Extra Crunch roundup: Unpacking BuzzFeed’s SPAC, curb your meeting enthusiasm, more

Meetings should have a clear purpose, but instead, they’ve become a way to measure status and reinforce what is colloquially referred to as CYA culture.

There’s a kernel of truth in every joke, so whenever someone quips, “This meeting could have been an email!” you can bet that some small part of them meant it sincerely.

Few people know how to run meetings effectively and keep conversations on track. Making matters worse, attendees often don’t bother to prepare, which makes a boring session even less productive.

And then there’s the complication of workplace politics: How secure do you feel declining an invitation from a co-worker — or a manager?

“Every time a recurring meeting is added to a calendar, a kitten dies,” says Chuck Phillips, co-founder of MeetWell. “Very few employees decline meetings, even when it’s obvious that the meeting is going to be a doozy.”


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Changing your meeting culture is difficult, but given that 26% of workers plan to look for a new job when the pandemic ends, startups need to do all they can to retain talent.

Aimed at managers, this post offers several testable strategies that will help you boost productivity and say goodbye to poorly run, lazily planned meetings.

“Declining a bad meeting should never be taboo, and you should reiterate your trust in the team and challenge them to spend their and others’ time with more intention,” Phillips says. “Help them feel empowered to decline a bad meeting.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch, and have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Why Amazon should pay attention to Shein

Image Credits: Shein

In the last year, online apparel shopping app Shein grew active daily users by 130%, reports Apptopia.

Each day, thousands of new products arrive on the app’s virtual shelves. Items are rapidly designed and prototyped before Shein’s contractors put them into production in Guangzhou factories — two weeks later, those SKUs arrive in fulfillment centers around the globe.

TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao examined how the company’s agile supply chain has become hot talk among e-commerce experts, but beyond a strong logistics game and data-driven product development, Shein’s close relationships with suppliers are integral to its success.

She also tried to answer a question many are asking: Is Shein a Chinese company?

“It’s hard to pin down where Shein is from,” answered Richard Xu from Grand View Capital, a Chinese venture capital firm.

“It’s a company with operations and supply chains in China targeting the global market, with nearly no business in China.”

Inside GM’s startup incubator strategy

General Motors Chief Engineer Hybrid and Electric Powertrain Engineering Pam Fletcher with the 2014 Spark EV Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at a Chevrolet event on the eve of the Los Angeles International Auto Show in Los Angeles, California. When it goes on sale next summer, the Spark EV is expected to have among the best EV battery range in its segment and will be priced under $25,000 with tax incentives. (Chevrolet News Photo)

Image Credits: Chevrolet

GM Vice President of Innovation Pam Fletcher is in charge of the company’s startups that tackle “electrification, connectivity and even insurance — all part of the automaker’s aim to find value (and profits) beyond its traditional business of making, selling and financing vehicles,” Kirsten Korosec writes.

Fletcher joined TechCrunch at a virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event to discuss what it’s like to launch a slew of startups under the umbrella of a 113-year-old automaker.

Investor Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool’s Chris Bennett on getting to the point with a pitch deck

Image Credits: MaC Venture Capital / Wonderschool

MaC Venture Capital founding managing partner Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool CEO Chris Bennett joined Extra Crunch Live to tear down the company’s early deck.

“The first thing that jumped out at all of us was just how bare-bones the presentation is: white text on a blue background, largely made up of bullet points,” Brian Heater writes before noting the CEO admitted that “not much changed aesthetically between that first pitch and the Series A deck.”

“It aligned with what we were valuing at the time,” Bennett says. “We were really focused on getting the product-market fit and really trying to understand what our customers needed. And we’re really focused on building the team.”

Dear Sophie: What options would allow me to start something on my own?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’ve been working on an H-1B in the U.S. for nearly two years.

While I’m grateful to have made it through the H-1B lottery and to be working, I’m feeling unhappy and frustrated with my job.

I really want to start something of my own and work on my own terms in the United States. Are there any immigration options that would allow me to do that?

— Seeking Satisfaction

Investors’ thirst for growth could bode well for SentinelOne’s IPO

Alex Wilhelm calls SentinelOne’s looming debut “fascinating.”

“Why? Because the company sports a combination of rapid growth and expanding losses that make it a good heat check for the IPO market,” he writes. “Its debut will allow us to answer whether public investors still value growth above all else.”

Alex delves into an early dataset from SentinelOne and why public market investors still appear to value growth above anything else.

Before an exit, founders must get their employment law ducks in a row

Rubber ducks in a line

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

Guest columnist Rob Hudock, a litigator who focuses on helping companies recruit the best talent available while avoiding distracting workplace issues or lawsuits, lays out the importance of putting out any employment-related fires before an exit.

“Inattention to employment issues can have a significant impact on deals — from preventing closings and reducing the deal value to altering the deal terms or significantly limiting the pool of potential buyers,” he writes.

“Fortunately, such issues typically can be resolved well in advance with a little forethought and legal guidance.”

Practice agile, iterative change to refine products and build company culture

Building an excellent product and a standout company culture require the same process, Heap CEO Ken Fine writes in a guest column.

“At Heap, the analytics solution provider I lead, a defining principle is that good ideas should not be lost to top-down dictates and overrigid hierarchies,” he writes. “The best results come when you approach leadership like you would create a great product — you hypothesize, you test and iterate, and once you get it right, you grow it.”

