Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies pitching at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

Today, TechCrunch is excited to announce the 20 startups pitching on stage in this year’s Startup Battlefield. Selected from the most competitive batch in TC history, selected founders from across the globe will pitch on the virtual stage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. Startups will be competing for $100,000 in equity-free prize money and the attention of international press and top investors from around the world.

With just over a 1.5% acceptance rate, the startups in this year’s cohort are phenomenal. From lithium battery chemical recycling to smart media, blockchain infrastructure to student-centric educational software, and Sub-Saharan African fin tech to cultured meat production, this batch of companies is sure to wow the investors and the audience. Startups featured range across all verticals with groundbreaking innovation in ag tech, women’s genetics and lifestyle based therapeutics, cyber security, lasers, fin tech and consumer hardware.

TC aims to pick companies from a range of industries. It’s apparent that this next wave of founders are very much focused on building unicorns and also building deeply impactful technologies.  A unique highlight of this batch are more companies in both the healthtech/medtech space and clean tech/sustainability space.

Each founder has trained with the Startup Battlefield team to develop their pitch, craft their stories, polish their launch strategy, strengthen their go to market and create amazing live product demos so you can see the innovation first hand. Each team will have six minutes to pitch followed by a six-minute Q&A with our esteemed panel of judges – all experts in VC and successful companies. On Thursday, a select few startups will pitch in the Startup Battlefield Final Round — with a new panel of expert judges.

Startup Battlefield starts on Tuesday, September 21st at 10:45 a.m. Pacific Time, with Startup Battlefield moderator and TechCrunch Managing Editor, Matt Burns. To watch the pitches, join us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 here. Videos of the pitches will be made available after the event as well.

Let’s check out the companies:

Tuesday 

Session 1: 10:45 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. PT

Enlightapp, Luos, HerVest, Tatum, Happaning*

Session 2: 12:55 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. PT

Verdi, EyeGage, Animal Alternative Technologies, RoboDeck, Adventr

Wednesday

Session 3: 9:45 a.m. – 10:50 a.m. PT

Prenome, Tide Foundation, The Blue Box Biomedical Solutions, Koa, Cellino*

Session 3: 12:00 p.m. – 1:05 p.m. PT

StethoMe, FLITE Material Sciences, Knight by Keep Technologies, Carbix, Nth Cycle

Thursday

Finals begin at 10:35 a.m. PT. Companies will be announced online Thursday night.

*As a part of Startup Alley, companies are eligible for the Wild Card. These are the companies selected for Wild Card and can compete in Startup Battlefield. They are selected shortly before the event.

#battlefield, #early-stage, #founders, #startup-battlefield, #startups, #tc, #tc-disrupt-2021, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021

SoftBank deepens commitment to LatAm with two new partners focused on early-stage investing

In March 2019, SoftBank Group International made headlines when it announced the SoftBank Innovation Fund, which started out with a $2 billion commitment to invest in tech startups in Latin America.

A lot has changed since then. SoftBank changed the name of the fund to the SoftBank Latin America Fund, or LatAm Fund for short. The Japanese investment conglomerate has dramatically ramped up its investing in the region, and so have a number of other global investors. In fact, venture capitalists poured an estimated $6.2 billion into Latin American startups in the first half of 2021.

As evidence of its continued commitment to the region, SoftBank Group announced today that it has added two new managing partners to its LatAm Fund team: Rodrigo Baer and Marco Camhaji. The two will focus on “identifying and supporting” early-stage companies across the Latin American region, SoftBank told TechCrunch exclusively.

Baer and Camhaji will report to SoftBank Executive President & COO Marcelo Claure, who points out that the firm’s LatAm fund has invested in more than two-thirds of the nearly two dozen unicorns currently operating in the region. He said that SoftBank is today “one of the largest and most active” technology investors in the region.

 

The move is significant in that the hires represent an expansion of SoftBank LatAm Fund’s mandate and means that the firm is now backing companies at all stages in the region.

By bringing Baer and Camhaji on board, Claure said in a statement, SoftBank will “be better able to identify high-growth companies and support them at every step of their lifecycle.”

SoftBank describes Baer as one of the pioneers of Brazil’s venture capital industry. He has invested in more than 20 companies since 2010. According to Crunchbase, he co-founded Warehouse Investimentos in 2010, where he led deal-sourcing efforts. He joined the investment team of Redpoint eVentures, a LatAm-based early-stage VC fund, in June 2014. He also was previously an engagement manager at McKinsey and worked at Aurora Funds, a healthcare-services focused fund based in the US. He is also active with Endeavor and multiple angel groups. 

Prior to joining SoftBank, Camhaji was a business development principal at Amazon, establishing strategic partnerships with fintechs in Latin America. He also served as the CEO of Adianta, a Brazilian B2B invoice financing company. Previously, Camahji was a founder and partner at Yellow Ventures, making seed investments in technology startups. He was also a partner and CFO of Redpoint eVentures.

In August, Shu Nyatta, a managing partner at SoftBank who co-leads its $5 billion Latin America Fund, pointed out a dynamic that might seem obvious but is rarely articulated: Technology in LatAm is often more about inclusion rather than disruption.

“The vast majority of the population is underserved in almost every category of consumption. Similarly, most businesses are underserved by modern software solutions,” Nyatta told TechCrunch. “There’s so much to build for so many people and businesses. In San Francisco, the venture ecosystem makes life a little better for individuals and businesses who are already living in the future. In LatAm, tech entrepreneurs are building the future for everyone else.

Some recent SoftBank investments in the region include:

  • Kavak, a used car marketplace born in Mexico but now also operating in Brazil and Argentina. “Think of Carvana, but for emerging markets.”
  • Rappi, where “DoorDash-meets-Instacart,” operating across Latin America.
  • QuintoAndar, a Brazilian real estate marketplace.
  • Creditas unlocks the equity trapped in homes and cars and other important assets for Brazilians.
  • Gympass is a marketplace for fitness and wellness, provided through the enterprise to employees.

As global investors continue to flood the region with capital, it’s clear that SoftBank is getting even more aggressive about backing startups in Latin America.

#early-stage, #funding, #latin-america, #marcelo-claure, #softbank, #startups, #venture-capital

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 2

From beaming actors into the class room to plucking things out of space, the second day of Y Combinator’s S21 Demo Day was a fresh snapshot of what nearly 200 startup teams believe is the future of innovation.

Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go “oh wait, what’s this?”

Spark Studio

My experience with Indian culture is that it has a long history of valuing math and science over any other subject, which is why Spark Studio’s twist on online enrichment was refreshing. The YC company offers live, extracurricular learning classes for kids in Indian households — with a twist: The classes are about music, art and communication. As seen by the success of Outschool, small-group classes for school-going children can be a scalable way to supplement traditional education. Spark Studio is selling to kids between the ages of 5 to 15, which are highly impressionable, exploratory years.

Growing up, I was the only kid in my predominantly Indian family friend group who didn’t gravitate toward STEM. There were no services, other than the local library, to quench my interest in writing and reading. A service like Spark, if it gains the trust of parents, has the potential to make currently unconventional interests more conventional. And with over 400 students, and less than 2% churn, Spark Studio has early inklings it may be onto something. — Natasha

Litnerd

Image Credits: Litnerd

The best books don’t feel like homework, they feel like trips into another universe and hangouts with characters that could be friends. Litnerd is trying to scale the feeling of immersive, engaging text to millions of students, while also encouraging better literacy and habit-forming skills. The startup has works read and enacted by actors, making classroom reading into a more entertaining experience for school-age children.

#accelerator, #early-stage, #early-stage-startup, #edtech, #fintech, #litnerd, #pre-seed, #seed, #tc, #y-combinator, #yc

Reframe your Metaphors, and other lessons from Y Combinator S21 Day 1

After a 17-hour marathon through nearly 200 startup pitches, the Equity team was fired up to get back on Twitter and chat through some early trends and favorites from the first day of Y Combinator’s demo party. We’ll be back on the air tomorrow, so make sure you’re following the show on Twitter so you don’t miss out.

What did Natasha and Alex chat about? The following:

  • First Impressions: We started by going through top-line numbers, geographic breakdown, and how the accelerator is doing when it comes to the representation of diverse founders. The last bit had a tiny bit of progress, but diversity continues to be an issue in YC’s batches – even as cohort size grows. We also chatted about what startups pitching can work on: like better mics, which are cheap and good.
  • Our early favorites: Metaphor, Lumify, Alex’s favorite duo Indian real estate plays, Akudo, Reframe, and Playhouse.
  • And some hmmm moments, including our thoughts on Writesonic, which Natasha has a potentially paranoid theory on.

TechCrunch has extensive coverage of the day on the site, so there’s lots to dig into if you are in the mood. More tomorrow!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#akudo, #demo-day, #early-stage, #fundings-exits, #google, #india, #lumify, #metaphor, #playhouse, #reframe, #startups, #tiktok, #writesonic, #y-combinator, #yc

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first-half of its nearly 400 company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators.

The TechCrunch team stuck to its tradition of covering every single company live (but, you know, from home,) so you’ll find all of the Day 1 companies here. For those who want a sampling of standouts, however, we’re also bringing you a host of our favorites from today’s 1-minute pitch off extravaganza.

As reporters, we’re constantly inundated with hundreds of pitches on a daily basis. The startups below caught our picky attention for a whole host of reasons, but that doesn’t mean other startups weren’t compelling or potential unicorns as well. Instead, consider below as a data point on which startups made us do a double take, be it due to the size of the market opportunity, the ambition exhibited by the founding team, or an idea that was just too clever to pass up.

Genei

Genei is, dare I say, a refreshing mix up between robots and writers. The startup has a simple goal: automatically summarize background reading so content creators can grab the top facts, attribute, and move onto the next graf. Writing is innately an art, so I find Genei’s positioning as a tool for writers instead of a replacement out to take their jobs as smart. Better yet, it’s launching by targeting some of the hardest workers in our industry: freelance writers. These folks often have to balance consistent pitches, diverse assignments and tight deadlines for their livelihood, so I’d presume a sidekick doesn’t hurt. Down the road, I could totally see this startup playing the same role as a Grammarly: a helpful extension of workflows that optimizes the way people who write for a living, write. — Natasha

#accelerator, #akudo, #digital-health, #early-stage, #fintech, #metaphor, #playhouse, #reframe, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator, #yc

Hum Capital thinks the future of funding is a return to old school Wall Street

Hum Capital CEO Blair Silverberg thinks that the future of fundraising requires a return to old school Wall Street – sans the fraud.

