CEO Jeremy OBriant never intended to create Torch, an agile growth marketing agency based in San Francisco. He started his career as a CPA, but after leading a growth team at Sidecar and running growth projects on his own, forming Torch was the most obvious thing to do. He now leads a team that implements “agile growth,” an iterative approach that involves setting clear goals and running smaller experiments over the course of monthly sprints. Learn more about their approach to growth, their ideal client, and more.
“Torch offers custom solutions to whatever you need. They are fast and deliver on what they promise. They are also scrappy and willing to try stuff to solve unique needs.” Head of Product in SF
“We aim to be the thought leaders of Agile Growth. We didn’t invent the term, but we are certainly becoming the leading voice of the process in the growth marketing world. Agile simply means being able to move quickly and with ease. We start with clearly defined business goals and prioritize growth tactics based on the impact, cost, and efficiency. Then collaborate with growth teams to execute a handful of items in recurring growth sprints, typically on a monthly cadence.”
“Our ideal partner has product-market fit, is redefining their category, and is ready to scale in a sustainable way. We are very strategic in the types of businesses we work with and steer clear of doing narrow prescriptive tactics. We love to collaborate with partners that are open to taking a fresh strategic look at their entire growth stack and embrace the agile approach to discover the right strategy for their unique situation.”
Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.
Yvonne Leow: Tell me about your background and how you became a growth marketer.
Jeremy OBriant: People are often surprised when I tell them I started my career as a CPA. I ended up working in the trenches on several M&A deals and heard lots of founding stories from entrepreneurs.
Didi Chuxing announced today that it has received new investment totaling $600 million from Toyota Motor Corporation. As part of the deal, the two companies will also set up a joint venture with GAC Toyota Motor to provide vehicle-related services to drivers on Didi’s ride-sharing platform. GAC Toyota itself is a joint venture between Toyota and GAC Group, one of China’s largest automakers.
Nikkei Asian Review first broke news of the deal at the end of May, reporting that Toyota was considering a $550 million investment in Didi and setting up a new mobility-services company in China.
Didi and Toyota announced last year 2018 that it would work together on services that use technology developed by Toyota for its mobility and vehicle-sharing platform, which includes autonomous driving software, a fully electric battery and the “e-Palette,” or modules that can be used to build autonomous vehicles of different sizes, ranging from small ones for deliveries to passenger buses.
Toyota has also backed other vehicle-sharing companies, including Uber and JapanTaxi.
DiDi’s partnership with Toyota is one of several partnerships it has made with car manufacturers and other vehicle-related companies as part of its D-Alliance, including Toyota, Volkswagen, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, as well as major Chinese automakers like FAW, Dongfeng and GAC, with the intention of expanding its reach beyond its ride-hailing services by creating a platform that uses new energy, AI-based and mobility technology.
Didi recently announced that it will open its ride-hailing platform to third-party service providers as part of agreements with FAW, Dongfeng and GAC, three of China’s largest auto makers.
TechCrunch took a field trip to GM’s Orion Assembly plant in Michigan to get an up-close view of how this factory has evolved since the 1980s.
What we found at the plant that employs 1,100 people is an unusual sight: a batch of Cruise autonomous vehicles produced on the same line — and sandwiched in between — the Bolt electric vehicle and an internal combustion engine compact sedan, the Chevrolet Sonic.
This inside look at how autonomous vehicles are built is just one of the topics coming up at TC Sessions: Mobility, which kicked off July 10 in San Jose. The inaugural event is digging in to the present and future of transportation, from the onslaught of scooters and electric mobility to autonomous vehicle tech and even flying cars.
Not that long ago, visiting the website of an auto dealership was a little like going to a store without a cash register. The retailer’s website might list all the cars, trucks and SUVs in its inventory, but there would be no way to actually buy one online.
A digital commerce startup called Drive Motors jumped in to fill that void. Unlike Carvana and Shift and other online used car startups that have emerged on the scene, this company is providing the “buy button” for dealerships and automakers by creating a native transaction layer within their existing webpages and stores.
Now, the three-year-old company is flush with a fresh injection of capital, high-profile investors and a new name that founder Aaron Krane says better reflects its broader vision and business plan.
The startup, now called Modal, has raised $5 million in capital from new investors, including Peter Thiel, Japanese dealer conglomerate IDOM, and Ally Ventures, the investing arm of national auto lender Ally Financial.
The company started small, first landing local dealerships in California as customers of its real-time financing and digital commerce platform. Today, its customers include auto brands and some of the largest dealer groups in the country. In 2018, the startup saw its online monthly volume per store double to more than $1.8 million per month, and more than $10 million per month for top-performing individual stores.
That transaction layer is still the core feature of the company’s business, Krane told TechCrunch. Modal has added several new features since its last funding round, including real-time financing, digital documents and in-store point of sale.
