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Flywire’s flotation suggests the IPO slowdown is behind us

By Alex Wilhelm

Boston-based payment processor Flywire announced its IPO pricing last night. The company sold 10.44 million shares at $24 per share, the upper limit of its $22 to $24 per share price range. At that share count and price, Flywire’s gross IPO proceeds stood at $250.6 million.

Renaissance Capital pegs the company’s fully diluted valuation at $2.8 billion. Using a simple share count, the company is worth $2.40 billion at its IPO price.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. 

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


The Flywire IPO is neat from a financial perspective and notable in that it’s a Boston exit as opposed to yet another New York or San Francisco-based flotation. It’s nice to see some other cities put points on the board.

But more than that, this IPO is a useful measuring stick for keeping tabs on the IPO market as a whole. This year and the last are shaping up to be key exit periods for startups and unicorns of all shapes and sizes; many a venture capital fund return rests on these public debuts.

WalkMe is going public: Let’s stroll through its numbers

By Alex Wilhelm

Hot off the heels of our look into Marqeta’s IPO filing and dives into SPACs for Bright Machines and Bird, we’re parsing the WalkMe IPO filing. Later this week, Squarespace will direct list and we’ll see IPOs from Oatly and Procore. It’s a super busy time for public debuts of all sorts.

Given how hectic the IPO market is, we’re going to skip our usual throat clearing and dig into WalkMe’s IPO document. As always, we’ll start with a brief overview of its product and then move into discussing its financial performance.

Image Credits: Alex Wilhelm

WalkMe is the second Israel-based technology company to file to go public this week: No-code startup Monday.com is also pursuing an American IPO.

Alright! Into the breach.

What does WalkMe do?

WalkMe’s software provides visual overlays on websites that help users navigate the product in question. I base that explanation on my time at Crunchbase, which was a customer during at least part of my time there. WalkMe is popular with marketing teams who want to introduce users to a new or refreshed experience.

Per the company’s F-1 filing, other elements of its service that matter include its onboarding system and what WalkMe calls Workstation, or its “single interface to the applications within an enterprise and simplifies task completion through a natural language conversational interface and automation.” We’re including that last feature because it says “automation,” which, in the wake of the UiPath IPO, is a word worth watching. Investors are.

At a high level, WalkMe is a SaaS business, which means that when we digest its results we are digging into a modern software company. Let’s do just that.

WalkMe’s numbers

From 2019 to 2020, WalkMe grew its revenues from $105.1 million to $148.3 million, a gain of 41%. In its most recent quarter, the company’s growth rate slowed: From Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, WalkMe’s top line grew 25% from $34.2 million to $42.7 million.

In SaaS terms, WalkMe calculates that its annual recurring revenue, or ARR, grew from $131.2 million at the end of 2019 to $164.3 million in 2020. In more granular terms, the company’s ARR grew from $137.8 million to $177.5 million in the first quarters of 2020, and 2021, respectively.

Will fintech unicorn Flywire’s proposed IPO reach escape velocity?

By Alex Wilhelm

It’s a big morning for fintech startups today: Flywire, a Boston-based magnet for venture capital, has filed to go public.

Flywire is a global payments company that attracted more than $300 million as a startup, according to Crunchbase, most recently raising a $60 million Series F last month. We don’t have its most recent valuation, but PitchBook data indicates that the company’s February 2020, $120 million round valued Flywire at $1 billion on a post-money basis.

So what we’re looking at here is a fintech unicorn IPO. A great way to kick off the week, to be honest, though I’d thought that Robinhood would be the next such debut.

Fintech venture capital activity has been hot lately, which makes the Flywire IPO interesting. Its success or failure could dictate the pace of fintech exits and fintech startup valuations in general, so we have to care about it.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Regardless, we’re doing our regular work this morning. First, what does Flywire do and with whom does it compete? Then, a closer look at its financial results as we hope to get our hands around its revenue quality, aggregate economics and growth prospects.

After that, we’ll discuss valuations and which venture capital groups are set to do well in its flotation. The company had a number of backers, but Spark Capital, Temasek, F-Prime Capital, and Bain Capital Ventures made the major shareholder list, along with Goldman Sachs. So, a number of firms and funds are hoping for a big Flywire exit. Let’s dig in.

What is Flywire?

Flywire is a global payments company. Or, as it states in its S-1 filing, it’s “a leading global payments enablement and software company.” And it thinks that its market, and by extension itself, has lots of room to grow. While “substantial strides [have been] made in payments technology in the retail and e-commerce industries,” the company wrote, “massive sectors of our global economy—including education, healthcare, travel, and business-to-business, or B2B, payments—are still in the early stages of digital transformation.”

That’s the same logic behind Stripe’s epic valuation and the rising value of payments-focused companies like Finix.

