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The man behind Tesla’s Powerwall is now pitching an all-in-one power management system for homes

By Jonathan Shieber

Arch Rao, the former head of product at Tesla who was behind the company’s Powerwall home energy storage is system, is back with a new company pitching energy management and efficiency for homes.

SpanIO is looking to upgrade the electrical fusebox for homes with a digital system that integrates into the existing circuit breaker technology that has been the basis for home energy management for at least a century. 

Rao and his team are looking to make integrating renewable power, energy storage, and electric vehicles easier for homeowners by redesigning the electrical panel for modern energy needs.

“We packaged the metering controls and compute between the bus bar and the breaker,” says Rao. “Energy flows through the panel through a breaker bar and the breaker bar has tabs that you slot your breakers into… that tab is usually a conductor. We have designed a digital sub-assembly that packages current metering, voltage measurement and ability to turn each circuit on or off.”

The technology is meant to be sold through channels like solar energy installers or battery installers. The company already has plans to integrate its power management devices with energy storage systems like the ones available from LG .

Initially, Span expects to be selling its products in states like California and Hawaii where demand for solar installations is strong and homeowners have significant benefits available to them for installing renewable energy and energy efficiency systems.

For homeowners, the new power management system means that they have control over which parts of the home would be powered in the event of an outage. The company’s technology connects the entire home to a renewable system. Using existing technologies, installers have to set up a separate breaker and rewire certain areas of the home to receive the power generated by a renewable energy system, Rao says.

That control is handled through a consumer app available to download on mobile devices.

SpanIO is backed by a slew of early investors including Wireframe Ventures, Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, Ulu Ventures, Hardware Club, Energy Foundry, Congruent Ventures and 1/0 Capital, and intends to raise fresh cash for before the end of the year. Rao said the round would be “in the low double digits” of millions.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

How to get your ads working, and whether PR is worth it

By Arman Tabatabai
Julian Shapiro Contributor
Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing agency that trains you to become a marketing professional. He also writes at Julian.com.

We’ve aggregated the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you’re going stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice you can’t get elsewhere.

Our community consists of 600 startup founders paired with VP’s of growth from later-stage companies. We have 300 YC founders plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo, and Ritual.

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group, or marketing training programSee past growth reports here.

Without further ado, onto the advice.


How to get customer testimonials from hard-to-reach executives

Based on insights from Guillaume Cabane.

A customer testimonial from a well-known executive may be the social proof that improves conversion rates on your landing pages or in sales collateral. But executives of reputable companies are generally busy and difficult to reach.

Here’s how to get the testimonial:

  • Contract with a freelance journalist who’s written for a reputable publication like the New York Times.
  • Reach out to your executive customers with something like “Hey, we have a journalist who has previously written for NYT who’s interested in speaking to a few of our customers for a piece. Do you have 15 minutes for a quick call?”
  • For $200 in freelancer time, you get a testimonial you can use (in the words you want) from a reputable executive. Be sure to figure out some way to make it worth the executive’s time.

Hear how to build a billion-dollar SaaS company at TechCrunch Disrupt

By Ron Miller

There was a time when brick-and-mortar mom and pops framed their first $1 on the wall, but in the SaaS startup the equivalent milestone is $1 billion revenue run-rate.

Salesforce is the SaaS revenue king reporting $4 billion in revenue for its most recent quarterly report, and there are many other relatively new SaaS companies, such as WorkDay, ServiceNow and Atlassian, that have broken the $1 billion barrier.

This year at TechCrunch Disrupt (tickets here!), we welcome three people to the Extra Crunch stage who know first hand what it takes to join the billion dollar club.

Neeraj Agrawal, a partner at Battery Ventures and seasoned enterprise investor, presented his growth thesis in a widely read article for TechCrunch where he outlined the key milestones for a SaaS company to reach a billion dollars.

Whitney Bouck is COO at HelloSign, a startup that was sold to Dropbox in 2018 for $230 million. Bouck was also an executive at Box, guiding their enterprise business from 2011-2015. Prior to that she was at Documentum, which exited in 2003 to EMC for $1.7 billion.

Jyoti Bansal is currently co-founder & CEO of Harness. Previously, he was founder & CEO of AppDynamics, which Cisco acquired in 2017 for $3.7 billion. Bansal is also an investor as co-founder of venture capital firm Unusual Ventures.

The goal of this panel is to help you understand the tools and strategies that go into ramping to a billion in revenue and beyond. It requires a rare combination of good idea, product-market fit, culture and commitment. It also requires figuring out how to evolve the core idea and recover from inevitable mistakes — all while selling investors on your vision.

We’re amped for this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there! Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here at an early-bird rate!

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email extracrunch@techcrunch.com to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.

SexTech, Kobalt, sales efficiency, philanthropy and ethics, Brexit, and startup growth tactics

By Danny Crichton

Tech startups want to destigmatize sex

Sex, despite being one of the most fundamental human experiences, is still one of those businesses that some advertisers reject, banks are hesitant to financially support and some investors don’t want to fund.

That’s TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey discussing the rise of “sextech”, a movement among technologists and product designers to open up one of the most fundamental human experiences to technological innovation. Yet, the often puritanical nature of business means that while some innovations are widely received and lushly funded, other startups remain adrift, struggling to advertise and secure funding.

Megan talks with a range of founders and investors in the space, finding the positive stories along with a heap of frustrating ones. There is a lot more work to do here.

But in reality, it’s hard to say how big that market really is, Founders Fund Partner Cyan Banister, who has invested in a handful of sextech startups, tells TechCrunch.

“It’s hard to gauge and the reason why is these businesses aren’t capable of operating at the same scale a normal business could operate at,” Banister says. “They’re kind of cut off at the knees by not being able to advertise. They can’t be on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in the way other businesses could… It’s hard to know how big these companies could be if we could change the social norms and stigmas associated with these products.”

Banister has invested in O.School using personal funds, and in Unbound via venture firm Founders Fund . Unbound, a sexual wellness startup for women, focuses on sex toys, accessories and jewelry that doubles as pleasure products. In December 2017, Unbound raised $2.7 million from Founders Fund, Slow Ventures and others.

