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Dear Sophie: How can I get my startup off the ground and visit the US?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I’m a female entrepreneur who created my first startup a few months ago.

Once my startup gets off the ground — and as COVID-19 gets under control — I’d like to visit the United States to test the market and meet with investors. Which visas would allow me to do that?

—Noteworthy in Nairobi

Dear Noteworthy,

Congratulations on founding your startup! There are many ways to engage with the U.S. startup ecosystem, and you can start now, even before you physically come to the United States.

I recommend doing some research into the programs and resources offered to entrepreneurs like you through the U.S. Embassy and Consulates near you in your home country. I recently interviewed Lilly Wahl-Tuco, a foreign service officer who has worked for the U.S. Department of State for 15 years, on my podcast.

Wahl-Tuco discussed some of the State Department resources — including programs, competitions and grants — made available by U.S. embassies and consulates for entrepreneurs living in the area.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Serving as the first Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, Wahl-Tuco was tasked with energizing the entrepreneurs of Bosnia. After she traveled around the country, visiting every incubator and meeting several entrepreneurs, Wahl-Tuco said she was surprised that most of the people she talked with didn’t know about the resources that the U.S. government offers through its embassies.

She recommends that entrepreneurs reach out, network and do online research to figure out what’s offered in their country or even if other foreign embassies offer resources and programs aimed at entrepreneurs.

Wahl-Tuco also suggested that entrepreneurs reach out to their local U.S. Embassy. For example, you can contact the U.S. Embassy in Kenya to find out if you can discuss your startup and business plan with an ESTH officer (if there is one) or someone else there. Connecting with embassy staff can open up many opportunities.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Extra Crunch roundup: UiPath’s IPO filing, predicting revenue, how to pivot properly, much more

By Walter Thompson

This is not a boast, but a warning: I could write a how-to article on almost any topic.

Give me enough time to do some research, and I can put together a reliable step-by-step for building a custom gaming PC, installing a hot water heater or interpreting public health data. But since I’ve never actually done those things, I would encourage you to ignore any advice I have to offer.

Trusted advice comes from experience. That’s why Ron Miller interviewed three entrepreneurs who have each built multiple companies to uncover some essential truths about achieving product-market fit:

  • Pouyan Salehi, CEO and co-founder, Scratchpad
  • Rami Essaid, CEO and founder,  Finmark
  • Melonee Wise, CEO and co-founder, Fetch Robotics

The basic tenets presented in Ron’s story will resonate with anyone who’s launched a startup.

Alex Wilhelm was particularly prolific this morning: For The Exchange, he studied UiPath’s 2020 quarterly results to get a clearer picture of its first S-1/A filing. Is the “somewhat slack news regarding UiPath’s potential IPO valuation” a harbinger of things to come?


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In a follow-up, he recapped news from the public debuts of Coinbase, UiPath, Zenvia, AppLovin and Grab, all of which “adds up to a somewhat muddled picture of the current IPO market.” It feels like we’re in a turbulent window, but it’s also possible that we’re in the calm after the storm, he suggests.

Final note: I asked TechCrunch graphic designer/illustrator Bryce Durbin to create an image to accompany this primer on raising a Series A round. He didn’t just exceed my expectations — it’s my favorite TechCrunch illustration ever. Thanks, Bryce!

I hope you got something out of reading Extra Crunch this week. Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

 

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

From building out Facebook’s first office in Austin to putting together most of Quora’s team, Bain Capital Ventures managing director Sarah Smith has done a bit of everything when it comes to hiring.

At TechCrunch Early Stage, she spoke about how to ensure the critical early hires are the right ones to grow a business. As an investor, Smith has a broad view into the problems companies face as they search for the right candidates to spur organizational success.

She touched on a number of issues, such as who to hire and when, when to fire, and how to ensure diversity from the earliest days.

So you want to raise a Series A

"So you want to raise a Series A" pamphlet in the style of "The Simpsons"

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

During a seed funding round, a founder needs to convince a venture capital investor on a vision. But during a Series A fundraise, napkin-stage ideas don’t make the cut — a founder needs product progress, numbers and revenue (or at least a plan to eventually generate some).

In many ways, the stakes are higher for a Series A — and Bucky Moore, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, joined TechCrunch Early Stage last week to give founders tactical advice on the process of raising one.

Moore spoke about storytelling over semantics, pricing, and where his firm sees itself “raising the bar” for startups.

With the right tools, predicting startup revenue is possible

For a long time, “revenue” seemed to be a taboo word in the startup world. Fortunately, things have changed with the rise of SaaS and alternative funding sources such as revenue-based investing VCs.

Still, revenue modeling remains a challenge for founders. How do you predict earnings when you’re still figuring it out?

How we dodged risks and raised millions for our open-source machine learning startup

Image Credits: erhui1979 / Getty Images

If you have a great idea within the open-core framework, expect your risks to be much lower than with a traditional business structure.

Clearly communicate this fact to venture capitalists for the best chance at securing the seed funding your organization needs.

But it takes more: Boasting a strong community around an emerging open-source product essentially serves as an “introduction letter” to venture capitalists. It highlights the founders’ ability to successfully execute their vision, as well as the mission to bring their product to a commercial reality.

Additionally, the iterative nature of open-source projects leads to fostering a sense of teamwork between the founders, their team, and investors and stakeholders.

Founder and investor Melissa Bradley outlines how to nail your virtual pitch meeting

Image Credits: Ureeka

Melissa Bradley is the co-founder of a startup called Ureeka, an investor at 1863 Ventures, and a professor at Georgetown’s business school. So it’s not an understatement to say that she understands the fundraising process from every angle.

She both invested and fundraised for her own startup during this last year, where the landscape has shifted drastically. At TechCrunch Early Stage, she led a session on how to nail your virtual pitch meeting.

Bradley covered how to allocate your time during the meeting, how to prepare, how to close out the meetings with a clear list of action items, and what to avoid.

Scale CEO Alex Wang and Accel’s Dan Levine explain why sometimes unconventional VC deals are best

Image Credits: Eric Millette / Scale AI

Scale CEO and co-founder Alex Wang credits their success since founding — which includes raising over $277 million and achieving breakeven status in terms of revenue — to early support from investors, including Accel’s Dan Levine.

Accel haș participated in four of Scale’s financing rounds, and Levine wrote one of the company’s very first checks. So on this past week’s episode of Extra Crunch Live, we spoke with Levine and Wang about how that first deal came together, and what their working relationship has been like in the years since.

 

Ride-hailing’s profitability promise is in its final countdown

Let’s parse Uber’s latest, vet its profit promise, consider its rivals and their performance, and then ask ourselves if the great ride-hailing and food-delivery booms will ever make back the money they cost to scale.

 

UiPath’s first IPO pricing could be a warning to late-stage investors

Co-founder and CEO of UiPath Daniel Dines

Image Credits: Noam Galai/Getty Images

For UiPath, its initial IPO price interval is a disappointment, though the company could see an upward revision in its valuation before it does sell shares and begin to trade.

But more to the point, the company’s private-market valuation bump followed by a quick public-market correction stands out as a counter-example to something that we’ve seen so frequently in recent months.

Is UiPath’s first IPO price interval another indicator that the IPO market is cooling?

 

How to choose and deploy industry-specific AI models

Image of flow chart on a blackboard.

Image Credits: alexsl / Getty Images

As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, previously cutting-edge — but generic — AI models are becoming commonplace, such as Google Cloud’s Vision AI or Amazon Rekognition.

While effective in some use cases, these solutions do not suit industry-specific needs right out of the box. Organizations that seek the most accurate results from their AI projects will simply have to turn to industry-specific models.

Any team looking to expand its AI capabilities should first apply its data and use cases to a generic model and assess the results.

Let’s dive into each of these approaches and how businesses can decide which one works for their distinct circumstances.

Atomico’s talent partners share 6 tips for early-stage people ops success

Photo of Talent Partners Caro Chayot and Dan Hynes

Image Credits: Atomico

In the earliest stages of building a startup, it can be hard to justify focusing on anything other than creating a great product or service and meeting the needs of customers or users.

However, there are still a number of surefire measures that any early-stage company can and should put in place to achieve “people ops” success as they begin scaling, according to venture capital firm Atomico‘s talent partners, Caro Chayot and Dan Hynes.

Long story short: You need to recruit for what you need, but you also need to think about what is coming down the line.

5 questions about Grab’s epic SPAC investor deck

grab 1

Image Credits: Roslan Rahman/Getty Images

Southeast Asian superapp Grab is going public via a SPAC.

Grab, which provides ride-hailing, payments and food delivery, will trade under the ticker symbol “GRAB” on the Nasdaq exchange when the combination is complete.

Let’s walk through several key points from Grab’s SPAC investor deck, including growth, segment profitability, aggregate costs and COVID-19, among other factors.

Expect an even hotter AI venture capital market in the wake of the Microsoft-Nuance deal

Microsoft’s huge purchase of health tech AI company Nuance led the technology news cycle this week. The $19.7 billion transaction is Microsoft’s second-largest to date, only beaten by its purchase of LinkedIn some years ago.

For the AI space, the sale is a coup. Nuance was already a public company, but to see Microsoft offer a firm premium over its public-market value demonstrates the value that AI technology can have to wealthy companies. For startups working in the AI space, the Nuance deal is good news; the value of AI revenue was repriced by the acquisition’s announcement — and for the better.

In light of the megadeal, The Exchange dug into the AI venture capital market. What’s happening on the startup side of the coin in the artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) space?

What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

market-maps-hydrogen-fuel-cell

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

When the word “hydrogen” is uttered today, the average non-insider’s mind likely gravitates toward transportation — cars, buses, maybe trains or 18-wheelers, all powered by the gas.

But hydrogen is, and does, a lot of things, and a better understanding of its other roles — and challenges within those roles — is necessary to its success in transportation.

Hydrogen is now capturing the attention of governments and private sector players, fueled by new tech, global green energy legislation and post-pandemic “green recovery” schemes.

5 product lessons to learn before you write a line of code

Rearview shot of a young businesswoman having a brainstorming session in a modern office

Image Credits: LaylaBird / Getty Images

Before a startup can achieve product-market fit, founders must first listen to their customers, build what they require and fashion a business plan that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.

The numbers will tell the true story, but when it happens, you’ll feel it in your bones because sales will be good, customers will be happy and revenue will be growing.

Reaching that tipping point can be a slog, especially for first-time founders. To uncover some basic truths about building products, we spoke to three entrepreneurs who have each built more than one company.

Inside the US’ epic first-quarter venture capital results

In broad strokes, the United States had a crushing venture capital start to the new year, pandemic be damned.

