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Did you follow all of the unicorn news from the last couple of weeks? No? Here’s a list of headlines to catch you up, because this holiday season is already featuring mega acquisitions, even more IPO filings, and a steady drumbeat of fundraises.
Somehow, after one of the toughest years in recent memory, the tech industry is heading into December with more enthusiasm than ever. (Still remember the WeWork IPO fiasco from last year? No?)
Connie Loizos sat down with Jason Green of leading enterprise-focused firm Emergence Capital to get his view of SPACs, and how they are likely to be used next year and beyond. But early-stage startups, don’t miss his affirmation of Zoom meetings as part of the fundraising process going forward.
I would say that over the last five years, we’ve made almost a total transition. Now we’re very much a data-driven, thesis-driven outbound firm, where we’re reaching out to entrepreneurs soon after they’ve started their companies or gotten seed financing. The last three investments that we made were all relationships that [date back] a year to 18 months before we started engaging in the actual financing process with them. I think that’s what’s required to build a relationship and the conviction, because financings are happening so fast.
I think we’re going to actually do more investments this year than we maybe have ever done in the history of the firm, which is amazing to me [considering] COVID. I think we’ve really honed our ability to build this pipeline and have conviction, and then in this market environment, Zoom is actually helping expand the landscape that we’re willing to invest in. We’re probably seeing 50% to 100% more companies and trying to whittle them down over time and really focus on the 20 to 25 that we want to dig deep on as a team.
Thousands of startup founders will resume the trek around Silicon Valley VC offices, once the vaccines arrive. But we’ll remember 2020 as the year that venture truly joined the cloud.
Image Credits: Brighteye Ventures
Every level of education was forced online by the pandemic this year, at least temporarily. While the children might be back in the classroom already, higher education and corporate education are still booming remotely. Natasha Mascarenhas analyzed the latest market changes for Extra Crunch, and put together a panel of industry leaders for a special Thanksgiving edition of Equity. Here’s more about what you’ll find on the show:
For this Equity Dive, we zero onto one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college dropout Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.
Here’s what we got into:
- How the state of remote school is leading to gap years among students.
- A framework for how to think of higher education’s main three products (including which is most defensible over time).
- What learnings we can take from this COVID-19 experiment on remote schooling to apply to the future.
- Why edtech is flocking to the notion of life-long learning.
- The reality of who self-paced learning serves — and who it leaves out.
SaaS is continuing to be reshaped by consumer internet techniques, with top companies of our era competing through word-of-mouth growth versus incumbent sales forces. The revenue model must be precise for this to scale, though. In a guest post for Extra Crunch, Caryn Marooney and David Cahn of Coatue lay out a strategic framework for how to price your bottoms-up SaaS product the right way for the market. Called “MAP,” for Metrics, Activity and People, it helps you sort your product against the actual ways that people are trying to use and pay for it. Here’s how they describe the A:
Activity: How do your customers really use your product and how do they describe themselves? Are they creators? Are they editors? Do different customers use your product differently? Instead of metrics, a key anchor for pricing may be the different roles users have within an organization and what they want and need in your product. If you choose to anchor on activity, you will need to align feature sets and capabilities with usage patterns (e.g., creators get access to deeper tooling than viewers, or admins get high privileges versus line-level users). For example:
- Figma — Editors versus viewers: Free to view, starts changing after two edits.
- Monday — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10-$20/month.
- Smartsheet — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10+/month.
We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early-stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.
That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!
Founder Mike Cagney is always pushing the envelope, and investors love him for it. Not long sexual harassment allegations prompted him to leave SoFi, the personal finance company that he cofounded in 2011, he raised $50 million for new lending startup called Figure that has since raised at least $225 million from investors and was valued a year ago at $1.2 billion.
Now, Cagney is trying to do something unprecedented with Figure, which says it uses a blockchain to more quickly facilitate home equity, mortgage refinance, and student and personal loan approvals. The company has applied for a national bank charter in the U.S., wherein it would not take FDIC-insured deposits but it could take uninsured deposits of over $250,000 from accredited investors.
Why does it matter? The approach, as American Banker explains it, would bring regulatory benefits. As it reported earlier this week, “Because Figure Bank would not hold insured deposits, it would not be subject to the FDIC’s oversight. Similarly, the absence of insured deposits would prevent oversight by the Fed under the Bank Holding Company Act. That law imposes restrictions on non-banking activities and is widely thought to be a deal-breaker for tech companies where banking would be a sidelight.”
Indeed, if approved, Figure could pave the way for a lot of fintech startups — and other retail companies that want to wheel and deal lucrative financial products without the oversight of the Federal Reserve Board or the FDIC — to nab non-traditional bank charters.
As Michelle Alt, whose year-old financial advisory firm helped Figure with its application, tells AB: “This model, if it’s approved, wouldn’t be for everyone. A lot of would-be banks want to be banks specifically to have more resilient funding sources.” But if it’s successful, she adds, “a lot of people will be interested.”
One can only guess at what the ripple effects would be, though the Bank of Amazon wouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the company.
In the meantime, the strategy would seemingly be a high-stakes, high-reward development for a smaller outfit like Figure, which could operate far more freely than banks traditionally but also without a safety net for itself or its customers. The most glaring danger would be a bank run, wherein those accredited individuals who are today willing to lend money to the platform at high interest rates began demanding their money back at the same time. (It happens.)
Either way, Cagney might find a receptive audience right now with Brian Brooks, a longtime Fannie Mae executive who served as Coinbase’s chief legal officer for two years before jumping this spring to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an agency that ensures that national banks and federal savings associations operate in a safe and sound manner.
Brooks was made acting head of the agency in May and green-lit one of the first national charters to go to a fintech, Varo Money, this past summer. In late October, the OCC also granted SoFi preliminary, conditional approval over its own application for a national bank charter.
While Brooks isn’t commenting on speculation around Figure’s application, in July, during a Brookings Institution event, he reportedly commented about trade groups’ concerns over his efforts to grant fintechs and payments companies charters, saying: “I think the misunderstanding that some of these trade groups are operating under is that somehow this is going to trigger a lighter-touch charter with fewer obligations, and it’s going to make the playing field un-level . . . I think it’s just the opposite.”
Christopher Cole, executive vice president at the trade group Independent Community Bankers of America, doesn’t seem persuaded. Earlier this week, he expressed concern about Figure’s bank charter application to AB, saying he suspects that Brooks “wants to approve this quickly before he leaves office.”
Brooks’s days are surely numbered. Last month, he was nominated by President Donald to a full five-year term leading the federal bank regulator and is currently awaiting Senate confirmation. The move — designed to slow down the incoming Biden administration — could be undone by President-elect Joe Biden, who can fire the comptroller of the currency at will and appoint an acting replacement to serve until his nominee is confirmed by the Senate.
Still, Cole’s suggestion is that Brooks still has enough time to figure out a path forward for Figure — and if its novel charter application is approved, and it stands up to legal challenges — a lot of other companies, too.
We learn more about Slack’s future, Revolut adds new payment features and DoorDash pushes its IPO range upward. This is your Daily Crunch for December 4, 2020.
