What to make of Stripe’s possible $100B valuation

This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of The Exchange. Today we will be brief. But not silent, as there is much to talk about.

Up top, The Exchange noodled on the Slack-Salesforce deal here, so please catch up if you missed that while eating pie for breakfast yesterday. And, sadly, I have no idea why Palantir is seeing its value skyrocket. Normally we’d discuss it, asking ourselves what its gains could mean for the lower tiers of private SaaS companies. But as its public market movement appears to be an artificial bump in value, we’ll just wait.

Here’s what I want to talk about this fine Saturday: Bloomberg reporting that Stripe is in the market for more money, at a price that could value the company at “more than $70 billion or significantly higher, at as much as $100 billion.”

Hot damn. Stripe would become the first or second most valuable startup in the world at those prices, depending on how you count. Startup is a weird word to use for a company worth that much, but as Stripe is still clinging to the private markets like some sort of liferaft, keeps raising external funds, and is presumably more focused on growth than profitability, it retains the hallmark qualities of a tech startup, so, sure, we can call it one.

Which is odd, because Stripe is a huge concern that could be worth twelve-figures, provided that gets that $100 billion price tag. It’s hard to come up with a good reason for why it’s still private, other than the fact that it can get away with it.

Anyhoo, are those reported, possible prices bonkers? Maybe. But there is some logic to them. Recall that Square and PayPal earnings pointed to strong payments volume in recent quarters, which bodes well for Stripe’s own recent growth. Also note that 14 months ago or so, Stripe was already processing “hundreds of billions of dollars of transactions a year.”

You can do fun math at this juncture. Let’s say Stripe’s processing volume was $200 billion last September, and $400 billion today, thinking of the number as an annualized metric. Stripe charges 2.9% plus $0.30 for a transaction, so let’s call it 3% for the sake of simplicity and being conservative. That math shakes out to a run rate of $12 billion.

Now, the company’s actual numbers could be closer to $100 billion, $150 billion and $4.5 billion, right? And Stripe won’t have the same gross margins as Slack .

But you can start to see why Stripe’s new rumored prices aren’t 100% wild. You can make the multiples work if you are a believer in the company’s growth story. And helping the argument are its public comps. Square’s stock has more than tripled this year. PayPal’s value has more than doubled. Adyen’s shares have almost doubled. That’s the sort of public market pull that can really help a super-late-stage startup looking to raise new capital and secure an aggressive price.

To wrap, Stripe’s possible new valuation could make some sense. The fact that it is still a private company does not.

Market Notes

Various and Sundry

And speaking of edtech, Equity’s Natasha Mascarenhas and our intrepid producer Chris Gates put together a special ep on the education technology market. You can listen to it here. It’s good.

Hugs and let’s both go do some cardio,

Alex

#fundings-exits, #palantir, #paypal, #slack, #square, #startups, #stripe, #the-exchange, #the-techcrunch-exchange

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Bigblue wants to automate e-commerce fulfillment in Europe

Meet Bigblue, a French startup that just raised a $3.6 million seed round (€3 million) to build an end-to-end fulfillment solution in Europe. If you sell products on your own website and across multiple marketplaces, you can use Bigblue to handle everything that happens after a transaction.

Bigblue doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it partners with existing logistics companies so that you only have to manage one relationship with Bigblue. It means that Bigblue works with several fulfillment centers to store your products as well as multiple shipping carriers.

Essentially, Bigblue lets you improve the experience for your customers. When you start using Bigblue, you send your products to a fulfillment center and you integrate Bigblue with your online stores. The startup has integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, Wix Store, Prestashop, Fastmag and Amazon’s marketplace.

When a client orders a product from you, it is packed and shipped directly from the fulfillment center to your customers. Bigblue customers pay a flat fee per order and don’t have to deal with anything. Some packages might be delivered through DHL, others might be sent out using Chronopost, etc. It is completely transparent as Bigblue chooses the right carrier for you.

The startup also gives you more visibility into your shipping process. Retailers get an overview of their operations and can see the inventory from Bigblue’s interface. Clients receive branded delivery emails.

While it’s hard to build a good logistics network if you’re a small e-commerce company, Bigblue lets you compete more directly with Amazon big e-commerce websites. You can level up the customer experience without putting together an in-house logistics team.

Samaipata is leading today’s funding round. Bpifrance is contributing to the round. Plug and Play, Clément Benoit, Thibaud Elziere and Olivier Bonnet are also investing.

With the new influx of funding, the startup plans to hire 50 people and improve its product. You can expect more integrations with e-commerce platforms, ERPs and marketplaces. Bigblue is also going to build out its own shipment tracking pages and email personalization toolkit. The company will also improve product returns and delivery ETAs.

#bigblue, #ecommerce, #europe, #fulfillment, #fundings-exits, #samaipata, #startups

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Equity Dive: Edtech’s 2020 wakeup call

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week, we’re doing a first-ever for the show and taking a deep dive into one specific sector: Edtech.

Natasha Mascarenhas has covered education technology since Stanford first closed down classes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of the historic shuttering of much of the United States’ traditional institutions of education, the sector has formed new unicorns, attracted record-breaking venture capital totals, and most of all, enjoyed time in a long-overdue spotlight.

For this Equity Dive, we zero into one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college drop-out Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.

Here’s what we got into:

  • How the state of remote school is leading to gap years among students
  • A framework for how to think of higher education’s main three products (including which is most defensible over time)
  • What learnings we can take from this COVID-19 experiment on remote schooling to apply to the future
  • Why ed-tech is flocking to the notion of life-long learning
  • And the reality of who self-paced learning serves — and who it leaves out

And much, much more. If you celebrate, thank you for spending part of your Thanksgiving with the Equity crew. We’re so thankful to have this platform and audience, and it means a ton that y’all tune in each week.

Finally, if you liked this format and want to see more, feel free to tweet us your thoughts or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Talk soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

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Insurtech’s big year gets bigger as Metromile looks to go public

In the wake of insurtech unicorn Root’s IPO, it felt safe to say that the big transactions for the insurance technology startup space were done for the year.

After all, 2020 had been a big one for the broad category, with insurtech marketplaces raising lots, rental insurance startup Lemonade going public, Root itself debuting even more recently on the back of its automotive insurance business, a big round to help Hippo keep building its homeowners company, and more.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


But yesterday brought with it even more news: Metromile, a startup competing in the auto insurance market, is going public via a blank-check company (SPAC), and Hippo raised a huge, unpriced round.

So let’s talk about why Metromile might be plying the public markets, and why Hippo may have have decided to pick up more cash. Hint: The reasons are related.

A market hungry for growth

The Lemonade IPO was a key moment for neo-insurance startups, a key part of the broader insurtech space. When the rental insurance provider went public, it helped set the tone for public exit valuations for companies of its type: fast-growing insurance companies with slick consumer brands, improving economics, a tech twist and stiff losses.

For the Roots and Metromiles and Hippos, it was an important moment.

So, when Lemonade raised its IPO range, and then traded sharply higher after its debut, it boded well for its private comps. Not that rental insurance and auto insurance or homeowners insurance are the same thing. They very most decidedly are not, but Lemonade’s IPO demonstrated that private investors were correct bet generally on the collection of startups, because when they reached IPO-scale, they had something that public investors wanted.

#fundings-exits, #hippo, #insurtech, #lemonade, #metromile, #root, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

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Slack’s stock climbs on possible Salesforce acquisition

News that Salesforce is interested in buying Slack, the popular workplace chat company, sent shares of the smaller firm sharply higher today.

Slack shares are up just under 25% at the moment, according to Yahoo Finance data. Slack is worth $36.95 per share as of the time of writing, valuing it at around $20.8 billion. The well-known former unicorn has been worth as little as $15.10 per share inside the last year, and worth as much as $40.07.

Inversely, shares of Salesforce are trading lower on the news, falling around 3.5% as of the time of writing; investors in the San Francisco-based SaaS pioneer were either unimpressed at the combination idea, or perhaps worried about the price that would be required to bring the 2019 IPO into their fold.

Why Salesforce, a massive software company with a strong position in the CRM market, and aspirations of becoming an even larger platform player, would want to buy Slack is not immediately clear though there are possible benefits. This includes the possibility of cross-selling the two companies products’ into each others customer bases, possible unlocking growth for both parties; Slack has wide marketshare inside of fast-growing startups, for example, while Salesforce’s products roost inside a host of mega-corps.

TechCrunch reached out to Salesforce, Slack, and Slack’s CEO for comment on the deal’s possibility. We’ll update this post with whatever we get.

While Salesforce bought Quip for $750 million in 2016, which gave it a kind of document sharing and collaboration, other than that, Salesforce Chatter has been the only social tool in the company’s arsenal. Buying Slack would give the CRM giant solid enterprise chat footing and likely a lot of synergy among customers and tooling.

But Slack has always been more than a mere chat client. It enables companies to embed workflows, and this would fit well in the Salesforce family of products, which spans sales, service, marketing and more. It would allow companies to work both inside and outside the Salesforce ecosystem, building smooth and integrated workflows. While it can theoretically do that now, if the two were combined, you can be sure the integrations would be much tighter.

What’s more, Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says it would give Salesforce a sticky revenue source, something they are constantly searching for keep their revenue engine rumbling along. “Slack could be a good candidate to strengthen its platform, but more importantly account for more usage and ‘stickiness’ of Salesforce products — as collaboration not only matters for CRM, but also for the vendors growing work.com platform,” Mueller said.  He added, it would be a way to stick it to former friend turned foe, Microsoft.

That’s because Slack has come under withering fire from Microsoft in recent quarters, as the Redmond-based software giant poured resources into its competing Teams service. Teams challenges Slack’s chat tooling, and Zoom’s video features, and has seen huge customer growth in recent quarters.

Finding Slack a corporate home amongst the larger tech players could ensure that Microsoft doesn’t grind it under the bulk of its enterprise software sales leviathan. And Salesforce, a sometimes Microsoft ally, would not mind adding the faster-growing slack to its own expanding software incomes.

The question at this juncture comes down to price. Slack investors won’t want to sell for less than a good premium on the pre-pop per-share price now feels rather dated.

