StrictlyVC: September 1, 2016

Thursday! Happy birthday to one of our most beloved part-time employees.:)

Also, apologies to those of you who’ve been receiving StrictlyVC many hours after it’s been sent out to readers. We were in touch with our email service provider earlier, and the issue centers on some data center outages that are resolved or will be soon.


Top News in the A.M.

Oops? A major explosion during a SpaceX prelaunch test this morning destroyed Facebook’s first satellite. Understandably, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’s “deeply disappointed.”


At Pear Demo Day in Palo Alto, 13 Companies to Watch

As  dozens of Teslas baked in the sprawling Palo Alto parking lot of a local law firm yesterday, 100 top investors packed into a high-ceilinged meeting room. There, they listened as 13 startups deliver four-minute presentations about why they’re worth watching.

The companies — all of them roughly six months old or younger, and all led by current college students or recent graduates — were part of the Launchpad program of three-year-old Pear, an early-stage venture firm that annually invites computer science students from top schools to build companies in their office with a $50,000 uncapped note and no strings attached. (Until recently, the firm was known as Pejman Mar Ventures.)

So far, Pear seems to be choosing these student teams wisely. Out of the eight groups that presented a year ago, one startup sold to Google and four others have raised seed funding. Pear’s inaugural class, in 2014, also saw one startup, FancyThat, sell to Palantir.

Certainly, the venture capitalists gathered yesterday seemed enthusiastic. Ross Fubini, a partner at Canaan Partners, tweeted partway through the presentations that it was “looking like the best demo event of the year.” Another investor, Lux Capital partner Shahin Farshchi, told us afterward that he also thought it was “fantastic, with something for everybody, including consumer companies, analytics and AI companies, and deep tech for investors like me.”

For those who weren’t there and may be curious, here’s what you missed: This company makes AI-powered time sheets to enable companies to better understand how and where their teams are spending time. According to the founders (who come from Stanford and UC Santa Barbara), 45 million people fill out time sheets in the U.S., and they estimate that this adds up to $11 billion in lost time. (Think of lawyers whose time is valuable and may spend upwards of 15 minutes a day tracking their billable hours.) They argue that made more efficient, the market could be a whole lot bigger, too. If you agree and want to reach out to them, you can do that at

BlackSMS: Its tech allows users to send encrypted, password-protected, self-destructing iMessages that can even be disguised and masked inside of fake replacement texts. This struck us as useful for a variety of cases, and we hope we’re right about that. Its 20-year-old founder, Tyler Weitzman — who says he has built 30 apps since his middle school days — is now dropping out of Stanford to “go all in on BlackSMS.”

To learn more, you can check out a longer piece that TC wrote here earlier this year. To contact Weitzman, you can email him at

Capella Space: This data company says it can provide persistent and reliable information from space through a constellation of shoebox-size satellites that it’s building. How do they differ from the satellites of other startups? Its tech relies on synthetic aperture radar, meaning it sends radio waves down to the earth’s surface that — based on the reflection of the radio waves that go through the clouds and don’t require illumination from the sun — can capture images at night and despite heavy cloud cover. (Many other new constellations rely on optical technologies instead.)

Capella does have competitors, including Ursa Space Systems. Ursa currently sells information to customers based on traditional (read big, bulky) satellites that employ synthetic aperture radar, and it’s planning to develop its own constellation of satellites. But it’s pretty much an open race at this point. You can reach the founders at

More here.


New Fundings

DefinedCrowd, a year-old, Kirkland, Wa.-based data science company, has raised $1.1 million in seed funding from Sony Innovation Fund, Amazon Alexa Fund, and Portugal Ventures. More here.

DraftKings, the five-year-old, Boston-based fantasy sports site, has raised $153 million in fresh funding from new investors, including Revolution Growth. Fortune reports that backers funded the company at a steep discount to the roughly $2 billion post-money valuation it was assigned during its last funding round a year ago. More here.

Tank Utility, a two-year-old Boston-based startup whose software remotely monitors propane tank levels, has raised $2.2 million in seed funding co-led by Energy Foundry and Blue Fog Capital, with participation from Generac Power Systems, Bolt, and numerous angel investors. More here.

Zeta Interactive, a nine-year-old, New York-based marketing company cofounded by one-time Apple CEO John Sculley, has raised $45 million in debt funding from investors that include GSO Capital Partners (a unit of Blackstone Group) and PNC Bank. CNBC has more here.


New Funds

Drive Capital, a three-year-old, Columbus, Oh.-based early-stage fund that targets Midwestern companies and was founded by former Sequoia Capital partners Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen, has closed a second fund with $300 million. More here.



Infoblox, a publicly traded, Santa Clara, Ca.-based company that makes network control and security software, is looking to get itself sold, says Reuters. More here.



Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company may repatriate at least some of the billions of dollars of cash it holds offshore as early as next year. The WSJ has more here.

Both Tesla and SolarCity are facing financial crunches as Elon Musk seeks to combine the two companies. Musk and his cousins, SolarCity Chief Executive Lyndon Rive and its technology chief, Peter Rive, are buying more than 80 percent of a $124 million SolarCity bond to address the issue. The WSJ has the story here.


Essential Reads

Andreessen Horowitz’s returns currently trail more established, more traditional firms, including Benchmark and Sequoia Capital, says a report out of WSJ. Business Insider meanwhile notes it’s too early to gauge the success of any of these firms’ most recent funds.

Facebook can’t stop copying Snapchat.



Watch Nirvana play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at a tiny club in Connecticut in 1991, just two days after releasing “Nevermind.”

Why are so many BASE jumpers dying? [Scratches head.]

Three glasses of champagne a dayYass!


Retail Therapy

We’d perish on this thing for sure, but still we want one.

Filed Under:

Don’t Miss Out!

Sign up today to receive a free daily email with everything you need to start your day. Plus, keep track of the companies and personalities that will shape the industry in the months and years to come. Let StrictlyVC be your very own venture capital concierge.

StrictlyVC on Twitter