BuildBuddy, whose software helps developers compile and test code quickly using a blend of open-source technology and proprietary tools, announced a funding round today worth $3.15 million.
The company was part of the Winter 2020 Y Combinator batch, which saw its traditional demo day in March turned into an all-virtual affair. The startups from the cohort then had to raise capital as the public markets crashed around them and fear overtook the startup investing world.
BuildBuddy’s funding round makes it clear that choppy market conditions and a move away from in-person demos did not fully dampen investor interest in YC’s March batch of startups, though it’s far too soon to tell if the group will perform as well as others, given how long it takes for startup winners to mature into exits.
BuildBuddy has foundations in how Google builds software. To get under the skin of what it does, I got ahold of co-founder Siggi Simonarson, who worked at the Mountain View-based search giant for a little over a half decade.
During that time he became accustomed to building software in the Google style, namely using its internal tool called Blaze to compile his code. It’s core to how developers at Google work, Simonarson told TechCrunch. “You write some code,” he added, “you run Blaze build; you write some code, you run Blaze test.”
What sets Blaze apart from other developer tools is that “opposed to your traditional language-specific build tools,” Simonarson said, it’s code agnostic, so you can use it to “build across [any] programming language.”
Google open-sourced the core of Blaze, which was named Bazel, an anagram of the original name.
So what does BuildBuddy do? In product terms, it’s building the pieces of Blaze that Google engineers have access to inside the company, for other developers using Bazel in their own work. In business terms, BuildBuddy wants to offer its service to individual developers for free, and charge companies that use its product.
Simonarson and his co-founder Tyler Williams started small, building a “results UI” tool that they shared with a Bazel user group. The members of that group picked up the tool, rapidly bringing it inside a number of sizable companies.
This origin story underlines something that BuildBuddy has that early-stage startups often lack, namely demonstrable enterprise market appetite. Lots of big companies use Bazel to help create software, and BuildBuddy found its way into a few of them early in its life.
Simply building a useful tool for a popular open-source project is no guarantee of success, however. Happily for BuildBuddy, early users helped it set direction for its product development, meaning that over the summer the startup added the features that its current users most wanted.
Simonarson explained that after BuildBuddy was initially used by external developers, they demanded additional tools, like authentication. In the words of the co-founder, the response from the startup was “great!” The same went for a request for dashboarding, and other features.
Even better for the YC graduate, some of the features requested were the sort that it intends to charge for. That brings us back to money and the round itself.
BuildBuddy closed its round in May. But like with most venture capital tales, it’s not a simple story.
According to Simonarson, his startup started raising the round during one of those awful early-COVID days when the stock market dropped by double-digit percentage points in a single trading session.
BuildBuddy’s goal was to raise $1.5 million. Simonarson was worried at the time, telling TechCrunch that it was his first time fundraising, and that he wasn’t sure if his startup was going to “raise anything at all” in that climate.
But the nascent company secured its first $100,000 check. And then a $300,000 check, over time managing to fill out its round.
So what happened that got the company from $1.5 million to just over $3 million? The investor that put in $300,000 wanted to put in another $2 million. The company talked them down to $1.5 million at a higher cap (BuildBuddy raised its round using a SAFE), and the deal was done at those terms.
The startup initially didn’t want to raise the extra cash, but Simonarson told TechCrunch that at the time it was not clear where the fundraising environment was heading; BuildBuddy raised back when startup layoffs were a leading story, and a return to high-cadence VC rounds was months away.
So BuildBuddy wound up securing $3.15 million to support a current headcount of four. It intends to hire, naturally, lower its comically long runway and keep building out its Bazel-focused service.
Picking a few names from the investor spreadsheet that BuildBuddy sent over — points for completeness to the startup — Y Combinator, Addition, Scribble and Village Global, among others put capital into the round.
Dev tools are hot at the moment. Given that, as soon as BuildBuddy’s ARR starts to get moving, I expect we’ll hear from them again.
Voi, the Stockholm-headquartered micro mobility company known for its e-scooter rentals, has raised $160 million in new funding. The round, about two thirds equity and one third debt, is led by The Raine Group.
Others participating include VNV Global, Balderton, Creandum, Project A, Inbox, and “sustainability-focused investor” Stena Sessan, along with individual backers with links to tech companies such as Delivery Hero, Klarna, iZettle, Zillow, Kry/Livi and Amazon.
Voi co-founder and CEO Fredrik Hjelm says the company — which competes with the likes of Bird, Tier, Bolt and Lime — has secured an “asset-backed” debt facility tied to the scooters and e-bikes it will have on its books in 2021.
The idea is that, having proven its model can be sustained, capital funnelled into the expense of purchasing the vehicles needed to expand the service, can be secured against those assets, even if they will depreciate relatively quickly over time.
“I think, going forward, we will increase the debt ratio to equity,” he tells me. “What you wanna avoid, of course, as a startup, is dilution. We want as much debt as possible because we want cash to grow because we think we can have good ROI in capital. But the debt market is usually closed for startups, until they get to a very proven business model”.
Hjelm says, as the unit economics improved, which Voi has shown by becoming operationally profitable for a few months this year on a group level, it puts the company in a position where, coupled with enough historical data, it can understand “the payback” time on vehicles. This means a financing model similar to rental car companies, or other companies with assets that have a proven value, becomes more of a possibility.
Once it’s proven to work, he says in 6-9 months from now Voi hopes to be able to increase the debt facility. “Probably you will never write about Voi raising equity again,” Hjelm teases, likely in reference to my scooping one of the company’s earlier funding rounds.
