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Tag Archives: small-business

iZettle expands from mobile payments into e-commerce and online sales for SMBs

iZettle , the startup out of Sweden that has been referred to as the Square of Europe, is today making a move that underscores its bigger strategy to build on its traction with small businesses in mobile payments, to expand into an ever-wider range of financial services to fill out its $950 million valuation . The company is launching a new e-commerce platform, where customers can build online inventory and check-out experiences either to complement the physical sales they are already making with iZettle itself, or as a standalone service as new customers to the company. The service is rolling out in Sweden and the U.K. first, with plans to extend to the rest of iZettle’s footprint in Europe and Latin America over the coming months. The idea is to provide a set of tools build and run shops quickly and easily for the same kinds of small businesses and sole traders that already use iZettle, or “Shopify simplified,” as iZettle’s founder and CEO Jacob DeGeer describes it. Pricing follows the same basic format as that of the company’s core mobile payments service. In the case of the UK, for example, DeGeer says iZettle takes a 1.75 percent fee for each transaction on its mobile payments, and the e-commerce product will come in at £29 per month plus 2.5 percent on each transaction. (Rates might vary depending on the market in question.) iZettle moving into e-commerce is not exactly a revolutionary idea. Square has been offering a Stripe-style online component to businesses since 2016 , and of course companies like Shopify and Stripe and many others are also providing similar services. DeGeer says that iZettle’s service is differentiated and better because it follows on from iZettle’s belief that there have not been enough attention given to building products specifically for the small business person. “It’s a segment that is traditionally underserved,” he said. The same had been the case in card payments, where sole traders and small businesses were regularly not accepting cards simply because the cost of doing so was too high for them, a problem solved by turning ordinary smartphones and tablets into point of sale terminals with the help of a dongle. The same ethos appears to be applying here: for those who are already iZettle customers and running sales through the company’s platform, DeGeer said that they can bring their sales online with one click, and then all sales across both offline and online will be viewable in a single database. And why would customers add the online component? It’s potentially a way to, for example, facilitate online ordering ahead for a cafe, or for a jewellery vendor from a market or small shop to develop a web-based store — offerings that in the past would have been too costly or complicated for small businesses to create and integrate

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Zoho at a crossroads: Stepping up means stepping out

Zoho has been one of the great successes in the world of small business technologies. Few companies have been able to succeed with a similar business model, yet Zoho has been wildly successful. But they are also enshrouded in mystery. Read on to see what's under their veil and what they have to do next -- if they want to.

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Liberis raises £57.5M to offer finance for small businesses paid back via customer card transactions

Liberis , the London-based fintech that provides finance for small businesses, has raised £57.5 million in new funding to help support the company’s growth. The alternative finance provider makes loans against a company’s future credit and debit card sales. The majority of the new capital being raised by Liberis is debt, which in turn will enable it to issue more loans. The facility is being provided by British Business Investments (the commercial arm of the tax payer-funded British Business Bank), Paragon Bank, and BCI Ltd. In addition, Blenheim Chalcot has made an equity investment into Liberis. The so-called “digital venture builder” also previously backed Clearscore, the credit scoring startup recently acquired by Experian . Providing a new financing option as a replacement for a traditional bank loan or extended overdraft — which is increasingly hard for small businesses to come by — Liberis provides funding from £1,000 to £500,000 based on a company’s projected credit and debit card sales. However, the clever part is that the loan is paid back via a pre-agreed percentage of the business’ digital transactions, making it especially attractive to seasonal businesses that have very uneven sales throughout different times of the year. There isn’t a time limit placed on when a loan has to be repaid, either. Instead, the repayment schedule is directly tied to the size and pace of a small business’ card transactions. In a call with Rob Straathof, CEO of Liberis, he conceded that this means the fintech startup is taking on more of the risk, but says the company is seeing the vast majority of loans paid back within the projected timeframe. To help manage risk and make the required sales projections, Liberis uses various data points, including transactions pulled in from a number payment platform partners such as Worldpay, and Sagepay. Similarly, it also integrates with take-out marketplace Just Eat, which gives the startup the ability to offer financing to small restaurants. The advent of Open Banking, which lets bank account holders share their transaction data via an API, will also enable Liberis to extend its reach.

