New GV partner Terri Burns has a simple investment thesis: Gen Z

In 2015, then-Twitter product manager Terri Burns penned a piece about staying optimistic despite the sexism and racism that exists expansively within tech. “America has broke my heart countless times, but I believe that technology can be a tool to mend some of the woes of the world and produce tools to better humanity,” she wrote.

“It’s hard to continue to believe this when the industry holding this power takes so little interest in the basic rights of women and people of color. I actively choose to remain hopeful under the belief that myself and many of the incredible people also working toward equality and justice in technology and in America will make a difference.”

Burns left Twitter in 2017 to join GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. Her hope has now been met with recognition. GV has promoted Terri Burns to partner, making her the first Black woman to hold that role — and the youngest ever. Making history comes with its own set of pressures and spotlight, but Burns seems focused on simply finding a new place to put her optimism and hope: Gen Z.

Read on for a Q&A with Burns about her investment thesis, role change and plans as partner.

TechCrunch: Before you were in venture, you held product roles at Venmo and Twitter. When did you know that computer science was the right field for you? 

Terri Burns: I grew up in Southern California, in Long Beach. And I think I’ve always just been a really curious kid. For me, I always spent a ton of time just asking questions and I always liked science. But, I actually did not have any interest in computer science until college.

I went to NYU and I remember thinking my freshman year, major-wise, that I’m not entirely sure what it is that I want to do. By chance, I happened to apply to this program called Google BOLD. It was a week-long program for people that are a little bit too young for a full-time internship. There we just talked about all the opportunities at Google that were not engineering.

It’s funny, I grew up in California, but growing in Long Beach, I didn’t know anything about Silicon Valley whatsoever. College was really the first time I had an introduction to Silicon Valley, to technology, to entrepreneurship, to Google. Even though [Google BOLD] was a nontechnical program, I was “I want to know what this coding thing is about.” So my sophomore year, when I went back to campus, I took my first computer science class. And that was the beginning.

What’s the most effective way to get on your radar without knowing you prior? Any anecdotes for how out of network founders grabbed your attention?

Yes! In fact, I met Suraya Shivji, the CEO of HAGS, through Twitter. I knew people who were buzzing about the company on Twitter, and I proactively reached out to her to do a virtual coffee. Social media, networking events and warm intros are pretty good paths. For what it’s worth, I read every cold email I receive as well; I’m just not able to respond to all of them!

What kind of companies will you always take a meeting with?

Mobile consumer and consumer in general is definitely what my background is in, and so I’ll always have a natural inclination
in consumer. I recognize that that’s broad, but I think software consumer companies are ones that I know and I understand. So that’s something I’m always going to lean into. One of the things that I really love about GV is that we are a generalist firm, which has also been a theme for me personally and something that I definitely want to uphold as an investor. Some other things that I’m interested in [are] fintech on the enterprise side and [ … ] enterprise collaboration tools.

#diversity, #google-ventures, #gv, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-include, #terri-burns, #venture-capital

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GV bets on young team behind high school social app HAGS

As high schools pivot to hybrid models and students see less in-person face time with friends, the current social app sphere seems to be missing a way to build deeper bonds with classmates. HAGS is building a social network designed around high school networks and they’ve picked up some fresh funding led by Google’s venture arm GV.

The team is building an old school social play focused on Gen Z high school socialization. The first iteration of their vision was a digital yearbook they rolled out earlier this year that allowed high schoolers torn from the last weeks of their school year by the COVID-19 pandemic to leave messages for friends in a virtual yearbook, replicating the act of passing around the memento over Snapchat. The team’s acronymic name “HAGS” refers to the “have a great summer” message often speedily scrawled in a classmate’s yearbook.

The young founding team at HAGS is fully remote with CEO Suraya Shivji, 23, her younger brother Jameel, 18, and co-founder James Dale, 19, building out the product. The company says that “tens of thousands of high school students” used the app after its initial launch. In the course of building out their app, the team caught the eye of investors over Twitter and began to roll together some early investments.

“Especially when you’re investing so early, you lean on the team so much when it comes to an investment decision,” GV’s Terri Burns told TechCrunch in an interview. “HAGS is really early and very much in the spirit of experimentation.”

HAGS team. Image Credits: HAGS

The HAGS team ended up pulling together a $1 million investment led by GV with participation from BoxGroup and a handful of angel investors. It’s a smaller deal for some of the names involved, but the team’s product represents a familiarly ripe opportunity, shipping social products to teens. The HAGS app leverages high school networks, prompting users to log into their specific school. The team has already begun building out a network of “ambassadors” at several high schools to bring people into the app.