By thinking about and funding the vehicles and the operations as two separate parts of the business, it also points to where the Voi founder believes the industry and his company in particular, is heading. “I think the direction we’re going is, we’re becoming more and more of a tech enabled infrastructure company,” he says, comparing it to a telco or other infrastructure plays.
This makes more sense when you consider that many cities around the world are holding tendering processes and only licensing two or three and sometimes only a single provider. And it’s here where Voi has also made good transaction over the last year — sped by the Coronavirus pandemic which has forced cities to open up micro mobility services faster in order to offer an alternative to packed trains and busses.
“With major new markets, including the U.K. opening up to e-scooter mobility solutions, Voi has become Europe’s preferred operator, winning over 2/3 of city license tenders across Europe, including recent wins in Birmingham, Liverpool, Bern and Cambridge,” says Voi.
A decision on which operators are awarded London’s tender is expected on December 14th. Up to three operators will be selected to operate trials, which are due to start in Spring 2021.
Voi says the new funding will be used to invest in technology platform development, fuel growth in current Voi markets and bring Voi’s latest e-scooter model — Voiager 4 — to more cities. In addition, Voi will use funds to further enhance the safety infrastructure of its platform, “the company’s number one priority,” says the company.
Video has worked the same way for a long, long time. And because of its unique qualities, video has been largely immune to the machine learning explosion upending industry after industry. WaveOne hopes to change that by taking the decades-old paradigm of video codecs and making them AI-powered — while somehow avoiding the pitfalls that would-be codec revolutionizers and “AI-powered” startups often fall into.
The startup has until recently limited itself to showing its results in papers and presentations, but with a recently raised $6.5M seed round, they are ready to move towards testing and deploying their actual product. It’s no niche: video compression may seem a bit in the weeds to some, but there’s no doubt it’s become one of the most important processes of the modern internet.
Here’s how it’s worked pretty much since the old days when digital video first became possible. Developers create a standard algorithm for compressing and decompressing video, a codec, which can easily be distributed and run on common computing platforms. This is stuff like MPEG-2, H.264, and that sort of thing. The hard work of compressing a video can be done by content providers and servers, while the comparatively lighter work of decompressing is done on the end user’s machines.
This approach is quite effective, and improvements to codecs (which allow more efficient compression) have led to the possibility of sites like YouTube. If videos were 10 times bigger, YouTube would never have been able to launch when it did. The other major change was beginning to rely on hardware acceleration of said codecs — your computer or GPU might have an actual chip in it with the codec baked in, ready to perform decompression tasks with far greater speed than an ordinary general-purpose CPU in a phone. Just one problem: when you get a new codec, you need new hardware.
But consider this: many new phones ship with a chip designed for running machine learning models, which like codecs can be accelerated, but unlike them the hardware is not bespoke for the model. So why aren’t we using this ML-optimized chip for video? Well, that’s exactly what WaveOne intends to do.
I should say that I initially spoke with WaveOne’s cofounders, CEO Lubomir Bourdev and CTO Oren Rippel, from a position of significant skepticism despite their impressive backgrounds. We’ve seen codec companies come and go, but the tech industry has coalesced around a handful of formats and standards that are revised in a painfully slow fashion. H.265, for instance, was introduced in 2013, but years afterwards its predecessor, H.264, was only beginning to achieve ubiquity. It’s more like the 3G, 4G, 5G system than version 7, version 7.1, etc. So smaller options, even superior ones that are free and open source, tend to get ground beneath the wheels of the industry-spanning standards.
This track record for codecs, plus the fact that startups like to describe practically everything is “AI-powered,” had me expecting something at best misguided, at worst scammy. But I was more than pleasantly surprised: In fact WaveOne is the kind of thing that seems obvious in retrospect and appears to have a first-mover advantage.
The first thing Rippel and Bourdev made clear was that AI actually has a role to play here. While codecs like H.265 aren’t dumb — they’re very advanced in many ways — they aren’t exactly smart, either. They can tell where to put more bits into encoding color or detail in a general sense, but they can’t, for instance, tell where there’s a face in the shot that should be getting extra love, or a sign or trees that can be done in a special way to save time.
But face and scene detection are practically solved problems in computer vision. Why shouldn’t a video codec understand that there is a face, then dedicate a proportionate amount of resources to it? It’s a perfectly good question. The answer is that the codecs aren’t flexible enough. They don’t take that kind of input. Maybe they will in H.266, whenever that comes out, and a couple years later it’ll be supported on high-end devices.
So how would you do it now? Well, by writing a video compression and decompression algorithm that runs on AI accelerators many phones and computers have or will have very soon, and integrating scene and object detection in it from the get-go. Like Krisp.ai understanding what a voice is and isolating it without hyper-complex spectrum analysis, AI can make determinations like that with visual data incredibly fast and pass that on to the actual video compression part.
Variable and intelligent allocation of data means the compression process can be very efficient without sacrificing image quality. WaveOne claims to reduce the size of files by as much as half, with better gains in more complex scenes. When you’re serving videos hundreds of millions of times (or to a million people at once), even fractions of a percent add up, let alone gains of this size. Bandwidth doesn’t cost as much as it used to, but it still isn’t free.
Understanding the image (or being told) also lets the codec see what kind of content it is; a video call should prioritize faces if possible, of course, but a game streamer may want to prioritize small details, while animation requires yet another approach to minimize artifacts in its large single-color regions. This can all be done on the fly with an AI-powered compression scheme.
There are implications beyond consumer tech as well: A self-driving car, sending video between components or to a central server, could save time and improve video quality by focusing on what the autonomous system designates important — vehicles, pedestrians, animals — and not wasting time and bits on a featureless sky, trees in the distance, and so on.
