In many ways, there has never been a better time to be a venture capitalist. Nearly everyone in the industry is raking in money, either through long-awaited exits or because more capital flooding into the industry has meant more money in management fees — and sometimes both.
Still, a growing number of early-stage investors with whom we talk to on a routine basis are wary about the pace of dealmaking. It’s not just that it’s a lot harder to write checks at what feels like a reasonable clip at the moment, or that most VCs feel they can no longer afford to be price sensitive. Many of the founders with whom they work are being handed follow-on checks before figuring out how best to deploy their last round of funding.
Consider that from 2016 through 2019, an average of 35 deals a month featured rounds of $100 million or more, according to the data company CB Insights. This year, 126 companies a month on average have been raising those kinds of megarounds. The froth is hardly contained to maturing companies. Even the median U.S. Series A valuation hit $42 million in the second quarter, driven in part crossover investors like Tiger Global, which closed 1.26 deals per business day in Q2. (Andreessen Horowitz wasn’t far behind.)
It makes for some bewildering times, including for longtime investor Jeff Clavier, the founder the early-stage venture firm Uncork Capital. Like many of his peers, Clavier is benefiting from the booming market. Among Uncork’s portfolio companies, for example is LaunchDarkly, a company that helps software developers avoid missteps. The seven-year-old company announced $200 million in Series D funding last month at a $3 billion valuation. That’s triple the valuation it was assigned early last year.
“It’s an awesome company, so I’m very excited for them,” says Clavier.
At the same time, he added, “You have to put this money to work in a very smart way.”
That’s not so easy in this market, where founders are inundated with interest and, in some cases, are talking term sheets after the first Zoom with an investor. (“The most absurd thing we’ve heard are funds that are making decisions after a 30-minute call with the founder,” says TX Zhou, the cofounder of L.A.-based seed-stage firm Fika Ventures, which itself just tripled the amount of assets it’s managing.)
More money can mean a much longer lifeline for a company. But as many investors have learned the hard way, it can also serve as a distraction, as well as hide fundamental issues with a business until it’s too late to address them.
Taking on more money also oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with a bigger valuation, and lofty valuations comes with their own positives and negatives. On the plus side, of course, big numbers can attract more attention to a company from the press, from customers, and from potential new hires. At the same time, “The more money you raise, the higher the valuation it is, it catches up with you on the next round, because you got to clear that watermark,” says Renata Quintini of the venture firm Renegade Partners, which focuses largely on Series B-stage companies.
Again, in today’s market, trying to slow down isn’t always possible. Quintini says that some founders her firm has talked to have said, “‘I’m not going to raise any more because I cannot go faster; I cannot deploy more than my model is already supporting.'” For others, she continues, “You’ve got to look at what’s happening around you, and sometimes if your competitors are raising and they’re going to have a bigger war chest . . and [they’re] pushing the market forward . . . and maybe they can out-hire you or they can outspend you in certain areas where they can generate more traction than you . . .” that next check, often at the higher valuation, begins to look like the only option.
Many VCs have argued that today’s valuations make sense because companies are creating new markets, growing faster than before, and have more opportunities to expand globally, and certainly, in some cases, that it is true. Indeed, companies that were previously believed to be richly priced by their private investors, like Airbnb and Doordash, have seen their valuations soar as publicly traded companies.
Yet it’s also true that for many more companies, “valuation is completely disconnected from the [companies’] multiples,” says Clavier, echoing what other VCs acknowledge privately.
That might seem to be the kind of problem that investors love to face. But as been the case for years now, that depends on how long this go-go market lasts.
Clavier says that one of his own companies that “did a great Series A and did a great Series B ahead of its time is now being preempted for a Series C, and the valuation is just completely disconnected from their actual reality.”
He said he’s happy for the outfit “because I have no doubt they will catch up. But this is the point: they will have to catch up.”
For more from our conversation with Clavier, by the way, you can listen here.
Private equity firm Apollo Global Management this morning announced that it has completed its acquisition of Yahoo (formerly known as Verizon Media Group, itself formerly known as Oath) from Verizon. The deal is worth $5 billion, with $4.25 billion in cash, plus preferred interests of $750 million. Verizon will be retaining 10% of the newly rebranded company.
“This is a new era for Yahoo,” Yahoo CEO (and former VZM head) Guru Gowrappan said in a release tied to the news. “The close of the deal heralds an exciting time of renewed opportunity for us as a standalone entity. We anticipate that the coming months and years will bring fresh growth and innovation for Yahoo as a business and a brand, and we look forward to creating that future with our new partners.”
There have been reports that Gowrappan might not stay on as CEO of Yahoo for the long term now that the deal has closed; for now he’s still at the helm.
In addition to its titular Yahoo properties (Mail, Sports, Finance, et al.), the group includes us, TechCrunch; AOL; Engadget; and interactive media brand, RYOT. All told, the umbrella brand encompasses around 900 million monthly active users globally and is currently the third-largest internet property, per Apollo’s figures.
The deal puts to a close a years-long effort by Verizon to make a comprehensive move into online media, specifically around adtech, which ultimately proved to be too costly, mostly unprofitable and, finally, not core enough to the telco’s bigger growth strategy.
The news comes during a tumultuous time for online media, amid increasing industry-wide consolidation, many felt within Verizon Media. Verizon acquired AOL in 2015 for $4.4 billion, followed by buying Yahoo for $4.5 billion two years later, combining the two legacy media properties into a combined group named Oath. At the end of 2018, Oath wrote down $4.6 billion, following the merger.
It’s not clear how a new owner will steer that large ship differently, but one strategy — standard practice for PE firms — could involve Apollo selling off parts of the business or rationalizing it in other ways.
However, for its part, Apollo has promised to continue investing in the newly acquired proprieties, and it has secured all jobs at the time of handover for at least an initial period. The bigger firm of Apollo has a massive set of TMT, holdings so it will be interesting to see how and if it leverages that, too.
“We look forward to partnering with Yahoo’s talented employee base to build on the company’s strong momentum and position the new Yahoo for long-term success as a standalone consumer internet and digital media leader,” Apollo Partner Reed Rayman said in the release. “We couldn’t be more excited about this next chapter for Yahoo as we look to invest in growth across the business, including accelerating its customer-first offerings and commerce capabilities, expanding its reach and enhancing the daily user experience.”
A stealthy startup co-founded by a former senior designer from Apple and one of its ex-senior software engineers has picked up a significant round funding to build out its business. Humane, which has ambitions to build a new class of consumer devices and technologies that stem from “a genuine collaboration of design and engineering” that will represent “the next shift between humans and computing”, has raised $100 million.
This is a Series B, and it’s coming from some very high profile backers. Tiger Global Management is leading the round, with SoftBank Group, BOND, Forerunner Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures also participating. Other investors in this Series B include Sam Altman, Lachy Groom, Kindred Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Valia Ventures, NEXT VENTŪRES, Plexo Capital and the legal firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Humane has been around actually since 2017, but it closed/filed its Series A only last year: $30 million in September 2020 at a $150 million valuation, according to PitchBook. Previous to that, it had raised just under $12 million, with many of the investors in this current round backing Humane in those earlier fundraises, too.
Valuation with this Series B is not being disclosed, the company confirmed to me.
