Business News

Fresh out of YC, Houm raises $8M to improve the home rental and sales market in LatAm

Startup News - 2021, May 17 - 8:00pm

As a longtime real estate developer based in Chile, Benjamin Labra was able to spot gaps in the buying and renting markets in Latin America. To meet demands, he started Houm, an all-in-one platform that helps homeowners rent and sell their properties in the region.

Fresh out of Y Combinator’s W21 cohort, today Houm announced an $8 million seed round. 

If you think the concept sounds like Brazil’s unicorn, QuintoAndar, it’s because Houm is very similar. While QuintoAndar dominates the Brazilian market, Houm operates in Chile, Mexico and Colombia, and aims to capture the rest of Spanish-speaking LatAm.

Think of Houm as a homeowner-run Zillow meets TaskRabbit. The company offers a marketplace run by the property owners themselves and cuts out the realtor by employing 200 freelancers who prepare the property for sale or to manage it.

Houmers, as they are called, go to the owner’s home, take photos and then help possible buyers or renters view the property. For their work, Houmers are compensated each time a home they worked on sells or gets rented.

However, Houm’s selling proposition isn’t just the ease of use it provides; instead, it also serves as a guarantor in my ways, making the buying process more accessible.

“In Colombia and Mexico, for someone to be your guarantor, they have to have a property that’s free of mortgage so it can be used as collateral,” Labra told TechCrunch.

On the flip side, the company also guarantees that renters will get paid every month, and if a tenant falters, Houm covers the cost. “You really have nothing to lose if you use Houm,” Labra said.

You can imagine that a company like Houm now has all sorts of data on the real estate market, especially around sales and rental prices. As a result, Houm uses this data in an algorithm that helps the homeowner determine a fair price for their property, but the listed price remains up to the owner.

The company, which was founded in 2018 and is based in Chile, now has about 200 full-time employees, in addition to their freelance team. While Labra declined to say how many active users it has, he said Houm is now showing a property every eight minutes.

The current funding round had no lead investor but includes Y Combinator, Goodwater Ventures, OneVC, Vast VC, Liquid2 and Myelin. The company plans to use the money to expand within the region, perfect its algorithm and generally speed up growth.

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss proptech’s biggest opportunities

 

Categories: Business News

Sequoia leads $5M pre-seed in Egypt’s 1-month-old digital bank Telda

Startup News - 2021, May 17 - 7:58pm

Egypt has a population of over 100 million people. The country has a high mobile and internet penetration necessary for a young and tech-savvy population with 61% below 30. But despite its youthful population, two out of every three individuals are currently unbanked in Egypt. It’s the same situation in MENA, where only 40% of the population have access to a bank account.

Digital banks have enormous potential in the region. Today, a newly launched one, Telda is announcing a $5 million pre-seed round to digitize how Egyptians save, send, and spend money.

Two weeks ago, we reported that Egyptian e-commerce fulfillment startup Flextock had raised the largest pre-seed in MENA. But that has changed today with Telda’s fundraise surpassing that record with a considerable margin in both MENA and Africa (Autochek’s $3.4 million) for now.

Telda was launched last month by CEO Ahmed Sabbah and CTO Youssef Sholqamy. Before Telda, Sabbah was the co-founder and CTO of Egypt’s ride-hailing company Swvl, and Sholqamy, a former senior engineer in Uber’s infrastructure team. Sabbah said he and his co-founder had been looking at the fintech space at their former workplaces. However, after his experience using N26 while visiting a friend in Berlin in 2015, his eyes opened to the possibilities of digital banking in Egypt.

“I was fond of the idea, and it was coming from a huge pain of payments we had in Egypt and the region. And for me, I was kind of like waiting for this to happen in Egypt, or if not, I thought I’ll tap into the opportunity someday,” he told TechCrunch. “Youcef and I have been like watching out the space for a while when the first digital bank started like six years ago, and watching how they grew in markets where we think banking is more mature than this region. So imagine an opportunity in a region like Egypt where banking is even way, way less mature.”

The North African country is one of the highest consumer spending markets in Africa. Its private consumption accounts for nearly 85% of its nominal GDP, and only 4% of its overall GDP is cashless. In essence, Egypt is heavily cash reliant, and card usage in the country is very much in its infancy. Disheartened by the non-customer-centric banking experiences, Telda was launched to provide an alternative.

Image Credits: Telda

Like any digital bank globally, Telda enables customers to create a free account to send and receive money. And also a card to use online, in stores, make withdrawals and pay bills. But while the service is currently live, Telda cards are yet to be distributed to existing and new customers.

Telda affirmed that it is the first company to receive a license from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) under its new regulations to issue cards and onboard customers digitally. And by doing so, the one-month-old company has made major progress in a relatively short time, even though obtaining that license took lengthy dialogue with regulators.

“First movers will usually have to make all the effort with the regulators and with the bank and try to pave the way. So this was one of the hardest parts — convincing regulators to trust and regulate our banking business and to provide payment financial services to our consumers,” the CEO said. But because Telda’s proposition aligns with the CBE’s vision of digitizing payments in the country, it had little choice but to grant them the license.

A different issue the company has faced was finding a partner bank to provide these services. And to do that, Telda had to convince the bank that their services were complementary and wouldn’t entirely overlap.

“That means basically trying to be as much independent as possible from the infrastructure of the bank. This was quite crucial for us to be able to move right and as fast as a startup, not as slow and pretty much tied to the pace of the bank’s technology and operations,” he continued.

Due to the founders’ experience in Swvl and Uber, the importance of building a great team cannot be overemphasized. There’s barely any blueprint to look at in launching a digital bank in Egypt, so Telda is building how it knows best: hiring exceptional talent. According to the CEO, the team comprises Egyptians who returned to the North African country to build Telda after working for corporations like Facebook, Microsoft, Uber, Noon, and McKinsey.

MENA appears to be ripe for a digital banking experience. Per GSMA Intelligence, 280 million people in the region are mobile internet users, and growth is not slowing down. The frustration with traditional banks is particularly acute with the younger generation, who crave a simple, user-friendly, and transparent experience. Telda has been able to onboard an impressive list of investors, including Sequoia Capital, for this reason.

The giant US VC firm led the pre-seed round as Berlin-based Global Founders Capital (GFC) and emerging markets-focused fund Class 5 Global participated.

Although Sequoia has made a few Sub-Saharan African investments in startups like Healthlane and OPay, Telda is its first venture into North Africa and the wider GCC region. Eight years ago, the VC giant led an infamous seed investment in Latin American digital bank Nubank before it began to go full throttle. Now with more than 38 million customers, Nubank is the world’s largest digital bank with a valuation of $25 billion. Sequoia will be looking for a similar success story in Telda.

“There are many parallels between Brazil and Egypt. Both countries boast a large, young, talented, and tech-savvy population with a strong appetite to innovate,” said Sequoia Partner George Robson of the investment. “We are delighted to partner with Telda and earmark our first investment in the region.”

Fintech darling Nubank raises blockbuster $400M Series G at $25B valuation

Telda intends to fast-track its card production and distribution with this new funding. The company said it currently has more than 30,000 signups already, with half of that already requesting cards. It also plans to capitalize on Sequoia’s name for hiring and expansion, the CEO continued.

“I think hiring is key for us. We want to scale the team into a world-class team that’s willing to tap into the opportunity. What we aspire for is basically growing in Egypt, start to deliver cards for the early adopters, and we see ourselves reaching close to a million cards in our first year.”

Investments in Egypt have been growing in leaps and bounds over the past three years, accompanied by a growing, vibrant ecosystem. Egypt recorded the largest number of investment deals last year per Partech Africa. With 86 deals completed, the country contributed 24% to the total number of deals made on the continent. 

GFC partner Roel Janssen referring to the budding ecosystem in his statement, said: “We are highly impressed by Sabbah and Sholqamy and love their vision for building the region’s leading digital banking app, and we are proud to be part of their journey. It is GFC’s first investment in Egypt, and we see that Egypt has the potential to become an important hub in the global tech ecosystem.”

How African startups raised investments in 2020

Class 5 global managing partner Youcef Oudjane said, “Money has become a medium of self-expression — a form of identity — not solely a store of value. Telda has done a remarkable job of embedding their culture and values in the product, in both functionality and design.”

Categories: Business News

Extra Crunch roundup: Selling SaaS to developers, cracking YC after 13 tries, all about Expensify

Startup News - 2021, May 15 - 7:15am

Before Twilio had a market cap approaching $56 billion and more than 200,000 customers, the cloud-communications platform developed a secret sauce to fuel its growth: a developer-focused model that dispensed with traditional marketing rules.

