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Startups Weekly: Will the real unicorns please stand up?

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Aileen Lee, alex wilhelm, bluevoyant, Co-founder, CRM, crowdstrike, cybersecurity startup, dashlane, economy, editor-in-chief, entrepreneurship, eric lefkofsky, Finance, garry tan, Indonesia, initialized capital, money, neologisms, Pegasus, Private Equity, records, SoFi, Softbank, Southeast Asia, starbucks, Startup company, Startups, startups weekly, stewart butterfield, tiny speck, unicorn, valuation, Venture Capital, virtual reality | 0 comments

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a newsletter published every Saturday that dives into the week’s noteworthy venture capital deals, funds and trends. Before I dive into this week’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about the sudden uptick in beverage startup rounds. Before that, I noted an alternative to venture capital fundraising called revenue-based financing. Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week: Unicorn scarcity, or lack thereof. I’ve written about this concept before, as has my Equity co-host, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm. I apologize if the two of us are broken records, but I think we’re equally perplexed by the pace at which companies are garnering $1 billion valuations.

Here’s the latest data, according to Crunchbase: “2018 outstripped all previous years in terms of the number of unicorns created and venture dollars invested. Indeed, 151 new unicorns joined the list in 2018 (compared to 96 in 2017), and investors poured more than $135 billion into those companies, a 52% increase year-over-year and the biggest sum invested in unicorns in any one year since unicorns became a thing.”

2019 has already coined 42 new unicorns, like Glossier, Calm and Hims, a number that grows each and every week. For context, a total of 19 companies joined the unicorn club in 2013 when Aileen Lee, an established investor, coined the term. Today, there are some 450 companies around the globe that qualify as unicorns, representing a cumulative valuation of $1.6 trillion. 😲

We’ve clung to this fantastical terminology for so many years because it helps us classify startups, singling out those that boast valuations so high, they’ve gained entry to a special, elite club. In 2019, however, $100 million-plus rounds are the norm and billion-dollar-plus funds are standard. Unicorns aren’t rare anymore; it’s time to rethink the unicorn framework.

Last week, I suggested we only refer to profitable companies with a valuation larger than $1 billion as unicorns. Understandably, not everyone was too keen on that idea. Why? Because startups in different sectors face barriers of varying proportions. A SaaS company, for example, is likely to achieve profitability a lot quicker than a moonshot bet on autonomous vehicles or virtual reality. Refusing startups that aren’t yet profitable access to the unicorn club would unfairly favor certain industries.

So what can we do? Perhaps we increase the valuation minimum necessary to be called a unicorn to $10 billion? Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan’s idea was to require a startup have 50% annual growth to be considered a unicorn, though that would be near-impossible to get them to disclose…

While I’m here, let me share a few of the other eclectic responses I received following the above tweet. Joseph Flaherty said we should call profitable billion-dollar companies Pegasus “since [they’ve] taken flight.” Reagan Pollack thinks profitable startups oughta be referred to as leprechauns. Hmmmm.

The suggestions didn’t stop there. Though I’m not so sure adopting monikers like Pegasus and leprechaun will really solve the unicorn overpopulation problem. Let me know what you think. Onto other news.

Image by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

IPO corner

CrowdStrike has set its IPO terms. The company has inked plans to sell 18 million shares at between $19 and $23 apiece. At a midpoint price, CrowdStrike will raise $378 million at a valuation north of $4 billion.

Slack inches closer to direct listing. The company released updated first-quarter financials on Friday, posting revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. That represents a 67% increase in revenues from the same period last year when the company lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

Startup Capital

Online lender SoFi has quietly raised $500M led by Qatar
Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky just-raised another $200M for his new company Tempus
Less than 1 year after launching, Brex eyes $2B valuation
Password manager Dashlane raises $110M Series D
Enterprise cybersecurity startup BlueVoyant raises $82.5M at a $430M valuation
Talkspace picks up $50M Series D
TaniGroup raises $10M to help Indonesia’s farmers grow
Stripe and Precursor lead $4.5M seed into media CRM startup Pico

Funds

Maveron, a venture capital fund co-founded by Starbucks mastermind Howard Schultz, has closed on another $180 million to invest in early-stage consumer startups. The capital represents the firm’s seventh fundraise and largest since 2000. To keep the fund from reaching mammoth proportions, the firm’s general partners said they turned away more than $70 million amid high demand for the effort. There’s more where that came from, here’s a quick look at the other VCs to announce funds this week:

~Extra Crunch~

This week, I penned a deep dive on Slack, formerly known as Tiny Speck, for our premium subscription service Extra Crunch. The story kicks off in 2009 when Stewart Butterfield began building a startup called Tiny Speck that would later come out with Glitch, an online game that was neither fun nor successful. The story ends in 2019, weeks before Slack is set to begin trading on the NYSE. Come for the history lesson, stay for the investor drama. Here are the other standout EC pieces of the week.