Back in the day, he explained, people would go to Wall Street and request funding for different projects, such as a rail line from New Jersey to St. Louis or a new store. A banker would chat through all the financing options, analyze different tradeoffs, and eventually help business owners pick the best capital option for their goals.

“It was very, ‘let’s think about the problem we’re trying to solve, and then let’s make the financing fit,’” Silverberg said. “Today, we do the opposite.” Even with ample capital in the market, startup check-writing is still a game dictated by warm intros, cold pitches, and oftentimes, sheer luck that the founder bugged the right person in the right way at the right time.

Silverberg said the current climate forces founders and investors to do a “crazy adversarial dance” when it comes to partnerships, which feels “backwards.” He wants his startup, Hum Capital, to bring optionality back into the mix.

“The dream scenario is that any company in the world uses Hum to articulate what they’re trying to do with their mission, and then gets all the relevant forms of financing just sitting right there waiting for them to pick the one that makes the most sense,” he said. No term-sheets for term-sheets sake, but instead, Hum Capital can be a clear way to visualize and compare different financing options for a company’s goal.

The nod to nostalgia has helped the startup land fresh capitalization for the future. Hum Capital announced today that it has raised $9 million in a Series A round led by Steve Jurvetson’s Future Ventures. Jurveston was an early investor in SpaceX, Tesla and Memphis Meats, which Silverberg thinks symbolizes that “[Hum Capital is] an equally world changing company.”

At this stage, Hum Capital’s product is easy to explain: it uses artificial intelligence and data to connect businesses to the some available funders on the platform. The startup connects with a capital-hungry startup, ingests financial data from over 100 SaaS systems including Quickbooks, Netsuite and Google Analytics, and then translates them to the some 250 institutional investors on its platform.

It’s a navigation engine for startups that aren’t sure whether they should go for venture debt, traditional VC, revenue-share financing options, or others. The average deal size is $6.4 million, but Hum can help founders access checks up to $50 million for their businesses.

Image Credits: Hum

Hum is free for startups and investors to use for data-sharing purposes and eventual connections. The startup makes money by charging a 2% marketplace fee on capital raised whenever a deal is closed through its platform.

Founders could theoretically use Hum to meet investors and then close the deal offline to avoid the 2% fee. Silverberg said that most users to-date don’t do this because they want to be repeat customers during future fundraises.

Hum’s biggest challenge is that it isn’t human. In venture, especially at the earliest stages, most check-writing comes down to an investor believing in a person’s ambition (and maybe their pitch deck). Hum leans heavily on data as a determinant of success, and while numbers don’t lie, it could mean early ideas with big ambition are left without options.

Silverberg argued that Hum isn’t meant to replace chemistry, but can work to make sure that the business makes financial sense for an investor. Meetings still matter, but with Hum, he thinks a founder and investor can spend the 30 minute meeting talking about mission and vision, and skip other basics of the business.

Fair rebuttal aside, Hum could be limited in the sorts of startups that it funds long-term. It doesn’t need to find ways to fit into traditional VC – since most businesses aren’t venture-bacable, but it will need to find a way to make sure high-quality investors consistently use the platform for deal flow. Today, much of the investment on the platform is classified as venture debt.

Early adoption suggests some early trends. Companies from 46 states have uploaded data to its Intelligent Capital Market (ICM) platform, and nearly half of all companies on the platform come outside of California and New York.

To date, the platform has helped facilitate more than $400 million in capital transactions across 150 fee agreements. The majority of that money moved between March and now, with customers including SecurityScorecard, Evolv AI and Flaviar.

Hum Capital’s raise is announced in a time where traditional financing feels challenged: Carta just raised money off of a valuation it set for itself, Brex launched a $150 million venture debt business, and Clearco, an alternative to VC, raised money from VCs at an over a $2 billion valuation.

“[Resource allocation] as important as making the world multiplanetary, or global problems like climate change,” Silverberg said. “…We’re at the book sales stage of Amazon.”

#blair-silverberg, #early-stage, #finance, #fintech, #fundraising, #future-ventures, #tc, #venture

BoldVoice wants to help nonnative English speakers find (and flaunt) their voices

When Anada Lakra and Ilya Usorov first moved to the United States, they struggled to find their voices. They both knew and understood English, but when it came time to speak up, their accents became a hurdle. Usorov, for example, watched his Russian-born parents struggle to advocate for themselves, which limited work opportunities. While Lakra, who just started college at Yale University, was constantly asked to repeat herself.

“Will I be able to express myself clearly enough? Will I be understood? Will I be as impactful?” Lakra remembers questioning herself. “My accent pronunciation made me feel like I really wasn’t my full self — and I lost a little of my personality.”

It’s an issue experienced, to varying degrees, by many of the roughly 65 million nonnative English speakers in the United States. Viewing accent as a hurdle in jobs, confidence and relationship-building, the duo teamed up as co-founders to build a solution.

Now, Lakra and Usorov are launching BoldVoice, an accent coaching app that helps users refine their pronunciation of the English language. The New York-based startup, currently going through Y Combinator’s summer 2021 batch, raised a pre-seed round of about $605,000 from the accelerator and XFund.

Hollywood, meet edtech

BoldVoice has a very specific user in mind: nonnative English speakers who learned the language on paper but now need help speaking and interacting with people.

The startup uses short-form videos, taught by Hollywood accent coaches who traditionally help actors, to deliver content. The curriculum is built around three Ps: posture, to help with the physical feel of using an English R versus a Spanish R; phonology, the vowels and consonants; and porosity, which is the musicality of an accent. So far, there are two Hollywood accent and dialect coaches on the platform: Ron Carlos and Eliza Simpson.

“We’re really thinking about this in the same way that an actor will learn an accent for a new role,” where they have to pick it up very quickly, Lakra said. “We want to bring the same discipline and process to everyone at home, so we have Hollywood accent coaches who are trained voice speech and dialect coaches” as well as advisers who have degrees in linguistics.

Beyond its short-form videos, the company plans to integrate artificial intelligence into its product. When a user practices a speech, BoldVoice records the speech sample, feeds it into an algorithm and, over time, will be able to recommend more tailored exercises to their weak areas. It is using open-source software currently but is developing its own AI algorithm for the future. Real-time feedback would be a feat.

BoldVoice

Image Credits: BoldVoice product screen

The sign-in process is pretty simple. Users are asked to set goals around accent confidence, explain English proficiency and identify native language, as well as the situation in which they want to improve, which can range from in the workplace to social settings. Users are also asked to commit pronunciation practice for 10 minutes a day, with the option to say no.

Image Credits: BoldVoice/TechCrunch screenshot

They are then given a lesson plan, which is only accessible through a subscription. The company charges $10 a month or $70 a year, which is meant to be more accessible than private accent coach tutoring, which can hit $200 per hour. There is currently no free experience for BoldVoice beyond a one-week free trial.

After launching a little over a month ago, BoldVoice has attracted 1,000 users, most of whom come from India, China, or are Spanish speakers. The company is focusing on creating “hyper-personalized” content around these core users, and will have its work cut out for it: There are 121 languages spoken by more than 10,000 people in India, with the Indian constitution officially recognizing 22 languages.

The owl is watching

BoldVoice is looking to dig into the crowded market of language learning startups at a key time for the edtech subsector. Language learning unicorn Duolingo is set to go public this week, which could cast a golden halo on other consumer edtech businesses. The company has already raised its expected price range ahead of its public offering, a confident move. Other companies such as Busuu and Babbel have also made progress in carving out spheres of language learning.

But Lakra doesn’t think any existing language learning apps have won over the accent market yet. She explained how learning a language is about memorization of vocabulary and grammar, while learning an accent is about working out your mouth through tongue exercises. The latter, which BoldVoice focuses on, doesn’t yet seem to be a priority for other businesses.

She’s not wrong. Duolingo excels at reading and writing literacy, but it has not yet shared any known efficacy studies about its pronunciation efforts. The company tried launching a chatbot in its early days to help users practice conversations. The highly requested feature flopped, though, as 80% of users didn’t use it — a reaction that CEO Luis von Ahn thinks underscores how difficult it is to get consumers to practice speaking.

Duolingo is now building investment in a team around speech recognition technology, as well as eyeing M&A opportunities. BoldVoice, which similarly uses bite-sized content and streaks, could bring its product of confidence to Duolingo’s mission of motivation.

Beyond the complementary yet competitive landscape, BoldVoice’s challenge ahead may just be that it is playing in a sensitive area. Someone’s voice is an integral part of their identity. BoldVoice will need to balance helping people, while also not erasing what makes them them.

Lakra thinks that they can strike the balance. Her perception of the user is constantly evolving.

“Users are already telling us that it would be awesome to get more tips around public speaking or how to interject in a meeting or how to give feedback politely,” she said. The requests are all about how to culturally and linguistically use English in a professional English-speaking environment, and BoldVoice is working with coaches to create content beyond pronunciation and into cadence, projection and intonation.

“We definitely want to move and make this a tool that helps people not just say the word the right way, but just feel confident in everything they say.”

boldvoice-co-founder

Image Credits: BoldVoice. Co-founders Ilya Usorov and Anada Lakra.

#early-stage, #edtech, #education, #english, #language, #language-learning, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator, #yc

Numerade lands $100M valuation for short-form STEM videos

Edtech entrepreneurs are using their moment in the sun to rethink the structures and impact of nearly every aspect of modern-day learning, from the art of testing to the reality of information retention. Yet, the most popular product up for grabs may just be a seemingly simple one: the almighty tutoring session. and Numerade, an edtech founded in 2018, just had its take on scalable, high-quality tutoring sessions valued at $100 million.

Numerade sells subscriptions to short-form videos that explain how certain equations and experiments work, and then uses an algorithm to make those explainers better suited to a learner’s comprehension style. Per CEO and co-founder Nhon Ma, the startup’s focus on asynchronous, contextualized content will make it easier to scale high-quality tutoring at an affordable price.

“Real teaching involves sight and sound, but also the context of how something is delivered in the vernacular of how a student actually learns,” Ma said. And he wants Numerade to be a platform that goes beyond the robotic Q&A and step-by-step answer platforms such as Wolfram Alpha, and actually integrates science into how solutions are communicated to users.

