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What 377 Y Combinator pitches will teach you about startups

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Along with a cadre of other TechCrunch folks, I spent this week extremely focused on one event: Y Combinator. The elite accelerator announced a staggering 377 startups as its Summer 2021 cohort. We covered every single on-the-record startup that presented and plucked out some favorites:

There’s something quite earnest and magical about spending literally hours hearing founder after founder pitch their ideas, with one minute, a single slide and a whole lot of optimism. It’s why I like covering demo days: I get tunnel vision into where innovation is going next, what behemoths are ripe for disruption and what founders think is a witty competitive edge versus a simple baseline.

That said, I will share one caveat. While YC is an ambitious snapshot, it’s not entirely illustrative of the next wave of decision-makers and leaders within startups — from a diversity perspective. The accelerator posted small gains in the number of women and LatinX founders in its batch, but dropped in the number of Black founders participating. The need for more diverse accelerators has never been more obvious, and as some in the tech community argue, is Y Combinator’s biggest blind spot.

This in mind, I want to leave you with a few takeaways I had after listening to hundreds of pitches. Here’s what 377 Y Combinator pitches taught me about startups:

  1. Instacart walked so YC startups could stroll. Instacart, last valued at $39 billion, is one of Y Combinator’s most successful graduates — which makes it even more spicier that a number of startups within this summer’s batch want to take on the behemoth. Instead of going after the obvious — speed — startups are looking to enhance the grocery delivery experience through premium produce, local recipes and even ugly vegetables. It suggests that there may be a new chapter in grocery delivery, one in which ease isn’t the only competitive advantage.
  2. Crypto’s pre-seed world is quieter than fintech. YC feels more like a fintech accelerator than ever before, but when it comes to crypto, there weren’t as many moonshots as I’d expect. We discussed this a bit in the Equity podcast, but if anyone has theories as to why, I’m game to hear ‘em.
  3. Edtech wants to disrupt artsy subjects. It’s common to see edtech founders flock to subjects like science and mathematics when it comes to disruption. Why? Well, from a pure pedagogical perspective, it’s easier to scale a service that answers questions that only have one right answer. While math may fit into a box that works for a tech-powered AI tutoring bot, arts, on the other hand, may require a little bit more human touch. This is why I was excited to see a number of edtech startups, from Spark Studio to Litnerd, focusing on humanities in their pitches. As shocking as it sounds, to rethink how a bookclub is read is definitely a refreshing milestone for edtech.
  4. Sometimes, the best pitch is no pitch at all. One pitch stood out simply because it addressed the elephant in the room: We’re all stressed. Jupe sells glamping-in-a-box and the profitable business likely benefited from COVID-19. I remember that because the founder used a portion of his pitch to tell investors to breathe, because it’s been a long two days. Being human, and more importantly, speaking like one, is what it takes to stand out these days.

On that note, exhale. Let’s move on to the rest of this newsletter, which includes nostalgic nods to Wall Street, public filings and my favorite new podcast. As always, you can find and support me on Twitter @nmasc_ or send me tips at natasha.m@techcrunch.com.

A return to old school Wall Street

With so many new funds, solo-GPs and alternative capital sources on the market these days, founders are confused. Funding may have moved away from three dudes on Sand Hill Road, but it’s also become more fragmented, which means entrepreneurs need to be even more sophisticated in how they fill up their cap tables. This week, I interviewed one recently venture-backed startup that proposed a solution: a return to old school Wall Street. 

Here’s what to know: Hum Capital wants to help investors allocate their resources to ambitious businesses, perfectly. The startup seeks to emulate the world of old school Wall Street, which helped ambitious business owners find the best financing option for their goal, instead of today’s dance of startups trying to prove worthiness for one type of capital. In my story, I explained more about the business.

At this stage, Hum Capital’s product is easy to explain:

It uses artificial intelligence and data to connect businesses to the available funders on the platform. The startup connects with a capital-hungry startup, ingests financial data from over 100 SaaS systems, including QuickBooks, NetSuite and Google Analytics, and then translates them to the some 250 institutional investors on its platform.

From Hum to mmhmm:       

IPO filings & other hubbub

Image Credits: ansonmiao / Getty Images

When the pandemic began to impact startups, Toast was top of the list. The restaurant tech startup had a series of deep layoffs as many of its clients in the hospitality industry had to shut down. Months later, Toast reentered headlines with a dramatically different message: It’s going public, and here’s all of our financial data.

Here’s what you need to know: This week, Toast published its S-1, offering a portrait into how the startup was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and answering questions on why it’s going public now. After ripping apart the Warby Parker S-1, Alex had five takeaways from the Toast S-1. My favorite excerpt? Toast was smart to diversify beyond its hardware, hand-held payment processors:

Toast’s two largest revenue sources — software and fintech incomes — have posted constant growth on a quarter-over-quarter basis. Hardware revenues have proved slightly less consistent, although they are also moving in a positive direction this year and set what appears to be an all-time record result in Q2 2021.

Toast would have had a much worse second quarter last year if it didn’t have software revenues. And since then, its growth would not have been as impressive without payments revenues (its fintech line item, speaking loosely). The broad revenue mix that Toast built has proved to limit downside while opening lots of room for growth.

Butter or jam:

Around TC

You already bought your tickets to Disrupt right? If not, here’s the link, with a fancy discount from yours truly.

Now that that’s out of the way, I want you to listen to Found, TechCrunch’s newest podcast that focuses on talking to early-stage founders about building and launching their companies. Recent episodes include:

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Talk next week,

N

From passion to hobby to startup

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Hey team! Alex here. I am off next week. Anna, my regular co-pilot on the weekday column, will be handling next week’s newsletter. It will be beyond good. Enjoy!

A few weeks back we took a look at some startup results, with a focus on growth. Today we’re narrowing our focus to a single company from the collection of startups that wrote in: Water Cooler Trivia.

Many startups begin life as a solution to a problem. A developer finds a flaw in their workflow, codes up a solution for it and later builds that hack into a product that scales. That sort of thing.

Collin Waldoch did something different, turning a hobby of his into a business.

Coming from a family of six kids in what he called a competitive family, Waldoch hosted bar trivia during college, and later sent around weekly trivia questions at his workplace after he completed his schooling. He kept the habit up during his early career, which included a stint at Lyft.

It was during his corporate life that Waldoch realized that companies were willing to spend heavily on team activities. Like a soccer team that he joined during one job that his employer spent a few grand on, but which struggled to find enough regular players. If companies would drop that much money on a group sport that few of its denizens wanted, he thought, perhaps there was some budget he could attack with a trivia product.

So Waldoch started Water Cooler Trivia, building it as a corporate product that he and some friends scaled to around $20,000 in ARR as a side project. The founder described its level of success at the time as pretty good beer money. Helping the project bring in revenue was a super-low churn rate, something that helped Waldoch decide to quit his day job at Lyft and take his side project full time.

Today Water Cooler Trivia has reached $300,000 worth of ARR and sports a collection of workers around the globe that help it run. Companies can select difficulty levels for their weekly trivia questions and track employee scores with longitudinal leaderboards.

Part of the idea’s success in Waldoch’s view is that it is built for the end user — employees — instead of HR. Which means that it’s actually fun. Today the company has experienced some churn, but still sports net retention rates of just under 100%. That’s great for a product that doesn’t feature enterprise-SaaS level upsells.

And the service is cheap. Probably too cheap frankly. At $100 per month for 100 seats, Water Cooler could likely boost what it charges and push its revenues higher in short order. Waldoch said that his company might start raising its rates in Q4 of this year. But even without that, Water Cooler thinks that it has a huge amount of growth open to it from its core product.

I dig it. Long live software making life a bit more fun.

Drift, Xometry, Carrot

It was a busy week with infinite IPO filings and eight billion YC startups pitching, but other things did happen that we need to talk about:

I’m curious about Drift’s sale to private equity: Boston’s Drift sold the majority of its shares to Vista Equity Partners, it announced this week. I’ve been to the Drift offices, as the company once lent us a room to record a podcast in. The folks there were nice. But with the company reporting 70% ARR growth in 2020, I am dead curious why Drift didn’t just raise more capital and keep growing. The company was able to raise lots of private money in the past, including, say, a $60 million round back in 2018. Exiting the bulk of the company early feels a little weird, similar to how the Gainsight sale to PE was a bit of a head scratcher. For Boston, the exit is good news as it may help mint new angel investors. But it still feels like an exit for which we’re missing a key detail.

Xometry: This one has been in the notes folder for too long, and since I’m off next week we’re including it here. I spoke with Xometry CEO Randy Altschuler after his company reported earnings a few weeks back. Recall that Xometry went public earlier this year. Altschuler reported generally bullish views on the process of going public during the COVID-19 era, calling his company’s Zoom roadshow efficient in a manner that allowed his company to chat to more folks while also saving on travel-related exhaustion.

Xometry, continued: But past the standard post-IPO chit chat, Altschuler had a few notes that stood out in my memory. The first being that inflation can impact technology businesses. Rising costs are impacting companies like Root, who have to deal with used car prices impacting claims costs. Inflation also crops up in Xometry’s business connecting manufacturing demand with manufacturing supply. It’s a good reminder that macro market conditions really do matter in the technology world, just not in ways that we can always easily see.

Xometry, even more: Altschuler also said that he thinks that a carbon tax at some point is inevitable. This came up in our discussion of onshoring manufacturing in the United States over time. Shipping stuff is expensive today and would prove even more costly if we added in the price of carbon emissions via a tax. That could make local manufacturing more competitive, notably. Perhaps that will prove a boon to folks in favor of more industrial production in post-industrial societies. For tech companies that deal with physical-world goods, it’s something to keep in mind.

And, finally, Carrot: Another entry from the notes archive, let’s talk about Carrot. The startup raised a $75 million round a few weeks back, so I asked the company about its growth history and a few other things. Carrot sells a product to employers so that they can offer their workers fertility benefits. Given falling human fertility rates, coverage of this sort is, in my view, likely to become more popular over time.

Other factors are at work, of course, but the last 18 months have proved accelerative for Carrot’s business. Per the company, it has seen “nearly 5x overall growth” in the last six quarters. The startup expects to reach 450 customers by the end of 2021, which will add up to around one million covered folks.