That is especially true when we consider 2020’s full-year figures. Last year, venture capitalists deployed some $166 billion into U.S.-based startups across 12,546 rounds. In contrast, if the first quarter’s pace was maintained during the rest of 2021, the United States would see around 16,000 rounds worth around $280 billion.

Of course, we cannot see the future, so those projections are merely shared to underscore how active the first quarter proved to be.

Dear Sophie: How can I get an H-1B without the lottery?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

For the past few years, our company has put very promising candidates into the annual H-1B lottery. None of them have been selected — and none of them meet the requirements for other work visas like an O-1A.

We lost out again in this year’s H-1B lottery. Are there any other ways we can obtain H-1Bs for our team members?

— Soldiering On in Sunnyvale

 

Alexa von Tobel outlines how founders should manage personal finances

Alexa von Tobel

Image Credits: Alexa von Tobel

Few people are more knowledgeable on the topic of how founders should manage their finances than Alexa von Tobel.

She is a certified financial planner, started her own company in the midst of the recession (which happened to be a wildly successful personal finance startup that sold for hundreds of millions of dollars), and is now a VC who invests and advises founders.

At Early Stage 2021, she gave a presentation on how founders should think about managing their own wealth. Startup founders can often put all their money into their venture and end up paying more attention to the finances of their company than their own bank account.

Von Tobel outlined the various steps you can take to stay out of debt, build credit and accumulate wealth through investments to ensure you have financial peace of mind as you take on the most stressful venture of your life: Starting a company.

How to pivot your startup, save cash and maintain trust with investors and customers

Olive CEO Sean Lane

Image Credits: Olive

A few years ago, founder Sean Lane thought he’d achieved product-market fit.

Speaking to attendees at TechCrunch’s Early Stage virtual event, Lane said Queue, a secure digital check-in tablet for hospital waiting rooms that reduced wait times by uniting and correcting electronic medical records, was “selling like hotcakes.” But once Lane realized it would only ever address one piece of a much bigger market opportunity, he sold off the product, laid off two-thirds of the people affiliated with it and redirected the employees who were left.

Lane explained that what he really wanted to build is what his company — since renamed Olive — has now become, a robotic process automation (RPA) company that takes on hospital workers’ most tedious tasks so nurses and physicians can spend more time with patients.

Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

Concept of knowledge, data and protection. Paper human head with pad lock.

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In business today, many believe that consumer privacy and business results are mutually exclusive — to excel in one area is to lack in the other. Consumer privacy is seen by many in the technology industry as an area to be managed.

But the truth is that the companies that champion privacy will be better-positioned to win in all areas. This is especially true as the digital industry continues to undergo tectonic shifts in privacy — both in government regulation and browser updates.

For startups choosing a platform, a decision looms: Build or buy?

Blank green arrow signs pointing in both directions on top of a metal post.

Image Credits: Chris Jongkind (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Founders shouldn’t be worried about starting companies that rely on other platforms.

Platforms exist to help startups get to users and customers faster and should be used as a means to an end, but everyone must get their piece.

Coinbase’s direct listing alters the landscape for fintech and crypto startups

Coinbase’s direct listing was a massive finance, startup and cryptocurrency event, and the transaction’s effects will be felt for some time in the public market, but also among the startups and capital that comprise the private market.

In the buildup to Coinbase’s flotation — and we’d argue especially after it released its blockbuster Q1 2021 results — there was a general expectation that the unicorn’s direct listing would provide a halo effect for other startups in the space.

The widely held perspective raised two questions: Will the success of Coinbase’s direct listing bolster private investment in crypto-focused startups, and will that success help other areas of financially focused startup work garner more investor attention?

Billion-dollar B2B: Cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

Abstract minimalist conceptual multiple coloured zig zag strip joined as one moving upwards on blue background.

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

The “billion-dollar B2B” paradigm refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.

One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.

How startups can ensure CCPA and GDPR compliance in 2021

Padlock in woman's hand. Data, information, property and security on the Internet concept. White background

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

Data is the most valuable asset for any business in 2021. If your business is online and collecting customer personal information, your business is dealing in data, which means data privacy compliance regulations will apply to everyone — no matter the company’s size.

Small startups might not think the world’s strictest data privacy laws — the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — apply to them, but it’s important to enact best data management practices before a legal situation arises.

Should Dell have pursued a more aggressive debt-reduction move with VMware?

Michael Dell, founder and chief executive officer of Dell Inc., speaks during the 2015 Dell World Conference in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Dell said trimming debt for the massive deal to combine his namesake company with EMC Corp. should progress relatively quickly in the next couple of years. Photographer: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Image Credits: Bloomberg / Getty Images

When Dell announced it was spinning out VMware, the move itself wasn’t surprising; there had been public speculation for some time.

But Dell could have gone a number of ways in this deal, despite its choice to spin VMware out as a separate company with a constituent dividend instead of an outright sale.

It seems Dell hopes to have its cake and eat it too with this deal: It generates a large slug of cash to use for personal debt relief while securing a five-year commercial deal that should keep the two companies closely aligned.

What we all missed in UiPath’s latest IPO filing

Robotic process automation platform UiPath filed its first S-1/A this week, setting an initial price range for its shares. The numbers were impressive, if slightly disappointing because what UiPath indicated in terms of its potential IPO value was a lower valuation than it earned during its final private fundraising.

Here at The Exchange, we wondered if the somewhat slack news regarding UiPath’s potential IPO valuation was a warning to late-stage investors.

But in good news for UiPath shareholders, most everyone — ourselves included! — who discussed the company’s price range didn’t dig into the fact that the company first disclosed quarterly results to the same S-1/A filing that included its IPO valuation interval. And those numbers are very interesting, so much so that The Exchange is now generally expecting UiPath to target a higher price interval before it debuts.

But let’s dig into the company’s quarterly results to get a clearer picture of UiPath.

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages

If you only stayed up to date with the Coinbase direct listing this week, you’re forgiven. It was, after all, one heck of a flotation.

But underneath the cryptocurrency exchange’s public debut, other IPO news that matters did happen this week. And the news adds up to a somewhat muddled picture of the current IPO market.

To cap off the week, let’s run through IPO news from UiPath, Coinbase, Grab, AppLovin and Zenvia. The aggregate dataset should help you form your own perspective about where today’s IPO markets really are in terms of warmth for the often unprofitable unicorns of the world.

Do you fit the mold for the next generation of values-driven VCs?

By Annie Siebert
Jonathan Greechan Contributor
Jonathan Greechan is co-founder of the world's largest pre-seed accelerator, Founder Institute, has run over 100 webinars including 100,000+ live attendees, and is one of Meetup's most active organizers.

More individuals than ever are donning the investor cap. Almost a fifth of U.S. equity trading in 2020 was driven by mom-and-pop investors — up from around 15% in the previous year. With such impressive returns to be made, many are deciding to set up a full-fledged investment business.

With the fundraising world becoming more democratic and accessible, we should help people find the right path to setting up a venture capital firm and also make sure the right people are entering the VC sphere. Startups are changing, and any new investment manager will have to adapt to the shifting landscape. VCs today have to provide more than money to get the best portfolio, and they must have a strong focus on impact to get the best institutional investors into their funds.

Startup investors can be the financial backbone for mass disruption. That’s why, at Founder Institute, we believe in the need for more VCs with strong values: Because they will prop up the companies that will build a brighter future for humanity. We’re not the only ones — our first “accelerator for ethical VCs” was oversubscribed.

VCs today have to provide more than money to get the best portfolio, and they must have a strong focus on impact to get the best institutional investors into their funds.

So if you want to lead your own VC fund in 2021, here are the main questions aspiring investors need to ask themselves.

Are you doing this for the right reasons?

Investing in startups is not just about making money. In selecting the startups that will become future industry leaders, VCs have a lot more power than most to do good (or harm). If you’re only interested in money, you likely won’t go too far. Identifying the greatest businesses means seeing beyond their capital into the longevity of their vision, their real-life impact on society, and how much consumers will love or hate them.

After all: Most startup founders pour their blood, sweat and tears into building a business not just to make money, but also to make an impact on the world and build products that align with their mission. Any new venture capitalist looking to attract the best founders needs to think about the vision and mission of their fund in the same terms.

Although VC firms have been slow on the uptake when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, there are signs that times are changing. Some firms are forming a community around implementing ESG, not only because of the external impact but because it furthers their business goals. To help accelerate this trend, we asked our VC Lab participants to take The Mensarius Oath (Latin for “banker” or “financier”), a professional code of conduct for finance professionals to create an ethical, prosperous and healthy world.

What value do you bring to the table?

The number of VCs are growing and the industry is increasingly becoming concentrated. This means that simply offering large sums of money won’t get you traction with the best startups. Founders are looking for value over volume — they usually want mission alignment, connections, value-added services and industry expertise more than a blank check.

Remember that the best founders get to choose their VCs from a menu of options, not the other way around. To convince them that you’re the right match, you’ll need a proven track record in the same industry (or transferable experience from another industry) and referrals from credible people. You’ll also need a strong value proposition or niche that sets you apart from other funds. For example, Untapped Capital invests in “unexpected” and “undernetworked” founders, while R42 Group invests in AI and longevity-focused businesses.

If you don’t think you’ve got the profile to offer value to founders just yet, it’s worth taking some time to lay out exactly who you are. That is: what you hope to achieve as a fund manager, the vision you have for your portfolio companies and how you alone can help them get there.

What’s your secret sauce?

As a new VC fund without historical data points, limited partners (LPs) will naturally be cautious to invest in your fund. So, you have to build a brand that tells your story and proves your reputation.

Go back to the basics and pinpoint exactly what your strengths are. If you’re having trouble finding inspiration, use statements like, “I can get the best deal because I have X,” or, “I help grow my portfolio companies by X” to get the ball rolling. Be wary of saying that the amount of money you have is your strength — at this stage, your bank balance isn’t your competitive edge. Focus instead on what makes you unique, credible and relevant. Having a high number of strategic contacts, extensive industry experience or a backsheet of successful exits could be your secret ingredients. For extra guidance, check out this resource my team put together to help fund managers consolidate their niche in an “investment thesis.”

Once you have a list, choose your top three strengths and write a followup sentence detailing how each of them can be enriched by your network and expertise. Ideally, share these with a test group (friends, family or fellow entrepreneurs) and ask them which is the most compelling. If there’s a general consensus toward one point, you know to make that a large chunk of your VC fund’s thesis.

Do you have a solid network?

Who you know is just as important as what you know, and the most prominent VCs tend to be in the middle of a flow of information and people. Your network tells founders that you’re respected and reassures them that they will probably be brought into the fold to connect with future mentors, customers, investors or hires.

