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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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Equity Shot: Judging Uber’s less-than-grand opening day

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in alex wilhelm, carsharing, China, Commuting, Equity podcast, initial public offering, Kate Clark, Lyft, Postmates, Startups, TC, TechCrunch, transport, Uber, unicorn, United States, Venture Capital | 0 comments

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

We are back, as promised. Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm re-convened today to discuss the latest from the Uber IPO. Namely that it opened down, and then kept falling.

A few questions spring to mind. Why did Uber lose ground? Was it the company’s fault? Was it simply the macro market? Was it something else altogether? What we do know is that Uber’s pricing wasn’t what we were expecting and its first day was not smooth.

There are a whole bunch of reasons why Uber went out the way it did. Firstly, the stock market has had a rough week. That, coupled with rising U.S.-China tensions made this week one of the worst of the year for Uber’s monstrous IPO.

But, to make all that clear, we ran back through some history, recalled some key Lyft stats, and more.

We don’t know what’s next but we will be keeping a close watch, specifically on the next cohort of unicorn companies ready to IPO (Postmates, hi!).

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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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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Zoom, a profitable unicorn, files to go public

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in Cisco, Cisco Systems, Emergence Capital, Eric Yuan, Fundings & Exits, Goldman Sachs, jp morgan, morgan stanley, oracle, sequoia capital, TC, telecommunications, unicorn, Venture Capital, Video, video conferencing, web conferencing, WebEX, zoom | 0 comments

Zoom, the video conferencing startup valued at $1 billion in early 2017, has filed to go public on the Nasdaq as soon as next month.

The company joins a growing list of tech unicorns making the leap to the public markets in 2019, but it stands out for one very important reason: It’s actually profitable.

Zoom was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, an early engineer at WebEx, which sold to Cisco for $3.2 billion in 2007. Before launching Zoom, he spent four years at Cisco as its vice president of engineering. In a conversation with TechCrunch last month, he said he would never sell another company again, hinting at his dissatisfaction at WebEx’s post-acquisition treatment being his motivation for taking Zoom public as opposed to selling.

Zoom, which raised a total of $145 million to date, posted $330 million in revenue in the year ending January 31, 2019, a remarkable 2x increase year-over-year, with a gross profit of $269.5 million. The company similarly more than doubled revenues from 2017 to 2018, wrapping fiscal year 2017 with $60.8 million in revenue and 2018 with $151.5 million.

The company’s losses are shrinking, 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 12.5 percent pre-IPO stake, according to the IPO filing. Other investors in the business include Sequoia Capital (11.4 percent pre-IPO stake); Digital Mobile Venture (9.8 percent), a fund affiliated with former Zoom board member Samuel Chen; and Bucantini Enterprises Limited (6.1 percent), a fund owned by Li Ka-shing, a Chinese billionaire and among the richest people in the world.

Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have been recruited to lead the offering.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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African e-commerce startup Jumia files for IPO on NYSE

Posted by on Mar 12, 2019 in africa, eCommerce, Egypt, Fundings & Exits, Ghana, Goldman Sachs, IPO, jumia, kenya, Lagos, morgan stanley, morocco, Naspers, Nigeria, online retail, Rocket Internet, Smartphones, Startup company, Startups, TC, tech startup, travel bookings, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, unicorn | 0 comments

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange today, per SEC documents and confirmation from CEO Sacha Poignonnec to TechCrunch.

The valuation, share price and timeline for public stock sales will be determined over the coming weeks for the Nigeria-headquartered company.

With a smooth filing process, Jumia will become the first African tech startup to list on a major global exchange.

Poignonnec would not pinpoint a date for the actual IPO, but noted the minimum SEC timeline for beginning sales activities (such as road shows) is 15 days after submitting first documents. Lead adviser on the listing is Morgan Stanley .

There have been numerous press reports on an anticipated Jumia IPO, but none of them confirmed by Jumia execs or an actual SEC, S-1 filing until today.

Jumia’s move to go public comes as several notable consumer digital sales startups have faltered in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation, largest economy and unofficial bellwether for e-commerce startup development on the continent. Konga.com, an early Jumia competitor in the race to wire African online retail, was sold in a distressed acquisition in 2018.

With the imminent IPO capital, Jumia will double down on its current strategy and regional focus.

“You’ll see in the prospectus that last year Jumia had 4 million consumers in countries that cover the vast majority of Africa. We’re really focused on growing our existing business, leadership position, number of sellers and consumer adoption in those markets,” Poignonnec said.