Carrot declined to share a valuation differential from its Series B to its Series C. Happily PitchBook has data on the matter, so we can report that per its dataset, Carrot’s valuation rose from around $66 million (post-money) following its $21 million Series B to around $260 million after its Series C. That’s a good markup for the company’s employees and founders.

My general bullishness around rising needs for fertility support matches the company’s ethos, which it described in an email by saying that it thinks fertility and “family-forming care could and should be the fourth pillar of employee benefits and health care more broadly, much like medical or dental or vision.” A hard yes to that one.

OK, that’s all from me for a few weeks. Stay safe, get vaccinated, and let’s be kind to one another. — Alex

Daily Crunch: Fintech startup Jeeves snags $500M valuation after $57M Series B

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for September 3, 2021. As noted yesterday, most of TechCrunch has the day off so today’s newsletter is a little bit different than usual.

Up top let’s chat early-stage startups. The TechCrunch team spent an age this week cataloging a host of startups from Y Combinator’s marathon demo day, with our notes covering all presentations from day one and day two. We also yanked our favorites in two batches, in case you wanted to avoid the full download and want to skip straight to the highlights.

But that’s not all. We also dug into trends from the group and hopped on Twitter Spaces to chat about what we saw. Of course, Y Combinator is a single accelerator, but given its mammoth cohort sizes we pay extra attention to the trends that its startups detail.

That behind us, let’s take a moment to highlight some great stuff from newer TechCrunch reporters:

Finally, Disrupt is coming up. So make sure that you have a ticket. As it’s a virtual event they are cheaper than they have been in years past, despite the event having perhaps its strongest content lineup ever. We’re excited!

With that, let’s head into the weekend — a long one here in the United States — and get some rest. What a week in the world at large and in our startup-focused niche. I’ll be taking all next week off, but I will leave the Daily Crunch in the very capable hands of one Greg Kumparak. — Alex

Use cohort analysis to drive smarter startup growth

Cohort analysis is a basic tool for startups that need to better understand customer behavior, but many early-stage companies let it slide.

Grouping users into “buckets” is common practice at most startups, but robust cohort analysis uncovers trends and missed opportunities that young companies can pounce on.

Don’t wait to hire a senior marketing person or a consultant to start this critical work: In a guest column, Jonathan Metrick, chief growth officer at Sagard & Portage Ventures, offers a detailed example explaining the value of this type of analysis.

If you have questions after reading this comprehensive step-by-step, please join us for a Twitter Spaces chat with Metrick on Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT. For details and a reminder, follow @TechCrunch on Twitter.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

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

TechCrunch wants to help startups find the right expert for their needs. To do this, we’re building a shortlist of the top growth marketers. We’ve received great recommendations for growth marketers in the startup industry since we launched our survey.

We’re excited to read more responses as they come in! Fill out the survey here.

Community

Jonathan Metrick

Image Credits: Jonathan Metrick

Join Danny Crichton and Mary Ann Azevedo Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT on Twitter Spaces as they talk with Jonathan Metrick about fintech and growth marketing.

Daily Crunch: 8 Indian banks launch Account Aggregator to centralize consumers’ financial data

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for Thursday, September 2, 2021. TechCrunch is largely off tomorrow thanks to a pan-Yahoo corporate reprieve. But don’t worry, all systems will continue to function while we recharge ahead of the next chapter of TechCrunch’s varied history of corporate ownership. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • China is hacking U.S.-based Uyghurs: The campaign by China’s government to erase Uyghur culture and undermine the Uyghur population inside its borders doesn’t stop there. The Chinese state has been hacking Uyghurs while traveling, for example. And the FBI reports today that the Chinese Communist Party is doing the same thing inside the United States’ borders.
  • SEO is far from dead: A new $55 million funding round into startup Botify underscores how the era of search engine optimization is hardly behind us. The company said that despite seeing “more and more sections of the search results coming from first-party or paid results,” organic traffic is still growing. And everyone wants a piece of that clickstream.
  • Europe, where net neutrality lives on: Europe’s top court has dealt another blow to “zero rating,” TechCrunch reports. Zero rating is the practice by which internet providers don’t count certain content against bandwidth limits, giving certain materials — often their own — a leg up. It’s a practice frowned on by open-internet advocates, and the EU is apparently unwilling to bend on the matter.

Startups/VC

We’ll have a huge digest of our Y Combinator coverage so that you can peruse a few hundred different startups tomorrow in Daily Crunch. But we could not resist adding in a teaser. How’s this for a headline: “Fintech startup Jeeves raises $57M, goes from YC to $500M valuation in one year.” Even in 2021 that’s rapid valuation creation for an early-stage startup.

  • Yet more capital for neobanks: Challenger bank Point has put together a $46.5 million Series B, pouring more fuel into the startup’s goal of building a debit card that offers credit-card-level perks. Point’s service isn’t free, but for folks who don’t want to use revolving consumer credit accounts that often come with high interest rates, its model could be a neat way forward.
  • Shepherd raises $6.2M for construction insurance: TechCrunch is tracking a number of B2B neoinsurance companies today, including Shepherd. The startup is working to offer excess liability insurance to construction companies, building technology usage data into its underwriting models. It’s a neat idea. Procore put capital into the funding round.
  • HomeLight raises $100M: The real estate technology upstart wants to connect buyers and sellers, and also provides title and escrow services. And after its latest funding event, it’s worth $1.6 billion. HomeLight managed such a large round after projecting that its revenues will “triple to over $300 million in 2021.” So, when’s the IPO?
  • Edtech’s boom is not done: That’s our takeaway from news that General Atlantic has helped pour $60 million into Panorama Education, which has built a “a K-12 education software platform,” per TechCrunch reporting. Edtech startups got a huge boost in 2020 when schools around the world went remote. It appears that that wave has yet to crest.

All the reasons why you should launch a credit or debit card

The ongoing fintech revolution continues to level the playing field where legacy companies historically dominated startups.

To compete with retail banks, many startups are offering customers credit and debit cards; developer-friendly APIs make issuance relatively easy, and tools for managing processes like KYC are available off the shelf.

To learn more about the low barriers to entry — and the inherent challenges of creating a unique card offering — reporter Ryan Lawler interviewed:

  • Michael Spelfogel, founder, Cardless
  • Anu Muralidharan, COO, Expensify
  • Peter Hazlehurst, founder and CEO, Synctera
  • Salman Syed, SVP and GM of North America, Marqeta

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • All hail the Googlebot: Alphabet has built an exoskeleton, our own Brian Heater reports in his Actuator series. It frankly looks rad. At times it’s easy to forget that Alphabet retains a large skunkworks effort despite being best known today for its Android mobile software, ad technology and online document editing services.
  • Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight coming soon: After sending some folks to either space, or near-space the other month, Virgin Galactic is getting ready for commercial work. Per the company, that mission could come later this month, or in early October. For the company’s shareholders, it’s good news. Scratch that! After we wrote that blurb, news broke that the next Virgin flight is off after the FAA grounded the company. More here.
  • Today in Tesla: Two things from Elon-world today. First, Tesla has been told to share Autopilot data with the United States’ traffic safety agency. And Tesla’s hyper-quick Roadster car might not come until 2023. Follow-up question: When will the Cybertruck roll out?
  • And, finally, news from India: Eight banks in the country are soon rolling out “a system called Account Aggregator to enable consumers to consolidate all their financial data in one place.” India’s banking industry has a history of banding together to create products for consumers, including the “interoperable UPI rails” that many fintech companies in the country depend on, TechCrunch reports.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

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

TechCrunch wants to help startups find the right expert for their needs. To do this, we’re building a shortlist of the top growth marketers. We’ve received great recommendations for growth marketers in the startup industry since we launched our survey.

We’re excited to read more responses as they come in! Fill out the survey here.

Community

Jonathan Metrick

Image Credits: Jonathan Metrick

Join Danny Crichton and Mary Ann Azevedo Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT on Twitter Spaces as they talk with Jonathan Metrick about fintech and growth marketing.

Tracking startup focus in the latest Y Combinator cohort

By Anna Heim

First, some housekeeping: Thanks to our new corporate parents, TechCrunch has the day off tomorrow, so consider this the last chapter of The Exchange for this week. (The newsletter will go out Saturday as always.) Also, Alex is off next week. Anna is taking on next week’s newsletter and may have a column or two on deck as well.

But before we slow down for a few days, let’s chat about the most recent Y Combinator Demo Day in thematic detail.

If you caught the last few Equity episodes, some of this will be familiar, but we wanted to put a flag in the ground for later reference as we cover startups for the rest of the year.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

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


What follows is a roundup of trends among Y Combinator startups and how they squared with our expectations.

A big thanks to the TechCrunch crew who covered the startup deluge live, and Natasha and Christine for helping build out our notes during our last few Twitter Spaces. Let’s talk trends!

More than expected

In a group of nearly 400 startups, you might think it’d be hard to find a category that felt overrepresented, but we’ve managed.

To start, we were surprised by the sheer number of startups in the cohort that were pursuing software models that incorporated no-code and low-code techniques. We expected some, surely, but not the nearly 20 that we compiled this morning.

Startups in the YC batch are building no-code and low-code tools to help developers build faster internal workflows (Tantl), build branded real estate portals (Noloco), sync data between other no-code tools (Whalesync), automate HR (Zazos), and more. Also in the mix were BrightReps, Beau, Alchemy, Hyperseed, Enso, HitPay, Whaly, Muse, Abstra, Lago, Inai and Breadcrumbs.io.

At least 18 companies in the group name-dropped no- and low-code in their pitches. They are taking on a host of industries, from finance and real estate to sales and HR. In short, no- and low-code tools are cropping up in what feels like every sector. It appears that the startup world has decided that helping non-developers build their own tools, workflows and apps is a trend here to stay.

Daily Crunch: Researchers claim Fortress S03 home security system can be remotely disabled

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for September 1, 2021. It’s a big day in TechCrunch history in that we’ve been shuffled to a new parent company. More on that in a moment. First, Disrupt attendees, you can now hit up CrunchMatch to meet other cool folks. See you there! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Hello, Apollo! TechCrunch is no longer part of Verizon Media Group, a somewhat forgotten subsidiary of the U.S. telco. Instead, we are now part of Yahoo, which is owned, in turn, by Apollo, a large investing company that is publicly traded. Cue the parade. Jokes aside, the long-announced deal has finally been completed. We’ll have more notes on our new overlords as soon as we meet them.
  • Inside Amplitude’s IPO filing: TechCrunch’s coverage of the accelerating IPO market continued today with notes on Amplitude’s product-analytics-focused debut. For more on Toast and Freshworks’ filings, head here or here. Oh, and Warby Parker here, if D2C is your jam.
  • Sticking to the big-dollar news today, Vista Equity is buying a majority stake in Drift. Based in Boston, Drift focuses on what it calls “conversational” sales tools. The two parties were being coy to a silly level by not disclosing the price paid for Drift, other than that the majority sale of the company values the former startup at more than $1 billion. Why Drift sold to Vista instead of going public is not clear, but we do feel cheated out of its S-1 filing.

