Post-pandemic shifts means Patch will take co-working to UK small towns and suburbs

It would be fair to say the pandemic has had enormous effects on the world of work, but it has come at a time when other factors were already ongoing. The decline of main-street shopping due to e-commerce has only been hastened. The shift to remote working has sky-rocketed. And people no longer want to commute 8am-6pm anymore. But we’ve also found that working from home isn’t all its cracked up to be. Plus, they don’t see the point of commuting into a big city, only to have to co-work in something like a WeWork, when they could just as easily have gone to something local. The problem is, there is rarely a local co-working space, especially in the suburbs or smaller towns.

If, instead, you could bring work nearer to home (rather than working from home) then, the theory goes, you’d get a more balanced lifestyle, but also get that separation between work and home so many people, especially families, still desire.

Now, a new UK startup has come top with a ‘decentralized workspace’ idea which it plans to roll out across the UK.

Patch will take empty local high street shops and turn them into “collaborative cultural spaces” with its ‘Work Near Home’ proposition aimed at traditional commuters. There are an estimated 6 million knowledge work commuters in the UK, and Patch will run on monthly subscriptions from these kinds of members.

It’s now raised a $1.1M Seed funding round from a number of leading UK angel investors including Robin Klein (cofounder of LocalGlobe), Matt Clifford (Cofounder of Entrepreneur First), alongside Charlie Songhurst, Simon Murdoch (Episode 1), Wendy Becker (former CEO Jack Wills and NED at Great Portland Estates), Camilla Dolan (founding partner of sustainable investor Eka Ventures), Zoe Jervier (talent Director for US investment firm Sequoia), and Will Neale (founder of Grabyo and early-stage investor).

Patch says its ‘Work Near Home’ idea is geared to the Post-Covid ‘hybrid working’ movement and it plans to create public venues, “with a focus of entrepreneurship, technology, and cultural programming.”

Each Patch location will offer a range of private offices, co-working studios, “accessible low-cost options” and free scholarship places.

Patch’s first site will open in Chelmsford, Essex in early November, and the startup says several more sites are planned for 2022. It says it has received requests from people in Chester, St Albans, Wycombe, Shrewsbury, Yeovil, Bury, and Kingston upon Thames.

Patch’s founder Freddie Fforde said: “Where we work and where we live have traditionally be seen as distinct environments. This has led to the hollowing out of many high streets during the working week, and equally redundant office districts. We think that technology fundamentally changes this, allowing people to work near home and creating a new mixed environment of professional, civic, and cultural exchange.”

Fforde is a former Entrepreneur First founder and employee who has held various roles in early-stage tech companies in London and San Francisco. The head of product will be Paloma Strelitz, formerly cofounder of Assemble, a design studio that won the 2015 Turner Prize.

Commenting, Matt Clifford, Entrepreneur First and Code First Girls, said: “Technology has always changed the way we organize and work together. Patch will unlock opportunities for talented people based on who they are, unconstrained by where they live. We want to be a country where high-skilled jobs are available everywhere and Patch is a key part of that puzzle.”

Targeting towns and smaller cities, in residential areas, not the major city centres, Patch says it will look for under-utilised landmark buildings in the center of towns. In Chelmsford, their first space will be a Victorian brewery, for instance.

Grays Yard

Grays Yard

Chelmsford Councillor Simon Goldman, Deputy Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Small Business and representative for the BID board, said: “The introduction of a new co-working space in Gray’s Yard is a really positive scheme for the city. Providing local options for residents to work from will help them to have less of a commute which will hopefully allow a better work/life balance. Working closer to home brings many benefits for both individuals and their families, but also for the environment and the local economy.”

Patch says it will also operate a model of ‘giving back’, with 20% of peak event space hours donated to local and national providers of community services “that support the common good”. Early national partners include tech skills providers Code First Girls, and with Coder Dojo, a Raspberry Pi Foundation initiative.

#ceo, #cofounder, #commuting, #coworking, #e-commerce, #eka-ventures, #entrepreneur, #europe, #founder, #grabyo, #kingston, #localglobe, #london, #matt-clifford, #partner, #patch, #raspberry-pi-foundation, #robin-klein, #san-francisco, #sequoia, #simon-murdoch, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wework

Two UK tech figures plan to row the Atlantic for charity supporting minority entrepreneurs

Two UK tech figures are to row across the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for a charity that funds social entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds.

Guy Rigby, founder and now Chair of the Entrepreneurial Services Group at Smith & Williamson, and entrepreneur, investor David Murray will raise money for UnLtd which has supported over 15,000 social entrepreneurs in the UK.

The pair have so far secured around £350,000 for UnLtd, with support from the UK’s Tech Nation, Founders Forum, and London Tech Week. You can donate to their fund-raising efforts on the ‘The Entrepreneur Ship’ here., will also be part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Other tech orgs are invited to sponsor their efforts.

UnLtd has previously backed startup firms including Patchwork Hub which built an accessible employment platform run by disabled people, as well as EduKit, which developed an app to help school staff understand and address the mental health needs of their students.

Over the last year, UnLtd supported 662 social entrepreneurs, 42% of whom identified as being from a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic background and/or having a disability.

Rigby and Murray will row the 3,000 miles in December 2021 from the Canaries to Antigua, which they hope to reach in February 2022, rowing individually, 2 hours on, 2 hours off, around the clock for the duration of the crossing.

#articles, #business, #economy, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #social-entrepreneurship, #startup-company, #tc, #united-kingdom

AI-driven voice assistant PolyAI raises $14M round led by Khosla Ventures

“Conversational AI” startup PolyAI, based out of London, has raised $14 million in a funding round led by Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, with participation from existing investors (Point72 Ventures, Amadeus Capital, Sands Capital Ventures, Passion Capital and Entrepreneur First). This follows their $12m Series A, and will provide resources for further US expansion beyond its existing US team. The startup has now raised $28m to date.

PolyAI builds and deploys voice assistants for automating customer services, which, claims the startup, sound like real humans. This helps companies get an infinite and cheaper supply of their best human voice operators, which reduces customer waiting times, and increases customer satisfaction and retention, says the company.

Co-founder Dr Nikola Mrkšić said: “The technical term for our technology is ‘multi-turn conversational AI’, but all the caller has to do is talk to it, like they would to a human. Compared to existing call centers, our assistants can boost customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores by up to 40% and reduce handling times by up to five minutes.”

“We build these systems very quickly (relative to the competition) — we get experiences like these up and running in 2-4 weeks thanks to our transformer-based language understanding models and the underlying dialog management platform,” he added.

In a statement, Vinod Khosla said: “PolyAI is one of the first AI companies using the newest generation of large pre-trained deep learning models (akin to BERT and GPT-3) in a real-world enterprise product. This means they can deploy automated AI agents in as little as two weeks, where incumbent providers of voice assistants would take up to six months to deploy an older version of this technology.”

A spinout from the University of Cambridge, PolyAI says it is is effectively ’pushing at an open door’ as the pandemic has led to staffing shortages in call centers, driving more companies to deploy smart voice assistants, which appear not to have been replaced chatbots at all, as consumer generally prefer to speak than type.

“We were expecting the system to handle 40% of calls, but at launch it handled 80%, and within two weeks it was up to 87%,” said Brian Jeppesen of Landry’s Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos. “Callers think the AI agent is human”, Jeppesen continued, “which is great because the voice assistant never has a bad day, and is on 24/7. I wish I could hire more agents like that!”

Competitors include Nuance (recently acquired by Microsoft), IPSoft, Interactions, SmartAction, and Replicant. But PolyAI says its voice assistant can be turned live more quickly, in more languages, and charges on a per-minute basis.

Founded by Nikola Mrkšić (CEO), Tsung-Hsien Wen (CTO), Pei-Hao Su (Engineering Director), the three met while doing PhDs with Professor Steve Young, a leader in spoken dialog systems who pioneered many technologies that underpin voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa.

Recent PolyAI clients include Landry’s Entertainment, Greene King, Starling Bank, and Viasat. 

#alexa, #artificial-intelligence, #cambridge, #ceo, #chatbots, #co-founder, #computing, #cto, #customer-satisfaction, #entrepreneur, #europe, #google, #instant-messaging, #interactions, #khosla-ventures, #leader, #london, #microsoft, #nikola, #nuance, #passion-capital, #point72-ventures, #polyai, #replicant, #sands-capital-ventures, #software, #starling-bank, #tc, #united-states, #university-of-cambridge, #user-interfaces, #viasat, #vinod-khosla, #virtual-assistant, #voice-assistant

Olsam raises $165M to buy up and scale consumer and B2B Amazon Marketplace sellers

On the heels of Heroes announcing a $200 million raise earlier today, to double down on buying and scaling third-party Amazon Marketplace sellers, another startup out of London aiming to do the same is announcing some significant funding of its own. Olsam, a roll-up play that is buying up both consumer and B2B merchants selling on Amazon by way of Amazon’s FBA fulfillment program, has closed $165 million — a combination of equity and debt that it will be using to fuel its M&A strategy, as well as continue building out its tech platform and to hire more talent.

Apeiron Investment Group — an investment firm started by German entrepreneur Christian Angermayer — led the Series A equity round, with Elevat3 Capital (another Angermayer firm that has a strategic partnership with Founders Fund and Peter Thiel) also participating. North Wall Capital was behind the debt portion of the deal. We have asked and Olsam is only disclosing the full amount raised, not the amount that was raised in equity versus debt. Valuation is also not being disclosed.

Being an Amazon roll-up startup from London that happens to be announcing a fundraise today is not the only thing that Olsam has in common with Heroes. Like Heroes, Olsam is also founded by brothers.

Sam Horbye previously spent years working at Amazon, including building and managing the company’s Business Marketplace (the B2B version of the consumer Marketplace); while co-founder Ollie Horbye had years of experience in strategic consulting and financial services.

Between them, they had also built and sold previous marketplace businesses, and they believe that this collective experience gives Olsam — a portmanteau of their names, “Ollie” and “Sam” — a leg up when it comes to building relationships with merchants; identifying quality products (versus the vast seas of search results that often feel like they are selling the same inexpensive junk as each other); and understanding merchants’ challenges and opportunities, and building relationships with Amazon and understanding how the merchant ecosystem fits into the e-commerce giant’s wider strategy.

