Future City: Rhino headbutts recent hires

National /
Feb.February 08, 2022 08:00 AM

Culling the herd

The proptech startup Rhino laid off more than 20 percent of its staff, most of them recent hires.

The cuts, which came a year after the company’s last funding round, were motivated by recent macroeconomic volatility and a desire to achieve profitability quicker, a Rhino spokesperson said. Rhino’s main offering is an alternative to security deposits — a product that allows renters to pay in small, incremental amounts rather than in an upfront lump sum.

“Part of building a high-growth company like Rhino is understanding the macroeconomic environment and being able to respond,” the spokesperson said, later adding “[W]e’ve decided to restructure the company to accelerate our path to profitability and make us less reliant on the capital markets through whatever volatility we all see this year.”

While 2021 was a record year for proptech investment, inflation, labor shortages and other macroeconomic concerns have weighed on startups in recent weeks and deflated the values of many of the newly public players.

Early last year, Rhino raised $95 million at a $500 million valuation in what was described at the time as a “pre-IPO” round. The startup is still hiring for “key technology roles,” the spokesperson said.

Every step you take

Placer.ai, a location analytics startup, raised $100 million in a Series C round at a $1 billion valuation — the first proptech unicorn of 2022.

When it launched in 2018, Placer tracked foot traffic primarily, crunching cell phone data to give landlords and tenants insights on how customers used space. It has since expanded into other verticals like vehicle and web traffic, with plans to provide investment insights for “any professional with a stake in the physical world,” according to co-founder and CEO Noam Ben-Zvi.

Placer says it now has more than 1000 clients, including major commercial landlords as well as retailers, hedge funds and multinational consumer goods companies.

Placer’s C round was led by Josh Buckley, CEO of the website Product Hunt, who also led the startup’s Series B in April 2021.


“People choosing to allocate a portion of their net worth, if not a significant portion of their net worth, into digital assets, is probably here to stay.”

Josip Rupena, Milo

Where credit is due

Another unicorn — New York-based Esusu, which operates at the intersection of proptech and fintech — landed shortly after Placer.

The startup raised $130 million in a Series B round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, just a few months after its $10 million Series A.

Esusu wants to help renters get credit for timely rent payments just like homeowners get credit for mortgage payments. It aims do that by serving as a reliable conduit of data between landlords and the major credit bureaus, who traditionally have not factored rent into credit score calculations even though it’s many individuals’ largest monthly expense.

The startup also facilitates low- or zero-interest micro-loans for renters when they fall behind on payment. Esusu’s co-founders, Samir Goel and Abbey Wemimo, see its service as a partial solution to rampant “financial exclusion” based on race and background. Tenants are more likely than homeowners to be people of color.

Esusu is among only a few Black-owned startups to achieve unicorn status.


STAT OF THE MONTH

There were 154 proptech capital raises of more than $20 million in 2021.


Got Bitcoin?

Milo, a Miami-based fintech, began offering 30-year mortgages, with zero down payment, to borrowers who put up Bitcoin as collateral — the first time a lender has underwritten a mortgage on the basis of customers’ digital assets.

Many crypto-rich individuals, who are often young or don’t otherwise have much wealth, have not been able to secure a bank or private loan to purchase a home because mortgage lenders do not yet factor in digital assets in calculations of net worth.

Milo will finance up to 100 percent of the home purchase on a one-to-one basis. The mortgage rate will be a function of the amount of crypto pledged as collateral; the more the borrower pledges, the lower the rate.

The service is a bet on the long-term future of cryptocurrencies, Milo founder and CEO Josip Rupena said, and there is already a “large waitlist” of prospective crypto mortgage borrowers.

“People choosing to allocate a portion of their net worth, if not a significant portion of their net worth, into digital assets, is probably here to stay,” he said.


Small bytes

• Pure, a single-family rental management platform, raised $50 million in its first institutional funding round at a $300 million valuation. Level Equity was the sole investor.

• LEX, a commercial real estate securities marketplace that wants to help “take buildings public,” raised $15 million in Series A funding. The platform facilitates direct commercial real estate investment for average investors by selling shares of individual buildings.

• Flashtract, a construction software startup, raised $15 million to modernize and streamline contractors’ and subcontractors’ billing and payments systems.

• Vishal Garg, Better.com’s controversial CEO, returned to his post a month after he laid off more than 900 employees over Zoom — a mass firing that went viral and triggered an independent review.

• Matterport, the spatial data company, expanded its services into five new countries, including Canada, Singapore, France, Ireland and the Netherlands.


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