Here, he lays out his method that argues in favor of iterative change, not “one-and-done decrees.”

a16z’s new $2.2B fund won’t just bet on the crypto future, it will defend it

The big news on Thursday was the announcement of Andreessen Horowitz’s new cryptocurrency-focused fund. Most focused on the eye-popping $2.2 billion figure, but Alex Wilhelm dug a bit deeper into the announcement to note that a16z isn’t just pumping a ton of money into the crypto space, it’s putting on gloves to fight for it.

Alex writes that “a16z intends to run defense for crypto in the American, and perhaps global, market. Crypto-focused startups are likely unable to tackle the regulation of their market on their own because they’re more focused on product work in a particular region of the larger crypto economy. The wealthy and connected investment firm that backs them will take on the task for its chosen champions.”

5 takeaways from BuzzFeed’s SPAC deck

Image Credits: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm dives headfirst into BuzzFeed’s announcement that it plans to go public via a blank check company.

He looked at its historical and anticipated revenue growth (the latter is very sunny, which is not atypical for SPAC presentations), what makes up that revenue (more “commerce” as time goes on), its long-term profitability projections, as well as fun stuff, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning BuzzFeed News.

Admit it. You’re curious.

3 issues to resolve before switching to a subscription business model

Three issues leaders need to address before switching to a subscription business model

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

Moving from a pay-as-you-go model to a subscription service is more than just putting a monthly or yearly price tag on a product, CloudBlue’s Jess Warrington writes in a guest column.

“Executives cannot just layer a subscription model on top of an existing business,” Warrington writes. “They need to change the entire operation process, onboard all stakeholders, recalibrate their strategy and create a subscription culture.”

Warrington says that in his role at CloudBlue, companies often approach him for “help with solving technology challenges while shifting to a subscription business model, only to realize that they have not taken crucial organizational steps necessary to ensure a successful transition.”

Here’s how to avoid that situation.

Veo CEO Candice Xie has a plan for building a sustainable scooter company, and it’s working

An illustration of Veo founder Candie Xie

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rebecca Bellan interviewed Veo CEO Candice Xie about the micromobility startup’s “old-fashioned way” of doing business.

“I understand people are eager to prove their unit economics, their scalability and also improve their matrix to the VC to raise another round,” Xie says. “I would say that’s OK in the consumer industry, like consumer electronics or SaaS.

“But we are in transportation. It is a different business, and transportation takes years of collaboration and building between private and public partners. … So I don’t see it happening from day one, turning over a billion-dollar company, while simultaneously having it all make sense for the cities and users.”

5 companies doing growth marketing right

Image of five round wooden balls moving up steps to represent growth.

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

All companies want more or less the same thing: growth. But how do you accomplish it?

Ideally, don’t start from scratch.

The race to grow faster is more pressing than ever before. … “[F]orward-thinking entrepreneurs and growth marketers simply must make time to study their competition, learn best practices and apply them to their own business growth,” Mark Spera, the head of growth marketing at Minted, writes in a guest column.

“Of course, you should still run your own experiments, but it’s just more capital-efficient to emulate than to trial-and-error from scratch. Here are five companies with growth strategies worth emulating — including the most important lessons you can begin applying to your business today.”

Musculoskeletal medical startups race to enter personalized health tech market

Human anatomy, hand, arm,muscular system on plain studio background.

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

With more than 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain and musculoskeletal (MSK) medical problems, a number of startups are offering patients new products “that don’t resemble the cookie-cutter status quo,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

Startups hoping to enter this space have an uphill climb. Setting aside regulations that cover aspects like product packaging and marketing, they must compete with well-entrenched competition from Big Pharma as they try to partner with health insurance companies.

Natasha profiles three companies that are each taking a different approach to personalized health: Clear, Hinge Health and PeerWell.

Like the US, a two-tier venture capital market is emerging in Latin America

In the second part of an Exchange series looking at the global early-stage venture capital market, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim unpacked the scene in Latin America, discovering it looked a lot like the situation in the United States: slow Series A rounds, fast B rounds.

“Mega-rounds are no longer an exception in Latin America; in fact, they have become a trend, with ever-larger rounds being announced over the last few months,” they write.

Despite that, the funds aren’t being equitably distributed, and the region still lags behind its peers: Brazil has the most $1 billion startups in Latin America, with 12. The U.S., meanwhile, has 369, and China has 159.

But the Latin American market remains hot, if not quite as scorching as the U.S. and China.

#andreessen-horowitz, #buzzfeed, #candice-xie, #china, #consumer-electronics, #corporate-finance, #cryptocurrency, #entrepreneurship, #latin-america, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #pam-fletcher, #shein, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #venture-capital, #veo, #verified-experts, #wonderschool

Edge Delta raises $15M Series A to take on Splunk

Seattle-based Edge Delta, a startup that is building a modern distributed monitoring stack that is competing directly with industry heavyweights like Splunk, New Relic and Datadog, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Menlo Ventures and Tim Tully, the former CTO of Splunk. Previous investors MaC Venture Capital and Amity Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the company’s total funding to date to $18 million.

“Our thesis is that there’s no way that enterprises today can continue to analyze all their data in real time,” said Edge Delta co-founder and CEO Ozan Unlu, who has worked in the observability space for about 15 years already (including at Microsoft and Sumo Logic). “The way that it was traditionally done with these primitive, centralized models — there’s just too much data. It worked 10 years ago, but gigabytes turned into terabytes and now terabytes are turning into petabytes. That whole model is breaking down.”