The pending IPO creates another milestone for Jumia. The venture became the first African startup unicorn in 2016, achieving a $1 billion valuation after a $326 funding round that included Goldman Sachs, AXA and MTN.

Founded in Lagos in 2012 with Rocket Internet backing, Jumia now operates multiple online verticals in 14 African countries, spanning Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Egypt. Goods and services lines include Jumia Food (an online takeout service), Jumia Flights (for travel bookings) and Jumia Deals (for classifieds). Jumia processed more than 13 million packages in 2018, according to company data.

Starting in Nigeria, the company created many of the components for its digital sales operations. This includes its JumiaPay payment platform and a delivery service of trucks and motorbikes that have become ubiquitous with the Lagos landscape.

Jumia has also opened itself up to traders and SMEs by allowing local merchants to harness Jumia to sell online. “There are over 81,000 active sellers on our platform. There’s a dedicated sellers page where they can sign-up and have access to our payment and delivery network, data, and analytic services,” Jumia Nigeria CEO Juliet Anammah told TechCrunch.

The most popular goods on Jumia’s shopping mall site include smartphones (priced in the $80 to $100 range), washing machines, fashion items, women’s hair care products and 32-inch TVs, according to Anammah.

E-commerce ventures, particularly in Nigeria, have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap into Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with African e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent of retail sales.

Jumia has not yet turned a profit, but a snapshot of the company’s performance from shareholder Rocket Internet’s latest annual report shows an improving revenue profile. The company generated €93.8 million in revenues in 2017, up 11 percent from 2016, though its losses widened (with a negative EBITDA of €120 million). Rocket Internet is set to release full 2018 results (with updated Jumia figures) April 4, 2019.

Jumia’s move to list on the NYSE comes during an up and down period for B2C digital commerce in Nigeria. The distressed acquisition of Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors, such as South African media, internet and investment company Naspers .

In late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down. And TechCrunch reported this week that consumer-focused venture Gloo.ng has dropped B2C e-commerce altogether to pivot to e-procurement. The CEO cited better unit economics from B2B sales.

As demonstrated in other global startup markets, consumer-focused online retail can be a game of capital attrition to outpace competitors and reach critical mass before turning a profit. With its unicorn status and pending windfall from an NYSE listing, Jumia could be better positioned than any venture to win on e-commerce at scale in Africa.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Airbnb agrees to acquire last-minute hotel-booking app HotelTonight

Posted by on Mar 7, 2019 in Airbnb, Australia, battery ventures, Europe, First Round Capital, forerunner ventures, Fundings & Exits, Gaest, greg greeley, HotelTonight, Lyft, M&A, Pinterest, Sam Shank, San Francisco, Startups, TC, Uber, unicorn, vacation rental, Venture Capital | 0 comments

As Airbnb gears up for its big leap into the public markets, it’s expanding its accommodations platform to include more than just treehouses and quirky homes.

Today, the company has confirmed its intent to acquire HotelTonight, the developer of a hotel-booking application that lets travelers arrange last-minute accommodations. The deal was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal, which wrote in January that negotiations for the transaction had “gone cold.”

Airbnb is expected to complete an initial public offering as soon as this year, though co-founder and chief executive officer Brian Chesky has refrained from revealing a specific timeline. Like Uber, which plans to become the ultimate transportation company, Airbnb’s long-term ambition is to build an end-to-end travel platform complete with home sharing, hotel booking, business travel arrangements, experiences and more.

Airbnb declined to disclose terms of its HotelTonight acquisition. Once the deal is complete, the HotelTonight app and website will continue to operate independently, with co-founder and CEO Sam Shank reporting to Airbnb’s president of homes, Greg Greeley.

“We started HotelTonight because we knew people wanted a better way to book an amazing hotel room on-demand, and we are excited to join forces with Airbnb to bring this service to guests around the world,” Shank said in a statement. “Together, HotelTonight and Airbnb can give guests more choices and the world’s best boutique and independent hotels a genuine partner to connect them with those guests.”

Founded in 2010, San Francisco-based HotelTonight garnered a valuation of $463 million with a $37 million Series E funding in 2017, according to PitchBook. In total, the startup has raised $131 million in venture capital funding from Accel and Battery Ventures, which have participated in nearly every funding round for HotelTonight. Other early investors include Forerunner Ventures and First Round Capital.

