To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, I’m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now.
Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New York’s top consumer VCs:
Consumer health and banking startups were recurring areas of interest, and there’s a sense that apps and product brands which provide a deeper sense of community are an untapped opportunity.
At USV, we are focused on opportunities that broaden access by leveraging technology to increase value and decrease cost in big buckets of consumer spend. In doing so, we are looking for ways to make products and services previously available to a select segment available to many more. In particular, we have been investing in areas of consumer health where the delivery mechanism not only makes the care more convenient but also more affordable and higher quality; products and platforms in financial services that change the traditional underlying model to drive financial health for a mass customer; and opportunities that create new access to education both for kids and lifelong learners.
Within each of these segments, I’ve been very interested in how new communities are forming inside products–users that come for a specific offering are forming allegiance and increasing engagement by interacting with other users. I think that is a trend we will only see accelerate.
People are bored on their phones, not of their phones. I am most excited to meet founders working on consumer apps that bring happiness and fun to a mass consumer audience, as I continue to believe we are in the early days of mobile and the app store is not dead.
These apps may look like a game, they may be a game, or they may be a new feed, but TikTok, Twitch, HQ, Yolo and other Snap app kit apps, Tinder and others have shown consumers want new apps, the barrier for adoption and retention is just very high. All apps and games have a half-life, creating something with a very long one is really hard, but the demand is sitting on the phone scrolling thorough feeds, waiting for some new fun. We are excited about apps that allow people to interact with others in different ways, in new worlds, using new hardware, or new interfaces.
With the rise of the sober curious movement, we invested in Kin Euphorics, offering consumers a sexy option to an alcoholic drink, creating a social experience around a non-alcoholic beverage that doesn’t exist in the market today. With beer sales decreasing five years in a row, brands like Heineken are offering alcohol-free alternatives catering to this growing audience.
With the decline of religion, we have seen the rise of what we call the “rise of the alternate community.” Consumers are looking for ways to connect online and offline based on specific interests. Examples of this in our portfolio include The Wonder, a membership model for familyhood, Peanut, a social network for modern motherhood, and Co-Star, an astrology app.
What if you could pay now to store something online permanently? You could preserve a website against censorship, save legal contracts, or offer an app even after your company fails. That’s the promise of Arweave‘s Permaweb.
The startup has built a new type of blockchain that relies on Moore’s Law-style declining data storage costs. Users pay for a few hundred years upfront (about half a cent per megabyte), and the interest accrued by the excess payment will perpetually cover the costs of shrinking storage prices.
The Permaweb quietly launched last June. Over 100 permanent apps have been built on Arweave’s infrastructure including an email client in the last six months, while 50,000 objects were stored on the Permaweb in October alone. As long as some node operators keep hosting the data on unused hard drive space, they keep getting paid, and the sites, apps, or files remain available. Instead of needing some special blockchain browser to access what’s stored, the Permaweb can be accessed through traditional web browsers and URLs.
Arweave founder Sam Williams
The potential of the Permaweb has attracted $5 million in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto, and joined by other top blockchain investors Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital who’ve exchanged the cash for tokens from Arweave. Those tokens, and the rest Arweave is sitting on, could become increasingly valuable if the Permaweb becomes popular.
“Arweave’s mission is to become the new Library of Alexandria” Arweave founder Sam Williams writes, “but invulnerable to the pitfalls of centralised points of failure, ensuring that humanity’s shared knowledge and history is available to all future generations.”
The idea spawned from a slew of PhDs dropouts trying to address the fake news problem. They figured if sites or articles could be stored permanently in their original form, they couldn’t be changed or eradicated by a future despot.
The team discovered blockchains could handle this at small scale. But to decentralize large amounts of data, they developed a special kind of blockchain where miners are rewarded for storing a random old block from the chain, not just the most recent one. That meant the more of the total blocks they stored, the more they’d stand to earn.
After going through TechStars Berlin and recruiting some of their accelerator-mates, Arweave launched the Permaweb mid last year. Those who want to store something download a free Chrome, Firefox, or Brave browser extension, fund their wallet, and make a one-time payment. For example, here’s a permanently hosted forum that won’t disappear like many online communities have over the years.