Image Credits: Edge Delta

He acknowledges that traditional big data warehousing works quite well for business intelligence and analytics use cases. But that’s not real-time and also involves moving a lot of data from where it’s generated to a centralized warehouse. The promise of Edge Delta is that it can offer all of the capabilities of this centralized model by allowing enterprises to start to analyze their logs, metrics, traces and other telemetry right at the source. This, in turn, also allows them to get visibility into all of the data that’s generated there, instead of many of today’s systems, which only provide insights into a small slice of this information.

While competing services tend to have agents that run on a customer’s machine, but typically only compress the data, encrypt it and then send it on to its final destination, Edge Delta’s agent starts analyzing the data right at the local level. With that, if you want to, for example, graph error rates from your Kubernetes cluster, you wouldn’t have to gather all of this data and send it off to your data warehouse where it has to be indexed before it can be analyzed and graphed.

With Edge Delta, you could instead have every single node draw its own graph, which Edge Delta can then combine later on. With this, Edge Delta argues, its agent is able to offer significant performance benefits, often by orders of magnitude. This also allows businesses to run their machine learning models at the edge, as well.

Image Credits: Edge Delta

“What I saw before I was leaving Splunk was that people were sort of being choosy about where they put workloads for a variety of reasons, including cost control,” said Menlo Ventures’ Tim Tully, who joined the firm only a couple of months ago. “So this idea that you can move some of the compute down to the edge and lower latency and do machine learning at the edge in a distributed way was incredibly fascinating to me.”

Edge Delta is able to offer a significantly cheaper service, in large part because it doesn’t have to run a lot of compute and manage huge storage pools itself since a lot of that is handled at the edge. And while the customers obviously still incur some overhead to provision this compute power, it’s still significantly less than what they would be paying for a comparable service. The company argues that it typically sees about a 90 percent improvement in total cost of ownership compared to traditional centralized services.

Image Credits: Edge Delta

Edge Delta charges based on volume and it is not shy to compare its prices with Splunk’s and does so right on its pricing calculator. Indeed, in talking to Tully and Unlu, Splunk was clearly on everybody’s mind.

“There’s kind of this concept of unbundling of Splunk,” Unlu said. “You have Snowflake and the data warehouse solutions coming in from one side, and they’re saying, ‘hey, if you don’t care about real time, go use us.’ And then we’re the other half of the equation, which is: actually there’s a lot of real-time operational use cases and this model is actually better for those massive stream processing datasets that you required to analyze in real time.”

But despite this competition, Edge Delta can still integrate with Splunk and similar services. Users can still take their data, ingest it through Edge Delta and then pass it on to the likes of Sumo Logic, Splunk, AWS’s S3 and other solutions.

Image Credits: Edge Delta

“If you follow the trajectory of Splunk, we had this whole idea of building this business around IoT and Splunk at the Edge — and we never really quite got there,” Tully said. “I think what we’re winding up seeing collectively is the edge actually means something a little bit different. […] The advances in distributed computing and sophistication of hardware at the edge allows these types of problems to be solved at a lower cost and lower latency.”

The Edge Delta team plans to use the new funding to expand its team and support all of the new customers that have shown interest in the product. For that, it is building out its go-to-market and marketing teams, as well as its customer success and support teams.

 

#aws, #big-data, #business-intelligence, #cloud, #computing, #cto, #data-security, #data-warehouse, #datadog, #enterprise, #information-technology, #mac-venture-capital, #machine-learning, #menlo-ventures, #microsoft, #new-relic, #real-time, #recent-funding, #seattle, #splunk, #startups, #sumo-logic, #system-administration, #tc, #technology

Investor Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool’s Chris Bennett on getting to the point with a pitch deck

Before our conversation on Extra Crunch Live, Marlon Nichols dropped a bomb on me. The MaC Venture Capital founding managing partner hadn’t actually seen Wonderschool’s original pitch deck before investing in the remote education startup. Our conversation with the company’s CEO, Chris Bennett was the first time he’d been through the seed-stage deck.

Their partnership was a bit of Silicon Valley luck, good timing and some old fashioned networking.

“He was a part of an organization that was helping to bring more diverse founders in touch with investors,” says Nichols. “That was happening when I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011. We started to build a casual relationship then. Fast forward to 2016. At my first fund, Cross Culture [Ventures], we were interested in investing in early childhood care. We were actually looking at a number of different companies and one of my partners, Suzy [Ryoo] was like, ‘Have you heard of this company Wonderschool that Chris Bennett was starting, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, I know Chris.’ ”

According to Bennet, Nichols reached out about the opportunity on Facebook Messenger. After the initial conversation and assessing some direct competitors, Nichols says Wonderschool was ultimately the right fit for Cross Culture’s portfolio.

Fittingly, the startup’s origin also has its roots in SV networking.

“I used to go the TED conference every year,” says Bennett. “I met a woman who told me that early childhood education was really important [ … ] She said, ‘A lot of the skills I use today as a CEO, a lot of those seeds were planted before the age of five.’ I thought that was a really wild idea. I started doing research and realized there was a shortage of childcare in America.”

Bennett cringed slightly when we started the process of showing off the company’s early deck. The first thing that jumped out at all of us was just how bare bones the presentation is: white text on a blue background, largely made up of bullet points. There’s not flash — or even graphics — to be found in the entire thing. And the CEO adds that honestly, not much changed aesthetically between that first pitch and the Series A deck.