The era of the European insurtech IPO will soon be upon us

By Ram Iyer
Phil Edmondson-Jones Contributor
Phil Edmondson-Jones is a principal at Oxx, the specialist SaaS VC backing Europe and Israel's most promising B2B SaaS businesses at the scale-up stage.

Once the uncool sibling of a flourishing fintech sector, insurtech is now one of the hottest areas of a buoyant venture market. Zego’s $150 million round at unicorn valuation in March, a rumored giant incoming round for WeFox, and a slew of IPOs and SPACs in the U.S. are all testament to this.

It’s not difficult to see why. The insurance market is enormous, but the sector has suffered from notoriously poor customer experience and major incumbents have been slow to adapt. Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology. And the pandemic has cast the spotlight on high-potential categories, including health, mobility and cybersecurity.

Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology.

This has begun to brew a perfect storm of conditions for big European insurtech exits. Here are four trends to look out for as the industry powers toward several European IPOs and a red-hot M&A market in the next few years.

Full-stack insurtech continues to conquer

Several early insurtech success stories started life as managing general agents (MGAs). Unlike brokers, MGAs manage claims and underwriting, but unlike a traditional insurer, pass risk off their balance sheet to third-party insurers or reinsurers. MGAs have provided a great way for new brands to acquire customers and underwrite policies without actually needing a fully fledged balance sheet. But it’s a business model with thin margins, so MGAs increasingly are trying to internalize risk exposure by verticalizing into a “full-stack” insurer in the hope of improving their unit economics.

This structure has been prevalent in the U.S., with some of the bigger recent U.S. insurtech IPO successes (Lemonade and Root), SPACs (Clover and MetroMile), and more upcoming listings (Hippo and Next) pointing to the prizes available to those who can successfully execute this expensive growth strategy.

Two investors weigh in: Is your SPAC just a PIPE dream?

By Ram Iyer
Hope Cochran Contributor
Hope Cochran is an investor at Madrona Venture Group, where she invests in early stage Fintech and ML/AI Applications for the business environment.
Ishani Ummat Contributor
Ishani Ummat is an investor at Madrona Venture Group who focuses on sourcing and evaluating new investment opportunities, as well as supporting the growth and strategy of current portfolio companies.

This past year has brought many new developments to a historically traditional process: taking a company public. Many of the standard levers in an initial public offering (IPO) are being redefined as we write.

The emergence of direct listings is just one example. Even in more traditional IPOs, we have seen unique lock-up provisions, different auction approaches, virtual and rapid roadshows become the norm, and company-centric approaches to investor allocations.

But clearly the most disruptive trend of the past 12 months has been the predominance of the Special Purpose Acquisition Company, commonly known as SPAC. A SPAC is a company with no commercial operations that is formed strictly to raise capital through an IPO for the purpose of acquiring an existing, private company.

Also known as “blank check companies,” these entities typically have 24 months to find a company to buy or merge with.

That process essentially makes the acquired company a publicly traded one. SPACs can, and generally do, raise additional capital in the form of a PIPE (Private Investment in Public Equity) in order to reaffirm the SPAC valuation and raise additional capital with the identified target company.

SPACs have been around for decades, but they took the 2020 IPO market by storm. For some context: 2020 had more than 248 SPACs — more than the sum of the SPACs in the previous decade. And while SPACs and the general sentiment around them continue to evolve, 2021 started off strong with 298 newly formed blank-check companies to date that have raised a collective $95 billion (vs. $83 billion in 2020). It’s worth noting that there has since been some slow down in new SPAC formation and an uptick in regulatory caution. We expect such shifts to continue in these early days.

For a SPAC, finding a company to merge with in 24 months might sound like a good amount of time, but in reality, the diligence and SEC process can easily consume six months or more. So identifying the target company relatively quickly becomes critical. As a result of this new trend, many private companies are being approached and courted by a number of newly formed SPACs.

SPAC gross proceeds & count

Image Credits: Madrona Venture Capital

At Madrona, we invest in companies early in their journey (often Day One), and walk with them through the years of opportunities, challenges and financing goals. As such, for many of our companies, the conversation around raising capital via a SPAC transaction has come up, and more than once.

How to evaluate the pros and cons of SPACs relative to other financing options can be convoluted and confusing, to say the least.

Are you ready to be a public company?

The fundamental thing to remember about the SPAC process is that the result is a publicly traded company open to the regulatory environment of the SEC and the scrutiny of public shareholders.

Semiconductor specialist Alphawave IP plans $4.5B London IPO and move to UK HQ

By Mike Butcher

Alphawave IP is a global semiconductor IP company that focuses on the way semiconductors communicate — something which is going to be crucial as 5G data networks roll out and start to power everything from homes, industry and autonomous vehicles, for instance.

