• Pay to Play: How Investors Get Burned in a Downturn

    burnt toastEarlier this year, the law firm Fenwick & West published a report analyzing the financing terms of 37 U.S.-based venture-backed companies that raised money at valuations of $1 billion or more in the 12-month period ending March 31.

    The report’s headline-grabbing conclusion was that in all cases, the investors had received significant downside protection in case the companies’ value declines. (Called a liquidation preference, the companies’ later-stage investors basically received the right to get paid ahead of other investors, as well as the companies’ management teams and employees.)

    The findings were a revelation, but they didn’t provide a complete picture of what could happen in a downturn. In fact, there’s a giant hitch the report did not touch on, and that’s pay-to-play provisions, which became routine during the dot com bust of 15 years ago and could well become commonplace again if things head south.

    “VCs, especially people who’ve been in the business a long time, understand them,” says attorney Barry Kramer, who authored the Fenwick & West report and more recently wrote on Medium about pay-to-play provisions. “It’s part of their calculation. I’m not sure that a good chunk of newer investors, whether non-traditional or because they’re just younger or whatever, have this scenario in mind.”

    They should.

    More here.

  • Swedish Payments Unicorn Klarna Hits the U.S. to Take On Its American Rivals

    klarna-sebastian-ceoIf you live in the U.S., you might not be terribly familiar with Klarna, a 10-year-old Stockholm-based company that provides payment services for online storefronts in a somewhat unique way — by “separating the buying from the selling,” as company cofounder and CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski explains it.

    Put simply, you visit a site powered by Klarna, input only your email and zip code, and presto, your item is purchased. You then have 30 days to pay back Klarna, using whatever payment method you like. The big idea is to increase conversion rates, and whether or not they realize it, 35 million consumers have now used Klarna across the sites of 50,000 merchants, who understandably love the service. (The fewer keystrokes required, the higher the chance a purchase will be made, especially with a smartphone.)

    Of course, what’s happening behind the scenes is a sophisticated fraud management operation, one that counts Sequoia’s Michael Moritz as a board member and which was most recently valued at $2.25 billion. Klarna plans to compete more aggressively in the U.S., too. Over the past year, it has set up offices in New York and Columbus, Ohio. Now it’s searching for space in San Francisco, where it eventually expects to employ up to 30 people to help it strike relationships with companies big and small.

    Over coffee earlier this week, we talked with Siemiatkowski about Klarna’s roadmap and what he thinks of one competitor in particular: four-year-old Stripe, whose valuation is twice that of Klarna and which now has its sights on the Nordic countries where Klarna has become king. (Stripe also happens to be backed by Sequoia.) Our chat has been edited for length.

    Much more here.

  • Construction App Fieldwire Raises $5.5 Million Led by Formation 8

    Field16x9NoLogo (1)Fieldwire, a San Francisco-based mobile and web platform designed to make collaboration on construction projects more efficient, has raised $5.5 million in fresh funding led by Formation 8. Other participants in the round included Trinity Ventures and earlier backers Bloomberg Beta and AngelPad, the investment fund and accelerator where the company first gained investors’ attention in the fall of 2013.

    Including earlier seed funding, the company has now raised $6.6 million altogether.Because Fieldwire is part of an increasingly crowded, if nascent, group of startups that are zeroing in on the same market, we decided to talk last week with cofounder Yves Frinault to learn more. Our chat has been edited for length.

    One of your better-known competitors is PlanGrid. How do your companies differ?

    At our core, we’re a task management platform, working on tasks and collaboration, including with the foreman, the subcontractors, and labor; PlanGrid is more focused on digitizing and storing blueprints and construction documents. We’re more like Asana for construction; they’re more like Box. It’s tasks versus files.

    How big is Fieldwire at this point?

    We were five people. We’ve doubled in the last four months to meet demand, but we could have been a lot more; we believe in dense, focused teams. As for [our clients], there are currently 35,000 projects on the platform [owned by] 1,000 companies.

    So these are big clients.

    When you operate a typical SaaS company, you usually start in mid-market and go up market. In construction, it’s different. The top line, half-a-billion-dollar companies are the ones driving the projects, so we found ourselves working with those guys — the large general contractors and specialty contractors — right away.

    More here.