Olsam is also taking a slightly different approach when it comes to target companies, by focusing not just on the usual consumer play, but also on merchants selling to businesses. B2B selling is currently one of the fastest-growing segments in Amazon’s Marketplace, and it is also one of the more overlooked by consumers.”It’s flying under the radar,” Ollie said.

“The B2B opportunity is very exciting,” Sam added. “A growing number of merchants are selling office supplies or more random products to the B2B customer.”

Estimates vary when it comes to how many merchants there are selling on Amazon’s Marketplace globally, ranging anywhere from 6 million to nearly 10 million. Altogether those merchants generated $300 million in sales (gross merchandise value), and its growing by 50% each year at the moment.

And consolidating sellers — in order to achieve better economies of scale around supply chains, marketing tools and analytics, and more — is also big business. Olsam estimates that some $7 billion has been spent cumulatively on acquiring these businesses, and there are more out there: Olsam estimates that there are some 3,000 businesses in the UK alone making more than $1 million each in sales on Amazon’s platform.

(And to be clear, there are a number of other roll-up startups beyond Heroes also eyeing up that opportunity. Raising hundreds of millions of dollars in aggregate,  others have made moves this year include Suma Brands ($150 million); Elevate Brands ($250 million); Perch ($775 million); factory14 ($200 million); Thrasio (currently probably the biggest of them all in terms of reach and money raised and ambitions), HeydayThe Razor GroupBrandedSellerXBerlin Brands Group (X2), Benitago, Latin America’s Valoreo and Rainforest and Una Brands out of Asia.)

“The senior team behind Olsam is what makes this business truly unique,” said Angermayer in a statement. “Having all been successful in building and selling their own brands within the market and having worked for Amazon in their marketplace team – their understanding of this space is exceptional.”

#amazon, #amazon-marketplace, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #business, #christian-angermayer, #co-founder, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #entrepreneur, #financial-services, #founders-fund, #funding, #latin-america, #london, #marketing, #peter-thiel, #retailers, #sales, #united-kingdom

Suing your way to the stars

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

I’m back from a very fun and rehabilitative couple weeks away from my phone, my Twitter account and the news cycle. That said, I actually really missed writing this newsletter, and while Greg did a fantastic job while I was out, I won’t be handing over the reins again anytime soon. Plenty happened this week and I struggled to zero in on a single topic to address, but I finally chose to focus on Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

I was going to write about OnlyFans for the newsletter this week and their fairly shocking move to ban sexually explicit content from their site in a bid to stay friendly with payment processors, but alas I couldn’t help myself and wrote an article for ole TechCrunch dot com instead. Here’s a link if you’re curious.

Now, I should also note that while I was on vacation I missed all of the conversation surrounding Apple’s incredibly controversial child sexual abuse material detection software that really seems to compromise the perceived integrity of personal devices. I’m not alone in finding this to be a pretty worrisome development despite Apple’s intention of staving off a worse alternative. Hopefully, one of these weeks I’ll have the time to talk with some of the folks in the decentralized computing space about how our monolithic reliance on a couple tech companies operating with precious little consumer input is very bad. In the meantime, I will point you to some reporting from TechCrunch’s own Zack Whittaker on the topic which you should peruse because I’m sure it will be a topic I revisit here in the future.

Now then! Onto the topic at hand.

Federal government agencies don’t generally inspire much adoration. While great things have been accomplished at the behest of ample federal funding and the tireless work of civil servants, most agencies are treated as bureaucratic bloat and aren’t generally seen as anything worth passionately defending. Among the public and technologists in particular, NASA occupies a bit more of a sacred space. The American space agency has generally been a source of bipartisan enthusiasm, as has its goal to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.

Which brings us to some news this week. While so much digital ink was spilled on Jeff Bezos’s little jaunt to the edge of space, cowboy hat, champagne and all, there’s been less fanfare around his space startup’s lawsuit against NASA, which we’ve now learned will delay the development of a new lunar lander by months, potentially throwing NASA’s goal to return astronauts to the moon’s surface on schedule into doubt.

Bezos’s upstart Blue Origin is protesting the fact that they were not awarded a government contract while Elon Musk’s SpaceX earned a $2.89 billion contract to build a lunar lander. This contract wasn’t just recently awarded either, SpaceX won it back in April and Blue Origin had already filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office. This happened before Bezos penned an open letter promising a $2 billion discount for NASA which had seen budget cuts at the hands of Congress dash its hoped to award multiple contracts. None of these maneuverings proved convincing enough for the folks at NASA, pushing Bezos’s space startup to sue the agency.

This little feud has caused long-minded Twitter users to dig up this little gem from a Bezos 2019 speech — as transcribed by Gizmodo — highlighting Bezos’s own distaste for how bureaucracy and greed have hampered NASA’s ability to reach for the stars:

“To the degree that big NASA programs become seen as jobs programs and that they have to be distributed to the right states where the right Senators live, and so on. That is going to change the objective. Now your objective is not to, you know, whatever it is, to get a man to the moon or a woman to the moon, but instead to get a woman to the moon while preserving X number of jobs in my district. That is a complexifier, and not a healthy one…[…]

Today, there would be, you know, three protests, and the losers would sue the federal government because they didn’t win. It’s interesting, but the thing that slows things down is procurement. It’s become the bigger bottleneck than the technology, which I know for a fact for all the well meaning people at NASA is frustrating.

A Blue Origin spokesperson called the suit, an “attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System.” But the lawsuit really seems to highlight how dire this deal is to the ability of Blue Origin to lock down top talent. Whether the startup can handle the reputational risk of suing NASA and delaying America’s return to the moon seems to be a question very much worth asking.


Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, south of Los Angeles, California on December 18, 2018.

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

OnlyFans bans “sexually explicit content”
A lot of people had pretty visceral reactions to OnlyFans killing off what seems to be a pretty big chunk of its business, outlawing “sexually explicit content” on the platform. It seems the decision was reached as a result of banking and payment partners leaning on the company.

Musk “unveils” the “Tesla Bot”
I truly struggle to even call this news, but I’d be remiss not to highlight how Elon Musk had a guy dress up in a spandex outfit and walk around doing the robot and spawned hundreds of news stories about his new “Tesla Bot.” While there certainly could be a product opportunity here for Tesla at some point, I would bet all of the dogecoin in the world that his prototype “coming next year” either never arrives or falls hilariously short of expectations.

Facebook drops a VR meeting simulator
This week, Facebook released one of its better virtual reality apps, a workplace app designed to help people host meetings inside virtual reality. To be clear, no one really asked for this, but the company made a full court PR press for the app which will help headset owners simulate the pristine experience of sitting in a conference room.

Social platforms wrestle with Taliban presence on platforms
Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, social media platforms are being pushed to clarify their policies around accounts operated by identified Taliban members. It’s put some of the platforms in a hairy situation.

Facebook releases content transparency report
This week, Facebook released its first ever content transparency report, highlighting what data on the site had the most reach over a given time period, in this case a three-month period. Compared to lists highlighting which posts get the most engagement on the platform, lists generally populated mostly by right wing influencers and news sources, the list of posts with the most reach seems to be pretty benign.

Safety regulators open inquiry into Tesla Autopilot
While Musk talks about building a branded humanoid robot, U.S. safety regulators are concerned with why Tesla vehicles on Autopilot are crashing into so many parked emergency response vehicles.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

The Nuro EC-1
“..Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu aren’t the only Google self-driving project employees to launch an AV startup, but they might be the most underrated. Their company, Nuro, is valued at $5 billion and has high-profile partnerships with leaders in retail, logistics and food including FedEx, Domino’s and Walmart. And, they seem to have navigated the regulatory obstacle course with success — at least so far…”

A VC shares 5 keys to pitching VCs
“The success of a fundraising process is entirely dependent on how well an entrepreneur can manage it. At this stage, it is important for founders to be honest, straightforward and recognize the value meetings with venture capitalists and investors can bring beyond just the monetary aspect..

A crash course on corporate development
“…If you’re going to get acquired, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time with corporate development teams. With a hot stock market, mountains of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich.”


Thanks for reading! Until next week…

Lucas M.

#afghanistan, #america, #astronaut, #banking, #blue-origin, #computing, #congress, #dave-ferguson, #elon-musk, #entrepreneur, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #federal-government, #fedex, #food, #google, #government-accountability-office, #greg, #jeff-bezos, #lunar-lander, #nasa, #nuro, #robyn, #social-media-platforms, #spaceflight, #spacex, #taliban, #tc, #tesla, #united-states, #walmart, #week-in-review, #zack-whittaker

A VC shares 5 things no one told you about pitching VCs

The success of a fundraising process is entirely dependent on how well an entrepreneur can manage it. At this stage, it is important for founders to be honest, straightforward and recognize the value meetings with venture capitalists and investors can bring beyond just the monetary aspect.

Here are five pointers that founders should consider while pitching to venture capitalists:

Be honest and accurate

Raising a venture round is, in a way, a sales process, but any claims that could call into question a founder’s trustworthiness can result in a negative outcome rather than an investment.

As VCs, we cannot overemphasize how important it is that founders are transparent and upfront.

Here are a few select cases of such claims:

  • Overstating traction or revenues, which due diligence brought to light.
  • Concealing material attributes of the founding team — such as a co-founder’s commitment to the company, which at best was part time.
  • Speaking of committed investors who were about to wire money to the company, except they were still at the due diligence stage and eventually decided not to invest.

Investing in early-stage companies is often about making bets on people. As VCs, we cannot overemphasize how important it is that founders are transparent and upfront. It is critical to help establish the initial seeds of trust with a capital partner.

Further, most investors understand that things change — if there are any material shifts during the diligence process, communicating them promptly is an additional signal of maturity and uprightness. This will go a long way during the capital raise and beyond.

Know your BATNA

Founders often enter conversations with venture capitalists with a good handle on their product and the business. However, it’s common for entrepreneurs to falter at the negotiation stage, not knowing what their best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is.

We have witnessed founders who mistake initial interest in the venture market for real commitment, and unreasonably hike their valuation, which results in them losing serious investors. We have also seen founders fail to ascribe the value serious VCs bring to the table and consequently hesitate to discount their valuation, only to later realize that the existing cap table lacks firepower.

