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Business trip platform TravelPerk buys YC-backed rival NexTravel

By Natasha Lomas

Barcelona-based TravelPerk has scooped up US-based rival NexTravel as the pandemic drives consolidation in one of the sector’s hardest hit by COVID-19.

It’s not disclosing how much it’s shelling out for NexTravel, which has some 700 customers globally and has processed around 300,000 trips since being founded back in 2013, but says the deal is its largest acquisition to date — with the aim of beefing up its business in the US. (Also today it’s announcing a partnership with Southwest Airlines that plugs a key gap in its US offering.)

The US has always been a top five market for TravelPerk, per CEO and co-founder, Avi Meir, but after the NexTravel acquisition it becomes its largest market.

“US customers, US know-how, [US-based] team,” he said, listing the drivers for the acquisition. “They’ve built an amazing product. It’s a Y Combinator company who started 2-3 years before us and they focused only or mostly on the US market so they have an expertise that is very complementary to what we’re doing.”

Meir confirmed NexTravel’s founders and team are joining TravelPerk as part of the deal. Existing customers include the likes of Yelp, Stripe and Harry’s.

“They’re a great company. I really think we have great execution and we got into the crisis with a much better cash position and COVID-19 is creating opportunities that didn’t exist before,” he added. “We had friendly competition and just the context of the situation was we were in a better position to acquire them vs them acquiring us.”

The plan is to migrate users of the US product onto TravelPerk’s platform over time but Meir said the NexTravel team will continue to support the product for the foreseeable future while it works on understanding and plugging any functionality gaps with the aim of ensuring a smooth, eventual transition for NexTravel customers in the future.

The acquisition is only TravelPerk’s second after it picked up risk management startup Albatross last summer — underlining how the coronavirus crisis is retooling priorities for businesses in the travel sector.

Or at least those that have enough funding to see them through the revenue crunch. And Meir confirmed TravelPerk has its eye on more acquisition targets.

“We are in the process of talking with a few more [potential acquisitions],” he said, adding: “In a moment of crisis consolidation typically happens so I think it’s fair to expect more of this.”

While a couple of years ahead of TravelPerk in starting up a business travel booking business, NexTravel has raised considerably less over its run — pulling in circa $4.5M in funding, according to Crunchbase.

The younger Spain-based startup, meanwhile, grew faster and has raised orders of magnitude more (~$134M to date) — including a $60M top-up to its Series C in 2019 when it was reporting 2,000 customers globally.

“We just happen to be in Europe,” Meir told TechCrunch, discussing how his European startup is in a position to buy a US rival (when the reverse is all too often the case in tech) — and pointing to knowledge of how to localize as a key advantage. “We were never targeting the Spanish market exclusively or not even the European market.

“To win in business travel, one of the paradoxes is you have to build a very localized product… So we never saw ourselves as a European business we just recognize that we have to really localize deeply in order to be successful anywhere. But we have to do it across the world. So this acquisition is just another step in localizing for the US.”

“[The acquisition] will obviously drive a lot of product development, of commercial investments, of partnerships,” he added. “In a way we’re doing it knowing that it will force us to do more of the US — so it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy — but it’s a $300BN business travel market so we should better make some moves around it.”

With the pandemic continuing to ravage much of the globe — including both the US and Europe — there’s likely to be considerably fewer billions of dollars on business travel value up for grabbed for a sizeable chunk of 2021. And Meir confirmed that TravelPerk isn’t expecting to see a revival in the market before the second half of this year.

Nonetheless, he remains bullish that once vaccinations are rolled out to the most vulnerable groups in society business travellers will be on the move once again — predicting that Zoom fatigue and the boom in remote working will rekindle demand for face-to-face human contact.

“My best guess right now is everything converges to around the second half of this year — around May-June maybe — where seasonality should hopefully hit. Meaning we’ll see the same decline in hospitalizations and deaths as we saw last year. That’s my hope,” he predicted. “On top of that we have the vaccines… Within the next 4-5 months there is reason to expect that we’ll see [vaccine rollouts] accelerating and then everything converges. We just need the at risk population to be safe for the world to be open again.”

“It doesn’t mean we’ll be completely done with corona but it won’t be as deadly as it is now so we’ll be able to open up more and remove restrictions and see travel coming back again,” he added.

Pressed on whether businesses might not have adjusted to a new, ‘more digital’ normal after 1.5 years of living with COVID-19 — having come to rely on a suite of videoconferencing and virtual meeting tools — Meir quashes the idea of a smaller business travel market replacing the pre-pandemic industry, predicting a “roaring ’20s” revival for business travel instead, fuelled by “Zoom fatigue” and networking FOMO once social distancing restrictions can be lifted.

