nigam a year ago when he would start making money off his cartoon avatar business, he would have said probably not until 2023. But in the last year, Genies’ digital caricatures have popped up everywhere—from Scooter Braun’s Instagram account to DJ Khaled’s and attracted a star-studded list of investors from athletes Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving to musicians like 50 Cent. Suddenly brands like scooter company Bird were calling Nigam, five years ahead of his own revenue deadline, to pay to get Genies’ celebrity network to post videos of the digital avatars riding Birds on the day of its new scooter launch. Even Gucci partnered with Genies to let people style their avatars in Gucci-branded products from inside Genies' app. The lifelike avatars can then be exported and used in everything from iMessage to Instagram.
Pillar launches with $5.5M from Kleiner Perkins and others to tackle your student loan debt
A new startup aims to help you get your student loans under control. Today, an app called Pillar, backed by $5.5 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins, is launching a simpler way for consumers to better understand their student loan debt — and even pay it off early. To do so, the app connects with your student loan servicer and bank, then makes personalized suggestions based on your loans, your income, and your spending. When it finds a way you can make a bigger dent in your overall student loan debt, it will send an alert to your smartphone. Pillar co-founder and CEO Michael Bloch, an early DoorDash employee, said he came up with the idea after his wife graduated from law school with around $300,000 worth of student loans.
Welkin Health Raises $17.5 Million in Series B Funding from Altos Ventures
Welkin Health, a patient relationship management software company, today announced $17.5 million in Series B funding led by Altos Ventures. Existing investors, Thrive Capital, Red Swan Ventures, and Asset Management Ventures also contributed to the round, which brings Welkin’s total funding to $30 million. Welkin’s patient relationship management software is designed to meet the unique patient care needs of its customers, which include medical device companies, payers, providers, and disease management service providers. The platform enables health care teams to work effectively and improve health outcomes. “Over the past two years, we’ve transformed how customers use our platform,” says Chase Hensel, CEO and co-founder of Welkin Health. “Our APIs and Workshop tool enable customers to launch quickly, to flexibly plug us into their tech stack, and to make changes to their care programs over time. We’re excited to work with Altos to continue our mission of helping health care organizations create meaningful patient relationships at scale.”
VC Henry McNamara: ‘The term direct-to-consumer is outdated’
Henry McNamara, a partner at Great Oaks Venture Capital, wants founders to throw out the DTC playbook. “A lot of people look at some of the digitally native brands that have scaled significantly over the last five years and think [they can take] a commodity product, and can throw influencer marketing into it and there’s not much more to it than that. That’s a pretty common belief,” McNamara said. In reality, McNamara and his team at Great Oaks, a seed fund that has invested in brands like Allbirds, Away, Dirty Lemon and Recess, are looking for differentiation, as well as scale. McNamara finds that product differentiation is the No. 1 influencing factor when it comes to deciding on a potential investment, along with consistent branding and a distribution strategy that relies on customer insight, not necessarily selling direct-to-consumer.
Petal Visa Card Now Earns up to 1.5% Cash Back on All Purchases
The Petal Visa® Credit Card — an alternative card for those with little or no credit — is blossoming into new territory: cash-back rewards. The new incentive, along with the card’s lack of fees and nontraditional underwriting, makes it something of a unicorn in the garden of plastic. Previously, the card offered no rewards. On May 14, 2019, Petal announced that the card’s rewards structure will work like this: You start by earning a flat rate of 1% cash back on everything. After six monthly on-time payments, your rewards rate bumps up to 1.25% cash back. The rate rises to 1.5% cash back when you make 12 monthly on-time payments.
Online Luggage Retailer Away Lands $1.4 Billion Valuation as It Plots Expansion
Away, a direct-to-consumer travel products business founded by alumni of eyewear specialist Warby Parker, has raised financing to help it expand beyond its roots in selling luggage. The New York-based company, formally called JRSK Inc., said it has raised $100 million at a $1.4 billion valuation. The investment was led by Wellington Management Co., with participation from Baillie Gifford, Lone Pine Capital and Global Founders Capital.
These hip, healthy TV dinners just might win over the Sweetgreen generation
TV dinners have always been frozen, but they’re about to get cool, too. Mosaic is a new startup shaking up the frozen meal industry with a line of healthy, vegetarian options that look more like what you would order at Sweetgreen than that Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak dinner lurking in your grandparents’ freezer. While meal kits like Blue Apron and Purple Carrot are convenient, they require spending your valuable free time peeling and chopping vegetables and then following the detailed instructions. And if you don’t have time to whip up whatever they’ve sent you that week, the ingredients spoil.
How Frozen Food Startup Mosaic Is Disrupting The Category With A DTC Subscription Service
Mosaic, a direct-to-consumer startup that takes a different approach to frozen, taking stock of the vertical’s untapped potential to provide consumers with meals cooked with care and delivered straight to their door. The just-launched brand offers consumers the chance to pick from all-inclusive meal bowls like Greek Jackfruit and Smoky Southwest to Tuscan Pesto, providing a variety of cuisines from around the world. PSFK had the chance to interview the founders, Sam McIntire and Matthew Davis, to find out about what led to the founding of the all-vegetarian brand, why going the DTC route enables them to better serve consumers and why they believe this is only the beginning of a new era for frozen.