Startups Weekly: Spotify gets acquisitive and Instacart screws up

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Did anyone else listen to season one of StartUp, Alex Blumberg’s OG Gimlet podcast? I did, and I felt like a proud mom this week reading stories of the major, first-of-its-kind Spotify acquisition of his podcast production company, Gimlet. Spotify also bought Anchor, a podcast monetization platform, signaling a new era for the podcasting industry.

On top of that, Himalaya, a free podcast app I’d never heard of until this week, raised a whopping $100 million in venture capital funding to “establish itself as a new force in the podcast distribution space,” per Variety.

The podcasting business definitely took center stage, but Lime and Bird made headlines, as usual, a new unicorn emerged in the mental health space and Instacart, it turns out, has been screwing its independent contractors.

As mentioned, Spotify, or shall we say Spodify, gobbled up Gimlet and Anchor. More on that here and a full analysis of the deal here. Key takeaway: it’s the dawn of podcasting; expect a whole lot more venture investment and M&A activity in the next few years.

This week’s biggest “yikes” moment was when reports emerged that Instacart was offsetting its wages with tips from customers. An independent contractor has filed a class-action lawsuit against the food delivery business, claiming it “intentionally and maliciously misappropriated gratuities in order to pay plaintiff’s wages even though Instacart maintained that 100 percent of customer tips went directly to shoppers.” TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey has the full story here, as well as Instacart CEO’s apology here.

Slack confidentially filed to go public this week, its first public step toward either an IPO or a direct listing. If it chooses the latter, like Spotify did in 2018, it won’t issue any new shares. Instead, it will sell existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors, a move that will allow it to bypass a roadshow and some of Wall Street’s exorbitant IPO fees. Postmates confidentially filed, too. The 8-year-old company has tapped JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America to lead its upcoming float.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman delivers remarks on “Redesigning Reddit” during the third day of Web Summit in Altice Arena on November 08, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Horacio Villalobos-Corbis/Contributor)

It was particularly tough to decide which deal was the most notable this week… But the winner is Reddit, the online platform for chit-chatting about niche topics — r/ProgMetal if you’re Crunchbase editor Alex Wilhelm . The company is raising up to $300 million at a $3 billion valuation, according to TechCrunch’s Josh Constine. Reddit has been around since 2005 and has raised a total of $250 million in equity funding. The forthcoming Series D round is said to be led by Chinese tech giant Tencent at a $2.7 billion pre-money valuation.

Runner up for deal of the week is Calm, the app that helps users reduce anxiety, sleep better and feel happier. The startup brought in an $88 million Series B at a $1 billion valuation. With 40 million downloads worldwide and more than one million paying subscribers, the company says it quadrupled revenue in 2018 from $20 million to $80 million and is now profitable — not a word you hear every day in Silicon Valley.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

I listened to the Bird CEO’s chat with Upfront Ventures’ Mark Suster last week and wrote down some key takeaways, including the challenges of seasonality and safety in the scooter business. I also wrote about an investigation by Consumer Reports that found electric scooters to be the cause of more than 1,500 accidents in the U.S. I’m also required to mention that e-scooter unicorn Lime finally closed its highly anticipated round at a $2.4 billion valuation. The news came just a few days after the company beefed up its executive team with a CTO and CMO hire.

Databricks raises $250M at a $2.75B valuation for its analytics platform
Retail technology platform Relex raises $200M from TCV
Raisin raises $114M for its pan-European marketplace for savings and investment products
Self-driving truck startup Ike raises $52M
Signal Sciences secures $35M to protect web apps
Ritual raises $25M for its subscription-based women’s daily vitamin
Little Spoon gets $7M for its organic baby food delivery service
By Humankind picks up $4M to rid your morning routine of single-use plastic

We don’t spend a ton of time talking about the growing, venture-funded, tech-enabled logistics sector, but one startup in the space garnered significant attention this week. Turvo poached three key Uber Freight employees, including two of the unit’s co-founders. What’s that mean for Uber Freight? Well, probably not a ton… Based on my conversation with Turvo’s newest employees, Uber Freight is a rocket ship waiting to take off.

Who knew that investing in female-focused brands could turn a profit for investors? Just kidding, I knew that and this week I have even more proof! This is L., a direct-to-consumer, subscription-based retailer of pads, tampons and condoms made with organic materials sold to P&G for $100 million. The company, founded by Talia Frenkel, launched out of Y Combinator in August 2015. According to PitchBook, it was backed by Halogen Ventures, 500 Startups, Fusion Fund and a few others.

Speaking of ladies getting stuff done, Bessemer Venture Partners promoted Talia Goldberg to partner this week, making the 28-year-old one of the youngest investing partners at the Silicon Valley venture fund. Plus, Palo Alto’s Eclipse Ventures, hot off the heels of a $500 million fundraise, added two general partners: former Flex CEO Mike McNamara and former Global Foundries CEO Sanjay Jha.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about the expanding podcast industry, Reddit’s big round and scooter accidents.

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Coastal startups don’t have a monopoly on raising big at early-stage

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Early-stage startups throughout much of the U.S. are able to raise larger sums today than any other point in at least a decade, and there are more early-stage rounds than ever, both in North America and globally. (Note: “Early-stage” is defined here as Series A and Series B rounds, plus smaller rounds from several other round types, including equity crowdfunding and convertible notes.)

In analysis published earlier this week, we found that the nationwide average early-stage deal grew more than 20 percent between 2017 and 2018. We quantified that companies on the coasts raise more than their inland counterparts and found some indications that the Midwest lags the rest of the nation.

To find this and more, we aggregated round size data for more than 30,000 early-stage venture rounds struck with U.S.-based companies between the start of 2008 and the end of 2018. We segmented the data by the U.S. Census Bureau’s map of regions and “divisions” (basically, subregions by a different label), took the mean (average) early-stage deal size for each calendar quarter and displayed each region against the national average.

Below, you can see how early-stage rounds around the country compare to the national average. To make it easier to see trends, we display a two-period simple moving average line alongside individual data points.

 

Although the average has certainly crept up, part of that is attributable to a newer trend in companies raising huge sums of money. In the report, we indicated that many of the largest early-stage rounds were raised by companies in the West and Northeast. But startups in these regions don’t hold a monopoly on raising lots of money from venture capitalists.