#apps, #fundings-exits, #salesforce, #slack, #startups

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Join us for a live Q&A with Sapphire’s Jai Das on Tuesday at 2 pm ET/11 am PT

Sure, we’re heading into a holiday weekend here in America, but that doesn’t mean that the good ship TechCrunch is going to slow down. We’re diving right back in next week with another installment in season two of Extra Crunch Live, our regular interview series with startup founders, venture capitalists, and other leaders from the technology community.

This series is for Extra Crunch members, so if you haven’t signed up you can hop on that train right here.

Next week I’m virtually sitting down with Jai Das, a well-known managing director at Sapphire Ventures.

Das as invested in companies like MuleSoft (sold for $6.5 billion), Alteryx (now public), Square (also public), Sumo Logic (yep, public) while at Sapphire, having previously worked corporate venture jobs at Intel Capital and Agilent Ventures. (Sapphire was itself originally SAP’s corporate venture capital arm, but it split off from its parent in 2011, rebranded, and kept on raising funds.)

Here are notes from the last episode of Extra Crunch Live with Bessemer’s Byron Deeter.

It’s going to be fun as there’s so much to talk about. I’m still bubbling up my question list, so to avoid giving the Sapphire PR team too much pre-discussion ammo let’s just say that corporate venture capital’s place in the 2020 boom is an interesting topic for both founders, and investors alike.

And I’ll want to press Das on the current market for software startups, where we are in the historical arc of SaaS multiples, the importance of API-led tech upstarts, where founders might look to build the next great enterprise startup, and if there are any new platforms bubbling up that could be a foundation for future founders to later leverage.

As this is an Extra Crunch Live, I’ll also work in a few questions from the audience (that means you, make sure you Extra Crunch subscription is live), to augment my own clipboard of notes.

This is going to be a good one. I’ll see you next Tuesday for the show.

Details

Below are links to add the event to your calendar and to save the Zoom link. We’ll share the YouTube link shortly before the discussion:

#fundings-exits, #sapphire-ventures, #startups, #tc

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WeGift, the ‘incentive marketing’ platform, collects $8M in new funding

WeGift, the London-based startup that has built an “incentive marketing” platform that lets businesses easily issue e-gift cards and other digital rewards to customers, has raised $8 million in new funding.

Dubbed a Series A extension, the round is led by AlbionVC. Existing investors including Stride.vc, SAP.iO fund and Unilever Ventures also followed on. Following the fundraise, Ed Lascelles, general partner at AlbionVC, is joining the WeGift board.

WeGift says it will use the additional capital to continue building out its “real-time infrastructure” for digital rewards and incentives. This will include investment in building its supply chain through direct integrations with brands, and product development “that serves corporate marketing teams looking to acquire, activate and retain customers at scale”.

Founded in 2016 by Aron Alexander, WeGift wants to digitise the $700 billion rewards and incentives industry, which is largely still powered by legacy systems built for physical gift cards.

“Currently payments are a one way street,” WeGift’s Alexander told TechCrunch in June. “Payments technology is built to enable businesses to take money from consumers but it doesn’t let businesses send money to consumers.

“We’ve created a new category of digital non-cash rewards to power customer acquisition, retention and loyalty globally: the ‘Twilio for e-gift cards’”.

To do this, WeGift offers a “cloud-based, open API” platform that allows businesses to automate sending digital incentives. This is combined with analytics, making it easier to track ROI on incentive marketing campaigns.

Since we last covered the startup, WeGift has grown its network to more than 700 brand partners (such as Nike and Uber), across 30 markets and 20 currencies. It claims “hundreds of clients,” such as Vodafone, Samsung, Vouchercodes, Perkbox and Sodexo, among others.

“We’ve become a favourite of the telecom and energy industry with companies like Vodafone, Utilita, LookAfterMyBills and E.ON using our platform,” Alexander tells me.

WeGift is disclosing 317% in annual revenue growth, but isn’t providing actual revenue numbers. Notably, the company has also opened a New York office.

#europe, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

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New venture firm The-Wolfpack takes a fresh approach to D2C startups

The-Wolfpack’s co-founders, Toh Jin Wei, Tan Kok Chin and Simon Nichols

The-Wolfpack’s co-founders, Toh Jin Wei, Tan Kok Chin and Simon Nichols (Image Credit: The-Wolfpack)

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the consumer, leisure and media companies hard, but a new venture firm called The-Wolfpack is still very upbeat on those sectors. Based in Singapore, the firm was founded by former managing directors at GroupM, one of the world’s largest advertising and media companies, and plans to work very closely with each of its portfolio companies. Its name was chosen because they believe “entrepreneurs thrive best in a wolfpack.”

The-Wolfpack’s debut fund, called the Wolfpack Pioneer VCC, is already fully subscribed at $5 million USD, and will focus on direct-to-consumer companies, with plans to invest in eight to 10 startups. The firm is already looking to raise a second fund, with a target of $20 million SGD (about $14.9 million USD) and above, and will set up another office in Thailand, with plans to expand into Indonesia as well.

The-Wolfpack was founded by Toh Jin Wei and Simon Nichols, who met while working at GroupM, and Tan Kok Chin, a former director at Sunray Woodcraft Construction who has worked on projects with Marina Bay Sands, Raffles Hotel and the Singapore Tourism’s offices.

In addition to providing financial capital, The-Wolfpack wants to build ecosystems around its portfolio companies by connecting them with IP owners, digital marketing experts, content producers and designers who can help create offline experiences. It also plans to invest in startups based on opportunities for them to collaborate or cross-sell with one another.

Toh told TechCrunch that formal planning on The-Wolfpack began at the end of 2019, but he and Nichols started thinking of launching their own business five years ago while working together at GroupM.

“Our perspective on what the industry needed was similar — strategic investors who truly knew how to get behind D2C founders,” Toh said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact has hurt spending in The-Wolfpack’s three key sectors (consumer, leisure and media). But it also presents opportunities for innovation as consumer habits shift, Nichols said.

For example, even though consumer spending has dropped, people are still “drawn towards brands that build towards higher-quality engagements,” he said. “There is a real business advantage for D2C brands who’ve recognized this shift and know how to act on it.”

The-Wolfpack hasn’t disclosed its investments yet since deals are still being finalized, but some of the brands its debut fund are interested in include one launched by an Australian makeup artist who wants to scale to Southeast Asia, and an online gaming company whose ecosystem includes original content, gaming teams and studios. The-Wolfpack plans to help them set up a physical studio to create an offline experience, too.

“Typically brands have talked at customers, but it’s become a two-way conversation, and startups who get D2C right have a real potential for exponential growth that’s worth investing in,” said Toh.

#asia, #d2c, #direct-to-consumer, #fundings-exits, #leisure, #media, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #the-wolfpack, #venture-capital, #venture-firm

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Working to understand C3.ai’s growth story

The end-of-year IPO wave continues, this time with C3.ai moving closer to its own formal debut by updating its S-1 filing with third-quarter data.

The new data provides the market with a much better look into how the unicorn AI company’s business has progressed during the COVID-19 era, and should help public investors price the company’s equity as it looks to float.

TechCrunch previously explored C3.ai’s performance through the its July 31 quarter. Today we received information about its subsequent fiscal period, the quarter ending October 31.

We noted during our initial dig into C3.ai’s numbers that while the AI startup has had strong historical revenue growth — from $92 million to $157 million in the fiscal years ending April 31, 2019 and 2020 — in more recent quarters, its pace of expansion has slowed.

This brings us to the October 31, 2020, period. Let’s explore what changed for C3.ai and what did not.

C3.ai’s growth story

In the October 31, 2019, quarter C3.ai generated $38.9 million in total revenue, counting both its subscription (high gross-margin) and services (low gross-margin) incomes. That figure grew to $41.3 million in the January 31, 2020, quarter.

#c3-ai, #ec-ai, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

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Pay-per-mile auto insurer Metromile is heading to public markets via SPAC

Metromile, the pay-per-mile auto insurer that earlier this year laid off a third of its staff due to economic uncertainties caused by COVID-19, is taking the SPAC path to the public markets.

The company, which was founded in 2011 and is led by CEO Dan Preston, said it has reached a merger agreement with special purpose acquisition company INSU Acquisition Corp. II, with an equity valuation of $1.3 billion.

Metromile said it was able to raise $160 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, in an investment round led by Chamath Palihapitiya’s firm Social Capital. Existing investors Hudson Structured Capital Management and Mark Cuban, as well as new backers Miller Value and Clearbridge participated. Metromile will have about $294 million of cash at closing.

The company plans to use those proceeds to reduce existing debt and accelerate growth, specifically to hire employees to support its consumer insurance and enterprise businesses, and grow beyond its eight-state geographic footprint to a goal of 21 states by the end of next year and nationwide coverage by the end of 2022.

Metromile is credited for disrupting some of the inefficiencies of the auto insurance business model, notably how consumers are charged. Instead of a standard flat fee, Metromile charges customers based on their mileage, which it is able to measure via a device plugged into the vehicle. Some two-thirds of U.S. drivers are considered low-mileage, according to Metromile. By charging per mile, Metromile says its customers save 47% on average compared to their previous insurer.

The company developed a mobile app, which besides allowing users to file claims, offers other features such as alerting the driver of possible parking violations due to street sweeping activity. Now, with 3 billion miles of driver data, the company is able to make predictive models that help lower customer costs and improve their overall experience.

The company also built out an enterprise division in 2019 that offers a cloud-based software as a service to large legacy insurers. Metromile licenses components of its platform, including claims automation and fraud detection tools.

The COVID-19 pandemic created initial headwinds for Metromile, which had been one of the fastest growing startups in the Bay Area. Metromile ended up laying off about 100 people as it aimed to pare back its workforce. The company said at the time that its business was affected by pandemic-related stay-at-home orders, which caused its customers to drive less. The pandemic also prompted U.S. drivers to shop around for insurance and look for deals that supported their shift to lower mileage.

Investor Cuban said in the company’s SPAC announcement sees an upside for the business.