It’s therefore interesting to note that the Toronto-born company is planning a London public listing, with a valuation of $4.5 billion, and has raised $510 million in backing from Blackrock and Janus Henderson. The company will also move its HQ to the UK as part of the listing.

The move is being welcomed by City-watchers concerned with UK tech stock listings, after the collapse of Deliveroo’s valuation post-IPO.

Chief executive Tony Pialis said: “We have chosen to come to the UK to grow our business because the UK has an incredible technology and semiconductor industry ecosystem around it. There is a deep pool of knowledge, experience, and talent here… We are specialists in connectivity. Our founding team have worked together for over 20 years and have a long history of both semiconductor innovation and in creating significant value for investors.”

The proposed listing comes in the context of another UK-based deep-tech company, the proposed sale of computer chip designer Arm Holdings to a US company, which has been delayed subject to an investigation about the implications for UK national security grounds.

PicPay, the Brazilian mobile payments platform, files for an IPO on Nasdaq

By Marcella McCarthy

Brazilian mobile payments app PicPay filed an F-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for an IPO valued at up to $100 million on Wednesday. The company plans to list on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol PICS.

PicPay operates largely as a financial services platform that includes a credit card; a digital wallet similar to that of Apple Pay; a Venmo-style P2P payments element; e-commerce, and social networking features.

“We want to transform the way people and companies interact, make transactions, and communicate in an intelligent, connected, and simple experience,” said José Antonio Batista, CEO of PicPay, in a statement.

While the company is based in Sao Paulo now and operates across Brazil, PicPay originally launched in Vitoria in 2012, a coastal city north of Rio. In 2015 the company was acquired by the group J&F Investimentos SA, a holding company owned by Brazilian billionaire brothers Wesley and Joesley Batista, which also own the gigantic meatpacker JBS SA.

According to the company’s registration statement, J&F was involved in the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history known as The Car Wash, and in 2017 entered into a plea deal with the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor. In December 2020 the company agreed to pay a fine of $1.5 billion and contribute an extra $442.6 million to social projects in Brazil. That being said, J&F continues to be a powerful conglomerate in the country, positioning itself as a strong backer for PicPay.

2020 was an explosive year for PicPay as the company saw its active userbase grow from 28.4 million to 36 million as of March 2021. According to the company’s 2020 financial report, which PicPay shared with TechCrunch, the company’s revenues also grew drastically from $15.5 million in 2019, to $71 million in 2020. The company is not yet profitable, however, and PicPay shelled out $146 million in 2020 to fuel its growth.

“We believe that the growth of our base and user engagement in our ecosystem demonstrates the scalability of our business model and reveals a great opportunity to generate more value for these customers,” Batista added.

Fintech is one of the most popular sectors in Brazil today, because there’s a lot of room for improvement in the region. The country has traditionally been controlled by four major banks, which have been slow to adapt to technology and also charge very high fees.

PicPay’s IPO is being led by Banco Bradesco BBI, Banco BTG Pactual, Santander Investment Securities Inc., and Barclays Capital Inc. 

*The Brazilian Real was valued at 5.50 to $1 USD on the date of publication.

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

By Alex Wilhelm

After an upward revision, UiPath priced its IPO last night at $56 per share, a few dollars above its raised target range. The above-range price meant that the unicorn put more capital into its books through its public offering.

For a company in a market as competitive as robotic process automation (RPA), the funds are welcome. In fact, RPA has been top of mind for startups and established companies alike over the last year or so. In that time frame, enterprise stalwarts like SAP, Microsoft, IBM and ServiceNow have been buying smaller RPA startups and building their own, all in an effort to muscle into an increasingly lucrative market.

In June 2019, Gartner reported that RPA was the fastest-growing area in enterprise software, and while the growth has slowed down since, the sector is still attracting attention. UIPath, which Gartner found was the market leader, has been riding that wave, and today’s capital influx should help the company maintain its market position.

It’s worth noting that when the company had its last private funding round in February, it brought home $750 million at an impressive valuation of $35 billion. But as TechCrunch noted over the course of its pivot to the public markets, that round valued the company above its final IPO price. As a result, this week’s $56-per-share public offer wound up being something of a modest down-round IPO to UiPath’s final private valuation.

Then, a broader set of public traders got hold of its stock and bid its shares higher. The former unicorn’s shares closed their first day’s trading at precisely $69, above the per-share price at which the company closed its final private round.

So despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares sold at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed today worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully-diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

While it’s hard to know what the company might do with the proceeds, chances are it will continue to try to expand its platform beyond pure RPA, which could become market-limited over time as companies look at other, more modern approaches to automation. By adding additional automation capabilities — organically or via acquisitions — the company can begin covering broader parts of its market.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta today, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings, and the IPO market’s current temperature. The final question was on our minds, as some companies have pulled their public listings in the wake of a market described as “challenging”.

Why did UiPath not direct list after its huge February raise?