Startups/VC

As we write to you today, the TechCrunch team is busy writing thousands of words about the second day of startup pitches from Y Combinator’s Demo Day. You can read about every startup that pitched yesterday.

Now, to today’s news. First, Berlin Brands, which buys and hopes to scale brands that sell on Amazon, is now worth north of $1 billion after raising a $700 million equity-and-debt round. There is apparently infinite capital available to finance the purchase of smaller e-commerce brands.

So much so that Forum Brands also announced new capital for the activity today. Its $100 million in debt financing may sound small compared to what Berlin Brands just secured, but it’s still nine figures of dry powder.

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

Twice each year, we turn our attention to Y Combinator’s latest class of aspiring startups as they hold their public debuts.

For YC Summer 2021 Demo Day, the accelerator’s fourth virtual gathering, Natasha Mascarenhas, Alex Wilhelm, Devin Coldewey, Lucas Matney and Greg Kumparak selected 14 favorites from the first day of one of the world’s top pitch competitions.

Read their analysis, then come back later today for their rundown of Day Two.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Today’s Big Tech news is mostly focused on feature upgrades. Enjoy!

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

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

In case you didn’t catch it yesterday: We’re giving away one free ticket to Disrupt through the Experts survey. Check out the schedule for Disrupt, and read on to learn about the giveaway details.

  • Have you already submitted a recommendation? That’s great — we’re counting all previous survey submissions as an entry for the Disrupt ticket.
  • We’ll also enter the next 100 survey submissions into the giveaway.
  • Do you want to submit 10 recommendations to increase your chance at winning? We love the enthusiasm, but we ask that you only submit one recommendation for each marketer that you’ve worked with.
  • Don’t know what to say in your recommendation? Start with what traits they had, what they did to help your company, how their work affected your business and go from there!
  • We manually go through all entries, so please don’t copy and paste the same response multiple times.
  • Have a question about the giveaway? Send us an email at ec_editors@techcrunch.com.

Community

Jonathan Metrick

Image Credits: Jonathan Metrick

Join Danny Crichton and Mary Ann Azevedo Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT on Twitter Spaces as they talk with Jonathan Metrick about fintech and growth marketing.

What Amplitude’s choice to direct list says about its products, growth and value

By Alex Wilhelm

Amplitude is going public in a direct listing that will see its shares trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “AMPL.” The company first announced its intention to direct list in July and filed its S-1 document in August.

The San Francisco-based startup lists major shareholders Battery, Benchmark, IVP, Sequoia and Jasmine Ventures in its S-1 filing. Each of those investors owns at least 5% of the company.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

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


Following our digs through recent IPO filings from Freshworks and Toast, this morning we’re taking a spade to Amplitude’s document.

We’re curious why the company is direct listing instead of raising capital in its debut. We also want to understand how the company sees the future, because its product thesis is essentially a roadmap to its long-term growth; how investors value the company will in part hinge on whether Wall Street agrees with where Amplitude sees technology heading.

And we’ll do our usual work to understand the company’s revenue mix and quality, wrapping with some noodling on what it may be worth. Sound fun? Good. Let’s get into it.

Amplitude’s core product thesis

Most S-1 filings are full of corporate babble that I don’t drag you through. After all, we don’t really need to chat about how a particular vertical SaaS company thinks that its chosen niche is a great market. You already know what the debuting concern thinks. But with Amplitude, I want to do a bit more.

Amplitude sells what it calls “digital optimization” software. In practice, that means its software helps other companies design better software.

The company thinks that the way that digital products are built has changed. Gone are the days, in its view, of trusting intuition when it comes to digital design choices. Instead, Amplitude expects that companies with digital products will instead lean on data-driven decision-making. Or as it phrased it in its filing, digital product design is leaving the “Mad Men” phase for a more “Moneyball” era.

Data is at the core of how Amplitude sees companies designing future products. But in its view, many companies currently rely on a collection of disparate software tools to collect data on their digital footprint. Amplitude thinks it has a better method of collecting digital user data — and learning from it.

Daily Crunch: Databricks reaches $38B billion valuation with $1.6B Series H

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for August 31, 2021. Today the TechCrunch machine was busy covering the first day of Y Combinator’s Demo Day event, so expect to see all sorts of coverage on the site after this hits your inbox. We’ll bring you a recap in tomorrow’s edition, though we do have a first taste down below.

In Disrupt news, TechCrunch is bringing an AI investor and a science-fiction author together and will have lots on deck for startups currently raising external capital. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Databricks is now worth $38B: Data and AI unicorn Databricks confirmed its previously reported financing event today, raising $1.6 billion at a $38 billion valuation. TechCrunch spoke with the company’s CEO about what the money’s for, and we dug a bit more deeply into its revenue results. The late-stage market has been busy, but this Databricks round is big even by today’s venture standards.
  • More African startups than ever in YC batch: As we write, Demo Day is ongoing, so most of our first-day coverage will be finished too late to include. But we got a look at the African startups in the summer batch, and there are more than ever. Given how active the African startup market is proving this year, we’re not surprised.
  • Apna could be India’s next unicorn: Focusing on upskilling Indian consumers, Apna could become a unicorn if a Tiger Global-led round comes to fruition. TechCrunch reports that the round could be worth $100 million at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Edtech in India remains one of the key startup narratives in recent years.

Startups/VC

Because this is the last day of August, we presume that the summer lull in funding events has come and gone. Not that we really noticed a downtick in volume, frankly, but all the same, expect things to get even crazier in the coming weeks. Here’s a sampling of the rounds that we covered today:

  • $200M more to roll-up Amazon merchants: Beyond Indian edtech companies, another trend that has raised nigh-infinite funds this year is startups raising capital to buy up smaller e-commerce merchants, often with a focus on those selling on Amazon. Heroes is the latest to raise capital for the concept, with the U.K.-based startup adding a few hundred million to its accounts in a single go.
  • Whoop, the Peloton of Apple Watches, raises $200M: If you are a fitness-wearable user, you may be familiar with Whoop. The company’s athlete-focused wristband has helped Whoop raise more than $400 million, now valuing the company at $3.6 billion. That’s many duckets for a fitness wearable. But as Whoop has a software fee bundled into its hardware — hence our Peloton analogy — it is not simply another hardware company.
  • Synthetic coffee is coming: Maricel Saenz, the founder and CEO of Compound Foods, wants to create and sell coffee sans beans. Why? Well, climate change is making growing coffee beans harder, and the process is hard on the environment to boot. So why not just synthesize your morning java? I am willing to try this out, with the caveat that coffee is delicious so it’s going to take a little convincing for me to change my routines.
  • Borzo wants to bring on-demand to more markets: Delivery service Dostavista is rebranding to Borzo, bringing its multicountry business under a single brand. The startup, per TechCrunch, was founded in 2012 and has a customer base of 2 million.
  • Former TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley company Quip raises $100M: Quip is best known as a toothbrush company, but it hit profitability last year, expanded its product line and landed nine figures in new capital. The company today offers a host of oral cleaning products as well as invisible teeth aligners.
  • To close out our startup coverage today, Peak has raised $75 million to help non-tech companies build AI apps. The Manchester, England-based Peak wants to help companies that lack in-house AI talent apply the software technique to their own businesses. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the latest investment, which the company intends to use to scale its staff and hit up new markets.

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

The barrier to entry for launching hardware startups has fallen; if you can pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign, you’re likely savvy enough to find a factory overseas that can build your widgets to spec.

But global supply chains are fragile: No one expected an off-course container ship to block the Suez Canal for six days. Due to the pandemic, importers are paying almost $18,000 for shipping containers from China today that cost $3,300 a year ago.

After spending a career spinning up supply chains on three continents, Liteboxer CEO Jeff Morin authored a guide for Extra Crunch for hardware founders.

“If you’re clear-eyed about the challenges and apply some rigor and forethought to the process, the end result can be hard to match,” Morin says.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • TikTok wants to help match influencers and brands: That’s the takeaway from our story today that TikTok’s “new Creator Marketplace API lets influencer marketing companies tap into first-party data.” Given how much we’ve read about astroturfing influencers, the concept makes sense. And TikTok wants its leading creators to make lots of money on its platform so they stick around. Expect to see more of this from other platforms in time.
  • Windows 11 launches October 5: As a Windows fan (and a macOS fan, for the record), I am somewhat hyped to try out the latest Windows build, though I worry if my CPU is sufficiently new. Regardless, the new code drops in early October, so the wait is nearly over.
  • Now you can troll your friends on Spotify with your musical tastes: Love music? Have friends that love music? And do you enjoy different music than your friends? Good news! Now you can create blended playlists with your team, so that you wind up with a playlist that pleases precisely no one.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

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TechCrunch Disrupt is in less than a month, and we’re excited to share that we’re giving away one free ticket through the Experts survey. Check out the schedule for Disrupt, and read on to learn about the giveaway details:

  • Have you already submitted a recommendation? That’s great — we’re counting all previous survey submissions as an entry for the Disrupt ticket.
  • We’ll also enter the next 100 survey submissions into the giveaway.
  • Do you want to submit 10 recommendations to increase your chance at winning? We love the enthusiasm, but we ask that you only submit one recommendation for each marketer that you’ve worked with.
  • Don’t know what to say in your recommendation? Start with what traits they had, what they did to help your company, how their work affected your business and go from there!
  • We manually go through all entries, so please don’t copy and paste the same response multiple times.
  • Have a question about the giveaway? Send us an email at ec_editors@techcrunch.com.

Want to be a more holistic healthcare company? Add some Ginger 

By Natasha Mascarenhas

When Headspace merged with on-demand mental healthcare platform Ginger, I was surprised. After all, Ginger raised $100 million in Series E funding just a few months ago — and last time I spoke to CEO Russell Glass, he stressed the importance of integrating into employer-paid health plans. To me, Headspace’s meditation app is about as direct to consumer as one could go, so what business did Ginger have to get into literal business with it? Fragmentation, much?

