StrictlyVC: September 23, 2014

Good morning, everyone! (Psst, here‘s an easier-to-read version of today’s issue.)


Top News in the A.M.

Apple has announced that iOS 8 adoption has already reached 46 percent.

Google has to improve its proposal to settle European Union concerns over its search practices or face formal antitrust charges, the EU’s competition chief said earlier today.


Venture Debt Giant WTI on Good Times — and Dangers Ahead

The 34-year-old venture debt firm Western Technology Investment (WTI) has seen a few cycles, and its CEO, Maurice Werdegar, thinks investor Bill Gurley had a point when he talked publicly last week about the excessive risk that startups are taking on.

He doesn’t think Gurley scared anyone straight, though. “I think the [dot com bubble of the late ‘90s] is a distant memory to many participants in the ecosystem, so we’re not seeing anyone panic or ring the alarm bell,” says Werdegar. “We’re seeing burn rates increase across the board, and that’s emblematic of companies that think they’re supposed to accelerate into their opportunity without thinking about whether they can raise the next round.”

It can mean brisk business for venture debt companies like WTI, which is currently joining about 100 financing deals a year, but it’s also dangerous, notes Werdegar. We talked about the environment, and WTI’s role in it, yesterday morning. Our chat has been edited for length.

For readers who don’t completely understand venture debt, can you explain why a startup would turn to you?

There are a number of cases, including to finance equipment, like when it comes to Bitcoin mining. Venture debt is also used as money in between plans. When a startup is behind on its plan, venture debt can give it time to achieve the milestones it needs to obtain. It can also be used to provide more runway to a company that may be hiring and spending ahead of its original plans because it sees a product-market fit and doesn’t necessarily want to be forced into raising another [VC] round prematurely.

Another case is to get to profitability. Sometime companies close enough to achieving breakeven raise debt rather than raise capital again, which can change acquisition discussions. Some startups also turn to venture debt to take out a competitor. Maybe they didn’t contemplate an acquisition when they raised their last round; venture debt [enables them to acquire that competitor anyway].

What types of deals are you doing and what’s your minimum threshold?

Ninety percent are tech deals right now. Another 10 percent are life sciences. We’ve done deals right out of Y Combinator on the low end; many of the deals we’re doing are with seed syndicates. We’ve also done deals north of $30 million, with several greater than $10 million in size this year, including [the new e-commerce company by Quidsi cofounder Marc Lore].

The seed stuff is interesting. You were actually involved with Facebook, as reported in David Kirkpatrick’s book, The Facebook Effect.

We were the first venture debt for both Google and Facebook. We supplied debt along with Google’s Series A. With Facebook, we supplied two consecutive venture debt rounds of $300,000; they were buying servers because the cloud didn’t exist yet. We were also a seed equity investor in Facebook, writing a $25,000 check alongside Peter Thiel’s $500,000 check and the $37,000 checks of [entrepreneurs] Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus, and we did a $3 million venture debt deal when Accel [led Facebook’s] $12 million Series A round [to cover the cost of computers and other hard assets]. The debt, in addition to the equity the company raised early on, helped position it for that next round. They don’t all go that way, though. [Laughs.]

What kinds of convenants do you ask for?

We have none . . . so we’re taking true risk. Our industry is known for taking money back when it gets nervous. Our firm actually loses money. It’s easy to lend money to a famous company, but much harder to work through unforeseen difficulties to keep a company alive and we’ll work through that adversity.

What kind of return are you looking for when you get involved with a company?

We have to deliver reasonably consistent, positive returns, but I’d rather not quote a number. There are often competitors that offer money less expensively, but it will come with covenants. Ours is more expensive but more usable. It’s a bit of you-get-what-you-pay-for in this industry.

There are obvious upsides to venture debt, including that it reduces dilution to the founder. What are the biggest downsides?

If it’s overused or abused, it can kill you. In any application of debt, there’s an amount that’s too much and it can get in the way. Say you’re a Y Combinator company and you raise $10 million in debt; the next round of investors won’t be interested in coming in with that kind of debt load. No one wants to finance a company that’s overburdened with debt.

If debt can be called back, it can cause unforeseen calamity, too. If your bank account has been swept, legally, that’s scary for companies.

You haven’t seen any reaction outside of the media to Bill Gurley’s proclamations last week. Does that worry you?