Today, the company announced that it has raised $26 million at a $100 million valuation in a round including investors such as IDG Capital, General Catalyst, Mucker Capital, Kapor Capital, Interplay Ventures, and strategic investors such as Margo Georgiadis, the former CEO of Ancestry, Khaled Helioui, the former CEO of Bigpoint Games and angel investor in Uber, and Taavet Hinrikus, founder of Wise.

“There are supply and demand mechanics inherent to synchronous tutoring,” Ma said. He explained how the best tutors have limited time, may demand premiums, and overall lead to a constraint on the supply side of marketplaces. Group tutoring has been an option employed by some companies, pairing multiple students to one tutor for efficiency saake, but he thinks that it is “really outdated, and actually decreases the quality of tutoring.”

With Numerade avoiding both live learning and Wolfram-Alpha style explainers that just give the answer to students, the company has turned to a third option: videos. Videos are not new to edtech, but currently majorly reside in massive open online course providers such as Coursera or Udemy, or ‘edutainment’ platforms like MasterClass and Outschool. Numerade thinks that teacher-led or educator-guided videos can be built around a specific problem within Chapter 2 of Fundamentals of Physics.

numerade

Student learning from Numerade videos.

The company has three main products: bootcamp videos for foundational knowledge, step-by-step videos that turn that knowledge into a skill and focus on sequence, and finally, quizzes that assess how much of the aforementioned information was retained.

The true moonshot in the startup, though, is the algorithm that decides which students see which videos. When explaining how the algorithm works, Ma used words like “deep learning” and “computer vision” and “ontology” but mostly the algorithm boils down to this: it wants to bring TikTok-level specificity to educational videos, using users’ historical actions to better push certain content that fits their learning style.

For example, the startup believes that offering step-by-step videos help the brain understand patterns, diversity of problems, and eventually better understand solutions. The algorithm mostly shows up in Numerade quizzes, which will see how a student performs on a topic and then input those results back into the model to assumedly better cater a new series of bootcamps and questions.

“To help a student grow and learn, our model first understands their strengths and weaknesses and then surfaces relevant conceptual, practical, and assessment content to build their subject knowledge. The algorithm can parse structured data from videos and provide different teaching styles to suit the needs of all students,” he said.

As of now, Numerade’s algorithm appears preliminary. Users need to be paid subscribers and have a sufficient usage history in order to start benefiting from more targeted content. Even so, it’s unclear how the algorithm leads to different pedagogical content to students beyond resurfacing concepts that a student erred on in a previous quiz.

Numerade’s moonshot is built on an equally ambitious premise: that students want to learn concepts, not just Google for the fastest answer so they can finish procrastinated homework. Ma explained how engagement time on Numerade videos can be somewhere from double to triple the video’s entire length, which means that students are interacting with the content beyond just skipping over to the answer

Numerade isn’t alone in trying to take on Wolfram Alpha. Over the past year, edtech unicorns like Quizlet and Course Hero have invested heavily in AI-powered chatbots and live calculators, the latter largely through acquisitions of companies such as Numerade. These platforms are rallying around the idea that tech-powered tutoring sessions should prioritize speed and simplicity, instead of relationship-building and time. In other words, maybe students won’t go to a tutor once a week for math, but they will go to a platform that can methodically explain an answer at midnight, hours before their precalculus exam.

Despite its somewhat early-stage algorithm innovation and heavy-weigh competition, Numerade’s fresh venture backing and ability to bring in revenue is promising. While declining to divulge specifics, Ma said that the company is “quickly tracking” to eight figures in ARR, meaning it’s making at least $10 million in annual revenue from its current subscriber base. He sees perspective as Numerade’s biggest competitive advantage.

“A common criticism of commercial STEM education is that it’s too modular – textbooks teach physics as stand-alone,” Ma said. “Our algorithm does not, instead it treats STEM as an interlocking ecosystem; concepts in math, physics, chemistry, and biology are omnidirectionally related.”

#ai, #early-stage, #edtech, #education, #numbers, #numerade, #series-a, #tc, #tiktok

Your funding round isn’t special, but you might be

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

For this week’s deep dive, Alex and Natasha and Danny decided it was time to chat about funding rounds. Yep, everyone’s favorite topic, just in time for the return of our wonderful producer Chris.

To help us navigate these particular waters, we had our friend and friendly competitor Alex Konrad on the show. Konrad is a senior editor over at Forbes, and part of the founding duo behind the Midas Touch newsletter. We like him – and his puppy!

With four of us around the Zoom table, here’s what we got into:

  • An overview of the venture capital market in Q2. You can read TechCrunch’s coverage of the global numbers here, and our further exploration of the US market here. TechCrunch has more coming on the matter, so stay tuned.
  • While the show includes the staggering statistics on the current funding frenzy, we soon broadened the conversation to why it all matters.
  • Consider this a peek into the reporter’s notebook! We spoke about the supply and demand for covering funding rounds, the imbalance in who receives what money, and how an overall reader ad writer numbness to that $2 million pre-seed impacts the headlines.
  • Which landed us into our final section: how to stand out in the overall deluge of funding rounds. Here we all had a take, because all reporters find different things interesting. Here we answer questions about what metrics to pay attention to, how to be more than a number in your pitch, and the value of talking about topics other than your startup’s success.

Thanks again to Alex K. for joining the show! Find him on Twitter,https://twitter.com/alexrkonrad and check out his work at Forbes.

Chat with everyone on Friday, a show that is already coming together to be a scorcher. A bit like the weather. Except in San Francisco. Natasha is cold!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#early-stage, #equity, #equity-podcast, #funding-round, #fundings-exits, #startups, #venture-capital

WayUp merges with Yello to diversify recruitment

Despite studies, statistics and oh-so-many pledges, a vast number of companies continue to struggle with recruiting diverse talent. Some say that it’s not the pipeline problem, it’s an issue with how recruitment rounds and technical interviews are conducted. Others point to success with hiring entry-level diverse talent, but then companies fail to retain and reinvest in those individuals as they progress through their career.

While entrepreneurs continue to poke at the gap between talented, diverse individuals and scaled recruiting, a new merger today between two venture-backed companies paints an ambitious picture of what a promising solution could look like.

Today, WayUp, a sourcing platform for diverse candidates, announced that it is merging with Yello, a recruitment software company. The two HR tech companies will operate under Yello as a legal entity but continue to keep their independent branding with a now combined 200 employees.

“We can send all the diverse applicants into applicant tracking systems or CRMs, but if companies don’t have the automation workflow, and the tools and analytics that they need to make sure that those candidates are truly making their way through, then these candidates are sitting in a black hole,” Liz Wessel, co-founder and CEO of WayUp, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

Wessel’s realization of the “black hole” that candidates fell into soon turned into conversations with Yello, which she describes as the “most robust [candidate relationship management solution] in the market for early career.”

Now, by combining forces, the startups will be able to create an end-to-end recruitment tool that helps aggregate a group of diverse candidates who have varied backgrounds from across core and non-core schools, ethnicity, majors, location, gender and ethnicity, and then place them with recruiters into a software-powered job funnel.

Data-driven diversity

Wessel has spent the past seven years building up WayUp around the concept of “data-driven diversity.” The platform differentiates from other sourcing and job platforms by asking candidates to self-report race, ethnicity, gender and veteran status. As a result, employers, which are WayUp’s clients, can prioritize diversity when hiring, while early-career professionals can explore curated opportunities based on their profiles.

More recently, WayUp launched a dashboard to help employers see where their recruiting process loses diverse candidates. While that dashboard was WayUp’s first foray into the world of candidate recruitment management, today’s merger with Yello suggests it was just foreshadowing the partnership to come.

Yello handles recruitment processes for companies, from top of funnel events such as career fairs through virtual candidate engagement and interview scheduling. The company has landed clients like Johnson & Johnson, Tableau, eBay and Adobe for its sourcing, engaging and placing software.

“They provide a ton of automation workflow to make it so that companies can significantly, quickly, efficiently and easily get applicants through in a fair and equitable way,” Wessel said. “Companies often don’t struggle with, ‘how do I get more applicants’ at the early career stage, it’s really, ‘how do I get the most qualified, diverse talented candidates hired’.”

Yello’s been working on a sourcing arm for years in its campus recruiting solution. Now, with WayUp, the database will grow to over 6 million candidates across 7,000 campuses. Candidates, while self-reported, are 71% Black, Hispanic or female, along with “tens of thousands” of veterans, a statement about the merger disclosed.

“In addition to offering a powerhouse of data, recruiters will benefit from the automation opportunities of two solutions from a single company,” said Corey Ferengul, CEO, Yello, in a statement announcing the merger.

Yello, which didn’t previously have an explicit diversity angle in its software product, is now adding WayUp’s database of talent to its suite of services. And WayUp, which didn’t previously have a candidate relationship management tool, now can offer one to its talent.

Handshakes

Even with 6 million early market professionals in its sphere, the companies have a billion-dollar competitor worth paying attention to. Handshake, which last raised money at a $1.5 billion valuation, is a networking and recruitment platform for college students. The job recruiting tool recently passed 18 million users across thousands of universities, including some 120 minority-serving institutions, which include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions in the U.S., as well as community colleges. Handshake’s focus on diversity isn’t as marketed as WayUp’s, but its footprint, as well as a curated network that brings HBCUVs into conversations with its 550,000 employer clients, shows its commitment to underrepresented groups. Canvas, another venture-backed startup in the HR tech world, similarly offers a recruiting platform that is based on self-reported data, aimed at helping diverse candidates land jobs.

With WayUp joining Yello’s brand, it is strengthening its competitive advantage over Handshake, Canvas and other competitors by adding software services to its recruiting tool. It’s been almost four years since both Yello and WayUp last raised venture capital money, but the move to merge doesn’t appear to be a lifeboat, as Wessel pointed out that her company beat sales expectations four quarters in a row.

“Yello isn’t competitive to Handshake at all,” Wessel said over e-mail. “I’ve never heard of one of them winning a deal over the other and we only compete with Handshake if a company isn’t prioritizing D&I as their main goal. [For what it’s worth], we’ve yet to lose an RFP for D&I sourcing.”

Long-term, it’s unclear what’s stopping more companies from combining CRM tools with talent tools, Handshake included.

“It’s really hard,” Wessel said. “We have both an Enterprise-grade software that took a decade to build to get it where it is today.”