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages

By Alex Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you need a SPAC therapist?

By Natasha Mascarenhas

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

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

Ready? Here’s the rundown:

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

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

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

Nonobvious acquisitions are on my 2021 bingo board

By Natasha Mascarenhas

At the end of 2020, I argued that edtech needs to think bigger in order to stay relevant after the pandemic. I urged founders to think less about how to bundle and unbundle lecture experience, and more about how to replace outdated systems and methods with new, tech-powered solutions. In other words, don’t simply put engaging content on a screen, but innovate on what that screen looks like, tracks and offers.

A few months into 2021, the exit environment in edtech…feels like it’s doing exactly that. The same startups that hit billion and multi-billion valuations during the pandemic are scooping up new talent to broaden their service offerings.

Ruben Harris, the founder of Career Karma, a platform that matches aspiring coding professionals to bootcamps, put together a massive report recently with his team to talk about the pandemic’s impact on the bootcamp market.

James Gallagher, the author of the report, tells me:

It is important to note that the full potential of bootcamps has not yet been realised. We are now seeing more exploration of niches like technology sales which provide gateways into new careers in tech for people who otherwise may not have been able to acquire training. To scale such models, new businesses will need venture capital.

He went on to explain how a notable acquisition from 2020 was K12 scooping up Galvanize, “which would give K12 exposure into corporate training and the coding bootcamp space, a market outside of K12’s focus at the moment.”

To me this report signal two things: the financial interest in boot camps isn’t simply stemming from other bootcamps (although that is happening), but it’s surprising partnerships. Leaving this subsector, we see creative acquisitions such as a Roblox for edtech buying a language learning tool, and a startup known for flashcards scooping up a tech tutoring service.

Readers should know by this point that I love a nonobvious acquisition (except when this almost happened), so if you have any more tips on coming deals in edtech, please Signal me or direct message me on Twitter.

I’ll end with this: Successful startup founders are innately ambitious, finding opportunity in moonshots and convincing others that the odds are in their favor. However, the ceiling for what defines ambition heightens almost everyday. What used to be a win is now a nonnegotiable, and a feat is only a feat until your competitor hits the exact same milestone.

Acquisitions are one way to scoop up competition and synergistic talent, but it’s what happens next that matters the most.

In the rest of this newsletter, we will talk about Clubhouse competitors, how a homegrown experiment became one of the fastest growing companies in fitness tech and a cool-down in public markets (?!). As always, you can get this newsletter in your inbox each Saturday morning, so subscribe here to join the cool kids.

Clubhouse might create billions in value, but could capture none of it

Remember when everyone was buzzing around about building Stories? That’s so pre-pandemic. A number of companies recently announced plans to build their own versions of Clubhouse, after the buzzy app unearthed the consumer love for audio.

Here’s what to know: It might be easier to start guessing who isn’t building a Clubhouse clone at this point. Our predictions are already starting, but jokes aside, the rise in clones could mean that Clubhouse might have to make a run for its pre-monetized money (cough, cough, Twitter spaces). It doesn’t matter if a startup is first in unlocking a key insight, all that matters is who executes that key insight the best.

Image Credits: Getty Images

A strong unicorn, literally

Tonal, a fitness tech startup, became a unicorn this week after raising a new tranche of capital.

Here’s what to know: The new status underscores market growth for at-home fitness solutions. And while we don’t have a Tonal S-1 yet, we do have a Tonal EC-1. EC-1’s are TechCrunch’s riff on an S-1, and are essentially a deep dive into a company.

Reporter JP Mangalindan wrote thousands and thousands of words about Tonal, from its origin story to business model, its focus on communities and its biggest hurdles ahead.

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Initial public o….no

You’ve probably had a better week than Compass, Deliveroo and Kaltura. The three companies all had different events that illustrate a potential damper on the part that has been the public markets.

Here’s what to know: Compass cut its shares and lowered pricing of said shares, Deliveroo had a rough debut as a delivery company on the public markets, and Kaltura postponed its IPO after valuation demand didn’t hit expectations.

In other news, though:

Photo Taken In Arizona, United States. Image Credits: Jure Batagelj / 500px / Getty Images

Around TechCrunch

Thanks to everyone who tuned in to TechCrunch Early Stage! If you enjoyed the event (or missed it), don’t worry: Disrupt is almost here.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

How startups can go passwordless, thanks to zero trust

Tips for founders thinking about doing a remote accelerator

US iPhone users spent an average of $138 on apps in 2020, will grow to $180 in 2021

Niantic CEO shares teaser image of AR glasses device

The Weeknd will sell an unreleased song and visual art via NFT auction

Seen on Extra Crunch

Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace

5 mistakes creators make building new games on Roblox

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

How our SaaS startup improved net revenue retention by more than 30 points in two quarters

Compass CEO hails IPO as a fundraising event amid ‘challenging’ market

By Alex Wilhelm

While several tech companies are opting to delay their IPOs in the face of less-than-enthusiastic market demand for their shares, real estate tech company Compass forged ahead and went public today. After pricing its shares at $18 apiece last night, the low end of a lowered IPO price range, Compass shares closed the day up just under 12% at $20.15 apiece.