Turns out, there’s precedent, and, per a slew of health tech investors and techies, there is more consolidation and commodification to come in behavioral health. I love learning things!

As we discussed during a Twitter Spaces about the merger, Headspace has been pursuing clinical validation for mindfulness for quite a while. That validation could help it pitch its somewhat-fresh employee benefit program and compete with its closest rival, Calm. By merging with an on-demand mental healthcare platform such as Ginger, Headspace can now offer a more holistic approach to mental health. Ginger, for those who don’t know, specializes in helping people access care when they need it, ranging from text-based support to escalation to trainers in real time.

But beyond the news, what does this mean? There are a few main takeaways I had after the Spaces. First, in the best-case scenario, Headspace and Ginger’s merger could show us what a holistic and integrative approach to mental health could look like. As Omers Ventures’ Chrissy Farr said, some patients could use a combination of approaches that vary over time. The industry is evolving so that users have more options when it comes to mental health care; from meditation to texts to Zoom therapy sessions. Second, and this came up throughout the chat, parts of behavioral health are going to get commoditized as the sector grows. Now, it’s no longer enough to just connect a user to a specialist. How do platforms more thoughtfully connect nuanced patients to nuanced options? It’s more than holistic, it’s integrative, says Lux Capital’s Deena Shakir.

Finally, 2021 is all about consolidation — and that includes digital health. 7WireVenture’s Alyssa Jaffe noted that 80% of the cost and complexity in mental health is with severe mental illnesses, but 80% of startups begin with lower acuity care. The new combined entity could become more acquisitive in what it aspires to address, now, beyond non-acute conditions.

In the rest of the newsletter, we’ll get into fintech’s friendly foes, edtech turning into SaaS and a must-read LatAm deep dive. As always, you can support me by following me on Twitter @nmasc_, where I post all my work throughout the week.

For the love of fintech

Image of a businessman blowing up a green balloon with a dollar sign on it to represent investment.

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

On Equity this week, we spoke about how fintech startups Ramp and Brex are growing into their massive valuations. The conversation bubbled up because Ramp raised money at a $3.9 billion valuation, while Brex announced the launch of a $150 million debt venture business within days of each other.

Here’s what to know: Ryan Lawler and Alex Wilhelm dug into Brex and Ramp’s diverging M&A strategies for deeper insight on how to differentiate in the corporate management space.

From the story:

While Ramp seems primarily interested in providing customers a detailed view into company finances with an eye toward cost control, many of Brex’s big announcements and initiatives lately have focused on helping provide small businesses — particularly e-commerce sellers — faster access to cash flows through instant payouts.

Personal finance for startups: 

 Hiring is (still) hard 

Image Credits: alashi (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

I wrote two stories this week that underscore two realities about the hiring landscape today. First, I reported that tech bootcamp Flockjay cut at least half of its workforce as it pivoted away from its original job placement focus. Second, Workstream raised $48 million for its text-based recruitment platform for hourly workers.

Here’s what to know: Flockjay’s entire premise was helping non-tech workers break into tech through sales jobs. Its recent pivot to a B2B SaaS tool tells us how hard of a business job placement may be, even in high-demand roles such as sales operations. A day later, Workstream raised money for its recruitment software for the hourly worker. The $48 million Series B is a note on how employers facing high turnover are willing to spend money on recruitment tools that meet candidates where they are, which may be their cell phones.

While one story tells us hiring is a hard business to do at scale, another shows that existing gaps still need focused attention.

Dear Seedlings, take note: 

Around TC

TechCrunch Disrupt is less than a month away. And I’m shook.

Use “Mascarenhas20” for a sweet, sweet discount code when you buy your ticket. It’s a stacked line up of candid speakers and no-BS questions. But, in case you need more convincing on why it’s worth attending, check this out:

Newsroom top picks

Favorites from TechCrunch

Favorites from Extra Crunch

To end, a friendly reminder that it’s still hard for most people to raise capital these days. The boom, my friends, is uneven.

Till next week,

N

The remote work argument has already been won by startups

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

The debate over remote work, office culture, how to manage teams of distributed staff and the like continues. With the delta variant of COVID-19 pushing back office return dates for many companies, there’s still a healthy argument over what the future of work will look like.

But while large companies hem and haw their way through the present, it’s my view that the debate is largely over and that startups have won it.

I’ve been on a huge number of calls with startup founders since the onset of COVID-19, and in the last few quarters, it seems that nearly every time I talk to an early-stage company they have a remote, distributed team. Some of these startups were literally founded during the COVID era, so it makes sense. But the trend is broader than just those firms.

Thinking only about the startup market for a moment, I think that in time it will be just as weird a concept for startups to raise equity capital to spend on rent as it would be for a startup today to raise equity capital to buy a rack of servers and pay co-location fees. We have AWS and Azure for that now. And regarding offices, we have remote work now. Why shell out shares for square footage?

We’re being simplistic to some degree, but spending seed or Series A money on rent makes early office space some of the most expensive real estate in the world. For successful startups, at least. The savvy will avoid the tax.

There’s more to this: The talent market is incredibly tight for many key roles today. Ask anyone trying to hire machine learning talent. Or senior dev roles. Or marketing team leads. The list goes on. The sort of talent that startups are on the hunt for is scarce, and ‘spensive.

Even worse for upstart tech companies, Big Tech companies have never been more wealthy. So what’s a young company to do? Offer what the big guns appear loath to offer, namely remote-friendly work. This will also help startups poach talent from the bigger tech companies. Talent that they don’t want to shed.

In time, I suspect that softer retention numbers for HR staffs will lead to more workplace flexibility everywhere. And many startups that are remote today will scale while sticking to the model, becoming the big companies of tomorrow with fully remote teams. So the conversation about remote work or returning to high-priced office space is still happening, but it feels more like doomed-cruiseliner deckchair-shuffling than real debate.

Are you going to go back to commuting by car, or a mixture of car and public transit, so that you can put on headphones and try to focus in the office? I doubt it. I’m not.

More on Boston

The Exchange is spending time digging into the various startup hubs of the world, with a focus on some U.S. markets that are worth giving more time to. We’ve looked at Chicago, for example, and most recently Boston.

After that Boston piece went live, a few more sets of comments came in. Let’s chew on their key bits.

Glasswing Ventures’ Rudina Seseri provided us with a look at what is ahead for Boston in the coming quarters, saying that “the number of companies coming to market and raising new rounds is high and they are operationally strong. So unless there is a market correction — which would extend far beyond Boston­­ — the funding appetite will remain.”

And if market conditions persist, startup venture activity could get even more heated in Boston. Seseri told The Exchange via email that “the number of pre-seed and seed-stage companies are increasing dramatically. In fact, we have seen 2x growth [year over year] in the number that are highly qualified for funding.”

In her view, the volume of neat startups that Boston is creating is “a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit in early tech and the market opportunities that COVID-19 has initiated and accelerated.”

Finally, Ari Glantz of the New England Venture Capital Association said that after “a slowdown in H1 2020, both founders and funders have seen a historic flow of capital as new needs and opportunities emerged due to pandemic-era shifts,” and that with “companies and their backers continuing to adapt, the prospects remain bright.”

I included that final quote as it applies to, well, nearly everywhere. Startups have never had it so good!

More next week.

Alex

Daily Crunch: In latest tech crackdown, China plans severe algorithm restrictions

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for Friday, August 27, 2021. What a week! In the last 24 hours we’ve had big news from around the world, including China’s latest regulatory push, Apple making modest concessions regarding the App Store and, of course, startup news aplenty.

Oh, and Canva CEO Melanie Perkins is coming to Disrupt. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • China to crack down on algorithms: The push to more closely regulate and control China’s domestic technology market continued Friday with a government body announcing a draft set of rules for algorithms. The new rules come as China seeks to limit corporate data collection and more. Irony, of course, is dead.
  • Corporations can’t get enough startup equity: That’s our takeaway from digging into the recent, record results from the corporate venture capital (CVC) world. CVCs are taking part in more, bigger startup funding rounds. We dug into the why and the how of the latest data.
  • Apple makes smallest App Store concession: Per a settlement today, TechCrunch reports that Apple will now allow apps to “share information on how to pay for purchases outside of their iOS app or the App Store.” Apple called the change a clarification, which was interesting. Apple’s grip on the App Store is still tight, but we may be seeing indicators that its hold is slipping modestly.

Startups/VC

Up top, let’s talk about a16z, the venture capital conglomerate. Sure, it has crypto funds and main funds and other funds aplenty. But today the group announced a $400 million capital pool just for seed deals. The fund size indicates that a16z is either expecting to pay lots for seed equity or that it is going to make a host of bets. We’ll see.

  • Rivian files to go public: In case you were looking for yet another EV company to add to your personal investments, good news! Rivian has filed privately to go public! Frankly, we’re excited by this deal; Lordstown this is not. The company recently closed $2.5 billion in external capital, bringing it to more than $10 billion in total. We want to know what all that funding has bought the firm in terms of results.
  • Forbes is also going public: Via a SPAC, we should note, but yes, Forbes the media-and-magazine company is taking advantage of the boom in blank-check combinations to take itself public. We dug into its deck to see what the company has coming up and how heavily COVID-19 impacted its results.
  • Toast is also going public, but your humble servant failed to get a post up on the matter by the time it was newsletter o’clock. More to come on TechCrunch.com.
  • Payroll API startup Zeal raises Series A: The embedded fintech space is busy, and competitive, which makes what Zeal is building rather interesting. Is there a big enough market for just a payroll API product? A few years ago I would have quibbled, but if the OKR startup world has taught me anything, it’s to not underestimate how much demand there is in the world for software.
  • Sitenna wants to help telcos place 5G antennas: Coming in the next batch of Y Combinator-backed startups, Sitenna is looking for a piece of the capital wave that will push 5G mobile connectivity into our lives. The startup is neat, so read the post, but also keep in mind that demo day for YC is next week, so we’re heading into a very heavy news cycle over the next few days.
  • Sastrify raises $7M: Based in Cologne, Sastrify wants to help companies buy and manage their SaaS spend. Why does the world need this? Well, now that all software is a subscription fee, not overpaying and generally knowing what one is paying for is a big deal. And big deals plus some founder work equals a startup. Notably, Sastrify is already cash-flow-positive despite its youth.