While pricier than alternatives like AWS in the short-term, the Permaweb could theoretically keep files alive forever. Williams says that data storage costs have declined around 30% per year for a while, but the decentralized network would still be able to cover costs as long as that rate doesn’t fall lower than 0.5%. “If we dropped below 0.5% storage cost decline, then really, really bad things will have happened to humans.” And even then, today’s payments would cover 200 years of storage.
Another benefit is that users of applications can choose to use the original version of a Perma app instead of an updated one. That way if a developer polluted later versions with ads or privacy invasions, users could rely on the old one.
An important concern is that the Permaweb could be used to enable piracy. But Williams tells me the majority of node operators have to vote to approve hosting a file, so they could refuse copyrighted music or revenge porn. And anyways, torrenting is a free and so likely more appealing to pirates. We’ll see if other players try to crash into the market with a similar concept and trigger a perma pricing war. But Williams claims Bitcoin, Ethereum, and EOS can’t do this type of storage while Archive.org, The Wayback Machine, and Perma.cc are focused on academic uses for shallow web preservation.
Arweave likens itself to an Uber for storage, matching users needing to save files with those with excess storage capacity. But it acts as if there’s no middleman like Uber taking a cut. Instead the startup will sell tokens as necessary to stay funded until the network is sufficiently decentralized and runs itself.
“A lot of crypto projects are long on white papers but short on code. Arweave was the opposite” says Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger. His fund tried out the Permaweb by storing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ongoing measurements of carbon dioxide — something climate change deniers might want to suppress.
The goal was always to stop misinformation. Williams concludes “We think that we’re closing what Orwell called the memory hole so people can’t change what was said, so everyone can see it that way in the future without the possibility of redaction or censorship.”
Ten years later, Foursquare is far past its scrappy consumer days as it builds out its B2B services, but its latest announcement is thrusting it back into the scrappy consumer business.
Onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley announced that the company is launching a free version of their Pilgrim SDK, which allows developers to push contextual notifications to their users based on their location data.
The SDK “powers most of the most interesting stuff we do as a company,” Crowley told TechCrunch, but there’s also “been a super high bar for [customers] getting involved with Pilgrim.”
The company has previously had to interface pretty directly with potential customers so adopting freemium model could open a sales pipeline for smaller customers that rely on Foursquare since birth.
Free-tier customers won’t be paying by dumping their user data onto Foursquare’s servers, the company says. “This is about lowering the bar for just being able to play with it,” Crowley says.
The free-tier has a pretty high ceiling before things get premium, apps that utilize the SDK will have to cross 100,000 MAUs before they have to break out the credit card. Free-tier users aren’t going to get access to Foursquare Panel, which synthesizes data and trends from customers based on location data. You also lose access to integrations with CRMs and marketing automation systems.
Foursquare has seen plenty of success getting developers to utilize their Places API, which is part of Pilgrim. The company says there are 150,000 developers that have registered for the API including customers like Uber, Samsung and Twitter.
Developers will have to apply to get access, though the company says this is largely to weed out blatant would-be ToS violators from accessing the SDK.
To sign up, you’ll need to visit developer.foursquare.com.
“A lot of this software hasn’t existed before,” said Crowley. “We’re just entering this era of contextual computing — there’s a lot of building blocks that need to get built. We’ve built a lot of them and we’re excited to share it with as many developers as possible and see what people do with it,” he added.
Of the various channels available to growth marketers, podcast is among the most misunderstood.
Brands like Dollar Shave Club, Squarespace, and ZipRecruiter have deployed podcast advertising for user acquisition for years, but it’s still a channel that flies under the radar. We have managed tens of millions of dollars in podcast ad spend for challenger brands and market leaders alike, and are eager to share some tricks of the trade.
If you want to test in a channel where early adopters are being rewarded with both attractive CAC and scale, here’s what you need to know:
Podcast listeners are a sought after group – the audience trends towards educated, early adopters with a high household income. You can find this profile elsewhere, but what makes podcasts unique is that they are choosing to consume that particular content time and time again. The host becomes a trusted voice to deliver them not only interesting stories and banter, but information on companies as well.
Often podcast advertisers are newcomers or start-ups, and the podcast ad might be the first time the listener has heard about that company. Having the first touch with consumers be from a thorough, personal, and often funny host-read interaction is incredibly valuable and helps brands jump over the credibility hurdle. Compare that to an impersonal banner ad, and I’d choose a podcast ad every time.