Here, we wanted to highlight some of the biggest early-stage rounds struck by Midwestern and Southern companies. After all, the coasts tend to dominate the media’s conversation concerning tech. So, here’s some love for the middle of the country, and its biggest deals:

The five biggest early-stage VC rounds raised by Southern startups in 2018 and January 2019

  1. Hailing from Atlanta, Knock, a company aiming to help homeowners streamline the process of trading up for a new house, raised $400 million in Series B funding in a deal announced on January 15, 2019. Crunchbase News covered the transaction, which was led by Foundry Group and was composed of an undisclosed blend of equity and debt.
  2. Viela Bio, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland (which, by the Census Bureau’s definition, is in the South), is a clinical-stage therapeutics company developing novel molecules for treating severe inflammation and autoimmune disorders. The company announced $282.2 million in Series A venture funding in February 2018. Viela Bio was spun out of biopharmaceutical conglomerate AstraZeneca.
  3. Another company entering the home-flipping market is Austin-based Bungalo, which announced $250 million in Series A funding back in September 2018. Austin-based financial services company Amherst Holdings and its real estate investment subsidiary were the sole sources of capital on the deal.
  4. Another Atlanta company, Bakkt, raised $182.5 million in a Series A round announced on December 31, 2018. A number of blockchain-focused investors participated in the round, alongside Microsoft’s early-stage VC arm M12 and the Boston Consulting Group.
  5. Crunchbase News broke the story of Raleigh, NC-based gene editing company Precision BioSciences’s $110 million Series B round based on an SEC filing spotted back in June 2018. The company formally announced the round several weeks after the initial filing. The round was led by ArrowMark Partners, which was joined by nearly two dozen other new and prior investors that participated in the round.

The five biggest early-stage VC rounds raised by Midwestern startups in 2018 and January 2019

  1. Bind, a Minneapolis-based “on-demand” health insurance company, raised $60 million in a Series A round in February 2018. The company offers a core plan to cover the basics, plus the option to purchase coverage for, say, a surgery, only when that coverage is needed.
  2. Sollis Therapeutics, based in Columbus, Ohio, is developing non-opioid pain treatments. The pharmaceutical company raised $50 million in a Series A round announced in April 2018. Opioid overdoses killed 200 Americans per day in 2017. With nearly 33 deaths for every 100,000 people, Ohio is one of the states worst-affected by the surge in opioid abuse.
  3. Detroit-based sneaker and streetwear marketplace company StockX copped $44 million in Series B funding back in September 2018. Battery Ventures and GV co-led the round.
  4. Clearcover, a Chicago-based auto insurance marketplace platform, raised $43 million in a Series B round. Crunchbase News covered the transaction, which was led by Cox Enterprises. Local firm Lightbank and angel ring Hyde Park Angels participated in the round.
  5. TradingView, also based in Chicago, raised $37 million in Series B funding announced in May 2018. The company builds data analysis and social networking tools for financial market participants.

It’s true that the Bay Area is responsible for a huge chunk of the supergiant venture market, but it by no means accounts for all of it. The above should lay to rest the idea that there’s no tech in between EWR and SFO.

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Startups Weekly: Even Gwyneth Paltrow had a hard time raising VC

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I spent the week in Malibu attending Upfront Ventures’ annual Upfront Summit, which brings together the likes of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC’s elite for a two-day networking session of sorts. Cameron Diaz was there for some reason, and Natalie Portman made an appearance. Stacey Abrams had a powerful Q&A session with Lisa Borders, the president and CEO of Time’s Up. Of course, Gwyneth Paltrow was there to talk up Goop, her venture-funded commerce and content engine.

“I had no idea what I was getting into but I am so fulfilled and on fire from this job,” Paltrow said onstage at the summit… “It’s a very different life than I used to have but I feel very lucky that I made this leap.” Speaking with Frederic Court, the founder of Felix Capital, Paltrow shed light on her fundraising process.

“When I set out to raise my Series A, it was very difficult,” she said. “It’s great to be Gwyneth Paltrow when you’re raising money because people take the meeting, but then you get a lot more rejections than you would if they didn’t want to take a selfie … People, understandably, were dubious about [this business]. It becomes easier when you have a thriving business and your unit economics looks good.”

In other news…

1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an entrepreneur, too

The actor stopped by the summit to promote his startup, HitRecord . I talked to him about his $6.4 million round and grand plans for the artist-collaboration platform.

  1. Deals of the week

Backed by GV, Sequoia, Floodgate and more, Clover Health confirmed to TechCrunch this week that it’s brought in another round of capital led by Greenoaks. The $500 million round is a vote of confidence for the business, which has experienced its fair share of well-publicized hiccups. More on that here. Plus, Clutter, the startup that provides on-demand moving and storage services, is raising at least $200 million from SoftBank, sources tell TechCrunch. The round is a big deal for the LA tech ecosystem, which, aside from Snap and Bird, has birthed few venture-backed unicorns.

  1. The Pinterest IPO is really, actually happening

Pinterest, the nine-year-old visual search engine, has hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for an IPO that’s planned for later this year. With $700 million in 2018 revenue, the company has raised some $1.5 billion at a $12 billion valuation from Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Valiant Capital Partners, Wellington Management, Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners and more.

  1. Fundraising efforts

Kleiner Perkins went “back to the future” this week with the announcement of a $600 million fund. The firm’s 18th fund, it will invest at the seed, Series A and Series B stages. TCV, a backer of Peloton and Airbnb, closed a whopping $3 billion vehicle to invest in consumer internet, IT infrastructure and services startups. Partech has doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice. And Sapphire Ventures has set aside $115 million for sports and entertainment bets.

  1. Sam Altman has a new idea

The co-founder of Y Combinator will throw a sort of annual weekend getaway for nerds in picturesque Boulder, Colo. Called the YC 120, it will bring toget her 120 people for a couple of days in April to create connections. Read TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos’ interview with Altman here.

  1. Hims gets unicorn status

Consumer wellness business Hims has raised $100 million in an ongoing round at a $1 billion pre-money valuation. A growth-stage investor has led the round, with participation from existing investors (which include Forerunner Ventures, Founders Fund, Redpoint Ventures, SV Angel, 8VC and Maverick Capital) . Our sources declined to name the lead investor but said it was a “super big fund” that isn’t SoftBank and that hasn’t previously invested in Hims.

  1. a16z bets on VR — again

Five years after Andreessen Horowitz backed Oculus, it’s leading a $68 million Series A funding in Sandbox VR. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney talked to a16z’s Andrew Chen and Floodgate’s Mike Maples about what sets Sandbox apart.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

  1. More startup cash:

  1. An update on the Munchery fiasco

In a new class-action lawsuit, a former Munchery facilities worker is claiming the startup owes him and 250 other employees 60 days’ wages. On top of that, another former employee says the CEO, James Beriker, was largely absent and is to blame for Munchery’s downfall. If you haven’t been keeping up on Munchery’s abrupt shutdown, here’s some good background.