“The objective has always been to take the category mainstream like Viagra,” Unbound CEO Polly Rodriguez tells TechCrunch.

How Kobalt is simplifying the killer complexities of the music industry

Extra Crunch media columnist Eric Peckham is back with the next part of his three-part EC-1 looking at music infrastructure startup Kobalt. In part one, Eric talked about how a former Swedish saxophonist built and grew what has become one of the most important music industry startups to arise from Europe since Spotify.

Startups Weekly: Part & Parcel plans plus-sized fashion empire

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Stripe’s grand plans. Before that, I noted Peloton’s secret weapons

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

Startup spotlight

The best companies are built by people who have personally experienced the problem they’re attempting to solve. Lauren Jonas, the founder and chief executive officer of Part & Parcel, is intimately familiar with the struggles faced by the women she’s building for.

San Francisco-based Part & Parcel is a plus-sized clothing and shoe startup providing dimensional sizing to women across the U.S. The company operates a bit differently than your standard direct-to-consumer business by seeking to include the women who wear and evangelize the Part & Parcel designs by giving them a cut of their sales.

Here’s how it works: Ambassadors sign up to receive signature styles from Part & Parcel, which they then share and sell to women in their network. Ultimately, the sellers are eligible to receive up to 30% of the profit per sale. The out-of-the-box model, which might remind you somewhat of Mary Kay or Tupperware’s business strategy, is meant to encourage a sense of community and usher in a new era in which plus-sized women can facilitate other plus-sized women’s access to great clothes. 

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“I bought a brown men’s polyester suit and wore it to an interview,” Jonas, an early employee at Poshmark and the long-time author of the popular blog, ‘The Pear Shape,’ tells TechCrunch. “I was that kid wearing a men’s suit.”

Clothing tailored to plus-sized women has long been missing from the retail market. Increasingly, however, new brands are building thriving businesses by catering precisely to the historically forgotten demographic. Dia&Co., for example, raised another $70 million in venture capital funding last fall from Sequoia and USV. And Walmart recently acquired another brand in the space, ELOQUII, for an undisclosed amount. Part & Parcel, for its part, has raised $4 million in seed funding in a round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew.

The startup launched earlier this year in Anchorage, “a clothing desert,” and has since grown its network to include women in several other underserved markets. Given her own history struggling to find a fitted woman’s suit, Jonas launched her line with structured pieces, including suits and blouses — though the startup’s biggest success yet, she says, has been its boots, which come in three different calf width options.

“Seventy percent of women in this country are plus-sized,” Jonas said. “I’m bringing plus out of the dark corner of the department store.”

This week in VC

sex tech 1

Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Must read

TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey published a highly anticipated deep dive on the state of sex tech this week. The piece provides new data on funding in sex tech and wellness companies, analysis on sex tech startup’s battle for public advertising and responses from industry leaders on how we can destigmatize sex with technology. Here’s a short passage from the story:

Cindy Gallop sees a market opportunity in every type of business obstacle she encounters. That’s why All The Sky will also seek to invest in startups that tackle the infrastructural tools needed to fuel sextech, like payments, hosting providers and e-commerce sites.

“I want to fund the sextech ecosystem to maintain and sustain a portfolio for All the Skies, to create a bloody huge sextech ecosystem and three, to monopolistically build out the ecosystem to be a multi-trillion-dollar market,” Gallop says.

On my radar

I swung by Contrary Capital‘s Demo Day this week, in which a number of startups gave a 4- to 5-minute pitch. Next on my list is Alchemist‘s Demo Day in Menlo Park. The accelerator welcomes enterprise startups for a six-month program focused on early customer adoption, company development and mentorship.

Also on my radar is Females To The Front. The event began this week in Palm Springs and if I were based in SoCal, I would have swung by. Led by Amy Margolis, the event is said to be the largest gathering of female cannabis founders and funders to date. Here’s how the group describes the event: “Females to the Front Retreat will mix immersive and hands-on workshops, pitch training, investment deck preparation and business skill set education with investor meetings and plenty of shared meals, pool time, yoga, connections, rest and rejuvenation. Every workshop is built to directly engage attendees instead of powerpoint and panels. Be prepared to return home inspired, engaged and with so many more tools in your toolbox.”

For the record, I don’t advertise events in my newsletter just wanted to give props to this one because it’s a great development for the cannabis tech ecosystem.

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Time to Disrupt

We are just weeks away from our flagship conference, TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco. We have dozens of amazing speakers lined up. In addition to taking in the great line-up of speakers, ticket holders can roam around Startup Alley to catch the more than 1,000 companies showcasing their products and technologies. And, of course, you’ll get the opportunity to watch the Startup Battlefield competition live. Past competitors include Dropbox, Cloudflare and Mint… You never know which future unicorn will compete next.

You can take a look at the full agenda here. And if you still need convincing, here’s five reasons to attend this year’s conference from our COO himself.

And finally… #EquityPod

This week, the lovely Alex Wilhelm, editor-in-chief of Crunchbase News, and I gathered to discuss a number of topics including WeWork’s IPO and Uber’s attempts to bypass a new law meant to protect gig workers. Listen here.

How to work with top influencers and avoid ad blockers

By Arman Tabatabai
Julian Shapiro Contributor
Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing agency that trains you to become a marketing professional. He also writes at Julian.com.

We’ve aggregated the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you’re going stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice you can’t get elsewhere.

Our community consists of 600 startup founders paired with VP’s of growth from later-stage companies. We have 300 YC founders plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo, and Ritual.

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group, or marketing training program.

Without further ado, onto the advice.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a new series of articles on startup growth tactics in 2019 for Extra Crunch. This first article has been unlocked for all TechCrunch readers.


Don’t abandon email unsubscribers. They’re still useful.

Based on insights from Matt Sornson of Clearbit.

You’ve launched a new feature and want to tell your audience about it. You can send an email to your newsletter subscribers, but how do you reach the 20%+ who unsubscribed? Most people mistakenly consider this audience to be a lost cause.

