Introducing the Expo Pass for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Don’t let budget woes keep you from participating in TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on October 6-7. We’re dedicated to making this event accessible to as many members of the mobility community as possible. Case in point: today we’re announcing the new Expo Ticket for just $25.

Pro tip: Get your Expo ticket today. The price jumps to $50 once the conference begins on October 6.

What can you do with an Expo ticket? The short answer is plenty. You’ll have access to all the Mobility 2020 breakout sessions, which take a deeper dive into specific topics. We’ll be announcing those breakout sessions soon. Watch for our announcement, and be sure to check out the Mobility 2020 agenda.

“I learned a lot from the breakout sessions. An official from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation spoke about the city’s plan to build pathways for micro mobility vehicles. Access to experts sharing that kind of information is essential for anyone launching a micro mobility startup.” — Parug Demircioglu, CEO at Invemo and partner at Nito Bikes.

Plus, you can explore 40+ startups — both early stage and more established companies — exhibiting during the conference. Think of “Expo” as an alternative way to spell “opportunity.” Connect with the exhibiting founders, hear their product stories and watch their demos. You might find your next customer, partner, investment or employer.

We’ve got your back in the networking department with CrunchMatch. Our AI-powered platform helps you find and connect with the people who align with your business goals. Answer a few simple questions when you register and CrunchMatch will be ready to do the heavy lifting for you. Peruse the offerings and schedule 1:1 video calls with the folks who can help you take your startup dream to the next level. It’s the perfect tool to help organize and simplify your expo exploration.

“CrunchMatch, which is basically speed-dating for techies, was very helpful. I scheduled at least 10 short, precise meetings. I learned about startups in stealth mode, what big corporations were up to — things not yet picked up by the press. It was great, and I followed up on three or four of those connections.” — Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager, SAP.

Join mobility’s brightest minds, makers and investors at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on October 6-7. Set aside your budget concerns and buy an opportunity-packed Expo Pass — before October 6 — for just $25. We can’t wait to “see” you there!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#startups, #tc-sessions-mobility-2020

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Event discovery network IRL raises $16M Series B after refocusing on virtual events

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way a number of companies have had to do business. For the event discovery startup, IRL, it meant pivoting into the virtual events space. This April, the startup quickly reacted to government lockdowns and restrictions on in-person gatherings to focus on helping people find their online counterparts and other virtual events, like live-streamed concerts, Zoom parties, esports tournaments, and more. Today, those efforts are paying off as IRL announces $16 million in Series B funding and the expansion of its social calendaring app to colleges.

The new round was led by Goodwater Capital with participation from Founders Fund, Floodgate, and Raine, and comes on top of the $11 million IRL had previously raised, including its $8 million Series A last year.

The coronavirus pandemic, surprisingly, may have made IRL relevant to a wider audience. Before, IRL was mostly useful to those who lived in areas where there were a lot of events to attend, or who could afford to travel. But with the refocusing on “remote life” instead of “real life,” more people could launch the app to find something interesting to do — even if it was only online.

In fitting with its new focus, IRL redesigned its app earlier this year to create a new homescreen experience where users could discover events they could attend remotely. This design continues to be tweaked, and now features a colorful “discover” tab in the app where you can tap into various event categories, like gaming, music, tv, wellness, sports, podcasts, lifestyle, and more, including those sourced from partners like TikTok, Meetup, Twitch, Spotify, SoundCloud, HBO, Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, and others.

There are also dedicated sections for events you’re following and a curated Top Picks. The IRL in-app calendar, meanwhile, lets you easily see what’s happening today and in the weeks and months ahead.

Since its refocusing on virtual events, IRL has brought people together for online happenings like Burning Man’s Multiverse and TikTok Live’s The Weekend Experience, for example.

According to TikTok, IRL had helped it gauge early interest in its The Weekend Experience event, with some 52,000 IRL RSVPs and 1.1 million followers on its IRL profile.

Image Credits: IRL screenshot via TechCrunch

“IRL has been an amazing platform for us to engage with more of our audience and meet new potential users,” said Jenny Zhu, Head of Integrated Marketing U.S. at TikTok. She also added that TikTok sees “major traffic coming from IRL” and is “excited to continue our partnership.”

In terms of growth, IRL claims its users are now tracking over 1 million hours per spent daily in “Time Together” — a metric that tabulates the number of hours users are spending together at the events they RSVP’d to, virtual or otherwise. In addition, IRL says it has seen 10x growth in daily active users and a total of 300 million “Time Together” hours since last June. It also claims 5.5 million MAUs.

While IRL doesn’t share its download figures, app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower estimates the app has seen a total of 7.7 million installs across iOS and Android.

With the additional capital, IRL is expanding with the launch of a college network.

Its goal is to improve upon the Facebook experience for the younger, student demographic by helping college users find, share, and attend academic and social events, both physical and virtual. However, just this month Facebook launched its own college network, Facebook Campus, which allows students to privately network and track student events on the Facebook platform, outside of their main Facebook profile.

IRL says it’s starting its college network with 100 colleges and universities across the North America, including Harvard, Columbia and NYU. Facebook Campus, meanwhile, launched with 30 schools.

“IRL is the only social platform that helps users find the best ways to spend their time and actually encourages them to get off the platform,” said IRL founder and CEO Abraham Shafi, Founder, about the launch of the new network. “Colleges and universities, in particular, need a way to build and foster a sense of community, whether their students are away from campus remote learning or on campus practicing hybrid learning,” he explained.

For IRL’s investor, Chi-Hua Chien, a Managing Partner at Goodwater Capital, the potential in IRL is its focus on real connections and community-building.

“We believe IRL will grow to become one of the major social networks powering communities on the Internet and in the real world,” Chien said. “IRL delivers on the promise to make social media less isolating, by helping drive authentic connection between friends and family around events they care about,” he added.

 

#apps, #funding, #social, #startups

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Mailchimp launches new AI tools as it continues its transformation to marketing platform

Mailchimp may have started out as an easy to use newsletter tool, but that was almost 20 years ago. Today’s company still does email, but at its core, it is now a marketing automation platform for small businesses that also offers a website builder, basic online stores, digital ad support and analytics to make sense of it all. Like before, though, the company’s main goal is to make all these features easy to use for small business users.

Image Credits: Mailchimp

Today, Mailchimp, which has never taken outside funding, is taking the next step in its own transformation with the launch of a set of AI-based tools that give small businesses easy access to the same kind of capabilities that their larger competitors now use. That includes personalized product recommendations for shoppers and forecasting tools for behavioral targeting to see which users are most likely to buy something, for example. But there’s now also a new AI-backed tool to help business owners design their own visual asset (based in part on its acquisition of Sawa), as well as a tool to help them write better email subject lines.

There’s also a new tool that helps businesses choose the next best action. It looks at all of the data the service aggregates and gives users actionable recommendations for how to improve their email campaign performance.

Image Credits: Mailchimp

“The journey to get here started about four years ago,” Mailchimp’s founding CEO Ben Chestnut told me. “We were riding high. Email was doing amazing for us. And things look so good. And I had a choice, I felt I could sell the business and make a lot of money. I had some offers. Or I could just coast, honestly. I could just be a hero in email and keep it simple and just keep raking in the money. Or I could take on another really tough challenge, which would be act two of  Mailchimp. And I honestly didn’t know what that would be. To be honest with you, that was four years ago, it could have been anything really.”

But after talking to the team, including John Foreman, the head of data analytics at the time and now Mailchimp’s CPO, Chestnut put the company on this new path to go after the marketing automation space. In part, he told me, he did so because he noted that the email space was getting increasingly crowded. “You know how that ends. I mean, you can’t stay there forever with this many competitors. So I knew that we had to up our game,” he said.

And that meant going well beyond email and building numerous new products.

Image Credits: Mailchimp

“It was a huge transformation for us,” Chestnut acknowledged. “We had to get good at building for other customer segments at the time, like e-commerce customers and others. And that was new for us, too. It’s all kinds of new disciplines for us. To inflict that kind of change on your employees is very, very rough. I just can’t help but look back with gratitude that my employees were willing to go on this journey with me. And they actually had faith in me and this release — this fall release — is really the culmination of everything we’ve been working on for four years to me.”

One thing that helped was that Mailchimp already had e-commerce customers — and as Chestnut noted, they were pushing the system to its limit. Only a few years ago, the culture at Mailchimp looked at them as somewhat annoying, though, Chestnut admitted, because they were quite demanding. They didn’t even make the company a lot of money either. At the time, non-profits were Mailchimp’s best customers, but they weren’t pushing the technology to its limits.

Despite this transformation, Mailchimp hasn’t made a lot of acquisitions to accelerate this process. Chestnut argues that a lot of what it is doing — say adding direct mail — is something that was more or less and extension of what it was already good at. But it did make some small AI and ML acquisitions to bring the right expertise in-house, as well as two e-commerce acquisitions, including Lemonstand. Most recently, Mailchimp acquired Courier, a British magazine, newsletter and podcast, marking its first move into the print business.

With this new set of products and services, Mailchimp is now aiming to give small businesses access to the same capabilities the larger e-commerce players have long had, but without the complexity.

To build tools based on machine learning, one needs data — and that’s something Mailchimp already had.

“We’ve been doing marketing for decades,” Mailchimp CPO Foreman said. “And we have millions of small businesses on the platform. And so not only do we build all these tools ourselves, which allows us to integrate them from a visual design perspective — they’re not necessarily acquisitions — but we have this common data set from years and years of doing marketing across millions of businesses, billions of customers we’re talking to, and so we thought, how can we use intelligence — artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. — to also sand down how all of these tools connect.”

Chestnut says he isn’t likely to put the company on a similar transformation anytime soon. “I really believe you can only take on one major transformation per decade,” he said. “And so you better pick the right one and you better invest it. We’re all in on this all-in-one marketing platform that’s e-commerce enabled. That is unique enough. And now what I’m trying to get my company to do is go deep.”

#advertising-tech, #analytics, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #ben-chestnut, #business, #cloud-applications, #computing, #email, #mailchimp, #marketing-automation, #startups, #tc, #website-builder

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Join Accel’s Andrew Braccia and Sonali De Rycker for a live Q&A today at 2 pm EDT/11 am PDT

Disrupt was just days ago, but the TechCrunch crew is continuing our regular series of public chats with leading founders and venture capitalists under the Extra Crunch Live banner.

Today, we’re excited to host Andrew Braccia and Sonali De Rycker from Accel. The pair of investors will join us for a live Q&A at 2 p.m. Eastern time today (11 a.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. CET). Links and details are down below.

