Online Fashion Marketplace JOOR Raises $15M In Series B Funding

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JOOR, an online wholesale fashion marketplace, has raised $15 million in Series B funding, according to an SEC filing from today. The round was led by Canaan Partners and joined by Advance Publications and previous investors, including Battery Ventures, Lerer Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Landis Capital and Forerunner Ventures. This brings JOOR’s total funding to $20.5 million.

Launched in 2010, JOOR provides a digital platform for B2B transactions between retailers and designers. CEO Mona Bijoor tells me the funding will be used to scale the company’s tech and sales teams. With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Milan, Bijoor says the funding will also go to opening new offices across Europe and Asia.

“We’re rapidly expanding our global footprint, and we want to keep up our pace,” Bijoor tells me. “It’s not just about the number of brands you have, but the number of retailers, because they are using it. We’re a B2B platform, it’s all about adoption.”

The company has more than 40,000 retailers and 600 brands using the site, including Diane von Furstenberg, Rag & Bone and Zappos. Bijoor tells me JOOR added 10,000 retailers in the last three months alone. That’s a big jump from when we last reported on the company in 2011. Back then, JOOR was working with 250 brands and about 7,500 boutiques.

Note: A previous version of this post said the company has over 30,000 retailers and 500 brands. That has been changed after clarifying user numbers with Bijoor.

Personalized Financial Planning Service LearnVest Raises $16.5M From Accel, American Express And Others

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LearnVest, a personalized financial planning program, has raised $16.5 million in strategic funding from existing investor Accel Partners, and new investors: American Express Ventures; Claritas Capital; Ed Mathias, founding member of The Carlyle Group; and Todd Ruppert, Former CEO & President of T. Rowe Price Global Investment Services. This brings the startup’s total funding to $41 million.

Founded by Alexa von Tobel, LearnVest originally debuted back in 2009 at TechCrunch50 as an online guide aimed at teaching women to become more financially savvy. As we wrote a few years back, the startup was Suze Orman blended with personal finance site Mint.com. Last year, LearnVest pivoted slightly to aim for both men and women, and became a full-fledged investment advisor.

As von Tobel explains, LearnVest is now more like Weight Watchers for your finances. The company offers the LearnVest Action Program, which is a seven, step by step program that takes you from cutting expenses to budgeting for goals to investing your money. All users get a certified financial planner who gives them specialized attention based on their financial needs and goals. Von Tobel adds that each of these advisors has gone through training and is empathetic to all financial situations. Financial plans starting at $89 for the budget version. The five-year plan is $299 and the portfolio builder is $399.

From the sounds of it, it looks like LearnVest may get a huge marketing boost from AmEx to push its financial planning product. “We believe strongly in the mission of LearnVest Planning to provide accessible financial advice,” said Harshul Sanghi, Managing Partner, American Express Ventures, in a release. “As we seek to expand our portfolio of products across American Express, we believe LearnVest Planning can be an important partner in helping us to bring customers more convenient, affordable and transparent ways to manage their money.”

With headquarters in New York City, the company has now opened a west coast office in Phoenix, Ariz., to serve as a hiring and training hub for the company’s team of financial planners. In addition to the investment, LearnVest Planning is debuting Workplace Solutions, a financial wellness platform that companies can offer as an employee benefit.

Mathias and Ruppert are advisors, as is Susan Lyne, AOL’s Brand Group CEO and Vice Chairman of Gilt Groupe (and our boss’s boss’s boss); and Ann Sardini, former CFO of Weight Watchers.

There are plenty of startups that want to disrupt wealth management, including Wealthfront, Betterment and of course, Mint. But von Tobel says that LearnVest Planning is really focused on a broader demographic because the program triages individuals for financial health and then gives them an action plan. She believes that LearnVest is the most hands-on financial planning program you’ll find.

FullContact Acquires Cobook To Build A Better Universal Address Book

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Cobook, the scrappy startup out of Latvia which grew its universal address book application to over a million users, is being acquired by FullContact, a larger Denver-based operation also working on contact management solutions for businesses and individuals. Going forward, the entire six-person Cobook team will relocate to Denver, where Cobook CEO Kaspars Dancis will assume the role of Product Manager for the FullContact Address Book.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Dancis says it’s a mixture of cash and stock. His company had previously raised $500,000 in seed funding from the European-based pre-seed fund HackFwd, which stopped accepting new startups in fall 2013, admitting that it had gotten some things wrong along the way. The organization had invested around $8 million into HackFwd and its portfolio companies it said this past September, and Cobook’s exit, it seems, will now become one of the highlights.

