GetYourGuide picks up $484M, passes 25M tickets sold through its tourism activity app

As we swing into the summer tourist season, a company poised to capitalise on that has raised a huge round of funding. GetYourGuide — a Berlin startup that has built a popular marketplace for people to discover and book sightseeing tours, tickets for attractions and other experiences around the world — is today announcing that it has picked up $484 million, a Series E round of funding that will catapult its valuation above the $1 billion mark.

The funding is a milestone for a couple of reasons. GetYourGuide says it is the highest-ever round of funding for a company in the area of “travel experiences” (tours and other activities) — a market estimated to be worth $150 billion this year and rising to $183 billion in 2020. And this Series E is also one of the biggest-ever growth rounds for any European startup, period.

The company has now sold 25 million tickets for tours, attractions and other experiences, with a current catalog of some 50,000 experiences on offer. That’s a sign of strong growth: in 2017 it sold 10 million tickets, and its last reported catalog number was 35,000. It will be using the funding to build more of its own “Originals” tour experiences — which have now passed the 40,000 tickets sold mark — as well as to build up more activities in Asia and the U.S., two fast-growing markets for the startup.

The funding is being led by SoftBank, via its Vision Fund, with Temasek, Lakestar, Heartcore Capital (formerly Sunstone Capital) and Swisscanto Invest among others also participating. (Swisscanto is part of Zürcher Kantonalbank: GetYourGuide was originally founded in Zurich, where the founders had studied, and it still runs some R&D operations there.) The company has now raised well over $600 million.

It’s notable how SoftBank — which is on the hunt for interesting opportunities to invest its $100 billion superfund — has been stepping up a gear in Germany to tap into some of the bigger tech players that have emerged out of that market, which today is the biggest in Europe. Other big plays have included €460 million into Auto1 and €900 million into payments provider Wirecard. Other companies it has backed, such as hotel company Oyo out of India, are using its funding to break into Europe (and buy German companies in the process).

There had been reports over the last several months that GetYouGuide was in the process of raising anywhere between $300 million and more than $500 million. In late April, we were told by sources that the round hadn’t yet closed, and that numbers published in the media up to then had been inaccurate, even as we nailed down that SoftBank was indeed involved in the round.

The valuation in this round is not being disclosed, but CEO Johannes Reck (who co-founded the app with Martin Sieber, Pascal Mathis, Tobias Rein and Tao Tao) said in an interview with TechCrunch that it was definitely “now a unicorn” — meaning that its valuation had passed the $1 billion mark. For additional context, the rumor last month was that GetYourGuide’s valuation was up to €1.6 billion ($1.78 billion), but I have not been able to get firm confirmation of that number.

From hip replacements to hipsters

GetYourGuide’s growth — and investor interest in it — has closely followed the rise of new platforms like Airbnb that have changed the face of how we travel, and what we do when we get somewhere. We have moved far beyond the days of visiting a travel agent that books everything, from flight to hotel to all your activities, as you sit on the other side of a desk from her or him. Now with the tap of a finger or the click of a mouse, we have thousands of choices.

Within that, GetYourGuide thinks that it has jumped on an interesting opportunity to rethink the activity aspect of tourism. Tour packages and other highly organized travel experiences are often associated with older people, or those with families — essentially people who need more predictability when they are not at home.

Reck noted that the earliest users of GetYourGuide in 2010 were precisely those people — or at least those who were more inclined to use digital platforms to begin with: the demographic, he said, was 40-50 year olds, most likely travelling with family.

That is one thing that has really started to change, in no small part because of GetYourGuide itself. Making the experience of booking experiences mobile-friendly, GetYourGuide has played into the culture of doing and showing, which has propelled the rise of social media.

“They want to do things, to have something to post on Instagram,” he said. The average age of a GetYourGuide user now, he said, is 25-40.

This has even evolved into what GetYourGuide provides to users. “At some point, staff in Asia had the idea of crafting a ‘GetYourGuide Instagram Tour of Bali.’ That really took off, and now this is the number-one tour booked in the region.” It has since expanded the concept to 50 destinations.

Not by coincidence, today the company is also announcing that Ameet Ranadive is joining as the company’s first chief product officer. Ranadive comes from Instagram, where he led the Well-being product team (the company’s health and safety team). He’d also been VP and GM of Revenue Product at Twitter. Nils Chrestin is also coming on as CFO, having recently been at Rocket Internet-incubated Global Fashion Group.

That has also led GetYourGuide to conclude it has a ways to go to continue developing its model and scope further, expanding into longer sightseeing excursions, beyond one or two-hour tours into day trips and even overnight experiences.

As it continues to play around with some of these offerings, it’s also increasingly taking a more direct role in the branding and the provision of the content. Initially, all tickets and tours were posted on GetYourGuide by third parties. Now, GetYourGuide is building more of what Reck calls “Originals” — which it might develop in partnership with others but ultimately handles as its own first-party content. (That Instagram tour was one of those Originals.)