Content-aware encoding and decoding is probably the most versatile and easy to grasp advantage WaveOne claims to offer, but Bourdev also noted that the method is much more resistant to disruption from bandwidth issues. It’s one of the other failings of traditional video codecs that missing a few bits can throw off the whole operation — that’s why you get frozen frames and glitches. But ML-based decoding can easily make a “best guess” based on whatever bits it has, so when your bandwidth is suddenly restricted you don’t freeze, just get a bit less detailed for the duration.
These benefits sound great, but as before the question is not “can we improve on the status quo?” (obviously we can) but “can we scale those improvements?”
“The road is littered with failed attempts to create cool new codecs,” admitted Bourdev. “Part of the reason for that is hardware acceleration; even if you came up with the best codec in the world, good luck if you don’t have a hardware accelerator that runs it. You don’t just need better algorithms, you need to be able to run them in a scalable way across a large variety of devices, on the edge and in the cloud.”
That’s why the special AI cores on the latest generation of devices is so important. This is hardware acceleration that can be adapted in milliseconds to a new purpose. And WaveOne happens to have been working for years on video-focused machine learning that will run on those cores, doing the work that H.26X accelerators have been doing for years, but faster and with far more flexibility.
Of course, there’s still the question of “standards.” Is it very likely that anyone is going to sign on to a single company’s proprietary video compression methods? Well, someone’s got to do it! After all, standards don’t come etched on stone tablets. And as Bourdev and Rippel explained, they actually are using standards — just not the way we’ve come to think of them.
Before, a “standard” in video meant adhering to a rigidly defined software method so that your app or device could work with standards-compatible video efficiently and correctly. But that’s not the only kind of standard. Instead of being a soup-to-nuts method, WaveOne is an implementation that adheres to standards on the ML and deployment side.
They’re building the platform to be compatible with all the major ML distribution and development publishers like TensorFlow, ONNX, Apple’s CoreML, and others. Meanwhile the models actually developed for encoding and decoding video will run just like any other accelerated software on edge or cloud devices: deploy it on AWS or Azure, run it locally with ARM or Intel compute modules, and so on.
It feels like WaveOne may be onto something that ticks all the boxes of a major b2b event: it invisibly improves things for customers, runs on existing or upcoming hardware without modification, saves costs immediately (potentially, anyhow) but can be invested in to add value.
Perhaps that’s why they managed to attract such a large seed round: $6.5 million, led by Khosla Ventures, with $1M each from Vela Partners and Incubate Fund, plus $650K from Omega Venture Partners and $350K from Blue Ivy.
Right now WaveOne is sort of in a pre-alpha stage, having demonstrated the technology satisfactorily but not built a full-scale product. The seed round, Rippel said, was to de-risk the technology, and while there’s still lots of R&D yet to be done, they’ve proven that the core offering works — building the infrastructure and API layers comes next and amounts to a totally different phase for the company. Even so, he said, they hope to get testing done and line up a few customers before they raise more money.
The future of the video industry may not look a lot like the last couple decades, and that could be a very good thing. No doubt we’ll be hearing more from WaveOne as it migrates from lab to product.
We’re live! Check the links below!
The conversation is part of the second season of our Extra Crunch Live series that has seen all sorts of investors and founders join TechCrunch for a dig into their work.
Das’ participation comes at the perfect moment: He invested early in MuleSoft, which sold to Salesforce for $6.5 billion back in 2018. Salesforce is expected to announce its purchase of Slack later today, perhaps before our chat. Either way, we’ll ask Das about selling companies, selling them to Salesforce in particular and what we should take away concerning the enterprise software M&A market from the deal.
Here are notes from the last episode of Extra Crunch Live with Bessemer’s Byron Deeter.
And as we noted last week, we will also dig into the role of corporate venture capital in 2020 and beyond, the state of early-to-growth stage investing as Sapphire leads rounds from Series A to Series C, API-led startups, along with the importance of geographic location in the pandemic for founding teams and more.
It’s going to be fun! And it’s in just a few hours. So make sure that your Extra Crunch login works, hit the jump, save the time to your calendar and submit a question ahead of time if you want me to see your notes before we start. In the meantime, I’m going to find my most Zoom-friendly shirt and run through my intro a few times.
We’re live in mere hours! See you soon.
Below are links to add the event to your calendar and to save the Zoom link. We’ll share the YouTube link shortly before the discussion:
Per the company’s own accounting, it will have 596,399,007 or 601,399,007 shares outstanding, depending on whether its underwriters exercise their option. That gives the company a valuation range of $26.2 billion to $30.1 billion at the extremes.
The company’s simple share count does not include a host of other shares that have vested but not yet been exercised. Including those shares, the company’s fully diluted valuation stretches to $35 billion, by CNBC’s arithmetic.
The top-end of Airbnb’s simple valuation places it near its Series F valuation set in 2017. Its fully-diluted valuation exceeds that $30.5 billion valuation and is far superior to the $18 billion, post-money valuation that it raised at during its troubled period early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those investors, Silver Lake and Sixth Street, the company’s initial IPO price range is a win. For the company’s preceding investors, to see the company appear ready to at least match its preceding private valuation is a win as well, given how much damage Airbnb’s business sustained early in the pandemic.
But how do those Airbnb valuation numbers match up against its revenues, and will public market investors value the company based on its current results, or expectations for a return-to-form once a vaccine comes to market? And if so, is Airbnb expensive or not?