“During these times of financial hardship, unemployment, and work from home, Metromile provides an important insurance alternative,” Cuban said. “The option to pay for insurance by the mile is a game changer and why I’m incredibly excited about Metromile’s future!”

Social Capital’s Palihapitiya is equally bullish on the company, tweeting Tuesday “Buffett had Geico. I pick  @Metromile.”

Metromile has hired back staff and returned employees that it placed on furlough this spring. Today, the company has more than 230 employees and doesn’t expect any reductions in the workforce in the future. Instead, the company told TechCrunch it plans to hire additional staff on the expectation that both its consumer and enterprise businesses will grow “considerably” in the next few years.

The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021. The combined company will be named Metromile Inc., and is expected to remain listed on NASDAQ under the new ticker symbol “MLE.”

#fundings-exits, #metromile, #social-capital, #spac, #startups, #tc

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Dija, a new delivery startup from former Deliveroo employees, is closing in on a $20M round led by Blossom

Dija, a new U.K. based startup founded by senior former Deliveroo employees, is closing in on $20 million funding, TechCrunch has learned.

According to multiple sources, the round, which has yet to close, is being led by Blossom Capital, the early stage venture capital firm founded by ex-Index and LocalGlobe VC Ophelia Brown. It’s not clear who else is in the running, although I understand it was highly contested and and the startup had offers from several top tier funds. Blossom Capital and Dija declined to comment.

Playing in the convenience store and delivery space, yet to launch Dija is founded by Alberto Menolascina and Yusuf Saban, who both spent a number of years at Deliveroo in senior positions.

Menolascina was previously Director of Corporate Strategy and Development at the takeout delivery behemoth and held several positions before that. He also co-founded Everli (formerly Supermercato24), the Instacart-styled grocery delivery company in Italy, and also worked at Just Eat.

Saban is the former Chief of Staff to CEO at Deliveroo and also worked at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

In other words, both are seasoned operators in food logistics, from startups to scales-ups. Both Menolascina and Saban was also instrumental in Deliveroo’s Series D, E, and F funding rounds.

Meanwhile, few details are public about Dija, except that it will offer convenience and fresh food delivery using a “dark” convenience store mode, seeing it build out hyper local fulfilment centers in urban high population areas for super quick delivery. It’s likely akin to Accel and Softbank-backed goPuff in the U.S. or perhaps startup Weezy in the U.K.

That said, the model is yet to be proven everywhere it’s been tried and will likely be a capital intensive race in which Dija is off to a good start. And, of course, with everybody making the shift to online groceries while in a pandemic, as ever, timing is everything.

#europe, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

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As edtech grows cash rich, some lessons for early stage

Last week, Udemy, an online learning marketplace, raised $50 million at a $3.32 billion valuation, up from a $2 billion valuation earlier this year. Language learning app Duolingo raised $35 million on a $2.4 billion valuation, up from a $1.65 valuation from earlier this year.

The valuation bumps for both Duolingo and Udemy underscore just how much investor confidence there is in edtech’s remote learning boom. Today, let’s examine some lessons early-stage startups can learn from late-stage edtech.

Content is no longer king

Edtech startups that have figured out how to convey information while engaging users have  a competitive advantage but, as the information economy booms, content is growing more and more commoditized. It’s an age-old question: Why would someone pay for information they could get for free on YouTube?

The solution for edtech businesses seeking growth is to make its content free and then charge for more specialized services. In Duolingo’s case, CEO Luis von Ahn says consumers are drawn to its freemium business model.

More than 97% of Duolingo users take lessons for free, but the remaining 3% account for nearly $180 million in bookings, a metric the company uses as a proxy for revenue. The company is “more than breaking even,” according to von Ahn.

Duolingo Plus, its paid product, is ad-free, offers offline access and more comprehensive tracking metrics. However, it’s not a world of a difference from the Duolingo free product — and that’s part of the point. Free users have saved the company paid acquisition, and widespread usage gives Duolingo insights on what they need to do on a week-by-week basis.

#corporate-learning, #edtech, #education, #fundings-exits, #re-skilling, #tc

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3 new $100M ARR club members and a call for the next generation of growth-stage startups

Time flies.

It was nearly a year ago that The Exchange started keeping tabs on startups that managed to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue, or ARR. Our goal was to determine which unicorns were more than paper horses so we could keep tabs on upcoming IPO targets.

We found that Bill.com, Asana, WalkMe and Druva were impressively large and growing nicely. Since then two of the four companies from that post have gone public.

GitLab, Egnyte, Braze and O’Reilly Media joined the club before 2019 was even closed, with two of those companies taking part in the recent Disrupt conference, talking about how they managed their historical growth.

In early 2020 we added Sisense, Siteminder, Monday.com and Lemonade to the club, wrote about ExtraHop’s path to $100 million ARR, Cloudinary’s epic growth sans external capital, Siteminder’s own records and BounceX reaching $100 million ARR while it rebranded to Wunderkind.

As the year rolled along, MetroMile, Tricentis, Kaltura and Diligent joined the club. As did Recorded Future, ON24 and ActiveCampaign. There were even more names: Movable Ink, Noom, Riskified, Seismic, ThoughtSpot, along with Snow Software, A Cloud Guru, Zeta Global and Upgrade.

Today we have three more names to add to the group: UserTesting, Udemy’s business arm, and Expensify. But, more than merely adding those companies to the mix — more after the jump — I wanted to shake up our radar a bit as we head into 2021.

Yes, The Exchange will keep tabs on startups and other private companies that reach $100 million in ARR, or annual run rate, as the case may be. But next year we also want to find the startups around $50 million ARR that are growing like hell. We want to go a year or two earlier in growth histories to better watch how startups scale into nine-figure revenues, instead of hearing about it after the fact.

So, if you are a startup that is expanding aggressively and will reach the $50 million revenue mark inside the next quarter or two, please say hello. I suspect a good cut of the global unicorn market could fit this bill, and therefore might provide a window into which highly-valued startups are growing into their valuations.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


It’s going to be fun. Now, let’s quickly chat about the latest members of the $100 million ARR club.

UserTesting, Expensify and Udemy’s business arm

You’ve heard of each of our $100 million ARR companies this morning, so there’s less need for prelude and introduction. Here’s the group:

Expensify

Expensify is an expense-tracking company well-known around the technology world, so it’s no real surprise that it has reached the $100 million ARR threshold, a feat it announced yesterday.

But the company did us one better than merely dropping a single data point and racing back into the shadows. Instead, Expensify also disclosed that it has “maintained profitability for years [and] recorded its highest monthly revenue ever in October.”

#fundings-exits, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange, #udemy, #usertesting

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F3, a Stories-style Q&A app for Gen Z teens, raises $3.9M

F3, an anonymous Q&A app targeting Gen Z teens which blends a Tinder-style swipe-to-friend gamification mechanic, Stories-esque rich media responses and eye-wateringly expensive subscriptions to unlock a ‘Plus’ version that actually lets you see who wants to friend you — has raised a $3.9M seed round, including for a planned push on the US market.

The Latvian team behind F3 are not new to the viral teen app game having founded the anonymous teen Q&A app Ask.fm — which faced huge controversy back in 2013 over bullying and safety concerns after being linked to a number of suicides of users who’d received abusive messages. Not that they’ve let that put them off the viral teen app space, clearly.

Investors in F3’s seed round hail from the Russian dating network Mamba (including the latter’s investor, Mail.ru Group) and a co-investor VC firm with a marketing focus, called AdFirst.

Alex Hofmann (former musical.ly president) and Marat Kichikov (GP at Bitfury Capital) are also named as being among those joining the round as angel investors.

F3, which launched its apps in 2018, has 25M registered users at this point — 85% of whom are younger than 25.

The typical user is a (bored) teenager, with the user base being reported as 65% female and 60% Europe / 20% LatAm / 20% Rest of World at this point. (They’re not breaking out any active user metrics but claim 80% of users have been on the app for more than three months at this point.)

On the safety front, F3 is using both automated tools and people for content moderation — with the founders claiming to have learnt lessons from their past experience with Ask.fm (which got acquired by IAC’s Ask.com back in 2014, given them the funds to plough into F3’s development up to now).

“We’ve been solving problem of violating content in our previous company (Ask.fm), and now at F3 we’ve used all our knowledge of solving this problem from day one. Automation tools include text analysis in all major languages with database of 250k+ patterns that is continuously being improved, and AI based image recognition algorithms for detecting violating content in photos and videos,” says the founding team — which includes CEO Ilja Terebin.

“Our 24/7 content moderation team (8 in-house safety experts and 30+ outsourced contractors) manually reviews user reports and items flagged by automation tools,” they add.

However reviews of the app that we saw included complaints from users who said they’ve being pestered by ‘pedophiles’ asking for nudes — so claims of safety risks being “solved” seem riskily overblown.

Why do teens need yet another social discovery/messaging app? On that Terebin & team say the app has been tailored for Gen Z from the get-go — “focusing on their needs to socialize and make new friends online, ‘quick’ content in the form of photos and short videos, which is true and personal”.

“Raw & real” is another of their teen-friendly product market fit claims.

F3 users get a personalized URL that they can share to other social networks to solicit questions from their friends — which can be asked anonymously or not. (F3 users can also choose not to accept anonymous questions if they prefer.)

Instead of plain text answers users snap a photo or grab a short video, add filters, fancy fonts and backgrounds, and so on to reply in a rich-media Stories-style that’s infiltrated all social networking apps (most recently infecting Twitter, where it’s called Fleets).

These rich media responses get made public on their feed — so if an F3 user chooses to answer a question they’re also engaging with the wider community by default (though they can choose not to respond as questions remain private until responded to).

Asked how F3 stands out in a very packed and competitive social media landscape, they argue the app’s “uniqueness” is that the Q&A is photo and video based — “so the format is familiar and close to other social networks (‘stories’ or ‘snaps’) but in a Q&A style back-and-forth communication”, as they put it, adding that for their Gen Z target “the outdated text-based Q&A just was too boring”.

“We compete for eyeballs of Gen Z with Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. Our key strength is that through the Q&A format one can make new friends and truly get to know other people on a personal level through the prism of ‘raw and real’ content, which is not central on any of those platforms,” they also claim.