The big story: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition
After Salesforce announced this week that it’s acquiring Slack for $27.7 billion, Ron Miller spoke to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor to learn more about the deal.
Butterfield claimed that Slack will remain relatively independent within Salesforce, allowing the team to “do more of what we were already doing.” He also insisted that all the talk about competing with Microsoft Teams is “overblown.”
“The challenge for us was the narrative,” Butterfield said. “They’re just good [at] PR or something that I couldn’t figure out.”
Startups, funding and venture capital
Revolut lets businesses accept online payments — With this move, the company is competing directly with Stripe, Adyen, Braintree and Checkout.com.
Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $170M fund and expands into Asia — This year, the firm led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health.
Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue — The startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
DoorDash amps its IPO range ahead of blockbuster IPO — The food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $90 to $95 per share, up from a previous range of $75 to $85.
Enter new markets and embrace a distributed workforce to grow during a pandemic — Is this the right time to expand overseas?
Three ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending — All companies are digital product companies now.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
WH’s AI EO is BS — Devin Coldewey is not impressed by the White House’s new executive order on artificial intelligence.
China’s internet regulator takes aim at forced data collection — China is a step closer to cracking down on unscrupulous data collection by app developers.
Gift Guide: Games on every platform to get you through the long, COVID winter — It’s a great time to be a gamer.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
With the amount of time you’re spending at home these days, you deserve a better headset. A wireless one that works with your computer and maybe your console as well, with a mic for calls and great sound for games and movies. Fortunately there are a lot to choose from, and I’ve tested out your best options.
I asked the leading audio and peripheral companies to send over their flagship wireless headset, with prices ranging from about $100 to $250. Beyond this price range returns diminish swiftly, but right now that’s the sweet spot for comfort, sound and usability.
For years I’ve avoided wireless headsets because there were too many compromises, but I’m pleased to say that the latency has been eliminated and battery life in the ones I reviewed is uniformly excellent. (NB: If the wireless version feels too expensive, you can often get wired ones for $50-100 less.)
To test the headphones, I used them all for a variety of everyday tasks, from video calls to movies and music (with only minimal EQing to get a sense of their natural sound) to AAA games and indies. None require an app to work, though some have companion software for LEDs or game profiles. I have a fairly large head and medium-sized ears, for what it’s worth. All the headphones are rather bulky, though the angle I shot them at individually makes them look huge — you can see in the image up top that they’re all roughly the same size.
None of these headphones have active noise cancelling, but many offer decent physical isolation to the point where they offer a “monitor” feature that pipes in sound from the outside world — useful if you’re playing a game but waiting for the oven to preheat or something. Only the first set has a built-in mic, the rest have detachable ones of generally solid quality, certainly good enough for streaming and chatting, though for broadcast a separate one would be better. All these headphones use a USB-A style dongle, though the 7P/7X also has a USB-C connector.
The 7P and 7X headsets, designed with the PS5 and Xbox Series X in mind (as well as PC) respectively, are my first and most unreserved recommendation.
The standout feature on these is, to me, a truly surprising sound with an almost disturbingly broad stage and clarity. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I put on some familiar tracks I use for reference. This isn’t a 7.1 simulation or anything like that — but no doubt the gaming focus led to creating a large soundstage. It worked!
I also found the headphones to be very comfortable, with a “ski goggle” strap instead of a per-band adjustment that lets them sit very lightly as well as “remembering” your setting. The spacious earcups rotate for travel or comfort.
The built-in mic is unobtrusive and stows away nicely, but if you’re picky about placement it was a bit floppy to adjust. Many of the other headsets have nicer mics that completely detach — maybe that’s a plus for you, but I tend to lose them.
My main issues with these are that the controls feel cheap and not particularly well laid out. The bottom of the headset is a jumble of ports and buttons and the volume dials don’t have much travel — it’s 0 to 100 in one full swipe. (Volume control is independent from system volume.)
The dongle is different from the others in that it is itself USB-C, but with a USB-A cable attached. That’s good for compatibility, but the cable is three feet long, making it kind of silly to attach to some laptops and whatnot. You could easily get your own short cord, though.
At $150 I think these are an easy recommendation for just about anyone looking at that price range.
The high price on these is partly because they are the wireless version of a headset that also comes wired, so if you want the solid audio performance and comfy fit, you can save some money by going wired.
The sound of the AT-GWLs is rich and naturally has a focus on the upper-mid vocal range, which makes voices in media really pop. I did find the sound a bit confined, which hitting the “surround” setting actually helped with. I know that this sort of virtualization has generally been frowned on, but it’s been a while since these settings have been over the top and distortive. I found surround better for games but not necessarily for music, but it’s very easy to switch on and off.
The headphones are light and adjusted with traditional, no-nonsense metal bands, with a single pad on the top. I would say they are the lightest-feeling pair I tested, with the SteelSeries and Razer coming in just behind owing to some extra weight and bulk. Despite being compact, the AT-GWLs felt airy but not big. The leather-microfiber combo cups are nice, and I think they’ll break in well to provide better isolation over time.
Where they fall short is in the interface. First, a note to Audio-Technica: Turn down the notification noises! Turning the headset on, the mic on or off or hitting the system-independent volume max produces loud, surprising beeps. Too loud!
Second, the buttons and dials are stiff, small and same-feeling. Lifting a hand quickly to turn down the volume (maybe after a huge beep) you may very easily mistake the power switch for the volume dial. The dial also doubles as a button for surround mode, and next to it is a microscopic button to turn on and off the sound of surroundings. It’s a bit of a jumble — nothing you can’t get used to, but considering how nice other headsets on this list made their controls, it has to be said.
HyperX (owned by Kingston) wasn’t exactly known for audio until fairly recently, but its previous Cloud headset got the crucial Wirecutter endorsement, and it’s easy to see why. For less money than any of the other headsets in this roundup, the follow-up to that headset (which I’m wearing right now) has excellent sound and isolation.
I was surprised to find a soundstage nearly as wide as the 7P/7X, but with more of a focus on the punchy lower register instead of on detail and placement. My music felt big and close, and the atmosphere of games likewise, more immediately present.
The Cloud II’s controls are simple and effective. The volume dial, tied directly to the system volume, is superb: grippy, with smooth motion and just the right amount of friction, and just-barely-there clicks. There are two good-size buttons, the power one concave and the mic mute (which gives different sounds for muted and active) convex.
It’s unfortunate that they’re not as comfortable, for me anyway, as the others on this list. The cups (though a bit on the warm side) and band are perfectly fine. It’s that there’s little rotation to those cups, meaning there’s no play to accommodate the shape of your head. I don’t know, maybe it’s just my big dome, but they were noticeably tighter at the front of my ear than the back, so I was constantly adjusting or trying to twist them.
I’ll say this: If they add a bit more adjustment to the cups, these would be my default recommendation over the 7P/7X. As exciting as the SteelSeries sound is to me, the Cloud IIs seem more like what people expect, and are $50 cheaper.
The matte texture of the G733s had a weird interaction with my camera — they don’t look speckly IRL. Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch
These are Logitech’s streamer-friendly, color-coordinated, LED-sporting set, but they’re better than the loud design would suggest.