  • Watch Out, VCs, Chris Farmer Plans to Massively Disrupt the Industry

    BN-KT144_ChrisF_G_20151013194954For years, Chris Farmer worked as a venture partner at General Catalyst Partners, helping develop its then-nascent seed-investing program while simultaneously working on a big idea: a database that could help screen engineering talent.

    Today, that idea forms the basis of SignalFire, a San Francisco-based investment firm that Farmer, who is its sole general partner, calls the “most quantitative fund in the world.” He says to “think of us as the world’s most elite angel group, with a central institutional fund, built on top of a mini proprietary Google.”

    It all sounds pretty audacious, of course, but there’s some “there” there, as we saw first-hand during a demonstration last week.

    According to Farmer, SignalFire’s platform, Beacon, tracks more than half a trillion data points that it collects from two million data sources, from patents to academics publications to open source contributions to financial filings.

    As a result, SignalFire is able to keep close tabs on the comings and goings of millions of engineers around the globe. And that’s just one piece of the picture. SignalFire also invests heavily in unstructured data, including raw consumer transactions that allow Beacon to see where consumers are spending their time and money — and which companies and sectors are growing or not.

    Much more here.

  • Y Combinator Tells VCs Not to Worry About Its New $700M Fund

    Twitter_AliAlmost a year-and-a-half after Ali Rowghani resigned as COO of Twitter, he’s been appointed the head of Y Combinator’s growth fund by the organization’s president, Sam Altman.

    TechCrunch had heard whispers of the move earlier this week, but Altman made the announcement official earlier yesterday, tweeting of Rowghani that he’s a “wonderful partner to help companies scale.”

    Rowghani joined Y Combinator as a part-time partner back in November of last year. Earlier in his career, from 2002 through 2008, he served as the CFO of Pixar. (Rowghani had joined Twitter as CFO from Pixar but was made COO in 2012.)

    Yesterday, we hopped on the phone with Rowghani to discuss some of his plans moving forward.

    Most notably, Y Combinator will be leading investments in startups with its new growth capital, which is coming in part from Stanford University, Willett Advisors, and TrueBridge Capital Partners, according to the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, as TechCrunch reported early this week, YC is the lead investor in Checkr, a San Francisco-based startup that runs background checks and vets potential hires for fast-growing startups. The company is raising at least $30 million in Series B funding, at a valuation north of $250 million.

    For VCs who haven’t had to compete with Y Combinator in later-stage rounds, this is a Big Deal.

    More here.

  • Kinnek, a Small Biz Marketplace, Raises $20 Million Led by Thrive

    LogoKinnek, a 3.5-year-old, New York-based marketplace for small businesses to find suppliers and manage purchasing, has just raised $20 million in Series B funding led by Thrive Capital.

    It already looks like a smart bet.

    The company currently has 20,000 businesses and 2,000 suppliers using its marketplace, and they’re striking millions of dollars worth of deals every week, says cofounder Karthik Sridharan. Considering the company’s age and the fragmented landscape in which it’s operating – think restaurants to distilleries to manufacturers – that kind of traction is meaningful.

    It’s also just the tip of the iceberg, apparently. According to a spokesperson for the company, Kinnek “conservatively” estimates that U.S. businesses with up to 100 employees and $20 million in yearly sales spend more than $2.2 trillion annually on machinery, equipment and physical goods based on data from Visa, Intuit, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    While we can’t vouch for the accuracy of that number (there are lots of different figures floating around out there), what is clear is the competition, or lack of it, facing Kinnek.

    More here.

  • Drone Maker CyPhy Raises $22 Million for Two-Prong Strategy

    CyPhyRobot maker iRobot has long had two major lines of businesses: its famous disc-shaped vacuum cleaning robot called the Roomba; and another robot that, well, disposes of bombs.

    Cofounder Helen Greiner says iRobot — now a publicly traded company currently valued at $940 million — “wouldn’t been able to have struggle through” without both.

    No wonder Greiner is again focusing on disparate lines of business at her seven-year-old drone company, CyPhy Works in Danvers, Mass, a startup that has just raised $22 million in Series B funding.

    On the one hand, CyPhy is about to start mass producing its Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) drones, which can fly as high as 500 feet in the air and hang there for 100 hours at a time. How? They’re tethered to the ground with a highly specialized microfilament that both powers them and acts as a secure communications link. As an added bonus, the tether keeps the robots from flying away in sandstorms and other harsh conditions.