Even though the term ‘podcast’ was coined in 2004, advertising in the medium has exploded in the last ~5 years. The IAB has been tracking podcast ad revenue since 2015, when the entire medium generated #105.7 million in ad sales. It recently released its third study of podcast ad revenue, which estimated the US market at $479 million in 2018, with growth accelerating to a projected $1 billion+ by 2021.
Andreesen Horowitz did a great investor profile on the space earlier this year, with a helpful rundown of the holistic ecosystem, from hosting mechanisms and platforms to the pace of podcast monetization.
Historically, the medium has been dominated by a mix of comedians doing their own thing, radio entities simulcasting sports shows, and otherwise popular shows that had a devoted niche following relative to other mediums. Most advertisers bought podcast ads as an extension of their other audio acquisition campaigns.
Then Serial came along, in 2014, exploding into popularity and pop culture. They ran a MailChimp ad that had someone mispronouncing the name of the company as “MailKimp”, which was a funny inside joke for those in the know. Nina Cwik and David Raphael, co-founders of Public Media Marketing, explain the initial conversation around this now iconic spot.
“While discussing a launch sponsorship with sponsors there wasn’t a huge amount of interest in taking a risk on a new show even with the amazing This American Life provenance. MailChimp was committed to supporting Serial. The talented production team at Serial and This American Life created MailKimp and the sponsor was rewarded for believing in the show.”
Not only were they rewarded by being a launch sponsor of one of the most successful podcasts in history, but once Serial and the medium itself expanded, a loving impersonation of Serial host Sarah Koenig and the MailKimp joke eventually made its way into a Saturday Night Live skit. Serial also appealed to a female audience, helping to bring new listeners into the channel, and podcasters and advertisers followed.
Over the past 5 years, the space has diversified. We now see so many different shows with all flavors of true crime, news and politics takes that you don’t hear in the broader media picture, women talking to other women about literally everything, comedy and pop culture pods as diverse as Bodega Boys, Who? Weekly, and RuPaul: What’s the Tee with Michelle Visage, and a podcast to go with every reality and television show you can think of. There are too many shows to talk about; there are over 750,000 shows indexed by iTunes.
So how do companies start testing in podcasts? And how do they do so successfully?
We advise companies to start with a test spend that you consider meaningful in the context of your other customer acquisition efforts. Initial tests in the channel that are properly diversified typically vary from $50,000 to $150,000 in media cost. If the idea of a testing budget in the high five figures makes you gasp, don’t rush it. If you under-invest, you run the risk of a false negative, i.e. you didn’t spend enough to validate performance, or a false positive; when you buy tiny shows, one or two sales may pay back. If you make media decisions at scale based on that data, you may find yourself in deep water. If the risk of testing a new channel and having a dip in your CAC is too great, we recommend you exhaust other channels, like Facebook, before jumping into the podcast space.
Podcast offers advertisers a low barrier to entry. Creative production is limited to producing copy points for hosts to use as they record their ad reads. However, it is quite manual relative to digital channels, and can take weeks to put into place. Most purchasing is done through a show’s sales representation or network, via calls and emails, and set in advance (sometimes way in advance depending on inventory levels). It entails RFPing multiple network partners, doing research and outreach to independent shows, gathering rates and evaluating content, and finally making decisions based on budget and inventory availability. We often describe this as the media puzzle – making sure that the ideal shows, with favorable pricing are available when you want them to be. This can take time and some back and forth with your network rep to set in stone, so give yourself room to plan ahead.
We buy with a lot of direct shows, sales representation firms, and ad networks. We’re starting to see the beginnings of programmatic and exchange-based inventory become available, but it’s largely impression-based media, which isn’t yet a proven tactic that direct response-oriented advertisers can consistently use for customer acquisition. There are some managed service-like buying partners in the space, that work to varying degrees of efficiency for customer acquisition.
When it comes to choosing what types of shows to partner with, beyond budget and availability, it’s important to remember the obvious choice may not be the best one.
One of the most consistent, and pleasant, surprises in podcast advertising is how well shows that are seemingly unrelated to a product work well for customer acquisition. We’ve worked on products that had a primary target demographic of suburban moms, but guess what? Gamers want to stay at home and order snacks and food delivery, too; they have disposable income and are harder to reach via traditional channels.