The pre-pitch: 7 ways to build relationships with VCs

Many founders must overcome a few emotional hurdles before they’re comfortable pitching a potential investor face-to-face.

To alleviate that pressure, Unicorn Capital founder Evan Fisher recommends that entrepreneurs use pre-pitch meetings to build and strengthen relationships before asking for a check:

This is the ‘we actually aren’t looking for money; we just want to be friends for now’ pitch that gets you on an investor’s radar so that when it’s time to raise your next round, they’ll be far more likely to answer the phone because they actually know who you are.

Pre-pitches are good for more than curing the jitters: These conversations help founders get a better sense of how VCs think and sometimes lead to serendipitous outcomes.

“Investors are opportunists by necessity,” says Fisher, “so if they like the cut of your business’s jib, you never know — the FOMO might start kicking hard.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Peloton’s bad week: What happens when you have a lackluster earnings report — by Wall Street’s standards — and then get “subpoenaed by both the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security”? Well, your share price goes down, and you hope that Monday will wind up much better than how Friday went.
  • Tesla wants to sell power: This is a fun one. Per an application, the world learned that Tesla wants to sell power in Texas under the rubric of being a retail electric provider, meaning that it may “purchase wholesale electricity from power generators and sell it to customers,” per TechCrunch.
  • Twitter tried to bring back the old times: By having its service stutter and go down for folks today. Remember the good old times, when Twitter broke all the time? Personally, I miss the Fail Whale. Twitter, we reckon, does not.
  • To close us out, Venky Adivi from Canonical has some thoughts on open source software and the U.S. government. Spoiler: The news is mostly good.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

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We’re reaching out to startup founders to tell us who they turn to when they want the most up-to-date growth marketing practices. Fill out the survey here.

Read one of the testimonials we’ve received below!

Marketer: Natalia Bandach, Hypertry

Recommended by: Jean-Noel Saunier, Growth Hacking Course

Testimonial: “Natalia is someone with an out-of-the-box approach to growth drivers and experimentation, full of creative solutions and many ideas that she quickly tests through experimentation. Rather than focusing on one area, she tries to verify what makes the most sense to a business and designs experiments that are crucial not only [in the short term] but also [in the long run]. She is an ethical growth manager, likes to know that the business brings real value, and is ready to pivot in every direction, [which] she does fast — however, with a focus on the team’s well-being, professional growth and always avoiding burnout.”

Community

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Join Danny Crichton on Twitter Spaces on Tuesday, August 31st at 1 p.m. PDT/4 p.m. EDT as he talks with Azeem Azhar about his upcoming book, “The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society,” which will be released on September 7, 2021.

Corporate venture capital follows the same trend as other VC markets: Up

By Anna Heim

As the global market for startup investing presses to new heights in terms of dollars invested this year, and deal volume ticks up in several regions, corporations are diving into the action.

Data from CB Insights and Stryber indicate that corporate investors are taking part in deals worth more than ever, even if corporate venture capital (CVC) deal activity is not up uniformly around the world.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

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


In a sense, it’s not surprising that CVCs are seeing the deals that they participate in rising in size — the global venture capital market has trended toward larger deals and more dollars for some time now. But questions lie inside the eye-popping figures: How are corporate investors adapting to a more rapid-fire and expensive venture capital market? We also wanted to know if CVCs are shaking up their deal sourcing, and whether the classic corporate venture tension between strategic investing and deploying capital for financial return is seeing a focus mix shift.

To help us understand the data we have at our fingertips, The Exchange reached out to M12’s Matt Goldstein, Sony Innovation Fund’s Gen Tsuchikawa and WIND VenturesBrian Walsh. (TechCrunch last covered CVC outfit WIND Ventures here.)

Let’s talk data and then dig into the nuance behind the numbers.

A boom in deal value

Precisely measuring CVC activity is interestingly difficult. When we discuss the value of venture capital deals, for example, what counts and what doesn’t is a matter of taste. For example, how to treat the SoftBank Vision Fund. Do deals that it leads that include venture capital participation count toward larger VC activity for a given period of time? What about investments led by crossover funds?

No matter what you choose, aggregate venture capital data will always include dollars invested by non-venture entities. So you do the best you can. CVC has the same problem, amplified. Because CVCs are often participatory to deals, instead of leading them, especially in the later stages of startup investing today, tallying concrete corporate venture investment is difficult. So we proceed in the same manner as we do with aggregate venture data counting, including deals that a particular investor type participated in.

Perfect, no. But it’s consistent, which is what we likely care about more. All that’s to say that when we observe the following deal and dollar data, CB Insights notes plainly that for its purposes, “‘CVC-backed funding’ and ‘CVC-backed deals’ refer to corporate venture capital participation in these funding rounds.”

Fair enough. Per CB Insights’ H1 2021 CVC report, CVCs participated in $78.7 billion in funding activity in the first half of 2021, a record for a half-year period. That dollar figure was derived from some 2,099 deals around the world. Precisely how strong those figures are is not clear from their absolute scale.

Forbes jumps into hot media liquidity summer with a SPAC combo

By Alex Wilhelm

What a busy week in the world of media liquidity.

That’s a sentence you don’t get to write often. Regardless, news broke this week that Axel Springer is buying U.S. political journalism outfit POLITICO. The transaction was expected, but the eye-popping roughly $1 billion price tag still has tongues wagging. We even got on the podcast to chat about it.

And Forbes announced that it is going public via a SPAC. The business publication’s news follows BuzzFeed’s journey to the public markets through a blank-check company. Hot media liquidity summer? Something like that.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

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


That TechCrunch is in the process of being sold to private equity, of course, is not something that we should forget. Shoutout to the Verizon bankers who found a way to get rid of us while also deleveraging Verizon’s debt profile. Ten points.

I want to take a quick tour of the Forbes SPAC deck this morning. Our notes on BuzzFeed’s are here, in case you want to run comparisons. This will be easy and fun. Perfect Friday morning fare. Into the data!

What’s it worth?

In corporate-speak, Forbes Global Media Holdings is merging with blank-check company Magnum Opus Acquisition Limited. The transaction will close either Q4 2021 or Q1 2022, Forbes estimates.

The deal itself is somewhat modest in scale compared with other SPAC deals we’ve recently looked into. Forbes reports that it will sport “an implied pro forma enterprise value of $630 million, net of tax benefits,” after its completion. Some $600 million in gross proceeds will be derived from Magnum Opus funds “and $400 million of additional capital through a private placement of ordinary shares of the combined company,” Forbes writes.

The company will sport an equity valuation of $830 million after the deal closes, per its own calculations. That number will change some depending on redemptions ahead of the combination. The gap between the large dollars going into the deal and the modest final valuation of the public Forbes entity is due to some $440 million in secondary transactions for existing Forbes shareholders.

In case you’d prefer all of that in table form, here’s the Forbes investor deck:

Image Credits: Forbes SPAC deck

Is $830 million a fair price? Let’s dig into Forbes’ results.

Daily Crunch: Copenhagen-based Leapwork lands $62M Series B co-led by KKR and Salesforce Ventures

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

‘Ello and welcome to Daily Crunch for August 26, 2021. Or as someone called it recently, Friday Jr. We have lots and lots of news today, with a slight bias toward big items from Big Tech companies. But first, do note that we’re going to spend a lot of time talking fintech at Disrupt this year, and TechCrunch just announced that Techstars’ Saba Karim is coming. It’s going to be great! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Airbnb expands who can help host Afghan refugees: Want to help with Airbnb’s push to house refugees fleeing Afghanistan? The company announced today that it will allow anyone to help, not merely existing hosts. Hopefully this expands the pool of housing stock available and gets more folks housed. We’re all human, so let’s help one another.
  • Apple’s commission rigidity fades further: Apple’s hard-line 30% commission is softening yet again, with the company planning to offer lower take rates for news purchases, at least for publishers who take part in the Apple News app. So it’s good news, with a strong arm-twist to go along with it. Why is Apple fighting so hard to continue rent-seeking in the mobile economy? Because it’s lucrative as heck, that’s why.
  • Major tech companies pledge huge dollars for cybersecurity: U.S. tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft are pledging to work on cybersecurity with extra fervor, they said in a White House meeting. Microsoft is pledging to spend $20 billion on the effort, and Google $10 billion. Apple has promised to “establish a new program to drive continuous security improvements throughout the technology supply chain,” TechCrunch writes. All this is good news, but we do wonder how much of the pledged spending was already penciled into future budgets.

Startups/VC

The other day we noted that our own Brian Heater was launching a newsletter. He still is, and one of its pre-launch entries today sports a headline that I cannot improve upon: “I don’t know what to do with those tossed salads and robot legs.” Heater gets 100 points for getting that past the editors. You can sign up for the robot newsletter here.

  • Otter.ai expands transcription capabilities: If you need to record a conversation and transcribe it, Otter is a great tool to use. I know that because I’m an Otter customer — with my own money — and depend on it heavily. Its news today is that the service is rolling out its “Otter Assistant feature for Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Cisco Webex,” after previously launching support for Zoom.
  • Compa raises $3.9M to build better job offer software: Hiring is a pain in the backside, and in today’s superheated talent market for a number of startup-friendly gigs, it’s even more irksome. To combat those facts, Compa has built software to support recruiters in their work by helping them “manage their compensation strategies to create and communicate offers that are easy to understand and are unbiased.” The startup just came out of stealth.
  • Playbook wants to build the Dropbox for designers: Yes, in years past Dropbox was the Dropbox for designers, but today it’s an enterprise storage and productivity tool. So now there’s Playbook, which wants to assume Dropbox’s old mantle. And it just raised $4 million in a round led by Founders Fund.
  • Picsart raises $130M: Today’s SoftBank and/or Tiger round is Picsart, for whom the Vision Fund 2 just led a $130 million transaction. Details were light, but the company is now a unicorn that crested the $100 million revenue mark. So if you were curious if mobile-first creator tools could scale, well, they can.
  • Atheneum raises $150M for its research and survey product: When I first saw this news I was very excited. Because I live near a private library called the Athenæum. However, this is not that, and so my local temple to books did not just raise $150 million. A startup with the name did, however, and the customer base for its research and survey service is already 500 big companies deep.
  • Leapwork proves that no-code is still hot by raising $62M Series B: Based in Denmark, and raising that country’s largest-ever Series B, Leapwork is making waves with its no-code tool that helps with process automation. I suppose at the union of two hot trends it is not a surprise that the company is doing well — process automation is booming, and everyone is short on developers.
  • Finally, recent TechCrunch hire Kate Park is out today with a piece digging into AI voice and synthetic speech startup LOVO, which just put together a $4.5 million round. Perhaps it can fill in for TechCrunchers on our podcasts when we have colds.

