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Valon closes on $50M a16z-led Series A to grow mobile-first mortgage servicing platform – TechCrunch

If you’ve ever applied for a mortgage, you know it’s one of the most painful processes out there. Keeping up with payments and dealing with customer service over the course of the loan is no picnic either. So it’s no surprise that big bucks are being poured into the space with the goal of making […]

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If you’ve ever applied for a mortgage, you know it’s one of the most painful processes out there. Keeping up with payments and dealing with customer service over the course of the loan is no picnic either.

So it’s no surprise that big bucks are being poured into the space with the goal of making the process easier, more digital and more transparent.

To that end, Valon, a tech-enabled mortgage servicer, announced this morning it has raised $50 million in a Series A round of funding — which is large for its stage even by today’s standards.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led the round for the New York-based company formerly known as Peach Street. Returning backers Jefferies Financial Group, New Residential Investment Corporation – an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC – and 166 2nd LLC also participated in the financing.

Valon previously raised $3.2 million from seed investors such as serial entrepreneur Kevin Ryan’s Alley Corp, Soros, Kairos, and Zigg Capital.

Andrew Wang, Eric Chiang and Jon Hsu founded Valon in June 2019 with the mission of breaking up what it sees as “a monopoly in the market,” with “the largest mortgage servicing software company” (software giant Black Knight) controlling more than half of all U.S. residential loans.

“We’re on the cusp of a mortgage foreclosure crisis comparable to 2008, and the majority of homeowners struggling to make their loan payments are unaware of their options,” Valon CEO Wang said. “This stranglehold has driven servicing costs up nearly 250% in the past decade, and the fees are passed on directly to the borrower.”

Concurrent with the raise, Valon recently got the green light from Fannie Mae to service its government sponsored home loans. (For the unacquainted, servicing loans means doing things like collecting payments on behalf of a lender). The approval will only continue to fuel Valon’s rapid growth, according to Wang.

“We went from no contracts committed to $10 billion in mortgages committed to be serviced in one year,” he told TechCrunch.

Valon operates in 49 states, and expects to add New York this year.

As a former investor in mortgage servicing space, Wang was frustrated by “the lack of service” provided by other servicers. So he teamed up with Chiang and Hsu, who had prior product and engineering experience at Google and Twilio, to launch Valon.

The company’s cloud-native platform aims to deliver what it describes as a borrower-oriented experience. Lenders also can request access to real-time API data feeds to view performance of their borrowers and reconcile transaction data.

Unlike mortgage originators, which lend money to the borrower, a mortgage servicer interfaces with the borrower for the duration of their loan – and that can be anywhere from 15 to 30 years.

“This includes things like collecting payments on behalf of the lender and providing assistance and guidance to the borrower in moments of stress,” Wang said. “Traditional mortgage servicers use antiquated technology and provide poor service to borrowers. Valon looks to change that dynamic by providing transparency and full self-service capabilities to homeowners.”

The company also claims that its technology has the potential to reduce mortgage servicing costs by up to 50% by vertically integrating the entire process. Its platform is built on Google Cloud with security as a “first-principle” with features such as default encryption and intrusion detection, the company said.

Millions of Americans stopped paying their mortgages in 2020 due to the economic strain of the coronavirus pandemic. This led to requests for forbearance (postponement of payments) and foreclosure moratoriums.

“The pandemic highlighted the stress in the market and greatly accelerated the need for a new age mortgage servicer,” Wang said. “Homeowners faced a great deal of financial stress and had difficulty getting the right option and assistance from existing servicers due to their antiquated technology and inability to process requests… In 2021 we will see forbearance and foreclosure leniency come to an end and this need will be even more acute.”

Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who joined Valon’s board in mid-2020, says Valon has built a mobile-first mortgage servicer from the ground up.

“Homeowners are faced with clumsy websites, call centers, and often misinformation,” she said in a written statement. “In Valon, they have a trusted software driven advisor who can provide clear, transparent, regulatory compliant information in good times and bad – without needing to pick up the phone.”

The Fannie Mae approval only serves as further validation of the platform the team has created, she added.

Valon plans to use its new capital to triple headcount to about 100 by year’s end as well as to acquire more mortgage servicing rights (MSR) contracts to service.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/02/valon-closes-on-50m-a16z-led-series-a-to-grow-mobile-first-mortgage-servicing-platform/

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Toyota partners with ENEOS to explore a hydrogen-powered Woven City – TechCrunch

Toyota has tapped Japanese company Eneos to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City. The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered […]

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Toyota has tapped Japanese company Eneos to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City.

The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Woven Planet, the innovation-focused subsidiary of Toyota that is in charge of the project, announced Monday that ENEOS, a Japanese petroleum company that’s investing heavily into hydrogen, will help make Toyota’s “human-centered” city of the future. This new partnership not only signifies Toyota’s backing of hydrogen over electric, but it also could help Japan achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The two companies will work together to test the feasibility of a hydrogen-based supply chain, from production to delivery to usage. To facilitate this, ENEOS will further its technological developments in hydrogen production in order to achieve a fully carbon-free supply chain.

“As Japan’s leading integrated energy company, ENEOS has demonstrated its valuable expertise in all vital processes from hydrogen production to sales and we are confident they have the holistic perspective we require for success,” said Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, in a statement. “To realize a hydrogen-based society, in addition to the evolution of individual technologies, it is essential to seamlessly integrate all the processes of production, delivery, and use.”

Toyota is positioning hydrogen as a top viable clean energy source for the future with this partnership, although it certainly has more electric vehicles on the market than hydrogen, including three new ones this year. Its iconic hydrogen fuel-cell powered car, the Toyota Mirai, saw a 2021 upgrade, and it’s the same tech that Toyota used in its Kenworth T680 tractor.