Though the two companies wouldn’t talk acquisition price, Dancis says it was “a positive outcome” for investors. “Let’s put it this way, I think [HackFwd] are probably happy with the outcome, especially since we are the first company from their portfolio with an exit,” he says.

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Cobook, for those unfamiliar, is a cross-platform (iOS, Mac) address book application that allows users to sync their default OS X/iCloud address book with Google contacts, and those from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, AngelList, LinkedIn, and XING. The company monetizes through in-app purchases for the additional networks a user wants to add.

Dancis wouldn’t confirm how many of Cobook’s users were converting from free to paid, only saying that the rate was “okay.” But he told us that the team realized that they would soon have to switch to a subscription-based business model in order to continue work on the other features they wanted to add, including improvements to the address book’s auto-updating functionality.

“We would need to build our own cloud-based service from scratch. We already started doing that, to some extent, but it wasn’t our core expertise,” Dancis admits. Though he was confident they could learn the ropes, it was also a risk to move into this area. “Eventually we would just compete directly [with FullContact],” he adds. “It might have worked out well, it might have not.”

The two companies had been in touch since 2012, and finally met in person last year. The more they talked, the more they realized they shared the same values, says Dancis. And FullContact agrees, noting Cobook’s goals and ideas “meshed perfectly” with its own.

“We’ve admired Cobook’s work and team from afar (literally across the Atlantic ocean),” says FullContact CEO Bart Lorang, announcing the news, “and I’m super excited to build some insanely great products with Kaspars and the entire Cobook team.”

What’s Next

TechStars Boulder grad FullContact has been working on an address book application of its own, as well as other products aimed more at professional users. It’s also well-known for its suite of APIs for developers who want to provide address book functionality in their own applications.

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For now, Cobook’s apps will remain as is, but the two teams will begin to integrate their respective technologies in the months ahead. The idea is that the FullContact address book will eventually become a master address book that aims to solve all your contact management problems, taking advantage of Cobook technology. Specifically, Cobook had developed some interesting functionality around de-duplicating address book entries, which is a common problem today as users tend to have the same contacts across a host of disparate services.

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Other universal address books, like Brewster for example, have also focused on this problem. But in my personal experience (with a seriously chaotic address book with over 10,000 entries, nearly all dupes or even triplicates somehow) Brewster’s merging technologies have left a lot to be desired. Cobook, meanwhile, may not have the clever interface that Brewster does, but seems to better manage duped contacts on the backend.

Like Cobook, there will always be a free version of the FullContact address book available, the companies tell us, though they don’t know how long before the two services become one. They will also work to bring the product to additional platforms, starting with Android.

Pingboard Secures $1.25M In Seed Funding To Modernize Office Management

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Office management isn’t exactly an area most startups tackle, but Pingboard, which is launching in beta today, aims to become “an office manager’s best friend.” The company argues that it’s the first really modern service that was built for office managers. Pingboard also announced today that it has raised a $1.25 million funding round.

While enterprises have often developed their own solutions, Pingboard says, it wants to become the go-to office management solution for small and medium businesses and startups. The company says these still tend to rely on seldom-updated spreadsheets (we’ve got a few of those at TechCrunch as well) and manual processes. Pingboard, on the other hand, stores all employee information in a single place.

The service also offers an API, so companies that need to connect their directory to more complex applications and have the resources to do so can expand the service to meet their own needs.

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Indeed, while the company is starting out with this directory service, it does see itself as a platform. It’s starting out small because it believes that having the core directory data allows it to then power more interesting use cases. The team says this could be anything from powering company lunch orders to getting into human capital management. Over the long run, that’s where the Pingboard team believes the real value of its service will be.

“We are launching focused on the employee directory first because virtually everything that needs to be automated in an office centers around employee information,” the company told me.