  • Create a custom audience of all newsletter unsubscribers on Facebook.
  • Run ads announcing the new feature to that audience.
  • Now you’ve reactivated people who at one point had an interest in your product — instead of forever ignoring them.

Tips for effectively working with influencers

Based on insights from Barron Caster of Rev.

  • Create a referral system for influencers: Influencers who sign up others get a % of their sales or signups. This makes a mini-pyramid structure and turns your influencers into a salesforce. Why is this important? Some influencers don’t actually sell products, but just sign up tons of other influencers. Find these people.
  • Get everything you can out of an engagement (e.g. permission to use them as a testimonial for emails, social proof, etc.).
  • Working with influencers is a relationship-building game:
    • Actually go to conferences to meet influencers.
    • Treat influencers like royalty. Surprise them with gifts like flowers/donuts. $100 to send a gift can pay hefty dividends if they like your brand more and share that with their followers.
    • Give influencers a tangible benefit to share with their followers. They care about their followers and want to beneficially incentivize them to click on their link and buy with them.

More tips for working with influencers

Based on insights from Cezar Grigore of Tremo Books.

  • Geo rollouts: Your ROI increases when a bunch of influencers in the same category / region share your product within an interval of 2-4 weeks. It gives the impression that everyone is talking about your product.
  • Initially focus on influencers with 10-150k audiences. They’re smaller and more willing to accept bartered deals. There are enough influencers in this range willing to work in exchange for a free product. Most may not be producing results, but some work well, bringing in 50-200 customers within 24 hours. As you build up your following and reputation for your brand, it becomes much easier to work with more influential people.
  • It’s harder to cut deals with bigger influencers (100k-2M). Only about 5-10% of bigger influencers are willing to work on an affiliate basis (e.g. $10/customer).

Overcoming ad blockers that screw up your conversion data

  • Ad blockers can block FB’s tracking libraries and underreport ad conversions (even by 50%). The trick? Consider using the static IMG FB pixel — not the JavaScript one — which ad blockers don’t appear to block. — C.
  • Here’s another ad block workaround: You can extract UTM tags from the URL then save them into LocalStorage using JavaScript. Next, send that stored data plus the user’s on-site conversion behavior to a custom backend that, inherently, will circumvent ad blockers. Just be diligent about ensuring your marketing links all have UTM tags. —Neal O’Grady of Demand Curve
  • Remember that the use of ad blockers varies heavily by audience and device type. Depending on who your audience is, ad blockers can either be a huge problem or a non-problem. —Neal O’Grady of Demand Curve
    • So, for example, few people on mobile have ad blockers. Not much of a problem there.
    • However, on desktop, up to ~75% of millennial gamers and techies may have it installed.
    • In contrast, on desktop, maybe only 25% of middle-aged Americans outside of tech hub cities may have it installed.
    • These are hand-wavy numbers. Google for specifics.

Calculating sales efficiency in a startup: The magic number that will help you scale

By Arman Tabatabai
Ryan Floyd Contributor
Ryan Floyd is a founding Managing Director of Storm Ventures, investing in early stage enterprise SaaS companies, and the host of Ask a VC Youtube channel.

Sales efficiency is the best way to understand the economics of a business. To me, it answers the question as to whether a business can ever scale. The harsh truth is, if it can’t scale, investors won’t be interested.

Sales efficiency is more simple to measure than other related concepts like CAC (customer acquisition cost) or LTV (lifetime value). Here’s why:

  • CAC is harder to truly measure, especially new CAC. In a SaaS organization, sometimes it can be hard to allocate those costs to what that new CAC is, as opposed to upsell or cross-sell within the same organization. Salespeople are almost always trying to pursue two goals:
    • Trying to acquire new customers
    • Selling within an existing customer (more seats within an established department, or expanding to a new division)

These activities generate different CAC; trying to strip out only the new CAC can be tricky. Sales efficiency, on the other hand, looks at all net new ARR (annual recurring revenue), which includes new customer ARR as well as expansion ARR.

  • LTV tries to measure the value of a customer over time, assuming both repeat purchases and eventual churn; this gives you a good sense of the ultimate value of that customer to your business over time. The challenge with LTV in SaaS is that the data points that you might use to assume churn and repeat purchase behavior aren’t very robust — there are few SaaS businesses that have enough customers to really make these numbers reliable.

Enterprise businesses should focus on unit economics of sales early. When a business scales, it rarely buys you better economics — usually it just means more losses.

Gracphic for sales efficiency

Image via Ryan Floyd / Storm Ventures

The role of sales efficiency in your ‘go-to-market fit’

At Storm Ventures we use a concept we call finding ‘go-to-market fit’ (GTM fit).

Space is the next economic frontier… hear more about it at Disrupt SF

By Devin Coldewey

For decades space has been the play place for world powers, but the advent of (relatively) cheap and frequent rocket launches has opened it up for new business opportunities. But it’s still hard as hell, as early adopters of this orbital economy Tess Hatch of Bessemer Ventures, Swarm’s Sara Spangelo and OneWeb’s Adrian Steckel can attest. They’ll be on the Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt SF 2019 on October 3rd at 1:40 PM.

Spangelo and Steckel are in the midst of launching what have been termed “mega-constellations,” collections of hundreds or thousands of satellites offering a coordinated service (in their cases, global connectivity). These efforts are only possible with the new launch economy, and came hot on its heels, showing there’s no reason to wait to put new plans in action.

But such constellations bring their own challenges. Just from an orbital logistics point of view, launching a single satellite so that it enters a unique and predictable trajectory is hard enough; launching a dozen or a hundred at once is more difficult by far. And after launch, how will those satellites be tracked? How will they communicate to the surface and each other? What about the growing risk of collisions?

On top of that are more terrestrial, but no less crucial, questions: What services can be made available from orbit? What’s a reasonable amount to spend on them? How will they compete with and accommodate one another? Whose regulations will they follow?

These latter questions are among those that must also be answered by investors like Hatch, who is familiar with both the technical and capital side of the burgeoning space industry (and of course the technical side of the capital side). Space ventures can be extremely expensive and high-risk, but to get your foot in the door at this stage could be the start of a billion-dollar advantage a couple of years down the line.