Equity

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I debate whether the tech press is too negative or too positive in its coverage of tech startups. Plus, we dive into Brex’s upcoming round, SoFi’s massive raise and CrowdStrike’s imminent IPO.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Slack narrows losses, displays healthy revenue growth

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Accel, Airbnb, Andreessen Horowitz, Earnings, economy, Finance, initial public offering, Kleiner Perkins, operating systems, slack, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Spotify, t.rowe price, TC, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission | 0 comments

Workplace messaging powerhouse Slack filed an amended S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday weeks ahead of a direct listing expected June 20.

In the document, Slack included an updated look at its path to profitability, posting first-quarter revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. Slack’s Q1 revenues represent a 67% increase from the same period last year when the company lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019, the company reported losses of $138.9 million on revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million the year prior.

Slack is in the process of completing the final steps necessary for its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, where it will trade under the ticker symbol “WORK.” A direct listing is an alternative approach to the stock market that allows well-known businesses to sell directly to the market existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors, instead of issuing new shares. The method lets companies bypass the traditional roadshow process and avoid a good chunk of Wall Street’s IPO fees.

Spotify completed a direct listing in 2018; Airbnb, another highly valued venture capital-backed business, is rumored to be considering a direct listing in 2020.

Slack is currently valued at $7 billion after raising $1.22 billion in VC funding from investors, including Accel, which owns a 24% pre-IPO stake, Andreessen Horowitz (13.3%), Social Capital (10.2%), SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, IVP, Kleiner Perkins and many others.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Madrona Venture Labs raises $11M to build companies from the ground up

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in alpha, Amazon, Artificial Intelligence, blake irving, eBay, economy, entrepreneurship, erik blachford, Facebook, Finance, GoDaddy, madrona venture group, Microsoft, money, Private Equity, Seattle, spencer rascoff, Startup company, TC, Trinity Ventures, Venture Capital, venture capital Firms, venture capital funds, Zillow | 0 comments

In regions where would-be entrepreneurs need a little more support and encouragement before they’ll quit their day job, the startup studio model is taking off.

In Seattle, Madrona Venture Labs (MVL), a studio founded within one the city’s oldest and most-celebrated venture capital firms, Madrona Venture Group, has raised $11.3 million. The investment brings the studio’s total funding to $20 million.

Traditional venture capital funds invite founders to pitch their business idea to a line-up of partners. Sometimes that’s a founder with an idea looking for seed capital, other times it’s a more mature company looking to scale. When it comes to startup studios, the partners themselves craft startup ideas internally, recruiting entrepreneurs to lead the projects, then building them from the ground up within their own safe, protective walls. After a project passes the studio’s litmus test, i.e. shows proof of traction, product-market fit and more, it’s spun out with funding from Madrona and other VCs within its large and growing investor network.

For aspiring entrepreneurs deterred by the risk factors inherent to building venture-backed startups, it’s a highly desirable route. In the Pacific Northwest, where MVL focuses its efforts, it’s a chance to lure Microsoft and Amazon employees into the world of entrepreneurship.

“We want to be an onboard for founders in our market,” MVL managing director Mike Fridgen, who previously led the eBay-acquired business Decide.com, tells TechCrunch. “In Seattle, everyone isn’t a co-founder or an angel investor. Not everyone has been at a startup. A lot of people coming here are coming to work at Amazon, Microsoft or one of the larger satellite offices like Facebook. We want to help them fast-track learning, fundraising and everything else that comes with launching a successful company.”

Fridgen, MVL managing director Ben Elowitz, who co-founded the online jewelry marketplace Blue Nile and chief technology officer Jay Bartot, the co-founder of Hulu-acquired Vhoto, lead Madrona’s studio effort.

The investment in MVL comes in part from its parent company, Madrona, and for the first time, outside investors have acquired stakes in the practice. Alpha Edison, West River Group, Founder’s Co-op partner Rudy Gadre, Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff, former GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, Trinity Ventures venture partner Gus Tai, TCV venture partner Erik Blachford and others participated.

With $1.6 billion in assets under management, Madrona is known for investments in Seattle bigwigs like Smartsheet, Rover and Redfin. The firm, which recently closed on another $100 million for an acceleration fund that will expand its geographic reach beyond the Pacific Northwest, launched its startup studio in 2014. Since then, it’s spun-out seven companies with an aggregate valuation of $140 million.

“There are some 85 VCs that have $300 million-plus funds,” Fridgen said. “In Seattle, we have two of the most valuable companies in the world and we have just one [big fund], Madrona; it’s the center of gravity for Seattle technology innovation.”

Companies created within MVL include Spruce Up, an AI-powered personal shopping platform, and Domicile, a luxury apartment rental service geared toward business travelers. Domicile was co-founded by Ross Saario, who spent the three years ahead of launching the startup as a general manager at Amazon. The company recently raised a $5 million round, while Spruce Up, co-founded by serial founder Mia Lewin, closed a $3 million round in May.