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Pinterest aims for products from the store down your street as its next big ad business

Pinterest is known for having, and promoting, a lot of business content. It’s actually a majority of the content, and it’s usually from some of the most well-known brands that feed into the kinds of sometimes dream-level wants and needs of its users. And while Pinterest a majority of Pinterest’s potential is locked up there, the company has increasingly turned its gaze toward smaller and smaller businesses to try to entice users with local content — including that clothing store right down your street. That’s part of the reasoning behind Pinterest’s Propel program, which it started a year ago to work with small businesses that really either didn’t know what they were doing, or had just never done it before. In another step toward that goal, Pinterest has hired Matt Hogle to be the global head of small business. Hogle spent 9 years at Facebook, working with small businesses and will be part of the effort for the company to try to find the right set of tools and strategies in place to appeal to small businesses as it starts to ramp it into a significant portion of its revenue. The number of small businesses on Pinterest has increased by around 50% year-over-year, the company said, and it looks to continue to refine a kind of hybrid strategy that mixes platforms and interactions with real people in order to entice those businesses. That’s important for, say, a local clothing store that only has one store and a limited online shop, but has products that would perform well on their own as content on Pinterest — and could quickly add revenue if they started advertising on it. “We, as an ads business, know what customers’ business objectives are, and we capture that at the early stages,” Pinterest head of global sales Jon Kaplan said. “We know what they’re targeting, how they’re targeting, who, and we know the creative best practices. We should be able in the very near future to take all these elements and say, oh this is your objective, we’ll obfuscate all this complexity and hit a target return on ad spend you have. We’re not far. We’ve obfuscated a lot of the levers one can pull in Propel.” Propel, for now, is adopting an increasingly popular human/digital approach for smaller businesses that are looking to advertise for the first time on Pinterest. If they have no experience whatsoever, or don’t even know what to do, Pinterest’s goal is to serve as a resource for best practices when it comes to creative content down to where to target it.

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Neighbor, a p2p self-storage marketplace, bags $2.5M seed

Neighbor is another startup with designs on your spare space. Not for letting to guests to bed down in, like Airbnb, but for self-storage. The 2017 founded, Salt Lake City based startup is announcing $2.5 million in seed funding today, raised from Peak Ventures and Pelion Ventures. The core business idea is to build a trusted marketplace for storage needs by offering people with items on their hands what it bills as a cheaper (and potentially easier) alternative to traditional self-storage solutions — and, on the host side, a platform to earn a little money for not having to do too much (just having space where you can let stuff safely sit). There’s a social element in that Neighbor is plugging into Facebook’s Graph API and another of its APIs (called All Mutual Friends) so that users who sign in with Facebook can make use of a “store with a friend” feature — which shows which (if any) of their Facebook friends or mutual friends are also hosts or renters on the platform. The idea being that a degree of linked acquaintance will help Neighbor offer users “more personalized, localized and trustworthy storage options while helping hosts advertise their storage spaces to friends and family on social media”, as it puts it. The startup claims this feature is “completely unique to the sharing economy space”, though it has been used by other apps — such as dating app, Tinder, to (in that case) enable people to hook up with friends of friends. Neighbor says it’s banking on the Facebook connection to help it build trust between users and grease activity for a marketplace that’s otherwise essentially asking a pair of strangers to agree to store/host others’ items in their home. Co-founder Preston Alder says he came up with the idea for the business when he was a student about to move to Peru for a summer internship and needed to find a nearby place to store his stuff — but didn’t want to fork out on traditional storage costs. “On the two hour drive to a friend’s house who had agreed to store his stuff, he realized there were probably a lot of people with extra storage space who lived closer that would agree to store his stuff for the summer —  he just didn’t know how to find them,” say other co-founders  Joseph Woodbury (also CEO)  and Colton Gardner.