As discussed last week when we announced the session, there’s a lot to get to. Braccia led Slack’s Series A, which means we’ll need to discuss remote work, the direct listing debate and modern SaaS stuff. And with De Rycker we’ll dig into what she’s seeing in Europe and how the two startup markets compare in today’s evolving markets.

(If you are just catching up to Extra Crunch Live, we’ve been hosting live discussions since the early COVID-19 days here in the United States with folks like Mark CubanPlaid founder Zach Perret and Sequoia’s Roelof Botha taking part.)

I’ve also been thinking about India (Accel raised a fifth India fund in 2019), which will be worth talking about a little bit even if neither of our guests primarily focuses on the country. And if we have time, it would even be good to get their feelings and reactions to the TikTok mess.

But, before we get into the more exotic areas of conversation we’ll power through the nuts-and-bolts stuff that founders want to know: How active Accel is today, what size checks it is currently writing, its sector focuses and the like. Given that we have a full hour if we want it, we’ll be able to cover a lot of ground.

Be sure to bring your own questions, and I’ll do my best to get to them as we chat.

It should prove to be a good, and, I hope, useful conversation that I am looking forward to hosting. Login details follow for Extra Crunch folks, and you can snag a cheap trial here if you need access.

(If you want to pre-submit a question, you can tweet it at me, but after the actual livestream kicks off I will no longer be checking Twitter. Get them in now, in other words.)

Details

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How has Corsair Gaming posted such impressive pre-IPO numbers?

After the last few weeks of IPOs, you’d be forgiven if you missed Corsair Gaming’s own public offering.

The company is not our usual fare. Here at TechCrunch, we care a lot of about startups, usually technology startups, which often collect capital from private sources on their way to either the bin, an IPO, or a buyout.

Corsair is some of those things. It is a private company that builds technology products and it has raised some money while private. But from there it’s a slim list. The company was founded in 1994, making it more a mature business than a startup. And it sold a majority of itself to a private equity group in 2017, valued at $525 million at the time.


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


Fair enough. But flipping through the company’s S-1 filings this morning over coffee, I was impressed all the same and want to walk you through a few of the company’s numbers.

If you care about the impending public debuts of Asana (more here) and Palantir (more here) that we expect next week, Corsair will not provide much directional guidance. But its IPO will be a fascinating debut all the same.

Corsair has managed to stay in the gaming hardware world since I was in short pants, and, even better, has managed to turn the streaming boom into material profit. Its S-1 is an interesting document to read. So let’s get into it, because Corsair Gaming is expected to price later today and trade tomorrow morning.

A gaming giant

As with any private-equity-backed IPO, the company’s SEC filings are a mess of predecessor and successor companies, along with long sections that, once you boil them down, ensure that the private equity firm will retain control.

But once you parse the firm’s numbers, here’s the gist from the first six months of 2020:

#corsair-gaming, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #saas, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

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Latch, a smart lock company, looks to become a platform with the launch of LatchOS

Tech that powers physical spaces is in the midst of a growth spurt. One company in the mix, Latch, is today announcing the next phase of the company with the launch of LatchOS.

Latch was founded back in 2014 with the mission of creating a vertically integrated hardware/software solution for door access in apartment buildings. Unlike some smart home locks that replace the lock on the door, Latch looked at the different locks that exist in apartment buildings and created solutions that work with each.

This allows building managers and apartment renters/owners to manage their doors and who has access, including the maintenance staff, deliveries, etc.

With the launch of LatchOS, the company is getting even deeper into the buildings, giving users the ability to manage more than just the door but integrate the app with other devices in a building. These integrations include Sonos speakers, Honeywell and ecobee thermostats, and Jaso and Leviton light switches all from their Latch app.

This is just the start. LatchOS was built to become the backbone of the platform, allowing more integrations to be implemented or built out based on the needs of the buildings and users.

Though the company has flown somewhat under the radar, it’s raised more than $150 million and says it did more than $100 million in sales in 2019, with one of every ten buildings in the United States being built with Latch products.

Latch makes money by selling hardware to building owners and then charging a monthly software fee, allowing the service to be free to renters and apartment owners. With the launch of LatchOS, the company can now build out integrations to earn revenue off of end users, as well, should they choose to upgrade to new features or purchase services through the platform.

The company, helmed by former Apple employees Luke Schoenfelder and Thomas Meyerhoffer, as well as full stack hardware engineer Brian Jones, has more than 230 employees and declined to share any information around the diversity of its staff.

“People have always seen us as a lock company and they wonder why a lock company is doing this other stuff,” said Schoenfelder. The reality is that we’ve never wanted to be a lock company. We just needed to build the locks to make the rest of the system work. That’s why we built our own hardware. We’ve always been focused on building the system that makes the building better for everybody.”

#hardware, #latch, #startups, #tc

0

EasySend raises $16M from Intel, more for its no-code approach to automating B2C interfaces

No-code and low-code software have become increasingly popular ways for companies — especially those that don’t count technology as part of their DNA — to bring in more updated IT processes without the heavy lifting needed to build and integrate services from the ground up.

As a mark of that trend, today, a company that has taken this approach to speeding up customer experience is announcing some funding. EasySend, an Israeli startup which has built a no-code platform for insurance companies and other regulated businesses to build out forms and other interfaces to take in customer information and subsequently use AI systems to process it more efficiently, is announcing that it has raised $16 million.

The funding has actually come in two tranches, a $5 million seed round from Vertex Ventures and Menora Insurance that it never disclosed, and another $11 million round that closed more recently, led by Hanaco with participation from Intel Capital. The company is already generating revenue, and did so from the start, enough that it was actually bootstrapped for the first three years of its life.

Tal Daskal, EasySend’s CEO and co-founder, said that the funding being announced today will be used to help it expand into more verticals: up to now its primary target has been insurance companies, although organically it’s picked up customers from a number of other verticals, such as telecoms carriers, banks and more.

The plan will be now to hone in on specifically marketing to and building solutions for the financial services sector, as well as hiring and expanding in Asia, Europe and the US.

Longer term, he said, that another area EasySend might like to look at more in the future is robotic process automation (RPA). RPA, and companies that deal in it like UIPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, is today focused on the back office, and EasySend’s focus on the “front office” integrates with leaders in that area. But over time, it would make sense for EasySend to cover this in a more holistic way, he added.

Menora was a strategic backer: it’s one of the largest insurance providers in Israel, Daskal said, and it used EasySend to build out better ways for consumers to submit data for claims and apply for insurance.

Intel, he said, is also strategic although how is still being worked out: what’s notable to mention here is that Intel has been building out a huge autonomous driving business in Israel, anchored by MobileEye, and not only will insurance (and overall risk management) play a big part in how that business develops, but longer term you can see how there will be a need for a lot of seamless customer interactions (and form filling) between would-be car owners, operators, and passengers in order for services to operate more efficiently.

“Intel Capital chose to invest in EasySend because of its intelligent and impactful approach to accelerating digital transformation to improve customer experiences,” said Nick Washburn, senior managing director, Intel Capital, in a statement. “EasySend’s no-code platform utilizes AI to digitize thousands of forms quickly and easily, reducing development time from months to days, and transforming customer journeys that have been paper-based, inefficient and frustrating. In today’s world, this is more critical than ever before.”

The rise and persistence of Covid-19 globally has had a big, multi-faceted impact how we all do business, and two of those ways have fed directly into the growth of EasySend.

First, the move to remote working has given organizations a giant fillip to work on digital transformation, refreshing and replacing legacy systems with processes that work faster and rely on newer technologies.

Second, consumers have really reassessed their use of insurance services, specifically health and home policies, respectively to make sure they are better equipped in the event of a Covid-19-precipitated scare, and to make sure that they are adequately covered for how they now use their homes all hours of the day.

EasySend’s platform for building and running interfaces for customer experience fall directly into the kinds of apps and services that are being identified and updated, precisely at a time when its initial target customers, insurers, are seeing a surge in business. It’s that “perfect storm” of circumstances that the startup wouldn’t have wished on the world, but which has definitely helped it along.

While there are a lot of companies on the market today that help organizations automate and run their customer interaction processes, the Daskal said that EasySend’s focus on using AI to process information is what makes the startup more unique, as it can be used not just to run things, but to help improve how things work.

It’s not just about taking in character recognition and organizing data, it’s “understanding the business logic,” he said. “We have a lot of data and we can understand [for example] where customers left the process [when filling out forms]. We can give insights into how to increase the conversion rates.”

It’s that balance of providing tools to do business better today, as well as to focus on how to build more business for tomorrow, that has caught the eye of investors.

“Hanaco is firmly invested in building a digital future. By bridging the gap between manual processes and digitization, EasySend is making this not only possible, but also easy, affordable, and practical,” said Hanaco founding partner Alon Lifshitz, in a statement.

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #easysend, #enterprise, #forms, #insurance, #insurtech, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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Morgan Beller, co-creator of the Libra digital currency, just joined the venture firm NFX

Morgan Beller, who is a co-creator of the proposed Libra digital currency, along with Facebook vice presidents David Marcus and Kevin Weil, has left the company to become a general partner with the venture firm NFX .

In a call yesterday, she said she first became acquainted with the San Francisco-based outfit five years ago when on a “tech trek” to Israel, she met its local partner, Gigi Levy-Weiss, and formed a friendship with him.

At the time, she was a young partner at Andreessen Horowitz, working on its deal team after graduating from Cornell as a statistics major.

A role working on corporate development and strategy at Medium would follow, then it was on to Facebook in 2017, where Beller began in corporate development and — intrigued by cryptocurrency tech — where she quickly began evangelizing to her bosses the importance of better understanding it.

As she half-jokingly explains it, “Crypto is a mental virus for which there is no cure. I was at a16z when they got infected with the crypto virus.” She eventually caught it herself, and by the time she joined Facebook, she says she “realized no one was thinking about that space full time, so I took it upon myself to [help the company] figure out its point of view.”

Indeed, a CNBC story about Beller last year reports that at one point, she was the sole person on a Facebook blockchain initiative —  meeting with those in the know, attending relevant events, and otherwise researching the technology. Bill Barhydt, the CEO of the digital wallet startup Abra, told the outlet of Beller:  “I give her a lot of credit for taking what seems like a very methodical, long-term approach to figuring this out.”

All that said, Beller notes that as a full-time investor with NFX, she will not be focused exclusively or even mainly on crypto. Her focus instead will be finding and helping to cultivate seed-stage startups that aim to grow so-called network effects businesses.

It’s the broad theme of NFX, a now 25-person outfit cofounded five years ago by serial entrepreneurs who have all seen their companies acquired, including Levy-Weiss (who cofounded the online travel site Lastminute.com, and the social casino game publisher Playtika); Pete Flint (cofounder of the home buyers’ site Trulia); and James Currier (of the social network Tickle).

