The responsibilities of AI-first investors

Investors in AI-first technology companies serving the defense industry, such as Palantir, Primer and Anduril, are doing well. Anduril, for one, reached a valuation of over $4 billion in less than four years. Many other companies that build general-purpose, AI-first technologies — such as image labeling — receive large (undisclosed) portions of their revenue from the defense industry.

Investors in AI-first technology companies that aren’t even intended to serve the defense industry often find that these firms eventually (and sometimes inadvertently) help other powerful institutions, such as police forces, municipal agencies and media companies, prosecute their duties.

Most do a lot of good work, such as DataRobot helping agencies understand the spread of COVID, HASH running simulations of vaccine distribution or Lilt making school communications available to immigrant parents in a U.S. school district.

The first step in taking responsibility is knowing what on earth is going on. It’s easy for startup investors to shrug off the need to know what’s going on inside AI-based models.

However, there are also some less positive examples — technology made by Israeli cyber-intelligence firm NSO was used to hack 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human-rights activists, business executives and the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a report by The Washington Post and 16 media partners. The report claims the phones were on a list of over 50,000 numbers based in countries that surveil their citizens and are known to have hired the services of the Israeli firm.

Investors in these companies may now be asked challenging questions by other founders, limited partners and governments about whether the technology is too powerful, enables too much or is applied too broadly. These are questions of degree, but are sometimes not even asked upon making an investment.

I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of people with lots of perspectives — CEOs of big companies, founders of (currently!) small companies and politicians — since publishing “The AI-First Company” and investing in such firms for the better part of a decade. I’ve been getting one important question over and over again: How do investors ensure that the startups in which they invest responsibly apply AI?

Let’s be frank: It’s easy for startup investors to hand-wave away such an important question by saying something like, “It’s so hard to tell when we invest.” Startups are nascent forms of something to come. However, AI-first startups are working with something powerful from day one: Tools that allow leverage far beyond our physical, intellectual and temporal reach.

AI not only gives people the ability to put their hands around heavier objects (robots) or get their heads around more data (analytics), it also gives them the ability to bend their minds around time (predictions). When people can make predictions and learn as they play out, they can learn fast. When people can learn fast, they can act fast.

Like any tool, one can use these tools for good or for bad. You can use a rock to build a house or you can throw it at someone. You can use gunpowder for beautiful fireworks or firing bullets.

Substantially similar, AI-based computer vision models can be used to figure out the moves of a dance group or a terrorist group. AI-powered drones can aim a camera at us while going off ski jumps, but they can also aim a gun at us.

This article covers the basics, metrics and politics of responsibly investing in AI-first companies.

The basics

Investors in and board members of AI-first companies must take at least partial responsibility for the decisions of the companies in which they invest.

Investors influence founders, whether they intend to or not. Founders constantly ask investors about what products to build, which customers to approach and which deals to execute. They do this to learn and improve their chances of winning. They also do this, in part, to keep investors engaged and informed because they may be a valuable source of capital.

#ai, #artificial-general-intelligence, #artificial-intelligence, #column, #cybernetics, #ec-column, #machine-learning, #nso, #palantir, #private-equity, #startup-company, #startups, #venture-capital

Solar-powered aircraft developer Skydweller Aero adds $8M to Series A, partners with Palantir

Airplanes and drones today, regardless of size or fuel type, all face the same limitation: eventually they have to land.

Skydweller Aero, the U.S.-Spanish aerospace startup, wants to break free from that constraint by developing an autonomous solar-powered aircraft it says will eventually be capable of perpetual flight.

Their pitch, which helped the company raise $32 million in a Series A, has led to an additional $8 million in oversubscribed funding led by Leonardo S.p.A, Marlinspike Capital and Advection Growth Capital. The company has also entered into a partnership with Palantir Technologies to use its Foundry analytics platform to process information at-scale and onboard the aircraft designed for telecommunications, government operations and emergency services.

“[Palantir is] the best at creating value from your data, whether it’s putting data into their system to create operational insights for how we may fly our aircraft, putting data in to understand the sensing systems that are coming off of our aircraft and what those might provide, or to understand what’s coming through the networks in the aircraft,” Skydweller co-founder John Parkes told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

And Skydweller will be generating a lot of data. The company is focused on three data-rich markets: telecommunications, geospatial intelligence and government surveillance. Skydweller plans to use the Foundry platform to help its customers, which includes the government, better understand whatever areas are being monitored.

The Foundry platform will also come in handy for route and mission planning, as Skydweller intends to leverage weather and atmospheric information to ensure the aircraft can efficiently use the sun’s rays to stay in the air.

“What it’s all about is creating a persistent aerial layer or pseudo satellite,” Parkes said. “We’re focused on building a perpetual flight aircraft. The goal is to create a plane that will fly for forever, so long as the sun rises.”

Weather and atmospheric data is especially important as it will determine, in part, the altitude at which the aircraft flies. While the plane will be able to fly at high altitudes, “the harder problem and the more useful problem,” according to Parkes, is to capture enough energy and use weather planning to stay at lower altitude. Lower altitudes give better internet quality, geospatial data, and provide more power for payload, he said.

Skydweller’s tech was born out of the Swiss solar aircraft project dubbed Solar Impulse, which was helmed by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. The project operated for 14 years and invested $190 million into the solar-powered aircraft, before the foundation behind it sold the intellectual property to Skydweller in 2019. The Solar Impulse was configured to be piloted, however, so much of the work since then has been to unman the platform and turn it into an ultra-long endurance aircraft, Parkes said.

The aircraft is all-electric, outfitted with 2,200 square-foot solar panel wings, 600 kilograms of batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell back-up power system. The solar panels aren’t only used to maintain flight; they will also power systems for customers, like a geospatial camera system or payload from a telecom company.

The company’s using standard commercial aviation parts but most of them haven’t been tested beyond a certain number of hours of use – certainly far less than the number of hours Skydweller plans to keep the aircraft in the air. Plus, like other planes built from emerging technologies, there isn’t a full certification framework already established for the vehicle

“You’re into that uncharted territory to break some of those hour paradigms,” he said.

Skydweller launched its flight test campaign in 2020, and has focused on installing and testing the autonomous systems tech since. He added that “in a very short horizon” the company will be test flying the autonomous aircraft, including take-off, full flight and landing, with future milestones focused on completing long-endurance flights. Customers will be able to start licensing the aircraft within a year to eighteen months, Parkes estimated.

#aerospace, #data-analytics, #electric-aircraft, #electric-aviation, #palantir, #palantir-technologies, #solar-impulse, #tc, #transportation

Monad emerges from stealth with $17M to solve the cybersecurity big data problem

Cloud security startup Monad, which offers a platform for extracting and connecting data from various security tools, has launched from stealth with $17 million in Series A funding led by Index Ventures. 

Monad was founded on the belief that enterprise cybersecurity is a growing data management challenge, as organizations try to understand and interpret the masses of information that’s siloed within disconnected logs and databases. Once an organization has extracted data from their security tools, Monad’s Security Data Platform enables them to centralize that data within a data warehouse of choice, and normalize and enrich the data so that security teams have the insights they need to secure their systems and data effectively.

“Security is fundamentally a big data problem,” said Christian Almenar, CEO and co-founder of Monad. “Customers are often unable to access their security data in the streamlined manner that DevOps and cloud engineering teams need to build their apps quickly while also addressing their most pressing security and compliance challenges. We founded Monad to solve this security data challenge and liberate customers’ security data from siloed tools to make it accessible via any data warehouse of choice.”

The startup’s Series A funding round, which was also backed by Sequoia Capital, brings its total amount of investment raised to  $19 million and comes 12 months after its Sequoia-led seed round. The funds will enable Monad to scale its development efforts for its security data cloud platform, the startup said.

Monad was founded in May 2020 by security veterans Christian Almenar and Jacolon Walker. Almenar previously co-founded serverless security startup Intrinsic which was acquired by VMware in 2019, while Walker served as CISO and security engineer at OpenDoor, Collective Health, and Palantir.

#big-data, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computer-security, #computing, #data-management, #data-warehouse, #devops, #funding, #information-technology, #intrinsic, #opendoor, #palantir, #security, #security-tools, #sequoia-capital, #serverless-computing, #technology, #vmware

Austin-based iFly.vc closes $46M second fund from legendary tech founders

To compete with the myriad venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, iFly.vc has a unique vantage point.

Its founder Han Shen has straddled the United States and China for several decades. He was the first hire on the investment team of Formation 8, the VC firm co-founded by Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale. After iFly.vc backed Weee! in a Series A round in 2018, Shen arranged for the grocery startup to meet with China’s produce delivery leaders — two of which recently went public in the U.S. — to learn what was applicable to the American market.

Weee! has since become the go-to grocery app for America’s Asian communities and raised hundreds of millions of dollars from Lightspeed Venture Partners, DST Global, Blackstone, Tiger Global and other major institutions. IFly.vc is still Weee!’s second-largest shareholder, and its first fund recorded a 10x rate of return, Shen told TechCrunch during an interview.

On the back of its cross-continental experiences and portfolio performance, iFly.vc recently closed its second fund with over $46 million, boosting the firm’s assets under management to more than $95 million.

The limited partners in Fund II include family offices across the U.S. and Asia as well as high-profile entrepreneurs such as Zhang Tao, founder of China’s Yelp counterpart Dianping, Free Wu, a founding member of Tencent who now manages Welight Capital, Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir, and Aayush Phumbhra, co-founder of Chegg.