If you’re planning on getting involved with the new space economy, or are just curious about it, join us for an extended discussion and Q&A on the 3rd.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here, and they just happen to be available at a discount today only.

Boston gets a new biotech accelerator with the launch of Petri

By Jonathan Shieber

As biotechnology becomes more central to new innovations in healthcare, material science and manufacturing, one of the nation’s research hubs is getting a new accelerator called Petri to launch companies focused on the commercialization of new technologies.

Backed by the Boston-based venture capital firm Pillar, Petri has a three-year $15 million commitment to back companies developing new biotech applications in food, healthcare, industrial chemicals and new materials — along with the enabling technologies to bring these products to market.

“We’re at the inflection point where these technologies will impact and continue to impact health but will also  impact food, agriculture, chemicals and materials,” says Petri co-founder, Tony Kulesa. “Everything we touch has some element of biology.”

Pillar has already invested in a couple of companies that show the potential promise of new biotech research coming from Boston-based universities, like Boston University, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Asimov,io, a company that has set an ultimate goal of designing new genomes for industrial applications, was co-founded by graduates from Boston University and MIT, and is a part of the Pillar portfolio. PathAi, a company working on enabling technologies for computational biology, also counts an MIT grad as a co-founder. Meanwhile, Harvard’s George Church has been instrumental in the development of a number of biotech companies working at the frontier of genetic applications for healthcare and manufacturing.

As an instructor at MIT, Kulesa spent seven years at MIT watching, in his words, how engineering has transformed biology. “It became clear to me that these technologies need to get out in the world,” he said.

Joining Kulesa as a managing director is Brian Baynes, a serial entrepreneur who founded Midori Health, an animal nutrition startup; Kaleido Biosciences, a microbiome control focused company; Celexion, a protein engineering and synthetic biology company; and Codon Devices, a synthetic biology toolkit company which was sold to Ginkgo Bioworks .

Over time, Kulesa and Baynes expect to have 10 to 20 companies in each cohort as the program expands. In addition to checks of at least $250,000 the Petri accelerator has lab and office space available for each company.

The companies also could benefit from potential partnerships with companies like Ginkgo Bioworks, which happens to share office space in the same building, and with the accelerator’s clutch of big-name advisors and “co-founders” recruited from across the life sciences industry.

These co-founders, who collectively hold a double-digit equity stake in Petri’s accelerator, include Reshma Shetty, from Ginkgo Bioworks; Emily Leproust of Twist Bioscience; Stan Lapidus, who was at Exact Sciences and Cytyc; Daphne Koller, the co-founder and chief executive of Insitro; Alec Nielsen, the founder Asimov; and researchers Chris Voigt of MIT and Pam Silver and George Church from Harvard’s Wyss Institute.

Genetically engineered organisms are finding their way into everything from food to fuel to chemistry. Companies like Impossible Foods, which uses genetically modified soy product, has raised hundreds of millions for its protein replacement, while Solugen, a manufacturer of chemicals using genetically modified organisms, has raised tens of millions to commercialize its technology. And Ginkgo Bioworks has raised nearly half a billion dollars to pursue applications for industrial biology.

“Engineering thinking has arrived in biology and the number of entrepreneurs that are interested in this area has grown dramatically,” says Pillar founding partner Jamie Goldstein, in a statement. “Unlike classic biotech, these ideas don’t require tens or hundreds of millions before you can demonstrate value — creating the opportunity for different funding models.”

WeWork and Uber are proof valuations are meaningless

By Kate Clark

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

This week Kate and Alex were back to cover a lot of late-stage news, which they rounded up with some early-stage notes toward the end. As a reminder, come check out the show at Disrupt SF if you are in town, we’ll be out amongst startups, chatting all things startups and money.

Up top, we dug into WeWork and the latest from the company’s continuing IPO saga. The question regarding the co-working company’s public offering has changed to whether the IPO will happen this year, not just at what price the firm can entice enough investment to actually get public.

Alex has written about the company’s cash appetite a few times now, which raise the question of how long the company can survive without some sort of large, external investment. If SoftBank is willing to commit more capital is an open question.

Moving along to Uber, the firm underwent layoffs again this week. More than 400 people, or 8% of the operations, were cut as the company attempts to streamline operations, cut costs and, well, take baby steps toward profitability.

Turning to the early-stage part of the world, there’s a new early-stage-focused venture fund out there, Work Life Ventures, which intends to put small checks into promising SaaS companies. The firm is led by SaaS School founder Brianne Kimmel, a well-known angel investor in the enterprise space. So far she’s backed three companies out of the fund, including recent Y Combinator standout Tandem.

We finished off the episode with… cereal. A company called Magic Spoon (their website is here, as promised) raised $5.5 million this week for its D2C breakfast business. Our take is that the price point is a bit too high for comfort in its current iteration. It’ll be interesting to see if the startup can lower its prices now that it has new capital.

We’ll be back in a week! Chat soon, and please stop telling us to become angel investors!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

The youngest new partner at the venture firm Felicis Ventures, Niki Pezeshki, on how he wins deals

By Connie Loizos

Felicis Ventures has, in its roughly 13 years of existence, established a reputation in venture circles as a smart early-stage investment firm that’s willing to make bets almost anywhere in the world. Founded by ex-Googler Aydin Senkut, the San Francisco-based firm has also demonstrated a knack for attracting talented investors into the fold, including another former Google executive, Wesley Chan; Sundeep Peechu, who held various product roles at Intel before joining the firm in 2010; and Renata Quintini, an investor who Felicis eventually lost to Lux Capital (which more recently lost her to her own firm, Renegade Partners, which is reportedly raising a $300 million debut fund).

We talked this morning with yet another member of Felicis, Niki Pezeshki, who, following several promotions, has just became the newest partner in the firm’s history. For aspiring VCs out there, we wondered how Pezeshki landed the role — and how he’s managing to win deals. Following is much of that conversation, edited lightly for length.

TC: Everyone wants to work in VC. How did you land this gig?