Given that Humane has not yet released any products, nor has said much at all about what it has up its sleeve; and given that hardware in general presents a lot of unique challenges and therefore is often seen as a risky bet (that old “hardware is hard” chestnut), you might be wondering how Humane, still in stealth, has attracted these backers.
Some of that attention possibly stems from the fact that the two co-founders, husband-and-wife team Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, are something of icons in their own right. Bongiorno, who is Humane’s CEO, had been the software engineering director at Apple. Chaudhri, who is Humane’s chairman and president, is Apple’s former director of design, where he worked for 20 years on some of its most seminal products — the iPhone, the iPad and the Mac. Both have dozens of patents credited to them from their time there, and they have picked up a few since then, too.
Those latest patents — plus the very extensive list of job openings listed on Humane’s otherwise quite sparse site — might be the closest clues we have for what the pair and their startup might be building.
One patent is for a “Wearable multimedia device and cloud computing platform with laser projection system”; another is for a “System and apparatus for fertility and hormonal cycle awareness.”
Meanwhile, the company currently has nearly 50 job openings listed, including engineers with camera and computer vision experience, hardware engineers, designers, and security experts, among many others. (One sign of where all that funding will be going.) There is already an impressive team of about 60 people the company, which is another detail that attracted investors.
“The caliber of individuals working at Humane is incredibly impressive,” said Chase Coleman, Partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “These are people who have built and shipped transformative products to billions of people around the world. What they are building is groundbreaking with the potential to become a standard for computing going forward.”
I’ve asked for more details on the company’s product roadmap and ethos behind the company, and who its customers might potentially be: other firms for whom it designs products, or end users directly?
For now, Bongiorno and Chaudhri seem to hint that part of what has motivated them to start this business was to reimagine what role technology might play in the next wave of innovation. It’s a question that many ask, but not many try to actually invest in finding the answer. For that alone, it’s worth watching Humane (if Humane lets us, that is: it’s still very much in stealth) to see what it does next.
“Humane is a place where people can truly innovate through a genuine collaboration of design and engineering,” the co-founders said in a joint statement. “We are an experience company that creates products for the benefit of people, crafting technology that puts people first — a more personal technology that goes beyond what we know today. We’re all waiting for something new, something that goes beyond the information age that we have all been living with. At Humane, we’re building the devices and the platform for what we call the intelligence age. We are committed to building a different type of company, founded on our values of trust, truth and joy. With the support of our partners, we will continue to scale the team with individuals who not only share our passion for revolutionizing the way we interact with computing, but also for how we build.”
Update: After publishing, I got a little more from Humane about its plans. Its aim is to build “technology that improves the human experience and is born of good intentions; products that put us back in touch with ourselves, each other, and the world around us; and experiences that are built on trust, with interactions that feel magical and bring joy.” It’s not a whole lot to go on, but more generally it’s an approach that seems to want to step away from the cycle we’re on today, and be more mindful and thoughtful. If they can execute on this, while still building rather than wholesale rejecting technology, they might be on to something.
Heroes, one of the new wave of startups aiming to build big e-commerce businesses by buying up smaller third-party merchants on Amazon’s Marketplace, has raised another big round of funding to double down on that strategy. The London startup has picked up $200 million, money that it will mainly be using to snap up more merchants. Existing brands in its portfolio cover categories like babies, pets, sports, personal health and home and garden categories — some of them, like PremiumCare dog chews, the Onco baby car mirror, gardening tool brand Davaon and wooden foot massager roller Theraflow, category best-sellers — and the plan is to continue building up all of these verticals.
Crayhill Capital Management, a fund based out of New York, is providing the funding, and Riccardo Bruni — who co-founded the company with twin brother Alessio and third brother Giancarlo — said that the bulk of it will be going toward making acquisitions, and is therefore coming in the form of debt.
Raising debt rather than equity at this point is pretty standard for companies like Heroes. Heroes itself is pretty young: it launched less than a year ago, in November 2020, with $65 million in funding, a round comprised of both equity and debt. Other investors in the startup include 360 Capital, Fuel Ventures and Upper 90.
Heroes is playing in what is rapidly becoming a very crowded field. Not only are there tens of thousands of businesses leveraging Amazon’s extensive fulfillment network to sell goods on the e-commerce giant’s marketplace, but some days it seems we are also rapidly approaching a state of nearly as many startups launching to consolidate these third-party sellers.
Many a roll-up play follows a similar playbook, which goes like this: Amazon provides the marketplace to sell goods to consumers, and the infrastructure to fulfill those orders, by way of Fulfillment By Amazon and its Prime service. Meanwhile, the roll-up business — in this case Heroes — buys up a number of the stronger companies leveraging FBA and the marketplace. Then, by consolidating them into a single tech platform that they have built, Heroes creates better economies of scale around better and more efficient supply chains, sharper machine learning and marketing and data analytics technology, and new growth strategies.
What is notable about Heroes, though — apart from the fact that it’s the first roll-up player to come out of the U.K., and continues to be one of the bigger players in Europe — is that it doesn’t believe that the technology plays as important a role as having a solid relationship with the companies it’s targeting, key given that now the top marketplace sellers are likely being feted by a number of companies as acquisition targets.
“The tech is very important,” said Alessio in an interview. “It helps us build robust processes that tie all the systems together across multiple brands and marketplaces. But what we have is very different from a SaaS business. We are not building an app, and tech is not the core of what we do. From the acquisitions side, we believe that human interactions ultimately win. We don’t think tech can replace a strong acquisition process.”
Image Credits: Heroes
Heroes’ three founder-brothers (two of them, Riccardo and Alessio, pictured above) have worked across a number of investment, finance and operational roles (the CVs include Merrill Lynch, EQT Ventures, Perella Weinberg Partners, Lazada, Nomura and Liberty Global) and they say there have been strong signs so far of its strategy working: of the brands that it has acquired since launching in November, they claim business (sales) has grown five-fold.
Collectively, the roll-up startups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fuel these efforts. Other recent hopefuls that have announced funding this year include Suma Brands ($150 million); Elevate Brands ($250 million); Perch ($775 million); factory14 ($200 million); Thrasio (currently probably the biggest of them all in terms of reach and money raised and ambitions), Heyday, The Razor Group, Branded, SellerX, Berlin Brands Group (X2), Benitago, Latin America’s Valoreo and Rainforest and Una Brands out of Asia.
The picture that is emerging across many of these operations is that many of these companies, Heroes included, do not try to make their particular approaches particularly more distinctive than those of their competitors, simply because — with nearly 10 million third-party sellers today on Amazon globally — the opportunity is likely big enough for all of them, and more, not least because of current market dynamics.
“It’s no secret that we were inspired by Thrasio and others,” Riccardo said. “Combined with COVID-19, there has been a massive acceleration of e-commerce across the continent.” It was that, plus the realization that the three brothers had the right e-commerce, fundraising and investment skills between them, that made them see what was a ‘perfect storm’ to tackle the opportunity, he continued. “So that is why we jumped into it.”
In the case of Heroes, while the majority of the funding will be used for acquisitions, it’s also planning to double headcount from its current 70 employees before the end of this year with a focus on operational experts to help run their acquired businesses.