The sound is definitely gaming-forward, with a definite emphasis on the low end and a very central, present sound that was a lot like the Cloud II.
To be honest, I was not expecting the G733s to be very comfortable — their stiff plastic look suggested they’d creak, weigh down my ears and crush my noggin. But in fact they’re really light and quite comfy! There’s a lot of play in the positions of the earcups. The fit is a little odd in that there’s a plainly inferior version of the 7P/7X’s “ski goggle” strap that really only has four settings, while the cups slide up and down about two thirds of an inch. It was just enough to accommodate my (again, apparently very large) head.
The mic boom is rather short, and sadly there is no indicator for when the mic is on or off, which is sometimes a minor inconvenience and sometimes a major pain. You can tell from the sound the mute button makes, though.
The volume dial is nice and smooth, though the “clicks” are really far apart. I like the texture of it and the mic mute button, the power button not so much. But it works.
The colors may not be to everyone’s liking, but I have to hand it to Logitech for going all the way. The headset, mic and even the USB dongle are all the same shade, making it much easier to keep track of them in my growing pile of headphones and widgets.
Currently Logitech’s most premium set of gaming headphones, the Pro-X abandon the bright, plasticky look of its other sets and goes for understated and black.
The sound of the Logitech is big and very clear, with almost a reference feel in how balanced the bands are. I felt more presence in the mid-lows of smart bass-playing than the other sets. There is a “surround” feel that makes it feel more like you’re in a room of well-configured speakers than headphones, something that I think emerges from a de-emphasis of the center channel. The media is “out there,” not “in here.” It’s not a bad or a good thing, just distinct from the others.
The controls are about on par with the Cloud II’s: a nice frictiony volume wheel controlling system volume, a nice mic toggle button and a fairly meaty on-off switch you’re unlikely to trip on purpose.
Also like the Cloud IIs, there is no rotation to the earcups, making them less comfortable to me than the ATs and SteelSeries, and Logitech’s cheaper G-733s. A larger head than my own, if that’s possible, would definitely feel clamped. I do think these would wear in well, but all the same a bit of play would help a lot.
The external material, a satinized matte plastic, looks truly lovely but is an absolute fingerprint magnet. Considering you’ll be handling these a lot (and let’s be honest, not necessarily with freshly washed hands), you’re going to need to wipe them down rather more than any of the others I tested.
The understated Razer Blackshark V2 Pro soon became my go-to for PC gaming when the SteelSeries set was attached to the PS5.
Their sound is definitely gaming-focused, with extra oomph in the lows and mid-lows, but music didn’t sound overly shifted in that direction. The soundstage is full but not startlingly so, and everything sounded detailed without being harsh.
The Razers look heavy but aren’t — it varies day to day but I think they’re definitely competing for “most comfortable” with the A-Ts and SteelSeries. The cups feel spacious and have a nice seal, making for a very isolated listening experience. Adjustment is done with the wires attached to the cups, which is nothing special — I kind of wish this setup would let you adjust the cant as well as the height. The material is like the Logitechs — prone to fingerprints, though a little less so, in my experience.
Their controls are very well designed and laid out, all on one side. The protruding (system-independent) volume knob may seem odd at first but you’ll love it soon. The one big notch or click indicates exactly 50%, which is super useful for quick “calibration,” and turning the knob is smooth yet resistant enough that I never once accidentally changed it. Meanwhile there are conveniently placed and distinguishable buttons for mute and power, and ports for the detachable mic, charge cord and 3.5mm input.
I’m hard pressed to think of any downsides to the Blackshark except that it doesn’t work with consoles.
Ever since the pandemic hit the U.S. in full force last March, the B2B tech community keeps asking the same questions: Are businesses spending more on technology? What’s the money getting spent on? Is the sales cycle faster? What trends will likely carry into 2021?
Recently we decided to join forces to answer these questions. We analyzed data from the just-released Q4 2020 Outlook of the Coupa Business Spend Index (BSI), a leading indicator of economic growth, in light of hundreds of conversations we have had with business-tech buyers this year.
A former Battery Ventures portfolio company, Coupa* is a business spend-management company that has cumulatively processed more than $2 trillion in business spending. This perspective gives Coupa unique, real-time insights into tech spending trends across multiple industries.
Tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many startups are raising large rounds and even tapping public markets for capital.
Broadly speaking, tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many tech startups are raising large financing rounds and even tapping the public markets for capital. Here are our three specific takeaways on current tech spending:
Tech spending ranks among the hottest boardroom topics today. Decisions that used to be confined to the CIO’s organization are now operationally and strategically critical to the CEO. Multiple reasons drive this shift, but the pandemic has forced businesses to operate and engage with customers differently, almost overnight. Boards recognize that companies must change their business models and operations if they don’t want to become obsolete. The question on everyone’s mind is no longer “what are our technology investments?” but rather, “how fast can they happen?”
Spending on WFH/remote collaboration tools has largely run its course in the first wave of adaptation forced by the pandemic. Now we’re seeing a second wave of tech spending, in which enterprises adopt technology to make operations easier and simply keep their doors open.
SaaS solutions are replacing unsustainable manual processes. Consider Rhode Island’s decision to shift from in-person citizen surveying to using SurveyMonkey. Many companies are shifting their vendor payments to digital payments, ditching paper checks entirely. Utility provider PG&E is accelerating its digital transformation roadmap from five years to two years.
The second wave of adaptation has also pushed many companies to embrace the cloud, as this chart makes clear:
Image Credits: Battery Ventures (opens in a new window)
Similarly, the difficulty of maintaining a traditional data center during a pandemic has pushed many companies to finally shift to cloud infrastructure under COVID. As they migrate that workload to the cloud, the pie is still expanding. Goldman Sachs and Battery Ventures data suggest $600 billion worth of disruption potential will bleed into 2021 and beyond.
In addition to SaaS and cloud adoption, companies across sectors are spending on technologies to reduce their reliance on humans. For instance, Tyson Foods is investing in and accelerating the adoption of automated technology to process poultry, pork and beef.
Mention “digital product company” in the past, and we’d all think of Netflix. But now every company has to reimagine itself as offering digital products in a meaningful way.
When Salesforce bought Slack earlier this week for $27.7 billion, it was in some ways the end of a startup fairytale. Slack was the living embodiment of the Silicon Valley startup success fantasy. It started as a pivot from a game company, of all things. It raised $1.4 billion, went from zero to a $7 billion valuation to IPO, checking off every box on the startup founder’s wish list.
While we might not ever know the back (Slack) room maneuvering that went on to make the deal a reality, it is interesting to note that Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told me in an interview this week that he was not actually trying to sell the company when he approached Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor earlier this year. Instead, he wanted to buy something from them.
“I actually talked to Bret in the early days of the pandemic to see if they wanted to sell us Quip because I thought it would be good for us, and I didn’t really know what their plans were [for it]. He said he’d get back to me, and then got back to me six months later or so,” Butterfield said.
At that point, the conversation flipped and the companies began a series of discussions that eventually led to Salesforce acquiring Slack.
