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Extra Crunch roundup: UiPath’s IPO filing, predicting revenue, how to pivot properly, much more

4 hours 15 min ago

This is not a boast, but a warning: I could write a how-to article on almost any topic.

Give me enough time to do some research, and I can put together a reliable step-by-step for building a custom gaming PC, installing a hot water heater or interpreting public health data. But since I’ve never actually done those things, I would encourage you to ignore any advice I have to offer.

Trusted advice comes from experience. That’s why Ron Miller interviewed three entrepreneurs who have each built multiple companies to uncover some essential truths about achieving product-market fit:

  • Pouyan Salehi, CEO and co-founder, Scratchpad
  • Rami Essaid, CEO and founder,  Finmark
  • Melonee Wise, CEO and co-founder, Fetch Robotics

The basic tenets presented in Ron’s story will resonate with anyone who’s launched a startup.

Alex Wilhelm was particularly prolific this morning: For The Exchange, he studied UiPath’s 2020 quarterly results to get a clearer picture of its first S-1/A filing. Is the “somewhat slack news regarding UiPath’s potential IPO valuation” a harbinger of things to come?

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.

In a follow-up, he recapped news from the public debuts of Coinbase, UiPath, Zenvia, AppLovin and Grab, all of which “adds up to a somewhat muddled picture of the current IPO market.” It feels like we’re in a turbulent window, but it’s also possible that we’re in the calm after the storm, he suggests.

Final note: I asked TechCrunch graphic designer/illustrator Bryce Durbin to create an image to accompany this primer on raising a Series A round. He didn’t just exceed my expectations — it’s my favorite TechCrunch illustration ever. Thanks, Bryce!

I hope you got something out of reading Extra Crunch this week. Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

5 product lessons to learn before you write a line of code

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages

What we all missed in UiPath’s latest IPO filing

 

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

From building out Facebook’s first office in Austin to putting together most of Quora’s team, Bain Capital Ventures managing director Sarah Smith has done a bit of everything when it comes to hiring.

At TechCrunch Early Stage, she spoke about how to ensure the critical early hires are the right ones to grow a business. As an investor, Smith has a broad view into the problems companies face as they search for the right candidates to spur organizational success.

She touched on a number of issues, such as who to hire and when, when to fire and how to ensure diversity from the earliest days.

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup

So you want to raise a Series A

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

During a seed-funding round, a founder needs to convince a venture capital investor on a vision. But during a Series A fundraise, napkin-stage ideas don’t make the cut — a founder needs product progress, numbers and revenue (or at least a plan to eventually generate some).

In many ways, the stakes are higher for a Series A — and Bucky Moore, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, joined TechCrunch Early Stage last week to give founders tactical advice on the process of raising one.

Moore spoke about storytelling over semantics, pricing and where his firm sees itself “raising the bar” for startups.

So you want to raise a Series A

With the right tools, predicting startup revenue is possible

Image Credits: Gabby K from Pexels (opens in a new window) / Pexels (opens in a new window)

For a long time, “revenue” seemed to be a taboo word in the startup world. Fortunately, things have changed with the rise of SaaS and alternative funding sources such as revenue-based investing VCs.

Still, revenue modeling remains a challenge for founders. How do you predict earnings when you’re still figuring it out?

With the right tools, predicting startup revenue is possible

How we dodged risks and raised millions for our open-source machine learning startup

Image Credits: erhui1979 / Getty Images

If you have a great idea within the open-core framework, expect your risks to be much lower than with a traditional business structure.

Clearly communicate this fact to venture capitalists for the best chance at securing the seed funding your organization needs.

But it takes more: Boasting a strong community around an emerging open-source product essentially serves as an “introduction letter” to venture capitalists. It highlights the founders’ ability to successfully execute their vision, as well as the mission to bring their product to a commercial reality.

Additionally, the iterative nature of open-source projects leads to fostering a sense of teamwork between the founders, their team and investors and stakeholders.

How we dodged risks and raised millions for our open-source machine learning startup

Founder and investor Melissa Bradley outlines how to nail your virtual pitch meeting

Image Credits: Ureeka

Melissa Bradley is the co-founder of a startup called Ureeka, an investor at 1863 Ventures and a professor at Georgetown’s business school. So it’s not an understatement to say that she understands the fundraising process from every angle.

She both invested and fundraised for her own startup during this last year, where the landscape has shifted drastically. At TechCrunch Early Stage, she led a session on how to nail your virtual pitch meeting.

Bradley covered how to allocate your time during the meeting, how to prepare, how to close out the meetings with a clear list of action items and what to avoid.

Founder and investor Melissa Bradley outlines how to nail your virtual pitch meeting

Scale CEO Alex Wang and Accel’s Dan Levine explain why sometimes unconventional VC deals are best

Image Credits: Eric Millette / Scale AI

Scale CEO and co-founder Alex Wang credits its success since founding — which includes raising over $277 million and achieving breakeven status in terms of revenue — to early support from investors, including Accel’s Dan Levine.

Accel haș participated in four of Scale’s financing rounds, and Levine wrote one of the company’s very first checks. So on this past week’s episode of Extra Crunch Live, we spoke with Levine and Wang about how that first deal came together, and what their working relationship has been like in the years since.

Scale CEO Alex Wang and Accel’s Dan Levine explain why sometimes unconventional VC deals are best

 

Ride-hailing’s profitability promise is in its final countdown

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

Let’s parse Uber’s latest, vet its profit promise, consider its rivals and their performance, then ask ourselves if the great ride-hailing and food-delivery booms will ever make back the money they cost to scale.

Ride-hailing’s profitability promise is in its final countdown

 

UiPath’s first IPO pricing could be a warning to late-stage investors

Image Credits: Noam Galai/Getty Images

For UiPath, its initial IPO price interval is a disappointment, though the company could see an upward revision in its valuation before it does sell shares and begins to trade.

But more to the point, the company’s private-market valuation bump followed by a quick public-market correction stands out as a counter-example to something that we’ve seen so frequently in recent months.

Is UiPath’s first IPO price interval another indicator that the IPO market is cooling?

UiPath’s first IPO pricing could be a warning to late-stage investors

 

How to choose and deploy industry-specific AI models

Image Credits: alexsl / Getty Images

As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, previously cutting-edge — but generic — AI models are becoming commonplace, such as Google Cloud’s Vision AI or Amazon Rekognition.

While effective in some use cases, these solutions do not suit industry-specific needs right out of the box. Organizations that seek the most accurate results from their AI projects will simply have to turn to industry-specific models.

Any team looking to expand its AI capabilities should first apply its data and use cases to a generic model and assess the results.

Let’s dive into each of these approaches and how businesses can decide which one works for their distinct circumstances.

How to choose and deploy industry-specific AI models

Atomico’s talent partners share 6 tips for early-stage people ops success

Image Credits: Atomico

In the earliest stages of building a startup, it can be hard to justify focusing on anything other than creating a great product or service and meeting the needs of customers or users.

However, there are still a number of surefire measures that any early-stage company can and should put in place to achieve “people ops” success as they begin scaling, according to venture capital firm Atomico‘s talent partners, Caro Chayot and Dan Hynes.

Long story short: You need to recruit for what you need, but you also need to think about what is coming down the line.

Atomico’s talent partners share 6 tips for early-stage people ops success

5 questions about Grab’s epic SPAC investor deck

Image Credits: Roslan Rahman/Getty Images

Southeast Asian superapp Grab is going public via a SPAC.

Grab, which provides ride-hailing, payments and food delivery, will trade under the ticker symbol “GRAB” on the Nasdaq exchange when the combination is complete.

Let’s walk through several key points from Grab’s SPAC investor deck, including growth, segment profitability, aggregate costs and COVID-19, among other factors.

5 questions about Grab’s epic SPAC investor deck

Expect an even hotter AI venture capital market in the wake of the Microsoft-Nuance deal

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

Microsoft’s huge purchase of health tech AI company Nuance led the technology news cycle this week. The $19.7 billion transaction is Microsoft’s second-largest to date, only beaten by its purchase of LinkedIn some years ago.