Apna, a 21-month-old startup that is helping millions of blue- and gray-collar workers in India upskill themselves, find communities and land jobs, is inching closer to becoming the fastest tech firm in the world’s second-largest internet market to become a unicorn.
Tiger Global is in advanced stages of talks to lead a $100 million round in Apna, according to four sources familiar with the matter. The proposed terms value the startup at over $1 billion, the sources said.
The round hasn’t closed yet, so terms of the deal may change, some of the sources cautioned.
If the round materializes, Apna will become the youngest Indian startup to attain the much-coveted unicorn status. The startup, which launched its app in December 2019, was valued at $570 million in its Series B financing round in June this year. It will also be the third financing round Apna would have secured in a span of less than seven months.
Tiger Global, an existing investor in Apna, didn’t respond to a request for comment earlier this month. Apna founder and chief executive Nirmit Parikh, an Apple alum, declined to comment on Tuesday.
Indian cities are home to hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers who hail from villages in search of work. Many of them have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slowed several economic activities in the world’s second-largest internet market.
Apna, whose name is inspired from a 2019 Bollywood song, is building a scalable networking infrastructure so that these workers can connect to the right employers and secure jobs. On its eponymous Android app, users also upskill themselves, review their interview skills and become eligible for more jobs.
As of June this year, Apna had amassed over 10 million users and was facilitating more than 15 million job interviews each month. All jobs listed on the Apna platform are verified by the startup and free of cost for the candidates.
The startup has also partnered with some of India’s leading public and private organizations and is providing support to the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India, National Skill Development Corporation and UNICEF YuWaah to provide better skilling and job opportunities to candidates.
The investment talks further illustrate Tiger Global’s growing interest in India. The New York-headquartered firm has made several high-profile investments in India this year, including in BharatPe, Gupshup, DealShare, Classplus, Urban Company, CoinSwitch Kuber and Groww.
More than two dozen Indian startups have become a unicorn this year, up from 11 last year, as several high-profile investors, including Tiger Global, SoftBank and Falcon Edge, have increased the pace of their investments in the world’s second most populous nation.
Apna also counts Insight Partners, Lightspeed and Sequoia Capital among its existing investors.
Space may be the endless frontier, but here on Earth, we define space in the modern sense as something enclosed. Walls, fences and barriers enclose space, define it and make it legible. In fact, the sense of limits is so strong these days with place that we often have to add qualifiers like “open space” to describe wholly natural environments like parks and forests as places without spatial limits.
While enclosures have been with us for centuries, the barriers they raise have never been so high or politically fraught. In the United States, one of the most controversial aspects of the Trump administration was over the erection of a southern border wall with Mexico. With climate change accelerating and migrants increasing all around the world though, walls are becoming a common occurrence and political tool. Just this week, Greece erected fencing along its border with Turkey in preparation for an expected deluge of Afghan refugees fleeing violence in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul.
John Lanchester has taken these themes of barriers, fear, and politics and intensified them in his atmospheric novel appropriately titled “The Wall.”
The conceit is simple: a thinly-disguised United Kingdom, ravaged by climate change and heavy migration from outside the island, erects a universal wall across all of its shores, posting sentries every few meters or so to monitor the barriers for any potential intruders. Their sole mission: to keep them out, whoever they might be. Failure is symbolically punished with exile and banishment, with the watchers becoming the watched.
We predominantly follow a pair of sentries who, as the above rule all but implicates for the plot, will become exiled in the course of their duties. What we get then is a meditation on the meaning of home, and also the meaning of barriers and dislocation in a world that is increasingly hostile to being a refuge for much of anyone.
While the plot and characters are a bit lackluster, what is fascinating with the novel is how well it manages to create an environment and ambiance of dread, of a society at the end of its journey. People live, parties are hosted, work is done, but all these activities takes place in a world where the jet stream has presumably disappeared, plunging our hypothetical U.K. into the cold abyss. That theme of gray, morose darkness exudes throughout the book, describing everything from the construction of the wall itself to the personalities of the people that inhabit this world.
That’s the ironic tension that propels the book forward, of global warming heating us up while we simultaneously develop the distant sangfroid to fight the ravaging effects of that heat. We are human, but wooden, divorced from the connection and community we have known in order to protect what little we have left.
That social coolness also inhabits a new set of class differences, not only between native citizens and refugees, but between generations as well. The younger generation, coming to terms with what has happened to their planet, simply no longer follow the instructions of their supposedly wise elders. A mental barrier has been constructed: how can you learn lessons from the people who allowed this to happen? Yet, the boiling anger has long since cooled to an isolated frostiness — acceptance of reality forces the inter-generational conversation to just move on.
Lanchester is astute and subtle in these extensions of the premise, and they are the most enjoyable part of what is — intentionally — a colorless work. The irony again is that this is probably best read on the beach in the middle of summer, an antidote to the heat of our world. I wouldn’t recommend it for the winter months.
There has been more and more “climate fiction” published over the past few years as the issue of climate change has reached prominence in the global consciousness. Many of these are offshoots of science fiction, with long and meandering discussions of technology, policies, and markets and more depending on the work. That can provide intellectual succor in a way and for a certain type of reader.
What Lanchester does is eschew the minutia and technologies pretty much entirely and instead simply situates us in a realistic future — a space that could even be our home. The limits of our imagination are compacted and we are forced to think in tighter quarters. It’s a thought-provoking look at a world whose frontiers are coming closer and closer to all of us all the time.
The Wall by John Lanchester
W. W. Norton, 2019, 288 pages
Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and an officer and director bar of Lachwani.
The DOJ, which actually arrested Lachwani today, has accused him of one count of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud, and the associated penalties if he’s found guilty are are more harsh, including, for wire fraud, a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If he’s found guilty of securities fraud, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $5,000,000.
Both the the SEC and the DOJ say Lachwani — who led the six-year-old company as CEO until May of last year — defrauded investors out of $80 million by falsely claiming that his company, Headspin, had “achieved strong and consistent growth in acquiring customers and generating revenue” when he was pitching its Series C round to potential backers.
By the SEC’s telling, his apparent bluster was largely an attempt to secure the round at a so-called unicorn valuation. That apparent plan worked, too, with Palo Alto-based Headspin attracting coverage in Forbes in February of last year after Dell Technologies Capital, Iconiq Capital and Tiger Global provided the company with $60 million in Series C funding at a $1.16 billion valuation. Forbes reported at the time that the valuation was double the valuation investors assigned HeadSpin when it closed its Series B round in October 2018.
The SEC also says that Lachwani was looking to enrich himself, saying he did so “by selling $2.5 million of his HeadSpin shares in a fundraising round during which he made misrepresentations to an existing HeadSpin investor.” (It isn’t clear from its complaint whether the SEC is referring to the Series C or an earlier round.)
The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.
More specifically, the complaint alleges that “in materials and presentations to potential investors, Lachwani reported false revenue and overstated key financial metrics of the company. . . he maintained control over operations, sales, and record-keeping, including invoicing, and he was the final decision maker on what revenue was booked and included in the company’s financial records.”
In the investigation that led to the DOJ’s charges, the FBI discovered “multiple examples” of Lachwani “instructing employees to include revenue from potential customers that inquired but did not engage Headspin, from past customers who no longer did business with Headspin, and from existing customers whose business was far less than the reported revenue,” says the department.