Certainly, she will keep busy at the firm, she suggests. As part of getting to know the partners and their thinking better, she introduced them to one company that they have since funded.

The pace has generally picked up, Flint tells us, saying that during the second quarter of this year and the third, NFX has twice broken its own investing records both because of “incredible founders who are reacting to this opportunity” and growing awareness about NFX, which last year closed its second fund with $275 million.

Last month, for example, NFX led a seed round for Warmly, a nine-month-old, San Francisco-based startup whose product tracks individuals in a customer’s CRM system, then sends out a notification when one of his or her contacts changes jobs. It also led a round recently for Jupiter, a year-old, San Francisco-based grocery delivery startup.

Naturally, Beller’s new partners are full of praise for her. Flint says the firm began looking for a fourth partner two years ago and that it has “spoken with dozens of exceptional people” since then, but it “always came back to Morgan.”

As for why the 27-year-old is ready to leap back into VC, Beller says that her work across Facebook and Medium and a16z “made me realize my favorite parts of projects is that zero-to-one phase and that with investing, it’s zero-to-one all day” with a team she wanted to be part of.

Further, she adds, while at Facebook, she was helping scout out deals for the venture firm Spark Capital, so she’s already well-acquainted with the types of founders to which she gravitates. “They’re are all weird in the right ways, and they’re all maniacally obsessed with winning.”

As for how she launches her career as a general partner in a pandemic, she notes that she loves walking and that she’ll happy cover 20 miles a day if given the opportunity.

“If anyone wants to safely walk with me,” she suggests that she’d love it.  Says Beller, “I’m not worried about San Francisco longer term. I don’t think there’s a replacement for in-person meetings.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #cryptocurrencies, #facbook, #fundings-exits, #libra, #medium, #nfx, #novi, #recent-funding, #spark-capital, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Pure Watercraft ramps up its electric outboard motors with a $23M series A

Electric power only started making sense for land vehicles about ten years ago, but now the technology is ready to make the jump into the water. Pure Watercraft hopes that its electric outboard motor can replace a normal gas one for most boating needs under 50 HP — and it just raised $23.4M to hit the throttle.

Pure’s outboard works much like a traditional one, but runs on a suitcase-sized battery pack and is, of course, almost silent except for the sound of the turbulence. It’s pretty much a drop-in replacement for an outboard you’d use on a 10-20 foot boat meant for fishing or puttering around the lake, though the price tag looks a little different.

Founder and CEO Andy Rebele started the company in 2011, and it turns out they had shown up a bit early to the party. “The Model S had not yet been released; the plan of making boats electric was not really fundable,” he told me.

Rebele kept the company going with his own money and a bit of low-key funding in 2016, though he admits now that it was something of a leap of faith.

“You have to bet that this small market will become a big market,” he said. “We developed our entire battery pack architecture, and it took — it’s obvious at this point — millions of dollars to get where we are. But our investors are buying into a leader in the electrification of an entirely new sector of transportation that hasn’t gotten the same attention as cars and trucks.”

A boat with an electric outboard motor cruising on a lake.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

They haven’t been wasting time. Pure claims an energy density — how much power is packed into every kilogram — of 166 watt-hours per kilogram, meeting industry leader Tesla and beating plenty of other automotive battery makers. Users can easily add on a second pack or swap in a fresh one. The cells themselves are sourced from Panasonic, like Tesla’s and many others are, but assembling them into an efficient, robust, and in this case waterproof pack is something a company can still do better than its competition.

Having plenty of power is crucial for boats, since they use up so much of it to fight against the constant resistance of the water. The amount of power it takes to go a kilometer in a car is a fraction of what it takes to do so in a boat. Even boats designed for electric from the ground up, like those from Zin, face fundamental limits on their capabilities simply because of physics.

Rebele is aiming for the allure of simplicity. “The most popular outboard motor in the world is 40 horsepower,” he pointed out, and a replacement for that type of motor is exactly what Pure makes. “The mistake car companies made was saying, here’s the electric car market; it’s small, we tried it,” he said. Then Tesla came along with a great car that just happened to be electric.

It’s the same with boating, he suggested — sure, there are lots of different kinds of boats, and motors, and hull materials, and so on. But if Pure offers a motor that’s just as good or better than what powers a huge number of small boats, and just happens to be electric, it starts to sell itself.

Pure Watercraft's battery box.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

“We can’t count on people picking our product to save the world,” Rebele said. “The tipping point comes when you have a critical mass of people for whom a good selfish choice is to go electric.”

The benefits, after all, are easy to enumerate: It’s silent, which is great for fishing or social boating; It fills up for a buck or two at any outlet; It’s extremely low maintenance, having vastly fewer parts than a tiny gas engine; And of course it doesn’t spew fumes and particulates into the water and air like most of the depressingly dirty motors currently in use.

The only real advantage left to gas is initial cost and range. If you’re willing to spend some money for a better product, then cost isn’t as much of an issue. And if like most boaters you’re only going to ever go a few miles per trip, the range isn’t an issue. If you’re fishing or just cruising around a lake, it’ll last you all day. The people for whom electric isn’t an option will quickly realize that, while the others will find it increasingly hard to resist the idea.

Pure Watercraft's electric outboard motor lifted out of the water

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

There’s still a good amount of sticker shock. A good new outboard in the 20-50 HP range runs a few thousand dollars to start, and marine gas costs add up quick; the Pure motor comes in a combo deal with the charger system and one battery pack for $16,500 (additional packs cost about $8,000). They’re working with some boat manufacturers to do complete boat deals for 30 grand or less, but it’s still firmly in the high end for the “outboard on a 2-6 person boat” crowd.

The $23.4 million A round, led by L37 and a number of individuals (including some Amazon execs and , is aimed squarely at spinning up production. After implementing the changes to the “beta” product they’ve been testing with, the first thousand Pure motors will be built in Seattle, where the company is based. The company has essentially finished R&D, so there’s little question of putting off customers for a few years while the product is engineered — and Rebele said they had no intent to build another for now.

“We make this product, at this power level, and that’s all,” he said. The company’s focus makes for good engineering and, hopefully, good margins. Pure should be shipping its motors in time for the 2021 boating season.

#electric-boats, #electric-vehicles, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hardware, #pure-watercraft, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transportation

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Satellite radar startup ICEYE raises 87 million to continue to grow its operational constellation

Finnish startup ICEYE, which has been building out and operating a constellation of Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) small satellites, has raised an $87 million Series C round of financing. This round of funding was led by existing investor True Ventures, and includes participation by OTB Ventures, and it brings the total funding for ICEYE to $152 million since its founding in 2014.

ICEYE has already launched a total of five SAR satellites, and will be launching an addition four later this year, with a plan to add eight more throughout 2021. Its SAR satellites were the first ever small satellites with SAR imaging capabilities, and it designed and built the spacecraft in-house. SAR imaging is innovative because it uses relatively small actual physical antennas, combined with fast motion across a targeted imaging area, to create a much larger synthetic aperture than the physical aperture of the radar antenna itself – which in turn means it’s capable of producing very high-resolution, two- and three-dimensional images of areas and objects.

ICEYE has been able to rack up a number of achievements, including record-setting 0.25 meter resolution for a small SAR satellite, and record turnaround time in terms of capture data delivery, reaching only five minutes from when data begins its downlink connection to ground stations, to actually having processed images available for customers to use on their own systems.

The purpose of this funding is to continue and speed up the growth of the ICEYE satellite constellation, as well as providing round-the-clock customer service operations across the world. ICEYE also hopes to set up U.S.-based manufacturing operations for future spacecraft.

SAR, along with other types of Earth imaging, have actually grown in demand during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis – especially when provided by companies focused on delivering them via lower cost, small satellite operations. That’s in part due to their ability to provide services that supplement inspection and monitoring work that would’ve been done previously in person, or handled via expensive operations including aircraft observation or tasked geosynchronous satellites.

#aerospace, #capella-space, #iceye, #imaging, #recent-funding, #satellite-constellation, #satellites, #science, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #true-ventures

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Edtech investors are panning for gold

The spotlight on edtech grows brighter and harsher: On one end, remote-learning startups are attracting millions in venture capital. On the other, many educators and parents are unimpressed with the technology that enables virtual learning and gaps remain in and out of the classroom.

It’s clear that edtech’s nebulous pain points — screen time, childcare and classroom management — require innovation. But as founders flurry to a sector recently rejuvenated with capital, the influx of interest has not fostered any breakout solutions. As a result, edtech investors must hone their skills at sorting the innovators from the opportunists amid the rush.

Lucky for us, investors shared notes during TechCrunch Disrupt and offline regarding how they are separating the gold from the dust, giving us a peek into their due diligence process (and inboxes).

Putting profitability over growth

The pandemic has broadly forced founders to get more conservative and prioritize profitability over the usual “growth at all costs” startup mentality. Growth still matters, but within edtech, the boom comes with a big focus on profitability, efficacy, outcomes and societal impact.

“The goal of all of education is personalized learning, when every student receives exactly the instruction in the way that they need it at the time that they need it. And that’s really, really difficult to do if you’re trying to have one person teach 180 students,” said Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners. “And so I’ve been excited to see more solutions that are focused on creating smaller class sizes that are also focused on allowing students to connect with people outside of their homes as well.”

During Disrupt, Reach Capital’s Jennifer Carolan brought up a recent Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” which illustrates the impact screen time can have on society. When vetting companies, Carolan said she wanted to see founders who have considered how their products may impact young users.

#cowboy-vc, #disrupt-2020, #edtech, #education, #ian-chiu, #jennifer-carolan, #jomayra-hererra, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mercedes-bent, #owl-ventures, #reach-capital, #startups, #tc

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Group discounts let you bring the team to TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

There’s a lot of virtual ground for one person to cover — and real opportunities to uncover — during the two days of TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 (October 6-7). Take advantage of our group discounts, bring the whole team and multiply your results and your ROI.

Buy four or more passes, and you’ll trim $25 off the price of each pass — but only if you buy them before the deadline: October 5 at 11:59 p.m. (PDT).

With all hands on deck, you can attend interviews, breakout sessions and panel discussions — and interact with top industry leaders — to get a handle on emerging trends. Here’s just one prime example and be sure to check out the Mobility 2020 agenda for the full scoop.

Building an AV Startup: Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun will share her experiences in the world of automation and robotics, a ride that has taken her from Apple to Otto and Uber before she set off to start a self-driving truck company. Sun will discuss what the future holds for trucking and the challenges and the secrets behind building a successful mobility startup.

“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.” — Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

Other team members can explore and connect with more than 40 early-stage mobility startups exhibiting in the expo — who knows what opportunities they’ll find? With thousands of attendees from around the world, the networking potential will be off the hook. Good news: We don’t have an app for that — we have a full-blown AI-powered platform: CrunchMatch.