For the AI space, the sale is a coup. Nuance was already a public company, but to see Microsoft offer a firm premium over its public-market value demonstrates the value that AI technology can have to wealthy companies. For startups working in the AI space, the Nuance deal is good news; the value of AI revenue was repriced by the acquisition’s announcement — and for the better.

In light of the megadeal, The Exchange dug into the AI venture capital market. What’s happening on the startup side of the coin in the artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) space?

Expect an even hotter AI venture capital market in the wake of the Microsoft-Nuance deal

What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

When the word “hydrogen” is uttered today, the average non-insider’s mind likely gravitates toward transportation — cars, buses, maybe trains or 18-wheelers, all powered by the gas.

But hydrogen is, and does, a lot of things, and a better understanding of its other roles — and challenges within those roles — is necessary to its success in transportation.

Hydrogen is now capturing the attention of governments and private sector players, fueled by new tech, global green energy legislation and post-pandemic “green recovery” schemes.

What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

5 product lessons to learn before you write a line of code

Image Credits: LaylaBird / Getty Images

Before a startup can achieve product-market fit, founders must first listen to their customers, build what they require and fashion a business plan that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.

The numbers will tell the true story, but when it happens, you’ll feel it in your bones because sales will be good, customers will be happy and revenue will be growing.

Reaching that tipping point can be a slog, especially for first-time founders. To uncover some basic truths about building products, we spoke to three entrepreneurs who have each built more than one company.

5 product lessons to learn before you write a line of code

Inside the US’ epic first-quarter venture capital results

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

In broad strokes, the United States had a crushing venture capital start to the new year, pandemic be damned.

That is especially true when we consider 2020’s full-year figures. Last year, venture capitalists deployed some $166 billion into U.S.-based startups across 12,546 rounds. In contrast, if the first quarter’s pace was maintained during the rest of 2021, the United States would see around 16,000 rounds worth around $280 billion.

Of course, we cannot see the future, so those projections are merely shared to underscore how active the first quarter proved to be.

Inside the US’ epic first-quarter venture capital results

Dear Sophie: How can I get an H-1B without the lottery?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

For the past few years, our company has put very promising candidates into the annual H-1B lottery. None of them have been selected — and none of them meet the requirements for other work visas like an O-1A.

We lost out again in this year’s H-1B lottery. Are there any other ways we can obtain H-1Bs for our team members?

— Soldiering on in Sunnyvale

Dear Sophie: How can I get an H-1B without the lottery?

 

Alexa von Tobel outlines how founders should manage personal finances

Image Credits: Alexa von Tobel

Few people are more knowledgeable on the topic of how founders should manage their finances than Alexa von Tobel.

She is a certified financial planner, started her own company in the midst of the recession (which happened to be a wildly successful personal finance startup that sold for hundreds of millions of dollars) and is now a VC who invests and advises founders.

At Early Stage 2021, she gave a presentation on how founders should think about managing their own wealth. Startup founders can often put all their money into their venture and end up paying more attention to the finances of their company than their own bank account.

Von Tobel outlined the various steps you can take to stay out of debt, build credit and accumulate wealth through investments to ensure you have financial peace of mind as you take on the most stressful venture of your life: Starting a company.

Alexa von Tobel outlines how founders should manage personal finances

How to pivot your startup, save cash and maintain trust with investors and customers

Image Credits: Olive

A few years ago, founder Sean Lane thought he’d achieved product-market fit.

Speaking to attendees at TechCrunch’s Early Stage virtual event, Lane said Queue, a secure digital check-in tablet for hospital waiting rooms that reduced wait times by uniting and correcting electronic medical records, was “selling like hotcakes.” But once Lane realized it would only ever address one piece of a much bigger market opportunity, he sold off the product, laid off two-thirds of the people affiliated with it and redirected the employees who were left.

Lane explained that what he really wanted to build is what his company — since renamed Olive — has now become, a robotic process automation (RPA) company that takes on hospital workers’ most tedious tasks so nurses and physicians can spend more time with patients.

How to pivot your startup, save cash and maintain trust with investors and customers

Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In business today, many believe that consumer privacy and business results are mutually exclusive — to excel in one area is to lack in the other. Consumer privacy is seen by many in the technology industry as an area to be managed.

But the truth is that the companies that champion privacy will be better-positioned to win in all areas. This is especially true as the digital industry continues to undergo tectonic shifts in privacy — both in government regulation and browser updates.

Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

For startups choosing a platform, a decision looms: Build or buy?

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

Founders shouldn’t be worried about starting companies that rely on other platforms.

Platforms exist to help startups get to users and customers faster and should be used as a means to an end, but everyone must get their piece.

For startups choosing a platform, a decision looms: Build or buy?

Coinbase’s direct listing alters the landscape for fintech and crypto startups

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

Coinbase’s direct listing was a massive finance, startup and cryptocurrency event, and the transaction’s effects will be felt for some time in the public market, but also among the startups and capital that comprise the private market.

In the buildup to Coinbase’s flotation — and we’d argue especially after it released its blockbuster Q1 2021 results — there was a general expectation that the unicorn’s direct listing would provide a halo effect for other startups in the space.

The widely held perspective raised two questions: Will the success of Coinbase’s direct listing bolster private investment in crypto-focused startups, and will that success help other areas of financially focused startup work garner more investor attention?

Coinbase’s direct listing alters the landscape for fintech and crypto startups

Billion-dollar B2B: Cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

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

The “billion-dollar B2B” paradigm refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.

One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.

Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

How startups can ensure CCPA and GDPR compliance in 2021

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

Data is the most valuable asset for any business in 2021. If your business is online and collecting customer personal information, your business is dealing in data, which means data privacy compliance regulations will apply to everyone — no matter the company’s size.

Small startups might not think the world’s strictest data privacy laws — the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — apply to them, but it’s important to enact best data management practices before a legal situation arises.

How startups can ensure CCPA and GDPR compliance in 2021

Should Dell have pursued a more aggressive debt-reduction move with VMware?

Image Credits: Bloomberg / Getty Images

When Dell announced it was spinning out VMware, the move itself wasn’t surprising; there had been public speculation for some time.

But Dell could have gone a number of ways in this deal, despite its choice to spin VMware out as a separate company with a constituent dividend instead of an outright sale.

It seems Dell hopes to have its cake and eat it too with this deal: It generates a large slug of cash to use for personal debt relief while securing a five-year commercial deal that should keep the two companies closely aligned.

Should Dell have pursued a more aggressive debt-reduction move with VMware?

What we all missed in UiPath’s latest IPO filing

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

Robotic process automation platform UiPath filed its first S-1/A this week, setting an initial price range for its shares. The numbers were impressive, if slightly disappointing because what UiPath indicated in terms of its potential IPO value was a lower valuation than it earned during its final private fundraising.

Here at The Exchange, we wondered if the somewhat slack news regarding UiPath’s potential IPO valuation was a warning to late-stage investors.

But in good news for UiPath shareholders, most everyone — ourselves included! — who discussed the company’s price range didn’t dig into the fact that the company first disclosed quarterly results to the same S-1/A filing that included its IPO valuation interval. And those numbers are very interesting, so much so that The Exchange is now generally expecting UiPath to target a higher price interval before it debuts.

But let’s dig into the company’s quarterly results to get a clearer picture of UiPath.

What we all missed in UiPath’s latest IPO filing

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages

Image Credits: Mohd Hafiez Mohd Razali/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

If you only stayed up to date with the Coinbase direct listing this week, you’re forgiven. It was, after all, one heck of a flotation.

But underneath the cryptocurrency exchange’s public debut, other IPO news that matters did happen this week. And the news adds up to a somewhat muddled picture of the current IPO market.

To cap off the week, let’s run through IPO news from UiPath, Coinbase, Grab, AppLovin and Zenvia. The aggregate dataset should help you form your own perspective about where today’s IPO markets really are in terms of warmth for the often unprofitable unicorns of the world.

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages

Categories: Business News

AI-driven audio cloning startup gives voice to Einstein chatbot

4 hours 32 min ago

You’ll need to prick up your ears for this slice of deepfakery emerging from the wacky world of synthesized media: A digital version of Albert Einstein — with a synthesized voice that’s been (re)created using AI voice cloning technology drawing on audio recordings of the famous scientist’s actual voice.