  1. Scooter consolidation

Consolidation in the micromobility space has arrived — in Brazil, at least. Not long after Y Combinator-backed Grin merged its electric scooter business with Brazil-based Ride, it’s completing another merger, this time with Yellow, the bike-share startup based in Brazil that has also expressed its ambitions to get into electric scooters.

  1. Listen to me talk

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos and Jeff Clavier of Uncork Capital chat about $100 million rounds, Stripe’s mega valuation and Pinterest’s highly anticipated IPO.



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Meet the 20 startups in this year’s GCT Startup-in-Residence program

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At the end of last year, Grand Central Tech announced plans to work with the Milstein real estate family to transform a midtown Manhttan high-rise into a tech hub called Company. And startups remain an important part of the mix — in fact, Company is unveiling a list of 20 startups participating in this year’s GCT Startup-in-Residence program.

What does Startup-in-Residence mean? Well, Company CEO Matthew Harrigan said the program will continue to offer what it’s always offered — desk space, as well as access to events and amenities, for a select group of early-stage entrepreneurs. And participants don’t have to give up equity or pay rent.

The deal might seem too good to be true, but Harrigan argued that the startups make Company more appealing to its enterprise tenants: “We are retrofitting this building to look and feel and operate like a brand new building … but the one amenity that cannot be simply rolled out is people.”

He also said the program is only taking up 15,000 square feet of the building’s 150,000 square foot total.

“It sounds like an exceptionally generous offering and it isn’t,” he said. “It sounds like it doesn’t make a ton of business sense but that’s actually wrong … Fifteen thousand square feet of space to great early-stage founders helps establish a truly remarkable program and campus in New York City. Those are resources are well spent.”

In the past, we’ve written about Grand Central Tech as an accelerator program, but Harrigan said, “We weren’t and aren’t an accelerator” — it just used “the nomenclature that’s known.” Now the program is taking on a more fitting name, though it sounds like the operations won’t be changing too dramatically.

“We typically have very sophisticated founding teams, giving them an ideal environment in which to work,” Harrigan said. “By and large, our companies are left to their own devices — we don’t presume to create a curriculum or some series of programming. It’s a somewhat passive approach, but we make sure all people in the community are linked up with each other.”

Also worth noting: This year’s class consists of 40 percent women founders and CEOs, and it covers industries like energy, mental health, e-commerce, biotech, adtech and food.

Here’s a list of the companies, with descriptions provided by Company (and edited by me for clarity and length). We’ve also written about a number of them before, so I’m including links to past coverage when possible.

    • Octave​ ​is a full-stack mental health provider, purpose-built to capitalize on evolving consumer habits and a new wave of interest in the space.
    • Vowel ​is a multi-user enterprise voice platform operating in stealth. The company enables businesses to analyze, manage and drive actionable insights from audio data generated in the workplace/meetings.
    • Nara Organics​ ​is a natural baby food company that is manufacturing the first biodynamic infant formula in the US.
    • Twine Labs​ ​is a workforce analytics platform that’s creating a single source of truth on employee data across various disaggregated internal corporate databases. Data is then benchmarked against industry standards to help Chief People Officers gain vital, previously unavailable perspective.
    • Taskade​ ​is a new workplace collaboration platform that enables more efficient team management and product workflows.
    • Oova​ is a biomedical technology company for women’s health that uses smart connected devices to actively monitor hormone levels and help manage women’s fertility health. The company is a spinout of Mt. Sinai.
    • Summer​ ​is a next-generation student loan management and repayment platform providing users with a comprehensive view of their debt and targeted recommendations on how to alleviate it which evolve based on their current life circumstances.
    • Chartable​ ​is creating a new enterprise adtech and analytics platform for audio. It’s aiming to do something similar to what DoubleClick, AppAnnie, Flurry and others did when apps were first introduced.
    • Particle Health​ ​is creating a new medical record data company, leveraging blockchain technology to enable a single health record tying together previously disparate information from a patient’s various doctors, and yielding valuable data insights in the process.
    • Project OTC ​is a holistic new consumer brand targeting outdated over-the-counter brands and products such as antacids, Vitamin-C/immunity support and headache relief. The company is operating in stealth.

Moved team

  • Moved​ ​is building a new concierge layer on top of the disorganized, disaggregated moving services supply chain. A user calls Moved, shares details and is given a concierge who manages the move and coordinates across all the various service providers, including the landlord or real estate owner.
  • Hydra​ ​is a ​new network of membership-based wellness spaces in metropolitan areas that complements the growth of small format fitness classes and provides its members areas to refresh, regroup and recharge.
  • GoodTalk​ ​is a new consumer app meant to distill and amplify one of primary aspects of social platforms. For example, five experts on a given topic can form a chat thread, which other users of the app can view but not comment on.
  • Otis​ is building a new investment platform to enable distributed ownership in fine art and collectibles.
  • Snackable​ ​uses natural language processing to intelligently digest podcasts into “snackable” 30-60 second moments to enable easier social sharing of podcast content — something which has plagued the burgeoning podcast space.
  • Lolli allows users to receive Bitcoin for their online purchases

  • Lolli​ ​is building a new ecommerce platform that allows customers to accumulate Bitcoin rewards through simple brand and retail purchases by capturing the rebate/coupon value already broadly distributed throughout ecommerce.
  • RaisedByUs​ ​is a nonprofit workplace social good program for companies that already includes Casper, Squarespace, Shutterstock, Seatgeek, Sailthru, Birchbox, MongoDB, DigitalOcean among others. RaisedByUs helps teams do meaningful, team-building, vetted volunteer work easily.
  • Nesterly​ ​i​s a home sharing platform that is working to bring affordable housing to the next generation by allowing senior homeowners to easily rent out their extra space.
  • Bokksu​ ​is a subscription-based food company that curates exclusive artisan snacks in local markets and uses video and written storytelling to detail origin stories through an immersive customer experience.

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How business-to-business startups reduce inequality

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When considering the structural impact of technology companies on our economy and society, we tend to focus on questions of scale and monopoly.

It’s true that the FAANG companies and more recent winners (Airbnb, Uber) have surfed a combination of network effects, preferential access to capital and classic efficiencies of scale to generate tremendous value for their shareholders—to the detriment of new entrants who attempt to unseat them.