If you’re advertising a product targeted to parents, you shouldn’t just test into parenting shows, you should also consider testing into shows with hosts who are parents, but have content not at all or tangentially related to parenting, like Your Mom’s House, with Tom Segura and Christina Pazsitzky. Sure, it’s a comedy podcast, and it’s NSFW (and hilarious). They’re also human parents who they do amazing reads, and their fans are legion.
Ryan Iyengar, CMO of HealthIQ, notes that “hosts with wildly different backgrounds were able to find a through-line to connect ad reads with their audiences, regardless of product line.” Of course, contextual advertising is worth consideration, and there are sometimes unique opportunities, but most successful shows aren’t a bullseye for content.
We’ve also seen the inverse, on contextual fit; food products can either do amazing or not well at all on food-related podcasts. If you have a food product with mass appeal, but one that (for example) many home cooks may already be familiar with, you may be better off doing just about any other popular genre of shows besides food.
Plus, these hosts are pros; they’ve been doing ad reads for everything from mattresses to meal kits for years. They know how to talk about your product in an engaging way.
Doug Hoggatt, the VP of Marketing at Betabrand, agrees, mentioning he would also coach new advertisers to “take the time to test across genres and hosts, you’ll be surprised at the results.” Iyengar is also the former VP of Marketing at ZipRecruiter; if you’ve ever heard a podcast, you may have heard the company advertised once or twice. He also notes, “[regardless of] content of the show, audiences can be interested in all sorts of topics, and are still potential customers. Yes, even hiring managers listen to comedy podcasts!”
Many business-to-business (B2B) advertisers do well in the channel, in part due to higher allowable CAC and high lifetime value (LTV). And the same point about show selection holds true for those audiences, as well. Visnick noted, “[HoneyBook] originally focused on testing industry-specific podcasts as those seemed to be the most natural way to target our prospective customers. We discovered that by diversifying our podcast mix into non-industry content we could still reach our target audience while also growing our reach and overall program performance.”
If we hear something that we think can help us at work, we’re amenable to that message, especially when it comes from our favorite host. Having an open mind to testing has helped so many advertisers unlock additional shows, and possible customers. You can take those insights back to other channels, too, and begin to integrate your campaigns and establish cross-channel frequency.
Pricing in the channel is unstable, and demand-based because inventory is finite; effective CPMs for host read, embedded mid-roll advertisements — by far, the most consistently performing ad unit for customer acquisition in the space — vary from $10 to $100. Yes, really.
Worrying too much about CPMs could mean that you’re leaving behind some of the best inventory in the space. So while it could make sense to cut higher CPM placements from a media plan, you want to be cautious. You could inadvertently cut out potential volume drivers or otherwise highly effective placements.
The listener is there for the hosts. They relate to them, laugh with them, or laugh at them. They come to expect a performance from them, and often that performance bleeds into the ad reads. Whether it’s a semi-NSFW jingle about MeUndies from Bill Burr, or Joe Rogan recommending his mind-blowing NatureBox snack combination, or Levar Burton delivering an oh-so soothing Calm read.
Alan Abdine, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Rooster Teeth, a network with geeky, gamer shows with a hint of irreverence, said “the best ads are the ads that are organic, natural, and originate from the voice of the show talent. When brands allow our hosts to be themselves, there are more opportunities for entertaining side stories and commentary related to the brand.”
He continues to say his “belief is that if an advertiser is willing to spend money to reach out audience, then let us be the experts on that audience and let us use our own voice to share their message and talking points! They will always get better results in that scenario.”
There is a certain special trust that goes into podcast ads. And to allow hosts to be themselves while also being a positive brand advocate often mean striking a balance between scripting and giving space. The most commonly purchased ad unit for customer acquisition advertisers is a host-read, embedded, mid-roll advertisement, typically :60 in length, but many hosts go over.