TechCrunch caught up with Compass CEO and founder Robert Reffkin to chat about his company’s debut in the market’s suddenly choppy waters for tech and tech-enabled debuts.

Regarding whether Compass is a tech company or a real estate brokerage, Reffkin — who raised the comparison himself — used the opportunity to note that companies like Amazon or Tesla aren’t only one thing. Amazon is a logistics company, an e-commerce company, a cloud-computing business and a media concern all at the same time. Price that.

The argument was good enough for Compass to sell 25 million shares — a lowered amount — at its IPO price for a gross worth $450 million. That, the CEO said, was his company’s goal for its public offering.

Sparing TechCrunch the usual CEO line about an IPO not being a destination but merely one stop on a longer journey at that juncture, Reffkin instead argued that putting nine figures of capital into his company was his objective, not a particular price or resulting valuation.

That might sound simple, but as Kaltura and Intermedia Cloud Communications have pushed their IPOs back, it’s a bit gutsy. Still, if financing was the key objective, Compass did succeed in its debut. And it was even rewarded with a neat little bump in value during its first day’s trading.

Reffkin did confirm to TechCrunch what we’ve been reporting lately, namely that the IPO market has changed for the worse in recent weeks. He described it as “challenging.”

So why go public now when there is so much capital available for private companies?

Reffkin cited a few numbers, but centered his view around having what he construes as the “right team” and the “right results.” We’ll get a bit more on the latter when Compass reports its first set of public earnings.

For now, it’s a company that braved stormier seas than we might have expected to see so soon after a blistering first few months of the year for IPOs.

And because I would also bring her along if I ever took a company public, here’s the company’s founder and CEO with his mother:

Via the company.

 

As Compass downsizes its IPO, signs of weakness appear for high-growth companies

By Alex Wilhelm

On the same day that Deliveroo’s IPO fizzled at the start of trading, Compass announced via a fresh S-1 filing that it will reduce the number of shares in its impending flotation and sell them at a lower price.

The move by Compass, a venture-backed residential brokerage, to lower its implied public-market valuation and sell fewer shares is a rebuke of the company’s earlier optimism regarding its valuation and ability to raise capital. The company’s IPO is still slated to generate as much as a half-billion dollars, so it can hardly be called a failure if it executes at its rejiggered price range, but the cuts matter.

Especially when we consider several other factors. The Deliveroo IPO, as discussed this morning, was impacted by more than mere economics. And there are questions regarding how interested seemingly more-conservative countries’ stock exchanges will prove in growth-oriented, unprofitable companies.

But added to the mix are recent declines in the valuation of public software companies, effectively repricing the value of high-margin, recurring revenue. The reasons behind that particular change are several, but may include a rotation by public investors into other asset categories, or an air-letting from a sector that may have enjoyed some valuation inflation in the last year.

In that vein, SMB cloud provider DigitalOcean’s own post-IPO declines from its offering price are a bit more understandable, as is a lack of a higher price interval from Kaltura, a video-focused software company, as it looks to list.

Taken together, the various market signs could point to a modest-to-moderate cooling in the tech IPO market. For a host of companies looking to debut via a SPAC, that could prove to be bad news.

Coursera prices IPO at top end of its range in boon to edtech valuations

By Alex Wilhelm

Coursera, an edtech unicorn, will begin its life today as a public company after pricing its IPO at $33 per share yesterday evening. Using a simple share count, the company’s valuation comes to $4.30 billion, or $4.38 billion if its underwriters exercise their option to purchase shares at its offering price.

A more diluted share count pushes the valuation of Coursera over the $5 billion mark.

Coursera was last valued at $2.57 billion after raising $130 million in mid-2020, per PitchBook data. The company’s simple valuation is around a 67% gain on that final private figure; that gain rises to just over 70% if its underwriters purchase their available shares.

Using a diluted valuation, Coursera has roughly doubled its final private price. In under a year. For edtech investors looking to Coursera to help determine public market sentiment regarding the exit-value of their investments, TechCrunch reckons it’s a pretty good day.

The amount of private capital at play in edtech startups is staggering; billions and billions of potential returns could get a further shot in the arm if Coursera trades well this morning. And the very same billions of invested capital could lose the smile that Coursera’s seemingly-strong IPO pricing brought them.

There are other edtech debuts in the wings. TechCrunch has covered Nerdy’s plans to go public, via a SPAC, for example.