“It aligned with what we were valuing at the time,” says Bennett. “We were really focused on getting the product-market fit and really trying to understand what our customers needed. And we’re really focused on building the team.”

Perhaps there was something to it, however, as Wonderschool managed to raise $20 million for the latter.

#chris-bennett, #education, #extra-crunch-live-recap, #funding, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #startups, #venture-capital, #wonderschool

Wonderschool’s Chris Bennett and investor Marlon Nichols will break down the path to seed-stage funding

Extra Crunch Live is all about helping founders build better venture-backed businesses. Naturally, we do this by having candid conversations with founders and their investors.

On an upcoming episode of Extra Crunch Live, we’ll sit down with MaC Venture Capital founding managing partner Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool co-founder and CEO Chris Bennett. REGISTER HERE FOR FREE!

Not only will we discuss how they came together for Wonderschool’s seed round in 2017, but how that translated into what has become a total of $24 million in funding from VCs like a16z and First Round Capital.

We’ll also host the Extra Crunch Live Pitch-off, where folks in the audience can pitch their startup to Nichols and Bennett to get their live feedback.

Nichols is a former Kauffman Fellow and Investment Director at Intel Capital. His portfolio includes Gimlet Media, MongoDB, Thrive Market, PlayVS, Fair, LISNR, Mayvenn, Blavity and Wonderschool. Nichols knows more than most of us will ever learn about seed-stage fundraising, and even gave a chat at TechCrunch Early Stage in April that outlines four strategies for securing seed funding.

We’ll get even deeper on that subject with Nichols, and hear the perspective from the other side of the table with Bennett.

Wonderschool is a network of early childhood programs that combine the quality of top-notch early education with an in-home setting.

Bennett can talk extensively on edtech as a sector, and we’ll pick both his and Nichols’ mind on that fast-growing space.

Don’t forget that this episode will feature an Extra Crunch Live Pitch-off, so founders in the audience should be ready to “raise their hand” and get in the mix.

The episode goes down on Wednesday, June 16 at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT. Extra Crunch Live is accessible to anyone who wants to attend, but on-demand access to the content, including the entire library of ECL episodes, is reserved exclusively for Extra Crunch members. Join now to check out what Aileen Lee, Roelof Botha, Mark Cuban and more had to say on earlier episodes of ECL. 

You can register for this episode of Extra Crunch Live, with MaC Venture Capital and Wonderschool, right here.

#chris-bennett, #education, #extra-crunch-live-announcement, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #seed-stage, #startups, #tc, #wonderschool

Clubhouse will create billions in value and capture none of it

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

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was a busy week on the IPO front, Danny was buried in getting the Tonal EC-1 out, and Natasha took some time off. But the host trio managed to prep and record a show that was honestly a kick to record, and we think, a pleasure to listen to!

So, for your morning walk, here’s what we have for you:

It was a mix of laughs, ‘aha’ moments, and honest conversations about how complex ambition in startups should be. One listener the other day mentioned to us that the pandemic made it harder to carve out time for podcasts, since listening was often reserved for commutes. We get it, and in true scrappy fashion, we’re curious how you’ve adapted to remote work and podcasts. Let us know how you tune into Equity via Twitter and remember that we’re thankful for your ears!

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

#cameo, #clubhouse, #discord, #equity, #equity-podcast, #funding, #fundings-exits, #harlem-capital, #linkedin, #mac-venture-capital, #media, #miami, #microsoft-excel, #pipe, #podcasts, #spotify, #startups, #substack

Sarah Kunst will outline how to get ready to fundraise at Early Stage

Sarah Kunst, founding partner at Cleo Capital, has worn many hats. She’s been an entrepreneur, served on plenty of boards, is a contributing author at Marie Clare, has been a senior advisor to Bumble and worked as a consultant in marketing, business development and more.

And with all that experience, she knows all too well that the process of fundraising starts well before your first pitch meeting. That’s why we’re so excited to have Kunst join us at Early Stage in July to discuss how to get ready to fundraise.

This isn’t the first time Kunst has discussed the topic with us. On a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, Kunst and one of her portfolio company founders Julia Collins described how to conduct the process of fundraising.

For example, there is a story to tell, metrics to share and an art to building momentum before you ever start filling your calendar. That all requires preparation, and Kunst will outline how to go about that at our event in July.

Early Stage is going down twice this year, with our first event taking place tomorrow! Here’s a look at some of the topics we’ll be covering:

Fundraising

  • Bootstrapping Best Practices (Tope Awotona and Blake Bartlett, Calendly)
  • Four Things to Think About Before Raising a Series A (Bucky Moore, Kleiner Perkins)
  • How to Get An Investor’s Attention (Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital)
  • How to Nail Your Virtual Pitch Meeting (Melissa Bradley, Ureeka)
  • How Founders Can Think Like a VC (Lisa Wu, Norwest Venture Partners)
  • The All-22 View, or Never Losing Perspective (Eghosa Omoigui, EchoVC Partners)

Operations:

  • Finance for Founders (Alexa von Tobel, Inspired Capital)
  • Building and Leading a Sales Team (Ryan Azus, Zoom CRO)
  • 10 Things NOT to Do When Starting a Company (Leah Solivan, Fuel Capital)
  • Leadership Culture and Good Governance (David Easton, Generation Investment Management)

The cool thing about Early Stage is that it’s heavy on audience Q&A, ensuring that everyone gets the chance to ask their own specific questions. Oh, and ticket holders get free access to Extra Crunch.