How far off were these collective calculations? The complaint says that ultimately, Lachwani “provided investors false information that overstated Headspin’s annual recurring revenue . . . by approximately $51 to $55 million.”
According to the complaint, Lachwani’s fraud unraveled after the company’s board of directors conducted an internal investigation and revised HeadSpin’s valuation down from $1.1 billion to $300 million. Indeed, in August of last year, The Information reported that the company was planning to lower the value of its Series C stock by nearly 80%.
The outlet reported at the time that Lachwani had already been replaced by another executive. That person, according to LinkedIn, is Rajeev Butani, who joined Headspin as its chief sales officer around the time its Series C round was being announced in February of last year.
Nikesh Arora, a former SoftBank president, the current CEO and chairman of Palo Alto Networks helped lead the internal review as a then-director on the board of Headspin, said The Information.
The SEC says it’s investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, the DOJ notes in its announcement that “a complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Either way, the outlook doesn’t look very promising right now for Lachwani, who, according to Forbes, previously sold a mobile cloud business to Google and wound up co-founding Headspin after Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang introduced him to Brien Colwell, a former Palantir and Quora engineer was working at the time on a different startup.
Colwell remains with Headspin as its CTO. He has not been named in either the SEC or the DOJ’s complaints relating to Headspin.
The company itself, which says it has been cooperating with the government’s investigation, was also not charged.
Pictured above, left to right, Headspin founders Lachwani and Colwell.
Did you miss IPOs? I sure did. They could be coming back after a summer lull.
Warby Parker, a D2C glasses company backed by over a half-billion dollars of private capital, filed to go public yesterday. For investors like General Catalyst, Tiger Global and Durable Capital Partners, it’s an important debut. Having taken on equity capital since at least 2011, investors have been waiting a long time for Warby to float.
The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.
And there’s quite a lot to like about the company, the first parse of its IPO filing reveals. There are some less attractive elements to its business worth discussing, and we need to examine how COVID-19 impacted the company’s 2020 performance.
Warby last raised known private capital in August 2020, a $120 million Series G that valued the company at just over $3 billion on a post-money basis. D1 Capital Partners led that transaction, which included both Durable Capital and Baillie Gifford.
For D2C startups, the Warby IPO is something of a do-over. The Casper IPO from early 2020 is now a cautionary tale for companies employing the business model; the company reduced its IPO range, priced at $12 per share and today trades for just over $5.
But there’s more to Warby Parker’s IPO than just the D2C category. It’s a public benefit corporation, which it says in its filing means that it is “focused on positively impacting all stakeholders” as opposed to merely shareholders. And the company has a charitable bent to its efforts through a foundation and donation model of giving away eyewear when customers purchase their own set. Warby also has a hybrid sales model, leaning on both IRL and digital retail channels. There’s lots to dig into.
So let’s parse Warby’s growth history, its profitability progress over time and how the company is blending IRL shopping with digital channels. We’ll close by examining just how the company was priced last year, taking a guess at what it might be worth in today’s public markets.
Looking at Warby’s full-year results for 2020 is not inspiring. The company grew well from 2018 to 2019, expanding from $272.9 million in revenue to $370.5 million in revenue, or around 36%. That’s not an astounding pace of growth, but it’s more than respectable for a company of Warby’s age and size.
Then in 2020 the company only managed to eke out 6% growth to $393.7 million in top line. What happened to slow the company’s growth rate from Just Fine to Not Fine At All? COVID, it appears.
Fika Ventures is a five-year-old, LA-based seed-stage fund that has been funding mostly business-to-business startups, as well as fintech companies and a sprinkling of healthcare IT startups — as long as they don’t involve hardware or FDA approval.
The firm’s investors apparently think it’s doing a decent job. After raising $41 million for its debut fund, followed by a $77 million fund that Fika closed in 2019, the outfit is today announcing a third flagship fund with $160 million to invest, along with an opportunity-type fund with $35 million in capital commitments.
That’s a major endorsement for such a young firm. Still, even with upwards of 10 promising portfolio companies — including Formative, a Santa Monica, California-based platform for K-12 teachers to create assessments that raised $70 million in June; Pipe, a Miami-based startup that lets companies sell their recurring revenue streams on its platform and raised $250 million at a $2 billion valuation in May; and Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that sells payroll, hiring, onboarding and compliance service and raised $100 million earlier this year — it’s getting harder right now to do what they do, say firm cofounders Eva Ho and TX Zhou. “It’s definitely a crazy time,” Ho offers.
We had a candid conversation with the pair yesterday, edited lightly for length below.
TC: This is now one of the bigger seed-stage firms in LA. What percentage of your investments are local?
EH: We feel like we have a home court advantage here, so about 40% of our deals are here, then the rest are in markets like Seattle, New York, Boston, Austin, Chicago. We recently did a deal in Toronto because they have a nice AI community there. But we still very much believe in needing boots on the ground, so go after geographies where we can fly to board meetings and be there physically to support [our founders] when they need us.
TC: Your new flagship fund is more than twice the size of your last fund. How will that impact how much you invest?
TZ: Our check sizes will grow a bit in tandem with the market. As you know, seed rounds are now quite a bit larger. I think initial checks will be in the $1 million to $3 million range; with the last fund, we reserved up to $6 million per company and now we’ll reserve up to $10 million.
TC: Tell us a little about investing in a market where everybody is a founder, and everyone is also an investor.
EH: It’s definitely a crazy time. It feels like we’re running a marathon and trying to be in a sprint. We have to have the long view and make bets with that horizon in mind, but at the same time, the decisions for initial and follow-on rounds have gotten just a lot faster.
TC: How do you continue to make good decisions when things are moving so fast?
EH: The things we’ve been doing include increasing the size of the team and doing more work upfront on an industry so that we have more prepared minds coming in. But it continues to be a struggle because everything has been sort of compressed.
TZ: I think in the past, seed funds could get away with being pure generalists, even within sectors. But we’ve been forced over the last 12 months to really understand even more sub sectors within each of our verticals. For example, within fintech, we’ve kind of taken a deep dive in real estate and insurance, and that helps us come into deals [prepared] given how fast they’re moving these days.
TC: What is the fastest deal you’ve done?
TZ: In the past, deals that we were looking at were getting done in two to three weeks; now the average time is probably a week to a week-and-a-half to make a final decision. I’d say the fastest we’ve moved is in five days, in a situation where we’ve known the entrepreneur for years so there was strong validation on a personal level. There was also good founder-market fit in terms of what they wanted to do.
EH: We just pull ourselves out of certain rounds that are moving [super fast] and/or valuation expectation upfront is just crazy. You see a lot of pre-seed rounds right now that are pre-product, pre-traction, pre-revenue that are done at $15 million or $20 million or $30 million post-money valuations. We’ll certainly flex for the right things, but there is just a lot of froth in the market right now.
TC: If the terms are right, are you funding pre-seed, pre-product, pre-traction teams?
EH: To be very frank, we have moved a little earlier in some cases. In the first fund, we [invested about] 15% in pre-seed startups, which to us means very early product and very early traction and sometimes no traction. In fund two, we’ve invested maybe 25% in pre-seed deals because the really good founders who’ve been shown that they’re able to execute and have vision — they get snapped up quickly, so you have to adapt and evolve a bit and move downstream a little more. That said, I think almost all the companies we fund have some sort of [minimum viable product] and some initial design partners in place, even if they don’t have any meaningful revenues yet.