The app comes during an unprecedented period of upended socializing for high schoolers amid a pandemic, one that could offer more opportunities for a social app that aims to keep students in touch with a broader swath of their classmates that goes beyond their core friend group.

The team kicked things off with the yearbook built onto Snapchat’s Snap Kit SDK, but they’re staying open-minded about what comes next as they plan for the next feature launches inside their app in the coming months. The team is aiming to expand their utility while also staying dialed in to the core of their feature set.

“We ended up with this idea that the foundation of everything we do is creating things that are fun, and seeing that as a need and a first principle of what we do.” CEO Suraya Shivji tells TechCrunch. “Now, we’re basically exploring how to take this socially intimate space for a high school student and build on that.”

#boxgroup, #gv, #snapchat, #tc

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A must-see conversation on the state of VC, this year at Disrupt

On a surface level, the world of venture capital doesn’t look to change much year to year. But in truth, the industry is very much in flux, with many firms grappling with a lack of diversity, dealing with succession questions, and confronting a growing pipeline of aging portfolio companies — to name just a few of the issues of the day.

In fact, one of the biggest shifts in the industry — one that’s years in the making but with no end in sight — is its atomization. Once a clubby industry, the landscape today sees new players, backed up by real dollars, every day, all over the world.

Indeed, at this year’s Disrupt, we’re very excited to be sitting down with three venture investors who spent much of their careers with powerful outfits before more recently — and boldly — striking out on their own to build their own brands.

It’s with their help that we’re going to take stock of many of the trends roiling the industry right now.

Lo Toney was a VP at Cake Financial, a general manager with Zynga, and the CEO of an online coding startup before jumping into the world of venture capital, first at Comcast Ventures and later at GV where he spent several years as a partner.

If he was tempted to stay with Alphabet’s influential venture arm, he didn’t, instead turning his work at GV — which centered increasingly on finding and funding promising and diverse fund managers and startups — into the opportunity to create his own shop. Now, Plexo Capital not only counts Alphabet among its biggest financial backers, but it has amassed stakes in roughly two dozen funds and many more startups. With most of them run exclusively or in part by people of color, Toney has also become a leading light for others who recognize diversity as a competitive advantage.

Then there’s Renata Quintini, who has spent the last year quietly building a new outfit, Renegade Partners, with cofounder Roseanne Wincek. Wincek previously worked at the venture giant IVP. Quintini, similarly, has held a number of investing roles at esteemed institutions. Among them is the Stanford Management Company, where she was an investment manager focused on VC and private equity investments, and Felicis Ventures, where as a general partner she worked with a wide number of rising stars, including the satellite company Planet, the self-driving startup Cruise Automation (now owned by GM), Dollar Shave Club (which sold to Unilever), and Bonobos (snapped up by Walmart).

It wasn’t a surprise when Lux Capital poached Quintini, in fact. But even Lux, which prides itself on the kind of deep science expertise that Quintini shares, couldn’t keep her from leaving to create something all her own.

The story isn’t so dissimilar for Dayna Grayson, who studied systems engineering and worked in product design before jumping into the world of venture capital, first as a principal with the Boston-based firm Northbridge Venture Partners and afterward, as a partner with the venture giant NEA.

There, based in Washington, D.C., Grayson led a wide number of deals for the firm, including in the metal 3D printing company Desktop Metal —  a five-year-old company that, absent an unforeseen development, is soon to be a publicly traded and valued in the multiple billions of dollars.

Undoubtedly Grayson could have stayed longer. Instead, nearly eight years into her career with NEA, she left late last year to cofound the early-stage venture firm Construct Capital with Rachel Holt, one of Uber’s first employees.

There is so much to talk about with these entrepreneurial investors, from how they compete against the heavyweights, to how they think about startups in a post COVID world, to whether or not there VCs have begun to over-index on business-facing investments to their own detriment — or if, conversely that opportunity remains limitless right now. That’s saying nothing about SPACs, rolling funds, and the latest twist in direct listings.

You definitely won’t want to miss this very timely conversation about the state of VC.

Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 through September 18 and will be 100% virtual this year. Get your front row seat to see Grayson, Quintini and Toney live with a Disrupt Digital Pro Pass or a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. We’re excited to see you there.

#construct-capital, #dayna-grayson, #disrupt, #gv, #lo-toney, #lux-capital, #nea, #plexo-capital, #renata-quintini, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Blavity has a big opportunity with Black millennials, despite struggling to fit the VC formula

Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in U.S. history, according to four different polls cited recently by the New York Times that suggest anywhere from 15 million to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others since Floyd’s death in late May.