From the Salesforce perspective, Taylor says that the Slack deal was worth the money because it really allows his company to bring together all the pieces of their platform, one that has expanded over the years from pure CRM to include marketing, customer service, data visualization, workflow and more. Taylor also said that having Slack gives Salesforce a missing communication layer on top of its other products, something especially important when interactions with customers, partners or fellow employees, have become mostly digital.
“When we say we really want Slack to be this next generation interface for Customer 360, what we mean is we’re pulling together all these systems. How do you rally your teams around these systems in this digital work-anywhere world that we’re in right now where these teams are distributed and collaboration is more important than ever,” Taylor said.
Butterfield sees a natural connection between what people do in the course of their work, what machines do behind the scenes in these systems of record and engagement, and how Slack can help bridge the gap between humans and machines.
He says that by putting Slack in the middle of business processes, you can begin to eliminate friction that occurs in complex enterprise software like Salesforce. Instead of moving stuff through email, clicking a link, opening a browser, signing in, and then finally accessing the tool you want, the approval could be built into a single Slack message.
“If you have hundreds of those kinds of actions a day, there’s a real opportunity to increase the velocity and that has an impact, and not just in the minutes saved by the person doing the approval, but the speed of how the whole business operates,” Butterfield said.
While neither executive said the deal was about competing with Microsoft, it was likely an underlying reason that the companies decided to join forces. They may prove better together than they are separately, and both have complicated histories with Microsoft.
Slack has had an ongoing battle with Microsoft and its Teams product for years. It filed suit against the company last summer in the EU over what it called unfairly bundling of Teams for free with Office 365. In an interview last year with the Wall Street Journal, Butterfield said that he believes Microsoft sees his company as an existential threat. Hyperbole aside, there is tension and competition between the two enterprise software companies.
Salesforce and Microsoft also have a long history from lawsuits in the early days, to making friends and working together when it makes sense after Satya Nadella took over in 2014, while still competing hard in the market. It’s hard not to see the deal in that context.
In a recent interview with TechCrunch, Battery Ventures general partner Neeraj Agrawal said the deal was at least partially about catching Microsoft.
“To get to a market cap of $1 trillion, Salesforce now has to take MSFT head on. Until now, the company has mostly been able to stay in its own swim lane in terms of products,” Agrawal told TechCrunch.
As for Butterfield, while he saw the obvious competition, he denied the deal was about putting his company in a better position to compete with his rival.
“I don’t think that was really an important part of the rationale, at least for me,” he said, adding “the competition with Microsoft is overblown. The challenge for us was the narrative. They’re just good PR or something that I couldn’t figure out,” he said.
While Butterfield cited a list of large clients in enterprise tech, insurance and banking, the narrative has always been that Slack was favored by developer teams, which is where it initially gained traction. Whatever the reality, with Salesforce, Slack is definitely in a better position to compete with any and all comers in the enterprise communications space, and while it will be part of Salesforce, the two companies also have to figure out how to maintain some separation.
Taylor certainly recognizes that Slack’s current customers are watching closely to see how they handle the acquisition, and his company will have to walk a fine line between respecting the brand and product independence on one hand, while finding ways to create and build upon existing hooks into Salesforce to allow the CRM giant to take full advantage of its substantial investment.
It won’t be easy to do, but you can see a similar level of independence in some of Salesforce’s recent big-money purchases like MuleSoft, the company it bought in 2018 for $6.5 billion, and Tableau, the company it bought last year for over $15 billion. As Butterfield points out, those two companies have clearly maintained their brand identity and independence, and he sees them as role models for Slack.
“So there’s a layer of independence that’s like that [for Mulesoft and Tableau] because it’s not going to help anyone call us Chat Cloud or something like that. They paid a lot of money for us, so they want us to do more of what we were already doing,” he said.
Taylor, whose opinion matters greatly here, certainly sees it in similar terms.
“We want to make sure we have a real integrated value proposition, a real integrated platform for developers, but also maintain Slack’s technology independence, technology agnostic platform and its brand,” he said.
As for the companies coming together, both men see a lot of potential here to merge Slack communications with Salesforce’s enterprise software prowess to make something better, and Taylor sees Slack helping link the two with workflows and automations.
“When you think about automation, it’s event driven, these long running processes, automations. If you look at what people are doing with the Slack platform, it’s essentially incorporating workflows and bots and all these things. The combination of the Salesforce platform where I think we have the best automation intelligence capabilities with the Slack platform is incredible,” Taylor said.
The challenge these two men now face as they move forward with this acquisition, and all of the expectations inherent in a deal this large, is making it work. Salesforce has a lot of experience with large acquisitions, and they have handled some well, and some not so well. It’s going to be imperative for both companies that they get this right. It’s now up to Taylor and Butterfield to make sure that happens.
Fintech startup Revolut is launching its own acquiring solution. With this move, the company is competing directly with Stripe, Adyen, Braintree or Checkout.com. This is an in-house product and not just a fresh coat of paint on an existing solution.
As a reminder, Revolut already offers business accounts. It lets you send and receive international payments, and exchange funds in multiple currencies. You also can order debit cards to spend money from your Revolut account directly.
With Revolut’s acquiring solution, the company is going one step further, as you can now accept card payments from your customers. Revolut supports 14 currencies and settles payments on your Revolut Business account the next day.
When it comes to fees, you get a small allowance of free card payment processing fees depending on your plan. Above that limit, you pay 1.3% on card transactions from customers based in Europe and the U.K. For other cards, you pay 2.8% on all transactions — there’s no free allowance.
This is slightly cheaper than Stripe, which costs 1.4% + £0.20 for European cards and 2.9% + £0.20 for non-European cards. Of course, companies like Stripe have been optimizing their payments infrastructure for many years. Right now, Stripe supports more payment methods, more currencies, advanced fraud prevention features, etc.
After you’ve created your merchant account, Revolut offers plugins for WooCommerce, Prestashop and Magento. You can also use the Merchant API to add a checkout widget on your custom website.
If you’re a freelancer and you just need to send a couple of invoices per month, you can also generate payment links. The recipient can then pay from a web page hosted by Revolut.
The main advantage of Revolut’s acquiring solution is that it’s integrated with Revolut Business. You can see payments and banking in the same interface, you don’t need to alternate between your Stripe account and your bank account to reconcile transaction data.
It could work particularly well for B2B businesses that don’t handle a ton of transactions and don’t want to set up a separate payments solution. Let’s see what customers think of the API when they start using it.
Online payments are available for business customers in the U.K., Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The rest of the European Economic Area should get the feature soon.
The American food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $90 to $95 per share, up from a previous range of $75 to $85. That’s a bump of 20% on the low end and 12% on the upper end of its IPO range.
DoorDash still anticipates 317,656,521 shares outstanding after its IPO, giving the company a new, non-diluted valuation range between $28.6 billion and $30.2 billion. On a fully-diluted basis, the company’s valuation rises to more than $35 billion.
For the on-demand giant, the upgrade is enormously positive news. Not only will its valuation stretch even further above its most recent private price — around $16 billion, set this summer — but DoorDash will also raise even more money than it previously anticipated. That war chest will be welcome when a vaccine becomes widely available and food consumption habits could shift.