The best way for founders to uncover their BATNA is to run an efficient process. This requires:

#column, #corporate-finance, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #private-equity, #startups, #venture-capital

Early-stage benchmarks for young cybersecurity companies

We’re quick to celebrate the extraordinary victories of Israel’s multiplying cybersecurity unicorns, but every success story must start somewhere. The early days of any young startup decide how successful it can be, which is why we’ve developed a focused, value-add program to support cybersecurity founders during this most critical stage and maximize their potential in building market-leading companies.

However, the early stages of cybersecurity company-building are often shrouded in mystery, only coming into the light for fundraising and feature announcements. This leaves many entrepreneurs we speak with asking what exactly cybersecurity companies are achieving behind the curtain to earn these huge victories.

Though every company’s journey is unique, we can tease out trends and patterns to establish performance benchmarks for the cybersecurity ecosystem as a whole. To most entrepreneurs, however, the sensitive data required to understand the early success of a company is often unavailable or obscured. Moreover, the industry has yet to formally define proxies for growth and momentum beyond fundraising — leaving cybersecurity founders aiming for landmarks without guideposts.

When it comes to contracts, timing can provide important insight into the quality and performance of the sales pipeline. On average, successful companies will have closed their first paying customers in the U.S. within 12 months of their seed round.

Entrepreneurs require guideposts to aspire to when building large companies, and critical customer and revenue expectations can be best established by looking at what already successful cybersecurity companies have accomplished. Such metrics have been previously established for wider areas of technology, such as SaaS.

Leveraging our experience and resources, we collect this knowledge to keep our founders informed with the most up-to-date cybersecurity-specific metrics for long-term and large-scale growth. We hope that sharing these unique insights into early-stage cybersecurity companies — based on our own portfolio companies’ average performance — will help entrepreneurs in the wider Israeli ecosystem more confidently build their budgets and roadmaps with industry evidence.

Benchmarks for early-stage cybersecurity companies

Image Credits: YL Ventures

What should revenue look like over the first few years?

Though today’s investors are growing more aggressive, $500,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR) is a traditional baseline requirement for a successful Series A from strong investors, and hitting that mark quickly should remain every entrepreneur’s goal. Hitting this target indicates product-market fit and customer willingness to commit to your solution.

Discounting variances in pricing, the best companies we’ve seen are able to reach the $500,000 benchmark in less than 18 months. From there, top-performing companies can expect to gain momentum and reach $1 million in ARR in 18 to 24 months. Such momentum is contingent on a number of factors for Israeli cybersecurity entrepreneurs, but growth is mainly reliant on how well founders connect with relevant customers outside the Israeli market.

#banking, #column, #computer-security, #customer-success, #cybersecurity, #ec-column, #ec-cybersecurity, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #healthcare, #israel, #private-equity, #security, #startup-company, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital, #yl-ventures

Perform a quality of earnings analysis to make the most of M&A

As a startup founder, there will be three scenarios in which you’ll need to understand how to properly do a quality of earnings (QofE) if you want to maximize value.

The first scenario will be when you decide to raise a Series A and subsequent VC rounds, followed by when you do a strategic acquisition, and lastly, when you sell your company.

This post is a framework for how to think and organize your QofE and go through the most common items that you’ll want to keep top of mind for every M&A and private equity transaction you may be part of.

Why perform a QofE?

The goal of a QofE is to adjust the reported EBITDA to calculate a restated EBITDA that best reflects the current state of the company on an ongoing basis. It also presents a historical adjusted EBITDA that is comparable throughout the last two or three years.

QofE can have a significant impact on a company valuation for three main reasons:

  1. The adjusted EBITDA will be used by a buyer/investor as the basis for valuation (for companies valued based on an EBITDA multiple).
  2. The adjusted revenue will be used to recalculate the effective growth rate.
  3. The adjusted revenue and EBITDA will form the basis of forecasts.

With that in mind, every entrepreneur must understand how to properly form a view of what is the proper adjusted EBITDA and adjusted revenue of your company. It is common for founders in an M&A process to be unfamiliar with the notion of QofE and leave value on the table.

When performed by a professional transaction service advisory team, the quality of earnings is a result of a thorough review of all the documents generally available in a data room.

This breakdown aims to ensure that you won’t be that founder and that you’ll be armed to negotiate your company valuation on equal ground with your investors. If you are in the seller’s shoes, you will get the advantage of understanding how an experienced investor or buyer thinks. If you’re in the buyer’s shoes, you’ll benefit from understanding and valuing your acquisitions better.

How is a QofE professionally performed?

When performed by a professional transaction service advisory team, the quality of earnings is a result of a thorough review of all the documents generally available in a data room. These include, but are not limited to: Legal documentation, financial statements (P&L, balance sheet, cash flow), audit reports, management presentation and contracts.

When doing a QofE analysis, it’s key to consistently ask yourself: “Can or should this information translate into an adjustment of revenue or EBITDA, net working capital (NWC) or net debt?”

Why did we include NWC and net debt? That is because they often have an indirect impact on adjusted EBITDA. Think of an adjustment to the historical level of inventory. Less inventory likely means fewer storage costs. So if you adjust historical inventory, you’ll want to also impact your adjusted EBITDA.

On top of reviewing all the aforementioned documents, your QofE analysis will heavily rely on interviewing management. No matter how long you look at the financials, if you can’t have management confirm information or explain trends, you won’t be able to draw proper conclusions and understand the numbers.

Principles for efficiently building your QofE

  1. Automatically link everything you read and hear to potential QofE adjustments. This has to become second nature during the engagement.
  2. Always think about all the ways an event or item that qualifies for an adjustment impacts the financial statements overall. For instance, if the event impacted revenue, did it impact costs in some way as well?
  3. Make sure that the cost you are adjusting was not already offset by another accounting entry (i.e., had no impact on EBITDA).
  4. Make sure that the cost you adjust for was classified above EBITDA in the first place.
  5. Make sure that you can quantify each adjustment in the most objective and rational way. This is sometimes not possible and you may have to come up with a range.

    #accountant, #column, #corporate-finance, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #entrepreneur, #finance, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #private-equity, #pwc, #startups, #united-states, #valuation

Gapsquare, a pioneer of machine learning into gender pay disparity, is acquired by XpertHR

Inequalities between women and men in the workplace have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and are likely to persist in the near future, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The World Economic Forum estimates globally it will take 267.6 years to close the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity.

So it’s even more crucial that the global gender and ethnicity pay gap be ‘squared away’ by entrepreneurs passionate about the issue.

Gapsquare, a UK startup addressing this issue since 2017, has been among a handful of startups pioneering these concerns via machine learning around the issue.

Its analytics software, which analyses and tracks pay disparity, pay equality and pay gap data, has now been acquired by XpertHR, a part of RELX, for an undisclosed sum. TechCrunch understands from sources that Gapsquare never raised institutional venture funding.

The Gapsquare platform, and co-founders Dr. Zara Nanu and Ion Suruceanu, will be joining the XpertHR team. Gapsquare has previously counted Vodafone, Condé Nast, and Serco as clients, amounting to data from tens of thousands of employees.

Gapsquare’s model is to provides HR and Reward professionals with actionable insights about their company’s existing pay gaps.

Through its ‘FairPay Pro’ platform, Gapsquare says it can identify variables for employee demographics such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability, identifying the causes of pay gaps, and proposing and tracking remedial actions.

In a statement Nanu said: “We know for many businesses transparency around compensation fairness and pay reporting is high on the agenda. Gartner research indicates that over 80% of businesses globally are driven to take action around pay equity and pay gaps as the workforce is changing and younger generations entering the workforce are increasingly interested in transparency, sustainability, and equality. By joining forces, XpertHR and Gapsquare are better equipped to support our customers’ evolving needs and those of the businesses around the globe.”

Scott Walker, Managing Director XpertHR, said: “I am excited to bring Gapsquare into the XpertHR family. Our mission is a simple one: to create purposeful workplaces for every person in every organization. Both businesses are dedicated to improving the experiences of millions of working professionals around the globe. By combining Gapsquare’s advanced technology with XpertHR’s expertise in reward data, we can better equip employers to build a world where work is inclusive, where pay meets value and diverse talent thrives.”

The child and grandchild of teachers, Nanu was inspired to look more deeply into the issue of the gender pay gap after working with a female trafficking prevention program in Moldova, a small country in Central Europe. She realized women were being thrown into sweatshops and paid a minimum wage, thus trapped in poverty.

After growing up in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, she relocated to Bristol, UK, and started Gapsquare. Nanu has previously talked about how Soviet attitudes to gender equality – where the Communist system dictated that men and women should be equally treated – made her realize that Western practices had actually become retrograde by comparison.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2018 she said: “We had quotas around women in parliament, quotas around the representation of women in any sector. Childcare was free, so my mum could go back to work six months after giving birth. When I came to the UK [in 2007] it felt like, to some extent, I was going back in time in terms of gender equality.”

Ultimately, the background to the Gapsquare story is reflective of the environment Nanu operated in. Raising venture capital to highlight gender disparity in a male-dominated corporate and venture environment was a tough gig. Perhaps one of the toughest. It’s a testament to Nanu’s persistence that she bootstrapped, got this far, and exited with her team. But it’s also an indictment of the VC industry. We haven’t seen the last of this entrepreneur.

#articles, #bristol, #central-europe, #entrepreneur, #europe, #gender-equality, #gender-gap, #machine-learning, #misogyny, #pay-gap, #tc, #the-guardian, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital, #vodafone, #world-economic-forum

How one founder aims to make money management a mutiplayer game

Aditi Shekar’s path to entrepreneurship was a very intentional one, and while it wasn’t quite a childhood dream, it was the real-world version of the goals she did have as a kid. Fast forward to today, and Aditi’s company Zeta is on a rocket ship ride in fintech, having recently jumped from being a money management and virtual advisor app for couples, to an actual financial solutions provider built from the ground up with shared financial management in mind.

On this week’s episode of Found, me and TechCrunch Managing Editor Jordan Crook sit down with Aditi to talk about where she gets her endless drive and determination, to why she loves financial management (I’m trying to get her zeal to wear off on me, tbh). We also get into why Zeta makes so much sense in the context of a field of legacy financial solutions that generally don’t acknowledge that the way we manage and think about money, especially as it relates to the dynamics between multiple people, has changed significantly over the course of the past several decades.

Aditi definitely isn’t afraid to get real about what’s required to be an entrepreneur and dedicate yourself to a vision you really believe in. And as usual, me and Jordan end up feeling deeply inadequate and ashamed about our life choices — but in a fun way.

