StrictlyVC: November 1, 2013

110611_2084620_176987_imageHappy Friday, and thank you for reading! StrictlyVC wound up spending much of yesterday with two pint-size Darth Vaders, so we’re running with something today that wasn’t planned but which we hope you’ll enjoy. Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you next week.


Top News in the A.M.

Tech giants are bolstering their defenses against snooping. The government “blew it,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a conference this fall.

Elon Musk: People Need “Things That Are Inspiring”

This week, the Web Summit conference in Ireland managed to attract some very big names, including Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who was interviewed yesterday as part of the event’s closing ceremonies.

The billionaire entrepreneur wasn’t alone on stage; venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar was among the guests. But Musk was clearly the main attraction. (As a leather-clad Musk strode to his seat, the James Bond theme resounded throughout the hall, and every smartphone in the audience shot up into the air to take pictures.) Here’s some of what Musk had to say during the panel, which was moderated by Storyful founder and CEO Mark Little:

On whether it’s a “great time to be alive as a creator”:

“I don’t think you could ask for a better time in history. I think people sometimes forget that. Realistically, when else would you want to be alive?”

On why, while running two billion-dollar companies, he would bother to fly to Ireland for Web Summit:  

“I understand there’s going to be a great party tonight,” said Musk (convincingly).

Asked about his “lightbulb moment” as a teenager: 

“It was more like when I was 21,” said Musk. “When I was a teenager, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I liked playing video games and I liked writing software. So I thought maybe I’ll write [software professionally]; that seemed like a pretty fun thing. And then when I was in college, I started thinking about, ‘Well, what’s going to most affect the world?’ Actually, I thought there were five things that would most affect the world, three of which I thought would definitely be positive things to solve, two of which [were] a slight question mark. As it happens, I was able to get involved in all three of those things: the Internet, sustainable energy, and space.” [Alas, Little didn’t ask about the two other things.]

On why Musk didn’t simply start another e-commerce company after co-founding PayPal: 

“The thing that motivated me there was I kept expecting that there would be a manned mission to Mars. That was the continuation of the dream of Apollo. We went to the moon. Then there was supposed to be a base on the moon; there were supposed to be space hotels. There were going to be missions to Mars. And year after year, that stuff didn’t happen. At first, I thought [that] maybe people [had] lost the will to do that, and I came up with the idea of this mission to Mars to kind of get people excited about that stuff again. But I came to the conclusion that I was actually wrong about that assumption, and there’s plenty of will. But it’s really about making sure there’s a way. If people think there’s a way to do it without bankrupting the economy, I think there’s plenty of will.”

On all the attention he receives versus SpaceX: 

“We’ve got an awesome team at SpaceX. There’s way too much attention paid to me, and that’s not right. People want to identify with an individual, and so that’s naturally what occurs, but there’s a super-talented group at SpaceX who make it happen.”

Musk was also asked about his vision for the future of humanity and space exploration in particular:

“I think it would be really great to have a base on Mars, and ultimately to be making steady progress towards making it a self-sustaining civilization on Mars. I think that’s the most powerful thing we can do to ensure the long term survival of civilization. And it’s just a very exciting future, I think, if you imagine a future where we’re exploring the stars, and we’re a multi-planet species, and the scope and scale of society is that much greater.

“I find that view of the future really exciting and inspiring, and there need to be things that are inspiring. There are lots of problems on Earth, and there always will be, but there need to be things that are inspiring, that make you want to get out of bed in the morning. Having a bright future in space is one of those things.”

[By the way, for European readers eager to get their hands on a Model S sedan, Musk said Tesla “should have the right-hand version in production in March” and he estimated that the car will be available to purchase by “late March [or] April.”]


New Fundings

6Wunderkinder, a three-year-old, Berlin-based startup behind a popular task management app called Wunderlist, has raised $30 million in Series B funding led by Sequoia Capitalreports TechCrunch. Previous investors Atomico and Earlybird also participated in the funding. Wunderlist has about six million users; it has raised $34.9 million to date.