NP: Out of undergrad [at the University of Southern California], I went to work for [private equity firm] Vista Equity Partners.They hire, like, four people out of undergrad every year at USC. I was in Austin [where the firm is based] for three years. It was amazing. I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time — Vista has blossomed into this incredible fund — but it grounded me in the fundamentals of business and what is a good software investment. I think it made me more numbers focused than a lot of other venture capitalists. It may get flamed for saying this, biut I come to the world of venture with a much more numbers-driven and formulaic approach to understanding business that I think helps me pick good investments.

TC: How did you wind up in the Bay Area after that experience?

NP: My family is from L.A. so I came to California to work for Climate Corp. for a year; I worked in sales strategy and operations. I wanted a bit of operating experience. But I love investing so much; I wanted to go back to it. So I got a job with [the private equity firm] Summit Partners where you’re doing hardcore outbound sourcing and learning how to reach out to people and get conversations started with figuring out [who is worth learning more about out of] hundreds of founders. While there, Felicis randomly reached out to me through a friend of a friend and they said, ‘You should meet Sundeep,’ and they told Sundeep, ‘Sundeep, you should meet Niki,” and though I hadn’t thought about venture, a lot of what they were dong really resonated with me. I’m doing what I was doing at Summit, but with a much wider aperture.

TC: You were just promoted to partner from principal, up from senior associate, where you started in 2016.  What does that mean on a practical level?

NP: A lot of the role won’t be much different than in the past year. I think from an external-facing perspective, it gives me more credibility with founders and investors. It’s one more thing that I can use to win great deals.

TC: What’s one competitive deal that you’ve won already?

NP: Modus in Seattle. It’s a [tech-driven] escrow startup that is to the title and brokerage industry what Compass is to real estate. I led the Series A deal for that company and I’m on the board and I got lot of credibility internally for that. I think they were thinking of promoting me next year or the year after but they were like, ‘Dang, Niki just let a competitive Series A round. Let’s give him ammunition.’

TC: How did the deal come together, and what do you think won over the founders?

NP: I think three things: bonding with the founders, conviction about their company, and speed. I’d heard that they were going to be in town for two weeks, fundraising, and I knew their goal was to leave the area with a term sheet. A lot of firms are fairly bureaucratic and it’s hard for them to spin up their team and do due diligence that quickly, but Felicis has a small team and I had conviction about the space already, so when they came through, I told them how excited I was to do something on their timeline.

We also bonded over [an up-and-coming] DJ. It is about creating that human connection with founders. I have a bunch of friends who are founders who say it often feels very transactional, their relationship with investors. You want to support these people.

TC: You don’t have tons of operational experience. You aren’t alone in this but plenty of VCs will argue that to founders that it’s crucial. How do you counter this?

NP: Some founders do want more operational expertise, others don’t care that much unless the VC once ran a multibillion company. If you’re Martin Casado [of Andreessen Horowitz] and someone really loves Ncira, I’m probably not going to win against him.

But I’m relatively young compared with other partners, and I’m really passionate, and I think that comes across in the fundraising process. I think founders know that I will take a call any time, and help them build an amazing model for their business, and really help them prep for their next fundraising process, and help them with any VP recruits.

I’m still building my track record, so founders know that I care and that my incentives are aligned with theirs. If a founding team is successful, I’ll be successful versus someone who is already sitting on 15 boards and will show up once a quarter and try to own the room and who is less invested in whether or not the company does well because [that investor] has already been successful. I want every single portfolio company to do incredibly well. I want to that to come across. And I think it does.

Max Levchin’s Affirm seeks capital amid surge in fintech funding

By Kate Clark

Another consumer finance business is lining up investors for its largest cash infusion yet.

Affirm, founded by PayPal’s Max Levchin, is said to be raising as much as $1.5 billion in a combination of debt and equity, according to people with knowledge of the company’s fundraising activities. Jared Kushner’s New York venture capital firm Thrive Capital is said to be leading the financing, with participation from the San Francisco outfit Spark Capital.

Affirm declined to comment. Representatives of Thrive and Spark, existing Affirm investors, have not responded to a request for comment.

Sources familiar with Affirm, which gives consumers an alternative to personal loans and credit by financing online purchases at point-of-sale, presume the round will be made up largely of a line of credit from a large financial institution, known as a warehouse facility.

Affirm recently raised a $300 million Thrive-led Series F round in April at a valuation of $3 billion. Fintech companies focused on payments and lending, however, require a vast amount of capital to sustain operations. Those capital requirements coupled with the frothiness of the venture capital market justify this additional cash infusion.

To date, Affirm has raised $1.03 billion in funding from Ribbit Capital, Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and more, according to PitchBook. Fellow fintech ‘unicorns’ Brex, Stripe, SoFi and Kabbage, for context, have collectively raised roughly $5 billion in debt and equity to date.

Affirm offers installment plans to online shoppers, a method of delayed payment historically reserved for large purchase like vehicles or luxury electronics. Using Affirm, consumers can create personalized installment plans for purchases as small as a pair of sneakers sold by StockX or as large as a diamond engagement ring from Diamond Nexus, for example.

Affirm, serving as an alternative to a credit card charge, requires no paperwork, minimum credit score or income. The company, however, makes money the same way as a credit card provider, with interest rates for Affirm’s loans falling between 10% and 30%.

Affirm’s fundraising efforts come as more and more companies are devoting ample resources to consumer and B2B lending. Affirm, doubling down on the opportunity in B2B, spun out a new financial services business focused entirely on business lending earlier this year. The company, Resolve, provides a “buy now, pay later” option tailored to B2B sales flow.

“Traditional B2B financing is slow, inaccurate and limits a business’s potential for growth because of an over reliance on email, call centers, faxes and manual invoicing processes,” Resolve wrote in an April press release. “Today, many companies offer a standard net 30-day payment plan only to their best and longest tenured customers, leaving others in need of financing to rely on credit cards or installment loans.”

Meanwhile, companies like Stripe and Square are making a concerted effort to explore other financial frontiers, with the former launching a lending tool as well as a corporate credit card this month. Square, for its part, recently introduced a new debit card, called the Square Card, allowing businesses to withdraw and spend money they’ve collected through Square payments.