#college, #corey-ferengul, #dei, #early-stage, #handshake, #hiring, #hr-tech, #liz-wessel, #ma, #recruitment, #talent, #tc, #wayup

Peter Boyce II has left General Catalyst to start his own $40M fund

Peter Boyce II has left General Catalyst to start his own firm, a little over a year after the venture capital firm promoted him to partner. His new firm is called Stellation Capital, and filings indicate that he is looking to raise up to $40 million for the debut investment vehicle. Sources say that most, if perhaps not all, of that total has been closed since the initial SEC filing in April.

Boyce declined to comment for this story. It’s been a quiet transition for the investor; his LinkedIn and Twitter have not been updated to indicate his new job title, but his personal website indicates the new gig. For an investor to leave a prominent venture capital firm after an eight-year tenure to raise dozens of millions of his own — and somehow do so quietly and with minimal coverage — might be a result of the funding frenzy and consequential numbness to yet another filing.

Boyce joined GC in 2013 and led investments in Ro, Macro, towerIQ and Atom. He’s also supported portfolio companies such as Giphy, Jet.com and Circle. Beyond GC, Boyce has experience co-founding and running Rough Draft Ventures, a program that helps incubate startups founded by students and recent graduates, as well as promote entrepreneurship on campuses.

Stellation Capital will leverage his work and name into early-stage investments. The name of the firm, per its website, is derived from the Latin root of stella, which means star. The name also describes “the process of extending a polygon in new dimensions to form a new shape … just like we’re extending the potential of a founder into new possibilities.”

It’s unclear what the firm’s check size and cadence will be, but it did say it wants to back successful companies at “their earliest stages” on the website.

#early-stage, #general-catalyst, #peter-boyce, #tc

SWORD Health closes on $85 million Series C for virtual MSK care

SWORD Health, a virtual musculoskeletal care platform founded in 2015, announced today that it has raised an $85 million Series C funding round led by General Catalyst. Other participating investors included BOND, Highmark Ventures, BPEA, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, Transformation Capital and Green Innovations. The funding comes months after the company raised a $25 million Series B round – which, put differently, means that the New York-based company has now raised $110 million across six months.

CEO and founder of SWORD Health, Virgílio Bento, said that company was not actively having conversations with external VCs when it raised the round. The Series C closed within three weeks of the first anchor investor’s check.

“Given the interest of the market, given the valuations, and given the ability to bring other stellar investors [who] can help us grow even faster and more efficiently – that’s why we decided to raise again,” he said.

SWORD Health’s massive tranche of capital comes as the world of MSK digital health startups continues to boom, thanks to the broad rise of virtual care. Venture-backed startups such as Kaia Health, which saw its business grow by 600% in 2020 and Hinge Health, which was last valued at $3 billion, are hitting growth stage. SWORD Health, while founded in 2015, has only been in the market for 18 months. Bento declined to share the company’s exact valuation, but he confirmed that it was north of $500 million.

MSK conditions, which can range from a sprained ankle to a disc compression, are diverse and, unfortunately, universally felt. The sheer expansiveness of the condition has triggered a crop of entrepreneurs to create solutions that help people avoid surgery or addictive opioids, two of the mainstream ways to deal with MSK conditions.

SWORD Health’s solution looks like this: The platform connects consumers to a virtual physical therapist who is accessible via traditional telemedicine. Beyond that, the company gives each consumer a tablet and motion sensors. The consumers are promoted to go through the motions, and get feedback and tips through a SWORD HealthDigital Therapist.

Nikhil Krishnan, the founder of Out-of-Pocket, explained how it all works through a first-person account:

As you go through them, the sensors + digital therapist can tell if the movements are correct and how far you’re moving in each direction. The digital therapist has 5000 different types of feedback messages like “don’t bend your knee,” “lean forward more,” and “your squat form is more embarrassing than your Facebook etiquette circa 2009.” You get a score of 1-5 stars depending on how far you move in a direction for a given exercise. My regimen was usually between 17-25 exercises and in total would take me 20-25 minutes.

SWORD Health sells to insurers, health systems and employers in the United States, Europe and Australia.

SWORD Health’s biggest competitor is Hinge Health, last valued at $3 billion. However, for now, Bento isn’t too worried about the behemoth.

“It’s really two different studies on how to build a healthcare company,” Bento said. He pointed to how SWORD Health spent its first four years as a company developing its sensor, while he claims that Hinge went out to the market with “a half-baked solution” in sensor technology.

That said, in March 2021, Hinge acquired medical device maker Enso to grow its non-invasive, musculoskeletal therapy tech, and continues to have the biggest marketshare among private startups in the sector.

The company touted that it has increased its number of treated patients 1,000% year over year, which has led to 600% year-over-year revenue growth. Given the fact that it’s only been in the market for 18 months, these metrics don’t provide an entirely holistic picture into the business, but instead offer a snapshot into the recent growth of an early-stage tool. With millions more, the SWORD Health founder is set to invest more in the company, and continue to not focus too much on profitability.

“This is a big problem that we want to solve, so we really want to reinvest all of the gross profit that we are generating into building a platform that is able to deliver more value to patients,” he said.

 

#bond, #early-stage, #general-catalyst, #hinge-health, #msk, #series-c, #sword-health, #tc

Doug Landis, Emerge Capital growth partner, will talk startup storytelling at TC Early Stage in July

How psyched are you about our TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising event? Still need some convincing? Here’s another great session we’ve got planned for the show, which will span July 8 and 9.

Emerge Capital Growth Partner Doug Landis will be joining us to discuss how early stage companies can build out the proper story for pitching VCs. It’s an important, but underdiscussed aspect of helping set your company apart from countless other startups vying for the same venture funding.

Landis knows a thing or two about storytelling. Before joining Emergence as a growth partner, it was actually part of his job title, serving as the chief storyteller and VP of sales productivity and enablement at Box. Before that, he served as a skills training manager at Google and senior director of corporate sales productivity at Salesforce.

These days, Landis drives sales and go-to-market strategies for Emergence Capital’s portfolio companies, working to help develop the next major player in the SaaS world.

Landis is joining a stacked lineup for our TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising event. The list includes Sequoia’s Mike Vernal (Product Market Fit Is All About Tempo), Coatue’s Caryn Marooney (formerly Facebook’s head of comms) and Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra (Growth Hacking) and Designer Fund’s Scott Tong (IFTTT co-founder and former head of product design at Pinterest). Grab your ticket now to attend Landis’s session plus 20 others (including a pitch off)!

#articles, #business, #caryn-marooney, #co-founder, #designer-fund, #early-stage, #economy, #emergence-capital, #events, #ifttt, #mike-vernal, #pinterest, #product-management, #product-marketing, #salesforce, #scott-tong, #venture-capital

Equity Live: This is what leadership smells like

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we did something fun and different and good: a live show! A good number of people came, and asked questions, and altogether, it was a blast.

Danny, Natasha, and Alex had a lovely time with the regular work, while Grace and Chris and Kevin made the whole operation function. We’ll likely post a bonus episode of the Q&A on Saturday if people are interested in Equity After Hours.

That aside, what did we talk about in a longer-than-usual episode? Here’s the rundown:

It’s always fun to play around with our show, and thank you to everyone who came out and supported us in our first-ever, but probably not last-ever, virtual live show. We are back to regular, however, starting Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#a16z, #academy-investor-network, #buzzfeed, #crypto, #diversity, #early-stage, #edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #figma, #fintech, #fund, #fundings-exits, #insight-partners, #majority, #mfast, #military, #neobanks, #spac, #startups, #vietnam, #waitwhat

ResQ raises $7.5 million to make back of the house, top of mind

Entrepreneur Kuljeev Singh has had a three-course meal in the restaurant business. He was an angel investor in ChefHero, a part-time owner in an Australian-style meat pie shop, and now, is the founder of ResQ, a startup that helps restaurants repair and service their equipment through contractor work.

Sitting at multiple seats at the table showed Singh the “unfortunate reality of what it takes to run a restaurant. Weeks into buying that meat pie shop, Singh watched tens of thousands of dollars burn due to failing equipment and contractor issues.

“I realized [that] I have so much support at the front of the house to drive revenue to the door, but I have no technology to support the back of the house,” he said. Singh soon realized that his pain point was shared by many other restaurant owners, which seeded the idea for ResQ, a startup all about optimizing the back of the house, or non-customer facing, operation for restaurants.

ResQ announced today that it has raised $7.5 million in seed funding led by Homebrew, Golden Ventures, and Inovia Capital. Participating angel investors include Nilam Ganenthiran, president at Instacart; Gokul Rajaram, Doordash executive and board member of Pinterest and Coinbase, as well as customers, including Soul Foods, a global franchisee of Yum! Brands. ResQ has now raised $9 million in known venture capital to date.

The capital will primarily help ResQ double or triple its 60-person team across engineering, sales, and operation roles. The company will also earmark money toward launching in new markets, building atop its current presence in San Francisco, LA, Dallas, Chicago, and Phoenix.

SaaS-enabled marketplace

ResQ’s business is split into two parts: a software platform and contractor marketplace.

The platform allows restaurants to request, manage, and pay for a service that they need done, from plumbing issues to electrical mishaps. ResQ claims it can save restaurants between 10-30% in annual repairs by offering competitive rates, and faster communication and hiring loops. It charges a monthly SaaS fee per rooftop to a restaurant group.

ResQ product mock-up.

The software layer sits on top of ResQ’s contractor marketplace, which is essentially a supply of geographic-specific workers with a variety of specialties that can come to do repairs or management. In exchange for providing contractors with work, ResQ takes a portion of revenue they make from each service. Singh sees the marketplace business of ResQ as a differentiator from incumbents or startup competitors such as ServiceChannel.

“You don’t just need a fancy-looking piece of software,” Singh said. “You need a product that can manage vendors, that can make sure they show up on time, that can make sure that they’re not overcharging, so that’s why we’re a SaaS enabled marketplace in the background.” By owning the supply side of the repair market, ResQ can have more precision when meeting demand and understanding its end customer.

Of course, a challenge with any marketplace is balancing and sourcing a high-quality supply. ResQ has over 700 contractors on its platform right now, but it needs to continue building them up in order to meet needs and get restaurant services on time. Singh said that a majority of its contractor supply comes from its restaurant customers bringing on preferred partners to their platform. ResQ then backfills, he said, any gaps in supply or if there are any specialties that are missing. While that process may be convenient for now, the startup could eventually scale – and sweeten the deal – by generating its own supply of contractors.