The startup behind the “uncanny valley” audio deepfake of Einstein is Aflorithmic (whose seed round we covered back in February).

While the video engine powering the 3D character rending components of this “digital human” version of Einstein is the work of another synthesized media company — UneeQ — which is hosting the interactive chatbot version on its website.

Alforithmic says the “digital Einstein” is intended as a showcase for what will soon be possible with conversational social commerce. Which is a fancy way of saying deepfakes that make like historical figures will probably be trying to sell you pizza soon enough, as industry watchers have presciently warned.

The startup also says it sees educational potential in bringing famous, long-deceased figures to interactive “life”.

Or, well, an artificial approximation of it — the “life” being purely virtual and Digital Einstein’s voice not being a pure tech-powered clone either; Alforithmic says it also worked with an actor to do voice modelling for the chatbot (because how else was it going to get Digital Einstein to be able to say words the real-deal would never even have dreamt of saying — like, er, “blockchain”?). So there’s a bit more than AI artifice going on here too.

“This is the next milestone in showcasing the technology to make conversational social commerce possible,” Alforithmic’s COO Matt Lehmann told us. “There are still more than one flaws to iron out as well as tech challenges to overcome but overall we think this is a good way to show where this is moving to.”

In a blog post discussing how it recreated Einstein’s voice the startup writes about progress it made on one challenging element associated with the chatbot version — saying it was able to shrink the response time between turning around input text from the computational knowledge engine to its API being able to render a voiced response, down from an initial 12 seconds to less than three (which it dubs “near-real-time”). But it’s still enough of a lag to ensure the bot can’t escape from being a bit tedious.

How to choose and deploy industry-specific AI models

Laws that protect people’s data and/or image, meanwhile, present a legal and/or ethical challenge to creating such “digital clones” of living humans — at least not without asking (and most likely paying) first.

Of course historical figures aren’t around to ask awkward questions about the ethics of their likeness being appropriated for selling stuff (if only the cloning technology itself, at this nascent stage). Though licensing rights may still apply — and do in fact in the case of Einstein.

“His rights lie with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who is a partner in this project,” says Lehmann, before ‘fessing up to the artist licence element of the Einstein “voice cloning” performance. “In fact, we actually didn’t clone Einstein’s voice as such but found inspiration in original recordings as well as in movies. The voice actor who helped us modelling his voice is a huge admirer himself and his performance captivated the character Einstein very well, we thought.”

Turns out the truth about high-tech “lies” is itself a bit of a layer cake. But with deepfakes it’s not the sophistication of the technology that matters so much as the impact the content has — and that’s always going to depend upon context. And however well (or badly) the faking is done, how people respond to what they see and hear can shift the whole narrative — from a positive story (creative/educational synthesized media) to something deeply negative (alarming, misleading deepfakes).

Concern about the potential for deepfakes to become a tool for disinformation is rising, too, as the tech gets more sophisticated — helping to drive moves toward regulating AI in Europe, where the two main entities responsible for “Digital Einstein” are based.

Earlier this week a leaked draft of an incoming legislative proposal on pan-EU rules for “high risk” applications of artificial intelligence included some sections specifically targeted at deepfakes.

Under the plan, lawmakers look set to propose “harmonised transparency rules” for AI systems that are designed to interact with humans and those used to generate or manipulate image, audio or video content. So a future Digital Einstein chatbot (or sales pitch) is likely to need to unequivocally declare itself artificial before it starts faking it — to avoid the need for internet users to have to apply a virtual Voight-Kampff test.

For now, though, the erudite-sounding interactive Digital Einstein chatbot still has enough of a lag to give the game away. Its makers are also clearly labelling their creation in the hopes of selling their vision of AI-driven social commerce to other businesses.

EU plan for risk-based AI rules to set fines as high as 4% of global turnover, per leaked draft

An optimistic view of deepfakes

Categories: Business News

Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront

5 hours 6 min ago
Peter Wang Contributor Share on Twitter Peter Wang is CEO and co-founder of data science platform Anaconda. He’s also a co-creator of the PyData community and conferences, and a member of the board at the Center for Humane Technology.

By 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, according to some estimates. (For perspective, one exabyte of storage could hold 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.) It’s now easier than ever to translate physical and digital actions into data, and businesses of all types have raced to amass as much data as possible in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, in our collective infatuation with data (and obtaining more of it), what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from data.

The reality is that data by itself is insufficient to really influence human behavior. Whether the goal is to improve a business’ bottom line or convince people to stay home amid a pandemic, it’s the narrative that compels action, rather than the numbers alone. As more data is collected and analyzed, communication and storytelling will become even more integral in the data science discipline because of their role in separating the signal from the noise.

Data alone doesn’t spur innovation — rather, it’s data-driven storytelling that helps uncover hidden trends, powers personalization, and streamlines processes.

Yet this can be an area where data scientists struggle. In Anaconda’s 2020 State of Data Science survey of more than 2,300 data scientists, nearly a quarter of respondents said that their data science or machine learning (ML) teams lacked communication skills. This may be one reason why roughly 40% of respondents said they were able to effectively demonstrate business impact “only sometimes” or “almost never.”

The best data practitioners must be as skilled in storytelling as they are in coding and deploying models — and yes, this extends beyond creating visualizations to accompany reports. Here are some recommendations for how data scientists can situate their results within larger contextual narratives.

Make the abstract more tangible

Ever-growing datasets help machine learning models better understand the scope of a problem space, but more data does not necessarily help with human comprehension. Even for the most left-brain of thinkers, it’s not in our nature to understand large abstract numbers or things like marginal improvements in accuracy. This is why it’s important to include points of reference in your storytelling that make data tangible.

For example, throughout the pandemic, we’ve been bombarded with countless statistics around case counts, death rates, positivity rates, and more. While all of this data is important, tools like interactive maps and conversations around reproduction numbers are more effective than massive data dumps in terms of providing context, conveying risk, and, consequently, helping change behaviors as needed. In working with numbers, data practitioners have a responsibility to provide the necessary structure so that the data can be understood by the intended audience.

Categories: Business News

Squarespace files for a direct listing on the NYSE

5 hours 52 min ago

Today Squarespace, a well-known software-and-hosting provider for SMB websites, released its S-1 filing. The company is pursuing a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange, or NYSE. It will trade under the ticker symbol “SQSP.”

The company’s financial results paint the picture of a rapidly growing company that has a history of profitability. Squarespace also has listed financial results that are inclusive of some share conversions, among other matters. Its pro forma results presume that “all shares of our convertible preferred stock had automatically converted” into different types of common stock. The pro forma results are also inclusive of a private placement, and its recent acquisition of Tock.

It will take some time to unspool that particular knot. For now we’ll stick to Squarespace’s historical results through 2020 without those accoutrements; if you intend to buy shares in the company, you’ll want to understand the more complicated math. For now let’s focus on Squarespace’s own metrics.

In 2019, Squarespace generated revenues of $484.8 million, leading to gross profit of $402.8 million, operating income of $61.3 million and net income of $58.2 million. In 2020 those numbers changed to revenues of $621.1 million, gross profit of $522.8 million, operating income of $40.2 million and net income of $30.6 million.

Squarespace’s revenue grew just over 28% in 2020, compared to 2019.

For reference, its pro forma results for 2020 include a modest revenue gain to $644.2 million, gross profit of $530.5 million, an operating loss of $246.4 million and a net loss of $267.7 million.

Squarespace has a history of cash generation, including operating cash flow of $102.3 million in 2019 and $150.0 million in 2020. The company’s cash flow data explains why Squarespace is not pursuing a traditional IPO. As Squarespace can self-fund, it does not need to sell shares in its public debut.

Turning to Squarespace-specific metrics, the company’s “unique subscriptions” rose from 2.984 million in 2019 to 3.656 million in 2020. Its annual recurring revenue (ARR) rose from $549.2 million to $705.5 million in 2020.

Squarespace’s ARR grew around 28.5% in 2020, a faster pace of expansion than its GAAP revenues.