We loved our time chatting with Aditi, and we hope you love yours listening to the episode. And of course, we’d love if you can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Please leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us direct feedback either on Twitter or via email at found@techcrunch.com. And please join us again next week for our next featured founder.

#aditi-shekar, #entrepreneur, #fintech, #found, #money-management, #podcast, #tc, #zeta

WhenThen’s no-code payments platform attracts $6M from European VCs Stride and Cavalry

The payments space – amazingly – remains up for grabs for startups. Yes dear reader, despite the success of Stripe, there seems to be a new payments startup virtually every other day. It’s a mess out there! The accelerated growth of e-commerce due to the pandemic means payments are now a booming space. And here comes another one, with a twist.

WhenThen has built a no-code payment operations platform that, they claim, streamlines the payment processes “of merchants of any kind”.  It says its platform can autonomously orchestrate, monitor, improve and manage all customer payments and payments ops.

The startup’s opportunity has arisen because service providers across different verticals increasingly want to get into open banking and provide their own payment solutions and financial services.

Founded 6 months ago, WhenThen has now raised $6 million, backed by European VCs Stride and Cavalry.

The founders, Kirk Donohoe, Eamon Doyle and Dave Brown  are three former Mastercard Payment veterans.

Based “out of Dublin, CEO Donohoe told me: “We see traditional businesses embracing e-comm, and e-comm merchants now operating multiple business models such as trade supply, marketplace, subscription, and more. There is no platform that makes it easy for such businesses to create and operate multiple payment flows to support multiple business models in one place – that’s where we step in.”

He added: “WhenThen is helping ecommerce digital platforms build advanced payment flows and payment automation, in minutes as opposed to months. When you start to integrate different payment methods, different payment gateways, how you want the payment to move from collection through to payout gets very, very complex. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now, as an entrepreneur building different businesses that had to accept collect and pay payments.”

He said his founding team “had to build very complex payment flows for large merchants, airlines, hotels, issuers, and we just found it was ridiculous that you have to continue to do the same thing over and over again. So we decided to come up with WhenThen as a better way to be able to help you build those flows in minutes.”

Claude Ritter, managing partner at Cavalry said: “Basic payment orchestration platforms have been around for some time, focusing mostly on maximizing payment acceptance by optimizing routing. WhenThen provides the first end-to-end payment flow platform to equip businesses with the opportunity to control every stage of the payment flow from payment intent to payout.”

WhenThen supports a wide range of popular payment providers such as Stripe, Braintree, Adyen, Authorize.net, Checkout.com, etc., and a variety of alternative and locally preferred payment methods such as Klarna Affirm, PayPal, BitPay.

“For brave merchants considering global reach and operating multiple business models concurrently, I believe choosing the right payment ops platform will become as important as choosing the right e-commerce platform. Building your entire ecomm experience tightly coupled to a single payment processor is a hard correction to make down the line – you need a payment flow platform like WhenThen,” added Fred Destin, founder of Stride.VC.

#adyen, #authorize-net, #bitpay, #ceo, #checkout-com, #dublin, #e-commerce, #entrepreneur, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #fred-destin, #klarna, #managing-partner, #mastercard, #merchant-services, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-payments, #open-banking, #payment-gateway, #payment-processor, #payment-solutions, #paypal, #stripe, #tc

Leap, a ‘social learning’ platform aimed at over 55s, raises a $3.1M Seed round

Leap, a platform for people over 55 to learn via social interaction, has raised $3.1M funding in a seed round led by European early-stage investor Creandum, and SF-based South Park Commons. Also participating was Learn Start/Learn Capital, alongside angels Michelle Kennedy (Peanut founder), Sahil Lavingia, and Tim Tuttle.

Leap members gather online to collectively “learn, connect and grow together,” says the company, via small online groups built around shared interests. Users connect over audio and video, in groups of between five and ten. The current beta features conversations and classes hosted by specially recruited members.

Leap was founded by Swedish entrepreneur Caroline Ingeborn, former CEO of Toca Boca, a Swedish app development studio that builds learning apps for kids, and Vishal Kapur, former CTO and co-founder of Screenhero, which was acquired by Slack in 2015. The two founders met through South Park Commons, an intentional learning community that practices many of the concepts applied in Leap.


In a statement, Caroline Ingeborn said: “When I looked at other online offerings created for this demographic, I didn’t feel that they particularly encouraged meaningful connections. Groups described as ‘small’ were often bursting at the seams, and experiences often felt flimsy and random. In most instances, it felt like we were all just alone, together. It motivated me to create something far more tailored and intimate.”

Fredrik Cassel, General Partner at Creandum: “Leap is targeting an interesting segment of society: retirees – the wealthiest and fastest-growing demographic who have been largely overlooked by tech developers. It is a generation of people with considerable time, energy, and spending power that have smartphones at their fingertips. The diverse founding team convinced us with their determination and unique experiences to build a product that is truly engaging.”

#ceo, #creandum, #energy, #entrepreneur, #europe, #general-partner, #leap, #learn-capital, #michelle-kennedy, #sahil-lavingia, #screenhero, #smartphones, #tc, #toca-boca

Dear Sophie: What’s the process for getting International Entrepreneur Parole?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I co-founded a startup a few years ago and currently have an O-1A visa.

My wife wants to return to work, but as you know, she cannot get work authorization on an O-3. I read that if I switch to International Entrepreneur Parole, she can get work authorization.

What is the process for getting Entrepreneur Parole and for my wife to get a work permit?

— Supportive Spouse in San Jose

Dear Supportive,

I’m so excited by all the opportunities opening up thanks to the revived International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) program. It would be awesome if your wife could resume her career!

Take a listen to my podcast on the parole entry process, what you have to do to get it and what to expect when you do, including when your wife can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Tomorrow, I’ll be participating in a free educational panel hosted by the National Venture Capital Association with representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that you’re welcome to join as well.

Although this IEP has been around for more than four years, the Department of Homeland Security only recently revived it after the Trump administration tried and failed to get rid of it. Given that the IEP program is so new, I recommend working with an experienced immigration attorney when applying for IEP. An immigration attorney can also discuss other options that would allow your wife to work.

How do I apply for Entrepreneur Parole?

You must fill out the application for Entrepreneur Parole and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with evidence that demonstrates your rapidly growing startup will create jobs and significantly contribute to the U.S. economy. If you want more details on the qualification requirements for IEP, take a look at a previous Dear Sophie column on that topic or listen to my podcast, International Entrepreneur Parole is back! To get parole for your spouse and children (under the age of 21 and unmarried), you can concurrently file their applications for Advance Parole.

If USCIS approves your application for IEP, you will receive a parole document that is valid for 30 months, supports multiple entries and can be extended once for another 30 months if you and your startup continue to meet the extension criteria. However, USCIS approval alone does not grant you or your family parole.

Who grants parole?

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer at an airport or other U.S. port of entry will have the final say on whether you and your family are granted parole — a temporary stay in the U.S. — and for how long. There is no equivalent of a “change of status” here.

That means if you and your family are in the U.S., you must first leave the U.S. and then show your parole documents to the CBP officer upon reentering the U.S. The CBP officer has the discretion to approve or deny your entry, so your immigration attorney should prepare you by letting you know the type of questions you may be asked and how to succinctly and honestly answer them.

If you and your wife are returning to the U.S. via airplane or boat, you will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain a boarding foil. That foil — also known as a travel foil — will enable you to board an airplane or boat since you won’t have a visa stamp in your passport under IEP.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Canadian nationals traveling from Canada to a U.S. port of entry can present an approved parole document without obtaining travel documentation. I believe individuals are allowed to enter the land border from Mexico, which some of our clients will be testing. (More updates to come!)

Although IEP allows for an initial stay in the U.S. of up to 30 months, CBP officers could approve your parole into the U.S. for only one year, requiring you to exit and reenter the U.S. again in 12 months. The CBP officer will stamp your passport with your parole expiration date.

To renew parole beyond the initial 30 months for another 30 months, you will have to meet the IEP extension requirements and file a new Entrepreneur Parole application.

How does my spouse get an EAD?

Once you and your wife are paroled into the U.S., she can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), otherwise known as a work permit. Your wife cannot begin working until she receives the EAD, and it will only be valid for the length of the parole stay. Given the current USCIS processing delays, the EAD may only be valid for a few months before your wife has to apply for a new EAD.

Depending on your wife’s field of expertise, it may make more sense for her to find a job with an employer willing to sponsor her for a visa or green card. Given the tight labor market in some industry sectors in the U.S., many employers are increasingly willing to invest in international talent.

Or, if you both want to remain in the U.S. permanently, you can also consider self-petitioning for an EB-1A green card for individuals with extraordinary ability or an EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card for individuals with exceptional ability. Your immigration attorney should be able to help you determine which immigration option is right for you and your wife.

Best wishes to you and your wife as you navigate this process to live your dreams!

Sophie


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

#column, #diversity, #entrepreneur, #green-card, #immigration, #immigration-law, #lawyers, #sophie-alcorn, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #verified-experts

Exclusive: Hepsiburada CEO sets out her vision, as it becomes first ever Turkish Nasdaq IPO

Hepsiburada — Turkey’s giant online shopping platform considered the Amazon of its country — floats on the Nasdaq today, for a valuation likely to exceed $3.9 billion on current projections, especially with shares being marked up to $14 apiece (up from the previously predicted $12 pricing). Bu this isn’t the end of the journey for this break-out Turkish tech and e-commerce company, for long-time founder and chairwoman Hanzade Doğan Boyner – who started the business in 1998 no less, and still has overall control of the company – considers this closer to a growth round of funding, enabling her ambitious plans to mine Turkey’s fast-developing market even further, as well as expand into Central and Eastern Europe. Doğan Boyner, a scion of the powerful Doğan family in Turkey, continues to hold three-quarters of the voting power in the company, according to the prospectus filed to the SEC.

Hepsiburada’s IPO comes after it more than doubled its revenue during the pandemic, as Turkey’s largely offline population was forced to switch to online shopping in what might well be characterized as a sort of enforced ‘Great Leap Forward’ for the country. 

Hepsiburada (which translates as “everything is here”) is also making history as the first-ever Turkish, NASDAQ IPO.