If you’re a thought leader, the alumni of a well-known company like Uber or PayPal, or if you’ve started a community around an emerging vertical, you’re more likely to form a positive deal flow. But this status and these relationships have to be established before you launch your fund — if you try to network from zero, you’ll be spinning too many plates and won’t have the social proof to back yourself up.

Don’t just rely on your gut to tell you whether your network is satisfactory. Map out your personal ecosystem, sorting people based on familiarity (close contacts or acquaintances) and defining characteristics (consumers, finance, ex-CEOs, etc.). That “map” can be as basic as an Excel sheet with a column for each category, or you could use more attractive visual tools like Canva — great for sharing with your future team and encouraging them to fill any network gaps.

What size fund do you want to launch?

A VC fund runs like any other business — you have to develop a vision, recruit a team, form an entity, raise money, deliver value and report to stakeholders. To kick things off, you need to consider what size fund you want, and then secure significant commitments from LPs — at least 10% of your total fund. LPs can be corporations, entrepreneurs, government agencies and other funds.

Also keep in mind that most LPs will want you to personally invest at least 1% of the total fund size so that you have “skin in the game.”

For that reason especially, it’s best to start small, somewhere between $5 million and $20 million, and use this “training fund” to demonstrate returns and create a launchpad for bigger raises to follow.

Can you help founders from launch to exit?

Your partnership with companies will be for the long haul, so you can’t rely just on offering value when you wire the money. Founders need consistent support across the full startup lifecycle, meaning you need to be conscious not to overpromise and fail to deliver. Think of the startups you’d most like to work with: How could you help them now? How could you help them in the future? And how could you help them exit?

You can take a skills-centric approach, where you reserve different resources and connections based on marketing, hiring, fundraising and culture-creation that can be applied as the startup grows. Alternatively, you might want to make sprint-like plans, where you check in with founders on a repeating basis and iterate the support you offer based on their progress. Whatever way you chose to structure your support, ensure that you’re realistic about what you can bring to the table, your availability, preferred involvement and how you’ll document it.

The future of VC will be driven by venture capitalists with strong values who have built funds with the new needs of founders in mind. VC may once have been exclusive and mysterious, but 2021 could be the year VC becomes a more open and fair space for businesses and investors alike.

Hadrian is building the factories of the future for rocket ships and advanced manufacturing

By Jonathan Shieber

If the eight person team behind the new startup Hadrian has their way, they’ll have transformed the manufacturing industry within the next decade.

At least, that’s the goal for the new San Francisco-based startup, founded only last year, which has set its sights on building out a new model for advanced manufacturing to enable the satellite, space ship, and advanced energy technology companies to build the future they envision better and faster.

We view our job as to provide the world’s most efficient space and defense component factory,” said Hadrian founder, Chris Power.

Initially, the company is building factories to make the parts that go on rocket ships, according to Power, but the business has implications for any company that needs bespoke components to make their equipment.

“Let me tell you how bad it is at the moment and what’s going to happen over the next 20 years. Right now everyone in space and defense, [including] SpaceX and Lockheed Martin, outsources their parts and manufacturing to small factories across the country. They’re super expensive, they’re unreliable and they’re completely invisible to the customers,” said Power. “This causes big problems with space and defense manufacturers in the design phase, because the lead time is so long and the iteration time is super long. Imagine running software and being able to iterate on your product once every 20 days? If you can imagine a Gantt chart of how to build a rocket, about 60% of that is buffer time… A lot of the delays in launches and stuff like that happen because parts got delivered three months ago. It’d be like running a McDonalds and realizing that your fries and burger providers could not tell you when the food would arrive.”

It’s hard to overstate the strategic importance of the parts suppliers to the operations of aerospace, defense, and advanced machining companies. As no less an authority on manufacturing than Elon Musk noted in a tweet, “The factory is the product.” It’s also hard to overstate the geopolitical importance of re-establishing the U.S. as a center of manufacturing excellence, according to Hadrian’s investors Lux Capital, Founders Fund, and Construct Capital. Which is one reason why they’re investing $9.5 million into the very early stage business.

“America made massive strategic mistakes in the early 90s which have left our national manufacturing ecosystem completely dilapidated,” said Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov. “The only way to get out of this disaster is to re-invent the most basic input into our aerospace and defense supply chains, machining metal parts quickly and with high tolerance. Right now, America’s most innovative company, SpaceX, relies on a network of near-retired machinists to produce space-worthy metal parts, and no one in technology is. focused on solving this.”

 

The factory is the product

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 11, 2021

Power got to understand the problem at his previous company, Ento, which sold workforce management software to blue collar customers. It was there he realized the issue of. the aging workforce and the need for manufacturers to upgrade almost every aspect of their own technology stack. “I realized that the right way to bring technology to the industrial space is not to sell software to these companies, it’s to build an industrial business from scratch with software.”

Initially, Hadrian is focusing all of its efforts on the space industry, where the component manufacturing problem is especially acute, but the manufacturing capabilities the company is building out have broad relevance across any industry that requires highly engineered components.

“The demand for manufacturing from both the large SpaceX and Blue Origin all the way to this growing long tail of companies from Anduril to Relativity to Varda,” said Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe. “Most of these guys are using mom and pop machine shops… [and] those shops are horribly inefficient. They’re not consistent, and they’re not reliable. Between the software automation, the hardware, you can cut down on inefficiency every step of the process… I like to think of value creation as waste reduction… so mundane things like quoting, scheduling, bidding, and planning all the way to the programming of the manufacturing… every one of those things takes hours to tens of hours to days and weeks, so if you can do that in minutes, it’s just a no-brainer. [Hadrian] will be the cutting edge choice for all of the new and explicitly dedicated and focused aerospace and defense companies.”

Power envisions a network of manufacturing facilities that can initially cover roughly 65% of all space and defense components, and will eventually take that number up to 95% of components. Already several of the biggest launch vehicle and satellite manufacturers are in talks with the company to produce hundreds of units for them, Power said. Some of those companies just happen to be in the Construct, Lux, and Founders Fund portfolio.

And the company’s founder sees this as a new way to revitalize American manufacturing jobs as well. “Manufacturing jobs in space and defense can easily be as high paying as a software engineering job at Google,” he said. In an ideal world, Hadrian would like to offer an onramp to high paying manufacturing careers in the 21st century in the same way that automakers provided good union jobs in the twentieth.

“We haven’t built any of this. If you look at the sheer number of people that we need to train and hire on our new technology and new systems, that people problem and that training problem is part of growing our business.”

A render of Axiom’s future commercial space station design.

Pale Blue Dot aims to be Europe’s premier early-stage climate investor and has $100 million to prove it

By Jonathan Shieber

When Hampus Jakobsson, Heidi Lindvall, and Joel Larsson, all well-known players in the European venture ecosystem, began talking about their new firm Pale Blue Dot, they began by looking at the problems with venture capital.

For the three entrepreneurs and investors, whose resumes included co-founding companies and accelerators like The Astonishing Tribe (Jakobsson) and Fast Track Malmö (Lindvall and Larsson) and working as a venture partner at BlueYard Capital (Jakobsson again), the problems were clear.

Their first thesis was that all investment funds should be impact funds, and be taking into account ways to effect positive change; their second thesis was that since all funds should be impact funds, what would be their point of differentiation — that is, where could they provide the most impact.

The three young investors hit on climate change as the core mission and ran with it.

As it was closing on €53 million ($63.3 million) last year, the firm also made its first investments in Phytoform, a London headquartered company creating new crops using computational biology and synbio; Patch, a San Francisco-based carbon-offsetting platform that finances both traditional and frontier “carbon sequestration” methods; and 20tree.ai, an Amsterdam-based startup, using machine learning and satellite data to understand trees to lower the risk of forest fires and power outages.

Now they’ve raised another €34 million and seven more investments on their path to doing between 30 and 35 deals.

These investments primarily focus on Europe and include Veat, a European vegetarian prepared meal company; Madefrom, a still-in-stealth company angling to make everyday products more sustainable; HackYourCloset, a clothing rental company leveraging fast fashion to avoid landfilling clothes; Hier, a fresh food delivery service; Cirplus, a marketplace for recycled plastics trading; and Overstory, which aims to prevent wildfires by giving utilities a view into vegetation around their assets. 

The team expects to be primarily focused on Europe, with a few opportunistic investments in the U.S., and intends to invest in companies that are looking to change systems rather than directly affect consumer behavior. For instance, a Pale Blue Dot investment likely wouldn’t include e-commerce filters for more sustainable shopping, but potentially could include investments in sustainable consumer products companies.

The size of the firm’s commitments will range up to €1 million and will look to commit to a lot of investments. That’s by design, said Jakobsson. “Climate is so many different fields that we didn’t want to do 50% of the fund in food or 50% of the fund in materials,” he said. Also, the founders know their skillsets, which are primarily helping early stage entrepreneurs scale and making the right connections to other investors that can add value.

“In every deal we’ve gotten in co-investors that add particular, amazing, value while we still try to be the shepherds and managers and sherpas,” Jakobsson said. “We’re the ones that are going to protect the founder from the hell-rain of investor opinions.”

Another point of differentiation for the firm are its limited partners. Jakobsson said they rejected capital from oil companies in favor of founders and investors from the tech community that could add value. These include Prima Materia, the investment vehicle for Spotify founder Daniel Ek; the founders of Supercell, Zendesk, TransferWise and DeliveryHero are also backing the firm. So too, is Albert Wenger, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures.

The goal, simply, is to be the best early stage climate fund in Europe.

“We want to be the European climate fund,” Lindvall said. “This is where we can make most of the difference.” 

The TechCrunch Survey of Tech Startup Hubs in England and Wales

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the major European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words. For this survey we are interested in startup hubs in England and Wales. (Scotland will follow, and Northern Ireland is here).

So this is your chance to put your cities on the Techcrunch Map!

We’re like to hear from founders and investors. We are particularly interested in hearing from diverse founders and investors. These are our humble suggestions for the cities we’d most like to hear from:

Birmingham
Brighton
Bristol & Bath
Cambridge
Cardiff
Liverpool
Manchester
Newcastle
Oxford
Reading and Thames valley
York

If you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of the above cities please fill out the survey form here.

The more founders/investors we hear from in a particular city, the more likely it is that city will be featured in TechCrunch.

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last six or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service that unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys, the cities we wrote about were largely capitals. You can see them listed here.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and generally how your city will evolve.

We leave submissions mostly unedited and are generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher.

Atomico’s talent partners share 6 tips for early-stage people ops success

By Steve O'Hear

In the earliest stages of building a startup, it can be hard to justify focusing on anything other than creating a great product or service and meeting the needs of customers or users. However, there are still a number of surefire measures that any early-stage company can and should put in place to achieve “people ops” success as they begin scaling, according to venture capital firm Atomico‘s talent partners, Caro Chayot and Dan Hynes.