Software companies that sell directly to end users share a simple framework for managing growth that leverages discoverability, desirability and do-ability — the “aha!” moment where a consumer is able to incorporate a new product into their workflow.

Data show that traditional marketing doesn’t work on developers, and it’s not because they’re impervious to a sales pitch. Builders just want reliable tools that are easy to use.

As a result, companies that are looking to create and sell software to developers at scale must toss their B2B playbooks and meet their customers where they are.

Attorney Sophie Alcorn, our in-house immigration law expert, submitted two columns: On Monday, she analyzed a decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security not to cancel the International Entrepreneur Parole program, which potentially allows founders from other countries to stay in the U.S. for as long as 60 months.

On Wednesday, she responded to a question from an entrepreneur who asked whether it made sense to sponsor visas for workers who are working remotely inside the U.S.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week, and have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

SaaS companies can grow to $20M+ ARR by selling exclusively to developers

4 lessons I learned about getting into Y Combinator (after 13 applications)

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

Can you imagine making 13 attempts at something before attaining a successful outcome?

Alex Circei, CEO and co-founder of Git analytics tool Waydev, applied 13 times to Y Combinator before his team was accepted. Each year, the accelerator admits only about 5% of the startups that seek to join.

“Competition may be fierce, but it’s not impossible,” says Circei. “Jumping through some hoops is not only worth the potential payoff but is ultimately a valuable learning curve for any startup.”

In an exclusive exposé for TechCrunch, he shares four key lessons he learned while steering his startup through YC’s stringent selection process.

The first? “Put your business value before your personal vanity.”

4 lessons I learned about getting into Y Combinator (after 13 applications)

The Expensify EC-1

Image Credits: Illustration by Nigel Sussman, art design by Bryce Durbin

In March, TechCrunch Daily Reporter Anna Heim was interviewing executives at Expensify to learn more about the company’s history and operations when they unexpectedly made themselves less available.

Our suspicions about their change of heart were confirmed on May 3 when the expense report management company confidentially filed to go public.

With a founding team comprised mainly of P2P hackers, it’s perhaps inevitable that Expensify doesn’t look and feel like something an MBA might envision.

“We hire in a super different way. We have a very unusual internal management structure,” said founder and CEO David Barrett. “Our business model itself is very unusual. We don’t have any salespeople, for example.”

Similar to the way companies must file a Form S-1 that describes their operations and how they plan to spend capital, TechCrunch EC-1s are part origin story, part X-ray. We published the first article in a series on Expensify on Monday:

We’ll publish the remainder of Anna’s series on Expensify in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

The Expensify EC-1

As Procore looks to nearly double its private valuation, the IPO market shows signs of life

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman (opens in a new window)

Construction tech unicorn Procore Technologies this week set a price range for its impending public offering. The news comes after the company initially filed to go public in February of 2020, a move delayed by the pandemic.

In March 2021, Procore filed again for a public offering, but its second shot ran into a cooling IPO market. The company filed another S-1/A in April, and then another in early May. This week’s filing is the first that sets a price for the Carpinteria, California-based software upstart.

But Procore is not the only company that filed and later put on hold an IPO to get back to work on floating. Kaltura, a software company focused on video distribution, also recently got its IPO back on track. Are we seeing a reacceleration of the IPO market? Perhaps.

As Procore looks to nearly double its private valuation, the IPO market shows signs of life

3 golden rules for health tech entrepreneurs

Image Credits: Patcharin Saenlakon/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Family physician Bobbie Kumar lays out the golden rules to ensure your healthcare product, service or innovation is on the right track.

Rule 1: “It’s not enough to develop a ‘new tool’ to use in a health setting,” Dr. Kumar writes. “Maybe it has a purpose, but does it meaningfully address a need, or solve a problem, in a way that measurably improves outcomes? In other words: Does it have value?”

3 golden rules for health tech entrepreneurs

Dear Sophie: How does the International Entrepreneur Parole program work?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m the founder of an early-stage, two-year-old fintech startup. We really want to move to San Francisco to be near our lead investor.

I heard International Entrepreneur Parole is back. What is it, and how can I apply?

— Joyous in Johannesburg

Dear Sophie: How does the International Entrepreneur Parole program work?

Digging into digital mortgage lender Better.com’s huge SPAC

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman (opens in a new window)

If you have heard of Better.com but really had no idea what it does before this moment, welcome to the club. Mortgage tech is like pre-kindergarten applications — it applies to a very specific set of folks at a very particular moment. And they care a lot about it. But the rest of us aren’t really aware of its existence.

Better.com, a venture-backed digital mortgage lender, announced this week that it will combine with a SPAC, taking itself public in the second half of 2021. The unicorn’s news comes as the American IPO market is showing signs of fresh life after a modest April.

Digging into digital mortgage lender Better.com’s huge SPAC

As tech offices begin to reopen, the workplace could look very different

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

The pandemic forced many employees to begin working from home, and, in doing so, may have changed the way we think about work. While some businesses have slowly returned to the office, depending on where you live and what you do, many information workers remain at home.

That could change in the coming months as more people get vaccinated and the infection rate begins to drop in the U.S.

Many companies have discovered that their employees work just fine at home. And some workers don’t want to waste time stuck on congested highways or public transportation now that they’ve learned to work remotely. But other employees suffered in small spaces or with constant interruptions from family. Those folks may long to go back to the office.

On balance, it seems clear that whatever happens, for many companies, we probably aren’t going back whole-cloth to the prior model of commuting into the office five days a week.

As tech offices begin to reopen, the workplace could look very different

For unicorns, how much does the route to going public really matter?

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

On a recent episode of TechCrunch’s Equity podcast, hosts Natasha Mascarenhas and Alex Wilhelm invited Yext CFO Steve Cakebread and Latch CFO Garth Mitchell on to discuss when companies should go public, the costs and benefits of the process and when a SPAC can make sense. Yext pursued a traditional IPO a few years back; Latch is now going public via a blank-check company combination.

The chat was more than illustrative, as we got to hear two CFOs share their views on delayed public offerings and when different types of debuts can make the most sense. While the TechCrunch crew has, at times, made light of certain SPAC-led deals, the pair argued that the transactions can make good sense.

Undergirding the conversation was Cakebread’s recent IPO-focused book, which not only posited that companies going public earlier rather than later is good for their internal operations but also because it can provide the public with a chance to participate in a company’s success.

In today’s hypercharged private markets and frothy public domain, his argument is worth considering.

For unicorns, how much does the route to going public really matter?

The truth about SDK integrations and their impact on developers

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

Ken Harlan, the founder and CEO of Mobile Fuse, writes about the perks and pitfalls of software development kits.

“The digital media industry often talks about how much influence, dominance and power entities like Google and Facebook have,” Harlan writes. “Generally, the focus is on the vast troves of data and audience reach these companies tout. However, there’s more beneath the surface that strengthens the grip these companies have on both app developers and publishers alike.

“In reality, SDK integrations are a critical component of why these monolith companies have such a prominent presence.”

The truth about SDK integrations and their impact on developers

Don’t hate on low-code and no-code

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman (opens in a new window)

The Exchange caught up with Appian CEO Matt Calkins after his enterprise app software company reported its first-quarter performance to discuss the low-code market and what he’s hearing in customer meetings. To round out our general thesis — and shore up our somewhat bratty headline — we’ve compiled a list of recent low-code and no-code venture capital rounds, of which there are many.

As we’ll show, the pace at which venture capitalists are putting funds into companies that fall into our two categories is pretty damn rapid, which implies that they are doing well as a cohort. We can infer as much because it has become clear in recent quarters that while today’s private capital market is stupendous for some startups, it’s harder than you’d think for others.

Don’t hate on low-code and no-code

Bird’s SPAC filing shows scooter-nomics just don’t fly

A pair of Bird e-scooters parked in Barcelona. Image Credits: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch

Historically — and based on what we’re seeing in this fantastical filing — Bird proved to be a simply awful business. Its results from 2019 and 2020 describe a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, per filings. After posting negative gross profit in both of the most recent full-year periods, Bird’s initial model appears to have been defeated by the market.

What drove the company’s hugely unprofitable revenues and resulting net losses? Unit economics that were nearly comically destructive.

Bird’s SPAC filing shows scooter-nomics just don’t fly

Dear Sophie: Does it make sense to sponsor immigrant talent to work remotely?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My startup is in big-time hiring mode. All of our employees are currently working remotely and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future — even after the pandemic ends. We are considering individuals who are living outside of the U.S. for a few of the positions we are looking to fill.

Does it make sense to sponsor them for a visa to work remotely from somewhere in the United States?

— Selective in Silicon Valley

Dear Sophie: Does it make sense to sponsor immigrant talent to work remotely?