IFly.vc made another big move during the pandemic, relocating its office from San Francisco to Austin, joining a wave of Californians fleeing the expensive area.

When it comes to investment focus, Shen said he tries to seek out the underdogs in North America’s trillion-dollar consumer market.

“On the one hand, enterprise services are growing very quickly. But on the other hand, the rise of enterprise software is helping consumer tech to grow even more quickly and easily. The consumer market is very diverse and serves an array of minority groups, so there is always a new opportunity.”

With this premise in mind, iFly.vc recently invested in Cheese Financial‘s seed round, a digital bank that started out by serving the underbanked Asian American populations.

IFly.vc prefers backing startups early on and seeing them through by providing hands-on, post-investment support. Rather than spray and pray, iFly.vc has invested in just about a dozen companies five years after its founding.

Shen’s background of growing up in China and working in Silicon Valley, where he eventually became a partner at Formation 8, led him to appreciate entrepreneurs with a similarly international background because they can learn from mistakes and successes on both sides. They also know how to leverage the different fields of talent across the world.

Cheese Financial, for instance, is setting up an engineering force in the founder’s hometown, Shenzhen, to take advantage of the Chinese city’s large pool of engineers at costs much lower than those of Silicon Valley.

It’s not just about hiring cheaper programmers, though. As Shen puts it: “In the past, American companies were simply outsourcing technical tasks to China. Now Chinese engineers actually have valuable lessons to bring to American companies because many have worked at large, successful Chinese tech companies themselves.”

#asia, #blackstone, #chegg, #china, #digital-bank, #dst-global, #formation-8, #funding, #joe-lonsdale, #palantir, #private-equity, #shenzhen, #tc, #tencent, #venture-capital, #welight-capital

Connected vehicle data startup Wejo partners with Microsoft, Palantir, Sompo

Connected vehicle data startup Wejo has announced partnerships with Microsoft, Palantir and Sompo Holdings to improve its ability to collect, store and analyze data from millions of connected vehicles around the world. 

This follows the GM-backed startup’s announcement that it would be going public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, Virtuoso Acquisition Corp., which is expected to close later this year. A $25 million commitment from Microsoft and Sompo, combined with already-committed investors GM and Palantir, bring Wejo’s total PIPE financing to $125 million. 

Palantir has been a previous strategic investor in Wejo. In 2019, the software developer launched a Japanese joint venture with insurance provider Sompo. Now this venture’s partnership with Wejo will give the startup the chance to collect connected vehicle data in Japan, and perhaps the greater Asia-Pacific region. The company already has some live vehicles in Korea, but 95% of its data comes from the U.S., according to Richard Barlow, Wejo’s founder and CEO. Sompo will analyze Wejo’s connected vehicle data using the Palantir Foundry data and analytics platform, according to the company.

“The vast majority of cars now sold globally have this ability to be connected, so there’s a huge opportunity,” Barlow told TechCruch. “We have 11 million live cars on our platform out of a supply base of about 50 million vehicles. We have over 17 OEM partners live on the platform, and we’re processing 16 billion data points a day, a peak of about 40,000 per second, which explains why we’re also excited to be backed by Microsoft and to be migrating to their Azure cloud platform.”

Barlow says Wejo can see 7% of all vehicles moving around New York, 6% around California and 20% around Detroit from partnerships with automakers like GM, Daimler and Hyundai. The company can either hand off raw, anonymized data — collected from vehicles with the consent of the owner — to businesses, developers or governments, or it can perform data analytics for them, which is also where the partnership with Microsoft can come in handy.

“Microsoft came up with a really compelling solution about how we can leverage their machine learning and AI capabilities to actually provide even more incredible products back to OEMs and key industries that want to use connected vehicle data,” said Barlow. “So Microsoft’s Azure doing that heavy lifting is really going to speed up our business.”

According to Wejo, initial applications might include traffic solutions, as well as remote diagnostics, integrated payments, advertising, retail and logistics. The two companies are also discussing the potential of using Wejo for Microsoft’s mapping solutions. Barlow says mapping companies are often typical buyers of Wejo’s data and expects to see more insurance providers. 

“We’ve seen 11 million instances of two vehicles coming together, and in real time, we’re getting data from both those vehicles,” said Barlow. “So we’re starting to preempt and understand the characteristics or behaviours of before and after that collision or that interaction of vehicles.”

Wejo collects data that can recreate a car crash, from how each driver stomped on the brakes to which airbags were deployed to the speed of impact and which sensors were destroyed. It can then share this kind of data back to the insurer to help speed up the claims and recovery process and make repairs be more accurate, said Barlow.  

All of this data demonstrating human driving behaviors in a range of circumstances has been collected over the last seven years, making Wejo an attractive partner for companies developing autonomous technology.

#automotive, #connected-vehicles, #general-motors, #gm, #microsoft, #palantir, #sompo-holdings, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #wejo

GM, Palantir-backed Wejo to go public via SPAC

Wejo, the connected vehicle data startup backed by GM and Palantir, plans to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Virtuoso Acquisition Corp. The agreement, announced in a regulator filing Friday, will give the combined company an enterprise valuation of $800 million, which includes debt.

The deal raises $330 million in proceeds for Wejo, including a $230 million cash contribution from Virtuoso and a $100 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Previous strategic investors Palantir and GM anchored the transaction, according to Wejo. The company did not disclose the amounts of those investments. Current shareholders will retain 64% ownership of the company, according to its investor deck.

Once the transaction closes, which is expected to occur in the third quarter, Wejo will be listed on the Nasdaq public exchange.

Wejo works with automakers and tier 1 suppliers to collect data in real-time from sensors integrated in vehicles. The company’s cloud platform aggregates and normalizes data, and then shares those insights customers. By 2030, Wejo estimates a connected vehicle data market of $500 billion and a serviceable addressable market of $61 billion driven by projections of more than 600 million connected vehicles worldwide.

Wejo said the cash proceeds will fully  from the transaction will fully fund its five-year plan and help it achieve several growth goals such as onboarding automakers and other OEMs more quickly, continuing to rollout services and expanding into new markets.

#automotive, #connected-cars, #gm, #palantir, #tc

Equity Monday: Dogecoin is passé, but student notes are big business

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

This weekend was all about memecoins. And I am sorry about that. But Equity doesn’t run the world, sadly, it merely notes what is going on:

  • Dogecoin dropped during Elon Musk’s SNL appearance. Which was somewhat ironic. Also there’s another memecoin that is skyrocketing.
  • Palantir, DoorDash, Airbnb, Alibaba will report earnings this week, amongst others.
  • Clubhouse is finally coming to Android. In the United States. By invite. So, if that’s you, congrats, welcome to the app.
  • A major cyberattack and ransom situation in the United States is a data point, yet again, that we’re woefully unprepared for cyber risk.
  • StuDocu raised $50 million which was cool, while Gojek raised another $300 million, which was the very opposite of surprising.
  • This week’s Extra Crunch Live is going to be really good. I will see you there!

It is going to be a busy week! Already since we recorded this show there’s more drama from Box, and more. Strap in!

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!

#airbnb, #alibaba, #android, #clubhouse, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #cyberattack, #dogecoin, #doordash, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-monday, #equity-podcast, #gojek, #india, #palantir, #pipeline, #snl, #startups, #studocu, #tc

Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

Nearly exactly one month ago, digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. The round included participation from a mix of new and existing investors such as DST, Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Fifth Wall and QED, among many others.

At the time, Loft was valued at $2.2 billion, a huge jump from its being just near unicorn territory in January 2020. The round marked one of the largest ever for a Brazilian startup.

Now, today, São Paulo-based Loft has announced an extension to that round with the closing of $100 million in additional funding that values the company at $2.9 billion. This means that the 3-year-old startup has increased its valuation by $700 million in a matter of weeks.

Baillie Gifford led the Series D-2 round, which also included participation from Tarsadia, Flight Deck, Caffeinated and others. Individuals also put money in the extension, including the founders of Better (Zach Frenkel), GoPuff, Instacart, Kavak and Sweetgreen.

Loft has seen great success in its efforts to serve as a “one-stop shop” for Brazilians to help them manage the home buying and selling process. 

Image courtesy of Loft

In 2020, Loft saw the number of listings on its site increase “10 to 15 times,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz. Today, the company actively maintains more than 13,000 property listings in approximately 130 regions across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, partnering with more than 30,000 brokers. Not only are more people open to transacting digitally, more people are looking to buy versus rent in the country.

“We did more than 6x YoY growth with many thousands of transactions over the course of 2020,” Pencz told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s last raise. “We’re now growing into the many tens of thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, of active listings.”

The decision to raise more capital so soon was due to a variety of factors. For one, Loft has received “overwhelming investor interest” even after “a very, very oversubscribed main round,” Pencz said.

“We have seen a continued acceleration in our market share growth, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two markets we currently operate in,” he added. “We saw an opportunity to grow even faster with additional capital.”

Pencz also pointed out that Baillie Gifford has relatively large minimum check size requirements, which led to the extension being conducted at a higher price and increased the total round size “by quite a bit to be able to accommodate them.”

While the company was less forthcoming about its financials as of late, it told me last year that it had notched “over $150 million in annualized revenues in its first full year of operation” via more than 1,000 transactions.

The company’s revenues and GMV (gross merchandise value) “increased significantly” in 2020, according to Pencz, who declined to provide more specifics. He did say those figures are “multiples higher from where they were,” and that Loft has “a very clear horizon to profitability.”

Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch founded Loft in early 2018 and today serve as its co-CEOs. The aim of the platform, in the company’s words, is “bringing Latin American real estate into the e-commerce age by developing online alternatives to analogue legacy processes and leveraging data to create transparency in highly opaque markets.” The U.S. real estate tech company with the closest model to Loft’s is probably Zillow, according to Pencz.

In the United States, prospective buyers and sellers have the benefit of MLSs, which in the words of the National Association of Realtors, are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Loft itself spent years and many dollars in creating its own such databases for the Brazilian market. Besides helping people buy and sell homes, it offers services around insurance, renovations and rentals.

In 2020, Loft also entered the mortgage business by acquiring one of the largest mortgage brokerage businesses in Brazil. The startup now ranks among the top-three mortgage originators in the country, according to Pencz. When it comes to helping people apply for mortgages, he likened Loft to U.S.-based Better.com.

This latest financing brings Loft’s total funding raised to an impressive $800 million. Other backers include Brazil’s Canary and a group of high-profile angel investors such as Max Levchin of Affirm and PayPal, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and David Vélez, CEO and founder of Brazilian fintech Nubank. In addition, Loft has also raised more than $100 million in debt financing through a series of publicly listed real estate funds.

Loft plans to use its new capital in part to expand across Brazil and eventually in Latin America and beyond. The company is also planning to explore more M&A opportunities.

This article was updated post-publication to reflect accurate investor information

#andreessen-horowitz, #baillie-gifford, #better-mortgage, #better-com, #brazil, #co-founder, #d1-capital-partners, #david-velez, #dst, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #instacart, #instagram, #joe-lonsdale, #latin-america, #loft, #max-levchin, #mike-krieger, #money, #new-york, #nubank, #palantir, #paypal, #proptech, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #united-states, #venture-capital, #zillow

Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

#atlanta, #business, #dallas, #denver, #e-commerce, #logistics, #los-angeles, #marketing, #model, #online-shopping, #palantir, #palo-alto, #paul, #playground-global, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saltbox, #seattle, #self-storage, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #techstars, #village-capital, #warehouse, #wilshire-lane-partners

Stay gold, ‘Plaid for X’ startups

A failed acquisition usually triggers the same series of questions: What does this mean for early-stage startups in the sector? Will a chilling effect occur and hurt valuations? Will VCs stop funding this category? How will the exit environment look going forward?

This week gave that narrative a bullish twist. Visa and Plaid announced that they have reached a mutual agreement to no longer pursue a merger. The $5.3 billion deal had been under antitrust scrutiny from the DOJ, and eventually ended amid these regulatory challenges.

Fintech VCs and startups alike reacted to the fallen deal with aggressive optimism about Plaid’s future as an independently-owned fintech startup.

The most common arguments?

  • Plaid’s price in this current moment is far beyond $5.3 billion, so now that it is a free bird it will pursue a much larger exit
  • Plaid will go public through SPAC because it is in charge of its own destiny.
  • And my favorite: One day, Plaid will buy Visa.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Plaid CEO Zach Perret wouldn’t give too many details on the future (and whether a SPAC is involved), but he did say he has new ‘clarity’ going forward.

The fact that fintech is bullish on the future of fintech isn’t quite surprising. I will say that while one deal can never make or break a sector, a flopped merger certainly can surface the current temperature in the market. Startups Weekly readers will remember last week’s edition about how P&G’s decision not to acquire Billie could hurt DTC exit opportunities. Fintech seems unbothered and, in fact, celebratory. The only counterargument I got, via Twitter DM, is that it could set a bad precedent on big fintech mergers.

“Or maybe…corporations learn from this and look to make riskier acquisitions earlier in a company’s lifecycle because they know that if they let the company get too big they’ll lose the chance,” Rami Essaid, founder of Finmark, told me.

Only in 2021 could a $5.3 billion break-up and a DOJ investigation be considered a blessing. Rock on, ‘Plaid for X’ startups.

Before we go on, make sure to follow me on Twitter for my bad jokes and early-stage startup coverage. You can also always reach me at natasha.m@techcrunch.com.

Columbus is the new Miami which is new the San Francisco

I hope that sub-hed gave you a headache, because that’s exactly what debates about where the best place to start a company do to me. The rise of Work From Anywhere has emboldened VCs to leave San Francisco for markets such as Miami or Austin in search of the next unsung hero of their portfolios.

For investors, though, the financial benefit of moving to an emerging market might not be apparent within months, but instead years. Venture is a long game (at least most of the time).

Here’s what to know, per Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos: Drive Capital, a venture capital firm based in Columbus, Ohio, and started by two ex-Sequoia investors now has over $1.2 billion in assets. But before it had breakout companies like Root and Olive AI, Drive had to play the unusual role of investing in a region without key investing infrastructure.

Etc: Founding partner Chris Olsen explained how they set up their roots:

“We’ve had to spend a lot of time going into the universities and putting new seed managers in business and helping them fundraise and sort of building all of this infrastructure from scratch so that the next entrepreneur is out here [versus moves away], and it works. In our first year, we had inbound interest from 1,800 [startups], then it went to about 3,000 and now it’s up to about 7,000, which is more than I’ve heard any other venture firms say that they see in California. And I don’t think it’s because we’re great. I think that’s more [a reflection of the] scale of the opportunity that’s here now. One of the things that we would love to see more of is more venture capitalists coming here, because there’s certainly more opportunity than we can invest in.”

Ideal paper world powered with alternative wind and solar energy. environmental concept.

Image Credits: Paula Dani/ABlse (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The CFO Tech Stack

If you want to start a company, go to a startup and look where employees are still using an Excel sheet. The best products are the ones fueled by frustrations, right?

Here’s what to know per managing editor Danny Crichton: For a trio of Palantir alums, 15 collective years at the now-public government tech company showed a huge gap in technology for CFOs. So, they started Mosaic, a techstack to help financial officers better communicate and perform their jobs.

Etc: Co-founder Bijan Moallemi describes the mistake other platforms are making:

“Everyone wants to be strategic, but it’s so tough to do because 80% of your time is pulling data from these disparate systems, cleaning it, mapping it, updating your Excel files, and maybe 20% of [your time] is actually taking a step back and understanding what the data is telling you.”

GettyImages 946391800

Image via Getty Images / alashi

The future of consumer hardware startups beyond Peloton

Are wearables still exciting? Is consumer hardware ever going to get easier to pull off? What was the strategy that made Peloton so successful?

These questions and more are answered in the latest consumer hardware-focused Extra Crunch Survey, which brings together VCs from SOSV, Lux Capital, Shasta Ventures, and more.

Here’s what to know: Everyone is studying the Peloton success recipe. But the big question for consumer hardware startups is if the at-home fitness market’s boom is translating to other use cases.

Etc: Cyril Ebersweiler of SOSV noted that supply chain distribution disruption during COVID-19 has been difficult for category startups, but the need for innovative solutions has never been more clear.

“Everybody is waiting for new and mind-blowing experiences, and I guess we’ve all experienced the shortcomings or the magic of some IoT products over the shelter-in-place [orders]. Spatial and ambient technologies that work well will be in demand (audio or visual), while “holographic Skype” will invade households thanks to Looking Glass.”

Also: In another investor survey, five VCs weighed in on the future of cannabis in 2021.

3D render, visualization of a man holding virtual reality glasses, electronic device, head surrounded by virtual data with neon green grid. Player one ready for the VR game. Virtual experience.

Pop goes the public market

We had yet another noisy week of privately-held startups going public to a Very Warm Wall Street reception. The most opulent story of the week was definitely Affirm’s debut, which doubled its already-increased price when it started to officially trade.

Here’s what to know, per our resident IPO reporter Alex Wilhelm, who writes The Exchange:

Etc:

GettyImages 1155292858

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 11: PayPal Co-Founder & Affirm CEO Max Levchin visits “Countdown To The Closing Bell” at Fox Business Network Studios on June 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch Live is returning in a big way in 2021. We’ll be interviewing VC/founder duos about how their Series A deals went down, and Extra Crunch members will have the chance to get live feedback on their pitch deck. You can check out our plans for ECL in 2021 right here, or hit up this form to submit your pitch deck. Episodes air every Wednesday at 3pm ET/12pm PT starting in February.

And if you’re feeling extra generous, take this survey to help shape the future of TechCrunch

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Glassdoor: Best tech companies to work for in 2021

Signal’s Brian Acton talks about exploding growth, monetization and WhatsApp data-sharing outrage

Two-year-old NUVIA sells to Qualcomm for $1.4 billion

Loop launches out of stealth to make auto insurance more equitable

Nuclear fusion tech developer General Fusion now has Shopify and Amazon founders backing it

Seen on Extra Crunch

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Equity (and a bonus Equity)

The news keeps coming so we keep recording. This week, the trio chatted about the Plaid-Visa deal, but also about the Palantir mafia‘s next big bet. In early-stage news, I covered a fintech accelerator that pivoted into an edtech accelerator and a new startup coming out of Austin that makes car insurance more equitable. We also debated SPACs for a bit, and Danny was…optimistic?

Listen to our episode, follow the pod on Twitter, and if you so please, tune into our bonus Equity episode that just came out today. It’s an episode dedicated entirely to the barrage of payments and e-commerce funding that came out this week.