We ourselves feel as if things can’t get a whole lot better than the current environment. A lot depends on Facebook and Google. If they trade down 20 percent, you can be sure the venture market will take a pause. It’s imperative that they keep feeding the pump from the M&A side.

Any thoughts on valuations?

Most valuations that you’re seeing are by no means the value of company if it were to try to sell itself today. It’s the Black-Scholes model – [pricing options] based on what a company might become worth, which could be very different than what it’s worth [currently]. That, I think, is dangerous.


New Fundings

Agari, a five-year-old, San Mateo, Ca.-based company that develops data-driven security software to detect and prevent email cyberattacks, has raised $15 million in Series C funding led by Scale Venture Partners, with earlier investors Alloy Ventures, Battery Ventures, First Round Capital and others participating in the round. The company has now raised $22.7 million altogether.

AppNexus, the seven-year-old, New York-based ad tech firm, has raised $25 million in funding from the communications services firm WPP. If you’re thinking it’s a strange deal for a company that has now raised at least $225 billion and is reportedly valued at $1.2 billion, you aren’t alone. Business Insider gets to the bottom of things here.

Authorea, a two-year-old, New York-city based startup whose software tools are designed to help scientific researchers write and manage scholarly documents, has raised $610,000 in seed funding led by ff Venture Capital and NY Angels. Earlier, the company received a $33,000 grant from a Digital Science Catalyst competition. TechCrunch has morehere.

Branch Metrics, a 1.5-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based mobile software company focused on deep linking technology, has raised $3 million in seed financing led by New Enterprise Associates, with participation from Pejman Mar Ventures, Ben Narasin and TriplePoint Capital.

Circle Pharma, a year-old, San Francisco-based early-stage biotechnology company, has an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Pfizer and QB3’s seed-stage venture fund, Mission Bay Capital. BioPortfolio has more here.

Duo Security, a 4.5-year-old, Ann Arbor, Mi.-based company that provides two-factor authentication services to organizations, has raised $12 million in Series B led by Benchmark. Google Ventures, Radar Partners and True Ventures also joined the round, which brings the company’s total funding to $20 million, shows Crunchbase.

Gametime, a 1.5-year-old, San Francisco-based mobile-first ticketing platform for last minute sports tickets, has raised $4 million in Series A funding led by Accel Partners. Other participants in the round include Jeff Mallett, the founding president and former COO of Yahoo (and now a principal partner of the San Francisco Giants), Tibco founder Vivek Ranadive (now owner of the Sacramento Kings); HotelTonight cofounders Sam Shank and Jared Simon; Box cofounder Aaron Levie; and Colin Evans, a founding executive at StubHub. The company has now raised $5 million to date.

IronSource, a five-year-old, Tel Aviv-based ad tech company, has raised $85 million from a syndicate of U.S. and China-based investors that the company describes as among the largest strategic partners in mainland China. TechCrunch has more here.

Jiff, a 3.5-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based company whose digital health platform helps employers design and implement programs that motivate their employees to adopt healthy behaviors, has raised $18.3 million in Series B funding led Venrock, with earlier investors Aberdare Ventures and Aeris Capital participating. The company has now raised $26.8 million to date, shows Crunchbase.

Kinvey, a four-year-old, Boston-based backend-as-a-service platform that makes it easier for developers and enterprises to set up and operate a cloud backend for their mobile, tablet and web apps, has raised $10.8 million in Series B funding from new investors NTT DOCOMO Ventures and Verizon Ventures, along with earlier investors Avalon Ventures and Atlas Venture. The company has now raised $17.8 million to date.

Le Vision Pictures, a three-year-old, Beijing-based film production and distribution company, has raised $55.4 million in Series B funding fromCHT Capital and other unnamed investors, reports China Money Network. The company had previously raised $32.7 million in Series A funding by Shenzhen Capital Group, says the report.

NexSteppe, a four-year-old, South San Francisco, Ca.-based company that develops seeds for the production of sugars and biomass, has raised $22 million in Series C financing from new investors Total Energy Ventures and ELFH Holding GmbH and earlier backers Braemar Energy Ventures and DuPont Ventures. The company has now raised $36 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.

Ometria, the 1.5-year-old, London-based e-commerce intelligence startup that analyzes customer histories to provide personalized shopping experiences, has raised $500,000 in seed funding from 17 investors, adding to a $1.5 million seed round that the company raised in March from 16 investors. TechCrunch has more here.