Shares of Booking Holdings, which owns travel services like Kayak, Priceline, OpenTable and others, have almost doubled in value since its pandemic lows and is within spitting distance of its all-time highs. This despite its revenues falling 48% in its most recent quarter. There’s optimism in the market that travel companies are on the cusp of a return to form, buoyed — we presume — by good news regarding effective coronavirus vaccines.
My expectation is that Airbnb is enjoying a similar bump, as investors intend to buy its shares not to bask in awe of its Q4 2020 results, but instead to enjoy what happens in the back half of 2021 as vaccines roll out and the travel industry recovers.
But happens if we stack Airbnb’s revenues against its valuation today?
French startup Ankorstore has raised a $29.9 million Series A round (€25 million) with Index Ventures leading the round. Existing investors GFC, Alven and Aglaé are also participating.
Ankorstore is building a wholesale marketplace that connects independent shop owners with brands selling household supplies, maple syrup, headbands, bath salts, stationery items and a lot more. That list alone should remind you of neighborhood stores that sell a ton of cutesy stuff that you don’t necessarily need but that tend to be popular.
The company works with 2,000 brands and 15,000 shops. And the startup isn’t just connecting buyers and sellers as it has a clear set of rules. For instance, the minimum first order is €100, which means that you can try out new products without ordering hundreds of items at once.
By default, Ankorstore withdraws the money 60 days after placing an order. Brands get paid upon delivery. And of course, buying from several brands through Ankorstore should simplify your admin tasks.
Ankorstore is currently live in eight countries — France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Luxembourg. France is the biggest market followed by Germany. Up next, the startup plans to launch in the U.K. in 2021.
In many ways, Ankorstore reminds me of Faire, the wholesale marketplace that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S.
“There are a number of different retail marketplaces connecting retailers with makers and brands. Where we believe we differ is in our clear focus on the independent shop owner, offering the tools and the terms that make it really easy and cost-effective to discover and access some of the most desirable up-and-coming brands,” Ankorstore co-founder Pierre-Louis Lacoste said.
Given that the startup is working with small suppliers, chances are they’re only selling their products in Europe. So there should be enough room for a European leader in that space that I would describe as wholesale Etsy-style marketplaces with a strong focus on curation.
Image Credits: Ankorstore
Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect
Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to lower barriers to mental health care in Asia, says it has reached more than one million users just six months after launching. Google also announced today that the startup’s consumer app, also called Intellect, is one of its picks for best personal growth apps of 2020.
The company recently closed an undisclosed seed round led by Insignia Ventures Partners. Angel investors including e-commerce platform Carousell co-founder and chief executive officer Quek Siu Rui; former Sequoia partner Tim Lee; and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO J.J. Chai also participated.
In a statement, Insignia Ventures Partners principal Samir Chaibi said, “In Intellect, we see a fast-scaling platform addressing a pain that has become very obvious amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that pairing clinically-backed protocols with an efficient mobile-first delivery is the key to break down the barriers to access for millions of patients globally.”
Co-founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew launched Intellect earlier this year because while there is a growing pool of mental wellness apps in the United States and Europe that have attracted more funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the space is still very young in Asia. Intellect’s goal is encourage more people to incorporate mental health care into their daily routines by lowering barriers like high costs and social stigma.
Intellect offers two products. One is a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that center on issues like anxiety, self-esteem or relationship issues.
The other is a mental health platform for employers to offer as a benefit and includes a recently launched telehealth service called Behavioural Health Coaching that connects users with mental health professionals. The service, which includes one-on-one video sessions and unlimited text messaging, is now a core part of Intellect’s services, Chew told TechCrunch.
Intellect’s enterprise product now reaches 10,000 employees, and its clients include tech companies, regional operations for multinational corporations and hospitals. Most are located in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and India, and range in size from 100 to more than 3,000 employees.
For many small- to mid-sized employers, Intellect is often the first mental health benefit they have offered. Larger clients may already have EAP (employee assistance programs), but Chew said those are often underutilized, with an average adoption rate of 1% to 2%. On the other hand, he said Intellect’s employee benefit program sees an average adoption rate of 30% in the first month after it is rolled out at a company.
Chew added that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more companies to address burnout and other mental health issues.
Intellect’s seed round will be used to expand in Asian markets and to help fund clinical research studies it is currently conducting with universities and organizations in Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Canadian electric truck and bus manufacturer The Lion Electric Company said Monday it plans to become a publicly traded company via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp.
The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will have a valuation of $1.9 billion. The companies raised $200 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, and hold about $320 million in cash proceeds.
The deal is the latest example of an electric automaker opting to go public via a SPAc merger in an aim to access the level of capital needed to become a high-volume vehicle manufacturer. Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp., have all announced SPAC mergers in 2020.
In Lion’s case, the combined net cash will be used to fund the company’s growth, notably the planned construction of a U.S.-based factory and to further develop its advanced battery systems. Lion is evaluating more than 10 potential brownfield plant sites in nine states, including California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. The company told TechCrunch it plans to to pick a site and complete its industrialization plan by the end of the year. Production at this yet-to-be named factory is expected to start in the beginning of 2023.
Lion is already producing all-electric medium and heavy-duty urban trucks and buses at a 2,500-vehicle-per-year manufacturing facility. Some 300 vehicles are on the road today and the company has plans to to deliver 650 trucks and buses in 2021. It even landed a contract with Amazon to supply the e-commerce giant with 10 electric trucks for its ‘middle mile’ operations.
Completion of the proposed transaction is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2021. Lion is expected to be listed on the NYSE under the new ticker symbol “LEV.” Lion’s CEO and founder Marc Bedard will continue in his role. The combined company will have a board of directors consisting of nine directors, including Bedard, Pierre Larochelle from Power Sustainable as Chairman, and five other existing Lion board members, as well as Ian Robertson and Chris Jarratt, who are co-founders of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp.
Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight. The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.
As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well-capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.
Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm, sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.
“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.
Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.
“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.
Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space, says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.
“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told TechCrunch.
While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised more than $187 million, according to PitchBook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per PitchBook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.
It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.
Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.
A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.
On the heels of news that DoorDash is targeting an initial IPO valuation up to $27 billion, C3.ai also dropped a new S-1 filing detailing a first-draft guess of what the richly valued company might be worth after its debut.
C3.ai posted an initial IPO price range of $31 to $34 per share, with the company anticipating a sale of 15.5 million shares at that price. The enterprise-focused artificial intelligence company is also selling $100 million of stock at its IPO price to Spring Creek Capital, and another $50 million to Microsoft at the same terms. And there are 2.325 million shares reserved for its underwriters as well.
The total tally of shares that C3.ai will have outstanding after its IPO bloc is sold, Spring Creek and Microsoft buy in, and its underwriters take up their option, is 99,216,958. At the extremes of its initial IPO price range, the company would be worth between $3.08 billion and $3.37 billion using that share count.
Those numbers decline by around $70 and $80 million, respectively, if the underwriters do not purchase their option.
So is the IPO a win for the company at those prices? And is it a win for all C3.ai investors? Amazingly enough, it feels like the answers are yes and no. Let’s explore why.
If we just look at C3.ai’s revenue history in chunks, you can argue a growth story for the company; that it grew from $73.8 million in the the two quarters of 2019 ending July 31, to $81.8 million in revenue during the same portion of 2020. That’s growth of just under 11% on a year-over-year basis. Not great, but positive.
This morning Salut, an app-based service that allows fitness trainers to host classes virtually, announced that it has raised $1.25 million in a new financing event. The round was led by Charles Hudson, an investor at Precursor Ventures.
Founder Matthew DiPietro, formerly of Twitch, told TechCrunch that Salut soft-launched in mid-September, with a wider release coming today.
DiPietro thought up the concept behind Salut before the pandemic hit, he said during an interview, but after COVID-19 appeared the idea took on new urgency. The company put together what DiPietro described as a no-code alpha version of the service in May to test the market, allowing the then-nascent startup to validate demand on both sides of its marketplace — it’s famously difficult to jumpstart two-sided marketplaces, as demand tends to follow supply, and vice-versa.
The test allowed the company to get to confidence on demand existing from both trainers and exercise fans, and in its initial economic model.
With the new round in the bank and its product now formally launched, it’s up to Salut to scale rapidly. The company currently has 55 registered trainers on its platform, a reasonable start for the seed-stage startup. It will need to grow that figure by a few orders of magnitude if it wants to generate enough revenue to reach an eventual Series A.
But Salut is not focused on early-revenue generation, taking no cut of trainer revenue today. Indeed, per an email the company sent out to its users this morning, the startup is passing along 100% of post-Apple income that trainers generate, or 85% of the gross.
Currently users can donate to, or tip, trainers that host classes. DiPietro told TechCrunch that subscription options are coming in a quarter or two. The startup also announced today that trainers can now allow their classes to be replayed, what the startup called one of its “most requested features.”
Anyone familiar with Peloton understands why this matters; only a fraction of classes on the Peloton ecosystem are live at any point in time, but the bike comes with a library of content that users can simply load up whenever they like. This also allows Peloton to release more niche content than it otherwise might, as even the heavy metal-themed rides can accrete a reasonable ridership over time (something they might not be able to manage if all classes on the platform were only live once and then gone forever).
DiPietro is bullish on building income streams for trainers, especially during a pandemic that has locked many gyms, leaving fitness processionals with little to no income in many cases.
There’s some early signal that users are willing to pay, the company said, with early users willing to pay $5 or $10 for an hour of fitness training. And with a focus on the long-tail of trainers who can’t attract 10,000 fans to a single class, Salut thinks there are a large number of trainers who have enough pull to generate more income from its service, in time, than they could at a traditional studio.
Salut supports group video classes, of course, so trainers can collect monies from cohorts of users at a time.
The company’s fundraising is largely earmarked for engineering, with the company having what its founder called an ambitious product roadmap.
The startup also announced a new project with Fitness Mentors, a company that helps trainers get certified, to create what the two companies are calling “the industry’s first Virtual Group Fitness Instructor (V-GFI) course and certification.”
You can see why Salut would want the certification to exist; its existence will allow users of its service to find trainers that are worth their time on its service, and may raise the overall level of quality of classes provided.
Let’s see how far Salut can get with $1.25 million.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Thursday’s edtech deep dive from our own Natasha Mascarenhas.
Right, now through the first of America’s national Q4 feast days, it’s time to get back to business. Namely, the business of VC and startups. Here’s what we got into this morning:
And finally, we are heading into a deluge of IPOs over the next few weeks. So strap in, it’s going to be messy and fun.
This morning, DoorDash filed a new S-1 document, this time updating the market about the price it expects to command during its public offering. The food-delivery giant gave a range of $75 to $85 per share, which would revalue the company sharply higher than its final private price, set during a June Series H that valued DoorDash at $16 billion.
The company intends to sell 33 million shares, raising between $2.475 billion and $2.805 billion in the process. Notably, there are no shares set aside for its underwriting banks to buy at its IPO price.
After the public offering, DoorDash expects to have 317,656,521 shares outstanding across various classes, giving it a valuation of between $23.8 billion and $27 billion at the two extremes of its IPO range, not counting shares that have not yet vested or are set aside for future employee compensation. CNBC calculates that the company could be worth up to $30 billion on a fully-diluted basis.