Venture investment in fintech companies headquartered in the U.S. is poised to reach new highs this year. In the first eight months of 2019, $10.5 billion was funneled into the sector, following a record high of $11.6 billion in 2018. Globally, fintech investment is increasing, too, with nearly $20 billion deployed this year, per PitchBook.

Competition in the fintech space has accelerated growth and innovation, as consumer-friendly, frictionless tools permeate the conservative and highly-regulated finance industry.

Following a year of fintech mega-rounds, we expect to seem a series of fintech initial public offerings as soon as next year. Affirm, Robinhood, Stripe, SoFi, Coinbase, we’re looking at you.

Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities

By Kirsten Korosec

Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means toward Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self-driving technology,” Cameron told TechCrunch in a recent interview, explaining that a cost-effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet has 12 vehicles. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost-effective vehicle ever made because the industry still is in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology, then introduced in July 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

Voyage engineers Alan Mond and Trung Dung Vu

TechCrunch previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with TechCrunch, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”

Patch Homes locks in $5M Series A to give homeowners financial freedom without debt

By Arman Tabatabai

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.)

Patch Homes Co Founders Sundeep Ambati L and Sahil Gupta R

Image via Patch Homes

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.

Incredible Health’s hiring platform for nurses gets $15M led by Andreessen Horowitz

By Natasha Lomas

Andreessen Horowitz has led a $15 million Series A in US-based job matching platform for nursing vacancies, Incredible Health. Other investors in the funding round include NFX, Obvious Ventures, Precursor Ventures and Gingerbread Capital. To date the recruitment startup has raised a total of $17M.

The California startup’s pitch to nursing professionals and hospitals is faster and more efficient hiring via proprietary matching algorithms which replace the need for hospitals to manually sift applications. Instead the platform matches job seekers to nursing vacancies based on criteria supplied by both sides of its network.

Why focus on nurses? The startup cites a statistical claim that by 2024 the US will have a shortage of a million nurses — which it argues poses a risk of financial loss to hospitals, as contractors cost more to employ, while also contending that a growing number of unfilled nursing vacancies risks the quality of care hospitals are able to offer patients.

It launched its recruitment platform in late 2017 and has so far limited its range to California, with 150+ hospitals in the region signed up and an undefined “thousands” of nurses on board.

The Series A funding will be going towards accelerating national scaling in the US.

As well as VC backers, Incredible Health’s Series A includes participation from a number of individual investors hailing from the hiring space — including Hired founder, Matt Mickiewicz; Steve Goodman, founder of Bright.com (acquired by LinkedIn); and Pete Kazanjy, founder of Talentbin (acquired by Monster) .

“We look at at least 40-50 different criteria, including location preferences, licenses and skills,” says co-founder and CEO Iman Abuzeid who has a background as a medical doctor. Her co-founder and CTO, Rome Portlock, who comes from a family of nurses, is an MIT alum — where he studied computer science.

“We work with each hospital individually to understand their key needs so we can customize their algorithms, enabling personalized matches that don’t waste the recruiter’s time,” Abuzeid adds. “We also find out the nurse’s preferences through automated methods.

“At the end of the day, a hospital recruiter or hiring executive does not want to see 200 candidates in their app, they want to see 12 that are the right fit. Same with the nurses — they don’t want to hear from 76 employers, they want to hear from three that are the right fit.”

Incredible Health’s claim for its approach is that it yields 3x faster recruitment vs the national average — saying hires via its platform take 30 days or less instead of up to 90 days on average.

It also makes a further claim of 25x “hiring efficiency” for hospitals as a consequence of its matching algorithms taking over much of the hiring admin. This is based on data from hospitals which, prior to using its platform, had to review an average of 500 applicants to fill a single position vs the matching tech cutting that to an average of just 20.

Nurses don’t apply to jobs on Incredible Health’s platform; it’s up to hospitals to apply to nursing professionals the algorithm deems a suitable match for a job vacancy.

Hospitals can’t browse all available nurses; they only see candidates the algorithm selects for them — so, as with nurses, they’re trading wider visibility of the job market for algorithmic matches based on non-disclosed “proprietary” criteria.

Incredible Health sells that reduction of agency as an efficiency saving to both sides of its network.

“Rather than completing an application for every potential employer — a process which takes an average of 45 minutes per application — nurses who use Incredible Health complete one profile — a process that takes less than 5 minutes. That profile is then used to screen and custom-match them to multiple great job opportunities,” says Abuzeid, adding when asked about criteria that nurses have to provide “data like their job preferences, experience and skill set, and also their education and licensing” as part of the onboarding profile-building process. 

For nurses this load-lightening switch from active jobseeker to passive platform lurker — i.e. once they’ve created their profile — is how Incredible Health hopes to woo healthcare workers away from traditional job boards (such as specialist nursing vacancies board Indeed).

Its marketing thus leans heavily on claims that nurses just need to spend a few minutes creating a profile and then watch as the great job offers to roll in.

It also claims nurses who find employment through its two-sided platform score on average a 17% salary increase and a 15% reduction in commute time.

Though all these figures are derived from an unknown number of nurses working across a subset of hospitals in a single US state — so it remains to be seen how claimed perks get squeezed as the platform scales its national range and necessarily opens up to a wider pipeline of nursing professionals.

For now, Incredible Health also says its focus is on building a career marketplace for nursing professionals to connect them with “permanent, well-paid hospital jobs”, rather than dealing with travel and temp nurses

Again, whether it’s able to maintain focus on what one investor calls “high value health care workers” and the claimed high quality permanent jobs as the business scales will also be one to watch.

Commenting on the Series A, Andreessen Horowitz managing partner Jeff Jordan told us: “Incredible Health’s mission is to help health care professionals live better lives and do their best work.  They’ve seen strong early success helping to match these health care professionals with hospitals throughout California, and are beginning to expand their solution nationally.  We look forward to supporting their efforts to building a game-changing health care employment marketplace.”

Part of the funding will go on expanding from a pure hiring platform — to what the startup bills as a “community for health care professionals as they advance their careers” — in a clear bid to nurture and expand its candidate pool so it can be responsive to platform needs.