Interested? You can buy a ticket here.

#alexa-von-tobel, #blake-bartlett, #bucky-moore, #cleo-capital, #entrepreneur, #events, #finance, #fuel-capital, #generation-investment-management, #investment, #julia-collins, #kleiner-perkins, #leah-solivan, #lisa-wu, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #melissa-bradley, #money, #norwest, #norwest-venture-partners, #ryan-azus, #sarah-kunst, #startups, #tc, #tc-early-stage-2021, #tope-awotona, #venture-capital

Closing on $103M, MaC VC is changing the face of venture capital

The partners at MaC Venture Capital, the Los Angeles-based investment firm that has just closed on $103 million for its inaugural fund, have spent the bulk of their careers breaking barriers.

Formed when M Ventures (a firm founded by former Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty); the first Black talent agency partner in the history of Hollywood, Charles D. King; and longtime operating executive (and former agent) Michael Palank joined forces with Marlon Nichols, a co-founder of the LA-based investment firm Cross Culture Capital, MaC Venture Capital wanted to be a different kind of fund.

The firm combines the focus on investing in software that Fenty had honed from his years spent as a special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz, where he spent five years before setting out to launch M Ventures; and Nichols’ thesis-driven approach to focusing on particular sectors that are being transformed by global cultural shifts wrought by changing consumer behavior and demographics.

“There’s a long history and a lot of relationships here,” said King, one of Hollywood’s premier power players and the founder of the global media company, Macro. “Adrian and I go back to 93 [when] we were in law school. We went on to conquer the world, where he went out to Washington DC and I became a senior partner at WME.”

Palank was connected to the team through King as well, since the two men worked together at William Morris before running business development for Will Smith and others.

“There was this idea of having connectivity between tech and innovation… that’s when we formed M Ventures [but] that understanding of media and culture… that focus… was complimentary with what Marlon was doing at Cross Culture,” King said.

Few firms could merge the cultural revolutions wrought by DJ Herc spinning records in the rec room of a Bronx apartment building and Sir Tim Berners Lee’s invention of the internet, but that’s exactly what MaC VC aims to do.

And while the firm’s founding partnership would prefer to focus on the financial achievements of their respective firms and the investments that now comprise the new portfolio of their combined efforts — it includes StokeGoodfairFinessePureStream, and Sote — it’s hard to overstate the significance that a general partnership that includes three Black men have raised $103 million in an industry that’s been repeatedly called out for problems with diversity and inclusion.

MaC Venture Capital co-founders Marlon Nichols, Michael Palank, Charles King, and Adrian Fenty. Image Credit: MaC Venture Capital

“Our LPs invested in us… for lots of different reasons but at the top of the list was that we are a diverse team in so many ways. We’re going to show them a set of companies that they would not have seen from any [other] VC fund,” said Fenty. “We also, in turn, have the same investing thesis when we look at companies. We want to have women founders, African American founders, Latino founders… In our fund now we have some companies that are all women, all African American or all Latino.”

The diversity of the firm’s ethos is also reflected in the broad group of limited partners that have come on to bankroll its operations: it includes Goldman Sachs, the University of Michigan, Howard University, Mitch and Freada Kapor, Foot Locker, and Greenspring Associates.

“We are thrilled to join MaC Venture Capital in this key milestone toward building a new kind of venture capital firm that is anchored around a cultural investment thesis and supports transformative companies and dynamic founders,” said Daniel Feder, Managing Director with the University of Michigan Investment Office, in a statement. “Their unified understanding of technology, media, entertainment, and government, along with a successful track record of investing, give them deep insights into burgeoning shifts in culture and behavior.”

And it extends to the firm’s portfolio, a clutch of startup companies headquartered around the globe — from Seattle to Houston and Los Angeles to Nairobi.

“We look at all verticals. We’re very happy to be generalists,” said Fenty.

A laser focus on software-enabled businesses is complemented by the thesis-driven approach laid out in position papers staking out predictions for how the ubiquity of gaming; conscious consumerism; new parenting paradigms; and cultural and demographic shifts will transform the global economy.

Increasingly, that thesis also means moving into areas of frontier technologies that include the space industry, mixed reality and everything at the intersection of computing and the transformation of the physical world — drawn in part by the firm’s close connection to the diverse tech ecosystem that’s emerging in Los Angeles. “We’re seeing these SpaceX and Tesla mafias spin out, entrepreneurs who have had best-in-class training at an Elon Musk company,” said Palank. “It’s a great talent pool, and LA has more computer science students graduating every year than Northern California.”

With its current portfolio, though early, the venture firm is operating in the top 5% of funds — at least on paper — and its early investments are up 3 times what the firm invested, Nichols said. 

“The way to think about it is MaC is essentially an extension of what we were building before,” the Cross Culture Ventures co-founder said. “We’re sticking with the concept that talent is ubiquitous but access to capital and opportunity is not. We want to be the source and access to capital for those founders.”

#adrian-fenty, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #california, #co-founder, #computing, #cross-culture-ventures, #finance, #finesse, #foot-locker, #goldman-sachs, #greenspring-associates, #houston, #investment, #king, #laser, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-venture-capital, #macro, #marlon-nichols, #mayor, #media, #michigan, #money, #nairobi, #seattle, #sote, #spacex, #stoke, #tc, #tesla, #tim-berners-lee, #university-of-michigan, #venture-capital, #washington-dc, #will-smith

Marlon Nichols will discuss how to secure seed funding at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021

We’re excited to announce another terrific panel for our stacked TechCrunch Early Stage event on April 1 & 2. Marlon Nichols will be joining us to discuss securing seed funding.