At their high water mark in mid-2018, FAANG alone made up 11% of the total market cap of the S&P 500 and 38% of the index’s year-to-date gain, representing a doubling in their influence in only five years. The question of regulating technology companies—to the point of instituting anti-trust actions—has even become a rare point of relative concord between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

But is the narrative of tech companies in the 2010s only a story of economic consolidation and growing inequality? Many of the most successful B2B startups of the last decade are aligned by a theme that paints a different picture. By transforming the nature of the costs required to start a business, these startups are reducing the influence of capital and leveling the playing field for new entrants to share in the surplus generated by the secular shift to a tech-mediated economy.

Source: Getty Images/MIKIEKWOODS

A Path To Equal Opportunity: Turning Fixed Costs Into Variable Costs

What do AWSWeWorkStordGusto and RocketLawyer have in common? They provide cloud computing services, office space, warehouse storage, payroll management and access to legal templates, respectively—at first glance, not a particularly congruent set of services.

But they are alike in the economic purpose they serve for their customers. Each of these services takes a fixed cost—a bank of servers, a lease, a legal retainer—and transforms it into a variable cost. As a refresher, a fixed cost stays constant regardless of output, and variable costs scale with the output of a business.

When my father started his software consulting business in the early 1990s, I remember the giant boxes of AIX servers that arrived at our apartment, and tagging along to office tours in central New Jersey before he decided to run the company out of our spare bedroom. Back then, starting almost any kind of business was hard because of high fixed costs. Without AWS or WeWork, you shelled out up front for hardware and a lease.

Access to capital, whether in the form of a bank loan, savings, or friends and family was a prerequisite for entrepreneurship.

Today, startups make it possible to start and scale almost any kind of business while incurring few fixed costs. Want to found an ecommerce store? Start with a free Shopify account and dropship your inventory. Want to become a freelance designer? Put a shingle up on Fiverr and meet clients at a Breather you rent by the hour.

Whether software or hardware or labor, building a business is way easier when overhead is transformed into a string of flexible microservices that you only pay for as you grow.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Lower Fixed Costs Means Capital Matters Less

Taken together, startups that turn fixed costs into variable costs make it less capital intensive to start a business. This decreases the influence of gatekeepers and aggregators of capital—an impact evident in the way entrepreneurs think about starting businesses today.

It’s no coincidence that the rise of B2B startups fitting this theme has coincided with the bootstrap movement, in which tech entrepreneurs with major ambitions demur from raising venture funding because—well, they don’t need the money anymore.

It has also coincided with a renaissance in freelance entrepreneurship: 56.7 million Americans freelanced in 2018. Beyond the economic benefits of working for yourself—the fastest growing segment of freelancers earns over $75,000 a year—freelancers can access the lifestyle and health benefits of owning their destiny, which aren’t directly captured but play a role in the economic picture. 51% of freelancers said no amount of money would lure them into a traditional job, and 64% reported feeling healthier and happier.

When capital plays a reduced role in new business formation, access to capital plays a smaller role in determining who will succeed. More companies are founded, and the economy becomes more likely to birth new Davids that will unseat the Goliaths. Economics 101: lower barriers to entry create markets that converge on perfect competition instead of oligarchic concentration.

Sourlce: Getty Images/ERHUI1979

Variable Costs Don’t Scale, But That’s OK

Variable costs have their downsides. A startup with a relatively higher proportion of fixed costs—the profile of the classic high-tech software business—can achieve higher profit margins as it scales. Compare Microsoft or Google, which pay high fixed costs in the form of salaries and servers but few costs in delivering their services and achieve operating margins of 25-30%, to Costco, which takes in more than $100B of annual revenue but earns an operating margin in the single digits.

That’s OK. Neither type of cost is “better” or “worse,” but having the option to decide how to structure costs through a company’s lifecycle can meaningfully impact an entrepreneur’s ability to execute a business idea.
Founders investigating startup ideas—and politicians debating the impact of technology—would do well to pay attention to how B2B companies have democratized access to entrepreneurship.

Equality of outcome arrives from equality of opportunity—and a future where millions of people can start businesses, differentiate, and succeed on the basis of their ability and value proposition, rather than their access to capital, sounds like a promising representation of the egalitarian ethos Silicon Valley wants to bring to pass.



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5 years after its Oculus investment, A16Z leads a new VR startup’s $68M Series A

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Sandbox’s magic happens in a largely empty room. The gear mounted onto the walls (VR headsets, PC backpacks, and tracked toy assault rifles) gives more than a little indication that there’s more afoot, but nothing really clicks until your team is strapped in and the headsets shove you into a fast-paced wave shooter.

The startup, which has seven locations in Asia and North America, has brought plenty of people through the sweat-inducing experience including quite a few high-profile investors who are ready to buy into Sandbox’s vision for VR.

Sandbox VR just closed a $68 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz with further participation from Floodgate, Stanford University, TriplePoint Capital, CRCM and Alibaba, as reported by Business Insider.

Andreessen Horowitz’s investment in Sandbox VR comes more that 5 years after the firm made a big bet on Oculus VR. At the time, Oculus helped stroke enthusiasm behind the idea that regular consumers would soon be strapping into their own VR gear. While the company has seen some major progress towards that vision beneath Facebook, it still hasn’t entirely kept pace with the white hot expectations that some investors had set towards that vision.

In 2019, Andreessen Horowitz’s Andrew Chen still sees plenty of opportunity in the home, but is excited about what can be enabled when VR can break free of some of its constraints.

“I think we’ve run the experiment that in-home needs to actually have a kind of different form factor, you want the hardware to be more like $200 or the same as a console,” Chen tells TechCrunch. “I think we’re going to see location-based VR split off and be its own form factor with larger spaces that are intrinsically multi-social with real people there and premium hardware like motion capture and haptic vests.”

The Hong Kong-founded company is hardly the first VR startup to bet on premium experiences in retail locations; startups like The Void have also raised significant capital with high-profile partners like Disney thrusting them into highly-trafficked locations, but Sandbox’s investors see the company’s strengths in its scalability.

“We tried everything, what we really liked about [Sandbox] was that really though about archetyping this as modest-sized rooms that you could really put anywhere,” Chen said. “So it’s this really scalable thing that you could imagine putting inside of a mall or a boutique retail location. You could scale a single location to having 10 or 20 rooms the way a movie theater might have 12 screens.”

Sandbox’s $68 million round comes in the midst of a general market cool down around VR, but as more and more investors look to adjacent technologies like augmented reality, the startup’s backers see its strengths in terms of the bond with users. For Mike Maples, a partner at Floodgate, the investment represents his first in the virtual reality space.