Airbnb, for its part, was valued at $31 billion in 2017, with a $1 billion round. In January, Airbnb said it was profitable for the second consecutive year on an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) basis.

HotelTonight offers discounts at hotels in the Americas, Europe and Australia. The company partners with hotels to offer un-sold rooms, catering to business travelers or those looking to make last-minute arrangements. The deal will make it easier for Airbnb users to book hotels without planning weeks or months in advance and will help Airbnb expand its community beyond short-term rental hosts and guests.

Airbnb introduced boutique hotels to its platform in early 2018 and has boasted its quick growth. In 2018, the business said it more than doubled the number of boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels and resorts available. Airbnb’s business travel unit, Airbnb for Work, also had quick success. Launched in 2014, it now accounts for 15 percent of bookings. In total, Airbnb offers some 5 million places to stay in 191 countries.

Airbnb is kicking off 2019 with an acquisitive streak. In January, the company acquired Danish startup Gaest, a provider of a marketplace-style platform for people to post and book venues for meetings and other work-related events. The company again declined to pinpoint the price, though given Gaest had raised just $3.5 million in equity funding, the deal pales in comparison to Airbnb’s HotelTonight acquisition.

2019 is stacking up to be a particularly busy year for unicorn IPOs, some of which were likely delayed by a weeks-long government shutdown at the start of the year. Lyft, which recently unveiled its S-1, is poised to be the first billion-dollar company to exit to the stock markets, followed by Uber, Slack and Pinterest. Will Airbnb nudge its way into that lineup? We’ll see.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Airbnb, Automattic and Pinterest top rank of most acquisitive unicorns

Posted by on Feb 23, 2019 in Aileen Lee, Airbnb, Automattic, blockspring, coinbase, Column, Commuting, cowboy ventures, CrunchBase, Docker, flatiron school, Italy, Lyft, M&A, neologisms, Neutrino, Pinterest, Sprinklr, Startups, SurveyMonkey, TC, transport, Uber, unicorn, unity-technologies, Venture Capital, vox media, WeWork | 0 comments

It takes a lot more than a good idea and the right timing to build a billion-dollar company. Talent, focus, operational effectiveness and a healthy dose of luck are all components of a successful tech startup. Many of the most successful (or, at least, highest-valued) tech unicorns today didn’t get there alone.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) can be a major growth vector for rapidly scaling, highly valued technology companies. It’s a topic that we’ve covered off and on since the very first post on Crunchbase News in March 2017. Nearly two years later, we wanted to revisit that first post because things move quickly, and there is a new crop of companies in the unicorn spotlight these days. Which ones are the most active in the M&A market these days?

The most acquisitive U.S. unicorns today

Before displaying the U.S. unicorns with the most acquisitions to date, we first have to answer the question, “What is a unicorn?” The term is generally applied to venture-backed technology companies that have earned a valuation of $1 billion or more. Crunchbase tracks these companies in its Unicorns hub. The original definition of the term, first applied in a VC setting by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures back in late 2011, specifies that unicorns were founded in or after 2003, following the first tech bubble. That’s the working definition we’ll be using here.

In the chart below, we display the number of known acquisitions made by U.S.-based unicorns that haven’t gone public or gotten acquired (yet). Keep in mind this is based on a snapshot of Crunchbase data, so the numbers and ranking may have changed by the time you read this. To maintain legibility and a reasonable size, we cut off the chart at companies that made seven or more acquisitions.

As one would expect, these rankings are somewhat different from the one we did two years ago. Several companies counted back in early March 2017 have since graduated to public markets or have been acquired.

Who’s gone?

Dropbox, which had acquired 23 companies at the time of our last analysis, went public weeks later and has since acquired two more companies (HelloSign for $230 million in late January 2019 and Verst for an undisclosed sum in November 2017) since doing so. SurveyMonkey, which went public in September 2018, made six known acquisitions before making its exit via IPO.

Who stayed?

Which companies are still in the top ranks? Travel accommodations marketplace giant Airbnb jumped from number four to claim Dropbox’s vacancy as the most acquisitive private U.S. unicorn in the market. Airbnb made six more acquisitions since March 2017, most recently Danish event space and meeting venue marketplace Gaest.com. The still-pending deal was announced in January 2019.