Until next week,

Natasha 

#austin, #doj, #early-stage, #fintech, #hardware, #palantir, #peloton, #plaid, #startups, #startups-weekly, #tc, #visa

Wish (and Airbnb, and Palantir) investor Justin Fishner-Wolfson doesn’t care about first-day pops

It’s probably no wonder that when Founders Fund was still a very young venture firm 13 years ago, it brought aboard as its first principal Justin Fishner-Wolfson. Having nabbed two computer science degrees from Stanford and spent two years as CEO of an organization that provides asset management services to the school’s student organizations, Fishner-Wolfson wasn’t shy about voicing his opinions at the venture fund. In fact, he says Founders Fund made a much bigger bet on SpaceX than it originally planned because he pushed for it.

He stayed three years before spying what he thought was an even better opportunity, owing to friends who worked at Facebook before the company’s 2012 IPO. They were beginning to look for ways to liquidate their shares, and while they had options, to his mind, they weren’t great. More, Fishner-Wolfson says he foresaw more companies like Facebook staying private longer. He said goodbye to Founders Fund and formed 137 Ventures to acquire secondary shares from founders, investors, and employees.

That was 10 years ago, and the firm seems to be doing just fine for itself. Last year, it closed its fourth fund with $210 million in capital commitments, bringing its assets under management to more than $1 billion. Its approach of focusing on roughly 10 to 12 companies per fund appears to be paying off, too. Since late September, it has seen three of its portfolio companies — Palantir, Airbnb, and Wish — hit the public market.

We talked at length with Fishner-Wolfson this week to learn more about how 137 Ventures works, from how it screens companies, to the impact it has seen from companies that are giving their employees longer windows in which to keep their vested stock options. (“It has certainly stopped the desperate calls from people who have huge amounts of equity that’s about to expire, which, I’m totally happy to not get those phone calls, because I feel terrible for people who are in that sort of situation,” he said.) We also talked about that early deal in SpaceX, which also appears in 137 Ventures’s portfolio.

You can listen to that longer conversation here. In the meantime, we’re pulling out part of our conversation that centered on Wish, the discount e-commerce company whose IPO this week has been called a dud.

TC: Two of your portfolio companies have done very well as they’ve entered the public market — Palantir and Airbnb. Wish was a different story, dropping in its debut. What do you make of its IPO? Do you think investors misunderstand this company?

JFW: I think it takes the investment community a long time to understand any newly public company. At the end of the day, the IPO is just one day, right? What really matters is how companies perform over the next 10 or 20 years.

I would look at Microsoft or Amazon or more recently, Facebook, whose [share price] dropped 50% in the week or two following its offering and Facebook has gone on to be an incredible business. I have no idea what the market is going to do tomorrow [or] the day after. But over a decade, if you can really build a great sustainable business that compounds, it all comes out in the wash.

Wish has done an incredible job of scaling the business. I think [cofounder and CEO] Peter [Szulczewski] is one of the best operators I’ve met in this industry. And they’ve done a lot of innovative things in terms of mobile. There’s a lot more discovery on the Wish platform. The whole in-store pickup has been really innovative; they’re helping consumers get products quickly in an asset-light kind of way where you don’t need to buy millions and millions of square feet of warehouses.

TC: You’re talking about these partnerships that Wish starting striking with mom-and-pop shops in the U.S. and Europe, where those who have extra storage space will now take receipt of Wish goods, which in turn gives them a little bit more foot traffic when people come in to pick up their items. That’s a big shift from how Wish used to operate, which was by shipping things very cheaply from China through a USPS deal whose economics have since changed. Is that right?

JFW: Right. They’re helping small and medium-size businesses drive foot traffic, which was always valuable but in the current environment, going to become even more important to these sorts of businesses. They’re [also] helping those businesses leverage the data they have across their entire platform because Wish understands what consumers in that geography are looking for, and they can help those businesses merchandise better. And then, because they’re shipping product to one location, they’re aggregating orders from a whole bunch of people who don’t know each other, and that reduces logistics and shipping time and costs. So they send that stuff in, and it’s easier for the consumer to walk or drive five to 15 minutes, and go pick it up. That allows Wish to focus on the value-conscious consumer who is willing to trade a little bit of time for a much better price on things.

TC: Wish is known as a place to get tchotchkes from China. Now that it’s trying to sell more mainstream goods, how does it go about changing the perception that it has in the marketplace?

JFW: I’m not sure they need to do a whole lot to change that perception, because I still think they haven’t penetrated the market as a whole. There are lots of people who don’t even know about them quite frankly. And as [I’ve] watched the marketplace evolve, you’ve just seen more and more merchants, and more and more data back from customers about both the merchants and the quality of the merchandise, and all those things feed back into this very powerful system, where they can leverage the data to improve product quality and make sure that they’re selling what people want.

TC: Do you think uneven quality explains the company’s uneven revenue? It grew something like 57% in 2018, then 10% in 2019, and picked up again in the first nine months of this year. Why do you think it’s been topsy turvy?

JFW: All businesses go through these cycles of growth, and then focusing on efficiency. If you just focus on growth, you tend to grow, and then break things, and then do things in relatively inefficient ways. And then ultimately, you need to turn around and focus on how you drive operational efficiencies. So I think the cycles that you’re describing, if you look at the underlying metrics, you [see] improvement in operating efficiency.

TC: Wish’s shares did not “pop.” On the other hand, former Snap executive Imran Khan told CNBC on Tuesday that the recent post IPO stock pops, including those of Airbnb and Doordash, represent an “epic level of incompetency” from the bankers who underwrote the stocks. Do you believe it was incompetency on the part of the bankers or just market volatility that caused those stocks to pop as high as they did?

JFW: I think no one actually knows the answer to that question. I think it makes for a good sound bite. At the end of the day, I don’t think the price on the first day is a meaningful indicator of anything.

TC: Are the feverish embrace of these companies driving prices up in the secondary market? What are you seeing?

It really does matter what the public prices are [because] that ultimately trickles into the private markets and also vice versa. At some point, things can’t have massive differences in value between their private market valuations and their public market valuations. So you definitely see multiples shift as the market shifts. But these things are often averages. People focus on one company or one example of these things without necessarily looking at all the companies because that would be quite difficult.

But there are always examples of things that are overpriced. There are also examples of things that are under priced. As an investor, you want to try to invest more of your money in the good companies that are on the lower end of that spectrum, certainly. But the focus is always on good companies. If you can find companies that are going to compound over long periods of time, as long as you’re not too crazy on multiples or valuations, you end up being in a good spot.

TC: Who are you tracking right now? What’s an investment that’s not up on your website yet?

JFW: Snapdocs [a company that helps real estate professionals to digitally manage the mortgage process and other paperwork and which just closed on $60 million in funding in October].

Aaron [King], who is the founder and CEO of the company, has done really a fantastic job of building a product that that people are willing to adopt, and this is the right moment in time for that growth to really accelerate. They’ve been having a good year.

Pictured above: The 137 Ventures’ team, with Wolfson center (in glasses).

#137-ventures, #airbnb, #founders-fund, #lattice, #palantir, #secondaries, #snapdocs, #spacex, #tc, #venture-capital, #wish

Space manufacturing startup Varda, incubated at Founders Fund, emerges with $9 million in funding

From a young age, Will Bruey, the co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space Industries, was fascinated with space and running his own business.

So when the former SpaceX engineer was tapped by Delian Asparouhov and Trae Stephens of Founders Fund to work on Varda he didn’t think twice.

Bruey spent six years at SpaceX. First working on the Falcon and Dragon video systems and then the bulk of the systems actuators and controllers used in the avionics for the crewed Dragon capsule (which recently docked at the International Space Station). `

According to Asparouhov, that background, and the time that Bruey spent running his own angel syndicate and working at Bank of America getting a grounding in finance and startups, made him an ideal candidate to run the next startup to be spun out of Founders Fund .

Like other Founders Fund companies, Palantir and Anduril, Varda takes its name from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Named for the Elf queen who created constellations, the company has set itself no less lofty a task than bringing manufacturing to space.

News of the funding was first reported by Axios.

While companies like Space Tango and Made In Space already are attempting to make a viable business out of space manufacturing, they focus on small scale pilots and experimental projects. Varda separates itself by its loftier ambition — to manufacture commercially viable products at scale in space.

To be economically viable, these products have to be very very high value, and according to the IEEE there are already some goods that fit the bill. Things like carbon nanotubes and fiber optic cables, organs, and novel materials are all potential targets for a space manufacturing company, because they can conceivably justify the high cost of material transportation.

Image Credit: Getty Images/AbelCreativeStudio

“Manufacturing is the next step for commercialization in space,” said Bruey. “The primary driver that makes us economical is success in the launch business.”

With now-established companies like SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, and upstarts like Relativity Space, Spinlaunch, and the newly launched Aevum Space all driving down the cost of launching objects into space, the next wave of commercialization is coming.

Varda’s backers, which put $9 million into the company, were led by Founders Fund and Lux Capital . Additional participation came from Fifty Years, Also Capital, Raymond Tonsing, Justin Mateen, and Naval Ravikant.

These investors are all placing a bet that the biggest returns could be in manufacturing. As a result of their investments, Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens and Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe are both taking seats on the company’s board.

“The first things we will manufacture are things with high dollar per-unit-mass value,” said Bruey. “As we establish our manufacturing platform that will ramp into the longer term vision of offloading manufacturing for all space operations.”

There are two categories of space manufacturing in the industry to come, according to Bruey and Asparouhov and those are additive manufacturing for making products to be used in space, and manufacturing in space for terrestrial applications. It’s the second of these that Varda focuses on. “Nothing we will be doing will be 3D printing,” said Asparouhov. “We will be focused on making things in space that we can bring back to earth.