Other spin-outs include MightyAI, which was valued at $71 million in 2017; Nordstrom-acquired MessageYes, Chatitive and Rep the Squad. The latter, a jersey rental business, was a failure, shutting down in 2018 after failing to land necessary investment, according to GeekWire.

MVL’s latest fundraise will be used to invest in operations. Though MVL does provide its spin-outs with some capital, between $100,000 to $200,000 Fridgen said, it takes a back seat when it comes time to raise outside capital and doesn’t serve as the lead investor in deals.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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India’s most popular services are becoming super apps

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Asia, China, Cloud, Developer, Facebook, Finance, Flipkart, Food, Foodpanda, Gaana, Gaming, grab, haptik, hike, India, MakeMyTrip, Media, Microsoft, microsoft garage, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, mx player, payments, Paytm, paytm mall, reliance jio, saavn, SnapDeal, Social, Startups, Tapzo, Tencent, Times Internet, Transportation, Truecaller, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, WeChat | 0 comments

Truecaller, an app that helps users screen strangers and robocallers, will soon allow users in India, its largest market, to borrow up to a few hundred dollars.

The crediting option will be the fourth feature the nine-year-old app adds to its service in the last two years. So far it has added to the service the ability to text, record phone calls and mobile payment features, some of which are only available to users in India. Of the 140 million daily active users of Truecaller, 100 million live in India.

The story of the ever-growing ambition of Truecaller illustrates an interesting phase in India’s internet market that is seeing a number of companies mold their single-functioning app into multi-functioning so-called super apps.

Inspired by China

This may sound familiar. Truecaller and others are trying to replicate Tencent’s playbook. The Chinese tech giant’s WeChat, an app that began life as a messaging service, has become a one-stop solution for a range of features — gaming, payments, social commerce and publishing platform — in recent years.

WeChat has become such a dominant player in the Chinese internet ecosystem that it is effectively serving as an operating system and getting away with it. The service maintains its own app store that hosts mini apps and lets users tip authors. This has put it at odds with Apple, though the iPhone-maker has little choice but to make peace with it.

For all its dominance in China, WeChat has struggled to gain traction in India and elsewhere. But its model today is prominently on display in other markets. Grab and Go-Jek in Southeast Asian markets are best known for their ride-hailing services, but have begun to offer a range of other features, including food delivery, entertainment, digital payments, financial services and healthcare.

The proliferation of low-cost smartphones and mobile data in India, thanks in part to Google and Facebook, has helped tens of millions of Indians come online in recent years, with mobile the dominant platform. The number of internet users has already exceeded 500 million in India, up from some 350 million in mid-2015. According to some estimates, India may have north of 625 million users by year-end.

This has fueled the global image of India, which is both the fastest growing internet and smartphone market. Naturally, local apps in India, and those from international firms that operate here, are beginning to replicate WeChat’s model.

Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Paytm Vijay Shekhar Sharma speaks during the launch of Paytm payments Bank at a function in New Delhi on November 28, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

Leading that pack is Paytm, the popular homegrown mobile wallet service that’s valued at $18 billion and has been heavily backed by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that rivals Tencent and crucially missed the mobile messaging wave in China.

Commanding attention

In recent years, the Paytm app has taken a leaf from China with additions that include the ability to text merchants; book movie, flight and train tickets; and buy shoes, books and just about anything from its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall . It also has added a number of mini games to the app. The company said earlier this month that more than 30 million users are engaging with its games.

Why bother with diversifying your app’s offering? Well, for Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm, the question is why shouldn’t you? If your app serves a certain number of transactions (or engagements) in a day, you have a good shot at disrupting many businesses that generate fewer transactions, he told TechCrunch in an interview.

At the end of the day, companies want to garner as much attention of a user as they can, said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner of research and advisory firm Convergence Catalyst.

“This is similar to how cable networks such as Fox and Star have built various channels with a wide range of programming to create enough hooks for users to stick around,” Kolla said.

“The agenda for these apps is to hold people’s attention and monopolize a user’s activities on their mobile devices,” he added, explaining that higher engagement in an app translates to higher revenue from advertising.

Paytm’s Sharma agrees. “Payment is the moat. You can offer a range of things including content, entertainment, lifestyle, commerce and financial services around it,” he told TechCrunch. “Now that’s a business model… payment itself can’t make you money.”

Big companies follow suit

Other businesses have taken note. Flipkart -owned payment app PhonePe, which claims to have 150 million active users, today hosts a number of mini apps. Some of those include services for ride-hailing service Ola, hotel booking service Oyo and travel booking service MakeMyTrip.

