StrictlyVC: October 14, 2013

110611_2084620_176987_thumbnailTop News in the A.M. 

Really, people? Senate leaders are still deadlocked over budget negotiations in Washington — and the debt ceiling deadline is just three days away.

SilverRide Bets On Offline Social Networking, for the Older Set

Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unanimously approved new regulations condoning ride-sharing services like Lyft and Sidecar. But the new legal framework could also breathe new life into lesser-known companies such a SilverRide, a six-year-old company whose name may be its biggest liability.

At first glance, SilverRide sounds like an Uber for seniors, but its focus actually extends well beyond transporting the elderly. “Transportation is 20 percent of what we do,” says founder Jeff Maltz over coffee near SilverRide’s San Francisco offices. The company’s primary focus is “championing socialization for seniors.”

It’s a big market. The senior population is growing steadily. By 2030, roughly 20 percent of Americans will be 65 years or older, up from 12.5 percent today.

More important, scientists are increasingly discovering how important socialization is for the elderly. Just last month, University of Missouri researchers published findings around what happens when seniors stop driving. Among their conclusions was that seniors’ health and happiness meaningfully declined. Social connectedness also helps the immune system to work better, lowers stress hormones, and can delay memory loss, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

SilverRide offers seniors the chance to get outside the home and interact with others. For $85 an hour, the company’s drivers will escort the elderly to shop at the grocery store, to see a movie, or to pick up grandchildren for an ice cream outing, among other things. (Seventy percent of the time, drivers join riders in their activities.) In its six-year history, it has orchestrated 150,000 rides for more than 3,500 clients.

The question is whether SilverRide – which is looking to raise $3 million to expand nationally –  is a big business.

From all outward appearances, the numbers sound good.

According to Maltz, SilverRide is profitable. Currently, the company pays $1000 to acquire a customer, and customers pay $450 a month on average for 24 months.

SilverRide’s expenses also just went down significantly. Up until now, SilverRide has used its own fleet of cars. (The company has a staff of 22 full and part-time employees to pick up seniors and take them out.) But the most recent CPUC regulations change all that. Now, SilverRide’s employees can use their own, commercially insured cars, vastly expanding the potential size of the company’s transportation fleet.

The biggest impediment to SilverRide’s growth may be convincing seniors to pay for something as intangible as an experience. SilverRide is a fairly expensive service, and there may not be a large population of elderly people who understand the service or can justify spending $450 a month on their social lives. (One-third of SilverRides’ customers call the company themselves. The other two thirds of its customers come by way of their children or other senior caregivers.) In fact, Maltz says his biggest competition is a customer’s friends and family.

SilverRide could benefit from the marketing leverage and distribution that a larger health care partner could provide. Maltz says that the company has attracted the attention of “several large health care companies” that are “engaging in pilots” with SilverRide, but he declines to be more specific.

In the meantime, VC-league help with advertising, as well as to build up an executive team, would also go a long way, suggests Maltz. “We have 400 people around the country interested in opening up regional SilverRides,” he says. “This company is ready to blast off and get out there.”


New Fundings

Nomi, year-old New York City-based startup that tracks shoppers’ mobile phones to help retail shops gather data on their activity, is close to closing a $10 million in Series B funding, reports AllThingsD. The funding is reportedly being led by new investor Accel Partners. The company’s previous investors in the company’s $3 million Series A include First Round CapitalGreycroft PartnersForerunner Ventures and SV Angel.

Trafi, a 10-month-old startup based in Vilnius, Lithuanian, has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Practica Capital. The company’s app helps visitors and locals navigate their way around cities — whether on buses, foot, in taxis, or on bicycles — based on existing routes and real-time traffic information information. More here.

Xero, a seven-year-old online accounting software company based in Auckland, New Zealand, has raised a fresh $150 million in capital led by Valar Ventures and Matrix Partners. The company has now raised $244 million to date. Much more here.


New Funds

Mithril Capital Management, the year-old venture firm backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, has closed its debut fund at $540 million, according to VentureWire. A report in the New York Times last year said that Mithril was starting off with $402 million, and that it counted Thiel himself as its biggest investor. Thiel cofounded Mithril with Ajay Royan, a former managing director at Thiel’s hedge fund Clarium Capital. The firm, which aims to make bets in slightly later-stage companies, most recently invested in the mobile security software company Lookout, which raised $55 million in a round led by Deutsche Telekom.