With a massive logistics platform spread across Turkey, the company now offers 2hr deliveries, with around 43 million products available on the platform, available from a more Chinese-like ‘super-app’ which can offer everything from groceries to flights, to payment services, via is ‘Alipay-like’ service called Hepsipay. And in Turkey, many people prefer to buy things on installments, a service Hepsiburada has pre-built into its platform.

Turkish people have also enjoyed its frictionless returns, where goods can be returned for free, involving a super-efficient logistics network.

After growing at about 50% year on year for the last five years, the company says it doubled in size last year, taking advantage of the exponential growth in Turkey’s e-commerce penetration into its 82 million-strong population.

The IPO comes after a mere $100m was invested in the platform over the last 20 years, and a profit-making period until 2018 when Doğan Boyner started investing more in the platform, prior to this moment.

TC: What brought you to this moment in time in terms of the IPO?

Doğan Boyner: “Almost 20 years ago I started with e-commerce and from day one we built it with new features, new services, and today we manage a fully integrated ecosystem, from last-mile delivery to payment to groceries. Hepsiburada is the super app that makes our customer’s lives easier. They can get their groceries or their toys for next-day delivery or flight tickets. Why are we listing now? Because the Turkish e-commerce market is at 10% penetration, and we believe that its penetration will double by 2025. It’s an inflection point. It’s a large market, and as Hepsiburada we are a pioneering platform reaching maturity towards becoming a public company. With the funds raised through the IPO, we will accelerate our growth and continue to execute our vision.”

TC: “Are you satisfied with the $3.9 billion valuation?”

Doğan Boyner: “Today’s valuation is not very important for me. It’s not where you start, it’s where you go. I’m not selling any shares, and this is primarily for growth funding. This is just the beginning. You know, the market is still low penetration, and we have an exciting journey ahead of us. I want the stock to perform well for my investors, but what the value today is irrelevant for me.”

TC: “You’re going to use some of this funding to add on new products onto the platform like booking flights or money transfers and other kinds of new products, what are some of the other kinds of expansion plans you have?”

Doğan Boyner: “One is to continue building our infrastructure, such as frictionless returns, which gives such peace of mind to our consumers. The second is Hepsi Express. It’s still only at 4% penetration. This will change the consumer’s grocery shopping habit because we have such a strong model where we partner with a lot of national chains, regional chains, Mom-and-Pop shops, so we turn those stores into our ‘dark stores’. Plus we sometimes do our own picking from the stores or sometimes the retailer does the picking. So the customer offering is very strong. You can get something in half an hour, or you can schedule it for next day, whenever you want. You can do the weekly shopping, or just get something for that night. Express is an area that we will scale. Payment is another focus. We are the only platform with a payments license. Soon it will be an open wallet and our Fintech capabilities will increase post IPO.”

TC: Are you following a sort of Alibaba / Alipay strategy?

Doğan Boyner: “We will leverage our current customers and marketplace, and we will turn them into our wallet customers. Super apps don’t really exist in Europe or the US. So it’s our vision to digitalize commerce. We are in our customer’s pocket. We want to make life easier for them.”

TC: “How did you shift operations during the pandemic?”

Doğan Boyner: “We almost became a lifeline, not just for consumers but for our merchants as well. So we rose to the occasion to not only scale operationally. We had to onboard 1000s of drivers and employees, very, very fast, but we also had to secure the well-being of our employees. While all of us were isolating we had to ask our employees to work, which, which I think we’ve done a very, very good job of, in terms of providing PPE, and providing health coverage. It was a chance to live up to our values. Our consumers experimented with us as new consumers, and they’re happy with the service so they will stay with us and our merchants appreciated us as well, because in a time when their shops were closed, they could generate revenues through us.”

TC: You’ve been a big advocate of women in your company and also in your country, you’ve created many programs for women and girls and engaged in a great deal of advocacy. Where do you feel you are on that journey?

Doğan Boyner: “Half far our workforce is female, 33% of our management is female – which should be 50%! Our woman entrepreneur program has been very impactful. We tell women entrepreneurs to come, we will teach you ecommerce, we will onboard your products, we will give you free shipping, we will prioritize your products or listing pages, we will give you real estate on our home page. Some 19,000 women have benefitted from this. Women have sent me their inspiring stories. They start small and hire two people, and then they create their own brands. Having said that, when I look at where we are in terms of gender equality globally, the needle doesn’t move much. You look at the number of CEOs in the FTSE 500, the number doesn’t change. So, I will keep doing whatever I can, because every ‘small drop’ counts. And hopefully, it will. I also think there should be a new conversation, a global conversation about gender equality in general. The 19,000 women who benefited from our program became economically more empowered. They gained skills and tools and confidence to trade on a platform like Hepsiburada, which is very meaningful.”

TC: Are you concerned that perhaps your success may attract the attention of government regulation in Turkey, in the future?

Doğan Boyner: “We are considered a national champion. Turkey has different dynamics. I think it’s an inspiration that national champions can come out and be successful.”

TC: You’ve been very hugely successful, you’re a big advocate for women in your country, do you have any political aspirations?

Doğan Boyner: “No.”

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #amazon, #brookings-institution, #business, #central-europe, #e-commerce, #eastern-europe, #entrepreneur, #europe, #jack-ma, #online-shopping, #real-estate, #tc, #turkey, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

Andreessen Horowitz triples down on blockchain startups with massive $2.2 billion Crypto Fund III

While the cryptocurrency market’s most recent hype wave seems to be dying down after a spectacular rise, Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm is reaffirming its commitment to startups building blockchain projects with a hulking new $2.2 billion crypto fund.

It’s the firm’s largest vertical-specific fund ever — by quite a bit.

Andreessen Horowitz’s 2018 crypto fund ushered in $300 million of LP commitments and its second fund, which it closed in April of last year, clocked in at $515 million. The new multi-billion dollar fund not only showcases how institutional backers are growing more comfortable with cryptocurrencies, but also how Andreessen Horowitz’s assets under management have been quickly swelling to compete with other deep-pocketed firms including the ever-prolific Tiger Global.

With this announcement, Andreessen now has some $18.8 billion assets under management.

LPs are likely far less wary to take a chance on crypto after Andreessen Horowitz’s stake in Coinbase equated to some $11.2 billion at the time of the direct listing’s first trades, though the stock has slid back some 30% in recent months as the crypto market has shrunk.

Some of the firm’s other major crypto bets include NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs which hit a $7.5 billion valuation this spring. Blockchain infrastructure startup Dfinity raised at a $9.5 billion valuation this past September. Last year, the firm led the Series A of Uniswap, which is poised to be a major player in the Ethereum ecosystem. In addition to equity investments, a16z has also made major bets on the currencies themselves.

An earlier report from Newcomer last month reported a16z was targeting a $2 billion crypto fund and that they had already unloaded some of their crypto holdings before most cryptocurrencies took a major dive in recent weeks.

Crypto Fund III will continue to be managed by GPs Chris Dixon and Katie Haun, but the firm has also begun spinning out a more robust management team around the crypto vertical.

Anthony Albanese, who joined the firm last year from the NYSE, has been appointed COO of the division. Tomicah Tillemann, who previously served as a senior advisor to now-President Joe Biden and as chairman of the Global Blockchain Business Council, will be a16z Crypto’s Global Head of Policy. Rachael Horwitz is also coming aboard as an Operating Partner leading marketing and communications for a16z crypto; leaving Google after a stint as Coinbase’s first VP of Communications as well.

A couple other folks are also coming on in advisory capacity, including entrepreneur Alex Price and a couple others who will likely be a tad helpful in regulatory maneuverings including Bill Hinman, formerly of the SEC, and Brent McIntosh, who recently served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchain, #blockchains, #chairman, #chris-dixon, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #entrepreneur, #ethereum, #finance, #google, #gps, #joe-biden, #joseph-lubin, #katie-haun, #money, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #rachael-horwitz, #tc, #technology, #tiger-global, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uniswap

$100 million… Leta Capital wants to be a friend to Russia-speaking founders everywhere

It’s become increasingly obvious over the last few years, as Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip on his country, that Russian entrepreneurs who want to engage properly with the rest of the world have had to leave their mother country. Gone are the days when a startup in Russia might attract attention from many Western investors. The same, alas, is true of Russian-speaking Belorussians, many of whom have left the country after brutal crackdowns there. Ukraine’s economy also remains sub-par due to the ongoing Russian aggression in the East of the country. So it’s fallen to enterprising Russian-speaking investors in and outside Russia to work out the best ways to harness the obvious talent out there.

Leta Capital makes a play of investing in Russian-speaking entrepreneurs based just about anywhere. It’s now launching its third and largest fund to date and says it will invest over $100 million in UK, European, and US-based growth-stage tech companies over the next three years. Its focus will be Seed/ Round A / Round B investments. It intends to invest in the range of $2-5 million and will be focused on software, IT, and internet technologies

The new fund will to hone in on East European and Russian-speaking entrepreneurs. Particularly those operating out of international hubs such as London and New York.

Leta’s founder and former tech entrepreneur Alexander Chachava says Russian-speaking startups based abroad are often – these days – over-looked and under-valued by Western VCs and investors, and I dare say he’s right. Prejudice isn’t just about skin color, as we all know.

Chachava says his fund has invested over $45 million to date since 2012, going into 30 technology companies including Synthesis AI, Unigine, InDriver, NovaKid (which I covered last year) and 365Scores.

Exits include the sale of Bright Box HK to Zurich Insurance Group in 2017, and WeWork’s acquisition of sales and marketing platform Unomy.

Chachava said: “While we are significantly broadening our geographic focus towards key global hubs, our strategy effectively remains the same: to identify exciting, high-potential technology start-ups and entrepreneurs, and support them in realizing their international ambitions.”

Chachava says his own research suggests there are in excess of 17,000 Russian-speaking and East European tech entrepreneurs and start-ups active in the UK, Europe, and US.

“Our analysis shows they continue to be undervalued and overlooked for funding, despite often generating significant cash when it comes to ARR. These entrepreneurs are some of the most dynamic and technically skilled in the world, and for investors, they represent a massive untapped opportunity.”

He has a point. Significant businesses such as Telegram, Revolut, TradingView, PandaDoc, and Preply were all started by Russian speakers who are emigres from their respective Russian-influenced countries.

Leta says its first “evergreen” fund of $15 million was fully deployed in early 2020, delivering a gross IRR of 27% per annum to investors. Its second $50 million fund had its first closing in September 2018 and has committed about 60% of its capital, says the company.