Blavity, a six-year-old, L.A.-based media company that’s focused on Black culture, could hardly be better positioned to help outraged Americans better understand what’s really been going on. Blavity founder Morgan DeBaun says the outfit receives at least a handful of videos each week that feature egregious acts against Black Americans, and the same has been true since DeBaun, working at the time at Intuit, founded the company in 2014 after unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by a police office in her native Missouri.

Blavity tells the stories that the mainstream media has largely been missing, but that’s only part of the story. The company has also become a go-to destination for a growing number of Black millennials interested in fresh takes on culture and politics; in Black Hollywood and travel (via two other properties it runs); and in its sizable networking events, one of which attracted 10,000 people last year.

Last week, we talked with DeBaun about Blavity — which has raised a comparatively conservative $11 million to date, including from GV, Comcast Ventures, and Plexo Capital — to learn more about how the company seizes this moment, and whether investors see the opportunity. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity (you can hear the full discussion here).

TC: You started Blavity in part to address a need you were feeling to connect with others after Michael Brown’s death. What were you reading at the time?

MD: The unfortunate answer is I wasn’t reading anything. I hadn’t really felt the need to stay connected to local or regional or Black issues until I moved out of my community and found myself wondering [from California], what is going on.

Historically in the Black community, we’ve had our own networks and platforms and brands: the African American newspapers in various cities, Essence, Jet, Ebony, and more recently, The Root. [But] a significant amount of media publications are still focused on entertainment and Hollywood and not necessarily on news. And so there was a huge gap of information that I felt wanting to understand.

This was before Twitter really became a source of information and truth for so many people, so there was a gap of information from what I saw happening on the ground in St. Louis and in text messages and as part of an email list with friends who were on the ground, and what I saw in the mainstream media. And to me, that was a huge miss, because we needed to be connected at that point more than ever so we could help impact change.

TC: There’s a lot of social injustice covered by Blavity. Two of the most popular stories on the site as we speak are about Sacramento police officer who placed a plastic bag on a 12-year-old’s head, and a cop who was arrested and charged after tasing a pregnant woman on her stomach. Are these stories central to making Blavity a resource to its readers?

MD: We tend to be a reflection of the pulse of the reality and the Black experience, and we do share stories and news that people might not find other places. I get the question more recently about: Does this time feel different? Are we covering different things? And unfortunately, the answer is that we’ve been covering these stories weekly since Michael Brown happened. It’s been a critical part of our publication and ethos to ensure that we’re sharing the stories of our community and bringing light to the injustices that are happening.

We also share joy and happiness and celebrations and moments of great accomplishments and local stories of heroes. But certainly right now, we’re making sure that we’re doing our diligence and covering the stories that are very important for this moment in time.

TC: You recently told Forbes that advertisers and marketers do not want to spend money next to Black death and violence. You have to cover these stories because it’s core to what you do, but it’s a double-edged sword for you, it sounds like.

MD: Blavity as an organization has five different brands. So we have a diversified revenue stream where we don’t just rely on display advertising against our news business, because if we did, we would wind up very much similar to what we’ve seen happen [to other struggling media companies]. There was a time when our Facebook page was even blocked because [stories] have gotten flagged as being too violent. And it’s like, well yeah, violence against Black bodies is real. It’s the truth; it’s real news.

So we do have this weird kind of balance that we strike in terms of really making sure that we’re telling the truth and that we are pushing back against our clients, our advertisers, and even Facebook to ensure that Blavity can continue to distribute content. But overall, the news business isn’t our highest revenue-generating business. It’s our conference business and our display ads business across all of our brands, some of which are lifestyle brands.

We also have an ad network that we don’t advertise publicly much, but essentially, we run ads and sales operations for other publishers of color who maybe don’t have the scale to necessarily have their own sales team and ad tech and engineers and things of that nature. We’re fighting for deals against a Vice or a Refinery 29 that also have ad networks, so we wanted to make sure that we could also win those deals and we needed that huge inventory and [that business has] allowed us the flexibility to reinvest [in the rest of the business].

TC: I understand that you’re also starting a paid-for membership-only professional network.

