Email creation startup Stensul raises $16M

Stensul, a startup aiming to streamline the process of building marketing emails, has raised $16 million in Series B funding.

When the company raised its $7 million Series A two years ago, founder and CEO Noah Dinkin told me about how it spun out of his previous startup, FanBridge. And while there are many products focused on email delivery, he said Stensul is focused on the email creation process.

Dinkin made many similar points when we discussed the Series B last week. He said that for many teams, creating a marketing email can take weeks. With Stensul, that process can be reduced to just two hours, with marketers able to create the email on their own, without asking developers for help. Things like brand guidelines are already built in, and it’s easy to get feedback and approval from executives and other teams.

Dinkin also noted that while the big marketing clouds all include “some kind of email builder, it’s not their center of gravity.”

He added, “What we tell folks [is that] literally over half the company is engineers, and they are only working on email creation.”

Stensul

Image Credits: Stensul

The team has recently grown to more than 100 employees, with new customers like Capital One, ASICS Digital, Greenhouse, Samsung, AppDynamics, Kroger and Clover Health. New features include an integration with work management platform Workfront.

Plus, with other marketing channels paused or diminished during the pandemic, Dinkin said that email has only become more important, with the old, time-intensive process becoming more and more of a burden.

“We need more emails — whether that’s more versions or more segments or more languages, the requests are through the roof,” he said. “The teams are the same size … and so that’s where especially the leaders of these organizations have looked inward a lot more. The ways that they have been doing it for years or decades just doesn’t work anymore and prevents them from being competitive in the marketplace.”

The new round was led by USVP, with participation from Capital One Ventures, Peak State Ventures, plus existing investors Javelin Venture Partners, Uncork Capital, First Round Capital and Lowercase Capital. Individual investors include Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Okta CMO Ryan Carlson, former Marketo/Adobe executive Aaron Bird, Avid Larizadeh Duggan, Gary Swart and Talend CMO Lauren Vaccarello.

Dinkin said the money will allow Stensul to expand its marketing, product, engineering and sales teams.

“We originally thought: Everybody who sends email should have an email creation platform,” he said. “And ‘everyone who sends email’ is synonymous ‘every company in the world.’ We’ve just seen that accelerate in that last few years.”

iPhone 12 Pro demand outpacing iPhone 12, analyst says

Investment bank JP Morgan is tracking what appears to be higher demand for the iPhone 12 Pro than its cheaper iPhone 12 counterpart.

In an iPhone Availability Tracker note seen by AppleInsider, JP Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee writes that aggregate lead times are currently moderating — or normalizing — for the iPhone 12. Those lead times are based on delivery-at-home dates, which could indicate smartphone supply and demand.

Lead times are remaining stable for the iPhone 12 Pro, however. In the third week of availability, the time to receive an iPhone 12 from its delivery date remains at about 10 days worldwide, while delivery of the iPhone 12 Pro maintained an average of 23 days.

In the U.S., delivery times have moderated to about eight days in week three, reduced from 11 days in the second week of availability. Lead times actually rose for the iPhone 12 Pro, from 24 days in week two to 26 days in week three.

For Chinese consumers, delivery times for the higher-tier iPhone 12 Pro model remained stable, while they moderated for the iPhone 12 in the same time period. In both Germany and the U.K., lead times for both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro normalized.

Although the iPhone 12 is available for in-store pickup in the U.S., U.K., and Germany, the iPhone 12 Pro remains unavailable for pickup in all the regions that JP Morgan tracks.

Year-over-year, there does appear to be higher demand for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models than the 2019 iPhone 11 lineup.

In the first week of availability for the iPhone 11, lead times hovered at six days before rising to 12 days in week two. For the iPhone 12, lead times clocked in at 13 days in both week one and week two. Availability for the iPhone 11 Pro remained at around 24 days in both its first and second week of availability. In 2020, the iPhone 12 Pro is seeing lead times of eight to 24 days in that same time period.