Performance Horizon Group, a four-year-old, South Shields, U.K.-based online marketing technology company that sells a suite of performance marketing products and services, has raised $10 million in Series B funding led by Mithril Capital Management. Earlier investors DN Capital and Greycroft Partners also participated in the round, which brings the company’s funding to at least $13.1 million, shows Crunchbase.

Radius Intelligence, a five year-old, San Francisco-based marketing automation software company, has raised $54.7 million in fresh funding from Founders Fund, Glynn Capital Management, Slow Ventures,Western Technology Investment, Yuan Capital, Morgan Stanley Chairman John Mack, former Microsoft executive Charles Songhurst, entertainer Jared Leto and earlier investors BlueRun Ventures and Formation 8. The company has now raised $78.9 million altogether, shows Crunchbase. Venture Capital Dispatch has more here.

SeqLL, a 1.5-year-old Woburn, Ma.-based developer of single molecule sequencing technology, has raised $1 million in Series A funding led by Genomic Diagnostic Technologies.

Silvercar, a nearly two-year-old, Austin, Tx.-based high-touch car-rental service that exclusively owns Audi A4s that rent for roughly $90 per weekday, has raised $14 million in new funding led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Velos Partners. Austin Ventures and CrunchFund also participated in the round, which brings the company’s total funding to $31.5 million. Venture Capital Dispatch has a nice overview of Silvercar and its new round here.

Teladoc, a 12-year-old, Dallas-based telemedicine company, has raised $50 million in Series F funding, according to an SEC filing first flagged by VentureWire. This brings the company’s total funding to just more than $100 million, the company tells the outlet. Its investors include New Capital Partners, Trident Capital, HLM Venture Partners, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Tiggly, a two-year-old, New York-based company whose physical toys interact with learning apps on iPads and other tablets, has raised an undisclosed amount of Series A funding led by Habermaass GmbH, a Germany-based early play and learning company and owners of the toy brand HABA, which is now entering the U.S. edtech market. The funding reportedly brings Tiggly’s funding to $5 million. TechCrunch has more here.

Tracon Pharmaceuticals, a nine-year-old, San Diego-based biopharmaceutical company whose product aims to complement existing cancer treatment drugs and vision disorders by inhibiting the creation of new blood vessels, has raised $27 million in Series B funding from New Enterprise Associates, BioMed Ventures and an unnamed institutional investor, with participation from new investors Nextech Invest and Brookline Investments and earlier investors Jafco and Arcus Ventures. The company has raised $42.5 million to date, shows Crunchbase.

Traxpay, a two-year-old, Frankfurt, Germany-based business-to-business payment platform company, has raised $15 million in new funding led by Commerzbank’s main incubator and Software AG, with participation from earlier investors Earlybird Venture Capital and Michael Phillips of Castik Capital. The company has now raised $19 million to date.

Verse Innovation, a seven-year-old, Bangalore-based owner of local-language mobile platform NewsHunt, has raised more than Rs 100 crore in its second round of funding led by Sequoia Capital India, which was joined by Matrix Partners India and Omidyar Network. The Economic Times has more here.


New Funds

Mosaic Ventures, a new early-stage venture firm based in London, has officially launched a $140 million debut fund to invest in European startups, says the firm, whose founders are Mike Chalfen, formerly of Apax Partners and Advent Venture Partners; Simon Levene, who spent four years as a VP of corporate development at Yahoo, as well as worked as a VC with Accel London and Index Ventures; and Toby Coppel, long an EVP at Yahoo who later spent 4.5 years as a partner at Virgin Green Fund in London. They share what they’re aiming to do here.

Takwin Labs, a new, Haifa, Israel-based incubator for the Arab Israeli community, has raised $4.5 million in Series A funding to focus on mobile and internet technology startups, with the hope that it will be able to help Arab Israeli entrepreneurship grow. According to Haaretz, the outfit was founded by Erel Margalit, the founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners; Chemi Peres, founder and managing partner at Pitango Venture Capital; Al Bawader, an Israeli Arab venture capital firm; and Imad Telhami, founder of Babcom Centers, which supplies call center and software development services to Israeli companies. The incubator reportedly plans to raise a total of $20 million and to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in four to six startup companies.



Following Alibaba‘s debut, this week could prove to be a “litmus test for the IPO market,” with 14 deals expected to raise $7 billion, says Renaissance Capital. More here.



