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Peter Thiel’s VC fund backs TreeCard, a fintech that plants trees when you spend

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TreeCard offers users a spending and money management platform tied to a debit card made from wood.


TreeCard, a climate-conscious digital money app, raised $23 million from investors in a new financing round.

Founded by British entrepreneur Jamie Cox in October 2020, TreeCard is a novel concept in the fintech world. It offers users a spending and money management platform tied to a debit card made from wood.

The firm uses 80% of the profits it makes from card interchange fees to plant trees through a partnership with green search engine Ecosia. TreeCard has so far planted more than 200,000 trees.

The deal underscores increased interest by VC investors in companies addressing climate change. Funding for climate tech startups hit a record $111 billion in 2021, according to a report from U.K. startup network Tech Nation.

“There’s hundreds of millions of people in the world who are changing their behavior based on the environment,” Cox told CNBC in an interview. “There isn’t a super app for the environment yet.”

Super apps act as all-in-one platforms that serve a range of user needs spanning instant messaging, banking and travel. Cox envisages TreeCard becoming a super app focused on climate — his app includes a game that lets users visualize how many trees their activity has helped produce, for example.

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Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures was the largest investor in TreeCard’s round, while EQT, Seedcamp and climate-centric venture capital firm World Fund also chipped in. Valar is a prolific investor in fintech, having previously taken stakes in the likes of Wise and N26.

The platform, which is still operating in beta testing mode, plans to use the funding for an official launch later in 2023. In addition, TreeCard will use the cash to grow its roughly 30-person team, with the aim of nearly doubling in size.

TreeCard is currently only available in the U.S., with a waitlist of more than 250,000 clients. It is now gradually onboarding users. TreeCard plans to launch in the U.K. and Europe, too, “hopefully soon,” Cox said. 

Though based in the U.K., TreeCard chose the U.S. as its launch market. The U.S. has been a tough place for rival European fintechs. Monzo pulled its application to acquire a U.S. banking license, while N26 shuttered its American operations completely.

TreeCard isn’t a bank itself but offers its accounts through Sutton Bank, a regulated lender.

The TreeCard app includes a game that lets users visualize how many trees their activity has helped produce.


Higher rates on the fees merchants must pay every time a customer uses their card to spend make the U.S. a more lucrative opportunity than Europe, TreeCard’s CEO said.

But according to Cox, what European fintechs often get wrong in the U.S. is not realizing “the kind of requirements on a finance product are very different to Europe.”

“When finance-type companies come from Europe, they don’t understand intimately the American audience,” he told CNBC.

“Rewards are almost always front and center for especially spending products but a lot of finance products. It’s more of an afterthought in Europe.”

TreeCard offers clients up to 3% of annualized interest on their deposits, a feature it offers through third-party vendors.

“The commitment there is that your funds aren’t used for fossil fuel investments,” Cox said.

Banks have channeled massive sums of money to support fossil fuel companies down the years. Analysis from campaign groups Urgewald, Reclaim Finance and more than two dozen other NGOs found that commercial banks channeled $1.5 trillion to the coal industry between January 2019 and November last year.

TreeCard’s funding also defies some of the troubles being faced in the fintech sector, where firms are putting listing plans on ice and cutting back on expenses to brace for a likely recession. Klarna, the buy now, pay later firm, saw its valuation plunge 85% in July, and laid off 10% of its workforce.

“We will be hiring but we have to be careful,” Cox said. “The environment is different from last year.”

He added: “The key thing is that businesses over the next year and a half probably, consumer businesses are going to have to find ways to grow that aren’t just conventional, ‘plow loads of money into Facebook ads and get users.’ That’s not going to be the sustainable model of growth.”

While at university, Cox founded a company called Cashew, which he described as “Venmo for the U.K.” He later joined Peter Thiel’s Thiel Fellowship, a two-year entrepreneurship program, where he started cloud computing startup FluidStack.

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Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

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Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

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According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

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Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

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Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

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