Overly scripting the copy can lead to an ad sounding inauthentic and infringe on their creativity. Kate Spencer, the co-host of Forever 35, notes that “often there are a lot of required talking points to hit in a short amount of time. We’re always happy to oblige, but I think it takes away from the organic and conversational nature of the ad, which is what makes podcast advertising especially unique. ”
On the flip side, not scripting enough could lead to a disjointed read where the host is trying to piece value props together on the fly. Nick Freeman, Chief Revenue Officer at Cadence13, explains that “some hosts do like the perfectly written out :60 script, while others like bullets they can riff off of.” Because podcast campaign test across multiple shows and personalities, it’s best to find a starting point in your copy where hosts can be guided, but not stifled. Freeman says “that doesn’t necessarily mean trying to make jokes for comedy hosts, for example, so much as it’s giving the hosts who do well with it the freedom to ad-lib.”
And for those that want to get a little more creative, the space is primed for custom integrations. Recently DoorDash partnered with Rooster Teeth for an ad on a livestream in celebration of a new game their studios were releasing. Since there was a visual element, DoorDash and Rooster Teeth partnered on a creative spin to the ad.
Instead of the typical copy, food would be delivered to the group of hosts while recording. Grant Durando, Senior Marketing Consultant at Right Side Up, works with DoorDash on their podcast campaign and stewarded this unique partnership. “[Rooster Teeth] approached us with the opportunity to engage with the live stream in a deeper way than just a regular podcast ad. It was definitely an unorthodox integration, but exciting to be in front of the right audience for DoorDash, at scale, and in a meaningful, memorable way. Many conversations about chicken nuggets later (which I never thought would be part of my job), Rooster Teeth and Vicious Circle delivered a superb ad experience, [integrating] multiple brand mentions and actually making DoorDash a part of the content itself.”
Zack Boone, Senior Director of Sales at Rooster Teeth, added there is, “nothing better than having clients that understand how impactful utterly stupid things like this can be for a brand.” DoorDash “[offers] industry-leading selection to our customers,” said Micah Moreau, VP of Growth Marketing at DoorDash. “It was incredibly effective to bring the DoorDash experience to life with Rooster Teeth in a highly differentiated, yet relevant way.”
Ads almost always end in some sort of call to action, like use the show’s promo code to save money, or visit a URL to get a free trial of a product for listeners of the show. It’s a way for shows to get credit for their listeners taking some sort of action, usually a purchase, related to hearing the ad.
And it’s how advertisers can figure out if their ad investments are paying back, too. Along those lines, Hoggatt was happy to see “how direct response the channel could be. I was surprised at the lift in site visits and follow-on orders that correlate so closely to when our podcasts drop.” Consumers have been conditioned to listen for that call to action at the end of an advertisement so we can measure a direct response in the channel.
That isn’t to say podcast advertising should displace a highly effective channel like paid social or paid search in your paid marketing testing priorities. We often ask advertisers information about their overall CAC or CPA from other paid marketing efforts like Facebook or Google advertising, and use that data to benchmark target CAC for podcast.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t make Facebook or Google work for customer acquisition at meaningful scale, think twice before you engage in testing podcasts at a scale meaningful to your business. But if you’re looking for demand generating channels, podcast is an excellent contender.
“The success we’ve seen from podcast advertising has proven that we can drive sales through paid media outside of “traditional” direct digital response campaigns,” said Visnick. “We’ve significantly grown our podcast budget every quarter since we started testing the channel and it’s now a core part of our overall acquisition strategy and an important part of our media mix.
Another challenge for advertisers that aren’t used to offline channels is managing indirect activity, also sometimes called breakage. It’s imperative to look at indirect activity to help triangulate response, as another way to get a false negative is to only look at direct response, i.e. direct redemptions of a promo code or sales from only users who visited the vanity URL.
A decent analog is like view-through conversions, but without the technology enablement. You can tell, via tracking, what actions site visitors have taken after exposure to ads on Facebook and Google, etc.
However, there isn’t a way for a consumer to tap or click on your podcast ad, so you don’t have a direct action correlated to ad download or exposure, nor can you track indirect activity (view-through) via pixels or other technology enablement. The aforementioned promo code/vanity URL combo is what generates that direct response.
To get around this breakage and triangulate a full response, advertisers commonly use a post-conversion attribution survey, colloquially referred to as a How Did You Hear About Us? or HDYHAU survey. This allows for a crude, but effective, translation of the impact that podcasts had on that user’s activity.