“High caliber nurses are out there, but employers have a hard time hiring them through traditional methods like job boards and recruiting agencies because those methods rely almost exclusively on human engagement — not technology — to scour through applications, licenses and experience — and manually vet and qualify them for jobs,” Abuzeid tells TechCrunch, dubbing the job-board competition “outdated methods”.

As well as offering a “streamlined” hiring process for nursing roles, as she puts it, she notes the platform automates “entire parts of the screening and vetting process” — meaning “we’re able to deliver high-quality nurses at scale”. 

That said, there’s still manual work involved — with the startup noting on its website that staff may contact nurses to “make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best way possible to top hospitals”, as well as telling hospitals that candidates are pre-screened for “licenses, experience, responsiveness, and more” (though at least some, if not all, of that vetting is automated).

Like any platform startup, Incredible Health is hoping to channel network effects to its advantage — including by feeding data back in to improve matching algorithms.

“Our system gets more effective the more who use it,” Abuzeid tells us. “The first [effect] is a traditional marketplace network effect: More nurses has attracted more hospitals, and more hospitals has attracted more nurses. And then, there’s the data network effect: The more each side uses it, the ‘smarter’ our algorithms get, too.”

Each hospital onboarded onto the platform brings with it a range of needs “advancing our system’s performance abilities”, she adds.

While algorithmic recruitment can clearly speed up the business of matching candidates to relevant jobs — a factor evident in the sheer number of job matching startups now playing in different sectors — it inevitably entails a loss of control for both sides of the employer-applicant divide.

Depending on matching criteria used there could be potential for gender and/or racial bias to creep into automated selections — bias that would be difficult for hospitals to detect since they’re only able to view a subset of candidates deemed a match, rather than the entire available pool at the time.

However Abuzeid dismisses the idea that there’s any risk of bias in Incredible Health’s approach. 

“We operate successfully in a very regulated industry,” she says. “Because potential employees are assessed on their skills, experience and certifications, the technology weeds out biases typically found in processes which are largely human-powered.”

On the business model front, Incredible Health is charging hospitals what it bills as a “simple, flat fee pricing regardless of level, experience or location” — which it touts as “cheaper and more scalable than traditional recruiting agencies”.

“Traditional recruiting agencies are very expensive, because they don’t use technology in their screening and matching processes. It’s all people powered and can cost $20,000-$30,000 per single hire,” Abuzeid claims.

As for rival (lower fee) legacy job boards, she argues they offer “quantity, not quality and require lots of work for nurses and employers to find a good fit” — claiming this old school method results in “really low hiring rates at 0.2%”. 

Accel and Sequoia seed Middesk with $4M to background check businesses

By Kate Clark

For those of you that diligently follow the hot startups to graduate from Y Combinator’s accelerator program, you might recall Middesk.

The company was amongst an exclusive subset of startups in YC’s winter 2019 batch to walk into demo day term sheet in hand. Top VCs, like Accel and Sequoia Capital, couldn’t wait until the team’s public pitch was complete to seed the company.

Middesk performs background checks, but not of people; rather, the startup helps companies identify business and regulatory risk in their customer base. Today, it’s announcing its first round of capital, a $4 million financing led by Accel’s Rich Wong, with participation from Sequoia. Founded by two early employees of another YC graduate, Checkr, which automates the pre-employment background check process for companies, Middesk chief executive officer Kyle Mack and chief technology officer Kurt Ruppel wanted to apply their learnings to a business identity product.

“What we’ve built from the ground up is a product to help companies understand who their customers are and what those customers do for their business,” Mack explains.

Selling a product in a traditional and heavily regulated industry, Mack says having top-tier, established venture funds Accel and Sequoia on board has made a big difference for the company. This is particularly interesting, given the round comes at a time in which competition for early-stage deals is greater than ever. More and more billion-dollar funds, Accel and Sequoia included, are moving downstream to purchase stakes in promising companies as early as possible, beating out seed funds by providing better terms and brand recognition.

Accel was also an early investor in Checkr, which most recently raised a $100 million Series C at a $900 million valuation, and was familiar with the Middesk team prior to the company’s formation: “One of the nice things about this job is if you have a chance to do it right, you can build relationships with people and work with them across multiple companies,” Accel’s Wong tells TechCrunch.

San Francisco-based Middesk is working with customers, including Checkr and Plaid, a well-financed leader in fintech, as well as smaller entrants to the B2B market, like the even more recent YC-grad Vouch, which sells business insurance to startups. Mack says they are particularly focused on payments, lending, payroll, expenses and credit businesses, or those with regulatory risk requirements.

“Effectively anyone that’s touching money that’s a B2B business has regulatory requirements to do what we do,” Mack said. “There is a whole new wave of companies applying consumer-style experiences to business products, but the risks they deal with, they aren’t designed to manage those risks at scale.”

With the infusion of capital, Middesk has grown its team from two to seven, creating engineering and operations teams in the process. In the long term, Mack cites Plaid and its proven ability to rapidly become the go-to tool for connecting applications to consumer bank accounts, as inspiration.

“We talk about this idea of becoming a single source for all the external signals you might want to have about a business,” he said. “Plaid has built a single place to get a host of transaction data of people and businesses. We think about Middesk as a single place to find high-quality and trusted information for a single business.”

The direct to consumer department store Neighborhood Goods has raised $11 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Neighborhood Goods, the direct to consumer department store hawking brands like Rothy’s, Dollar Shave Club, Buck Mason, Draper James and Stadium Goods, has new cash to expand its storefront for e-commerce juggernauts.

The company has raised $11 million in a new round of financing led by Global Founders Capital, with participation from previous investors Forerunner Ventures, Serena Ventures, NextGen Venture Partners, Allen Exploration, Capital Factory and others.

The Dallas-based startup has raised $25.5 million to date and is expanding into a new location in Austin to complement its stores in Plano, Texas and a location in New York, opening soon, according to the company’s chief executive and co-founder Matt Alexander.

The Neighborhood Goods concept, providing a brick and mortar outlet for online brands, is one that dovetails nicely with backers like Global Founders Capital and Forerunner Ventures, which are both longtime investors in direct to consumer startups.