You need to recruit for what you need, but you also need to think about what is coming down the line.

As members of the VC’s operational support team, both work closely with companies in the Atomico portfolio to “find, develop and retain” the best employees in their respective fields, at various stages of the business. They’re operators at heart, and they bring a wealth of experience from time spent prior to entering VC.

Before joining Atomico, Chayot led the EMEA HR team at Twitter, where she helped scale the business from two to six markets and grew the team from 80 based in London to 500 across the region. Prior to that, she worked at Google in people ops for nine years.

Hynes was responsible for talent and staffing at well-known technology companies including Google, Cisco and Skype. At Google, he grew the EMEA team from 60 based in London to 8,500 across Europe by 2010, and at Skype, he led a talent team that scaled from 600 to 2,300 in three years.

Caro Chayot’s top 3 tips

1. Think about your long-term org design (18 months down the line) and hire back from there

When most founders think about hiring, they think about what they need now and the gaps that exist in their team at that moment. Dan and I help founders see things a little differently. You need to recruit for what you need, but you also need to think about what is coming down the line. What will your company look like in a year or 18 months? Functions and team sizes will depend on the sector — whether you are building a marketplace, a SaaS business or a consumer company. Founders also need to think about how the employees they hire now can develop over the next 18 months. If you hire people who are at the top of their game now, they won’t be able to grow into the employees you need in the future.

2. Spend time defining what your culture is. Use that for hiring and everything else people-related

If org design is the “what,” then culture is the “how.” It’s about laying down values and principles. It may sound fluffy, but capturing what it means to work at your company is key to hiring and retaining the best talent. You can use clearly articulated values at every stage of talent-building to shape your employer brand. What do you want potential employees to feel when they see your website? What do you want to look for in the interview process to make sure you are hiring people who are additive to the culture? How do you develop people and compensate them? These are all expressions of culture.

Extra Crunch roundup: StockX EC-1, Early Stage recaps, unpacking Alkami’s IPO, more

By Walter Thompson

Over the last few days, we’ve published several articles recapping panels from last week’s TechCrunch Early Stage virtual conference.

Each story is based on an interview with a founder or investor who addressed some of the most common startup dilemmas. Predictably, they’re mostly focused on the how and why:

How do I get into an accelerator? When should I hire a sales team? What’s the best way to earn attention from investors?

TechCrunch reporter Natasha Mascarenhas interviewed Kleiner Perkins partner Bucky Moore to get sector-agnostic advice for founders who are ready to raise a Series A.

Their conversation isn’t a rehash of basic best practices — Moore says the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way he does business: “I actually believe that first meetings over Zoom are here to stay; I think it’s far more efficient.”

I’m looking forward to the eventual return of live TechCrunch events, but each Early Stage recap includes video and a complete transcript. As ever, full articles are available for Extra Crunch members.

Thanks very much for reading — I hope you have a fantastic weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


The StockX EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Have you ever bought a pig in a poke?

It’s a saying from medieval times: A farmer traveling on an unfamiliar road agrees to buy a baby pig in a bag from a passing stranger. Unfortunately, when the farmer gets back to their hut and opens the sack, there’s a kitten inside.

The risk of getting stuck with a counterfeit item when buying online is real, especially when it comes to sneakers, jewelry and other designer products. That’s why online marketplace StockX created a rigorous product verification and authentication process.

To date, its users have conducted more than 10 million transactions for sneakers, handbags, streetwear, watches and other high-end items that are often produced in limited quantities.

StockX’s prices are regulated and all transactional data is transparent, factors that have combined to help the platform reach a $2.8 billion valuation.

In a four-part series that dropped this week, Extra Crunch analyzes this “foundational new category of market” that began as a hobbyist’s sneaker price chart.

Will Topps’ SPAC-led debut expand the bustling NFT market?

Yes, the baseball card company is going public in a debut that could easily be read as a way to put money into the NFT craze without actually having to buy cryptocurrencies.

Digging into the Alkami Technology IPO

It appears that the slowdown in tech debuts is not a complete freeze; despite concerning news regarding the IPO pipeline, some deals are chugging ahead.

Alkami Technology joins a list that includes Coinbase’s impending direct listing and Robinhood’s expected IPO.

Texas-based Alkami Technology is a software company that delivers its product to banks via the cloud, so it’s not a legacy player scraping together an IPO during boom times.

Let’s dig into the latest SEC filing from the software unicorn.

Chinese startups rush to bring alternative protein to people’s plates

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Last year could well have been the dawn of alternative protein in China. More than 10 startups raised capital to make plant-based protein for a country with increasing meat demand. Of these, Starfield, Hey Maet, Vesta and Haofood have been around for about a year; ZhenMeat was founded three years ago; and Green Monday is a nine-year-old Hong Kong firm pushing into mainland China.

The competition intensified further last year when American incumbents Beyond Meat and Eat Just entered China.

Although some investors worry the sudden boom of meat-substitute startups could turn into a bubble, others believe the market is far from saturated.

LG’s exit from the smartphone market comes as no surprise

Image Credits: Joan Cros/NurPhoto/Getty Images

For those who follow the space, LG will be remembered fondly as a smartphone trailblazer. For well over a decade, the company was a major player in the Android category and a driving force behind a number of innovations that have since become standard.

LG continued pushing envelopes — albeit to mixed effect. But in the end, the company just couldn’t keep up.

This week, the South Korean electronics giant announced it will be getting out of the “incredibly competitive” category, choosing instead to focus on its myriad other departments.

Giving EV batteries a second life for sustainability and profit

Batteries and electric vehicles on a blackboard

Image Credits: Getty Images

Electric cars and trucks seem to have everything going for them: They don’t produce tailpipe emissions, they’re quieter than their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts and the underlying architecture allows for roomier and often sleeker designs.

But the humble lithium-ion battery powering these cars and trucks leads a difficult life. Irregular charging and discharge rates, intense temperatures and many partial charge cycles cause these batteries to degrade in the first five to eight years of use, and, eventually, they end up in a recycling facility.

Instead of sending batteries straight to recycling for raw material recovery — and leaving unrealized value on the table — startups and automakers are finding ways to reuse batteries as part of a small and growing market.

How to kick the 10 worst startup habits with Fuel Capital’s Leah Solivan

Image Credits: Meg Messina

Fuel Capital General Partner Leah Solivan joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021 to explain how to avoid early mistakes in building your startup.

Solivan has ample experience on both sides of the fence, as she founded TaskRabbit and led it to exit through an acquisition by Ikea in 2017. She shared a list of 10 things to avoid in total, but here are some highlights of what to watch out for.

How founders can avoid blind spots and make better decisions with EchoVC’s Eghosa Omoigui

Football Team starting match

Image Credits: miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images

Eghosa Omoigui, the founder and managing general partner of EchoVC Partners, has helped entrepreneurs navigate the first steps of starting a company and laying the right foundation early on.

Omoigui advocates for founders to develop their own All-22 tape — a tool used by professional football coaches that allows the viewer to see all 22 players on the field at the same time. It improves a coach’s line of sight, and, most importantly, helps avoid missing a critical motion or player.

The concept of this tool can — and should — be applied in the startup world as well, Omoigui said during the virtual TC Early Stage event. He explained what it means to have an All-22 tape and the steps founders should take to develop a skill set that will allow them to see and understand the playbook from all sides.

Building and leading an early-stage sales team with Zoom CRO Ryan Azus

Image Credits: Zoom Video Communications, Inc.

This year at Early Stage, TechCrunch spoke with Zoom Chief Revenue Officer Ryan Azus about building an early-stage sales team.

Azus is perhaps best known for leading the video-calling giant’s income arm during COVID-19, but his experience building RingCentral’s North American sales organization from the ground up made him the perfect guest to chat with about building an early-stage sales team.

We asked him about when founders should step aside from leading their startup’s sales org, how to build a working sales culture, hiring diversely, how to pick customer segments and how to build a playbook.

The dos and don’ts of bug bounty programs with Katie Moussouris

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Katie Moussouris has been in cybersecurity circles since some of the world’s biggest tech companies were startups, and helped to set up the first vulnerability disclosure and bug bounty programs.

Moussouris, who runs consultancy firm Luta Security, now advises companies and governments on how to talk to hackers and what they need to do to build and improve their vulnerability disclosure programs.

At TC Early Stage, Moussouris explained what startups should (and shouldn’t) do, and what priorities should come first.

Start your engines, TechCrunch is (virtually) headed to Detroit

Detroit City Spotlight logo over photo illustration of downtown Detroit

Join us on our next (virtual) field trip to Southeast Michigan. All lights will be shining on the Motor City.

Why Detroit? This is where StockX and Rivian call home, along with a growing stable of medical technology companies, fintech startups and security companies. The area is quickly transforming thanks to active investors, low cost of living and access to amazing universities that have a long history of supporting entrepreneurs.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in Detroit in general, are seeking out a new up-and-coming city to live in, or looking for cool companies and talented founders to invest in, then you’ll want to register and drop Thursday, April 15, on your calendar.

How to get into a startup accelerator

Image Credits: Techstars

Should you try to get your company into an accelerator? How far along should your idea and your team be before applying? When it is time to apply, how do you make your application stand out from hundreds or thousands of others? How fancy do you need to get with the application video?

For answers, we spoke with Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of Techstars Chicago and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. He’s got an incredible wealth of knowledge about all things startups.

Understanding how fundraising terms can affect early-stage startups

Image Credits: Fenwick

Fenwick & West partner (and business lawyer) Dawn Belt joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage to break down some of the terms that trip up first-time entrepreneurs.

Belt has been involved in a number of key Silicon Valley moves, including EV company Proterra’s recent decision to go public via SPAC, as well as IPOs for Bill.com and Facebook. Here, she discusses key concepts like equity and the right of first refusal, and the role they play in the early stages of startup funding.

Bootstrapping, managing product-led growth and knowing when to fundraise

Image Credits: Calendly / OpenView

Product-led growth is all the rage in the Valley these days, and we had two leading thinkers discuss how to incorporate it into a startup at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021.

Tope Awotona is the CEO and founder of Calendly, which bootstrapped for much of its existence before raising $350 million at a $3 billion valuation from OpenView and Iconiq. And on the other side of that table (and this interview) sat Blake Bartlett, a partner at OpenView who has been leading enterprise deals based around the principles of efficient growth.

The two talked about bootstrapping and product-led growth, expanding internationally, when to bootstrap and when to fundraise, and how VCs approach a profitable company (carefully, and with a big stick). Oh, and how to spend $350 million.