As part of its partnership with Woven City, ENEOS will use its expertise of operating 45 commercial hydrogen refueling stations in the four major metropolitan areas in Japan to establish one outside of Woven City. The company will also be expected to produce hydrogen derived from renewables, to help install stationary fuel cell generators inside Woven City and to work with Toyota to research hydrogen supply.

“We believe that hydrogen energy will play an integral role in the realization of carbon neutrality on a global scale,” Katsuyuki Ota, president of ENEOS said in a statement. “By working together with Toyota to fully explore hydrogen’s potential, we believe we can make a significant contribution to the creation of new hydrogen-based lifestyles.”

Construction at the Woven City site in Susono City, Shizuoka Prefecture, at the base of Mount Fuji began in February. A month later, the Toyota subsidiary launched Woven Capital, a new venture fund that will invest in technologies that will build the future of safe mobility. Woven Capital’s first investment is in autonomous delivery company Nuro.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/10/toyota-partners-with-eneos-to-explore-a-hydrogen-powered-woven-city/

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Krafton announces return of PUBG Mobile in India – TechCrunch

PUBG Mobile developer said it will bring the title back as Battlegrounds Mobile India.

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Krafton, the South Korean video game developer of PUBG Mobile, said on Thursday that it is bringing back the popular gaming title to India under the brand name Battlegrounds Mobile India. The new title, which uses the color scheme of the Indian flag, will offer “a world class AAA multiplayer”, free-to-play gaming experience on mobile devices, it said.

The developer said it will open pre-registration for Battlegrounds Mobile India ahead of its launch in the country. The title is specifically designed for the world’s second largest internet market, Krafton said.

“Krafton will collaborate with partners to build an esports ecosystem while bringing in-game content regularly, starting with a series of India specific in-game events at launch, to be announced later.

Thursday’s announcement comes months after India banned PUBG Mobile alongside 200 other apps with links to China citing national security concerns. In recent months, to allay New Delhi’s concerns, PUBG Mobile has cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, inked a global cloud deal with Microsoft, pledged a $100 million investment in India’s mobile gaming ecosystem, and earlier this year backed local startup Nodwin.

“With privacy and data security being a top priority, Krafton will be working with partners, to ensure data protection and security, at each stage. This will ensure privacy rights are respected, and all data collection and storage will be in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in India and for players here,” it said in a statement.

The firm didn’t say whether it had any conversation with New Delhi and if it had received the approval to launch the new title.

Prior to being banned in India, PUBG Mobile was the most popular mobile game in the country. The app had amassed over 50 million monthly active users in the country. The app still had over 10 million users in India last month, according to a popular mobile insight firm. (Many have been using VPN tools and other workarounds to bypass the geo-restriction.)

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Thursday’s announcement comes months after India banned PUBG Mobile alongside 200 other apps with links to China citing national security concerns. In recent months, to allay New Delhi’s concerns, PUBG Mobile has cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, inked a global cloud deal with Microsoft, pledged a $100 million investment in India’s mobile gaming ecosystem, and earlier this year backed local startup Nodwin.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/05/krafton-announces-pubg-mobile-india-return-under-battlegrounds-mobile-title/

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Twitch expands its rules against hate and abuse to include behavior off the platform – TechCrunch

Twitch will start holding its streamers to a higher standard. The company just expanded its hate and harassment policy, specifying more kinds of bad behavior that break its rules and could result in a ban from the streaming service. The news comes as Twitch continues to grapple with reports of abusive behavior and sexual harassment, […]

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Twitch will start holding its streamers to a higher standard. The company just expanded its hate and harassment policy, specifying more kinds of bad behavior that break its rules and could result in a ban from the streaming service.

The news comes as Twitch continues to grapple with reports of abusive behavior and sexual harassment, both on the platform and within the company itself. In December, Twitch released an updated set of rules designed to take harassment and abuse more seriously, admitting that women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community were impacted by a “disproportionate” amount of that toxic behavior on the platform.

Twitch’s policies now include serious offenses that could pose a safety threat, even when they happen entirely away from the streaming service. Those threats include violent extremism, terrorism, threats of mass violence, sexual assault and ties to known hate groups.

The company will also continue to evaluate off-platform behavior in cases that happen on Twitch, like an on-stream situation that leads to harassment on Twitter or Facebook.

“While this policy is new, we have taken action historically against serious, clear misconduct that took place off service, but until now, we didn’t have an approach that scaled,” the company wrote in a blog post, adding that investigating off-platform behavior requires additional resources to address the complexity inherent in those cases.

To handle reports for its broadened rules, Twitch created a dedicated email address (OSIT@twitch.tv) to handle reports about off-service behavior. The company says it has partnered with a third-party investigative law firm to vet the reports it receives.

Twitch cites its actions against former President Donald Trump as the most high-profile instance of off-platform behavior resulting in enforcement. The company disabled Trump’s account following the attack on the U.S. Capitol and later suspended him indefinitely, citing fears that he could use the service to incite violence.

It’s hard to have a higher profile than the president, but Trump isn’t the only big time banned Twitch user. Last June, Twitch kicked one of its biggest streamers off of the platform without providing an explanation for the decision.

Going on a year later, no one seems to know why Dr. Disrespect got the boot from Twitch, though the company’s insistence that it only acts in cases with a “preponderance of evidence” suggests his violations were serious and well corroborated.

To handle reports for its broadened rules, Twitch created a dedicated email address (OSIT@twitch.tv) to handle reports about off-service behavior. The company says it has partnered with a third-party investigative law firm to vet the reports it receives.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/07/twitch-off-platform-harassment-policy/

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