Per the company’s SEC filing, the company “completed its estimate of the fair value of its Class A common stock for financial reporting purposes as a weighted-average $63.70 per share for shares granted prior to March 11, 2021.” That should help form a reference price measuring stick for now.

In pandemic era, entrepreneurs turn to SPACs, crowdfunding and direct listings

Finally, who owns the company? Major shareholders include the company’s founder and CEO Anthony Casalena, who owns just around 76% of the company’s Class B shares, or 49,086,410 total units. Accel has 15,514,196 Class A shares. General Atlantic has 22,361,073 Class A shares and 4,958,345 Class B shares, while Index Ventures has 19,460,619 of the Class A equity.

The majority of voting power rests with the company’s CEO, with 68.2% control. Public market investors will have to vet how much they like having zero say in the company’s future direction.

Regardless, this is going to be a fascinating debut. More shortly.

Categories: Business News

Soona raises $10.2M to make remote photo and video shoots easy

7 hours 35 min ago

Soona, a startup aiming to satisfy the growing content needs of the e-commerce ecosystem, is announcing that it has raised $10.2 million in Series A funding led by Union Square Ventures.

When I wrote about Soona in 2019, the model focused on staging shoots that can deliver videos and photos in 24 hours or less. The startup still operates studios in Austin, Denver and Minneapolis, but co-founder and CEO Liz Giorgi told me that during the pandemic, Soona shifted to a fully virtual/remote model — customers ship their products to Soona, then watch the shoot remotely and offer immediate feedback, and only pay for the photos ($39 each) and video clips ($93 each) that they actually want.

In some cases, the studio isn’t even necessary — Giorgi said that 30% of Soona’s photographers and crew members are working from home.

Soona has now worked with more than 4,000 customers, including Lola Tampons, The Sill and Wild Earth, with revenue growing 400% last year. Giorgi said that even as larger in-person shoots become possible again, this approach still makes sense for many clients.

“There’s nothing we sell online that does not require a visual, but not every single visual requires a massive full-day shoot,” she said.

Image Credits: Soona

Giorgi also suggested that Soona’s approach has unlocked a “new level of scalability,” adding, “Internally at Soona, we really believe in the remote-shoot experience. It’s not only more efficient, it’s a lot more fun not having to fly a brand manager from Miami and have them spend a full day at a warehouse in New York. That’s not only cost-prohibitive, it’s also a time-consuming and exhausting process for everyone.”

The new funding follows a $1.2 million seed round. Giorgi said the Series A will allow Soona to develop a subscription product with more collaboration tools and more data about what kinds of visual content is most effective.

So you want to raise a Series A

“There’s an opportunity to own the visual ecosystem of e-commerce from beginning to end,” she said.

Giorgi also noted that Soona continues to employ its “candor clause” requiring investors to disclose whether they’ve ever faced complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination. In fact, the clause has been expanded to cover complaints around racism, ableism or anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

“In some ways it’s a gate that prevents bad actors from being involved […] but it really drives a deeper connection with the investor and the founder,” Giorgi said. “We can have conversations about our values and how we see the world. We get to have a conversation about equality and justice at at time when we’re talking a lot about equity and the cap table.”

Soona raises $1.2M for quick, affordable content creation

Categories: Business News

Nelo raises $3M to grow ‘buy now, pay later’ in Mexico

8 hours 55 min ago

Buy now, pay later is a way of paying for purchases via installment loans that generally have no interest. The concept has grown in popularity in recent years, especially in markets such as the United States, Europe and Australia. Numerous players abound, all fighting for market share — from Affirm to Klarna to Afterpay, among others.

But notably, none of these bigger players have yet to penetrate another very large market — Latin America. Enter Nelo, a startup founded by former Uber international growth team leads, which is building buy now, pay later in Mexico. The company is already live with more than 45 merchants and over 150,000 users.

San Francisco-based fintech-focused VC firm Homebrew led its recent seed round of $3 million, which also included participation from Susa Ventures, Crossbeam, Rogue Capital, Unpopular Ventures and others. With the latest capital infusion, Nelo has raised a total of $5.6 million since its 2019 inception.

Nelo is not the only player in the Mexican market. A number of others, including Alchemy and Addi, have recently outlined plans for buy now, pay later offerings in the region. But where Nelo has an advantage, believes CEO Kyle Miller, is its established relationships with about 45 merchants.

“What I’m excited about is the relationship with the merchants,” Miller told TechCrunch. “If we find a large global one and increase conversion for them, that is our defensibility [against competitors]. What’s important here is signing on merchants, since they usually only have one offering in their checkout.”

He and co-founder Stephen Hebson used to work for Uber’s international growth team, growing financial services products in India, Mexico, China and Brazil.

“We got to see a cross market where countries were accelerating and where others weren’t,” Miller recalls. “For example, China was a leader in mobile payments and digital finance in India was completely transformed.”

Nelo co-founders Stephen Hebson and Kyle Miller; Image courtesy of Nelo

But in markets like Mexico, the percentage of cash payments for trips was very high. And to Miller and Hebson, this spelled opportunity.

Nelo launched its first product in Mexico in January 2020, similar to a debit card offering from a neobank. In the middle of the year, the company launched credit installment loans.

“It became immediately clear that it was going to be our most popular feature,” Miller said. “By the end of the year, it was the vast majority of our business and something that our users were telling their friends about. We were solving a real pain point.”

Indeed, cash remains the dominant method of payment in Mexico, with an estimated 86% of all payments being in the form of cash. According to eMarketer, the region was the fastest-growing e-commerce market in the world in 2020, with 37% year over year growth.

“Access to credit is something we take for granted in the U.S.,” Miller said. “By the end of the year, we realized this was the future of business, and we decided to focus just on credit.”

Stori raises $32.5M in a Lightspeed-led Series B to build Mexico’s credit card for the masses

In March, Nelo launched its first product via an Android app and will be launching a web app soon.

Customers can use its offering like a credit card, connecting directly with merchants such as Netflix and Spotify. Many users are paying for things like utility bills and cell phone bills, turning them from prepaid to postpay.

With its current product, the company has lent about $2 million, and is seeing growth of about 20% month over month.

“We’re seeing massive demand for this new product in the way of organic signups,” Miller said, “for all the reasons Buy Now, Pay Later has been successful in markets like the U.S., Europe and Australia.”

Paying for installments is already common in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, so the concept is not foreign to residents in the region.

“We expected this is soon going to be a competitive market, so we’re hiring data scientists and engineers to continue improving our product, and grow,” Miller said.

Latin America’s digital transformation is making up for lost time

Nelo has about 14 employees with an engineering team in New York.

Homebrew Partner Satya Patel says he’s excited about Nelo because he believes the startup “solves a serious problem related to the lack of credit for Mexican consumers.”

“Credit card penetration is less than 10% in Mexico and other forms of credit are effectively non-existent,” he wrote via email. “Nelo makes it possible for Mexicans to easily and inexpensively increase their purchasing power at the point of sale. And importantly, Nelo is delivering this solution online, supporting growing interest in e-commerce, and also offline, where consumers regularly shop today.”

Patel adds that what Nelo is building is valuable because he is not aware of any reliable, comprehensive consumer credit rating data set in Mexico.

“They are building underwriting models based on proprietary data and growing the merchant network at an incredible rate,” he said. “This buy now, pay later opportunity is untapped in Mexico but requires a very different approach than what has been successful in other markets.”

The Nelo team, according to Patel, understands the nuances of the market and “is executing at an exceptional pace.”

Categories: Business News

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages

2021, April 16 - 11:49pm

If you only stayed up to date with the Coinbase direct listing this week, you’re forgiven. It was, after all, one heck of a flotation.

But underneath the cryptocurrency exchange’s public debut, other IPO news that matters did happen this week. And the news adds up to a somewhat muddled picture of the current IPO market.

To cap off the week, let’s run through IPO news from UiPath, Coinbase, Grab, AppLovin and Zenvia. The aggregate dataset should help you form your own perspective about where today’s IPO markets really are in terms of warmth for the often unprofitable unicorns of the world.

