• StrictlyVC: March 12, 2015

    Hi, happy Thursday, everyone! (If you aren’t a subscriber yet, here’s an easier-to-read version of this emailed newsletter.)


    Top News in the A.M.

    The Guardian has effectively retracted much of its widely circulated reporting about the anonymous messaging app Whisper. More here.

    Twitter just changed its rules to prohibit users from publicly posting intimate, and possibly explicit, images or video without consent.


    Highfive Raises $32 Million to Take on Google (and Others)

    In 2012, Shan Sinha and Jeremy Roy were working at Google, admiring the fact that each conference room at its Mountain View headquarters is wired for video conferencing. The technology makes it dead simple for employees to communicate with colleagues who aren’t in the office, and the two – who’d sold their software company, DocVerse, to Google in 2010 – realized there might be a larger opportunity to provide similar, but more affordable, technology to a whole host of companies.

    They got to work on their newest company, Highfive, and so far, so good. The company, whose video conferencing products include $799 high-definition cameras and mobile and desktop applications that make face-to-face connections a cinch, is beginning to pick up market share. According to Sinha, the company has landed more than 500 customers – including Zenefits, Slack, and Warby Parker — since it began shipping its devices in December.

    It also just attracted $32 million in Series B funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners, along with earlier backers like Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst that had provided the company with $13.5 million in 2013.

    Investors are encouraged by the company’s traction, but it’s apparently what coming that gets them most excited, including premium features that will cost $10 per user per month and a roadmap that includes much more than videoconferencing — though Sinha is reluctant to share more right now.

    “Our identity will be tied to helping people communicate much better,” he tells StrictlyVC. “But our task right now is to [sell our current technology to many more customers]. There are 25 million conference rooms in the world today and only 1 million have video conferencing. Our bet is that all will have video in them.”

    As it happens, Google thinks there’s an opportunity to take its video conferencing technology to the masses, too.

    In fact, shortly after Sinha and Roy began work on Highfive, Google started selling $999 Chromeboxes to businesses, saying it wants to bring video-conferencing “to any room.”

    That doesn’t seem to bother Sinha, who calls Chromebox, “Google’s approach to solving enterprise problems, which is kind of halfway there.”

    When customers compare the two, he adds, “we tend to win.”


    New Fundings

    Agilence, an 8.5-year-old, Mount Laurel, N.J.-based company whose software helps retailers monitor their stores and prevent theft, has raised $4.3 million in funding led by earlier backer Laurel Capital Partners, with participation from new investor Drayton Park Capital and previous backers Aster Capital, Granite Ventures, and NextStage Capital. The company has raised $18.5 million to date, shows Crunchbase.

    Bento Labs, a 10-month-old, San Francisco-based startup that’s developing a customizable home screen for Android devices, has raised $2 million in seed funding from investors, including First Round CapitalGoogle Ventures, and the Social+Capital Partnership. Venture Capital Dispatch has more here.

    Cardiac Dimensions, a 14-year-old, Kirkland, Wa.-based heart-valve repair technology startup, has closed its newest round with $43 million, following a recent $15.2 million tranche, the company said. The newest funding was provided by Life Science Partners and Aperture Venture Partners. Earlier investors Arboretum Ventures, Lumira Capital, and M.H. Carnegie & Co. also participated in the round. The company has raised $44.9 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.

    ChargeBee, a four-year-old, Chennai, India-based startup that helps companies manage their subscription billings, has raised $5 million in Series B funding led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from previous backer Accel Partners, which provided the company with $800,000 in Series A funding early last year. The company has now raised roughly $6.2 million altogether.

    Classkick, a 1.5-year-old, Chicago-based online learning platform that enables teachers to give students immediate feedback, has raised $1.7 million in funding from investors, including Great Oaks Venture CapitalKapor Capital, Lightbank and individual investors.

    DJI, a nine-year-old, Shenzhen, China-based company that makes a popular consumer drone called the Phantom, is in talks with Silicon Valley investors about a new round of funding at a multibillion-dollar valuation, reports The Verge. The company reported $500 million in revenue last year, four times its revenue in 2013, say the outlet’s sources; they add that the company is on pace to see $1 billion in revenue this year.

