September 12, 2019

Thursday! We were watching the third primary debate earlier as we worked so if there are any (many?) glaring mistakes, it’s because we cannot multitask, try as we might. More tomorrow.:)

Top News

The Financial Times has some more interesting reporting on that WeWork IPO, writing today that WeWork investors and advisors are exploring ways to make its offering more appealing, including, potentially, curbing the voting power of cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann and possibly removing his wife and cofounder Rebekah from the succession process. (Currently, in what would be an extraordinary arrangement for a publicly traded company, she is empowered to help select Neumann’s successor if he dies unexpectedly.) The FT also says that Neumann continues to meet with WeWork’s biggest financial backer, SoftBank, which has pushed to delay the offering, but it adds that as of right now, its roadshow is still expected to launch this coming Monday.

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The Youngest New Partner at Felicis Ventures — Niki Pezeshki — on How He Wins Deals

Felicis Ventures has, in its roughly 13 years of existence, established a reputation in venture circles as a smart early-stage investment firm that’s willing to make bets almost anywhere in the world. Founded by ex-Googler Aydin Senkut, the San Francisco-based firm has also demonstrated a knack for attracting talented investors into the fold, including another former Google executive, Wesley Chan; Sundeep Peechu, who held various product roles at Intel before joining the firm in 2010; and Renata Quintini, an investor who Felicis eventually lost to Lux Capital (which more recently lost her to her own firm, Renegade Partners, which is reportedly raising a $300 million debut fund). 

We talked this morning with yet another member of Felicis, Niki Pezeshki,  who, following several promotions, has just became the newest partner in the firm’s history. For aspiring VCs out there, we wondered how Pezeshki landed the role — and how he’s managing to win deals. Following is part of that conversation, edited lightly for length. 

Everyone wants to work in VC. How did you land this gig? Out of undergrad [at the University of Southern California], I went to work for [private equity firm] Vista Equity Partners.They hire, like, four people out of undergrad every year at USC. I was in Austin [where the firm is based] for three years. It was amazing. I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time — Vista has blossomed into this incredible fund — but it grounded me in the fundamentals of business and what is a good software investment. I think it made me more numbers focused than a lot of other venture capitalists. I may get flamed for saying this, but I come to the world of venture with a much more numbers-driven and formulaic approach to understanding business that I think helps me pick good investments. 

How did you wind up in the Bay Area? My family is from L.A. so I came to California to work for Climate Corp. for a year; I worked in sales strategy and operations. I wanted a bit of operating experience. But I love investing so much; I wanted to go back to it. So I got a job with [PE firm] Summit Partners where you’re doing hardcore outbound sourcing and learning how to reach out to people and get conversations started and figuring out [who you should be learning more about] out of hundreds of founders. While there, Felicis randomly reached out to me through a friend of a friend, who said, ‘You should meet Sundeep,’ and they told Sundeep, ‘Sundeep, you should meet Niki,” and though I hadn’t thought about venture, a lot of what they were doing really resonated with me. In many ways, I’m doing what I was doing at Summit, but with a much wider aperture. 

You were just promoted to partner from principal, up from senior associate, where you started in 2016.  What does that mean on a practical level? A lot of the role won’t be much different than in the past year. I think from an external-facing perspective, it gives me more credibility with founders and investors. It’s one more thing that I can use to win great deals. 

What’s one competitive deal that you’ve won already? Modus in Seattle. It’s a [tech-driven] escrow startup that is to the title and brokerage industry what Compass is to real estate. I led the Series A deal for that company and I’m on the board and I got lot of credibility internally for that. I think they were thinking of promoting me next year or the year after, but they were like, ‘Dang, Niki just let a competitive Series A round. Let’s give him ammunition.’ [Laughs.] More here.

Massive Fundings

Affirm, a seven-year-old, San Francisco-based lending company founded by serial entrepreneur Max Levchin, is raising as much as $1.5 billion in a combination of debt and equity, according to TechCrunch. Thrive Capital is said to be leading the financing, with participation from the San Francisco outfit Spark CapitalMore here, a six-year-old, Israel-based startup focused around smartphone-based urinalysis (patients snap a picture that gets beamed to the cloud for diagnostic tests), has raised $60 million in Series C funding. Corner Ventures led the round, joined by Joy CapitalAnsonia Holdings, Aleph, and Samsung NEXT. VentureBeat has more here

Pomelo, a six-year-old, Bangkok, Thailand-based fashion e-commerce company, has raised $52 million in Series C funding from Central GroupProvident Growth Fund and InterVest Star SEA Growth Fund. Reuters has more here.