Paytm (the first two images from left) and PhonePe offer a range of services that are integrated into their payments apps

What works for PhonePe is that its core business — payments — has amassed enough users, Himanshu Gupta, former associate director of marketing and growth for WeChat in India, told TechCrunch. He added that unlike e-commerce giant Snapdeal, which attempted to offer similar offerings back in the day, PhonePe has tighter integration with other services, and is built using modern architecture that gives users almost native app experiences inside mini apps.

When you talk about strategy for Flipkart, the homegrown e-commerce giant acquired by Walmart last year for a cool $16 billion, chances are arch rival Amazon is also hatching similar plans, and that’s indeed the case for super apps.

In India, Amazon offers its customers a range of payment features such as the ability to pay phone bills and cable subscription through its Amazon Pay service. The company last year acquired Indian startup Tapzo, an app that offers integration with popular services such as Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato, to boost Pay’s business in the nation.

Another U.S. giant, Microsoft, is also aboard the super train. The Redmond-based company has added a slew of new features to SMS Organizer, an app born out of its Microsoft Garage initiative in India. What began as a texting app that can screen spam messages and help users keep track of important SMSs recently partnered with education board CBSE in India to deliver exam results of 10th and 12th grade students.

This year, the SMS Organizer app added an option to track live train schedules through a partnership with Indian Railways, and there’s support for speech-to-text. It also offers personalized discount coupons from a range of companies, giving users an incentive to check the app more often.

Like in other markets, Google and Facebook hold a dominant position in India. More than 95% of smartphones sold in India run the Android operating system. There is no viable local — or otherwise — alternative to Search, Gmail and YouTube, which counts India as its fastest growing market. But Google hasn’t necessarily made any push to significantly expand the scope of any of its offerings in India.

India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, and Facebook’s marquee app too has more than 250 million users in the nation. WhatsApp launched a pilot payments program in India in early 2018, but is yet to get clearance from the government for a nationwide rollout. (It isn’t happening for at least another two months, a person familiar with the matter said.) In the meanwhile, Facebook appears to be hatching a WeChatization of Messenger, albeit that app is not so big in India.

Ride-hailing service Ola too, like Grab and Go-Jek, plans to add financial services such as credit to the platform this year, a source familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

“We have an abundance of data about our users. We know how much money they spend on rides, how often they frequent the city and how often they order from restaurants. It makes perfect sense to give them these valued-added features,” the person said. Ola has already branched out of transport after it acquired food delivery startup Foodpanda in late 2017, but it hasn’t yet made major waves in financial services despite giving its Ola Money service its own dedicated app.

The company positioned Ola Money as a super app, expanded its features through acquisition and tie ups with other players and offered discounts and cashbacks. But it remains behind Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, all of which are also offering discounts to customers.

Integrated entertainment

Super apps indeed come in all shapes and sizes, beyond core services like payment and transportation — the strategy is showing up in apps and services that entertain India’s internet population.

MX Player, a video playback app with more than 175 million users in India that was acquired by Times Internet for some $140 million last year, has big ambitions. Last year, it introduced a video streaming service to bolster its app to grow beyond merely being a repository. It has already commissioned the production of several original shows.

In recent months, it has also integrated Gaana, the largest local music streaming app that is also owned by Times Internet. Now its parent company, which rivals Google and Facebook on some fronts, is planning to add mini games to MX Player, a person familiar with the matter said, to give it additional reach and appeal.

Some of these apps, especially those that have amassed tens of millions of users, have a real shot at diversifying their offerings, analyst Kolla said. There is a bar of entry, though. A huge user base that engages with a product on a daily basis is a must for any company if it is to explore chasing the super app status, he added.

Indeed, there are examples of companies that had the vision to see the benefits of super apps but simply couldn’t muster the requisite user base. As mentioned, Snapdeal tried and failed at expanding its app’s offerings. Messaging service Hike, which was valued at more than $1 billion two years ago and includes WeChat parent Tencent among its investors, added games and other features to its app, but ultimately saw poor engagement. Its new strategy is the reverse: to break its app into multiple pieces.

“In 2019, we continue to double down on both social and content but we’re going to do it with an evolved approach. We’re going to do it across multiple apps. That means, in 2019 we’re going to go from building a super app that encompasses everything, to Multiple Apps solving one thing really well. Yes, we’re unbundling Hike,” Kavin Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike, wrote in an update published earlier this year.

And Reliance Jio, of course

For the rest, the race is still on, but there are big horses waiting to enter to add further competition.

Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of conglomerate Reliance Industry that is owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is planning to introduce a super app that will host more than 100 features, according to a person familiar with the matter. Local media first reported the development.

It will be fascinating to see how that works out. Reliance Jio, which almost single-handedly disrupted the telecom industry in India with its low-cost data plans and free voice calls, has amassed tens of millions of users on the bouquet of apps that it offers at no additional cost to Jio subscribers.

Beyond that diverse selection of homespun apps, Reliance has also taken an M&A-based approach to assemble the pieces of its super app strategy.