“A lot of AR startups are getting more attention because people say, AR can be on all the phones and it has broader distribution,” Maples said. “When I experienced this product I felt like people are going to say, ‘This product rocks my world.’” 

You can read more about how Sandbox VR linked up with its investors in this Medium post from the company’s chief product officer (hint: the story involves In-N-Out).

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Startups Weekly: Is Munchery the Fyre Festival of startups?

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It was a tough week. Journalists around the U.S. were hit hard by layoffs, from HuffPost to BuzzFeed News to Verizon Media Group, which owns this very site. The government entered day 35 of the shutdown before President Donald Trump agreed to a short-term deal to reopen it for three weeks. And in the startup world, a once high-flying, venture-subsidized food delivery startup crashed and burned, leaving a cluster of small businesses in its wreckage.

Some good things happened too — we’ll get to those.

  1. Munchery fails to pay its debts

In an email to customers on Monday, Munchery announced it would cease operations, effective immediately. It, however, failed to notify any of its vendors, small businesses in San Francisco that had supplied baked goods to the startup for years. I talked to several of those business owners about what they’re owed and what the sudden disappearance of Munchery means for them.

  1. #Theranos #Content

If you haven’t read John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood,” stop reading this newsletter right now and go get yourself a copy. If you love to read, watch and listen to the Theranos saga as much as I do, you’ll be glad to hear there’s some fresh Theranos content released to the world this week. Called “The Dropout,” a new ABC documentary and an accompanying podcast about Theranos features never-before-aired depositions. Plus, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reviews the Theranos documentary, “The Inventor,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week.

  1. Deal of the week

Confluent, the developer of a streaming data technology that processes massive amounts of information in real time, announced a $125 million Series D round on an enormous $2.5 billion valuation (up 5x from its Series C valuation). The round was led by existing investor Sequoia Capital, with participation from other top-tier VCs Index Ventures and Benchmark.

  1. Wag founders ditch dogs for bikes

Jonathan and Joshua Viner, the founders of the SoftBank-backed dog walking startup Wag, launched Wheels this week, an electric bike-share startup with a $37 million funding from Tenaya Capital, Bullpen Capital, Naval Ravikant and others.

  1. Go-Jek makes progress on a $2B round

Indonesia-headquartered Go-Jek has closed an initial chunk of what it hopes will be a $2 billion round after a collection of existing investors, including Google, Tencent and JD.com, agreed to put around $920 million toward it, according to TechCrunch’s Southeast Asia reporter Jon Russell. The deal, which we understand could be announced as soon as next week, will value Go-Jek’s business at around $9.5 billion.

  1. Knowledge center

There’s been a lot of chatter around direct listings since Spotify opted to go public via the untraditional route in 2018, but what exactly is a direct listing… We asked a panel of six experts: “What are the implications of direct listing tech IPOs for financial services, regulation, venture capital and capital markets activity?” 

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

  1. Contraceptive deserts

Through telemedicine and direct-to-consumer sales platforms, startups are streamlining the historically arduous process of accessing contraception. The latest effort to secure a significant financing round is The Pill Club, an online birth control prescription and delivery service. This week, the consumer-focused investor VMG Partners led its $51 million Series B. 

  1. More startup cash
  1. Fundraising activity

Sunil Nagaraj spent years investing in startups at Bessemer Venture Partners, but he was itching to meet with younger companies and strike out on his own. So in the summer of 2017, he did, and now, Nagaraj said he’s closed Ubiquity Ventures’ debut fund with $30 million. March Capital Partners, the Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, raised $300 million for its latest fund. Plus, Zynga founder Mark Pincus is reportedly raising up to $700 million for a new investment fund, called Reinvent Capital, that will focus on publicly traded tech companies in need of strategic restructuring.

  1. Finally, meet the startups in Alchemist’s 20th cohort

A mental health startup, a construction tech business and a fintech company, among others. Take a quick look at the startups that just completed Alchemist’s six-month accelerator program.

  1. Listen to me talk

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos and I chatted about Munchery’s downfall, The Pill Club’s mission to make birth control more accessible and the VC slowdown in China.

 



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VCs give us their predictions for startups and tech in Southeast Asia in 2019

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The new year is well underway and, before January is out, we polled VCs in Southeast Asia to get their thoughts on what to expect in 2019.

The number of VCs in the region has increased massively in recent years, in no small part due to forecasts of growth in the tech space as internet access continues to shoot up among Southeast Asia’s cumulative population of more than 600 million consumers.

There are other factors, including economic growth and emerging middle classes, but with more than 3.8 million people becoming first-time internet users each month — thanks to smartphones — Southeast Asia’s ‘digital economy’ is tipped to more than triple to reach $240 billion by 2025. That leaves plenty of opportunity for tech and online businesses and, by extension, venture capitalists.

With a VC corpus that now numbers dozens of investment firms, TechCrunch asked the people who write the checks what is on the horizon for 2019.

The only rule was no more than three predictions — below, in no particular order, is what they told us.


Alberty Shyy, Burda

Funds will continue to invest aggressively in Southeast Asia in the first half of this year but capital will tighten up by Q4 as funds and companies prepare for a possible recession. I think we will see a lot of companies opportunistically go out to fundraise in Q1/Q2 to take advantage of a bull market.

We will see two to three newly-minted unicorns from the region this year, after a relative lull last year.

This will (finally) be the year that we start to see some consolidation in the e-commerce scene


Dmitry Levit, Centro

A significant portion of capital returned by upcoming U.S. IPOs to institutional investors will be directed to growth markets outside of China, with India and Southeast Asia being the likeliest beneficiaries. Alternative assets such as venture and subsets of private equity in emerging markets will enter their golden age.

The withdrawal of Chinese strategic players held back by weakened domestic economy, prudent M&A by local strategics and ongoing caution among Japanese, Korean and global corporates, combined with ongoing valuations exuberance by late-stage investors allocating funds to Southeast Asia, will continue holding back large liquidity events. Save perhaps for a roll-up of a local champion or two into a global IPO. Fundraising will get more troublesome for some of Southeast Asia’s larger unprofitable market leaders. Lack of marquee liquidity events and curtailed access to late-stage capital for some will lead to a few visible failures (our money is on the subsidy-heavy wallets!) and a temporary burst of short-term skepticism around Southeast Asia as an investment destination towards the end of 2019.