Activision, the world’s largest video games publisher, has bought back $8.2 billion of its own shares from Vivendi, it announced on Friday. The move makes it an independent company once again, with Vivendi now a shareholder with a 12 percent stake.

Antenna Software, a 14-year-old, Jersey City, N.J.-based mobile software company, was acquired Friday by Pegasystems, a business software company in Cambridge, Mass. Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed. Antenna had raised $2.53 million in debt funding last month, according to an SEC filing.

Vet Therapeutics, a San Diego-based company focused on developing therapies for pet cancer and chronic conditions, has been acquired by a bigger player in the space, publicly traded biopharmaceutical company Aratana Therapeutics of Kansas City, Kan. Arantana is paying $30 million in cash, plus 625,000 shares of common stock, and an additional $3 million pay-out if Vet Therapeutics meets certain milestones by the end of next year. Vet Therapeutics investors include Innovis Investments.

Bread, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based social marketing software startup, was acquired on Friday by Yahoo for an undisclosed amount. The company had raised $3.5 million in funding, including from Raptor Ventures and individual investors, such as Palantir Technologies cofounder Joe Lonsdale and Lady Gaga’s longtime manager Troy Carter.

Hackermeter, a six-month-old, Portland, Ore.-based startup that aimed to match developers with hiring companies by using code challenge portfolios, has been acquired by Pinterest for an undisclosed amount, TechCrunch reported late Friday. The company had raised money from Y Combinator; it was in the process of trying to raise an additional $750,0000 in funding, reported Techcrunch, which says its service will be shut down and that its cofounders are joining Pinterest as engineers.

Onavo, a three-year-old, Tel Aviv.-based company focused on mobile data analytics, has just been acquired by Facebook for approximately $150 million, reports Techcrunch. The company had raised $13 million from Sequoia CapitalMagma Venture PartnersHorizons Ventures, and Motorola Solutions Venture Group. Much more here.

Waywire, a 16-month-old, New York-based video startup, is being acquired by Web video distributor Magnify, itself a 7-year-old company in New York. AllThingsD is reporting that the acquisition is likely a stock deal. Waywire had raised $1.75 million in seed funding from First Round Capital, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, and numerous high-profile individuals, including Oprah Winfrey.



Alberto Vilar was granted permission to attend a sold-out performance to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday night. As readers may remember, Vilar founded Amerindo Investment Advisors, a San Francisco-based investment firm that was later accused of bilking investors out of $22 million. Vilar was sentenced to nine years in prison but he’s been out of bail, and living with an 11 p.m. curfew, since October of last year. Vilar’s lawyers had appealed to a Manhattan federal judge to let Vilar see Tchaikovsky’s “Eugen Onegin,” because Vilar was given free tickets by the conductor. The judge grudgingly gave him until 1:30 a.m.

Arjun Gupta, the founder of Telesoft Partners, gets featured in a New York Times story about high-end matchmaking.



If you’re in San Francisco, you might consider heading to a sustainability conference being hosted by The Verge. Happening at the Palace Hotel, the program kicks off at 1:30. You can check out the various tracks here.

If you’re in New York, you might be interested in O’Reilly’s Velocity engineering conference, which promises attendees a “non-stop ride into the inner workings of Web ops and performance.” It’s a three-day conference; the last scheduled talk today is at 3:30 EST.

BrainTech Israel, which is being hailed as Israel’s first international brain technology conference, also gets underway today in Tel Aviv. The conference runs two days. Here is the program.


Job Listings

ff Venture Capital, the early-stage venture capital fund, is looking for an associate “intern” to work full-time or at least 30 hours a week. The job is in midtown Manhattan and the firm is accepting applications now from current or recent graduate students.


Essential Reads

Jack Dorsey is doing what he can to prove that he’s more than a lucky man.

Netflix is reportedly in talks with several US cable companies with the aim of making its video streaming app available on set-top boxes.



It isn’t just us. American animals are getting fatter, too.

Smelling peanut butter from a distance may become the easiest, cheapest way to test for early Alzheimer’s.

Alec Baldwin reveals his inner Charlie Rose during the debut of his new weekly talk show on MSNBC.


Retail Therapy

It’s a little hard to get excited about a sling chair, but this is one exciting sling chair.

This craft beer is named Dave and costs $2,000. Unless Dave comes with a waterproof bag filled with $1,990 inside, we will pass.

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