WordPress developer and hosting company Automattic is still ranked number two. Automattic <a href=”https://www.crunchbase.com/acquisition/automattic-acquires-atavist–912abccd”>acquired one more company — digital publication platform Atavist — since we last profiled unicorn M&A. Open-source software containerization company Docker, photo-sharing and search site Pinterest, enterprise social media management company Sprinklr and venture-backed media company Vox Media remain, as well.

Who’s new?

There are some notable newcomers in these rankings. We’ll focus on the most notable three: The We CompanyCoinbase and Lyft. (Honorable mention goes to Stripe and Unity Technologies, which are also new to this list.)

The We Company (the holding entity for WeWork) has made 10 acquisitions over the past two years. Earlier this month, The We Company bought Euclid, a company that analyzes physical space utilization and tracks visitors using Wi-Fi fingerprinting. Other buyouts include Meetup (a story broken by Crunchbase News in November 2017) reportedly for $200 million. Also in late 2017, The We Company acquired coding and design training program Flatiron School, giving the company a permanent tenant in some of its commercial spaces.

In its bid to solidify its position as the dominant consumer cryptocurrency player, Coinbase has been on quite the M&A tear lately. The company recently announced its plans to acquire Neutrino, a blockchain analytics and intelligence platform company based in Italy. As we covered, Coinbase likely made the deal to improve its compliance efforts. In January, Coinbase acquired data analysis company Blockspring, also for an undisclosed sum. The crypto company’s other most notable deal to date was its April 2018 buyout of the bitcoin mining hardware turned cryptocurrency micro-transaction platform Earn.com, which Coinbase acquired for $120 million.

And finally, there’s Lyft, the more exclusively U.S.-focused ride-hailing and transportation service company. Lyft has made 10 known acquisitions since it was founded in 2012. Its latest M&A deal was urban bike service Motivate, which Lyft acquired in June 2018. Lyft’s principal rival, Uber, has acquired six companies at the time of writing. Uber bought a bike company of its own, JUMP Bikes, at a price of $200 million, a couple of months prior to Lyft’s Motivate purchase. Here too, the Lyft-Uber rivalry manifests in structural sameness. Fierce competition drove Uber and Lyft to raise money in lock-step with one another, and drove M&A strategy as well.

What to take away

With long-term business success, it’s often a chicken-and-egg question. Is a company successful because of the startups it bought along the way? Or did it buy companies because it was successful and had an opening to expand? Oftentimes, it’s a little of both.

The unicorn companies that dominate the private funding landscape today (if not in the number of deals, then in dollar volume for sure) continue to raise money in the name of growth. Growth can come the old-fashioned way, by establishing a market position and expanding it. Or, in the name of rapid scaling and ostensibly maximizing investor returns, M&A provides a lateral route into new markets or a way to further entrench the status quo. We’ll see how that strategy pays off when these companies eventually find the exit door .


Source: The Tech Crunch

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How to prepare for an investment apocalypse

Posted by on Feb 8, 2019 in behance, Column, craigslist, customer acquisition cost, economy, entrepreneurship, executive, Facebook, Finance, instagram, Mergers and Acquisitions, money, Private Equity, Scott Belsky, Sequoia, Startup company, Startups, TC, unicorn, United States, Venture Capital, venture debt, WhatsApp | 0 comments

Unlike 2000 and 2008, everyone in the startup world is expecting a crash to come at any moment. But few are taking concrete steps to prepare for it.

If you’re running a venture-backed startup, you should probably get on that. First, go read RIP Good Times from Sequoia to get a sense for how bad it can get, quickly. Then take a look at the checklist below. You don’t need to build a bomb shelter, yet, but adopting a bit of the prepper mentality now will pay dividends down the road.

Don’t wait, prepare

The first step in preparing for a coming downturn is making a plan for how you’d get to a point of sustainability. Many startups have been lulled into a false sense of confidence that profit is something they can figure out “later.” Keep in mind, it has to be done eventually and it’s easier to do when the broader economy isn’t crashing around you. There are two complicating factors to keep in mind.

You’ll have to do it with less revenue

In a downturn, business customers skip investing in capital equipment and new software. Likewise, consumer discretionary spending goes way down. The result is you’ll likely have less revenue than you do now. War-game a variety of scenarios — what you’d do if you lost 20 percent, 50 percent or 80 percent of your revenue, and what decisions would have to be taken to survive.

