StrictlyVC: September 20, 2013

110611_2084620_176987_imageTop News in the A.M.

Yesterday the California Public Utilities Commission approved the first statewide guidelines in the U.S. for ride-sharing services. The guidelines address things like driver background checks that car companies like Lyft and Sidecar have been implementing from the get-go. But by agreeing to allow the services’ drivers to operate freely as long as they agree to the guidelines, the agency is signaling to the startups that it’s full steam ahead.
Dow Jones and its influential AllThingsD unit are officially parting ways, with Dow Jones keeping the AllThingsD brand and AllThingsD co-executive editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher keeping the AllThingsD readers (presumably). The question is where we can find them, after Dec. 31, when their contract ends. Reportedly, they’re right now in talks with potential backers about an investment that would value their new venture between $30 million and $40 million.
Kleiner, Ellen Pao, and the Reddit Factor

It’s looking like Kleiner Perkins will have to hash it out in court with former partner Ellen Pao, who filed an explosive gender-discrimination lawsuit against the venture firm in May of last year.

This Wednesday, Kleiner was denied its request to move the case to arbitration.

In response, Kleiner told the Mercury News yesterday that it will “vigorously defend the matter” and is “confident we will prevail.”

But Pao’s current job of building strategic partnerships at the social news site Reddit may throw an unexpected wrench into Kleiner’s defense.

As industry watchers may recall, in October of last year, roughly five months after Pao filed her suit — in which she clams she was repeatedly denied opportunities to advance or pay raises — Pao was abruptly terminated by Kleiner, she said. Kleiner has always disputed the characterization, saying it asked Pao to leave “because of long-standing issues having no relationship or bearing on the litigation.”

But now that the case is no longer under appeal, her attorney told the Mercury News yesterday that he’s planning to add a wrongful termination claim to the lawsuit.

Legal experts have told me that Pao’s Reddit gig could work to her advantage in her case against her former employer. For one thing, anyone who claims retaliation in a discrimination case has a duty to look for a job. Joining Reddit could show that Pao tried limiting the financial damage to herself and secured a job under difficult circumstances (i.e., in the middle of a media circus).

Landing the role could also boost Pao’s credibility and make her more believable to a jury, according to employment attorneys; they say that juries want to know, “Can this person work for someone else?”

In cases like these, employment attorneys argue that the burden of proof is always on the employer, and retaliation claims are often more powerful and easier to prove than actual discrimination claims.

And to make matters even worse, Kleiner could be on the hook for more damages than when Pao originally filed her lawsuit as an employee.

For Kleiner, it seems, the Pao case is a nightmare that just will not end.

New Fundings

NewVoiceMedia, a 13-year-old, cloud-based contact and call center company in the U.K., has raised a $35 million Series C round, led Bessemer Venture Partners. Existing investors Highland Capital Partners EuropeEden Ventures and Notion Capital also participated in the financing, which was company’s second this year. In January, NewVoiceMedia announced that it had raised $20 million in Series B funding from investors. Altogether, it has raised $61.3 million.

Branding Brand, a Pittsburgh-based mobile commerce platform that powers the mobile sites and apps for retail customers, has raised $9.5 million in Series B funding. Existing investor Insight Venture Partners led the round with participation from CrunchFundLead Edge Capital and eBay Enterprise. The company had raised a $7.5 million Series A round in October of last year.

Unmetric, whose software enables its customers to analyze their customers’ social media efforts, has raised a $5.5 million Series B round led by Jafco Asia. Earlier investor Nexus Venture Partners also participated in the financing.

Plaid has raised $2.8 million to grow its API for banks. (It makes banks’ data more accessible to developers so that they can ultimately create new applications around that information.) Spark Capital led the round, which also included Homebrew Capital, Google Ventures, Felicis Ventures, and NEA.


Gigya — a Mountain View, Calif.-based firm that specializes in social data management, has raised $35 million in new funding led by Greenspring Associates. Previous investors Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures, Advance Publications, and Mayfield Fund also participated in the round. The company has now raised roughly $70 million from investors over the last six years.


Mindshare Technologies, a Salt Lake City-based company that tracks customers with online and phone surveys, has acquired Empathica, a competitor based in Ontario, Canada. Both companies have attracted venture funding. Empathica had raised $7 million in Series A funding from JMI Equity back in 2006. Mindshare raised a $20 million round from the private equity firm Sorenson Capital in 2011. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Google has acquired most of the team and assets of San Francisco-based Hattery, reports Dan Primack of Fortune. The joint digital innovation lab/venture capital firm founded was founded by former Google employees Josh Mendelsohn, Joshua To, and Luis Arbulu. Google is not acquiring any equity in the six projects Hattery has been helping to create and shape.


Billionaire Hong Kong investor Li Ka-shing is apparently poised to shake up Asian markets with a planned $700 million IPO for Westports Holdings Bhd., a Malaysian port operator of which he owns roughly 30 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. The planned October offering of the port operator, which oversees one of Asia’s busiest shipping terminals, is expected to reignite Malaysia’s deal market, which was home to some of the world’s largest IPOs last year.

Shares of Acceleron Pharma, a 10-year-old, Cambridge, Mass.-based company that’s developing therapies for cancer and rare diseases, soared by one-third in their first day of trading yesterday. The shares, which closed up 33 percent, at $19.99, are owned predominately by venture capitalists, who had poured $105.1 million into the company over the years. According to an SEC filing, the company’s largest shareholder after the offering is Polaris Venture Partners, which owns a 12.1 percent stake. Venrock PartnersAdvanced Technology Ventures, and Flagship Ventures are among the company’s other major shareholders.


Intel Capital has promoted three investment managers to managing director to oversee four new areas for the venture arm. Rob RueckertKen Elefant, and Ramamurthy Sivakumar will now be scouting for deals in the areas of data center software; new devices and wearables; security; and ultrabooks and perceptual computing.

Bitcasa, a two-year-old, cloud storage startup that’s based in Mountain View, Calif., has a new CEO: Brian Taptich, who was most recently the VP of international development at Zynga. Taptich replaces Bitcasa co-founder Tony Gauda. Bitcasa has raised $8.5 million over two rounds, from investors that include Samsung Ventures, First Round Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Crunchfund, and Pelion Venture Partners.

Job Listings

PriceWaterhouseCoopers is hiring a senior associate in L.A.

Essential Reads

Reporter Brad Stone writes about Joy Covey, Amazon’s first CFO and someone who plainly lived life to its fullest until her death on Wednesday, when she was struck by a car during a bicycle ride in Silicon Valley.


A father tries doing his 13-year-old daughter’s seemingly insurmountable mountain of homework for a week. It’s not a pretty exercise.

Retail Therapy

AllSaints T-shirts, for those autumn days you want to feel like you’re 12 years old again.

Bourbon marshmallows. We wouldn’t suggesting actually eating one of these, but you’ll get points for being creative if you take them to a party!


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