TC: What percentage of your investments in your most recent fund have gone to repeat founders?
TZ: I’d say 15% to 20%. Obviously, we can’t and don’t limit ourselves to [serial entrepreneurs], but with repeat founders, deals move even faster than before.
TC: What’s the most absurd thing you’ve seen in this go-go market?
TZ: I think the most absurd thing we’ve heard are funds that are making decisions after a 30-minute call with the founder.
TC: Would you ever pass on a company because you’re not that excited about the rest of the cap table?
TZ: The speed of deals has forced us to really quickly home in on what we care about. In the past, we had the luxury of having this long laundry list of things we wanted to check off and in a positive way, we’ve been forced to home in on the three to five things that we really care about for each deal.
The bigger challenge is that investors who decide in 30 minutes create unrealistic expectations by founders. Sometimes they expect everyone to process information that quickly, and I think what they’re missing is that these funds are not processing the information.
TC: What’s one way you get founders to slow down and pay attention?
TZ: We actually give every founder that we’ve come close to making a decision on a complete list of every single founder that we’ve backed in the past with their contact information.
Initially, we did this to help us win deals, but I think very quickly founders get a sense of what it’s like to work with us, too.
Pry Financials wants to make startup finances approachable for its entire team, not just the people in charge of its accounting spreadsheets. The Y Combinator alum announced today it has raised $4.2 million from Global Founders Capital, Pioneer Fund, NOMO VC, Liquid2 and Hyphen Capital.
Launched in March, Pry now has more than 200 customers and claims it has grown 35% month-over-month since YC’s Demo Day. It was founded by Alex Sailer, Tiffany Wong, Hayden Jensen and Andy Su.
Before starting Pry, Su was co-founder of InDinero, another YC alum that started as a “Mint for small businesses” before pivoting to a full-service accounting company. InDinero launched while he was still a student at UC Berkeley, and Su eventually became responsible for its financial planning.
Pry Financials’ team. Image Credits: Pry Financials
He told TechCrunch that most startups can’t afford accounting software like Workday Adaptive Planning. Instead, they sometimes work with outsourced CFO services, but mostly rely on spreadsheets for everything: three-way forecasts, predicting runway, hiring and contractor budgets and investor updates.
“I was the chief technical officer and over the years, I also took on the finance function, so it was kind of a dual CTO/CFO role. This was 2010 through 2020 and as technology grew, the engineering and product teams got all sorts of new tools every six months or so, whereas the finance team was just stuck in Excel,” he said.
Started as a side project while Su was still at InDinero, Pry starts at just $50 a month and replaces those spreadsheets with easy-to-understand dashboards for accounting, financial planning and scenario modeling. The dashboards connect to QuickBooks, Xero or bank accounts, so numbers are continuously updated.
Pry’s clients typically start using it after they raise seed funding, because “for most first-time founders, that’s the most amount of money you have ever received, so you need to spend more time managing it and reviewing it every month. And you’re spending a lot of time on payroll each month,” Su said. Second-time founders, meanwhile, sign up for Pry because they are sick of Excel spreadsheets.
“Reviewing a spreadsheet is mind-numbingly hard,” said Su. “If you see a number that’s off, you get this weird formula if you didn’t do it yourself. Then you basically have to write a long email to the financial analyst who wrote it and hope that they get back to you before closing time.” For founders who need to update lenders or investors every month, this means a lot of work.
Pry makes the process more efficient by turning three-way reports — combinations of balance sheets, profit and loss statements and cashflow — into Financial Report dashboards, and then adding features like hiring plans, financial modeling and scenario planning.
The scenario planning feature serves as a sandbox, giving startup teams and their investors a way to predict how different situations will impact finances: for example, how much runway they have if they raise a certain amount of funding or adjust product pricing.
Fundraising dashboards created with Pry Financials. Image credits: Pry Financials
“We’re improving upon and trying to make decisions about the company in a collaborative way. The analogy we have is Git branching, where you have your main plan, and want to try something like a new revenue model or acquiring a business, but don’t want to mess with your current strategy,” said Su. “What you can do is create a completely new branch with, say, a new pricing strategy. You can make all the changes you want and then switch back to your old branch without worrying about overriding or conflicting with it.”
Those speculative branches are also continuously updated with the company’s most recent bank account and payroll information, so founders don’t need to recreate them from scratch if they want to revisit a potential scenario later.
Pry plans to build more complex predictive tools and also integrate industry standards, like statistic and benchmarks, into templates to help founders understand what targets they should set.
Because Pry is easier to manage than a set of Excel spreadsheets, Su said it’s helped startups spot important things. For example, one founder was able to find a way to save $15,000 by catching a tax issue. Pry also helps everyone at a startup understand its finances’ even if they haven’t worked with accounting spreadsheets before. The platform will add roles and permissions soon, so founders can give or restrict access to different people, like leaders of specific departments.
Su said Pry does not compete with the accounting services many startups rely on until they can hire a head of finance, but makes it easier for startups to collaborate with them since they can share their dashboards.
“Usually early on, you can outsource to a CFO firm. That’s the norm in the business and it works pretty well for most companies. You get a part-time CFO to work really hard for a month and get your fundraising structure done,” said Su, adding “we fit into that ecosystem well.”
Covering public companies can be a bit of a drag. They grow some modest amount each year, and their constituent analysts pester them with questions about gross margin expansion and sales rep efficiency. It can be a little dull. Then there are startups, which grow much more quickly — and are more fun to talk about.
That’s the case with Shelf.io. The company announced an impressive set of metrics this morning, including that from July 2020 to July 2021, it grew its annual recurring revenue (ARR) 4x. Shelf also disclosed that it secured a $52.5 million Series B led by Tiger Global and Insight Partners.
That’s quick growth for a post-Series A startup. Crunchbase reckons that the company raised $8.2 million before its Series B, while PitchBook pegs the number at $6.5 million. Regardless, the company was efficiently expanding from a limited capital base before its latest fundraising event.
What does the company’s software do? Shelf plugs into a company’s information systems, learns from the data, and then helps employees respond to queries without forcing them to execute searches or otherwise hunt for information.
The company is starting with customer service as its target vertical. According to Shelf CEO Sedarius Perrotta, Shelf can absorb information from, say, Salesforce, SharePoint, legacy knowledge management platforms, and Zendesk. Then, after training models and staff, the company’s software can begin to provide support staff with answers to customer questions as they talk to customers in real time.
The company’s tech can also power responses to customer queries not aimed at a human agent and provide a searchable database of company knowledge to help workers more quickly solve customer issues.
Per Perrotta, Shelf is targeting the sales market next, with others to follow. How might Shelf fit into sales? According to the company, its software may be able to offer staff already-written proposals for similar-seeming deals and other related content. The gist is that at companies that have lots of workers doing similar tasks — clicking around in Salesforce, or answering support queries, say — Shelf can learn from the activity and get smarter in helping employees with their tasks. I presume that the software’s learning ability will improve over time, as well.
Shelf, around 100 people today, hopes to double in size by the end of the year, and then double again next year.