What matters more than the raw dollar amounts, however, is what we can learn from them. Let’s get into the guts of the valuation range and find out if it’s bullish or if we should anticipate DoorDash to raise its range before it goes public.
The new DoorDash S-1/A filing, it doesn’t appear to contain new financial information, so we can keep our prior notes on the company’s health and performance in mind. Recall that we were generally impressed by DoorDash’s growth and its improving profitability.
Other on-demand food services are doing well: HungryPanda just raised $70 million, and on the back of Uber Eats’ growth — and optimism that its ride-hailing business will return with the market-readiness of strong COVID-19 vaccines — shares of Uber are at all-time highs.
So you can taste the optimism that DoorDash is riding as it looks to list. Given our take, you would be forgiven for presuming that DoorDash is targeting an aggressive price.
GM is backing away from an agreement to take a stake in electric automaker Nikola Corp, marking the collapse of a deal that has been problematic since it was announced just two months ago.
Shares of Nikola plummeted more than 20% in pre-market trading Monday morning.
GM has instead signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to supply Nikola with its Hydrotec fuel cell system. This supplier agreement replaces its previous transaction announcement made on Sept. 8, 2020 to take a 11% stake in Nikola and produce a fuel cell pickup for the company by the end 2022. The investment was valued at $2 billion at the time.
Speculation that GM would pull the plug on the deal has been rampant almost from the start. Just days after GM announced the investment, a noted short-seller Hindenburg Research accused the Nikola of fraud. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened up an inquiry in the matter and within two weeks Nikola’s founder Trveor Milton had stepped down as executive chairman.
Stephen Girsky, a former General Motors executive who was already on the company’s board and who introduced Nikola to GM, took over as executive chairman.
Nikola’s troubles aren’t over. GM’s wording in its announcement suggests as much. GM describes the non-binding MoU as a “potential agreement.” If it goes through, GM would engineer its Hydrotec fuel cell system to the specifications mutually agreed upon by both companies. It is expected that the potential arrangement would be “cost plus,” meaning that Nikola would pay upfront for the capital investment for the capacity. The companies are also discussing the potential of a supply agreement for GM’s Ultium battery system for Nikola’s Class 7 and Class 8 trucks.
Doug Parks, GM executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain said supplying the Hydrotec fuel cell systems to heavy-duty class of commercial vehicles is an important part GM’s growth strategy and reinforces the company’s commitment toward an all-electric, zero-emissions future.”
GM’s Hydrotec fuel cell system will be engineered at its Michigan technical facilities in Pontiac and Warren and manufactured at its Brownstown Charter Township battery assembly plant, the company said.
Primer, the U.K. fintech that wants to help merchants consolidate their payments stack and easily support new payment methods in the future, has raised £14 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Accel, who I understand were quite proactive in persuading Primer to take the VC firm’s money.
The young company wasn’t actively fund-raising, having quietly raised £3.8 million in funding announced in May. Instead, the team was heads down building out the product and wooing potential customers by holding technical workshops and in-depth interviews over Zoom with 100 merchants — activity that didn’t go unnoticed.
Also participating in the Series A are existing investors: Balderton, SpeedInvest and Seedcamp, who were joined in the round by new backer RTP Global. Sonali De Rycker, partner at Accel, will join Primer’s board.
Founded by ex-PayPal employees – via PayPal’s acquisition of Braintree — Primer wants to offer one payments API to (hopefully) rule them all, with the explicit aim of bringing greater transparency to a merchant’s payment stack.
The thinking is that larger merchants, especially those that operate in more than one geography, have to support an array of payment methods, which brings with it significant technical overhead, a poor user experience, and lack of transparency.
Primer, now described as a “low code” platform, carries out a lot of that heavy-lifting on behalf of merchants and while remaining steadfastly payment method agnostic. By doing so, the idea is to reduce friction when adopting new payment methods as they come to market, and be able to provide better insights into things like how well each checkout option is performing.
As well as payment-service-providers (PSPs), the platform has connectors for fraud providers, chargeback services, subscription billing engines, BI tools, loyalty and rewards platforms. Both payments and non-payments services can be “seamlessly connected to the checkout experience and payments flow via workflows, enabling merchants to unify their fraud migration efforts, build sophisticated transaction routing, and solve complex flows – all with no code,” explains Primer.
Primer says the additional funding will be used for international business development and scaling its team. Billed as a remote-first company, Primer has 23 employees across six countries, and says it has already picked up traction across mid-market and large enterprise e-commerce merchants across Europe.
Comments Paul Anthony, Primer’s co-founder and head of product and engineering: “During our time at PayPal, we saw first-hand the technical burden online merchants face trying to offer the best payments experiences to their customers globally. Our low-code approach enables merchants’ payments teams to manage and expand their payments ecosystems, and maintain sophisticated payments logic with a familiar workflow UI”.
Meanwhile, the new investment brings Primer’s total funding to £17.8 million, and comes only a few weeks after the initial launch of the company’s platform.
Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of The Exchange. Today we will be brief. But not silent, as there is much to talk about.
Up top, The Exchange noodled on the Slack-Salesforce deal here, so please catch up if you missed that while eating pie for breakfast yesterday. And, sadly, I have no idea why Palantir is seeing its value skyrocket. Normally we’d discuss it, asking ourselves what its gains could mean for the lower tiers of private SaaS companies. But as its public market movement appears to be an artificial bump in value, we’ll just wait.
Here’s what I want to talk about this fine Saturday: Bloomberg reporting that Stripe is in the market for more money, at a price that could value the company at “more than $70 billion or significantly higher, at as much as $100 billion.”