As part of the core service, Pingboard includes some basic messaging functionality (using email or text messages) so employees can easily notify each other or receive notifications from their office manager when they have a visitor or a package has arrived for them, for example. All of the data in the system can be imported from spreadsheets and auto-synced with Google Apps, social profiles and HR systems. The service also allows users to sign in with the Google Apps accounts.

The service was founded by Bill Boebel (CEO) and Rob Eanes (CTO). Boebel is an Austin-based angel investor and part of Capital Factory, together with OtherInbox founder Joshua Baer and WP Engine founder Jason Cohen. He previously built Webmail.us, which was acquired by Rackspace in 2007. He stayed with Rackspace until 2011. The project was incubated at Capital Thought, an incubator founded by Boebel, Baer and Cohen.

The lead investor in Pingboard’s funding round is Silverton Partners. Baer and Cohen also invested in this round, as did Webmail.us founder Pat Matthews, Rackspace funder Pat Condon, Indeed.com founder Rony Kahan and RightScale founder Jonathan Siegel.

Stick It To The Military-Industrial Ink Complex By 3D Printing Your Own Printer Cartridges

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This has to be one of the most uniquely disruptive uses of 3D printing I’ve seen: an ink refill company has successfully 3D-printed a Kodak ink cartridge, refilled it, and printed with it. Using a Makerbot Replicator 2 and some PLA, the company created an exact replica of the Kodak cartridge casing and stuck in an ink bladder of their own devising, thereby creating a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of ink delivery.

To be clear the company, InkFactory, is fooling no one here. The ability to print an outer casing for an inkjet printer cartridge is fairly limited and is useful only if you have a nice supply of bladders or you break your cartridge. This holds doubly true for cartridges with chips and delivery systems built-in. Until we can make high-resolution, soft prints using a 3D printer, there is no real way to make an entire cartridge on a home printer and there is almost no way to replace the cartridges that have proprietary circuitry built in.

That said, the ease with which they replicated the casing and placed their own ink in is heartening. The fact that you can now measure, design, and build a proprietary object should strike fear in the hearts of ink merchants everywhere and there are plenty of people out there who would, in a fairly unscrupulous manner, supply the proper ink bladders to home makers who simply want the nozzle and ink container and will make their own PLA or ABS cartridges.

As a proof of concept it’s great. It’s a perfect storm of righteous indignation – ink refillers stick it to public enemy #1, ink salesmen, by using the tools of mass production. If Marx had a tech blog, he’d be all over this. It’s a cute, if sensational, way to get the word out about ink replacement and I’m sure it will send someone at what’s left of Kodak scrambling to type up a cease and desist letter.


via 3DPrintingIndustry

Zenefits Lands $2.1M From Venrock, Maverick, Aaron Levie, Charlie Cheever And More To Automate Startup HR

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For small businesses, managing health insurance and payroll services can be a huge pain and time-sink. They probably don’t have someone on staff dedicated to these issues, and they themselves would rather be dedicating that energy to building a company. Zenefits launched out of Y Combinator this winter to remove the friction of setting up and managing group health coverage and payroll by automating the process and bringing it online – for free.

As a testament to how much demand there is among startups and small businesses, since expanding its service at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC in April, Zenefits co-founder Parker Conrad tells us that the company has signed on over 110 clients (ranging from 2 employees to over 100) and is now bringing on an average of 10 customers each week. Today, as it looks to continue expanding operations beyond California, Zenefits is announcing that it has raised $2.1 million in seed capital from an impressive roster of venture firms and angel investors.

The new round, which includes the initial $372K chunk of capital the startup raised out of Y Combinator from Andreessen Horowitz, Yuri Milner, General Catalyst, Garry Tan, Justin Kan and Alexis Ohanian, was led by Venrock and Maverick Capital. A big reason why Zenefits was keen to bring these two investors on board in particular, Conrad tells us, was that Bob Kocher, who led Venrock’s investment, was a key player in helping to write the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) when he worked at the White House.

As Greg explained in April, at its core, Zenefits is essentially a digital insurance broker, meaning that they help startups automate insurance, benefits and payroll but they also get paid a commission by insurance companies each time a company opens a new plan through its system. Over the next two years, as Obamacare goes into effect, the new regulations and provisions mean big changes for health insurance companies and brokers.