SmartDrive, a 15-year-old, San Diego, Ca.-based driver safety and transportation intelligence company that uses video and driver data to monitor behavior in commercial vehicles like trucks, buses and trains, has raised $90 million. TPG Sixth Street Partners led the round, joined by earlier backers Founders FundNewView CapitalOak Investment Partners, and Michelin. TechCrunch has more here.

Trifacta, a 7.5-year-old, San Francisco-based company that specializes in cleaning corporate data so it can be analyzed, has raised $100 million from Telstra VenturesEnergy Impact PartnersNTT DOCOMO VenturesBMW iVentures, and ABN AMRO. Fortune has more here

Big-But-Not-Crazy-Big Fundings

Akeneo, a six-year-old, Nantes, France-based company that helps merchants and brands deliver a customer experience across all sales channels, has raised $46 million in Series C funding. Summit Partners led the round,  joined by earlier investors AlvenPartechSalesforce Ventures, and Stephan Dietrich. TechCrunch has more here

Applied Intuition, a two-year-old, Sunnyvale, Ca.-based simulation platform for autonomous vehicle development, has raised $40 million in Series B funding led by General Catalyst. Other participants in the round include Kleiner PerkinsM12Sozo VenturesLa Famiglia, and earlier backers Andreessen HorowitzLux Capital, and FloodgateMore here

Dapper Labs, the 1.5-year-old, Vancouver, Canada-based company best-known for making the viral blockchain game CrypoKitties, has raised $11.2 million in fresh funding, including from Warner Music Group and earlier backers Andreessen HorowitzDigital Currency GroupUnion Square Ventures, and Venrock, among others. Forbes has more here

Incredible Health, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based job-matching platform for nursing vacancies, has raised $15 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from NFXObvious Ventures, and Precursor Ventures. TechCrunch has more here

Lacework, a four-year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based cloud security platform, has raised $42 million in funding, including from Sutter Hill Ventures and Liberty VenturesMore here

Replica, the Kansas City, Ks.-based data-gathering tool created within Sidewalk Labs that maps the movement of people in cities, is now a company, one that has raised $11 million in a Series A funding. Investors include Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, along with Firebrand Ventures and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. TechCrunch has more here

Simbe Robotics, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based maker of retail inventory robots, just raised $26 million in Series A funding led by Venrock, with participation from Future ShapeValo Ventures, and Activant Capital. TechCrunch has more here.

Swiftly, a five-year-old, Seattle, Wa.-based startup that wants to help grocery stores and other retailers up their technology offerings to keep up with Amazon and Walmart, has raised $15.6 million in seed funding from Novel Private EquityMendacre and Ron Burkle. GeekWire has more here

Volta Charging, a nine-year-old, San Francisco-based nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations, has added $20 million in funding to Series C round that had closed earlier, bringing its total capital raised to more than $100 million. Energize Ventures led the newest tranche. Others of its investors include Activate CapitalGE VenturesOrsted VentureNautilus Venture PartnersIdinvestVirgo Investment Group, and Autotech Ventures. VentureBeat has more here

Voyage, a two-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity and operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised $31 million in funding. Franklin Templeton led the round; it was joined by Khosla VenturesJaguar-Land Rover, and Chevron Technology Ventures. The company has now raised $52 million since launching. TechCrunch has more here.

Smaller Fundings

CMDTY, a three-month-old, New York-based physical commodities supply chain startup led by AppNexus founder and former CEO Brian O’Kelley, has raised $10 million in Series A funding from Venrock and Rucker Park. O’Kelley writes more about the company here

Flatfile, a year-old, Denver, Co.-based startup that says its API turns user data into product data, has raised $2 million in funding led by Afore Capital. VentureBeat has more here

GiGstreem, a three-year-old, Tysons Corner, Va.-based managed network services provider, has raised $10 million in Series B funding led by RET Ventures, with participation from LNC PartnersMore here

Magic Spoon, a six-month-old, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based direct-to-consumer cereal brand that’s sugary tasting but ostensibly health-focused, has raised $5.5 million in seed funding. Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round, joined by Collaborative FundWild VenturesDGNL Ventures, and numerous individual investors, including serial entrepreneur Kevin Rose. Food Dive has more here.