DoorDash will raise as much as $3.135 billion in its IPO, according to the filing.
After mulling over the company’s updated valuation from its new SEC filing, I’ve decided that there are three things worth calling out and discussing. Let’s get into them.
It’s Friday, so to make our analysis as easy as possible I’ve broken it into discreet sections for your perusal. Let’s go!
DoorDash’s most profitable quarters that we are aware of were its two most recent. During the June 30 quarter, the company saw positive net income of $23 million off revenues of $675 million. In the September 30 quarter, on the back of even more revenue growth, DoorDash lost a modest $42 million against $879 million in top line.
Those two quarters contrast with the first quarter of 2020 when DoorDash lost a far-greater $129 million against a far-smaller revenue result of $362 million, and Q4 2019 when the figures were a $134 million loss and revenues of just $298 million.
Many companies will not see the uncertainty of a global pandemic as the perfect moment to go international, but for others (particularly in healthcare, online communications, and workplace mobility) the market is stronger than ever and companies are having to respond quickly internationally to both service existing clients and take advantage of the growth in demand.
We and our team at Taylor Wessing advise 50 to 75 venture-backed North American companies each year on setting up in Europe or Asia. We’ve helped companies such as TaskRabbit, Lime, Glossier, InVision and many others translate their domestic success to new jurisdictions and cultures and to thrive as global businesses.
This is a practical guide to international expansion with the challenges of the current time in mind. It’s a quick-read providing some practical tips and sharing best practices from peer companies to help you come out of the pandemic with a strong international presence. A great deal of this advice is evergreen and will serve you well whatever the circumstances may be.
In particular, we’ll cover the rise (and risks) of distributed workforces — a way for CEOs to hire the best talent anywhere in the world. This has taken on new significance with the boom in remote working as one of several options for CEOs looking for strategic growth during and after COVID.
Ten years ago, the timing question was much simpler. Founders would first of all focus on developing a product and winning over their domestic market, funded through their Series A and B rounds, and then go on to raise their Series C round, which investors would expect to be used to push into new markets.
Since then, with the age of the smartphone in full swing and international direct ordering ubiquitous, opportunities to sell into new markets appeared far earlier in a company’s growth and there is no longer a canned strategy for timing your international expansion.
The current circumstances have exaggerated this trend. There are many challenges in traditional sectors, but also many new market opportunities quickly appearing in healthcare and other technology sectors with founders wanting to move quickly into new markets.
Although it may be tempting to just get a few sales people on the ground to go for it, we would still recommend laying some groundwork and making some key decisions before diving in. For example: ensuring management can give sufficient time and attention to the new market; tweaking your product to comply with local regulations; reworking your sales approach.
If you are early-stage, tread carefully. Our belief is that the Series B round is still the earliest a founder or board should consider international expansion.
If you are early-stage, tread carefully. Our belief is that the Series B round is still the earliest a founder or board should consider international expansion. The companies we’ve worked with who have moved earlier than the B round will generally end up realizing it’s too early. They’ll end up pressing pause, or making a full strategic exit, tail between legs.
International expansion is a matter of focus, as well as financial resources. Once you’re selling into a new market, everyone in the business needs to be thinking internationally, including the CEO, CFO, general counsel, the board, engineers and staff. It can stretch everyone before there are the necessary resources in place to cope.
Even in the best of times our advice would be to not experiment or push the boundaries when it comes to your international strategy, do that elsewhere in your business. You should follow the path most travelled at this stage. This is especially true in the current climate. If you’re thinking of doing something new, something your peers haven’t done before, we should have a conversation first.
Whichever market you’ve chosen, there are some universal first steps (although they might vary slightly between jurisdictions). For example:
The world’s food supply must double by the year 2050 to meet the demands from a growing population, according to a report from the United Nations. And as pressure mounts to find new crop land to support the growth, the world’s eyes are increasingly turning to the African continent as the next potential global breadbasket.
While Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank, the countries on the continent face significant obstacles as they look to boost the productivity of their agricultural industries.
On the continent, 80% of families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4% use irrigation. Many families also lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. It’s these twin problems that Samir Ibrahim and his co-founder at SunCulture, Charlie Nichols, have spent the last eight years trying to solve.
Armed with a new financing model and purpose-built small solar power generators and water pumps, Nichols and Ibrahim, have already built a network of customers using their equipment to increase incomes by anywhere from five to ten times their previous levels by growing higher-value cash crops, cultivating more land and raising more livestock.
The company also has just closed on $14 million in funding to expand its business across Africa.
“We have to double the amount of food we have to create by 2050, and if you look at where there are enough resources to grow food and a lot of point — all signs point to Africa. You have a lot of farmers and a lot of land, and a lot of resources,” Ibrahim said.
African small farmers face two big problems as they look to increase productivity, Ibrahim said. One is access to markets, which alone is a huge source of food waste, and the other is food security because of a lack of stable growing conditions exacerbated by climate change.
As one small farmer told The Economist earlier this year, ““The rainy season is not predictable. When it is supposed to rain it doesn’t, then it all comes at once.”
Ibrahim, who graduated from New York University in 2011, had long been drawn to the African continent. His father was born in Tanzania and his mother grew up in Kenya and they eventually found their way to the U.S. But growing up, Ibrahim was told stories about East Africa.
While pursuing a business degree at NYU Ibrahim met Nichols, who had been working on large scale solar projects in the U.S., at an event for budding entrepreneurs in New York.
The two began a friendship and discussed potential business opportunities stemming from a paper Nichols had read about renewable energy applications in the agriculture industry.
After winning second place in a business plan competition sponsored by NYU, the two men decided to prove that they should have won first. They booked tickets to Kenya and tried to launch a pilot program for their business selling solar-powered water pumps and generators.
Conceptually solar water pumping systems have been around for decades. But as the costs of solar equipment and energy storage have declined the systems that leverage those components have become more accessible to a broader swath of the global population.
That timing is part of what has enabled SunCulture to succeed where other companies have stumbled. “We moved here at a time when [solar] reached grid parity in a lot of markets. It was at a time when a lot of development financiers were funding the nexus between agriculture and energy,” said Ibrahim.
Initially, the company sold its integrated energy generation and water pumping systems to the middle income farmers who hold jobs in cities like Nairobi and cultivate crops on land they own in rural areas. These “telephone farmers” were willing to spend the $5000 required to install SunCulture’s initial systems.
Now, the cost of a system is somewhere between $500 and $1000 and is more accessible for the 570 million farming households across the word — with the company’s “pay-as-you-grow” model.
It’s a spin on what’s become a popular business model for the distribution of solar systems of all types across Africa. Investors have poured nearly $1 billion into the development of off-grid solar energy and retail technology companies like M-kopa, Greenlight Planet, d.light design, ZOLA Electric, and SolarHome, according to Ibrahim. In some ways, SunCulture just extends that model to agricultural applications.
“We have had to bundle services and financing. The reason this particularly works is because our customers are increasing their incomes four or five times,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the money has been going to consuming power. This is the first time there has been productive power.”