It bought music streaming service Saavn last year and quickly integrated it with its own music app JioMusic. Last month, it acquired Haptik, a startup that develops “conversational” platforms and virtual assistants, in a deal worth more than $100 million. It already has the user bases required. JioTV, an app that offers access to over 500 TV channels; and JioNews, an app that additionally offers hundreds of magazines and newspapers, routinely appear among the top apps in Google Play Store.

India’s super app revolution is in its early days, but the trend is surely one to keep an eye on as the country moves into its next chapter of internet usage.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Uber’s first day as a public company didn’t go so well

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in carsharing, Commuting, economy, Finance, Fundings & Exits, initial public offering, money, Transportation, Uber, Uber IPO, Venture Capital | 0 comments

Ouch. Yikes. Oof. Sigh.

Those are some of the friendlier phrases I imagine came out of the mouths of bankers, investors, executives and really anyone who has been paying close attention to Uber’s road to the stock markets today when the company debuted on the New York Stock Exchange below its initial public offering price.

The ride-hailing business (NYSE: UBER), previously valued at $72 billion by venture capitalists, priced its stock at $45 apiece for a valuation of $82.4 billion on Thursday. It began trading this morning at $42 apiece, only to close even lower at $41.57, or down 7.6% from its IPO price.

Still, the IPO was successful enough for Uber. The business now has $8.1 billion on its balance sheet to invest in growth and, ideally, transform into a profitable business.

Anyone who expected Uber to climb past $100 billion at its IPO is surely disappointed. And those who projected a valuation of some $120 billion, well, they’re probably feeling pretty dumb. Nonetheless, Uber’s new market cap makes its exit one of the most valuable in history, and represents a landmark event for tech, mobility and the gig economy at large.

Where the stock will go from here, who knows. Lyft, as we’ve observed, has taken quite a hit since it completed an IPO in March. The Uber competitor is currently trading at a higher price than Uber: $51 per share with a market cap of about $14.6 billion. Its stock has fallen all week long, however, after the company posted losses of more than $1 billion in the first quarter of 2019.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Uber prices IPO at $45 per share, raises $8.1B

Posted by on May 9, 2019 in Finance, Fundings & Exits, IPO, TC, Transportation, Uber, Uber IPO | 0 comments

Uber has set its initial public offering at $45 per share, per reports, raising $8.1 billion in the process.

The price, which falls at the low end of Uber’s planned range, values Uber at $82.4 billion. Uber confirmed the price in a press release Thursday afternoon.

The pricing comes one day after drivers all over the world went on strike, with drivers in San Francisco protesting right outside the company’s headquarters.

Uber filed for its IPO last month, reporting 2018 revenues of $11.27 billion, net income of $997 million and adjusted EBITDA losses of $1.85 billion. Though, we knew this thanks to Uber’s previous disclosures of its financials.

But this is not the first time we’ve seen Uber’s financials. Over the last couple of years, Uber has willingly disclosed many of these numbers. Its last report as a private company came in February when Uber disclosed $3 billion in Q4 2018 revenue, with rising operating losses.

From ridesharing specifically, Uber’s revenues increased from $3.5 billion in 2016 to $9.2 billion in 2018, with gross bookings hitting $41.5 billion last year from ridesharing products.

Competitor Lyft filed its S-1 documents in March, showing nearly $1 billion in 2018 losses and revenues of $2.1 billion. It reported $8.1 billion in booking, covering 30.7 million riders and 1.9 million drivers. About a week later, Lyft set a range of $62 to $68 for its IPO, seeking to raise up to $2.1 billion. Since its debut on the Nasdaq, Lyft’s stock has suffered after skyrocketing nearly 10% on day one. Lyft is currently trading about 20% below its IPO.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Index Ventures, Stripe back bookkeeping service Pilot with $40M

Posted by on Apr 18, 2019 in computing, Dropbox, Finance, funding, Index Ventures, jessica mckellar, ksplice, linux, MIT, oracle, San Francisco, Software, Startup company, Startups, stripe, Waseem Daher, zulip | 0 comments

Five years after Dropbox acquired their startup Zulip, Waseem Daher, Jeff Arnold and Jessica McKellar have gained traction for their third business together: Pilot.

Pilot helps startups and small businesses manage their back office. Chief executive officer Daher admits it may seem a little boring, but the market opportunity is undeniably huge. To tackle the market, Pilot is today announcing a $40 million Series B led by Index Ventures with participation from Stripe, the online payment processing system.

The round values Pilot, which has raised about $60 million to date, at $355 million.

“It’s a massive industry that has sucked in the past,” Daher told TechCrunch. “People want a really high-quality solution to the bookkeeping problem. The market really wants this to exist and we’ve assembled a world-class team that’s capable of knocking this out of the park.”

San Francisco-based Pilot launched in 2017, more than a decade after the three founders met in MIT’s student computing group. It’s not surprising they’ve garnered attention from venture capitalists, given that their first two companies resulted in notable acquisitions.