That’s where the new capital comes in. Hiring folks in the worlds of machine learning and data science is very expensive. And because the company wants to scale those hires quickly, it will need a large bank balance to lean on.
Quick ARR growth was not the only reason why Shelf was able to secure such an outsized Series B, at least when compared to how much capital it had raised before. Per Perrotta, Shelf has 130% net dollar retention and no churn to report, meaning its customers are both sticky and expand organically.
While Shelf is interesting today and has certainly found niches it can sell into in its current form, I am more curious about how far the company can take its machine learning system, called MerlinAI. If its tech can get sufficiently smart, its ability to prompt and help employees could reduce onboarding time and the overall cost of employee training. That would be a huge market.
This is the sort of deal that we expect to see Tiger in — an outsized investment compared to prior rounds into a high-growth company that has lots of market room. Whatever price Tiger just paid for the company’s stock, a few years of continued growth should de-risk the investment. By our read, Tiger is really just the market-leading bull on software market growth in the long term. Shelf fits into that thesis neatly.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
(Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.
However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-come increased regulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.
The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.
The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max. Image Credits: Nur Photo/Getty Images
Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.
Image Credits: Apple
Image Credits: Facebook
Image Source: The Pokémon Company
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Image Credits: Samsung
South Korea’s GS Retail Co. Ltd will buy Delivery Hero’s food delivery app Yogiyo in a deal valued at 800 billion won ($685 million USD). Yogiyo is the second-largest food delivery app in South Korea, with a 25% market share.
Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.
Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.
Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.
Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.
Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.
Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.
U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.
Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.
Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2. Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.
Image Credits: Polycam
3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.
Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.
When your app redesign goes wrong…
Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said.
Anyone have app ideas?
Consumer shift to buying online during the global pandemic — and keeping that habit — continues to boost revenue for makers of developer tools that help e-commerce sites provide better shopping experiences.
LA-based Nacelle is one of the e-commerce infrastructure companies continuing to attract investor attention, and at a speedy clip, too. It closed on a $50 million Series B round from Tiger Global. This is just six months after its $18 million Series A round, led by Inovia, and follows a $4.8 million seed round in 2020.
The company is working in “headless” commerce, which means it is disconnecting the front end of a website, a.k.a. the storefront, from the back end, where all of the data lives, to create a better shopping experience, CEO Brian Anderson told TechCrunch. By doing this, the back end of the store, essentially where all the magic happens, can be updated and maintained without changing the front end.
“Online shopping is not new, but how the customer relates to it keeps changing,” he said. “The technology for online shopping is not up to snuff — when you click on something, everything has to reload compared to an app like Instagram.”
More people shopping on their mobile devices creates friction due to downloading an app for each brand. That is “sucking the fun out of shopping online,” because no one wants that many apps on their phone, Anderson added.
Steven Kramer, board member and former EVP of Hybris, said via email that over the past two decades, the e-commerce industry went through several waves of innovation. Now, maturing consumer behaviors and expectations are accelerating the current phase.
“Retailers and brands are struggling with adopting the latest technologies to meet today’s requirements of agility, speed and user experience,” Kramer added. “Nacelle gives organizations a future-proof way to accelerate their innovation, leverage existing investments and do so with material ROI.”
Data already shows that COVID-era trends accelerated e-commerce by roughly five years, and Gartner predicts that 50% of new commerce capabilities will be incorporated as API-centric SaaS services by 2023.
Those kinds of trends are bringing in competitors that are also attracting investor attention — for example, Shopistry, Swell, Fabric, Commerce Layer and Vue Storefront are just a few of the companies that raised funding this year alone.
Anderson notes that the market continues to be hot and one that can’t be ignored, especially as the share of online retail sales grows. He explained that some of his competitors force customers to migrate off of their current tech stack and onto their respective platforms so that their users can get a good customer experience. In contrast, Nacelle enables customers to keep their tech stack and put components together as they see fit.
“That is painful in any vertical, but especially for e-commerce,” he said. “That is your direct line to revenue.”
Meanwhile, Nacelle itself grew 690% in the past year in terms of revenue, and customers are signing multiyear contracts, Anderson said.
Anderson, who is an engineer by trade, wants to sink his teeth into new products as adoption of headless commerce grows. These include providing a dynamic layer of functionality on top of the tech stack for storefronts that are traditionally static, and even introducing some livestream capabilities later this year.
As such, Nacelle will invest the new round into its go-to-market strategy and expand its customer success, partner relations and product development. He said Nacelle is already “the de facto standard” for Shopify Plus merchants going headless.
“We want to put everything in a tailor-made API for e-commerce that lets front-end developers do their thing with ease,” Anderson added. “We also offer starter kits for merchants as a starting point to get up-and-running.”
The unprecedented liquidity that has entered the venture market in the past year has spurred several trends that require VCs to adapt to a more competitive environment where startup founders have far more leverage than they did in the past.
Structurally, there are only so many startups looking to raise capital, and even though some founders may be opportunistically pursuing deals they wouldn’t have previously, the supply of capital into venture funds has nonetheless outpaced the demand for those dollars.
This means VCs are in an unusual environment of increasing competition to get in on deals with startups, and as they jockey to win spots on cap tables they’re moving faster than ever to close deals.
The best early-stage VCs take the time to find the founders they believe in and who need their expertise, because they’ll be right there working with them for the long haul.
What’s more, newcomers in the VC market like Tiger Global as well as a number of non-VC investment funds like PE firms with much larger pools of capital than the market has seen are aggressively pursuing enormous deals in an effort to drive faster exits and returns on their investments.
With so many investors vying for their attention, many founders are taking the opportunity to raise bigger rounds and coming back for additional funding faster than ever, which is apparent in the constant drumbeat of funding news as well as the 250 unicorns and the record $288 billion invested in startups in the first half of this year.
For some, the answer may be moving faster to get in on deals. Strategies like doing more due diligence in advance of ever meeting startups and leveraging technologies like AI to supplement investors’ ability to evaluate companies can help with this. For others, it may be making larger investments and accepting smaller ownership stakes in startups than they’re accustomed to.
Agora, a startup that has built a materials management platform for contractors, has raised $33 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management.
8VC, Tishman Speyer, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, Michael Ovitz, DST, LeFrak and Kevin Hartz also participated in the financing, which brings the startup’s total raised since its 2018 inception to about $45 million.
Construction tech is one of those sectors that has not historically been considered “sexy” in a startup world that often favors glitzier technology. But construction fuels the commercial and real estate industries, which in turn impacts all of us in one way or another.
Meanwhile, the $10 trillion construction industry has long been plagued with productivity challenges. In fact, according to McKinsey, labor productivity growth in the industry has been stagnant since 1947.
Image Credits: Agora
Maria Rioumine and Ryan Gibson founded Agora with the mission of making it easier for commercial trade contractors to order and track materials, automate manual data entry and give everyone involved in the procurement process a single platform by which they can communicate with each other.
The end goal is to help projects move along faster, and contractors to avoid unnecessary delays by reducing building costs. The bigger picture impact, Agora hopes, is that its SaaS platform can help make the “built environment faster and more efficient to build,” and thus help make cities “more affordable and accessible to all.”
