StrictlyVC: December 18, 2013

110611_2084620_176987_imageHappy Wednesday, everyone! Hope you’re enjoying your holidays. Like you perhaps, StrictlyVC just wants to relax and settle into an oversize sofa with a plate of venture capitalist-shaped sugar cookies already. But stay tuned — we have some good stuff coming over the next couple of days.


Top News in the A.M.

The price of bitcoin dropped a stunning 50 percent overnight, following an announcement from China’s largest bitcoin exchange that it would no longer be accepting new yuan deposits.


A Storyteller Wade Into a Crowded Market

Tristan Walker is a rarity in Silicon Valley. He’s a gifted storyteller who intimately understands mobile and social media, having interned at Twitter before joining Foursquare, where he led business development for three years.

Those talents will come in handy, as Walker pulls the cover off his eight-month-old startup, Walker & Company, revealing its first product to be … a shaving kit.

Worth mentioning straightaway: This is an exceedingly nice shaving kit. In addition to a pure brass handle and German-made blades, each kit comes with rich pre-shave, shaving, and after-shave lotions, all tucked thoughtfully into an elegant box that’s designed to take 2.5 seconds to open. (It builds anticipation, Walker told me during a recent visit to the company’s offices, located a few miles from Stanford University.)

Priced as the kit is — a user pays $59 for his first, three-month supply, and $29 per month thereafter — it seems reasonably accessible, too, particularly considering the growing percentage of men willing to spend on grooming. According to the research company Mintel, the share of personal care products designed for men has grown to to 5.6 percent from 4.6 percent over the past five years.

Still, to break into a crowded market that already features both high-end competitors and affordable alternatives, Walker needs a compelling story, and he has one that he tells well. As he explains it, black, Latino, and Asian men and women have few personal care options beyond the “ethnic aisle of Walgreen’s,” where they’re left to examine which “dust-covered” product might be remotely suited for their hair texture or skin needs. To underscore his point, Walker, who is African-American, shows me an off-the-shelf hair-care product featuring a balding black man wearing a bath towel.

It’s that underserved market that inspired Walker & Co. The company’s shave kit, for example, has a single blade construction that’s particularly ideal for African-American men, who often struggle with extreme razor burn irritation because their facial hair tends to be curly.

Yet the kit is just the start, says Walker, who observes that people of color will represent the majority of American in the not-too-distant future, as well as that they tend to spend more than other demographic groups on personal care products. (Black women, who represent just 6 percent of U.S. population today, account for 30 percent of hair care spend, says Walker.)

Little wonder Walker is already imagining products such as high-end shampoos suited for the dry hair of African-American women, or skin-care products that address hyperpigmentation.

And none will be relegated to a drugstore aisle, says Walker, who is employing a direct-to-consumer e-tailing strategy, along with reaching people where they gather online. (Among other examples: the urban style blog Street Etiquette will soon begin publishing grooming content co-created with Walker & Co.)

Eventually, Walker & Co. — whose investors include Andreessen Horowitz, SV Angel, Upfront Ventures, and Sherpa Foundry — will also sell its products offline, says Walker. But telling the story comes first, and the shaving kit is not the story; it’s just the prologue.

“This is about fundamentally enabling access. It’s about making things more practical and delightful at the same time,” says Walker.

Traditional consumer packaged goods companies have had their chance, he suggests. Walker & Co. is “going to create the experience that [people of color] deserve.”


New Fundings

Atara Biotherapeutics, a year-old, Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based company that’s developing drugs to treat debilitating diseases, has raised $38.5 million in Series B funding. Amgen Ventures, Celgene Corporation, and EcoR1 Capital led the round, joined by existing investors Alexandria Venture Investments, DAG Ventures, Domain Associates, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. FierceBiotech has much more on the company and its backstory here.

Crescendo Biologics, a young, Cambridge, England-based biotech that’s working on differentiated medicines for cancer and psoriasis, has raised $28 million in funding led by Imperial Innovations with participation from new investor Astellas Venture Management and founding seed investor Sofinnova Partners.

Datameer, a four-year-old, San Mateo, Calif.-based company that sells data analytics services to business users, has raised $19 million in Series D funding. Next World Capital led the round. Workday,Software AG and Citi Ventures also participated, alongside with earlier investors Redpoint Ventures and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. The company says it has raised a total of $36.2 million to date.

DreamBox Learning, a seven-year-old, Bellevue, Wash.-based company behind a new interactive and adaptive educational system for teaching children math, has raised $14.5 million in Series A1 financing. The round was led by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and included private investments by venture capitalists John Doerr andDeborah Quazzo. GSV Capital also participated in the funding.

Glue Networks, a six-year-old, Sacramento, Calif.-based company that sells an enterprise-grade, cloud-networking service, has raised $12.4 million from undisclosed investors, bringing its total funding to date to $16.9 million.

iROKOtv, a Nigeria-based company behind a video-on-demand platform for Nigerian movies (it’s been dubbed the “Netflix of Africa”), has raised $8 million. The round was led by existing investor Tiger Global, which was joined by the Sweden-based investment companyKinnevik. New investor Rise Capital, a U.S.-based expansion-stage venture firm, also participated in the funding, which brings iROKotv’s total capital raised to $21 million.