MD: We have an exciting announcement that’ll come out in a few weeks about a new platform that will specifically be a place for young Black professionals to come together to have discussions to learn; to get jobs, because that’s one of our core competencies through [our conference business]; but most importantly, to have discussions around the issues and topics that are trending and that matter. We already do daily conversations through Facebook Live and YouTube and Instagram Live. So we’re trying to build a place where we can have a more private space for those conversations that feels safe and also is a place where people can connect on a deeper level.

TC: Have you noticed a real change in Silicon Valley in the last month or so among investors? Are you seeing interest from firms that previously hadn’t reached out to you?

MD: There are a lot of VCs that perhaps are paying attention, but the bias is so deep that I don’t even think they know how to get out. It.

Have I seen more requests for conversations? Yes. Do I think that that’s going to result in more investments and wires and checks? No. I’m very skeptical of this kind of like performative ‘we care’ flag. The most important metric of success for VCs are returns on their investments. [Venture money] is not a donation; it’s not charity. [VCs look for companies that] meet the metrics of success. And my metrics may be different because I’ve been chronically underfunded despite how much we’ve done.

TC: Can you elaborate?

I think the argument that [later-stage] investors make is, ‘Well, there are just not that many Series A Series B companies to invest in. [But] there are enough companies to invest in, that have your revenue criteria and your goal criteria in terms of a potential exit, but that may not call themselves startups. They may look different. And so you need to do more work to go get them.

There are certainly a lot more people raising funds and having really success in terms of raising their first fund, or that are now on their second fund as a result of this [focus on diversity] and that’s very encouraging and that’s really going to help the seed- and early-stage founders.

I wish I was a founder right now who was raising a seed [round], because I could raise $10 million, there’s so much money going around.

TC: It’s incredible that you could be at a disadvantage because you’re now running a real business with multiple properties, particularly given the opportunity ahead. As you’ve mentioned in the past, there will be a majority minority population in this country in 10 years or so. Are you developing products for other communities, including the Afro-Latino community?

MD: We’ve thought a lot about the sub communities that have huge audiences, are growing quickly, but perhaps don’t have a space or a place to connect. And originally, one of our ideas was to build out our tech platform, then change the UI to accommodate all these [ideas] and become a true house with brands that serve people and communities on a niche level — so Gen Z, Black, LGBT,  Afro Latina, for the many Caribbean folks who are in the U.S. and Nigerian Americans; there are so many sub communities within the diaspora.

What we realized is that the overhead and operations of doing that over and over would not be a good idea and that we should figure out how to a build the operations side instead. That’s why we invested in our own ad network, because we can say, ‘Hey, creator in Brooklyn who’s amazing, you have a million monthly unique visitors, which is better than half the publications out there. You don’t have ad sales team. Let’s partner with each other.’ That was the first solution.

The second is this social networking platform that we’ve built. Part of the frustration and tension I felt when I started the company was feeling like there was no one like me. I couldn’t find other Black women who wanted to build a huge company and change the world and do it through tech. There was no one walking around Mountain View who looked like that, and I didn’t know where to go. We want to solve that through technology and through a platform that makes it easy for people to find each other. Hopefully then, once people are more connected, they can build their own companies and come up with their own organizations.

#blavity, #comcast-ventures, #diversity, #gv, #media, #morgan-debaun, #plexo-capital, #social, #social-networking, #tc

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Colin Kaepernick joins Medium board of directors and inks partnership publishing deal

The online publishing platform Medium said that it has added former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and civil rights advocate Colin Kaepernick to its board of directors.

The company also said it had inked a partnership agreement with Kaepernick to develop projects focused on race and civil rights in America under the Kaepernick Publishing imprint — Kaepernick’s personal publishing company founded in 2019.

Medium’s decision to bring Kaepernick on board as a director and publisher for the site follows an industry-wide reckoning within startups around the country about their role in perpetuating racial disparity in America. The accounting comes as protests in cities across the country shine a spotlight on police brutality and the political and economic disenfranchisement of the nation’s Black communities in the wake of the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

According to Medium’s chief executive Ev Williams, the deal with Kaepernick is the culmination of a long-running discussion between the company and the athlete and activist.

“We’ve been in talks with Colin for some time, and we are honored to be electing him to join our board,” said Williams, in a statement. “Colin’s voice and actions have led the discussion on racial justice, and the world is finally catching up to him.”

Kaepernick will be writing stories and working on features for Medium’s Level, which describes itself as a publication for the “interested man” and its new blog on anti-Black racism and civil rights, Momentum. The activist and former quarterback will also interview leaders, activists and athletes for the Medium platform.