The hamburger model is a winning go-to-market strategy

Image Credits: ivan101 / Getty Images

“Today, we live in a world of product-led growth, where engineers (and the software they have built) are the biggest differentiator,” says Coatue Management general partner Caryn Marooney and investor David Cahn. “If your customers love what you’re building, you’re headed in the right direction. If they don’t, you’re not.

“However, even the most successful product-led growth companies will reach a tipping point, because no matter how good their product is, they’ll need to figure out how to expand their customer base and grow from a startup into a $1 billion+ revenue enterprise.

“The answer is the hamburger model. Why call it that? Because the best go-to-market (GTM) strategies for startups are like hamburgers:

  • The bottom bun: Bottom-up GTM.
  • The burger: Your product.
  • The top bun: Enterprise sales.”

The hamburger model is a winning go-to-market strategy

Software subscriptions are eating the world: Solving billing and cash flow woes simultaneously

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

Krish Subramanian, the co-founder and CEO of Chargebee, writes that while subscription business models are attractive, there are two major pitfalls: First, payment.

“Regardless of company size, there’s an ongoing need to convince customers to sign up long term,” Subramanian writes. “The second issue: How do businesses cover the funding gap between when customers sign up and when they pay?”

Software subscriptions are eating the world: Solving billing and cash flow woes simultaneously

Is there a creed in venture capital?

Image Credits: Aimee Blasee (opens in a new window)

Scott Lenet, the president of Touchdown Ventures, asks how deal-makers should think about how to handle themselves when counter-parties attempt to change an agreement. “When is it OK to modify terms, and when should deal-makers stand firm?” he asks.

“Entrepreneurs and investors should recognize that contracts are worth very little without the ongoing relationship management that keeps all parties aligned. Enforcement is so unusual in the world of startups that I consider it a mostly dead-end path. In my experience, good communication is the only reliable remedy. This is the way.”

Is there a creed in venture capital?

Even startups on tight budgets can maximize their marketing impact

Image Credits: Ray Massey / Getty Images

“Search engine optimization, PR, paid marketing, emails, social — marketing and communications is crowded with techniques, channels, solutions and acronyms,” writes Dominik Angerer, CEO and co-founder of Storyblok, which provides best practice guidance for startups on how to build a sustainable approach to marketing their content. “It’s little wonder that many startups strapped for time and money find defining and executing a sustainable marketing campaign a daunting prospect.

“The sheer number of options makes it difficult to determine an effective approach, and my view is that this complexity often obscures the obvious answer: A startup’s best marketing asset is its story.”

Even startups on tight budgets can maximize their marketing impact

Categories: Business News

Opportunity knocks: Exhibit at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Startup News - 2021, May 15 - 3:30am

No matter what slice of the mobility market you’ve claimed as your own — AVs, EVs, data mining, AI, dockless scooters, robotics or the batteries that will charge and change the world — you won’t find a better place to showcase your extraordinary tech and talent than TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and virtually plant your early-stage mobility startup in front of a global audience that’s focused exclusively on one of the most complex, rapidly evolving industries. TC Sessions: Mobility, which takes place on June 9, features the top minds and makers, draws thousands of attendees, fosters collaborative community and creates a networking environment ripe with opportunities.

Pro tip: This package is for pre-Series A, early-stage startups only.

The Startup Exhibitor Package costs $380, and it comes with four all-access passes to the event. But wait (insert infomercial voice here), there’s more!

Your virtual expo booth features lead-generation capabilities. You can highlight your pitch deck, run a video loop and/or host live demos. Network with CrunchMatch, our AI-powered platform, to find and connect with the people who can help move your business forward. CrunchMatch lets you host private video meetings — pitch investors, recruit new talent or grow your customer base.

You’ll have access to all the presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions, too. And video-on-demand means you won’t miss out.

Here’s a peek at just some of the agenda’s great programming you and, thanks to those extra passes, your team can attend — or catch later with VOD:

  • EV Founders in Focus: We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. This time, we will chat with Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO of ChargerHelp! a startup that enables on-demand repair of electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt will discuss how the pandemic changed their investment strategies, the hottest sectors within the mobility industry, the rise of SPACs as a financial instrument and where they plan to put their capital in 2021 and beyond.
  • Driving Innovation at General Motors: GM is in the midst of sweeping changes that will eventually turn it into an EV-only producer of cars, trucks and SUVs. But the auto giant’s push to electrify passenger vehicles is just one of many efforts to be a leader in innovation and the future of transportation. We’ll talk with Pam Fletcher, vice president of innovation at GM, one of the key people behind the 113-year-old automaker’s push to become a nimble, tech-centric company.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9. Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and set yourself up for global exposure and networking success. Show us your extraordinary tech and talent!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Categories: Business News

Every early-stage startup must identify and evaluate a strategic advantage

Startup News - 2021, May 15 - 3:11am
Mike Ghaffary Contributor Share on Twitter Mike Ghaffary is a general partner at Canvas Ventures, where he invests in innovation for consumers and software. Previously, he was a partner at Social Capital, co-founder and VP of Business Development of Stitcher, VP of Business and Corporate Development at Yelp, and Director of Business Development at TrialPay. More posts by this contributor

Whether you’re building a company or thinking about investing, it’s important to understand your strategic advantage. In order to determine one, you should ask fundamental questions like: What’s the long-term, sustainable reason that the company will stay in business?

The most important elements for founders to consider when figuring out their strategic advantage(s) include one-sided or “direct” network effects (e.g., with social media sites like Facebook), marketplace network effects (e.g., with two-sided marketplaces like Uber), data moats, first mover and switching costs.

Let’s take a quick look at an example of one-sided network effects. At the very earliest stages of Facebook’s existence, it was just Mark Zuckerberg, a few friends and their basic profiles. The nascent social media platform wasn’t useful beyond a few dorm rooms. They needed a strategic advantage or the company would not make it beyond the edge of campus.

A successful startup without a strategic advantage is just a validated business model vulnerable to copycat companies looking for a market entry point.

In fact, Facebook only truly became a useful platform — and accelerated as a business — when more users came into the fold and more types of email addresses were accepted. Add to that the introduction of an ad marketplace revenue model and you have a clear strategic advantage — based on one-sided network effects — that gave Facebook a strategic edge over other early social media sites like MySpace.

These one-sided network effects are different from two-sided network effects.

Image Credits: Canvas Ventures

Two-sided network effects are most common in marketplace business models. In a two-sided network, supply and demand are matched, like Uber riders (demand) being matched with Uber drivers (supply). The Uber product is not necessarily more valuable just because more users (riders) join, the way Facebook is more valuable when more users join.

In fact, when more users (riders) join the demand side of the Uber network, it might actually be worse for the user experience — it’s harder to find a driver and wait times get longer. The demand side (riders) gets value from more supply (drivers) joining the platform and vice-versa. That’s why it’s called a two-sided network, or a marketplace.

Regardless of industry, a successful startup without a strategic advantage is just a validated business model vulnerable to copycat companies looking for a market entry point. Copycats can range in size from startups with similar grit to large companies like Facebook or Google that have limitless resources to drive competition into the market, and potentially run the startup with the original idea out of business. This vulnerability can prove fatal unless a startup’s founding team explores and embraces one or more strategic advantages.

Categories: Business News

5 ways to raise your startup’s PR game

Startup News - 2021, May 15 - 1:37am
Adam LaGreca Contributor Share on Twitter Adam LaGreca is the founder of 10KMedia and previously led communications for DigitalOcean, Datadog and Gremlin. More posts by this contributor

There’s a lot of noise out there. The ability to effectively communicate can make or break your launch. It will play a role in determining who wins a new space — you or a competitor.

Most people get that. I get emails every week from companies coming out of stealth mode, wanting to make a splash. Or from a Series B company that’s been around for a while and hopes to improve their branding/messaging/positioning so that a new upstart doesn’t eat their lunch.

You have to stop thinking that what you are up to is interesting.

How do you make a splash? How do you stay relevant?

Worth noting is that my area of expertise is in the DevOps space and that slant may crop up occasionally. But these five specific tips should be applicable to virtually any startup.

Leverage your founders

This is especially important if you are a small startup that not many people know about. Journalists don’t want to hear opinions from your head of marketing or product — they want to hear from the founders. What problems are they solving? What unique opinions do they have about the market? These are insights that mean the most coming from the people that started the company. So if you don’t have at least one founder that can dedicate time to being the face, then PR is going to be an uphill battle.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do to support these efforts. Create a list of all the journalists that have written about your competitors. Read those articles. How can your founder add value to these conversations? Where should you be contributing thought leadership? What are the most interesting perspectives you can offer to those audiences?