It’s the perfect tool for networking at a virtual conference. When you register, simply answer a few quick questions, and CrunchMatch gets to work connecting you with the people who can help grow your business. The rest is up to you — schedule 1:1 video calls and begin building the relationships that can change the course of your business.

“TC Sessions: Mobility isn’t just an educational opportunity, it’s a real networking opportunity. Everyone was passionate and open to creating pilot programs or other partnerships. That was the most exciting part. And now — thanks to a conference connection — we’re talking with Goodyear’s Innovation Lab.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

So much vital information and incredible opportunity awaits at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. Don’t go it alone. Grab a group discount, take your whole team and do whatever it takes to drive your business forward.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#startups, #tc-sessions-mobility-2020

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The Peloton effect

During the most recent quarter, only a few earnings reports stood out from the rest. Zoom’s set of results were one of them, with the video-communications company showing enormous acceleration as the world replaced in-person contact with remote chat.

Another was Peloton’s earnings from the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2020, which it reported September 10th. The company’s revenue and profitability spiked as folks stuck at home turned to the connected fitness company’s wares.


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


Shares of Peloton have rallied around 4x since March, roughly the start of when the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact life in the United States, driving demand for the company’s at-home workout equipment. And in late June, athleisure company Lululemon bought Mirror, another connected fitness company aimed at the home market for around $500 million.

With Peloton’s 2019 IPO and its growth along with Mirror’s exit in 2020, connected fitness is demonstrably hot, and private-market investors are taking notice. A recent Tweet from fitness tech watcher Joe Vennare detailing a host of recent funding rounds raised by “digital fitness” companies made the point last week, piquing our curiosity at the same time.

Is there really some sort of Peloton effect driving private investment into lots of connected fitness startups? How hot is the more nascent side of connected fitness?

This morning let’s take a look through some recent funding rounds in the space to get a feel for what’s going on. (If you’re a VC who cares about the sector, feel free to email in your own notes, subject line “connected fitness” please.) We’ll then execute the same search for Q3 2019 and see how the data compares.

Hot Wheels

To start with the current market I pulled a Crunchbase query for all Q3 funding rounds for companies tagged as “fitness” and then filtered out the cruft to get a look at the most pertinent funding events.

Here’s what I came up for for Q3 2020, to date:

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A meeting room of one’s own: three VCs discuss breaking out of big firms to start their own gigs

One of the more salient trends in the tech world — arguably the engine that propels it — has been the recurring theme of people who hone talents at bigger companies and then strike out on their own to found their own startups.

(Some, like Max Levchin, even hire entrepreneurial types intentionally to help perpetuate this cycle and get more proactive teams in place.)

It turns out that trend doesn’t just apply to companies, but also to the investors who back them. At Disrupt we talked with three venture capitalists who have followed that path: making their names and cutting their teeth at major firms, and now building their own “startup” funds on their own steam.

On the macro level, the whole world has been living through a challenging time this year. But as we’ve seen time and again the wheels have continued to turn in the tech world.

IPOs are returning, products are being rolled out, people are buying a lot online and using the internet to stay connected, there has been a lot of M&A, and promising startups are getting funded.

Indeed, if entrepreneurs and their innovations are the engine of the tech world, money is the fuel, and that is the opportunity that Dayna Grayson (formerly of NEA, now founder at Construct Capital), Renata Quintini (formerly at Lux Capital, now founder at Renegade Partners) and Lo Toney (formerly GV, now founder at Plexo Capital) have zeroed in to address.

Grayson said that part of the reason for striking out to start Construct Capital with co-founder Rachel Holt was what they saw as an opportunity to create a firm that specifically funded startups tackling the industrial sector:

“Half the US economy’s GDP, half the GDP of this country, hasn’t really been digitized,” she said. “[Firms] haven’t been tech enabled. They’ve been way under invested… The time is now to build with early stage entrepreneurs.”

While Construct is focusing on a sector, Renegade was founded to focus on something else: the stage of development for a startup, and specific the Series B, which the firm refers to as “supercritical”, essential in terms of getting team and strategy right after a startup is no longer just starting out, but before and leading to scaled growth.

“We saw through our boards over and over again companies that figured out how to scale their organizations, put in the processes,” said Quintini, who co-founded Renegade with Roseanne Wincek. “On the people side, they actually went further and captured a lot more market cap and market share faster. Once we saw this opportunity, we could not let it go.”

She compares the current imperative to really focus on how to build and scale companies at the “supercritical” stage to the focus on early stage funding that typified an earlier period in the development of the startup ecosystem 15 years ago. “You could get a million dollars and be in business, a lot more people could, and you had less time to figure out what really resonated with customers,” she said. “That really gave rise to today.”

Toney has taken yet another approach, focusing not on sector, nor stage, but using capital to help germinate a whole new demographic of founders, the premise being that funding a more diverse and inclusive mix of founders is not just good for creating a more level playing field, but also for the good of more well-rounded products that speak to a wider population of users.

“I was having a great time at GV, but I just saw this opportunity as being one that was too hard to resist,” said Toney of founding Plexo, which invests not just in startups but in funds that are following a similar investment principle to his. Investing in both funds and founders is something GV did as well, but the added ability to turn that into investing with a social imperative was important. “To have this byproduct of increasing diversity and inclusion in the ecosystem [is something] I’m super passionate about,” he said. 

We are living through a time when the tech world seems to be awash in capital. One of the byproducts of having so many successful tech companies has been limited partners rushing in to back more VCs in hopes of also getting some of the spoils: many firms are closing funds in record times, oversubscribed, and that’s having a knock-on effect not just terms of startups getting funded, but VCs themselves also multiplying with increasing frequency. All three said that the fact that the all identify as more than just “another new VC”, with specific purposes, also makes it easier for them to get themselves noticed to get involved in good deals.

Grayson said that the challenge of starting a firm in the midst of a global pandemic turned out to be a piece of good fortune in disguise in an industry that thrives on the concept of “disruption” (as we at TechCrunch know all too well…).

“We were really lucky that we started investing in a COVID world,” she said. “So many things have been up ended. And I think, you know, software adoption and technology adoption have been moved up 10-20 years in industry. [And] the way that we work together really has changed.” She also said that they’ve found themselves almost looking for companies “created in a COVID environment”, which indeed would qualify as a battle-tested business model.

In terms of raising funds themselves, Toney also recalled the period when we saw a real surge of VCs emerging to fund companies at the seed stage, and the growth of “solo capitalists” around that.

“I think what’s really interesting about solo capitalists is [how] they take their understanding of operations, and a deep network of other technologists, both from big companies as well as entrepreneurs, and … leverage access to all that deal flow by going out and actually raising capital from other sources, whether that be high net worth individuals or family offices or even institutions,” he said.

#disrupt, #funding, #startups, #tc, #tc-disrupt, #tc-disrupt-sf-2020, #venture-capital

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Equity Monday: The TikTok mess, and a grip of neat European VC activity

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

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

What a busy morning. We had to cover TikTok . We had to talk VC rounds. So, this is what we got up to:

  • US tech stocks are poised to sell off further this morning.
  • The Oracle-TikTok-Walmart-ByteDance deal is either coming into focus, or a period of even less clarity. It’s hard to tell.
  • Nikola founder Trevor Milton is leaving the board of his own company in the wake of fraud allegations. Shares of the company are sharply lower in pre-market trading.
  • Turning to TikTok, this primer represents the best over-the-weekend roundup that we could find. But, of course, things are still breaking as we come to print.
  • Since recording, Oracle has said that “upon creation of TikTok Global, Oracle/Walmart will make their investment and the TikTok Global shares will be distributed to their owners, Americans will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.” And, President Trump said this morning that China has to give up control of TikTok or the deal is off. ByteDance has said that it will retain control. You figure that out.
  • But there was some good stuff to chat about. Including the super-neat Mobile Premier League round worth $90 million, growth news from EU-based Babbel, a new London-based Seed fund that got raised, and a Swedish healthtech Series B.
  • As you guessed from today’s title, it was fun to see such a concentration of EU VC activity.
  • Finally, will the Nikola mess discourage more SPACs from taking companies public? If the rest of the stock market wasn’t selling off, we would have said no. But today? Is the answer maybe?

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

#equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #mobile-premier-league, #nikola, #startups, #tiktok

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With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn

Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, as well as game producers Takeshi Otsuka and Teddy Cross.

Although the Tokyo-headquartered company is only announcing its existence today, it’s already a unicorn — it says it’s raised $100 million in Series A funding, at a valuation “just north of $1 billion.”

The round was led by Josh Buckley and Sequoia Capital, with participation from Sozo Ventures, Raymond Tonsing’s Caffeinated Capital, Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund, Taizo Son’s Mistletoe Singapore, Digital Garage, Will Smith’s Dreamers, Makers Fund and others.

Carter (Playco’s CEO) said the startup will be revealing its first games later this year. For now, he wants to talk about Playco’s vision: It’s trying to address the fact that “it’s very difficult to get two people into a single game in the App Store.” After all, downloading an app is a pretty big hurdle, especially compared to the early days of web and social gaming, when all you needed was a link.

“We’re going to bring that back,” Carter said — with Playco’s titles, sharing and playing a mobile game with your friend should be as simple as texting or calling them. “All it really takes is a hyperlink.”

He pointed to a number of technologies that can enable this “instant play” experience on mobile, including cloud gaming, HTML5 and platform-specific tools like Apple’s new App Clips. He claimed the team is “very good at this cutting edge technology” — and the company has created its own game engine — but he said technology is not the sole focus: “That’s just table stakes.”

Waldron (Playco’s president) argued that this represents the next big platform shift in gaming, and it will require “reinventing a lot of the most popular genres today” while also creating entirely new genres, in the same way that social gaming enabled new types of games.

“If you think about FarmVille, there were no farm games being advertised being in local console games store,” Waldron said. “They don’t market well; if you put up a poster for a farm game, no one wants to play.” But if your friends invite you by sending you some digital crops, then you absolutely want to play.

Carter added that enabling instant play also means that the games themselves have to be fairly straightforward, at least at first glance.

“Ultimately, as we build up the portfolio, we think about what makes the game accessible to anyone on the planet, any ethnicity, any language,” he said. “And the answer is: It has to be broadly appealing. That doesn’t mean we can’t build into it relatively interesting and deep features, but the initial impression has to be the right sort of experience that people can easily relate to.”

Carter also acknowledged that it’s unusual for a startup to raise so much money in its Series A (“It’s not your typical company, and it’s not your typical Series A”), but he said that being more ambitious with fundraising allowed Playco to quickly grow the team to 75 people.

