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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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Zeus raises $24M to make you a living-as-a-service landlord

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019 in 2nd Address, Airbnb, Apps, eCommerce, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, garry tan, initialized capital, Personnel, Real Estate, Recent Funding, Sonder, Startups, TC, Venture Capital, zeus | 0 comments

Cookie-cutter corporate housing turns people into worker drones. When an employee needs to move to a new city for a few months, they’re either stuck in bland, giant apartment complexes or Airbnbs meant for shorter stays. But Zeus lets any homeowner get paid to host white-collar transient labor. Through its managed ownership model, Zeus takes on all the furnishing, upkeep, and risk of filling the home while its landlords sit back earning cash.

Zeus has quietly risen to a $45 million revenue run rate from renting out 900 homes in 23 cities. That’s up 5X in a year thanks to Zeus’ 150 employees. With a 90 percent occupancy rate, it’s proven employers and their talent want more unique, trustworthy, well-equipped multi-month residences that actually make them feel at home.

Now while Airbnb is distracted with its upcoming IPO, Zeus has raised $24 million to steal the corporate housing market. That includes a previous $2.5 million seed round from Bowery, the new $11.5 million Series A led by Initialized Capital whose partner Garry Tan has joined Zeus’ board, and $10 million in debt to pay fixed costs like furniture. The plan is to roll up more homes, build better landlord portal software, and hammer out partnerships or in-house divisions for cleaning and furnishing.

“In the first decade out of school people used to have two jobs. Now it’s four jobs and it’s trending to five” says Zeus co-founder and CEO Kulveer Taggar. “We think in 10 years, these people won’t be buying furniture.” He imagines they’ll pay a premium for hand-holding in housing, which judging by the explosion in popularity of zero-friction on-demand services, seems like an accurate assessment of our lazy future. Meanwhile, Zeus aims to be “the quantum leap improvement in the experience of trying to rent out your home” where you just punch in your address plus some details and you’re cashing checks 10 days later.

Buying Mom A House Was Step 1

“When I sold my first startup, I bought a home for my mom in Vancouver” Taggar recalls. It was payback for when she let him remortgage her old house while he was in college to buy a condo in Mumbai he’d rent out to earn money. “Despite not having much growing up, my mom was a travel agent and we got to travel a lot” which Taggar says inspired his goal to live nomadically in homes around the world. Zeus could let other live that dream.

Zeus co-founder and CEO Kulveer Taggar

After Oxford and working as an analyst at Deutsche Bank, Taggar built student marketplace Boso before moving to the United States. There, he co-founded auction tool Auctomatic with his cousin Harjeet Taggar and future Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, went through Y Combinator, and sold it to Live Current Media for $5 million just 10 months later. That gave him the runway to gift a home to his mom and start tinkering on new ideas.

With Y Combinator’s backing again, Taggar started NFC-triggered task launcher Tagstand, which pivoted into app settings configurer Agent, which pivoted into automatic location sharing app Status. But when his co-founder Joe Wong had to move an hour south from San Francisco to Palo Alto, Taggar was dumbfounded by how distracting the process was. Listing and securing a new tenant was difficult, as was finding a medium-term rental without having to deal with exhorbitant prices or sketchy Cragislist. Having seen his former co-founder go on to great success with Stripe’s dead-simple payments integration, Taggar wanted to combine that vision with OpenDoor’s easy home sales to making renting or renting out a place instantaneous. That spawned Zeus.

Stripe Meets OpenDoor To Beat Airbnb

To become a Zeus landlord, you just type in your address, how many bedrooms and bathrooms, and some aesthetic specs, and you get a monthly price quote for what you’ll be paid. Zeus comes in and does a 250-point quality assessment, collects floor plans, furnishes the property, and handles cleaning and maintenance. It works with partners like Helix mattresses, Parachute sheets, and Simple Human trash cans to get bulk rates. “We raised debt because we had these fixed investments into furniture. It’s not as dilutive as selling pure equity” Taggar explains.

Zeus quickly finds a tenant thanks to listings in Airbnb and relationships with employers like Darktrace and ZS Associates with lots of employees moving around. After passing background checks, tenants get digital lock codes and access to 24/7 support in case something doesn’t look right. The goal is to get someone sleeping there in just 10 days. “Traditional corporate housing is $10,000 a month in SF in the summer or at extended stay hotels. Airbnb isn’t well suited [for multi-month stays]. ” Taggar claims. “We’re about half the price of traditional corporate housing for a better product and a better experience.”

Zeus signs minimum two-year leases with landlords and tries to extend them to five years when possible. It gets one free month of rent as is standard for property managers, but doesn’t charge an additional rate. For example, Zeus might lease your home for $4,000 per month but gets the first month free, and rent it out for $5,000 so it earns $60,000 but pays you $44,000. That’s a tidy margin if Zeus can get homes filled fast and hold down its upkeep costs.