SunCulture’s hardware consists of 300 watt solar panels and a 440 watt-hour battery system. The batteries can support up to four lights, two phones and a plug-in submersible water pump.
The company’s best selling product line can support irrigation for a two-and-a-half acre farm, Ibrahim said. “We see ourselves as an entry point for other types of appliances. We’re growing to be the largest solar company for Africa.”
With the $14 million in funding, from investors including Energy Access Ventures (EAV), Électricité de France (EDF), Acumen Capital Partners (ACP), and Dream Project Incubators (DPI), SunCulture will expand its footprint in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire, the company said.
Ekta Partners acted as the financial advisor for the deal, while CrossBoundary provided additional advisory support, including an analysis on the market opportunity and competitive landscape, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Kenya Investment Mechanism Program.
China is a step closer to cracking down on unscrupulous data collection by app developers. This week, the country’s cybersecurity watchdog began seeking comment on the range of user information that apps from instant messengers to ride-hailing services are allowed to collect.
The move follows in the footstep of a proposed data protection law that was released in October and is currently under review. The comprehensive data privacy law is set to be a “milestone” if passed and implemented, wrote the editorial of China Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece. The law is set to restrict data practices not just by private firms but also among government departments.
“Some leaking of personal information has resulted in economic losses for individuals when the information is used to swindle the targeted individual of his or her money,” said the party paper. “With increasingly advanced technology, the collection of personal information has been extended to biological information such as an individual’s face or even genes, which could result in serious consequences if such information is misused.”
Apps in China often force users into surrendering excessive personal information by declining access when users refuse to consent. The draft rules released this week take aim at the practice by defining the types of data collection that are “legal, proper and necessary.”
According to the draft, “necessary” data are those that ensure the “normal operation of apps’ basic functions.” As long as users have allowed the collection of necessary data, apps must grant them access.
Here are a few examples of what’s considered “necessary” personal data for different types of apps, as translated by China Law Translate.
There are also categories of apps that are required to grant users access without gathering any personal information upfront: live streaming, short video, video/music streaming, news, browsers, photo editors, and app stores.
It’s worth noting that while the draft provides clear rules for apps to follow, it gives no details on how they will be enforced or how offenders will be punished. For instance, will app stores incorporate the benchmark into their approval process? Or will internet users be the watchdog? It remains to be seen.
Like many overseas Chinese, Derek Weng gets shopping requests from his family and friends whenever he returns to China. Some of the most wanted imported products are maternity items, cosmetics, and vitamin supplements. Many in China still uphold the belief that “imported products are better.”
The demand gave Weng a business idea. In 2018, he founded LemonBox to sell American health supplements to Chinese millennials like himself via online channels. The company soon attracted seed funding from Y Combinator and just this week, it announced the completion of a pre-A round of $2.5 million led by Panda Capital and followed by Y Combinator .
LemonBox tries to differentiate itself from other import businesses on two levels — affordability and personalization. Weng, who previously worked at Walmart where he was involved in the retail giant’s China import business, told TechCrunch that he’s acquainted with a lot of American supplement manufacturers and is thus able to cut middleman costs.
“In China, most supplements are sold at a big markup through pharmacies or multi-level marketing companies like Amway,” Weng said. “But vitamins aren’t that expensive to produce. Amway and the likes spend a lot on marketing and sales.”
Inside LemonBox’s fulfillment center
LemonBox designed a WeChat-based lite app, where users receive product recommendations after taking a questionnaire about their health conditions. Instead of selling by the bottle, the company customizes user needs by offering daily packs of various supplements.
“If you are a vegetarian and travel a lot, and the other person smokes a lot, [your demands] are going to be very different. I wanted to customize user prescriptions using big data,” explained Weng, who studied artificial intelligence in business school.
A monthly basket of 30 B-complex tablets, for instance, costs 35 yuan ($5) on LemonBox. Amway’s counterpart product, a bottle of 120 tablets, asks for 229 yuan on JD.com. That’s about 57 yuan ($9) for 30 tablets.
Selling cheaper vitamins is just a means for LemonBox to attract consumers and gather health insights into Chinese millennials, with which the company hopes to widen its product range. Weng declined to disclose the company’s customer size, but claimed that its user conversion rate is “higher than most e-commerce sites.”
With the new proceeds, LemonBox is opening a second fulfillment center in the Shenzhen free trade zone after its Silicon Valley-based one. That’s to provide more stability to its supply chain as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts international flights and cross-border trade. Moreover, the startup will spend the money on securing health-related certificates and adding Japan to its sourcing regions.
Screenshot of Lemonbox’s WeChat-based store
In the decade or so when Weng was living in the U.S., the Chinese internet saw drastic changes and gave rise to an industry largely in the grip of Alibaba and Tencent. Weng realized he couldn’t simply replicate America’s direct-to-customer playbook in China.
“In the U.S., you might build a website and maybe an app. You will embed your service into Google, Facebook, or Instagram to market your products. Every continent is connected with one other,” said Weng.
“In China, it’s pretty significantly different. First off, not a lot of people use web browsers, but everyone is on mobile phones. Baidu is not as popular as Google, but everybody is using WeChat, and WeChat is isolated from other major traffic platforms.”
As such, LemonBox is looking to diversify beyond its WeChat store by launching a web version as well as a store through Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace.
“There’s a lot of learning to be done. It’s a very humbling experience,” said Weng.
Google fires a leading researcher, Stripe launches a new banking service and WarnerMedia shakes up the theatrical business model. This is your Daily Crunch for December 3, 2020.
The big story: Google fires co-lead of its Ethical AI team
Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence, tweeted last night that Google fired her in response to a message she sent to an internal email list.
Casey Newton obtained the email in question, in which Gebru expressed frustration with her treatment at Google and disappointment at its diversity and inclusion efforts: “We just had a Black research all hands with such an emotional show of exasperation. Do you know what happened since? Silencing in the most fundamental way possible.”
Google declined to comment, except to point to an email from Jeff Dean, the head of Google Research, in which he said Gebru had threatened to resign unless certain conditions were met. (“I hadn’t resigned — I had asked for simple conditions first and said I would respond when I’m back from vacation,” Gebru said.)
The tech giants
YouTube introduces new feature to address toxic comments — The feature appears when users are about to post something offensive in a video’s comments section and warns them to “Keep comments respectful.”
Developers can now enroll in Apple’s ‘Small Business Program’ for reduced App Store fees — Just a few weeks back, we learned that Apple would be launching a program to reduce its fees from 30% to 15% for developers earning less than $1 million per year from the App Store.
Android’s winter update adds new features to Gboard, Maps, Books, Nearby Share and more — One of the more fun bits in the winter update will be a dramatic expansion of the Emoji Kitchen.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Stripe announces embedded business banking service Stripe Treasury — The company is partnering with banks to offer a banking-as-a-service API.
Everlywell raises $175M to expand virtual care options and scale its at-home health testing — Earlier this year, Everlywell launched an at-home COVID-19 test collection kit, the first test of its kind to receive an emergency authorization from the FDA.