Leta will invest out of an entity in the Cayman Islands, but doesn’t plan to have an office right now, and nor will it need it to invest.

As Chachava told me over a Zoom call: “The last two years, we have not been not traveling too much, our work has been downgraded to Zoom calls. But before that, we spent a couple of months in the US, a couple of months in Western Europe. I was a frequent visitor to London but I don’t think we need space anymore in our modern world.”

#365scores, #articles, #business, #cayman-islands, #economy, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #indriver, #leta-capital, #london, #new-york, #revolut, #russia, #tc, #technology, #ukraine, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wework

10 ways founders can manage their mental health while fundraising

Entrepreneurs’ mental health and stress management started to be more widely discussed amid the pandemic, but for many seasoned entrepreneurs, the topic is still taboo. Now that the world seems to be inching toward a new normal, some founders, investors and mental health experts find themselves asking whether we need to consider mental health moving forward if it wasn’t an issue before the pandemic.

We do. For one, it absolutely was an issue before the pandemic. Furthermore, what drives the mental health epidemic among entrepreneurs is their propensity to accept risk.

What drives the mental health epidemic among entrepreneurs is their propensity to accept risk.

“Entrepreneurs bring in a lot of vulnerability into their jobs, and when combined with the risks they are required to take, the vulnerability can be exacerbated when those risks don’t work out,” said Michael Freeman, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and founder of Econa. “And in most cases, it doesn’t work out, and so they are more vulnerable to feeling mental health symptoms and entering a downward spiral. The reverse is also true. When entrepreneurs are knocking it out of the park, they are vulnerable to a different set of mental health challenges.”

So how do we address these issues and train entrepreneurs to sharpen and maintain their mental acuity, particularly when things get tough while fundraising?

It’s simple: prevention and awareness. In terms of prevention, Freeman said it comes down to destigmatizing entrepreneur mental health differences, celebrating entrepreneur mental health superpowers and adopting a downside-prevention lifestyle.

“With mental health, as is true with many things medical, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Freeman said. “For entrepreneurs who want to prevent mental health issues, they need to start by taking a lifestyle risk factor assessment.”

According to Freeman, there are five ways entrepreneurs can support their mental health. (If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless and depressed, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.)

  1. Sleep. The most significant role of sleep is to help your brain power up and stay awake during the day. Allowing your mind and your body to recover can have a profound preventative effect. You can’t pitch if you can’t keep your eyes open.
  2. Exercise, and make sure you sweat. Entrepreneurs should get at least 45 minutes of exercise a day, including an intensity that makes you sweat twice a week. It not only has health benefits: It enhances executive functioning, meaning it improves your ability to focus and get things done. It also helps you regulate your emotions when you’re listening to a VC completely shred your idea so you don’t become despondent after a call. When you’re fundraising, your ability to think clearly can be the difference between getting a yes and a no.
  3. Get and keep friends that have nothing to do with business. Entrepreneurship is a lonely profession at times. Aside from work, you want to have a small but engaged circle of friends and loved ones, and be careful not to let your relationships devolve into the blur of work. Keep those relationships and allow them to support you when work gets rough.
  4. Eat well, and eat strategically. Many entrepreneurs live at or below the poverty line at some point in their journey, and when you’re under pressure with limited resources, eating junk and fast food is the wrong tradeoff to make because they aren’t good for cognitive functioning, among many other health consequences.
  5. Address mental health concerns in weeks, not months. When entrepreneurs don’t manage concerns quickly, they can turn into adverse outcomes. “If mental health symptoms are prolonged … it can lead to more severe mental health consequences,” Freeman said. “The adverse personal outcomes include anything from experiencing more serious mental health issues to disrupting social relationships and performance falloffs at work. The adverse business outcomes that may result include bankruptcy, losing employees, alienating strategic alliance partners and scaring away potential investors.”

Awareness begins by gaining an understanding of the factors that could exacerbate your stress levels and impact your ability to complete a successful raise, and then planning accordingly. Things that could raise your stress levels include everything from your pre-raise financial status and health history to gender, race, industry attitudes, institutional barriers and even citizenship.

“Entrepreneurs of color, immigrants and women are far more conscious of the glass ceiling,” Freeman said. “It can be a factor in your mental health while you’re raising. … People from groups that have been otherized in one way or another have different obstacles that are difficult to overcome overall, as well as from a mental health perspective.”

Kerry Schrader, the co-founder of SaaS platform Mixtroz, knows all too well how these things can impact you while fundraising. Although she and her daughter Ashlee Ammons did eventually raise more than a million dollars, the pressure of potentially being the next Black women to do so was overwhelming.

“We stopped holding onto the pressure of being the 37th and 38th Black women to raise over $1 million,” she said. “We got caught up thinking, if we’re not successful, then we will be the reason other Black women are not funded. Honestly, we decided to remove that additional layer of stress from our thinking and just focused on running a profitable business that people could get behind and hoping for the same grace the majority of our white male counterparts get upon failure: Another chance and more funding, which we knew was and still is not the norm.”

According to Schrader, there was little information available about how to manage their mental health while fundraising, leading her and her daughter to try a variety of methods before finding something that made sense.

Based on her experience, here are five more ways entrepreneurs can manage their mental health while fundraising.

  1. Find a counselor or therapist to help navigate your increased stress level. There’s a slow shift that has helped entrepreneurs reframe therapy from something that you do as a reaction to being overwhelmed to a preventative method that helps you thrive. “I leveraged BetterHelp to talk with someone while I raised,” Schrader said. “By communicating to a third party, I could say anything. Venting privately allowed me to reframe my conversations with investors more effectively. By having a qualified professional to speak to, I was able to shift my mindset from, ‘You’re doing me a big favor’ to ‘I have an exciting opportunity and I’m allowing you to invest early.’ Counseling helped a lot.”
  2. Give yourself an out. Goal-setting is a great way to keep things on track, but it can create an illusion that you’re not going to be successful if you’re not constantly moving toward a finite endpoint. “Initially, we started putting criteria for what actions we would take if we did not hit certain milestones,” Schrader said. “Instead of feeling like we could put ourselves in a position of failure, we had rules for when it would be time to end the business and go back to our careers. Having an agreed-upon ‘out’ with my co-founder … was great for my mental health. And here we are, years later, still in the game and mostly sane.”
  3. Leverage your team. You can’t go it alone. Be willing to rely on your team to move your startup forward and preserve your health. “Shortly after we closed our friends and family round, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Schrader said. “I was going to radiation, surgery and treatments while I was raising. I was pitching from the hospital bed. But when you’re fundraising, it never stops. That’s when my daughter decided it was time to commit full time. As a family, we realized we needed to lean on each other if we were going to be successful long term.”
  4. Remain flexible with your plans. When you’re just starting, you focus too much on set plans. But when you dig into the backstories of prominent entrepreneurs, you’ll find that they pivoted as needed and learned on the go. “There were times during our raise when we had to be able to cope with weekly, daily and even hourly changes to our plan,” Schrader said. “I describe it as buying a plane, learning to fly the plane and then looking for a hangar to refuel all at the same time. You can try to organize all you want, but I don’t know how much planning you can do.”
  5. Be intentional about the type of stress you’re willing to deal with for money. When you’re fundraising, the obvious goal is to secure a check. But some entrepreneurs agree to untenable terms in order to receive capital. It’s important to know your limits before you walk into the room. “When someone thinks they have the upper hand they will try to see how much stuff they can push you for. Don’t forget your why. … When you know what you can take without losing yourself, stand your ground,” Schrader said. “And remember, even as an entrepreneur, declining is always an option, specifically if the decision to decline protects your sanity.”

If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless and depressed, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

#column, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #fundraising, #health, #mental-health, #tc, #therapist

How to identify unicorn founders when they’re still early-stage

As an early-stage VC, you spend time with hundreds of fantastic startups, trying to identify potential winners by thinking about market size, business model and competition. Nevertheless, deep down you know that in the long run, it all comes down to the team and the founder(s).

When we look at the most successful companies in our portfolio, their amazing performance is in large part thanks to the founders. However, even after 20 years in the industry, I have to admit that analyzing the team is still the most challenging part of the job. How do you evaluate a young first-time entrepreneur of an early-stage company with little traction?

The best founders are humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

At Creandum, in the past 18 years, we have been fortunate to work with some of Europe’s most successful startup founders such as Daniel Ek from Spotify, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, Johannes Schildt from Kry, Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson from iZettle, Emil Eifrem from Neo4J, Christian Hecker from Trade Republic and many more.

After a while, we realized that these incredible entrepreneurs all share some fundamental characteristics. They all have lots of energy, work hard, show patience, perseverance and resilience. But on top of that, all these unicorn founders share five key traits that, as an investor, you should look for when you back them at an early stage.

They know what they don’t know

Many people expect a typical startup founder to be very confident and have a strong sales mentality. While they should definitely live up to those expectations, the best founders are also humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

They keep wanting to learn, improve and grow the business beyond what average people have the energy and drive to manage.

#column, #daniel-ek, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #entrepreneur, #europe, #funding, #johannes-schildt, #klarna, #paypal, #sebastian-siemiatkowski, #spotify, #startups, #sweden, #trade-republic, #venture-capital, #vivino

Brazil’s Divibank raises millions to become the Clearbanc of LatAm

Divibank, a financing platform offering LatAm businesses access to growth capital, has closed on a $3.6 million round of seed funding led by San Francisco-based Better Tomorrow Ventures (BTV).

São Paulo-based Divibank was founded in March 2020, right as the COVID-pandemic was starting. The company has built a data-driven financing platform aimed at giving businesses access to non-dilutive capital to finance their growth via revenue-share financing.

“We are changing the way entrepreneurs scale their online businesses by providing quick and affordable capital to startups and SMEs in Latin America,” said co-founder and CEO Jaime Taboada. In particular, Divibank is targeting e-commerce and SaaS companies although it also counts edtechs, fintechs and marketplaces among its clients.

The company is now also offering marketing analytics software for its clients so they can “get more value out of the capital they receive.”

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including existing backer MAYA Capital and new investors such as Village Global, Clocktower Ventures, Magma Partners, Gilgamesh Ventures, Rally Cap Ventures and Alumni Ventures Group. A group of high-profile angel investors also put money in the round, including Rappi founder and president Sebastian Mejia, Tayo Oviosu (founder/CEO of Paga, who participated via Kairos Angels), Ramp founder and CTO Karim Atiyeh and Bread founders Josh Abramowitz and Daniel Simon.