This is legwork and research you can do before looping founders into the conversation. Getting your PR going can be like trying to push a broken-down car up the road: If the founders see you exerting effort to get things moving on your own, they’re more likely to get beside you and help.

Here’s an example: It may be unreasonable to ask a founder to sit down and write a 1,000-word thought leadership piece by the end of the week, but they very likely have 20 minutes to chat, especially if you make it clear that the contents of the conversation will make for great thought leadership pieces, social media posts, etc.

The flow looks like:

  1. You come up with topic ideas based on research.
  2. The founder picks their favorite.
  3. You and the founder schedule a 20-minute chat to get their thoughts on paper.
  4. You write up the content based on those thoughts.
Categories: Business News

Deadline extended: Apply to Startup Battlefield at TC Disrupt 2021

Startup News - 2021, May 15 - 12:10am

When you’re head-down and nose to the grindstone — I’m looking at all you hard-working early-stage startup founders — it’s easy to miss a deadline for an outstanding opportunity. Case in point: competing in Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 in September.

We want every game-changing, innovative startup — from anywhere around the world — to have a shot at massive exposure to investors, media and other influential unicorn-makers. The $100,000 in equity-free prizemoney would be nice, too, right? That’s why we’re extending our application deadline for another full week.

It won’t cost you a thing to apply or to participate, so don’t let this trajectory-changing opportunity slip past you. Apply to Startup Battlefield here before May 27 at 11:59 p.m. (PT).

The TechCrunch editorial team will vet every application and ultimately choose roughly 20 startups to go head-to-head. Each team receives weeks of free, rigorous coaching from our seasoned Battlefield team. Your pitch, presentation skills and business model will reach new heights of excellence. You’ll also be ready to deftly handle all the questions you’ll receive from our expert VC judges.

Startup Battlefield plays out over several rounds, with the field progressively narrowing. Each time you make the cut, you’ll repeat your pitch-and-answer session to a new set of judges. All that training, prep and focus leads to a final showdown and one last grab for the brass ring. And then it’s up to the judges to decide which stand-out startup wins the championship and that huge check.

11 words and phrases to cut from your VC pitch deck

While only one startup wins the money and the title, every team that competes benefits from standing in a global spotlight. Sean Huang, co-founder of Matidor, competed in Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020. His team was one of the five finalists. Here’s what he said about his experience:

“Going through Startup Battlefield helped us simplify and improve our pitch. It helped us not only with brand messaging, but also to win other pitch competitions after Battlefield. By pitching in the finals, we booked a demo with one of the final panelists. We received inbound investment interest from 12 Tier-1 investors, and eight potential key clients came to our website for a demo session. We also received an endorsement letter for our Y Combinator application from a fellow Battlefield participant, with whom we formed a great connection.”

You’re head down and focused — that’s why we’re giving you a one-week extension. So… stop, look up and grab this opportunity to take your startup to whole new levels. Get your nose off that grindstone and apply to Startup Battlefield here before May 27 at 11:59 p.m. (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Categories: Business News

Edtech stocks are getting hammered but VCs keep writing checks

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 11:47pm

After years in the backwaters of venture capital, edtech had a booming 2020. Not only did its products become must-haves after schools around the globe went remote, but investors also poured capital into leading projects. There was even some exit activity, with well-known edtech players like Coursera going public earlier this year.

But despite a rush of private capital — which has continued into this year, as we’ll demonstrate — edtech stocks have taken a hammering in recent weeks. So while venture capitalists and other startup investors are pumping more capital into the space in hopes of future outsize returns, the stock market is signaling that things might be heading in the other direction.

Who’s right? One investor that The Exchange spoke to noted that market turbulence is just that, and that he’s tuning into activity but not yet changing his investment strategy. At the same time, the recent volatility is worth tracking in case it’s a preview of edtech’s slowdown.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. 

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Let’s look at the changing value of edtech stocks in recent months, parse some preliminary data via PitchBook that provides a good feel for the directional momentum of edtech venture capital, and try to see if there’s irrational exuberance among private investors.

You could argue that it’s public investors who are suffering from irrational pessimism and that private-market investors have the right of it. But since public markets price private markets, we tend to listen to them. Let’s go!

Falling shares

We’re sure that you want to get into the private-market data, so we’ll be brief in describing the public-market carnage. What follows is a digest of edtech stocks and their declines from recent highs:

  • Compared to its 52-week high, Chegg stock has lost over a third of its value.
  • After reaching $62.53 per share in April, Coursera has shed about half of its value and is trading close to its $33 IPO price.
  • 2U closed at $33.92 per share yesterday, its shares also losing half of their value compared to their 52-week high.
  • Staying on that theme, Stride (K12) closed at $26.77 per share yesterday, which is about half of its 52-week high.
Categories: Business News

Cisco strikes again grabbing threat assessment tool Kenna Security as third acquisition this week

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 11:09pm

Cisco has been busy on the acquisition front this week, and today the company announced it was buying threat assessment platform Kenna Security, the third company it has purchased this week. The two companies did not disclose the purchase price.

With Kenna, Cisco gets a startup that uses machine learning to sort through the massive pile of threat data that comes into a security system on a daily basis and prioritizes the threats most likely to do the most damage. That could be a very useful tool these days when threats abound and it’s not always easy to know where to put your limited security resources. Cisco plans to take that technology and integrate into its SecureX platform.

Gee Rittenhouse, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Security Business Group, wrote in a blog post announcing the deal with Kenna that his company is getting a product that brings together Cisco’s existing threat management capabilities with Kenna’s risk-based vulnerability management skills.

“That is why we are pleased to announce our intent to acquire Kenna Security, Inc., a recognized leader in risk-based vulnerability prioritization with over 14 million assets protected and over 12.7 billion managed vulnerabilities. Using data science and real-world threat intelligence, it has a proven ability to bring data in from a multi-vendor environment and provide a comprehensive view of IT vulnerability risk,” Rittenhouse wrote in the blog post.

12 top cybersecurity VCs discuss investing, valuations and no-go zones

The security sphere has been complex for a long time, but with employees moving to work from home because of COVID, it became even more pronounced in the last year. In a world where the threat landscape changes quickly, having a tool that prioritizes what to look at first in its arsenal could be very useful.

Kenna Security CEO Karim Toubba gave a typical executive argument for being acquired: it gives him a much bigger market under Cisco than his company could have built alone.

“Now is our opportunity to change the industry: once the acquisition is complete, we will be one step closer to delivering Kenna’s pioneering Risk-Based Vulnerability Management (RBVM) platform to the more than 7,000 customers using Cisco SecureX today. This single action exponentially increases the impact Kenna’s technology will have on the way the world secures networks, endpoints and infrastructures,” he wrote in the company blog.

The company, which launched in 2010, claims to be the pioneer in the RBVM space. It raised over $98 million on a $320 million post-money valuation, according to PitchBook data. Customers include HSBC, Royal Bank of Canada, Mattel and Quest Diagnostics.

For those customers, the product will cease to be standalone at some point as the companies work together to integrate Kenna technology into the SecureX platform. When that is complete, the standalone customers will have to purchase the Cisco solution to continue using the Kenna tech.

Cisco has had a busy week on the acquisition front. It announced its intent to acquire Sedona Systems on Tuesday, Socio Labs on Wednesday and this announcement today. That’s a lot of activity for any company in a single week. The deal is expected to close in Cisco Q4 FY 2021. Kenna’s 170 employees will be joining the Security Business Group led by Rittenhouse.

Palo Alto Networks to acquire Expanse in deal worth $800M

Categories: Business News

Why SPACs aren’t targeting African startups

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 4:52pm

One. That’s the number of African tech companies that have gone public on the NYSE in the last 10 years. Two, if you’re counting local exchanges. The former is African-focused e-commerce company Jumia and the latter is Egyptian fintech company Fawry.

As a tech company, Fawry’s listing on the Egyptian Stock Exchange is a rarity. Typically, most exchanges in emerging markets like Africa, India, and Latin America are filled with traditional companies in age-old sectors like banking, telecoms, manufacturing, and energy.

Unlike Fawry, what you see these days are new-age tech companies from these markets going public abroad, especially in the U.S. Due to the friendly nature of U.S. exchanges such as Nasdaq and the NYSE, and their history building up the FAANG and other multibillion-dollar companies, they have become the top destination for IPO-ready companies in emerging markets. 

Last year, the U.S. IPO market was caught in a frenzy with a different way of going public: via special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). Although these acquisition vehicles have been around for quite some time, they’ve lacked the sensational attributes we’ve now become accustomed to. Public and influential entrepreneurs from Chamath Palihapitiya to Richard Branson have made sure that SPACs — which many have called a fad — are here to stay.