VSCO acquires mobile app Trash to expand into AI-powered video editing — The deal will see Trash’s technology integrated into the VSCO app.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
VCs who want better outcomes should use data to reduce founder team risk — Using an objective, data-backed process to evaluate teams will help VCs make better investment decisions.
This is a good time to start a proptech company — At least, it’s a good time according to Colton Pace of Fika Ventures.
Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns — More mass email blasts are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
All of Warner Bros.’ theatrical movies will get simultaneous releases on HBO Max next year — This includes movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “In the Heights,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” “The Suicide Squad,” “Dune,” the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Matrix 4.”
NASA selects four companies for moon material collection as it seeks to set precedent on private sector outer space mining — The four companies all have rides booked on future commercial lunar lander missions.
Bill Gates just released a plan for US leadership on climate change, including $35B in funding — Gates wrote that we “need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy.”
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early-stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.
That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!
Latin America’s startup scene has attracted troves of venture investment, lifting highly-valued companies such as Rappi and NuBank into behemoth businesses. Now that the spotlight has arrived, those same startups need more talent than ever before to meet demand.
That’s where one seed-stage Buenos Aires startup wants to help. Henry has created an online computer science school that trains software developers from low-income backgrounds to understand technical skills and get employed. The company was founded by brother-sister duo Luz and Martin Borchardt, as well as Manuel Barna Ferrés, Antonio Tralice and Leonardo Maglia.
The Henry team.
The company claims that there’s an estimated 1 million software engineering job openings in Latin America, but fewer than 100,000 professionals that have training suitable for those roles.
“Higher education is only for 13% of the population in Latin America,” says Martin Borchardt, CEO and co-founder of Henry . “It’s very exclusive, very expensive, and has very low impact skills. So we’re giving these people an opportunity.”
With 90% of graduates coming from no formal higher education background, Henry seeks to help bring more back-end junior developers and full-stack developers into startups. Henry offers a five-month course that goes from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., which focuses on software developer skills. Beyond technical training, Henry gives participants job coaching, resume workshops and up-skilling opportunities post-graduation.
To make the school more affordable, Henry looks to take on the same strategy used by Lambda School, a YC-graduate that has raised over $122 million in known funding: income-share agreements. The set-up would allow for boot camp participants to join the program at zero upfront costs, and then only pay once they get hired at a job.
Lambda School’s ISA terms ask students to pay 17% of their monthly salary for 24 months once they earn $4,167 monthly. The students pay a maximum of $30,000. Henry takes a much smaller slice of the pie, partly because salaries are lower in Latin American than in the United States. Henry asks students to pay 15% of their monthly salary for 24 months once students earn $500 a month.
If a Henry student doesn’t get employed in a job that allows them to make $500 a month within five years after the program completes, they are off the hook for paying back the boot camp.
Henry is also focused on helping more women get into the field of software development. Internally, Henry’s remote team is 20% women, 64% men. The current students reflect the same breakdown.
One issue with coding boot camps is that while it might help a student go from unemployed to employed, the lack of credential and degree might limit career mobility past that first job. For that reason, Henry has created a database of alumni resources, including up-skilling and reskilling opportunities in the latest skill, which will be free of charge for graduates.
Henry needs to execute on job placement to be successful in its field. Currently, more than 80% of students in Henry’s first cohort have found jobs, but it’s too soon in the startups’ trajectory to get a stronger metric on that front. About four Henry graduates have been employed by the startup.
The need for more talent in emerging countries has not gone unnoticed. Microverse, also funded by Y Combinator, is similarly using income-sharing agreements to bring education to the masses in developing countries, including spaces in Latin America. Henry thinks the competitor is approaching the dynamic too broadly.
“They’re focusing on all emerging markets and don’t teach to Spanish speakers,” Borchardt said. Henry, alternatively, focuses on Spanish speakers, over 60% of its market in Latin America.
What if Lambda School, the source of Henry’s inspiration, was to break into Latin America? The founder added that the richly funded company has tried, and failed, to expand into international geographies, including China and Europe, due to fragmentation.
Currently, Henry has graduated 200 students and is working with 600 students across Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. It plans to expand into Mexico and to bring on Portuguese instruction.
Now, VCs are giving Henry some cash to do so. After going through Y Combinator’s Summer batch, Henry announced today that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Accion Venture Lab, Emles Venture Partners and Noveus VC. There were also a number of edtech angel investors from Latin American that participated in the round.
“I love the human interaction within instructors and our staff and students,” Borchardt said. “That is something very powerful of Henry compared to a MOOC. The biggest challenge is how do you scale maintaining those assets that bring you that?”
Like many things in life, building great businesses is all about timing. We’ve seen multibillion dollar failures from the dot-com era such as Pets.com and Webvan be reincarnated a decade later as Chewy and Instacart — this time as runaway successes.
The same could be said about real estate technology companies, but startups in this category have not gotten the same opportunity and attention as their peers in other sectors.
For decades, proptech has received the short end of the stick. Real estate is the world’s largest asset class worth $277 trillion, three times the total value of all publicly traded companies. Still, fintech companies have received seven times more VC funding than real estate companies.
These lower levels of investment were previously attributed to the slow rate of technology adoption and digitalization within the real estate industry, but this is no longer the case. Companies in real estate are adopting innovation faster than ever. Now, 81% of real estate organizations plan to use new digital technologies in traditional business processes and spending on tech and software is growing at over 11% per year. Technological adoption has even accelerated throughout the pandemic as enterprises were forced to quickly adapt.
Historically, the strength or weakness of the broader economy and the real estate industry have been tightly coupled and correlated. While some may point to COVID-19’s negative impact on certain parts of real estate as evidence that proptech can only thrive in boom times, I believe building a successful proptech company is less about anticipating economic upswings and markets and more about timing and taking advantage of the right technological trends. In short, this is as good of a time as any to start a proptech company if you know where to look.
History is littered with examples of companies that have done just this. Let’s take a look at three:
Procore was founded in 2002 in the aftermath of the dot-com bust, well before widespread WiFi and five years before the iPhone. The company saw the capability for software and technology to transform the construction industry long before practitioners did. Its team faithfully and stubbornly kept at it through the financial crisis, but only had $5 million in revenue by 2012. Here’s where the timing kicks in: At this time, iPads and smartphones had become more common on worksites, enabling widespread adoption.
Realizing this change in-market and adapting to it, Procore strategically priced its product as a subscription, rather than based on headcount, as was typical in the industry. In this way, early customers like Wieland and Mortenson got their subcontractors and temp employees to use the product, which then created a flywheel effect that spread Procore to other projects and clients. Fast forward to today, Procore now has more than $290 million in ARR and is valued over $5 billion.
Procore’s persistence and agility ultimately enabled it to capitalize on the right technological trends and shifts, despite what initially seemed like a poorly timed decision to start a software company in a recession. Procore is now on a venture exit path as it continues to acquire new-age proptech companies like Avata Technologies, Honest Buildings and BIMAnywhere.
Zillow was founded by the co-founders of Hotwire and Expedia. While that might not seem relevant, the vision to bring transparency to consumers is the connecting line, the mission being to provide access to siloed data and knowledge to previously convoluted industries. Before Zillow, homeowners did not know how much their house was worth. With Zillow’s Zestimate, consumers can put a price tag on every roof across North America.