The company may not be working on 3D printing, but its manufacturing facilities won’t look like anything on Earth. Initially, they’ll be unmanned, according to a blog post published by Fifty Years. Then they’ll manufacture things in space that benefit from low gravity. Finally, the company intends to build the first inrastructure that can harvest source materials for new products in-space via asteroid mining.

“Varda can make manufacturing sustainable by eliminating the need to destructively extract earth’s resources, help cure chronic diseases, deepen our understanding of biology, help connect more people to the Internet, and usher in higher-throughput and lower energy methods of computation,” Fifty Years co-founder Seth Bannon wrote in a direct message. “Bringing human industry into the stars — this is entrepreneurship at its boldest! Varda is the sort of big swing ambition venture capital was invented for.”

 

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #anduril, #asteroid-mining, #bank-of-america, #blue-origin, #california, #delian-asparouhov, #driver, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #fiber-optic, #finance, #founders-fund, #hyperloop, #industrial-design, #international-space-station, #justin-mateen, #lux-capital, #manufacturing, #palantir, #private-spaceflight, #relativity-space, #rocket-lab, #seth-bannon, #space-tango, #spacex, #tc

Palantir will soon help the FDA evaluate drugs, including COVID-19 treatments

Palantir’s push into federal health work continues. The data analytics company just picked up a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration contract which will span three years for a total of $44.4 million. The company’s shares, which have doubled in value over the last two months, are up around 20 percent on the news.

As Bloomberg reports, Palantir will help the FDA review drugs, including those developed for COVID-19 treatment and assess the safety of other FDA-regulated health products like hand sanitizer. The contract will also bring Palantir’s data analysis software to the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and the Oncology Center of Excellence, according to Bloomberg.

In late September, after much back and forth with the SEC over its S-1, Palantir went public through a direct listing rather than a traditional IPO. The secretive company, co-founded by Silicon Valley iconoclast Peter Thiel, has attracted unwanted attention in recent years for its ongoing work with ICE, the federal law enforcement agency that carries out deportations.

The FDA sits within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has already tapped Palantir for work on the coronavirus crisis. In April, Palantir secured two contracts with HHS for its software, which the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force used to track trends and make decisions about the pandemic. Palantir also worked with the CDC to model the spread of the virus as early as mid-March.

Although it isn’t clear if the Biden administration will continue to expand federal work with Palantir, the process of distributing vaccines provides another logistical opportunity for the controversial company. Tracking which individuals have received both doses of a vaccine is work that sounds very much in Palantir’s wheelhouse.

Palantir relies heavily on federal contracts in the U.S., but it also shops its software platforms to governments abroad. In November, the U.K. was considering its software to aid contact tracing efforts, though with vaccines already in distribution there it’s not clear that those talks have continued.

The company’s S-1 filing revealed that Palantir only has 125 clients, with a little over half of its revenue coming from government contracts. While the focus tends to be on Palantir’s relationships in the U.S., 60 percent of its business is international, though many of its clients remain unknown both at home and abroad.

#fda, #government, #government-contracts, #palantir, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market Notes

Various and Sundry

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

Hugs and let’s both go do some cardio,

Alex

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

2020 IPO report card: Are tech’s newest public companies meeting expectations?

As the American election looms and the IPO cycle slows some, it’s a good time to review how well the public offerings we have seen thus far have performed.


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


Welcome to a Monday morning data rundown discussing how well the latest-stage startups that went public this year have performed after their first day. We’ll be awarding letter grades for post-IPO performance as well, because we can.

So, how did Snowflake do compared to Vroom, both stacked next to JFrog and One Medical? Let’s find out.

Ranking 2020’s IPOs

The fine folks at my former publication Crunchbase News have a running list of 2020 IPOs, which will help us not miss any names. Of course, we’re not going to include every possible deal; there have been some marginal debuts that we can leave behind.

But, the majors matter. So let’s get into them now:

Digging into the next wave of tech IPOs

After taking five consecutive business days off from my work laptop — and to shout at my personal laptop while losing games on Dominion online — I am back. I missed you. And while The Exchange’s regular columns were off this week (Friday aside, which you can read here), there’s still a hell of a lot to talk about.

First, a new website. If you click here, you’ll be taken to a sortable list (spreadsheet? database?) of startups with Black founders. Dubbed The Black Founder List, it’s a great asset and tool.

For folks like myself with a research and reporting focus, the list’s sortability of companies founded by Black entrepreneurs by gender, stage and market focus is amazing. And, for investors, it should provide potential dealflow. Do you write lots of Series C checks? The Black Founder List has 23 Series B startups with Black founders. Or if you prefer Series D checks, there are 11 Series C startups with Black founders to check out.

Who is writing the most checks to Black founders? Among the top names are M25, a midwest VC group, Techstars Boston and a number of angels.

The website was compiled by much the same team that TechCrunch highlighted earlier this year, when their data collection work concerning Black founders was more spreadsheet than app. So, please point your thanks for the new resource to Yonas Beshawred, Sefanit Tades, James Norman and Hans Yadav.

The Black Founder List also has a data submission button, so if you notice a missing name, add it. I want the data set to be as robust as possible, as, I reckon, it will prove a great reporting resource. And public data like this obviates certain excuses from the investing class.

Market Notes

  • I missed a lot this week that I was looking forward to, including the Asana and Palantir IPOs. For fuller thoughts, head here. Summaries follow:
  • Asana’s direct listing and resulting valuation and implied revenue multiples make its direct listing a win for the company, and the model. If other SaaS companies have the ability to raise ample pre-debut cash, perhaps the direct listing is not as dead as it seemed a few months ago when SPACs stole its spotlight, and most companies were pursuing traditional IPOs regardless.
  • Palantir’s direct listing did not feel hot until it dropped some strong revenue guidance. With that, its direct listing went fine despite its cosmically comedic voting structure. Watching Palantir’s higher-ups try to snuff public input while still providing a thin patina of democracy made me think more about Russia or Texas than a functioning democratic system.
  • Looking ahead, Airbnb is said to be hunting up $3 billion for its own IPO. Airbnb had to take on a lot of expensive cash when its business collapsed in the early COVID days. It wanted to direct list. Now it’s going to cash in a huge pile during its debut.
  • Good. More capital > less capital.
  • Sticking to our late-stage theme, when I left, Root was said to be pursuing an IPO, and when I came back, Roblox is now also tipped to be plotting with the public markets. (Root’s IPO in the wake of the successful Lemonade debut made sense. Insurtech is hot.)
  • The news should not be a surprise; Roblox’s model has found cachet with young gamers and has found a great way to make money at the same time. With a mix of Legos and video game design and Minecraft, perhaps it’s not a surprise that the company is doing well.
  • Reuters reports that Roblox could be worth $4 billion when it goes public. I believe it.
  • Datto is going public. Ron and Danny have the details here.
  • And I chatted with a few Accel investors, the juicy bits from which you can find here.

Various and Sundry

  • Draper Esprit, a Europe-focused venture capital fund that trades on the London Stock Exchange, raised £110 million this week. Esprit is a fun shop to track (I’ve known its denizen James since his LSE days), because it’s more transparent than most VC firms than you’re familiar with thanks to its structure.
  • According to the firm’s release, its share sale was “oversubscribed.” Tech.eu has more.
  • Mobile app spend grew to $29.3 billion in Q3, driven by 36.5 billion installs, per SensorTower. Revenue was up 32% year-over-year.
  • Uber sold $500 million worth of Uber Freight to a PE firm.
  • As noted, tech stocks had a bad September, but just how bad might surprise you.
  • And I covered Noyo’s Series A before I left, with the post going up on Monday.
  • In short, Noyo is doing the hard work to build APIs to connect the world of health insurance. It’s a huge, hard task.
  • The $12.5 million was “led by Costanoa Ventures and Spark Capital. Prior investors Core Innovation Capital, Garuda Ventures, the Webb Investment Network, Precursor Ventures and Homebrew upped their investment in the new round.”
  • (I can’t shake the thought that there’s something in the middle of the no-code/low-code boom, and startups delivering more of their products via APIs instead of as managed services. And please don’t say mashups, we left that phrase behind ages ago.)
  • I missed the window for officially commenting on the Coinbase culture dustup — the Equity crew did talk about it while I was AFK — so I will merely share this thread as my $0.02.
  • Also, read this from Eileen Burbidge on TechCrunch concerning the same matter. It’s good.

Regular morning Exchange columns return Monday morning. It’s good to be back.

By the way, TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility is coming up next week. I am going! To help you get there, here’s a 50% off code for you to get full access to the event. Or if it’s your jam, this code will get you into the expo and breakout sessions for free.

Chat soon,

Alex

#apps, #asana, #datto, #europe, #fundings-exits, #palantir, #startups, #the-exchange, #the-techcrunch-exchange

Asana’s strong direct listing lights alternative path to public market for SaaS startups

This week’s pair of direct listings from Asana and Palantir were historic moments for each firm, but they also served as public business experiments.

For Palantir, the event tested how far corporate governance could be twisted while leaving an underlying remain worth buying in the eyes of public shareholders. And with Asana, its direct listing was a test of what sort of tech company can go public using the mechanism.


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


Asana is not as well-known as Spotify was during its famous direct listing, nor is it growing as quickly as Slack was when it also went public using the method. But Asana had charm of its own, including good growth. The question surrounding its debut was what sort of price it could secure given its rising losses and operating cash burn, and whether it would prove attractive enough to serve as a positive harbinger for yet-private SaaS startups.