“Bringing talented people together is the most important thing, and [thanks to the funding,] we haven’t had to make any really hard decisions,” he said.

As for how its games will make money, Waldron suggested that Playco will borrow from (but also potentially evolve) many of the existing business models in gaming.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “There’s going to be amazing things we can learn from my last company — we ended up inventing a lot of the ways these games are monetizing today … But these new technologies available today create new opportunities. The world has changed a lot since then, and I don’t think everything has caught up.”

#funding, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #josh-buckley, #justin-waldron, #michael-carter, #mobile, #playco, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc

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Was Snowflake’s IPO mispriced or just misunderstood?

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. 

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Was Snowflake’s IPO mispriced or just misunderstood?

With an ocean of neat stuff to get through below, we’ll be quick today on our thought bubble focused on Snowflake’s IPO. Up front it was a huge success as a fundraising event for the data-focused unicorn.

At issue is the mismatch between the company’s final IPO price of $120 and where it opened, which was around $245 per share. The usual forces were out on Twitter arguing that billions were left on the table, with commentary on the question of a mispriced IPO even reaching our friends at CNBC.

A good question given the controversy is how the company itself felt about its IPO price given that it was the party that, theoretically, left a few billion on some metaphorical table. As it turns out, the CEO does not give a shit.

Alex Konrad at Forbes — a good chap, follow him on Twitter here — caught up with Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman about the matter. He called the “chatter” that his company left money on the table “nonsense,” adding that he could have priced higher but that he “wanted to bring along the group of investors that [Snowflake] wanted, and [he] didn’t want to push them past the point where they really started to squeal.”

So Slootman found a new, higher price at which to value his company during its debut. He got the investors he wanted. He got Berkshire and Salesforce in on the deal. And the company roared out of the gate. What an awful, terrible, no-good, mess of an IPO.

Adding to the mix, I was chatting with a few SaaS VCs earlier this week, and they largely didn’t buy into the money-left-on-the-table argument, as presuming that a whole block of shares could be sold at the opening trade price is silly. Are IPOs perfect? Hell no. Are bankers out for their own good? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that Snowflake screwed up.

Market Notes

No time to waste at all, let’s get into it:

  • Lots of IPOs this week, and everyone did well. Snowflake was explosive while JFrog was merely amazing. Sumo Logic and Unity had more modest debuts, but good results all the same. Notes from JFrog and Sumo execs in a moment.
  • Disrupt was a big damn deal this week, with tech’s famous and its up and coming leaders showing up to chatter with TechCrunch about what’s going on today, and what’s going on tomorrow. You can catch up on the sessions here, which I recommend. But I wanted to take a moment and thank the TechCrunch sales, partnership, and events teams. They killed it and get 0.1% of the love that they deserve. Thank you.
  • Why is Snowflake special? This tweet by GGV’s Jeff Richards has the story in one chart.
  • What are the hottest categories for SaaS startups in 2020? We got you.
  • There’s a new VC metric in town for startups to follow. Folks will recall the infamous T2D3 model, where startups should triple twice, and then double three times. That five-year plan got most companies to $100M in ARR. Now Shasta Ventures’ Issac Roth has a new model for contention, what he’s calling “C170R,” and according to a piece from his firm, he reckons it could be the “new post-COVID SaaS standard.” (We spoke with Roth about API-focused startups the other day.)
  • So what is it? Per his own notes: “If a startup entering COVID season with $2-20M in revenue is on track for 170% of their 2019 revenue AND is aligned with the new normal of remote, they will be able to raise new capital on good terms and are set up for future venture success.” He goes to note that there’s less of a need to double or treble this year.
  • Our thought bubble: If this catches on, a lot more SaaS startups would prove eligible for new rounds than we’d thought. And as Shasta is all-in on SaaS, perhaps this metric is a welcome mat of sorts. I wonder what portion of VCs agree with Shasta’s new model?
  • And, closing, our dive into no-code and low-code startups continues.

Various and Sundry

Again, there’s so much to get to that there is no space to waste words. Onward:

  • Chime raised an ocean of capital, which is notable for a few reasons. First, a new $14.5B valuation, which is up a zillion percent from their early 2019 round, and up around 3x from its late 2019 round. And it claims real EBITDA profitability. And with the company claiming it will be IPO ready in 12 months I am hype about the company. Because not every company that manages a big fintech valuation is in great shape.
  • I got on the phone with the CEO and CFO of JFrog after their IPO this week to chat about the offering. The pair looked at every IPO that happened during COVID, they said, to try to get their company to a “fair price,” adding that from here out the market will decide what’s the right number. The CEO Shlomi Ben Haim also made a fun allusion to a tweet comparing JFrog’s opening valuation to the price that Microsoft paid for GitHub. I think that this is the tweet.
  • JFrog’s pricing came on the back of it making money, i.e. real GAAP net income in its most recent quarter. According to JFrog’s CFO Jacob Shulman “investors were impressed with the numbers,” and were also impressed by its “efficient market model” that allowed it find “viral adoption inside the enterprise.”
  • That last phrase sounds to us like efficient sales and marketing spend.
  • Moving to Sumo Logic, which also went out this week (S-1 notes here). I caught up with the company’s CTO Christian Beedgen.
  • Beedgen, I just want to say, is a delight to chat with. But more on topic, the company’s IPO went well and I wanted to dig into more of the nitty-gritty of the market that Sumo is seeing. After Beedgen walked me through how he views his company’s TAM ($50 billion) and market dynamics (not winner-takes-all), I asked about sales friction amongst enterprise customers that Slack had mentioned in its most recent earnings report. Beedgen said:
  • “I don’t see that as a systemic problem personally. […] I think people in economies are very flexible, and you know the new normal is what it is now. And you know these other guys on the other side [of the phone], these businesses they also need to continue to run their stuff and so they’re gonna continue to figure out how we can help. And they will find us, we will find them. I really don’t see that as a systemic problem.”
  • So, good news for enterprise startups everywhere!
  • Wix launched a non-VC fund that looks a bit like a VC fund. Called Wix Capital, the group will “invest in technology innovators that are focused on the future of the web and that look to accelerate how businesses operate in today’s evolving digital landscape,” per the company.
  • Wix is a big public shop these days, with elements of low and no-code to its core. (The Exchange talked to the company not too long ago.)
  • And, finally my friends, I call this the Peloton Effect, and am going to write about it if I can find the time.

I am chatting with a Unity exec this evening, but too late to make it into this newsletter. Perhaps next week. Hugs until then, and stay safe.

Alex

#fundings-exits, #startups

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From Unity to Disrupt, tech has an especially optimistic week

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

While TechCrunch was busy producing our first-ever online Disrupt this week, the IPO market got even more exciting than expected — so here’s a quick look. Snowflake, Jfrog, Sumo Logic and Unity each raised price ranges days before IPO, to meet what had seemed like growing enthusiasm from public markets. Yet each still opened higher than its offering price, with cloud data-warehousing company Snowflake’s value doubling to make it the largest software IPO in history and Unity up 30%.

Despite the pandemic and various major turmoils around the world, the promise of these companies is helping to maintain optimism from retail investors to people thinking about founding a company.

Here’s a quick look at our coverage of the main companies in the IPO process this week, in chronological order:

Snowflake and JFrog raise IPO ranges as tech markets stay hot (EC)

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

What’s ahead in IPO land for JFrog, Snowflake, Sumo Logic and Unity (EC)

JFrog and Snowflake’s aggressive IPO pricing point to strong demand for cloud shares (EC)

Unity raises IPO price range after JFrog, Snowflake target steep debut valuations

Go public now while software valuations make no sense, Part II

In its 4th revision to the SEC, Palantir tries to explain what the hell is going on

It’s game on as Unity begins trading

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

And don’t miss Alex Wilhelm’s additional notes coming later today over on The Exchange weekend newsletter.

Image Credits: Canix

Disrupt 2020

Our tenth annual startup conference was remote-first this year, but it managed to capture the same sort of vibe in my humble opinion.

First, a cannabis SaaS company took home the grand prize at the Startup Battlefield competition… we are truly living in the cloud these days. Here’s more, from Matt Burns:

Growing cannabis on an industrial scale involves managing margins while continually adhering to compliance laws. For many growers, large and small, this consists of constant data entry from seed to sale. Canix’s solution employs a robust enterprise resource planning platform with a steep tilt toward reducing the time it takes to input data. This platform integrates nicely with common bookkeeping software and Metrc, an industry-wide regulatory platform, through the use of RFID scanners and Bluetooth-enabled scales. Canix launched in June 2019, and in a little over a year (and during a pandemic), acquired over 300 customers spanning more than 1,000 growing facilities and tracking the movement of 2.5 million plants.

Next, here’s an especially pithy take on the future of startups, from senior Benchmark partner Peter Fenton.

I think this opportunity to build the tools for a world that’s ‘post place’ has just opened up and is as exciting as anything I’ve seen in my venture career. You walk around right now and you see these ghosts towns, with gyms, classes you might take [and so forth] and now maybe you go online and do Peloton, or that class you maybe do online. So I think a whole field of opportunities will move into this post-place delivery mechanism that are really exciting. [It] could be 10 to 20 years of innovation that just got pulled forward into today.

The truth is that I have not had time to watch all of the talks — I was busy with the Extra Crunch stage and other stuff, and that’s not even counting other programming we had going on. So check out the quick selection of picks below. To catch up more, you can browse the full agenda and watch the videos here.

We’ll also be offering coverage of the EC stage plus analysis from our conversations in the coming weeks, for subscribers (which includes anyone who bought a ticket and redeemed it for an annual subscription).

Quantum startup CEO suggests we are only five years away from a quantum desktop computer

Daphne Koller: ‘Digital biology is an incredible place to be right now’

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means

Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars

Indian decacorn Byju’s CEO talks about future acquisitions, coronavirus and international expansion

Fabletics’ Adam Goldenberg and Kevin Hart on what’s next for the activewear empire

Southeast Asia’s East Ventures on female VCs, foreign investment, consolidation

Ride-hailing was hit hard by COVID-19 — Grab’s Russell Cohen on how the company adapted

In this photo illustration a TikTok logo is seen displayed on a smartphone with a ByteDance logo on the background. (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Tik Tok and geopolitics

Over in the real world, Tik Tok is still on track for a full shut-down despite the frantic dealmaking efforts by innumerable parties. At one point this week, it looked like Oracle and various business interests had a plan to keep Tik Tok alive as an independent company that would IPO (with some sort of national security oversight), and maybe that will still come about? I doubt Trump and his advisers will go along with that plan, given the national security problem of leaving algorithms controlled from China, and the long-term trade problem of US consumer tech being banned there too.