Four strategies for getting attention from investors

Marlon Nichols

Image Credits: MaC Venture Capital

Being a successful early-stage investor is about a lot more than simply identifying trends; a successful VC needs to think several steps ahead. For MaC Venture Capital founder Marlon Nichols, it’s an ability that’s helped him spot big names like Gimlet Media, MongoDB, Thrive Market, PlayVS, Fair, LISNR, Mayvenn, Blavity and Wonderschool early on.

Nichols joined us on TechCrunch Early Stage to discuss his strategies for early-stage investing and how those lessons can translate into a successful launch for budding entrepreneurs.

Setting up a management board for success with Dave Easton

Image Credits: Generation Investment Management

Viewed from the outside, board selection and corporate governance can seem like a bit of a black box — particularly at a startup.

Generation Investment Management partner Dave Easton spoke at TechCrunch Early Stage about how to build a board as a founder, and, specifically, how to build a board you can live with. Easton’s experience serving on boards as both a full member and as an observer helped peel back the curtain on the murky topic of good governance.

Founder and investor Melissa Bradley outlines how to nail your virtual pitch meeting

Image Credits: Ureeka

Zoom-based pitch meetings became standard during the pandemic, but many investors say they intend to maintain the practice as more people are vaccinated.

In conversation with Jordan Crook, founder, investor, and business school professor Melissa Bradley offered pointers for how founders can prepare for Zoom calls, common pitfalls to avoid, and how to allocate time during the meeting.

How we dodged risks and raised millions for our open-source machine language startup

By Annie Siebert
Jorge Torres Contributor
Jorge Torres is CEO and co-founder of MindsDB, an open source AI layer for existing databases.
Adam Carrigan Contributor
Adam Carrigan is a co-founder and COO of MindsDB, an open source AI layer for existing databases.

Open-source software gave birth to a slew of useful software in recent years. Many of the great technologies that we use today were born out of open-source development: Android, Firefox, VLC media player, MongoDB, Linux, Docker and Python, just to name a few, with many of these also developing into very successful for-profit companies.

While there are some dedicated open-source investors such as the Apache Software Foundation incubator and OSS Capital, the majority of open-source companies will raise from traditional venture capital firms.

Our team has raised from traditional venture capital firms like Speedinvest, open-source-specific firms like OSS, and even from more hybrid firms like OpenOcean, which was created by the founders and senior leadership teams at MariaDB and MySQL. These companies understandably have a significant but not exclusive open-source focus.

Our area of innovation is an open-source AutoML server that reduces model training complexity and brings machine learning to the source of the data. Ultimately, we feel democratizing machine learning has the potential to truly transform the modern business world. As such, we successfully raised $5 million in seed funding to help bring our vision to the current marketplace.

Here, we aim to provide insights and advice for open-source startups that hope to follow a similar path for securing funding, and also detail some of the important risks your team needs to consider when crafting a business model to attract investment.

Strategies for acquiring open-source seed funding

Obviously, venture capitalists find many open-source software initiatives to be worthy investments. However, they need to understand any inherent risks involved when successfully commercializing an innovative idea. Finding low-risk investments that lead to lucrative business opportunities remains an important goal for these firms.

In our experience, we found these risks fall into three major categories: market risk, execution risk, and founders’ risk. Explaining all three to potential investors in a concise manner helps dispel their fears. In the end, low-risk, high-reward scenarios obviously attract tangible interest from sources of venture capital.

Ultimately, investment companies want startups to generate enough revenue to reach a valuation exceeding $1 billion. While that number is likely to increase over time, it remains a good starting point for initial funding discussions with investors. Annual revenue of $100 million serves as a good benchmark for achieving that valuation level.

Market risks in open-source initiatives

Market risks for open-source organizations tend to be different when compared to traditional businesses seeking funding. Notably, investors in these traditional startups are taking a larger leap of faith.

Bootstrapping, managing product-led growth and knowing when to fundraise

By Danny Crichton

Product-led growth is all the rage in the Valley these days, and we had two leading thinkers discuss how to incorporate it into a startup at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021. Tope Awotona is the CEO and founder of Calendly, which bootstrapped for much of its existence before raising $350 million at a $3 billion valuation from OpenView and Iconiq. And on the other side of that table and this interview sat Blake Bartlett, a partner at OpenView who has been leading enterprise deals based around the principles of efficient growth.

In this interview, the two talk about bootstrapping and product-led growth, expanding internationally, when to bootstrap and when to fundraise, and how VCs approach a profitable company (carefully, and with a big stick). Oh, and how to spend $350 million.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for quality.


Bootstrapping is directly tied to product-led growth

Product-led growth is all about efficiency — spending all of a startup’s capital and time on perfecting its product to capture new users and help the most fervent customers advocate for the product with others or perhaps the managers approving their expenses. That’s directly related to bootstrapping, since by evading VC investment, a startup has to be much more tied to customers in the first place

Tope Awotona:

With no marketing at all, Calendly begin to take off. So the initial users were in higher education, and very quickly we moved to the commercial sector. And all of that was because of the virality of the product. Seeing that, we just began to invest more into virality. So the combination of self serve, which is incredibly capital efficient, because you don’t need all of these sales people, and also the virality, instead of spending a bunch of dollars on advertising, you can really rely on the virality of the product and rely on the network of the users to really propagate and to enable distribution, just those are the two things that really allowed us to be successful. (Timestamp: 7:49)

We later discussed how the extreme focus on users can drive efficiency through product-led growth.

Blake Bartlett:

It’s the product and the distribution model, and they need to be tightly aligned. Tope spoke to some of this but I think first and foremost, even outside of metrics, it’s just how is the business built? And on the product front, the product is built, the jobs to be done so to speak, are oriented towards the actual user of the product, not their boss. SaaS historically was built for the boss because the boss owns the the budget for that department. So if you’re building a sales tool, build for the VP of Sales, and then hopefully the AEs will, you know, go along with it. But now with product-led growth, you’re actually building for that user. … Eventually, you can build the things on top that the boss cares about like the admin panel, and the KPIs and all that kind of stuff. (Timestamp: 29:35)


Product-led growth and international expansion

Setting up a management board for success with Dave Easton

By Darrell Etherington

Viewed from the outside, board selection and corporate governance can seem like a bit of a black box — particularly at a startup. Generation Investment Management partner Dave Easton spoke at TechCrunch Early Stage about how to build a board as a founder, and specifically how to build a board you can live with. Easton’s own ample experience serving on boards as both a full member and as an observer, as well as Generation’s focus on building sustainable, ethically managed, mission-driven businesses helped peel back the curtain on the murky topic of good governance.


On the composition of boards

Easton noted that many boards end up overcrowded — in terms of both the number of people and also the background of those present. Mixing up the type of board members you have managing your corporate governance is key, he said, especially as a company grows in size and maturity.

In terms of fields, the sorts of things that we find that often go wrong is when your board is stacked full of investors. I think investors are great — I’m an investor. I think there are super useful things investors do. But five investors is not very useful, right — it’s just more people who will generally think the same. So a typical thing that we’re doing when we come in is, we’re saying we’re not taking a board seat, we’re gonna give our board seats to an operator — someone who actually knows what they’re doing. When you’re in the earliest stages it’s probably fine to avoid operators and just have one or two investors. Particularly operators who come from, like bigger company backgrounds, they’re not necessarily so helpful when you’re getting product-market fit. But as you get bigger and bigger, you know, operators start to trump investors, and we think boards need to move more heavily in that direction. (Time stamp: 09:34)


Don’t put settled topics up for debate

On the subject of what should actually take place at well-run board meetings, Easton said that one of the most common pitfalls he’s encountered is when management sort of performatively offers up subjects for debate. It’s something that’s easy to do, but it also ends up not only being wasteful of the time of those present, it also leaves a bad taste in basically everyone’s mouths.

Black Innovation Alliance, Village Capital team up to support founders of color

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Black Innovation Alliance and Village Capital today announced Resource, a national initiative aimed at boosting the efforts of entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) led by, and focused on, founders of color.

The motivation behind the project is straightforward. ESOs “face record demand, declining resources and are chronically underestimated, underappreciated and underfunded,” the organizations say.

Resource aims to give local accelerators and incubators support in the form of training and community.

Resource’s “ESO Accelerator” will train startup ecosystem leaders on how to build a more financially sustainable organization, as well as help connect them to potential funders. It also will provide milestone-based financial support tied to organizational development.

Resource also plans to build a national community of practice among ESO leaders of color and their funders to share best practices and “develop stronger capital and mentorship pathways” for Black, Latinx and Indigenous founders across the U.S.

Village Capital, says CEO Allie Burns, supports and invest in entrepreneurs “who have been historically sitting in historical blind spots of investors, whether that’s by the problems they’re trying to solve, the geography they’re located in or demographic factors that we have seen lead to capital being concentrated in very few people, places and problems.” Village Capital has worked with more than 100 other ESOs to help grow companies with founders from all backgrounds over the past five years.

The goal with Resource is to help ensure that incubators and accelerators focused on supporting people of color have the resources they need to flourish, she added.

“We want to make sure that those accelerators and other ESOs have the financial, social and human capital to keep their doors open and grow,” Burns said.

Black Innovation Alliance Executive Director Kelly Burton points out that these Black-led organizations are often the first line of support for Black entrepreneurs yet reap few benefits from their success over time.

“They receive very little support and very little funding,” she said. “It’s almost like they do all the heavy lifting, they plant seeds and do all the cultivation but they don’t really get to benefit once that founder and that startup has really taken off. This is an opportunity for us to stabilize these organizations to help them build their own capacities and capabilities so that that organization can be sustainable.”

Resource is supported by a national coalition of funders committed to supporting entrepreneurs of color. The initial coalition includes Moody’s, The Sorenson Impact Foundation, Travelers and UBS.

In related news, on Tuesday we covered New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s proposal for a $10 million allocation in the state budget to create a seed fund for Black and Latinx startups.

In that piece, we noted that there are a number of organizations out there that are committed to funding diverse founders.

In February, several national and Chicago-based organizations banded together to support early-stage Black and Latinx tech entrepreneurs through a new program dubbed TechRise. The nonprofit P33 launched the program in partnership with Verizon and 1871, a private business incubator and technology hub, among others, with the goals “of narrowing the wealth gap in Chicago, generating thousands of tech-related jobs and giving $5 million in grant funding to Black and Latino entrepreneurs,” according to the Chicago Sun Times. (Disclosure: Verizon is TechCrunch’s parent company).

Also in Austin, DivInc is a nonprofit pre-accelerator that holds 12-week programs for underrepresented tech founders. Founded in 2016 by former Dell executive Preston James, the organization aims to “empower people of color and women entrepreneurs and help them build successful high-growth businesses by providing them with access to education, mentorship and vital networks.”

Putting Belfast on the TechCrunch map — TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put Belfast on the Techcrunch Map!

