StrictlyVC: December 10, 2014

Hi, everyone, happy Wednesday! (Web visitors, this version of this morning’s email is easier to read.)


Top News in the A.M.

HBO sees some real drama, as the company decides to outsource its standalone streaming service, killing off a two-year-old project to build the technology in-house.

The popular file-sharing service Pirate Bay was taken down yesterday following a raid in Sweden by police who seized servers and computers. Wired has the latest here.


How Are You Really? TinyPulse Wants to Know

There it is, in your Twitter feed. Another acquaintance reporting “some personal news” that you learn in subsequent tweets is a new job.

It’s not just your friends who are bounding from role to role. According to the Labor Department, 5.1 million people began a new job in October, the highest hiring level recorded since 2007.

The shift is great for employees, for whom it’s become easier to escape lousy managers. It’s also giving rise to numerous new startups whose “pulse surveys” — – frequent, anonymous employee polls — are helping bosses understand who is happy, who isn’t, and what they can do about it.

Yesterday, we talked about the trend with David Niu, the founder of TinyPulse, a two-year-old, 20-person, Seattle-based startup that says 500 customers are using its app already, including Microsoft and GlaxoSmithKline. Our chat has been edited for length.

You’re a serial entrepreneur who sold your first company, NetConversions, to aQuantive in 2004. You also cofounded the mobile TV guide app BuddyTV, which remains privately held. Why start TinyPulse?

I was getting a little burned out at work a few years ago, and after getting married and having a baby daughter, I convinced my wife to sell most of what we own, put the rest in storage, and buy one-way tickets to New Zealand with our then two-month-old. I needed to recharge. I also wanted to better understand how founders burn out at their own companies. So after six months, I started interviewing entrepreneurs and CEOs — including outside of tech — to ask what their biggest pain point is. Almost everyone named [employee retention] and the fear that once one employee goes, there could be a stampede for the exits.

I thought: if we flip annual employee satisfaction surveys on their head — make them bite-size and easy for employees to fill out frequently, managers can make small, incremental changes that make a difference.

How often are these polls typically administered, and how much do your customers pay for them?

We charge $3 per employee per month. Most clients use them weekly or every other week, though employees can use a “cheers for peers” feature as often as they like. They can also submit virtual suggestions any time.

Are they prompting real change at organizations? What are some of the stories you’ve heard?

At one startup, the CEO received feedback that one microwave isn’t enough for 200 people. He was like, “I get it, people. Why did it take TinyPulse for you to tell me?” Meanwhile, another customer, Hubspot, had let go of a few people for performance and fit and people were getting antsy, which the [department head] was able to capture via TinyPulse. So he held an all-hands with the sales and marketing team. He told them, “We love you guys. Your job isn’t in danger. We aren’t in a risky financial situation. Let me explain what happened.”

It was a little pothole, but it could have become a crater. People bring fear and uncertainty home with them, and they look at other opportunities.

Can you predict if a stock will go up or down based on TinyPulse ratings?

It’s been proven that companies that are considered good places to work and that take care of their employees outperform their peers, especially in down years. In good and bad markets, smart companies realize that if their employees aren’t happy, they aren’t as engaged. A good culture is the ultimate competitive advantage.

There are a handful of other startups in your market, including 15Five, Niko Niko and BlackbookHR. Which is your strongest competitor?

It’s usually nothing — we’re competing with inertia — or Survey Monkey, which is free and easy to use but is a broad-based survey tool. We’re solely focused on helping customers create a happier, more engaged workforce.

You’ve bootstrapped the business so far. What’s on your road map, and will you look to raise money from investors?

We plan to launch other offerings. Fans of TinyPulse sometimes ask: Do you do onboarding, exit surveys, time clocks? We think that anything that makes employee engagement easier is possible. As for funding, there’s always a time and place for it, but right now, any minute I spend on fundraising is time not spent on the core business.

We are humbled that a lot of VCs contact us, often because they see our data in board decks [of their portfolio companies]. They’re like, “What’s TinyPulse?”


New Fundings

ArabiaWeather, a year-old, Doha, Qatar-based weather-forecasting startup, has raised $2 million led by Badia Impact Fund, a Jordan-based component of Silicon Badia, a global group of venture funds based in Jordan and New York.

Avi Networks, a 2.2-year-old, Sunnyvale, Ca.-based company whose cloud application delivery platform helps organizations ensure that the end-user experience for their application users is consistent, has raised $33 million in funding from Greylock Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Menlo Ventures. GigaOm has more on the company, which emerged from stealth mode today.

BuildDirect, a 15-year-old, Vancouver-based online shopping site for home building products, has raised $43.7 million in fresh funding from new and existing investors, including Mohr Davidow Ventures, OMERS Ventures, and BMO Asset Management Technologies. The Financial Post has more here.

Canvas Solutions, a six-year-old, Reston, Va.-based company whose cloud-based software service enables businesses to replace paper forms with apps on their smartphones and tablets, has raised $9 million in new funding led by Osage Venture Partners and River Cities Capital Funds, with participation from earlier backer Camber Creek. The company has now raised roughly $20 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.

Coupang, a three-year-old, Seoul-based online retailer, has raised $300 million in new funding led by BlackRock Private Equity Partners, with participation from Wellington Management Company, Greenoaks Capital Management, and Rose Park Advisors. TechCrunch has more here.

Didi Dache, a two-year-old, Beijing, China-based taxi-hailing app, has raised more than $700 million in its latest funding round led by the Singaporean state investment firm Temasek Holdings, DST Global, andTencent. Didi Dache — which has now raised $817 million altogether — says it offers services in more than 300 Chinese cities and has more than 100 million registered users. Its biggest China-based competitor is Alibaba-backed Kuaidi Dache. (In September, StrictlyVC talked with Kuaidi Dache cofounder Joe Lee about the scene there.)