As Chatterjee points out in his research note, the success of the iPhone 12 Pro is leading investors to “keenly and optimistically” watch for the start of iPhone 12 Pro Max preorders on Nov. 6.

Leena AI nabs $8M Series as it expands from chatbots to HR service platform

When we covered Leena AI as a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 cohort, the young startup was firmly focused on building HR chatbots, but in the intervening years it has expanded the vision to a broader HR policy platform. Today, the company announced an $8 million Series A led by Greycroft with help from several individual industry investors.

Company CEO and co-founder Adit Jain says that in 2018 the company was concentrating on building an intelligent virtual assistant for HR-related questions. It allowed employees to ask the bot questions like how many vacation days they have left or what holidays they have off this year.

Over the last couple of years since leaving Y Combinator, the company has moved into broader HR service delivery. “So I’m talking about having an intelligent case management, knowledge management and document management system, which is backing the virtual assistant as well,” Jain explained.

He says that users should think of it as an entire system where the chatbot is the user interface for employees to interact with the HR information on the back end. For example, he says that the knowledge management component is where the chatbots find the answers to questions, and as employees interact with the chatbot, it grows more intelligent based on the feedback from them.

The document management piece enables HR to write or import HR policies and the case management system comes into play when the situation is too complex for the chatbot to handle and it has to be escalated to a human HR representative.

When we spoke to Jain in September 2018 at the time of his startup’s $2 million seed round, he had 16 customers and hoped to have 50 in the next 12-18 months. Today the company actually has 100 enterprise customers with 300,000 employees using the platform worldwide.

In fact, the pandemic has fueled business with more than half of those customers coming on board this year. He says this is because companies are looking for ways to digitize processes like HR as employees are working from home more.

“This is a trend that’s going to continue as organizations have realized the value of doing things with more and more digital applications taking care of your processes […] especially mundane, repeatable tasks being handed over to technology more and more,” Jain said.

As the business has grown this year, the company has expanded from 30 to 75 employees and he hopes to double that number in the next year. As he does, he has discussed with his lead investor how to build a diverse and inclusive culture at Leena AI.

One thing he is trying to do is raise some money from a diverse group of investors, approximately $400,000, and his hope is that these diverse investors can help him build solid diversity programs as he adds employees to his growing company.

That the startup hasn’t only grown during these turbulent times, but thrived shows that companies are looking to modernize every part of the enterprise technology stack, and that includes HR.

Apple designers focused on gemstones & MagSafe requirements for iPhone 12 accessory design

Apple designers have spoken up about the design process for iPhone 12 accessories, with gem colors and MagSafe said to be the main driving forces behind how some of the new items turned out.

Alongside the iPhone 12 range of smartphones, Apple launched a multitude of accessories that take advantage of the company’s new MagSafe wireless charging system. These accessories ranged from cases to card wallets, with many attaching directly onto the back of the iPhone using magnets.

In an exploration of the designs of the accessory range, designers working for Apple spoke to Wallpaper about the new products, including the bright array of color options available to consumers. Along with the five main colors for the iPhone 12 itself, and four for the iPhone 12 Pro line, consumers now have more color combinations to choose from with their official Apple accessories.

“We’ve always gone extremely wide in our color choices,” said Apple VP of Industrial Design Evans Hankey about the wallet and case variety on offer. “This palette was an exploration that started around gemstones – we loved the depth of color and the way the colors appeared through the cases.”

Despite being a wide color range, the accessories seemingly all match in tone with each other, with the company having a considerably long time to get things right. The Industrial Design Group within Apple works at least two years out from the release of products, with the versions released in late 2020 still at the prototyping stage in 2018.

To get the new MagSafe charging working, Apple had to update the internals to add the magnetic coil. The fine details extend to the accessories, including how the cardholder wallet is sprung to hold one card with as much tension as a stack of three, or the use of passive NFC to inform the iPhone an accessory is docked.

“This connectivity to the MagSafe eco system is what drove the final form,” according to designer Eugene Whang. Designer Jeremy Bataillou also added “We designed the phone and the accessories as a single cohesive family.”