If you are a tech startup founder or investor in the city please fill out the survey form here.

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last six or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service that unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys, the cities we wrote about were largely capitals. You can see them listed here.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and generally how your city will evolve.

We leave submissions mostly unedited and are generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher.

Extra Crunch roundup: Tonal EC-1, Deliveroo’s rocky IPO, is Substack really worth $650M?

By Walter Thompson

For this morning’s column, Alex Wilhelm looked back on the last few months, “a busy season for technology exits” that followed a hot Q4 2020.

We’re seeing signs of an IPO market that may be cooling, but even so, “there are sufficient SPACs to take the entire recent Y Combinator class public,” he notes.

Once we factor in private equity firms with pockets full of money, it’s evident that late-stage companies have three solid choices for leveling up.

Seeking more insight into these liquidity options, Alex interviewed:

  • DigitalOcean CEO Yancey Spruill, whose company went public via IPO;
  • Latch CFO Garth Mitchell, who discussed his startup’s merger with real estate SPAC $TSIA;
  • Brian Cruver, founder and CEO of AlertMedia, which recently sold to a private equity firm.

After recapping their deals, each executive explains how their company determined which flashing red “EXIT” sign to follow. As Alex observed, “choosing which option is best from a buffet’s worth of possibilities is an interesting task.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch! Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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The Tonal EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

On Tuesday, we published a four-part series on Tonal, a home fitness startup that has raised $200 million since it launched in 2018. The company’s patented hardware combines digital weights, coaching and AI in a wall-mounted system that sells for $2,995.

By any measure, it is poised for success — sales increased 800% between December 2019 and 2020, and by the end of this year, the company will have 60 retail locations. On Wednesday, Tonal reported a $250 million Series E that valued the company at $1.6 billion.

Our deep dive examines Tonal’s origins, product development timeline, its go-to-market strategy and other aspects that combined to spark investor interest and customer delight.

We call this format the “EC-1,” since these stories are as comprehensive and illuminating as the S-1 forms startups must file with the SEC before going public.

Here’s how the Tonal EC-1 breaks down:

We have more EC-1s in the works about other late-stage startups that are doing big things well and making news in the process.

What to make of Deliveroo’s rough IPO debut

Why did Deliveroo struggle when it began to trade? Is it suffering from cultural dissonance between its high-growth model and more conservative European investors?

Let’s peek at the numbers and find out.

Kaltura puts debut on hold. Is the tech IPO window closing?

The Exchange doubts many folks expected the IPO climate to get so chilly without warning. But we could be in for a Q2 pause in the formerly scorching climate for tech debuts.

Is Substack really worth $650M?

A $65 million Series B is remarkable, even by 2021 standards. But the fact that a16z is pouring more capital into the alt-media space is not a surprise.

Substack is a place where publications have bled some well-known talent, shifting the center of gravity in media. Let’s take a look at Substack’s historical growth.

RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

Business process organization and analytics. Business process visualization and representation, automated workflow system concept. Vector concept creative illustration

Image Credits: Visual Generation / Getty Images

Robotic process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

Elevated view of many toilet rolls on blue background

Image Credits: Javier Zayas Photography (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

This year is all about the roll-ups, the aggregation of smaller companies into larger firms, creating a potentially compelling path for equity value. The interest in creating value through e-commerce brands is particularly striking.

Just a year ago, digitally native brands had fallen out of favor with venture capitalists after so many failed to create venture-scale returns. So what’s the roll-up hype about?

Hack takes: A CISO and a hacker detail how they’d respond to the Exchange breach

3d Flat isometric vector concept of data breach, confidential data stealing, cyber attack.

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

The cyber world has entered a new era in which attacks are becoming more frequent and happening on a larger scale than ever before. Massive hacks affecting thousands of high-level American companies and agencies have dominated the news recently. Chief among these are the December SolarWinds/FireEye breach and the more recent Microsoft Exchange server breach.

Everyone wants to know: If you’ve been hit with the Exchange breach, what should you do?

5 machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand

Jumble of multicoloured wires untangling into straight lines over a white background. Cape Town, South Africa. Feb 2019.

Image Credits: David Malan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Machine learning has become the foundation of business and growth acceleration because of the incredible pace of change and development in this space.

But for engineering and team leaders without an ML background, this can also feel overwhelming and intimidating.

Here are best practices and must-know components broken down into five practical and easily applicable lessons.

Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace

Businesswomen using mobile phone analyzing data and economic growth graph chart. Technology digital marketing and network connection.

Image Credits: Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech.

In this next wave, businesses will buy things they need through vertical B2B apps, rather than through sales reps, distributors or an individual merchant’s website.

Knowing when your startup should go all-in on business development

One red line with arrow head breaking out from a business or finance growth chart canvas.

Image Credits: twomeows / Getty Images

There’s a persistent fallacy swirling around that any startup growing pain or scaling problem can be solved with business development.

That’s frankly not true.

Dear Sophie: What should I know about prenups and getting a green card through marriage?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I’m a founder of a startup on an E-2 investor visa and just got engaged! My soon-to-be spouse will sponsor me for a green card.

Are there any minimum salary requirements for her to sponsor me? Is there anything I should keep in mind before starting the green card process?

— Betrothed in Belmont

Startups must curb bureaucracy to ensure agile data governance

Image of a computer, phone and clock on a desk tied in red tape.

Image Credits: RichVintage / Getty Images

Many organizations perceive data management as being akin to data governance, where responsibilities are centered around establishing controls and audit procedures, and things are viewed from a defensive lens.

That defensiveness is admittedly justified, particularly given the potential financial and reputational damages caused by data mismanagement and leakage.

Nonetheless, there’s an element of myopia here, and being excessively cautious can prevent organizations from realizing the benefits of data-driven collaboration, particularly when it comes to software and product development.

Bring CISOs into the C-suite to bake cybersecurity into company culture

Mixed race businesswoman using tablet computer in server room

Image Credits: Jetta Productions Inc (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cyber strategy and company strategy are inextricably linked. Consequently, chief information security officers in the C-Suite will be just as common and influential as CFOs in maximizing shareholder value.

How is edtech spending its extra capital?

Money tree: an adult hand reaches for dollar bills growing on a leafless tree

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

Edtech unicorns have boatloads of cash to spend following the capital boost to the sector in 2020. As a result, edtech M&A activity has continued to swell.

The idea of a well-capitalized startup buying competitors to complement its core business is nothing new, but exits in this sector are notable because the money used to buy startups can be seen as an effect of the pandemic’s impact on remote education.

But in the past week, the consolidation environment made a clear statement: Pandemic-proven startups are scooping up talent — and fast.

Tech in Mexico: A confluence of Latin America, the US and Asia

Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Image Credits: Orbon Alija (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Knowledge transfer is not the only trend flowing in the U.S.-Asia-LatAm nexus. Competition is afoot as well.

Because of similar market conditions, Asian tech giants are directly expanding into Mexico and other LatAm countries.

 

How we improved net retention by 30+ points in 2 quarters

Sparks coming off US dollar bill attached to jumper cables

Image Credits: Steven Puetzer (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s certainly no shortage of SaaS performance metrics leaders focus on, but NRR (net revenue retention) is without question the most underrated metric out there.

NRR is simply total revenue minus any revenue churn plus any revenue expansion from upgrades, cross-sells or upsells. The greater the NRR, the quicker companies can scale.

5 mistakes creators make building new games on Roblox

BRAZIL - 2021/03/24: In this photo illustration a Roblox logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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

Even the most experienced and talented game designers from the mobile F2P business usually fail to understand what features matter to Robloxians.

For those just starting their journey in Roblox game development, these are the most common mistakes gaming professionals make on Roblox.

 

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings image

“Lead with love, and the money comes.” It’s one of the cornerstone values at Poshmark. On the latest episode of Extra Crunch Live, Chandra and Chaddha sat down with us and walked us through their original Series A pitch deck.

 

Will the pandemic spur a smart rebirth for cities?

New versus old - an old brick building reflected in windows of modern new facade

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

Cities are bustling hubs where people live, work and play. When the pandemic hit, some people fled major metropolitan markets for smaller towns — raising questions about the future validity of cities.

But those who predicted that COVID-19 would destroy major urban communities might want to stop shorting the resilience of these municipalities and start going long on what the post-pandemic future looks like.

 

The NFT craze will be a boon for lawyers

3d rendering of pink piggy bank standing on sounding block with gavel lying beside on light-blue background with copy space. Money matters. Lawsuit for money. Auction bids.

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

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding copyright issues, fraud and adult content, and legal implications are the crux of the NFT trend.

Whether a court would protect the receipt-holder’s ownership over a given file depends on a variety of factors. All of these concerns mean artists may need to lawyer up.

Viewing Cazoo’s proposed SPAC debut through Carvana’s windshield

It’s a reasonable question: Why would anyone pay that much for Cazoo today if Carvana is more profitable and whatnot? Well, growth. That’s the argument anyway.

Three ways VC firms can construct sustainably diverse portfolios

By Annie Siebert
Leslie Feinzaig Contributor
Leslie Feinzaig is the founder and CEO of the Female Founders Alliance.

Venture capital has a diversity problem: Data show that Black and Latinx founders received just 2.6% of overall funding in 2020. Women-founded teams received nearly 30% less funding in 2020 than they did in 2019.

For decades, a close-knit community of brilliant but like-minded individuals built a system of pattern recognition. It produced high-growth companies with homogenous leadership teams. They called it meritocracy. Those of us who didn’t fit the profile were told, or were left to assume, that we didn’t have what it takes.

When a founder needs funding but investors don’t think they “have what it takes,” it can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. No matter how good you are and how much product-market fit you achieve, at some point “what it takes” to scale a company is money.

Until recently, the lack of diversity in the ecosystem was largely an issue to those of us directly affected by it. It wasn’t until the groundbreaking #metoo and #BlackLivesMatter movements that the lack of funding for women and minorities became both evident — and evidently problematic — to the rest of the world.

I believe that underrepresented founders are the most undervalued asset class in the U.S. today, and investors are starting to realize that diversity is not charity — it’s economic opportunity.

Just look at the data on women-founded startups, which deliver 63% higher ROI (according to First Round Capital), generate twice as much revenue for every dollar invested (according to BCG), and take one full year less time to exit (according to PitchBook & AllRaise). Founders that have it harder, but persevere, lead to stronger companies with outsized results for their investors.

The good news is that recent events jolted many into action. A flurry of pledges, micro-funds and quick investments in support of Black founders arrived in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer. Overnight, these founders were heavily courted for meetings and speaking opportunities from people and firms they didn’t have access to in the past. Some secured investments and built new relationships that will help down the line. For many, the timing was off, and they didn’t benefit materially. In the end, the frenzy quieted down, and only 3% of 2020 VC deal volume went to Black-founded companies.