“I am excited for Kaepernick Publishing to partner with Medium to continue to elevate Black voices in the news and publishing industry,” said Kaepernick, in a statement. “I also look forward to creating new opportunities and avenues for Black writers and creators with my new role as a Board member.”

Medium currently boasts 170 million monthly readers across its blogs and editorially driven publications including ZORA and Level, which are aimed at women and men of color, according to the company. Medium also publishes GEN, focused on “politics, power, and culture”; the technology-focused masthead, OneZeroElemental, a health-focused site; Forge, for self-help and advice; and Marker, which the company bills as a business-focused site.

Momentum is the latest addition to Medium’s suite of curated blogs and publications.

To date, Medium has raised over $130 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, GV, Greylock Partners, The Chernin Group, Lowercase Capital and Obvious Ventures.

#america, #andreessen-horowitz, #board-member, #colin-kaepernick, #director, #e-commerce, #ev-williams, #greylock-partners, #gv, #lowercase-capital, #medium, #obvious-ventures, #partner, #quarterback, #spark-capital, #tc, #the-chernin-group

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If you want to see more people of color in VC, “look to the people at the top,” says Lo Toney

Last week, we suggested that for a truly diverse venture industry, the limited partners who provide investing capital to VCs — institutions like universities and hospital systems — need to start incorporating diversity mandates into their work. Say a venture firm wanted to secure a commitment from the University of Texas System; it would first need to agree, in writing, to pour a certain percentage of its capital into startups founded by underrepresented groups.

Given how fragmented the world of institutional investing, the idea might sound impracticable. But Lo Toney, one of a small but growing number of black VCs in Silicon Valley, suggests it might actually be inevitable. He points, for example, to pension funds like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which manages the assets of 1.6 million employees, many of whom “look like me,” says Toney. Imagine what might happen if they started asking more questions about who is managing their money.

Not that Toney is waiting on this development. He doesn’t need to. As a former partner at Comcast Ventures, then GV, Toney was able to secure Alphabet as the anchor investor in his own investment firm, Plexo Capital, whose debut vehicle has been funding venture outfits, as well as making direct startup investments. Now, with renewed attention being paid to the dearth of people of color throughout the startup industry, Plexo has LPs knocking on its door again, and Toney’s plans for that second fund involve not just helping his current fund managers but helping more investors of color form venture firms of their own.

It’s an extension of work that’s already in progress. Plexo, which closed its debut fund last year with $42.5 million — including from the Ford Foundation, Intel, Cisco Systems, the Royal Bank of Canada, and Hampton University — already has stakes in 20 funds, including Precursor Ventures, Ingressive Capital, Kindred Ventures, Equal Ventures, Boldstart Ventures, and Work-Bench.

Almost all — with exceptions like Boldstart Ventures and Work-Bench — are run exclusively or in part by people of color. Meanwhile, Work-Bench has a female cofounder in Jessica Lin, a former Cisco Systems manager. “We have enough reports from the Harvard’s and the McKinsey’s of the world to show us that diversity at all levels matters,” says Toney. “We see better performance from companies with diverse boards, public companies with diverse management teams; when there are diverse managers, we see better performance.”

With his second fund, he’s hoping to turn the dial even further. More specifically, he says, to better assist those GPs in Plexo’s first fund and to fund more black GPs, it aims to help “develop a Y Combinator of sorts” that helps them understand some of the “nuances of making the transition from being a great investor to being a great fund manager.”

Part of the idea is to institutionalize the work that Plexo already does in an ad-hoc way around helping managers to prepare marketing materials, pitch their strategy to both high-net-worth individuals and institutions, and manage LP communications after that base of investors has been established. And those are just three aspects of the many elements of fund management with which Plexo can help, he says.

Plexo is also exploring “putting a strategy in place [to] help a lot of these younger GPs with working capital, to be able to incur the expenses that it takes to start a fund [given that] it can take, on average, a million dollars.” (That’s taking into account no salary, travel expenses, service providers, and the money that a general partner typically has to kick in to his or her own the fund, he adds.)

It’s a model that Plexo thinks it can use to move things along faster than were it solely investing in individual companies.

Still, Plexo can’t do it alone. Neither can its friends and allies, some of whom include Elliott Robinson of Bessemer Venture Partners, Frederik Groce of Storm Ventures and Sydney Sykes of the retail startup Dolls Kill, who separately steer a young organization called BLCK VC that works to connect and advance black venture investors.

Toney remains especially concerned over the few people of color at bigger and later-stage venture firms — investors who might otherwise have the networks and know-how to support black entrepreneurs as their startups mature. It’s a valid worry. According to a 2018 report in The Information, there were just seven black decision-makers at the then 102 venture firms with more than $250 million under management, and those numbers are relatively unchanged. The dearth is particularly glaring for black investors who are women.