How would investors react when it started to trade? Favorably, as it turns out.

Asana’s results augur well for other SaaS startups that may not find the traditional IPO process enticing but don’t want to wager their public debut on more exotic mechanisms like blank-check companies, especially the bulk of late-stage SaaS unicorns that are still cash-hungry and far from profitable on a GAAP basis.

Asana’s debut, then, is a lit torch for late-stage SaaS startups that have access to private cash and want to trade publicly.

A direct listing success

There was much to like in Asana’s IPO filing, along with a few cautionary notes. To avoid a full recap of our prior reporting, we’ll skate through only the most salient details as reminders.

#asana, #direct-listing, #palantir, #saas, #tc, #the-exchange

AOC flagged ‘material risks’ to Palantir investors in letter to SEC

In a newly released letter, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez issued words of warning to the SEC over Palantir’s efforts to take the company public, cautioning the regulatory body over details the progressive congresswoman says were “omitted” in the company’s disclosures. Illinois Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García co-authored the letter, embedded below, which was submitted to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton on September 17.

Palantir, a secretive data analytics company that provides its software to U.S. agencies, debuted on public markets Wednesday through a direct listing rather than a traditional IPO. The company debuted with an implied valuation of $16 billion.

“Palantir reports several pieces of information about its company – and omits others – that we believe require further disclosure and examination, as they present material risks of which potential investors should be aware and national security concerns of which the public should be aware,” Ocasio-Cortez and García wrote.

Among their concerns, the lawmakers asked for Palantir to disclose how much equity the CIA’s venture capital firm holds in the company.

“In-Q-Tel’s investment in Palantir is not classified information, and
Palantir is currently listed on In-Q-Tel’s website among its portfolio companies,” the representatives wrote. Palantir benefitted from an early investment from In-Q-Tel, but current information about the In-Q-Tel’s holdings is not public.

“Palantir reports that its ‘government work is central to defense and intelligence operations in the United States and its allies abroad,” but does not provide further information on the nature of its work for domestic or foreign intelligence agencies, despite recognizing that public perception of its government contracts represent a material risk to investors,” the representatives wrote.

Ocasio-Cortez and García also raised concerns about risks to investors over the company’s secretive work with foreign governments, including its relationship with Qatar, a nation with documented human rights concerns for migrants and its LGBTQ population.

As we previously reported, Palantir discussed its work with “organizations whose products or activities are or are perceived to be harmful” in the risks section of its S-1 filing. Palantir’s work with the notorious U.S. immigration enforcement agency ICE has attracted unwanted attention in recent years, and the company maintains contracts with ICE worth up to $92 million.

Palantir is currently powering the U.S. government’s COVID-19 tracking software platform HHS Protect Now, a controversial relationship that Democratic lawmakers demanded more transparency around in July.

Ocasio-Cortez and García also raise concerns around Palantir’s corporate governance — an issue we’ve reported on extensively as the company adjusted its S-1 filing.

As of a week ago, Palantir had already updated language in its S-1 five times, mostly making changes to an unusually centralized governance structure designed to ensure that a disproportionate amount of decision making power remains with the company’s three founders Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen and Peter Thiel.

In the letter to the SEC chairman, the representatives accuse Palantir’s board of “lacking the required majority of independent board members,” raising questions about Alexander Moore, who directed operations at the company for its first five years.

While today marks the end of Palantir’s journey to take itself public, the process hasn’t been completely smooth for a company so unused to public attention. Palantir already delayed its direct listing by a week as it reportedly navigated a “protracted back-and-forth” with the SEC and tweaked language over a still glaringly uneven voting structure designed to keep decision making in a few hands — including those of its controversial co-founder Peter Thiel.

Now, with its formal entrance into life as a public company, the public and lawmakers alike are set to learn more about Palantir’s work than ever before.

#aoc, #palantir, #tc, #u-s-government

In its 5th filing with the SEC, Palantir finally admits it is not a democracy

Palantir is not a democracy, and it really, really, really wants you to know that.

Palantir’s governance has been under an exacting lens from regulators the past few weeks as it prepares for a public direct listing on September 29th. In revision after revision of its S-1 filing to the SEC — now totaling eight including its draft registration statements — the company has had to continuously explain and re-explain what exactly it is trying to do to prevent retail investors from controlling the company.

Little surprise then that its 5th amended S-1 filing, published this morning, shows even more disclosures about the pitifully small governance control that retail investors will have upon the company’s public market debut.

In a newly added line, the company admits that “holders of our Class A common stock [i.e. the stock that will trade on NYSE starting September 29th] will hold approximately 3.4% of the voting power of our outstanding capital stock.”

“Voting power” is clearly very important to regulators — the term is now used 168 times in Palantir’s latest amended S-1 filing, up from just 58 in its original filing just a few weeks ago. In fact, take a look at this amazing chart on just how much Palantir has had to explain voting power to regulators over the past few weeks in filing after filing:

Indeed, just to prove how much voting power retail investors are giving up, the company published another column to its infamous founder-ownership table that I discussed at length on Friday. As part of the three-class voting share structure Palantir is using, its founders will retain outsized voting control of the company through what are known as Class F or founders shares, so long as they meet a minimal ownership threshold.

 

How unbalanced can that voting be? In the most extreme scenario according to Palantir’s newly updated table, its founders could control 68.099999% of the company’s vote while owning just 0.5% of the company’s shares.

In addition, the company has also added a new risk factor reminding owners of the company’s stock that Palantir can issue new stock at any time, and those newly issued shares will dilute retail investors even further in their voting rights relative to founders, who are offered a variable number of votes to ensure they maintain control of the company.

It gets worse though. Palantir has been promulgating this arcane mechanism over the last few amendments to the SEC that would allow its three founders — Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen, and Peter Thiel — to designate certain shares to be held outside of their “founder shares” and therefore increase their overall voting power. In its last amendment, the only founder to designate shares in this way was Peter Thiel, who designated a huge bulk of his shares (13.4% of Palantir) as excluded from the founders share calculation.

Now in its latest update, Palantir says that founders will be able to increase their votes essentially willy-nilly by designating any or all of their shares as “Stockholder Party Excluded Shares” which will be voted separately from their founder shares. And the right to do this will last from the company’s public debut all the way to “in the future.” In short, Palantir’s founders will hold 49.999999% control through their founder shares, plus the votes of any excluded shares, to be determined at any time. As of today, no shares have been designated as excluded according to the filing.

That leads to one of my new favorite admissions in this whole governance saga: Palantir won’t be able to tell anyone what their actual voting power is, even when they are just about to vote. From its newly amended filing:

In addition, it may be very difficult for our Class A common stockholders to determine from time to time, including in advance of a meeting of stockholders, their individual or aggregate voting power due to the unique features of our multi-class capital structure, such as the variable number of votes per share of our Class F common stock and the ability of our Founders who are then party to the Founder Voting Agreement to unilaterally adjust their total voting power, for example, by designating shares as Stockholder Party Excluded Shares, as described in more detail herein.

The complexity of Palantir’s three-class voting system means that no one basically knows what the hell is going on. “Unilaterally adjust their total voting power” is not a democracy, indeed.

There’s good news though! Palantir might actually add — I kid you not — another class of voting shares just to make all of this is even more complicated!

In another new disclosure this morning, the company writes that “In addition, in the future we could create a new class of equity securities with different economic or voting rights than existing classes” and explains how that could upend the voting for the company further.

I joked last week that “For a company vaunted for its clandestine government work and strong engineering culture, you can’t help but wonder if the government’s bureaucratic norms and paperwork pushing are starting to flood into the Shire.” Well, the complexity is only getting worse and worse and it doesn’t look good.

Tech companies, even those publicly traded, aren’t democracies. The two-class voting system most tech companies offer their founders and early investors are not democratic — some people get 1 vote per share while others get 10 votes per share. But it has become a norm whether we like it or not, and it’s directionally helped tech companies avoid the sort of hostile investor scenarios that have plagued other companies in the market.

Now, Palantir is stretching these notions to the extreme, trying to present as a shareholder-centered corporation when it is — let’s just admit it — an oligarchy of three.

It’s a bit like reading the People’s Republic of China constitution and finding this section in Chapter 2: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China are equal before the law. The State respects and preserves human rights. … Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” And you are like, what?

Words don’t mean anything when the votes and the system aren’t there.

#alex-karp, #direct-listing, #finance, #fundings-exits, #palantir, #peter-thiel, #stephen-cohen, #tc

Unity Software has strong opening, gaining 31% after pricing above its raised range

Whoever said you can’t make money playing video games clearly hasn’t taken a look at Unity Software’s stock price.

On its first official day of trading, the company rose more than 31%, opening at $75 per share before closing the day at $68.35. Unity’s share price gains came after last night’s pricing of the company’s stock at $52 per share, well above the range of $44 to $48 which was itself an upward revision of the company’s initial target.

Games like “Pokémon GO” and “Iron Man VR” rely on the company’s software, as do untold numbers of other mobile gaming applications that use the company’s toolkit for support. The company’s customers range from small gaming publishers to large gaming giants like Electronic Arts, Niantic, Ubisoft and Tencent.

Unity’s IPO comes on the heels of other well-received debuts, including Sumo Logic, Snowflake and JFrog .

TechCrunch caught up with Unity’s CFO, Kim Jabal, after-hours today to dig in a bit on the transaction.