Ashlee Wisdom, the co-founder and CEO of digital health platform Health in Her HUE, experienced this firsthand.

“Last summer I was overwhelmed with inbounds from investors, which felt great at first,” she said. “But I was new to venture; I didn’t know how to build a strategy around fundraising, and most of those investors were looking for companies at a later stage than mine. No one I spoke to during that time seemed to be willing to invest in my pre-seed round despite our demonstrated traction. On the positive side, I met a lot of great investors who made meaningful introductions to pre-seed and early-stage funds. And some of those later-stage investors are now watching Health In Her HUE’s progress.”

It’s too soon to tell how sustainable the progress made last year will be. But we do have evidence from prior times that small, cosmetic efforts at diversity do not result in lasting change. Just take a look at what’s happened to VC funding for women recently.

In the aftermath of #metoo, investors and corporations were also spurred to act, with some success. For a while, VC investments in women-founded companies increased slowly but steadily. But once COVID hit, and investors retreated to their closest and most trusted referral networks, VC funding for women took a huge step backward. Crunchbase data show more than 800 female-founded startups globally received a total of $4.9 billion in venture funding in 2020, through mid-December, representing a 27% decrease over the same period the prior year.

The lesson is this: Efforts at the periphery of venture capital do not make a difference in the long run. The good news is many have started taking action. To achieve systemic, long-term improvements, VC firms will need to make changes to their core system, building diversity into the primary investing process itself. Results will not be visible immediately, but they will be far more sustainable and, as the data suggest, more profitable over the lifetime of these funds. Here are three specific actions VC firms can take to achieve this:

1. Hire BIPOC and women investors

A recent PitchBook report notes that female investors are twice as likely to invest in companies with female founders and three times as likely in companies with female CEOs. And yet fewer than 10% of all VC partners are women. According to BLCK VC, more than 80% of venture firms don’t have a single Black investor on their team. That makes it less surprising that only 1 percent of venture-funded startup founders are Black.

When you hire from the same communities you want to invest in, and ensure your new hires are set up for success, you unlock dealflow, relationships, and insights into new markets and customer sets. This results in a more diverse portfolio and a stronger investment team, one that serves its entire portfolio of companies better.

2. Measure the top of your funnel

Inputs lead to outputs. VC firms should do everything they can to foster stronger relationships with underrepresented founder communities to enable more diversity at the top of the deal flow funnel.

Partner, sponsor and invest in organizations like Female Founders Alliance, SoGal Foundation, Black Women Talk Tech and more. Go out of your way to attend events, ask for introductions, schedule casual coffee meetings and meet as many founders in those networks as you can — and foster those relationships meaningfully over time. This is how you seed decades of great dealflow.

3. Invest directly in emerging fund managers

There are hundreds of new funds, many of them with less than $50 million in assets under management, with direct access to pockets of talent that you are not currently seeing. These general partners have trusting, authentic relationships with founders who might be wary of mainstream VC. If you are a larger VC fund, you should be actively investing in them. Emerging managers can act as your scouts, and, in return, you will help build the ecosystem itself.

I believe that the lack of diversity in venture capital is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for those willing to make the earliest bets. If we invest in women at the same rate that we invest in men, this could boost the global economy by up to $5 trillion. That is a huge amount of return up for grabs. A homogenous portfolio misses that opportunity.

Most investors I know are aware of the opportunity and genuinely want to do better. The more urgency they feel, the more likely they are to spin up independent initiatives to address inequities directly. While these can be helpful, they’re also not sustainable. The best way to build a sustainably diverse portfolio is to do the slow, hard work of change from the inside out.

Knowing when your startup should go all-in on business development

By Annie Siebert
Mike Ghaffary Contributor
Mike Ghaffary joined Canvas Ventures as a general partner in 2019, where he invests in innovation for consumers and software.

There’s a persistent fallacy swirling around that any startup growing pain or scaling problem can be solved with business development. That’s frankly not true.

Business development is rarely, if ever, the solution to succeeding in a crowded industry, differentiating an offering or delivering a truly exceptional customer experience. But standing up an effective BD operation that brings in sustainable revenue and helps validate product-market fit can be the difference between survival and failure for a startup.

Business development is rarely, if ever, the solution to succeeding in a crowded industry, differentiating an offering or delivering a truly exceptional customer experience.

I’ve had the opportunity to lead business development functions at three companies experiencing three very different stages of growth: Yelp, Stitcher and TrialPay.

At Yelp, I served as vice president of business development and corporate development for seven years. The business development team I was brought in to lead was a core business unit with accountability to the COO, CEO and board. During my tenure, I was involved in securing around 200 partnerships with companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung, as well as with scores of organizations ranging from early-stage startups to corporate giants.

Yelp was on its way to becoming a go-to source of information and customer value before I arrived. But partnerships like the one I secured with Apple made Yelp into a global market leader.

At Stitcher, I took on business development as central to my role as a company founder. While it may seem like an early phase to go all-in on BD, the partnerships with music and media companies that I orchestrated in the earliest days were essential to the company’s very survival. Stitcher is an example of a company where early BD investment made sense because of the dual importance of brand name involvement in concept validation and rising above podcast market congestion.

At TrialPay, an e-commerce platform acquired by Visa in 2015, there was already an established founding team and business model to involve customers in the marketing and payment of offerings by the time I showed up. In fact, I was brought in to run business development because the company was approaching an inflection point: There was pressure internally from investors and externally from customers to expand TrialPay’s network of merchants in order to diversify commercial offerings more rapidly.

The need for business development was directly tied to consumer demand and the company’s own position between growth funding rounds.

When to go all-in on BD — and when to avoid it

There are certain market conditions that make it smart for companies to invest in BD as a growth engine and others that signal it’s best to place money, talent and time elsewhere.

You should invest in business development early when your startup’s early success depends on it. For example, at Stitcher, we wanted — and perhaps needed — early buy-in from large media companies who created the podcast content we were going to feature. We didn’t want to get in the same murky legal territory early music startups had gotten into, like Napster.

Put your city on the TC map — TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put your city on the Techcrunch Map!

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last 6 or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service which unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys (as you can see below) the cities we wrote about were largely capitals.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and generally how your city will evolve.

We leave submissions mostly un-edited, and generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Austria: Graz, Linz
Belgium: Antwerp
Croatia: Zagreb, Osjek
Czech Republic: Brno, Ostrava, Plzen
England: Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester
Estonia: Tartu
France: Toulouse, Lyon, Lille
Germany: Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Bielefeld, Frankfurt
Greece: Thessaloniki
Ireland: Cork
Israel: Jerusalem
Italy: Trieste, Bologna, Turin, Florence, Milan
Netherlands: Delft, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Utrecht
Northern Ireland: Belfast, Derry
Poland: Gdańsk, Wroclaw, Krakow, Poznan
Portugal: Porto, Braga
Romania: Cluj, Lasi, Timisoara, Oradea, Brasov
Scotland: Edinburgh, Glasgow
Spain: Valencia
Sweden: Malmo
Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher

Here are the cities that previously participated in The Great TechCrunch Survey of Europe’s VCs:

Amsterdam/Netherlands

Athens/Greece

Berlin/Germany

Brussels/Belgium

Bucharest/Romania

Copenhagen/Denmark

Dublin/Ireland

Helsinki/Finland

Lisbon/Portugal

London/UK

Madrid & Barcelona/Spain (Part 1 & Part 2)

Oslo/Norway

Paris/France

Prague/Czech Republic

Rome, Milan/Italy

Stockholm/Sweden

Tel Aviv/Israel

Vienna/Austria

Warsaw/Poland (Part 1 & Part 2)

Zurich/Switzerland

Kaya VC launches its new $80M fund, focusing on Prague, Warsaw and the CEE region

By Mike Butcher

Kaya VC’s new €72 million ($80m) fund will focus on startups in Prague, Warsaw and the wider CEE region. Previously called Enern, the Central and Eastern European VC — which, historically, started out investing in wind-farms and ended up invested in software — has changed its name to better reflect its modern focus. The firm will also back startups “at any stage” of funding. LPs in the fund include the EIF and a number of successful entrepreneurs from the region.

This is the team’s fourth fund, and together with the previous funds, the AUM is around €250m. The fund has invested in 27 companies with the latest investments into B2B marketplaces, healthtech and blockchain. 

The decade-old Prague-based VC (“KAYA” will be the official naming format) has previously invested in Booksy (raised $70 million in January 2021), Twisto (€16 million this year), DocPlanner (€80m in 2019), and Rohlik ($230m this year). Kaya previously participated in liquidity events for Skype, Wise (formerly TransferWise) and Bolt, UiPath which recently raised $750 million at a $35 billion valuation ahead of an IPO.

Kaya says it will be sector agnostic, with partners following some personal passions: Tomas Obrtac on agri-tech; Pavel Mucha on next-generation consumer experiences; Tomas Pacinda on fintech, and Martin Rajcan focuses on energy transition. All other areas of tech will be looked at. Similar to funds such as Point Nine in Berlin, Kaya says it is an ‘equal partnership’ meaning each partner can make decisions on what to back.

The firm plans to be able to write the first cheque and is also backing super-early ‘studio projects’ which have gone on to raise subsequent funding rounds.

Pavel Mucha, partner at Kaya VC, commented in a statement: “When I initially started investing in local startups in Prague and Warsaw, it was because there was a need to work with people to build something valuable that didn’t exist already. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen this sector grow and mature, and with that our strategy of backing intrepid founders who are making a difference from Booksy’s Stefan Batory to Rohlik’s Tomáš Čupr.”

Kaya is also part of the Included VC, network, a mentor network for underrepresented groups such as women and people of color. Mucha told me: “We’ve hired through their program, been closely involved and big supporters. We think it’s a great addition to the ecosystem within Europe, and hope to do more. It’s definitely a very meaningful initiative we stand fully behind.”

Martin Rajcan, partner at Kaya VC, added: “Founders coming out of Central and Eastern Europe are globally-orientated, have strong technical skills, and an unmatched hunger for success. It’s these strong fundamentals paired with a next-level intensity that makes them so exciting to work with and we want to support such talent in any way we can. With partners, venture partners, advisors, and scouts across Europe, we’re in a unique position to support founders in the diaspora outside of core cities such as Prague and Warsaw.” 

In Turkish the word Kaya means ‘rock’, in Japanese, it’s ‘sanctuary’. Whatever the case, Kaya is in a good position to take advantage of the burgeoning startups in the CEE region. According to Dealroom there has been 5x more foreign investment in the CEE region than in 2015.