On the ethos behind Apple’s designs, as well as the interconnectedness between devices like iPhones and the new HomePod mini, Hankey claims the team is “happy there’s an ecosystem around our products. As a design team, we are always exploring how we can add specific new values and make them more personal.”

Twitter explains how it will handle misleading tweets about the US election results

Twitter recently updated its policies in advance of the U.S. elections to include specific rules that detailed how it would handle tweets making claims about election results before they were official. Today, the company offered more information about how it plans to prioritize the enforcement of its rules and how it will label any tweets that fall under the new guidelines.

In September, Twitter said it would either remove or attach a warning label to any premature claims of victory, with a focus on tweets that incite “unlawful conduct to prevent a peaceful transfer of power or orderly succession,” the company had explained.

This morning, Twitter added that it will prioritize labeling tweets about the presidential election and any other “highly contested races” where there may be significant issues with misleading information.

The company says tweets are eligible to be labeled if the account has a U.S. 2020 candidate label, including presidential candidates and campaigns — meaning the Trump and Biden campaigns will not be immune to the new policies.

Tweets can also be labeled if the account is U.S.-based with more than 100,000 followers or if they have significant engagement with the tweet — the threshold is either 25,000 Likes or 25,000 Quote Tweets plus Retweets, the company says. This latter guideline aims to clamp down on allowing misinformation to go viral, even if the tweet in question was initiated by a smaller account.

Twitter also explained how it will determine if an election result is considered “official,” saying that the result will need to be announced by a state election official. Alternately, Twitter may consider an election result official if at least two of a select list of national news outlets make the call. These outlets include ABC News, The Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Decision Desk HQ, Fox News, and NBC News.

If a tweet is labeled as being “misleading information” under this new policy, users will be shown a prompt pointing them to credible information before they’re able to retweet or further amplify the post on Twitter. However, Twitter won’t stop retweets from being posted.

Twitter, however, recently made it more difficult to blindly retweet, by forcing retweets to go through “Quote Tweet” user interface instead. This change aims to slow people down from quickly retweeting posts without adding their own commentary.

In addition to labeling tweets with misleading information, Twitter says if it sees content “inciting interference with the election, encouraging violent action or other physical harms,” it may take additional measures, including adding a warning or even removing the tweet.

Issues around a contested election have been of increased concern, following reports that said President Trump has a plan to declare victory on Tuesday night if it looks like he’s ahead. Trump denied these claims on Sunday, but added he thinks it’s a “terrible thing when states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over,” Axios reported.

Equity Monday: Edtech and insurtech stay red-hot

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode that was honestly very good fun.

This morning was a somewhat odd episode of our Monday show, in that the American election is tomorrow. Still, some things happened. So, here they are:

The American election reaches its zenith tomorrow, before a period of vote counting begins. It’s going to blot out the sun this week, news-wise. But then it will be over.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Hue Iris and Molekule, plus Adaptive Lighting for Eve on the HomeKit Insider Podcast

Linksys promises a more affordable Wi-Fi 6 router with HomeKit, Eve brings adaptive lighting to its light strip, a Homebridge update includes more Vivint security devices, and we answer listener questions on the Homekit Insider Podcast.

Linksys is tantalizing us by releasing a new, more affordable version of its Wi-Fi6 Velop routers — but which doesn’t yet support HomeKit. However, Linksys does say that will be coming in a future update. Eve has already rolled out an update of its own, though, bringing Adaptive Lighting to the Eve Light Strip.

Next, HomeKit support has just come to the Molekule Air Mini+ and Andrew has been diving into what it offers. So far, he’s found that it is notably easy to setup and instantly adds to HomeKit where you can toggle it on and off, adjust the speed, view the air quality, and create automation rules. We will be going into much more detail in our full review in the future.