Recall that we’re in the midst of a slightly more turbulent IPO window than we saw during the last quarter. After seemingly watching every company’s IPO price above-range and then charge higher on opening day, several companies pulled their offerings as the second quarter started. It was a surprise.

Since then we’ve seen Compass go public, but not at quite the level of performance it might have anticipated, and, then, this week, much has happened.

What follows is a minidigest of IPO news from the week, tagged with our best read of just how bullish (or not) the happening really was:

Categories: Business News

What we all missed in UiPath’s latest IPO filing

2021, April 16 - 11:10pm

Robotic process automation platform UiPath filed its first S-1/A this week, setting an initial price range for its shares. The numbers were impressive, if slightly disappointing because what UiPath indicated in terms of its potential IPO value was a lower valuation than it earned during its final private fundraising. It’s hard to say that a company looking to go public at a valuation north of $25 billion is a letdown, but compared to preceding levels of hype, the numbers were a bit of a shock.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. 

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

Here at The Exchange, we wondered if the somewhat slack news regarding UiPath’s potential IPO valuation was a warning to late-stage investors; the number of unicorns being minted or repriced higher feels higher than ever, and late-stage money has never been more active in the venture-backed startup world than it has been recently.

If UiPath were about to eat about $10 billion in worth to go public, it wouldn’t be the best indicator of how some of those late-stage bets will perform.

But in good news for UiPath shareholders, most everyone — ourselves included! — who discussed the company’s price range didn’t dig into the fact that the company first disclosed quarterly results to the same S-1/A filing that included its IPO valuation interval. And those numbers are very interesting, so much so that The Exchange is now generally expecting UiPath to target a higher price interval before it debuts.

That should either limit or close its private/public valuation gap, and, we imagine, lower a few investors’ blood pressure. Let’s look at the numbers.

UiPath’s fascinating 2020

The top-line numbers for UiPath’s 2020 are impressive. As we’ve discussed, the company grew its revenues from $336.2 million in 2019 to $607.6 million in 2020, while boosting its gross profit margin by 7 percentage points to 89% last year. That’s great!

And it improved its net margins from -155% in 2019 to just -15% in 2020. The company’s rapid growth, improving revenue quality and extreme deficit reduction were among the reasons it was a bit surprising to see its estimated public-market value come in so far underneath its final private price.

But let’s dig into the company’s quarterly results — a big thanks to the reader who sent us in this direction — to get a clearer picture of UiPath. Here’s the data:

Image Credits: UiPath

Categories: Business News

Level raises $27M from Khosla, Lightspeed ‘to rebuild insurance from the ground up’

2021, April 16 - 11:10pm

Level, a startup that aims to give companies a more flexible way to offer benefits to employees, has raised $27 million in a Series A funding round led by Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Operator Collective and leading angels also participated in the financing, along with previous backers First Round Capital and Homebrew. The round was reportedly raised at a “nine-figure” valuation, but the company did not provide more specifics.

Founded in 2018, New York City-based Level says it’s “rebuilding insurance from the ground up” via flexible networks and real-time claims with the goal of helping employers and employees get the most out of their benefit dollars. 

Employers can customize plans to do things like offer 100% coverage across treatments. The company also touts the ability to process claims in four hours. 

“That’s lightning fast when compared to 30- to 60-day claims often processed by traditional payers,” said Founder and CEO Paul Aaron, who was one of the first employees at Square, led the network team at Oscar Health and is an inventor of several patents in the payments space.

Level first launched employer-sponsored dental benefits in the summer of 2019 and started serving its first beta customers that fall. It also now offers vision plans. The company has more than 10,000 members from companies such as Intercom, Udemy, KeepTruckin and Thistle that have paid for care via its platform. 

“Insurance is confusing and often feels unfair. Networks restrict where you can go, billing takes weeks and you always seem to owe more than you expect,” Aaron said. “We believe paying with insurance should be as easy as any other purchase.”

Level says it is taking a full-stack approach and building end-to-end tools, from automated underwriting to real-time benefit analytics. 

It plans to launch a new insurance product aimed at “helping smaller businesses offer bigger benefits” that typically only enterprises have the ability to offer. The company also aims to help employers get money back for any unused benefits after paying a fixed amount each month. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to offer a full suite of products that will allow companies of all sizes — from two employees to 20,000 — provide better benefits for their teams. 

Level claims that its self-insured dental and vision products let companies offer more coverage to their teams while often cutting nearly 20% from their benefits budget. 

“Employers already spend so much money on benefits, and neither they nor their teams get enough out of it,” said Jana Messerschmidt from Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a written statement. “Businesses of all sizes need to compete for talent with innovative benefits that help people get more from their paychecks. Level offers a far superior employee experience, and you’re getting bang for your buck.” 

Meanwhile, Khosla’s Samir Kaul said he believes Level can do for insurance and benefits “what Square Cash did for person-to-person payments.”

Investor First Round Capital claims to have saved 47% by switching from fully insured to Level. And, Thistle says it saw 41% in savings by switching to Level. 

As Next Insurance makes its first acquisition, insurtech looks energetic

Categories: Business News

Do you need a SPAC therapist?

2021, April 16 - 11:00pm

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

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was yet another busy week, but that just means we had a great time putting the show together and recording it. Honestly, we had a lot of fun this week, and we hope you crack a smile while we dig through the latest as a team.

Ready? Here’s the rundown:

  • The Coinbase direct listing! Here are our notes on its S-1, its direct listing reference price and its results. And we even wrote about the impact that it might have on other startup verticals!
  • Grab’s impending SPAC! As it turns out, Natasha loves SPACs now, and even Danny and Alex had very little to say that was rude about this one.
  • Degreed became a unicorn, proving yet again that education for the enterprise is a booming sub-sector.
  • Outschool also became an edtech unicorn, thanks to a new round led by Coatue and everyone’s rich cousin, Tiger Global. The conversation soon devolved into how Tiger Global is impacting the broader VC ecosystem, thanks to a fantastic analysis piece that you have to read here. 
  • Papa raised $60 million, also from Tiger Global. What do you call tech aimed at old folks? Don’t call it elder tech, we have a brand new phrase in store. Let’s see if it catches on.
  • AI chips! Danny talks the team through grokking Groq, so that we can talk about TPUs without losing our minds. He’s a good egg.
  • And, finally, Slice raised more money. Not from Tiger Global. We have good things to say about it.

Investors’ SPAC push could revamp the private market money game

And that is our show! We are back on Monday morning!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Categories: Business News

1Doc3, a Colombian telemedicine startup, raises $3 million

2021, April 16 - 9:00pm

The pandemic has made telemedicine video visits in the U.S. almost commonplace, but in Latin America, where broadband isn’t widely available, 1Doc3 is using text and chat to provide access to care. Today, the Colombia-based company announced a $3 million pre-Series A led by MatterScale Ventures and Kayyak Ventures.

“I’m on a nice MacBook for this interview, but that’s not the case of most people in LatAm,” said Javier Cardona, co-founder and CEO of 1Doc3. The company’s name is a play on the phonetics of 1, 2, 3 in Spanish.

Reaching your primary care doctor when you’re not feeling well is getting harder and harder, and 1Doc3 aims to solve that problem in LatAm by offering a telemedicine platform powered by AI that does symptom assessment, triage and pre-diagnosis before connecting the patient to a doctor.

“In 97% of our consultations, you’re connected to a doctor in a matter of minutes,” Cardona said.

After seeing the doctor, the patient can also get their prescriptions delivered to their home through 1Doc3. The startup, like others in the space, is trying to close the loop so patients can get care quickly without having to leave their homes.

In addition to Colombia, the company already has operations in Mexico and plans to use part of the funding to expand further in the region as well as building out a marketing and sales team, which it hasn’t had thus far. 

1Doc3 reaches customers directly and by establishing corporate partnerships where the companies themselves pay for their employees’ medical care through the startup. One of Cardona’s goals is to bring the unit economics down so that smaller businesses can also afford 1Doc3, which for corporates, now charges between $3-4 a month/employee.

“For big companies, the money isn’t an issue, but our region is comprised of small to medium-sized businesses,” Cardona said.