“As we expand our network of brands, we’re so thrilled to have Neighborhood Goods as a core element of our portfolio for them to test, assess, explore and learn about the impact of physical retail as they grow,” said Global Founders Capital investor Don Stalter.

As the company expands its geographic footprint, it’s also experimenting with different online features, like online browsing of in-store collections and the option for physical, in-store pickup of digital orders. Neighborhood Goods also said it will begin offering an analytics back-end for brand partners to provide data on activations and branded events at the company’s stores.

Tech startups want to destigmatize sex

By Megan Rose Dickey

Sex, despite being one of the most fundamental human experiences, is still one of those businesses that some advertisers reject, banks are hesitant to financially support and some investors don’t want to fund.

Given how sex is such a huge part of our lives, it’s no surprise founders are looking to capitalize on the space. But the idea of pleasure versus function, plus the stigma still associated with all-things sex, is at the root of the barriers some startup founders face.

Just last month, Samsung was forced to apologize to sextech startup Lioness after it wrongfully asked the company to take down its booth at an event it was co-hosting. Lioness is a smart vibrator that aims to improve orgasms through biofeedback data.

Sextech companies that relate to the ability to reproduce or, the ability to not reproduce, don’t always face the same problems when it comes to everything from social acceptance to advertising to raising venture funding. It seems to come down to the distinction between pleasure and function, stigma and the patriarchy. 

This is where the trajectories for sextech startups can diverge. Some startups have raised hundreds of millions from traditional investors in Silicon Valley while others have struggled to raise any funding at all. As one startup founder tells me, “Sand Hill Road was a big no.”

A market worth billions or trillions?

Despite Brexit, UK startups can compete with Silicon Valley to win tech talent

By Arman Tabatabai
Mehul Patel Contributor
Mehul Patel is the CEO of Hired , the marketplace that matches tech talent with the world's most innovative companies.

Brexit has taken over discourse in the UK and beyond. In the UK alone, it is mentioned over 500 million times a day, in 92 million conversations — and for good reason. While the UK has yet to leave the EU, the impact of Brexit has already rippled through industries all over the world. The UK’s technology sector is no exception. While innovation endures in the midst of Brexit, data reveals that innovative companies are losing the ability to attract people from all over the world and are suffering from a substantial talent leak. 

It is no secret that the UK was already experiencing a talent shortage, even without the added pressure created by today’s political landscape. Technology is developing rapidly and demand for tech workers continues to outpace supply, creating a fiercely competitive hiring landscape.

The shortage of available tech talent has already created a deficit that could cost the UK £141 billion in GDP growth by 2028, stifling innovation. Now, with Brexit threatening the UK’s cosmopolitan tech landscape — and the economy at large — we may soon see international tech talent moving elsewhere; in fact, 60% of London businesses think they’ll lose access to tech talent once the UK leaves the EU.

So, how can UK-based companies proactively attract and retain top tech talent to prevent a Brexit brain drain? UK businesses must ensure that their hiring funnels are a top priority and focus on understanding what matters most to tech talent beyond salary, so that they don’t lose out to US tech hubs. 

Brexit aside, why is San Francisco more appealing than the UK?

Theresia Gouw and Ann Miura-Ko are coming to Disrupt

By Connie Loizos

For a very long time, the venture industry was stubbornly resistant to change. The same people sat back in their chairs on Sand Hill Road while nervous founders made the rounds, hoping one of these firms would champion their cause.

No longer. Since roughly the advent of Y Combinator, the landscape has seemed to shift by the year, with more startups raising capital every year, more people becoming VCs, more Medium posts, more newsletters, more events, more great founders, more bad behavior, more congestion, and more money from all over the world finding its way to Silicon Valley and a growing number of smaller but fast-growing hubs.

How to make sense of it all? At Disrupt, we do our best to answer that question by sitting down each year with top venture capitalists who tell us what they are seeing. In 2015, for example, we talked with VCs about why you can start, but not always scale, a company from anywhere. In 2016, the discussion turned to why VCs were gathering up so much capital when the IPO market was (at the time) all but closed to new tech issuers. In 2017, we examined how then-new U.S. President Donald Trump might impact the venture and startup industry. By last year, we were talking about Softbank, mega rounds, and whether Silicon Valley is losing its gravitational pull.

This year, we’re again going to be taking stock of what trends have so far defined 2019, and what may be around the corner, and we’re thrilled to announce the VCs who will help us to answer some of these questions: Ann Miura-Ko, a cofounder of the seed- and early-stage venture firm Floodgate, and Theresia Gouw, a cofounder of the early-stage venture firm Aspect Ventures.

Both of these longtime investors bring a lot of deep insights to any venture discussion. Miura-Ko has been in the industry since before the last major tech boom, starting in the late ’90s. Then a McKinsey analyst who was focused on wireless technologies, she went on to become an analyst at the venture firm CRV before cofounding with partner Mike Maples the venture firm Floodgate in 2008. Since joining forces, Floodgate has backed a long list of powerful companies, including Twitch, Sonos, Chegg, AdRoll, BazaarVoice, and Lyft, where Miura-Ko remains on the board of directors. She has seen plenty of ups and downs, within both Floodgate’s portfolio and the broader startup industry.

Gouw, meanwhile, also has a perspective on the industry that many newer investors don’t enjoy, having worked as a VP at a Bay Area startup during the dot.com run-up, then joining the venture firm Accel in 1999, just a year before the industry imploded. It could have been a short-lived stint. Instead, she helping the firm sift through the wreckage and right itself before leaving in 2014 to start her own firm — Aspect —  with partner and former DFJ partner Jennifer Fonstad. Since then, the firm has backed a wide variety of companies, from The RealReal to Exabeam, HotelTonight to Forescout. Put another way, Gouw also knows what the deal is.

We can’t wait to sit down with both of these top investors to talk about the trends shaping the industry right now, from the growing secondary market to IPO trends, from what excites them the most to what their biggest concerns are for their firms and their portfolio companies as we sail toward 2020.

It’s a conversation you will not want to miss if you want a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground right now. Join us at Disrupt SF, which runs October 2 to 4 at the Moscone Center. Tickets are available here.

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