Nichols is intimately acquainted with the topic — as a founding managing partner of MaC Venture Capital (nee Cross Culture Ventures), he has been involved in helping more than 100 early-stage startups receive seed funding. Previously, Nichols served as a Kauffman Fellow and Investment Director at Intel Capital, focusing on media and entertainment.

He has had a hand in a number of high-profile investments, including Gimlet Media, MongoDB, Thrive Market, PlayVS, Fair, LISNR, Mayvenn, Blavity and Wonderschool. His accolades include the MVMT50 SXSW 2018 Innovator of the Year and Digital Diversity’s Innovation & Inclusion Change Agent awards.

He will be discussing ways to get on investors’ radar and how to raise that early round. Per the panel description:

Right now, there is more seed-stage fundraising than ever before, and Marlon will speak on how to get noticed by investors, how to grow your business and how to survive in the crowded, competitive space of tech startups. He will provide insights on how to network, craft a great pitch and target the best investors for your success.

The panel is part of the two days of events that explore seed and Series A fundraising, recruiting and more for early-stage startups at TC Early Stage – Operations and Fundraising on April 1 & 2. Grab your ticket now before prices increase next week!

#events, #funding, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-early-stage-2021

Finesse raises $4.5M to predict fashion trends with AI

Finesse, a startup promising to take the guesswork and waste out of fashion, is announcing that it has raised $4.5 million in seed and pre-seed funding.

Founder and CEO Ramin Ahmari said the tremendous waste in the fashion industry has become a badly-kept secret, with Burberry recently facing a backlash over its practice of burning unwanted products, and the industry as a whole producing an estimated 13 million tons of textile waste each year.

Finesse is looking to change that, Ahmari said, in part by taking advantage of the fact that that fashion trends are moving out of the “hermetically sealed” world of fashion catwalks and onto social media, where new products take off “on the backs and bodies and posts” of influencers like Kylie Jenner.

“This is data we have access to,” he said. Noting that he previously worked in finance, Ahmari added that the stock market is “much more unpredictable” than the fashion industry — there just hasn’t been a tech startup applying tools like natural language processing and deep learning to fashion.

“In the simplest terms, you can think of what we do as seeing when Kylie posts a picture on Instagram and people go crazy about it … and then you see that happen not just on Kylie’s post but across Instagram, TikTok, Google Trends,” he said. “We predict the establishing of a trend before it goes super viral.”

Finesse

Image Credits: Finesse

Finesse then uses this data to design new products. Ahmari said that by taking advantage of a “very fast supply chain,” along with tools like CLO 3D modeling software, Finesse can go from identifying a trend to having a product available for purchase in less than 25 days.

While the startup is officially launching today, it’s already been selling products through “drops,” where customers vote for and pre-order products that will only be available in limited quantities. Ahmari said Finesse focuses on selling unique pieces rather than staples, but because it’s confident about consumer demand, it can keep things much more affordable — the products currently for sale range from $8 to $116.

And unlike most fashion companies, Ahmari said that Finesse does not need to employ a giant design department, although he suggested that team members like Vice President of Product Andrea Knopf and Head of Product Development Brittany Fleck — who work in tandem with the startup’s algorithms —are “artists in their own right.”

“Unless we have true AI — which we’re very far from — you are never going to have a machine that’s purely creative,” he said. “You have to have feedback cycles … What we are eliminating is the job where it’s just an intern doing grunt work, all of these people just going to through Instagram to find new fashion trends.”

Ahmari also said that with its emphasis on sustainability and connecting with the LGBTQ community (Ahmari identifies as queer and non-binary, and all of the startup’s products are designed for any gender), Finesse is aimed squarely at Gen Z consumers who are tired of fashion dictated by “white, older, cisgender men.”

The startup’s investors include former Twitter head of engineering Alex Roetter, Collective Health CEO Ali Diab, Hoxton Ventures, MaC Venture Capital, Mango Capital and Fab Fit Fun co-founder Sam Teller.

“We believe that FINESSE is truly the future of fashion, from its trend prediction to sustainable supply-chain and manufacturing,” said MaC Managing Partner Marlon Nichols in a statement. “We hope other fashion brands can learn from FINESSE’s disruption in the space and we’re eager to see what’s next.”

#alex-roetter, #artificial-intelligence, #fashion, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #tc

As venture firms struggle with diversity, the Kauffman Foundation is grooming candidates to help

Recognizing the need for a more diverse venture capital industry, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is looking to take steps to train its most diverse class of would-be investors and is adding to its board to foreground diversity and inclusion going forward, the non-profit said today.

A longtime resource for startup founders and the venture capital industry and a voice for bringing the tools of venture investment to a broader national stage, the Kauffman Foundation is  bringing diversity to its boardroom with the appointment of Marlon Nichols as one of the organization’s newest directors. Nichols, a founder of MaC Venture Capital, joins Melissa Richlen, who heads up limited partner investments in private equity and vneture capital for the MacArthur Foundation, and Allen Taylor whose work at Endeavor and Endeavor Catalyst is focused on investing in entrepreneurs in undercapitalized markets in the US and around the world.

“This organization is taking diversity very seriously and it’s starting from the top down. The board is now 25% Black and 38% women. And the new class of Kauffman Fellows is the most diverse class in the twenty five year history of the program,” said Nichols. 