You can’t hack your YC application, but here’s what to avoid

Forget what you’ve heard: There are many shortcuts to success.

Tapping into someone else’s experience is a tried-and-true method, which is why two-time Y Combinator participant Chris Morton wrote a guest post for Extra Crunch with advice for founders hoping to be accepted by the famed accelerator.

Morton, who has also reviewed thousands of YC applications, shares his thoughts on when to submit an application, what to do if you miss the deadline and whether you’ll need to relocate if accepted.

“Remember that your application should be good enough to get an interview, not win a prize,” says Morton. “Go back to work instead of spending more time perfecting an application.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

To close out our news roundup today, a wall of Big Tech news for your diversion:

  • Google kills Streams, its clinician support app: Google is very good at making things and even better at killing them. If Google was a novelist, it would self-kill so many darlings that it would only produce novellas. Regardless, that Streams is dead is not a huge surprise, but for some likely a real bummer.
  • Want some Netflix games? Move to Poland: Netflix is getting into games, which is not a huge surprise given that games are a bigger business than movies, to pick an example. But not everyone is going to get their hands on its mobile titles at once. Poland is up first. That’s not shocking as far as market selection goes, given the popularity of video games in Europe and the reasonable size of the Polish market.
  • Facebook considers launching an election policy decision board group oversight Entmoot coven thing: In more evidence that Facebook may be slightly too large a company to fit into the modern world as a single entity, and that maybe single-human, complete shareholder control should go the way of monarchy, the social giant is “looking to create a standalone advisory committee for election-related policy decisions.” Does that inspire confidence? You tell me.
  • Lordstown gets new CEO: This is a hard, high-profile gig, so it must have been something of an adventure to fill. Still, troubled public EV company Lordstown has secured new leadership that TechCrunch reports is “Daniel A. Ninivaggi, a longtime automotive executive and former head of Carl C. Icahn’s holding company.” Let’s see if he can turn the company around.
  • Wrapping up, if you are a paid YouTube subscriber, here’s some good news.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

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TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

If you’re curious about how these surveys are shaping our coverage, check out this interview Anna Heim conducted with Robert Katai: “Romanian marketing expert Robert Katai explains how to get the most out of your content.”

Daily Crunch: South Korea’s parliament delays final vote on ‘anti-Google law’

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for August 25, 2021. If you wanted to know just how fast the technology news cycle is running today, look no further than our lead story. You’ll note that it is a complete reversion of the week’s previously most important news item! What a world! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • OnlyFans backtracks, will allow adult content: So much for all that. After igniting an online firestorm by announcing that it would end support and sale of most adult content, OnlyFans has changed course. Now it won’t block the material. For more on the topic, the Equity podcast crew has notes.
  • Warby Parker is going public: After a short summer lull, we could be gearing up for yet another IPO cycle. This time the lead-off hitter may be D2C eyewear purveyor Warby Parker. We’ve all heard of the company, so TechCrunch was excited to get into its numbers. Our take? It’s a very neat company, albeit one that has an interesting time defending its final private-market valuation.
  • Headspace + Ginger: News broke today that meditation service Headspace and mental-health-focused startup Ginger are merging to create Headspace Health. The combined entity will be worth $3 billion and have 800 employees. Headspace has long been in competition with Calm, another massive player in the meditation market.

Startups/VC

Before we dive into a number of thematic pairs of startup news, Kanye West. He’s out with a gadget called the “Stem Player,” which, per TechCrunch, is “designed to isolate stems — specific elements like vocals, bass, samples and drums” from musical tracks. It’s a somewhat neat idea. The fact that Kanye is doing it should provide it with a bit of a marketing boost.

From the fintech startup world today, we have two stories, both of which make us wonder just how much money can heavily populated fintech verticals absorb before investors get bored?

From the logistics realm this afternoon, two stories that may give you hope for a future in which having stuff brought to your house has a lower carbon footprint and, perhaps, a cheaper price point:

  • Alphabet’s drone delivery business scales: That’s the news from Down Under. Wing, Alphabet’s drone delivery company, has reached the 100,000-delivery mark, it recently announced. The service is currently live in Logan, Australia, where around 300,000 folks live. Alphabet, please bring this to Providence, Rhode Island.
  • And Coco has raised $36M for super-cute delivery robots: Somewhere in time there was a committee meeting that I missed at which it was decided that all delivery robots had to be cute. I don’t know why. Coco’s delivery robot is, however, adorable. And now very well funded thanks to capital from a Series A led by Sam Altman of Y Combinator fame.

Staying close to the logistics theme, here’s a pair of stories dealing with the world of digital commerce in Europe:

And to round us out, cybersecurity venture capital activity has reached new high, and cannabis-focused startup Jane just put together a $100 million round.

India’s path to SaaS leadership is clear, but challenges remain

By 2030, India’s SaaS industry is estimated to comprise 4%-6% of the global market and generate between $50 billion and $70 billion in yearly revenue, according to a SaaSBOOMi/McKinsey report.

“With the right approach, it won’t be long before the Indian SaaS community becomes a large-scale employer of talent, a significant contributor to India’s GDP and a creator of unmatched products,” says Manav Garg, CEO and founder of Eka Software Solutions.

In a guest post, he lays out several key growth drivers, which include “the largest concentration of developers in the world” and the fact that “SaaS is not a winner-take-all market.”

Even so, the region still faces challenges, since “growth requires a growth mindset.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • The PC isn’t dead: So much for iPads taking over the world, new data from Canalys indicates. Per the data company, PC sales rose 17% from year-ago totals, while tablet sales went sideways. Perhaps having full-power machines is more popular than ever, as we all have more work to do than, well, ever? Regardless, the PC news is good for a host of big technology firms, including HP and Lenovo.
  • Hulu launching HDR viewing for some content: Better late than never, U.S. video streaming service Hulu started rolling out HDR content support on August 19, which “should be available to all users with HDR-compatible devices in the coming days,” TechCrunch reports. So far HDR playback only extends to certain, high-profile Hulu content.
  • South Korea delays proposed “anti-Google law”: If passed, TechCrunch’s own Kate Park writes, “South Korea will be the first country to prohibit such global tech giants from imposing billing systems on in-app purchases.” Apple and Google, naturally, oppose the measure.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

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We’re reaching out to startup founders to tell us who they turn to when they want the most up-to-date growth marketing practices. Fill out the survey here.

Read one of the testimonials we’ve received below!

Marketer: One Net Inc.

Recommended by: The Good Ride

Testimonial: “Exceptional SEO expertise. My e-comm startup relies 100% on SEO traffic, and three years ago we were delisted from Google because we didn’t understand about duple content. One Net fixed our site, and optimized it for Google, which allowed us to get back into the SERPs. Bottom line: They saved our business.”

Daily Crunch: Internet watchdog Citizen Lab says iPhone spyware dodges Apple’s security measures

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for August 24, 2021. Today’s news cycle was particularly beefy, so we have a lot of ground to cover. Especially if you want to know the latest from Spotify, Waymo and other large tech companies.

But before we do, Disrupt is less than a month away and will feature the two heirs apparent of Salesforce, Stewart Butterfield and Bret Taylor. Get hyped! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Airbnb to house 20,000 Afghan refugees: Corporate gimmicks are hollow gestures at best. What Airbnb is promising is the opposite. By offering free housing to tens of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, the company is using its business network for material good. Other wealthy tech companies, what are you going to do?
  • Ramp raises $300M at $3.9B valuation: The startup war to own the growing corporate spend market heated up even more today with Ramp raising fresh funds. Brex and Ramp and Airbase are locked in a multiparty duel after erstwhile competitor Divvy sold to Bill.com. Ramp also made its first acquisition, it announced.
  • For more on the Ramp-Brex rivalry, and what their acquisitions may detail about their diverging strategies, head here.
  • Boom times in Beantown: The global startup scene is accelerating, but few markets have turned on the afterburners to the same degree as Boston. The venerable startup hub is putting up record venture capital tallies across more rounds than ever. And a bevy of local investors don’t see the momentum slowing in coming quarters.

Startups/VC

So much happened in the last 24 hours that we’re forced to proceed in sections. Make sure you are following TechCrunch on Twitter so that you can stay up to date all day long.

We start in India:

  • Bankers hunt Byju’s: Its IPO, that is. Per our own Manish Singh, bankers are pitching the famous edtech startup, hoping to secure a piece of its future IPO action. And the numbers being thrown around are truly astounding: “Most banks have given Byju’s a proposed valuation in the range of $40 billion to $45 billion, but some including Morgan Stanley have pitched a $50 billion valuation if the startup lists next year,” he writes.
  • Khatabook raises $100M more: Now valued at around $600 million, Khatabook’s business of digitizing India’s myriad SMBs is doing well, it appears. The company’s fresh Series C will help power its 10 million monthly active users, and likely help it expand its staff of 200 people.

To lead us into startup rounds more generally, our own Natasha Mascarenhas published an article today digging into NoRedInk’s huge $50 million Series B. Its goal is to help students become better writers. I asked her why she picked the round to cover, to which she said the following:

Usually, I see edtech companies working on subjects that have one right answer, or at least can be sorted into a single category the way STEM or coding often are. NoRedInk caught my eye because it wants to bring tech to a highly emotional and subjective subject: writing. That’s a hard challenge, but it’s cool to see the education community bet on ambitious projects beyond teaching more students to code.