Meanwhile, the Bytedance-owned company also just announced 100 million users in Europe. Apparently it was a press push to counter the bad news, but as Ingrid Lunden notes, it’s hard to know what this user base means without the US. To which I’d add, European regulators are already busy going after foreign tech companies. I can’t imagine that they’ll leave an app this popular alone.

It’s another reminder that the next era will not offer startups the same possibilities for global success.

Communication between two people.

How to hire your first engineer (if you’re a nontechnical founder)

Lucas Matney talked with technical leaders and startup founders to figure out a key problem that many readers of this newsletter have had before (including me). How to get someone who can make your company a tech company? Here’s the intro, with the full thing on Extra Crunch:

Their advice spanned how to handle technical interviews, sourcing technical talent, how to decide whether your first engineering hire should become CTO  — and how to best kick the can down the road if you’re not ready to start worrying about bringing on an engineer quite yet. Everyone I spoke to was quick to caution that their tips weren’t one-size-fits-all and that overcoming limited knowledge often comes down to tapping the right people to help you out and lend a greater understanding of your options.

I’ve broken down these tips into a digestible guide that’s focused on four areas:

  • Sourcing technical candidates.
  • How to conduct interviews.
  • Making an offer.
  • Taking a nontraditional route.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling VCs in Zurich & Geneva: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

Opendoor to go public by way of Chamath Palihapitiya SPAC

Black Tech Pipeline proves the ‘pipeline problem’ isn’t real

Gaming companies are reportedly the next targets in the US government’s potentially broader Tencent purge

Equity Monday: The TikTok mess, two funding rounds and Nvidia will buy ARM

Extra Crunch

3 VCs discuss the state of SaaS investing in 2020

The stages of traditional fundraising

Making sense of 3 edtech extension rounds

Facebook investor Jim Breyer picks Austin as Breyer Capital’s second home

Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers?

#EquityPod: Schools are closing their doors, but Opendoor isn’t

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

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and myself hosted a live taping at Disrupt for a digital reception. It was good fun, though of course we’re looking forward to bringing the live show back to the conference next year, vaccine allowing.

Thankfully we had Chris Gates behind the scenes tweaking the dials, Alexandra Ames fitting us into the program and some folks to watch live.

What did we talk about? All of this (and some very, very bad jokes):

And then we tried to play a game that may or may not make it into the final cut. Either way, it was great to have Equity back at Disrupt. More to come. Hugs from us!

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

#startups, #startups-weekly, #tc

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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

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SaaS Ventures takes the investment road less traveled

Most venture capital firms are based in hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. These firms nurture those ecosystems and they’ve done well, but SaaS Ventures decided to go a different route: it went to cities like Chicago, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska.

The firm looks for enterprise-focused entrepreneurs who are trying to solve a different set of problems than you might find in these other centers of capital, issues that require digital solutions but might fall outside a typical computer science graduate’s experience.

Saas Ventures looks at four main investment areas: trucking and logistics, manufacturing, e-commerce enablement for industries that have not typically gone online and cybersecurity, the latter being the most mainstream of the areas SaaS Ventures covers.

The company’s first fund, which launched in 2017, was worth $20 million, but SaaS Ventures launched a second fund of equal amount earlier this month. It tends to stick to small-dollar-amount investments, while partnering with larger firms when it contributes funds to a deal.

We talked to Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures, to learn about his investment philosophy, and why he decided to take the road less traveled for his investment thesis.

A different investment approach

Gutman’s journey to find enterprise startups in out of the way places began in 2012 when he worked at an early enterprise startup accelerator called Acceleprise. “We were really the first ones who said enterprise tech companies are wired differently, and need a different set of early-stage resources,” Gutman told TechCrunch.

Through that experience, he decided to launch SaaS Ventures in 2017, with several key ideas underpinning the firm’s investment thesis: after his experience at Acceleprise, he decided to concentrate on the enterprise from a slightly different angle than most early-stage VC establishments.

Collin Gutman from SaaS Ventures

Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures (Image Credits: SaaS Ventures)

The second part of his thesis was to concentrate on secondary markets, which meant looking beyond the popular startup ecosystem centers and investing in areas that didn’t typically get much attention. To date, SaaS Ventures has made investments in 23 states and Toronto, seeking startups that others might have overlooked.

“We have really phenomenal coverage in terms of not just geography, but in terms of what’s happening with the underlying businesses, as well as their customers,” Gutman said. He believes that broad second-tier market data gives his firm an upper hand when selecting startups to invest in. More on that later.

#boston, #chicago, #collin-gutman, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #healthcare-tech, #saas, #saas-ventures, #seed-investing, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020 is… Canix

We started this competition with 20 impressive startups. After five days of fierce pitching in a wholly new virtual Startup Battlefield arena, we have a winner.

The startups taking part in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. It was an unprecedented year as we moved all of the nail-biting excitement of our physical contest to a virtual stage. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $100,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.

After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: Canix, Firehawk AerospaceHacWare, Jefa and Matidor.

These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Caryn Marooney (Coatue Management), Ilya Fushman (Kleiner Perkins), Michael Seibel (Y Combinator), Sonali De Rycker (Sequoia), Troy Carter (Q&A) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch).

We’re now ready to announce that the winner of TechCrunch Battlefield 2020 is….

#battlefield, #canix, #disrupt-2020, #matidor, #startups, #tc

0

Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers?

Ever since Apple opened up subscription monetization to more apps in 2016 — and enticed developers with an 85/15 split on revenue from customers that remain subscribed for more than a year — subscription monetization and retention has felt like the Holy Grail for app developers. So much so that Google quickly followed suit in what appeared to be an example of healthy competition for developers in the mobile OS duopoly.

But how does that split actually work out for most apps? Turns out, the 85/15 split — which Apple is keen to mention anytime developers complain about the App Store rev share — doesn’t have a meaningful impact for most developers. Because churn.

No matter how great an app is, subscribers are going to churn. Sometimes it’s because of a credit card expiring or some other billing issue. And sometimes it’s more of a pause, and the user comes back after a few months. But the majority of churn comes from subscribers who, for whatever reason, decide that the app just isn’t worth paying for anymore. If a subscriber churns before the one-year mark, the developer never sees that 85% split. And even if the user resubscribes, Apple and Google reset the clock if a subscription has lapsed for more than 60 days. Rather convenient… for Apple and Google.

Top mobile apps like Netflix and Spotify report churn rates in the low single digits, but they are the outliers. According to our data, the median churn rate for subscription apps is around 13% for monthly subscriptions and around 50% for annual. Monthly subscription churn is generally a bit higher in the first few months, then it tapers off. But an average churn of 13% leaves just 20% of subscribers crossing that magical 85/15 threshold.

In practice, what this means is that, for all the hype around the 85/15 split, very few developers are going to see a meaningful increase in revenue:

#android, #app-store, #apps, #column, #developer, #ios, #itunes, #mobile, #mobile-app, #startups, #tc

0

Amid layoffs and allegations of fraud, the FBI has arrested NS8’s CEO following its $100+ million summer financing

The tagline from today’s announcement from the United States Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York says it all: “Adam Rogas Allegedly Raised $123 Million from Investors Using Financial Statements that Showed Tens of Millions of Dollars of Revenue and Assets that Did Not Exist”.

Rogas, the co-founder and former chief executive and chief financial officer and board member of the Las Vegas-based fraud prevention company, NS8, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged in Manhattan court with securities fraud, fraud in the offer of sale of securities, and wire fraud earlier today.

Last week, the company laid off hundreds of staff as reports of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission surfaced, according to a report in Forbes.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation,” Lightspeed Ventures told Forbes in a statement. “We are shocked by the news and have taken steps to inform our LPs. It would be premature to comment further at this time.” Lightspeed Ventures helped lead NS8’s $123 million Series A this June. Other investors include Edison Partners, Lytical Ventures, Sorenson Ventures, Arbor Ventures, Hillcrest Venture Partners, Blu Venture Investors, and Bloomberg Beta, per Crunchbase data.

The allegations are, indeed, shocking.

“As alleged, Adam Rogas was the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse,” said Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement. “While raising over $100 million from investors for his fraud prevention company, Rogas himself allegedly was engaging in a brazen fraud.  Today’s arrest of Rogas ensures that he will be held accountable for his alleged scheme.”

Allegedly, while Rogas was in control of the bank accounts and spreadsheets that detailed its transactions with customers, he cooked the books to show millions in transactions that did not exist.

From January 2019 through February 2020, the FBI alleges that somewhere between 40 percent and 95 percent of the purported total assets on NS8’s balance sheet were fictitious, according to the statement. Over the same period bank Rogas altered bank statements to reflect $40 million in revenue that simply were not there, according to the Justice Department’s allegations.

On the back of that fake financial data, NS8 was able to raise over $120 million from some top tier investment firms including Lightspeed Venture Partners and AXA Ventures. 

Rogas managed to hoodwink not just the investment firms, but the auditors who were conducting due diligence on their behalf. After the round was completed, NS8 did a secondary offering which let Rogas cash out of $17.5 million through personal sales and through a company he controlled, according to the statement from the DOJ.

“It seems ironic that the co-founder of a company designed to prevent online fraud would engage in fraudulent activity himself, but today that’s exactly what we allege Adam Rogas did. Rogas allegedly raised millions of dollars from investors based on fictitious financial affirmations, and in the end, walked away with nearly $17.5 million worth of that money,” said FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. “Within our complex financial crimes branch, securities fraud cases remain among our top priorities. We’ve seen far too many examples of unscrupulous actors engaging in this type of criminal activity, and we continue to work diligently to weed out this behavior whenever and wherever we find it.”

#adam-rogas, #axa-ventures, #fundings-exits, #lightspeed, #ns8, #startups, #tc

0

The stages of traditional fundraising

Funding comes in stages.

Understanding these will help you know when and where to go for funding at each stage of your business. Further, it will help you communicate with funders more precisely. What you think when you hear “seed funding” and “A rounds” might be different from what investors think. You both need to be on the same page as you move forward.

Early money stage

The first stage is early money, when cash is invested in exchange for large amounts of equity. This cash, which ranges between $1,000 and $500,000, typically, comes from the three Fs: friends, family and (we don’t like this nomenclature) fools. The last-named folks are essentially “giving” you cash, and these investors are well-aware that you will most likely fail — hence, “fools.”

Your earliest investors should reap the biggest rewards because they are taking the most risk. The assumption is that, ultimately, you’ll make good or improve their investment. The reality, they understand, is that you probably won’t.

Your first money may come from bootstrapping or F&F, and your first big checks may come from an accelerator that pays you about $50,000 for a fairly large stake in your company. Accelerators are essentially greenhouses — or incubators — for startups. You apply to them. If accepted, you get assistance and a small amount of funding.