Sometimes capital can’t be had at any valuation

When a downturn comes, capital markets don’t soften, they seize. Depending on how bad a hypothetical financial crisis got, there’s a good chance that investors would close up their checkbooks and triage. If you aren’t one of your investor’s favorite portfolio companies, there’s a decent chance you may be left in the cold. Don’t even assume you’ll be able to close a down round. Fortunately, showing a plan with a clear path to profitability will allay investors concerns that you’ll need their capital indefinitely and make it more likely you’ll be able to raise.

Planning around these three realities — the need for profits, while experiencing dropping revenue, in a world where capital can’t be had at any valuation — is going to lead to unpleasant conclusions. A dramatically diminished business, major layoffs, and a decisive drop in morale are likely outcomes. Thankfully, you can take steps now to help soften the landing, or if you’re really successful, avoid it entirely.

Avoid “growth at all costs” mentality

Getting acquisition costs under control will help you in two ways. First, it’ll lower your burn rate. Chasing growth for growth’s sake is always a short-sighted decision, but especially during the late part of the business cycle. Avoid this even if you’re VC is encouraging it. Second, by carefully analyzing the inputs to your acquisition cost, it will force you to examine the dynamics of your business. It gives you an opportunity to decide if a poorly performing channel or lackluster sales reps are actually smart investments. Even cutting your payback period from 12 months to nine will provide an increased measure of visibility and control.

Increase the hiring bar

Instagram took over the web with a team of a dozen. Craigslist is a pillar of the internet with a staff of 40 employees. WhatsApp supported hundreds of millions of daily users with fewer than 50 people. Chances are you need fewer people than you think.

In his new book, Scott Belsky shares an algorithm he used building Behance into a $100M company — automate, automate, then hire. His point was that founders should encourage teams to push hard on improving processes and other labor-saving tools before adding more FTEs.

Don’t institute a hiring freeze or take other actions that might spook the staff, but do send the message that new hires should be the last resort, not the first response to a challenge.

Preach discipline — build it into the culture

Founders often try to change spending habits, and in turn culture, when it’s too late. Is there a fair bit of business class flying among the executive team? Do your employees stretch your free dinner policy by staying just past the dinner hour to take advantage of free food? At most tech ventures, everyone is truly an owner. Try to help the entire team to internalize that they are spending their own money.

Get to know your potential acquirers

The week the market drops 50 percent is not the week to start a M&A conversation. You should be getting to know the five most likely buyers of your company, now. Find out who the decision makers at each of the companies are and build relationships. Make it a point to catch up with these people at conferences and even consider sending them regular updates about your company’s progress (but not too much data). You’re not running a formal sales process, but helping build up the internal desire to buy your company if the opportunity presents itself. It may not be the exit of your dreams, but it’s nice to have options if you need them.

Jettison expensive office space

If you’re coming to a T-juncture regarding office space, you may want to prioritize price and lease flexibility over quality and location. I remember one of our offices at my start-up was a twelve month lease with 6 months free. The landlords were desperate, and so were we!

Front-load revenue

If you’re in the kind of business that will support annual contracts, figure out a way to offer them. Pre-sell credits to consumers at a discount. More fundamentally, think about how you might be able to adjust your business model so you can get paid before you deliver services. Plenty of viable businesses are asphyxiated by delays in accounts receivable, don’t allow your ambitions to be thwarted by accounting.

Diversify your customer base

One lesson learned in the 2000 bubble was that startups that serve other startups tend to be hit hardest. It’s important to think about how a downturn will impact your customer base. If more than 30 percent of your revenue comes from one industry (perhaps start-ups!), or heaven help you, a single customer, start thinking about managing risk by diversifying your customer base.

Raise a pre-emptive round (AND DON’T SPEND IT)

Topping up your balance sheet at this point isn’t a bad idea, provided you have the discipline to treat it as a rainy day fund. Communicate this rationale to your investors. It’s also important to use this moment to reflect on valuation. An eye-popping valuation will feel good when you sign the term sheet, but it’s going to feel like a millstone if the economy turns, and the market for blue-chip tech stocks drops precipitously.

Consider venture debt

Many VCs discourage venture debt. They’ll say “if you need more money, we’ll backstop you.” The problem is when things ugly, they may not be there. Debt providers are a good way to extend the runway. The thing is that it’s best to raise debt capital when you don’t need it. Venture debt can add ⅓ to ½ of additional capital to some funding rounds with minimal dilution and relatively modest interest rates. Do note that when things get bad, some debt funds can get aggressive so do your homework before taking the notes.