In terms of most similar competitors, they note Yolo has seen “some traction” and concede there are a bunch of others also offering Q&A. But here they argue F3 is more fully featured than rivals — suggesting the Q&A feature is just the viral hook to get users into a wider community net.

“[F3] is a fully functional social platform, built around visual communication — users have content feed where they can view posts by people they follow, they can create photo/video content using editing tools in the app itself, there’s a messenger functionality for direct chats, follow-ships, content and user discovery. So for us, the anonymous messaging/Q&A format is just an entry point which allows us to grow quickly and get the users on our platform, but then they make new connections and keep engaging with their unique social circle they have only on F3, making it a sustainable stand-alone social network.”

Again, though, user reviews tell more of a raw (and real?) story — with plenty of complaints that there’s little value in the free version of the app (while F3 Plus costs $3.99 for 7 days; $8.99 for 1 month or $19.99 for 3 months), and questions over the authenticity of some anonymous questions, as well as complaints that other users they’re able to meet aren’t nearby and/or don’t speak the same language. Other reviews aren’t wowed by more of the  same Q&A format. Others complain the app just feels like a data grab. (And the F3 ‘privacy policy‘ definitely has a detailed story to unfold vis-a-vis the tracking users are agreeing to, for anyone who bothers to dig in and read it.)

“This whole app is literally just like all the other apps. Just another copy cat that you still have to pay for,” runs one review from July 2020. “Don’t download.”

#apps, #f3, #fundings-exits, #generation-z, #qa-app, #social, #social-apps

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Altana raises $7M to protect supply chains from disruptions, child labor

Supply chains used to be one of those magical elements of capitalism that seemed to be designed by Apple: they just worked. Minus the occasional salmonella outbreak in your vegetable aisle, we could go about our daily consumer lives never really questioning how our fast-fashion clothes, tech gadgets, and medical supplies actually got to our shelves or homes.

Of course, a lot has changed over the past few years. Anti-globalization sentiment has grown as a political force, driving governments like the United States and the United Kingdom to renegotiate free trade agreements and attempt to onshore manufacturing while disrupting the trade status quo. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic placed huge stress on supply chains — with some entirely breaking in the process.

In short, supply chain managers suddenly went from one of those key functions that no one wants to think about, to one of those key functions that everyone thinks about all the time.

While these specialists have access to huge platforms from companies like Oracle and SAP, they need additional intelligence to understand where these supply chains could potentially break. Are there links in the supply chain that might be more brittle than at first glance? Are there factories in the supply chain that are on alert lists for child labor or environmental violations? What if government trade policy shifts — are we at risk of watching products sit in a cargo container at a port?

New York-headquartered Altana wants to be that intelligence layer for supply-chain management, bringing data and machine learning to bear against the complexity of modern capitalism. Today, the company announced that it has raised $7 million in seed financing led by Anne Glover of London-based Amadeus Capital Partners.

The three founders of the startup, CEO Evan Smith, CTO Peter Swartz, and COO Raphael Tehranian, all worked together on Panjiva, a global supply chain platform that was founded in 2006, funded by Battery Ventures a decade ago, and sold to S&P Global in early 2018. Panjiva’s goal was to build a “graph” of supply chains that would offer intelligence to managers.

That direct experience informs Altana’s vision, which in many ways is the same as Panjiva’s but perhaps revamped using newer technology and data science. Again, Altana wants to build a supply-chain knowledge graph, provide intelligence to managers, and create better resilience.

The difference has to do with data. “What we continually found when we were in the data sales business was that you are kind of stuck in that place in the value chain,” Smith said. “Your customers won’t let you touch their data, because they don’t trust you with it, and other proprietary data companies don’t let you work on and manage and transform their data.”

Instead of trying to be the central repository for all data, Altana is “operating downstream” from all of these data sources, allowing companies to build their own supply chain graphs using their own data and whatever other data sources they have access to.

The company sells into procurement offices, which are typically managed in the CFO’s office. Today, the majority of customers for Altana are government clients such as border control, where “the task is to pick the needles out of the haystack as the ship arrives and you’ve got to pick the illicit shipments from the safe ones and actually facilitate the lawful trade,” Smith said.

The company’s executive chairman is Alan Bersin, who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency currently working as a policy consultant for Covington & Burling, which has been one of the premier law firms on trade issues like CFIUS during the Trump administration.

Altana allows one-off investigations and simulations, but its major product goal is to offer real-time alerts that give supply chain managers substantive visibility into changes that affect their business. For instance, rather than waiting for an annual labor or environmental audit to find issues, Altana hopes to provide predictive capabilities that allow companies to solve problems much faster than before.

In addition to Amadeus, Schematic Ventures, AlleyCorp, and the Working Capital – The Supply Chain Investment Fund also participated.

#amadeus-capital-partners, #funding, #fundings-exits, #logistics, #startups

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Industrial drone maker Percepto raises $45M and integrates with Boston Dynamics’ Spot

Consumer drones have over the years struggled with an image of being no more than expensive and delicate toys. But applications in industrial, military and enterprise scenarios have shown that there is indeed a market for unmanned aerial vehicles, and today, a startup that makes drones for some of those latter purposes is announcing a large round of funding and a partnership that provides a picture of how the drone industry will look in years to come.

Percepto, which makes drones — both the hardware and software — to monitor and analyze industrial sites and other physical work areas largely unattended by people, has raised $45 million in a Series B round of funding.

Alongside this, it is now working with Boston Dynamics  and has integrated its Spot robots with Percepto’s Sparrow drones, with the aim being better infrastructure assessments, and potentially more as Spot’s agility improves.

The funding is being led by a strategic backer, Koch Disruptive Technologies, the investment arm of industrial giant Koch Industries (which has interests in energy, minerals, chemicals and related areas), with participation also from new investors State of Mind Ventures, Atento Capital, Summit Peak Investments, Delek-US. Previous investors U.S. Venture Partners, Spider Capital and Arkin Holdings also participated. (It appears that Boston Dynamics and SoftBank are not part of this investment.)

Israel-based Percepto has now raised $72.5 million since it was founded in 2014, and it’s not disclosing its valuation, but CEO and founder Dor Abuhasira described as “a very good round.”

“It gives us the ability to create a category leader,” Abuhasira said in an interview. It has customers in around 10 countries, with the list including ENEL, Florida Power and Light and Verizon.

While some drone makers have focused on building hardware, and others are working specifically on the analytics, computer vision and other critical technology that needs to be in place on the software side for drones to work correctly and safely, Percepto has taken what I referred to, and Abuhasira confirmed, as the “Apple approach”: vertical integration as far as Percepto can take it on its own.

That has included hiring teams with specializations in AI, computer vision, navigation and analytics as well as those strong in industrial hardware — all strong areas in the Israel tech landscape, by virtue of it being so closely tied with its military investments. (Note: Percepto does not make its own chips: these are currently acquired from Nvidia, he confirmed to me.)

“The Apple approach is the only one that works in drones,” he said. “That’s because it is all still too complicated. For those offering an Android-style approach, there are cracks in the complete flow.”

It presents the product as a “drone-in-a-box”, which means in part that those buying it have little work to do to set it up to work, but also refers to how it works: its drones leave the box to make a flight to collect data, and then return to the box to recharge and transfer more information, alongside the data that is picked up in real time.

The drones themselves operate on an on-demand basis: they fly in part for regular monitoring, to detect changes that could point to issues; and they can also be launched to collect data as a result of engineers requesting information. The product is marketed by Percepto as “AIM”, short for autonomous site inspection and monitoring.

News broke last week that Amazon has been reorganising its Prime Air efforts — one sign of how some more consumer-facing business applications — despite many developments — may still have some turbulence ahead before they are commercially viable. Businesses like Percepto’s stand in contrast to that, with their focus specifically on flying over, and collecting data, in areas where there are precisely no people present.

It has dovetailed with a bigger focus from industries on the efficiencies (and cost savings) you can get with automation, which in turn has become the centerpiece of how industry is investing in the buzz phrase of the moment, “digital transformation.”

“We believe Percepto AIM addresses a multi-billion-dollar issue for numerous industries and will change the way manufacturing sites are managed in the IoT, Industry 4.0 era,” said Chase Koch, President of Koch Disruptive Technologies, in a statement. “Percepto’s track record in autonomous technology and data analytics is impressive, and we believe it is uniquely positioned to deliver the remote operations center of the future. We look forward to partnering with the Percepto team to make this happen.”

The partnership with Boston Dynamics is notable for a couple of reasons: it speaks to how various robotics hardware will work together in tandem in an automated, unmanned world; and it speaks to how Boston Dynamics is pulling up its socks.

On the latter front, the company has been making waves in the world of robotics for years, specifically with its agile and strong dog-like (with names like “Spot” and “Big Dog”) robots that can cover rugged terrains and handle tussles without falling apart.

That led it into the arms of Google, which acquired it as part of its own secretive moonshot efforts, in 2013. That never panned out into a business, and probably gave Google more complicated optics at a time when it was already being seen as too powerful. Then, SoftBank stepped in to pick it up, along with other robotics assets, in 2017. That hasn’t really gone anywhere either, it seems, and just this month it was reported that Boston Dynamics was reportedly facing yet another suitor, Hyundai.

All of this is to say that partnerships with third parties that are going places (quite literally) become strong signs of how Boston Dynamics’ extensive R&D investments might finally pay off with enterprising dividends.

Indeed, while Percepto has focused on its own vertical integration, longer term and more generally there is an argument to be made for more interoperability and collaboration between the various companies building “connected” and smart hardware for industrial, physical applications. It means that specific industries can focus on the special equipment and expertise they require, while at the same time complementing that with hardware and software that are recognised as best-in-class. Abuhasira said that he expects the Boston Dynamics partnership to be the first of many.

That makes this first one an interesting template. It will see Spot carrying Percepto’s payloads for high resolution imaging and thermal vision “to detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM.” It will also mean a more thorough picture, beyond what you get from the air, and potentially a point at which the data that the pairing sources results even in repairs or other work to fix issues.

“Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” said Michael Perry, VP of Business Development at Boston Dynamics, in a statement. “This partnership demonstrates the value of harnessing robotic collaborations and the insurmountable benefits to worker safety and cost savings that robotics can bring to industries that involve hazardous or remote work.”

#artificial-intelligence, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #robotics

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YC-backed Cashfree raises $35.3 million for its payments platform

Cashfree, an Indian startup that offers a wide-range of payments services to businesses, has raised $35.3 million in a new financing round as the profitable firm looks to broaden its offering.

The Bangalore-based startup’s Series B was led by London-headquartered private equity firm Apis Partners (which invested through its Growth Fund II), with participation from existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. The new round brings the startup’s to-date raise to $42 million.

Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.

Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.

In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.

Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.

Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.

Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.

The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.

Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.

“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.

#apis-partners, #apps, #asia, #bigbasket, #cashfree, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #india, #payments, #paypal, #razorpay, #recent-funding, #shopify, #startups, #y-combinator, #zomato

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Relativity Space raises $500 million as its sets sights on the industrialization of Mars

3D-printed rocket startup Relativity Space has closed $500 million in Series D funding (making official the earlier reported raise), the company announced today. This funding was led by Tiger Global Management, and included participation by a host of new investors including Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baillie Gifford, Iconiq Capital, General Catalist and more. This brings the company’s total raised so far to nearly $700 million, as the startup is poised to launch its first ever fully 3D-printed orbital rocket next year.

LA-based Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach. Its rocket construction technology, which is grounded in its development and use of the largest metal 3D printers in existence, suffered relatively few setbacks due to COVID-19-related shutdowns and work stoppages since it involves relatively few actual people on the factory floor managing the 3D printing process, which is handled in large part by autonomous robotic systems and software developed by the company.

Relativity also locked in a first official contract from the U.S. government this year, to launch a new experimental cryogenic fluid management system on behalf of client Lockheed Martin, as part of NASA’s suite of Tipping Point contracts to fund the development of new technologies for space exploration. It also put into service its third-generation Stargate 3D metal printers – the largest on Earth, as mentioned.

The company’s ambitions are big, so this new large funding round should provide it with fuel to grow even more aggressively in 2021. It’s got new planned initiatives underway, both terrestrial and space-related, but CEO and founder Tim Ellis specifically referred to Mars and sustainable operations on the red planet as one possible application of Relativity’s tech down the road.

In prior conversations, Ellis has alluded to the potential for Relativity’s printers when applied to other large-scale metal manufacturing – noting that the cost curve as it stands makes most sense for rocketry, but could apply to other industries easily as the technology matures. Whether on Mars or on Earth, large-scale 3D printing definitely has a promising future, and it looks like Relativity is well-positioned to take advantage.

We’ll be talking to Ellis at our forthcoming TC Sessions: Space event, so we’ll ask him more about this round and his company’s aspirations live there, too.

#3d-printing, #aerospace, #articles, #baillie-gifford, #ceo, #emerging-technologies, #fundings-exits, #iconiq-capital, #industrial-design, #lockheed-martin, #long-beach, #printer, #relativity-space, #robotics, #science, #science-and-technology, #space, #tc, #tiger-global-management, #tim-ellis, #u-s-government, #united-states

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Mental health startups are raising spirits and venture capital

A spate of startups focused on mental health recently made enough noise as a group that they caught the eye of the Equity podcast crew. Sadly, the segment we’d planned to discuss this topic was swept away by a blizzard of IPO filings that piled up like fresh snow.

But in preparation, I reached out to CB Insights for new data on the mental health startup space that they were kind enough to supply. So this morning we’re going to dig into it.

Regular readers of The Exchange will recall that we last dug into overall wellness venture capital investment in August, noting that it was mental health startups inside the vertical that were seeing the most impressive results.


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I wanted to know what had happened even more recently.

After all, Spring Health recently raised $76 million for its service that helps companies offer their workers mental health benefits, Mantra Health disclosed that it has raised $3.2 million to help with college-age mental health issues and Joon Care announced $3.5 million in new capital to “grow its remote therapy service for teens and young adults,” per GeekWire.

Sticking to theme, Headway just raised $32 million to build a platform that “helps people search for and engage therapists who accept insurance for payments,” according to our own reporting, and online therapy provider Talkspace is pursuing a sale — it looks like an active time in the mental health startup realm.

So, let’s shovel into the latest data and see if the signals that we are seeing really do reflect more total investment into mental health startups, or if we’re over-indexing off a few news items.

The state of mental health venture investing

To prepare the ground, let’s talk about the general state of healthcare investing in the venture capital world. Per CB Insights’ Q3 healthcare VC report, venture capital deal volume and venture capital dollar volume reached new record highs in the sector during Q3 2020.

The quarter’s 1,539 rounds and $21.8 billion in invested capital were each comfortably ahead of prior records set in Q2 2018 for round volume (1,431) and Q2 2020 for dollar volume ($18.4 billion) for healthcare startups.

#calm, #cb-insights, #fundings-exits, #headspace, #health, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

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Video mentoring platform Superpeer raises $8M and launches paid channels

Superpeer, a startup that helps experts share and monetize their knowledge online, is announcing that it has raised $8 million in additional funding.

As I wrote in March, the Superpeer platform allows experts to promote, schedule and charge for one-on-one video calls with anyone who might want to ask for their advice.

In addition to announcing funding, the startup is also moving beyond one-on-one sessions by launching paid channels, where experts can charge a subscription fee for access to larger group sessions with video and chat. Co-founder and CEO Devrim Yasar suggested that channels allow Superpeer experts to be more accessible, hosting sessions that cost less money to watch and reach a larger audience.

“It can be hard to say, ‘Hi I’m Anthony Ha, if you want to talk to me,
my hourly rate is $500,’” Yasar said. (To be clear: I would never say that.) “But if you have a channel where anyone can subscribe for $1 or $5, that makes you feel better that you are accessible.”

Plus, you can still offer (and charge more for) one-on-one meetings, say for subscribers who still have “burning questions” after a channel session.

In the midst of the pandemic, we’re seeing a widespread embrace of online mentoring and content as new source of source. Last week, for example, Squarespace launched a new paywall feature called Member Areas, and I’ve also written about another video mentoring platform called Prox.

Yasar acknowledged that things are getting pretty competitive, but he said that Superpeer is trying to build the most attractive brand for public intellectuals and thought leaders — he described the vision (half-jokingly, half-proudly) as “OnlyFans for brains.”

“If you are an intellectual, if you have an audience, if you are a TED speaker with 30 million views on your video, you’ve never had a platform to really monetize that audience,” Yasar said. “All you could do is maybe write a book and sell that, you could be a guest at someone else’s event [but not much else]. Those people don’t want to go to YouTube or Instagram, that’s not the brand that they associate themselves with.”

Beyond branding, Yasar said that Superpeer has also worked hard on the technology side to create a lightweight video experience in the browser.

The new round comes from Acrew Capital, Audacious Ventures, Homebrew, Moxxie Ventures, Brianne Kimmel, Scott Belsky and OnDeck, and it brings Superpeer’s total funding to $10 million.

Yasar said the startup will be expanding its growth, partnership and revenue teams. It will also be offering financial support for experts through a brand ambassador program, though the company is still working out the details.

And if you’d like to see the platform in action, I’ll also be talking to Yasar and his investors at Eniac Ventures tomorrow in a free session at noon Eastern.

#funding, #fundings-exits, #superpeer

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AvePoint to go public via SPAC valued at $2B

AvePoint, a company that gives enterprises using Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint and Teams a control layer on top of these tools, announced today that it would be going public via a SPAC merger with Apex Technology Acquisition Corporation in a deal that values AvePoint at around $2 billion.

The acquisition brings together some powerful technology executives with Apex run by former Oracle CFO Jeff Epstein and former Goldman Sachs head of technology investment banking Brad Koenig, who will now be working closely with AvePoint’s CEO Tianyi Jiang. Apex filed for a $305 million SPAC in September 2019.

Under the terms of the transaction, Apex’s balance of $352 million plus a $140 million additional private investment will be handed over to AvePoint. Once transaction fees and other considerations are paid for, AvePoint is expected to have $252 million on its balance sheet. Existing AvePoint shareholders will own approximately 72% of the combined entity, with the balance held by the Apex SPAC and the private investment owners.

Jiang sees this is a way to keep growing the company. “Going public now gives us the ability to meet this demand and scale up faster across product innovation, channel marketing, international markets and customer success initiatives,” he said in a statement.

AvePoint was founded in 2001 as a company to help ease the complexity of SharePoint installations, which at the time were all on-premise. Today, it has adapted to the shift to the cloud as a SaaS tool and primarily acts as a policy layer enabling companies to make sure employees are using these tools in a compliant way.

The company raised $200 million in January this year led by TPG Sixth Street Partners, with additional participation from prior investor Goldman Sachs, meaning that Koenig was probably familiar with the company based on his previous role.

The company has raised a total of $294 million in capital before today’s announcement. It expects to generate almost $150 million in revenue by the end of this year with ARR growing at over 30%. It’s worth noting that the company’s ARR and revenue has been growing steadily since Q12019. The company is projecting significant growth for the next two years with revenue estimates of $257 million and ARR of $220 million by the end of 2022.

Graph of revenue and projected revenue

Image Credits: AvePoint

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of next year. Upon close the company will continue to be known as AvePoint and be publicly traded on NASDAQ under the new ticker symbol AVPT.

#avepoint, #enterprise, #exit, #fundings-exits, #saas, #spacs, #startups

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Cure Hydration raises $2.6M for its healthy sports drink alternative

Cure Hydration is announcing that it has raised $2.6 million in seed funding as it brings a healthier approach to the sports beverage market.

Founder and CEO Lauren Picasso, whose past roles include serving as director of marketing at Jet.com, told me that she became interested in the market after training for a triathlon; she’d often feel dehydrated even after drinking lots of water. (This is also something I struggled with while training for a marathon last year — and yes, I’m only mentioning this because I really want you to know that I ran a marathon.)

The obvious solution was to drink Gatorade or something similar to replenish her electrolytes, but Picasso said, “When I started looking for electrolyte products that were healthy and effective, I realized everything on the market still uses a base of sugar.” In fact the average sports drink contains 36 grams of sugar.