The company, which was founded in 2013 and was a finalist in TechCrunch’s Latin American Battlefield in 2018, experienced massive growth in 2020, going from 2,500 to 35,000 consultations per month from February to December 2020, respectively, which led the company to be cashflow positive last year. In March of 2021, the company had $120,000 in MRR.

8 VCs agree: Behavioral support and remote visits make digital health a strong bet for 2021

Like many startups, the jolt to found 1Doc3 came from a personal experience faced by the founder.  

“When I was in Tanzania I had a medical need and I was definitely not going to go to a doctor in Tanzania, and I couldn’t reach any doctor online, not even in the U.S., and I became a little obsessed with this problem,” said Cardona, who was working in the Middle East and Africa at the time. 

This round brings the total raised by 1Doc3 to $5 million. Other investors that participated in the round include Swanhill Capital, Simma Capital and existing investors The Venture City, EWA capital (previously Mountain Nazca Colombia) and Startup Health.

Categories: Business News

How startups can ensure CCPA and GDPR compliance in 2021

2021, April 16 - 5:02am
Beth Winters Contributor Beth Winters, JD/MBA, is the solutions marketing manager of Aparavi, a data intelligence and automation software and services company that helps companies find and unlock the value of data.

Data is the most valuable asset for any business in 2021. If your business is online and collecting customer personal information, your business is dealing in data, which means data privacy compliance regulations will apply to everyone — no matter the company’s size.

Small startups might not think the world’s strictest data privacy laws — the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — apply to them, but it’s important to enact best data management practices before a legal situation arises.

Data compliance is not only critical to a company’s daily functions; if done wrong or not done at all, it can be quite costly for companies of all sizes.

For example, failing to comply with the GDPR can result in legal fines of €20 million or 4% of annual revenue. Under the CCPA, fines can also escalate quickly, to the tune of $2,500 to $7,500 per person whose data is exposed during a data breach.

If the data of 1,000 customers is compromised in a cybersecurity incident, that would add up to $7.5 million. The company can also be sued in class action claims or suffer reputational damage, resulting in lost business costs.

It is also important to recognize some benefits of good data management. If a company takes a proactive approach to data privacy, it may mitigate the impact of a data breach, which the government can take into consideration when assessing legal fines. In addition, companies can benefit from business insights, reduced storage costs and increased employee productivity, which can all make a big impact on the company’s bottom line.

Challenges of data compliance for startups

Data compliance is not only critical to a company’s daily functions; if done wrong or not done at all, it can be quite costly for companies of all sizes. For example, Vodafone Spain was recently fined $9.72 million under GDPR data protection failures, and enforcement trackers show schools, associations, municipalities, homeowners associations and more are also receiving fines.

GDPR regulators have issued $332.4 million in fines since the law was enacted almost two years ago and are being more aggressive with enforcement. While California’s attorney general started CCPA enforcement on July 1, 2020, the newly passed California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) only recently created a state agency to more effectively enforce compliance for any company storing information of residents in California, a major hub of U.S. startups.

That is why in this age, data privacy compliance is key to a successful business. Unfortunately, many startups are at a disadvantage for many reasons, including:

  • Fewer resources and smaller teams — This means there are no designated data privacy officers, privacy attorneys or legal counsel dedicated to data privacy issues.
  • Lack of planning — This might be characterized by being unable to handle data privacy information requests (DSARs, or “data subject access requests”) to help fulfill the customer’s data rights or not having an overall program in place to deal with major data breaches, forcing a reactive instead of a proactive response, which can be time-consuming, slow and expensive.
Categories: Business News

Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

2021, April 16 - 3:31am
Dharmesh Thakker Contributor Share on Twitter Dharmesh Thakker is a general partner at Battery Ventures and a former managing director at Intel Capital. More posts by this contributor

More than half a decade ago, my Battery Ventures partner Neeraj Agrawal penned a widely read post offering advice for enterprise-software companies hoping to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

His playbook, dubbed “T2D3” — for “triple, triple, double, double, double,” referring to the stages at which a software company’s revenue should multiply — helped many high-growth startups index their growth. It also highlighted the broader explosion in industry value creation stemming from the transition of on-premise software to the cloud.

Fast forward to today, and many of T2D3’s insights are still relevant. But now it’s time to update T2D3 to account for some of the tectonic changes shaping a broader universe of B2B tech — and pushing companies to grow at rates we’ve never seen before.

One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.

I call this new paradigm “billion-dollar B2B.” It refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.

In the past several years, we’ve seen a pioneering group of B2B standouts — Twilio, Shopify, Atlassian, Okta, Coupa*, MongoDB and Zscaler, for example — approach or exceed the $1 billion revenue mark and see their market capitalizations surge 10 times or more from their IPOs to the present day (as of March 31), according to CapIQ data.

More recently, iconic companies like data giant Snowflake and video-conferencing mainstay Zoom came out of the IPO gate at even higher valuations. Zoom, with 2020 revenue of just under $883 million, is now worth close to $100 billion, per CapIQ data.

Image Credits: Battery Ventures via FactSet. Note that market data is current as of April 3, 2021.

In the wings are other B2B super-unicorns like Databricks* and UiPath, which have each raised private financing rounds at valuations of more than $20 billion, per public reports, which is unprecedented in the software industry.

Categories: Business News

Do you fit the mold for the next generation of values-driven VCs?

2021, April 16 - 3:05am
Jonathan Greechan Contributor Share on Twitter Jonathan Greechan is co-founder of the world's largest pre-seed accelerator, Founder Institute. More posts by this contributor

More individuals than ever are donning the investor cap. Almost a fifth of U.S. equity trading in 2020 was driven by mom-and-pop investors — up from around 15% in the previous year. With such impressive returns to be made, many are deciding to set up a full-fledged investment business.

With the fundraising world becoming more democratic and accessible, we should help people find the right path to setting up a venture capital firm and also make sure the right people are entering the VC sphere. Startups are changing, and any new investment manager will have to adapt to the shifting landscape. VCs today have to provide more than money to get the best portfolio, and they must have a strong focus on impact to get the best institutional investors into their funds.

Startup investors can be the financial backbone for mass disruption. That’s why, at Founder Institute, we believe in the need for more VCs with strong values: Because they will prop up the companies that will build a brighter future for humanity. We’re not the only ones — our first “accelerator for ethical VCs” was oversubscribed.

VCs today have to provide more than money to get the best portfolio, and they must have a strong focus on impact to get the best institutional investors into their funds.

So if you want to lead your own VC fund in 2021, here are the main questions aspiring investors need to ask themselves.

Are you doing this for the right reasons?

Investing in startups is not just about making money. In selecting the startups that will become future industry leaders, VCs have a lot more power than most to do good (or harm). If you’re only interested in money, you likely won’t go too far. Identifying the greatest businesses means seeing beyond their capital into the longevity of their vision, their real-life impact on society, and how much consumers will love or hate them.

After all: Most startup founders pour their blood, sweat and tears into building a business not just to make money, but also to make an impact on the world and build products that align with their mission. Any new venture capitalist looking to attract the best founders needs to think about the vision and mission of their fund in the same terms.

What I wish I’d known about venture capital when I was a founder

Although VC firms have been slow on the uptake when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, there are signs that times are changing. Some firms are forming a community around implementing ESG, not only because of the external impact but because it furthers their business goals. To help accelerate this trend, we asked our VC Lab participants to take The Mensarius Oath (Latin for “banker” or “financier”), a professional code of conduct for finance professionals to create an ethical, prosperous and healthy world.

What value do you bring to the table?

The number of VCs are growing and the industry is increasingly becoming concentrated. This means that simply offering large sums of money won’t get you traction with the best startups. Founders are looking for value over volume — they usually want mission alignment, connections, value-added services and industry expertise more than a blank check.

Remember that the best founders get to choose their VCs from a menu of options, not the other way around. To convince them that you’re the right match, you’ll need a proven track record in the same industry (or transferable experience from another industry) and referrals from credible people. You’ll also need a strong value proposition or niche that sets you apart from other funds. For example, Untapped Capital invests in “unexpected” and “undernetworked” founders, while R42 Group invests in AI and longevity-focused businesses.