The industry could, slowly, over time, grow less homogenous and more inclusive of underrepresented groups. But it would happen faster if institutions that accept federal funding or else manage the money of public employees decided to focus more on the issue. In fact, it’s conceivable that their constituents — including donors and employees through their pension fund contributions — might at some point insist on it.

“There’s often not really a collective realization of the power and influence that one can have within our asset class to actually affect change,” says Toney. “I suspect — and I don’t know this, and I’m not part of any initiatives — that we’ll see more of these [pension] funds take a stance, and that [this shift] will come from the bottom up, from their employee base.”

It might not take much to get the ball rolling. “They could put the pressure on our industry even simply asking questions [including]: ‘How many black partners do you have?’ ‘How many women do you have?’ ‘What does the composition of your portfolio look like?’”

“Even just asking those questions as a first step — that in and of itself would affect change,” he says, “because who wants to look bad when answering those questions?”

#blck-vc, #cisco, #diversity, #gv, #intel, #lo-toney, #plexo-capital, #tc, #venture-capital

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Adding three more companies to the $100M ARR club

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

When we kicked off our series on private companies that have reached $100 million ARR, we didn’t expect it to last. Maybe a piece or two, but nothing more. Today’s entry should bring us past the thirty company mark.

It was less than a month ago that we added eight names to the club in a single post (HeadSpin, UiPath, DigitalOcean, BounceX, Wrike, Aeris, Podium and Lucid), the latter two of which had recently raised capital, announcing their revenue milestones at the same time. This morning, we’re appending just three names, but pay attention all the same.

We joked in February that our running tally of growth-oriented, private companies that had reached $100 million in annual recurring revenue read like a list of firms that either could, or should go public in short order. Since then, the IPO market has largely closed in light of COVID-19, so I suppose we’re more adding to the backlog than queuing up companies for an S-1.

Either way, let’s talk about ActiveCampaign, Recorded Future, and ON24 this morning!

New names

We’ll start, then, with Recorded Future .

Recorded Future

Boston-based Recorded Future, a cybersecurity company focused on “threat intelligence,” announced that it crossed the $100 million ARR mark recently, making the firm a success story for its city. But as with so many companies that we add to our list, its inclusion is slightly fraught.

#100-million-arr-club, #activecampaign, #balderton-capital, #canaan-partners, #cloud, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #gv, #market-analysis, #on24, #recorded-future, #software-as-a-service, #startups, #susquehanna-growth-equity, #tc, #the-exchange

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Owkin raises $25 million as it builds a secure network for healthcare analysis and research

Imagine a model of collaborative research and development among hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, universities and other research institutions where no one shared any actual data.

That’s the dream of the new New York-based startup Owkin, which has raised $25 million in fresh financing from investors, including Bpifrance Large Venture, Cathay Innovation and MACSF (the French Pension Fund for Clinicians), alongside previous investors GV, F-Prime Capital and Eight Roads

The company’s pitch is that data scientists, clinical doctors, academics and pharmaceutical companies can all log in to the virtual lab that Owkin calls the Owkin Studio.

In that virtual environment, all parties can access anonymized data sets and models exclusively to refine their own research and development and studies to ensure that the most cutting-edge insights into novel biomarkers, mechanisms of action and predictive models inform the work that all of the relevant parties are doing.

The ultimate goal, the company said, is to improve patient outcomes.

In its quest to get more companies and institutions to open up and share information — with the promise that the information can’t be extracted or used in a way that isn’t allowed by the owners of the data — Owkin is replicating work that other companies are pursuing in fields ranging from healthcare to financial services and beyond.

The Israeli company Qedit has developed similar technologies for the financial services industry, and Sympatic, a recent graduate from one of the recent batches of Techstars companies, is working on a similar technology for the healthcare industry.

Owkin makes money by enabling remote access to the data sets for pharmaceutical companies and licensing the models developed by universities to those companies. It’s a way for the company to entice researchers to join the platform and provide another revenue stream for research institutions who have seen their funding decline over the last 40 years.

We have a huge loop of academic universities that have access to the data and are developing algorithms and we share data,” said the company’s chief executive Dr. Thomas Clozel. “At the end what it helps is developing better drugs.”

Declines in federal funding for scientific research since the 1980s (Image courtesy of The Conversation)

The investment from Owkin’s new and existing investors takes the company to $55 million in total capital raised through the extension of its Series A round. In all, the round totaled $52 million, Clozet said.