“If you still own any Zoom shares you should sell them!” he quipped, speaking via Zoom call (obviously). “This is going down from now. Everybody is tired of this. The Zoom fatigue is real. It creates a lot of mental health concerns, social isolation… Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs is still here, and it’s even stronger than ever, I think, because we realize how bad it is when we don’t meet people in real life. When everything has to be through this weird, proxy to human connection. The virus doesn’t change human nature. We still need to meet each other face to face.”

“The first sales person who’s going to lose a sale because the competition went and took the customer to dinner and they wanted to do it via Zoom, they’re on a plane the next day. So competition will solve it — even if we put aside human nature,” he added. “I think we all recognize even more how much we need human connection.”

So even if some some “transactional meetings” do move permanently to Zoom, as Meir conceded “maybe” happens, he said they’re not the primary driver for the bulk of business travel anyway.

Furthermore, the pandemic will create new demand for business travel because of the boom in remote working creating ongoing need for distributed colleagues to travel to meet each other face to face, with Meir arguing that more flexible working is certainly here to stay.

“My team, like many other teams, used to be all in Barcelona in the same building — and now we allow them to work from anywhere in the world. Because why not? Many companies will stick to that I think,” he said. “We have recognized that people like it, the employees like it and it’s cheaper, because you don’t have to have as much office real estate — and people are more productive and they’re happier and they have a better balance between their personal and work life.

“So this requires a new type of travel because… you have to bring [your team] together for a week of work together. So I think the small decline in business travel due to this one hour transactional call that you can move to Zoom will be compensated even more — increased by — this new way of working that requires a new type of business travel.”

While TravelPerk was fortunate enough to go into the pandemic well-capitalized, having topped up its Series C in 2019, investor interest in travel startups undoubtedly went on holiday for a considerable chunk of last year. But, again, Meir suggests, an uptick on that front.

“We don’t need to raise any time soon — we have enough cash. The expectation is for the business to go back to growing year on year sometime in Q3, Q4 of this year,” he told us. “Having said that, what’s interesting — and I don’t know if I’m the only one — is we went from [being a fast-growing company] and you get a lot of inbound from investors and then COVID-19 hit and my inbox was empty for a while.

“It was pretty sad, pretty pathetic. And then the last few weeks — since the beginning of the school year — September/October, my inbox is not empty anymore. So there is some movement in the market. There’s a lot of money looking for a home — for good investments. And I think even in an industry which is suffering obviously, the good companies can raise at good terms right now. So I’m not looking to raise but I’m always open to the opportunity.”

Ahead of inauguration, Airbnb pledges bans for anyone involved in Capitol riot

By Jonathan Shieber

Building on a policy that the company said has been in place since the Charlottesville protests back in 2017, Airbnb said it will take additional steps to beef up community protections for the DC metro area ahead of the presidential inauguration.

Airbnb already removes people from the platform who are associated with violent hate groups ahead of specific events, the company said.

And ahead of the inauguration, the company said it would use a seven-step plan to ensure that the DC metro-area isn’t overwhelmed with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or “western chauvinists.”

Airbnb said it would ban individuals identified as involved in criminal activity around the Capitol at last week’s riot. “When we learn through media or law enforcement sources the names of individuals confirmed to have been responsible for the violent criminal activity at the United States Capitol on January 6, we investigate whether the named individuals have an account on Airbnb,” the company said. “This includes cross-referencing the January 6 arrest logs of D.C. Metro Police. If the individuals have an Airbnb account, we take action, which includes banning them from using Airbnb.”

That’s in addition to another sweep of existing reservations at locations around the Capitol in the days leading up to the inauguration to ensure that no one associated with hate groups slips through its dragnet.

The company will also tighten up booking requirements, with additional identity verification measures and other security checks to ensure that background checks are up-to-date.

As final steps, the company said that it is communicating with booking guests to inform them that if they’re bringing people who are associated with hate groups then they could face legal action from Airbnb. Hosts are also being told by the company that if they suspect anything about individuals staying on their properties that they should contact the company’s Urgent Safety Line.

Underground Brine Could Be a Source of Oxygen on Mars

By Scott K. Johnson, Ars Technica
A new study tests a device that can efficiently split the resource’s water into pure oxygen and hydrogen in Martian conditions.

In first IPO price range, Airbnb’s valuation recovers to pre-pandemic levels

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning Airbnb released an S-1/A filing that details its initial IPO price range. The home-sharing unicorn intends to price its shares between $44 and $50 per share in its debut.

Per the company’s own accounting, it will have 596,399,007 or 601,399,007 shares outstanding, depending on whether its underwriters exercise their option. That gives the company a valuation range of $26.2 billion to $30.1 billion at the extremes.