Private investors, who put well north of $10 billion into edtech companies globally in 2020, are modestly bullish on edtech exit volume this year. In a prior TechCrunch venture capitalist survey, GSV managing partner Deborah Quazzo said the following:

Exit volume is rising already with a wide range of strategic and financial buyers of edtech companies — something that didn’t exist before. You will see numerous high-value exits in the first half of 2021. It’s the public market “exits” that have really lagged and that I hope turns around in 2021 and 2022. There are numerous global companies that could go public and the addition of SPAC IPOs creates another positive dynamic.

The Coursera IPO pricing at least, meets the mark for a high-value exit. Which could lead where? Extending Quazzo’s thinking a single step, perhaps a strong Coursera first-day trading session will bolster SPAC interest in taking more edtech startups and unicorns public.

Such a move could lock-in valuations for a number of currently illiquid edtech startups, and perhaps begin to return chunks of invested capital in the historically out-of-fashion technology sector.

Adding to that sentiment is Owl Ventures’ managing director Ian Chiu, who told TechCrunch in the same survey that “the pipeline for potential IPO candidates coming from the edtech sector continues to grow larger.” Let’s hope — parsing the Coursera S-1 filing was good fun and we’d like another at-bat with an edtech IPO document.

More when Coursera trades.

Sequoia Capital India on its early investment in Appier, the fund’s latest exit

By Catherine Shu

Chih-Han Yu, chief executive officer and co-founder of Appier Group Inc., right, holds a hammer next to a bell during an event marking the listing of the company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at the company's office in Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Chih-Han Yu, chief executive officer and co-founder of Appier Group Inc., right, holds a hammer next to a bell during an event marking the listing of the company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at the company’s office in Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Appier’s initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange yesterday was a milestone not only for the company, but also Sequoia Capital India, one of its earliest investors. Founded in Taiwan, Appier was the fund’s first investment outside of India, and is now also the first company in its portfolio outside of India to go public. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sequoia Capital managing director Abheek Anand talked about what drew the firm to Appier, which develops AI-based marketing software.

Before shifting its focus to marketing, Appier’s founders—chief executive officer Chih-Han Yu, chief operating officer Winnie Lee and chief technology officer Joe Su—worked on a startup called Plaxie to develop AI-powered gaming engines. Yu and Su came up with the idea when they were both graduate students at Harvard, but found there was little demand at the time. Anand met them in 2013, soon after their pivot to big data and marketing, and Sequoia Capital India invested in Appier’s Series A a few months later.

“It’s easy to say in retrospect what worked and what didn’t work. What really stands out without trying to write revisionist history is that this was just an incredibly smart team,” said Anand. “They had probably the most technical core DNA of any Series A company that we’ve met in years, I would argue.” Yu holds a PhD in computer science from Harvard, Wu earned a PhD in immunology at Washington University in St. Louis and Su has a M.S. in computer science from Harvard. The company also filled its team with AI and machine learning researchers from top universities in Taiwan and the United States.

At the time, Sequoia Capital “had a broad thesis that there would be adoption of AI in enterprises,” Anand said. “What we believed was there were a bunch of people going after that problem, but they were trying to solve business problems without necessarily having the technical depth to do it.” Appier stood out because they “were swinging at it from the other end, where they had an enormous amount of technical expertise.”

Since Appier’s launch in 2012, more companies have emerged that use machine learning and big data to help companies automate marketing decisions and create online campaigns. Anand said one of the reasons Appier, which now operates in 14 markets across the Asia-Pacific region, remains competitive is its strategy of cross-selling new products and focusing on specific use cases instead of building a general purpose platform.

Appier’s core product is a cross-platform advertising engine called CrossX that focuses on user acquisition. Then it has products that address other parts of their customers’ value chain: AiDeal to help companies send coupons to the customers who are most likely to use them; user engagement platform AIQUA; and AIXON, a data science platform that uses AI models to predict customer actions, including the likelihood of repeat purchases.

“I think the number one thing that the company has spent a lot of time on is focusing on efficiency,” said Anand. “Customers have tons of data, both external and first-party, that they’re processing to drive business outcomes. It’s a very hard technical problem. Appier starts with a solution that is relatively easy to break into a customer, and then builds deeper and deeper solutions for those customers.”

Appier’s listing is also noteworthy because it marks the first time a company from Taiwan has listed in Japan since Trend Micro’s IPO in 1998. Japan is one of Appier’s biggest markets (customers there include Rakuten, Toyota and Shiseido), making the Tokyo Stock Exchange a natural fit, Anand said, even though most of Sequoia Capital India’s portfolio companies list in India or the United States.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange also stood out because of its retail investor participation, liquidity and total volume. Some of Appier’s other core investors, including JAFCO Asia and SoftBank Group Corp., are also based in Japan. But though it has almost $30 billion in average trading volume, the vast majority of listings are domestic companies. In a recent report, Nikkei Asia cited a higher corporate tax rate and lack of potential underwriters, especially for smaller listings, as a potential obstacles for foreign companies.