Despite issues with the SEC as a liquidity option, SPACs have continued to remain popular for many companies because they have less completion time and regulatory hurdles than a traditional IPO.

We’ve covered a lot on this subject within the past year, and this article does a good job explaining SPACs.

In the U.S. alone, there are more than 300 SPACs. Last year, more than 85% of deals completed were executed with companies in the country, per Bloomberg. With fewer targets to acquire, an increasing number of SPACs are eyeing startups in other markets like Asia and Latin America, with the same endgame: take them public in the U.S.

Although Africa cannot be compared to these other regions in terms of technology and investment activities, it has some success stories. Companies like Jumia, GetSmarter, Paystack and Flutterwave are bright examples from the continent. But except for Tidjane Thiam’s $300 million blank-check company Freedom Acquisition I Corp (which has found no fintech target yet), there’s practically no SPAC targeting African tech companies.

Almost everything you need to know about SPACs

Not SPACworthy

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, founder and general partner at Future Africa, an early-stage VC firm, told TechCrunch that SPAC targets are most often billion-dollar companies. “The way the economics of a SPAC work, you want a billion-dollar company, and that’s a very short list in Africa. You can’t SPAC anything less than a billion dollars as you wouldn’t make enough money for it to be worth your while,” he said.

There are only a handful of African tech companies worth that much. Just recently, Flutterwave joined the illustrious club that includes Jumia, Fawry, and Interswitch. If what Aboyeji said is anything to go by, SPACs can only target Flutterwave and Interswitch. Yet, the chances of this happening are quite slim because the pair have expressed interest in going public via IPOs on local and international exchanges.

So, where exactly does it leave the continent if there are no billion-dollar companies to SPAC?

Aboyeji thinks SPACs could narrow down targets to companies that could become unicorns with their next rounds.

Eghosa Omoigui, managing partner at EchoVC Partners, an early-stage VC firm focused on sub-Saharan Africa, shares this view and adds that selecting these companies will boil down to the thrill they offer blank check companies should they choose to look Africa’s way.

“When you think about it, there’s only a small number of startups on the continent that have enough traction or excitement to be [packaged] in a SPAC,” he said.

From a neutral lens, some companies fit into this box of attractive African-focused companies with unicorn potential. A few of them, including Andela, Branch, Gro Intelligence and TymeBank, are worth more than $500 million and can easily double that with any SPAC activity.

But Omoigui believes a large number of these startups aren’t ready to go public yet.

“The real question I think is, even if you file for a SPAC and merge it with an African target, is that company ready to be public? The truth of the matter is that the valuations they get when private are much better than what they’ll get in the public markets.” 

Private capital seems sufficient… for now

The continent’s tech ecosystem is still very much nascent. In 2019, African startups raised a total of $2 billion, which is the peak of investments to have flowed in a year so far. That same year, Indian startups raised $14.5 billion. This disparity in investments is one reason there are few unicorns and acquisitions in the region. So it pretty much shows that there’s still a lot of ground to cover for African startups before thinking of going public. Maybe this is why SPACs aren’t targeting African startups now. 

“The way I see it, African startups are not ready yet to go public,” Aboyeji remarked. “They still need more time in the private markets. If you’re pursued by private capital and you see what happened to the likes of Jumia that went public, your inclination is just to take the private capital.”

In addition to that, private equity is catching up with what public financing can offer. Startups globally are staying private longer than ever. In the U.S., the number of publicly listed companies has dropped by 52% from the late 1990s to 2016. It’s a trend that has been passed to other markets, so it’s likely that African companies might stay private for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, Omoigui is optimistic that this situation might change in fewer than three years. In his opinion, SPACs will run out of interesting targets in other emerging markets and might start broadening their scope to include African companies.

The EchoVC managing partner added that the continent could do well with more SPACs from indigenous personalities like Thiam while waiting for those from foreign entities. This will build more excitement on the continent because in most cases, it isn’t the target that people usually get enthusiastic about but the vehicle itself.

“Sometimes you realize that it’s not really the startups that need to be hot and exciting; it is the SPAC sponsor. That’s what people are hopping on the bandwagon for.”

How African startups raised investments in 2020

Before running Future Africa full-time, Aboyeji had stints with Andela as a co-founder and as CEO of Flutterwave. The startups are still private to date but are on anyone’s cards to go public within this decade. For Aboyeji, however, make that three as the entrepreneur-cum-investor wants to take his investment firm public, maybe via a SPAC.

“I’m definitely going to exit on the public market with Future Africa. That’s my goal. I would consider a SPAC as an entrepreneur, but it’s likely that I’ll decide to directly list as well,” he said.

Andela CEO Jeremy Johnson told me SPACs are here to stay, and most African startups will go public that way. However, he didn’t budge when asked if there were any chance his company would do the same.

“One of the benefits is that they allow you to talk about the future, and Africa’s growth rate means its future is going to be brighter than the past,” he said. “I think African startups will end up going public via this route.”

US-listed SPACs have a new target: Latin American tech companies

 

Categories: Business News

Substack acquires team from community consulting startup People & Company

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 7:22am

New media poster child Substack announced today that they’ve added a small community-building consultancy team to its ranks, acquiring the Brooklyn-based startup People & Company.

The small firm has been working with clients to build up their community efforts, and its team will now be tasked with building up some of the newsletter company’s upstart efforts for writers in its network.

In a blog post, Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie said that the company had previously used the People & Co. team to consult on their fellowship and mentorship programs and that members of the team would now be working on a variety of new efforts, from scaling programs to help writers with legal support and health insurance to community-guided projects like workshops and meetups to help crowdsource insights.

“These people are the best in the world at what they do, and now they’re not only working for Substack, but they’re also working for you,” McKenzie wrote.

Beyond Substack, previous partners with People & Company include Porsche AG, Nike and Surfrider.

Substack has been blazing ahead in recent months, adding new partners and raising cash as it aims to bring on more and more subscribers to its network. The firm shared back in late March that it had raised a $65 million round at a reported valuation around $650 million, according to earlier reporting by Axios.

Substack confirms $65M raise, promises to ‘rapidly’ expand its financial backing of newly independent writers

Is Substack really worth $650M?

 

Categories: Business News

Even startups on tight budgets can maximize their marketing impact

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 7:15am
Dominik Angerer Contributor Share on Twitter Dominik Angerer is CEO and co-founder of headless CMS Storyblok, which provides best practice guidance for startups on how to build a sustainable approach to marketing their content.

Search engine optimization, PR, paid marketing, emails, social — marketing and communications is crowded with techniques, channels, solutions and acronyms. It’s little wonder that many startups strapped for time and money find defining and executing a sustainable marketing campaign a daunting prospect.

The sheer number of options makes it difficult to determine an effective approach, and my view is that this complexity often obscures the obvious answer: A startup’s best marketing asset is its story. The knowledge and expertise of its team, together with the why and the how of its offering provides the most compelling content.

Leveraging this material with best practice techniques enables any startup, no matter how limited its budget, to run an effective marketing campaign.

Many startups make the mistake of choosing systems and employing procedures to solve the immediate needs of the department that requires them.

I know this approach works, because this is exactly what I did with my co-founder Alex Feiglstorfer when we set up Storyblok. To be clear, we are developers not marketers. However, our previous experience building CMS systems taught us that the main driver of organic engagement for most businesses was customer conversations around content.

Specifically, sharing experiences, expertise and what we learned. We had committed nearly all of our available cash to developing our product, so we knew that the only way to market Storyblok was to do it all ourselves.

As a result, we focused solely on problem-solving content. This took the form of tutorials on web development and opinion pieces on headless CMS and other topics within our areas of expertise. The trick was that what we published wasn’t made just for marketing, it was based on our own internal documentation of problems we encountered as we developed our product. In essence, we were “learning in public.” Through this approach we were able to acquire thousands of customers in our first year.

Retelling this story isn’t to blow my own trumpet, it’s to make clear that you don’t have to be a marketer by training or commit a huge amount of time and resources to successfully market your startup. So, how do you get started?

Getting your structure and technology right

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how you organize your startup’s marketing function, there are some basic principles that apply in nearly every situation. A recent survey of 400+ executives from CMS Wire helpfully identified the following factors as the “top digital customer experience challenges” for businesses:

  1. Limited budget/resources.
  2. Siloed systems and fragmented customer data.
  3. Limited cross-department alignment/collaboration.
  4. Outdated/limited technology, operations or processes.
  5. Lack of in-house expertise/skills.

Challenges two to four are the pitfalls that we can focus on avoiding. They are directly related to how a startup produces, organizes and distributes its content.

With regard to the siloing of systems and fragmentation of customer data, the overriding goal is to ensure all your systems are integrated and speak to one another. In practice, this means that the data gathered in different departments — whether its feedback from sales, engagement on your website, customer service responses or product development information — is collected in a uniform and methodical manner and is readily accessible across the business.