Ador, formerly known as Lockerz, has raised $9 million in a round that appears to be targeting $25 million, according to an SEC filing that was flagged yesterday by AllThingsD. Lockerz, a four-year-old, Pittsburgh-based social commerce network, had raised nearly $80 million as of this time last year, including from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & ByersLiberty MediaLive Nation and DAG Ventures. Lockerz is still operational, the company told AllThingsD, but most of its capital will now be invested in Ador, a new shoppable digital magazine.

Alector, a six-month-old, San Francisco-based biotech company dedicated to the discovery and development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, has raised an undisclosed amount of Series A financing. The money comes from Polaris Venture Partners and OrbiMed Advisors. (Xconomy has a nice write-up about the company here.)

Boyibang, a year-old, Beijing-based company that has created a diabetes management app and platform, has secured 4.5 million yuan ($733,974) of angel investment from Ameba Capital and Wu Jiong, the executive director of the online doctor-appointment platform Guahao.

Circle Internet Financial, a months-old, Boston-based bitcoin startup started by Brightcove founder Jeremy Allaire, has raised $9 million in funding from Accel Partners; Accel’s Jim Breyer, who invested some of his own money in the deal; and General Catalyst Partners. Lizette Chapman of Dow Jones notes that it’s the largest bitcoin funding on record.

Cloudnine, a six-year-old, Bangalore-based outfit that runs a handful of specialty maternity-care hospitals, has raised $16.1 million led by Sequoia Capital. The capital will be used to set up 10 new facilities over the next two years. Existing investor Matrix Partners also participated in the round.

Contego Fraud Solutions, a two-year-old, Oxfordshire, England- based startup whose software product provides due diligence and risk analysis on people and companies, has raised £900k from London Business Angel Investors and Rainbow Seed Fund. The company has raised a prior £350k in February 2012 from Cass Entrepreneurship Fund, bringing its total funding to date to around $1.9 million.

Kumu Networks, a two-year-old, Santa Clara, Calif.-based company whose technology aims to double the capacity of any wireless network, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by Third Point Ventures. Previous investors NEA and Khosla Ventures also participated in the round. The company has raised $25 million to date.

Nanocomp Technologies, a nine-year-old, Merrimack, N.H.-based nanomaterials company, has landed a $6 million venture loan facility led by Horizon Technology Finance Corporation. Nanocomp raised an equity round of at least $7.7 million last year, according to an SEC filing that suggested the company was looking to raise $25 million. CEI Community Ventures is among its backers, along with numerous angels.

Nomorerack, a three-year-old, New York-based online e-commerce company that sells discounted items in a variety of categories, has raised $40 million in Series B funding from Oak Investment Partners and HTV Industries. The company raised a $12 million Series A round roughly one year ago led by Asian e-commerce giant G-Market.

Svelte Medical Systems, a seven-year-old, Providence, R.I.-based company that develops balloon expandable stents, has raised $22 million in fresh funding led by CNF Investments and New Science Ventures, which were joined by previous investors. The company has raised roughly $65 million to date.

TabTale, a three-year-old, Tel Aviv-based maker of interactive children’s books and games, has raised $12 million in funding led by Qualcomm Ventures and return backer Magma Venture PartnersVintage Investment Ventures and numerous individual investors also participated in the funding. The company has raised $13.5 million to date.

Unitrends Software, a 24-year-old, Columbia, S.C.-based company that makes data protection software, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Insight Venture Partners. The company has raised at least $20 million in the past, according to Crunchbase, including a $9 million round closed in 2008 that included The Aurora Funds, The Trelys Funds, Paladin Capital Group, and Harbert Venture Partners.


New Funds

Benchmark is raising a new fund in the neighborhood of its last $425 million vehicle, reports Reuters“Benchmark is committed to maintaining a laser focus on early-stage investing,” general partner Bill Gurley said in an emailed statement to the outlet. The firm’s current fund, its seventh, closed in 2011.