San Francisco-based Agora is tackling the problem in a very specific, niche way that is proving to be popular both with contractors and investors alike. Rather than attempting to be a blanket solution for all trades, Agora is focusing on specific trade verticals, one by one. For example, it started out with electrical and is now moving into mechanical.
“Last year, there was more than $101 billion worth of electrical work done. Our customers work on all types of products,” Rioumine told TechCrunch. “For example, we have customers that do power stations, some that build hospitals and others that build school classrooms and university campuses, and still others that build churches and casinos. The work that these contractors do is so essential.”
Agora’s annual recurring revenue has grown 760% year over year while its customer base is up 6x during the same time frame, according to the company. It has also tripled its headcount to 45 people and today is processing $140 million in annualized materials volume for its customers.
The startup wasn’t actively raising for the Series B — instead, investors were proactively offering term sheets, Rioumine said.
“A few investors that knew us well approached us about preempting the round,” she told TechCrunch. “Twelve days after the first conversation, we had multiple term sheets.”
Tiger Global Partner John Curtius said he was drawn to Agora’s “unique” trade-specific approach.
In his view, the startup is “defining the future of procurement in construction.”
“Agora is solving a huge and critical problem,” Curtius wrote via email. “Billions of dollars a year are wasted because of inefficient procurement processes and breakages in the supply chain.”
The platform specifically does things like give contractors the ability to: customize templates, create pre-approved materials lists and easily reorder frequently needed items, order from a catalogue that offers more than 400,000 SKUs and eliminate manual data entry, which reduces errors and automates basic processes.
By bringing both field and office teams onto one digital platform, Agora claims it saves office teams 75% of the time they spend processing purchase orders, and field teams 38% of the time their foremen spend on materials management. In total, the company said its technology can provide up to $300,000 of potential annual savings for its average customer.
The company plans to use its new capital to hire across a number of teams, as well as continue to expand beyond 30 states and into other trade verticals.
“There has been this really heavy underinvestment in tech in construction for a long time,” Rioumine said. On average, the technology spend as a proportion of revenue in construction is about 1.5%, “which is actually the lowest of the industries out there where the median is 3.3%,” she added.
“So when we think about just how large this industry is and how little productivity improvements there have been recently, I think now we have this amazing opportunity to really invest in technology and bring it on to the job sites and into trade contractors’ hands.”
Talkdesk, a provider of cloud-based contact center software, announced $230 million in new Series D funding that more than triples the company’s valuation to $10 billion, Talkdesk founder CEO Tiago Paiva confirmed to TechCrunch.
New investors Whale Rock Capital Management, TI Platform Management and Alpha Square Group came on board for this round and were joined by existing investors Amity Ventures, Franklin Templeton, Top Tier Capital Partners, Viking Global Investors and Willoughby Capital.
Talkdesk uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve customer service for midmarket and enterprise businesses. It counts over 1,800 companies as customers, including IBM, Acxiom, Trivago and Fujitsu.
“The global pandemic was a big part of how customers interact and how we interacted with our customers, all working from home,” Paiva said. “When you think about ordering things online, call, chat and email interactions became more important, and contact centers became core in every company.”
San Francisco-based Talkdesk now has $498 million in total funding since its inception in 2011. It was a Startup Battlefield contestant at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2012. The new funding follows a $143 million Series C raised last July that gave it a $3 billion valuation. Prior to that, Talkdesk brought in $100 million in 2018.
The 2020 round was planned to buoy the company’s growth and expansion to nearly 2,000 employees, Paiva said. For the Series D, there was much interest from investors, including a lot of inbound interest, he said.
“We were not looking for new money, and finished last year with more money in the bank that we raised in the last round, but the investors were great and wanted to make it work,” Paiva said.
Half of Talkdesk’s staff is in product and engineering, an area he intends to double down in with the new funding as well as adding to the headcount to support customers. The company also has plans to expand in areas where it is already operating — Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
This year, the company unveiled new features, including Talkdesk Workspace, a customizable interface for contact center teams, and Talkdesk Builder, a set of tools for customization across workspaces, routing, reporting and integrations. It also launched contact center tools designed specifically for financial services and healthcare organizations and what it is touting as the “industry’s first human-in-the-loop tool for contact centers and continues to lower the barrier to adopting artificial intelligence solutions.”
In addition to the funding, Talkdesk appointed its first chief financial officer, Sydney Carey, giving the company an executive team of 50% women, Paiva said. Carey has a SaaS background and joins the company from Sumo Logic, where she led the organization through an initial public offering in 2020.
“We were hiring our executive team over the past couple of years, and were looking for a CFO, but with no specific timeline, just looking for the right person,” Paiva added. “Sydney was the person we wanted to hire.”
Though Paiva didn’t hint at any upcoming IPO plans, TI Platform Management co-founders Trang Nguyen and Alex Bangash have followed Paiva since he started the company and said they anticipate the company heading in that direction in the future.
“Talkdesk is an example of what can happen when a strong team is assembled behind a winning idea,” they said in a written statement. “Today, Talkdesk has become near ubiquitous as a SaaS product with adoption across a broad array of industries and integrations with the most popular enterprise cloud platforms, including Salesforce, Zendesk and Slack.”
Our Extra Crunch Live series continues with some heavy hitters in August, including Jen Nwankwo, founder and CEO at 1910 Genetics, and Playground Global general partner Jory Bell. They’ll be with us live on August 11 at 12 p.m. PT (3 p.m. ET) to tell us all about how Nwankwo and her startup won over Bell and Playground as an investor, and as we do every week on Extra Crunch Live, we’ll conduct a live pitch feedback session featuring you, the members of our audience.
Extra Crunch Live gives you the chance to hear live from entrepreneurs who have successfully raised significant rounds of venture capital — and from the investors who believed in them. We go into detail about how the deal got done, and you’ll hear from both about what it takes to pitch VCs and what industry-leading VCs look for in prospective portfolio companies.
We’re thrilled to have Nwankwo and Bell joining us for this episode. Nwankwo founded and leads 1910 Genetics, which takes advantage of AI to accelerate the discovery and development of new drug therapies across a wide range of disease and condition categories. She has a Ph.D. in pharmacology and experimental therapeutics from Tufts University School of Medicine and participated in drug discovery development that led to the creation of Type 2 diabetes drug Trulicity prior to her graduate school work.
Bell’s career includes designing and building autonomous robots for deep-sea exploration, as well as a six-year stint at Apple designing notebooks for the consumer technology leader. Bell’s venture investment work began at Playground Global in 2015; he focuses on deep tech investments, including in aerospace, genomics, synthetic biology, and AI-assisted drug discovery, as in the case of 1910 Genetics.
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It’s no secret that the technology for easy business-to-business payments has not yet caught up to its peer-to-peer counterparts, but Yaydoo thinks it has the answer.
The Mexico City-based B2B software and payments company provides three products, VendorPlace, P-Card and PorCobrar, for managing cash flow, optimizing access to smart liquidity, and connecting small, midsize and large businesses to an ecosystem of digital tools.
Sergio Almaguer, Guillermo Treviño and Roberto Flores founded Yaydoo — the name combines “yay” and “do” to show the happiness of doing something — in 2017. Today, the company announced the close of a $20.4 million Series A round co-led by Base10 Partners and monashees.