Categories: Business News

Alba Orbital’s mission to image the Earth every 15 minutes brings in $3.4M seed round

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 5:36am

Orbital imagery is in demand, and if you think having daily images of everywhere on Earth is going to be enough in a few years, you need a lesson in ambition. Alba Orbital is here to provide it with its intention to provide Earth observation at intervals of 15 minutes rather than hours or days — and it just raised $3.4 million to get its next set of satellites into orbit.

Alba attracted our attention at Y Combinator’s latest demo day; I was impressed with the startup’s accomplishment of already having six satellites in orbit, which is more than most companies with space ambition ever get. But it’s only the start for the company, which will need hundreds more to begin to offer its planned high-frequency imagery.

The Scottish company has spent the last few years in prep and R&D, pursuing the goal, which some must have thought laughable, of creating a solar-powered Earth observation satellite that weighs in at less than one kilogram. The joke’s on the skeptics, however — Alba has launched a proof of concept and is ready to send the real thing up as well.

Little more than a flying camera with a minimum of storage, communication, power and movement, the sub-kilogram Unicorn-2 is about the size of a soda can, with paperback-size solar panel wings, and costs in the neighborhood of $10,000. It should be able to capture up to 10-meter resolution, good enough to see things like buildings, ships, crops, even planes.

Image Credits: Alba Orbital

“People thought we were idiots. Now they’re taking it seriously,” said Tom Walkinshaw, founder and CEO of Alba. “They can see it for what it is: a unique platform for capturing data sets.”

Indeed, although the idea of daily orbital imagery like Planet’s once seemed excessive, in some situations it’s quite clearly not enough.

“The California case is probably wildfires,” said Walkinshaw (and it always helps to have a California case). “Having an image once a day of a wildfire is a bit like having a chocolate teapot… not very useful. And natural disasters like hurricanes, flooding is a big one, transportation as well.”

Walkinshaw noted that they company was bootstrapped and profitable before taking on the task of launching dozens more satellites, something the seed round will enable.

“It gets these birds in the air, gets them finished and shipped out,” he said. “Then we just need to crank up the production rate.”

Image Credits: Alba Orbital

When I talked to Walkinshaw via video call, 10 or so completed satellites in their launch shells were sitting on a rack behind him in the clean room, and more are in the process of assembly. Aiding in the scaling effort is new investor James Park, founder and CEO of Fitbit — definitely someone who knows a little bit about bringing hardware to market.

Interestingly, the next batch to go to orbit (perhaps as soon as in a month or two, depending on the machinations of the launch provider) will be focusing on nighttime imagery, an area Walkinshaw suggested was undervalued. But as orbital thermal imaging startup Satellite Vu has shown, there’s immense appetite for things like energy and activity monitoring, and nighttime observation is a big part of that.

Satellite Vu’s $5M seed round will fuel the launch of its thermal imaging satellites

The seed round will get the next few rounds of satellites into space, and after that Alba will be working on scaling manufacturing to produce hundreds more. Once those start going up it can demonstrate the high-cadence imaging it is aiming to produce — for now it’s impossible to do so, though Alba already has customers lined up to buy the imagery it does get.

The round was led by Metaplanet Holdings, with participation by Y Combinator, Liquid2, Soma, Uncommon Denominator, Zillionize and numerous angels.

As for competition, Walkinshaw welcomes it, but feels secure that he and his company have more time and work invested in this class of satellite than anyone in the world — a major obstacle for anyone who wants to do battle. It’s more likely companies will, as Alba has done, pursue a distinct product complementary to those already or in the process of being offered.

“Space is a good place to be right now,” he concluded.

Our favorite companies from Y Combinator’s W21 Demo Day: Part 1

Categories: Business News

Advanced tax strategies for startup founders

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 5:13am
Peyton Carr Contributor Share on Twitter Peyton Carr is a financial advisor to founders, entrepreneurs and their families, helping them with planning and investing. He is a managing director of Keystone Global Partners. More posts by this contributor

As an entrepreneur, you started your business to create value, both in what you deliver to your customers and what you build for yourself. You have a lot going on, but if building personal wealth matters to you, the assets you’re creating deserve your attention.

You can implement numerous advanced planning strategies to minimize capital gains tax, reduce future estate tax and increase asset protection from creditors and lawsuits. Capital gains tax can reduce your gains by up to 35%, and estate taxes can cost up to 50% on assets you leave to your heirs. Careful planning can minimize your exposure and actually save you millions.

Smart founders and early employees should closely examine their equity ownership, even in the early stages of their company’s life cycle. Different strategies should be used at different times and for different reasons. The following are a few key considerations when determining what, if any, advanced strategies you might consider:

  1. Your company’s life cycle — early, mid or late stage.
  2. The value of your shares — what they are worth now, what you expect them to be worth in the future and when.
  3. Your own circumstances and goals — what you need now, and what you may need in the future.

Some additional items to consider include issues related to qualified small business stock (QSBS), gift and estate taxes, state and local income taxes, liquidity, asset protection, and whether you and your family will retain control and manage the assets over time.

Smart founders and early employees should closely examine their equity ownership, even in the early stages of their company’s life cycle.

Here are some advanced equity planning strategies that you can implement at different stages of your company life cycle to reduce tax and optimize wealth for you and your family.

Irrevocable nongrantor trust

QSBS allows you to exclude tax on $10 million of capital gains (tax of up to 35%) upon an exit/sale. This is a benefit every individual and some trusts have. There is significant opportunity to multiply the QSBS tax exclusion well beyond $10 million.

The founder can gift QSBS eligible stock to an irrevocable nongrantor trust, let’s say for the benefit of a child, so that the trust will qualify for its own $10 million exclusion. The founder owning the shares would be the grantor in this case. Typically, these trusts are set up for children or unborn children. It is important to note that the founder/grantor will have to gift the shares to accomplish this, because gifted shares will retain the QSBS eligibility. If the shares are sold into the trust, the shares lose QSBS status.

Image Credits: Peyton Carr

In addition to the savings on federal taxes, founders may also save on state taxes. State tax can be avoided if the trust is structured properly and set up in a tax-exempt state like Delaware or Nevada. Otherwise, even if the trust is subject to state tax, some states, like New York, conform and follow the federal tax treatment of the QSBS rules, while others, like California, do not. For example, if you are a New York state resident, you will also avoid the 8.82% state tax, which amounts to another $2.6 million in tax savings if applied to the example above.

This brings the total tax savings to almost $10 million, which is material in the context of a $40 million gain. Notably, California does not conform, but California residents can still capture the state tax savings if their trust is structured properly and in a state like Delaware or Nevada.

Currently, each person has a limited lifetime gift tax exemption, and any gifted amount beyond this will generate up to a 40% gift tax that has to be paid. Because of this, there is a trade-off between gifting the shares early while the company valuation is low and using less of your gift tax exemption versus gifting the shares later and using more of the lifetime gift exemption.

The reason to wait is that it takes time, energy and money to set up these trusts, so ideally, you are using your lifetime gift exemption and trust creation costs to capture a benefit that will be realized. However, not every company has a successful exit, so it is sometimes better to wait until there is a certain degree of confidence that the benefit will be realized.

Parent-seeded trust

One way for the founder to plan for future generations while minimizing estate taxes and high state taxes is through a parent-seeded trust. This trust is created by the founder’s parents, with the founder as the beneficiary. Then the founder can sell the shares to this trust — it doesn’t involve the use of any lifetime gift exemption and eliminates any gift tax, but it also disqualifies the ability to claim QSBS.

The benefit is that all the future appreciation of the asset is transferred out of the founder’s and the parent’s estate and is not subject to potential estate taxes in the future. The trust can be located in a tax-exempt state such as Delaware or Nevada to also eliminate home state-level taxes. This can translate up to 10% in state-level tax savings. The trustee, an individual selected by the founder, can make distributions to the founder as a beneficiary if desired.

Further, this trust can be used for the benefit of multiple generations. Distributions can be made at the discretion of the trustee, and this skips the estate tax liability as assets are passed from generation to generation.

Grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT)

This strategy enables the founder to minimize their estate tax exposure by transferring wealth outside of their estate, specifically without using any lifetime gift exemption or being subject to gift tax. It’s particularly helpful when an individual has used up all their lifetime gift tax exemption. This is a powerful strategy for very large “unicorn” positions to reduce a founder’s future gift/estate tax exposure.

For the GRAT, the founder (grantor) transfers assets into the GRAT and gets back a stream of annuity payments. The IRS 7520 rate, currently very low, is a factor in calculating these annuity payments. If the assets transferred into the trust grow faster than the IRS 7520 rate, there will be an excess remainder amount in GRAT after all the annuity payments are paid back to the founder (grantor).