Next up we have a few regular startup bulletins:

  • Substack buys the team behind Cocoon: Substack is having quite the week. After hiring a general counsel, the startup announced that it has acquired the team at Cocoon, what TechCrunch described as “subscription social media app built for close friends.”
  • Maybe 3D-printed homes will be a thing? Investors are betting that they will be, pouring $207 million into ICON after its 3D-printed home business saw revenue growth of 400%. In realistic terms, we have a national housing crisis. So if this leads to more, cheaper homes, it’s hard to oppose.
  • Sora raises $14M for HR ops automation: Sora is back this year with a fresh capital raise, after scaling its customers by 7x and revenues by 8x since its 2020 seed round. Now flush with Series A cash, the startup has big plans to grow its team and double down on making the HR tech stack work in concert, cutting out busywork as it does so.
  • And in a slightly related area, Tango announced that it has raised $5.7 million to grow its process documentation service. The startup watches how employees execute a particular task, and then creates a how-to guide so that others can follow in their footsteps. For new employees, especially in a remote world, it could be a neat service.
  • Finally from startupland, Sara Mauskopf (CEO and co-founder of Winnie) and Elana Berkowitz (founding partner at Springbank Collective) wrote an essay for TechCrunch noting that one industry in particular is huge, yet somehow devoid of venture dollars: childcare.

Back to the suture: The future of healthcare is in the home

It was once common practice for doctors to visit sick patients in their homes: In 1930, 40% of all consultations were house calls. By 1980, that figure was less than 1%.

Today, urgent care centers occupy Main Street storefronts and 33% of medical expenditures occur in hospitals. This leads to higher prices, but not necessarily better results, according to Sumi Das and Nina Gerson, who lead healthcare investments at Capital G.

“We can improve both outcomes and costs by moving care from the hospital back to the place it started — at home,” they write in a post that explores five innovations enabling at-home care and identifies investment opportunities like acute care and infrastructure development.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Kicking off our Big Tech rundown today, our own Ron Miller has a neat look into how Cisco makes acquisitions. The dotcom boom company is among the most acquisitive companies in the world, making its approach to snagging startup talent and products worth understanding.

And now, the crush of Big Tech news:

  • Your iPhone isn’t safe from this spyware: That’s the gist of the latest Zack Whittaker story, delving into how a zero-click attack executed by NSO software broke the security of a “Bahraini human rights activist’s iPhone.” Not good!
  • Peloton’s Tread is back, hopefully safer: One of the weirder self-inflicted wounds in the world of exercise tech came when Peloton tried to argue that its treadmills were safe. They weren’t. Peloton eventually relented and offered a recall. Now they are back!
  • TikTok keeps making business moves: This time the social giant is moving further into e-commerce, it announced today, detailing an expanded partnership with Shopify. A service called TikTok Shopping is also coming to the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.
  • All U.S. podcasters can now access Spotify’s subscription option: Paid podcasting is big in China, but less popular elsewhere in the world. Spotify is betting that the model will have legs into other markets as well. Now all U.S. podcasters can access the paid service if they so choose.
  • To round us out, Waymo is rolling out its self-driving car service to San Francisco. Given the City by the Bay’s inability to ever finish a roadworks project, this is big news. As someone who doesn’t want to drive, that’s great news.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

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We’re reaching out to startup founders to tell us who they turn to when they want the most up-to-date growth marketing practices. Fill out the survey here.

Read one of the testimonials we’ve received below!

Marketer: Avi Grondin, Variance Marketing

Recommended by: Adam Czach, Explorator Labs

Testimonial: “They have a hands-on approach and worked with my team to not only drive results, but educate us on how we can grow our company further.”

Boston’s startup market is more than setting records in scorching start to year

By Anna Heim

The global startup community is currently enjoying a period of fundraising success that may be unprecedented in the history of technology and venture capital. While this is happening around the world, few startup hubs in the world are reveling in a greater boost to their ability to attract capital than Boston.

The well-known U.S. city is a traditional venture capital hub, but one that seemed to fall behind its domestic rivals Silicon Valley and New York City in recent years. However, data indicates that Boston’s startup activity in fundraising terms has reached a new, higher plateau, funneling record sums into the city’s upstart technology companies this year.

And, according to local investors, there could be room for further acceleration in capital disbursement.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

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


The Exchange wanted to better understand what’s driving Boston’s rapid-fire results, and discover if there is any particular need for caution or concern. Is the market overheated? According to local investors Rob Go from NextView, Jamie Goldstein from Pillar VC, Lily Lyman from Underscore and Sanjiv Kalevar from OpenView, things may be more than warm, but Boston’s accelerating venture capital totals in 2021 are not based on FOMO or other potentially ephemeral trends.

Instead, Boston is benefiting from larger structural changes to at least the U.S. venture capital market, helping close historical gaps in its startup funding market and access funds that previously might have skipped the region. And local university density isn’t hurting the city’s cause, either, boosting its ability to form new companies during a period of rich investment access.

Let’s talk data, and then hear from the investing crew about just what is going on over in Beantown.

A record year in the making

When discussing venture capital data, we often note that it is somewhat laggy, with rounds announced long after they are closed. In practice, this means that more recent data can undersell how a particular quarter has performed. With Boston’s 2021 thus far, all that we can say is that if this data includes normal venture capital lag, it will simply be all the more incredible.

Daily Crunch: Virgin Orbit rockets to $3.2B valuation in SPAC merger

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for August 23, 2021. We’ve got a simply lovely bunch of news items for you below, but before we get into the mix, do note that Pfizer’s vaccine has been fully approved. Which is great news! And in other great news, the agenda is out for our October SaaS event. Which is going to kick maximum backside. See you there! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Would you like to go to space? Well, if you are a small satellite heading for low-Earth orbit, good news! Virgin Orbit is raising a bunch of money in a SPAC-led combination that will at once take it public and provide it with a huge grip of cash. You are familiar with Virgin Galactic, its sister company that takes humans for a joyride. Orbit uses a similar launch technique to put more hardware in space.
  • The global crypto race is on: U.S. fintech companies are working to provide domestic users with the option of buying crypto using their service. And now PayPal is taking its efforts international, with plans to allow U.K. folks to buy cryptocurrency through its service. There is going to be a rush for local providers of crypto services to expand to new shores to both avoid ceding potential global market share and stay relevant.
  • Is this why investors are falling out of love with insurtech? TechCrunch has been on the insurtech beat for a while now, trying to figure out why a bunch of formerly hot insurtech startups that went public in the last year have seen their valuations decline once they began to float. We may have figured it out.

Startups/VC

  • Do you want to turn that coupon into a donation? Givz hopes so. The startup provides an API that allows companies to offer coupons that are, in fact, donations to charity. As Mary Ann Azevedo wrote, an “example of a company using Givz can be found in Tervis, which offered customers” a $15 charity donation if they spent $50 at its store. The startup just closed $3 million.
  • Shelf.io raises huge $52M Series B: Even in 2021, a $50 million Series B stands out. But what makes Shelf interesting isn’t really its new round’s size, but the fact that it posted 4x ARR growth from July 2020 to July 2021. That’s quick. The company sells software that ingests a company’s knowledge base, offering suggestions to workers like customer support reps about what to say and when.
  • How are customers really using your API? That’s the question that Moesif wants to answer, and it just raised $12 million to keep up its efforts. We’ve noted at TechCrunch that many startups are swapping from SaaS to API-delivered software services. Which is well and good, but doesn’t always supply the most limpid way of monitoring customer usage and usage patterns. Perhaps Moesif will make it easier to bill for overages?
  • SoftBank looks to Africa: After flying into the Latin American startup market and making noise, SoftBank’s Vision Fund franchise just made a huge bet in Africa, leading a $400 million round into fintech company OPay. Our own Tage Kene-Okafor writes that “the company’s mobile money and payment arm” is its most successful effort to date.
  • From the latest YC batch, Revery: This startup — Revery.ai, formally — wants to apply computer vision and artificial intelligence to e-commerce to provide a better online dressing room experience, TechCrunch reports. We’ve heard of similar efforts in the past, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room in the world of online shopping for a few players.
  • Expect to hear more from YC companies as demo day looms in our calendars.

Zūm CEO Ritu Narayan explains why equity and accessibility works for mobility services

Ritu Narayan founded Zūm with her two brothers in 2016 to disrupt student transportation, a space that hasn’t seen much innovation since pupils began finding their way to and from little red schoolhouses.

Since then, Zūm has inked partnerships with school districts around the country to create more efficient routes and reduce vehicle emissions.

By 2025, Narayan says her company will have 10,000 electric school buses and plans to put the fleet into service to generate power and feed it back to the grid.

To learn more about the company’s development, its immediate plans for the future and how the pandemic impacted operations, read on.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • TikTok invests in AR: Social phenom TikTok wants to follow Snap and Facebook into the AR studio game. The company just “launched a new creative toolset called TikTok Effect Studio, currently in private beta testing, which will allow its own developer community to build AR effects for TikTok’s short-form video app,” TechCrunch reports. “How do you do, fellow kids?” but in AR? Brands are going to love this.
  • Because our Big Tech section was smaller than usual today, here’s one more from the startup beat: Future tech exits have a lot to live up to.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

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Are you all caught up on last week’s coverage of growth marketing? If not, read it here.

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

Community

The cover of "After Cooling On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort"

Image Credits: Simon and Schuster

Join Danny Crichton tomorrow Tuesday August 24, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT for a Twitter Spaces interview with Eric Dean Wilson, author of, “After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort.”

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

It’s almost that time when startup followers from around the world gather at our annual conference, Disrupt, which will be held virtually again this year. Join the community September 21-23 to expand your horizons and your network with founders and CEOs of Coinbase, Dapper Labs, GitLab, Canva and more. Attend for less than $100, or you can get a free Innovator Pass if you are one of the first 10 people to register with promo code DAILYCRUNCHFREE. But you’ll want to hurry — it’s first-come, first-served, and once they’re gone, they’re gone!

‘How to hire’ is the new ‘how to conserve runway’

By Natasha Mascarenhas

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When COVID-19 first began to infect the world, my interviews with venture capitalists all somewhat fit into the same mold. Investors would tell me that they’re “triaging” their own portfolio to understand how to help startups rocked by the pandemic. While no one outright said that they would stop investing in new opportunities, many spoke on turning inward, instead of outward, to navigate the uncertain time.

Then the conversation would inevitably turn toward runway, aka the amount of capital that would dictate how many months they could stay in business before shutting down. Every founder was thinking about it, every VC was advising their portfolio companies to be smart about spending, and one startup even launched a product to help founders secure money in preparation for a broader pullback from traditional investors. For what it’s worth, that startup, ClearCo, is now a unicorn.