    Kira Talent, a three-year-old, Toronto-based online talent assessment platform, has raised $1.2 million in seed financing led by Relay Ventures, with participation from the Business Development Bank of Canada and numerous angel investors. The company has now raised $3.2 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.

    Lyft, the three-year-old, San Francisco-based ride-hailing service, has raised $530 million in new funding, led by the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, reports TechCrunch. The new round brings Lyft’s total funding to $850 million and establishes its value at about $3 billion. Others of its backers include Andreessen Horowitz, K9 Ventures, GSV Capital,QueensBridge Venture Partners, Coatue Management, Mayfield Fund, and Founders Fund.

    Memebox, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based online and mobile beauty brand company, has raised $17.5 million in Series B funding, bringing its total funding to $29.4 million. Its investors include Formation 8, Goodwater Capital, AME Cloud Ventures, Pejman Mar Ventures, Y Combinator, Winklevoss Capital, FundersClub, Cowboy Ventures, and Altos Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

    Moonfrog Labs, a two-year-old Bangalore-based startup that makes mobile games for players in India, has raised $15 million in Series A funding from Tiger Global Management and earlier investor Sequoia Capital, which had previously provided the company with $1 million in funding. TechCrunch has the story here.

    Ola, a four-year-old, Mumbai, India-based cab-hailing service, is reportedly close to raising about $400 million in a round that will be led by DST Global and could value the startup at about $3 billion. Ola’s earlier investors, including SoftBank Corp. and Tiger Global Management, are also expected to participate in the funding. Earlier this month, Ola acquired TaxiForSure, a nearly four-year-old, Bangalore-based aggregator of car rentals and taxis in India, for $200 in cash and stock.

    Ravelin, a three-month-old, London-based online fraud prevention startup, has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Passion Capital. TechCrunch has more here.

    Snapchat, the nearly four-year-old, Venice, Ca.-based messaging company, has raised $200 million in new funding from Alibaba Group at a valuation of $15 billion. Bloomberg has the story here.

    Spaceflight Industries, a four-year-old, Tukwila, Wa.-based company that helps that U.S. government and other customers launch small satellites on larger space transportation vehicles, has raised $19.2 million in new funding, including from RRE Ventures, Vulcan Ventures, and Razor’s Edge Ventures. The company has now raised $27.5 million altogether. Geekwire has more here.

    StarMaker Interactive, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based online platform that invites users to record and share music videos of themselves, has raised $6.5 million in new funding led by Raine Ventures, with participation from Crosscut Ventures, GREE International, iGlobe Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, Three Bridges Ventures, and individual investors.

    Steelwedge, a 15-year-old, Pleasanton, Ca.-based supply-chain planning company, has raised $22.5 million in new funding led Camden Partners, with participation from Mainsail Partners, Shea Ventures and the company’s chief executive, Pervinder Johar.

    VaporChat, a 1.5-year-old, New York-based company whose newly launched mobile application offers users more control over their messages’ content, has raised $1.5 million led by Social Starts, with participation from numerous angel investors. TechCrunch has more here.

    Webgility, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based maker of e-commerce accounting automation software for small- and mid-size businesses, has raised $2.5 million in growth funding from SaaS Capital.


    New Funds

    The Hive, a three-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based incubator and accelerator, has closed its second fund with $22 million in commitments — money it says will be used to build and launch up to 10 new companies that are leveraging data and innovations in data science. The outfit has already funded and launched 11 companies in its short history. In January, it exited from one of them, the machine learning commerce startup Kosei, which Pinterest acquired for undisclosed terms. The Hive is backed by numerous Silicon Valley luminaries, including Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz and Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang.



    Kitematic, a two-year-old startup whose tool helps speed up the ability of Docker‘s software containers to ship applications across different cloud computing systems, has been acquired by Docker for an undisclosed price. More here.



    Marc Andreessen and his wife, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, are very happy new parents today. Said a spokesperson, “Marc and Laura are elated at the birth of their biological baby via gestational carrier. Baby Andreessen is in perfect health and already drafting his first business plan.” Recode has the news here.