Hunter Walk, partner at Homebrew, thinks that ResQ could eventually use its positioning as a marketplace to bring on edtech and fintech services to contractors. For example, it has plans to eventually turn into a skills provider to train and place local talent. ResQ also wants to turn into a “business in a box” for these contractors, helping them grow their business through payment and billing support.

“For me that’s the difference between ‘you’re just making things more efficient’ versus ‘you’re also giving some percentage of your worker base the chance to think in new ways about the services they provide,” Walk said. “If you’re just thinking about it as an as a optimization algorithm, then you’re never really going to get into the ‘what can I do to help make these people’s lives better’ and those are where some of the upside of the economics live as well.” He noted that Singh’s experience, and ethos as a founder, will lead to ResQ solving problems more holistically and humanly.

Resq-kuljeev-singh

ResQ founder Kuljeev Singh

The market

Even with successful operations, margins can be razor-thin in the restaurant industry. This reality puts any startup in the restaurant tech industry at risk: when costs need to be cut, SaaS tools could be the first to go. Toast, for example, initially cut 50% of its staff due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

For ResQ, the pandemic created new urgency around rebuilding tech-forward restaurants, Singh said.

“We started building a new paradigm to our product and transitioned from a transactional marketplace mobile only focused on smaller restaurants, to a fully SaaS product focused on multi-unit operators powered by a local marketplace,” Singh said. Surely enough, the company’s revenue grew 750% over the past year.

To date, ResQ has worked with over 3,000 restaurant groups including KFC, Taco Bell, and Tim Hortons. With millions in the bank, let’s hope that number grows and it continues to find ways to grow its back of the house footprint.

#early-stage, #homebrew, #hunter-walk, #restaurant, #seed, #smb, #tc

Early-stage venture firm The Fund launches in Australia

A group photo of The Fund Australia’s team (left to right): Elicia McDonald, Adrian Petersen, Georgia Vidler, Ed Taylor and Todd Deacon

The Fund Australia’s team (l to r): Elicia McDonald, Adrian Petersen, Georgia Vidler, Ed Taylor and Todd Deacon

The Fund, the early-stage investment firm focused on pre-seed and seed startups, is going Down Under for its latest expansion. The Fund was founded in New York in 2018, before launching in Los Angeles, London, the Rockies and the Midwest, too.

Co-founder Jenny Fielding, who is also managing director at Techstars New York, said The Fund decides on new areas for expansion based on demand from the local startup ecosystem, and earlier this year, it heard from a group of founders and operators who wanted to launch it in Australia, too.

In addition to participating in first check rounds, The Fund also builds communities of founders and other leaders from successful startups, who not only provide mentorship, but also capital as limited partners. The Fund now has a network of about 400 founders and has made around 120 investments across its funds.

In each of its regions, The Fund is led by an investment committee of four people. In Australia, they are: Techstars managing director Todd Deacon; venture firm AirTree principal Elicia McDonald; AfterWorks Ventures co-founder Adrian Petersen; and former Canva head of product Georgia Vidler. There will be 50 people in The Fund Australia’s limited partner base, including founders of startups like Culture Amp’s Rod Hamilton, Linktree’s Alex Zaccaria, Adore Beauty’s Kate Morris, and leaders from Canva and Safety Culture, too. The Fund Australia’s LPs will help source promising startups from their networks, and refer them to the investment committee for review.

The Fund is targeting $3.5 million USD and will invest in about 40 startups, writing check sizes of $50,000 to $100,000 USD over 24 months. Limited partners and other members of its community around the world will provide guidance as portfolio companies grow.

Deacon told TechCrunch that The Fund Australia’s focus on very early-stage startups is important because of the growing pre-seed/seed funding gap. He points to a report by StartupAus, an advocacy group for Australian startups, that angel and seed investment in Australia has fallen over the past few years, both in terms of number of deals and aggregate value.

The Fund’s hypothesis is that many early-stage funds, in Australia and other parts of the world, shift their focus to later stages as they raise larger funds, Deacon added. This happened in New York City, too, and was one of the contributing drivers for the creation of The Fund in the first place.

“There’s been this gap in early-stage funding. There’s those two points of building a really strong community—helping founders and then the funding gap, which we can help to solve to a certain degree. We’re bringing in checks in the early stage with a lot of power in providing founders access to that network,” he said.

Writing early checks lets The Fund see deal flow before other venture firms and limited partners, and small check sizes gives it an advantage with startups.

“We don’t take a huge proportion of their raise, yet we come with really high quality capital,” said Deacon. “We’ve got that investor network. For why some of our [LPs] are interested, it’s to generate a return, but they also want to give back and make Australia and New Zealand companies prosper.”

Being able to tap into The Fund’s international network is helpful for startups in Australia, where many companies eye international expansion from the start.

Australian unicorns like Atlassian and Canva are also helping strengthen Australia’s startup ecosystem, said Vidler. “It feels like an inflection point for me in the startup ecosystem, where now there’s all these original founders and a community of senior operators who are keen to give back and create and bolster the ecosystem here.”

The Fund Australia is sector agnostic and wants to create a diverse portfolio. The Fund has focused on gender parity since the start. Each region’s investment committee is comprised of two men and two women, about half of its LPs are women and over 40% of its total capital has gone to female founders. Vidler says this was a major draw for her.

“The pull for me, and I think for a big part of the network in Australia, and a lot of women in tech in Australia, is that they’re going to be super interested in investing in the next generation of female founders as well,” she said.

#australia, #early-stage, #startups, #tc, #the-fund, #the-fund-australia, #venture-capital

Dismantling the myths around raising your first check

As startups and venture capital grow in tandem, fundraising has gone from a formal affair on Sand Hill Road to a process that can happen anywhere from Twitter to Zoom.

While fundraising may no longer require a trip to California, it might depend on whether you got an invite to a private audio app. And while you may not need to be an insider, second-time founders — largely male and white — still have a competitive advantage.

If your intention is to build a company that you want to own and run indefinitely, and/or to grow more slowly and take fewer risks, traditional venture capital is not right for what you want to build.

The growing complexity of fundraising has the opportunity to make tech either inclusive or exclusive. For new founders looking to raise money, let’s dismantle the myths about raising your first check and instead focus on how investors and other successful founders describe the nuance needed to secure money.

What makes my business venture-worthy?

This question is existential, but it should be at the forefront throughout your journey as a founder. Elizabeth Yin, founding partner of Hustle Fund, says startups should be able to hit one of two goals: Reach $100 million ARR by its fifth year or get to $1 billion in valuation in the same time period.

“This is hard to do. And most businesses will never get there — not for a lack of trying — but there’s a lot of luck whether your idea has that much demand that quickly,” she added.

“I think you will know in the first year or two how ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ it is to get customers and whether you think on that trajectory you can get to $100 million a year in a few years,” Yin said. “And if it’s really hard, it doesn’t mean you throw in the towel. … There are many great companies that are not VC-backable where the founders will make a lot of money, but it just means you need to think through where to get your financing. Perhaps it’s from angels. Perhaps it’s from revenue-based financing funds. Perhaps it’s from customer crowdfunding.”

While VC is the flashy gold medal, the rapid growth of emerging fund managers means that a first check can be piecemealed together from a variety of different sources. The options for financing are seemingly endless: syndicates, public crowdfunding, VC firms, accelerators, debt financing, rolling funds, and, for the profitable few, bootstrapping.

“When people go around saying, ‘Do you want to run a VC-backable company?’ that feels weird — you don’t necessarily get to pick how fast you can grow — the market just may or may not be there,” Yin said. “There’s a lot of luck with that.”

Leslie Feinzaig, founder of Female Founders Collective, said that beyond economics, the hardest part of knowing whether your startup makes sense as a VC-backed business is understanding your own goals as an entrepreneur.

#advice, #early-stage, #ec-how-to, #entrepreneurship, #fundraising, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Every early-stage startup must identify and evaluate a strategic advantage

Whether you’re building a company or thinking about investing, it’s important to understand your strategic advantage. In order to determine one, you should ask fundamental questions like: What’s the long-term, sustainable reason that the company will stay in business?

The most important elements for founders to consider when figuring out their strategic advantage(s) include one-sided or “direct” network effects (e.g. with social media sites like Facebook), marketplace network effects (e.g. with two-sided marketplaces like Uber), data moats, first mover and switching costs.

Let’s take a quick look at an example of one-sided network effects. At the very earliest stages of Facebook’s existence, it was just Mark Zuckerberg, a few friends, and their basic profiles. The nascent social media platform wasn’t useful beyond a few dorm rooms. They needed a strategic advantage or the company would not make it beyond the edge of campus.

A successful startup without a strategic advantage is just a validated business model vulnerable to copycat companies looking for a market entry point.

In fact, Facebook only truly became a useful platform — and accelerated as a business — when more users came into the fold and more types of email addresses were accepted. Add to that the introduction of an ad marketplace revenue model and you have a clear strategic advantage — based on one-sided network effects — that gave Facebook a strategic edge over other early social media sites like MySpace.

These one-sided network effects are different from two-sided network effects.

A strategic advantage is paramount to maintaining market share

Image Credits: Canvas Ventures

Two-sided network effects are most common in marketplace business models. In a two-sided network, supply and demand are matched, like Uber riders (demand) being matched with Uber drivers (supply). The Uber product is not necessarily more valuable just because more users (riders) join, the way Facebook is more valuable when more users join.

In fact, when more users (riders) join the demand side of the Uber network, it might actually be worse for the user experience — it’s harder to find a driver and wait times get longer. The demand side (riders) gets value from more supply (drivers) joining the platform and vice-versa. That’s why it’s called a two-sided network, or a marketplace.

Regardless of industry, a successful startup without a strategic advantage is just a validated business model vulnerable to copycat companies looking for a market entry point. Copycats can range in size from startups with similar grit to large companies like Facebook or Google that have limitless resources to drive competition into the market, and potentially run the startup with the original idea out of business. This vulnerability can prove fatal unless a startup’s founding team explores and embraces one or more strategic advantages.

#column, #early-stage, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #entrepreneurship, #first-mover-advantage, #funding, #growth, #startups

Deadline extended: Apply to Startup Battlefield at TC Disrupt 2021

When you’re head-down and nose to the grindstone — I’m looking at all you hard-working early-stage startup founders — it’s easy to miss a deadline for an outstanding opportunity. Case in point: competing in Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 in September.