Atlanta’s early stage investment renaissance continues with Overline’s $27 million fund close

By Jonathan Shieber

Michael Cohn became a celebrity in the Atlanta startup ecosystem when the company he co-founded was sold to Accenture in a deal valued somewhere between $350 million and $400 million nearly six years ago.

That same year, Sean O’Brien also made waves in the community when he helped shepherd the sale of the  collaboration software vendor, PGi, to a private equity firm for $1.5 billion.

The two men are now looking to become fixtures in the city’s burgeoning new tech community with the close of their seed-stage venture capital firm’s first fund, a $27.4 million investment vehicle.

Overline’s first fund has already made commitments to companies that are expanding the parameters of what’s investible in the Southeast broadly and Atlanta’s startup scene locally.

These are companies like Grubbly Farms, which sells insect-based chicken feed for backyard farmers, or Kayhan Space, which is aiming to be the air traffic control service for the space industry. Others, like Padsplit, an Atlanta-based flexible housing marketplace, are tackling America’s low income housing crisis. 

“Our business model is very different from that of a traditional software startup, and the Overline team’s unique strengths and operator mindset have been invaluable in helping us grow the company,” said Sean Warner, CEO and co-founder of Grubbly Farms. 

That’s on top of investments into companies building on Atlanta’s natural strengths as a financial services, payments and business software powerhouse.

For all of the activity in Atlanta these days, the city and the broader southeastern region is still massively underfunded, according to O’brien and Cohn. The region only received less than 10 percent of all the institutional venture investments that were committed in 2020. Indeed, only seven percent of Atlanta founders raise money locally when they’re first starting out, an Overline survey suggested.

“The data reflects what we have seen throughout our careers building, growing, and investing in startups. There is no shortage of phenomenal founders and businesses coming out of Atlanta and the Southeast, but they often struggle to find institutional capital at their earliest stages,” said O’Brien, in a statement. “Overline will lead as the first institutional check for these companies and be a true partner to the Founders throughout their lifecycle—supporting them on the strategic and operational business initiatives and decisions that are critical to a company’s success.” 

The limited partners in Overline’s first fund also reflects the firm’s emphasis on regional roots. The privately held email marketing behemoth Mailchimp anchored the fund, which also included partners like Cox Enterprises, Social Leverage,

Overline is supported by a bench of impressive partners that reflects the firm’s roots in the Southeast. Anchored by marketing platform, Mailchimp, additional partners include Cox Enterprises, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Social Leverage, Wilmington, Del.-based Hallett Capital, and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings, along with Techstars co-founder David Cohen. 

“At Mailchimp, we love our hometown of Atlanta, and are proud of the robust startup ecosystem that’s growing in our city. The Overline founding team’s vision of deploying smart, local capital into startups in Atlanta and the Southeast aligns with our goals of promoting and advancing local innovation,” said Rick Lynch, CFO, Mailchimp, in a statement.

The firm expects to make investments of between $250,000 to $1.5 million into seed stage companies and has already backed 11 companies including, Relay Payments, a logistics fintech company that has raised over $40 million from top-tier investors. 

“When we set out to build Atlanta Tech Village almost a decade ago, one of our primary goals was to help Atlanta develop into a top 10 startup city, where all entrepreneurs would thrive. We’re making tremendous strides as a community, as evidenced by the number of newly minted unicorns,” said serial entrepreneur and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings. “I believe in Overline’s thesis that value-add institutional early-stage capital is critical to the ecosystem’s continued development. Since the early days, Michael and Sean have been an active presence in our community in a way that goes far beyond being a source of capital—as mentors, advisors, and champions of Atlanta founders. I am proud to be one of their first investors.”

Investors and business leaders: It’s time to take coaching mainstream

By Annie Siebert
Ariane de Bonvoisin Contributor
Ariane de Bonvoisin is an executive coach to top CEOs, startup founders and VCs. She has keynoted the Oprah conference, given a TED talk, and been invited to Google, Amazon, the World Bank, Union Square Ventures and Red Bull to teach about navigating change and founder and startup wellness.

The business world has a love-hate relationship with coaching. Founders are visionaries: They start with an idea, a talent, a dream, but not necessarily the business know-how. Because being an entrepreneur doesn’t require a license or training — Jeff Bezos is an engineer and computer scientist; Elon Musk is an economist and physicist, and so on.

In any other industry, when someone with raw talent — an athlete, a singer, an actor — furthers their career, the first thing they receive is a coach. And it doesn’t stop once they get their first Olympic gold or Grammy.

Coaches don’t leave their side until they hang up their gloves. Tiger Woods is famous for having worked with many coaches to switch up his tactics and keep exceeding in his performance.

In any other industry, when someone with raw talent — an athlete, a singer, an actor — furthers their career, the first thing they receive is a coach.

Despite a culture that pushes founders to the edge of their physical, mental and personal limits as they build their company, we insist that they fly solo. They’re led to believe that reaching out for support is a sign of weakness.

That stigma is a huge part of the problem. We look up to business magnates, believing that they sailed from a college dorm to the C-suite without breaking a sweat. But we don’t see the vigorous kicking that goes on beneath the surface. As a client of mine once mused, even the best leaders are self-sabotaging themselves at least 30% of the time. I know for a fact that top Silicon Valley billionaires have nutrition, parenting, meditation and life coaches, but they — like half of my own clients — are reluctant to embrace this out in the open.

VCs know that they don’t invest in the business; they invest in the person. Record amounts of money are being funneled into mental wellness startups right now, but investors also need to direct that awareness toward their founders’ well-being. By offering access to a coach to all your portfolio founders, you’ll be tackling the real problems stopping them from pouring their energy into their business, and you’ll without a doubt improve your returns.

1. Business is not always a founder’s main problem

I coach founders and CEOs of startups, and more than half their main life challenges are not work related. They’re getting pulled in multiple directions — some have cancer, others are having an affair, a few are going through IVF, others still are dealing with past grief and traumas.

And when a problem is work related, it’s often a communication or psychological issue: How do I face my fear of failure? How do I lead a team of 50 for the first time? Should I trust my gut?

All this is happening in the midst of Series A raises, hiring and firing employees, acquisitions, and deciding whether to bridge or shut down the business. Imagine how much emotional energy and hours it takes for founders — or anyone, really — to face those intimate issues in isolation while putting on a brave face with investors or at board meetings.

One of the most recurring concerns founders share with me is that they feel alone.

VCs, when you choose to fund someone, you’re also marrying into their past, their family, their personal issues. The full package. Ask yourself — do you currently know the major distractions in the lives of all your portfolio founders? If you don’t, start with the assumption that something is going on in their life other than work and make coaching available to them at any time.

If you commit to helping founders manage their fears, limiting beliefs and blind spots, you’re committing to their potential as a company and industry leader. A healthy leadership is a healthy company.

2. Return on coaching (ROC)

As with elite soccer coaches, the benefits of business coaching are highly visible, without the million-dollar expense. Founders start to make better decisions the first time around. They hire the right talent, rather than hiring, onboarding and firing someone within a month.

They have more honest conversations with stakeholders, avoiding conflict and allowing more people to contribute meaningfully to the business’ growth. They have the proper mindset to fundraise, and their attitude matches the money they’re asking for.

That’s before getting to the physical improvements. My founders have lost weight, stopped smoking and drinking, and have more energy to build a business. If a founder works with chronic fatigue, which many are, it won’t be long before their body cracks. I get calls from clients caught in panic attacks before big meetings, struggling to steady their frayed nerves.

You can fund your founders’ well-being in a variety of ways. In the same way your firm might offer marketing or PR services to portfolio companies, coaching should be part of the package. Firms can make executive coaches available on retainer. You may choose to have a full-time resident coach, available whenever someone needs them.

At the very least, firms should make available a list of recommended coaches. Some coaches specialize in leadership coaching, female founders or health specifically, while others cover various personal and professional skills.

Investors will sometimes offer a handful of free sessions to their founders, but if they want to continue, they are then forced to decide between their personal health and the health of the business — which other people (including your firm) have staked millions of dollars on. It should never be a case of one or the other.

My hope is that in the future, VCs will set aside a percentage of their funds exclusively for mental wellness for founders and executives.

A few VCs have already taken a 1% pledge, but it’s the Europeans who are leading the charge here, with funds from Estonia to Ireland generously covering all founder coaching fees and other support programs. Those I know talk about how 10x growth is possible without burnout.

3. Cut through the stigma to enable founders to make the most of coaching

Founders are resistant to hiring a coach themselves because they’re worried about what their investors and board will think of them. They tell themselves: “If I were normal, and good enough, I wouldn’t need one.”

It’s not just their inner voice talking. When a client of mine joined a Silicon Valley startup, he asked his superiors if coaching could be part of his comp package. They wondered why he needed a coach.

In other industries, connecting someone with a coach is proof of their worth. That’s the conversation investors should be having: You’re good enough for us to give you money, so we’re going to give you someone to accompany you on your journey, so you don’t pretend you can figure it out at every step.

There’s also a negative connotation around the term “mental health” that we should be reframing. Those two words tend to make people think about depression, suicidal thoughts or addiction. Which is mental unhealth. Let’s talk more about mental wellness and founder well-being, which focuses us on the goal we’re working toward.

Eliminating the stigma can start with open conversations about well-being between investors and executives, as well as inviting a coach to talk to your founders about what these sessions entail, and why everyone has something to gain. By shattering the taboo, you’ll enable founders to make the absolute most of that experience, rather than hold back to keep up appearances.

If we start making coaching mainstream today, we might eventually see it as obligatory for all founders.

4. Lead by example

Finally, business leaders and investors need to set an example for the startup community, and especially people at the start of their journeys, that it’s OK to ask for assistance in bettering yourself.

Many VCs, like top CEOs, have coaches. If more simply owned it, they’d have so much power to normalize coaching, and even make #IHaveACoach fashionable. After all, we’re talking about the same industry that made meditation rooms trendy and kombucha an office feature.

Why not make coaching a central topic in future investor conferences, or, as a VC firm, publish a study on how portfolio founders who followed a coaching program saw greater business success?

For example: For years, Union Square Ventures has invested in providing value to their founders and has built a team whose responsibilities include developing leadership training, fostering mentorship circles and connecting founders to coaches. If you let founders see your commitment to human issues, it won’t occur to them that being human is being weak.

These approaches are also important self-promotion for VCs positioning themselves as the next generation of ethical investors. With so many alternative funding options becoming available, founders are seeking VCs who give them more than just capital and who see wellness and diversity and inclusion as inextricable from success.

Founder health and startup health can’t be separated from each other. On some level, all investors know this. So let’s give the people shaping tomorrow’s world the tools to be more comfortable in their own skin and more masterful in leading teams to achieve greatness and incredible returns.

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