If you don’t think you’ve got the profile to offer value to founders just yet, it’s worth taking some time to lay out exactly who you are. That is: what you hope to achieve as a fund manager, the vision you have for your portfolio companies and how you alone can help them get there.

What’s your secret sauce?

As a new VC fund without historical data points, limited partners (LPs) will naturally be cautious to invest in your fund. So, you have to build a brand that tells your story and proves your reputation.

Go back to the basics and pinpoint exactly what your strengths are. If you’re having trouble finding inspiration, use statements like, “I can get the best deal because I have X,” or, “I help grow my portfolio companies by X” to get the ball rolling. Be wary of saying that the amount of money you have is your strength — at this stage, your bank balance isn’t your competitive edge. Focus instead on what makes you unique, credible and relevant. Having a high number of strategic contacts, extensive industry experience or a backsheet of successful exits could be your secret ingredients. For extra guidance, check out this resource my team put together to help fund managers consolidate their niche in an “investment thesis.”

Once you have a list, choose your top three strengths and write a followup sentence detailing how each of them can be enriched by your network and expertise. Ideally, share these with a test group (friends, family or fellow entrepreneurs) and ask them which is the most compelling. If there’s a general consensus toward one point, you know to make that a large chunk of your VC fund’s thesis.

Do you have a solid network?

Who you know is just as important as what you know, and the most prominent VCs tend to be in the middle of a flow of information and people. Your network tells founders that you’re respected and reassures them that they will probably be brought into the fold to connect with future mentors, customers, investors or hires.

If you’re a thought leader, the alumni of a well-known company like Uber or PayPal, or if you’ve started a community around an emerging vertical, you’re more likely to form a positive deal flow. But this status and these relationships have to be established before you launch your fund — if you try to network from zero, you’ll be spinning too many plates and won’t have the social proof to back yourself up.

Don’t just rely on your gut to tell you whether your network is satisfactory. Map out your personal ecosystem, sorting people based on familiarity (close contacts or acquaintances) and defining characteristics (consumers, finance, ex-CEOs, etc.). That “map” can be as basic as an Excel sheet with a column for each category, or you could use more attractive visual tools like Canva — great for sharing with your future team and encouraging them to fill any network gaps.

What size fund do you want to launch?

A VC fund runs like any other business — you have to develop a vision, recruit a team, form an entity, raise money, deliver value and report to stakeholders. To kick things off, you need to consider what size fund you want, and then secure significant commitments from LPs — at least 10% of your total fund. LPs can be corporations, entrepreneurs, government agencies and other funds.

Also keep in mind that most LPs will want you to personally invest at least 1% of the total fund size so that you have “skin in the game.”

For that reason especially, it’s best to start small, somewhere between $5 million and $20 million, and use this “training fund” to demonstrate returns and create a launchpad for bigger raises to follow.

Can you help founders from launch to exit?

Your partnership with companies will be for the long haul, so you can’t rely just on offering value when you wire the money. Founders need consistent support across the full startup lifecycle, meaning you need to be conscious not to overpromise and fail to deliver. Think of the startups you’d most like to work with: How could you help them now? How could you help them in the future? And how could you help them exit?

You can take a skills-centric approach, where you reserve different resources and connections based on marketing, hiring, fundraising and culture-creation that can be applied as the startup grows. Alternatively, you might want to make sprint-like plans, where you check in with founders on a repeating basis and iterate the support you offer based on their progress. Whatever way you chose to structure your support, ensure that you’re realistic about what you can bring to the table, your availability, preferred involvement and how you’ll document it.

The future of VC will be driven by venture capitalists with strong values who have built funds with the new needs of founders in mind. VC may once have been exclusive and mysterious, but 2021 could be the year VC becomes a more open and fair space for businesses and investors alike.

Categories: Business News

Coinbase’s direct listing alters the landscape for fintech and crypto startups

2021, April 16 - 1:47am

Coinbase’s direct listing was a massive finance, startup and cryptocurrency event that impacted a host of public and private investors, early employees, and crypto-enthusiasts. Regardless of where one sits in the broader tech and venture world, Coinbase storming north of a $100 billion valuation during its first day of trading was the biggest startup happening of the year.

The transaction’s effects will be felt for some time in the public market, but also among the startups and capital that comprise the private market.

In the buildup to Coinbase’s flotation — and we’d argue especially after it released its blockbuster Q1 2021 results — there was a general expectation that the unicorn’s direct listing would provide a halo effect for other startups in the space. Anthemis’ Ruth Foxe Blader told The Exchange, for example, that “the Coinbase listing shows this great inflection point for crypto,” with another “wave” of startup work in the space coming up.

The widely held perspective raised two questions: Will the success of Coinbase’s direct listing bolster private investment in crypto-focused startups, and will that success help other areas of financially focused startup work garner more investor attention?

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

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

Presuming that Coinbase’s listing will positively impact its niche and others around it is not a stretch. But to make sure we weren’t misreading sentiment, and to get deeper into the why of the concept, The Exchange reached out to venture capitalists who invest in the broader fintech world to get their take. We even roped in an analyst or two to round out our panel.

The answer is not a simple yes. There are several ways to approach investing in the cryptocurrency space — from buying coins themselves, to investing in mainstream-ish institutions like legal exchanges, to the more exotic, like supporting efforts on the forefront of the decentralized blockchain world. And while it is somewhat clear that most folks expect more capital to be available for crypto projects, it’s not clear where it may end up inside the market.

We’ll wrap by considering what impact Coinbase’s direct listing will have, if any, on non-crypto fintech venture capital investing.

After yesterday’s examination of how blazingly hot the venture capital market looked in the first quarter, we’re again trying to gauge the private market’s temperature. Let’s talk to some folks on the ground and hear what they are seeing.

Are crypto startups less risky now?

Coinbase’s direct listing floated a company that is worth more than all but two major blockchains, namely Ethereum and Bitcoin. Several other chains have aggregate coin values in the 11-figure range, but a 12-digit worth is still rare among crypto assets.

The scale of Coinbase’s valuation post-listing matters, according to Chainalysis Chief Economist Phillip Gradwell. Gradwell told The Exchange that “Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation today demonstrates that venture investors can make great returns from putting money into crypto companies, not just cryptocurrencies. That proof point is good for the entire ecosystem.”

More simply, it is now eminently reasonable to invest in the companies working in the crypto space instead of merely putting capital to work hard-buying coins themselves. The other way to consider the comment is to realize that Coinbase’s share price appreciation is steep enough since its 2012 founding to rival the returns of some coins over the same time frame.

Cleo Capital‘s Sarah Kunst expanded on the point, telling The Exchange in an email that “it’s now credible to say you’re a crypto startup and plan to IPO [versus] having acquisition or ICO be the only proven exit paths in the U.S.”

Categories: Business News

Autonomous aviation startup Xwing hits $400M valuation after latest funding round

2021, April 16 - 1:00am

The safety pilot has his hands off the controls during an Xwing demonstration flight. Image Credits: Xwing

Xwing has scored another win two months after it completed its first gate-to-gate autonomous demonstration flight of a commercial cargo aircraft. The company said Thursday it has raised $40 million at a post-money valuation of $400 million.

The company is setting its sights on expansion — not only tripling its engineering team, but eventually running regular fully unmanned commercial cargo flights.

Xwing has been developing a technology stack to convert aircraft, including a widely used Cessna Grand Caravan 208B, to function autonomously. But it’s had to solve a few problems first: “the perception problem, the planning problem and the control problem,” Xwing founder Marc Piette explained to TechCrunch. The company has come up with a whole suite of solutions to solve for these problems, including integrating lidar, radar and cameras on the plane; retrofitting the servomotors that control the rudder, braking and other functions; and ensuring all of these are communicating properly so the plane understands where it is in space and can execute its flight.

The company has already performed close to 200 missions with its AutoFlight system. For all these flights, there’s been a safety pilot on board. In addition, a ground control operator sits in a control center and acts as a go-between from the autonomous aircraft to the human air traffic control operator.