DB Networks, a five-year-old, Carlsbad, Ca.-based cyber security company, has raised $17 million in new financing led by Grotech Ventures, with participation from Khosla Ventures and Citi Ventures.

eToro, a seven-year-old, Limassol, Cyprus-based social trading and investment platform that allows users to trade currencies, commodities, indices and stocks, has raised $27 million from the Chinese venture capital firm Ping An Ventures and SBT Venture Capital, a London-based firm that backs financial services startups.

HashiCorp, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based company that’s trying to revolutionize data center management, has raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Mayfield, with GGV Capital and True Ventures participating. TechCrunch has more here.

Metric Insights, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based business analytics company, has raised $2.1 million in seed funding led by First Round Capital, with individual investors, including Linden Lab founder Phillip Rosedale, participating. VentureBeat has more here.

Optoro, an 11-year-old, Lanham, Md.,-based company whose software enables big-box retailers like Best Buy to more easily re-sell inventory that has been returned by customers, has raised $50 million led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with participation from Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management Group and returning investors Revolution Growth, Grotech Ventures and SWaN & Legend Venture Partners. The company has now raised $72.9 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.

Qubole, a three-year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based cloud-based data platform storing and managing data, has raised $13 million led by Norwest Venture Partners. The company has now raised $20 million, including from CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and individual investors.

Quick Left, a six-year-old, Boulder-based software development company, has raised $500,000 in funding from Lighter Capital in Seattle.

Routehappy, a nearly four-year-old, New York-based company whose “flight experience search engine” tries pointing users toward airlines and routes that other travelers like, has raised $3.3 million led by iNovia Capital, with participation from PAR Capital Ventures, Buddy Media founder Mike Lazerow, and other individual investors. Earlier backersHigh Peaks Venture Partners, Contour Venture Partners, and Vocap Investment Partners also participated. The company has now raised $5.3 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.

SoundCloud, an eight-year-old, Berlin-based popular music and audio-sharing service, is raising up to $150 million in new funding at a valuation that is expected to top $1.2 billion, according to WSJ sources. Much more here.

Switch, a year-old, New York-based company behind a job-search app of the same name, has raised $1.4 million in seed funding led by Rhodium and Metamorphic Ventures. BAM Ventures, SG VC, and numerous angel investors also participated in the round.

ToyTalk, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based company that creates conversation-driven entertainment for families, including a talk-show app for children, has raised $15 million led by Khosla Ventures. CRV, First Round Capital, Greylock Partners and True Ventures also participated in the round. The company has raised more than $31 million altogether, it says.

Virtuix, a nearly two-year-old, Houston, Tx.-based company behind a virtual reality treadmill called the Omni, has raised $2.7 million in new funding led by Radical Investments, Scout Ventures, and Scentan Ventures. Western Technology Investment, Tekton Ventures, 2020 Ventures, and unnamed angel investors also participated in the round. The company has now raised $7 million to date.


New Funds

McKesson Corp., the nearly 200-year-old, New York company, has launched a new business unit called McKesson Ventures that will invest several hundred million dollars in early and growth-stage startups making new technologies for the health-care industry, the company says. Tom Rogers, who most recently led the venture investing efforts of Cambia Health, will lead the new effort.

Medina Capital, a two-year-old, Miami, Fl.-based growth-stage investor, says it has closed on a $182 million new fund that will back companies in cyber-security, big data, mobility and cloud computing. The Miami Herald has more here.

Versant Ventures, a 15-year-old, San Francisco-based healthcare investment firm, has raised $305 million for its fifth fund. Its investors include the Business Development Bank of Canada, Fonds de solidarité FTQ, Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund and Teralys CapitalMore here.



Associate Professor Ben Edelman of Harvard Business School was overcharged $4 on his Chinese food takeout order. What followed is as fascinating as it is troubling.

Paul Ehrlich, the former VP of clinical informatics at Becton, Dickinson, has joined Gotham Ventures as a venture advisor. Before joining Becton, Dickinson, Ehrlich was Chief Medical Officer at Cerner Corporation. He has also served as Chief Medical Information Officer at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and VP of clinical consulting at First Consulting Group.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spoke out yesterday against local investor Ron Conway, one of his strongest supporters. In a series of tweets, Conway had admonished California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, following her decision to publicly release a 525-page report on the CIA’s interrogation program. Soon after, Lee distanced himself from Conway on Twitter, calling torture “abhorrent” and “un-American,” and praising the senator for her “courage” and “leadership.” The San Francisco Chronicle captured the exchangehere.

David Sacks, who sold his last company, Yammer, to Microsoft for $1.2 billion, has joined Zenefits as its COO. Zenefits’s cloud-based software helps small businesses manage compliance and human resources-related tasks; it’s thought to be one of the fastest-growing companies in recent Silicon Valley history.


Essential Reads

You may remember that Tim Draper made off with just 2,000 of 50,000 bitcoin that went up for sale last week. Turns out SecondMarket nabbed the rest. Dealbook has the story here.

With public market investors souring on the prospect of newer games companies, Kabam, a San Francisco-based company, has decided to let investors and employees sell $40 million in shares to a group of investors in a secondary offering, the second such share sale in 16 months. (In October, we talked with one of those investor groups, Founders Circle Capital, about Kabam and the current secondaries scene.)



The “bilingual advantage” may not actually be a thing.

For the boyfriend who has nothing.

President Obama fills in for Stephen Colbert.


Retail Therapy

A 2014 holiday gift guide for kids.

The perfect fire lighter for the times.

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