Why do investors give early money? Because they trust you, they understand your industry and they believe you can succeed. Some are curious about what you are doing and want to be close to the action. Others want to lock you up in case you are successful. In fact, many accelerators have this in mind when they connect with new startups. At its core, the funding landscape is surprisingly narrow. When you begin fundraising, you’ll hear a lot of terminology including descriptions of various funding categories and investors. Let’s talk about them one by one.

Bootstrapping

As the old saying goes, if you need a helping hand, you’ll find it at the end of your arm. With that adage in mind, let’s begin with bootstrapping.

Bootstrapping comes from the concept of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps,” a comical image that computer scientists adapted to describe how a computer starts from a powered-down state. In the case of an entrepreneur, bootstrapping is synonymous with sweat equity — your own work and money that you put into your business without outside help.

Bootstrapping is often the only way to begin a business as an entrepreneur. By bootstrapping, you will find out very quickly how invested you are, personally, in your idea.

Bootstrapping requires you to spend money or resources on yourself. This means you either spend your own cash to build an early version of your product, or you build the product yourself, using your own skills and experience. In the case of service businesses — IT shops, design houses and so on — it requires you to quit your day job and invest, full time, in your own business.

Bootstrapping should be a finite action. For example, you should plan to bootstrap for a year or less and plan to spend a certain amount of money bootstrapping. If you blow past your time or money budget with little to show for your efforts, you should probably scrap the idea.

Some ideas take very little cash to bootstrap. These businesses require sweat equity — that is, your own work on a project that leads to at least a minimum viable product (MVP).

Consider an entrepreneur who wants to build a new app-based business in which users pay (or will pay) for access to a service. Very basic Apple iOS and Google Android applications cost about $25,000 to build, and they can take up to six months to design and implement. You could also create a simpler, web-based version of the application as a bootstrapping effort, which often takes far less cash — about $5,000 at $50 an hour.

You can also teach yourself to code and build your MVP yourself. This is often how tech businesses begin, and it says plenty about the need for founders to code or at least be proficient in the technical aspects of their business.

You can’t bootstrap forever. One entrepreneur we encountered was building a dating app. She had dedicated her life to this dating app, spending all of her money, quitting her job to continue to build it. She slept on couches and told everyone she knew about the app, networking to within an inch of her life. Years later it is a dead app in an app store containing millions of dead apps. While this behavior might get results one in a thousand times, few entrepreneurs can survive for a year of app-induced penury, let alone multiple years.

Another entrepreneur we knew was focused on nanotubes. He spent years rushing here and there, wasting cash on flights and taking meetings with people who wanted to sell him services. Many smart investors told him that he should go and work internally at a nanotube business and then branch out when he was ready. Instead, he attacked all angles for years, eventually leading to exhaustion. He’s still at it, however, which is a testament to his intensity.

#column, #crowdfunding, #entrepreneurship, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Chime adds $485M at a $14.5B valuation, claims EBITDA profitability

In the midst of IPO week we have to add another name to our future debuts’ list, namely Chime, which announced a huge new round of capital today. The $485 million Series F values the consumer fintech giant at $14.5 billion, a huge figure given that Chime was most recently worth $5.8 billion after raising $700 million last December.

Even more stark is the company’s $1.5 billion valuation set in early 2019. From $1.5 billion to $14.5 billion in less than two years is quite a run for any startup. Powering the latest round there were a host of familiar names, including Tiger, ICONIQ and General Atlantic, along with Dragoneer and DST Global. Names I’m less familiar with like Whale Rock Capital and Access Technology Ventures also took part.

Tucked inside a CNBC article that broke the story was news that Chime is now EBITDA profitable and could be “IPO-ready” in its CEO’s eyes in around a year’s time.

TechCrunch reached out to Chime for clarification on the EBITDA point, asking if the figure is adjusted or not, as many EBTIDA metrics remove the cost of share-based compensation given to their employees. According to Chime, the metric is “true EBITDA,” to which we award an extra five points. In response to a growth question, Chime said that its “transaction and top-line” has tripled compared to the year ago period.

The Chime round and news of its nascent, non-GAAP profitability comes on the heels of a grip of reports on the financial health of a number of European neobanks, or challenger banks as they are often called. The numbers showed huge growth, and steep losses. If Chime’s numbers hold up when we get its eventual S-1 — start your countdowns — it will be among the healthiest of the startups in its cohort in financial terms, we reckon.

Finally, the company is trying to paint itself as something of a software company, and not a fintech company. This is a move to attract better revenue multiples when it comes time to defend its new $14.5 billion valuation. Software companies have flat-out bonkers multiples these days, as evinced by the blockbuster Snowflake debut.

Here’s how Chime thinks of itself, via CNBC:

“We’re more like a consumer software company than a bank,” Britt said. “It’s more a transaction-based, processing-based business model that is highly predictable, highly recurring and highly profitable.”

The key phrases there are “software company” and “highly predictable, highly recurring and highly profitable.” In effect Chime will argue that interchange revenues should fit under the SaaS umbrella given their regularity. Investors will decide how to view that pitch. If it works, maybe fintechs are more valuable than expected. And those fintechs with obvious SaaS components, like Acorns, could be sitting pretty when it comes to making the fintech v. SaaS argument.

Regardless, it’s another huge round for Chime, which makes it a good day for the highly-valued fintech sector.

#acorns, #chime, #finance, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

0

It’s game on as Unity begins trading

Unity Software, which sells a game development toolkit primarily for mobile phone app developers, raised $1.3 billion in its initial public offering.

The company, which will begin trading today with the ticker symbol “U”, priced its shares at the top end of its expected range, selling 25 million shares at $52 per share.

The company’s final IPO price came in far ahead of what Unity initially anticipated. The company initially expected to price its public offering between $34 and $42 per share, later raising its offering to $44 and $48 per share.

The public offering values the company at around $13.7 billion, a good step-up from its final private valuation of around $6 billion.

For Unity, the journey to the public markets has been long. The company was founded and as a business that creates software for developers to make and manage their games. In that sense, the company is more like an Adobe or an Autodesk, than a game studio like Activision Blizzard or King.com.

As TechCrunch explained in an earlier story profiling Unity and its public offering:

Users import digital assets (often from Autodesk’s Maya) and add logic to guide each asset’s behavior, character interactions, physics, lighting and countless other factors that create fully interactive games. Creators then export the final product to one or more of the 20 platforms Unity supports, such as Apple iOS and Google Android, Xbox and Playstation, Oculus Quest and Microsoft HoloLens, etc.

The company organizes its business into two areas: tools for content creation and tools for managing and monetizing content. In actuality, the revenue from the managing and monetizing content actually outstrips the revenue the company makes from content creation.

The Unity public offering will be the first big test of investor appetite for this new approach to game development and the business-to-business tools that enable the new wave of gaming.

And it’s important to note (as we do here) that Unity doesn’t generate a lot of revenue off of its position as arguably the most popular game development platform. In fact, Unity has been pretty bad at monetizing the game development engine. It’s the ancillary services for in-game advertising, player matchmaking and other features that have made Unity the bulk of its money.

And there’s still the company’s biggest competitor, Epic Games, waiting in the wings. Here again, the analysis from TechCrunch’s previous reporting is helpful.

[Unity] also will want to benefit from comparisons to Epic Games, given [Epic] was just valued at $17 billion and has much greater public name recognition and hype.

To accomplish this, Unity seems to be underplaying the significance of its advertising business (adtech companies trade at much lower revenue multiples). In the past, Unity referred to its operations in three divisions: Create, Operate and Monetize. At the start of August, the SVP and VP leading the Monetize business switched titles to SVP and VP of Operate Solutions, respectively, and then Unity reported the monetization business as a subset of its Operate division in the S-1.

Consolidating Operate and Monetize into one reporting segment obscures specifics about how much revenue the ads business and the live services portfolio each contribute. As noted above, this segment appears to be dominated by ad revenue which means anywhere from 30% to 50% of Unity’s overall revenue is from ads. That should reduce the revenue multiple public investors are willing to value Unity at relative to recent and upcoming SaaS IPOs.

There isn’t a publicly-traded game engine company to directly benchmark Unity against, nor a roster of equity research analysts at big banks who have expertise in gaming infrastructure. Adobe and Autodesk appear to be relevant businesses to benchmark Unity against with regard to the nature of the non-advertising components of the business and Unity’s stated vision. Compared to Unity, those companies have lower growth rates and generate operating profits though; more recent public listings of SaaS companies like Zscaler and Cloudflare are likely to be valuation comps by investors to the extent they focus on its subscription and usage-based revenue streams since their revenue growth and margins are closer to Unity’s.

Both Epic and Unity are moving to meet each other, Epic by moving downstream, and Unity by moving to higher end applications. And both companies are looking beyond core gaming at other applications as well.

As companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Niantic and others evolve their augmented and virtual reality ecosystems, Epic and Unity may find new worlds to conquer. If public markets can find the cash.

#epic, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc, #unity

0

Outschool, newly profitable, raises a $45M Series B for virtual small group classes

Outschool, which started in 2015 as a platform for homeschooled students to bolster their extracurricular activities, has dramatically widened its customer base since the coronavirus pandemic began.The platform saw its total addressable market increase dramatically as students went home or campus to abide by COVID regulations instituted by the CDC.

Suddenly, live, small-group online learning classes became a necessity for students. Outschool’s services, which range from engineering lessons through Lego challenges to Spanish teaching by Taylor Swift songs, are now high in demand.

“When the CDC warned that school closures may be required, they talked about ‘internet-based tele-schooling,’” co-founder Amir Nathoo said. “We realized they meant classes over video chat, which is exactly what we offer.”

From August 2019 to August 2020, the online educational class service saw a more than 2,000% increase in bookings. But the surge isn’t just a crop of free users piling atop the platform. Outschool’s sales this year are around $54 million, compared to $6.5 million the year prior. It turned its first profit as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and is making more than $100 million in annual run rate.

While the profitability and growth could be a signal of the COVID-19 era, today Outschool got a vote of confidence that it isn’t just a pandemic-era boom. Today, Jennifer Carolan of Reach Capital announced at TechCrunch Disrupt that Outschool has raised a $45 million Series B round, bringing its total known capital to $55 million.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with participation from Reach Capital, Union Square Ventures, SV Angel, FundersClub, Y Combinator and others.

The cash gives Outschool the chance to grow its 60-person staff, which started at 25 people this year.

Founder Amir Nathoo was programming computer games from the age of five. So when it came to starting his own company, creating a platform that helped other kids do the same felt right.

In 2015, Nathoo grabbed Mikhail Seregine, who helped build Amazon Mechanical Turk and Google Consumer Surveys, and Nick Grandy, a product manager at Clever, another edtech company and YC alum. The trio drummed up a way to help students access experiences they don’t get in school.