Krane initially landed on the name Drive Motors because it sounded relevant to the auto dealerships he wanted to win over and not the Silicon Valley tech world where he had come from. (Krane founded Drive Motors after selling his fantasy sports startup Hitpost to Yahoo, and becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures.)
The new name and capital just better reflects its broader strategy, he added. Krane landed on the name Modal because it embodies the company’s primary mission of delivering transactions within someone else’s experience.
“We want to be invisible, we want to be a fully self-contained embedded feature within a car brand’s vehicle page, or a car retailer’s vehicle page,” Krane said. “We don’t want to change the context on the buyer at all; that’s a philosophy that starts at the top and penetrates all the way down even the smallest decisions in our company.”
That notion of transparency and self-contained interactions led Krane to the new name because “modal,” in software terminology, means a self-contained user interface that is overlaid on top of an existing application page and keeps that existing application page in full view the whole time.
The new name also hints towards where the company is headed.
“The platform starts with just creating accessibility to a digital transaction, but it becomes the ultimate channel to introduce an entire ownership operating system, which can span everything from the more contemporary mundane automotive needs like servicing, all the way through introducing the most far out mobility or connected vehicle features,” Krane said.
Three years ago, I met with a founder who had raised a massive seed round at a valuation that was at least five times the market rate. I asked what firm made the investment.
She said it was not a traditional venture firm, but rather a strategic investor that not only had no ties to her space but also had no prior investment experience. The strategic investor, she said, was looking to “get their hands dirty” and “get in on the ground floor.”
Over the next 2 years, I kept a close eye on the founder. Although she had enough capital to pivot her business focus multiple times, she seemed to be at odds, serving the needs of her strategic investor and her customer base.
Ultimately, when the business needed more capital to survive, the strategic investor didn’t agree with the founder’s focus, opted not to prop it up, and the business had to shut down.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon story as examples abound of strategic investors influencing startup direction and management decisions to the point of harm for the startup. Corporate strategics, not to be confused with dedicated funds focused on financial returns like a traditional venture investor like Google Ventures, often care less about return on investment, and more about a startup’s focus, and sector specificity. If corporate imperatives change, the strategic may cease to be the right partner or could push the startup in a challenging direction.
And yet, fortunately, as the disruptive power of technology is being unleashed on nearly every major industry, strategic investors are now getting smarter, both in terms of how they invest and how they partner with entrepreneurs.
From making strong acquisitive plays (i.e. GM’s purchase of Cruise Automation or Toyota’s early-stage investment in Uber) to building dedicated funds, to executing commercial agreements in tandem with capital investment, strategics are getting savvier, and by extension, becoming better partners. In some instances, they may be the best partner.
Negotiating a term sheet with a strategic investor necessitates a different set of considerations. Namely: the preference for a strategic to facilitate commercial milestones for the startup, a cautious approach to avoid the “over-valuation” trap, an acute focus on information rights, and the limitation of non-compete provisions.
Workhorse Group, the electric vehicle company that grabbed headlines last month over a proposed deal to buy General Motor’s Lordstown, Ohio factory, has raised $25 million from a group of unnamed investors.
The money will not go towards the factory. Instead, it will be used for the more pressing matter of keeping the company running. Under terms of the deal, investors will receive preferred stock and warrants to buy shares. An annual dividend will be paid out in shares of Workhorse stock.
The Cincinnati-based company is small with less than 100 employees. Its biggest problem isn’t ideas or even product pipeline; it’s capital.
Workhorse has struggled financially at various points since its founding in 1998. The company reported just $364,000 in revenue in the first quarter, down from $560,000 in the same period last year. As of March 30, 2019, the company had cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments of $2.8 million, compared to $1.5 million as of December 31, 2018.
Workhorse borrowed $35 million from hedge fund Marathon Asset Management earlier this year.
Workhorse, which was once owned by Navistar and sold in 2013 to AMP Holding, has a customer pipeline for its electric trucks that includes UPS. It’s also hoping to win a contract with the United States Postal Service.
But it needs capital to scale up. The funding gives Workhorse the capital to deliver on its existing backlog and produce its N-GEN delivery van, according to CEO Duane Hughes
“We now have all necessary pieces in place to bridge Workhorse into full-scale N-GEN production and are looking forward to commencing the manufacturing process, in earnest, during the fourth quarter of this year,” Hughes said in a statement.
Meanwhile, GM has been in talks since early 2019 to sell its Lordstown vehicle factory in Ohio to Workhorse Group. GM’s Lordstown factory stopped producing the automaker’s Chevrolet Cruze in March; without any new vehicles slated for the factory, workers were laid off.
Under potential Lordstown deal, a new entity led by Workhorse founder Steve Burns would acquire the facility. Workhorse would hold a minority interest in the new entity. This new entity would allow Workhorse to seek new equity without diluting existing shareholder value.
Workhorse would build a commercial electric pickup at the plant if the deal goes through, Hughes has said.