Then Andrew has also been investigating the Hue Iris. This is a newly updated light that has much-improved light saturation for certain colors and a refreshed design. Hue lights might just be the most common HomeKit systems anyone has, but they’ve always been just a little too dim. Now Hue Iris has hopefully fixed that.

There’s also much to cover as we answer detailed user questions this week, including ones on Homebridge, home theaters, and more.

Links from the show

Stay tuned for more!

Please also leave a rating or review us on Apple Podcasts to help us improve the show as we move forward.

UK report spotlights the huge investment gap facing diverse founders

New research looking into how UK VC has been invested over the past decade according to race, gender and educational background makes for grim reading — with all-ethnic teams and female entrepreneurs receiving just a fraction of available funding vs all-white teams and male founders.

The finding of baked in bias holds true across all funding stages, per the findings.

The report, by the not-for-profit community interest company Extend Ventures, looked at how VC has been invested in the UK between 2009 and 2019 — providing data on 3,784 entrepreneurs who started 2,002 companies over this period. It found that all-ethnic teams received an average of just 1.7% of the venture capital investments made at seed, early and late stage over this decade.

The UK’s Black and Multi-Ethnic communities, meanwhile, now comprise 14% of the UK population.

“While all ethnic entrepreneurs are underfunded, those who are Black experience the poorest outcomes of all,” the report notes, finding just 38 Black entrepreneurs received VC funding over this decade. “Alongside their teams, they received just 0.24% of the total sum invested,” it adds.

Extend Ventures used machine learning and computer vision technology as a tool to understand demographic factors — “including age, perceived gender, ethnicity and educational background of founding members” — relying on a perception of ethnicity or gender to categorise founders for the research, based on analysis of publicly available images of entrepreneurs.

“Despite ethnicity usually being a self-determined categorisation, we believe this is justified because the data we collect is subsequently anonymised and is being used to improve access to capital,” they note on that, adding: “Ethnic or gender prejudice is dependent on the perception of the person holding the purse strings to funds.”

On gender the research underlines the scale of the challenge UK female entrepreneurs face in accessing VC funding vs male counterparts.

The report found that a large majority (68.33%) of the capital raised across the seed, early and late VC funding stages went to all-male teams; 28.80% to mixed gender teams; and just 2.87% to all-female teams, with female teams also raising lower sums of money than their male counterparts at each funding stage.

The picture is starkest for Black female entrepreneurs in the UK who were found to experience the poorest outcomes.

“A total of 10 female entrepreneurs of Black appearance received venture capital investment (0.02% of the total amount invested) across the 10-year period, with none so far receiving late-stage funding,” the report notes.

It also found just one early stage (Series A or B) venture capital investment recorded for a Black female, compared to 194 early stage investments in White female entrepreneurs.

Extend Ventures’ research also looked at educational background — spotlighting the role of elite universities in the distribution of venture capital in the country.

Here the report found that 42.72% of UK VC invested at seed stage during the period was invested in founding teams with at least one member from an elite educational background (narrowly defined to mean Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford and their respective business schools).

In the UK, the debate about how to widen access for underrepresented students to the country’s top two universities has been raging for years — with progress towards diversification of the Oxbridge student body still hard to see.

The report illustrates one impact of this long-standing inequality around access to the elite education — as it shows it carries through to decreased opportunity, post-university, for accessing VC funding.

The implications for social justice and social mobility are clear.

“The data we have shown today is stark and makes for uncomfortable reading,” Extend Ventures’ co-founder and technology entrepreneur, Tom Adeyoola, told TechCrunch. “Only 0.24% of venture funding over the last 10 years going to (38) Black founders, 0.02% going to Black female founders. In addition 43% of all seed funding went to teams with at least one team member who went to an elite university.”

The report makes a series of recommendations — including calling for all venture funds to make data on their investments publicly available so they can be tracked to enable inclusive ongoing reporting on the industry’s performance on diversity.

It also suggests VC firms need to do more work to understand and establish what it describes as “the possible resilience criteria independent of race, gender and education that are indicators of success” — to use in their filtering processes going forward, as a way to guard against biased decisions.