The company’s simple share count does not include a host of other shares that have vested but not yet been exercised. Including those shares, the company’s fully diluted valuation stretches to $35 billion, by CNBC’s arithmetic.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

The top-end of Airbnb’s simple valuation places it near its Series F valuation set in 2017. Its fully-diluted valuation exceeds that $30.5 billion valuation and is far superior to the $18 billion, post-money valuation that it raised at during its troubled period early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those investors, Silver Lake and Sixth Street, the company’s initial IPO price range is a win. For the company’s preceding investors, to see the company appear ready to at least match its preceding private valuation is a win as well, given how much damage Airbnb’s business sustained early in the pandemic.

But how do those Airbnb valuation numbers match up against its revenues, and will public market investors value the company based on its current results, or expectations for a return-to-form once a vaccine comes to market? And if so, is Airbnb expensive or not?

Expectations, hopes and hype

Shares of Booking Holdings, which owns travel services like Kayak, Priceline, OpenTable and others, have almost doubled in value since its pandemic lows and is within spitting distance of its all-time highs. This despite its revenues falling 48% in its most recent quarter. There’s optimism in the market that travel companies are on the cusp of a return to form, buoyed — we presume — by good news regarding effective coronavirus vaccines.

My expectation is that Airbnb is enjoying a similar bump, as investors intend to buy its shares not to bask in awe of its Q4 2020 results, but instead to enjoy what happens in the back half of 2021 as vaccines roll out and the travel industry recovers.

But happens if we stack Airbnb’s revenues against its valuation today?

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing

By Alex Wilhelm

Airbnb filed to go public yesterday, offering the world a look into its financial performance over the past several years. The company’s S-1 detailed an expanding travel giant with billions in annual revenue that was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But past our overview of Airbnb’s core financial results and our look into which investors will make the most from its public debut, there are still questions that need answering.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

We need to better understand how far Airbnb’s bookings fell during the end of Q1 and the start of Q2, when travel first collapsed. And, how far those numbers have come back since. We also want to understand what sort of booking activity is driving those gains — is Airbnb really benefiting from a surge of long-term, local stays?

Then, to close, how profitable was Airbnb when times were good, and what sort of cash stockpile does the company have to get back to its former scale?

These five questions should help us better understand how Airbnb managed to survive some tough months and still file to go public before 2020 ran out. Let’s get to work!

We’ll take each question individually, to make our homework today as simple as possible.

How far did Airbnb’s bookings fall during Q1 and Q2?

Let’s start by looking at Airbnb’s gross bookings on a quarterly basis. The company defines gross bookings as “net of cancellations and alterations,” so these numbers are not artificially inflated.

Here’s the chart:

Image Credits: Airbnb

Where does the decline begin? Q1, as we’ll see when we dig into monthly data, but the above chart does a good job painting just how bad things got for Airbnb in growth terms as Q1 closed and Q2 kicked off.

As you can see, Airbnb’s second quarter gross bookings were its lowest in recent history; Q2 2020 put up the smallest bookings result since at least the first quarter of 2017. For a company that had done $10 billion in gross bookings in a single quarter just over a year before, the declines were catastrophic.

But the results are actually worse than that chart shows; Airbnb actually saw gross bookings go negative for a few months.

How is that possible? Recall that the gross bookings figure discounts cancellations and alterations. So, if Airbnb had a big wave of cancellations, its gross bookings number could fall so sharply it goes negative, even if the company were still seeing some new bookings.

That’s what happened in March and April. Observe:

Image Credits: Airbnb

So how far did Airbnb’s gross bookings fall? They fell to -$900 million in March. More simply, Airbnb saw its expected rental volume fall by nearly $1 billion in a single month. And then in April it fell by another $600 million as more cancellations piled up.

That’s why Airbnb cut staff and took on expensive capital; its business had gone from accreting to bleeding in no time at all.

How far have Airbnb’s bookings come back since?

Instagram expands new ‘Guides’ feature to all users, upgrades Search

By Sarah Perez

Earlier this year, Instagram launched a new feature called “Guides,” which allowed creators to share tips, resources and other longer-form content in a dedicated tab on their user profiles. Initially, Instagram limited Guides to a select group of creators who were publishing content focused on mental health and well-being. Today, the company says it’s making the format available to all users, and expanding Guides to include other types of content, as well — including Products, Places, and Posts.

Separately, Instagram also today announced an update to its Search functionality that will better direct users to their interests.

TechCrunch in August noted an expansion of Instagram Guides appeared to be in development, with a focus on allowing users to create travel guides and product recommendation guides, in addition to a more generic “posts” format.

This “Guides” format was designed to give Instagram creators and marketers a way to share long-form content on a social network that had been, until now, focused more on media — like photos and videos. By comparison, an Instagram Guide could look more like a blog post, as it could include text accompanied by photos, galleries and videos to illustrate the subject matter being discussed.