Don’t panic

It’s tough to predict the top of the market. CNN, Time, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and many others argued Facebook paying $1 billion for Instagram was a sure sign of a bubble — in 2012. Reputable commentators have claimed that we’re in a bubble every year since, see 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Going into survival mode in any of those years would have been a serious mistake for most startups.

Still, we’re only two quarters away from marking the longest economic expansion in US history. The good times have got to end at some point. Venture capital is a hell of a drug and withdrawal can be painful. Keep in mind that there’s no correlation between how much a company raised and how well they did on the public markets. If you’re struggling to make your startup’s economics work, read up on dozens of “invisible unicorns” who show that you can get big without relying on outsized amounts of venture capital.

If your house is in order when the downturn hits, you may actually be able to grow through it. As unprepared competitors go out of business, you’ll find that talent is more plentiful and customer acquisition costs plummet. Some of the best companies have been founded and thrived in the worst of times — if you’re prepared.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Startups Weekly: Squad’s screen-shares and Slack’s swastika

Posted by on Jan 19, 2019 in alex wilhelm, altos ventures, AnchorFree, Andreessen Horowitz, Autotech Ventures, Aviva Ventures, berlin, bird, bluerun ventures, Business, ceo, Ciitizen, crowdstrike, CrunchBase, economy, editor-in-chief, entrepreneurship, Finance, First Round Capital, Flash, France, Greenspring Associates, Ingrid Lunden, Italy, josh constine, Lance Armstrong, Maverick Ventures, Next Ventures, norwest venture partners, Portugal, Private Equity, redpoint ventures, resolute ventures, Rubrik, series C, slack, slow ventures, Spain, Startup company, Startups, switzerland, Tandem Capital, TC, TechStars, tools, unicorn, valar ventures, Venture Capital, zack Whittaker | 0 comments

We’re three weeks into January. We’ve recovered from our CES hangover and, hopefully, from the CES flu. We’ve started writing the correct year, 2019, not 2018.

Venture capitalists have gone full steam ahead with fundraising efforts, several startups have closed multi-hundred million dollar rounds, a virtual influencer raised equity funding and yet, all anyone wants to talk about is Slack’s new logo… As part of its public listing prep, Slack announced some changes to its branding this week, including a vaguely different looking logo. Considering the flack the $7 billion startup received instantaneously and accusations that the negative space in the logo resembled a swastika — Slack would’ve been better off leaving its original logo alone; alas…

On to more important matters.

Rubrik more than doubled its valuation

The data management startup raised a $261 million Series E funding at a $3.3 billion valuation, an increase from the $1.3 billion valuation it garnered with a previous round. In true unicorn form, Rubrik’s CEO told TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden it’s intentionally unprofitable: “Our goal is to build a long-term, iconic company, and so we want to become profitable but not at the cost of growth,” he said. “We are leading this market transformation while it continues to grow.”

Deal of the week: Knock gets $400M to take on Opendoor

Will 2019 be a banner year for real estate tech investment? As $4.65 billion was funneled into the space in 2018 across more than 350 deals and with high-flying startups attracting investors (Compass, Opendoor, Knock), the excitement is poised to continue. This week, Knock brought in $400 million at an undisclosed valuation to accelerate its national expansion. “We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Knock CEO Sean Black told me.

Cybersecurity stays hot

While we’re on the subject of VCs’ favorite industries, TechCrunch cybersecurity reporter Zack Whittaker highlights some new data on venture investment in the industry. Strategic Cyber Ventures says more than $5.3 billion was funneled into companies focused on protecting networks, systems and data across the world, despite fewer deals done during the year. We can thank Tanium, CrowdStrike and Anchorfree’s massive deals for a good chunk of that activity.

Send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Fundraising efforts continue

I would be remiss not to highlight a slew of venture firms that made public their intent to raise new funds this week. Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures filed to raise $350 million across two new funds and Redpoint Ventures set a $400 million target for two new China-focused funds. Meanwhile, Resolute Ventures closed on $75 million for its fourth early-stage fund, BlueRun Ventures nabbed $130 million for its sixth effort, Maverick Ventures announced a $382 million evergreen fund, First Round Capital introduced a new pre-seed fund that will target recent graduates, Techstars decided to double down on its corporate connections with the launch of a new venture studio and, last but not least, Lance Armstrong wrote his very first check as a VC out of his new fund, Next Ventures.