Another recommendation is for the UK government to create an ‘Investing in Ethnic Founders Code’, mirroring the existing Investing in Women Code.

The report also calls for government to support inclusion via the creation of a Diverse Co-Investment Fund — which it suggests should be set at £1.8BN (14% of the $13.2BN annual UK VC total) — as a strategy to de-risk and improve the deployment of equity investment into Black, Asian and Ethnic-led venture capital funds.

We’ve reached out to the Treasury for comment on the recommendations.

“There is no longer any excuse for transparency and action to overcome clear biases,” said Adeyoola. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure and for all the talk around the Rose Review [UK Treasury-commissioned report into female entrepreneurship] and Black Lives Matter, action needs to translate into real investment into diverse founders to ensure that as a nation we are making the most of the diverse talent and resources we have.”

“The British Business Bank report released last week has already shown that there is no lack of ambition — just, as we now lay bare, a clear lack of financial capital,” he added.

Tweeting in support of the report, ex-Dragons Den investor and black businessman, Piers Linney, wrote: “We are leaving tens of billions on the table that would benefit the wealth of every citizen. We now have undeniable and depressing data showing that something is very wrong. Quietly filing these reports away is unacceptable.”

Reached for a response, UK founder network organization Tech Nation, which is credited with supporting the research, told us: “The Extend VC report highlights that just 12% of funding went to female founders, which is why Tech Nation is proactively working with Playfair Capital to provide office hours for female founders with leading VCs on November 5 and 12.

“Today’s report also showed that 91.5% of seed stage funding went to white founders compared to 1.1% to black founders, so Tech Nation has also partnered with 10×10 VC and Founders Factory to host black founder office hours on November 26,” CEO Gerard Grech also said, adding that the organization “will continue to support research when it comes to increasing inclusivity in tech and support I&D programmes and interventions which will make a real and positive difference”.

Passion Capital partner Eileen Burbidge — a female VC who, in 2018, was named on a list of the UK’s top 100 black and ethnic minority leaders by the Financial Times — also welcomed the research when we reached out.

“It’s great to see this data out there and I’m so glad that Extend Ventures, Impact X Capital Partners and Tech Nation have taken the time to collect and analyse the data,” she told TechCrunch.

“Sadly I’m not surprised by the findings and at Passion, given that one of the founding partners is of an ethnic minority group, we’ve always tried to be as inclusive as possible. But you can’t change or affect what isn’t measured, so this is a fantastic first step.”

“I’m glad this report will expand and further develop the conversation about how to make venture capital more accessible to all… across all educational backgrounds, social classes and ethnic & gender groups,” Burbidge added, saying she supports all the recommendations — “especially the ones that can have immediate action/impact” — and said she’d welcome being part of conservations aimed at making progress.

(As it happens, one of Passion Capital’s portfolio companies — the insurtech startup Marshmallow, which is led by two black twin co-founders, Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham — has just announced a $30M fund raise on a $310M valuation for a product that also focuses on serving underserved segments of society.)

Apple announces Apple Watch ECG coming to South Korea shortly

The Apple Watch ECG health feature will be made available to users in South Korea, as Apple prepares to release an updated iOS 14.2 and watchOS 7.1

Following its regulatory approval in August 2020, the ECG or electrocardiogram feature of Apple Watch will now be released in South Korea. It requires Apple Watch Series 4, or later, and also iOS 14.2 and watchOS 7.1, both of which are expected imminently.

“Apple Watch has helped countless people around the world, and we feel humbled that Apple Watch has become such an important part of our customers’ lives,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, in an Apple statement. “With the launch of [this] feature, Apple Watch is taking the leap to the next level, allowing people to have more information and more power about their health.”

As the Apple Watch’s ECG function is a medical one, many countries require Apple to gain government approval before it can be released. In South Korea, the approval was granted by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, for example, while in the US it came from the Food and Drug Administration.

Most recently, Apple received regulatory approval for the feature in Japan.