We want every game-changing, innovative startup — from anywhere around the world — to have a shot at massive exposure to investors, media and other influential unicorn-makers. The $100,000 in equity-free prizemoney would be nice, too, right? That’s why we’re extending our application deadline for another full week.

It won’t cost you a thing to apply or to participate, so don’t let this trajectory-changing opportunity slip past you. Apply to Startup Battlefield here before May 27 at 11:59 pm (PT).

The TechCrunch editorial team will vet every application and ultimately choose roughly 20 startups to go head-to-head. Each team receives weeks of free, rigorous coaching from our seasoned Battlefield team. Your pitch, presentation skills and business model will reach new heights of excellence. You’ll also be ready to deftly handle all the questions you’ll receive from our expert VC judges.

Startup Battlefield plays out over several rounds, with the field progressively narrowing. Each time you make the cut, you’ll repeat your pitch-and-answer session to a new set of judges. All that training, prep and focus leads to a final showdown and one last grab for the brass ring. And then it’s up to the judges to decide which stand-out startup wins the championship and that huge check.

While only one startup wins the money and the title, every team that competes benefits from standing in a global spotlight. Sean Huang, co-founder of Matidor, competed in Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020. His team was one of the five finalists. Here’s what he said about his experience:

“Going through Startup Battlefield helped us simplify and improve our pitch. It helped us not only with brand messaging, but also to win other pitch competitions after Battlefield. By pitching in the finals, we booked a demo with one of the final panelists.

We received inbound investment interest from 12 Tier-1 investors, and eight potential key clients came to our website for a demo session. We also received an endorsement letter for our Y Combinator application from a fellow Battlefield participant, with whom we formed a great connection.”

You’re head down and focused — that’s why we’re giving you a one-week extension. So, stop, look up and grab this opportunity to take your startup to whole new levels. Get your nose off that grindstone and apply to Startup Battlefield here before May 27 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#diversity, #early-stage, #founder-stories, #tc, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021

Treasury Prime raises $20M to scale its banking-as-a-service biz

This morning Treasury Prime, a banking-as-a-service startup that delivers its product via APIs, announced that it has closed a $20 million Series B. The capital comes around a year since the startup announced its Series A, and around 1.5 years since it raised its preceding round.

For Treasury Prime, the new capital was an internal affair, with prior investors stepping up to lead its new round of funding. Deciens Capital and QED Investors co-led the round, with Susa Ventures and SaaStr Fund also putting cash into the transaction.

As is increasingly common among insider-led fundraises in recent years, the startup in question was not in dire need of new funding before the new investment came together. In fact, Treasury Prime CEO Chris Dean told TechCrunch that his firm is “super capital efficient” in an interview, adding that it had not tucked into its Series A capital until January of this year.

So, why raise more funds now? To invest aggressively in its business. That plan is cliche for a startup raising new funding, but in the case of Treasury Prime the move isn’t in anticipation of future demand. Dean told TechCrunch that his startups had run into a bottleneck in which it could only take on so much new customer volume. That’s no good for a startup in a competitive sector, so picking up its spend in early 2021 and raising new capital in mid-2021 makes sense as it could help it hire, and absorb more demand, more quickly.

And for Treasury Prime’s preceding backers, the chance to put more capital into a startup that was dealing with more demand than capacity likely wasn’t too hard a choice.  Dean added that to make sure the round’s price was market-reasonable, he pitched around 10 venture capital firms, got three term sheets, and then went with his preceding investor group; if any VC reading this is irked by the move, this is the founder equivalent of private-market investors asking founders to come back to them after they find a lead.

But with the banking-as-a-service market growing, thanks to entrants like Stripe showing up in recent quarters, how does Treasury Prime expect to stay towards the front of its fintech niche? Per Dean, by bringing together banks that want fintech deal volume, and fintechs who need both technology and eventual banking partners. By courting both sides of its market, Treasury Prime hopes to be well-situated for long-term growth.

And its CEO is bullish on the scale of his market.

If you imagine the banking-as-a-service market as merely neobanks, he explained, it’s not that big. But his startup expects the number of companies that want to offer their customers the sort banking capabilities that Treasury Prime and some competitors can offer will be broad. How broad? The best way I can summarize the company’s argument is that, a bit like how vertical SaaS has proven that building software for particular industries can be big business, Treasury Prime expects that banking tools will also be built for similar business categories. Vertical banking, perhaps, integrated into other services.

And it wants to be there, offering the back-end tech, and access to banks that the companies building those services will need.

Fintech is a big and expensive market, and Treasury Prime isn’t busy raising nine-figure rounds — yet, at least. According to PitchBook data, Treasury Prime was valued at just over $40 million at the time of its Series A; the company’s new valuation was presumably higher, though how much is not yet clear.

Let’s see how far it can get with $20 million more as it sheds some of its frugal DNA and looks to burn a little faster.

#api, #early-stage, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #treasury-prime

If 12% is the new 30%, 4% is the new 12%

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

The whole team was aboard for this recording, with Grace and Chris behind the scenes, and Danny, Alex, and Natasha on the mics. We had to cut more than we included this week, which should give you a good idea of how busy the startup and VC worlds are of late.

Make sure that you are following the podcast on Twitter, where we post all sorts of memes and cuts and, perhaps, the occasional video here and there. That aside, here’s the rundown:

  • Investing legend David Swenson passed away.
  • Twitter is buying Scroll (neat, very cool) as part of its subscription push, but also killing Nuzzel in the process (bad, very uncool). Natasha and Danny fill us in on why Nuzzel will be missed. Alex has thoughts on why Twitter-Scroll is good.
  • Epic bought ArtStation and cut its marketplace take rate. This is the future, says Danny, who throws his own estimates in, too.
  • Sony and Discord are tying up after the Microsoft-Discord deal fell apart.
  • Edtech is doing the edtech thing in which it raises money and consolidates, as shown by Kahoot’s latest scoop.
  • A friend of the pod, Jomayra Herrera, is joining Reach Capital as its first ever outside-partner hire.
  • Uber is teaming up with Arrival for ride-hailing designed electric vehicles. We’re pretty bullish on the idea. Also Alex likes to say “microfactories.”
  • IVF startups are raising venture capital, and this time its Alife Health that we’re talking about. 
  • WorkBoard raised again. Alex once again made us talk about OKR-focused startups. He needs to get a life, and so does the rest of the Equity team which fought to do the transition into this segment.
  • To end, we spoke about Leda Health, a new startup focused on at-home rape kits for sexual assault survivors. It’s a controversial company, and we discuss critiques and opportunities,

And that’s our show! No private equity deal can slow the Equity team down, so we’ll see you Monday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#alife-health, #arrival, #clever, #discord, #early-stage, #edtech, #electric-vehicles, #epic, #epic-games, #equity, #equity-podcast, #ev, #kahoot, #leda-health, #microsoft, #nuzzel, #okr, #reach-capital, #scroll, #sony, #tc, #twitter, #uber, #venture-capital, #workboard

Expressable launches with millions for scalable speech therapy

Speaking isn’t simple for at least 40 million Americans, so a new Austin-based startup is scaling a solution. Expressable is a digital speech therapy company that connects patients to speech language pathologists (SLP) via telehealth services and asynchronous support, and it has raised a new $4.5 million seed round.

The early-stage startup is launching with an explicit focus on serving the approximately five million children in the United States that have a communication disorder. What might start as an occasional stutter could turn into a communication disorder over time – so the startup is looking to intervene early to get kids on a clearer path.

Launched in 2019 by married co-founders Nicholas Barbara and Leanne Sherred, Expressable has served thousands of families to date. Today, the duo announced its seed funding, co-led by Lerer Hippeau and NextView Ventures, with participation from Amplifyher Ventures. The money will be used to expand its provider network, go in-network, and focus on its edtech service.

What it does

Put simply, Expressable connects children to speech-language pathologists on a recurring basis. The therapy is done live via Zoom for Healthcare with licensed professionals that Expresssable employs full-time. Clients are matched with a therapist in their area of need, from public speaking to vocal cord paralysis. Parents are able to reach their children’s SLP through secure SMS for coordination, questions, and rescheduling throughout the week.

On top of real-time support, the virtual speech therapy provider has a suite of asynchronous services. The company is building an e-learning platform with homework assignments and lessons, prescribed by the therapist and provided via SMS, for parents to do with their children to reinforce the speech care plans.

The activities are meant to be bite-sized – used when driving to the grocery store or cooking dinner or playing in the backyard – and tailored for interaction with children. The lessons can be as simple as creating opportunities for a kid to ask for juice, or to practice two-word utterances with an imitation game.

A mock secure SMS by Expressable. Image Credits: Expressable

This unique edtech bit of Expressable leans heavily on parent involvement in the therapy process. Parental help has been shown to increase positive outcomes, but notably it could also leave low-income, working class families out of the mix. Its price, on average, is $59 per week, and that’s currently only out of pocket rather than subsidized by insurance.

“There’s a lot of content for speech language pathologists by speech language pathologists, but not a lot of content by [SLPs] for parents, written in a way that is consumable,” Barbara said. “It just felt like a huge opportunity and market gap.”

Part of Expressable’s value is that it’s better than the status quo, which surprisingly often actually amounts to nothing. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 8 to 9 percent of children have a speech sound disorder in the country — but only half actually get treatment. What might start as an occasional stutter could turn into a communication disorder over time – so Expressable wants to intervene early to get kids on the right path.

“Public schools are the number-one provider for pediatric speech but they are unfortunately notoriously underfunded,” said Sherred. Children who are lucky enough to be eligible for school services are often provided them in a group setting, she continued, which lengthens the amount of time it takes to make progress.

Sherred witnessed the “incredibly frustrating cycle” created by gaps in school intervention first-hand as a SLP. She has spent the majority of her career in in-home health, where she would work in homes and daycares directly with children.

The majority of Expressable’s user base are children, but about 35% are adults, signaling how speech issues can continue past childhood.

Meagen Lloyst, who sourced the Expressabble deal for Lerer Hippeau, is one example. Lloyst was diagnosed with a speech and voice condition in late 2020 and needed to find remote SLP therapy, which introduced her to the challenges of finding a high-quality specialized SLP.