Pilot has taken on a massively overlooked but strategic segment — bookkeeping,” Index’s Mark Goldberg told TechCrunch via email. “While dry on the surface, the opportunity is enormous given that an estimated $60 billion is spent on bookkeeping and accounting in the U.S. alone. It’s a service industry that can finally be automated with technology and this is the perfect team to take this on — third-time founders with a perfect combo of financial acumen and engineering.”

The trio of founders’ first project, Linux upgrade software called Ksplice, sold to Oracle in 2011. Their next business, Zulip, exited to Dropbox before it even had the chance to publicly launch.

It was actually upon building Ksplice that Daher and team realized their dire need for tech-enabled bookkeeping solutions.

“We built something internally like this as a byproduct of just running [Ksplice],” Daher explained. “When Oracle was acquiring our company, we met with their finance people and we described this system to them and they were blown away.”

It took a few years for the team to refocus their efforts on streamlining back-office processes for startups, opting to build business chat software in Zulip first.

Pilot’s software integrates with other financial services products to bring the bookkeeping process into the 21st century. Its platform, for example, works seamlessly on top of QuickBooks so customers aren’t wasting precious time updating and managing the accounting application.

“It’s better than the slow, painful process of doing it yourself and it’s better than hiring a third-party bookkeeper,” Daher said. “If you care at all about having the work be high-quality, you have to have software do it. People aren’t good at these mechanical, repetitive, formula-driven tasks.”

Currently, Pilot handles bookkeeping for more than $100 million per month in financial transactions but hopes to use the infusion of venture funding to accelerate customer adoption. The company also plans to launch a tax prep offering that they say will make the tax prep experience “easy and seamless.”

“It’s our first foray into Pilot’s larger mission, which is taking care of running your companies entire back office so you can focus on your business,” Daher said.

As for whether the team will sell to another big acquirer, it’s unlikely.

“The opportunity for Pilot is so large and so substantive, I think it would be a mistake for this to be anything other than a large and enduring public company,” Daher said. “This is the company that we’re going to do this with.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Zoom, the profitable tech unicorn, prices IPO above range

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in board member, economy, Emergence Capital, Finance, Fundings & Exits, initial public offering, Li Ka-shing, NASDAQ, photo sharing, Pinterest, Private Equity, sequoia capital, Startups, TC, Venture Capital, video conferencing, zoom | 0 comments

Zoom, a relatively under-the-radar tech unicorn, has defied expectations with its initial public offering. The video conferencing business priced its IPO above its planned range on Wednesday, confirming plans to sell shares of its Nasdaq stock, titled “ZM,” at $36 apiece, CNBC reports.

The company initially planned to price its shares at between $28 and $32 per share, but following big demand for a piece of a profitable tech business, Zoom increased expectations, announcing plans to sell shares at between $33 and $35 apiece.

The offering gives Zoom an initial market cap of roughly $9 billion, or nine times that of its most recent private market valuation.

Zoom plans to sell 9,911,434 shares of Class A common stock in the listing, to bring in about $350 million in new capital.

If you haven’t had the chance to dive into Zoom’s IPO prospectus, here’s a quick run-down of its financials:

  • Zoom raised a total of $145 million from venture capitalists before filing to go public
  • It posted $330 million in revenue in the year ending January 31, 2019 with a gross profit of $269.5 million
  • It more than doubled revenues from 2017 to 2018, ending 2017 with $60.8 million in revenue and 2018 with $151.5 million
  • Its losses have shrunk from $14 million in 2017, $8.2 million in 2018 and just $7.5 million in the year ending January 2019

Zoom is backed by Emergence Capital, which owns a 12.2 percent pre-IPO stake; Sequoia Capital (11.1 percent); Digital Mobile Venture, a fund affiliated with former Zoom board member Samuel Chen (8.5 percent); and Bucantini Enterprises Limited (5.9 percent), a fund owned by Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing.

Zoom will debut on the Nasdaq the same day Pinterest will go public on the NYSE. Pinterest, for its part, has priced its shares above its planned range, per The Wall Street Journal.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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How Apple Card works

Posted by on Mar 28, 2019 in Finance, TC | 0 comments

One of the most buzzy announcements on Apple’s stage this week was Apple Card, its in-house credit card powered by Goldman Sachs and Mastercard. Consumers, tech press, financial press and Wall Street were all intrigued for various reasons.

But there are still a ton of questions around the way it works mechanically, the terms involved for consumers and its overall benefits. Though I’m not a financial reporter, I did used to cover payments and I’m a huge points hound. Some of the benefits (and caveats) of Apple Card are worth examining a bit more.

In some ways, Apple getting into the credit card game was one of the tech world’s biggest finally’s. Once Apple launched Passbook, it became extremely clear that it was headed towards this end game, with stops along the way for loyalty cards, coupons, external credit cards and ticketing.