Although the ECG feature requires updated versions of iOS and watchOS, neither has yet been released, nor has Apple officially announced them. However, Apple has released beta versions of iOS 14.2 to developers and the public in the last few days.

UK’s Marshmallow raises $30M on a $310M valuation for more ‘inclusive’ car insurance

When it comes to using algorithms and other formulae to determine what kinds of services you might offer to specific customers and at what price, the insurance industry is one of the oldest in the book. But that legacy position masks the fact that some of its determinations might leave a lot to be desired, with customers who don’t fit typical profiles unable to get competitive rates.

Now, a UK startup called Marshmallow that’s aiming to take on those larger legacy insurance giants with a new approach to determining risk is announcing a $30 million round of funding. Starting first with car insurance, Marshmallow uses a wider set of analytics to target underserved segments of the market, and it plans to use the Series A funding to continue expanding its business with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, with the plan being to launch in further countries, and more types of insurance, in the next 18 months.

We understand that the company is now valued at around $310 million with this round.

The company is not disclosing the names of people in this latest round, except to say that one is a prominent fintech backer and the other a large financial institution. PitchBook notes that Outrun Ventures and other unnamed investors are in this round. Previous backers were Passion Capital and Investec.

Marshmallow first came out of the wild in 2018 with a product targeted initially at expats. The logic was that UK insurers typically assess a driver’s UK record when determining premiums, but that means if you are an adult who has moved to the UK from abroad, your history (for better or worse) doesn’t come with you. Marshmallow’s solution was to build an assessment algorithm that incorporated global, not just national, data.

“Car insurance typically requires an insurer to understand a person’s driving ability, driving history and current lifestyle before they can offer them an accurate price,” Oliver Kent-Braham, the co-founder and CEO, said to TechCrunch at the time. “Unfortunately, a lot of insurers don’t attempt to understand foreign drivers living in the U.K., instead they just overcharge them. U.K.-based, foreign drivers can expect to be quoted prices that are 51 percent higher than the market average.”

Now it has widened that remit to those who cover a wider range of ages but don’t have consistent records in the UK.

“We still provide car insurance to expats, but we now also offer insurance to people between the age of 21-50 with a focus on providing a great price and experience for people who have a fragmented address and credit history, and less affluent people with lower credit scores,” he said to us today. “Both these customer groups get charged more by the traditional insurance industry.”

Kent-Braham may understand a thing or two about being outside of the norm. He co-founded the company with his twin brother Alexander, and both are black — a rarity in the world of tech in the western world. In the US, it is estimated that less than 1% of founders are black, and the figures for founders of color are equally appalling in Europe. (David Goate is the third co-founder.)

Indeed, Marshmallow’s rise — both as a story about its minority founders and its own focus on serving underserved segments of society — comes at a timely moment.

One big focus in tech year has very much been about how to build more diversity and inclusion into the industry. Spurred by a wave of social unrest resulting from several incidents where black individuals were killed by police in the US, that in turn raised more questions about how best to address the massive economic and social divides globally.

In the world of tech, it’s long been understood that having more diversity in the make-up of the companies involved is critical to addressing wider audiences and their needs better. In that context, it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s taken an insurance startup led by two black men to identify and try to build products for a wider group of users.

“We have the tools to offer insurance to customers that traditional insurers struggle with,” said Alexander in a statement. Tim Holliday, a founding employee who is now the chairman, has been integral also to understanding what the company can use tech to tackle in terms of incumbency: he has a longstanding record as an executive in the industry.

Perhaps in part because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the huge amount of uncertainty we’ve seen around the global, Insuretech has seen a big focus in the last year.

In addition to the public listing of Lemonade (which now has a market cap of over $2.8 billion), Hippo had a big boost in its valuation, and we have seen the rise also of a number of companies rethinking the insurance model, both in terms of who is targeted, and how it is modelled. BIMA and Waterdrop respectively looking at microinsurance for emerging markets, and the idea of crowdfunding insurance services.