These health players are not only being forced to move operations online but will also see the amount of commissions they can take drop – among other things. Many health insurance brokers are going to drop their small-group clients to focus on bigger-ticket customers as a result – and, as premiums could go up for businesses – Zenefits could stand to benefit big-time by offering their services for free. Plus, having someone who’s intimately familiar with the complex and nuanced provisions and regulations in Obamacare (because he helped write them) is huge.

Maverick Capital is also familiar with the healthcare and health insurance industries itself, having backed some of the bigger startups and players in the market, like OneMedical, Castlight Health and SeaChange Health, for example.

On top of its lead investors and the Y Combinator partners (like Sam Altman, Garry Tan, Harj Taggar, Alexis Ohanian, Paul Bucheit and Justin Tan – who all invested personally), Zenefits also saw a number of recognizable names contribute as angels, including Box co-founder and CEO, Aaron Levie, Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever, former Googler and Twitter VP of Corporate Strategy Elad Gil, Weebly co-founder David Rusenko, former Googler and Badoo COO Ben Ling, Google’s Head of Spam Slamming Matt Cutts and Inkling co-founder and CEO, Matt MacInnis.

With the new capital under its belt, Zenefits has expanded its team to 12 and will look to add more in the coming year. Because the company is considered a broker, it is paid a commission from insurance companies for each new employee and employee added (every month), which is great for its bottom line. But this also requires that it be approved by the government on a state-to-state basis. Currently, regulations limit it (and others like it) to a few states.

But with the changes Obamacare will bring, Conrad expects that digital insurance brokers of its ilk will be allowed to expand to more states beginning in January, at which point, Zenefits will look to move quickly beyond California and New York.

In the meantime, Conrad tells us that, according to BenefitMail, the company has already vaulted into the top 5 percent of insurance brokers (in terms of number of clients) in California, primarily as a result of new company submissions to Blue Cross – not bad for a startup five months from launch.

For those unfamiliar, Zenefits has been growing fast in California by turning a paper-heavy process into a digital one, allowing users to create new plans, while serving up quotes for group coverage across health, dental and vision insurance. The company’s system makes it easier for companies hiring new employees to add coverage for each employee, or, if a company fires someone (or they leave), they can click a button to remove their coverage and take them off the payroll, while starting them on COBRA coverage.

It works for companies regardless of whether they don’t have existing coverage or already are set up, syncing employee coverage data and taking over as your insurance broker for those in the latter camp. The company also recently added payroll services, so that startups and small businesses can just tell Zenefits about a new hire and give them the employee’s information, at which point Zenefits will take care of generating offer letters, IP agreements, onboarding details and then add them to its payroll system. They can also do the same for that employee’s benefits.

As part of its payroll services, Zenefits also sets up deductions employees pay for health insurance and other benefits, which employers would usually have to set up themselves. This is a pain, because salary and pricing can be different for each employee and whenever deductions change (which happens a lot when employees move, get married and so on), the price changes. Traditionally, the price of deductions change every 10 years, but with Obamacare, this will happen every year. This could be a huge boon for Zenefits, as it takes care of this stuff for startups and small businesses, who would be seeing a lot more paperwork as a result.

Furthermore, while services like Zenefits may seem familiar or not particularly disruptive to some, it’s hard to over-state just how old-school (and offline) most of the big, old school health insurance brokers are in the U.S. Some of them are multi-billion-dollar market cap companies, but may have little or no software or online-based solutions for their customers. So many startups and founder say “we’re disrupting and old offline industry” to get you excited about your company, and in a lot of cases that’s only half-true.

Health insurance brokerage is definitely one of those industries that qualifies as ripe for disruption thanks to its archaic procedures, practices and infrastructure. Many are aware of the changes that are coming, but they’re limited in how quickly they can react by responsibilities to shareholders, quarterly earnings and so on. Easier to preserve and protect the current state of things than re-build from the ground up. Zenefits won’t be the only one to benefit – many new companies are going to spring up in this space – but it’s definitely off to a good start.

As Inkling CEO Matt MacInniss (who personally invested in this round) told us:

Zenefits has identified a huge opportunity in the shifting landscape of benefits and healthcare among growing companies. Incumbents aren’t going to move as quickly as smaller, nimble companies – and they’re not technologists – so I think there’s a huge opportunity for new digital health insurance brokers to quickly move out front to take the pole position in what’s essentially a new category