    The PARC drones have mostly been used to date by the U.S. military, which employs them at combat posts to monitor compounds. The drones can also accept a variety of payloads. But now that the FAA has begun more freely authorizing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for non-governmental purposes, Greiner is expecting enterprise customers of all kinds to start ordering them, from mining to port security to construction to even media companies.

    More here.

  • VC Jeff Clavier on Getting to the Promised Land

    Jeff ClavierLast month, we talked with Jon Callaghan of True Ventures and marveled at the billion-dollar-plus return that his firm is poised to reap from leading the seed round of the wearable fitness company Fitbit.

    But True isn’t the only venture firm for which Fitbit is a giant home run. During a recent sit-down with Jeff Clavier, founder of the venture firm SoftTech VC in San Francisco, he joked that as another investor in Fitbit’s seed round, he finds it hard not to take a daily interest in the share price of the company, which went public in June and is now valued at more than $7 billion. (Its lock-up period ends in December.)

    More from that recent chat follows, edited for length.

    You moved up to San Francisco from Palo Alto a couple of years ago. How’s it going? How many companies do you have up here now?

    We have several dozen portfolio companies in San Francisco and three more in [nearby] Oakland. We started out in Palo Alto 11 years ago, then three years ago we started hanging out at [the San Francisco workspace collective] Founders Den and having weekly meetings there. By the time AOL kicked us out of its buiding in Palo Alto two years ago, there was no point in looking elsewhere because freaking Palantir [the private data analytics company] had killed the startup activity.


    More here.

  • Flightcar Raises Fresh $20.7 Million, Amid Major “Restructuring”

    Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.24.04 PMImagine a young startup where two of three founders are pushed out the door. Imagine that this same startup parts ways with its COO, its SVP of Finance, its VP of Guest Experience, its VP of Engineering, its VP of Marketing and roughly half its other full-time employees, all within a period of months. Not last, imagine that the remaining cofounder, who is 20, has never before held a full-time job.

    Sound like a great company into which to sink a small fortune? Investors in Flightcar, a 3.5-year-old, San Francisco-based startup, apparently think so. In fact, Priceline Group, Tencent Holdings, and earlier backers GGV Capital, General Catalyst Partners, Softbank Capital and First Round Capital came together last month to quietly provide the company with $20.7 million in Series B funding. It has now raised roughly $40 million to date.

    Flightcar was formed to address a very real problem: the hassles involved in airport parking. The idea: while you’re away on a trip, someone else arriving into town can use your ride. You leave your car with a valet and skip the process of schlepping back and forth to a far-flung lot. You also avoid parking fees that can add up fast. Your car, meanwhile, gets insured against theft and damage, it’s thoroughly cleaned, and you’re given a little cash for every day your car was rented.

    The idea isn’t foolproof for many reasons, including growing competition from Uber. But Flightcar had been ticking along just the same, striking deals with three airports – San Francisco, Boston, and L.A. — by September of last year and raising $13.5 million in the process.

    Then, encouraged by investors to start scaling as rapidly as possible, the figurative wheels began to come off.

    More here.

  • An Insider on Switching VC Firms

    bpo lrgLast week, we sat down with venture capitalist Brian O’Malley of Accel Partners to talk about where he’s shopping now.

    We also asked O’Malley — who was recruited into Accel from Battery Partners in 2013 — what it was like to transition between the heavyweight firms, and what he views as the biggest differences between them.

    More from that candid chat follows. Our conversation has been edited lightly for length.

    Founders sometimes feel “orphaned” when a cherished VC board member leaves to start his or her own fund or, in rarer cases, is recruited into a new firm. What happened to your portfolio companies when you changed firms?

    The simplest way to look at [these transitions] is that with the money comes the board seat, and the money is from the firm, not from Brian. So at the end of the day, it’s the firm’s call about whether you stay or go.

    Sameer [Gandhi], who recruited me in, had [been recruited into Accel from Sequoia Partners back in 2008] and gone through a similar process, so I think there was a general attitude of: “Look, your entrepreneur relationships are the one thing you take with you, and your reputation is all you have, so let’s err on the side of doing right by the teams you’ve backed.” The thinking was, “If it takes these startups a year to get things figured out, that’s okay. At the end of the day, they chose Battery to work with you, and it’s kind of not fair [to abruptly end those ties].”

    What did Battery think?

    More here.

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