“Before Expressable, there was no consumer-facing brand out there solving these pain points for individuals with communications disorders,” Lloyst said. “It’s evident that they’re already hiring the best SLPs out there, bringing parents and education into the process to focus on better outcomes for children, and doing so in a cost-effective and convenient way through virtual care.”

Telehealth with a twist

While telehealth usage remains above pre-pandemic levels, visits are on the decline. One challenge for any digital telehealth startup, Expressable included, is how to make a convincing pitch for moving caretaking fully-virtual in a post-pandemic context.

The Expressable co-founders pointed toward consistency, both internally and externally, as a competitive advantage.

First, speech therapy is a recurring service that many patients use once a week, every month, for years. “A lot of other telemedicine plays are these quick, convenient, and direct primary care,” Barbara said. “[We are] a longer tail of treatment plan that requires a close relationship between provider and patient.”

Second, unlike many telehealth startups, Expressable has hired its specialists full-time as W-2 employees. It’s a strategic choice to help ensure to its clients that their SLP of choice is a long-term relationship. The startup has 50 W-2 SLPs currently.

“We have built a career path for SLPs and a value proposition to speech language pathologists where they can work from home, set their own hours [get] paid above the national average, and then receive benefits that may not be obviously not common if you’re working in a contractor position.”

Not relying on the traditional contractor model might be a differentiation, but it’s also a challenge. The startup will have to rapidly (and efficiently) hire SLPs for the variety of speaking conditions out there – and in order to expand into new markets, it has to go through the arduous legal process of local licensing requirements, instead of just going to a white-label solution that helps staff similar companies while offloading individual practitioner certification.

While it has ambitions to become a national practice, Expressable currently operates in 15 states, and employs SLPs that are licensed in all the states that it operates in.

#early-stage, #health, #lerer-hippeau, #nextview, #tc, #tech, #telehealth

Sequoia’s Mike Vernal will share how to iterate with tempo at TC Early Stage in July

TC Early Stage is back in July and we have a fantastic lineup in store that’s laser-focused on marketing and fundraising. That includes, but is not limited to, Sequoia’s Mike Vernal, whose portfolio companies include Citizen, PicsArt, Whisper, Threads, Houseparty and more.

Vernal will be leading a discussion on tempo and product-market fit. The chat stems from Vernal’s experience as an investor, sharing the lesser-known keys to success to not only secure early investment, but to use it to secure a later-stage investment.

In essence, tempo is everything. At the earliest stage, investors are looking more at the team than the product, knowing that the likelihood of the product changing and evolving is high. That means that the ability to adapt — including the systems in place to collect feedback and willingness to continue iterating — are incredibly important factors.

Vernal will not only stress the importance of tempo and product iteration (and how it relates to fundraising success), he’ll also share how both enterprise and consumer companies should go about creating these feedback loops with customers and how to iterate quickly.

Vernal joined Sequoia as a partner in 2016. He currently sits on the boards of Citizen, Jumpstart, rideOS, PicsArt, Rockset, Threads and Whisper. Before Sequoia, Mike was VP at Facebook, where he led a variety of product and engineering teams. He co-created Facebook Login and the Graph API.

In other words, he’s seen and participated in success, and has done the work of product iteration himself.

Vernal joins a stellar lineup of speakers at TC Early Stage in July, including Norwest Venture Partners’ Lisa Wu, Greylock’s Mike Duboe and Cleo Capital’s Sarah Kunst, among many others that are soon to be announced.

One of the great things about TC Early Stage is that the show is designed around breakout sessions, with each speaker leading a chat around a specific startup core competency (like fundraising, designing a brand, mastering the art of PR and more). Moreover, there is plenty of time for audience Q&A in each session.

Pick up your ticket for the event, which goes down July 8 and 9, right here. And if you do it before the end of the day today, you’ll save a cool $100 off of your registration.

 

#early-stage, #events, #mike-vernal, #sequoia, #startups, #tc, #tc-early-stage-2021

Norwest Venture Partners’ Lisa Wu to teach founders how to think like a VC at TC Early Stage

The best venture capitalists take moonshot risks based on due diligence, support portfolio companies through ups and downs and find focus through noise.

When you look at the job description of the best founder, you’ll find nearly the exact same list of characteristics (except, of course, instead of a portfolio, the founder is supporting a team of employees). The shared ethos is almost uncanny — and includes a slew of strategic synergies both sides of the table can exploit.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that Lisa Wu, a partner at Norwest, is joining us at TechCrunch Early Stage in July to talk tactics, and how founders can think like a VC in all facets of their business.

Wu focuses on seed to late-stage companies with a specific interest in consumer internet, digital commerce and next-generation marketplaces. Her portfolio includes Calm, Ritual, Plaid and the recently public Opendoor.

With the inside scoop on these iconic companies, Wu will use her experience to illustrate how the best founders can leverage the language of venture capital in the pitch and beyond. The goal is to give the audience a list of actionable insights to implement immediately — and lean heavily on anecdotes found in Wu’s impressive work in the industry.

Tickets for TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising are available at the early-bird rate, which gives you an instant $100 savings if you book before next week!

 

#early-stage, #lisa-wu, #norwest-venture-partners, #plaid, #seed, #tc, #tc-early-stage

Garry Kasparov launches a community-first chess platform

Four years ago, MasterClass, a platform that sells celebrity-taught classes, invited chess legend Garry Kasparov to teach a class. He said yes, but soon realized that creating a message that could satisfy a majority of players was a “struggle throughout the process.”

While the class did pretty well, Kasparov found it “a little bit annoying” that he had to downplay concepts and stick to a specific structure. So, now, Kasparov is launching a platform he says has been several years in the making: Kasparovchess.

Kasparovchess will be a platform in which legendary chess players will have free reign to share tips and tricks with players from various levels. Financed by private investors, and media conglomerate Vivendi, the company declined to disclose its total capital raised to date.

The platform, produced by Vivendi, includes documentaries, podcasts, articles and interviews between experts and known players in the chess community. Moe than 1,000 videos have been recorded to date, Kasparov said. Beyond content, Kasparovchess will have an exclusive Discord server attached to it and playing zones.

In many ways, it’s a vertical-specific version of the chess MasterClass he did years ago, with a big focus on community and variety. MasterClass, which is reportedly raising funding that would value it at $2.5 billion, has been a leader in the “edutainment” space, which monetizes off of documentary-style entertainment. One of the unicorn’s biggest characteristics, as Kasparov alluded to earlier, is that it has to appeal to a wide audience so subscribers can hop from one class to another. Within the same month, a user could go from a Kasparovchess class to general pontifications from RuPaul on self expression. The more classes that MasterClass can get you to take, the longer you’ll keep your subscription.

Image Credits: Kasparovchess

MasterClass might consider its broad view as a differentiator, but it’s clear that Kasparov views it as an opportunity.

Kasparovchess has a monthly or yearly subscription of $13.99 or $119.99, respectively. The majority of lessons from experts and retrospective analysis on games you’ve played sit behind the paywall. The premium product also grants users access to a database of 50,000 manually created puzzles that allows players to train certain skills. The product will be available to the public by the end of month.

A popular competitor already exists: Chess.com. It’s a chess server, forum and networking site that launched in 2005, with premium subscription that ranges between $5 a month or $29 a year. Kasparovchess is significantly more expensive.

Kasparov says his biggest differentiator will be a focus on community. The long-term goal of Kasparovchess is to connect global chess communities with each other, unearth prodigies that might not have access otherwise and give others access to his experiences. He thinks that remote education during the pandemic has shown the need to have more interactive solutions, beyond buzzy promises.

“It’s time to actually switch from what we’re teaching to how students can apply it,” he said. “And that helps us indirectly because chess has been recognized for centuries as a nexus for intelligence and creativity.”

Kasparov became the youngest world chess champion in 1985. He retired from public chess in 2005, and has since launched a foundation to help children have access to chess worldwide. Most recently, he helped advise for “Queen’s Gambit,” a show about a chess prodigy that became Netflix’s most-watched scripted limited series to date on the platform. The show was so ubiquitously popular that sales for chess boards soon skyrocketed.

“I was so happy because it was the first time where we could see chess as a positive factor,” he said. “We had so many years with chess being seen as potential destruction and something that could push kids to the dark area of psychological instability.”

The freshness of this message mixed with an uptick in remote education has given Kasparov confidence that his years-long project is finally ready to launch.

“It’s not just about teaching the game, or playing the game, or debating the game,” he said. Instead, he hopes people who come to the platform focus on the culture of chess, its survival and its seemingly timeless power.

#chess, #early-stage, #edtech, #education, #entertainment, #gaming, #garry-kasparov, #masterclass, #startups, #tc

Outschool is the newest edtech unicorn

Outschool, a marketplace providing small-group, virtual after-school activities for children has raised a $75 million Series C led by Coatue and Tiger Global Management. TechCrunch first learned of the round from sources familiar with the transaction; the company confirmed the deal to TechCrunch later today.

The new funding values Outschool’s at $1.3 billion, around 4 times higher than its roughly $320 million valuation set less than a year ago.

To date, Outschool has raised $130 million in venture capital to date, inclusive of its new round.

The company’s valuation growth curve is steep for any startup, let alone an edtech concern that saw the majority of its growth during the pandemic. But while CEO and co-founder Amir Nathoo says his company’s new valuation is partially a reflection of today’s fundraising frenzy, he thinks revenue sustainability is a key factor in his company’s recent fundraise.

The new unicorn’s core product is after school classes for entertainment or supplemental studies, on an ongoing or one-off basis. As the company has grown, ongoing classes have grown from 10% of its business to 50% of its business, implying that the startup is generating more reliable revenue over time.

The change from one-off classes to enduring engagements could be good for the company and its students. On the former, recurring revenue is music to investor ears. On the latter, students need repetition to develop close relationships with a course and a group. Ongoing classes about debate or a weekly zombie dance class makes for a stickier experience.

Nathoo says everyone always asks what the most popular classes are, but said it continues to change since its main clientele – kids – have evolving favorites. One week it might be math, the other it might be minecraft and architecture.

Its changing revenue profile helped Outschool generate more than $100 million in bookings in 2020, compared to $6 million in 2019 and just $500,000 in 2017. Nathoo declined to share the company’s expectations for 2021 beyond “projecting to grow aggressively.”

Outschool reached brief positive cash flow last year as a result of massive growth in bookings, but Nathoo shared that that has since changed.