The trend towards the emergence of value-chain specific funds and fund managers will continue, as digitalization is reaching ever further into numerous industry sectors and as Southeast Asia hosts an increasing portion of global supply chains. We foresee at least dozen new venture firms and vehicles emerging in 2019 with clear sector-led investment thesis around the place of Southeast Asian economies in the global value chains of fashion industry, agriculture and food; labour, healthcare services; manufacturing, construction tech and so on, with investment teams that have the necessary expertise to unravel this increasing complexity.


Willson Cuaca, East Ventures

Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s startup capital surpassing Singapore in terms of the number of deals and investment amount.

As Indonesia’s startup scene heats up, regional seed and series A funds move away from Indonesia and target Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines (in market priority order).

Southeast gets two new unicorns.


Rachel Lau, RHL Ventures

North Asian companies will provide well-needed liquidity as they withdraw capital from developed American and European markets due to the Federal Reserve’s actions. The FED raised interest rates and reduced the size of its balance sheet (by not replacing the bonds that were maturing at a rate of $50 billion a month). This has been seen in the recent fundraising exercise by Southeast Asian unicorns. Grab has recently seen an impressive list of North Asian investors such as Mirae, Toyota and Yamaha . A recent stat stated that 85 percent of the funding of Southeast Asia startups have gone to billion dollar unicorn such as Grab and Gojek, bypassing the early stage startups that are more in need for funding, this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, we will see early-stage companies and venture capitalists becoming more focused on generating cash flow from operating operations instead as fundraising activities become more difficult.

A growth in urbanization in Southeast will create new job opportunities in small/medium businesses, as evident in China. Currently, only 12 percent of Asia’s urban population live in megacities, while four percent live in towns of fewer than 300,000 inhabitants. New companies will see the blurred lines between brick and mortar businesses vs pure online businesses. In the past year or so, we have seen more and more offline businesses going online and more online businesses going offline.

Fertility rates in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam exceed 2.1 births per woman — the level that sustains a population — but rates below 1.5 in Singapore and Thailand mean their populations will decline without immigration. As we see more startup activities coming to Southeast Asian countries, we expect to see more qualified foreign talent moving to the region vs staying in low growth American and European countries.


Kay-Mok Ku, Gobi Ventures

First Chinese “Seaward” Unicorn in Southeast Asia. In recent years, a growing number of Chinese startups are targeting overseas markets from the get go (known as Chuhai 出海 or “Seaward”). These Chinese entrepreneurs typically bring with them best practices in consumer marketing and product development honed by a hyper-competitive home market, supported by strong, dedicated technical team based out of China and increasingly capitalized by Chinese VCs which have raised billion-dollar funds.

Consolidation among ASEAN Unicorns. While ASEAN now boasts 10 unicorns, they are duplicative in the sense that more than one exists in a particular category, which is unsustainable for winner-takes-all markets. For example, in the ASEAN ride-hailing space, while one unicorn is busy with regional geographic expansion, the other simply co-exists by staying focused on scope expansion within its home market. This will never happen in a single country market like China but now that the ASEAN ride hailing unicorns are finally locking horns, the stage may be set for a Didi-Kuadi like scenario to unfold.

ASEAN jumps on Chinese 5G bandwagon. The tech world in the future will likely bifurcate into American and Chinese-led platforms. As it is, emerging markets are adopting Chinese business models based on bite-sized payment and have embraced Chinese mobile apps often bundled with cheap Chinese smartphones. Looking ahead, 5G will be a game changer as its impact goes beyond smartphones to generic IoT devices, having strategic implications for industries such as autonomous driving. As a result, the US-China Trade War will likely evolve into a Tech War and ASEAN will be forced to choose side.


Darren Tan, Golden Equator Capital

We are excited by growth in the AI and deep tech sectors. The focus has generally been on consumer-focused tech in Southeast Asia as an emerging market, but we are starting to see proprietary solutions emerge for industries such as medtech and fintech. AI also has great applicability across a wide range of consumer sectors in reducing reliance on manpower and creating cost savings.

Data analytics to uncover organizational efficiencies and customer trends will continue to be even more widely used, but there will also be greater emphasis on securing such data especially confidential information in light of multiple high-profile data breaches in 2018. Tools enabling the collection, storage, safe-keeping and analysis of data will be essential.

We are seeing the emergence of more institutional funds from North Asia. So far it has predominantly been Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba, now we are starting to see Korean and Japanese institutions placing greater emphasis on investment in the Southeast Asian region.


Vinnie Lauria, Golden Gate Ventures

Even more capital flowing from U.S. and China into Southeast Asia, with VCs from both locations soon to open offices in the region

A fresh wave of Series A investments into Vietnam.

Ten exits over $100 million.

 


Amit Anand, Jungle Ventures

The emergence of a financial services super app, think the Meituan or WeChat but only for financial services: The Southeast Asian millennial is one of the most underserved customer from a financial services perspective whether it is payments, consumer goods loans, personal loans, personal finance management, investments or other financial services. We will see the emergence of digital platforms that will aggregate all these related services and provide a one stop financial services shop for this digitally native consumer.

Digitisation of SMEs will be new fintech: Southeast Asia is home to over 100 million SMEs that are at the cusp of digital transformation. Generational change in ownership, local governments push for digitization and increased globalization have created a perfect storm for these SMEs to adopt cloud and other digital technologies at neck-breaking pace. Startups focussing on this segment will get mainstream attention from the venture community over the next few years as they look for new industries that are getting enabled or disrupted by technology.


Kuo-Yi Lim and Peng Ong, Monk’s Hill Ventures

Lyft and Uber go public and show the path to profitability for other rideshare businesses. This has positive effect for the regional rideshare players but also puts pressure on them to demonstrate the same economics in ridesharing. Regional rideshare players double down on super-app positioning instead, to demonstrate value in other ways as rideshare business alone may not reach profitability — ever.

The trade war between China and the US reaches a truce, but a general sense of uncertainty lingers. This is now the new norm — things are less certain and companies have to plan for more adverse scenarios. In the short term, Southeast Asia benefits. Companies — Chinese, American etc — see Southeast Asia as the neutral ground. Investment pours in, creating jobs across industries. Acquisition of local champions intensifies as foreign players jostle for the lead positions.

“Solve the problem” – tech companies will become more prominent… tech companies that are real-estate brokers, recruiters, healthcare providers, food suppliers, logistics… why: many industries are very inefficient.


Hian Goh, Openspace Ventures

Fight to quality will happen. Fundraising across all stages from seed to Series C and beyond will be challenging if you don’t have the metrics. Investors will want to see a path to profitability, or an ability to turn profitable if the environment becomes worse. This will mean Saas companies with stable cash flows, vertical e-commerce with strong metrics will be attractive investment opportunities.