“We are exactly where we need to be because it’s about privacy and privacy is more important than ever before,” said Clozet.

The COVID-19 epidemic has emphasized the need for closer collaboration among different corporations and research institutions, and that has also increased demand for the company’s technology. “It touches everything… We have access to the right data sets and centers to build the best models for COVID,” said Clozet. “We’re lucky to have the right traction before the COVID happens and we have the right research that has been done.”

In fact, the company has launched the Covid-19 Open AI Consortium (COAI), and is using its platform to advance collaborative research and accelerate clinical development of effective treatments for patients infected with the coronavirus, the company said. All of its findings will be shared with the global medical and scientific communities.

The initial focus on the research is on cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 patients in collaboration with CAPACITY, an international registry working with over 50 centers worldwide, the company said. Other areas of research will include patient outcomes and triage, and the prediction and characterization of immune response, according to Owkin.

“Since we first backed Owkin in 2017, we have been sharing its vision to apply AI to fighting one of the most dreadful diseases on earth: cancer,” said Jacky Abitbol, a partner at Cathay Innovation. “Owkin has risen to become a leader in digital health, we are proud to grow our investment in the company to fuel its ambition to pioneer AI for medical research, while preserving patient-privacy and data security.”

#artificial-intelligence, #cancer, #cathay-innovation, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #eight-roads, #f-prime-capital, #gv, #health, #healthcare, #new-york, #owkin, #pharmaceutical, #pharmacy, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #techstars

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7 VCs discuss how COVID-19 is changing the media startup landscape

The world has changed dramatically since May 2019 when we last surveyed venture capitalists about the trends they were seeing in media, entertainment and gaming.

Since then, COVID-19 and the resulting physical distancing measures have created plenty of demand for companies helping to inform and entertain us as we’re stuck at home. At the same time, there’s a dramatic reduction in ad spending, making it harder to monetize that consumer attention.

So we checked in a variety of top VCs about the new landscape, where they’re investing and what kind of advice they’re giving their portfolio companies.

Not all of them invest directly in what (paraphrasing Betaworks’ Matt Hartman) we might call media media — the companies whose business models revolve around content creation and advertising — but each of these investors are backing startups looking to change the way we stay connected and entertained.

Here’s who we surveyed:

  • Kevin Zhang (Partner, Upfront Ventures)
  • Pär-Jörgen (PJ) Pärson (General Partner, Northzone)
  • Vasu Kulkarn (Partner, Courtside Ventures)
  • MG Siegler (General Partner, GV)
  • Jana Messerschmidt (Partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners)
  • Matthew Hartman (Partner, Betaworks Ventures)
  • Gigi Levy-Weiss (Managing Partner, NFX)

The consensus? You can’t count on the ad business to recover in the next few months, but there are still opportunities for startups exploring new formats and new business models. And there’s still plenty of excitement about gaming and esports.

You can read their full responses, lightly edited, below.

Kevin Zhang, Upfront Ventures

What (if any) media trends are still exciting you from an investing perspective?

Live and interactive formats, especially shorter form, continue to be very exciting, made even more evident in this time of shelter-in-place. What has worked in China and broader Asia has not yet translated into explosive success in the West. As interesting as celebrity live broadcasts are from their homes, the lack of real interaction and participation features hampers long-term engagement and doesn’t make up for the lack of production quality.

Modern content production technology is needed to push both production and live ops cost down while enabling more interactive and engaging formats. Game engines are one example, there’s of course the Travis Scott concert that just happened in Fortnite built on the Unreal engine, but that 15-minute, pre-rendered show took months to create, we’re only just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

One of our investments in this space is Tellie for live-action formats, another is The Wave for rendered, live formats, and we continue to look for great combinations of tech and media talent innovating on new formats.

Speaking of gaming, multiplayer games continue to grow and grow exponentially, there is a lot to unpack in popular titles from new favorite Animal Crossing to classics like World of Warcraft to indie hits like For the King. They all have social cooperation as a core part of the game loop and design. I’d love to see more teams working on cooperative play and just overall a broader diversity in multiplayer experiences beyond purely competitive ones.

#betaworks-ventures, #coronavirus, #courtside-ventures, #covid-19, #events, #extra-crunch, #funding, #gv, #investor-surveys, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #market-analysis, #matthew-hartman, #media, #mg-siegler, #nfx, #northzone, #par-jorgen-parson, #startups, #upfront-ventures, #venture-capital

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Digits launches a free expense monitoring dashboard for small businesses, closes on $22M Series B

Digits, a fintech startup hailing from the same team that built and sold Crashlytics to Twitter, is officially launching today after two years of development. It’s also announcing a $22 million Series B round of funding led by GV, as it makes its public debut.