MentorTech Ventures, a seed- and early-stage venture capital fund that invests in companies that are part of the University of Pennsylvania ecosystem, has raised $24.2 million toward its newest fund, according to a new SEC filing. The firm has been raising the capital for the past couple of years, the filing shows, and it appears to be targeting $35 million altogether. So far, 61 accredited investors have participated in the fundraise.

North Bridge Venture Partners, the Waltham, Mass.-based firm that first dipped its toe into growth-stage investing in 2006, has raised a new, $581.6 million growth-stage fund. An SEC form filed yesterday shows that the firm began fundraising in July. North Bridge issued a release about the fund late last week; in it the firm noted that its growth equity unit is now managing $1.1 billion altogether.



China’s, the country’s equivalent of Craigslist, saw its shares soar yesterday on its first day of trading on the NYSE. It priced its initial offering of 11 million shares at $17 million; the shares ended the day at $24.12, up 41 percent. The company is profitable. In the first half of 2013, it reported net income of $300,000 on sales of $58 million. Its biggest shareholders are Nihao China Corporation (which owns 22.3 percent of the company), WP X Asia Online Investment Holdings (which owns 25.8 percent), SB Asia Investment Fund (which owns 20.5 percent), and DCM (which owns 16.6 percent).

Chegg, the eight-year-old, Santa Clara, Calif-based textbook rental company, said in a new filing yesterday that it hopes to raise up to $172.5 million in its IPO by pricing its stock at $9.50 to $11.50 a share. (It would give the company a roughly $900 million valuation.) Chegg has raised nearly $200 million from investors over the years; its biggest shareholders include Foundation Capital (it owns 6.5 percent), Gabriel Ventures (it owns 10.3 percent), Insight Venture Partners (it owns 14.3 percent) and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (which owns 11.7 percent). Chegg first filed to go public in August. It’s expected to go public in a couple of weeks.



The research group CB Insights has released its newest report on what’s happening with seed-stage investments. You can find the full report here. Some highlights: Of the 762 U.S.-based tech companies that received seed funding between April and September 2012, 34 percent have received follow-on funding. Meanwhile, the follow-on rate for seed investments made between 2009 and 2012 was 40 percent (so things may be cooling off slightly).



Larry Ellison and other Oracle executives just saw their pay packages rejected as bloated and out of sync with the company’s performance by shareholders.


Job Listings

Yelp is looking to hire a business development senior manager to help build relationships across the industry’s international communities and negotiate strategic partnerships worldwide. This position splits time between Yelp’s San Francisco headquarters and its London offices and involves extensive international travel. Among other requirements, candidates need to have at least seven years of experience in international business development, product, consulting or finance.


Essential Reads

Despite Harvard Management Company’s reputation as a great investor, it is not a great investor.

There are right now 24 venture-backed companies with valuations of $1 billion or more, and roughly 70 percent of them are based in either Silicon Valley or San Francisco, says data provider Pitchbook. The Silicon Valley Business Journal has more on the story here.

Soon, you’ll no longer have to turn off your iPhone/iPad/MacBook Pro/Kindle Fire/travel-size hair straightener as soon as you board a plane. Yesterday, the FAA revealed that by year end, fliers generally should be allowed to use tablets, e-readers and other gadgets during all phases of their flights.



In defense of teenagers who take selfies at funerals.

Banksy ends his monthlong “Better Out Than In” New York show in understated fashion.

The New Yorker takes a look at what makes people cheat.

How to tell scary stories: Advice from the co-creator of “American Horror Story.”


Retail Therapy

This is cool — the Phantom II Vision flying camera, which streams real-time video to your mobile devices. Now you can spy into your neighbors’ second-floor windows, too.

Ledge pants. Coffee, juice, wine, and water will slide right off this fabric, which is made of “elastane content” and other materials it’s probably best not to contemplate.

Beautiful, luxurious leather pouches, for all that paperwork you’re always carrying around. Oh? You never carry around paper anymore? Valentino does not care. Valentino will make beautiful pouches despite you and your “smart” tablets and other electronic gizmos.

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