Investor selection will become critical, as investors take a wait and see approach. Existing or new investors into companies will be judged upon their dry powder in their funds and their ability to fund further rounds

The regulatory risk for fintech lenders will be higher this year, rising compliance cost and uncertainty on licensing, which would lead to consolidation in the market.


Heang Chhor, Qualgro

Southeast Asia: an intensifying battlefield for tech investments

There has never been so much VC money in Southeast Asia chasing interesting startups, at all life cycle stages. The 10 most active local and regional VCs have raised their second or third funds recently, amassing at least two times more money than a few years ago, probably reaching a total amount close to $1 billion. In addition, international VCs have also doubled down on their allocation into the region, while top Chinese VCs have visibly stated their intent not to miss the dynamic momentum. Several growth funds have recently built a local presence in order to target Southeast Asia tech companies at Series C and beyond. Not counting the amount going to the unicorns, there might be now more than $3-4 billion available for seed to growth stages, which may be 3-4 times the amount of three years ago. There are, of course, many more good startups coming up to invest into. But the most promising startups will be in a very favorable position to negotiate higher valuation and better terms. However, they should not forget that, eventually, what creates value is how they make a difference with their tech capabilities or their business model, how they acquire and retain the best talent, with the funds raised, not only how much money they will be able to raise. Most local and regional corporate VCs are likely to lose in this more intense investment game.

Significant VC money investing into so-called ‘AI-based startups’, but are there really much (deep) Artificial Intelligence capabilities around?

A good portion of the SEA startups claim they have ‘something-AI’. Investors are overwhelmed, if not confused, by the ‘AI claim’ that they find in most startup pitches. While there is no doubt that Southeast Asia will grow its own strong AI-competence pool in the future, unfortunately today most ‘AI-based’ business models from the region would still be just ‘good algorithms or machine learning’ that can process some amount of data to come up with good-enough outcomes, that do not always generate substantial business value to users/customers. The significant budget that some of the very-well-funded Southeast Asia unicorns are putting into their ‘AI-based apps’ or ‘AI platform’ is unlikely to make a real difference for the consumers, for lack of deep AI competences in the region. 2019 may be another year of AI-promise, not realized. Hopefully, public and private research labs, universities and startups will continue to be (much more) strongly supported (especially by governments) to significantly build bigger AI talent pool, which means growing and attracting AI talent into the region.

Bigger Series A and Series B rounds to fuel more convincing growth trajectory, towards growth-stage fundraising.

Although situations vary a lot: typical Series A in Southeast Asia used to be around $5 million, and Series B around $10-15 million. Investors tended to accept that normally companies would raise money after 18 months or so, between A and B, and between B and C. There has been an increasing number of larger raises at A and B recently, and very likely this trend will accelerate. The fact that VCs now have much more money to deploy into each investment will contribute to this trend. However, the required milestones for raising Series C have become much more around: minimum scale and very solid growth (and profit) drivers. Therefore, entrepreneurs will have to look for getting as much funding reserve as possible, irrespective of time between raises, to build growth engines that take their companies past the milestones of the next Series, be it B or C. In the future, we will see more Series A of $10 million and more Series B of well-above $20 million. Compelling businesses will not have too much difficulties for doing so, but most Southeast Asia entrepreneurs would be wise to learn to more effectively master fundraising skills for capturing much bigger amounts than in the past. Of course, this assumes that their businesses are compelling enough in the eyes of investors.


Vicknesh Pillay, TNB Aura

Out-sized valuations will be less commonplace in 2019 as Southeast Asian investors learn from experience and become more sophisticated. Therefore, we do see opportunities at Series A/B for undervalued deals due to lack of early-stage funding while we expect to continue to see the trend of the majority of venture capital investments going into later stage companies (Series C and beyond) due to lower risk appetite and ‘herd’ mentality.

2018 has also seen the rapid emergence of many corporate venture capital funds and innovation programs. But, 2019 will see large corporations cutting back on their allocation towards startup investing which would be the easiest option for them in case of adverse news to the jittery public markets in 2019.

With the growth of AI, the need for API connections and increased thought leadership to embrace tech, Southeast Asia is going to see an upsurge in SaaS startups and existing startups moving to a Saas business model. Hence, we expect increased investments into Saas companies focused on IoT and cybersecurity as hardware data and software are moved onto the cloud.


Chua Kee Lock, Vertex Ventures

Southeast Asia VC investment pace has grown steadily and significantly since 2010 where it started from less than $100 million in VC investment in the region. For the first eight months of 2018, the region’s VC investment was over $5.4 billion. For the whole of 2018, it will likely end around $8 billion. For 2019, we expect the VC investment pace to surpass 2018 level and record between $9-10 billion. Southeast Asia will continue to attract more VC investments because:

(1) Governments in Southeast Asia, especially ASEAN, continue their support policy to encourage startups.

(2) young demographics and the fast technology adoption in Southeast Asia give rise to more innovative and disruptive ideas.

(3) global investors looking for a better return and will naturally focus on growing emerging market like Southeast Asia.

The trend towards gig economy will begin to have an impact in the region. In developed economies like the U.S, gig economy is expected to reach over 40 percent by 2020. The young population will look for more freelance opportunities as a way to increase income levels while still maintaining flexibility. This will include white-collar work like computer programming, accounting, customer service, etc. and also blue-collar work like delivery services, ride-sharing, home services, etc. We believe that the gig economy will grow to over 15 percent in Southeast Asia by 2019.

AI-heavy or -driven startups will begin to make inroads into Southeast Asia.


Victor Chua, Vynn Capital

The BIG convergence — there will more integration between industries and sectors. Traveloka went into car rental, Blibli went into travel business and these are only some examples. There is a lot of synergistic value between travel startups and food startups or between property startups and automotive startups. Imagine a future where you travel to a city where you stay in an apartment you rented through a marketplace (like Travelio, my portfolio company), and when you need to book a restaurant you can make the reservation through a platform that is integrated with the property manager, and when you need to move around you go down to the car park to drive a car you rent from an automotive marketplace. There is clear synergy between selective industries and this leads to an overall convergence between companies, between industries.

More channels to raise Series B/C, early-stage companies find fundraising more challenging — We have seen a number of VC funds raising or already raised growth funds, this means that there are now more channels for Series A or B companies to raise growth rounds. As the market matures, there will be more competition for investments amongst growth funds as there is considerably more growth in the number of growth funds than companies that are raising at growth-stage. On the flip side, the feel is that there is a consistent growth in the number of early-stage companies, yet the amount of capital in early-stage funds is not growing as much as more VCs prefer bigger and later stages, due to the maturity of their existing portfolio companies.