While the company had been fairly quiet about product details while in stealth mode, it’s today unveiling its first product: a visual, machine learning-powered expense monitoring dashboard aimed at startups and small businesses.

The dashboard, called Digits for Expenses, helps business owners track how their company is spending money, by showing things like spend by category, by identifying vendors and recurring expenses and by offering real-time alerts, among other features.

Instead of requiring business owners to make a switch from their existing financial solutions, Digits connects with the accounting software, banks, payroll providers, financial packages, sources of revenue and credit cards the business already uses — like Xero, QuickBooks, NetSuite, Citi, Bank of America or Chase, for example.

At launch, the list includes more than 9,000 banks, with support for Xero and NetSuite coming soon.

After setup, Digits will then automatically analyze the company’s spend and visualize it, in real time.

While visualizations of data may be reminiscent of personal finance startup Mint, Digits’ web-based solution is more technical in nature and offers an expanded analysis of the data on hand. Plus, as a business solution, it has to offer features like security, permissioning and collaborative workflows, which results in a more sophisticated product.

Digits also uses machine learning technology to predictively categorize transactions as they happen and the software can alert users to anomalies — like suspicious activity or unexpectedly large transactions — in real time. Business owners can use the dashboard to find out things like how quickly expenses are growing, what the cash flow looks like, where costs can be trimmed, what services are being paid for on a recurring basis and more, and can search for transactions.

The software also supports the ability to comment on transactions, loop in a colleague to ask for clarification about a charge and upload missing receipts. Everything uses HTTPS along with TLS and certificates so data is encrypted between Digit’s services and at rest.

The original idea for Digits came from a problem that co-founders Wayne Chang and Jeff Seibert faced themselves when building Crashlytics. As they explained previously, their focus as entrepreneurs was on solving technical challenges, not on the operational side of running a business.

Many entrepreneurs also find themselves in this same space. They’re trying to solve a problem or crack a tough engineering puzzle, but instead have to redirect their time and resources to spreadsheets, financial reports, transaction records and other paperwork required to actually run the business.

“Startups and small businesses today simply don’t have the resources to manage their finances internally. Most of them still settle for spreadsheets, and the lucky ones work on an hourly basis with external accountants,” explains Seibert. “As a result, their accounting itself is seen as a cost-center, and they pay for little beyond the basic monthly financial statements — Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet, etc. By the time those statements are delivered — weeks after the end of each month — they’re already out of date,” he said.

That means things businesses need — like updates, one-off reports and new budgets — can require additional costs and longer wait times, so they get skipped.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on small businesses, many of which are now struggling to even survive. As a result, Digits has decided to launch the product for free to those who sign up — not a free trial, but actually free. It plans to later charge for additional products and paid upgrades to support its own business.

Digits is able to make this offer because of its now-expanded venture funding.

Already, the company had raised $10.5 million in Series A funding in a round led by Benchmark. That round had included a sizable 72 angel investors as well, including founders and CEOs from companies like Box, GitHub, Tinder, Twitch, StitchFix, SoFi and several others — entrepreneurs with an understanding of the problems Digits is aiming to solve.

Today, Digits is announcing an additional $22 million led by Jessica Verrilli at GV,  who also now joins Digits’ board alongside Benchmark’s Peter Fenton. (Benchmark also participated in the new round).

“Jeff and Wayne are masterful at creating intuitive, high-utility products from complicated data,” said Verrilli about the GV investment. “I saw this up close with Crashlytics and Twitter, and I’m thrilled to partner with them on Digits as they reimagine financial software for startups,” she added.

The startup, now a team of 18 and hiring, was already offering its software solution to a group of customers ahead of today’s public launch, who effectively operated as beta testers allowing Digits to refine its product. Digits isn’t able to share its customer names, for the most part. However, it noted that Coda was one of early adopters and provided valuable feedback.

It also has over 10,000 companies who joined its waitlist over the past two years who are now being let in.

At the time of its Series A, Digits saw more than $1.5 billion in transaction value flowing across its production systems. That number has since grown to $8 billion.

The software is free starting today for U.S.-based small businesses. The company plans to add support for international markets later this year.

#business, #digits, #expenses, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #gv, #recent-funding, #small-business, #startups

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