A graduate of the Foundation’s program, Nichols said that the new emphasis on diversity will help to get more new fund managers exposure to a network of dealmakers and potential limited partners.

“It’s setting them up for longevity in the industry so as those funds grow, they’re going to grow from a diverse base, and that foundation in diversity will lead to investments in more diverse founders,” said Nichols. “Instead of setting up a committee to talk about diversity, [the Foundation] is pulling them into the game and setting them up by giving them the resources to succeed in the game.”

The twenty fifth class of Kauffman Fellows is also the most diverse cohort the foundation has assembled. Out of 61 fellows 41 percent are women and 49 percent are people of color, while 11 percent are underrepresented minorities.

“Since our inception, we have believed that in order to best understand the world’s challenges and continue to catalyze innovation, the future of the VC industry must be diverse and more reflective of society as a whole. This has been at the core of the Kauffman Fellows mission, and it started with an extremely diverse group of Fellows in our charter class 25 years ago,” the Foundation said in a statement. “Over the years, we have measured the importance of a trusted diverse network and how it impacts the success and longevity of the best investors in the industry. Research has shown that Kauffman Fellows not only have larger returns than the industry average, but they stay in the industry 15+ years post-fellowship, which is 2X the minimum number of years it takes to recognize success in venture capital.”

#diversity, #economy, #endeavor, #finance, #founder, #kauffman-foundation, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #money, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

Venture firms rush to find ways to support Black founders and investors

As protests against police brutality and economic manifestations of systemic racism in the U.S. continue, venture capital firms are joining the chorus of technology industry advocates lending their support to the cause.

For the past three days, technology company executives and the investors who backed them have issued statements of support for the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. Firms like Benchmark, Sequoia, Bessemer, Eniac Ventures, Work-Bench and SaaSTR Fund founder Jason Lemkin all tweeted in support of the cause and offered to take steps to improve the lack of representation in their industry.

But some Black entrepreneurs and investors are questioning the motivations of these firms, given the weight of evidence that shows inaction in the face of historic inequality in the technology and venture capital industry.

“The way to find, hire and fund black people in the tech world is the same as finding, hiring and funding any other group. You build relationships with people in that group, you seek out thought leaders from the community and learn from them, you tell your hiring and investing teams that there’s a hole in the fund’s expertise stack and you fill it. It’s not about tokenizing one person or donating to a one time effort or writing it off as a pipeline problem,” wrote Sarah Kunst, the founding managing partner of Cleo Capital, in a text to TechCrunch. “It’s using the embarrassment of skills and resources these funds have to learn, build relationships and deploy capital.”

‘Make the hire, send the wire’

Entrepreneurs and investors say steps from investors must boil down to two main actions: hire the people and wire the investment.

In a Medium post today, the New York-based investment firm Work-Bench detailed steps it would take to make sure it is encouraging Black entrepreneurs and investors.

In addition to financial commitments to organizations, including the Equal Justice Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Color of Change, the firm is instituting new steps to ensure that its own operations also work to promote Black entrepreneurs and investors.

The firm detailed a number of other steps it will take “if there is interest,” including collating a public database of Black founders working on enterprise startups for other enterprise VCs, and working with HBCUvc and other Black VC firms.

Some firms are taking steps to go even further — including the creation of dedicated pre-seed investment funds that would focus exclusively on companies coming from historically Black colleges and universities.

These initiatives are in their early stages, and investors are not ready to disclose too much about the steps that they’re taking, but they extend far beyond dedicated funding. Investors are also looking to step up their recruitment at HBCUs and land-grant universities to focus more on diverse candidates and doing internal training from within portfolio companies to create a new generation of minority entrepreneurs through more extensive and robust entrepreneur-in-residence programs.

Firms are also looking to create benchmarks and internal surveys to monitor their progress and find out where their firms and portfolios are falling short. This could start with firms choosing to publish how many Black founders they have invested in to date, with annual follow-ups, for the spirit of transparency and accountability.

The data is accessible to investors internally, though few firms publish such statistics publicly. Initialized Capital disclosed on Monday that 7% of companies in its most recent fund are led by Black founders.

Problems with diversity extend into the funds themselves, as Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton wrote in a direct message to us.

“Investors have been reaching out to me left and right asking what they can do. It’s not complicated: Invest in Black founders. You don’t have to invest in ALL Black founders. You can keep your thesis and yes even your so-called ‘standards’ and find multiple Black founders to invest in,” Hamilton wrote. “If you need help, I have 130 portfolio companies + I can introduce you to a curated list of a dozen Black investors to hire. My email address is ARLAN@BackstageCapital.com. No more excuses.”

Internal recruitment efforts for VC partners can be inherently biased. Think of it as a domino effect: if LPs only fund white GPs, then white GPs can stick to their preexisting networks for looking for other partners to bring on. Unless non-diverse VC firms break their existing networks, either through recruiters or underrepresented founders, this effect will continue.

‘And I do hope to write the check’

Partners at venture firms are committing to doing more themselves to support the community of Black entrepreneurs. 

I don’t do that many investments a year (I am a slow+quiet investor), but please email me your decks and pitches,” wrote Jason Lemkin on Twitter. “I will try to only meet/Zoom with black founders in June.”

Nihal Mehta, the founder of New York-based investment firm Eniac Ventures, announced on Twitter that he was taking no-charge appointments with Black founders via Superpeer, which sells one-to-one video calls. Within 24 hours of Mehta’s tweet, he was booked for the summer: 103 meetings with Black founders. 