    Michael Carney, a reporter for PandoDaily for the past three years, has joined the L.A.-based venture firm Upfront Ventures as an associate. Carney was previously an early employee and managing director at WorldVest, a boutique merchant bank.

    Ellen Pao, the former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner who is suing the firm, watched her case take a turn for the worse yesterday under cross-examination by Kleiner attorney Lynn Hermle, who spent much of the day calling into question Pao’s stated motivation for seeking up to $16 million in damages.

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes his privacy, but as the New York Times reports, he’s in an increasingly public battle with a would-be neighbor that threatens to expose details of his personal life and conduct.



    Blippar is hiring a corporate development manager in New York.

    Evernote is looking for a senior product marketing manager. The job is in Redwood City, Ca.

    Reputation.com is looking to hire a VP of product management. The job is also in Redwood City.


    Essential Reads

    Chamath Palihapitiya, the former Facebook VP and a renowned investor, is being sued, along with two partners, for allegedly scheming to acquire the stakes of a Canadian venture firm in the dating app Tinder and other startups — and at a bargain-basement price. Much more here.

    Breaking up is not hard to do when you’ve got Apple Watches to move.



    Finland, home of the $103,000 speeding ticket.


    Retail Therapy

    Aww. A tiny little keg, just for you.

  • A Billionaire Brawl in Silicon Valley

    boxing-kidsIt’s no secret that Uber and Lyft don’t like each other much. In just one kerfuffle of late, Lyft told CNN that over a recent 10-month period, Uber employees had requested, then canceled, more than 5,000 rides from Lyft drivers. Uber quickly punched back, claiming that Lyft’s employees had canceled more than twice as many trips on Uber.

    Investors in the rival ride-sharing services have mostly stayed above the fray through such public scuffles. But now, they’re starting to sling mud, too.

    The trouble started yesterday morning, when at a TechCrunch conference in San Francisco, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington interviewed Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in what appeared to be an effort to publicly rehabilitate Kalanick, who the press has begun to portray as something of a bully.

    Arrington asked, for example, if it wasn’t true that Lyft is a copycat, partly because Uber and Lyft announced carpool options within a day of each other in early August. Kalanick, who typically seizes opportunities to trash competitors, humbly offered: “Here’s maybe a little bit of a hat tip: I don’t think Lyft copied this particular feature; companies are often working on similar things.” (According to New York magazine, Lyft began work on its program in April, but “before the Lyft news had landed,” Uber published a blog post announcing a “virtually identical service.”)

    Arrington also uniformly dismissed Uber’s competitors as “ankle biters” and called Lyft “annoying because you have to sit in the front and talk, and they have those mustaches.” Said Arrington to Kalanick: “They seem to be constantly whining that [Uber is] beating them. Would you consider buying Lyft to shut them up?” (The audience laughed as Kalanick told him that Uber isn’t acquiring companies right now.)

    Initially, the interview seemed a coup for Uber. Noting Kalanick’s gentler demeanor — Kalanick repeatedly called himself “scrappy” and misunderstood — TechCrunch reported that if “Uber can buck its perception as a ruthless, greedy company trying to put cabbies out of work and instead show the softer side of on-demand services, it could succeed far beyond taxis.” Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle noted Kalanick’s “pains to exhibit his kinder, gentler side” during the on-stage interview.

    But the cozy interview almost immediately drew criticism on Twitter, with comments from people like Wall Street Journal reporter Doug MacMillan and Founders Fund partner Geoff Lewis, both of whom noted that Arrington is an investor in Uber through his investment firm CrunchFund, an affiliation that was never raised during his interview with Kalanick. Lewis, whose firm has invested in Lyft, was particularly pointed in his tweets, calling Arrington’s interview “shameful,” given its absence of any relevant disclosures.

    Things only grew more heated several hours later, when during an on-stage interview with TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis, Peter Thiel of Founders Fund described Uber as “without question, the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley.”

    (As Twitter lit up over Thiel’s remark, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, whose firm also owns a stake in Lyft, joyfully jumped into the fray, tweeting: “A big thank you to @arrington for all the unsolicited free publicity for Lyft this morning at Disrupt!” He also published a discount code for Lyft — DISRUPT — and in Andreessen fashion, punctuated his tweet with a disarming smiley face.)