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This young lending startup just secured $70 million to lend $2 at a time

You don’t hear of many $2 loans in the United States, where $2 won’t buy you more than a chocolate bar. But in cities like Lagos, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya, $2 has the buying power of roughly $40, making such “micro” loans useful when you’re running a small business. And borrowing $2 from a startup called Branch is a way onto a platform that promises much bigger loans, based on your credit worthiness. What is Branch and why is it bothering with such small amounts of money? For answers to those questions, we talked this week with its founder and CEO Matt Flannery, who previously cofounded and co-led Kiva , a now 14-year-old micro-lending platform that enables families to make small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Flannery realized while running Kiva that a nonprofit — which Kiva is — can only get so far when it comes to fundraising. Meanwhile, fascinated by the spread of smart phones and digital payment systems in Africa, Flannery knew that if he could raise serious capital, he could make even more loans to small business owners without needing to meet and interview them first. In service to that idea, what Branch built is an app that analyzes all kinds of information on a user’s phone that determines how to score their credit. For example, in Nigeria, every time you use an ATM, the bank sends you an SMS message with your bank balance. That’s useful information to Branch. In Kenya, every time you pay your energy bill, the receipt comes via SMS.

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Get ready to start seeing more local ads on YouTube

YouTube’s video ad creation service aimed at helping small business reach YouTube viewers is now available more broadly across the U.S. The company announced this morning that YouTube Director onsite , as the service is called, is now live in over 170 U.S. cities, up from only 9 previously – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York, Tampa and Seattle. This is significant expansion, in terms of reaching potential YouTube advertisers who would have otherwise not had the resources to write, film and edit a professional ad for YouTube. The service is kind of a bargain for the small businesses, too. Hiring a pro to create a professionally produced video could cost $1,000 or more. But YouTube is basically doing it for free – well, free with a catch . It’s available at no charge for any business that commits to spending at least $350 to advertise the video on YouTube. However, that’s in line with the low-end of buying airtime for a 30-second local TV ad , which ranges from $200 to $1,500+, depending on time slot. YouTube Director onsite works by connecting area businesses with YouTube-approved filmmakers, who will schedule call with the advertiser to learn about the business and help them to write a script. The filmmaker then comes to the business to film the video, and returns an edited version the next week. YouTube’s ad experts help get the video upload to the site, and aid the business in crafting their YouTube ad campaign. The company hasn’t shared any comprehensive metrics on how well these ads perform, but did note in a blog post a single case study where a custom guitar shop saw a 13x return on ad spend, and a 130 percent increase in revenue from the ad.

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GrokStyle’s visual search tech makes it into IKEA’s Place AR app

GrokStyle’s simple concept of “point your camera at a chair (or lamp, or table…) and find others like it for sale” attracted $2 million in funding last year , and the company has been putting that cash to work. And remarkably for a company trying to break into the home furnishing market, it landed furniture goliath IKEA as its first real customer; GrokStyle’s point-and-search functionality is being added to the IKEA Place AR app. What GrokStyle does, in case you don’t remember, is identify any piece of furniture your camera can see — in your house, at a store, in a catalog — and immediately return similar pieces or even the exact one, with links to buy them. I remember being skeptical last year that the product could possibly work as well as they said it did. But a demo shut my mouth real quick. The growing team is led by Sean Bell and Kavita Bala, who spun GrokStyle out of their work on computer vision at Cornell University — and it’s clear they know what they’re doing. GrokStyle’s tech in action grabbing an image from a catalog. IKEA thought so as well. In December, Bell and Bala got a chance to present it to Michael Valdsgaard, IKEA’s “Leader of Digital Transformation.” He loved it. “He just said, ‘OK, this needs to be in the next release,'” recalled Bell, “and in 3 months we were able to turn it around for them.” It seemed as clear to Valdsgaard as it is to GrokStyle that the advent of mixed reality in all its forms necessitates a fundamentally different kind of search. If information is to be presented and mixed visually, why shouldn’t you be able to find and browse things the same way?