It’s worth noting that others are closing in on the same “experiences” model that forms the core of GetYourGuide’s business: Airbnb, to diversify how it makes revenues and to extend its touchpoints with guests beyond basic accommodation bookings, has also started to sell experiences. Meanwhile, daily deals pioneer Groupon has also positioned itself as a destination for purchasing “experiences” as a way to offset declines in other areas of its business. Similarly, travel portals that sell plane tickets regularly default to pushing more activities on you.

Reck pointed out that the area of business where GetYourGuide is active is becoming increasingly attractive to these players as other aspects of the travel industry become increasingly commoditised. Indeed, you can visit dozens of sites to compare pricing on plane tickets, and if you are flexible, pick up even more of a bargain at the last minute. And the rise of multiple Airbnb-style platforms offering private accommodation has made competition among those supplying those platforms — as well as hotels — increasingly fierce.

All of that leaves experiences — for now at least — as the place where these companies can differentiate themselves from the pack. Reck believes that focusing on this, however, means you just do it much better than companies that have added experiences on to a platform that is not a native destination for discovering or buying that kind of content or product. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t others natively tackling “experiences” from the world of startups. Klook is one also funded by SoftBank.)

“Consumers, especially millennials, are spending an increasing portion of their disposable income on travel experiences. We believe GetYourGuide is leading this seismic shift by consolidating the fragmented global supply base of tour operators and modernizing access for travelers globally,” said Ted Fike, partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “This combination creates powerful network effects for their business that is fueling their strong growth. We are excited to partner with their passionate and talented leadership team.” Fike is joining the board with this round.

OpenFin raises $17 million for its OS for finance

OpenFin, the company looking to provide the operating system for the financial services industry, has raised $17 million in funding through a Series C round led by Wells Fargo, with participation from Barclays and existing investors including Bain Capital Ventures, J.P. Morgan and Pivot Investment Partners. Previous investors in OpenFin also include DRW Venture Capital, Euclid Opportunities and NYCA Partners.

Likening itself to “the OS of finance,” OpenFin seeks to be the operating layer on which applications used by financial services companies are built and launched, akin to iOS or Android for your smartphone.

OpenFin’s operating system provides three key solutions which, while present on your mobile phone, has previously been absent in the financial services industry: easier deployment of apps to end users, fast security assurances for applications and interoperability.

Traders, analysts and other financial service employees often find themselves using several separate platforms simultaneously, as they try to source information and quickly execute multiple transactions. Yet historically, the desktop applications used by financial services firms — like trading platforms, data solutions or risk analytics — haven’t communicated with one another, with functions performed in one application not recognized or reflected in external applications.

“On my phone, I can be in my calendar app and tap an address, which opens up Google Maps. From Google Maps, maybe I book an Uber . From Uber, I’ll share my real-time location on messages with my friends. That’s four different apps working together on my phone,” OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar explained to TechCrunch. That cross-functionality has long been missing in financial services.

As a result, employees can find themselves losing precious time — which in the world of financial services can often mean losing money — as they juggle multiple screens and perform repetitive processes across different applications.

Additionally, major banks, institutional investors and other financial firms have traditionally deployed natively installed applications in lengthy processes that can often take months, going through long vendor packaging and security reviews that ultimately don’t prevent the software from actually accessing the local system.

OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar (Image via OpenFin)

As former analysts and traders at major financial institutions, Dar and his co-founder Chuck Doerr (now president & COO of OpenFin) recognized these major pain points and decided to build a common platform that would enable cross-functionality and instant deployment. And since apps on OpenFin are unable to access local file systems, banks can better ensure security and avoid prolonged yet ineffective security review processes.

And the value proposition offered by OpenFin seems to be quite compelling. OpenFin boasts an impressive roster of customers using its platform, including more than 1,500 major financial firms, almost 40 leading vendors and 15 of the world’s 20 largest banks.

More than 1,000 applications have been built on the OS, with OpenFin now deployed on more than 200,000 desktops — a noteworthy milestone given that the ever-popular Bloomberg Terminal, which is ubiquitously used across financial institutions and investment firms, is deployed on roughly 300,000 desktops.

Since raising their Series B in February 2017, OpenFin’s deployments have more than doubled. The company’s headcount has also doubled and its European presence has tripled. Earlier this year, OpenFin also launched it’s OpenFin Cloud Services platform, which allows financial firms to launch their own private local app stores for employees and customers without writing a single line of code.

To date, OpenFin has raised a total of $40 million in venture funding and plans to use the capital from its latest round for additional hiring and to expand its footprint onto more desktops around the world. In the long run, OpenFin hopes to become the vital operating infrastructure upon which all developers of financial applications are innovating.

Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems and app stores have enabled more than a million apps that have fundamentally changed how we live,” said Dar. “OpenFin OS and our new app store services enable the next generation of desktop apps that are transforming how we work in financial services.”

Daimler and BMW-backed Kapten rides into London with anti-Uber ad campaign

Kapten, the French ride-hailing app backed by Daimler and BMW, has today launched in London, coupled with a feisty ad campaign taking a swipe at Uber’s tax arrangements.

It follows Kapten (formerly called “Chauffeur Prive”) obtaining a license from TfL, London’s transport regulator, to operate its private-hire vehicle (PHV) service in the U.K. capital city. The company first launched in France in 2012, growing quickly in Paris, and has since expanded to Lisbon and Geneva.

Specifically, Kapten’s new billboard ad campaign calls out Uber for avoiding local sales tax: “Others avoid paying VAT in the UK – that’s not uber cool.” In contrast, Kapten says it pay taxes locally in every market in which it operates. The ad then goes on to tell Londoners that using Kapten “might just be your best decision today.”

In a press release driving home the point, Kapten notes that Uber has faced criticism in the U.K. for paying little tax to the U.K. government and avoiding VAT on top of its service fee due to the U.S. company’s Dutch tax location.

“Uber had an estimated £1bn of ride bookings in the U.K. in 2018. If 20 percent VAT was added to its 25 percent commission, the U.K. Exchequer would get an additional £50m per year,” says Kapten.

Meanwhile, Kapten’s newly launched London service should be available in zones 1 to 5 as of today. The ride-hailing app is also launching with a 50%-off offer on rides. After launch, Kapten claims that its low pricing will still mean fares are on average 20% cheaper than competitors.

“Trips in the congestion charge zone will be at least £2 cheaper than Uber due to congestion and clean-air fees,” says the French company, promising to cover the congestion charge on behalf of its drivers for the rest of 2019.

Adds Mariusz Zabrocki, London general manager of Kapten, in a statement: “There has been one dominant, over-confident ride-hailing player in London and it’s time to shake things up. We believe London’s private-hire drivers, commuters and residents deserve better. Each time a Londoner takes an Uber ride, 60p is lost that could finance the NHS, schools and other parts of the U.K.” economy.

Mobile ticketing company TodayTix raises $73M in new funding

TodayTix, a mobile ticketing company that makes it easy and relatively affordable to go to Broadway shows and other live performances, is announcing a new $73 million round of funding led by private equity firm Great Hill Partners.

Founded in 2013, the company initially served as the mobile equivalent of New York’s TKTS booths for discounted, last-minute theater tickets. TodayTix says it’s now sold more than 4 million tickets, representing 8% of annual Broadway ticket sales and 4% for London’s West End.

Beyond that, co-founder and CEO Brian Fenty said that a little over 10% of the tickets sold now fall outside “theater and performing arts, narrowly defined,” covering things like comedy shows and experiential theater.

“I think to the consumer, we will be a holistic ecosystem to engage in the city’s art and experiences,” Fenty predicted. “However culture is defined … we want to be their partner in discovering those things.”

To do that, TodayTix will add more cities to its current list of 15 markets. Fenty said this expansion is driven by existing collaborations (like launching in Australia through its partnership with “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) and by seeing where people are already downloading the TodayTix app. His ultimate goal is to be “geographically agnostic.”

Fenty also said the company will continue investing in the TodayTix Presents program, through which the company puts on its own shows (albeit at a much smaller scale than a Broadway production).

And of course he wants to improve the app itself, introducing more personalization and curation — Fenty pointed to Netflix and Amazon as models. After all, he said TodayTix is currently offering tickets to 297 shows in New York alone, so it needs ways to “effectively guide people through that.”

“We’re actually a media company, with our own content and perspective — not on the quality of the shows, but to have a point of view on how users should and could engage with this content,” he said.

He added that those improvements will include more basic things, like the process of purchasing a ticket: “The hardest part is to complete the purchase in 30 seconds or less, as compared to the average ticketing platform, which is somewhere between 3 and 7 minutes … How we continue to squish that conversion?”

Fenty is also hoping to work more closely with show producers, providing them with data about which shows are selling, as well as helping them use data to find the most effective ways to promote themselves.

TodayTix says it’s raised a total of $90 million since it announced its Series B back in February 2016. Fenty told me the new round includes a direct investment in the company, as well as secondary purchases of TodayTix shares from previous investors.

“TodayTix is rapidly changing the way millennials and other consumers connect with live cultural experiences,” said Great Hill Managing Partner Michael Kumin in a statement. “We look forward to working with Brian, [co-founder] Merritt [Baer] and their talented management team to expand the Company’s product and service offerings and accelerate its push into new geographies.”