But Appier’s debut may lead the way for other Asian startups to chose the Tokyo Stock Exchange, said Anand. “Getting ready for the Japanese exchange meant having the right accounting practices, the right reporting, a whole bunch of compliance stuff. It was a long process. In some ways we were leading the charge for external companies to get there, and I’m sure over time it will keep getting easier and easier.”

Robinhood files confidentially to go public

By Alex Wilhelm

Today Bloomberg reported, and Axios confirmed that Robinhood has filed privately to go public. The well-financed Robinhood is an American fintech company that provides zero-cost trading services to consumers.

Private IPO filings have become common in recent quarters, making Robinhood’s decision to file behind closed doors before showing its numbers to the public unsurprising. That it has filed privately, however, implies that the company is closer to a public debut than we might have anticipated.

Robinhood has long been expected to have a 2021 IPO in its plans. The company has not yet responded to an inquiry from TechCrunch regarding the news of its private IPO filing.

There are several reasons why Robinhood may be interested in a near-term public debut, despite running into controversies in recent quarters. No amount of time in front of Congress, bad PR from a user’s suicide, or settlements with the SEC can change the fact that today’s stock market favors growth, something that the company has in spades. Or that recent IPOs have been rapturously received by public investors as a cohort; it’s a warm time to pursue public-market liquidity.

The company’s revenue expanded greatly in 2020, something that TechCrunch has covered through the lens of Robinhood’s payment for order flow, or PFOF income. The company told Congress that the particular revenue source was the majority of its top line, meaning that PFOF growth is a reasonable comp for the company’s aggregate growth. And as TechCrunch has reported, those numbers rose sharply in 2020, from around ~$91 million in Q1 2020, to ~$178 million in Q2 2020, and ~$183 million and ~$221 million in the third and fourth quarter of last year.

Robinhood also makes money from consumer subscriptions, and other sources.

The fact that Robinhood has filed privately implies that it will go public sometimes soon, though perhaps not quickly enough to get around providing Q1 2021 numbers. More when we get our hands on the filing.

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple files to go public

By Kirsten Korosec

TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that is backed by a diverse consortium of strategic investors, including Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck business The Traton Group, Navistar, Goodyear, and freight company U.S. Xpress, filed Tuesday for an initial public offering.

TuSimple is taking the traditional path to going public, a departure from the recent trend — particularly among electric and autonomous vehicle startups — to merge with a blank check company.

The number of shares to be offered and the price range for the proposed offering have not yet been determined, according to the regulatory filing. TuSimple intends to list its common stock on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol “TSP.” Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and J.P. Morgan will act as lead book-running managers for the proposed offering.

According to the company’s S-1, which was filed Tuesday, TuSimple has primarily financed its operations through the sale of redeemable convertible preferred stock and loans from stockholders. The company’s principal sources of liquidity were $310.8 million of cash and cash equivalents, exclusive of restricted cash of $1.5 million.  Cash and cash equivalents consist primarily of cash on deposit with banks as well as certificates of deposit.

TuSimple, which was founded in 2015,  was one of the first autonomous trucking startups to emerge in what has become a small, yet bustling industry that now includes Aurora, Embark, Kodiak and Waymo. While TuSimple’s founding team and its earliest backers Sina and Composite Capital are from China, a chunk of its operations are in the United States, including its global headquarters in San Diego. TuSimple also operates an engineering center and truck depot in Tucson and more recently set up a facility in Texas to support its autonomous trips —always with a human safety operator behind the wheel. TuSimple also has operations in Beijing and Shanghai.

This story is developing and will be updated. 

Top tech CEOs will testify about social media’s role in the Capitol attack this week

By Taylor Hatmaker

Social media executives will be answering to Congress directly for their role in January’s deadly attacks on the U.S. Capitol this week. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Sundar Pichai will all appear virtually before a joint House committee Thursday at 12 p.m. Eastern Time.

The hearing, held by the House’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, will focus on social media’s role in spreading disinformation, extremism and misinformation. The Energy and Commerce Committee previously held a parallel hearing reckoning with traditional media’s role in promoting those same social ills.

Earlier this month, Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., joined by more than 20 other Democrats, sent a letter to Zuckerberg pressing the Facebook CEO for answers about why tactical gear ads showed up next to posts promoting the Capitol riot. “Targeting ads in this way is dangerous and has the potential to encourage acts of violence,” the letter’s authors wrote. In late January, Facebook said that it would pause ads showing weapon accessories and related equipment.

While the subcommittee has signaled its interest in Facebook’s ad practices, organic content on the site has historically presented a much bigger problem. In the uncertain period following the election last year, the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement swelled to massive proportions on social media, particularly in Facebook groups. The company took incremental measures at the time, but that same movement, born of political misinformation, is what propelled the Capitol rioters to disrupt vote counting and enact deadly violence on January 6.