Patch Homes, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based startup that proposes to homeowners an equity-share model, just raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Union Square Ventures, with participation by from Tribe Capital and previous investors Techstars VenturesBreega Capital and entrepreneur Greg Schroy. TechCrunch has more here

Redefine Meat, a 1.5-year-old, Israel-based maker of 3D printers that produce a steak-like alternative out of plant-based food formulations, has raised $6 million in seed funding. CPT Capital led the round, joined by Hanaco Ventures and The PHW Group. The Spoon has more here

Truman’s, a six-month-old, Lexington, Ky.-based direct-to-consumer startup that makes concentrated hard-surface cleaning products, has raised a $5 million minority investment led by German consumer-products giant Henkel. AdAge has more here

vHive, a three-year-old, Herzliya, Israel-based software company that develops AI for multi-drone missions, has raised $5.5 million in funding led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from other investors, including StageOne VenturesMore here.


Biotech start-up 10x Genomics surged as much as 49 percent in its market debut today. The stock opened trading at $54 and rose as high as $58 per share midday before closing at $53. CNBC has more here

Meanwhile the controversial, venture-backed company SmileDirectClub plunged 28 percent on its first day of trading today, a slide with the dubious distinction of marking the year’s worst stock-market debut for a U.S. company valued at more than $1 billion, according to Dealogic data.


Spotify has acquired SoundBetter, a Brooklyn-based audio production and collaboration marketplace for artists, producers, and musicians to connect on specific projects and that had raised an undisclosed amount of funding form investors, including 500 StartupsFoundry Group, and entrepreneur Eric Ries. Financial terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed. TechCrunch offers more analysis here.


Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi, the young founders of the venture-backed credit card startup Brex (valued at $2.6 billion), have re-opened a 32-year-old cafe in San Francisco’s South Park two years after it closed. The upstairs floor, dubbed the “Oval Room,” is a members-only coworking space for Brex cardholders. The Twitterverse has thoughts. Business Insider has more here.  

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman apologized today for his involvement in bringing convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein into the orbit of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Mark Zuckerberg at a dinner in Palo Alto in 2015. In an email to Axios, Hoffman says he invited Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, and Epstein to the dinner at the request of Joi Ito, for the purposes of fundraising for the MIT Media Lab. Wrote Hoffman: “The abuse described by Jeffery Epstein’s survivors is abhorrent, horrific, and disgusting. I am hopeful survivors can attain justice and support, and the communities damaged by these events can begin healing.” 

French economist Thomas Piketty is back with a 1,200-page guide to abolishing billionaires, though English speakers have to wait until next year for a translation. 

Amy Saper, a former marketing employee of both Stripe and Twitter before that, has joined the venture firm Accel as a principal focused on early-stage, consumer-facing investments. Business Insider has more here

David Stewart, a former COO of the car-share marketplace Turo, has joined LiveOak Venture Partners as a venture partner. More here.

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Essential Reads

Mithril Capital, the venture capital firm co-founded by Peter Thiel and operated day-to-day by his longtime colleague and Mithril cofounder Ajay Royan, is fielding questions from the FBI following a complaint by a former employee, according to Vox. The FBI is specifically looking into possible financial misconduct. A Mithril Capital spokesman tells Vox there are no allegations of wrongdoing but that rather “this is a foiled plot by a self-serving ex-employee. There are no allegations from any government agency, or any [investor.] Nevertheless, our attorneys are in contact with government authorities in order to protect [investors], employees, and portfolio companies against any extortionate behavior.”  

Amazon will now allow basically anyone to answer your Alexa questions, adding that it has measures in place to prevent misuse. 

Toyota is trying to build an electric car that’s entirely independent of charging facilities, though the technology likely wouldn’t see wide use for decades, according to an automotive analyst who walked with Bloomberg. Watch out, Robinhood? 

Square is reportedly testing out a new feature that would enable users to make free stock trades.


Why American homes are so big

What college admissions offices really want

High school experiences, retold as podcast ads.

Retail Therapy

The Filson quilted utility jacket. (It is September.)

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