Noah Kerner, CEO of Acorns.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Acorns, the fintech start-up that scrapped plans to go public in January, has raised $300 million from private investors, CNBC has learned.

The savings and investing app is now valued at $1.9 billion after the transaction, more than double its last private round valuation, according to Acorns CEO Noah Kerner. The Series F round was led by private equity firm TPG and included BlackRock, Bain Capital Ventures, Galaxy Digital, and the investment firm co-founded by Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.

The move shows that ample funding is still available for late-stage start-ups with good prospects. Private investors have grown more discerning after a stock market rout for high growth names like PayPal and Block started late last year. Venture capital firms could point to newly-depressed shares of successful public companies and demand a haircut on valuations or even pull deals altogether.

“The markets got very volatile,” Kerner said this week in an interview. “The concerns we had about the [SPAC] market were that we would get lumped into a group of companies that perhaps were valuing themselves in inflated ways.”

That dynamic bled over into the market for newly-listed tech companies, leading to a wave of scuttled transactions. While Acorns’ $1.9 billion private valuation is below the $2.2 billion target when it announced plans to merge with a publicly-traded special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that’s because the firm would’ve raised more capital via the SPAC, Kerner said.

The start-up was valued at $1.5 billion on a pre-money basis — an industry term referring to a company’s valuation before it receives external funding — in the scuttled SPAC. That figure climbed to $1.6 billion in the private round, he said.

“One of the reasons we’re proud of the valuation and the amount of capital we raised is because the private markets are choppy now,” Kerner said. “Private investors are taking a long, hard look at the companies they invest in. They’re taking a long, hard look at valuations. I’ve had conversations where private market investors were cutting valuations in half.”

Customer acquisition costs

Private investors are now scrutinizing companies more than during the boom, and weaker start-ups with high customer acquisition costs are most affected, Kerner said.

“I think the investor appetite has moved to supporting growth companies, but not grow-at-all costs companies,” he said. “Meaning, you don’t just spend any amount of money to acquire a customer.”

Acorns, founded in 2012, is an automated investing service that lets customers invest spare change from card transactions into a managed portfolio of ETFs for a monthly fee of $3 to $5. The firm says it has 4.6 million customers.

The company will use its funding to further build out its family-specific offerings, products and content that increase portfolio personalization and new crypto offerings.

“We believe that the convergence of product and education in money is the way to get people engaged in better behaviors,” Kerner said. “It’s difficult to get people to read about money in the first place, it’s even more difficult to get people to retain the information. And we think active learning is the solution to that.”

When the markets return to being more welcoming to fintech listings, Acorns will go public — but via a traditional IPO, Kerner said.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns, and CNBC has a content partnership with it.

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