According to Jabal, hosting her company’s roadshow over Zoom had some advantages, as her team didn’t have to focus on tackling a single geography per day, allowing Unity to “optimize” its time based on who the company wanted to meet, instead, of say, whomever was free in Boston or Chicago on a particular Tuesday morning.

Jabal’s comments aren’t the first that TechCrunch has heard regarding roadshows going well in a digital format instead of as an in-person presentation. If the old-school roadshow survives, we’ll be surprised, though private jet companies will miss the business.

Talking about the transaction itself, Jabal stressed the connection between her company’s employees, value  and their access to that same value. Unity’s IPO was unique in that existing and former employees were able to trade 15% of their vested holdings in the company on day one, excluding “current executive officers and directors,” per SEC filings.

That act does not seemed to have dampened enthusiasm for the company’s shares, and could have helped boost early float, allowing for the two sides of the supply and demand curves to more quickly meet close to the company’s real value, instead of a scarcity-driven, more artificial figure.

Regarding Unity’s IPO pricing, Jabal discussed what she called a “very data-driven process.” The result of that process was an IPO price that came in above its raised range, and still rose during its first day’s trading, but less than 50%. That’s about as good an outcome as you can hope for in an IPO.

One final thing for the SaaS nerds out there. Unity’s “dollar-based net expansion rate” went from very good to outstanding in 2020, or in the words of the S-1/A:

Our dollar-based net expansion rate, which measures expansion in existing customers’ revenue over a trailing 12-month period, grew from 124% as of December 31, 2018 to 133% as of December 31, 2019, and from 129% as of June 30, 2019 to 142% as of June 30, 2020, demonstrating the power of this strategy.

We had to ask. And the answer, per Jabal, was a combination of the company’s platform strength and how customers tend to use more of Unity’s services over time, which she described as growing with their customers. And the second key element was 2020’s unique dynamics that gave Unity a “tailwind” thanks to “increased usage, particularly in gaming.”

Looking at our own gaming levels in 2020 compared to 2019, that checks out.

This post closes the book on this week’s IPO class. Tired yet? Don’t be. Palantir is up next, and then Asana .

#asana, #fundings-exits, #jfrog, #mobile, #palantir, #startups, #tc, #unity-technologies

As it heads for IPO, Palantir hires a chief accountant and gets approval from NYSE to trade

After 17 years, Palantir is getting closer and closer to its public debut later this month. We’ve been covering different facets of the company’s direct listing process including concerns about its governance and how insiders are accelerating the sale of their shares as the public markets date looms closer.

Now, we have several major updates from the company, courtesy of a third amended filing of the company’s S-1 to the SEC this afternoon.

The first news is that Palantir finally has a chief accountant. Jeffrey Buckley, who was formerly Chief Accounting Officer at gaming giant Zynga, will join the company later this week in an equivalent position to handle the company’s books and ensure that its processes are in order.

Concerns about Palantir’s audit quality have been percolating since the company’s board of directors has only recently put together the governance committee required to manage the company’s records. As we noted a few weeks ago, Palantir has admitted in its recent SEC filings that it won’t have an independent board audit committee until well after it publicly trades.

When it comes to insiders and their intentions to buy and sell, it’s becoming clear that more and more of them are heading toward the exit. In its filing this afternoon, Founders Fund has increased its targeted number of shares for registration by roughly 8%, or roughy 2 million shares in the company.

Furthermore, the company has clarified a couple of components of its unique governance.

First, the company’s three founders, Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen, and Peter Thiel, will not be allowed to hedge their stakes in the company given their active employment with Palantir. Buried in a section on the voting rights of the company’s founders, Palantir added a phrase “… however, the Company has implemented a policy that will limit or prohibit hedging by directors, officers and employees of the Company…” That policy has previously existed, but the company’s latest filing makes it clear that the policy applies to the founders as well. If one of the three were to leave though, they theoretically could hedge their position, barring any contract signed upon their departure.

Second, Palantir has a three-class convoluted governance structure that includes a special “Class F” share that will give founders Karp, Cohen, and Thiel almost unilateral voting control over the company in perpetuity. Such an arrangement is unique — most tech companies going public today have two classes of shares, one class that holds one vote per share, and one class that holds ten votes per share. Palantir’s Class F shares have a variable number of votes that always give the three founders 49.999999% voting power in the company.

In its amended filing this afternoon, Palantir clarified that some of Thiel’s shares will be considered “Designated Founders’ Excluded Shares,” which will not be considered Class F shares. That will allow Thiel to vote those shares separately, increasing his overall voting power in Palantir.

Minutia perhaps, but critical to a company that has been in the limelight so much over the past decade and is a constant lightning rod for commentary from the commentariat. The NYSE has approved Palantir’s prospectus, which means further changes to its documents outside of pricing are not likely to be forthcoming. The company is still expected to start trading its direct listing around September 23.

#alex-karp, #finance, #founders-fund, #fundings-exits, #palantir, #peter-thiel

Extra Crunch Friday roundup: Edtech funding surges, Poland VC survey, inside Shift’s SPAC plan, more

I live in San Francisco, but I work an East Coast schedule to get a jump on the news day. So I’d already been at my desk for a couple of hours on Wednesday morning when I looked up and saw this:

As unsettling as it was to see the natural environment so transformed, I still got my work done. This is not to boast: I have a desk job and a working air filter. (People who make deliveries in the toxic air or are homeschooling their children while working from home during a global pandemic, however, impress the hell out of me.)

Not coincidentally, two of the Extra Crunch stories that ran since our Tuesday newsletter tie directly into what’s going on outside my window:

As this guest post predicted, a suboptimal attempt I made to track a delayed package using interactive voice response (IVR) indeed poisoned my customer experience, and;

Sheltering in place to avoid the novel coronavirus — and wildfire smoke — is fueling growth in the video-game industry, perhaps one factor in Unity Software Inc.’s plan to go public ahead of competitor Epic Games. In a two-part series, we looked at how the company has expanded beyond games and shared a detailed financial breakdown.

We covered a lot of ground this week, so scroll down or visit the recently redesigned Extra Crunch home page. If you’d like to receive this roundup via email each Tuesday and Friday, please click here.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a relaxing and safe weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor
@yourprotagonist


Bear and bull cases for Unity’s IPO

In a two-part series that ran on TechCrunch and Extra Crunch, former media columnist Eric Peckham returned to share his analysis of Unity Software Inc.’s S-1 filing.

Part one is a deep dive that explains how the company has grown beyond gaming to develop multiple revenue streams and where it’s headed.

For part two on Extra Crunch, he studied the company’s numbers to offer some context for its approximately $11 billion valuation.


10 Poland-based investors discuss trends, opportunities and the road ahead

The Palace of Culture and Science is standing reminder of communism in Warsaw, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland.

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

As we’ve covered previously, the COVID-19 pandemic is making the world a lot smaller.

Investors who focus on their own backyards still have an advantage, but the ability to set up a quick coffee meeting with a promising investor is no longer one of them.

Even though some VCs are cutting first checks after Zoom calls, regional investors’ personal networks are still a trump card. Tourists will always rely on guide books, however, which is why we continue to survey investors around the world.

A Dealroom report issued this summer determined that 97 VC funds backed more than 1,600 funding rounds in Poland last year. With over 2,400 early- and late-stage startups and 400,000 engineers in the country, it’s easy to see why foreign investors are taking notice.

Editor-at-large Mike Butcher reached out to several investors who focus on Warsaw and Poland in general to learn more about the startups fueling their interest across fintech, gaming, security and other sectors:

  • Bryony Cooper, managing partner, Arkley Brinc VC
  • Anna Wnuk-Błażejczyk, investor relations manager, Experior.vc
  • Rafał Roszak, investment director, YouNick Mint
  • Michal Mroczkowski, partner, Market One Capital
  • Marcus Erken, partner, Sunfish Partners
  • Borys Musielak, partner, SMOK Ventures
  • Mathias Åsberg, partner, Nextgrid
  • Kuba Dudek, SpeedUp Venture Capital Group
  • Marcin Laczynski, partner, Next Road Ventures
  • Michał Rokosz, partner, Inovo Venture Partners

We’ll run the conclusion of his survey next Tuesday.


Brands that hyper-personalize will win the next decade

Customer Relationship Management and Leader Concepts on Whiteboard

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

Even for fledgling startups, creating a robust customer service channel — or at least one that doesn’t annoy people — is a reliable way to keep users in the sales funnel.

Using AI and automation is fine, but now that consumers have grown used to asking phones and smart speakers to predict the weather and read recipe instructions, their expectations are higher than ever.

If you’re trying to figure out what people want from hyper-personalized customer experiences and how you can operationalize AI to give them what they’re after, start here.


VCs pour funding into edtech startups as COVID-19 shakes up the market

For today’s edition of The Exchange, Natasha Mascarenhas joined Alex Wilhelm to examine how the pandemic-fueled surge of interest in edtech is manifesting on the funding front.

The numbers suggest that funding will far surpass the sector’s high-water mark set in 2018, so the duo studied the numbers through August 31, which included a number of mega-rounds that exceeded $100 million.

“Now the challenge for the sector will be keeping its growth alive in 2021, showing investors that their 2020 bets were not merely wagers made during a single, overheated year,” they conclude.


How to respond to a data breach

Digital Binary Code on Red Background. Cybercrime Concept

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

The odds are low that someone’s going to enter my home and steal my belongings. I still lock my door when I leave the house, however, and my valuables are insured. I’m an optimist, not a fool.