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Airtable raises $52M to give non-coders tools to build complex software

A massive company probably has plenty of engineers on staff and the resources to build a complex backbone of interconnected information that can contain tons of data and make acting on it easy — but for smaller companies, and for those that aren’t technical, those tools aren’t very accessible. That’s what convinced Howie Liu to create Airtable, a startup that looks to turn what seems like just a normal spreadsheet into a robust database tool, hiding the complexity of what’s happening in the background while those without any programming experience create intricate systems to get their work done. Today, they’re trying to take that one step further with a new tool called Blocks, a set of mix-and-match operations like SMS and integrating maps that users can just drop into their systems. Think of it as a way to give a small business owner with a non-technical background to meticulously track all the performance activity across, say, a network of food trucks by just entering a bunch of dollar values and dropping in one of these tools. “We really want to take this power you have in software creation and ‘consumerize’ that into a form anyone can use,” Liu said. “At the same time, from a business standpoint, we saw this bigger opportunity underneath the low-code app platforms in general. Those platforms solve the needs of heavyweight expensive use cases where you have a budget and have a lot of time. I would position Airtable making a leap toward a graphical user interface, versus a lot of products that are admin driven.” Liu said the company has raised an additional $52 million in financing in a round led by CRV and Caffeinated Capital, with participation from Freestyle Ventures and Slow Ventures. All this is going toward a way to build a system that is trying to abstract out even the process of programming itself, though there’s always going to be some limited scope as to how custom of a system you can  actually make with what amounts to a set of logic operation legos. That being said, the goal here is to boil down all of the most common sets of operations with the long tail left to the average programmers (and larger enterprises often have these kinds of highly-customized needs). All this is coming at a time when businesses are increasingly chasing the long tail of small- to medium-sized businesses, the ones that aren’t really on the grid but represent a massive market opportunity. Those businesses also probably don’t have the kinds of resources to hire engineers while companies like Google or Facebook are camping out on college campuses looking to snap up students graduating with technical majors. That’s part of the reason why Excel had become so popular trying to abstract out a lot of complex operations necessary to run a business, but at the same time, Liu said that kind of philosophy should be able to be taken a step further.

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MIT aims to spark innovation in Southeast Asia with its Global Startup Workshop

 MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world’s most hallowed educational institutions is turning its attention to Southeast Asia where it hopes to plant the seed of innovation among a new generation of potential entrepreneurs. That’s through MIT’s Global Startup Workshop (GSW), a 20-year-old conference on innovation and technology, which is headed back to… Read More

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UK’s Atom Bank raises another $206M led by BBVA for millennial and SMB financial services

 Atom Bank, the startup based out of Durham, England that operates a mobile-only bank targeting consumers between the ages of 18 and 34, has raised another big round of funding. The company today announced another £149 million ($206 million) in funding to double down on its existing business — focused currently on savings accounts, mortgages and small business loans — as well as… Read More

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Apple confirms it will stop taking submissions for iTunes LPs, with bundled items like videos or bonus tracks, as of this month; existing LPs will be…

Dani Deahl / The Verge : Apple confirms it will stop taking submissions for iTunes LPs, with bundled items like videos or bonus tracks, as of this month; existing LPs will be available   —  Existing iTunes LPs will still be available going forward  —  Apple has confirmed to The Verge that it will stop taking new iTunes LP submissions as of this month.

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Google says it’s bringing Lens, its Assistant-powered image recognition tool, to all Android phones with Google Photos installed; timeline for iOS…

Ashley Carman / The Verge : Google says it's bringing Lens, its Assistant-powered image recognition tool, to all Android phones with Google Photos installed; timeline for iOS debut unknown   —  It's coming to iOS soon  —  Google is officially rolling its Lens out to Android phones that have Google Photos installed.

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FCC proposes directing $954M toward restoring and expanding communications networks in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands over the coming years…

Harper Neidig / The Hill : FCC proposes directing $954M toward restoring and expanding communications networks in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands over the coming years   —  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing a nearly $1 billion package to rebuild and expand broadband networks …

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