More money goes toward scooters

In case you were concerned there wasn’t enough VC investment in electric scooter startups, worry no more! Flash, a Berlin-based micro-mobility company, emerged from stealth this week with a whopping €55 million in Series A funding. Flash is already operating in Switzerland and Portugal, with plans to launch into France, Italy and Spain in 2019. Bird and Lime are in the process of raising $700 million between them, too, indicating the scooter funding extravaganza of 2018 will extend into 2019 — oh boy!

Startups secure cash

  • Niantic finally closed its Series C with $245 million in capital commitments and a lofty $4 billion valuation.
  • Outdoorsy, which connects customers with underused RVs, raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Greenspring Associates, with participation from Aviva Ventures, Altos Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and Tandem Capital.
  • Ciitizen, a developer of tools to help cancer patients organize and share their medical records, has raised $17 million in new funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
  • Footwear startup Birdies — no, I don’t mean Allbirds or Rothy’s — brought in an $8 million Series A led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from Slow Ventures and earlier investor Forerunner Ventures.
  • And Brud, the company behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela, is now worth $125 million with new funding.

Feature of the week

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine introduced readers to Squad this week, a screensharing app for social phone addicts.

Listen to me talk

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I marveled at the dollars going into scooter startups, discussed Slack’s upcoming direct listing and debated how the government shutdown might impact the IPO market.

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Source: The Tech Crunch

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Cross-border fintech startup Instarem raises $20M for global expansion

Posted by on Nov 22, 2018 in Asia, Business, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Indonesia, instarem, Latin America, Lithuania, MDI Ventures, Mumbai, payments, Prajit Nanu, Singapore, Southeast Asia, TransferWise, unicorn, Vertex Ventures, visa | 0 comments

Instarem, a Singapore-based startup that helps banks transfer money overseas cheaply, has raised a Series C round of over $20 million for global expansion.

The round is led by MDI Ventures — the VC arm of Indonesian telecom operator Telkom — and Beacon — the fund belonging to Thai bank Kasikorn — as well as existing investors Vertex Ventures, GSR Ventures Rocket Internet and the SBI-FMO Fund.

The money takes four-year-old Instarem to nearly $40 million raised to date, although Instarem co-founder and CEO Prajit Nanu told TechCrunch that the startup plans to expand the Series C to $45 million. The extra capital is expected to be closed by January, with Nanu particularly keen to bring on strategic investors that can help the business grow in new emerging markets in Latin America as well as Europe.

“We are a the stage where the color of the money is very important,” he said in an interview. “It is very key to us that we bring people into the round who can add value to our business.”

Nanu added that the company is speaking to large U.S. funds among other potential investors.

Instarem works with banks to reduce their overseas transfer costs, offering a kind of ‘Transferwise for enterprise’ service. Although, unlike Transferwise which uses a global network of banks to send money across the world, Instarem uses mid-size banks that already trade in overseas currencies. As I previously explained, the process is the financial equivalent of putting a few boxes on a UPS freighter that’s about to head out, thus paying just a sliver of the costs you’d incur if you had to find a boat and ship it yourself.

Focused on Southeast Asia primarily, it services over 50 markets with transfers. The company does offer a service for consumers, but financial institutions — which have ongoing demand and higher average spend — are its primary target.

Prajit Nanu founded Instarem in 2014 alongside Michael Bermingham

The company has offices in Singapore, Mumbai and Lithuania and it is opening a presence in Seattle as it begins to look to broaden its business, which already includes three of Southeast Asia’s top ten banks. Nanu said that the company will try to work with banks and financial services such as cross-border services which target users with links to Latin America and Mexico initially. In Asia, it is awaiting payment licenses in Japan and Indonesia which will allow it to offer more services in both countries.

TechCrunch understands that the company is on the cusp of a deal with Visa that will allow its customers to roll out branded prepaid cards, adding another financial service to its offerings. Nanu declined to comment when we asked about a deal with Visa.

TechCrunch has also come to learn that Instarem was subject to an acquisition approach earlier this year from one of Southeast Asia’s unicorns. Nanu declined to name the bidder, but he did tell TechCrunch that the offer “wasn’t the right timing for us.” He is, however, giving increased thought to an exit via IPO.

Last year, when Instarem raised its $13 million Series B, he suggested that it could go public by 2020. Now that target date has shifted back to 2021, with the Instarem CEO telling TechCrunch that the U.S. remained the preferred option for a public listing when the time is right.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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