Similarly: Is your startup’s cybersecurity strategy based on optimism, or do you have an actual response plan in case of a data breach?

Security reporter Zack Whittaker has seen some shambolic reactions to security lapses, which is why he turned in a post-mortem about a corporation that got it right.

“Once in a while, a company’s response almost makes up for the daily deluge of hypocrisy, obfuscation and downright lies,” says Zack.


Shift’s George Arison shares 6 tips for taking your company public via a SPAC

Number 6 By Railroad Tracks During Sunset

Image Credits: Eric Burger/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s a lot of buzz about special purpose acquisition companies these days.

Used-car marketplace Shift announced its SPAC in June 2020, and is on track to complete the process in the next few months, so co-founder/co-CEO George Arison wrote an Extra Crunch guest post to share what he has learned.

Step one: “If you go the SPAC route, you’ll need to become an expert at financial engineering.”


Dear Sophie: What is a J-1 visa and how can we use it?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

I am a software engineer and have been looking at job postings in the U.S. I’ve heard from my friends about J-1 Visa Training or J-1 Research.

What is a J-1 status? What are the requirements to qualify? Do I need to find a U.S. employer willing to sponsor me before I apply for one? Can I get a visa? How long could I stay?

— Determined in Delhi


As direct listing looms, Palantir insiders are accelerating stock sales

While we count down to the September 23 premiere of NYSE: PLTR, Danny Crichton looked at the “robust secondary market” that has allowed some investors to acquire shares early.

“Given the number of people involved and the number of shares bought and sold over the past 18 months, we can get some insight regarding how insiders perceive Palantir’s value,” he writes.


Use ‘productive paranoia’ to build cybersecurity culture at your startup

Vector illustration of padlocks and keys in a repeating pattern against a blue background.

Image Credits: JakeOlimb / Getty Images

Zack Whittaker interviewed Bugcrowd CTO, founder and chairman Casey Ellis about the best practices he recommends for creating a startup culture that takes security seriously.

“It’s an everyone problem,” said Ellis, who encouraged founders to promote the notion of “productive paranoia.”

Now that the threat envelope includes everyone from marketing to engineering, employees need to “internalize the fact that bad stuff can and does happen if you do it wrong,” Ellis said.

#education, #europe, #extra-crunch, #immigration-law, #investor-surveys, #palantir, #policy, #saas, #security, #spacs, #startups, #tc, #unity, #venture-capital

Palantir’s concentrated governance is great for execs, but what about shareholders?

A few days ago I wrote down a few notes making a bullish case for Palantir, searching to find good news amidst the company’s huge historical deficits.

Heading into the next phase of Palantir’s march to the public markets, I was very curious to see how the company would hone its S-1 filing to give itself the best possible shot during its impending debut.


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


And we finally did get a new S-1/A filing, a document that our own Danny Crichton quickly parsed and covered. What he found was a set of amendments that seem to increase the chance that three Palantir insiders will control more than 50% of the company’s voting power forever, possibly making it a controlled company which would loose the firm from select regulatory requirements.

Danny dryly noted that “given the diminished voting power of employee and investor shares, it is possible that these voting provisions will negatively impact the final price of those shares.” That’s being polite.

Mulling this over this morning, I kept thinking about Snap, which sold stock in its IPO that gave new shareholders no votes at all, and Facebook, which is controlled by Mark Zuckerberg as his personal fiefdom. The two are not alone in this matter. There are a number of other public tech companies that provide certain groups of pre-IPO shareholders more votes than others on a per-share basis, though perhaps to a smaller degree than what Facebook has managed.

It feels like many startups (and former startups) have decided over time that having material shareholder input is a bad idea. That, in effect, they must run companies as not merely monarchies, but unquestioned ones to boot.

I am not entirely convinced that this is the best way to create long-term shareholder wealth.

If you are on the other side of this particular fence, I understand. After all, Facebook is a global juggernaut and Snap has finally managed to eke out stock-market gains to bring its value it back where it was around when it went public. (A three-year journey.)

But those arguments are only so good. You could easily argue that the two companies could have done much more with less self-sabotage (Facebook) and a bit more spend discipline (Snap).

#facebook, #fundings-exits, #palantir, #snap, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

Frugal startups should pay attention to how JFrog’s IPO prices

In last week’s IPO wave, one company fell a bit by the wayside amongst filings from better-known companies like Asana and Palantir. JFrog, a company that TechCrunch reported helps allows developers and companies deliver application updates “in the background without disturbing the user experience” when it raised $165 million in 2018, is positioned for an exciting debut.

Why? The unicorn — the same 2018 round valued JFrog at around $1.2 billion according to PitchBook data — has a unique blend of growth, margins and profitability that should make its pricing cycle incredibly interesting.


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


JFrog will give us an insight into how Wall Street will value a fast-growing, managed software company that also doesn’t lose money. It’s not something we see often, and other market hopefuls like the aforementioned Asana and Palantir are far from similar levels of profitability.

Let’s take a quick look at what JFrog would be worth if it were a more normal — read: less profitable — SaaS company, and then ask what it might be worth as a cash-generating, recently profitable concern. The numbers are pretty surprising.

JFrog

If you want more on the basics of JFrog’s business and why developers and companies care about the company, head here. We’re only doing numbers today.

Back to the basics as a refresher from early last week, here’s what you need to know about JFrog’s business:

  • Revenue grew from $63.5 million in 2018 to $104.7 million in 2019 and from $46.1 million to $69.2 million from the first half of 2019 to the first half of 2020. Those gains of 65% and 60.1%, respectively, put JFrog on a comfortable growth pace for a company doing nine-figure revenues.
  • JFrog has lost less money as it has grown. From $1.00 per share in 2018 to $0.20 per share in 2019, and from $0.08 per-share in the first half of 2019 to just $0.02 per share in the first half of 2020.
  • JFrog’s gross margins have been 81% or better in every mutliquarter period we have record of.
  • JFrog’s operating cash flow has improved over time as well, rising from +$8.6 million in 2018 to $10 million in 2019, and from +$0.415 million in the first half of 2019 to +$5.9 million in the first half of 2020.
  • And, after some quarters of extremely limited losses, JFrog posted its first known (since Q1 2018) GAAP profitable quarter in Q2 2020, generating $1.7 million in net income off of revenues of $36.4 million in the same period.

Now ask yourself, what is that company worth?

#asana, #developer, #finance, #fundings-exits, #jfrog, #palantir, #saas, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange, #unicorn, #zscaler

The bullish case for Palantir’s direct listing

The Palantir S-1 finally dropped yesterday after TechCrunch spilled a bunch of its guts last Friday. You can read the filing here, if you are so inclined.

Today, however, instead of our usual overview, I have a different goal: We’re going to be a bit more specific.

It’s fun and easy to clown on Palantir’s ridiculous ownership structure, in which a few dudes have decided that, in perpetuity, they must remain co-Lords of the Ring. And, sure, the company is smaller in terms of revenue-scale than many expected (a bit more Hobbiton than Bree, really). And, yes, its net losses are somewhat staggering (post-Helm’s Deep Saruman?), reaching nearly 100% of revenue in 2018.

But things have gotten better in Palantir-land (Mordor?) in recent quarters, which we should note.

So, in light of the generally negative reviews of Palantir’s finances (similar to what is left of Moria?) that I’ve seen in the media and from investors both publicly and privately, here are the bullish bits about the impending direct listing.

The good stuff

In brief, falling net losses in absolute and percent-of-revenue terms paint the picture of a company that is past a high-burn period, allowing profitability to continue to improve; improving gross margins point to a company that is less service-focused and more software-driven over time; the company’s falling operating cash burn is encouraging, and new customer revenue appears sharply higher in 2020 than 2019.

Let’s examine each in order:

  • Falling net losses in absolute terms: Palantir lost fractionally less money in 2019 than 2018, but it was a decline all the same. More recently, the first two quarters of 2020 have seen Palantir cut its net loss from $280.5 million in 2019 to $164.7 million. Even better, the company grew during the same period, which means that in percent-of-revenue terms, Palantir did even better.

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Everyone filed to go public Monday

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

We’re back out of sequence, because literally every company you can name (well, almost) dropped an S-1 yesterday so we had to sit down and parse them out a bit. That so many filings dropped during the same two days when we had Y Combinator’s two-day Demo Day at the same time meant that we were all a bit punchdrunk, but we rallied.

Natasha and Danny and Chris and myself all piled back onto the mics to dig through all the numbers. Here’s a rundown of the companies we went through:

  • Palantir, which filed its formal S-1 during our recording session. Danny covered most of the news last Friday, but the public doc is now live, so happy sleuthing.
  • Unity’s huge IPO that shows how big gaming is. Natasha connected it to the broader Apple-Epic dustup, and we all reviled in its growth results.
  • Snowflake had Danny so excited he was conjuring scripted segues, and we were all impressed at its historical growth. Sure, it lost a lot of money last year, but, hey, Snowflake has dialed that back as well.
  • And then there was Asana, a company I’ve covered quite a lot over the years. Our general take is that the company’s growth has been good, if it is losing more money than we anticipated. Still, Asana could set a neat new precedent of raising debt ahead of a direct listing. This is one to watch.
  • And then we spent a little time on JFrog and Sumo Logic (more here), because we are nothing if not completionists.

Got all of that? It was a lot of facts to get through, but we did our best and we hope this helps. More tomorrow as we talk Y Combinator with a special guest host. Chat tomorrow!

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

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