Hot damn. Stripe would become the first or second most valuable startup in the world at those prices, depending on how you count. Startup is a weird word to use for a company worth that much, but as Stripe is still clinging to the private markets like some sort of liferaft, keeps raising external funds, and is presumably more focused on growth than profitability, it retains the hallmark qualities of a tech startup, so, sure, we can call it one.
Which is odd, because Stripe is a huge concern that could be worth twelve-figures, provided that gets that $100 billion price tag. It’s hard to come up with a good reason for why it’s still private, other than the fact that it can get away with it.
Anyhoo, are those reported, possible prices bonkers? Maybe. But there is some logic to them. Recall that Square and PayPal earnings pointed to strong payments volume in recent quarters, which bodes well for Stripe’s own recent growth. Also note that 14 months ago or so, Stripe was already processing “hundreds of billions of dollars of transactions a year.”
You can do fun math at this juncture. Let’s say Stripe’s processing volume was $200 billion last September, and $400 billion today, thinking of the number as an annualized metric. Stripe charges 2.9% plus $0.30 for a transaction, so let’s call it 3% for the sake of simplicity and being conservative. That math shakes out to a run rate of $12 billion.
Now, the company’s actual numbers could be closer to $100 billion, $150 billion and $4.5 billion, right? And Stripe won’t have the same gross margins as Slack .
But you can start to see why Stripe’s new rumored prices aren’t 100% wild. You can make the multiples work if you are a believer in the company’s growth story. And helping the argument are its public comps. Square’s stock has more than tripled this year. PayPal’s value has more than doubled. Adyen’s shares have almost doubled. That’s the sort of public market pull that can really help a super-late-stage startup looking to raise new capital and secure an aggressive price.
To wrap, Stripe’s possible new valuation could make some sense. The fact that it is still a private company does not.
Hugs and let’s both go do some cardio,
Meet Bigblue, a French startup that just raised a $3.6 million seed round (€3 million) to build an end-to-end fulfillment solution in Europe. If you sell products on your own website and across multiple marketplaces, you can use Bigblue to handle everything that happens after a transaction.
Bigblue doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it partners with existing logistics companies so that you only have to manage one relationship with Bigblue. It means that Bigblue works with several fulfillment centers to store your products as well as multiple shipping carriers.
Essentially, Bigblue lets you improve the experience for your customers. When you start using Bigblue, you send your products to a fulfillment center and you integrate Bigblue with your online stores. The startup has integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, Wix Store, Prestashop, Fastmag and Amazon’s marketplace.
When a client orders a product from you, it is packed and shipped directly from the fulfillment center to your customers. Bigblue customers pay a flat fee per order and don’t have to deal with anything. Some packages might be delivered through DHL, others might be sent out using Chronopost, etc. It is completely transparent as Bigblue chooses the right carrier for you.
The startup also gives you more visibility into your shipping process. Retailers get an overview of their operations and can see the inventory from Bigblue’s interface. Clients receive branded delivery emails.
While it’s hard to build a good logistics network if you’re a small e-commerce company, Bigblue lets you compete more directly with Amazon big e-commerce websites. You can level up the customer experience without putting together an in-house logistics team.
Samaipata is leading today’s funding round. Bpifrance is contributing to the round. Plug and Play, Clément Benoit, Thibaud Elziere and Olivier Bonnet are also investing.
With the new influx of funding, the startup plans to hire 50 people and improve its product. You can expect more integrations with e-commerce platforms, ERPs and marketplaces. Bigblue is also going to build out its own shipment tracking pages and email personalization toolkit. The company will also improve product returns and delivery ETAs.
This week, we’re doing a first-ever for the show and taking a deep dive into one specific sector: Edtech.
Natasha Mascarenhas has covered education technology since Stanford first closed down classes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of the historic shuttering of much of the United States’ traditional institutions of education, the sector has formed new unicorns, attracted record-breaking venture capital totals, and most of all, enjoyed time in a long-overdue spotlight.
For this Equity Dive, we zero onto one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college dropout Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.
Here’s what we got into:
And much, much more. If you celebrate, thank you for spending part of your Thanksgiving with the Equity crew. We’re so thankful to have this platform and audience, and it means a ton that y’all tune in each week.
Jason Green has a pretty solid reputation as venture capitalists go. The enterprise-focused firm the cofounded 17 years ago, Emergence Capital, has backed Saleforce, Box, and Zoom, among many other companies, and even while every firm is now investing in software-as-a-service startups, his remains a go-to for many top founders selling business products and services.
To learn more about the trends impacting Green’s slice of the investing universe, we talked with him late last week about everything from SPACs to valuations to how the firm differentiates itself from the many rivals with which it’s now competing. Below are some outtakes edited lightly for length.
TC: What do you make of the assessment that SPACs for companies that aren’t generating enough revenue to go public the traditional route?
JG: Well, yeah, it’ll be really interesting. This has been quite a year for SPACs, right? I can’t remember the number, but it’s been something like $50 billion of capital raised this year in SPACs, and all of those have to put that money to work within the next 12 to 18 months or they give it back. So there’s this incredible pent-up demand to find opportunities for those SPACs to convert into companies. And the companies that are at top of the charts, the ones that are the high growth and profitable companies, will probably do a traditional IPO, I would imagine.
So [SPAC candidates are] going to be companies that are growing fast enough to be attractive as a potential public company but not top of the charts. So I do think [sponsors are] going to target companies that are probably either growing slightly slower than the top-quartile public companies but slightly profitable, or companies that are growing faster but still burning a lot of cash and might actually scare all the traditional IPO investors.
