StrictlyVC: February 13, 2017

Hi, everyone, welcome back from weekend. (Ours went too fast; we’re still zonked!)

Top News in the A.M.

Apple shares have been trading above their record closing high today, as investors bet that the 10th-anniversary iPhone expected later this year will renew the company’s momentum. The WSJ has more here.

Bradley Tusk on His Fast Rise in Silicon Valley

Bradley Tusk has long been known in political circles. He was once deputy governor of Illinois, working for the now-incarcerated former governor Rod Blagojevich. He also worked for Michael Bloomberg during one of his tenures as mayor of New York City and in 2009 ran Bloomberg’s successful, third re-election campaign.

In fact, thanks to a generous bonus check from Bloomberg, Tusk was able to launch a consultancy in 2010 that helps Fortune 500 companies launch political-style campaigns to achieve a particular end. A year later, in another stroke of luck, Tusk became the first outside consultant to Uber and accepted his pay in equity. Since then, through a separate outfit that only accepts its payment in equity,  Tusk has become a go-to source both Silicon Valley VCs and startup founders needing help in persuading regulators to let them have their way. (Among its other 23 clients: Eaze, AltSchool, Lemonade, and Handy.)

At a StrictlyVC event last week, Tusk talked about his work in Silicon Valley, whether he is interested (as sometimes rumored) in running for office himself, and what certain startups can expect from the Trump administration. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity; you can watch the broader interview if you click on the link below.

Why go into business for yourself after the Bloomberg campaign?

I knew that the skill set that I had was really devising and running campaigns, and because my work had taken me all over the country, I knew I could do it in lots of places. And those two things were a little different from what anyone else in that market was doing.

And Mike is a generous man, and he gave me a bonus at the end of the campaign, and I took a look at the amount left after taxes – it was all the money I had — and I looked at my wife and was like, “When this gets down to $50,000, I’ve got to go get a job.” And luckily it didn’t come to [that].

What did you learn from Bloomberg that you’re replicating?

The [most important] thing for Mike is his culture. So our business in some ways is a microcosm of Bloomberg, where we’re all in a bullpen and [operate in a] very flat hierarchy with total transparency and we try to treat people really well and pay them really well, and we assume that we’re going to get great talent and it’s going to pay off. If you look at almost all of his businesses, and as mayor, his real skill set is that he attracts [talented people], he knows how to recruit them, how to support them, and how to give them the confidence they need to take risks.

There are other political strategy firms working with tech companies, but Tusk Ventures is the only one that everyone knows of because you’re so high profile. Why not operate behind the scenes? 

[T]he deal flow is the lifeblood of any VC, and that’s true for us, too. And in some ways, because I didn’t come up through this world at all, there had to be a way to say “Hey, here’s who we are, here’s what we do. If you have a really interesting company with a really big problem, we’re willing to take it on and we’re willing to do it for equity and be part of your team.” But it took being out there enough for people to realize it.

Are other political strategists starting to emulate your approach?

I hope not. It’s a challenge in a sense that first, we’re able to do all of it for equity — though I pay my people in real dollars — so there’s a lot of financial risk that you have to be willing to take and I’m able to do that. Also, typically, if you’re someone like me and you’re five years into your political consulting firm, you sell it to one of these big holding companies like WPP or Omnicom. And they’d never let you do something like this. So I’d like to think there are some barriers to entry to replicating our model, but I’m sure someone else can come in and do it, too.

Are you interested in running for public office?

No, I mean, the only job to me that’s worth having is being mayor of New York City. It’s a great job. I did launch a super-PAC about a year ago to get rid of our current mayor, Bill de Blasio, just because I think we deserve better than a mayor who’s under seven separate federal corruption investigations and who comes to work at 11 a.m and doesn’t work on Fridays and doesn’t care about substance. But that’s different than saying I want the job. Also, I’m an independent – another thing I got from Mike Bloomberg. And kind of like in San Francisco, in New York City, if you aren’t a Democrat, it’s exceptionally hard to win.

Who would you get behind right now for president in 2020, including from the tech world?

More here.

New Fundings

Bloom & Wild, a 3.5-year-old, London-based online floral company, has raised £3.75 million ($4.7 million) in funding led by Burda Principal Investments, with participation from previous investors MMC Ventures and angel investors. More here.

Bolstra, a 2.5-year-old, Carmel, In.-based customer success management platform, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding co-led by Allos Ventures and 4G Ventures, with participation from Collina Ventures, Elevate Ventures and private investors. More here., a 1.5-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based physician ratings site, has raised roughly $2 million in funding, including $1 million in venture debt and another $1 million line of credit from Link Ventures. MedCity News has more here.

CrediFi, a 2.5-year-old, New York City- and Tel Aviv, Israel-based data and analytics platform for commercial real estate finance, has raised $13 million in Series B funding led by Liberty Interactive’s Liberty Israel Venture Fund, with participation from 31 Ventures Global Innovation Fund and earlier backers Battery Ventures, Carmel Ventures, OurCrowd and Stax. GeekTime has more here.

Electric Cloud, a 14-year-old, San Jose, Ca.-based company that helps organizations deliver software faster by automating and accelerating build, deployment and release processes, has raised $11 million in funding. Wellington Financial provided a $6 million loan, and Bridge Bank provided the company with a $5 million line of credit. More here., a year-old, Tel Aviv, Israel-based chatbot platform that allows brands to talk and sell directly to customers over chat, has raised $1.5 million in funding from Glilot Capital Partners. More here.

Frontclear, a two-year-old, Amsterdam, the Netherlands-based financial markets development company, has raised $30 million in funding from the Dutch bilateral development bank FMO. More here.