Newcomers gaining weight — there will be at least 10 companies that will hit a valuation of at least $100 million. These valuations will not be based on a single market exposure. Companies that raise larger rounds will need to show that they are regional.


Thanks to all the VCs who took part, I certainly felt like the class teacher collecting assignments.

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Following a record year, Illinois startups kick off 2019 on a strong foot

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Illinois’s startup market in 2018 was very strong, and it’s not slowing down as we settle into 2019. There’s already almost $100 million in new VC funding announced, so let’s take a quick look at the state of venture in the Land of Lincoln (with a specific focus on Chicago).

In the chart below, we’ve plotted venture capital deal and dollar volume for Illinois as a whole. Reported funding data in Crunchbase shows a general upward trend in dollar volume, culminating in nearly $2 billion worth of VC deals in 2018; however, deal volume has declined since peaking in 2014.1

Chicago accounts for 97 percent of the dollar volume and 90.7 percent of total deal volume in the state. We included the rest of Illinois to avoid adjudicating which towns should be included in the greater Chicago area.

In addition to all the investment in 2018, a number of venture-backed companies from Chicago exited last year. Here’s a selection of the bigger deals from the year:

Crain’s Chicago Business reports that 2018 was the best year for venture-backed startup acquisitions in Chicago “in recent memory.” Crunchbase News has previously shown that the Midwest (which is anchored by Chicago) may have fewer startup exits, but the exits that do happen often result in better multiples on invested capital (calculated by dividing the amount of money a company was sold for by the amount of funding it raised from investors).

2018 was a strong year for Chicago startups, and 2019 is shaping up to bring more of the same. Just a couple weeks into the new year, a number of companies have already announced big funding rounds.

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more notable deals struck so far this year:

Besides these, a number of seed deals have been announced. These include relatively large rounds raised by 3D modeling technology company ThreeKit, upstart futures exchange Small Exchange and 24/7 telemedicine service First Stop Health.

Globally, and in North America, venture deal and dollar volume hit new records in 2018. However, it’s unclear what 2019 will bring. What’s true at a macro level is also true at the metro level. Don’t discount the City of the Big Shoulders, though.

  1. Note that many seed and early-stage deals are reported several months or quarters after a transaction is complete. As those historical deals get added to Crunchbase over time, we’d expect to see deal and dollar volume from recent years rise slightly.

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Startups Weekly: Squad’s screen-shares and Slack’s swastika

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We’re three weeks into January. We’ve recovered from our CES hangover and, hopefully, from the CES flu. We’ve started writing the correct year, 2019, not 2018.

Venture capitalists have gone full steam ahead with fundraising efforts, several startups have closed multi-hundred million dollar rounds, a virtual influencer raised equity funding and yet, all anyone wants to talk about is Slack’s new logo… As part of its public listing prep, Slack announced some changes to its branding this week, including a vaguely different looking logo. Considering the flack the $7 billion startup received instantaneously and accusations that the negative space in the logo resembled a swastika — Slack would’ve been better off leaving its original logo alone; alas…

On to more important matters.

Rubrik more than doubled its valuation

The data management startup raised a $261 million Series E funding at a $3.3 billion valuation, an increase from the $1.3 billion valuation it garnered with a previous round. In true unicorn form, Rubrik’s CEO told TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden it’s intentionally unprofitable: “Our goal is to build a long-term, iconic company, and so we want to become profitable but not at the cost of growth,” he said. “We are leading this market transformation while it continues to grow.”

Deal of the week: Knock gets $400M to take on Opendoor

Will 2019 be a banner year for real estate tech investment? As $4.65 billion was funneled into the space in 2018 across more than 350 deals and with high-flying startups attracting investors (Compass, Opendoor, Knock), the excitement is poised to continue. This week, Knock brought in $400 million at an undisclosed valuation to accelerate its national expansion. “We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Knock CEO Sean Black told me.

Cybersecurity stays hot

While we’re on the subject of VCs’ favorite industries, TechCrunch cybersecurity reporter Zack Whittaker highlights some new data on venture investment in the industry. Strategic Cyber Ventures says more than $5.3 billion was funneled into companies focused on protecting networks, systems and data across the world, despite fewer deals done during the year. We can thank Tanium, CrowdStrike and Anchorfree’s massive deals for a good chunk of that activity.

Send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Fundraising efforts continue

I would be remiss not to highlight a slew of venture firms that made public their intent to raise new funds this week. Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures filed to raise $350 million across two new funds and Redpoint Ventures set a $400 million target for two new China-focused funds. Meanwhile, Resolute Ventures closed on $75 million for its fourth early-stage fund, BlueRun Ventures nabbed $130 million for its sixth effort, Maverick Ventures announced a $382 million evergreen fund, First Round Capital introduced a new pre-seed fund that will target recent graduates, Techstars decided to double down on its corporate connections with the launch of a new venture studio and, last but not least, Lance Armstrong wrote his very first check as a VC out of his new fund, Next Ventures.

More money goes toward scooters

In case you were concerned there wasn’t enough VC investment in electric scooter startups, worry no more! Flash, a Berlin-based micro-mobility company, emerged from stealth this week with a whopping €55 million in Series A funding. Flash is already operating in Switzerland and Portugal, with plans to launch into France, Italy and Spain in 2019. Bird and Lime are in the process of raising $700 million between them, too, indicating the scooter funding extravaganza of 2018 will extend into 2019 — oh boy!

Startups secure cash

  • Niantic finally closed its Series C with $245 million in capital commitments and a lofty $4 billion valuation.
  • Outdoorsy, which connects customers with underused RVs, raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Greenspring Associates, with participation from Aviva Ventures, Altos Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and Tandem Capital.
  • Ciitizen, a developer of tools to help cancer patients organize and share their medical records, has raised $17 million in new funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
  • Footwear startup Birdies — no, I don’t mean Allbirds or Rothy’s — brought in an $8 million Series A led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from Slow Ventures and earlier investor Forerunner Ventures.
  • And Brud, the company behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela, is now worth $125 million with new funding.

Feature of the week

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine introduced readers to Squad this week, a screensharing app for social phone addicts.

Listen to me talk

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I marveled at the dollars going into scooter startups, discussed Slack’s upcoming direct listing and debated how the government shutdown might impact the IPO market.

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