So Picasso and the Cure team developed a new beverage based on the World Health Organization’s Oral Rehydration Solution, which Picasso said is “primarily used to help people suffering from diseases like cholera,” and which has saved “millions of lives and is proven to hydrate as effectively as an IV drip.”

Cure uses the ORS as a foundation to create a range of flavored beverages (it’s adding the new flavors Ruby Riot Grapefruit and Laser Focus Matcha). The core ingredients include coconut water and pink Himalayan salt, while everything is organic and vegan, with no added sugars.

Cure Hydration

Image Credits: Cure Hydration

The startup sells these drinks in the form of powders that you mix with water. On its website, they cost $24.99 for a pack of 14, or $19.99 of you subscribe. (The company donates 1% of proceeds to the women’s sports nonprofit SheIS.) Picasso said early customers have tended to be amateur athletes and people who need help staying hydrated due to chronic illnesses and other health conditions.

The product is also rolling out in stores like CVS, Walmart and Whole Foods. Picasso said that one of her goals with the funding is to bring Cure to 4,200 retail locations across the United States.

She also plans to develop new products beyond hydration, though she said they will stay true to the company’s “guiding principles” that all its products are “backed by science” and “taste delicious.” The company has a medical advisory board that includes Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist; Dr. Dana Cohen, the author of “Quench”; and nutritionist Brooke Alpert, author of “The Sugar Detox.”

The round was led by Lerer Hippeau, with participation from M3 Ventures, Litani Ventures, Andy Roddick, Nas, Matthew Dellavedova, Casper CEO Philip Krim, mParticle CEO Michael Katz, Thrive Market CEO Nick Green and others.

“Now, more than ever, consumers are prioritizing health in their daily lives and looking for products that are not only effective, but better-for-you,” said Lerer Hippeau Principal Caitlin Strandberg in a statement. “Lauren is an exceptional operator and we’ve been impressed with her ability to bring a WHO-approved formulation to market without compromising on product quality or efficacy. With this cash infusion and retail expansion, we’re excited to see Cure get into even more hands.”

#cure-hydration, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lerer-hippeau, #startups

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Former Sequoia Partner Amy Sun has already raised millions for her stealthy startup

Former Sequoia partner Amy Sun, who left the famed venture capital firm just months ago, has already raised $3.8 million for her new startup, Daylight Labs, SEC filings show.

Daylight Labs will be creating a solution to help gig economy workers make more money, Sun hints to TechCrunch. Still in the early product development stages, the startup began during the pandemic when Sun noticed how many industries were “completely decimated” by the crisis.

“How can you leverage technology to create new ways for people to earn to make a living,” she said. “We’re innovating on the actual format and product.”

There is no site or information available online about Daylight Labs, and Sun declined to comment on more specifics of the business, saying that the company is still iterating on its final product. What we do know, however, is that the company is a combination of all of Sun’s experiences in her career so far, from product management at Uber, to working on the Stories team at Facebook, to, most recently, investing in consumer companies on behalf of Sequoia Capital, which she joined in 2018.

Image Credits: Amy Sun

The Harvard grad started her career in product marketing at Microsoft, where she helped launch the Surface tablet. Sun then spent more than three years at Uber as a founding member of the ride-sharing companies growth marketing team, which included getting drivers to join the platform.

“Through that experience I got to build really strong relationships with drivers,” she said. “Seeing that you’re able to come into a city with a technology and people can start earning money, instantly — that’s really eye opening for me.” Notably, in California, the Uber and Lyft-backed Prop 22 bill passed, which allows gig workers to remain classified as independent contractors instead of full-time workers.

At Facebook, Sun worked on the company’s Stories product as a product manager. It’s unclear how her experience with consumer cameras and AR will be used within Daylight Labs, but that will definitely be interesting to track. During her tenure, users of Facebook Stories swelled from 2 million to 100 million.

Most recently, Sun worked at Sequoia Capital as the first woman on the firm’s growth stage team. Her portfolio included Noom, Aurora, Glossier, and The Wing, although she says she has transitioned “most responsibilities” from her tenure, including board seats, to the rest of the Sequoia team.

As for why leave the firm so soon after joining, Sun simply said that starting a company has “always been a dream” since the beginning of her career.

Since leaving Sequoia, Sun has lived a “nomadic lifestyle” with time in San Francisco, Boston, North Carolina, and more recently, Austin, Texas. Daylight Labs is based out of Austin, and Sun joins troves of entrepreneurs who have been moving to the area for years.

More to come on Daylight Labs when Sun is ready to share.

#fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

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Equity Monday: Good vaccine news, three rounds, and why IPOs are trending

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Thursday’s main ep, and our bonus episode that went out on Saturday.

If you like Equity, your cup runeth over.

So, what did we get into this morning? A grip of things, which I’ve listed below in order:

Please stay safe this week, America. Do something boring and unfun, so that we can keep more of us alive into next year.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #startups

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Corporate services platform Sleek lands $4 million in new funding

Sleek, the corporate services platform that helps entrepreneurs launch and run new companies in Singapore and Hong Kong, has raised $4 million.

The new funding was led by SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore. Returning investors MI8 Limited and Pierre Lorinet also participated, along with Singapore Fintech Association co-founder Varun Mittal as part of Sequoia Capital’s scout program.

Sleek co-founder and chief growth officer Adrien Barthel told TechCrunch that the funding is part of Sleek’s seed round and brings the startup’s total raised so far to $7 million. It will start raising a Series A next year.

Founded three years ago by Barthel and Julien Labruyere, Sleek first began offering online corporate services, including company incorporation, compliance, digital accounting and tax filing, in Singapore before expanding into Hong Kong. Sleek now serves more than 3,000 companies, ranging from individual consultants to SMEs, startups and investment vehicles for funds, Barthel said.

Sleek is one of several cloud-based corporate services platforms focused on Singapore and/or Hong Kong, where regulations make it easier to incorporate companies and file taxes online, that have recently raised new venture capital funding. Others include Lanturn, Osome and Bluemeg. These startups were originally launched to reduce the amount of time and money spent on performing operational tasks, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for their services.

“We are happy to see other digital initiatives coming up around us,” Barthel told TechCrunch. “The market is wide enough for us to evolve on different positioning, and we’re only starting to see traditional firms looking at embracing the use of technology.”

While Sleek’s peers also offer secretarial, accounting and tax services, Barthel said his company’s vision “is to become the entrepreneur’s operating system, by going beyond that common service ground and building a range of services that are here to fit all entrepreneurs’ needs.”

For example, it recently released an electronic signature app called SleekSign that has digitized 145,000 signatures so far, added payroll services and launched a corporate insurance desk. Barthel said more product releases are planned for the end of this year and the first quarter of 2021.

In addition to growing its roster of services for entrepreneurs, Sleek also plans to expand into new markets where regulations also mesh well with its digital services.

“Our platform being common law friendly, we’re looking at such jurisdictions with attention, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and North America,’ said Barthel. “We are also closely looking at a few regional markets in Southeast Asia where regulatory frameworks are evolving and accepting progressively the use of technology for governance management and accounting.”

#asia, #corporate-services, #fundings-exits, #hong-kong, #singapore, #sleek, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Metigy gets $20 million AUD to making online marketing easier for SMEs

David Fairfull, CEO and co-founder of Metigy

David Fairfull, CEO and co-founder of Metigy

Metigy, a marketing platform created to help small businesses automate more of the decision making in their online ad campaigns, has raised a Series B of $20 million AUD (about $14.6 million USD). The new funding, led by returning investor Cygnet Capital, will be used to grow the Sydney, Australia-based startup’s international customer base, especially in the United States and Southeast Asia. Other participants in the round included Regal Funds Management, OC Funds, Five V Venture Capital and Thorney, plus returning

Founded in 2015, Metigy is currently used by about 26,000 businesses and has channel partnerships with Google and Optus. About 44% of its customers are in Australia and New Zealand, while 26% are in Southeast Asia, and 22% are in the United States. The startup has raised AUD $27.1 million (about USD $19.9 million) in total.

Co-founder and chief executive officer David Fairfull told TechCrunch Metigy was created because “half of SMEs fail in the first two years and marketing is one of the top two reasons for this. It’s a global issue and a paradigm that can be changed by harnessing technology.”

Fairfull and other members of Metigy’s founding team previously worked at We Are Social, a global creative agency. While there, they “spotted an opportunity to give small businesses access to the same data and strategic insights” as larger marketing teams.

Marketing platform Metigy's Command Center

Marketing platform Metigy’s Command Center

Metigy’s platform gives more support to small or inexperienced marketing teams by using real-time data from their online advertising channels to create a livestream of recommendations. For example, it will tell marketing teams if they should start posting more content right away, use more hashtags or schedule more posts. The platforms also predicts what posts will result in the most conversions, helping companies decide how to spend their advertising budget.

For example, one of Metigy’s customers, parking app Share with Oscar, used Metigy to analyze what was trending on social media when members of the Royal Family visited Sydney. As a result, Fairfull said they were able to generate 2,700 customer engagements by spending about AUD $10 (about USD $7).

Other social marketing platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social are “essentially process solutions that help make the marketer more efficient,” said Fairfull. “However, if you don’t understand marketing, then all this process efficiency won’t help you gain results.”

Metigy is focusing on the United States and Southeast Asia because of the large number of SMEs there. By 2022, there is expected to be 30 million SMEs in the U.S. “On top of this, success in marketing technology is often benchmarked by success in the U.S., so expanding in this region adds credibility,” Fairfull added.

But in terms of volume, Southeast Asia offers a more promising market. “The real growth opportunity for us though is in Southeast Asia, where there is expected to be 150 million SMEs across the 11 markets by 2022,” Fairfull said. But the majority of them don’t have large marketing teams or access to the kind of ad technology that larger companies do. Companies in the region also tend to be more price sensitive, Fairfull added, so artificial intelligence and machine learning-based technology helps lower the cost of software like Metigy to an attractive price.