This remainder amount will be excluded from the founder’s estate and can transfer to beneficiaries or remain in the trust estate tax-free. Over time, this remainder amount can be multiples of the initial contributed value. If you have company stock that you expect will pop in value, it can be very beneficial to transfer those shares into a GRAT and have the pop occur inside the trust.

This way, you can transfer all the upside gift and estate tax-free out of your estate and to your beneficiaries. Additionally, because this trust is structured as a grantor trust, the founder can pay the taxes incurred by the trust, making the strategy even more powerful.

One thing to note is that the grantor must survive the GRAT’s term for the strategy to work. If the grantor dies before the end of the term, the strategy unravels and some or all the assets remain in his estate as if the strategy never existed.

Intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT)

This is similar to the GRAT in that it also enables the founder to minimize their estate tax exposure by transferring wealth outside of their estate, but has some key differences. The grantor must “seed” the trust by gifting 10% of the asset value intended to be transferred, so this approach requires the use of some lifetime gift exemption or gift tax.

The remaining 90% of the value to be transferred is sold to the trust in exchange for a promissory note. This sale is not taxable for income tax or QSBS purposes. The main benefits are that instead of receiving annuity payments back, which requires larger payments, the grantor transfers assets into the trust and can receive an interest-only note. The payments received are far lower because it is interest-only (rather than an annuity).

Image Credits: Peyton Carr

Another key distinction is that the IDGT strategy has more flexibility than the GRAT and can be generation-skipping.

If the goal is to avoid generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT), the IDGT is superior to the GRAT, because assets are measured for GSTT purposes when they are contributed to the trust prior to appreciation rather than being measured at the end of the term for a GRAT after the assets have appreciated.

The bottom line

Depending on a founder’s situation and goals, we may use some combination of the above strategies or others altogether. Many of these strategies are most effective when planning in advance; waiting until after the fact will limit the benefits you can extract.

When considering strategies for protecting wealth and minimizing taxes as it relates to your company stock, there’s a lot to take into account — the above is only a summary. We recommend you seek proper counsel and choose wealth transfer and tax savings strategies based on your unique situation and individual appetite for complexity.

What you need to know before selling your company’s stock

Categories: Business News

Is there a creed in venture capital?

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 4:12am
Scott Lenet Contributor Share on Twitter Scott Lenet is President of Touchdown Ventures. More posts by this contributor

How should venture capitalists and corporate innovators assess Din Djarin, the protagonist of The Mandalorian? He’s introduced as a bounty hunter, a mercenary vocation in the Star Wars mythos that has been reserved primarily for villains.

One of the most interesting aspects of Jon Favreau’s show is how Din Djarin wrestles with the orthodoxy of his Mandalorian beliefs. His insistence on honor makes the character an appealing hero, and his character’s growth is demonstrated by when he chooses to be flexible versus when he holds fast to the rules he believes.

Although “This is the way” emerged as the show’s quotable soundbite, there is another line that’s more relevant to venture capital and corporate innovation: “You’re changing the deal.” Din Djarin uses this phrase to spar with adversaries who try to advance their objectives by disregarding clearly understood agreements.

Enforcement is so unusual in the world of startups that I consider it a mostly dead-end path.

Of course, terms change in venture capital and entrepreneurship all the time, with investors and entrepreneurs finding themselves in Din Djarin’s position.

This challenge is built into the very structure of venture capital fund raising, in which a Series A financing is usually followed by Series B, and then Series C, and each of these transactions frequently adds, subtracts, and modifies terms, changing the deal from the perspective of the startup and existing investors.

Categories: Business News

Software subscriptions are eating the world: Solving billing and cash flow woes simultaneously

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 2:59am
Krish Subramanian Contributor Share on Twitter Krish Subramanian is co-founder and CEO of Chargebee, a global leader in subscription billing and revenue management. He began his career as a software engineer at a startup before going on to specialize in indirect purchasing implementations for Fortune 500 customers.

Although recurring revenue businesses have been around for a long time, the trend toward a subscription economy has escalated rapidly in the last few years. IDC expects that by 2022, 53% of all software revenue will be purchased with a subscription model. Even the car subscription market is set to grow by 71% by 2022.

Many types of businesses are looking for ways to earn recurring revenue — and it has gone beyond business-to-consumer companies like Netflix and Dollar Shave Club. Business-to-business companies are also joining in, even those with products that last a long time. For instance, elevator-maker Otis offers Otis ONE, a subscription-connected elevator solution that offers predictive maintenance insights.

Subscription billing options should make it easy to manage all types of subscriptions, including integrating analytics to provide a more complete picture of the subscriptions landscape.

Promising, but there are pitfalls

Subscription business models are attractive, but there are two major pitfalls. At the top of the list is payment. Regardless of company size, there’s an ongoing need to convince customers to sign up long term.

Companies also need to accommodate new payment methods and ensure ongoing compliance with interstate and international tax laws. As a result, the payment process can quickly become painful.

As any company with recurring revenue scales, it becomes increasingly challenging to manage subscriptions, especially with homegrown systems, changing subscription offers and the complexities of converting customers from free trials to paid subscriptions. Subscription billing options should make it easy to manage all types of subscriptions, including integrating analytics to provide a more complete picture of the subscriptions landscape.

Businesses also have to keep in mind that every time they add more product categories or expand into new geographies, they need to tack on extra software code to change their operations and stay sales-tax-compliant. As they expand globally, this can become an obstacle to rapid growth and flexibility.

To keep the company focused and maintain growth without having to expend resources, subscription businesses need a specialized billing system so they can focus on customer acquisition and revenue growth rather than staying on top of billing complexity.

The CAC payback gap constrains growth

The second issue: How do businesses cover the funding gap between when customers sign up and when they pay? In the subscription economy, companies that would previously receive a customer’s payments all at once now earn revenue spread across a monthly or quarterly subscription fee.

Categories: Business News

Chef Robotics raises $7.7M to help automate kitchens

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 1:00am

A year and a half’s worth of global pandemic has had a profound impact on virtually every sector of the workforce. When it comes to future automation, food prep isn’t quite at the top of the list (that distinction likely goes to warehouse fulfillment, for the time being), but it’s certainly up there. And it’s easy to see why the events of 2020 and beyond have left many kitchens looking for alternative sources of labor.

San Francisco-based Chef Robotics today announced that it has raised a combined $7.7 million pre-seed and seed round, with the goal of helping automate certain aspects of food preparation. The list of investors is pretty long on this one (with seed and pre-seed rolled up into one), including Kleiner Perkins, Promus Ventures, Construct, Bloomberg Beta, BOLD Capital Partners, Red and Blue Ventures, Gaingels, Schox VC, Stewart Alsop and Tau Ventures, among others.

DoorDash acquires salad-making robotics startup, Chowbotics

The product team includes ex-employees of Cruise, Google, Verb Surgical, Zoox and Strateos. Chef’s team isn’t quite ready to show off its robot just yet (hence generic kitchen stock photo #8952 up top) — not entirely unusual for a robotics company still in the early stages. What it has outlined, thus far, is a robotics and vision system destined to increase production volume and enhance consistency, while removing some food waste from the process. Fast casual restaurants appear to be a key focus for this sort of tech.

The company describes it thusly:

Chef is designed to mimic the flexibility of humans, allowing customers to handle thousands of different kinds of food using minimal hardware changes. Chef does this using artificial intelligence that can learn how to handle more and more ingredients over time and that also improves. This allows customers to do things like change their menu often. Additionally, Chef’s modular architecture allows customers to quickly scale up just as they would by hiring more staff (but unlike humans, Chef always shows up on time and doesn’t need breaks).

More details on the underlying tech soon, no doubt.

Food robotics startup Karakuri unveils automated canteen, plus $8.4M investment led by firstminute

2020 will change the way we look at robotics

 

Categories: Business News

Legionfarm, pairing pro gamers with amateurs, raises $6 million Series A

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 1:00am

Legionfarm, the gaming platform that lets gamers play with pro players in their favorite games, has today announced the close of a $6 million Series A round. Investors in the round include SVB, Y Combinator, Scrum VC, Kevin Lin, Altair Capital, Ankur Nagpal and more.

Legionfarm launched out of Y Combinator at the beginning of last year with a mission to give pro players a way to generate income and amateur players the chance to get better by playing with a pro coach. It started out with an à la carte business model but has since added a subscription product.

It either costs $12/hour to play on an individual session basis (one hour of play) or you can pay $25 or $50/month. That gives gamers access to discounted prices for pros and unlimited sessions with pros who are brand new to the platform, which Legionfarm calls “rookies.”