Nura, a 1.5-year-old, Melbourne, Australia-based maker of custom headphones that has previously raised $1.8 million on Kickstarter, just secured $4.6 million in funding led by Sydneysiders and Blackbird Ventures, with participation from individual investors. TechCrunch has more here.

SigTuple Technologies, a 1.5-year-old, Bengaluru, India-based health tech startup that’s creating a data-driven cloud-based platform to detect anomalies and trends in medical data (thus hopefully increasing the accuracy and efficiency of disease diagnosis), has raised $5.8 million in Series A funding led by earlier backer Accel Partners. Other participants in the round include IDG Ventures, Endiya Partners, Pi Ventures, VH Capital, and Axilor Ventures, as well as earlier investors Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal of Flipkart and others. LiveMint has more here.

Simba Sleep, a 1.5-year-old, London-based company whose next-gen mattress features four layers of cooling foams and 2,500 conical pocket springs, has raised £9 million ($11.3 million) from a long line of investors, including Henderson Global Investors, Numis Securities, and angel investors. The company has now raised £17.5 million ($21.9 million) altogether. FinSMEs has more here.

SpringCM, a 12-year-old, Chicago-based maker of document and sales contract management software for Salesforce customers, has raised $25 million in funding, including from Foundation Capital and Crestline Investors, a credit and structured capital focused institutional investment firm. As part of the funding, the company also has a new CEO: former Salesforce VP Dan Dal Degan. Built in Chicago has more here.

Trizic, a 4.5-year-old, San Rafael, Ca.-based technology platform that helps wealth managers connect with their clients digitally, has raised $3.3 million in funding led by Freestyle Capital, with participation from Broadhaven Capital Partners and Commerce Ventures. More here.

Voonik, a four-year-old, Mumbai, India-based online shopping app for women, has reportedly raised $6 million from Singapore-based RB Investments and earlier backers Sequoia Capital. LiveMint has more here.

Yunniao Delivery, a 2.5-year-old, Beijing-based business-to-business courier service platform, has raised $100 million in Series D funding led by the private equity firm Warburg Pincus. Warburg had also led a $100 million Series C round in the company in January of last year. DealStreetAsia has more here.

New Funds

Banking group BNP Paribas and global innovation platform Plug and Play have launched a three-month-long fintech and insurtech acceleration program in Paris. Startups can apply to join the acceleration program here.

Firstime Venture, a 2.5-year-old, Tel Aviv, Israel-based venture capital firm, has held a $40 million close on its second fund. The outfit is targeting $60 million. More here.

Grand Ventures, a new, Grand Rapids, Mi.-based venture firm, is targeting $50 million to invest in very early-stage companies in Michigan and the Midwest. The SEC filing is here. Crain’s Detroit Business has more here.

Nomo Ventures, a San Francisco, Ca.-based early stage venture capital firm, is looking to raise $25 million for its debut fund, shows an SEC filing. Rahul Prakash, who founded the firm, sold his company, My Energy, to Nest Labs prior to Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of the company. More here.

Suir Valley Venture Fund, a new London-based early-stage venture firm, is looking to raise €20 million ($21.2 million) for its debut fund. Suir Valley was founded by Barry Downes, who previously founded the company FeedHenry, acquired by Red Hat in 2014 for $82 million in cash. Silicon Republic has more here.


Just how open is the IPO window for biotechs in 2017? After a solid start this year for life sciences offerings, two companies haven’t been able to get to market — the latest being Cambridge, Ma-based Visterra. Xconomy has more here.


Uber’s Southeast Asia rival Grab is in the process of buying up Indonesia-based online payment startup Kudo in its first major acquisition. A source close to discussions tells TechCrunch that talks are ongoing and a deal could be announced as soon this week for less than $100 million. More here.

Nokia is acquiring Comptel, a publicly traded, 31-year-old, Helsinki, Finland-based provider of a platform to deliver digital and communications services. The purchase price: €347 million ($367.7 million). TechCrunch has more here.


Chris Ciabarra  a Revel Systems cofounder who quietly left the payments company last week when Welsh Carson took a majority stake in the business and appointed a new CEO — has a new software company. You can learn more about Authenticated Reality here.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is calling for governments to launch a public information campaign to fight the scourge of fake news, which is “killing people’s minds,” he tells the Telegraph. More here.

Starr VC Jim Goetz, who recently relinquished his management responsibilities at Sequoia Capital, said at the time that he was going to “decamp” Sequoia’s Menlo Park office for a few months. Now, it looks like he may be spending that time in South Florida. At least, Goetz just paid $20.33 million for a waterfront Miami Beach mansion that is 10,740-square feet and was built on spec in 2015 for Ahmad Lee Khamsi, a South American cable TV executive. The Real Deal has more here. You can take a virtual tour of the home here.

Tech investor Draper Esprit has brought aboard as an investor Nicola McClafferty, formerly the cofounder and CEO of Covetique, an online fashion retailer. Covetique was founded in 2011 and raised funding in part from Asos, the UK’s largest online fashion retailer, which later acquired the company. McClafferty has also worked as an associate with Balderton Capital in the past. The Irish Times has more here.

In the face of criticism regarding IBM’s decision to work with President Trump’s administration, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has written an email to employees, saying she believes the best course of action is to continue to engage with Trump and company. She adds that she has already used that access to raise concerns about his executive order on immigration. More here.


Cleveland Clinic Ventures is looking to hire an associate. The job is in Cleveland, Oh.

Essential Reads

One reason veteran staffers quit Google’s car project? The company paid them too much.


The people who never forget.

Great news: butter is good for you. [Backward roll, handstand.]

Retail Therapy

Custom jackets for tough pooches.

Luxury homes, minus the giant bedrooms.

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