The feature could help increase users’ time in the app, since users wouldn’t have to click through to external websites and blogs to access these posts — for instance, through a link in the creator’s bio or through a link added to one of the creator’s Stories.

With the expansion to Products, Places and Posts, Instagram’s Guides can now cover more areas. Instagram says it made the feature easier to use, too. It may also feature Product Guides inside its new shopping destination on the platform, Instagram Shop, the company noted.

Visitors to Guides can share the Guides across their own Stories and in Direct Messages, expanding their reach even further.

Image Credits: Instagram

Also new today is an update to Instagram Search. Before, users could search for names, usernames, hashtags and locations. With the changes rolling out today, users will also now be able to use keywords that will surface content relevant to their interests. Along with Guides, the larger goal is to help keep Instagram users from leaving the app.

Instagram says the search update is available in English to all users in Canada, the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland starting today. The expansion to Guides is rolling out now to all users.

The VC and founder winners in Airbnb’s IPO

By Danny Crichton

After a tumultuous year for the travel industry, Airbnb’s long-awaited IPO filing just dropped. One thing is clear: there is still plenty of juice left in the home-sharing platform, and a smattering of VCs and the company’s founders are positioned to receive some serious returns.

My colleague Alex Wilhelm has an overview article on Airbnb’s financial picture and overall metrics. It’s a mixed bag, but perhaps stronger than might otherwise be expected, given the global collapse of tourism due to the pandemic. Revenues are stabilizing, growth is up and bookings aren’t catastrophic.

So let’s get to the most fun question with these big startup IPO offerings, who made the money?

First and foremost, Airbnb’s founders — Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia — managed to hold together a whopping 41.95% of the company based on data offere in its S-1 filing, with Chesky owning slightly more than his two co-founders.

Software companies are reporting a pretty good third quarter

By Alex Wilhelm

What a difference a week makes.

This time last week, in the wake of earnings from tech’s five largest American companies and early results from other software companies, it appeared that tech shares were in danger of losing their mojo.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

But then, this week’s rally launched, and more earnings results came in. Generally speaking, the Q3 numbers from SaaS and cloud companies have been medium-good, or at least good enough to protect historically stretched valuations when comparing present-day revenue multiples to historical norms.

This is great news for yet-private startups that have had to deal with a recession, an uneven and at-times uncertain funding market, an election cycle and other unknowns this year. Wrapping 2020 with a market rally and strong earnings from public comps should give private software companies a halo heading into the new year, assisting them with both fundraising and valuation defense.

Of course, there’s still a lot more data to come in, markets are fickle and many SaaS companies will report next month, having a fiscal calendar offset by a month from how you and I track the year. But after spending time on the phone this week with JFrog’s CEO, BigCommerce’s CEO and Ping Identity’s CFO, I think things are turning out just fine.

Let’s get into what we’ve learned.

Growth and expectations

Kicking off, Redpoint’s Jamin Ball, a venture capitalist who unconsciously moonlights as the research desk for the The Exchange during earnings season, has a roundup of earnings results from this week’s set of SaaS and cloud stocks that reported. As you will recall, last week we were slightly unimpressed by its cohort of results.

Here’s this week’s tally:

As we can see, there was a single miss amongst the group in Q3. Unsurprisingly, that company, SurveyMonkey, was also one of three SaaS companies to project Q4 revenue under street expectations. My read of that chart is seeing a little less than 80% of the group that did project Q4 guidance that bests expectations is bullish, as were the Q3 results, which included a good number of companies that topped targets by at least 10%.

Inside of the data are two narratives that I want to explore. The first is about COVID-related friction, and the second is about COVID-related acceleration. Every company in the world is experiencing at least some of the former. For example, even companies that are seeing a boom in demand for their products during the pandemic must still deal with a sales market in which they cannot operate as they would like to.

For software companies, reportedly in the midst of a hastening digital transformation, the question becomes whether or not the COVID’s minuses are outweighing its pluses. We’ll explore the matter through the lens of three companies that The Exchange spoke with this week after they reported their Q3 results.

Ping Identity

Of our three companies this week, Ping Identity had the hardest go of it; its stock fell sharply after it dropped its Q3 numbers, despite beating earnings expectations for the period.

The company’s revenue fell 3%, while its annual recurring revenue (ARR) rose by 17%. Why did its stock fall if it came in ahead of expectations? You could read its Q4 guidance as slightly soft. In the above chart it’s marked as a slight beat, but its low-end came in under analyst expectations, creating the possibility of a projected miss.

Investors, betting on Ping’s move to SaaS being accretive both now and in the long-term, were not stoked by its Q4 forecast.

Scientists May Have Found a Material for Building on Mars

By Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica
Using simple chemistry, the organic polymer chitin can be transformed into a viable substance for creating tools and habitats on the Red Planet.