Fast-forward to over a year later and it’s been months since I’ve heard the word runway. The phrase has all but disappeared as venture capital as an asset class exploded with new check-writers and record-breaking fund closes. As companies raise follow-on financing weeks, instead of years, after prior rounds, I wondered what the new tension was in startupland.

In a conversation this week, NEA partner Ann Bordetsky put it simply: “It’s easy to raise and hard to hire.”

Bordetsky, who joined NEA this year, said that the next six months of advice for founders will be all about hiring. “Figure out your unfair advantage for hiring the best talent,” she said. “Not everyone can hire the best of the best, so hiring is going to make or break a lot of companies.” Put differently, “how to hire” is the new “how to conserve runway.”

Hiring has always been hard for startups, which are more strapped for resources than, say, a Facebook that can offer an engineer a $1 million signing bonus without blinking an eye. Still, founders tell me that hiring is only getting harder as more and more well-capitalized startups are rising up with impressive valuations.

We’ve been covering it for years, but expect the conversation to grow only louder. We are in the Great Resignation, after all.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll discuss the growth and resiliency of Nuro, OnlyFans’ bombshell news and the first women’s health unicorn. As always, you can support me by following me on Twitter @nmasc_ and sharing this newsletter with two of your friends.

The Nuro EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Quiet and autonomous delivery don’t necessarily find themselves in the same sentence often, unless, of course, you’re talking about Nuro. Our latest EC-1 looks under the hood of the AV startup, built by former Google self-driving project employees, as it finds its voice.

Here’s what you need to know: The 4-part series explores Nuro’s route to a $5 billion valuation, which includes Domino’s and a regulatory obstacle course. It was written by Mark Harris and edited by Kirsten Korosec.

The series:

Will OnlyFans lose its only fans?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

OnlyFans, a platform in which creators paywall exclusive content for their biggest fans, announced this week that it will ban explicit content. While the platform was not built exclusively for porn, the content was largely its most known use case — powering OnlyFans’ lucrative rise over the past year. Thus, the ban came as a shock as many see OnlyFans’ success inextricably tied to porn.

Here’s what you need to know: Many saw OnlyFans’ choice to step away from porn as a reaction to not being able to find outside investors, news that broke earlier in the day due to leaked financials. As pressure from the banking world allegedly forced OnlyFans to focus on more SFW content, my colleague Lucas Matney gave his two cents.

From Matney’s op-ed:

This shutdown is also the opportunity of a lifetime for the crypto industry, which could capitalize on the shutdown and a recent wave of increasingly consumer-friendly crypto payments infrastructure products to create a platform that won’t crumble under the influence of payment providers.

The real challenge is in making it simple to onboard new users to both a new platform and potentially their first crypto wallet — while staying compliant with regulatory guidelines — at a time when more conventional web payment structures have gotten so streamlined and free adult content is just as prolific as ever.

More on crypto’s current state:

Wom​​en’s health gets its first unicorn

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

This week on Equity, we discussed a rarity in the world of tech: A women-led company in the women’s health space became a unicorn in a financing led by women. The historic move by Maven, founded by Kate Ryder, shows how women’s health is anything but a niche market.

Here’s what you need to know: With fresh capitalization, Maven’s comprehensive women’s health digital clinic and benefits service could now become a platform play. My take is that the company wants to quietly show people how women’s health is tied to everyone’s health. We’ll likely see the startup expand its lens of who it serves, and we’ve already seen it expand into family care.

Diving into digital health more:

Around TC

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Same time, same place, next week? Okay cool.

N

Tracking startup growth rates

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

Hey friends! This week was more than hectic, so we have a lot of ground to cover. Below are more notes on the Brazilian IPO market, more coverage of the Chicago startup scene and a host of numbers from startups concerning their recent growth results. So, if you like early-stage or later-stage startups, international startups or domestic startups, we have just what you want!

Another week, another Twitter conversation about funding rounds. To catch you up, this week saw more folks complaining about the media covering funding rounds over other examples of startup activity. My contention for years has been that we, the scribbling classes, cover funding rounds because they are the rare moment that startups are willing to actually share results of their operations.

That VCs will occasionally complain about this is particularly rich, given that investors would hardly be willing to invest in a company based on a short call with a founder about how they came up with an idea. And yet they tell founders to not tell the media anything at all. Alas.

Regardless, all this shook out to me saying, “Hey startups, send in your data!” And some folks did! Others sent in notes about stuff that they had announced before, but that we’d missed.

So here’s a digest of startup growth from a number of stages, markets and the like:

CopyAI: The company recently crossed the $2 million ARR threshold. CopyAI is busy building its business in public, which we love, sharing metrics as it goes. And it has raised external capital and grown rapidly while doing so, providing a proof point that you can share information and not have your startup instantly burst into flames.

I asked CEO Paul Yacoubian if growth has kept up with his expectations, and he said that it has. Our next question: How long until the company can double in size yet again? CopyAI reached $1 million ARR earlier this year.

TextNow: Now over the $100 million ARR mark. The company, essentially bootstrapped after raising less than $2 million during its life, also recently hired a CFO. You know what that means — an IPO is coming. Frankly TextNow is not a company I know well, but thanks to it sharing information, I now want to learn more about it. See!

Kalendar AI: This company helps folks book sales meetings using AI, it appears. And the model is showing some traction, according to founder and CEO Ravi Vadrevu. He shared a host of metrics with The Exchange, including its bank balance and growth charts. (Hell yeah, data!) The company is generating ARR in the six figures and raised $700,000 in a recent round.

And per its charts, subscriber signups appear to be accelerating. Per a different dataset shared, August is going to be the company’s busiest month yet when it comes to meetings booked, the key non-GAAP metric for its business. That figure is growing at 30% monthly, the startup said.

In Vadrevu’s own phrasing, Kalendar AI wants to “democratize growth for companies like how AWS democratized innovation with virtualization.”

Balto: Balto is a St. Louis-based startup that has raised just over $50 million. The company reached out with some neat data from its recent round, a $37.5 million Series B. Per the company’s COO Chris Kontes, “Jump Capital, OCA Ventures and Sandalphon” took part in the round. Which matters if you read our recent dig into the Chicago market.

Regardless, Balto said that it grew its customer base by 84% and its revenue by 200% since it raised its Series A in Q3 2020. I asked if the ∆ between the company’s customer and revenue growth was driven by net dollar retention (NDR) or larger customers. Per Kontes, “the answer is a bit of both” with a bias toward NDR. He didn’t share an absolute number, but did say that Balto’s “NDR is north of 150%.” Hot dang.

The company, by the by, built tech to help support agents know what to say during calls. Which, it appears, is big business.

HostiFi: Headquartered near Detroit, HostiFi helps customers “remotely monitor and manage UniFi Network devices.” I do not know what that means, sadly, and don’t have the minutes right now to dig in more deeply.

But in better news, HostiFi’s founder Reilly Chase dropped a grip of metrics into our inbox. His company will reach $1 million in ARR in the “next few weeks,” and wants to hit $10 million ARR in “the next 3 years,” which we dig. The company raised $100,000 from what was previously known as Earnest Capital, a group that we’ve covered. HostiFi has 1,700 customers, it says, and a fully remote team of six.

Fun, yeah? Private companies being more open with their financial performance is good for the world as the activity has a way of making the opaque startup world just a bit more limpid.

Brazil

Our dive into the Brazilian startup market and its impending IPOs was good fun to write. But as we went to press, Brazil’s B3 stock exchange got back to our questions with answers. They just missed our timeline, but we’d be remiss to not share some of their notes here.

Regarding the present state of the Brazilian technology IPO market, B3’s Rafaela Vesterman Araujo wrote the following (minor edits for clarity):

We are passing through a period of records in the Brazilian Capital Markets. Through the first half of August 2021 we had 44 IPOs (for comparison purposes, in all of 2020 we had 28) and around 30% of these IPOs were technology companies, which is very interesting, considering that before 2020, the technology sector was underrepresented at B3.

This is precisely the trend that we were trying to highlight, and note, so it’s nice to see the data back us up.

Next up, how big does a company have to be to list on B3? Here’s Vesterman Araujo (minor edits for clarity):

Around 70% of 2020 and 1H21 technology IPOs raised between [$110 million] and [$367 million]. In addition, 70% of these companies had a net income up to [$55 million]. In some of the cases, even with a lower net revenue compared to other sectors, we have noticed that many of them have been raising a greater amount of capital, probably reflecting the growth expectations.

Hello, growth premium! That’s great news for local Brazilian startups hoping to get public in their home market. With Nubank and Nuvemshop growing huge while private, where the country’s companies will go public is no small matter.

Chicago

We dug into the Chicago boom this week, tracking the Windy City’s huge venture capital results from the past few quarters and asking locals precisely what was driving the wave of funding and startup activity. As we got that into WordPress, another set of answers came in that we want you to read.

Techstars’ Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of its Chicago operations, had this to say about why Chicagoland startups have excelled in attracting capital since late 2020:

It’s a flight to quality. For too long, there’s been a concentration of capital in one hub and VCs following the decentralization of innovation after the COVID [lockdowns]. The pandemic broke old habits and brought investors to mature markets like Chicago. [ … ] For years, Chicago has grown as a national, top-tier destination for startups. The national VC community is finally catching up, exploring our amazing community of founders who are scaling fast in the Midwest.

I went to school in Chicago, so am pretty aware of the density of schools in the area. I was curious if that fact was beneficial to local startups. Per Sáles-Griffin, the answer is a hard yes:

Absolutely, we’re home to two of the top five MBA programs (UChicago, Northwestern), home to a top-five engineering college (UIUC) and [to] one of the most diverse engineering colleges in the country (UIC). But we’re also home to one of the largest city college districts in the region (City Colleges) and historically Black institutions like Chicago State — both home to several engineering and IT programs, training the next generation of talent.

Where should we look for the next generation of startups from Chicago? The Techstars denizen listed healthcare and life sciences as a key market, as well as food tech and companies building in the larger transit space.

So many other things!

Sadly, we are way over our word count for this newsletter, so we have to stop. But lots of other things out there are worth your attention. Like Indianapolis-based Lessonly being acquired by Seismic. Lessonly had raised just under $30 million while operating on its own, helmed by the dynamo-like Max Yoder. And Aspiration Partners — backed by a number of well-known actors — is going public via a SPAC. The deal will provide hundreds of millions in fresh capital to the company.

More next week.

Alex

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