In just over a year’s time, Divibank has seen some impressive growth (albeit from a small base). In the past six months alone, the company said it has signed on over 50 new clients; seen its total loan issuance volume increase by 7x; revenues climb by 5x; customer base increase by 11x and employee base by 4x. Customers include Dr. Jones, CapaCard and Foodz, among others.

“Traditional banks and financial institutions do not know how to evaluate internet businesses, so they generally do not offer loans to these companies. If they do, it is generally a long and tedious process at a very high cost,” Taboada said. “With our revenue-share offering, the entrepreneur does not have to pledge his home, drown in credit card debts or even give up his equity to invest in marketing and growth.”

For now, Divibank is focused on Brazil, considering the country is huge and has more than 11 million SMEs “with many growth opportunities to explore,” according to Taboada. It’s looking to expand to the rest of LatAm and other emerging markets in the future, but no timeline has yet been set.

As in many other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a tailwind to Divibank’s business, considering it accelerated the digitalization of everything globally.

“We founded Divibank the same week as the lockdown started in Brazil, and we saw many industries that didn’t traditionally advertise online migrate to Google and Facebook Ads rapidly,” Taboada told TechCrunch. “This obviously helped our thesis a lot, as many of our clients had actually recently went from only selling offline to selling mostly online. And there’s no better way to attract new clients online than with digital ads.”

Divibank will use its new capital to accelerate its product roadmap, scale its go-to-market strategy and ramp up hiring. Specifically, it will invest more aggressively in engineering/tech, sales, marketing, credit risk and operations. Today the team consists of eight employees in Brazil, and that number will likely grow to more than 25 or 30 in the coming 12 months, according to Taboada.

The startup is also developing what it describes as “value additive” software, aimed at helping clients better manage their digital ads campaigns and “optimize their investment returns.”

Looking ahead, Divibank is working on a few additional financial products for its clients, targeting the more than $205 billion e-commerce and SaaS markets in Latin America with offerings such as inventory financing and recurring revenue securitizations. Specifically, it plans to continue developing its banking tech platform by “automating the whole credit process,” developing its analytics platform and building its data science/ML capabilities to improve its credit model.

Jake Gibson, general partner at Better Tomorrow Ventures, noted that his firm is also an investor in Clearbanc, which also provided non-dilutive financing for founders. The company’s “20-minute term sheet” product, perhaps its most well-known in tech, allowed e-commerce companies to raise non-dilutive marketing growth capital between $10,000 to $10 million based on its revenue and ad spend.

“We are very bullish on the idea that not every company should be funded with venture dollars, and that lack of funding options can keep too many would-be entrepreneurs out of the market,” he said. “Combine that with the growth of e-commerce in Brazil and LatAm, and expected acceleration fueled by COVID, and the opportunity to build something meaningful seemed obvious.”

Also, since there aren’t a lot of similar offerings in the region, Better Tomorrow views the space that Divibank is addressing as a “massive untapped market.”

Besides Clearbanc, Divibank is also similar to another U.S.-based fintech, Pipe, in that both companies aim to help clients with SaaS, subscription and other recurring revenue models with new types of financings that can help them grow without dilution.

“Like the e-commerce market, we see the SaaS, and the recurring revenues markets in general, growing rapidly,” Taboada said.

#alumni-ventures-group, #angel-investor, #banking, #better-tomorrow-ventures, #brazil, #business, #clearbanc, #clocktower-ventures, #daniel-simon, #divibank, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jake-gibson, #latin-america, #magma-partners, #ml, #paga, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #tayo-oviosu, #tc, #venture-capital, #village-global

Hustle Fund wants to help spawn a new generation of angel investors

Kara Penn is the mother of four daughters and owner of Mission Spark, a management and strategy consulting company.

And now, thanks to Hustle Fund, she is also an angel investor.

Hustle Fund is coming out of stealth today with Angel Squad, a new initiative aimed at making angel investing more accessible to more people. To more people like Colorado-based Penn.

We believe that in order to increase diversity in the startup ecosystem, one thing that we must do is increase diversity — whether it be in regard to gender, race or geography — amongst angel investors,” said Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner Elizabeth Yin.

Via Angel Squad, Hustle Fund specifically aims to build an inclusive investor community, make minimum check sizes low and accessible (think as little as $1,000), provide “angel education” and give investors a way to invest alongside Hustle Fund.

“There’s been this misnomer, or at least I had this incorrect assumption that in order to become an angel investor, you have to be super rich and write $25,000 checks,” Yin told TechCrunch. “But the reality is actually in Silicon Valley, there are all these people running around investing $1,000 checks…and that’s something that’s a lot more accessible than then most people might think. And, part of the value of having this group is then we can accumulate a bunch of smaller checks to then write one larger check for a company.”

So far, Penn has invested in five startups across a range of sectors including real estate, food, apparel and finance. 

She describes herself as “a complete novice” in angel investing, and so far, she’s loving the experience.

I love Hustle Fund’s perspective that great hustlers can look like anyone and come from anywhere,” Penn told TechCrunch. “I’ve enjoyed being in a supportive community with differing levels of expertise, but where every question is welcomed.”

The experience is also broadening her exposure to technology and AI, the collection and use of data and the creation of new marketplaces in ways she never would have been exposed to before.

“As someone whose own company focuses exclusively on strategy in social impact organizations, I am also looking for how founders identify and bring to market creative solutions to complex problems, as well as exposure to a network of innovative people looking to solve hard issues in smart ways,” Penn said. “This exposure is helping me begin to think about applications of these approaches to difficult social problems.”

For some context, Hustle Fund is a venture firm founded by Elizabeth Yin and Eric Bahn, two former 500 Startups partners, with the goal of investing in pre-seed software startups. The firm has traditionally operated by investing $25,000 in a company, usually with a minimum-viable product, and then works with the team to help them grow. It does around 50 investments per year, according to its website. 

It recently closed on $33.6 million for a new fund.

“One of the things most important to us is this bigger mission of wanting to change the way the startup ecosystem is,” Yin said. “I noticed both as an entrepreneur and while running an accelerator, if you have a certain resume, went to certain schools, or were a certain race or gender, you have advantages in starting a company and getting funding. For many people, if you don’t tick those boxes, it can be very challenging. That’s why we’re investing in a lot of founders from all walks of life.”

Hustle Fund Venture Partner Brian Nichols had started a syndicate of Lyft alumni on AngelList. After doing a few deals, he opened up the syndicate to people outside of AngelList.

“I found there was a wide range of people looking to diversify into private markets, from all over the world with all types of backgrounds,” he said. “Hustle Fund and I had similar taste in companies I was investing in and I built a relationship with them in co-investments.”

Today, he’s helping run the fund’s Angel Squad initiative. So far, it has had two cohorts with over 150 investors total and true to the fund’s mission, those investors have been more diverse than typical angel syndicates: 46% of the members are female, 9% are underrepresented minorities and 32% are people who work outside of tech with professional roles such as lawyers, doctors and artists. Just one-third are based in Silicon Valley.

Every week, Angel Squad hosts an event which ranges from networking to a peek behind the curtain at opportunities at Hustle Fund is considering investing in to talking through why or why not to take a meeting with a founder.

“Imagine starting from zero, and if you could skip a bunch of steps and have Elizabeth (Yin) tell you how to do this before you lose a bunch of money in the process of evaluating a startup,” Nichols told TechCrunch. “Angel Squad is exactly what I wish had existed three or four years ago when I became interested in investing.”

Silicon Valley, Yin acknowledges, can be intimidating but the reality is that no one is an expert in everything.

“We’re trying to cultivate an environment where people are very kind — we have a no asshole rule, and that is a safe space where people can learn and feel like they can ask questions, and not have to know everything about angel investing. The reality is most people don’t. And we want to bring new people into this system.”

Besides not being an a-hole, other criteria in becoming a Squad Member include being able to add value and being an accredited investor.

“With rounds as competitive as they are today, we are looking for people who want to be actively supportive of the portfolio companies we’re investing in,” Nichols said. “Every person who wants to join the program is interviewed by someone from our team, who asks questions such as ‘What can you help a founder with?’ We are not looking for passive capital. That’s not super helpful at this point in the ecosystem.

#angel-investing, #angel-investors, #angellist, #co-founder, #colorado, #diversity, #elizabeth-yin, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #eric-bahn, #finance, #food, #funding, #hustle-fund, #investment, #lyft, #minimum-viable-product, #money, #pennsylvania, #private-equity, #real-estate, #silicon-valley, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #venture-capitalists

How Robert Reffkin went from being a C-average student to the founder of Compass

In April, real estate tech company Compass forged ahead with its initial public offering and is now valued at nearly $6.4 billion.

At that time, TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm caught up with founder and CEO Robert Reffkin to chat about his company’s debut in the market’s suddenly choppy waters for tech and tech-enabled debuts.

This week, I caught up with Reffkin on a whole other topic: his path to entrepreneurship as a child raised by a disowned single mother whose father had died homeless. Reffkin is so passionate about inspiring others from nontraditional backgrounds to pursue their dreams that he wrote a book about it.

In our discussion, Reffkin shared what he believes are the secrets to his success (hint: one of them involves lots of listening) and his advice for his young entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TC: As the mother of a teen who is already trying to start his own business, I’m intrigued by your DJing as a teenager. What finally got you motivated to care about school and how did you manage to graduate in such a short amount of time?

Reffkin: Well, I think your son might just be on the right track! Please give him a word of encouragement from me, from one entrepreneur to another.

My mom says that a lot of other parents thought she was crazy for letting me launch my DJ business. But starting a successful DJ business in high school helped me learn about myself and my passion for entrepreneurship — and it ultimately helped me get into Columbia, forming the core of both my personal statement and the relationships I built with several members of the admissions team.

I believe the first step is always to dream big. For me, my big dreams for my college future started on a trip to New York City. I toured Columbia and fell in love with it, but I knew it was going to be hard for me to get in. In fact, my high school guidance counselor said, “Don’t even apply. It wouldn’t be worth your time and money on the application fee.” In that moment, my desire to go to Columbia went from strong to absolute, because suddenly it felt like it was about something larger than myself — not just where I went to school, but about a broader struggle for opportunity for people like me. So I poured myself into my SAT prep to show that even though I had a C average, I had what it took to keep up at a top school. And thankfully, it paid off. 