To gauge interest, the company tried in-person classes in the SF Bay area, online content and tested across hundreds of families. Finally, they started working with homeschoolers as an early adopter audience, all to see if people would pay for non-traditional educational experiences.

“Homeschooling was interesting to us because we believed that if some new approach is going to change our education system radically for the better, it was likely that it would start outside the existing system,” Nathoo said.

He added that he observed that the homeschooling community had more flexibility around self-directed extracurricular activities. Plus, those families had a bigger stake in finding live, small-group instruction, to embed in days. The idea landed them a spot in Y Combinator in 2016, and, upon graduation, a $1.4 million seed round led by Collab+Sesame.

“We’d all been on group video calls with work, but we hadn’t seen this format of learning in K12 before,” he said. Outschool began rolling out live, interactive classes in small groups. It took off quickly. Sales grew from $500,000 in 2017 to over $6 million in 2019.

The strategy gave Outschool an opportunity to raise a Series A from Reach Capital, an edtech-focused venture capital fund, in May 2019. They began thinking outwards, past homeschooling families: what if a family with a kid in school wants extra activities, snuck in afterschool, on weekends or on holidays?

Today feels remarkably different for the startup, and edtech more broadly. Nathoo says that 87% of parents who purchase classes on Outschool have kids in school. The growth of Outschool’s total addressable market comes with a new set of challenges and goals.

When the pandemic started, Outschool had 1,000 teachers on its platform. Now, its marketplace hosts 10,000 teachers, all of whom have to get screened.

“That has been a big challenge,” he said. “We aren’t an open marketplace, so we had to rapidly scale our supply and quality team within our organization.” While that back-end work is time-consuming and challenging, the NPS score from students has remained high, Nathoo noted.

Outschool has a number of competitors in the live learning space. Juni Learning, for example, sells live small-group classes on coding and science. The company raised $7.5 million, led by Forerunner Ventures, and has around $10 million in ARR. Note earlier that Outschool is at $100 million in ARR.

“We provide a much broader range of learning options than Juni, which is focused just on coding classes,” Nathoo said. Outschool currently lists more than 50,000 classes on its website.

Varsity Tutors is another Outschool competitor, which is more similar to Outschool. Varsity Tutors sells online tutoring and large-group classes in core subjects such as Math and English. Nathoo says that Outschool’s differentiation remains in its focus of small-group teaching and a variety of topics.

As for what’s ahead for Outschool, Nathoo flirts with the idea of contradiction: what if the platform goes in schools?

“When I think about our strategy going forward, I think of new types of classes, international embedding and embedding ourselves back into school,” he said.

Outschool might use its growing consumer business as an engine to get into school districts, which are notoriously difficult to land deals with due to small budgets. But, to Nathoo, it’s important to get into schools to increase access to learning.

“Our vision is to build a global education community that supplements local school,” he said.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #disrupt-2020, #education, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #outschool, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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What makes Checkout.com different from Stripe

While Checkout.com has kept a low profile for many years, the company raised $380 million within a year and reached an impressive valuation of $5.5 billion. It wants to build a one-stop shop for all things related to payments, such as accepting transactions, processing them and detecting fraud.

You might think that it sounds a bit like Stripe. In an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt, I asked founder and CEO Guillaume Pousaz what makes Checkout.com different from Stripe, Adyen and other companies in the payment space. It comes down to a very different philosophy when it comes to product and market approach.

“We only do enterprise. We really only work with the big merchants. There are a few exceptions here and there but it’s mostly enterprise-only and it’s purely online,” Pousaz said.

“I once met [Stripe CEO] Patrick Collison and I joked with him. I said you might have a million merchants, I have 1,200 merchants but I know every single one by name and they all process tens of millions every year. So I think it’s just a different business,” he added later in the interview.

Checkout.com now has a ton of money sitting in its bank account, but it has been a long and slow journey to reach that level. The company has been around for many years and reached profitability in 2012. It has been spending very meticulously over the years.

When talking about the early days of the company, Pousaz said the team grew really slowly. “We can hire one employee this month. Now we can hire two employees this month,” he said.

Today, the company still tries to remain as lean as possible. “It’s really a matter of discipline. All these companies, they raise a lot of money, they spend a lot of money and I don’t challenge that model. For us, embedding that discipline and frugality in the company in how we run it is something that was important to us,” Pousaz said.

“There’s no problem with spending. Just make sure that when you’re spending, you’re wise about it. You just don’t spray and pray. You see this unfortunately too much with tech companies.”

That’s why Checkout.com mostly invests in its own product. Nearly two-thirds of the company is working in product, IT and engineering. Only 13% of the company is working in sales, which is much less than some of its competitors.

But why did Checkout.com raise hundreds of millions of dollars then? “At some point, you need validation. And the validation was really important for us. When you have Insight, DST, Coatue, GIC, Blossom it changes your dimension,” Pousaz said.

When talking about regulators, Checkout.com has licenses in Brazil, the U.K. and France (for contingency), Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. It’s a never-ending process as the company is still working on licenses in other key markets, such as Japan.

“These regulators are super thorough. You don’t pass because you’re a nice guy, you pass because you have the right processes,” Pousaz said.

I challenged that notion and mentioned the Wirecard collapse. He obviously thinks that Wirecard and Checkout.com are in a different position right now.

“All my money is sitting with JP Morgan, it’s pretty simple. There’s no bank account in the Philippines and funny stuff,” Pousaz said. “The Wirecard story is so big that the real question is — go and ask the question to the auditors. Because the auditors that I have, which for the record is PwC, ask me to show them the bank statements and everything. And there are super thorough, it’s a super long process.”

“How did the Wirecard story happen? I don’t know,” he added.

#checkout-com, #disrupt, #disrupt-2020, #disrupt-sf, #disrupt-sf-2020, #europe, #guillaume-pousaz, #startups, #tc

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3 VCs discuss the state of SaaS investing in 2020

Yesterday during Disrupt 2020 I sat down with three investors who know the SaaS startup market very well, hoping to get my head around how hot things are today. Coming on the heels of the epic Snowflake IPO (more to come on that in this weekend’s newsletter), it was a great time for a chat.


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


I’ve boiled our 40-minute discussion down to my favorite parts, getting you the goods in quick fashion.

What follows are notes on:

  • how fast the SaaS investing market is today
  • why Snowflake priced where it did and what that tells us about today’s market
  • how SaaS companies are seeing different growth results based on their sales motion
  • why some private-market SaaS multiples can get so high
  • which software sectors are accelerating
  • and what I learned about international SaaS.

There are more things to pull out later, like the investors’ thoughts regarding diversity in their part of the venture world and SaaS startups, but I want to give that topic its own space.

So, into today’s SaaS market with an eye on the future, guided by commentary from Canaan’s Maha Ibrahim, Andreessen Horowitz’s David Ulevitch and Bessemer’s Mary D’Onofrio.

Inside SaaS

To help us get through a good bit of the written word without slowing down, I’ll introduce an idea, share a quote and provide a little commentary. This should be good fun.

#andressen-horowitz, #bessemer, #canaan, #cloud, #covid-19, #events, #fundings-exits, #saas, #startups, #techcrunch-disrupt-2020, #the-exchange

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Ride-hailing was hit hard by COVID-19. Grab’s Russell Cohen on how the company adapted.

A contactless delivery performed by a Grab delivery driver

A contactless Grab delivery

Ride-hailing services around the world have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Grab was no exception. The company is one of the most highly-valued tech startups in Southeast Asia, where it operates in eight countries. Its transport business suffered a sharp decline in March and April, as movement restriction orders were implemented.

But the company had the advantage of already operating several on-demand logistics services. During Disrupt, Russell Cohen, Grab’s group managing director of operations, talked about how the company adapted its technology for an unprecedented crisis (the video is embedded below).

“We sat down as a leadership group at the start of the crisis and we could see, particularly in Southeast Asia, that the scale of the challenge was so immense,” said Cohen.

Grab’s driver app already allowed them to toggle between ride-hailing and on-demand delivery requests. As a result of COVID-19, over 149,000 drivers began performing on-demand deliveries for the first time, with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand seeing the most conversions. That number included tens of thousands of new drivers who joined the platform to make up for lost earnings during the pandemic.

The challenge was scaling up its delivery services to meet the dramatic increase in demand by consumers, and also merchants who needed a new way to reach customers. In March and April, Cohen said just under 80,000 small businesses joined its platform. Many had never sold online before, so Grab expedited the release of a self-service feature, making it easier for merchants to on-board themselves.

“This is a massive sector of the Southeast Asian economy that effectively digitized within a matter of weeks,” said Cohen.

A lot of the new merchants had previously taken only cash payments, so Grab had to set them up for digital payments, a process made simpler because the company’s financial unit, Grab Financial, already offers services like Grab Pay for cashless payments, mobile wallets and remittance services.

Grab also released a new package of tools called Grab Merchant, which enabled merchants to set-up online businesses by submitting licenses and certification online, and includes features like data analytics.

Modeling for uncertainty in the “new normal”

Part of Grab’s COVID-19 strategy involved collaborating with local municipalities and governments in different countries to make deliveries more efficient. For example, it worked with the Singaporean government to expand a pilot program, called GrabExpress Car, originally launched in September, that enabled more of Grab’s ride-hailing vehicles to be used for food and grocery deliveries. Previously, many of those deliveries were handled only by motorbikes.

The situation in each of Grab’s markets–Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam—is still evolving. Some markets have lifted lockdown orders, while others continue to cope with new outbreaks.

Cohen said ride-hailing is gradually recovering in many of Grab’s markets. But the company is preparing for an uncertain future by modeling different scenarios, taking into account potential re-closings, and long-lasting changes in both consumer and merchant behavior.

“Unpredictability is something we think a lot about,” Cohen said. Its models include ones where deliveries are a significantly larger part of its business, because even in countries where movement restrictions have been lifted, customers still prefer to shop online.

COVID-19 has also accelerated the adoption of digital payments in several of Grab’s markets. For example, Grab launched its GrabPay Card in the Philippines three months ago, because more people are beginning to use contactless payments in response to COVID-19 concerns.

In terms of on-demand deliveries, the company is expanding GrabExpress, its same-day courier service, and adapting technology originally created for ride-pooling to help drivers plan pickups and deliveries more efficiently. This will help decrease the cost of delivery services as consumers remain price-conscious because of the pandemic’s economic impact.

“Purchasing behaviors have changed, so for us, when we think about the supply side, the drivers’ side, that means we’ve got to make sure our fleet is flexible,” he said.

#asia, #disrupt-2020, #grab, #on-demand-delivery, #ride-hailing, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-disrupt

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