“My goal is to always stay within touching distance of profit,” he said. “But given the fast change in the market, it makes sense to invest aggressively into opportunities that will make sense in the long-term.”

What’s next

Nathoo expects to grow Outschool’s staff from 110 people to 200 by the end of the year, with a specific focus on international growth. In 2020, Outschool launched in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK, so hiring will continue there and elsewhere.

On the flip side, Outschool isn’t  teachers at the same clip it was at the height of the pandemic in the United States. When the pandemic started, Outschool had 1,000 teachers on its platform. Within months, Outschool grew to host 10,000 teachers, a screening process that the founder explained was resource-heavy but vital. Outschool makes more money if teachers join the platform full-time: teachers pocket 70% of the price they set for classes, while Outschool gets the other 30% of income. But, Nathoo views the platform as more of a supplement to traditional education. Instead of scaling revenue by convincing teachers to come on full-time, the CEO is growing by adding more part-time teachers to the platform.

Similar to how Airbnb created a host endowment fund to share its returns with the people who made its platform work, Outschool has dedicated 2% of its fundraise to creating a similar program to reward teachers on its platform in the event of liquidity.

One of Outschool’s most ambitious goals is, ironically, to go in school. While some startups have found success selling to schools amid the pandemic, district sales cycles and tight budgets continue to be a difficult challenge for scaling purposes. Still, the startup wants to make its way into students’ lives through contracts with schools and employers, which could help low income families access the platform. Nathoo says enterprise sales is a small part of its business, but the strategy began just last year as part of COVID-19 response. It is currently piloting its B2B offering with a number of schools.

Outschool will also consider acquiring early-stage startups focused on direct-to-consumer learning in international markets. While no acquisitions have been made by the startup to date, consolidation in the edtech sector broadly is heating up.

Nathoo stressed that Outschool’s continued growth, even as schools reopen, has de-risked the company from post-pandemic worries.

“There’s going to be a big spike of in-person activities because everyone is going to want to do that at once,” he said. “But then we’re going to settle at some more even distribution because the future of education is hybrid.”

He added that Outschool’s ethos around online learning hasn’t changed since conception. The company has never seen opportunity in the for-credit, subject-matter digital education sector, and instead has focused more on supplemental ways to support students after school.

“That’s the piece of the education system that is underserved and that was missing,” he said. “The advantages of online learning will remain in the convenience, the cost, and the variety of what you can get that isn’t always available locally.”

#amir-nathoo, #covid-19, #early-stage, #edtech, #education, #funding, #fundraising, #outschool, #pandemic, #series-c, #tc, #tiger-global, #unicorn

Let’s talk about gaslighting and fundraising

“Most of the startups I give advice to about how to raise venture capital shouldn’t be raising venture capital,” an investor recently told me. While the idea that every startup isn’t venture-backable might run counter to the narrative to the barrage of funding news each week, I think it’s important to double click on the topic. Plus, it keeps coming up, off the record, on phone calls with investors!

As venture grows as an asset class, the access to capital has broadened from a dollar perspective, but I do think the difficulties that remain is an important dynamic to call out (and something no one talks about during an upmarket). Beyond the fact that only a small subset of startups truly can pull off scaling to the point of venture-level returns, it is still hard for even qualified founders to raise venture capital. Venture capital is still a heavily white, male-led industry, and as a result contains bias that disproportionately limits access for underrepresented founders.

Eniac founding partner Hadley Harris applied this dynamic to the current market boom in a recent tweet: A lot of people are misunderstanding this VC funding market. More money is flowing into the market but the increase is not evenly distributed. The market believes winners can be much bigger but not necessary that there will be more winners. It’s still very hard for most to raise a VC.

To say otherwise is to gaslight the early-stage or first-time founders that have spent months and months trying to raise their first institutional dollars and failed. So ask yourself: Seed rounds have indeed grown bigger, but for who? What comes at the cost of the $30 million seed round? Are the founders that can raise overnight from diverse backgrounds? Are investors backing first-time founders as much as they are backing second- or third-time entrepreneurs?

The answers might leave you debating about the boundaries, and limitations, of the upcoming hot-deal summer.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the disconnect between due diligence and fundraising right now. Now we’ve moved onto the disconnect, and bifurcation, within first-check fundraising itself. There is so much more we can get into about the fallacy of “democratization” in venture capital, from who gets to start a rolling fund to the lack of assurance within equity crowdfunding campaigns.

We’ll get through it all together, and in the meantime make sure to follow me on Twitter @nmasc_ for more hot takes throughout the week.

In the rest of this newsletter, we will talk about fintech politics, the Affirm model with a twist, and sneakers-as-a-service.

Ex-Coinbase talks politics

The inimitable Mary Ann Azevedo has been dominating the fintech beat for us, covering everything from the latest Uruguayan unicorn to Acorn’s scoop of a debt management startup. But the story I want to focus on this week is her interview with ex-Coinbase counsel & former Treasury official, Brian Brooks.

Here’s what to know: Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong notoriously released a memo last year denouncing political activism at work, calling it a distraction. In this exclusive interview, Brooks spoke about how blockchain is the answer to financial inclusion, and argued why politics needs to be taken out of tech.

We don’t want bank CEOs making those decisions for us as a society, in terms of who they choose to lend money to, or not. We need to take the politics out of tech. All of us do a lot of different things, and we have no idea on a given day, whether what we’re doing is popular with our neighbors or popular with our bank president or not. I don’t want the fact that I sometimes feel Republican to be a reason why my local bank president can deny me a mortgage.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

The Affirm for X model

While Affirm may have popularized the “buy now, pay later” model, the consumer-friendly business strategy still has room to be niched down into specific subsectors. I ran into one such startup when covering Plaid’s inaugural cohort of startups in its accelerator program.

Here’s what to know: Walnut is a new seed-stage startup that is a point-of-sale loan company with a healthcare twist. Unlike Affirm, it doesn’t make money off of fees charged to consumers.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Everything you could ever want to know about StockX

In our latest EC-1, reporter Rae Witte has covered a startup that leads one of the most complex and culturally relevant marketplaces in the world: sneakers.

Here’s what to know: StockX, in her words, has built a stock market of hype, and her series goes into its origin story, authentication processes and a market map.

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Around TechCrunch

Found, a new podcast joining the TechCrunch network, has officially launched! The Equity team got a behind-the-scenes look at what triggered the new podcast, the first guests and goals of the show. Make sure to tune into the first episode.

Also, if you run into any paywalls while browsing today’s newsletter, make sure to use discount code STARTUPSWEEKLY to get 25% off an annual or two-year Extra Crunch subscription.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Okta launches a new free developer plan

New Jersey announces $10M seed fund aimed at Black and Latinx founders

Education nonprofit Edraak ignored a student data leak for two months

6 VCs talk the future of Austin’s exploding startup ecosystem

Dear Sophie: Help! My H-1B wasn’t chosen!

Seen on Extra Crunch

5 machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand

How we dodged risks and raised millions for our open-source machine language startup

Giving EV batteries a second life for sustainability and profit

And that’s a wrap! Thanks for making it this far, and now I dare you to go make the most out of the rest of your day. And by make the most, I mean listen to Taylor’s Version.

Warmly,

N

#affirm, #coinbase, #early-stage, #equity, #fintech, #founder-advice, #fundraising, #healthcare, #marketplace, #startups, #startups-weekly, #stockx, #tc, #venture-capital, #walnut

Cleo Capital is targeting $20 million for Fund II

Cleo Capital, a venture capital firm founded in 2018 by Sarah Kunst, is raising up to $20 million for its second fund, according to a source familiar with the matter. A recent SEC filing shows that Cleo Capital has already raised $6.7 million of that goal, bringing total assets under management to around $10 million. Kunst was unable to comment on her fundraising efforts.

That new AUM number is close to what Cleo Capital initially set out to do. When Kunst first launched her firm, she targeted a $10 million close. She ended up closing $3.14 million of that goal, and now, she’s back to double down.

Fund II’s $20 million target, if closed, would allow Cleo Capital, which invests in primarily pre-seed companies, to start leading rounds. The firm has already been writing $1 million checks and targets about a 15-20% ownership in its rounds.

“One of the reasons why we are a pre-seed fund is because in seed, especially late-seed, you have everyone from family offices to TikTok stars and rolling funds competing for hot rounds,” she said. “No one is competing in pre-seed.”

There are firms such as Precursor and Hustle Fund that back pre-seed companies, and cut checks around $100,000 and $25,000 to start, respectively. Kunst sees the ability to write a $1 million pre-seed check as a “huge advantage.” Usually early-stage founders without family money or deep networks have to spend a big chunk of time raising their first round. It’s a lot of time to spend fundraising and not building a company. If a firm can cut a big pre-seed check, she thinks that Cleo is “buying back six months of a company‘s runway,” she said.

Like many firms, Cleo Capital has turned to creative measures to diversify deal flow in the era of Zoom investing and pandemic business. For example, Cleo Capital launched a fellowship program for laid off workers during COVID-19 to promote entrepreneurship.

Matt Pauker, a repeat founder who has sold companies to Coinbase and HP Enterprise, was one of the advisors of that program. Pauker has joined Cleo Capital as a general partner presumably to line up with the timing of Fund II.

While the firm has no racial or gender investment focus, about 92% of its current investments are companies started by underrepresented founders.

The firm’s portfolio includes Planet FWD, mmhmm, Lunch Club, and StyleSeat. As for new opportunities, Kunst says that Cleo Capital is looking at anything that helps the individual turn into a collective. With the growth of the creator economy and solo-entrepreneurs, people need to figure out the future of income, health care, and benefit, Kunst explained.

“All of these things are hard for people to do as an individual,” she said. The majority of Cleo Capital’s portfolio is based outside of Silicon Valley.

Cleo Capital’s raise comes just over a week after two venture capital firms founded by Black venture capitalists announced new funds, Harlem Capital and MaC Venture Capital.

#cleo-capital, #early-stage, #new-fund, #pre-seed, #sarah-kunst, #tc

Creator economy’s slow burn

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and  and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s rigamarole of news. Alex took some well-deserved time off, but that meant we got to poke a little fun at him and create a Special Edition segment to start off the show.

Jokes aside, this week was yet another spree of creator economy, edtech, and new fund announcements, with fresh and unexpected news hailing from Natasha’s home state, New Jersey.

Here’s what we got into:

What a show! We’ll be back with the full trio next week, and until then, stay safe and thank you for listening.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

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