It helps you determine how much of the activity you’re capturing in paid search, for example, may have actually been driven by podcasts, streaming audio, or television. It’s self-reported data from users, sure, and it can feel a little shaky when you’re used to more precise digital measurement, but it’s how virtually every scaled advertiser in the channel has discovered a path to scale.
It also helps you determine benchmarks before you get into other channels, and can provide a solid look at multi-touch attribution if the survey is designed with best practices, and served to enough of the population to achieve stability.
We already talked about why, even though podcasts are digital audio, we can’t track conversions digitally (we know, it’s a little crazy). Unlike television, where you can use spot-based attribution, or radio, where you can achieve consistent ad exposure and but according to average quarter-hour (AQH) ratings, there’s a delay in both download of an episode and media consumption.
For advertisers, that means performance comes in over time, and it takes a minute to build reach and frequency (R/F). You may see very little activity for the first week or two of a campaign, and then as R/F builds and crescendos, you’ll see conversion activity catch up. That’s when you can start to get a solid picture of return on ad spend (ROAS); you should have structured your tests so you have a good sense of performance by the third or fourth drop with a show.
Looking at results sooner is possible but largely inadvisable. “Give it time,” says Dan Visnick, CMO at HoneyBook, “It can take a few weeks to see the impact from a single podcast, and months to build a strong portfolio.”
One of the biggest mistakes new advertisers in the channel make is getting a false positive, by testing into tiny shows that back out because 2 people bought their product, and then quickly scaling in the same genre only to find out that the content doesn’t scale.
False negatives are also common, when advertisers get cold feet in the first few weeks of an integration, and cancel shows after one ad insertion in a single episode. The channel requires diligence in testing, and if you have other business challenges to navigate, using digital growth channels can help iron out your messaging, landing pages, etc. before you launch offline channels.
Although you may have honed your messaging in other channels, you should expect to be flexible when it comes to podcast creative.
Positive signals in podcast campaigns can also indicate that other audio channels may be ripe for testing, which can help diversify your marketing mix and minimize the pressure on individuals channels. Hoggatt says his “success in podcast advertising proved that it is possible to invest in offline channels and find measurable success.”
SiriusXM and streaming platforms, whether pureplay like Pandora or Spotify, or aggregators like Westwood One and ESPN, are great next steps for advertisers who see the right signals in podcast. For SiriusXM, it’s a high household income audience that are used to paying for a subscription (any subscription model companies out there?), and streaming audiences are choosing to listen to their content, similarly to how podcast listeners choose their content. The podcast landscape is the perfect arena to play in to learn more about how your brand works in offline media and allows there to be a stepping stone into other mediums.
We know that podcast advertising can have a powerful impact on the marketing mix for companies of all sizes. As more and more players get involved in the space, it benefits all involved, from advertisers, to networks, to marketers.
It’s rare to have an opportunity to participate in a nascent medium, and be good stewards of one of the last remaining mediums on earth with finite inventory and listeners who actually respond to ads. And along the way, we hope to change the way people think about traditional offline media channels, like how they can be held to high growth performance standards, and where they intersect with popular digital growth tactics like paid social.
You’ll have to get creative, but with some trust and patience, and adherence to best practices, advertisers can reap significant benefits and customer acquisition, at scale, from podcast advertising campaigns.
Homeownership has long been touted as the American dream. But rising rates of mortgage debt, student loan debt, or otherwise are making the pursuit of homeownership a nightmare. Debt burdened individuals or those with inconsistent or tight cash flow can not only struggle to get credit loan approval when buying a home but also struggle to satisfy monthly mortgage payments even after purchase.
Patch Homes is hoping to keep the proverbial American dream alive. Patch looks to provide homeowners with cash flow and liquidity by allowing them to monetize their homes without taking on debt, interest or burdensome monthly payments.
Today, Patch took another big step in making its vision a far-reaching reality. The company has announced it’s raised a $5 million Series A round led by Union Square Ventures (USV) with participation by from Tribe Capital and previous investors Techstars Ventures, Breega Capital, and Greg Schroy.
Patch Home looks to partner with homeowners by investing up to $250,000 (with an average investment of ~$100,000) for an equity stake in the home’s value, generally in the 5% to 20% range. Homeowners aren’t subject to any interest or recurring payments and have ten years to pay back Patch’s investment. Upon doing so, the only incremental money Patch receives is its portion of the change in the home’s value over the course of the ten year period. If the value of the home goes down in value, Patch willingly takes a loss on its investment.
