Big Bay Area Funding Week: Banjo, AltSchool, Twilio, Robinhood

Big chunks of change were falling into the hands of Bay area companies this week, with three of them netting $100 million capital infusions and others in the multi-million dollar range.

Maybe the most surprising of the three top fundraisers was a fledgling elementary school chain, AltSchool. But the San Francisco-based education company is no ordinary edtech startup. It was founded in 2013 by entrepreneur and Google veteran Max Ventilla, and supported by headliners in the Silicon Valley investment community. Its new $100 million round was led by existing investors Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s donor-advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation. New backers include John Doerr and the Omidyar Network.

AltSchool offers personalized learning plans, tech-enhanced classroom activities, and a
technology-based network that handles communications and logistics for teachers, students, and their parents. The company now operates eight K-8 schools in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Brooklyn, NY. It plans to expand its model nationwide.

Also leading news early in the week was San Francisco-based Twilio, which completed a $100 million Series E financing round under terms that double the company’s valuation to $1 billion, VentureBeat reported. Twilio offers an interface that allows Web developers to build telephone-like services such as voice and text messages into their apps.

Social media geotracker Banjo was the third company this week to land $100 million, in a Series C financing round led by Softbank and joined by BlueRun Ventures. In a blog post announcing the big score, founder and CEO Damien Patton says of his company’s mission, “We are building a crystal ball.”

Banjo, founded in 2011, captures public posts made from mobile devices to social media sites, and organizes them, not by subject, but by the geographic location where they were sent. A user can download Banjo’s app or go to the website to see, for example, the photos, texts and videos pouring from Oklahoma City this week as a big storm flooded the area and ripped through houses.

In his blog post, Patton (pictured above) says both individuals and businesses can profit from this data stream. “The results are profound: faster emergency response, safer driving conditions, smarter marketing decisions, more efficient use of energy and much more,” he said. Consumers can download Banjo’s app for free. But for an annual subscription rate, the company offers a curated feed of data to businesses such as marketing companies, news outlets, and financial firms.

Banjo’s new money brings its fundraising total to $121 million. The company is already posting a slew of Bay area job openings. Banjo’s headquarters is in Las Vegas, where Patton lives, but the engineering headquarters is in Redwood City. Banjo now has 60 employees, and plans to double its staff count in 2015.

As we reported this week, Palo Alto-based venture firm Accel Partners was the sole investor in a $75 million round for Shenzhen, China-based drone manufacturer DJI. The two companies plan to collaborate on a global expansion for DJI, one of the leading makers of commercial drones.

In an ordinary week, the $50 million reaped by Palo Alto, CA-based stock trading site Robinhood would be a standout event. The company, which launched its app in December, charges no commissions on trades. It makes money by charging interest to customers who buy shares through margin accounts, and also receives the interest from cash balances its customer have not yet invested.

New Enterprise Associates led the financing round, joined by existing investors Index Ventures, Ribbit Capital and Social Leverage, and new investor Vaizra Investments. Robinhood says it plans to open its service in Australia, its first international expansion.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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