The company was founded by Alex Beliankin, who is a former pro gamer and was once in the top .01% of World of Warcraft players. There are many, many pro caliber players out in the world who can’t necessarily make a living off of gaming. They either have to be signed by an org (super limited supply) or play in as many tournaments as possible (unreliable) or stream on Twitch.

Legionfarm gives these pros the opportunity to earn a living playing the games they love.

YC-backed Legionfarm lets competitive gamers pay to play with pro coaches

Meanwhile, gamers are always looking to get better but don’t often have the environments in a game to do so, particularly in Battle Royale games. Legionfarm, which supports a couple of the biggest BRs (Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends), allows these players to team up with pros and learn from them.

The startup is also running a hardware support program, which lets pros on the platform effectively rent gear by paying for it over time in installments that come directly out of their earnings each month.

“Recently, we’ve learned that one pro player can acquire seven or more new customers to the platform if we work with the pro properly,” said Beliankin. “That’s the biggest growth point for us and the biggest challenge. We don’t need to demand in the performance channels, but through existing supply. If we manage to build some sustainable processes here, I think we’re going to skyrocket because we see some huge potential here.”

VCs discuss gaming’s biggest infrastructure investment opportunities in 2021

Categories: Business News

Sylvera grabs seed backing from Index to help close the accountability gap around carbon offsetting

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 12:24am

U.K.-based startup Sylvera is using satellite, radar and lidar data-fuelled machine learning to bolster transparency around carbon offsetting projects in a bid to boost accountability and credibility — applying independent ratings to carbon offsetting projects.

The ratings are based on proprietary data sets it’s developed in conjunction with scientists from research organisations including UCLA, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and University College London.

It’s just grabbed $5.8 million in seed funding led by VC firm Index Ventures. All its existing institutional investors also participated — namely: Seedcamp, Speedinvest and Revent. It also has backing from leading angels, including the existing and former CEOs of NYSE, Thomson Reuters, Citibank and IHS Markit. (It confirms it has committed not to receive any investment from traditional carbon-intensive companies.) And it’s just snagged a $2 million research contract from Innovate UK.

The problem it’s targeting is that the carbon offsetting market suffers from a lack of transparency.

This fuels concerns that many offsetting projects aren’t living up to their claims of a net reduction in carbon emissions — and that “creative” carbon accountancy is rather being used to generate a lot of hot air: In the form of positive-sounding PR, which sums to meaningless greenwashing and more pollution as polluters get to keep on pumping out climate changing emissions.

Nonetheless, the carbon offset markets are poised for huge growth — of at least 15x by 2030 — as large corporates accelerate their net zero commitments. And Sylvera’s bet is that that will drive demand for reliable, independent data — to stand up the claimed impact.

How exactly is Sylvera benchmarking carbon offsets? Co-founder Sam Gill says its technology platform draws on multiple layers of satellite data to capture project performance data at scale and at a high frequency.

It applies machine learning to analyze and visualize the data, while also conducting what it bills as “deep analytical work to assess the underlying project quality”. Via that process it creates a standardised rating for a project, so that market participants are able to transact according to their preferences.

It makes its ratings and analysis data available to its customers via a web application and an API (for which it charges a subscription).

“We assess two critical areas of a project — its carbon performance, and its ‘quality’,” Gill tells TechCrunch. “We score a project against these criteria, and give them ratings — much like a Moody’s rating on a bond.”

Carbon performance is assessed by gathering “multi-layered data” from multiple sources to understand what is going on on the ground of these projects — such as via multiple satellite sources such as multispectral image, radar, and lidar data.

“We collate this data over time, ingest it into our proprietary machine learning algorithms, and analyse how the project has performed against its stated aims,” Gill explains.

Quality is assessed by considering the technical aspects of the project. This includes what Gill calls “additionality”; aka “does the project have a strong claim to delivering a better outcome than would have occurred but for the existence of the offset revenue?”.

There is a known problem with some carbon offsets claimed against forests where the landowner had no intention of logging, for example. So if there wasn’t going to be any deforestation the carbon credit is essentially bogus.

Corporate sustainability initiatives may open doors for carbon offset startups

He also says it looks at factors like permanence (“how long will the project’s impacts last?”); co-benefits (“how well has the project incorporated the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals?); and risks (“how well is the project mitigating risks, in particular those from humans and those from natural causes?”).

Clearly it’s not an exact science — and Gill acknowledges risks, for example, are often interlinked.

“It is critical to assess these performance and quality in tandem,” he tells TechCrunch. “It’s not enough to simply say a project is achieving the carbon goals set out in its plan.

“If the additionality of a project is low (e.g. it was actually unlikely the project would have been deforested without the project) then the achievement of the carbon goals set out in the project does not generate the anticipated carbon goals, and the underlying offsets are therefore weaker than appreciated.”

Commenting on the seed funding in a statement, Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, partner at Index Ventures, said: “This is a phenomenally strong team with the vision to build the first carbon offset rating benchmark, providing comprehensive insights around the quality of offsets, enabling purchase decisions as well as post-purchase monitoring and reporting. Sylvera is putting in place the building blocks that will be required to address climate change.”

Categories: Business News

SpecTrust raises millions to fight cybercrime with its no-code platform

Startup News - 2021, May 14 - 12:00am

Risk defense startup SpecTrust is emerging from stealth today with a $4.3 million seed raise and a public launch.

Cyber Mentor Fund led the round, which also included participation from Rally Ventures, SignalFire, Dreamit Ventures and Legion Capital.

SpecTrust aims to “fix the economics of fighting fraud” with a no-code platform that it says cuts 90% of a business’ risk infrastructure spend that responds to threats in “minutes instead of months.” 

“In January of 2020, I got a bug in my ear to, instead of an API, build a cloud-based service that handles all this complex orchestration and unifies all this data,” said CEO Nate Kharrl, who co-founded the company with Bryce Verdier and Patrick Chen. “And, it worked. And it worked fast enough that you can’t even tell it’s there doing its work.”

For example, he says, SpecTrust even in its early days was able to pull identity behavior information in seconds.

“Today, it’s more like five and seven milliseconds,” he said. “And, engineers don’t have to lift anything or adjust data models.”

Since the San Jose, California-based startup’s offering is deployed on the internet, between a website or app and its users, an organization gets fraud protection without draining the resources of its engineers, the company says. Founded by a team that ran risk management divisions at eBay and ThreatMetrix, SpecTrust is banking on the fact that companies — especially financial institutions — will be drawn to the flexibility afforded by a no-code offering.

Don’t hate on low-code and no-code

Much of the industry is split up between compliance and onboarding, authenticating risk and payments, and user trust and safety, Kharrl said.

“We put all the tools together to address all things combined, to make sure the person an institution is talking to is who they say they are, and not acting with malicious intent,” he told TechCrunch. “We sit in between them and their traffic to make sure the risk and fraud teams have what they need to spot bad guys.”

Image Credit: SpecTrust

Online businesses spend billions on risk defense yet still lose a lot of money to fraudsters, scammers and identity thieves, Kharrl said. And, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a global shift in the digital economy as more people came to rely on the internet to meet day-to-day needs. 

“With these new trends in commerce and banking came more opportunities for fraudsters, scammers and identity thieves to target people and businesses,” he added. For example, an alarming number of cybercriminals employed no-code attack tools and click-to-deploy infrastructure to launch sophisticated attacks.

Fintech and crypto companies are feeling the biggest impacts, as legacy software designed for big banks, for example, can be slow and expensive, said Kharrl. 

“We built SpecTrust to instantly put complete assessment, automation and enforcement capabilities in the hands of teams charged with fighting modern cybercrime threats,” he said.

Using its platform, the company says an organization’s risk team can review and investigate everything a customer does “from its first page view to its last click with unified behavior, identity, history and risk data.” 

Even non-technical staffers can do things like identify attack behavior, verify customer identity information, validate payment details and work to mitigate threats before they become losses, according to Kharrl.

Fraud prevention platform Sift raises $50M at over $1B valuation, eyes acquisitions

Jon Lim of SignalFire says that SpecTrust has built an end-to-end risk protection platform that enables customers of all sizes and risk profiles “to access the latest innovative risk protection solutions, quickly respond to the evolving threat landscape and share the best practices and learnings across the entire customer base.”

And of course, it was drawn to the startup’s no-code platform and ability to provide visibility over every user interaction versus treating each interaction as an independent event.

“This not only delivers stronger protection to customers but also a smoother experience to the end user,” Lim said.

The fraud prevention space is hot these days. Sift, which also aims to predict and prevent fraud, in April raised $50 million in a funding round that valued the company at over $1 billion.

Categories: Business News

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