This week, we got to see what Apple thinks is a solid ‘version 1’ of its credit card offering. Yes, this is a V1, and Apple is going to be iterating on the concept with new features and benefits.

The basics

The basics of Apple Card are pretty straightforward. We’ve already posted the basics here so I won’t go over them at length. It’s a virtual card and physical card that can be used for both regular and Apple Pay purchases at any place Mastercard works. The app companion categorizes purchases automatically, shows you where they were made and has a design that makes it easy for you to see interest charges, spending and cash back. The physical card offers 1% cash back, the virtual card offers 2% cash back on Apple Pay purchases and 3% back on purchases of Apple products. The cash back is delivered daily to your Apple Cash balance or to the card monthly as a credit balance if you don’t have or want an Apple Cash account.

But beyond those basics, there are still a lot of questions about some aspects of the way the card works. Here are some interesting bits.

Activating a physical Apple Card will happen with a tap of the iPhone to the card. The activation takes place with a pop up view of the card and an activation button, similar to the pairing process of AirPods. You can see signs of this in the current beta.

There is no penalty interest rate on Apple Card. There have been some reports that Apple Card will charge penalty rates, largely due to some required regulatory legalese. Penalty rates are an increase of your interest rate if you fail to pay on time. That is not true. Apple Card has no late fees and no penalty rates. You will continue to pay your agreed upon interest rate on your outstanding balance, but that rate will not go up. It will impact your credit score, as Apple does do standard reporting, but neither Apple nor Goldman Sachs will increase your rate due to late payment.

Apple will place Apple Card users at the low end of their interest rate tier. While Apple Card’s interest rates fail to break the mold in any major way (they are roughly between 13-24%), Apple will place users who sign up at the lower end of the tier that they land in due to their credit score. This isn’t some incredible re-imagining of how to offer credit or an intensely low interest option, but it could shift you to the bottom of a tier when you qualify instead of paying a few points higher at your ‘exact’ score.

You can pay your balance via ACH from a bank account or via Apple Cash. Apple Cash is not required to pay your bill, though cash back earned or any other money you have in there can go towards your balance if you desire.

Apple Card does not require or display signatures. Neither the physical card nor the app will display a signature. A network change a few months ago means that signatures are not required at point of sale for any credit cards. Though some stores may still ask to see ID, lack of a signature anywhere within Apple Card’s system shouldn’t be a roadblock to using it.

The physical Apple Card does not support contactless payments. If you’ve got a tap terminal, you’re supposed to use Apple Pay.

Perhaps the biggest security feature of the offering is that Apple Card can generate virtual card numbers for online non-Apple Pay purchases. Though Apple said that the app would display your card info during the event, they weren’t specific on what that info would be so I got some more detail here.

  • The physical Apple Card, of course, has no number. The app displays the last 4 digits of the card number that is on the mag stripe of the card only, you never see the full card number.
  • Instead, Apple provides a virtual card number and virtual confirmation code (CVV) for the card in the app. You can use this for non-Apple Pay purchases online or over the phone. This number is semi-permanent, meaning that you can keep using it as long as you want.
  • But you can hit a button to regenerate the PAN (primary account number), providing you with a new credit card number at any time. This is great for situations where you are forced to tell someone your credit card number but do not necessarily completely trust the recipient.
  • Card numbers are manually regenerated only, and do not automatically rotate. There is, currently, no single-use number support or single-merchant number support.
  • Each purchase requires a confirmation code, a fantastic additional security feature outlined by Zack Whittaker earlier in the week. This makes it even harder for someone to use your card, even if skimmed or copied, to make online purchases.

I use a virtual card service called Privacy for transactions online where I don’t know the person or company that the number is going to well. Several banks and credit card companies like Bank of America and Citi also offer virtual card numbers currently. Apple Card, though, will doubtless be the largest body of consumers to ever have easy access to a virtual card number with an easy to use interface and will expose many more people to the concept.

If you use Apple Card for a subscription or ongoing service, by the way, it’s possible you’ll have to re-enter your info if you regenerate your card — though many, many retailers — especially if they have ‘Card on File’ systems already use account updater services. These services can pull the new number from Mastercard to make sure that recurring payments remain in place and Apple Card members will have nothing to do.

The physical card has a fixed number on the mag stripe, but you don’t know what it is. It’s important to note that the number you have in the app and the number that are on the mag stripe can be totally different and it doesn’t matter. You’ll only really know the last 4 digits of your PAN on the physical card. If your card gets lost or stolen you can get replacement cards for free, and you can easily freeze the card with the app in case of theft or fraud.

Because of the way it is set up, every purchase with Apple Card requires biometric identification aside from purchases with the physical card. That goes for Apple Pay and non-Apple Pay purchases online. I personally think it would be cool to optionally require a confirmation from your phone to let a charge go through, but that is likely a v2 situation.