Joining them in the round were SoftBank’s Latin America Fund and Leap Global Partners. In total, Yaydoo has raised $21.5 million, Almaguer told TechCrunch.
Prior to starting the company, Almaguer was working at another company in Mexico doing point-of-sale. His large enterprise customers wanted automation for their payments, but he noticed that the same tools were too expensive for small businesses.
The co-founders started Yaydoo to provide procurement, accounts payable and accounts receivables, but in a simpler format so that the collection and payment of B2B transactions was affordable for small businesses.
Image Credits: Yaydoo
The idea is taking off, and vendors are adding their own customers so that they are all part of the network to better link invoices to purchase orders and then connect to accounts payable, Almaguer said. Yaydoo estimates that the automation workflows reduced 80% of time wasted paying vendors, on average.
Yaydoo is joining a sector of fintech that is heating up — the global B2B payments market is valued at $120 trillion annually. Last week, B2B payments platform Nium announced a $200 million in Series D funding on a $1 billion valuation. Others attracting funding recently include Paystand, which raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments.
The new funding will enable the company to attract new hires in Mexico and when the company expands into other Latin American countries. Yaydoo is also looking at future opportunities for its working capital business, like understanding how many invoices customers are setting, the access to actual payments, and how money flows out and in so that it can provide insights on working capital funding gaps. The company will also invest in product development.
The company has grown to over 800 customers, up from 200 in the first quarter of 2020. Its headcount also grew to 100 from 30 during the same time. In the last 12 months, over 70,000 companies have transacted on the Yaydoo network, and total payment volume grew to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Yaydoo is a SaaS subscription model, but the new funding will also enable the company to create a pool of potential customers with a “freemium” offering with the goal of converting those customers into the subscription model as they grow, Almaguer said.
Rexhi Dollaku, partner at Base10 Partners, said the firm saw the way B2B payments were becoming modernized and “was impressed” by the Yaydoo team and how it built a complicated infrastructure, but made it easy to use.
He believes Latin America is 10 years behind in terms of B2B payments but will catch up sooner than later because of the digital transformation going on in the region.
“We are starting to see early signs of the network being built out of the payments product, and that is a good indication,” Dollaku said. “With the funding, Yaydoo will be also able to provide more financial services options for businesses to address a working fund gap.”
Pet pharmacy Mixlab has developed a digital platform enabling veterinarians to prescribe medications and have them delivered — sometimes on the same day — to pet parents.
The New York-based company raised a $20 million Series A in a round of funding led by Sonoma Brands and including Global Founders Capital, Monogram Capital, Lakehouse Ventures and Brand Foundry. The new investment gives Mixlab total funding of $30 million, said Fred Dijols, co-founder and CEO of Mixlab.
Dijols and Stella Kim, chief experience officer, co-founded Mixlab in 2017 to provide a better pharmacy experience, with the veterinarian at the center.
Dijols’ background is in medical devices as well as healthcare investment banking, where he became interested in the pharmacy industry, following TruePill and PillPack, which he told TechCrunch were “creating a modern pharmacy model.”
As more pharmacy experiences revolved around at-home delivery, he found the veterinary side of pharmacy was not keeping up. He met Kim, a user experience expert, whose family owns a pharmacy, and wanted to bring technology into the industry.
“The pharmacy industry is changing a lot, and technology allows us to personalize the care and experience for the veterinarian, pet parent and the pet,” Kim said. “Customer service is important in healthcare as is dignity and empathy. We kept that in mind when starting Mixlab. Many companies use technology to remove the human element, but we use it to elevate it.”
Mixlab’s technology includes a digital service for veterinarians to streamline their daily medication workflow and gives them back time to spend with patient care. The platform manages the home delivery of medications across branded, generic and over-the-counter medications, as well as reduces a clinic’s on-site pharmacy inventories. Veterinarians can write prescriptions in seconds and track medication progress and therapy compliance.
The company also operates its own compound pharmacy where it specializes in making medications on-demand that are flavored and dosed.
On the pet parent side, they no longer have to wait up to a week for medications nor have to drive over to the clinic to pick them up. Medications come in a personalized care package that includes a note from the pharmacist, clear and easy-to-read instructions and a new toy.
Over the past year, adoptions of pets spiked as more people were at home, also leading to an increase in vet visits. This also caused the global pet care industry to boom, and it is now projected to reach $343 billion by 2030, when it had been valued at $208 billion in 2020.
Pet parents are also spending more on their pets, and a Morgan Stanley report showed that they see pets as part of their family, and as a result, 37% of people said they would take on debt to pay for a pet’s medical expenses, while 29% would put a pet’s needs before their own.
To meet the increased demand in veterinary care, the company will use the new funding to improve its technology and expand into more locations where it can provide same-day delivery. Currently it is shipping to 47 states and Dijols expects to be completely national by the end of the year. He also expects to hire more people on both the sales team and in executive leadership positions.
The company is already operating in New York and Los Angeles and growing 3x year over year, though Dijols admits operating during the pandemic was a bit challenging due to “a massive surge of orders” that came in as veterinarians had to shut down their offices.
As part of the investment, Keith Levy, operating partner at Sonoma Brands and former president of pet food manufacturer Royal Canin USA, will join Mixlab’s board of directors. Sonoma Brands is focused on growth sectors of the consumer economy, and pets was one of the areas that investors were interested in.
Over time, Sonoma found that within the veterinary community, there was space for a lot of players. However, veterinarians want to home in on one company they trust, and Mixlab fit that description for many because they were getting medication out faster, Levy said.
“What Mixlab is doing isn’t completely unique, but they are doing it better,” he added. “When we looked at their customer service metrics, we saw they had a good reputation and were relentlessly focused on providing a better experience.”
Indian online insurance aggregator PolicyBazaar has filed for an initial public offering in which it is seeking to raise $809 million, becoming the fourth startup in the past two months from the South Asian market to explore public markets.
In papers submitted to the market regulator in India, PolicyBazaar said it is looking to raise $504 million by issuing new shares while the rest will be driven by sale of shares by existing investors. Local media reports said the startup is looking to raise at a valuation of up to $6 billion.
The 12-year-old startup — backed by SoftBank, Falcon Edge Capital, Tiger Global, and InfoEdge — said it may consider raising about $100 million in a pre-IPO round.
PolicyBazaar serves as an aggregator that allows users to compare and buy policies — across categories including life, health, travel, auto and property — from dozens of insurers on its website without having to go through conventional agents. It operates in India as well as the Middle East.
In India only a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance and some analysts say that digital firms could prove crucial in bringing these services to the masses. According to rating agency ICRA, insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017.
An average Indian makes about $2,100 in a year, according to World Bank. ICRA estimated that of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product, they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017.
In a report early this year, analysts at Bernstein estimated that PolicyBazaar commands 90% of share in the online insurance distribution market. The platform, which competes with Acko as well as Amazon in India, also sells loans, credit cards and mutual funds. The startup says it sells over a million policies a month.
“India has an under-penetrated insurance market. Within the under-penetrated landscape, digital distribution through web-aggregators like Policybazaar forms <1% of the industry. This offers a large headroom for growth,” Bernstein analysts wrote to clients.
Zomato, which had a stellar public debut last month, as well as fintech firms Paytm and MobiKwik have filed for their initial public offerings in recent weeks.