Apcera, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based startup behind an enterprise application platform, has sold a majority stake in its business to Ericsson in an all-cash deal whose price was not disclosed. Apcera will retain its name and operate as a standalone company, with CEO Derek Collision remaining in place. Apcera had previously raised $7.2 million from investors, including Data Collective, True Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz, and Rakuten. Data Center Knowledge has the story.

Aviary, a seven-year-old, New York-based photo editing platform, has been acquired by Adobe for undisclosed financial terms. Aviary had raised a total of $19 million in funding, including a recent $2 million debt round. The company’s investors include Spark Capital, Bezos ExpeditionsVision Ventures, Reid Hoffman, Joi Ito, Thomas Lehrman, and Payman Pouladdej. TechCrunch has more here.

Bookpad, a year-old, Bangalore, India-based digital content startup whose flagship product enables cloud-based document embedding, annotations and editing features on enterprise applications, has been acquired by Yahoo for undisclosed terms that sources of the Economic Times peg at $8.3 million. More here.

Engodo, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based social advertising startup, has been acquired in a cash-and-stock deal by the video monetization platform ZEFR, a five-year-old, Venice, Ca.-based company. Engodo doesn’t appear to have raised outside funding. ZEFR has raised $60 million from investors, including from SoftTech VC, MK Capital, Shasta Ventures, U.S. Venture Partners, and First Round Capital. TechCrunch has more here.

Fullscreen, a 3.5-year-old, Culver City, Ca.-based company that has grown into one of the biggest YouTube networks, has sold a controlling stake in its business to Otter Media, the Web video joint venture between AT&T and the Chernin Group. Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos will remain in charge of the company, in which he continues to hold a stake. The deal is likely to value Fullscreen, which says it has four billion monthly video views, between $200 million and $300 million, reports Recode. Fullscreen had previously raised $30 million from investors, including the Cherin Group, Comcast Ventures, WPP Digital and SV Angel.

Mopp, a 1.5-year-old, U.K.-based cleaning service, has been acquired by the New York-based on-demand home cleaning and repair service Handy. No financial terms were disclosed. Mopp never disclosed outside funding. Handy has raised at least $45.7 million from General Catalyst PartnersDavid Tisch, Highland Capital Partners, BoxGroup and Revolution Growth, shows Crunchbase.

Hitch, a young, San Francisco-based ride-sharing service based in San Francisco, has been acquired by its bigger, seven-year-old rival Lyft for undisclosed terms. Hitch had raised at least $150,000 from Kima Ventures, Winklevoss Capital, and Scott Banister. Bloomberg has more here.



What has Ray Ozzie been focusing on since leaving his position as Microsoft’s chief software architect? Here’s the answer.

And it begins in earnest. “Signaling that he may be edging closer to a 2016 White House run, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said Saturday he plans to open an office in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the nation’s strongest Democratic bastions – and a convenient link to Silicon Valley,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Neighbors are fed up over the large and loud construction zone outside the San Francisco home of Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, where 40 to 50 contraction workers have at work daily on a complete remodel since April of last year. The San Francisco Chronicle has the story here.


Job Listings

Little John Ventures, a small, Baltimore-based venture capital fund investing in early-stage media and entertainment tech startups, is looking to hire a research analyst.

The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York is looking for an investment associate to help manage its $4 billion in assets.



The old and the new: a look at global install bases, c/o Benedict Evans.

Princeton University’s endowment is “probably the largest investor” in New York-based Thrive Capital, its president, Andrew Golden, tells the Daily Princetonian.


Essential Reads

The Ivanpah solar power plant in the Mojave Desert, which took four years and thousands of workers to complete and officially opened in February, may already be in deep trouble. As VentureWire notes, the “world’s largest solar thermal electricity project is applying for a federal grant–to pay off its federal loan,” of hundreds of millions of dollars. Even as the plant opened — backed by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google — it faced doubts about its future, the New York Times had reported earlier. “Companies that are supplying these systems have questionable futures,” an analyst had told the outlet back in February. “There’s other prospects for renewables and for solar that look a lot better than this particular solution.”



Look who was in line for new iPhones last weekend.

Six billionaires and their effing sons.

John Oliver’s very smart take on the spectacle that is “Miss America“: “They asked one of the contestants to solve ISIS. And she only had 20 seconds to do it!”


Retail Therapy

little peace offering for Mark Zuckerberg’s furious neighbors, perhaps?

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