When you get Apple Card the virtual PAN is pushed to auto fill in Safari. So when you sign up you’re going to automatically have access to the virtual card number Apple generates for you on Safari on iOS and Mac. It will just be there for you to use.

Replacement cards are free. Some people were worried that the flashy titanium cards would be expensive to replace. There is no fee.

There is currently no provision for multiple users or shared cards. For now, it’s one card per person, per account.

The exchange rate for foreign transactions is determined by Mastercard. There are no foreign transaction fees, but the rate of exchange is network determined, not a fixed rate or foreign currency.

Apple Card users must have two factor authentication set up to sign up.

Using Apple Card on Android is pointless. This is kind of silly but people asked me. You can’t sign up for or administrate most of Apple Card’s features on Android — but if you were to switch to Android you could continue using your physical card and paying your bill — but without the majority of the cash back or security benefits why would you?

Goldman Sachs will not sell data for marketing purposes. This was on the keynote slide but there were some additional questions about it. The data that they see can be used for internal reporting but cannot be used for external or internal marketing or advertising. That goes for third parties as well. Though some regulatory or operational partners will need to see or transmit some data, all of that must be related to operating Apple Card only, not marketing or advertising.

Why cash back? There were definitely some questions that I got as well about Apple going cash back only. My assumption, which has been backed up by those I’ve spoken to, is that Apple wanted the simplest, most universal benefit structure — and that is cash. Points are by nature relatively opaque and can vary from day-to-day in value on the dollar. For this initial offering, Apple wanted to offer a straight cash benefit that can be accessed nearly immediately, transferred to a bank or spent like cash. Though the cash back is relatively competitive, it is not the highest percentage in the industry.

Apple Pay stuff. This is more Apple Pay than Apple Card stuff but some quick notes on the transit offerings coming to Pay.

  • The number of vehicles and transit systems supported will vary by operator.
  • Portland will include subways and busses, as will Chicago.
  • Chicago will support open loop and Ventra Card systems. Portland is a closed loop system.
  • New York will pilot Apple Pay on a couple of lines in the spring and then roll out to additional lines throughout the rest of the year.

Overall the Apple Card has some relatively unique and interesting takes on data transparency for users, who are getting what appears to be an information rich but easy to interpret interface that rivals the best apps (like the AMEX app) out there for consumer cards. It’s also got a solid set of security features that are missing only a couple of small improvements like per-merchant or per-transaction numbers that would make them the best offering in the industry.

With what are bound to be record low customer acquisition costs and a self-selected group of higher end customers, Apple Card is probably going to be a fairly solid hit for Apple. I just hope they continue to iterate for additional versions of the program.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Equity Shot: Pinterest and Zoom file to go public

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in alex wilhelm, Bessemer Venture Partners, ceo, Cisco, economy, Equity podcast, Eric Yuan, Finance, FirstMark Capital, Kate Clark, katy perry, Lyft, money, photo sharing, Pinterest, Startups, TC, TechCrunch, Uber, unicorn, Venture Capital, video conferencing, web conferencing, WebEX, zoom | 0 comments

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

What a Friday. This afternoon (mere hours after we released our regularly scheduled episode no less!), both Pinterest and Zoom dropped their public S-1 filings. So we rolled up our proverbial sleeves and ran through the numbers. If you want to follow along, the Pinterest S-1 is here, and the Zoom document is here.

Got it? Great. Pinterest’s long-awaited IPO filing paints a picture of a company cutting its losses while expanding its revenue. That’s the correct direction for both its top and bottom lines.

As Kate points out, it’s not in the same league as Lyft when it comes to scale, but it’s still quite large.

More than big enough to go public, whether it’s big enough to meet, let alone surpass its final private valuation ($12.3 billion) isn’t clear yet. Peeking through the numbers, Pinterest has been improving margins and accelerating growth, a surprisingly winsome brace of metrics for the decacorn.

Pinterest has raised a boatload of venture capital, about $1.5 billion since it was founded in 2010. Its IPO filing lists both early and late-stage investors, like Bessemer Venture Partners, FirstMark Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity and Valiant Capital Partners as key stakeholders. Interestingly, it doesn’t state the percent ownership of each of these entities, which isn’t something we’ve ever seen before.

Next, Zoom’s S-1 filing was more dark horse entrance than Katy Perry album drop, but the firm has a history of rapid growth (over 100 percent, yearly) and more recently, profit. Yes, the enterprise-facing video conferencing unicorn actually makes money!

In 2019, the year in which the market is bated on Uber’s debut, profit almost feels out of place. We know Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan, which helps. As Kate explains, this isn’t his first time as a founder. Nor is it his first major success. Yuan sold his last company, WebEx, for $3.2 billion to Cisco years ago then vowed never to sell Zoom (he wasn’t thrilled with how that WebEx acquisition turned out).

Should we have been that surprised to see a VC-backed tech company post a profit — no. But that tells you a little something about this bubble we live in, doesn’t it?

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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