Kannuu, a six-year-old, Dallas-based company whose software makes it easier to quickly find content on smart TVs, tablets, and smartphones, has raised $2 million in capital from an unnamed private equity firm.

Maxwell Health, a year-old, Cambridge, Mass.-based SaaS company that aims to simplify employee benefits for businesses, has raised Series A1 financing, led by Vaizra Investments, with participation from Catalyst Health Ventures and existing investors, Tribeca Ventures, Serious Change, Lerer Ventures, BoxGroup and individual investors. To date, the company has raised just less than $10 million.

Planet Labs, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based company with ambitions to map the entire Earth with a fleet of imaging satellites, has raised $52 million in new funding, led by early Facebook investor Yuri Milner. Other new investors include Industry Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Lux Capital, and longtime Venrock partner Ray Rothrock. Previous investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Capricorn Investment Group, O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, Founders Fund, First Round Capital, Innovation Endeavors, Data Collective, and AME Cloud Ventures also joined in the round, which brings the company’s total capital raised to date to $65 million.

Sojern, a six-year-old, San Francisco-based “travel engagement platform” that makes it easier for companies like American Express to target and engage with customers, has raised $10 million in Series C funding. Triangle Peak Partners led the round with participation fromNorwest Venture Partners, Trident Capital, Focus Ventures andIndustry Ventures. According to Crunchbase, Sojern has raised about $42 million to date.

Trinity Pharma, a nine-year-old, Waltham, Mass.-based company that sells its cloud-based data management and analytics services to the life sciences industry, has raised $15 million. Health Enterprise Partners, a New York-based growth equity firm, led the investment, which is Trinity’s first outside funding.

ViewRay, a nine-year-old, Cleveland, Oh.-based medical device company that’s been developing advanced radiation technology to treat certain cancers, has secured $30 million in funding from existing investors Aisling Capital, Fidelity Biosciences, Kearny Venture Partners and OrbiMed Advisors, along with new investor Cowealth Medical Holding Co. Hercules Technology Growth Capitalprovided additional debt financing. ViewRay has raised at least $120 million over the years, according to Crunchbase.

Wildcraft, a 19-year-old, Bangalore, India-based maker of outdoor gear, has raised Rs 70 crore from Sequoia Capital. The Times of India has much more.

WyzAnt, an eight-year-old, Chicago-based tutor-student marketplace, has raised $21.5 million in funding from Accel Partners. TechCrunchexplains the funding, which represents WyzAnt’s first institutional round.



TiVo co-founders Michael Ramsay and Jim Barton are reportedly on the verge of releasing a new TV companion device that will combine video discovery with smart TV (i.e. Internet) functionality — kind of like a next-generation TiVo. GigaOm has more here.



PeerCDN, a year-old, Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup that made Javascript code to “turbocharge” users’ Websites, has been acquired by Yahoo for undisclosed terms. Yahoo told TechCrunch of the acquisition: “Yahoo has acquired PeerCDN. The team has a solid background in domain expertise and a passion for video that makes them a perfect fit for Yahoo. Three engineers have joined our media organization in Sunnyvale.”

StackMob, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based mobile platform designed to help developers easily build mobile business with full-featured applications, has been acquired by PayPal for undisclosed terms. The company’s team will be joining PayPal. StackMob had raised $7.5 million from Trinity Ventures, Harrison Metal Capital, and Baseline Ventures.


Job Listings

The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan — Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan, with roughly $130 billion in net assets — is looking for a Toronto-based senior investment associate. The pension invests in funds, it co-invests, and it even leads investments; this associate would join its technology, media, and telecommunications team to make and manage direct investments in those verticals, as well as weigh in on co-investment opportunities.



So far this year, according to Dealogic, 166 companies have raised $64 billion through IPOs. That compares to roughly 120 last year, and the fewer than 80 IPOs each year in 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008. The volume of secondary offerings this year (in terms of number of deals and dollars raised), is also on track to break records. This piece nicely sums up what we’ve seen — and what we can expect to see over the next few months.


Essential Reads

Hope you haven’t gone shopping at the Apple store lately. Its new Mac Pro becomes available for sale tomorrow. The price: $2,999.

Should energy startups be funded as charities? Actor Will Smith thinks so, and he’s putting his money where his mouth is.



How to fire someone.

A billionaire’s Detroit buying spree starts to spread.

David Denby doesn’t mince words in his review of Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” calling it “relentless, deafening, deadening, and, finally, unilluminating.” (We’re still going.)


Retail Therapy

Explore the ocean floor in your very own, $360,000 submarine. Because you were smart enough to buy Facebook shares at their all-time low. (Right? No? Sorry. We screwed that one up, too.)


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