TC: Are you having conversations with CEOs about whether or not they should pursue this avenue?
JG: We just started having those conversations now. There are several companies in the portfolio that will probably be public companies in the next year or two, so it’s definitely an alternative to consider. I would say there’s nothing impending I see in the portfolio. With most entrepreneurs, there’s a little bit of this dream of going public the traditional way, where SPACs tend to be a little bit less exciting from that perspective. So for a company that maybe is thinking about another private round before going public, it’s like a private-plus round. I would say it’s a tweener, so the companies that are considering it are probably ones that are not quite ready to go public yet.
TC: A lot of the SPAC fundraising has seemed like a reaction to uncertainty around when the public window might close. With the election behind us, do you think there’s less uncertainty?
JG: I don’t think risk and uncertainty has decreased since the election.There’s still uncertainty right now politically. The pandemic has reemerged in a significant way, even though we have some really good announcements recently regarding vaccines or potential vaccines. So there’s just a lot there’s a lot of potential directions things could head in.
It’s an environment generally where the public markets tend to gravitate more toward higher-quality opportunities, so fewer companies but higher quality, and that’s where I think SPACs could play a role. I’d say first half of next year, I could easily see SPACs being the more likely go-to-market for a public company, then the latter half of next year, once the vaccines have kicked in and people feel like we’re returning to somewhat normal, I could see the traditional IPO coming back.
TC: When we sat down in person about a year ago, you said Emergence looks at maybe 1,000 deals a year, does deep due diligence on 25, and funds just a handful or so of these startups every year. How has that changed in 2020?
JG: I would say that over the last five years, we’ve made almost a total transition. Now we’re very much a data-driven, thesis-driven outbound firm, where we’re reaching out to entrepreneurs soon after they’ve started their companies or gotten seed financing. The last three investments that we made were all relationships that [date back] a year to 18 months before we started engaging in the actual financing process with them. I think that’s what’s required to build a relationship and the conviction, because financings are happening so fast.
I think we’re going to actually do more investments this year than we maybe ever done in the history of the firm, which is amazing to me [considering] COVID. I think we’ve really honed our ability to build this pipeline and have conviction, and then in this market environment, Zoom is actually helping expand the landscape that we’re willing to invest in. We’re probably seeing 50% to 100% more companies and trying to whittle them down over time and really focus on the 20 to 25 that we want to dig deep on as a team.
TC: For founders trying to understand your thinking, what’s interesting to you right now?
JG: We tend to focus on three major themes at any one time as a firm, and one we’ve termed ‘coaching networks’. This is this intersection between AI and machine learning and human interaction. Companies like [the sales engagement platform] SalesLoft or [the knowledge management system] Guru or Drishti [which sells video analytics for manual factory assembly lines] fall into this category, where it’s really intelligent software going deep into a specific functional area and unleashing data in a way that’s never been available before.
The second [theme] is going deep into more specific industry verticals. Veeva was the best example of this early on with with healthcare and life sciences, but we now have one called p44 in the transportation space that’s doing incredibly well. Doximity is in the healthcare space and going deep like a LinkedIn for physicians, with some remote health capabilities, as well. And then [lending company] Blend, which is in the financial services area. These companies are taking cloud software and just going deep into the most important problems of their industries.
The third them [centers around] remote work. Zoom, which has obviously has been [among our] best investments is almost as a platform, just like Salesforce became a platform after many years. We just funded a company called ClassEDU, which is a Zoom-specific offering for the education market. Snowflake is becoming a platform. So another opportunity is is not just trying to come up with another collaboration tool, but really going deep into a specific use case or vertical.
TC: What’s a company you’ve missed in recent years and were any lessons learned?
JG: We have our hall of shame. [Laughs.] I do think it’s dangerous to assume that things would have turned out the same if if we had been investors in the company. I believe the kinds of investors you put around the table make a difference in terms of the outcome of your company, so I try not beat myself up too much on the missed opportunities because maybe they found a better fit or a better investor for them to be successful.
But Rob Bernshteyn of Coupa is one where I knew Rob from SuccessFactors [where he was a product marketing VP], and I just always respected and liked him. And we always chasing it on valuation. And I think I think we probably turned it down at an $80 million or $100 million dollar valuation [and it’s valued at] $20 billion today. That can keep you up at night.
Sometimes, in the moment, there are some risks and concerns about the business and there are other people who are willing to be more aggressive and so you lose out on some of those opportunities. The beautiful thing about our business is that it’s not a zero-sum game.
In the wake of insurtech unicorn Root’s IPO, it felt safe to say that the big transactions for the insurance technology startup space were done for the year.
After all, 2020 had been a big one for the broad category, with insurtech marketplaces raising lots, rental insurance startup Lemonade going public, Root itself debuting even more recently on the back of its automotive insurance business, a big round to help Hippo keep building its homeowners company and more.
So let’s talk about why Metromile might be plying the public markets, and why Hippo may have have decided to pick up more cash. Hint: The reasons are related.
The Lemonade IPO was a key moment for neoinsurance startups, a key part of the broader insurtech space. When the rental insurance provider went public, it helped set the tone for public exit valuations for companies of its type: fast-growing insurance companies with slick consumer brands, improving economics, a tech twist and stiff losses.
For the Roots and Metromiles and Hippos, it was an important moment.
So, when Lemonade raised its IPO range, and then traded sharply higher after its debut, it boded well for its private comps. Not that rental insurance and auto insurance or homeowners insurance are the same thing. They very most decidedly are not, but Lemonade’s IPO demonstrated that private investors were correct to bet generally on the collection of startups, because when they reached IPO-scale, they had something that public investors wanted.