“Zeus has been instrumental for my company to start the process of re-location to the Bay Area and to host our visiting employees from abroad now that we are settled” writes Zeus client Meitre’s Luis Caviglia. “I particularly like the ‘hard truths’ featured in every property, and the support we have received when issues arose during our stays.”

At Home, Anywhere

There’s no shortage of competitors chasing this $18 billion market in the US alone. There are the old-school corporations and chains like Oakwood and Barbary Coast that typically rent out apartments from vast, generic complexes at steep rates. Stays over 30 days made up 15 percent of Airbnb’s business last year, but the platform wasn’t designed for peace-of-mind around long-term stays. There are pure marketplaces like UrbanDoor that don’t always take care of everything for the landlord or provide consistent tenant experiences. And then there are direct competitors like $130 million-funded Sonder, $66 million-funded Domio, recently GV-backed 2nd Address, and European entants like MagicStay, AtHomeHotel, and Homelike.

Zeus’ property unit growth

There’s plenty of pie, though. With 330,000 housing units in SF alone, Zeus has plenty of room to grow. The rise of remote work means companies whose employee typically didn’t relocate may now need to bring in distant workers for a multi-month sprint. A recession could make companies more expense-cautious, leading them to rethink putting up staffers in hotels for months on end. Regulatory red tape and taxes could scare landlords away from short-term rentals and towards coprorate housing. And the need to expand into new businesses could tempt the big vacation rental platforms like Airbnb to make acquisitions in the space — or try to crush Zeus.

Winners will be determined in part by who has the widest and cheapest selection of properties, but also by which makes people most comfortable in a new city. That’s why Taggar is taking a cue from WeWork by trying to arrange more community events for its tenants. Often in need of friends, Zeus could become a favorite by helping people feel part of a neighborhood rather than a faceless inmate in a massive apartment block or hotel. That gives Zeus network effect if it can develop density in top markets.

Taggar says the biggest challenge is that “I feels like I’m running five startups at once. Pricing, supply chain, customer service, B2B. We’ve decided to make everything custom — our own property manager software, our own internal CRM. We think these advantages compound, but I could be wrong and they could be wasted effort.”

The benefits of Zeus‘ success would go beyond the founder’s bank account. “I’ve had friends in New York get great opportuntiies in San Francisco but not take them because of the friction of moving” Taggar says. Routing talent where it belongs could get more things built. And easy housing might make people more apt to live abroad temporarily. Taggar concludes, “I think it’s a great way to build empathy.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Polis, the door-to-door marketer, raises another $2.5 million

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Alexis Ohanian, api, boston, Business, digital advertising, distribution, garry tan, initialized capital, Marketing, NRG Energy, polis, Recent Funding, sales, Semil Shah, Startups, targeted advertising, TC, texas | 0 comments

Polis founder Kendall Tucker began her professional life as a campaign organizer in local Democratic politics, but — seeing an opportunity in her one-on-one conversations with everyday folks — has built a business taking that shoe leather approach to political campaigns to the business world.

Now the company she founded to test her thesis that Americans would welcome back the return of the door-to-door salesperson three years ago is $2.5 million richer thanks to a new round of financing from Initialized Capital (the fund founded by Garry Tan and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian) and Semil Shah’s Haystack.vc.

The Boston-based company currently straddles the line between political organizing tool and new marketing platform — a situation that even its founder admits is tenuous at the moment.

That tension is only exacerbated by the fact that the company is coming off one of its biggest political campaign seasons. Helping to power the get-out-the-vote initiative for Senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Polis’ software managed the campaign’s outreach effort to 3 million voters across the state.

However, politically focused software and services businesses are risky. Earlier this year the Sean Parker-backed Brigade shut down and there are rumblings that other startups targeting political action may follow suit.

“Essentially, we got really excited about going into the corporate space because online has gotten so nasty,” says Tucker. “And, at the end of the day, digital advertising isn’t as effective as it once was.”

Customer acquisition costs in the digital ad space are rising. For companies like NRG Energy and Inspire Energy (both Polis clients), the cost of acquisitions online can be as much as $300 per person.

Polis helps identify which doors for salespeople to target and works with companies to identify the scripts that are most persuasive for consumers, according to Tucker. The company also monitors for sales success and helps manage the process so customers aren’t getting too many house calls from persistent sales people.

“We do everything through the conversation at the door,” says Tucker. “We do targeting and we do script curation (everything from what script do you use and when do you branch out of scripts) and we have an open API so they can push that out and they run with it through the rest of their marketing.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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