The hearing is likely to go deep on extremists organizing through Facebook groups too. Chairs from both subcommittees that will question the tech CEOs this week previously questioned Facebook about reports that the company was well aware that its algorithmic group recommendations were funneling users toward extremism. In spite of warnings from experts, Facebook continued to allow armed anti-government militias to openly organize on the platform until late 2020. And in spite of bans, some continued to do so.

The Justice Department is reportedly considering charging members of the Oath Keepers, one prominent armed U.S. militia group involved in the Capitol attack, with sedition.

Facebook plays a huge role in distributing extremist content and ferrying it to the mainstream, but it isn’t alone. Misinformation that undermines the integrity of the U.S. election results is generally just as easy to find on YouTube and Twitter, though those social networks aren’t designed to connect and mobilize people in the same way that Facebook groups do.

Facebook began to course-correct its own rules around extremism, slowly through 2020 and then quickly this January when the company removed former President Trump from the platform. Facebook’s external policy oversight board continues to review that decision and could reverse it in the coming weeks.

Over the course of the last year, Twitter made an effort to demystify some of its own policy decisions, transparently communicating changes and introducing ideas it was considering. Under Dorsey’s guidance the company treated its platform rules like a living document — one it’s begun to tinker around with in an effort to shape user behavior for the better.

If Twitter’s recent policy decision making is akin to thinking out loud, YouTube took the opposite approach. The company wasn’t as proactive in shoring up its defenses ahead of the 2020 elections and rarely responded in real-time to events. YouTube waited a full month after Biden’s victory to articulate rules that would rid the platform of disinformation declaring that the election was stolen from Trump.

Hopefully the joint hearing can dig a bit more into why that was, but we’re not counting on it. The subcommittees’ decision to bring Google CEO Sundar Pichai to testify is a bit strange considering that YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki — who has yet to be called to Congress for one of these high profile tech hearings — would make the better witness. Pichai is ultimately accountable for what YouTube does too, but in past hearings he’s proven a very polished witness who’s deft at neutralizing big picture criticism with technical detail.

Ultimately Wojcicki would have more insight into YouTube’s misinformation and extremism policies and the reason the platform has dragged its feet on matters of hate and misinformation, enforcing its own policies unevenly when it chooses to do so at all.

Coursera set to roughly double its private valuation in impending IPO

By Natasha Mascarenhas

In a new S-1/A filing, Coursera set an initial IPO price range between $30 and $33 a share, signaling the market views its edtech business warmly ahead of its impending public offering.

Coursera will have 130,271,466 shares outstanding after its IPO, or 132,630,966 including its underwriters’ option. At $30 per share, the low end of the company’s IPO range and a share count inclusive of 2,359,500 shares reserved for its underwriting banks, the firm would be worth $3.98 billion. That number rises to $4.38 billion at $33 per share.

This is a solid increase from Coursera’s last private-market valuation, which was around $2.4 billion when it raised a Series F round in October 2020.

For the bulls in the room, there’s a bigger valuation if you tinker with the numbers. In a fully diluted accounting, including in our calculation, shares that are issuable upon vested options and RSUs, Coursera’s share count rises to 166,006,474, or 168,365,974 if we count its underwriters’ option. At its most generous share count and highest projected price, Coursera’s valuation could reach $5.56 billion.

However, IPO-watching group Renaissance Capital comes to a smaller $5.1 billion figure for a midpoint-range, fully diluted valuation. That result excludes shares reserved for underwriters and equity currently present in vested RSUs.

Using the more modest $5.1 billion midpoint figure, Coursera would be worth around 17.5 times its 2020 revenue of $293.5 million. Using a run-rate figure calculated from the company’s Q4 2020 results, its multiple falls to just over 15x.

Coursera is therefore being valued as a software company, likely a breathe-easy moment for still-private edtech companies, since the debut could be an industry bellwether.

The valuation is also a vote of confidence that Coursera’s rising deficits are not even a valuation risk, let alone an existential threat to its business. In the four quarters of 2020, the edtech giant lost $14.3 million, $13.9 million, $11.9 million and $26.7 million, the final Q4 net loss being the largest among the time interval for which we have data.

From all appearances, investors are valuing Coursera on its growth, not its profitability — or lack thereof.

Helping push its losses higher are rising sales and marketing costs, something TechCrunch has written about in the past. In Q4 2019, for example, the company spent $16.7 million on sales and marketing activities. That figure rose to $35 million in Q4 2020.

A SpaceX Engineer's Dark Web Insider Trading Sparks SEC First

By Brian Barrett
“MillionaireMike” allegedly ran a stock tip scam that earned him $27,000 in bitcoin payments.
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