According to Patch Homes CEO and cofounder Sahil Gupta, one of the major motivations behind the company’s model is to align Patch’s incentives with the homeowners, allowing both parties to think of each other as trusted partners even after financing. After Patch’s investment, the company provides a number of ancillary services to homeowners such as credit score monitoring, as well as home value and property tax tracking.
In one instance recounted by Gupta in an interview with TechCrunch, Patch even covered three months of an owner’s mortgage during a liquidity crunch for his small business, allowing him to maintain his home and credit score. Patch is incentivized to provide all services that can help ensure an increase in home value, benefitting both Patch and the homeowner, with the homeowner earning the majority of the asset’s appreciated value.
Additionally, since Patch’s model isn’t focused on a homeowner’s ability to pay back a loan, interest or periodic payments, Patch is able to provide financing to more people. Patch is able to help those with more variable qualifications that struggle to get traditional loans — such as a 1099 contracted worker — monetize their illiquid assets with less harsh or restrictive terms and without increasing their debt burden. Gupta described this as solving the core problem of providing liquidity to asset-rich but cash-flow sensitive people.
Patch is not only looking to provide easier liquidity to more homeowners, but they’re trying to do so faster than traditional lenders. Interested customers can first receive a free estimate of whether Patch will invest in their home or not, how much its willing to invest and what percentage equity it will take — primarily based on Patch’s machine learning models that focus on asset, market, and location level attributes.
After the initial estimate, a Patch home advisor will educate the customer on the product and start a formal application process, which includes your standard income and credit score verification and otherwise, that takes 5-10 days. All-in, homeowners have the ability to get money in as little as 14 days, a significantly shorter timeline than your standard home credit process. Once the investment is made, owners have full freedom with how they use the money.
According to Patch, while its customers come from a diverse set of backgrounds, many either accumulated debt have to pay down the net or may struggle making monthly payments. The average Patch homeowner uses 40% of the investment to eliminate debt, adds 40% to their savings account or passive income, and invests 20% into home improvements.
To date, Patch has raised a total of $6 million and believes the latest round of funding will help scale its operations as they team up with advisors like USV that have experience scaling fintech companies (such as a Lending Club or Carta). The funds will be used to invest in product and Patch’s clearing technology in order to further speed up Patch’s lending process.
Patch also hopes to use the investment to help them gradually expand their footprint, with the goal of eventually having a presence all 50 states. (Patch is currently available in 11 regional markets within California and Washington and expects to be in 18 regional markets by the end of the year including those in Utah, Colorado and Oregon.)
What makes homeownership so galvanizing for the Patch team? Patch CEO Sahil Gupta spent years putting his Carnegie Mellon financial engineering degree to work in banking and finance, as well as in financial products and strategy positions at fintech startups backed by heavy hitters such as YC to Goldman Sachs.
After realizing the majority of the US population were homeowners, but were struggling to make monthly payments or save for the future, Sahil wanted to figure out how we could take an illiquid asset like a home and make it easily accessible.
Around the same time, Sahil’s cofounder Sundeep Ambat was working as a contractor on a new business venture of his and was struggling to get a home equity loan. While these circumstances ultimately led Sahil and Sundeep to found Patch Homes in 2016 out of the TechStars New York accelerator program, the deeper motivation behind Patch can be traced back nearly 30 years when Sahil’s father made an equity sharing agreement with his brother as they were building his family’s home in India.
With a growing family and a pregnant wife, Sunil’s father was adamant about living debt-free and so his brother provided an investment in exchange for an equity stake in the house. According to Sahil, the home is still in the family and has appreciated substantially in value to the benefit of both Sahil’s father and his brother. Longer-term, Patch wants to be the preferred partner for homeownership, helping reduce cash tight owners’ financial anxiety without the debilitating weight of debt.
“Some companies want to help people buy or sell homes, but homeownership really begins after that point. Patch is built to be inside the home with you and everything that comes thereafter,” Gupta told TechCrunch.
“Patch was created to partner with homeowners to help them unlock their home equity so they can achieve their financial goals along every step of their homeownership journey.