“This means there is incredible demand, a large gap that needs to be filled, between Black founders and the tech community at large,” Mehta said. 

The entire Eniac Ventures team is also opening up free Superpeer consulting slots dedicated to chatting with and investing in Black founders. 

Ha Nguyen, a partner at Spero Ventures, is hosting a Black founders breakfast and AMA lunch on Friday. Nguyen also offered Black founders to reach out when they need help with the fundraising process, pitch deck and intros for their next check. “And I do hope to write the check,” Nguyen wrote in a LinkedIn post

Hustle Fund’s Elizabeth Yin encouraged founders to continue sending the firm cold inbound pitches, noting that 15% of Hustle Fund’s portfolio companies came from outside their network.

Yin also noted that the firm is working to build informal deal flow relationships with founders who have diverse networks, like the firm’s venture associate intern, Jasmin Johnson, who works with Score 3, or Lolita Taub, former principal at Backstage, and her investor-matching program. 

Taub has a Google form in her pinned tweet where she reviews startup submissions. Then, if the company is a fit for her she will reach out, and if the company is a fit for other investors (Backstage Capital, Harlem Capital, Hustle Fund, WXR Fund), Taub will connect the two parties. 

Taub has a decorated past in tech and venture capital, so her network is broad, but her investing program itself is simple. It is reproducible for any super connector out there in the Valley with a diverse network. 

‘The talent has always been there’

As the investment community rushes to voice its support for the Black community, Black investors and startup founders question their motives.

That it has taken a week of protesting and the deaths of countless Black men and women at the hands of police to wake up investors to the problems that the industry — and the country at large — faces is a sign of the depth of the problem.

The Black investor-led firm Precursor released a statement on Sunday:

Investors like Marlon Nichols at MaC Venture Capital and Kobie Fuller at Upfront Ventures have made the development of a diverse group of founders a priority through their own investment activities and the creation of startups like Valence — a network for African American talent.

The data on inequality in the industry is staggering, as Nichols noted in a post earlier today:

  • Blacks are underrepresented in the executive ranks of startups by 82%
  • More than 75% of all rounds raised go to all White founding teams
  • Diverse founding and executive teams generate higher median realized multiples (RMs) on acquisitions and IPOs than all White founding and executive teams (3.3x to 2.5x and 3.3x to 2x respectively)

So, if you are truly opposed to racism and discrimination, something you can start to do immediately is stop making excuses for not investing in startups and funds led by Black men and women. Instead, make the investments, extend your networks, hire us in leadership/ decision making roles, and hold us to the same standards that you do for White led startups and venture funds.

There’s still a long way for the industry to go and plenty of ways investors can improve.

“Every top MBA program has a black student organization, every top tech company has black ERGs, go recruit from those pools to start. There are very visible funds like Ulu, Precursor, my own fund Cleo Capital who are led by black tech leaders. There are very visible investors like Chris Lyons, Ken Chenault, Adrian Fenty and Megan Maloney,” Kunst wrote.

“We are all vocal about where we spend our time finding and supporting black tech people. We speak at events like Culture Shifting Weekend and Black Women Talk Tech, we support orgs like Code2040, HBCUVC and Blck VC…. Simply put, we’ve done the work and the talent has always been there. What’s left is for larger funds to follow that lead and make a real commitment to hiring black VCs as well as funding black founders and encouraging their portfolio companies to hire black people into positions of leadership.”

The efforts announced by large venture capital firms in the last few days should broaden the access that underrepresented founders have to venture capital money and decision-makers and could lead to some checks. But calendar invites and emails will not solve racial injustice. Nor will a dedicated month of talking to Black founders solve the pattern-matching that systemically sits within venture capital.

Therefore, more robust actions are needed by the venture community, because statements are only as powerful as the checks they write and hires they make.

#adrian-fenty, #arlan-hamilton, #backstage-capital, #benchmark, #cleo-capital, #diversity, #elizabeth-yin, #eniac-ventures, #harlem-capital, #hustle-fund, #initialized-capital, #jason-lemkin, #kobie-fuller, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #saastr-fund, #sarah-kunst, #sequoia, #superpeer, #tc, #upfront-ventures, #venture-capital-firms, #work-bench

Venture capitalists chat edtech’s new normal after COVID-19 

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus has had a monumental impact on the way we view technology’s relationship with education. For now, students are learning from home. But what happens when they return to school?

Picking up where we left off in last week’s survey, we asked top investors in the space for their predictions on what is ahead once life resumes to its new normal. One investor mentioned how in March, they spent a third of their time in edtech. Now, they’re spending almost all their time vetting startups there. Another said that the sector has always been underfunded. Time will tell if venture capitalists become more bullish on the sector, and more importantly, if adoption from schools with strict budgets becomes more lenient.

A harsh statistic sums the dynamic of adoption and investment pretty well: according to Tetyana Astashkina and Jean Hammond of Learn Launch, less than 5% of the $1.6 trillion spent on education in the U.S. is attributed to edtech. Let’s see if other investors think that percentage will shift forward after the pandemic ceases.

Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

#500-startups, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #education, #extra-crunch, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ggv, #ian-chiu, #investor-surveys, #jean-hammond, #jennifer-carolan, #jenny-lee, #learn-launch, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #mercedes-bent, #owl-capital, #reach-capital, #shauntel-garvey, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #tetyana-astashkina, #venture-capital