#advertising-tech, #asia, #australia, #fundings-exits, #marketing, #metigy, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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How the pandemic drove the IPO wave we see today

This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

I had a neat look into the world of mental health startup fundraising planned for this week, but after being slow-motion carpet-bombed by S-1s, that is now shoved off to Monday and we have to pause and talk about COVID-19.

The pandemic has been the most animating force for startups and venture capital in 2020, discounting the slow movement of global business into the digital realm. But COVID did more than that, as we all know. It crashed some companies as assuredly as it gave others a boost. For every Peloton there is probably a Toast, in other words.

Such is the case with this week’s crop of unicorn IPO candidates, though they are unsurprisingly weighted far more toward the COVID-accelerated cohort of startups instead of the group of startups that the pandemic cut off at the knees. 

More simply, COVID-19 gave most of our recent IPOs a polite shove in the back, helping them jog a bit faster toward the public-offering finish line. Let’s talk about it.

Roblox, the gaming company that targets kids, has been a beneficiary during the COVID-19 pandemic, as folks stayed home and, it appears, gave their kids money to buy in-game currency so that their parents could have some peace. Great business, even if Roblox warned that growth could slow sharply next year, when compared to its epic 2020 gains.

But Roblox is hardly the only company taking advantage of COVID-19’s impacts on the market to get public while their numbers are stellar. We saw DoorDash file last week, crowing from atop a mountain of revenue growth that came in part from you and I trying to stay home since March. As it turns out you order more delivery when you can’t leave your house.

Affirm got a COVID-19 boost as well, with not only e-commerce spend growing — Affirm provides point-of-sale loans to consumers during online shopping — but also because Peloton took off, and lots of folks chose to finance their new exercise bike with the payment service. Call it a double-boost.

The IPO is well-timed. Wish falls into the same bucket, though it did hit some supply-chain and delivery issues due to the pandemic, so you could argue it either way.

Regardless, as we have seen from global numbers, COVID-19 is very much not done wreaking havoc on our health, happiness, and ability to go about normal life. So the trends that this week’s S-1s have shown us still have some room to run.

Which is irksome for Airbnb, a unicorn that was supposed to have debuted already via a direct listing, but instead had to hit pause, borrow money, lay off staff, and now jog to the startup finish line with less revenue in this Q3 than the last. In time, Airbnb will get back to full-speed, but among our new IPO candidates it’s the only company net-harmed by COVID-19. That makes it special.

There are other trends to keep tabs on, regarding the pandemic. Not every software company that you might expect to be thriving at the moment actually is; Workday shares are off 8% today as I write to you, because the company said that COVID-19 is harming its ability to land new customers. Here’s its CFO Robynne Sisco from its earnings call

Keep in mind, however, that while we have seen some recent stability in the underlying environment, headwinds due to COVID remains particularly to net new bookings. And given our subscription model, these headwinds that have impacted us all year will be more fully evident in next year’s subscription revenue weighing on our growth in the near-term.

Yeesh. So don’t look at recent IPOs and think that all things are good for all companies, or even all software companies. (To be clear, the pandemic is a human crisis, but my job is to talk about its business impacts so here we are. Hugs, and please stay as safe as you can.)

Market Notes

There was so much news this week that we have to be annoyingly summary. 

I caught up with Brex CEO Henrique Dubugras the other day, giving The Exchange a chance to parse what happened to the company during the early COVID days when the company decided to cut staff. The short answer from the CEO is that the company went from growing 10% to 15% each month, to seeing negative growth — not a sin, Airbnb saw negative gross bookings for a few months earlier this year — and as the company had hired for a big year, it had to make cuts. Dubugras talked about how hard of a choice that was to make.

Brex’s business rebounded faster than the company expected, however, driven in part by strong new business formation — some data here — and companies rapidly moving into the digital realm and moving to finance systems like Brex’s. 

Looking forward, Dubugras wants to expand the pool of companies that Brex can underwrite, which makes sense as that would open up its market size quite a lot. And the company is as remote as companies are now, with its CEO opening up during our chat about the pros and cons of the move. Happily for the business fintech unicorn, Dubugras said that some of the negatives of companies working more remotely haven’t been as tough as expected. 

Next up: Growth metric. Verbit, a startup that uses AI to transcribe and caption videos, raised a $60 million Series C this week led by Sapphire Ventures. I couldn’t get to the round, but the company did note in its release that it has seen 400% year-over-year revenue growth, and that its “revenue run-rate [has] grown five-fold since 2019.” Nice.

Jai Das led the round for Verbit, and, in a quirk of good timing, I’m hosting an Extra Crunch Live with him in a few weeks. (Extra Crunch sub required for that, head here if you need one. The discount code ‘EQUITY’ should still be working if it helps.)

Telos, a Virginia-based cybersecurity and identity company went public this week. It fell under our radar because there is more news than we have hands to type it up. Such is the rapid-fire news cycle of late 2020. But, to catch us both up, Telos priced midrange but with an upsized offering, valuing it around $1 billion, according to MarketWatch.

After going public, Telos shares have performed well. Cybersecurity is having one hell of a year.

Turning back to our favorite topic in the world, SaaS, ProfitWell’s Patrick Campbell dropped a grip of data on the impact of COVID-19 on the B2B SaaS market. Mostly it’s positive. There was a hit early on, but then growth seems to have accelerated. Just keep in mind the Workday example from earlier; not everyone is in software growth paradise as 2020 comes to a close.

And, finally, after Affirm released its S-1 filing, competing service Klarna decided it was a good time to drop some performance data of its own. First of all, Klarna — thanks. We like data. Second of all, just go public. Klarna said that it grew from 10 million customers in the United States to 11 million in three weeks, and that the second statistic was up 106% compared to its year-ago tally. 

Affirm, you are now required by honor to update your S-1 with even more data as an arch-nerd clapback. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

Various and Sundry

Alright, that’s enough of all that. Chat to you soon, and I hope that you are safe and well and good.

Alex

#fundings-exits, #startups, #the-exchange, #the-techcrunch-exchange

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All IPOs should be paid for in Robux

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is an all-time first for the show, it’s an Equity Leftovers. Which means that we’re not focusing on a single topic like we would in an Equity Shot. This is just, well, more Equity.

Danny and I and Chris got together to chat about a few things that we could not leave out:

And with this, our fourth episode in six days, we shall pause until Monday. Hugs from the Equity crew.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#doordash, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #robinhood, #roblox, #startups, #wish

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Extra Crunch roundup: A fistful of IPOs, Affirm’s Peloton problem, Zoom Apps and more

DoorDash, Affirm, Roblox, Airbnb, C3.ai and Wish all filed to go public in recent days, which means some venture capitalists are having the best week of their lives.

Tech companies that go public capture our imagination because they are literal happy endings. An Initial Public Offering is the promised land for startup pilgrims who may wander the desert for years seeking product-market fit. After all, the “I” in “ISO” stands for “incentive.”

A flurry of new S-1s in a single week forced me to rearrange our editorial calendar, but I didn’t mind; our 360-degree coverage let some of the air out of various hype balloons and uncovered several unique angles.

For example: I was familiar with Affirm, the service that lets consumers finance purchases, but I had no idea Peloton accounted for 30% of its total revenue in the last quarter.

“What happens if Peloton puts on the brakes?” I asked Alex Wilhelm as I edited his breakdown of Affirm’s S-1. We decided to use that as the subhead for his analysis.

The stories that follow are an overview of Extra Crunch from the last five days. Full articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.

Thank you very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


What is Roblox worth?

Gaming company Roblox filed to go public yesterday afternoon, so Alex Wilhelm brought out a scalpel and dissected its S-1. Using his patented mathmagic, he analyzed Roblox’s fundraising history and reported revenue to estimate where its valuation might land.

Noting that “the public markets appear to be even more risk-on than the private world in 2020,” Alex pegged the number at “just a hair under $10 billion.”

What China’s fintech can teach the world

Alibaba Employees Pay For Meals With Face Recognition System

HANGZHOU, CHINA – JULY 31: An employee uses face recognition system on a self-service check-out machine to pay for her meals in a canteen at the headquarters of Alibaba Group on July 31, 2018 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. The self-service check-out machine can calculate the price of meals quickly to save employees’ queuing time. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images)

For all the hype about new forms of payment, the way I transact hasn’t been radically transformed in recent years — even in tech-centric San Francisco.

Sure, I use NFC card readers to tap and pay and tipped a street musician using Venmo last weekend. But my landlord still demands paper checks and there’s a tattered “CASH ONLY” taped to the register at my closest coffee shop.

In China, it’s a different story: Alibaba’s employee cafeteria uses facial recognition and AI to determine which foods a worker has selected and who to charge. Many consumers there use the same app to pay for utility bills, movie tickets and hamburgers.

“Today, nobody except Chinese people outside of China uses Alipay or WeChat Pay to pay for anything,” says finance researcher Martin Chorzempa. “So that’s a big unexplored side that I think is going to come into a lot of geopolitical risks.”

Inside Affirm’s IPO filing: A look at its economics, profits and revenue concentration

Consumer lending service Affirm filed to go public on Wednesday evening, so Alex used Thursday’s column to unpack the company’s financials.

After reviewing Affirm’s profitability, revenue and the impact of COVID-19 on its bottom line, he asked (and answered) three questions:

  • What does Affirm’s loss rate on consumer loans look like?
  • Are its gross margins improving?
  • What does the unicorn have to say about contribution profit from its loans business?

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right

Image Credits: XiXinXing (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“The only thing more rare than a unicorn is an exited unicorn,” observes Managing Editor Danny Crichton, who looked back at Exitpalooza 2020 to answer “a simple question — who made the money?”

Covering each exit from the perspective of founders and investors, Danny makes it clear who’ll take home the largest slice of each pie. TL;DR? “Some really colossal winners among founders, and several venture firms walking home with billions of dollars in capital.

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing

The S-1 Airbnb released at the start of the week provided insight into the home-rental platform’s core financials, but it also raised several questions about the company’s health and long-term viability, according to Alex Wilhelm:

  • How far did Airbnb’s bookings fall during Q1 and Q2?
  • How far have Airbnb’s bookings come back since?
  • Did local, long-term stays save Airbnb?
  • Has Airbnb ever really made money?
  • Is the company wealthy despite the pandemic?

Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost explains the strategy behind acquiring Spacemaker

Andrew Anagnost, President and CEO, Autodesk.

Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO, Autodesk.

Earlier this week, Autodesk announced its purchase of Spacemaker, a Norwegian firm that develops AI-supported software for urban development.

TechCrunch reporter Steve O’Hear interviewed Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost to learn more about the acquisition and asked why Autodesk paid $240 million for Spacemaker’s 115-person team and IP — especially when there were other startups closer to its Bay Area HQ.

“They’ve built a real, practical, usable application that helps a segment of our population use machine learning to really create better outcomes in a critical area, which is urban redevelopment and development,” said Anagnost.

“So it’s totally aligned with what we’re trying to do.”

Unpacking the C3.ai IPO filing

On Monday, Alex dove into the IPO filing for enterprise artificial intelligence company C3.ai.

After poring over its ownership structure, service offerings and its last two years of revenue, he asks and answers the question: “is the business itself any damn good?”

Is the internet advertising economy about to implode?

Image Credits: jayk7 / Getty Images

In his new book, “Subprime Attention Crisis,” writer/researcher Tim Hwang attempts to answer a question I’ve wondered about for years: does advertising actually work?

Managing Editor Danny Crichton interviewed Hwang to learn more about his thesis that there are parallels between today’s ad industry and the subprime mortgage crisis that helped spur the Great Recession.

So, are online ads effective?

“I think the companies are very reticent to give up the data that would allow you to find a really definitive answer to that question,” says Hwang.

Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

Logos of companies in the Zoom Apps marketplace

Image Credits: Zoom

Even after much of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, we will still be using Zoom’s video-conferencing platform in great numbers.

That’s because Zoom isn’t just an app: it’s also a platform play for startups that add functionality using APIs, an SDK or chatbots that behave like smart assistants.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller spoke to entrepreneurs and investors who are leveraging Zoom’s platform to build new applications with an eye on the future.

“By offering a platform to build applications that take advantage of the meeting software, it’s possible it could be a valuable new ecosystem for startups,” says Ron.

Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Without an on-campus experience, many students (and their parents) are wondering how much value there is in attending classes via a laptop in a dormitory.

Even worse: Declining enrollment is leading many institutions to eliminate majors and find other ways to cut costs, like furloughing staff and cutting athletic programs.

Edtech solutions could fill the gap, but there’s no real consensus in higher education over which tools work best. Many colleges and universities are using a number of “third-party solutions to keep operations afloat,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

“It’s a stress test that could lead to a reckoning among edtech startups.”

3 growth tactics that helped us surpass Noom and Weight Watchers

3D rendering of TNT dynamite sticks in carton box on blue background. Explosive supplies. Dangerous cargo. Plotting terrorist attack. Image Credits: Gearstd / Getty Images.

I look for guest-written Extra Crunch stories that will help other entrepreneurs be more successful, which is why I routinely turn down submissions that seem overly promotional.

However, Henrik Torstensson (CEO and co-founder of Lifesum) submitted a post about the techniques he’s used to scale his nutrition app over the last three years. “It’s a strategy any startup can use, regardless of size or budget,” he writes.

According to Sensor Tower, Lifesum is growing almost twice as fast as Noon and Weight Watchers, so putting his company at the center of the story made sense.

Send in reviews of your favorite books for TechCrunch!

Image via Getty Images / Alexander Spatari

Every year, we ask TechCrunch reporters, VCs and our Extra Crunch readers to recommend their favorite books.

Have you read a book this year that you want to recommend? Send an email with the title and a brief explanation of why you enjoyed it to bookclub@techcrunch.com.

We’ll compile the suggestions and publish the list as we get closer to the holidays. These books don’t have to be published this calendar year — any book you read this year qualifies.

Please share your submissions by November 30.

Dear Sophie: Can an H-1B co-founder own a Delaware C Corp?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

My VC partner and I are working with 50/50 co-founders on their startup — let’s call it “NewCo.” We’re exploring pre-seed terms.

One founder is on a green card and already works there. The other founder is from India and is working on an H-1B at a large tech company.

Can the H-1B co-founder lead this company? What’s the timing to get everything squared away? If we make the investment we want them to hit the ground running.

— Diligent in Daly City

#affirm, #airbnb, #doordash, #entrepreneurship, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #roblox, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #wish

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Kea raises $10M to build AI that helps restaurants answer the phone

Kea is a new startup giving restaurants an opportunity to upgrade one of the more old-fashioned ways that they take orders — over the phone.

Today, Kea is announcing that it has raised a $10 million Series A led by Marbruck, with participation from Streamlined Ventures, Xfund, Heartland Ventures, DEEPCORE, Barrel Ventures and AVG Funds, as well as angel investors Raj Kapoor (chief strategy officer at Lyft), Craig Flom (who was on the founding team at Panera Bread), Wingstop franchisee Tony Lam and Five Guys franchisee Jonathan Kelly.

Founder and CEO Adam Ahmad said that with restaurants perpetually understaffed, they usually don’t have someone who can devote their attention to answering the phone. (Many of you, after all, are probably pretty familiar with the experience of calling a restaurant and being immediately placed on hold.)

At the same time, he suggested it remains an important ordering channel — especially during the pandemic, as takeout and delivery has become the biggest source of revenue for many restaurants. The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner put it succinctly when she suggested that anyone who wants to support restaurants should “pick up the damn phone.

Similarly, Ahmad said that for restaurants, paying substantial third-party ordering fees on all of their orders is “not a sustainable long-term strategy.” So Kea is offering technology that should help restaurants handle more orders over the phone, creating what Ahmad called a “virtual cashier” who can do the initial intake with customers, process most routine orders and bring in a human employee when needed.

The idea of an automated voice assistant may bring back unpleasant memories of trying to call your bank or another Byzantine customer service department. But Ahmad said that while most existing phone systems are “not smart,” Kea’s AI is very different, because it’s just focused on restaurant ordering.

“We’re doing a very closed domain,” he said. “In the pizza world, there are only a couple thousand permutations. We’re not innovating for the whole dictionary — it’s a constrained model, it’s a menu.”

In fact, the Kea team gave me a number to dial where I could try the system out for myself. It was a pretty straightforward and easy process, where I provided my address and then the details of my pizza order. And again, you can transfer to a human employee at any time. (In fact, I was accidentally transferred during my demo, leading me to quickly hang up in embarrassment.)

Kea is already live in more than 250 restaurants including Papa John’s, Donatos and Primanti Brothers, and it says it’s saving them an average of 10 hours of labor per week, with a 23% increase in average order size. With the new funding, Ahmad’s goal is to bring Kea to 1,000 restaurants across 37 states in 2021.

#funding, #fundings-exits, #kea, #marbruck, #startups

0

A16z is now managing $16.5 billion, after announcing two new funds

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) has closed a pair of funds totaling $4.5 billion, the firm confirmed in a blog post this morning. The firm has raised $1.3 billion for an early-stage fund focused on consumer, enterprise, and fintech; and closed a $3.2 billion growth-stage fund for later-stage investments. The firm did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The funds may seem somewhat typical, given the size of new funds that venture firms have been raising in recent years, Still, these are extraordinary amounts given that a16z, with offices in Menlo Park and San Francisco, was founded just 11 years ago.

As extraordinary, they bring the firm’s total assets under management to $16.5 billion.

It was just 20 months ago that a16z closed its most recent pair of funds — a $2 billion late-stage fund, and a $740 million flagship early-stage fund.

It also announced a separate, $515 million crypto-focused fund back in April of this year, its second such vehicle. And, in February, it rolled out its third biotech and healthcare investing fund, which closed with $750 million in capital commitments.

That’s a lot of capital to capture in one year. Then again, its limited partners have had reason to feel optimistic about its portfolio. In January, for example, the fintech company Plaid, whose Series C round a16z joined in late 2018, was acquired by Visa for a hefty $5.3 billion after raising roughly $310 million altogether. The Justice Department recently sued to block the deal on antitrust grounds, but even if it’s unwound, industry observers like Plaid’s prospects.

The firm is also an investor in the soon-to-be-publicly traded accommodations marketplace Airbnb, though notably, according to Airbnb’s S-1, a16z does not own enough of the company to be listed on the filing, despite that it led the company’s Series B round in 2011 and despite that general partner Jeff Jordan sits on the company’s board and would need to list any ownership position as a result.

We’ve asked if it sold part of its stake, possibly earlier this year. We’re still awaiting word back.

Another of a16z’s portfolio companies, the pay-as-you-go lending company Affirm, has also filed to go public. Andreessen Horowitz first participated in the company’s Series B round back in 2015. It is also not listed on Affirm’s S-1 filing, meaning it owns less than 5% of the company.

The firm is also an investor in the game company Roblox, whose $150 million Series G round it led earlier this year. Roblox made its S-1 public just earlier this week; a16z is not listed on it.

Its biggest win to date may well be Github, which sold to Microsoft in a $7.5 billion all-stock deal in 2018 and from which a16z reportedly pocketed more than $1 billion. When it invested in the company, it wrote the biggest check it had issued at the time: $100 million. The deal was enough for a16z to win the deal against some tough competition, including Benchmark, whose general partner, Peter Fenton, has said was also trying to woo Github at the time,

On the early-stage side, the firm is often characterized by its flashy deals, including its $100 million valuation of voice-chat app Clubhouse and $75 million valuation of Y Combinator graduate Trove.

 

A16z also recently launched a TxO accelerator, which uses a donor-advised fund to invest in underrepresented founders. Led by a16z partner Nait Jones, TxO has invested $100,000 each in an initial cohort of seven companies in exchange for 7% of ownership stake.

The donor-advised fund launched with $2.2 million in initial commitments, with Ben and Felicia Horowitz announcing that they would match up to $5 million. Any returns from companies in the fund will be repurposed into the investment vehicle. The firm has declined to share the fund’s total size to date.

Currently, a16z employs 185 people, most recently hiring Anthony Albanese, the chief regulatory officer at the New York Stock Exchange, as an operating partner for its cryptocurrency team.

 

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