Fintech startup Stripe has announced an ambitious new product today called Stripe Treasury. The company is partnering with banks to offer a banking-as-a-service API. In other words, Stripe clients will be able to provide bank accounts to their customers — the service is invite-only for now.
This is part of a bigger trend called embedded finance. Essentially, instead of separating banking services from other services that you use, embedded finance products provide financial services as close as possible to the end customer in the services that they already use.
Other companies have been working on embedded business banking products, such as Wise. Stripe could take advantage of its existing user base to convince them to use Stripe Treasury for new banking products.
For example, Shopify will use Stripe Treasury for Shopify Balance. If a Shopify merchant wants to hold money, pay bills and spend money from their Shopify account, they can open a bank account in Shopify Balance directly. This way, they can skip the traditional bank account. Behind the scenes, Stripe Treasury powers that feature.
And yet, Stripe doesn’t want to become a bank. As usual, the company is focused on infrastructure and payments. It partners with banks, such as Evolve Bank and Goldman Sachs in the U.S. Eventually, Stripe also plans to launch Stripe Treasury in other countries thanks to partnerships with Citibank and Barclays.
Stripe turns everything into API calls. An API is a programming interface that lets you interact with third-party services using simple instructions. For instance, a developer can take advantage of Stripe Treasury to open bank accounts directly from their service by triggering Stripe’s API.
Similarly, you can move money or pay bills using API calls. Combined with Stripe Issuing, you can also issue a virtual or physical card and connect it to a bank account. Slowly, Stripe is building products that cover a bigger chunk of the payment chain.
Advancements in the tech and the cyber threat landscape are creating vast job opportunities. The global cybersecurity market is projected to reach £210 billion by 2026. But in the U.K., out of 952,000 working-age (16-64) U.K. military veterans and 15,000 service leavers a year, only 4% of them are working in tech and cyber. This is 20% lower than the non-veteran population. The cost to the U.K. economy of underemployed or unemployed veterans has been estimated at £1.5 billion over five years. This means all this talent — talent which has literally been trained to adapt to fast-moving situations like the one the world finds itself in now — is going to waste, just when the era of massive digitization of business and society is upon us.
So it’s significant that the U.K.’s RFEA, the Forces Employment charity, is launching a new partnership with TechVets, the nonprofit set up to build a bridge for veterans into cybersecurity and the technology sector.
With the RFEA’s support, TechVets will create extensive new free upskilling and job opportunities for “tech-curious” service leavers and veterans, through its offering of networking, mentoring, signposting and training services, via its new TechVets Academy.
The initiative is timely. It’s estimated that more than 173,000 U.K. military veterans are at risk due to the economic impact of COVID and the ending of the government’s furlough scheme in March 2021.
Since its launch in 2018, TechVets has grown to a community of over 6,000 members and several “chapters” around the U.K.
TechVets uses a blend of open-source resources, partner training and community support to empower those new to cyber/tech to choose the pathway that is best for them. And it’s all free to veterans and service leavers.
TechVets Programme Director James Murphy (pictured above) is an Army Veteran of 19 years. He joined the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment in 2000, before transferring to the Intelligence Corps in 2013 after sustaining life-long injuries in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
In a statement, he said: “Anyone who has held a role in the Forces comes armed with an understanding of the sensitivities of working in security. Ex-Services also possess an innate ability to learn new skills and are natural problem solvers, who can work quickly and fit into a team with ease. Ex-military personnel are also the kind of people who thrive in pressurized, or time-sensitive, situations. These soft skills are incredible assets in the security and technology industries, which can be used to fill the current skills shortage in this area.”
RFEA’s Chief Executive Officer Alistair Halliday, added: “The TechVets Programme is a fantastic new addition to RFEA’s services that will, no doubt, encourage talented veterans to consider tech and security-based roles that may have otherwise overlooked. It will also help veterans to upskill digitally to help them get into wider roles too.”
TechVets member Gareth Paterson joined the Army in 1994. He started out as a tank crewman and then transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as an instructor in 2001. He left in 2018, having completed operational tours of Northern Ireland, former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. He says his life has been changed by TechVets: “I left the Army as I was at the end of my 24-year career… I did not have a clue what career to move into, then I was introduced to offensive cybersecurity and penetration testing. I joined TechVets and it gave me my first insight into the tools and techniques of penetration testing. After that, I was hooked! The support of everyone at TechVets, and its community, has helped me to gain confidence and push harder. I was able to gain qualifications in penetration testing which improved my job prospects in the sector. By November 2018 I started working as a cybersecurity consultant.”
NASA has selected the winning candidates that they’ve decided to tap to collect lunar resources for eventual Earth return. The four companies all have rides booked on future commercial lunar lander missions, and the agency is using this as a demonstration of what kinds of efficiencies it can realize by piggybacking on private industry for serving its needs. It is also a precedent-setting event for NASA paying private companies to retrieve materials that they retrieved and owned privately for their own purposes prior to transferring ownership to the agency.
The winning bids were evaluated based on two simple criteria: Basically, were they technically feasible, and how much did they cost. There were four winners, each with a different ride out, which will seek to satisfy the conditions of NASA’s request, which is basically to collect a lunar regolith (essentially what we call “soil” on the moon) in an amount ranging from between 50 grams to 500 grams, with retrieval to be handled separately by NASA at a later date. The samples had to be collected before 2024 as part of the request, which sets them up for potential retrieval via NASA’s Artemis mission series, though the agency isn’t necessarily going to actually pick up the samples, it reserves the option to do so.
The four companies selected are:
The agency received 22 proposals in total, between 16 and 17 companies. This was intentionally designed to help NASA demonstrate the advantages of its public-private partnerships approach, and to set precedents about how resource material collection can happen on extra-terrestrial bodies like the moon.
“With the commercial partnerships, this is setting a precedent internally as well as externally, relative to NASA continuing that paradigm,” said NASA’s Acting Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Mike Gold. “Rather than pay for the development of the systems themselves, NASA is playing the role as customer.”
More specifically, these contracts also set precedents in terms of what private companies can do in terms of collecting material from the moon, and who has ownership of that material once collected.
“I’ve often said that the rocket science part, the engineering, sometimes that seems like the easy aspect when it comes to all of the policy issues, legal or financial challenges that we have,” Gold said. “It’s very important that we resolve any legal or regulatory questions in advance because we never want policy, or regulations to slow down or hinder incredible innovations in development that we’re seeing from both the public and the private sector. So we think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract, take these resources that NASA can purchase, and utilize them to fuel, not only NASA’s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the moon, and then eventually to Mars.”
Basically, NASA wants this to set a precedent that private companies can go to the moon, and eventually Mars, and mine material and retain ownership of said material for later distribution to both public and other private customers.
That’s part of the reason these bids are so low — companies like ispace and Lunar Outpost have future business models that involve significant potential planetary-body mining components. The other is that these lunar lander missions were already planned, and as NASA explicitly laid out in their request for proposals for this bid, the agency did not want to pay for any development costs for the mission of getting to the moon itself — just the actual collection.