    Arrington seemingly tried to stifle the conversation by tweeting to Lewis, “Let’s just cut to the ‘and the horse your rode in on’ and go our separate ways, you worthless d__k.” Perhaps realizing the tweet would only garner more attention, Arrington then tweeted that Thiel is an investor in Uber through Arrington’s fund, CrunchFund, and that Arrington is himself an investor in Lyft through Andreessen Horowitz, where he is a limited partner.

    By then, though, Valleywag had caught the flavor of the story, calling out Arrington and Thiel for fighting over Uber “like boys with toys.” And Arrington’s efforts to help alter Kalanick’s public reputation as a brawler were largely forgotten.

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  • A Small Entrepreneur Takes on, Gulp, Uber

    GoGreenRideAcross the U.S., new car-sharing services Lyft and Sidecar are spreading fast, while Uber, which now manages a ride-share service as well as connects passengers with career drivers, seems destined for world domination.

    In short, it doesn’t sound like a great time to launch a new car service. Yet that’s exactly what Yamandou Alexander has done with GoGreenRide, a New York-based startup that Alexander has bootstrapped with $2.5 million of his own capital. (GoGreenRide is currently halfway through raising a new, $5 million outside round of fundraising.)

    Oddly, Alexander may have had the idea of an alternative transportation fleet first. As the French-born entrepreneur tells it, he moved to New York City at 19, bussing tables at famed Upper East Side restaurant Daniel and selling Motorola Startacs to his coworkers, many of them fellow immigrants. He eventually began exporting the handsets to Africa, creating one telecom company and selling a second for enough money in 2012 to bring to life a concept he wanted, but couldn’t afford, to pursue in 2006 – a nicer, greener, more affordable version of a black car service.

    We chatted recently about how that vision is coming together and why GoGreenRide makes sense now, even in a ride-sharing economy.

    Your business differentiates itself in two key ways. For one thing, GoGreenRide owns or leases dozens of Prius cars. You also have 40 full-time employees, rather than contractors. You’re like the anti-Uber, except that Uber is so profitable precisely because it has so little overhead. Why does your strategy make sense?

    With contractors, there’s a lack of control in presentation, quality, and customer service. We want our drivers to wear a uniform; to work on a schedule, rather than when they feel like it; to open doors; and to understand when it isn’t time to talk. We want to provide good, consistent customer service. We’re also concerned with Uber’s model from a liability standpoint.

    As for the cars, based on plans to increase our fleet to 50 cars by summer, the company should reach break-even by December. Next year, the car should see a 13 percent EBITDA…and by 2018, 26 percent EBITDA.

    Where are you turning to fund those plans?

    We’re talking with VCs. Investors on the West Coast are more interested in less capital-intensive businesses, but we’re getting good traction with East Coast people who know and live the experience of trying to find transportation in New York. We’re also going out to AngelList for additional investment, and inviting GoGreenRide members to participate.

    Uber gets a lot of flack for its surge pricing. Is your pricing flexible, too?

    Pricing does fluctuate based on traffic conditions. But you always know how much you’ll pay before you get in a car via our mobile app, which sends you detailed information about your trip, including when the driver will arrive. Our metering is calculated based on the estimated time [it will take to transport a passenger from A to B], which we know based on historical data about traffic patterns.

    As an alternative to black car service, what percent of your business comes from corporate partnerships?

    About 40 percent. We cater to both customers taking long trips, who might otherwise take a black car service to the airport, and short trips, where we’re competing more directly with taxis. Our average fare is $34, which is the same as a yellow cab, but you’re getting a much nicer experience with GoGreenRide.

    Beyond expanding your fleet, what’s on your road map, so to speak?

    The short-term growth opportunity is for us to grow our model in New York, then move into L.A. or San Francisco. We’re also starting a franchising program, including [helping launch] a GoGreenRide in China.

    We glad for Uber’s success and the acceptance it has gained in New York. But we also see a lot of people coming to us from them because of pricing, level of service, reliability, and safety.

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