Xwing plans short, regional flights for its autonomous cargo planes

“We don’t anticipate automating [communication with air traffic control], trying to do natural language processing and having a computer make the response to the air traffic controller,” Piette said. “For safety critical applications, we don’t view that as a useful path…but what we do, though, is we have a ground operator in our control room that just talks to air traffic control on behalf of the aircraft. So for the air traffic controller, it’s seamless. As far as they’re concerned, they are just talking to a pilot onboard the aircraft.”

Image Credits: Xwing

For its autonomous flight activities, the company has authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly under an experimental airworthiness certificate for research and development that was expanded in August of last year to include a special flight permit for optionally piloted aircraft (OPA).

The company is looking to eventually remove the safety pilot, but only once full safety redundancies are in place, Piette added. That includes redundancies across all sensors and computer systems. Fortunately for all of us that fly, commercial aviation safety levels are extremely high. It means a high airworthiness standard for aviation startups. Smaller Class III aircraft like the ones Xwing is targeting must demonstrate a risk of one catastrophic failure per hundred million flight hours.

Xwing’s activities have garnered attention from investors. This most recent funding round was led by Blackhorn Ventures, with participation from ACME Capital, Loup Ventures, R7 Partners, Eniac Ventures, Alven Capital and Array Ventures. Including this round, the company has raised $55 million in total capital.

Automakers, suppliers and startups see growing market for in-vehicle AR/VR applications

The autonomous flights are only one part of Xwing’s business activities. It’s also been flying manned commercial cargo operations under a contract with a large logistics company signed December 1.

“We set up what’s effectively an airline,” Piette said. By modifying these aircraft with sensors to collect data, Xwing is able to feed this valuable flight time into a training algorithm, and collect other useful data, such as how often the pilots communicate with air traffic controllers and the types of directions the craft receives.

Looking ahead, the company will be significantly scaling its workforce over the next 12 months, in addition to increasing its commercial operations in parallel. On the technology side, Xwing is looking to fly autonomous commercial cargo flights, with a safety pilot onboard, under an experimental ticket and exemption from the FAA. The company will likely reach this milestone also within the next 12 months, Piette said. After that, it would look to remove the safety pilot from the aircraft. Even then, the company would still need to get its systems certified to completely remove any constraints on its movements in airspace.

Categories: Business News

Greylock GP Mike Duboe to discuss how to scale your company at TechCrunch Early Stage in July

2021, April 16 - 12:49am

While the money flowing into Silicon Valley is reaching historic heights, the competition for getting customer attention and growing businesses is still a major challenge.

At TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising, we’re diving into the topic of growth and scaling and bringing in experts across the startup landscape to share what they’ve learned in the pilot’s seat. We’re thrilled that Greylock General Partner Mike Duboe will be joining us in July to discuss what’s hot and what’s next for growth in consumer and B2B technology.

Before joining Greylock and being promoted to his current role as a GP, Duboe led growth at Stitch Fix as the company built out its online styling empire. Previous to that, Duboe was the first growth hire at Tilt and has had stints on YC’s growth advisory council and as a growth lecturer at Reforge.

Duboe’s interests as an investor have centered on commerce infrastructure, marketplaces, creator tools and more, with investments in no-code visual editor Builder, SMS marketing platform Postscript and online wholesale marketplace Vori. We’ll chat with Mike about where he advises founders to focus their efforts and how to make the most of budgets across channels.

Tickets for TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising  are available at the early bird rate which gives you an instant $100 savings if you book before May 1!

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Categories: Business News

Casa Blanca raises $2.6M to build the ‘Bumble for real estate’

2021, April 16 - 12:32am

Casa Blanca, which aims to develop a “Bumble-like app” for finding a home, has raised $2.6 million in seed funding.

Co-founder and CEO Hannah Bomze got her real estate license at the age of 18 and worked at Compass and  Douglas Elliman Real Estate before launching Casa Blanca last year.

She launched the app last October with the goal of matching home buyers and renters with homes using an in-app matchmaking algorithm combined with “expert agents.” Buyers get up to 1% of home purchases back at closing. Similar to dating apps, Casa Blanca’s app is powered by a simple swipe left or right.

Samuel Ben-Avraham, a partner and early investor of Kith and an early investor in WeWork, led the round for Casa Blanca, bringing its total raise to date to $4.1 million.

The New York-based startup recently launched in the Colorado market and has seen some impressive traction in a short amount of time. 

Since launching the app in October, Casa Blance has “made more than $100M in sales” and is projected to reach $280 million this year between New York and its Denver launch. 

Bomze said the app experience will be customized for each city with the goal of creating a personalized experience for each user. Casa Blanca claims to streamline and sort listings based on user preferences and lifestyle priorities.

Image Credits: Casa Blanca

“People love that there is one place to book, manage feedback, schedule and communicate with a branded agent for one cohesive experience,” Bomze said. “We have a breadth of users from first time buyers to people using our platform for $15 million listings.”

Unlike competitors, Casa Blanca applies to a direct-to-consumer model, she pointed out.

“While our agents are an integral part of the company, they are not responsible for bringing in business and have more organizational support, which allows them to focus on the individual more and creates a better end-to-end experience for the consumer,” Bomze said.

Casa Blanca currently has over 38 agents in NYC and Colorado, compared to about 15 at this time last year.

“We are in a growth phase and finding a unique opportunity in this climate, in particular, because there are many women exploring new, more flexible job opportunities,” Bomze noted. 

The company plans to use its new capital to continue expanding into new markets, nationally and globally; enhancingits technology and scaling.

“As we continue to grow in new markets, the app experience will be curated to each city – for example, in Colorado you can edit your preferences based on access to ski areas – to make sure we’re offering a personalized experience for each user,” Bomze said.

10 proptech investors see better era for residential and retail after pandemic

Categories: Business News

Sales scheduling platform Chili Piper raises $33M Series B funding led by Tiger Global

2021, April 16 - 12:10am

Chili Piper, which has a sophisticated SaaS appointment scheduling platform for sales teams, has raised a $33 million B round led by Tiger Global. Existing investors Base10 Partners and Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI-focused VC) also participated. This brings the company’s total financing to $54 million. The company will use the capital raised to accelerate product development. The previous $18 million A round was led by Base10 and Google’s Gradient Ventures nine months ago.

It’s main competitor is Calendly, started 2 1/2 years previously, which recently achieved a $3 billion valuation.

How Atlanta’s Calendly turned a scheduling nightmare into a $3B startup

Launched in 2016, Chili Piper’s software for B2B revenue teams is designed to convert leads into attended meetings. Sales teams can also use it to book demos, increase inbound conversion rates, eliminate manual lead routing and streamline critical processes around meetings. It’s used by Intuit, Twilio, Forrester, Spotify and Gong.

Chili Piper has a number of different tools for businesses to schedule and calendar accountments, but its key USP is in its use by “inbound SDR Sales Development Representatives (SDR)”, who are responsible for qualifying inbound sales leads. It’s particularly useful in scheduling calls when customers hit websites and ask for a salesperson to call them back.

Nicolas Vandenberghe, CEO, and co-founder of Chili Piper said: “When we started we sold the house and decided to grow the company ourselves. So all the way until 2019 we bootstrapped. Tiger gave us a valuation that we expected to get at the end of this year, which will help us accelerate things much faster, so we couldn’t refuse it.”

Alina Vandenberghe, CPO and co-founder said: “We’re proud to have so many customers scheduling meetings and optimizing their calendars with Chili Piper’s Instant Booker.”

The husband-and-wife-founded company was fully remote from day one, with 93 employees in 81 cities and 21 countries, long before the pandemic hit.

John Curtius, partner at Tiger Global said: “When we met Nicolas and Alina, we were fired up by their product vision and focus on customer happiness.”

TJ Nahigian, managing partner at Base10 Partners, added: “We originally invested in Chili Piper because we knew customers needed ways to add fire to how they connected with inbound leads. We’ve been absolutely blown away with the progress over the past year, 2020 has been a step-change for this company as business went remote.”

For startups choosing a platform, a decision looms: Build or buy?

Categories: Business News

Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

2021, April 16 - 12:00am

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Global and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating officer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

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Categories: Business News

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