In high school and college, I was a C-student in part because I didn’t see how studying calculus or Western Civilization related to my life or my dreams. I knew that excelling in school wasn’t going to be the way I was going to distinguish myself in the world. At the same time, I was energized by my entrepreneurial efforts and my summer internships. I moved as quickly as I could to get through school and have my real life begin, because the real world made so much more sense to me.

TC: How do you think being raised by a single mother without privilege helped shape you as a man, and entrepreneur? How would you say being a person of color impact your path?

Reffkin: Growing up, it was just me and my mom. She’s an Israeli immigrant, disowned by her parents because I was Black. My father abandoned us and died, homeless, when I was young. What shaped me most as an entrepreneur was learning from my mother. She embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and taught me one of the most important principles: every time you get knocked down, you’ve got to bounce back with passion. I saw her face bad relationships, bankruptcy, and the stream of daily rejections that comes from being an agent. And she always bounced back. So when the world told me I couldn’t do something or that I was destined to fail, I was ready for them. Thanks to my mom, I already knew how to bounce back.

Image Credits: CEO Robert Reffkin & mother, Ruth / Compass

Being Black and Jewish, I’ve felt out of place my entire life. In most classes in Hosch school and college, I was the only Black person. In almost every meeting early in my career, I was the only Black person. When I was raising capital for Compass, I almost never saw someone Black on the other side of the table. But I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been lucky to get terrific advice along the way from so many Black mentors, from the late Vernon Jordan, to Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, to Bayo Ogunlesi, who is lead director for Goldman Sachs. There’s a really strong community of people who’ve all supported each other.

TC: You’ve had some impressive mentors over the years. How did those relationships develop? How have they been valuable besides the obvious? 

Growing up, I was hungry for advice. Coming from a single-parent home, I looked for guidance and wisdom on how to create a better life wherever I could find it. My mom connected me to several non-profits when I was in high school that helped open my eyes to how much opportunity and support there was out there in the world. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is that feedback is a gift. Even when it’s hard to hear, feedback is a gift. My relationships with many of my mentors deepened because I started asking them for really tough, candid feedback — the sort of things they thought other people wouldn’t tell me. And then, I’d actually take their advice, apply it in my life, and let them know how it had helped me. That did two two things: First, it led to more honest and practical advice that helped me get better faster. Second, it made the people who had given me advice feel far more invested in my success and the success of whatI was working on.

The other thing my mentors gave me was the sense that even though the world was telling me I couldn’t be successful, I could be. Meeting someone like Vernon Jordan who advised presidents and CEOs alike, had a profound impact on me. He was a father figure to me. I met him when I was 23 years old, and at that time, it wasn’t clear to me that you could be successful in the business world as a Black man. I just hadn’t seen it before. When I started at Lazard, Vernon Jordan was the only other Black investment banker there. He was not just a senior partner, he was a legend, widely known for serving on more Fortune 500 boards than anyone in history. He took a strong interest in me, and with his support and advice, he made me feel like I belonged and helped me see a path where I could be as successful as I wanted to be. 

I founded a nonprofit in my twenties called America Needs You that has provided mentorship, career development, and college support to thousands of students. I wrote my new book, No One Succeeds Alone, as a way to pay it forward by making the lessons I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from so many remarkable people available to everyone — and it’s why I’m donating all of my proceeds to nonprofits that help young people realize their dreams.

TC: What advice you would give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds?

Reffkin: Here’s the advice I’d give to someone from an underrepresented group who just graduated college and is in their first job:

1) Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. Not society, not your colleagues, not even yourself. Whenever anyone tells you to slow down, speed up.

2) Spend the next 10 years learning as much as you can from the smartest people you can. Find mentors in your job and outside that will give you the honest feedback that others won’t. Feedback is a gift. It’ll be hard for you to hear, but it’s actually even harder for them to give it to you. So you may have to ask for it directly and let people know that you can take it.

3) Learn how to turn negativity into positive energy that fuels you. There will always be skeptics, doubters, and haters telling you that you can’t do something or that you don’t belong. 

TC: What next after Compass?

Reffkin: I believe that to be truly successful, you can’t have a Plan B. As a CEO, you have to be all-in, and that’s what I am for Compass: 100% dedicated to our 23,000 agents and employees. One of my mentors told me about the “shower test” once — that if you’re not excited enough about your job to think about it in the shower, you’re probably not in the right job. And I’ll tell you: I’m so passionate about the company we’re building that I’m still thinking about Compass in the shower. At Compass, we’ve accomplished much in the past eight years, but we’re truly just getting started. 

#america, #c, #ceo, #columbia, #compass, #diversity, #editor, #entrepreneur, #goldman-sachs, #ken-chenault, #lazard, #new-york-city, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #tc

How one founder made the most of Y Combinator in a pandemic year

This week, we welcome guest Hana Mohan to our podcast Found. Hana is the co-founder and CEO of MagicBell, a new startup she created with Josue Montano that just recently graduated from Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 cohort. MagicBell is a full-featured, plug-and-play notifications inbox aimed at developers who want to build one into their own product, but don’t want to have to build one themselves from scratch.

Hana’s experience as an entrepreneur spans multiple companies, including her last one which she grew to significant success in terms of annual revenue. She’s also a proud transgender woman, who underwent her transition mid-way through her existing history as a founder and entrepreneur. Hana talks to us about the challenges she faced taking on her transition in an industry where the focus is often exclusively on how hard you’re hustling and what you’re building next, and about her origin story as a founder coming from an environment where there weren’t necessarily many examples with similar life experience to look to for inspiration.

During our chat, Hana also shared lots of insight into YC, and what it provides founders, as well as perspective on what it was like going through the program during a global pandemic in a remote context. Finally, she offers some great context on finding your first investors and customers as a distributed team.

We loved talking to Hana, and we hope you love the episode. You can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Definitely leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us direct feedback either on Twitter or via email. Come back next week for yet another great conversation with a founder all about their own one-of-a-kind startup journey.

#articles, #entrepreneur, #found, #google, #magicbell, #podcast, #spotify, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #y-combinator, #yc

Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew former the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one fo the company’s development sites. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement.  “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

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Erase All Kittens raises $1M Seed round for Mario-style game which teaches girls to code

Erase All Kittens (EAK) is an EdTech startup that created a ‘Mario-style’ web-based game designed for kids aged 8-12. However, the game has a twist: it places an emphasis on inspiring girls to code (since let’s face it, most coding tools are created by men). After reaching 160,000 players in over 100 countries, it’s now raised a $1M Seed funding led by Twinkl Educational Publishing, with participation from first investor Christian Reyntjens of the A Black Square family office, alongside angel investors, including one of the founders of Shazam.

While the existing EAK game is free, a new game launched in July will be paid for, further boosting the product’s business model.

EAK says its research shows that some 55% of its players are girls, and 95% want to learn more about coding after playing its game. EAK is currently being used in over 3,000 schools, mostly in the UK and US, and its traction increased by 500% during the lockdowns associated with the pandemic.

It’s Erase All Kittens’ contention that coding education tools for children have been largely built by men and so naturally appeal more to boys. With most teaching repetitive coding, in a very rigid, instructional way, it tends to appeal more to boys than girls, says EAK.

The female-founded team has a platform for changing the perception that kids, especially girls, have of coding. After R&D of two years, it came up with a game designed to teach kids and girls as young as 8 skills such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript through highly gamified, story-driven gameplay. Kids get to chat with characters on their journey, for example, a serial entrepreneur unicorn mermaid called Tarquin Glitterquiff.

“Players edit the code that governs the game environment, building and fixing levels as they play in order to save kittens in a fantasy internet universe,” said cofounder Dee Saigal, co-founder, CEO and creative director. Saigal is joined by co-founder Leonie Van Der Linde; CTO Rex Van Der Spuy; Senior Games Developer Jeremy Keen; and 2D Games Artist Mikhail Malkin.

Erase All Kittens game

Erase All Kittens game

The existing game teaches HTML skills and how to create URLs, and the new game (released in July this year) will teach HTML, CSS, and Javascript skills – bridging the huge gap between kids learning the concepts and being able to create on the web like developers.

Said Saigal: “We’re designing a coding game that girls genuinely love – one that places a huge emphasis on creativity. Girls can see instant results as they code, there are different ways to progress through the game, and learning is seamlessly blended with storytelling.”

Saigal said: “When I was younger I wanted to be a games designer. I loved coming up with ideas for games but coding had always seemed like an impossible task. We weren’t taught coding at school, and I couldn’t see anyone who looked like me making games, so I didn’t think it was something I could do.”

“Whilst researching our target audience, we found that one of the biggest obstacles for girls still begins with gender stereotypes from an early age. By the time girls reach school, this snowballs into a lack of confidence in STEM skills and lower expectations from teachers, which in turn can lead to lower performance—a gap that only widens as girls get older.”

EAK’s competitors include Code Kingdoms, Swift Playgrounds and CodeCombat. But Saigal says these games tend to appeal far more to boys than to girls.

The new game (see below) will be sold to schools and parents, globally. EAK will also be carrying out a one-for-one scheme, where for every school account purchased, one will be donated to underserved schools via partnerships with tech companies, educational organizations, and NGOs.

Jonathan Seaton, Co-founder and CEO at Twinkl and Director of TwinklHive, said: “We’re really excited to partner with Erase All Kittens, as a digital company Twinkl recognizes the importance of preparing children to succeed in the digital age and we believe through this partnership we can really make a difference.”

“The team is particularly excited about helping further Erase All Kitten’s mission to empower girls and give them the same opportunities to learn to code and build their own digital creations. Ensuring that all children have equal access to opportunities to learn is at the heart of Twinkl’s vision and a key motivation in the development of this partnership for both organizations.”

Erase All Kittens

Erase All Kittens

Erase All Kittens says it is addressing the global skills gap, where the gender gap is increasingly widening. According to PWC, just 24% of the tech workforce is female and women make up just 12% of all engineers, while only 3% of female students in the UK list tech as their first career choice.

Research by Childwise found that 90% of girls give up on coding after first trying it, and if they lose interest in STEM subject by the age of 11, they never recover from that. This is a huge and growing problem for the tech industry and for investors.

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